Friday, February 24, 2017

Midwest Historic Costume Conference

Big news! Following Julie's success at managing the Ohio Regimental Military Ball, we've decided to attempt holding a Midwest Historic Costume Conference in 2018.

I'm so important, I got to sit at the President's Table! (Mrs. Lincoln, far left.)
To that end, we've put up a survey to gauge interest. We do have a bunch of plans, we just want to see what others think of various options before we solidify anything.

Follow the MHCC page on Facebook to keep up with the con, and please tell your friends!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Not moving, but not standing still

I've been in a reading/writing/sewing slump for a good handful of months now, due to a number of factors:

- The last dress I tried to make for myself ended up looking terrible, due to the fabric being too polyestery and stiff for the design, and to the fact that the cut of the bodice is really bad for someone this short-waisted.

- I've been gaining weight, slowly enough that I didn't really notice until suddenly it hit me that I was dissatisfied with all my clothes because they were just too tight to be comfortable or look good. I'm working on the weight issue, but I just can't gather the will to sew any new clothes for work.

- Cameo is deceptively difficult, at least in the Made to Fit custom sizing module. My pattern files keep becoming uneditable, which is obviously a problem if you're still in the working-draft stages!

- For a while, I was being really active in a few historical fashion Facebook groups, and the neverending fight to get good contributions taken seriously or to have a real discussion burned me out on historical fashion things online in general.

- I proposed a few projects to my editors, but due to the poor sales of Regency Women's Dress, they declined and gave me permission to take them to other publishers. The trouble is that I'm not really sure where to take 18th Century Women's Dress (pending better title) since I never found a publisher in the first round of queries. I also realize that I need more patterns - I would want to include more items of clothing outside gowns, petticoats, and jackets - and now live much, much farther away from all the museums with 18th century clothing. And it's clear that I need to figure out what to do about illustrations, because those in RWD were unsatisfactory to the public, and yet, as an independent researcher rather than an employee, I don't have the ability to set up a photo studio and dress mannequins as in Costume Close-up and 17th Century Women's Dress Patterns.

- Something I can't talk about yet, but just believe me, it's stressful and I'm breaking out over it.

So all together, I don't feel like sewing anything modern (by which I mean mid-20th century) to wear to work, I don't feel like sewing anything historical, and I can't think of any interesting topics to explore on my blog.

However, lately I have forced myself to start working on a new old project. A lavish reprinting of the Galerie des Modes, translated by moi, was one of the things that I proposed as a follow-up to Regency Women's Dress - but it's very expensive to license images from museums, and there are several hundred of them in the whole magazine. so it was turned down. Now I've decided to go directly to the museums. There are only two that own the plates from GdM, and I've inquired to see if either is interested in publishing it in-house. If not, I'm planning to edit the translation, improve my annotations, and run a Kickstarter to enable me to license the plates (they literally cost more than is in my bank account, even to publish only those first two volumes that have the original text extant). Hopefully I'll have more information on this soon!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: An Agreeable Tyrant

I ordered "An Agreeable Tyrant": Fashion after the Revolution the moment that Alden O'Brien posted about its availability on Facebook.

Full disclosure: I borrowed this picture of the cover from 2NHG but did not hotlink it
The eponymous exhibition opened this month at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C. and will run until April 2017: it focuses on American men's and women's dress from the end of the Revolutionary War to 1830. And you really want its catalogue! Not only does it have beautiful photography of the exhibition, it features a number of well-cited essays on the period that are great reading.

The book opens with "After the Revolution: Aspirations and Ambivalence," by the DAR Museum's curator of costume and textiles, Alden O'Brien, on the subject of Federal-period Americans' difficult feelings for fashion as they attempted to balance a desire for luxury with moral concerns (and also dealing with the myth of homespun). Then there is "An Elegant Assortment of Goods: Apparel Textiles of Federal-Era America," by Madelyn Shaw, which contains a lot of great information about period textiles and their manufacture. Then Ann Wass's "Regulating the Dresses of the Ladies: American Women's Fashion, 1780-1825" and Mark Hutter's "Coat Tales: Changes in the Fashion, Cut, and Construction of Men's Clothing, 1775-1830," about the transitions in fashion during this time. The essay section of the catalogue ends with "Economy with Elegance: Practices of Thrift in Fashion," by Carolyn Dowdell.

