Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Un Grand Chapeau

With the Accessories Conference looming a short distance away, I keep reading blogs from ladies who are building quite a trousseau to bring with them!  Unfortunately I don't have the time to build a new gown, nor do I really need to with the number of things I have.  So, what better way to prepare for that conference than to build a bunch of accessories?  The Robe a la Polonaise I recently finished seems to show just about anything you can imagine with it in its fashion plates, so that seems like the best outfit to revolve around.  My new Brunswick jacket already has a fur muff and there's not much to do other than that.  I don't know how many items I'll finish by March 12th, but I will certainly keep posting them here as I go along.  First on the list is a GIANT fluffy hat.

I wanted something akin to these.  I have plenty of taffeta, silk gauze, ostrich feathers, and even paper flowers.

Making an aqua and yellow hat seemed way too matchy-matchy, so I started with just the yellow silk from the trim.  I decided to do a pouf in the middle, silk covered in gauze.  The gauze strips will gather around the edge and the silk donut will cover their inside edge.

I first gathered and stitched down the ruffle.  I'm trying to hold the back up with a few tacks so it can bend overnight.

Next I stitched down the silk donut.  You can see how the backside is already prone to curve a bit.  I used a spaced back-stitch, but kind of wish I had slip-stitched it instead, even if that would be more difficult.  I also ironed the gauze down a bit.

Then gauzy pouf!  I left the gauze 2" larger around than the silk for a second ruffle and gathered both pieces together.

 I found another taffeta in my stash that was a slightly pinker yellow, bordering on rose.  I took a 10" strip and ironed the edges over.  I did quick pleats at the flowers and the back to gather it down.

 The rest of the silk length I played around with for a bit, trying bows and fans, but finally settling on pulling it over the edge into the crown.

Next I played around with the flowers a bit more, tacking them down, and organized the feathers.  I have so many colors of each that it really was a bit of a challenge as to what to use.  In the first picture you can see the Polonaise it's meant to go with.  In the second, I've curved the feathers a bit more so they don't stick up so high and tacked the brim to the crown in back so it stays curved up.

Quick mirror pictures.  I need a bigger wig, mostly in width.  Certainly seems like an appropriate Spring outfit though!  I also need to tack the flowers and feathers more, especially in case of a windy day.

Today I'm working on recovering an antique parasol, if only I could get the MFA website to co-operate!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Worsted Stays

My first pair of stays were beginning to show some major signs of wear, but I work too often to do any repairs to them.  Solution?  Make a second pair!  I decided to make this pair out of a lovely teal worsted wool, not only to show off all that channel stitching but to co-ordinate with the Robe a la Polonaise I was currently making.  They're still based on the same original stays that my white pair is.  The fit was just so comfortable I couldn't argue against using it again!

As always, I hand-stitch EVERYTHING.  I used a heavy, bleached linen thread for all of it.  Channels are all back-stitched except for the ones next to the center back which have a spaced back-stitch.  I usually end up with around 10 stitches per inch, a little on the tiny side.  Seams are butted and whipped together.  The center front is "open" part way down, but the laces keep it shut.  The eyelets are created using an awl, finished with double thread (the only other place double is used is on the seams).

The un-lined inside looks a bit rough.  You can see the heavy linen used for the structure and boning channels; two layers covered with the wool on the exterior.  The seams are whipped down before lining. The leather binding is stitched with running or back-stitches to the outside then flipped in and whipped down.  The heavy linen is cut to the finished edge, but the wool is left about 1/2 longer and whipped down before binding.  It helps to stitch the leather to an edge which isn't fraying.  You can also see the connecting thread between the eyelets, which will get hidden by the lining.

The linings purpose is to take all of the sweat, friction, and smell of the body.  It's easy to remove and has as few seams as possible (none in my case!).  The tabs are done separately, which I can vouch is much easier than trying to work around those curves with one piece.  It also means that you may not have to replace tab linings each time.

