Overdressed at the Nudes Exhibit: My 1880s Flannel Bustle Dress goes to the Museum

Waaaaaay back in December of 2018, I went to Dickens on the Strand with my friend Megan (aka Mistress of Disguise / Clusterfrock). Since it had been frightfully chilly the week before, I made a flannel bustle dress using the “duct-tape dummy” method (mummify yourself in duct tape and cut the form into pattern pieces) in anticipation of promenading in the cold streets of Galveston (plus, there were many tales of the previous year being rained out). It was my first time ever using the duct tape method and even though it was very time consuming, I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome! I have since made multiple dresses using the original duct tape pattern and each time I have achieved a good fit much more quickly than my previous slopers.

This is the only in-progress shot of have of this dress because I was just trying to buzz through it like a bee in a windstorm in order to make the deadline! You can see the raw duct tape pattern at the top and the absolute wild shape of it to fit my body. It looks insane (3 darts?! Whatever works…), but the resulting fit is unbeatable.

However, in grand Texas style, the weather shifted from being partly cloudy in the 30s to being sunny, 80 degrees, and soppingly humid. Despite being ill-suited for the heat, I wore my flannel dress to a marvelous tea party and had a good time anyway.

Unlike the Victorians who wore their grand, heavy dresses in the midst of a mini ice age, current Texas weather patterns are far from ideal for 5 pounds of fluffy cotton flannel! I meant to write a blog post about my trip right after the event, but never got around to it. So the poor flannel dress hung in my closet, entombed in a plastic dust cover.

Most of 2019 was much the same: far too warm to wear anything long sleeved, much less made of flannel. I made costumes out of cool fabrics instead, like my linen-blend 1878 mourning dress with 3/4 sleeves to beat the heat (also made using the duct tape dummy pattern as the base). Even when December rolled around, we pretty consistently hit temps in the 70s and 80s. If the heat wasn’t going to wane in winter, I decided I was just going to make fresh accessories for my black dress, like I did for the Waxahachie Christmas House Tours:

When 2020 arrived, a new DFW Costumers Guild event was on the horizon: Renoir, the Body the Senses, at the Kimbell Art Museum. Again, I pulled some fabrics from my stash in anticipation of just making a new overskirt, cuffs, and collars for my black dress. But as the day drew near, time ran out!

Life got incredibly hectic: we had planned a nice long visit to my parents’ house, but on the 8 hour drive over, our car died in the desert! We spent vacation wrestling with the dead car and the rest of the week tying to find a new one. By the time the Saturday of the event rolled around, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to sew. I considered skipping it entirely. But Becky really wanted to go and the weather had chilled…the flannel dress called to me from the dark recesses of the closet: IT IS TIME!

I pulled out out and prayed it would still fit. And it did! Huzzah! I always thought the front was too plain, so I had just enough gumption and time to add some navy ribbon to it. Much better!

I have discovered that ribbon—LOTS of ribbon– is invaluable to costuming. Rosettes, belts, hat bands, ties, hairbows, jabots, edging, waist-tapes, binding, accents, purse strings…ribbon is infinitely useful. However, don’t be like me and underestimate how much ribbon you’ll need: I used about 3 yards of antique ribbon just to make these few accents and I didn’t have a scrap left!

So I donned my chemise, undies, corset, corset liner, under petticoat, bustle, over petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice, and hat, tickled the entire time that I’m wearing all these extra layers to go see nudes!

You see, this particular museum exhibit was exclusively Renoir’s nude paintings through the years (with a smattering of nude portraits by other artists that inspired him).

Ooo, lala!

vs. Our Extra-Fully-Clothed Group

Photo courtesy of Christy

Honestly, I think our costumed group provided excellent historical context and contrast to the exhibit. There we were, dressed as the women in the portraits and patrons of the museums viewing the paintings would have dressed in their day-to-day lives– highlighting just how intimate and revealing Renoir’s realistic nudes are and how brave and daring his models were to pose nude in an era where women generally wore very modest clothing and while idealistic, “classically” painted nudes were widely revered, the models/actresses posing for them were still given the disapproving societal side-eye.

I wish I’d gotten some photos of us in costume next to the paintings to show the contrast, but there were lots of people and I always feel a bit rude taking photos in a full gallery when folks are there trying to appreciate the art. I did grab one of Becky and I outside in the lovely, pleasant, absolutely refreshing 50 degree Texas morning air:

10000000% more pleasant than the 80 degree days of December 2018 and 2019!

Afterwards, we went to La Madeline for lunch where I stuffed myself silly with strawberries and cream!

It was a good day, something I sorely needed to lift my mood after the stressful week scraping and scrambling after suddenly losing the car. I am very grateful to my family and friends for helping get us through it all!

Oh! I nearly forgot on of my favorite little details about this dress: the tiny Victorian pin that’s on the collar. I don’t know who it’s commemorating or what significance 1850 has, but I love the tiny mystery!

Addams Family Outing: Natural Form 1878 Mourning Dress

I’ve been neglecting to fully blog my outfits lately for which I humbly apologize. Since I’ve gotten out of the swing of things, this post is going to be pretty perfunctory. I need to work on getting back into the groove!

My friend Megan (you may know her as Mistress of Disguise) found out early in the summer that the Granbury Opera house would be putting on the Addams Family Musical. Of course, we had to go and we invited the whole DFW Costumers Guild to go with us! Nothing would suit attending such a production better than a mourning gown, so I immediately began sewing….in my imagination, of course!

Mourning Ensemble, circa 1870 via the Met

A late 1870s mourning dress illustration

Victorian mourning clothes have some intricate rules depending on the decade, but for the average person, it boiled down to two things: Black and Not Shiny. Silk and wool bombazine or crepe are the hallmark fabrics of mourning, but I didn’t have the budget for those. I needed something affordable, matte, black, natural, and most importantly, cool and breathable to combat Texas’s infamous swelter (yes, even in October it reaches 100). Cotton, of course, first comes to mind. But I own a black and white feline that sheds like a hay wagon in a hurricane, and having experimented with black cotton before, I didn’t look forward to wearing a hair magnet. Instead, I had linen dreams and a polyester budget!

