Thursday, May 29, 2014

Isabel Elsey's Wedding Dress, 1934

Wedding Dress, 1973.11.1 (pattern available at link)
This dress. Oh, this dress.

Bias cuts are tricky to pattern, because patterning requires following the grain and measuring the rise and run to get the slope of a diagonal or curve, usually using the center front or back when they're cut on the straight. Satin also makes it difficult, since the sheen and thin warp threads get in the way. Satin cut on the bias combines these issues, plus the heavy fabric hanging on the bias pulls out of shape easily, making the warp and weft not sit at right angles. I was very happy when this one was finished.

I tend not to be too involved with the mid-20th century sewing community, but I'd love to see this one tried out - either as a full gown with a train, or maybe as a modified version for summer wear, with no sleeves and a knee-length skirt. Think about it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Les Costumes François, Plate 3


The Magistrate is an Officer of the King, who has jurisdiction and authority over the people; he holds the laws, which protect the goods, the rights, and the freedom of Citizens; he daily ensures the wellbeing of the state. He must avoid balls, Spectacles, and in general all places which could affect the dignity with which he is clothed, in the area of his jurisdiction. On ceremony days, he has precedence over even gentlemen, because of the public authority in which he is clothed. His coat for the functions of his charge is a great trained closed gown, a type of uniform borrowed from universities, but elsewhere he is ordinarily dressed in black with a cloak and a collar or large cravat, as he is represented in this plate. The people of the court ordinarily treat the men of the palais as bourgeois: without a doubt they are unaware that the first Magistrates were of a great Nobility and that their descendants are found in the Parlemens. However, the Officers of the Sovereign Courts acquire Nobility to the first degree and those of the inferior tribunals to the second.

In speaking of war, some Authors have said that it is an Academy of Thieves and a school for tyrants who only breathe terror and only desire ruin, that it bathes in blood and is heated with burning Cities, that it sees the misfortunes that it occasions and that it is never diverted better than when counting the dead bodies. A Soldier is thus all the more estimable for exposing himself to all dangers for the salvation of his compatriots and for never fearing being enveloped in the same disasters by the God Mars, by whom he is persuaded that the conservation of the state requires it and that it is the will of his Sovereign, but often he enjoys no other reward than glory for the dangers to which he is exposed. A simple decoration and the bounties of the Prince are the only things that he desires. However, he enjoys the consideration of all well-born souls. He has as well the sweet advantage of being dear to beautiful women. Nothing is more gallant nor more polite than a French Officer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dressing Up, May 10-11

The weekend before last was very busy! Julie came up and we had a few days packed with events and driving and scones (lots of scones, some with clotted-ish cream, some plain).

On Saturday, some of the members of the Empire State Costumers went to Albany's TulipFest. It's not a costume event in and of itself, apart from the people involved in the old tradition of scrubbing the street, who dress in versions of 17th century Dutch clothing with wooden clogs, but it's a beautiful day with a lovely setting and an historical connection, so I think it's nice to go out in something pretty and spend some time with friends. There are also a lot of booths for both crafters and food vendors, which I like at an event. We went last year as well, so it's become kind of an official event for the group.

Julie, Erinn, and myself
I'm still fond of this gown, which I made in about three days before the reenactment of the Battle of Saratoga. It has some problems (the left shoulder slips off, the sleeves are kind of wide, the waist is too low everywhere except the sides) and I have to wear my stays laced very tightly to get it to pin shut, but it's such a huge jump forward from my previous gown, a blue linen one with a stomacher. Everything is a step in the learning process, and after this one I feel like I have the confidence to possibly do a silk gown.

With it, I wore my new cap (now with pleated papillon) and kerchief, and my usual straw hat, lovelified with the rest of the blue ribbon. Still haven't gotten around to sewing in the ribbon loops in the skirt, though, and as it was wet and messy out I pinned the skirt up to approximately where it would be if it were able to be tied up.
Because it's about tulips and Netherlandish settlers, you see

Then on Sunday, Julie and I drove up to Fort Ticonderoga for the end of the No Quarter event. No Quarter's main reenactment was the night before, as the whole thing is about the Green Mountain Boys' capture of the fort from the British (which took place in the middle of the night). It was a gorgeous day, much nicer than Saturday - and yet still not quite as hot as had been predicted.

