Thursday, May 31, 2018

May: Specific to a Time [of Day or Year]

May's challenge originally gave me pause, since making some form of evening wear was the obvious path to take, but I didn't want to spend money on silk right after completing a challenge with silk. It didn't take long to figure out an alternate plan though! Instead of focusing on a time of day, I instead thought about the times of year, and here in the tidewater part of Virginia, summer immediately springs to mind. For those of you who haven't visited south-eastern Virginia in the summer (or spring or fall or sometimes winter), it is very warm and extremely humid. I'm almost always cold, so I like the heat, but the humidity can be pretty rough some days.

This problem isn't new at all. In the 18th century the weather was much the same, and people in colonial Virginia were looking for ways to cope. We have a great letter written by a traveler in the 1730's, telling friends back in England what to expect from a Virginia summer: "In summertime even the gentry go many in white Holland [linen] waistcoats and drawers and a thin cap on their heads and thread stockings. The ladies stright-laced in thin silk or linen. In winter [they dress] mostly as in England and affect London dress and ways." For a Virginia society that was often considered to be 'more English than anyone in England', 18th century Virginians were willing to deviate from their standard dress to be comfortable in the heat, and they did so in a way that stood out to those who visited them.

White linen is by far the easiest way to stay cool in the summer; it's breathable, doesn't trap the heat, and can cover your skin to prevent sunburn. So, I made a new linen gown to wear this summer! It's an unlined round gown, which means that there is only one layer and no extra petticoats required, for maximum coolness in the summer. I've worn it to work a few times already, and I can attest that it is indeed very comfortable on days when it's over 90 degrees out. Happy beginning of the summer season everyone!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

April: Buttons and Fastenings

April's challenge was buttons and fastenings, and at first I was completely stumped by that prompt! Ladies' clothing in the 18th century doesn't have cool fastenings, or at least not ones that are both functional and pretty! I contemplated sewing a riding habit, and making death's head buttons to go on it, but I don't really need another riding habit, or anything else with buttons. I started looking at different extant garments in online collections, and kept finding myself drawn to yellow silk jackets and gowns - then inspiration struck! I could make a yellow silk jacket with a stomacher, which functions as the fastener, since it keeps the jacket closed.

The stomacher goes on first, pinned to the stays, and then the jacket pins closed to the edges
 I quickly realized that I could expand this project. After all, one of the things that I'm most passionate about is self expression through historical fashions, and this was a great interpretive opportunity. If I added black bows to the stomacher and paired it with a black petticoat, I could talk about how fashion is interpreted in both the 18th and the 21st century, and hopefully draw parallels between the two.

In the 18th century, after the American Revolution, black was often seen as a color that showed support for the new American government. We may wear red, white, and blue to be patriotic today, but black would have also been recognized as a patriotic color in the late 1770's through the 1790's. So, in the 18th century, my black petticoat shows that I am most definitely not a loyalist!

It's only fitting that I began this project while watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
In the 21st century, my outfit can be interpreted a little differently. Specific colors and color pairings in clothing today often represent support for a specific team or school, and I wanted my new jacket and petticoat to do that too. Even though I live in Virginia now, I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and all of Pittsburgh's teams have the same color scheme: black and yellow (gold). As someone who loves hockey, I can dress like a bumblebee to show my support for the Penguins!

The entire outfit is silk, and the jacket is lined with linen. I won't be able to wear it every day at work, although I should be able to wear it on days at the Capitol or the Palace, when I can be a little bit fancier. I was very fortunate however to be presented with an opportunity to wear my new ensemble almost right away! Colonial Williamsburg hosts a spring garden party every year that is an incredible event, and one of my friends invited me to go with her! I finished my jacket and petticoat in time, and also helped two of my friends pattern and sew new gowns to wear as well!

I even got to wear a wig to the party! And it had a bird in it!

