Saturday, August 29, 2015

Regency Regency Regency!

So much is going on! I am pleased to announce that Regency Women's Dress has been put up in the Pavilion Books store, with a release date of September 17.

Looks nice, doesn't it? I'll be giving you more information as I get it about international releases and such things, as well as (of course) a nice giveaway.

And below, I would like to show you the first gown made from a RWD pattern!

Riley never looks at the camera
This pattern was taken from a gown at the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. Pictures were taken when I went home for my ten-year high school reunion, in my mother's backyard.

The entire gown, apart from the side and back lining (which is a white linen/cotton blend I had on hand), is silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics. The original was in a light blue, which would make it more appropriate for evening dance situations, but. This is my color.

It's definitely not perfect and there are a few things I'd like to fix (like all those wrinkles ...) but overall I'm very happy that I managed to get a nice wide, square neckline that clings to my corset straps, and to make a smooth bodice front with only very small darts.


When I started making this gown, my basic thought was just "I'm so glad I found that half-finished corset, now let's make a dress!" This pattern appealed to me because it's so simple, with the only decoration a tuck down the front and around the bottom of the skirt - and then when I started scaling it up, I realized that I barely needed to enlarge it, which was extra nice.

It never really occurred to me that I was making this in order to dance with a local group of English Country Dancers, so maybe a train is not the best thing to have? I don't think it came to mind until I was actually at a dance, with no pin at hand to keep the train up, so I had to do the best I could with my hands. (There are two pins in the corset, to keep the busk in at either end, because I never got around to finishing it - that's more important than holding the train up!) No regrets, I'll make a proper ball dress at some point.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ardis's Graduation Dress (Historical Sew Monthly #8, Heirlooms & Heritage)

Originally, I was going to write about lingerie dresses in general, as they make up a large portion of heirlooms everywhere, and especially of my small collection of antique clothing. But then I remembered - I can do better!

A long time ago, I posted some photos of ancestors of mine, including one of the following portraits:

This is my great-grandmother, Ardis Burdick Allen Luce, in 1919 - although at the time, she was just Ardis Burdick. Like pretty much all young women in the late 19th and early 20th century, when she graduated high school, she wore a white cotton commencement dress. It's not exactly cutting edge, but it is fashionable for the time - raised waistlines could be found even in the Gazette du Bon Ton through 1921 - and it was probably made for the occasion, perhaps by someone in her family. (Her maternal grandmother worked in the clothing industry for most of her life, as a dressmaker and then as a saleslady/merchant.)

Ardis kept this dress and passed it down to my grandmother, who passed it down to me. Unfortunately, I can't display it for you as I don't have a dress form that's small enough, but we have the two photographs above - and I'd like to share the pattern with you.

The extant dress has a waist measurement of 23", which few of us do today, even in a corset that's more curvacious than those of 1919 - but on the positive side, these pieces would be relatively easy to enlarge because they're so loose and gathered.

To view at original size, right click and save as or open in new tab.
The dress is made of a smooth batiste and the construction is fairly simple. The sleeves and the bodice are seamed and then tucked as shown, then put together, and the skirt is tucked after the side seams are sewn as well. (The front of the skirt is the same as the back, but without the slit.) The first two dashed lines under the bottom edge of the skirt represent a hand-sewn tuck, and the last dashed line is the edge of the hem. Bodice seams are French seams; the skirt pieces are cut from a full width of the fabric and the seams need no finishing.

The bottom of the bodice pieces are gathered and a 23" long, 2" wide, very stiff white canvas waistband is sewn down on top of them on the bottom edge and at the solid line above it. The skirt is then turned in at the top, gathered, and sewn down at the top of the waistband. All of this is not very neat, but there was a sash worn with it originally that hid all of it.

The back of the neckline is faced with a bias band. The front is faced with self-fabric within the dashed lines - the embroidery goes through it, and it's trimmed close along the edges. I didn't pattern out the embroidery, but there's a photo below. It's done with a thick, coarse silk thread as padded satin stitch, a very common material and technique during this period.

The center back opening has a half-inch strip added behind the left side of the bodice back as reinforcement, and a placket of the same width added to the right side, where it folds under - before the waistband is put on. The skirt slit is finished with a continuous half inch placket, also before attaching to the waistband. In the end, the bodice fastens with seven fairly large snaps, the waistband with three hooks and bars, and the skirt with three snaps.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Not Really An Update, and Not Really A Hiatus

I hate to do this! But ever since I became fully employed in the history field, I've found it really hard to produce quality posts on a regular basis. Back in the day, when I was frustrated about icing cakes and slicing bread for a "living" (plus not sewing anything ever), it was a simple thing to sit down and research the exact progression of the shape of the bustle - but now I spend hours at work tracking down historical minutiae and hours off work sewing feverishly.

