19th century, 19th century clothing, authenticity, Clothing, common dress, Costume, Events, fashion, history, interpretation, Newport, Newport Historical Society, Quaker, Quakers, Rhode Island, Rhode Island history, style
Hard to say which, but I am ill at ease and dissatisfied with my costuming. You might even call it bratty. But I don’t wanna be like Bridget Connor!
It started the week of the Stamp Act protest, when I felt quite tired of being the shabby, unrefined woman of the regiment and street vendor, and wanted a nice cozy shop like the milliner had. I was also looking forward to being a housekeeper again, and several weeks of moving boxes and volumes with red rot at work had me feeling generally filthy and unappreciated. Bratty.
When in doubt, sew. A new dress can’t help but cheer you up, right?
Well… sort of…
Last Thursday, we did a reprise of the Williams family letters program at the Newport Historical Society. The Williams family were Quakers, and the letters were from the early part of the 19th century, so for the program in March, I made a green silk cross-front gown based on the Quaker gown in the back of Costume in Detail. (Check out the schematic on the 19thus.come page; I didn’t see this until I was mostly done with the dress, but thank goodness I got it right!)
But it’s September, and Thursday was expected to be quite warm, so I salved my bureaucratic wounds in the $1.99 loft at the local mill store, and made a new Quaker gown, also suitable for a maid.
I ask you! Even though it’s my very own pattern based on sketches of original drawings, even though it fits, even though it cost $10, even though every seam is overcast and the whole thing is made with period correct stitches, it still fails to make me happy and cheerful and delighted.
This brattiness has resulted in a reappraisal of my approach– and a trip to Sewfisticated in Framingham. What did I buy there? Yards and yards of pink taffeta? Gold taffeta? Blue taffeta?
Because they didn’t have the right colors in the right weave– too slubby– or in enough yardage. Brace yourselves: I bought brown.
It appears I do not learn from my mistakes. When I think, “Gee, I’d like a pretty dress,” I end up buying fabric based on the texture as much as the color, and I have to tell you, that brown taffeta has the most wonderful l hand and sheen, and I will look much more like a Copley portrait than I ever have before, so that’s something.
It seems I have created a set of mental rules for myself, a mission, if you will, for the historic clothing I sew and the roles I take on, and I only play within those rules.
Nancy N said:
Oh it’s just a GORGEOUS! Love the color, the cut is to die for, and it is, really in its own refined way very pretty. Congratulations! I tried to carve out a couple of hours during a recent trip to Maine to swing by Sewfisticated, but terrible traffic delayed me, so I passed it by. I am sooooo jealous!
Nancy N said:
Oh, and guess what color yrs truly keeps buying for herself… NAVY.
And I don’t mean one that veers off into purple, either…
Thank you for your kind words, too: they are much appreciated.
Navy is tried and true! My Grandmother and Great Aunt wore the same colors most of the time for most of their lives (beige and navy blue, respectively), with occasional outbreaks of coral or red accessories… They always looked very good, so it’s a valid concept. (I wear black and grey and brown most days, myself)
Sometimes, though, I do wonder what I’m up to…!
Tracey Walker said:
I think the brown dress is beautiful, but why not make some over the top craziness just once to make yourself happy. Make it for halloween or pretend your character is having fantasies of being wealthy. You don’t have to wear it to reenact, just make it to shake up your creativity. Then, if you really have no use for it, sell it on eBay!
Tracey, I like that idea– and selling it after is a good idea, too!
I enjoyed the HSF 2013, and am really sorry I haven’t been able to keep up with it at all this year. Those challenges were excellent antidotes to what can seem like utility work .
Imagining something over the top would be a fun change of discipline, with its very own challenges, so thank you!
It’s lovely! It’s spot-on for time/place/persona and it also looks great on you.
It also looks a whole lot like the raisin-brown silk dress I hope to finish in time to wear for What Cheer Day. (I hope mine looks anywhere near as good on me.)
Thank you Sharon; that means a lot coming from you and Mrs Brown!
It’s all about the time/place/persona, and that’s what I’ve been coming to terms with recently: how very important those factors are to me in working out what I sew. I’m so glad this one worked out to look well, too (with the bonus of Elizabeth behind my camera phone, it looks even better!).
I’ve been trying to write about my “rules,” or perhaps discipline is the better term, of my sewing practice, as I think that will solve some of my existential sewing angst.
I’m looking forward to seeing your new WCD gown in the raisin-brown silk! I’m sure it will turn out well, and I hope you will finish it!
Kitty, I am perpetually amazed at how much you get done!! It is taking me forever and a day to complete some relatively simple garments–trousers for the boy and a dress for his friend who will accompany us. Let’s not discuss my lack of progress on decent buttonholes… I presume practice is the only way to gain speed, but perhaps you have some suggestions?
I hope you might have advice, as well, on patterns for boys aged 10-15 for 1800-1820. It’s a struggle to find anything, and I end up scaling down men’s patterns, mostly from books–which are none too plentiful for American working class rather than fancy Regency outfits.
And then there’s the sinking feeling that comes with realizing how quickly boys will outgrow those carefully hand sewn clothes! It’s hard to stay motivated.
I know that sinking feeling…the beautiful blue wool coatee outgrown…the shirt, the waistcoat, the breeches…it’s hard.
