12 December, 2011

Back to blogging

Ah, I am so sorry for my absence of late! I have been so busy with work and finishing up graduate school, but I plan on blogging much more now that grad school is FINISHED! I owe you all ...

  • the Mercy Bradford cloak mystery
  • the creation of my own short cloaks, and how I messed them up
  • how I will be fixing my short cloak
  • STAYS!!!!!! I am making my own pair of stays!
  • new fabric in the stash
  • my dress form!
Quite a bit to catch up on. I will get through that list, promise! Let's cross one off now; here are my yellow stays on my brand new dress form!

She needs some padding to get to my measurements but otherwise, she wears my printed cotton gown proudly. :P

24 November, 2011

A Proclamation for a General Thanksgiving

A reproduction of the original, by William Dummer Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief of Massachusetts Bay in 1723:

31 October, 2011

A few quick notes on the "Mercy Bradford" cloak.

I put "Mercy Bradford" in quotations for a very good reason: I don't think it's Mercy Bradford's cloak, nor does whoever wrote the accession card!

There's much more to come on this subject, including photos (which I have express permission to post, it's really good to be friends with a curator!), but I couldn't let you all hang in suspense while I prepare the big post. Especially while it's fresh in my mind!

A few notes on the cloak, that are of interest to me, and I'm assuming you all, too:
  • The scarlet red cloak is not stitched with scarlet red thread! The seams are sewn with yellow thread; however you don't see the yellow for the most part.
  • The black velvet trim is only on the right side of the fabric and is stitched with black thread.
  • This cloak has both a hood and a collar.
  • There are two strange, non-working "pockets," for lack of a better term, up by the shoulders. They are stitched down on three sides.
I found a few surprises that no one, not even the curator, noticed. But I'll save those for the big post!

29 October, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post.

Since I'm examining an extant cloak this afternoon, and with the impending winter-weather-in-fall coming, I thought it would be appropriate to feature another beautiful extant cloak that also has provenance in Massachusetts.

Woman's hooded cloak. Last quarter, 18thc. Red wool
broadcloth trimmed in black silk. MFA Boston, 99.664.16.

From the MFA Boston's website:
"Red wool broadclothhooded cloak trimmed in black silk, hood gathered at back, cloak gathered at shoulders and pieced at bottom.

Provenance: Worn by Abigail Robbins (1759-1850); inherited by Ellen A. Stone; gift to MFA, 1899."
Hood is gathered at the back, cloak is gathered at the shoulders
and pieced together at the bottom.

The wool was manufactured in England, and the cloak was made in Massachusetts. It was worn in Lexington. Click on either photo to be taken to its catalog page on the MFA's website.

27 October, 2011

Fabric swatches from Renaissance.

So, a while back I received the swatches I asked for from Renaissance Fabrics: spring green, peacock blue, copper, and gold-purple.

21 October, 2011

"Preserving the Harvest."

In the Boston area and looking for something 18thc. to do and see? Come learn about "Preserving the Harvest" tomorrow, 10am to 4pm, at the Hartwell Tavern in the Minute Man National Historic Park!

From The Hive's website:
"Take part in a living history day at Hartwell Tavern where we will be ensuring our food supply for the winter and early spring by employing period food preservation techniques. From meat to fruits and vegetables you'll be able to both watch and participate in preparing foodstuffs for winter storage. Before refrigeration, one had to utilize a variety of methods to make harvest last. You'll learn how drying, pickling, salting, brining, cellaring and canning were done, as well as how some of these foods were reconstituted for later use."
I will be there in kit (with my completed pocket around my waist!) making butter, and potentially milking a Devon cow to make butter from her milk.  Come say hello and learn something new!

12 October, 2011

Life and fabric samples and broadcloth.

I'm on Day 2 of my New and Awesome Job (please don't let the honeymoon end!), so reality has unfortunately taken its toll on my frequent blogging and research.  That being said, I'm currently juggling a few things at once in my 18thc. life, most of it revolving around textiles and free fabric swatches and deciding what to tackle next.

Currently, I have 5 swatches of linen from Fabrics-store.com laying on the table next to me. They are in 5 different weights: 3.5 oz, 5.3 oz, 6 oz, 7.1 oz, and 8 oz. All are bleached white. I am looking into linen lining for my yellow silk gown that needs to be made, and instead of going, "Eeny, meeny, miny, mo!" and picking a weight without feeling it or knowing what I'm doing, I decided to order the free samples from this online store and feel them alongside the lining currently in my printed cotton gown. I think with the silk I can go a bit lighter in terms of weight, and probably needed something a bit more substantial in the cotton--for the next cotton gown (chintz, please!), I'll do that. The 3.8 is definitely too light; it has a looser weave with thin threads, probably not the best linen. However, it is soft and feels nice between my fingers. I could see using this for a shift if I couldn't/didn't want to shell out the money for really good linen. Right now, I'm leaning towards the 5.3 or 6 oz, though the 6 is rather slubby, and not as soft. The 7.1 and 8 oz are not even on my radar, they're really heavy and almost canvas-like.

With the help of my more experienced friends, I'm getting closer to making a choice about wool broadcloth for a short cloak. I don't want to do a light or scarlet red; I'm looking toward other colors that aren't as frequently seen on reenactors, though I do have my eye on a claret! The colors I'm looking at are black, light purple, 2 dark greens, and the claret. The black is an 80/20 wool/cashmere, so I'm asking around about that mixture. I need something more on the heavy side as it gets cold up here and I'm planning on doing 2 events during the beginning of winter!

One of the ordered samples, gold-purple.
Third, I have silk samples on the way from Renaissance Fabrics. You can get 4 free samples from them, and I'd like to make a decision on silk sooner rather than later for my dress gown for the ball in January. The taffetas are both shot and not shot, so I'm looking forward to seeing those soon. Renaissance has very affordable prices (taffeta is $17/yard), and some of the colors look really pretty. Including the gold-purple, I ordered samples of copper, peacock blue, and ice blue.

