Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Latest Patterning Visit

Hello, all! I have a series of meaty posts in the works, but they're not quite ready yet, so let me tell you about the most recent visit I made for patterning at the Albany Institute.


I've really been concentrating on outerwear, as there are so many extant gowns with interesting construction or trims or sleeves or cuts, but because I had the opportunity I took patterns from two chemises. They appeared to be on opposite ends of the book's era: one is very geometric, cut with shoulder straps forming a square neckline, while the other has body and sleeves gathered into a band to form a wide neckline. (Pictured above is the latter.) I'm not sure if they will actually appear in the finished book - it depends on how many gowns I want to include, and probably how much leeway there will be for adding more patterns than expected ... wouldn't a book of shifts/chemises, corsets, petticoats, and drawers be great? Hmm.


One of the things that really attracted me to this project was the prospect of making available garments that are just too delicate or damaged to display - like this bodice. The skirt was removed at some point, perhaps so the fabric could be used in something else, the satin has faded to a dingy pale pink, and the gauze of the sleeves has been flattened and creased. When the gown was actually worn, it would have looked so different! I'm thinking of making a mockup of the sleeves so that my illustrator/mother can get a better idea of how they would have been shaped originally. But they're in the tradition of elaborate, layered and puffed early 1820s evening dress sleeves, and very interesting for those Jane Austen balls.


The above cotton print was used for a day or morning dress that I think will also be very interesting. It's a departure from the usual white muslin day dress, obviously, and it's decorated with a great many self-fabric ruffles. It's also a great example of a dress for a more buxom woman, with fairly wide bust darts.


And last, let me show you (the back of) a usual white muslin day dress. Though of course it's anything but usual - when you look at antique garments up close, you start to realize that nothing is actually "ordinary": there's always something that sets them apart. In the case of this gown, which may have been remade from an earlier Neoclassical dress, there is a strange side-front opening which, according to some notes in the file, only appears on a few other gowns in this country. So not representative of a usual mode of dress construction, but if you've already made several Regency dresses and are looking for a new variation ... (The belt is quite short, probably being pinned in front with a brooch.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wedding Dress, 1905

Wedding photo of Grace Louise Fenton Ross, 1983.15.7
(Dress itself is 1983.15.4a-b, pattern at link.)

It's possible that a lot of lingerie dresses in collections were worn as wedding dresses - around the turn of the century, they were very popular for that use. Being white, they fit into the already-established but mainly upper-class wedding dress tradition, but being cotton, they were more affordable. Additionally, these white cotton dresses were fashionable and could be worn after the wedding, just as most women had done in earlier decades with colored gowns.

The belt from this one is gone, but the rest of the dress is in wonderful shape, apart from some yellowing. It is full of time-consuming details - lace insertion, pintucks - but because the fitting is achieved through the waistband and large pleats on either side of the back (the bodice is very loose and tucks into the skirt), it was a style ideal for the dawning of the age of ready-to-wear.

Judging by the photograph, the dress seems to have had drapey oversleeves that were later removed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Drawers, 1930s

CHM 1992.5.4 (pattern available at link)
These drawers - tap pants, they're more commonly called now - were made by a Mrs. Shattuck who ran a "sewing room" in downtown Glens Falls. (The information came from the donor; there's nothing at all about Mrs. Shattuck that I can find online, although there was a local Shattuck family.) Made of a slippery silk or rayon, they're entirely hand-sewn with grey silk thread.

I've actually used this pattern twice now to make tap pants for myself as part of my new home sewing regimen. The first time, I used a very nice, heavily patterned rayon charmeuse and I sewed them by hand. The only changes I made were to widen them a bit, leave off the lace, and hem the edges instead of binding them. And I used snaps instead of buttons. Some of these were bad choices! The pants are meant to sit at the waist, not on the hips, so I shouldn't have widened them so much; the snaps have a tendency to pop when I move, although that might not happen if they were won over a girdle the way they were intended. For the second pair, I fixed these issues - using buttons instead of snaps and only widening them about an inch - but also sewed them on the machine (much, much better on my wrist, and faster) and used a blue cotton lawn from a past bustle dress. I'm pretty happy with them so far!

Although I still couldn't make the automatic buttonholer work. Has anyone ever? Is there a trick to it?

If you like the look but aren't comfortable scaling up the pattern, Mrs. Depew has a couple of similar patterns from the 1930s and 1940s.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jeanne Adèle Bernard (1872-1962)

Maison Jenny is one of the hardest couture firms to learn about - but if you look through fashion plates and magazines, she is all over.

