Monday, June 15, 2020

1838 Ladies Drawers - Sizing Up from the Workwoman's Guide



This post is about how I sized up some drawers from the 1838 Workwoman's Guide to fit me. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is a wonderful resource. You can purchase a copy of the Workwoman's Guide here from Amazon Drygoods I sewed these by hand using linen fabric and thread. The Guide includes the following illustration and description

 

These are formed of two separate legs sewed into a band, which is made to button before or behind, at pleasure. For a moderate size, Fig 12 will be a good guide. 
Width of material, 14 Nails (31.5 inches) 
Length of each breadth, 15 nails (33.75) 
Fold each breadth in half its width, letting D be the doubled part, and measure as follows 


Note: A 'nail' is 2.25 inches 

I'm not sure what exactly a 'moderate size' would have been in 1838, but I assumed it was smaller than I am. So I needed to get a little more volume in there.

It is important to note that the Guide is not a tailor's manual, and the patterns are not based on proportions the way many of those are. Most of them are made from straight lines, designed for maximum cutting efficiency based on the width of the fabric. So to size it up, I just worked off the idea of a wider piece of fabric. This meant adjusting 3 points on the pattern, E, S, and Z. All other points remained the same. I also cut the waistband out to my waist measurement. You do want them to sit higher on the waist, rather than on the hips.

  


The measurement C to E is 7 nails (15.75 inches), which is the exact length of the fabric doubled over. To enlarge the pattern, I worked off of this measurement. My understanding is that 36 inches was another common fabric width at the time, so I worked off that. This made the C to E measurement 18 inches, half of 36. Point Z was mentioned as being 1/2 nail (1 1/8 inches) in from E, so that was easy to adjust. In the original pattern there was 2 nails (4.5 inchs) difference in the length from F to S and the length from C to E, so I just made sure that point S was still 4.5 inches back towards the center line from point E.


Since I was actually using 45 inch fabric, this also left enough for the waistband.

One other change I made was in the middle. The author has the two legs overlapping. I have made these before like that, but I prefer them to meet up like this example here from the Met

Original housed in the Met
C 1802-1820 

I have always made them to be back fastening, which works well. The author does note that they could open in the front though.

 


I also added a little lace on the bottom, like this pair from the Met


Original housed in the Met
1846 'American or European'
1999.216.2

I was also pleased to find this pair, since they are linen. Interestingly, the Workwoman's Guide lists linen as a fabric for men's drawers, but not for the ladies. I know cotton was becoming increasingly dominant in the 19th century, but it gets hotter than blazes around here in the summer, so I made three of these out of some wonderful linen Brian got me for Christmas. 

I HIGHLY recommend making your historical underwear in batches. I know myself, and if I get enough fabric for 3 but just make one, I will stop after that one. I may tell myself I'm doing three in a row, but in all likelihood I won't get there till the first one wears out. And it will wear out faster because it's the only I have got. Plus, for 2-3 day events, you really want fresh undies every day! So I made three linen drawers first, followed quickly by another cotton set. I actually already have a couple of these in cotton, my plan is to use this last pair for demos only. A lot of times when I am doing dressing demos people are really interested in the drawers, and I would like to be able to hand them a set to look at which are not actually, well, my underwear.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Living History (Theatre): I'm a costume director- what does that mean?

I'm including this in my 'Living History Theatre' series, but it could work for any living history group, whether or not you do first person.

Scene: Our living room, I believe on a Sunday

My fiance: "Want to go to dinner?"
Me, staring at computer "Yeah, sure"
My fiance, twenty minutes later "So, are we leaving?"
Me, still staring at computer "Oh yeah, um, just give me a minute....B-- is supposed to be posting some stuff in this sale group, and I want to be able to tag our ladies who need things before they sell."

My fiance, thirty minutes later *looks sad and hungry*
My, downloading Facebook on my phone "sorry, sorry! I'll just keep checking this in the car....."

Why was Brian being put through this cruel and inhuman denial of tacos? Well, not because I needed any new regency clothes (OK, I snagged a couple things for myself from the sale, but I didn't NEED them). See, I'm the Ladies Costuming Director for the First Person Interpreters at Historic Locust Grove. And I was waiting to pounce on any second hand garments or accessories which would meet our clothing guidelines, and connect them with the ladies in our group who are still building their 1816 wardrobe.

A lot of living history groups have specific guidelines for clothing for participants. I have been a part of several which do, and I wanted to give a breakdown for how this works in our program. Our group has set some high standards, because we are a living display in a twice-accredited museum. Our basic philosophy is that the clothing we are wearing needs as much time, research, and consideration as any other reproduction piece that would be placed in the house. I know that there is often a fear that having high standards will keep people out, that we are gatekeeping. But I argue that, done correctly,
this can be a supportive process that makes the process of getting started in living history a little less daunting and confusing. And I'm very pleased to say that a lot of the members of our cast did not come from the living history community. We were actually their entry into living history, not the other way around.

So, how does this work at Locust Grove?

First of all we have a handbook of clothing guidelines. This is a list of required and suggested pieces of clothing. These are broken down item by item, including recommended patterns and suppliers. The idea is to create a road-map for people entering the program.

Once a year I give a workshop on ladies clothing where we go through this list and look at primary sources, including portraits, extant garments, fashion plates, etc. This workshop is required for ladies in their first and second years with the program, and heavily encouraged for all others.



Lecturing on changes in ladies clothing during the late 18th and early 19th century at the 'Burrthday' event last February. Photo courtesy of Historic Locust Grove. 


All clothing has to be approved before it can be worn as part of our program. This includes the fabric, the research, and the finished product. The ladies email me, text me, etc when they find fabric, accessories, or anything else they want to buy.  Not only do we want to uphold the standards of the museum, but we don't want anyone spending money on the wrong thing. Many of us can tell you the story of all the things we regret spending money on when we first wandered into living history- our goal is to spare new recruits that remorse!


We also have a closet of loaner clothing for people in their first year. The more of this you can make available, of course the better. However keeping a full range of sizes in all garments is difficult to say the least.

We also schedule one or more sewing days each year- sometimes these are dedicated to a particular project like shifts or petticoats. Other times it's just a come one come all opportunity to bring your projects and get help, advice, or just camaraderie. This year we are working on spencers and pelisses.

I will often get together with ladies in the program to drape a pattern on them. There are finally some good patterns for the mid-to-late 18teens coming out (including some great ones from Fig Leaf Patterns) but till recently there just really haven't been great options. So a lot of our ladies have gotten custom draped garments. This has been a great opportunity for me to practice my draping skills on a lot of different bodies!

I keep in touch as they work on the project and consult along the way. I will also help make adjustments on mock-ups, to be sure that the maker has the perfect fit before cutting into that fashion fabric. A lot of our ladies have spent time standing around in their Federal undies in our living room.



One of our girls being very game for the camera


Then, once the garment is done, I will give it final approval, or ask for further alterations.

I also spend some time pouring through online forums looking for good deals on ladies clothing for our ladies, or for the program to buy for loaner gear. I have often fronted the money when I find a good deal I think will go quickly, then passed it on at cost to someone in the group. The biggest item is stays- they are the most important building block in a ladies wardrobe but the most intimidating to newer sewers. If I see a set for a good price, I pounce.

I should note that there's a certain degree of economic privilege at work here.  I've never exactly been wealthy, but I am at least at a point in my life where I can pick up a few yards of fabric or a used spencer, etc and wait for someone in the group or the site itself to reimburse me. A few years ago I would not have been able to do this. (Hell, the whole reason I learned to sew at 19 was because I was broke and wanted to do living history). It's worth noting that if you really want to make these things work as a group, or even as an individual,a certain fund or cushion of money makes it a lot easier. I'm not saying it can't all happen otherwise, but I'd be doing my past self a disservice not to recognize this.

If I see something posted for sale that doesn't look like it's going to sell immediately, like fabric or say one of these lovely bonnets, I will send it out to our email list.

