Sunday, October 24, 2010

Women Transported Exhibition

This post first appeared at Lady Janes Wardrobe

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted here, but I haven't been entirely idle. You can see what I've been doing in the stitching world here

Earlier in the year I was fortunate to work with a great group of volunteers who were reproducing some convict women's clothing for an exhibition which ran from August to November 10th at the Parramatta Heritage and Information Centre. Called "Women Transported", it was the first time a lot of extant artifacts and photos had been exhibited in the one gallery. The curator Gay wanted to show that the convict women transported to Australia were not all hardened criminals, in fact there was a policy eventually of convicting young healthy women of petty crime to send them to New South Wales to populate the country.

We decided to offer 3 different outfits for display: a 3rd class Tasmanian convict, a 3rd class Parramatta convict and 1st class Parramatta Sunday best dress. I was charged with researching the actual designs, making patterns and sourcing the fabrics required. There were 5 volunteer sewers who hand stitched every item. We had an 1844 satirical cartoon called "Beautifully Linked" by Winstanley which showed a version of a female convict outfit, and the word descriptions of government issued clothing but information about Australian convict dress is very scant.

I referred back to English working class clothing of the early 1800's as seen in drawings, including the Cries of London series which although a bit earlier wouldn't have changed very much. The project was very challenging, but I think the resulting costumes were well received. They have certainly started a dialogue about publishing a book on working class clothing in Australia.

The Tasmanian convict showed a drab jacket with a longer sleeve and a dark checked neckerchief. You can see it in the foreground of the picture above.

The 3rd class Parramatta outfit was the most complete.

It featured a shift, petticoat, over petticoat (skirt) jacket, neckerchief and cotton cap, as well as an apron of dressed sheepskin worn for rock breaking duty.
The apron was the biggest hurdle, because no-one in Australia or New Zealand could supply dressed sheep skin. Can you imagine that? We had to get a skin from the USA!

The first class Parramatta Sunday best outfit consisted of a red calico jacket, white cap and straw bonnet which I hand sewed from 22 metres of wheat straw braid, as inspired by an extant 1830's bonnet in our Powerhouse Museum here in Sydney.

These photos were taken yesterday while the exhibition was being taken down. I lost all my photos taken in August while learning to use a new camera! Also, after seeing the red jacket in these photos, I altered the fitting of it last night before it was packed to travel to the next Gallery at Tamworth in February. It now closes much more neatly and fits the very small mannequin better. Did I hear someone say "damned perfectionist" ?

ETA: This exhibition was very well received right around the state and indeed interstate as well. We won 2 prestigious awards for the total exhibition, and after the tour is completed the convict womens' repro clothing will probably be on permanent display at Parramatta Heritage and Information Centre

Planning to make convict womens' clothing

This post was moved from Lady Janes Wardrobe

As part of a group sewing for a forthcoming exhibition of Australian convict women I've been researching and helping to reproduce some clothing which may have been worn by women transported to the Australian colony. Our period is approx 1820's to 1840's and is based on a political cartoon drawn at the time, as well as contemporary word descriptions of what women were issued with. No clothing has survived so our efforts are "educated speculation". I've been trying to base the designs on the working dress of Britain at the time, and have come up with a shortgown, petticoat and neckhandkerchief combination which I hope will pass muster. I toiled them last week, and the first photo shows the calico pieces on a dress model. The most difficult part is the fabric choice - we only have vague word descriptions, and unfortunately some terms are no longer valid. For example calico refers to a cotton cloth which came from Calcutta in India, which were dyed then block or roller printed with designs. There are some examples of the fabrics to be seen online in albums on quilting sites, but you can't be sure they were dress fabrics and not furnishings. Then there is "stuff", which is cotton, linen or wool yardage ! Another difficult one is "blue gurrah" which was an Indian coarse cotton cloth, used for petticoats and working class garments. I have purchased some Indian cotton furnishing weight fabric in a blue, and discharge dyed it with bleach to see the result (see photo 2)

The third photo is the result of today's playing with bleach and dye. I bought some 100% cotton washer canvas to make the 3rd class Tasmanian convict clothing, but was unhappy with the colour range available. I bought a milk chocolatey brown, with the plan to discharge dye it after my success with the blue. Well, the first attempt went to a pale terracotta colour, not terribly "drab" which is the desired colour. Now just what drab is can only be a guess, but I don't think it was a pretty pinkish terracotta. A quick call to friend Jenny B. who has a little more experience with colour theory than me and her suggestion was to try a green dye to counteract the red.
So back into the washing machine went 5 metres of 150cm wide fabric with 1/2 cup pale green Gilseal powdered dye dissolved in hot water and a 15 minute hot wash. Voila, a distressed looking drab brown, which when dried was not too bad at all.Photo 3 shows a strip of the pink terracotta, and a strip of the fabric dyed in a concentrated green bath and the finished drab colour yardage.

I'm hoping to visit the Powerhouse Museum on Thursday to eyeball some other clothing from the same period to "get my eye in" for the colours, before I do anything further to the fabric.

ETA: During our museum visit we realised the period was not well represented by any extant clothing, so chose to go with the fabric as I dyed it.

1887 purple bustle dress photos on Mothers' Day

This post was moved from Lady Janes Wardrobe

I needed a photo of my 1887 purple and black bustle dress to accompany a newspaper article about costuming for the ACG. Unfortunately the photographer scheduled a shoot for Mothers' Day in the city, and as I was invited to lunch at my son's place on the other side of town, I was asked to email some photos instead. Quandry - costume is size 10 - 12, I am definately NOT. Solution - my youngest daughter was persuaded to model for me. She is size 8 - 10 so didn't quite fill it out, and she's standing on a little box in the photos, but I think she looks the part. The costume is a nice contrast to the green of the garden so I hope these photos are useable for the article. Thanks Bron, you made my Mothers' Day.

1830's dress analysed

This post was moved from Lady Janes Wardrobe

The costume in the previous post was just picked up by the director of an historic house museum and is to be worn for an Open Day tommorrow. I insisted that she try it on, she had previously tried on a sample of the dress but I had changed the sleeve. The dress is a standard 10 - 12 size (32 - 34" bust) and I didn't think there would be a problem, but it is good business practise etc. The young lady in question is a fitness enthusiast and we had a problem with the sleeve going over her bicep, which was quite muscular. I let it out as much as I could, but I will need to recover it after tomorrow to add a small gusset under the arm through to the elbow. Lesson to all, young ladies who exercise might have larger than average fashion size biceps, shoulders, and across back measurements. Always check. I didn't and now I have to alter the dress at my expense. But she did love the dress, and the little cap, and the matching reticule I made. She won't be able to wear the chemisette tomorrow as the dress is VERY firm, which is very historically correct but not so comfortable for a modern body. I'm hoping she'll send some posed pictures of her in the outfit on the day.

ETA: The costume was worn on the day and much admired. Since that day, the museum curator has moved on, and no-one else has tried to wear the dress since. There was a misunderstanding about the ownership of the outift apparently and now it hangs in a wardrobe in a gallery until needed again. I'd like to see it on a manequin or dress form on display, similar to the one at Hambledon perhaps?

An 1830's dress for Collingwood house

This post was moved from Lady Janes Wardrobe

See information in next post

Fichu patterns for you

This post was moved from Lady Janes Wardrobe

On the Australian Costumers' Guild forum there was a question about these so I thought I'd share the patterns I made and have used successfully several times. Mine were made in 100% cotton muslin but I'm sure they could be made in silk chiffon or something equally sumptuous for upper class ladies. Just be sure the fabric has a nice drapeable quality and your fichu should look great.
Edited to add: The measurements down the side of the larger fichu read 13cm and 64cm, and total of 77cm, sorry for the poor quality scan, and the 122cm is measured at right angles across at the 13cm mark. Please send questions if any thing else is not clear.

ETA: The large pattern was used for the fichu seen on the mannequin Emmeline at Hambledon Cottage, see post below

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A new gown for Emmeline

Emmeline Macarthur, daughter of Australian wool pioneer John, lived for several years at Hambledon Cottage on the Elizabeth Farm estate at Rose Hill NSW. This mannequin was found derelict in a junk shop and renovated to use to display clothing at the cottage many years ago. This week we changed the display and I installed one of my repro dresses made about 5 years ago and a new large fichu and new day cap.

The patterns of the elements of the dress were found in "Period Costume for Stage and Screen" by Jean Hunnisett 1800 - 1900. I chose the Imbecile sleeves, so called because they are ridiculously large. I made cotton sleeve plumpers which tie into the dropped sleeve openings and are stuffed with toy filling. The neckline of the dress sits on the point of the shoulder and has a thin draw cord through the neck binding to allow it to be drawn up to the right size. The main bodice seams are self fabric piped and the fastenings at the back are hooks and eyes. The dress fabric is a printed cotton with bunches of berries which read as large shaggy dots at a distance.

The day cap pattern came straight from the contemporary source "The Workwoman's Guide" by A Lady published in 1838. I used bleached calico for the body of the cap and a fine muslin for the frill. The crown of the cap is lined with a coarse net as I didn't want to starch the cap which may attract insects to the mannequin at the Cottage.

I drafted the fichu pattern myself based on descriptions found at various places. With a tight deadline to meet I made it up in fine muslin fabric with a small machine stitched blanket stitch on the inside raw edge of the narrow hem. The neck edge is on the bias grain, giving a nice fold over around the neck edge as seen in many photos of extant garments. In the future I'll try to source an embroidered fabric to re-make this, or have a go at doing it myself by hand. It wouldn't be difficult, just time consuming.

