Monday, January 9, 2017

Regency Attire and the Greeks: Looking at History Through Rose-Colored Glasses

This is a long-standing research project for me, and it has taken me to parts completely unknown. It all began with: what is historicism?

Historicism is a fascinating topic; it is derived from the idea that history long ago is influencing choices that we make today. Well duh! It can be as complicated or as simple as you choose to make it, but there as many different facets to historicism that are played out in different ways. In the world of fashion, we are constantly being influenced by things that have already been done, and finding new ways to make it "the new vogue"; in other words, taking something that was already tried, but in an exciting way that fits the newly adapted modern taste. Sort of a rose-colored glasses-type of thing.

When recreating historical clothing, most people agree that peering through a modern lense of any sort dilutes the true accuracy of any garment, simply because contemporary tastes are different than 100, 150,  or 300 years ago. But another question to ask yourself is, what if looking through a lense would actually benefit us, as long as the lense was situated in the correct position?

Consider this: looking at a garment without any context is rather boring. You can learn a lot with an open mind,  but with no expectation there is not really much to look at. When you look at a dress, you have no idea appreciation for why it is what it is. And we have already established that a timeline working backwards from where we are today is useless, as it tells us nothing we don't already know other than, "My, that dress is ugly!" of  "I can't believe people actually wore that!" or "Wow, I was born in the wrong century! Except for corsets...." You have no historical lense.
1830-34 dress from the V and A....1830's are probably the most misunderstood and most hated decade of fashion in the history of fashion.

To get into the correct mindset, it is important that you adjust your glasses to the date you are researching, and look both backwards and forwards. What has been accomplished at this current point in history? What is happening? What is everyone interested in? What was everyone interested 10 years ago? That is the backwards. Now the forwards: what can I do with this current dress in 2 years to keep it fashionable? Or 5? Is there a forseeable future for the next fashion-forward step, or is it unexpected? The most interesting thing I have learned in this research project is the importance of not only understanding the fashion timeline, but the previous 50 or so years in politics, art, music, religion, and mindset.

For a series of challenges which I sometimes participate in, one of the challenges was Historicism. Cool! I was excited to see what everyone came up with. A few who accepted the challenge chose to use Regency attire, simply because it's an easy default. Literally every costumer knows that as the 18th century came to a close, the good people of Europe and the America's looked to the Greeks for fashion inspiration, particularly when it came to color and a high-waisted, simple style. The Neoclassical era was born, and history was changed forever.
C. 1804 Neoclassical dress from the V and A

I began contemplating what I knew already about the Neoclassical era, which is pretty much summed up in the above statement. As it churned the idea around in my mind, it began to sound off. I pulled out my calculator and punched in some numbers. The amount of time that passed from the end of the Classical era of art (around 31 B. C.) to the beginning of the Neoclassical era was......


 1,826 YEARS!!!  Ludicrous! Hilarious! Actually, quite ridiculous. That's like us, looking to Jesus Christ for fashion inspiration. Or the Bayeaux tapestry.
Those helmets need to make a comeback....oh, and the shields. Note the blue horse.

What the heck were they looking at? No internet, 1,800 years after the fact. As seperated as we feel from even 100 years ago, with internet and resources, the Regency perspective of ancient Greece must have been even more romanticized that ours. Their rose-colored glasses were definitely on for this one as they examined the only source that they had: statues.

Next Up: The Neoclassical Era, and the Reality of 1800 years

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in Review, and 2017 Goals

I am so behind on blogging, I just want to weep and die. Because I really do love blogging, but getting caught up on 8  months of life has felt kind of overwhelming. So consider this a semi-catch up post, and I might go back and include more details on some of the better stuff.

In March, I completed a Regency ball gown for the Victorian ball for my sister Camille.. The fabric was bought in Sept. of 2015, but the Regency ball was canceled. So it was either make a new Regency ball gown to wear, or wear a Civil War ball gown that was really tight the year before. So the Clio dress was born. Camille actually named the dress, "Clio", but in my mind it has been named the Dress that Never Dies. She's worn it several times already with no thought of ever giving it up. No matter what time frame the event is, this is the dress she wants to wear.

