Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Our Ancestors Slept

As someone who wakes up during the night feeling frustratingly refreshed...and then struggles to rise in the morning, I found this article to be a kind of vindication. Apparently the way we sleep has changed. For more information you can visit the link here.

Monday, August 5, 2013


The Court of Phillip the Good (I love the variety of styles within the same color-scheme)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Next Project...The Tudor Transitional

What on earth could that title mean? Well, everyone is very familiar with the iconic Tudor style; bell sleeves, triangular skirt with forepart, square neckline, gable or french hood, puffed undersleeves etc...
And we're also rather familiar with Elizabethan style; ruffs, little hats or headdresses, higher or filled-in necklines, stiff skirts, padded sleeves, lighter colors etc...
But what about something in-between? As a professor, I like having garments for my students to see, and something in a style somewhere between the two would help them to visualize how clothing evolved from one idea into another. With that in mind I present the inspiration.
Elizabeth of Austria, 1570
And now, to find the fabric and start on the chemise!

Monday, July 22, 2013

41 Historic Demises!

I admit to having a morbid fascination with historical deaths, as any long time reader of this blog knows, so this video from the producers of Mental Floss was right up my alley. Enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Finished Italian Gown Project

It's done! I ask your indulgence for the fact that the outfit does not entirely fit the form, as I myself am very small and still need to carve it down a bit to make the form me-sized. Until we have a reliably sunny day (maybe this week?) I won't be able to put it on and take nice photos outside.

The project took about 18 days to accomplish and was machine-sewn except for where the stitching would show. The time crunch required it. The pattern was adapted and draped in places, and straight out flat-patterned in some areas. The bodice is corded with hemp cording, which can be found at most craft stores, or even with the garden supplies. The material is linen with some silk taffeta for the sleeves, and a cotton chemise.

Future photos of the gown on an actual person will prove that the sleeve doesn't fit half so awkwardly as it appears to in this photo (grrr). As the research images appear to show, the gathered sleeve and the straight sleeve are made as two separate ones and only joined at the sleeve head. I used, as I recall, six gathering stitches and the fabric was 45" prior to gathering. Next time I think I'll either gather it less tightly in the middle section, or use a longer strip so that it's more full. You can also see the pearl necklace with pendant that I put together for the outfit. I wore it with a set of dangling pearl earrings as well, and an "emerald" ring.

The back of the gown shows the side-back lacing, which is featured in some great Italian paintings of the renaissance. I gathered the trim at the back neckline as I was stitching it on, just slightly, so that it would take the curve better. The sleeve is only attached to the bodice via one ribbon tie at the shoulder, and is left free under the arm, front, and back for ease of movement.

I was really pleased with how my cartridge pleating came out on the skirt back. I pleated the underskirt with standard "divide-and-conquer" pleating so that there would be a flat section in the front (to avoid that all-too-common divot, you sometimes get); but I gathered the front of the gown skirt (54" into something like 19", I believe) and had to get 108" into 7.75" which necessitated cartridge pleating. Considering that this is a technique which I rarely have cause to use, I was pretty happy with the result and it feels very secure.

The last thing I have to share is the hairnet which I made from some gold net material, studded with gold roundels and pearls, and stuffed full of fake hair. I then attached another long strand, which I braided, and wound it around the top of the hairnet and my head. Pinned in place it was hard to distinguish from my own hair, which was twisted at the sides and then pulled back and stuffed into the hairnet as well.

My shoes were ruined at the event as it was soggy and they started to warp and the woven material split over the canvas lining at the toes. C'est la vie, perhaps it will give me an excuse to do a post on fixing such problems.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Teaser! Italian Project Sleeves

I did manage to get the entire project done in time for the event this past Saturday, and was very pleased with myself for doing so without the customary sewing into any wee hours or hand stitching in the car. The downside to this is that I took very few in-progress photos towards the end, and did not get any pictures of myself in the outfit at the event. Sad panda.

While I clean and rephotograph the project for later posting I leave you with just a taste via a few pictures I did manage to take.

Bodice mock-up marked for alteration
The marked mock-up next to the original pattern pieces

Before and after shots of altering the back pattern piece
"True-ing" the pattern pieces to ensure that they will work and have all the right markings
The new interlining piece cut with seam allowance etc.
I used the cording technique to stiffen the bodice just the right amount. This version is couched on.
Front and back lined
Bodice in progress
Gown in progress (I lack a form small enough for me so it sits weirdly)
Finished sleeves
Similar to these sleeves
Next time, I promise, more finished gown photos along with the jewelry and hairnet!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Italian Project- 3

Based largely on shoes like the ones to the left, I have completed the adaptation of my shoes for the Italian outfit.

I'm pretty pleased with the result, which is not, of course, 100% accurate, but is fairly passable.
I started with the blank shoe...
added elastic loops to the vamp and sides, which I then covered with trim...
tied a ribbon through the loops where they were unsewn at the tops, and finished it off with a cockade made from the same trim I'd used earlier.
C'est finis!

