Saturday, April 4, 2015

'History, Bitches' gets Undressed with: The Farthingale

Royal, military and court costumes of the time of James I, ART Vol. c91 no.6d, Shakespeare Folger Library

Recently I recorded two podcasts with my friend Brittany who I've had the pleasure of meeting whilst a visiting research student at Kings College London.

Brittany runs the 'History, Bitches' podcast series that explores women's history through the lens of provocative women and re-considers the contentious legacies they’ve left behind. As part of her new series where she is interviewing researchers in the field of women's history, she asked me if I'd like to take part.

In part one we look at one aspect of my research - the farthingale, whilst in part two we discuss bodies and busks (including the content of my published article on busks and sexual desire).

Click on the picture below to download the podcast for free off iTunes

Or go click here to stream online!

I hope you enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Artefact Focus: Four ways to Fasten the Bodice of an Eighteenth Century Gown

So you've decided to make an eighteenth century gown.

After you've finally determined which one - Mantua, Robe à la française, Robe à la anglaise, Robe à la polonaise, Chemise à la reine, Round Gown – to name but a few, you're faced with the question: how to you fasten the front of the bodice?

If you are making an earlier style of gown such as a Mantua or one that was worn with a stomacher, a contrasting and sometimes ornately decorated triangular panel that covered the stays underneath, the bodice of the gown was pinned to the stomacher.

Mantua, c. 1720-1730, England. Victorian & Albert Museum. T.88 to C-1978

Woman's Robe à la Française and Petticoat. c. 1760-5. France or England. LACMA. M.56.6a-b

However if you're making a mid-late eighteenth century gown, particularly the Robe à la anglaise, then the front panels of the bodice met and fastened together in the centre of the torso. But how?

Robe à l'anglaise, c. 1776. British. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2009.300.952

Lucky for me I have access to a few extant garments from the eighteenth century that are in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. So I decided to do some research....

The garments housed in the museum show four different ways of fastening an eighteenth century gown.

Gown # 1: Hooks and Eyes

Satin Brocade Robe à l'anglaise, 1760-1770.


Hooks and eyes have been around for a very long time. Personally I've seen them on seventeenth century dress and in a melted pile as remnants of the Great Fire of London, at the museum of London. However, they first start to appear in English literature in the fourteenth century, although they could have already been around much earlier. This dress is strange in the fact that the front of the robe is made up of three panels. I personally haven't seen that before on historical examples, but then again my specialty isn't the latter eighteenth century so maybe it's not as uncommon as I think?

Anyway on to the fastenings:

Gown # 2: Ribbon

Silk robe à l'anglaise polonaise, 1765-1780
This particular example fastens with two bits of ribbon/material ties at the front of the gown. I'm not sure if the fastenings on this dress are original (the condition of a few leads me to believe that some may be newer editions added by conservation), however it still seems a plausible eighteenth century method.

Gown # 3: Press Studs

Silk Brocade Robe à la Française, 1770s
So this gown is interesting as it has press studs/snap fasteners.A quick Google search tells me that they weren't invented until 1885 by a German inventor, Heribert Bauer. So this leads me to believe that this dress was restored in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. I say restored because it doesn't appear to have been altered (thank goodness) like a lot of early modern clothes were during the nineteenth century were.  Although not an historically correct eighteenth century closure, if you already have some in your sewing stash then I say use them!

Gown #4: ???

Flemish Brocade / Satin, Robe a l'anglaise, 1760-1

So this gown doesn't have any fastenings. I'm unsure as to how they closed it in the photograph above, however, I assume they used pins. Pins are a very historically accurate option and were used for a variety of purposes throughout the early modern period, and as I mentioned above they were used to secure the bodice to the stomacher in early eighteenth century styles.

I hope you enjoyed! If you've seen or know of any other methods of fastening the bodice of eighteenth century gowns let me know!


Some one of the lovely ladies from the Historical Sew Fortnightly facebook page had a couple of very interesting and insightful things to say about the fastenings on these gowns: 

- Most late 18th century women's gowns with a centre front closing were also pinned, like those that had stomachers. I've found a modern demo here.

