Monday, July 10, 2017

Before Victoria: White Wedding Dress (Part II)

So, previously I showed you a lot of examples of actual white or white-ish gowns worn for weddings, including fashion plates (as they are intended to be prescriptive of real clothing - they exist to tell you what you can/should wear); these prove at least that white was worn. Now I'm going to follow that up with the kind of sources that can tell us more about the reasons white gowns were chosen, and whether the examples found previously are representative.
The Commonness of Bridal White

Although fictional weddings are by definition not real, the choices that authors and artists make can show what's considered normal or at least ideal for their societies, and the majority of authors and artists I found chose to dress their brides in white.

The marriage (ha!) of both textual and visual sources can be found in Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1742) and Joseph Highmore's painted illustrations of the same. Happily, the book describes what she wears in order to get married, and the Highmore series represents it:
I dress'd myself in a rich white satin night-gown, that had been my good lady's, and my best head clothes, &c.
IX: Pamela is Married, Joseph Highmore, 1743-4; Tate Collection N03575
Even in a print depicting the elopement of a bride and groom in, respectively, ordinary and military dress, the articles of the bride's clothing that most catch the viewer's eye are the lace-trimmed white mantelet (covering the colored clothing underneath) and white hat, which suggest bridal attire though her circumstances have denied her a formal wedding.
"Modern Love: The Elopement", John Collet, 1764; Colonial Williamsburg(?)
There are a number of stories involving weddings in the Lady's Magazine, in which brides are described in white gowns made of different fabrics. In one from 1776, the bride wore:
a white corded tabby Italian nightgown : her hat was of chip, ornamented with white gauze : her handkerchief and apron were the finest lace : the whole dress was infinitely becoming.
Another story in a 1778 issue describes how a bride, unlike two of her very showy guests:
was adorned with the work of her own hands, in pure white muslin, worked with close and open work, from an elegant pattern of her own drawing, on which she often cast down her eyes, when her lover, sitting by her side enamoured, poured out the happy effusions of his contented heart.
Two more stories in 1787 describe brides in "white satin, spotted with silver, tied up at the sides in the form of a Sultana's robe" with a hat "made of transparent gauze, bound with black velvet, the same round the crown, and one white feather in it", "white, spotted with straw", and "a fine white muslin with every fashionable ornament."

"The Bride," an 1832 poem by Capt. W. H. Armstrong, describes bridal-specific attire, which includes several uses of white:
I know her by the orange-flower, that Hymen only braids –
I know her by the robe of lace, that is not worn by maids –
I know her by the snowy white of satin shoe and glove,
And I know her by the milk-white rose that's in her breast of love.
"The Country Wedding, Bishop White Officiating," John Lewis Krimmel, ca. 1814; PAFA 1842.2.1
"The Country Wedding," above, shows a young bride of meager means dressed in a white gown – this could be thought an artistic liberty, but an article on the print in The Analectic Magazine specifically commends the artist for successfully reproducing "the costume and attitudes of … the inside of a farmer's dwelling, and the business that occupies the group." A written description of another fictional American village wedding, in Atkinson's Casket in 1834, has the bride dressed in white calico. These suggest that the white wedding gown was not restricted to the wealthy or those who would connect it to or reuse it for British court presentation dress (a popular theory regarding the use of white before Victoria): made in some variety of white cotton rather than lace and silk, it could be an affordable special outfit for other classes of society.

Looking at the matter from another angle, a somewhat satirical piece in the August 1818 issue of La Belle Assemblée describes how a silly, rich bride claimed that she considered wearing white at a wedding to be "vulgar" in comparison to wearing a cheap printed calico and curling papers (since many people did the former and nobody the latter). In the end, she agreed to wear white when her groom arranged for her to have "a gown of the finest Brussels lace, to be worn over Chinese silk."
  The Rest of the Wedding Party

While we have much less evidence of grooms wearing white, off-white, or silver, it was not unheard-of. Stephen Beckingham, in the first painting in the previous post, was depicted in silver and grey next to his bride. According to the Newgate Calendar, Laurence, Earl Ferrars, was executed at Tyburn in 1760 in his wedding suit, which was of white silk embroidered with silver. The story quoted above from the Lady's Magazine in 1778 also features a bridegroom "drest in a manner suitable to his bride", in "a plain light coloured fashionable coat, with a white silk waistcoat" embroidered by his new wife. One air in the 1783 comic opera The Poor Soldier contains the line, "The bride and bridegroom in coats white as snow", while a stage direction for Sir Adam in The Wedding Day (1791) describes him as "drest in white clothes like a Bridegroom." However, male wedding dress receives much less attention and description in fiction than female, and with fewer examples and fewer general statements it's difficult to say how common it was for men to wear wedding-specific colors.

Today, it's a faux pas for women other than the bride to wear white at a wedding, whether bridesmaids or guests. In the past, however, it was very often appropriate for other members of the wedding party, as in a wedding in The Vicar of Wakefield (1766): the bride's clothes were not described, but she was "attended by six young ladies drest in white …" Likewise, the fashionable bride's attendants in the story from La Belle Assemblée in 1818 are dressed in white, one in white muslin and lace with a white bonnet trimmed with white roses, and the other in "white spotted crape" and a net bonnet also trimmed with white roses as well as white ostrich plumes. The 1778 Lady's Magazine story has one bridesmaid, who "furnished herself with a new white gown, proper - as she thought - for the occasion", and one of the 1787 stories has bridesmaids in "plain white lutestring levettes [levites], with black velvet belts".

The predominance of white as a fashionable color through the turn of the century also implies that it very well may have been acceptable for guests to appear in white at that time, but as with grooms, there's much less description of the clothing of wedding guests.

After the Wedding

It also was not traditional for the bride to wear white only at the wedding: the white theme would be carried forward for days or weeks.
Scene from The Beggar's Opera, by William Hogarth, 1731; TC N02437
The painting of a scene from a 1728 performance of The Beggar's Opera shows Polly Peachum (as portrayed by Lavinia Fenton), whose status as Macheath's new wife is central to her role, dressed in a white gown.

While Pamela was married in a gown that was a hand-me-down from her mistress, Mr. B also bought her a white gown with silver flowers, "and he was pleased to say, that as I was a Bride, I should make my Appearance in that the following Sunday."

The newly-married Mrs. Macnamara is described in a sample letter from the Complete Letter-Writer (1758) as appearing at the Tunbridge Wells assembly rooms "in all the Innocence of a White and Silver full-trimm'd French Sack …"

In that same 1778 Lady's Magazine story from above, the bride also has a white outfit for after the wedding:
She also exercised her fancy in a white lustring night gown, and petticoat for this occasion, with a variety of ribbands, in the forms and colours of natural flowers, which she considers as her best summer dress, having ever been willing to set an example of ingenuity and industry to young ladies in that part of the country.
As a result of this tradition, women who couldn't afford multiple white gown probably expected to wear their wedding dresses for some time after the day of the ceremony, as part of the role of dressing as a newlywed: white gowns were likely not status symbols for being "one-use-only". For instance, at the very beginning of The Vicar of Wakefield the narrator notes that his wife chose her wedding gown "not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well."

Why White?

So, now, what's the apparent reasoning behind the choice of white? Well, this is rather boring, but - it's the association with purity that's usually given as a post-Victoria rationale.

This is demonstrated even more by fictional references to brides in white that take on a more general tone, describing common situations rather than individual weddings. For instance, one of the letter-writers in Sir Charles Grandison (1753) pointed out that "we women, dressed out in ribbands, and gaudy trappings, and in virgin-white, on our wedding-days, seem but like milk-white heifers led to sacrifice." (There is a second use of "virgin-white" in reference to a specific character, Harriet, at her wedding.) In Almira, Being the History of a Young Lady (1762), Cleone is ordered by her future father-in-law to restrict the white in her bridal attire to her underclothes and accessories, though he notes that maidens like to wear it in their outer clothing, "I suppose, because it represents your innocence!" Then on the other side, there is another satirical piece from La Belle Assemblée, this time in 1826: it notes that a young bride, who was being married in a rush after having absconded to Scotland with her groom, was "handsomely dressed, but in colours." While it's probable that a real woman who'd lost her virginity might have married in white anyway, for various reasons, the point of the episode is to signpost that she's not "pure" with her conspicuous lack of "virgin-white".

All of these instances connect bridal white with a combination of physical purity and naïveté, and make it clear that white was seen as a "normal" color for wedding gowns long before the marriage of Victoria and Albert. Join me next time for a discussion of the place of white in royal wedding dress!

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Before Victoria: the White Wedding Dress in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries (Part I)

The history of white wedding dresses is a popular topic, and a few related narratives have built up in both popular and academic writing:
  1. Queen Victoria was the first to wear a white gown for her wedding in 1840, and women began to copy her, creating a tradition.
  2. Queen Victoria was not the first to wear a white wedding dress, but it experienced a boom in popularity as a result of her marriage.
  3. Queen Victoria was not the first to wear a white wedding dress, but it was only with her marriage that it took on the connotations of purity and innocence.
I could digress to talk about the perils of "Great Man" history, but that's better for a discussion on Chanel (hey-o!), so instead let's just look at why these narratives are all incorrect, and why Victoria was not really a turning point at all. (For the use of white, that is - Cele Otnes and Elizabeth Pleck make a very convincing argument in Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding that Victoria's wedding helped to create a longing for huge ceremonies/receptions among classes that previously didn't see weddings as a reason to spend more than necessary.)

There is a surprisingly tremendous amount of evidence that women wore white as brides whenever possible, and that brides were idealized as pure virgins in white, from a much earlier date than the 1840s. Now, it does have to be said that the plain and extremely bright white common today seems to date largely from the twentieth century - but there is a common thread of using white or off-white for much longer.

