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?

#3: Extant Garment: 1861-65 silk dress

The next dress was dated to just 1860's, but I'm guessing it was made between 1861-1865 (read to the end for dating). The textile director told me that she believes it was a mourning dress. It is made of a very thin black silk, sort of like a tissue weight taffeta.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

These were seriously super-strength buttonholes.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
In the back, the pleats face towards the back; in the front, the pleats also face towards the back, which is a little less common than front-facing, but still relatively normal.  Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

This dress was a little confusing, because of it's size. It was quite small, but it seems like a good guess that this dress was worn by a short lady. The total length was 38'' in the front, and the skirt circumference was only 115''. The modifications are very good and not theatrical. The skirt has a strip of about 2 1/2'' sewn onto the bottom that is discreet, but also wouldn't have been a part of the original design, and it also feels to be of a slightly different quality than the rest of the dress. The hem facing was only maybe 4'' high, and was of some sort of course brown stuff that almost felt like horsehair.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

The inside lining also showed that the darts had originally been in a different location by the fading patterns, and then ripped out and moved over. Again, it was skillfully done, and despite the fading and stitch marks on the inside the outside showed no wear or stitch marks. I don't know how they managed that! How large the first darts were is difficult to discern. I did not get a very good picture of the fading, sorry!
You can also see the two different colors of lining.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

The bodice closes up the front with functional buttons, but also has a row of hooks and eyes starting mid-bust going down to the waist to stabilize the whole thing. The shaped coat sleeves are unlined, and the only trim on the entire dress is a cuff-shaped piece sewn to just the outside portion of the dress with narrow braiding, also in black. The bodice was lined with two different shades of brown; the darker one in the front portion was twill, and the lighter color in the back was a plain weave that was either polished or plain, I can't remember.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

A few construction peculiarities: the back curved detail seen on many dresses is actually a faux back; the entire back is cut as one piece, and then folded and top-stitched to appear to be three separate pieces. You can read more about how to do this in The Dressmaker's Guide. However, with this dress they didn't even bother to make a crease, there is simply a line of stitching! You can see in the large picture of the back how without the fold, it doesn't stand out quite so much; whether the maker was simply inexperienced, lazy, or pressed for time we will never know.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Musuem

The skirt has an excellent example of a dog-leg closure, and that striped fabric is a very short section of waistband that isn't visible from the outside. The skirt was attached straight to the bodice, except for a short portion that was attached to just the scrap band. The dress has piping on the neck edge, armscye, the bottom edge of the bodice and on the bottom edge of the sleeve.
Photo Credit: Idaho Historical Museum

The only thing we really have to work with is the sleeves, and the skirt. This style of sleeve is called a coat sleeve; a coat sleeve is characterized by being made of an outer piece and an inner piece sewn together in a curved shape. When the dress is hung up on a hanger, the sleeves will "shake hands". It's simple and tidy, and because it lays very flat it's a good base for a lot of fancy trim. Or, simply no trim. 
Mrs. James Guthrie, c. 1864-66, by Lord Frederick Leighton

The problem with coat sleeves, is that they are difficult to distinguish from a regular straight sleeve in a drawing; in photographs, it's pretty easy to see. The other problem with coat sleeves is that it seems as though fashion plates may have considered them "boring"; because of how many extant dresses have them, and how many women were photographed in them, we know they were very common. But based on a fashion might not even know anyone wore them. Fashion plates still show them, but they generally are shown with undersleeves during the earlier 1860's. Like the previous pagoda sleeve fashion, except less droopy and still having a curved shape.

1861 Journal des Demoiselles; this particular example is an earlier style of coat sleeve that was only around for a few years, between 1860-1862. Sort of a cross between a coat sleeve, and a bishop sleeve. It has a lot of fullness at both the shoulder and the wrist, but unlike a plain bishop sleeve it has some shaping to make it curve inwards. 
1862 Petersons fashion plate; this is a good example of an open coat sleeve. It's very tailored, but still has a curved shape even though it's open. In 1862, we see examples like this, but also some that are larger and more open, but this was sort of the new sleek look. Some people still prefer to call all styles of open sleeve a pagoda sleeve. I prefer to think of a pagoda sleeve as having either no shaping on either seam, or some shaping on the front seam; open coat sleeves have shaping on the front and back seam, to keep it tailored and curved. To give it an exact title may be beside the point.
1863 Le Follet; this is the closest shape and size to the extant. It is a closed coat sleeve, meaning tapered to the wrist, and it's worn with cuffs instead of undersleeves. This is my no means cut and dry on the dating; there are dozens of examples from before and after this date that look just like this. It's a bit generic. Within the realm of photographs, we see a lot more variation on coat sleeve size, shape, and style than in fashion plate. Most photographs don't have a date, though.