Photo by Heather Rene, 2018. 
I may be biased, but I happen to think they look pretty great.


Now, you will notice what I DON'T do- I am NOT making everyone's clothes. Unless someone has specifically commissioned me to make a garment for them for money, I do not do the construction. I am happy to help people fit as many mock-ups as they need, but then they have to go do the construction. I hope that through this process they are gaining skills and confidence to do this on their own! While our primary goal is to put on programming at Locust Grove, on a wider basis I am very pleased to say we have brought people into the wider living history community. You know, that hobby that so many people want to tell you is 'dying' ;-)

If you are interested in reading further....

Here is a post on one of Fig Leaf Patterns 18teens patterns

Here is a more in depth post on creating dresses for one  of our younger characters

Here is a post on creating clothing for another one of our ladies

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Nice Day in the Kitchen- Apple Pie and Macaroni(and cheese)

I got to go cook for a field trip at Locust Grove last week. I haven't gotten to do this in awhile, and it was a lot of fun. It was actually a homeschool group, and they nicely divided the kids up into three groups by age. It was especially nice to get to talk to three different age levels in one day, but not all at once. The smallest ones are usually at the level of 'yes, you can make food with fire, wow!', the second group was about the right age to learn what we mean by primary sources, and the older ones, who were about 11-13, were able to understand a bit better when I talked about how this work was done by slaves at the Croghan farm. 

A Buttered Apple Pie - Amelia Simmons, 1796
Pare, quarter and core tart apples, lay in paste..cover with the same; bake half an hour, when drawn, gently raise the top crust, add sugar butter, cinnamon, mace, wine or rose-water



It's times like this I really wish Locust Grove had a bake oven, since this wasn't the easiest thing to handle in a dutch oven. Getting it out without burning your fingers isn't the best thing ever, and I managed to mess up the crust a little between that and rising it up to add the rose water. But, no matter, it was very well received! I absolutely love rose water as a flavoring, and this reminded me why. 


Macaroni - The Virginia Housewife, 1824
Boil as much macaroni as will fill your dish, in milk and water, till quite tender; drain it on a sieve,  sprinkle a little salt over it, put a layer in your dish, then cheese and butter ....put the dish in a quick over, twenty or thirty minutes will bake it. 

This has become another of my go-tos. It's easy, it's vegetarian, it is absolutely delicious, AND it really gets peoples attention. I actually brought this one in to one of my classes where I teach last semester and the students really enjoyed it. 




I was quite pleased with how it came out this time- when it looked almost ready I put a few more coals on top of the dutch oven and just left it 3-4 minutes longer to get some nice browning on the top. I was very careful not to wait too long so it wouldn't get burnt, and it came out just right. It was a big hit with the other volunteers and my kitchen helpers.




This was election day in Kentucky, which meant that the public schools were closed to serve as polling places (for a state with notoriously low voter turnout, we actually do a decent job of marking the day). There were two neighborhood children playing on the grounds who were just awesome. They kept coming into the kitchen to see what was going on, and eventually became my helpers. Normally I don't feed the public at these things, but one of them has a dad on the board, so I said they could have pie if they got permission.

It was delightful seeing them pop back up all sweaty and breathy, because they had obviously run home and then run all the way back after having asked mom (the one boy lives next to the Grove, so they weren't dodging traffic or anything). It was just really nice to see kids outside, playing, having adventures. And they even walked away with a taste for rosewater in pie :-) 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Living History Theatre: Rehearsal Techniques

We had a really good rehearsal for the Locust Grove First Person Interpreters on Saturday. Everyone seemed to leave with a greater degree of confidence, so I thought I would talk a little bit about what we did. I've talked a bit about some of these things in some earlier blogs, but this should be a little more in depth of an idea of how this plays out in a rehearsal.



The Gwathmeys practice introducing themselves.
Photo courtesy of Fox & Rose Photography


Asking leading questions, giving each other an 'in'. 
When you are doing first person, you usually have topics you have researched really well and want to talk about. But sometimes it might feel awkward to launch into a monologue out of nowhere. Conversely, you probably have questions you are really hoping you won't get, because you haven't been able to research that yet, or you have researched it and cannot find an answer.

