martedì 20 settembre 2016

A Regency day in Osasco: dress and undergarments

If you followed me for a while, you may know I'm kinda new to 18th century and Regency costuming. Being definitely not what you can consider a tall lady, I've never been a huge fan of high waistlines and raised breasts because I considered them bad looking on me. I was wrong. Really wrong. My perception of Regency era simply mislead by movies, period dramas and lack of knowledge. Being honest and admit your limits is the first step to open your eyes and start studying seriously a certain historical period and fashion. 

Period dramas and so on forced the public to think Regency fashion was something delicate, extremely feminine and with a great freedom of movement given by the lack of corsets, heavy undergarments and underpinnings such as panniers or pocket hoops. Many ladies I know who sewn a Regency dress think the same but this is partially true. Regency women WORE corsets, even if they were surely more comfortable and less constrictive than their predecessors. They wore several layers too, such as chemises, petticoats, chemisettes and so on. 
So, after making my own and serious researches I radically changed my point of view about Regency costuming; those dresses looked bad on me because of the lack of proper undergarments. That's all. You don't need to be tall to look good in your historical outfit.

After all these considerations, I can (finally) tell you something more about my first Regency event. Two months ago (ok, I'm a little bit late!) I was invited by Le vie del tempo to join one of their events at Osasco castle; I didn't have an early 19th century wardrobe so I had to sew or purchase everything. I mean...everything. The only thing I had was a pair of flat shoes. Sounds great, uh?

I started with a bodiced petticoat. Since we were at the end of July I decided to skip the chemise to survive the italian summer heat (I failed) and I drafted the pattern for my bodiced petticoat in a while; it's a basic top with a gathered skirt at the underbust with hooks and eyes at the back. I used some cotton in my stash and I sewn the hems with a basic running stitch. The garment when together easily and without surprises. Phew!! 
Then the corset or - better - the short stays. They're made of two layers of cotton with plastic boning and metal grommets, not accurate but I was out of time and on a budget. I drafted my own pattern and since I'm not busty I avoided the gussets. 

Bodiced petticoat with pinned stays

Now the fun part - the dress! I originally planned to make a blue cotton dress but the cotton I had was too heavy to be worn at the end of July (and still is...) so I run to the fabric store to look for a lighter fabric. I ended to buy the same fabric of my Ancient Roman green tunic with some extra satin piping for the back seams. 

I wanted a drawstring dress but my bodice wasn't big enough to be gathered; after consulting Historical Sewing again about Regency dresses closures, I went for buttons at the back. I put piping at side back seams and between puff and lover sleeve but adding it to the neckline has been a mistake. The neckline became too heavy and large for my bust and needed to be filled with a fichu. 

I don't have nothing new to say about the construction; the dress is made of a 5 pieces bodice and a two pieces skirt partially gathered. That's all. For a fuller skirt, just add another panel and you're done. 
I have larger biceps than an average woman of my size so I wanted to hide them with long sleeves. A mistake, again. But they were really nice. 

Here you can see how the gathers look. I love how the piping came out! 

The ladies from the group especially loved the braided hairstyle my boyfriend made me that morning. 

Indeed he really did a great job! 

mercoledì 14 settembre 2016

1780 Half boned stays in linen

So, it seems  I'll spend this year sewing 18th century costumes! Whoa! 
Due to the high demand of Outlander reproductions I considered the idea to set some corsets for the public. I'm not a corset maker but 18th century stays are really attractive and easier to draft so I accepted the challenge. 

If compared to my previous Diderot stays, this one is less boned but it's better constructed. It is made of three layers (linen, cotton canvas and cotton for the lining) with hand sewn cotton bias tape (no more poly satin here!) and metal grommets. I wanted to set hand sewn eyelets as default option but the price would have been too high - so customers can choose. 

The corset is made of burgundy linen (I had enough in my stash) and I used as reference an extant corset from V&A musem dated about 1770-1790. My version has separated straps to be easily adjusted to the figure and no contrasting tape on seams, plus I went for front lacing to put it on by my own.

