Bliaut in the Snow

We’re in the middle of a nasty cold snap here in the northeast, and it made me remember that I never posted photos of my bliaut that we took way back in February during a snow storm.

You can see the construction notes for the bliaut in this post. It’s wool and linen and quite heavy, so it kept some of the chill out during this photoshoot… but not all. The wig I’m wearing is just a $10 ebay wig I bought years ago that I put on to give a fantasy/elven vibe. The photographer is my boyfriend, Dan, whose photo site you can see here.

Please enjoy the photos, and I hope you’re staying warm!

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What to Gift the Historical Costumer in Your Life.

If you’re a historical costumer, around the gift-giving season you may start getting questions from family about what you want for Christmas, and it can be hard to come up with a few ideas on the spot without feeling greedy. Conversely, if you have a friend or loved one who is a historical costumer, you might be trying to find some ideas of what to get them without them catching on.

With those things I mind, I thought I would put together this list of gift ideas that historical costumers would (probably) like. Of course, no two costumers are into the same eras or styles, so I tried to include a variety of useful as well as fun items at a variety of price points. I hope you find this list useful!

  1. Nice wooden hangers. Yes, seriously! Costumers need to have some way to store all of their frocks, and plastic hangers are often too weak, and we won’t even get into metal wire hangers. Nice wood suit hangers are usually the way to go, and there are even nice cedar ones to help keep the bugs away, and sometimes you can find ones with clips that can be used for petticoats or underskirts (just make sure the clips have rubber coated tips!). Here is a nice walnut set from Amazon.
  2. Neck kerchiefs from Burnley & Trowbridge. Sold mostly for 18th century reenactors, these large, fine, soft, and beautifully printed kerchiefs have become a favorite of costumers for other uses, like hiding a head full of curlers, wrapping up a Rosie the Riveter kind of hairdo, or just pairing with everyday outfits. With several different colors and patterns, it’s fun to collect a bunch! Find them here.
  3. Hat pins. Suitable for a variety of eras, hat pins can often be hard to find in modern stores, but they are a must with certain types of historical and vintage hats, and the fancier ones can make an excellent gift. Etsy has a good selection of both vintage and handmade hat pins.
  4. Hat boxes. Another item useful for storage, but one that can often be quite beautiful too, hat boxes are ideal for storing a costumer’s fanciest hats, but they can also be used to store ribbons and trim, gloves, fur muffs, reticules, and other small items that costumers always seem to have a lot of hanging around. You can sometimes find hat boxes in antique or vintage shops, but you can also find them on Amazon.
  5. Silk stockings from American Duchess. Suitable for 18th Century, but also fun to wear under Victorian and Edwardian gowns, silk stockings are a lush gift for any costumer looking to add an extra bit of fancy to their outfits. Find them here.
  6. Jewelry from Dames a la Mode. With a variety of earrings, necklaces, and rings from several eras, Dames a la Mode has something sparkly for everyone. Website here.
  7. Victorian Chatelaines. Vintage chatelaines are a highly sought after item, and the price for an intact piece is not for the faint of heart. But, there are some jewelry makers out there who are now making reproduction chatelaines for a fraction of the cost. Victorian costumers would love one of these to complete their kits. This seller on Etsy usually has a couple in stock.
  8. Fur muffs. Depending on the shape and style, muffs can be used with 18th century through mid-twentieth century styles. Ideal for cool weather outdoor events, some of them even have handy inner pockets that will fit a cell phone! Etsy has a variety of vintage real fur, as well as modern fake fur muffs, but keep an eye out at your local vintage store, too.
  9. Colonial Williamsburg tea chest. Most costumers I’ve met run on tea or coffee, so this fancy tea chest from historic Colonial Williamsburg would be a gorgeous and unusual addition to the costuming household. If you don’t keep tons of loose leaf tea stashed around the house, the chest could also be used to store jewelry or other precious items. Find it here.
  10. A season pass to your local historic site. Whether you live close to Colonial Williamsburg, Gettysburg historical sites, Fort Ticonderoga, if your costumer loves visiting the places where history happened, a season pass would be perfect for making sure you don’t miss any new exhibits, events, or reenactments.
  11. Tickets to historical events or conferences. There’s Jane Austen Fest in Louisville, Costume College in L.A., a garden party at Colonial Williamsbug, and Renaissance Faires all over the country. Immersive costume events like these are ideal for showing off outfits and meeting new friends. Keep an ear out (and keep an eye on social media) for events that your costumer might be interested in.
  12. A photoshoot. Costumers spend so much time perfecting their looks, and we don’t always get ideal documentation of them. A smart phone is still not a substitute for a professional camera. A photoshoot with a professional local photographer will make any costumer feel loved (unless of course he or she is known to be camera shy!). Or, take a few lessons and find a nice camera to rent/borrow and take the costumer out for a photoshoot yourself! That way you get together time, and beautiful outfit photos.
  13. Books of course! This one is a bit tricky, as you might have to scan your costumer’s shelf to see what they already own. Some of my personal favorite costuming resource books include The Tudor Tailor, Patterns of Fashion 1, 2, and 3, The Cut of Men’s Clothes, and Fashions of the Gilded Age. There are tons more out there, though, and some are more instructional and include patterns, while some are simply reprints of old Bloomingdales catalog or Harper’s illustrations which can be great for reference. All of these books can be found on Amazon.com, but I’ve also found useful books in a local used book store as well. You can see other titles that costumers are recommending here here and here.
  14. Lastly, there’s the old standby, Gift Cards. If there is one thing historical costumers can never get enough of, it’s fabric, so a gift card gives us the opportunity to shop without (or, with relatively little) guilt about how much that silk costs. Some of the best places to get historically-friendly fabric that offer gift cards are Burnley & Trowbridge, Wm. Booth, Draper, Renaissance Fabrics, Fabrics-Store.com (great source for linen), and Farthingales for corset and hoop/bustle making supplies. There’s also American Duchess gift certificates for shoes, Redthreaded gift certificates that can be used for corsets, corset patterns, or accessories, and gift cards to your local JoAnn Fabric, because costumers still need cutting boards, nice sewing shears, pins, fabric weights, and other supplies that might not be historically accurate, but sure make modern sewing a bit easier.

