Monday, May 11, 2015

Times I Screwed Up

I'm loving the honesty circling the costuming world right now, and with it, I feel the need to apologize.

1) I'm a private, facade-loving introvert when it comes to personal struggles. While I fully appreciate the wonderful openness others are engaging while discussing what was *really* going on behind their beautiful costumes, sharing like that is just not me.  It's my failing, but it's also my personality.  And since, overall, I like me, I'll apologize not for being me, but for bowing out of what would likely be a valuable exercise.

However, as I commented on The Dreamstress's post (she has similar feelings on privacy and sharing and openness), there's another side to the Perfection Myth.  There is a myth of perfection that surrounds even our clothing itself.  We sometimes skip the part where we screamed at the fabric that wouldn't press correctly, where we ripped out the same seam fifteen times before getting it right, where we don't share how the silhouette is created, not with a fantastic rump pad, but with a wadded up towel (guilty!).  The “look how perfect I am” misleading makes others feel poorly and can be darn discouraging, but there's another side that I think we have to be even more aware of.  

Sometimes we don't share when we misread research or chose an incorrect fabric for a project.  We might keep mum when we made something in an inaccurate manner,and instead we play it off like we did it right.  I know I've realized months or years later that I was wrong about some detail in historical accuracy in a piece I've made, and haven't posted an update to say "Wait! Don't do as I did..."  Now, I know this is the academic side of me coming out.  Sometimes historical costuming is just for fun, and I'm in NO way picking on those costumes or costumers that never make claims at being accurate reproductions.  But when we do? We have to be honest about our shortcomings

2) So, more importantly, I apologize for screwing up.  No, that's not right.  I apologize for times I've screwed up and haven't talked about it.

Until now:

This "caraco" (at this point I'm not even sure that's the right term) is well-made, was easy to put together, is based on historical images, and the fabric is a boffo hand-done block print, but I'm about 100% sure it's wrong for my reenacting persona.  I've found maybe (I say "maybe" because I'm unsure if I'm seeing what I think I am) two images of these that aren't Dutch or French.  Without more research  backing up its use in England or British colonies, I'll be phasing it out of my wardrobe.  

I still love this evening gown best of all my modern projects.  But how did I come up with the asymmetrical drape? Oh, I put two bodice pieces on upside down and it fit funky, and taking out the lapped seams would have wrecked the fabric.  So I covered up the part I messed up on.  That's right.  You're looking at a salvaged hot mess.


I totally jacked up the lacing on this jacket.  Fortunately, it looks fine without the lacing.

This fit once upon a time. You can sort of see the messed up, rumpled-y front.  Believe it or not, I've gained a little weight over the eight years since I made this (what?!? I know, hard to believe).  Plus, new stays meant a new fit and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix the front bodice section to not rumple.  (Note: I'll blog soon about my not-quite-documentable solution...but I justify it as being close enough and DARN IT I want to keep wearing this gown.  See? Justification, not authenticity, in action.)  
The sleeve ruffles aren't right, either.
And there's a wadded up towel under there serving as a rump pad.  You're welcome.

I used cable ties to bone these stays.  Actually, I use cable ties to bone ALL my stays.  I also made weird mistakes with binding.  Grommets instead of proper eyelets.  For shame, me.

I never finished these.  Also, the eyelets are grommets, not hand-done.  The binding is crappy cotton tape.  But I wore them for my entire pregnancy...and lent them to a friend for hers.

The only infant clothes I had time to finish aren't right for 18th century infants.  Like, at all.  We just wrapped her in a shawl.

The front of this gown still doesn't fit correctly, the hems are machined, and the skirts are too long.  I "finished" it to that crummy standard two years ago.  And I've barely touched it since.  I keep telling myself I will, but I'm more attracted to starting something new than fixing something old.
Oh, and hey, my child isn't wearing a cap, which is particularly egregious here because she has a little bright pink clip keeping her bangs out of her face.


This fabric isn't quite right. That bothers me more than it should.  But I jumped on it before really looking at it further, and, well.  It's not quite right.

