Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Lady of the Knights of the Blended Rose, 1778: Part 2 Construction and Thoughts


Now on to the actual making of the gown!

I started with putting the petticoat together, which is something I usually do first with most of my projects these days. Not only is it usually the easiest part of an outfit, but I've accepted (after many years of not doing this) that it really is best to do fittings on the upper body over as many of the under layers as possible, which includes all of the petticoats you will be wearing. It just saves frustration and time because you know exactly where your waist is and how the petticoats and other layers affect the way the bodice will sit at the waist.

Once the petticoat was made and trimmed in the pink silk with fine silver lace, it was time to move on to the polonaise. I have no problem admitting this style of gown intimidates me, even though I made one last year for the Museum of the American Revolution. I also took a polonaise jacket workshop from Janea Whitacre back in 2014 so I wasn't going in to this completely unprepared. And since Brooke Welborn and Kendra VanCleave published their article on the "true" polonaise, other costumers have made beautiful polonaise gowns. But I was anxious about how this style would look on me and if I would absolutely hate it after putting all that work into it.

There are a few variations within the polonaise style, so bear in mind that what I chose to do is not the only way to do things, although every choice was made based on a period example.

The back of my polonaise is cut similarly to an English gown, with a pleat on either side of the center back seam. This was done on a beautiful polonaise in the Glasgow Museums collection.
 
Glasgow Museums

I cut the back of the polonaise first and stitched the pleats on either side of the center back seam. Then I cut the fronts of the polonaise, which flow from neckline to hem without a waistseam. There is extra fabric at the side back that is pleated to provide fullness to the skirts and draw the polonaise closer to the body, allowing the fronts to fall away from the center point. I chose to make an attached "waistcoat" or under-bodice that is stitched at the side-back seams and the arms. Other options are a completely separate waistcoat or a stomacher, but I liked that an attached waistcoat would mean fewer moving pieces and it would provide a more fitted look (again, I was really concerned about not liking how a looser gown would look on me). The waistcoat fronts are lined but the fronts of the polonaise are not.



A look at the inside of the gown. Here you can see the wrong side of one of the polonaise fronts including the two pleats that run along either side back. The attached waistcoat is to the right.
Once the waistcoat fronts are whipped in, the interior looks similar to an English gown. 

Because this style of gown doesn't have robings or a separate shoulder strap, I treated the polonaise and waistcoat fronts as one and backstitched the sleeve in all the way around. 

Here are a few views of the gown with the skirts left down.


(Wow... I need much better photo-taking equipment...)


The outfit got to make its debut at the Colonial Williamsbur Garden Party, and Eliza came dressed in her costume for the ladies of the Knights of the Burning Mountain!



I was sewing up to the very last minute so I ran out of time to make the turban and veil the way I wanted to and in a way that would better represent what the descriptions say. I also didn't get to spangle the stockings! But I am very much looking forward to wearing this outfit again, with all of the accessories fully finished.






What would I change? After talking to Brooke Welborn about my polonaise and getting her advice, I'm going to put a diagonal tuck in the polonaise fronts (which will be hidden behind the trim) which will eliminate the folds you see in the front and help the fronts cut away from the center of the body a bit more. I need to re-set the bottom of the sleeves to eliminate some excess fullness. And I want to see if I can do anything to make the cape lay more nicely and not wrinkle so much. But I'm also an incurable perfectionist! I really did love wearing and making this outfit and hope to find another event to which I can wear it!



Friday, May 10, 2019

A Lady of the Knights of the Blended Rose, 1778: Part 1 Research and Design


Last September I had the opportunity to portray the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia family, Peggy Chew, at the Occupied Philadelphia event organized by the Museum of the American Revolution (also in Philadelphia). It was incredibly enjoyable to explore and share the experiences of such a young woman, as her family was neither wholly Loyalist nor wholly Patriot/Rebel, but instead walked a fine line that many wealthy, established families did. It's all too easy to want to divide the participants of the American Revolution into either camp but the reality was much more ambiguous. Indeed, the event centered around the mixed feelings of Philadelphia residents and their new occupiers--or liberators, depending on who you asked.

Peggy and three of her close friends (the infamous Peggy Shippen, Rebecca Franks, and Rebecca Redman) constituted the "little society of Third and Fourth Streets", the most celebrated young ladies in Philadelphia. It was only natural that they caught the attention of the romantic and dashing Major John Andre when the British occupied the city late in 1777. Although Peggy Shippen is often suggested as Andre's main squeeze (as in the TV show "Turn"), it was Peggy Chew that Andre chose to be his "lady" for the most extravagant party of 1778.

The Meschianza was a wildly imaginative farewell party for General Howe, designed and orchestrated by the theatrical Andre himself. It was essentially Georgians reenacting their idea of the Medieval period, complete with knights and jousting. The knights belonged to one of two opposing teams: the Knights of the Blended Rose, in white and pink, and the Knights of the Burning Mountain, in black and gold. As Andre was a Knight of the Blended Rose, Peggy Chew and the other ladies were attired in their colors. (For more information about the Meschizanza, see here and here.

Because of the extravagant and unique nature of the Meschianza, considerable information about it is still available today, including descriptions and images of the costumes worn by the ladies. This was incredibly helpful for this project! I must thank Eliza of Silk and Sass for instigating this crazy undertaking, and I'm very glad she did. She has been researching and portraying Rebecca "Becky" Franks, who was a lady of the Knights of the Burning Mountain, so we would conveniently have one lady from each group.

For the ladies of the Knights of the Blended Rose, we have the following descriptions.

Andre wrote an after-action report of sorts and described the costumes this way:
They [the ladies] wore gauze turbans spangled and edged with gold or silver; on the right side a veil of the same kind hung as low as the waist, and on the left side of the Turban was enriched with pearl and tassels of gold or silver & crested with a feather. The dress was of the polonaise kind and of white silk with long sleeves; the sashes which were worn round the waist and were tied with a large bow on the left side hung very low and were trimmed, spangled, and fringed to the colors of the Knight.
A memoir by John Fanning Watson gives this description related by a fellow lady of the Knights of the Blended Rose, Miss Craig:
He [Major Andre] sketched it [the dress] to give the ladies an idea of the garb they should assume. In reality it was this:– for the Blended Rose a white silk, called a Polonaise, forming a flowing robe, and open in the front of the waist– the pink sash six inches wide, and filled with spangles– the shoes and stockings also spangled– the head-dress more towering than drawing, and filled with a profusion of pearls and jewels. The veil was spangled and edged with silver lace
There is also a sketch Andre did of the headdress of a lady of the Knights of the Blended Rose:
Armed with this information, I set about gathering the materials for my polonaise gown and accessories. My dear Stephanie destashed some figured ivory silk and I got the remainder of the materials from various Etsy sellers. I had just enough silver metal boullion fringe to use on the ends of my pink silk sash, which is also spangled according to the description.

I had to use creative license for the design of the polonaise since their are no surviving images of the full outfit, but my design would still be strongly rooted in historical examples. I wanted to bring in the pink to the polonaise itself, not just in the sash, so I took inspiration from two-tone polonaise gowns that appear in French fashion plates and extant Spanish gowns. There is also an extant British polonaise in the V&A that is white with purple silk fabric trim, so I felt confident that my choice was within the realm of possibility. 
 Victoria and Albert Museum


Museu del Traje

This was the little sketch I did so I could better see my design:

This has ended up quite a bit more involved than I expected, so I will end here and put the construction of the polonaise and accessories in a second post! Check back later!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 Year in Review

This year was so incredibly busy, not only with sewing but with conferences and workshops as well. It didn't seem like I made much, but this list has helped prove otherwise, especially when I consider all of the little things like caps and mitts. Those count too! So here is what I did in 2018!

Conferences and Workshops:
*taught a B&T shift workshop
*assisted a B&T sack gown workshop
*planned and hosted our second 17th century clothing workshop featuring Jenny Tiramani and The Tudor Tailor
*spoke at the Jane Austen Summer Program
*spoke and taught at the inaugural Corsets and Cravats mid-19th century conference
*wrote and performed a program on 17th century clothing at Agecroft Hall

Contract Work:
*two sets of clothing to represent Sally Hemings for Monticello's new exhibit
*a silk gown representing Martha Jefferson for Monticello

*white silk Italian gown representing 1787 Eliza Hamilton

Projects for Myself:

*17th century ruff

*1770s jacket (no picture)
*1770s cap 

*black wool mitts (no picture)
*remake of 1616 gown

*tartan 1814 dress

*1820s bonnet

*1860s black evening gown

*16th century Belle gown

*1770s short sack and petticoat

*1770s pelisse

*1815 evening dress

*1676 gown
*1842 dress



Friday, December 7, 2018

1676 Gown-in-Four-Days-ish

The theme of this post should definitely be #whenyouworkatamuseum.

My museum focuses on the first quarter of the 17th century about 99% of the time. Every now and then we get thrown a curve ball by the powers that be and are asked to do something outside of our usual time frame. For example, we're going to have a new "4-D" film experience in our galleries and it was decided it would be cool to have it be about Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, a little-known but rather interesting occurrence in early Virginia history. My colleagues and I in the historical clothing department had largely written off the project because the production company the museum hired would be doing the costuming themselves. Well, long story short, they needed last minute extras, so Britney and I did the crazy thing of making 1670s outfits for ourselves in less than a week so we could help with the filming. My friend Julie was in charge of the women's costuming for the project and was glad for some relief from being asked to make half a dozen 1670s gowns in a very short time frame (yay film!). All told, I made my gown in 4 full work days and a couple evenings at home. It's mostly machine sewn, even the eyelets because we have an awesome attachment for our Bernina 1008 machines. But since it was for film and no one would see this up close, it didn't matter!

