Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wishing the Exhibit "Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion" Could Travel to the U.S.

Official exhibition homepage
Last year the Milanese were treated to a large and lovely showing of Regency-era clothing, from the 1790s right through to the birth of the Romantic era, in an exhibit titled Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion. Then it traveled to Rome. I fondly hope it will travel and open in the U.S. at some point.

For those of us interested in the high-waisted era, this is a very rare chance to see high-quality originals mounted with accessories in the way they would originally have been worn.

Professional Natalie Garbett, who is a member of the exhibit team, has been posting about her experience. It makes for interesting reading, and I hope she will continue the series. Besides giving us the link to the official site, she has treated us to the photographers' collection; the photos are copyrighted so I cannot show any here, but urge you to go see for yourself. See also views of a circa 1808-1815 pelisse that didn't make it into the final exhibition!

Then there are the many articles and videos about the exhibition, linked to from the official site. The catalog, which starts shipping in the U.S. on April 12, is first on my book wish list.

If you are not already familiar with Ms. Garbett's work, you ought to be: it's dreamy, and the photos of her costumes are an education in themselves. I had been introduced to her blog some while ago, but it went quiet for a bit, and am glad to know she is posting again.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Eighteenth Century-Style Shoes Available

Shoes, shoes, shoes!

American Duchess has designed and arranged for the production of silk shoes in a style suitable for the 1750s - 1770s. They're covered in real silk, dyable, and you can lace the lachets with bows or set buckles on them.

They go on sale April 1st, and for that day, American Duchess is offering them at $85.00. She must sell 100 pairs to get the production run, so I am really hoping enough of us can order -- I am! I will be wearing not only for events but because they're so cute, for church and going out, too.

Read about the shoes on her post Introducing the "Georgiana" 18th Century Shoes by American Duchess.

Read about how Lauren designed and arranged for their production: it's a neat story!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Renovating the Wrap Front on My Sheer 1795 Morning Dress, Part 2

The fit is not final, but the look is close.
By George, I think we -- may -- have it.

The try-on did not go smoothly at first. Stays were too loose, the petticoat kept slipping down, the bum roll made me look pregnant up high and in behind, not in front, and thus look a freak. A wide sash with this dress smelled of mutton dressing as lamb, and at 47, lamb I am not, not even lamb-ish, anymore.

The fit is not final, but the general shape is closer:
  • Neckline is opened up, like my reference fashion plate, although at this point in the day I think that it could be opened even more, and the shoulders narrowed perhaps a half an inch.
  • It's hard to see here but the folds have downwards curves as planned. I am going to set them in to help.
  • Minimizing the waist with a tight fit, but allowing a tiny bit of blousing over the sash, which is hard to see here.
Some fit changes still need to be made, that are set right now in pins:
  • A dart at the armscye, lower front, on each side to tighten the fit.
  • A button-and-loop may be fixed just below the shoulders to shape the neckline, a la Janet Arnold's half robe and the details on the May 1795 Gallery of Fashion fashion plate. Right now we have pins only. Unless I go for a frill (see below).
  • Flattening of fabric under the arms to tighten it still needs to be done. Looseness there widens the waistline too much.
  • Recut of strap connection to back of dress needs to be made to tighten the neckline fit in back. Right now there is a gap.
  • Raising of waistline further, using Gallery of Fashion, my Luxus plate, and portrait miniatures as a reference. On all, there is very little distance indeed between the bottom of the vee and the waistline.
Now, Changes to the Original Vision

The effect of the try-on today also means changes to my original idea, copying that Luxus fashion plate. I have no extra voile to spare, so cannot achieve that very boufy front, and at the moment am not sure I want to. I really think such a front would be best made with very soft revers, and I have no extant gown that has that sort of effect. As a reminder, here is the inspiration plate.

Given that I cannot, with the materials at hand, get to the inspiration plate the way I want to, the dress inspiration is morphing a little, such that the bodice will lean more towards two portrait miniatures you have seen.

This 1795 portrait miniature below:

And this one:

The ensembles share a number of similarities...loose sleeves, the very open neckline.
What may work better for me, after all the try-ons, than the original, Luxus plate:
  • The tighter-fitting bodice, less gathered bodice, with the waist-minimizing effect that will have.
  • Pulling the front over sharply, and the tiny tie, to add waist interest, without adding the visual width of a sash.
  • This also gets me around the perplexing issue of how the sash fits in back, allowing the back to fall smoothly.
  • The very narrow space between neckline and armscye seam to pull the sleeves up onto the shoulder, narrowing -- I hope -- the entire front view.
  • The frill, which here is clearly lace, might be a nice softening touch. We will have to try that and see. Finding good lace will be difficult, but perhaps hemstitched gauze might work well.
Well, I have taken you for quite a ride, haven't I? Let's hope that the next try-on will show some of the above improvements.

Renovating the Wrap Front on My Sheer 1795 Morning Dress

Study, photos, study plates. Study some more. Test, rip out, retest. Finally, I think I am on the road to the right dress neckline. A try-on will confirm, or send me back to fiddle some more.

Neckline Details to Achieve

A few days ago I caught a shot of the neckline of a favorite top in a mirror as the boys and I were heading upstairs. Hmmm, that's rather the shape I am looking for, I mused. The sharper curve in the top is created by a small tuck at the shoulder, the smoother curve by the shape of the chest.

