Monday, August 18, 2014

Silk Hat: Trimmed and Dangerous

....Dangerous how pretty it is!

I added trim of pink silk taffeta to complement the silk-covered hat I made.

Simple project that would work well on a plain chip hat, too--I just stitched a tube of the taffeta and turned it inside out:

Then gathered it into a "bubble" every couple of inches, then stitched it down onto the hat.

I'm quite pleased, especially, with how the trim makes the brim appear even more gradual, a feature I've always admired in 18th century hats.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Caraco : Patterning

In beginning work on my pink caraco, step one was figuring out exactly how to pattern it.  I found inspiration in fashion plates, but had to turn to extants to discern how the garment was actually put together.

Of course, every extant I uncovered was a little different from every other extant.  Such is the way with 18th century clothing!

However, a few commonalities emerged:

Shaping through pleats:

The garments show shaping through the cut of the pieces and released into fullness with box pleats at the hip and lower back.  Over a petticoat, this would look even fuller.

Gentle curve at the front:

Caraco, entre 1770 et 1780. Musée Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. GAL1992.177.X.

The front joins from the top to either the midsection or lower waist, and then slopes gently away at the sides.  Consider the difference between this and, say, a gown--which has skirts joined to an endpoint in the bodice, creating a sharp distinction.

Combination of pieced and pleated:

Again, the shape is achieved with both--unlike, say, a "quarter back" gown which is only pieced or an en fourreau gown which is only pleated.  It should be noted that other jackets from the period exist whose shaping is achieved through piecing only, such as this example (recreation from a "swallow-tail" jacket in Costume Close-Up):

Another lovely back view:

Caraco , 1785, probably French, silk with ribbon border, Musée Galliera
Found at

So where did this leave me?  A jacket with:

  • Two back pieces and two side/front pieces (potentially more--you can see from the second example that the back has additional piecing, and the first example that there is an additional piece for the front.  I chose to keep this first foray simple).
  • Pleats where the backs pieces join and where the sides meet the backs.
  • A closed front (no stomacher) with a gently curved opening at the front skirts.
  • Sleeves (duh) set, from all I could tell, in similar fashion to most other 18th century sleeves.  I made mind 3/4 length as this seemed common from extants and fashion plates and, frankly, I like 3/4 sleeves best.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Silk-Covered Hat

I've had many a straw hat in my day, mostly bedecked with simple pleated ribbon trim.  I decided I wanted an upgrade to go with the Pink Caraco ensemble, and the best upgrade I could think of?  A silk-covered hat.

Silk-covered hats (with chip, paper, or other bases) appear in artwork and a few choice extants.  Some, like this lovely extant piece, are covered with silk cut to fit the brim and crown separately:

Met Museum, Italian, c. 1720-1750.  Accession # 2006.588

Others, like this white and pink number pictured in a print, were pleated--a length of fabric was made to fit the curve of the brim by pleating it:

"The Enchantress" c. 1770 (?) British Museum, Museum #1953,0214.36

It should be noted that in extants the prior method seems the more common.  However, the pleats!  They looked so pretty and I wanted to try my hand at them. So I did:

The Challenge: #15 – The Great Outdoors
Fabric: 2 yards China silk (or silk habotai).  Scraps of silk tafetta for decoration (to be added later).
Pattern: None
Year: Late 18th century
Notions:  Chip hat, white hand-quilting thread, and silk ribbon 
How historically accurate is it?  Well, it looks pretty good!  I haven't been able to see a pleated silk-covered hat close-up in order to view construction, but what little I can glean from images, the silk is pleated and stitched down in this fashion.  Silk hats were very fashionable, however, and in my opinion under-represented in the reenacting world.
Hours to complete: 4-ish?
First worn: I'm saving this for the grand Unveiling of the Pink Caraco
Total Cost: $10 for the silk, and I had all the notions already.  The straw hat blank will run you around $20, but I bought it as a replacement a while ago and only just decided what to do with it, so I don't recall exact purchase price.  I had intended to use an old, beat-up hat as my blank, but the thin silk will show any imperfections of the straw underneath.
So how did it go together?  Well, trial and error, mostly.  My method was pretty much identical to the one described on Koshka the Cat's tutorial, excepting my fantastic "place item on carpet and then stab pins into it with reckless abandon" method addendum.  (Really--having some kind of pin-sinkable textile underneath does help in getting the fabric smoothed out.)  
My silk was fairly thin, so it's doubled thickness on the brim and quadrupled on the crown.
I did my pleats in a box-pleat that fanned outward, rather than a series of pleats facing the same way.  No real reason--I just liked how that looked and couldn't determine if there was an 18th century standard one way or the other, so went with what I liked.  The pleating is the tricky part--I experimented with a couple widths of pleats before settling on one that worked.  But once you get a couple pleats in, it's smooth sailing.
If I did this over again, I would make the pleats themselves wider so that they folded under more of a pleat to "start" the underside pleating.  That would have been a time-and-sanity-saver.

