Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Importance of Stays

I've been meaning to take pictures of the early 19th century shortgown I made last year, to show how it looks on me when I'm not six months pregnant, and now I finally have. Actually, it turned into a comparison between early 19th century clothes when worn over different underpinnings. Now this is far from a conclusive comparison: there where many different types of stays, and for all I know less affluent women in some places might actually have used the overlapping bodice lining as only support (these linings are found in simple country women's dresses and spencers in Sweden as well, but no other supportive garments suitable for that class have survived as far as I know) - it works well enough, though not giving a very elegant silhouette. Each kind of supportive garment will give different results. However limited this comparison may be, it will still give a hint as to how very important the right underpinnings are for the impression you wish to give, and what year you wish to represent.

I used my corded, lightly boned stays with a wooden busk in front. The figure you get with these stays - even someone like me, a somewhat overweight mother of two - is one with a very high waist, bust pushed to the sides, and narrow ribcage. This was fashionable in the early 19th century, especially in the 1810's. The stays helps with posture, and prevents your outfit looking too much like maternity wear

 Walking Dress for mourning, Ackerman's Repository, December 1817

With the bodice lining you get a decent lift and support, but of the mono bosom kind. It will pull the dress forward a bit if the bust is heavy. It will not help with posture, and won't hide any fluff you might have. This general look is seen in the very early 1800's (though I should think most women of fashion would wear some more substantial support), and might have remained among the lower classes for a bit longer, especially in places where stays were not common among ordinary women.

I myself would not wear the clothes of a middle- or upper class woman without some kind of proper stays under them. For some (Swedish) working class impressions though, using the bodice lining for support just might be adequate.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Child's Green Kyrtle

If all goes well we’ll be attending a weekend event in a month, and as always, growing kids need new clothes. B, now tree years old, can wear the blue kyrtle, though it’s a tad too short for him. But evenings tend to get cold even in the summer, there is always a risk of rain, and our usual camping place at this event is high up on a frequently windy spot, close to the sea, so having the possibility to add an additional wool layer is vital. Kyrtles are much more practical than cloaks for children at play, and as he’ll need a larger one soon anyway, I made him one from green wool, left over from hubby’shose.

Quite long now, just clearing the ground. 
That did not prevent any walking or playing though.

I made the kyrtle wide and long enough for B to still be able to wear it in both two and three years’ time. At the moment it just clears the floor, and the sleeves must be folded back twice, but in a couple of years, the sleeves will fit nicely, and the kyrtle will reach to about just below the knees, a good length for a boy that will be wearing men’s clothes, and not those of small children, as he does now. 

 The whole kyrtle was made from this piece, about 150x75 cm, here seen on the fold.

The kyrtle is constructed from to main pieces, with two side gores that reach to, and becomes part of, the shaped armscye. A gore is also set in at centre front and back. This construction is found in several extant kyrtles called “Nockert type 2”.

The sleeves are so called S-sleeves, with a gusset set in at the seam at the back of the sleeve. If need be, I can open up the bottom of the sleeves later and add buttoned closures.

I needed to piece the sleeves a bit to get a kyrtle from the material I had, but that is perfectly period. It does mean that they took a bit more time to make than if made from one piece, but what you gain in one end you pay for in another.

I lined the top portion with a soft linen fabric, as I usually do on my young children’s kyrtils, to prevent any itching or chafing that might happen if the shirt worn underneath slips a bit. Not perfectly period, but it won’t show, and it’s a cheat I’m willing to make, as it’s not my children’s hobby - they just tag along.

The kyrtil closes at the neck with seven self-fabric buttons and buttonholes. 

I sewed the buttonholes one after another, with the thread lying loose between them, as seen in extant examples. It is a very fast and practical way to sew buttonholes, not having to fasten the thread after every one, or letting it travel between the layers of cloth, though perhaps not the prettiest look…

All sewing is done by hand with waxed linen thread, using stitches found in extant medieval clothing. 

One of the gores, sewn into front and back.

 The seam allowances and hems are rather narrow, ranging between 5-7 millimetres. 

 I submit this as a HSM challenge, though it’s more than a week late - the whole family got ill, so time and energy for sewing was a bit limited there for a while.
The Challenge: #6 Practicality

Fabric: Melton wool.

Pattern: My own, based on period kyrtles.

Year: Roughly late 1300’s.

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it? Decently – I don’t think it would stand out too much if sent back in time. Though the cloth name Melton didn’t show up until 1823, the quality existed during the Middle Ages - mine is machine woven though. The colour is OK for the period, but artificially dyed. The stitches are all period, as is the construction.

Hours to complete: Abut 15, including piecing the sleeves.

First worn: For the pictures.

Total cost: If bought new, the material would cost about 150 SEK ($18; £11,8; €16), but everything was in my stash. 

And terminology.... I've used to call this type of garment a cote in English, but I rather like the word kyrtle, as it's closer to the Swedish kjortel. Is there a difference, or are they just different words to describe the same thing? I wonder...

Crowfoot, E. Pritchard, F. & Stainland, K. (2001). Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. Bury St Edmunds: Museum of London.

Nockert, M. (1985). Bockstenmannen, Och Hans Dräkt. Halmstad och Varberg: Stiftelsen Hallands länsmuseer.

Østergård, E. (2004). Woven Into the Earth. Denmark: Aarhus University Press.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mending Trousers

Sometimes you need to do less creative and inspiring things, but I’ve begun to realise that mending clothes is not just economical and good for the environment, it can actually be fun, once you sit down to it. It's getting there that's the problem.... 

 Never got a 'before' picture of this...

Last weekend I mended my husband’s jeans, and my three year old's trousers. Both were mended in the same way: I put a patch behind the hole, and sewed rows of parallel running stitches over it. I did weave over the warp threads that still remained too.

Before and after.

A little bit of work, and my men will look decent a while yet. It’s certainly gratifying that you see an instant result of your labour.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Social Media: the Myth of Perfection - and the Reality

Lauren of Wearing History wrote an inspiring blog post the other day, about how many of us put the best light on things, while toning down, glossing over, or failing to mention that which is not so good. This, while perhaps rather innocent in itself, might lead some people to think that our lives, skills, homes, families and projects are picture perfect, while theirs are not. It’s far too easy to compare our own weaknesses with someone else’s strengths, or to compare our periods of trials with others’ periods of happiness. Hardly a fair comparison.

Lauren issued a challenge to other bloggers, to share the “behind the scenes” stories of some blog posts, to show that none of us are perfect.

I have actually blogged a bit about feeling unhappy, but have tried to tone down that part lately, as I want the blog to focus primarily on my projects and events, and not so much on my private life. As this is for a good cause however, I will share some of my stories.

When these were taken back in 2009 I was going through a depression of a kind that would have made the young Marianne Dashwood proud; it was so spectacularly pathetic, and yes, a young man was the cause. I’m still embarrassed about it – not the depression (that is nothing to be ashamed of), but the reason for it. Going to pieces so completely over someone who had never encouraged me in the first place was silly. We would never have been able to make each other happy, I've been able to see that for a long time now. Anyway, sewing and dressing up was one of the most important things that kept me on my feet, and pulled me out of bed every day. 

A year and a half later (beginning of 2011) and things are lots better: hubby and I got married. But there is always something to prevent things from being perfect: my sister that died a few years before wasn’t there. The fabric my dress was made from had her name – remembering my sister even on my wedding day. Also, my dad had been ill for years, and had to endure some pain to attend our wedding. He’s still not recovered. Granny got ill and couldn’t come at all. 

 Summer 2011 and I am happy, pregnant with our first child. But only a few weeks later, I would have a nervous breakdown at work, probably triggered by pregnancy hormones, and having to do a procedure on a child that I remember my sister dreaded when she had cancer. I couldn’t go back to work for weeks, and then only half time, until I went on maternity leave. I went to a counsellor and talked about my sister, her illness and death, what I’d gone through: topics I had avoided for years. It was tough, but I have been much better since, and the subject is no longer something I shy away from. 

Beginning of 2012. I’m a new mother to a lovely, sweet baby - but only just recovering from being very tired from blood loss, and in so much pain from birthing injuries - partial rupture - and from breastfeeding being tricky - it took three months of blood, sweat and tears to get it to work properly. Thank Heaven it went so much smoother the second time, both giving birth and breastfeeding!

Not all “behind the scenes” stories are that serious though – most are of much less impact, some a lot more amusing. Here are a few:

Empire/Regency stays photo shoot. Hubby was away, baby was asleep. For a bit. In the middle of the shoot (camera on self-timer) he woke up, and I had to blow out the candle and dash. Ever tried to cuddle up in a springy bed, nursing a baby, while wearing a wooden busk? Not comfortable. I had to whisk it out, nurse baby back to sleep, put it back in, and continue the shoot. Also, I didn’t yet have a proper early 19th century shift. 

