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.

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. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Everything old is new again! My New (to being a) Spencer.

This is the story of how I just kept remaking a garment until it was FINALLY something I was satisfied with. I  originally made this it as a copy of this one in the MET

The Met describes this as a dress. Other people think it is a pelisse, since it is front opening. I've always wondered if it could be an example of how Regency/Federal clothes don't always fit neatly into separate categories. 

Visiting with friends at the Jane Austen Festival in 2017.

I was never completely satisfied with how the gathers fit on this. I tore the skirt off and put it back on TWICE, trying to get the gathers to fall how I wanted them to. And the front STILL tended to open between the closures when sitting (score one point for the 'pelisse' argument, I guess). And in any case, I made it two years ago, and it was time for something new! Remaking clothes was very common in the past, and turning this garment into a spencer was a lot of fun. 

I also gathered the ruffles on the neck by hand and spent some time getting them just right on the collar, so I did NOT want to give up on them! 

One of the pieces I was happiest with on the original was the stitching down the front. I was able to turn this around and make it the waistband on the spencer. 

I wasn't able to get a great pic, but I'm super pleased with it, so I'm including this one and it will have to do! 

I used what had been the detailed stitching down the front for the waistband, which I reinforced underneath with 1 inch cotton twill tape from William Booth, Draper. I'm really pleased with the result- its sitting nicely in place instead of flipping up or moving around in all the pictures I see of myself.

One of the things I like the most about this garment is the piping, another reason I wanted to give it new life.  You can see it really nicely on the back here.

In 1816, the year we portray at Locust Grove, it was all about the back bows. These pop up in LOTS of fashion plates. And you see them on both dresses and outer garments.

Here is an extant garment with the same back bow. It is dated 'ca. 1820' by an auction house, but those dates can be pretty vague. In any event, it's a nice physical example of what the other documentation is showing us for 1816.

c. 1820 (auction house date) 

I constructed the 'bow' in 4 separate pieces. Trying to tie an actual bow and have it come out nicely is very difficult. You can achieve a nicer effect much more easily like this.

I didn't take an pictures of the actual bow in construction, so the images below are recreated with scraps- please ignore the jagged edges. 

As seen above, you will want to make a small tube for the body of the bow first. You will then need a separate piece to go around it.  I also made the tails two separate pieces .

To complete the bow, sew the smaller band around the tube, and then affix that over the tails. You will want to fluff the body of the bow as you go. I also tacked it in place on the spencer.

This was my first experience turning one garment into another, and it was a lot of fun! If you are looking to spruce up your wardrobe with less work, stop and think about what an older garment could possibly be remade into!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Using Social Media to Create Cohesion Before a Living History Event

This post will focus on how to use social media, and other digital media, to create cohesion between groups and individual participants before one-weekend living history events. I will also be talking about how we can reach out to the public to help them feel comfortable engaging when they walk through the gate. These strategies should apply whether you are working in a first-person or third-person environment. 

The Problem
There are some living history events and groups which are able to meet regularly to rehearse. Events which run for several weekends in a row, such as The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, will rehearse for several weeks leading up to the run. This creates group cohesion and helps to keep everyone lined up with the goals of the event or site.

But what do you do when everyone involved can't get together ahead of time? Many living history events are only one weekend. They typically consist of several independent groups and individuals which come together for the weekend, and then go their separate ways. These folks may live several hours apart, making any kind of physical group rehearsal impossible.

If your group meets regularly to rehearse, drill, etc., you may have excellent internal cohesion, but you may still face challenges interacting with other groups for the weekend. It can be too easy to remain in an insular group with the people you know all weekend, instead of cross-pollinating with other participants.

"Who the heck are those people over there? Do they bite? Am I allowed to go talk to them? I better just stay over here where it's safe...."

Sometimes this can even be a matter of fear, or intimidation- we think 'Oh, So- and -So is so cool, they couldn't want to talk to me!", etc.  Of course this is usually not true, but it is still a perfectly understandable reaction around people you may not know very well yet.