- Hook & eye fasteners generated a lot of discussion, some said that they were very rare, others that they were found most often pre-1780s. The difference seems to be between England and United States, they were rare in extant examples of English dress, but 50/50 in extant American examples. 

- The ties on gown number two are most probably additions by the museum for conservation or display purposes. 

- Buttons were also common on "compere fronts" during the 1760s/70s

Friday, November 14, 2014

1760s-1780s Paniers

So these paniers have been a long time in the making! I originally started them over a year ago. My plan was to hand sew the whole thing to make it as authentic as possible even though hand sewing is really not my thing, which probably explains why it got placed on the UFO pile, untouched for a year. However, this year for Halloween I decided to go as a French revolution guillotine victim and under my eighteenth century gown I needed some pocket hoops! So I fished the half finished paniers out of the UFO pile and started working on them.

The pattern that I used for these paniers was from The Dreamstresses' "Panier-Along" tutorial that is based on information given in Norah Waugh’s Corsets & Crinolines, and on the panier pattern at Tidens Tøj for the paniers pictured below:

Although I started to hand sew them when I started the project over a year ago, due to my hectic schedule and the fact that I left it until the last minute to finish them I gave up on the hand sewing and decided to machine sew the rest (which was mainly inside seams, etc.). Luckily most of the outside stitching I had done when I was hand sewing them so they look somewhat authentic and have some nice detailing like this,

The fabric is cotton linen and I couldn't find any cane cane so I had to use modern dressmakers boning (doubled up when possible to give more structure). 

The only way I deviated from the pattern and instructions provided by The Dreamstress was using white pre-made bias tape to finish the top of the paniers as it was much quicker than making it myself. 

And here it is, the finished paniers!

And under the gown:

The HSF '14 Challenge: #21 - Re-do
Fabric:  white linen, white cotton thread,
Pattern: Provided by The Dreamstress' "Panier Along"
Year: 1760s-1780s
Notions: Dressmakers boning, twill tape, bias tape
How historically accurate is it? Pattern is mostly accurate, maybe (80%).  Fabrics and notions are as historically accurate as you can get these days (80%). It's half hand sewn and half machine sewn. (50%). Overall I'd say 70% accurate
Hours to complete: 10
First worn: Halloween 2014
Total cost: Can't remember, but probably around AU$40

Monday, November 3, 2014

Historical Sewing meets SFX Makeup | Halloween 2014

This year I was lucky enough to wear not one, but TWO Halloween costumes! I'm from Australia and Halloween up until a few years ago was not a big thing at all. Whilst we don't do anything like trick o' treating, a lot of people do hold Halloween parties and I was invited to two events this year. As someone who sews historical clothing but never actually has anywhere to wear it, I jumped at the chance to spook up my sewing projects and go to both. I decided to go as a French Revolution guillotine victim and a late nineteenth century vampire. Here were the results...

French Revolution Guillotine Victim Halloween Costume

Otherwise known as the 'Marie Antoinette Guillotine' Costume I decided to put my not-very-historically-accurate 18th century floral gown that I made a few years ago to the test. 

Can you believe that this is actually the first time I've ever worn it anywhere? Crazy!

I completed the look with some very historically correct 1760-80s paniers underneath the dress.

No French Revolution guillotine victim costume would be complete without a guillotine wound, so I put my special effects makeup skills to the test. To do this I first washed and dried my neck and applied Mehron 3D gel.

TIP: This stuff is really good but as I found out later on in the evening not made for hot and humid weather. By the end of the party my neck wound was starting to fall off due to the humidity. I'll definitely use it again but only in cold weather. 

I applied it in layers and when it was nearly dry I ripped it to appear like an open wound. I then powdered it with a transparent setting powder. For my face I used a foundation shade that was a shade lighter than my skin colour currently is at the moment, I brought this down onto my neck and used a sponge to dab it onto the 3D gel wound in order to blend it better with my real skin.  