Detail of the binding

The corset has spiral lacing with satin ribbon. It is really supportive and doesn't tighten the waist as some Victorian monsters I wore in the past; the gap in the center front is period correct. I used zip ties as boning as suggested by many historical costumers. As usual, binding the tabs took most of the working process.
The low neckline is made to accommodate cleavage and to support the bust, pushing it upwards.  

I didn't take so much photos of the building process but it went together really easily and nicely. 
These stays are listed on my Etsy shop and are available in 7 standard sizes and in multiple colours.
Let me know what do you think! 

sabato 18 giugno 2016

1776 stays from Norah Waugh "Corsets and Crinolines"

I'm new into 18th century costuming and despite some inspired costumes, I never sewn an accurate outfit. This year I'll attend some Georgian events and I definitely need to create something historically accurate. I'm not a great fan of the luxury gowns of 1750-60s so I chose to reproduce a simple - but elegant as well - robe à l'anglaise. Before getting started with the dress which is actually still in my mind, I needed to sew proper underpinnings. Remember: you can't have the right look or the desired historical figure without the proper underwear; there's a reason if they wore that stuff. You cannot have the fashionable conical shape of 18th century if you don't wear stays (the early word for corsets) and this works for other centuries. So, let's get started. 

The first step were the stays. Stays. What a strange word, uh? Basically, stays are a supportive garment that helped women to get the desired conical shape. They're completely different from the Victorian corsets we have in mind but I'm sure you already met some of them in their modern look: 

The stays were studied to hug the torso pushing your breast up while sitting on your natural waistline, and they weren't used to reduce the waist as in the following century (this is very important). Stays could have shoulder straps or not, they could be fully boned (early stays) or half boned (later stays) but all of them had a center busk made of steel or wood and tabs. What are tabs? Tabs are all that little things at the end of your stays which were boned but we'll talk about that later. The stays could be front laced or back laced, according to your social status (a poorer woman without a maid would have worn stays with front lacing to lace herself by her own) and the eyelets were always hand sewn since metal grommets appeared in 19th century. The accurate option for lacing them is with spiral lacing, which can sounds scary but I assure you it's not to hard to learn. 

My finished stays with the chemise. 

Stays have a simple construction. Two - or three - layers of fabric stitched together to form boning channels and other two layers as lining and fashion fabric. Sounds easy, right? 
For my stays I used the 1776 pattern by Diderot featured in "Corsets and Crinolines" by Norah Waugh. I scaled the pattern in Photoshop and then I printed it out; I immediately noticed the design was really big for me (my measurements are 85/78/102 - not an easy combination) so I had to scale it again drafting the pattern by my own. The hardest step were the boning channels: I had to change their position trying to not afflict the functionality of the corset but thanks to American Duchess, I learned there's not a standard position for boning channels, you can experiment with them! I strongly recommend to visit her blog, she's an incredible talented lady and her tutorials are so helpful when approaching to 18th/19th century costuming (another great resource is Prior Attire, visit her as well!) I don't need lot of support since I'm not a busty lady so I skipped the horizontal boning channels. I used heavy white cotton as fashion fabric, black cotton canvas interlining and soft cotton for the lining.

Toile of the back with inserted boning. 

After the first toile I was extremely happy to discover the back fitted perfectly (as shown in the picture). The front was bigger and the neckline was too high and reshaping them took a while. Then I started to sew the boning channels on the back; remember to leave extra fabric on your fashion fabric 'cause this will be faced inwards when attaching the lining. I used a combination of cable ties (yes...cable ties!) and synthetic whalebone as boning. 

Sewing the boning channels on the front took me a while. I didn't own a busk so I added four boning on the front to add support. Here you can see how the tabs were boned. 

After this step I sewn the lining. I didn't take photos of this step since I sewn it as usual. Then the binding. I know many talented costumers that manage to sew the lower binding by machine but I'm not so skilled - so I used my hands. Believe, binding the tabs is a nightmare. It requires practice, patience and...time. Lot of time. I finish to binding my stays in a day or two - or even more. I used satin binding - not accurate but it was the only bias tape I had in stock in huge quantities.

Now the eyelets. I did them by hand. I find it extremely relaxing. I love this step 'cause I can see how I get better eyelet after eyelet. I used an awl to pierce gently the fabric and then I sewn a little circle (a temporary fabric marker is really helpful). Some costumers use covered metal grommets but I find this step quite uncomfortable. 
After sewing the eyelets I worked on the shoulder straps. They had to be shorter to be honest but this was my first pair of stays and I needed to practice. They close with a satin ribbon and a hand-sewn eyelet. The displayed chemise is made of white cotton with hand sewn hems and the pattern is self drafted; I'm not used to low necklines so wearing the shift makes me feel so weird. 

Now the first fittings with the half finished stays:

The whole process took me more than two  months. You know, commissions have to be finished first and I'm not a good corset maker. However, I learned a lot from this project and stays fitting so now I know which mistakes I have to avoid next time. Feel free to follow me on my Instagram profile and Facebook page for more photos, thanks for reading! 

giovedì 9 giugno 2016

Fotolibro by Saal Digital

Il mese scorso ho esposto alcuni dei miei costumi dal vivo, durante una manifestazione. In piena fase preparatoria, ho iniziato a pensare all'allestimento; volevo qualcosa di semplice, intuitivo, ma che potesse suscitare l'interesse del pubblico (ovviamente i manichini avrebbero avuto il ruolo chiave in tutto ciò). Tra tutte le varie idee (dépliant, volantini, foto stampate e via dicendo), mi è venuto in mente di far realizzare un fotolibro in modo da avere raccolti i vari costumi realizzati e permettere al pubblico di "sfogliarli" comodamente.

Ho iniziato a cercare online, selezionando varie offerte, finché non mi hanno suggerito di provare Saal Digital. Ho avuto modo di toccare con mano la qualità dei loro prodotti, sfogliando uno dei loro fotolibri. La qualità di stampa è davvero ottimale, le immagini sono chiare e nitide, il tutto è corredato da una bella copertina rigida che conferisce professionalità al vostro prodotto.  Per questioni divulgative ho preferito ridurre le foto per dar spazio ad un minimo di didascalia, includendo spiegazioni dettagliate su periodo storico trattato, materiali e tecniche utilizzate.

L'ordine degli abiti è cronologico, partendo dall'Antica Roma per giungere agli albori del XX° secolo. Il retro copertina mostra un mio scatto in stile preraffaellita, nel quale indosso un abito in velluto bordeaux decorato con pizzo nero. 
Il pubblico ha apprezzato molto la qualità delle immagini e le spiegazioni fornite nelle didascalie, ponendo domande e mostrandosi incuriosito. La qualità del prodotto è assolutamente ottima e indiscutibile, corredato da un software un po' macchinoso ma alla portata di tutti. Consigliato! 
Se desiderate ordinare il vostro fotolibro, visitate il loro sito web o la relativa pagina Facebook. 

venerdì 3 giugno 2016

IX century Anglosaxon - Norman dress

I have several sewing projects for this year, including a bunch of medieval dresses. My last medieval dress was from 2014 (the burgundy Bliaut) so I thought it was time to create something new. I always had a passion for the lines and shapes of early medieval fashion so first of all I did a little bit of research to understand how these dresses were made and cut.
The fashion of this period was not so advanced and the influence of the roman empire is still visible when looking at the cutting diagram: the dresses were cut following simple shapes, often squares, rectangles or semi-circular, and they were studied to save most fabric as possible. Women's fashion of 11th century featured two basic garments: an under dress with fitted sleeves and a knee length super tunic, including a oval veil to cover the hair. This kind of fashion works perfect for the late Anglo-Saxon period and the early Norman kingdom. 

I chose brown and ivory linen for my project. I wanted something simple and practical, something completely different from my other dresses; the medium weight linen worked great for this purpose: it gives a "everyday" look and the simple linen trims add that touch of elegance perfect for lower-middle classes. 
The tunic fits like a glove and it's really comfortable. The sleeves are faced inwards and there's no visible machine stitching from the outside. The super tunic falls gently on the body and looks great with or without belt; the neckline is faced outwards and every hem has been hand sewn with cotton thread and medium sized stitches. The skirts float so nicely together when moving!

The faced neckline

The veil was a challenge. It was really easy to be made (all hand sewn) but wearing it has been more difficult. I had to make several fittings before finding a nice way to drape it over the shoulders, the secret is to put the longest part of the veil on the head and then wearing a leather or metal crown to keep it secured on the head; the shorter part needs to be draped on the shoulders or tucked behind the neck. The important is to hide the hair completely and - very important - the ears: this might sound strange but covering the ears was not only a sign of modesty but a way to protect women from...pregnancies (during Middle Ages it was widely believed the Virgin Mary was inseminated by the Holy Spirit through her ear).

A version of the dress without all the trim

To complete the outfit I sewn a white under dress in fine lightweight linen as well. This piece has a modern construction on the inside but the outer elements have been all hand sewn.
I'm often asked if chemise (or shifts) are important when recreating an historical garment; the answer is yes, absolutely. Chemises/shifts/under dresses are the foundation of an accurate, well-made garment and they make the difference. First of all, they are the foundation of your wardrobe as you lived in this garment; people was supposed to own a bunch of these which were frequently washed,. They lived in an era when human bathing was not frequent. The chemise helped you to protect not only your body but your outer clothes too (often more expensive), acting as a barrier and keeping them clean from dirt and body oils. So yeah, when purchasing/sewing an historical outfit please don't forget to add a chemise as basic undergarment.  

And so here I am, wearing the whole outfit during my latest costume exhibition :)

The items are listed on our Etsy shop and are available in three different standard sizes (S, M, L).
Thanks for reading!

domenica 22 maggio 2016

Apple green ancient Roman tunic and palla

As you could read in my previous post, I sewn a new ancient Roman outfit for an historical event in Rome. To be honest I didn't need a new outfit since my last tunic was just from 2015 but the group asked me to bring a second pair of clothes in case of bad weather. 
So I went to my local fabric store to look for nice fabrics to use; the emerald cotton I liked was too expensive and I didn't want to spend lot of money for a dress I already own (so silk and linen were absolutely out of budget) but I had to be historically accurate at the same time. Luckily cotton was widespread during the Roman empire (good for my pockets) so I bought this nice light green and apple green fabrics. The lighter one was chosen for the tunic and the brighter one for the palla. 

The dress had the same construction of the previous outfit (so nothing new under the sun) and I recorded a speeded video to show you the various steps of the sewing process; since I had to keep it accurate I did every hem and outer details exclusively by hand. The tunic has been fastened with two bronze buttons and fastened at the waist with a leather belt (not displayed in the following photos).

I hand sewn the eyelets of the headband as well. The palla has been made out of 3 metres of cotton, all hemmed by hand (what a work!) but in the end I managed to finish the whole outfit in less than a week. 
Since the palla was really long I could wear it in two ways: wrapped around the body or worn as shawl draping it around shoulders and on the head. 

The only problem I got when wearing it as veil was the weight; the veil pulled the headband away so I had to keep it light and not tight as shown in the picture. The tunic is really comfortable and fresh, in the photos I worn a white extra layer since the weather was kinda cold. 

I took two videos for my Instagram profile showing the costume in action: 

I simply love how the palla falls around the body and how it looks on my skin! 
A made to order version of this costume is listed on my Etsy shop: give it a visit! 

Natale di Roma 2016

Il mese scorso sono (finalmente) riuscita a partecipare alla manifestazione del "Natale di Roma", un evento giunto ormai alla sua 14°esima edizione. Organizzata dal Gruppo Storico Romano, tale manifestazione ha come scopo quello di celebrare il compleanno della nostra Roma, la cui fondazione sarebbe avvenuta il 21 aprile del 753 a.C. 
Per l'occasione ho preparato due nuovi outfit per me e consorte: una tunica in lino marrone per lui, corredata di lacerna di lana e bracae, e una tunica verde con palla in cotone per me. Il meteo non è stato per niente dei migliori, nessuno si aspettava un freddo simile a Roma specialmente a fine Aprile, e ho dovuto indossare una tunica bianca come strato extra per ripararmi un po'; non era inclusa nel design originale dell'abito, ma pazienza, la vostra matrona era davvero al limite dell'ipotermia.

