Saturday, August 11, 2018

Victorian Cycling Costume

Wow.  It's been a loooong time since my last blog post, but I'm so giddy over my new 1890's cycling costume that I decided to knock the dust off of this website so I can share a little bit about my new outfit and throw in a pattern review while I'm at it.

After hearing that a few of my friends were making cycling costumes for Costume College this year, I decided at the last minute that I desperately needed one too, so I ordered the Wearing History Bicycling Outfit pattern since I was in a rush and didn't have time to draft patterns from scratch.  This turned out to be a really excellent plan, and I couldn't be happier with the way this pattern went together.  Unlike a lot of historical reprints, Lauren has graded this one so that it includes multiple sizes, which was extremely helpful.  I made up one of the largest sizes, and I was really pleased with how close it was to fitting right off the bat.  I did end up taking in the bodice seams in a few areas, but that's totally to be expecting when working with a Victorian period pattern, and it's always easier to make something smaller than try to make it bigger.  The only part of the pattern that seemed a little odd was the neckline, which I found to be lower than it needs to be if you were attaching a high collar. But since I decided to change the design to an open neckline, this really wasn't a problem for me - just be mindful of it if you want to make up the bodice like the original and are using a larger size.  I also decided to make the shoulders on the bodice a little narrower so the sleeves didn't sit so wide (helps prevent the linebacker look!), but that's another easy change to make, and it's definitely more of a personal preference than a necessity.

Even though my final results might appear quite different from the original pattern illustration, I really didn't have to change much to get a completely different look.  The sleeves and bloomers are made up exactly like the pattern, and I love both of those elements SO MUCH!  The sleeves have the perfect amount of fulness to give you an 1890's shape without being so large that they are ridiculous.  I flatlined my sleeves with a layer of tulle to help give them body, but most of the "poof" is controlled by mounting the outer layer of fabric to the inner layer before assembling the sleeves.  It really does a excellent job of creating the right shape, and I'll definitely be using this sleeve pattern again in the future if I make more dresses from this decade.

The bloomers are my favorite part of this whole pattern, and they went together so quickly.  I used Wearing History's excellent YouTube tutorial to help me figure out how to assemble the pointed side plackets, and they both went in perfectly on the first try.  I've never used that technique before, and it was kind of like magic to see how well it works!  My only other tip on the bloomers is to cartridge pleat the bottom of the legs into the cuffs if you want maximum fullness - it makes them even more jaunty and fun, and it is much more practical than gathering or pleating if you are using a heavier fabric, like wool. 

To personalize my costume I decided to pull some inspiration from other 1890's fashion patterns and cycling imagery and convert my bodice into a jacket.  I used the pattern diagram for a "ladies' street costume" in Kristina Harris's 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns to create the jacket peplum, and these patterns also to helped me figure out how to add a wide collar and lapels to my existing bodice.  There are a lot of great historical patterns in Harris's book (and its companion, Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns), and in my opinion, it's a million times easier to modify a good foundation pattern like the Wearing History one than to draft something from scratch.

Under the jacket, I am wearing a modern man's tuxedo shirt that I bought at a thrift store, plus a bowtie that a made from some silk scraps left over from a previous project.  I also re-trimmed a vintage straw hat with a long strip of striped silk that I sewed into a tube so that it looks like ribbon.

Amusingly, the part of my costume that got the most compliments at Costume College was my plaid stockings!   These socks were a lucky find on Amazon, and they come in a three-pack with red and tan as well.  I've always been completely charmed by images of Victorian women wearing checked and plaid stockings with their bloomers, and it seemed to be quite a fad during the 1890's.  Even if you don't have a cycling costume in the works, I highly recommend these socks if you want to add a bit of fun to your historical (or modern) wardrobe!

This costume turned out to be a real joy to wear.  It's quite comfortable, and the bloomers make you feel so free and liberated compared to heavy skirts.  I have to admit that I frolicked around like a big nerd when I was wearing this for my photoshoot.  All of that extra mobility makes you want to run and jump and flop on the ground!  I can totally understand why cycling outfits were so popular with Victorian women - they are just so much fun to wear!

And because I'm officially Extra™, I also pulled out my bicycle and took it for a spin to see how this outfit feels on a bike.  The bloomers are really comfy while riding, although you still have to dismount carefully so they don't get caught on the seat.  My only issue was with my shoes, which tended to slip on the plastic pedals if I wasn't careful thanks to their smooth leather soles, but that issue could probably be solved pretty easily by adding some rubber grips.  I've had several people ask me if I would be wearing this outfit for any tweed rides, and I would absolutely love to do that if they host any more themed cycling gatherings in my area.  It was crazy fun to ride my bike in this kooky outfit, and the only thing that would be better is if I could buy an actual antique bicycle to add to the authenticity. 

I have some more photos and another video of me riding my bike on Flickr, and you can find more Victorian and Edwardian cycling costume inspiration on my Pinterest.  I'm also having a ton of fun using these photos to practice my faux-antique photo techniques using photoshop, so I'm sure I'll be adding more of those to my Flickr account whenever I find some more time to play.

Monday, December 19, 2016

a round gown with Vandyke scollops

I have always had an obsession with quirky trends from fashion history, and one of my favorites is a late 18th-century fad that used a row of small triangles to decorate the borders of gowns, hats, and shoes.  I have seen modern historians refer to this design feature as "sawtooth" trim, but the the English fashion magazines from this era always refer it to as "Vandyke scollops" - named after the large pointed lace trim that was common in the works of the 17th century Dutch artist, Anthony Van Dyke.  This style of trim seemed to be quite popular for about 20 years, and it not only reflected the Georgians' love of sartorial historicism during this period, but it also was a surprisingly easy and cost-effective decorative technique.  With just a bit of scrap fabric, a seamstress could create eye-catching and fashionable embellishment on an otherwise simple dress.  
This past summer, I found myself in need of a new gown to wear to the Gala at Costume College, so I decided to make a new silk round gown and matching sleeveless spencer with Vandyke scollops.  I based the construction of my dress on this Italian round gown and spencer from the Met, although I did change a few details, such as using shorter sleeves and raising the waistline so that it better matched the Gallery of Fashion illustration from 1796 shown above.  

I was quite fascinated by the construction of this Italian gown's bodice, since it seemed to feature flaps that are gathered up on cords in the front.  Most round gowns from this period have the bodice and skirt all in one piece, but in this gown, you can see that the bodice is more heavily gathered that the skirt, which would help to fine-tune the fullness of each piece.  Although there aren't enough photos to tell how the original bodice is constructed under the flap, I used an educated guess and decided to make a lightly gathered bodice attached to the skirt, and then a heavily gathered section to cover it.  This type of double-layer construction would also explain a few surviving gowns with odd flappy bits at the sides that museums never seem to know how to style.  

The Vandyke trim is quite bold - especially on the front of the spencer - and while I do like quirky fashions, it's nice that I can also wear the dress without the spencer for a slightly less busy look.  

I am wearing this dress with my transitional stays, a taffeta petticoat, an old velvet turban, and my new muff.  As usual, 1790s fashions tend to not be the easiest style for modern audiences to appreciate, but for some reason I adore them!  The skirts are so full and the waists are so high that it does create a very odd silhouette, but when these outfits are all put together with the right accessories, I think they feel so glamorous and dramatic - especially from the back!  

If you'd like to see more photos of this outfit, you can find them on flickr.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

1795 Half-Mourning Robe

Every year, the DFWCG holds a Georgian Picnic, and as usual, I waited until the very last minute to decide what to wear.  I had originally planned on wearing something old, but my state of mind since the election has been pretty gloomy, so I decided to wear my heart on my sleeve and make another mourning gown.

I was originally inspired by a fashion plate from Gallery of Fashion showing an "afternoon dress, in half-mourning" that combined a black robe with a white round gown.  I already had a white gown, and I found a 3 yard piece of black wool in my stash that would work great for the robe. Luckily, I also had some good 1790s patterns that I had drafted for previous projects, so it ended up being a really quick and easy garment to put together.

A black robe on its own is pretty boring, but I also found lots of examples of 1790s robes edged with fur, which seemed like a perfect choice for a November picnic (you can see a variety of robe fashion plates here).  I picked up a yard of faux fur and used this to trim the edges of the robe, and I also made a new muff since the 1790s is ALL about the accessories.

Turbans are the most common type of headwear that women seemed to wear with this type of gown, and the crazy-long feathers add such a fun finishing touch.  Since I was short on time, I made a really simple fixed turban by tacking a long strip of silk over a wool hat blank.  I also wore my curly grey wig to try to mimic the look of the ladies in these fashion plates.