The garden party was wonderful, and the fireworks at the end were fantastic!
For the actual construction of the garments, I didn't do anything too fancy. I leaned pretty heavily on the J. P. Ryan Ladies' Jacket pattern, as well as a few extant garments in the V&A and the Met in order to draft my pattern, and simply added bows to the stomacher. I did have to hem all of the ribbon by hand, as you simply can't find good, wide, taffeta ribbon anymore, even though it was available in the 18th century.

The ribbons decreased in size as they went down the stomacher, which looks great, but takes some planning!
The petticoat was also pretty simple, I sewed a standard petticoat and then added ribbon I had cut from the same silk, with the edges pinked, and then gathered.

April was such a nice month that I could sew outside most days!

Pinked and gathered trim...

...courtesy of my awesome pinking shears!
 I was delighted to meet a few people at the Garden Party who recognized my outfit's nod to Pennsylvania, and it was a lot of fun to dive in to discussions about the evolution of color and self expression over the last 250 years of fashion!

Talking about fashion history while sewing at work is obviously one of my favorite things!
I am eventually planning to sew some matching garters for this ensemble, but until then I will simply say... Let's go Pens!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

March: Comfort at Home

This post is late because I haven't been able to get any good photos of my project yet... as soon as I get better ones I will update this!

For March, the challenge was "Comfort at Home", and as someone who almost always wears historical clothing in front of other people out in public, I was initially stumped. However, it only took a little brainstorming for me to realize that I wanted a banyan! I've always been a fan of wearing sweatshirts, bathrobes, etc. around the house, and a banyan is just the 18th century version of those things, so it would be a prefect project for me.

After a big sale this summer, I had a lot of pink flowered fabric in my stash, but after sewing a jacket with an almost identical fabric (I'll post that as soon as I have pictures taken), I was kind of sick of the pattern, and didn't want to wear it on a gown or anything like that. So, it was perfect to use for the banyan, since it would be easy enough to re-cut as a gown if I ever changed my mind about the banyan or the fabric.

Simple shapes make cutting many 18th century garments easy
It was easy enough to make; I worked off of the pattern in Fitting and Proper, and altered it for my own height. Banyans are essentially rectangles with rectangles for the sleeves, and they flare out slightly at the bottom. There are pleats at the back of the neckline, which I might tack down the back at some point in the future to give it a more fitted look, depending on if I ever use it for anything outside of the home.

I've worn it around my home, and I also wore it during a sewing circle evening with some friends - it was definitely a much needed accessory for me!

A reaction to dramatic information being revealed in such a historical manner!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February: Under

For the Historical Sew Monthly, the February challenge was Under: Make something that goes under the other layers.

I originally planned to sew a new set of stays using the brand new American Duchess pattern, but then I decided to start a diet, and so I'm going to hold off on any fitted undergarments until my measurements are a little more consistent. However, there are plenty of non-fitted undergarments to sew, and I managed to have quite a lot of fun this month!

My big project was a new false rump. Some of you may remember that I sewed one a little over two years ago, but that there were clearly some problems with it. It was 100% polyester first of all, between the synthetic fabric and the polyfil stuffing, but I was also never fully satisfied with how it looked. I referenced a number of 18th century bums, looked at patterns that others had shared, and still didn't like how it looked on me. I think part of the problem was definitely in the materials, since polyester just acts a little bit differently than natural fibers, but I think the biggest problem was my expectations warring with reality. The rump I sewed in early 2016 was crescent shaped, and although it was based off of a number of extant examples, the overall look I wanted from the entire outfit probably would have been better achieved with a split, more pillowed, rump.

Every good project starts with some research and planning!

So, after receiving the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking for Christmas (thanks Mom and Dad!!!), I decided that I would make a new false rump, this time following the pattern in the book. I've had some fabric set aside for an Italian gown for a while now, so I figured that I might as well drape it over a false rump! Because Lauren and Abby did such a good job, the instructions and pattern in the book are super easy to follow. I cut out the two pillows and sewed up their sides, and then cut and hemmed the panel of fabric.

