Fancy dress

“But, what are we to wear?

This is the first exclamation on receipt of an invitation to a Fancy Ball, and it is to assist in answering such questions that this volume has been compiled”

 

I was quite excited when Shari (from La Rose Soiree & La Rose Passementarie) announced that she would be holding a Victorian fancy dress ball. My first thought was excitement. The second thought is very well described by the quote above. This lovely booklet was pointed out to me by Desiree, and it’s such a treasure! It gives a thorough catalog of all types of options for fancy dress, including quite a lot of grey scale pictures, and a couple full color ones. It’s a lot of fun to read through as well!

In this post, a small selection of some of the gems inside the book.

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The book starts with recommendations on what costumes to wear depending on your coloring and age.

Brunettes could choose, for instance, Autumn, Diana, Fire or Spanish dress, while fair women are more suited to Day, Fairy, Moonlight, Rainbow or Swiss dress. Sisters could go together, and choose costumes such as Salt and Fresh water, Music and Paintings or Oranges and Lemons. Similarly, husband and wife could do Kings and Queens, or Night and Day.

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It also gives some general guidelines, such that: “It is uncomfortable to dance without gloves, so consistency yields to convenience”. And hair styling advice, such that: “With regard to Powdering, it is best, if possible, not to have recourse to wigs, they are heavy and unbecoming. It is far better to powder the hair itself…” 

 

 

Then it’s on to the specific costumes! In alphabetical order, as they are in the book, a favourite for each letter.

 

A: Aquarium: Fashionable evening dress of blue and green tulle, trimmed with marine plants and ornamented with fish and shells, the octopus on one side of the skirt; veil of green tulle; hair floating on shoulders. Bodice trimmed with seaweed and coral; ornaments, silver fish and coral.

B: Butterfly: Short white satin skirt, covered with clouds of brown, pink and blue tulle. Flight of butterflies all over it. Wings of blue gauze, and the antennae in the head-dress. White silk stockings and white shoes. Butterfly on each.

C: Chess: Front breadth, squares of black and white silk, black band at edge of skirt, row of red ribbon above. Black silk train piped with red, caught up with check ribbon, and bordered with checks. Sleeves of black and white squares to wrist, black cuffs piped with red. V-shaped black bodice, with ruff. Coronet of chessmen, larger pieces in front, the same for ornaments, all made of wood.

D: Dresden China: Under this name almost any poudre character may be worn, with or without a saque. It is generally thus rendered: Quilted short skirt, high-heeled shoes and clocked stockings; chintz or brocaded bunched up tunic; muslin apron; low bodice; short sleeves with ruffles; coloured stomacher laced across; bow of ribbon or black velvet around neck; straw hat or muslin cap; powdered hair. A newer rendering has bows of ribbons and flowers on the shoulders, with a tiny china figure in the centre; a satin chapeau bras with mroe flowers springing from centre; crook and high-heeled shoes.

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E: Eve: Dress of white India muslin, trimmed with apples, leaves and blossom; fig-leaves for pockets; out of one peeps a serpent’s head with emerald eyes, out of the other falls a triplet of white lilies; a wreath of small apples, flowers and leaves, necklace, a serpent of gold and silver enamel in red and blue.

F: Fairy: Short tulle diaphanous dress, with low full bodice, covered with silver spangles; silver belt at waist; wings of gauze on wire attached to back; hair floating; a silver circlet on the head. Or, for a Fairy queen; a crown, the wand, to be carried in hand, becoming a sceptre. Stars should be introduced on the dress and on the satin shoes.

G: the Gloaming: Dress of grey tulle, or muslin, or gauze over satin, made as an ordinary evening dress, or in classic fashion; a veil of the same material; fireflies imprisoned int he tulle; bat fastened on one shoulder, an owl on the other; silver and smoked pearl ornaments.

H: the Hornet: Short black or brown dress of velvet or satin; boots to match; tunic pointed back and front, with gold stripes; satin bodice of black or brown with gold gauze wings; cap of velvet with eyes and antennae of insect

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I: Ice maiden: White gauze dress; pointed tulle cap and veil fastened with wreath of icicles or ice-flowers spangled with powdered glass; long gloves; bracelets and chains of icicles; girdle of falling icicles made of glass.

J: Joan of Arc: White painted cashmere skirt; a suit of armour, with helmet and plume, mailed feet, gloves; red cloak at shoulder. The sout of armour may be of silver, burnished steel or what is called scale armour. But it can also be made by cutting out in strong brown paper the vaious pieces required, copied from any illustrated history, …, pated over with silvered paper. Round the edges inside strips of linen should be pasted to strengthen them, so that tapes may be sewn in with which to tie them on…

L: Lorelei: Dress of watered silk, shot with silver, draped with green, and caught up with water lilies, coral and diamonds; veil to match; sometimes soft muslin is draped in classic fashion; the hair flowing; a coronet of silver on the head; an old fashioned lyre carried in the hand.

