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.
GemeentemuseumKorsetje

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), however, they seem to have sold out the first run. I don’t know if they’ll do a second, keep an eye on their social media and website for that! The official release date is October 31st for those who’ve already ordered their copy. 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

 

 

 

1780s Silver round gown

I posted about the bodice of this gown before, but it’s now officially done!

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This was my big project for this year. A completely hand-sewn 18th century dress, out of silver silk.

It was my first foray into 18th century dressmaking, and I used the American Duchess book as a guide. The pattern is strongly based on the Italian gown in the book. I made some slight alterations to the back neckline, and to make it fit me. To turn it into a round gown, I simply added an extra skirt panel center front.

The bodice construction was done as described in the book (blog post here), and also the main reason I wished to do this by hand, as it’s not quite possible to follow the same techniques when sewing by machine. For instance with the shoulder piece, which is attached to the outside.

 

The skirt was fairly straight-forward, just 3 panels of 150cm wide, with slits on either side of the front panel and pleated at the top.

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Pleating the back skirt, here basted together with red thread. I basted both a couple of cm above and below where the bodice would be attached, so the pleats would stay properly in place when attaching it to the bodice.

 

The skirt was attached to the bodice by top-stitching through all layers from the outside. I then removed the visible basting at the bottom

 

The front panel is attached to a waistband which is tied around the waist before putting on the bodice, while the back panels are stitched to the dress.

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The top of the front panel of the skirt, attached to a waistband

 

Spot the hem! The hem seen from outside (left) and inside (right)

 

The dress is currently untrimmed, and so relatively simple on it’s own. To complete the outfit, I planned to have a sash, fichu and a hat.

The sash was simply a vintage blue ribbon, and the fichu a triangle of very thin white cotton, which I hemmed by hand.

The hat was more work, and the biggest hat I’ve ever made. I based the proportions on a portrait, drawing lines through the face and hat to see how wide the hat was relatively to the head.

One of my main inspirations, and the one I used for scale, is this portrait. Her hair is deceptively wide, just look how it extends almost as far on either side as her head is wide. The hair definitely makes the hat look ‘not quite as huge’.

Portrait of Susanna Gyll by John Hoppner.

 

I’ve long admired the hats made by the Modern Mantua maker, and she really inspired me to look at fashion plates for hat options. In the end, I settled on stripes at the bottom of the brim, and ribbons and bows around the crown.

This fashion plate was one of my main inspirations:

Hats from 1787.

 

I didn’t have striped fabric, and not too much of my base fabric (the dark grey). So I got some paler ribbon, and cut strips of the fabric, and stitched those together to form the covering for the bottom of the crown. I finished the hat by adding two ribbons around the crown with little bows. My method was a bit of a mix-up between the one from the Modern Mantua maker, and from the 1790s hat in the American Duchess guide to 18th century sewing.

 

To finish the full ensemble, I styled a wig. I have very long, quite thin hair, and the idea of untangling it after doing a hedgehog style was slightly terrifying. So wig it was. When I wore it, I curled the front of my hair and blended that into the wig, which worked quite well. The hat really needs the huge hairstyle to give some proportion to it, and I’m quite happy how it worked out!

 

This dress will have a second outing in November, for a ball this time. I have some beautiful antique cotton lace, which I plan to use to trim the neckline and sleeves. Stay tuned for version nr. 2 in a bit over a month!

For now, pictures of the whole thing worn!

The dress from the back and sides.

 

With the sash:

 

And some portraits of with the hat!

 

Late 1830’s sleeve inspiration

I mentioned some of my plans in my last post. By now, the 1780’s project has been done (iteration 1, at least), and I will wear it next weekend. Expect more posts after that, because then I’ll actually have proper pictures of the whole thing, dress and hat.

It also means I’ve been slowly shifting focus onto the 1830’s project. Just a quick disclaimer; I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to finish this before the January deadline, because I also have a lot of other (non-sewing) stuff going on. But I’ll very probably start it nonetheless.

