Wednesday, January 1, 2014

16th Century Peasant Dress: Research and Planning

One area of the costuming community that I have not yet ventured into is the world of Renaissance reenacting. When I was very young, I enjoyed visiting the local Ren Fair with my family, but until this past October, I hadn't been to one since I was in high school. (My 16-year-old self was rather proud of the "Renaissance-inspired" costume I put together, consisting of a generic laced bodice worn with layers of hippy-ish skirts and jingly jewelry -- you know the look.)

Earlier this year, when a girlfriend at work suggested I come with her to one of the many area Renaissance fairs, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to revisit something that I had enjoyed as a child and that had fostered my early love for costumes. But this time, I would approach my costume from a more educated, enlightened perspective.

And so, in usual fashion, I began researching. Right off the bat, I knew I would do better to start with an outfit appropriate to a lower-class impression. All the glitz and glamour of an upper class Elizabethan court gown is lovely to look upon, but expensive and difficult to do properly. Accordingly, I set my eye on a comfortable, tidy, working-class ensemble like the ones shown in all the Dutch genre paintings of the period. In particular, these paintings by Pieter Aertsen inspired me:

The lady on the left is wearing a practical and versatile ensemble: Her sleeveless dress is enhanced with an apron, a removable partlet, and pin-on sleeves.

Here are the same pin-on sleeves and partlet, but this time with a wide-brimmed straw hat (very appealing to this sunburn-prone girl).

This lady has on a simple white head-wrap of some kind to keep her hair covered and clean. 

More straw hats, aprons, and pin-on sleeves. 

As I began wading through the wealth of research and information on this period that can be found on the internet, two sites in particular stood out from the rest, both for the volume of information, and for the detail and clarity of instruction. The first is Drea Leed's excellent Elizabethan Costuming Site, which catalogs her own research on many related subjects in addition to linking to many sites. The information is very helpfully arranged by subject. I spent days following almost every link on the page.

The second is this site, which details the construction of an outfit very much like the one I wanted to make: simple, working-class clothing that is highly accurate in look and construction.

The other resource that I stumbled onto early in my research was The Tudor Tailor. This book is a definite must for anyone wanting to recreate clothing from this period. It is brimming with useful information and anecdotes, period portraits and images of extant garments, and a series of patterns that can form the basis of a wardrobe for the humblest of working-class laborers or the queen herself.

After studying these resources, I determined that the simplest and most accurate ensemble would consist of the following items:

linen smock 
wool kirtle
pin-on wool sleeves 
black wool partlet 
linen apron
linen coif and forehead cloth

Quite a lot of stuff to make! And of course, I decided early on that I would have to sew it all by hand for accuracy. Stick around to find out how I put it all together!

1920s Day Dress

In September 2013, I attended my first ever Gatsby Picnic. This event, put on by the Art Deco Society of California, tries to recreate the feel of a large 1920s summer party, with live entertainment, elaborate picnics, gorgeous vintage cars, and people dressed to the nines in clothes from the 1920s and 1930s. 

Being my first entree into 1920s dress, I was rather nervous about what the silhouette would look like on my curvy hourglass figure. All the fashion plates show slender and willowy ladies looking elegant in their dropped-waist and blousey dresses. However, I know for a fact that anything blousey or dropped-waist makes me look frumpilicous, or at the very least, much larger than I actually am. 

A look at photographs from the period was reassuring, however. Guess what? Lots of women in the 1920s had figures like mine, and it didn't stop them from wearing the latest fashions. Yes, they did look a little frumpy by modern standards, but they didn't seem to care in the least. I decided that I wouldn't care either, and just embrace the frump.

These ladies know just how fabulous they look. 

This is an old photo from my father's family archives. Look at the diversity in figures!

I elected to steer clear of the popular choices for patterns, wanting to avoid the cookie cutter look. Instead, I took on the challenge of a Past Patterns Attic Copy, that is, a reprint of an original pattern, complete with vague directions, useless yardage recommendations (nobody makes 36" wide fabric anymore!), and missing dots and notches. 

The pattern that ended up catching my eye was this one:

From their website: 
This pattern was published by The Butterick Design Pattern Company. Originally the pattern was described as "Ladies' Dress, closed at the back, with separate shirt-waist, and tucked straight skirt. Attached to a long body lining marked for camisole top." Fully illustrated directions. Pattern dates circa 1922-1923.

