Thursday, September 29, 2011

Google Is Acting Up: I Cannot Leave Comments on Many Posts

Something odd is happening on a number of Blogger-based blogs that I read regularly: the comment feature isn't working!

For example, Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 has a wonderful post on antique writing desks...and I wasn't able to tell her how much I loved hers and its purple writing surface, and that I have one too, which once belonged to a young woman of my hometown. She had signed in her name in several spots inside the box, testing her handwriting skills, and left her pen nibs inside. To that collection I've added childhood letters and cared, and I've carried that writing box with me most of my life and hope to pass it to my children to add their memories to.

Or Hallie of At the Sign of the Golden Scissors, with her post about muslin gowns embellished with silver plate embroidery and other "goldwork". Those gowns are so hard to find...the only picture I'd seen of one until she wrote was a drawing in Gail Marsh's 18th Century Embroidery Techniques. Good sleuthing as always! Again, I couldn't comment.

So, if I seem silent, or you do, please know that it might be Google kicking its heels a bit...

Very best,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cue the Solo Cello

Noah and Christopher on the beach, while Daddy, out front, has a swim.

Bye-bye, summertime.

It's fall.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

From the Collection: An Utterly Fabulous Antique Edwardian Formal Skirt

Skirt front.
Do a train and a trumpet silhouette, sheer silk, peekaboo construction of laters of white and colored sheer silks and lace insets, and a shimmery satin fluff at the feet, encrustions  of beaded motifs, and four -- count them! -- four underlaying flounces, make your heart flutter-flutter?

Then I have the formal skirt of your dreams, an Edwardian confection, a tour de force bought some time ago in totally unwearable, and without major reconstruction, unmountable condition, from a dealer liquidating another dealer's estate. The bodice is missing. Most collectors would call this skirt a cutter; I call it a researcher's and pattern maker's dream.

Over the next several posts I am going to review the materials, the construction details as I understand them, and finally, the measurements. This will all take some time, so be patient, for this skirt is a monument to the Edwardian love of luxury, of layers and of the seen, the suggested, and the hidden, of plays of light and shimmer and soft color. It is also an interesting admixture of the classically curved with the linear and almost medieval, some of the patterns on the skirt seeming to herald the beginning of the very modern era.

As always, click on the images for a larger version, but now it may take two steps to get there. If Google is implementing the slideshow feature for images, on the black slideshow screen that will appear, and towards the bottom left, the phrase "Image from" appears, followed by a Blogger web address. Click that Web address. A new window opens, containing the original image, sized for the window. If you to see the original as big as originally designed, click the image itself and voila.

Actually, in this case, I beg you to do the work and click, for you cannot see the plays of light and detail if you do not.

Skirt Design

Skirt back.
The back of the skirt tells you much about the skirt design. This skirt is shaped like an enormous trumpet. There is so much on the floor that I think the lady who wore it was quite tall, somewhere over 5 feet, five inches, my height. The skirt would have puddled around her feet in any case in the fashionable manner, but not so much as is shown here.

The waistline is shirred all the way around, but most heavily at the back, and as we will learn, would bunch more at the back than is shown, for there are three tiers of interior ties that gather the back together rather like a Natural Form dress of the end of the 1870s.

Further puddle control is a series of long tacks connecting the various layers, holding them together with an inch or so of give, but sewn such that the top layer falls into folds. The entire experience is controlled to maintain the silhouette, but in a flowey manner. Amazingly complex.

The top of the skirt, except the belt, is sheer silk. It shows the a second skirt beneath, of a very pale green silk gauze. Underneath both? Another layer opaque white silk. The skirt from knee down is a light satin, embroidered with cut steel faceted fat bugle beads and glued-on, (yes, glued!) cut steel faceted nailhead beads sans holes, and cut through at sections with lace appliques made of a combination of tape lace with brides and tape lace on net.

Final control over the flow and swish and puddle? Four layers of flounces that help hold the skirt's trumpet shape, that thicken the folding and puddling, that offer swish and a peep of froth. But I hurry myself.

Here is the front waistline, below. The skirt band suggests a belt, and the hanging applied applique, which functions as a Medievalesque extension to the belt. Note the quatrefoil designs. All the beads and nailheads are cut steel, but in two tones; they vary in the light, too.

