Sunday, December 16, 2007

1400's Cotehardie

This is the first part of an extended project to make an outfit from the 1400's for myself. I'd like to have it finished by spring so I can go to a Renn Faire sometime before I die.

I've always intended to get to Sterling, but it never seems to happen. One year I got back too late and my friends had already left, another it was hailing and not safe to drive, as I recall that was the day we actually drove through a tornado. It was a small one, and only took down a few barns... left a lot of those half circle marks on the sides of buildings... one with the side ripped off and the bottles still on the shelves. The car coming the other way was blown into the ditch; no one but the car was injured, somehow we stayed on the road.

Then I was sick, then broke the year after that. Then there were a few years where the event was canceled and I was busy working for the next several summers. Perhaps the gods are conspiring against me and I'll never get there. I know from a reenactor's point of view, it's not all that, but I'd still like to go. Perhaps I'll go to Pensic Wars as a spectator next summer, there's no pretense of accuracy from what I understand (which, admittedly is not much as I've heard little about it and have never been to it).

The painting above is Alesso Baldvinetti's "Madonna and Child" 1460. This is one of the inspiration and reference cotehardies for the one I'm making now. The sleeves are a very close copy, including the gold silk edging and the single button closure. The neckline will be trimmed with gold silk and the dress is about as full as the one pictured here. The main difference is that it is of blue linen instead of red paint.

I am aware of the whole "never use religious icons" as an historic reference, but there are plenty of other references to back my use of these elements (sleeve design and fabric edging). At first I was hesitant to use the gold silk, because I know that icon painters used it as a symbol for divinity (the whole 'gold never tarnishes' thing), and gold was not commonly worn on clothing of regular people for obvious reasons. But... I couldn't resist and I had just enough silk left over from my wedding to use as trim. I'd originally planned on using white wool, which would have been more historically correct, but that got taken to Mom's house and I wanted to finish the sleeves right away. I may replace the gold silk at some point if I make a habit of attending Renaissance events.

The chemise (shift) is done, though I may re-make it to have smaller sleeves as these are HUGE. It's at my friend Carol's studio right now waiting for me to be Isabella and the pot of Oregano, oh, I mean Basil... but it's really a big pot of oregano. If you are in the mood for truly horrid poetry check out John Keats' "Isabella and the pot of basil." I shudder at the thought of high-schoolers everywhere being forced to read that extended bit of drivel. But the paintings are quite good and more than make up for one thousand poorly chosen words.

This first test gown (made of the ugliest brown mystery fabric in the world... it used to be curtains in my first apartment) was made from the Greenland bog dress pattern that I got from here: (This is a wonderful site and she lists sources with great information, and provides fantastic instructions).

After making the adjustments to my measurements, I had to make more adjustments so the garment actually fit me. It fits like a very nice glove and moves beautifully. The ugly brown thing has 4 gores, 2 in front and 2 in back. Apparently these gowns could have as many as 12 gores or as few as 2. The buttons may be plastic, but could be polished wood if you don't look too close. The openings at the front and cuffs are lined with brown wool.

The blue linen cotehardie has 2 gores, one in front one in back because I was running short of material. I had to re-adjust the sleeve pattern to make up for the lack of fabric. Again, this was a left-over from my wedding and I was working with bits and pieces. The end result was well worth the squeezing, and all I have left to do is hand stitch the neck edging and finish the hem at the bottom. I may go crazy and add a line of gold silk trim at the bottom, just to make it very iconic and destroy any historic accuracy what-so-ever.

Instead of a front opening I made a side lacing dress with a wide neckline that I can slip over my head. Of all the paintings I looked at only the right side of the gowns were laced, which confuses me a little as one would assume that you would want the dress to expand evenly over a baby-belly, and not be lopsided as you expanded and shrunk. Anyone who can provide me with more information on this mystery is more than welcome to comment.

I'm excited to have this cotehardie done. Once the snow stops trapping us in our homes I'll go out and get more blue thread to finish the hem and then I'll post some pictures.

18th century stomacher

This is my current embroidery project which has come to an inexplicable stand-still in the past 2 weeks... probably because my attention went zooming off in another direction. I'm about ready to get back into it and finish it. (see finished right here!)

This 18th century inspired stomacher design came from combining the original stomacher (below) with the fern design from the pockets in the previous entry. Once I finish the second fern I'll decide if I should add the Queen Anne's Lace or not.

There is a lovely song that one of my father's friends sings about "A patch of Queen Anne's Lace," and when I find out who it is and what the exact title of the song is, I promise I'll forget to post it here. It keeps running through my head while I work on this piece, so perhaps it needs the flowers.

The foliage in both of these embroidery pieces (the pockets and the stomacher) comes from a Seneca leaf motif that I reinterpreted from the original porcupine quill embroidery pattern. I've made the leaves more pointed to look like the ferns that grow in the creek bed of my parent's land in Nunda, NY. This is not a perfect botanical representation, merely a mental symbol or interpretation of my memory of those leafy fronds, I have no idea what the actual name of the plant is other than "fern."

I wanted the plants to be something that I liked and understood. I wanted an allusion to the Seneca nation while keeping true to the conventions of European design. I like the stems being cut, rather than a live plant (and you can read anything into that that you want), and I like the central heart shape. In most traditional stomacher embroidery designs there is a "tree of life" motif where all elements come off of a central vine or axis. I wanted the axis to split and encompass the heart, to come together at the center of the chest rather than branching off in all directions.

I could pour a lot more meaning and symbolism into this from a multitude of sources, but I usually save that for my paintings. This is a very simplified representation of a small sentiment toward my heritage and all the ambiguity that comes with that.

I am working on the same material as the pockets, a lovely cotton-linen blend in a tan-ish color. As an artist I should probably know what to call this color, but I'm stumped. It's very pretty and also very neutral. The embroidery thread is cotton and the colors are near-metallic in certain light, and very neutral in others. I also like that dual nature of the thread. I'm thinking of making a brown silk open gown or Watteau Sacque to go with these accessories at some point, if I don't end up selling them.

(Unfortunately, I cannot find the original link to this photo, when I do I'll post it, or if it belongs to you please let me know. I could have sworn it was Meg Andrews, but I can't find it on her site.)

Stomachers were a lady's accessory worn from the 1500's right up to the early 1900's, though they were much smaller by then (more like large broaches than stomachers). Usually a stomacher was made to match a specific gown, but they were often moved from one garment to another like a large piece of jewelry.

The primary function of this small garment was to cover the laces at the front of a gown. Stomachers could be pinned directly onto the gown with straight pins and covered with lace or trim, pinned on with linen tabs that were sewn to the back of the stomacher, laced in (and floating free), or laced securely onto the sides of the gown with ribbons and small loops sewn to the back of the stomacher itself. I've also seen eyelets for lacing over the edges of the stomacher, under the front and back over the other edge, certainly a process I would not want to attempt alone.

The shape and size of these garments changed with fashion. I am using the most common V shape and the simplest triangular base. Through the 1600's and into the mid 1700's tabs at the bottom were very popular (see the original above), and I may decide to add some after I get the central design finished.

Stomachers were often quilted with a lightweight piece of wool or had an interlining of stiff canvas to hold their shape. The backs were almost always lined with plain linen or inexpensive silk.

18th century embroidered pockets

In my reenacting life I've been playing the part of a young colonial woman (1740's) for the last 7 years. Pockets have always been one of my favorite parts of the wardrobe, and I've always loved the Lucy Locket nursery rhyme.
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon 'round it.
When I was little I wondered how Lucy could have lost her pocket because they are sewn-in, but this wasn't always so. In the 1700's and early 1800's, women's pockets were a separate garment that tied around their waist. They could be single or double, and were often the only place a woman had to keep private things. Most often keys, change purses, sewing kits and reading glasses or small books were stored in them, but one could also keep commonly used items or things that were no one else's business, like diaries or letters.

I've found that pockets are more functional than a purse or hand bag because you don't have to hold onto them, and far better looking than modern fanny packs. Most women's pockets were plain material with little decoration and were never seen outside the skirts. However, some women had very lovely embroidered pockets. For the most part, this bit of decoration was done just for one's self, not to be shared with the world at large. Occasionally these pockets would be worn outside the skirts because they were worth showing off.

Most embroidered pocket designs in the 1700's were symmetrical or near-symmetrical, which you can clearly see here and here (which has lots of useful information on pockets).

The set that I am currently working on (above) was inspired by a Seneca leaf motif, slightly altered, and some designs from a man's waistcoat of the same time. This pair of pockets is not 100% historically accurate as the designs are asymmetrical, but it is close enough in many ways and was more exciting to me than a symmetrical design would have been.

I do not have the ribbon finished, and have not decided if I should use a dyed twill tape, a woven sash or actual ribbon to fasten these lovely pockets together.

first post, intro and learning the set-up

This is the first post, so I'm just going to see how it formats itself and learn about the different features. Oh, and introduce myself, I guess...

Look, I uploaded a picture of myself from a few years ago! Thought about using one from my wedding, but all the good ones are copyrighted. Ah well.

I'm using this blog to detail my various creative pursuits and the thoughts and info behind them, including links, citations and the occasional image. You will find artwork (paintings, drawings, etc.), sewing projects like costumes and historic reproductions or historic inspired pieces. Also musings about conversations I've had with friends and possibly some random tangents not found in my LJ. I may at some point include the handouts I use in teaching art, but probably not unless they are very relevant to the topic.

OK, here goes the first post, wish me luck and that I don't lose this!