Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gallows, Bretelles, and Braces

Suspender or brace, French or English, early 19th century, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 38.1223a

In order to assist in keeping my dear Kenny Dean's pants aloft, for he is indeed a slim lad, I have set out to make him a pair of braces. Ideally braces authentic to 1800-1810.

Braces seem to have really become a thing after the first quarter of the 19th century. In the 1820s, a manufacturer by the name of Albert Thurston began mass-producing braces in London. Patents were filed by manufacturers as business on this accessory began to pick up. The history of braces past that point is fairly easy to locate, but I am trying to pin down the form that braces took before that decade.

I was unable to find an image of the eminent Albert Thurston,
so here is a picture of Daniel Craig in Thurston suspenders, instead.
Because a little Daniel Craig never ruined anybody's day.

Trawling through online museum collections yields a number of suspenderish items catalogued as, "early 19th century," or the still more vague, "19th century." However, a couple of prints popped up, the most interesting of which is the following, ca. 1790s (found via Ran Away From the Subscriber). The signage in this print advertises, "nete Gallows for Breaches," (gallows are another term for braces). The bright red braces advertised can be seen hanging on a line inside the shop. Interestingly, these are criss-crossed braces, and I haven't been able to find any museum pieces catalogued under this time period that are attached like that.

The British Museum, 1935, 0522.1.204

Having established, if somewhat tenuously, that braces were a solid thing in the 1790s, I cast about for some extant pieces.

The following pairs, located at the MFA, utilize the spring-elastic system seen on garters of around the same period. I am puzzled, however, as to how the braces were kept on at the other end - there is no buttonhole or clip! Is something hidden under there? Was one end tacked down and the other left to be buttoned on or off?

Brace, French, 1800-1830, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 43.2006a
Braces, French, 1790-1820, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 41.181a

My favourite museum, the MET, had very few results that approached my preferred time frame. However, this interesting bit of something popped up, which appears to have a flap covering something at one end (and no buttonhole at either end, so maybe the dark red under-flap contains a buttonhole or buckle of some kind): 

Suspenders, European, mid-18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.44.8.50a, b

And finally, one more 1791 print that indicates the braces/gallows buttoned at the front. This is a satirical print, though, and shows the braces crossed at the front (which seems uncomfortable and impractical), so it must be taken with a grain of salt. But there are definitely braces involved at this point in time! 

The British Museum, 1878, 1014.8
The above examples at least give me a point at which to start. I am encouraged that at least one of the above examples uses pre-embroidered ribbon (to all appearances). Not sure if I am up to embroidering all those tiny scenes that seemed so popular on other pairs of braces at the time period.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Buttonholes and more buttonholes

This week I pulled Kenny's breeches out of the closet and have been busily stitching up buttonholes, so that he can actually put them on and take them off without a needle and thread to keep them up.

It takes me approximately one episode of Upstairs Downstairs for each buttonhole. I ran out of episodes on the last one at the waist (still have the leg-buttons to do.) My stitches are improving, but it's a slow business.

Sneak peek! We'll do a photoshoot later, after I have figured out how to handle the legs.


Friday, March 4, 2016

HSM 2016 - Regency Red Pleated Petticoat

Last night, I finally competed (a bit belatedly) my first attempt at a challenge for HSM 2016 - February's Tucks and Pleating challenge!

A while ago I purchased some red linen, sure that I could find some historical costuming use for it. When I completed my short gown last year, I realized that I need a petticoat to go under it. When I saw Katherine's lovely petticoat and short gown, the idea for this red pleated petti was born!

My inspiration is a bit sketch - I pulled from a few different sources and tried to common-sense the what I couldn't confirm. I HOPE that this is a reasonably authentic way to put together a high-waisted petticoat for 1790-1800, but I'll need to do more digging to confirm. Some of my sources for inspiration were:



This was a first for me in the hand-sewing department. It is 100% hand-sewn (usually I cheat and stitch the longer invisible seams with a machine). While this approach meant it took longer than I had expected, it was surprisingly therapeutic. And it was satisfying to see my stitches get straighter and more even the farther along I got. Practice definitely does make perfect!

Because I had very limited yardage of this fabric, I had to do a bit of piecing to get two sizable rectangles for the skirt. You can slightly see the piecing in the photo below of the skirt back.