I often just use pins instead of marking chalk/pencil/etc. I find that they're easier to alter, and I would have to pin anyway to prevent the fabric from slipping when I cut, so I might as well just save myself some time

Each side cut out and ready to go

The pillows sewn together

By this point in my life, I've spent a lot of time looking at extant false rumps, and there are some that have an extra panel of fabric down the back, like half of a petticoat, and there are some that are only the pillow itself. I wasn't able to find an answer to why that extra fabric was sometimes there and sometimes not through all of my research, so I paid a visit to the Milliner's Shop to pick their brains, and they had the same answer I did: We're not sure! However, they had some of the same hypotheses that I did, and so we talked them over a little. Maybe the extra fabric helps to keep the rump in place (my polyester one certainly slid around, but I had blamed that mostly on the fabric). Maybe it kept the false rump from going up too high when you sit down. Or, maybe it keeps potentially sharp feathers from poking you! I would love to be able to fully research this, probably starting with analyzing the stuffing of extant rumps and making a chart to see if there's any correlation between which ones have extra fabric and which ones don't. However, I have a number of other projects that I have to get to before that, and some of those are long-reaching research projects for work, so it might be awhile...

The skirt on its own...

...and with the pillows sewn on!

Anyway, once I had the rump sewn together, it was time to add the stuffing! I really wanted to use cork, because I thought that would be super cool, but I don't drink nearly enough wine for that to be feasible. I don't have easy access to feathers, but all I had to do was wander across the street and ask for some wool! The Weavers were incredible kind, and gave me two pounds of washed wool, which I then got to card! However, I didn't have wool cards, and as cool as it would be to own some, I didn't want to spend over $100 on them at this point in my life. Luckily, wire animal brushes are a really good substitute, and they only cost me $4 at Wal-Mart. :)

One of the many Leicester Longwool sheep at Colonial Williamsburg, and a good source of wool!

Dog brushes with some un-cared wool

It's a good day at work when you get to sew a false rump!
(And don't worry, I wasn't using the modern brushes in front of guests. We were having a slow morning, so I was able to do some of the carding then)

Carded wool for the stuffing!

I enjoyed carding the wool, stuffed the pillows with it, and immediately tried it on. So, I now pose the eternal question to all of you:

Does this make my butt look big?

(I hope so!)

The Challenge: Under
Material: Cotton fabric, wool stuffing
Pattern: from the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking!
Year: 1770's-1790's
Notions: Linen thread, twill tape
How historically accurate is it? 100%, or as close as anything made in 2018 can be to 100% accurate. It's entirely handsewn with all natural fibers. I carded the wool myself, and I know the sheep it came from!
Hours to complete: About 4 hours to sew everything, and probably around another 4 hours to card all of the wool.
First worn: Not yet, just to try on, but hopefully with a new Italian gown in the near future!
Total cost: ~$5, I already had most of the materials or was able to get them for free/cheap.

Even though the false rump was the main attraction for this month's challenge, I also sewed another new pair of garters. During the first half of February, I went through training to become a nationally certified interpreter (yay!), and part of the certification required a small interpretive program that we each presented to be graded on. For my interpretation, I decided to talk about self-expression in 18th century fashion, since that's pretty much my favorite topic. I mentioned a lot of different ways one could express personal views in the late 18th century, but it should come as no shock that garters received the most attention. I brought in some earlier pairs of garters that I had made, but decided that I also wanted to make a pair that would help connect the subject matter to a modern audience. In the 21st century many people wear t-shirts or hats that come right out and say what they support, be it a political idea, religious affiliation, or love for a sports team. Since I see so many people wearing garments supporting various teams every day, and because I really like hockey, I decided to embroider a pair of garters that mixed 18th century fashion with 21st century expression. I present...

Game Day Garters!

