One of the articles ( well, two in one, actually) I originally wrote for Your Wardrobe Unlock’d – It is a long and a detailed tutorial, hopefully targeted at folks who would like to make their own stuff… I do make historical habits as commissions, if you are interested, please check my website!
1885 Riding habit – jacket
I have wanted that habit since I first clasped my eyes on it – the one from Victorian and Albert museum. The jacket has been on my to-do list for ages, in fact I had hoped I could wear it for the wedding hack, but somehow ran out of time to make it. Still, its time has finally come and in the present article we will have a closer look at how to make one as well as the skirt and the riding trousers !
As remarked in the article on the Regency riding habit, some significant changes were afoot. Due to the fencing off the countryside, it has become unavoidable that to follow a hunt, one will have to jump all the fences and hedges in the way. Not much of a problem for all the gentlemen, but a serious issue for the lady riders.
A bit of side saddle history should cast some light on it: the saddles used so far for the ladies had only one pommel, over which the lady would hook her leg. This has enabled her to sit facing forwards – a technique believed to have been invented by Catherine de Medici , though there is an engraving by Durer (pic.a)that predates the French Queen’s time, showing a lady facing forward as well.
Whoever could be credited with the invention, it was a huge improvement – before ladies either sat on a saddle facing completely sideways, with a planchette to rest the feet on, with little control of the steady palfrey which was often led by a groom (http://thesidesaddlemuseum.com/detail17thcenthermessaddle.html). Or, for a faster ride, they sat behind a man riding pillion (still practiced in Tudor times). Neither way was completely comfortable and neither allowed the freedom of movement. However, with the side saddles with a pommel, it was possible for a lady to ride independently.
And it was all fine until one had to jump. Bolder Regency ladies would strap themselves to the saddles to ensure you would stay on over the fences – but it was dangerous as in case of a horse falling, the rider would be easily crushed. But with the invention of the second pommel, the leaping head, it has suddenly become possible to stay on, quite comfortably so, over all kinds of jumps, fences or ditches. The equestrian minded ladies, for the first time in history, were able to ride independently in all conditions, keeping up with the men – but still looking elegant and ladylike. Indeed the sport became very popular, with several famous equestriennes performing all kind of tricks on the side saddle.
The riding habits reflected the changes in the saddle design, especially as far as the cut of the skirts was concerned. I remarked in the previous article how difficult it was to arrange my regency skirts on a later Victorian saddle – the skirt would simply not lie properly as the leaping head was in the way, hooking the fabric. So firstly the skirts were cut much fuller – not a problem in the crinoline age skirts – but that still didn’t completely solve the problem as the skirts would bulk up and get tangled around the rider’s legs .
Later Victorian skirts are cut very differently – they are much more fitted, hugging the hips, and having darts at the knee, shaping the garment to match the shape the rider’s right thigh would assume on horseback. It was still not completely safe as in case of a fall a lady could still catch her skirts and be dragged behind the horse – but it was the first step towards the later much safer apron skirts which are still worn today.
The bodice changed as well, though here the changes simply reflected the changes of fashions. A few things remained constant however: the cut was simple, utilitarian, resembling man’s jackets and uniforms – and the braiding so popular on men’s attire was no less popular amongst the ladies. The riding habits were worn on shirts or chemisettes, and corsets. Indeed a ‘riding’ or a sport corsets were used – shorter, with hips cut much higher to allow the rider to sit comfortably. The corset, boned either lightly or more heavily depending on the rider’s requirements does not restrict the movement – if anything, it provides a terrific back support.
There is quite a lot of extant habits to be found online- I compiled quit e a lot of images of the habits throughout the ages on my Pinterest board
Background information and research.
Well, not much here on this habit apart from the images from the V&A – there are a few photos of the same jacket on the web but in different light, so although it is difficult to be precise about the hue of the jacket and the braid, it is at the same time easier to see some details more clearly.
The original shows the jacket in grey/blue fabric with a grey braid decoration – as the description says, ‘Flannel trimmed with mohair, and lined with sateen’. Indeed the style of the jacket is described as ‘Hungarian’ or ‘Polish’, so I found it very fitting, considering my Polish origins! It was made by Messrs Redfern and Co. For May Primrose Littledale.
