Monday, December 11, 2017

1799 Blue Tunic

Photo courtesy of my awesome sister Camille!

So the c. 1800 evening dress needed a little interest/color to it. I was open to almost any outer-dress option, except I didn't want an evening robe; basically all original full-length robes are trained, whether that's from a fashion plate, original, or painting. I've seen a lot of costumers just leave the train off because they want to dance in it, but to me that's the wrong way to go about it. I wanted something that would be accurate for the occasion, without fudging, because I knew that existed.
c. 1797 Open Robe from the MET

Little tiny sleeveless spencers, short jackets and half robes were what I was looking into. The possibilities for the styles, colors, and materials were endless! They can be seen in paintings, although they are very common in fashion plates. There really aren't any extant examples, so I didn't have anything to go off of there. I read as many descriptions as I could from magazines; the materials that I found were muslin, satin, lace, crepe, and sarcenet (a thin kind of silk; exactly how thin is yet to be determined). Yellow, blue and pink were the most common colors used, although I did find some black, orange and purple examples.
 April 1799 Ladies Museum Fashion Plate
January 1800, perhaps published in the Ladies Magazine?
May 1799 Ladies Monthly Museum

I decided on this last one....because Neoclassicism. Plus it didn't seem like very much work, and the amount of color per square inches was higher than the sleeveless spencers. Because there really aren't many actual existing half-robes for evening wear, I tried to go about the construction from the most logical standpoint. Unlined seemed best, and with the new discovery of the whole bodice-and-skirt-cut-in-one-with-a-drawstring, that seemed a good idea, keeping the cut of it as simple as possible. The original description (minus the long S, which doesn't exist on my keyboard) from Ladies Monthly Museum is this:

"The Greek vest, of blue muslin, fastened by a diamond clasp on the right shoulder, with a silver girdle and trimming of silver round the skirt; plain gown, with sleeves very short, and a neat pleating round the neck and sleeves. - Turban, a la Grec, blue muslin, with silver bandeau, and ostrich feathers. Shoes blue silk."

I draped the half robe on my dress form, trying to get the best neckline curve, and also balancing the fullness from the shoulder with the fullness at the waist.
This WAS version #1

This is one of my really not-smart moments.....I drafted the half robe in an afternoon of boredom probably back in August and then threw the finished thing back in my scrap bin. When I was ready to pick it up in September, I realized I had used that scrap for another mock up a week or two ago. Whoops. Let's be honest, it's a rectangle with a triangle at the top. It doesn't look like anything special.

The whole thing took me probably under 20 hours, completely hand-sewn. The material is this cotton voile from Mood Fabrics, which is close to historic muslin, just not as thin or as uneven; it took almost exactly 2 yards of fabric. The trim at the bottom isn't accurate at all, so I wasn't wanting two rows of it. Someday, I would like to sew on either real silk ribbon, or embroider the bottom so it's a little more authentic. Again, without existing examples, who's to say how this would have been carried out? It's still a shot in the dark. Yet we DO know rayon isn't accurate, I'm not kidding myself.

The waist originally was just a drawstring; you pull it on over your head and tighten it, adjusting it to be even all the way around. The ribbon at the waist was just sewn on one side, with a hook on the other. I discovered at the photo shoot that it would NOT. STAY. PUT. The ribbon kept slipping all over the place. You can see in some of the pictures it's too slippery. For pictures it was fine, but before the ball I permanently tacked the ribbon in place, so now the whole thing isn't adjustable. Oh well, adjusting the back was a pain.
In theory, this picture would be really cool. But when a white dress meets sunlight.....I call it, "blobbing." New verb for the day, folks.

The little pin on the shoulder I already owned, it was cool to recycle that. The description from the Ladies Monthly Museum mentions a diamond clasp, even though you can't see it in the picture. I think more research would be required to know exactly what was accurate, but I figured that the only accurate way to do that would be to wear real diamonds, which I couldn't afford anyway. I like the size of this one, it feels like a piece of jewelry, without being too heavy on the shoulder.

This hairstyle is based on a Roman bust from the Louvre, called, "The Kaufmann Head", ca. 150 BC. I wanted to do something that was more purely Classical, rather than Regency.
Female head, modeled from the Aphrodite of Cnidus, called the Kaufmann Head. 


I texted my hairdresser, and asked how I could get my hair like this. She said, "Oh, you can' have to have naturally curly hair."

Challenge accepted.

So I Googled how to create naturally-curly looking hair for people with straight hair. I came across...the straw method. It is the most unglamourous and undignified process in which I won't even care to describe, although if you are interested you can Google it. It works like a charm though, if you use enough product; it's the only way to curl your hair so close to the scalp. A heat tool you would burn yourself pretty easily. It also stays put through 5 hours of dancing. I'm surprised that someone actually came up with this; I wouldn't recommend it for the average day, it's way too much work for results that are a frizzy disaster waiting to happen if you don't put it up.

