My Last Minute Habit: Simplicity 4923 for DFWCG’s Georgian Picnic 2015

Save a Horse; Ride a Time Machine!

I have a habit of doing everything last-minute. No matter how well I think I am planning ahead, I seem to be sewing wildly right up until the very last moment. This year’s Georgian Picnic was no different– though, to be fair, it wasn’t because I was lazy (for once). In fact, I managed to hammer out 3 full outfits in the space of 2 weeks!

It went about as well as you think.

It all started in October when I invited one of the ladies from work to go with me. She had no experience sewing or costuming, but she was willing to attend. I was thrilled! Costuming is fun and slowly gaining mainstream appeal, but it’s still a rather odd, nerdy hobby that takes a lot of self-confidence for the average person to experiment with outside of Halloween. Having someone say “Yes!” to wearing a historical costume with me was a huge, exciting prospect!

The pressure of sewing for someone else, meeting my and their expectations, is way to much pressure for me to deal with in most cases. But I liked having a friend take an honest interest in my odd hobby, so I offered to make her a Regency dress. I figured it would be a good introduction to the historical costuming world: simple in silhouette, romantic, fairly flattering, and, while stays make everything look perkier, no special undergarments are needed besides a good, firm bra. She declined to let me fully measure her which complicated matters somewhat, but I guessed that we would wear a similar size if I dropped the underbust to accommodate a natural-level bustline.
Since I made a Regency dress last year from Simplicity 4055, I knew the pattern fairly well and felt confident that I could make a dress that I would feel proud enough of to let someone else wear. Bonus points for the fact that we are both librarians and what better costume for a librarian than a “Jane Austen Blue” dress?

The Infamous “Wedding Ring Portrait
Modeled after Cassandra Austen’s watercolor sketch, but with Victorian flair. This image, however, is iconic and the blue is lovely!

Watercolor Portrait of a Woman by Cassandra Austen, circa 1804
Another painting purported to be of Jane. The blue dress may have inspired the color choice for the Victorian portrait above.

I went to Thrift Town to procure a nice blue cotton sateen sheet to make her a dress from. While there, Chris found some absolutely fabulous curtains that he immediately declared would make the perfect waistcoat. Here they are performing their intended function (I “borrowed” them for pictures of my bustle gown):

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But they wouldn’t remain curtains for long! Soon they would be transformed into something like this:

Portrait of an Unknown Man by Alexis-Simon Belle, painted 1712

When my husband not only volunteers to wear a costume, but gets excited to do so, I can’t say no! So into the cart went the curtains and onto my to-sew list went a waistcoat. Naturally, a new waistcoat would need a coat to go with it and breeches as well, so many shopping trips later (about 2 weeks of looking to be precise), I finally found a silvery sateen sheet and some grey slacks of a close enough color match.

Chris Coat 2015

The Plan.

So now I had two projects on my list: a Regency dress for my coworker and a whole outfit for my husband!

Since Chris was now going as an early Georgian gentleman rather than his cold-weather Regency look from last year, I fell into the inevitable trap: I needed something to match! (I have also gained about 15 pounds, so I’ve outgrown my purple 1780s dress). I had such wonderful luck using a sari for my ballet-night bustle dress, I decided I wanted to use another one with a gold border to make an earlier style of gown, specifically a riding habit like Countess Henrietta’s!

Henrietta Cavendish Holles (1694–1755), Countess of Oxford by Godfrey Kneller, painted 1714

Lady Henrietta Cavendish, Viscountess Huntingtower by Godfrey Kneller, painted 1715
Henrietta isn’t particularly famous, but she was a highly sporting lady. Her riding habits aren’t just for pretty: she one letter tells of her riding 40 miles on horseback during one outing!

Metallic trim! Fabulously fluffy hair! Cravats! And–most importantly–those stunning coats that look just like a gentleman’s coat! Indeed, unlike later incarnations which were more tailored to feminine fashion, early riding habits like these were pretty much exactly like men’s coats worn over a long skirt. Also: no panniers! Just a simple, rounded bell shape easily achieved with a petticoat. SIGN ME UP! I began hunting for a sari, but kept coming up empty-handed.

I wasn’t worried, though. It was still October. Plenty of time to put things together!