Going forward I'm going to continue writing my Historical Sew Monthly posts, and hopefully without the articles in between they will become more substantial again. I intend to get more done than just those, but pushing myself to write a post a week isn't working.

So I'm sorry for the lack of content today, but I can promise that the August challenge is going to be something special!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lesser-Known Regency Accessories (HSM #7.2)

The Ceinture à la Victime

References in French fashion to the Revolution's victims are not exactly unknown - in fact, they've achieved an almost mythological status. They seem to be thought of as a flash-in-the-pan pertaining only to the Directoire era (1795-1799) and its uncertainty, but in actuality, they lost the connection to the guillotine and continued to be worn once society had become more stable.

The earliest appearance in a fashion plate that I'm aware of is the above, from Journal des Dames et des Modes in 1797. Variations, such as the "croisures à la victime" below (1797), appeared soon after. Both styles feature a bright, contrasting ribbon crossed over the back, wrapped around the shoulders, and tied at the waist.

I don't find the references to the Terror's victims after 1797, but ribbon belts or sashes worn crossed over the back and around the waist continued to be depicted in fashion plates for about twenty years afterward. Ribbon color and pattern were very important to fashion during this period - one dress could last a wearer several years without appearing démodé, updated economically every so often with a few yards of ribbon.

Fashions in trimming bonnets could also show the importance of fashionable ribbons on a plain background. Note that in this plate, the ceinture is so commonplace as to be included on a torso marked as displaying a colerette and pelerine.

The Tablier-Robe

Unlike the ceinture à la victime, the tablier-robe (or robe-apron, although it does not turn up much in the English fashion press) seems to be completely unknown, but it also appears in a huge number of fashion plates. Always fastening in the back, it is sometimes shown with ribbons holding the skirts together or simply open down to the hem, sometimes buttoning in the bodice or tied at neckline and waist.

It begins to appear in France around 1804, at the same time that gowns were transitioning to a back closure, and it continues to appear in fashion plates for more than a decade. There's little to say about the tablier-robe's evolution - ties all the way down tend to be earlier, but apart from that they tend to be a little fantastic and not follow a progression the way gowns do.

The only extant apron-robe that I'm aware of appears in Costume in Detail (p. 101): "white spotted muslin dress, very high waist, very low neckline." It has a tie at the back of the neck and four buttonholes (no buttons remaining), and the skirt is open the entire way down the back. This identification isn't definite, but it seems a lot more likely to me that it was intended to be worn over another gown than that it stood on its own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Knitted Garters (HSM #7.1)

This is the first time I've actually made something that fits into the Historical Sew Monthly - it's more of an accident, so I'm still going to do a text post on two lesser-known Regency accessories. But it's an accomplishment I'm proud of!

This past weekend was my friend Julie's bridal shower, and for a gift I knitted her a pair of garters. See, Julie's wedding is going to be a masquerade, and the bridal party is going to be in 1870s dress with a dark purple theme - so dark purple Victorian garters would be perfect for her to wear on the day! Plus, my understanding is that bridal showers often have gifts that are a bit naughty, so it seemed like a cute way to refer to that.

The Challenge: Accessories, no. 7
Fabric: Yarn - dark purple wool
Pattern: As far as I know, there's only one extant knitted garter pattern, and I used it - here it is excerpted at the Sewing Academy from an issue of Godey's magazine
Year: 1862, but probably appropriate for a decent range before and after
Notions: None
How historically accurate is it? Well, it could be more accurate. The yarn is pretty chunky and so were the needles (size 4, I think) compared to what would have been used at the time, and I had to alter the pattern to deal with that so they wouldn't be incredibly long and wide
Hours to complete: I have no idea, but they go very fast
First worn: Not worn yet!
Total cost: This feels a bit awkward because they were a gift! I don't actually remember how much I paid for the yarn, but it doesn't use very much of it

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"There are so few pieces left, how can we really know?"

There's an attitude that I've come across more than a couple of times in discussions centered on whether or not a certain costume in a certain film is accurate, or when someone asks about improving their own kit. It's not quite inevitable, but a good amount of the time someone else will come in and say, "Nobody really knows what they were wearing, because none of us were there." Or, "We have hardly any extant clothing, compared to the amount that existed at the time, so you don't actually know what's right and wrong." This is wrong on a few levels.

