Review of the Historical Fashion Flip-Up Book “Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”

Subuculas, Stays, and Slips!

I like going to Half-Price Books. They have all sorts of out of print and hard to find books, plus a great antique/collectible section! Their Fashion selection, however, is sometimes seriously lacking. I spent one day frantically trying to find the Fashion section after they apparently moved it. I was looking for a copy of The Tudor Tailor, so I asked the front desk after searching through the Art section, the Craft section, the History section, and even the Collectibles section (where books like Fashion in Detail had appeared before) to no avail. Turns out they had no clue where to put fashion books, historical or otherwise, so they stuck them in the “Salf-Help” category! They had very few historical fashion books of any type, but just before I gave up hope, I found this book:

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“Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”
by Margaret Knight with awesome illustrations by Kim Dalziel

Inside, there were stylish illustrations of historical fashions from ancient Rome to the 1960s, all with nifty flip-up clothing layers! At $5, I had to have it!

Inside, there are there are 28 thick cardstock pages that detail fashions for men, women, and male and female children in chronolgical order from earliest to latest fashion, starting with the Roman Empire (27 BC to 467 AD), then the Middle Ages (500-1500), the Fifteenth Century/Early Renaissance, Sixteenth Century/High Renaissance, Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, 1901-1920, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s-50s (combined), and the 1960s.

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Besides the illustrations, each category included a generously-sized foldout describing the changes in fashion and society during the era. Along the edges of the pages are additional fashion tidbits, like hairstyles, hats, and other information not included on the main feature of the book: the flip-up clothing layers.

Each figure has at least one fancy flip up/open/down piece that reveals information about the layer. For example, the “1635” man’s doublet/coat folds open to reveal his shirt beneath and a brief description of it:

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And the “1750s” woman has a layer for her gown and a separate one for her petticoats which both lift to reveal her shift, stays, and panniers underneath:

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The adults clothing has more details than the children’s clothing, but the children’s clothing flip-ups do contain bits of information about popular children’s clothing colors and fabrics.

That’s the basic description of the book. Now, for the review!

This such a cool idea! I love the illustrations and the discovery with each turn of the page and lift of a flap. Children and adults alike are curious about the “weird” clothing our ancestors used to wear and this book is a fun way to explore the basics without feeling like an intruder (how many times have you as a reenactor, cosplayer, costumer, or vintage-lover faced that awkward question or unwelcome groping hand?). The basics are all contained in this book, so it acts as a jumping off point for multiple eras without the intimidating immensity of a fashion encyclopedia.

The illustrations are well-balanced with the double-sided flaps containing the detailed text portion so it’s neither too child-like nor too text-heavy. The colors are well-thought-out and suit the general mood of the chosen eras (lighter colors for Rococo, earthy colors for the Middle Ages, and, of course, bright primary colors for the 1960s).

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There are a few places where I was disappointed, however. The sections, especially for the earlier fashions, are very broad– some covering 500 years or more! I admit that I am not a scholar of the nuances of these earlier eras, so I am not as disgruntled as, say, an expert in the 1340s would be. For example, the Tudor era (1485-1558) is almost entirely skipped, save for Elizabeth I’s reign.

I can excuse some generalizations because this is designed as a children’s book meant to present the very basics of fashion history in an entertaining and quick manner. In a world when most folks know Medieval fashion only from the Lord of the Rings movies, learning even the most basic real Medieval fashion concepts can be confusing to a beginner. The layers and undergarments, which is the main purpose of this book’s illustrations, are all pretty well-covered (ha ha!) despite the broad time swathes. For the most part, petticoats, garters, stockings, stays, and shifts are introduced in the eras they should be.

There was one era, though, which I thought was done a huge disservice: the 19th Century.

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Since this is a book about layers and showcasing the mysterious underwear worn beneath them, it would seem natural to include the many different types of undergarments in the 19th century. It was, after all, probably the most exciting, underwear-centric time in history! There were the short Regency stays and slips, the long stays and crazy-huge sleeve-puffers of the 1830s, the steel-busked corsets and hoop skirts in the 1850s and 1860s, the advent of the bustle in the 1870s and its construction ingenuity in the 1880s!

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Were they centaurs? They must have been centaurs.

Yet, the book dedicates only one section to the entire century and only illustrates the 1810s at the very beginning and the 1850s in the middle– with no children’s outfits to boot! So many shapes that I was bewildered by as a curious child (and even as an adult) are skipped over. The bustle is relegated to a few notes in the top right corner. I would not be as disappointed if the 20th Century decades weren’t given their own sections and illustrations despite the relatively uneventful underwear and layers involved. The 20th Century pages have fewer flaps, and there is little change to the undergarments after the 1920s. The most exciting bit is probably the corset and bullet bra on the 1940s/50s woman:

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The copy of the book I bought was preowned, but despite that, many of the flaps in the later eras had never been touched even though the flaps of the earlier styles, particularly the Roman, Medieval, and Victorian eras, were more “worn in” from use. Whatever person(s) had the book before me was clearly less interested by the modern era! The underpinnings of the 1400s were far more mysterious than the 1940s, at least in this case. In a few decades, perhaps the 20th Century sections will seem more exciting since they will be more distant from the now.

