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20th century, shopping

Button Shopping in the Bay Area

For years I’ve heard about Exclusive Buttons, a brick and mortar-only vintage button shop in El Cerrito (San Francisco Bay Area – East Bay).  I used to live relatively close to them, but never made it by during their limited opening hours.  A few weeks ago the husband and I were noodling around that area, and I finally remembered to pop in!

The store is run by the widow of a gentleman who used to run a business selling buttons to stores (out of his van) since the 1960s.  At some point they stopped the wholesale button business and opened a retail shop.  He has since passed on, but his wife is still running the shop.

The shop is small but FILLED to the brim with all kinds of vintage buttons.  The only modern buttons they stock are Czech glass, and the owner proudly told me that there are no plastic buttons anywhere in their shop (okay, except things like Lucite).  The prices are CRAZY good; the owner told me she hasn’t updated the prices since her husband passed.

I didn’t go in looking for anything too specific, so I just wandered and grabbed what caught my eye.  Here’s a few pictures, plus my haul:


Online Costume Garage Sale

It’s that time again — as things go into the stash, other things have to come out!  I’ve got a huge online costume garage sale posted here; email me at kendra at demodecouture dot com to purchase.  I’m on vacation right now, so I can ship things quickly!

I’m selling:  two finished costumes (a sheer 1860s summer dress, and a 1770s robe a la turque), tons of fabric, trims, buttons, appliques, vintage and modern costume patterns, vintage magazines and victorian fashion plates, vintage/modern costume jewelry, yarn, DVDs, and a cool museum poster with a gorgeous 1930s fashion image.

1780s stays, 18th century, projects, research, shopping

18th C. Boning Research & German Plastic Boning Review

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and finally got organized!

When I went to make my handsewn 1780s stays, I was trying to be as historically accurate as possible, and that brought up the question of boning — what to use?  Obviously in the period whalebone was the desired boning, but we can’t get it today and even if we could, I don’t believe in killing endangered species for my hobby/research (sorry, please don’t start telling me about Inuits — THEY’RE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES!  Whales, that is).

Most modern costumers who are trying to be as historically accurate as possible use cane/reed.  I’ve got an issue with this, and while I posted briefly about boning here, but I realized that I had most of the discussion on LJ.

Here’s my logic:  in the period, whalebone was THE preferred boning.  Yes, cane/reed were used, but they were considered a substandard material and generally used on homemade (ie not professionally made) stays.  Ask anyone who’s made a corset with reed/cane and had it break on them why!

I’m not just talking out of my you-know-what, here’s the research:

The best source is:  Dorsey, S.. “For neatness, true fitting, shape and fashion”: The craft and consumption of stays in eighteenth century America. M.A. diss., University of Delaware.   Anyone with access to a university library can get a PDF copy of this thesis from the database ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.

Dorsey writes:  “The most important part, however, were the “stays” themselves: the garments’ main structural support. The rigid inserts were made from a variety of materials such as wood, thread, and whalebone. Whalebone, otherwise known as baleen, was the most common material and the most expensive. Cheaper alternatives included the use of split wood, steel, pack-thread, and pasteboard.(100) Of those, most pairs of surviving American non-baleen stays are boned with wood. The wooden inserts appear to be made out of riven hardwoods (Figures 21 a and b). Wood is also particularly susceptible to fluctuations in humidity and stress. Over time wood becomes brittle and snaps in two at the stress points, usually on the curve of stay tabs. For this reason it was not an ideal material to use and is typically seen on stays made by an amateur.(101) “Packthread” stays are seen in American stay maker advertisements, where they are also noted to have been imported to America. Packthread is a strong cord or twine made of coarse flax or hemp plied together. Baldwin and Hyer, for example, wrote “that they make Stays with Whale-Bone, which are far preferable for Ease and Genteelness, to those imported from England, that are made of Packthread.”(102) Indeed, whalebone was seen as the superior material in stay making.(103)

(100) Rushes are known to have been used in seventeenth-century stays and were likely used in the eighteenth century. However, in the survey of American stays conducted for this thesis, no pairs were found to exhibit them. Some historians note that bone and ivory were used, but as Mark Hutter pointed out, they would have been too rigid and brittle to function as anything else other than busks. Mark Hutter, email with author, 24 March 2008.
(101) There are no advertisements for wooden stays, it is more likely that they were made by persons who could not afford whalebone (baleen) or the services of a professional stay-maker. Haughland, “Common Cotton,” 3.
(102) Baldwin and Hyer, New York Mercury (New York, NY) 20 May 1765.
(103) Sorge-English, ’29 Doz and 11 Best Cutt Hone’, 30.”

