Costuming Year in Review: 2018

This year I didn’t feel like I did much at all in terms of costuming, but I did make 3 new dresses and finish 2 others!

NEW STUFF I MADE

Game of Thrones Dress

Pattern Used: McCall’s 6940
Material: Silk
Event: Scarborough Faire with friends
Notes: First fantasy dress in AGES! The pattern is pretty darn good and I learned how to do a full-bust-adjustment on a wrap-front, princess-seamed dress.
Blog Post Link: A Game of Thrones Inspired Dress from McCalls 6940

Obnoxious Plaid 1830s Dress

Pattern Used: “Duct Tape Dummy” Method + Simplicity 3723
(Lucy’s Corset Duct Tape Pattern Video) (CospLAZY How-To Writeup)
Fabric: Blinding Orange Faux Silk
Event: Georgian Picnic with DFW Costumers Guild
Notes: This dress was my first dress using my duct tape dummy pattern. I had a cold the week before the event and wasn’t going to go, but the day before, I was so bored and crabby, I needed to do something, so I pounded out this dress from pattern to wearable in less than 24 hours. The sleeves are gussied-up versions of my fave long sleeve from the Simplicity 3723 pattern. I also learned how to alter a pattern to sit off the shoulder thanks to a great tutorial from Elisalex de Castro Peake on By Hand London.
Festive Attyre’s Flickr Album: 10th Annual Georgian Picnic

Flannel Bustle Dress

Pattern Used: “Duct Tape Dummy” Method and Draping
(Lucy’s Corset Duct Tape Pattern Video) (CospLAZY How-To Writeup)
Material: Cotton Flannel
Event: Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise
Notes: I made this dress to be as warm as possible since it was for Dickens on the Strand in December. The weather, however, decided to be summery! Thank goodness the flannel was cotton, though. It was warm, but breathable. I highly recommend cotton flannel. It’s easy to sew and so cozy! The underskirt was made completely out of rectangles gathered to a waistband and the overskirt was made by dressing up my dress form and just pinning a 3 yard length of fabric over it until I got something that looked decent before tacking everything down.
Flickr Album: Dickens on the Strand 2018

UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) COMPLETED

Green 1840s Dress for my Sis

Pattern Used: Butterick 5832
Material: Quilting Cotton
Event: EXTREME GUILT
Notes: This dress was literal years in the making and I am both embarrassed it took so long and proud I finally made good on my promise to my sister!
Blog Post: My Sister’s Long Overdue 1840s Camo Dress

Mermaid Ballgown (Re-Vamped)

Pattern Used: Simplicity 4244
Material: Rayon Blend
Event: Dickens on the Strand
Notes: I didn’t have the time or the money to make a new ballgown for the Dickens Soiree, so I revamped my ancient blue Ariel Ballgown for two years and 25 pounds ago with yards and yards of lace to cover the gap where the front doesn’t quite close anymore. I also rearranged the train and added silk flowers.
Flickr Album: Dickens on the Strand 2018
Blog Post of Original Version: Conquering the Croissants Part III

I was feeling pretty down about how little it felt like I’d done this past year, but looking back, it wasn’t as empty of a year as I thought! Thank for hanging out with me here and on Facebook. Another year goes flying by!

Here’s to a Hopeful and Happy 2019!

My Sister’s Long Overdue 1840s Camo Dress

So besides not keeping up with my blog, I have not been keeping up properly with my projects! Oops!

Even Brittany’s like “Really? You did it again? Dang, girl! Get it together!”

Many many moons ago (2015), I offered to make my sister a dress from Butterick 5832.

Butterick 5832 is based on dress style from about 1838-1841. It has the rounded waistline of the 1830s paired with the pleated-down sleeves of the early 1840s. It is based on a gown in the British Nation Trust Museum, which, unfortunately, doesn’t have a good large picture of the gown available anymore…only this small image of it:

Printed Dress, circa 1835-40 (National Trust Collections)

Here are some other examples of dresses from the same period:

Print Dress, circa 1840 (John Bright Collection)

Print Dress, circa 1840 (Les Arts Décoratifs, via Tumblr, unfortunately)

Print Dress, circa 1840 (National Gallery of Victoria)

Dresses were worn off the shoulder or nearly-off-the-shoulder with wide “portrait/boat” necklines decorated with fan pleats. The 1830s are famous for enormous balloon sleeves, but during the last half of the 1830s, sleeves began to deflate and by 1840, puffs had been replaced by fancy pleated and ruched sleeves like Butterick 5832’s.

Fashion plate, circa 1841 (Iowa State University Library via Tumblr)

This fashion plate shows the transition styles perfectly and is a good representation of how fashion doesn’t have “hard-stops” in style. A mix of old and new could be found together. For example, the lady on the left still has the puffy sleeves of the late 1830s, the lady in the middle has the extreme version pleated/ruffled/ruched sleeves that were currently in vogue, and the lady on the right has a more plain, modest version of the ruched sleeve.