That exhausts my ideas for now. I hope this helps someone with their holiday shopping a little bit. If anyone else has good ideas, share them in the comments!

The Gryffindor Natural Form Gown

It’s finished! Time for a blog post!

I conceived of this gown almost a year ago when, with Rufflecon still on my mind, Lauren of American Duchess posted a photo on Intagram with a vintage sweater that had scarlet and gold Gryffindor-like stripes. I thought it would be super cool to try to get a group together at Rufflecon representing our Hogwarts houses through historical clothing. My own house is Gryffindor, and I’ve been wanting to try Natural Form era for a while, so I thought it was the perfect time to try!

I started by looking at tons of Natural Form era fashion plates as well as the patterns available from Truly Victorian, and then I started sketching.

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I decided to use TV428, the 1880 Jacket Bodice pattern and TV225, the 1878 Fantail Skirt pattern, and to draft my own overskirt based on some fashion plates. I decided to use silk for the scarlet and gold bits, and black cotton sateen for the base.

I started on the jacket at the end of August, and it progressed pretty quickly at first.

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I wasn’t 100% sure what parts were going to be scarlet and which gold when I first started, but I hoped that as the base parts started taking shape I would be able to visualize what would look best. I decided to make the lapels and sleeve cuffs scarlet with the edges piped in gold.

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I then had to start draping and layering to figure out what colors I wanted to make the underskirt and overskirt out of.

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I realized the red looked better over the black, but as I progressed I continued having trouble figuring out what the overskirt should actually look like. I started in on the underskirt at least, and spent a good week or two just hemming and pleating the flounce to go around the bottom. Once I got it on however, I realized that I really did need a petticoat. I was going to be lazy and try to get along without making one, but the underskirt was collapsing a bit near the bottom and I was very unhappy with it. One quick petticoat later and it looked loads better. Lesson learned.

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Once that was done, my experiments with the overskirt draping started to look way better, and I proceeded with a little bit more confidence. I took cues from an overskirt pattern in Fashions of the Gilded Age and shortened it a bit to get more of the look I wanted.

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You can also see the scarlet collar and sleeve cuffs in this photo.

