September 8, 2020

Online Conference - Costume On 2: Tailored

It is with the greatest pleasure that I can now announce I will be speaking at Costume On 2: Tailored, an online conference for historical costuming! 

For more information, please visit their website: 1886location.com
Also find the Facebook page: Costume On

Costume On was created with the quarantine in mind, connecting costumers from all over the world for a weekend of online seminars and workshops.  With topics spanning fashion history and techniques from the 17th through the 20th centuries (and beyond), there is sure to be a class for everyone.  Following the success of their first conference, which was held back in the Spring, this upcoming, Fall conference - Costume On 2: Tailored - is scheduled for Saturday, September 19th and Sunday the 20th, 2020.  

As the name suggests, the theme of this second Costume On conference is "Tailored," with an emphasis on historical menswear and tailoring.  Conquer fitting, patterning, and drafting techniques, create period gifts for the men (or women) in your circles, and learn about the lives of every-day and extraordinary men who shaped history - all from the comforts of your own home!  Classes are all taught live, and sign up is à la carte.  You choose which lectures and workshops you'd like to attend, and pay the teacher per session.  Whether you take one class, two, or more - as the website reads, you're attendance directly supports independent artists!

There's an incredible variety of offerings, so please see the website for the full listing and schedule for classes, here: Costume On 2: Tailored - List of Classes.  Some sessions run concurrently, so keep that in mind as you register.

Here's a snap shot of the list from their website:

Register for classes, here: Costume On 2: Tailored - List of Classes


And, as I announced above, I will be teaching two classes!  I'm so excited to be making my debut into public speaking, and thank the Costume On organizers for the opportunity to present on the following topics related to menswear:

If the Coat Fits: Chinese Soldiers in the American Civil War

Session time: Saturday, September 19, 2020 at 11am EST.

This presentation has been several years in the making, and I'm thrilled to have the chance to combine new research on the early Chinese-American experience with updated information on Civil War participation.  Since writing a guest blog post and article on the topic for the Genesee Country Village & Museum in 2017, interest in the topic has only grown.  Researchers in the field have continued making new discoveries, fueling my own desires to tell the untold stories, and in doing so, honoring my Chinese and American heritages. 

At this Costume On 2, you'll have the chance to hear this unique narrative, some for the very first time, and to reflect on the stories within your own history and experience that deserve to be remembered.


Class Description:  

If the coat fits, wear it – and the Chinese men who volunteered to serve in the Civil War did, fighting for a country that would later discriminate, exploit, exclude, and all but forget their remarkable contributions to the culture and creation of the United States.  This presentation explores the Chinese-American experience, and tells the stories of individuals from both sides of the war, on land and at sea.

Period attitudes and depictions will be referenced, and may contrast with the successful people they were then, and continue to be today.  The goal is two-fold: to highlight an untold history, and to inspire participants to draw from personal experience and other, unique perspectives when developing costumed impressions for historical reenactments and events.

This is a 90-minute lecture with a shared slide presentation.  Time will be set aside for further questions and discussion at the end.  Registration remains OPEN until September 18, 2020.


Orientalism: Western Taste for Eastern Fashion

Session time: Sunday, September 20, 2020 at 6pm EST.

Born of an interest in Chinoiserie and love of complicated dramas - in this case, the complexities of cultural exchange in fashion and decorative arts, entwined with centuries of imperialism, politics, economics, and copy-cats - this talk presents my latest research horizons.  "Orientalism" is only an introduction to the topic, offering an in-depth overview of the centuries of assimilation and appropriation through which menswear, as we in the Western world are familiar, originated:


Class Description: 

From Indian chintz prints and banyans, to Chinese silks and brisé fans, and Turkish smoking jackets complete with tasseled caps, the fashions of the East have enchanted the West for centuries.  This presentation chronicles the complex, cross-cultural borrowing and imitation that is “Orientalism,” with an emphasis on the textiles, garments, and accessories that have shaped menswear from the late-16th through 19th centuries.