For my first 1830’s project, I’ve actually chosen a dress from later in the decade. And that means it also doesn’t have the huge sleeves the 1830’s are so famous for. I didn’t do that because I don’t like large sleeves, because they’re really fun. I made that choice, because in the latter half of the 1830’s, you get sleeves which basically start with the same amount of fabric, but where the sleeves are then pleated and smocked in various ways to make a relatively narrow sleeve out of all that fabric.

And I just really love this style of intricate sleeve. So, in this post, some inspiration pictures of 1830’s sleeves you might not have considered typically 1830’s huge, but which are very pretty!

This dress started my love for the sleeves in this era. Three rows of tiny pleats, with strips of fabric in-between, and piping, of course. I found this picture ages back, and for a long time, it was one of the few 1830’s dresses I truly found pretty and inspiring. The craziness eventually grew on me, but I still love this dress.

Dress, 1837-1840, V&A T.184-1931

 

Then, of course, there’s the dress I’m planning on recreating. With the same narrow gathers at the top, but than a wider band around the sleeve with a rosette.

Ensemble ca. 1836, MET museum 1988.105.5a–d

 

There seems to’ve been a bit of a thing with gold colored silk dresses in this era, if you look at the MET collection, as they have a lot. This one also features the typical small pleats, but finishes off the bottom one with a bit of lovely trim. (And look at those tiny gathers at the wrists!

Dress, silk, probably American

Dress ca. 1836, MET 1973.226

 

There’s endless variations on the theme, and all are just a little different. This one has very narrow pleats, finished off with a bit of ruffle.

Evening dress, silk, wool, cotton, British

Evening dress ca. 1835, MET 1984.89

 

This dress actually keeps up the gathering all through-out the sleeve. It has tiny cartridge gathers at the top, and then after that bands to gather the volume down in different places.

Dress, silk, American

Dress ca. 1835, MET 13.49.22a, b

 

The previous dresses are all in silk, but the trend was definitely applied to cotton dresses as well. More difficult to see, due to the prints, but it’s all in the details!

This one is actually quite similar to the palest gold dress above, but with two rows of pleats before the gathered ruffle.

Dress, cotton, American

Dress 1837–39, MET C.I.38.23.2

 

Most dresses feature long pleats, but this one has gathers instead. You can almost see where the gathers have been stitched down in places to keep them in shape.

Dress, cotton, British

Drss ca. 1837, MET  1983.241.1

 

A bit more difficult to see because of the angle, but the cut of this bodice is so pretty it deserves a spot. The sleeves seem to have two rows of pleats and bands inbetween.

Ensemble, cotton, American

Ensemble ca. 1837, MET C.I.56.27.1a, b

 

Most of these dresses were from the MET, simply because they have the best pictures, but to finish off, a Dutch example. I’ve had the pleasure to see this dress in person, and admire the sleeves.

Wedding dress of wool with woven silk stripes, 1836. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag 1018228

 

Sewing plans

Summer is nearing it’s end, and it feels like a good time to take stock, and look ahead.

At the beginning of the year, I only had a couple of concrete plans. The historical one’s have been realized. Of the two vintage dresses I had planned, one has been started.

So far so good!

At the moment, my plans for the coming months are quite settled.

First up is finishing the 1780’s round gown. It only needs a hem at this point to be wearable. I’ll be wearing this to an event in October, and I’m thinking of leaving it untrimmed until then, and finishing the look with a sash and fichu and a fabulous hat instead. I’m currently working on those!

One of my inspirations for the hat is the top one:

Hats from 1787.

 

I’ll be re-wearing the gown in November, for a ball with the theme being 1773. My dress is a little later, so I thought I’d add lace flounces around the sleeves and neckline to put it a bit more into the early 1780’s at least. That would also mean it gets a ‘new’ look compared to the October event, which I like.

Something like this?