M: Magpie. The front of skirt is striped black and white satin plaited; the bodice cut in one with long side revers of black, lined and turned back with white ruching to the hem of the skirt, opening down back to show full plaited skirt. The black bodice bordered with white; low striped vest; magpie on the shoulder and in hair; which may be powdered or not, or half powdered.

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N: Needles and pins: This dress is after the mother Hubbard order. A quilted skirt, with chintz train; low black velvet bodice, fichu; powdered hair; cap and pointed velvet hat. In front of the dress every kind of needle and pin is inserted. Pins forming the motto “Needles and pins, needles and pins; when a man marries his troubles begin,” on the train.

O: October: … with trimmings of leaves variegated with all the rich reds and browns of the autumn tints. A classic cream dress would show such trimmings to advantage. Or, an evening dress of cream and gold satin introducing acorns, with the leaves applied to dress and head-dress

P: Planets: White satin short skirt, bordered with a blue silk band and dotted with silver stars; white gauze over-skirt and plaited low bodice bespangled with stars; long wing-like sleeves to match; blue satin Swiss belt cut in points, a star on each; blue coronet with stars; long veil with stars; necklace and bracelets of the same.

Q: Quicksilver. Fashionable black evening dress made of tulle, and trimmed with silver.

R: Ruben’s wife: Yellow and brown silk and violet velvet, the skirt of the velvet touching the ground; the bodice a low square with square ruff, lace edged; the hair in curls; the bodice, which has a broad rounded point, has jewels in front of a yellow stomacher; the sleeves have an upper puff of violet, an elbow puff slashed with brown and yellow, puffs of yellow to wrist, with turn-back cuffs; the colours are blended into the trimmings on the skirt mixed with jewels; a feather fan is carried in the hand; a large-brimmed, low-crowned hat, turned up on one side with ostrich plumes and jewel

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S: Sunbeam: White tulle dress, flounced to waist, each flounce edged with rows of gold braid; a large sash round the waist with gold fringe, a gold chatelaine bag at side; head-dress, veil of gold tissue, enveloping the figure and glittering at every moment; ornament, gold.

T:  Twenty-four o’clock: New clock dial on chest and forehead, with hours from one to twenty-four; at back of head a pendulum swinging; short costume of black and white satin.

U: Universe: Short blue and white dress made of cashmere or soft silk in classic fashion, or in gauze or twill as an evening gown, with stars and spheres for ornaments; star-spangled veil.

V: Vandyke: Full plain skirt; muslin apron; edged with pointed lace; godice with revers; sleeves to wrist; hair in curls

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W: Witch: Short quilted skirt of red satin, with cats and lizards in black velvet; gold satin panier tunic; black velvet bodice laced over an old-gold crepe bodice; small cat on right shoulder, a broom in the hand, with owl; tall pointed velvet cap; shoes with buckles

Y: New Year: Radiant young girl in heyday of youth wearing plain long full satin skirt, with hours in silver round it; silver cord about waist; bodice full; pendent sleeves from elbow, caught up with roses; wreath of roses and veil in hair.

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To close:

“There are few occasions when a woman has a better opportunity of showing her charms to advantage than at a Fancy Ball.”

New-year ball in Ghent

As mentioned in my 1830’s dress post, I wore it to the new-year’s ball in Ghent. The theme was 1830-1860 this year, and it was the perfect excuse to finally make this dress.

The ball is held in the opera of Ghent, in a beautiful baroque style room. This year, there was a dance workshop in the afternoon, which we went to as well.

After the workshop, it was time to eat, and then prep for the evening! I started on my hair, as I’d never done 1830’s hair before. I tried to photograph the process, maybe it’s helpful!

As I don’t have any hair shorter than hip length, I used fake hair for the side curls. This is such a typical thing for the era, I didn’t want to do without. These are real-hair extensions which I modified, and I’d curled them with rollers (wet-set) before.

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My other piece of fake hair was a very long weft. I used this to supplement the braid. Although my hair is very long, it’s not very thick, so I can usually use a little extra volume.

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Firs step was making the typical v-shaped parting. I then put everything up in a very high ponytail.

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Next was clipping in the front extensions. I then took two pieces from my ponytail and made two small rope braids, which go over the line of the extensions to hide them. (A quick note: this took a lot of fiddling and even more pins, I really want to find a quicker way to do this…)

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The front done, I pinned the weft into my ponytail and braided the whole lot. I then wrapped it into a bun, taking care to wrap the second time on top of the existing braid to create height. I then hid the ends and elastic inside the bun.

