Monday, February 25, 2013

Painted Pemberleys

I present to you my submission for HSF Challenge #4 - Embellish: my new American Duchess "Pemberley" shoes, painted in the style of the late 1790s.

American Duchess Pemberley

American Duchess Pemberleys

I guess technically there's not much "sew" in this Historical Sew Fortnightly entry. It still counts, right?

The Challenge: #4 —Embellish

Fabric: none

Pattern: No pattern, but I based my design on historical examples

Year: 1790-1810

Notions: Angelus leather paints, deglazer, and finisher (available from American Duchess or Dharma Trading Company); 5/8" rayon petersham ribbon for binding; 1/4" rayon petersham for covering the seams (available from Britex Fabrics); 30 wt. silk thread for pompoms (also available from Britex Fabrics); shoe clips; antique metal buttons

How historically accurate is it? I would say pretty good. The shoes are painstakingly designed to be as close as possible to originals in appearance, though they are obviously made with modern materials and techniques. My trims were pretty good — the ribbon is rayon instead of silk, but the silk thread and buttons are as accurate as can be. The shoe clip hardware is obviously inaccurate, but was much simpler than trying to sew through the shoes. The style of embellishment was based closely on historical examples, as you will see below.

Hours to complete: around 7

First worn: will be worn Saturday March 2 to the PEERS Jane Austen Ball

Total cost: $75 for the shoes, $20 for the trimming, and $30 for the paints and supplies to a grand total of $125

Here's some more information on the planning and execution:

As soon as I started planning my Regency dress, I knew that I would need appropriate footwear, and where else can one procure such things besides American Duchess? I've had my eye on the Pemberleys for awhile, since they are literally the only available option for an historically accurate early 19th century shoe. I had a hard time getting excited about them, however, until I came across Lauren's excellent tutorial on decorating them. In white, the shoe is rather bland and looks a bit like a 1980s bridal slipper, but with some paint and creativity, I could turn this plain (though elegant) little white shoe into something truly spectacular.

I immediately immersed myself in researching period examples. As lovely as these shoes look in solid colors, I soon discovered that bold stenciled patterns were all the rage in the late 1790s and early 1800s. These intricate patterns were usually executed in black over soft pastels, lending the delicate, flowerlike colors some depth and sophistication. Here are a few period examples that inspired me:

1780-1800 V&A
These are my favorites. When I saw these, I knew that my shoes absolutely must have floppy silk pompom-tassels. The black trim is super chic and makes the bubblegum color surprisingly sophisticated.

I preferred the color palette of these, however, since I tend to wear a lot more greens and blues. You can also see my inspiration for the tiny stripes, though in this case they are actually leather applique instead of paint. 

Here's another variation on the pastel-with-black color scheme, in a slipper that is very close to the Pemberley in shape. 

One last example to show that my stripes are plausible. Again, notice how close the shape is to the Pemberley. 

Initially I wanted to do an allover stenciled motif like the pink and yellow shoes above, maybe small flowers or something geometric. I soon realized, however, that this plan would a) take forever and b) leave a lot of room for error. The period examples I was so enamored with were made from leather that had been painted and stenciled while flat -- trying to replicate the look on all the curved surfaces of an already-made shoe would be treacherous. With encouragement from my husband, whose taste I always trust in such matters, I decided that a simple stripe pattern would be easier, faster, and safer, without sacrificing any style.

Here are some pictures of the process:

The white shoes, stripped of their factory finish and awaiting their first coat of paint.

This picture shows the color saturation after one coat. As Lauren demonstrated in her tutorial, I applied the paint in thin coats, allowing each to dry before applying the next. That first coat looked awfully streaky and splotchy, but don't worry, the additional coats smooth it out!

Here are the shoes with two more coats of blue. See, smooth even color!

After the blue paint dried thoroughly, I used narrow painter's tape from the craft store to mark off my stripes,

then applied the black paint.

While the paint was still wet, I carefully peeled off the tape, which unfortunately let in lots of paint under the edges, and pulled off some spots of the base paint :(

About an hour's worth of retouching made the stripes look sharper.

I next painted the heels and the edges of the soles.

After the paint dried overnight, I applied a clear finisher to seal it in, then bound the edges in black petersham, which also covered the side and back seams. The ribbon was applied with Fabri-Tac.

The tassels were interesting to make. At first, I thought I would make a classic pompom, like you might put on a knitted hat. The period examples that I saw, however, were flatter and more drapey than a true pompom. After some experimentation, I decided on the following method:

I wrapped a goodly bit of 30 wt. silk thread around 3 fingers,

then tied a piece firmly around the middle, leaving a cluster of thread loops,

which I then cut to release the fringe.

I made two bundles for each shoe, stacking them thus,

stitched them to a shoe clip, and added an antique metal button. Voila!

American Duchess Pemberleys

I couldn't be happier with these shoes. They turned out just the way I wanted them. Now I need to hurry up and sew my dress so I have something to wear them with!