Select examples of historic portraiture, fashion plates, and extant garments from museum collections will accompany the discussion, and help the modern costumer navigate the divide between cultural appreciation and appropriation.

This is a 90-minute lecture with a shared slide presentation and time set aside for further questions and discussion at the end.  Registration will remain OPEN until September 19, 2020.  


Did something catch your eye?  I sure hope you'll consider signing up for a class or two during Costume On 2: Tailored!  With such a variety of offerings - live lectures, hands-on workshops, and behind-the-scenes tours of museums - there's something for everyone!

Alright, it's back to research for me...see you in two weeks! 

August 30, 2020

An Edwardian Picture Hat [Patreon Teaser]

"Picture hat (noun) - a woman's highly decorated hat with a wide brim, as shown in pictures by 18th-century English painters such as Reynolds and Gainsborough" 
- Oxford Dictionary

Visit our Patreon to unlock the full post on the Making of an Edwardian Picture Hat!

Gentle drapery, pastel satin, luscious feathers, and feminine frills - the turn-of-century fashion had it all!  I'm really excited for today's post as it's something new and represents the beginning of the next chapter for this blog (and for me as I'm growing into this role of "content creator").  As you saw in the title, this is a teaser for the first exclusive-to-Patreon project.  Upon joining, all Patrons unlock the full post, which includes my step-by-step process for making an Edwardian Picture Hat, the historical inspiration behind this particular design, and a series of completed project shots.  


Now, for a preview of what's on the inside:  

From blocking sinamay, to wiring buckram, covering the form, and decorating it - this post will take you through the transformation from materials to picture hat.  (Feel free to click on the screenshot below to make it larger!)


Picture hat materials include: sinamay and buckram base, cotton mulling, millinery wire, petersham ribbon; black silk habotai for the outer fabric; light blue, textured satin, black cotton gauze, and ostrich feathers for trimming.  

Baby blue satin, black cotton gauze, and ostrich plumes

Completed Project Shots

To wrap up this teaser post, here are a few of the completed project shots:




Want to see more?  Please visit our Patreon page and you'll not only unlock this post, but access to other exclusive contents like bonus blog posts, live chats, and more!  Every contribution makes a big difference, and will help support future blogging and educational programming.  

As always, thank you for reading
& special thanks to Patrons - you're the feathers on my picture hat!

August 28, 2020

Demystifying the Curved Tuck Detail

In this tutorial, I'll be sharing one of my favorite mid-19th century dressmaking tricks and demystifying the "curved tuck" detail as seen on many original and reproduction bodices.


Among Civil War reenactors and makers of historic clothing, there's some disagreement between whether the back of a dress' bodice should be cut with three pieces - including a center back with concave sides and two, convex-curved side back pieces - or in one piece.  You might be wondering why the debate, and while it's a matter of personal, sewing preference, it also serves practical and fashionable purposes.

A conventional three-piece back would be stitched together - concave to convex sides - forming a fitted "princess seam" which gave the illusion of a broader back and narrower waist (think hour-glass shaped!).  Even the slightest off-set of a pattern can make a big difference to the eyes, and when achieving the fashionable silhouette, every detail counts!

Here a few extant examples that illustrate this illusion: notice how the curved back seams give shape to this solid-colored taffeta dress, doesn't it help enhance the hour-glass silhouette?

Antebellum Dress of aubergine silk taffeta
(Image source: All The Pretty Dresses)

The effect works equally well with prints and plaids too.  It can be a noticeable design element, or a more subtle, almost undetectable break in the pattern, but nonetheless pleasing to the eye!  In this example, the curve is almost invisible thanks to the beautiful, careful pattern matching:

Day Bodice of an 1860s Ensemble
(Image source: All the Pretty Dresses)

And here, the more noticeable off-set to the pattern adds almost a lively, decorative design element: 

American Civil War Era Bodice of wool gauze with brown silk stripes
(Image source: All the Pretty Dresses)

Having the additional seams of the three-piece back also allows for more shaping ease, especially if the wearer has a bit more curve in their spine.  (However, ask anyone who sews and they'll probably agree that fitting is much easier on straight seams than on curves!  In draping classes, we were always taught to add 5/8" allowance on princess seams since they were less likely to be changed, and 1" on side seams as most costume alterations could be made there.)


On the other hand, as historical dressmakers discovered, by cutting the back bodice in one piece and mimicking the curved seam of a three-piece back through a tiny, top stitched "curved tuck," the same illusion is preserved.  Side seams were traditionally slightly angled, so with the little bit of bias stretch, fitting can easily happen there.

Here are a few extant examples using a tuck to create the curved effect:  In this first example which comes from Katherine's of The Fashionable Past blog, there's a single line of stitching on the lining indicating the false three-piece back, as well as the angled side seams which help with the overall illusion and fit of the bodice. 

Inside view of an 1860s bodice
(Image source: The Fashionable Past)

From the outside, that same bodice's false three-piece back and curved "seams" are indistinguishable from a true three-piece back:

Outside view of an 1860s bodice
(Image source: The Fashionable Past)

And for comparison, here's a true three-piece back:  Notice there's not much difference in the effect from the outside, aside from the actual color of the silk.

Mid-1860s day dress, originally of violet color but mostly faded to brown
(Image source: All the Pretty Dresses)

A view of the interior showing a true three-piece back with generous seam allowance
(Image source: All the Pretty Dresses)

It can be difficult to find images of the backs of dresses, and even more difficult to find pictures of the insides!  But here are two more one-piece backs with the same curved tuck technique: 

Bodice interior, dress of black silk
(Image source: Pinterest)

Bodice interior, dress of wool challis
(Image source: Pinterest)

Another time-saving variation to taking a tuck I've seen is applying narrow bias strips on the flat back piece, though these were on reproduction rather than original garments...So while the curved tuck technique might not work with every fabric, it's certainly a clever, period-correct sewing trick that can be used on cotton, wool, and silk dresses and avoids the hassle of dealing with those fiddly curved seams!


Recreating the Curved Tuck Detail

So we've discussed the three-piece versus one-piece bodice back, and now that you're familiar with the what and why of each style, let's jump into the how-to portion of this post:

Step One: Cut one back piece from both the lining (I used plain muslin, though polished cotton would work too) and fashion fabric, which for me is a striped, reproduction cotton.  For the fashion fabric, I recommend adding a little extra fabric at the side seams so when the tuck is added, the side seams will still line up.  But if they don't, no worries as it will all be hidden in the seam allowance!

Step Two:  Lay fashion fabric and lining together, (optional: baste at the shoulders and neckline to keep the layers from shifting), and using a curved ruler, mark a smooth curve beginning at the armscye (a couple inches off the shoulder) and ending at the waist.  Looking at original examples can help with visualizing the placement. 

Repeat the same curve on the other side.  Notice that each of the curves end about an inch away from the center back at the waist, creating a very narrow space between curves. 

Use a curved ruler to mark a smooth curve from the armscye to the waistline.

Step Three:  Baste the fashion fabric and lining together following the marked lines.  This will hold the pieces together as you create the tuck.

Baste along the curved lines as marked,
notice that I cut the fashion fabric slightly larger than the lining.

Step Four:  To create the tuck, slightly roll the fashion fabric up and over to cover the line of stitching created in step three.  Pin and press the crease in place.

Slightly roll the fabric over the basting line.  Pin and press the crease.

Step Five:  To secure the tuck, run a line of spaced backstitches along the edge of the crease.  These will be visible, so make sure to use a matching thread! 

Stitch along the edge of the crease to secure the tuck.

Repeat steps 3-5 for two curved tucks.  Press so that the back lays flat, and now the rest of the bodice can be assembled in the usual manner. 

If the fashion fabric and lining no longer meet, make sure to follow the lining edge when seaming the sides.  (Do not trim them to be even or your garment may not fit - again, the difference should be minimal and completely hidden in the seam allowance)

The finished back with curved tucks, outside.