Next I used a dark wine-red coloured lipstick and filled in the wound. I also applied some of this to a sponge and dabbed it around the wound area. Afterwards I took a grey/brown coloured eyeshadow and used a sponge to dab this around as well to create a bruising type effect. Putting some of this eye shadow on a fluffy makeup brush and creating shadows underneath the would also helped it to look more 3D.

Then I took some fake blood and added this around the wound. Until I got something like this

The important thing to remember when doing this is to have a light hand and slowly build up colour and depth in different areas so it looks realistic. After, I watered down the blood a bit and added some more so it ran down my next. 

For the hair I curled it with hot sticks and teased it. I then took a hair doughnut like the one below and pinned it to the crown of my head. 

Then I began to pin the teased hair, section by section, into it. I took another doughnut, cut it in half and placed it at the top-front of my head. Then I pinned the sections of hair near my forehead over it and into the doughnut at the back. This was to give the front section a bit of body. Then I added A LOT of hairspray. 

Mrs Graham by Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1775. National Art Gallery, Washington
Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source, by Antoine Vestier, 1785

Although my hair wasn't nearly as voluminous as the hair in the portraits above (for which they would have used either lots of hair pieces or wigs), in the late 18th century the fashion was to have almost grey looking powdered hair, so I finished it off with a temporary white coloured hairspray. Don't use too much, you don't want your hair to look white just powdered!.  I left two small sections at the bottom of my head out of the updo and curled them and let them hand down. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the back of my head except this blurry one, oops!

And here is the finished costume!

My friend Eloise in an authentic WWII nurse's costume that she bloodied up the apron for Halloween *gasp!* (Although she assures me it will come out with bleach) helping Marie Antoinette get (un)dressed.

Late Nineteenth Century Vampire

For the second Halloween party I went to I had a lot less time to get ready so I didn't bother doing any special effects makeup. 

For the hair I didn't have the time or skills to do an extravagant late nineteenth century hairstyle. After looking a few historical images I simply took my hair doughnut and pinned it to the back of my head. I then took the top sections of my hair and twirled them around the doughnut then pinned them inside. With the bottom section I plaited it and then lifted it up and pinned it into the doughnut, like this

Then it came time to put in the red contact lenses that I bought. This took forever. I haven't used contacts for a very long time. I hate even putting eye drops in my eyes so it was hard for me to get them in, mainly because they kept sticking to my fingers instead of my eyeball! Anyway I eventually got them it.

Then I had to put in the fangs. I bought a pair of small Scarecrow Vampire Fangs that you mould to your own teeth. I didn't have a lot of time to do it and next time I wear them I'll have to tidy up the adhesion putty a bit, but overall they were great. I could even talk and drink in them so that's a plus!

Apologies for the super creepy snapchat picture but it's the only close up I got of my face
All I had to do then was put on my 1880s Bustle Gown (with a quickly sewn up bum pad) and corset, and here's the finished costume!

Thanks to my housemate Rachel for being my victim, haha

And that's it! I hope you all had a spook-tastic Halloween! :)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

New 1950s Yellow Summer Cotton Dress

Last weekend I went to the annual Fifties Fair at the iconic Rose Seidler House in Sydney. For the event I decided to make a summer day dress that was light and functional (as I was rock and roll dancing at the fair). 

I've actually made this dress already and I wrote about it in this blog post. The pattern I used was B5603, which is a Butterick reprint of a vintage pattern in their archives from 1956. Like before, I made option number three. All up it only cost me about AU$50! 


The dress is made from a light cotton fabric and the lining is a pale yellow cotton/poly blend. It has an invisible zip down the side and I placed a separate tulle underskirt underneath to puff out the skirts. If you wanted to you could add as many as these petticoats as your desire (details on where I got the underskirt are in my previous post). 

Without petticoat
With petticoat

Unfortunately I was having so much fun at the fair, I don't really have any good photos of me wearing it. Although I know a few were taken of men by official photographers at the fair so I'll have to see if I can find those. 

Here are some more detailed pics of the dress: