Monday, January 25, 2010

Regency & Romantic Era Gentlemen

I finally finished the Fraizer International History Museum order... the 1829 Gentleman's outfit. Done & shipped, but not before checking the size on my handsome husband & snapping some pictures. He is, ironically, exactly the same size as the actor the clothes were made for... if a bit shorter (the pants are a little long & so is the coat & waistcoat... as they should be). The outfit is a combination of several fashion plates and historic references from 1825 to 1830.

Seeing my husband transform before my eyes from a slightly disheveled 'day off' modern American to a dapper gentleman of the Romantic Era took my breath away. I had one of those girly moments where I wanted to clap my hands, bounce up & down and giggle. That doesn't happen very often, but BOY do the clothes make the man!

We decided his hair was perfect as it was, and we didn't need the top hat at all.

He is wearing:
Linen shirt with pleated front (more tucks than pleats), hand-sewn covered buttons.
Hand finished black silk stock lined with linen that buckles in back (John says this was comfortable after about 5 minutes).
Red/violet 'wine' colored silk waistcoat with a brown linen back, lined with white linen.
Cream cotton narrow fall-front pants. (shared center button, plan ahead for restroom runs).
Wool tailcoat with brown cotton velvet collar. This is the cut-edge nightmare that I've been complaining about on Facebook for the past couple weeks. Hand sewn buttonholes, hand-bound edges, hand sewn self-fabric covered wood blank buttons. Lined with brown linen in back & white linen at the sleeves (so it doesn't shed wool bits all over the shirt).
Not shown is the black silk cravat that I sent along to complete the look. I couldn't stand that they ordered this lovely outfit & were missing that crucial element... so to complete my work of art I tossed it in!
No shoes...

The tailcoat is 1/2 lined as per the original garment, which is quite annoying as it increases the amount of hand sewing, only saving about 1 yd of fabric. However, it makes creating the small fold at the back of the coat much easier than in a fully lined garment... and when it's finished, it looks just fine. The hand-sewn binding on the cut edges should not have been necessary, but the wool started to fray almost immediately, so I blanket-stitched the edges with black thread. Not a happy thing time-wise, but it made the fabric much more durable. The tails were left raw as they don't take a lot of wear & tare.

The funny thing about photographing my husband is that he always looks angry (check out the glare in the picture below). In real life he's quite pleasant. My father said he looked like a disreputable card sharp on a riverboat, and I though he just needed a belly gun... maybe a pocket watch on a chain, and one of my silk or brocade wallets.

The magic of Romantic Era clothes, is that they look fantastic on real human beings. The fashion plates & paintings are a bit ridiculous, but the reality is truly superb.

I told John that now I have to make an 1830 outfit for him. He agreed. Truly worth a few minutes of breathless sighs & girlish titters from a giddy wife... perhaps I need to make the pink creation on the left.

As good as men look in Romantic Era clothing, I will always be a fan of Regency & Federal styles. Perhaps the Romantic era refined the Regency modes, but the simplicity of cut, the clean beautiful lines that set off a man's form, the stubborn determination to hold on to ruffles... I do love clean white ruffles on a gentleman. It was near perfection in menswear.

Perhaps not the best picture of these clothes as the dummy is too big for the waistcoat... but you get the idea. All of the lines work together to form this perfect whole that says 'gentleman'. (And yes, the pants are pinned on the dummy, not actually ON the dummy).

As a side note, I sold this outfit today. Funny thing: these were the only pair of drop-front pants in stock (I've carried these things for a few years now... small sizes rarely sell), one of 2 tailcoats & 1 of 2 waistcoats in this size. The other choices were not quite as nifty as this combination. Let's hope it fits!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A quote on women's dress from the 18th century

The quotes below are from Two Centuries of Costume in America by Alice Morse Earle, a woman of great wit & insight... and strong opinions regarding the fashions of her ancestors. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a copy, it's a very enjoyable read & has some great secondary sources. Personally, I disagree with some of her assessments on the beauty of various fashions, but can't fault her information. I'm happy to say that we both love the English Gown or Mantua. Her observations are colored by her time, as are our own.... but I have a feeling that Mrs. Earle's observations will last far longer than our own.

1740's Woman with a Dog, Ceruti, Italy.

