31 May 2011

V&A Reproduction Fabric

I visited London in early June last year and, over my next few posts, I will share some 18th century finds and English acquisitions from that trip.

Today's topic: this reproduction fabric from the V&A.


As part of last year's quilting exhibit, the V&A gift store sold repro cotton fabrics made by Liberty of London. There were probably two dozen to choose from, all sold in half meter packets (mine measures 60in wide and just under 20in long), but most of the prints were too far into the 19th century for my taste.

I chose this print because:

a) it's 18th century
b) the package copy, "limited edition printed cotton," swooned me.

The label on the back of the package reads,

Design taken from a patchwork coverlet made in Britain, dated c. 1797. 

And that's all I know about the original.

I browsed the V&A's online collections for inspiration. I *think* the print might be from one of the two quilts below because their eras and parts of the descriptions fit. But it's unfortunately hard to tell on the computer screen if it's a match.

Patchwork Coverlet
made 1802-1830
accession number T.32-2007

Bed Cover
made 1797-1830
accession number T.128-1972


I'm not in love with the print. Usually when I find fabric, I know what that fabric wants to become. But with this one I'm clueless. Thoughts? Suggestions? Any ideas about using this for a late 18th or early 19th century impression?

27 May 2011

The Whitfield House

Earlier this month I visited the Whitfield House Museum in Guilford, CT. (The building is faintly seen on the left behind the trees.) It's the only 17th century stone house in New England, it's among the few 17th century structures in the country...and it holds some colonial-era textile treasures. 

Though the building dates prior to my period, I think it's important to study the bookend eras--the 17th century and early 19th century--to have a foundation of who I represent has descended from and what the 18th century directly influenced.

The Whitfield House primarily interprets 17th century life, but there are several 18th century treasures inside including selections from their textile collections. I was fortunate to take some photographs with verbal permission and am sharing selections with you here. 

The first room, the Great Hall, (which has a wonderful medieval feel to it...think scenes from The Tudors that don't take place at court) has an 18th century stilyard above one of the two hearths (pictured at left). According to the exhibit description, the stilyard is a type of scale and the fabric held the item to be weighed. It also stated that, in the 19th century, this stilyard was used to weigh newborn babies in the family the item descended from.

The second floor houses some hats such as the 18th century calash on the right and the 18th century linen cap and cap block below. 







The third floor hid some amazing textile treasures such as: two reticules, an 18th century pin cushion, early 19th century shoes, a men's waistcoat and the obligatory house museum spinning wheel. 

But what really caught my eye was stays. There were two on display, a mid 18th century pair which retained its original stomacher (can we say huzzah?!)... 





...and a pair of transition stays.


The house is well curated and impeccably maintained by the State of Connecticut. (My only criticism for the site is its marketing: the museum could use a dedicated website to spread the word about its fabulousness.) If you're heading along I95 (or if you're traveling north / south the 18th century way via the Boston Post Road) it's worth the time and $8 admission to stop and sample this rare slice of early American history. 

23 May 2011

A Fan For All Seasons

With the warmer weather around the corner, I was inspired to celebrate spring by dusting off my small fan collection and reviewing what--if anything--is accurate for 18th century living history.

1.  This $10 wood paneled fan has a one inch strip of fabric (probably a polyester-linen blend) across the top and is hand painted with flowers. It opens easily and creates a good breeze.

My research of online collections has not yielded an English example with a floral pattern that validates this fan for living history. I read on The Met's website that, "Eighteenth century fans have a sense of authenticity to them because they often depict contemporaneous life." And clearly this example falls short. The brush strokes that compose the flowers are more mimetic of Monet's work, not a Gainsborough-inspired scene. However this solid fan's durability and its ease of opening / closing inspires me to browse Chinatown shops (I purchased it in the China pavilion at EPCOT) to find something that can be adapted for 18th century living history.

2. This common reproduction fan is quite possibly the most accurate of the lot, but the style that lends it the best authenticity leads it to produce the least amount of breeze. I believe this style is made in the likeness of the Chinese brise fan as it has individual panels, which are seen in the following examples:

Click here for a mid-18th century French brise fan from the V&A's collections.
Click here for the V&A's late 18th century French brise fan.

I also came across this c.1780 portrait of Lucy Skelton Gilliam (from Colonial Williamsburg's collections, accession number 2004-40,A&B) who appears to hold a brise fan.




My brise fan is smaller than Lucy's and has a red tassel at the bottom. Lucy, could you move your left hand so we can see if you have a ribbon at the fan's base? And while you're at it, could you stand up and show off that gorgeous gown?


3. The fan on the left is a favorite that was purchased at the Louvre's gift shop (and is available at their online store). It reminds me a little of Delft tiles, though I later learned that it's inspired by tiles from Iznik in Turkey. My fan research has not (yet) yielded an example with a pattern that's close to this design so I don't feel  justified using it for living history purposes but I did come across this 18th century Italian fan that I love that's somewhat similar.


4. Purchased at the Fan Museum's gift store in Greenwich, England, I believe this white fabric fan is my second safest bet for living history...though it's made from duiponi silk which, I realize, it not accurate for the 18th century. (I'm hoping to have the courage to remove the fabric and replace it with an accurate silk some day.)

I found three primary sources for this:
     a) Hogarth's 1735 print, A Rake's Progress Plate VIII. The woman in the background holds a fan in her right hand that does not look embellished.
     b) Hogarth's 1736 print The Sleeping Congregation shows a woman in the foreground holding a non-embellished fan in her right hand as well.
     c) And best of all there's this French fan from FanCollection.net. 


5. Also purchased at the Fan Museum's gift store, this fabric fan falls into the category of #1. I don't think the floral design is accurate for the 18th century but it opens / closes nicely and offers a decent breeze. I did find this 1780 French fan at FanCollection.net that has a floral scene and does not show a landscape but I don't think it's close enough to use #5 for living history.


20 May 2011

Needlework Bag Accessories

My new needlework bag is almost ready to go but it needs accessories so I pulled the following from my collection to complete it... 


1) Irish Stitch Pin cushion from Textile Reproductions. It's made from vegetable dyed worsted wool on linen canvas with a wool backing and wool filling. Sew very appropriate.

2) Repro thimble. It's not 18th century...it's from the Hampton Court Palace gift store and features a Tudor Rose but it's less shiny than a modern thimble so it looks fairly appropriate. If you operate under the concept that "Kit can wear Felicity's clothes but Felicity can't wear Kit's clothes" it works.

3) Clump of wax for thread.

4) A few wooden spools of thread that I stole from my mom's sewing box many, many years ago.

5) Embroidery scissors by Ginger c.2003. I'm not sure if Ginger still manufactures this style but it's the closest I've found to an 18th century needlewoman's scissors.

6) Lastly, "letters" from the brother of the young woman I interpret. To create these I typed a few letters into Word, used the Blackadder ITC font and made the margin fairly thin. I printed them on light beige paper, folded them into little squares and closed them with red wax and a fleur de lise seal.

This project needs a little fine tuning:

a) This paper isn't the right weight--it's standard printing paper. I know 18th century paper was made with linen but I can't find modern paper of that quality without a watermark.

b) The wax is cheap. If you don't use enough you can see through it. It's the $5 kind from the bridal aisle at Michael's so that's to be expected.

c) I may be stretching it with the fleur de lise seal but, given that some of the letters are in French, I felt at liberty to use it for now.




17 May 2011

One, Two I Need a Buckle for my Shoe

I've wanted red shoes for a long time. (I had a baby last year and didn't want to invest if my size might change.) I ordered Burnley & Trowbridge's red shoes many months ago and waited for them to arrive as my size was out of stock. I then waited another month as my 80 year old shoe repair man put the protective bottoms on the sole. I got them back last week and am very excited, but I now need buckles.

Which to choose?

Wm Booth Draper sells great buckles and gives documentation for their accuracy but I've been eyeing them for so long I want something different. I scouted etsy.com and found the following...



...a very cool Victorian pair by Vgvintage that, I think, would be appropriate for the 18th century if they had a fork and fiddle (pictured on the right).

Green Shoes from VintageNecessities at Etsy.com
...and this absolutely fabulous pair of 1960s green velvet shoes that I had to share even though they're not period correct. (Velvet was reserved for men's clothing, the shoes are missing flaps for buckles and the buckles are faux...but I just love them.)

To their credit, the toe and heel have a fairly nice shape for the late 18th century. Plus they're vintage. Who doesn't love vintage shoes? If they were my size I would swoop them up and make a silk gown with green trim.

I then discovered that Fugawee now sells buckles. Though they don't provide documentation I researched three examples...
  • The Tudor Rose shoe buckle mimics the rose in the design of this 1780s shoe buckle in the V&A's collections (accession number M.33-1909).
  • The Celtic Knot buckle kind of coordinates with the buckle in the bottom right corner of this 1737 set from the V&A (accession number M.8-1937) as well as this 1780s collection in the bottom right corner (accession number M.40-1909) also from the V&A.  
  • Fugawee sells several buckles with rhinestones as part of the design. (Though it's not to my taste.) I found this pair that's actually American in the PMA's collections (accession number 1929-168-7,a b) that sort of validate the Fugawee version. 

Of course the buckle I fell in love with is this one from the PMA's collections (accession number 2005-68-72). Hmm, how can I obtain a repro? 

