Friday, April 29, 2016

Ruffly Fluffly

For the Regency Weekend I wanted something new that was easy and quick to freshen up my wardrobe. I've always wanted a chemisette, so I decided to give it a try! Chemisettes are quite common in day looks from the period, and are often made of very fine, sheer white cotton or linen. They fill in the neckline of a gown and create a high collar--usually with rather fabulous ruffles of some variety. I found a source for reasonably priced sheer cotton lawn on Etsy, so I decided to risk it and order a yard. It turned out to be very soft and lovely! Perfect for a chemisette.

I went with a simple double row of pleating for my collar, because this was an experiment, but in future I hope to make more with more fabulous collar treatments! Here are some of my favorites:

Eliza Schaum, 1816
Lina Groger, 1815
Jacoba Vetter, c.1816
Explore Anoniem / Anonymous:
unknown, c.1810s
For my chemisette, I started with a back piece and two front pieces. Each piece was angled along the shoulder seam, and the front pieces widened in a trapezoidal shape from the shoulders out to the underbust. I attached the front pieces to the back piece and the shoulders, and finished the other edges with a narrow hem. The bottom of each piece got a narrow channel for gathering with a waist tie. I made the neck ruffles by cutting strips of the selvage edge of my fabric (like I said--easy and quick project!) and pleating them into a neck band. Then I whipped the neck band by hand to the finished neck edge of the chemisette. 

I was bad and forgot to take pictures while I was working...but here are a few of me wearing the finished  chemisette with an old white day dress at the Regency Weekend:

the front of the chemisette is just open, so that I can pin it closed (as I did here) or wear it open. Options!
ruffles blowing in the wind

This was a great project, because it was easy, quick, and gave me the confidence to try future experiments! I love little things like chemisettes. I feel like they really "make" the look, and they're an easy way to add to an ensemble without making a new dress. Hooray! I look forward to wearing this chemisette again, and to making more.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Regency Weekend

Last weekend I took a break from frantic 18th century sewing to attend the Regency Weekend held by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers in Salem, MA. Salem was a bustling industry hub and shipping capitol during the early 19th century, and one of the largest cities in the country. Thus, the city (which retains many of the buildings from this period) is a perfect setting for time travel to the Regency era!

strolling by the warf
This event is one of my favorite of the year, because it really does feel like stepping back in time. Over the course of the weekend, you get to know the other attendees in a really special way, so by the time the Grand Ball begins on Sunday night it feels like attending a neighborhood party with friends. Plus, as everyone has been working hard on their dancing all weekend, there's no teaching at the ball--everyone just gets up and goes! It's a truly wonderful experience, and very unique.

There are three costumed events during the weekend: two balls and one afternoon tea. I didn't have time to sew anything new, but as I'm wearing a lot of rather old dresses at this point I wanted something exciting and fresh. I decided to focus on the afternoon. I made a chemisette and finished a bonnet I'd started for last year (I ended up unable to attend the weekend due to a family emergency). I also brought some extra feathers for my hair, and wore the new jewelry I recently acquired for my francaise ensemble. Having new accessories definitely made a difference, and it was nice to feel new and exciting even in old clothes!

This event is really magical, and I had a wonderful time. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves without too much commentary.

dancing at the Saturday evening ball

a champagne jelly at the Saturday ball

A friend and I stayed in Salem for the weekend rather than driving back and forth from Boston. Our hotel, The Merchant, is in a historic house in downtown Salem. It was perfect for us, and so much fun! We took photos in the parlor windows before tea.
this series of window photos I took are some of my favorites from the weekend

I made chicken mousse for tea! It's molded into the shape of  a duck on water

period-style playing cards, from some lighthearted gambling at tea. Commerce is our favorite Regency card game--it's sort of a cross between Poker and Go Fish.

at the warf, part of the Salem Maritime NHS

assembling for the opening minuet--dancing teachers continued to push the minuet into the early 19th century, and it sometimes was used as the opening dance of the evening. We learn a basic minuet choreography in class, and then perform it as the opening dance for the Grand Ball on Sunday evening

serious minuet faces

a country dance

eating refreshments and playing cards in the supper room, adjacent to the ballroom
refreshments in the supper room adjacent to the ballroom. In keeping with Regency menus, we served a variety of jellies, cakes, fruit, and syllabub with cookies
 Such fun!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hair Experiments: Lavender Pomatum