1.5m of the top fabric – flannel, broadcloth, superfine would be best. Here broadcloth is used. ( for great cloth have a look here)
1.5m of lining fabric- cotton, sateen, silk, linen. I used flax linen.
If you are using thinner fabrics, interlining is recommended.
3m of narrow cotton bias binding
17 buttons – here lovely silk wrapped buttons by Gina Barrett
Hooks and eyes – optional, I used mine to secure the underside front
A strip of buckram for lining the collar
4 bones and bone castings
15m of braid – I made my own out of cotton yarn. Simply couldn’t find one that would work well as most of the braids nowadays contain rayon etc. Still, if authenticity is not the priority, there are a few that would do – there are excellent links in Gina’s article on frogging. I had originally planned to make mine out of silk yarn, but I didn’t have enough and couldn’t find the same colour anywhere. Still, the cotton seems to work!
Tracing paper to transfer the pattern
Calico for mock up
Well, for once, it was a bit easier. I used the pattern and the mock up from my wedding bodice – the sleeves, back and sides. All I had to do was to experiment with the asymmetric front. Easier said than done – the experimenting did take some time!
A similar pattern can be found on Vena Cava website:
I actually bought this one, as the skirt and trousers will be based on that – and maybe one day I can have a go at another jacket too!
Cut your pieces in calico and sew them together. As mentioned, I used my existing mock up, and simply drafted an overlapping right front on a calico instead of an original part.
- Try it on, making sure you wear the underwear you intend to wear it with – in this case a corset. Not so good here -needs a few adjustments on the front.
- Once you are satisfied with the fit, transfer the changes to the pattern and cut the jacket in top fabric and lining. There are a two options as to the method of lining – you can either flat line it, or make the lining and the top separately. I decided to flat line mine as it gives a bit more stability, seems to be more accurate for the period, and it is easier to attach any bones if needs be. So I placed my top pieces on top of lining, pinned them together even before I started cutting the lining out – as a result they are ready for sewing the moment you finish cutting
- Start with the darts in the front parts. Pin them together and sew through all layers of the fabric. If your fabric is flimsy, it is a good idea to baste the layers together first.
- With the darts sewn, trim the lining to reduce bulk and press
- Sew the rest of the bodice together – start at the back and add part by part, making sure the seams lie flat – careful pinning or basting is recommended, especially on the curved seams. If you need, draw the seam line on the lining – will help if you don’t want to rely on the machine’s gauge
- Trim the lining along the seams to reduce the bulk. Notch them too – the seam, especially any curved seam will work better. It is also easier to iron them flat.
- Try the bodice on – there is still time for adjustment, and in fact, mine needed a few! Back needed taking in more and the front didn’t look fantastic either The front was an inch too high and it turned out that it was necessary to insert a horizontal dart to facilitate the transition between the bulk of the bust and the neck area. Darts like that were used in 18th century riding bodices and in some Victorian bodices too – so I decided to insert on here too. And it worked nicely.
- Once all the alternations are done, press the seams open and either pink the seams allowance, or couch them down.
- Sleeves next. Again, pin the two parts together and sew. Reduce the seam bulk and press the seams – not an easy task but can be achieved with the help of the tailor’s ham and sleeve ironing board
- Insert the sleeve into the armhole, pin it safely – and if you plan to have the sleeve head slightly gathered (like mine – gives me that little extra freedom of movement!), secure the gathers with a thread. Sew, then treat the seam like all the others – trim the lining seam allowance and notch on the curve. Repeat with the other sleeve.
- Tidy all the edges of the bodice, preparing for binding. Pin or baste the layers together and then pin on the bias binding’
- Sew the binding on. Trim the edges to match the edge of the binding Encase the edge with the binding, pin and hand stitch. ) Press the finished edges flat. Repeat on the sleeves.
- The collar – pin the layers together (here 2 layers of wool and 2 of interlining) and sew. Grade the seam allowances to reduce the bulk and trim the edges inside
- Pin to the bodice and try on, ensuring that the collar is even on both sides. Sew, right sides together, through the bodice and collar layers (all except the collar’s lining). Grade the seam allowances.
- Secure the collar’s lining – i used the same fabric as the top fabric here) and hand stitch in place
- Buttonholes. Mark the buttonholes on the overlapping fabric – the original had 17 buttons, and it so happened that mine was a perfect length for it – a button every inchJ work the buttonholes either by hand or machine.
