Pattern Work: 1905 Skirt

One of the many projects were working on is is starting work on a new early 1900s day suit design. We’re trying to base this off of original patterns and for skirt, we’ve settled on a pattern that was first published in 1905 by The Ladies Home Journal.

Pattern 1905 Skirt

The original pattern was printed on tissue paper that’s now a hundred years old and needless to say, it’s not suitable for direct use for patterning so the first step is going to be tracing the pattern pieces onto regular pattern paper and then eventually creating more permanent pattern blocks. Fortunately, the pattern pieces had already been cut out (most likely back around 1905) but it took some careful unfolding and smoothing out before the tracing could begin. Also, given the age of the pattern, we dare not iron the pieces in order to flatten them out, which is the usual procedure.

Pattern 1905 Skirt

In working with period patterns, one is struck by just how minimal the instructions and markings on the pattern itself are, especially compared against what’s today’s industry standard. We were able to figure out what the markings on the pattern pieces meant and when checked against the cursory instruction sheet, made complete sense. It’s a ten-gore skirt and it’s a fairly simple pattern, similar to standard skirt pattern blocks that are used today.

Pattern 1905 Skirt

After tracing out the pattern pieces, we lined them up on proper order and made sure that the seams matched up properly and that the waistband and hem line up. We had to do a little truing up on the pattern paper but it was not a real issue. Finally, we noticed that one pattern piece for the belt was missing but this should be easy to remedy.

The next stage will be to cut out a muslin or toile and check it for fit and accuracy and make any necessary corrections to the pattern pieces. One final note, this is pattern that’s definitely designed for a slender person with a waist of 24 inches (corseted, no doubt). What’s also interesting is that the seam allowance is 3/8 inches- we’ll probably add an additional 1/4 inch to bring it to a standard home sewer seam allowance of 5/8 inches (that will give some more leeway for adjustments). Eventually, we’ll probably have to grade this pattern up to several larger sizes. As more progress is made, we’ll be posting updated on the start of what should prove to be an interesting project for 2018.


Design Elements – Color Sets The Mood

One of the key elements in fashion design is color and late 19th Century fashion design is no exception. The design process may vary between individual designers but no matter who they are, they all have to consider what colors they’re going to use in their designs. The selection of colors is dependent on the season (though not always) and as such, tend to follow nature. Today, heavy weight is given to predicting what colors will be popular with fashion consumers because this influences the color and types of fabrics that design houses will order for their new lines; a multi-million dollar industry has been created around predicting what colors will be in for the following year with Pantone being the leading firm because of it setting color standards for a variety of industries.. The following color palettes from Pantone give a good illustration of this:

First we have the palette for Fall 2017:

PANTONE Fashion Color Report Fall 2017, New York

Most of the colors are deep, darker earth tones with a neutral gray mixed in reflecting shorter, darker days, leaves turning and the dying off of plant life in anticipation of winter. Nest, here’s the palette for Spring 2018:

Image result for pantone colors fall 2018

In the above palette for 2018, the colors tend to be lighter, reflecting the increasingly longer days, more sunny weather, and new growth of plants and foliage.

However, before we go on, let me emphasize that color trend predicting is a somewhat subjective and as such, it doesn’t always follow strict rules and as such, it’s more of an approximation today than it was during the 19th Century. Here are two examples from the late 19th Century:

As with other designers, consideration of color makes up a good part of the design process and it’s one of the first steps in the design process. For us, colors fall under three major categories: Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer. At the same time, we also consider what sort of a garment we’re designing: ball gown, day dress, reception dress, etc. Also, we consider where it’s primarily going to be worn: outside, indoors, indoors at night (e.g., ball room, stage, etc.). Once those questions are answered, we can then proceed with more specific color selections. If the garment is to be worn during the daytime and outside, we tend to first use nature as the first starting point for inspiration.

To illustrate this, let’s consider our Camille picnic dress design. When we originally conceived of it, we were looking for a day dress that could be worn at an outdoor event in the Spring or Summer such as a picnic. The Mid-Bustle Era has always been a favorite with us, so we decided that the style would derive from that period. From there, we determined our color palette, drawing inspiration from the Impressionist painters and Claude Monet in particular. But even more specifically, we wanted to emphasize the Spring with its fresh vegetation and explosion of lighter green colors combined with occasional pops of red or violet and towards that end, Monet’s garden at Giverny was the perfect source of inspiration.