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And done! To finish it, I clipped in two huge flowers to the side of the bun. For another tutorial (including the famous loops), my friend Nikki has a wonderful tutorial on her youtube channel here.

The ball itself was really nice. There was a lot of dancing, and swooping crinolines. I quite liked my corded petticoat, it was definitely easier to dance in than a hoop!

 

 

In-between dancing there was social time with friends, taking pictures, and just looking at all the other lovely people. Some pictures!

The golden girls, with Josselin (my partner in crime for the weekend) and Corina. Gold was quite a popular color in this era! I love how we’re slightly chronological, early 1840’s, midway 1830’s and early 1830’s.  (It shows beautifully in the hem length!)

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We did a 1830’s group picture at the end. It took a while to get us in order, but eventually we managed to behave.

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Some more pictures of my finished dress

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1830s dress

I started thinking about a 1830s dress quite a while back, mostly inspired by the wonderful Nikki, who does this era so well. About half a year ago, the theme for the new-years ball in Ghent was announced to be 1830-1860, and I figured that this would be the perfect excuse to finally start this dress.

I already had the fabric, a wonderful pale gold figured silk. So I started looking at pictures, and was immediately drawn to the pleated sleeves you see appear around 1836. The 1830’s is known for the huge sleeves, and I do like those, but I love the pleats, so that’s what I went for. (When in doubt: do what excites you most). I looked at quite a lot of originals (online) in the MET museum, and eventually settled on this dress:

Jan historical - gold 1830s gown

 

I love the sleeves on this dress, how they still have the fabric fullness, but also the pleats. I also quite liked the shape of the bertha, and the little rosettes. Extra bonus was that I figured I could make the ‘sleeve bands’ removable, and make the dress more versatile this way. It also has removable undersleeves, and a pelerine which transforms it into a day dress. I’m all for versatility, so that’s great.

Ensemble, silk, AmericanEnsemble, silk, American

 

In making this dress, I tried to copy it as much as possible. That meant lots of piping, and double piping, which was quite a bit of work, but definitely worth it.

The process of making double piping I found in the 1876 ‘Guide to dressmaking ‘, which can be found online (page 30). Basically, you take a bias strip, put a cord in one half, then a cord in the other half, then fold double to get a double cord.

 

The bertha was made following Janet Arnold’s ca. 1840 dress. It has a cotton canvas base, and the silk are bias strips which are stitched on top. It looks like pleats when finished, but the construction is quite different.

 

For this dress, I also really wanted to try out padding, inspired by a talk by Luca Costigliolio on padding in 19th century bodices. (The gist: it’s extremely common, for all types of figures, through the eras. Sometimes visible, sometimes hidden.). The silhouette in this era is quite wide, and I can use a little help in the bust era in general. I made my padding of cotton quilting sheets. Cutting in layers of 2, I cut 4 circles in increasing diameter.

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I ended up taking off the smallest one, and folding it up to fill in the space above the bust a bit. This is a place you often see padding in originals as well. The padding was placed quite wide in the end, as the main goal was to increase width. I really love how it ended up, the effect is subtle enough that you don’t immediately think it’s padded, but it helps the whole shape so much.

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I sewed a cotton ‘lining’ to the padding before sewing the whole thing into the bodice. This is the final shape.

 

The sleeves are pleated towards the middle at the top, and then stitched a bit further down as well. The armhole is piped, and the shoulder seam as well. For the final sleeves, I made sleeve bands which are pinned around the fullest part of the sleeve.

 

I also followed Janet Arnold for the skirt, taking inspiration for the skirt fullness, and gathering the very back, then pleating the rest forwards, as the original also shows. I choose not to fully line the skirt, as my original shows a line of stitching where the facing is attached, so I faced the hem as well.

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Hem facing. The long stitches are to catch the silk where it’s folded double, so the hem is basically 2 layers of silk and one of cotton.

I sewed all invisible seams by machine for this dress, but all the finishing is by hand, as usual. The dress closes with hooks in the back, and the final touch are the little rosettes. One to hide the endpoints of the bertha, one on each sleeve band and one in the back. They are made by covering a button, and then gathering a folded strip of bias to form a circle.

 

I managed to finish the whole dress just in time for the new years ball last weekend. I’d counted on skipping the sleeve band, or not finishing the insides, due to lack of time, but it was done! I made this in about 5 weeks, (2 of which were holiday), which I think is a record for me. I also managed to finish without rushing through anything, which I’m really pleased with. Now I just have to make under sleeves and a pelerine with a whole number of small petals….

