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The Ideal Mantua

March 30, 2011

I am going to attempt my first dress based on an extant gown from a book.  I’ve been looking for some time for a gown that would do for both F&I and Rev War without much luck when I came across this one for a 740-50 Mantua in The Cut of Women’s Clothes. It looks simple enough to put together – the gathering and folds are fairly clear – and since it has sleeve ruffles instead of hanging cuffs it wouldn’t look out of place for the 1770’s as well.  I’m nervous about sizing it up.  I haven’t met with much previous success in trying to resize patterns, my math and drawing skills being attrocious, but I’m willing to give it a shot.  I think with some clever Photoshopping I can resize it digitally,  and I have enough cotton lengths kicking around that I can make up a proper toille before I have to cut my linen.  Originally I had set aside some nice ruby linen for a rev war dress, but I think I will use the green linen that I had intended to make into an 1812 camp gown  last year for this instead.  I can use the ruby linen for the 1812, and the poorer quality of the green linen will help to off-set the formality of the gown.  Plus I think I look better in green 😉

Mantua 1740-50



Sewing Eternal

August 8, 2010

Part of the reason that this blog has been so neglected of late is that I have been busy sewing.  VERY busy.  In a month I have constructed:  two petticoats, a gown, a hat, a failed wig, a jacket and a bedgown.  Suffice to say that left little time for blogging.  But they were finished, and (just) in time for Fort George.  My ambitions for the high gussy (my new favourite reenactor’s term) gown had to be scaled back a bit given my time and budget constraints, but it still came out nicely.  I received several complements, especially on the fabric and my hat.  I was very inspired by the outfits of some of the other ladies, and already have ambitious plans for my next gown.  But more on Ft. George later.

Now that my mad flurry of rev war prep is over, I can turn my attention to 1812. I find it hard to get myself going on it without the urgency of a fast approaching deadline, which is nonsense as the second weekend in September is not that far off, and I can’t start on my new gown until I finish the new experimental set of stays I’m working on.   They are the same pattern as my old stays, but cut short and altered to be front fastening.  They will likely end in disaster, but I always have my old ones to fall back on, even if they are a tad uncomfortable.

I would very much like a new formal dress to wear to the Macombe Ball, but that’s quite silly of me as I just finished making a shawl dress (the instructions for which I shall get around to posting sometime) that will be more than adequate.  I only want a new gown as the shawl-gown outfit is only slightly different than the ensemble I wore last year;  I must simply remind myself that it looks ten times better than 2009’s blue silk pelisse disaster, and it’s hardly as if anyone is going to remember what I wore last year anyway.  I shall make myself a new turban, and that will have to suffice.

If I have time I am going to try my hand at an actual period pattern.  The cloak shown in Sharon Ann Burnston’s Fitting & Proper seems as if it might be within my abilities, and is a good solution for what to do with the two metres of brown wool cheque I bought before discovering it was inappropriate for its intended use as a petticoat. And, as I discovered at Point au Fer, it can get bloody cold in the middle of a field in the evenings, and 1812 clothing is even draughtier than F&I.

Getting My Feet Wet

August 7, 2010

My first event was kind of a flop.  I was all set to camp out and everything, but then someone mentioned the t word (Tornados) and that was that.  I’m terrified of the things.  Just the outside risk of a possibility that their might perhaps be one is enough to turn me into an obsessively sky watching puddle of insensible paranoid goo.  Not, perhaps, the best characteristic in someone re-enacting in Southern Ontario & Quebec.  I managed to brave a thundershower, and stick it out till my lift down departed, but opted to go home with her rather than stay the night – I was hardly about to be getting any sleep.   It was just as well, really, as I was grossly underprepared.  I didn’t bring nearly enough stuff to keep myself busy with, and I spent much of the afternoon being thirsty because I hadn’t brought any water.  None mentioned that though there would be water on site, it probably wasn’t going to be potable!

Ah well, it was a good learning experience all round, and I have a much better idea of what I need to bring with me for the next time,  and I did have a good enough time that there will be a next time.

My only quibble, and it is a small one, is that I do feel rather like a third wheel at events.   It’s like being someone’s date at a party where everyone knows each other, and the only person you know is the one who brought you.   I’m fine at introducing myself to people, but not so good at making conversation with relative strangers.  I feel bad, as I feel like I’m a bit of a burden to the one or two people in the group who I do know, as I kinda only socialize with them.  The whole half French thing really isn’t helping either.   Still, I will persevere, and I figure if I hang around long enough,  I’ll start to know everyone better.

Mud and Muslin

June 2, 2010

The problem with coming to 1812 re-enacting from a background in ECD and Austen is that all my regency clothes are far, far too posh.   I made a simple cotton print dress for Plattsburg next year, but I really need another workaday one, something that I don’t mind getting grubby.   I was trolling about the internet for ideas when I came across this drop front dress from Vintage Textiles, and was completely inspired.  I just love that raspberry colour! I love that the drop front continues below the waist, and that the back is pleated rather than gathered.  I also like the idea of gathering the bib front at the top with a draw string – the potential for gaping has always been what put me off bib fronts and this is, I think, and elegant solution.  The fact that it has no trim at all is ideal. The photographs are fantastically detailed, and I feel confident that I can easily construct a very similar dress from them.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

May 27, 2010
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As I am learning the hard way, fabric, when you’re forking out for natural fibres, is expensive – and silk is just ridiculous.  The cost of fabric was even grater in the 18th century – a new taffeta dress would set you back £15, or nearly half a Journeyman’s annual income.  While making a new gown from silk taffeta wouldn’t cost me half a year’s wages,  I certainly wouldn’t be buying anything else for a while.  In the 18th century people came up with several ingenious ways to save as much on fabric as they could, and I figure I could try adopting a few of these myself.

One of the biggest ways to save was to recycle or repurpose old clothes, even picking them to pieces for the fabrics and making them into something entirely different.  So pervasive was this practice that few gowns have come down to us unaltered.  Last year I made a very unsatisfactory pelisse out of some blue silk twill.  As I was mulling over what to do about a fine petticoat, I realized that there was likely enough material in the pelisse’s skirt – made of two uncut lengths – together with the fabric that was left over at the end of the project to make up a petticoat. The matching turban will be turned into a soft-crowned hat and scraps from the bodice can recover some shoes.  There isn’t, alas, enough fabric to do any embellishments, but I figure those can be made out of something contrasting.

Later on I will be trying piecing, another period technique whereby larger pattern pieces are made up from two or more scrap pieces carefully stitched together. This was totally not intentional.  I bought some fabric for a round gown before I had a pattern, and was ½ a metre short in my estimating.  I’m confident that if I get creative (and maybe shorten the skirt a little) I can cram the whole dress into 5 metres.  It will certainly be an interesting experiment.

And so it begins…

May 26, 2010
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Huzzah! I am officially booked into my first re-enactment with the QHC next weekend. It’s the F&I event at Point au Fer in New York. My sponsor is driving me down but can’t stay the whole weekend so she’s leaving me behind, which makes me a little nervous, but then perhaps it’s good for me to be thrown in the deep end. The 1812 event over Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day Weekend is cancelled, alas, but probably just as well – I could use extra time to finish my new regency stays and get-up another work dress.

Polonaise Fabric, Take Three.

May 26, 2010

Fabric for my fancy PolonaiseEvidently I have no willpower.  I forked out even more money on fabric yesterday, when, after much dithering, I bought some striped silk/cotton broadcloth for my fancy polonaise. And there’s still trimming to buy.  But it was only $4 a yard! And it’s so pretty! Oh dear, it’s a good thing I’m working these days…

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