Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just when you think you've seen it all...

You know, I have come to the conclusion, after doing a great deal of reading and clicking and examining in extreme newbie desperation to nail down some hard and fast rules of 18th century clothing, that there are no rules. I have read and heard from self-proclaimed "veteran" re-enactors that solid browns and blues and yellows were about the only colors and linen about the only fabric available to colonists in America and should be the only colors worn at events. Interesting that extant wills from the area I reenact in (French Illinois territory, about as "on the outskirts" during the 18th century as you can get) list some of the inhabitants as having green and pink silk gowns, stockings and shoes, even though the families were mostly farmers and trappers. And then all over reenactment websites and costuming books, I have read that no 18th century woman in her right mind would have ever created or worn a gown out of the very picturesque Toile de Jouy fabric that was used for bedhangings and drapery. Well....

            TA-DA!  An Open Robe, dated 1785 - 1795, from the National Trust Snowshill Collection.

Granted, it is bizarre-looking, late in the century, and I wouldn't be caught dead in it, but it exists. If you are absolutely desperate to wear your drapery to a late 18th-century event, you now can do so and wave this picture in the face of all the finger-pointers.

It makes sense that there's particular commonalities and details specific to various decades within the 1700s, as well as regional differences, and there do seem to be a number of universally accepted facts about material, print and color that are borne out in existing pieces of clothing. However, if your fabric meets the major qualifications, unless you're using something way off base like My Little Pony quilting fabric or 1970s green, orange and brown floral couch fabric to make your gown (and even then there were some remarkably hideous almost "70s"-looking patterns in the early 18th century) nobody can with perfect accuracy say "that pattern would never have been used on fabric back then" or "they would never have constructed a gown with seams in that fashion." I keep finding astonishing exceptions to the so-called "rules" that a lot of re-enactors seem to have laid down. And yes, perhaps in many cases, these extant gowns/jackets/petticoats/hats were just that: exceptions. One of a kind mishaps or lapses in judgement or just plain making-do with the only materials they had. And when you think that none of these clothes came out of an industry or factory that was standardizing them, and each mantuamaker would have been taught certain basics but had their own preference for how to do things, it makes sense that a great deal of variation existed. The fact is that they DO exist and if you really want to justify your decision with an obscure example, why the heck not?  As long as we aren't trying to make sweeping generalizations and are willing to talk about the uncommonality of an item, I think it's important to appreciate the variety necessitated by the unregulated circumstances under which clothing was made.

Also, a few hapless seamstresses or tailors occasionally accomplished some unbelievably hideous stitchery and seams back then. I feel better about mine.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Belated pictures

At last I have remembered to get the pictures off my iPhone from Halloween...the only time so far I have worn the pink l'anglaise out anywhere. I had to work on Halloween night (I work at a library) and gave up telling people I was anyone in particular and just went with "English Aristocrat from the 1700s". To be fair, the dress isn't exactly trimmed like an upper class gown would've been, and the pastel colors weren't dramatic enough to be accessorized with a giant paste necklace from the thrift store, but it was still a great deal of fun and I didn't even get hot in all the layers, which bodes well for wearing the dress to Summer Rendezvous.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Buckles at just the right time from American Duchess!

Just when I think I have spent about all I am going to spend on 18th century pretties, American Duchess has come out with yet another frippery I MUST have!

"Closely based on antique 18th century shoe buckles, the "Fleur" silver rhinestone buckles are the perfect accessory to keep the latchets on your 18th century shoes closed. Our "Fleur" buckles are delicate, feminine, and lightweight. Add that extra sparkle to your outfit and keep your shoes fastened in the most historically accurate and beautiful way.  Read more about the Fleur buckles here.

"Fleur" buckles come in pairs, and are available to buy here."

Now really, can you look at that and say you don't want them? I can't.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I love mail.

There is no better feeling than reaching in your mailbox and pulling out a package that you've been waiting on. In this case, I had two, and they were shoe buckles!

It's a leetle hard to see the detail here, sorry, my camera was not really cooperating! And then the less fancy buckles came also and they have a really neat kind of antique finish on them already. I love that they're not pristine-ly shiny.
Tada! Also, before I took the pictures I noticed that my Georgies had grass stains on them...so I took a damp cloth and wiped them and amazingly the grass stains came right off and the dye did not...I am really impressed by the power of Scotchgard.

