Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fig Leaf Patterns 214 Surplice Dress

I had the wonderful opportunity a couple of months ago to attend a workshop with Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz, the creator and owner of Fig Leaf Patterns, where we worked on her new Surplice Dress Pattern. ***

Bonnet by Lydia Fast 

 You know, the one based on this dress from the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit.

Since Mackzenie was still beta testing the pattern at the time of this workshop, I don't really feel like I can give it a proper 'review' here. However here is some general advice and observations from my experience.

The pattern actually comes with two options, even though it's not shown on the front cover. The original dress appears to have been remade from an earlier 1790s style. Mackenzie has reverse engineered that original style, and included instructions to make it along with the 1815 version.

This cotton print was actually a $6/ yard Walmart find. Because yes, Virginia, you *can* find affordable fabric to do these things if you know what you are looking for.

All photos by Brian Cushing

The patterns calls for you to only gather the back skirt piece on the back piece, as is done on the original. However I extended the gathers onto the side back pieces. This is something I learned from Janea Whitaker at a Burnley & Trowbridge workshop, as a good way to accommodate those of us with wider hips.

Make sure that you calculate the length of the skirt for your height. When you get to this point, remember that the fashionable skirt lengths were very different in 1815 from 1790.


By 1815, ankle was *in*. The skirts were also becoming fuller, and being cut on an 'A-Line'.


The double cording in the bottom ruffle is great for achieving this fuller, A-Line style. The original has a tuck underneath the ruffle, which I ended up leaving out.  The tuck itself didn't seem necessary  to hold the ruffle out. Originally I was going to put one above to make mine a little different from all the other reproductions of this one running around out there, however when I tried it on the length was right as is.

Takeaways (for the 1815 surplice pattern):

  • To get the most out of the bodice ruffles, you want to use a light, sheer fabric.

  • Don't forget to adjust the length of the skirt based on your height. Remember that by 1815 the fashionable hemline was showing some serious ankle.

  • If you are curvy in the hips like I am, you may wish to use the back gather variation I have discussed above.

It is worth noting that while this dress is lovely, it is also very distinctive. If you are part of a living history ensemble group you would not want everyone to use this pattern (at Locust Grove we have limited it to 1-2 people wearing it at a time). However don't forget that you are getting a 2 for 1 here- the pattern does also come with the 1790s variation, which will give you a very flexible, customizable second option.

The last thing I will note is that Mackenzie is extremely personable and helpful. I wasn't able to attend most of the last day of this workshop, so she has answered a lot of my questions via email. So if you do get this pattern and have questions, don't hesitate to reach out to her for help! You can also ask to join the 'Friends of Fig Leaf Patterns' group on Facebook.

***The workshop was organized and underwritten by the Jane Austen Society of North America Louisville Chapter. Many thanks to Bonny Wise and JASNA for making this happen. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mrs. Ann Gwathmey

Here's a post about a dress I made back in 2016 for my friend Janice Sidebottom. Janice is a member of the first person interpreter cast at Locust Grove, where she portrays Ann Clark Gwathmey. Ann was the oldest sister of George Rogers Clark and William Clark. She married Owen Gwathmey, who ran a mercantile business in Louisville.

Janice at the Jane Austen dinner at Historic Corydon, IN. She is wearing a cap of mine, along with a chemisette from Amazon Drygoods.
Her lovely curls came from Custom Wig Company.

We wanted to create something for Janice which would be and fashionable and appropriate for her character in 1816, the year we portray at Locust Grove

There is a miniature of Ann which was supposedly painted in 1820, just a few years later,  though I suspect it is incorrectly dated. Ann was born in 1755, so by 1820 she would have been in her mid 60's. The shock of brown hair seems surprising on a woman her age. Hair pieces were certainly available, but those would likely have been curled. Since the hair in this image is brown, but does not look purposely styled, I suspect it is Ann's real hair, and this portrait was painted earlier. **

There is a later portrait of her sister, Lucy, however, which also provided some good inspiration for Ann at this point in their lives. Lucy Clark Croghan was painted at Locust Grove in 1820, where her portrait now hangs in the dining room. She is dressed in a manner which is very dignified and fashionable, and which displays the wealth and comfort Lucy knew at this time of her life.

Both portraits show women in darker colors, with frilly lovely caps and fichou or other frilly fabric about their necks. And it just so happens that Janice's favorite color is blue....

Our model for this dress was this one from the Snowshill Collection in the National Trust, dated 1812-15

Nancy Bradfield also sketched this one out in Costume in Detail on pages 115-16. 

This was actually one of my first forays into draping on the body. Maggie Roberts, who was our outgoing ladies costume director at the time, kindly held my hand and helped me through the process. 

