January 30, 2019

Brilliant Scarlet & Black Stripes: Modeling a Reproduction Balmoral Petticoat

"A new material for petticoats has been introduced into London by Her Majesty Victoria.  It is of very thick material, with a very brilliant scarlet and black stripe.  The Empress Eugenie whose Spanish taste is for bright colors, has adopted them" - Godey's Lady's Book, March 1858

Descending the staircase at the Livingston-Backus House.
Photograph by B. Brooks @l_aspect_ancien

The unthinkable has happened...my university has declared not just one, but two snow days due to the dangerous weather conditions.  It is currently -5°F with a windchill of -29°, and that, my friends, is just too cold!  On the bright side, this gives me the perfect opportunity to finally blog about an interesting project I participated in at the Genesee Country Village & Museum.  

Right before heading back to Kent, Brandon, the curatorial intern whom many may recognize from the fabulous Instagram account - L'Aspect Ancien, contacted me with an offer I couldn't pass up!  Firstly, I have the greatest respect and admiration for Patrica Tice, curator of the John L. Wehle Gallery and Susan Greene Costume Collection, and the exhibits she designs.  Anything I can do for her and our museum, I always more than happy, especially when it comes to getting to dress up.  That said, you can imagine how thrilled I was at the invitation to model their reproduction Balmoral petticoat, part of the upcoming exhibit: Victoria’s Closet, Fashions of the 1850s

Reproduction Balmoral petticoat by Brandon on the left,
and the 1850s wool plaid petticoat that inspired it on the right.

If you've been following Brandon @l_aspect_ancien or the official museum's account @gcvmuseum on Instagram, (as you should be!), you may have seen the reproduction Balmoral petticoat above in progress and through completion.  Made from red wool (from Burnley & Trowbridge Co.), black ribbon and polished cotton for the yoke, the petticoat was meticulously reproduced using the same measurements and construction techniques of an original, 1850s plaid petticoat in the Susan Greene Collection.  

In addition to being very talented with a needle, Brandon is a genius with a camera.  After a few hours of prepping in the warmth of the gallery with the help of Patricia's artistic eye, and photo shooting in the Livingston Backus House and around the village square, this fantastic film short was produced:  

Perhaps you've already seen it on our museum's Facebook and Instagram accounts?  I do hope it has brought some nice attention to the new exhibit and winter wear in the collection - and thank everyone at the gallery for inviting me to take part in such a special project! 

Behind-the-Scenes Bonus 

Along with sharing the results of a day of photo shooting, I'd also like to provide a bit of historical context and a few parting thoughts.  Many thanks to Brandon here for the permission to use his photographs!   

First, you may be wondering what exactly is a "Balmoral petticoat," and how it differs from just another scarlet-colored skirt.  The Dreamstress wrote a great article on the topic, here - Terminology: What is a Balmoral Petticoat?.  In her post, Leimomi Oakes defines the "Balmoral" as a "coloured petticoat that was intended to show at the hem of a drawn-up skirt for walking and sportswear in the 1860s and 1870s."  Born from Queen Victoria's love of Scotland, described as "my dear paradise in the Highlands," and her adoption of the garment at Balmoral Castle, the name "Balmoral" stuck and the fashionable petticoat caught on around the world.

Queen Victoria in a Tartan sash
(Portrait via: Plaid Petticoats)

I also liked the description found in this 2011 Victoriana Magazine article, here - Balmoral Castle and Ladies’ Fashion: How Queen Victoria's vacation retreat influenced Victorian fashion
"Subsequently, in the 1850s, the name of 'Balmoral' was given to various articles of clothing possessing unusual strength and weight, in imitation of the materials or style of those worn outdoors by [Queen] Victoria or the members of her family during visits to the new royal residence.  The Balmoral petticoat, a woolen petticoat originally red with black stripes, was intended to be displayed below the skirt of the dress, which was looped up over the hoopskirt.  The gown skirt was looped up about a foot at every seam to display the petticoat, and thus hung in festoons and folds.  Victoria assumed the Balmoral petticoat for health, comfort, and warmth.  She accompanied it with the Balmoral boot, and even with mohair and colored stockings"
- Excerpt from "Balmoral Castle and Ladies' Fashion," Victoriana Magazine

"The Balmoral petticoat, a woolen petticoat originally red with black stripes,
was intended to be displayed below the skirt of a dress,
which was looped up over the hoopskirt"

Photograph by B. Brooks

As far as period sources, including photographs and portraits, fashion plates, advertisements and even sheet music illustrations, there are plenty out there!  Here are some that may be of interest:  

Walking Dress
 Peterson Magazine, March 1861
(Image via: Pinterest)
"Fig. IV. - The Highland. - This charming dress, suitable for the country, is of plain delaine.  In the engraving the skirt is fastened up with 'pages:' but can also be made to fasten up on the inside by placing a few buttons around the skirt, and looping them up with tape strings depending from the waist.   With this dress a Balmoral skirt is indispensable.  Some ladies make the petticoat of plain gray flannel, and ornament it with rows of red cloth or flannel."
 - Excerpt from page 273 of the Peterson Magazine, March 1861 

A label from the Charles Lewis Co.
(Image via: Pinterest)

A Label from Fairbrook Mills
One of six in a collection from the Library Company of Philadelphia

Here are some ice skating specific references: 

A Balmoral Skirt
American Textile History Museum
(Image via: MSU Archaeology Program)
"The Skaters Waltz"
(Image via: Pinterest)

"Lady Skaters"
(Image via: Pinterest)

I love this one!
(Image via: Pinterest)

From my short time wearing the reproduction Balmoral petticoat, I could tell why the fashion appealed to so many.  For practical reasons, it was warm, repelled moisture and protected my skirts from the mud and snow.  The shorter hem length and wearing my dress retrousse or "looped up" made for greater mobility and kept my hands free to hide in my antique muff or to adjust the quilted hood - borrowed from Anna Worden Bauersmith just for the shoot!  

