Friday, June 26, 2020

inVolante-ry love

I make no secret of my desperate love of the earlier half of the 18th century, with its truly bizarre silks in insane geometric and floral patterns that look like someone must have been smoking some pretty good stuff while drawing designs. Another aspect I love is the MASSIVE tent dresses going by names like "Volante," "Battante," "Andrienne." Fashion historians seem a bit divided as to the concrete definitions of these terms, but the gowns were all very loosely draped from pleats on or over the shoulders, in huge swathes of luxurious silk. A stark contrast to the more fitted former favorite gown, the Mantua, with its slimmer skirts and train.

So while other girls are swooning over the airy pastels and mountains of faux flowers and oodles of lace from the 1760s and 70s (although I love those too), it's the generally un-trimmed, monolithic ladytents of the 1720s and 30s that have my heart. The women in the paintings of the time look powerful, in-control, even dominant in situations of romance. Their bodies are not the main focus of the fashion (not that there's anything wrong with that!), rather, it's the wealth and luxuriousness that they radiate in their choice of fabric. Possibly even the de-emphasis of body-display at this time is a reflection of the fact that women were becoming valued and respected for their minds, as France's female-led Salons became a haven for intellectual discourse in the early 18th century.

I particularly love the paintings by Jean François de Troy. In their giant Volantes, the women take up a sizeable chunk of the canvas (woman-spreading, if you like!), and are aloof, resistant even, to the men in their lives. The ladies tease, they hint, they toy...but they clearly hold the upper hand! And as my body is rather more Rubenesque than sylph-like, while my brain is my favorite part of me, I'm all about this not-so-little fashion trend.

 ("The Declaration of Love" - 1724, at The Met.)

 ("The Garter" - also 1724, also at The Met)

So of course I always knew I wanted to make a Robe Volante, but unfortunately to date the only commercial pattern is apparently an absolute nightmare, and I knew to steer clear of it.  Also, finding the right fabric became an obsessive hunt, which was only settled when Burnley & Trowbridge offered up the most MAGNIFICENT large-scale silk-blend damask. I tackled that thing so hard. I might have rolled around in it when it arrived. Maybe.

Large-scale damasks seem to have been most prevalent from 1720-1740, and indeed, some of the designs were absolutely enormous in scale. I particularly like this one:

 (This photo is I think from Christie's, where the gown was up for auction, but this particular Volante then ended up at The Met....which I'm beginning to think also has a slight Volante obsession lollll)

I knew I didn't want the style of Volante that has four separate pleats descending from the shoulders, of which there are several extants...I was more after a Volante starting to transition towards the Robe a la Francaise. To that end, I looked at the robe volante in "The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930" by Norah Waugh. Seeing the differences and similarities vs. a regular Robe a la Francaise, I quickly realized it would be very easy to adapt the front portion of the J.P. Ryan sacque to cut it on the fold of my fabric so there would be no skirt-front opening, and to 'V' the neck opening back towards widened shoulders so I'd have the necessary fabric to do front pleating as well. 

Honestly I should have made a mockup, but I was so excited and could conceptualize how this was going to work so I just bulldozed ahead, and somehow it worked. It worked SO WELL. I cut the sleeves extra full, since that was the trend earlier in the century, and made winged cuffs instead of the ruffles in the sacque pattern. The pleats from the shoulders down to the front just wanted to make themselves, with very little draping help needed from me. 

Had I wanted to, I probably could have had this finished in one weekend, it was that easy. Not dealing with an open skirt cut down tremendously on the amount of work...all I had to do was pleat the side skirts to fit over my paniers. 

Here you can see the front pleats of the gown, tacked down with nearly invisible prick stitches. The stomacher is pinned to my stays.

The stomacher is my own design, and is just a hell of a lot of gold trim stitched down in as artistic a pattern as possible. I couldn't find the gold net I wanted, so I took strips of gold net ribbon and carefully joined them for the background, then added sequins and thin gold ribbon that looked like bullion, and pre-made floral embroidery trim as well.

I talked my husband into taking some pictures of me at a ruined stone church and graveyard nearby.

 No, it's not a lute, lol...but it could be! I'm learning to play songs from the period with "The Baroque Ukulele" by Tony Mizen.

