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.