Sunday, December 9, 2012

Steampunk 3: Silvery Moon

The final ensemble (but not the final post) was for the formal ball, themed to our weekends "Trip to the Moon".  There was a grand Civil War era brass band playing while we walzed, polka-ed, did the Virginia Reel, and so much more.  This is where my skirt lifter became absolutely necessary, clipping the long train up so I could dance.  Though I did manage most of a waltz with it down!
The gown was based on Worth-style gowns of the late 1880s- particularly the infamous red one from Vintage Textile.  I am wearing a full length, very large bustle underneath along with an extra ruffly petticoat.  The base skirt, which is completely covered, is light blue silk taffeta.  Over that in front is a piece from a sari which I purchased six months ago and designed most of the dress around, keeping a starry sky in mind.  The back bustle and bodice are silk satin with a slight iridescence (the wrong side is mint).  Finishing off the bodice and peeking out from the skirt is changeable silk chiffon.  The jewelry is all family antiques- all starburst shapes.  I made the fascinator from coque and biot feathers which I found in the absolutely most perfect colors to mimic a crescent moon shape.  This was all meant to pair with Gwendolyn's Dark Lady of the Night gown.



The bodice lower edge is finished with piping, the interior flat-lined to a sturdy silk weave with bones on each seam.  The back spiral laces shut with silk cord and the drape hooks to the other side to hide the top.  The skirt hems (both under and top) have deep facings from cotton.  I stiffened the outer one with gum tragacanth, which I can't recommend enough.  There's also lace gathered onto the taffeta underskirts hem facing.  I'll eventually do a post detailing the insides and under structures of all of my outfits.
From here down there is no more text.  Gwendolyn and I went out to a local antique store called Charlies and spent quite some time taking pictures (be sure to check her blog for more!).  So much fun and the perfect location.  And, yes, that is a weeping angel.












Thursday, December 6, 2012

Steampunk 2

Of course, I can't be caught wearing the same outfit twice, so the second day brought a completely different ensemble.  This one has its roots in numerous gowns and jackets of the 1890s.  The first pictures were taken in front of an antique desk that was steampunked into a cigar rolling factory- a combination of Dr. Grymm Laboratories and Foundry Cigars.  And yes, even the cigars have cogs on them!
The main body of the dress (which is two separate pieces) is claret worsted wool.  The sleeves are antique lace which had long since lost their bodice, the fur trim is actually dyed raccoon, the lapels are a woven silk mix, while the waist is based around an antique ribbon.  The skirt diagram came from The Cut of Women's Clothes while the top was patterned, inspired by this jackets lapels.

The sleeves were inspired by this image of Japanese lady in western dress.  The two items hanging from the waist are a small watch and a skirt lifter.  I found the lifter on Ebay, still with it's original cord.  It's not only beautiful, but saved my hem numerous times (and as you'll see with my ball gown, it was absolutely necessary).

The hat is probably my favorite part of the whole ensemble.  The shape was based on this rather infamous hat, covered in silk velvet.  The ribbons are all antiques, mostly sections too small to do much else.  Wrapped around the hat it's a checkboard with floral, while the bow is black and white stripes.  I worked in a hidden section of ribbon to hold the giant pheasant feathers, making them easily removable (necessary when sitting in talks and panels).

Though you can't see it in the pictures, the lapels are embroidered (mostly by hand).  I used a silver Aesthetic Movement picture frame as the basis for the design.  Some of the threads have metallic wrapped in, but all are silk.  The buttons are embroidered as well.

The sleeves are cartridge pleated so they aren't puffy on top, but lined with silk taffeta to keep them stiff.

The waist ribbon is backed by black moire taffeta and copper taffeta.  It wasn't very strong anymore, though it looks to have originally been a sash.  The center back peaks up slightly.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Steampunk 1

This past weekend Gwendolyn and I attended Teslacon 3.  It was an amazing experience and I can't wait to attend next year.  We had never done Steampunk before and were struck by how welcoming the community was and how passionate.  Costumes ranged from airship crews to military to adventurers to chimney sweeps to ladies in bustle gowns.  Throw in a dalek, a unicorn, a Data Sherlock Holmes, and a few Star Wars characters.  With 1500 people, there was a lot of variety.  Of course, I took my inspiration from history, though I didn't want to make anything "normal".  My first outfit was inspired by a jacket sold by Augusta Auctions.  I've lusted after it for years, but never had it seemed right for the occasion.  But for this it was just perfect.  I made some alterations to the design for practical and preferential reasons.  Our character inspiration came from two sisters who were dancers at the Follies Bergeres.  We could be fashionable without having to be demure.  No one ever saw it, but the skirt has a ruffled can-can petticoat underneath with knickers that match my boots!

I split the bodice up into separate pieces, making it adjustable; a cotton short-sleeve blouse, a silk taffeta waist, a wool vest, and a navy wool jacket.  The hat is just a simple sailor hat made of buckram covered in silk taffeta and trimmed in grosgrain ribbon.  The trimming on the skirt is antique silk gimp; what was left over after I removed the rows of narrow gimp for trimming the bodice.

