Friday, March 31, 2017

Not Yo Average Field Trip: 1848-51

One of the biggest take-aways from Costume College 2016 was how many of the most knowledgeable people there spoke specifically of dresses that they had seen in person. They spoke of what they had seen at the such-and-such museum, and how they had seen the so-and-so technique used inside a garment they had handled.

My first thought: how do I get my hands on original garments, so I too can speak from first-hand experience? Whatever knowledge I possess has been through the internet, and construction is something I've been interested in. Finding pictures of the inside of a garment is tricky, and even misleading. So I did a little research, and discovered that my local museum actually has a huge collection, just not on display. In fact, it's not really even catalogued anywhere that you can access.

After coming home from Costume College, I knew that spending time at the museum was something I wanted to do, but you can't just waltz in and grab an antique garment off a rack at the museum. You have to send in a physical paper form requesting permission, and they have to actually vote to give you access. 

I brought my camera, a measuring tape (actually a few) and a notebook and pen. I was worried there would be more that I needed and couldn't think of, but nothing came up.

There are four dresses altogether; they were c. 1847-52, c. 1855-59, c. 1862-65, and c. 1866-68.

The first dress (c. 1847-52) is a shot silk, blue and brown. It has a full front with very controlled pleating that fans up to the shoulder; it's lined with a fitted lining, of which I can't remember what it was. The buttons up the front aren't functional, but the edges on the front are barely sewn together, almost like someone wanted a front opening dress, then changed their mind. It hooks up at the back of the bodice.
This picture is showing the pleating, as shown from the backside.

The waist is very dropped (maybe 2'' below natural waist on the side) and the length of the skirt doesn't quite seem proportionate. It's possible it was shortened for something theatrical, especially when you see a picture of it on a person without any proper undergarments.

*Forehead smack*

Although you can see how the length is *now* proportionate. The back story to this picture is this dress was allegedly was worn as a wedding dress in the 1860's by this woman's great great great grandmother, or something or that sort. It's plausible to me that this could have been a wedding dress, but certainly not in the 1860's. I've heard some researchers say that family stories are the hardest ones to believe, because stories and dates can easily be twisted through the years. Especially if the story skipped a generation. Something like this:

Gen. #1: This dress belonged to my grandmother. She was married in 1848.
Gen. #3: This dress belonged to my grandmother; I can't remember the date she was married, it might have been in the 1860's.
Gen. #5: This dress belonged to my grandmother, who was married in the 1860's and because it's been in the family for so long it must have some importance. Therefore I assume this must have been her wedding dress.
The other reason family heirlooms are tough is because if the garment was donated to the museum, the museum is obligated to include any information they provide, even if incorrect. And telling someone that they are wrong about a family heirloom is also a sticky spot, so shutting up and just putting a really broad date range like Nineteenth century appeases everyone.

The sleeves are open, meant to be worn with undersleeves (supposedly these ones); the silk on the underpart of the sleeve doesn't actually reach the armscye, but a patch of cotton is sewn and the sleeve cap covers it. The strips sewn onto the edge of the sleeve and cap are of blue silk velvet.
I like how the above picture shows the exact blue in the fabric in the upper right, by the pleats.
Upper portion of the sleeve.

The skirt is bag-lined with a really small turned hem and a braid running around the edge. It's now occurring to me that this dress might have had, at one point, a flounce of some sort running around the bottom that would have lengthened it considerably, but I don't remember there being any evidence of anything being removed. Then again, I didn't spend a lot of time on the skirt.

Now for the research: in order to date this dress, I'm looking at a few key things that stand out to me:

-The open 3/4 length sleeves, and the cap on top.
-The dropped waist
-The pleated front
-The shot silk (normally color doesn't come into account at all, but shot silk was just enough of a fad in the 1840's that I'm using that)

First the sleeves. I found evidence of open sleeves just barely coming in in 1846, but they were just short of full length and not open at all. You might describe them as a "funnel sleeve"; just looking at at original, it might be easy to say something like, "this lady must have had slightly short arms". I couldn't find any fashion plates until 1848 that looked even close to the shape I was looking for, but 1849 and 1850 were much closer.

1848 Godeys Fashion Plate; this sleeve is considerably longer and less open.

1848 Les Modes Parisiennes. The dress on the left has open sleeves with undersleeves, while the dress on the right has closed, straight sleeves, so sort of a cross-over going on. All fashion plates prior to 1847 with open sleeves are barely open, so rather unlikely.
This 1848 fashion plate is much more open that the last plate, so obviously there is a range of what could have been worn. 

1849 Godeys Fashion plate. The shape is much closer to this dress than any other open sleeves from previous years. 

1850 Le Follet

There comes a point, when dating garments, that the date it was probably made and the years it could have been worn are a bit of a gray area. To me, the overall flavor and attitude of the dress match 1847-49, but the style of dress technically isn't out of fashion until around 1851. Even though there is a fair amount of guesswork when dating garments, taking into account how specific the dress is can give you a good idea of how broad of a range it might have been worn.  For example: I'm making a dress, and I want it to be conservative so it doesn't fall out of fashion too quickly. I would be more likely to choose a conservative color, and made it in a style that was less specific. If I want a dress that is more fashionable, I'll make it as current as possible with the intention of only wearing it a couple years. This dress has enough key points that show that it was definitely fashionable, and therefore would have been discarded and replaced with something current, so erring on the side of cutting off the end of the year range is not out of the question.

Now I noticed that most of the dresses that had open sleeves between 1847-1850 did NOT have caps on the top, but decorative caps did seem to be commonplace on straight sleeves. At first I thought this might have been more of a personal preference thing, but after looking at a number of extants I saw many different types of caps encompassing many different sleeve styles.

This dress is almost identical in design, except with gathers instead of pleats and a round waist instead of pointed. From August Auctions

c. 1845-50, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

An earlier example; these are a good example of the earlier open sleeve, which show up on occasion between 1844-47 before becoming more commonplace. c. 1844, Museum at FIT

As for the pleating down the front, those are sometimes difficult to spot in fashion plates, although different variations of controlled shirring, pleating, and even creative methods like a honeycomb pattern were used very often.

1849, Ladies Cabinet

1851 Le Moniteur de la Mode

As to color, it is difficult to say exactly when shot silk went out of fashion. For those of you that don't know, shot (or changeable, I can't discern if shot and changeable are different) silk is a silk that has a different color warp from the weft. It was very common to have two violently opposing colors, which leaves the overall effect rather muddy, but iridescent from certain angles.

I search every Godeys magazine within this narrowed search range for "shot silk". In reference to dresses, it was mentioned quite a lot in descriptions and in the general fashion column until abruptly in 1852, it is declared quite out of fashion.

Here is an excerpt from a humorous story called "Sketches from Real Life" published in the 1847 Godeys. In it, the main character and a Mrs. Dawkins are discussing how Mrs. Dawkins' son (called Jeemes) is in love with the main character's cousin Judy (called Nabby) and discussing what she should wear in order to appear to her advantage.

"But here comes Nabby with her changeable silk on. It's my mind for her to wear that. It's one her Grandmarm Dawkins gave her. I took a mighty fancy to it the first time I ever see the old lady wear it. Jest examine it; you'll parcieve that the warp is a bright yaller; e'en jest an orange color-and that the fillin' is a dark blue. Now, if I could have my choice, I would ruther by one half have it than Mrs. Feeswind's tarnaltane."
"I like the stuff the ground's made on well enough," said Nabby, "but I don't like the set on't. Do you Hepsey?"
"The waist is not quite long enough for the fashion," said I.
"That's nothin'," said Mrs. Dawkins, "Nabby never looked well in a long waist and never will."

In October of 1851 Godeys, it describes a dress "One of the most elegant dresses we have seen is a Jasper silk (shot with seven different colors, but so blended that they seem one soft shade of violet)..."

While in 1852 Godeys, it says this:

"Some of the plainer, or less expensive fall silks are in graduated stripes, shot or changeable fabrics being entirely out of vogue."

Which brings me to my last dating point - dropped waists. Thus far, we've already heard in 1847 that dropped waists were fashionable from the story. In 1850, we hear ".....made with full skirts, sleeves gathered at the wrists, and infants (gathered) waists, corded with silk, and gathered full with a straight belt. No point whatever......the waist cannot be too long from the arm to the belt, but the length is not increased at the bodice." However, there are plenty of fashion plates that refute the idea that round waists were universal. Looking at fashion plates is completely misleading, and the exact intention of waist placement is hard to tell, partially because magazine figures weren't even close to accurately proportioned to begin with. So I'm going to turn to another textual (exact date known) source: paintings (you may need to zoom into the painting to see what I'm talking about).

Katherine Mary Webb Palmer, 1846

Another 1846 dress, with a decidedly natural waist. Dona Marie-Louise Ferdinand de Bourbon, by Franz-Xavier Winterhalter, 1846.
While the point on this one is extreme, the waist is also at a natural placement. Queen Isabella II of Spain, by Federico de Madrazo, 1849

From what I'm gathering....personal preference was everything. A lot of overlapping dates on when waists were dropped, and in different contexts. And then I realize....I don't remember the exact provenance of this dress. Where it came from, etc. All the people that could afford an expensive portrait were in Europe. We have a couple expensive Winterhalter paintings of Spanish and Austrian royalty, and that hardly seems relevant.

So hitting a brick wall on the dropped waist, but the overall idea that I'm getting is that long-waisted dresses were a decidedly 1840's idea, so I'm still sticking with my 1848-49 original creating date.

Another interesting tidbit that I discovered in a copy of the 1850 Godeys Magazine, June, in the advice and questions column towards the back. Here is what it says:

"Some excellent friend lady friend has asked of us the meaning of a term prefixed to our fashion plates, and, as the request is a fair one, we shall take pleasure in defining the precise definition of Americanized as applied in the modes which we give.
In the first place, American ladies have not yet given up waists of a respectable and natural size, a part of the figure the French artistes des modes sometimes omit altogether, if we accept a faint shadowy line connecting the bust and skirt. Again, our ladies like a little more drapery than the Parisians consider in good taste, and it is therefore necessary to add sleeves and corsages to some of the costumes that are otherwise graceful and pretty. These are two of the principal items; and, as we have matters of more general interest to discuss, we leave the subject for the present to our friend's kindly consideration."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

HSM #2: 1863 Ballgown Reproduction

Photo credit: My sister Camille! We're just discovering that she has an incredible eye for creative shots.

Whew, this project was supposed to be a quick bodice, and it turned into a 30-hour ordeal, complete with handsewn eyelets and a total of 4 different tries of the pleating down the front.

Short backstory: I bought this green plaid silk at a screaming deal in the fall of 2015. I only bought 6 yards (54'' wide) because I was short on money, but I really wanted the fabric. Fast forward to summer of 2016; I couldn't believe that I had managed to get an entire dress from 6 yards, with some leftover! Everyone who makes 1860's dresses recommends purchasing 7-8 yards. I was even able to match the plaid.

Fast forward again: It's 2017, and I want a new ballgown. As much as I love the red one, it's soooo heavy, and it was never fit me very well (my absolute first try at darts). I've lost 20 pounds accidentally in the last year, and I knew that I just didn't want to wear it again. So I pulled out the leftover fabric and checked to see if the pattern pieces would fit. Just barely...

I managed to cut out all the pieces exactly the way I wanted them....except the sleeves. There was no portion on my fabric that was big enough even to fit the sleeves on, much less to make sure they matched! So the sleeves are pieced, but I positioned each pieced part to fit about where my true armpit is (as opposed to the rotated underarm seam). 

On my last darted bodice dress (the day bodice to this ensemble), I fitted the darts with the bodice inside out. Now, it's come to my attention that I am a little lopsided (just a smidge). Can you see how this doesn't work out? 1/2'' smaller on one side, and with the dart pinned correctly on that side and then flip it right-side out, that smaller darts are now on the larger side. Duh. No wonder I've always been so confused as to why the center front isn't exactly in the front! These darts turned out so well, thanks Mrs. Clark!
Camille: "These lines right here are cool!"
Me: "What lines?"
"I mean seams."
"You mean the darts?"
"Yeah, those things!"

So this dress I tried pinning it with the right side out, then marking the seamline on the inside and flipping it around. With this technique, I also discovered that I always thought the seam of the dart had to be straight. But when you stop and think about it, it makes no sense to always make the darts straight. 

My normal way of boning is to just turn the dart into a casing and shoving the bone up the darts, but with a dart that curves at the top, the entire excess wasn't laying flat at all. After poking around, I found Jennifer Rosbrugh's article on historical boning, using 1860's original ball bodice's as examples. Bingo! So I sliced up the center of the dart, cut all the dart excess off (gulp!) and pressed them open. Then I whipped casings on by hand, centering them over the seam instead of off to one side.