According to a blog, Jeanne Adèle began working under Jeanne Paquin, and then under Béchoff David (another little-known master). Her own house opened sometime between 1908 and 1910; the sources I've found disagree, but the earliest mention of Jenny that I can find is from 1910, in the caption of a photograph. There is no other text.
"Dainty afternoon costume", Theatre Magazine, October 1910
But her star soon rose. In a 1912 trade magazine, specific Jenny models are noted several times, and in one case she is described as a style arbiter. In a tariff hearing in January 1913, in the testimony regarding a man accused of importing Paris labels for fraudulent purposes, all of the labels are listed - they're listed generally in order of importance, and Jenny's name rests right in the middle, between the geniuses and the unknowns. And, most significantly, a few years later Jenny's designs appeared in the Gazette du Bon Ton alongside Worth, Chéruit, Paquin, and others.
from Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915
from Gazette du Bon Ton, 1915
From that point on, Jenny was solidly a member of the couture elite, constantly being reported on in trade magazines and the public's fashion press.

This fame lasted at least through the early 1920s. (In the 1922 volume of Harper's Bazar, she may be the most written-about of all the couturiers.) Unfortunately, after this point copyright laws kick in and fashion magazines and plates are more difficult to find: one has to rely on secondary sources by people who've been able to read through the periodicals in person, but in the case of Jenny, nobody has cared to.

According to the internet, Jenny went into decline during the 1930s. A number of fashion houses struggled then, in part because of the economic climate, but by this point Jeanne herself was in her 60s - an age when many retire. In 1938, the house was merged with Lucile Paray, a designer who was apparently more successful during the decade. (Of course, as usual, there is little-to-no information about Paray.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

In Defense of Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Since my Gatsby post was so successful, I thought I'd follow up with my equally controversial thoughts on Pride & Prejudice (2005). No, much more controversial. Sorry! But my overall opinion of the costuming is positive for a number of reasons.

I have to start off with a disclaimer: I'm just talking about the costuming - my friend Rose wrote a very good post about issues with the writing, although I didn't entirely agree with her - and I'm not saying it's better in costuming or as a whole than the 1995 version. Frankly, the two are so far apart that I hardly see them as the same thing and don't really compare them. One is a faithful, longer form adaptation and one is a more romanticized retelling in shorter form. Though I do think it's odd that the more sexual additions with Colin Firth don't get the same treatment as some of the changes with Knightley and MacFadyen MOVING ON!

The main trouble with the costuming in P&P2005 is that the designer, Jacqueline Durran, mixed the artistic and the accurate without committing enough to either aspect. In short, the more accurate costumes come off as unattractive and the more artistic costumes come off as inaccurate. It's really too bad, because the accurate costumes are decently accurate, and the artistic costumes combine modernity and history in a visually pleasing way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Personal Couture

I'm trying to get more into making my own everyday clothing! Most of the patterns I've accumulated are for dresses, some excessively fancy, so I'm working on reforming in that respect, no longer buying or making summer dresses when I need both casual and work clothes.


To start out, I went with a Vogue Easy Options pattern I've had for a while (V8295). The ABC version, with a straight skirt gathered onto a yoke, seemed very unflattering for me, so I started with DEF - a circle skirt on a yoke. I read the chart wrong and accidentally bought too little fabric ... but it was all okay! As you can see from the model, the contrast/matching band around the bottom makes the skirt end below the knee, also a very unflattering cut for many. Ignoring that pattern piece puts the skirt above my knee.


The fabric I used is a keepsake quilting calico from JoAnn. Usually, I avoid sewing with quilting cotton because it doesn't hang well on the body, but a) a circle or A-line skirt can have more body and b) the print is really really cute. Also, it was on clearance at $4/yard.

Although I cut my dress form down quite a bit, it's clearly not enough as the skirt does not sit at my waist - it's a little lower.
Overall, the project was quite affordable: cheap cotton, pattern from stash, muslin yoke lining also from stash, zipper. Nearly all of the skirt was done on the machine - I sewed the lining in mostly by hand, and had to do the hem that way as well, using my mom's excellent (but slow) iron-into-place-and-pin-and-then-sew method.

I haven't actually read Overdressed yet, but I already have a lot of feelings about the garment industry and fast fashion, and I'm going to go on about that for a bit below the cut.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Frances Hodgson Burnett

I love reading, and like many of you my favorite genre is historical fiction. Studying history and historical fashion makes me want to read about people living during these periods, experiencing events we can only read about in hindsight. Unfortunately, I have to admit that a lot of historical fiction simply doesn't work for me - what I'm looking for is an insight into how actual people of the past thought, even or especially when their thought processes and viewpoints differ from ours. I've started a lot of books that I just take back to the library because the heroine seems like she's been transplanted from our era into the past (and usually because of too many accuracy issues re: clothing. It's a gift and a curse).

But the great thing about ereaders is that they facilitate reading classic/historic lit, because so many books have been digitized and are available for free, or for only a couple of dollars. I've downloaded quite a few, and whenever I feel like shopping I end up finding many more to try out. One ebook that I've been very happy with is the collected works of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Burnett's extremely well known as the author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, two hugely popular pieces of children's literature that have both been adapted for film and stage many times. Some also remember that she wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy, once a smash hit that forced hundreds of little boys into velvet suits with lacy collars. But Burnett was primarily a writer of romantic fiction (in both senses of "romance") for an adult audience, and her bibliography is full of novels about older characters in more mature situations.

(I spoil all the novels reviewed in a sort of general way, but I don't give specifics.)