Janet Arnold records a similar sort of tuck, achieved with a button and loop, in the late 1790s wrap-front half robe in her book Patterns of Fashion. If it comes to it, I might adopt this little trick, and it could look neat!

The lower rounded curve over the chest, like a barely there sweetheart neckline, we see in some fashion plates (see previous post 1795 Bodice Designs: Wrap-Front and V Necklines.

The other effects I wanted to achieve:
  • an avoidance of bunching at the shoulder line. My shoulders are broad, arms muscular from carrying boys, and I prefer the slope-shouldered look of the period.
  • soft, very small folds of the voile top fabric around the bust, and larger folds near the neckline itself. Almost a collar effect. Again, my previous post captures these effects in several portrait miniatures of the day, and in the text of the May 1795 Gallery of Fashion issue "Chemise of embroidered muslin; the collar and labels [lapels] of trimmed with lace". Yes, a chemise with collar and lapels. What that means I am not certain at all, but propose -- experimentally, of course, and without proof -- that there is a high neckline and tiny collar at back, with loose front fabric that folds over and loses itself in the rest of the font gathers. See the figure on the left below.

Here are two details from portrait miniatures that you are beginning to know (too) well:

The Draping Process

As you know, my original dress features an underbodice, which wraps and pins and provides support. On top is a dress lining, to which the fashion fabric voile is mounted. This is on the advice of Suzi Clarke, who pointed me to Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes book, in which a chemise dress is treated to this way of controlling gathers.

So, my job was to re-jigger the dress bodice to open up the neckline and narrow the shoulders. Mrs. C. gave some wonderful suggestions in a comment to the 1795 Bodice Designs: Wrap-Front and V Necklines post, and so I started with those.

Before slashing into the fabric, though, I decided to try just reshaping the neckline by folding in its edges and trying a tiny dart at the edge, and redraping and mounting the existing fabric on it, all the while trying to achieve the effects described above.

Here follow pictures of the process:

First, a shot from the side showing the stays, and the shape they give.

Second, showing a first reshaping of the neckline on one side. I have folded down the neckline to a depth of one inch, and have taken a tiny fold or dart, almost parallel to the neckline, at the edge, to force the fabric to curve at a stronger downward angle.

Now, I moved to the kitchen last evening, where it was warm and the light is very good, an set up the dress form. The form is NOT a good one, but it I hope will do its job. I set the stays on it, and added a wad of voile in what I fondly hoped was sort of the shape of my torso while wearing stays.

I started refocusing the gathers on this first side. I had taken off the sleeve and unmounted the voile. I now reset it by taking small gathers at key spots, lifting and draping to create curved folds where I wanted them. This is very much in the spirit, by the way, that Edwardian net dresses were mounted on their foundations.

Here is the result on the left side, over which the right side will wrap.

A shot, below, of the shoulder line. I used tiny pleats near the shoulder, then gathered the voile on a thread towards the neckline to create bouf.

Here is the right side remounted.

Here is the final effect, before try-on. I have also brought up the front waistline to a higher point, and will need to regather it and remount it to the bodice lining. I want to bring it up a tad higher still but have to have it on me to find the right spot.

Remember that that big mushy thing sticking into the neckline is my "bust enhancer".

The fabric still feels a bit flat, without that captivating Greek curve like the Classical chiton dress, but we shall see what happens when I try it on. Will it curve, will it bouf? Will I have my reference fashion plate look, or will I have to add fabric or resort to a giant boufy neckerchief, per Mrs. C.?

Don't know. When the try-on will occur isn't clear, for I have a busy day with the boys ahead and then have to work this evening...big deadline late this week to make.

Anyhow, some work accomplished. It was fun!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Frozen Rain? Or Snow? On My daffodils? Oh, Woe!

Oh, for Pete squeaks.

Little icy globs all over the deck, making it look more desolate and tatty than ever. An inch of snow to come tonight.

And all the early blossoms out, the "tulip trees", the early weeping cherries, the Bradford pears, the baby-soft green on my lilac bush, the fluff on the hydrangeas, the yellow tulips, the stiff little leaflets that flutter like an old movie on the crabapple.

Shall they be sacrifices to cruel, cruel Spring?

Oh, Kentucky, unfortunate state, where North and South fight their border wars.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A New Discovery: the Portrait Miniatures Collection of Martínez Lanzas-de las Heras

An example
This morning I discovered the portrait miniatures collection of Martínez Lanzas-de las Heras. A miniatures painter and collector, Mr. Lanzas-de las Heras maintains a blog showing pieces from his magnificent collection. He had decided to follow my blog, and curious, I followed the link to his site.

He details ways in which miniatures are made, plus gives us the chance to view some really nice, detailed miniatures. An other treasure trove for costumers.

Thank you sir, for showing your collection.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's Springtime for Real

Daddy and the twins laugh as they play ball
in the gloaming.
Outside dark is falling, and I've just come in from the back yard, where the boys and Daddy are still playing ball and climbing on the playset in the warm air. The daffodils that bloom where our old dogwood once grew are fully open like creamy yellow giant stars. In a yard out on Ashland Avenue behind us, an ancient tulip tree is in full bloom, and there is the barest haze along the branches of a nearby redbud that tells me it's not too many weeks before that is in bloom too.