Confession time: I have always had this mindset that I should make each and every seam as available as possible for future modifications, including darts. So up until now, I've always left the dart excess alone, even though it's a pain because all of my darts are HUGE. When I was at Costume College, I attended a class on 19th century bodice construction, and in the class the teacher taught that they never ever pushed boning into the dart. Well, I raised my hand and, a little bit timidly asked, "What if I want to keep the dart excess, instead of cutting it off?"

"Huh?" The teacher wasn't following me.

"You know, in case I want to adjust it in the future?"

"WELL WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THAT???" She was looking at me like I had just sprouted cabbages from my ears. I kind of wanted to curl up and die. I don't know why the question was so preposterous to her, it was perfectly valid, but I was embarrassed enough that I didn't explain my reasoning. Reading between the lines: the real reason I have never cut off the darts is because I know I can't possibly have a 23'' waist forever, and it seemed reasonable to me that anyone who lived in the 1860's might have had the same concern.

I've since learned that certain fabrics like silk don't easily forget thread holes that have stress, so moving a dart may not work because the lines from the old darts will still probably show. That being said, it is still  possible; I went to my local museum to look at a few original 1860's dresses, and one of them you could clearly see the old dart line, and they had moved it over about two inches to the front. You couldn't even tell from the outside! But if your darts aren't perfectly straight, they may not lay well if you don't at least clip into them. Either most likely will be making the excess unusable.

I wasn't originally intending to do a reproduction, but it felt like a waste to not do something that is at least similar to this dress that is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. As much as I like this dress....I don't like bows. Not even a little bit. So I dropped the idea of a reproduction, and posted a picture of the blank dress on a Facebook page I'm a part of, the Civilian Civil War Closet, for ideas. It was a little overwhelming, but I also got some good ideas. But 99% of the suggestions were....bows. "Bows on the shoulders!" "Put a bow on the rump!" "Don't skimp - use ALL the bows!" Other suggestions included fringe, beading, contrasting flowers, lace, a bertha and ruching/pleating. So basically any type of bodice decoration ever seen, ever. But I was surprised that so many people encouraged the bows. So whether this counts as a reproduction I'm not sure.

The trim fabric is a matte polyester satin; I was planning on using cream-colored dupioni from Joanns, but they don't sell it anymore! This makes me mad; dupioni is always a nice backup for things like nicer linings and trim. The matte polyester is actually pretty nice, it doesn't have a crazy poly-sheen. It does add a surprising amount of weight to the dress, though. Originally I had a 4th bow sewn right onto this connecting tab in the back, but it was so heavy it drooped, so I ripped it off.

I used the Truly Victorian 1860's Ball Bodice pattern. This was my 3rd time using it, and I definitely recommend it, but a mockup is important. The main bodice turned on nice on the first try, but the sleeves and sleeve lining were a little out of proportion. The pattern also comes with instructions for 3 loop bows. Basically, you sew two semi-large rectangles into tubes which become the loops held together by a small strip for the middle. Because at this point I was still making up my mind, I went ahead and made two bows and hesitantly pinned them on.
TV 442

They were so cute! Normally - I hate cute. It's a word I've despised being described as, even when I was little. But they are just so perfect for the dress. So the bows on the shoulders are detachable, and underneath are small smooth strips covering the join of the pleated part on the shoulder similar to the back detail.

Oh yeah...and the reason this qualifies for this challenge:
(The first bodice made to go with this skirt)

Item: 1863 Ball Bodice

The Challenge: Re-Make, Re-Use, Re-Fashion - this is a little of all three things. The skirt is re-used from a day dress and this is the second bodice to go with this skirt for a different look.

The Material: 100% silk taffeta, lined with cotton muslin, and eyelets stabilized on the back with cotton sateen. Also batting for pads. The bows and pleated trim are a matte polyester satin (nobody shoot me!).

Pattern: Truly Victorian 1860's ballgown pattern

Year: 1863

Notions: Artificial whalebone, plastic zip ties, cord, thread, hooks and bars, gros grain ribbon in the drawstring at the neck, 1/8'' ribbon for lacing.

How Historically Accurate Is It? This might have gotten close to 100% had I not used a synthetic for the trim. And obviously plastic isn't historically accurate, but steel boning just does not work with my figure.

Hours To Complete: 30

First Worn: For pictures, and then to the Victorian Ball on 3/25

Total Cost: Taffeta was a lucky leftover, so the total cost of $16 was for the satin trim.