"Portrait of N.A. Buksgevden, wife of Count F.F. Buksgevdena", 1789, by Jean-Louis Voille (French, 1744-1803/05)

 

After that, the first event will be in January. The theme for this ball is 1830-1860. I’d first planned to wear my black velvet 1860s dress, because I’d never worn this to a ball before. However, with the impromptu visit to Brussels last month that has changed, so I’m reconsidering my options. The 1830’s have been on the list for quite some time, and I already have fabric for a possible dress, and a design in mind. So I think I’ll aim to make that instead, and if I run out of time (as I also need to do underwear), I can always wear the 1860’s dress.

This is the design. I love this, so might try to actually copy it as closely as possible.

Evening dress (with pelerine), ca. 1836; MMA 1988.105.5a-d

 

For next year, plans are also lining up! There’ll be a Victorian Fancy dress ball in April which I want to go to. I have some purple/gold changeant silk organza in stash, and it would work really well for a fancy-dress outfit. I’m thinking of doing something 1880’s style, with a shorter skirt as you sometimes see on fancy-dress fashion plates. The design hasn’t been quite settled yet, but I’m thinking of doing something lavender/queen/fairy like. Ideally, I’d be able to ‘remove’ the purely fancy dress parts, add an underskirt to make it longer, and wear it as regular 1880’s ballgown as well. Because I’m all for re-usability!

Maybe something like this fairy, design wise.

Mrs Bertin's Jewelry Box: Fancy Dress Ideas Victorian Style

Victorian Picnic

At the beginning of the year, one of my goals was to visit more costuming events. So far that’s been quite successful, I’ve already been to three historical balls, which is two more than last year!

However, I figured that I could, of course, also contribute myself by organizing something. I needed to be relatively easy to organize due to time, so I settled on a picnic. And, as there seems to be a bit of a lack of Victorian events, it became a Victorian picnic!

The location was the castle de Haar, where I’ve been a volunteer for years. Having contacts at the location helps for letting them know of your plans, as just showing up with a group in costume isn’t always welcome. With advance notice though, we were welcome to picnic in the gardens!

It’s a very beautiful place, the castle was rebuilt from a medieval ruin around 1900, and the gardens stem from the same time.

Castel the Haar at Haarzuilens at Utrecht

 

We held the picnic halfway through August, and were quite lucky with the weather. It’s been very hot all summer, and right before and after the weekend there was some rain. However, on the day itself, it was a bit overcast but dry, and overall, the temperature was comfortable.

We’d decided to include the 1830’s as those often get lost between the Regency and Victorian era, and we nicely spanned the whole time period. Everyone looked really wonderful!

So we had some lovely 1830’s people.

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Picture by Nikki

 

Some 1870’s bustles.

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Picture by Nikki

 

And some representation of the very end of the century.

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Picture by Nikki

 

Everyone brought some food, we chatted, some walks were taken, and even some tennis played.

Pictures by Martijn, Jessie, Martijn, Nikki, Martijn & Jessie resp.

 

At the end, a group also decided to visit the castle as well, which was a perfect closure of the day.

Pictures by Nikki, Jessie & Nikki resp.

 

Also, Nikki made a vlog about the day, which you can find here!

 

Thanks to everyone who came for the lovely day, everyone looked fabulous!

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Picture by Nikki

The ‘Corset Elastique’, mystery garment, and about Regency short stays

A mystery item

A little while back I was leafing through a book by the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, ‘Romantische Mode’, which accompanied their exhibition on 19th century fashion a while back.

And in a chapter on silhouette I stumbled on an item I hadn’t really noticed before, namely this garment, labeled as ‘small corset (korsetje) 1800-1825’.

GemeentemuseumKorsetje

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Thanks to the museum for providing me with a High-res image, as it doesn’t have an online page. Click for full scale.

 

I was intrigued, as it seemed to be a type of Regency short stays I’d never seen before. Particularly the high center front, and the gathers. So I went online, and did some searching, went down the rabbit hole, and found some more interesting things.

Such that the ‘typical’ regency short stays I always thought of don’t seem to exist.

That this was obviously a transitional period, as several existent stays represent unique styles.

And that they had stretchy garments in the Regency period, way before the spandex corsets of the early 19th century came onto the scene.

Yes, really.

