Jo Mackin is a customer of TFW who was bitten by the bug for historical sewing around 7 years ago, when she entertained a visitor from New Zealand who was a devotee. Jo was already an experienced dressmaker and she saw this as a new challenge.

Jo now regularly attends the Rochester Dickens Festival with her husband and friends. Her husband Neil recently won a prize for being the “Best Dressed Victorian Gentleman”. Obviously, Jo can take credit for this, as she made his outfit! Most of the people attending the events wear outfits that would have been worn by better off Victorians (it is fantasy after all!), but they do have a few vagabonds as well.

For anyone who is serious about making historically-accurate clothing there is now a School of Historical Dress based in London. This school began through links with The Globe Theatre and was set up by Janet Arnold. ­­There are courses available on many aspects of historical dress; not just European styles but from other parts of the world as well.

Historical garments tend to consist of a lot f fabric and involve a lot of sewing in their construction so Jo will use both hand and machine sewing when making them up. Around 5 to 10 metres of fabric may be needed to make a lady’s dress. With lining and petticoats, etc this can become as much as 20 metres – depending on the fashion. Jo tries to use appropriate materials as much as possible and natural fibres, but this can become too expensive with the quantities required, so sometimes compromises need to be made. Jo made Neil’s prize-winning garment from fabric she bought at one of The Fabric Warehouse’s sales using a 1910 suit pattern. Suitable fabrics for historical garments aren’t always easy to find so Jo will also search markets such as Southall and Shepherds Bush – and any other fabric she might come across during her travels.

To complete her outfits Jo also needs to find or make accessories such as shoes, boots, hats and parasols. She has made her own hats, which are constructed using buckram, wire and fabric that is stiffened with glue. Bags can be made using pieces of embroidered fabric. A company called Vena Carva (see link below) supplies specialist haberdashery for making corsets, fastenings, and also parasol and fan frames for covering.

At an Edwardian event at the Crich Tramway Museum in Matlock. Accessories such as hats, gloves and parasols finish off their outfits.

Jo has also made a study of corset making for the Regency and Victorian eras. Corset construction changed over time, depending on the body shape that was fashionable, but also what was possible with the materials available during each period. In fact, there is a lot more about this – so it will go in a separate blog posting!

If you would like to find out more about historical sewing and fashion, here are a few links to websites to explore:

Vena Cava (specialist haberdashery, etc):

Laughing Moon Mercan­tile (historical patterns):

Sense and Sensibility (historical patterns):

Truly Victorian (Victorian patterns):

The School of Historical Dress, London:

The Rochester Dickens Festival: