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!