The type of garment shown above includes metal coils, making it stretchy. They even seem to have had a name, the ‘corset elastique’. This explains the gathers, which initially confused me.

 

Then I posted this post, got some more feedback on this garment, and stuff got more complicated. So this is the revised post with my findings and thoughts!

 

Short stays

First, let’s start with a bit of an overview on short stays.

I was familiar mostly with reproductions of short stays. My own pair is made with the Sense & Sensibility pattern, and that seems the predominant type of short stays made. The main characteristics of that pattern are: short, front lacing only, with bust gussets.

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My own short stays.

 

However, when searching, I couldn’t find any examples of short stays which is actually like my own recreation. The most similar I could find is this one:

Couldn’t find a source for this though.

 

The main difference from mine is the length. Though shorter, this still goes down a bit, and has tabs. It’s similar to the one seen in this fashion plate:

regency

 

Similar to the one above is this pair, the main difference being the lack of front lacing, and wrap around ties.

 

It doesn’t have front lacing, and the straps go around and tie in the front, but it does have the bust gussets, and it’s short.

The tying technique is also seen in this fashion plate:

1810 chemise & stays

 

Another pair which has seen various reproduction is this garment in the Kyoto costume institute. However, I recently found that someone had looked at this in more detail, and that it’s most probably something very different, namely later 19th century posture improvers. The boning goes in the back, to support the back and keep the shoulders back. The original ‘letter’ can be found here, and is by collector and underwear expert Anton Priymak. I’m keeping this in this post because I hadn’t seen this ‘correction’ before, and because this image is still floating around as Regency stays. (Close-ups reveal machine stitching, so even if it turns out not to posture improvers, it’s definitely not Regency)

Opaska-biustonosz; początek XIX wieku [The Kyoto Costume Institute, Japonia]

Posture Improver, KCI (not regency…)

 

To wrap-up, there are not actually all that many ‘short stays’ out there. The vast majority of what has survived are ‘longer’ stays.

 

When looking for information, I also stumbled on some wonderful posts by ‘Kleidung um 1800‘, who did some in-depth research on stays of the very early 19th century, including on ‘short stays’. She looked at period descriptions naming ‘short stays’, and actually made some of them following period instructions! She noted that many of those actually look more like ‘longer’ stays, but are just quite light-weight and with a little boning. I won’t be repeating her findings here, so I’ll just refer to some of her posts, about the period ‘short’ stays, and another pair without lacing.

 

The ‘corset elastique’

So where does that leave us with the garment that started the whole search?

Well, surprisingly to me, I actually found a number of examples of the ‘corset elastique’, similar to my original find. These examples are all really short, shorter even than my find, have front closing, and they all include metal springs.

This pair from the MET was the first one I found. And it’s strikingly similar to the one from the Gemeentemuseum. The gathered front, the high center front boning, front lacing. The main difference is the existence of sheer cups. This is the only pair I found with cups. Given how sheer the fabric is, this was probably mostly for control or decoration.

 

The high-resolution image also allows you to see the metal coil which has escaped from the bottom. This was the first ‘aha’ moment. The coils explain the gathers.

This was the first image, and the one most similar to my own find, but I found more.

These two examples show the same gathering around metal coils, though they don’t have the high center-front of the other two. They are also both in color.

This example has crossed straps in the back (follow the link for more pictures), and the straps attach with small buckles.

 

The final example is also straight across, and has a slightly different type of front closure.

 

This museum also gives the corset it’s name, the corset à élastique. And searching by that name, I actually found another example, this time in a fashion plate, from the Journal des Dames et des Modes. Looking closely, you see the three straps in the front, with little stripes, exactly like the previous example. And it’s got the crossed straps from the third one.

 

And here I thought I was done, but of course, history is always more complicated than you’d think! Sabine, from Kleiding um 1800, pointed out to me that she’d seen these three garments shown above, but interpreted them as outer wear, to wear on top of a dress. (She made one by the way, which is wonderful)

This is supported, firstly, by the fashion plate below, which shows a very similar garment worn over an outfit.

