To be a bit cliché, this shoemaker is a professional Web Developer and her child is this blog, but it was past time to launch what I have of a new design. All the content is still here, everything else is a work in progress (kind of like most of my sewing projects)!
My copy of the Mantua Maker 1800 -1820 Regency Corset Pattern came, so I started working on my first mockup of the corset to wear under a regency gown at the 1812 Quilt Challenge show in March. When I was in highschool (the last time I really did a lot of garment sewing), I could somehow get away with cutting straight into my fashion fabric, but now, eight years and 40lbs later, that would have been a very dangerous proposition. So here is what happens when you try to make the pattern with no alterations for someone with size 16 measurements, larger-than D cup breasts, a short waist and a lot of squishability.
Though I haven’t been able to sew much lately, I’ve been thinking about my 1812 Quilt (and the fact that I really need to get started on it) quite a bit. I finally have all the fabrics I think I’m going to use, a plan, and after a bit of tea-dying, my medallion is a bit closer to the color I’d hoped to have.
Halloween is fast approaching, and I have nothing to wear. I do have a ¾ finished project from last year that I’ll be finishing up (and writing about), but in the mean time, I thought I’d share an interesting resource. In the late 1860s, Thomas Hailes Lacy, an actor and theatrical manager published two volumes of historical, national and dramatic dress (one each for women and men). Each contains approximately 200 different fashion plates for costumes through the ages. While they aren’t all precisely accurate for the eras they represent, each of these costumes is intriguing as they show the Victorian take on historical fashion (and fantastical characters in some cases).
You can view all of the plates, both male and female, at the University of Georgia’s online library: Lacy’s Dramatic Costumes.
Here are a few of my favorite plates from the women’s dramatic costume selection. Perhaps one of them will be a good costume for next year. Any one up for a Victorian Halloween Ball? Halloween costumes are great, but when I can blend costumes and historical costuming, I’m in heaven!
I do love a good pun, and this “Fan-cy” dress is absolutely fantabulous. Feathers and pleats and lace and ruffles, oh my! Although, this would be quite a bit of work to create, especially the central fan section of the skirt. That’s an awful lot of pleating and ruffling.
This flowery ensemble is darling, with the basket-weave bodice and the latticed skirt. Perhaps a large skeleton key could be carried and you could be Mary from the Secret Garden.
When one thinks of the Roman goddess Diana, a stola and palla might come to mind (or a very risqué nothing except her bow), but this “modern” take is quite intriguing. Fashioned similar to riding habits of the day, this dress shows urban hunting symbolism (with the horse racing-patterned petticoat). This type of costume appeals to me greatly: taking a mythological entity and interpreting that symbolism into the visual language of the modern world.
The makeup job/drawn face on this fashion plate scares the bejeezus out of me, but the idea is solid. The different patterns in this costume are wonderful. Wouldn’t it be fun to make up a whole gaggle of similar costumes based on Mother Goose’s tales and go about in a group?
I can’t say whether this approaches accurately historical or not, but the abundance of cleavage must have caused quite a stir if this was actually worn in the 1860s. That rounded line is boob, not material, from what I can tell. But aside from its scandalousness, I like this costume for its strange slit skirt with bloomers underneath, the striped material, the underbust bodice, and the plethora of patterns and materials.
What are you planning for Halloween this year? Do these inspire you, or you more the type to go with modern styles?
We interrupt your regularly scheduled entries for a quick feature: When Patterns Lie. I was browsing through the McCall’s Catalog in anticipation of a $1.99/pattern sale at JoAnn’s next weekend and came across a recent addition that I hadn’t seen: pattern M6097, billed as a “Misses’ Victorian Costume.” Misses? Sure. Costume? Definitely. Victorian? Only to whoever named the pattern.
Now, I’ll admit, most of my recent and most in-depth research has focused on Elizabethan clothing, but I also read up on later periods, including Victorian. I really love some Victorian fashions—most even—except for ridiculous gigot sleeves. McCall’s M6097 is not even close to Victorian. It’s like the bastard child of gowns from the mid-1500s and mid-1800s, with some late 1900s/2000s Faire gown and Wedding dress design genes thrown in for good measure. There might even be some 1600s and 1700s aspects.
What were they thinking, labeling this “Victorian?” Once again, I’d love to see research done by the big-name pattern companies for these types of costumes. Luckily, they didn’t sink so low as to put this in their “Historical” lineup, just the run-of-the-mill Halloween costumes, so I suppose you can’t expect too much.
If you’re looking for a Victorian pattern—even for Halloween—this is not the one to choose. Both McCall’s and their subsidiary Butterick have retired all patterns that are even remotely Victorian. Regardless, if you’re serious about making a Victorian costume or reproduction, you’ll get much higher-quality patterns and results from a reputable small company that focuses on historical patterning. Search engines and historical costuming blogs are your friends in finding those. Reconstructing History is one company I’ve heard good things about, and they recently started stocking Victorian patterns, although I’ve never used one of their patterns personally.