After some online photo research, here’s what we came up with:

Karin Camille Mood Board Spring 2016

Ultimately, the decision was made to go with a bright chartreuse as the primary color based on the greenery found at Giverny that’s portrayed with in Monet’s paintings as well as actual photographs such as this one:

Giverny Monet

Giverny Today

Below are a few more illustrations of the final Camille picnic dress just to give an idea of how the color was ultimately brought to life:

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

Karin Camille Picnic Dress Impressionist

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

From a color theory standpoint, the colors that we ultimately used for the Camille picnic dress were: chartreuse (both pale and bright), pale champagne gold (on the lower sleeves), and yellow-orange (the fringed trim running on the skirt front):

Image result for bright chartreuse pantone

Image result for old gold pantone

Image result for bright orange pantone

Finally, if viewed on the color wheel, you will notice that they are all analogous colors that are located next to each on the wheel:


We hope you’ve enjoyed that this post has helped give you some insight into just one of the many elements that go into making a Lily Absinthe design. Stay tuned for more!

Extravagance Unfolded – The Knife Pleat, Part 3

In this installment, we’ll make a few comments in regard to knife pleat construction. Knife pleating is relatively simple but it requires a meticulous attention to detail and patience (and a lot of steam and pressure)- to use it effectively, you will need to work slow and methodical but with each project, you will gradually build up your skill and speed.


In pleating, it is important to first consider the quantify of fabric that will be used. Here at Lily Absinthe, we compare pleating for clothing with pleating for drapery and it’s all about the proportion. In draperies, window widths are measured by “returns.” Cheaper draperies will have a 1.5 return (a return is 1.5 times the width of window). Average quality draperies run a 2 to 2.5 x return (e.g., 2 to 2.5 times the width of the window). For the highest quality (what we use here at Lily Absinthe) is a 3 x return (e.g., 3 times the width of the window). As you can see, higher quality will require significantly more yardage and this applies to clothing.

In order to achieve optimal pleats, steam and pressure are essential- a good iron is essential. During the 19th Century, one of the primary means of pleating was accomplished by the fluting iron. These could range from the manual devices to full-blown machines:

Fluting Iron1



No matter what their construction was, they all worked on the principal of applying pressure to shape of “crimp” the fabric into the distinctive knife-edge pleat shape. Heat is an essential component and provision was made to heat up the cylinders through the insertion of heating irons which was iron bars that were heated up over a heat source, typically a stove or similar. Also, the fabric was pre-treated, usually with a mixture of water and starch, and this aided in permanently setting the pleats. Finally, to help maintain the pleats’ shape and prevent movement, the individual pleats were often tacked down.


The above comments are somewhat cursory but if you want to know more, there are a number of good tutorials that are available online and even some video demonstrations on YouTube. Knife pleating was one of the most common decorative styles used for late 19th Century dresses and was used liberally along hemlines, cuffs, and collars and it’s definitely one of those style elements that should be give serious consideration in any dress design of the period.

Patterning- Building The Foundation

Inspiration is the basis for all of our designs but that is only the start. In order to bring our designs into reality, it is necessary to have an extensive knowledge of just HOW garments are constructed (i.e. “put together”) and an essential part of this are patterns since they provide the “roadmap” for the actual construction process. In this post, we’ll be discussing the nature of our approach towards patterning. Enjoy! 🙂


All garments, whether the are haute couture or bargain basement, start with a pattern and it’s that specific pattern that defines what that particular garment is ultimately going to be. Here at Lily Absinthe, our approach to patterning is a combination of methods that are referred to in the trade as “bespoke” and “made to measure (MTM).” These two terms are often used interchangeably in reality are two different methods. With the bespoke method, an individual pattern is created for a specific client based on their measurements and taking into account the various body characteristics of the client. With MTM, the garment is built on pre-existing pattern blocks that are modified on the basis of the client’s measurements (this is admittedly a bit of an over-simplification but it does convey the essence).

We maintain an extensive library of pattern blocks that we have drafted ourselves and in most instances, we will modify specific pattern blocks based on the individual client’s measurements. More importantly, these modifications also incorporate every nuance of the client’s body. In most instances, the MTM method works perfectly but in some instances, we will draft custom pattern pieces. However, no matter which of these two approaches we use, we guarantee a perfect fit every time and a garment that has been custom made to the client.

Patterning is often presented as a magic and mysterious process that requires the utilization of various arcane procedures to achieve results. On the flip side, in more recent years patterning has been presented as something that can be done quickly on a computer and paper patterns instantly printed out. In reality, while pattern drafting is a relatively simple and straight-forward in theory, it does require an attention to detail, precision, and a lot of patience (and we mean A LOT). For more complicated designs, it often requires a series trials rotating back and forth with muslin mock-ups (aka tolle) and revising the paper pattern to achieve the optimal result.


Ultimately, whether a garment is “bespoke” or MTM, it’s critical that the fit be perfect, fabric/trim choices are suitable, and most importantly, that the garment is aesthetically pleasing. 🙂

Madame Demorest's Illustration Portfolio of the Fashions for 1880: