Saturday, March 19, 2011

Altering an Ambassador's coat

I certainly do get some fascinating projects to work on. This one has to be one of the most interesting yet frustrating I've had for quite a while. My client is an illusionist who loves using vintage for his stage costumes. He told me about this suit, bought on Ebay from a Perth Western Autralia antiques dealer, and I didn't believe my eyes when he brought it to me. It was sold to him as an Ambassador's Suit but he has no provenance or any other information. The dealer had 3 to sell, and N. fell in love with the embroidery on this one. It's gold bullion embroidery, but unfortunately quite tarnished with age. I think it's still magnificent though! The photograph above is quite true to colour, Ive enhanced the ones below so that the beautiful detail can be better appreciated. Judging by the workmanship and style I'd say it could be turn of the 20th century and the buttons on the false "vest" front panel which he removed match those on the back waist and are crested gold with a London button company name on the back. I looked up the crest online, and they appear to be British Royal crest. So, who did the previous owner represent, the British Royal family or a British colony at the time, and how did the 3 suits wind up in Perth Australia? A lot of British migrants stayed on in Perth, the first port of call for emmigration ships from England. What a mystery, it's driving me mad !!

Anyway, N. needs a new false vest front in a larger size, so I've made a toile in calico and he's sourced some black wool. We'll make a press stud fastening for quick change but mount the original buttons through worked buttonholes in the centre front to simulate an opening vest. I also have to shorten the sleeves under the ornate cuffs and pad out the chest area. I'm trying to leave all original fittings/fastenings intact and make the changes reversible so that when he retires the costume it can be put into a collection somewhere. Some more photos of the stunning embroidery below. Remember I've altered the contrast slightly so that the beauty of the stitching can be seen better. I can only imagine how many hours it took to do this work, which is now done in England by British firm Hand and Lock.

Detail front left side

Detail back neck

Detail cuff

While browsing the Lafayette Studio photos from the V & A Museum site, I stumbled on a photo of Sir Herbert Eustace Maxwell taken in 1901 attending the Royal Court, wearing his Full Dress, Civil Uniform 1st Class and guess what? This looks remarkably like N's coat. Not THE coat as Sir H's is larger with a slightly extended embroidery design, but same design and style. This gent was an MP, a Lord of the Treasury, Privy Counselor and author on Scottish history. I still wonder how it got to Australia though, don't you??

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hand made trim for a Victorian dress

A recent request for assistance on the Australian Costumers' Guild forums has prompted me to document a trim I made once for the German housekeeper's costume in the Gordon Frost production of "Sound of Music". It was a common period trim, and turns up on hats and caps too. I made that one from stiff black woven self patterned taffeta ribbon, but it could be made from self fabric if it has enough body. You could seam up a tube of fabric or if it's stiff enough just press the sides under to just overlap in the middle of your finished width. The work is done by hand from the back as the thread carries along.

Contrast thread is used for illustration only, use a best match thread in case the small stitches show through

To work the honeycomb smocking stitch, begin by marking a point in the middle of your width on the wrong side with a coloured pencil a distance in from the raw edge. Next mark your required distance away on one edge and another point opposite it on the other edge, then a mid point at the required distance away, then the edge points and so on along the length required.

Using doubled thread secured in the middle first take a small running stitch out at the edge marking then carry across the back to the other point then along to the mid point, only taking a small running stitch each time. Now pull through and tighten to form folds as in the photo below.

You can manipulate the fullness of the folds, it could be steamed if really neccesary but do not press. It takes a few inches to see the folds forming properly so I did a few samples to test the ribbon and work out the size of the completed trim. I think it was something like 3 times the finished length in the end, it all depends on the fabric. I attached it to the dresses every few inches only, and it survived 8 shows per week plus laundering.
Once you get a rhythm going, it works up quite quickly and looks really great. I made about 10 metres finished all up, in the train going to and from the workroom each day.