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 !