Friday, September 18, 2015

mourning calico

So back in January, I shared a new natural form dress that I had made for a Little House on the Prairie group that was in the works for Costume College.  But then I had a change of heart and decided that I wanted a lighter weight cotton dress instead of a heavy wool one.   I also am a hopeless follower, and when I heard that my friends were making calico prairie dresses, I decided that I needed one too!  I found a great deal on a repro calico fabric from Saunders Fabrics, and I picked a black fabric with a simple diamond pattern, which I thought it would make a lovely half-mourning dress.  I'm so glad that I ended up switching plans because I think we made such a fun little group of Ingalls sisters in our nicely coordinating calicos.

For something a little different, I decided to try a yoked bodice, which was an incredibly popular style in the late 1870's.  In April of 1879, Peterson's Magazine features a plaid yoked house dress and stated that "the deep waist is made plaited back and front into a yoke; a belt around the waist, with a bow of ribbon on one side." Most of these yoked bodices had high, round necklines or small standing collars, but I found one example of a yoked bodice with a middy collar on a teenaged girl, so I thought that the V-neck might help keep me cool while I also try a style that I haven't done before.  

To help me get started with the construction, I found 2 yoked bodice patterns and several narrow overskirt diagrams in Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 1: Undergarments, Bodices, Skirts, Overskirts, Polonaises, and Day Dresses 1877-1882.  Although I changed these patterns up quite a bit to make my own dress, they were a huge help as I figured out the overall shapes.  

I used cotton velveteen for the collar, cuffs, and belt, and I edged it with natural linen rickrack, which really made these features stand out nicely.  The buttons are vintage and slightly mismatched, which is a fun little detail that seemed appropriate for a prairie dress.  I'm always amused when I see Victorian photos of women who have a mismatched button on their dress.  It happens more often than you would think, and I love imagining a practical frontier woman just replacing a missing button with something "close enough" and not wasting any time worrying about it.

I also wore a silk bow at my neck, and a mourning rosette at my waist. The rosette was a lovely gift from 2 friends, and I made a faux tintype of my husband to use for the portrait.  Similar mourning badges were quite popular after the death of Abraham Lincoln, and you can see a similar style here.  

As the finishing touch, I restyled a vintage black straw hat into a bonnet.  You can see the "before" version on the left.  I cut the brim off in the back of the hat and then wired the edge and covered it with petersham ribbon so that I could curve it around my face.  Then I stitched some wide vintage lace into the inside of the brim, and I trimmed the outside with some vintege ribbon and the original black feathers from the hat.  The ivory silk bow that was around the hat when I bought it was repurposed for the bow at the neck of my dress.

I love the long, loosely curled ponytails that you sometimes see in the late 1870's, so I took the easy way out of styling my hair and just attached a clip-in hairpiece and tied it with a bow. I think it's a nice change of pace from the more severe buns of the 1880s.

I only got a few posed pictures of my dress at Costume College, but I'm hoping to get some more fun ones in a pretty setting when I wear it again this winter.  But if you'd like to see a few more, you can check out my Flickr album.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Summer Chemise

A friend of mine was hosting an 18th c. themed birthday party this weekend, and I decided at the last minute that I wanted a new dress that lightweight enough to be comfortable in our lingering summer heat. It's still in the high 90's here in Texas, so I thought a new chemise gown would be well worth a little detour from my other sewing and blogging plans. I also couldn't resist joining my friends, who were also wearing chemises to the party. I'm such a sucker for a theme!
The fabric is a figured cotton with woven stripes and dots, and it was originally brown.  I bleached it and then re-dyed it to be a periwinkle blue-grey color.  I thought the color that I ended up with was a nice match to the hue in this lovely fashion plate from Cabinet des Modes.  I originally wanted to make a ruffled neckline and hem to make my dress match this fashion plate even closer, but I only had around 4 yards of fabric to work with, so I didn't have enough left over for ruffles.  

Although colored chemise gowns during this time period are plentiful, it's hard to find much evidence for cotton chemise gowns in colors other than white.   Most of the surviving examples and period references show that colored chemises were typically made of silk.  But there is one fashion plate that shows a chemise of pink English muslin, and as far as I know, 18th c. muslin was always made of cotton instead of silk, so I'm hoping that little tidbit of evidence is good enough to let me get away with this somewhat unusual material.

I used the same basic pattern that I created for my black chemise a few years ago, but this time I made elbow length sleeves and only had 2 drawstrings on the bodice instead of 3.  Chemise gowns with fitted backs are very easy to construct, and I think they are a lot less fiddly than the kind that are gathered all the way around.  I took a picture while I was getting dressed to give you a peek at the construction.  It's really just a basic round gown with a gathered section attached over the front of the bodice, and this panel is stitched down on to the bodice at the sides and tied in the center with ribbons.

For the party last night, I just wore a simple ribbon and some flowers in my hair since this seems to be a very common look for ladies in portraits from the late 1780's and early 1790's.  But I also loved the way the dress looked with my black tall hat, so I took some photos of both styles while tromping though the woods at my local park today.  Here are a few of my favorite shots, and there are a few more pictures on flickr.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

1920 Bathing Suit

I’ve been madly sewing for Costume College over the past few months, and I finally have enough free time again to blog about my projects and show you all what I’ve been up to lately.  I’ll start by sharing the most summery of my new outfits – a late 1910’s/early 1920’s bathing suit.  I think these bathing suits tend to look pretty silly to our modern eyes, but they are comfy and fun and so easy to make, and I thought it would make a great low-stress costume to wear to the Costume College pool party after a long day of traveling.

bathing suits from 1918 New Idea Quarterly
My suit is not an exact copy of any one historical outfit, but the basic long tank top and boxy shorts were hugely popular in both photos and fashion plates of women (and men!) from the years around 1920.  You can see a wide variety of similar styles on my historical bathing suit Pinterest board.  Black was one of the most popular colors for bathing suits, and like most of the surviving examples, I made mine from wool.  I had a hard time finding wool knit for an affordable price, but I lucked upon some wool mommie cloth, which has a slightly stretchy crepe-like weave that worked perfectly for my project.  Then I decorated the edges with white rayon soutache.  I threaded the soutache onto a large eye tapestry needle, then sewed it directly into the fabric by using a big running stich around the edges.  The weave was loose enough that the soutache slipped through holes in the cloth with no trouble at all.  You can see a similar treatment on bathing suits like this one

I drafted my own pattern for this suit after consulting several 1920’s swimsuit pattern diagrams in the book Women's Wear of the 1920's: With Complete Patterns. I was very doubtful that the shorts pattern from that book would work for me - it’s just one rectangle for the front, one rectangle for the back, and a square gusset inserted into a slit for the inner legs and crotch - but it actually worked quite well.  Many of the 20’s bathing suits had the shorts attached to the top, but I made mine separate and used elastic at the waistline just to make it less fussy. Or if you wanted an even easier alternative, this type of suit would also be very easy to fake with a modern sleeveless blouse and shorts pattern.  

These early bathing suits are pretty plain on their own, so accessories go a long way to creating a more historical look.  The vast majority of women in 1910’s and 20’s photos of bathing suits are wearing some sort of cloth cap or bandana to cover their hair, so I just hemmed a large triangle of striped cotton to wear for my own beachy headwear.  

I also loved that so many of the women in the earlier photos were wearing black tights with their bathing suits, so I took some photos both with and without the tights, but I think I like the look of tights better just because it is more "old timey" looking. I was also curious to see how it felt to wear hosery on a beach or in water, but it was really pretty nice.  They offered protection from the itchy sand, and having wet tights next to my skin kept me much cooler than having the sun on my bare legs.  But it was also fun to take the tights off and get a more modern, later 20's look.  After having the tights on first, I have to admit that bare legs felt quite scandalous!  

