Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Fresh year, fresh projects!

 Overly optimistic as always, I have a TON of things I'd love to make this year, or at least to get started on! In no particular order (I want to leave room to tackle them only as they inspire me), here we go!

Somehow I stumbled across this portrait of Marie Antoinette -- and while my brain is probably just forgetting a million images I've seen, dark green feels less usual in 18thc portraiture than most other colors, especially for the frequently painted MA. This painting crossed my path at just the right time, when I had just bought a stunning changeable green taffeta shot with the lightest pink, absolutely perfect for recreating this gown. But because I love the fabric so much and want to save some of it, most likely I'll be doing a jacket/petticoat combination rather than the full sacque gown I imagine was probably being worn here. Also fortuitously, I have a LOT of suitable lace (something like a 26 meter roll?) and it took no time at all to find the little pink paper flowers.  The petticoat is sitting at home right now, already halfway done, as I'm going to wear it to an event this weekend (hopefully) with a plaid pet en l'air.

Next up, this amazing gown in Alexander Roslin's portrait of the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (born Sophie Dorothea of Wรผrttemberg, later Empress consort of Emperor Paul I of Russia). I have a fondness for her as a historical personage, it sounds like she made the best of a difficult situation with the nightmare of all mother-in-laws, the formidable (and similarly German-born) Catherine the Great, who yanked from Maria the first two infant sons she bore. But though most women would have been overshadowed by a monarch like Catherine, Maria Feodorovna held her own. She was bright, well-educated, curious, won over her difficult husband, had 10 children, and greatly influenced Russian charities, architecture, and politics during her era. 

I'm not much of an orange-wearer, but this dress just won't leave my mind, and I've been wanting to try it for years. I feel sure it's silk satin rather than taffeta, and most likely a Robe a la Francaise, but for the sake of yardage (I have an orange satin that's been sitting in my stash) I'm going to attempt to make it a Robe a la Anglaise instead. I have rather a lot of vintage gold net and ivory flowers with green leaves, so supply-wise I should be set!


A Renaissance gown has been very high on my list for the past 6 months. For years I have watched The Borgias over and over and OVER again, and love all of Lucrezia's floaty, decadent gowns, so maybe this year I'll attempt something like a mashup between the papal investiture ceremony gown and her wedding gown (because I love her headdress in that scene). I now have the Margo Anderson Italian Gamurra pattern recommended to me by Costumer's Closet, 10 yards of a stunning gold silk damask (for $10 a yard!), and quite a bit of a sheer ivory window-pane material for a camicia...I don't anticipate that any of it will really be historically accurate, being more screen-inspired than anything, but since Renaissance is a hot thing in the community on Instagram right now, it might be time to dive in! The show mixes textiles and textures in the most intricate, delicious way, so it would be fun to experiment with that.

Victorian needs to be high on my list this year as well, if I ever want to finish my self-set "Decades" goal of making one gown per decade from 1700-1900.  I have a really fun red cotton print that I'd love to use to make something like this 1840s day dress! There's a good Truly Victorian pattern in my stash that should produce a similar gown.

Similarly, I'd like to get a good 1850s gown in, from a dark brown and navy stripe (synthetic, but hey I'm not just going to throw it away!)....

...and a plaid 1860s gown as well (I've got a brown/blue/red plaid silk that I picked up for $10 a yard and it would be perfect for this).  While I only plan to make the day bodice for now, eventually it'd be nice to also have a matching ballgown bodice, and hopefully there's enough yardage left over for that.


There's a lovely lilac plaid sitting in my fabric storage, and possibly enough solid purple fabric to attempt this Natural Form (ish? there's a wee bit of bustle there) walking gown...

...and just to round out the Victorian insanity, this amazing bustle gown, for which I have lots of grey satin stripe with a little bit of yellow ribbon stripe running through it.

