Monday, January 30, 2012

The Place of Fabrics: Silk

Everyone is aware that silk is a fine fabric.  However, I believe that it was worn by a slightly broader section of society than it is generally represented as.  Lady's maids received cast-off clothes from their mistresses, and even other servants and the lower middle classes could afford second-hand silk clothing.  Women could be scorned for dressing above their station if their silk clothes were deemed too fine, however.

Some types of silk I have come across in advertisements: Taffeta/taffety, lustring/lute-string, alamode ("a sort of silk or taffety"), bridges, Granado, Naples, organzine, pole, satin, sarcenet, syper, Bengal.

(NB: I've also gone through and reformatted the other fabrics posts, so that they (mostly) link to the quoted page, and the quote is a picture of the page rather than a retyped version.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I've noticed for a while that even movies with generally well-made costumes have a tendency to consider stomachers worn only with formal clothing.  John Adams, for example, shows Abigail ca. 1775 in a plain gown with an anachronistic center front closure for working around the farm, but in France (ca. 1785) in a fancy silk gown with a stomacher.  (One also sees this to an extent with re-enactors, helped along by older research that calls center-front closures accurate from 1770.)  The perception seems to exist because it's simpler to close a gown with both bodice edges together than to incorporate an extra piece.  As I am joining a re-enactment group and am preparing to make my own ensemble, I wanted to do as much research into not-completely-formal stomachers as possible to make and back up my own choices.

A Little More on the Polonaise

I am so fascinated by that new style of dress from the end of the 1770s.  I was just looking for quotes on the stomacher - trying to see if there was anything said about poorer women's - when I came across this lovely quote in the Gentleman's Intelligencer:

 I find it noteworthy that the new style is stated as being worn with a stomacher, and a "peaked high" one at that.

1.30: I have to add another snippet about the polonaise

20th Century Fashion Dolls

Everyone knows that in the eighteenth century, dolls were used to spread the latest fashions; less well known are the versions that were popular in the early twentieth century.  While I was pinning images from the Met onto my Pinterest boards, I came across twenty-six of these Lafitte-Desirat dolls, all dressed adorably in the fashions of the 1910s.

I fully intended to research and write a post about their history, but I was beaten to the punch by this amazing article from the Jazz Age Club, complete with pictures of fashionable women with their fashionable dolls.  I highly recommend it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

1911 Corset pictures

Yes, I was steadfast about not showing pictures of the mockup, but that's because it was made out of blue jeans and without quite the attention to detail that it should have had.  But the real version is much more presentable and won't embarrass me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Robe à la Piémontaise

A while back, when I added all of the MFA's Gallerie des Modes plates (minus the ones that are quartered to show four hairstyles) to my fashion history Pinterest boards, I made some non-decade boards where I could group 18th century extant garments, plates, etc. by type.  One group was just "misc", as I had only one image described with a particular term.  One of these was the robe à la piémontaise.

Every page that I can find that mentions this type of dress is in agreement that the piémontaise was (to be brief) a française with detached pleats.  But I'm not really sure where that comes from.  The most recent scholarly reference I can find is in Dress in France in the Eighteenth Century, but I am unable to read the citation as the Google Books preview cuts out all but one page of the endnotes.  (If anyone could tell me what is cited there, I would be very pleased.)  Prior to that - going back in time chronologically - is Dress in Ireland, by Mairead Dunlevy; I can't actually see the whole sentence, but the piémontaise is listed with the française and the anglaise as "versions of early eighteenth-century silk sack-back robes," which makes me not think much of it as a source - the anglaise is not related to the française, and why list the piémontaise there as though it were as prominent?  20,000 Years of Fashion gives the standard definition of independent back pleats.  Then there is Marybelle Bigelow's Fashion in History, but I pointed out a few myths about Greek dress in her work in my symposium paper, so I can't take her word for it.  And that is as far back as it seems to go.  (As far as I can tell on Google Books, anyway.)

I'm certainly not trying to point fingers at people for going along with what established scholars have said, and I'm not trying to say that this plate is necessarily correct, that the piémontaise was definitely a gown with a back cut like a française and a skirt cut like a polonaise.  But this is the only image I've seen that has a picture and labels it "piémontaise", and I can't find any contemporary written descriptions of it.  So where did the standard definition come from, and why is it so dominant?

Addendum: I linked to La Couture Parisienne as an example of the "detached pleats" definition of the piémontaise; however, the gown pictured does also fit with the fashion plate's definition in that the skirt seems to have rounded front corners and is trimmed all the way around, and is draped up.

Edited to add: It is rather embarrassing, but I must admit that I am entirely incorrect on this matter.  The fashion plate and description is far from being posted as of this moment (book 13, plate 6) but it is quite explicit that the piémontaise has detached pleats which are fastened to the collar of the gown.  Still, now we have a primary source to cite in support of the definition, rather than a loop of secondary and tertiary ones!

