Friday, September 30, 2016

Vernet 1.0: Summertime Edition. Part 2: Evidence and Thoughts Behind the Dress Construction

First wear. Nice, but where's the bust-to-waist change?
Lauren Marks' dress worked out as it should in this
regard. Mine did not: that's what you get for wearing
the wrong stays. 
We know from last time that the Vernet 1.0 dress is a work in progress... However, 1.5 years into it, I have yet to write up how the first edition was actually constructed. At first, it seemed possible to pile everything into one post, but as I went through the notes compiled during 2015, it was soon clear that I'd have to break things up into background and evidence, and actual construction.

Time and Blogging and Less Time and Less Blogging

In years past, when a project would really take my fancy, I spent months researching and collecting whatever evidence I could manage to obtain from sources online - magazines, novels, fashion plates, an occasional manuscript, photos and documentation of extant garments. Then I'd muse all about it online, like so many of us do, as with the silly number of posts I made about the 1790s sleeveless spencer.

For a while, I was able to turn to actual garments from my own collection, as with the 1870 Bustle Dress. Despite Ohio's several excellent museum collections being just a few hours away, I've never had the freedom to visit them. My own stuff, obviously just study specimens and nothing special, was great fun to work with, but is now largely dispersed, gone to Cassidy of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment. If you read some of my earlier posts, you'll see the efforts of someone with more interest than proper background, and so it made sense to give things to someone with both the training and the equipment to care for them properly and make better use of what they have to tell.

In most cases, whatever research I did I wrote about nearly immediately, posting as the information came to light. It's frustrating that the Vernet project came along when it did, just when the life of our household, and my own life, was full of change.

Within the space of just a few years, my part-time job in public health, which I love, became more taxing than it used to be, the twins grew up enough to start piano, and YMCA soccer, and homework, and to dip into other fun that we could enjoy together -- fossiling -- a tee-niney garden, vacation Bible school. Chronic illness of one sort or another blossomed. It's common, you know: one chronic illness begets another; our bodily systems are all interrelated. I have a transplant, and the effects of long-term medications and transplant-related fatigue made it easier for other problems to arise: migraines, diverticulitis (now those episodes were fun, dangerous, and expensive), and now the formally diagnosed type of dyspepsia that makes eating a pain. Now I understand what novels mean when they describe a crabby person as having a dyspeptic personality. Try me when I am cooking dinner for my family, a dinner that I cannot eat, and you'll have a nice sample of it.

Then, you can't forget age. I don't mind it, aging. While crepey skin on my hands is creepy in one way, it's something that ties me to the many beloved people who have gone before me, and the years of living and suffering and just dealing with what comes have made me love what I have the gift of having right now the more, and make me more ready to share it, because really, what is a gift when it's kept to onesself? There's no point in that, as my own faith and that of others will readily tell you.

Meanwhile, ever after the roots of things that make up garments, I went after threads, and discovered spinning, and then fibers, then wool, and then -- SHEEP.  Oh dear, if ever there was competition for costuming, it's the fibers that make the fabric, and the animals that make the fibers.

The result? The inevitable sequela? I don't have much time to begin with, less energy to get on with, and I am splitting it umpteen ways -- job, children, husband, stupid illnesses, sheep and the world of making textiles, and costuming.

It's no wonder Vernet is taking forever.

So, if the following is less well researched than some projects, with less breadth of resources and iffy citation quality, well, you can see why. I won't give up, but, gee, it's after bedtime and I need to check on the new kitten, and tomorrow I visit Lana the Shetland and Nina her lamb, and then it's soccer...

So, how did I set up construction? What evidence did I use? Here is the thought process.

Dress Fabric

Let's start with the dress fabric or fabrics. We don't know for sure what fabrics were used. It could be cotton, and arguably might be. In Journal des Dames, just about all of 1814 is dominated by percale white dresses for promenade and morning. A few mousseline (a nice clear muslin) dresses appear -- they are sheer -- as well. The Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion exhibit’s Annette model wears a dress of percale and clear muslin that has several similarities. Although Vernet departs from norms in proportion and in accessories, he appeared to follow the mode in that he showcased so many percale dresses.

In this case I think the underlayer is percale, with a clear muslin overlay used for bust poufs, sleeves, and the skirt. That there is an overlay is apparent in several places: the arms show through the sleeves, the underdress shows through the bust puffs, and the green grass shows through the overdress hem at the horizon line.

A previous thought of mine was that the styling with the large bust poufs is usually seen in full dress, especially in ball gowns. Christina Barreto Lancaster's Hillwood Manor exhibition model (shown further down in this post) is an example.