Yet, this first official day of spring, traces of winter linger. The grass is spotty, especially where the crabgrass has taken over :} The hostas are bare nubs, and eveningtime cools quickly. If we are lucky this evening, some rain, although I am not able to read the clouds rising out of the west, as they often do at nightfall. Do these bear good spring rain?

Now it's quiet, and the voile curtains in here flutter with the air from the open windows. The boys are on their way up for their wash-up and change into nightclothes. No bath tonight, despite the fact that we spent another three hours in the soil, planting the early vegetables in square-foot plots: Simpson lettuce, mesclun greens, red core carrots, and Cherry Belle radishes. Their first real garden. Watered with their red plastic snail watering cans, and marked with tongue-depressor signs.

What boys like Daddy and Christopher do in springtime.
It's been yard work, not sewing, all weekend long and now the beginning of the week, too, with more to come tomorrow. First it was the annual liriope trim along the street, and general tidying up in front. Then, yesterday afternoon, as I contemplated the hated crab grass out back, I thought to dig it up. Noah noticing, he mentioned that he so wanted to plant our garden. I looked at the dried-out patch along the driveway, scant feet from an existing flower bed. Well, this was one of our few sunny spots; that's why the crabgrass thrives. Much of the yard lies in the shade of large trees. Why not put a garden here? Sure, it's beneath the basketball goal, so I predict some accidents, but maybe we can erect a clear plastic mesh protector if needed, down the road.

Noah and Christopher point at their new garden plots.
So I fetched the tools and we were off to the races. Before too many hours we were edging our results with brick, just as most of the other beds are edged. Christopher, refusing to nap, hooked his little fingers in my jeans belt loops, endangering my pants, and walked along with me, or sat with trowel in hand as we rescued earthworms or threw grubs onto the drive for the birds to enjoy. We have enough grubs to do serious damage, so population control is in order.

What cats like Muffin do in springtime.
Today, the work continued, with the edging continued to its natural end, and we planted our seeds. The boys placed and tossed -- depending on the moment -- their seeds onto the waiting soil, and we covered them up, and they had a happy time at the hose filling their watering cans.

Until perhaps a half hour before the long project was done, some six-seven hours in length total, the boys were right alongside all the way, passing trowels, looking for treasures underground -- the occasional piece of broken pottery -- helping me trundle their wagon to the back shed to collect old bricks to use as edging. I'd ask if they were bored, and if they wanted to go play, but no, they wanted to stay with me and with the project. A happy shock. Their first really serious project, other than cooking with me :}

The completed garden bed, at left, and edging of
the rest of the flower bed, snaking to the right.
The other edging along the fence I did last year. Brute labor.
Now we're all tired, three pairs of pants are filthy, my hands are chapped and nicked, but happy all four* of us, for Daddy played with his tots after his workday, Mama built her garden and tidied the grounds, the boys had fun all around, and springtime is here.

*Six, when you include two kitties dizzy with springtime scents, and itchy with too much wintertime fur. Escape to the outside and roll, roll, roll!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Man Behind Journal des Luxus und der Moden

Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch. Image
courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Journal des Luxus und der Moden was one of the first "real" fashion journals, and in which engravings were an important means of communicating what was new.

The journal was the brainchild of Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch, of Weimar, who was what I would call both an early industrialist -- he ran a whole variety of businesses, of which printing was only one facet -- and booster for his native town.

The journal's "contents were devoted to new developments in clothing, jewellery, furnishings, technology, the fine arts, literature and manners. It set out to educate taste and improve manners, and there was also a section of advertisements", writes Ian Maxted. It made extensive use of local fashions, as well as foreign fashions, English -- for example -- which bothered some, but which the publisher defended.

This was the purpose of the journal, as Bertuch wrote in 1793 in the journal itself:

"As is well known, the purpose and plan of this journal is to recommend the luxuries and fashions of Germany which, properly conducted, can be very beneficial mainsprings of the national economy, but certainly not to do so in a foppish manner, driving them to damaging excess and dissipation, but to supervise, them, to criticize publicly their wilder outbursts, and to subject them to the correcting ridicule of the rational world and good taste. Mainly however our aim is to make Germany more aware of its own artistic prowess, to give our artists and craftsmen more faith in their own powers and more love of art and taste in their work, and to make them knowledgeable about the discoveries and beautiful forms produced by foreigners, above all to secure our purses from the ravages of foreigners."

A cover and fashion illustration from the journal;
Wikimedia Commons lists it as circa 1800 but the
lady's dress is in 1780s style.
Fascinating, eh? I find the idea of corrective ridicule especially interesting, for we have already read some of the scathing things he -- or his reporter -- had to say about 1795 fashions. It reminds me, in a way, of how Vanity Fair sometimes sounds, although, I daresay, hardly in as preciously self-aware a manner.
200-plus years later, it's lucky for us that Bertuch did cover a broad cross-section of the fashionable world, for his pictures and his descriptions provide a superb window from which to view costumes and manners.