We went around our circle and talked about things we want to talk about. Then we ran several scenes were people would practice asking each other leading questions in character to bring out that information.

"I understand you have a new grandbaby!" "Oh, yes, I'm making her some new clothes right now, I am so excited! She has the biggest blue eyes..."etc




Sharron with her letter in rehearsal.
Photo courtesy of Fox & Rose Photography.


 "How is your son? I know he has been traveling"

"Oh, it is so kind of you to ask, I have actually just had a letter from him! Now see here what he has written...."




Mrs. Fitzhugh reads the letter from her son to guests. 
Photo Courtesy of Historic Locust Grove 


"Tell me again about the war papa. Were you really at Yorktown?" 
"Oh, no, I didn't make it to Yorktown, they thought I had done enough by then. But let me tell you about Brandywine, child..."


Audience focus 
What we are doing is part of a museum program, and our primary focus is interacting with the museum guests. From that perspective, it's not enough for us to be comfortable talking to each other in character, we have to  be sure that we are including our guests. So we also practiced running scenes like the one above, where someone else would come in as a guest. We practiced including them in the conversation.

"oh, pardon my manners, madam, here we are going on, let me introduce myself, Colonel Richard Taylor, and this is my lovely daughter Miss Emily Taylor." 




"Where are my manners? Please, allow me to introduce my friends"
Photo courtesy of Historic Locust Grove


"I was just asking papa about his time in the Revolution. Do you know he served with George Washington? Please tell us all about it, Papa."

What you are really doing here is involving your guests in an improv scene. By acknowledging their presence and introducing yourself, you send the signal that they are allowed to talk to you and ask you questions.


It's ok to say 'I don't know'
There are so many things we dont' know about the world we live in, and people living in 1816 didn't know every detail about their world either. When someone asks you a question in character you don't know the answer to, don't let it break you! It is absolutely fine to just not know it in character.

We portray the year 1816. Some of the people we portray were active in the Revolutionary war, others stayed home. Some weren't even alive. When someone asks Ann Croghan detailed questions about the War she says "oh, I don't know, I wasn't alive then! But you should go and ask my father, he was in the War." The man playing her father has spent a lot of time researching William Croghan's involvement in the war and is ready to talk about this.


Comfort and cohesion 
All of this rehearsing allows our cast members to work on their confidence and their comfort with each other. If  you have tried and stumbled in rehearsal, that's fine! The public wasn't there, we all just laugh and move on. That doesn't happen overnight, but we have worked really hard to be sure that our rehearsals are a friendly, safe space where people feel comfortable pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and laughing it out with their friends.



Photo courtesy of Fox & Rose Photography




Wednesday, April 3, 2019

New Regency Ballgown

I made this ballgown for the Locust Grove Ball in February. 


USA!  USA!
Photo credit Historic Locust Grove 


This was mostly based on this example, sketched out in Costume in Detail 


I actually fished the fabric out of my stash (yay, destashing!). This was a cotton sari I had bought from Regency Revisited eons ago, and totally forgotten about! I really need to go through my fabric tubs more, you find the greatest things!


 
Costume in Detail pages 103-104


The first part of this project involved my amazing fiance helping me make a duct tape dress form. I didn't actually take pictures of this, because I honestly was too afraid it wouldn't work out. In the end, it *mostly* did, and it has been invaluable! Also the whole affair was pretty fun, though I don't know what anyone walking by our dining room windows thought! (Fun fact we live next to a funeral home...) 

We fit the duct-tape form with my regency stays on, so I could drape on the right bustline. I stuffed the inside with pollyfill and plastic trash bags. Having this made a HUGE difference! I was able to drape a mock-up over the perfect bustline (though I have no photos for the same reason). 

When I tried on the mock-up, there did seem to be some distortion around the armsceye. However I was able to solve it pretty easily by just slashing it and redrawing the curve. 



