Girls 1830s Dress

I’m looking to the past a bit for today’s feature while I do my best to play into the #CoBloWriMo Day 7 prompt: Made for Someone Else. I actually spent this past Friday at Old Sturbridge Village where I introduced my 9-year old niece to the joys of a living history museum. On the ride home I asked her what she would tell her parents about our visit. Her words?

This was one of the best days of my life!

The charming Miss M wearing her frock, petticoat, and pantelets as she volunteered with me at a living history event in Andover in September 2015.

Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet kid! (And I’m pretty sure I scored some good-auntie points…)

Neither she nor I are quite ready to attend events together, but I do happen to have a lovely 1830s girls ensemble that was made for the delightful Miss M two years ago and is now just the right size for my young niece, Miss S! I shared numerous pics on Facebook and Instagram but I’m just now getting to write a bit about the outfit.

This dress was made from a combination of two patterns: Sense & Sensibility’s Girls’ Romantic Era Dress and Rocking Horse Farms’ Dress with Pantelets – plus a bit of pattern mashing & redrafting to get the exact size and shape I wanted. The frock fabric is still one of my favorites and is from the Mill Book Series Collection by Howard Marcus fabrics. Its worn over a loose bodiced petticoat and pantelets, both made of plain white cotton. The petticoat and the frock both button at the center back between the waistline and neckline.

As is typical of most of my made-for-others costuming efforts, the interior seam were sewn by hand but all hemming and seam finishes were completed by hand. In this case, that meant miles of narrow hemmed ruffles and self-fabric binding at the neck, among other details. Since this was being worn to an event that had historically seen hot weather, the frock is unlined, and the cotton for the petticoat and pantelets was quite lightweight.

A close-up of the neckline and sleeve with a small bit of the miles of ruffling.

So much hemming… But also a great close-up of the fabric.

Ruffes! And more ruffles… and more… and more!

And while a small number of original children’s gowns do exist in museum and private collections, it’s also fun to peruse fashion plates to look for the occasional appearance of younger models among the well-dressed adults, like this one:

Aren’t they both charming? This rather extravagant scene dates to 1833 and is from a French fashion illustration.

I still need to work on accessorizing our ensemble with a child size bonnet, some boots, and perhaps a dainty collar, but Miss M looked lovely just as she was for our event two years ago!

Later this summer, I’ll do a photoshoot with my niece and really test out her potential to be a mini-me at upcoming living history events. On a related note, I’m taking it as a good sign that she enjoyed our visit to OSV last week, and that she even found the museum display of children’s items interesting – even though there wasn’t actually anything interactive in that building!

And what was her favorite part of the display, you ask?

A mid-1830s childs gown, on display at Old Sturbridge Village

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Original origins

Today we find ourselves concluding Day 5 of #CoBloWriMo and the prompt is Origin Story. Well, for better or worse, everyone was given a rather hefty dose of my beginnings in my Intro post earlier this week. Still haven’t had enough, you say? Well, here’s a tad more…

I had a unique sense of fashion starting at a young age. And an early (and still ongoing) obsession with hats… We were living in San Jose when this was taken – I often wonder what would have happened if I’d grown up as a California girl. This picture makes me a bit glad I didn’t!

What feels like a long time ago, in a town not so far, I learned to sew. Hardly shocking, but my interest in sewing, and learning to sew, has always been driven in part by wanting to make historical costumes. Admittedly, I love just about all types of costume (maybe except the dripping in fake-gore kind) but I have always been drawn to historical clothing – Victorian bustles, Civil War era hoop skirts, Colonial powdered wigs, Titanic era hats, corsets of all types and as many different types of petticoats as you can cram in a steamer trunk.

I tried my hand at acting in grade school and middle school and the ‘dress like a character‘ assignments were always my favorite type of book reports. When I got to high school, the directors for the Drama Club shows weren’t particularly encouraging towards my acting ability or singing voice so I took the hint and figured out the next best way to wear the pretty clothing was to be part of the costume design team that was making it!

