Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fashions on Film, 1895-1920, from the Huntley Film Archives

The Huntley Film Archives has quite a large collection of film clips featuring fashions from the Gay Nineties, Edwardian, teens and twenties. They have put some of the better ones together into a single film titled "Fashions 1895-1920".

Photo: Clip showing early teens ensembles. Look at the lady with the tied-back skirt! Lovely, but probably hard to wear.

Among the clips:
  • People on their way to and from events.
  • Small groups of women who appear to be showing off Titanic-era ensembles.
  • Mincing along in hobble skirts! My goodness, did they take small steps!
  • Hairstyle fashions, with the models turning around for the camera.
  • Silent-screen stars.
  • Twenties beauty contests.
  • Clips from silent films.
While some of the clips don't show the fashions close up, and are better for seeing how people moved in their clothes and opened and closed parasols, for example -- important if you are developing an impression -- some of the Titanic-era clips are very clear. There is one lady hobbled silk dress in particular that lots of us will stop the film for, just to see details.

And now, the film:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What We Learned from Our Edwardian Picnic

How could that picnic last Saturday be described any better than this? My friend Polly wrote, "It was one of those days that you would just like to bottle and open up when you need a good dose of bliss!" 

Yes, and a lesson, too, in the art of grace when stepping on uneven ground, when wilting under 2:00 p.m. sunlight on a cloudless June day in Kentucky, about the perils of pavement, and how deportment, that old, old word, and sensible clothing can keep one cool, comfortable, and in a blissy place. Funny that in the video I have from that day, I am striding like I normally do :} 

How The Lesson Actually Started Before the Picnic, or Yes, You Do Need A Maid to Dress 

The boys helping Mama to bake. I had to provide them
 with their own flour and bowls and spoons
 because each boy wanted to experiment on his own.

Morning dawns, and with it two small boys ready for fun and -- action. Daddy needs sleep. But the scones aren't made, nor the deviled eggs, either, the table linens aren't packed, and I am not dressed. 

What to do? Have the twins help cook, of course, and beg for Daddy's help afterwards. So we baked and cooked: the boys cracked eggs and stirred flour, and tried to check the oven (not!) and we made a grand mess, and cleaned it up, since the twins like dustpans and brushes, bless them.  

That left me an hour to get ready, and I would have made it, except that I got stuck halfway in and halfway out of my dress. 

As John Ridd might have said in Lorna Doone, "it happened in this wise". The Order of Putting on the Ensemble Edwardian ensembles consisted of layers, some meant mostly for fashion, some quite sensible. A newspaper article, titled "Garden Party Frocks of Lace and Embroidery" is a must-read how-to. Published in the Odgen Standard newspaper in summer 1909, it tells us all about what should be worn, and how it should look! For example, petticoats should be "raglike", made of batiste and soft, thin materials, and the dresses "limp". Hips should not be in evidence. Plus, there is much, much more detail. What a treasure! 

Ordinarily, the first layer consisted of the chemise and drawers, or, alternatively, a set of "combinations" consisting of a camisole and drawers in one. By this time drawers were not especially baggy, because skirts were becoming fitted at the hip and narrow skirts were making an entrance. (Have a look at period dressmaking manuals with drafts between say, 1906 and 1914 and at fashion articles and you will see this shift.) 

After this you put on your hose and shoes or boots. (Your corset, being longish and stiff at this period, prevented bending at the waist.)

Then, on would go the corset, which at this date was still the straight-fronted corset that set women leaning forward, supposedly for health.

Over that, the corset cover, often, to protect the corset from perspiration, or to add warmth, depending on the season, and to keep dye from a non-colorfast dress fabric. Very sensible. We wear camisoles today similar reasons (excepting the dye bit), but why aren't cotton ones popular in the United States? The microfiber ones look terrific but do not breathe, with predictable results.

Then the petticoat. At this date, depending on the line of your dress, it could be much like our modern straight slip, only long...no flounces, made of silk, and fitting closely over the waist and hips to remove bulk. If your dress skirt had a little flare, it might still include a flounce atop the basic slip, and that flounce could be highly decorated.

Then your dress, or slip plus dress.