(Bolding is mine)

Norah Waugh in Corsets & Crinolines goes far less into this topic, but she does say briefly, in her appendix on whalebone:  “When stiffened bodies and farthingales appeared in the sixteenth century it could not have been long before the superiority of whalebone over wood and cane supports brought it into use wherever available” (168).

Lynne Sorge-English has two articles that are related & interesting.  She mentions that whalebone was by far the most popular boning in the 18th c. in:  Lynne Sorge-English, “’29 Doz and II Best Cutt Bone':  The Trade in Whalebone and Stays in Eighteenth-Century London.”  Textile History v. 36 no. 1 (may 2005):  20-45.  The other article, which doesn’t go into this topic but is still very interesting, is:  Lynn Sorge, “Eighteenth-Century Stays:  Their Origins and Creators.”  Costume 32 (1998):  18-32.  She’s now come out with a book that I haven’t yet read, but is on my wishlist: Stays and Body Image in London: The Staymaking Trade, 1680-1810 (The Body, Gender and Culture) (full disclosure: I’m an Amazon Associate and buying from that link will send me a couple of cents).


So to my logic, yes reed/cane is an historically accurate material that we can still get, while whalebone is not something we can get ethically or practically.  Since I was trying to make a pair of stays appropriate to an upper class woman, I needed an equivalent to whalebone, not the boning material that would have been used in substandard stays.  The properties of whalebone that made it so popular for corsetry was the fact that you could cut it to any width/length/thickness, and the fact that it molds to the body over time.

Now, we come to our modern boning products, most of which are accurate to the Edwardian era or sometime in the 20th century.  For a good rundown, I recommend Sarah’s “Various Boning Options for Historical Corsetry” and Jenny-Rose’s “A Word on Boning.”

The main boning type that neither of them discuss is the plastic boning made by Wissner, a German company and so hence often called “German plastic boning.”  I had heard good things about this boning material — that it is very comparable to whalebone in terms of support and its ability to mold to the figure — so I decided to try it out, and used it on the handsewn (green) version of my stays.

So, the report!

In the past I have used spring steel (aka white steel), spiral steel, and the crappy plastic boning sold at Joann’s (don’t even get me started).  I haven’t used cable ties or cane/reed or any of the other strange and wonderful things you can use as boning!  Now that I’ve made up my stays and worn them for over a a year, I can say that the German plastic gives you way more support than the crappy Joann’s plastic, more support than the spiral, and a little bit less support (but not much) than spring steel.  In my stays I decided to reinforce things with spring steel at the CF and CB, as well as at 3 points throughout the front piece.  I’m currently working on a corset (more on that soon) and just tried it out with only spring steel at the CF and CB, and I felt like I did want one or two more spring steel bones in front.

Bending spring steel (L) and German plastic (R) -- the German plastic requires less force to bend

The best part about the German plastic is it DOES mold to your form.  Here’s one half of my 1780s stays laid flat on my cutting table.  You can see how the tabs have formed themselves to the shape of my hips:

In addition to its support qualities, you can buy German plastic boning in a number of widths.  It’s sold in thicknesses from 13 to 5 millimeters (1/2″, .4″, 1/4″, and 3/8″) at the place I buy from (more on this in a sec).  This means you can make corsets with finer boning channels, like this gorgeous pair of stays made by The Staymaker.  Here’s a photo of some of the boning I have on hand:

From L to R: spring steel .5", German plastic .5", spring steel 3/8", spring steel 1/4", German plastic 1/4", German plastic 3/8", crappy Joann's boning 3/8"

It is a bit thicker than spring steel, so you’ll want to add a little bit (maybe 1/8″?) to your boning channels to accomodate this.