I made the skirt back wider than the skirt front, to get some extra fullness out of the back. All the seams are flat-felled, so there are zero raw edges visible. That took... pretty much forever. At the side seams, I finished each edge separately to about 9" from the top edge, to form a pocket slit (added to the project list: pockets!) 

Separately finished side seams, to about 9"
below top edge of the skirt panels.

Because my fabric was so limited, I had just enough to reach from a high waist to the ground, so I added a deep hem facing to finish the edge. I haven't seen this on turn of the century petticoats (mostly because I haven't seen many turn of the century petticoats), but they are evident on petticoats pre-1790, so I am assuming this is a reasonably authentic solution.  

Skirt inside-out - this photo really clearly shows the
piecing on the skirt!

The waistband construction was simple - I pleated the skirt sections into separate front and back waistband pieces, then folded over the waistband and whipped it down on the inside. The pleating was an adventure... I eyeballed and stitched half of the back waistband in front of a documentary night before last. The next morning I realized my pleating was atrocious! 

Que horrer! 
I made sure to tidily pin the pleats on the other side...
And couldn't resist ripping out the first side and re-pleating it!
After the waistband was on, it was easy as peas to add the tape ties and linen straps. I put it on my dummy (now named Ruth, in honor of the sad display dummy that lingered around the office at work until she one day mysteriously disappeared) with Kenny's linen shirt, and betook myself to the balcony. 

Front, untied. The straps are the only thing holding it up.
Back, untied. I placed the back straps much closer together to
accommodate the narrow backs on dresses/bodices of the time.

The ties and how they are worn replicate a standard late 18th c. petticoat - ties on the back are pulled forward and tied at the front, and the ties on the front are wrapped all the way around the body and also tied in the front. Both knots are tucked under the waistband for maximum invisibility. 
Back ties pulled up and tied in front.
Front ties wrapped around the back, crossing
over each other to return to the front again.
The final effect is nice and tidy! I especially love the pocket slits - I extended the front waisband a little longer on each side so that the top edge of the slits overlap each other, preventing gapping. 
Front, tied.
Back, tied.
Pocket slits! They stay closed when hanging.

Finally, just because I love seeing the guts of costumes, and just in case you might too; the inside-out petticoat. As you can see in the back view, I made the straps a little over-long. Just in case a) I get bigger, or b) I want to lend this out to somebody of different dimensions than myself. 
Front (interior), tied.
Back (interior) tied.
Front top - you can see the straps are just stitched on with
a single line of stitching - easy to take out and move around!
Back top - here you see the longer straps, for adjustability.

And now, the HSM deets: 

The Challenge: #2, Tucks & Pleats
Material: Linen for the body and straps, cotton twill tape for the ties. 
Pattern: Cobbled together based on multiple inspiration. 
Year: 1790-1800
Notions: Gutermann cotton and poly threads. 
How historically accurate is it? I would like to estimate around 80%. The majority of materials are technically appropriate for the time, although the quality of the fabric is maybe a bit too slubby and rough. The construction makes sense for the time, but is a bit of a question mark.
Hours to complete: maybe 30? Maybe a bit less. 
First worn: Haven't worn it yet! 
Total cost: Most of the materials were stash, from a while ago... I would estimate, all told, probably under $20.



Sunday, August 9, 2015

Napoleanic Batman + chemisette ruffles that defy gravity.

Kenny's work has an annual, themed Christmas party each year, and this year he is on the party planning committee. One of the themes they are tossing around is Masquerade... really hoping they decide to go with this one! 

Our favourite masked icon, by a mile, is Batman. Kenny came home with the idea to translate Batman into my favourite era - late 18th/early 19th century! 

I started here...




And then had to translate into a female Batman (because a girl can be Batman too, right?) 



This may or may not become a reality, depending on whether the masquerade happens this upcoming January. Either way, I want to figure out how to execute that chemisette ruffle - I have seen standing ruffles/collars like this in paintings of the era, but have not been able to catch a glimpse of how they stayed up! 

Instinctively I assume an supportasse or underpropper of some kind would have to be used, just to support the tall ruffles at the back. This look reminds me of the wisks and rebatos of the Elizabethan era (the Very Merry Seamstress explains more about those HERE.) Below is a beautiful example of an Elizabethan style supportasse (if you know the origin of this one, do advise and I will credit! I found this image secondhand via the linked blog, but that is not the original source.) 