This was the first Regency dress where I put some real thought into the physics (ahem, that really means construction) of the flow. What I mean by that is that, I created each layer of the dress (outer sheer, inner solid layer, and a muslin lining layer) to work together instead of get in each other's way. So on the skirt, the muslin layer is really small, the next layer is sort of medium, and then the outer layer was way larger than both so when she twirled they would not conflict. The bodice was made in a similar way, because I wanted the gathers to lay nicely. The more layers you gather at once, the more it puffs out. Camille specificly said, "I don't want to be puffy." So the inner solid layer and the muslin lining was darted together, and then the outer bodice was hand-gathered over it. This dress was for fun, it wasn't a research project or intended to be accurate in any way.  The reason I never got around to posting about it was because I don't have any pictures of her not moving. But that is the best part; this dress looks the best in motion! So here are a few pictures, just so you have idea (on the left in the below picture)



It just sort of floats behind her when she dances!

Every time I see this picture of Camille (with her back to us in this picture) I start freaking out. LOOK AT THAT DRAPE! Am I allowed to fangirl over a dress I made myself?


Between the months of May and June, I finished a pair of long corded Regency stays.  They turned out great, I'm really happy with them. The style is looser than I prefer (they are supposed to be smoothing, not neccesarily crazy shaping), so they are not my absolute favorite to wear. I like my corsets really tight. It just feels good to me. 

For the tucks and pleats challenge in February, I intended to finish my 1863 green plaid. Instead....it got done in July for Costume College! I hit a wall on the fitting, and just could not bring myself to fix it in a timely manner. In the end, I super love the dress, and it looks amazing! The fitting errors are invisible, which is code for the dress is really really tight. So not neccesarily an error, just a matter of comfort. It was based on a CDV, and it is very, very accurate. The only thing I can think of that is not accurate is I did not bother to research the buttons I used.




During August and September, I made a dotted sheer 1860's dress for Camille. This was her first higher-fashion dress, and she needed a hoop skirt to go under it. So the hoop was made too; that took like an afternoon. This was also the project that got sadly derailed from what I preferred, but only because of conflicting desires. I wanted to re-make this fashion plate, but Camille wanted a jewel-neck and long sleeves. Oh, and no ruffles. And the bretelles are a no-go, they look too babyish. This was also Camille's first dress where I agreed to make a significant drop in the skirt length. She felt super grown up in her longer skirt, hoop and awesome bonnet. The green trim on the skirt and the belt was taffeta from the garment district. These are probably the worst pictures ever....but her hooped silhouette is still super cute.




In October, I started a research project on Neoclassicism, to go along with the Regency gown I wanted to make. I picked an original I liked, and with all the undergarments complete I set out to cross off a bucket list project: hand-sew an entire dress. Normally, a Regency dress takes me somewhere between 20-25 hours. Using entirely different techniques, mockups from scratch, and the handsewing, the projected time frame was 30-35 hours. It took me like 20 hours. Easy peasy! I have plans to get pictures taken professionally, once I am not broke.


 The only reason I include this picture is because of my hair....super awesome tutorial to come. Based on the Kaufman head from the Louvre.


I took a couple commissions this year; that was new, and also fun. I made a pair of Regency stays for a friend, and instead of making it corded I used a stiffer fabric and a little bit more boning. Within the pattern, there is the theatrical version, and the historically accurate corded version. This was a pretty easy 20 hour project; the corded pair I made myself took waaaayyyy longer (like 35 hours, 75% of that on the cording). Next time I will go straight for the theatrical version, although there were a couple differences in the fitting on the theatrical one that were a little weird.

The other commission work I did was I made a riding habit shirt for a side-saddle riding friend, and also a gypsy headpiece for a costume class.

Some goals for next year:

An 1805 day dress
C. 1800-1810 gown from August Auctions

An 1860's green plaid ball bodice
c. 1860 Ball gown from the Museum of Fine Arts

An 1860's Sheer dress with an evening and day bodice

C. 1860 original gown saved from Ebay

A full set of Civil war undergarments 

An 1863 bonnet or hat (my poor head has been bare)

Impart some sewing knowledge to someone else

Make a dress from an entirely new decade. 