Mrs. Earle on 18th century dress in America...
"We must not fall into the notion that every American or every English woman wore a brocade or satin gown or petticoats. There were working women who had clothes simple of shape and stuff. You can see similar ones in Hogarth if you will, or in other works of his day.
This dress, consisting of a warm, wool gown with double-puffed sleeve, with linen kerchief and collar of white or woollen apron, and loose hood tied under the chin, was seen in scores of prints; such as for instance, Tempest's Cries of London, 1702. If the scene be without-doors, a hat surmounts the hood. A young woman would have her bodice laced or strapped, and have ribbons on her shoes, and pockets on her aprons, and would wear mittens. Sometimes the overskirt was turned up to form what is known as a washer-woman's skirt or apron, and was used by ballad-mongers, and the sellers of the gazettes and news-letters -- all tiny sheets-- as a deep pocket to hold their wears. A street vendor cold also and did carry a basket on her arm, in which she displayed her 'Dutch biskets, " laces, minikin pins, cotton reels or ribbons. The skirt did not touch the ground, and the shoes had low heels, the neck was protected by the hood, and the eyes shaded by the hat brim; and I think it altogether a neat, trim, comfortable, warm sensible dress; one which could be adopted for working-women with advantage today...."

1760, Sewing Workshop at Arles, Raspal, France.
"I have quoted in the previous chapter a description written by an old gentleman for the Old Colony Memorial at the meeting at Plymouth in 1820 to celebrate the two hundreth year of the settlement of Plymouth. He thus described the dress of plain country women, in the years from 1750 to the Revolution:---
"As for the women, old and young, they wore flannel gowns in winter. The young women wore wrappers in the summer, and about their ordinary business they did not wear stockings and shoes. They were usually contented with one calico gown, and another of camel's hair goods; and some had them made of poplin. The sleeves were short and did not come below the elbow.
On holidays they wore one, two or three ruffles on each arm. They wore long gloves coming up to the elbow, fastened by what were called glove-tightens, made of black horeshair. They wore aprons made of checked linen or cotton, and, for holiday use, of white cotton, lawn or cambric.
They seldom wore caps when about their ordinary affairs; but they had two kinds. One kind they wore when they meant to be much dressed up. One was called a strap-cap; it came under the chin; the other was called round-cord cap, and did not come over the ears.
They wore thick leather, thin leather, and broadcloth shoes, all with heels an inch and a half high. These had peaked toes, turned up in a point at the toes. They generally had small, very small muffs; and some wore masks."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quilted Petticoat: 4th repeat finished

I've finished the 4th repeat on the quilted petticoat. This is truly my 'not feeling well' project.

At this point I'm averaging 9-12 stitches per inch depending on the shape of the inch. Curves get more stitches, straight lines slightly fewer. If I notice they are getting too long, I stop & come back later.

I'm averaging 1 motif block per night of this horrid head cold, (1 flower & 2 leaf cap things OR 1 arch of the garland).

Not sure if I'm going to make another design above the initial flower/garland motif, guess that will depend on how many years this takes me. As it's a sicky thing, hopefully it'll take a while & I'll just decide to make a bunch of straight lines... which will be very boring. Having worked on this border for quite a while I see why those petticoats were so intricate. You could die of boredom working on a 'stamped' design... having something new & interesting to look forward to is always a good thing. Don't get me wrong, this is a great mindless work project. Not thinking right now is perfect.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Braintan Breeches

When I was at the Eastern (Muddy Run State Park, PA, 2009), which is my 'big' event of the year, I met a gentleman who wanted a pair of 1750's fly-front (or French Fly) braintan breeches, hand sewn. I told him that I had no idea how long it would take but I'd give it my best. We agreed on a price/hr. & he supplied the hides.
I made a test pair of cloth breeches for him, which he was pleased with and we were off!
Of course, I'm making this sound easy... and it was... here & there.

The story below is not intended as actual sewing instructions. Go buy a pattern & follow those... but if you already know how to make breeches this is a wonderful outline of how leather can be very different from cloth.

*If you ever decide to do a project like this, be sure you have enough hides of the same weight & color. It's difficult to work on different thicknesses & if you aren't careful, your French Marine will end up looking like the Pied Piper. Fortunately these were close enough and should age well.
*Breeches & pants take 5 hides. By Divine Grace & Sheer Luck I managed to squeeze them out of 4, but there's not much left & I was lucky not to have to piece my pieces.

These hides were made by Kfir Mendel and his web site is

I started off by laying out the best use of the hides, the layout here is not exactly what I finally settled on. Whenever you are cutting on leather, be sure to cut 'with the grain', meaning that all pieces are 'in line with the spine.' (Not like the leg bands are shown here). If you are literally cutting it close, there are a few pieces that can be tipped just a little, but NEVER tip a major piece like front, back or bands. Even tipping the fly can cause wonkiness... but in an emergency a fly facing or gusset can be tipped.