 My self-covered shoes from years ago finally got an outing, probably their last because my feet grew, ackkkk!

In case you can't tell, this is absolutely my favorite gown ever. Super simple to make...if you've ever made a robe a la francaise, it's actually way fewer steps. It's a dream to wear, you just pull it over your head once your stomacher is pinned on. Full range of movement. INCREDIBLE fabric...I can't even describe how luminous it is, and changeable in different lights. Also, highly durable since it's not papery-thin taffeta. I had no qualms about taking it outside, it got zero snags, and I actually think it'll be easy to spot-treat it if it ever needs it. In this gown, I feel.....powerful. And that's a delightful feeling.

Adieu, til the next gown!

An 18th century floral jacket

So for the past year and a half I've been in the terrible habit of hunting down gorgeous historically inspired fabrics and buying them to hoard. I get such a thrill out of locating pretty things, and even more-so when I find them on sale, so my stash is out of control and I've barely bought anything this year. Barely. Maybe some.

This was one of my loveliest finds though, on a decorator's remnants site, and is an extremely expensive fabric when buying by the yard. It's by Old World Weavers which has been folded into Scalamandre, and the pattern is called Viviana. But I got it super cheap!

Now I absolutely adore all things 18thc floral, and it's incredibly hard to find in a real silk. This is just a cotton and viscose blend, and as such is quite thick for most 18th century clothing, but I decided it would work tolerably well for a mid-century jacket, which has more structure and doesn't need a lot of drape.

Again I went with J.P. Ryan, this time her famous 'jacket pack' as I like to call it, which has a number of styles. It was an enjoyable challenge trying to get perfect symmetry on the back panels especially, and I'm very pleased with the result as it brings to mind many of the pert little mirror-image jackets from the 1740s and 50s.

When I took pictures in it, I had to wear a petticoat that's a little too vibrant and goes with a sacque so it doesn't have the nice ruffle going all the way round it, but I now have a slightly more grey-blue petticoat finished that matches the flowers exactly. I opted to do a simple criss-cross of gold trim on the stomacher, nothing to overwhelm the fabric.

And my fichu was digitized from an example at the V&A Museum and machine-embroidered by my incredibly talented friend Christine ("Sewstine") to whom I owe so much! It really adds to any daytime 18th century outfits I make. I'm getting better at tiny hems but alas, you can see it's still a bit lumpy. Oh well.

On to the next outfit!


....or...."My Favorite Color."

I wear so much black in everyday modern life that my poor mother, when we see each other, is always bringing me colorful clothes she's found, trying to spice my work wardrobe up. Oddly though, I'm not drawn to black at ALL in historical clothing! There are many philosophical inferences that could be pulled from that dichotomy, but I needed a black gown for Tea at the Haunted Mansion at Costume College this past summer so one had to be made.

My darlingest friend Christine (or "Sewstine" as a lot of people know her) had a black silk faille that she had no intention of using, and gifted it to me! I had just enough for a sacque, a little bit of trim, and the front panel of the petticoat which is perfect and HA because the Georgians, never ones to waste expensive silk, often used a different and cheaper fabric on the back panel of the petticoat where nobody would see it.

It's quite hard to see any detail on this gown as the faille is not nearly as light-reflective as taffeta, so I opted to keep the trim confined to the stomacher.

Black lace, as far as I know, would have been very uncommon around the neckline/stomacher edge of a gown in the 18th century. I'm not sure I've ever seen an example of it, although black lace is used elsewhere.  But the vintage lace I found just looked so charmingly funereal yet elegant that I couldn't resist!

 They had some gruesome and gothic photo-shoot setups where you could take selfies at the Tea, and I enjoyed looking tragic as much as possible. Here's me about to depart this world by drinking out of a poisoned chalice, or something.

 I finally met up with the delightful Taylor, a friend I had only ever talked to on Instagram before, and she is just a hoot in person, I hope we get to hang out at other events some time!

I re-wore my black veil from my Gala costume the night before, and it only added to the grieving widow look, lol. At least I have an 18th century mourning gown now! The one thing I look back on with this dress and want to change (and will) is that the petticoat ended up being longer than the gown, and I HATE HATE HATE that look on myself, so that petticoat will be getting shortened! The one thing I have learned is that J.P. Ryan must not be a tall lady. I'm 5'9" and both my sacques from her pattern have been too short in the gown's front panels and I think it's due to the suggested measurements (or it could just be me. It's been a minute since I really looked at the pattern). Luckily you can't tell it as well on my bronze sacque because I dipped the serpentine trim down quite low on the front edges.

