Introducing Angus!

Life has a way of working in unexpected ways and this Christmas is no exception. Somewhat unexpectedly, we wound up adopting Angus, a male 7-month year old Jack Russell Terrier. With Mac’s passing earlier this year, we hesitated looking for another companion for Molly, telling ourselves that the right one would come along and not to rush things. Two days before Christmas as Karin was going to the grocery store for some last-minute items for Christmas Day, she spotted a display by a dog rescue organization and well, the deed was done and Little Angus came home. So, here’s  Angus!


Angus is still figuring out where he fits in the Atelier but rest assured, he’ll have his own bed and soon he’ll be helping out. 🙂


The “Free”…

I love my Singers, but there’s a little known American machine company that was called: “The Free”. It’s my “fun” machine that I use when I want to just treadle and have fun with antiques. It has a unique mechanical movement (called a “rotoscillo” style) and the Art Nouveau decals graphics appeal to me. This sad little lady came from ebay, was just thrown in a box and shipped to me with a dented oil pan and some other issues. I cleaned her up a bit and she’s ready to rock and roll in my treadle at the Tombstone house…and um, now there will be three of this brand there. I can stop collecting unique machines at any time, no–really, I can. (I just don’t want to 🙂 )

Free Sewing Machine1 Vintage

Free Sewing Machine2 Vintage

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.

Weekend At The Atelier

It’s been fairly quiet here at the atelier; with a major brush fire raging and the resulting poor air quality, I opted to remain indoors, catching up on various projects. One such project is making late 19th Century shirts for myself. At the suggestion of Karin, I started with a shirt pattern that was originally designed by Buckaroo Bobbins and subsequently acquired by Simplicity.


The shirt pattern comes along with a vest and frock coat patterns (I have not used these so I cannot vouch for the quality) so you’re actually getting three patterns in the package.

I first started by constructing a shirt that rigorously followed the pattern. The instructions are somewhat confusing so if you don’t have prior experience in putting shirts together, you experience some difficulties so it’s best to have someone experienced available to walk you through the more confusing parts. The end result was fairly decent but I experienced the following issues:

  • The shirt is too short- it seems to be based on more of a modern dress shirt length and just packed the fullness of 19th Century that the long length supplies
  • The neckline is too high. The neckline was too high and simply uncomfortable (it would have been worse with a collar added on). Karin wound up cutting a lower neckline while I was wearing the stitched together back, front, and yoke. There was instant relief but now I had to re-cut the collar band (I was intending to wear it with a detachable cloth or celluloid collar).
  • Too much interfacing- unless you are using incredibly sheer fabric, there is no need to add the interfacing the plackets, collar band or cuffs, as called for in the instructions. Even adding it to the collar pieces is questionable. It just adds more bulk where it’s not needed.

So with those faults, I decided to redraft the pattern to reflect the addition of 4 inches to the length of the shirt and the lowered neckline. To do this, I first assembled a muslin (or toile) and then had Karin cut down the collar. Next, I disassembled the pattern pieces and drafted new pattern pieces to include the yoke, placket, and shirt front and back. Just to be complete, I even mounted them on oak tag (I normally do this for all my patterns, they last longer and less prone to creating error when tracing and cutting the fabric). Here are some pictures of the effort:


The yoke, before and after. The “before” piece is on the left. Note the lower curve for the revised piece. This is the neckline on the yoke.


And the new shirt back and front pieces.

I then decided to create a new shirt that would reflect the modified pattern. I managed obtain some 100% cotton checked shirting fabric that would work for a late 19th Century shirt for only $2 a yard so I was set.


In the course of constructing the new shirt, at Karin’s suggestion various changes were made to the construction details to as to simplify construction and enhance historical accuracy (all, of which I took copious notes of). After 1 1/2 day’s work, voila!


This is not the best picture and there’s still a bit more to do to include finishing the armhole seams, installing buttonholes, and sewing on buttons.

Overall, I am pleased with the pattern and I was fortunate to have Karin to guide me through the rough spots. One of the most important things to bear in mind when working with any sewing pattern is that the pattern is just a start and often the instructions are either vague or unclear as to actual construction (and sometimes, they’re simply non-existent).

Being dependent on just the pattern can be a major source of frustration and result in suboptimal results. The reality is that one really has to have a knowledge of how clothing is actually constructed and be able to work from that knowledge. Here at Lily Absinthe, we draft our own patterns to reflect our designs- often times, using a commercially produced pattern is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. With our own proprietary patterns, we determine the precise designs that we want.

It’s been a learning experience for me and allowed me to expand my knowledge of patterning and construction. For my next attempt, karin has promised to let me use the pattern than she drafted from an original 19th Century tailoring sources so that I’ll have a new challenge. 🙂 Now to get those button holes installed… 🙂

Behind The Scenes At The Atelier: Our Sewing Machines

I truly believe an Artist is most inspired when working with beautiful tools. Each one is a treasure and deserves respect. <3


Every Lily Absinthe order in the past four years or so has parts (or all) sewn on this machine. A 1949 Singer 201 on my Art Deco Industrial base…My Dream machine! Most of my phone calls are taken from here. 🙂


We ALWAYS have a sewing machine in the back of the car when we attend weddings or events. This little 221 has seen over 50 weddings and used countless times for emergencies <3


This is Adam’s Machine…because Real Men Sew. Made in the early 1960s and built like a brick…the machine, not my husband! 😉


A Canadian Beauty. One of the first Industrial treadles made by Singer. She can sew through anything and with that huge flywheel can easily get away from the operator. If you visit me here, she’s a must-try.


My first industrial from the mid-1980s. She went through a wall in the Northridge Earthquake…the wall across the room. An amazing machine.


Many a corset has been sewn with this little 1903 charmer that was converted to electric in the 1940s.


A rare American Beauty that is new to us here at Lily Absinthe. Check out the peacock motifs…


Of course, the peacock machine has the most beautiful Tiger Oak Cabinet. My aesthetic Spiderweb teapot is perfect here <3


Sewing machines are everywhere here, the 1890s Jones hand-crank lives on top of the piano at the top left of the photo.


Our 1920s fireplace hearth with its friends.