I likened the construction of this dress to an arch- its very simple how all the pieces hold each other together, once they ARE together. The shoulders are gathered on pieces of tape, as is the bosom in the front. Janice was very patient while I set all the bosom gathers in place on her. 

Below are the pattern pieces I traced off the pattern I had draped on Janice. There appeared to be more gathers on the front of the shoulders, so the shoulder is wider on the front bodice piece than the back. As with all crossover styles, the front is cut on the straight of grain.

The back is on a drawstring, which makes the dress adjustable. Janice has a history of weight fluctuation, so this adjustability was something she wanted. I created the channel for the string between the skirt and the bodice . The very bottom of the sleeves close with a drawstring.

The fabric came from Fashion Fabrics Club, where it was labeled as a 'dark blue lawn'. FFC can really be a great resource for low cost cottons, but it is never a guarantee exactly how what you order will show up.  Luckily, this arrived as a lovely, smooth, lightweight cotton with a nice drape. 

Janice with the other ladies at the 200th anniversary of George Roger's Clark's death and burial.
February 17, 2018
Courtesy of Wayne Tuckson 

I hope this entry has given you an idea of how we work to create character appropriate garments, based on primary source documentation as well as the taste and preferences of the wearer, at Locust Grove. 

**The image is stored along with two other miniatures, of her son and daughter in law, at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. Those are also dated 1820, and I suspect that Ann's came with them, and got lumped into the same date.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Federal Work Clothes

It's never too late to blog, right? (Right?!) I finally got around to making a decent Federal working outfit last fall to wear in the kitchen at Locust Grove. I did all of the stitching on the short gown and petticoat by hand. 

For the short gown, I used the Fig Leaf Patterns 219. This was another bit from my Jane Austen Festival haul last summer.

Like a lot of Mackenzie's patterns, this one actually comes with a couple of variations, both of which were part of the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit. Since this outfit was designed for getting really dirty and sweaty in the kitchen, I went for the simpler, unlined option (the other one is a bit fancier and more substantial with a collar). 

I did add about an inch to the bottom. The original from the DAR exhibit had a VERY short skirt, which I did not think would be flattering on me. However looking around it seems like these came in a variety of lengths. You can see one example from St. Louis by Anna Maria Von Phul here 

As well as this rather interesting Danish example here

Brian had apparently been hauling this striped cotton around for years, just looking for its purpose. And this was it! 

Brian sketched the line for the drawstring casing on me with a fabric marking pen. (The pattern does come with lines you can use if you don't want to DIY it).

 I used 1 inch twill tape to create the casing on the inside. 

The reinforcing piece on the neck will look strange when you cut it out, but when you go to put it together it actually will fit into place fine. 

**I accidentally inverted the pleat here. It worked out fine, but don't work off this image for it.

Petticoat- Past Patterns 037

For the petticoat, I relied on the research in  Past Patterns 037 High-Waisted Petticoat pattern.  This is based on an original from the period. As with all of Saundra Altman's patterns, this comes with a wonderful booklet full of her research and observations. I didn't actually need the pattern to cut it out, but just reading Sandra's research is VERY helpful.

I made this out of some wool suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club. I chose wool because it is more flame retardant than cotton, and I am often wearing this near the fire in the kitchen at Locust Grove. The weave is open enough that it breathes pretty well in cool to moderately warm weather. We will see how it does in the summer, but then again past a certain point there's not a lot that can keep you perfectly comfortable next to a fire in a Kentucky July.

For petticoat straps, I used more 1 inch twill tape from William Booth, Draper. I have found the best thing is cut them pretty long, then pin them in place to try it on. From there, you want to readjust the front and back on each side of your body. Between shoulders and bust, most women have at least some asymmetry, and you want to be sure that these are fit well so that you can move with ease, but they wont' come off your shoulders. I frequently find that they end up at an angle in the front.

All topped off with a cap I designed myself, and a pair of boots from Taylor Rose Historical Outfitters. This has been a very comfortable outfit, which allows me to move and work with ease in the kitchen!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Box

In Lark Rise to Candleford Flora Thompson describes a common scene from the hamlet in England where she grew up

"A familiar sight at Lark Rise was that of a younger girl - any young girl between ten and thirteen- pushing one of the two perambulators in the hamlet round the Rise with a smallish-sized, oak clothes box with black handles lashed to the seat..... 

She had been to the Rectory for THE BOX , which appeared almost simultaneously with every new baby, and a grueling time she would have had pushing her load the mile and a half, keeping it from slipping from its narrow perch. But, very soon, such small drawbacks would be forgotten in the pleasure of seeing it unpacked. It contained half a dozen of everything- tiny shirts, swathes, long flannel barrows, nighties and napkins, made, kept in repair, and lent for every confinement by the clergymen's daughter. In addition to the loaned clothes, it would contain, as a gift, packets of tea and sugar and a tin of patent groats for making gruel. "

The ritual which Flora Thompson describes in the 1880's was an old one, going back at least as far as the beginning of the nineteenth century. We can find evidence of it in several sewing manuals from the period. These manuals, geared towards middle and upper class women, provided advice on charitable sewing for the deserving poor in their neighborhoods.