So, What to do?
This is where our modern communications tools, including social media, can be extremely helpful. Facebook, for all its many troubles, is a good meeting ground for reenactors and living historians. You tend to find active groups with lots of people there. Instagram could be a good place to start too, to get the word out about what you are doing and how others can come interact with you, though it may not foster the same kind of interactive discussion.

I was actually inspired to write this post by watching my friends in the Guild of St. George, Inc., prepare for the San Jose Renaissance Faire. The theme for the event is fairies, and the Guild has chosen a scenario to support this where they are putting on a court masque based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I know this from 2,300 miles away, because I've seen Rydell posting this EVERYWHERE the last few days. As Guildmaster, he's been using social media to explain what his group is doing, and invite folks from other groups to come and interact with them. This way St. George is supporting the theme of the event, and encouraging interaction between participants, to create a better immersive experience for attendees.

Members of other guilds came to perform for the Queen.
Photo by Angelica Roque

Readers of this blog may have also noticed several posts leading up to the Jane Austen Festival.  At the event, I was running an environmental area where festival goers were invited to come, sit, and enjoy some Regency-era hospitality. However, this is not the only such area at the event. Carol Jarboe also runs a wonderful salon as Caroline, Lady Linnington. My goal was to add something to the event which complimented what she was doing, but did not copy it. I think of us as the Longbourn to her Rosings.

So I reached out to Carol on Facebook, and we talked about what she was doing, and how I could be sure to add something different. It turns out that Lady Caroline does not enjoy games of cards in her parlour, so cards became a major feature in our area. By coordinating this way, Carol and I made sure that we weren't stepping on each other's toes, and that festival goers would have a broader immersive experience by visiting each of us.

Lady Linnington would prefer that her guests attention be focused on her, not whatever ace they may be holding.
Photo by Jen Jarboe

It is very easy for us to forget how overwhelming it can be for people to walk through the gate and into our world. Members of the public who come visit may not know how to approach living history performers. Remember, these good souls are the ones who keep the playground alive by showing up!

In the particular case of the Jane Austen Festival, there is less of a divide between "public" and "participants" than at many other events. The festival has a particularly active following on social media, including a very large Facebook group. This made it possible to reach out directly to attendees prior to the event by putting my blog posts up in the group. I was able to use this to invite festival goers to come and interact with us, and tell them how to do so. I even included a link to a Whist tutorial, and was extremely gratified when a few ladies showed up having practiced!

Some delightful, well-mannered company, at a game of whist. 
Photo by Janet Abell

However, it is rare for event goers to be conveniently herded into a Facebook group heading into an event like that. More of the time, I have found that Facebook events can be very good for recruiting and coordinating participants, but they are not ideal for promoting the event to the public. The event planners themselves may wish to incorporate what you are doing into their promotion, which is why it's important for group leaders and event coordinators to stay in close contact. 

In the old days, where event advertising was limited to costly print media, it could be hard do much about this. However in this brave new world of nearly limitless, often free, media leading up to an event, we can get really specific telling people what they are able to do, and how they can go about making it happen.  The organizing body may wish to share blog posts you have written. Or they may prefer to put up easier-to-digest graphics with quick blurbs, telling visitors how they can interact with you, "You may present yourself to the Queen!" or "Lady Caroline would love you to introduce yourself!", or "Don't forget to check the schedule to see where and when to sign your kids up for militia drill!"  If possible, it is also a good idea to include specific times and places to direct visitors to.

Kids militia drill, being lead by a visiting reenactor at Locust Grove's 18th Century Market Fair. Photo courtesy of Historic Locust Grove.

I always want to support the theme and goals of any living history event, while creating an immersive environment for our guests.  All of these things are possible when we take the time and initiative to reach out and communicate with each other and with the hardworking folks who organize and produce these events.