Mildly interesting corset identification

Yesterday, in passing, I posted a link to a corset:

When I went into the library to look for a book on walking sticks, I wandered in the fashion history section and noticed Corsets: A Visual History, which features pages and pages of corset advertisements.  There was one in a National (that's the brand) ad from 1912 that looked exactly like this one, with the same odd overlap in the back - it was described as a "bust-forming" corset for slight figures.  So my inclusion of it with supportive brassieres - and the inclusion of the brassieres that look similar to this - was probably a mistake, as the boning over the chest is just meant to provide a hollow shape for the dress to drape over.

ETA: I went back into the book and found the actual Sahlin ad with this actual corset from 1914.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Early Brassieres

After adjusting my corset pattern this morning so that it would be an inch higher in the front (I realized I had had the whole corset mockup up too high before, and it was actually not as mid-bust as I'd thought), I hesitated.  Do I really want to do it?  I thought I'd look into period brassieres before I made a decision.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I'm not posting any pictures of my corset mockup, because it is disgraceful.  But I've taken it in quite a lot around the hips, evened out the bottom edge, and taken an inch off the CB edges.  I think the sizing issue might be that the line I made to indicate the hips on the pattern was actually too high, and the pieces of course kept flaring after that.

If you look at the right sidebar, you'll see that I've created pages for current and finished projects, and my collection of extant clothing.  All the pages are very much under construction, but there's some stuff up on them, if you'd like to look.

I spent some time today on the New England Museum Association website, and I've found three relatively paid internships that look promising!  One is at Old Sturbridge Village (curatorial), one is at the American Textile History Museum (also curatorial), and one is in the Newport Historical Society (museum studies).  Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Everything You Know About Corsets is False"

I just found this fashion history article via Tumblr, by Lisa Hix on Collectors Weekly.  In it, she interviews Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at FIT, on the subject of the corset.  The main points: women did not tight-lace down to thirteen inch waists, corsets did not permanently deform the body and cause life-threatening conditions, and men did not force women to wear corsets (though she does acknowledge that part of the reason for wearing corsets was to appeal to men).

I only had a few issues with the article:

For a brief time, from 1800 to 1830, the Napoleonic high “empire waist” look freed bellies from the confines of waist-constricting stays, as corsets became smaller and closer to modern-day bras.
 The era of the short corset was very short itself, from about 1795 to 1805.  By 1810, as dresses slimmed down, women were wearing long corsets again.
A corsetier with an M.D., Inès Gaches-Sarraute, came up with the straight-front corset—also known as the “swan-bill,” “S-line,” or “S-bend” corsets—which he believed kept the pressure off a woman’s stomach. But these corsets forced women to tilt awkwardly, hips back, breasts forward, and created an exaggerated S-shape in the back.
Gaches-Sarraute was a woman, not a man.  It's not a huge mistake, but in my opinion, it changes the tone.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today I made a mockup!

This is a big deal for me, normally I put my trust in my calculations and piece in fabric if I need to.  So after taking Owen (younger brother) to his dentist appointment and getting a bagel lunch at Panera, I went home and started cutting out the pieces for the 1911 corset from these large jeans I bought at Salvation Army ages ago.  It looked like I was going to run out of fabric, but I just squeaked by and finished off the jeans as well - always good to get something out of the stash!  Although I kind of want to replace them now just in case I need to do another corset mockup sometime soon. 

I haven't quite finished with the mockup yet - I'm going to unpick the back seams from the 1901 corset I made quickly for my Victorian Romance Emma costume a few years ago and use those as the lacing strips, because I only have so many grommets/washers and I also only have so much patience.  Just holding the mockup against me, though, is telling me that a) it definitely hits between underbust and mid-bust, I don't think I'll have to make a brassiere! and b) it's quite big, somehow.  I don't know if it's because of my cutting out or because a one-inch seam allowance leaves me a lot of space to err.  It's interesting, though, because the front six pieces seem to be the right size.  The problem might be just in the back gussets and CB pieces.  Also, the bottom is completely uneven - I added an inch to the bottom of each piece, thinking that the two inches recommended would probably be too much for me, so maybe I forgot to add it to some and added it poorly to others.  These are all pretty minor things, though, so I am considering this a success!  I'll post pictures when I put the lacing strips on.

