Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Corset Alterations and Some Mythbusting

Post-alteration, and 2" narrower. Much better.
You can see photos of the original a couple of
posts back on this blog.
Hello! I am writing to you this evening from Glasgow, Scotland, which is my new home for the next 12 months or so. I'm here doing my masters degree in Museum Studies: Dress and Textile History, which is very exciting. I had about a week of turnaround time between flying home from Williamsburg (*sniffle*) and flying here (hooray!) so it's all been a bit of a whirlwind. However, somewhere in that whirlwind I have managed to get some stuff done!

First up is the alteration I just finished on my 1876 blue silk corset. I loved the shape from the front, but the back made me unhappy. The lacing gap was about 2" too large if I laced it so the gap was equidistant from top to bottom, even though the waist and hips actually fit quite well. The problem was the lack of ease through the upper ribs and shoulder blades. This was preventing the corset from pulling as tightly around the waist as it should have done, and generally making it...well, wrong. It wasn't really uncomfortable, and it looked okay; it just didn't sit right. I probably could have left it, and it would have been functional, and looked good from most angles. But it wasn't what I intended, and I knew it could be far, far better. And I am, above all else, a perfectionist, and sometimes I am a slave to my own perfectionism. Once the idea is in my brain, it's going to happen whether I like it or not.

So I fixed it.

The original

See what a difference that makes? The waist isn't actually smaller, but it looks sharper because my ribs now have room. That myth about squashing ribs to make the waist smaller? It's ridiculous! The more ease - *extra* room - you give to your ribs and the top edge of your corset, the more extreme the waist looks without lacing down far at all, and the more room for flesh displacement there is, which means you can actually lace your waist down further if you've put extra room above and below it.

Post-alteration, my corset now actually looks a lot closer in silhouette to my inspiration corset (even though my figure is quite different from the one the extant example was intended for, with my long waist, wide ribs, and lack of bust).

Museum of London, c. 1851-62. Image number 002188.

So anyways, I'm very happy with the results of all of this. Here are a few more photos for you. I just bought my ticket to Prior Attire's Victorian Ball in Bath this spring, and I'm planning to wear this corset under my gown, so it will actually get some use.


Other than that, I'm working on some 18th century stuff - just finished a wool petticoat today and started working on a muslin cap, and will be beginning a quilted petticoat sometime next week (wheeee! finally!). I'll hopefully be posting some photos soon from a photoshoot some friends and I have planned for this weekend. Until then, you can find more frequent updates on facebook at Isabel Northwode Costumes.

Friday, 14 August 2015

A c. 1780 chintz Italian gown, or robe a l'Anglaise

I've been working away at my list of projects here in Williamsburg, both in the shop and on my own. One of my personal projects was a gown made of the reproduction chintz sold here. The chintz I really wanted is out of stock, so I chose the red "trailing vines" print. The red is the original colourway of this print, and it comes from a single-fabric quilt in the Williamsburg collections (accession number 1953-100, if you're curious). I'm a bit sad that it's a home decor print as opposed to an original dress print, but the scale and placement of the pattern is generally correct for the type of chintz used in women's gowns in England and the Colonies: not too big, not too small, and not too dense. And I like the colours.

Abby draped the pattern on me (thanks, Abby!), and I did all the sewing. I stitched it by hand, using the stitches and techniques which the millinery shop believes to be those employed by period mantuamakers. It was my first gown of this type, so it took me a bit longer than it will next time, but an experienced mantuamaker should be able to do a gown like this in about 10 hours. I think it took me maybe 20, broken up over various lunch hours and evenings. I really enjoyed putting it together - it was a straightforward and quite a simple process.

Anyways, I know you're all really here for the photos, so here they are. =) I forgot to take in-progress shots, so rather than doing a full writeup of the making of this gown I'll just say that if you have any questions about the process you are very welcome to message me here or on facebook (link on the sidebar on the left).