So, some finished pictures of the dress on me! More on the ball itself in a next post!

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2019 plans

With looking back, there’s also time to plan new things!

As per usual, my plans mostly focus on the first half of the year, and are centered around events.

First up is the new-years ball, with theme 1830-1860. I figured that this would be a perfect excuse to finally make that 1830’s dress I wanted to make. The dress is mostly done now (which is good, as the ball is in a week). I do need to add some finishing touches, first priority is to get it wearable for the ball! (No tacked down allowances needed for that 😉 ).

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A little peak at the dress

 

After that, I’ll start sewing for a Victorian Fancy dress ball in April. I really love the idea of this ball, and my idea for a dress is mostly based on what I have in my stash. I have a purple/gold changeant silk organza, which is very lovely, but also very purple, and not very period looking. It’d be perfect for fancy dress though.

I love the shorter skirts you sometimes see in fancy dress costumes, and I’ll be going for an 1880s look. Probably some fairy/queen type of thing, hopefully with gold flowers all over.

Victorian fancy dress. Feb & March

The lady on the left is one of my inspirations. I might make a change or two to the drapery etc, but the silhouette and flowers is what I’m going for.

 

I have one more event planned so far, which is a Regency ball, but I’ll probably re-wear my red/white dress, or my blue/silver one for that. The final plan I have is related to the Victorian picnics I’ve been organizing. It’s a pretty low-key event, but a lot of fun and good excuse to dress up. I found out last summer though, that all of my victorian costumes are either silk, velvet, or wool. Not the best for hot summer weather. So I really want to make a cotton bustle dress, and I have my eye on the tennis style dresses you see in the 1880s.

After April

I love this one, it’s relatively simple, yet a lot of fun.

 

For the second half of the year, it’ll depend on events again what my plans will be!

2018 in review

The new year has started, so it’s time to look back at 2018!

I had few concrete historical costuming plans at the start of this year, mostly planning underwear and accessories. Those plans were the 1660s shift, 18th century stays, and the steeple henin. Those all got done, so that’s good! I didn’t do so well with my modern wardrobe, as I planned to make 2 dresses, but only got half-way on one.

Looking back at what I did make, it’s mostly underwear and accessories. I made two shifts, one pair of stays, one corset, one false rump, one corded petticoat, three 18th century petticoats, a fichu, a hat, and a henin.

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Top-Bottom, Left-Rithg: 1660s shift, Burgundian henin, 18th centuy stays, false bum, petticoat, fabric for other 2 petticoats, hat, 1830s corded petticoat & early victorian corset. I don’t have ‘separate’ pictures of the 18th century shift and fichu.

 

For outer garments, I only really finished one piece; my 1780s silver dress. But honestly, given that it was sewn all by hand, and how busy last year has been, I’m pretty happy with it. It wasn’t rushed, and I didn’t take short cuts, which usually lead to regrets. It took me half a year to sew, but I really enjoyed making and wearing it. That definitely makes it worth it, although I’m not yet planning to make everything entirely by hand in the future. I’m also really happy with how the whole look came together. I made quite a bit of underwear and accessories for this dress, and for my first attempt at the 18th century, I think it came together quite well!

 

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At the Winterball at D’Ursel (picture courtesy of Irina Krutasova)

 

However, when thinking about this year, what really comes to mind is not the costumes I made, but the events I went to. In 2017, I visited one historical ball, and that was only the second one ever. I’d mostly been wearing my costumes to fantasy fairs. I did that in 2018 as well, but I also visited four historical balls, one salon, organized two historical picnics, and went to a conference. This was one of my big goals, and I’m so happy it worked out so well, as all of these were wonderful experiences.

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The events from last year! Top-bottom, Left-right: Winterball at D’Ursel, Salon de societe de raffinee, victorian picnic 2, Structuring Fashion conference, victorian picnic 1, Societa di Danza ball Brussels, Persuasion ball, Elfia fair, New-years ball Ghent.

 

A big bonus of visiting more events was that I got to know more people in the historical costuming scene, or got to know them better, which was so lovely. So thanks to everyone for making it a great year!

A corset for the late 1830’s (sort of)

When I started my 1830s project (which up to now just consisted of a petticoat), I knew I also wanted a new corset.

I’ve got a somewhat slimmer corset which I’ve used for my 1870’s dress, and a curvier one for the 1880s. And I’ve got a pair of regency short stays, which actually act more like stays in that they ‘lift’ more than ‘separate’. For the 1830’s, the goal is a high, still slightly separated bust, though not as high as regency.

Most ‘typical’ 1830’s corsets are transitional, meaning that they are somewhere between the soft, cupped, corded regency stays, and the more waist-defining corsets of the 1840’s.