Then your hat, gloves, jewelry, and any outerwear. I wore normal underthings, excepting the corset cover and petticoat. So far I had gotten through putting on the petticoat. 

About Petticoats: Which One for Which Dress? A Digression

The period petticoat I wore. In the photo, 
it's placed atop the dress so you can see the lines and length.

Since my dress has a skirt with a small train and just a little bit of flare, and since it has some weight to it, I chose an actual period flounced petticoat in very light batiste. The petticoat's bottom has a small frill, and some 10" up a flounce is attached. You can see the lovely insertion lace and tucking and the whitework lace banding that covers the seam between petticoat proper and the flounce. 

In the photo I have set it atop the dress so you can see that it is a proper length, about an inch above the bottom of the skirt, so that the petticoat will not show below the skirt hem. Those of you who recall years before, say, 1990, when many skirts were unlined and slips were still normal, will remember the embarrassment of an associate whispering to you "your slip is showing" and your stealthy movements to adjust it back into invisibility. 

Photo: Polly under the rose arbor. Note how streamlined her skirt is.
 Had she worn a flounced petticoat, it would have fluffed out too much at the hem.

Had my skirt been of seersucker, or some other light fabric, I might have chosen a plain petticoat sans flounce, if I did not want too much pouf. This was the case for my friend Polly, whose seersucker skirt lost its drape and became stiff when worn with a flounced one. She wore a period plain muslin petticoat, with scalloped hem.

I might have worn a princess slip, flounced or unflounced as the dress line above demanded, instead of the corset cover and petticoat combination and had I owned one, I would have. It might have prevented what I describe below. Do read the "Garden Party Frocks" article for superb details! 

Back to Getting Stuck 

All those hooks and eyes!

I had tied the strings on the petticoat, and the strings on the back-closing corset cover (a 1909 pattern made in batiste from Frances Grimble's Edwardian Modiste). All behind my back and four strings total. Then I stepped into the dress, and started closing the snaps and hooks and eyes, working from the bottom up. As you may have read, there are many, many of them, 3/4" apart, all the way up. 

With great effort and perhaps five minutes (an eternity to make your arms ache) I managed to complete all the closures. Any higher a neckline and I'd have needed help. 

Then the sad discovery that the petticoat was too loose on the waist. Oh, no. After lifting the skirt and trying to retie it, I untied the corset cover strings by mistake, then lost a string somehow in all that fabric. 

Now both undergarments were loose. Polly was to arrive in five. 

Nothing for it but to start unhooking. This went more slowly, since hooks and eyes are meant to stay closed. Halfway down, and I reached a sticking point. Everything was tangled up. Perhaps a hook was stuck to some lace. You can't just yank because the lace will tear, or the fabric, or both. 

At this point Polly arrived, I slipped behind the front door to let her in, and in between a few fits of giggles we sorted things out. Because we were both in a hurry, pictures show that one hook is off mark so that the waistline shifts, and the corset cover somehow, despite having wide-set shoulder straps, was showing in the back neckline. In 1909, it'd have mattered. In our day, not an issue, at least for us. 

So yes, having a ladies' maid or sister, or mother, or husband, or daughter, to help you get into your more complicated outfits was most useful. No wonder that typists and other business workers in the day made menswear-inspired skirt and front-buttoning blouses popular. 

The Arts of Walking and Moving and Keeping the Skirt Clean

The Delineator published an illustrated article on how to 
handle a long skirt gracefully in 1908. 
See Further Resources section below.

During the picnic most of us comment repeatedly about how slowly we were moving. In the morning the air was crisp, so we couldn't blame heat then. No, it was the long skirts.  When we walked in our long skirts, and especially the three of us who wore skirts with trains, the extra fabric forced us to slow down some, aware as we were of the possibility of tripping or of falling into a dip or hole in the grass or a crack between bricks on a pathway. 

The dirt and oil on the train of my skirt, both underside and on top!

When you walk in a long skirt with some flare to it, the fabric moves forward with your legs, covering your feet. You cannot always see where you are going! 

Lifting picnic baskets and linens to take them to and from our picnic site took longer, too...because one hand is partly encumbered because you must hold your train. 