On this last one, I'm thinking either natural form (finally!), or 1750's settler to honor my g-g-g-g-g-g-g grandmother Howe, who was kidnapped by Abenaki Indians along with her 5 children.
1881 dress from the MET


Picture depicting Jemima being sold by her (as the story goes) drunk Indian captor to a Frenchman.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Historical Sew Monthly #5: Holes

I was originally planning on finishing my Regency corset for this challenge, but an unexpected commission came up. So I made an Edwardian riding habit shirt instead!

This friend of mine competes her Gypsy Vanner horse in shows around the Northwest, and needed something to go under her riding jacket (for those of you horse-deprived people here is a good example of a Gypsy Vanner) Now, this particular riding jacket (sorry, I don't have pictures) has a much deeper V than your typical historical riding habit, with the point coming down to an inch or two under the bust. In my search to come up with what I was going to make, that deep point narrowed down what I probably would have made if the point was only a hand span below her neck, or something like that. Because of the V, I couldn't do any kind of stock-tie/cravat/whatever you call it; the reason I didn't feel like any of those would work was because whatever it was, it would have to stretch way down to fill in the point and wouldn't look right. The collar refuses to lay flat when it's all folded up.

So I went with just a plain habit shirt and dressed it up with some pretty buttons that I bought at Hobby Lobby. It's based on rather ordinary chemisettes, except for the stand up collar and the fact that the muslin is probably not the quality it should have been. Yes, I starched it to death, so it was all nice and crisp but as soon as you start handling it it loses it's crispness. It is also probably a touch longer than most other chemisettes, which don't usually have to reach down below the bust. And yes, I hand-sewed those eyelets so the ribbon could pass through.

I'm pretty proud of my drafting skills though, I did that part myself. I had to mess with the neck angle quite a lot to get the neck just right, but other than that it was pretty easy. I thought the collar would need some stiffening strip in it like interfacing, or canvas, but in the end it was short enough (only a tiny bit more than 1'') that it didn't really have any problems staying up. It's just a strip of bias, folded in half with the edges tucked in.

Speaking of tucks, I originally planned on having three on each side. Even as I sewed them in, I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen to the neck curve. Alas, the third tuck was a bit much and ruined the neck shape. So I went with two and trimmed off the third tuck allowance.

The buttonholes in particular were VERY troublesome. I have yet to get my machine to work in that area, so I asked a friend to come over to her house and use her high-tech sewing machine to sew my buttonholes. Apparently no technology can cure the fact that her machine is....temperamental. I spent maybe 2 1/2 hours on the first three buttonholes; the rest went fine, but 3 1/2 hours for machine-stitched buttonholes is outrageous.

What the item is: Edwardian Riding Habit Shirt

The Challenge: #5 Holes

Fabric/Materials: Cotton muslin

Pattern: Drafted myself

Year: 1900-1915?

Notions: Buttons, ribbon, thread, fray check

How historically accurate is it? Not a clue; there is nothing inaccurate about the shape, although machine-sewn buttonholes and fray check aren't accurate. It looks great though!

Hours to complete: 10

First worn: 6/4


Total cost: $2.50

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Challenge #5: Holes Update

Even though it may seem as though I've dropped off the face of the blogging planet, my current project is a Regency corset. Yay! It's come along a little on the slow side; at first I thought the cording would be fun, but after the first panel....yeah, not so much. Actually, I do enjoy the cording, but it took me a little while to figure out what the best size cord channel was. After much pulling, yanking, and hand cramping, I finally ripped out and re-stitched a few from 1/8'' channel to 3/16''. What a difference!

Living in a dry climate, my air-erasable pen disappears REALLY fast. On my first panel, I was going along, taking my sweet time tracing and getting it all perfect. As I started pinning the pieces together to start sewing, I saw that the very first lines I had drawn were already disappearing. AAAHHH! So I sewed like the wind, and that was part of why some of the channels ended up so tight. But dang, they sure turned out nice!

On the next back panel, I had the sense to go through and sew the middle seam of each set of cords. Then it didn't matter too much if the lines were erased because I had a better idea of how far away to sew it. I also didn't try to force the cord in and went back and re-sewed a few. It was worth the time to re-do a few. Plus an entertaining story put me in a better mood to fix it, vs. watching Lord of the Rings which I was only partially paying attention to what I was doing. Hence the not perfectly even embroidery, lol. The sun has yet to cooperate with my tracing efforts, so the front has not even been started with the cording. 