The collar could stand up or lay down as I'll show later.  Yet another adjustable portion of the ensemble.

The interior of the jacket was lined with silk taffeta, the edges from cream wool to match the vest.  All of the gimp came from the antique trim.  The vines and checkerboards were hand embroidered with wool floss and silk button twist.  The inserts of cream wool on the outside were piped to finish them off.  The buttons are all german silver.

The collar has five points over all, the gimp trim running in a fairly random pattern.  Not always easy to do for someone who is neurotic about symmetry!  The embroidery changed only slightly on the jacket, due to using my own trim (finding a perfect match would have been impossible).

The vest is cream wool with a polished cotton back.  The embroidery design vaguely resembles the original, though I chose to greatly alter the frog design.  You can see my fight for symmetry still winning in this piece over the original design.

The waist is silk taffeta backed in cotton.  The center front line has boning in it and hooks closed.  The buttons are decorative.

The jacket can be worn multiple ways.  This shows it closed with thread loops creating an asymmetrical front line.  Here you can see the inlays of cream wool in the front and sleeve cuffs.  Interestingly, I found this jacket to have no darts for shaping.  Instead, there is a seam which runs perpendicular to the inlays, just above them.  This allows for shaping the jacket to the body.  I can't say that fitting process was easy at all and I have a great deal of respect for the designer who came up with that idea!

The way I chose to wear the jacket was buttoned open with the collar flipped up in back.  There is a fair amount of interfacing in the collar for that reason, though I should have put in more.

Detail of how all of the trim continues around the neck line and pairs with the vest.

The inlays continue around to the back, extensions of the front overlapping.  Having the piped seam in front for shaping also allows the bottom section to extend out and become a buttoned down flap.  The tail is attached to the jacket, though it appears to have originally been attached at the bottom of the waist.  The buttons on the tail are wrapped with silk cord.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heel Carving

This pair of shoes is a first for me in many ways.  The heel, however, posed the biggest challenge.  I'm accustomed to adjusting a shaped heel down to fit my size, but those heels aren't the right shape for pre-1760 styles.  So, I bought a turning block of birch wood.  It came 3x3x12 and I'll manage to get two pairs out of it.  First, it need a good chopping down to get it as close to the final product as possible.  I don't generally do wood work, which means I don't have proper tools.  I will definitely be buying some before the next pair- this was just painful (I managed four blisters).  The initial part was easy since I have a bandsaw.  There is definitely a reason why heel making was a separate trade in the 18th century.
On the left of the image is the pre-shaped heel I've used before.  The other two pieces are what I managed to carve away with the bandsaw.  You can see the shapes I drew out for the different views- a long way to go.

All of the detail carving was done with my regular shoemakers knife.  I'm not sure what tools I need yet, but some thing that allows me to carve out concave curves would be amazing.  The middle example isn't quite there yet, but you can see the shape emerge.

On the right is the nearly finished heel.  I made some minor adjustments after checking it against the shoe; tapering in the sides more and trying to remove some bulk from the top back to allow it to fit into the heel cover.

The finished product pasted in.  There's a very nice curve going from the upper into the heel in back.  I was surprised at how easily the cover pulled around the complex curves.

Next I'll trim in the sole and heel piece to match the angle of the heel.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Shoe Q&A

Here are answers to many of the questions I've been asked online and at events over the last few weeks.  I'd love to keep adding to it if any one has more questions!


Were there many female shoemakers?
Yes!  It was a trade that women were found in, not uncommonly.  There were even women who owned shops in the colonies.  I've been told making men's shoes is much more physically demanding, but so far with ladies shoes it's been very reasonable and that seems to be the type of shop you most often find women working in.  Making the uppers was very often done by women at home- requiring detail and fine sewing skills.

How long does it take to make a pair of shoes?
If I sat down and worked straight through I might manage a pair in about 30-40 hours.  Eventually I should get it down to half that.

Did the shoes come in sizes?
They did and the lasts did.  We know lasts were numbered, although not in a universal standard.  You could buy pre-made shoes in sizes as well, most often from England.  When starting a pair of shoes the measurements taken denote what size last.  You can add a little length and a lot of width (the instep leather allows for a big difference).  However, where the joint of the foot is compared to the length of the shoe is the most important thing that can't easily be changed.  I'm a #6 last with the range I use, but in length I should probably have a #7.  However, the joint is too far forward and the width is waaaay too big.  Easier to add a small piece to the toe of a #6.

How do I make the heels?
The heels I used on the 1770s shoes were turned by a craftsman.  However, they were all made to the same size (very big) and bought in bulk.  Very expensive since it required purchasing so many.  I had to carve them down from what might have fit a size 11.  The style I'm using for my Louis XV shoes requires me to carve them from a block of birch wood since they're larger in base than the bulk heels.  I'll be showing that entire process in a few days (blisters and all!).