- Add the bones. Use either ready-made bone casings or make your own in your fabric. Then stitch the bones to the seams and the front darts.
- Back pleats – pin the pleats in desired place and secure with stitches – all you can add a bit of fabric to strengthen the place.
The bodice is basically finished, it simply needs some decoration.
I followed Gina’s advice on the type of braid and made mine out of cotton yarn. It is easy to make (7 strand braid – I have done 8 and 5 strands before), but the required length meant there were some complications. Usually, if a short length was required, I would prepare my threads by tying the excess length in little bundles. It works, but the threads tangle quite a lot. So for the rest of the braid, I simply used lace making bobbins – the braid can be much longer now and plaiting is smoother.
Eons later, once you have all your braid ready (or if you are less of a martyr and bought some nice readymade one!) the real fun begins – applying the braid. Again, I used Gina’s instructions from her excellent article on frogging. I drew the pattern on the paper, based it to the fabric, sew the braid on and then removed the paper. Note though – removing the paper from those tiny nooks and spaces between the braid took ages – many thanks to my husband who spent at least an hour with tweezers…).
Repeat for all the other decorations – on the sleeves, back and collar.
Add the buttons and the jacket is ready to wear!
Skirt and trousers
The original jacket is displayed with a plain black skirt. I have decided to go a bit further and get a skirt in matching wool. As pointed out in the previous article, the skirts for the equestriennes have been undergoing substantial changes in the period. By 1880 gone were the full skirts of the earlier periods – they did look lovely, draping on the side in a gentle curve, but they could also be uncomfortable and dangerous: the fabric would bulk up and in case of falls, the folds of the skirts could be easily caught on the pommels of the saddle, dragging the unlucky rider. The new generation of skirts featured a completely different construction; it was asymmetrical, with the shape of the skirt reflecting closely the shape the amazon’s body would assume on horseback. Although not as safe as later apron skirts, this type of skirt was safer and more comfortable for riding than the previous models, and they also enjoyed the benefit of being elegant, and easy to adapt for walking.
The trousers, based on men’s garments, were sometimes worn underneath. They provided a valuable layer for winter hunting, and, if a fall occurred, they kept the lady decent. I wasn’t really sure if wearing 2 layers of wool would be comfortable, but since I got the patterns for both, I decided to give it a try as well and experiment with the layers, trying to find the safest and most comfortable way of dressing a Victorian Amazone.
3.5m of wool (broadcloth, twill, etc, medium to heavy weight) colour – blues, greens, black and greys were favoured, with lighter colours being worn in summer or in hotter climates.
3m of mock up fabric – cheap cotton, calico etc
2m of lining – here cotton/linen mix
7 – 10 buttons
1m or tape for waistband
1m of tape for loops
0.5 elastic for the stirrup
Pattern: as mentioned before the one from Past Patterns
Note: the pattern provides instructions, but I admit I found some of them tricky to follow and employed alternative solutions – hope you will find them useful!
Preparing the pattern and mock up.
- Trace the size you require on a pattern paper. If you are making the pattern only for yourself and will not need other sizes later, you can simply cut the pattern in your size straight from the commercial pattern. Piece the pattern pieces together (front skirt upper and lower, back skirt upper and lower)
- Transfer the pattern onto your mock up fabric. Mark the darts and notches carefully, it also helps to write on each piece which is front side left or right side, which is back, again, left or right. I know, how can you confuse 2 pieces, but trust me, you can.
- Cut out mock up fabric – do not worry about facings at the time. If you cut the darts on mock up, it is easier to transfer them onto the patter/top fabric later.
- Sew up the darts on both parts first, then sew the side seams.
- Try it on. Make sure you try it on either the same or similar undergarments you will be wearing your habit on. If you are planning to wear the trousers, either make the trousers first, or wear trousers of similar weight and shape under your mock up. Essential – do wear your corset. The pattern is cut to modern sizes and does not take corseted waits into consideration, you may find you need to make the darts bigger and take in the side seams to fit a corseted waist.