Still waiting on the rhinestone buckles, but I think I probably won't show those off until I get the leather paints and can decorate the Devvies.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Buckles and Bows

Today, after being bored out of my wits by the pink anglaise's never-ending hem (I like hand sewing but am feeling impatient lately) and not feeling like finishing my other mitt (the first one turned out nice...but one mitt isn't much good), I started looking seriously at my Georgiana silk and Devonshire leather shoes from American Duchess. These have been the most sizable investment I've made in my 18th century wardrobe by far, but so comfortable and worth it! I ordered the Angelus leather paint supplies for the Devonshires today and while they didn't have a nice cream or ivory color, I will attempt to mix mustard and white. To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any extant leather shoes with designs painted on them, but because I foolishly scotch-guarded my silk Georgies in a hurry to have them ready for an event and now (as far as I know) can't re-dye or paint on them again, I would love to have some shoes with a design on them. I may do a very subtle vine-like design on the leather Devvies to make up for this, and use the matte finish so they're not so obviously shiny leather.

But because the Angelus paints won't get here for some time, I got antsy and started looking at buckles. To date I have tied my Georgies with ribbon and it's pretty, but I want OPTIONS...."Accessories" is my middle name. Aren't these GORGEOUS (European, ca. 1770, V&A Museum).

So I did a little shopping around.....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A nice fall day

I went to a benefit event for the Fort in my blue jacket, new maize petticoat and sky-blue Georgies (from American Duchess) and it ended up being the nicest event I have done yet, because it was smallish reenactor-wise (compared to the hundreds at summer Rendezvous) and a number of the people who had bought tickets to attend were very curious about the reenactors and what they were doing. I was asked numerous times about my outfit, what I was sewing (a haversack), what I knew about the Fort and the area's history, etc. I think it was a great deal more enjoyable to go by myself (usually I'm with a very, well, shall we say extra-talkative gentleman-friend) because it made me a little more approachable and I got the chance to share some of what I do and know and I really loved being informative instead of just decorative. Hopefully I'll get to do this a lot more often!

Alright, enough of the text stuff...time for a few pictures...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More pink progress

I definitely squeaked a bit in exhausted joy once I got the skirt on just a few minutes ago at 1:45am. Ouch. It's looking pretty 80s (and by that I mean 1980s, not 1780s)  like a Laura Ashley frumptastic tea gown right now despite having a quilted puffer petticoat beneath, so I am going to have to do what I really wanted to avoid and make either a bumroll or some panniers. Once the bottom is cut off and hemmed though, that should lighten up the fabric load a bit. Plus Adeline is being a loose woman tonight and is not wearing stays in this shot...naughty dummy...so that might have an affect on the fit as well. For this being my first entirely hand-sewn, self-drafted gown, I don't think it's looking too terrible. It's almost a shame to cut it off at the bottom as it looks pretty trailing, but it's completely impractical for reenactments. I could polonaise it but the fabric is just too unreasonably heavy for it to have that nice poof.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I am in looove with my fabric. And I think I finally have the sleeves on...more under the cut (if I can figure out how to do a cut)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fashion always comes back around

I was reading Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe by Aileen Ribeiro and A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics today and realized that the Brunswick was the 18th century version of the modern day hoodie. Lol. Okay, so maybe it was quite a bit dressier but I don't think I've seen a single painting or sketch where the hood is actually UP on the Brunswick...ladies sort of went around in these previously-meant-for-traveling ensembles no matter what the occasion, just like I go out to the store or to a movie in a hoodie that was meant for athletic wear, and never put the hood up.

Would anyone seriously wear this gorgeous frilly hooded thing outside? I don't think so.