L to R: spring steel 1/2", German plastic 1/2"

L to R: spring steel 1/4", German plastic 1/4", German plastic 3/8", crappy Joann's plastic 3/8"

The German plastic comes in rolls, which means you can cut it to size, and unlike steel you don’t have to use complex tools or dip the ends to cut it (a pair of scissors works just fine).

In terms of where to buy it, the main source in the US (and where I order from) is Vogue Fabrics.  They sell all the various widths, and you can buy in rolls of 25 meters or 100 meters.  Farthingale’s Canada also sells it, but their website is so annoying I’ve never bothered to figure out if it’s more/less expensive.  In the UK, you can buy it from Vena Cava Designs.

1550s Venetian, 16th century, 18th century, green Venetian, projects, shopping

More Shopping!

I spent 4 days last week in New York, and I spent most of it at NYPL doing research on my robe à la polonaise/turque/circassienne research project — found some interesting sources!

But even better was that I went shopping for the first time ever in the NYC garment district!  Whoa, so many outstanding options — I tried not to break the bank, but it was tough.  Luckily I had Leia to show me around and she helped me bargain for some good deals.  I’m super excited about what I bought, and it’s making me excited about costuming again — YAY!

I was TRAUMATIZED to find out that Swatch, the Boston Terrier who works at Mood Fabrics, wasn’t in on Sunday.  SUCH SADNESS!!!!  I have two Boston Terriers myself, and I spend all of the shopping-at-Mood segments of Project Runway trying to spot Swatch (not enough Swatch in the recent All Stars season, btw).  I had a tiny consolation in that I got a Mood rewards card with a picture of Swatch on it, but that really wasn’t enough.  At all.

But on to the good news!  I found some FABULOUS fabric/trim for my Ultra Sekrit CoCo Gala dress — which is sekrit, so you don’t get to hear about it.  Luckily, I also found some other fabulous things which I can tell you about!

Silk/rayon duchesse satin from C&J

I went to C&J Fabrics as I knew they are one of the best sources for silk duchesse satin. Their’s is a blend with rayon, but that’s okay with me (rayon breathes and isn’t icky looking/feeling) — it makes it semi-affordable!  I had a hard time choosing, but finally bought this white and orchid duchesse satin to make a robe à la turque.  There’s a specific portrait that I’ve been eyeing for a while, but you’ll have to wait through some other projects to hear more about this!  I’m hoping I got enough — I was trying to be conservative because that stuff isn’t cheap — luckily I can always order more if I need to, because I grabbed some updated swatch cards (including silk faille – drool!).

Vintage rayon ribbon from Hyman Hendler

Next I went to Hyman Hendler, which I knew would have vintage ribbons. What I didn’t know was that it was where amazing vintage ribbons go to not-die — WHOA.  I literally could have bought one of everything.  It’s one of those stores that’s been around since ca. 1900 and is just stocked floor to ceiling with vintage ribbons.  Mostly rayon, some synthetics — didn’t see a lot of silk.  I splurged and bought 4 yards of vintage ribbon — the brown floral will be for a hat to go with the turque, the black & white I’m not sure, but how can you go wrong with black and white stripes?  You don’t want to know what this cost me — let’s say we’re in the $20-30/yd range here.

Gold trims from Tinsel Trading

Leia and I did a bunch of hole-in-the-wall store shopping, where we found my fabulous Sekrit Gala Project fabric.  Near the end of the day, we went over to Tinsel Trading.  I assumed everything there would be 1) fabulous 2) incredibly expensive 3) vintage.  I was right, but they also had some STUNNING modern trims that were a STEAL.  I’ve never put too much trim on my green Venetian because I’ve been waiting to find something I loved.  I bought 6 yards of the green and gold trim — I was about to buy 3 yards, but Leia pointed out it was only $1.50/yd, and was I crazy?  I also bought the narrow gold lace on the right for my upcoming 1550s Venetian (in blue, you’ve all convinced me!).

Tragically, I also bought 2 pieces of fabric at Mood — a sheer white on white stripe for an 18th c. Turkish outfit, and a pretty blue and white floral for a 1930s dress.  I say tragically, because somewhere between Tinsel Trading, Starbucks, and the Campbell Apartment bar, I left the bag somewhere.  I’ve tried calling all 3 places and none have found it, so apparently some random person has run off with my bag o’ cotton.  Luckily it was the bag filled with about $60 worth of fabric, not the one with about $300 worth of fabric, so I’m consoling myself with that.  Bastards.

Vintage gold lace for a Venetian stomacher

Not NYC-related, but shopping-related:  I’ve also meant to post a picture of this for forever, but I have been lazy.  I’ve been thinking about making one of those fancy stomachers that you sometimes see on Venetian Renaissance gowns.  Many of them look embroidered, but some look like lace laid on fabric (I’ll post some sources when I get organized).  I stalked Ebay for a while and finally found this gold metal thread lace, which I think will be perfect.  Not sure whether I’ll piece it so I can turn the motifs right side up.  Either way, I think this will work perfectly once I figure out what fabric to lay it on (right now it’s on my blue cutting mat).


Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale Haul

Every year the Oakland Museum holds their White Elephant Sale, a cross between an antiques market and thrift store, held in a ginormous warehouse conveniently about 5 min. from my house!  This year we went to the preview sale (Bay Area-ites take note, the official sale will be March 3-4), as we have for the past few years, to get an early crack at buying — and I mean early, as in showing up by 8am on a Sunday and waiting in line for 2 hours.

But, it was worth it, because I got a great haul!  I’ve finally figured out how to target my arriving-early time — in the past I’ve tried to head for vintage clothes first, but the vintage dealers literally clean the racks out in about 5 min. flat.  This year I headed for sewing first, and finally have figured out where the NICE fabric is kept, so I grabbed a shopping basket, threw all the silk in it, and then sorted through to figure out what I wanted to keep.

Here’s my haul:

Costume College, events, shopping

Quick Update – Bling & CoCo

Just a quick update to say thanks for your feedback on my bling issue and Costume College teaching ideas!  You all sold me on the white Indian choker set… but then some BASTARD stole the auction away from me!  I then spent the past week stalking ebay, where I found various sellers selling the same set but in different colors, until this morning when another white set popped up and I grabbed it.  Now I just have to wait for it to ship from India.

And, in CoCo news, I proposed the following three classes:  social history of hair (1770s-1820s), 18th c. dress variations, and 17th-18th c. patches.  Yet again, 18th c. court dress gets no love — I’ve thrown that out before online and only get crickets back — someday I’m going to foist it on you guys anyway, and I can teach it to the two people who show up!

20th century, shopping

Help Bling Me!

As previously noted, the GBACG is having what should be an amazing Titanic event.  While I’d love to make something new, money is tight enough that I really shouldn’t be spending money on yards of silk.  And, shockingly, I tried on my 1910 Lady Maud evening dress and it still fits, and since I’ve only worn this ONCE, I really should wear it again!

But now I’m trying to figure out the bling issue!  I’ve been vacillating between a few concepts:

Concept 1:  Super bling in a period style, like that worn here by Queen Sophia of Greece in 1915:

The problem is I’m having a hard time finding a good, wide choker that’s NOT pearls.  Pearls are nice, and they’re period, but they’re not exciting me right now.

Concept 2: Indian jewelry.  Did you know that of all modern cultures, Indian women have the best clothes?  Seriously!  And their jewelry is pretty kick ass too.  Given that my dress is made from a sari, and the Delhi Durbar of 1911 inspired lots of Indian influences in the fashions of 1911-12, and given that modern Indian is faaabulous and quite affordable on ebay, I thought of going full on Indian — hey, I could be returning to America from India and the Durbar!

Combination #1: white Indian jewelry. Then I came across this white Indian jewelry set, and I thought it might be a great merger of the two ideas — choker, bling, Indian:

But what about headgear? I was initially thinking of trying to make some kind of bandeau, like this one from Vogue:

However, the Indian sets come with a piece of hair jewelry that’s really gorgeous, but a different look — the maang tika, which hangs over the part and onto the forehead (ok this lady doesn’t have a center part, but you get the idea):

But then I found this tiara on ebay and it’s really calling to me — but it’s silvertone, not gold, and the Indian jewelry sets are almost all goldtone!

First world problems, solve them for me.  Go full Indian?  Combine goldtone Indian with silvertone tiara?  Ditch the Indian idea and keep trying to find some kind of non-cheesy rhinestone choker (which could be impossible)?  What’s working for you?