Something between these:

regency long stay

Kyoto costume insititute

And this:

Corset, dated "1839–41," American or European. Medium: silk. Met # C.I.38.23.10b–d. Ten views available. An early strapless design.

MET museum, 1839-1840

 

This was a very transitional period, so you get a lot of different styles which are a bit difficult to date. Many original pieces are dated something like ‘1815-1840’, so quite a long range.

Somewhere in the 1830’s, corsets start losing their straps, and gain a defined waist. This one is a nice example of the transition:

An incredible original 1830s ladys ivory sateen corset with its original blue steel busk in its front pocket. Elaborately hand quilted and embroidered, top stitch reinforced, with woven braces tied in place, and at the busk pocket. A drawstring cord at the top front and early ringed brass eyelets at the lace up back closure.

 

In the end, I decided to base my corset on the ca. 1840 example from the MET shown above. I did not want straps, as they can show underneath a dress. And I wanted to, ideally, be able to wear this corset for 1840’s, and possibly 1850’s stuff as well. The main difference is the waist definition which gets more pronounced, but a more pronounced waist is not a problem for an 1830s dress. The only other thing which slightly changes  is that the bust drops a little, but given my shape that would not really be noticeable. I also wanted a defined hip-spring, as I need a large difference between waist and hips naturally, so the more ‘straight’ shapes wouldn’t work very well on me in any case.

I chose to make one more concession to accuracy for practicality reasons. In the late 1830’s, all corsets had a wooden busk, and spiral lacing. The split busk was invented in the 1850’s, and with it came the ‘typical’ straight lacing you see on corsets to today. The split busk makes it a lot easier and quicker to get into a corset by yourself, so I decided to add one.

Technically, this makes my corset more like the 1850’s and early 1860’s styles, which are actually cut very similarly, but with a split busk.

Like this one, which has the same wide hip panel:

Corset, 1864  The Victoria & Albert Museum

1850’s, V&A

 

The 1840 one from the MET does not have bust gores, which is actually quite unusual for the time, I think. However, I definitely don’t need them (they’re mostly handy for larger busts), so that was not an issue. And I really like the ‘hip’ panel, as that gives a lot of room for a large hip spring. A final advantage was that this piece was photographed really well, so I could actually see where the seams were, and figure out what the panels should sort of look like.

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Drawing lines on seams.

 

I ended up drawing the pattern from what I saw shape wise, and then made a number of mock-ups to actually make it work for my body. It took some trial and error, and no very systematic process was followed, but I ended up with something workable.

For construction, I used two layers, one cotton canvas and one plain cotton. I first inserted the busk, and then attached both lining and canvas layer of the second piece to the first, at the same time. By laying the canvas layer on the canvas layer (right sides together), and the lining to the lining (right sides together), and then stitching the seam in one go, you get the seams ‘within’ the corset. This gives a clean finish, and provides extra layers as strength for the boning. I think this was also the way the original was finished, as it shows the same clean interior, and the top-stitching, although I cannot be sure from pictures alone. In any case, it worked!

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Finished insides

 

I opted to cut the hip panel on the bias, to give some flexibility there, and just to experiment. I tried to see the grain on the original, but the weave of the fabric makes it impossible to see despite the high resolution. It does pull a bit, creating a bit of a wrinkle, so I’m not fully sold on this method yet, but otherwise it works.

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It’s very curvy when just taking it off the body!

 

I did not really take many construction pictures, as the corset was made during quite a busy time, with low light in the evenings, but I’m actually quite happy with how long it took me to make. It’s boned on the seams with synthetic whalebone, plus two bones in the side/hip panel all the way down, and extra bones in the back, as in the original. I’ve got one steel bone to support the eyelets center back.

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Diagonal bones in the back, and extra bone casing on the inside

 

It’s quite curvy, which is something I’m really happy about. I feel like this might be the first corset I made where I didn’t have too little room in the hips/bust in the end. I tend to underestimate the hip spring I need because I need to always increase this, and I tend to overestimate how much I need to take in the bust. But a corset works best if it actually leaves room at the top and bottom, and only reduces in the waist. This corset actually does that, which is nice!

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A gore at the back to allow room for the hips

 

It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, being of quite utilitarian fabric, but it works, and the shape is good. I might floss it at some point in the future, but for now, it’s time to start looking towards actually making a dress to go on top! (Which, if you’ve been following my instagram, you’ve already seen some peaks of. It’s looking good so far!

Some pictures of the corset on me!

 

Corded petticoat

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that my next big project will be a late 1830’s dress. As this is a completely new period for me, that meant new underwear!

