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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
4. Corset-Induced Smushy Face (and other non-conventionally-attractive women in art)
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.
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.
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.
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.
My first costuming goal is to finish a couple of unfinished projects that have gone by the wayside for various reasons.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:
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’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.
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.
(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:
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.
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!
Ok, news first! I’m going to be doing all sorts of cool stuff in the next few months (and never sleeping!):
- My thesis programs are up on the Merchant’s House website! I’ll be Bridget Murphy the kitchen maid on St Patrick’s Day, and Julia Tredwell talking about etiquette on April 23 and talking about fashion on May 21.
- I’m also helping out with the interactive kids’ tour on February 20, which is going to be really really fun. If you are interested in daily life in the 19th century and have access to a child, I suggest checking it out!
- On April 24 I will be modeling my Tissot dress in the New York Nineteenth Century Society Extravaganza fashion show at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. Not a lot of info on this event yet, but I’ve really enjoyed the other NYNCS events that I’ve been to.
- I am very excited to be participating in Fashioning Weeksville, an awesome program that will involve creating a costume for a new living history presentation at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn.
Holy crap, right?? So much awesome stuff. When it rains it pours!
Well guess what! I found another portrait that is even more eerily similar to my gown:
Right? RIGHT???? This is basically exactly the same as my gown. And I’d never seen it before someone posted it as a one-off response to something on the Elizabethan Costume Facebook group maybe two weeks ago. It’s like the time stream cracked open in a moment of perfect transference.
Or just a huge coincidence. But hey. (Incidentally, anyone has any info about this painting please let me know – the Kunsthistoriches Museum webpage is really unhelpful).
I always love having history twin moments like this. They provide unique insight to me as a modern person trying to recreate historical clothes in that they show that the choices I am making in color, cut, material, styling, accessorizing, etc are appropriate for someone who looked like me in period. This is information that people were unlikely to write down, but very inportant for getting that truly authentic look. So in this case, well done me! I think now that I’ve found her I’m going to continue using her as inspiration – I love her hairstyle and jewelry, and the long pearl strand I wore for faire last year was really annoying.
I’ve done the history twin thing before – avid readers may remember my Tissot gown – and I’m doing it again for Bridget’s costume for my thesis:
Have you ever had a history twin? Found your doppelgänger in a portrait or an old photograph? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
My mom and I have been digging around in our family’s historical ephemera looking for photos and papers from my great-grandmother’s time as a Red Cross volunteer in WW2 for a project I’m working on in my conservation class. We haven’t had too much luck on that front, but we have found some other really neat family photos from the very late 19th-early 20th century!
Hi everyone! I’m so sorry I haven’t been around for a while, I’ve been extremely busy with life and work and grad school and everything >< But as the school year winds down I’m (hopefully!!) going to be able to post more!
Yesterday I did a corset demo and dressing in my costume history class at school. I pulled out a powder blue 1840s dress with a big flounced skirt that I made ages ago in undergrad for a classmate who is a great deal smaller than I am, so I can never wear it. I’m very glad for it to see the light of day every now and then!
Beautiful model is my amazing classmate Natalie Finch. Beautiful photos by the amazing Ya’ara Keydar.
For her hair, I used another one of Janet Stephens’ amazing youtube tutorials – Papillote curls! This technique is super easy – it involves wrapping a curl of hair in a triangle of tissue paper, flat ironing it, letting it cool, and taking the tissue paper off. It worked REALLY well, for having never tried it before. I don’t own a flat iron, so while I was able to practice wrapping curls of my own hair in tissue paper but I was not able to see any results (other than me looking silly with tissue paper in my hair). I will definitely be using this technique in the future – and I cut about a million tissue paper triangles, so I’m pretty set!
I hope everyone’s willing to stick with me despite my absence, and I have some exciting stuff coming up soon. This weekend is the New York 19th Century Society Extravaganza, including a Fancy Dress Ball that I’m hoping to be able to attend (here is the Facebook event, for anyone who’s interested!). Also, last week my class visited Cora Ginsburg LLC, an awesome antique costume and textile dealer on the Upper East Side, and they let us look at and touch a bunch of really amazing pieces of 19th century clothing – LOTS of photos to come. And of course in May I’m headed to San Antonio for the Costume Society of America symposium! Yay! So watch this space for new and exciting things from me 🙂
Movie Mondays to resume (hopefully) next week with the 1830s!