A lot of this project was just taking the time to set the the gathers how I wanted them. It was time consuming, but it was a fun and satisfying process.  I gathered the front and back onto a piece of tape right under the bustline to provide stability. 




I cannot TELL you how much I agonized over the direction the peacocks were going here. Ultimately I decided it was fine, but Brian was pretty entertained to hear my muttering that the 'the damn turkeys are going the wrong way!"






Once the bodice was done, I just had to place the skirt, which was pretty easy.


I tried to keep the front smooth, but keep pleats on the back and sides. The original  had them mostly towards the back, but I like to add some on the sides as well so everything flows well over my hips. 



After I had pinned everything in place, I topstitched it. I was able to mostly hide the stitching, but there is also a line of stitching showing on the sketch in CID, do don't worry too much about. Topstitching is totally period. 

 

You can kind of see the stitching for the drawstring channel under the bust, but from the sketch in CID it looks like it is like that on the original. 





I ran into some issues because the ribbon I used for the drawstring was not long enough, and ended up popping back into the channel as I put the dress on. I was able to fish it out, but I really should have known  better. 



I finished this dress about an hour before I left for the ball, so I pretty much realized there would be some issues putting it on the first time and went in prepared. Luckily my friend Tom Tumbusch was there to help me get dressed, and he is AWESOME.

One other thing I realized far too late in this process was that I should have traced a line showing where my stays sit on the dressform. As it was I may have made the dip in the back a *little* too low. Luckily  Tom was able to help tuck everything down and pin it in place. I think I can alter it pretty easily before I wear it again, but I also need to just trace the darn stay lines on this thing.


Takeaways: 
Making a duct tape bodice over your stays is great, BUT
  • You will still need to do a mock-up!
  • Draw a line showing where your stays are on the the dressform.
  • Longer drawstrings are better than not long enough! 



With the ladies of the Indiana Historical Costuming Society. This was a really fun night.
Photo credit Historic Locust Grove.




Saturday, October 20, 2018

Dressing Miss Ann Croghan

This post is about a dress which I draped and consulted on for one of the girls in our First Person Interpreters program at Historic Locust Grove. I hope this post will give  you an idea of how we use historical sources to create historically accurate, and ideally, character-driven clothing, to educate museum visitors on the year 1816.



Heather is 16 years old (I am posting this with permission from her and her mother), and she portrays Ann Croghan, daughter of William and Lucy Croghan who owned Locust Grove. Ann was born in 1797 and was 19 years old in 1816. Heather, who is legally, contractually, not allowed to leave the city of Louisville before her 25th birthday**, will hopefully portray Ann for some time to come.

This is a portrait which was painted of Ann after her 1822 marriage to Thomas Sidney Jesup. She is a brunette, wearing the color red.



Ann Croghan, from the Locust Grove collection,
 (portrait photographed by Heather Rene)


We didn't ask her to do this, but Heather actually started dying her hair, which is naturally dark blond, brown for this part. Talk about dedication! Her mother made her some false curls based on my post here, and modified this method of styling Heather's hair.


I found the fabric for this dress on Fashion Fabrics Club, before Heather joined the cast. It reminded me of the fabric this dress from the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit was made from. Since we ask that all fabric for this program be approved, I will often pick up approveable fabric when I find a good deal, and pass it on at cost to the ladies in the program.



1810-1815 (Private Collection)


I draped the bodice for the dress on Heather and drew up instructions for the skirt. We chose a front opening dress so she would have an easier time getting dressed.




Heather's grandmother Patsy actually did all of the construction on the garment with my instructions and consultation. She was a real champ about learning historic clothing construction techniques! 



Apparently Patsy has come to really enjoy doing tucks :-) 





Heather stuck with the red theme for her evening gown, which was made from some lovely red silk from 96 District Fabrics. I also draped the bodice for this on her, and helped fit all the tucks on the fashion fabric.  Patsy handled all the major construction.




Here she is in action with her 'sister', Eliza Croghan. 



I may be biased, but I think they look pretty darn great!