The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons 1836 Plate 23 by CharmaineZoe, via Flickr

You don’t get a shape like this without some help! (The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons 1836 Plate 23)

 

The 1830’s see the rise of the big round skirt. It’s before cage crinolines were invented, though, and so the silhouette was achieved through many layers of petticoats instead. This was made a little easier through structuring the petticoats, making them stand out. Most noticeably, through running cords through petticoats. The cords stop the fabric from folding up, and so the skirts stand out more. Add starch, and a couple of extra layers on top, and you get a pretty big skirt!

Ah ha ha I love seeing the superstructure under Romantic Era fashion of the 1830's.  :)  Someday I'll recreate this ridiculousness.

An existant petticoat from the MET museum

 

For my corded petticoat, I roughly followed the guidelines in Izabella Pritcher’s book the Victorian dressmaker. I found fabric which was 3.2m wide, and decided to just use the full width. This makes my skirt on the wide side, but I figured I might be able to wear it with 1840s as well this way (as the skirts keep growing!). I cut the whole skirt in a double layer, so it’s two layers of fabric. The cords are then stitched between these.

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I did get neater as I got along…

 

I started with 5 rows, and then did another 5 rows. Above that, I switched to 3 layers, all the way up to my full hip. There’s no ‘rules’ for how to cord your petticoat, although more on the bottom than at the top, and stop at hip-level seems to hold for most existent petticoats I’ve seen.

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The seam to the side. Extra stitches along side to keep the cords in the seam allowance flat

 

I ended up buying not nearly enough cord, and again the second time, and the third, so I think I’ve got at least 4 different types of cord in there. All roughly the same size though, so it truly doesn’t matter. What I’ve learned: you need a lot of cord for these! I did 28 rows in the end, for 3,20 wide fabric, so that’s almost 90m of cord…

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Loads of little rows…

 

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about cording, but I actually quite liked the process of making this. I just did a couple of rows in the evening, not trying to finish it all in one go. It helps that cording is about the most mindless activity in sewing you can think of, and after a full work day of focusing that was actually pretty nice.

 

 

I hope to make at least 2 more petticoats to go on top of this one. Maybe one other with just a couple of cords at the bottom, and pin tucks. And at least one ‘prettier’ one with tucks and lace to go on top.

First up for this project is a new corset though, stay tuned for that!

 

 

5 year Anniversary

My blog turns 5 today!

Five years ago, I seriously started with historical costuming. This was in the summer of 2013. Then, in November, I decided to also start a blog. To keep track of my own progress, share what I learned along the way, and provide a platform to interact with other costumers.

My first ‘big’ project, worn for a ball this summer:

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I’ve learned so much since then, made costumes I could only dream of at first, and have gotten to know a lot of people through this hobby. I have noticed as well that some of the activity which used to be in blogs has now moved to Facebook and Instagram. I love those as well, for sharing in groups, and quick progress images, but I’ve never considered giving up on the blog. I’ve learned so much from reading blogs by others, and the written medium just gives more opportunity to explain choices and steps taken, which I think is very valuable.

And my last project, at a salon this autumn:

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Picture by Martijn van Huffelen

 

For this post, 5 things I’ve learned in the past 5 years, in no particular order

  • There’s no absolutes in history. There’s ‘rarely seen’, and ‘no evidence of’, but it’s nearly impossible to know something was never done, unless it involved stuff that wasn’t invented yet (sewing machines, polyester). There seem to be exceptions to practically every ‘rule’. This does not mean, however, that some ways of doing things were not way more common, or are not better supported by evidence, and just a ‘you don’t know for sure it was never done’ is not a good historical reason for doing something in a certain way (although ‘I really like it this way’ might be all you need to do it). And, the knowledge we have is constantly shifting. We learn more, as a community and in fashion history as a science, all the time.
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A rare example of a girl’s dress in very rough silk. Don’t take this as evidence that raw silk was used often, but it does show that it was, at least on some occasions. (from the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum)

 

  • Be aware of your own bias. You always take your knowledge and ideas with you when researching. When I was looking for the ‘corset elastique’ I automatically interpreted everything similar as undergarment, because of the term ‘corset’. And in doing so, I disregarded the image showing this garment on top of a dress, until someone pointed it out to me. Knowing more about historical fashion can be a blessing, but it also means you take your ideas of ‘the way it was done’ with you when looking at things. And when doing research, it’s best to try to be as aware of that as possible.
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The ‘corset elastique’. Named a ‘corset’ in contemporary sources, but it might very well be an outer garment as well!

