Saturday, January 8, 2011

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

1839 Rosamund's Tea Dress

I have to say I was quite proud of myself for getting this dress done a full 12 days before wearing it at Costume College 2010. However, I lost sleep the night before furiously trimming my bonnet. Argh! I guess since the dress was done, my motivation and speed fell off drastically, so I drug my feet finishing the bonnet. -sigh-

But the bonnet turned out just dandy anyhow. It's covered with light seafoam green silk with the inner brim in a cream silk and lined in soft cotton organdy. The trim is 2" wide chocolate brown double-faced satin ribbon and two large ostrich feathers (which I stole from a previous Regency headpiece). Tiny faux flowers and their leaves accent the inside brim. Fairly simple really - but the effect was true to the period and perfect!

The dress was made from 44" cotton calico purchased at Jo-Ann Fabrics about nine years ago. I saved all 14 yards for a special "someday" project, perhaps in the 1830s/Romantic Era vein. Well, it found its purpose. It really is wonderful for the period. I even had someone tell me it reminded them of the fabrics in the Tasha Tudor Collection Catalog from the auction in 2007.

As I wandered the halls of the Warner Center Marriott on Friday, I kept getting the same question over and over: What pattern did you use? Um... let me think.

As one gets more experience in creating historical clothing, your selection of patterns to begin forming your chosen silhouette becomes quite varied. Here's what I used:

Bodice: This is perhaps a 3rd generation bodice pattern that probably originated from the Truly Victorian 1830s dress pattern. For this 1839 gown, I put on my 1830 "Slytherin" Green Dress for a first fitting, noting how much to lengthen the bodice and any fitting issues I needed to correct. (Shoot me now, because I still haven't worked out that little horizontal pinch across the back - total ARGH! Perhaps I'll just stand up straighter next time for the photo so no one will know.)

Bertha Collar: Drafted off the bodice and copied the V&A original for a nice look-alike.

Sleeves: I started with Hunnisett's Period Costume book and drafted out an Early Victorian multi-puffed sleeve, then greatly reduced the sleeve head and width. The bands holding the pleats were made from my arm measurements. The cuff was cut as 2-1/4" finished width to keep with what I read in Costume in Detail. (The pleats took 2 hours for EACH sleeve and were a pain to get even. I think that part of the sleeve needs to be cut on the bias. Too late to change now.)

Skirt: Cut from my measurements but relied heavily on my measurements from my 1844 Striped Dress.

The 1839 dress is worn over a linen chemise, cotton drawers, basic Victorian corset, corded petticoat, bustle pad, organdy ruffled petticoat, and a plain petticoat. The look was completed with a belt (Oh so period!) made from gorgeous royal blue ribbon with a mother-of-pearl buckle and a oval brooch.

Shall we to tea?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Insanity of July

On one of my sewing bulletin boards I have a button with a picture of Animal from the Muppets with the word "INSANE" at the top. It suits my sewing projects well.

Now, not all my historical costumes are Insane Projects. Only those that pop into my head anywhere from a week to a month before an event - even when I know full well that that event is on the calendar - get the title of an Insane Project.

For 10 years now July has been my Insanity Project month. It's because of Costume College happening around the first of August. What finer thing than to show off your hard work to dozens of those who will admire, compliment, photograph and train-to-make-better-next-time than a group of costuming peers. It's a place to showcase as well as learn.

So waking up one morning in early July, Insanity was calling. 1839? or 1896? I figured that's what I could do with my sewing-from-the-stash budget. I decided on 1839 with this as my main point of reference & inspiration (at the V&A Museum in London):

The fabric is one I've held onto for five or six years for an 1830s dress. I think it'll be perfect here. It's a basic cotton calico I found at JoAnn's and will be piped in navy. I've put in two full weekends now and have a bodice and skirt ready for hand finishing. The underlining is a sturdy white linen.

I started with the bodice from my 1830s Slytherin Dress and did a quick fitting over my corset. For the sleeves, I pulled out my faithful Hunnisett and drafted up a multi-bound sleeve from the era but altered it down quite a bit so it wouldn't be too puffy in the bishop part of the sleeve. I will be pleating it down and adding the piped bands as in the V&A dress.

I decided to make the bertha separate and simply tack it onto the neckline. This way I can add a chemisette with wide collar or a small fichu to change the look without the ruffled bertha collar in the way. (The bertha has still to be patterned and will be done on the gown itself while on my dress form.)

But I must admit - the dress isn't really the Insanity Project.


It's the poke bonnet covered in seafoam green silk with brown satin ribbon and ecru feathers that I'll make for the finishing touch. Ack! Running out of time. Only 23 days - now that's Insanity!

(Did I mention my need for a new petticoat?...)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Period Accurate Accessories?

Over on the Cloak & Corset Facebook page last week I posted the following: "Remember - any accessory, even if not period appropriate, is better than no accessory."
Apparently this advice, shared by a highly respected, fellow instructor and long-time teacher at Costume College, did not sit well with some or was taken out of context. Allow me to clarify my thinking of using accessories in your historical costumes.

