Thursday, February 27, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 4, Skirt Godet Plaits and Interior Ties

Where are we in this research? Getting towards the end, really. Here is the entirety of what has been published so far:
This time, let's remain on the outside the extravagant skirt held out by the underpinnings. An interlining wasn't the only way to help give the outer skirt the proper set. Oh no, modistes had more to add to the game.

Skirt Fluting and "Godet Plaits": Making A Skirt Flare in Back with Pleats and Elastic or Ribbons


Skirts with "flutes" in the back, or "godet plaits", or "organ plaits", or "funnel plaits", were a popular way of giving the back of a skirt a handsome fullness, in the shape of undulating folds. They apparently appeared in the latter part of 1893, just when skirt circumference was really taking off. I find first mention of them in fall newspapers, such as The Progress:

The Progress, November 25, 1893. From Chronicling
America newspaper archive, US Library of Congress.

I love how the newspaper compares godet plaits to organ pipes, but ones that get wider at the bottom. In this early definition, the godet plaits are held with "straps on the under side" of the skirt. So far as I can tell, these pleats were always held to their funnel shape by some sort of interior tapes/straps/elastic.

Mentions of godet pleats occur repeatedly in all the magazines I consulted, and they appear repeatedly in American newspapers. Along with the name of the pleats, the number varied: there could be two, three, or more of these pleats, and there would have to be ties/straps/elastic for each pleat.

The Ladies Home Journal, in January 1894, (p.21), explained how godet plaits should be constructed:
Make the back of the skirt in three organ or godet plaits, which are simply single box plaits, an inch and a half wide at the top and spreading at the bottom to five or six inches; they must keep a rounded look, so cannot be pressed, but must be kept in place by inside tapes. Gathered backs are still in favor, though the plaited ones are newer.
As the text makes clear, these are emphatically not flattened box pleats like we make for skirts of other eras.

Demorest's Family Magazine (December 1894, p. 121), stated that the box plaits at the top flow out into the godet folds: "the back fullness held in box-plaits at the waist, rounding out into godet folds below. These plaits are held in place with elastic bands."

Ladies Home Journal specifies in the "The Skirt of Today": "the back laid in three or four godets or narrow round plaits, which are held by elastic straps five and fifteen inches below the belt" [my emphasis]. (Ladies Home Journal, "Gowns for Occasional Use", January 1895, p. 22)

The Illustrierte Frauenzeitung (February 1, 1895, p. 35) shows a clear illustration of the inside of a skirt, with the tapes clearly visible. Towards the top of the skirt, the tapes are short, so that the funnel shape is narrow. A second row of tapes further down are wider, so that the funnel shapes expand.

Important note: look at the interior frill or balayeuse with a pinked lower edge at the bottom inside of the skirt! Here's another tool for the toolbox.




The Ladies Home Journal offered another solution in April 1895. The pleats were tied in place by ribbons. The ties would lie on top of the exterior of the petticoat, and hold the exterior fabric in its funnel shapes.


A Fluted Skirt Back Could Also Be Achieved With Gathering and Tapes


The pretty fluted effect could also be attained without box pleating it. The Kirkland skirt, illustrated below, was gored as most skirts were, and "the fullness [was] held in graceful flutes" using the elastic straps, per normal. However, the making-up directions directed the seamstress to gather the back of the skirt, not pleat it. The illustration shows a back that is clearly gathered.
The Kirkland skirt with gathered back and skirt fluting. Demorest's Family Magazine,  April 1894, pp. 375, 376, 379.

Preserving the Godets or Flutes, with...What, Stuffing?


In June 1895, The Ladies Home Journal described another way to handle fluting. It sounds rather hot to wear, especially in June under duck fabric, white or not!


Yes, you read that right: "The skirt has the usual fashionable flare, and the organ plaits which are in the back are stuffed with cotton over a quarter of a yard below the belt, so that the round shape is preserved" (my emphasis).

Here's the image of the outfit involved. You can see that the skirt at front is relatively narrow. It's only at the sides and back that there is much width.

An Alternative to Godet Plaits


Not everyone wanted the back side of their skirt to fall in large rounded shapes, especially if those godet plaits were stuffed or one had to worry about the shape of their skirt while traveling. In May of 1895, Mrs. Hooper wrote of an alternative, "rival" style that would be effective for women who preferred a less bountiful effect. In this skirt the godet plaits were dispensed with in favor of just two box pleats that have simply been pressed into position, not held by tapes "caught into place". The skirt is still interlined, though...at the end of the quotation below Mrs. Hooper warns her readers to avoid extra long skirts, because they are "to heavy to lift comfortably". Egad. The New Woman still had to contend with carrying a burden around with her.

For Costumers...