At that point, Georgian Picnic was a full month away and the weather forecast was still up in the air. Trying to predict Texas weather is like reaching into a bowl of M&Ms someone’s mixed Skittles into. You take one day at a time and even then you often don’t know what you’ve got ’til you actually bite into it!

And since it’s Fall, Texas likes to mix in some Reese’s Pieces just because it can!

Predictions flip-flopped between a balmy 65 and a chilly 50 degrees. 15 degrees makes a lot of difference, so I planned for both. Cotton sateen would be breathable and cool enough if it was warmer, but since it’s a thicker fabric, with long sleeves and some proper under/outer garments, it could work well for chillier weather, too.

By the beginning of November, I had almost all of my materials gathered and got to work on the blue regency dress. Then, like terrible terrible clockwork, life snuck up behind me with a surprise.

My friend got a new job across town! Her new job will hopefully be a much better fit for her, but it meant that I would no longer get to see on a regular basis. Our schedules just would not mesh. We were both too busy! So I finished her dress and just crossed my fingers it would fit. It took a bit longer than expected to finish thanks to a a minor panic attack, lack of freetime, and a few mistakes, but it looked good enough I felt confident that if it didn’t fit perfectly, it would at least fit well enough! Sadly, I haven’t gotten to find out how well of a job I did guesstimating: she could not make it to the picnic this year thanks to weather and scheduling conflicts. But, now I have a blue Regency dress on hand, should I (or anyone else) ever need one!

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Minka approved!

Christopher’s outfit still loomed large on my list. Though he was initially interested solely in a waistcoat, I knew that he had been uncomfortably warm in his red velvet coat. I decided to make the same coat pattern again, Simplicity 4923, but this time in a single layer of cotton sateen, so it would be more comfortable for him.

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It took exactly 1 queen-sized sheet to make Simplicity 4923 in size XL (minus one set of cuffs since the outer layer is made of the curtain fabric). I had no room for mistakes!

Of course, being one layer, it wouldn’t have a neat bag lining to hide all my rag-tag seams, so I ran every raw edge through my Singer set to a zig-zag stitch since I don’t own a serger. That took FOREVER. Seriously. It was basically like triple-stitching every seam. I will not be doing that again! Next time I’ll just cut extra seam allowance and try french seams so I only need to straight stitch each seam twice.

I decided to use some of the curtain fabric on the cuffs and buttons to gussy up the plain grey sateen and tie the look together. Of course, by the time I finished the coat (triple stitching every seam, sewing things on backwards, ripping more seams than I finished, etc.), I had only two days left to sew everything else. The weather was predicted to take a turn for the worst and I didn’t want a repeat of last year. I needed to get started on a coat for myself! I ended up setting aside the rest of Chritopher’s outfit until after my outfit was wearable. I started his waistcoat at 11am the morning of the picnic, hemmed the pants fifteen minutes before we left, and finished sewing the buttons on in the car! He was an excellent sport about it, helping me iron the pieces, saving me a lot of time.

Despite its rushed state, I felt very proud seeing him wear it confidently. Sometimes men shy away from fancy stuff, but Chris has begun to actively embrace his inner Earl!

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He also actively embraced the sparkling cider!

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Christopher’s Outfit Breakdown:

Queen-sized grey cotton sateen sheet – $3.99, Thrift Town
Curtain panels – $12.99, Thrift Town
2 yards brown cotton – $4.88, Walmart
1 yard black cotton twill (interfacing for cuffs and pockets) – $4, Walmart
4 large button cover kits – $5.76, Walmart
3 medium button cover kits – $5.76, Walmart
3 packs of medium brass buttons – $4.32, Walmart
1 spool grey thread – $2.49, Walmart
Metallic trim – $8.79, Joann Fabrics
Grey trousers (for breeches) – $1.99, Thrift Town

Total: $50.97
(Hat, cravat, shirt, stocks, and shoes are all from previous years)

My riding habit uses the exact same coat pattern as Christopher’s, just in a different size. I had already made an XS version of Simplicity 4923 out of cotton duck, so I knew that with my corset, it would fit.

And fifteen pounds ago, it fit without a corset!