I've had this idea for a while now, so it was fun to finally execute it. The St. Louis Blues are one of my favorite hockey teams, and since my garters are always covered by my petticoats, this will be a great way to cheer them on, even when I have to work during some of their games. If this wasn't such a niche market I would start a company making Game Day Garters, but if you're interested in a customized pair, just let me know!

I made a pair for the Toronto Maple Leafs while watching their Next Century Game in January, although I will probably make another pair in the future that I don't freehand entirely while I'm distracted so that they can be a bit neater and better planned out. On both sets of garters I've included the phrase that the club has been using recently; the Blues have been using #AllTogetherNow as one of their tags on social media this season, and the Leafs had the featured phrase over a doorway, and somewhere there is a spectacular photo of it, although I have been having trouble relocating the image...

Why it's important to draft before embroidering... this could have been wayyy more centered, and a lot better proportioned

I still really love the words though, and I am looking forward to making my next set of Leafs Garters!

 Bonus Photos!
My parents came to visit me for my birthday/my mom's birthday, and they stayed in an 18th century house! This was a fantastic photo opportunity, so we got a few neat shots of me tying my garters, reminiscent of some 18th century paintings and images.

Stay tuned for more historical sewing projects! Coming up, there's the challenge for March, which focuses on comfort around the home, and I'm pretty excited about what I'll be making. I also received a commission with some super awesome fabric, and so I'll be posting that with permission at some point as well. If anyone has any suggestions for what I should sew in the upcoming months, just let me know, because there are still a few months that I have absolutely no clue what I'll be doing! And, if you want to follow along with the Historical Sew Monthly, or join in and do some of the challenges yourself, you can find all of the information on that here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January: Mend, Reshape, Refashion

Hello everyone!

I have a big recap post for all of the sewing that I did in 2017 in the works, and a surprise that should be ready in the spring, but I have good news right this moment: I'm participating in the Historical Sew Monthly!

For those of you not familiar with this, it's a year-long challenge with a different theme for each month, and I'm so excited to be taking part in this. As much as I have enjoyed past challenges where I posted every day for a month, that just isn't sustainable for me, and I felt like my quality of writing was starting to suffer, even if my actual projects were good. This challenge will still allow me to sew at least 12 new things, but I should be much better about posting and hopefully not face any blogging burn out afterwards!

The challenge for January is Mend, Reshape, Refashion

For this challenge, I decided to mend my Wythe Jacket, since the right side of the skirt has been ripped since Independence Day. It was a five minute fix, but one I had been postponing for months. After finally accomplishing that task, I set to work on truly refashioning something. Overall I'm very pleased with the pieces in my historical wardrobe, but my most recently sewn Batwing Jacket needed a little more flair. So, for this challenge, I added pleated self-trim to the neckline! I didn't think it would make that much of a difference, but it really adds something to the jacket, and I received a bunch of compliments on it!

Material: Printed cotton chintz, replicated off of a child's gown in the Colonial Williamsburg collections. (I believe it's now discontinued, which is very sad!)
Pattern: Based off of a JP Ryan jacket pattern originally, but then I made some alterations and free-handed the trim, looking to other period garments for inspiration.
Year: 1770's-1780's
Notions: None!
How historically accurate is it? Entirely! It is completely hand sewn on reproduction fabric and is worn with all the appropriate undergarments.
Hours to Complete: For the jacket itself, probably 5 or 6, and then another 2 for the trim. However, I do interpret as I work, so it's hard to judge exact times.
First Worn: To work the day after I put the trim on :)
Total Cost: I think the fabric was on sale because it was being discontinued, and then I got an employee discount on top of that, so a rough estimate is between $12-$15.

I know now that I definitely need to add trims to more of my outfits! Usually I'm just so excited to put a piece on as soon as possible, but I'll try to practice a little patience and really add those extra details.

Pinning the pleats took the most time, but I enjoyed lining up the little purple "bats"

I stabbed myself a few times trying to tack everything down with so many pins in my hands...

But it came out nicely!

And it really adds a nice touch to the whole garment!