Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Constructing 18th Century Dress: Detailed Blog

Do you want to understand how to construct 18th century clothing from the inside out? Do you want to get close-up shots of cutting, stitching, and trimming details, photographed as the garment is created? Do you want to see an entire museum exhibition in its development phase? Then you might want to visit the "Rockin' the Rococo" blog. It's an oddly bouffant, pouffant name for a seriously researched project, but it fits.

The author is keeping her blog as part of her Master of Arts and thesis work. She is constructing a series of clothes that a middle-class woman might have worn during the period between 1750 and 1770, and will build a museum exhibit around them.

To prepare for her project, she examined garments in the deeps of the Museum of London for several months. She has constructed everything from stays and a breathtaking sack dress to a riding habit. To make the project even more fascinating, she is constructing them by hand, in costume herself, by daylight or candlelight.

Photo: the Rockin' the Rococo blog author at work.

Yet let me let her speak at some length, for she writes better firsthand than I ever could secondhand:

The next part is object-based research, most of which took place over the summer during my time in England. I spent 3-5 days per week
over the months of July and August in the Museum of London’s costume stores examining extant garments one after another. I spent an average of 1 hour with each garment taking notes according to a template I drew up for myself and shooting an average of 10-12 photographs of the construction details of each artifact.

The third component is this project, including the exhibition that will be on display on-campus at the University of Alberta over March and April 2009.

This reproduction project represents experiential research and data collection. In addition to reproducing garments I am also replicating certain aspects of an early modern seamstress’s working experience. The garments are made from historically appropriate materials, and constructed using equally appropriate techniques and processes.

Beyond this, I do the work all by either natural or candlelight in order to get some idea of a pre-electricity experience of time and working conditions.

[Photo: a sample of her crewel embroidery in progress in an embroidery hoop.]

I also (and I know this is going to sound a little hokey) dress up in an outfit that is somewhat appropriate for a fairly successful seamstress of the time. While planning the project, I realized that being “corseted” would be important to the experience, as nearly all women of the period wore stays under their clothing (even the very poor). I also happened to have a costume/reproduction dress on hand that I had made (just for fun!) several years ago. The pattern for this dress was taken from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, and so derives from an actual artifact garment. I also wear 2 cotton petticoats, a neckerchief, stockings and a pair of period reminiscent shoes (ok, they’re really pretty and I just like them). I had inteded to make a linen cap to cover my not-so-period hair, but have just never managed the time for it.

For working I sit on an uncushioned wooden kitchen chair. And at the risk of sounding….uncouth(?) I don’t bathe on my sewing days - on purpose.

I work 10-12hrs/per day, 3 or 4 days/week, and am keeping a log/journal of the specs of the project along with thoughts, impressions, and questions that arise from the experience.

Navigating the Blog

The top portion of the left navigation bar, labeled "Pages", contains blog pages devoted to each garment, and to overviews of the project and the author's background.

The "Archives" pages contain more journalesque information.

Do have at least one visit, and marvel.

Photo: detail of sack dress the Rockin' the Rococo blog author constructed.


Sarah said...

How truly spectacular! Thanks so very much for sharing this!!

Rebecca said...

I am salivating over the Jacobean embroidery:-)...This is lovely.

ZipZip said...

Dear Sarah and Rebecca,

Thank you! Yes, her blog leaves me awed. According to her overview, the exhibit is to be completed in a month or two, so she must be flying to complete everything: it's no wonder her blog has slowed. I do hope she will have time at some point to reprise what she couldn't cover now.

Sarah, your tots are lovely, by the way, in their new togs. Aren't the cozy looking? Poor Noah had to wear pants today...and they seem so tight to me around the middle. I much prefer the boys in waistless outfits while they are so young. Enough time later to have bands drag at your waistline.

Very best, Natalie

Anonymous said...

Thank you Natalie for such a wonderful post on my project! It's finished now (in case you haven't visited the blog lately) and the exhibition is up.

I've just started working on getting the blog caught up. In the meantime, there are links to some local news coverage of the project and exhibition on the blog which show the finished results.

Thanks again for the lovely plug!


ZipZip said...

Dear Carolyn,

More than happy to write up your blog. Had I had the luck to be working on my masters in American History now instead of the 1990s, I might have dreamed of such a project...but dared accomplish it? Am not sure. I remain in awe.

Many thanks again and I'll go visit your blog pronto.