Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Day Moment

After the Christmas Eve Service, after settling down for the night, after Christmas morning's excitement at the foot of the tree, a little peace while cousin Tommy, Christopher, and Noah consider their new books and toys, and parents and grandmother take it easy for a moment. Before brunch, naps or no naps, Christmas dinner, and family visiting... 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

1790s Goldwork-Embroidered Petticoat, Back at It To Ease Stress

For those of you for whom messing with teeniney, wee bits of beadlike wiggly wire, minute spangles, and small motifs stresses you out, read no further, for your blood pressure may rise.

For those who find doing very precise, small-scale work actually relaxing, you may find the below a bit fun.

Do you remember the goldwork-embroidered petticoat I made last summer? The one with little sprigs all over it in a variety of motifs? Here it is as worn in August.

As a first effort, it is nice, needs more work, for a couple of reasons.

First, a look at it laying flat in decent but night bright light reveals a lack of brilliance. The work is executed only in spangles and purl. Spangles are flat sequins; purl is tightly wrapped gilt (or 2% gold, for those with more cash) wire, formed into long hollow tubes.

Now, some fashion plates and originals, for example the pretty French 1790s muslin in the Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion exhibit (which spaces its motifs on the upper part of the dress), or the dress from the Met, below, do widely space their motifs. That was the effect I was going for initially. However, because the motifs are composed more of faceted purl than of spangles, the shine factor isn't as high as I'd like it to be.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number


Second, I am not happy with the motifs that outline leaf shapes, but leave the interiors blank. I've looked at a lot of extants since designing the petticoat, and so far as I can tell, only very tiny sprigs are made with their leaves barely outlined. In spriggy designs, purl leaves of any size are usually filled in with the purl running obliquely. Here's my silly drawing:
If you have a copy of 18th Century Embroidery Techniques, and look at the goldwork section, you will get a better drawing:}

Third, the bottom of the petticoat lacks a transition between the spriggy motifs and the fringe. Sure, some dresses were just sprigged, but I like the versions with a wide repeating band of embroidery about the bottom, especially when the motif is composed of swagged floral motifs. By 1800, swags weren't as hot as they'd been earlier, but they were still about, and I like swags, and don't get to have swaggy fun very much, so I want swags here. Want to see 1790 swagged petticoat emvroidery designs? Check Gallery of Fashion (enter the periodical name into the search box). Also search for "embroidery designs" on the Victoria and Albert museum site. There aren't overmany actual embroidered petticoats extant, at least that I can find.

Fourth, Christmastime, and the state of having young children, is stressy, so that some some sort of quiet release, some quiet place to retreat to that has nothing to do with Christmas Preparations or Productivity, becomes a Restorer of Balance. Some activity in which the brain can focus on something pretty, and for which the creation process is somewhat repetitive but does command the conscious mind almost 100%. Something that can be taken up and put down in a moment. Embroidery is perfect for that, and sparkly embroidery in the depths of short days is perfect.

Enter a rework.

After all, I've put too much work into this petticoat to chalk the effort up as Learning Example #1 and move on. With each motif consuming upwards of 20 minutes, you do the math in terms of hours, and I am betting you would rework the piece if it were in your hands, too.

So, What Changes to the Petticoat Lie Ahead?

Fill in the leaves, of course. That means snipping off some of the old motifs and redoing them. Second, add a band of embroidery to the bottom.

You can see the tentative first results of both below.

Here is a shot of the position on the petticoat that I am working on: the center bottom. I have set the embroidery hoop over a sprig in the bottommost row of the sprigs, and under that I have started a swag that will be some 5 inches high. There is actually a decent amount of room between the sprig motif row and the fringe. That's what will be filled in.

The design is a row of swags made of a rope of tiny leaf sprigs all done in purl, and tied at the top with bows in spangles. At the middle of each swag, a second spangle-and-purl bow with tassel tails dangles. Underneath, a second set of swags, this time in silk chenille and silk embroidery thread.

