Sunday, October 24, 2010
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 The most difficult part is the fabric choice - we only have vague word descriptions, and unfortunately some terms are no longer valid.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.