My dressmaking classes started at the same time I joined the Drama Club (Coincidence? I think not.) When I was done learning the basics, I quickly progressed to working on costumes for shows in my free time and making semi-formal and prom dresses during class time. Apparently shiny fabrics have also always held some allure! Musicals I worked on included Damn Yankees, Bells are Ringing, and an itty-bit of costuming for The King and I. There were also a number of non-musical dramas and comedies, but as I wasn’t a cast member and they were done on a high school budget in the early 1990s… I couldn’t tell you the name of a single one! I did have a passable alto voice (or at least enough to show up to class and get a passing grade) as a member of our newly created Show Choir. (This was way before the tv show Glee made that stuff cool.) Despite some really terrible (but fun-to-sew and typical of the time) costumes, I still love to sing and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to unlearn Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid as a result of all those rehearsals.

It was also about this same time that I discovered the Newport Mansions after a day trip with some girl friends and started to imagine wearing historical costumes away from any curtained stage. And for resources, having a theatrical shop in the center of my hometown didn’t hurt either and I still have two of my high-school era purchases:

Cover of book: Patterns for Theatrical Costumes by Katherine Strand Holkeboer 1890s ballgown pattern

Katherine Strand Holkeboer’s book, Patterns for Theatrical Costumes, got lots of use over the past 25+ years although not quite as much in recent days. On the other hand, the Old World Enterprise’s 1890’s Ballgown pattern is still uncut in its envelope and I still believe someday it will be made up into the amazing dream gown I dreamed of as wistfully-romantic and costume-dreaming sixteen year old. Is two and half decades too long to wait? I think not… perhaps 2017 is the magic year!

Exhibiting at Gore Place

Three of my regency reproduction gowns on display in the historic c.1793 Gore Place carriage house.

I’m super excited about today’s #CoBloWriMo prompt of Current Project for Day Two!! (And while it doesn’t exactly include tassels – yet – it will likely have some by the time I’m done.) So what am I working on these days? A costume exhibit at Gore Place, currently planned for display during their Fall Festival on September 23rd and then to be updated and re-displayed through the end of the year. This has actually been in the works for some time and I had the opportunity to display a few of my gowns and accessories during their Mother’s Day Tea, held in the Carriage House earlier this year.

For those not familiar with Gore Place, it’s a gorgeous federal mansion seated on fifty acres of beautiful (and walkable) grounds in Waltham, Massachusetts, just outside the bustling downtown area. Built for Governor Christopher and Rebecca Gore and completed in 1806, it has been painstakingly cared for and restored and is now operated as non-profit museum with wonderful events, farm programs, indoor tours, and outdoor activities. It’s one of my all-time favorite historic houses, can you tell?

For a number of years, a group of costume-minded friends have been attending their Holiday Tea held inside the mansion shortly before Christmas. I have to give a shout out to the fabulous J.L. for my initial invite some years ago! Here’s our merry band from this past December:

And a very merry bunch were we! How can you not enjoy hanging out in a room with peacock wallpaper?

So… back to the project at hand and the upcoming exhibit! It’s still in the planning stages but I had a great meeting and walk-through earlier today and my head is filled with all sorts of ideas. Current plans are for a scaled down version of the display to be shown in a limited number of rooms on the first floor during the Fall Festival as a way to entice visitors to take a self-guided walk through the house. Once the Festival has ended, we’ll be adding to the display and moving dressed mannequins into more rooms of the house on both the first and second floor. There’s also the potential for my reproduction work to be displayed along side or in combination with original pieces from Gore Place and that’s about as exciting as things get for this costuming-loving and exhibit-dreaming girl!

As I get back in the blogging habit, more details will be making their appearance. And yes, the tasseled parasol will likely be included in the exhibit… and if it’s not, then other tasseled pieces will surely take its place!

P.S. Anyone in eastern Mass area that is free on September 23rd and wants to come hang out (in regency dress or modern) during the Fall Festival, I’d love to see you there! Live music, craft beer, games, and a pumpkin drop… what’s not to love? Tickets go on sale August 23rd

Introductions… and a bit of back story!

So here we are on the official Day 1 of CoBloWriMo and today’s prompt is Introduce Yourself. Well… I’m not sure I could fit that into a single post, after all, isn’t that the whole point of writing all month long? (And then hopefully beyond then!) But in keeping with the spirit of the group, here’s a wee bit about me.