- Mark any adjustments on the mock up, both in standing position and in sitting, side saddle position. If you are lucky enough to have a saddle and a horse handy, do get on and check the fit on the real thing – will work great on your hem line as well. Here, alas, I only had a sofa readily accessible…
- Transfer any adjustments on the pattern if you plan to use it in the future ( you can also save and use the mock up for that purpose)
- Trace your pattern on the top fabric and cut – cut out the two main pieces plus the facings. Make sure you marked all the darts and notches clearly on the left side.
- Cut out the lining pieces (front, back and the pocket). Again, transfer the darts and notches on the lining’s right side. Pink the bottom of each lining piece.
- Place the lining on the wool, left sides together. Match the dart lines and pin.
- Baste the two layers together, including running a stitch through the middle of each dart, stopping about half an inch before the darts ‘point. You can baste on a machine or by hand, hand basted shown here. On the back piece, at the top opening, pink the wool, then top stitch the lining
- Sew the darts on each piece.
- Slice the darts open (all but one- the big horizontal dart on the back should stay shut), trim the bigger darts, press and hem the edges. Press the horizontal dart down.
The side facing–
Put the facing strip on the front piece, right sides together. Sew, press the seam open, flip it over the seam onto the wrong side. If not using the selvage, pink the edge and secure it to the lining with regular stitches.
Put the pocket facing along the straight line of the pocket piece. Sew, press, fold over the seam and secure.
Repeat on the other piece.
Place both pieces together with the facings outside sew around the pocket.
Turn inside out – the facing will be inside the pocket
Place the pocket on the facing, half an inch below the top line. Stitch to the facing using strong thread. Remember to leave the facing part open!
Assemble the skirt
Place the skirt parts tight sides together, pin and sew the side seams. Press the seams open (you will need a tailor’s ham for the knee part seam!) and either pink them or overcast the edges.
Turn the skirt on its right side. Try it on again – make sure the waistline sits snugly – if you need to adjust the darts, you can still do it at that stage.
Finish the top
Connect the facing parts by placing them right sides together and sewing. Open and press the seam. Pink the bottom part of the facing and pin the facing on the left side of the skirt, left sides together. Run a basting stitch half an inch from the top.
You can place the top of the pocket on the facing, or enclose it between the facing and the pocket. Here I decided to keep the pocket between the layers, looks nicer.
Take your tape and pin it to the right side of the skirt, slightly below the line of the basting. Sew.
Trim the seam, cutting notches ion the curved part, then fold the tape over the seam and stitch it onto the facing.
Here fabric covered buttons were used – cut a circle of fabric bigger than your button, run a stitch around the edges, place the button in and pull the thread. Secure with stitching and attach the button to the skirt.
Use as many buttons as you want on the side of the skirt- I used 6 big buttons.
Make one button for adjusting the skirt for walking. Sew it on at the bottom of the lower knee dart, on the back piece.
Cut your tapes to form loops – 2 loops will be used for hanging the garments, one loop, placed at the centre back dart, will be used to hook the knee button onto.
The original skirt also has 2 pearl buttons at the back darts – they were used to secure the skirt to the jacket (the jacket would have 3 small loops at the waistline)
Note – it might me more convenient to place a loop at the knee dart and a button at the centre back. Both arrangements were used at the time.
Work the buttonholes on the other side of the opening,
Try the skirt on again, and mark the correct hem position, if you can, on the horse.
Mark the hem depth with a line – the hem should be at least 4 inches deep. Press the edge inwards – it will make sewing the hem up easier later.
Place your weights in the positions indicated by the pattern. Stitch on either by hand or on a machine
Fold the hem inside, along the marked line. Secure to the fabric with small stitches, just catching enough fabric to be secure, without leaving a big mark on the right side. There will be some excess fabric – simply fold it into shallow darts and stitch them on.
Press the hem.
Take the elastic for the stirrup, form a loop big enough for your foot to get in, secure the loop with stitching.
Place the ready stirrup at the place marked on the pattern and sew it on. You can later adjust the length and position as necessary.
Your skirt is now ready!
I believe a warning is necessary here: these equestrienne trousers will not make you look pretty. They are the scariest pair of pants I own, and I do have a few. If you ever ask yourself whether your posterior looks big, be prepared that in these scary pants, it will. Big time. It will be noticeable with the skirts on too…. Having said so, they were not worn on their own and are very comfortable for riding, so a good trade-off here.