The brown cotton duck of the original, however, wasn’t the best fabric for cold-weather wear (it is surprisingly breezy) and would be too heavy to make into a skirt. There was no time to order a sari and I couldn’t for the life of me find a light blue and white striped fabric like I wanted. I did, however, have a silky poly/rayon blend I had bought a while back to (eventually) make an 1870s gown. Chris actually picked it out. The man has a knack for fabric!

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There was only 5.5 yards of the green fabric (the coat pattern alone called for 5), but I managed to eke both the coat and skirt out of it by 4 am the morning of the picnic. I used the classic skirt trick beloved of Renaissance, Rococo, and Victorian costumers alike: whatever part of the underskirt will be hidden, make out of a cheaper material! So the back panels of my skirt I supplemented with some plain brown cotton panels. It has a simple and poorly-executed drawstring waist. I lined my coat with some white cotton flannel I had intended to make into a renaissance petticoat, but, hey, necessity overrules maybes! It was very warm and the flannel adds wonderful body. I may line all my winter bodices in flannel from now on!

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My shoes are American Duchess Pompadours. They’re from the old run of the design, so they are slightly different from the newer version. This is only the second time I’ve gotten to wear them, though, so they are still fairly new to me! They are great tromping shoes so far.

My shirt and attached cravat are 100% polyester courtesy of the 1980s. For a bit of fullness, I wore one of my many broomstick skirt petticoats, also courtesy of the 1980s. Together, they make a pretty classy western school marm outfit:

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This series of photos were all taken in a local park. Thanks to the cold weather, Chris and I had the park to ourselves for about an hour, but then more people showed up. I’m sure they were initially entertained as I wandered around in my “pirate” getup, only to be suddenly scandalized when I started taking off layers for “underwear” pictures!

My hair I kept simple. Henrietta’s hair in real life was actually the same color as mine, but in many of her portraits, she has fashionably curled and powdered hair/wigs. I planned to curl and powder mine as well, but with the wind blowing mercilessly the day of the picnic, I opted for a simple low pony tail.

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To add some character, I added some fullness to the sides by pushing two haircombs forward into my hair, creating subtle bumps that (in my mind at least) imitated the fashionable double-peaked hairstyles while allowing me to still wear my hat:

Portrait of Rich Ingram, 5th Viscount Irwin, and his Wife Anne, c.1715-20 by Jonathan Richardson
Both men and women wore their hair with a strong center part with their hair mounded up on either side. Men generally didn’t have facial hair, but there is no way Christopher will ever willingly shave his beard, historically accurate or not!

I also wore the portrait miniature I painted of Christopher in his first 18th century coat and a cheap Halloween tricorn with the worst coppery braid on it that I was too tuckered out to change.

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My Costume Breakdown:

5.5 yards of green poly/rayon – $29.16, Hancock Fabrics
2 yards white cotton flannel – $6.98, Walmart
2 yards brown cotton – $4.88, Walmart
1/2 yard black cotton twill (interfacing for cuffs) – $2.00, Walmart
5 packs of large brass buttons – $7.20
Spool of green thread – $2.49, Walmart
1980s cravat-embellished blouse – $4.19, Goodwill
1980s broomstick skirt/petticoat – $5.49, Goodwill
Fleece-lined tights (to keep out the chill!) – $8, Walmart
Gaudy Halloween tricorn – $15

Total: $65.39
(Not including shoes, corset, tank top, and portrait miniature which I already had from other costumes. Oh, and $40 worth of gold braid to trim the whole thing with. Trims always cost more than most of the outfit! I need a rich patron to buy trims for me so I don’t have to. *wink*)

You’ll notice my riding habit is a bit plainer than Henrietta’s. It isn’t anywhere near complete in its current state! I still have pockets to apply and yards of gold trim wadded up in a Joann’s bag just waiting to be sewn around every edge. But that’s a project for later. For now, I am taking a hard-earned break!

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The picnic itself was much more pleasant than anticipated! While the wind was blustery, we had some shelter in the park pavilion and in the grassy area below it. The sun was out, the trees were turning lovely shades of gold, and there was a whole crowd of us wearing 100 years worth of fashion! Christopher and I were the very “oldest” of the group, barely squeaking into the Georgian era with our 1715 costumes. We were like the great-grandparents at a strange Highlander family reunion!