I reviewing more and more examples, I did the pleats on this wrong. In fact, it probably shouldn't be pleated at all, but a circle cut to size, given that most extants and images seem to point to that construction method.  (Even though I love the "spokes of a wheel" design--I don't want to claim it's correct to the period.)

I jacked up the front of this caraco, which I did talk about a little.  I also didn't do the side fitting quite right (with pleats).  That said, it's not intended to be a "French fly-away" front, so I'm still unsure of exactly what I *should* have done.  An excellent example of diving in with incomplete information--but of course, we would never sew if we always waited for a complete picture!
I was talking to friends in modern clothes (so not pictured) when this picture was taken, and I was so awkwardly aware that I was having my photo taken that I think I'm making a really weird face.  Fortunately it's dark and you can't see.

So, a few examples of my foibles.  I hope to be as honest as possible about what I know, what I don't know, when I guess, and when I screw up.  And please ask me if I'm ever unclear.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Blue February

So, I failed at my Historical Sew Fortnightly blue project way back in February.  I had some leftover blue charmeuse that I decided to work into a 1930s slip, and had to alter a pattern I already had, and failed miserably, and cut the thing wrong, and, well, it's a lovely addition to the scrap bin now.

Least said, soonest mended.

But I also had another blue project--repainting the bleige bedroom in the House of a Thousand Windows.  I chose Valspar "Stillness" for the project, realizing only after I had finished just how influenced I was by the winter landscape I was surrounded by daily--clear, warm blue sky, soft white snow, and bare dark branches.

I intended to post a while ago...you know, like, in February...but my camera died.

I haven't been terribly concerned with selecting historical colors or decorating plans for the house--for one, its history spans almost 150 years, and an extensive remodel in the 1890s makes it feel a little silly to aim for anything "original" with the house.  Instead, I'm picking what I like and what feels right--and here, the space feels inviting and calming now.  As opposed to feeling...bleige.

So, a peak into my newly blue-ly bedroom.

Awkward corner--possibly not original to the house. 


Radiator Cat


Cherry 1940s furniture courtesy of my grandparents--we found a tag inside the bureau that read "Cavalier Furniture: The Heirloom of Tomorrow."  Looks like it.


Happy French doors leading to sleeping porch/sewing room/random cat space

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Leading Strings

One of the easily recognizable (and cutest) elements of 18th century children's clothing are leading strings.  Attached to the shoulders of a child's garment, the strings could be held by a grown up to guide, stop, or assist the child when walking.

It should be noted that leading strings predate the 18th century, as shown by this Rembrandt sketch (1645):



But to get a few examples of 18th century leading strings, we can look to extant garments:





Even extant dolls:




And fashion prints and artwork:


Jean Etienne Liotard, Girl Singing into Mirror







Detail:


The Groenmarket by La Fargue, 1765



And even adorable porcelain figurines:



So where does this leave us?  Leading strings were included in some 18th century children's clothing, including gowns like the gown I am working on now.

Confident Assertions:

1) Some children's clothing included leading strings. This is seen in both extants and prints.

2) In an area of research I'll call "experimental archaeology" I can say with certainty: Leading strings are exceptionally helpful for keeping a toddler in check.  Danger lurks everywhere in the 18th century world, and having a firm hand on those strings? Priceless.

3) Children, or at least some children, like them.  In that, given the option of being "on the leash" but able to explore and walk on their own vs being carried, it's an appealing choice.

Claims I've read or heard but don't know much about:

1) Older children (girls) retained leading strings on their gowns as an affectation.  For example, Liotard's singing girl is old enough to not require a Baby Leash (or maybe that's just what I call it...).  However, I have no idea what the "rules" on this were.  How old? Was this a fad that faded, or fairly constant throughout the period?

2) Leading strings were for helping children walk.  Some images, like Rembrandt's sketch, hint at this--the woman seems to be at least partially holding the child up by pulling up on the strings.  My child learned to walk in the reenacting "off season" so we didn't experience this.  However, for our experience, as nice of an idea as "walking aid" is, I've found that leading strings function for us as a cute leash.  Note that some of these images combine the leading strings with the "pudding cap," indicating a kid who's still unsteady on his feet, but many images don't.

