October 19, 2014

Robe a l'anglaise I and II

While anxiously awaiting for some feedback on my thesis proposal I spent quite a lot of time this week working on another robe a l'anglaise, except this time I was moving towards one with the en fourreau back which I think I love even more than the first gown I did in linen. Which, incidentally, is now in two parts again as the skirt has decided to separate from the bodice. Oops. 

While haunting one of the great fabric stores here in Jacksonville I stumbled upon this piece of what is supposed to be drapery fabric. It is 100% cotton with this printed vine design that works well for the 18th century, and the heavier weight is very nice for the overall structure of the dress. 

As I had mentioned in the last post, I had earmarked these sheets to be used in my draping practice. The particular pattern left a lot to be desired, if I'm honest, but I wanted to get comfortable with fiddling with the fabric and where I needed to cut before I cut into something that was going to cost quite a bit more. 

Once I was feeling a bit more confident I started cutting into the fabric to work on the en fourreau back... with my face almost permanently glued to this tutorial. As she says on her own tutorial, this part takes a bit of fiddling and reworking, but it was a great chance to practice with fit and manipulation. 

My dress, naturally, looks a bit different from the tutorial - but I'm very happy with the final look. I'm also working on my patience and learning some restraint when it comes to using my sewing machine. In an effort to be more accurate, I sewed about 80% of the dress by hand, which I actually think looks rather nice running down the pleats.

And here is the front with my first stomacher. I kept wanting to do something a bit more adventurous with my first one, but I think as there will probably be one or two more, I'll save it for another day!

This is the finished navy linen robe I completed a while ago. I've worn this to work quite a few times and I have to say, even in Florida it's not totally unbearable. I don't really notice the stays until I'm taking them off and realize how icky my chemise has become ... too much information? Anyhow, wearing layers made of all-natural fibers is a great benefit, I think. 

The bodice and skirt have quite a few wrinkles from work last week, but as I've worn the linen a bit, I've noticed the places I'll need to readjust the fit somewhat. 

Here is the second robe, not quite finished. Actually... it was all finished, but apparently the settings on my dressform had changed somewhat and I am a bit fuller than it was leading me to believe. So I'm actually holding the front of the dress closed until I tweak that fitting. As I already had on my stays, we were moving forward with the photos. 

It does just give me the opportunity to share the innards of the dress, however. To get an even better fit on the bodice, I made a front-lacing lining that actually came together nicely. I really hope to get the front completely finished as I can wear my new creation to work! 

You can see the lining a bit more here... I am still too impatient to sew each lacing hole individually but I might get there one day. As I figure, very few will be seeing this much of the dress so I thought I could get away with it. 

My trim pieces are a very lovely, lightweight brown linen that I pleated around the collar of the dress and made one bow with long tails to hopefully hide some of the places where I sewed the snaps. I think when I wear it 'out' I'll pin the tails just so. 

While there is room for improvement, I feel like I learned so much making this gown that I can use in future gowns. Up next, a robe a la française, sacque back and all! I also need to start thinking about period hair styles. I'm all sorts of ready to powder and poof my hair into something fantastic!

Until next time... 

October 14, 2014

Moving onto a New Robe a la...

Having finally turned in my thesis proposal after much teeth-gnashing, I have decided to decompress a bit and turn my mind to solving other puzzles that have been buzzing about in my head.

Since I've been immersing myself in the world of (mostly) 18th century fashion for a while now, I have lately decided to go swimming in the deep end ... without my floaties. That is to say, I'm taking a huge leap and working on draping my own constructions and making my own pattern pieces from the essentials I've picked up along the way. I've done some sleuthing around Pinterest and the internet-at-large which has been the reason for all of these things clogging my brainwaves, so it's time to get them out.

I'm certainly not alone in my quest.

If we're using swimming analogies, I'd like to consider the great work of Janet Arnold, as well as the immensely talented professional historical costumers who have taken great pains to share their own work online, particularly Katherine C-G at The Fashionable Past, as my lifeguards. Both are of great help and Arnold's work, as well as the collection of extant gowns online are a great source of inspiration to any historical costumer/reproductionist.

I'm in love with the gowns that have stomachers. I've always been fascinated by the idea of them, particularly since some of the historical examples we have left to us were completely bling bling. They are almost like our own modern accessories as they were their own stand-alone pieces of clothing - almost like really expensive, hand-made, interchangeable watch bands. Only better.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 1750-1775. 

Wikipedia Images. France, mid-18th century. 

Mine will be much, much less bling. In fact, I don't even think I'll embroider my first stomacher as I'll just be happy that it fits in with the dress I'm planning. 

In any event, I'm working on a pattern for a robe that has a stomacher piece, which can really be any one of the robes from the 18th century period. The anglaise, française, polonaise and piemontaise all have examples where the front of the dress did not close together, but featured a stomacher. These are some of my favorite things. (You can sing that, like I did). 