As for the chemise; I ended up taking a shortcut (I know, boo, hiss) to make up for some lost time which occurred when my husband's outfit took longer than expected to finish. His was made to the highest professional standards I could manage, so that's something to be proud of anyhow.

I used an old chemise, cut down the neckline some more, smocked a portion of it in green and yellow embroidery floss, and am hoping that the simplicity will work in harmony with the rest of the outfit.

(I haven't removed the dissolving marker dots yet)
I should also mention that I've managed to complete the underskirt, which I'm pretty pleased with and which will barely be seen at all (naturally).
Now, it's back to work on the gown, which has passed the mock-up stage and is into bodice construction. We ride!

Next time:- The gown, jewelry (and maybe sleeves).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Italian Project- Update 1

Volia! As promise, here's the design for the new Italian outfit. I'm currently trying to decide between two pairs of cotton/silk/wool stockings; a cream pair and a blue pair. I like the color of the blue ones and they are lighter for the summer since they are silk, but then the cotton/wool ones could be dyed to a color and don't feature the anachronistic clocking on the heel. Decisions, decisions.

The fabric for the gown will be mostly these three:-
 The underskirt will be heavily pleated in the grass-green linen, with the simpler sleeve version in the same. The more intricate sleeve will be done in the striped gold and green taffeta with faux chemise puffs between the slashing. The overall fabric of the gown, though, will be the embroidered tan linen (which is why the portraits of the patterned gowns was so important to me). I also have some gold and green trims set aside, but we'll look at those later.

And shoes? Well, those are notoriously hard to research for the 16th century because we have only a few surviving examples (not much to go on in terms of variety), and they are rarely seen in portraits due to the length of the skirts. We all know about the Venetians and their chopines...
But I need something more stable. I've decided on a cross between the heel-less slippers, and the heeled shoes of the period.
So I found some shoes with the right sort of shape to the toe, heel, and vamp, and I shall simply add straps that connect to the vamp with little ties; and some decoration, of course. The shoes themselves are some sort of black woven fabric with gold threads shot through, so they seem passable.

So far on the gown I have found a pattern I used for a previous gown of similar style and begun altering it, and I have also pre-shrunk, ironed, and rolled the fabric for ease of use.

Next time:- The chemise, trimming the shoes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Project in the Works- Italian Renaissance

I threatened a while ago to make an Italian Renaissance costume and even though that perpetual Elizabethan project is nearing its end I shall proceed to do just that. My husband and I have an upcoming event in a few weeks, so naturally now is the perfect time to cram in two new projects (one costume for him and one for me).

To start with I always like to do a little lot of research.

 Always a good start; this painting, as it shows slightly different styles being worn at the same time, and a little of the underskirt.
The Preaching of St. John. 1520.
Note the all-over pattern on this gown, combined with the top of the chemise showing, the partlet at the shoulders, and the tightly-fitted lower sleeve. I love how the waist is just slightly higher than the natural waistline.

Proof that this style of sleeve can be tied on as well as set-in. It features the same trim placement as in the first pictures as well.

I'm thinking of doing two sleeve options; one like the green sleeve in the St. John painting, and one like this for evening wear.

As my own hair is now shorter than it used to be I will need to do some sort of beaded hairnet (reta) with added braids probably to make it Renaissance appropriate.

My plan is to blog this project as it progresses over the next 18 days, so there should be lots of research, explanations, and photos to come.

Next time: the design, the shoes, the stockings, the fabric swatches.

Friday, June 7, 2013


My last trivia question went unanswered:-

"What famous philosopher's skull was found to be missing in 1819 when his coffin was opened nearly two centuries after his death? (Hint: the skull itself, now found, has had an interesting history all its own)"

The answer was Descartes, as in Cartesian Philosophy. I highly recommend the book 'Descartes' Bones' by Russell Shorto, which details not only the philosopher's life, but the meandering journey of his body after death and the spread of his ideas up to the modern era. It's a fascinating read, and far more entertaining than one would expect.

Let's return to questions of fashion with this next one, shall we?

Some Victorian mothers, frustrated by their daughters' attempts to loosen (or altogether escape from) their corsets at night during corset-training, took to doing this to prevent them being able to untie themselves.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shakespearean Epic Miniseries to Air in the USA

Wouldn't it be great if someone took four of Shakespeare's history plays, say Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 & 2), and Henry V, and made them into one epic miniseries? Well, BBC Two has already done that for you in a series called The Hollow Crown, and now we can look forward to finally seeing it in the USA...but not until September.

For those of you, like me, who may be chomping at the bit I give you an article on the costumes to peruse here, as well as some more lovely and familiar faces from the cast....
Jeremy Irons as Henry IV

Michelle Dockery as Lady Percy

Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt

and finally the trailer, just to get you really excited.