1865 Les Modes Parisiennes; French fashion plates like this one were often recycled through American newspapers, but often 6 months to a year later! So this one may have not even made it to the states until 1866, if at all. The other fashion plates except for the Petersons follow this general rule as well. This style of coat sleeve is much more tailored, even from the extant dress, more common from 1864 all the way to 1870.

We see a few examples of coat sleeves in 1861, but they are increasingly more and more common each year, and are still fashionable even up until the early 1870's, although by then the shoulders were a bit less dropped.

The only other thing that we have to work with is the skirt. The skirt is constructed with plain rectangles, with the fullness about evenly distributed, with a little more towards the back. Right around 1864, most skirts are very commonly made with gores, although some women had been wearing gored skirts since 1861. The skirts are sewn with an angle so there is less fullness in the front at the very top. By 1865, they are gored enough so that there are almost no pleats in front. This skirt shape could have been worn as far as 1865, but even in that year it would have started looking a little outdated and would probably have been ripped apart to re-shape the skirt. 
1861 Journal des Demoiselles; this skirt shape is more generally round all the way around...
c. 1865, sold at auction.
While we don't know the exact date of this dress, the broad stripes show the gores I'm talking about. Goring the skirt takes out fulness at the top, which gives it a distinctly triangular shape at the top. The black extant dress uses straight rectangle panels, instead of triangle panels like this striped example. 

So between the sleeves and the skirt, it probably would have been constructed between 1861-1864, but could have been worn up until 1865-1866. It's also possible that it could have been made a year or two earlier, and then the sleeves redone in this year range. 

I also want to talk a little bit about who might have worn this dress before I go into mourning, because at a glance you might guess that it could have been worn by a child. The fullness is very narrow (115'' circumference), it's very short, etc. However (and this is a big however)....the difference between children's fashion and adult fashion is extreme. Children's dress, usually without exception during the 1860's, was not darted and boned. It also always closes up the back. The exception to this is sometimes you see pictures and fashion plates with buttons going down the front, but because there is no crease it is purely decorative, but even this is relatively uncommon. 

That being said - it could have been worn by a young woman who grew an inch or two in a couple places, but because most women stop growing between makes more sense that it was a hand-me-down. As a grown woman, you don't accidentally make it too know exactly how long to make it. So this dress is most definitely a hand-me-down, or even possibly sold and bought second-hand. That also explains the dart placement; while I can't tell whether the old darts were larger or smaller, different body shapes need different placement, so I'm not even sure that matters.

Now, the final question: mourning or no?

While this dress is very plain, and possibly boring, this is a good example of what an average lady might have a best dress, or possibly just a conservative nicer dress. It fulfills what every magazine of the time describes as the dress for any occasion: black was considered to be in good taste, because it was never too flashy. And being over-dressed was, in several different magazine's opinions, vulgar and having good taste in dress often meant being cautious about sending the wrong message about your station through excessive dress.

An 1860's lady, in mourning

1860 Petersons:

"All the lighter kinds of mourning are a good deal affected by the changes in fashion; but the deepest style of black undergoes but little alteration, except in the shape of a bonnet, the cut of a sleeve, or the length of a sleeve. The material used is bombazine, and the trimming must consist only of folds of heavy English crepe. Broad folds of crepe may trim the skirt of the dress, but are not now considered as indespensible to deep mourning as formerly." 1.

Later in the same article -

"Where a less rigid kind of mourning is required, a fine black alpaca, or double width delaine, is worn.....with this dress, although black collar and sleeves are generally worn, still white crape, or tarleton collars, and sleeves are admissable. Black barege and grenadine are always used for summer wear in black, but the must be made very plainly and invariable worn over a black skirt and body lining".

"A still lighter kind of mourning is of black silk, trimmed with crape, or, if wished less deep, with black gauze ribbon, etc. The silk must be of a dead black and quite lustreless."

"After this stage of black, the style varies according to the fancy of the wearer. Small black and white plaids, purple and black, gray silks, lilac and white, are all worn for various depths of this stage of mourning, it is almost impossible to particularize the various combinations of colors, or the styles of dress. Much more trimming is allowable; lace or worked collars may be worn, gloves may be of lilac, gray or pearl...."
1860-65 dress that is a perfect example of half-mourning. From the Les Arts Decoratifs

So there is a common theme among the first few examples: BLACK. And not just any black, but things like dead black, or lustreless black. Crepe, bombazine, and barege in black colors actually absorb light; the reason being that they are made of wool or wool/silk mixture. A women in mourning is a bit like looking at a black hole. This dress is too shiny to be considered proper for full mourning; however, it is acceptable for half-mourning.
Two 1860's ladies, in deep mourning.

1861 Godeys "In first mourning, black crape collars and cuffs on grenadine or crepe sleeves will still continue to be worn. The English fashion of adding a gold thread to the applique pattern in crepe , may find favor in New York, and at the South, but scarcely in neat, plain Philadelphia, where mourning usually is mourning, and not a mass of crepe bows, bugles, and tinsel."