When cutting leather, it's ideal to have all your major pieces cut the same top-to bottom: meaning the top is the neck & the bottom is the tail. Sometimes this isn't possible, but no matter what, always keep 'in line with the spine'.
*If you are concerned about knowing the grain after it's cut, lightly mark with removable chalk on the wrong side, (check it before you chalk it) to make sure it will actually come off.
*Also, avoid holes, mends, etc. in stress areas. (You should patch all holes before you cut... check out the leg band below for a mend).

I used masking tape to lightly tack the pattern pieces down and chalk-mark around each of them. I also X'ed the side of the pattern piece I'd already laid out so there was a left & a right.

When cutting, be careful to make smooth lines as there may be raw edges involved somewhere in the garment.

You can piece the pockets or pocket linings if it's below where the flap shows the material.


You will need the following tools & materials:
scissors, chalk or soft lead pencil, ruler and measure tape, leather awl, cork board, paper clamps, glover's needle, blunt leather needle (or 2 harness needles), linen thread, bees wax, forceps or pliers, a thimble, pen/pencil for writing, paper to write on, timer if you want to know exactly how long 10 days can be...
Oh yes, and several cats to tell you how good this project smells -"Gail, why won't you let us have some? pretty please, I'm really cute."
I marked all my seams with either pencil or chalk and then pre-punched the holes with an awl and cork board. This prevents distortion and seam slippage, and makes easing longer pieces into shorter pieces much easier (like at the back of the leg band).
I used a double running stitch for all seams. Glover's needle first then switch to the blunt needle when you go the other way... don't cut your thread! Of you could use the 2 harness needles like my mother does. I've never mastered this.

I sewed all my pieces-parts together. The waistbands & gusset (though I changed this to a single layer with a turned edge later on). Normally I would sew the leg bands now, but as they have buckles, I had to wait & do it differently.

*make sure you have a right & left waistband.
*clip & turn, you may have to top stitch, but don't jump the gun on when you top stitch... it's usually last.

Sew the pockets on the front, clip & turn just like regular breeches... but top stitch so the opening lays flat.
Sew the pocket linings on, matching the bottoms & clip the top after to give yourself the 1/2" seam allowance.
The bad part about this is that your stitches have to be really nice, and they aren't as pretty as they will be by the time you are done...

Sew the fly together, sew the buttonholes in, and sew the fly facing on.
There's a lot of turning & top stitching here... you know the drill.

Remember on men's clothes, the buttons are worn on the right and the buttonholes are worn on the left. You really shouldn't forget that. Check if you have to... in fact, double check. Do it again just to make sure.

Leather rhymes are fun, so here's another one...
"A hole in Leather is there Forever!"
Unless you have some water & a suede brush to minimize the damage from not triple-checking.
*NEVER charge your customers for your mistakes. Ever. I lost several hours to this fix, but it's worth it to have a pair of men's breeches rather than lady's riding pants.
(BTW, the buttons are just set here, they aren't sewn on in this picture).

Sew the front crotch together.
Sew the seat together.
Sew the outseams together.

Sew the leg plackets & buttonholes. Make sure the front placket overlaps the back, and the back has a tab so you have somewhere to sew your buttons!
You will probably have to top-stitch to keep the leather flat & prevent distortion next to the button holes.

This area can be very different from pattern to pattern.

Now sew the inseam & reinforce the crotch-seat seam and the inseams with another row of stitching. This take stress off the first seam & makes it less likely to rip out later.
Make sure your stitching line on the inseam crosses over the seat in a single thread to reinforce that crossroad.
You may want to stitch over it a few times to make sure you don't get that really annoying 'hole' right there. It's not like the pants are going to fall apart if you don't, but it always looks like something is going to go dreadfully wrong.
*Be very careful later to tip the seams in the correct direction, and not have them twist between the seat & the leg bands. I like my seams to face backward, but it's really a matter of preference.

Turn the back seat seams over where the gusset is going to be & top stitch them down. (not pictured)
Put the waistbands on & top stitch where necessary.

Sew the remaining button holes on the waistband(s).

(see my post on how to make a hand sewn button hole).

Sew in the gusset in back. I decided on a single layer because there is so much thickness there, the more material, the harder it gets to sew & I'm not sure that would be comfortable to wear. This seemed like a far better idea.

Use a strong but flexible thong or linen cord to tie the gusset closed. I did eventually use braintan itself as a thong, but it may be too soft to withstand the pulling on a waistband.