The evidence early in the century is somewhat sparse, giving the impression that plain white satin or taffeta, perhaps trimmed with gold, was preferred. (But then, early eighteenth century art is very bad about depicting the damask and brocade patterns that extant clothing shows, so ...) See the painting of the 1729 wedding of the London lawyer Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox:
The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox, William Hogarth, 1729; MMA 36.111
While a fictional representation (and technically more suited to the next post), the bride in Hogarth's "Marriage-à-la-Mode" series is, in the image which shows the actual marriage, dressed in a white silk sacque, also trimmed with gold.
Detail, The Marriage Settlement, William Hogarth, ca. 1743; National Gallery 113 
Later on we have more evidence, and it frequently shows wedding gowns being white-grounded silks brocaded in fashionable floral patterns. In 1760, the young Mary Tipping had to send to her future siblings-in-law in London to purchase the fabric for her wedding negligée and petticoat, as described in Anne Buck's Dress in Eighteenth-Century England: damasked white silk with "a few coloured flowers interspersed." The gown worn by Sarah Tyng Smith when she married Richard Codman in Portland, Maine in 1763 was made of a silk similar to that.

Even Lady Cowper's maid managed to have "a new white satin nightgown and petticoat, a white spotted satin cloak" for her wedding in 1768 (again described by Buck).

White and silver came into prominence for non-royal weddings with the rise of Neoclassical styles during the 1770s. Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper's 1774 wedding dress is still extant – a sacque and petticoat made of a silvery-white silk satin, trimmed with the same.
Detail of the Fenimore Cooper petticoat, 1774; NYSHA N-2-71
The wedding gown and petticoat worn by Sarah Boddicott in 1779 were of white silk taffeta woven with silver leaves, trimmed with silver fringe.
Gown and petticoat, 1779; Victoria & Albert Museum T.80&A-1948
Mary, the daughter of the Marchioness Grey, had a difficult time finding a white and silver brocaded silk for her wedding dress in 1780, hoped for at least a white and gold, and kept a plain white satin in reserve. (Again from Buck.) In a letter from Mrs. Delaney's Correspondence, Emilia Clayton describes her dear Marianne's 1786 marriage in great detail. In addition to a number of pieces of jewelry, she describes "a silver muslin night-gown trimmed with white sattin, a very fine sprigged muslin apron, and handkerchief trimmed with beautiful lace, and white and silver shoes".

Plain white came into greater prominence in ordinary dress around this time, and was particularly fashionable in cotton muslin. To elevate the muslin into being appropriate for a bride on her special day, white or off-white silks would often be added to the ensemble in some way. Eunice Hooper's 1799 wedding gown was made of off-white satin, worn with a silver-spangled mull muslin petticoat.

Satin gown with muslin petticoat, 1799; MFAB 48.1198a-b
Lady H. Villiers's 1807 wedding gown was described in La Belle Assemblée as being of "the finest India cobweb muslin … over a soft and highly polished satin slip" and worn with a pelisse of a French white satin; Mary Dalton Norcliffe married in the same year in a very fine worked muslin gown, which would most likely have also been worn over a silk slip.

Detail of gown, 1807; VAM T.12-2013
A notable exception to the trend of combining fabrics is the 1809 wedding dress of Lydia Poultney, which was made of satin; the wearer was a Quaker, and was therefore avoiding ostentation, but still conformed to tradition in its pale shade.

Gown, 1809; Philadelphia Museum of Art 1932-45-61
The white lace wedding dress came into use in the early nineteenth century, perhaps to separate the wedding dress from ordinary ball dress, which was generally a trimmed net or gauze gown worn over a silk slip. The wedding dress worn by Tylney Long Pole in 1812 "consisted of a robe of real Brussels point lace; the device a simple sprig; it was placed over white satin. The head was ornamented with a cottage bonnet, of the same materials … She likewise wore a deep lace veil, and a white satin pelisse, trimmed with swansdown." An 1816 bridal fashion plate also shows a gown of "striped French gauze over a white satin slip; the bottom of the frock is superbly trimmed with a deep flounce of Brussels lace, which is surmounted by a single tuck of byas [sic] white satin and a wreath of roses."

While lace continued to be an important part of expensive wedding dress, satin came back into prominence at about the same time that colors returned to fashion. Charlotte Cooley and Sophia Donaldson were both married in fairly plain white satin gowns on either side of the Atlantic in 1820 and 1821. Silver and Neoclassicism were by this time no longer in style, and a wedding dress was more likely to combine different shades of white and off-white satin, as on that worn by Eliza Larken in 1828.
Wedding dress, 1828; VAM T.124:1, 2-2009, T.374:1, 2-2009

One dress shown in Ackermann's Repository in 1829 paired the Brussels lace gown with a white satin pelisse, and another from a few years before partially covered it with a satin sash. Later in the Bourbon Restoration, the fashions of the mid-eighteenth century returned to the fore, including figured, damasked, and brocaded white silk – the former being seen on the wedding dress worn by Lucy Ann Lane in 1835.

As you can see, this is the first post of a short series! Join me next time for a discussion of the white wedding dress as a cultural ideal during this period.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Clarissa Dress (Part III)

This one has a lot of progress images!

