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RECOVERING & REPRODUCING VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN PARASOLS.

By Kay Inverarity. © 2010

 

 

Parasols were fashionable accessories in the Victorian and Edwardian periods and as such were subject to fashionable changes in shape, size and construction. This means that if you wish to achieve a convincing reproduction it is vitally important that you identify what era you wish to represent and thoroughly research what original parasols of this time looked like. In general, parasols from about 1837 to 1865 were small and elegant, often featuring fringed decoration and a long slender handle. This handle could be in one piece (a walking parasol), or more commonly, hinged in the middle of the stick; these were known as “Carriage parasols” and were less prone to damage when not in use as their compactness made them easier to carry and store.

 

 

Between 1865 and 1880 parasols lost their delicacy, handles became sturdy and bulbous and hinged sticks were no longer popular. From the middle of the 1870s sticks started to lengthen. Rrustic style handles became popular in the late 1870s this fashion for gnarled wooden handles continued in vogue until the late 1890s. The cover of the parasol also changed and became slightly larger in the late 1870s. By the year 1869 ruffles had taken the place of fringing as the most common decorative feature. From 1880-1888 parasols slowly increased size until they reached a length and diameter that remained almost static until about 1909.

Between 1909 and 1915 there was a brief period when the size of the cover remained static but the sticks on some fashionable parasols were extremely long, in some cases they were so long that the handle terminated at chest height.

 

Broadly then we can divide parasols into two groups the small earlier parasols and the larger late Victorian / Edwardian parasols.

 

The smaller Victorian parasols can be quite a challenge to reproduce as their size and construction makes it difficult to achieve a convincing reproduction. In many cases it is easier to recover an existing frame. Please note that I strongly discourage the use of original parasols for re-enactments. These artefacts are precious and exposure to sunlight hastens the deterioration of the fabric cover. Fabrics loose their elasticity with age and an old cover will not stand constant use. Even in a museum situation, parasols can only be displayed safely for short periods. Because the fabric cover is inherently fragile, numerous frames exist that are still in good condition but the fabric is past repair. As long as the frame is sturdy enough, an old parasol frame can be recovered effectively.

There are a few things to remember when doing this;

 

1)      Take note of the kind of fabric used on the original cover and replace it with a similar or appropriate fabric. Silk taffeta, brocade, satin, silk faille and damask were all common fabrics used on small Victorian parasols. Cotton, was not commonly used. Brocaded Indian silk scarfs can be used to recreate the woven border fabrics fashionable in the mid 1850s, note: as these are very thin the segments will need to be backed with another fabric to strengthen them. Avoid using any fabric that looks particularly synthetic, the Victorians only had natural fibres, these consisted of silk, cotton, linen, and various wools. The most common fibre used in early parasols was silk. Do not use stark white or coloured nylon lace as this immediately shows up as modern. Our modern white fabrics often contain fluorescent additives to make them appear very bright, avoid these and use a winter- white shade or cream colour instead.

 

 2) Because the frame is elderly it is not as strong as it was when new, you may

     consider making the cover a little larger at the base of the triangle, this will take  

     some stress off the frame and can be done in several ways.

 

a)      By lengthening the triangle from between ¼ to ½ an inch depending on the size of the parasol.

b)      By adding a small amount of allowance to the side seams near the base, this should be no more than 1-2 mm on each seam, as a very small amount of ease can make a great deal of difference when multiplied over eight or more segments.

c)      By cutting the base with a slight curve rather than straight.

 

2)      Ensure that any metal is free of corrosion and the hinges work properly you may need to repaint metal spokes: the last thing you need is to do a lot of work on the cover and then have rust spots leak through and damage the cover.

 

If you are unable to source an original parasol then the next alternative is to use a more modern frame. There are a number of retail outlets such as Amazon Dry Goods that supply, what they say are reproductions. Most of these will require recovering at the very least, synthetic covers are commonly used which are unconvincing. Another problem is that their shape is often too flat and not domed enough. Others will need to have the handle shortened.

    Most mid Victorian parasol frames were of a composite construction the stick was wood, the outer ribs made of a combination of either whalebone or cane, with black painted wire most commonly used for the inner ribs. After 1850 some all-metal ribs were used but these were round, not u shaped and made of brass wire, or steel painted black. Children’s umbrellas are often closer to the right size but they will need to have all the plastic fittings removed and the handle lengthened. This can be achieved by adding a wooden extension to the metal stick, also paint the frame black to give a more authentic look. Full sized walking umbrellas will need both the inner and outer ribs cut down. 

 

The larger parasols of the late Victorian to Edwardian period are easier to achieve these were similar in diameter and length to our modern umbrellas. The major difference is that the modern cover is not domed enough for the old style parasol. Some modern umbrellas can still be found with wooden handles. The drawback is that these handles are often curved and too sturdy to look entirely convincing. A solution to this is to cut the hooped section off and replace it with a knob. Some old style glass, ceramic or wooden draw knobs can look very good. Don’t forget to paint the frame black if it is silver. This gives an authentic period look. I use spray paint as it gives a better finish.

