Tag Archive | CoBloWriMo

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!

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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…

Late 1820s Day Dress

So although my mind is still spinning with thoughts and memories of revwar reenacting and 1770s dressmaking, I particularly like the Day 5 CoBloWriMo prompt (write about a favorite project you’ve done in the past) and it brings to mind a very plain day dress I reproduced a few years ago.

osv 1820s

Posing (and even smiling) in the Towne House Garden Arbor at Old Sturbridge Village. And yes, I have fixed the hem since this picture was taken!

The blue-grey cotton dress in the photo is loosely copied from one in the collection of the Andover Historical Society.

front detail sm

Detail of the original silk dress with interesting pleating at waist and sleeves.

The original dress dates to right about 1830, maybe a tad earlier, and is made of lightweight brown silk taffeta. My favorite construction detail is the skirt pleating with the stacked box pleats.

From a fashion history standpoint it straddles the 1820s & 1830s by being able to hang relatively straight rather than being gathered all around the waist. The skirts of both the original and the reproduction do form a slight bell shape if enough petticoats are worn or displayed underneath to give it a more 1830s feel.

The detail at the top of the sleeves is more typical of the 1830s with rows of parallel knife pleats to control the fullness before being released into full gigot sleeves.

For my repro, I was a bit limited on fabric and was also trying to create an 1825 appropriate look for a particular event I was attending. I reduced the fullness of the gigot sleeve and skipped the pleating at the top of the shoulder but I did retain the false cuff detail. My false cuff falls straight across the sleeve rather than at an angle like the original, but I still like the overall effect.

sleeve detail

Sleeve detail

Only the bodice of the original dress is lined and it’s a lightweight unbleached linen or cotton that acts as support for the fan pleating/gathering at the waist and neckline. The neckline on the original is piped as are the back bodice seams. It closes with hooks and eyes at the center back with only the lining being fully closed. The silk fabric is gathered in such a way that it meets when the lining is hooked shut.

I did the same (lining, piping & back closure) on my cotton version. The fabric I used has much greater drape than the original and may in fact have some rayon or even silk blended in. I don’t recall purchasing it with that knowledge but after years of wearing it, I’m not convinced it’s 100% cotton. In any case, it’s been one of my go-to dresses for working in an 1820’s historic house, attending events at Old Sturbridge Village, or going to other big-sleeved costume outings!

osv chickens

Sometimes I even get to hang out with chickens while wearing it! And for the record, this is probably the best detail shot of that bonnet that I have ;o)

Blast from the past… 1770s style

Antique Nanking ware platter from Kovels.com. Mine is almost as fabulous!

Antique Nanking ware platter from Kovels.com. Mine is almost as fabulous!

Long story short (which is not one of my strengths…) I found myself at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts earlier today. A small revolutionary war encampment was happening and I went to meet the owner of The Georgian Kitchen. Sadly, I didn’t get to sample any food (total fail on my part not his!) but it did look delicious and I did snag some stunning Nanking ware platters and dessert plates.

This was my first visit back to the 1770s in quite a few years, and while I can’t be sure, I think it’s been nearly seven years since I last visited this particular historic site. As a super-involved RevWar reenactor from 1999 through 2009-ish, I spent many weekends at places like the Homestead. Being there on a beautiful day like today, it’s easy to recall many of the memories I created over the years and I have to admit that I still miss parts of the hobby.

One of things I miss most is teaching and presenting clothing workshops – I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they have an a-ha! moment in the midst of learning a new technique or when a smile pops up while modeling a new gown.

As I looked through my computer files for photographs of events in Danvers, my search came up empty but I did stumble upon a two presentations I gave related to 1770s clothing in Danvers. So instead of pretty event photos, I’m sharing some facts, figures, and what-nots from those notes. Without further ado…

danvers clothing 2007

While the talk was originally 90 minutes or so, I’m cherry picking some of my favorite bits and pieces here, including this unusual portrait of Nancy Bezoil Lane and one of her children. According to the notes I copied at the time, the auction site (F.O. Bailey) that sold the painting had the following to say:

Nancy Bezoil Lane and fifth child by Benjamin Blyth, 1781.

Nancy Bezoil Lane and fifth child by Benjamin Blyth, 1781.

A fine 18th C portrait of Nancy Bezoil Lane (Mrs. Nicholas Lane) and her 5th child (mother of 13 children) of Salem, Mass., in the manner Joseph Badger, from the Frothingham/ Smith family who have resided in Wayne, Maine since the early 1900’s;

http://www.maineantiquedigest.com/articles/jan06/bailey0106.htm

There was one item in the sale that might have escaped unheralded but for a few bidders in the know. It was a large oil on canvas with its subjects identified through family history as Nancy Bezoil Lane and her fifth child of Salem, Massachusetts. Later information dug up revealed that her husband, Nicholas, was a sailmaker. The consigning family was from Wayne, Maine, and represented the Smith side of the Smith/Frothingham connection to the famous furniture makers of Massachusetts.

Apparently, the double portrait was misattributed. Listed as “in the manner of Joseph Badger,” at least two knowledgeable bidders blew off the Badger connection and proceeded on their own knowledge. The winner at $32,480 was dealer Marvin Sadik of Scarborough, Maine, who was dead certain that the artist was actually Benjamin Blyth (baptized 1746-after 1786).

He affirmed later: “There’s a lot of information on [Blyth] in the Massachusetts Historical Society…I’ve had it cleaned, and it looks terrific, and the woman has a wonderful coiffure. It was painted in 1780. We found that out by checking her birth date. It was in Salem.” He later added, “She’s sitting in a Chippendale chair, and the baby is holding a teething ring. I just got it back from the conservator…There are only about three known oil portraits by Blyth, so cleaned up it looks wonderful.”

Sadik referred to a very similar painting in Nina Fletcher Little’s Paintings by New England Provincial Artists 1775-1800 on page 55. “The painting is quite similar to mine of Mrs. Benjamin Moses, virtually the same size as mine, painted by Blyth in 1781, and it is in the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts, and that is evidence enough for me.“

What is perhaps most interesting is that according to the Gloucester & Salem Vital Records books, Nancy’s husband Nicholas was a sailmaker and they married and lived first in Gloucester before moving to Salem, a major port town adjacent to Danvers. The portrait is a great pictorial example of what clothing was being worn by the middling sort and when combined with newspapers from the time, we start to get a more accurate sense of what was being worn in the area.

Although Danvers was primarily a farming community, its proximity and connection to the larger prosperous town of Salem would have exposed many residents to range of goods and services. And even Danvers had its own shops that catered to the fashion needs of the residents.

Here are a few of the listings that were included in the original presentation:

Date Shop Name Owner Business Location
1768 No info Nathan Andrews Cordwainer Unknown
1768 King’s Head Tavern William Jones Tavern Rd fr. Boston to Salem
1768 Bake House Benjamin Pickman, Esq. (of Salem) To be let Near new mills
1769-70 The Bell Inn Francis Symonds Selling India & English good; Entertainment for Man and Horse Near Salem
1774 No info Jeremiah Page Store & Shop adjoining to be let 1 m. east of Mr. P’s Tavern
1774 Mr. P’s Tavern Mr. P______ Tavern 1 m. west of J. Page
1774 Unnamed Joseph Jackson Assortment of English Goods, suitable for all seasons Opp. Capt. Page’s
1769-74 Unnamed William Pool Gloves, Leather Breeches, etc A little below Bell Tavern

Phew! The midnight hour is creeping upon us once again and while it would be lovely to add some more portraits and pretty dresses… that will just have to wait for another post. Happy stitching my friends… and for those that like the challenge of research, I hope you enjoy these little tidbits!

Update: Oops! My bad… this post was totally inspired by the Day 4 CoBloWriMo prompt: Write about a recent event you’ve been to or trip you’ve taken.