Taking pictures of my new short gown. In lieu of a petticoat: a piece of raw silk fabric, tucked in a belt. 

New cap, trimmed with silk ribbons. Only, I could not find all of the ribbon, just enough to trim one half of the cap - the other side is quite plain…. That little detail was remedied before I used the cap at an event though.

Hobbit photo shoot. If I hadn’t gone through all the trouble to have my hair curled, and carrying all that stuff up two flights of steps from the kitchen, turning my sewing room into a hobbit larder, I would never have done it that day – the children were not co-operative, which stressed me out. A stressed mum is a bad mum, and getting worked up over a silly photo shoot felt wrong.

For the other pictures in this post, both boys were sitting by the window, having a laugh looking at me running back and forth, setting the camera, and posing. 

The point of these blog posts that are sprouting up now, are to show that we’re all human. We all go through hard times, and can always use encouragement. We have to be kind and considerate when we comment on other blogs – even the most dazzling smile might hide fatigue, stress and grief, the most amazing outfit might have several failed attempts or mistakes behind it. A less than successful attempt at a period dress is still better than no attempt – we all started somewhere. If putting other people down make us feel better, then perhaps we ought to take a good look at ourselves instead of others for a bit.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Medieval Toddler's Shirt

This post is horribly late, as I got a new laptop and transferring everything from the old one, and getting to know this new one, took a while. Picture editing in particular was different, and a bit challenging. The shirt was finished in time for the HSM Stashbusting challenge though.

This is a shirt I cut out, intending my youngest brother (11 years old now – that says something about how long it’s been sitting in my stash
) to wear it, but that never happened. It didn't get sewn until now, for my three year old to use.

The fabric is unbleached, medium weight linen. It’s cut in geometrical shapes, as was usual with body linens. 

 In shirts for babies and toddlers I like to make a slit in the front neckline, as it makes it possible to put over relatively large heads, and still have the shirts sit high enough on the shoulders to provide protection from the elements. You can sometimes see this in period art as well, though a simple neckline seem far more common by the late 1300's.

All sewing is done by hand, using waxed linen thread and period stitches. I made the felled seams and hems rather small, no wider than 5 millimetres, as that is seen in period clothing. 

And that’s all I have to say about this really. Not a very exciting project, but you can never have too many shirts…

The Challenge: #3 Stashbusting
Fabric: Linen
Pattern: None, I just measured and cut
Year: Generic medieval, intended for late 14th century
Notions: Linen thread
How historically accurate is it? Rather much. The fabric could have been more densely woven, but the material and stitching is good.
Hours to complete: Not sure, I only got a few minutes here and there to work on it, so keeping track of the time was tricky.
First worn: For the pictures
Total cost: None at this time as everything was in my stash.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Historical Disney - Snow White

For those who never read my blog before, my greatest hobby is researching and making historical clothing, and I’m also a sucker for Disney. The idea of designing (or sewing) historically accurate clothing for the Disney characters is something that has intrigued me for years and years. It's been done several times by very talented people, but I thought I’d give it a try too. I began with Snow White. I’m not sure why… maybe because I knew immediately how I wanted her to look.
I placed Snow White in (what is now) Germany, in the 1520-40’s, as it’s originally a German fairytale, it’s a place and period I like, fashion wise, and the slashed sleeves of the Disney version could hint at it. The laced bodice of this fashion also ties back with the story as it was written down by the Grimm brothers, where one of the Queens’ murder attempts was to lace Snow White’s bodice too tightly. I decided to only keep the colours of Disney’s Snow White, and for the rest do whatever I wanted to, or had to do, to make it more historically accurate. The colours is one of the most iconic things of the Disney characters, so hopefully that will make her somewhat recognisable, even after the brutal historical makeover. Both the clothing and the composition of the picture have been inspired by the art of Lucas Cranach the elder.

The picture can also be seen at DeviantArt.

Now a disclaimer: I’m not an artist, though I like to draw. I have no more training than I got in school, and what my dad taught me when I was a little girl. I only have the most basic artistic materials to work with: I’ve been using an ordinary pencil and some coloured ones. Thus, this is no artistic masterpiece and probably contains all manner of newbie mistakes. Also, I’m not an architectural historian, so that castle may be very wrong indeed. If so, constructive critique (preferably involving links to pictures) is welcome. I like to learn. The trees and mountains might also be wrong, so if you’re a botanist or geologist, don’t look too closely. All I know is fashion history and sewing, so focus on the clothes, please :) I chose to have the background in mutes, almost sepia, colours, to put focus on Snow White.

