Monday, 21 May 2012

Of the pondering of early corsets... Part 2!

Part 1 Summary:

The last discussion briefly covered studying the effect and body language of figures in Medieval portraits and paintings. The combination of artistic licence, medieval symbolism and a modern understanding of how natural materials shape and form have made the beginnings of a somewhat ambiguous debate over the origins of the corset. We also covered the power of personal experimentation and how the development of tailoring changed the way they chose to manipulate and display the figure, be it for medical, practical or cosmetic reasons. This progressed onto how they might have gone about creating 'bodies' or stiffeners for torsos - buckram, glue and hemp cording and wood were considered.

Part 2

After another long period of mulling over, someone has resurfaced the topic and renewed my interest in early corsetry, so here (finally) is Part 2. Over a year on, and the Squiggle's ideas have yet further developed! I've also come across some more possible primary evidence, both for external and internal shape forming.

One of the wonderful things happening over the last year has been the release of more close-up photographs and studies of certain well-known sources, such as the 'Closer to Van Eyck' study of the Ghent Altarpiece:

My first ever 'posh' frock was based on one of the houppelande gowns depicted on here, yet there was a limit to how much I could observe in a tiny jpg image a few years ago!

Inevitably, this amazing close up study has revealed flaws in what I thought I could see and the exact garment construction and layering. For a start the 'V-neck' opening extends far deeper than I first imagined. It goes to show that you should always review your own interpretations, even if you are convinced that you've got it right! Hence this post.

Of Holding Everything Up and In!

You may have noticed that I've acquired a wide leather girdle in the last year too! My partner Matt made it for me and has kindly let me borrow a business photo of it:

So why am I side tracking on the topic of belts? Well, one of the things I've noticed about wearing a wide leather girdle is a sensation not dissimilar to wearing a corset! So not only would have a wide girdle represented a woman's wealth, it would additionally provide considerable physical support. Such a girdle was particularly popular with the Burgundian style gowns, as it looked best worn directly under the bust (good bust support too perhaps?).

Hugo van der Goes (1440-1482), Saints Margaret And Mary Magdalene (background) with Maria Portinari (1476-1478)

Which brings me to the next observations of Maria Portinari and her daughter (?), as pointed out by my friend Caroline. Maria (left) is wearing an extra-ordinarily wide girdle in an wealthy looking, impractical white/cream colour. Look slightly down. What are those ridges in her skirt? A very stiff petticoat? A hooped skirt in its infancy? Tabs from a bodice of some description sticking out? 

Now look across to the young girl. What doesn't look quite right? She could be perhaps somewhere between eight and fourteen years old? Old enough to be being prepared as a bride. Although she has the stature of a child, her waist comes in and flares out lightly over the hips in an odd fashion. Enough waist in fact that she can hang a belt on it! Even if there is a petticoat under the skirt, what's bringing in her waist? Also ask yourself this: If children were dressed alike to their parents, why go to all the effort of having a front laced gown on your growing daughter when the girdle is such a simple solution? Is the girdle simply a social status symbol, or does it tell us more about how they viewed displaying young figures of a marriageable age? Very fishy. 

Let's start to look again at body shaping possibilities, from the inside outwards.


For those with a limited budget, this is an option! Babies were swaddled, so it stands to reason that children alike may too have been wrapped to ensure that they grew straight. However doing it well could entail having additional help and Lots of time. (For those who have watched Shakespeare In Love, it may bring to mind the method Viola used to 'hide' her feminine features).

Shakespeare In Love (1998), Viola's disguise secret is unravelled!

I had a fiddle with some fabric on my waist, both cut on the bias and straight. Cut on the bias, it had stretch and a better flexibility to natural shape although rather soft, whereas on the straight I was able to pull it more taught, but it was harder to manipulate and firm. The tricky bit was keeping it flat and smooth, so the strips had to be narrow and medium-fine in thickness. One of the liberties was that you could cover as much or as little flesh as you wished, which the bias cut was better suited for.

However the average historical re-enactor does not necessarily possess that kind of time and help, both to practice and put through its paces for shows. 

So that brings us back to the next kind of layer - a garment in its own right.

Corded bodice

I've chosen this route with string or hemp cord (as opposed to buckram) first because as I found from the bandaging, the softer the material you use, the more you can play with the tension. Second because the sources show softer figures still, rather than the rigid structures so I'm avoiding a completely unnatural appearance. Third because my body is not accustomed to wearing a corset daily, so it puts less strain on my body.

Think of it if you will as a 'vest', warm and protective. I plan to use diagonal as well as vertical lines of cording, for there is more integral strength, particularly down the front. (See Part 3 for further explanation.)

That said if the buckram (or even cardboard) were cut into vertical/diagonal strips/panels and treated like modern corset boning in pockets, it may have a similar effect.

Gentlemen may not wish to cover the whole of their torso, for usually it is triangular shape and the bottom edge of a corset may dig in with little to hold it up. A belt-like support (rather like a wrestling belt? either separate or integral to an outfit) with lacing might be better suited. And although they don't tend to have so much hip for a corset to sit on, they could try slight tabs below the waist seam (if there are jacket tabs) to help it sit right and exaggerate the finish. Any thoughts?

Stiffening of Outer Garments

Only recently it occurred to me that men's arming jackets for war were quilted over numerous layers of fabric, or sewn in tubes and then filled. Very similar to bodice cording! See below. A current Cotun commission has had me mulling over all the different approaches one could take to construction.

Men's Cotun - one of the few illustration examples

1445-1452, Bernat Martorell, Alter of the Transfiguration, Barcelona Cathedral, thanks to Jessamyn's Closet:

The image above from Barcelona shows a Lady in an over gown with taught side lacing, with lots and lots of fixed pleats or a cording effect. This shape is striking and smooth and probably adds to to integral warmth of the garment. I've heard suggestions of stiffening along just seams, but it seems to me that the best results are produced when cording is a core part of the construction of a garment itself. 

Part 3 to come! 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Of the late 15th century Armourer's wife... 5

For those of you who are reading this strand for the first time or need a reminder, this is the story of the dress thus far:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

It seems this project is an ongoing experiment - I had the opportunity to wear it for the first time at a show recently; even then altering and finishing it.

It's not being worn here with the final underdress, but it looks quite nice with the green damask! One friend has already asked for a pattern of it so they can have a version too. A lot of people ask how I get the belt to stay, but it sits very comfortably on the gathered skirt.Can't help but be tempted to try wearing a corset underneath, though it'd need taking in first! ;-)

Fingers crossed there'll be a photo of it being worn with the black brocade sleeves and red underdress soon!

Of Sam's Sari Maxi Dress 2... finished!!

For those of you who read this blog post a while ago, i'm proud to announce that this dress was recently completed! :-) Sam seems happy with the result, so here are some brief finished shots:

It needed ironing, but it fitted! Hoping that there will be some shots of her wearing it for her birthday party coming soon! :-)

Monday, 6 June 2011

Of busy bee times and textiles to come...

Feels like a loooooooooooooong time since the Squiggle last posted! She has been such a busy Squiggle!

Sam's sari maxi dress is nearing completion, it just needs the final tweaks and one last fitting...

Friend Harriet has requested a cotton, short summer dress, so we've found her some creamy broderie anglaise, cotton lawn and some Cath Kidston strawberry pattern fabric to be transformed. Next, the pattern! So a second session is require for the design to be finalised, the pattern formulated and the fabric cut.

A set of doll's clothes for friend Sandy has sat in a box recently waiting to be continued, so that's on this week's sewing lists...

My early fifteenth century, red wool overdress and red linen underdress needs to be completed within the next two weeks for a show, as does friend Alicia's outfit of blue cotton overdress, red linen underdress, cloak and headdress will all have to be created in this time too. Fortunately we have her speedy sewing machine to hand, so over-locking shouldn't be a problem. She is also a different shape body-wise to me, which poses new challenges....

Was there anything else?

Oh yes, and i need to pack to move house... this last weekend was spent hoovering dog-haired rug and carpet in my home-to-be.... Also i believe there is a presentation to sort for a week friday... hmmm....

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Of a late fourteenth to early fifteenth century dress...

Good evening blog reader! :-) The Squiggle has been more industrious than ever...

So, with my late fifteenth century armourer's wife overgown nearing completion, now was the time to get moving on my slightly earlier, late fourteenth to early fifteenth century merchant dress, which is needed for other living history functions and wearing to an assessed lecture for my degree.

Let's show you a transition of styles in Europe, from slightly looser fitting gowns, through to the beginning of clothes tailoring as we know it now. You might notice that there is little differentiation between countries at this point, though the material itself becomes increasingly elaborate.

The Romance of Alexander, France, 1338-44
(I love the tapering end off the sleeves in this one!)

A marriage - a European Bride and her ladies, 1350's
(Note the slit down the side of her overgown, trimmed with ribbon or braid)

Two women raking hay, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Juin the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Italian illustration, ladies in silk gowns with a saint, ca.1380
(I love the saint's stripy underdress sleeves :-D)

Belles Heures de Duc du Berry, St. Jerome Tempted by Dancing Girls, 1408-9

I've had to hand some of the softest. finest red wool (bottom left) i've ever beheld - one could mistake it for velvet! I've also had a subtle brocade in off-white/cream (right) and red linen (top left) to spare for lining:

The pattern I've used looks something like this:

Herjolfsnes no.38 tunic with 8 fitted gores and two center front and back gores

The Herjolfsnes gown has been used frequently by re-enactors as a source for an original pattern. Its survival is one of only a pinch of resources. The 'gores' (aka panels) allow the gown to be adjusted to closely fit the body, thus achieving the tailored finish. The top left image is a rough pattern for the sleeve (the little triangle sits a little higher than the shoulder blade, rather than in the armpit where we normally put a diamond shaped insert for freedom of arm movement).