I have a beautiful yellow and white silk damask that would be a stunning riding habit, a la Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons, and a black straw bergere, all ready to go....if I ever feel like making a million black buttonholes! ๐Ÿ˜‚

From the thrift store, I found a remarkably similar orangey/burgundy fabric with dark green stripes already woven in....and I think it'd make an amazingly similar outfit to the "Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia" by Lorenzo Lotto. We'll see if I ever get around to this or not, it's not high on my list but the fabric is just too good to let go.

And then a couple of VERY long term projects, because they'd be so detail-intensive:

I'd just love to have an early Regency ballgown that's spangled at the bottom. I have a chocolate brown silk in the stash already, and a ton of flat gold spangles....but probably not as many as I'll need for a very intricate design. I might start off very small in design and see what my tolerance for such a project might be, but thanks to the 1790s adjustability, I could work on such a thing for years and still be able to fit in it despite any weight fluctuations. 

Lastly of all -- This incredible sequined Worth gown has been on my radar for years, and it's always surprised me that none of the 'big' costume names have been interested in tackling it. Whatever I do would only end up being my approximation.... I have neither the interest nor patience to painstakingly count the number of sequins per square inch to make an exact copy. But it really is an absolutely stunning piece and I can only imagine how it would shimmer with each movement. The silhouette itself is nothing unusual...basic Edwardian bodice and skirt shape... but the sequins embroidered onto the sheer overlay on both the bertha (is it still called that by the 1900s?) and skirt will be a challenge.

So there we have it! Way too many projects for me to get done in one year, but I'd rather aim too high than too low. It's lovely to have something to look forward to, and I'm not really the kind of person who feels pressured by setting goals for myself and then not moving as quickly as I'd like on them. These days, sometimes it's progress to get in 10 minutes of sewing, but my love of fashion and art just can't let pieces and projects like these go without a fight!

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

1830s cotton gown


In my quest to do as many decades of popular European fashion history as possible, I always assumed the 1830s would be the LAST I'd ever hit up. Those crazy sleeves! Those uber-feminine prints! THAT HAIR! But for some reason, after seeing this gown on Etsy (it's still there for a cool $3800) I really started to get the burning desire to jump in:

There seem to be quite a few examples like this in museums -- light ground cotton, with floral print, geometric, or a combination of both.

Armed with that knowledge, I bounded off to Thousands of Bolts (my go-to website for inexpensive cotton) and found a great pink floral-and-geometric to fit the bill. It arrived, I cut into Truly Victorian's TV455, and apparently I was SO excited that apparently I didn't take a single progress picture until I hit this point:

But then I started running into some issues, namely that even though I have the Bootstrap dummy which is made to my size, I didn't have the confidence that I was fitting it correctly. I have joint issues that make some movements really uncomfortable so I almost NEVER make a back-closing gown which I hate taking off and on, and the frustration of this made me sew up the back and open it instead down the front seam, just like the gown that inspired me on Etsy. I also cut down and rounded the neckline a bit more because I felt like it was just too high and restrictive.

Here you can see it opened up down the front as I'm also trying to draft a couple of types of pelerines, the large cape-like shawls that were so common to the era. 

Being that this is such a light cotton and most likely to be a summer-time frock, I wasn't too fond of the idea of big puffy hot pillows bound to my upper arms to pad out the ludicrous sleeves. Luckily, I had stumbled across Kendra's great blog post on drafting her sleeve supports, and there is some historical precedence for these 'crinoline' type of boned puffers!  

I sewed up a little sleeve cap insert and added a heavy-duty zip tie to the bottom (ok, it's two taped together because I don't think they come that long) like a tiny hoop-skirt. I ended up having to soften the edge of it with a quick and dirty tulle ruffle because it was showing too harshly through the very light cotton of the gown sleeve, but that only adds to the puffery.

 Not sure why I was watching Emma while doing 1830s things but hey

And it WORKED. Boy howdy did it work:

 KAPOOOOFFPH. Hi neighbors, don't mind me in my dress with built-in WaterWings.

I chortled when I saw these pictures. A lot. There's something about just full-on embracing a really ridiculous style that tickles me pink, and I'm SO glad I went for it.

