Photography: Philip Patton
Some time ago, a friend of mine sent me a picture of a walking suit, dated 1893, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and informed me that I needed it. I agreed. So, I set out to copy the overall shape and feel as closely as possible, using similar materials, colors, etc.
The stripes have always felt like bee stripes, a veritable "wasp-waist". I was able to find additional photos of the original on the Met website, and used them extensively to mentally deconstruct the original and draft the pattern for it.
For the bonnet, I was inspired by a Victorian bonnet class I took this summer, some lovely fuschia wool flowers I found, some 1890's millinery bees that came through my Facebook feed, and of course the Foundations Revealed Contest theme.
The most difficult parts of the walking suit itself were drafting the bodice, and carefully sewing the bee striping soutache. The center front opening on the original seemed rather clunky and was possibly altered later, so I changed it to a plastron-type opening to give me a smoother front. The suit skirt, upper bodice, and sleeves are an interestingly textured wool, and cotton velveteen forms the layer under the soutache. I used rayon soutache as it looks more like the old silk soutache, and is easier to handle. There was some trial and error in the beginning to stitch all the soutache, and I eventually settled on using a regular presser foot on my machine, and relying on my hem gauge to keep it properly spaced. On mine, as the original, the soutache stripes alternate on the side seams, and do not match. This eliminates bulk at the seam, and allows it to press flat nicely.
The skirt and bodice are both lined with drab cotton sateen, and the skirt is interlined near the hem with hair canvas to help it hold its shape.
The bonnet is made of a simple 1890's wire and buckram bonnet frame, and is covered with leftover cotton velveteen from the walking suit. It is trimmed with purchased wool flowers, and millinery bees I made myself. The bees have a needle felted wool body, which is embroidered with vintage buttonhole silk and black faceted jet beads for the eyes. The wings are trimmed down feathers from my mom's barnyard geese, painted to give them the lacing of bees' wings. The bonnet is lined with cotton broadcloth, and ties with a fuschia ribbon.
Getting the bonnet done in time was a little all-consuming, but I enjoyed it. I think everyone should compete so we can see the amazing talent that is out there!