On to the next outfit!

The $7-a-yard Sacque

Last year, I was not in love with this fabric when I first saw it online. An Etsy seller with remnants from a decor business had taffetas in very natural, earthy colors at a bargain-basement price of only $7-8.50 a yard, and being that I had never yet worked with real silk up to this point, and also not being confident in my skills whatsoever, I bought it just because of the price. It's easier for me to not worry about diving into a project if the fabric isn't hideously expensive. The fabric picture was a very dull, clay-like color, looked very flat, and my expectations were pretty low as I was not even sure it was real silk.

Then it arrived -- most definitely silk! And a really lovely orangey-bronze color!

I was so excited I instantly bought several other earth-colors from the seller, and now have a rich chocolate brown in the stash for a 1790s drawstring gown some day (probably trimmed with gold sequins and embroidery) and a medium brown shot with black for a 'best middlin' 1750s gown eventually as well.

To date, I would say the "Bronze Sacque" is the most time-consuming thing I've made, because of the tiny fly-like trim I added to the edges of the self-fabric trim.

At first I just sewed the absolute bare minimum for a basic sacque from the excellent J.P. Ryan pattern, because I was under a time crunch to get things done to attend Costume College this past summer. As the Gala theme was "Streets of Venice" or some such, I knew I wanted to do an 18th century masquerade painting, so I chose "The Fair Nun Unmask'd" by Henry Robert Morland, which is one of my favorites. So  mysterious!

There were a lot of details I knew I wouldn't have time to replicate before Costume College, so I just went with the most identifiable bits, especially the mask:

The shape of the inexpensive plastic mask wasn't the best, but I really enjoyed painting it! Lo and behold, several people at Costume College knew exactly who I was supposed to be!

After the fun and exhaustion of Costume College, I looked at the gown again and had to decide how to finish the whole thing up. Having gotten quite a bit of yardage for "oops" purposes, I figured self-trim would be the way to go. I had extremely small trim to go along the edges of everything, a twisted silky twine with tiny fringe bits spaced out every so often, and it looked enough like fly trim that why the heck not. It doesn't show up well in photographs but I think it's a lovely little textural detail in person. No regrets.

 Oh, the drama. 

Here you can just see the little bits of silky fringed trim on the edge of everything. 

This gown is now an easy go-to for 18th century formal events, and I think turned out really beautifully. Time well-spent! On to the next gown!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Sometimes things don't go the way we envision

....and that's ok.  Because the saying "nothing ventured, nothing gained" has carried me well through costuming, and I have very few failures to share! If I had hesitated until completely ready, I would never manage to make a single thing. I genuinely think that if having a wearable historical costume for any event is your goal, it's extremely important to research to a point, and then dive in even if you still have some questions. Otherwise you'll hesitate forever and never accomplish anything.

I had always wanted a chemise gown, but not the type with the super fluffy sleeves. There are several more streamlined examples out there (which I can't show you because they're from private Flickr accounts) as well as portraits like the Comtesse de la Châtre (Marie Charlotte Louise Perrette Aglaé Bontemps, 1762–1848) by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1789, which lives at The Met. 

You can see how clean yet elegant the style is here with the long sleeves, and I was going for something similar...except I had the GENIUS idea to make the top and bottom separate so that I could re-use the bottom as a petticoat with other outfits. 

Dear Reader, I failed. 

 (Me running away from my experiment-gone-wrong. Aiieeee)

Firstly, I very foolishly thought that surely it wouldn't be too bulky if I treated the dotted cotton and white cotton lining as one when gathering it all up. I mean, it's all fairly lightweight! Ugh no. The 'blouse' top-half was such a nightmare and so puffy and bulky that I tried to reduce it three different times with very little success. The sleeves, for once, gave me no trouble at all by comparison!

(Looking just fine! ...from a distance) 

(sigh. Such pretty fabric. Such great shoes too from Target -- I'll be painting them eventually for use in Regency-wear!)