Then we all did battle!
(photo courtesy of Jen of Festive Attyre)

We drank cider, ate cookies, chatted, and played Pall-Mall with the “grandkids:”

(photos courtesy of Kaycee Cheramie)

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Jen got a great shot of Christopher looking just like the Wikipedia illustration for Pall-Mall!

More pictures from Georgian Picnic can be found here and here.

And if you are interested in joining us next year (or sooner, for one of the many Guild events), visit the DFW Costumer’s Guild webpage, including this FAQ about Georgian Picnic!

The Mysterious “19th Century” Velvet Sacque-Back Dress

NERD RAGE and a Happy New Year to You!

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas! Today’s New Year’s Eve, so I thought I’d share a pretty party dress with you–or at least a very unusual one!

I knew that they existed, but I never thought I’d find a extant silk velvet robe á la française– listed in the 19th century portion of the Met Museum’s archives of all places!

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It actually dates to the early part of the 18th century (the Met says second half, but it just doesn’t look post-1750 to me).

Velvet Robe á la Française, 18th century (listed as late, probably early)

Back view of the Velvet Sacque Back with Glimpses of the Silver Cuff Trim and Lace

It’s worn through, but it must have really been grand back when it was new! I really wish there were close-ups of the silver trim on the cuffs and that the gown was displayed in the appropriate shape, but it may be to fragile to handle much. It almost looks like a man’s banyan as it hangs, but the sacque back and round hem (instead of having excess fabric on the sides to accommodate panniers) suggest that it’s an earlier dress. In fact, I don’t think it is a Francaise at all, at least when it was first sewn. The lines look much more like a Robe Battante, a style of loose dress popular during the 1730s. There are even paintings showing battantes made of velvet, like this one:

”Reading from Molière” by Jean François de Troy, circa 1728
For more info on battante and volante gowns, this post by Curse Words and Crinolines is a good one.

I have so many questions about this dress, but the online collections entry is severely lacking. That’s one of my main struggles with the Metropolitan Museum of Art: they have such interesting objects, but rarely write more than a cut and paste blurb about them, if at all!

PB Table Flip Gif

WHY IS THERE NOT MORE INFORMATION?!

Anyway, I hope you guys all have a fabulous New Year! I’ve pledged to do more much more sewing. I’ve got a whole box full of brand new patterns and lots of Walmart value fabric that needs to be put to good use! I’m going to keep up my mission to continue making historical costuming more accessible for the average folks like me: more research, more tricks, more tutorials.

See you in 2014!

–> UPDATE! <—

This post inspired a new Pinterest board: Mishaps at the Museum!
Check it out and let me know on Facebook if you find any cringe-worthy museum records to add to it!

My Rollercoaster Ride with Rit: Dyeing American Duchess Pompadour Shoes

Green with envy? These shoes are to dye for!

Sorry for the silence lately on the blog, but I’ve been too busy fawning over my new shoes to get any writing in until now!

I finally saved up enough money to buy a pair of American Duchess shoes! I had been salivating over the Pompadour since it came out in Summer/Fall 2012. I had just saved up enough money for an imperfect pair when Lauren announced that the Pompadour was going to undergo a re-design:

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The American Duchess Pompadour

The American Duchess Pompadour 2.0

The new Pompadour design is shorter, rounder, features a different fabric pattern, and has a classy white rand (in the 17th and 18th century, a white line of leather “piping” around the toe called a rand was the sign of a well-made shoe). I was faced with a huge costuming dilemma: do I wait (im)patiently for the new Pompadour with its sexy white rand or do I spring for my already beloved sans-rand version with the fabulous long toe? I love the white rand and the new fabric pattern of Pompadour 2.0, but I fell in love with the original Pompadour because the shape was so extreme; it just looks antique! That “antique vibe” is hard to find in modern shoes. The banana-esque curve simply isn’t admired like it used to be:

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Yellow Wool and Leather Shoe, circa 1720-30

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Green Silk Satin Shoe, circa 1710

I was browsing the American Duchess site in the wee hours when suddenly the page refreshed and the old ivory Pompadours were magically– dare I say fatefully– on sale! I could have afforded a “perfect” pair, but thrift and a love of flawed things prompted me to stick to my original plan to buy an imperfect pair. Luckily, the very last pair of imperfect ivory Pompadours was my size!

Though shipping was quick (4 days over a weekend), I was a nervous, giddy wreck by the time the postman dropped off the box.

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MINE.

I kept them pristine in their box for a whole day, afraid of grubbing them up. These shoes, however, were not destined to remain creamy white for long! I longed for a pair of bright green shoes, specifically this shade of green:

Green Silk Shoe, circa 1730-55
This shoe is later in the century than the Pomadour by about 10 years. The shape is very close to the new Pompadour 2.0, but with latchet straps instead of ties.

I consulted Lauren’s guide to dyeing shoes and decided that though Rit dye was risky, it was the way to go. I’d dyed wedding gowns and fabric with Rit before, so I though I knew my way around the dye– this would be both a triumph and a pitfall. The following saga of shoe dyeing took place during three terrifying, triumphant days.

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Also, just in case you are curious, here’s the “imperfection” in my shoes. It’s barely noticeable, but Lauren’s company has extremely high standards. If a shoe has the slightest blemish, into the imperfect pile it goes!

Day One: The Day of Terror

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Between the bubbling brew and shoes sitting in my dishrack: oh, the looks the landlord gave me when she came up to check! You can see the ribbon ties drying on the rack beside the shoes. I dipped them into the dye as a test.

It’s important to wash your shoes before dyeing them. If any residue or grime is left, the dye will have trouble adhering to the fibers.

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Carlsbad, NM is out in the middle of nowhere. The supply chain to any store, even Walmart, is wobbly at best, so I was limited to Kelly Green and Dark Green. When I first tested the dyes on a swatch, the dark green turned the fabric brown and the Kelly turned it cloudy-blue. Not a promising start. After years of sitting neglected, my art degree proved useful! Yellow dye to the rescue!

I was totally unscientific about my measurements, so I’m not much help if you were hoping for direct instructions. I do not know the exact fabric content of my Pompadours, but both Rit and American Duchess recommend a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water to dye silk. I ended up diluting the dye with pure white vinegar (5% acidity) and only enough water to keep the pot from boiling dry. It made the whole house smell like pickles!

I averaged about 2 cups of vinegar to about 2-3 tablespoons of dye. It’s very important to shake the dye bottles really well before pouring them! The dye is usually very dark, so it can be hard to tell exactly what hue you will end up with just by staring at the liquid.  I had tested the dye mix on the the ribbon ties with deep teal results. I will admit that the boiling pot of brackish vinegar brewing on my stove made me nervous. With the precious, pure Pompadours gleaming like innocent white doves on the counter, I was just praying that my experimental dye job wouldn’t spoil their beauty forever!

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The most terrifying moment of my life.

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GAAAAAAAA! *Whew!*

I used a synthetic bristle paintbrush to apply the dye right from the pot to the shoes. Rit dye must be applied hot; otherwise, it will just wash right off. I kept mine at a merry simmer the whole time since lots of heat is lost when you transfer your brush from the pot to the shoe. Rit usually dries much much lighter than what it appears when wet, so I was a little anxious when the dye batch turned out a little blue at first.

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First dye bath next to an undyed Pompadour. Note that the leather heel and eyelets are not affected.

After the first layer dried, I rinsed off the shoe to see how well the dye took. When it dried, the dye turned out a very pale sage color, so I applied a second coat. By that time, it was late and I needed to get to bed, so I wouldn’t see the dried color until morning.

Day 2: Doomsday

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Comparing the ribbon and shoe colors from the previous day. The ribbon dyed much darker than the shoes, even though they were only submerged in the dye for 10 seconds. The ribbons are very pretty and don’t have to match the shoe color, so I’m not concerned.

I saved the dye from the previous night so I would not have to risk mixing up a mismatched color. I added more vinegar and dye, trying to correct the blueness with some yellow.

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This is right in the middle of applying the third coat. You can see the difference between the dried color on the back of the right shoe and the wet dye on the front. Also, I noticed that the fabric pattern runs up one shoe and down the other, which makes one shoe look lighter or darker than the other depending on the lighting. This is not a problem in “real life,” but it will make the shoes look unevenly matched in photographs.