After I was tired of all this sewing - and especially of pushing pins through denim - I decided to work on scaling up my stays pattern.  I did it using the proportion method: find the bust and waist measurements of the original garment by drawing lines across the pattern pieces, find the percentage of the whole that each line segment takes up, find how long that segment would be for my measurements.  I very rarely have to adjust the height of anything, and I decided after measuring the CF that I wouldn't have to here.  As the original stays were home-made and simple, the pieces are quite geometric and I got them drawn on newspaper and cut out pretty fast.  It looks like the front and back pieces might be a bit wide, somehow, but really there's nothing else for me to do but mope around until I feel I can allow myself to buy fabric.  When I do, I promise to take looooads of pictures of my process.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stays ponderings

So ... I didn't actually do any sewing last week, and since I have my internship over the next couple of days I won't work on the corset sew-along until Thursday at the soonest.  (Need to scrounge up some mock-up fabric ...)  Last night, though, after some encouraging words of advice from Kelsey of Historically Speaking, I was thinking seriously about getting together an outfit for joining the 2nd Regiment Albany County Militia as a civilian.

Obviously, the first step is stays.  On the one hand, I have the blue stays I wore to the Stone Fort - those are cut too deep in the armscye and generally aren't comfortable.  On the other hand, I have the ca. 1776 Diderot stays that I've done seams, eyelets, and one panel's channels - I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of using such up-to-the-minute fashionably-shaped stays for an impression that would be lower middle to working class.  So I'm feeling strongly inclined toward getting new linen from Wm. Booth and some coarser thread, and making a copy of the stays I examined at Historic Cherry Hill: those were strapless, front and back lacing, and not rounded in the bust.  (Also, they were only partially boned in an interesting way.)

Of course, this will have to wait until I've got a job so I can pay for gas and student loan payments.  But I could always scale up the pattern I took and make a cardboard mock-up ...  No, no, no!  Corset sew-along first, wistful-dream projects later!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fashion History Mythbusters: the Language of the Fan

In the vein of the Fashion Historian and the Undressing the Fashionable Myth Symposium (I was a little shocked that mine came up as the first hit, is it a personalized search result?), I'd like to take a look at the concept of "the language of fans".

It's very easy to find websites talking about the language of fans.  It seems to be common knowledge that fashionable women across Europe in the eighteenth century had a ritualized system of fan signals, mainly to communicate with a lover or a suitor they were spurning.  Personally, I've always wondered about it - because it seems like anyone not paying strict attention to their hands would find themselves sending embarrassing messages constantly.  Well, today at my internship I was writing an essay on the history of the folding fan, and I took some time to look into the matter.

Monday, January 2, 2012

1911 Corset Sew-Along, Day One

Not much to report.  I had copied the 1911 corset pattern from C&C and used the Corsetmaking Revolution percentages method to determine the widths of all the pieces, but I wasn't sure it was right (and I knew it wasn't in some areas), so I scaled it up a bit and printed it out again.  Then I measured and multiplied and divided once more, and produced something that made a bit more sense.  I finally drew the pieces out on some newspaper through my own inexplicable scaling-up method, amazed that they came out to be the right size and to fit together.

Then I read the post on using the slashing method to widen pattern pieces, which is much simpler.  Well.  Next time.

A New Year

I'm not going to detail what I made last year because it's a very short list, but I find it interesting to look over other peoples' lists of what they hope/plan to make in 2012.  And now that I've finished writing my thesis (fireworks, trumpets, cannons, etc.), I'm sure that I will be able to let myself sew more.

Sensible, probably will happen items:

- My first planned project is the 1911 corset sew-along.  I'm doing a seriously budget corset, with ticking (hey, the site said it was a good coutil substitute), my cotton twill tape, cable ties that I already have, and a busk taken out of a costume corset I made a while ago.  My plan is to make it slightly bust-supportive, but if that doesn't work out, I'll be making some kind of early bra-type thing. (Examples: a, b, c, d, and e.) Then, of course, I want to make a dress to go with it.  Specifically, a lingerie dress, probably a copy of one of the antiques that I have.  (I don't know if it counts for the purposes of this list, but I also intend to do a full condition report for each of my dresses, plus a pattern, and post them.)

- Good ca. 1775 stays.  I actually have them started, I just need to do the actual channels and whatnot.  This will allow me to make a plain gown for visiting re-enactments and things, in linen or a nice period cotton print that matches my blue linen petticoat so I don't need to make a new one of those (although I think I need to redo the waistband).

- Ca. 1836 outfit to wear to a Victorian streetwalk or two around next Christmas.  I have always wanted to go to one, but now I have it in my head that I can't go unless I have the best outfit of everyone.  And I think most people tend to go to bustle era for Victorian events, so I will stand out.

Schemes that may be mere fancy:

- A circassienne.  Not for me a polonaise, it must have tassels on it!  This is on the fantasy list because it's not very practical (maybe if I had local friends to meet with and have picnics ...), and because I'm not sure if there are any patterns of the no-waist-seam style, and I'm not that good at draping yet.

- A 1910s afternoon or evening dress to go with my lingerie dress.  This is a little more realistic, because it could be very simple and, of course, machine-sewn.

-  Finishing off the thesis ensemble.  I need outerwear, shoes, a reticule (or pockets ... it seems like there was a short period where they switch popularity back and forth), headwear, an open robe for evening.