Saturday, 30 July 2016

Updates on the Tudor Kirtle

A few weeks ago I made some updates to my Tudor kirtle before heading to Newark Castle in Port Glasgow, a sixteenth-century manor house which has survived and been partially restored inside.

The main update consisted of beginning the process of lining the skirt with fur. I'm using cheap old thrift coats for this, and I've only gotten my hands on one so far, so only the back part of the skirt is lined. However, it already creates a nice effect!

The image on the left is from the Book of Hours of Henry VIII (c. 1500), f. 182v. 

I had a bunch of fun wandering around the castle, and had a chance to sing Henry VIII's 'Pastime With Good Company' in the restored main hall. Here's a video:

I plan to line the skirt all the way up the back, and at least half of the front, because at the moment the heavy weight just at the bottom of the skirt is putting a lot of stress on the point where it attaches to the bodice. I think that having the fur rolled into the pleats will help distribute the weight.

I'm a little torn between keeping the fur in the kirtle, now that I've put it in, and saving it for a future gown skirt and re-lining the kirtle with some wool or linen. I might do the latter, simply because the fur is precious. Or I could have both the gown and kirtle lined with fur... The main idea with lining the kirtle in fur was that it will protect the train as it drags on the ground, since fur is easier to wipe down than nice wool and velvet.

But anyway, here are some photos. =)

In the restored hall.

This is in the older, 15th century part of the castle.

My straps started to fall down, and I left them because I was getting a headache. Alas.

The castle, in the midst of modern construction around it.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Versailles Ball, and HSF Travel

So, as anyone who follows my facebook has known for quite some time, on May 30th I was privileged to attend the Fêtes Galantes at the Palace of Versailles. This post has taken a very long time in coming, which I'm very sorry for, but I've been very busy with my masters and I just haven't had time to do a proper post!

As always, an image to start:

Photo arranged by Raven of Plaid Petticoats
I love this shot! Raven wanted to evoke Annie Leibowitz's Vogue shoot for Marie Antoinette, and I think she did a fabulous job. Our instructions were "look bored," haha. I am in the sage green gown in the centre. To my right are Emma, in dark blue, and Alana, in pink satin brocade. I draped both of their gowns, and did much of the stitching on both.


Now, before I talk about the process of getting ready for the ball, I wanted to share a little bit of context on this gown, because taking it to France was actually quite special to me. The gown was created to tell the story of one Nova Scotian woman who was forced from her home in Acadia in the 1740s, and took refuge in France. Wearing the gown there felt like an important part of its story. In addition, I posted this gown on the Historical Sew-Fortnightly for the Travel challenge - I didn't actually enter it in the challenge, as it was mostly made some time ago, but I did want to share the travel-laden story that goes with it.

The gown is my c. 1740s Robe a la Francaise and embroidered stomacher, modelled on one in the collection of the LACMA, and chosen because of its similarity to the gowns listed in the death inventory of Dame Marie-Josephe Le Borgne de Belle Isle, of Louisbourg. It was made and initially worn in Marie's birthplace of Nova Scotia, Canada.

Marie was the highest-ranking woman at the Fortress of Lousibourg (in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) in the 1740s, with close ties both within the town and to surrounding communities. She had an impressive lineage: she was descended from French noble houses on both sides of her family, claiming a number of seigneurial lords of New France, as well as two Governors of Acadia, among her recent ancestors, and her mother was the daughter of Chief Madokawando of the Penobscot of Pentagoët. She married twice in Louisbourg; once to a respected civil administrator of the town and afterwards to Lord Joseph Du Pont Duvivier. Between these two marriages, she had nine children, at least four of whom survived to adulthood.

Given her strong ancestral and communal ties to Louisbourg and Acadia, the Siege of Louisbourg and the resulting expulsion of the Acadians in 1745 must have been devastating. Marie packed up her children and her belongings, and undertook the voyage to France along with many other members of her once-thriving community. The voyage would have been dangerous, and the outlook bleak - especially when she lost her first husband, soon after the tumult began. Yet in 1749, when Louisbourg was returned to French hands, Marie found the strength to once again pack up her children and her life and sail back to the New World. She remarried in 1750 and immersed herself as a pillar of the Acadian community at Louisbourg until her death from illness in 1754. In some ways her death at this time is a blessing, as she did not live to see the second siege of Louisbourg in 1758, which ended when the residents were once again expelled and the town was purposefully burnt to the ground. This event effectively ended French occupancy of the Maritimes, although the Acadian culture remains to this day.

Marie's travels are unlikely to have taken her to Versailles, despite her aristocratic connections and the time she spent in France, but when I had the opportunity to wear my "Louisbourg" gown to the ball in May it felt a bit like I was completing a part of the story the gown was created to tell. The gown is not a travelling suit - a riding habit or a redingote or anything particularly practical - but in many ways travel has defined it: my own travels, but more importantly the travel forced on Marie and her family, and on the entire Acadian community.