A simple shape, some interesting details, but none of the overdone design elements that abound in reproductions from this era (zig-zag seaming, handkerchief hemline, asymmetry, etc.). I initially wanted to use a lightweight cotton in a floral print, but I couldn't find one that really felt right for the period. Instead, I settled on a solid cotton voile in a very pretty cornflower blue that I knew would look good on me. In the end, I was quite happy with my choice -- the deep tucks in the dress bodice and skirt would not have shown very well in a print, but helped to give the solid color some texture and interest. 

I lined the dress in a rayon fabric in a lighter shade of blue, to further highlight the tucked detailing. The collar is made from some off-white cotton sateen from my stash, and the buttons are mother-of-pearl.

The finished ensemble

Back view (ignore the bicycle)

The pattern went together pretty well. It was supposedly sized for a 34" bust (mine is closer to 38"), but when I measured the pattern, the finished bust measurement came to about 44". I decided not to alter the size at all. The only change I needed to make was to make the dropped waist a little bigger so it would sit lower on my hips. This was a simple alteration: I just gathered the bottom edge of the shirtwaist less than the pattern called for.

I found a modern straw hat that had a cloche-like shape, but with a slightly larger brim for sun protection, then trimmed it with a vintage ombré ribbon. I also bought a cheap paper parasol in Chinatown to further protect my delicate skin from the full sun I expected at the picnic. I found a vintage tooled leather handbag on Ebay for the occasion, then finished off the ensemble with some vintage ivory kid gloves, reproduction seamed stockings, my American Duchess Gibsons, and modern pearl drop earrings.  

In the end, I felt pretty good about the outfit. I'm not sure it's my favorite silhouette, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. Going with an early '20s shape helped a little, as the waist was not dropped all the way to the hip.

The picnic was a great time. All my friends looked beautiful, our picnic was a success, and despite the intense heat, we really enjoyed ourselves. I'll definitely go again next year!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

1790s Open Robe

I know I promised you updates weeks ago, but my life got a little crazy. My husband and I rather abruptly decided to move out of the apartment we've been in for the past few years and into a lovely and much larger house. The good news is I now have a much nicer sewing space; the bad news is my free time in the last few weeks has been taken up by all the fuss of packing, moving, unpacking and settling into our new home. No time for blogging!

As 2013 draws to a close, I want to catch up on all the sewing I've done since the summer so I can start fresh with regular blogging in the new year. My last proper post was just before Costume College, so let's start there!

Since I made the decision to attend Costume College rather late in the year, I didn't have much time to make clothes specifically for it. Luckily, I had made several new dresses earlier in the year that would work well for some of the events. My Gibson girl ball gown would be perfect for the Gala, my striped bustle day dress would be lovely for the Sunday Tea, and my red barmaid dress would be fun to wear during the day. The one event that I felt unprepared for was the Ice Cream Social. I wanted something somewhat formal, without being a ball gown. The only thing I had that was even close was my white muslin dress, but it wasn't quite right either. It was pretty, but a little bland. To dress it up a bit, I decided to make a sort of open robe to wear with it.

The vision in my head was for something along the lines of the following fashion plates:



I can't find a date for this one, but probably 1797-1800. 


As you might recall from the post about my turban, I was lucky to find a great fabric for my robe at Discount Fabrics. 

Here's the fabric with my shoe again.

While researching the common shapes and construction of this style of garment, I came across an extant robe made from a textile that clearly evoked my chosen fabric:

Royal Ontario Museum, 1801
(I can't link directly to the item page. If you go to their image database page and search for accession #2004.33.1 you can view more images.)

Back detail

I modeled the cut and styling of my robe on this one, using the pattern from my muslin dress as a base. I lined the bodice and sleeves in a tan cotton/linen blend, but left the skirt/train unlined. I ended up cutting my train much shorter than the original garment, as I didn't want to be tripping on it all night. I also made wider straps for the front closure. 

Without further ado, here is the finished product:

This is also the first proper picture I have of the white dress with its long sleeves. My accessories include a draped turban, an embroidered reticule, and my turquoise Pemberley shoes. I'm rather pleased with the overall look, but there are a few details I would like to change if I decide to wear it again. The front straps need to be angled differently; they rode up as the night wore on and didn't sit smoothly. Also, the sleeves should be an inch or two shorter to make the proportions work. But for something I threw together in a week or so, I feel pretty good about it!

At the Ice Cream Social, I posed with a couple of other lovely ladies who showed up in similar styles: 

With Aubry and Jen

Jen and I even had matching shoes!

Costume College was a wonderful time. I can't wait for next year! But when I came back, I hit the ground running with several more costumes. Stick around to see what else I've been up to...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Playing Catch-up

It has been a very long time since I updated this blog. To anyone who has been checking back to see what I've been working on, I'm sorry for leaving you hanging.