When I cut out the sleeves, I figured that because the pattern (Regency Women's Dress, p.98) appeared to fit me at the wrist, I could just cut out the sleeve exactly as drawn.

Not so! I sewed the seam on one and it was far too tight in the forearm, so I pieced in a tapered strip under the arm, which I did not bother to match as it cannot be seen.

The next step after that was to hem the part of the seam left open near the wrist and pin the trim into place - note that the trim pieces are not symmetrical and must be matched with the proper sleeve.

The cuffs were then piped all the way around, and sewn down on one long and two short sides.

The remaining side was put right-side-to-right-side over the trim and end of the sleeve and sewn down through all layers. The corners were snipped to allow the allowances to be turned in.

Then I turned to the armscyes. These needed to be cut into, mostly in front, to be big enough for my arms, and then the piping was basted on. The ends of the piping don't have to be handled too neatly, since they're completely hidden under the trim at the neckline.

The sleeve was pleated to fit, not very precisely, with the pleats pointing backward, and sewn in with a spaced backstitch.

One of the last steps was to sew the lining into the neckband and cuffs. This is counterintuitive to the modern seamstress, but while it requires more steps, it also makes it easier to handle so many layers coming together. Both the cuff and neckband linings are rectangles - while the neckband is made of smaller, overlapping pieces, the lining is just one long piece.

Sewing in the hooks at wrist, neckline, and waistband was the actual last step. (I haven't yet put eyes on; I'm very bad about that. Right now small safety pins are filling in.) As you can see above, even with the piecing in the seam, the sleeve is fairly tight.

Now for the event photos! I've always been hesitant about trying to do historical hairstyles because I have a mental block: I know that I Can't Do Hair, so I only try half-heartedly and then it looks terrible. But I had my hair cut into a middy in March, and got very used to doing pin curls, so it was not a big deal to do some in the front. The back I put up in a high ponytail and was just able to twist that around into a bun and pin it in place.

While I don't fully love how it looks (I part my hair on the side IRL for a reason), I'm generally happy with it - much better than Plan A, which was to wear a very anachronistic bonnet! But I think that I should have started the pin curls higher up on my head, so that they would come out like so:

"Blouse à la Ferronière ...", Petit Courrier des Dames, 1822; NYPL 802042
(Note the term "blouse" in that fashion plate - this gown would very likely have also been considered a blouse, as it's entirely fitted with gathering in the bodice.)

Another option would be to figure out how to do the very big wave/curls also fashionable in the 1820s, which would allow a side part:

Miniature, Anson Dickinson, 1824; Royal Ontario Museum 991.158.2

In my Hartfields, on the steps of the museum!
So, what did I learn from this that might help you if you want to use this pattern yourself?

The proper underpinnings are very key. This is true in all periods of historical recreation, but it's especially true of 1800-1830. I'm using an old Regency "wearable mockup" corset that doesn't fit quite right and you can tell in the picture right above. With the waistband drawing the eye, a slightly-too-low bust looks even lower.

The bodice length is also key. That doesn't exactly set the pattern apart from many others, but because it's cut with a waved lower edge - being longer below each breast than it is in the middle - you really have to think about the proportions more.

Increase the armscye from the top. That is, don't cut into the side of the front, but make sure that the bodice is cut high enough at the sides to fit around your arm. If you have a larger arm, make it several inches higher than the original. In the 1810s and 1820s, the effect for the shoulders should be wide. The armscye should be out on the point of your shoulder and on the side of the bodice.

That's it for now! I plan to take out the sleeves and repleat them (too much fabric ended up in front) and to make that flat, piped flounce ... but not for a while, as a new project is now on my plate.

I hope this was helpful and interesting! If you enjoyed it, please consider checking out my Patreon page.

Friday, June 9, 2017

What are you doing, girl?

A few days ago, I introduced you to my new Patreon page, but I wanted to give you more background about why I decided to do this and so on.

With this blog, I try to bridge the gap between costuming/reenactment and academia. I do post about sewing projects, when I do them (unless I'm just following the directions from a pattern packet, there's not much scope for research there), but what I really like to do is read primary and secondary sources, take something fresh from them, and share it with everyone else.

This is the kind of research you normally do for publication or a conference paper, but I don't really want to write for journals or conferences - I want to write for you, the public. It's not pure theory that I find intriguing, but the mixture of academic research with practical application, which leads to posts on fashions in petticoats and stomachers, or early nineteenth-century corsets. Or even more esoteric topics that might not be relevant to your sewing, but can still be interesting if you're into fashion history, like a re-evaluation of Worth's innovations.