1862 Petersons; there was a pattern originally included, and while this wrapper isn't specifically for mourning, they give the suggestion that you make the dress in black delaine, with the front made in black silk quilted in white for mourning.

January 1862, from Englishwomen's Domestic Magazine; in the comments on these dresses, they give suggestions on how both can be adapted to mourning by making them in a combination of black, gray, purple and white. Because women in full mourning were not expected to attend social functions like balls or evening parties, we can assume they mean half mourning.

Even though we now have evidence that this dress is appropriate for half-mourning....did it have to be? The answer is no! Black was considered fashionable and appropriate for almost every occasion, and magazines often give many examples of fashionable black, gray, and purple clothing with no mention of mourning of any kind. 
1861 Portrait of a Lady, by Ferdinand Krumholz. 

How do we know the above lady isn't in half-mourning? She has a white collar, and if you look closely you will see that she has a green ribbon on her left side. Women in full or half mourning were expected to wear caps on their head that were usually white. On her right side, look even closer and you will! This is simply a very conservative dress. 

BONUS: A recipe from Petersons for how to re-blacken faded mourning clothes. "Black reviver, for faded mourning dresses, black coats, etc. 1. Boil in two pints of water down to one, two oz. of Aleppo galls, in powder, two oz. of logwood, one oz. of gum arabic, then add one oz of sulphate of iron. This may be evaporated to a powder. 2. Galls, eight oz; logwood, green vitriol, iron fillings, sumach, of each one oz; vinegar, two pints. 2

1. 1860 Petersons, pg. 86

2 1860 Petersons, pg. 406
For further reading on mourning, here is a podcast with Samantha McCarty:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

#2: Current Projects

I have a couple projects going on at once.

This late Victorian corset has been fun; this is my first attempt at roll-pinning, so we'll see how that goes. I'm basing the boning pattern off of one from the ROM. There was a LOT of hand-basting involved.

Last year, I made a Regency evening gown (still no good pictures, sorry!). I ran out of time before the ball to truly reproduce the original sleeves I was basing it on and instead did a plain puff sleeve.  I pulled it out recently to replace them with the more interesting ones. The lower half cuffs are really interesting!

My computer is being finicky and now the picture is get the idea. The cording is done by lining the cuff, then laying the cord between the layers. Instead of flat-sewing them into a channel, I sewed the curve that I wanted, then squished the cording up against it, then rolled the cord over the stitching line and did another row of stitches The result is that the cord is encased in only the outer layer, and the stitching is hidden beneath the cord. On the underside, there are two rows of stitches almost on top of each other. 

Which leads me to my next project, and the reason I ever revisited it in the first place. I was wanting something to wear over it, because it was rather boring, especially since I pin up the train for dancing. Open robes are automatically out, because they ALWAYS have a train in originals. I've seen costumers simply cut it floor length, but considering that we don't see any extants like that...that isn't the way to go about it. So the only parameters I was looking for were a colored garment of some kind that did not have a train.

Originally I thought a little sleeveless bodice, BUT....since you now know that I love research, I started researching designs. The white under-dress is appropriate for 1797-1802, so I tried to find a fashion plate within those dates. While going through several 1798-99 magazines, I found a few designs that showed what was called a half-robe. After looking through dozens of various half-robes and sleeveless bodices, I picked this one, because of the Neoclassicism; the Grecian lines are my favorite!
1799 Ladies Monthly Musuem

Janet Arnold has a pattern for a half-robe, but she states that they were only worn over a dress or petticoat for morning wear. However, the fashion plates and advice from 1799 clearly show a few that are intended for evening, or full Dress. A half-robe and half-dress are very different; a half-robe is a short robe, while half-dress refers to the level or formality of dress, being sort of half-formal.
Here is a 1799 half-robe for half-dress.....

...and a 1799 half robe for full dress! The image on the right is also a good example of the trained open robe I was referring to.

Since I love to be different, I decided that a half-robe it is! Especially since I haven't really seen one done accurately for formal wear. The Simplicity 4055 pattern (which I have successfully used several times) is an example of how most modern people interpret that look, by having the outer layer and overskirt sewn as one to the dress. Historically, the half-robe was a distinct look created by wearing a basic dress or petticoat, and then another dress over the top. This makes it easier to have many looks in one by simply swapping out the over dress, rather sewing them together.

So here is the draped half robe on my dress form. I was merely going for the overall shape and fullness ratio, obviously it will be a bit longer. I also wanted something that was easy, so essentially it is 2 rectangles with one corner cut off, sewn up the long edges only up to the waist edge. It will close with a drawstring around the waist, and some sort of clasp or pin on the shoulder. The original description says it should be a diamond clasp...however, I'm on a budget and cannot afford a diamond clasp.

I don't have the fabric for the half-robe yet, and I don't have the hardware for the corset yet. Funds are low, so I'm waiting to be paid in August to order supplies.