The design is a take off of a pattern in a pocket of a man's waistcoat, found in 18th Century Embroidery Techniques in the goldwork section, and is roughly the same dimensions, perhaps a little larger. I'd show you the original design but since Gawthorpe Hall hasn't posted an image of it, and the only images I have are in a copyrighted book, sorry, guys.

You are looking at a motif in the bottommost row of the sprigs, and the first bow in a series of swags.

Now for the detail shot.  Mmmm. Needs work. Let's examine what is going on.

What's the deal with the sprig motif riding so close on top of the bow? A bit of explanation. I did that work before deciding to add the swag motifs, so yes, off it will come, to be repositioned higher. Thankfully, the silk-cotton voile weave is widely spaced enough to allow redos without leaving holes, and all of the sprigs were freehand-embroidered...there is no drawn pattern on the fabric.

What about how rough the floral sprig leaf looks when executed in purl?
  • First, I haven't laid the purl obliquely enough. Have to redo it.
  • Second, close up, purl often looks rather imperfect, as if it just won't sit where you put it. In fact, it is hard to manage purl. First, you have to cut each piece before you lay it, so close measurement is important and tough to achieve. Second, no, it won't lay down easily: it is wire, and likes to bing-bong around, and only couching stitches hold it in place. All but the best of the best trained professionals had those issues, and so purl easily looks wonky and heavy up close. Don't believe me? Have a look at All That Glisters Goldwork, in Stitch with the Embroiders Guild. Look at the purl laid on top of the spangles on this German 18th Century professional example. See how it wanders a little? Okay then. Makes me feel better. Plus, practice will help.

What about the band of swags at the base of the skirt? What's the design, and what's going on with the elements?
  • The design must be drawn because the design success depends on consistency in the pattern repeats.  Here you see the bow tying up two swags.
  • The bow:
    • The spangles are backstitched in place, and overlap heavily. However, guess what. I backstitched them backwards. Each thread should lay of the part of the spangle that is not covered by the spangle before. That helps the spangles lay flat and in place. Oops. I had no directions on how to do it, other than that I knew such lines of spangles were backstitched. Another lesson learned. The only pity is that riding free as they do now, the spangles reflect a lot of light. Pooh.
    • The spangle at the center of the bow is overlaid by a piece of purl. 
    • The original laid a line of purl atop the spangles, but I found that this addition diminished the brilliance of the spangles so much that I left that element out of the design. Spangles were often left plain.
  • To the left of the bow, the beginning of a purl-and-sequin leaf swag: the central stem and each set of leaves are of purl only, each piece of purl strung and attached like a bead, and then couched down. Each leaf set is divided by a cupped spangle filled with a tiny piece of purl. 
  • To the right of the bow, you can see the penciled design.

Since goldwork was usually accompanied by silk embroidery, another phase of this project may be to add some small floral motifs in yellow and cream among the swags, again per the original. The original had more naturalistic color, but some designs were very restrained in color use by this date, and did not aim at naturalism. I won't touch that for at least a year. Meantime, I can still wear the petticoat!

So that is what I am doing this season, and into January. It should be a pleasant process and even is now, right in the learning phase.

This Evening, I Leave You With...

A cozy wintertime scene. The boys playing with their Legos under the gardener's bench in the family room. Little ones like corners and hidey-holes. Do you remember?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Making the Wrapfront Dress Do Double and Triple Duty

Given how little time and funds I have to sew, I am learning to make what I have stretch in a lot of ways...a method popular "back then". Not to mention with my modern wardrobe.

First, we know that the wrap-front dress can be worn with a "body", to make an afternoon ensemble, or an evening ensemble, depending on how it is accessorized. 18th Century Sewing Techniques has an example used for evening dress.