1) There are a lot more extant garments than you think.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when I search for 1600-1800 in the Costume Institute, there are 1,346 records. And that's just what's been photographed. The Victoria & Albert Museum, the Kyoto Costume Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museu do Traje in Lisbon, the Museo del Traje in Madrid - these are all immense repositories for historic clothing. Then you have collections that are smaller, but still focus on clothing, like certain National Trust properties in the UK, the Museum at FIT, the Fox Collection at Drexel. (I think it was the Symington's corset collection I saw photos of on Tumblr, with racks and racks of extant clothing going back to the mid-18th century.)

There are sites like Old Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg that have open-air museums and large collections of clothing and artifacts of daily life. There are state museums and state historical societies, and more local historical societies, and house museums. You would be amazed at the amount of clothing that's held by institutions that don't regularly put on exhibitions to display them, you really would. The amount that turns up on Pinterest is in no way representative of the amount of extant clothing out there. (Although a lot turns up on Pinterest, obvs.)

2) There is even more relevant two-dimensional art.

So much! Do I even need to list museums, really? There are court portraits, folk art portraits, satires, genre prints, fashion plates, all kinds of pictures that show all sorts of people, with all levels of detail. You will never run out of art to study for information about clothing, and it's even easier to find than extant garments because art's had a cachet for centuries that old clothing has only had for a few decades.

3) Everything out there is not "high fashion" or "for the very wealthy". It's true that few truly workaday outfits exist today. But there are some out there. For example, there are the Furr homespun dress from North Carolina and a similar gown worn by Elizabeth Williams in the same state 1993.137.1 in this collection) from the mid-19th century. And the Manchester Art Galleries have two servants' uniforms from the 1890s (the collections are down at the moment, unfortunately).

What there are a lot more of are middle-class pieces. That's what fills those smaller museums I talked about. Are they silk and wool? Yes. But when you take the entire idea of synthetic fabrics off the table, it's much easier to see why people felt it was worthwhile to spend more money on cloth that was finer than printed cotton for best dresses. Once you start to examine pieces, the differences between atelier-made couture and clothes from the dressmaker down the street become very obvious - so while the first impression of a wedding dress like this one might be, "wow, it's so fitted and has all those extra details!" with more experience you note how plain it is, and how very simply made. (It was sewn by the bride.) Middle-class might be significantly nicer than one person's intended impression at an event, but the clothing can tell us a lot about which details were seen as high fashion and which were simply "the way we make clothes".

I'm sorry this turned into a bit of a rant - when I began it, I seemed to be seeing comments around every corner on this subject. And what they relentlessly insinuate, even if the commenters don't intend it, are two unfortunate things. One is that fashion history is unstudiable, or is studiable only for the most wealthy people at any given time, which is annoying as it's inaccurate (see above). The other is that anybody who thinks they're studying fashion history is too stupid to realize the limitations of sources, which is annoying as it's insulting! Please give us some credit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Older Women and Fashion

There's a cliché that, historically, an eligible maiden would have been very fashionable, a married woman with children would fall behind the times, and an older matron would cling to the styles of years past. This has always bothered me, in part because it seems like an over-correlation to modern attitudes: teenagers and twenty-somethings today have the money and/or time to spend on being fashionable, not to mention the desire, and the ready-to-wear industry is built on catering to them - while women with children have less time and disposable income, and older women are not keen to follow trends like cargo pants, jumpsuits, neon pink, etc. and sometimes even keep getting the same haircuts as when they were younger, or wear similar clothes (which is easy, as fashion is constantly recycling itself). We can't assume that teenagers had the same wherewithal in dressing as today, or that the ability or desire to get new clothes in an old style was present in the same way that it is now.

I'm going to leave the younger women and young mothers for another time, but I'd like to examine this idea when it comes to mature women's habits of dress. Using my very thorough Pinterest boards, I did a survey of the (late) eighteenth, nineteenth, and (early) twentieth centuries, looking for images of either women depicted with children who look at least ten and women with grey hair, etc. When it came to portraiture, I tried to mainly consider paintings with solid dates and the name of the sitter, so I could be sure of how old she was and know that the portrait hadn't been dated just based on the style of dress, which could throw off my conclusions.

Portraits are not representative of a broad swath of society, but just the upper class and upper middle class - the flipside being that these are the women whose clothing tends to survive, which makes them very relevant to the question of dating extant clothing.

What did I find?

Middle-aged and older women whose portraits were painted were not dressed in the fashions of their youths.Their clothing ranged from current fashions worn with less trim (mainly in early middle age) to sober, dark (often brown, in the 18th century) gowns that could almost be called anti-fashion: they only follow the lead of fashion to a certain extent, but are mainly about an age-appropriate solemnity. I wouldn't call their clothing "in style" but it's also not "out of style" because it was never in style in the first place. For example, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, flat and concealing kerchiefs that covered the entire chest were very common for this age group.

There are various prints and genre paintings available from this period as well, which show older women in both current dress and somewhat old-fashioned dress. Neither option seems well confirmed by the sources: the genre paintings are often sentimental, depicting quaint country scenes that owe more to the artist than to strict realism, and the prints are overwhelmingly satires of "ewe drest lamb fashion", mocking older women for wearing tall wigs, clinging muslin, and/or cosmetics, and occasionally of old women who successfully imitate the young and trick men into finding them attractive. There is almost certainly some exaggeration involved - criticisms of women and their dress have always reeled from one extreme to the other, and are sometimes contradictory - but it shows the general feeling that older women should have a certain decorum and modesty in dress. However, for so many of these prints to exist, for the stereotype to be so well known, there must have been older women who did flaunt more current fashions.

Mary Harvey Champneys (at about 37) and Sarah Champneys (Tunno), Edward Savage, 1789; Gibbes Museum of Art 1937.2.2
Clearly, older and younger women were not supposed to dress in exactly the same way. But then as now, there was a difference between being in fashion and being at the extreme of fashion.. For example, Mrs. Noah Smith, about 40, is dressed in a gown with a high waistline and gathered front - a construction that's appropriate for anybody in 1798 - but it's made of a darker taffeta instead of white muslin, which might have been seen as too trendy for a proper matron.

What seems to be have been the case in the 18th century is that, like today, older women were supposed to avoid certain trends, such as very tall hair in the 1770s and white chemise gowns in the 1790s, that were high fashion and/or the province of the young, because to indulge in them was unseemly; at the same time, looking up-to-date was clearly a priority and being seriously behind the times was also cause for ridicule. An opaque chemisette or kerchief (or simply a higher neckline) and an enveloping cap were a distinctive older woman's style rather than a sign of being unfashionable.

Mme Félicité Longrois Riesener (1786-1847) (at age 49), Eugène Delacroix, 1835; MMA 1994.430
Moving forward into the mid and late nineteenth century, the number of sentimental genre scenes increase - but not all are bent on showing quaint women in old-fashioned dress. The older woman in Waiting for the Verdict (1857), for example, wears a bonnet that's very similar to the young woman's next to her. The grandmother of Grandmother's Birthday (1867) is dressed as well as her daughter, if in black and with a cap on. In portraiture, the general trend of dark and untrimmed gowns worn with opaque chemisettes or other tuckers continued: Jane Burton of Saltmarsh, Aged 77 (1846), Thomasine Blight (aged 63, 1856).

Jane Burton's clothes are hard to assess as representative or not of 1846, but the real question would be - do they strongly resemble the clothes of 1836, or 1826, or some other date? The little we can see are the V neckline (appropriate for the mid-1840s) and loose but not full sleeves (certainly not appropriate for the 1830s or later 1820s); her cap, while turned into a modest anti-fashion statement, does show shaping more reminiscent of the early 1830s. Similarly, Thomasine Blight's cap is five to ten years out of date, more characteristic of the late 1840s, with the emphasis down near the cheeks.

But this is the beginning of the era of the studio portrait, a medium in which many more details of clothing can be seen. There are photographs of older women in very fashionable - even "trendy" - dress, as in this 1861 portrait. This one of Amanda Langdon in 1884 is likewise an example of fashionable dress, with no frumpy cap and an appropriately fitted and decorated bodice. Lydia Lapham, at age 54 in 1891, wore her hair with curled fringe and her sleeves with puffs at the top. Not all women were quite so au courant: Eliza Pruyn, on her daughter's wedding day in 1901, looked more like a fashion plate from 1898; in this group portrait, the older woman's sleeves are not as inflated as the younger one's. This is a matter of only a few years, though, not a previous generation.

Wing family portrait, 1874; CHM 1978.3.2224
In all my searching, what I found can be boiled down into a few generalities. One is that middle-aged or older women tended to wear a toned-down version of fashionable dress - a more dignified version, if you will. Another is that and certain types of caps and neckwear were reserved specifically for older women long past the point where they could be considered something the wearers were holding onto.