Just two days ago, the weather took a delicious turn. The heat of summer gentled its dry blaze of sun for a cooling breeze that shakes the branches of trees and rustles the limbs of shrubbery. Our poplars have been shedding seeds on the patio for several weeks now. This welcome breeze might finally bring down the last of seeds before the leaves begin to turn yellow and make their way south. I do love autumn. My favorite time of year begins September first, in my mind, and lasts until the wishbone is cracked at the Thanksgiving table.
Its that time of year when the moss greens, golds, rusts, purples and browns come out of the fabric cabinet, as I begin planning a fall wardrobe for a doll or two. This year, the forest green velveteen became the choice when planning a Riding Habit for Louise Godey. The riding habits for autumn were generally made up in dark colors during the 1860's. Deep blues, browns, and dark greys were popular, saving the off-whites for springtime. However, I had this lovely fabric on hand from Marigold Greenaway's coat from last December, and it looked so lovely draped across Louise when selecting a color.
The riding habits from the Civil War era were as diverse in structure, and the many gowns the ladies and girls wore. In researching the topic of riding habits from the mid 19th century, one style concept was clear. The skirts were a good foot longer than the day dresses. They puddled on the floor around the ladies' feet, but never did I read why they were designed longer. Some riding habits from earlier times were so long that they'd cover the entire horse down to her "shins". These were generally habits worn when riding through town or on roads. My thoughts for the extra foot length was modesty. Should a lady be on a hunt, or riding swiftly across the fields, her skirts would float up in the wind exposing the delicate ankle, so the extra length might theoretically eliminate that possibility. I'm also fairly confident the women and girls climbed steps to sit the horse, or were helped up by "the help", so gathering up the skirts to mount a horse side saddle, would not have been such a complication.
One of the other garments worn by the ladies was a pair of matching trousers beneath the skirt. I have seen images of straight legged pants, but there was a preference for Turkish pants, tucked in the high riding boots. These blousy, voluminous pants were often made of the same fabric as the riding habit, but for the purpose of dressing Louise, I chose the "color" to match, and used this same fine cotton as the lining of her gown.
After a good amount of studying the various designs of the costume, I selected a simple design from a fashion plate (third photo from bottom). The jacket's sides curve up to expose the hips for ease of sitting in the full skirt. The front is cornered and pointed, and the back is squared. I wanted a clean look for the child, Louise, to wear. Louise Godey's Riding Habit is for the hunt. Not a hunt of game, but a hunt to seek and find the wonders of nature in the autumn woods. The whisper of fox and foxglove. The spotting of birds flying south. The enjoyment of chasing across the fields with her dog close at heel.
I began with the jacket, choosing the most difficult piece to make first. A few patterns, a few changes, a few mock ups later, I constructed this velveteen jacket with a rounded neckline close to the neck with just enough room for a bit of lace to peep out from the chemise. A long row of tiny shell buttons march down the front. Four of the same buttons decorate the cuff ends of the sleeves. The buttons are sewn back to back for a lovely detail, and cinch the sleeve end a bit tighter over her wrists. The sleeves of the jackets worn in the 1860's riding habits, were looser than those of earlier decades, however a detail like this does not detract from the design concept.
Her skirt, as mentioned before, is a good "foot" longer than her day gowns. It is pleated as is the skirt from the design plate below. This pleating, then a gentle gathering of all at the waist deals nicely with the volume of fabric required to make such a full skirt - especially in a fabric like velveteen, as opposed to silk. The chemise is not separate, but was made like a doll's costume, attached to the skirt. The lace collar is zigzag sewn on the neck edge.
Louise's Turkish trousers are made from the same cotton as the skirt's lining. Due to the amount of fabric needed to give them the proper volume, it was best to chose something thin that would gather nicely. The Turkish trousers are separate, with a waistband that closes in a hook and loop.
Louise needed a proper pair of riding boots. The boots were tall and made from good sturdy leather. I read that often the skirts of hunting habits were edged with a foot of leather panel to prevent nice fabrics from tearing in brush and tree. Heavy. Those poor horses!
While researching riding boots, I came across a blog on riding habits from this era and found this "poster" or book cover of Kate Tattersall Adventures in China. Not having read this book by R.S. Fleming, I can only hope that the era was correct and Kate partook in some equestrian activities. However, the boots looked correct. For one thing, when you research riding habits you're not going to find the illustrations of ladies showing their boots. Too indelicate, I suppose. The only reason I know that straight leg pants were worn at time, is that there was a photograph of a woman showing 2" of the bottom of her trousers. Regardless, I loved the straps on these boots Kate wears, and made up a pair of similar boots for Louise with less buckled straps. All I had left of the smallest Dritz buckles were silver ones, and I added three to each boot on the areas that most needed tight closing. The boots are made from mocha brown Italian goatskin hide.