Second, I can simply wear it like an open robe, with a petticoat peeping out underneath. Here is a 1799 fashion plate from The Fashions of London and Paris, from the Bunka Gakuen library collection in Japan. This particular example is full dress, meaning that it would be suitable for dinner or an evening out. Memo: the fabric the model is wearing around her arm is not a shawl, it's the train from her dress.

The description:
London Full Dress
Hat of lilac crape, looped up in front; with silver loop and button; ostrich feathers; robe of muslin; petticoat of lilac crape; both trimmed with lace. Lilac belt, trimmed with silver; gold chain.

A handsome hat, small plumes, sash and matching petticoat, and necklace--oh, and shoes--, and voila, we have yet another ensemble. In my case, I already have everything to hand. Just need to mix it around a bit. Or I can take fabric from my stash and run up a petticoat in another color. No expense whatever.

That hat...Polly and Jenni, what do you think? The original is felt.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just A Reminder to Put Your Best Foot Forward: You Don't Know Who Might be Watching

Portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of
Devonshire, by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
"...Hetty and I took a walk in the Park on Sunday morning, where, among others, we saw the young and handsome Duchess of Devonshire, walking in such an undressed and slatternly manner, as, in former times, Mrs. Rishton* might have done in Chesington garden**. Two of her curls came quite unpinned, and fell lank on one of her shoulders; one shoe was down at heel, the trimming of her jacket and coat*** was in some places unsown [sic]; her cap was awry; and her cloak which was rusty and powdered****, was flung half on and half off. Had she not a servant in superb livery behind her, she would certainly have been affronted*****. Every creature turned back to stare at her. Indeed I think her very handsome, and she has a look of innocence and artlessness that made me quite sorry she should be so foolishly negligent of her person. She had hold of the Duke's arm, who is the very reverse of herself, for he is ugly, tidy, and grave. He looks a very mean****** shopkeeper's journeyman."

Fanny Burney's comments in a letter to her friend and second "Daddy" Mr. Crisp, April 1776.*******


*Mrs. Maria Rishton, Fanny's close, flighty, spirited friend.
**Chesington, the private, rural home where Mr. Crisp boarded, and where Fanny and Maria often stayed.
***"jacket and coat": jacket and petticoat. "Coat", the 1880s-era editor of Fanny's early journals tells us, was an old term for "petticoat", and when Fanny edited her journals later, she often corrected the word to read "petticoat".
****"rusty and powdered": "rusty" was often used to describe black garments of which the dye, never fast, had faded in spots. "Powdered", I am guessing refers to some of her hair powder having fallen on it. Ugh.
*****"affronted". In this case, may mean something on the order of being snubbed, or worse.
******"mean". In that day, mean usually meant poor, penurious, of low means.
*******The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778. Vol. II. Edited by Annie Raine Ellis. London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1913, pp. 138-139. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

1790s Convertible Spencer: A Collar Construction Issue

Our poor little Metropolitan Museum "body" may have been the salvagey product of, let's be honest, not the finest of seamstress work. That's Mrs. C's take and the longer I look at the item, the more I am inclined to agree. The collar is attached so oddly! Remember this interior detail? Where at least one side of the collar is simply rolled over the neckline and hemmed down?

It makes me wonder if the original garment was some sort of collarless bodice that received a quick update. Rather like this one:

Well, if I were to design wrap-front body, perhaps along the lines of the 1796 Luxus und der Moden model, below, how to construct that collar? The wrap-front would "go" better with my wrap-front dress. Much as I'd like to replicate the Met item (shout out to Sabine!), it would just look plopped on top of the wrap-front dress, and I haven't energy or time to make a gauze chemise.

Over the last few evenings I roamed through Nancy Bradfield, Janet Arnold, etc., etc., finding nothing useful, then remembered the exceedingly detailed dress diaries of Brocadegoddess, produced for her thesis, Rockin' the Rococo. She had made a riding habit, and was focusing on garments she believed, after in-person examination, had been made by seamstresses, not tailors.

So I visited, and, happy sigh, there is the collar construction, illustrated. Mrs. C., you may be glad to know that the construction is much as it is today:
  • Sew the underside of the collar, right sides together, to the neckline edge.
  • Hem down, with slanted slip stitches, the upper side of the collar to the lining.
She even has photos, which I take the liberty of reproducing here:
Underside of collar stitched right side to right side
(lining side stitiching shown here). Courtesy Rockin-the Rococo.

Upper side of collar hemmed down to lining.
Courtesy Rockin-the Rococo.

Collars on Extant Spencers

I know that sewing techniques began to alter as the nineteenth century progressed. However, later eighteenth century collared items not made by tailors aren't too plentiful, and not many other garments featured collars, so, perforce, I look at spencers...all of them at the Met, which appears to have the best selection online, at least with zoomable photos.

To start, an c 1800 example, and my favorite of the lot, a snappy muslin item picked out in black...appears to be cotton yarn? I must make this one. Gee, if I cut this one out at the same time as the silk body, it shouldn't be too hard to finish two of them, eh?

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Second, an 1805-1815 unlined muslin spencer, whose primary decoration consists of tucks and piping. It's a tour de force. Sabine, this one's certainly for you. Look at the little manchets at the shoulders, the neat treatment with the piping, and the eyelet embroidery.

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Third,  a spencer dated 1815, fawn colored. In the detailed view you can see that the lining and collar are slip-stitched on the interior, although it isn't clear to me whether the lining is slip-stitched to the collar, or the collar to the lining.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yet another Met example, a sleeveless jacket-spencer from 1818-1819. It reminds me almost of a waistcoat. The Met seems to have the widest selection of spencers with large photos online, by the way, that I have found.

Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here's the same shot, blown up to show the collar detail.

Thus endeth our tour of spencer collars.

Next step, making sure that shawl-style collars could be handled that way right down the front, even in very lightweight fabrics.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Spencers and "Bodies": the German Luxus und der Moden Viewpoint

Plate 10.
Luxus und
der Moden.
April 1796.
1790s "bodies", those sort of spencer-like, jacket-like sleeveless items I've been fussing over lately in order to make one, appear to be pretty thin on the ground in museum collections. Sigh. Perhaps they were easily made over, perhaps they were too high fashion to be really popular. Whatever, I will keep looking, in the interest of being thorough.

Yet, a little fatigued with museums, I've gone back to the fashion plates for a break, but to a different source, the German-language Journal des Luxus und der Moden. I looked up the very first plate at random, number 10 in the April 1796 issue I looked up, and by chance it showed just what I was looking for. Further, the accompanying explanation in the journal's monthly article, "Moden-Neuigkeiten" is helpful in several respects. Ill be looking at more examples, and in several other magazines, too, but let's start with this one.

Here is a young lady in Half Dress. She's ready for a concert, or visiting, or other semi-formal occasion. Her ensemble features a rose-colored body. It always seems funny to write that word, because of course, everyone has a body, or I sure hope so, anyhow, but I am using the name of the garment as it was then referred to. Language: funny stuff.

Here is the body in detail, and even more detail, below.

Now let's read what the magazine says about it. The original German:

 My English translation*:

The first (plate 10), a young lady in elegant Half Dress, in which the pretty Miss von R-- here appeared first, and since at large has found applause and imitation. A rose-colored ribbon, tied on the right side in a bow , runs through the pretty lightly curled hair, that is dressed behind in several long braids. Above, on the hair's parting, bows of the rose ribbon lie between the parted sections of hair, down the braids from front to back. The lady wears a Chemise dress of white satin or taffeta, with short sleeves, and with a lace collar behind. The Chemise has a body [Leib] of rose-colored satin or taffeta, with narrow folds nearby [lapels?], and half oversleeves, which are laid in flat pleats. On the white collar of the Chemise white ribbons are on both sides, which are laid over the shoulders, crossed over the breast, run around the waist, and are tied lightly on the side. At the base the Chemise is fixed twice with rose-colored satin ribbons. 

*Sorry if my translations seem labored, but I try to keep the wording as close as possible to the original, in case there are nuances of meaning that I had not discovered. A loose translation would obliterate these. 

Our young lady's man, from the
same issue.
Like the Met example, this body (or Leib, the term for body in German) has a collar, but this one flows down into a wrap-front design that I find more appetizing and more natural than the Met example. Not sure about closures...I don't think the white wrapped ribbons do anything to actually hold the body closed. Perhaps there are internal ties? Pins?

Note that that a body could also have sleeves; such garments weren't always sleeveless. Hmm.  I am wondering if in England this garment would be termed a spencer instead of a body? Sabine, or other German-speaking readers, your thoughts?

As was so common during that period, this particular fashion -- the wrap-front, the ribbons --  started with someone in high life showing off her new design in public. The magazine makes sure to let us know that she is a person "of quality" by saying that her surname begins with "von". After that, it spreads everywhere as the newest taste. 

In this fashion plate it's clear that the body could be a key part of a suite..a suit or Anzug. The design and coloring of dress, body, and hair are all of a piece. The body/bodice concept is also smart and flexible: it stretches the uses a Chemise dress could be put to. An Undress dress becomes dressy with a more elaborate coiffure. Of course, the hair takes serious time to pull together, but other than that, there's little fuss involved, and little extra expense. Our In Style analog today? Throwing on a handsome jacket, popping on some more formal shoes or boots, and upping the makeup factor takes a day outfit out for cocktails, a nice dinner, or a play.

*     *     *     *     *

Gee, that's something I'd like to do this season, a concert, dinner, a play! The Messiah is to be performed with a chamber orchestra at church, and I bet the Studio Players or the Opera House will have something fun on, and I hope the Singletary Center comes up with a good concert. Then it's just a matter of choosing, and finding the evening, and a sitter, and planning the boys dinner, and and and :}

Meanwhile, we've celebrated my 48th birthday at a winery bistro this past weekend. It was a pretty day, if hard on the hairdo, and we walked outside among the chickens and vines and the workmen taking grape must to the fields to mulch. Little black jacket and heels here, too...and the boys in their favorite sweaters. All of us happy after such a very good lunch. Who can argue with wild mushroom ragout over a single handmade ravioli (almost a Maultaschen), fall greens with cold roast duck and vinaigrette, and a torte with bourbon and black walnuts?

1790s Convertible Spencer: Examining Extant Articles, Part 2

I've spent a little while peering nearsightedly at the Met's "spencer jacket", and my peregrinations along the seam- and hemlines may have uncovered a little more of how it was constructed.

Walk along with me now, and see if you see what I do.

First let's note that this little gem was likely a remake using fabric from an earlier garment. I say this because the embroideries are sparse and random, rather than planned to the garment.

Front Closure

The center front meets edge to edge. If we look at the left side, for instance, we can see two vertical rows of stitching. There may be a tape or something behind to help strengthen the fabric to take the strain of the lacing.

At the neckline edge the fashion fabric is folded back to the underside, and is stitched down to create a channel for the drawstring, of tape, that you see still tied. The stitching for this channel is covered by the gimp trim.

The lacing is made of multistrand cord. Its gleam makes me think it may be silk.

Inside Construction

This is a detail of the inside of the left shoulder of the garment.

Please be sure click on the photo above and really look at it or you probably won't understand the below.

A: This is actually the underside of the collar, not a part of the shoulder strap. The fashion fabric has been turned to the underside of the collar, turned again to enclose the raw edge, and stitched down. On the exterior, the seam would be hidden by the gimp trim.

B: This is the armscye edge of the shoulder strap, seen from the inside of the garment. The fashion fabric appears to have been turned in once, and then covered by a narrow cream tape or ribbon, which is stitched down along each long edge, apparently with the blue silk thread used elsewhere on the garment.

C: This is the shoulder strap where it attaches to the back piece.  You can see that the strap is laid atop the back piece, the raw edge turned under, and hemmed down. You can barely see a line of prick stitching about a quarter inch above. On the outside, this would be the seamline of prick stitching (my guess) that fixed the back piece to the shoulder.

D: This is the upper edge of the back piece, just peeking out from below the shoulder strap. Its raw edge has been turned under too and hemmed down. You can see the continuation of that neckline hem at F.

E: This is the neckline edge of the shoulder strap. Here the fashion fabric has been turned under twice and hemmed down. Thick, isn't it?

F: Here is the neckline edge of the back piece. It's treated the same way.

G: This is the collar seam! The collar appears to be simply brought to the inside of the already finished neckline, the raw edges turned under, and hemmed down. See where the neckline turns? Note how the collar has a little wrinkle there. Was perhaps the collar a later addition to an earlier, plainer jacket? Or did the maker simply not care to fuss with a facing? Given how the rest of the fabric is finished, that would just add bulk.

The garment is, to my mind, happily casually finished, almost ill-thought. It suits me, for some reason, perhaps because I am continually process-challenged as I learn all of these methods, and my mistakes lead to such collar "issues" as we see here.

Next time, we look carefully at the rest of the garment.

Readers, if you take exception to my dissection, I beg you write and let me know what you think. Together we may be able resurrect this puppy!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

1790s Convertible Spencer: Examining Extant Articles

Late 18th century spencer/jacket from the Met.

Convertible spencer research time! The first step, a look at originals out there. At the Victoria and Albert I could find nothing, but elsewhere, paydirt. Here's the first find.

As always, please click on the images to see larger versions.

Jacket-Spencer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A beautemous article, so beautiful, in fact, it might become my inspiration piece. They call it a "jacket (spencer)" and date it to the late 18th century. That's rather a wide timespan, but this garment clearly is high-waisted, so I am confident of its being made around the 1790s.

The front-closing, light blue silk item features spiral lacing: you see this in some fashion plates, and tiny skirts, so it's almost more a jacket than a spencer. The very narrow shoulder straps are almost covered by a collar. (Thank you, Sabine, for catching that...I first thought the straps twisted.)

I wonder if it was remade from something else; the embroidery is scattered and in no way follows the design of the piece.

It's trimmed with cream gimp and embroidered, more on which below.

The picture at right will tell you a lot about the construction. Those seams to the right and left of the center opening: do they conceal a separate-closing lining? However, the inside is kind of a puzzle so far.
Here's a picture of the back.

The trim is yummy. Just cream gimp, and embroidery with a few spangles for glitter. Here's a closeup, from the back of the garment.

Then a real closeup. You can really see how the embroidery is done. For me, very doable, although I'd scatter the sprigs around a little better. Hmmm, will I stick with chenille, as in the original plan? Hmmm..



I know from following the blogs of online acquaintances that many of us have at one time or another fallen, plump, in pit-deep infatuation with a particular dress, and have decided, come what may, to create their own version of it. Demode's Maja dress, Diary of a Mantua Maker's 1790s plum embroidered evening gown, and The Aristocat's block print polonaise ensemble -- with handmade shoes -- come to mind.

It happened to me not so long ago. Here she is; meet my dream dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 1995.5.5.

She dates from the late 1790s, is made of cotton, and is lightly embellished. I think she is not well mounted on the model, because, looking at the detailed shots, I believe the loose pieces falling to each site were meant to cross over on the front and hide the front lining and especially the rather rough waistband. Yes, the lining is embroidered, but the fabric being so light, it would have shown through the upper layer in an attractive manner. In back, she appears to have a falling collar.

Unlike the V&A, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has not published much about her other than the above and some excellent pictures. You can zoom in decently on the dress to see details, although the original resolution is not terribly high.

So, what makes her so desirable, a real dream? Her combination of simplicity and the elegance of the feathery, limited-palette embellishment. Let's have a closer look at the latter.

Above, a photo from the back of the dress. Two of the back seams are embellished with close backstitching in yellow and cream silk, which I find effective, if not entirely in keeping with the rest of the embellishment design.

The whorl pattern made of spangles and silk embroidery is actually a stylized floral design, with a flower or leaf at the top left and a leaf at the bottom. It is executed with flat, untwisted silk, probably reeled and not spun, given its brilliance. By reeled I mean that these are long silk filaments reeled up from the unwound silkworm's cocoon, several lengths being twisted together to form the thread. They are not short bits of silk spun together to make a thread.

Because so many of the satin stitches are so long, and perhaps due to storage problems, in places the embroidery has really begun to degrade. See below.

Here's a detail of the embroidery pattern at the dress hem. The stems get their density from the spangles being overlapped. I think there is gold detailing around the spangles dotting the arrow-headed leaves.

Gorgeous, isn't it?

So, can I do this, from a technical standpoint? Mmmm. The dress itself is not so different from the wrap-front dress I made last year. I've done spangling and that is more fiddly than difficult. Nor is the backstitching embellishment an issue. It's the flat satin stitch that will give even accomplished embroiderers pause. It's slow to do, because one needs to lay each thread with the laying tool. Thankfully, the design is so stylized that one need only plan the direction of the stitches once for each type of motif: this is not a wandering, naturalistic design in which stitches would have to follow individually designed flowers or leaves at any of 360 degrees 'round the compass. Still, that is many, many months of embroidery...

What Would I Change, if Anything?

This needs research, but I have several ideas.
  1. Replace the cream satin stitch embroidery with ribbon embroidery. There is documentation for ribbon embroidery on Regency-era evening dresses. I just have to see if this was done in the 1790s. I am thinking not so likely...
  2. Replace the satin stitch embroidery with silk chenille, couched down. Now, there's an obvious choice. Chenille embroidery was popular, in part, no doubt, because it was fast and flexible. The issue is that the effect will be far less shimmery. You cannot see the shimmer too well in these photos, but I assure you, it is there. That's one reason embroiderers used the more expensive, harder-to-work flat silk. It is just lovely to look at. So, I would end up with a slightly less elegant, high style effect. It's something to ponder.
  3. Make the dress slightly less poofy, especially in front. This dress exhibits the extreme end of pouf of the fashion plates. If the Met has dated it correctly to the late 1790s, it would be no later than 1797 if worn in highest style circles, because poofiness, especially in front, was being slenderized. Now, 1796 was a poofy year, and there were all kinds of jokes abroad about the look of pregnancy that a portion of the bon ton sported. Certainly the front of this dress is just right for someone in maternity clothes :} Since I am no longer entirely a spring chicken, erm, well, it would be a case of mutton dressed as lamb. So some slimming is in order.
Will I Take the Plunge?

Again, mmmmnnn. It's a dream dress for now.

Friday, November 04, 2011

A Real, Extant 1790s Cloak

My cloak.
Remember that hugely long voile cloak I made for this past summer's Jane Austen Festival? The kind that's pictured over and over and over in 1790s fashion plates?

I've located an extant example. They seem incredibly rare, perhaps because they were so long that they were easily stepped on or otherwise damaged and also easily reused for other items once they went out of fashion.

Diane Thalmann, dealer in English and French antique textiles,, sold a netted one dated 1790-1795. It's looooooonnnnngggg: 120 inches by 21 inches. Heavens.

Example of cloaks: left one is white,
right one is black. From Gallery of Fashion
As she described it: "This rare hand netted long scarf or stole would have been worn round the neck, crossed over under the bust and tied at the back.... Alternatively, it would have simply been placed round the neck and allowed to hang down – nearly to the ground. I have never had such a stole/scarf, and because they were of fine muslin, lace or netting are almost impossible to find, even in fair condition." See

Netted Cloak, Diane Thalmann
Do have a look at this item, and her other shawls and textiles. I guarantee you will learn a great deal and if you are in funds, you might find a bona fide treasure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Inside a Story: The Eighteenth Century Market Fair at Locust Grove

Autumn playsThree Graces with a little girl
from The Kentucky History Club
"We're inside a story, Mama," Noah remarked, his hair outlined in copper and gold against a sun-warmed log-cabin wall. A good choice for a story, and an excellent choice for a day. Clearest sunshine, air cool in the lungs but not biting, Locust Grove's trees at full color.

All around us, a busy market. It was the smells that made it most real: sides of pork spitted and roasting, Carolina rice in a giant kettle, the charcoal from multiple braziers and the blacksmith's forge, the fires from the big kitchen and the woodworker's cabin, cheddar cheese, roasting pumpkins, apples, unfiltered cider, crushed grass, straw, horse dung, and sometimes the odd scent of slow match or black powder.

Then there were all the sights, and the people to talk with and the stories to fall into. And the music: from military bagpipes to penny whistles to the human voice.

Trying yoyos.
Not one of us wanted to leave, and we had been there nearly the entire day: three of us were four years old and three, Jenni, Laura, and myself, were adult, and all six were as blithe as blithe. I want to go back inside the story!

Our Day, Narrated by Christopher and Noah

The bread and cheese wagon arrives.

Miss Autumn joins in the country dance.
Playing the drum and fife for stray coins.

Excited to buy good bread and cheese. They came wrapped together
with a twist of paper.
Munching on the bread and cheese...a second lunch,
hee hee.

The country dance.
A Continental soldier.
A German woman on her way to her camp.
They said the horses were a little spooked today.
The Braunschweigers with their German Shepherd.
When the boys saw these girls race to explore the springhouse,
they raced there too.
The pair of girls try to explain that the door
lock beneath was unpickable :}
The boys find water at the springhouse. We think that you
could store milk pails here.
Noah looks at the water. Just feet from the springhouse,
the actual spring bubbled from the earth, guarded closelt by trees and underbrush .
Noah explains that he thinks that the stream goes under
the springhouse.
The boys watch the blacksmith make
a double hook to hang from a ridgepole,
as Christopher explained to me later.
Christopher says the blacksmith was pumping air
with his bellows into his forge.
Chukka-chukka-chukka, sings the spinning wheel.
Demonstrating drawing the yarn. The spinner then
explored how all yarn is twisted, using roving and
willing pairs of children's hands.
The juggler on his ladder. Noah and Christopher
say that he had to take little steps with his ladder
forward and backward to keep fom falling over.
The soldiers were getting ready for a battle, says Christopher. And there I
am looking, says Noah, but I wasn't really fond of the soldiers.
In fact, we did not watch the battle...but when we thought it was
over, and came to peek, it was not over! Oops, away we went again.
Leading the way to the big kitchen, where a very large fire
burned in the enormous fireplace. The room was full of
vegetables, fruits, and cooks. Then the rat catcher arrived,
and said, "I heard there were some rats here in the kitchen."
But Christopher says, I think he thought the potatoes were rats.
[Sadly, I did not catch a shot of the kitchen.]
A view of the Continental camp. Christopher says he wishes
I had a picture of the candy shop. They bought maple sugar candy and
licorice but not gobstoppers, because they were too big.
Where our first lunch was cooked: we had Carolina rice cooked
in a giant kettle, mixed with roasted pork from a spit. There
were pumpkins roasting, but those treats were not for us, sigh.
Late afternoon cider.
Fun with Noah.
Exploring underneath the table.
More exploration, throughs cracks in the table.
The soldiers' retreat. Right now they are letting their prisoners
go, says Noah.
The very last scene...the day ends for us, while the soldiers and
their families get ready for an evening of feasting, singing, and company.
The day is over, says Christopher, and now it's time to go home and have dinner.