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!