Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fantasy fabric and Mantua Madness

 Last year, I came across the personal "Holy Grail" for which I've been searching for many years. For a long time I've been obsessed with finding a silk that resembles the "Bizarre silk" of the late 17th century and early 18th -- the only problem is that it is SO strange that there's little call for it these days! Many patterns look like a strange mishmash between medieval illuminations, acid-trip geometry, and sinuous Art Nouveau-looking plants. 

Annnnnnd then there's the eyeball panel.

I guess it's maybe supposed to be peacock feathers? But it's totally eyeballs. You're not going to talk me out of it. Can you imagine having your bed-hangings made out of that? 

So you can see why it's called "Bizarre silk"! Nowadays, there are very few patterns that even get close. Scalamandre has had a few designs that would be passable, but all are off-market and I've never been lucky enough to find a remnant. Tassinari & Chatel have a lovely design called "Persienne" that suitably mimics the influences of the East but it is prohibitively expensive, unless you’re a millionaire. I have read several plausible theories now that textiles from Japan and the Turkish empire may have greatly contributed to the rage for this nonetheless European-made fabric at the end of the 17thc. And indeed, rugs with Middle Eastern patterns and 'Chinoiserie' in wallpaper, china, fabric and furniture rapidly became de rigueur among the European upper classes (and aspiring middle!) as the 18thc went on. 

The fabric I stumbled upon certainly borrows from this tradition as well: metallic threads create the interesting geometric zigzags common in Bizarre silk, as well as fantastical bamboo stems: 

 (It came to my workplace, so of course I tore into the packaging immediately...Sharpie for scale 😂)

I took a chance on it from a tiny picture on a little-known remnant website...there was no description, only a few lines of information. It's called "Genghis Khan" and came from a now-defunct fabric designer called Font Hill (bought by Stark, then bought by Scalamandre), and is not even pure silk: it's blended with something called Cupro, which on researching is a wood fiber like Rayon, but at least it's not synthetic! 

Because it's unlike anything I've ever seen and I have found no more yardage either before or since, I was kind of terrified to cut into it! I sat on it for months, researching different extant gowns made of bizarre silk. There are a number out there, from Robes a la Anglaise (often remade from earlier dresses) to Robes Volante (my favorite style, but sadly not enough fabric for one of those!) to court gowns. Mantuas, though rare in example, are most often made of bizarre silk since the gown style ran concurrent to the height of this textile pattern's popularity.

Once I had settled on making a Mantua from my precious 5.5 yards of fabric, I had to decide on what to do for the petticoat, since I didn't have enough to match if I wanted a train on the gown! Back to Pinterest I went for fashion plates around the turn of the 18th century. One thing I noticed frequently was the color combination of red and blue:

Red solid taffeta would have been the easy choice, but I actually wanted a semi-metallic red patterned silk to provide that richness of contrast. Finally I settled upon a pineapple red-gold pattern (also fittingly exotic!) and applied several gold trims: 

Eventually I would like to add a few more rows of gold fringe and lace, but it gives the effect I was going for! 

The next thing to decide on was a pattern for the Mantua. There are no good commercial patterns...I understand that Reconstructing History has one out but it was not recommended to me by anyone. Since I find drafting from patterns in books quite easy with any style that relies on folding for the main method of fitting to the body (as opposed to lots of pieces with lots of seams...too many places to go wrong haha), I looked at Patterns of Fashion 1 by Janet Arnold, The Cut of Women's Clothes by Norah Waugh, and a little-known (in the States) book called Moden i 1700-årene by Ellen Andersen (in Danish, which I got through Interlibrary loan).  Out of the three, I found Norah Waugh's pattern the most helpful as the layout is so clean and simple.

(Not my picture, found on Pinterest)

To spare my beloved fabric, I first cut up a bedsheet in the approximate shape...I took a few basic measurements of myself in my stays, but didn't get too picky about the mockup, which I cut larger than I thought I needed since excess can always be folded out of sight with this style of gown. And it was shockingly easy! I felt like my mockup was almost spot-on for the style of mantua I was going for, right at 1700-1705, and had my actual fabric cut, folded and pinned onto my duct tape dummy within an hour (sorry if this isn’t a step-by-step tutorial, lol, all I can say is make a mockup and GO FOR IT, do the thing, it's a hard pattern/gown style to screw up!).

Some early fidgeting, without proper supports. That funny strip bumped out at and below the waist is a facing that folds back so that when you pull the skirts back to fasten into the Mantua's unmistakeable drape, you get to see a strip of the right side of the fabric.

A train! EEK!

The front folds are folded and stitched down, but I may eventually go back and unpick some of the stitches to make them nice and loose, held down only by the belt. 

The sheeeeeeeeen! Definitely looking like a Mantua now even without its cuffs and belt yet. My dummy is now significantly smaller than I am, so garments always look a bit lumpy and underwhelming on it so I didn’t take a ton of in-progress pictures. If you have made a Robe a la Anglaise, good portions of the folding and pinning will feel strangely familiar. 

