When we relocated to Florida, we moved close to St Augustine, which is most famous for it being the oldest, continuously occupied city in the contiguous United States. I have since started volunteering at one of the many museums in the area (with an eye on making myself so valuable they'll just start throwing money at me to keep me there) to start immersing myself into what I hope becomes a career of mine.
In any event, part of my job there is to wear a period costume and kind of play a role as I impart historical information. Much of the background research has already been done for the area where I'll be working, but as my lord and master (and mistress) have said, there is always room for more knowledge and growth. I had the great, fabulous, wonderful good fortune to also have made a connection with the volunteer coordinator there, who is also in the process of redoing the whole wardrobe for the volunteers so things are more period-accurate. She is also a devoted costumer and loves accuracy. Match made. Plus, I finally have a legitimate reason to make beautiful, period gowns like I've been longing to do.
For my first project, I'm using the great J.P Ryan patterns for the 18th century stays and the robe a l'anglaise. Of all the gorgeous dresses of that period, this is the most direct of them with a full skirt that is pleated (yay!) and attaches to a lovely, fitted bodice. For the period fabrics for the dress, which will include the petticoat, I picked out simple solids in navy blue and off-white, 100% linen. One of the things we are trying to achieve here is a very specific look of fabrics and dresses for the women that would have lived and worked in this very poor, yet thriving, colony that was at various times under the French, Spanish and English. Since the woman I'll be portraying was a middling soldier's wife with five children in a three-room house, she needs serviceable fabrics and would have likely had limited (if any) access to some of the more beautiful fabrics that would have been seen in Europe at this time.
For the stays, I bought a cotton canvas, or duck, fabric, a mid-weight but soft linen for what will sit against my chemise (also of the mid-weight linen) and a heavy-weight cotton that has a lovely sheen to it that will be what people would see. Oh my! We ARE always looking for ways to attract more museum patrons: what about one day where we all run around in our historically-accurate skivvies? My lady's one extravagance would be the fabric for the outer portion... which makes me think that some things never change. How many of us wear lacy underthings under a cotton t-shirt?
I blew these pictures up extra big to show how pretty the stays were looking before things became a little crazy with the boning. This pattern calls for it to be fully-boned, but I have been reading a lot lately (from my historical-costuming idol) and have learned that if you have a smaller, more easily contained frame, you can get away with a half-boned pair of stays. I, however, want things smushed down and pinched in as much as possible... so full-on for me!
So in this picture, all I have put together are the front center panels, mid-front and side pieces with the casing lines sewn in just a couple of spots. I kind of cheated and bought the plastic boning that is already in casing, so for the most part I just made my life a little easier and attached that directly to the bodice, but in some places I did put 'channels' where I could slide in the pieces.
As you can imagine, the more boning that goes in, the more feisty the stays get to move through the machine. Yes, I also cheated and machine-stitched. I will hand-stitch another pair of stays, but that will be as part of what I'm doing at the museum. A sort of display, if you will, of how these things were done. The women who do this in Williamsburg are a great inspiration to us here and we will try to share some of the same thing with visitors to St. Augustine.
I have been pleased as punch with myself over this project turning out pretty-all-right for my first go-round. To be honest, I've been so very intimidated by making something like this but we all have to start somewhere.
Here's where I left off today. The bottoms of the boning pieces can get kind of stabby and I had poked enough needles underneath my fingernails (we all know that wretched feeling) that I felt it was better to leave them for the night and attack the other side tomorrow.
Hello, my pretty! Once I get the boning in and the linen lining attached, it will be time to trim the whole thing. Talking with my costume mentor at work, I was thinking a pretty navy blue trim out of the extra linen from my dress. Otherwise, I will just use a white piece of twill, which will also add a lovely contrast to the grey.
I cannot wait to get one with the rest of the robe a l'anglaise but to get its fit right, these have to be ready first!
Until next time...