Monday, May 20, 2013

Underwear Isn't Optional

I've seen a lot of posts about historical accuracy bandied back and forth across the blogosphere recently.  Part of it has to do with the ongoing "Historical Sew Fortnightly" challenge in which many costumers/reenactors/bloggers are participating.  Some has to do with the ongoing conflict between the various subsets of those who sew historical or historically-inspired garments.  You know, the Pretty Pretty Princesses, the Butter Churners, the Stitch Nazis...don't lie; you've heard them all, and I'd bet you've used at least one of those terms to describe someone at least once before.  That's okay; this isn't about who belongs in what category, or which one shall Reign Supreme.

This is about the fact that I have yet to see anyone mention the importance of underpinnings in any of those "how accurate are you?  how accurate am I?  how accurate should we be?" posts.  And you know what?  They're damn important.

I've seen so many polite debates (and not so polite ones) about how some people just want to feel pretty, some of them want 1,000,000% accuracy, blah blah.  But here's the thing.  If you're not wearing the right underwear, you're going to look wrong.  Full stop.  Historically, people wore specific garments that shaped their bodies in specific ways.  Maybe it was achieved through cording, or whalebone, or steel.  Maybe it was  just strategically cut inner garments with no stiffening.  Doesn't matter.  If you're not wearing the right shaping garments for whatever time period, your silhouette will not be correct.

You can do everything else right--construction techniques, fiber content, witchcraft, whatever--but if you're not wearing the right support structure, you might as well just go home.  Because the number one step in making a historical garment should always include starting with the correct undergarments (or reasonable facsimile thereof).

Which is why I have anxiety dreams about forgetting my corset every time I go to an event.


Thoughts?  Questions?  Comments?  Rotten tomatoes?  Fire away!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Portmanteau, an 18th Century Suitcase

The word portmanteau is actually one of those lovely words that means exactly what it says--it's a combination of the French port, "carry," and manteau, "cloak."  Which is essentially it's function!  In general,  the word just refers to a suitcase, but in a historical context it tends to be a little more specific.

In the 18th century (though I've seen examples up to the 1830s), portmanteaux were often cylindrical or sort of curvy-oblong in shape with a flap that buckled over the opening.  I'll be the first to admit that I haven't done a ton of research, but the look is very iconic and (to me, anyway) recognizably period.  And, I've coveted one for absolutely ages.

Imagine my delight, then, when Samantha and I stumbled across these two beauties at the Kalamazoo Living History Show this year.  They were being sold secondhand, so we got amazing prices, but I looked up the maker's website and let me tell you--the workmanship on these is well worth his normal rate.

These are by Pepe's Possibles, and they are truly works of art.  They're hand stitched out of durable leather, lined in plain cloth, and the opening is bound.  I own the 12" size and (I believe) Samantha snatched up the 18".  I love the rich color of these, and they're such a convenient piece of luggage.  Even my small one will fit a surprising amount...I can fit a small pair of shoes in there, even!  Right now it's got my current sewing projects, my pinball embroidery, and some extra fabric in there with room to spare.  The handles (which are sewn on with little heart embellishments--so sweet!) are the perfect size for three fingers, which, in my opinion, is just about perfect.

A little googling will turn up several places to buy such a piece of luggage (try terms like "18th century portmanteau" and "portmanteau luggage"), and they range in price from just under $100 to over $500.  Pepe's Possibles seems to be on the lower end of the price range (though again, awesome workmanship!), and another affordable option would be Choochcat on Etsy.  I obviously can't speak for customer service, time frame, etc. for either of these vendors since I bought mine secondhand, but they look like good options to me if you've decided you just have to have your own portmanteau.  Which you should.  Because they're awesome!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tucker Kits in the Shop!

Because no 1860s ballgown is complete without a tucker!  Buying your own cotton netting just for a little frill around the neckline of a gown can be annoying--for starters, cotton net usually sells for about $35/yard, and no way do you need that much just for one neckline.  It's hard to find fine fabrics of that sort at chain-type fabric stores, and many online retailers only sell in full yard increments.  And again--you don't usually need a whole yard for a tucker!  What's a girl to do?

With that in mind, I'm trying something out.  I'm offering simple tucker kits in my shop, which include half a yard of cotton net and 2 yards of 2mm silk ribbon for a drawstring (which is optional, but very cute!).  You can have any color you want, as long as it's black. ;)

My listing (above) includes several pictures of reproductions using this same cotton net for a tucker, and here are some originals with pretty tucker variations to get your creative juices flowing.

From The Graceful Lady

Kent State (Thanks Andrew Schroeder, for the tip!)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Tuckers seem to be pretty ubiquitous, and would have served the same function as a collar or cuffs--they help protect the neckline of your dress, and give a finished look.  It'd be easy to baste one into an existing gown, or pick up a kit for your next project.  The sky's the limit!  Head on over to Etsy and take a look.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fort Meigs 2013

Okay, hands up!  Who knew there was an enormous reconstructed 1812 fort in Perrysburg, OH?  Okay...who knew there was a Perrysburg, OH?  Yeah, me either.

Well, okay, I'd heard about Fort Meigs before; a lot of the members of the First Regiment Volunteers are from Ohio and southeast Michigan, so understandably they are quite involved with things at their local historical site.  I'd even been in the visitor center, but never inside the walls.  So when some of them told me there was going to be an event there, I figured it might be time to actually go see the inside of the fort!

You guys, wow.  I was expecting a small walled enclosure, maybe with a few buildings.  Um, no.  It's HUGE!  Maybe four or six Michilimackinacs could have fit inside it, and encampments were gigantic.  Not that any one unit was so large, but there were just so many reenactors that the tents just kept on going as far as you could see!  And it was gorgeous--beautiful weather and pretty landscape all weekend long.  You can't really ask for more than that.

As you can see, Samantha looked fabulous (as ever), and despite the brilliant sunshine all weekend she was able to wear her stunning wool redingote the whole time because of the temperate weather and constant breeze.  Er, well, toward the end of the day on Sunday the breeze became real wind, but the temperature never got unbearably hot or cold--which is rare!

We were very fortunate also to have furniture provided (by other members of the regiment who couldn't be there, but who graciously set up their gear for us to use!) so that we were very comfortable all weekend.  And as ladies have done for centuries, we made good use of the opportunity to visit & chat!  And sew, of course.

All in all, basically a perfect weekend!  I can't wait for the next event...which means I'd better get my rear in gear on some decent outfits!  I've got one almost done--That Stupid Dress (aka the maroon wool that I wore to the regency ball) is SO close to being finished; I'm working on the undersleeves and chemisette that it needs for day-wear, and apparently I'm the slowest stitcher ever.  It'll be done by the end of the season...maybe.

Oh, and as always, more pictures at my Flickr!  Be sure to check them out; there are some shenanigans that didn't make it onto the blog that are worth a chuckle.