So that's pretty much it!  My obsession with 1790's fashion knows no bounds, and it was a lot of fun to make another robe to add to my growing collection.

As usual, I'll post a few of my favorite photos here, and the rest are on Flickr.

Friday, May 27, 2016

rewear and refresh

Soooo... it's been 6 months since my last blog post, and I thought I'd drop in and let you all know what I've been up to. I had a big push of productivity last spring and summer, but then I crashed after Costume College and desperately needed some time to hibernate and recuperate. It's been good. I really needed a break from sewing to recharge my batteries a bit. But I haven't stopped going to costume events during this past year - I've just been rewearing older pieces from my wardrobe and giving each outfit a few tweaks to make them feel more fun.

I started off last January by wearing my mourning calico to a exhibition of artwork by Gustave Caillebotte. I took this opportunity to make a new set of white collar and cuffs to finish off the dress. The inner collar and cuffs are items that you almost always see in original Victorian fashion plates and photographs, but as modern costumers, we tend to leave them off - probably because they were separate items and aren't typically included in the display of surviving Victorian garments in museums, so our eyes aren't as accustomed to seeing them there. But 19th century women used the inner collar and cuffs to protect the dress from dirt and body oils, and they could be easily removed and laundered, so it makes sense that they were essential finishing touches during the period. I ran out of time and didn't get to finish my own collar and cuffs for the first wearing of this dress at Costume College, but the dress feels SO much more complete now that I have them.

You can see the difference between the dress with and without the collar/cuffs in these pictures, and I also wore a new bow at the neckline to change things up a bit more. It's a subtle change, but I like it a lot better this way. The cuffs are just rectangular strips of cotton edged with eyelet that I tacked to the inside of the sleeves. The collar came from a mysterious little pattern on page 294 of Fashions of the Gilded Age, Vol. 2. The diagram is not labeled and there's no illustration showing what the pattern piece looks like when made up, but I suspected that it was one of those jaunty winged collars that you see so often during the natural form years. Sure enough - it worked perfectly!  

My next event was a trip to the Cowgirl Museum, so I decided to restyle my Victorian cycling outfit with some new accessories to give it more of an Old West look. This one didn't require any sewing at all, which was a wonderful treat. I just wore a different hat, a bandanna, some leather gloves, and an old belt and pouch with a turquoise brooch in the place of a buckle. I wish I could claim that the holster was mine too, but this piece was just on loan from my friend Christy for this picture.  

I found it amusing that Christy had also restyled one of her old dresses to give it a cowgirl vibe, and we happened to have worn these outfits together at another event 4 years ago. Even when we were supposed to be proper ladies, we still couldn't resist pretending to be outlaws! I guess it just runs in our Texas blood.

Finally, the local costume guild organized an 18th c. dinner party, so I decided to wear my black chemise once again. To change this one up, I wore my big embroidered kerchief, a new purple striped sash, and I rewound my turban with some purplish-grey silk. But most importantly, I styled a new wig that matches my natural haircolor, which was a HUGE improvement! (Good lord! What was I thinking with that crazy blond mess on my head?!)  

I have a bad habit of wanting to make new costumes for EVERY event that I go to, but this year has made me grateful to have some good pieces in my wardrobe that I can rework and rewear in different ways. Plus, I've really enjoyed focusing on the stress-free fun of wearing costumes vs. the often exhausting process of making them. I have to admit that I'm itching to make some new things again, and I've already started one big project that I'll be sharing here soon. But hopefully I'll be able to stay a little more balanced with my work load in the future, and I think this sewing hiatus has taught me to appreciate my older costumes a lot more than I used to.

BTW - if you'd like to see more pics from my recent costumed adventures, feel free to check out my flickr. Even when I'm not blogging, flickr is one place that always stays updated because I like to share my pics with my wonderful friends in the DFWCG. And if you happen to be in the area - come out and join us! We'll be adding a bunch of new events to our calendar over the next week!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Grandma, the Wolf, and Little Red

The tale of this costume follows a long and meandering path, and to tell its story, I need to go back to the beginning, over a year ago: “Once upon a time, a lowly seamstress heard news of a magical ball in a far off land…”

*ahem* Okay, so maybe that’s a bit too dramatic for a blog post. Let me try that again:   