As for trim?  Most images show very wide, likely silk, trim around where brim meets crown.  I'll trim the piece with scraps from the pink caraco.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fat and a Rat: How I Got 18th Century "Big Hair"

I've enjoyed reading posts and seeing pictures recently of Williamsburg's Margaret Hunter shop's interns' experiments in hair dressing (via Two Nerdy History Girls), and of the Burnley and Trowbridge hair and cap workshop (via On Living History).  I've been trying for years with limited success to achieve "big hair" to match my eighteenth century clothing, and aside from a fairly positive wig experiment, I've been unable to recreate the style I want.

The missing pieces?  The key, if you will?

Fat and a rat.

The Rat

Eighteenth century rats--formative padding to shape and support the hair--weren't called rats; they were called rollers and cushions.  I find myself using the term favored in the 20th century--I think I just find the idea of rodents as hair accessories funny.  Before discovering their correct form, I went through several incarnations:

  1. My own hair.  I have a ton of hair, so thought, perhaps, I could use my own hair as a way to add height from underneath.  And though I got the height, shaping was difficult.  The look was bumpy, not smoothed.
  2. A formed roll, like a foam roller or--yes, I tried this--a mini paint roller.  I'd seen this recommended for WWII era victory rolls.  For my purpose? Too stiff.  They held well in the hair, but my hair tended to "fall off" the sides, creating an unflattering look.
  3. A short rat.  I first attempted a short, approximately four-inch-long "roller" thrown together out of the toe of an old pair of stockings and stuffed with wool scraps.  It worked far better than stiffer rolls or my own hair, but my hair still plumed in an unflattering shape and it tended towards lumpy.
Finally, I was lucky enough to read the Two Nerdy History girls blog post with pictures of the rollers used by the ladies in the Margaret Hunter shop.  They were longer and softer than what I'd tried--and that, friends, is the secret to a workable rat.  Er, roller.

Lacking wool scraps and fleece in the house, I made mine out of a "brunette" trouser sock stuffed with the leftover third of a skein of soft yarn that I wasn't going to use for anything else.

The result?  Excellent!  The malleability of the long, soft roller was the key--I rolled my hair onto it and then could mold the hair roll to my head and pin.  

I may be working on the art of big hair, but the art of the selfie is clearly beyond me.

The Fat

My other secret weapons?  I bought orange blossom pomatum and lavender-scented hair powder from Little Bits Historical (conveniently available on Etsy.)

Christina at On Living History posted about her experiments dressing her hair with pomatum and powder.  You know how, when  you do your hair in an updo (or have it done at a salon), you rely on hairspray, dry shampoo, mousse, some kind or kinds of product to get your hair "sticky" enough to hold a style?  That's the idea with using pomatum (a blend of lard, oils, fragrance, and other good stuff) and powder.  Forget the idea that powder was only used to lighten eighteenth century hair--it provided grip.

I not only have a ton of hair, I have textured, thick hair that I wash infrequently (curly hair--you wash it every day, you get a Brillo pad).  It already has a lot of hold to it.  So I found that I used far less pomatum and powder than Christina described, but the small amount I used made a huge difference.

Aside: I also used the powder as a dry shampoo to make my most recent blow-out last longer.  Works as well as commercial dry shampoo without the extra junk--so if you're into natural/few ingredient products, I'd recommend it!

So--the concept is simple.  Work the pomatum through the hair, dust with powder, achieve a texture that will hold a smoothed, high hairstyle.  And bonus--the pomatum serves to condition hair, and the powder, as I discovered organically, mops up oils and prevents a greasy look.  When combined with regular combing and brushing, there's an everyday haircare regimen. 

The fat and powder routine is especially helpful for getting the back of the hairstyle to behave.  Hair from the period is typically either rolled into curls or rolled upwards and tucked under--either way, the hair needs to be smooth, frizz-free, and easy to mold to look decent.  Ladies didn't fashion their front hair into a high roll just to whip their back hair into a messy bun, after all.  I rolled mine up, and then tucked the ends under and pinned them.

Then I dressed the whole dealio with a simple white cap.  For more really bad selfies.

With a little more practice, I can see myself creating this style on-the-go at living history events.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Checked Apron

I knew when I saw the Dreamstress' Challenge #14: Plaid and Paisley, exactly which way I wanted to go--plaid.  Paisley didn't really enter the world of fashion fabric until post-18th century, and I'm trying to replace and improve my 18th century wardrobe.  Even plaid is a limiting requirement--though plenty of check and plaid fabrics existed, they were less commonly used than other fabrics for gowns, petticoats, jackets.  (Though they were used, even in gowns--see this fabulous collection at Isis' Wardrobe.)
Where checks were exceedingly common?  Women's aprons.  Checked aprons show up in images from early to late 18th century, across countries, in both waistband- and pinner-style aprons.
 Plucking the Turkey by Henry Walton, 1776 (English) (Sidenote: Were there political connotations to this, image, oft referenced for its fashion?  Read more...)

Plate showing clothing common to Holland

"Une Pinte, ma Fille!" Also Dutch.  Print dates to 1803

And finally, a French peasant satirized with giant shoes and crucifix, plus a checked pinner apron.  1770

So, a checked apron was an easy choice!
Fabric: 1 yard checked linen from Wm Booth, Draper.
Pattern: None, really.  It's a large rectangle, gathered to fit a tape waistband.  So...

Pretty simple, right?

Year: 18th century.  This style shows up in images from early to late 18th century.
Notions: Plain old thread and tape for waistband
How historically accurate is it?  100% handsewn, made from a linen check woven specifically from historical examples?  Pretty accurate.  I knock myself a few points for using cotton instead of linen tape, but I had a roll on hand.
Hours to complete: Maybe 3-4.
First worn: Will be worn at our next event in August.  Will probably be covered in smudges and food stains at the end of the weekend.

Total Cost:  The fabric was $16.50 for the one yard--a bit of a splurge for me.  I already had all notions on hand.

Finished photos:

It looks kinda skimpy and flat on my dress form, but I know from experience that it will cover a full petticoat very nicely.  Because you know what my messy self needs?  A big ol' apron.

Detail of gathered to waistband.  I left the tape waistband extra-long deliberately, so I could cross it over in the back and tie it in the front as this is a) seen in many prints and b) an easy way to tie your own apron in a hurry.

Detail of corner hem.  

I'm excited--my current apron is quite literally falling apart from years of hard use, and I'm happy to replace it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Simple 18th Century Cap

Submitted under the Sew Fortnightly as hosted by The Dreamstress:
Challenge: #13 – Under $10
Fabric: 1/2 yard cotton voile, tops
Pattern: Drafted based on caps I've made before and tweaked to follow inspiration from this image:
Mrs. Carwardine, 1781

Year: 1770-1785
Notions: Linen cord for drawstring, thread   
How historically accurate is it?  Quite!  Handsewn using period stitch techniques (rolled hems, whipstitching, wheee!) and drafted to mimic common features of period examples.  Using cotton was a departure for me--I typically use linen--but the way many upper-class caps drape and fall on the head lead me to believe they are not my standard-weight linen.  I've experimented with different weights of linen and silk organza.
Hours to complete: Maybe 3 total
First worn: TBD...