 

  • Studying originals is invaluable. Learning from other historical costumers has helped me so much, especially when just starting out, because this can teach you things about the process of dressmaking that you just cannot get from a picture of a finished garment. But at the end of the day, only the study of originals can truly bring our knowledge forward. There’s a number of things ‘common’ in the historical costuming community, which are so simply because of that 1 existing pattern, or because ‘everyone does it this way’. That’s not an evil, but studying originals is the only place to really bring ‘new’ knowledge into the community. (This is why I love the new Patterns of Fashion book so much, for instance!).
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Patterns of Fashion 5 is such a lovely book because of how much it teaches you about originals and how they were made. Much more than you could ever get from looking at pictures only

 

  • Costuming connects people. Making garments is pretty much a solitary business, and I definitely enjoy that aspect of it. However, there’s also something wonderful about chatting to other people who have the same crazy hobby as you do, and who are as excited as you are by the same things. (Drooling over original garments, or fabrics, or admiring hand-stitched trim is just so much better together with people who ‘get’ it). I’ve been attending more events this past year, a number either alone, or with people I did not know that well beforehand. I haven’t regretted a second of it, and am looking forward to meeting more people at future events.
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A picture from our second Victorian ‘picnic’. We’ll definitely be doing more of these in the future.

 

  • Never compare yourself to others. In skill, materials, speed or output. I sew as a hobby, and that means the nr. 1 rule is: only do it if you enjoy it. Of course, you sometimes have to get that tricky thing done before getting to the good part. But I have a rule with myself that if I really don’t feel like sewing, that’s perfectly fine too. This is my hobby, and I do it for me, and me alone. And at the end of the day, it’s the process that counts, much more than the end result. Looking at what others produces can be so inspiring, and I love it for precisely that reason, because it excites me to start sewing myself. But it should never feel like a race, because it’s not.
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It took me about 2 months to pleat this skirt. Not because it was so difficult, but because life was busy, and I didn’t feel like it. And that’s okay too, and I know I wouldn’t love the finished product as much if I’d forced myself through it.

1780 dressing

When I was getting dressed for the Salon de la Societe raffinee, I also took pictures of my finished 1780s dress. And I figured that it would also be a good time to take pictures of the layers of my undergarments, as I hadn’t actually shown everything yet!

Under my dress, I’m wearing a shift, under petticoat, stays, false rump, two more linen petticoats, a cotton petticoat, a fichu and pocket. Of those, only the fichu is hand-sewn (hand-hemmed at least), and the shift is hand-finished. The petticoats and false rum I just made by machine for speed.

The first step is the shift. A quick note, a 1780’s shift should probably still have cuffs to the sleeves, as those really only disappeared towards the 1790s. However, from the 1780s on, they don’t show underneath the gown sleeves, and it’s always harder to fit gown sleeves over wider sleeves than over narrower ones. So I opted for the more versatile and slightly less HA option to make them rather narrow and without a cuff.

After the shift, It’s stockings, and shoes. Then I put on the bottom petticoat, made of white linen. Then it’s stays (for which I made a simple boned stomacher to further support the center front), and then the false rump. This is what I’m wearing in the following images

 

Then it’s additional layers of petticoats. I wore mine underneath the front point of my stays, but on top of the rest. The front is underneath to keep the center front straight for my dress later on.

 

I made the grey petticoat above for my 1660s gown initially, but it works fine for 18th century as well. After that, it’s another linen (mix) petticoat, this time with stripes.

 

And then yet another petticoat. This one is of cotton (Ikea), and prettier, as this one could show when lifting the skirts.

 

Those are the petticoats. Then it’s accessories, namely fichu and pocket (which is a bit invisible here, as it’s the least historical thing about the whole outfit. I need to make a new one, but the current ugly one is functional at least). After that, it’s finally time to put on the dress. The front of the skirt is put on first and tied around the back. Then the bodice is put on. These pictures show the process before the bodice is pinned shut in the front.

 

And then it’s done! All signs of undergarments are hidden, but the layers are really important for getting the right shape!

 

Some people asked me if the 4 petticoats weren’t too heavy, and I have to say I found it no problem at all. Linen is not very heavy, nor is cotton, and my silk dress is the lightest of all. It might be different if one of the petticoats were wool, or stitched, which would make it a bit heavier. But in general, I think we are just not used to heavy skirts, and modern costumers (myself included) are typically inclined to wear too few petticoats rather than too many. They are all worn on top of the hips, and those can carry a bit of weight easily, especially when worn on top of stays.

Patterns of Fashion 5

A Dutch version of this blog is out today at ModeMuze.nl!

History

Janet Arnold is a household name for everyone who’s interested in the construction of historical clothing. In the 70’s and 80’s, she published several books with detailed patterns of existing garments. This Patterns of Fashion series is still one of the most used when it comes to recreating historical clothing. Part 1 is about women’s fashion from 1660 to 1860, part two about women’s clothing from 1860 to 1940, and part 3 women’s and men’s clothing from 1560 to 1620.