What types of leather are/were used?
That's a huge question.  The simple answer is that what we use now is very poor quality compared to what they had.  Many of the tanning processes used have been lost- including how to make the leather used in men's riding boots which allowed them to be a second skin.  What I can give you are some of our common sources, which will give you a better idea of not only how much goes into a shoe, but how expensive it all is!
The sole leather I'm using right now comes from Rendenbach in Germany (great post about sole bends from Carreducker).
The whittaw and fancy leathers for the uppers can come from book binding suppliers like Talas.  Some of the odd pieces, like leather backing for heel covers, can be a variety.  Such as kangaroo leather from falconry providers.  Generally a pair of uppers takes close to 2 square feet.  A calf averages 10 sq. ft. and a goat 5.  Usually these hides cost between $30-40 a square foot.  For example, whittaw linings can cost over $70 per pair when it's all added up.
Dickens Brothers carries the waxed calf and kip for men's uppers.  Bakers has good leather for insoles or the outsoles of turn shoes.  Lately we've found AGS also has good light sole leather.
Keep in mind there are a lot of other sources, I just haven't tried them all yet!

Why do they cost so much?
Most modern reproduction shoes are priced in the $300-600 range.  It may seem absurd compared to the shoes we're used to buying, but it really isn't.  The fact is, there's a great deal of money in every shoe.  Not just in the consumed supplies, which are usually well over $100 per pair, but in the tools a shoemaker needs.  I've been fortunate to have a teacher who already has all of the necessary tools that I can borrow.  So far I've easily spent over $500 on my tools and I'm not even half-way there.  I don't even have a run of lasts, which is a few hundred in itself!  Spread out those costs, figure in the expensive supplies which can't be bought in bulk like large manufacturers can, and add up the time- it makes much more sense why it really is an investment.

How does cloth last?
The wools and silks on the exterior of shoes is always backed.  Some use whittaw or another fine leather, others use linen.  Very often, in both cases, there are some small leather pieces stitched and pasted between the layers for added strength.  The type I've used runs from the toe to the joint along the side.
I've worn my shoes a lot and I've worn them hard.  They're wool lined with whittaw.  I've walked over 80 miles while working- mostly on paved roads and gravel, gone through a big mud puddle, forged through "rivers" caused by heavy rain, and spent a weekend wandering through fields.  I'm just now going to add another piece of leather to the heel bottom and I'm starting to see a few stitches come through the sole (the sewing technique means walking through stitches won't even loosen the sole).  The uppers are a little dusty and fuzzy and I need to whiten the heel leather.  They've got at least another 50 miles in them before the sole wears down too much.  Hopefully enough time to make a replacement pair!


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Chemise Gown

Last night I met up with a group organized by Julie Rockhold for a dinner at Christiana Cambells.  I had purchased striped cotton lawn from B&T a couple of months ago inspired by the famous Antoine Vestier portrait.  Being hot and humid outside, it seemed like a good excuse for a summer gown!

The gown is cotton, but the long sleeves are silk taffeta.  There's also a silk gauze piece which shows in the neckline.

The gown bodice is unlined- the portrait is so sheer it couldn't be lined in front at least.  The sash is a vintage 6" ribbon.  I haven't tried lighting it on fire to find out if it is silk or not.

Most of the hair is my own- just the long curls are pieced on.  I'm not quite shoulder length, but it's not hard to get a good sized hedgehog with shorter hair.  There's also powder in it; a mix of the Bumble & Bumble spray and cornstarch since the spray ran out.

The original 1785 portrait.  One of these days I'll powder my hair that much.

The photos below are of the group at dinner and after.  The ones without flash are blurry and the ones with look like a bad ghost hunt, but I can't leave out my dapper tablemates!





This photo is courtesy of Lyze.  And, yes, that is her real hair!!  Also, note Julie photobombing perfectly.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cornwallis' Advance on Yorktown

In the summer of 1781 the British troops were advancing towards Williamsburg.  Just across the river from Jamestown is a plantation known as Smiths Fort (built in the early 17th century with some evidence still visible).  It's owner, Mr. Faulcon, was a patriot who helped the troops by allowing them to stay on his land after the British burned much of Cobhams Wharf.  I went out to show the shoemaking trade.
It's a beautiful museum inside- one of Virginias hidden treasures.




Mr. Balances coat I made up this week- based on the unlined extant at CWF.  The Virginia cloth used was very easy to work with, and very light!  The front has facings to cover the buckram layers and the back has a small section up at the shoulders to finish the collar, but the rest is unlined.


The Faulcons out for a light picnic (Bryan Kennedy and Taylor Shelby).


Dinner on Sunday was fresh corn and fish breaded with cornmeal and grits.  The day before we had a ham and vegetable stew.  Of course, there was plenty of bread, cheese, fruit, and spirits to go around as well!

I finished my new summer round gown just in time.  It's from B&Ts figured muslin (white with a tiny red stripe).  I made it unlined, based on a 1785 muslin gown at the Met Museum.

The kerchief is cotton lawn, on which I still need to put a few more tucks at the edges.  The hat is based on images like this and this.

Thank you to Kelsey Freeman for taking my picture!

There was, of course, shooting.  Although no one thought to bring any ammunition, so those turkeys we scared up in back of the house got away.

I just wanted to add this photo Kelsey Freeman shot of me working on Saturday- it's just too beautiful!