Read a fascinating biography of Bertuch in the article Bertuch: Weimar's Literary Midwife, by Ian Maxted. It appears online in the Exeter Working Papers in Book History. Many thanks to Ian Maxted for making this resource available. See also a shorter, wiki-style biography of Bertuch on the Art Directory site.
Plus, you can learn more about the drawing school Bertuch founded, which supplied the journal with illustrations, in the Weimar Princely Free Zeichenschule pages on, a sort of short wikipedia.
Finally, have a look at a whole variety of images produced by Bertuch's concerns on Wikimedia Commons.
Happy reading...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

1795 Bodice Designs: Wrap-Front and V Necklines

First rough-and-ready try-on. Eek!
Neckline correct for period but too high
for my taste. Needs proper
pressing. Armscye seam showing.
Flat silhouette; now I want it
less tailored. I obviously
don't have the right sash. Petticoat
issues galore.
I am dithering about my neckline and silhouette.

Well, isn't that an interesting way to start a post. It's true, so far as goes the 1795 morning ensemble I am putting together. This evening I tried on the pretty wrapfront dress I commissioned from Geneece Arnold last year, to see how it would look worn like "my" March 1795 Luxus fashion plate, the inspiration for the ensemble.

I knew that the Sense and Sensibility crossover dress pattern that Geneece had used as a basis for the dress was after dresses with a covered-up look, such as the half-robe in Janet Arnold's book, and that is what I wanted last year, that and a tailored effect for the late 1790s. Yet I wondered how it would do backed up a year or two.

Well, this is why one plans an ensemble months in advance, for the dress and its accessories need some tweaking to work for 1795.

I will show you the rest of the pictures in a separate post so that you can learn too. (Quick note: the dress was ordered unfinished, sans trims or hems, so it does look very plain.)

Meantime, let's look at bodice fit and neckline fit between about 1795-1800.

Bodice Fit and the "V" Neckline, 1795-1800

I am gathering my evidence from three basic sources, and admit up front that my sample is not large. Still, I looked at fashion plates, portrait miniatures, and one extant dress that's close in design and date to what I am after.

Fashion Plate Evidence

The evidence from fashion plates is as follows. In brief: The bodice line, which had emphasized a pigeon pouf in the early 1790s, usually with kerchief set into the neckline, could still be puffy in 1795, with quite a number of gathers, and a tendency to have bunching and edings at the neckline itself. Some dress bodices were beginning to show signs of being more fitted over the bust, though.
Gallery of Fashion, February 1795.

By the late 1790s and 1800, dress bodices tended to be quite fitted over the bust, for a bust-enhancing, smooth fit. Before you raise an eyebrow about modesty, recall that these days, plunging lines and sweater-tight fit are everywhere for daywear.

Sometimes the dress front was wrap-front style; those often had a frilled or other edging. Other times the gown is shown v-necked and apparently front closing, but with perhaps a placket, like some chemise dresses.

Here are examples of the puffier look, from fashion plates.

Here is a plate from Gallery of Fashion, February 1795.

The figure I am interested in is the one of the far left; Cathy Decker says she is wearing a dress of satin. See for more details. Note the puffiness of the bodice.
Gallery of Fashion, April 1795

Now look at April 1795. Here is where you really need the original text. Cathy Decker write that the figure on the left is wearing a striped dress, and she could be. However, the text Cathy quotes from the journal reads: "Petticoat of rich striped silk gauze. Polonoise [sic] of scarlet velver with Circassian sleeves, and full sleeves of striped silk gauze. Small muslin handkerchief within the belt. Gold chain round the neck. Pearl ear-rings. Ermine muff. White shoes." If the reporter says the model is wearing a petticoat, and by that they mean the exterior skirt worn with open robes for the past centuries, then she is not wearing a dress. The puffiness is probably that handkerchief tucked into her belt. Oh, the perils of fashion plates!

However, the figure on the right tells us something useful: "Hair dressed in ringlets. Bandeau and chiffonet of blue and white striped muslin. The bandeau crossed with pearls. One blue, and one blue and white striped ostrich feather on the left side. Chemise of spotted muslin with a narrow flounce, and a plaiting round the neck, headed with a blue riband; the sleeves tied in three parts with the same riband. Handkerchief within the chemise. Blue sash. Gold cross, necklace, and ear-rings. White shoes."

The writer says she's wearing a that means a whole dress. Note how gathered the bodice is, and the sleeves. Quite similar to my March 1795 Luxus plate costume inspiration.
Gallery of Fashion, May 1795

In May we have the best examples yet of a puffy effect, very close to "my" dress, although with perhaps more bust definition.

Here is the description of the leftmost figure: "The hair dressed in a high toupee; two ornaments of white satin in Vandyke scallops, the edges trimmed with silver spangles, placed in two parts of the toupee, and the hair betwixt combed into small curls; the hind hair in ringlets; three white ostrich feathers on the right side. Chemise of embroidered muslin; the collar and labels [lapels] of trimmed with lace; short full sleeves, tied in two parts with silver cords. Pink sash. Pearl ear-rings. Diamond necklace; and two small gold chains with a medallion round the neck. White satin shoes."

I love how the neckline has curve in it. The bustline is also quite defined, making me think that the stays beneath have cups.  Now note that the writer says the dress has a collar and lapels. This would certainly enhance the poufy look. Oh, for a better view.