In Dressing for Ye Fest, Parte One, I talked a little about how far I want to go in my quest for authenticity on this project. The result is somewhere between “mostly patterned like authentic sources”, “what Rae is claiming could be authentic patterning, sewn on a sewing machine” and “whatever Rae cooks up after getting frustrated.” But since I haven’t even made it to the sewing part of things yet, let’s talk about my inspiration pieces for this project, and construction thoughts we can pull from the artwork.
So with setting and stature in mind, I turn to design. I have yet to get my hands on any of Janet Arnold’s seminal tomes of costuming, so my research is mostly based on that of other costumers available online and period art.
Finding information on middle-class Elizabethan is proving challenging. Many authoritative costumers, like Drea Leed, Kass McGann, and Jen Thompson have done much research into Flemish working women’s clothing based on paintings by Aertsen and Beuckalaer. In some of their research, they’ve been able to show connections to other parts of Europe and England/Ireland but I need to find some English sources. There are four main works I’m going to base my design on.
Fête at Bermondsey
A Fête (Wedding Feast) at Bermondsey by Joris Hoefnagel shows a village in full celebration circa 1569. The great thing about this image is the span of classes shown. Working classes, gentry and nobles are all shown, providing a great glimpse at differences in style. Here are a few details from the image:
Flemish ex-pat Lucas de Heere made a sketch of London Gentlewomen in 1570 that also gives a glimpse of middle-class dress. The country woman on the right is wearing a front-lacing gown similar to the ones known as “Flemish Working Woman” dresses. The other women are of a slightly-higher city-citizen stature, and are dressed as such. I’m especially interested by the woman to the left and the one in the back (middle-front’s daughter) whose sleeves seem to belong not to the overdress but an under layer.
The Hay Harvest
One of Bruegel’s paintings, The Hay Harvest (1565) also strikes me, despite not being English. The detail here shows a group of women. The one in the forefront is wearing a front-laced gown, but it’s bit different than the contemorary Flemish ones: there’s no boobage here—the bodice comes up over the breasts, flattening the body rather than stopping just below the breasts as seen in paintings by Aertsen and Beuckalaer.
Civitates Orbis Terrarum
The Civitates Orbis Terrarum is a map of European and English cities published in 1572. Each map is accompanied by sketches of citizens of the area. The working women from Nonesuch Palace hints at some of the detail we can see in other sources, particularly the looser split over dresses seen in de Heere’s sketch.
So, where does that take us?
My inspirational pieces give me a direction to take—something along the lines of the leftmost woman in de Heere’s sketch or detail 3 from Fête at Bermondsey:
Linen shift with long slender sleeves, attachable ruffles at wrists.
A partlet with a high ruffed collar, of the tucks-into-dress-neckline type.
At least one petticote.
Tight sleeves that attach to a kirtle-type dress.
A kirtle-type dress to attach aforementioned sleeves to.
An front-opening overdress that has short puffy sleeves attached, with an open skirt.
My problem is with part five—there are still many unanswered questions. For instance, does the middle layer kirtle lace up the front? If so, do the skirts lace? If not, how does one get into the skirts, as we can see from the front that there doesn’t seem to be as much gathering there as in the back. This seems to be an ongoing mystery. From my estimation, Thompson has the best theory, even if it doesn’t pertain precisely to English gowns: the dress is laced in the front the length of the bodice plus some of the skirts. In the link, she explains her reasoning, which I agree with. I’m also going to make a few assumptions, but I feel content in this construction as I have yet to see research that either proves or contradicts it:
Posit 1: Women of the lower and middle classes would not have help clothing themselves. Thus, they would need to have front-lacing gowns that they could put on without aid. Extant garments that show back lacing typically belonged to nobility, who had aides to lace them up. My reasoning does allow for side-lacing kirtles.
Posit 2: Clothing was expensive and time-consuming. Considering women typically bore many children throughout their adult lives, it makes sense to have clothing that can easily adjust to the changing shape of a pregnant body. A front-lacing gown that can be pulled entirely closed or be loosely laced will allow for that, as seen in the detail of Thomas More’s pregnant daughter. This same construction would allow for easier breast-feeding post-partum.
I feel safe in my decision to make a front-lacing kirtle that continues lacing into the skirt. My remaining decisions? To wear a paire of bodies and farthingale or not. I need to do more research for the corest question. At the least, I would probably need to make the front-lacing gown stiffened—I will need support. At that point in history, I am still not sure if a corset would be appropriate for my station, but there is obviously shaping happening. Plus, I would like to try my hands at recreating the Effigy Bodies. As for the farthingale, I think it would provide a little too much shape for my stature, but perhaps a nice corded petticote would give the appropriate shape to the skirts.