The front hem is a happy, or uneasy, depending on your taste, mix of the Medieval, the modern, and the Classical Beaux Arts. The lace joining the upper, sheer part of the skirt to the satin part? Classical. The appliques set at intervals all the way around the skirt? Ditto. The cut-steel patterning, and mix of Medieval quatrfoils and Classical acanthus-esque motifs (the pointed ones), and the very nineteen teens lines and the mirroring curve shapes, like wings or...I don't know what they are called...they have a name: you can seen one hanging from a quatrefoil at the lower right of the image below.

A view of the skirt towards the back shows more motifs, in the central motif -- peer closely now, please -- there is what appears to be an "M". Whether this is symbolic of the owner, the maker, something else, or nothing all, remains a mystery to me.

Back bottom of the skirt.

Furbelows Below

I had to say it., had to. Furbelows are frills, and heavens, there are frills aplenty under this skirt! In order, top to base:
  • Pale green gauze gathered frill, with applied narrow self ruche.
  • White gathered gauze frill, with applied narrow ruche of a gauze ribbon.
  • Satin knife-pleated frill.
  • Deep flounce of light crinoline or some sort of stiffened cotton or linen, tucked.

So what do you think? I know I'll have a great bit of fun over the next while, uncovering with you how this lovely thing was put together. I hesistate to say it, but each individual element is in itself not difficult, as you will see, and while good care was taken in the construction, nothing is entirely spot-perfect. It's the sum total that renders it not only an amazing thing to look at, but a dressmaker's tour de force. If only we could see it in movement!

By the way, this is the only time I plan ever to mount the dress, and I had it up less than half an hour, unless I give it to an organization that can conserve it. The top layers are sound, but the underneath is a mess, and the skirt is so heavy that it would soon pull itself apart.

Oh, and why am I pulling this garment out just now? There is a reason, and it doesn't have to do with Halloween, but with modern sewing. We shall see.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Heads Up: Blogger Has a New Way of Displaying Images

Edited on Thursday, September 29: It appears that the slideshow function was a test, for as of a day or two ago now, when I click images on Blogger blogs, Blogger displays them the regular old way. So much for all that :}

Dear readers,

This evening I discovered that when you click an image in a Blogger blog posting, instead of seeing the original image in larger format, you get a slideshow function in a black screen that lets you look at all the images in your a rather small size.

Like many bloggers, I put smaller-scale images in the main text body, allowing text to flow around them so readers can keep the flow going, and only click on images when they want to look at bigger versions.

This slide show is convenient, but isn't so great for costumers who love to offer their readers really big image versions so they can look at fine details like seams and individual stitches. Terrible for people like me who love blogs that show fine details in giant images!

Don't despair: you can still get those mega images. Here's how.

Towards the bottom left of the slideshow screen the phrase "Image from" appears, followed by a Blogger web address, or part of one. Click that Web address. A new window opens, containing the original image, sized for the window. If you to see the original as big as originally designed, click the image itself and voila. View all the details!

Here's a screen capture of the lower left corner of the slideshow screen with the link I am talking about, below.

Happy viewing,


Saturday, September 10, 2011

From the Collection: An 1880s Wire Bustle Pad

Earlier this summer the boys, my mother, and I visited a nearby antique store and I came home with a wire bustle pad, a gift from a favorite dealer. He had a collection of long standing that he was slowing purging, and was pleased to find an appreciative home for something he admitted would find love only from a narrow niche of people.

What a treat, and I was delighted. Here it is, in detail and measured for you, so that together we can enjoy its fascinating construction and wonder who might have worn it. An adult garments for end of the 1880s to 1890s, when bustles were falling out of fashion and later, when a bare pad just added a little oomph? Or a young girl? If the latter, we might imagine how she felt to wear such padding, light though it might be. If children then are anything like they are today, I imagine some girls fancied the grownup experience of looking fashionable, if uncomfortable, while others felt it a silly and inconvenient impediment to their fun and movements. I would certainly fall in the latter camp!
Like I have, I think you'll find the construction ingenious. It's also a good example of economy of materials and labor. The materials are high quality and the construction sound and sturdy, but there is stitching and stapling only where absolutely needed. Manufacturing elegance, here, and awareness of labor time spent, but still a secure, quality result. Sure wish my microwave was as sturdy...our less than year-old machine broke, the manufacturer gave us money for replacement, but the first replacement was dented inside its multitude of undented wrappings, and the second has a defective face panel. Quality control went down the tubes there. Sigh.


