Monday, December 19, 2011

Winifred Scawen Blunt's Gown

When I visited the Albany Institute on Friday to meet the curator, under whom I will be working as an intern, I went up and walked around the galleries - I think my main objective was a second look at the permanent exhibitions Sense of Place: 18th and 19th Century Paintings and Sculpture and Traders and Culture: Colonial Albany and the Formation of American Identity, which offer many paintings of people in clothing, which is my favorite aspect of paintings.  (Mantua fans will be interested in the portrait of Ariaantje Coeymans Verplanck attr. to Nehemiah Partridge.)  While I walked, my eye was caught by a double portrait of Samuel Blunt, Esquire of Horsham, and Winifred Scawen Blunt, by Johann Zoffany.

(I regret immensely that I can't find a picture of this painting anywhere, and I beg that you believe my description.)

What attracted my attention was the clothing of the Blunts: he is dressed in what looks like a military uniform, with a bright red coat and pale breeches, and she is wearing a pink taffeta gown, trimmed with ruffles and lots of silk roses.  I checked the label to see that it was dated to ca. 1769, and at first I agreed - the pink and the roses combine to give a somewhat Rococo sensibility to the outfit.  Then I looked closer.

The first part of the outfit that struck me as odd was the neckline of the gown.  It seemed to have a lot of extra fabric ... more like a collar than the usual anglaise neckline.  This led me to take a closer look at the rest of the gown, and I noticed:

- a ruched gauze cuff over the end of the sleeve
- the curve of the front corner of the skirt's hem
- a large gauze ruffle over that hem
- an unfitted waistline
- the bodice fronts meeting at the neckline and falling away at angles
- a stomacher in the same fabric with straight trim running down the center

All of these add up to a gown much like a plate in the MFA of a sultane, but with a levite collar and sleeves similar to those seen in many polonaises (eg).  The sultane plate is dated to 1782, and the earliest levite plate is from 1779.  As Hallie Larkin and The Hive have documented, the emergence of the "flying back" style of gown front is 1775-1776, which makes it seem likely that this painting is actually a little bit newer than it's been dated.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Boué Soeurs

Quite a change in subject matter, but I've started working on a story set in 1920 and my costume thoughts have been there lately.

The Boué sisters, Madame Sylvie Montegut and Baronne Jeanne d’Etreillis, opened their Parisian fashion house in 1899.  (It's speculated that Sylvie was more involved in design and Jeanne was more of a businesswoman.)  Few extant garments from their early years survive, however, and so the two are associated more strongly with the 1920s.

From the Renseignments Commerciaux, "Formations des Sociétés," of Le Jacquard (1901).

"Toilettes, par Mmes Boué Sœurs", Femina, p. 592 (1905):
Robe de tulle point d'esprit noir incruste de dentelle blanche pailletée. Corsage de point d'esprit recouvert d'une berthe de dentelle. Gros nœud de liberty ciel à la jupe.
Robe empire en velours chiffon vert, grand empiècement à jour en malines, petites couronnes de taffetas vert.
Robe de mousseline de soie rose, garnie de volants de point d'esprit recouvert de dentelle. Corsage mi-partie volants de dentelle et mi-partie, petits volants de point d'esprit; petites couronnes de taffetas rose.
Gown of black point d'esprit tulle, inlaid with sequined white lace.  Bodice of point d'esprit covered with a lace bertha.  Large blue Liberty [ie, from Liberty of London] bow on the skirt.
Empire gown in green velvet chiffon, large up to date yoke of Méchlin lace, little wreaths of green taffeta.
Gown of pink mousseline de soie, trimmed with ruffles of point d'esprit covered with lace.  Bodice partially ruffles of lace and partially little ruffles of point d'esprit; little wreaths of pink taffeta.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thesis Update - Nearly There!

