Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Military History Fest '14

After having the chance to speak at Tinker Swiss Cottage last week on Victorian Undies and my experiences wearing them, I'm back to the 18th century in preparation for Military History Fest 2014!

I am trying to get my yellow strip'd gown finished for the event, along with a russet petticoat. My gown is done but for sewing on the sleeves (and I'd like to add a cuff at some point). My petticoat is hemmed and waiting to be pleated to a tape- which I think I can get one, if not both of those things finished tonight.

I'm always excited for pre-season events like these. They get my butt in gear early in the year so that I don't slack as much on my sewing. Especially important not to slack now that I'm trying to do everything by hand. I'm a little nervous for this year's event, however, as I was asked by one of my friends to co-moderate a round table discussion on women in living history. I'll be one of a group of women moderating the discussion, so it seems like it'll be a pretty cool experience.

As always, I'm excited for the ball on Saturday night. It's always a highlight of our time at MHF.

I'll be sure to take lots of pictures while we're there and try to update when we get back. Until then! =)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

HSF '14: Challenge #1- Make Do and Mend (or six inches too short...)

Awhile back (a long while) I decided it would be nice to have a substitute for a quilted petticoat. Without having the time (or talent, at that point) to make one, I went with the alternative of a matelasse (loom quilted cotton) under-petticoat instead.

My first wearing of said petticoat was at a summer event. A very hot summer event. To my horror, at first I cut it much too long. While sweating my life away, I made the impetuous decision to cut the petticoat (while I was wearing it, of course!) shorter so that I would be less hot and fix the length all at the same time.

Poor. Choice.

What ended up happening was I cut way too much off of the hem and ended up with a petticoat that hit just below my knees. Insert sad face here.

While at my last B&T workshop, Angela suggested I could salvage it somewhat by adding a band of printed fabric around the bottom. In Fitting and Proper, I believe there is an example of a linen petticoat with a printed linen band around the bottom. So, applying this concept to my petticoat, I got a lovely piece of the new B&T fabric in the style of some examples from The Foundling Hospital Billets and went to stitching.  Here's what I ended up with:

Finished Petticoat. I love the print on the bottom. You can see how short I actually cut it. EEK!

Close up  of the print and the attachment area.

The Challenge:  Make Do and Mend
Fabric: Cotton print / cotton matelasse 
Pattern: Just the basic petticoat pattern. No official pattern, per say.
Year: 1770-80
Notions:  Linen thread
How historically accurate is it?
While I couldn't find a matelasse petticoat with a printed cotton bind, there is reference to the linen petticoat with a printed linen band in Fitting and Proper, as well as a number of plain matelasse petticoats with heavily embroidered bottom portions that are similar in overall appearance to mine. Overall, this was a decision to make this petticoat workable until I am able to make a new one. It's strictly an under petticoat, so chances of anyone seeing it are slim to none, but at least it's the appropriate length and anything that peaks out is an appropriate (and cute!) print. The added portion was completely sewn by hand in linen thread.
Hours to complete:  About 2.
First worn: Timeline Trading Day at Midway Village Museum. January 18th, 2014. (My birthday!)
Total cost: About $10

Stay tuned for more adventures in matelasse petticoats for Challenge #2: Innovation =)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Underestimated underwear- or the Importance of Stays

In living history, it can be really easy to underestimate our underwear. And why not? It's so easy to covet that gorgeous gown or pretty petticoat that we oftentimes forget that there are layers beneath those pieces that actually help make them so beautiful.

Many people feel like the time, effort, and/or cost of those undergarments may be too much for an individual (or moreso family!) just entering living history. Believe me, taking on a pair of stays for your second sewing project (assuming your first was your shift) can totally be intimidating and in some cases unreasonable. However, like shoes, the lack of proper underwear can detract from the overall effectiveness of your interpretation.

Which is why, as much as we may think we "don't need undergarments right now", au contraire mes amis; A set of appropriate, well made foundation garments should be a priority for the newcomer and veteran alike. If our bodies look like 21st c. bodies in "old clothes" people will key in on that right away. It not only makes our clothing look more like costumes but makes it harder to "buy in" to the idea that we are people from the past.

With the proper undergarments, even less than perfect clothing can be made to look better, because it allows for the proper silhouette. However, even the most accurate of creations will seem ill at ease without that ever significant foundation.

Notice the two originals below (both taken from auction sites and displayed on mannequins that are not in the correct form for the gowns.)

Compare these to an original from the Met displayed on a mannequin designed with a proper foundation and a portrait of Mrs. Daniel Sargent by John Singleton Copley.

The gowns on the proper form look nicer than the ones that are not. I grant you the difference is much more noticeable via the front than the back, but in both instances the curvature of the body is misplaced, making the gowns on the incorrect forms appear lumpy-and in all the wrong places (because, you know, there's a time and a place for lumps- just not where they appear in these two examples). Note specifically from the back view the area near the underarm and from the front view the level where the fullness of the bosom resides. 

In latter cases, the foundation provides a smooth line on which the gown can appear to advantage, rather than in the former, in which the gowns appear somewhat frumpy and less than beautiful. Now, add in poor posture (and all of our extra bits) and this effect is even more pronounced on the human body.

So, once you decide to take the plunge to vamp up your kit- I encourage you to never underestimate the importance of your underwear.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's the Small Things...

With this wonderful advice from Angela at Burnley and Trowbridge, I've been sewing away for the last two days. Granted, it's not snowing- but it is -17 degrees out with a wind chill of -46, so practically the same thing. I practiced my hand at draping another fitted back gown for a friend (which I learned from my very first B&T workshop back in July, 2011) and I'm finishing up my "Splendid Short Sacque" from November.

I have to say, I've done seven workshops so far and every time I leave a crazy workshop weekend I feel like I've learned eighty times more than what I knew before. Honestly, every time I leave I am just plain inspired to be better; This may mean digging deeper on my research, spending more time to hand sew much needed items, and supporting and encouraging others to be better, too.

With that in mind, I've decided to start assembling a much better period sewing kit. While I've got many of the items needed for this already, I simply need to supplement here or there and/or replace some of my modern items with their period counterparts. This way, when I'm at an event and decide to sew, I don't have to worry about hiding my pin cushion or sewing box. I can simply pull out what I need and enjoy.

I start with needing some place to put my brass pins. My modern pin cushion just won't cut it, so I think my first order of business will be to make a replacement for that.  After browsing the Virginia Gazette archives and the usual online artifact haunts (V&A, Met, National Trust, etc.) I saw a few things that interested me.

First, starting in 1772, there are numerous mentions in the VA Gazette of "pincushions and lines" being "just imported" from England. There are even a couple references to gold pincushions (still pondering that one). We also see a large variety of shapes and sizes in extant pincushions. Some rounded like a ball, some rectangular with elongated corners, some hearts, etc. Most  are decorated with some sort of embroidery (fewer with beading) and made from a variety of materials.

The Sign of The Golden Scissors has a recent article regarding "pinballs" discussing the regional use of a "hoop and chain" for pincushions (the metal band around a pincushion shaped like a ball). Then there's this quick post by the Two Nerdy History Girls with a little bit about the pincushion as a ladies accessory. Finally, a post with instructions from Katherine at The Fashionable Past to get us started with an idea of how to make a pincushion (hers using the silver hoop described above.)

I'm thinking of making two pincushions for myself out of some silk and wool scraps left over from the riding habit workshop last November; The first will be in the rectangular with elongated corner style for my sewing kit and the second in a diamond, heart, or ball shape with a tape to be attached at my waist to have it handy when needed. More to come as work commences!