The bustle itself is made of wire. It's probably steel wire, though it shows no signs of rust. The wires have some "memory" to them; that is, if you apply a little pressure to them, they resist the pressure rather than denting. The strength of the shape is assisted by the way the structure is made: the wires are woven almost like a very wide window screen (do you feel an idea coming on, bustle lovers?) However, the memory isn't that strong, for there are some small dents in the structure.

Of what the tapes are made, I do not know; they feel like cotton, but I've never felt linen tape and so cannot tell. The tapes themselves are pretty, if discolored. The central part of the width is herringboned, while the edges, to some 1/4 inch, are tabby-woven selvage. The effect is discreetly architectural.

Total weight? An ounce or two.

There are no labels or other manufacturing marks on the bustle.

Construction, So Far as I Can Tell

The bustle appears to have been made as a wire tube, which was then bent into a crescent and a fold introduced into the wide side. Each end was then squashed into a nub perhaps 1/4 inch thick, and capped like this, so far as I can tell:
  • A length of the same tape appears to have been wrapped about the nub. I cannot see it except where the outer covering, described below, has worn away.
  • A length of the same tape was folded. At the end of one long side it was sewn into a seam the width of the bustle nub. The tape was then turned inside out to protect the seam.
  • The nub was inserted into this little pocket.
  • The covering was stapled twice at each end of the forward edge of the tape, where the bustle itself starts. 
The bustle was then attached to a tape belt, like this:
  • A length of tape long enough to go around the waist was cut. 
  • The bustle was laid alongside it, off center, so that the tape belt would buckle at the side! That is accounted for by the fact that one end of the tape is longer than the other, and the short end is cut raw, folded once, and stapled. The other end is raw. The buckle is missing.
  • Another length of tape with a tiny seam allowance on each end was laid underneath the waist tape, so that it doesn't show when the bustle is worn. It's like a facing. It is as long as the distance across the interior edge of bustle where it would sit at the waist, but measured straight across from nub to nub. This means that when worn the bustle wire may not touch the wearer too much. Instead, the tape comes under stress and pulls each end of the bustle closer to the wearer.
  • Both short ends were turned and sewn under.
  • The long edge was sewn to the waist tape at the edge closest to the wearer.
  • This made another, very long pocket. The end of the outer nub wrapping tape was stuck inside, and stapled with one staple close to the nub. I cannot tell for sure, but I don't think the side of that tape is caught in with the facing each seam, and there is no other stitching holding it to the waist tape.
  • The other long edge of the facing was not sewn; you can see in the images that part of it has folded back.
  • In the middle of the facing pocket is another nub of tape, stapled. The edge is broken off and it doesn't stick out of the facing pocket. What it was for I do not know. You can see it in the image where I am holding the waist tape, just below.

I do not believe the metal itself would touch the wearer's waist

The Bustle's Age

An example of this very model of bustle was sold by Augusta Auctions some time ago as part of Lot: 521, March/April 2005 Vintage Clothing & Textile Auction, New Hope, PA, labeled as bustle pads from 1880 to 1890. That bustle pad was in better condition than mine is. If you look at the other examples, you can see some of the variety of bustle pads out there. 

Was It Meant for an Adult or a Child?

I did a little experiment. I carefully wrapped the waist tape to the mannequin. The tapes wrapped with an inch or two to spare. However, the result is just eeeny-weeny, and although the skirt would puff out a little, the bustle horns don't wrap well around the waist; you can see this on the back view, especially. Very out of proportion, sitting so awkwardly that it feels tippy. The horns of the bustle pad don't stretch to wrap the waistline enough so that the tension on the belt helps hold it close, but not too close.

If worn by an adult, the tournure given to the skirt would be narrow and miniscule. just enough for the very end of the 1880s and the 1890s.

Look at the variety of bustles sold in that Augusta Auctions lot. "My" bustle pad is at the far right and is smaller than the others.

However, it might fit a young girl nicely, because the waist and hips would be narrower than an adult and the horns of the bustle wrap naturally and in proportion.

