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