…are saved for part three, coming soon.
This is part two in a multi-part series. Keep following along by subscribing to the RSS feed. If you missed part one, head over there to catch up.
Last summer, a friend of mine suggested we head to the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Summer 2010 decked out in period garb. “Yes, yes, yes!” I cried in my head, “Wheee, I get to make a costume!!!” So, I’ve been spending some spare time researching Elizabethan clothing. A pair of my earliest projects were “Faire Gowns,” actually—you know, the ones that look kinda like a romanticized version of 16th century clothing and are very anachronistic. So, I put a constraint on myself for both authenticity and improving-my-skills sake: create this costume based on period research and design, not Simplicity/McCall’s/Butterick patterns. Ah, and what a chore it is—not the sewing, but figuring out what is authentic!
There is so much debate about how authentic you should be when it comes to historical costuming. It’s a heated, sometimes vicious debate that I dare say will never have any resolution. So, to be perfectly clear as I begin chronicling this project, this first post will discuss a bit of my stance on authenticity. And keep in mind that in this case, I plan to be a mere spectator at the fair, having no connection what so ever other than a paying customer who loves the chance to sew something up and then get dressed up for a bit.
Because this project is being constructed for a specific event, making something appropriate for the setting is important. After all, you wouldn’t want to show up at a 1920s flapper event dressed in an Edwardian gown, or a 1960s gogo dress, would you? Time (both historical and current seasonal), place (again historic and modern location) and event are all concerns when choosing the design. In this case, the costume is for the Sterling Renaissance Festival in north-western NY. According to their Web site, the festival is a dramatic recreation of an Elizabethan village at festival time. That’s pretty open, allowing for a span of almost 50 years of vastly evolving fashions. The Wikipedia page narrows it with a claim that the fair is set in 1585, so I’ll work with that in mind.
Additionally, there are a few more restrictions: the festival is set in a village, so they won’t have the absolute latest fashions seen at the Queen’s court—it takes time for fashion to travel, after all. With that in mind, I’m going to allow my designs to trend more toward the ’70s, for reasons I’ll describe below in My Stature. That may be assuming a little too much leeway, but it is far more reasonable than if the setting was the royal court.
The setting of “festival time” doesn’t narrow it down much, as there was a church festival almost every month. However, we do know that the Queen is visiting the village (or, the local Noble’s estate), as Queen Elizabeth is present at the festival, and she was more likely to travel during the summer months, so we’ll say the festival probably takes place in late June (Midsummer), July or August. This coincides with the modern summer setting, allowing us to forgo heavy coats and the like. There’s no helping the fact that NY is generally warmer than England, so I’ll likely be sweltering regardless.
So our complete setting: an Elizabethan village circa 1585 celebrating a summer festival while the Queen is touring at the local Noble’s estate.
Now that we have setting, stature needs to be taken into account. How gauche would it be to arrive as a guest dressed to the nines as the Queen (hmm, battle of the Elizabeths anyone?). Instead, I’m aiming for middle/merchant-class. For one, creating a middle-class outfit will be far cheaper in modern money than creating a noble gown—I am middle class after all, with a limited budget for the costume. Additionally, there are fewer pieces to construct—the higher the status, the more layers you wear. Fewer layers sounds like less work and far more comfortable for a NY summer, if you ask me.
The downside to this status? A dearth of resources for lower– and middle-class clothing in Elizabethan England, especially for the ’80s. The few solid graphic resources that exist are from the late ’60s and early ’70s (unless I want to be a Flemish ex-pat; unlikely for a poorer class). However, working with the setting and stature, we can make a bit of an assumption: a middle-class villager is not going to be up-to-date in fashion. It’s actually reasonable to believe that she might be as much as 10-15 years behind the times in fashion—her clothing would not have changed as rapidly or as extensively as the court’s, and anything purchased would have been older castoffs from higher-status women.
Financial stature isn’t the only concern: age is also a consideration. Someone of my age and unmarried state would not wear the same thing as an old widow, for instance. However, at this point in history, general dress seems appropriate for a wide range of women, so it’s not a large concern of mine.
As a middle-class woman circa 1585, my choices for fabrics are linen and wool. That’s it. Silk, fur, gold, silver and pearls are out of the question because of my modest income and sumptuary laws. There’s some debate about cotton being available, but from what I can tell (I’ve lost most of my sources), it was unlikely for a poorer person to have access to cotton, even if nobility might have been able to procure some toward the end of the 16th century. It certainly wasn’t a crop in England. Wool would have been quite available as a staple of the economy.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t easily jive with modern common fabrics. Middle-class citizens these days are more likely to be wearing something fully synthetic or cotton. This consideration causes one of the most intriguing arguing points in the authenticity debate: can using non-authentic fabric be authentic? The Dreamstress, author of a blog I love, argues this point wonderfully. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think striving to use historical fabrics, if possible, is great, however status should be taken into account: lower class used what was cheap. In their time, linen and wool were cheap. Today, cotton and synthetics are cheap. As a middle-class character, is it really that out of line to use cheap, readily available fabrics for my reconstruction, especially ones that drape like more “authentic” ones? It seems pretty in line with what the renaissance tailors were doing at the time.
