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Rate the Dress: Mid-1880s ochre and gold

Last week’s 1850s homage to the 18th century attracted a few ardent admirers, a few vehement naysayers, and a lot of people who thought it was soooooo close to great….but not there (mostly because of the blue-green trim).  So it balanced out at 7.8 out of 10, which isn’t bad for a dress trying to carry SO many colours and design ideas.

I found I loved the dress if I just looked at it, but the minute I tried to inspect and analyse I found dozens of things I thought were awful.  I suspect that if I saw it at a party I still would have gone away remembering it as fabulous and lovely, because the overall impression of delight would outbalance all the little niggles.

Since last week’s dress was so very, very sweet, I felt that we need a palette cleanser: something entirely free of florals and frills and pastels.

I’d already settled on this ensemble when I realised the base colour was actually quite similar to that of last weeks dress.  Despite this, the overall feel, at least to me, is very different:

According to the Met, this day ensemble was worn by Amelia Beard Hollenback (1844-1918), wife of a wealthy New York financier, and may have been inspired by Amelia’s travels in the American Southwest.

The dress certainly features a colour scheme and design aesthetic that sets it just outside the general oeuvre of 1880s fashion, without making it conspicuously eccentric, or fitting it into any standard counter-culture of the period, such as the Aesthetic movement.

The Met believes that this dress would have been made by a very skilled, but unknown, high class Brooklyn dressmaker.

Certainly the fabric handling, cut, and finishing are all exceptionally well done.

One wonders how much input Amelia had into the dress, and how much was dictated by the dressmaker.

What do you think?  Just right for a middle aged society woman to showcase a little individuality?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Norah Waugh's costuming books

The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #10: Heroes

I can’t believe it’s already almost October, time for the 10th Historical Sew Monthly challenge of the year, and time for me to be deciding (with lots of input from you, of course!) if there is going to be a HSF/M 2017!

The theme for October’s challenge is Heroes:  Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero.

While I may be becoming more cynical in other ways, the older I get, the more I am a fan of having lots, and lots of heroes.  I just feel that you can never have too many people to admire and attempt to emulate the good qualities of.  In everything I do, whether it’s cooking, historical costuming, writing, teaching, or simply being a (reasonably) nice person, I do it better than I might have because someone, in some way, helped teach me to get to where I am: and each of those people is a hero to me, and deserves acknowledgement.

So the idea behind the Heroes challenge was to give us all a change to honour and highlight some of our heroes: both historically, and in historical costuming.

I’ll be highlighting 5 of my historical heroes later in the week, but for now, here are some of my historical costuming heroes.

First, and very obviously, someone who I hope is a hero to many of you: Janet Arnold (or, as Lynne calls her Saint Janet).  Janet Arnold’s research and patterns are still the gold standard for historical costuming books.  Her books were the first pattern books I owned, and are still the first books I reach for when researching any era she covered.

Following just behind Arnold are Norah Waugh (the patterns!  The pages and pages of period mentions of garments!) and Nancy Bradfield (the eye for detail!)

How much poorer would the historical costuming world be without these women’s works?

There are also lots of living costumers, who are my heroes for the beautiful work they do, for how much they have influenced and improved my own costuming (and prevented me from so many mistakes) and for how much they have given to the costuming community.

I started to list them all, and the list got ridiculously long (and it’s even longer now that I’ve been to Costume College!), so I’ll limit myself to 7 (in roughly the order in which I encountered their work) and find an excuse for shout-outs to the other 57+ in future posts!:

  • Drea Leed of Elizabethan Costume was my first introduction to the wonderful world of online costuming: her research and links dress diaries (in the early days of such things), along with Jen’s (below) gave me the confidence to attempt an 1540s Flemish dress, and while I haven’t done much Elizabethan costuming since, I’m still hugely grateful for her efforts in making it accessible to beginner costumers.
  •  Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre was equal parts responsible for my first historic costume, and her creations, research, and instructions have inspired me in so many eras ever since.
  • Kendra of Demode.  I’ve been following her blog/website for almost 15 years now, and her website and dress diaries were my first online stop for half a dozen of my projects.  I hugely admire how some of her creations are very historical, and others are purely for fun and aesthetic, but all are beautifully made.
  • Lauren of Wearing History was the first historical costumer that I was aware of who made historical patterns available as print at home patterns, and for a costumer at the ‘end of the universe’, that made a huge difference.  (and she’s lovely and sweet and delightful too!)
  • Sarah of A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle makes everything that she creates, no matter how simple, with thought, and research, and precision.  Her work reminds to me find delight in small things, and that an outfit doesn’t have to be a frilly princess gown to be a thing of utter beauty.
  • Lynne doesn’t have a blog, but your probably recognise her name from all the comments and encouragement she leaves on mine, and the HSF facebook page, and countless other blogs.  Lynne is my hero for showing how much you can help create a costume, even if you aren’t there to do any of the physical work.  I feel the world is a little bit better every time I see one of her comments!
  • Miriam of In My Lady’s Chamber does the most impeccable research, and her eye for detail is fantastic, as is her ability to apply it within a wider context.