There is also a hidden wand pocket in the seam on the right-hand side of the overskirt that perfectly fits my Ollivander’s hazel wand, but I didn’t get any photos that demonstrated it! Then it was time to Gryffindor it up by adding gold trim. I spent another good week or two hemming and pleating gold flounce. I was also originally convinced I was going to cover the jacket buttons in scarlet, but once I got the overskirt finished, I realized the outfit needed more gold to tie it together, so gold buttons it was. I did the button holes by hand, because I still don’t quite trust my machine not to ruin the button holes and therefore ruin the item. But the button holes still don’t look the best because not matter how many I do, they always seem to come out a bit messy.

Then I took some dark apartment shots (I really need to stop doing everything in dark fabrics so that they don’t photograph in my apartment).

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I wore it to Rufflecon this past Saturday. I was hoping to do a group photoshoot with other historical House outfits, but unfortunately no one else was able to get theirs together in time. So I took some worn shots in the famous selfie bathroom, and my friend Nina took a very dramatic photo in front of the hotel’s artwork backdrops.

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I tried to cobble together a “chatelaine” out of Hogwarts jewelry.

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I also made the hat, which I posted a bit about before. But here’s the finished product:

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I made the corset that I’m wearing underneath as well, but I will do a separate post about that later. Eventually I’d love to put together a nicer chatelaine, and I need to adjust the length of the petticoat because it was peeking out the bottom a bit. I’m also still a little unsure about the overskirt, but I’m quite happy with the fit of the jacket at least.

Rufflecon Harry Potter Challenge Update

Rufflecon is this coming weekend! If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen that I’ve been (anxiously) working on my Natural Form era, Gryffindor-inspired gown, and I’ve just finished! I will be wearing it on Saturday of Rufflecon, because the handmade contest is at noon that day. I hope to see some other people there in historical Harry Potter outfits! A sneak peek of my outfit is below.

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Robe à l’Anglaise Photoshoot

Two years ago I made a robe à l’anglaise out of the Waverly Indienne curtain fabric. I documented the project here, but I didn’t have a proper kerchief, cap, hat, or shoes at the time and wasn’t satisfied with the photos I was able to get of the gown. Since then I’ve acquired the rest of the accessories so I recently set up a meeting with a photographer to get better photos. We went to the local National Park where battles of the Revolutionary War were fought, and I love how everything came out!

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The amazing photographer is The Nerdy Monkey.

I’m hoping that in the future I can get nice photos like these of more of my gowns. They spend so much time just hanging in my closet, I’d love to be able to show them off more.

Thanks for looking!

18th Century Pocket

While I was at Rufflecon wearing my polonaise I realized that I really needed a pocket to keep my phone and things in while I walked around the con. I had been teaching myself a little bit of embroidery since the Jamestown conference last year anyway, and I thought a pocket would be a good first project to work on. I looked up examples of extant pockets online and rather than copy anything exactly, I sketched out my own free-hand design.

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I stitched it on a scrap of linen left over from lining my bliaut. The embroidered face is backed with a second piece of linen so that I don’t catch the back of the embroidery as I put things in and out. The back of the pocket is muslin because I had run out of linen scraps that were big enough.

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The binding and ties are more linen scraps. I actually still have to finish sewing the ties, but since the pocket itself is done and it’s been a while since I posted, I thought I should upload it now. I’ve also finished my Tudor waistcoat that I started over the summer, but I can’t get the damn thing to photograph well, so I’m probably going to wait to post about that one until I finish my kirtle so I can post about them together.

The Yellow Polonaise

Several years ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out her fabric stash and gifted me a yellow upholstery fabric woven with a green and pink flower and stripe motif. I always intended to make a robe a la polonaise out of it, but between other projects and the fact that yellow isn’t always flattering on my skin tone, the fabric sat untouched for a long time.

Over the summer I learned that the founder of American Duchess would be coming to Rufflecon, an alternative fashion convention that I had already purchased my ticket for. American Duchess’ Bastille Day sale was still on, so I finally bought the Kensingtons that I had been wanting for years, and subsequently decided that if I were going to wear my Kensingtons to Rufflecon to meet the founder of American Duchess, I needed a new, fancier gown to wear them with.