Total Cost:  This was all stash fabric and notions, so, technically, $0.00.  The fabric I used goes for about $6.50 a yard, so I'll say this item was $3.25 to make.  I will likely add a wide silk ribbon the next time I can browse the draper's in person, which will run me about $4 a yard, for a yard and a half, totaling $6 to add some flourish.

The pre-sewn pieces:

The pieces, from left: Ruffles (there are two identical), half-oval back pouf, cap band (again, two identical)

For scale, the same shot with my cat, Sophie Biscuit.  Thanks for helping, Sophie Biscuit.

Finished cap, as modeled by my vacuum.  I set it down for a second and then thought...yeah, that's kinda funny.

Flat view

Detail of ruffle hem and whipstitching

Me and my radiator.   I just threw my hair up in a quick bun--I know from experience that when my hair is properly dressed, the cap will let more hair show and sit higher on my head (more like Mrs. Carwardine up top).

Final Thoughts:  I'm happy with the cap, but I'm still on the search for the perfect fabric that combines sheerness with enough crispness to hold but not too much stiffness.  See Snow Beast.  

I also want to re-experiment with narrower ruffles.

There's always something, isn't there?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Historical Fortnightly Plans (Best Laid, of Course)

I've gazed longingly at The Dreamstress's Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge for the past year and a half.  I've wanted to jump in, but during year #1 real life intervened (baby!busy!allthethings!). Then a stack of "must finish" sewing projects precluded me from jumping in on the first half of this year.  Now that the Winter of Buttonholes is complete, I'm looking to my own wardrobe and a few other projects I'd like to work on with the remainder of 2014.  

Besides, I've gotten so used to sewing every evening that I'm not sure what to do with myself when the Husband and I watch TV or whatever.  I have the "should be sewing" itch.

So I'm jumping in on the challenge!  My plans as they stand thus far:

  • #13: Under $10 – due Tue 14 July.  Caps!  I plan to make a plain and a fancy cap (one for me, one for a friend).  I have fabric in my stash but may purchase some very nice lawn or similar if I find it.  Regardless, the final project will be of fabric value under $10.  
  • #14: Paisley & Plaid – due Fri 1 August. Checked apron.  My poor workhorse apron needs a replacement, and checks are very common to 18th century aprons.
  • #15: The Great Outdoors – due Fri 15 August.  I've owed my mother a short cloak for ages.  Time to pay up.
  • #16: Terminology – due Mon 1 September.  If I can, my caraco.  If I can't....undecided.  The term caraco is currently unrepresented in The Dreamstress' list, but pierrot is in the Terminology Encyclopedia.  And to be honest...I've been doing lotsa research on the term that I'd kinda like to share!
  • #17: Yellow - due Mon 15 September.  Yellow and I are not good friends.  I like her and keep inviting her over, and she keeps snubbing me.  TBD.
  • #18: Poetry in Motion - due Wed 1 October  Unsure...I need to dig into my song archives and poetry books for inspiration!  I do know, however, that I want to finish a linen robe a l'anglaise en foureau sometime this year.  If there's any way that one can be shoehorned in....maybe!
  • #19: HSF Inspiration - due Wed 15 October.  I've been so inspired by everything that's been done thus far that picking will be difficult!  There are plenty of gorgeous gowns.  Maybe the gown I plan would fit here.
  • #20: Alternative Universe – due Sat 1 November.  For kicks, probably a fanciful hat or simple costume to wear on Halloween.  
  • #21: Re-do – due Sat 15 November.  If I can't finish the caraco for Terminology, I'll finish it for this one--under the "Pink" challenge.
  • #22: Fort-nightliers Choice : Gentlemen – due Mon 1 December.  Sorry, hubs, but after sewing dozens of buttonholes for your new regimental?  I'm not sewing another darn thing for you this year!  TBD on a gentleman's inspired item for me-self. 
  • #23: Modern History – due Mon 15 December.  Something wearable in a modern context--if Mom's short cloak doesn't get finished for "Great Outdoors" it will fit the bill here.
  • #24: All that Glitters – due Thur 1 January.  Not sure if I'll get to this one.  Can I say that in my dream world, it would be this?