The rightmost figure is identified as wearing a petticoat...the bodice is not described. "The hair in small curls, and the hind hair in ringlets. Turban of Italian gauze, spangled with silver. A wreath of small roses on the right side; a branch of oak leaves, made of green foil, across the turban, from the left side to the right, in the front. Three large white ostrich feathers in the front, placed one behind the other. Petticoat of white muslin embroidered in silver, trimmed at the bottom with a white satin riband. Lilac satin corset without points; long sleeves of white satin, with a narrow blonde plaited at the wrists; short upper sleeves of white satin, with full muslin tops, looped with a large pearl. Lilac-colored sash. Diamond ear-rings. Two strings of large pearls round the neck. Lilac-coloured shoes." One cannot know, then, whether the top of her ensemble is composed of handkerchief or bodice, which, by the way, has a straighter line.
Gallery of Fashion, May 1796

Later on, plates show the tighter outline. Here's a typical one, showing a dress to be worn to concert or opera, from May 1796. It's described as "The hair combed plain round the face. Chiffonet of silver muslin, the end trimmed with a silver fringe; the hind hair turned up in two loop; silver
Gallery of Fashion, September 1796
bandeau on the left side, and on the right a wreath of honeysuckle silver flowers. Three party-coloured green and white ostrich feathers in the front. Petticoat of white tiffany with a rich embroidered border; white satin body embroidered in silver round the neck. Robe of salmon- coloured tiffany; short sleeves épaulettes, cuffs, and binding of green satin. Full plaiting of broad blonde round the neck. Silk cord and tassels round the waist. Diamond ear-rings. White gloves and shoes."

Another dress, this one a morning style, from September 1796. It's described as "The toupee cut short and combed straight, plain chignon; cap of clear muslin, the cawl drawn behind into the form of a rose, trimmed with a double border of lace, broad green striped riband, forming a large bow in the front and behind; lappet of plaited muslin round the chin. Round gown of thick muslin, with a narrow plaiting of lace round the neck; narrow pink riband tied loosely round the neck. Sash of green striped riband. Cloak of thin muslin, trimmed with the same. Necklace of large beads. Yellow gloves and shoes."

What about the back of the dress? Images of the backs of necklines are not as common. Here is one, that due to the frill is likely a v-neckline in front. It's from Gallery of Fashion, morning dress, July 1796.

Gallery of Fashion, July 1796
Evidence from Portrait Miniatures and Paintings

The evidence from paintings from about 1794-1800 is murkier. First, the dating is trickier. Second, you have to account for a bit more artistic license, although portrait miniatures seem to go, usually, for an accurate depiction of the sitter. Third, what sitters decided was right for them to wear in a given year probably depended on a host of factors. I have taken a sample of portrait miniatures from teh Victoria and Albert Museum, only showing those where the neckline was clear.

Here is a pretty miniature of an unknown woman, dated 1795. for details, see

Do you see how there is a sort of collar going around her neck, a bunch of gathers that then travels down the neckline? Do you note the many gathers across the bodice, and how the bodice-line is fairly soft, and the wee bit of stand-up collar effect? To my eye, this dress is closest to the Tidens Toj dress.

Then a portrait, perhaps of a Mrs. Fane. She has a tight bodice but a high frill. For details see

Here is a portrait of an unknown woman, also dated 1795. Note that the fit is a little tight, but still gathered, and there is a definite bunching or even a lapel, with the frill, right at the neckline. For details, see

Now a later example, circa 1797, this time a painting...because I like it so well. This is Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford.

Here is a portrait miniature, circa 1800, from the V&A. There is still a good deal of fabric in this bodice, still the frilling, and a choker...all of which were popular in 1795, by the way, but the sitter's hair is piled high and more tightly, a later development. For more details, see

Another example from 1800, a Mrs Skottowe. Here, plenty of gathers, but bust enhancing. For details, see

Evidence from Extant Garments

Now for the extant dresses. Right now, I know of only one 1790s V-neck dress that we can really see the details on, the well-known white linen cambric bridal dress from the Tidens Toj collection in Denmark. For details, see

If we look carefully, we can see that the neckline, as it sits on the manniquin, does travel up the neckline some, creating a bit of a collar.

It's easier to see from the back:

Oddly, I cannot see evidence of how the collar was made in the PDF pattern that the collection so kindly provided with the dress. See From other pictures of the dress, offered by a friend and that I cannot post online, I know that the dress front is gathered to the shoulder line as well as to that bit of collar, and then falls to the floor, although it's confined by a drawstring at the waist.

What to Do with My Dress?

So at this point, what to do, to get that boufy front line that I so want?

Right now the bodice exterior layer is mounted to an underlayer, and underneath that is a wrap-and-pin underbodice. This construction is to control the pleating, sheerness, and fit.