With that said, this book is all about layers and undergarments, so you are literally undressing the illustrations layer by layer down to their skivvies. Some folks might not be particularly comfortable with this, especially since the Middle Ages allows you to see under the lady’s chemise to see her stockings and she’s nude (of course) underneath:

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The illustration is not heavily detailed, but she does have curves denoting her breasts, a little belly button, and the tiniest V where are thighs meet her trunk. Being nude under her shift is historically accurate, but you can easily paste down her shift to make her more modest if you are concerned about it. The children’s layers are not as detailed, so they don’t go down that far and neither do most of the men’s outfits, though the 1960s keeps the playing field even:

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The fashions are Euro/Anglocentric (the author worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum), some of the terms are out of date (the book was written in 1998), the corset/stays/bodies information retains a slightly sensationalized tone, and the 1590s woman is wearing inaccurate pantaloons, but at that point, I’m letting my current knowledge outpace the level this book is intended for.

According to Amazon, this book is for ages 5-7 years, but I believe that’s way too young for this book: not because of the revealing nature of it (the whole point of the book is to reveal the hidden parts of fashion), but because this book has a lot of text and details that a younger child might not appreciate. However, for a 7-14 year old, this book would be a really fun, informative introduction to the world of historical fashion! I would have loved a book like this as a tween and I still appreciate it even though I no longer need it. For $5 or even $15, this book would make a great gift to a budding historical fashionista. The quality of the book itself is very high (great paper, wonderful layout, etc.) and it will answer many questions, prompt new questions, and encourage further research.

Overall rating:

Great fun for a fashion history newbie!

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From Cup to Curl: How to Get Fabulous Historical Hair Using Straws

Big Hair was a Big Deal Long Before Dallas and Dolly Parton!

Those of you that browse my rambling frequently are well aware that I am hair illiterate. Indeed, I know next to nothing about taming my crispy, unruly mane. Yet, I am slowly teaching myself a few tricks here and there, and the internet has been a boon for my boring locks.

As a strong adherent to the old cliche that “every curly-haired girl wants straight hair and every straight-haired girl wants curls,” I have dreamed of lovely curls since childhood. When I was very young, my mother had tightly permed 1980s poodle hair (her words, not mine!), and I remember playing with her pink plastic hair pick, pretending I had a perm that needed fluffing, too. I am infinitely envious of those glamorous 1980s superstars like Bernadette Peters and Whitney Houston who had curls so luscious no scrunchie could contain them! A perm is still on my wish list (even though everyone who survived the 80s or who has naturally curly hair tries their best to talk me out of it).

Besides wanting crazy amounts of day-to-day curls, my historical costuming adventures have reenforced just how important curls have been throughout the ages. The 1980s do not hold the monopoly on excessive amounts of curl! Indeed, many eras require spiral curls to achieve the right look:

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An Unknown Nobelwoman painted by the wonderful Jacob Ferdinand Voet modelling a 1670s hairstyle.

This lovely Portrait of a Lady by François Henri Mulard displays the shorter spiral curls popular during the Regency era.

This mid-19th century teenage girl has possibly the most enviable set of sausage curls in the history of mankind! I found her photo (and the one below) while I was researching Victorian haircare and have been obsessed ever since!

This unknown beauty from the 1870s perfectly demonstrates the decade’s fashion for intricately curled and mounded hair.

Other eras benefit from the volume brushed-out curls can give, especially late 18th century and early 20th century hairstyles:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, late 18th century, demonstrating the infamous “hedgehog” hairstyle.

Miss Carlyle and Miss Clarke enjoy tea Gibson Girl style while attempting to balance the hair piled fashionably high on their foreheads.

Many of these looks were achieved through wigs and hair extensions. Buying and selling human hair has been big business for centuries and one of the greatest criticisms of hair fashions was the fact that many styles often meant that the majority of the hair on a woman’s head was not her own, but that of a complete stranger! Much of the hair used to make switches and wigs came from peasant girls in rural areas, so a princess might literally have the hair of a pauper.