My sister didn’t want busy, puffy, or ruffled sleeves at all because she felt her shoulders already looked plenty wide, so I used the sleeve lining pattern pieces to make plain sleeves. Instead, she decided to add pizzazz to her dress with exciting fabric. She picked this bright floral cotton from Walmart.

Bright cotton prints were super popular in the 1830s and 1840s. The fabric isn’t exactly HA, but still perfectly lovely, especially with the slight 18th century vibes which were super popular in the 1840s (many rococo era gowns were taken apart and refashioned during this period).

I made the bodice in 2015 while my sister was in grad school in Colorado and I was in Texas, so we almost never got to see each other. I was incredibly nervous about getting things fitted properly. I got to try the bodice on her once, and the nice, flattering fit surprised me since she has exceptional shoulders (19″ wide) and the bodice needed no alterations at all to fit there (so if you are making this pattern and you have smaller shoulders, you may have to adjust the pattern considerably to fit you. Most women have 15″ shoulders, which means that pattern is probably really loose there for many folks). In fact, the basic bodice pattern’s fit is very flattering and nice all around.

However, she went back to school and I went back to Texas, so the unfinished bodice and excess fabric got tossed in the UFO bin.

I finally picked it up again the day after Thanksgiving this year. My sister was visiting and I was curious if the dress would still work for her. The bodice was complete except for closures, so all I had to do was add a skirt to it. The skirt is gathered really tightly which added some bulk to the waistline, making me even more apprehensive about the fit. However, it looked pretty good on the dummy… 

My sister is almost 6 feet tall, though, so when I made the skirt, I had to lengthen it considerably. My dummy is set for my 5′ 6″ self, so the skirt is puddling on the floor in this picture.

Turns out that I freaked out over the fit for nothing. I made the bodice straight from the size 14 pattern pieces in 2015 and even with the bulky skirt gathering, it still fit my sister perfectly 3 years later! I am so jealous! Usually it takes 5 or 6 mockups just to get my fit right, but with my sister? It fit right out of the envelope! No fair!

Ta-da! Pardon the wild hair and bad phone photos. She stopped by my house to pick up the dress and we had just enough time to put it on her and snap a few pictures before she had to be on her way. She was such a good sport and wore it outside in public so I could get some pics of her in it! While snapping photos, we noticed how well the print blended in with the fall foliage– hence the “camo” dress title!

Feeling inspired by success, I even whipped up a 1-hour bonnet for her using one of those modern half-brimmed sun hats, some scrap fabric, and spare floral sprays I had around (oh, and 3 sticks of hot glue, lol!).

A matching bonnet makes every outfit feel more complete (plus it’s great for hiding modern hairdos!

FINALLY– after over 3 years!– she was able to take the completed dress home with her!

It was a great way to wrap up Thanksgiving and a great surprise success to a project that was long overdue. Plus, now she HAS to go to events with me since she no longer has the “I have nothing to wear!” excuse anymore! *wink! wink! nudge nudge!*

 

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Hairstyling is not my strong point, but over the years, I have slowly figured out a few tricks to make historical hairstyles work for me. When I made my Game of Thrones dress, I knew I would need a hairstyle to go with it. McCalls 6940 is based on Kings Landing fashions from the earlier seasons of the show. The hairstyles varied depending on the character wearing it (personality, prestige, all that jazz), but there were some basic features that seemed fairly universal: half-up, braided, and loose waves.

Cersei

Cersei

Margaery

Margaery

Sansa

Sansa

As luck would have it, the styles aren’t too far off from an era I’ve already tackled hair for: the 1870s!

My basic 1870s hairstyle. You can click here for the tutorial.

In fact, here’s an original 1870s hairstyle “how to” that, if you stopped before the last step and just left the hair loose in back, would make a perfect Westeros style:

As you can see in the original 1870s tutorial above, hairpieces are almost always necessary to get the right look, even if you have fairly long hair. The secret to costume-perfect hair is the magical “curl loaf.”

Behold! The Curl Loaf!

For my Game of Thrones hairstyle, I wanted a very full look, a mix of Margaery’s overabundant curls with Cersei’s and Sansa’s braided buns. Even though I have hair past my shoulders and my fab-o curl loaf, for a properly fantastic noblewoman’s hair-do I needed MORE HAIR. My curl loaf is from from “Hair World by Jamie.”  I usually buy from their eBay store because it’s usually a few dollars cheaper, but they have a regular website, too. I was so pleased with the color and service that I ordered a matching clip-on ponytail from their eBay store. The clip is HUGE and secure, so it’s easy to wear. I am pretty pleased with it!

RAWR!
To make the crescent bun shape, I use the clip sideways. I gathered it into a ponytail with ribbon and made two braids: only large, one small.