I probably would have been at this point several days ago, but I went with the Theory "batiste" from my swatches, and it proved to be more like a tightly-woven percale, and I was having the hardest time getting pins and needles into it.  Let this be a lesson: always test a swatch by pleating it heavily and putting a pin into it.  Since it didn't work, I went to Joann's in Queensbury and got some rather cheap Sew Essentials muslin, which actually seems like a reasonably close approximation for period muslin, to me.  Maybe a little less transparent, but it's very light.  Anyway, I then went ahead with the petticoat of my own design.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Cotton

For the most part, descriptions of cotton clothing before the 1720s are in the context of travels to Asia and Africa.  I was a little surprised to find that cotton was relatively common as a fine fabric from the 1720s, and something that poorer women could purchase second-hand.  It became an affordable kerchief fabric by the 1740s, and the practice of wearing a light muslin gown over a colored silk petticoat can be documented by the late 1750s.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Callimanco

According to the OED, callimanco (also spelled callimanca, calamanco, &c.) is "a woollen stuff of Flanders, glossy on the surface, and woven with a satin twill and chequered in the warp, so that the checks are seen on one side only; much used in the 18th c."  It was finer than stuff, but still respectably simple: a fabric that a woman of the lower middle class could wear without exciting comment that she was living above her means.  Generally, callimanco seems to fall off in use later on in the century, but it seems to have often been used in shoes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

High Life Below Stairs, and Elizabeth Canning

High Life Below Stairs, John Collet, 1763; Colonial Williamsburg Collection G1991-175

I was looking through What Clothes Reveal when I came across this picture again, and my attention was drawn to the three prints on the wall in the upper left-hand corner.  The lower two are of the Empress of Russia and Moll Flanders, very recognizable figures, but the upper one is labeled "Eliz. Canning".  When I first saw the picture some time ago, I didn't think anything of it - I assumed that Elizabeth Canning was another fictional character, like Moll, and passed by. However, this time the name struck a chord, and I remembered that I had come across it in my post on stuff gowns.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Stuff

I was intending to make a post on wool, but the term "wool gown" does not turn up any results on Google Books.  "Stuff gown," however, is a very common phrase.  Meg Andrews defines "stuff" as "a general term for worsted cloths. Twill or plain weave and made of common wool."  A New General English Dictionary (Thomas Dyche, 1768) defines it as "any sort of commodity made of woollen thread, &c. but in a particular manner those thin, light ones that women make or line their gowns of or with ..."

Stuff was a cheaper fabric than linen; while linen was the fabric that a tenant farmer's daughter would wear, her servant would wear stuff.  Poor women and farm workers are described as wearing it, and it is strongly associated with clothing given as charity.  While linen could also connote a respectable simplicity, stuff could not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Linen

This is perhaps not the most necessary post/series, but I began looking at historical mentions of various types of gowns for my thesis and found so many sources.  I thought people might be interested in seeing the many quotes I turned up that relate to various gown fabrics.

Linen gowns were close to the bottom of the scale, worn by poorer women in the country, under-servants, and wealthier women in the morning, before anyone came to call.  However, linen that had been printed with a pattern was considered much finer (though not as fine as silk).  While linen could be read as evidence of being poor and slovenly, it could also be used as an antifashion statement, showing a deliberate lack of attention to fashion and frivolity and indicating a deepness of character.  This is especially true later in the century, when a simple country look became fashionable.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The Met redid their website a little while ago, which totally threw off the links to a lot of pictures in my eighteenth century research posts.  I plan to go through and download each picture from the museum website and upload it to Blogger at some point, so that a) I'm not hotlinking and b) I'm protected from link changes, but as it is right now I just went through and relinked them.  So if you started following me fairly recently, you might want to go back through the tag and look at some of them now that they aren't full of blank boxes!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stays and Swatches

Today I got some swatches I ordered from Mood Fabrics, and I thought I'd show them off and give my impressions based on them.  Plus some WIP pictures of my stays.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


For some reason, I sketched out the pink taffeta gown and the interesting corset I examined yesterday.  (I used Patterns of Fashion as a reference for the gown but still managed to make the figure too short in the leg ... not sure how.)  And I thought I'd post the pictures I took of my thesis project pre-ensleeving, in which I look pretty darn happy.

 Please ignore my weird arm position, I think it may have been to make sure you could see the silhouette properly?  Couldn't get a good picture of my back, unfortunately, as it's behind me, but you can sort of see it in the middle picture.  I think the pleats might end too high up my back, but that's very easy to fix so I'm not worried.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Museum Visit - Historic Cherry Hill

Today was my second thesis research visit, this time to the Historic Cherry Hill Collection in Albany.  I found some exciting things!