Notice how the leather binding curves over the ends just slightly.  Adds more durability to that corner so no fraying edges sneak out.  I'm thinking about adding leather strips around the eyelet holes as well to keep the lacing from wearing them down.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Polonaise History

This is going to be a very brief idea of what a Robe a la Polonaise is.  There's not a mass amount of reference material easily found on this type of gown and I'm certainly not going to make anything up.  However, and this is the fun part, Brooke Welborne and Kendra Van Cleave have done a lot of research on it for the last few years and should be coming out with a very in-depth article soon (squee!).

So, what I want to do here is show some fashion plates, and a couple extants, and talk about the many options you can see here.  As I mentioned previously, this gown was very popular in the 1770s and 80s. It can be full length, short jacket, or in-between.  Even though the gowns were polonaised in back, the short jackets weren't.  But, the separate and loose front still defined them both.

This is a solid silk taffeta robe trimmed with silk gauze.  As you'll see in many of the fashion plates, gauze is VERY popular.  The trimming continues all around the hem of the gown, with a deep ruffle on the petticoat.  Notice the placements of the bows is very far down compared to some of the following images.

Stripes were certainly common as well.  Notice how her polonaising is very uneven, with the fronts being much higher than the back.  She still uses gauze trim, which one the sleeves continues all the way up to the armscye!

This is one of the publicly findable extants, from the Met Museum.  It's just about the reverse of my color scheme.  The trimming is very simple, just applied.  The neckline has a collar instead of a typical open gown neck.  Most of the seams have cording sewn on.  The trimming on the long sleeves is at the top rather than elbow or bottom, it seems to be a hap-hazard puckering.  I'm assuming they have the skirt pulled up completely, and it seems to be fairly low compared to some other images.  I do love the applied "bows" at the ends of the seams.

There appears to be a tie in front, possibly to hold it together.  They've pinned the front closed further down, which gives it a very awkward puckering.  I'm assuming the bodice is missing on this extant.  It does clearly show the obvious widening of the trim as it continues down.  The full length sleeves are often found in the 1780s, rather than early on.

This fashion plate also has the cording along the seam lines, although her gown is again trimmed in gauze.  Yet another trimming option of flouncing on the petticoat.  The skirt in this case is pulled up by use of ribbon or cording, just barely visible.  Her sleeves also appear to have the random puckering.  And one must apparently have an equally grand wig to go with their gown, as all of the fashion plates show!

This is a perfect example of a short jacket.  Long sleeves were common on this style, which was more popular in the 1780s.  It also shows off a fabric option of "toile", what looks to be a cotton print at that.  The border trim would also be a really interesting challenge if you aren't the ruffly type.

The overall design isn't much different from the prints before.  The petticoat has a very deep flounce and the gauze trim on her gown appears to be stuffed.  She also has a few tassels hanging in front and back.

This is one of my favorite examples.  It's in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection.  They made a recent study of it, reproducing it three times over; once as a copy with all the defects, again by hand but adjusted to a pattern, and finally in a different size to be used by an interpreter.  It's an unusual piece with some strange stitching, but it goes to show there's no singular right way.  It's shorter than most of the gowns in the prints, the skirt is pulled up with a strip of fabric which hooks to the back.  The cuffs are made separately with very erratic tacking then stitched onto the sleeve.  There are also ties in front, but the bodice is missing and appears to have been a separate piece.

This is my favorite print for some reason.  It's a very simply trimmed jacket and the only time I've seen a contrasting petticoat.  All of the seams appear to be corded.  Make this out of a cotton dimity or cherry-derry and this would be an immensely practical summer garment.

This example is a bit unusual.  It appears to have no trim, but if you look very closely and read the description, there is a border on the petticoat and possibly on the gown of a different colored taffeta.  The back also appears to be separate from the skirt and there is an immense amount of fabric pulled up!  I can't tell if the neck ruffles are built in, but I don't see evidence of a kerchief.

This is the image I used for my trimming.  She also appears to have a ruffle around the bottom of her bodice, but I left that off.  You can clearly see a narrow gauze ruffle around the neckline on her gown as well.