Quilted plaid winter hood by Anna Worden Bauersmith
Balmoral petticoat & photograph by B. Brooks 

The style is definitely conducive to ice skating (see the antique skates from the collection below), and for vanity's sake, would certainly catch the eyes of passerby's!  

Posing with antique ice skates from the collection!
Photograph by B. Brooks

Wonder if they'd fit?

Perhaps the Altay General Store might have a pair in my size!
Photograph by B. Brandon 

And that concludes this very long, but hopefully informative blog post!  Thank you to all of the talented gallery staff for your endless hours of hard work!  Your dedication to both the curation of the collection and the crafting of exhibits, like the previous Victoria's Closet: Fashions of the 1840s, is an inspiration to all who visit the museum and galleries.  I'm sure that I speak for everyone when I say - we can't wait for the next installment, Victoria's Closet: Fashions of the 1850s, opening Spring 2019 at the Genesee Country Village & Museum! 

January 10, 2019

A New Coat for Little C

Little C's growing up and it's about time he had a new sacque coat!  So, as the first project of 2019, I finally made good on a long-time promise...Thank you, Liz, for all of your patience during the long wait and for letting me play dress up with your handsome, young gent! 

A new, mid-19th Century sacque coat for Little C!

Ages ago in 2016 (can it really have been three years now?!), I made a first attempt at child-sized outerwear.  See the blog post, here: A Little Sacque for a Little Gent.  Since then, I've wanted to make another, better-fitting sacque coat, and have high hopes that this one will.  Liz sent me the navy wool to use for the outer fashion fabric, and a soft, grey cotton flannel for the inner lining.  I felt the coat still needed something to tie the colors together, so I found a length of a large checkered silk taffeta to use for the binding.

Materials: navy wool fashion fabric, grey cotton flannel for lining,
and silk taffeta for bias binding 

The pattern itself was self-drafted in four pieces using little C's measurements with a generous cut in hopes that it will serve him for a season or two.  Plus, it allows for extra room when layering.  The design was inspired by similar mid-19th Century boy's sacque coats, though not modeled after any particular extant.  Here are a few historical reference images: 

CDV of a boy in suit with a dark cap.
Image via: Ebay

Image via: Pinterest

Image via: Antique Photo Album Galleries, 52

Our version:  Constructing the coat was straightforward.  I seamed the outer and lining layers separately to enclose the seam allowances, then bound the outer edges, sleeves and collar with the silk cut on the bias.  For modern ease of dressing, I stitched a large snap at the collar, which can easily be swapped out for tapes or buttons for historical use.

Front of sacque coat

Back view

Interior view

Binding detail - bias cutting is so satisfying!

As in the first post, Teddy was more than happy to model.  Might be a little big on him this time around...

I look forward to seeing the dashing Little C sporting his new sacque, and perhaps you'll find him and his mommy out and about in our village this upcoming museum season!

January 6, 2019

Happy New Year!

Each year presents its own ups and downs, and as we say goodbye (or even good-riddance) to the last, we no doubt welcome the start of and infinite possibilities in the new year ahead! 

Photograph by Maria M.

The last few months of 2018 were difficult...health issues, a particularly challenging semester, and throw in personal doubts about making a hobby a career kept me away from social media and this blog.  I'll spare the rest of the boring details, and just say that I have and continue to be overwhelmingly grateful for the support of friends, family, and all of you lovely followers on this blog, on Facebook and on Instagram.  Your kind encouragement through "likes," follows and "hellos" in person mean so much and keep me sewing!  

To start off the blogging for 2019, I hope you won't mind a departure from the usual "year in review" post.  There were so many projects, especially with two semesters full of sewing and weaving classes, that didn't make it to the blog, I find it overwhelming to sort through them all now.  Rather, I'd like to give myself a clean slate and open with my New Year's resolutions: 

#1 - Sew or weave (almost) every day

Practice makes perfect, or at least better, right?  In the new year, I'd like to make an effort to sew or weave a little each day, which shouldn't be too hard seeing as their my major and passions.  A few breaks to recharge, however, are allowed and necessary for my sanity haha! 

Weaving at the Humphrey House
Photograph by Judy J.

#2 - Quality over quantity 

I'm sure that every fellow blogger out there can relate to the feeling of burn out, especially when it comes to stressing about producing content for multiple platforms, trying to stick to a posting schedule, and, if you're like me, constantly playing "catch up" on past projects.  Well this year, I'm going to focus more on the quality of my postings rather than trying to promise any number or frequency.  Writing is happiness! 

#3 - Get out and about more 

Social media is great - I've befriended so many like-minded hobbyists and enthusiasts, made friends and global connections, and have learned so much and been inspired by all that's shared.  However, I feel like I need to spend less time online, and more time in the present.  I'd like to attend more events and costumed get-togethers, and apologize in advance for my social awkwardness if we meet ;)  

A happy memory from the 2018 Citizen's Forum!

#4 - Enter a new era?

I will always feel at home in the 19th Century, but I'd love to learn more about the 18th Century and its fashions!  Ever since I visited Colonial Williamsburg, all I've wanted to do is go back!  

Someday I'd love to visit again...

Fashions at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop

What are your New Year's Resolutions? Wishing you all of the joy, good health, happiness and prosperity possible this year - Cheers to 2019!

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