I have been sewing. In fact, I have been sewing so much that I haven't had much time for anything else, blog-updating included. Since I last posted, I went to my first Costume College, my first Gatsby Picnic, and my first Ren Fair in ten years, all of which required exciting wardrobe additions. Then there was Halloween, and now I'm making a new dress for Dickens Fair. You see why I haven't had time for blogging!

I will be posting pictures and details of all of the clothing I've made since July over the next few weeks, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a little preview to keep you interested:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Regency Reticule

As I continue to build my Regency wardrobe, I have found myself in need of a reticule. Since those flimsy, figure-hugging Regency gowns leave no room for pockets, a girl needs a place to put her fan and handkerchief, to say nothing of the anachronistic necessities of cell phone, car keys, and such.

Small decorative bags were all the rage during this period. They tended to be rather fanciful in shape, their pointed, geometric outlines highlighted by embroidery, tassels, and other embellishment.

Early 19th century, MFA Boston
This particularly fabulous example is actually four-sided; each side has a different central motif. Click the link above to see pictures of the other sides. 

As I hunted for inspiration in online museum collections, I noticed a common theme in the reticules that I was drawn to: most of them were white/off-white and decorated with colorful embroidery. Certainly there are many examples of brightly colored reticules, but the white ones seem a bit more common and were the ones that caught my eye.

1800-1824, V&A 
This is one of my favorites. So many tassels!!

1790-1800, V&A
A slightly earlier example with very ornate embroidery. You can see how these little bags would have easily developed from 18th century pockets. 

1820-1830, V&A
Yes, this is a bit later, but I love the embroidery. 

After ogling all these pretties, I just knew my bag would be white. The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge happens to be a white theme — what a convenient coincidence!

I was lucky to pick up a half-yard remnant of creamy off-white silk taffeta for about $3 at Discount Fabrics a few weeks ago (there were tape marks along part of it, so they gave me a steep discount off the remnant pricing). Perfect for this project, since I can easily cut around them!

I chose a simple shape, typical of the period: basically a rectangle with a triangle at the bottom, like the one shown here:

The shape narrows at the top because of the drawstring. 

For the embroidery pattern, I poked around online to find a motif that evoked the style of embroidery seen on originals — something delicate, scrolling, and floral — and found one I quite like. I would share it here, but I can't seem to find either the image itself or the website I got it from. Sorry!

I chose embroidery floss colors that seemed period appropriate, then started stitching. I am a very inexperienced embroiderer, so I just made stuff up as I went along. The stems were done in split stitch, the flowers drawn with outline stitch, and most of the rest is some kind of satin stitch. I realized after the fact that chain stitch might have been more appropriate, but I'm still fairly pleased with the result:

The bag is lined in lightweight white cotton. The tassels are handmade from sz. 30 silk thread, and the drawstrings are 5/8" silk satin ribbon.

All in all, a very simple and satisfying project! 

The details:

The Challenge: #15 — Colour Challenge White

Fabric: Off-white silk taffeta, white cotton for lining

Pattern: improvised

Year: 1790s-1820s 

Notions: DMC cotton floss, sz. 30 silk thread, 1-1/2 yd 5/8" silk ribbon

How historically accurate is it? Fairly accurate, to the best of my knowledge. I know next to nothing about period embroidery, so the stitches or floss may be wrong. The farbics are good, the construction is plausible, and it is entirely hand-sewn. I would say at least 7 out of 10 for accuracy. 

Hours to complete: 4-5 hours for the embroidery, plus about 2 for construction. 

First worn: will be used at Costume College 2013

Total cost: around $12 (about $3 for the silk remnant of which I used only a tiny portion, $4.25 for the silk thread, and about $4 for the silk ribbon — cotton lining and embroidery floss were from my stash)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Early 1870s Day Dress

Here's another post to catch you up on the things I've been sewing lately! Last month I made an early 1870s day dress to attend an event put on by the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild: a Tissot Bustle Picnic. Inspired by the paintings of James Tissot, the picnic was held at the lovely Ardenwood Farm in Fremont, CA. There were chickens and peacocks and doves and a blacksmith shop and a beautiful late-19th century farmhouse — in other words, a perfect backdrop for frolicking about in fluffy dresses.

My dress:
This is the best shot that I managed to get on my phone camera. Please disregard the errant ostrich feather — it was blown askew by the day's lovely breeze. I fixed it later!