10 October, 2011

A (better) stomacher.

My printed cotton is positively lovely, but it is very lightweight and tends to get a bit mushy and stretchy (especially when I'm warm). This is very apparent over my front-lacing stays, as seen in this photo from the first time I wore it:

Very wrinkly and buckling.

This could also have been because the stomacher above isn't finished; I'd only attached the fashion fabric to the linen on the top and bottom and not the sides (ran out of time at 2 am). Plus, the linen I was using was just crappy stuff from Joann's that I'd bought to make a practice workbag. But, I decided it would be best to do two layers for strength, and I needed to be in the gown for a photo shoot on Friday anyway, so Thursday I ripped out the stitches and cut a second piece of linen.

The fashion fabric pinned to the layers of linen.

I cut the second piece of linen smaller all around, so when I folded the fashion fabric and outer layer of linen inward to sew together, it would be nestled between them. The fashion fabric already felt like it couldn't stretch and warp as much just when it was pinned, and as I sewed it together I found this to be true.

The three layers together, before cutting the second piece smaller.

I used the same stitch on the stomacher as I did when hemming my sleeves; I believe it's the overhand stitch (could also be the underhand, ha!). It was rather easy, I just had to be careful and ease any bubbles in.

The back stitches and the front.

It came out really well, and when I pinned the stomacher to my stays on Friday, I was very happy with how it laid very nicely over the lacing! Now if only I could get my gown on correctly every single time ...

08 October, 2011

Randomly spotting the 18thc.

I just saw this posted to my Facebook feed, and it brought a smile to my face--especially since I'm a Words with Friends junkie:


04 October, 2011

2am realizations.

The beginnings of some juicy raspberries.

I have been working diligently away on the embroidery. I am really so in love with embroidering, it's very zen and soothing. Saturday night, I ended up staying up until 2 am because I had no concept of time while embroidering! It goes by really quickly though, and I wasn't even tired. I had to force myself to put it down and go to bed.

Finished berries.
However, at 2 am I had the realization that I have been embroidering on the wrong side of the linen since the start. I noticed this when looking at the berries on the linen and on the color code; they were reversed on the linen from the color code. Flipping over the linen, the black ink could still be seen ... and I felt like an idiot! I wasn't ripping all of my hard work out, and in any case, no one will see the pocket. So I know for my next one, don't do it on the side with the ink!

When this pocket is completed, I'll be buying a second pocket kit in the same style (the Salem). My biggest concern with getting closest to the end of the embroidery is putting the pieces together. I'm sure it will be fine, but from reading the instructions over I'm already confused! One at a time, one at a time.

My list of things to complete/begin is ever-growing, especially since I'm now planning on attending a ball in early January, so I'll be making a formal silk gown for that. My yellow silk gown is a practice attempt for silk, and I consider this more formal gown a practice gown for the summer garden party in 2012. But there's still a lot to do!
  • Finish rewhipping a small section of the lining down in my cotton gown
  • Sew and hem the pumpkin petticoat from its basted state
  • Finish pleating the back panels of the cotton petticoat, then join the front and back and hem it
  • Buy wool broadcloth to make a short cloak for an event on Nov. 19
  • Pick out silk and linen lining for January's gown
  • Buy linen lining for the yellow silk gown
  • Make sleeve flounces
  • Make panniers and a hip roll to keep the pannier steady
  • Make silk mitts
  • Maybe a new, fine linen shift with lace edging on the neck?
So much to do, but thankfully it's all fun stuff!

02 October, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post.

18thc. pockets, 1796. Linen. American.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979.346.200.

Looks very similar to my pocket pattern! Click the photo to go to the Met's pocket page.

01 October, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post.

18thc. pockets. Cotton, linen; printed cotton. American.
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 48.1218a

From the MFA Boston's site:

Pair of pockets, pockets attached with coarse cotton tape tie, edges of slits bound with white linen tape, face of pockets of blue on white floral printed cotton, backs of pockets of hevy white linen; a number of small yellow stains. Dimensions: 43 x 37.5 cm (16 15/16 x 14 3/4 in.).
Click on the photo to go to the MFA Boston's pocket page.

29 September, 2011

Needle + wool thread = aahhh.

Stressed out? Anxious? Need to clear your head?


Seriously, this pocket is so, so relaxing. I thought I would have had it done a while ago, but life gets in the way. Still, I've been stressed out with a new job starting out soon, so I picked up the pocket again after a few days of not working on it. And aahhh, I feel the giant knot in-between my shoulder blades melting away. I'm thinking I need to do this more.

So far, I've mostly outlined in the stem stitch and filled in with the satin stitch. I've tried the chain stitch twice but I don't like the look of it for what I used it for. There are some bigger spaces in the pattern that I would like to try the New England Laid stitch, though I'm not fretting over only using two stitches.

I've started a second color and I can't wait to get some of the brighter shades in. I'm really glad I started on a simpler design, but I think I would have had no issue with something a bit more complex. I definitely want to do a stomacher now, for my forthcoming wardrobe.

Take a peek at my progress (first, pulling through in satin stitch, then an overall shot of my progress):

27 September, 2011

Margaret Kemble Gage and the Turkish Dress.

I have a forthcoming post over at the Crazy Concord  Chicks about this very subject, but I figured I'd give my readers a little bit of a sneak peek (and I mean a very little sneak peek; there is simply too much to write about and loads of research still).

Mrs. Thomas Gage (Margaret Kemble), 1771.
John Singleton Copley.

There is much debate whether Mrs. Gage actually owned a Turkish costume or not, if it was just a costume from Copley's "look book." Truth is, through her paternal line she had a connection to Turkey and it seems she also traveled there (maybe, maybe not, still working on that). For more information, this post by J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 begins to dig at Mrs. Gage and her fantasy costume.