 It eventually pulled terribly across the back of the shoulders because of how much fabric I took out, and yet it STILL managed to look like a maternity outfit in front. And I won't even show you the jerry-rigged system I had for keeping the blouse attached to the skirt, there was absolutely nothing accurate about that!

Unfortunately I also realized that with the Chemise a la reine generally having a fairly low-profile skirt, separating the skirt from the top wouldn't even render it useful as a petticoat because it wouldn't have worked with any of the common skirt supports I might need to use if I wanted to be a fancy shepherdess or the like.  I'd have to completely re-do the hemline and it would probably end up too short if I used a bum-roll or small hip pads (definitely wouldn't even be wide enough in fabric for pocket hoops). So this whole thing is in the scrap pile right now, and will probably get salvaged for an Edwardian blouse eventually. Ah well. Sometimes those genius ideas sound great in theory but don't quite work in practice.

I've got a lot of the dotted Swiss left in yardage so I'll probably be making a 1790s transitional gown with it eventually, without trying the gimmicky separates route again!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Saint Louis Georgians Spring Picnic

Ok, get ready for a lot of pictures and not a lot of text 😂  I won't try to spoil it with my ramblings unless I remember something. Our delightful group of sewists, led by our fearless Madame Presidente 'Sewstine', has been finding ways to get together that enable us to wear the pretty things we've all been working on. There are Midwest living history events, sure, but nothing that's on the fancier side other than the occasional Twelfth Night Ball.

On the picnic day, we had a nasty gloomy start (it's so hit and miss with the weather here...that's the trouble with planning way out, but you have to when people are coming to StL from as far as Milwaukee and Kansas City!). Rather than trying to tough it out, we met first at the Saint Louis Art Museum to see if the rain would taper off so we could picnic.

 Alyssa's sacque has such a beautiful shape to it, and you can read her picnic write-up at her blog here

Plenty of time for glamorous chit-chat!

 So glad the museum didn't mind us taking up a couple of the rooms and being possibly a little noisier than the average museum tour group!

 Extremely in love with Emily's charming 1790s outfit

My handsome hubby humored me by wearing the only fancy frock-coat I have ever made, and he looked not too out of place in the museum's 18th-century paneled room (despite my tailoring being awful ugh...planning to try again soon)

 No, no I didn't set off the banister alarm by getting too close to it or anything....

 Oh one day I WILL have a paneled room like this 😭

Back out in the main hall, we realized the clouds had lifted considerably!

I actually really love the 1750s/60s very full silhouette. I don't mind that it's a bit like a shapeless tent, because it makes the fabric the centerpiece, rather than my figure (or lack of)

Sunshine! We finally got some! After a delightful potluck picnic, we took quite a few pictures in the park. There were at least two bridal parties also there for photos, and I think they got quite a kick out of us in our very different type of formal clothes, haha.

 A bit wet at the hem. Thank goodness it's cotton!

 I think Emily was belting "The hiiiiillls are aliiiiive with the sound of muuusic" as she ran down towards the lake. My husband looks rather like a rake up to no good as he follows the young maiden. More on that later.

 My friends all know that I lend my husband out for mock-seductive photos a la Nicholas Lancret. He is a good sport. I can only imagine what the people in the background were thinking.

Ope, just realized this might not be a picture I took. I'm not quite sure. Possibly Jean took it? I saved so many photos onto my phone that now I don't know whose is whose, darnit.

Definitely did not take this picture. I think it must be Jean's. Thank you Jean! So nice to have some of the back of my dress!

 Much contemplation of the glorious landscape. And I'm afraid to speculate on what Kelley's child is up to on the far right 😂  He was very well-behaved though and had the cutest little banyan on!

 Emily spies the matron in yellow heading back to the boxed wine for thirds. "What sort of picnic is this, anyway?"

 I have no idea what silly jokes he was cracking here, but he is a laugh a minute and always happy to entertain. I think our sunny-colored clothing was very fitting on this day that started so wet and grey, but burst into a gorgeous and highly enjoyable event!
Don't ask me what my hair was doing here, it had given up in the car already. I think I have a better system now after much reading in the American Duchess beauty book.

Next week: a fancy banyan/dressing gown! But I'm off to Florida for a few days with a dear friend who is taking me to excited.