My sleeves aren't looking right on the pink gown. They almost have a puffed sleeve effect going on at the top near the shoulder, which I HATE, but if I decrease the fabric up there, it's almost too tight to get my arm through, and I do not have fat arms in the least. I'm really puzzled. After looking at some paintings and sketches though, I think the sleeve as it stands with the little pleats more toward the gown's back is probably acceptable, even if I would like a smoother silhouette. Boo. Fabric never behaves the way I want it to.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Puzzlement solved

I figured out how to get rid of the bodice rippling...it really was just the fact that I had cut the pieces too long in the waist...they needed to come up higher on the hips. I am so thrilled with the way the lining has turned out, and the way the pattern is matching up! Tonight I should have the sleeves attached and can start on the skirt soon. This fabric is heavy...I'm starting to think possibly too heavy to polonaise, which is sad because I would have loved to do so, but I think I might go ahead and make it nice and full in back like this:

                         (Robe a l'anglaise, ca 1770, picture from the Met museum)

Incidentally, the fabric of the dress in the picture is not far off from my fabric, with that dusty-rose color and the smallish bouquets. It's very pretty...can't wait to get everything all sewn up. I know I should post some progress pictures but I am kind of embarrassed by my raggedy edges and the disarray of my house. When I trim the dress I'd like to keep it fairly simple and just trim around the neck and sleeves like my favorite dress from The Duchess.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The lure of new fabric

I have been busy not posting because I have been busy shopping and sewing! I have a most delightful dusty pink...some-kind-of-fabric (ok, it's probably synthetic, but it's not shiny, stretchy, or quilting-cotton) with woven tan stripes and delicate bouquets of green, lavender and pink. Eight yards of it, from the Hancock Fabrics upholstery and home fabrics remnant tables. It's somewhat heavy, and the pattern on it truly is woven in because it's quite ugly on the wrong side with all the threads, but I have a hunch that it's not a wholly natural fiber.

Since last posting, I completed a very nice maize-yellow petticoat to go with my dark blue jacket, and polonaised my striped gown which looks so much better (the more I mess with it, the more pleased I am) and now I'm thinking of giving it a false compere stomacher but can you do that on a gown with robings? I need to look at more paintings and extant gowns to make sure I'm not trying to stretch between too many decades.

Back to the pink fabric: I decided on a quarter back gown from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion, and actually I found it very easy to draft on myself, so the day after I got the fabric I already had all my bodice pieces cut out of the muslin lining and fashion fabric. I'm determined to sew everything by hand, and so far so good! I will try to put up some pictures of the fabric itself later. But if anyone reads this...is there a major trick I'm missing to get your bodice to not wrinkle around the waist? I'm an average sized girl (size 8-10), but even with my stays on and laced as evenly as possible, I have an obvious hourglass figure where the fabric is tight at my bust and right below my waist but wrinkles up with loose fabric around the waist, which is not at all an 18th century silhouette! I have an extreeeemely short torso despite being 5'9". I'm going to try to take it in at the side seams but I've had little luck doing that in the past. Do I just need to be cutting the lower edge of my bodice up higher above the hips so the skirt part truly starts at my natural waist no matter how short-waisted I am? Very confused...any help would be appreciated!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

O, to be well-shod!

American Duchess recently went through a vast amount of trouble to create a beautiful 18th century dyable silk shoe for ladies (and gents!) wanting a more stylish and customizable option than basic black. I jumped at the chance and ordered the Georgianas and I am extremely pleased with the look and comfortable fit (though I haven't gotten around to dyeing them yet). Now she has come out with an even more durable leather version, also dyable, and even posted a tutorial on her blog on how to dye them. I already got my pre-order in and am desirous of spreading the news! Hurry, because the pre-order period only goes through the 10th and I got the impression that it is by no means certain that she will do another run! See below for more info!

The Devonshires are a leather 18th century shoe based on museum examples from the 1760s through 1780s.  They're made of top-grade dyable leather, with a beautiful, smooth Italian leather sole for dancing, and are hard-wearing, water- and mud-proof, for even the toughest of outdoor re-enactments.

Pre-Order the Devonshires through August 10, and get the special $100 price.  We're only making 200 of these shoes, so don't miss the chance to own one of only a couple hundred pair on the planet!  Visit www.american-duchess.com to order.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Finally...a few pictures

Rendezvous was great fun this year albeit extremely (as in record-breakingly) hot.

My tent is teeny tiny but I wasn't about to pay a ton for a larger tent I didn't need; nobody even spends time in them during the day because they are SO HOT. Even in the shade, it's much cooler to be outside under the canvas fly than it is inside the tent. I was sewing a shirt here at the dining table but I kept getting interrupted so it still isn't finished.