Several options:

  1. Redo bodice front altogether. Go for the simplest of chemise dress construction: two loose outer front pieces, one per side, stroke-gathered at the shoulderline, that fall to the floor and are controlled by a drawstring at the waist, which a sash could hide. To create the boufy bunchiness at the neckline, take care to gather and pleat extra fabric at the neckline, and redo back neckline to add a small collar piece. Test for a lapel look. Create center-front placket in skirt. Lauren of American Duchess used a neckline to floor construction and a similar solution is documented in Everyday Dress of Rural America. Underneath I would retain the cross-over underbodice. With care, I can get that loose look of my fashion plate.
  2. Retain the loose front and underbodice per above, but wrap the loose front closed...a wrapfront style. No placket, therefore. Would result in a higher neckline.
  3. Mount the gathers to a topmost underbodice, and control them. Norah Waugh documents this in The cut of Women's Clothes, which is why Geneece and I went for this look when we designed the dress. Retain the underbodice. The mounting allows me to control where the gathers lie, and how those gathers sit as you move around. I can create collar effects and so on. Potential issue: will it look stiff?
The other burning question: can I get a boufy effect with some bust definition, but nothing skin-tight, with my busk-less stays?
Next time, we see how the dress does on the first try-on with stays, petticoat(s) and sash, and what big things I learned.

If I ever have the opportunity to take a coat of arms and a motto, it will be of a bowed head and the words, "In all humility". Not a bad motto generally, come to think of it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Springtime Ensemble from March 1795...and How Underskirts Could Be Worn

Plate 8, March 1795, Luxus.
"Eine junge teutche Dame in
Englischer Tracht."
I'm taking inspiration from a March 1795 fashion plate for my 2011 Jane Austen festival day ensemble. It's of a young lady wearing the latest in English daytime fashions. Given the styling, an English fashion writer would call this morning dress.

Let's hear the original writer, in Journal des Luxus und der Moden, describe this costume. Then let's have his -- for the writer is a him, not a her -- opinion on the matter of petticoats. Whether it's a rant or not, I will let you decide, but he does give us insight into the mysteries of what could be worn beneath one's dress.

First, the German in its original Fraktur typeface, from pp. 145-147:
* * den 14. Febr. 1795.
Hier haben Sie einen Englischen Damen-Anzug von andrer Art. Es ist, wie Sie sehen, kein grieschiches Hemd, sondern eine gewöhnliche Chemise von Mousselin, jedoch mit Englischer Taille gemacht, mit halb offnem Busem, unten eine schmale Falbala, hart unter dem Busem eine Schärpe von dunkelgrünem breiten Atlas-Bande, halbe Armel, mit kurzem Manschetten, und zweymal mit dunkelgrünem Bande gebunden. Um den Hals trägt meine Dame zwey Schnuren Crystall-Perlen, und die reichgelockte Frisur faßt ein breites Bandeau von wies und grünstreiftem Atlas, davon die mit silbernen Frangen besezten Enden hinten herunter hängen; und hinter demselben steigen an der linken Seite weiße and violette Schwungfedern empor.
Um zu wissen, wie denn nun eigentlich unsre Englische-grieschisch-teutschen Damen diesen modischen Conus aus sich formen, habe ich mich in die Mysterien der Toilette eins weihen lassen, und dadurch erfahren, daß der Unterrock hart über die Hüften, der zweyte Rock aber einer Hand breit über jenen weiter herauf unter die Brust gebunden wird, and dieß also bey schlank gewachsenen Figuren, wo die Natur dem Unter- und Ober-Rücke diesen nöthigen Zwischenraum giebt, das schön Abfliegende der Form macht. Bey kurzen gedrungenen Figuren aber, die, wie die Franzosen es nennen, mehr Carrure haben, und wo unglücklicherwiesse der Bund beyder Röcke auf einander fällt, giebt es freylich leider Unformen von der lächerlichsten Art. Indessen ich will billig seyn -- um mich mit dem schönen Geschlechte, um dessen Huld ich auch noch buhlen muss, nicht ganz zu entzweyen, und von ihm für einen misogynen Schuhu erklärt zu werden -- ich will billig seyn, sage ich, und beherzigen, daß die Göttin Mode von jeher neben einigen schönen Formen, eine weit grössere Menge Unformen an ihrem Altere sahe. Sezen Sie gegen einen modernen verunglückten Greischisch-Englischen Kegel die monströse Carrikatur eines weyland fransösischen ungeheurn Reifrocks under einer teutschen großen Hof-Robe, oder die steifgepolsterte, geleimte und gesteppte Glocken-Figur unsrer in Gott ruhenden Aeltermuetter, so weiß ich nicht, wem von ihnen der Vorzug in der Unform gebührt.
It translates to:
* * The 14th of February, 1795.
Here you have an English-style lady's ensemble of another style. It is, as you see, no Grecian tunic [Hemd, here rendered "shirt"], but a normal Chemise dress of Mousseline, however with an English waist [that is, a high waist], with half-open bosom, underneath a narrow flounce [Falbala], right under the bosom a sash of dark-green wide satin ribbon, half sleeves, with dark-green ribbons. Around the neck my lady wears two strands of crystal pearls, and the richly curled frisure is fastened with a wide Bandeau of white and green striped satin, from which a silver fringe-set ends hang behind; and behind the same rise upwards two white and violet ostrich feathers on the left side.

Here are some detail views of the plate. Note how full the bodice seems to have extra fabric and to NOT be pulled tightly to the chest, as would be the case a few years later. Chemise dresses retained some fullness, and when worn as a wrapfront, they might have been fuller yet. The Tidens Toj exhibit's bridal dress of this era, for instance, is quite full and rounded in the bust. (See Lauren of American duchess for one of several recent interpretations of that dress.)