I have difficult hair to match because the roots are naturally much darker than my ends which are more reddish to boot. You can see what I mean in the pics below where my natural ends peek out from under the hairpiece. When I do a regular bun out of my natural hair, it looks almost fake because my ends are such a different color! I  match hairpieces to my roots for that very reason. It looks more natural that way. These two hairpieces are both #10s on the  HWBJ color chart and are a perfect match for my roots. My ends are closer to a #15.

Together with my curl loaf and just four bobby pins, I was able to create this hairstyle:

It looks complex, but it’s deceptively simple! First, I put my hair half up. Then I clip the ponytail on sideways, bobby pin the braids how I like them, clip on the curl loaf to hide the ribbon in back, and I’m done! I made a little illustration chart to explain it visually:

I color coded it for enhanced clarity: Yellow is your natural hair, red is the clip-in ponytail, blue is the thick braid, green is the little braid, and hot pink is the curl loaf (which I made pink because it totally looks like a tiny brain in my drawing!).
When you make the ponytail on the hairpiece, use ribbon, not a hair-tie. Modern elastic hair-ties add a lot of thickness and spring and are very obvious/hard to hide. Ribbon lies smoothly and if you choose a raw silk one that is similar in color to the hair, it hides so much more easily! I’ve discovered that much of the struggle I have styling historical hair comes from overly-bulky elastic hair-ties. It’s amazing how much difference styling with ribbon or twine can make!

This hairdo looks super complex, but it only takes about 15 minutes to do and is really easy to wear!

The ponytail is a bit heavy, but it doesn’t pull or pinch my scalp, plus the braids can be rearranged in a variety of ways to change the look. If you don’t have curly or wavy hair, curl your natural hair before putting on your hairpieces for extra volume or choose a straight hairpiece instead of a curled one.

A Game of Thrones Inspired Dress from McCalls 6940

2018 has not been a good year for sewing. In fact, I’ve only sewn one new dress this year and it’s not historical at all!

Pictured above: Me during 2018 so far.

Perhaps I was feeling a bit burned out from the pressure of the historical costuming community or maybe it was my love of fantasy making a roaring appearance, but the only new costume I have made this whole year so far was, of all things, inspired by the Game of Thrones.

I don’t even really keep up with the show, but the costumes…they are fab! Check out the unbelievably beautiful embroidery! They have kindled a huge movement in the costume community, a kind of fantasy renaissance that hadn’t really happened since the Lord of Rings (over a decade ago…OMG! Where has time flown?!). As it turns out, a lot of historical costumers also fell in love with the wonderful GoT costumes. I think Katherine of The Fashionable Past really summed up why the world of Westeros was so appealing to many historical costumers:

“…They’ve truly created fashion on the show–clothes for different climates, different levels of society, different everything, yet they remain consistent in fashionable details. It was almost like discovering a new historical period.”

Kathrine has made a few GoT themed dresses with her own personal twists and designs. She noticed how similar the construction of her GoT dress was to 18th century dresses. In the course of my adventure, I discovered the skills I learned sewing the Plaid Croissant Natural Form Bustle Dress really helped make the McCalls pattern much easier to understand and sew!

I was inspired to give one a try! As it so happened, all the pieces just seems to fall into place like destiny.

A year ago, I had found my first piece of thrift-store silk. I want to be clear: I NEVER find yardage at my local Goodwill, much less silk yardage! Most of the silk I use is cut from silk shirts. I had enviously seen other costumers post on Facebook about finding silk yardage at the thrift shops. Finally, I found some–a real piece of silk–three yards of it! I was so proud and giddy that I horded it for a whole year. 3 yards isn’t enough for most historical dresses, so I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Like I am wont to do, I simply squirreled it away in the deepest recesses of the fabric horde where it waited, breath baited, to someday be recreated.

Fast forward to April and my friends invited me to Renaissance Faire!

Ren Faire is one of the “holy grail” events for costumers and though it was 100 degrees outside, I could NOT go to Ren Faire without a costume! I’d been struggling with a job switch and a general lack of creative energy, but I REFUSE to go all the way to ren faire to only look around. I want to be part of the costumed merriment!

At first, I desperately wanted to make a traditional 16th Century dress– the kirtle, the coif, the whole nine yards (of skirt fabric). But the only fabric I found that I liked was $50 a yard! Yikes! No thanks! So I thought about doing another version of my Second-Hand 17th Century Get-Up.

I’ve gained quite a bit of weight since 2013 (5 years ago?!). Alas, I don’t fit in that little jacket or skirt any longer! In light of this revelation, I began voraciously scrolling through pages and pages and pages of eBay auctions to find something that might work. I ended up in my favorite sari shop, “Antique Art of India” by sanskriti.india. I was looking for a lehenga (skirt), but instead, I found a glorious green silk organza sari. Inspiration hit me!

A sari is about 5 yards long, which, at my size, isn’t quite enough for a full dress on its own…but add 3 yards of silk dupioni to the mix…

As fate would have it, the Scarbie Faire theme for the weekend we were going was Fantasy, so a Game of Thrones dress would be perfect! And I already had several patterns to choose from in my stash.

The pieces were finally falling into place!

There are TONS of medieval and Game of Thrones style patterns to choose from. I waffled between Simplicity and McCalls because they seemed to be the top two choices in the GoT costuming community forums. Simplicity 1487/1009 was designed by Andrea Schewe, a pattern designer I admire for both her design sense and how easily I can adjust her patterns to fit my body. I know if her name is on a pattern, it will probably be fantastic!

However, the Simplicity pattern had a back zipper and a waist seam. I wanted a real wrap dress like Kathrine’s and the ones on the show. McCalls 6940 is a honest-to-goodness real wrap front dress.

All the reviews on the Game of Thrones costuming groups mentioned that the skirt on the McCalls pattern was too tight, but it’s easier to add fullness than to try to turn a zipper back into a wrap front. For this last-minute dress, I decided to use the McCalls pattern, View A. I cut a size 16 based on my full upper bust measurement. As I discovered, this was too large in the back. I should have cut a 14 or even 12 for the back.

I did have to alter the pattern to fit me which was no small task, but this is par for the course. Patterns are normally designed for B-cups and I’m an DDD/F cup. I’m a curvy gal and this pattern is not curvy at all. In fact, it has almost no waist or bust shaping, relying on the belt to draw in the excess fullness–not my favorite method of fitting, but I think I made it work.

As a busty gall, I’ve struggled to find regular everyday wrap dresses that don’t fit horribly over my bust. This dress is a wrap dress, but it also has princess seams to help make fitting a little easier…in theory. As it turns out, there is a special method for altering a wrap dress with princess seams. Plus, this dress had the special side gores that had to be accounted for!

I discovered a great tutorial by Idle Fancy that I absolutely recommend!

I followed it exactly, had the same “OMG, THIS PATTERN PIECE IS DEFORMED AND WILL NEVER WORK—Oh, it totally works!” moment she did. Mary 100% made this project easier to conquer. Thanks, chica!

MY HEROINE!

Here is a picture showing my adjusted pattern pieces with the originals:

In addition to the FBA, I also reduced the length of the sleeves to half so I could fit them on the narrow sari fabric and increased the skirt width by flaring the skirt pattern pieces at the bottom then tapering back to the original width near the top to make sure the gores still fit properly. The U-shaped gores seem really intimidating, but the way they are assembled makes it surprisingly easy! In fact, I assembled the majority of the dress in a single day, just in time to wear it to Scarborough! It was ROASTING wearing all the layers, insulating silk, and long sleeves, but I had an unforgettable time with my friends. We were too busy exploring to take many pictures, but here is one Chris took at the very end of the day.

I am shiny from sweat, crater-eyed from a lack of sleep, and sore from walking for hours, but the dress held up and people even recognized it as a Game of Thrones dress despite it not being any specific recreation! Huzzah!

Still, the dress wasn’t quite finished. It needed some more trimming and refining, which I finally got around to doing this week. So, months later, here is the finally finished dress!

As you can see, the dress ended up too big in the waist, leading to all sorts of wrinkling. If I make another version of this dress, I will need to tweak the pattern to be more fitted. McCalls 6940 relies on the included belt patterns to delineate the waist, so the dress pattern itself has almost no waist shaping whatsoever, even if you aren’t fitting it over a corset. I chose to wear mine with a corset 1) because on the show, Sansa is shown in one scene wearing stays (an earlier form of the corset), 2) it helps keep the belt in place because otherwise belts tend to ride up over my belly and settle right under my boobs, and 3) I like the regal bearing it gives me.

In addition to the corset, I wore an underskirt and petticoat. These fluff the dress more and since the front of the dress is wrapped over, but open, the underskirt does show when you walk or sit. You will definitely want to wear one that complements your gown! Mine is a prom skirt I bought at Goodwill for $6.

My final thoughts on the McCalls 6940 pattern View A are thus:

-It is a solid, basic dress. It is a good base for embellishments and the real wrap front is ideal. The tie closure works, though it would benefit from another one internally (or I could just add the snap they call for).

-It is too slim through the skirt and not fitted enough in the waist. For screen accuracy and plain ol’ aesthetics, I recommend increasing the fullness of the skirt as much as you can and then use a facing to help the skirt flare out in that lovely sweep we so love. I’d also try to make it more fitted in back, like I did for my Natural Form gown.