For grace, you might let your train trail behind you on clean grass, but I made the mistake -- once -- of letting it trail on pavement. Oh no! It draggled in oil from cars. For the rest of the day I was intermittently aware that the back of my dress was dirty. Sigh. Cleaning that off will be a real challenge. 

Horse manure and mud would have been easier to clean off, truly. Rebecca and Polly discovered similar dirt on their trained skirts.  What a reminder of what it was like for women to have to clean their skirts and dresses after they wore them, and how time-consuming that could be! No wonder that fashions for wearing trained skirts on the street in the early Edwardian period (and at others) were derided. The dirt looks disgusting and causes so much extra work. Read all about wash day and washing equipment in the Encyclopædia of Household Economy, published in 1903. 

Handling the Heat

We all noticed something interesting: while we did become somewhat warm if we stood in the sunshine, those of us who wore the linen or seersucker outfits remained quite comfortable. Linen and cotton breathe well, and the light colors, especially the white on my dress, reflect the sun. Further, at least in my case, the petticoat underneath trapped air, keeping everything loose about me...no tight clothing to make one feel sticky and hot! The batiste camisole picked up any perspiration and wicked it away from me. 

Finally, like people of old, we kept to the shade, moved slowly, and Paula, smart lady, brought a parasol. While the late spring sun did become quite hot, we had our cool drinks, and all in all, were remarkably comfortable, while I noted that some other folks at the house that day looked somewhat wilted and bothered. 

Further Resources

A household laundry setup, 1906.

 "Chapter Five: In the Laundry". In Encyclopædia of Household Economy. Holt, Emily. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1903. On Google Books. 

Everyday fashions, 1909-1920, as pictured in Sears catalogs. Olian, JoAnne. Courier Dover Publications, 1995. (In contrast the New York Times articles, see the wider-skirted fashions of Sears.)  

"High-waisted skirt" section of "The Shoulder Scarf of Our Grandmothers Once More in Great Popular Demand for Evening Wear". NYT, January 10, 1909. 

"Hints for the Home Dressmaker: Attractive Summer Clothes for the Middle Aged Woman." San Francisco Chronicle. June 27, 1909. (Features non-high-style clothes: note the lack of the high-fashion high-waisted skirt.) 

"What to Do with a Long Skirt". On Vintage Connection site. (All about how to move and walk in a long skirt.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Ladies' Historical Tea Society Edwardian Picnic at White Hall

What a day. What a wonderful, happy day. Our tea society met at the home of Cassius Clay, White Hall, at 11:00 in the morning for a relaxed picnic. It was quiet there and peace-filled, shaded by mature trees, and and we overlooked the mansion and its lawns, the whole of that surrounded by fields, some of new-mown hay all carefully baled into giant cylinders, some of cattle grazing and occasionally lowing, their background the first cries of this season's crickets. The morning air was cool and dry and what old novels called a zephyr breeze breathed over us now and then.

Our director Rebecca Chamberlain wrote about the picnic in our blog, the Ladies' Historical Tea Society, so she shall tell the main story.

Photo: Rebecca and Natalie look out over the fields, with Cassius Clay's White Hall behind. As always, click on the photos to see larger versions.

Here are a few more pictures of the outing:

Polly and Rebecca set up the picnic things. Both wore skirt and waist ensembles, and Polly wore a seaside-style hat that I had created in 2007, large-brimmed, and ruched on top and throughout the underside, to which she added veiling around the crown and trailing down the back. The additions turned it from a hat to a Hat and she looked marvelous in it. Rebecca is wearing a country hat, simply trimming with ribbon to suit her informal waist and skirt.

Taking a stroll before we sit down to eat.

Polly and I made her skirt from navy and white seersucker (from Denver Fabrics); it features the shortest of trains and is meant for high-summer wear. Her petticoat, properly unseen here, is simple and sturdy and unflounced, but trimmed at bottom with scalloping: perfect to go with a breezy skirt. She paired the skirt with a long-sleeved, high-necked blouse trimmed with Cluny lace.

Rebecca wears a skirt I made for her, of willow-colored linen (from the Fabric-Store.com). It is set at shin level with a band of antique chunky Cluny lace insertion I found in a local antiques store, a good fit with the medium-weight linen weave. It features a train some 6-8 inches long. It suited her so well! She wears a turn-collared lace-trimmed informal blouse and she has rolled up the sleeves, something we have seen in period picnic pictures that I covered in a previous post.

Here we have just sat down for lunch.

Picture-taking in front of the conservatory: Polly and Rebecca have broken down into giggles.

Paula seeks a little rest in the formal garden. She was smart to bring a parasol. The rest of us forgot ours. She wears a teens-era style ensemble of straight black skirt, boots, and fluffy blouse. The sleeves do hark to the early Edwardian era, but we were not attempting period-correctness, only period-inspired fun.

Darleen under White Hall's double rose arbor. She also channeled the teens. She chose to leave her blouse untucked and peplumed for an informal look, and chose a black straight skirt and ankle boots to go with it. Her hat is mushroom shaped and surrounded with flowers: it was very successful and looked terrific. Mushroom hats were a hat phase then as now.

Next posts: the promised remarks on how we reacted to wearing period inspired clothes, plus the rest of my ensemble...the underthings, hat trimming, an a hairstyle tutorial. These posts may take some time to put together.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Edwardian "Lingerie" Dress Diary, Part 7

In the last post, I had added the interior belting to the lingerie dress skirt. The next steps were to attach the bodice to the belting, and so doing, attach bodice and skirt together, complete the bodice and skirt closures, and attach the remaining trim. As always, click on the images to see larger versions of them. Attaching the Bodice to the Skirt In 2008, to save time, as I thought, I stitched the waistband trim to the outside of the bodice. Not a good plan. It turns out that I needed to adjust the fit at the waistline...which would have wrinkled up the trim! Therefore, the trim had to come off. I laboriously unpicked all the stitching. Photo: I am wearing the dress at the Edwardian picnic. Because it was so sunny it was hard to see details... On the actual lingerie dress I used as a model, the bodice is attached to the skirt belting this way:
  • the skirt fabric is folded over the belting and stitched,
  • then the bodice is gathered, laid right on top of the belt, and tacked with several rows of wide stitching.
To accomplish pretty much this same thing, I put the skirt inside out on the stand. In the photo below, you can see how the belting is exposed, with the skirt in back and folded over the top of it. Then I placed the bodice inside out on the dress form, and pinned it shut, as in the photo below. You can see that the bodice is quite long, per the pattern. However, I had added a high empire waist to the skirt; if you look carefully you can see its outline behind the bodice. Therefore, I will be stitching the bodice to the belting quite high up on the bodice. I had already run a row of gathering around the bodice, about at the point where I imagined that the waistline would sit. Per the model dress, I imagined I would have to gather the fabric in a good bit. Here below is a photo of the gathering stitches. I made them quite small so that the gathers would be small and delicate, and so less noticeable in the final dress. In the event, I found I had to do very little gathering, because I was sewing sew high up on the bodice, where it was narrower to begin with. I then proceeded to baste the bodice to the belting. I used big vertical stitches, thinking that this would hold well when the dress was removed from the stand. Wrong. It didn't. I redid it, using medium-size horizontal stitches. The photo below shows the vertical stitches. I do not have a photo of the proper horizontal ones. Then, because the linen is much heavier than batiste would be, instead of tacking the bodice to the belting with several rows of stitching as did the original, I stiched it down by machine. The two photos below show the result as a whole and in detail. The detail shows where the stitching was placed, along with the basting, in red thread, from where the skirt was attached to the belting. I am totally sold on the belting idea. This linen has weight to it, and while the weave is fairly close, when stitches are placed under stress, tiny holes sometimes show up where the threads are pulled out of whack. At the waistline this does not happen because the belting is taking the strain. Happy with the result, I trimmed off the excess length of bodice fabric inside the dress, leaving enough to just cover the lower edge of the belting. Then I reattached the trim to the bodice. In the photos below you see it basted on and then stitched on my Willcox and Gibbs chainstitch treadle machine. As with the rest of the bodice trim, I hand sewed a narrow crochet trim to the edge of the whitework trim to cover up the stitching. I remembered to attach the trim such that it sits lower in the front and then gradually rises in the back: this angle to the waist was considered more elegant and graceful than a waistline that sat evenly all the way around. As explained by the article titled "Secrets of Smart Dressing", in Every Woman's Encyclopaedia (1910-1912):

The Position of the waistline.

A tremendous difference is made to the smartness of a woman's appearance by raising the waist-line slightly at the back, and the woman whose waist is inclined to be large should always wear a shaped, narrow belt, well pulled down in the front. (See Fig. 6.) Compare the effect with that shown in Fig. 7.

Skirts of Smart Appearance

Slight figures look their best in pleated skirts, or in those that have some fulness at the back. A woman whose hips are inclined to be stout should be careful to have the front panel of her skirt made narrow. Pleats are not for her, and she should have her skirts stitched or trimmed with the lines running lengthways - never across.

The edge of a smart walking skirt should' be an almost imperceptible trifle higher at the back than at the front; this looks even better than a perfectly level length, and also allows for the inevitable drop which comes with wear. Of course, a droop at the back of a walking-length skirt will quite spoil the appearance of an otherwise well-cut garment.

(Natalie's note: golly, aren't these fine details just what we need to know, and so hard to find!)

Illustration: Figures 6 and 7 from "Secrets of Smart Dressing". Completing Bodice and Skirt Closures For some reason the skirt opening and bodice opening did not line up properly...probably because I had made so many alterations over so many months to both bodice and skirt. Since by now I had just less than two weeks to finish the dress, I was unable to document all of these issues with the camera, but I did keep a mental tally of what I did to correct the problems. Here is what I ended up having to do: My sweet friend Polly helped me set where the bodice should close on the back. I tried on the dress and she basted in red thread a line on the back of the bodice where the bodice should overlap to. In the original pattern, to make the bodice closure you simply turn back an inch or so of the fabric on each side, and hem it down prior to adding buttons or hooks and eyes. I lacked this "excess" fabric. Therefore, I cut two strips the length of the bodice closure, stitched them on, turned them under, and hemmed them down. The seamlines for both additions were inside the back closure so that there would be no seamline showing. For some reason the pleats I added in the skirt in May, to make the skirt fit my now smaller waist, threw off the line of the skirt closure from the bodice closure, such that the skirt closed about an inch to the left of where the bodice closed. I was so irritated with this, but thought to try on the dress. Seeing that the skirt fit quite tightly since it was set slightly higher than during the fitting (oh dear, so much for accuracy), I determined to unstitch the skirt from the belting to the point where one pleat sat, pull out the pleat, and restitch the skirt to the belting. It worked, and you cannot tell that anything is out of true. Then I added the hooks and eyes and snaps. From the top of the dress they run like this: Small hooks and eyes in the bodice:
  • Two set close together in the collar facing, for strength.
  • Seven to the bottom of the bodice before the trim. All should be eyes, but I used bars on two, having run out of eyes.
  • Two large white hooks and eyes at the waistband trim, for strength.
Larger hooks and eyes in the skirt placket, then snaps:
  • Three large hooks and bars (skirts were supposed to have bars, according to one manual, which one, I do not recall) at the top of the placket, for strength.
  • Nine snaps down the rest of the placket. I learned from a period sewing manual (again, which one, I have forgotten) that snaps can be placed for ease of closure in the lower portion of the placket, since the skirt gets little stress there.
All closures, except those in the collar and waistband, are set 3/4 of an inch apart. Any further, some manuals warn, and the closure may gap. Setting on hooks and eyes is an art, since good placement is key. You want the closure to lay flat, with no folding back of the outer edge, but no peeking out of the hooks or eyes. I recommend Textbook on Domestic Art, with Illustrations and Drafts (San Francisco: Foster & ten Bosch, c 1911) on the Cornell HEARTH site, and American Dressmaking Step by Step, A complete, simplified method of sewing, dressmaking and tailoring, by Mme. Lydia Trattles Coates (1917), on VintageSewing.info for details. The photo below shows the dress back with the closures opened. Note the wide underlap on the bodice, and how the waistline trim is carried out on to it, and finished by running the crochet trim around the edge for neatness. The white hooks and eyes in the waistband are hard to see: they blend in to the whitework. Also, I would have used white or plain metal finish hooks and eyes and snaps to the skirt closure had I had some on hand. Fortunately, they do not show through. I didn't feel badly that they didn't match. Hardly any garment in my collection has nice matching closure gadgets! Here is the dress closed in the back. Despite how carefully I worked, I did not manage to set the eyes as far out to the edge as I wanted, but thankfully the closure lies quite flat. Hemming the Skirt Hemming skirts is never fun. Since I had no one to help, I set the skirt on the dress form, and pinned, then basted the hem in place. I created a small round train in back. Then I basted everything carefully -- pins may fall out so that you have to start over! -- tried on the dress, noted it was too long in front, took it off, and moved the hem down a bit, and rebasted. Then I carefully hemmed the skirt with an invisible hem. Since the hem of any flared skirt will be wider than the position further up the skirt that it's hemmed to, I took small pleats occasionally in the hem to help it lay flat. Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques (a reprint of the 1905 Butterick Dressmaking Book), details this in photos better than I can. If you can find the 1911 Butterick book online (I have lost the link), the same information is in that edition. The photo below shows Ladybug kitty proudly exhibiting the hemmed skirt. Here is the back view, with the small train. Adding the Skirt Insertion The last step was to add insertion in a wide-ish band around the lower portion of the skirt. I used Cluny lace, which was popular at this time. After looking fruitlessly on Ebay and online lace stores for period lace for some weeks (the lengths were always too short or the pattern too geometric), my sweet friend Johnny gave me multiple yards of very pretty lace from her stash. Johnny, it looks wonderful. My original dress design called for the bodice lace to keep traveling down the the skirt vertically in the front panel, a very popular and slimming look. However, the band around the lower part of the skirt, at about shin height, was as popular and since I had no more lace like I used in the bodice, I decided on this latter design. Some period trained dresses set such bands so that they gently rise in the back, echoing the waistline and countering the outer curve of the train. It's a lovely look, and that's what I did. My insertion is placed ten inches from the hem in the front, sweeping upwards to some 15 or so inches from the floor in back. To make this look, you have to lay the skirt on the floor where you can really see it in full, and lay it out, front up. Pin the lace carefully all the way to the seam that is closest to the sides of the skirt. Then baste it down carefully, basting each edge separately. Flip the skirt over, and pin again. Then place the skirt so that it shows the side panels on one side and adjust the curve so that it doesn't just start suddenly swooping up from a side-seam. That would be clunky looking. Do the same on the other side panels. Then baste. You'll have to play with the trim and curve it with your hands to get it to curve up nicely from the sides to the center back of the skirt. Why did I not photograph this? Then stitch it down. I stitched the top edge by machine. Now, since the lower edge of my lace is scalloped, I hand-stitched each little scallop down to the fabric rather than machine-stitched it. That way the scallops stay in place and do not roll up, which will easily happen when the garment is worn, and definitely will happen when it is washed. Normally, the next step would be to cut away the fabric behind the insertion, and hem down the edges, but by this time I was two days away from the Edwardian picnic and had yet to make a hat. Since the lace trim in the dress bodice is also not cut out behind, I opted to let this step wait for a more convenient moment. Here is the dress, after I wore it to the picnic. A little wrinkled and dirty at the hem, but sound. At this point the dress was done enough to wear at the picnic! What a lovely picnic it was, too. Soon I will have photos to show you, as well as remarks on
  • what all of us learned about putting on our clothes -- and getting stuck in them!
  • how which petticoat you wear will vary depending on which skirt you are wearing
  • why a camisole makes sense
  • Walking gracefully, the line of a skirt in a breeze,
  • the perils of soft grass, oil and other hazards on walks and pavements,
  • why one moves slowly in a longer dress and why sudden movements are somewhat risky
  • how linen breathes on warm days, and why a long light-colored skirt is in some ways cooler than form-fitting shorts and a tank top
  • how hats sit on the head, and why hatpins were really necessary,
  • why 1909 hairstyles were flat on top,
  • how hair rats and falls work, and how to achieve one particular 1909 style
  • how hat veils work, and much more.
See you soon!