Things I don't know:

1) In plenty of extants and images, children's gowns/clothing skip the leading strings.  Is there a reason/rationale for including vs not including them? Strict personal preference? We cannot write off the lack of strings on extants as "wear over time" as they are also absent in many--if not most--images, as well.  Children of the same age are depicted with and without strings.

So, knowing how handy they are, I wonder--why NOT have leading strings?  Getting further into when clothing did and didn't include strings is a good research question...something to dig into!

2) Material? In some, such as the extant gown from the Met, it's clear that it's the same material as the gown, but in some prints, there is a color contrast.  Is this fabric, or ribbon, or tape?  I would venture that it's ribbon in the image of the girl in pink walking the child in white from the included rosette on the garment.  Same here--I think this is a blue ribbon attached to the clothing:



Fun questions to ponder about a cute clothing feature!  And for the record, I will be including a set on the gown I'm working on now, likely in the same fabric as the gown (but in case I don't have enough, it's nice to see that I could potentially add ribbons!).


Monday, March 2, 2015

Child's Gown: Part One, Research

Admittedly, this project is a giant cheat for me in the research department, because I'm using the already meticulously researched Larkin and Smith gown pattern:


http://atthesignofthegoldenscissors.com/products/18th-century-girl-s-gown

That said, I've loved this pretty brown wool child's gown for years, and am happy to have a shortcut to creating a similar piece:



Wool and silk, British, dated to c.1740 by the Costume Institute of the Met Museum

A few points I find interesting about the gown:

1) The placket covering the lacing.  I don't know why, but this seems at once completely frivolous (why bother covering the lacing?  Kid can't reach that) and totally necessary (clean lines! Pretty!).

2) The pieced skirt.  I always get curious about piecing--was this a necessity to make the panel the right length, or a later alteration?  I'm guessing, from how the fabric didn't wear differently , that it wasn't a later alteration, but the "hmm, wonder what happened here" question is always an interesting one.

3) Related, just how little fabric it takes to make a dress like this.  I cut out mine from a scrap of linen I had left over from one of my projects.  The piecing theory makes even more sense--leftover fabric could certainly be used for this project then as now.

4) This bodice front is almost certainly stiffened with something, even just a stiff lining fabric.  Look at how the front panel hangs! The Larkin and Smith pattern is a little different in the front bodice, lacking the shaped (and, here, stiff) front panel, which I'm pleased with--after all, a small, active person will be wearing this.

5) The leading strings with the wide, shaped bottoms!  Interesting feature.  I'm not sure my scrap will  yield enough extra to make leading strings like these, though narrow ones like this will certainly be possible:


http://mimic-of-modes.blogspot.com/2013/03/galerie-des-modes-32e-cahier-2e-figure.html 


and if you've never had a small child in a historical setting, rest assured--they're very, very helpful.

Onward--lining to be cut and sewing to begin this week!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Half a Year's Plans: My Goals for The Historical Monthly

I'm down for the Historical Monthly Challenge (formerly Fortnightly) again this year--I found the motivation to share my finished project by a deadline kept me on track on a couple pieces that could easily have been UFOs otherwise.  

As always, best-laid plans might go completely awash, be abandoned, or be ditched in favor of bright, shiny, sparkly ideas.  I've thought out the first half of the year:

