The Historical Sew Monthly 2015: The Challenges

The Historical Sew Fortnightly Monthly 2015 is on!  I’ve been incredibly busy this week, so I’m a little behind on getting answers to all the bits and responding to people who offered help.  I’ll be putting up a HSF ’15 page with all the information (other than being monthly the main guidelines of the HSF will remain basically as they were last year) up in the next few days, and a button out for you to pin on your own blog if you have one.

I did promise the challenges, so without further ado here they are:

  • January – Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.
  • February – Colour Challenge Blue: Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre.
  • March – Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.
  • April – War & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear.  Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.
  • May – Practicality:  Fancy party frocks are all very well, but everyone, even princesses, sometimes needs a practical garment that you can DO things in.  Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.
  • June – Out of Your Comfort Zone: Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before. 
  • July – Accessorize: The final touch of the right accessory creates the perfect period look.  Bring an outfit together by creating an accessory to go with your historical wardrobe.
  • August – Heirlooms & Heritage: Re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations.
  • September – Colour Challenge Brown: it’s not the most exciting colour by modern standards, but brown has been one of the most common, and popular, colours throughout history. Make something brown.
  • October – Sewing Secrets: Hide something in your sewing, whether it is an almost invisible mend, a secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).
  • November – Silver Screen: Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.
  • December – Re-Do:  It’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.

Hopefully there is something to make each of you thrill with delight, and something to thoroughly challenge each of you – and that’s just as it should be!

So what do you think of the challenges?  Which one thrills you, and which one will challenge you?

Rate the Dress: mid-century plaid

Last week I showed you a ca. 1890 high-society half-mourning dress.  Some of you were totally behind the dress, until you saw the behind of the dress (yes, I have been waiting a whole week to use that!).  Some of you loved it, stripey ‘I backed into a fireplace and did the world’s most awkward mend’ and all.  And some of you disliked the whole thing: stripey back panel, lace sleeves, ribbon trim, velvet bow and all.  It frequently got points for ‘entertainment value’ if nothing else, coming in at

I’ve been drooling over 1840s frocks recently (helped by Sarah’s amazing 1840s paisley maternity dress), so thought I should post something along those lines.  This one isn’t paisley, but it is an even more classically 1840s pattern: plaid.  The colour schemes of muted blues, ambers and browns is also classically 1840s.

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

The dress is associated with the wedding of Laura Phillips nee Battle, to Charles Phillips, held at Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina on Dec 8th 1847.  Laura is believed to have worn the dress as a ‘second day’ dress, for a reception or events held the day after her wedding.  The NC Museum of History also hold Laura’s wedding dress: a lovely confection in white organdy and lace, shoes and stockings, and various other articles associated with her wedding (search ‘Laura Phillips’ to see them).

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

While her wedding dress is gorgeous, I thought this one was more interesting for being wearable for events afterwards.  To make it even more versatile, the dress came with a matching pelerine cape.  In a number of other 1830s and 40s dresses I have seen with matching capes, the cape hides a lower neckline, and makes an evening dress suitable for daytime wear.  In this case the neckline is already suitable high (and would have been worn with a collar), but the cape gives it a different look.

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

The dress is a tiny bit too small for the dressform, but that does at least give us a rather nice look at the tidy row of hooks that fasten the back!

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

What do you think?  Is this classically 1840s dress classic and interesting?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A very fancy farthingale

One of my goals this year was to costume in a period I haven’t worked in before. I wanted to do 14th century, but so far I have not found the right fabric for anything but the shift.

With the year winding up, I decided to think about other periods, and remembered Miranda’s farthingale from the Innovations challenge back in January. I have done 16th c, but only Flemish working class, and that was over a decade ago. Formal English or French Elizabethan is a whole new ballgame!

But I own Arnold’s 16thc pattern book, and Elizabethan is a period with LOTS of resources, so I though I’d give it a try.

The place to start, of course, is undergarments, and a rummage in my stash revealed that I had exactly the right fabric for a farthingale: a spectacular acetate (or one of the other manufactured natural fibres) jacquard in dark jade green.  Not a natural fibre, but exactly the right amount of fabric for a farthingale, and I’m willing to be a little inaccurate as I dabble in Elizabethan.

I knew I was on the right track when further research revealed that Queen Elizabeth owned a green farthingale with pink velvet banding.  What had I picked up for a song at Fabric-a-Brac in Palmy only a week before I started the project?  Pink cotton velvet in the perfect Elizabethan shade! (I know, it looks really hot pink in the photos, but it isn’t in real life)  It was meant to be!

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

So I analized Arnold’s interpretation of the single 16th c farthingale pattern, and then went rummaging around on the internet for everything else I could find out about farthingales, and found quite a bit (all linked in the HSF write-up down the bottom).

And then there was lots of cutting and sewing, and some crying when my camera bit the dust right at the start of the project.  But a new camera was procured, and I persevered, and I have a farthingale!

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

It needs some tweaking, and there are things I would do differently next time, but overall, I am extremely pleased.

This photo shows what the colours really look like:

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com
The main tweaking that I want  to do is with the hoop sizes.  There is too much of a jump in the bottom two hoops in particular.

There are also problems with the cane wibbling and warping and not falling in perfect circles.  I have some ideas of how to fix it, but I think simply wearing skirts and petticoats might hide most of it.

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

I did intentionally make it quite big for a farthingale, as I wanted a really full-on, formal look.

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

I’m really intrigued by how much it looks like an 1860s elliptical hoopskirt, with the flatter front and fullness concentrated towards the back.  Very clever use of gores!

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

One thing that I noticed in researching the farthingale is that there is lots of research, and two tutorials, but few really extensive blog posts with someone making a farthingale, and their experiences of the tutorials.  And the tutorials are quite sparsely illustrated, and you know how much I like obsessively photographed posts.

So I photographed EVERY single tiny step of my process, and I’ll be doing a blow-by-blow post of making a farthingale, not as a tutorial in and of itself, but as an accompaniment to the tutorials out there, so that you can see someone work through them and figure things out.  This is something that I personally find very helpful, so hopefully other people will too.  Watch out for that over the Christmas period when I have a bit of down-time for full-on blogging.

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

Because this is not a period fabric, and because I’m just getting into Elizabethan, everything is machine sewed.  Someday I may make a fully-handsewn farthingale.  But first I need a chemise and stays and all the other bits!

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

The Challenge: #21 Re-Do

Challenges I am Re-Doing:

#2 Innovation: Though farthingales were introduced into England by Catherine of Aragon and her ladies in , they don’t appear to have been incorporated into English fashions until a few decades later, and it wasn’t until the last quarter of the 16th century that ones stiffened with whalebone and cane instead of rope became common.  Stiffer hoops allowed extremely wide width of skirts – an innovation in and of itself.
#3: Pink Velvet hoop channels in Elizabethan pink?  I think that counts!
#4: Under it All – I don’t have the stuff to go over it yet, but it’s definitely an undergarment!
 #11 The Politics of Fashion:
The introduction of the farthingale into England was the result of a political event, and Queen Elizabeth notably used her clothing to craft and manipulate her image as a ruler.
#12: Shape & Support
#13 Under $10: The green brocade was inherited from Nana, I picked the velvet up for $6 (and only used a third of it), and the cane cost me $8.
#19: HSF InspirationI’d never really thought much about farthingales much until Miranda’s fascinating farthingales for the Innovation Challenge this year, which got me started on research and plotting and planning.
#20: Alternative Universe: I really want to do an Elizabethan steampunk outfit based around these!
#24: All that Glitters: This is a pretty full-on, glitzy farthingales!

Fabric: 1 unpicked vintage kimono

Pattern: Taken from Alcega’s 1589 farthingale diagram and instructions, with reference to Janet Arnold’s reconstruction of Alcega’s pattern in Patterns of Fashion, Elizabethan Costumes farthingale making instructions, Renaissance Tailors farthingale making instructions, and Sempstresses analysis of Alcega’s pattern, and chart of hoop sizes.

Year: 1570-1600.

Notions: cotton thread, cane hooping, cotton twill tape, wire, woven cotton interfacing.

How historically accurate is it?: Period pattern, adapted, non-period fabrics and construction techniques, but (assuming I can fix the wobbly hoop sizes) I bet Queen Elizabeth would still have been all over this if she saw it ;-)  And, of course, it will never be seen under a gown!  Say 55% + a bonus 20% for passing the ‘would a person in period recognise and wear it’ test, so 75%

Hours to complete: Ergh, lots.  And LOTS.

First worn: Wed Dec 3rd, to demonstrate Elizabethan underclothes to a bunch of Year 9 (US 8th graders).  Unsurprisingly, they loved it.

Total cost: NZ$10.

A 1580s farthingale, thedreamstress.com

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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