Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Simple Shortgown: The Whys and Whats

It's funny--I've seen it discussed many times on many costuming and living history blogs what the difference between a costumer and a reenactor is.

There are a lot of really insightful answers, often dealing with questions of authenticity, mission, where the individual derives enjoyment.  I don't have a good, complete, perfect answer.

But I did discover my own, personal derivation.

A costumer doesn't make clothing choices based on the premise, "But I just need something to throw on in the morning when I go to the portajon!"

I realized I'd hit a point where I didn't have such a garment--all of my clothing needs to be worn over stays, pinned perfectly in place.  I've had shortgowns in the past, but they've either been given away or are in the "spare things or scrap things" pile.

Of course, full disclosure: Prints and paintings depicting women wearing bedgowns and shortgowns often lead one to believe that they are, in fact, wearing stays underneath these garments.  Which makes sense--stays are like basic underwear.  But the loose cut and forgiving fit also suggests that maybe they were intended to be thrown on as a kind of pre-stays wrapper in the morning or post-stays loungewear at night.  Speculation on my part, yes--but it's how I find myself using a roomy garment!

Is this lady wearing stays beneath her shortgown?  Hard to tell--but I love that scowly expression.

"You kids get off my lawn!"

I've used this pattern before--in fact, it was one of my earliest 18th century projects.  The pattern is something like this one:

from the Mara Riley website, except it's a little longer and the pleats in the back are a little different.

Another place you can find a similar pattern is in the book Fitting and Proper.  Costume Close-Up has a shortgown pattern that, instead of using pleats to fit the back, uses a drawstring.

I have no idea where the original of this pattern came from--it was passed around the ladies of our regiment years ago, and I suspect that the originator drafted (or Frankensteined) the first pattern herself.  I copied my friend's copy onto the wrapping paper affectionately referred to as the BabyBabyBaby paper:

(Yes, when a friend and I made her first 18th century ensemble, we used this pattern, and found ourselves randomly, incoherently babbling "Babybabybabybabybaby" while cutting it out.)

This time around, of course, I had my own BabyBabyBaby to contend with while laying out the project.

She likes fabric.  A lot.

It's the easiest pattern in the world to cut out--you lay the center edge (the one with the neckhole in it) on the fold, pin 'er down, and cut 'er out.  The center front will need to be cut to form the opening.

And when it's cut out and unfolded, it looks like this:

This is the lining--basic white linen.  See how the center front has been cut so it opens in the front? That's the trickiest part.  Easy-peasy pattern.

Next time--the assembly of the shortgown, my choice of fabric, and the Great Authenticity Decision plays out in this project.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

DIY High Chair Placemat

It's no secret that I like old-fashioned furniture.  Lucite will never have a place in this house.  (Nothing against Lucite, it just ain't my thang.)  And while I can appreciate the appeal of easy-to-clean, low-maintenance, un-dingable plastic furniture for babies and small children, I couldn't get behind a plastic high chair in a dining room that's 1890s architecture meets 1940s furniture.  So I love the hand-made oak chair my parents found at a random Rural King.  

(I'm pretty sure there's a retired gentleman who works part-time at the store and they let him sell his baby furniture on the side.  He sells out within hours of setting up his "shop" every time.  How cute is that?)

The only downside--babies are incredibly messy eaters.  Seriously--they have pretty much zilch for table manners and their dexterity is nothing to write home about, and it makes for some messy meals.  The wood tray of my lovely high chair was getting downright sticky every second meal or so.  Not that you can't clean the tray, but it's more of a chore than a wipe-clean surface would be.

So I made an easy-to-clean, DIY solution!  And you can easily finish in one nap-time.

You'll need:

Clear contact paper  
A piece of fabric 
Velcro dots
Pinking shears

That's it!  The only thing I bought was contact paper.  You need such a small amount of fabric that you probably have an unused scrap sitting in your stash, or an old clothing item that could be repurposed.  (You could also use pretty paper, like scrapbooking paper, and even create a fun collage.  The result won't be quite as flexible as fabric, though.)


Drape the fabric over the tray.  Cut to size.  (Yes, you could make a paper pattern and trace it out for perfect results.  We're going for usable and quick, not perfect here.)

Trim down about a half inch to an inch.  (You need the contact paper to adhere to itself along the edges, so the fabric needs to be smaller than the tray.)


Cut two pieces of contact paper (with backing) to the right length for the fabric.

Peel the backing off the contact paper.  This is the hardest part of this project.

Lay the fabric flat on one piece of contact paper.  Smooth it out and pick off any cat hairs that may have found their way onto the fabric during this process.  Lay the other piece of contact paper on top, sandwiching the fabric, sticky sides together.

You can get away with some finagling once the paper goes together, but not much.  Once you have it like you want it, smooth and press the paper together to adhere it completely.

Trim the sandwich to size, giving yourself a half inch to an inch of clear border.  (I used pinking shears for all steps of this project because I liked the look of pinked edges.  Other decorative scissors would be fun to experiment with, too.  Or you can go plain.)


Attach velcro dots to about four points on the tray, and to corresponding spots on the mat.  

That's it! So easy you can knock it out in a naptime, and very cost-effective, too. 

Time: About twenty minutes
Cost: $5.50 for the roll of contact paper.  I had the other supplies on hand.  Plus--this roll is huge!  I foresee many more contact papered projects.