- A pink taffeta anglaise with petticoat, late 1770s.  It was fairly plain, with some applied scalloped self-fabric trim down the fronts of the skirt and smaller trim at the ends of the sleeves, but what interested me were the en fourreau back.  Instead of the pleats pointing out to the sides, they're aimed at the center back.  I'm not sure I've ever seen that before.  Intriguing!

- An 1820s-1830s corded corset with an interesting construction.  Each side is one piece, with gussets at the bust, and the lower edge ... I'm having a hard time putting it into words.  The corset doesn't come over the hips, but the front is as long as any other corset.  It's rather like a late 16th century-early 17th century pair of bodies.  Singular!

- Best of all, a set of front and back lacing strapless mid-18th century stays.  Sounds ordinary, yes?  But they're made from two layers of unbleached linen with no visible seam allowances.  The pieces in both layers are were put together, and then the seam allowances were turned in and sandwiched between the layers; the pieces were then butted together and overcast, leaving a flat, clean seam.  The front and back pieces were cut with the lacing edges on the fold.  AMAZING!  (They're also not fully-boned - the channels are in groups of two to five.)

There's a constant, ongoing debate over methods of re-enacting: some prefer people to dress their own way, as long as the methods/items are period (downside: if too many people separately use a documented but uncommon piece of clothing, method of fitting, etc., they can give the impression that it was the norm); others prefer people to "portray the common" and consider the number of other re-enactors who dress a particular way, eg. knowing that gowns were more commonly worn than jackets, so not making a jacket if too many of the other women in one's group wear them (downside: if everyone uses the same patterns and goes for the same look, it can feel a bit "cookie-cutter," and then the anomalies are effectively scrubbed out even though they would have existed; also, if the uncommon is being too commonly portrayed, one may never get the chance to try out one's own uncommon garment).  My feelings are somewhere in between.  I think portraying the common is a good thing, and one should keep the common in mind, but the common can be personalized and made one's own without compromising that.  (Unless some particular personalization becomes popular, I guess.)  I wouldn't claim that the features I noticed on the garments I looked at today ought to revolutionize costuming - they're not really the normal way corsets, stays, or anglaises were made.  But they, or variations on them, could be used on occasion to personalize an otherwise common impression.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Open Robes

Hmm ... after going through the Gallery of Fashion, I'm starting to think that those silk open robes were worn with a petticoat.  I had been under the impression that open robes were worn over muslin gowns as a way of dressing them up for the evening - maybe that's a re-enactorism?  I can't think where I've seen it, now that I try to remember, but I guess I'm not doing an open robe as part of my thesis.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

ENORMOUS Thesis Progress!

As my batiste came in the mail a few days ago, I felt that it would be procrastination to continue researching cotton's exact place in society instead of sewing.  Most of the paper is written, apart from the details of my sewing (of course), so I dug out some lightweight linen and worked out a lining based on the dress I saw at the NYSM.  The lining on that gown was mostly detached and unfitted, just something to hide the corset through the outer fabric and sew the pleats to, so it wasn't too hard to replicate.  My dress form is a little smaller than me, kind of tilty and weird-shaped (it has a lot of moving pieces, and they're not all in exactly the right places), and is in a bit of a sway-backed pose, but it's close enough for government work.

The first time I tried draping, I didn't really try it - Mom draped muslin on me and I watched.  So this was really my first try.  I wouldn't be doing it if it weren't for the fact that the gown I examined has a simple cut: one piece for the back, one for the front, and the fitting is done with pleats and drawstrings.  So to start, I made sure the dress form was at the right height, pinned the end of the batiste to the shoulder seam, and cut the fabric level with the floor.  Then I pinned the new end to the back of the neckline, and let the fabric flow out to make a train about a foot long.