Fancy hairstyles and the hair switches required to complete them, circa 1867

 Unless you are lucky enough to be gifted by nature with thick, voluminous locks, hairpieces, rats, rolls, and wigs are all part of a modern historical costumer’s hair arsenal. There are plenty of awesome tutorials with tricks to boost the volume of your natural hair with socks and hair rats or make yourself a completely new hairdo using a wig. Jen of Festive Attyre always has beautiful big Georgian hair thanks to a combination of curling her own hair and adding in a hairpiece:

 I can barely handle my own hair, so rats and hairpieces escape me and wigs are a whole ‘nother beast entirely. I do have a squishy net doughnut that I use to help me make buns, but otherwise, I have very few hair-boosting tools (indeed, I didn’t have a hairdryer until my sister bought me one for my birthday this year). My go-to to get the volume I crave has long been braiding. I used a single braid to get fluffy 1890s “New Woman” hair:

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How to Get No-Fuss Fluff for the New Woman

I have been known to wander around the apartment complex looking like this:

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To get to 1890s/1980s worthy fluff, you must first re-live the 1990s.

If I braid my whole head like this, I am rewarded with glorious poofy hair that looks like it was crimped:

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Enjoying the irony as Mother Nature wearing faux foliage in the middle of a Taco Bell.

However, it’s not curls. I’d attempted pin curls a few times over the years, but I never got them to work satisfactorily, so for Georgian Picnic this year, I decided to try something new. I had been stumbling around Pinterest as one is wont to do at 3am when I started seeing all these pins about straw curlers and the photos made my jaw drop:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAA! SO GORGEOUS!

Most the the tutorials I found were for African American hair and I worried that my pale, limp locks wouldn’t be able to support the curls thanks to their lack of texture, but I decided to try it anyway. Anything for those spirals!

I found this tutorial and when I saw the curls she got at 6:06, I freaked out!
CURLS! SAUSAGE CURLS! JUST LIKE 1860s GIRL’S SAUSAGE CURLS!

 I think I would have fallen out of the chair if there wasn’t a cat in my lap digging her claws into my thigh for dear life. The day before Georgian Picnic, I bought a cheap pack of 100 straws for about $1.50 at Walmart and commenced experimenting. I was aiming for a hairstyle like this:

Portrait of Jane Horley by Rolinda Sharples, circa 1815-20

So I separated the front half of my hair and curled it, leaving the back uncurled (I put it up in a bun). I didn’t use any products in my hair before, during, or after. I did have slightly damp hair when I began.

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My hair in its natural state.

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I bent the straws and held them in place with bobbie pins, murdering quite a few in the process. Long metal hair clips would probably work better. You might even have some and not know it! Check your sewing kit. Fabric clips and hair clips are quite similar.

I will admit that I had a little trouble rolling the hair onto the straws. Most of that just springs from my inability to roll hair (hence why curlers, pin curls, and any other type of curl had thus far been unattainable). I rolled my hair over itself instead of all along the straw like in the video. This worked for my purposes in the end, however, because Regency curls are short anyway.

I slept on my straw-filled hair, but as I would later find out, the straws work their magic in only a few hours. When I took out all the straws, this is what I ended up with:

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My hair is much longer in front than a Regency woman’s would have been, so my curls hang lower than most portraits show.

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After phutzing with the ringlets a bit.

This is the hair I attended Georgian Picnic with. Since it was my first attempt, it was a bit messy, but it did suit the romantic aura of the era pretty well.

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

When I got home, I separated the ringlets with my fingers just to see what they looked like looser and I was rewarded with light, fluffy, fairly natural-looking curls:

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I lost about 1/2 of my hair’s length to the curls, mostly due to the way I wrapped them around the straws. If you wrap the hair more evenly over the straws, you won’t lose as much length.

The curls had good volume and made a nice Gibson Girl pouf pretty easy. I wish I’d taken a photo! Since I’d gone this far, might as well go the extra mile and brush everything out!

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Helloooooooooo giant hair of my dreams!

I’m only a few hairpins, some hair powder, and one fabulous hat away from this:

Portrait of Catherine Clemens by George Romney, circa 1788

I am so excited to have finally found a curling method that works for my hair! The curls held well until I had to wash my hair the next day, so they are perfect for long events. They survived wind, rain, and my hat in great condition. I tried them a second time for my dress photoshoot and only left the straws in my hair for about two hours. The final curls were a bit looser, but still held up to outdoor photography. Plus, I’d gotten a bit better at winding the hair around the straws, so the results were much smoother:

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I also did fewer curls to save time and ended up liking the look much better.

So  my straw curler experiment was a complete success! There are skinny wired-foam curlers that work similarly, but I never got them to work as well as these good ol’ Wally World drinking straws– a cheap and effective solution!

Nitty-Gritty Gibson Girl: Fluffing Flat Hair without Rats or Hairspray

From Capellini to Fusilli!

Hair is the hardest part of costuming for me. It’s an essential component for any full look, yet it escapes me. My family is low-maintenance, so we never bothered with fancy hairdos. My father has naturally wavy hair, but my sister and I both inherited our mother’s soft, but decidedly fine and straight hair. Truthfully (as my long-suffering mother can attest), I didn’t even let anyone put my hair up in so much as a ponytail until I was in third grade and then it never came down again. Down and wild or ponytailed and smooth has always been my modus operandi. Doing anything else with it is a lot of hassle for a hairdo that will go limp in a few minutes even with half a can of hairspray flooding it from root to tip.