So, this particular bun is not my finest moment, but I WAS CONCENTRATING ON THE FRONT PEOPLE.

I pinned the back and undersections into a bun, curled the rest, pulled them into a ponytail over the bun, then gently arranged the curls over the base. Pin, and done. That part is super easy. Finish off with ribbon or trim. The overall effect is simple, yet stunning. If you leave the curls as-is, it looks more sleek, although maybe a little too perfect. I like to gently pull the larger curls in half; it adds a tiny bit of frizz, which gives it the "I woke up like this and carelessly threw it up yet it still looks perfect" look. Because anyone with naturally curly hair will tell you that no frizz is really hard.

Since I've brought up the whole, throw-away-an-almost-finished-mock up mistake, what is YOUR most embarrassing costuming mistake?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Ca. 1800 Reproduction Evening Dress

Pictures taken by my illustrious sister Camille at the Idaho State Capitol.
This dress was first completed last October. It was my first real attempt at an accurate Regency dress; I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I chose the design because of the Neoclassical lines; I also loved the sleeves, the length and drape of the train, the gathers in the front with pleats in the back. It's simple enough that it could be worn anywhere between 1795-1802, or even later depending on who wore it. This is a reproduction from the LACMA; the original dress is c. 1795. Because I raised the waistline into more of a true Regency empire waistline, it's just a tad later.

Sleeve detail comparisons

I lopped the sleeves off my chemise, and I didn't realize until we got into better light that the show-through looked a little weird...

It was completely handsewn, except for the long skirt seams. The only reason I did that was because, originally, I didn't know how the train would lay. So I cut the front and back both the full length of the train, then chopped off the front while it was on my dressform.

The construction was pretty simple; after doing some research, I took the Simplicity 4055 that never ends, even though I really am disliking that pattern every time I use it. I had to hack it pretty hard; I took a strip of muslin and figured out the fulness ratio I wanted across the bust, then transferred that to a well-fitting mockup.
This picture turned out so crazy!

I was stumped at first as to how you would get dressed in this dress. The back is cut on a fold....there's no apron-front....and the front is cut on a fold. Huh. It took me a while of pondering and asking around before I realized...that it actually didn't need it. It has a drawstring that runs from the shoulders to the front, and a drawstring from the side seams to the front. To get it on...pull it open, then it just goes right over your head and you pull up the strings and it ties on the inside. It really is the most adjustable dress in the world; it fits my sister who is a different shape and size as well.

It didn't occur to me that, with the more pure Neoclassical lines of the dress, the waist should have been not so close to the bust, but more dropped. Whoever dressed the mannequin of the original dress  had to take a complete shot in the dark in regards to how big the lady who wore it was in the bust; with a drawstring top and bottom, it's anyone's guess. This mannequin is more busty, but it could have been a smaller lady, in which case the waist would have laid not so high on her. Oh well. Live and learn.

I also learned, through purchasing Cassidy Percoco's Regency Women's Fashion and looking at the diagrams, that this type of construction you would have cut the front bodice and skirt in one long piece, and run a drawstring through that. So ridiculously easy! Except I was convinced that the skirt needed ALL. THE. GATHERS. But I didn't want to look puffy on top. So I lightly gathered the skirt to the bodice, then put a drawstring on. My only regret, in this whole design, was over-doing it on the skirt gathers. If I had known that cutting them in one was a thing, I would have tried it.

The sleeves were interesting. Last year, I ran out of time and sewed on quick puffs. After wearing it to the ball, I decided it was way too boring; with the train pinned up, it was your basic, boring little white Regency dress. So this year, I went back to the original design and created a shaped cuff, with cord sewn in for a 3-D swoop. I made the cuff the overall correct length on one side, then sewed it to another side that was overly long. Then I sewed a curved line.

Next I laid the cord inside it, pushing it up against the stitching as close as possible.

Rather than sewing the piping evenly sandwiched between the cords, I rolled the cord even further past the stitch line so that it's basically only being held by the outer layer.

I just recycled the old puff, but I had to mess with the shape of it to get it to lay correctly without any weird puffs in the underarm area.
The first time around where it wouldn't lay right.

Corrected underarm, about to be topstitched.

For dancing purposes, I sewed on some tiny bars to them hem, and then the corresponding hooks were sewed at different intervals to the outside of the petticoat. The hem doesn't look fantastic when it's pinned up. When the hem is down, the side seam gets dragged towards the back quite a ways, pulling fulness from the front. When the train is up, a lot of the side falls forward, adding more of a "might possibly be pregnant but trying to hide it" sort of look.

I will talk about the hairstyle in another post!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Royal Vintage Shoes Giveaway!