Andiamo con ordine: il pulmino IX Regio è giunto in quel di Roma il sabato mattina, dopo un'intera nottata di viaggio. Ho subito fatto amicizia con un bellissimo micione tigrato, che ha subito colto l'occasione per saltarmi in braccio e farsi fare (o farmi?) un po' di coccole. Potevo forse dirgli di no?

Dato che le nostre stanze non erano ancora pronte, ci siamo dati al turismo recandoci nient'altro che al sito di Ostia Antica, che non avevo mai visitato. Avete presente i film su Roma, con le botteghe degli artigiani e le famose strade lastricate su cui si muove la folla? Ecco, quando passeggiate per Ostia Antica sembra di rivivere esattamente una di quelle scene - senza la calca dei passanti. Il sito è davvero molto grande e non siamo riusciti a visitarlo tutto, ma merita senza dubbio di essere menzionato il piccolo museo adiacente l'area ristoro, nel quale abbiamo ammirato dei busti, dei marmi e tanti dettagli utili per le riproduzioni dei nostri abiti.

Piccola postilla che renderà felice gli altri gattari sparsi per il mondo: il sito ospita una colonia felina di mici! Ovviamente mi sono lasciata monopolizzare dalle loro richieste d'attenzione, elargendo grattini e coccole (segnalo un micione rosso bellissimo e molto affettuoso, un vero "Romeo" da Aristogatti, che purtroppo non sono riuscita a fotografare).  

La mattina dell'evento è iniziata sotto un cielo parzialmente sereno; giunti al Circo Massimo il sole ha fatto capolino tra le nuvole ma il vento - davvero freddo - non ci ha abbandonato. Verso le 11 il meteo è nuovamente peggiorato e la sfilata si è avviata sotto un cielo plumbeo e minaccioso ma la fortuna è stata dalla nostra e siamo riusciti a compiere l'intero tragitto all'asciutto. Non mi dilungo nei dettagli: sfilare accanto al Colosseo è stata un'emozione incredibile.

Come accennato in precedenza, la tunica bianca che ho indossato non era inclusa e, sinceramente, me l'ero anche dimenticata a casa; nel dubbio ho preferito portarla e non ringrazierò mai abbastanza la mia vocina interiore del "non si sa mai". Quello strato in più, per quanto sottile fosse, mi ha riparato e non oso immaginare cosa avrei patito se fossi stata con le braccia nude; il prossimo anno mi procurerò qualcosa di lana, promesso! La palla in cotone è servita molto bene al suo scopo e l'ho indossata sia come scialle sia come velo, proteggendomi dal vento e dal sole (vi assicuro che nei momenti di cielo il sereno il sole era particolarmente forte). Colgo l'occasione per segnalarvi anche un video accelerato riguardante il making of della tunica, caricato sul mio canale Youtube. Gli orli e le rifiniture esterne sono stati realizzati interamente a mano e questo processo mi ha portato via molto tempo, considerando che solo la palla misurava 3 metri di lunghezza.

Con Giulio Sesto Frontino

Il pomeriggio è trascorso in modo tranquillo, con sprazzi di sole e attività rievocative più "classiche", tra cui la rievocazione della conquista della Britannia da parte del Gruppo Storico Romano, con un'agguerrita Boudicca (se siete lettori più o meno frequenti del mio blog forse vi ricorderete qualche post a lei dedicato). Ovviamente non mi sono lasciata scappare lo shopping e ho acquistato un paio di bellissimi orecchini realizzati dall'esperto dottor Dario Tegani, potendo così arricchire il mio guardaroba romano (il prossimo passo saranno degli anelli o - perché no - qualche bell'accessorio per i capelli). Terminato l'evento siamo tornati al nostro camping e con l'imbrunire è giunta anche la pioggia: se questo non è un segno degli dèi...

Non potevo resistere! 

Questo bellissimo micio è venuto a presentarsi la sera prima della partenza e, indovinate? La mattina successiva è tornato per salutarmi e farsi accarezzare un'ultima volta :)

In conclusione: l'esperienza è stata davvero piacevole e spero di poterla ripetere il prossimo anno (confidando in un meteo migliore!). Per l'occasione ho in mente un nuovo abito e posso solo anticiparvi che sarà molto più ricco e sontuoso rispetto all'attuale: il perché lo scoprirete in futuro ;)

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