The text mentions a flounce (Falbala), underneath, but I am not seeing it; instead I see a few dark lines. They are in the green color, but I strongly doubt a green underbodice, for in my experience the magazine clearly states when a garment of another color is worn underneath another garment.

I am going to check if Falbala can refer to a neckerchief, although normally the magazine refers to that as some sort of Tuch.


Details at the feet. Note the sweet frill. A few years later, bye-bye to those!

The fashion plate description ends here. In the paragraph directly following, the author continues.

In order to understand, how our English-Grecian-German women now model for themselves this modish Conus (Latin: cone shape), I have let myself be inducted into the mysteries of the Toilette, and through them find out, that the underskirt [Unterrock] [is tied] hard over the hips, the second skirt [Rock] is bound but a hands' breadth wide above farther upwards under the breast, and this too by slim figures, where Nature gives the under- and overskirts this important space, that makes the pretty "outflying" [outward moving shape] form. However, for short, compact figures, that, as the French call it, have more Carrure, and where unluckily the collar by the the skirts falls together, gives it sure enough an ill [malformed] shape of the most ridiculous kind. While I will be fair when talking about the pretty sex, to whose favor I must pay court, not profane, and from whom be taken for a misogynstic horned owl [Schuhu] -- I will be fair, I say, and take heed, that the Goddess of fashion has all along had [sahe --- I am guessing here] a few pretty shapes next to a much larger crowd of ill-shapes on her altar. Compare, you, a modern met-with-an-accident Grecian-English skittle silhouette against the monstrous caricature of the erstwhile French huge hoop skirt [Reifrocks] and a German Court-robe [Hof-Robe], or the stiff-quilted, glued, and stitched figure of our foremothers, now quiet in God, so I do not know, to whom the merit of the ill-shape is due.
My goodness! What a rip! How faux serious he is describing the current silhouette as a Conus, the Latin word for cone shape, most probably familiar to readers of the day in terms of geometry and the sciences. Later, another dig: he calls it a skittle silhouette. His main drift? It doesn't look good on most people. Not that he favors the "glued", "quilted" and "huge" fashions of the past; he can't seem to decide who or what is responsible for the current mal-shaped form now in fashion.

A Hint about Underskirts and Petticoats under Dresses

In amongst the rant, though, a gem of information: it appears that at least in Germany, the silhouette could be made by using two skirts. The underskirt, tied at the hips, pushes out the upper skirt, which is tied under the breast.

Now, here is where I do some guessing. In 1795 many ensembles, usually the more formal ones, were still composed of an open robe worn with a petticoat, with underskirts underneath that petticoat. Yet chemise dresses were very fashionable and were commonly reported in Luxus. Plus, the author is making these comments right after describing a chemise dress.

Therefore, I am going to hypothesize that the skirts he describes in his "mysteries of the Toilette" could both actually be worn beneath the the true underskirt, and the other atop that but still under the dress. During the mid 1790s and late 1790s, it was quite the thing in paintings and especially fashion plates to pull up a corner of the dress to show a pretty petticoat, or to allow it to show in a gap of the wrap dress. These petticoats were often embellished with embroidery, at least in the fashion plates.

Now to find further mentions of this sort of thing in Luxus and elsewhere! Tantalizing.

Why do I include the bit about under things? Because right now I am working on an Unterkleid, an underdress, and figuring out what other options women might also have had.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dress Sashes from My Collection, Part 2

Plaid Silk Taffeta Ornate Pleated and Fringed Sash...Bow

Here is part 2 in a series about sashes. Read part 1, about a pink double-faced silk satin dress sash.
(Plus, edited with new information, thanks to renna-darling, March 14, 2011.)
Get all the geeky image details by clicking on them. Some of the images are BIG.

This one is fun, and until recently, was just as much a puzzle as the previous example. It was also purchased at Curtis Grace and Associates. It's of papery silk plaid taffeta, 11" inches long by 3 3/4" wide. It has some water stains, especially on the tails. The silk is very strong. There is no sign of shattering at all, and no sign that the silk is "weighted" as so many turn-of-the-20th-century silks were. I have a sad examples of that, a petticoat bottom in pink and white warp-printed Colonial Revival pattern silk, and it makes me cry as with every even faint movement it goes to teeny-tiny shreds. I am glad that one cost only a dollar, or was it 50 cents? :}


This ribbon has been pleated at five intervals, with two tails of 32" each. Only one pleat is in good condition, and it's a single box pleat. The ends are fringed with cotton floss, macrameed for decoration.
If you are in for totally geeky detail, here below are those pleats, the bow position, and the ends, in excruciating detail. Can you guess what's going on?

Otherwise, skip a bunch of pictures and paragraphs to my suppositions about how this length of ribbon was used in a sash.

Here below is the sash ribbon laid out. You can see the positions in the ribbon where it was or is still pleated:
  • Each end is about 32" long.
  • There are five pleats, each about 10-12" apart.

Below, the most well-preserved pleat, from the top. It's a simple box pleat. The seamstress used doubled cotton (matte) black thread and ran two or so stitches, one atop the other, through all three layers to create and hold the pleats.

Below, another pleat, from the top. Notice all the tiny holes around it, from threads, no doubt. No other portions of the ribbon have such pinholes except these pleated sections.  Black thread again used here.