The Ball


It looks like a painting! I'm so happy with how these came out.
Getting ready for our own travels was a pretty hectic business. It started back in the fall, with drafting and making stays for Alana. Alana has never sewn before, and she was an enthusiastic learner but given the time-crunch Emma and I made the stays for her, and much of the gown. She sewed her hoops all on her own, with some guidance from Emma, and did a great job! We're getting her hooked on reenacting so I'm sure she'll have lots to practice on in the future. =)

Here's Alana's draping process - first a photo of her wearing her stays with her hoops and Emma's candy-cane/circus petticoat (100% linen! 100% amazing!), over which I have draped her bodice lining. The second photo shows the process of draping the gown itself. This was Alana's first gown and she wasn't sure if she'd like it, so we've used a poly satin. I WOULD NOT recommend this, ever. Even for a beginner gown - or rather, especially for a beginner gown. Silk taffeta goes together like a dream. Poly satin is a fraying, drooping, wrinkling, hell-spawned mess. *Ahem*

But she looks lovely, no?

Emma used a gorgeous steel blue taffeta, and had her own stays and petticoats already, so her process was a lot faster and smoother. She's also a very experienced costumer, so we just spent a lot of evenings watching TV and handing bits of the gown back and forth to drape or stitch. This meant she had to spend a lot of time in her 18th century underwear, ready to have bits of gown draped on her, which resulted in this gem:

Here's her draping process:

Then front
Back first

Finally, sleeves.

I, unlike most people, apparently, don't actually mind draping or setting sleeves. I find them really satisfying, actually. Emma's took some fiddling, but they sat really nicely in the end.

Oh, and I made some shoes. Well, took apart and re-covered some 1940s shoes.

Trying out the look of the AD buckle
I used all stash silk! Also, I wore stockings to the ball. =P
Unfortunately, it rained almost the whole time we were in Paris. We got to wander around the first day, but as we'd taken the 22-hour overnight bus from Glasgow and arrived at about 6 a.m., we mostly just wanted to sleep. We did get to see the Louvre and a few other monuments first, though. Paris is beautiful - I can't wait to go back!

On the second day we wandered around Paris for one day in the 18th c. daywear we'd brought along, joined by our friend Adam, a sailor and sometime-Revolutionary of generally lower repute than we should probably be associating with. He dressed Alana up in some sailing clothes and we went out on the town.

From the left: Adam, Emma, myself, and Alana 
We had fun stealing swings from children and taking the metro.

Also: ice cream
The metro is fun in 18th century clothing

And then it rained. This is a period umbrella method!
Met Museum 53.600.588(60), 1746 - "Espéce de Parapluye" 

The following day was the ball, and we spent all day getting ready. We got down to the wire at the end, but we made it!

Emma working her hair magic while I sew a Revolutionary cockade to Adam's hat. Also yes, I put on my petticoat and bedgown for getting ready. That's what they're for!

Here's the result of Emma's efforts (all the powder!):

Dancing in the Hall of Mirrors
The grand staircase - one of my favourite photos

The three ladies
Revolutionaries don't smile
I *love* the back of this gown!

The custard plates are hiding behind us on the window sill.
We were joined by a big group of Emma's friends, who are historical dancers from Massachusetts.

And finally, fireworks!

It was pouring rain the whole time, so here's how some of Emma's friends kept dry - genius, but hilarious!

T-rex dancers!

Anyways, it was an amazing experience. I feel so lucky to have seen the Hall of Mirrors come alive as it was meant to - with people in incredible gowns, instead of just people in sweaty t-shirts and shorts and ballcaps. =P But really, I think it just feels a different way entirely. It's what it was built for.

Thanks to my amazing travel-adventure-sewing buddies, who made this such a fun trip. Can't wait for more shenanigans!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Beetlewing Ballgown and the Bath Victorian Ball

Well, it's been a week since we got back to Glasgow after the Victorian Ball in Bath, and it's high time I post some photos. I'll begin, as usual, with a photo of the finished ensemble:

Photo taken by the most obliging Lucas Pitcher of TimeLight Photographic
And here's one of the dancing (I should note that you can only see two thirds of the full height of the Assembly Rooms here - they're incredible!):

It's a little blurry because we're all in the midst of spinning round.
My bling - a pair of modern reproduction scarab earrings, and a real scarab ring from the 1880s!
First things first - the gown is made of ivory cotton muslin, which is what most of the original beetlewing-embroidered gowns I found were made of. It's trimmed in a gold figured silk organza, the bodice is lined in cotton, and it's embroidered with gold silk and the elytra or wing shell casings of jewel beetles. Everything is stitched and embroidered by hand.

This particular type of embroidery is traditional to India, where the beetles are found, and beetle-related embroidery has been used in cultures around the world for thousands of years. The jewel beetle elytra were first used in Europe in the late eighteenth century, as far as I can tell, and gained in popularity throughout the nineteenth. Indian artisans made gowns and textiles for the Western market, but home embroiderers are also known to have picked up the technique.

There are a couple of little tweaks I'd like to make before I wear it again - the main thing will be to add some more hooks into the waistband to connect the bodice and skirt, or maybe just sew the two together, because it kept riding up when I lifted my little T-rex arms. But overall it came out really well - the hem was just the right length (thanks, Emma!), the bodice still fit (thanks, corset!), no beetlewings broke, came off, got snagged on things, or otherwise caused issues, and - best of all - I was not up late sewing the night before!!!