The Ladies Economical Assistant, published in England in 1808 said that "There is not, perhaps, any act of charity more truly beneficial to the poor than the custom of lending a box of linen to lying-in women, for the month of f their confinement."  In 1838, The Workwoman's Guide continued the same tradition, stating that "Linen is often lent by ladies to the poor, at their confinements, in bags, boxes, or baskets ...." which is followed by a precise inventory of recommended items to include.

The author of this work gives more detail on the box itself, saying that "....the most convenient kind of basket for containing these articles of clothing, is a light wicker-work one, about 20 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 20 inches high...it should have two handles, sufficiently high to allow of the lid opening easily."

These boxes contained clothes for the new mothers as well. The suggested inventory from The Workwoman's Guide is specifically divided between items for mother and baby, even suggesting the addition of a few books for the mother to read during her confinement. It would be tempting to think that for these women, the period of confinement provided a rare opportunity for some rest; however Thompson remembers the mothers in her hamlet taking pride in returning to their household work as quickly as possible. In any case, the authors of these manuals attempted to think equally of the comfort and needs of these poor women and their infants.

'Poor Yet Rich' Theresa Schwartze

The loaning of 'The Box' was supposed to be an orderly, well regulated affair, at least according to the manuals. The Ladies Economical Assistant has a great deal of advice on the handling of this loan, insisting that the box must be returned at the end of a month.  "I would strongly recommend' writes the author 'that no part of the contents of the box should be parted with on any account; otherwise, before the things are replaced they are probably wanted, and thus great disappointment is occasioned to whose who look upon this help as so material a comfort."For those women who required further assistance, she provides the following advice to her readers "receiving the box, with the contents well washed, and agreeing with the inventory (which should always be sent with the things,) a present of a few articles of an infant's dress may be given to deserving families, if an extension of the charity be thought proper." 

Thompson tells us that these rules were understood in the Hamlet, at least in theory. "The boxes were supposed to be returned at the end of the month" says Thompson "with the clothes freshly laundered." But of course reality does not always correspond nicely with an advice manual, and extensions were regularly given when no one else in the hamlet had recently had a child. Thus 'THE BOX' might actually stay with a single family for six or seven weeks, allowing them to avoid ever having to lay out the time and money for clothes which their children would only wear at the very beginning of their lives. And the Rector's daughter did, in fact, also make several permanent presents of infants clothing upon the THE BOX's return.

Outline for a gown for poor infants from the Workwoman's Guide 

In the Lark Rise hamlet, this institution was so popular that the Rector's daughter actually had to maintain an auxiliary box for times when the first one was in use. She also maintained two christening gowns to be used when the time came.

The Rector's daughter, Miss Ellison, gives a picture of one of the women who was doing all this charitable sewing. Thompson says "Such a life as hers must have been is almost unimaginable now. Between playing the harmonium in church, teaching in Sunday school, ordering her father's meals and overseeing the maids, she must have spent hours doing needlework." And of course 'The Box' was not the only bit of charitable sewing she was doing 'Course, unattractive needlework, too, cross-over shawls and flannel petticoats for the old women, flannel shirts and long, thick knitted stockings for the old men, these, as well as the babies print frocks, were all made by her own hands."

"Young Woman Sewing, The Artist's Sister Anna Hammerchøi," by Vilhelm Hammerchøi,  1887

Sadly, for all of her trouble, Miss Ellison was not well loved or the recipient of much gratitude in the hamlet. "She got little credit for this." Says Thompson "The mothers, like the children, looked upon the small garments, both loaned and given, as a provision of nature. Indeed, they were rather inclined to criticize."

So far Lark Rise is the latest evidence I have seen of this tradition.  Thompson writes about her 1880's childhood as a time when a great deal of change was still coming to her hamlet, where she and her siblings were the last generation to experience many decades, or even centuries, old rhythms of life growing up. This was a tradition which made sense before inexpensive, ready-made clothing was widely available for infants. When the amount of time and effort it would take to make and maintain such clothing was much better done once by one wealthier person with leisure time, than repeated by a whole village of mothers who had little in the way of either time or money for materials.

However I would be very interested to see if and how long this tradition may have continued in other places. If you have seen any other examples of 'The Box' please let me know in the comments below! Many thanks to my friend Eleanor Rust for bringing Lark Rise to Candleford to my attention!