Filling in the neckline under the fichu is a cotton muslin chemisette with a rolled collar. The pattern was sourced from "Patterns of Fashion 1800 - 1860" by Janet Arnold. A small flat wooden button covered in fabric and a thread loop fastens the neckline.

I'd been making a corded petticoat to go under this gown, but again time beat me. I've put that aside to finish and add at a later date. I've been taking progressive photos so will post details when it's finished. The gown now sits atop 2 petticoats, one with five 6 inch frills and the other with a 10 inch frill. Both are gathered into 1 inch wide waistbands with tape ties and are made of unwashed cotton calico fabric. Again no starch was used although the petticoats of the time would have been heavily starched to keep them in the dome shape.

A laminated explanatory sign hangs discretely from the waist of the mannequin and can be lifted and handed to visitors to read. On the rear of the sign is an educational photo of the underwear of the time on a museum mannequin.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How I began making costumes

(This post first appeared on Lady Janes Wardrobe)

Mum first taught me the basics of sewing when I was a teenager, and I used to sew basic outfits for girlfriends when I first went to work. I made my first historic costume while taking part in Bushranging Re-enactment shows when I was 17. It was a black cotton fabric with blue printed flowers trimmed with cotton lace. In those days I didn't know any better and it was from a basic commercial pattern with a ZIPPER down the back. I did however make a proper cage crinoline from cotton tape and crinoline steel wire obtained from a local wire merchant. He still had some sprung steel wire at the back of his warehouse. I made 9 hoops of varying widths guided only by a black and white illustration in a costume text. Looking at it now, it's actually pretty darned good! Beginners luck I guess. I made a circular calico petticoat to go over it and used to tie it down at intervals to the hoop, nothing more embarassing than lying "injured" on an open field and your petticoat blowing all over your head exposing your legs. It happened only once, and that was before I had made pantaloons or bloomers, and I used to wear bikini knickers....You can bet I researched and made bloomers pretty quickly, and made sure to wear them religiously. I often wore a camisole as well as the bloomers under the dress, and added gloves, bonnet and reticule bag to complete the look. The photo shows my 18 year old daughter wearing the dress only at an Open House at the historic house where I volunteer.

1887 Purple and Black Bustle costume

(This post was moved from Lady Janes Wardrobe)

This costume was made in 1994 while taking the Theatrical Costume Advanced Technician's Certificate at SIT East Sydney. It was supervised by Lyn Heal, head of wardrobe, Opera Australia and using Jean Hunnisett's "Period Costume for Stage and Screen" as a guide. This was my "theatre" major work, one of 5 required over the 2 years, and included combinations, corset, bustle cage, petticoat and then the 2 piece dress. I made the hat at an advanced millinery course in 1996 to go with the outfit.

Technical details
Main fabric is $3 per metre mauve taslon taffeta (I was a struggling student you know, and our budget for the whole outfit was $250)
Contrast fabric is black cotton velvet. Lace trim is in 2 parts, dark purple lace was $1 metre at the craft show while white insertion lace on top of that was 50c metre and is threaded with 8mm black velvet ribbon.
Most expensive part was coutil for mounting bodice, and black nylon organza-like fabric which I can't recall the proper name of, which stiffens the skirt drapery.
There are hook and eye fastenings down the centre front bodice under the lace and a side front fastening on the skirt with the drape over the top. It was made for a standard size 10 TAFE mannequin so the sleeves are a bit short on the model in the photo. The bodice has plastic artificial bones on each seam.
The bustle cage underneath is made of calico with crinoline steel half circles at the back for support as seen in Hunnisett. The petticoat worn over the cage is cream taffeta with 2" crin (nylon horsehair braid) in the hem of the ruffles which cascade down the back. The bustle petticoat and skirt both have ties on the inside going from side back seams to tie across on the back of cage to maintain the "swept back" shape required. There are 5 large purple lace bows down both sides of the drapes, and at the "tail" at the back of the bodice and I embroidered purple silk roses on a black velvet oval and mounted it in a silver brooch to pin at the neck. The matching straw boater style hat is fine navy straw with a mauve pleated satin hat band with bow, a net veil and little velvet flowers on the front. This is probably one of my favourite costumes I've ever made, in my all-time favourite colours.

A warm welcome to my newest blog

At the annual Australian Institute of History and Arts dinner on Saturday night we Fellows were asked to provide information for the proposed Institute website, including links to our personal websites if we chose to. I realised that my costume blog Lady Janes Wardrobe has become a general costume sewing blog so have decided to move all the historic repro sewing and my costume research to this new "on topic" blog. I'll also document projects as they come up and some past projects which may be of interest. I look forward to reading comments from visitors !