I'm wearing the gown with my black silk taffeta market bonnet, which I made, as well as an apron, a neck-kerchief, mitts, and petticoats from the intern wardrobe here at the shop. I'm working on a petticoat to match the gown right now, and it should be ready to wear by next week. I think the next project will either be a pair of mitts or a bedgown. I was going to make a new shift, but honestly I wouldn't finish it in time to have it really be useful at this point, so while I have the expertise of the shop ladies at my disposal I'd rather work on more involved projects that I can't do in my sleep.

All photo credit to Rebecca Starkins (thanks, Rebecca!)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Cam Ye O'er Frae France, and sundries

First the sundries, because they're shorter:

1. I am in Williamsburg for my internship at the Millinery Shop, and have been for a month, and it's beautiful, and I'm learning all the things, and I'm enjoying myself very much.

2. I made a black silk market bonnet (using the excellent pattern put out by my fellow intern Maggie - "Undressing the Historical Lady" - which may be found here), and I wear it a lot, and I love it. If you want a market bonnet, I highly recommend it, as the instructions were very clear. This was my first experience with hats of any sort, and it was extremely smooth and quick to put together.

3. To prove item the first and item the second, here are some further photos:

And now for the entertainment part of the evening (that is, the song):

Earlier this summer I recorded another song, this time with the enormous help of Douglas Romanow, who arranged and produced the track. Obviously, it sounds way better than the stuff I normally post, and has actual instruments and stuff. This is fitting, since a) it's one of my favourite songs of all time, and, b) it's quite challenging to sing, which makes the recording studio setting more conducive to a good end result.

The song in question is Cam Ye O'er Frae France, an upbeat and gloriously insulting Jacobite rebellion song from about 1715. It's in early-18th century Scots, which can make it a bit difficult to understand, so I'll include a set of lyrics and my approximate translations below. An excellent and far more thorough work-through of the song may be found here.

And here are the lyrics:

Cam ye o'er frae France? Cam ye down by Lunnon? 
Saw ye Geordie Whelps and his bonny woman? 
Were ye at the place ca'd the Kittle Housie? 
Saw ye Geordie's grace riding on a goosie? 

[Did you come over from France? Did you come over through London? 
Did you see /King George/ and his /mistress/ (prostitute)? 
Were you at the place called the /brothel/ (the royal palace)? 
Did you see His Royal Grace riding on a /prostitute/ (his mistress)?] 

Geordie, he's a man there is little doubt o't; 
He's done a' he can, wha can do without it? 
Down there came a blade linkin' like my lordie; 
He wad drive a trade at the loom o' Geordie. 

[George is a man; there is little doubt of it. 
He's done all he can (sex w/ his wife); who can do without it (but it's not enough and she can't do without it - so...) 
Down there came a blade, acting like My Lord (A man came to be her lover and acted/slept with her/ like the king) 
He would drive a trade (weave cloth) at King George's loom (he would impregnate the Queen, perhaps)] 

Though the claith were bad, blythly may we niffer; 
Gin we get a wab, it makes little differ. 
We hae tint our plaid, bannet, belt and swordie, 
Ha's and mailins braid—but we hae a Geordie! 

[Though the cloth were bad (though the fruit of the Queen's loom - the prince - is ill-gotten), blithely may we gamble, 
For if we get that cloth, it makes little difference: 
We have lost our plaid, hats, belts, and swords, 
Our houses and broad lands - but we have a George! (Either way we get a George - the current king or his potentially-bastard son)] 

Jocky's gane to France and Montgomery's lady; 
There they'll learn to dance: Madam, are ye ready? 
They'll be back belyve belted, brisk and lordly; 
Brawly may they thrive to dance a jig wi' Geordie! 

[King James (in the Jacobites' view, the rightful king) has gone to France with the Queen; 
There they'll learn to make war: Madam, are you ready? 
They'll be back swiftly, belted, ready, and lordly; 
Strongly and battle-ready may they thrive to fight King George!] 

Hey for Sandy Don! Hey for Cockolorum! 
Hey for Bobbing John and his Highland Quorum! 
Mony a sword and lance swings at Highland hurdie; 
How they'll skip and dance o'er the bum o' Geordie! 

[Hey for /a highland general/! Hey for /a kin leader/! 
Hey for /another general - so called because he kept switching sides/ and his gathering of more highland leaders! 
Many a sword and lance swings at the horde of highlanders; 
How they'll skip and dance over the bum of George!] 

Repeat first verse.

See what I mean? Gloriously insulting! The history surrounding this song is well worth a read, as well. Some fascinating stuff.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the song and the photos! I'm posting pretty regular updates on my facebook page with photos from the Millinery Shop and from around town, so feel free to follow me there. I'm nearing completion on a new gown, so I'll be posting that soon, too.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

1780s Stays: the Making Of

As promised, here is the blog post on the making of my new 1780s linen stays. I began draping the pattern on April 3, and finished building the final stays this past Tuesday, June 9th. A loose estimate suggests that I spent over 300 hours on these stays, including sourcing fabric, dyeing fabric, patterning, and stitching, but not including research. Next time it won't take quite so long, since I have the pattern and have now gone through the staymaking process twice.

My mannequin at school (alas, now dismantled and in another province; RIP) was perfectly padded out to my figure, and was one of my favourite things ever. I had made so many things from it over the two years I had it that I knew exactly what to expect from it (eg, it has narrower shoulders than I do) and how patterns made from it will fit me, and this allowed me to alter the draped pattern into an historical silhouette (eg, raised bustline, molded waist) without messing with the mannequin itself. Thus, I was able to drape my stays pattern directly on "my body," rather than starting with someone else's draft.

For those who have not draped foundation garments before, I will write a detailed description of how I went about it. I highly recommend it, if you think it's something you want to try!

I started by pulling up photos of a number of extant museum garments on my phone and arraying my Norah Waugh and Jill Salen books around me on the table, and with these as references I simply drew my pattern lines on the mannequin. You will note a number of guidelines in these photos, and for those who have not draped in the past I will identify some of them: in blue I have my natural waist, a high v-back neckline (my 1770s caraco), a much lower v-back (left over as reference from the drape of my regency gown), and a raised bustline for historical garments. In green are the stays lines, a number of lines left over from my regency ball gown bodice (again, as reference, as I know where those lines sit on my body in the final garment), a raised bustline reference right at center front, and a lowered waistline.

I used a heavy cotton twill to trace off the pattern, rather than regular factory cotton, because this allowed me to ensure the smooth lines and relatively flat pieces necessary for stays (factory cotton is somewhat prone to molding and stretching to curves on the mannequin, which boned linen buckram will not do!).

I cut out 4 of every pattern piece and sandwiched two pieces of posterboard between two layers of twill to make my mockup. I stitched in one cable tie per panel, and used lacing strips to try it on and fit it. You can see this mockup beside the finished stays above. This method worked very well, and was a lot faster than stitching all the boning channels into a fabric mockup and trying to do it the traditional way! With the mockup finished, I made the relevant alterations to the pattern and traced it out into a final version.

(Needless to say, I would request that no one use this pattern without my permission)
You'll notice that I put tons of balance marks, or notches, into my patterns. I find that this is very simple to do as you drape a pattern, and makes a huge difference when you're trying to match floppy bias edges, so I try to put in as many as is reasonable.

I cut the pieces out of a double layer of outer linen and a structural layer of linen buckram. I had dyed the outer linen a sort of tea brown using quebracho, a natural bark dye. It's hard to judge what colour quebracho is going to dye, and based on my last batch I had hoped for it to be a bit more pink, but the colour it turned is a good 18thC stays colour so I'll live with it. =)

With the pieces cut and all layers sandwiched together, I drew out all the boning channels on the back of each buckram piece and pinned the lines through to the right side of the dyed linen. Then, piece by piece, I began backstitching the boning channels using white linen thread. It took me nine days to do the ten pattern pieces.

I actually had the double of each of these done too, but they didn't fit in the instagram photo. =P
Now, normally this would be the point at which the bones would be inserted, while each piece is still separate from the others. However, this would mean that the pieces would be rigid and uncooperative as I tried to butt-and-whip them together along the seams. Since I have tendonitis in one of my wrists (the left one - my fabric-wrangling hand, not my stitching hand, from exactly these sorts of things), I decided that it would be wiser to whip the seams together first and bone them afterwards.

I then put in the eyelets (or rather, most of the eyelets, as I decided later on to add more in the front so that I could ladder-lace instead of spiral lace - more on that later) and began to insert bones. I was using 1/4" halved round reed from Burnley and Trowbridge. I had planned to soak or steam it to make it cooperate, but in the end all I had to do was slide two into each channel at one time and all but the most sharply curved evened each other out.

I did find the reed somewhat brittle and I broke a few, but once they were all inserted they seemed sturdy enough. That said, I would recommend reed for projects where the bones are close enough together to support each other; bones which sit more than an inch apart from others are prone to snapping.

After the bones were in, I covered the seams with 1/4" plain weave linen tape, also from B&T, which I had dyed dark blue in a vat of natural indigo. I ladder-stitched it down using silk thread dyed in the same vat.

Now, I should add in a note here about the indigo seam coverings. By rights they should be white or tan, since these stays are intended to be worn in Virginia. In Europe, seam coverings were all sorts of fun colours - for instance, this pair from the V&A:

You can kind of see the blue silk tapes here; if you go to the link above and zoom in it's easier to see.
Or this pair, allegedly from France although I can't find the institution:

But in America, seam coverings don't seem to have been quite as changeable. There's this pair from Vermont, which has indigo and white seam coverings, but since the outer fabric of the stays is indigo as well it's quite a different situation and therefore not evidence for my use of indigo.

I really like how the indigo looks, so I'm going to keep it for now. But if it looks like it might be problematic in Williamsburg this summer, I may just cover the indigo tapes with white ones and then take them off again later.

But back to the story.

Staring at the boned and taped stays, I realized that while I had set up the center front eyelets for spiral lacing, most of the originals had ladder lacing - and I liked the look of the latter (haha pun) much better. To my own chagrin and despair, the part of my brain that is relentlessly perfectionist decided that I was going to add 14 more eyelets, and there was nothing I could do but comply. Thus, the front went from this...

...To this

Much better. Although I didn't stick with the blue ribbon in the end. It just didn't quite match.

Now it was time for binding. I had ivory pigskin left over from my first set of stays, and as it turned out I had *just* enough to do everything I wanted to on this pair. I used ~1" strips to bind the edges, sewing them first upside-down on the front of the stays and then pulling them to the back. The main thought in my head as I did this was "Whyyyyyyy did I put 8 tabs per side on these things?????"

As seen on extant stays where the binding has come off, the edges of the stays are whip-stitched first for stability, and then the binding is stitched 1/8" from the edge. I stitched the binding on using backstitch, but on each corner of my tabs I put a single whipstitch to hold the bones there in place, as they liked to swing out sideways from the tapered tabs.

At this point I also switched to the ivory ribbon, which is more correct for America (again, in Europe you find coloured silk ribbons in front, but America seems to have largely kept to white and ivory).

I next added the eyelet guards to the back lacing, to avoid wear on the eyelets from tightening the stays, and armpit guards to avoid sweat damage (important when I'll be wearing them daily in July and August with no air conditioning!), both using the same pigskin as for the binding. The eyelet guards are simply a matter of winding a 1/4" strip of leather twice through each eyelet so that it protects about 2/3 of the whipstitches where the lace is prone to rubbing. The armpit guards get stretched over the binding from front point to back point, stitched close up to the binding, and then tacked down at the bottom edge between the bones.

