Monday, September 14, 2015

Cream Silk Covered Hat, or, I Made a Cream Puff to Wear on my Head

I decided a few weeks ago to make a new hat.  I haven't had time for many big projects this summer and was really missing sewing, and craving some silk.  I love that a wider variety of headwear is being represented in Rev War reenacting--that you see bonnets and silk-covered hats far more often than you did a few years ago--but there still aren't too many big, fashionable, silk-covered hats floating around in my neck of the woods.  It's appropriate for my officer's wife persona, so I decided to create one.

It's a bit of a monster, in a good way, on the order of the giant hats you see wandering around Vauxhall Gardens in printed form, and a little bit like a millinery cream puff.

An in-progress shot.  Step one is covering the top of the hat, and you can see the stitches along the edge of the brim here.  I then added decoration to the crown and edge of the brim.  The "poufs" around the crown are a tube of matching silk, and the brim edging (you can see it further down) is pinked and pleated silk.  

After getting all the decoration stitched down, I added the covering to the underside, stitching it to the silk that was folded over from the top to keep stitching from showing on the outside of the hat.  Then I added ties. I recommend pinning them first to do a test run--where you set the ties will affect how the hat shapes.  The further toward the crown, the flatter the hat will lie.  I wanted a little bit of shaping, so stitched the ties down a couple inches out from the crown.

Even though this isn't a Historical Sew Monthly Entry (it doesn't fit the current challenges), I'm stealing the "about this project" format here :)

Fabric: Cream Silk Taffeta from an ebay seller.  This project used less than a yard.
Pattern:  None.  You can just trace out the hat, adding an inch or two for seam allowance.  If you do want a pattern, what I did is very similar to the patterns and methods used in the Larkin and Smith pattern, which I recommend.  
Year: Late 18th century.  These big "statement" hats seem to get pretty popular by the 1770s.
Notions: A hat blank--this one is a straw hat I'd had for years and wanted to make over--and silk thread.
How historically accurate is it?  100% handsewn, and based on images and extant.  I never say 100% because I'm sure I've missed something, but it's pretty darn accurate.
Hours to complete: Probably 4-5.  The process is really simple, but stitching down the  top silk cover, the trim along the brim, and then the bottom silk cover took some time.  
First worn: Last weekend! And it made an impression on the public--I was asked about the hat, its significance, how it was made, and other questions more than anything else.  It created a great gateway for talking about clothing norms and the differing social statuses the visitors could notice in camp, and opened some great conversations.

Total Cost:  $12 total.  The fabric was $8 for the one yard--yay for sales! The thread was about $4 for the spool, and I already had the hat blank.  
 And finally, a few photos from the weekend with the hat in action.

The Husband and I in front of our unit and our cannon:

And another one.  (Chilly morning--I spent most of it in my short cloak and gloves.)

Finally, a close up that gives you a good look at that pleated trim, and the fact that I actually fixed my hair:

All in all, very pleased with this project!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Little Musing on Why Historical Sewing is Important, with Golden Eagles

You all know if you’ve been here before: I sew historical clothes.  That is to say, I research the styles and methods originally employed in garments made over two centuries ago, and I attempt to recreate those styles using those methods.  I remember the moment distinctly when I decided that what I was doing was important.

I was stitching while watching Netflix—I believe that this was a compromise reached with my toddler, who wanted me to read animal books, and my desire to finish a project.  I found a geography documentary series and pulled it up. (Wildest China, and unfortunately, it’s not streaming any longer—I checked for you, but others in the “Wildest” series are and they’re worth a watch.)  It had plenty of animals for her, but made a unique departure from most animal-centric shows in that it also explored how humans had traditionally encountered the ecosystem depicted, and in what ways this lifeway persisted and in what ways it was changing.

The ecosystem depicted was the Chinese steppes.  The people were nomadic herders.  They also hunted with golden eagles.

Very few hunters remained—most young men from the community were moving to cities to find modern, more stable jobs.  They didn’t hunt for subsistence, though they did eat the meat—instead, it was vital to them to keep this folkway alive.  Later I read an article about one of the only female golden eagle hunters.  One article  stated that though tradition dictated that boys apprentice as hunters, not girls, the fact that most men were leaving the community forced an exception.  (And for good measure, another female golden eagle hunter, with stunning images, in Kazahkstan)

I watched the magnificent spread of wings, the powerful talons outstretched toward prey, the obedient return to the mounted hunter. And I looked down at my hands, a length of linen spread between them, a neat line of stitches running down a seam I was working on, and it struck me.  What made my breath skip at the golden eagles and their handlers was the same thing that drew me to historical sewing.

It was preserving a disappearing art.

Now, golden eagles are far more exciting than backstitches, and mounted hunters far more interesting than rainy-day seamstresses.  Still, something links us.  We believe that the task which is “no longer necessary” is in fact intrinsically necessary.  We can’t bear to let a skill honed by generations before us die.  We want to invest time and effort and learning into a lifeway that isn’t exactly thriving—in the case of the nomads, it’s fading, in the case of the historical seamstress, it’s been dead for decades.

But it’s worthwhile.

The only known female golden eagle hunter in Kazakhstan is also a lawyer.  I hear her, because I understand the sentiment exactly, in her when asked how she plans to combine office work with bird handling[. S]he said “I don’t need to give up being a berkutchi. I will do both things at once.”

We guardians of antique lifeways don't have to live in the past.  We can live in both places at once.

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, 

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by George Engleheart,

From the collection at Williamsburg,

From the collection of the Chertsey Museum,

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 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