1.5m of wool
1.5 of lining ( cotton or linen, here linen)
1.5m of calico for mock up
Elastic for the stirrups
- Trace the pattern on your mock up fabric, marking all the darts and notches.
- Sew the darts.
- Place the front pieces over the back. Sew on the outside leg leaving marked opening on the right side), inside legs and outside the other leg.
- Now sew the centre back and centre front seams.
- Try the mock up on. Mark the length, waist size (the same notes as with the skirt apply here – if wearing a corset, you will need to make bigger darts!)
- Mark any corrections on the pattern
Making the trousers
- Trace the pattern on your top fabric and lining, making sure you mark the darts and notches. Also mark clearly which leg it is, as right leg will be longer!
- Cut the parts out.
- Place the lining parts on the corresponding parts of the top fabric, pin and baste together, as you did with the skirt.
- Sew the darts on each leg, using the same method as the darts on the skirt: sew, open, trim, press, overcast.
- Place the facing over the right front leg piece, right sides together, on the outside seam
- . Sew, trim the seam, flip the facing onto the inside and secure.
Assemble the trousers
The instructions will tell you to sew all the seams together and then press them. I prefer to sew seam by seam and press as I go – much easier for the outside seams pressing!
- Right leg: place the front piece on the back piece, right sides together.
- Sew the outside seam up to the facing.
- Press the seam open and either pink or overcast. Pink the back opening( opposite the facing part)
- Sew the inside seam, press (you will need a sleeve ironing board for that), finish the seam
- Repeat on the other leg
- You should now have two separate legs. Turn one leg out, on the right side. You now have one leg with the lining on top, the other one with the wool on top.
- Place the wool on top leg inside the other, so that the right sides are together. Pin the crotch seam, and sew from back to front.
- Take the leg out – you now have the trousers on the left side. Finish the seams
- Fold the hem of ach leg in, secure with stitching.
- Cut elastic and secure the stirrup as indicated on the pattern. You may have to adjust their length later on, but primarily they are to prevent the trousers riding up.
- Prepare the waistband – fold in half, length wise and press. To prevent rolling, either stiffen the inside of the waistband with iron on fusible, or baste in a tape.
- Place the waistband on the trousers, right sides together, matching the balance points.
- Sew together, open the seam and press.
- Fold the ends in and whipstitch together, then proceed to stitching the waistband to the inside of the trousers, hiding the seam.
- Add hanging loops at the centre back and front.
- Add buttons and buttonholes on the right side.
The trousers are ready!
They are really meant to be worn with riding shoes, not boots, but since I didn’t have shoes, boots had to do. The trousers just about fitted inside the boots, and, surprisingly, that improved their look, at least to our modern sensibilities, giving them a rather steampunk look
They do make your posterior look big but I found out, once you have the entire outfit on, you completely forget about them. I didn’t feel any hindrance while walking or for riding, everything worked exceptionally well.
The whole outfit looks rather impressive and is comfortable: it is easy to adjust the skirt to walking length and the get on and arrange it on the saddle. The saddle we used for the photo shoot was an antique and didn’t fit the horse at all, so we did not dare do more than a walk, but the seat felt secure. There was no extra fabric bunching up around the pommels that would interfere with the grip – something that was proving a problem with my regency habit. I would be happy to canter around and jump without worrying too much about what the skirt is doing. Definitely a winner!
and a few pics from another occasion, showing the habit in motion..
Victoria and Albert Museum online archive
Lucy Johnson, 19th Century Fashion in Detail, V&A Publishing, 2009
Rhonda C. Watts Hettinger The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Sidesaddle, Sidesaddle Source, Wilton, New Hampshire, 2009
Vena Cava Design, http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1880s-1890s_Riding_Habit_Ensemble.html?q=riding habit
Victoria and Albert Museum online archive
Gina Barrett, Making braids and Cords, DVD
Gina Barrett, Continuous Frog Fasteners, Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, 2012; http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/costumemaking/fabricsamaterials/601-continuous-frog-fasteners
Jill Salen, Corset: historical patterns and construction; Batsford, 2008
Lucy Johnson, 19th Century Fashion in Detail, V&A Publishing, 2009
Rhonda C. Watts Hettinger The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Sidesaddle, Sidesaddle Source, Wilton, New Hampshire, 2009