Please excuse the awful lighting on this one; it was very late at night.
 Finally it was time to line them. Each tab must be lined separately (straps get lined separately, too, if you have them), and then the main body of the stays gets lined in a single piece. This method is seen on almost every pair of extant stays, because it allows the main lining to be taken out to be washed without removing all the tab linings, which are fiddly and take forever to stitch in. Mine took about 4 days, because I was working extra shifts at my jobs and was having trouble finding time/motivating myself to stitch endless tabs when I got home.

You'll notice in this photo of the inside that all the seam allowances have been tacked down using large whip stitches; this happens before you butt and whip the main pieces together if you've boned the pieces first, and after the stays are boned if you're doing it in the same slightly rearranged order as I did. Additionally, you can see here that my outer linen doesn't extend all the way under the eyelets as it should. I thought I'd left enough excess when I cut the pieces out, but I was wrong. =( Luckily, the buckram is strong enough to make up for this blunder.

After the tabs were lined, I lined the main body of the stays, and put the ivory ribbon back in, and they were done!

You'll notice that these stays have no straps. I was considering adding the tape straps that criss-cross in the back and get hooked at the front waist, but to be honest I don't think I need them. I find that my stays ride up and need help staying down, rather than getting pushed down and needing assistance to stay up (largely, I think, because I have a smaller bust and thus have nothing to put weight on the top of the stays). There are many extant examples which seem to have no straps and to never have had any straps, and thus I feel justified in leaving them off. They give me headaches and inevitably show at the neckline of my jackets, anyways, so why bother?

For a photodump of photos of the finished stays, go to my last blog post, here. I'm hoping to do a photoshoot soon to get some better shots; my cellphone selfies don't really do it justice. But you get the idea. =)

Thanks so much for reading! I hope that this was helpful in some way to somebody. If you have any questions about my construction methods, research, material sources, or anything else, please do not hesitate to ask and I'll do my best to answer!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

HSF 5: Practicality, or, The Stays are Finally Done

Yaaaayyyy! Stays are done.

I made these for my two month internship in Colonial Williamsburg, so they needed to be comfortable, light, and cool: thus, perfect for the Practicality challenge (although they're slightly late - I ended up working two jobs and these took a back seat. whoops). I made them of linen and reed to keep them light and August-proof, and kept them as skeletal as possible. They also needed to be as accurate as I could make them (both for my own satisfaction and to wear them as an interpreter), and I therefore used period techniques and all hand-construction. The result is an incredibly comfortable pair of stays - I honestly forgot that I was wearing them for a while this afternoon! Very pleased with how these turned out.

I will write up a whole making-of post soon, but for now I'm just going to photodump. So let it commence.

Just the facts:

The Challenge: May - Practicality

Fabric: all 100% linen. I dyed the outside stuff with quebracho (a natural bark dye), the inner layer is linen buckram, and the lining is just a plain bleached linen. It is sewn with linen thread, and the seam tapes are indigo-dyed linen. So basically they're made of linen, with some leather, reed, and blood thrown in for good measure.

Pattern: I draped it on my mannequin based on extant examples, and then cleaned up the resulting pattern with reference to various drafts made from museum pairs (Norah Waugh, Jill Salen, etc). After a mockup I made a final draft, which will now be my working stays pattern from which to draft future pairs. I highly recommend doing this if you have a mannequin on hand. And posterboard is great for stays mockups - flexible enough for the curves, and if you stitch in one cable tie per panel it holds shape perfectly.

Year: about 1780-85.

Notions: 1/4" reed boning (2 per channel); linen plain-weave 1/4" tape, which I dumped in an indigo vat, to cover the seams (and the same, undyed, for lacing the back); ivory silk ribbon for the front; pigskin for the binding, armpit guards, and eyelet guards.

How historically accurate is it? I am tempted to say that these are as accurate as I can possibly get right now, but I will lower the rating to about 95% because the indigo tapes on otherwise very plain stays are plausible but not directly documentable, and should probably have been white. I do have some evidence for them; just not tons.

