In planning the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges, I look for themes that can be interpreted in a number of interesting ways, can be used to create very basic, or extremely elaborate garments, and can fit across the many time-periods that we sew in. I’ll admit that I sometimes take into account my own sewing list, and schedule challenges that encompass a project I’d been hoping to do for a while.
I’ve got a confession though. Challenge #19 is the first time I’ve totally dumped the theme I’d originally planned, and completely themed a challenge around an item I desperately need to make (1860s hoopskirt), and which I couldn’t find a way to fit into any other challenge.
Still, I think it’s a pretty awesome theme, with lots of scope, so I hope you will forgive my selfishness!
Challenge #19 is ‘Wood, Metal, Bone’: Cloth may be the most obvious material in historic costuming, but wood, metal, and bone are just as important to creating the right look and silhouette. They are often, literally, the foundations of a period garment, with shoes made from wood; skirt supports made from wood, metal or bone; and bodies and bodices shaped with the same. Wood, metal and bone provided the finishing touches too garments too, in metal jewellery, wood and bone fan sticks, and straw hats. For this challenge, make anything that incorporates wood, metal, or bone.
In most challenges, I try to avoid being too didactic and specific, because I think it is more important that people get creative with a theme. However, I do have some specifics for this challenge:
Wood: also encompasses cane and straw. You may also count rayon and other wood/cellulose based fibres as wood (ooh, clever!), but only if they are appropriate to your period and garment (so no Regency rayon frocks, but 1930s is a possibility). Rayon was commercially available in many places (including New Zealand) from 1911 onwards, but researching what types of garments it was used for is up to you.
Metal: Pretty obvious. Metal is metal. Metal jewellery, metal lace (not just metallic coloured lace though), cloth of metal (still possible to find, very occasionally), metal boning.
Bone: includes any of the types of plastic boning (cable ties, featherboning etc) that are used as modern replacements to period use of whalebone (technically baleen, but you know what I mean).
To inspire you, here are a few images of historical wood-y/metal-y/bone-y garments that inspire me.
Portrait of a Young Woman Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1564-70
Chopines with wooden heels, covered with leather, silk and metal lace, 1590-1610, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Stays with sleeves 1660-70 Victoria & Albert Museum
Parasol in two parts, silk and wood, French, MFA Boston
Lady’s canvas pumps with very high back lacing through seven metal eyelets. Decorated with embroidery. Low knock on heel, France, circa 1860-1865.
Detail of the interior construction of the bodice of an evening dress by Duval and Eagan (American), ca. 1889, silk with whalebone, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fan with ivory sticks, late 19th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bust improver or reducer, made of cotton with metal boning, by Spirella Styles, (patented) 1907, DAR exhibition
Evening bag with metal clasp and chain, early-mid 20th century
Girdle, 1930s, McCord Museum
Pyjamas and lingere in rayon, 1934
It’s that time again (actually, I’m a couple of weeks in)! We’re almost halfway done with the Historical Sew Fortnightly, some amazing things have been created, and here is my round-up of my favourites from Challenges 6-10.
As I did with my favourites from Challenges 0-5 I’ve chosen the items I thought best represent the spirit of the Historical Sew Fortnightly; the quest to explore history, raise our skill levels and standard, stretch ourselves (or sometimes just get something done, rather than just procrastinating); and the spirit of the individual challenge. Once again, there were so many more beautiful pieces I could have featured!
Challenge #10 – Literature
- Lisa’s blackwork cap for Ophelia – Exquisitely worked with all of poor Ophelia’s herbs: rue & rosemary, pansy & columbine. A beautiful interpretation of the challenge, and integration of literature, textile, and history.
- Cation’s Victorian deerstalker cap – Inspired by a detailed description of a hat in Farmer Boy, and Sherlock Holme’s headgear, this cap get’s both inspirations spot-on.
- A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle’s mid-19th century Swedish dress – Sarah’s dress involves some really inspiring piecing, very in keeping with her literary inspiration – a book about impoverished Swedish immigrants.
Challenge #9– Flora & Fauna
- Seditiosus’ zibelino – I just about cried with happiness when I saw this. It’s fabulous. It’s a zibelino!
- Festive Attyre’s Regency/fantasy fairy leaf vest – A beautiful combination of historical accuracy, research, and fantasy, with an amazing use of flora.
- Frolicking Frocks’ Gibson Girl roses gown – Sooooo pretty! So beautifully made too – do read back in her construction posts!