Here's an extra tidbit for the challenge: you may have noticed another pair of shoes in the background of some of these pictures. While waiting for coats of paint to dry on my Pemberleys, I was also painting a pair of Astorias that I ordered at the same time. I wanted them in black, but they were sold out in my size. I was worried about painting an ivory shoe such a dark color, so I decided on a soft dove grey instead.

Cute, don't you think? I wore them to work today, and they were very comfortable. All my coworkers at the fabric store loved them!

I have been sewing this week, I promise. I'll post a few pictures in a day or two once my dress is looking more dress-like. I have to hustle if I'm going to have it done by Saturday!!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Edwardian Corset

My project for HSF Challenge 3#: Under it All is an early Edwardian S-bend corset. I had a lot of fun making this. Usually my historical underpinnings are simple, functional items — a few tucks or a tiny touch of lace is all the embellishment I'll use. They're not meant to be seen, right? Underwear from the turn of the century was very ornate and embellished, however, so I decided to go all out on this corset. It has lace and flossing and floppy ribbon bows. I love it!

I'm wearing the corset with the self-drafted combination undies that I made last year to wear under my Titanic dress.

Truly VIctorian 1903 Edwardian Corset front

Truly VIctorian 1903 Edwardian Corset front detail

Truly VIctorian 1903 Edwardian Corset side

bust detail

back view

Truly VIctorian 1903 Edwardian Corset

The Challenge: #3: Under it All

Fabric: less than 1 yd of white cotton coutil, small amount white silk taffeta for binding and garters

Pattern: Truly Victorian TVE01 — I can't say enough good things about this pattern. It was easy to follow, well-drafted, and the sizing was spot on. The only major adaptation I made was in the seam finishing. The pattern calls for the curved seams to be unfinished. I wasn't entirely comfortable with this so I flat-felled them instead. I wish I had added a waist stay tape, but I didn't think about it until it was too late to do it without taking the corset apart. I also left out the extra padding that the pattern calls for, since I have all the built-in padding I need to obtain a true Edwardian shape.

Year: 1903

Notions: size 00 grommets, lacing cord, white spring steel boning, garter clips, 40" of 1" wide elastic, 2 yds white silk taffeta ribbon, 40" of white cotton lace, 40" of 1/4" white silk satin ribbon, silk thread for flossing

How historically accurate is it? Very historically accurate. Truly Victorian patterns are very well-drafted based on original examples. In researching trimming and embellishment, I came across several period examples that had very similar shapes and seamlines. My construction methods were all based on what I was able to observe from period corsets. Even the flossing pattern I used is consistent with originals.

Hours to complete: approximately 20

First worn: will be worn in April 2013

Total cost: around $100

This corset is going to be the foundation for my turn-of-the-century evening gown, so the silhouette was the most important consideration for me. This corset pattern gives a lovely curvy shape that gently adjusts the wearer's posture to give the fashionable S-bend silhouette of the period. It achieves this by allowing the bust to settle into a soft, rounded shape, while pushing the ribcage forward and the hips back. It does all this while being surprisingly comfortable. The frilly embellishment was just icing on the cake, but it certainly helps me feel more like a true Gibson Girl. 

Here is one historical example I looked to for guidance on the embellishment:

1903 Corset from the Metropolitan Museum (more pictures here)

The one technique that was new to me was the construction of the garter straps. They were easy to make, but gave the corset a very professional and period-correct finish. I'll be posting a tutorial soon!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gibson Girl Gown

While working on my Regency dress, I have also been planning my Gibson Girl evening gown. Since the turn-of-the-century/early Edwardian period is completely new to me, the first thing I did was to start training my eye to the fashionable silhouette of the period. My jumping-off point was the work of Charles Dana Gibson, an illustrator who made his name in the 1890s with his charming (and often satirical) drawings of people from all walks of life.

His most famous subject, of course, is the idealized young woman that came to bear his name: the Gibson Girl. What defines a Gibson Girl? She is decidedly upperclass, and exudes elegance and grace in everything she does. She is dignified and aloof, seemingly unconcerned with what is going on around her. She is occasionally depicted on her own, but is usually shown in the company of other people -- sometimes an elderly father or mother, more often a suitor. The other people in the drawings seem to serve one purpose: to highlight her beauty and elegance by contrast.
One more thing: the Gibson Girl is always impeccably dressed.

Here are a few images to give you an idea what I mean:

See her elegance, poise, and utter sangfroid?

The gentleman is clearly eager to get her attention, but she seems determined to keep him at a distance.

This is one of my favorite Gibson Girl illustrations. The silly-looking father and pompous mother look on as a gangly youth vies for the attention of their daughter. The young woman does not even appear to notice him, but seems focused instead on looking as beautiful as possible.

No wonder Gibson's illustrations were so popular; who wouldn't want to be a Gibson Girl? As I design and sew my evening gown, I'm going to keep this vision of dignified elegance in mind. It's best to set your standards high, right?

