Pattern: Wingeo #411 1910-1915 skirt pattern, heavily modified
Fabric: grey cotton chambray, ca. 4 m white ‘nurses cotton’, grey wool, red wool, white linen
Haberdasheries: Six mother-of-pearl buttons, seven wire hooks, four mother-of-pearl collar studs
Two years ago Welmode and I made a Boer war nurse uniform, using a chambray quilt cover from H&M (and a straw hat from H&M as well!). Now, for the WWI commemoration events, we, along with a few other ladies, decided to make a QAIMNS Reserve nurse uniform as well, and amazingly, the same quilt covers were still available, so we all ordered those again!
This single quilt cover, when cut open, gave me 4.5 metres of 1.4 m wide fabric, which is pretty and lovely to work with. I’d find it rather boring as a quilt cover so I can’t think why it’s apparently so popular, but I do think it makes a nice dress!
To make the dress, we used the Wingeo Titanic skirt pattern, but altered it to suit our purpose. The pattern is for a hobble skirt, but nurse dresses were quite a bit wider and longer than those worn by fashionable ladies. So we made it wider by cutting the two back pieces as one, making it 1.5 times as wide in total, and gathering it at the top (leaving out the pleats). We also added some more space at the bottom of each pattern piece.
The bodice is improvised. It’s got a blind closure with four mother-of-pearl buttons; the collar closes with two wire hooks and thread loops, and the waistband and skirt close with five more hooks and thread loops (in all, the finished skirt has remarkably little to do with the Wingeo pattern :P).
Because the chambray is very thin, I lined the dress with thick ‘verpleegsterskatoen’ (‘nurses’ cotton’), which I thought nicely appropriate, treating outer fabric and lining as one when sewing everything together. When I bought the fabric I wasn’t sure how much of it I needed, so I got something like 4 metres, which turned out to be enough to make an apron as well.
The apron goes over the dress, and over that, a starched waistband closing with two mother-of-pearl buttons, and a wool tippet, which I lined with leftover chambray. On top of that come a starched collar and cuffs closed with collar studs. On our head, we wear a starched veil. A silver medal, circular with the letter ‘R’ in the centre, is worn in the right lapel of the tippet. This is not because I portray a decorated nurse, but it is standard issue, worn by all QAIMNS nurses. The R stands for ‘reserve’.
Have a look at the different layers of the uniform (this way I can show off the dress a bit, which I think is really pretty, but which no one ever gets to see because it’s almost entirely covered):
And the back of the uniform:
On the back of the tippet is a red wool rose. This looks strangely pretty and dainty for a uniform, but apparently it had a use – it makes leaning back in a chair uncomfortable, so it prevented nurses from slouching and from falling asleep!
With some of the other nurses in our group, Tommy’s Sisters 1914-1918:
(Photos taken at Archeon by Hans Splinter.)
My starching failed here! When making the mixture for starching, one should first mix the starch powder with a little cold water, and then add boiling water, which cooks the starch and turns the mixture to a semi-transparent liquid, but strangely, the instructions on my package of Crackfree said to use warm water instead. My mixture looked like milk and didn’t work as it was supposed to.
Should you want to know more about nurses in World War I, I can recommend the book ‘The Roses of No Man’s Land’ by Lyn MacDonald. Very interesting and utterly readable, unlike some history books ;).