Challenge #8 – By the Sea
- Loran’s 1870s Grecian inspired swimsuit– It’s based on one of my favourite Victorian swimsuit fashion plates, and it has Greek keys, and she really committed with the styling and madness of it.
- Beauty from Ashes’ 1910s sailor dress – A beautifully made replica of a period garment that she studied in detail. Inspiring!
- Scene in the Past’s 1860s hat veil – A very simple project in some ways, but such exemplary research to really understand what would be ‘right’ for this item.
Challenge #7 – Accessorise
- Åsa’s pretty green handsewn Regency mitts – Because I desperately want to make myself a pair of mitts, and hers are beautiful!
- Genoveva’s 16th century goldhaub (golden cap) - Thousands of pearls, thousands of hours of research, meticulous work, and it is beautiful. And inspired by Cranach paintings. I love everything about it!
- Fabric of Time’s mid-19th century slat bonnet – I like this both because it’s not that traditional pretty that we usually aim for in accessories, and because Kaela has put so much research into developing the perfect slat bonnet pattern. So inspiring!
Challenge #6 – Stripes
- Caitlyn’s 1870s pink & white striped picnic skirt – It’s so very stripey, and one of those projects where you just can’t wait to see what the rest of the outfit will look like! (and all of Caitlyn’s stuff is such a beautiful representation of the spirit of the HSF)
- Mouse Borg’s furry stripey muff - Such a clever, novel interpretation of stripes! And it makes me warm and happy just looking at it.
- Sarah Lizzie’s $2,018 striped Regency dress – Why was it so expensive? Oh, it makes my heart just bleed since I’ve had a similar (albeit much cheaper) experience. And the dress is so beautiful, and I’m so impressed with her soldiering on to finish it, despite everything.
What do you think? What projects inspired you most (you can see them all on the comments for each individual challenge page, through the HSF main page, or through the Facebook group albums).
I’ve been thinking lately about how much our first introduction to something shapes our attitudes towards and perceptions of it. Case in point: the term ‘Pretty Pretty Princesses’ which is the theme for this fortnight’s HSF challenge.
Lauren at Wearing History just posted about her historical costuming likes and dislikes (remember my post from three years ago about my historical costuming likes and dislikes (no? What! You mean you don’t have every.single.one of my posts memorised? What is wrong with you!), which, incidentally was inspired by a WH post), and her #1 dislike is being called a ‘Pretty Pretty Princess’. She describes the historical costuming community as being two camps: Historical Accuracy and Pretty Pretty Princesses. My response to this was: “Wait, what?”
My first introduction to the term ‘Pretty Pretty Princesses’ was through Kendra of Demode posting about the Eugenie Project – a highly research and historically accurate based attempt to recreate Winterhalter’s painting of the Empress Eugenie with her ladies in waiting. It never occurred to me that it was shorthand for costume froth.
I’ve always liked dressing up, but I’ve never been hugely princess obsessed (I may have exaggerated wanting to be a princess at 7 rather a bit in my Pretty Pretty Princesses description for literary impact). Remember the week Princess Di died? For me, that was the week Mother Theresa died. Later I was the annoying snot who insisted on telling my friends with Prince William posters how awful being a princess would be in great detail, illustrated with horrifying examples from my Infamous Queens paper doll collection (dear Mum & Dad who let me have a paper doll of a queen who was notable for chopping off her rivals hands and feet and pickling them, thank you. I think.).
What I do like about princesses is the scope for research in the life of a princess. Let’s face it, history hasn’t been great about documenting women, and the ones who were documented were more often than not royalty. We can usually extrapolate a fair amount about the life of an ordinary woman of any era, but to really connect, it helps to put a face and a personality to an era. The more details you have about one life, the more you can feel you know them as a person.
Princesses also evoke, for me, a bit of pathos: in a big way most historical princesses had the worst hand in life. To the men of their time they were merely pawns, their worth boiled down to their family links and their ability to have children. A common woman had a much better chance of spending her life with someone she liked. Princesses may have had the least choices in some ways, but they also had more opportunity than most women to influence the world, both in personal and incidental ways. Personally, they might be able to found charities, help the poor, possibly even change policies. Incidentally, just their marriage and the new things they brought from their birth country to their marriage might change fashions, customs and history. All of this makes them fascinating subjects for research, and while I am not precisely a historical accuracy fiend, I’m definitely not a ‘just about the looks’ girl. I guess the most accurate description of me would be to say I am a historical understanding fiend, focused on research, and thus, I like princesses.