In preparation for my foray into the 18th century, I've been studying up on 18th century hair styling. This has included the usual mix of reading blogs, historical texts, and watching youtube videos. In particular, I've been watching a lot of the videos by Alicia of LBCC Historical. They're very informative in a practical way, and break down the ins and outs of both getting the style and using the LBCC line of historical cosmetics. I'm learning a lot, which is always a good thing!

hair goals: Mme Lalive de Jully, 1764
However, I was/am feeling a little bit nervous about adapting what I'm learning for my own hair, which is very curly and about as fussy as a temperamental toddler. When it curls well, oh man is it perfect for most historical styles! But when it's humid/dry/windy/rainy/Tuesday/too clean/too dirty I end up with a giant ball of frizz. Boo. So this is a combination of worry about getting my hair to cooperate, and finding products that help that cooperation along.

my hair on a good day in December
So I took a leap and ordered the 1787 Lavender Pomatum from LBCC on Etsy. I decided to use it to make curls for the Regency Weekend to see how my hair reacted to it and how well it kept my natural curls in line. I was really impressed, and I'm feeling a bit better about my chance of success with 18th century hair.

Because my hair absolutely freaks if I do anything to it when it's dry, I started by working the pomatum into the front section of my hair when it was still damp. Then I formed the pomatumed section into several pincurls, which I sported to breakfast and the morning minuet class. After tea setup we went back to our hotel to change, at which point I gave the pincurls a quick blast with the blow dryer to ensure they were dry all the way through and removed the pins. The curls were very tight and flat, but once I pulled them a bit with my hands they fluffed up.

1820 fashion plate with curls in the bonnet
I've had good luck with pincurls using setting lotion, but the awesome thing about the pomatum was that the curls came out soft, and I could mess with them without devolving the curl into frizz--unheard of! As usual, my hair tried to fight back into its natural shape, but I found that by re-twisting the curls (something you can't do with lotion-set curls) in their desired direction I got a pretty nice-looking final product.

1805 fashion plate with face-framing curls for evening
Granted, that final product was a bit poodle-like, but that is the look. I had amazing curls to fill my bonnet for our afternoon stroll to the dock. It was great! Even with the wind on the ocean everything held up well.

Regency fringe without the bonnet...

...and with the bonnet
without the bonnet again, post-seaside stroll. Everything is intact, even after the wind! (photo credit to Tammi, thanks!)
Then I did a lot of lifting and running around (deconstructing tea, loading out at one hall and in at another, setting up a ball) before changing into an evening gown for the Grand Ball. By this time my curls were acceptably intact, but some of them were getting a bit ugly. I pulled those up into my evening style, leaving only the two topmost curls from the original set. Then I pulled those two apart into several smaller curls...and they looked good!

getting ready to perform the opening minuet
I wore the new style through a several-hour ball with significant dancing, then more running around (post-ball cleanup, load out, and return to the hotel). My hair was still going by the time we opened the wine.

about 11:30pm back at the hotel
The LBCC pomatum is magic, and I love it.

I'd also be remiss not to mention: it made my entire head a cloud of lavender, which was delicious and amazing. Next up I need to buy powder (which I'm also planning to get from LBCC), and I'm leaning towards the gray because it is also lavender scented. Yum!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Versailles Progress, or Internal Panic

 I've been having a pretty productive sewing month, and I'm starting to freak out. Because I'm having the most productive sewing month I've had all year, and I'm still no ready to start construction on my robe a la francaise. If I can stay productive this week (and get my stays almost done/wearable for fittings), I can start cutting, fitting, and sewing my gown with four weeks until I need to take it on a plane to France. And I am likely to be on the road for work without access to most of my materials (although I can bring some hand sewing) for two of those four weeks.

Thus the internal silent screams.

this face about sums it up, and is rather on point
That said, I am making progress! I am in the process of stitching the lining to the exterior layers of my stays (then they just need lacing holes to be useful), and I have completed a shift (my first time making gussets!). I've also started testing out hair products--more on that in their own post.