If our Vernet plate were a more formal dress, a crisp silk would hold the poufs nicely and the skirt body would hold well, too. Perhaps the silk was what has been known since as a silk ninon, although I was unable to track that fabric back to 1814. If it were, Vernet may have been playing with words, associating the fabric with Ninon l’Enclos.

Looking at the dress plate, and how strongly Vernet indicated the join between the bodice and the skirt, it's fairly clear that the overlay is not an entire dress set over a slip.  Instead, the bust poufs and the sleeves are mounted to the bodice.

The Embroidery/Neckline Decoration

We already know what I imagined about the embroidery, based on when the dress came out, at the end of Napoleon's dominance over France.

Here's another 1814 dress, just about covered in the embroidery with cutwork; the idea was quite popular, it would appear.

Cotton and silk dress, French, 1814. Met: 1984.81.
It could also have been something else. At one point I thought the little indication of decor could have been  a bit of gathered ruching, as in Portraits des Soeurs, 1814, by Jacques-Augustin Pajou, from the Louvre.

Or it may simply be the pulling of the thin muslin on the drawstring, as in this dress from the Met.

Yes, It IS possible to have a drawstring on a straight neckline. Here is Cecile from Natalie Garbett’s blog. The strings could be anchored at the straps.

Another dress, from Augusta Auctions, this one in a plain muslin embroidered at hem.

This sort of neckline just isn't very exciting, and Vernet enjoyed trendsetting fashions, as we know from his other plates. I went with the idea of embroidery. After all, I had evidence that decorated underpanels or underdresses were fashionable. Here are two from Natalie Garbett’s blog, in her post describing her first dress of 2012.

Shoulder Straps

Note that in all the dresses shown so far, the shoulder straps are set very far to the edge of the shoulders. This is the norm for the entire year in both lower-necked dresses and high-neck dresses. I made sure that this would be a feature of the Vernet dress.

Their construction? We can see the bodice through the bust poufs just to the right side of neckline. This argues for flat panel to shoulders, which are set very far out, and very narrow straps on the underdress. They could be constructed two ways:
  • Straight straps attached to straight panel. They would be easy to modify if you have a fit issue, even though it means two extra seams. 
  • A single-piece for front with very wide curve, hidden by bust of overdress. They would be harder to modify if there were fit issues, and finicky to sew the drawstring channel that would accompany this type of neckline. 
I threw out the latter idea as less likely.

Bust Poufs

The bust poufs, I thought, might be made most easily with one piece of fabric. Not being privy to the construction of any dresses with bust poufs, I made a guess. I would use a single piece of fabric, either rectangular or shaped like an horizontal oval pointed at the two sides, accordion-pleated and divided by very thin thread band at center. Wider bands dividing the poufs appear on ball dresses of the period (see Christina Barreto-Lancaster's Hillwood Manor exhibition example below). The outer edge of the poufs would be turned under and tacked down to the strap lining, then covered by the sleeve fabric and the strap fashion fabric.

Here are far more tailored versions of the bust poufs (the same exhibition).

From earlier, a rudimentary bust decoration that later would become puffier.

Silk dress, American, ca. 1805.
Note clear variations in weft thread color and what are almost surely slubs,
plus relative thickness of the warp threads. 2009.300.2314

Our Ninon wears her sleeves quite full, the diameter gently tapering to the fashionable elongated wrists.

The sleeves are worn twisted, with the twist held in place at the wrist by what appear from the paintwork to be substantial satin or taffeta ribbon, very wide, but folded so that the band around the  wrist itself is not wide, but narrow. Only the bow is wide. La Belle Assemblee in 1814 notes that white satin ribbons are popular in Paris. (Oh, for Pete's sake: where did my citation for that go? This is what happens when you write up your notes so long after the fact.)

Annette, in the Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion exhibit, wears a more tailored version of the very long sleeve.

Another model from the same exhibit displayed more exuberant sleeves:

Ends plainly finished with rolled and whipped hem.

Dress Waistline and Back

In our fashion plate, the bodice waistline is plain: there is no narrow belt piece between bodice and skirt. The stress, then, would be taken by a lining, I would think. It is possible for unlined dresses to have a plain join too, though: witness Cecile on Natalie Garbett’s blog post about underpinnings in Napoleon exhibition.

As so common with Regency dresses, and with earlier petticoats, too, the skirt's upper raw edge could be simply turned to the inside and the skirt whipped to the bodice.

At this period it was common for dresses to be back-closing, with two wide back panels hung on drawstrings that simply tied at the center, allowing for changes in fit. I went with the popular mode.


There is really not really much to remark upon here, except that the dress dress ends two inches or so above the anklebone. Rather a trendy length. Note too the rather significant hem on the overdress. I've marked it in the plate. The double layer would help the hem round out nicely, and almost forms a decorative touch, in that the doubled fabric will create a shadow effect.

That's that. Next time, and really, I do mean it - construction. I figured out the construction and wrote it all out before making the dress. It was a good plan to do so, and it worked, even if I did spoil things by wearing bad stays. The roots of the dress are still good.

Monday, August 15, 2016

In Memoriam, A Blythe Spirit: Miss Blueberry Muffin

Miss Blueberry Muffin: 2011-June 27, 2016

Calm center in the busy noise of boys and mama and daddy in the family room
Lounging presence hogging the heating vent in the kitchen
Reading the comics on the floor daily with Christopher
Pawing at the creamer lid for my tea
Finding the sunny spot outdoors to roll and roll
Inspecting drains with Noah for chipmunks
Daily buddy inches away as I work, and napping or watching the birds outdoors, often a paw just touching, so we are connected
With me always through illness after illness; big eyes looking at me in affection as I hold your fluffy self upside down and stroke your parti-colored furry toes. 
You took life in to its fullest, sunny friend, and rubbed and purred your last morning.
We love you deeply, darling. 
We'll be together again someday.

Muffin, little Muffinee, Fluffy-britches, you were family, little kitty, you loved with all your being and we loved you with all of ours.

Nothing like raw sheep fleece for a blissful rub.

Catnip unnecessary. Sheep fleece is delightful, thank you.
Without ceremony you arrived in a cardboard carrier, a surprise. On the way home from a work appointment in Cincinnati, I told myself that I needed to stop at PetsMart for food, knowing in my heart that I what was really needed was kitty time. Ladybug was so shy, and the twins just one year old, and work was so hard. The boys were so darn cute, and loving, but I was so, so tired, and beginning to be ill a great deal of the time, and I longed for a furry someone to cuddle when the hours were too overwhelming, another kind of baby to coo over and nurture.

To find you there in a steel cage, a small fluffy self no more than five pounds or so, with your big eyes and such a sweet, sweet nose. How my heart beat hard and I practically ran to the volunteer helper, to ask if I could hold you. How I lifted your thin, so-soft self from the cage and you trusted me then and there and melted on my neck, paws around it, and purred. All I said was "Oh darling, come home with me", and that was it. Your first hours in that cage were your last ones -- you'd just arrived in the noisy store that morning. You'd been, said the Humane Society volunteer, with them in their main building since May, just a few weeks, dropped in the Night Box with your kittens. Who left such a trusting, gentle kitty, with her kittens? Had they been overwhelmed themselves, or did they not understand the depth of your gentleness? Night Box, indeed. A long night in the dark, alone and closed up with kittens to care for. Think about it.

Noah introduces young Muffin to his Australian-born kangaroo.

You'd had to recuperate. You were young! Perhaps six months, already with kittens. You gave so much of yourself then, when you were hardly out of kittenhood. Your troubles didn't have time or ability to scar you, for you were made of gentleness and good humor and joy in being. You radiated it, and we all loved you for it, everyone who came to the house and couldn't help noticing the gorgeous, fluffy fur-person checking out whoever walked through the door. We none of us understood how close we'd become, when on that first day I carried you in the back door, and Mom, watching the boys, saw the carrier and said loudly, "No!". She thought of all the responsibility another kitty would be, and we were underwater with work and with babies and baby laundry and short on sleep with twins who had different sleep schedules. How rapidly things changed.

Chipmunk ahoy!

You were with me constantly. You were with all of us constantly. Your center was our center. You preferred to be in the mix, with loud and wobbly toddlers who thought the world of you -- you knew they were kittens themselves and didn't understand how to pet a cat. You taught them gentleness, and they respected you, and you didn't mind being chased: you let them run after you and your fluffy back leg britches and proud flag tail might be just a few feet ahead of them until you flopped over and you all regarded each other with equanimity. You grew very fast, and the boys knew you were too heavy to pick up, so you'd lounge together, buddies.

Where a smart cat positions herself on a cold day.

There is a spectrum in cat behavior, said Dr. Hastings, from a cat who must be sedated before even the most cursory examination, to a cat who will let whatever be done that needs it, without fuss. Muffin, said Dr. Hastings, was on that extremely gentle end: she purred her way through everything, comforting herself when she was worried, trusting that humans would not harm her. I protected that purity fiercely; we all did. We knew she was a gem of a being and we patrolled the borders of her life so that it might be as blissful an existence as ever we could give anyone, just as we did for our boys when they were small. When it was time to start letting our boys know that the world has sharp edges and disappointments and tragedies, we lifted that Pandora's box just a crack, but for Muffin, the box was sealed.