 

It also makes sense given the darker colors of the last two items, as most dresses in this period were sheer and white, and most underwear would also be white. Of course, history is always good at exceptions.

 

The fact that all of them are made of silk could also point in the direction of outerwear, although again, at least until the late 18th century, I could find exceptions:

 

So if they are outerwear, what’s up with the fashion plate from the Rijksmuseum, clearly showing them as underwear? One reason for this might be that fashion magazines copied from one-another, and might have mis-interpreted it. Again, thanks to Sabine for this theory.

It might also be the case that, because of how much fashion was transitioning, that people actually wore these in various versions as outer or underwear. To me, the boning and metal coils seem to point in the direction of shaping the body. Something that most other ‘bodice-type’ garments of this era that I’ve seen don’t do. It makes more sense to me that they were, at some point at least, also meant as supportive garments, but that’s purely my own theory.

Most I know of look more like this. No boning/structure involved, as it’s worn on top of undergarments, that isn’t necessary.

c. 1800 American bodice

MET museum

 

Just a quick note on terminology, I’ve seen the term ‘corset’ (in French!) refer to garments clearly worn on top of a dress in this era. So just the fact that they called it a ‘corset’, does not mean it’s underwear.

1798

Description: Turban a la Gulnaire. Corset et jupon a la Lisbeth.

 

In this light, it is, however, interesting to point out some other versions of the ‘corset elastique’. Firstly, this late 18th century pair of stays: (the left one)

Kyoto Costume Institute

 

This pair actually seems to have the metal springs as well, but in the side. I couldn’t find a picture of the front, unfortunately, so it’s difficult to say what’s going on there. But this, at least, seems to prove that the metal springs were, in some cases, used in supportive underwear.

Another signal in this direction are these sketches from the ‘ Histoire naturelle, de la femme, suive D un traite D’ygiene’, by Lacroix, 1803. Foundations revealed have an article on the corset elastique describing these in more detail, the thing in the middle is a busk, which extends longer than the stays.

 

Brassiere1808b - Brassiere - Wikimedia CommonsImage:Brassiere1808c.gif

 

And then a very helpful comment by Anna-Carin pointed me in the direction of a little book by J.S. Bernhardt, published in 1810/1811, on stays. And she pointed out that there was a pattern in this book, which was remarkably like the corset elastiques shown!

JS Bernhardt corset elastique

Plate VII, Figure E.

 

The description of this garment (page 95 & 96 in the book) clearly refers to the corset being ‘elastic’, calling the metal coils ‘gesponnene Draht’, instructing they should be two ‘Zoll’ shorter than the pattern panel. This ruching removes the need for a gusset in panel D (as the bottom automatically becomes gathered), and the shortness means no tabs are necessary over the hips either.

 

Conclusions?

So, conclusions? There seems to be at least some types of underwear which used metal springs to make the garment stretchy. They are called ‘corset elastique’ (at least in French). Similarly, there is a garment meant to wear on top of a dress, also called a ‘corset elastique’, which also has these metal springs. It’s quite difficult to tell what existent garments were meant as which, although the colored ones at least seam to point in the direction of outer wear.

As to my original garment, it’s still a bit unclear. I’d interpreted it as underwear, also because of the chapter of the book it was in, and because it was termed ‘corset’, and it was white. It is, however, made of silk, which was uncommon for undergarments. Looks wise, it seems similar to both garments which were probably meant as outer wear, and a pattern for underwear. At this point, I’ve listed what I could find, and will leave further interpretations up tot he reader. If anyone has any further information, I’d love to know! (Many thanks to everyone who has already chimed in!)

A Ball in Brussels

A while back, I received information about a ball being held in Brussels by the Società di Danza, an Italian organisation for historical dances. There would be a rehearsal evening the day before the ball to learn the dances. I debated whether I would go, but received word that some friends would also be going a couple of weeks before, so I opted to come with them!