What I do know is that one day, I would like to recreate her costume and this portrait, as the color of her gown is simply gorgeous and looks much more structured (read: not necessarily stayed, but maybe) than most Turkish costumes. I'll keep you all posted on that post over that the Crazy Concord Chicks and the research on Mrs. Gage and her gown.

Pocket update tomorrow!

26 September, 2011

If wishes were riding habits.

Marie Antoinette hunting with Louis XVI
in the background. Louis-Auguste Brun, 1783.
Private collection.
Though my reenacting takes place in conservative New England, I have a large soft spot for the 18thc. French garments. I make it no secret that Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette are my French idols. The Dauphine holds a large part of my heart especially, as she was an equestrienne. In a time where it was believed a woman's place was not on the back of a horse, she refused; she rode with the hunts--stag, boar, fox--on her own hunters. Despite the uproar, the now-fictional stories of riding ruining her chances of becoming a mother (we also now know that it was not her fault for not consummating the marriage or bearing children immediately), she rode. Riding seemed to be her escape from the pressure of the royal court life and sometimes it was the only time she saw her husband. If you ask any equestrienne they too will respond that riding is a form of therapy, an escape from every day life.

When I ride, I sometimes slip from the 21stc. to the 18thc. and pretend I'm riding behind the hounds, through the thick forests, dressed in a beautiful habit--the color and material changes with the seasons. Green and worsted wool for cool springtime rides; indigo Irish linen in the warm summer; red like the blazing maple leaves in the fall, or brown later in the season, like the bare trees. While I ride astride, I do long to learn to ride aside, but thankfully there is evidence of split-skirts in 18thc. riding habits so I won't have to--one day, though. It's on my to-do list.

Marie Antoinette at the age of 28. Louis-Auguste Brun, 1783.
Gazing at paintings of the 18thc. aristocracy aboard their magnificent steeds takes my breath away. When my dog Lola and I are out on the trail or riding through the field or even working in the ring, I imagine we are a small sliver of a portrait, or that maybe we are Marie Antoinette, "riding like a man" and ignoring the naysayers. I think of the Dauphine's difficulties, and realize that 3 centuries later, we're not that much different. There is a little bit of the Dauphine in me.

One day, when my sewing skills are more advanced, I will research more carefully a riding habit for myself. More like a few; one to wear in conservative New England at events and another inspired by Marie Antoinette (I particularly love the lavender or lilac habit in the painting above). Maybe even her military-esque habit to the left; why not, right? All that stops me is my own fear and imagination (okay, and money). Fear kept me from riding for several years, but I've conquered it and ride like I have no fear (or try to, fake it 'til you make it, right?). I can certainly conquer sewing in the same manner.

And an interesting note, Marie Antoinette is just a year older than I am in the painting of her astride her warhorse.

My warhorse, Galli. This was one of my Christmas card photos last year.

25 September, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post.

"James Badger." Joseph Badger. 1760. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oil on canvas. 29.85.

I love this little boy dressed in a gown, before being breeched. It is different than young girl's gowns, but still so similar. The little black bow around his neck is so sweet, too.

24 September, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post.

I don't usually mention men's things in the blog, so how about a lovely man's at-home cap?

Man's At-Home Cap. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Silk plain weave with supplementary warp-float patterning, and silk and metallic-thread embroidery. M.61.6.

A man would wear this with a wrapping gown or banyan while at home instead of a wig.

23 September, 2011

Online window shopping.

Money is tight for many of us, and I am no exception. One of my favorite pastimes is to browse online fabric stores for items within my budget for future reference as well as for textiles which I would never be able to buy unless I a.) hit the lottery, b.) married very well, or c.) suddenly came into a high-paying position or inheritance. I've struck out on all three so far, so I'm stuck to window shopping.

Have you heard of Design Diva Fabrics? My source for all things textile knowledge told me about this whacky site. It's whacky in that they are ALWAYS running sales, and those sales change by the minute. Yes, you can go look at a fabric, refresh the page, and the price has changed. It's totally bizarre, but so much fun to browse! The prices range from what we consider normal for such things as taffeta all the way up to the most outrageous lampas--we're talking close to $1000 for a yard. Pick your jaw up off the floor now!

Currently, Design Diva is having a sale--80-90% off sale. Supposedly, there are new taffetas and dupionis (please reenactors, don't ever use that stuff) from such names as Scalamandre, Pierre Frey and Vervain for as low as $10/yd. You got my attention, I will certainly browse around your crazy website for fabrics that I cannot buy just yet. In addition, there is a "site-wide sale up to 65% off." So ... yeah. I'm tellin' ya, you can't make this stuff up! Totally bizarre.

So I went looking for stuff that's $10/yd. I haven't found much yet, but what I did find was a lovely medium-weight silk taffeta by Scalamandre for $15/yd (retail is $242.60/yd, they sell it for $99.99/yd):

I think that would make a lovely sacque for a ball. I'm still not 100% on weights, though, so it may be too heavy as a medium. But, it would be lovely as something!

My favorite color combination is purple and yellow. Any shade of purple and any shade of yellow is all right with me. My dressage saddle bag is purple with yellow trim, I have purple polo wraps and yellow polo wraps for my horses (somewhere ...), I wear purple constantly ... I'm a fan. So, I love this Vervain shot taffeta in purple and gold, on sale for $22.50/yd (retail is $332.60/yd, DDF sells it for $149.99/yd):

Another sacque for another ball. Or just a sacque in undress. Hell, I just want to make a gown from it!

This looks very, very familiar to me ... completely out of my reach at $90/yd but I feel like I've worn it before ...

Yep, I have worn it before!

What's your "if money was no object" fabric that you would love to get your hands on?

20 September, 2011

The makings of a stash.