The Hair-icane and Great Destroyer of Tissue Patterns

But, lo! What’s this?! A sale at Fabrics.com? And look: Linen/rayon washer linen in black (it’s a bit more expensive now that the sale is over, but still worth it, I think)! I loathe to buy fabric online, especially in a case like this where weight and drape matter immensely. Yet the siren call of a superbly rated linen-rayon blend was just to tempting to pass up! So at 1:45am on the morning of July the 10th (as the email receipt so kindly reminds me), I grit my teeth and dropped $50 on 7 yards of fabric.

It hurt, fam. Not gonna lie. Oof! But when it arrived….holy bananas, was this stuff the REAL DEAL. Wow! It’s gorgeous. It does that smooth “fwump” thing that linen does with a touch of rayon slinkiness. It’s not matte matte, but has a subtle sheer similar to worn polished cotton. Plus, it’s pretty opaque. I was GIDDY….and terrified to cut it.

So I did that thing I do: set it on the ironing board and pet it occasionally for a few months.

To distract myself from the thought of ruining my precious fabric, I turned my attention to buttons. I knew I wanted black glass buttons, preferably antique. I spent 3 WHOLE DAYS in antiques stores looking for them and I found lots and lots of beautiful Victorian black glass buttons. I wasn’t even looking for a set—just something that spoke to me. But you know what? Victorian buttons are tiny and I’m not. I kept getting flashbacks to the giant 1970s Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing that had a section about proportion in choosing designs. As a stout-by-Victorian-standards gal, I decided 30 tiny buttons up my front was not only too much work, but also not entirely flattering/suitable for the very plain design I had in mind. I needed buttons with heft, yet a subtle demure quality and a sophisticated goth-girl edge for less than $20 for a set of 15. Tall order? Yes. But the Czech Republic doth provide!

I found these buttons in a few places, but this shop was the most inexpensive and had great service.

I highly recommend these buttons. Absolutely fantastic quality, scale, and design, plus extremely quick international shipping.

Buttons in hand, I continued to procrastinate–in my usual fashion– until the week before the event. So I grit my teeth once more, rolled out my fabric, laid down the ducktape dummy pattern I used for my Dickens on the Strand dress nearly a year before, and prayed that my corset could handle the extra ten pounds I’d shored up between then and now.

I picked up my shears.

I took a deep breath.

I cut the fabric.

I had no design in mind other than “Natural Form/Long and Smooth over the Hips.” I was going in blind. I just cut, sewed, and prayed it would fit. And at first, it didn’t.

It is not perfect, but it was wearable. I didn’t plan for a V neck, but the original high collar design did not work and a jewel neckline was unflattering, so I folded back the edges and tacked them down. I miscalculated with my new buttonhole foot and placed my buttons too far back, so they are off center and a tight squeeze.  I wasted a whole day trying trim ideas that were all for naught and the trim I did choose I ran out of halfway through.
But I made it work!

I wailed. I gnashed. I threw it on the floor in a fit of rage. But I had no time for a pity party, so, I pinned and hacked it into submission.

And realized it looked like a 1940s suit jacket in the process…

The little skelecorn is not HA…in this universe at least. ;)

The final trim design is a three/four layer design. I had a tiny length of antique moire ribbon with a white picot edge that was my inspiration. I had just enough for the collar. To fake the look for the cuffs and skirt panels, I cut strips from the cream-colored sari scraps leftover from making my Ren Faire dress and laid a plain black ribbon over it. The fluffy, pinked black sheer is leftover scrap from my Moonflower bustle dress. The fluffiness is both trendy for the 1870s and perfect for hiding my mile-a-minute machine sewing. The collar and cuffs are designed to be removable so I can just snip the giant basting stitches holding them to the dress and swap them out for other designs.

The skirt is my Midnight Madness Standard Skirt: two panels of the 54″ fabric pleated down to fit the waistband. The very modest “bustle” back is made by cutting the back panel extra long and pleating up the excess into the side seams (similarly to how I pleated the sides of the Croissant Dress). The waistband itself is merely a length of grosgrain ribbon. I ran out of time to finish trimming it. Hopefully I will find the motivation to make a row of pleats for the hem. I ran out of time to make a full overskirt. Instead, I slapped together the little side “petals” last-minute since I felt the skirt needed some white to tie it into the trim on the bodice.

I was still sewing things together when I went to Megan’s house to get ready and we barely made it into our seats at the theater as the curtain rose, but we did it! A few other DFWCG folks joined us as well. We had a good time watching the play, a pleasant walk around the unexpected bonus fall art fest outside, and tasty German food at the Schnitzel Haus! I would definitely go back again.

Plus there is an old hotel called the Nutt House!

And just a week later, I got to re-wear it for Halloween!

Now I have a “little black dress” that I can jazz up with fresh cuff and overskirts as the occasion demands. Super excited for the mix’n’match possibilities! With a few bustle-era events on the horizon, I’m hoping to wear it again quite soon, which should prove much more gentle on my wallet and sanity that scrambling to sew something from scratch each time an event pops up.

 

 

Vampires, Pointe Shoes, and Pattern Alterations: A Bustle Ball Gown from Simplicity 4156

My “Golden Moonflower” Bustle Dress
Still haven’t settled on an official dress name yet.

I’ve never made a bustle dress from scratch before aside from my Simplicity 3723 bustle hack and a poorly executed (but entertaining) attempt at a Nerfpunk outfit. However, way back in August, I had decided I wanted to attend Dracula: The Ballet with the DFW Costumers Guild, so I purchased a gorgeous sequin-encrusted sari from eBay and decided it was time to try! I wanted something glittery and dark– it was a vampire story after all! I took a cue from one of my favorite dresses in the Met and decided to use Simplicity 4156 as the pattern base since it was handy and I like how it fits me:

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Sari Bustle Dress Design

After a hectic September, October was supposed to be comparatively calm and un-scheduled–free and clear for sewing a few big projects for upcoming DFW Costumers Guild events. However, as a pithy coffee mug once said, “Man plans; God laughs.” So, short on time and motivation, I threw up my hands at trying to attend the ballet with the Guild on the 17th. Of course you are now reading a post about the dress I wore, so SPOILER! I made it!

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A big THANK YOU to Kim and Greg for sharing their box seats with me!