I use the term ‘Pretty Pretty Princesses’ in a rather tongue in cheek fashion. Someone asked in the HSF group if “the point of this challenge is to go for luxe fabrics and princessy fabrics” and my response was “Not necessarily – the point of all of these challenges is to inspire research, and creativity. I’d be thrilled if you researched one of the poorer princesses, and were inspired by her wardrobe.” And that’s really it. A ‘Pretty Pretty Princess’ isn’t the one in the frilliest frock, or the one who was necessarily ‘pretty’. She’s the one with an interesting story, the one with the pretty personality.
With that said, here is a quick tour of my five favourite princesses (/queen, empress, arch-duchess, or a de-facto queen):
1) Queen Emma of Hawaii
Emma is closest and dearest to me because she’s part of my heritage. Emma grew up in mid-19th century Hawaii, another Hawaiian noblewoman torn between old Hawaii and the new Missionaries. Her divide was literal: Emma was of both Hawaiian and English descent, which became an issue when she married King Liholiho. Emma was beloved as a Queen: devoted to the people, and noted for her charitable work: she founded a hospital (still in existance), and a number of schools and churches.
Sadly Emma lost her young son and Liholiho within a year of each other, and the death of the king also left Hawaii in crisis, as he had not appointed a successor. With no heir, an election was held to choose a new ruler: Emma ran against Kalākaua (he that built ‘Iolani Palace), and while she won the popular vote by a landslide, the Legislative Assembly got to cast the actual vote, and they elected her rival. Kalākaua was great fun, but evidence suggests Emma was the stronger person, and the stronger leader. She had wanted to return power to the native Hawaiians, and limit the influence of the Americans in the islands. I often wonder what would have happened to Hawaii had she been elected. Would she have been wise and strong enough to have kept the islands independent, or would her attempts to return Hawaiian lands and rights to the natives of Hawaii only have precipitated an earlier coup?
Dowager Queen Emma with the christening cup sent to her son by his godmother, Queen Victoria of England
2) Princess Alice (Princess Andrew of Greece)
I won’t write a lot about her because I already have. She had spunk and personality, she overcame enormous obstacles (she was deaf and suffered from mental illnesses) in life, and she was willing to risk her own life to help others. Fun to hang out with + eminently admirable = my kind of woman.
Princess Alice of Battenberg shortly after her marriage to Prince Andrew of Greece, 1906
3) Queen Marie of Romania
While she did things which I don’t condone, I still admire Marie on a number of levels. First, though her marriage was terribly unhappy, she didn’t let this interfere with her feelings for her adopted-country-by-marriage, Romania. She was far more of a Romanian and far more of an advocate for the people of Romania than her Romanian husband. I admire the way she looked at being a princess as a job, and while she didn’t pick her status, or her husband, she was going to do her job, and her job was to represent her country, and do her best for them. Between World War I & II she fostered traditional Romanian arts, during during WWII, like Princess Alice, she risked herself to help others, and proved herself a clever strategist and leader. Finally, at the end of her life, she became a Baha’i, which obviously endears her to me.
Marie and her children Marie (Mignon) and Nicholas in traditional Romanian attire, c. 1908
4) Princess Izabela Dorota Czartoryska
This Polish Princess created one of the most liberal and intellectual courts in 18th century Europe, which is pretty awesome in itself, but she really has my heart for founding a museum. It was a very 18th century royal museum: private and rather silly, but it still helped to foster the idea of preserving culture, and expanding understanding.
Alexander Roslin (1718–1793) Title English- Portrait of Izabela Czartoryska (1746-1835) Date 1774
5) Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony, Daupine of France
My admiration for Maria Josepha began with this story. I can’t imagine how tricky her life must have been: married at 15 to a husband still openly grieving for his first wife, with a mother-in-law predisposed in every way to hate her (the replacement for your beloved daughter-in-law is chosen by your husband’s mistress, and she’s the granddaughter of your worst enemy?), and a court just salivating at the thought of discord and scandal? And yet, through tact, kindness, and wisdom she managed to woo her husband, become friends with her mother -in-law, while staying friends with the mistress-in-law, winning over her father-in-law and resolving a feud between him and her husband. Plus she providing a much-needed, if all-too-slight, example of restraint at a court overrun with decadence, all without making any enemies. Her own daughter-in-law, who she did not live to meet, faced a similarly fraught situation when she married Marie Josepha’s son, but alas, Marie Antoinette lacked her mother-in-law’s talents. Would history had been any different had she had them?
Follower of Michel van Loo, Painting of Marie Leszczyńska, Queen of France and her daughter in law Maria Josepha of Saxony, Dauphine of France, c. 1765