Royal Vintage Shoes is doing a Giveaway! To learn more details, click here:

#7: Made for Someone Else

This dress was made just for fun. Camille was wanting a nice dress that could be worn with a hoop, so the hoop is new as well. This dress was made around a year ago, and has been worn maybe 3 times since then. We don't get out much.

The half-high lining that shadows through you can kind of see in the upper sleeve. The lining is boned, and buttons up the back. It's a seperate garment, so it can be washed without the dress.

I really wanted to recreate this particular fashion plate from 1862, but Camille wanted a high-necked, long-sleeved dress with a half-high lining. She once wore a low-necked, short sleeved dress to an event, and she burned her upper shoulder and neck area really badly. So I think she sees the practicality of covering more skin, so it is practical for outdoor wear, despite being white. This fabric is relatively easy to spot treat/scrub.
1862 Magasin des Demoiselles fashion plate

At some point I would really like to make this fancy belt with a sash; I think it's awesome, but she doesn't care for it.

This was the first dress were I allowed a significant drop in overall length; it feels much longer than her previous dresses. Almost full length, but in reality is still 8'' off the ground.

The bound ruffles are what inspired the trimmed tucks; I don't have documentation for silk-trimmed tucks, but the overall effect is plausible. We have plans to sew on covered buttons down the back.

This belt buckle is from Ensembles of the Past. It is absolutely beautiful, and I really want one in every color!

The bonnet was made in winter of 2015. It looks very well with the entire dress.

The hoop was made using The Laced Angel's instructions. Most of the hoop measurements were used, with slight modifications. This is the first day dress she's worn with a hoop.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

#6: Book Recommendation

This is a book that I have discussed before, so I'll be brief...well, maybe not. I can't say enough good things about this book.

I purchased the Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark about 3 or 4 years ago. It is PACKED with dressmaking knowledge, specifically between 1840-1865. It contains practical ideas on how to draft your own undergarments and dresses from scratch, so that they work perfectly for you. Mrs. Clark also includes some tips and tricks for how to either make garments last longer, how to make them more personalized for your preferences, and some money saving ideas.

My favorite chapter is the one on bodice drafting; she teaches you how to draft a basic bodice, and then after that is instructions with every bodice style under the sun that is derived from that pattern. Same with sleeves! While this time frame isn't very long, it's given me some great tools that encompass all of the Victorian era and beyond. 

This book is perfect if you are a Civil war reenactor, or do pioneer treks. This is really geared towards functional practicality; most of the content leans towards how to represent the general population in that era. While the bodice styles and sleeves can be adapted for higher fashion, she doesn't go into as great a depth on that subject in regards to dress trimming, but the base patterns are usable for any social status.

Mrs. Clark's other free resources, including the Sewing Academy forum, are must-haves for any reenactor!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#5: Origin story.

When I was a younger kid, I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. Not the show, but the book series. I read it over and over, and couldn't stop thinking about it. I was interested to know all about what sort of clothes they wore, what they ate, the chores they did, etc. So I went through and took notes on all the practical things Laura wrote about. That was my very first research experience. No one told me to do that, I simply wanted to learn!

My mom was extremely supportive in all of my ambitions, and is still a firm believer that play time was a big part of our early learning curves. She certainly was correct, because I took all the notes that I had gleaned and applied it to my play. I pretended to wash the clothes exactly as Laura did; I cut corn kernels off the cob and dried them in the sun, I sewed my own bonnet. My sister and my friends were extremely patient with bossy me, and played along without much complaining. That really was my element, was creating realistic situations that were correct for how it had been done. I was around 11 or 12 when this began. 

Around this same time, I was sewing historical doll clothing for my American Girl. I wasn't particularly interested in accuracy (I still didn't even know what that was, technically), but my interest in sewing had developed enough that I knew how to sew proficiently from a pattern. When the idea hit me that sewing my own costume was possible, I jumped right in! I bought the pattern that looked the most like the TV show costumes (ack!), and saved my quarters for the fabric. Let me tell you, 5 whole yards seemed like a LOT of fabric for someone accustomed to purchasing 1/2 yard at a time!

After my first costume, I made another pioneer costume for my sister. Around that time, we were invited to come to a Civil War reenactment with our friends, who were part of an English Country Dance group. They brought us, and let us borrow costumes. We learned our first dance, and I was soooo excited. I didn't even know what a reenactment was, but let me tell you...I WAS SO EXCITED! The fact that there were other people in the world who was as obsessed as I was about life "in ye olden days" thrilled me beyond all reason. 
The train with graffiti is an abomination to this picture....