For the leg bands, I made some mock-ups in fabric until I found one I liked.
I cut the leg bands on the fold & squared off to start. I shaped the ends for the buckle(s) later.
Sew the leg bands on, turn & topstitch.
Clip just outside your stitching line & turn the leather right-side out... This is going from a finished seam to raw edges... not the best description without a picture. Sorry.
Mark your stitching lines with a pencil & cut the ends near the buckle to shape.

(The buckle attaches on the back, the tab goes on the front).
Sew the buckle on.
Mark & sew the shape of the tab & cut after stitching.
Punch holes like for a belt.
Depending on the type of buckle, you may or may not have to add a 'belt loop'. In the future, I will make an actual loop rather than the stitched on job here. It's not bad, but I'd prefer it another way.

Last but not least, sew the buttons on. Make sure each button fits through it's corresponding button hole & lay them out accordingly. Trust me, this is important.
Sew the buttons on, hiding the ends of the thread between layers whenever possible, but make all knots on the top side so they don't rub on the person. Also very important, make a shank by winding the thread around itself before moving on to the next button. Leather is thick & will take up that room.

I used black silk/bamboo crochet thread that I waxed. Much better color than the linen... which I had just enough of to finish off the leg bands. I mean, not 3" to spare. I was picking the ends out of the scrap pile to finish the last few inches...

I was only able to work on these 3-5 hours a day. Band-aids were my finger's best friends, and I went through a lot of them. If you notice yourself getting tired or crampy (or crabby), stop.

This project was a solid 40 hours of work, and that does not include the "oh Brother" moments where I had to re-do something.
If you are going for 'looks' rather than 100% accuracy, sew the main seams with a machine & walking foot, then hand-stitch the outside. It will probably cut your time in half.

The truly amazing thing is how the volume of leather changes. I saved every scrap & by the time I was done it all fit into a box about 2/3 the size of the original pile. Fabric does exactly the opposite!

I can honestly say that I'm happy with the results, even if they aren't perfect. And I'm very happy that I can say "FINISHED!!!"

"These are the pants that never end! Somebody started sewing it, not knowing what it was, and she'll just keep on sewing it forever just because: these are the pants that never end! Yes, they go on and on, my friends..."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy 30 b-day to me! with a Doll Cake.

I like birthdays. I've always like them. Mine, family, friend's, strangers, early birthdays, belated birthdays, unbirthdays. I like them all. Don't know why. Perhaps it's because it's a celebration of that individual and their life.

So, now I'm 30 and really happy about it. The 20's were awesome, the teens had their good parts, my first decade started off heavenly and quickly went 'splat', but there were some shining moments. I can honestly say, life has just gotten better & better. I'm very much looking forward to the rest of it!

One of my favorite parts about birthdays is the cake!
"Ooh! CAKE! Everybody likes cake!" -Eddy Murphy in 'Shrek'

I've had some truly nifty cakes.
The kitty cake
The shoe cake
The bunny cake
The tea pot cake (though this wasn't for a birthday)
and a lot of cake-cakes of varying degrees of niftyness.

But around age 10, and not consistently, I started making my own birthday cakes. This was after the bunny cake fiasco (which involved coconut not just on the outside which was removable, but also baked in, which made me very sick for the rest of the day).
Not only did making my own cake make it my own fault if I got sick, but I got exactly what I wanted in a birthday cake. This may take 'if you want something done right, do it yourself' a little too far for some folks, but I made my own wedding clothes too.

With all those cool cakes the one thing I never had was a doll cake. I always wanted a doll cake. But not one of those cheesy round 50's ball-gown-ish monster-frosting cakes. And I never knew how to even begin making one until I watched a few episodes of Charm City Cakes, Amazing Wedding Cakes & Cake Boss. I never knew cake could be carved!

So off I go on my doll cake adventure!
Cheep-o fashion doll. Check
Fake flowers. Check
Baby powder. Check
Cake mix. Check
Frosting. Check (so I thought, had to go get another one)
Silver platter. Check
Food coloring. Check

I washed the doll & dressed her hair a la' 18th century. Pinned a few flowers in & then powdered the heck out of it. Thankfully baby powder sticks to nylon hair quite well and was still powdered after I tapped most of it off.
Baked 2 cakes & cut to size, glued them together with frosting and set the doll inside. Had to add a bit to get the dress up to her waist.
Frosted the bottom & then frosted her top so she was actually wearing a dress, not just a skirt.
Piped on yellow with a little purple & called her done!

She may not win any awards, but she was exactly what I wanted.