In my research I first had a hard time finding evidence of blue dresses in the chosen time and location. Red hues seem to have been the fashion, at least if you look at most of what Cranach painted. But there is this one (at the further end of the fountain, under the tree) that looks very much like the dress I ended up drawing: 

The Fountain of Youth, Cranach the Elder, 1546

And just now, as I was working on this blog post, I found this little gem - I know nothing about it, so please share if you do:

I'm now very pleased with the colours I chose for the dress, as you can imagine.
The headdress is more often than not shown in a golden/orangey colour, not red, but I wanted red, hinting at Snow Whites bow in the film. I suppose I could have used a hat for that - I might have done it differently if I did it again, but, well, done is done. Also, Cranach preferred reddish blond women in his paintings, but that would obviously not do for Snow White.

The lacing in front of these dresses could be in the form of either a spiral (looking like a zigzag when open) or a ladder - I like the former, so that's what I used. 

Three princesses of Saxony, Sibylla, Emilia and Sidonia, daughters of 
Duke Heinrich of Frommen - Lucas Cranach the Elder, ca. 1535.

I based the sleeves off of this painting:

 Judith Victorious - Lucas Cranach the Elder ca. 1530

These kinds of dresses were often worn with several heavy gold chains, but as I wanted a more elegant look, I decided to only keep the choker. A similar arrangement is seen in this painting:

Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Cranach the Elder, 1526-30

Many of the Cranach paintings picture allegories, religious, or mythical subjects, so a small heads up for the influence that might have had on the clothes. On the other hand, the princesses and noblewomen he painted wore the same kinds of outfits.

I ended up drawing this picture twice, as I wasn’t happy with the coloured background of the first one. Though it was very annoying at the time I’m pleased now, as it looks better this way, and Snow White’s clothes came out much nicer. All in all I’m pleased – more Disney Princesses will be drawn, when I have the time and inspiration.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

A Toddler's 14th Century Cotte

Today I finished my first medieval project (I think) in two years! Two summers ago I did a lot of sewing, as we intended to attend events with our group. Those plans fell through due to illness and other things, and in the wake of the disappointment I lost all taste for making medieval clothes. Last year I didn’t make anything, as we, due to little H being born at the beginning of the season, didn’t plan to attend any events. This summer though, we hope to attend at least one weekend event – fingers crossed!

Two years ago I made a toddler’s cotte for B. As always with the children’s historical clothes I made it a bit too large, which I’m very happy about now as he never really got to use it then. Yesterday I took it out and found that, after letting down the wide double hem, it would still fit him, though now being a tad on the short side. The sleeves had only been folded back before, but now I hemmed them too.

The cotte is made from the left over fabric of Tobias’s cotehardie (from which I have also made myself a pair of hose – the whole family wears clothes from the same fabrics…), a nice, lightly fulled wool. It’s in a style called “Nockert type 5”. This style is slightly too early for us really, but as it’s used in a small child’s garment – that often looks very simple in this period – I think it’s acceptable. Besides, it was the only way I could use the fabric I had in an efficient way.

I’ve sewed it with waxed linen thread, mixing running stitches and back stitches. All seams are felled. The single folded hems are stitched with double rows of running stitches that show as small dots on the right side. 

The neck and shoulders are lined with linen (pieced in a couple of places), to prevent itching – my boy has sensitive skin. 

The cotte closes in front with self fabric buttons and buttonholes.

B likes it – when he tried it on yesterday he kept it on for more than an hour, and he was happy to have pictures taken of it today. He wore it over a linen shirt (that I also let down the hems on), modern clothes – it’s still winter after all, and I don’t have enough warm medieval children’s clothes to keep the chill out - and the hood I made him when he was a baby.

I’m so happy to have found my way back to sewing medieval things again. There will be more to come, I’m sure!

Crowfoot, E. Pritchard, F. & Stainland, K. (2001). Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. Bury St Edmunds: Museum of London.

Nockert, M. (1985). Bockstenmannen Och Hans Dräkt. Halmstad och Varberg: Stiftelsen Hallands länsmuseer.