Making this gown in that kind of time frame was ridiculous, but it totally gave me the bug for the 1670s-90s and I desperately want to make my own gown with more correct techniques in the future (this one technically belongs to the museum). Luckily I now have a perfectly-fitting pattern and a copy of Patterns of Fashion 5 (!!!) to help with construction. Even so, I think it looks darned good for a rush job! I find the bodice to be extremely comfortable and it's just a very flattering style and silhouette, even with the crazy hair.

The gown consists of a boned bodice ("smooth-covered stays" according to POF 5), a petticoat, and an over-skirt. Everything is silk taffeta and the trim is vintage real metal lace that had been sitting in the shop for ages because it's really too fancy for what we do here. To get dressed, I put on my shift (and stockings, shoes, etc) and then a plain under-petticoat and the pale blue silk petticoat over that. Next the bodice goes on, lacing in the back. The over-skirt was pleated to a tape which ties in the front under the center point of the bodice, with the skirt covering the tabs of the bodice that go around the waist.

The wig... Oh, the wig! I love this thing. It's the super cheap "Boogie Babe" wig you can get on Amazon for like $15 bucks and it's awesome for how cheap it is! I bought it on Britney's recommendation for late 1790s stuff but it very handily became a 1670s style for the filming so I didn't have to curl my own (ridiculously long) hair.

We did take a bunch of pictures on set in costume but we technically can't share them until the project is finished some time next year. Thankfully my dear Katie was willing to take pictures for me when she and her husband visited us for Christmas. I love how they turned out! So here is the 1676 gown of madness...














Sunday, November 4, 2018

It's a Cloak! It's a Mantle! It's... A Pelisse!

I've had an 18th century pelisse on my to-do list for a while, and an outdoor event in Philadelphia was the perfect excuse to finally do it. Back in July, I got some changeable silk satin from the garment district in LA for his project. I decided to take the fur off of my early 19th century pelisse and reuse it because it would be quicker and cleaner than cutting up the other vintage fur coat I have. I made the pelisse in just a couple days (when I should have been working on a commission). It was pretty cozy even in some very brisk autumn weather!

So what is a pelisse? Isn't that a coat-dress worn for outerwear in the early 19th century?

Yes...

But in the last half of the 18th century, it refers to a particular style of cloak-like outerwear that is often trimmed in fur. Interestingly, it's the English in the early 19th century who use the word "pelisse" to describe the coat-dress worn for outerwear by women and the French use the word "redingote" to describe the same thing, while using "pelisse" to still refer to the 18th century cloak-like outerwear (and the winter coat of hussar style uniforms). Confusing, I know! But using the correct terminology can help us have a better understanding of period clothing by allowing us to think about the clothes the way the original wearers and makers would have.

Garsault gives instructions for making a pelisse in his 1764 publication L'Art du Tailleur. Reading through how a pelisse is cut and constructed tells us how it differs from cloaks and mantles in the 18th century. The pelisse is made up of rectangular panels that are pleated to fit the neckline (they also have gores added to the bottoming the panels to increase the hem that are cut from the top of the rectangles, like 18th century shifts). Extant cloaks, on the other hand, are cut as slightly-more-than-semi-circles that can have some gathering to fit the neckline. Garsault's mantelet is short and the bottom edge is shaped to dip in front and come up over the elbows.  Pelisses in images tend to be about hip length or slightly longer, and Garsault's measurements produce such a garment. Other common features of pelisses are a large hood falling over the shoulders and slits in the front for the wearer's arms. Below are just a few examples; you can see more on my Pinterest board.




And without further ado, here's my pelisse!













Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fall/Winter 2018-2019





I can't believe that all of the events I wrote about in my January post have come and gone! My fall and winter are already full of events, some of which need sewing and some of which need writing and performing. Silly me, thinking I'd "take it easy" for the rest of the year... ;-)

My sewing plans are as follows:

  • second set of clothing for contract museum work (shortgown, petticoat, kerchief)
  • French farthingale and silk bum roll for a presentation at Agecroft Hall
  • 1787 Eliza Hamilton gown for the Museum of the American Revolution--more on this later!
  • finish cotton print short sack and petticoat, cover hat for event at MoAR
  • remake my 1815 spangled ball gown for the RSV Victory Ball
  • early 1840s "Jane Eyre" dress, bonnet, cloak, and petticoat for Victorian tea/Christmas at Agecroft
  • Dress-in-a-weekend program at MoAR--more on this later!
  • fancy dress-ify my black 1860s evening gown for Victorian 12th Night
  • 1530s gown for SCA 12th Night

Elizabeth Shuyler

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