Since I was so busy, I didn’t get a start on my dress until the week before. I’d never made an evening dress before, much less a bustle gown, so I was nervous. Nothing seemed to go my way! As you can see (hopefully, despite my bad watercoloring) in the original design, I wanted an all-black dress in satin and velvet, but I failed to find a satisfactory version of either. Instead, Christopher helped me pick out a lovely gold rayon/poly-whatever blend and a smooth black cotton/nylon blend: perhaps the strangest blend ever, but very simple to sew with and it had a dull sheen I liked.

For the pattern I turned to my trusty Simplicity 4156. While it is originally designed to be an 1890s walking dress with huge puff sleeves, the gored skirt is actually amazingly versatile and, minus the huge sleeves, the bodice is an excellent base for a classic vest-style 1880s bodice. Thanks to a summer of ice cream and days too hot to move, I had to make three mock-ups before I finally got the pattern to fit exactly as I wanted. I felt kinda proud of myself because after I did all the alterations, I found that Francis Grimble’s “Fashions of the Gilded Age” book had lots of helpful fitting advice that I unintentionally followed, particularly the adjustment for the “extra-erect” figure which, honestly, surprised me since I’d always thought of myself as rather hunched (this, as it turns out, is also paradoxically true).

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I did my third mockup in black cotton twill that I miraculously found at Walmart. I used the twill pieces to cut out my fashion fabric and then turned them into the lining. It was a little thick, but the stiffness meant that the bodice stayed smooth without adding boning to the seams. I fitted everything over my Hourglass Attire corset, a single cotton petticoat from Goodwill, my haphazard pink bustle cage (based on American Duchess’s free pattern), and the bum pad draped with a ruffled tablecloth from my Simplicity 3723 bustle project. The sheer weight of all the sequins on the sari combined with the heavy rayon blend was too much for my bustle to handle, so it’s not as booty-licious as I’d like. Still, lots of swish!

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I tried the cage over the bum pad and settled on putting it on the bottom because I needed the extra fluff the ruffles provided.

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I wore my absolute favorite pair of shoes: some 1980s black suede beauties with lace-up fronts. Sadly they are a size too small and falling to pieces.

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For the bustle, I just gathered and draped the back until I liked it. It’s made from a single length of fabric. I used the selvages as the hem and fringed the drape in front instead of hemming it. I was so short on time I even left the bottom of the underskirt unhemmed (it’s pinked).

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I was so rushed I didn’t take many in-progress photos. Honestly, most of it, especially the crossover front, I just wung. The only real in-progress shot I got was when I contemplated making the dress sleeveless with ruffles instead of 3/4 sleeved.

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Alterations I made to Simplicity 4156, an 1890s walking dress, into an 1880s evening gown:

-No balloon sleeves. I used the sleeve pattern from Simplicity 3723, actually. Fave sleeve pattern ever!
-No standing collar or cuffs. Even though I wanted them, I ran out of time.
-No side peplum. Peplums are very 1890s, so I cut down the front, but kept the back to make an 1880s-style bustle tail instead.
-Crossover bodice front.
-Randomly draped bustle.
-“Accidental” V neck.

You’ll notice that in my design and in this photo, the point d’esprit completely fills the neckline. Indeed, I got all the way done sewing on the high collar on Friday only to discover that the neckline pulled too far up so it choked me in front and gaped at the back. I discovered that even though I had to do an extra-erect posture adjustment, my neck angles forward as though I am hunched over.

…pretty much like a vulture’s posture in reverse…

I assumed if I could trim a half inch off the front neckline, I could just re-attached the collar and solve the problem enough to make the dress wearable. Then, the scissors slipped…

..and thus my dress is a V neck!

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 “Golden Moonflower” Costume Breakdown

Spangled silk georgette sari – $24.99
6 yards black cotton/nylon blend – $24.16
5 yards metallic rayon/poly blend – $19.30
2 yard cotton twill – $6.00
2 yards black pointe d’esprit – $8.15
1 spool of black thread – $2.49
Cotton sheet for mockup – Free! (remnants from Amelia’s Edwardian dress)

Dress Total: $85.09

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I bought the woven wire choker necklace on a whim last winter at a local antique mall not quite knowing what on earth I would do with it. Turns out my shopping sub-conscience is psychic! When I had to re-do the neckline, the woven choker filled it in perfectly.

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After having a horrible panic attack about how hideously hair-illiterate I am, Christopher calmed me down and curled my hair for me. Husband of the Year? More like eternity!

Accessories Breakdown:

Black suede shoes – $5.99
Black sheer stockings – $1 (Dollar Tree has amazing socks for costumes!)
Woven wire necklace – $6
Screw back earrings – $3
White faux roses to disguise lack of hair skills- $8.98

Outfit Total: $110.06

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Looking fabulous despite the messy craftroom, angry kitty, and wee morning hours?

PRICELESS!

A Ticker Tape Timeline of Panic: An 1890s Costume for Candlelight at Dallas Heritage Village 2014

The Panicked Plaid Walking Dress, circa 1897

After Georgian Picnic, I got to start my new job! It’s a bit more complicated than anticipated, but otherwise it is working out well. The only tangle is that Saturday hours are required. Many Guild events are on Saturdays, so I was worried I would have to miss the December events, Lantern Light and Candlelight. Lantern Light was actually a last minute event. We were invited on the fly to attend for free if we all come dressed in 1890s garb. I love the 1890s! And free? Everybody loves free!

When the schedule rolled out at work the following week, however, I was scheduled to work that Saturday. It broke my heart, but Lantern Light was off the table. The Thursday before the event, the schedule suddenly changed and I got the day off, but by then other plans had been made, so I still missed it. I was, however, now free to attend Candlelight. I planned to wear my 1856 day dress since I thought it was “Christmas-y” enough to fit the mood. Plus, December events are frequently frigid, so yards of heavy quilting cotton would be a welcome haven from the chill.

But the seed of discontent had been sewn by my missed 1890s opportunity and the unruly Texas weather only helped that discontent grow…

Saturday, December 6th
(7 Days until Candlelight)

The forecast predicts that the weather, which has been unbelievably warm for December, will continue to prove the existence of global warming throughout the week. Highs are listed in the low 70s through the following Saturday. I wonder if six yards of quilting cotton is the wisest choice.  I have that summery cotton 1890s dress that’s much lighter. Maybe wear that? No. It’s too spring-like. I want to be festive! There’s a new Walmart down the road with an awesome fabric department…no! There’s no time! Plus, my 1850s dress is super cute.

