CoBloWriMo ’17 Day 4 – Fave Friday: Favourite Era

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Like many costumers, I dabble in many time periods. Some I have loved for a long time; having attended my first renaissance faire at the tender age of 4, I’ve always had a fondness for the Elizabethan era. Some I have come around to after a long period of skepticism: this actually applies to several periods that I’m now interested to in – Regency I never thought I could wear because I’m a big girl and only got into because of dance, late 18th century I never liked because I couldn’t see past the ridiculousness of the giant panniers on French court gowns and never knew any better, and and the 17th century just struck me as a low point between the extreme fashions of the 16th century and the extreme fashions of the 18th century, until I started working in a museum where I had to study it more closely. But the period that I consider to be my favorite is the period that got me into historical costuming in the first place, and that is the crinoline era, or approximately 1855-65.

This 1855 Winterhalter painting was my computer background throughout most of high school

Ironically, it’s the period that I know the least about in terms of detailed historical context; I’ve never really had any occasion to study it – I’ve never even been to a civil war reenactment! But I’ve always loved the bold shape and dramatic scale of the crinoline. It began with a resurgence of love for The King and I when I was in high school – it had been a childhood favorite movie, but at age 15 I decided I loved the character of Anna, and I loved her clothes. I became obsessed with the story – I watched every movie version I could find and read Anna Leonowens’ real memoirs, any biographical information that I could find on her, and the 1939 Margaret Landon novel all the movies are based on. I also took a ballroom dance class which cemented my love of the polka.

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One of the happiest moments of my teen years was getting the 50th anniversary remastered DVD and discovering that this gown was not in fact pink, it was gold.

I bought my first hoop crinoline sophomore year, and made a gown to go over it for a friend’s masquerade-themed Sweet Sixteen (this, for better or worse, was my second ever machine-sewn garment) – it was made of polyester crepe-backed satin with crappy lace and metallic ribbon from Jo-Ann Fabrics, and the pattern frankensteined together from a Simplicity Civil War dress and a Butterick halloween costume. I was totally out of place at my friend’s party when everyone else was wearing cute party dresses with masquerade masks, but I felt majestic.

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This is a friend wearing my first dress at a ball a few years later; you can see it’s a huge disaster in terms of accuracy, though Aubrey rocked it.

I’ve come a long way since then in terms of research and construction, and I still have a great love of this period.  My next gown after that was made from an original Harper’s pattern, and my most recent one based on a Tissot painting (long-time followers of this blog have seen my Young Woman In A Red Jacket ad nauseum).  I unfortunately don’t have much opportunity to wear this period anymore – I used to go to balls and dance workshops fairly regularly when I was in college, but in my current job I’m rarely free on weekends to go to events.  I do already have a couple of projects lined up, though, just out of love – I recently bought a white striped voile for a Tissot-inspired sheer that I’m very excited about!

I’m going to close this post with some of my favorite crinoline era images, and very self-indulgently include a few of me as well.  Other than that, until next time!

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CoBloWriMo ’17 Day 3 – Extant Garments

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For this prompt I’m going to post something I’ve been sitting on for a while: some highlights from a class trip to the Cora Ginsburg Gallery in NYC from last year. We saw some amazing stuff there – they let us touch 17th century lace! Everything had gorgeous details and I could not resist getting up close and personal…

CoBloWriMo ’17 Day 1 – Introduce Yourself

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Hello, gentle readers!  It’s been a pretty crazy year, in which I have neglected my blog, but now that CoBloWriMo has rolled around again, I’m going to take this opportunity to start writing again.  To all newcomers, welcome!  To old friends, welcome back!

I’m super late to this party, but I’ve been trying to draw more recently so here is my take on that Meet the Artist meme that was going around on tumblr and twitter a few months ago

So here’s a brief introduction: Hi!  My name is Mem.  I’m 25 years old.  I’ve been sewing for ten years.  I went to undergrad for costume design and grad school for fashion history.  I currently work at Plimoth Plantation as a living history educator, where I get to portray a real person from history and demonstrate early 17th century daily life activities to the general public.  I’ve also worked at Colonial Williamsburg and the New York Renaissance Faire.  I mostly sew for myself, and I mostly make historical clothes (though I do every once in a while go through phases of making wallets and iPad cases and stuff like that too).  I also knit, crochet, spin, and embroider, and I love trying out new crafts.  My most favourite historical activity other than sewing is dancing and music; I love singing at events and going to balls (I haven’t been to any since I moved to Massachusetts, but I’m hoping to remedy that before the end of the year!).

I’m looking forward to getting back into writing this month, and getting to know my fellow CoBlers!  More to come soon!

CoBloWriMo 7 – Dream Wardrobe

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Just a quick one because I again am writing late at night right before I have to go to sleep.  These are some dream projects that I would love to do once I have underwear from every time period that fits correctly and money to buy all the beautiful silks in the world.

My ultimate dream project: Deborah Kerr’s ballgown from The King and I. It’s my favourite musical of all time and it’s the movie that gave me my love of crinolines.

Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776) by Joseph Siffred Duplessis. I love Madame so very much and while pink is not usually in my personal colour palette I would wear the crap out of it in this context.

This red taffeta and black velvet suit from the 1780s; I forget who the subject is, but the portrait is by Vigee-LeBrun

This Regency open robe made of brightly coloured sari fabric of some sort. No one’s figured out what museum this is in yet; someone I talked to suggested it might be Russian.

This 1840s chick is hidden away in the depths of the American Wing period rooms at the Met. She’s fab and I want her hat.

“Girl Reading” by Alfred Emile Stevens (1856). I really want a sheer dress; they appeal to my inner Scarlett O’Hara.

This Lepape illustration called “Les Papillons” is from La Gazette du Bon Ton. I don’t usually care for the 1910s, but this is so simple and striking and gorgeous.

1855 Archery Jacket from (potentially) the Museum of London (the way it’s listed online is weird?). I just love the idea of Victorian women doing archery. I would of course pair it with a red petticoat.

Bonus: not an outfit, but how baller is this 1876 space quilt. I want to reproduce it one day just because it’s awesome.

CoBloWriMo 2: Happy Things (We Should Send Into Space)

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Oh boy I do love to slip Bob’s Burgers references into unrelated things!

Anyway, today’s CoBloWriMo prompt is “Write about five things that make you happy”.  One particular thing that makes me very happy is research.  I’m a rapturous researcher – I love getting sucked into the black hole of any obscure topic that comes my way for hours and hours and hours, and then bouncing around to another topic as soon as it catches my fancy.  I’ve been in graduate school for Costume Studies for two years, which has let me research many of the topics that I’m very interested in, but it has also made me tone down my rapturous research tendencies in order to focus enough to write papers and such (which has been VERY CHALLENGING for me).  So now that school is over, I’m going to indulge my little researcher heart and write about five of my favorite random research topics!

1.  Fancy Dress Costumes

Versaille Topiary Costume designed by Poiret. 1913 (La Gazette du Bon Ton, illustration by Georges Lepape)


I LOVE fancy dress costumes.  They are invariably hilarious and adorable.  They’re basically bad puns manifested as costumes from a time when puns were the highest form of humor.  Fancy dress costumes could range in theme from famous people to literary characters to inanimate objects to vague concepts to basically anything you could think of – rainbows, mailboxes, literally anything.  You could dress up as another time period by putting a perfectly good period costume over your contemporary undergarments for an interesting silhouette disconnect.  There was even an infamous Hell costume, designed in the 1860s by the house of Worth.  Fancy dress costumes are endlessly fascinating – they give us interesting insights into the more playful side of the 19th century, which is generally (pretty much erroneously) considered to be a very repressed time period.  They show interest in progress, with all sorts of costumes embodying different fields of science and new technology – a famous Electric Light costume (that was also designed by Worth!) was worn by Mrs Vanderbilt at the Vanderbilt ball in 1883.  There’s also an interesting aspect of gender play involved, with popular gender-role-bending costumes for women ranging from subtle ones like “Lady Brigand” and “Female Graduate” to actual cross dressed characters like Viola from Twelfth Night.  Fancy dress parties were popular entertainments in general, but they were especially held at the very highest levels of society – Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugénie of France were well known for hosting lavish fancy dress balls.  Later, the tradition would carry on with events like the Shakespeare Ball of 1911, a massive London society event used to raise funds to build the national theatre, and Poiret’s Thousand and Second Night parties.

2. School Uniforms and Academic Regalia

Hilariously adorable Eton tradition – the boys wear these giant flower hats during the Parade of Boats on the Fourth of June. They row into the middle of the river, stand up, shake the hats on one side of the boat and then the other, (attempt to) sit down without falling out of the boat, and row on.

As part of the Harry Potter generation, I grew up with a fascination with British boarding school culture that I continue to cultivate today.  I love to watch documentaries about Eton and Harrow, especially because I love the idea of preteen and teen boys walking around in tails suits all the time (which sounds like a TERRIBLE plan).  I love that there’s a school out there whose uniforms haven’t changed in 400 years and their students voted recently to continue to keep it (the school is called Christ’s Hospital and they wear yellow stockings because supposedly in the 16th century they thought the color would keep away rats).  One of my favorite movies called Another Country is set at a school that they don’t say is Eton but is clearly supposed to be Eton and a major plot point is that the prefects and other older boys called the “house gods” get to wear waistcoats made of elaborate materials while the other boys wear plain uniform waistcoats (this actually apparently is a real thing at real Eton as well).  The whole badges-blazers-and-boaters thing is an interesting microcosm of the extremely stratified British class system that Americans find really fascinating.

This is what happens when you let teen boys run around in tails suits for centuries (well the equivalent anyway). Also this was the best parody of Gangam Style.

This photo, famously featuring Eddie Redmayne (front and centre) and Prince William (top right), shows the fancy waistcoat thing is stiill going strong.

I started researching academic regalia because I got bored at someone’s graduation one time, and that has also turned into a Harry Potter-related research topic.  Academic regalia is probably the closest contemporary muggle equivalent to what we should be imagining wizard robes look like, which are described very little but I assume are based on medieval academic and clerical garments.  It also means I never get bored at graduations anymore – once you learn a little bit about hood colors and sleeve shapes you can spend any academic ceremony guessing the degrees of the faculty members in regalia (which I suppose is only fun when you’re really nerdy, but I am really nerdy, so).  They’re also probably the closest Americans will ever come to British ceremonial dress, which we also find endlessly fascinating.

This is a Doctor of Music gown from Cambridge. More magical than your graduation gown, I would wager. Certainly more magical than mine, thanks Rutgers.

3.  Bookbinding

One of the Colonial Williamsburg bookbinders doing some blind tooling.

I’ve been dabbling in bookbinding as a craft for several years – I learned enough very basic techniques to teach a “Make your own sketchbook!” Unit during art week at a Girl Scout camp I worked at in the summer of 2012.  Since then I’ve done a few more projects, and read a bit more, and somehow I find this fairly mundane craft really fascinating?  To the point that I actually did end up writing a paper about medieval bookbinding for a history of textiles class.  A lot of the hobby bookbinding books that you find in the craft section of Barnes & Noble focus more on contemporary techniques that are kind of craftsy and good for making “art books”, but as a true nerdy historian I find myself more interested in the traditional side of the craft.  When I used to work at Colonial Williamsburg I would often go stand in the back of the bookbinders’ shop and just listen to them interpret for way longer than necessary, and I still sometimes fantasize about becoming a historical bookbinder (if they’re ever looking for a new apprentice bookbinder at CW I will definitely be jumping  on that!). I don’t really know why it fascinates me so much, but I do love books, and as a person who sews (and sews historically) I guess I’m interested in applications of sewing outside of the realm of clothing.  (Also, MINIATURE BOOKS ARE ADORABLE – my current favorite bookbinding book is More Making Books By Hand by Peter and Donna Thomas.). It’s a difficult craft to practice at home without some serious consideration, though – to really do it “right” the process is fairly equipment-heavy, but with some research you can usually find simpler, more small-space-friendly techniques.

An embroidered book cover famously made by Queen Elizabeth 1 for her stepmother Katherine Parr


4. Corset-Induced Smushy Face (and other non-conventionally-attractive women in art)

Detail of Tissot’s “Hide and Seek”

You know when you’re wearing a corset and you sit down on a couch or a contemporary chair that doesn’t have a very straight back and you attempt to recline but it just pushes your boobs up toward your face and your chin down toward your chest in a probably fairly unflattering way?  It turns out this has always been a problem!  I love seeing corset-induced smushy face in art.  It’s one of those things that really makes me as a historical costumer feel a strong connection across time to those women I am seeking to emulate with my work and research.  My boy Tissot has a couple of ladies in various paintings with corset-induced smushy face for sure, and if you look carefully you can see it around in the background of plenty of domestic and pastoral scenes all over 19th century art.

Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776) by Joseph Duplessis. My ultimate evolution.

I also just generally love seeing women who don’t look perfectly thin and angelic in western art – and this ranges from Madame de Saint-Maurice (1776), who’s fat and SUPER fashionable (I will do a reproduction of her outfit one day!  Should have had that on goals yesterday) to all the weird-looking barmaids and jolly washerwomen and plump servant girls who fell asleep in the kitchen and let the cat steal the meat again in 17th century Dutch genre paintings.  I love them all.  Those are the images I really identify with, because guess what, different body types existed in the past also.

The Eavesdropper (1620s) by Nicolaes Maes


5. Heraldry


So I belong to an organization called Markland, which is sort of the teenage son of the SCA who left home at 17 because fuck you, dad, you don’t know my life.  We do very similar stuff (wear garb, have wars, feast, sing around campfires, dance a maypole sometimes), but we’re smaller and some of our rules regarding historical documentation for certain things are less strict.  One of those things is heraldry – creating coats of arms (or “devices” to use proper SCA terminology, “coat of arms” only applies in very specific circumstances) that represent ourselves.  This is a favorite activity in my Markland group, but our number 1 heraldry guy doesn’t always make it to our meetings, so I’ve sort of been picking up the heraldry research to help out my friends as needed, and because of the way my brain is wired I’m kind of obsessed.  Heraldry comes with very specialized vocabulary to describe how it looks and how different pieces of it are positioned, and some very strict rules about what colors can and can’t go next to each other, how many of certain things you’re allowed to use, etc etc, and I LOVE THAT STUFF.  It gives me real joy to help my friends navigate these restrictions to create something that they love (and real frustration when they don’t understand that just because you CAN put a million different things on your heraldry doesn’t mean you SHOULD because that’s not how they did it “Back Then”).  My favorite heraldry moment was going through Randal Holme’s 1688 Academy of Armory and finding primary documentation for the heraldic penis.

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Yup.  There it is.  Right in the middle.

From Randal Holme’s The Academy of Armory (1688)

CoBloWriMo 1: Goals!

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Hi friends!  It’s been a while.  But hopefully not for much longer!  For one thing, School’s over and my thesis is done so I’m going to have more free time going forward in general.  But for now, you’re going to be hearing from me more than usual for the next 30 days because I’m organizing a costume blogging challenge called CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing month)!  I’m going to try to post every day for the month of June.  If you’re reading this and you’re interested in joining us, check out our Facebook group!  So, without further ado, here is my first CoBloWriMo post!  

Today’s prompt is “What are your goals for 2016?”  I’m sick and I need to go to sleep so I’m going to be brief, but I’ve got some costuming goals, some blogging goals, and maybe a life goal or two.

Costuming Goals

My first costuming goal is to finish a couple of unfinished projects that have gone by the wayside for various reasons. 

Not the most attractive picture of my face, but a nice shot of the outfit taken at a recent ball at the Morris-Jumel Mansion

The first is my 18th century outfit, which dedicated readers may remember from last year.  It’s finished to the point that I can put it on my body and wear it for a day if I have to, but it’s nowhere near actually finished.  Most importantly, I need to finish the stays, which are unbound at the top and bottom.  This was actually on purpose – I needed to put them together very quickly when I made them and so didn’t do too much fitting of the pattern, and as a result the front panels are too short and don’t cover enough of my bust.  I’ve recut the panels that don’t fit, but they still need to get sewn together, boned, and attached to the rest of the stays, and then I can do the leather binding and eyelets.  Once that’s done, I can fit and finish the caraco (and make tons more 18th century stuff!).  I’d also like to make an underpetticoat for this outfit, and maybe try a different shape of skirt support.
The second is the new 1860 corset I started back in January.  I went through two different mock ups and countless alterations and the pattern just frustrated me so much that I kind of rage quit.  Now that I have my old corset back from someone that I lent it to, I may just copy the pattern off that one (based on the 1860 French corset in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines) and adjust it.
The third is my red kirtle. I wear it all the time but it’s technically not done – it’s supposed to have black stripes around the bottom of the skirt, and a lining in the bodice.  I also need to recut the waistline – I exaggerated the point at the waist a little because I thought it looked pretty, but it makes the waist wrinkle when I sit down, which is not super desirable, and pushes the bones up in a problematic way.  I also would like to get my whole court outfit to look more like this painting:

I still don’t know who this is a portrait of.


So I might add some gold trim, if only for the Faire season.  I had hoped to be able to do my hair like this, but alas for I cannot – I’m going to have to cover it because I cut a lot of it off recently (!!!)

Here are some other things I’d like to make this year:

I don’t remember her name but she’s from the Vigee-LeBrun exhibit at the Met – once I get my 18th century stays fitted better, I can start making nicer 18th century stuff, and what’s better than red taffeta and black velvet?