The photography of the garments in the exhibition is really stunning, and it's supplemented with patterns taken by Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz (of Fig Leaf Patterns), Carolyn Dowdell, Mark Hutter, Mike McCarty, and Ike Cech of both men's and women's garments, with a nice sampling through the earlier part of the period to demonstrate the variety of fashion at the time.

You can buy the catalogue in the DAR Museum's store. If you're in Canada, you should contact them directly to order it, as the automated shipping to Canada is higher than it needs to be.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Miner Street, Canton, in 1900

I can't believe I've been working on this exhibition since the spring. Well, technically, I spent quite a few months in between researching a walking tour of Main Street - originally my brother agreed to make an ambitious app for it, which was then scaled back into a page on our website, and then recently I found that The Clio Foundation is developing something to allow exactly the kind of tours I want to create, so that isn't available yet.

The exhibition itself went up very smoothly. As you can see, it's not large - just one short stretch of wall next to and running up the side of our narrow ramp. To the right is the intro text:
Imagine yourself back in Canton in the year 1900. Walking down the north side of Main Street from the Silas Wright House (at this time being used as a parsonage for the newly-rebuilt Universalist Church), you pass most of the same buildings that you know today with different occupants – the Remington Corner Clothing Store, Conkey’s Drug Store, Cleland Austin, Dezell’s – and see the American House and Jack & Kirkland’s bakery on the south side. Once you pass the Neo-Gothic splendor of the town hall, turn left onto calm, residential Miner Street.
The design is pretty simple. In the center (... the thematic center; it's actually off to the left) is a copy of the 1905 Sanborn Fire Map showing Miner Street

A narrow cotton tape connects each relevant house to its label, often accompanied by a photo of the house or one of its residents. As you can see from the photo at the top, most of the photos are on the right/east side of the street - the people who lived there were more affluent than those on the west side next to the river and had more opportunities for having their pictures taken, and/or had more photogenic houses. The two pictures on the left are of Nelson Brown, who worked in the fairly well-documented J. H. Rushton boat factory, and J. Stanley Ellsworth, a local retailer whose family was the one exception to the rule about affluence and street side.

When I first got started with this project, I hoped that it would be something easily replicable for other museums like us (focused on local history, no money for fancy exhibition installations, etc.). Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether it is. A number of things came together to make this work for me:

  • The block where the Remingtons and Sackriders (relatives from both sides of Frederic Remington's family) lived was at the top of the street, and it was clear that the census-taker had been working Main Street and then dipped down into Miner. It's not as clear which direction he was going in on some of the side streets.
  • A Sanford Fire Map existed that showed the street, and I had access to it, so I could figure out where the houses were around 1900, since they're all gone now.
  • The New York State Historic Newspapers digitization project began in the North Country, so our newspapers were very well represented and I was able to find a lot of information about these people. (Compare to my home county, where the only scanned paper is the Fort Edward Ledger, 1857-1865.)
There are other situations where this project could still work. If you have a street with homes mostly built before the time period of the census you're using - that will help. If you have a street that the census-taker clearly turned into from one end, or know a couple of the historic residents, that will also help.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Book Review: The Long Weekend, by Adrian Tinniswood

I picked out The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939 from NetGalley to review here as the country house has such a prominent place in classic and historical fiction - think of how many mysteries wouldn't exist without characters being cooped up together for a country weekend!

The book is exhaustive - Tinniswood goes through all the aspects of the country house itself, from architecture to interior decoration to sale to (royal, aristocratic, and common) owners, with detailed descriptions of how these went down at various specific estates. The social aspects, unfortunately, don't seem to get as much time as the others (or perhaps the architecture and interior design chapters simply seemed very, very long?). Country house parties are dealt with at the very beginning, and then at the end there's discussion of gay country house owners, hunting and fishing, the servants, politics, and the collapse of this culture during WWII.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how much it enriches the period-drama-fan's view of country house society beyond what you've absorbed from period novels and shows like Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey and the like - it confirms rather than enlightens, and gives specific context to generalizations you already knew. But if the reader is researching the period, all of this specific information is extremely helpful.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

HSM #8 - Pattern: A Victorian Quilt

Well, it was intended to be a Victorian quilt, but I'm not sure about the overall effect.