I was inspired by this extant gown that I found posted on the Fripperies and Fobs Tumblr:

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The J.P. Ryan pattern would again be my base, and in August I began cutting out the pieces. I briefly looked at trying to acquire some green quilted fabric for the petticoat, but quickly decided to do a plain green petticoat with a flounced hem instead, like a polonaise in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1. That polonaise also had a self-fabric trim around the neckline and sleeve edges, so I decided to add those to mine as well. I also realized that I would need to finally make a bum pad and under petticoat because I never had for my earlier gowns, and the polonaise would really require one to get the proper effect.

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I cheated and bought kelly green polyester taffeta for the petticoat, and spent hours pinking the edges of the flounce and then box pleating it onto the hem.

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I was so busy in August and September that suddenly it was September 30 and I was running out of time. I still had to attach the skirt to the bodice, add the trim and closures, finish the lining, add the buttons for the polonaise, and add ties to the petticoat, and all of that had to be done by hand.

I finished the closures on the morning of the day I left for Rufflecon. I was originally going to add lace to the sleeve cuffs, but I ran out of time and motivation. I had just enough time to try the gown on with the closures for the first time (perfect fit, thank god!) before putting it away in my suitcase and hitting the road.

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With the skirt down.

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With the skirt worn à la polonaise.

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The slight gapping at the top of the bodice and the slightly messy spots where the edge of the skirt meets the bodice are the only things I’m not happy with on this gown.

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Trim at the neckline.

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Trim on the sleeve.

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Actually, I lied. The messy point at the back of the bodice bothers me a bit, too.

I haven’t gotten the best worn photos of it yet; I was having too much fun at Rufflecon to get anyone to take very good photos, but here’s one in the mirror in my hotel room:

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And here’s me with Lauren, of American Duchess, after her and Abby’s panel on draping:

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(This hairstyle gives me a fivehead.)

I’m extremely pleased that I was able to finish this in time for Rufflecon, and I’m very happy with the way it came out. I was quite sick of looking at it by the end, though. I think once I put it away for a while and have occasion to bring it out for something else fancy that I’m not stressing to get ready for I’ll realize how much I like it. For the moment I’m just happy to be done with it and go back to sewing my wool items.

Speaking of which, there’s now only two weekends left to finish my Halloween costume, which still needs a chemise, sleeves, fitting adjustments, and closures…

12th Century Bliaut

Way back in May or June I started this dress for a historical costuming demonstration at my library. I got caught up with other projects after the demonstration, but I’ve been slowly working on it bit by bit ever since. I was trying to get it 100% done by the end of December, but I finished the last couple of eyelets at the beginning of January, and I finally finished the sash today.

I didn’t use a pattern for this dress, but instead used this tutorial by Izabela of Prior Attire. The shell of the gown is made of navy blue wool. The lining and the kirtle are made of linen. I wanted silk for the sash, but the fabric options in my area are a bit limited, so I settled for a gray poly with a silk-like texture for now.

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Linen kirtle.

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Gown before lacing.

For some reason the gown is very hard to photograph, especially on the dress form. It doesn’t help that the navy is so dark that it always seem to show up black.

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Finished set.

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The trim around the neckline are just ribbons that I picked up at a trim store.

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The dress opens on the sides to allow it to slip over the wearer’s head. I put hand-bound eyelets in using an awl and used leather cord to lace up the openings.

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The long trailing sleeves are drapey and dramatic.

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I’m waiting for snow to try to take some worn photos of this. The giant storm that’s hitting the East Coast decided to give us a miss.

Next project is more wool and linen: an 18th century menswear set. I’ve got the waistcoat half done and the frock coat cut out, so hopefully it won’t be another two months before I have an update to post.

In which eyelets and buttonholes are the devil, but we persevere.

It’s been a busy two months, and I’ve definitely been all over the place. I feel like I have a lot to sum up, so forgive me if this post is less coherent than usual.

Firstly, I did finish the sleeves on my Renaissance Faire gown. There were yet more eyelets involved. I wanted to throw things.

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But I finished everything and it looked pretty, and then I got to wear it in the 85 degree weather, so I was happy, albeit slightly dead from the heat.

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Once again I had people thinking I worked at the Faire. On the final weekend that I went with some friends I kept getting asked for directions while I stood outside shops with my tea while my friends looked at merchandise. It’s flattering in a so-good-you-fit-in kind of way.