Miss Hallie has been clearing out some of her fabric stash, and I couldn't help but jump headfirst into it. What better way to get some great fabrics that have already been vetted for accuracy and authenticity? I love looking at the fabrics when she posts them, even if I don't buy any of it, because it gives me an image to compare when I'm browsing around fabric sites (especially printed/painted and embroidered/brocade/damask textiles). I've not yet made the leap into purchasing something exquisitely expensive (like a $35/yd damask), and I would sure as anything have Hallie look at it first, but it's nice to have something from her to start my stash.

What did I end up with? A beautiful, golden yellow silk taffeta. It's not shot, but it almost seems to change from a yellow to a deeper, golden yellow. It's absolutely lovely. There was only 5.5 yards, so it will be a practice silk gown that I will use for a runaway impression. It will also double as a simple silk undress/informal/day dress. I plan on quilting a petticoat for it, as well as using other colors of silk for plain petticoats. Every time I walk by it, I have to reach out and touch it (I also do this when I'm shopping for modern clothes). Good thing I'm getting into fabrics, eh?

And since we're talking about silk, I came across an interesting article courtesy of the Tufts Museum Studies blog: conservation scientists at the Smithsonian Institution have developed a technique to date silk items! It's a very interesting article, and the technique only uses one millimeter of silk to give a range of 50-100 years. If the textile has been stored in museum-quality environments, it is even more accurate. Well-dated and documented textiles and garments were used in the study, including a 1740s man's coat from the Museum of the City of New York. Yay science!

18 September, 2011

Lucy Locket lost her pocket!

I am not Lucy Locket nor have I lost my pocket, but I have started embroidering!

Yesterday I worked on a communal quilted petticoat at the historic crafts/trades day, so I didn't bring the pocket kit out at all. This winter I definitely want to quilt one; just a simple diamond pattern to start, but eventually I'd like to quilt the pink petticoat from the MFA Boston I posted about a few weekends ago. Mrs. S. already has the pattern for it, and is even working on it for herself! But that is a long ways off, I need to get better first. :)

This morning I started working on my pocket, and I'm finding it to be just as relaxing and zen-like as quilting. It's much easier then I thought, too (getting the wool through the narrow eye of the provided needle is tough, but a little beeswax fixes that). The stitch diagrams included in the instruction packet are very easy to follow!

Here's some photos of a stem stitch to outline a leaf and a filled leaf with a satin stitch. I'm trying to be economical with my wool, like a New Englander would have in the 18thc., and keep it neat on both the right and wrong sides.

I'll continue to post about it as I work on it!

17 September, 2011


That's me. In my gown. At the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. It is complete, and I am in love with it.

16 September, 2011

Almost out of that tunnel.

The gown is almost done. Sleeves need to be hemmed at that's IT. I still need to attach the petticoat halves and hem it, then I'm good. Hopefully, I can get to a workbag tonight; it may not be embroidered but that's okay, it's just for practice.

Good thing my pattern pieces need to be tightened up, I'm going to need a reprieve from gowns for a little bit!

If you're in the Concord, MA area, come on down to the Battle Road open houses and historic trades/craft day!

14 September, 2011

An Ode (of sorts) to Irish Linen.

Gorgeous pumpkin Irish linen! How you charmed me so.

Your color and texture, so smooth and soft. No wonder they clothed the passed in you!

But you wrinkle, on the slightest touch. And you slip and slink all over my table, how can I cut you?!

My newbieness shows, and oh no, my slice is uneven! Slowly, your length shortens.

But wait! I bought enough! And it measures just right. Oh, thank goodness, a wave of relief.

Ah, pumpkin Irish linen, you're worth the pain. A lovely petticoat you'll make, to be worn so soon!

13 September, 2011

What a weekend! Part 2 of 2.

That mound of sewing I was talking about yesterday ... oy. Though I'm nearly complete with what needs to be done, it still was stressful and intense and I can't lie, I thought there was a chance I'd be borrowing a gown for this weekend.

Luckily, I have a fabulous support system and I'm really on my way to completing my very first gown.

After the photo shoot, I donned my stays, pulled out my gown and we set straight to work. I though I was almost done; but those damned sleeves! My sleeve pattern ended up having to be redone, the sleeves that I'd backstitched in were taken off, and we found out that one of the back pleats needed to be resewn as well. At first, it was believed that we didn't actually need to take the sleeves off; I'd accidentally caught a bit of the fashion fabric while backstitching the left sleeve in, so cutting that thread should solve the problem. Right?


In the eleventh hour of Saturday, the sleeves came off, and with a new pattern I cut them from my remaining yards of fashion fabric. If you've been keeping track, that would be pair number three of sleeves. Then, I accidentally made two left sleeves, so I had to redo one. Three-and-a-half. The theme of Saturday was, "Thank God I bought eleven yards of fabric!"

The skirts are pleated and basted in, but one part needs to be reworked, then I have to stitch them down in a spaced backstitch. I've already backstitched the sleeves in, both on the bottom as well as on the top, both under and over the robings. The lining is whipped down to the front of the bodice. Friday, I'm going back down to Hallie's and we're hemming the sleeves, making cuffs, and putting the back turn down on the top back of the bodice. I also need to hem the gown before then.

In addition, I have one-half of a petticoat, with a second that needs to be made, and I still have to make my linen work bag with embroidery. I would really like to get to the embroidery since it will be practice for embroidering my pocket. I'm borrowing a cap and neck handkerchief, but eventually will be making my own.

Phew. That's a lotta work! But I'm up to the challenge, and looking forward to it. I've already decided that my next gown is going to be a runaway impression; I had so much fun portraying a runaway that it would be neat to research my own for that specific event, though my main impression is middling class. Plus, runaway ads are excellent research, and I'll get to make other pieces of clothing with it, as they usually took a number of things with them.