We went down to the local French-built fort to take some photos and I'm so pleased with how they turned out. I'll have to take more eventually where *I* do the folding-back of the skirts because my poor husband really struggled to get them arranged just right. I wore my chemise with extra lacy engageantes sewn in, and a frelange (which I gather is the specific name for the cap see it referred to as a fontange sometimes but that may be the name of the whole ensemble on the head, curls and lappets and all). I whipped up the frelange out of a reproduction 18thc cap for the back and some lace-edged INCREDIBLY stiff organza surreptitiously held up by white pipecleaners for the weird double-frill, but I can write about that separately if anyone's interested. I find most people hate that ugly baby cap and I think it's probably why most people don't tackle this era, lolol. I don’t love the cap either but it certainly unmistakeably dates an outfit to late 17th/early 18thc!

And now...the finished Mantua! 

At this point I had my husband pull the skirts back and pin them to the belt...a little messier than I would have liked but oh well, he did his best. Next time I'm dressing at the location, I'll pre-pin it to the belt on the mannequin just the way I want, and then only have to fasten the belt, lol.

I just love this shot in the chapel for showing the beauty of the folded skirts. Many of these gowns apparently were lined with a contrasting fabric, but since I liked the backside almost as much as the front, I left it single-layered.

My hair never ever holds a curl, so my front curls are...wait for boiled Regency side-curl set, clipped onto the top of my head instead 😂 Easiest historical style I’ve ever done, since the rest of my hair is just jammed into the cap, haha. 

And that's it from me for now! There sadly won't be many opportunities for me to wear this gown as nobody in my area is interested in this era, but some day I'll get out and take some even better photos of it.

Next first foray into Late Victorian daywear! And then I’m almost caught up with documenting my costumes for the year, so I better get to making more! 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Macaron Fluff

 Oooooh I didn't know if I'd get to post about this gown in this order, but the professional photography came back sooner than I was anticipating. This was such a fun dress to make! 

 To begin its tale, I have to go back to something that's been brightening each week up a bit since The Plague began.... the "Fancy Styles Fabric Shows"! They aren't the cheapest silk purveyors out there, although they do occasionally have some shot taffetas that I can't even find in a particular color combo from Silk Baron or Renaissance Fabric so it's worth it for some of the unusual ones. But they started doing Instagram Live shows earlier this year when everything was shut down, and it is just a delightful joy to see the silks being rustled around on camera while the live-chat is full of amusing comments and the hosts are as obsessed with fabric as the rest of us. And the best part of all is that they do such generous silk giveaways! At first they were giving away 5 yards to one winner every show, but most recently they do that PLUS random 1-yard giveaways throughout the hour. Check their instagram @fancystylesfabric for details...this is not sponsored, I'm just a fan, lol!

So on one of the early lives I was sitting beside my husband on the couch toward the end of the show, enjoying the silks, and I commented jokingly to him "They're going to announce the winner in a second...but you know I never win anything so it won't be me" and they called MY name! I was so thrilled. The prize that day was 5 yards of a pre-picked pastel-striped silk taffeta lovingly dubbed "the ice cream parlor" for its tastiness, although I think it looks more like a box of macarons! I went ahead and bought an extra yard for trim. 

I wouldn't say I've seen any 18th century extants like this stripe, it's quite wide...but to my surprise when it arrived I really fell in love with it! There's a faint iridescence to it that really makes each color lovely up close, so it was an absolute joy to work with. 

Since I had just 6 yards I decided to do a robe a la anglaise, and while I've drafted my own in the past, to take some of the guesswork out of the process I decided to use the Larkin & Smith English gown pattern. What a dream. It went together SO quickly and easily.

Taking shape! I just love the lightweight loveliness of a good crisp taffeta. So beautifully weightless over the right supports. 

The sleeves off the Larkin & Smith pattern were extremely foolproof as well. I don't think I had any of the pinning and repinning that I always seem to have to do with 18thc sleeves on other patterns.

I wasn't sure what to do about the stomacher trim, and settled on a simple figure-8 pattern that looks much more complex than it actually is, since cutting strips across the stripes and gathering it really adds to the 'busyness' of what's going on, and almost has a floral effect in my opinion.

 These photos were taken this summer when I *thought* had the gown trimmed as much as I was going to, so I quickly threw it on with an aqua petticoat and died of heat exhaustion for the 15 minutes I was out in the August heat (never again. Linen or light cotton for summer all the way, lol!).


I had ordered another yard even after the gown was done to add some serpentine trim on the robings and down the gown skirts, but had given up on it ever arriving when it went missing for 3 months...much to my shock it finally showed up out of the blue one day! So I trimmed it out for maximum floof, and figured I'd just bide my time until the day I actually got to wear it for an event to get pictures.

Then a friend contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing a photoshoot in October, so actual photos of it in all its trimmed out glory DID happen before 2021! And here it is!

Yessssssss macaron delight!
And a lovely shot of our gowns together -- Christine had done her version of the famous Madame de Pompadour gown. Everyone on the photoshoot was masked, except us during the few minutes of shooting, and we had been isolating ourselves as much as possible before this, in case anyone is freaking out, lol. 
And that's it til next time, when I really will get around to the pictures of the Mantua!