The Dream

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The Reality

I have practiced more over the years, but curls, puffs, rats, and hair products remain firmly out of my realm of expertise. The curling iron laughs at me. Pincurls don’t stay curled. A perm is a distant dream.  So what can a stright-fine-greasy-yet-dry hair girl like me do to create all the fluff a stylish historical vixen needs? Braids, baby! Braiding your hair to get the needed volume is an old trick from the days before mousse and hairdryers.

Enid Bennet, circa 1920
Frizz is your friend!

I like having my hair braided. However, I can’t wait to undo them because when I take braids out, I get full-on poodle fluff! They give you that frizzy, fly-away volume that works perfectly for 18th century and Edwardian hairstyles!

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BAM!
I took this picture after wearing two braided pigtails all day.

What follows is my slap-dash Gibson Girl Pouf experiment.
This method works best for hair that is shoulder-length or longer. It’s by no means a perfect system since it started as an experiment, so keep that in mind. What works for me may not work for your hair, but it’s worth a try if you’ve also struggled with the puff!

 I have a very firm center part (naturally) and years of wearing a ponytail has trained my hair to fall back and flat. This causes my hair to gap around rats and flop around my ears. It’s also oily– yes, I have tried all the treatments; I’m just naturally that way– and smooth, so pins don’t stay in for long. Recalling the miraculous fluff of my post-braided hair, I decided to perform an experiment. To retrain my hair, I braided it upwards, towards my face. That’s key to getting volume into the roots. I did that to my whole head, braiding up and forward.

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(because I honestly and for true didn’t expect this to work, so I didn’t take many pictures)

The point of these braids isn’t to create neat little plaits for day wear, so looks don’t matter.

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Thank heavens!

I did the front half of my head in four sections: front (bangs), sides, and crown. The back I braided and smooshed into a vaguely bun-like shape. To keep my sexy braids in check, I coiled them into mini buns.

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Thus making them even sexier.

If you can braid your hair wet, then do it that way. I don’t like messing with wet hair. Wet just makes it more tangly. Instead, I braided my hair then took a hot shower to soak it. After that, I tackled some projects for a few hours until my hair was dry enough that it wouldn’t sop the pillow. Then I went to bed.

I have (tried) sleeping in curlers and pin curls before and found it impossible. I thought that the giant bulky braidy-buns would be bothersome, but aside from the neighbor’s decision to practice drums at 2 am, I slept well.

My hair was still damp in the morning. If you have a blowdryer, you can dry your hair that way, but I don’t have one at the moment. Instead, I entertained the neighbors by sitting out on the front porch eating yogurt. They have become accustomed to my weirdness, I believe, and didn’t bat an eye.

Once your braids are dry, you can follow almost any of the many Gibson Girl pouf tutorials, including adding rats and hairpieces for even more volume. My method uses your own hair as a “rat” and involves no back-combing (teasing) because brushing out back-combed hair is the devil. I didn’t take any pictures of the adventure that occurred after the braids had finally dried. Hair is challenging enough without wrangling a camera one-handed at the same time:

Illustrations to the rescue!

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First, undo the braid at your crown. Comb it gently to fluff it up. Clip a bobby pin to the ends (or a small elastic) and roll it. This roll is going to act as your “rat,” so it doesn’t need to be perfect. For a Gibson Girl pouf that puffs over your forehead, pin the roll close behind your front braid. If you want height at the crown for 18th century styles, place the roll further back. You could also add a seperate rat into this roll to puff it up even more.101_8165

Once you’ve got the crown roll secure, undo your front braid and comb it gently to fluff it. Roll and secure it behind the crown roll.101_8166

Undo and fluff your side braids, rolling and arranging them to your liking behind your top roll.101_8168

Make a bun with your remaining hair if you haven’t already. Finally, chocolate time!

Here are my results:

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Doing my best “Dracula” face. I was trying to do the fang-over-the-lip look, then remembered that Van Helsing may still be out there…better to just smile oddly and hope he doesn’t notice…

My Gibson’s fluffy and messy because OMG I HAVE POOF AND I WANT IT ALL!

I was more concerned with retraining my hair to stop lying flat than I was with how neat and tidy every hair was. The retraining was a sucess! My hair will actually stand up on its own and support itself!

I didn’t use hairspray or anything on it and it still looked decent three hours later:

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Here I’ve undone the bun and let the back down for a softer look.