And big huge bonus: Hallie has an extra dressform that will become mine! I've been working on the flat, and had I been working on a form, I probably could have recognized that something wasn't working and stopped. So that makes me extra excited for making more garments.

12 September, 2011

What a weekend! Part 1 of 2.

Wow, this past weekend flew by and left me in a mound of sewing and dust!

Saturday I spent the day with Hallie and her daughter Samantha, first photographing two of her gorgeous gowns and then sewing and resewing my gown (that is a whole 'nother blog post). The photo shoot was awesome; when I relaunch my portfolio website-slash-freelancing business, it will have three major components: graphic design (print and web), exhibit design, and artifact photography. I've been fortunate enough to get my hand into artifact photography through Pilgrim Hall Museum, and it combines my love of working with objects with my love of photography. Hallie and I were getting together to work on my gown anyway, and she asked me if I'd be willing to be her photographer. A resounding "YES!!!!!!" and I packed up my tripod and Canon 30D to shoot her gorgeous new blue silk sacque as well as her brown damask English gown. I have lights, but Hallie had a set at the shop already so it was one less thing to pack!

Shooting the blue sacque. Photo courtesy Hallie Larkin.

Our set up was as follows:  two large lights with softboxes, one small light behind the gown to backlight it, and a mirror to reflect light back onto the gowns. Plus, white photo paper backdrop that we wrinkled for some texture (it got wrinkled in the cutting/ripping process so we just went all out--it worked great!). I shot on a tripod the majority of the time, but also took the camera off the tripod to get in really close for some details.

Me, adjusting the lights. Had I known *my* picture
was going to be taken, I would have put some
make-up on and dressed better! Photo courtesy
Hallie Larkin.

What I found worked best for the big lights was to have one up higher to light the top half of the gowns, and the second light lower to light the bottom half. If we had had more room, I would have pulled the gowns away from the backdrop (so, closer to me), and also moved the third light closer to the gown to let it diffuse more against the paper. But, for the space we had and for only two gowns to shoot, it was a great set up. You learn something new every time!

Here's my photo shoot wishlist, if I had unlimited funds and could upgrade just my equipment:
  • A better quality lens. I was shooting with my Canon kit lens, 18-55mm f3.5-5.6, which is slow and doesn't have the best glass. A 50mm prime lens would be great!
  • A Canon 7D body. My current body is a Canon EOS 30D, which I love, but in order to get the better quality lens, I need a better body!
  • A remote shutter release or cable shutter release, as pressing down on the shutter with my finger sometimes moved the camera.
  • A long USB cord to plug into my camera and my Macbook Pro so we can view photos as they are being taken and adjust exposures, F-stops, shutter speeds, etc.
  • Softboxes for my lights, like Hallie's.
  • A third light, small, for backlighting.
  • A fourth light with a large stand and a boom, to light the gowns from the top (using a softbox as well).
A bigger space goes without saying (and I know Hallie was wishing for it, too!) and for next time, we'll have other backdrops. But the photos came out great, don't you think?

Blue silk sacque, ribbon detail. Photograph by me.

Brown silk damask English gown, back pleats.
Photograph by me.

First two photographs used with permission. Last two photographs are mine, please do not take them or use them without permission!

11 September, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post

Another beautiful extant from Meg Andrews, this time a straw or chip hat. I'm wearing my simple, completed straw hat today to a big fancy horse show, so it's very appropriate! This is a great example, though a bit later at c.1780, and it is also Dutch.

c.1780 Bergere straw hat.

Check out the underside of the hat on the website, click the picture to be taken there.

10 September, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post.

Since I'm on a petticoat making mission, here's an interesting petticoat for sale through Meg Andrews. I've never seen fabric like this, it is so amazing!

1760s Norwich fabric petticoat. Remade into
a 19th century skirt.

Click on the image to be taken to the website.

Many thanks to Sew18thCentury for posting the Meg Andrews website on Facebook! I wish my checking account had unlimited funds ...

09 September, 2011

Maybe I'm more mathematical than I thought.

I'm pleating my printed cotton petticoat right now, and it's kind of awesome! I found it a bit difficult to do on the skirt panels for my gown, but with a flat, very straight-forward piece of fabric, it's really rather easy to do.

That may change when I have to do them backwards on the back panel, though!

I had to piece together the petticoat as my fabric was only about 46 inches wide. This makes it more accurate and authentic, as looms back in the 18thc. were much, much smaller then modern ones. 60 inches of fabric may make it really easy, but maybe consider buying smaller pieces of fabric or chopping up the larger fabrics to make it accurate!

The center front box pleat.
I made it about 4 inches.
The seam where I had to
piece together the petticoat.

These are my photographs. Please do not take or use them without permission.

08 September, 2011

"A Variety of new fashion Caps, Chip Hats, ..."

I have much sewing to do tonight--I have 2 days to make a petticoat (and yes I have had all week to do it!)--but I wanted to share how I shaped my blank straw hat, as I also need to trim it up with some ribbon before Sunday. I'm wearing it to a garden-party-attired event, as I'm a broke graduate student who can't afford to buy an awesome hat! But that's okay, it's going to look better than anyone else's hat. ;)

Pardon the crappy cell phone pictures, please!

07 September, 2011

Some links for your enjoyment.

Damask is an underutilized fabric for reenactors. Learn more from Hallie's series on the beautiful fabric: http://bit.ly/oU9M9i

Are you cut out for the 18thc.? Sew18thCentury doesn't think she is: http://bit.ly/pktasd

Mimic of Modes drools over some past Augusta auctions: http://bit.ly/nqtHDn

An excellent collection of links from the Two Nerdy History Girls: http://bit.ly/o9FqhQ

From the Friends of Minute Man National Park, a look at George Washington's Sept. 6, 1775 letter to Canada: http://1.usa.gov/r5IcfZ

This Day in History, Sept. 7, Jeremiah Poope of the Freedom Trail Foundation recounts the naming of Boston: http://bit.ly/nN6KL1

05 September, 2011

Embroiderers of the 18thc.

My quick and dirty search into slate frames, scroll frames, screws, and general embroidery in the 18thc. proved to be very interesting.

No, really! I'm not an embroiderer, so researching something I know hardly anything about was really neat. In the past, I had picked it up with silly cross stitch kits and kits with round hoops and Disney characters on them. But that's contemporary, and really all I had to do was follow the instructions and the color guide. Thinking about it now, it's all very similar to what I'll be doing on my practice workbag and the pocket. But at the same time, it's also different.

04 September, 2011

The light at the end of the tunnel.

My apologies to my readers for my absence yesterday! It was a day filled with driving, sewing, and working on my printed cotton gown. I wanted to blog about it last night, but I fear that a second glass of wine did me in (oops).

The end is nigh for my first 18thc. creation! It is so amazing to think how close I am to completing it (and sort of freaking out because I don't want it to end!), when in the beginning I was a panicked mess and truly thought I would never finish. Mind you, this gown is the first thing I've ever created--yeah, you heard that right, I've never sewn. Really, truly, never sewn from start to finish. Hemming, sewing holes? Who hasn't done that? I had no idea the stitches I was doing, I just knew to thread the needle and go. And now, I know many different names of stitches, and the gown is almost done!

Currently, the gown has the skirt panels pleated and basted, and they are basted to the bodice on both sides, and ... the sleeves are on! They have been backstitched into the armscye and when I get together with Hallie next weekend, they will be completed (holy crap!). I have instructions on how to piece together my petticoat--the printed cotton is only about 46" wide, so there will be a few panels--as well as how to make a petticoat with wider fabric, which I will be ordering. I'm also making a practice linen workbag to hold all of my sewing notions and tools, and after that will move on to making a silk one. For the historic crafts day I'll be borrowing a cap and neck handkerchief, but plan on making those as soon as I can. I will probably need to borrow an apron, too. There's lots to do but I still have time.

The following weekend is a colonial faire and muster that I'll be attending with a friend, but after that I will have about a month until another event, so I figure my cap, apron, and handkerchief can wait until then. There is no shame in borrowing what you need but don't have!

Photos of the gown to come soon, as well as my bit of research on embroidery!

Lastly--I'm suddenly up to 8 readers! Hi there, and thanks for following my journey!

02 September, 2011

Sew alone, but don't measure.

There is a reason why there are such things as dress forms and models and assistants. Thankfully, it doesn't really matter to me, because it's a $30 cotton shift that I needed in a pinch. It had a drawstring neck and sleeves that were too long, also with drawstrings to make a ruffle. Those don't exist anymore. But the neck may be too big and the sleeves too short. And I'm okay with it! I can make a neck handkerchief, and the gown sleeves will be fine. I won't have this shift forever, instead I consider it a practice garment. Yes I'll have to wear it, but I'm not walking around reenactments in my 18thc. undies! It's been a fun experiment, and I've proved to myself that I can do this. Woohoo!

01 September, 2011

A quick fly-by: Something to look forward to!

It's shaped! (Pardon the messy desk)

Just a quick little post about something I finally got around to last night: shaping my hat! After I post my embroidery research, I'll show the process I did to shape it. Super easy to do, and it was dry by this morning. All it needs now is some simple trim around the crown and maybe some ties--I'll be using hatpins with it (see that piece of white next to my now-defunct Borders card? It's holding 3 hatpins!), so I may not add ties. It also depends on if I bought enough silk ribbon!

31 August, 2011

Screwed! ... sort of.

Remember yesterday's post, about those scroll frames at A.C. Moore that could pass for period?

Well ... maybe not.

It looks like my initial thoughts about them not having screws were wrong. They do in fact have screws. And wing nuts. Those are definitely not 18thc. I still bought it, because what the heck, right? I am not going down without a fight!

I may be able to get them to work without the screws. I'm going to test a thought I had while thinking about them grocery shopping (usually, all of my best thinking is done in the shower). I think, if I can tie the dowels together in a tight X shape, they could work.

Is that 18thc.? I don't know. Before I do that, my next move is to try and find 18thc. drawings/engravings/paintings of people with a slate frame and see how the dowels were held together; my research yesterday said that one of the books on my library list, 18th Century Embroidery Techniques by Gail Marsh, has engravings of women working at slate frames. I also may find that if I can hold them together with something else--not necessarily a screw, or a tie, but maybe another dowel?--that could pass for period. I can't just try and hide the screws, as I'm going to need to get to the back of the embroidery, and lifting it up would expose the wing nuts.

This is an unexpected but welcome challenge. I may not know a lot about slate frames and embroidery now, but I'll know a little more when I'm finished. And that is really, really cool, and a big bonus to being a serious reenactor. I believe that learning never stops, it should never stop, and why not learn at least a little bit about something new?

Ready? Set? Go!

30 August, 2011

Modern things for the 18thc.

So, after I posted yesterday about my new pocket kit, I read the included instructions, and my heart sank a wee bit. To be able to sew this in a period correct manner (i.e. while in my kit at the historic crafts day), I would need a slate frame. Otherwise, doing it at home on a round hoop is acceptable. Well, I have round hoops (I bought them as a cheap screen-printing method and never used them for that purpose), but what the heck is a slate frame?!

The short answer is it's a type of frame for holding the fabric with tight tension so that the work is done cleanly and precisely. From my quick Google search, it's a fairly advanced and serious method of embroidery (check out the crazy threads!). I am no advanced needleworker, so it seems a bit hardcore for me to order an expensive slate frame for a little pocket. Realistically, how many pockets will I be making? I don't think more than a couple. They're rather expensive, too, and I can't justify the costs (plus shipping) to get one for a single pocket. Then, I had a thought:

What about a modern equivalent that would pass for period?

It makes sense. We modern people do have to use modern accoutrements occasionally in our reenacting, and sometimes we are surprised that a modern thing could pass for 18thc. It doesn't even have to come from a specialty sutler. So, I set out on a quick search before nixing the pocket embroidery anywhere but at home.

If you looked at the link above, it's actually a scroll frame dressed like a slate frame. Hmm, okay. So, I looked for scroll frames at the commercial arts & crafts stores, and hit the motherload on A.C. Moore's site. Most are definitely out of the question, as they include lights and big honkin' screws. But there were a few that caught my eye, and as far as I could tell from the photos there were no screws, and no sewing or tacking down to the frame (which may make it not-period, but we'll see). The scroll frame I looked at is here, and I'll post the photo below.

The dowels have slits in them to keep the fabric taut. I'll have to measure my working space on the pocket to see if 4"x8" is enough, but they also have other sizes if it's bigger.

So, my embroidery-inclined readers, could this pass for period? Or am I doomed to just embroider this pocket at home?

29 August, 2011

Wm. Booth delivers!!

Finally, after waiting what seemed like an eternity (it was 9 days), my bag of goodies from Wm. Booth, Draper arrived in the mail today. Like a kid in a candy store, I ripped into the yellow package to reveal my spoils ...

One pocket kit by my friends Hallie and Sam Larkin
(Sam illustrated these kits from extant examples),
remnant burgundy ribbon for garters & a cap,
silk thread, and 1/2 inch ribbon for my straw hat.

I'm saving the pocket kit for the Minute Man National Historical Park's open house and historic craft day, but I just had to open it up and see all the goodies inside.

The colors are way off, the threads are beautiful!

Methinks I need to find an appropriate basket to carry this all in! Any recommendations, dear readers?

28 August, 2011

What's Under Things? Hidden Colonial Clothing, Part II

As Tropical Storm Irene rages on (our power has flickered and gone out twice, but thankfully came back on!), now is the perfect time to showcase the crème de la crème of What's Under Things? I hope my readers along the eastern seaboard are safe and dry!

27 August, 2011

What's Under Things? Hidden Colonial Clothing, Part I

My apologies, dear readers, for my absence! The procedure on Wednesday went smoothly, and I slept quite a bit. I had to stay off of my feet and when reclining, sleep just happened to come quite easily. Since I had a couple of days off, I'm going to change up the format just a little bit and instead of fly-by posts, talk to you about the exhibit I worked on and am so proud of! Part I begins beneath the jump.

24 August, 2011

A little teaser

I've been meaning to write up a blog post on What's Under Things? but the editing of the photos took much longer then I thought it would--it is quite difficult to photograph in a dark museum when you can't take off the plexiglass bonnets or have lights set up! It was also a reminder to not trust what's looking back at you on your LCD screen, I didn't realize just how dark the photos came out! It's a good thing I shot in RAW and use Adobe Lightroom.

By the time this is posted to the masses on Twitter and Facebook I'll be having a minor surgery, so I plan on working on the big post about it when I get home, to post tomorrow. I haven't shaped the blank straw/chip hat yet, either, so that's another thing on my list to do! But, this weekend is all about the printed cotton gown, which is exciting, and I'll be debuting it earlier then I thought, huzzah!

Enjoy these lovely 18th century shoes Pilgrim Hall has in its collection:

This photograph is mine. Please do not take it or use it without permission.

23 August, 2011

How did this get started?

Since I'm a really connected social media maven, I set up a feed to have my blog posts automatically publish from Blogger to Facebook and Twitter (you can follow me on Twitter @kbpowers, I had to lock it down though as I'm beginning a new job search). A friend and follower on Twitter commented on my blog name; because of a trip to the RISD Museum together, I decided to take the plunge and create this blog. Here's his tweet:

How did this come about? Well, I happened to date a painting based solely on the gown the sitter was wearing in the museum's attached historic house. This blew my dear friend's mind! We went around the entire house, looking for 18th century paintings for me to date (and for the record, he's an art historian that says his program never went over this stuff!). Some I got right, others I got wrong, but it was a good experience and training for my 18th century eye.

So, really, I owe this blog all to my dear Anulfo. Sitting on the train in Providence, waiting to go back to Boston, I decided that I would take the plunge. Haven't regretted it yet!

22 August, 2011

Some links for your enjoyment

It may be August, but it's never too early to think about capes in New England: http://bit.ly/ooHu0n

Why yes, you can place that elaborate, ornate gold box on my dresser any time: http://bit.ly/ns1N0U

Costumers and reenactors aren't the only people bringing the 18th century to life: http://bit.ly/o03zAy

A collection of stars on the stomacher, and all over the gown? Yes, please! http://bit.ly/lv7aEv

Mitts for keeping the sun off your forearms (and covering up your tattoos): http://bit.ly/pe44ix

Mind = blown: Stay-lacing cord with a built-in bodkin! *Angels singing*: http://bit.ly/nXrSCg

21 August, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post

Recently, I bought a reproduction fan from The Village Green Clothier. It's purple, and gorgeous, with two different colorways of flowers painted on either side. It's technically a double-sided fan! So, have a peek at a stunning 18th century ivory fan from the MFA Boston.

Ivory fan. French, 18th century. MFA Boston, accession no. 25.551.

20 August, 2011

It's the weekend: Fly-by post

Since I'm on an accessories kick, let's take a look at something most New England women in the 18th century would have worn: a quilted petticoat!

Pink silk satin quilted petticoat; glazed wool lining,
cotton waistband, linen ties. English, about 1780.
MFA Boston, accession no. 28.528b.

19 August, 2011


My blank straw/chip hat from Just Two Tailors arrived in the mail two days ago, and this weekend I plan on shaping it. Silk ribbon has been ordered from Wm. Booth, Draper to decorate it, as well as a pocket embroidery kit by Southcoast Historical. Not sure when that package will arrive, hopefully this weekend, so I can show my haul here. I'm really excited about this pocket; my friend Sam illustrated it based on extant samples in private and museum collections, and she's a very talented illustrator. So talented that her designs have been ripped off! That means you're successful, right?

I've got a very special treat in the works as well. This past Monday I photographed an exhibit I designed for my portfolio, and the curator has given me his blessing to blog about it (he is also a close personal friend, so maybe that had something to do with it). Woohoo! The exhibit is called What's Under Things? Hidden Colonial Clothing, and is focuses on 17th and 18th century underwear (and one 19th century item, a busk)! I did the graphic design for the exhibit (with the exception of the labels) as well as consulted on the layout and flow of the cases. I'm excited to show this exhibit off, I'm very proud of it, and there are some great pieces--like an extant 17th century bodice with provenance to Mayflower passenger Mary Chilton Winslow, and an extant 18th century working class stays. So sweet! The tiny lace stomacher is also a great extant example, even though it looks like a certain type of women's underwear.

What's Under Things? is on display until December 31st, 2011, at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA. 75 Court Street. Open 9:30 - 4:30 daily.

So, stay tuned! Some great stuff coming up!

18 August, 2011

A New Project in the Works!

I am quite excited to announce my involvement in an enormous undertaking of research, garment creation, and sewing, to culminate in a garden party and muster day next summer, at the Minute Man National Historical Park! It's the perfect opportunity to really be "stuck" in the 18th century, and immerse myself in truly learning the techniques of period sewing (not to mention, be able to use the years of research methodology classes and examine primary sources!).

I'm the newcomer in all of this (sewing-wise, that is), so my hope is that I'll remind others what it's like to be a neophyte again, maybe a teeny bit over their head, and also to inspire other newcomers to just take the plunge! I'm finding, and I've been told, that breaking into this hobby is hard for a woman; I hope that after this project is completed, a few more will join the ranks.

The project is called the "Crazy Concord Chicks" and you can read all about it on our blog. There are 10+ people in this project, and we all have our own standalone pages that get pushed to the main blog. My section is the "Younger Set," with another young lady. We're thinking we need to be the "little rich girls" that get dressed up and sort of emulate the "HEYDAY! Is this my DAUGHTER ANNE!" satire.

And have no fear, this fledgling blog is not going anywhere. I'll be crossposting from the Crazy Concord Chicks, as well as documenting the process for whatever gown I end up choosing. Lots of work, yes, but this is going to be so much fun!

"HEYDAY! Is this my DAUGHTER ANNE!" linked from "A Catalogue of 18th-Century British Mezzotint Satires in North American Collections." By F.E. Adams, 1773. Found in two collections: New York Public Library (B1970.3.970) and Lewis Walpole Library (779.10.11.1).

17 August, 2011

Sweetest thing, maybe ever.

Mark Hutter, tailor for Colonial Williamsburg, grants his daughter's wish for a birthday ride around town in a gorgeous 18th century carriage.

Visit the Two Nerdy History Girls for the picture!

16 August, 2011

Ready, set, SLEEVES! Part 2

The sleeve has been cut out of the fashion fabric and is ready to be put together.

15 August, 2011

Ready, set, SLEEVES! Part 1

A few days ago, I finally got around to redoing the sleeves for my first ever 18th century gown. I'm now 99% done with them; all that's left is to hem them (and add cuffs, but that's an embellishment, so I'm not counting them). I'm going to wait to do that, though, until after they are attached to the bodice. They are still a bit big on me, but I'm actually okay with that, because then I'll have room to move with poof-y shift sleeves in them.

Below the jump is part 1 of the process with the left sleeve. This is fairly picture heavy and a bit long, so my apologies (and why I split it up)!

14 August, 2011

12 August, 2011

All in the sleeves.

For a beginner, setting sleeves into the armscye of a gown is tricky business. Or, so I've been told, as the gown I'm currently working on has no sleeves attached. This is due to my lack of confidence as a new sewer, the fact that I have to have every stitch perfectly in its place (hi, I'm a neurotic perfectionist, nice to meet you), I'm more of a tortoise than a hare in my work, and that I panicked--a lot--over the course of a weekend gown workshop. Had I not sat up until 12:30/1 am, frantically texting friends that had a clue about what I was doing and searching the internet for help, and instead just sewed, well, my gown would have been a heckuva lot closer to complete than it is now. Coupling that with the fact that I was going on vacation a few days after the workshop and probably wouldn't touch the gown until after I got back, not much has been done to it. But this is good news, because now I can document the steps completed and those that are forthcoming, both in the name of research and so that in the future, I will know what the heck I'm doing.

11 August, 2011

In the beginning ...

There was a dress. Not just any dress, but an 18th century gown. Based on an original in the Kyoto Costume Institute, it was a pink, yellow and green crossbarred silk taffeta robe a la français.

I wore that dress nearly two years ago to the day.

It was the beginning of a head-first plunge into living history, reenacting, learning about sewing, garments, gown construction. I was hooked, bitten by this gown, by the stays that transformed my body, by my suddenly small waist and huge, false hips, by the feeling of wearing the past. I am still giddy over that gown.

Now, two years later, I've embarked on a journey to learn how to hand sew in the period technique, how to construct my own 18th century wardrobe, and soak up as much knowledge and information and education that my brain can absorb. How fortunate am I to have my own 18th century Fairy Godmother, who has taken me under her wing and began my 18th century education the right way? And for the introduction to her through a friend and professional colleague (who has always believed in me, no matter what ridiculous direction I happen to throw myself into); it truly made me believe in fate.

And so, this is the beginning. Bring band aids.
Me, August 2009. Gown by the amazing
Hallie Larkin, my 18thc. Fairy Godmother,
to whom I owe my 18thc. obsession to.
Photo by Ed Nute.