If we step inside the way-back machine… and take a trip all the way to the few months before the 1990s began, you’d find a younger me busily learning to sew in my Clothing I class at my high school. Yep, I’m one of those rare but lucky few who attended full dressmaking and tailoring classes as electives while attending a public school. And if that wasn’t enough to cement my love of sewing, my teacher, the lovely Mrs. C. was also the advisor for the AFS Club (which ALL the cool kids were in – LOL!) and it was with that same AFS club that I first traveled to Colonial Williamsburg. Now I had always loved historical costumes and had done my fair share of dressing up when younger, but it was that visit to Virginia that really pushed things over the top.

Can you guess where I spent the majority of my visit? (Aside from The Cheese Shop, of course.) Yes, indeed… the Milliner’s Shop. How predictable, right? I apparently was too enthralled to take too many pictures, except this gem… don’t you just love my misspelled but clearly enthusiastic caption?

While not surprising that I loved this shop in 1991, what is so impressive is how much research has been and continues to be done by their amazing staff over the many years it’s been open. The Milliner’s Shop still inspires and enthralls historical costume enthusiasts!! (And probably many other high schoolers on summer field trips, too!)

Fortunately, there are no pictures of me wearing the fabulous pink cotton elasticized mob-cap that I purchased at Yorktown during the same trip. Yep. Times have changed my friends…

Fast forward a few years, and you’d find me making costumes to wear while larp-ing at NERO events. And no, I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit it! (They’re now big enough to have a Wikipedia page – who knew?) To be fair I did prefer dressing as a pretty princess (or rather as one of the princess’ handmaids) to looking all crazy like a giant praying mantis creature. As I look back at my costuming and sewing experiences… this one cracks me up the most – it was silly crazy fun for weekends at a time and definitely led me down the path of immersive costume events. It just turns out I like actual history better than pseudo-medieval fantasy! But sorry… no photo evidence ;o)

By 1999, I had worked for a small costume shop, spent countless hours trying to recreate historical garments (some better than others) for events and outings with friends, switched from LARPing to SCA, started to collect some original historical clothing, amassed a respectable costume library, had a few opportunities to study clothing in museums, and last but not least, joined a RevWar reenacting group. I’m pretty sure it’s been nothing but a slippery slope since then!

My newly tasseled peacock silk parasol in all its glory along the Newport coast.

Not to gloss over the past 18 or so years, but it’s truly been a lot more of the same over these last two decades. I’ve been fortunate to work in history museums as a staff member and as independent costume consultant, my library and clothing collection has only grown larger, and although I no longer do much reenacting, I have expanded my wardrobe (and knowledge) to eras beyond the 1770s. These days I spend most of my time teaching sewing, both modern dressmaking and historical costume. It also seems I’ve gone a bit back to my roots, as ‘pretty princess’ seems to be my favorite type of event to plan, sew, and dress for – whatever the century! There’s always a tiara within reach just in case….

So here we are, back in 2017… and with a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I really am all about tassels lately and after having so much fun with my parasol at last month’s event, you can be sure they’ll be making regular appearances in my repertoire going forward.

Stay tuned for further sewing shenanigans, past and present. This little trip down memory lane has reminded me of all sorts of fun projects I’ve done or want to start that I can’t wait to share!

 

 

 

Another year, another CoBloWriMo

Jumping back on the bandwagon that I seem to be so good at falling off… With a year’s worth of thanks to Mem of Star and Scissor, I’m very excited to making a fresh attempt of blogging this August with the start of CoBloWriMo. What’s that you ask? A month-long spin on NaNoWriMo but just for COstume BLOggers.

The upside of not getting around to writing anything since last June (as in 2016) is that I truly have plenty of costuming attempts, events, and successes to catch up. As am often writing at the midnight hour, and logic may or may not be a factor, I’m going to work backwards through my costuming endeavors as I do this catching up. And if I get lucky, everything will make an appearance and perhaps I’ll even get some new costuming done this month, too!

Doing my best Anne Elliot at Lyme impression, since I happened to have a picture-perfect sea wall available!

So… first up, some details from a Dress Like a Georgian Day outing with friends M.J. and E.S. in historic Newport, RI in very early July. The lovely Mrs. S of Sew 18th Century invited some friends to join her for a picnic and tour of the historical neighborhoods and it was such a treat! We picnicked at Battery Park which was overlooking the water and adjacent to a boat ramp that allowed us to walk in and get our feet wet if we wished. In an odd turn of events, the weather was unseasonably cold for July … a mere 74 degrees or so, and as luck would have it, I had decided to wear my favorite ivory wool gown.