Suportasse, developed by ??, found via The Sewing Corner

The easiest way to make this shape stay up would be to not ruffle it - a flat shape can be formed to stand on its own, more or less (if the fabric is stiffened enough). This is illustrated in the painting below (there is a shadow around the edge, just inside the outer frill, that indicates to me that it may also be wired). 


Portret van Nieskia Reiniera Wentholt (1789-1862), c. 1812,
by Willem Bartel van der Kooi

I am almost certain that the below example is wired along the edge (that corner on the left side is rippling exactly the way a wired corner would). This is most feasible in a flat collar - however, the delicacy of mushroom-pleated ruffles might be ruined by a wire along the very edge. 


Marcia Burnes Van Ness, c. 1809-1814, by Gilbert Stuart.
The below example seems to completely defy gravity - there is no evidence of wire or support that I can see, and yet the delicate (and thin) frill floats airily about the wearers chin. This has me baffled. A case of artistic license? 


"Portrait of Mrs. Spencer Perceval"
by Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Lebrun, 1804
Rosalba Peale's ruff (below) also seems incredibly upstanding for the delicacy of the fabric represented - although hers at least has the bulk of a few layers to assist it. 


Rembrandt Peale - Portrait of Rosalba Peale [c.1820]
Clearly this concept requires a bit more investigation. I plan to check out more of these in the next few posts, as I try to figure out the engineering behind these feats of delicate architecture! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Green Silk Waistcoat - Completed!

This past weekend, I pulled out a UFO and completed it! Kenny's green silk waistcoat (which I had started a year ago and whip-stitched him into for the Louisville Jane Austen Festival) has been waiting for the following elements for completion:
- buttonholes (finished those a couple months ago, in the last post!)
- buttons (covered those some time ago, but had to wait for the buttonholes to apply.)
- back gore (we realized when I stitched this onto him for the festival, that I had left zero wiggle room in the girth.)

Last weekend, I really needed to complete something creative to help myself out of a low patch, and this guy was the handiest (and the easiest/most instantly-gratifying) project at hand.


First, I sliced straight up the back, opening a wedge of space for a skinny gore to be inserted. 


Then, I turned under the edges of the vest back, sandwiched the gore (the hem of which I pre-finished) in-between, and then prickstitched the edges together over the gore. I regretted this stitch method as soon as I started working down the second side of the gore, as it got much harder to see my needle on the right side of the fabric for each tiny stitch. 


The exterior appears to be topstitched, the interior appears to be whip-stitched. Construction stitches; the most mundane but most important stitches on a garment. 


Finally, I stitched on my buttons et voila! This baby is finally complete, and well-fitting. (Someday my hand-stitch tension will be perfect and my costumes will be entirely wrinkle-free. Hopefully.) 

The pattern I used for this was by Kannik's Korner, Men's Waistcoats, c. 1790-1815. The pattern had some great historical documentation, and a lovely vocabulary of stitches (always helpful to one new to historical handsewing.) The only part I was uncertain about was the way the internal front edge interfacing/interlining was supposed to whip onto the body fabric - I don't think I could have achieved that invisibly in this fabric. So does one skip that on thin silk waistcoats? Or does one just really get better at their invisible stitching? 

Glad this is finished! Next to complete: the linen tailcoat. 


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Buttons and Buttonholes

I have FINALLY gotten around to covering some buttons for Kenny's breeches and waistcoat! It's taken me long enough. After stitching a few buttonholes I have concluded that I need a lot more practice on buttonholes. Good thing I have many more to stitch before his outfit is concluded! Hopefully by the time I get to the coat, they'll be... presentable. Perhaps not perfect but hopefully getting there.

These are the items I used:

Listed from left to right:
1. Measuring tape, for measuring out the space between all the buttonholes. I like my handy retractable one from Jo-Ann's.
2. Sharp "betweens" needles! I like this type needles because they are short and therefore easier for making little stitches, quickly. This kind of needle is often used by quilters for that reason. Mine are made by S. Thomson & Sons, size 10 (the smallest, sharpest size), available here.
3. #60 basting thread. I waffled about purchasing this (because can't one just use normal thread to baste, and just stitch lightly?) but I really love it! It seems to be lightly waxed or something, because it is springy and doesn't twist up on itself. It also is fine enough to keep from leaving any marks on my silk taffeta.
4. Hammer, for pounding the buttonhole chisel. Probably could get away with a rubber mallet for this, but I don't have one.
5. Buttonhole cutter and block. Super-sharp, much nicer than scissors for cutting evenly through all layers of fabric.
6. Silk buttonhole twist. I used Superior Thread's #16 buttonhole silk. This is so much nicer than cotton embroidery twist found at hobby stores. It slides through the fabric like butter!
7. Needle-threader (there is no way I can get the buttonhole twist through that tiny, sharp needle's eye without a little help!)
8. Tailor's thimble. I am NOT a thimble-wearing seamstress, which is probably bad, but I determined to try stitching with one for this project. I used an open-ended tailor's thimble (which is held so that you push the needle through with the side of your finger/thimble), and I really liked it. Still feels a little awkward, but I'm getting the hang of it the more I use it. (NOTE: I bought mine from WAWAK, they have a variety here, and I did NOT realize that I would be getting a dozen of them for $2.29! That is what happened to me. Maybe they wear out? Maybe they were mis-packed? Just a head's-up.)
10. Scissors and pliers, for pulling stubborn needles through the fabric and clipping threads.


Stitching the Buttonhole:
I started out by basting (with a ginormous pad-stitch?) around the spaces where the buttonhole would go. The below picture shows that handy-dandy basting thread in action, as well as the tailor's thimble doing what thimbles do.
The index finger starts things off by guiding the needle into the fabric,
and then the middle finger with the thimble comes up behind
and does all the heavy lifting (pushing the needle through).

Next, I punched a slit almost the length of the buttonhole into my fabric. (I broke the little wooden chisel block in the process. Sad. Will use a scrap of 2x4 next time.)

Then I whipped the edges of the new slit with basting thread. Just to keep things tidy and all in place when stitching with the silk twist.

I ran two long stitches (with my buttonhole twist) along each side of the buttonhole. I'll later stitch over these and they will help reinforce the overall buttonhole. Notice that the long stitches extend a little ways past my cut-out. Back in the day (vaguely late 18th century), buttonholes were often decorative, and also often excessively long. Even when a buttonhole was functional, the stitching would often extend way past the actual slit in the fabric, to create the visual impression of a long buttonhole even if the actual hole was pretty small. I am not quite sure when this practice stopped - I think that by the turn of the century, buttonholes were shrinking back to a respectably practical size, but I don't have a lot of research to prove when that happened. (Also note, I just used my silk twist for these base stitches. Probably I should have used something weightier, like buttonhole gimp, but I guess I'll try that next time!)

Starting where I want the non-functional end of my buttonhole to be, I started stitching along one side of my buttonhole, wrapping the thread around my needle for each stitch (as per this Burnley & Trowbridge tutorial on 18th century buttonholes).

Once my stitches reached the slit in the fabric, I started going straight through the slit and coming up on the outside edge of the buttonhole, still wrapping the thread around the needle. My fabric has narrow, buttonhole-width stripes, which made it a perfect guide!

At the end of the buttonhole, I made two long stitches across the width of the buttonhole. These are to support my bar tack. The bar tack is stitched just like the first end of the buttonhole was - little stitches in and out of the fabric, wrapping the thread around the needle as I go.

Aaand, back we go. All the way to the end where I started.

One more bar tack... (I am miserable at bar tacks. Need a lot of practice!)

And the buttonhole is finished!


I clearly need to work on my tension - silk taffeta is not super forgiving when it comes to poor tension/fabric slippage. But, glad to be almost done with this piece. Just have to add the covered buttons and slip an extra wedge of fabric in the back (it is a bit snug around the waist), and it will be complete!



Useful resources:
- Burnley & Trowbridge tutorial (on facebook)
- YouTube video of Mr. Stuart Lille of Ft. Ticonderoga stitching 18th century buttonholes (updated here)
- Overview of 18th century buttonhole-making, by Mara Riley (somehow, my buttonholes look nothing like hers. Hmm.)

And a couple of fun links about thimbles and their uses:
- The Purl Bee looks at lots of different kinds of thimbles
- The English Cut - Savile Row blog offers a couple tips on how to use a tailor's thimble

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Interior of a Kitchen, 1815

Just popping back in briefly to share this lovely image I ran across this afternoon. It is Interior of a Kitchen, by Martin Drolling, painted in 1815.

Scenes of domestic life in history are so interesting to me. It is a little window into real life, which is not really accessible in formal portraits of individuals.

Interior of a Kitchen, 1815, Martin Drolling

Interior of a Kitchen, 1815, Martin Drolling