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Rate the Dress: Cherry Bad or Cherry Good?

Last week, rather than having a standard Rate the Dress, I did my annual Rate the Oscars post.  So we have to go back a fortnight to Henrietta Cavendish Holles, Countess of Oxford, and her blue-striped riding habit.  While some of you really loved it, and most of you agreed that she was wearing it with confidence, the universal opinion was that it just wasn’t working, and the riding habit came in at 6.5 out of 10 – which is right where most of the votes were clustered.

For this week’s Rate the Dress I’ve picked one based on my recent obsession with 1890s-1910s gored skirts, thanks to the Scroop Fantail skirt.  You could get a very similar shape to the dress below from the Fantail by adding a second side gore, and gathering the side and back gores, instead of pleating.  And adding lots, and LOTS of petticoats! (yes, I’ve been looking at museum catalogues for four months while I worked on the Fantail, thinking ‘yes, if you just did x and x very simple adaptations, you could make it from the Fantail!)

I have mixed initial feelings about this dress whenever I look at it, because I usually hate cherry patterned things because they are such a cliché in vintage fashion.  However, after the initial reaction, I try to do what I always do with period fashions, and envision it within the context of its time: before anything with cherries was an instant cheap, lazy way to make something ‘vintage’.

The fabric of this dress is warp-patterned silk, and would have been anything but cheap and clichéd in its time.  It’s a slightly unrealistic depiction of cherries, showing both the fruit and flower at the same time, but each is depicted with an attention to detail worthy of a botanical print.

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Met 2009.300.1099a, b

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Met 2009.300.1099a, b

(can we all pause for a moment of utter happiness while we note that the above photo gives a rare glimpse of how the skirt opens)

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1099a, b

Though the skirt is a classic, timeless style, the bodice of the dress is very much of its time, transitioning towards the soft frills of the Edwardian styles, and already displaying a pronounced pigeon breast.  Aptly for a ball gown, the dress is as extravagant from the back view as from the front, as that is what would be on display to the room as the wearer was held for a waltz.

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1099a, b

What do you think?  Is it three cheers for cherries, or all a bit over-ripe? (I should really love fruit-themed historical things.  The puns are all so deliciously (har har) bad).

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

Combination-a-thon, or how I came to have more wearable combinations than anyone else alive in 2017…

When I was planning my wardrobe for the Fortnight in 1916 I knew I needed lots of combinations to wear under corsets: enough to have a reasonable week’s wearing before I did laundry.

I was using Wearing History’s fantastic 1917 combination pattern.  Mid-1910s combinations are serious fabric hogs,  so I rummaged around in my stack of vintage sheets, and unearthed half-a-dozen of the thinnest and most seamed.

On my first round of cutting I cut out three, carefully folded them all in one parcel, and set them aside for sewing.

(who can guess where this is going?)

The next night I cut out another 4, which would give me 8 in total (I already had a completed one): near the upper end of what my research suggested was a normal amount of first-layer undergarments for a middle class woman to have in any single season.

A few days later I sat down to sew all the combinations.

My first three?  Nowhere to be found!  Determined searching and re-organising failed to unearth them, so I persevered with the four I had, and decided I’d have to settle for having only 5 pairs of combinations in total for the Fortnight.

Guess when I found the first three combinations I’d cut out?

The day after the Fortnight ended.  (of course)

In a perfectly logical place, right next to my sewing table, in a bag I had assumed was something else, so hadn’t looked in!  (of course)

I had no need of the combinations after the Fortnight (because what reasonable historical costumer, however enthusiastic, really needs 8 late-1910s combinations!), so they have languished in my UFO pile since then.

The UFO pile has been getting a little out of hand though, and I’m trying to reduce it to a reasonable level, so I decided to tackle these as a very-slightly-late HSM Challenge #2: Re-make, Re-use, Re-fashion.  They are re-made from sheets (which had been seamed, turned, and patched in their turn, for double re-use!), so fit the challenge perfectly.  I did start them during the challenge month, but I knew I wouldn’t manage to get them done in February with everything I had on.  Still, less than a week late isn’t too bad!

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

(shown here with most of my other pairs hanging on the line behind them).

Because I have so many combinations already, I decided to turn two of the three into petti-slips, to make them a little more versatile.

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

One of the petti-slips has the standard curved neckline, the other has thin straps:

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

There is lots of evidence of the re-use.  The strapped one has a centre-front seam, plus piecing from the old sheet at the side:

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

The petti-slip ended up even more into the spirit of re-use and making do when I got to the end of sewing the lace I’d chosen around the hem, and realised I was 2cm short!  I pieced the gap with a little scrap of leftover beading lace.

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

All three combinations are pretty quick-sewn, rough and ready examples, and I didn’t worry too much about historical accuracy.  The sheeting was just too worn to make it worth getting fussy over hand-worked buttonholes etc.

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

I even got pragmatic enough to trim them with the few bits of poly-cotton beading lace and broderie anglaise trim I have in my lace stash, and the ribbons are all poly satin.

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

Sooooo…now I’ve got more wearable reproduction late 1910s combinations than probably any other private person alive in 2017!

What on earth am I going to do with them?