I also finished a pirate outfit for my dad, so I dressed up as a pirate with him for the Pirate themed weekend of the Faire.

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Looking at the photos, I feel like the fit of his outfit is off, though it’s not as obvious in person as it looks in the photos. I used the Simplicity Jack Sparrow pattern, and the vest sizing was basically for someone the size of The Rock, and while my dad is barrel-chested, The Rock he is not, so I had to fiddle with the vest quite a bit. I obviously need to practice menswear some more. The vest also involved buttonholes. I once again wanted to throw things.

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He spent a good half an hour picking out this hat at the faire while I held his IPA and threatened to drink it on him.

After I finished those two things that had been on my plate for a while I wanted to take a break and do some less-intense projects (with less eyelets and buttonholes) so I started out by making a new dress with this awesome map fabric that I stumbled upon at JoAnn’s!

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I get so many compliments on this dress when I wear it, even though I swear map-print dresses aren’t a new idea. I’ve definitely seem them somewhere before…

I also made a few ribbon cockades for some Faire people, and a sash to wear with an outfit for an alt-fashion conference this past weekend, but I didn’t get good photos of those.

The other project I completed was a headdress inspired by medieval icon paintings, and ones that I’ve seen on the runway. I made this out of a headband, some wooden dowels, gold spray paint, fake flowers, and lots of hot glue.

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Turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted one of these saintly crowns, because I saw at least two other people at the conference with similar headdresses. They must be in this season.

I think that’s most of what’s been going on for the past two months. It’s probably going to be another two months before I post again, because I’m going away for a week in November, and of course the holidays are right after, but I usually get a lot of sewing done around the holidays since I’m off work, so hopefully afterwards I’ll have something good to post! I hope to keep it to one project per post in the future.

For now I leave you with a photo of some of the supplies I picked up at the Rev War reenactment back in August. Can’t wait to play with these soon!

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Court Gown Update: It’s Wearable…

A year later (and several projects in between) I’ve been able to get my Elizabethan court gown in complete enough condition to wear it to the first Faire of the season.

I finally finished sewing the cartridge pleated skirt onto the waistband and added closures.

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I put eyelets in the bodice using an awl, and had a bit of trouble since the fabric is polyester (gasp!) and the bodice is several layers.

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I intended to add wings on the shoulders temporarily until I can get my shoulder rolls figured out, but I just started getting burned out, so I left the shoulder straps bare for the time being. I did have to add a privacy panel in the back, because somehow my bodice shrank as I sewed it. I swear it was just the right size when I first started this project (I’ve gained a little bit of weight, but no inches on my waist, so shrinkage is the only explanation).

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I also desperately needed a hat, and felt that if I didn’t have one, there would be no point in wearing the gown, since without a hat the outfit would look even more incomplete than it already is without the sleeves and shoulder rolls. So two days before the Faire, I drafted up a pattern using the Elizabethan bonnet instructions in The Tudor Tailor.

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I used the same fabric as the front panel of my skirt, and lined it in a heavy twill, as well as adding interfacing in the brim. I finished it off with a burgundy braid around the band, and an ostrich feather I’ve had hanging around waiting to go on an Elizabethan hat. Somehow I got the math wrong and the band came out shorter than the inside circumference of the brim. I didn’t have the time or energy to remake the brim, so I sort of forced it to fit, making the brim a little wavy in the back. Maybe I will redo it for the next Faire…

hat3Then it was wearing time!

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We had nasty storms the night before the Faire, so when we showed up there were scary mud puddles everywhere. Luckily the sun was out and it quickly dried the puddles. I had just enough time to be grateful before the heat set in and I started to regret wearing a dress entirely made of polyester.

Trying to stay cool in the shade.

Trying to stay cool in the shade.

But we got to watch the always enchanting Vixens en Garde, take in the joust, watch a pirate brawl, and listen to Three Pints Shy before I tossed in the hat, surrendered to the heat, and sent my driver for the car so that we could limp home in the air conditioning.

Bonus photos!

I was the victim of severe derp face.

I was the victim of severe derp face.

When you get home from the Faire, and two minutes later you're like...

When you get home from the Faire, and two minutes later you’re like…

Hopefully I will have sleeves and shoulder rolls for the next Faire in August!