Hours to complete: including sourcing fabric, dyeing fabric, and hand-stitching, well over 300.

First worn: just now, for photos.

Total cost: not that much, actually. All the linen was stash fabric except for the buckram, and I only needed a yard for that. Reed boning isn't too expensive, the pigskin was leftover from my last pair of stays, and the silk ribbon came to about $3. The dyes cost a bit, but I had to buy them for a class anyways. Altogether this probably ran me around $50 in new materials. Not sure what the stashed bits cost anymore.

I love how swoopy they turned out!

This is as close as I can get to a back view; sorry. =P

After only a couple of hours of wear, they already have some shape-memory.

The bustline is cut quite low, as seen in a few period examples. I wasn't sure how this would work with my small bust, but it seems to have actually turned out really well.

Please excuse the horrible quality of these selfies. When I can find someone to take proper photos for me, I will!

A more complete blog post will be coming soon, as I have waaaaaay too many construction photos for these. =D

Thursday, 2 April 2015

HSF March: Stashbusting - 18th Century Knitted Mitts

This one was actually done about two weeks ago - well inside the challenge deadline - but I was so preoccupied with getting the corset done that I never took photos or posted about it.

For March's challenge, stashbusting, I decided to finally make the 18th century mitts I'd been planning for so long. I do still plan to make bias-cut silk ones with embroidered finger-triangles, but for now I just needed something to cover my arms with the short-sleeved jackets. (On a side note: there's a weird rumor floating around the non-costuming part of the internet that mitts were for propriety, like covering Victorian ankles. I don't even know where to start with that one.)

 Anyways, a couple of years ago my mom gave me a beautiful ivory cashmere sweater that had some holes in it because she thought I might be able to use the lace edging. I do plan to use that, too, but my first thought was actually that I could use the sleeves to make mitts.

There are many 18th century and early 19th century examples of knitted mitts, both in advertisements and in the form of extant examples:

1787, made of knitted linen thread.
Late 18th or early 19th century, French, silk knit

Advertisements list wool, silk, and linen as possible materials for knitted mitts, and women might either purchase fine pairs or knit their own. Homemade knitted mitts were knit in the round, but my research suggests that some examples made for sale were frame-knit and seamed. Additionally, some retailers advertised that they specialized in turning old stockings (presumably those with worn-out heels and toes) into mitts (I have since lost the advertisement proclaiming this, but I have been informed by others that a reference to the same may be found in Linda Baumgarten's What Clothes Reveal, 2012. As I do not own this book, I cannot confirm whether this is true, nor provide a proper reference).

My own mitts are hand-stitched together from pieces cut from the original cashmere sleeves, and the edges are whip-bound in silk floss. Cashmere, although available by the 18th century in the form of 'Kashmir' shawls, would not have been made into mitts. Additonally, mine are a bit workaday and cobbled-together for such a fine material (as compared with, for instance, the pink silk ones above). But they're shockingly warm for such a flimsy thing, and they look right, so for now they'll do.

The Challenge: March - Stashbusting
Fabric: frameknit cashmere sweater, silk floss (both from my stash)
Pattern: my arm
Year: late 18th century (early 19th century versions don't often have the finger triangles)
Notions: none
How historically accurate is it? Eh, maybe 65-70%? I'm reasonably sure that frame-knit mitts of fine cream or ivory wool are period, and extant examples show edges occasionally bound in silk. However, mine are made of cashmere, which was not yet available in this form, and my silk edging isn't quite the same as that seen on extant mitts.
Hours to complete: 4 or 5, with the edge-whipping and blocking
First worn: around my house when I'm cold
Total cost: $0, right now. A few years ago the silk floss cost about $25, and I have no idea what my mom paid for the sweater originally.

A couple more photos:

So there you have it! Somehow I managed to be late on this, even though I finished it over my March Break vacation. Sigh. And now I'm plunging into my 1770s stays, which I highly doubt will be done by the April challenge due date. Oh well. =)