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Maintain the course, Lizzie! You’re too deep in already, what with this new job. You don’t have time to make anything new. No more last minute sewing!

Becky is a busy bee at work and has no time to sew, so we troop over to the neighborhood Goodwill to put my Easy Edwardian thrifting tutorial into action. Hallelujah! The perfect lavender formal skirt appears! One flouncy silk shirt, pair of perfectly plum pumps, and a swanky sheer jacket later and we have the perfect basic Edwardian lady! We part discussing hats hats hats. I love hats…especially 1890s hats.

Sunday, December 7th
(6 Days until Candlelight)

O…M…G…This Walmart polysatin looks so fabulous! And look! A matching plaid! I need this plaid. It is sooooo 1890s!

The Delineator January, 1898

I’ll just stash them together since they’re practically made for each other. It’ll be a good project for later. Can I get some help in the fabric department please? Thank you. Is it okay if I start stacking bolts here? Fabulous!

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Ahem! What? Nope! Nothing to see here! Carry on!

Monday, December 8th
(5 Days until Candlelight)

Wow, is my head stuffy! I hope I’m not getting a cold…

Tuesday, December 9th
(4 Days until Candlelight)

Yup. Cold. Dammit.

Wednesday, December 10th
(3 Days until Candlelight)

Becky is going Edwardian. Chris is (was) going in his blue Edwardian coat. I wanna match eras! A stupid idea this close to the event, but–themes! Plus, I have this awesome, festive plaid that is just screaming holiday without being too kitschy. Yup! Totes making an 1890s dress! Simplicity 4156 has lots of pieces, but I’ve made it before and I’ve refined the pattern to the point where it fits pretty well. Sewing the skirt would take up a big chunk of time, though. Time for some thrifty cheating!

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I have a red satin formal skirt I used for my Edwardian hack, and it matches pretty well. I’ll just use the bodice portion and forgo the skirt. But housework first. I’ll start tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11th
(2 Days until Candlelight)

2:34 pm: Wow, work was a bear! I’ll just lie down for a short nap to recover. Better take some medicine, too. I should probably lay out my pattern pieces fir–ZZZZZZZZ….

5:53 pm: Whoa, I did not mean to sleep that long. Time to meet Becky at Hobby Lobby for hat decorations. Feathers! Flowers! Fabrics! Trims take the most time to shop for, at least in my case, plus, you can never have too many ostrich plumes!

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Chopping up a cheap Christmas wreath yields the perfect touch of Christmas cheer for my hat, too.

Friday, December 12th
(1 Day until Candlelight)

10:00 am: Probably should not have slept this late…

1:30 pm: HOLY COW HOLY COW HOLY COW! I HAVE 24 HOURS TO GET THIS DONE.

<abject panic and flailing for about 2 hours>

Maybe I’ll just wear my 1856 dress after all. But that would be quitting. I ain’t no quitter!

3:40 pm: Hmmm…I don’t really want balloon sleeves this go-round. Mutton sleeves sound better. Internet tutorials to the rescue! There are lots of methods, but I need to stay simple. The easiest two are the vertical slash for a very full, tapered sleeve and the curved slash that concentrates that fullness at the top:

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The vertical slash method is on the bottom.

 

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The “Gill” method is on the left.

They produce very similarly shaped results, but I don’t like the amount of fullness the vertical slash method creates down the length of the arm when used for long sleeves (for short puffs it should work just fine). Both would be correct, but the more fitted forearm of the “gill” method is much more flattering. The sleeves take almost a full yard of fabric by themselves!

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I would have gone bigger, but there was no time to do another mock-up.

4:50 pm: All pattern pieces cut! I scrounge for lining and end up having to line the sleeves in cotton rather than net, so they won’t puff as much as I like. If you can, flatline mutton sleeves with net if your fabric is soft and drapes. Crisp fabrics usually don’t need it, depending on how you want the final result to look. Another option is to make 1980s-esque shoulder pads. I had time for neither, so my sleeves flop a bit. Oh well!

5:50 pm: Time to go to dinner with the family and go to Journey to Bethlehem at church.

9:40 pm: Chris drops me off at the house on his way to Magic the Gathering.

1:15 am: There’s so much to do! The lapels are giving me lots of trouble because I’ve worn out the needle and I have no more! Chris has the car way across town, so buying a fresh one is a no-go. I hand crank the needle through the thick lapel interfacing, which works great….until I realize I’ve just sewn one lapel backwards! Crap.

2:26 am: THE NEEDLE BREAKS.

2:27 am: Wailing and gnashing of teeth.

3:15 am: Chris picks me up after Magic the Gathering and we buy fresh needles from Wally World.

4:40 am: Bed.

Saturday, December 13th
(The Day of Candlelight)

9:00 am: Alarm goes off.

10:00 am: I decide I needed to make life even more complicated by adding a faux belt front to the bodice insert. I bought the buckle off eBay about a month ago for a few dollars. I didn’t really know why I bought it at the time, but it works perfectly. Must have been fate! Also the hand of fate: I have a red silk shirt from Goodwill to recycle into a belt that pretty closely matches the skirt color.

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11:30 am: Insert done. The collar came up an inch short, but there is no time! Hide it with a brooch…

12:05 pm: The peplum requires a ridiculously long piece of facing. I don’t have time to hand-tack it to the lining. Iron-on hem tape that sucker!

1:25 pm: Sleeves done.

1:30 pm: Wait, I was supposed to be curling my hair this whole time?! Noooooooooo! I forgot!

2:00 pm: Becky arrives and we get her all gussied up.

3:15 pm: Chris is hollering at me from downstairs that we need to go and I am still sewing feathers on my hat. Also, he has decided to go in his western vest rather than in his more formal vest and one button has fallen off. Sew it on while stuck in Dallas traffic.

4:55 pm: Arrive late, but look oh-so-fabulous! (Sorry for making you wait, Jen!)

1910s and 1890s

1910 on the left, 1897 on the right!

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Our cozy little group, complete with a pair of handsome gentlemen!
Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre (and the woman who so kindly took the photo for us!)

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Becky made her hat from a sun hat that she covered with velvet and trimmed with silk hydrangeas and sequined ribbon. Her first Edwardian hat-making project ever! The sequins caught the light so well.