The picnicking in progress

Outside Patterson House

My Dress Inspiration:

The time frame for the event was based on Tissot's career and was therefore quite broad: 1868-1888. I have been itching to make an early 1870s dress for some time, so I decided that this would be the occasion. As I started to plan my dress, I hunted for inspiration in Tissot's paintings. The dress that caught my eye is a eye-popping striped frock that appears in several of his paintings:

The Return from the Boating Trip, 1873

Boarding the Yacht, 1873

Still on Top, 1874

As I continued looking for inspiration, I came across a photograph from the period that gave me a new brilliant idea: 

Dagmar, Alexandra, and Thyra, daughters of Christian IX of Denmark

Here were three Danish princesses, all wearing frilly, ruffly dresses in exactly the style of early-1870s dress I wanted to make. My Tissot bustle dress could also be my entry for HSF Challenge #12 — Pretty, Pretty, Princesses!

Here's a brief explanation of who these lovely young girls were and why they were important:

These princesses were the daughters of Louise of Hesse-Kassel, a minor German princess, and Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a minor Danish prince. Christian unexpectedly succeeded to the Danish throne in 1863 after the previous king died without an heir. 

As a result of their father's good fortune, these girls rather abruptly became some of Europe's most eligible bachelorettes. Princess Alexandra married Queen Victoria's eldest son and heir and eventually became the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and British Dominions and Empress Consort of India. Princess Dagmar married the heir to the Russian Empire and became Empress of Russia under the name Maria Feodorovna. Princess Thyra married the exiled heir to the Kingdom of Hanover, technically becoming the Queen of Hanover (she and her husband lived in exile in Austria, but he never renounced his claim to the throne). In addition, one of their brothers succeeded their father as King of Denmark, and another brother became George I of Greece. 

What a family! For those of you who are keeping track, Princess Alexandra is Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandmother, and Princess Dagmar was the mother of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia.

Here are some more pictures of the princesses, all of which capture perfectly the feeling I was aiming for with my dress:

Check out all those ruffles! And those giant braided hairdos!

Here are the princesses with their mother and father. I just love the tiny hats!

My dress: 

I knew I wanted my dress to have stripes, and I thought cotton would be the best fabric for an afternoon picnic. I ended up finding a nice shirting-weight cotton in a grey and white stripe that worked perfectly. It's stripey without being quite as dizzying as the black and white striped dress from the Tissot paintings. 

Dresses in this period were covered in scads of ruffles and trim. I think I spent more time on trimming this dress than on actual construction! The base skirt, overskirt, and sleeves are edged with gathered flounces of the striped cotton cut on the bias. I then trimmed the flounces with a delicious lavender velvet ribbon, accented with bows made from a matching silk satin ribbon. I used a matching lavender silk taffeta for the covered buttons and the box-pleated frill around the neckline. I also trimmed the neckline with some cotton lace, which I used to edge the cotton organdy undersleeves as well. The same cotton organdy made a faux chemisette to fill in the open neckline. Lastly, I made a separate belt out of the lavender silk taffeta, with a satin bow to hide the hook-and-eye closure. 

The best photos I have of the dress were taken by the lovely Kim Yasuda. The next few shots are from her photoset, which you can view here.

My favorite shot of the front of the dress:

On the front steps as we began a tour of Patterson House. 

Here's a shot that shows the neckline trim and my braided hairdo:

My feathers were behaving better by this point!

I think the dress looked best from the back:

Checking in at the gate

Walking to the picnic site

I wore the dress with a simple lobster tail bustle, one plain petticoat, and one with deep ruffles. My hat was a tiny black straw hat from the Berkeley Hat Company, heavily modified and trimmed with cream and pink paper flowers, lavender silk satin ribbon, a vintage black silk taffeta ribbon, and two small grey ostrich drabs. 

Jane the cat finds hat-trimming rather boring

I carried a cheapo nylon-covered costume parasol purchased here, and wore my American Duchess Tavistock button boots. My necklace is a lovely (antique?) porcelain pendant with painted flowers that I picked up at the Alameda Antiques Fair last month. Here's a closeup to show you how pretty it is:

I think I paid $5 for it. 

Here are the details for my Danish Princess 1870s day dress:

The Challenge: #12 — Pretty, Pretty Princesses

Fabric: Grey and white striped cotton shirting, lined with white pima cotton broadcloth and trimmed at the neck and sleeves with a bit of white cotton organdy. Also, some lavender silk taffeta for some of the trim. 

