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.