There's my little hand-made housewife after the pattern in Tidings from the 18th Century. I actually lost it later that day while watching a slander trial but it turned up in the lost and found.

Next year I want to make a jacket like these girls'...they were so cute. I liked their shorter skirts but didn't have time to hem mine up that high.
This was me on Saturday...the jacket, which you can't see very well, is after a Janet Arnold jacket which I did all myself just by looking at the pattern in the book, so I am quite proud of it as my first non-paper-pattern outerwear. My 18th century lining skills are awful though. I need to practice. And I should have put my shawl around my neck the proper way because I got rather sunburnt despite the hat. Live and learn!
Captain Jack Sparrow is an acquaintance whose costume and mannerisms are so fantastic that he has been hired to put in an appearance at the St. Louis pirate festival in September! It was hard to get a picture with him because of all the kids swarming around. 
I sewed the clothes on the gentleman on the right; it was pretty gratifying that he got called up on stage during the "fashion show" later as a good representative of a local farmer. Even if I didn't have time to give him buttons down the knee of his breeches.

Here I am on Sunday, cooking a peach cobbler in the dutch oven...with my skirts dragging because that poor gown really needs panniers or to be polonaised. Next year, next year. It was just way too hot to wear more than one petticoat anyway, sigh. This dress is a truly nasty Simplicity pattern that I have modified the best I could. When I bought it last year around May, I knew nothing about 18th century clothing. I sewed it, wore it proudly to the Rendezvous, and came home feeling embarrassed...not because anyone said anything or looked at me strangely, but I could just tell that it wasn't quite right. Particularly the back, which wasn't a quarter-back, or that pleated-down-anglaise back....it was just wrong. So I re-worked it over and over during the past year (I didn't want to waste all that effort and fabric!) and now it doesn't look too bad, I think, but it would be better with the right supports around the sides. I needed an Ugly Puffer like American Duchess has. The more I work on the gown the more accurate it gets, so maybe when I wear it again next June it'll look even better!

The back...not TOO bad, right? Other than the length. I was a lot happier with the gown this year also because of the stays. I am in love with my stays! I even wore them to sleep in, which I know they didn't do back then, but I am having a lot of back problems and they seemed to really help keep me stable in my sleep because I woke up a lot less stiff than usual!
Gratuitous hat-and-teapot shot. I had been dying to get that teapot since I saw it at a previous event, and the same folks showed up here so I absolutely had to get it! It matches my teacups almost perfectly...I should have put one in the shot. And my hat, which the ladies in the milliner's tent all liked, so I must have done ok with it! I bought a new blank one to decorate for whatever outfit I choose to sew next. I would really love to do a matching caraco and skirt but my problem is that I just don't have enough pieces of the same fabric in my cabinets, so it might be more separates for me next.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I have done a LOT of costume wearing recently! I went dressed up as a piratey sort of female to the new Pirates of the Caribbean premiere at a St. Louis theatre one weekend, then over to the StL Renfaire the next, and just got back late last night from camping at the Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres. The fort was a fantastic time, as usual, but the heat was in the 90s almost all the time with the exception of hitting a reported 105 on Saturday. I was so proud that I wore stockings, shift, petticoats, corset, jacket, cap and hat and didn't pass out or get dehydrated! And actually some of the "tourists" with less clothing on seemed even more miserably warm than I was. I had another proud moment when we popped over to the brief "18th century fashion show"...even though we weren't participating, my manclothes on my gentleman-friend got called up onto the "runway" because they were missing a local farmer and he looked accurate enough that the caller was able to use him to show off the breeches, shirt and waistcoat as a typical example. It made me feel good to know I did something right even though I loathed making them....pretty girl things are much more fun.  Photos to follow, after I have done a lot of sleeping and laying around!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Well, once I got the new navy blue petticoat done, I really really REALLY wanted a jacket to go over it, so I dug out some navy blue corduroy and used a Janet Arnold pattern...so far so good. The jacket has kind of a longish skirt on it but I may shorten it by a couple of inches. It's weird but I seem to do better with modifying exact period patterns than I do when using actual patterns that are supposedly my size already. I once had a dark blue bedgown but it was so hideous and unshapely that I covered as much of it up with a pinner apron as I could.