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Edwardian hats are large horizontally while 1890s hats are large vertically, so I went for big, tall feathers and flora. Like many 1890s hats, I put a big V shaped bow at the back to create the “setting hen” look that was popular at the time.

Festive 1890s Hat Cost Breakdown

Wool hat base – $18.95, Go-a-Hat
Fabric for band and bow – Scraps, so free!
Various greenery from dismembered wreath – $4.95, Hobby Lobby
Red feathers – $1.99, Hobby Lobby
Cream plume – $3.99 Hobby Lobby

Total: $29.88

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

Panicked Plaid 1890s Dress Cost Breakdown

3 yards navy polysatin – $6, Walmart
1 yard plaid cotton – $1, Walmart
Red silk shirt for belt- $2.15, Goodwill
Gilded brass belt buckle – $4.49, eBay
Red formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill
1/4 yard interfacing – A gift, so free!
White beaded purse – Technically it’s my sisters, so, um, free?

Total: $19.13

You might notice something missing from this list: fasteners! indeed, there isn’t a single fastener down the front of the bodice! It’s held together by the belt, brooch and two strategically placed straight pins, but thanks to the fit and front pleating, you can’t even tell. Not bad for being totally on the fly!

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Happy Holidays!

Saucy Chartreuse: 1890s Walking Suit for Frontier Fort Days with the DFW Costumers Guild

Making Sunday’s Best out of Walmart’s Worst

I mentioned that I’d found a chartreuse shirt at the thrift shop recently. Well, the timing couldn’t have been better because I was invited to go to the DFW Costumers Guild’s Frontier Fort Days train ride. I could have worn my Mrs. Mauve dress, but I didn’t want to deal with the huge sleeves in the wild Texas wind, so a new dress was in order– short order!

I had found some super-cheap cherry blossom print cotton at Walmart in the clearance section for $2 a yard. It was love at first sight, even if the first 4 yards of it had snags all over the place!

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Japonism was hugely popular in the 1890s. These cherry blossoms are perfect! I think I actually squealed when I found it, but I don’t clearly remember. I do remember hiding the bolt so no one would take it while I finished grocery shopping, though….

Since there were only 7 yards of the cotton print and one full dress would take 6.5, I had to use every last bit, even the snagged parts. I cut the lining and enormous back skirt panels from the chewed-up bits. The pleats hide any little nips perfectly! The pristine fabric was saved for the skirt front and bodice.

I used Simplicity 4156 again (my Precious), but I modified it a lot. So much so, in fact, that I really had no idea what the dress was going to look like in the end because I’d deviated not just from the pattern design, but my own design as well!

The original Simplicity 4156 design

DressDesign_GreyDay

My first draft design: smaller puff sleeves and no lapels, standing collar, or peplum.

Originally, I was going to pair the grey fabric with some buttery yellow velvet, but when I put the two next to each other, it just didn’t work. Then, on a whim, I tried the chartreuse shirt…MAGIC! So I redrafted the design again:

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Design draft #2

I omitted the lapels and stand-up collar, and didn’t have to fuss with a peplum and facing, so the bodice was a breeze! The sleeves, however, were a hot mess:

I took TONS of in-progress shots…all of the finished sleeves. Yeah. Just the sleeves. Mostly because I was so glad to be done with them!

I used Ol’ Trusty, my favorite sleeve pattern again. Usually sleeves fit too tightly on my upper arm, but bag around my wrist because my arm is very muscular up top, but twig-like by the time it reaches my wrist. Perfect for 1890s sleeves, but I used applied balloon sleeves instead of drafting a tapering mutton chop sleeve. I just like the look better, but golly, was it a pain! I had to resize the fitted sleeve about three times and re-sew the puffs twice, once because I sewed one on inside out and another because I caught up some of the pleats. Since I wasn’t using the huge, original sleeve-puff pattern included in the envelope, I drafted my own complex sleeve-puff pattern which involved calculus, cracking the Da Vinci code, and blood sacrifice….

Actually, I just took Ol’ Trusty, figured out how far down I wanted the puff to go, then traced around the entire thing 5 inches out:

sleeveAnother one of my highly-technical illustrative masterpieces displaying my intense pattern drafting (and computer illustration) prowess.

It wasn’t elegant and likely could have been done much better, but it worked! I’m usually not much for cuffs, but the sleeves (even with the puff) were much too plain. I cut some triangular cuffs out of the chartreuse silk and was delighted to discover how Starfleet-eque they looked! Two covered buttons later, I was promoted to Lieutenant:

Starfleet Forever

Ah, tiny touches of geekery…

I tacked back the collar with some matching covered buttons to tie the look together. Since I had omitted the lapels and collar, the bodice was rather plain on its own. I had some lovely, drapey lace I had bought to make into 18th century engageantes, but the lace was just a tad too limp in my opinion, so I’d stashed it. However, it was just right for a jaunty jabot, so I upped the haughtiness level of the bodice with a swag of smarmy lace:

Smarmy” and “lace” aren’t usually paired together, but jabots always make me feel like one of those pretentious rich ladies or an Edith Wharton character. It’s like a costume’s costume: I’m playing the part of someone playing a part!
…I think my English Major is showing…

So at the end of day (a rather late end to the day, too), I ended up with something that, while slightly reminiscent of my original design, was much fancier than I originally planned on making:

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I used every last bit of the chartreuse shirt! All that’s left are tiny bits and strings scattered everywhere throughout the house thanks to the kitten.

I really, REALLY highly recommend the Simplicity 4156 to intermediate costumers, or even ambitious beginners, in need of an 1890s pattern. The basic pattern goes together well, plus it’s easy to manipulate, fit, and redesign by mixing and matching the pieces. It is currently out of print (a tragedy! Please reprint it, Simplicity!), so it is expensive. It goes for about $35 online, but I was lucky enough to find a copy for $10 from a theater costumer closeout sale, so there are bargains out there!

Construction Notes

The front closes with hooks and eyes and I used 1/2 inch wide cable ties to bone the front, sides, and center back which helped the fit immensely!

For coolness, I didn’t add a full-sleeve interior lining.

My dress form is about 2 inches longer in the waist than I am, so pardon the gap! I am much stockier than Simplicity the Dress Form is, so the bodice actually meets the skirt when I wear them.

I also need to add a waist tape and some hooks and eyes to hold the bodice and skirt together, but I ran out of time. This dress is my new “event” dress, though, so I have lots of time to finish it up for the next go-round. For the train ride, a few strategically placed safety pins in the bodice held everything together nicely!

This braid was in my stash for YEARS because I had no idea what to do with it. It’s really shiny (the picture makes it look less so, but it’s 1980s costume-jewelry gold) and stiff, so it holds the hem out nicely without being too heavy. Plus, it was cheap. I remember paying something like $2.50 for 10 yards of the stuff!

To get the hem to flare out in the 1890s lily shape, I used some gaudy metallic upholstery braid. The green and yellow 1890s dress in my collections used two rows of cording around the bottom to the same effect. Other options include: crinoline (horsehair), cotton duck/canvas, interfacing, and/or lots of fluffy petticoats!

Accessories

No walking outfit is complete without a hat, so I decorated a thrifted straw sunhat with the leftover lace, a black feathered bird ornament, and a pleated fan shape made from the cuffs of the chartreuse shirt:

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I’d originally bought this hat to wear with an 1860s dress, but I decided at the last minute I needed a big sunhat since I didn’t have a parasol. Boy howdy, am I glad I took a sunhat! I would have been (even more) red as a beet by the end of day if I hadn’t. Sun protection is important, folks!

I also made sure to wear a good pair of walking shoes.

AVERT YOUR EYES! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

They started off as metallic pastel 1980s shoes, but I painted them last-minute with some cream acrylic. They flaked a bit in the creases, but overall, they worked well. I plan to remove the acrylic and repaint the shoes with some proper leather paint later.

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Before

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During

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After

I need a good pair of taupe pumps! These are nice because they have a low heel and make my feet look fashionably long and skinny despite them being wide and duck-like. They are almost comfier than a pair of tennis shoes…almost!

A little scuffed and flaky after walking all afternoon on the bricks, but no blisters, no bunions, and no sore arches!

My sister’s elegant ivory purse and an antique silver locket rounded out the ensemble:

This beauty is currently listed in my Etsy shop.

We all had an excellent time at Frontier Fort Days in the Fort Worth Stockyards, surveying the longhorn cattle parade through the streets behind columns of Civil War era troops,  attending a mortar (cannon) loading and firing demonstration, and, in my case, ordering a burger and fries:

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Dressed a decade too early for the hamburger. Just call me food-fashion forward!

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Chris investigating the artillery.

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A lumbering lot of longhorns!

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Some of the lovely ladies of DFWCG representing every decade from 1870 to 1900.

Jen of Festive Attyre took tons of photos of the event and everyone’s handsome costumes. You can find them all on Flickr:

flickrphotos

See more pictures here!

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The Walmart Fabric Trio!
Each of us made our dresses from Walmart fabric finds.
(Photo by Festive Attyre)

It was 90+ degrees outside (32° Celsius), so I was really glad I took a hat and fan! By the end of the train trip, we were all madly fanning ourselves, glad to be back in the air-conditioned coach. Despite the afternoon heat, I was actually quite comfortable until I sat in the “parked-in-the-sun-baking-all-day” car!

Me and my no-fuss frizz both fizzled out!

All in all, a good, old-fashioned day out with the gals (and some handsome cowboys)!

Dress Stats:

7 yards of cotton print – $14, Walmart
Chartreuse silk shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Cream silk knit shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Queen-sized cotton sheet – $1.99, Thrift Town
1/2 inch cover button kit – $4, Joann Fabrics
Hooks and eyes – $1, Hobby Lobby
1 full spool of thread – $2.99, Hobby Lobby
5 yards gold braid – $1.25, personal stash1 yard net lace – $4.99, Etsy

Total: $39.22

If you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (or willing to meet up), the DFW Costumers Guild is an open group that welcomes historical and fantasy costumers alike. You can read more about the group, read the guild blog, and get details about future events on the DFW Costumer’s Guild website or Facebook page!

Hat Trick: Turn a Placemat into an 18th Century Hat in Three Steps

Alternate Title:
Le Chapeau Rusé – Using Bad French to Disguise Excellent Hat Trickery

To complement my Robe pas Cher and to ensure that I was suitably dressed for an outdoor excursion, I needed a hat to wear for Georgian Picnic. In addition, I had sorely neglected the past, oh, ten or so Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges and I wanted a good stepping stone project to get back on track.

Enter Le Chapeau Rusé!

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I had plunged myself so deeply into making a suitable costume for Christopher that by the time I got around to my own costume, I was a little burnt out and very very far behind schedule. I managed to eek out a wearable muslin from my test pattern, but I always feel under-dressed without accessories, so I decided I needed a hat. I didn’t have time to order one and I had foolishly missed out on all the post-Halloween sale merchandise. However, there was no need to worry because I had long ago discovered this post about placemat hats by the Thread-Headed Snippet:

threadheaded

With a title like that, how could I resist?

Inspired by Miss Snippet’s thrifty, simple solution to my problem, I set out to make my own version.

What follows is the three basic steps to making a super-cheap 18th century “Chapeau Rusé” out of an old placemat.

1. Pick a Proper Placemat

15 inches is a good, easy-to-find placemat size, but if you can find larger rounds, they’ll work as well. Hats were rather sizable during the 18th century, so don’t be shy!

If you can find genuine straw placemats, more power to you! Mine was a completely fake polypropylene straw placemat I found for $1 at Garden Ridge (the picture is the same brand on Amazon). Fake straw placemats have the advantage of being very springy and forgiving, but they are not historically accurate in the least. Real grass or straw mats are more period appropriate, but straw can be brittle and crack, so how you plan to wear the placemat/hat dictates which material is more suitable. While a natural, tawny straw color is a safe choice for both materials, almost any color of placemat will work as long as it matches your outfit (though I’d avoid brighter colors if you want an authentic look). Also, if it has bands of decorative braiding or a little extra color woven in, that’s perfectly fine for an 18th century hat.