For my beach shoes, I stitched some soutache around the edges of a pair of cheap ballet flats from Target and added some ties to wrap around my legs.  It was an easy alteration, and they held up well to wading through the water.  

But my favorite accessory of all was my parasol. The big one in my beach photos is made of canvas and bamboo, and it was sold at World Market a few years ago.  It is HUGE and heavy, but I loved how similar it looks to the beach umbrellas seen in some period photos, like this famous image by Jacque Henri Lartigue. I tried to take some similar photos, but it was harder than I thought it would be to look glamorous while running back and forth to take pictures with a tripod and automatic timer in the soft sand.  My umbrella kept rolling away and the waves would catch me off guard, so I'm sure I made quite a curious and memorable sight for the tourists watching me from their balconies at the condo!  

I obviously couldn't carry such a huge umbrella around Costume College, so I painted some swallowtails on a cheap paper parasol in a design similar to the parasol in this fashion plate.  It's not nearly as exciting as my big umbrella, but it definitely helped my outfit feel more complete.  The black and white is pretty severe without a little dash of color.  

So that's pretty much it for my first new Costume College costume.  I've uploaded all of my pictures from the weekend to this flickr album if you want to see some spoilers about what I'll be blogging about over the next month, and I also have another album with a few more of my beach pics. I also had fun indulging in my other hobby and turning some of my favorite shots into faux-autochromes and other antique photo fakes.  I think my favorite part about Edwardian and 1920s costuming is getting to Photoshop all the pictures when I'm done!  Autochromes are the best, and I always love getting new inspiration by looking at the real ones - aren't they gorgeous?

Friday, May 15, 2015

When life throws you lemons, make a hat!

Like many people, I was very touched by the recent blog post on Wearing History about Social Media and the Myth of Perfection. I can relate to many of the things she has gone through, and I SO admire the courage that she showed by giving us a glimpse into the less public side of her life. I think Lauren started a conversation that really needed to happen. It is SO easy to feel inferior, jealous, or like the people around us live charmed lives when we only see the highly curated images that are typically shared on blogs and Facebook. I can also relate to the Dreamstress's post on Privacy, Perfection, and Blogging, because I too am an extremely private person, and there are just some things that I don't feel comfortable talking about in this very public forum.

2014 was a very bad year for me. 2015 has been much much worse. I have been struggling with what to say or how to say it here on my public site, so this string of recent articles was very timely for me. Everybody is different, but for me, costuming is my joy, my creative outlet, and most of all, my escape, and I just don't want to talk about sad personal things here - that's what LiveJournal is for! But if you notice that I'm not posting as much, I'm replying to emails even less than usual, or you see me wearing lots of black for awhile, just know that there's a lot going on beneath the surface, and I'm doing the best that I can.

So on a lighter note, I thought I'd show you a quickie project that I just completed last week. I wanted to wear my Edwardian half-mourning outfit to a DFWCG outing, but we were going to a crowded museum, so I didn't want to be a nuisance in my ginormous Merry Widow hat. So the night before the event, I whipped up a much smaller version to wear instead.

Edwardian hats are some of the most delightful things to make because they often appear to be big piles of fluff with very little rhyme or reason to them. I started with a flat brimmed straw hat that I found at an estate sale, and then I took some scraps of velvet and piled them on top to make the crown seem much bigger than it actually is. I tacked the velvet down by hand, and I just folded and scrunched it up as I went until it looked "right". (I know that's not very helpful, but I don't know any other way to say it!) I finished it off by adding 4 feathers that I lightly curled with my curling iron, and an antique buckle brooch that I bought on Etsy. These brooches are quite common and are often surprisingly affordable, and I love them because they are so easy to switch out from one project to the next.