The Pompadour’s fabric has silver undertones, so the previous day’s color dried to a silvery sage. For a mid-century impression, the light color would have worked beautifully. It was very pretty, but shoes from the late 17th century to early 18th century were often bolder, brighter, and more deeply colored.  I added a bit of the dark green to the pot for the fourth layer. I had faith that the smidge of dark green/brown would do the trick. Bad idea. When the shoes dried, they were the same sage color with a strange rusty tinge splotched unevenly over the surface. This simply would not do! I rinsed the shoes and left them to dry.

It rained merrily that night, a blessing in the drought-stricken desert! While the grass outside greened up, my green shoes were taking forever to dry. I ended up tossing the ruined batch of dye and waiting for the morrow to continue my adventure. I was worried that I would never reach the right color mix. I was melodramatic enough about it that Chris teased me for worrying more about shoes than sanity. I laughed manically in response and went to bed.

Day 3: The Triumphant Reckoning

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The shoe on the right is how the dye from Day 2 turned out. It is obviously browned and splotchy. Not flattering at all. The shoe on the left is coated in the fresh batch of dye.

Day 3 dawned drier and brighter than the last, and I leaped/hobbled from my bed, thirsting for victory and caffeine. Chris was not yet awake, but my tenacity waits for no man! He awoke to the distinct scent of triumph, which smelled strongly of pickles and chai latte.

I started a fresh batch of dye. I had only about a cup and a half of vinegar left, so I got it boiling and added about 2 tablespoons of yellow dye and 3 tablespoons of green dye. It was thick. It was black. It was barely enough, but I eked two final coats out of it! I rinsed out the extra dye and set the Pompadours out to dry.

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The Circle of Life: Return to the Dishrack! Even my chef towel is celebrating.

Lessons learned:
1. Keep the dye as hot as possible.
2. Keep dilution to a minimum, but don’t apply the dye in pure form (salt crystals will form).
3. Shake the bottles thoroughly.
4. Dark Green Rit dye does not work for shoes.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, try another layer.
6. Turn the shoes upside down when rinsing to avoid getting dye inside.
7. Vinegar. ALL the vinegar.
8. Use a fixative wash and/or Scotchgard to seal your hard work.

The Final Outcome:

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When they finally dried, the color was still a little silvery, but it finally had depth! Even with two or more coats of dye, I don’t think I could get my shoes any darker, but they are very close to my target shoe color. For a home-brewed dye job, I am very pleased! If you want purer color without all the dramatics, consider a professional dye service. If you love adventure and the thrill of experimentation, dye your own. It’s worth it!

Want your own Olde-Style Pompadours before they run out forever? Buy them quick! The IvoryPompadours are on super sale and they are also available in beautiful Black!

Death Head Buttons: Pirates, Posion, and Gentlemen

Deadly Buttons?! Well, not really…

One of the most prominent accessories in 18th century fashion was the death head button. Sounds exceptionally morbid and creepy, doesn’t it? The buttons themselves, however, are pretty, well, pretty!

Detail of Red Wool Coat with Death Head Buttons, circa 1780-1789

Italian Stomacher with Death Head Buttons, circa 1760-1780

Death head buttons are actually just wooden buttons wrapped with colorful thread in a cross or X design. They don’t really seem all that deadly, especially in adorable bubble-gum pink. So how did they get their name?

The skull and crossbones is now synonymous with pirates and poison, but in the 18th century and before, it was used as a memento mori, a reminder that life is short and should be lived as well as possible. The term “death head” comes from the German word Totenkopf, which literally translates to “dead man’s head.” While it was used by pirates, the Jolly Roger was also a popular motif for gravestones and mourning jewelry like Stuart Crystals.

Stuart Crystal Ring with Skull and Crossbones Motif, circa 1728

So…why death’s head buttons? It’s simple, actually. The crisscross design used to weave the button looks like the crossed bones under the skull.

Death head buttons can be made in a variety of color patterns and style, from plain single-crosses in a single color to star patterns in multiple colors. They were especially popular for men’s coats, but ladies’ riding habits (often inspired by military uniforms) commonly had death head buttons on the sleeves, bodice, and/or stomacher.

Lady’s Riding Coat with Death Head Buttoned Sleeves, circa 1750-1759

Want to make your own? Check out these helpful resources:

Wood Button Forms from Wooded Hamlet Designs

Death Head Buttons, Their Use and Construction” by By Norman H. Fuss

Death Head Button: First Attempt” at A Fashionable Frolic