**If you can't tell that was a joke, I weep for our species.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Past Patterns 031 Experiences and Variations


This post is about my experiences making Past Patterns #031 Lewis & Clark Empire Gown. As with all of Sandra Altman's patterns, this comes with a wonderful trove of advice and research. This post will share my experiences making the pattern for my friend Edyth, who is pictured below. 

The cotton fabric was from Jubilee Fabrics





This pattern is meant to be a 1:1 copy of a specific gown, scaled to size for the wearer. The documentation on this garment is impressive, and well worth study. However it is important to remember that this was only one particular garment, and as such had its own unique aspects which it is not necessary to reproduce (unless you want to, in which case go for it!).

The dress is pieced in the sleeves and skirt. This was a common practice in the period to stretch the available fabric to fit the project at hand, however you do not need to do the same if you have enough fabric and wish to simplify the process. 



Photo by Hannah Zimmerman, many thanks!


Sleeves/ Shoulder Straps
The sleeves on the original gown were made in three separate pieces, and this pattern has faithfully reproduced each piece, however it is not necessary to do it this way. You can also combine these into one pattern piece, which will save you four seams total. If you do so, be sure to take out the seem allowance! 




Not the world's greatest picture, but if you are staring at the pattern hopefully it will make sense. I actually cut out all 3 pieces and taped them together here, remembering to take out the seam allowance as I created one pattern piece. 

If you can, it is also  worth it to adjust the shoulder straps on the wearer, instead of just making up the right size from the pattern chart. It's always a good idea to make adjustments to the body, and this is a period method of doing so. Like me, Edyth has uneven shoulders, and she also has some back issues. Fitting the shoulder straps on her in person made sure that this garment was made for her body. 

Follow the directions to ease the sleeves  into the bodice. These will tell you to ease it, but you will also notice that on the illustration it looks as though the sleeve has been gathered. This comes from the amount of ease, rather than having run a gathering stitch. This can be tricky, but go slowly, and take your time to really manipulate the fabric and distribute all the tension and ease before basting and sewing in place and they will fit. 



Edyth in the kitchen at Historic Locust Grove.


Skirt
For the skirt, you may simply cut one piece (or more, depending the fabric you are working with) the correct length for your height, rather than piecing in the bottom. In this case, simply ignore the patterns’ directions for attaching the bottom piece, but still follow the directions for the pin tucks, pleats, etc.

As with any pattern, you MUST adjust this for the height of the wearer. This is ESPECIALLY important if you are making this as a working garment, which may be worn near an open fire.  In that case, you can actually bring it up at least two or three inches above the ankle bone for safety. We tend to believe that no woman showed her ankles before the 1920's, but this is simply not true, especially when it comes to working garments. As always, it is best to do some research and consult period images.



"What? You're looking at me like you've never seen ankles before...."


Front Lining Variation (Suggested by my friend Ellen Dressman) 
This dress has an underlining that pins in the front, separate from the bodice front which closes with a drawstring. This was very common during the whole period from work dresses to fashionable gowns.

If you want to simplify this, you can attach the front bodice lining to the front bodice and create the top and bottom drawstring channels with the lining. You will have to extend the side front lining piece to be as long as the bodice front.  Leave out the front bodice lining piece.

First attach the skirt to the bodice, then fell the font lining down over the seam. Next, run another line of stitching ¼ to ½ inch above to create the drawstring channel. Insert and tack down the drawstring as shown in the directions.

On the vertical edge of the opening in the front bodice, fold the fashion fabric and lining in and fell in place. 



Also not a bad idea to reinforce the bottom of that front-opening, now that I'm looking at it...


Overall, this is a great pattern, which is the  reason it is so tried and true out there. Now, as I have stated in previous posts, if you are part of a living history group, you may want to try and diversify what everyone is wearing. In that case, this would probably not be a great pattern to have people make variations off of. The back is just very distinctive, so without some very heavy alteration, it will always pretty much look like the same dress (though there is no reason you couldn't also add a long-sleeved variation).

If you are looking for alternative working garments for women, you may wish to consider a short gown and petticoat as well. If so, please see my previous entry here.