18th Rococo shoe buckle from the Philadelphia Museum of Art's collections
accession number 2005-68-72




16 May 2011

To Knot or Not?

Seamstress c.1859
Image from the Library of Congress
I'm probably a little too focused on minute details. I'm curious about knotting thread when hand sewing.  I know I've seen examples of both knotting and using basting stitches but I can't find any documentation on it at the moment.

I've tried both approaches and I find peace of mind in knowing that my gowns' seams have knots for, from my experience, the basting stitches do not hold as well. I'd rather knot (haha...bad pun I know) spend time mending those seams when I can sew / research other projects. (When embroidering, I also favor knotting even though--I know--it's not advised.)

Do you knot or not?

09 May 2011

Needlework Bag - Part Two

My completed 18th century needlework bag.
The needlework bag kit came with directions to construct it but I wanted my bag to be a little different. (OK, I lost the directions when I moved last year.)

Here's the lowdown on the construction and the resources that inspired me:
  • To start - I borrowed the measurements from this pocketbook from Colonial Williamsburg's collections (accession #1958-26) along with this workbag (accession #1953-954). I then cut my fabric so it's about the same shape. 
  • I sewed the sideseams with the lining attached (as described in Linda Baumgarten's Costume Close Up, p. 8) using a prick stitch, AKA the spaced back stitch. 
  • I left the sides open slightly for ease of use. This was inspired by the workbag pictured on p.232 of What Clothes Reveal. (Unfortunately it's not listed on CW's eMuseum.) 
  • I used the binding slits stitch described in A Ladies Plain Guide to Sewing (p.27) to strengthen the bottom of the slit as it seemed (seamed?) a likely spot for stress...not that I sewed it very well. 
  • The embroidery kit came with a thin piece of white silk ribbon for the drawstring. I will probably replace this ribbon with linen or cotton tape as I don't think the silk will survive my abuse. 

Click this image to see my (poor) example of the binding slit stitch.



It's a simple bag to make (the embroidery only uses cross stitches) and the hand dyed silk is a real treat to work with. Unlike most of the surviving workbags I found in my research, this is not nearly as fancy. But for my living history purposes I think the simplicity is a good fit. My main criticism for this project is improving my skills at binding slits.

Forthcoming - Accessorizing my new accessory.

06 May 2011

Needlework Bag

Some people love shoes. I love handbags. *Sew* my next project (partly inspired by Colonial Williamsburg's current Fashion Accessories Head to Toe exhibit) focuses on a late 18th century needlework bag.

I embroidered linen with silk following the pattern in the needlework bag kit by Alyce Schroth Sampler Recreations. (I'm a big fan of her beautiful and affordable hand dyed silks.)

I had a scrap of green linen that I had used to make a petticoat awhile back. I'm using this for the lining because a) I thought the colors complimented the embroidery and b) the lighter weight of this linen seems nice with the heavier weight of the embroidered linen. I know silk is found more frequently in museum collections but, for my purposes (i.e.: durability and coordinating with the fashion fabric) the green linen seemed a decent choice and keeping in the lines of historical accuracy since both fabrics are 100% linen.

Forthcoming - constructing and sewing the bag.




01 May 2011

New English Gown

This past weekend I completed a new open front English gown. (Well almost, it needs a stomacher.) Made from worsted wool, and entirely sewn by hand, this is my first open front gown--and my first fight with robings. 

I'm afraid the gown doesn't fit me right so I'm not sure how much I will wear it this season, but each completed gown teaches lessons about 18th century construction techniques and helps me improve my skills. Here are some lessons from this project...
When I started this gown, I rushed when cutting the fabric's center back panel. In  not being careful to make sure I was working on the grain I cut the length several inches too short and had to trim some fabric from the top of the back. This made the center back skirt panel (since the back center panel is one continuous piece) much shorter than my side skirt panels (which attached separately to the bodice). Oops! In trying to correct this, I followed 18th century tradition by piecing a scrap to make up for my mistake--but I'm not entirely satisfied with how this turned out.  (As you can see, the petticoat peeks from beneath the gown, which I should shorten to better match the gown's length...another rushing error on my part when measuring.)
I originally wanted this to be a mid-century gown so it's not Rev War specific. I made the pleats wide, but they're probably a little too wide. I did learn that the pleats should be slightly curved and not as sharp as a V, which was how I was previously pleating.
On a gown I created last spring, I made the mistake of entirely backstitching the sleeves to the bodice / shoulder strap. This time I whip stitched the top of the sleeve to the fashion fabric and only backstitched the underarm. I'm not sure if the use of the whip stitch is exactly correct, but I know it's closer to 18th century technique. 
Future research / projects:
  • Studying the construction of robings and their stitching techniques. 
  • Besides refitting this to my post-baby body, I'd like to add generous early 18th century cuffs.