I’d like to make a sheer dress to wear in the garden at the Merchant’s House – I’m partial to the one in “Two Sisters” (1856) by Tissot becasue I think it’s the same woman that’s in Young Lady In A Red Jacket (and she’s got a great hat)

She’s my second choice for sheer dress – “Girl Reading” by Alfred Emile Stevens (1856)

I’ve had some beautiful buttery yellow wool sitting around for a waistcoat for months, so I’d really like to get on that and complete my middle class Elizabethan look.


Blogging Goals

I’ll keep this simple: I’d like to blog more.  My goal for CoBloWriMo is to post every day.  Afterwards I would like to post at least twice a month.  I would also like to bring back my attempts at regular features – Movie Monday and Sketch Saturday.

Life Goals

I’ll keep this simple also (because now I really need to go to bed): I’d like to get up earlier, draw more, rely on electronics less.  And I’d like a full-time job.  Dear universe: take notice.

The Corset Saga (pt. 1)

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(Kind of sounds like The Forsyte Saga?  Maybe?  Not really.)

This post is for anyone who’s considered skipping making a mockup of a new pattern.

So I’m making two new late-1850s-early-1860s outfits for some programs that I’m doing at the  Merchant’s House Museum this spring.  A key component of any mid-19th century outfit is a good corset.  The mid-19th century corset I have been wearing up until now was made for me by a lovely classmate in undergrad five years ago.  My body is not shaped the same way it was five years ago, but I continued wearing the same corset because making a new corset is a lot of work and once you have one it’s just easier to keep wearing it and the nature of corsets is such that you can do that, though it might not be 100% comfortable (whereas a correctly fitted corset IS, in fact, 100% comfortable, as the majority of correctly-fitting-corset-wearers are happy to tell anyone that will listen).  Since these programs are part of my masters thesis, and part of one of them will involve wearing just the corset and other appropriate undergarments in front of the general public and talking about them, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and make myself a nice new corset.

I used the recently published Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington to draft the pattern.  Her draft for a mid-century corset comes from this beautiful piece from the Symington Collection:

For whatever reason I can’t seem to find any pictures of this corset on its own and not from the cover of this book? Anyway, modern people like this corset because it’s colourful in a period when most corsets were white.

I have learned from my previous experiences with making and wearing corsets that fleshier bodies like mine are able to corset down a lot more than slender bodies, and most patterns don’t account for this when they are graded up to larger sizes.  I suspected this would be the case with the patterns in this book (and  I would later find I was correct), but at least in the initial draft I followed the instructions exactly as they appeared in the book.  To compensate a little, though, when my measurements fell between listings on the measurement tables I rounded down and used the next smallest entry.  

     
  

After a super fun afternoon of drafting, this is the pattern I ended up with:  

I made the mockup out of grey cotton duck cloth that I happened to have in my stash and I taped the bones in with masking tape, a technique I was taught when learning to make corsets in college. 
The finished product will have 4-6 bones on each seam, but for the mockup, using the random boning lying around in the studio, I ended up with 1-2 strips of boning per seam.  This should be enough to get a good basic idea of how the pattern is going to fit.  Here is the first fitting of the mockup:

 

 
 

As I suspected, it was too big overall, especially in the bust.  The top edge was pulling away from my body and my breasts were not supported at all.  It was too tight in the hip, though, creating what someone on the Civillian Civil War Closet Facebook group called “reverse muffin top”.  The first alteration I did was add in a big hip gusset.   

   
This released the hip to a comfortable dimension, and brought it to a too-big-ness proportional to that of the bust and waist (did that make any sense?).  I also sewed some real bone channels into the seam allowances instead of keeping the bones taped in – there was some horizontal wrinklage happening, and I needed to see if it was because of the temporary boning or if I actually need to take out some length.

At this point it started to take a recognizable mid-century Hourglass-tastic shape, it’s just too big.  So I moved the lacing strips over an inch on each side, in hopes of creating the ideal 2″ lacing gap at the centre back.   

   
Much better already!  My bust feels much more supported.  I think this is going to be pretty close to the level of compression on the final piece.  It does still lace all the way closed down the back, so I’m going to take another 2″ out of the back to get the lacing gap for reals this time.

So here’s what will happen going forward.  I’ll move the lacing strips, and I’ve got a friend recruited to help me with an in-person fitting on Tuesday. It’s hard to fit something as fiddly as a corset by yourself, and you can only give so much feedback based on photos.  I suspect I’m going to have to take out about half an inch of length all the way around, and I may try to blend the hip gussets into a few of the seams instead of keeping it on its own.  I’m envisioning at least one, maybe two more fittings of the mockup before I move into final fabric (which is good, because I haven’t picked it yet!)

More to come after my fitting on Tuesday!