These shoes were an exciting find to me -- Target flats with quite square toes (too bad I took this picture in the grass where you can't see it, but they are really a great shape). I sewed some ribbon ties onto them and they're just about perfect.

 The dogs weren't too happy because there were no butterflies to be had, so I stalked them instead in the yard. I opted not to go full-crazy in making a corded petticoat (sorry, not THAT obsessed with this era) and instead wore my quilted puffer petticoat and felt like it did the trick. If I wear this to an event, I might try starching a light cotton petticoat to go over that for even more oomph. Was I wearing a corset or stays? Nnnno.
My hair is all my own....because I bought it. I actually have hair down to my waist but it neither curls nor cooperates, so the side-curls are 'sideswept bangs' from Amazon, wrapped around foam rollers and dunked in boiling water for a minute, then left to completely dry before removing the curlers. They're great because I can clip them in for any number of historical hairstyles...1710s, 1810s, 1830s....I could probably even pin them to the very front of my forehead for that funny curly mop look in the 1880s. The braids are also hairpieces wrapped around my real bun. Throw a few flowers in for a springy look....but keep reading for when things get wild.

I made my own gold 'torpedo' earrings, and got into that weird shoulder-necklace trend as well with some box-chain from Etsy, then whipped up a sheer pelerine and combined it with my Regency chemisette for the extra whitework look. The pin is an actual antique piece, and the 'belt buckle' is just a brass stamping from Etsy with a wire slider glued to the back of it.

But wait, there's more! ๐Ÿ˜‚

 For the fun of it, when the weather started getting chillier, I also made a self-fabric pelerine, seen with some museum extants.

For some reason it makes everything feel very 1990s Laura Ashley to me, but I'm nostalgic so I can roll with that. I think this would be a great piece for traveling or even just a breezier outdoor stroll, to both protect the dress and cover the neckline and shoulders a little more for warmth.
Much pink. Very geometric. Large overstuffed Grandma-chair.
And then I reallllly lost my marbles and tried an 1830s formal hair-style. It wouldn't have been worn with a day gown like this, but there are a few fashion plates out there that make me think I could insert short sleeves and more lace around a lowered neck-line and get away with it:

So I pulled out ALL my hairpieces, birds, flowers, feathers, you name it...

And there we have it. Peak Ludicrousness. I snorted a lot, giggled a lot, and considered going to the grocery store like this because who WOULDN'T find a little joy in seeing something this silly and extra? ๐Ÿ’–

Rendezvous 2021

 Generally the Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres is held in June, but because of the pandemic it got pushed back to September. I was so ready to have a nice outdoor event and while the weekend temperature was still pretty toasty in the mid to upper 80s (F), the humidity wasn't as oppressive as it usually is at the June event. 

Thanks to the old 'pandemic pounds' (and the nagging feeling of boredom with my past lower-class wardrobe) I found myself eager to make a couple of looser, no-frills cotton jackets with fabric from my stash.

Cotton was a fairly frequently named fabric in local inventories, particularly in women's gowns of indienne, vibrantly floral-printed. As New Orleans stood just a jaunt down the Mississippi River, which was regularly sailed by the trappers and merchants of the area to sell furs and grain, nice new goods also made their way back up to the Kaskaskia/Prairie du Rocher/Cahokia corridor.

Neither of the prints I used are historical reproductions to my knowledge, but they seemed semi-plausible based on many sample books and resources I've looked at, including the fascinating extra photos from the London Foundling Hospital that Angela of Burnley & Trowbridge was able to show us only during an in-person powerpoint at Costume many small prints and geometric patterns that we wouldn't think of as being common in the 18thc.

I chose an indigo floral and geometric print for the first one, and assembled it from the trusty J.P. Ryan 'jacket pack' (what a gift that keeps on giving, lol).