Right now, I am in a bit of a slump because I got my wisdom teeth pulled two days ago. My brain is totally unmotivated with the pain-killers, so I'm guessing Historical Sew Fortnightly entry will be a little late. The dentist recommended a hot compress; this little gel pack was the only thing Walgreens had. I have named him Penguino, and he has been of great comfort to me in my time of suffering.


Plus I've had a friend ask me to make a few small items before the first week of June, so that is also slowing me down a little. She rides her horse side-saddle and enters in small competitions with her gorgeous Gypsy Vanner; she enters in costume classes and has a gypsy costume, but she wanted a headscarf that matched her outfit. I didn't take a picture of the finished product, but here is a picture of the pretty trim.

Also, last minute they changed the open 'costume class' to Edwardian side-saddle class, and needs a habit shirt to go under her riding jacket. So far, I've got a couple ideas.

A. A chemisette with a seperate stock tie. This is today a part of traditional dressage and fox hunting attire. She would need to find a stock pin, either fancy or plain. This is my favorite in the way it looks, as it isn't too complicated to tie and is acceptable in the modern show ring.

B. A chemisette with an actual cravat. Probably my least favorite option, as they are more complicated to tie and she doesn't prefer anything that rides up too high on the neck. Also, they are not very feminine. I know the cravat is hard to see in this fashion plate, but up close I am not entirely convinced that isn't a man.

C. A chemisette with a jabot, either lace or muslin. I think this might be the easiest option to make and wear as I think I can make them one piece, although the ruffles might be too fussy. I also don't think they are particularly Edwardian; when I think of Edwardian attire I think sleek and traditional (as far as riding habits), and jabots are really a Colonial garment. The below jabot is listed on the MET as circa 1900. Ok, so maybe it is an option. But I think I would like to avoid ruffles.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Historical Sew Monthly #3: Protection

I know, a chemise is not the most original idea. But...a chemise does protect your skin from the potential burn that corsets can give. And it also protects your dress from sweat. So protection on multiple parts! I know, only one picture, but it is only a chemise after all.

I used the Laughing Moon pattern. I loved this pattern! It makes me question why I bother drafting all that stuff myself and working without instructions. I may just buy patterns as often as possible from now on. I also took the time to cut out all the little notches that you use to line stuff up. Let me tell you, it made a huge difference! It also probably saved me time, as I didn't have to pull the pattern pieces back out to mark where those notches were after the whole thing was sewn together.

This is a Regency style chemise, and the pattern is based off of an original; the straight line style with a drawstring and gussets in the armpits is appropriate pretty much between 1795 and 1830, maybe even into the 1840's. There was something really nice about not having to gather something to something else, and I would take the gussets and drawstring over gathers with a set band any day.

For Christmas I received Jennifer Rosbrugh's Regency corset and chemise class, so I also had the video tutorials to go along with it. I really appreciated her clear instructions on the gussets, that was really helpful; without them, I probably would have had to rip out the seams two or three times before figuring it out. Which brings me to my next point:

I HAND SEWED THE WHOLE THING! And it only took a couple afternoons!

So yes, if I wanted I could say this is 100% accurate since sewing machines weren't invented until the 1840's. But why bother since the chemise is the undergarment which will be least seen? I don't know, I just love hand sewing. Actually, my flat felled seams were a little on the sloppy side; I've done them before much neater. Next time I use this pattern, I'm going to use a smaller seam to make tidier flat-felled seams.

What the item is: Chemise

The Challenge: Protection

Fabric/Materials: 100% cotton muslin, the Sew Essentials brand (basically the cheapest brand, but it irons up a lot better than whatever brand I used last time).

Pattern: Laughing Moon #115

Year: 1795-1830

Notions: Thread, ribbon for drawstring. 

How historically accurate is it? 95%; completely hand sewn and the pattern is based off of an original.

Hours to complete: 10 hours of handsewing

First worn: Not yet

Total cost: $5

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pattern Review: Butterick B5831


think this was the original pattern for my go-to current pattern, but it has gone through at least 10 different phases, no joke. Each dress has it's own mockup or two or three, so....yeah, that sounds about right.