She grew into a glorious purr. A sweet, wedge face with a pink nose perfectly proportioned for maximum cuteness, rounded sensitive ears, well furnished with furry protection. Large, large, almost round eyes, tipped up at the outside, warm and considering. She had extraordinarily thick, dense, downy fur as a base, finer than rabbit down, and long guard hairs that looked like a halo when the sunshine was at her back. She was stocky, short-legged, large-pawed, well padded with fur tufts underneath, her tail as full as that of a fox, an ideal nose protector when she curled up in winter, and an equally ideal flag when raised while she walked. It usually was raised, too, displaying her confidence in the world. 

She's in the fort. Let's let her be...and they did.
Just off our front porch she posed rock-solid when sweet Ginger, the next-door lab, nosed up, and Ginger decided that Muffin had won the dominance game then and there. She mock-fought the devil cat from up the street who would materialize from the darkness, green eyes first, at the back glass doors, to parade in front of it and dare Muffin to attack. We had to place sheets of plywood there for a while to cover the glass in order that all of us could sleep in peace at night, and so that Muffin wouldn't scream and paw herself into exhaustion.

Ooh, she can climb!

There's a chipmunk in the drain. Did you hear him? Unh-hunh!

She wasn't a fighter with us, but a good-natured buddy happy to trot up for a pet, just as happy to trot off, her darling furry back britches dancing until she'd hop to the top of the family room cozy chair to sprawl, napping with paws hanging off, while we ate dinner or the boys played.  If she did take a notion to take off in front of us, it was never a chipmunk-induced calico-blur-sprint, but a trot ending in seconds with a flop onto her back, not to display four weaponed paws and teeth, but "See how cute and sweet I am? Go ahead, pick me up, I was just playing, and you won."

Why did I know something might happen? Why did I know, somewhere inside, that such lives are often short, that Heaven sends us special friends when we need them most, and then calls them away or sometimes calls them Home?

Muffin, constant companion through illnesses.

Certainly I appreciated her specialness, and when she was nested in the crook of an arm while I napped, or spent days on whatever bed I'd taken refuge with a migraine, or another infection, or unable to eat, there was a clear understanding between us that she was helping, and that I was grateful for her healing purr and clear-eyed regard. Sometimes I'd not be conscious of her joining me, but finding it out, thank her with lots of ear scratches and tummy rubs.

Work buddy, right?

I was a dual personality, a protective mama to Muffin on the one hand, but occasionally a slightly lazy mama on the other, and every so often until this spring, Muffin might wander a yard or two away and try out the smells and scents of a different spot. She never wandered even half the length of a football field, but those were exciting trips and left me panicked when I couldn't spot her with my eyes, bedded down under a boxwood, or playing mulch cat nesting on Black Gold -- horse-manure rich covering for our shrubbery and flower beds, or rolling, silly and in abandon in sunshine, short paws splayed, or sentinel on the watch for chipmunks. Never caught, but chased with vast satisfaction. I think she was proud of the warning chirps that attended her outdoor visits.

Now ill, Muffin takes comfort on our Shetland sheep Lana's combed fleece, and kneads the short ends
to calm herself. She spent a long time in that box during her last week.

Just six years, long enough to grow kitty-loving boys, to get me through health issues. So short, too short! Then without warning, it was my time to take care of her.

Domestic kitties and Siberians -- we were never quite sure what she was, but she did display a wide range of Siberian characteristics  -- are prone to a primary disease called hypertrophic myocardiopathy: a thickening of a heart ventricle that ends in congestive heart failure, the heart unable to pump enough blood out to keep everything else going, the lungs filling with liquid, making breathing a labor. Cats often hide their illnesses, and unless something like this is caught by accident in an x-ray or ultrasound, it's often far too advanced for much to be done, and so it was with Muffin. A week and a half of suffering, not pain, per se, but labored breathing and no appetite, no matter what I set before her, and no energy to walk more than a few feet. I was with her always and she took the many medications and vet visits and procedures without complaint; Curte and the boys went on vacation without me. Alert and purry until it was so hard to breathe, and then we said goodbye, and she looked out the vet's window at the hyrangeas, busy with bees, and was interested, but was glad to find shelter in my lap: such a soft cushion on top of it, and she found sleep and her way to Heaven from there.

The last evening, during an aborted
trip to the emergency vet.
I couldn't put her through yet another
visit. It was so hard for her to breathe,
you could her congestion in each breath.
Yet she purred and was interested in life
around her, just too tired to move, all
her energy wrapped up in breathing.