This is simply one of my many muslin mock-ups, of which I'm sure there will be plenty more. I'm currently utilizing the back silhouette from the JP Ryan pattern, but this will be cut down the middle, with some extra inches here, and a few less there so that I can make a laced-up lining that will become the basis for the sacque gown I'm planning. I will also lose a bit of the pointed bottom piece as the long layers will hide that anyhow.

Here is a terrible cell-phone picture of my fifth muslin piece. I'm struggling right now with getting a truly smooth fit over my stays. I think I'll have to ditch those for right now in favor of just getting the garment constructed from start to finish - then finagle the fitting.

And here is a rough representation of the shape of my first stomacher. Later, I hope, I will make one that has a flared bottom similar to the one from France posted above. 

Until the beautiful Williamsburg printed cotton I ordered arrives, I am going to use this top sheet to practice draping and sewing the garment together as I go as instructed in Katherine's sacque tutorial. I figured it's a super cheap way (I already had the sheet set and my daughter doesn't like the tops) to get a hang of something before I go cutting fabric that's $11.00/yd! 

Until next time...

October 8, 2014

la petite robe a l'anglaise

With the success of my own robe a l'anglaise I decided to go ahead and see if I could make one for my daughter. I do have an actual reason for making her one beyond treating her as my own little Barbie doll. There is an annual event in December down in St. Augustine that is celebration of the city's great colonial history where a lot of history buffs and historical reenactors show up. Talking with my 'boss' at work, we decided - among other great things - that we would try and see about having C walk in the parade dressed in an 18th century 'costume'.

This lovely extant gown from around 1770-1780 is held by the Museé de Costume et de la Dentelle in Brussels is one that would have been worn by a young girl from the upper class or, at the very least, a wealthy family with the ability to afford such a sumptuous fabric. In fact, I have been doing some reading about the history of textiles recently and have tripped upon some information that dispels the notion that silk would have been absolutely unattainable to anyone not within the top one percent. That is not to say everyone was running around dressed in silks, but in the eighteenth century, certain legislation and trade embargos made cotton - what we see as an inexpensive and versatile fabric today - an expensive and hard-to-get item. Of course, what was true in European markets was not necessarily the case in the colonial Americas.

But I digress...


This portrait of a young Georgiana Spencer (later Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire) shows how children (at least of the upper classes) were dressed much as their mothers would have. The costlier fabric of the dress above would certainly not have been for everyday-wear, but children throughout much of history were usually thought of as small adults - they were to dress as their parents did and quickly learn the adult mannerisms and proper behavior. Civilization, don't ya' know? There are even examples of children's stays from this period.

With all this knowledge swimming around in my head I took to my drawing board - literally as I had no pattern for this - and came up with this miniature version of my own robe a l'anglaise (I just like writing that out.. and saying it). I was able to put to use the things I had learned from the JP Ryan pattern to guide my overall structure and final look, but to get the sizing as accurate as I could I mixed and match some pattern pieces from the McCall's dress pattern I used for the Anna/Elsa dresses. After that, I had to tweak it in several key places. This is where making a muslin mock-up (or four) becomes an essential and useful step in the process. My usual response to making a muslin 'dummy' was "pfffffft" ... but now I've learned.

Anyhow... I will share much better pictures when I get this dress on her and hemmed and a final fitting. I already foresee having to sew in a few hiccup darts on the bodice to account for her skinny torso, but that can all be hidden with trim pieces. I love trim pieces!

Until next time...

September 28, 2014

Slower Sewing

The title of the post is a bit misleading. I feel that what I've been working on today was slower because I didn't have to use my powers of concentration so much, when in reality I should be saying 'much faster sewing' because I was able to whip up three dresses for C to model for me today. I also started this at 5:30 a.m., so I definitely had a groggy great early start.

Last year I attempted to jump start a little cottage business making dresses and skirts for little girls. I love making these dresses and love buying fabric, but even more than that, I needed another reason to be spending a lot of my free-time sewing. It assuaged my sewing-guilt a little bit knowing that I wasn't making things JUST for my daughter. So I opened an Etsy shop and attended a craft fair or two where I had some small measure of success.

I'd still like to continue in this direction because, well, let's be honest it provides the necessary funds to feed my fabric addiction.

This dress by the Cottage Mama has become one of my all-time favorites. I love how you can put the 'show piece' on the front or back, depending on the preference of you or your little. I have also found that the skirt looks fabulous gathered or with a series of knife pleats that fan out from the middle front. 

Thanks to Rocco for photo-bombing our shoot today. For an old man, he certainly upped his energy today to frolic with C. He's just as much a ham for the camera as she is. Look at those smiles!

As you can see, this dress is adorable with the bow in the back, or the front. And I just love these two fabrics from Riley Blake and Michael Miller.

Another favorite idea of mine is pillow-case dresses. I saw on Pinterest that people were making them out of strips from left-over cuts or from fat quarters. What a great idea, I thought, because I'm actually getting tired of making fat-quarter quilts but I needed to use all of these great fabrics. They're also fantastic because the fit is so loose she'll be wearing these with leggings in no time as a tunic-shirt!