At every level of monthly patronage, you get the ability to vote in polls to determine what I'll write about - which might not be for every single post, but should be a pretty regular feature - and at higher levels, there are more benefits (being thanked in finished works, contributing to the poll choices themselves, and so on). The first patron poll I hold will likely have these choices:
  1. the history of white in weddings, likely two posts
  2. fashion in the late 1840s and early 1850s, possibly two posts
  3. several more late 1780s Cabinet des Modes translations
Patreon also has a goal system for patronage milestones. When I hit my first one, which I'm almost halfway to, I'm going to start a podcast on fashion history! A lot of the topics I'm trying to make accessible would be even more accessible if I were talking through them informally, although I'd still accompany them with a blog post as both semi-transcript and liner notes. Higher goals will allow me to self-publish some of the work I've translated over the years, such as Garsault's text on the art of sewing body linens, or eventually the Galerie des Modes (there are a lot of images to license there - even with a volume discount, it's expensive).

Please let me know what you think about this! I really want to know if you think I'm asking for too much for certain goals or if there's something else I haven't thought to offer that you'd like better. For a while, I was considering running a serialized historical novel that could also be directed by voting, but I wasn't sure there'd be interest in that - if there is, I could always add that back into the mix ...

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Monday, June 5, 2017

The Clarissa Dress (Part Two)

So, after getting the bodice mostly ready to go, I turned to the skirt. The pieces were easy enough to cut out: if you look at the pattern (Regency Women's Dress, p.98), you can see that there are mostly rectangles, plus one gore on each side.

It was fairly simple - I used the same proportional method that I did on the bodice. If the front panel on the original was (for example) 150% of the waist before pleating, I made mine 150% of my waist; if the pleated width was 50% of the waist, I pleated it down to 50%. For the gore, I increased the top this way and then ran the slanted seam down at the same angle as in the original. The back panels ended up at about 26", so I just used the full width of the fabric (60") and cut a slit in it for the opening, which I turned and sewed with underhand hem stitch (more frequently known by its French name, point à rabattre sous le main), whipping over the unturnable bit at the bottom.

All of the seams were sewn with a small running stitch. This is a pretty safe option for most skirts, and is actually an accurate choice even at the beginning of the sewing machine era.

After sewing up the seams, I took up the tuck. Historically, we often see the lower edge of a skirt treated in a very deliberate way - completely straight across on the grain, for instance, the way the front and back of this one is - because instead of making the whole thing and then hemming the bottom to fit the body, the adjustments would be done at the top. In these cases, it can be simpler to do all the skirt-sewing before the bodice is put on, so that's what I did.

It's pretty simple - 3/4" folded, 4" above the bottom of the skirt. I also did that in a running stitch, about as small as I could make the stitches. (On top, anyway.) This tuck isn't visible in the museum's photograph, because it's covered by a flat ruffle/flounce - more on that later.

If you have the book, you can see that the bottom of the gore is not level - it curves up so that the skirt is "round" or "walking length", rather than trained. This makes the tuck, which has to curve along with it, a little tricky - but if you're sewing by hand, it's fairly easy to massage the underside of the curve into place in that one little spot on each side.

After the tuck, I did the piping and facing. As you can see from the picture below, I used the same Sugar'n'Cream crochet cotton for the hem piping; really, I should have used something much thicker, with more body, but I was in a rush and so did not take the time to order a heavier cord. This step was actually more like modern sewing than you might expect: I put the wrong side of the facing to the wrong side of the plaid, with the piping in between, and sewed it (with a running stitch, if I recall correctly). Then I turned everything right side out, turned in the top of the facing, and running-stitched it down from the right side. This stitching is hidden under the tuck, and the piping looks like it's just floating there!

I did not make the flounce yet. This fabric was purchased as an end-of-bolt lot, 5 or 5.5 yards, and I knew that there would never be enough left to cut on the bias; I think now that there would be enough to cut it across the breadth, with piecing. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do it before the parade (that piping will take quite a while), so that will have to come later ... and, again unfortunately, be less striking than the original. I'm not sure when I'll have the time to do that, though.

The waistband went on the bodice next. I had to do a similar proportion comparison to figure out exactly how tight to pull the gathering stitches on the bottom of the bodice, but you could probably eyeball it and end up in roughly the same place. Ah well!

It's helpful to iron down the seam allowances on both the top and bottom of the waistband and its lining, since you sandwich the bodice between the layers and topstitch it down. I used a small spaced backstitch.

The top of the skirt was pleated, folded down, and then whipped into place. I didn't leave very much of a turn-down because I was confident that the length was correct, but if you're not, you should really aim for more and then cut it off.

The original raw edges were overcast, which is on my list of things to do later, when I have some more time. (Another project needs to be started immediately.)

Okay, that's pretty much it for the skirt! Next time, the sleeves and fastenings, and the first wearing.

Before I end this post, I'd like to talk to you a bit about Patreon, a website that a lot of content creators use - artists, cartoonists, podcasters, writers, and so on. Basically, it allows fans to chip in a little money per month, and get a little more content at the same time.

In the case of my Patreon, you can vote in and suggest choices for polls determining what I research! When I hit certain goals for monthly income, I can and will do some more projects that benefit everyone: for instance, when I reach $30, I'm going to start a podcast (which I am SO excited about), and at higher levels I'll be publishing some of my translation work.

So please take a look at my page! I love sharing fashion history with the world, and I'd love to be able to share more of it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Clarissa Dress (Part One)

I like giving my projects names - in this case, it's the "Clarissa dress" because I made it to portray Clarissa Moody Wright (1804-1871) in Canton's Dairy Festival Parade. It was difficult to figure out exactly what date to aim for: Clarissa was ten years younger than her husband, but the man who was going to portray Silas* is ... well, there's a larger age difference; I also look young for my age by modern standards and very young by early nineteenth century standards. So should I dress as Clarissa would have as a long-married woman, or as the age that I look? In the end, I decided that a) it's not much of an educational event, as I won't be doing any actual interpreting, b) nobody in the crowd bar three or four people is going to have any idea that I'm representing a real person, let alone who she is and when she was alive, and c) I really wanted to sew the green checked dress from the mid-1820s from Regency Women's Dress. That seems fair to me.

* We're not quite up to the event yet, but he's found that he can't do it due to a lack of appropriate clothing, so that point is moot now!

The original dress - OSV 26.33.63

Making this dress also gives me the opportunity of explaining a few things. Not everything in Regency Women's Dress was as well-explained or as thoroughly illustrated as I would have liked, and I've been meaning to write up some kind of errata page for this blog - this is a good place to start, since this is the most complicated of all the garments in the book.

Because - as you can see - there's a picture of this dress on a mannequin, I should probably address one of the most frequent topics of conversation that's come up about RWD. There are only four garments in the book that had already been photographed by the museums that owned them: this one on p.98, the red bib-front dress on p.46 (both from Old Sturbridge Village, photos from some time ago), the ball dress on p.94 (from Historic Cherry Hill, although it was photographed long ago and might have only been available in black and white) and the gold evening dress on p. 78 (from the Albany Institute of History & Art).

There was no question of dressing the others and photographing them: most museums, especially the small ones, do not have a studio space set up to take pictures of items this large, or the space to set up a temporary paper roll, lighting, etc. (which they don't own, so I would have had to buy my own), or even appropriate mannequins or dress forms in the first place. Even laying them out on a sizable table covered with white cloth under good lighting was not a possibility, in some cases because the lighting was very bad or the table was small or the sheet was hideous, and in all cases because I didn't have a scaffold to use to take pictures from above and lights to angle in to prevent my shadow from falling on them. After having done RWD, I understand why the pattern books being done now are in-house, like Costume Close-Up and Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns, because you really need all the resources of a big institution, entire workdays, and a measure of control in order to do it right.

Moving on!

Pattern mistakes

I regret to say that there are a few straight-up mistakes in the pattern. The bodice side seam - and it boggles me how I managed to do this - is depicted as much longer on one piece than the other. There was a certain amount of easing, but not that much. I increased the shorter piece to about 5".

The cuffs are basically rectangles, with a slight curve on the ends. Due to the 1/8 scale in my sketches this curve got exaggerated in my drawing and then exaggerated again in redrawing for publication into quite a steep curve/point.

I also somehow neglected to pattern the larger triangles that go over the shoulders. For this project, I just added another inch in length to the ones that are patterned.

The relative sizes on the original piece

Now to sewing - starting at the top

There's a lot of room for an individual seamstress to vary the order of operations with this dress, so I'll explain my own and if you like, you can follow it.

While the original was a very sheer cross-barred/checked silk, I used a semi-sheer madras cotton check. It's not a perfect substitution, but the fabric was a good price and it's still got a very light hand, so I don't think it's inappropriate to combine with a lightweight silk for piping/binding.

The first thing I did was cut out the bodice and sew the side seams.

A running stitch sufficed, since this would be reinforced later. Yes, I did sew this entirely by hand!

After that, I made the triangular trim pieces for the neckline, as well as the cuff trim. These are just flat pieces cut off the grain to varying degrees, bound with straight pieces of a lightweight silk - yes, straight. I'm fairly sure that the original used bands cut in the straight grain, although it's possible, based on the photos, that they're on the bias instead; it looks different at different angles. It was a little tricky going down the inner corners of the cuff pieces, but there's only a few of those, and mostly I was just folding around the corners. (I could have and probably should have mitered them, but ...)

I bound these with a blind/slip stitch (visible as a running stitch on the back), and my stitches were a bit too long, but there's no stress on them at all, so it's not worth too much bother, especially if you have a deadline. As you can see, I did all the pinning first and then went through and sewed them all - it's faster to do one thing for a while and then the other, rather than switching back and forth.

On this gown, the bodice is gathered in front and back and sewn to a separate, piped neckband, which is itself made of separate front and back pieces. While I scaled the bodice and skirt up proportionally (probably too much, to be honest - I thought it would be simpler to make this as it's all gathered, but for the same reason it was a lot less straightforward than dealing with a fitted bodice), I left the neckline the same dimensions as the original, reasoning that I have somewhat narrow shoulders and so this shouldn't need to change. At this point in time, I think I should have made the bands just a little longer ... but I haven't 100% finished this gown yet, so we'll see.