For those who follow me on instagram (@peryn.wn), you'll already have seen a lot of these photos, but I'll compile them all here to show the creation of the skirt. For the bodice, see this post.

The skirt hem is around 200" long, and is embroidered all the way around with a continuous vine of gold silk and jewel beetle elytra.

Here are the wings laid out on the muslin. At this point I thought I only had 500 wings to work with and was being very careful about spreading them out, but then I realised that past-me had anticipated this problem, and purchased 1000 wings instead of 500. Yay! I think I've used about 700-800 so far, but it's really hard to tell.

The first step in the process is the gold silk embroidery. It took a while, but I got into a rhythm pretty quickly. I took it with me to a bunch of events and classes and just stitched away at it. The only consideration was being really careful with the ivory muslin - I've never worked with a fabric I've been so worried about dirtying before!

Here's an up-close photo showing how the beetle wings get attached. The first step is to steam each wing for 5 minutes (I put around 20 at a time in a paper towel in a veggie steamer over a pot of boiling water), and then trim it (this I did with nail clippers) and poke holes with a sewing or leather-working awl. I poked one hole in the top and one in the base of each wing. My friend Emma, who was going to the ball with me and helped with all my fittings, sat with me for three nights and just assembly-lined the beetle wings, for which I will be forever grateful.

The wings get basted down with one pass of regular thread, and then I stitch the gold silk thread down to hold them in place.

Here's the front panel of the gown in progress. I'd like to add more to it - the little flying beetles you can see on the sketch above, for instance - but I'm pretty happy with how it came out and it was all I could do before the ball. 

The photo to the right was taken in the Newark Airport on my way home from Glasgow to Toronto just after easter. I had a 5-hour layover and their internet wasn't working, so I got a fair bit done on my gown. 

If you look closely, you'll see that I was being quite careful about where I used the small wings and where I used the larger ones, and also that all the wings are directional - right or left-leaning - to increase the flow and symmetry of the overall image.

Removing the basting thread turned out to be the most dangerous part of the process, because it had been sewn through in a lot of places by the silk thread that went in on top of it. At this stage I broke two wings, which had to be replaced, and cracked two or three others, which seemed to be stitched in well enough that they were secure. Otherwise, the wings are incredibly strong and hardy little things.

Emma endured an hour-long fitting to pleat the skirt into the waistband (so long because I wasn't feeling well and had to keep going to sit down, and also because there was a massive amount of yardage involved). Because the hem was already in place, with the embroidery around it, we had to be careful to pleat it in with the hem sitting exactly at the height from the floor that we wanted it. We knife-pleated it from either side of centre-front, with the pleats starting out wide and getting smaller and smaller towards the back. When they had reached about 1/8" at the side-back seams, Emma marked the proper height of the skirt and I cartridge-pleated the rest into place. This is seen on quite a number of 1840s gowns to deal with the volume at the back.

Under my gown I wore: 
- cotton pintucked chemise
- blue silk corset
- quilted rump
- corded organdy petticoat
- cotton organdy ruffled petticoat
- plain muslin petticoat (very kindly made for me by Emma - I would *not* have had time to make one!)
- white silk stockings
- black leather dancing slippers.

I would really like to make a pair of green silk dancing slippers before next time. I have the perfect shot emerald-and-black taffeta for them...

Here's the organdy petticoat over the corded petti and rump. Please excuse the complete lack of chemise; I was getting really lazy in fittings by that point. (This was in the middle of end of term, and I had papers due, so I was basically just tossing on my corset every couple of evenings, doing as quick a fitting as we could, and working away.)

Then Emma and I wandered off to Bath with two ball gowns in a suitcase and a couple of bars of chocolate, and had a ball. =)

Accessories worn with the gown:
- dead beetles of various descriptions
...okay, okay.
- antique 1880s scarab ring (real scarab!)
- modern reproduction scarab earrings (not real scarabs)
- rose hairpiece
- white gloves
- brass bracelet

Made this rose headpiece the night before the ball.
Emma's magical hair-wrangling powers at work.

And the back of my hair, before we dressed for the ball
So there you have it! It took a good few months, but I'm extremely happy with the result. 

I'll leave you with a photo of the original gowns I was inspired by, and a few more photos from the ball. My thanks to Emma (@elpforrest on instagram) for all her help on the gown and for going on adventures with me, and to Izabela and Lucas Pitcher (Prior Attire and TimeLight Photographic) for organizing the ball and making it such an awesome night. Here's to next year!

The dress on the left is at the Kyoto Costume Institute; I'm not sure where the one on the right ended up. 
The photo is from the Cora Ginsburg LLC catalogue, 2000, p. 23.
Another two-handed turn, apparently.
You can see almost the full height
of the Assembly Rooms here...
Couldn't resist a bit of filter magic.
And to close out, here's one of Emma and I at the end of the night, exhausted but happy. And then we walked home in the rain, with two ball gowns in a suitcase. And it was wonderful.

Adventurers, Sewing Magicians, and T-Rex Princesses