Still putting off the man-clothes, how I hate them. I can't get motivated to do anything regarding them, but a deal is a deal, and I want the chair my friend promised me! :(  I keep getting distracted by all the adorable 18th century girlie accoutrements...I am dying to paint a couple of fans I have, and sew a needle case to go in my housewife, and do mitts and a cloak and a couple more caps and shawls and aprons...good grief!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Evidence at last

Finally some documentation that I have not completely been twiddling my thumbs in the 18th century, haha. But first, credit to some very helpful resources: Nicole at Diary of a Mantua Maker had a couple of tutorials that were the inspiration for my chemise and pocket (ok so it wasn't just inspiration, I pretty much straight copied because her instructions were so excellent), and Lauren at American Duchess was so wonderful for patiently emailing me a little more detail about what went into her beautiful Sunny yellow-and-white stays that I did not even use a stay pattern, I just went by her photos and extra info.

I sewed up a dreadful mockup of the stays before I started with my real fabric, and this must be the ugliest mockup in the history of such because I was just throwing together whatever materials I could find (or whatever thread happened to be on my machine).

 Aren't they awful? But based on that, I now have...this!

 They are fully boned with plastic zip-ties, the big kind, with metal grommets (I did get around to covering the front ones but what a chore), an outer layer of cotton upholstery fabric that has a subtle white stripe, an inner layer of some fabric I already had but can't identify (it's like canvas, only brushed soft?) and a lining of linen. The binding is blue cotton, with blue satin ribbon for lacing.

I have to admit, my tabs, particularly towards the front, turned out really bizarre. Not thinking, I did not cut one tab on each side near the hip bone, and then the squiggly bit in front, well, I don't know what happened there. They don't look like any stay-fronts I've ever seen but oh well, they hold my tummy and hips in, and surprisingly don't dig in to my thighs when I sit down. They are really quite comfortable.

And another view from the back, with the as-yet uncovered metal grommets *wince*:

If I were doing this project again, which I yet may, I may try them with straps, better-placed tabs, closer under-arm-cut and a higher back. I actually have them laced tighter in the photos than I intend to wear them, so hopefully that will release the hilarious over-the-stay bulge effect going on here. I haven't tried them on under my anglaise gown yet so I'm hoping that they will give me a nice solid silhouette that will take care of some of the strange torso-ripples that were going on before.

And also, my rather dreadfully embroidered pocket:

And my shift! Which I did not photograph on myself due to its extremely see-through nature.

I'm sneakily abandoning the men's breeches for the weekend to work on a navy-blue petticoat to dress my striped anglaise down, and then I will try to get some pictures of that up!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

sit, STAYS.

Thank heavens I am almost done binding my set of stays. I hate going around the tabs. They don't look fantastic to me, but they work beautifully and they are actually quite comfortable, in fact I love how I physically CANNOT slouch while wearing them. It's like always having a solid chair back to rest against. I think it may even have helped with the minor back pain I always have, at least for the twenty minutes I sat in it while finishing watching the Tudors series finale.

Also, I am done with my pocket, which turned out rather pretty. Thank goodness nobody can see the backside of it because it looks like a chimpanzee went crazy in the embroidery thread box. I will try to get pictures of the stays and the pocket up sometime soon.

Men's breeches are up next for a friend :(  Just thinking about them makes me want to cry with boredom, but we are working on a barter system; he is making me a chair (because nobody wants to sit on the ground at an event after they've worked hard to make a pretty gown). I am selfishly only interested in clothing that *I* can wear. So I might sneak some work in on the Italian Renaissance dress I am making for the St. Louis RenFaire in May.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A beginning

This blog is really mostly just a placeholder for me as I find and follow some of the fantastic blogs that will serve as resources as I attempt some 18thc sewing projects, which may or may not result in some hilarious pictures of my very woefully amateur projects. I have dressed up for two reenactments thus far, and intend to continue building my wardrobe. I also have gone in costume to a local pirate festival (in not so historical garb) and may develop further on that as well.

Currently have: shortgown, petticoats, caps, hats, and one gown.
Currently working on: pockets, men's breeches.
Future projects: stays, another gown.