  • January – Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.
    • Ugh.  A shift.  I really need to make at least one new shift.  The trouble? I don't wannnnna. I find them so boring.  My other option is a false rump--which I also need.  My current version is (don't tell, this is so embarrassing) made from an old towel.
  • February – Colour Challenge Blue: Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre.
    • I could a) finish the early 1940s dress I barely started a couple years ago (given the state of complete incompletion and the fact that I'd have to restart a few parts, I think it would count!) or b) start on the basic late 18th century gown I've been planning and have the fabric for.
  • March – Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.
    • No question, a dress for The Toddler.  I have plenty of fabric choices in my stash and a pattern already procured.
  • April – War & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear.  Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.
    • This is a toughie--I'm  not sure what direction I'll go on this one.  If I can digress for a moment, there are so many moments in fashion that have been linked to a political or cultural moment--war included--that I personally feel are not so clean-cut and incorporate pre-existing moves in fashion (including hemlines during WWII and the Empire style gown post-French Revolution, in case you're wondering).  So if I hold myself to my "research the phenomenon, question everything" standard, this could get interesting!
  • May – Practicality:  Fancy party frocks are all very well, but everyone,even princesses, sometimes needs a practical garment that you can DO things in.  Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.
    • I knew right away what I wanted to do with this challenge--a simple 1930s skirt for...well, anything.  With a simple blouse and sweater, it's the housekeeping outfit; a nicer blouse and heels, and it can go to church or nicer events.  Is there anything more practical than that?  I already have so much practical 18th century stuff--but tend toward the pretties for other periods.
  • June – Out of Your Comfort Zone: Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before. 
    • Deep breath--I keep promising myself I'll dive into later period corsets.  I even have a pattern already.  Is it time to take the plunge?
I'm excited to get started--ok, I'm not excited about that shift.  At all.  Time to force myself to cut out some linen.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year in Review: Stuff I Made in 2014

First of all, how about a New Year's Resolution?  In digging up pictures of this year's work, I was forced to reckon with the fact that I am CRAP at getting pictures of my work.  Seriously. They're all candids that people snap of me when I'm not looking.

Like this one:



Yeah, that's me scowling at some dishwater.  I don't recall what the water did to offend me, but I look pretty miffed.  

I held onto the photo, though, because it showed Something I Made in 2014--the fluffly white cotton cap.  It also highlights my big...no really, big...accomplishment in learning to dress my hair 18th century style.

Handsewn cap

Experiments in Large Hair and Cat Photobombs
 Another shot from the same event (in which we lucky ladies get to cook in a marvelously appointed rebuilt 18th century kitchen) that shows the back of the sky blue gown:


Though I made the gown over a year ago, I managed to fix some nagging issues with it so that it fits well and I can wear it happily.

The kitchen shots also capture my new apron in action.  I am pretty pleased with this useful little item:



Probably my second-favorite project of the year was my new stays:



which have been years in the making as I went through several "good but not perfect" iterations before I found my stays soulmate.

The big project of the year for me was the pink caraco ensemble I made with matching silk hat, and this whole shebang tops my list of favorite projects this year.  From research to final completion to the glorious fluffy funness of wearing something Borderline Obnoxiously Pink, I loved this project:



I also have zilch for pictures aside from these two--the one above caught by the Chicago Tribune, the other by a fellow reenactor:


Finally, I made a 1930s gown in December as a birthday gift to myself:



So, lesson learned--I need to make time to get photos of my favorite projects.  Part of the experience is wearing and sharing the garments we make--I need to embrace that!

Looking back, it looks like not a whole lot, especially if I start the (noxious, dangerous, evil) comparison game, but then I think about everything that filled the hours between sewing--I went back to work at a job I'm passionate about, I chased a toddler and learned more about princesses than I ever wanted to know, I laughed and played and researched and generally nerded it up with my reenacting friends, I even managed to make it to a couple swing dances--and I think shoot dang! This was a pretty good year!  Here's to 2015

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Emerald Gown Steps Out: A Brief Tableau

I was one lucky skunk and got to go to a fantastic swing dance with the Husband last weekend:


It was awesome...so great, in fact, that I utterly failed to get pictures at the event.  

Fortunately, I made the Husband snap a few before we headed out the door, so you can see how the gown looks on a person.  On a me, to be precise:



A word of admission--the photos above were cropped. Here's how things actually went down:

Toddler: Hey, mom, nice dress.
Me: Thanks!


Toddler: Yay! Mommy likes her dress, too!  Maybe now she'll read me this book.
Me: Not yet, tiny person.

Toddler: But wait, the world pretty much revolves around me...
....
Uh-oh, Daddy's really dressed up, too...


Toddler: What the cheese, are you guys ditching me tonight?

Indeed, we were ditching The Toddler.  Fret not, she had a lovely evening with her favorite sitter.