What I was especially thrilled to show off was my newly recovered antique parasol… with tassels! I even made a matching reticule. Now to understand how exciting this was for me, you must realize that I am terrible about finishing accessories. Terrible, I tell you! I’m happy to make undergarments and gowns all the day long… but bags, bonnets, and bunches of other little things? Who has time?

This particular parasol most likely dates to about 1870-80s – as it’s not quite so tiny as many mid 50s & 60s examples but not as large as later versions either. I’m still not sure what the handle is made from – it’s not wood, plastic, or bakelite but the jury is still out on other possibilities. It was purchased via ebay with a matte black silk cover in poor condition and fringe of 4″ deep black lace. I do plan to recover it in black and reuse the lace, which was in near-perfect condition, but wanted to try a temporary cover first.

I’m not one to use muslin very often so I dove right into my box of silks and found a remnant of peacock blue silk taffeta. After a few tests, I drafted a triangle shape that was close to the original black cover pieces and set about sewing eight pieces together to try the fit on the parasol frame. The first attempt was absurdly small, but the second attempt yielded a better fit and is what you see in the photo. The best part? TASSELS. Dear me… tassels are my new everything! Eight tassels on the parasol, one on the reticule – all handmade, and in fact I think the last two on the parasol were finished while picnicking.

But all this tassel and parasol excitement has me a bit tired, so I’m stopping here and will be back tomorrow with more details on the peacock parasol and reticule in all their glory!

 

Plimoth Jacket Memories

While this is likely to be subject of many more blog posts to come, I couldn’t let the day (or night) go by without writing at least a few words about the rather amazing memories that were recently dredged up! Why is that, you wonder?

Because of this:

plimoth jacket combined

Swoon! It’s not often that my breath is taken away by a historical costume reproduction, but in this case, I pretty much stopped breathing when the lovely interpreter & jacket model Natalie walked into the room wearing this stunning garment. And with no pun intended, I’m pretty sure you could have heard a pin drop in the room – that’s how awestruck we were.

embellishing17thcdressNow to back up and tell a bit more of the story! This past weekend, Saturday and Sunday to be specific, I celebrated my birthday in a rather fabulous way by attending the Embellishing 17th-Century Dress Conference at Plimoth Plantation. There were two full days of workshops and discussions and demos of all sorts of techniques – both English and Native – and all the teachers and presenters were fantastic. An extra bonus was getting to spend the weekend with my friend, Jenni of Historically Dressed– it’s always so much better to share costuming adventures with friends!

The workshop focused heavily on details related to the embroidered jacket project that was completed in 2009: The Plimoth Jacket – A Paradise of Silk and Gold. This 3+ year project was a tremendous effort that eventually involved over 200 volunteer stitchers, dozens of lace makers, several technical and historical experts, and thousands of yards of silk thread.

plimoth leaves

I worked on the wings of the jacket – which is pretty exciting because it means it’s easy to spot my stitching on the finished piece! My detached buttonhole stitching is still looking good nine years later ;o)

But let’s back up even earlier to when the first embroidery stitches were added to the jacket… June 2007. I  was one of about 10 stitchers who attended the first volunteer session and who had the privilege of being the inaugural embroiders on this amazing jacket. Can you tell I’m still excited about this? I hope so… because then you’d understand why when this conference was announced and included the opportunity to see the jacket… I was all in!

Sadly, it seems that most of the story and blog that traced the progress of making the jacket seems to have disappeared from the web but some traces can be found by searching the Internet Archive or doing an Google Image search.

And although I have been back to Plimoth Plantation several times since 2007, it was a huge treat to return for another does of hands-on history. And while it’s true that much of the staff has changed during the past nine years, everyone involved (then and now) went above and beyond to provide a fantastic experience. So thank you, Plimoth Plantation, Jill Hall, Tricia Wilson Nguyen, and countless others who made the jacket project a reality nearly a decade ago, and thank you also to Demetra and Dan Rosen, Kristen Haggerty, and the many other staff members who made me fall in love with 17th century costume all over again during the past few days.

