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!

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 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 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.

Friday, December 19, 2014

All That Glitters: A 1930s Emerald Green Evening Gown

For the Historical Fortnightly All That Glitters Challenge:

 I had originally taken a somewhat broad approach to defining "All That Glitters" by drawing glittering out into! I had planned a 1930s silk evening gown with no glittery sparkle, per se, but plenty of silky shimmer.  I have a holiday swing dance to attend, and the thought of a shiny new dress was too tempting to pass up.  Plus it was my 30th birthday this month--what better gift than a shimmering 1930s something?

Then things took a slight turn, and my dress ended up with some glittery bling after all.

What the item is: 1930s evening gown with slightly shortened hem for maximum danceability
The Challenge: All That Glitters
Fabric: Emerald green silk charmeuse

Pattern: EvaDress E30 5918 :
Year: 1931
Notions: Thread and, afterthought, a paste buckle (more on that below)
How historically accurate is it? Eh...decent? The fabric and pattern are correct, and I utilized techniques as specified by the (original) pattern instructions from cutting through seam finishing and hand-completed hems.
Hours to complete: 10 +
First worn: For a Snow Ball swing dance--tomorrow!
Total cost: Under $100--I splurged on silk and got a decent deal, but that stuff ain't cheap on a good day.

Felicity models the dress in initial completion:

So, how did it go together?  My favorite part was probably the gathered shoulder bit:

which is done pretty much first thing and gives such an exciting tease as to what the final piece will look like!  The instructions call for twisting the shoulder as well, but a) I was unclear on exactly what the instructions were saying to do and b) I really liked the soft drape of the shoulders as they stood, so I skipped this.

For the main body of the gown, the construction techniques rely on one big trick for impact--a lapped seam joining the unusually shaped bodice and skirt together.  Lapped seams are tricky, and silk charmeuse is tricky, and together they are...well, tricky.

Two rounds of basting (once to turn under the raw edge, the other to make an initial join) and veerrrrry slow and careful stitching yielded a lapped seam I was....ok with.  It's not perfect.  But it'll do.

The finish work is mainly by hand--the instructions, to my surprise, did not indicate to face the arm, neckline, or back, but to instead turn and hem, which I did.  I'm not fully convinced this was the best option, and if I every do a re-do on this pattern, I think I'll consider facing these edges, or at the least the neckline.

As to how well I like it...

I tried it on and was, well, blah about it.  It wasn't the dress--as far as it was *supposed* to look, it was near perfect.

It was me.

I am not the willowy-thin pixie of the pattern cover--and the bodice of the gown had an unfortunate tendency to just kind of hang off my bust and create a rather dumpy look on me.  I had taken in the seams from the muslin I'd made, but even when the gown fit properly, it still didn't really suit me.

I decided to play around with it a little, and attempt some waist definition.  I settled on a self-belt--I am unsure if this is correct to the period for an evening gown and this type of pattern or not, though other 1930s patterns I've made did include self-belts.

And I added a little crystal slide buckle to the belt--All That Glitters, indeed.

A note to those making this dress--the pattern as it stands will yield a dress that is short on an average-height woman.  I chose to keep the original length because I was making a dress to dance in, but if you want a traditional full-length evening gown, you will need to add a few inches to the hemline.

Dancing (and, hopefully, pictures!) tomorrow!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Up-cycled Stockings--The Kind to Hang By The Chimney With Care

Taking a short break from the historical--though not completely, since re-using old things is about as historical a practice as you can come up with--for a quick holiday craft tutorial.

I'd seen and coveted knit, especially cable-knit, stockings from various retailers but the prices were more than I wanted to pay for a holiday decoration.  Cue a trip to the thrift store, where the aisles of gently worn sweaters called my name.

Turns out, it's exceptionally easy to turn an old sweater into a nearly-new Christmas stocking.

First, the sweaters.  I selected three sweaters in cable knits I liked, all in shades of ivory.  We have a three-person family; I got three sweaters.  It's theoretically possible to get more than one stocking per sweater, especially if you can find large men's sweaters, but I didn't find any big ones in patterns and colors I liked. (Hint--if you like taupe and beige, there will be plenty of men's sweaters for you to play with.)

Then, the crafting begins!

I used a stocking I already had and liked the shape of to cut my sweaters.  Simple--I just laid the stocking over the sweater (just the sweater, as it was, no cutting, turning, or manipulation required) and cut around it, giving myself about a 3/4 inch seam allowance.

You get two pieces, like this:

I just pinned right sides together and stitched it up on the machine.

Turned right side out, it's a stocking!  I trimmed corners and any edges that looked bulky, but for the most part I left a very large seam allowance.  Knits tend to ravel and I didn't want to deal with a hole in my Christmas sock.

I finished the top of this simple stocking with a basic hem:

You can also make a simple cuff.  I left one stocking extra long, sewed it up as normal, then cut the excess from the top:

Pinned it inside and stitched:


Then folded it over the main part of the stocking:

One of my sweaters was a mock turtleneck, so I left the ribbed neck in place when I cut out the stocking:

And just folded it over to make a cuff.

All three stockings, ready for hanging!