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!

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