After a bit of faffing around, I managed to get three pleats on either side of the center back, angled in to form a triangle.  It actually looks very good!  I started to work on the side seams, but then I realized that I need to do the waist drawstring in the front first, since the channel is a little tuck.  That meant I needed to cut the slit down the front to a few inches below the waist and hem it with running stitches.  I've threaded the channels with tape drawstrings, and they look all right.  Now that I've pinned the side seams in place, I'm kind of surprised at how ... right it looks.  Good feelings, I have good feelings about this!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Visit - NYS Museum

Yesterday I made my first visit to do research for my thesis!  I went to the New York State Museum and met with Connie Frisbee Houde, who took me up to the collections.  I saw, sketched, patterned, and photographed:

- a yellow silk damask anglaise with an en fourreau back, ca. 1750.  Pretty standard as far as they go, with little unexpected or ground-breaking - it was still amazing to see up close and handle, though.  Such a beautiful gown (if not my favorite shade of yellow).  There was also a yellow taffeta quilted petticoat, maybe worn with it: the ground is all-over quilted in a geometric floral pattern, and there are more naturalistic flowers all over it.

- a gown from the later 1820s with bodices from the 1810s and the 1790s. I think it may have originally been an anglaise in the 1770s, as there are some weird long pieces on the back of the 1790s bodice and the sleeves are elbow-length and curved at the bottom, with stripes running around them.  That set was very good for comparing construction methods.

- a white gown, ca. 1800.  This was the absolute best find and the gown I make is going to be very, very similar to it. At first the back looked like it had been cut with a long hexagonal CB piece, but then I realized that it was only cut where the shoulder straps attached, and the two lower sides were pleated up.  There was more pleating over the side seams (and pocket slits!), and the sleeves were set in far to the back like you see on earlier gowns.  The front's one wide piece with a slit down the CF, and drawstrings at the neckline and waist to gather and tie.  Perfect, perfect.

- a white cotton gown ca. 1808.  I think it shows the continuation of the transition - the sleeves are puffed and on the shoulder, like later styles, but the gathering of the puff is all concentrated on the back.  The skirt is also gored rather than gathered.  (My date might be a bit off, I haven't been doing my research there.  But I will later, obviously.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Anglaise Revisited

As I seem to have misplaced a large bag full of fabric, I'm planning to purchase some sale ($5!) linen from Fashion Fabrics Club in order to make my future Rev. War gown.  I went back to look at my posts on the polonaise, the levite, etc. to check which cut of dress I might go with, and I remembered that I never really did a post on the anglaise - not looking at fashion plates and everything.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Frontier Style (1700-1800) Symposium

Yesterday I attended the first half of the symposium Frontier Style: Culture and Fashion at the Edge of Empire, Mohawk Valley of New York, 1700-1800 at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown.  I did buy the collected papers over the mid-afternoon break, but I took notes before then - and then the penultimate presentation was from Mark Hutter, and he didn't have a printed paper so I took copious notes.  In hopes that some of this might be of interest, I've written up my notes here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons learned

After wearing my 18th century outfit for four or five hours yesterday, I think I've learned some things about fit, etc. that I can take into account the next time I make something.

- the neckline should be much wider, like almost-falling-off-my-shoulders wider

- the problem I'm having, shape-wise, seems to be stemming from the fact that the armscye is too large and there's nothing pushing my bust in from the sides, just up from the front.  This is a good thing to notice
- I boned every channel with one reed, and am not having any problems with breakage
- the reeds are starting to mold to my shape with body heat, which is really cool

- my underpetticoat is just too long.  If I tie it under my stays, it shown beneath the top petticoat; if I tie it over, it interferes with the top one somehow
- my top petticoat is too wide in the waist, so the it slips down below the waistband of the underpetticoat (when tied over stays)
- the pocket slit on the open side of my top petticoat is way too long
- the fullnesses are just right, though

- side seams should be side-back seams, of course
- 18th century armscyes need to be right up into the underarm on the bottom, and into the back on the top. Especially if you scaled up the sleeve pattern so that the sleevehead is only the right shape for that
- it kept falling off my shoulders, maybe because of the sleeves or maybe some other fit issue
- the hook and eye at the bottom CF kept coming unhooked because the waist was slightly large
- the stomacher should be a little stiffer, I think, and wider
- the cuffs were too light, needed an interlining of some sort, and could have been smaller

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stone Fort Days!

This morning, as Mom and I drove to the Old Stone Fort Museum for their Stone Fort Days re-enactment, I was still finishing up the hem on my fichu and sewing on the twill tape ties for my hat.  But since it was more than an hour drive to get there, I had more than enough time to finish and get everything in place.

In the parking lot, with everything in place.  Hands strategically in front of the worst spot on the jacket, arms in the only position the sleeves look right in.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Project is basically DONE

It feels really, really good to see all of the finished pieces.  (Well - I think I need a kerchief, but that's quick.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two Things

One: I've started working on my cap, and it's a bit ... problematic.  I probably should have bought the pattern from Kannik's Korner, but the Ks, the Ks!  It's like Comic Sans.  What I've got going fits, but I've been doing it evenly pleated all the way around to the brim and I don't think it's right.  Well, I'll finish sewing it and then put it on and see how it is.

Two: I found this fashion plate in the MFA collection.

Femme de Qualite en Deshabillé, se promenant le matin à la Campagne cet habit est blanc, garni de bandes de toile peinte, et consiste en une juppe et un corsage avec queue troussée par derriere.
 Lady of Quality in deshabille, walking in the country in the morning.  This dress is white, trimmed with bands of painted cloth, and consists of a petticoat and a bodice with a tail tied up in the back.

I'd put it in a post, but I'm not sure where.  Maybe one on the retroussé anglaise, and how that's the proper term?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Caraco

I decided to continue my series on Staring at Fashion Plates to Learn Vocabulary when I found some polonaise caracos, and I realized that I'm not entirely sure what constitutes a caraco in-period.  I feel like I usually see it used for something that's between a jacket and a gown in length, but I'm not at all sure that that's how it was used in the late eighteenth century.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Commission: Breeches

I don't think I've posted about this before.  A local re-enactor and photographer who's also a family friend has asked me to make him a pair of woolen breeches for his impression of a slave at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany.  He gave me three hand-woven (they have real selvages) black-and-white striped wool blankets to use, and said he'd like it all machine-sewn.  I was kind of afraid to start because who would want to screw up cutting into hand-woven wool blankets?  But I have.  Started, I mean.

I decided to use the breeches pattern from Everyday Dress of Rural America, as the shape of the pieces seemed the most similar to the Jas. Townsend breeches Cliff lent me to take measurements from, and looked simpler than the patterns in Costume Close-up.  I worked out the measurements of the scaled-up version of the pattern a few days ago - fortunately, the pattern is very, very close to the measurements of the Townsend breeches - and last night I finally made pattern pieces out of newspaper.  This morning, I cut out the pieces from the wool (er, except for the inner flap extension pieces and the flap facing - I'm thinking about only putting the flap extensions on the outside and making the facing a bit wider).

So far, it's all coming together much better than I thought it would!  I was afraid of attempting breeches because I've never done any kind of pants, but just taking it slow on the machine, with frequent breaks and Arrested Development on the tv, seems to be working.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Period Drama Week, Pt 2

Second part of Elegance of Fashion's survey!

This outfit is coming together

So, I still need to make a stomacher and a cap, but at last the jacket is finished enough that I can put it on with everything else and see how it fits.  I won't be wearing it this weekend at Fort Ticonderoga, but the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie is having a re-enactment weekend, and they told me that I could sign in as a volunteer and even get in free!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Period Drama Week Questions (I)

This time, posted during the right week.  *thumbs up*  The first half of Elegance of Fashion's Period Drama Week questions.  (Updated with pictures!)

How do I say this ...

It turns out that the event at Fort Ti is for people registered with units only, so we can't go in costume and my "lovely" jacket won't be seen for a while.  I've contacted one unit about joining up for later events, and it seems like most of the events they do (and they do quite a few) are soldiers-only, which is ... not what I'm looking for.  So I'm possibly going to write to several reasonably local groups to ask them about their female civilians - how many of them are there, are any of them unattached to any soldiers, do they have their own meetings?  I could probably ask on the 18th Century Women list, but I get hives at the thought of posting.  :/  That, or mom and I will work on what we can do as sutlers/miniaturists, and then we can basically go wherever we want>

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I keep posting today, but - my Fugawee Annas just came in the mail!  I've tried them on and they fit perfectly (although I need some kind of protection for the back of my heel).

Incidentally, on looking at my stats

I hope that I was helpful to you, people who googled "what are sleeves that go from tight to large called?" and "candace wheeler accomplishments"!

A look at Augusta Auctions

Really, I should be sewing.  But I went all the way to the museum only to find out I wasn't needed, so I need to do something more relaxing for a bit (also I'm not really sure how I'm going to attach the skirt to the jacket).  I was looking at the Augusta Auctions site earlier, and saw some interesting listings of old sales.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jacket progress

(This new Blogger interface!  I like it on its own, very clean, but it's hard to switch to.)

So, I have done quite a lot on the jacket since Mom draped the pieces on me last Wednesday.  On Sunday, I pinned the muslin pieces together and tried them on over my stays in front of my mirror: I was worried that Mom had put too much ease into it and it would be baggy, and this turned out to be a bit true.  I raised the waist a bit, took the shoulder seam in on the back side, and took the side seams in on the front and back (although they should have been placed further back in the first ... place) as the back had a lot of ease in it.  When I was satisfied, I cut out the pieces from my linen - which I had bought a year ago to make into Jacket C on the same page of Patterns of Fashion I, which I partially made up and then found that it was too small and way too short; on the Fashion Fabrics Club website, it looked sort of like a painted natural linen, which isn't something I've seen on extant clothing, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  When it came, it turned out to have a bigger print than I thought and to be kind of stiff and thick, but I used and am using it anyway.

Monday, August 29, 2011


I had one of those moments where I felt like everything I've done on this jacket has been wrong, why am I bothering, it's not going to fit and the print is ugly and not really period and I'm going to look like an idiot.  Then I attached the cuff I finished to the sleeve I'd set in and tried it on, which made the sleeve not look ridiculously short, and I started feeling so much better.

Okay, the linen is too heavy (maybe it's meant for a modern jacket or upholstery) and the print, which looked kind of like a painted pattern on the internet, is not really right for ... any period, really.  And I think I'm going to have to take tucks in the cap of the sleeve to make it less puffy.  But it fits and it is much more period than an "English bodice" so I think I will be all right.  To be honest, I think my problem is that all I ever see is really good stuff from the bloggers I follow - since I haven't really gone to any events before, I have no idea what the Woman in the Camp is wearing and assume they're all perfectly-outfitted and have expertly draped each other's gowns, etc. etc.  This may not be so.  At any rate, I'm going to have nice Fugawee shoes and I have awesome spiral hairpins to hold my bun in place (THEY ARE MAGNIFICENT), and I am going to have fun with my mom in her shortgown, which she has of course sewn perfectly.

I think I did pretty well this weekend.  Yesterday I was just cutting out the pieces, and this evening I have the whole body sewn together, a sleeve set in and a finished cuff pinned on.  All that's left is to set in the other sleeve (which won't take as long because I know what I'm doing now) and do that cuff, topstitch around the collar and front, totally scale up, fit, cut out, and sew the skirts, and make a few eyelets for lacing.  Easy peasy!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Earlier 18th Century Caps

Even though the Struggle for Liberty re-enactment at Fort Ticonderoga is set during the Revolution, since the stays I made a while ago are 1730s/1740s, the rest of my outfit is going to be dated to that period as well.  I didn't want to make a later-period jacket to fit to that silhouette and not be able to wear it in its proper period once I had the right stays!  I've been looking at cap tutorials online, but most of them seem aimed at the 1770s, so I'm looking at pictures from earlier in the century and will adapt the tutorials once I understand exactly what I want.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some progress

Some.  First off, I put the second cup into my thesis stays, and I gathered in the top.  (I also did a row of gathering stitches across the middle, which I probably will bring in a bit.)  I can't tell if I didn't make it wide enough, as the fabric's really not gathered that much, or if more buxom women would have used similarly-sized cups to smaller women and just gathered them less.  I should be able to finish all that up quickly, which means I'm basically done with the stays.  I plan to do some quilting, but that can be whenever.  So I'm going to have to make some appointments with museums to see some extant gowns. D: Scary!  Fun, cool, interesting, educational, but scary.

On the more exciting side of things, Mom and I did our first experiment in draping this afternoon.  She was really not into it and wanted to scale up the pieces on newspaper, but I was adamant - last time I tried to make a jacket, it ended up way too small, and it's hard trying to scale up and adjust at the same time.  The jacket I want to make (jacket B on the page in Patterns of Fashion with three jackets) is fairly simple in the body, so I thought it wouldn't be too hard to mock up.  There were a few tricky bits, but I think we achieved a good pattern.  I might alter the front - I think she pointed it a little too much - but it has the right slope to the seams and the waist is in the right place.  I'm going to need to figure out the jacket's skirt, still, but that should be relatively simple.  I'm beyond happy, though, that we might be able to start draping as a matter of course and skipping the scaling-up stage.  My high waist is too annoying to deal with.

Joining in the Bash

The Ultimate Book Bash, hosted by Austenitis!  All of my answers to her questions below the cut.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Interesting Transition of the 1830s

The extraordinary changes in fashion during the 1830s are a reminder not to over-indulge in "decade-ism" - there is no one style emblematic of the 1830s as a whole: it is important to use "early", "mid", and "late" (or beginning and end dates) when dating extant garments and portraits.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Artistic Neoclassical Costume

I began discussing this in my post on the mantua.  As the wealthy began to create separate public and private lives, they desired paintings of themselves in private, dressed in ways they could never appear in public.  Some of the sitters wore actual negligée dress, but some were painted in an invented costume meant to invoke thoughts of the Greeks and Romans.

Portrait of a Woman, William Wissing, 1687

Apart from being informal, this style of dress was meant to keep the portraits from looking as dated as those of the Elizabethans, with their supported skirts and ruffs, though it is up to the viewer to determine if it has had its intended effect.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Even More Sources

This time, from the Lewis Walpole Library of prints.  They are mostly satires - which are problematic to use as sources, of course, but they do tell you what people thought were the newest and most ridiculous parts of fashion, and the bits that aren't being satired in a specific drawing are usually pretty accurate.  Some images are just linked.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yet More Sources - V&A

The corset is almost finished - I just have to do the cups.  So there will be good pictures soon, I hope.  But for now, I'm looking at more painting sources, this time from the Victoria & Albert Museum.  (Sorry about the color cards - they're probably there to show scale, since a lot of these are miniatures.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Petticoat and Corset

Those promised pictures!  I would have taken a picture of the petticoat on me but it's dreadfully unflattering without stays, and I didn't feel like taking the time to really get dressed.

The pleats from the inside.  I whipped them down to the twill tape with waxed linen thread.  Yes, the fabric has a strangely open weave - the things that happen when you order fabric online.

This picture keeps uploading sideways.  Why?  I don't know.  But this is the pleating from the outside.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Silver Gala Dress: A More Thoughtful Post

There are a few days between me and this dress, so now I can look at it all in a more rational way.

I volunteer at the National Museum of Dance, which is having its 25th anniversary this year.  A few days ago, it held its Silver Gala - attended by the likes of Marylou Whitney and Ann-Margret (who was being inducted into the Hall of Fame) - and one of my supervisors asked me to sew her a dress for it.  She isn't very into dressing up or shopping for fancy clothes, so it seemed like a great idea to have one made instead.  And it needed to be silver.

I was given a few fit issues that my supervisor wanted the dress to take into account, so I set about looking for patterns.  I picked a few that seemed to work from Simplicity and Butterick - A-line skirt, high waistline, longish skirt - and then, as an afterthought, a pattern from Vogue with a sort of marquise-shaped panel on the left side, with the rest of the fabric pleated up into it.  Of course, that was the most interesting-looking one, and that's the one she chose.

It took me too long to get on with picking out fabric.  I sent to Mood Fabric for a few swatches, but none of them felt right or fit the planned budget of $60.  Really, that was the first point when I should have explained something, namely how much nice fabric costs.  (Lesson learned.)  Fortunately, I managed to find a nice rayon/acetate blend of silver satin from Fashion Fabrics Club for the outer fabric - I could have gone a little less shiny, but the picture of the pattern looked so Art Deco that I thought I should go full-out.  Since the rayon wasn't very costly, I was able to get a very nice dark grey silk charmeuse to use for the lining: I think it's more important to have the lining be a nice feeling fabric and let the outer fabric be whatever looks good.

I made a mock-up out of a pretty green gingham, and it went fairly well, although I did find it a bit tricky to follow the pleating lines on the pattern pieces.  This led me to be over-confident about making up the dress, I'm afraid - at first I'd thought that the pattern might be too difficult.  The thing is, making an unlined, quick version of a dress in $2/yd cotton is very different from making it properly in slippery, shiny rayon and adding an even more slippery silk lining.  When the fabric finally came (lesson learned: order fabric earlier), I soon realized that no, this was in fact a terribly difficult pattern and I shouldn't have given it as a choice because I couldn't make it up.  (LESSON LEARNED.)  Especially as the intended wearer asked that I lengthen it from below-the-knee to ankle-length.

In the end, I took it all over to Mom's.  She's been sewing for decades longer than me and is also a much more careful person.  She ended up doing all of the machine sewing, and I did the handwork - sewing the straps (originally self-bias-tape, but we used a plastic silver trim from Walmart), putting in the hook and eye, slipstitching the bias tape on the inside under the arm.  It turned out that I'd haphazardly lengthened it in the wrong place: this double gore was supposed to start at the hip and flare out, and I'd put it at the knee, which added a horrible curve from the hip to the knee.  We ended up making it the original length, and Mom put the gore back where it was meant to be.  The rayon wasn't co-operating for the rolled hem, so she faced it with grey bias tape instead, and we didn't hem the lining at all.

Fortunately, my supervisor brought the dress back the next day so we could finish the lining.  Mom also got a look at my twill tape while I was working on my petticoat yesterday, and thinks it would be better to redo the hem with that, as the bias tape made it stand out too much.  It's just a little big for her, but I'll get a picture of her in it.

The supervisor is going to a Halloween party which she also needs a costume for.  I'm going to ask her if she has any ideas, and if she doesn't I'm suggesting a Holly Golightly outfit or something from the '20s, which I think would suit her and wouldn't be too difficult, although nothing would be difficult compared to what we just did.  Hopefully some other people from the museum will be going and will also want costumes!

18th c. Petticoat

A while ago I bought some sky-blue linen with a slightly open weave to make a petticoat out of, for a planned jacket/petticoat outfit.  I partially made up the jacket too small and I'm going to be redoing that soon, but I figured that since the side seams of the petticoat were already done I'd get going on finishing that.  Yesterday I started pleating it onto a twill tape, and I just finished whipping the pleats down.  It's probably period to use normal-sized pleats, but for some reason I went as small as I could - I think I was considering cartridge pleats before I remembered that I thought they weren't period? 

No pictures just yet: I have to go to work today!  But I'll try to take some of how it looks now, before I do the hem.  I'm going to use slipstitch, as per the hems on the shift I examined at FIT, although the hem is going to be deeper than it should - I ought to have done that first, then folded the top down enough to make the petticoat the right length, but I guess I wasn't thinking.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The worst sewing project ever

I feel like I shouldn't even write about this because it's been mostly done by my mom, but she is wonderful and the world needs to be educated. *blows her a kiss*

A while ago, one of my supervisors at the museum where I intern asked if I could make her a dress for a gala.  I said sure!  Because generally I can follow a pattern on the machine, although my specialty is fiddly handwork (I think).  And I sent her a selection of pattern URLs, including this as an afterthought, and that is the one that she chose.

Things I have learned from this experience:

  • Shiny, slippery rayon is very hard to deal with
  • Shiny, slippery silk charmeuse is even more difficult to deal with
  • All of this is especially bad when everything is on the bias
  • Asymmetry is confusing
  • Pleating into a panel is painstaking
  • Cowl necklines makes everything just a bit harder
All of this adds up into: I will probably never do 1930s costuming.

The most important lesson of all is, of course, that when Vogue says a pattern is advanced, they really mean it's advanced.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Devonshire Shoes

The American Duchess is putting up her Devonshire line of shoes for pre-order!

The Devonshires are a leather 18th century shoe based on museum examples from the 1760s through 1780s.  They're made of top-grade dyable leather, with a beautiful, smooth Italian leather sole for dancing, and are hard-wearing, water- and mud-proof, for even the toughest of outdoor re-enactments.

Pre-Order the Devonshires through August 10, and get the special $100 price.  They're only making 200 of these shoes, so don't miss the chance to own one of only a couple hundred pair on the planet!  Visit to order.

Aren't they gorgeous?