It wasn't easy to write an elegy, and I delayed. Life moves, wounds begin to heal, and the heart knows that opening up a memory or two is joyful, but if you open to all of them the wound will re-open too, and your breath be blocked and the computer risking shorting out from the tears or the penwork  be soggy and blotted. All great relations deserve an elegy, though. Mourning is natural and an important gift to the one missed, and while memory is raw it should find its way to the page so that more of it will be retained for the times ahead, when those memories are desperately wanted but so many of them have fluttered away to wherever such things go, God forbid into a vacuum, or worse, a black hole, too condensed to retrieve.

I am just a human and like all of our species, have only a vague understanding the the enormities and complexities and myriadities of this state of being that we share with everything else. I have faith, though, that there's more. Having been taught so is only part of it; the rest is based in experience, and while I can only describe it in human terms, and while the more doubting of my species will encompass being into the bonds of the material, I cannot do that. Our understanding is limited by what our senses can pick up. We're only humans, after all. So little Muffin, big soul, thank you for being with us. We love you and hope to be with you someday, in some form, either as I have been taught, or in whatever Being is like when our earthly selves return to atoms. It will be marvelous to Be together.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vernet 1.0: Summertime Edition. Part 1: The Wearing

Vernet Robe a la Ninon 1.0: Summertime Edition, with hat by Shocking Bad Hats

After so long waiting for this dress, gracious, nearly 1 2/3 years, why not see it being worn for a first try and a first critique at the Louisville, KY Jane Austen Festival before we dig into the construction?

[Yes, that's the Vernet dress: see the embroidery?]

From top to toe, then, here we go.

A Shocking Bad Hat -- No, A Strikingly Good Hat

There's really no getting around it: I do not make hats well. Having found a vintage dressage hat of real beaver, I'd thought success pretty likely if I added my best plumes, held them in place with thread to applied antique velvet ribbon across the top and around the crown's base, their bottoms camouflaged with a composed silk ribbon knot.

I was after minor theme running through the Vernet plates, the Chapeau Anglaise.


The result was heavy and amateurish, the black emphasizing the circles under my eyes, the plumes overlarge and always tending to sway too one side rather than over the top of the hat, and the knot too floufy, rose-like 1790s to fit the tailored base. I hadn't dared to use a large satin bow. If you too lived through bow-head time in the 1980s, you'll forgive me. I had some massive ones, including a red silk satin so big that its red tails stuck out to either side of my head -- get the image? --  like a devil cat's ears.

Moreover, the hat, designed for equestrian wear, was sturdy and heavy, and it squashed my ears until they complained nearly incessantly.

A batty, hatty mistake.
The hat offers two lessons in following fashion plates:
  1. Recreate the original as exactly as possible. A shortcut can be an expensive path to a sloppy result.
  2. For real wearing as opposed to a fashion plate photo shoot, find the hat that suits you.

So, about the darling hat in summer sky blue and grain-gold (my fancy name for mustard) in the top image?

The hat was not a planned purchase...but, follow me into Rebecca Burnham's shop, Shocking Bad Hats, and see why it was foregone that it'd end up toppling the other topper.

My friend Polly found the shop first. We walked past the camp and crew of the HMS Acasta, and I eyed their tiny, primping and prancing rooster Nelson with amusement, and there was the shop, set up in a former smokehouse.

I thought the shop assistant, who's neat and I now know is named Megan, had an awfully good as well as unusual hat...and look at those on the table. Ooh, nice design. We're lucky at the Jane Austen Festival to have several good millinery choices: The Bohemian Belle and Lydia Fast among them. This shop was new.

Photo courtesy Rebecca Burnham.

Inside stone walls, whitewashed, it was pleasant after the brute heat outside, and so a courtesy stay lengthened into a real examination of what was on offer.

A partial view, dappled with high-contrast midday sun through the narrow windows. Photo courtesy Rebecca Burnham.

It wasn't long before the blue hat against the wall had me over looking at it, then trying it on, then going all pink-faced and sparkle-eyed, and forgetting a self-imposed no-buys injunction. Then out came the reticule and the payment for Promenade, as the design's called, and a little light-headed maybe, I bid everyone goodbye, head high. The rest of the day went delightfully, and really, some of the credit goes to the hat.

Besides, this hat fit: no ear squishing :}

The Vernet 1.0 Summertime Dress: A Critique

Meeting Lauren Marks for the first time: so many years anticipated!
That's the meh hat. Plumes were meant to go over the hat to the back, not to the side.
Plumes and I: we have a tough relationship.

The Vernet Robe à la Ninon was designed for springtime, I am fairly sure, not for deep, deep summertime in a sultry riverside city in America, where humidity can hang in the air until it almost forms a haze, unless a stray breeze should travel through.

Therefore, the dress' first outing was in an abbreviated style: short puffed sleeves replacing the long ones and no bust poufs. Really, can you see me wearing those full-size poufs in company outside of a show?

First, the good parts.

With Emily and some anachronistic, and welcome, lavender lemonade.
The handkerchief is offering coverage and concealing a far wider, almost off the shoulder neckline.
The necklace? I hadn't meant to wear it! It's on me daily in summertime and I forgot it was there.

Wearing this dress was a pleasure. It moved easily, armscyses and sleeves did not bind. It did not drag the ground; 1814 dresses didn't, as a rule, so it was practical. The embroidery looked very pretty. The percale wicked away perspiration and the silk gauze overskirt and sleeves hid any perspiration stains: providential when it's 92+ and feels like 95% humidity. The white reflected the light rather than absorbed it, and it gleamed in the sunshine due to the silk gauze. The neckline was flattering. I could see wearing it with a ruff on another occasion, or using the original sleeves, or in fact, many another type of sleeve to create multiple effects. You know already that I like a multi-functional dress.

On the other hand, this was truly a 1.0 outing, for the fit needs work. Because I don't sew too frequently, and because this blog is all about essays, trials, learning, and learning by mistakes, the below looks at what went wrong and how it might be improved.

Here is the original dress plate, below. Compare it to the photos above. Just take yer eyes off that gargantuan bust and giraffe proportions, will you, and stop laughing?

  • The neckline gapped. This was partially due to me losing weight. The mockup fit well when Jenni fit it: her mockups always do. My darling Muffin kitty, constant companion and friend, became ill way before her time with heart disease, and passed away recently. Her illness and loss were awful and sad, and my appetite was nil for many weeks and hasn't recovered. I will write about her, but not yet, it's too soon, too soon. 
    • The bodice already being complete and the festival only a week away, I took it in -- a lot -- at the side fronts, but needed to pull it in more at the top. 
    • I'd consider adding a minute drawstring across the front but prefer total smoothness at the front if I can do it through fitting. 
    • And remember to sit with shoulders back.
Great hat, but mind the gap!
  • The bodice should pull in right above the high waist so that we have at least a modest "waistline". In this first wear, there isn't any at all. I didn't tie the back strings tight enough, but the sides should be taken in more radically at the bottom of the waist to help.
  • I should wear different stays to help the waistline effect. I wore "short" stays for this, but they are thick and paddy, and while they contain the bust well, they do not create the line beneath the bust that they should. 
    • Have stays patterned up, but not done. Remember to keep the stays fabric thin as possible, but strong.
    • Make the stays straps narrow and ensure that they sit at the shoulder edges, not near the neck, so that the neckline can be broad and not play peek-a-boo with underthings.
    • Do note that a very high bust at this date was not de rigeur, according to Jane Austen. Darn if I can find the quotation in her letter to her sister!
  • The dress is too long for the Vernet plate. Because I'll want to wear the dress for other occasions post-Vernet, am taking tucks in the skirt rather than cutting it. Not exact to the plate, but there's a line between following fashion and being sensible.
There was also another neckline issue. Our Ninon wore her dress without a handkerchief. However, she was French. I felt undressed outdoors at a British-style festival without some sort of coverage, although this dress is modestly cut. Funny that I've internalized the concept of covering up: not only was I following contemporary British custom, but as I age, nowadays I cover up in real life, as well, for social reasons as well as to avoid further sun damage to the chest, a thin-skinned spot prone to wrinkling and skin cancer.

I'd planned a ruff and chemisette, but time ran out, so a small gauze handkerchief stood duty instead, soon as I found one at the festival, anyway. It worked fine although it lacked panache. Next time I wear the dress short-sleeved, it's a wuverly ruff of antique lace and silk gauze over a mull base.

Hair: Emily did my hair, and it was beautiful: a crown of curls behind, and side curls before to keep the face looking elongated and the cheekbones highlighted. More curls to the side appeared as the day went on, so next time pomade will help keep them patched to the head, but overall the look is attractive and so simple.

The gloves worked well, and are the over-the-elbow length popular in 1814, though they're not kid. I am not going to spoil kid by exposing it to high humidity. Ninon may have been a fashionista willing to sacrifice her duds in the name of gorgeousness; I played her frugal French housewife cousin, instead. The gorgeous embroidered wool shawl, the gift of a sweet friend, was just right. The black shoes and their tied-ribbon straps were functional fakes, the earrings good for the period.

JaneFest 2016: a Feast of Lovely People

Janefest was, as always, mostly about the people. This year Polly, Jenni, Emily and I stayed over, had the beloved night-before girl-talk fest and last-minute costume prep session, and shared the festival's formal tea together. You must understand that Bonny Wise, who with JASNA Louisville created and manages this festival and has made it the terrific success that it is, understands how to put on a proper afternoon tea better than most people in the U.S., and pulls it off -- at a museum, out of a catering kitchen. With vintage bone china. Bingley's tea. Handmade everything. Beautifully and gracefully served. There's a reason it's famous among American Janeites.

Then the all-important visits with Janeites and costumers I so forward to seeing. It seems a little much to name everyone here as if I was composing some sort of list, but let me say that it was a joy to see so many of you again, and to meet some you for the first time, especially after having followed your blogs, in some cases for 7-8 years.

If you want to see what the festival was like and you're looking for pictures, check Facebook, but also The Pioneer Times.

So it's over, and the dress is to be spot-cleaned and all the accessories freshened, and now it's on to describing the dress construction, as long promised for the Vernet project, and then it's time for a break until the dress calls me to complete it in its original vision.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Vernet: Embroidery Done and Bodice Mocked Up and Cut Out

Completed Vernet embroidery. Upside down, I've noticed. Pray it doesn't end up that way on the dress.
It could, you know. I'm the sort to do that, thinking all the while I have it right.

Well, well. Done. Is it as smooth as the work of experienced hands? Why no. Will it look better when washed and pressed? Yes.

A Few Embroidery Tips

A few tips for cleaner embroidering:

  • Don't knot the floss threads when starting a new thread. It's knotty and messy. Instead, run end through previous work to anchor it.
  • Cut floss that you will embroider with no longer than about 15 inches. This reduces the chance that the floss twists and knots on you while you embroider.
  • Make the floss lie flatter and cover more fabric at each stitch:
    • Floss typically comes in threads of six strands lightly twisted together, and has done so for many years. After cutting it, divide the floss into two pieces of three strands each. 
    • Then pinch the floss between your thumbnail and first finger and run your nail the length of the thread, watching the end of the floss as it flies about. It's losing the twist among the three strands. You will have to do this several times until you have almost untwisted floss. 
    • After every few stitches, repeat the process, because with each stitch the action of your hands as well as of the floss running through the fabric generally introduces twist back into the floss. Remember: floss is like any thread: it's created by twisting fibers together. When you get down to individual strands, there is a little energy stored in the fiber as twist, and it wants to be active and to untwist. When the floss strands are twisted together, the energy among the strands is distributed and balanced. When they are pulled apart, there's a little energy there...not much, because cotton floss is pretty loosely spun, but it does exist. 
    • When embroidered into place, this flattened floss will lie with the three strands next to one another, making them appear to be been sewn separately, and filling space very neatly and smoothly.
Mocking Up the Bodice

Where does the embroidery go? Not at the hem, where it was so common to embroider. On the bodice. More than half hidden by boufy drapery. Peeking through the gauze will soften the edges.

Jenni of Living with Jane and I mocked up the bodice. I took a dress from the book Die Kostümsammlung der Familie Bassermann-Jordan, an excellent book of 18th and 19th century extant clothing and patterns from an upper-class German family. (Sabine, it has been invaluable).  The dress design dates to 1804-07, but bodice designs changed slowly, and the smooth front and overlong sleeves were just what I was looking for. Thanks too to Diary of a Mantua Maker, who showed how a cotton Regency dress can be made mostly out of oblongs.

Then we did what is now natural to us, as it has been to women for centuries. I pulled out an old draw-string dress that fits well, put pattern paper atop, marked the bodice lines, and cut out a base pattern.

From there it was looking at the Basserman-Jordan dress and its pattern pieces and making cuts to the pattern. I cut the back in half and ignored the old seam lines, making the common center-back opening with gathers.

In front I substituted a straight front, flanked by straight straps that go up over the shoulders and meet at the back, as so many 18th century gowns and Regency dresses do (this observation from Diary of a Mantua Maker). Separate side pieces went away after Jenni reminded me that I had excess.

All that was left of the old pattern was the sizing and a few helpful curves at key seam spots.

I basted it up, and Jenni fitted it: the dress is more snug than a regular scoop-front drawstring dress, so there was a good bit to remove.

The fabric is now cut and awaits sewing up.

Next time I'll introduce you to the details of the Bassermann-Jordan dress and its writeup in the Sammlung. We'll do a quick comparison to the dresses worn by the French greeting contingent as they met their returning King Louis...there is much in common in the silhouette.

Then it's on to cutting the skirt and sleeves. The skirt is austere, an attractive, crisp A-line I am familiar with from the 1960s. The sleeves are bohemian! Sleeves and overskirt are in silk gauze. We'll save the war on the gauze with starch and needle for another time.

Today I leave you with peace. May it pervade your day, even if, as for me, it started out rocky. May we learn to breathe and rest like cats do.

Ladybug napping and ignoring my artistic draping to see how the embroidery looks in black and white.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

What, That Eternal Vernet? Mais Oui, On Ne Peut Pas L'Oublier

Vernet is alive and well in this household, thank you. I may be more than a year behind, but it's a wonderful dress that should see the light, and so little by little it moves ahead.

First, Different Embroidery Thread: Choice Number One Was Poor

Let's have a look at some embroidery stitches, shall we? In I Spy Eyelets, we discovered that my first choice of embroidery thread, a high-twist, dense thread, produced some pretty coarse work. It really was not very nice. Each stitch produced one thread, since this was not floss, and even working as carefully as I could the stitches looked messy.

First round of embroidery with the high-twist thread.

Up close: ugh: oh dear. Really just poor embroidery.
Methought, this is not efficient, and thus that extant research and the realization that all three of my original eyelet pieces used soft, low-twist thread. As importantly, the embroiderers used more than one thread at a time to gain more coverage per stitch and to help more stitches be nicely lined up together. 

Thus it was that I switched mid-project to a vintage German floss. Thank you, Sabine. It's ducky stuff.

The embroidery continued. Late winter, in a sunny spot, sitting in my favorite chair, whose maker lived before eyelet embroidery was popular, an interesting thought.

As winter turned to spring, more embroidery upstairs to an equally sunny corner in the guest room. Always sunny, because my eyes hurt so every time I embroidered, and the migraines that have made for so many unhappy, unproductive days and nights in our household were trying to return.

I took a break and turned to sheep, and the headaches mostly left me alone. Poor dress, she appeared doomed to wither.

Then I couldn't get her out of my head. Isn't that the way it happens so often? That what isn't good for us is the very thing we desire to do the most?

Embroidery, hardly a vice, until it interferes with health and thus the smooth running of family and work life. Anything good intself, cannot be a good if it harms anyone.

Dumb dress, silly dress, sillier fashion plate. I couldn't get her out of my head. The dress is, after all, a classic, eminently wearable design, timeless, and worn in just the right conditions, almost contemporary.

Thought to change the way I worked. I needed not just sunshine, but very short sessions, 15 minutes or less. Just one or two little eyelets at a time.

This has worked, and so the dress comes back. With improved embroidery.

Three threads of floss per stitch.

As of today, just a few little eyelets left. Just a few.

Jenni of Living With Jane just left a little while ago, after fitting a bodice mockup to me. I took an old dress designed in the so-common round-gown-with-drawstring mode, and cut out a copy bodice. Then we looked at a more "modern", 1814-ish dress (in Die Kostuemsammlung der Familie von Bassermann-Jordan), and I adjusted the cut. I basted the pieces together and then Jenni fit the mockup to the more streamlined cut. Now it awaits cutting out in percale and sewing up. 

Jenni is helping our friend Emily design and make her own Regency dress, in much the same way. It's the way we know to build dresses now, and apt to the Regency period. Though Curte's mother recalls that her mother could look at a dress on someone, go home, take an old dress and with it, old newspapers as pattern paper, and a fitting, make just about any dress. Some dressmaking skills just carry on, generation to generation.

That, however, is for another day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Meet Nina, Lana's First Lamb

Nina. Eight pounds. Fuzzy, warm, adorable. The first for Lana. The first for us. The boys' own lamb.
Here she is not long after birth, barely dry and already up and

This morning as I write a wood thrush is singing outside the open window, the song one of the most beautiful of any American bird. The thrushes are migrating to the northern woods. May his or her trip be safe and successful, and may they nest and bring beautiful babies, like this baby, to add happiness to the world.

Lana is a good mother, protective and loud when she protests us holding her baby. Nina is almost as loud, but up a few octaves. in calling for her mama. Here she is:

Mama sheep tend to check on their lambs when they nurse, and nudge them around with their noses so that the lambs remain near their sides. Sheep wag their tails madly when happy and Sara Dunham of Punkin's Patch up in Cynthiana says that a lamb who is nursing successfully nursing will wag its tail while drinking. No tail wag? He or she may be having trouble latching on.


Now they share a maternity pen with both outdoor and indoor spaces with their relatives, and the lambs, just days old, are bouncing around. Now I understand what gamboling means: springy hops with front legs, back legs, all legs! Sidesteps, mincing, prancing and fidgety dancing. It's adorable and hypnotic. 

You can read all about Laura and Chris' new flock babies at Square Peg Farm. You'll see Kelly's just-born lamb and its first steps, and meet all the mamas and their little ones.