Here's the back from the inside, notice there are two lines of stitching.
I like to base the sides seams, following the lining edge when joining the fronts and back together.

And that's all there is too it - it's a simple, yet effective and period correct method for creating the look and illusion of a three-piece back in one, without the hassle of stitching and clipping curved seams. 

Have you ever made a mid-19th century dress?  And if so, with a three-piece back or one-piece with curved tucks?  As always, thank you for reading & happy sewing! 

August 25, 2020

A Striped Dress for Ginny

Here is a post for all of the doll enthusiasts out there!  In today's blog post, I'll be detailing the construction of the little, striped dress and tucked petticoat that Ginny, the blog's traveling doll, wore in our previous adventure, here: Past Summer's Visit to the Sonnenberg Gardens.

Ginny, the blog's traveling doll, among the wildflowers at the Sonnenberg Gardens

Making doll clothing is so much fun, and in many ways like making people's clothing, but on a smaller scale of course.  I found that a lot of the same techniques that I use for my own historic clothing work in miniature too, including flat lining the bodice and fitting it with darts, gauging (or cartridge pleating) the skirt, and applying a hem facing in the usual manner.  Speaking of the usual manner, it wouldn't be proper to build a dress without first addressing the underclothes:


Part I: Tucked Petticoat

To help create the fashionable bell-shaped silhouette, Ginny needed a petticoat (or two) to support her dress.  Eventually, I'd like to make her an entire set of period undergarments - including a chemise, drawers, corset (wouldn't tiny, size 0 hooks and eyes make for a cute busk?!), and maybe even a doll-sized cage crinoline...but for now, all we had time for was the basic, white cotton petticoat.  

Constructed just like my own petticoats, Ginny's doll-sized petticoat features a deep hem with two tucks to help stiffen and hold out the skirts.  The skirt was then gauged (also called cartridge pleating) and whip stitched to a waistband.  

Tucked petticoat, front.

Tucked petticoat, back with overlapping closure.

For convenience, I used a snap for a closure, but may eventually replace it with a little, bone button and buttonhole for the next wearing:  

Detail of the gauging and waistband with snap closure.


Part II: Striped Dress

I was thrilled to find a remnant in a doll-scale reproduction print that resembled my own striped dress!  Every girl dreams of matching dresses with her doll, right?  Anyways, American girl dolls are actually pinnable, so it made it easy to drape a basic bodice right on the doll.  The back is one piece, and the fronts are fitted with darts.  These were then joined at the sides and set onto a narrow waistband.  For the sleeves, I ran two lines of gathering stitches to create the double puffed effect, and hemmed the ends.  

Striped dress construction - the bodice is finished and ready for the skirt to be attached.

A look at the inside of the bodice and skirt.

Next, the skirt needed assembling.  After seaming the side panels, the skirt was gauged and whip stitched to the bodice's waistband, much like the tucked petticoat.  Rather than a folded hem, a deep hem facing in plain cotton was applied:

Two different ways of finishing skirt hems.

A deep hem facing stitched on the dress.

The last step was to add closures, and rather than deal with tiny hooks and thread eyes, I just used snaps.  Yes, I know it's cheating...and the dress could also use a collar.  But hey, at least it was finished in time for the trip, and even has a silk belt and mother of pearl buckle to complete the look! 

Here's what the dress looks like all together:


Metal snaps for closures, but hooks and thread eyes would have worked too!

The little, striped doll dress - completed!


Part III: Completed Project Shots

And since no costume construction post would be complete without them - here are the completed project shots, modeled by Ginny:

Striped dress with silk belt and mother of pearl buckle.



Back view - please excuse the very visible doll stand!

For the actual outing, Ginny wore her plaid "work" petticoat, instead of the tucked one, to match mine, black stockings, and the most adorable, Victorian-style boots, which I ordered online:

Shoe shot!  Unfortunately they don't really show up, but these are doll-sized, scalloped buttoning boots!

