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.

Blog anniversary

My blog is 4 years old today! In summer 2013 I started my first big historical sewing project. I’d only made a (not very accurate) Regency dress before, and this project was a 1860s dinner dress including all undergarments, so quite a leap. When this blog started I was still working on that dress, and suffice to say that project got me hooked!

Since starting historical costuming, I’ve made 4 corsets, 4 chemises, 2 pairs of drawers, a corset cover, two hoop skirts, a bustle cage, a bum pad, five petticoats and a balayeuse. That’s the underwear list (it’s mostly stored in one very, very full box).

My first and last Victorian corset. Still room for improvement, but it’s definitely moving in the right direction.

 

For outer wear, I’ve now made dresses/outfits for 7 different era’s. Late medieval, 1810’s, 1820’s, 1860’s, 1870’s, 1900’s and 1920’s. Aditionally, there are 2 spencer jackets, one mantelet, a jacket and 4 head pieces. Accessories really do finish a look.

My first and last regency outfit. Left was a dress only (no period underwear yet), right is a chemise, stays, petticoat, dress, spencer and bonnet. The left dress was a great place to start costuming though! (Right image by Martijn van Huffelen)

 

It’s always fun to look back, and a good reminder that your current skill level always matters a lot less than the fun you have in making and wearing your outfits. The whole process of research and discovery and learning is such an important part for me, and the great thing is that there’s always so much more to learn!

At the moment there are two more outfits in the making, and I’ve got loads of plans for more! Suffice to say, I haven’t grown tired of this hobby yet in the past four years.

Since starting this blog I also made a Facebook page and Instagram account for it. I just saw that I reached a 1000 followers on the Facebook page this week, which is honestly still a bit unreal to me! A big advantage of Facebook is connecting with other enthusiasts through groups, and Instagram is great for showing progress. Nevertheless, I still really value the more in-depth view a blog offers, so this one will definitely continue to exist as well. In any case: to anyone who has been following me, thank you!

One of the things that inspired me to get started with historical sewing were the other sewing blogs out there. I still really enjoy seeing other peoples projects, so to close this anniversary post a shout-out to some of the blogs that really inspire me!

The Dreamstress

This was the first historical sewing blog I stumbled upon, and I actually went all the way to the beginning to read the whole thing (that took a while). This blog really inspired me to get started on the big, elaborate projects, and to do it right.

Before the Automobile

One thing most historical costumers strife for is to look as you’ve stepped out of a photograph. To really get the silhouette, details and accessories right. This lady does that so well, and the way her dresses are fitted is perfection.

Prior Attire

Izabella runs her own business sewing historical pieces, and has made so many lovely pieces from all different era’s. On her blog she shares loads of advice, and I’m always impressed with how generous she is with her knowledge. Plus, I briefly met her at her Victorian ball last year, and she was a lovely host as well!