-This design really works best with fabric that have good texture and body. It takes quite a bit of fabric, too, especially because of the enormous sleeves. I used all 3 yards of the silk with only a handful of scraps left. The sari was completely used up except for a few damaged areas I had to work around and the pallu (the pallu is the decorated end, about 1 yard worth). This is after shortening the sleeves to accommodate the narrow fabric. I flatlined the dress like I would a Victorian one, but I left the sleeves unlined for airflow. The lining will add to the yardage you need. (I used a king-sized cotton sheet)

-The sleeves want to shift. They are open on the bottom after the elbow and I found that the fabric wants to slip off your arm. You can see it happening a bit here:

This may be due to a number of factors, but I think it’s because the sleeve construction puts the center of the sleeve on the outside of the arm, so the sleeve wants to twist to the side, causing it to gradually fall off your forearm. This might be fixed by weighting the sleeves or making them full-length instead of sorter like mine. I might try lengthening the inner side if I choose to make the shorter sleeves again. That might fix the issue.

-This dress is a solid intermediate pattern. The techniques are all basic and there are no fancy tricks. The hardest part to sew (in my opinion) is the facings at the neck and hem. Just take your time to pin things accurately and you’ll be fine.

-The instructions are very clear. Read them! I thought I knew how it would work, but discovered I was making more work for myself. The instructions actually made the sewing easier for once! The marks on the tissue are important for the ties down the front. Mark them accurately if you want the closure to line up.

-Make or buy a snazzy belt. Since it is key to achieving the look and fit, you’ll need a  belt to go with your gown. The pattern comes with two. I haven’t tried making them, but the armor-like one (based off Cersei’s in the show) looks wicked cool. If you don’t want to make your own, I recommend a comfy wide elastic belt. They are easy to put on and adjust, plus there are tons of styles online to choose from. I picked a rather basic black one with a brass closure to match the beading on the sari. Bonus points for it being something I can wear everyday, too! There are fancier models, though, like these that I found just by doing a quick Amazon search for “wide elastic belt:”

Overall, I had a ton of fun making and wearing this dress. I am very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to make something new! I also liked that it was fairly low-pressure. Sometimes historical accuracy can be a little claustrophobic if you have tons of internet people judging your every stitch and trim. Since this was entirely fantasy, there was much less pressure! I look forward to making another one of these dresses in the future. If you are feeling adventurous or need something fresh to jumpstart your creativity, I think this could be a great project. I worked for me! I’m still stressed and not feeling very motivated to costume, but I am proud to have made at least one dress this year.

For those of you curious about how I did my hair, I made a small tutorial thing for ya:

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Getting Your Ideas on Paper: Using Croquis to Design Your Historical Gowns

Proper measurements and proportions are important not only for sewing, but creating a flattering design. If you are not a pattern size 10 (the base size from which most pattern companies grade up or down), how can you be sure you’ll look as good in the dress as the model on the cover? On top of that, if you want to make changes to the base design of a pattern, how can you be sure it will look okay?

Many costumers are generally creative people. I know so many who like to draw and paint as much as they like to sew! Putting a design to paper first can help refine a design before you choose fabric or start cutting patterns. To help distill the abstract design elements in our heads into a more concrete design, many costumers draw fashion illustrations of their dream gowns– called by their French name “Croquis” (sketch/sketches) like these:

Oscar de la Renta, 2014

Valentino, 2013-14

You’ll notice, though, that the figures in these couture drawings don’t exactly look like anyone you’ve ever met. The average human is approximately 7.5 “heads” tall. A high-fashion croquis on the other hand, is generally drawn 9 or more heads tall, with the extra length added to the legs and neck, elongating the figure:

If you assume the figure on the left with average human proportions is 5 feet tall, each “head” is about 8 inches tall. That gives the left figure an inseam of 32 inches (4 heads), total leg length from the hip of aprox. 36 inches (4.5 heads). The fashion figure on the right is 6 feet tall with a 44 inch inseam (5.5 heads), total leg length from the hip of aprox. 48 inches (6 heads).

This means that skirts seem to flow more, everything looks overall more slim, and the proportions are stretched. They have an air of fairy-like elegance– like willowy goddesses inhabiting some far-off dream. These sketches are works of art as much as the fashions that are eventually created from them. Many are drawn just for the joy of making beautiful drawings of beautiful gowns.

While there are many tall, thin women, ladies with such lengthened proportions are exceedingly rare, though not unheard of: Yekaterina Lisina, a Russian athlete and model, is the Guinness World Record Holder for the world’s longest legs. She has a hip-to- heel leg length of 52.2 inches. She is 6 feet, 9 inches tall! Remember, though: she is the record holder because her size and proportions are so extraordinary. What if you are an ordinary girl with ordinary proportions? Can an fancifully-proportioned croquis work for you? Of course it can! A fashion sketch does not need to be photo-realistic for it to help you create your masterpiece. Maybe you just want to get the basic elements in place: a floral fabric. A midnight blue cape. Spiked red pauldrons. A fashion drawing doesn’t have to be realistic to be beautiful and useful.

But what if you have concerns about how well a design will work on your particular body? An idealized figure won’t do much good if you are concerned  a square neckline might make your shoulders look boxy or mutton sleeves might make your face look like a cherry tomato between two popcorn puffs! If you create a croquis that matches your own proportions, you can experiment with raising the waistline or adding a bow or puffing the sleeves before you start choosing patterns or cutting precious fabric.