I am obviously not a hair expert, but for a first try experiment, I am so pleased! This method requires a lot of preparation, but now that I know it works, I can work on refining it. A hairdryer would make life sooooo much easier…

The key to a good hairdo, especially some of the more complex historical styles, is finding what works for you. There are all types of hair, all sorts of styles to choose from, and different skill levels for each. Some people are naturally adept at the art of coiffures. Others (like me) would rather focus on other things. Experimentation is the best way to figure out what will work for you!

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More Gibson Girl Tutorials:

Edwardian Hair Mysteries Solved – Part 4 – Beginning Styling

The Seamstress of Avalon: Gibson Girl Hair: A Tutorial

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This braiding method also works perfectly for Regency and 1880s hairdos if you have bangs, fluffy styles of the 17th century, and frizzy Elizabethan poofs if ringlets refuse to cooperate. Even guys can get in on the act (Shakespeare Pouf, anyone?).

Hint: The more/smaller/tighter you make your braids, the more fluff you can achieve.

Portraits for Your Pockets: More Handpainted Portrait Miniatures

What Have I Been Doing? Painting and Procrastinating.

I am so excited! Perhaps you remember this little fellow, my second attempt at portrait miniaturism:

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Well, someone loved him enough to give him a new home! I am so giddy for both him and his new owner!

I have another handpainted portrait miniature in my shop now, this time a young lady:

“Portrait of a Young Lady” is available in my Etsy store.

She’s another imaginary character, but her attire has a mix of historical elements from different locales: her red and black gown is decidedly Italian while her plumed hat was inspired by the wild German hats in Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits (her hat ornament was inspired by one found in the Museum of London). I’d place her style at mid-16th century, but she could pass easily with garb anywhere between 1550 and 1610.

I have been more motivated to paint than sew recently, so I made a few more little portraits to fill the time. I even bit the bullet and began painting portraits of real folks!

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The first portrait is of my sister, a gift for her graduation (Sorry, Minnie, if you are reading this. Just act surprised when you see it!).

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Staring contest with Mr. Roosevelt!

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“Portrait of Amelia” in its pendant frame.

I based her portrait off of a photo I took for the 1840s headdress tutorial, but I changed the flowers and added details to her dress for an 1840s-1860s look.

The next two portraits were a gift to Becky, my mother-in-law, for her wedding anniversary:

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A not-so-pretty-penny and a very pretty lady!

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I did this portrait in an 18th century style for fun. I didn’t have a reference photo, so I made it up as I went along. I really want that hat now, though!

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Becky’s husband, Billy, is in his modern black pearl-snap shirt. There are three things you don’t mess with: rattlesnakes, Texas, and pearl snaps!

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Blue backgrounds have been common in miniatures from the very beginning of the art. Blue compliments most skin tones, helping the facial features stand out. In this case, it also helped highlight Billy’s eyes.

Though these were done as gifts for people I knew would love me even if I botched their likenesses, they have given me a little more confidence to work on more direct likenesses in the near future. They are much more work than imaginary people, though!

I haven’t felt motivated to sew at all recently even though I have a stack of new patterns (99 cent sale at Hobby Lobby!) and plenty of new fabric. Nothing seems to “click” right now. I have great patterns, but none of my fabrics seem right for them, while I have tons of great fabrics, but no patterns I feel match them. In reality, I’m probably just a little too perfectionist, but it does put a damper on costume production. So instead, I will continue to focus on painting miniatures, re-stocking my Etsy shop, and dreaming/scheming up the next big project!

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More of My Portrait Miniatures:

Portraits for Your Pockets: Handpainted Portrait Miniatures

Halloween Thrifting Challenge: Early Stuart Era (1603-1625)

Reforming Modern to fit the Reformation!

I am a mad thrifter. In fact, I rather prefer cobbling my costumes together from recycled raiment rather than sewing them from scratch. It’s an exercise in patience– a cycle of search, discovery, rejection, appropriation, and reinvention.

Some eras just lend themselves to being thrifted– Edwardian costumes, Regency costumes, 1920s costumes, even Medieval costumes– but 16th, 17th, and 18th century costumes are more difficult.

“Portrait of a Woman Holding Gloves” by Paolo Caliari, circa 1560

“Portrait of Odilia Van Wassenaar” by Abraham van den Tempel, circa 1660

“Mary, Countess Howe” by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1764

These eras (much like the Civil War era as well) often involve massive amounts of fabric, especially for upper-class costumes. Modern clothing just doesn’t have that kind of volume outside of wedding and other formal dresses. Another challenge is the fit. During these three centuries, the “pair of bodies” and “stays” became premier undergarments. Stays are much different from a bra and 19th century corsets. Stays have a conical shape and flatten the chest, a style that is almost the antithesis of the 21st century silhouette!