Because I’m a fan of so many heroes, I don’t expect any of them to be perfect in every way.  I can assemble a full set of virtues and admirable attributes, without putting the burden of absolute perfection on anyone.

Historical figures are my heroes for their actions in certain situations, but rarely would I try to act like them in every way, or say that everything they did is worthy of respect.

Many modern historical costumers inspire me, but I don’t need to copy everything they do to see them as a hero.  Being inspired by them doesn’t mean I try to make exact replicas of the things they do: it means I take their amazing work, and try to apply the research, or tutorials, or philosophy, to mine, in order to create a better item.

So here is to all the people, published, and not; living or gone; famous or just quietly, secretly, fabulous; who have helped to make our costumes bigger, better, more beautiful, and more accurate!  Let’s take this opportunity to make an item that honours them, and their contribution to our work.

Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion books

A Call for Pattern Testers – would you like to test new Scroop patterns?

Things have been quiet on the Scroop Patterns front for the last few months, while I focused on a trip home to my parents in Hawaii, and Costume College, and other work commitments, but I’ve also been working on patterns, and am going to be launching quite a few over the next six months (Yay, yay, yay!).

So, I need pattern testers!  People to try the patterns to make sure they print properly in all paper formats; that the instructions make sense (and that I haven’t missed any typos – SO easy after you’ve been staring at a set of instructions for weeks on end!), and to give me general feedback.

I’ve got a bunch of patterns on the go, ranging from super-easy modern stuff, to slightly more complicated modern and historical (ooh!) stuff, to really complicated historical stuff (OOOooh!!).  So I’m going to be wanting a whole range of testers, so when I have something I think you, as a tester, would be interested in, I can ask you if you’d like to test it!

Pattern testers will get a digital copy of the final pattern, my eternal gratitude, as much publicity as I can manage for your sewing (if you’re keen on that).

With every pattern I’ll be looking for a range of testers, in terms of geographical location, body type, sewing experience, and personal style.  Even if you’ve expressed interest in a particular pattern, you may not get chosen merely because lots of people in your geographic or size demographic asked after the same pattern.

Interested?  Feel like pulling out the sewing kit and the red pen?  (I hope so!)

If you want to be a pattern tester you should:

  • be a reasonable confident sewer
  • be able to print patterns in A4, A0, US Letter or US full sized Copyshop paper sizes
  • have the time to sew up the item if you agree to be a tester for it
  •  be able to photograph your make being worn
  • be able to provide clear feedback
  • be willing to sign a confidentially agreement regarding the pattern

How long you get to test the pattern will depend on how involved it is: I’ll be giving testers 10 days (arranged to be two full weekends) for super easy items, and up to a month for really complicated patterns.

To sign up to test patterns, please email me with the following:

  1. Your name
  2. Your bust, waist and hip measures
  3. Your height
  4. Your sewing level: Beginners, Low Intermediate, High Intermediate, Advanced
  5. A link to your blog/instagram/Flickr/Sewing Pattern Review profile/something else sewing-y presence, if you have one.  (you don’t have to have one, but it will help).
  6. A link to a sewing make with a review (so I can see how you think about and analyse your sewing)
  7. What type of patterns would you be particularly interested in testing?  (i.e. knits, dresses, historical, anything and everything).
  8. Is there anything I’ve made that you’d particularly like to test if it ever becomes a pattern?
  9. Do you have any other skills that would really make you an extra-super-awesome pattern tester?  (i.e. experience copy-editing)
  10. If you are chosen, would you be happy for me to feature photos of your make on my blog?

Hope to hear from lots of you!