Saturday, May 21, 2016

1860s Cassell's Infant Cape

The Historical Sewing Monthly's Gender Bender challenge came at an interesting time for me. As I'm expecting my first child any day now, I am often asked if I know the baby's gender. Unfortunately, gender and sex get used interchangeably, yet they mean very different things. Whether the baby is a boy or a girl is actually it's sex and has nothing to do with its gender. Gender is more about the traits and the sex that is socially expected to exhibit those traits, for example if something is more masculine or feminine. We decided not to find out the sex of the baby, and as long as it is happy I am not too worried about where the child falls on a gender scale.. 

As a reflection of today's marketed/advertised/consumerist society, many people told me they struggled to find gifts for the baby as most infant items are gender and sex specific. When it came to the layette I have been sewing, I was even asked by multiple people what I was planning to do if the baby is a boy? Assuming that gowns are female only clothing. Nic and I have even discussed whether we should bend to some modern pressures and tack on a coloured ribbon often the baby is born (we decided against this as having people ask us at events will hopefully create an opening for historical discussion). In the Victorian period, this was not a concern. Cassell's (1869) recommends restraint in infant clothing, mentioning the royal family as an example in their infant wear. It also makes references to white for ease of washing and the numerous quantities of clothing items babies are expected to go through each day. The gowns are also far easier for access and the changing nappies. Most boys were not put into pants/breaches until they were toilet trained. 

There was only one mention of sex in the infant wear sections of Cassell's. This was referring to a rosette on the hood that can be purchased to go with a cape for outdoor wear. Having the early garments as non sex specific was very useful as they had no choice in knowing the sex until birth. Otherwise they would have to have made two layers before birth. It also makes it easier for handing down the garments and in making church boxes for the poor. 

The last item I needed to finish the baby layet is a going out infant cape.

The completed cape
Cassell's describes the going out cape with a lot of description for some aspects and almost none for others.
Cassell's 1869
Second page of instructions.
As normal I read the instructions, re-read and noted important aspects. Information is also given in other pages of the book. There are multiple cutting options and all with very little measurement information. One aspect of interest was that it did detail (fig20) how to make a cape pattern using newspaper. 
My short and quick notes, notice the lack of detail for this pattern
The instructions give lots of different options for colour and design. I still wanted the layette to remain sex and gender non specific. Grey was a recommended colour, so Nic purchased me some lovely light weigh grey wool. For lining I chose to recycle a silk skirt. The option for a silk lining was to quilt it. This was vague, so I went with a simple check quilt onto flannelette.
Lining silk and flannelette ready for quilting
Completed quilting and wool facings
The trimming design was a simplified version of this infant cloak braid pattern from Godey's. I drew out the pattern on tracing paper, until I had a design that I liked.

I also decided to match the trimmings to the lining. To keep it simple yet bold I decided to use a mixture of ribbon and tracing braid. 
Colour check and trial of ribbon and braid
To fold the ribbon I placed it over the tracing paper an pinned at each fold. 
Pinning the corners of the ribbon against the pattern. The pins do not go through the pattern, only the ribbon.
I then placed the pinned ribbon onto the cape and re-pinned it into place, making adjustments for the curve of the fabric.
Final ribbon placement. I had to shift the pattern to adjust for the curve.
I tacked the ribbon onto the wool down both sides. Once finished I added the tracing braid by placing and pinning it into place, using visual markers in the ribbon. Once a long section was pinned into place I would tack stitch the braid to the wool.
Pinning the braid into place. This is better freehand as it can be adjusted easily.
If you are as unlucky as I am you will sometimes have issues with connected braid, where the manufacturer has tacked ends of braid together. To hide this I push the end of the braid through the wool on a fold or crossover section of the design.
The end of one braid section and the start of a new piece pushed through the wool.
The ends of the braid are then hidden from view on the inside of the clothing. It is then hard to find where the braid starts and ends in the design.
The inside of the wool, showing the braid ends sticking through.
The completed ribbon and braid trim.
I then cut my ribbon to make 4 ties. I measured, marked and pinned the ribbons to the front. Once I was happy with the placement, I turned it inside out and pinned the fabric to see the seam closed. When I had finished sewing the seams I turned them back to the right side, pressed and pinned with a slight roll. I then finished the seam by tacking it flat from the back to stabilise the roll. 
Tacking down the edges of the wool to make them flat.
I also tacked extra tracing braid around the edges to make the design look more complete. It is only tacked through the top wool layer of fabric, so the stitching is not visible through the silk lining. 
Only the collar left to complete.
Finally, I had to see the collar to complete the cape. As expected the instructions were vague stating that it is to be cut on a similar plain to the cape, only smaller. I traced the neckline and used this to pattern the collar. I decided to use a layer of flannelette to line the collar instead of interfacing as I hope it would be warmer and a little bit softer as it will be for an infant. I machined the layers together, clipped the curves and turned them so that the flannelette was on the inside. I then hand stitched the tracing braid to the collar. 
Fabric for the collars.
Once the collar was complete I machine sewed it to the wool of the cape, leaving the silk lining unattached. I then pushed the collar inside of the cape. I then pinned and hand stitched the silk lining to the collar to close the seam.
Collar lining pinned into place.
The completed collar.

I love this cape. I now have the waiting game until my little one joins us.

Challenge #4 2016: Gender Bender

What the item is: Mid Victorian Infant Going Out Cape
The Challenge: Gender Bender
Fabric/Materials: Silk, Flannelette, Wool
Pattern: Self drafted and adapted using a combination of  Cassell's Household Guide 1869 as well as extant examples available online.
Year: 1860s
Notions: Cotton Thread, Cotton Tracing Braid, 10mm Ribbon, 40mm Ribbon
How historically accurate is it? About 80% due to the ribbons being synthetic and the silk being the wrong type
Hours to complete: Approximately 12 hours total
First worn: They will be worn when the baby arrives in May
Total cost: $35 for the wool, $12 for the ribbon, silk (recycled from a skirt), and tracing braid was purchased a few years ago for $0.50 pm.


  1. The cape is lovely! I also really appreciated your discussion of gender vs. sex. It's easy to forget that such things haven't always been defined in the same way we do now, and that there's room for definitions to change again in the future. Best wishes for the new baby!

  2. What a lovely garment! The trim is beautifully executed. :) It's perfect entry for this HSF challenge, too! Congratulations!