Sewing a gown like these from scratch is a daunting task even for a dedicated seamstress, but by using a few tricks and a keen eye, one need not master patterning and stitchery before making a decent historical costume. For the casual costumer, there is the magical world of thrift shopping…

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As evidenced by many of my previous posts, I am enamored with the 17th century, particularly the first half of the century. Informal portraits and blackwork are my absolute favorites. I wanted to make something similar to these portraits:

“Elizabeth Craven, Lady Powis” by an Artist of the British School, circa 1622

“Lettice Knollys, Daughter of Henry Knollys” by Unknown Painter, circa 1620
I am not sure if this painting is properly attributed. This women looks nothing like the famous Lettice Knollys. Perhaps they share a name? If you know who this lovely lady is, please let me know!

“Margaret Layton” by Marcus Gheeraerts, circa 1620
This portrait is famous for having the matching jacket along with it!

During the 17th and 18th century, there was a huge market for cast-off clothes. Once the higher nobles got tired of their older finery, they would sell it to lesser nobles, who in turn would pass it on to merchants, and so on until it passed to lowly peasants such as myself. So in the spirit of 17th century thrift, I set myself the challenge of finding just such an outfit!

A few guidelines to thrifting a successful historical costume:

First, thoroughly research what time period/decade/character you wish to emulate. Familiarize yourself with popular fabric patterns, trims, and most importantly, silhouettes of the era. You cannot construct a historical costume if you don’t know what the finished product should look like!

Second, browse through everything, including what you already own. For the “easy” eras mentioned above (Edwardian, 1920s, Regency, etc.), little to no alteration may be needed to make a garment look period, but if you find something too big, it’s easy to take it in. Keep in mind what you learned during your research. You may find the perfectly shaped skirt, but if it’s lime green splashed with orange roses, you may have to pass on it. Other situations can be remedied with a little work: Can you re-cut that jacket? Would that too-small dress work if you were wearing a corset or girdle? Should you dye that maxi skirt a darker color? Can you use that ugly skirt for a petticoat? Could that old pillow be used as a bustle? Goodwill always has loads of silk and linen shirts for cheaper than buying yardage!

Third, accept that unless you are lucky enough to find a period piece that fits you, your costume will not be “historically accurate.” You are taking modern (or vintage) clothing and manipulating it to look historical, so construction and materials will probably not stand up to museum scrutiny. In this case, it’s all about looks. So do not worry if you find the prefect 1970s-does-Edwardian dress, but it’s made from nylon lace. If it looks the way you want it, buy it! Polyester is not a pariah in the presence of a pragmatic penny pincher!

By following these rules, I hoped to gather up a respectable 17th century facade. I already had my “Universal Undergarments” in order:

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My Universal Undergarments consist of my cheap eBay corset, two tank tops (one for a corset liner, the other as a corset cover), a 1980s cotton skirt as a petticoat, and my thigh-high O Basics stockings. Since I would be costuming for the 17th century, I also needed a bumroll which I cut out of the fabric left over from making my 18th century embroidered stomacher:

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I just cut a crescent shape out of the fabric, sewed it like a pillow, and stuffed it full of fabric strips and scraps (hence the lumpy appearance compared to a roll stuffed with polyfill or cotton). The ties are double-fold bias tape left over from making my coif.

I particularly like my cheap eBay corset because it is pretty tubular. Normally this tubular shape would be a detriment to a corset’s function, but in this case, the conical shape works very well. It’s the closest thing to mas-manufactured stays I have found! I also donned my slightly-too-small blackwork coif.

My next step was planning the outfit. I would need a suitable jacket and skirt to make up the bulk of the outfit. The skirt/petticoat was the easiest part. Long, full skirts with drawstring waists are popular wedding attire in India and I found a beautiful vintage one on Etsy:

This is the seller’s photo. She makes belly dance costumes and is very nice!

To go with my skirt, I really wanted an embroidered jacket like one of these:

The Maidstone Pea-Pod Redwork Jacket, circa 1620
Laura Mellin made a beautiful jacket based off this one by hand! It’s truly incredible!

Polychrome Embroidered Jacket, circa 1616
This one gave me shape inspiration.

After a day or so, I found THE PERFECT JACKET, but after winning the auction and making squee noises, the seller sent me a refund and a note stating that she must have already sold the jacket (I assume in a brick and mortar store) because she could not find it. I won’t lie, I was crushed, but no one said thrifting online was easy! The polychrome-on-white style of embroidery popular in the 17th century isn’t really in vogue right now, and most of the examples I fawned over were expensive designer pieces, but black and white are pretty timeless. I soon found a suitable replacement:

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The embroidery pattern isn’t particularly accurate for the period, unless you count this jacket at the V&A or this one from Manchester, both of which are 10 years after the period I was trying to work within. We’ll just say that my 17th century self was ahead of the fashion curve! The materials aren’t “history kosher” either. It’s made from nylon and spandex with a little viscose for flavor cooked up by the designers at Laura Ashley. However, it was a Petite Large, which turned out to be exactly what I needed! It started off baggy, but by turning it inside out, putting it on over my “stays,” and pinning it to fit tightly from my waist up, I achieved a pleasing jacket shape with a flared bottom. I used big ol’ ugly backstitches to sew it together, trimmed the excess from the seams and was done with it! I didn’t take any pictures of that, so instead, bask in the glory of this crudely-drawn rendering of what I did:

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The grey areas indicate what I removed from the jacket. Modern clothes fit really loosely, especially under the arms. I had to go back and take even more out of the armpit to make sure it fit smoothly!