Pattern: The bodice is TV400 -- 1871 Day Bodice. I modified the back slightly, combining the side back and side pieces into a single piece. That extra seam isn't very common in the earlier bustle period. I also added deep flounces to the sleeves. The skirt pattern is from Period Costumes for Stage and Screen. The overskirt is from the striped dress on pg 28-29 of Patterns of Fashion 2

Year: 1870-71

Notions: hooks and eyes, lavender velvet ribbon, lavender silk satin ribbon, white cotton lace, covered buttons (the Dritz ones — I was being lazy)

How historically accurate is it? Pretty good. My materials were all plausible, though the velvet ribbon is rayon instead of silk. Techniques were all period-correct and my patterns were all very accurate as well. 

Hours to complete: no idea — many

First worn: Tissot Bustle Picnic on June 23, 2013

Total cost: around $175

Sunday, July 14, 2013

1790s Turban

This year, I will be attending Costume College for the first time. I'm super excited! I made the decision to go rather late in the year, and therefore was unable to make any clothes specifically for the occasion, so I'll be revamping and reprising some of the garments I've made in the last few months.

Part of my plan is to wear my white muslin dress again, but enhance it with some exciting additions. I think an overdress of some kind is in order, perhaps an open robe? I found a beautiful deep gold silk with a subtle stripe and jacquard floral pattern on sale at Discount Fabrics that will be just the thing. The deep bronze-ish color is a bit striking against my almost-Tiffany-blue Pemberley shoes, but I think with the right accessories, I can pull them together.

Here's a sneak peak of the fabric with my shoes:

Isn't that fabric pretty? I'll be starting the robe very soon, but first up is new headwear! When I wore the white dress before, I didn't have enough time for anything elaborate, so I just wrapped some gold braid around my head. It was simple and effective, but for Costume College, I want something a bit more exciting.

Luckily, the current HSF challenge is perfect for the task. The theme is Eastern Influence, and the late 1790s were full of clothes and accessories that reflected the influence of Turkish and Indian costume. You know what that means: turban time!

I started by looking for inspiration in fashion plates:

This ensemble is exactly the silhouette I am aiming for. The eastern inspiration is visible not only in the turban-style headdress, but in the robe, which references traditional Turkish clothing. 

Here the eastern references are toned down a bit, but you can still see their influence. 

Portraits from the period are also a great source of inspiration:

1797 — Princess Galitzin by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 
What fantastic plumage!

There are two options for making a turban headdress: you can wrap a scarf or length of fabric around your head, styling it anew every time you wear it, or you can make a fixed hat, where the drapery is secured to some kind of base. I chose the latter approach; we all know how stressful last-minute dressing can be, and wrapping a turban on top of carefully styled hair right before an event seemed just a little too risky to me. 

Luckily, it was very easy to find good information on how to make a turban. Here are some of the websites that I found useful:

A series of articles from Lynn McMasters:

An article on the blog of the Oregon Regency Society:

Jenny Lafleur's project page for an 1810 Turban

I ended up using a hybrid of the techniques shown on these various pages. I started by making a small base cap out of a turquoise and gold shot dupioni silk that matches my Pemberley shoes:

The cap is made from a circle about 14" in diameter gathered to a narrow bias band the circumference of my head. Since the gathers and band would be completely covered by the subsequent drapery, I was not overly particular about getting the gathers even, as you can see. 

From there, I just started draping! I used more of the shot silk, cut on the bias into strips about 16" wide.  I added some darker turquoise silk organza cut the same way, and a narrower bias strip of a pale lavender silk taffeta (leftover from another project that I will be sharing with you shortly). I didn't bother finishing the edges, but made sure the raw edges were concealed as I went along. I twisted the strips of fabric loosely around one another and draped them onto the base cap, pinning as I went. When I got it the way I wanted, I tacked the drapery into place with stitches. To finish it up, I wrapped a bit of gold braid around the lavender silk and accented the front with two ostrich plumes in a natural brown and deep dusty purple, two bleached and dyed peacock feathers in a beige color, and a gold button with crystals for a little sparkle. 

The finished turban:




The Challenge: #14 — Eastern Influence

Fabric: 2/3 yd turquoise/gold shot dupioni and 1/2 yd turquoise silk organza (these are the amounts I purchased — in the end I used much less); lavender silk taffeta (remnants from another project) 

Pattern: improvised/draped

Year: late 1790s

Notions: two small ostrich plumes, two bleached and dyed peacock eyes, gold and crystal button, 1-1/2 yd dark gold metallic braid

How historically accurate is it? I have not seen any extant historical turbans of this type, so it's hard to say. It gives a very good approximation of the look shown in period fashion plates and portraits, and the materials and techniques are all plausible. 

Hours to complete: 2-3

First worn: will be worn at Costume College 2013

Total cost: about $35