You can see it's fairly basic -- although I wore stays with it, I wasn't intending it to be anything more exciting than a working-woman's nicest jacket. 
 I paired it with a basic cap, B&T handkerchief, a bibbed apron (common for French women, not so much for an English/American impression), and my new American Duchess Sophie mules. My set of household keys and pincushion are hanging a bit too low for practicality but I had just climbed out of the back of my friend's van where she had shut and locked her keys in the front, hence the bow for MY keys had come untied in the mad scramble, haha.
All rumpled up in back from Operation Key Rescue, but having a whale of a time! My apron probably should be a bit shorter than my petticoats, but I wasn't about to last-minute hem it, BECAUSE...
....I was last-minute hemming my new cranberry linen petticoat for Day 2 ๐Ÿ˜‚  Despite the key-rescue incident, Kim and I had a lovely time under the shade of the fly, just chatting and pretending not to notice the photographers (although Erica, a lovely local lady, caught us grinning at her here). 

My second jacket was a two-yard piece that I had bought to supplement a Regency gown I felt wasn't full enough in the skirts....but lo and behold when it arrived, it was a white ground rather than ivory! Feeling foolish, I stowed it in the stash for a good while, and pulled it out to make something light. 2 yards is not enough for the view I had chosen from the 'jacket pack' so I knew there would be some piecing, and I enjoyed turning the pattern paper this way and that to figure out where it would be the least intrusive.

I ended up piecing in at the shoulders, which makes sense because many gowns have this piece to assist in setting sleeves:

...and at the back where the jacket's 'skirts' begin:

It's not a very meticulous piecing job, in fact I had no choice but to have one of those back skirt pieces with the print running slightly on the diagonal because I was down to scraps, but I guarantee unless I pointed it out and mentioned it to someone, most people wouldn't notice.
On Day 2, I was extremely glad to be wearing a light color because we walked around a lot and it got up to 86F.  The folks running the Fort's fashion show were kind enough to draft me, and there was much interest in my American Duchess Kensington shoes, which I had painted a favorite local French shade of blue.
behold mine saucy ankles
.....and nobody noticed my pieced back, and I wasn't going to mention it either ๐Ÿ˜ 
To continue to stay as cool as possible, I also wore a sheer cap, made from the J.P. Ryan Dormeuse pattern (so cute, even if it looks like a face-eating jellyfish and my husband was aghast at the floof) and a cross-over sheer white cotton handkerchief. 

Naps were taken mid-day in the shade, particularly by my husband, whose tolerance of walking the market tents only extends so far and once he's hit the food tents, it's over.

Some bottles were drained, and bread was....very much not eaten...because that loaf is approximately 4 years old. When I went looking through my re-enactment bins for candlesticks, there it was, from the LAST event we had set up a tent at, as pristine as could be but absolutely hard as a rock. People visiting the tent got such a kick out of my petrified pain (French for bread). I really could have caused a 'pain' with it if I'd thrown it at someone.

We were all glad when night fell and the temperature cooled off. I always feel like evening is when the real magic happens -- sneaky modern conveniences are painted over by darkness, hundreds of tents are lit up with not an electric light in sight, people walk to and from camps with lanterns. I was very excited my new iphone did a good job taking night photos.

It was a bit too breezy for the chandelier -- I need to look for glass shades for the candles, I guess! But as I tried to protect my card game from dripping wax, my mother-in-law caught this photo where the candle-light gives everything a painterly glow.

When the wind proved too much for candelabras to stay lit (look at that wax drip!), we wandered on up to the fort to watch the dancing, which is always amusing and looks like chaos until folks learn the motions. The usual caller couldn't make it last-minute, so my poor friend Martin was left to do the cat-herding this time. My husband and I have had a few lessons but decided to stay out of the mess this time. It made for great pictures though! 

The blurred dancers could almost be ghosts of past inhabitants of the fort and nearby town

We climbed up into the guard tower to watch from above and it was like stepping back in time to see the lawn lit with dozens of lanterns.

Ending up at a campfire with friends and music and good conversation is always my goal at an event....luckily that order is never too tall to be met!