Back in October when I did the talk on Steampunk fashions for Aethercon I really wanted to make something to illustrate the introduction of aniline dyes in the late 1850s.
It’s one of the things that has always confused me about Steampunk fashion. Why do you see so few chemical brights in Steampunk attire, when the discovery of aniline dyes was THE big textile innovation of the Victorian era?
The problem with talking about aniline dyes is well…me. Or, more precisely, my stash.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but it tends to be on the muted/colours you can achieve with natural dyes side. The only aniline-accurate colour that I have in any quantity is black, which isn’t very exciting.
So I had a massive search through my ENTIRE stash (this is quite an undertaking), and found the single other piece of fabric in an aniline hue that I own – a 3/4 length kimono jacket in self-striped mauvine-ish satin.
Since I only had a 3/4 length jacket to work with, I was really limited in what I could make. In a nice way though, it gave me a good excuse to not stress and make something I always need more of: drawers.
I was inspired by later 1890s drawers. It’s a nice period in drawers: the shape is much more modern, there are some examples of silk drawers and coloured drawers from this period, and aniline purple had a slight resurgence.
The drawers were a breeze to sew up. I carefully matched the alternating diagonal stripes all along the side seams, and even got a match over the CF seam. I went to all this effort even though the seams in the original kimono don’t even remotely try to match the stripes, and I had to use some the original seams in my drawers.
My side-seams are sewn selvedge to selvedge, and my rise seams are flat felled, for maximum strength in vintage satin.
I trimmed the drawers with some gorgeous lace I inherited from Nana. It’s nylon, and not remotely historically accurate, but the drawers weren’t ever going to be more than an exercise in historical plausibility, and the lace is so pretty!
Madame O wore the drawers with the 1890s corded corset (now hers) for my talk at Aethercon, and looked lovely.
Afterwards, the drawers served double-costume duty. Historical they may be, but they made perfect Halloween witches britches for a little ‘lounge around and eat Halloween candy while reading my favourite witchy novel’ photoshoot. It was the closest I got to dressing up for Halloween.
It’s really hard to make my house look gloomy and witchy. I did manage to get my familiar to pose with me with the help of my wand though. She’ll do anything for that wand!
So what kind of witch would wear these britches? What to wear under your dresses is obviously an important question if you are a witch. After all, you need to be able to maintain your dignity and modesty as the wind whips around your broomstick as you fly off to your coven meeting.
Not Granny Weatherwax – she’d recommend thick woolen numbers with padded bottoms (broom handles don’t provide a lot of perching surface) and the ability to repel any attempt at her ankle, much less anything higher up. Nanny Ogg probably went without and took every effort NOT to maintain her dignity and modest in her youth. These would be the type of britches that Magrat longed for. Or perhaps they would be more Perdita’s style, though I’m sure Agnes never agreed!
And, since it is Thursday, how about a bit of bonus terminology?
Witches britches are actually a thing. They were a peculiar Antipodean fad of the 1960s — tight mid-thigh knit knickers with lace trimmed hems (think bike shorts with rows of ruffles or lace at the bottom) meant to be worn under miniskirts and seen when you bent over. They were apparently part of the historical revivalism in fashion at the time, and were inspired by turn-of-the-century drawers.
You can see a picture and read a bit more about them (the ‘school approved colours’ part is hilarious) here.