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My copies of Patterns of Fashion 1 and 2

 

Janet Arnold passed away in 1998, leaving her work, in a way, unfinished. She had multiple further Patterns of Fashion books planned, and in 2008 part 4 was published, about linen undergarments and accessories from 1540 to 1660. This book was planned by her, and finished by Jenny Tiramani and Santina M. Levey.

However, there was a lot more material. From her legacy, the London School of Historical dress was founded in 2012, also housing her collection. This includes her pictures of originals, and the patterns she’d taken. And, end of this October, the latest book in the series will be published. Patterns of Fashion 5 is about ‘structural’ women’s garments from 1595 to 1795. Bodies, stays, hoops and rums. From the material and legacy of Janet Arnold, but supplemented thanks to modern techniques and new research, by Jenni Tiramani and Luca Costigliolio, with the assistance of Sebastien Passot, Armelle Lucas and Johannes Pietsch. In color, with detailed photographs, x-rays and patterns including all the different layers of the objects.

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Patterns of Fashion 5

 

I had the pleasure of receiving my copy early at the Structuring Fashion conference in Munich, so in the rest of this blog, an overview of what to expect from the book! The pictures below present a small selection of the objects which can be found in the book.

Content

The book starts with an extensive introduction, with a lot of information and new research using primary sources. It includes a description of the different types of materials which were used. Very useful, as words don’t always mean the same thing now, and some materials aren’t produced anymore. It also includes a description of how fashion evolved, and how these garments were made historically. It’s definitely recommended to actually read the full introduction, despite the temptation to only look at the pretty pictures, as it contains a wealth of information.

1640-60 Stitched stays & stomacher in crimson satin. Filmer collection, Gallery of costume, Platt hall, Manchester City Galleries 2003.109/2

 

Because the book does contain a lot of pretty pictures. A number of objects has the well-known drawings as found in the earlier books. But every object is also photographed extensively. When possible mounted, to see the object in shape. And with a whole number of detail shots giving more information about construction. The inside, bits where the lining is coming off, close-ups of eyelets, etc. Every object also has an artwork accompanying it, in which you can see this type of object being worn in context. One of the highlights for me are the x-ray pictures. A number of objects have these, and they really show the true inside. How many layers of fabric it has, which way the seam allowances are folded, where the boning is placed, and where the metal

1650-80 Stitched stays & stomacher in Pink watered silk grosgrain. Victoria & Albert Museum London V&A: T.14&A-1951

 

And now the patterns, because that’s what it’s all about in the end. All patterns are drawn on the familiar inch-grid, including a legend with cm, and the rulers in the end of the book. New in this book is that the patterns were drawn larger, and then scaled down to make them more precise. Also new is that many of the layers are shown individually. For some of the stays, the strength layer is not cut the same as the outer layer, and the lining might be different still. This makes it very difficult to get to the pattern of the inside layer. This is one of the places where the x-rays come in handy. The patterns also show very clearly how the object is stiffened. From baleen boning (sometimes including information on thickness), to steel, wood, extra layers of linen, leather and paper. They also include pictures of how exactly all those layers are put together. For the hoops the layers are a bit less relevant, but these also include information on how hoops are attached to achieve the end result.

1740-50 Short hoop in striped linen. Victorian & Albert Museum, London T425-1990

 

The book finished with a chapter on how to recreate the garments in the book. It includes a number of pictures of replicas made by the School of Historical dress, so you can see some of the more fragile objects mounted as well. One personal favourite bit is the description (based on a primary source) on how to draw the patterns for stays. Very interesting if you want to make them yourself! It even includes a list of where to get materials, and what to use instead of baleen. The chapter ends with a list of terms, with historical terms and their translations in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and sometimes Swedish or Dutch.

1720-30 Smooth-covered stomacher in embroidered linen. Museum of Fine arts, Boston, 43.1906

 

It’s really a beautiful book, and highly recommended for everyone who wishes to know more about these garments. With a lot of new knowledge, filled with beautiful patterns, and details of original garments. The book can only be ordered via the School of Historical dress (ISBN: 978 0 993174421). Edit per 20-11-2018: The copies are back in stock, but as they’re such a small team, they are only putting up the next 100 copies for sale once they’ve processed the previous. So if you see an ‘out of stock’, just keep checking their website! It’s well worth the wait.

Also, the ladies from American Duchess made a wonderful podcast with an interview with Jenni Tiramani, which I thoroughly recommend if you want to learn more about how this book came about. (Part I and II).

C.1740-1760 Stitched Stays in blue silk damask. Museum of Fine arts, Boston 43.561