Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dressing the New Cook

To celebrate the Autumn season, my husband and I hosted an English Regency dinner party. Our guests included a Duke and Duchess, a Dowager Duchess (a widowed mother of a Duke), ladies and gentlemen down to simple country folks. My husband was the Earl of Averton, I his Countess, and we reside at Avery Hall. (I just love researching old family names to create fictional historical characters.)

The event was sponsored by our civilian reenacting group (HCA). To make the ocassion special, we hired a caterer to prepare all sorts of English treats. This new cook at the Hall just happens to be my sister-in-law, Mrs. Brown. Although she sews, part of her discounted fee was to have me take care of her clothing for this costume-required party.

Now Mrs. Brown lives a few hours away so trying to make even a simple Regency gown was going to be too much. So I went back a few years and decided on simple, late 18th C. pieces befitting a household servant. The easy garments of a petticoat, jacket and apron can be made with no fittings.

The petticoat (a skirt in 18th Century terms) is a burnt orange colored linen, two panels with a drawstring waist - the back panel tied at the front waist and the front tied at the back as petticoats of this time were made. (Thanks to Elizabeth M. for loaning it to the cause.)

The jacket is 18th C. informal wear. I used the JP Ryan Basic Wardrobe pattern to cut the gorgeous brown cotton fabric. I found the fabric at my local Beverly's and was delighted to discover the name marked on the selvage: Old Sturbridge Village. I then knew it was a perfect choice.

I used a larger size pattern for Mrs. Brown which, now that the dinner is over, I will tear apart and cut it down to fit me in my stays. It closes at the center front with straight pins so the fitting is built into the closure. She wore basic modern undergarments.

The apron was a struggle as I couldn't decide on a plain pinner apron with ties at the natural waist or a more Regency style. I studied the aprons in two Sense & Sensibility films (1995 and 2008) and also the PBS Regency House Party. I swear they used the same aprons in all three of these productions. The short bib with shoulder straps and longer skirt reflecting the contemporary fashions was a big pull for me. (Mrs. Brown is a few inches taller than me so the apron looks shorter than usual on her.)

I ended up going the in-between route. The rectangular bib was cut slightly longer with the drawstring waist edge fitting a few inches above the natural waist. The shoulder straps were pinned in place for Mrs. Brown, and I'll remark them later for me and topstitch to the back waist edge.

To finish the new cook's ensemble, a basic linen mob cap was placed over her hair. (It's the cap I made from the instructions in chapter 37 in the Modern Sewing Techniques for Historical Clothing Construction eBook.)

Mrs. Brown donned white knee socks and black flats to complete the look. I believe she fit in quite well as the new Cook at Avery Hall!

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