Same pleat below, from the back side. See the black thread? In some cases the pleats appear to have been box pleated, others almost gathered, but who knows, since the threads are all torn and sometimes just tiny bits remain.

Same pleat, same side, below, but stretched out so you can see the pleating arrangement.

This is the first pleat in from one 32" sash tail. It is just chock full of pinholes (in a spread of about 5 inches wide), and bits of black thread. However, there is a tiny remnant of burgundy colored thread (with light sheen) that matches the narrow burgundy stripes towards the center of the ribbon width. Then towards the edges, some remnants of a gray-blue very fine thread (very light sheen). The black thread is less fine and by the way, it still looks pretty black; I can't see that it's gone "rusty black" at all.

Below, one tail end, from the back. The raw edge has been turned under twice to a depth of 1/8" and hemmed in that burgundy thread, by hand.

The same tail end, from the front. Floss has been pulled through to the depth of the hem, then knotted macrame style, to a total length of about 4 1/2 inches. The floss appears to be cotton. Strands pulled apart fuzz lightly, and are not filaments; they are also not very strong.

Below, the hem, from the side so you can see the construction. I had to laugh at the geekiness of this picture.

So, what was this thing?

At first I thought it was a full sash. After all, I have been working on the 1790s almost exclusively for 18 months now and back then sashes were single lengths hand-tied.

I tried to imagine how pleats would look around someone's waist, with the poufiness in between pleats, even tried to think of the sash looped. Not an attractive sight, no matter the era.

Then, before dropping off to sleep one night, happened to think of the sash again, and it hit me, this was not the sash itself, but the tails, and the pleated sections were used in the construction of a double bow that lay on top of the tails. This decoration would then have been attached to a belt. Either someone had deconstructed the bow or it had fallen apart. Either is plausible.

Now, as to era.  I'll work backwards.
  • 1970s and after: Seventies and eighties I know well and own a few high-end/couture garments...but all except the costliest feature some synthetic materials, and I cannot think of a home seamstress or local dressmaker doing this piece: that macrame floss would be hokey on all but the late sixties/early 70s, so maybe for a maxi dress outfit. Still, something's off. I go through my list of family and friends here and up North and elsewhere who dressed in these eras, just doesn't fit. Narrow double-faced satin sash? Sure. Fat silk taffeta double bow with macrame, attached to a matching belt? Mmmmm, not likely.
  • It may be late 1930s to the late 1950s.
    • It's an adult sash ornament and those tails are very long, and the silk taffeta is fine, so it would have been for a very special-occasion tea-length or gala dress. 
    • The fashionable silhouette was cone or bell shaped, referencing the 19th century, with small waist, and sashes and bows were popular accessories. 
    • Plaid was popular in the forties and fifties and sixties, and so was taffeta. I wore my grandmother's spaghetti strap plaid green and black taffeta dress to formals in college, and it was a dreamboat of a dress.
    • A real possible, then, produced by a home seamstress or local dressmaker with access to quality materials. The Met has some nice examples of big sashes, and this one has a knotted fringe too.
  • Teens and twenties and early thirties. I don't think so. Fabric and style both feel wrong.
  • Edwardian. No. Plaid was not a favorite and macrame styling was not in, that I can think of.
  • 1880s-1890s. Colors seem off. Plaids were used in the '80s, but this burgundy/green combination? Again, doesn't feel quite right. A possible, but not overly likely.
  • Late 1860s-1870s, even to Natural Form era. Of all the options, this is the one I like most, of course, though it turns out not likely to be an option.
    • Taffeta was popular, and silk was the only kind available.
    • Plaid was popular.
    • These colors and the color combination was very in. If kept out of light, could not the colors have remained true?
    • Macrame sash ends were popular.
    • Bows attached to matching belts were very popular, and with long tails being an especial favorite towards the end of the 1860s.
    • The fact that the silk is strong but the thread and floss are weak speaks to the passage of time.
    • To test the stylistic issues and construction, step on over to the Cornell University HEARTH site, and look up Harper's Bazar. Search for "sash" and for 1868-69 you will get a host of results, including diagrams on how to finish belts with bows and tails very like this. Or if you have Frances Grimble's Reconstruction Fashion, consult it, because her HB images are bigger and clearer; Cornell's image scanning leaves something to be desired.
    • Here's an example from the Met, item number C.I.40.3.1.
March 14, 2011: The Mystery May Be Solved

The sash ornament must be from the 1890s or after, for I just learned from renna-darling that mercerized thread came in at the end of the century; it made threads lustrous, as the perle floss of the fringe is. Renna-darling, a student in a textile conservation program in Edinburgh, pointed this out. This is where a knowledge of the technical is so very valuable.

So I am placing it around the late forties or early fifties, but not much later. The perle floss is weak, and so are the other threads, which is what happens to thread, but the sash itself is still strong. The style of fabric and fringe was popular then but not later, and all materials are synthetics. The later the years get, the more likely a handmade article is likely to incorporate synthetics.

Puzzles like this are such fun. Thank you, renna-darling! Do visit her at Sewing and Sundry, her livejournal blog. She has been writing about her conservation program, and it is fascinating.
Coming up later -- when I am unsure :} -- two more pieces: a complete sash with constructed bow attached to nicely constructed belt, and a length of wide single-faced satin ribbon.