Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Vintage Egypt, Part One: The Planning

My biggest sewing project of 2019 was creating a 1920's travel wardrobe for a trip to Egypt.

The trip was organized by Goodspeed and Bach, and was a vintage themed Egyptian tour, inspired by Agatha Christy's famous novel, Death on the Nile. It involved staying at historic hotels, visiting all the best ancient sites, and a week long, privately chartered Nile cruise on a 19th century steam ship, the S.S. Sudan.

The trip ended up being absolutely epic. But before we could go and enjoy the time traveling voyage, I spent about eight months planning and sewing.

The 1920's were mostly uncharted territory for me. I had made a couple evening dresses, but to create a whole wardrobe from the lingerie up, was completely new. After extensive perusing of the fashions of the decade, I decided I liked the fashions of last few years the best. And I found them the most flattering. 

There is a misconception that dresses from the 20's are all sacks. There ended up being much more shaping than I originally assumed. I used mostly original and reproduction patterns from 1925 - 30. I did make a couple simple, "one hour" style dresses, too, but the majority of the clothes involved a lot of fitting. In sewing manuals from the era, a flattering fit and flattering length is strongly encouraged. 

But I digress. Back to the planning.

I created a wardrobe plan based on the season and what we would be doing on the trip. It was mid summer, so I planned for hot weather (light colors, linens, sun hats, etc.). I knew we would be exploring the ancient sites, some which were quite rugged (sporty clothes, like jodhpurs and boots...). And I knew we would be in black tie practically every night (yay evening dresses!!). Less outwardly important, but for the fun of immersion, I needed lingerie and pajamas.

I made a similar plan for my husband, though with mostly purchased clothes. Some new, but most were straight from his closet. He has fairly classic clothes, and in most cases, accessories are enough to make the pieces work for different decades.

I actually started planning with just the basic trip itinerary (and a hefty amount of inspiration from binging Poirot over the years!). A month or so out from the trip, we got a more detailed list of wardrobe needs. Most of my sewing was done by then, but it was still very helpful for refining.

Another thing to consider was the fact that we were traveling. All this has to be packed and unpacked  more than once. I brought a lot of clothes (two checked bags and a carry on), but that was the whole point of the trip! However, though I may have packed a lot, I didn’t overpack in that I did wear everything I brought with, which I was very happy about. Having done this trip to the max once, if I did a similar trip in the future, I would probably make more pieces that could work for multiple outfits, so I could pack a bit lighter. (Who am I kidding?!)

Once the wardrobe plan was established, I started sewing. I prioritized by starting with day wear, since I had a couple evening dresses already. Once I had a good amount of day outfits, I rotated between day and evening so I would have a well rounded closet. Not ten evening dresses and only one day outfit! 

To keep the sewing fun and interesting, I decided to use each outfit as an excuse to sample some kind of embellishment technique that would have been popular in the 20's. I did lace insertion, tambour embroidery, tambour beading, and "hemstitched" hems (faux, because I don't have a hemstitcher). 

So, next up: day wear!


  1. Thank you so much for 'explaining' the wonderful images I've found on your Instagram! I've been curious how you were able to structure a mindset to construct a whole wardrobe...a special tour makes all the sense in the world. I'm looking forward to hearing more about it all, and I love that you gave yourself a sewing pedagogy, as it were!

  2. Caroline, I have to say that I am super jealous of the amazing-ness of your trip and your wardrobe! I'm just waiting to drop my jaw with each successive post... Even your closet photo is lovely!


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