In one of the illustrations of a spring riding habit, I spotted this lovely Travel Reticule, and knew Louise had to have one. I'd intended a belt for her at the waist of the jacket, but this was better. In the illustration, the travel reticule is very small. It was not my intention to make Louise's so much larger, but there are several factors at play here. Louise is a child wearing the "same" reticule the adult woman is. Also, the travel reticule was sewn on the machine, and constructed of good glove leather, and needed to be turned inside out at the small opening. You'll notice the reticule's design is similar to the edge of her jacket. A Leit Motif.
Another happy find (I do love Google images!), was the design I chose for her hat, and next to it, a riding crop with a crocheted wrist band. A girl would wear the wristband and tie the straps to her crop, so should it slip out of her hand, it would not be lost behind. It would simply dangle from the wristband, easy to catch up again.
So I began the hat. Clearly the most difficult piece of the costume. Again, I chose black velveteen to cover the frame. The hat is designed similarly to the illustration, with the exception of two feathers, rather than one. Some riding hats did sport two feathers, one on each side, so I followed suit. The base of the hat is buckram with hat wire sewn onto the edge to shape it. It is lined with black silk taffeta to protect her hair. Two long silk ribbons tie the hat to her head, and the same silk makes a band and pretty bow in front. The feathers came from a pheasant, I suppose. These were tightly bound in a "bunch" in the floral section of Michaels. I chose the smallest ones and they nestle beneath the ribbon band around the crown. I envisioned Louise riding through the fields with these feathers fluttering out behind her.
Next was her riding crop and wristlet. Speaking of size (the reticule), the crop in the illustration seemed a bit "twiggy" and thin. I think it was drawn to illustrate the use of the wristband rather than express a proper riding crop. You could poke someone in the eye with it (sorry for my sense of humor), but a horse wouldn't notice the whack much.
I carved the little dog head out of basswood and stained the stem and head with golden oak stain. I wrapped leather around it for a secure hold, but I probably should have left the wood bare, and make carvings of crossways lines in it. Like the one in the illustration. This was an afterthought, and should I make another sometime, I'll explore this. Funny, but the dog's head looks more like my Lab's, Dover's head, than the hunting dog illustrated. I used him as my model. Its only 1/2" tall. I think I was ready to wrap the project up.
I don't crochet. And, no, it is not like my "not sewing". I truly believe crochet and knitting is better done in the hands of some with more patience and skill than I have. So, to emulate the wristband, I used the boot leather, but the sueded side. I used pinking sheers to cut the rick rack design, and applied all to a thin piece of netting with hat glue. It closes around the wrist with a metal button and loop. The straps wrap around the crop permanently. Two little tassels of embroidery thread make it dainty and decorative.
Lastly, I chose to make her a pair of gloves. It was my intention to make long gauntlets, but they'd have been the size of oven mitts to go over the sleeve ends of the jacket. I also did not have any antique glove leather on hand. However, stuffed in the back of a cabinet, I found the ultra micro suede I used for Lettie Lane's autumn leaf costume! It was perfect. Thin. I could easily hand stitch the gloves through the two layers. The thumb and edges are sewn with a blanket or button hole stitch. Itty bitty stitches. I'm glad I was able to pull the gloves together, for I think they put the finishing touch to the costume.
I have seen beautiful gloves with all the fingers, hand sewn by talented seamstress, in trousseau trunks time and again. What you never see, are the gloves actually worn by the doll. This is because they are for looks only. Louise's hands are little round puffs of porcelain. I like accessories that work. Accessories you can play with. So the pattern for these gloves only sport a little finger, a thumb, and the illusion of the fingers, which on the doll are fused.
When I ponder Louise's trunk of clothing, her trousseau, I am always seeking to round out the colors selected for her garments. Its likely that most costumes from the 1860's were made from the hues of only four or five colors, but we can play here and allow her to dazzle with a "muted rainbow".
In several days I'll be leaving for our annual sojourn to hike the red rock canyons of Utah, and climb through gold aspen forests. I fully expect Louise to take advantage of her beloved pony and make the most of her riding habit.
Miss E. Mouse
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