The period of the ball was mid 19th century, which meant I finally had an opportunity to wear my 1860’s ballgown to an actual ball. I had to make some slight changes to the skirt, as I’d replaced my hoop since making the gown, and it was therefore a bit long in the front. Not practial for dancing. I also chose to bustle up the back a bit, as the dress has a slight train. Very pretty, but again, not very practical in a ballroom.

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All bustled up!

 

 

This summer has been unusally hot, and of course, as the weekend approached, the days of the dance rehearsal and ball were predicted to be the warmest yet. With about 36 degrees, we were very happy with the airconditioning in the car as we drove to Brussels! The first day, we first had very hot weather, then a dust storm as the wind picked up, and then a thunderstorm as we drove to the rehearsal. It actually became dry again as soon as we arrived, and was still hot as before. In about 3 hours, we very quickly learned all the danced we’d be doing at the ball. A brief explanation, do it a couple of times, and move on. Most people there were familiar with the dances, but we weren’t, so although the explanations were very clear, it proved to be a challenge to actually remember the dances for the next day!

During the next day, we visited the lace and costume museum. The costume bit was a very modern exhibition, but the lace room was beautiful. We spent quite a bit of time admiring the antique laces.

 

One of my favourite things was this little lace shop.

20180727_105718

 

In the end, it became too warm and we spent the rest of the day finding shops with airconditioning until it was time to get ready.

The ball was held in a beautiful venue with a large ballroom, and sitting rooms along side. Luckily, it was not as warm as the rehearsal room. Wearing a corset and a black velvet dress, it was still very warm, but doable.

Mirrors are very convienient for costume pictures!

20180727_203731

 

The dancing was fun, although definitely a bit of a challenge! We were briefly shown a repetition, but that was all. Luckily, most people in attendance actually knew what they were supposed to do, so we could copy them and got along okay.

Dancing a quadrille, picture with thanks to the Società di Danza!

foto van Società di Danza.

 

And a walz about to start (I think). We’re in the bottom right corner.

foto van Società di Danza.

 

A group picture of all the lovely attendees!

foto van Società di Danza.

 

 

 

Inspiration – Victorian summer dresses

It’s been unusually warm and dry here in the Netherlands (and in most of Europe, I believe). That’s gotten me thinking of light, summer style dresses. I don’t have any at the moment, all of mine are either silk, velvet or wool. So one of these might have to go onto the (long) list of things I want to make one day…

Last year I did a post on summer dresses of the period just before the Victorian age, so for this post, let’s look at some Victorian examples!

These dresses are all made of very light cotton. They protect the skin from the sun, and the white is relatively cool. The cotton is rather thin, and breathes well. Of course, a fashionable lady would still seek out the shade, and wear a bonnet and parasol as well to protect from the sun.

Some crinoline styles. In this era, flowers on white seem tho have been quite popular!

COTTON DRESS with STRAWBERRY PRINT, 1863

 

I particularly like the pin-tucks on this bodice.

.....

 

Some nice stripy contrast!

Day dress, late 1860′s From the John Bright Historic Costume Collection

 

PRINTED DIMITY DAY DRESS, 1860s 1-piece, white, windowpane-woven w/ small red flower print, self fabric belt, trained skirt.

 

Organza dress ca. 1865. Bodice has muslin foundation trimmed in needlelace accented with bows. Time Travelers Estate Sales

 

Some solid white, as we’re moving into the bustle era.

Dress, ca. 1870

 

But dots are nice too!

Day dress, American (attrib.), ca. 1873-77. White cotton printed with red circles. Bodice: fitted over hips, ruffled edge, long sleeves. Skirt: bustle with white cotton and red trim. Overskirt: as draped apron. Kent State Univ. Museum

Two afternoon dresses in printed cotton, ca. 1875. Part of the Jacoba de Jonge collection, which is now owned by the Mode Museum in Antwerp. Filep Motwary blog

 

And, to finish, two more solid white dresses from the 1880’s this time

Dress, European, ca. 1885. Cotton plain weave with cotton cutwork embroidery (broderie anglaise) & cotton needle lace. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Rebecca Thelin/Flickr, and thecourtesanblue/Flickr

Dress ca. 1885 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art