But, if you are not the best artist–or if you are like me and struggle to draw your own body realistically (sometimes I draw myself too slim, sometimes too wide, sometimes one boob is way bigger than the other…)– what can you do?

ENTER THE “TRACING REAL BODY MODELS” PROJECT!

“ROMMY”

“ZAVA”

“LEILA”

There’s such a wide variety of “average” bodies that a single, standardized “average” croquis just won’t do! The Tracing Real Body Models Project created a selection of croquis from photographs women of different shapes and sizes submitted to the project. Sadly, the blog doesn’t seem to have been active in over a decade, so there aren’t a whole bunch of models to choose from. In spite of that, I found some that are pretty close to my body type! You can print them out to draw your designs over them (or import them into your chosen design software and draw over them digitally, if you’re tech savvy). None of the models in the project are corseted, of course (When you sew historical costumes exclusively, it’s hard to remember that the average modern woman doesn’t wear one when she plans her designs!), but nothing a few pencil strokes can’t approximate.

“Valentina” in two different decades!
Notice the amount of space between her legs/bottom and the outer edge of the skirt: this give you a good idea of how much padding and how many petticoats you will need to fluff out a design properly.

 They are also a great reminder that it’s not really the SIZE of the body under the clothes that makes a dress look historical: it’s the garments themselves that matter. That’s why having a model that looks as much like you is so important. It’ll give you a better idea of how a well-fitted historical garment should look on YOUR body once its complete. The TRBM blog has photography tips for taking a base model photos, so if you don’t see your body type represented, you could follow their photography guide, then print and trace your own photo for a perfect croquis of yourself!

Bonnets that Deserve Better: A Dozen Ugly Ducklings in the Met’s Headwear Collection

I love a good bonnet, even if badly photographed. <3

Museum photography has come a long way in the past decade. I remember when the only way to explore a museum’s collection was to physically travel to view an exhibit in person, be buddies with a curator, or read about them in textbooks, sometimes with a blessed-but-grainy black and white picture the size of a domino. Now museums around the world have their collections photographed and available for free online!

We have gone from this:

To this:

Bonnet, circa 1870

Huzzah! Hooray! Oh, happy day!

And believe me, I am infinitely grateful. But, I am also infinitely concerned with systematic forward progression and implementing improved standards of quality (i.e. I am demanding and persnickety). Today, I am picking on the Met because the Met is one of my favorite museums. They seem open and honest about their collections– even candidly blogging about some drawings in their collection were massively mis-attributed! You can even give them feedback about their website, rating it and saying what you liked and what you didn’t. I appreciate their openness and make full use of it. MMoA, you asked for it!

In my many invested hours of research (i.e. PINTEREST), I have discovered many beautiful Met Museum objects with hideous photos, in particular, 19th century bonnets and hats. Granted, there are plenty of hideous objects with lovely pictures as well. There is clearly a miracle-working photographer in the costume department because they made this clunky sunbonnet look so lovely I kind of want it…which is saying something because I LOATHE 19th-century sunbonnets!

Cotton Sunbonnet, circa 1860
This photo makes it look good enough to actually wear!

Now, compare that picture with this one:

Sunbonnet, circa 1838
Ah, there’s the warm, familiar hatred again. If Jedi had to wear sunbonnets, I would instantly become a Sith. No questions! Sunbonnet Crusher duty? SIGN ME UP!

Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a little. You see, that second bonnet isn’t terrible at all! In fact, it’s actually way more adorable than the photo lets on. It’s made of a spotted calico that’s kind of polka-dotty from a distance, it’s got pinked trim, a nifty straw brim, and a sweet bow perched on top. But that photo just does not do it justice when you compare it to other bonnet photographs in the collection:

Snedden Designer Bonnet with Pearls, circa 1883
(another bonnet that has benefited from the leap in photography technology)

Velvet Evening Bonnet, 1802

Bonnet, circa 1887

“But, Liz! Those are all fashionable, fancy-lady bonnets! You can’t compare a daytime 1850s sunbonnet to a 1880s millioneress’s bonnet!”

True: there are many bonnets of vastly different styles, decades, price-points and occasions, but being fancier doesn’t make them any less likely to be photographed poorly. The Met does not discriminate based on social class! Case in point:

Which of these two photos looks like a million bucks to you?

I started making note of all the bonnets I found that were begging for a better photo. The list was quite long! However, I narrowed it down to just a few.

MOST of the bonnets are this list were not picked just because I thought they needed a prettier photo–though, confession: some are on the list because they are OMGorgeous! There are so many pretty-but-not-artistically-photographed bonnets in the Met’s collection, like this early 19th century bonnet. However, many of them, despite their flash-blasted, yellow-tinged photographs, still shine through with clear detail. Instead, I chose bonnets that I thought were actively hampered by their photo– those with great texture that was lost, fit that was hard to judge, or colors that weren’t properly portrayed, all details that are actively explored and sought after by costume and textile researchers.

THE TOP 10 BONNETS AT THE MET THAT DESERVE BETTER PHOTOS!

#10: “Ye Old Bonnet?!” circa 1799-1810

Originally #10 was this straw bonnet that I loved the shape of, but there is no view of the front. However, I stumbled upon this bonnet/headdress just before publishing my list. I was so intrigued, I knew it had to be on the list! There is no other “bonnet” like it in the Met’s collection and if that date is correct (question: has anyone seen something like this from the era?), it would make it one of the earliest pieces in the bonnet sub-category. I want to know more!

#9: “Happy Spring Day in a Dust Storm” Bonnet, circa 1860

This is one of those “It’s just so pretty it needs to be shown off!” bonnets. The layers of trimmings are so lovely, but the dingy, grainy photo does its richness a great disservice.

#8: “Black Velvet Mystery” Bonnet, circa 1850

This bonnet already has a beautifully lit, crisp new photo, yet, it’s impossible to tell how it fits! It’s listed as a bonnet, but the shape and fit isn’t obvious. Does it perch on the back of the head? Is it a child-sized cap? Or is it bigger than it looks? This is a piece that would really benefit from a display head.

#7: “Snow Princess” Lace Bonnet, circa 1885-90

Another stunner suffering from bad lighting and graininess! This bonnet is mummified in lovely lace, has a velvet edge, and a feather on top! The interplay of textures and true color are lost, though, and the angle of the two photos almost look like two different hats! Click here to see the second photo of the back. You’ll see what I mean. Also, this hat has a photo of the designer’s label, but it’s not listed in the description (J. Pendlebury / Wigan). This was a very expensive hat during its day! It would be so lovely for a bride.

#6: “Scarlet’s Envy” Promenade Bonnet, circa 1851-1862

The vast majority of the Met’s mid-19th century bonnet collection suffers from small, badly-lit photos. I imagine they must have been doing them all in a  swift batch in order to give us, the demanding costuming community, visual references. The Met has worked hard to get photos for every object’s online catalogue page! They are getting closer to achieving that goal. I am so thankful for their hard work. However, this gal is beautiful, but the silk gathers and layers upon layers of delicate trimming aren’t very well portrayed. I also think it’s later in date than listed. Any bonnet experts have a firmer date for it?

#5: “Autumnal Delight” Bonnet, circa 1864-1867

This bonnet is just fabulous! At first I thought that it was a lovely example of straw work, but then I read the description…can you believe this bonnet is made of horsehair?! I would have never guessed!  Once again, the small, grainy photos erase this bonnet’s main draw: the unique materials and lush interplay of textures. Just look at those woven plumes and tiny tassels! This is probably my personal favorite bonnet on the list. I would wear it in a heartbeat.

#4: “The WAT?!” Bonnet, circa 1800-1925

I’m calling this one that “WAT?!” bonnet not because I find it poorly designed (though the display certainly makes it look odd), but because it is in desperate need of a cleaning, some context, and a more accurate date. 125 YEARS, MET?! REALLY?! This bonnet/hat is from around 1900 and would have been paired with a Gibson Girl hairstyle, hence the shallow back (to fit around a chignon) and large forward swoop (to go over the puffy pompadour front). It even has a designer label inside that they photographed, but the cataloger failed to note in the description. It’s not a show-stopping hat by any means, but it certainly deserves better basic cataloguing in addition to a fresh photo!

#3: “Cinderella” Bonnet/Cap, circa 1845-50

Just look at that lace and ribbon! Wow! Even in that terrible lighting, it looks amazing. However, the image is small and grainy, so you can’t see all the wonderful details. This one is just too pretty not to have a better photo!

#2: “Faceplant” Poke Bonnet, circa 1840-69

This bonnet is so sad! It looks like a jellyfish washed up on the shore or a snail trying to crawl away. I suppose if you were a nice “Sunday’s best” bonnet that got labelled as a poke bonnet, you’d be sad, too. This bonnet would be so much happier if its beautiful silk satin shirring and lace were properly photographed on a stand or mannequin!

#1: “Moping Mop” Ribbon Bonnet, circa 1841

The last bonnet  looked sad, but this poor bonnet is actively trying to hide. Perhaps it’s in such poor shape that this is the only way to display it (like this crumbling 1830s straw bonnet), but it’s completely impossible to tell that it’s even a cap/bonnet. What’s even odder is that unlike many of the bonnets in the collection which suffer from dating swathes that range from a generalized 20 year period to the egregious 125 YEAR RANGE OMG MET WTF, this bonnet has been dated precisely to 1841. In addition, it was purchased with donation money in 1982, apparently by choice. Either it was part of a lot that had other pieces in it the Met wanted and the cap just came with, or they purposefully bought it, possibly with provenance granting it such a firm date, like a letter or label. And yet, here it is, just flopped on a table like a mound of seaweed.

The more I looked at these bonnets with less-than-ideal photos, the more I realized how shallow and callous it was to judge a bonnet by its photo. In our massively visual online culture, objects with the prettiest images often get sharing priority, meaning that many perfectly fabulous fashions get ignored! This affects not only personal research, but can affect the quality of conservation, too. Many objects that receive well-made professional photographs often receive special cleaning and repairs in order for them to display and photograph to the object’s best advantage. In a collection like the Met’s–with over 300+ bonnets alone– such a large undertaking would involve not only lots of time, equipment, and effort from the photographer(s), but a large investment from the conservation department– and let’s face it: we may love bonnets, but there are probably more pressing conservation projects than cleaning a common straw sunbonnet, no matter how cute it is.

Interested in seeing more awesome bonnets with horrific pictures?
Click here to view the Met’s bonnet collection online

Let me know which one is your favorite! Is it a delicate straw bonnet from the 1840s? A sky-high feathered stunner from the 1880s? A tubular Regency poke bonnet? Post a link below so I can see it!

Another Edwardian Day Out: Steam, Teens, and Tours

After the success of Edwardian Day Out in May, the DFWCG scheduled another Edwardian Day Out for October 15th since the house tour tickets for Thistle Hill were also good for visiting another local Victorian home: the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House (what a mouthful!).

The house is tucked up at the end of Penn Street and isn’t visible from the busier thoroughfares of downtown, so many people don’t know about it. Chris and I had actually discovered it by accident when we first moved back to Fort Worth years ago. We did a creeping drive-by of the property, but it’s not obvious at all that the property is open for tours (Indeed, even the historical marker, like so many Texas Historical Markers, is planted pretty deep into the front yard, so you have to park and tromp through the grass to read it. This is super awkward when you can’t tell if the property is public or private. Why, Texas? WHY?). We gaped, then drove away.

You don’t forget an epic porch like that, though, so when I saw the picture on the Thistle Hill ticket for the McFarland House, I was excited! We finally could tour the mysterious house on the hill!

Becky, Marcella, and I got dressed and drove out a little early to meet the group and get some pictures on the porch.

The house is owned by and used as offices for Historic Fort Worth, the area preservation society. However, they have a sign by the front door that says to ring the bell for tours at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm. The event had been scheduled for the 2pm tour, but alas, as 2 o’clock inched closer, no other cars pulled up the quiet street and we wandered the wide, empty front porch alone, debating what to do. Well, we were already there, tickets in hand, so we rang the bell!

Mrs. Jackson, the docent on duty, met us at the door. I’m sure we made quite a presentation in our garb on a quiet Sunday afternoon! She guided us around the lavish first floor that was just covered in gorgeous woodwork from floor to ceiling surrounding luminous stained glass, and had stunning Edwardian light fixtures and 1940s wallpaper in every room. The brightest, most iconic room in the house is the lavish peachy formal parlor covered in flocked pink wallpaper and lit by 30+ individual lights in brass tulips, like an opera house! (I wish I’d gotten a better picture of them, but I was too busy looking around. There is this lovely photo by Peter Calvin, though, if you can’t tour the place yourself.)

The house had been owned by a succession of very wealthy families and each woman that owned the house had added her own touches to the property. It was interesting to see what each subsequent mistress added and removed. The exciting wallpapers throughout the house were added mid-century, but they suited the house so well that you might never guess!

We couldn’t tour the upstairs because Historic Fort Worth had converted all the rooms into offices, but we were assured it had been done so that the house could be returned to its original state should they change locations. It was a little disappointing to only get to tour the downstairs of the house. If you stopped by to tour the McFarland House before Thistle Hill and found out your $20 tour only covered a few rooms, you might be very disappointed at how little your money seems to afford you. However, since the tickets are good at both houses, the McFarland house is like dessert after a Thistle Hill dinner.

Despite the series of shortcomings, we made a good day out of it. The weather was just stunning: the right temperature for both layered corseted outfits and lighter fabrics alike, that happy medium between warm and chilly. Divine! Becky wore her new striped Victorian skirt, Marcella wore her 1912 outfit, and I wore my super-comfy 1990s-does-1910s polka-dot dress. The staff at Lucille’s restaurant was totally unperturbed when we walked in for lunch! Ah, the glory of October when costuming becomes more widely accepted in the everyday!

All-in-all, a good day out with the family! It would have been nice to have more of a crowd, but life is a constantly moving target. Sometimes everyone else’s arrow ends up going a different direction and an event doesn’t pan out. That’s why I am so grateful to have costuming buddies to take to events, so if something like this happens, we can still have a good time together!

—More Edwardian and 1910s Costume Adventures—

An Edwardian Day Out #1: Thistle Hill
Easy (Post) Edwardian / WWI Costume
Easy Edwardian for under $10 (1900-1910)

More Easy Edwardian (1913-1914)