Even though I don't want to delve into sad personal topics today, I will share one "myth of perfection" confession with you all. I often retouch my photos to remove wrinkles, blemishes, dark circles under my eyes, or fix my hair a little better. I figure that all of those issues could be avoided or at least lessened if I used expensive eye creams, botox, wrinkle fillers, or a hairdresser... but I'm poor and Photoshop is free, so eh? why not? I also take an average of 50 photos for every 1 that is good enough to show up on my site, so I'm extremely selective about what I show here. I often wonder if people see me in person at costume events and are shocked by how old and ragged I look compared to my online photos.  :)  But it's really hard to put yourself out there for the amusement and nit-picking thousands of strangers. A bit of retouching makes me feel braver and less self-conscious - it's like a psychological coat of armor - so I feel more comfortable sharing more photos of my costuming work, which is the real point of it all. So now you know my dirty little secret, and if you'd like to see the raw, un-retouched me, just roll over this picture and take a peek.

So am I spreading the myth of perfection by retouching my photos? Maybe. Am I going to keep doing it? You better believe it! Because in the end, costuming is not reality - it's an escape. Reality is not always pretty and it's not always fun, but I'm grateful to have this quirky little hobby where I can take a break from the real world to cast off my woes, wear silly hats, magically erase my wrinkles, and laugh with my friends. For me, it's the best therapy in the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Regency Chemise

This year, I'm thrilled to be participating in a group project that will recreate the costumes illustrated in Vernet’s Merveilleuses and Incroyables from 1814.  (for more info, check out the Facebook page) We are supposed to keep the dress that we are making a secret until the grand reveal in December, so I decided to focus my blog entries on undergarments and accessories for most of the year and save my dress for the very end.  I’m really excited to have an excuse to make myself some new and improved Regency undies, and I am looking forward to hand-sewing everything from the skin out.  I know, I know… that probably sounds like madness to many of you, but I’ve grown to love hand-sewing over the years, so it seems like a fun challenge to me. 

The first garment on my list was a new chemise.  There isn’t much to blog about with a simple shift or chemise, but I’ll share my progress here anyway.  My chemise is made from a lightweight linen/cotton blend fabric, and it is stitched with linen thread.  The seams are all sewn by hand with a small backstitch, then I flat felled the seams. 

I decided to use Laughing Moon #115 for this garment, and the pattern is based on a surviving chemise in the designer’s collection.  The sizing worked well, and it saved me a good bit of time and effort vs. drafting my own pattern from scratch. It would have been nice if the instructions had been more detailed about inserting the underarm gussets – those were tricky with the felled seams – but I worked it out eventually.  I’m sure there are some wonderful tutorials online somewhere, but I was too lazy (or maybe too stubborn) to go searching for them.

The only thing that I didn't like about this chemise pattern is that it has a very high neckline in back, so I cut it into a more rounded shape after it was assembled to lower the back edge.  Both square and round necklines were common in Regency chemises, although I'm not sure if they were ever combined into one garment.  I actually like the rounded back better than the square front, so I think if I made this pattern up again, I would choose the high neckline option for the front and then round off the shape of both the front and the back of the chemise.

I also wish that I had cut the selvage down to something narrower than 5/8" before felling the seams. Period undergarments usually have tiny seams, and mine look pretty ham-fisted in comparison.  But this was my first time to hand-sew a chemise, and I learned a lot from the process, so I'm still pretty happy with the end results.

My biggest discovery was that chemises don't take nearly as long to sew by hand as I had feared.  It always seemed like too much effort to hand-sew something that would rarely be seen by anybody other than myself, but this chemise made up so quickly that it was really no trouble at all.  I only worked on it for a couple of hours over 3 evenings, and it was a soothing and mindless project while watching movies and TV.  