 

 

ACHIEVING A PATTERN FOR THE COVER.

 

Some parasols may have a damaged cover but enough may survive to use it as a pattern. To achieve this, choose the panel that is in the best condition and carefully unpick it, slits can be realigned, and stuck into position with tape or fusible webbing. Trace around the panel, this will give you the right shape for the top. Remember that the sides have been stretched so take your length measurement from the centre of the panel and the bottom width should be taken from base point to base point. You may choose to make the panel triangular with a flat base, if you do I have found that it pays to increase the length of the panel by between 5-10mm. This helps to take the stress off the frame.  An alternative method is to curve the bottom panel slightly thus making the sides slightly longer. The amount of ease needed will be directly related to the amount of stretch in the fabric on the cross grain.

 

If no cover survives a pattern can be made by using these steps:

 

1)      Open the frame and pass a strong piece of thread through the loops in the spokes. Tension this thread until the frame is the desired shape. Make sure that the distance between each spoke is exactly the same by measuring the circumference of the parasol and dividing it by the number of spokes. This will give you the distance between the spokes at the base. If the frame does not have loops then tie the thread to the first spoke and then wrap it around each successive one. When you have achieved the desired shape DO NOT CLOSE THE FRAME!

 

2)      Tape the spokes to the string so that one segment measures exactly the calculated distance at the base. Take a piece of aluminium foil and carefully stretch it over the spokes ensuring that it is smooth, this should give you an impression of the spokes. A pattern can be taken by cutting the foil down the centre of the spoke impression.

 

3)      Shorten the triangular panel by between 10-15mm by taking a tuck parallel to the 

base. This allows for the stretch on the cross grain of the fabric when the cover is pulled taught.

 

4)      Add allowances all around.

 

5)      Make up a trial cover to see how it fits.

 

 

MAKING UP THE COVER AND APPLYING IT TO THE FRAME.

 

 

When you have cut out your pattern pieces then it is time to assemble them. A hemming foot can be used to achieve a neat finish or French seams can be used.  Do not take the stitching right up to the point but allow enough space in the centre to slide the cover over the stick.

Note: With the exception of edge fringing which is applied after the parasol is finished, ruffles and decorations need to be applied either before the cover is mounted on the frame or hand stitched into position after the cover is mounted but before it is lined.

 

1)      Use scraps of spare fabric to cover all the hinges this will protect the cover from wear. Cut enough small rectangles to cover the middle hinges and one round piece of fabric with a hole in it for the top. These should be loosely basted to the frame

      using strong thread. I find the Gutterman upholstery thread works well for this.

 

2)      Place the cover over the frame and work a running stitch around top (near the stick) to secure the cover in place. Then begin to tack the cover to the frame. The tacks should go through the seam allowance, and round the outer rib approximately four times for each tack, each rib will need two tacks, one placed about 60mm above the middle hinge, and another about 100mm below the middle

      hinge on each rib. Note: the thread needs to be passed around the rib about four 

      times with each tack so that the stitching is secure but still able to move a little

      along the rib. I recommend that you work on apposing ribs, this tensions the cover 

      evenly as it is applied.

 

 

3)  When you have tacked the cover in place it can now be sewn to the tips of the ribs,

      if there is a hole through the end of the rib you can take several loops through the 

      fabric and the hole and pull the cover into position. Work on apposing ribs to keep

      the stress on the frame even.

 

 

TO LINE A PARASOL NOT PREVIOUSLY LINED.

 

Parasols were lined in two ways;

 

1)      Up until the middle of the 1890s the most common way to line a parasol was to cover the spokes with a separate lining so that they could not be seen. A pattern for this kind of lining can be achieved using the same method described in steps 2-5 above. In this instance the foil is applied to the inside frame after the outer cover has been applied. When sewing the seams leave one open enough to allow the handle to pass through the centre of the cover, this seam is then finished by hand when the lining is in place.

 

2)      A later version of lining seen commonly in parasols from 1900 onwards is sewn up with the outer cover leaving the ribs exposed. This form of lining uses the same pattern as the outer cover. The inner and outer fabric seams are sewn up separately and then joined around the edge. This effectively forms an inner and outer cover with all the raw edges inside. These linings were commonly used on plain tussore silk parasols popular from 1900 the linings were usually made of coloured cotton either printed or plain. Some of the colours and designs I have seen include red, green, pink, cream and oriental patterns on a red background.

 

 

APPLYING THE LINING AND FINISHING THE PARASOL.

 

The lining is made up in the same way as the outer cover but remember to leave one seam open slightly for the handle to pass through. This slit is stitched by hand when the lining is in place. Turn the seam allowance inside at the base and iron into position.

 

1)      Begin to tack the lining in place by tacking the lining to the inner rib mid-way

      between the stick, and the hinge, then place another tack around the outer rib

about 60mm below the middle hinge. The tacking stitches securing the lining must be looser than the ones on the outer covering. This is because these tacks need to be loose enough to slide up and down the ribs, when the parasol is opened and closed, yet tight enough to stop the lining from sagging when it is in the open position.