And a couple of the finished dress, flat:



Styling doll hair is so much easier than doing ones own (at least for me, as I am most definitely hair styling challenged and rely on begging friends for anything more complicated than a basic bun!)  Ginny has full front bangs, as I did when I was much younger, but her hair was just long enough for a braided bun and side twists: 





And that's all for this post, thank you for reading! 

August 20, 2020

Past Summer's Visit to the Sonnenberg Gardens

This summer has certainly been a summer like no other.  I spent some time the other day organizing (and cleaning out) some folders on my computer, when I came across all of these pictures from an adventure Judy, my dear friend and partner-n-crime, and I went on a couple of summers ago...cue the nostalgia!

Stopping for a moment's rest on the bridge
(Photograph by Judy J.)

Yes, I'm disappointed that the day trips, historical events, and new places I had planned to explore had to be postponed or canceled; but that all seems to pale in comparison to the family, friends, and what would have been my seventh season at the living history museum that I'm missing.  After traveling back and forth between two states for a couple years, I finally chose to make the move for convenience, having no idea I'd be sheltering-in-place by myself.  At least there's zoom and other means of staying connected!

So while there won't be any in-person adventures with my partner-n-crime this summer, here's a virtual trip through a past summer's visit to the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park:

Visit their website to plan your visit: Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion

Sonnenberg had been on my bucket list for long time, so Judy (in the truest Judy fashion) planned a whole weekend of it, hosting me at hers and making sure every detail of the trip was taken care of.  I really couldn't ask for a better friend and partner-n-crime!  

We decided to go in costume, despite the humid, mid-August weather.  Judy had just finished her newest dress, an 1850s fan-front in the most gorgeous, purple serpentine print, and the gardens provided the perfect background to document it.  I ended up pulling a dress from the closet and looped it over a striped petticoat for walking; while Ginny, the blog's traveling doll, had a new dress made to match mine.  (Doll clothing is so much fun! I'll write a blog post on the little striped dress next...)

Judy & Ginny, the best dressed companions!

Walking the grounds and themed gardens felt like traveling the world all in a 50-acre estate!  The first garden we entered was the Japanese Garden, constructed in 1906 to look like a miniature landscape complete with a tea house:




Next stop was the Roman Bath, which was built in 1914 with dressing rooms and restrooms for bathers, and a boiler house to filter and heat water from Canandaigua Lake for the swimming pool.  Just standing there gave me flashbacks to Latin class (Ecce Romani 43: At The Baths, anyone?), I can only imagine what swimming there must have been like: 


Nearby in the Sub-Rosa Garden, there was a private alcove surrounded by boxwood hedges with a marble fountain and statuary inside.  Judy looked so at peace here, I had to take a picture - there's just something about her pose and the atmosphere that makes this look like a period portrait! 


Whereas Ginny discovered a statue of her own size:


Speaking of statues, over in the Italian Garden, there was no lion 'bout having fun as we all took turns posing with this fierce king of the garden:

Not lion 'bout having fun!
(Photograph by Judy J.)

And another thanks to Judy!



Taking a moment in the Blue & White Garden, which lies just off the veranda:

Just a girl & her doll.
(Photography by Judy J.)

Ginny looking through the metal entrance gate,
which was replaced in a 2007 restoration, having been missing since World War II

I think we both can agree that the Rock Garden was a favorite, providing many photo opportunities:

This was one of my favorites of you from that weekend, Judy!


Taking turns under the arch:


This was one of the last stops for the day,
so both girl and doll were feeling rather melted from the day's heat...

We also took the opportunity to explore the historic Sonnenberg Mansion, which is a 40-room Queen Anne-style mansion - and it was equally as impressive on the inside as the gardens outside.  Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures, so you'll just have to visit to see it for yourself! 


Tea for two?

A very kind visitor took a couple of group pictures for us:

Judy, Ginny & me outside the Sonnenberg Mansion


And that sums up the day - many, many thanks to Judy for hosting this marvelous adventure!  If you're ever in the area, make sure to plan a visit to the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park!  

Here's a happy twirl for good measure:



Thanks for reading!

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