As one last finishing touch, I thought it would be a fun to embroider my initials on the front under the neckline.  Embroidered initial are commonly found on period chemises, and I can imagine that if you lived in a Regency household filled with women, it would be quite necessary to monogram your garments so that you didn’t end up wearing your mother’s or your sister’s underwear.  I'm afraid that if I was one Jane Austen’s heroines, I definitely wouldn’t win any praise for my needlework skills… but I guess this is good enough for a modern Janeite.  ;)    

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Mojo Dress

2015 has not been very kind to me so far with sewing projects.  I had a string of sewing/shopping disasters, so I finally got fed up and took a break from anything costume-related for most of February.  But inspiration comes from the strangest places, and for me, it was seeing the horribly tacky 60's/70's clothes in the new Mad Men promo pics.  I know most people would run screaming from all that pastel, plaid, and big hair, but I love it like crazy!  It's hideous and glorious and it made me want to sew something RIGHT NOW, so yesterday I whipped up my own pastel plaid monstrosity to wear to a retro-themed bowling event today.  It felt great work on a no-stress dress for a change, and hopefully it will help me get my sewing mojo back on track again.

To make my dress, I used a very simple mail order jumper pattern from the late 60's or early 70's.  The fabric is vintage wool plaid that I found at an estate sale many years ago.  This is actually my second garment that uses this fabric - it also made an appearance in a pair of Victorian pants.  What can I say?  I LOVE crazy plaids!  The dress is finished off with a few vintage buttons that were given to me by my mother-in-law, but unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention and make the dress button on the wrong side.  Whoops!

I also used today's outing as an excuse to wear my Vintage Coat of Awesomeness.  That was another amazing estate sale discovery.  God, I love that coat!

So that's about it.  It was fun to make, fun to get dressed up, fun to do something different, and fun to indulge in my Mad Men obsession.  A perfect palate-cleanser project.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Little House natural form dress

I'm planning on going to Costume College again this summer, and it is never too early to start making dresses!  The theme for this year is "Plucked from the Pages", so a couple of my friends and I are planning on wearing Little House on the Prairie inspired outfits for one of the days while we are there.  I have been obsessed with all things "Little House" for most of my life, so I decided to make a very simple wool natural form gown that would be right at home on the prairie during the early 1880's, which is when the last few books took place.  I remember spending many hours of my childhood (and adulthood!) pouring over the illustrations in those books and re-reading the passages that described their dresses.  Although my outfit isn't meant to copy one specific dress from the book, I was definitely influenced by several of the charming illustrations and descriptions from the series when coming up with my design.

I also wanted to have something new to wear this weekend for an outing to the museum with the DFWCG. The wool that this dress is made from is quite heavy, which makes it warm and cozy for winter. Plus, the narrow skirts and lack of a train made it much more manageable around crowds, which was nice since the museum was packed. Unfortunately, I ran short on time and didn't get to fine-tune my outfit as much as I would have liked, so I'll probably go back and made a few minor adjustments before it gets a second wearing a Costume College. I know these are nit-picky things, but the peplum is a little unruly and refused to lay flat in back, the collar and cuffs need a bit of lace, and the velvet collar seems a bit awkward to my eyes. Is it too wide? Should it be wool? Or maybe I just need to add some ribbons or a lace cravat to dress it up some more? I haven't completely worked a solution just yet, but luckily I have 7 months to mull it over.

I used the same basic bodice pattern that I used last summer for my plaid dress, and I reused my bonnet from that project too since the colors looked so pretty with the maroon.  The overkskirt pattern was drafted from the 1880 "sateen dress" diagram in Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol 1.  I discovered that the front of the overskirt was a lot longer in real life than the illustration shows, and I had to add in extra pleats to make it match up with the back panel correctly. But that's okay because I like the look of the longer skirt just as well. I also used two straps of wide elastic to keep the overskirt pulled back tightly, and that seemed to help the draping of the front a lot while still giving me freedom to move.

My favorite part of the dress is the set of antique Victorian buttons on the bodice, which are nothing exciting in photos, but I think they are quite pretty in real life. I love being able to use old buttons on a new dress. It's such a fun finishing touch.

I also got to wear my fur capelet again, which made me incredibly happy. It's so warm in Texas that it's always a treat when I can find an excuse to wear coats and capes!

As usual, here are some of my favorite photos, and there are a few more additional pics on flickr.