She has a very interesting, almost wavy edged trim around her gown.  And the flounce is topped with an erratic puckering.  There is also a small line of trimming around a pocket slit.  I don't have a slit in mine, and the images often don't show one, but it is apparently an option.  She also appears to be wearing a bum roll rather than side hoops.

This again show the uneven polonaising, as well as a plethora of bows.

This print labels her fabric as l'Indienne, another type of cotton chintz, again with gauze trim.  The line of gathering on the trim is far off center, comparison to most of the others which use one or two lines equally spaced.  Her bodice also appears more waistcoat-like, though it doesn't distinctly show buttons.

This gown appears to made of a similar toile to the orange jacket above.  It shows just about every matching accessory one could imagine, sans a walking stick or puppy, but she is out of hands.  Perhaps a few ideas to attempt accomplishment before the upcoming Accessories Symposium in March?
And finally "The Spruce Sportsman, or Beauty the Best Shot".  This lovely jacket is not only shown with a contrasting petticoat, but a different color bodice as well.  The Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop at Colonial Williamsburg recently did a living version of this work.  You can find the making of it on their Facebook page.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


This weekend I spent a couple days in the second part of a four part workshop on making 18th century ladies shoes.  It is extremely in depth, taught by one of the shoemakers from Colonial Williamsburg, Brett Walker.  I want to try to talk about the general history and construction of shoes from that period.  It's a huge subject to try and sum up in one post, but I can honestly say I'm not well versed enough in shoes to make a long stretch of posts (but I hope to be!).  What I'm going to try to do here is get rid of a few "myths" and give you a better knowledge in purchasing or making your own shoes (including a few recommended shoemakers).  As a topic rarely touched upon, please let me know if you have questions or if you would like anything explained in a more in depth manner.

First, the anatomy of a shoe.  I highly recommend getting to know these terms, not only will it help you in recognizing the time period of a shoe, but you can use them if you order anything custom so you'll get exactly what you're looking for.

The Vamp is the frontal part of the shoes which covers the toe area.
The Quarters cover from the back and can continue up and over, extending into straps for the buckle.
The Tongue is an extension of the Vamp which continues up above the buckle.
The Heel is a wooden piece that lifts the back of the shoe.

The Toe is the tip of the last or shoe.
The Joint is measured behind the toes, the "ball" of the foot.
The Instep is the top of the foot where the bone drops down.
The Heel is the very back of the foot/last.

A wooden Last is what a shoe is built over.
The Upper refers to the Quarter and Vamp (fabric portion).
The Sole is the bottom piece of leather which wears against the ground.
The Insole is inside of the shoe on the bottom, between sole and foot.
A shoes Lining can be made of leather or linen.
The Binding that covers the raw edges of the shoe can be linen, leather, or silk.
Toe-spring refers to how closely the toe of the shoe sits to the ground or bends upward.
A Rand is a small, folded piece of white leather that is inserted between the Sole and Upper.
A Randed shoe has a Rand and is made right-side out on a Last.
A Turned shoe is made inside-out on the Last, then turned.  It has no Rand.

Next I have a variety of shoe images from across the 18th century.  All of these are taken from the Shoe Icon website.

The first shoe is from 1720-40.  Notice the large floral design on the fabric, this is only popular during the first half of the century.  The toe is very pointed and has a fair amount of toe spring.  The heel is large, almost clunky.  The quarters are short, only about half of the overall length and the tongue is very long, extending about an inch above the straps.  I will note here that despite being a large tongue, it is not "gathered" up into a fan shape.  Where that idea came from I have no idea, but to my knowledge (and that of far more reliable sources) they didn't exist in the 18th century.  And last, but not least, the white rand above the sole.
This shoe is dated 1750-1760.  It has a very different look than the first.  The heel is still fairly large, but no where near a clunky heel.  The fabric is plain weave corded silk, although floral brocades were still popular at this time.  The toe is round and has very little spring.  The quarters have begun to lengthen as well, but the tongue still shows far above.  Rands have fallen out of style at this point as well.