Other than that, I did very little alteration. I even left the invisible zipper up the front of the jacket. Affixing my blackwork bow to the front helps hide it even further.

Trim Challenge Bow

The 17th century was all about bows!

A few more accessories and one hastily-constructed backdrop later, here’s the result:

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I enjoy wearing all my jewelry all at once (especially my second-knuckle rings)! I still need to make a pair of cuffs for the sleeves.

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I was worried about finding some proper shoes, but as it turns out, these simple t-straps (“Jean” by Angel Steps) are just perfect! They have a low heel and come in wides, plus the elastic isn’t obvious and provides great comfort when walking. Many of the reviewers had ordered them to dance in. I had some difficulty ordering them since they went out of stock and no one at the company notified me. They also call you with a pushy sales pitch for insurance which I promptly declined. If you can find someone other than AmeriMark/BeautyBoutique to buy from, let me know! I love these shoes, but I don’t love the company.

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The Breakdown
This is a list of everything that went into making this costume and how much it cost.

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I’m only including items unique to this outfit since almost every outfit I wear has the same basic undergarments! All the jewelry is from my collection.

Re-styled Embroidered Jacket – $7.25 on eBay
Bullion Embroidered Skirt – $20.95 on Etsy
Angel Steps Jean Shoes – $24.99 on AmeriMark
Lace Ruff – $12.56 for 8 yards at Walmart
Coif – less than $3 made from a second-hand shirt

Total cost of unique costume elements: $68.75

It took me about three months to assemble everything for this costume. It was a labor of both laziness and love. I hope to keep adding to it, perhaps making cuffs, fashioning a classier ruff, adding a hat, making an apron, and adding either a shoulder drape or one of those sleeveless overdresses you commonly see worn in portraits of ladies in embroidered jackets!

Sepia

Portraits for Your Pockets: Handpainted Portrait Miniatures

I’m Painting Again!

For a long while , I’d been contemplating the idea to paint portrait miniatures. I have over 10 years of experience as a dollhouse miniaturist, mostly in 1:12 and 1:144 scales, and I’d done a lot of sculpting and paper construction, but not much painting in the traditional sense of the art. I focused on fantasy items or micro miniatures. I’ve lost most of the pictures of my previous work (like my micro-scale fairies the size of a grain of rice) as well as a bit of my eyesight, but the love of the super tiny is still there!

MiniatureCrest

1:12 Scale Dollhouse Family “Coat of Arms” Plaque
(measures 1.5″ by 1.5″)

MiniatureMask

Miniature Leather Masks for Tonner Dolls
(measures 1.5″ by 1″)

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1:12 Scale “Bisque” Doll made from Paper and Clay
(measures 2″ long)

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Under 1:144 scale Paperstock Houses
(measures under 1 inch tall)

It’s been well over two years since I seriously picked up a paintbrush thanks in part to wonky work hours and my world being turned topsy-turvy. Now that my Lake Worth apartment is only a few blocks from a Lobby of Hobbies, the artist in me has reawakened!

During my artistic slump, I had amassed a “collection” of miniature portraits on Pinterest. My favorite paintings featured people actually wearing a portrait miniature: a painting within a painting.

Portrait of a Lady by an Unnamed Venetian Painter, circa 1780s
I would love to have a chat with this lady about her extensive intaglio/cameo collection!

The old saying “You use it or lose it” may not apply as heavily to art as it does to, say, algebra, but my skills have atrophied a little over the years. Picking up an 18/0 brush, however, brought back a hint of familiarity to my fingertips and I dove into my first miniature portrait attempt:

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Can you guess the model?

Not very smooth, but not bad either! I was trying to mimic the wide-eyed look popular during the early 19th century, but I’m not very good at it…yet. I’m too frugal to buy new paints until my older acrylics are used up, so most of the unpolished brushwork is from the paint being too thick. It’s all acrylic on heavy paper which I then mounted between glass in a steel frame. Period miniatures were usually watercolor, but I prefer to work with oils or acrylics.

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I painted the year on the reverse side of the paper along with a floral flourish so when the pendant flops around during wear, there’s always a “pretty side up.”

