Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Silk-Covered Hat: Research and The Plan

I was jonesing for an 18th century project, and I really wanted to play with some silk.

What better than a silk covered hat?

I'd done one already, but I trimmed it rather specifically to match the Borderline Obnoxious Pink Caraco.  I wanted something that would match anything, and I wanted to use a hat blank I had on hand.  That blank happens to be large, and I didn't want to cut it because a) nervous and b) these hats are the cool sort of project that you can remake multiple times, so I wanted to keep my options open on this pristine blank.

So my first thought was:

The Fruit Barrow, by H. Walton, 1779 

Because it's *gorgeous* and the right size and black and covered in ostrich feathers and...

...and yeah, I have no clue where to find really nice ostrich feathers.  And what, black? Put a black hat on my head for our often-very-warm events?  Hi, head, step inside this oven.

Suddenly I liked it better in the painting than in person.

And then I found cream silk taffeta on sale for obscenely cheap.

So cream it was.

There are tons of images of cream and off-white silk-covered hats.  So many options for trimming and styling these, and I love the layered textures of the ones that are single-color.  (Though the Unknown Lady's blue silk is lovely, too.)

Portrait of a Young Lady with A Fan, http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/dillee-dynastie-experts-collectionneurs-pf1541/lot.119.html 

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by George Engleheart, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O82022/portrait-of-an-unknown-woman-portrait-miniature-engleheart-george/

From the collection at Williamsburg, http://thedreamstress.com/2013/03/terminology-what-is-a-bergere/

From the collection of the Chertsey Museum, http://chertseymuseum.org/search_collection?previous_filter=sack+back&filter=dress+silk&offset=475&item=19588

Mrs. Oswald, by Johann Zoffany, about 1763-64, The National Gallery

I have the top covered and am working on designing the trim--I am leaning toward the crown poufs of Mrs. Oswald and the Unknown Lady, and considering some knife-pleated brim trim, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Showing Off: Buttonholes

I don't usually talk men's clothes on here, because, well.  I don't sew men's clothes.  I have very little idea how to.  It's true--complete weakness of mine.

So when my husband needed a new regimental coat, I did what any self-respecting but clueless-on-the-matter-at-hand seamstress would do.

I traded sewing work with a friend who tailors men's clothes impeccably.  

So the only thing about the New Coat that I had any hand in was...

...the buttonholes.

No, you know what? The Buttonholes.  Capitalized.  These things were an insane amount of work:

Officer's coats had decorate long-work buttonholes done in silk twist (aptly named, let me assure you).  There are twenty-some on this coat.  Each took me, once I got proficient, somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-five minutes each.

But he cuts a dashing figure in the end:

And if I ever want my own riding habit, I'd need to know how to do these boogers anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Entertaining Children When It's Historically HOT

We reenact.  We have kids.  So...what do you *do* with the kids?  No modern toys, no modern distractions?

Our kiddos have an array of historical (and historical-ish) toys, so they do enjoy playing with their "special" dolls, chalkboards, wooden figures, and tea sets.  Even those get old after a while, so we find other ways to amuse ourselves.

You can always sing...

I actually have no idea what E is doing in that picture.  We were, however, sitting in the shade listening to music played by a band.  Nothing like a little late Baroque music on a balmy summer day.

You can blow bubbles:

Believe it or not, this is a historical pasttime:

Our friends brought homemade bubble solution and paper straws (historically, reed seems more common, but as those were unavailable we went paper).  Then we poured the bubble-fuel in a wooden trencher and had at it!  I will note, the girls' clothes ended up, shall we say, "pre-treated" by the time we were done!

Sometimes, however, it's too hot for anything other than a kiddie pool:

Or a washbasin.

Or a bucket.

It was so hot, even the dog got in on the fun.

It should be noted that the kids ended up filthy, one gown got torn, and they were happy as clams.

For clean fun, there's always peekaboo:

Of course, E was already soaked from another dip in the bucket ("Hair washing" was the game of choice shortly before this photo was taken).

The last few photos are from an event last weekend--the temperatures crept up much higher than anticipated, but aside from the usual to-be-expected toddlers-over-it meltdowns, we had a lot of fun.  It's amazing how resilient, and resourceful, kids are when it comes to amusing themselves and keeping cool!

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


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:


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:


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!