The piping is Sugar'n'Cream - I'd prefer something a little smaller, like kitchen twine, but my twine has disappeared and with my slow sewing pace, I needed to get working.

As you can see, I piped the top edge of each piece (again with straight-grain bands), overlapped them at the shoulder, and then basted a row of piping over the whole thing. I followed that by basting the triangles on, pleating the larger ones a little. Basically, this is going to involve sewing a lot of layers together, and you want to make sure not to lose the definition of the piping or have things slipping around, so basting is your friend.

Around this time, I tested how large the armscye would be by pinning the bodice to the band and realized that it was way too small, so I pieced in a bit to the top of the bodice to give it a steeper curve from the center front and back up to the shoulders. After that, I cut out the side lining pieces that really just strengthen the armscyes, and backstitched the bodice to them down the side seams.

It was fairly simple to run gathering stitches in the top edges of the bodice pieces - excluding the side linings - gather them to the required lengths (remember, the neckline is the same size as the original pattern, so the bodice needed to be gathered to the same measurements as the original, rather than a proportional amount), and backstitch all of these layers together.

This is where hand-sewing is very preferable, I think. You need to feel the piping that's sandwiched between all these layers, and I can't imagine I could have done this on the machine without ending up needing to unpick and resew parts of it. That said, I'm an extraordinarily sloppy machine-sewer.

Then I turned to the skirt. (Part two!)

You can probably tell by the square, edited photos that I'm hotlinking from Instagram! Feel free to follow me at mimicofmodes. I post progress pics, as well as views around Canton when the weather's good and detail shots of garments I'm accessioning, reboxing, etc. at work.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Petticoat (and Stomacher) Situations

The Facebook discussion on my last blog post was really helpful - it made me realize that I should have been much more explicit about what I was discussing regarding timeframe and class level, and I plan to update the other post to reflect that in a bit. But I also thought it would be worthwhile to talk about the situations where my suggestion is not useful, for balance (and because it lets me talk about the early 18th century, i.e. the best part of the 18th century).

To recap and clarify: my point was that portraits and images of fine clothes from the 1750s, 1760s, and early 1770s (in the Anglo-American, British, and French contexts) generally show women with gown, petticoat, and stomacher made of one fabric, and that when they are not all the same, you are more likely to see the stomacher not match the other two than a petticoat that contrasts with a matching gown and stomacher, and that the stomacher and petticoat matching each other and contrasting with the gown is an even rarer look.

Less-Fine Dress

The most obvious group to which the previous post doesn't apply is the one that couldn't afford to buy enough fabric to make an entire ensemble in the same material, or perhaps even to buy anything but disparate secondhand items! Let's hear it for the female bruiser on the ground, the tavern maid, the prostitute's servant (as well as the prostitutes themselves, often), and all the women in "The Recruiting Sargeant". While they don't show the specific matching stomacher/petticoat combinations, they ignore the fashionable fully matching "suit".

John Collet, 1767; Hackney Museum CH 1996.6
The people between rich and poor are harder to define in art during this period. One reason for this is that the concept of the middle class/middling sort is itself at this time pretty much defined as just being between the rich and the poor! This could range from the British landed gentry to prosperous Massachusetts farmers, from an artist catering to the upper classes to a shopkeeper's family. Kirsten Olsen defines the range of incomes of the class in Daily Life in Eighteenth Century England as £300-400 to £40-50, while noting that even businessmen who exceeded that would be considered "middle" by many of their contemporaries due to their connections with trade. According to her figures, the label can theoretically include anything from 16% to 42% of all British families. James and Dorothy Volo describe the American middle classes as consisting of mostly farmers, plus "tradesmen, artisans, and craftsmen", in Family Life in 17th and 18th Century America. ("Quite the opposite to the thinking of some today, farming in colonial America was a generally profitable enterprise insuring a roof over a man's head, sufficient food for his family, and a modicum of personal independence.")

"The Artist's Wife, Margaret Lindsay of Evelick", Allan Ramsay, ca. 1759; National Gallery of Scotland NG 430 - technically, this woman is middle-class
So I don't think there's any "rule of thumb" when it comes to the middle classes except that those who could afford the higher-status fashion of a fully matching outfit likely would, and those who couldn't, likely wouldn't.

Quilted Petticoats

Quilted petticoats, for rich and poor, overwhelmingly did not match the gown they were worn with. There was an entire quilted petticoat industry - while ready-made clothing was not as widespread as it would later become, this was an early entry into the field. (See Dress, Culture, and Commerce: The English Clothing Trade Before the Factory, 1660-1800, by Beverly Lemire.) It might theoretically be possible to have a gown made in a similar color as a quilted petticoat one owned or to find a quilted petticoat that matched a gown one already had, but judging by the artwork, this was not considered necessary - at any level of society. The central female figure in "The Recruiting Sargeant", a poor woman, is wearing a red quilted petticoat with a yellow and pink gown; in Clarissa (1748), the villain Lovelace advertises for the escaped Clarissa as dressed in:
... a brown lustring night gown, fresh, and looking like new, as every thing she wears, does whether new or not, from an elegance natural to her. A beaver hat, a black ribband about her neck, and blue knots on her breast. A quilted petticoat of carnation coloured satten; a rose diamond ring, supposed on her finger; and in her whole person and appearance, as I shall express it, a dignity, as well as beauty, that commands the repeated attention of every one who sees her.
"The Bradshaw Family", Johann Zoffany,1769; Tate Collection N06261