 

2)      Ensure that the seam allowance on the base is pressed to the inside. After the lining is tacked into position it can be attached to the end of the ribs in the same way as the outer cover.

 

 

3)      The seam allowances on the base of both the lining and cover are then turned to the inside and then the inner and outer coverings stab stitched together to give a neat edge.

 

4)      To finish the top of the parasol at the spring cut a long slender piece of cloth about 120mm long and 40mm wide and sew the ends together, then double it over lengthwise and turn the raw edges inside. Run a gathering thread through one edge and make a rosette.  Slide this over the stick and tack it into place. Many parasols have a metal ferrule placed over this to give a neat finish. If this ferrule is lost a wider piece of fabric with approximately four lines of ruching can be used to neaten the top where the stick passes through.

 

 

TIPS AND HANDY HINTS.

 

1)      Don’t loose heart, covering parasols is a fiddley and sometimes frustrating business but it is worth it in the end.

 

2)      If in doubt make a toile to check out the fit.

 

3)      Try to use natural fibres like silk, cotton and linen they look better in the end.

 

4)      Parasols do not have to be made of the same fabric as the dress. Most Victorian women owned only one or two parasols, these were covered in a fabric, that complimented rather than matched the gown.

 

5)      Sometimes when a parasol is newly covered slight wrinkles and looseness may occur. If the cover is made from a natural fibre a steam iron or steaming kettle can be used to help shrink the fabric to achieve a really good fit. Iron or steam the parasol whilst it is in the up position and leave it up for a while so that the fabric can take the correct shape.

 

6)      Scotch guard your parasols, this helps to stop them getting dirty and has the added advantage of making them waterproof should you be caught in the rain.

 

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Summary of the Dimensions of 19th and early 20th century parasols in my collection.
 
© Kay Inverarity.

Click  here to return to start of page.

 

 

Date

Handle Hinged

 

Average

Overall Length

Description

Average Length of Outer Ribs.

Number of Ribs.

Average Diameter

Outer Rib Construction

Average Diameter of Stick at Handle

 

Lined

1840s – 50s

 

 

yes

698mm

(27 ¼ " )

1 shot pink & green taffeta

1 shot green & black silk

1 dark brown 2 of them trimmed with fringe.

305mm

(12 " )

8

485mm

(18 ¾ " )

cane

8mm ( ⅜ " )

1x Ivory, 2x wood handles

no

1850s

Yes

4 of 5

704mm

(27 ⅜ " )

3 dark brown silk,

2 dark blue silk.

313mm

( 12 ¼" )

8

513mm

(20" )

4 cane

1 black wire

8mm (⅜" )

1 metal stick,

all wood handles

2 cream silk.

3 not lined.

1860s

No

714mm

( 28 " )

1 blue & grey brocade.

1 white cotton.

1 cinnamon col. silk.

1 dk. Brown.

335mm

( 13" )

1x 7 ribs.

3x 8 ribs.

548mm

(21 ⅜" )

2 blk. pained wire, 2 cane.

105mm ( ½ " )

3 not lined

1 white silk.

Early 1870s

 

yes

691mm

(27" )

1 cinnamon col silk damask

1 wt. & black pin stripe with cinnamon silk trim.

330mm

(12 ¾" )

8

523mm

(20 ⅝" )

2 black painted wire.

9mm ( ⅜" )

White painted

Wood Handles.

White silk.

 

Late 1880s-90s

 

 

No

876mm

(34 ½ " )

1 cream silk satin.

1 black cotton.

1 cream printed cotton.

470mm

( 18 ⅜ " )

8

749mm

( 29 ½ " )

2x black painted metal U shape.

1x brass U shape.

12mm ( ½ " )

wood.

1 cream silk.

1 black silk.

1 not lined.

About 1900

 

No

909mm

( 35 ¾ " )

1 cream Tussore silk.

1 black satin.

1 black silk taffeta.

1 black silk faille

508mm

( 20" )

3x 8 ribs.

1x 12 ribs.

812mm

( 32" )

All black painted metal U.

13.5mm (½ " )

3 wood, 1 wood stick & Xylonite handle.

1 green cotton,

3 not lined.

About 1910

 

No

904mm ( 35 ½ " )

Cream cotton

530mm ( 20 ¾" )

8

800mm ( 31 ½ ")

Black metal U.

14mm (½" )

no

About 1912

 

No

1106mm ( 43 ½ " )

 

Plain Tussore silk.

545mm ( 21 ½ " )

8

824mm ( 32 ½ " )

Black metal U.

19mm ( ¾ " )

Cream cotton

About 1916

 

No

711mm (28" )

 

3x printed cotton on cream ground.

 

536mm (21 ⅛" )

8

831mm (32 ¾" )

2 Blk. metal U.

1x brass wire.

13mm ( ½" )

No

1920s – 30s

 

No

597mm ( 23 ½ " )

1x black Taffeta.

1x Blk. & red silk Brocade.

2x printed cotton.

448mm ( 17 ⅝" )

1x12 ribs

2x10 ribs

1x16 ribs

777mm ( 30 ⅜" )

3 Blk metal U.

1 Zinc plated U.

12mm ( ½" )

no