Right now, I'm at the custom-order stage with friends but if I can get my act together more I hope to eventually build up enough stock to re-open the Etsy shop and start making the craft-fair rounds.

Until next time!

September 26, 2014

18th Century Stays and Robe a l'Anglaise... almost finished!

I realized Wednesday night at about 10 PM that I had missed second Wine Wednesday! And then I had plans to play catch up and do Thirsty Thursday... but then crazy things happened and I didn't have time. And now... well... I have something more fun to share!

Oh my! What's hanging out there in my sewing room? My very first 18th century 'outfit' is almost complete. So very, very close to being completed. While I'm super, duper excited and happy with all that I've done, I know for sure that there is room to grow and improve at every step. A lot of planning went into my first robe a l'anglaise and the accompanying accessories that it's also a huge relief that I can see the finish line.

Here is my pair of stays all done. Let me tell you... putting the binding on this was the worst. When cutting all of my layers and the boning I did not do a very good job preparing the tabs for a smooth binding experience. I took lots of notes while making this first pair so that when I do another (and maybe another) I will hopefully not make the same niggling mistakes again.

You can see how it's not very smooth or consistent around the edges. That's something I hope to address on another pair later. I, however, needed to go ahead and get these finished so I can start wearing my 'costume' while volunteering at the museum in St. Augustine. 

I'm slightly annoyed with some of the ickier parts of the binding and so I decided to add some little bows here and there to draw the eye away from the goofs as much as possible. And yes, I'm fully aware that no one will be seeing these... but I will know. And that's just the kind of thing that bugs us, isn't it?

So as I started putting on all the layers, my maturity completely flew out the window because in addition to stays, gown and petticoat I had to make a bum pillow to get the lovely effect of the dresses of that period. I was having a look at the several blogs out there and found this great article on period skirt supports that have documented evidence to back up their authenticity. Based off her suggestions, I came up with a kind of amalgam of many -- but it's basically like I tied a pillow to my backside.. as if I needed more. Am I right, ladies? I definitely had a good laugh at my dress form will a pillow tied around its waist.

I have yet to add the hook and eye tape and finish the bottom edge of the bodice piece but here it all is! Happy dance complete, my critical eye has already addressed some more issues I'd like to tweak next time but I think overall it can be considered successful!

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the back! I wasn't sure about the bum pillow I decided to make until I put the robe on but seeing how the pleats fall to the floor made me decide to keep it as it is. It might be different when it's draped over me but I just hope that it will still look as good.

The rest of this weekend will be spent working on trim pieces and final fitting. Until next time...

September 18, 2014

18th Century Stays

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...

September 17, 2014

Inaugural Wine Wednesday

I'm going to start this off really classy and introduce you to one of my favorite box wines. That's right: I've sampled enough boxed wine over the past year or so to form a pretty solid favorite. There were some definite losers, but overall I think if your personal tastes are not too refined then you won't be disappointed. Underwhelmed, maybe; but not flat out bummed that you brought home essentially four bottles in a cardboard box and now have to make your way through it or end up tossing all that.

All jokes about Franzia aside (they're still reporting sales of 58 million boxes a year, y'all!)*, the crop of wines out there available in convenient boxes are actually serving a few purposes beyond just getting people smashed. They're reported to be more friendly for the environment* - particularly the BotaBox brand I like - and the wine lasts longer once opened and, therefore, is less wasteful. Win-Win. Sure, you're missing out on that satisfying "pop" you can only get when opened a traditional bottle of wine, but even cork has seen a dramatic down-shift in use over the years. Many of the companies seek to use recycled cardboard and make the whole kit-and-caboodle recyclable.

Let's get to the heart of the issue here: tasting. I like this Shiraz but to be honest with you, I cannot accurately compare it because it's the only Shiraz I've ever had. I actually bought this by accident thinking it was the box of Merlot I was choosing. This one is what I would call on the lighter side of reds. I'm not going to talk about notes or hints or any of that because I can't pick up on those with any amount of certainty and don't want to sound like a complete jack-a**. I think it's actually the perfect wine to go with any kind of heavier food because it won't compete with the flavors. It's not "bold" or "spicy" and goes down rather well. It can get a bit acidic-tasting if it's been sitting around in the glass too long, so bottoms up! Best part is... it was $18 for the box. Just thinking of all that value for my money makes it taste even better!

So, if you've never given boxed wine a try I'd certainly recommend this brand as a good place to start. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also favorites of mine, but I have yet to try any of their white wine... another post?

If you'd like to read more about boxed wine from an (arguably) more reliable source, there was an article in the NYT a while back.

For next Wednesday...

It's a Malbec from Portillo vineyards in Argentina. I found it at my local supermarket for $9.00 so I'll be looking forward seeing if it can compete with some good stuff I've tasted once-upon-a-vineyard-tour.

Until next time..