Let's review. To give a skirt handsome back fullness in the form of fluted folds, popularly known as godet plaits, we should:
  • fold the fabric into a box pleat at the top, but NOT flatten it by pressing;
  • at a first point further down the skirt, attach either ties or elastic tapes to the lining to create a narrow funnel shape, or flute, on the outside;
  • at a second point even further down the skirt, do the same, but with a wider tie or elastic.
Another costuming note: Truly Victorian's Ripple Skirt from 1895 features the godets and the interior tapes.

Amid all this thinking and writing, meteorological spring has arrived in the Bluegrass. Snowdrops have been blooming for a while, and Lenten roses, and crocus, and witch hazel, but those are the very earliest harbingers, and they handle snow and frost with aplomb, although not ice.

Now, the -- well, it's name escapes me, but it's an invasive bush -- is just beginning to put out wee leaf buds.




I am standing at one of our local lakes, a previous reservoir hand-dug at the turn of the 20th century to provide water for the town. Fishermen and women are casting lines, the Canada geese are honking, and somewhere there are herons blending in with the shoreline, fishing. Nearby, there are probably kingfishers doing the same thing. The waters are patting against the shore in that pleasing way they have. The road nearby is a bit of a distraction but doesn't spoil the feeling of aliveness and the knowledge that the next six weeks will green our landscape once again.


Next time we will continue our exploration of the forms of stiffenings that made mid-1890s the architectural shapes that hold our attention today. Hint: think wire and rattan.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Reckoning, and Reckoning Up

Last fall in the closet, several costumes and I had an unpleasant reckoning.

Pulling out the 1795 cream silk robe and petticoats and the 1790s transitional stays that go with them, I pulled the stays around me and tugged, and tugged, and tugged. Oh, were they uncomfortable. Did I feel like I was compressed into a barrel, splorging out top and bottom. Ug, unappetizing, too.

Then, fitting both arms into the gown sleeves, I eased into the gown...and stuck fast. Arms pinned back behind me, sleeves half on, movement restricted by the stays.

For a few minutes it was a toss up whether I'd have to call down to my husband for help in escaping, or rip the sleeves getting them off-- they never did make it to my shoulders. With lots of slow wriggling, I worked the gown off in one piece, bummed but philosophic. The dress is over a decade old, and I am closing in on 60. Bodies change.

If that dress didn't fit, the 1870 dress surely wouldn't, and I didn't bother attempting to squeeze into it, even though the stays still fit decently.

What about the 1880s pink lawn dress I bought fairly recently after falling in love with the rosy color? That ought to fit. Nope...I tried in front of the mirror but the buttons at the bust would never kiss the buttonholes.

A bit of panic, a bit of self-disgust.

Now for the 1780s gown, from Verdanta on Etsy, purchased because I loved the striped silk and was time-crunched in front of an event, that I trimmed with some of my antique lace at neck and wrists. Good ---, we'll let that moment slide. The sleeves were like sausage casings and the front only worked if the bodice was set as a flyaway with stomacher.

And so it went. Out of everything I love, only the 18th century English gown, made in 2015 from the Golden Scissors pattern, still fit, thanks to the stomacher and a more generous cut. And the unfinished 1895 outfit.

Age, Illnesses...


If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I live with multiple chronic illnesses. Lack of energy for physical activity, medication side effects, and age-abetted settling of fat, have slowly morphed this body.

For whatever reasons, perhaps some of you are in the boat with me. It's a very human phenomenon.

For long I accepted decay of my abilities as inevitable and frankly lacked the energy to exercise to make it even a whit better. After all, if a trip up the stairs entails a stop midway, to muster muscle energy for the rest of the steps, even a walk is exhausting to mull over, much less attempt.

I wrote last year about regaining strength after a 2018 skiing accident (it was wildly stupid to go back to the slopes to begin with), and until last fall had rebuilt some strength, but the body? Well, the Reckoning showed I had a long way to go.

Fighting Back Harder


Enter Pilates, on Reformer machines, which are bizarre contraptions. I added this class to the mix, and the body responded surprisingly rapidly. I am much stronger, the areas from bust to feet are slimming and toughening slowly. Brain fogs and sad moods which used to hit every few days are rarer now. It's slow going, and I compare myself to a box turtle for speed, but tell myself that turtles know that incremental change is safest.

Still, the clothes are not yet at fitting point. Darned if I will make any more in bigger sizes. Some of these, and some beloved summer clothes, Are. Going. To. Fit.

It's the moment to kick exercise up a notch. Two years in, time for a good push.

Time is scarce. Thus, I am scaling back on hobbies, except for finishing the research on the 1895 outfit and some peaceful moments spinning Lana and Nina's wool, oh and maybe some desperately needed napkins.

When some of the garments fit again, we can reassess. They won't all, and setbacks happen -- have had two interruptions for small surgeries in the last 10 months. Maybe something will go very wrong: it has in the past. That's fine. Yet a mission's a good thing: it gives a person an end point to work towards.

Perhaps you have your own mission of one sort of another. I salute you: allons-y!

Off we go!

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Next time, more on holding out those 1890s skirts. Or that's the plan, anyhow :}