Not being a bustle expert, I just am not sure. I'd want to try it on a properly sized and fitted dress of the era to see. Can anyone illuminate this further?
How It Was Worn

Let's have a look at a few fashions.

Augusta Auctions sold this skating dress from the 1880s in lot 205, November 2009. One might expect smaller padding for this activity, but the tournure produced is still sizeable. The auction page has multiple pictures for you to peruse.

This September, 1890 Godey's fashion plate shows the very last gasp of the bustle era. Perhaps in this year my modest bustle pad might have worked?

Here's a girl's bustle dress from the 1880s, sold by Augusta Auctions, lot 326, April 2006, New Hope, PA. See that little bump on the back? Bustle...

Here is a fashion plate from Godey's, 1874, showing a girl in a bustle dress, with a similar bump-out on the back. Neither bump is extreme, it's just there. Were bustles similar to mine worn for the First Bustle era? I know that adult bustle pads of this sort existed. Whether this make and model was in circulation at that time, I don't know, but the effect in children's wear was very similar. Here below is a Godey's example from February of 1874.

What Can You Do with This Information?

As I examined this little bustle bad, methought, one could take an old window screen or other wire, and do something similar with it, for either a child or an adult. The result would be a modest bustle effect, but light and less uncomfortable than a full tail would be.

Sure hope someone takes this idea and runs with it!

In Other News...

I am rethinking the Madame Cobweb 1869 dress project. For some reason, despite initial enthusiasm, I became sated with the style after researching it during vacation. Since 2008 I have aged some, and what seemed handsome then, now, after years of Regency wear and looking at robust 18th century originals on which the early 1870s inspired themselves, feels prettified, rather child-like, and out of my current mood.

Further, there are some house projects burning to be done: a cushion for the big early 19th century Empire settee in the upstairs hallway, curtains. While I am at Mom's, I could  make at least one of those projects.

Hard to say.We shall see.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Entering the Silly Season: An 1869 Madame Cobweb Dress

The silly season is upon us: time to design for Halloween! Having looked at so many sacques and polonaises these last weeks on Hallie Larkin's blog, I've conceived a sudden desire for floof and pouf, and bethought me of the First Bustle era, and my unfinished Dolly Varden project.

Since Christopher wants to be a cowboy again this year, I think I will accompany him as his mama, Madame Cobweb. Noah will be my black kitty cat -- he wants to be a kitty again this year, at least for the moment. They've grown so that I will need to make new outfits for them again, but those are easy and lots of fun. Madame Cobweb will actually make two appearances, since our tea society is having a Ghost Tea here at the end of October, too.

This dress will not be a Dolly Varden per se*, since those dresses were made up in eye-popping floral prints and date to 1872-1873. No, this will be a charcoal gray dress trimmed with black ruching. The design? The dress on the right in the image at the page top. You can read all about the pattern on page 77 of the January, 1869 issue of Peterson's, but I'll make some bodice changes, to be discussed in another post.

* Curious about the Dolly Varden phenomenon? See some research I did on it in the post A Brief History of the Dolly Varden Dress Craze.

Materials: All from the Stash, and Some Found Time

I have the bustle all ready, and a chemise, and a half-finished petticoat. I have the Truly Victorian patterns for the bodice and underskirt, and the pattern for the overskirt from Peterson's, and the fabric, a length of black cotton bought ages ago, and grey fabric, content unsure, purchased for a song long before the boys were even born. I even have black lace from my friend Curtis Grace and antique steel boning found in a grab bag I've been holding on to for some six years. It will be nice to thin the stash.

Better yet, the gift of time. The tots are getting their chickenpox booster shots in a few weeks, and since I have a chronic condition, have been told to be away from them for a week. Therefore, I'll be over at my mother's and make the costumes up in the evenings (the days are devoted to work, and if I am lucky and can get the fabric, to a curtain project).

Very little handsewing on this one, either...time to pull out the period handcrank to speed the construction, and time to use the pinking sheers to avoid having to finish interior seams. Plus, I've learned a great deal about seams and trims since 2009, and have a couple of damaged garments from the mid to late nineteenth century to refer to when -- it's not a matter of "should", but when :} -- I get stuck.

Anyhow, this will be the last project for this year, and a fun, quick one that results in a dress I can pull out annually for Halloween parties.

Stay tuned :}