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


  1. WOW what a striking mix of colors and textures in the turban!!

  2. This is gorgeous! I love the look of all those fabrics, colors, and different feathers together!

  3. This is fantastic! I think the fabric and the shoes are perfect together - complementing each other without 'matching'. And the turban will bring it all together brilliantly!

    I'm so envious that you are going to Costume College. I'd love to go one year, but it falls at such an inconvenient time: 4 weeks into the university semester. One year I'm going to find a guest lecturer for the week and make it! In the meantime, I'll live vicariously though you and all the other bloggers who are going. Take lots of photos and write all about it please!

  4. Oh yes! Colours are brilliant. Viget LeBrun is super for inspiration btw... your turban with thT pretty dress, shoes, shawl. A hit, indeed:)