2. Settle on a Shape

18th century hats for ladies come in many shapes and sizes, but the quintessential mid-century hat is the bergère, a wide brimmed hat with a low crown:

“Portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie” by Henry Pickering, circa 1753

This is the type of hat the Thread Headed Snippet made her placemat into; it is also the shape I chose for Becky’s hat. Originally, I was planning on making another bergère hat for myself, but I was horrendously jealous of Christopher’s tricorne, so I decided to make a folded straw hat which, while more uncommon, was not unheard of:

“Portrait of a Lady in a Straw Hat” by by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, mid-18th century

Another option is a giant D-shaped hat, like these:

“Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster” by Angelika Kauffmann, circa 1785

D shaped Hat

D-Shaped Dutch Straw Hat, 18th century

If you can find a big enough straw mat or if you want to make a smaller version, just carefully cut off one edge of your placemat and finish it with glue, or when you decorate your hat, place the “crown” closer to one edge.

If you were lucky enough to find a real straw mat, you can even reshape it to have a crown. My fake straw placemat, however, wasn’t malleable in the manner traditional straw is, but it folded beautifully. To figure out the shape I wanted, I held the folds in place with pins so I could adjust the placement and size as needed before I tacked everything into place with sturdy stitches. You will find that pliers are exceptionally helpful to get a needle through all that plastic!

Once you settled on a shape, add ties so your hat won’t fall off. Most 18th century straw hats had ribbon ties that were secured to the underside of hat near the place where the brim and the crown connect:

Hat Ribbons

Bergère Hat, 18th century

I used 48 inches of 7/8″ grosgrain ribbon for mine, but most ribbon between 1/2″ and 3″ wide will work:

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 For flat hats, the farther from the center of the hat you sew your ribbon, the more bowed downward and bonnet-shaped your hat will become. If you want the hat to lie fairly flat on your head, I recommend tacking the ribbon down 3-4 inches from the center on each side. Use pins to hold the ribbon in place before you sew it on so you can fiddle with how the hat will sit on your head.

3. Decorate!

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Real straw placemats pretty much become suitable hats the instant you apply the ribbon in Step 2, but without decorations, a synthetic straw placemat hat will look like you’re wearing..well..a placemat, so don’t be too miserly when it comes to trimming.  There are infinite ways to decorate your hat. Popular trims include:

Poufs of fabric or ribbon
Bows
Flowers and wheat
Feathers and plumes
Embroidery/appliques
Fabric and Coverings

I chose to use fabric scraps left over from my dress to create ruffled white trim and two types of bows from pinked purple fabric (I love saying “pinked purple” out loud, no matter how many weird looks it earns me!).

I used a large bow called a Double Ruffle to trim the back:

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I found the free tutorial on the wonderful Ribbon Retreat website which has plenty of other tutorials for different styles of bows. I was also inspired by the Flower Loop bow because it reminded me of 18th century cockades, so I made two for each side of my hat and put a silvery button in the center of each for a little textural contrast (all the fabric and ruffles gets a little too fluffy for me sometimes and I need to balance it out with a harder edge).

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To turn a placemat into a bergère, add a small circle of puffed ribbon to create the illusion of a minute crown. Otherwise, trim, trim, trim until you can’t see the straw anymore or leave it fairly plain with only a bit of ribbon or a light net veil— it’s up to you!

More 18th Century Lady’s Hat Resources

18th Century Women’s Hats” research collection at Larsdatter – Great for inspiring your creativity. This site is downright amazing!
How to make an 18th century hat. A tutorial in pictures.” by Dressed in Time – Sew your own hat from scratch.
An 18th Century Hat” by The Fashionable Past – How to cover a straw hat with pleated silk.
Tutorial: How to turn a straw sunhat into an 18th century bergére” by The Dreamstress – Exactly what the title says!
The Amazing Crafthat Pt. Deux : Finishing!” by American Duchess – How add a stylish, floppy fabric crown to a straw hat.

..and this.

HSF Stats

“Le Chapeau Rusé” – 18th Century Folded Straw Hat

The Challenge: #23 Gratitude
Fabric: White cotton and purple polysatin scraps
Pattern: None
Year: 1760-1780
Notions: Poly cotton thread, buttons, grosgrain ribbon, and I guess the placemat would count as a notion???
How historically accurate is it? 40% It is entirely handsewn and trimmed with appropriate trimmings inspired by extant examples, but it’s made from a faux straw (read: plastic) placemat.

I am grateful to: The Thread Headed Snippet for sharing her placemat hat (http://threadheaded.blogspot.com/2012/08/so-you-want-hat-but-you-have-will-power.html) and Ribbon Retreat for their free bow tutorials (http://www.theribbonretreat.com/Catalog/free-hairbow-instructions.aspx)

Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: In my bathroom for fitting, but officially at Georgian Picnic in the park
Total cost: $1 for the placemat, 50 cents for the buttons, $2.50 for the ribbon

I must disclaim that my French is limited to what I remember from an old library book I read in 6th grade and what Google translate can help me piece together. Many 18th century fashions came from France and thus had French names, so in that tradition, I decided to play around a bit with giving my cheeky 18th century creations equally cheeky French names (unless you are fluent in French; then you are council to all my poorly-translated secrets)!

18th Century Picnic and my Accidental Royalist Robe pas Cher

– A First Time for Everything –

I attended my first Georgian Picnic this year! I was so flattered to get an invitation from Jen of Festive Attyre. The DFW Costumer’s Guild has been doing the event for 5 years now, but I have only lived in Fort Worth 3 months. I moved just in time for Georgian picnic! I’m not the fastest nor neatest of seamstresses, but after two weeks of mad sewing, I managed to crank out a full early 18th century outfit for Christopher and a passable mid 18th century Anglaise– a.k.a. my Robe pas Cher– for myself. It was quite a wild ride!

The Pragmatic Costumer

My robe a’lAglaise is my first attempt at drafting my own 18th century pattern. It’s made out of polysatin with a cotton lining and a last-minute petticoat made from sheer striped cotton. I didn’t intend for the dress to be purple. In fact, I hadn’t intended for this to be my picnic dress in the first place– it’s my pattern test! Originally, I planned to make a version of this dress:

Robe a l’Anglaise, circa 1785-95

I had purchased some creamy, light floral cotton, but it was expensive and I didn’t want to cut into it without trying out my pattern first. So out came the cheap eggplant satin! By the time I finished futzing with my purple mock-up, I had no time left to make another. I applied some ruffle trim to add a semblance of finality and called it a day!