First, inasmuch as your time and resources allow, you should strive to complete your period outfits with appropriate accessories. Many times a costume will seem incomplete - most often it's missing the accessories, including shoes, hairstyles and headwear. Accessories are many times the last thing we put our attention to when hastily finishing the dress to be worn in two days. Then we have that crisis moment of "Oh, crap! I need a hat."

Particularly in 19th C. wear, something on your head is a must 99% of the time. Well, for me, I'd rather grab any sort of hat or doily headcovering (within reason) than go without. I know it's not at all period accurate, but my head needs some sort of clothing/decoration.

Now in relation to my "any accessory rather than no accessory" thought, I would not put on my purple Tinker Bell baseball cap to wear with my new white sheer Regency gown. No way. But a simple straw craft hat from Michaels with a ribbon pinned to the top crown and the sides pulled down over my ears and tied under my chin - well, I could live with it if I had to - and knowing I would be getting a much more period replacement as soon as I was able. It's not accurate, but then again, the costume would not look complete without something on my head.

A modern nylon lace fan is so much better than seeing one standing in a ballroom using her hand to cool off . But on the other hand, a neon pink plastic fan would be totally wrong and would only draw negative attention toward oneself.

A plain black modern umbrella (on the small size) can do in a pinch or even one of those tiny white nylon parasols, but don't be taking a modern umbrella with a Monet painting printed on it and expect an historical looking ensemble.

The thought is to research a bit on the period you are re-creating. Look at museum displays, fashion plates, paintings and photographs - only focus on accessories. Get a feel for what the jewelry, gloves, bonnets, reticules and shoes looked like. Be resourceful with the time and money you have to get as close to that look as possible. And ignore the temptation to use any ol' thing because it looks "old-timey." 'shudder'

Remember, accessories can add tremendous value to your historical ensemble. Use them in relation to your outfit (e.g. no bonnets with ball gowns or boots on the dance floor). And always keep working to improve your period accuracy (if that is what you wish).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When Does Fashion Go Out?

When researching fashion trends of the past it's really hard to tell when the older styles were put aside and forgotten. They usually stay around, being worn by the older folks and those resistant to change, until eventually everyone adopts the new way.

It's kinda like the new iPhones and such. They are the hottest thing in cell phones. But I don't have one. Does that mean my two-year-old phone isn't going to work anymore? I'm going to use it for a long time until it wears out. Eventually I'm sure I'll get some sort of touch phone, but I'll stick with what I have for now.

This is the same sentiment for clothing. I have a favorite skirt from around 2005 that I still wear and isn't much out of style. I'll probably have it in my closet for some time because I love it. And yet, that doesn't prevent me from buying a new skirt today to include in my wardrobe.

All the articles and fashion publications we read from decades past show current trends. Once the new stuff is talked about the old items are lost from the written word.

Take the corded petticoat for instance. Just because the wired crinoline was patented in 1856 doesn't mean the petticoat was discarded immediately. As my five-year-old skirt still is worn, I bet the corded petticoat from 1845 was still worn in 1850 (if it was not worn out of course).

What do you think? How long are fashions worn before they are tossed aside? Would you have continued to wear a corded petticoat when a steel hoop skirt was available?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

1800 White Gauze Gown

It turned out perfect! And I'm very happy with it.

It was a bit of a challenge finishing the inside because the bodice was not flatlined at all. I did, however, cover the bodice/skirt seam with twill tape for support.

The dress is weight-y, despite the sheer cotton gauze fabric, and the shoulders and back neckline take strain because of this. Therefore, I put in the twill tape so it would hug the body snugly and take off some of the weight from the shoulders.

The front closes with two small hooks and thread loops at the waist and a functional drawstring at the neckline. The waistband is a narrow 5/8" wide.

The side back/back bodice seams were sewn together with a hand backstitch. I followed the seamlines of the sketch from Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail, so I wanted that seam to be topstitched and visible.

You can see the petticoat ties through the fabric here.

Being early Regency, the skirt is gathered all around in the "round gown" style. However, the gathers are not too full around the center front for a more flattering effect. The sides are hardly gathered (to keep the ribcage small in appearance), and the back gathers are concentrated to about 5" at center back.

And here's the dress "in action" as was taken during my "Dressing A Lady" presentation at the Jane Fest on May 8th.

Notice the gown's smooth sides at the waistband. The bodice and skirt are both "flat" here to minimize ribcage width. This is a good tip to follow for any 19th Century sewing - keep space between the arm and ribcage for a flattering look.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's In Your Sewing Toolbox?

To tie in with the May 2010 newsletter, we are posing the question: what are your most used sewing tools? I mean, if you were stranded on a deserted island with fabric, thread and needles, what other sewing supplies would you require?

What are you most can't-live-without tools in your sewing box?