My son is now 15 and over six feet tall, so I am fortunate enough to be able to use men’s patterns for him. Kannik’s Korner’s men’s patterns often start at 34 for a chest, which is amazing! William Booth Draper has a range of patterns on the second page of patterns for men that might suit your needs:http://www.wmboothdraper.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=12&sort=20a&page=2 Mill Farm and Kannik’s Korner both have “boys” patterns. It’s all about the measurements, as you know, and I find the fittings disheartening. there’s a lot of wiggling, and then, if you’re unlucky, the subject grows between muslin and first finished garment fitting!! The thing about trousers is this: they can be made from breeches. But if you want a new pattern and have a little time, email Henry Cooke in a couple of weeks and ask him if he has a trousers pattern for a young lad by waist measurement. Another option I have used to make breeches and military overhalls is the Mill Farm pattern http://www.wmboothdraper.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2_12&products_id=158.
I think the key to sewing for class is more in material choice than in cut or style. And everyone wants to look their best, so it’s a matter of degree: broadcloth but not superfine wool for a coat might be one choice to make, a checked shirt instead of a white linen shirt.
And yes, the more I sew, the faster I get. And sometimes I’m still not fast (post-surgical sewing was super slow), but when I’m tired, I stop! The only way to get better at buttonholes is to do them, but for some men’s garments, I don’t do the full buttonhole. I stitch around the slit, cut it with the chisel, and then whip stitch the edges to bind them. It’s good enough to get them in the field.
best of luck– it really does get quicker the more you do, and you can take real pride in having a well turned out boy– they wonderful, and I think they really do enjoy it, even when they don’t say anything!
Thank you, Kitty! I have scaled down the Kannik’s Korner trousers pattern, and it seems to have worked–but who knows how long they’ll last! I’ll definitely email Mr. Cooke!
Really, I can’t tell you how much a relief it is to hear you say that about buttonholes! I’ve rather despaired about getting them all done in time. I put great pressure on myself to do it all right the first time and do it all the hard way.
I am fortunate that the squirming is easily kept to a minimum–it was the boy who requested we all volunteer at a historic site, so he is aware that he brought this on himself (and the little peacock is rather vain about his waistcoat).
Your angst is well within character, even: how working women longed for pretty colors and spring in their step: surely all the prints and paintings cannot be entirely wrong in that respect!
The dress is really lovely, and I bet could be stepped up with a statement item to turn it to more worldly elegance with the additions of lace, a handkerchief pin, pretty little heels…
Perhaps you’d like to turn to accessories for a feeling of luxe, to take your impression to a different spot on occasion.
Plus, I agree with Tracy Walker. At some point, why not purchase or dye some silk a warm rich *yellow*, or fall in love with a stripe, and build yourself a statement dress, and wear a silk Persian flounced petticoat beneath, and a quilted one below that? A handsome paste hair sprig in the coiffure, and a sheer cap, and you’re all-out fantastic while remaining the disciplined seamstress.
What good points. Yes, I can appropriate the angst into my character, and dress her up a bit with accessories. That’s a very good idea.
Thank you so much!
I can appreciate this. Even doing something you love can get…old. I find that either reinvesting in something I get excited about or embarking on something new can alleviate some of the blah. So–I decided to build a new kit for a new persona (embarking on something new), digging even further into clothing and fashion research and sewing technique (something that usually excites me). It’s a nicer set of clothes for my “officer’s wife” persona (I actually am an officer’s wife for reenactment purposes, haha…I just usually do grubby campfollower), I’ll only wear it a couple times a year, but working on it makes me happy. As other said–it’s ok if it’s not the most practical choice. Make it and the reason to wear it will come 🙂 I’ve also discovered great fun in sewing things for other people–I can do things I wouldn’t normally choose for myself.
Or, on the flip side, take a break from anything that gives you the blahs, just show up at events with something to sit on (your bum, the ground, and a crappy petticoat works 🙂 ) , someone to chat with, and some blissful free time.
Take a break, right?! Frustration is so much easier– when you’re frustrated, you’re usually about to learn something new that you’ve been struggling with. The blahs are harder for me.
Fortunately, I have some fabric I am really excited about, a pattern that I know will work, and a place to wear the finished garment, even if it is for a maid.
And as for dressing up–I have thought about negotiating a riding habit in the regimental colors. No one else would have one, and what a challenge and treat that would be to make! I even know who could make me the hat. Maybe this winter, and I can also pick up and finish the sacque I started last year.
Utility sewing has taken up a fair amount of time: the trick is finding ways to make that fun. Sometimes it’s a new movie to ‘watch’ while sewing, sometimes it’s an exciting fabric, and sometimes I’m reminded of Gregory Peck’s character in Yellow Sky. He looks at an expanse of salt flats or desert and says, “It’s just a place. A place can be crossed.”
I’m a beginner sewer…hoping to try and finish a JP Ryan dress pattern this winter. I did one earlier, but it was waaaay off in the front and attaching the skirt to the bodice did not go well. I get so frustrated sewing…I swear I turn dyslexic.
What a reassuring conversation on several levels! I haven’t been doing this long enough to be tired of it, but often feel a bit overwhelmed. To escape the terror of facing totally accurate buttonholes, I bought lovely sheer cotton for gown that is utterly inappropriate to the setting in which I work. In my defense, it was on sale for $2 a yard…and it’s brown.
I see some rather telling patterns repeated here, whether in the hobby a long time or only briefly. At least I am not alone in my failings.
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