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“Robe pas Cher” Costume Breakdown

4 yards purple polysatin – $6, Walmart
20 hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
Purple thread – $2, Walmart
3.5 yards white striped cotton – $5.25, Walmart
White gauze scarf/fichu – $3, Walmart
Faux straw placemat (for hat) – $1, Garden Ridge
2 buttons – 48 cents, Hobby Lobby
Brown pumps – $2, thrifted

Total: $21.73

The Pragmatic Costumer

Still doesn’t fit quite right, but my Robe pas Cher is still pretty cute!
The lovely lady accompanying me is Christopher’s mother, Becky, in her first costuming project ever which she sewed in all in one weekend. She was also gracious enough to do my hair for me.

I didn’t really think about the color until I assembled the pieces on my dress dummy when it suddenly dawned on me that I had created a blatantly Royalist gown (ironic,  considering I wore this to a picnic in Texas and Chris wore a red coat. We’re such non-rebels!). During the French Revolution, people who still supported the monarchy wore purple. Wearing this on the streets during the later part of the French Revolution would have been a seriously risky business! Fortunately, my fellow picnickers were a peaceful lot and my freedom fashion faux pas passed unnoticed.

Doesn’t Christopher look dignified in his enormous red coat? I used Simplicity 4923, the same pattern I used for the Merchant Gentleman coat, in size XL (Chris is 6′ 2″ and has a 49″ chest) for both the coat and waistcoat.

The Pragmatic Costumer

I owe this man so much rum…

Originally, he really wanted a plainer brown coat, but I found three vintage velveteen drapes for $1.50 a piece at the thrift store and that was that. I may possibly be the worst wife ever, but you cannot argue with handsome results!
I’d never sewn velveteen before and I lacked pretty much every tool necessary to do it right, but it turned out okay in the end (the lining gave me more grief than the velveteen). The pattern recommended about 7 yards of 45 inch fabric for his coat. I soon discovered that the tops of my curtains were sun damaged almost beyond use, so in essence, I had only 4 usable yards of 36 inch wide fabric. Add to that the fact that following the nap mattered, and suddenly I had a dicey game of tissue paper Tetris on my hands!

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In addition to avoiding as many worn and faded spots as possible, I had to decrease the width of the back flare by folding the pattern in order to get it to fit on the drape.

I placed the gigantic front and back pieces on the least-worn sections first. Since they would be the most visible, they needed to be as unblemished as possible. Adjusting them to both avoid bad patches and still (mostly) match the nap was harrowing. After placing the rest of the pieces, I discovered that no matter what I did, some pieces would have the nap running in weird directions. When you encounter a problem like that, figure out which pieces are “least important” to the looks. In this case, it was the large triangular gores that flared the skirt, but were mostly hidden when Chris is standing up (and the cuffs because I had run out of any other place to put them). By the time it was all said and done, I had successfully Swiss-cheesed the old drapes into a coat!

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I am still cleaning burgundy fuzz out of my carpet and sewing machine…

The Pragmatic Costumer

…but it was worth it!

To go with his Captain Morgan coat, I made him a gold waistcoat from some jacquard I dug up at Walmart and a pair of breeches from some super 1970s trousers (complete with contrast zig-zag stitching on the back pockets. Groovy!). The waistcoat is decorated with buttons, but since I loath buttonholes and was blessed with a shortage of time anyway, the front closes with three snaps. Not the classiest closure, but it’s much easier to get on and off!

To do up Christopher’s bottom half 1720 style, he needed stocks and buckled shoes. The buckles are enormous brass belt buckles that I put onto strips of pleather and literally tacked (with thumbtacks) to the rubber soles of his favorite black loafers. The stockings, however, are what really make his legs look so good.

The Pragmatic Costumer

Them gams!

Ah, yes, the Stockings of Miracles! They are actually a pair of knit, “ragdoll” thigh-highs from AJ’s Socks I had bought for my own 18th century costumes, but when I failed to find a pair of plain, knee-high men’s socks that would fit Christopher’s size 15 feet, I went out on a limb. On my toothpick legs, the socks reach mid-thigh, but he stretches them out, so they go just to his knee. They don’t have a top band like most socks, so they stay up without compressing your legs. If you are a lady or gent with wide legs or big feet, and you need some 18th century stockings, these are your saviors! They’re tube socks, so foot size doesn’t matter, and if they can fit Christopher’s 20+ inch calves, I think they can fit just about anyone!

The Pragmatic Costumer

Chris enjoyed playing with the diabolo and even caught it twice!

The Pragmatic Costumer

*white shirt not pictured, but it’s just a long sleeve dress shirt. Modern collared shirts aren’t “period,” but if there’s one already in your closet why not use it?

Christopher’s “Captain Morgan” Costume Breakdown

Coat and Waistcoat
Velvet drapes – $5.50, thrifted
Red cotton lining – $14, Walmart
27 brass buttons – $9, Walmart
Gold poly-jacquard – $3, Walmart
Cream cotton lining – $6, Walmart
11 matte brass buttons – $4, JoAnn’s
Gold “buttonhole” trim – $1.57, Walmart

Everything Else
1970s pants-to-breeches – $3, thrifted
White gauze scarf – $3.50, Walmart
Wool tricorn hat – $21, eBay
The Stockings of Miracles – $12, eBay
2 large brass buckles – $16.30, Etsy
1/4 yard black pleather – $4, Walmart

Total: $102.87

The picnic was a delight and the weather warmed up more than expected. Here are a few pictures from our 2 hour visit:

The Pragmatic Costumer

Becky and Chris in their first historical costumes ever!

The Pragmatic Costumer

So many lovely Regency gowns!

The Pragmatic Costumer

And an awesome bright magenta Mardi Gras ballgown!

The Pragmatic Costumer

Besides all the beautiful clothes, there were so many fancy foods and pretty picnic baskets to  fawn over.

If you are interested in more photos, there are plenty more pictures up on Facebook, as well as the official set on Flickr. I had a wonderful time meeting other costumers and befuddling shoppers at the local Central Market when we stopped for drinks afterwards!

The Pragmatic Costumer

That’s a Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer in my hands. My dress happened to perfectly match the label!
Reeds, if you are “reeding” this, I may be available to be your over-zealous spokes-Georgian. I accept cash, credit cards, and more delicious Butterscotch Beer!