John Singleton Copley, Portrait of a Lady, 1780
In the summer of 2014, the organizers of Costume College announced that their next theme would be “Plucked from the Pages: Costuming Your Favorite Literary Characters”. I usually have a HORRIBLE time deciding what costumes to make for big events like this one, but I knew almost instantly want I wanted to make for the 2015 Costume College Gala. Out of all the old fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood is my favorite, so I decided that I would be the Wolf wearing Grandma’s clothing. But I had no intention of being a sweet old grandma wrapped up in blankets with curlers in her hair. I wanted to be an elegant 18th c. grande dame like you see in so many paintings from that age. There is so much subtext and darkness and deeper meaning in old fairy tales, so I started wondering if the real Grandma was meant to be somewhat terrifying and wolf-like on her own, and maybe that’s why Little Red couldn’t tell the two apart. Who knows if that was the original intention, but it’s a fun thought, and one that you could easily imagine being true when you see the countless historical images of stern-looking matriarchs with silver hair and piercing eyes.

I started by collecting pictures of older women in Georgian paintings (check out my Pinterest board for lots of great Grannies). Many of these ladies are shown in grey or taupe gowns with an abundance of frilly white caps, aprons, and fichus, and this color combo already looked very wolf-like to my eyes. For my costume, I decided to make a simple grey silk taffeta round gown, and I drafted my own pattern by modifying and combining several of the dresses in Patterns of Fashion. Although my dress is quite plain on its own, I was lucky enough to find some gorgeous tambour embroidered curtain panels from the 1930’s at an antique show a few years ago, and they worked perfectly for my apron and fichu. The panels all had some staining and damage in various places, but I was able to cut around the bad spots, and I’m thrilled with the way they turned out. To finish off my gown, I made a pair of organdy sleeve ruffles that I just pinned in place. 

Although my dress was fairly simple, I decided that I wanted my hair to be more dramatic for the gala, so I made a large 18th c. wig based on the instructions in Kendra’s Van Cleave’s wonderful book - 18th Century Hair and Wig Styling. I used the instructions for the Lilac wig to build the wire base, and I used a Lioness wig plus several hanks of loose hair to cover the base and make the buckles. The wig was originally dark brown, but I sprayed it with Jerome Russell B Wild Color Spray in Siberian white to make it grey, and this was definitely the best white hair spray that I’ve tried yet. I’ve never worn a wig this big before, but it was lots of fun and surprisingly comfortable. The only unexpected side effect is that it gave me a bit of a face lift from the weight of it pulling backward on my head, which made me look a less matronly than usual. The funny thing is that even though this wig seemed MASSIVE when I was building it, it didn’t seem big at all once I had the whole outfit on. While I was wearing it, I kept thinking, “eh – I could have gone a lot bigger”, and if period painting can be believed, this ‘do was still quite modest compared to many. 

More than anything, 18th century grandmas seemed to love their ridiculous caps, but I wasn’t sure how huge and silly I really wanted to go with mine. What I ended up with was relatively tame compared to what you often see in period paintings and fashion plates, but that’s mainly because I put the cap off for the last minute and didn’t have time to keep hemming ruffles. My cap is made from organdy, and it is just a much larger version of a typical 18th c. cap. It is made from a large oval in back with a band that is wider at the sides and narrower at top, and I covered the band with several rows of box pleated ruffles and some poofed black ribbon. It also has a hanging tail of fabric in the back, which is a common look, even if it doesn’t seem to serve much purpose.   

While I was sewing my gown, I was also working on a wolf mask, which was quite an adventure as well.  I discovered the work of Joni Good and her book, How to Make Masks!. Joni makes some of the most amazing papier mache masks that I’ve ever seen, and you can find much more of her work on her website, Ultimate Papier Mache. I used her techniques and sculpted a mold for my mask using terra cotta clay, then I covered it with shop towels and the plaster/glue mixture that she describes in her book and instructional videos. I actually ended up making two wolf sculptures and papier mache shells because I forgot to use a release agent on the first one, so the paper mache stuck to the clay and wouldn’t come off. Whoops! But it all turned out for the best because I liked my second version of the wolf much better. 

photo by jennylafleur
While I loved making the wolf mask, I have to admit that I didn’t love wearing it. Very few people knew who I was when I arrived at the gala, and it was almost impossible to hear me when I talked because it was so noisy and the mask muffled my words. I also had a limited range of sight, so I had to be very careful not to step on trains or bump into tables. So it was fun for the grand reveal and a few pictures, but poor Wolfie didn’t last long at the party. But the best part about wearing this costume was that my friend Ginger decided to make an 18th c. Little Red costume to go along with my Grandma Wolf, and she made the most AMAZINGLY gorgeous polonaise à coqueluchon, which is a hooded gown that was popular at the time. Recreating the characters of this story in a more historical way was SO incredibly fun, and I was thrilled every time somebody had an “ah-ha!” moment and realized who we were. I’m so happy and grateful that Ginger decided to play along with me, and doing this theme with her was one of the highlights of my trip.