The Gibson illustrations capture a mood, but don't say much about the specifics of design. For that I turned to my go-to inspiration resources: fashion plates, period photos, and extant dresses in museum collections.

Once I started to dig into the details, I was able to pinpoint the specific years that most interest me: 1899-1903. In the late 1890s, skirts become very narrow while the torso started to develop a soft, almost droopy quality. Around the turn of the century, the narrow skirts started to swell at the hem into lush, sweeping trains, while the introduction of the S-bend corset allowed the curving shape of the torso to become even more exaggerated.

Here are some fashion plates that illustrate these trends:

This is the classic silhouette for the period: heart shaped bodice, skirt smooth over the hips with a dramatic flare below the knees.

Another great example of the fashionable silhouette. I love the strap/sleeve drapery on this one.

This exemplifies the over-embellished, frilly look that was in vogue.

This is a little simpler, but still shows the taste for soft, feminine details.

Now for some lovely fashion photographs from the period:

The trimming on this one feels a little over-the-top, but I love it! Those straps are especially fun.

This one is more elegant. Look closely at the bodice and you'll notice buttons below that lapel-like drape. Too cute.

Here's a great example of the trend towards fluffy embellishment on the chest area. It further emphasizes the low, rounded bustline that was popular in the period. 

This photo really shows the shape given by the straight-fronted corsets worn during this time. They push the ribcage forward and the hips back, creating a graceful (if somewhat unnatural) S-shaped curve. The rounded bust is again exaggerated with droopy trimming.

This one shows the softly folded drapery that was trendy during this period. For those of you who have studied the fashions of the later Edwardian period (1910s), you know that this soft draped effect becomes even more popular in years to come. 

Here are some museum dresses (all from the Metropolitan Museum — I strongly recommend following the links to their website where you can zoom in and see all kinds of amazing details):

1902 House of Worth (more pictures)
The detail in this dress is astonishing. I especially love the soft folds of layered fabrics across the bodice. It takes a lot of work to make drapery look that effortless.

1898-1900 House of Worth (more pictures)
This one is also embellished beyond belief. The subtle star and cloud motifs give a pleasant texture, without distracting from the sweeping lines of the silhouette. Again, notice the soft draping across the bodice. 

1898-1900 Jacques Doucet (more pictures)
This one is very simple in its embellishment, relying instead on a fabulous fabric to make an impression. I love the swags of flowers on the shoulders. 

1898-1900 French (more pictures)
Just in case you were starting to think that every dress from this period was a soft pastel shade, here's a pop of color. Delicious red velvet does not need a lot of embellishment, just some gentle draping, a touch of tulle and satin, and that less-sexy-than-it-sounds bosom tassel. Love it. 

The take-away from all of this is that I have my work cut out for me. Evening gowns from this era were far from simple, requiring precision fitting, skillful draping, and hopefully some interesting embellishment. But of course, none of this works without proper foundations. That curvy S-bend shape is anything but natural.

I've made a lot of progress on the Truly Victorian 1903 Edwardian Corset that I've been making for
HSF Challenge #3I'll post some photos and more info once I have it completed!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Regency Dress Planning

I've been busy this week!

My Regency white muslin dress is well underway. I decided some time ago that I wanted it to be a drop-front dress. Also known as a bib-front, this style of dress was popular from around 1795 to 1812 or so. The construction allows the dress to close in the front (making it easier to dress oneself) without a visible closure to interfere with the smooth Grecian silhouette that was popular in those years. One of my inspiration dresses from a previous post is a nice example of the style:

Lovely muslin dress from the Metropolitan Museum (more pictures)

For a good explanation of how this dress style works, and some excellent illustrations, take a look at this post from The Hungarian Chick. This extant dress at Vintage Textile also shows the style in action.

Once I decided on the general style, I spent hours poring over Costume in Detail and Patterns of Fashion to pin down exactly what I wanted my dress to do. My favorite inspiration dress is this one from the Snowshill Collection, documented in Costume in Detail on pg 89-90:

From the National Trust Collections (more details here)

There is nothing spectacular about this dress — it is perfectly typical. It has a bit of interest added with drawn-thread work on the bib, but is otherwise very simple. The shape of the bodice pieces is very close to the 1798-1804 Morning Dress in Patterns of Fashion, so I decided to base my bodice on that pattern. The pattern also has the sleeve I want: a short puff sleeve that is suitable for evening wear with a detachable long undersleeve for day wear. The skirt, however, will be more like the dress pictured above (less full, no train).

For fabric, I found a lovely spotted muslin at Britex. I am lining the bodice and sleeve puffs with the white linen leftover from my shift. Here are the two fabrics side-by-side:

Since I have no experience with drawn thread work, I will probably use lace insertion to decorate the bib instead. For now, I am working on putting together the bodice. Did I mention that I will be sewing the entire dress by hand? As soon as I have the bodice finished, I'll post some pictures.

I've spent a lot of time this week on another project: my Gibson Girl evening gown, but I'll save that for another post.