We joined the dance group, and the reenacting group. I took my beloved pioneer costume, and ripped off the bodice and made a new, more "Civil War-ey" blouse to go with it. It didn't turn out very well, but I wore it anyway (I was 14 at this point). A lady approached me at this reenactment, and asked if I wanted some tips to make it more accurate. I said, "sure, whatever"...and kind of half-listened as she explained what I could do differently. I didn't fully understand most of what she meant, but later on I was very upset at what she said (I must have blocked it from my memory, it might have been worse than I'm remembering). It wasn't that she was mean, but....she knew what she was talking about, and I did not. From that moment forward, I was determined to be dressed "above reproach", and be able to confidently prove that I knew what I was about.

My quest for accuracy began! I enlisted a friend who had made a few dresses to help me with a more accurate one. I used a reproduction cotton, and a few historic techniques. I had no clue what I was doing, but she was helpful and wrote very clear instructions. I still love it and wear it, although it doesn't fit very well, especially since I did not initially have a corset. 

After that dress, I started doing my own research, which at first really involved asking other people what was accurate because I still didn't know what that looked like. Accuracy felt like some unattainable knowledge that required years and years of expertise. At some point in my research, I had a major "Aha!" moment: I could be my own expert, and I did not need anyone to tell me how (or where, when and why) to do that. Yes, some research projects take years and years, and for a lot of older  women who didn't have the privilege of the Internet, it has taken them that much time. But being young, curious, and tech savvy has gone a long way to help me catch up! I'm not saying I don't ask for help; I often do when lack of experience catches up to me, particularly in the fitting area of dressmaking. 
One of the first dresses where I only needed *a little* help.

My most recent revelation: sewing is actually not my main passion. It's research! My newest goal and dream job is to work in a museum with original textiles, in conservation and restoration. I do still love sewing, however I am a bit of a perfectionist, and for this reason I am not the most prolific at projects. One dress can take me a lot of months to finish, NOT including the undergarments. Since maybe 5 or 6 dresses ago, they have all been carefully researched, and I can say with confidence they are as historically accurate as humanely possible. That could be an entire post in itself! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

#4: Favorite Era

Oh, gosh....

I have a confession. In my more recent years, I've found myself severely torn in exactly what inspires me. A lot of people are inspired by other people's sewing, and they do sort of spin-off costumes of that costume. Some people just sew whatever they like, for whatever reason that may be. Some people fall in love with a certain era because of nostalgic feeling (I'm looking at you, Jane Austen-ites!) associated with it, usually because of TV dramas.

This type of response is an emotional connection that is completely subconscious. You never hear anyone say, "Yeah, I based this costume on this movie that I hated!"

Is it weird that I don't actually have that connection? I have only based one costume off of a movie costume, and it ended up evolving a bit. That was around 3 years ago. Ever since then, when I see a movie with amazing first response is to....actually do nothing with that information. Rather than go home and make that dress. Cool costumes, in my world, are rather a moot point to my inspiration.

I'm not the most emotional or sentimental of all people. I connect with the world on an intellectual level (what, can I say, I'm a Type 4!), and my sense of inspiration comes from a research aspect, rather than aesthetic. In that respect, I don't even have a clue what I like! This has been a recent revelation in my costuming. I used to pick out dresses to create based on a rather random sense of something I liked. Looking back, I can't see any rhyme or reason to why I chose certain designs. Now I pick out designs that take the most research.
Little House on the Prairie has NOTORIOUSLY bad costumes. Yet it still inspires and reminds me to this day of why reenacting is an interest of mine.

Lately, my favorite era is whichever era perplexes me. "Why did this occur? What spurred this particular design? What was the original maker going for, and why? What was going on in the world around them?"
Famous Neoclassical painting of Madame Recamier, 1800

I've come to the conclusion that the Civil War era (my main focus for my entire costuming career), as a fashion decade, is much too simple as an idea. It's boring. In the 1830's, skirts started getting bigger....(10 years later)....and bigger....(10 years later)....and bigger....(10 years later)....until they needed wired skirts to get them any bigger. The hoop skirts were a build up of  30 years of fashion, and the originality had kind of fizzled out, actually. They should have jumped straight from big petticoat era to bustles, because they were prolonging an era that had far exceeded it's welcome. They had kind of exhausted all possibilities at that point.
Obviously a touch generic, but the general idea of the dresses leading up to the 1860's is correct; it looks like a balloon slowly inflating!

As my sense of research matured, I heard words like Neoclassicism and Historicism and started pondering what they meant. They are my newest obsessions, but not neccesarily because I like the look of them, or because they make me think of something else. I've made two Regency dresses since then; I don't particularly like them, and I found them rather boring as far as sewing goes. But the research and the wondering were what kept me excited about them as a project.
Neoclassical lines are still used today!

My favorite era? 1795-1800. Because intellectual reasons. Who knows what's next? I don't feel a need to pin just one down.

How do you connect with your costumes? What is it about a costume that inspires you to create it?