Photographed on my bed for scale, but the quilt is now in Ohio with Julie.
I've always meant to do some quilting, but it's never come up. In 2015, I went so far as to buy the fabric to make this one as a wedding present, but the actual Hallowedding bridesmaid dress was more pressing, so I backburnered this and ... forgot about it, pretty much. Then, earlier this year, when I was thinking about the "pattern" challenge, it occurred to me that patchwork quilting is definitely all about patterns.

For inspiration and an idea of what I could sew that wouldn't take me too many months, I visited Warmth, Remembrance, and Art: 200 Years of Quilts and Comforters in Northern New York at TAUNY, to which the St. Lawrence County Historical Association had loaned a couple of antiques. I was a little overwhelmed, but this brick pattern struck me as a good one for a first quilt.

This quilt was made by Olive Clark Wood, who married in 1874 and was widowed in 1877. The curator speculated (reasonably) on the label that these were all samples of material from the fancy goods store she ran to support herself. I made mine much more matchy, but it's still the same basic pattern.

When I bought the fabric, I didn't know exactly what I'd make, but I knew it would be an historical pattern so I made sure to aim for plausibly mid-19th century prints and solids (and Julie's favored dark purple colorway). I really wish I had more of this pink print in particular to use for an 1830s day dress, but unfortunately it was going out when I bought this fabric almost two years ago and it's nowhere to be found.

I was doing hand-piecing for the short seams at first, but with some advice from Mom I got into the rhythm of doing it all by machine. The quilting, though, is all by hand - straight diagonal lines, an inch apart. This is something I've seen on a number of period quilts and seemed nice and simple, but one thing you should know if you try to do this is that the lines increase in length very, VERY quickly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fashion in 1867

Because of the upcoming Dragonrose pattern for an 1867 evening dress, I wanted to explore the fashion of that year. The American Civil War period is very well-explored, and I've done a certain amount of research into the early bustle period, but in between those two, my impression has been comparatively vague.

Godey's Lady's Book, May 1867; NYPL 803309

The most common style of bodice for daywear was, as in the previous period, a front-closing one with a jewel neckline and dropped armscye. White collars were still worn: a standing collar inside the neckline, a ruffled collar also inside the neckline, and a turn-down collar with points. Cuffs were made in similar styles, and worn on two-piece coat sleeves of a moderate width; a decorative hanging oversleeve was a fashionable addition for any situation where a long sleeve was appropriate. In evening dress a broad or squared neckline was prevalent, worn with very short sleeves. Images labeled dinner dress often show a squared neckline filled in with a chemisette.

At the beginning of the year, the waistline tended to be on the high side of natural; by the end of it, it was a little higher.

Godey's Lady's Book, spring 1867; NYPL 803342

The most distinctive aspect of fashion in 1867 is the shape of the crinoline. From 1861 through 1866, the fashionable hoop skirt had a large diameter, projecting out in the back and forming something of a straight-sided cone. In 1867, the cone narrowed to a more modest circumference that ran close to the hips, sometimes flaring out into a train.

"Empress's Trail" crinoline, 1867-1869; LACMA FIC.7758.523
While there were still walking costumes with skirts held off the ground evenly, the fashionable skirt was of roughly the same cut as before - and therefore ended up trailing on the ground when worn over the new crinoline, similar to what would happen in 1876 with the collapse of the bustle.

Vertically-striped fabric and vertically-applied trim were fashionably used to accentuate the new narrowness of the skirt. The cut was usually heavily gored, the front and sides attached with minimal pleating and the center back tightly gauged. I originally dated this day gown at the Chapman Museum to 1865-1868, but in retrospect, based on the cut of the skirt and the trim, I would tighten the dates to 1866-1867.
Godey's Lady's Book, 1867; NYPL 803413
Overskirts were beginning to appear but were not very common at this point, and tended to be long.

Hats and Hairstyles

Compared to the Civil War-era styles, hair was worn somewhat high on the back of the head, without coming down onto the neck. Generally, during the day the hair was worn up in a mass with false braids and switches to increase the size; for evening dress, a few long curls might spill down onto the shoulders.

Godey's Lady's Book, 1867; NYPL 825129
Fashionable bonnets and caps likewise were higher up on the head - essentially being flat and resting atop the hairstyle.