So that’s the story of Grandma and the Wolf, but this tale had one more twist that surprised even me in the end. Although I wasn’t planning on wearing this outfit again so soon, we had an unexpected cold front move in right before our yearly Georgian Picnic, and I decided that a silk round gown would be a little warmer than my semi-sheer cotton chemise dress that I had originally planned on wearing. I still desperately needed a cloak to block the wind, but when I dug though my stash, the only thing suitable that I found was some coat-weight red wool that I found at an estate sale many years ago. So I used the hooded cloak and mantle patterns in Costume Close-Up as a guide, and I quickly threw together a little red mantle to keep me warm at our picnic. So without even planning it, this costume now has become Grandma, the Wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood all in one!

Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 
portrait de Nicole Ricard, enfant, 1748-1750
I trimmed my mantle with strips of pinked, box pleated wool in a style that is very similar to this charming painting of a young girl. I think most winter cloaks were probably lined in the period, but I didn’t bother to do that on mine since the fabric was felted and quite heavy already. My only complaint is that the hood pattern that I used probably dated from the mid-1700s, so it ended up being a bit small for my later 18th c. hairstyle. I’m tempted to take the hood off and try adding a larger one in the future, but I still love my little red riding hood like crazy, and it kept me quite warm and cozy at the event. 

I also wanted to take a minute to thank several of my friends for giving me some of the gorgeous accessories that you can see in these pictures. My mitts, workbag, pinball, and muff were all gifts made by amazingly talented and generous ladies, and I can't tell you how much that I treasure them! So thank-you Kendra, Angela, Stephanie, and Mary - you are all so dear to me!

And as a final epilogue to this story (which I'm afraid has gotten quite long winded!), I also wanted to mention my new market cap and hair experiments. I had no interest in wearing my large wig to a windy outdoor picnic, so I decided that a more simple style of hair with a market hat would be much more appropriate. I bought a market cap pattern from Maggie at Undressed Lady last summer, and I made it up in a few hours last week from some scraps of black taffeta left over from older projects.

I’ve also been dying to try out the pomade and powder that I bought earlier in the year from Abby at Heirloom Haircare, but I had a huge disaster on the morning of the picnic and discovered that I had misplaced my pomade. So after a failed search and a lot of panic and cursing, I finally resorted to wearing my bushy white wig out of desperation. It’s not the right style of hair for my outfit, and it badly needs restyling, but it was better than nothing, so I sucked it up and just made do with my sad backup wig. Unfortunately, the market hat really needs a tall hairstyle to support it, so I was pretty disappointed with the way it looked at this first wearing (my picnic pictures are here if you are curious).

But then as I was cleaning my sewing room two days later, I found my pomade and decided to give it another try. OMG – I am in love! My hair is mid-back length right now and not overly thick, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull off an 18th c. hairstyle without adding in extra pieces. But the pomade and powder thickens up your hair so beautifully, and I was amazed by how well it stayed in place with no need for teasing or hairspray. I started by pinning a rat of loose synthetic hair that was wrapped up in a hair net on the top of my head, then I combed my own hair over the rat and pinned it down in back. Then I made two large buckles and a loop with my remaining hair that was hanging down (I basically just copied Abby’s look shown on her blog). After it was all in place, I re-powdered it to make it more obviously grey, and I hid the parts in back where it was pinned with a cap and a bow. I don’t think I’ve ever had such good luck styling my own hair before, and I’m absolutely amazed that I managed to pull this look off on my first try! And as an added bonus, my market hat suddenly went from “wah, wah, waaaa…” to “WOW!” once I had the right hairstyle to support it.

Since I had such good luck with my practice hairstyle, I decided to get dressed up one more time and finally take some proper pictures of my dress. I didn’t get many that I was happy with at either Costume College or the picnic due to bad lighting and my failed hair, so it was fun to finally come up with some shots that I’m really happy with. Check out my flickr if you want to see more.

"... and they lived happily ever after.  The end!"