As you may have guessed, my portraiture skills are not very impressive; however, I had so much fun painting the first miniature, I wanted to try again. I had been admiring Elizabethan-era portrait miniatures for the longest time. I had painted larger, Renaissance-style portraits before, so I feel a little more comfortable in that era than any other. There are plenty of miniatures of adults from this period, but few children, so naturally I took it upon myself to fill in the gap. This time, I decided to forgo a direct portrait in favor of letting the persona develop itself as I worked. I ended up with this little fellow:

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Before being cut to frame

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These little cases are 1.25 inches in diameter, a bit bigger than an American quarter.

Even though he’s still a tad lumpy from my well-aged acrylics, I figured out a better thinner-to-paint ratio to help lay the paint more smoothly. This little guy is 100% made up from his lace collar to curly red hair, but I did take clothing and style clues from various late 16th and early 17th century portrait miniatures, especially these:

Portraits of Two Unknown Girls Aged 4 and 5 by Isaac Oliver, circa 1590

Portrait Miniature of James I by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1610

Miniature Portrait of a Woman by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590

Portrait of a Young Man, probably Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, by Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1588

The magnificent Nicholas Hillard was one of the Elizabethan master miniaturists and I admire him greatly! I can only dream of one day being as masterful as he, but for only my second attempt at miniature portraiture, I am rather pleased. I like to fancy him the young son of an exceedingly proud gentleman…

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Portrait miniatures came in many sizes, ranging from palm-sized to tiny Stuart Crystals the size of a thumb nail. They were often gifts or love tokens. Others revealed political affiliations, like the many miniature portraits of Queen Elizabeth and James I. 16th century miniatures have a distinct “look” to them, often because the emphasis is much less on a person’s likeness, but rather focuses on his or her clothes and hairstyle. Until the 19th century, portrait miniatures were an indulgence for the wealthy. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, science and industrialization made pigments much less expensive, making production much less expensive. Enameling, another method of portraiture, became easier and portraits on porcelain became popular accessories. After the advent of photography, the need for true portrait miniatures decreased, but as an interest in romanticism and history bloomed during the late Victorian period, “portrait miniatures” (typically a generic beautiful woman or a romanticized 18th century-inspired scene) continued to thrive as art pieces. These less-personal-but-no-less-beautiful miniatures were in high demand. Mass-production of printed images and porcelain transfers kept pace with the trend, but portrait miniatures as a true portrait faded from fashion.

For more on Portrait Miniatures:

Portrait Miniatures on Wikipedia – Details many artists and famous collectors.

Portrait Miniatures at the Victoria and Albert Museum – Comprehensive articles about the history and creators of portrait miniatures, from settings, to style, to the evolution of the art.

How to Make Miniature Portraits with American Duchess – A fun, easy project to create your own wearable art.

Artists and Ancestors: Miniature Portrait Art Collection – A lovely blog that archives antique portrait miniatures from the 17th to 20th centuries (listed by country of origin) and advice about collecting them

P.S. Miss Choll, if you’d like to have your anime-eyed likeness, send me your address on FB and I’ll get it mailed to you!

A Brief Diversion

Playing Virtual Dress-up

I’ve been working on an early 17th century outfit for about 2 months now, but I’ve hit a slight financial roadblock, halting all the dress-up fun in its tracks. While I love Countess Elizabeth Vernon, I don’t have the moxy to go parading around in my incomplete costume just yet…

“Portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southhampton” by an unknown artist, circa 1590

What’s a girl to do when she’s an only half-dressed? Play dress-up for free, of course! Since parading around in half-costume is kind of unseemly (and uncomfortable, since I’m still working on procuring shoes), I went back to my pre-college addiction to virtual paper dolls, specifically the Tudor Scene Maker by Azalea’s Dolls:

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This thing is darn impressive! It has options for everything from sleeve types to ruffs to the color of the flowers on the overskirt! You can be as historically accurate or inaccurate as you please:

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Queen Elizabeth I versus Kyana, Queen of Stardust!

The virtual paper doll generator is based on the show The Tudors, but the doll maker is surprisingly historically accurate and offers lots of variations for both ladies and lords! Having difficulty getting real-world gents to wear trunk hose (those puffy pantaloons made of fabric strips)? Dress up a virtual baron instead!

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He’s sexy and he knows it. He just likes to mask his enthusiasm for trunk hose behind a wall of contempt.

The best part, however, if that I can “dress up” in as many outfits as I can dream up without having to buy fabric, patterns, or anything else. The miser in me is beyond happy! I can finally make my sister that Elizabethan gown she’s always wanted…

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Late 16th century glitz for her, awesome 17th century blackwork for me!

If you’re more interested in fantasy, there are plenty of other awesome dress-ups out there. If you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan like me, you can design clothes for some jolly Hobbits:

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or tailor a few outfits for a LOTR dwarf or two, complete with sexy beards for the ladies!

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Sorry for the “fluff” post. More fabric-and-thread costumes are in the works, but for now, I’m going to have fun with these. :)