But, for those authenticity nuts out there, quell your growing distaste a bit—I actually am using wool and linen. See, the absolute best argument you can make to me is “natural fibers are cooler in the summer than synthetics are,” and bam! I’m all about it, especially when the budget will allow. Not to mention I really like linen anyway. See, modern synthetic textiles can often look like an authentic, drape like an authentic, and feel like an authentic, but when it comes to breathing, the textiles that fit those first three criteria hardly ever breathe and wick away moisture like the authentic.
“What about your budget,” you say. “Sales, sales, sales,” I reply. I grabbed some 100% wool and medium-weight linen off of Fashion Fabrics Club for $4/yd a while back. I’m still looking for appropriately cheap handkerchief-weight linen for a smock, however. The closest I can readily find is a cotton-linen blend, which I may resort to despite the fact that while fustian was probably available in England at the time, it would have been a bit out of my price range, I imagine. But, then again, I’m middle-class—fustian is the more affordable these days (though not at cheap as cotton).
I dislike hand sewing. Some days I venture toward hate. I’m not all that good at it, find it tedious, and just prefer to use my machine as often as possible. Because of that, my quest for even 50% authenticity goes out the window. I will use my machine as much as possible, authenticity be damned. However, just because I plan to use my sewing machine as a crutch, that doesn’t mean I won’t give any attention to period drafting and construction techniques (the latter will be influenced by abilities of machines). And that my friends, is where the research gets muddy. There are very, very few extant garments from the period and place. And those few garments are largely noble ones, which are constructed differently than my target in style, materials, and pattern. The latter is especially important: while tailors for the nobles weren’t going willy-nilly wasteful with the expensive fabrics, they had some level of waste available allowing for more bias cuts, stranger shapes, etc. A poor(er) woman, however, would be using every inch of fabric possible—something that can drastically change composition and layout of a pattern.
“Someday,” I keep telling myself, “I’m going to join an SCA group, or go to a Steampunk con, or dance the night away in full costume at Victorian Ball.” It hasn’t happened yet, but I love researching antique fashions in hopes of someday getting my act together and actually creating something. Regardless of my laziness relating to costume construction, you can still benefit from my research: check out this great Victorian fashion resource.
The McCord Museum of Canadian History has a wonderful online exhibit detailing how fashion changed in women’s dress during the reign of Queen Victoria. The zoomable photos of 16 dresses that they feature are accompanied by detailed descriptions as well as summaries of the changes from previous years and short biographical information on the original owners in some cases.
This is one of the best illustrated, concise summaries of the differences in fashion throughout the 1800s that I’ve seen to date. Starting with the empire-waist gowns of the late Regency period, it describes the rise and decline of the gigot (leg-of-mutton) sleeve, the ever-expanding crinoline skirts found mid-century, and the transformation of the bell-shaped crinoline into the infamous bustle of the early 1870s and late 1880s. And while fashion plates are all well and good for looking at the changes in fashion, seeing these museum-quality full-color photographs of extant dresses brings the experience to a new level.
In case you’re short on time and want a quick primer, here are some of the major differences between the decades:
Empire waists and loose, straight skirts echoing societal interest in Classical art and form. Skirts slowly get fuller and sleeves start poofing at the shoulder as the 1830s approach.
Gigot sleeves, also called leg-of-mutton sleeves, are the defining feature of the early part of the decade’s fashion, although they flatten out toward the end. Skirts continue to get fuller, with gores and pleating at the waist aiding the new silhouette.
Sleeves have deflated and waists have dropped to the natural waistline.
Waists continue to drop, and skirts become even fuller, with flounces adding additional poof to the skirts.
Skirts hit their maximum breadth in the early part of the decade, and then begin to transition toward an elliptical shape—the front of the skirt flattens out and the bulk of the skirt moves to the back.
The bustle has evolved from the elliptical shaping of the late-60s skirts. Bodices and basques have become increasingly short-waisted. Toward the end of the decade, the back of the skirt flattens out a little.
In the later part of the decade the bustle comes back with a vengeance, requiring a stiff frame to hold the shape. Very late in the decade, sleeves start poofing.
Skirts become flatter, but the gigot sleeve makes a comeback, jumping off of the poofing sleeves of the late 80s. Moving toward the 20th century, sleeves deflate and bodices begin to change as new styles, such as the bolero, become popular.