Friday, June 25, 2010

1795-1797 Printed Indian Muslin Open Robe for Polly, Part 1

Important Note, 11/07/10: this entry is being rewritten and is in progress.

As part of the preparations for the Jane Austen Festival, I made Polly an open robe. This one is made of a sheer fine, soft muslin hand block-printed in India. The fabric just floats and is amazingly similar to the drape and patterning on extant garments I have seen pictures of.  In fact, have a gander at the image of a similar dress, in the Design section below.

The next paragraphs cover high points of its making.  If the verb tenses in this diary switch around a bit, it's because I reworked some in-progress blog entries and then added a good bit of material.

Level of Authenticity

On starting the robe, I wrote:

The garment, which is lined in white linen, is assembled entirely by hand using seam techniques and stitches from Costume Close-up and Costume in Detail because the muslin is so fine that mounting it with a machine might risk risk pulling and tearing it and I cannot afford to waste a scrap. Besides, gives a far more authentic feel in the result. Plus it's easier not to get a machine out.

Further, in line with period practice, part of the garment is actually sewn upon her. Pins bother me when fitting, anyway, so most pieces have been recut and then basted directly on her. She's patient :} Here, for example, I have just lengthened a sleeve and am cutting the front edge on the fly so that it will hang elegantly down over her knuckles. How could I have done this properly if she was not wearing the toile? The completed garment can be worn with the sleeves over the knuckles or pushed back to ruche a bit up the arm. Extant sources? See Janet Arnold.

When it comes time to set the sleeves, I will sew them right in place on her in order to get the best fit. Once again, Costume Close-Up explains how this was done.  What a gem of a book. Linda Baumgartner and her colleagues are terrific curators, too...their Colonial Williamsburg eMuseum site is far and away the most informative in its garment documentation of any museum site I've yet uncovered.

Photo: Cutting the front edge of a sleeve toile while Polly wears it. The sleeve original from Jennie Chancey has been lengthened -- you can see where I basted on the extension and I am cutting the shape of it.  After the picture was taken I cut some more and then hemmed the edge to get a final sense of the look, and then narrowed the fit of the entire sleeve to the very tight fit for the 1790s.

The Design
[insert 1793 dress image]

Unlike Laura's robe, this robe is fitted in front and pinned shut at center front like earlier round gowns, since Polly prefers a more tailored look.  The overall design is taken from extant examples in Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail,  along with pictures of dresses from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg, a dress from the Kent State University Age of Nudity exhibition, and this dress, shown in the image, for which I embarassingly have no documentation. It comes from a blog called Pride and Sensibility: Women's History Through the Ages, and is, I understand, from England.  What I have changed from the design you see is to remove the deep point at the center front, like several dresses in the Bradfield book, and have kept the waistline just above the waist.

Basic Construction
Once again, I used the Sense and Sensibility ELC pattern as a fitting base, but all bodice pieces were lengthened by two inches and then the back was recut to new shapes more in line with the mid 1790s, straps cut from the original front piece, and the front entirely redraped and recut to suit her, and with the addition of two bust darts.

[image of Polly]

The darts created themselves when the fronts were draped on her, and it was fun to look at Costume Close-Up and see the darts in extant examples in exactly the same places. I wish I had taken more detailed pictures and notes at this juncture, but the festival by then being two months away or less, that did not happen.

Attaching the Skirt

A few weeks later...

Each evening after the twins are in bed, it's sewing time. Am so close on Polly's open robe! At this point I have pleated and whipped the skirt on to the bodice.

The bottom of the bodice is finished by turning the lining and dress fabric raw edges inwards to each other and then sewing them with spaced backstitch. Should Polly want to trade out the style for another one or even wear the bodice as a spencer (you see this treatment in Heideloff fashion plates), she can easily, for the bodice could stand alone.

In tune with practice of the day, the skirt is made of two full-width panels of the dress fabric.  Conveniently, only one side of the fabric features the banding pattern, so on the selvage sans banding, I sewed the two panels with a 3/16" or so seam in combination stitch (running stitch with a backstitch every needleful). Because the fabric is so light and translucent, I felt it necessary to sew medium-close stitches, perhaps 10 to the inch. The selvages with the banding serve as the skirt front decoration, something you see in extant robes.

The robe is quite full, perhaps a little fuller than most were, at 90". However, I did not want to cut the panels, for then they could not be reused later, and the fabric is so sheer that I worried about tearing. Best to keep it whole. This seems to be the attitude mantua makers took whenever they could.

Photo: Robe from the side. The fine muslin is very sheer and it's billowing into a circular shape in the breeze from a fan.

Again due to the very sheer, light fabric, I probably ought to have gathered the panels, but chose to pleat them instead: Polly likes a tailored effect. I examined all the open robes in Janet Arnold's book from 1780 onwards, and found that pleating practice varied, so, taking what I hope is a late eighteenth-century view of options, I concentrated the deepest pleating at center back, with a series of three double inverted box pleats to either side of a central inverted double box pleat that is centered on the center back seam. Knife pleats facing outwards then travel to approximately under the arm. Then from the front selvage back to the underarm, the pleats face backwards. Therefore we avoid the potentially awkward flow of a pleat at the front opening out towards the front in an unflattering manner.

The box pleats bothered me a bit because I am not sure they were extensively used, except in saque backs. However, I had 90" wide of fabric to gather into a 24" space, since I wanted to attain the favored cutaway look, and I couldn't do it and maintain 1/2" wide pleats without stacking some of them. With the fabric so sheer, the result is not bulky so I hope it's a plausible solution. (An edit: Renna_darling wrote me to say that Costume in Detail features such pleating treatments, and to please see pages 83-84. Thank you kindly!)

Then I whipped the skirt onto bottom of the bodice.

The Sleeves...Ooph
The sleeves have been a problem. Somehow, despite a well-fitting toile, I cut them too big and too long and when I fit them on Polly, great was the OH, NO factor. How in the world... As Jennie La Fleur calls, them, sleevils!

Whatever. We recut them and I sewed one on Polly and pleated the sleeve head to the bodice but it was clunky, and in frustration that evening I went back to Costume Close Up, to find that the Sense and Sensibility pattern's sleeve really only works for a gathered head sleeve. More fitted sleeve heads have a strange, angular shape. I checked the sleeves on my own robe, which Jenni and I had cut on the fly to fit, and sure enough, there was that angular shape, in line with originals.

Photo: the robe from the can see the skirt puffing out courtesy a breeze from a fan, and the sunshine coming through at the back.

So tonight or tomorrow, it's back to fitting them to Polly. She has been so patient...

At this point I wrote...So there we are. I have two weeks left and have to finish my robe (hard), two outer petticoats (easy) for Polly and I, and an under petticoat for me (easy), and cover a hat and shoes, and do a reticule (easy), and deal with hair (hard or easy, we shall see).

My goodness. These months later, as I complete the documentation of the project, it is hard to remember just how intense those weeks were, for not only was I doing the above, but I had the family to care for, springtime outdoor work, and a job. Goodness. I am not likely research, coordinate, and make, so many garments for so many people all at once for quite awhile.

Friday, June 11, 2010

1790s Project Update: a Quick Strapped Petticoat

My goodness, have we been busy bees lately! Getting ready for this festival is a great deal of fun but it is occupying whatever leisure or late moments I have and almost my dreams.

As Always, please click the images to see larger versions.

I would imagine that Jenni and Polly might say the same. See what Jenni has been doing over at Living with Jane and you will see what I mean.  From very good fake Regency men's boots to an entirely handsewn straw capote (!) and mitts she has done it all. Hats, off, Jenni, you take my breath away.

Polly has been almost as busy, finishing the skirts to the bodiced petticoat bodice I made for her...and this week, undertaking a hand-drafted buckram base for a hat based on a 1790s Heideloff fashion plate.  I am to cover and trim it. Polly is an extraordinarily talented milliner so it will be really, really neat so see how she takes a fashion plate and runs with it. Did I say really twice? Meant to repeat it thrice.

A Strapped Petticoat

Then Caroline, who is relearning to sew, hand-sewed the strapped petticoat you see in the image, while I did the cutting and fitting. This was a fun project. Since we're recreating 1790s, petticoats are somewhat full, and two full panels of 45" good-quality muslin gives an appropriate look.

Here is all we did, girls and boys. It's not hard and can be undertaken sans pattern and sans experience. All you need, really, is fabric, needle and thread, and a measuring tape or string, and some  1" and 1/8" twill tape.

Make the skirt tube:
  • Measured her from below the bust to the floor.
  • Cut two lengths of muslin to this measuremant plus an inch for hem allowance and seam allowance at the waist.
  • Caroline seamed them together into a tube. Each seam is about a 1/4", made with combination stitch...a needleful of running stitches followed by a backstitch, repeated to the end of the seam.
  • Then we held the skirt up to her to check the fit and since she is very slender, we did not need to cut the front at the waist into a dip or do anything else to level the skirt hem on her body. Notice that we are leveling the skirt at the waistline, not at the floor! So much easier to do a skirt this way.
Hem the skirt and make the placket:

Photo: Caroline in her strapped petticoat at the second fitting. I have just set the straps and we are about to create two tucks at the skirt hem.
  • She hemmed the skirt bottom with a 1/2" hem (turned twice), with running stitch. Stitches were set towards the top of the hem.
  • I made a 9" deep slit at the center of one panel to serve as a placket.
  • Caroline made a 1/8" double-turned hem to each side of the slit with conbination stitch.
Set the waistband:
  • I measured her chest below the bust but not right below, consistent with the mid-1790s waistline height, and cut a two-inch wide strip of muslin for a waistband to this measurement plus 1" for allowances.
  • We folded the waistband in half.
  • Caroline ran a single row of gethering stitches a scant 1/2" below the waistline seam. Each stitch was about 1/8" or a little more long. Normally we would have done two rows plus stroking, but we chose a simple route.
  • Now, I learned from The Historical Sewing Blog (thank you) that the best look was achieved in this era by moderately gathering or pleating the front, minimally gathering or pleating the sides, and heavily gathering or pleating the back.  This mode would produce the slenderest silhouette from the front.
  • So, I set the waistband on  Caroline, and on each side, marked it at the front of her side and the back of  her side, if that makes sense -- that is, marked out the thickness of her body front to back -- with chalk.
  • We then gathered the skirt to the waistband marks, and completed the waistband just the same as I had last fall for my stroked gathered mid-century petticoat.  The process and stitches, so far as I can see from Costume Close-Up, are pretty much the same. We did not add a button for closure.
  • Look carefully at the photos and examine the waistband. You will see that the front is somewhat gathered, the sides barely so and the back very so and the result on Caroline is lovely. She carries herself so well that she could wear a barrel and still be chic, but still, I think you see what I am getting at.
Assemble straps and skirt tucks and skirt closure:
  • Caroline tried on the skirt. I cut two pieces of 1" wide twill tape and set them over her shoulders out towards the arm joint.  Pinned them in place in front and back and marked them with chalk. Sewed them to the inside of the waistband with backstitches, sewing a little square shape at top and bottom of the waistband and each edge of the tape.
  • At the same try-on, I set a 1/2" tuck some six-eight inches above the hem to take the skirt up off the floor, and Caroline sewed the tuck with running stitch while I sewed the straps...we were both working at the same time at either end of the skirt! :}
  • Then we set a second 1/2" tuck below it, leaving about 3/4" space between the tucks so that if the petticoat is seen both tucks will  appear as separate pretty shadows. Caroline then sewed that tuck. The two 1/2" tucks eat a total of 2", setting the skirt the right height above the floor for the period. If it proves a little long, another tuck remedies the issue.
  • The last step is to attach two 1/8" wide tapes to each placket end so she can tie the skirt closed.
The entire project was pretty quick and fun: I hope Caroline enjoyed it and I love fitting garments to people by sight like this.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Their Third Birthday

Babies no more, babies no more. Welcome to boyhood, tots!

The twins turned three on Monday and it's been a week of joy and reminiscences as a result. They are of an age to ask, "Mama, tell us about when we were babies", and for me to reply, "Well, when you were babies, you would wrap your little hand around my finger, like this [demonstrating] and you were so tiny we had to carry you everywhere!" The age to want to look at our photo albums. The age to ask for stories: "Tell about the bat, Mama, about the shutters, Mama, about when you and Daddy found our house, Mama, about how we got Ladybug kitty, Mama..." The age to want these tales over and over again as bedtime stories.

The age to receive a four-by-eight-foot sandbox that Curte built for them as their birthday gift.

Oh, I miss my babies, but oh, I love my boys.

We  had chocolate cupcakes with animal crackers stood atop them instead of birthday cake. The cupcakes are made from a recipe Mom has had since girlhood,  and so it dates to somewhere during the 1950s. It came from a newspaper, I believe, and produces a very moist, chocolatey result without fancy ingredients.

Wanting to gild the lily? Add chocolate chips? Wanting to 24-carat gild the lily? Make them fancy dark chocolate chips.

Betty's Chocolate Cake

1/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mom did not include the directions to mix up the cake, but this is basically what to do:

In a mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar.
Beat in the egg.
Sift the dry ingredients into a different bowl.
Fold the dry ingredients into the batter.
Slowly add the water and vanilla.
Put into a baking dish and bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees F.