The third shoe is from 1775-85.  The heel has narrowed considerably into an Italian heel.  The toe has brought back some of the point, but no spring.  Brocades are out, replaced by solids, small stripes, or very petite designs.  The tongue is shorter and becomes pointed for this small window of time.  The use of Whit-taw (white tawed leather) on the buckle straps seems to be limited to this time as well.  The quarters have lengthened to about 2/3 of the total.

This shoe is 1790-1805.  The toe is very pointed and the heel very short, but still tiny.  Buckle straps have disappeared and gone out of style, leaving the instep uncovered.  Decorating with small bows or trim seem a popular way to replace the buckle.
This pair is also from 1790-1805, but seems to exhibit what is to come in the next century far better than the last pair.  The heel has disappeared almost completely, if one can call a slightly thicker leather at the back a "heel".  The point occasionally has some toe spring, but not always.  The cut-work and tambouring on the toe are is a very popular decoration during this time as well.

Now that we know the basics of what a shoe looks like, what is it made of?  And what variations existed?

If you ever visit a re-enactment or costumed museum site *ahem*, it seems to be that 90% of all ladies wear black leather shoes with little or no heel.  The only ones who don't have on fancy silk gowns.  It isn't truly the case.  Did black leather shoes exist?  Yes.  But who wore them?  Garsault specifically says that leather shoes are for the "low, mean sort".  Records show them being given to the poor by the church.  I will follow this up by saying that the European continent (especially farther East) tended to have antiquated and simple tastes with shoes.  This example may have come from that area where plain leather shoes were a bit more common.  Just step out of modern ideas and think about it, leather may be durable but it was cheap at that point (not an upgrade like today).  Black may "go with everything" today, but it would be awfully boring to only own black shoes EVER.  Women way out in the wilderness were ordering fabric shoes rather than leather, and a quick perusal of the VA Gazette shows more listings for Calimanco, Satin, and Silk than leather!

You will see black shoes in a great deal of art from the 18th century.  Whether this was just a simple way to draw/paint them or they truly all wore black shoes is hard to say.  In the Gazette listings of coloured Satins and Silks were often mentioned and I saw one specific mention of Black Calimanco.  I did see one Black Leather listing, but it was in the children/youth shoe mentions, not womens.  Sturdy silks and wools were much more elegant and could still stand up to a lot of wear.

Not all leather shoes were of poor quality.  Nicer, colorful leathers were available and a bit stylish.  What you have to remember is unlike today, leather was not "better".  Leather car seats or sofas are an upgrade now.  Not back then.  Leather was cheap and easily available.  Yes, it is durable, but do we all wear work-boots all the time just because they wouldn't wear out??  Fashion was important, even for the ladies who were far out in the wilderness.

Brocades and Damasks were a popular, fairly durable, option for shoes up until about the 1770s.  Designs weren't always huge and colorful.  The narrow stripes on this shoe are a bit deceptive, hinting at popular styles to come in the late 1770s, while the overall silhouette shows this shoe to be from 1750-70.

This shoe is made from a lovely silk satin and unusually trimmed with fringe and a large rosette instead of a buckle.  This pair is dated to 1780.  The small heel, pointed toe, and pointed tongue date it even without some of the more obvious signs.

Also in a silk satin, this pair uses a single, trimmed bow to replace a buckle and straps.  The heel is a bit larger, but it still dates to the 1780s.  Some ladies were, perhaps, a bit more practical or less sturdy on their feet.

This is a ladies slipper.  It was meant to be worn about the house, although you do see some images of laundresses wearing them for working.  It's made on the same last as a normal shoe.

 Not all shoes made were "wearable".  Just like some of the extreme shoes of today, they too had their experiments.  One doesn't have to wonder how this pair survived the years.  I'd be surprised if it was ever worn!

Overshoes were a very practical way to keep your soles and heels from wearing out and protecting the fabric uppers from rain or dirt.  This pair is open, but some did cover the toe area of the shoe.  They were built to fit a sister shoe exactly, the ridge in the middle is filled with cork.

Overshoes didn't have to cover all of the shoe either.  This pair, from the 1790s, covers only the toe area.  It attached using a small strap that went around the heel.  Being of leather it probably did more to protect the fabric or toe tip than the sole.