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Cassandra in her new Spender.

Cassandra in her new Spencer.

This was supposed to be for #25: One Metre (yard) but things went awry. now it’s cause or #26, Celebration.

Make something that is celebration worthy, make something that celebrates the new skills you have learned this year, or just make something simple that celebrates the fact that you survived HSF ’13!

Heck, I survived the last two weeks of 2013, and that’s reason enough to celebrate. Water at work, relatives at home, high-stress holidays: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything. So on to those pesky facts!

The Challenge: #26, Celebration! with a backward glance at #25, One Metre

Fabric: 34 inches of double-faced Italian wool, bought at Apple Annie Fabrics as a 50% off remnant after she found it in a pile. The collar is lined with black silk taffeta and interfaced with buckram. The sleeves are lined with black silk Persian from Wm Booth Draper, but I used taffeta on the bodice to give it more body. Technically, that’s almost two yards because it’s two kinds of fabric. Initially I didn’t plan to line this, but the edge did not hold as well as expected so I ended up breaking the rules in order to make a better garment. Celebrate rule breaking! Also, better sewing skills!

The pattern pieces on 34 inches of fabric. One cuff is pieced.

Pattern: My own, mostly. I started with the Sense & Sensibility pattern, and then modified it to make the first Spencer, working my way towards the double-breasted broadcloth of the Swedish Spencer. I first modified the lapels, and then, in order to match the arm scye to the sleeve correctly, modified the bodice at the side, and at the shoulder point. I used the Janet Arnold Spencer/riding habit as a reference, and then measured up the Leloir pattern to check my work. The two-part sleeves are borrowed from Henry Cooke’s 1770s man’s frock coat pattern taken from that extant suit; the collar and cuffs came from the same place.

Once I reshaped the sleeves from the elbow to the wrist (as I do not have a gentleman’s forearms of steel), I concentrated on adapting the bodice to make the seam sit properly on the shoulder line. Watching Mr Cooke manipulate Mr S’s garments made this a lot easier to do.

Inside view in progress.

Inside view in progress.

My theory was that if you thought of a Spencer as a miniature frock coat, starting with a man’s pattern might be the way to go. I played with that in a theoretical way, but did not pursue it fully, as I was committed to the double-breasted look.

Year: 1797, if you take the Amazon as the inspiration and marker, which I do. This style, and even the revers, persists for a while, at least in fashion plates. 1797-1800 seems about right. (See the expanded Pinterest board for examples)

Notions: Thread counts, right? Also button molds. But that was it.

How historically accurate is it? This is always the toughest part! I have verified the revers, the style, the fit, and the pattern pieces. The garment is entirely hand-sewn of the most period-appropriate materials I could find. I found reference to a very similar example in a Danish museum; if I had possessed enough fabric for a cape, I would have made one. The inaccuracies will be in details of techniques and the lining materials, which were chosen to ameliorate the very snug fit. Is it 90%, with points off for not being able to time-travel back to buy my fabrics from Providence merchants in 1797? Aside from the Andes Candies coat, I think this is the most accurate and nicest thing I’ve made yet.

The shaped back piece.

The shaped back piece.

Hours to complete: 12 to 18 for the pattern and muslins. Each sleeve took 30 minutes to pin and stitch into the armscye, but the long seams were more time consuming. 12 hours of sewing, perhaps? It seems like more than 30 hours, but once the pattern was done, parts of this moved quickly. (Personally, I love setting sleeves and sewing curvy back pieces.)

First worn: Not yet. As soon as I can talk Mr S into taking photos, I’ll wear it, but right now I have no firm plans for wearing it, which makes me sad. Wouldn’t it be a fun thing to ice skate in? Except for the very authentic way it pulls your shoulders back, which could compromise your balance.

Total cost: $15 for the wool, $6.50 for thread, and $2.80 for button molds; $8 for the amount of silk Persian for the sleeves, the taffeta was in the stash, so $24.30.