P.S. If you’re keeping track, I’ve been a bit behind on my CoBloWriMo-ing due to the traveling and conference, lol! However, I thought today’s prompt – Give a progress report on your current projects – was oddly fitting even if my current project stretches back nine years! It’s also a good time to mention that the conference gave me the chance to meet and stitch with Mem of Star and Scissor… who is also the driving force behind CoBloWriMo!

P.P.S. My head is literally exploding with other non-embroidery information learned this weekend and with ideas for future costuming. So many more blog posts to follow…

Salem Shopping in 1774

I’ve been having more fun going through old presentation and research files that I mentioned in an earlier post. This post will be short (on pictures) and sweet (on shopping wishlists) as I share three fabulous advertisements from 1774 editions of the Essex Gazette. Oh, to have a time machine and go back to do some shopping!

John Appleton May 3 1774

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, May 3, 1774

First up… the offerings of John Appleton at his store in Salem. Appleton advertised wares as early as 1768 in the same newspaper. This particular advert has quite the listing, including:

Calicoes and Patch… striped linen for jackets, taffeties … padusays… blue, green and cloth-coloured damasks, … Long lawn, cambricks, Plain and flowered lawns, Lawn aprons, diapers … Cardinal silk … Cotton velvits, …Silk ferrets … Stay trimmings… Women’s English & Lynn shoes … and fish-hooks.

According to the advert, these goods were recently imported from London, and are listed as ‘A fine Assortment of English, India, Irish & Scotch Goods, at the very lowest Rates.’ The image scan is a bit too fuzzy to make out the spelling of every item but one can get a sense of the breadth of variety without knowing the specifics. (And for the record I now want a Cardinal silk cloak… because why not?)

Next up is and advertisement from the following week, May 10-17, 1774. This time we can see the offerings of Nath’l Sparhawk… which is just the best name ever for a shop owner!

Nathaniel Sparhawk May 10 1774

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, May 10, 1774

He had advertised Beavers and Bohea (among other items) in January of the same year but in May was running a much longer column. His goods were coming from London and Bristol and I found it interesting that he named the specific Captains who made the journey. I’m also curious that he sells by wholesale and retail at his ‘CHEAP STORE in King-Street, SALEM, a few Doors above the Custom-House.’ Was cheap a favorable way to describe a shop? Curious minds are wondering but have no answers… yet.

Sparhawk offers many items in common with Appleton, but a few differences can be found including the following:

…changeable lutestrings, black ditto … Quality shoes & coat bindings, Gold and silver Prussian ditto … Children’s red Morocco leather shoes … Black and white whimsey caps, with cords … Plain and flower’d serges … Black and white spider-net, Queens’ gauzes … Black and white catgut … Women’s white and glazed and unglazed kid gloves & mitts … and Coffee.

More than a few interesting items in the Sparhawk list! If I’m transcribing it correctly, whimsey caps (with cords of course) are by far the most curious to me. I’ve not done much serious 18th century fashion research in a number of years so it could be that this is a wildly popular and well-known term. However, it’s new to me and I love the idea of purchasing such an item to wear, just so I could ask for it out loud.  In other adverts, Sparhawk lists them with children’s items and in one case, specifically calls them Children’s Whimsey Caps so it could just a youthful garment – more’s the pity!

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, December 27, 1774

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, December 27, 1774

Last but not least we jump to the end of year for a December 1774 advert, this time provided by George Dublois. Like Appleton, Dublois had been advertising since at least 1768. Many of his goods are the same as the other shops – checks, linens, broad-cloths, camblets, stockings, and the like seem to be common to just about every ad for English (and Irish, Indian, and European) Goods of the period.

A few new additions to this particular set of three listings includes:

… Bath Frizes … knit breeches Patterns … Hatter’s Trimmings of all sorts … crimp and common cap Wire … letter’d and other Gartering, … and velvit Corks.

Velvit corks? Um, okay. A quick googling shows that to be a high quality type of cork. Who knew?

There’s more than a few terms that I’d love to look into more as time allows. But once again, the hour grows late today and I’ll have to save those efforts for another day. Until then, I’ll be having dreams of cap wire and whimsy caps and flowered serges and striped linen jackets… with a few velvit corks and fish hooks thrown in for good measure!