Julie's back
My super-awkward back
I'm not sure what's next ... on my practical sewing list, there's an 1860s cotton check dress for a Delaware County event in late July. Somewhat practically I'd like to make a Regency day dress for those events where I want to be in something more simple. And totally impractically, I'd kind of like to make this jacket I patterned and a silk petticoat to go with it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Les Costumes François, Plate 2


The Bishops is a man instituted to govern the Church. The etymology of his name is drawn from a Greek word, which signifies overseer, inspector, in effect he has a spiritual jurisdiction over the faithful; his ornaments are the Miter, the Cross, the Pectoral cross, the Ring, and Sandals; but his ordinary dress is a Cassock, a Surplice, and a Violet cape, on which hangs the Pectoral cross, as he is represented in this plate, Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, that God had chosen from among the jewish people in order to be his cooperators. They have, like them, the power to teach nations, to pardon sins, to administer the Sacraments, and to punish through purely spiritual ways.

An Abbess is ordinarily the Mother Superior of a Religious community for Girls, over which she exercises a determined authority. The institution of these Religious communities is attributed to St. Pacome. This Saint  lived at the beginning of the fourth Century. The humility which was one of the virtues of the Hermits made them adopt the commonest dress. St. Benoit wanted Religious people to content themselves with a tunic with a cowl and scapular for work, but since the 5th Century, they have worn the habit that was designed for their institution. Girls followed the same example and the Abbess of a girls' Community has only a Pectoral cross, which distinguishes her. Some of these Communities have been secularized and Noble chapters have been formed to raise young Noble girls. The Young ladies who enter these Chapters are called Canonesses: they are as the Young ladies of the World, they have only their choir dress to distinguish them. The Abbess is also dressed secularly; but ordinarily she adopts black or white the same as the young Ladies that she has under her direction. The Abbess also wears the Pectoral cross; thus she is represented in this plate. She has made vows but the greater part of the young Canonesses can marry. It is necessary to make proof of Nobility to enter the Noble chapters.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mary DeLong West's Wedding Dress, 1896

1976.139.2, pattern available on site
As it says at the site, this was "worn by Mary DeLong in 1896 when she married Charles F. West." And you can see it on Mary as well - in the photograph, there's some beaded trim running around the middle of the collar and on the edges of the cuffs, and a large bow on the back of the collar, but that hasn't survived. Personally, I think it looks better without the trim.

The chiffon overlayer is not included on the pattern, but it's just rectangular blocks with slight curves cut for the neckline and armscye.

Has anyone made an 1890s outfit with this sort of elastic in the skirt? That's the sort of detail that always makes me want to do a little experimental archaeology.

There were two wedding dresses from the mid-1890s with provenance, but I went with this one because I love satin - it stays in such good condition. One of the 18th century gowns I patterned for my book is satin, and you'd have thought it was made yesterday. Both dresses are attractive, but this one seemed like it would make a better pattern. And talking about the choice is making me want to pattern the other as well. But I can't right now!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Les Costumes François, Plate 1


One qualifies with the name of Lord persons of high birth, or those who have received the highest dignities of the state; ordinarily they are decorated with the Order of their Sovereign; it only behooves them to be very up-to-date in their dress; the red heels that they wear are the mark of their nobility and announce that they are always ready to tread on the enemies of the State. It is necessary to distinguish from the Lord the rich and foppish man who by external deception seeks to surprise people always dazzled by the eclat of a magnificent coat without ceasing one sees him creep near people in place to obtain some mark of distinction; there are no flexibilities and intrigues that he will not suggest to obtain his ends and he well knows how to avenge himself on his Vassals from the mortifications he receives.

One hears by Lady of court a Woman of high consideration, attached to the Queen or to some Princess: she is always obliged to appear with the most brilliant éclat in the richest fabrics, Gold, precious stones, the most elegant Equipages are of her appanage. She is easily distinguished by her air, these Coquettes who copy her and even surpass her sometimes, the Coiffure of these latter women varies to excess, sometimes it is high, sometimes it is low: today in front, tomorrow in back; one sees constructed on their heads gardens with flowers and fruits; plumes, symbol of lightness, are not spared at all in these latter times, there can be no better choice to express their true characters; finally their toilette is a true study, one could make a rather thick Dictionary of words employed to designate each thing which is used in their parures.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Day Dress, early 1860s

1983.31.1a-b; pattern available at link
The tag on the hanger and the electronic records tell of this dress's difficult road to dating: the wide sleeves, the fringe, and the little peplum play havoc with some of the traditional standards.
  • Fringe, as well as the simple construction of the skirt, points to 1860 or earlier.
  • Wide, long coat sleeves point to the early 1860s.
  • A peplum points toward 1870
Earlier cataloguers argued that it could have been remade late in the 1860s, but then pointed out that it made no sense for the sleeves not to be reduced to be fashionable if so. Personally, I feel that the conclusion of remodeling is often jumped to too quickly in order to reconcile dress elements that seem not to match, and unless there's a clear row of pinholes where a seam was changed, a very different type of thread, or unmatching fabrics, I tend to avoid it. In this case, I didn't see these things - and the peplum, the supposed late addition, was clearly cut in one with the side-back pieces.

Well, I still haven't come upon an image of narrow peplums (pepla?) in the early 1860s to support my diagnosis - if you have some, please do share - but what clinches it for me is that the bodice actually ends in two points and has triple darts. The double-pointed bodice is a fairly limited style, date-wise, and would have been altered even more quickly than the sleeves. And as the rest of the dress appears to be as it was originally made, I allowed that to steer my instinct.

The actual construction techniques are completely normal, nothing much to discuss. The buttons, though, I found interesting. I was under the impression that the kind of fabric-covered buttons we use today - cloth wrapped around a solid form, with a backing and shank fixed on the bottom via some sort of machine - were a much more modern invention, but that's what these are. With metal, obviously, rather than the plastic such buttons are made of today. I'll have to do some research into the button industry.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Les Costumes François

Representing the different Estates of the Kingdom,
with the Dress appropriate to each Estate
and accompanied by critical and moral Reflections.

While I think about what should come next and work on a couple of other projects, I'll be showing a short book from the Bunka Gakuen Library (where else?) that shows and talks about dress and habits by rank. These will be posted every Monday, and those posts on dresses I patterned at the Chapman every Thursday, to balance things out. And I have a few of old finally-finished posts that might go up on some days in between, I'm not quite sure which!

Saturday, May 3, 2014


A little while ago, I started working on making a new cap - my earlier one was the first I'd ever made, of course I did it without a real pattern, and the cotton was too heavy as well, so it was just terrible. Because I wanted to be able to sell caps in my store, I knew I couldn't start out with a commercial pattern (although I had been at the point where I was prepared to buy one for my own use, which, if you've been following me for a while, you might recognize as desperation!) and so I'd have to start over and figure it out properly.

My first stop was at Garsault's L'Art de la lingère (1771), which I translated and then kind of forgot about doing anything with.
c - the crown
a - the brim
d - the lappets

The instructions aren't hugely helpful. It says that double (probably thicker) muslin should be used for the crown, and clear muslin for the ruffles; the crown is whip-gathered to the brim, and the ruffles are whipped on as well. The drawstring confused me at first: "... at the bottom of the crown, in which one crosses the two linen tapes, the right going out to the left, and the left going out to the right." It seemed like it would be hard to tighten the cap enough. In previous attempts, I'd made an eyelet in the middle of the channel and ran the drawstrings out of it to tie the bow, and even that was always kind of loose. This actually works better! Score one for the primary sources!

I would have liked to minutely inspect some online images of this sort of cap, but they especially do not survive, even though hundreds of caps from the early 19th century do. Life is unfair.

Garsault explained the construction well enough for me, and my cap (minus the ruffles, which I only just put on) was holding very well to my head, but I still needed to figure out the ribbon. I'm not quite sure now why it was so difficult for me, but in the end - to cut a really rambly story short - I realized that in a lot of portraits and fashion plates, especially ones with bouillonnée ribbons, it looks like the middle of the ribbon is tied into a single or double bow over the forehead, it's sewn down at each bubble, and then the ends tie at the back of the neck, providing another stabilizing element.

My ribbon is of course from Dames à la Mode on Etsy.

Caps aren't available through my Etsy shop yet; I want to get some good photos next weekend, and then I'll put it up. But very soon!