A number of eighteenth century portraits, especially women's portraits, were done in clothing that they would not have worn on the street or in a drawing room. Anne Buck notes in the introduction to Dress in Eighteenth -Century England that "evidence of eighteenth-century dress from its portraits is confused by fashion in painting itself. From the 1730s fashionable people were often painted in a version of seventeenth-century dress, after the much-admired Vandyke. From the 1760s they submitted to the convention of being painted in a compromise between the contemporary style and the dignified ambiguity of classical draperies. Some artists imposed a dress, which though fashionable could be peculiar to the portrait and not the usual wear of the sitter"; later in the book she points out that "sitters who were from the beginning antique could never look merely out-of-date. Even the unsophisticated wife and daughters of the Vicar of Wakefield are made to have ambitions of being portrayed in this way."

I've previously written about "antique costume" here, and have a Pinterest board for hoarding more images.

Anne Parsons, Daughter of Alderman Humphrey Parsons, Brewer and Lord Mayor of London, Thomas Hudson, 1753; University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education 6
While it can reflect notions of what is currently attractive, it can also reflect what's seen as interesting, unusual, or historical. The "exotic costume" based on Turkish women's dress very frequently made use of over- and undergowns that can also give the impression of gowns with contrasting petticoats and stomachers.


Now we get to the real meat, and also turn back to fashion. Despite liking the first half of the century possibly more than the second, I left it out of my earlier analysis because, in the costuming world, "18th century" in effect means "after 1755": rounded hoops broad stomachers (or post-1775 closed-front bodices), stripes, flounced sleeves, larger and often powdered hair. But there are a lot of different things going on in the earlier part of it. For now, I'll just be concentrating on the situation with stomachers and petticoats.

At the turn the century, there are a number of things happening - mantuas worn open over (what appear to be) stays, mantuas that closed at the center front, full suits with everything of the same fabric. A lot of images from this time are heavily classicized, but of the less classicized portraits and genre scenes, the matching gown and petticoat with contrasting stomacher seems to prevail.

"The Du Cane and Boehm Family Group", Gawen Hamilton, ca. 1734; Tate Collection T07505 (note the contrasting quilted petticoat on Mrs. Boehm in the center)
In the mid-1720s, a round gown - round in at least the skirt - begins to take over fashion, and its reign lasts through the 1730s and into the 1740s. Open skirts do exist at the same time, but they're surprisingly uncommon when considering how much they are part of the stereotype of the entire century! Contrasting petticoats cannot be seen when worn under a round gown; quilted, and therefore not matching, petticoats are most commonly seen under open gowns. Stomachers across the board tend to be either depicted as a shade of white or completely hidden under the neck handkerchief; in many of the cases of apparently hidden stomachers, they may not have even been worn, the handkerchief or tippet being directly on top of the stays.

Detail of "Mrs. Wardle", Thomas Frye, 1742; Yale Center for British Art YSBA/lido-TMS-1243
In the 1740s, though, the round gown subsides to be on par with and then overtaken by the ordinary open mantua, and petticoat choice is important again. At this point, contrast - sometimes through quilted petticoats, sometimes not - is fashionable, although the stomacher still is white or hidden (or non-existent). By the 1750s, the fully-matching suit which usually includes a visible, broad stomacher is in fashion, as discussed in the previous post.

"Samuel Richardson, the Novelist, Seated, Surrounded by his Second Family", Francis Lyman, 1740-41; TC 12221
Post-Stomacher Period

And now let us skip up to the late 1770s, when stomachers begin to fade out of use. This means that we've completely left the almost-nonexistence of the stomacher/petticoat pairing behind, and are only considering the commonness of the matched or unmatched gown and petticoat.

A great many extant ensembles, fashion plates, and portraits attest to the continuance of the matching ensemble; satirical prints, on the other hand, mainly show well-dressed prostitutes in unmatching gowns and petticoats. In fashion, the contrasting pieces show up first in the robes de fantaisie (turques, levites, polonaises, and so on) - enough out of the ordinary for women of means that the first one appearing in the (French) Galerie des Modes has to explain the vocabulary for the style: a coupé petticoat, "cut".

Over the course of the early 1780s, the coupé style goes from being almost entirely associated with robes de fantaisie (especially the levite) to being commonly shown with ordinary fitted gowns. I suspect that this might be due to the fashion of the period's fascination with idealized "country dress"; there might also be a parallel with men's dress, which was generally a bit less matchy throughout the century, and which was another influence on women's clothing at the time.

Woman in a blue redingote with white/pink petticoat, 1786; Cabinet des Modes, 19e Cahier. 1ere Figure (2)