The pattern pieces themselves aren't terrible, but they aren't great. I've heard a lot of people say that it is rather long, creating a "blouse" effect, which is NOT what you want; extra length to allow the fabric to pooch out completely defeats the small-waist look. I don't really remember exactly how long it was on me, but it isn't that big of a deal to chop the length off. On the other hand, several people said that they were long-waisted and it fit perfectly the first time! The instructions use French seams (not period accurate, but not the worst offense); if you don't use French seams, which makes a bigger seam allowance, then it may turn out a little large. Just make a mockup and you'll be okay.

The sleeves: usually, big pattern companies are used to making sleeves with really big arches, sometimes resulting in an extra puff of fabric where it is gathered to the top of the shoulder. Thankfully, they lowered the arch to accommodate the dropped shoulder, so the shape of the sleeve is good. HOWEVER, the sleeves are huge! Trust me, I don't know where the lady in the picture got her sleeves, yours' won't look anything like that unless you take out the fullness. It's pretty easy; the sleeve pieces are cut on a fold, so just move the pattern piece so it hangs off the fold maybe an inch or two. Also: the sleeves are rather long, kind of the like the bodice to create extra pooch. In a sleeve it isn't a bad thing, but you don't want them to swallow up your hands when you have your arms hanging down. So please: measure your arm length and chop accordingly.

The lines of the dress are very good to start out with; the shoulder seam angle backwards, the armscye is dropped over the shoulder cap, the neckline sits where it should. From what I can tell, the side seams don't angle backwards like they should, but that could technically be changed. It does lack the curved back detail that is seen in so many different original dresses and images, but it isn't evident in every single extant, so it can be forgiven. Actually, using Elizabeth Clark's method in The Dressmaker's Guide you can add in a curved back detail without changing your pattern piece at all. Or you can do what I did and free-hand draw the curve and add seam allowance.

Now for the lining: I used this pattern to make a wash dress, so my fabric was heavy duty and not see-through. I should have flat-lined, but I opted for no lining. I regret that now: if your fabric is not sheer, please flat-line! If it is sheer, I still don't know that I would have used this particular pattern.

I was really confused what they meant by "modesty sleeve". If you've done research, you'll know that most semi-attached linings for sheer dresses had a small cap sleeve of some kind. The modesty sleeve is just attached straight to the dress instead of to the separate lining; don't worry, it all works out once it's done if you aren't picturing it.

I would give this pattern a 3.5/5; good lines, terrible, difficult inaccurate instructions. If you have a companion book or reference, like The Dressmakers Guide, then the pieces themselves are worth whatever you pay for the pattern. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Use of Cotton in Fashion Plates

This is an overview of a research topic that I've been working on. Part of what sparked the idea for this research topic was, a) discovering how much I love fashion plates, and b) how much I wanted to recreate them, but being discouraged at how expensive it would be. I assumed that everything was made of expensive silk, which is usually upwards of $14 a yard. Then I figured out that cotton did exist in the historic fashionable world! Cotton can be anywhere from $3-$15 a yard, which is much more affordable. Cotton was used quite a lot, but more concentrated in certain types of garments during specific times of the year. You probably wouldn't want to be wearing a thin cotton dress while tramping through the snow, but for a hot day in July you wouldn't want to wear anything else!


1857 December Godeys: Fig 4, evening dress for a lady just come out of organdy

I've been searching original Godey's Lady's Books, Les Modes Parisiennes, Le Moniteur de la Mode and Le Follet for the fashion plate description and looking for certain key words, between the years 1840 and 1865. I used Cunnington's Englishwomen's Fashion in the Nineteenth century as a reference for different fabrics; there is an index in the back that has been invaluable. My list of key words include: cotton, muslin, batiste, cambric, mousseline (French for muslin), organdy, tarlatan (the spelling varies), gauze, voile, India muslin, jacconet muslin, Swiss muslin and book muslin. A couple different fabrics came up in which Cunnington conflicted with different opinions, so both percale and foulard are question marks in terms of whether or not they are cotton, although I found the context to not match the rest of the cotton genre.

Le Moniteur de la Mode 1851: Fig 2, of Swiss muslin. The same exact plate appears in Godey's in 1853, but as a course wood-cut plate instead of steel.