Ideas proposed by my friends include:

  • Costume a 1910s musical with an ensemble of combination-clad chorus girls (no high-kicks please!)
  • Slice open the front, add ties, turn them wrong-way round and massively improve the comfort and cover-ability of hospital gowns.
  • Assist with the undergarments for the inevitable A Farewell to Zombie Arms (whoever designed the little ruffled knickers in P&P&Z is going to love these: even skimpier, AND historically accurate).
  • Convince a gullible celebrity fashionista that these are the logical follow-up trend to rompers, AND are eco-friendly, because they are recycled, and then sell them all for squillions (I’ll have to get a commercial license from Wearing History first though 😉  ) (also, if people complain that ‘leggings aren’t pants’, I can’t wait to see the ‘combinations aren’t rompers’ argument!)
  • Wear them as shirts, and pretend that the flap that buttons under you is some high-fashion, artsy, intellectual statement
  • Find some hairless dogs/sheep/goats/miniature ponies that need sun protection or warmth, and provide the most adorable cover ups.

What do you think?  Any more suggestions for the list?

1917 combinations and petti-slips thedreamstress.com

And, since these are my HSM ’17 Challenge #2 entry, the proper information:

What the items are: a 1917 combination undergarments, round-necked petti-slip, and thin-strapped petti-slip, respectively.

The Challenge: #2 Re-make, Re-do, Re-fashion

Fabric/Materials: recycled vintage sheets, given to me by a friend.

Pattern: Wearing History’s fantastic 1917 combination pattern

Year: 1916-21 (the pattern dates to 1917, but I’ve found nearly identical patterns advertised in NZ newspapers in Feb 1916)

Notions: cotton thread, poly-cotton beading lace and lace trim, poly-satin ribbon, buttons.

How historically accurate is it?  Accurate pattern, accurate construction techniques, there are mentions of making undergarments from old sheets during the 1910s, so that’s accurate, but less than accurate lace and ribbons.  80%.

Hours to complete: Around 6

First worn: Not yet

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

A little bit of nostalgia: paper dolls

I had friends over for a ‘sewing’ afternoon (the closest we got to sewing was them trying on upcoming Scroop toiles to check the fit) a few days ago, and we ended up chatting about our childhood toys.

I still have example of one of my favourite types of childhood toys, so I had a rummage in the boxes of semi-stored things, and unearthed my paper doll collection:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com01

I collected paper dolls from the time I was 8 or 9, when my parents let us choose any two things we wanted from the Dover catalogue for some special event (oh bliss!), all the way until university.

These were the first two that I chose.  My interest in historical fashions was already clearly established!

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

(I have my doubts about women wearing bustles under their bathing costumes in the 1880s though!)

From then on, I got at least one paper doll book almost every birthday, Christmas or Ayyam-i-ha for years.  They were mostly the Dover Tom Tierney paper dolls, but there were a few other brands and artists that I loved as well.

My parents believed in giving gifts that encouraged creativity and learning, so we got lots of art supplies and sewing supplies (good quality stuff too – I still have both the watercolour pencils and the stork scissors I was given at 12), interesting books, and things you did things with.

Luckily for me, the paper dolls qualified, especially if they were about historical figures.  I suspect 11 year old me would have gone for more pretty Victorian fashion paper dolls under her own steam, but now-me is prefers the Notable American Women, and Famous American Women that I was likely to get instead.

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

And I certainly learned a lot from them, they featured not only the women you’d expect, like Amelia Earhart, but ones you were less likely to be introduced to as a pre-teen in the Hawaii public school system, like Edna St Vincent Milay, and Clare Booth Luce.

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

I also learned not to depend on any historical source that wasn’t a primary source.  Most of Tom Tierney’s research was pretty good, but pre-teen me knew immediately that his outfit for Queen Lili’u’okalani is a historical and cultural travesty (as is his terrible ‘hula’ pose of her hands), so everything else had to be taken with a grain of salt.

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

And I learned lots of fashion history, and fashion terminology.  This doll was undoubtedly my first introduction to a burnous:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

And the Colonial Fashions dolls may have sparked my love of 16th and very early 17th century fashions:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

(though it is funny how not-quite-right historically they look with my current eyes).

While not as pretty, my absolute favourite paper dolls for learning history were the colouring-book paper dolls from Bellerophon Books:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

Especially the Infamous Women paper dolls.

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

To the horrified delight of my classmates, and just plain horror of my teacher, I picked Empress Wu and Roxelana when we had to present on historical figures in a middle-school class, and proceeded to recount their mis-deeds with great relish.  To the credit of that teacher, she did not send me to the principal’s office for the presentation  (I got scolded a lot for transgressions that can all be described as ‘knowing stuff my teachers didn’t think I ought to’).

I was absolutely delighted to find, in researching this article, that you can still buy Infamous Women, if you too would like to expose your 13 year old to all the women whom history has seen fit to repudiate, deserved or not.

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com  It’s easy to tell which paper dolls I got as a child and pre-teen, and which I collected later.

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

My teenage acquisitions are pristine and uncut:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

The early ones are cut out, bent, battered, and played with:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

I made stories for the early dolls, rearranged them into different ‘families’, drew them new outfits for specific adventures, and generally just loved them.  They aren’t nearly as pretty as my more recent acquisitions, but I remember them so much more.  I could still draw almost every one of the dresses from my first six or so books to this day.

Preservationist me rather wants to see if I can find new copies of some of the most battered books though!

I hadn’t bought any paper dolls since moving to New Zealand 11 years ago, as they are too hard to find here, and too expensive to import, but just a few weeks ago I happened upon this beauty at an op-shop:

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

Paper doll collection, thedreamstress.com

I guess the bug isn’t entirely dead!

I do hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane!  Did anyone else have paper dolls, particularly the Tom Tierney ones?