I am using the JP Ryan pattern for half-boned stays for a fashionable shape, because it was the only stays pattern I found with straps. However, I am using the instructions from Hallie Larkin's stays pattern (which some of the cohort are using for their stays) for more historically accurate construction. Following this method, I assembled each piece individually, tacked down the seam allowance, and whip stitched the pieces together. Then I assembled a separate lining layer and am stitching that by hand to the inside, hiding all the seam messiness, before adding lacing holes and binding the edges. I machine-sewed the boning channels but am doing most of the rest by hand. This seemed reasonable when I started, but now that I'm freaking out about time I realize I probably should have done the modern (faster!) assembly system and saved the more accurate construction for a future pair...whoops. They seem to fit and be pretty comfortable--the horizontal boning on the front seems to offer some extra support, which is great as I am rather large-bosomed. I can't wait to actually lace them on and see!

stay pieces cut and marked (using heat-dissolving Frixion pens)
the assembled stays before I finished trimming the bones (plastic zip ties)
the stays and lining ready to be attached
My shift is cotton muslin and was constructed using the shift in Costume Close-Up as a guide. I found insanely wide (90 inches!) fabric by chance, so I was able to cut the main body piece strategically with the selvage as the hem. Hooray for not having to hem! I included the skirt gore in my main body piece, as my fabric could accommodate the larger width, and made gussets for the first time. 
This project ended up being a breeze (hooray!), so I was done in an afternoon. That also meant I finished my shift in March, and could use it as my HSM entry for the "protection" challenge.


my first gusset!
 Then I was feeling so great about my progress I shifted gears for a couple of days to make a Regency chemisette...and then I got sick and couldn't sew for a week. Now I'm better and trying to get back on track. Cross your fingers for me! I have a feeling May is going to be full of late nights. 


Still To Do:
under petticoat
visible petticoat
francaise gown
paint shoes

At least it will give me a good excuse to catch up on television...

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The New Woman and Plaid in the 20th Century

As soon as the weather gets a little warm, I feel obligated to go outside and enjoy it after the cold and dark of the winter (although I can't complain--Boston had a very mild winter this year!)...and I'm itching to go out for a bike ride. Instead, today I'm adding on to my series of tartan-related posts with a look at the last decade of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th. 

By the end of the 19th century, more women were joining the workforce, participating in sports (particularly new were bicycling and golf), attending college, and organizing to push for women's suffrage in force. With these changes came an pop culture "profile" for these active women invading previously-male domains: the "new woman." The term was used by supporters and detractors alike, but I particularly like this description from 1916 by anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons: "the new woman means the woman not yet classified, perhaps not classifiable, the woman new not only to men, but to herself."

Cartoon in Puck: "The Bicycle--The Great Dress Reformer of the Nineteenth Century!"
The new woman needed attire appropriate for breaking down barriers, and looked to the tailored shirtwaists and jackets (and bloomers for sports) traditionally associated with men's clothes. These new ensembles included a variety of textiles and patterns: pinstripe, tweed, checks, and (of course) tartans were frequently included in both day and sportswear.

Golf suit with pleated tartan skirt, 1908 (DAR)
 Plaid in particular appears frequently in characterizations of the new woman, especially in anti-movement materials. In these images, plaid helps to show women "invading" or "encroaching" on the male sphere. Alternatively, supporting images show the new woman as a capable, competent mistress of her own destiny.

bicycle fashions, 1897 (notice the plain suit at far right)
vs. a cartoon of the "new woman"

stereoscope scene threatening a man chained to the laundry tub as his wife (suited in a plaid bicycle costume) scolds
Self-Portrait (As a New Woman), 1896, by Francis Benjamin Johnson (in a plaid shirtwaist)
golf fashions, early 1900s (plaid skirt!)
As objections to new roles for women pushed against the expansion of women's opportunities, there was pressure on those at the forefront of the women's suffrage movement to counter the stereotypical depictions of "new women" as ugly, bitter spinsters. Here plaid provided a perfect opportunity, as its previous popularity with Queen Victoria and the fashionable set during the mid-19th century offered a safely feminine pattern equally appropriate for more menswear-inspired ensembles.
a more traditionally feminine tartan ensemble from 1881
an elegant and fashionable silk dress, 1890s
plaid golf costume, 1898
sporting costumes with plaid skirts, 1899
Thus, plaid's popularity across men's and women's fashions secured the pattern's place in the new woman's wardrobe of the early 20th century. Whether marching for women's right to vote or exploring new horizons on a bicycle, plaid offered a stylish burst of color for kicking butt.

checked plaid suit, 1914 (DAR)
fashions for cycling, 1897
bathing costume, 1910s
day dress, 1910
sisters in plaid suits, via
tram conductors in Glasgow, 1918
More About the New Woman:
Suffrage at the Smithsonian
Fashioning the New Woman
Fashion and Feminism