A couple different things came up while searching that I wish I had known before. First of all, original Le Follet and Les Modes Parisiennes are my favorite way more than say Godey's or Peterson's. The sketches are more individual, and in terms of fashion they are straight forward and the descriptions are easier to find. Speaking French is a huge plus, although you can find some that are already translated.

Le Moniteur de la Mode 1851: Fig 1, muslin morning dress

The other thing I learned is that, year to year, not every magazine is the same. I started with Godey's in 1865 and worked backward; from about 1865-1856 everything was going well, and the layout was the same as the year before, but as I got further into the early 1850's and the 1840's the descriptions were more sporadic and harder to locate; my usual keywords of "steel plate" with the month started to not work. Part of that was because, in Godey's earlier years, fashion plates weren't always made with steel. As the steel ones became more popular they even mention in the description how expensive it is to use the detailed steel plates.

Godey's 1853 woodcut fashion plate: compare this plate to the very first plate, which was French, published in 1851, and steel printed.


I also couldn't even find a copy of Godey's between the years 1844 and 1847, so there is a small gap, but I was getting frustrated with the 1840's anyway. Sometimes they would say something like, "This months plate is so simple we will not trouble our fair readers with a description"; others were more blunt and said, in a nutshell, "even a simpleton would understand what is going on in this picture."

Godey's 1840: Fig. 2, dress of white figured cambric

What I found out was not exactly surprising, but still interesting. Between the years 1860-1865, cotton in fashion plates comes up almost wholly between June and August for day dresses, and evening dresses in cotton were found the most often in the winter. The 1850's were quite different, and because of the vast amount of ruffles lighter materials were preferred in general, so cotton was used in day dresses between March and October, again with cotton still being used in the winter for evening dresses. I have less to say about the 1840's; between the less than helpful descriptions and the several year hole in research, I would say that cotton was used during the day more year-round than the 1860's, but less than the 1850's.

Godey's August 1863: Fig 1, of French muslin. I do not know what is up with the floating lady in the background...

In terms of color, about half of the dresses were white, while the other half were printed, striped or a color of some sort.

Godey's August 1842: Fig 1, dress of India muslin

Of the evening dresses, I would say 1/15 was not white, and of the white ones the description usually makes a point of saying that they are for young or very young ladies. Most of the evening dresses I saw that used cotton had a layered skirt of some kind, whether it was ruffles, tiers, or a mixture of both depending on the current trend. Most of the late 1850's and early 1860's evening dresses are incredibly "cupcake-y", while the early 1850's ones are my favorite.

December Godey's 1859: Fig 4. Of tarlatan for a young lady; the full description here.

Compare the style of the dress in the above plate on the right to the below dress on the left, which is made of taffeta. Because of the thinness of the cotton, layered effects and profuse usage of ruffles and the like were more common in cotton. Cotton is less expensive, so if you were in need of a ball gown you would be in the market for something expensive; in other words, spend the same amount on a crazy amount of cotton yardage and use it all, or less on more expensive silk.

Le Follet, 1863 (actually it might be of moire instead of taffeta, I can't remember)


I also discovered a trend in terms. Muslin and tarlatan is the favorite fabric in the 1860's, while during the 1850's the different kinds used were much more broad.

Les Modes Parisiennes 1862, Fig 2. of blue tarlatan

It is a common reenacting mistake, especially in Civil war reenacting, to think that cotton was only used for work or summer dresses. It is true that work dresses were most commonly made in cotton, but even a ball dress could be made in cotton! It depends completely on the fineness of the fabric in question, and also the amount of trimming to determine the suitability of the style. PLEASE, don't take this to mean that quilting cotton from Joanns will work. As I mentioned before, most cotton evening gowns were very elaborate and I've seen quite a few reenactors make the mistake of making it too plain. There are a lot of very simple original ball gowns floating around on Pinterest, but all of them are silk. Or, if they are cotton, they could have even been a girl's plain day dress. The dress below is a confusing example: ball gown? Girl's party dress? We might never know. 

In other words: if you want help finding a fashion plate description, come to me. If you are interested in just looking at the way I document stuff, check out my Pinterest boards. I know a lot of people say Pinterest isn't research, but it is if you use it as a way to archive and organize stuff. By not saving it to the computer, it is easier to share and you can access it on any device anywhere.

https://www.pinterest.com/michaelacoy9/