I plan to fasten it down the front with buttons or lacing and possibly have tippets (arm bands with long, dangly bits at the elbows) in white/cream. The fabric has been all cut and the front half of the wool tacked. With time so tight, i've resorted to sewing it together with my old hand-turn Singer machine, rather than hand stitching the whole lot! I'll wear my red linen underdress with the black and gold sleeves underneath....

Here are a few shots to give you an idea - better ones to come when more tacking comes out and i can model it! ;-) With the nature of its shape, it's impossible to lie completely flat out. My apologies for the strange colours - my camera wouldn't behave tonight under the room light....

Front body: Right hand side of dress has been machine sewn, left hand side to go, hence the more vague seams.The middle-centre seam has been tacked for the moment to allow me to alter the shape appropriately, but it will be released for lacing later.

Skirt spread: I've closely followed the pattern above, but bringing the front seams a little closer to my bust line because of my petite shape. 

Better photos and more progress to come! Watch this space! ;-D

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Of Sam's Sari Maxi Dress...

It's been one of those bits 'n' bobs days again.
Today was a pattern fitting with my friend Sam for her sari maxi dress, which i'm making for her birthday. In essence it's quite a simple concept, but being a perfectionist i wanted it to fit her well...

This is my typical first or second sketch, filled with crammed measurements - i'll add a neater sketch, worthy of a portfolio, later. 

Below, the fabric for the main body of her dress (the same as my 1950's dress). All the fabric for her dress is from the same sari, just different segments of it. The half of her body pattern shows off her lovely hourglass-style curves to full effect (ignore the fluorescent man making cunning plots)!

The bust has proven slightly trickier - rather than just a primitive triangular shape, Sam wanted a halter neck style. So i've sat and shaped it to avoid any funny gapes. Fortunately she's almost the exact same size as me, so i could use my own dresses to help shape it.

Above, the fabric for the bust and the pattern for the bust. The creases at the bottom are the result of experimentation of where i should make tucks. I'm not showing the reverse of this pattern, which Sam pointed out to me features the crotches of hunky rugby players... I don't observe these kind of things when i'm trying to make someone else's figure look good lol! It's been promised as a souvenir for her wall... ;-D

Above is the fabric for a triangular insert into the back of her dress. She wants the dress to fit everywhere else, so this piece is vital for allowing her to walk in it. It will start at the base of her hip level and flair out to the bottom.

The whole dress will be lined with pale pink cotton lawn because the stitching on the back of the sari is so fragile. The danger is that the threads will catch and the back of the fabric is rather see-through and scratchy, so it will be soft and protective, yet light.

Next is to get the lining and use it to get the basic shape, do another fitting on her, then cut the sari. This sari frays too easily, so i'm leaving cutting it until the last minute! :-)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Of odds, ends and the first Sari dress...

Dissertation has been finally handed in. Final term of my BA degree underway. For the first time in weeks, the Squiggle has been able to sit down and do odds and ends of costume and other people's bits. Whoopee!

Bits included my armourer's new green doublet to match my wool gown for Tewkesbury, starting to cut out a friend's doll clothes pattern, sewing the hem of my armourer's gown and making a start on my summer dress...

The Summer Sari Dress

In the last couple of years i've spent hours trying on baggy dresses in high street shops - i have a few favourites for ones that actually fit, but they cost anywhere between £30-50, and even then they're not always top quality. This year, i've had enough. I can buy a pretty sari with anything up to five or six metres of fabric for as little as £15-£30, so the theory is that if i can make up to three items per sari, it's only costing me £5-10 roughly each (excluding lining, threads, buttons, zips, etc). Even with lining, it's still possible to make cheaper, yet much better fitted clothing for myself. Expecting to make my own Wedding dress to cut costs in a year or two, it will be an excellent exercise in practising making dress patterns through trial and error. 

The main inspiration has been the returning fashion of the 1950's - i love those dresses; the way they fit in the bodice and cut across the chest, then flair out from the waist down, often with netted petticoats. On the other hand, i have a strange love for the vibrant colours and textures of Asia. Coming from a family with history of living in India (with the suitcase of photos to show for it) and having a handful of Pakistani friends at school, i guess it's always been intriguing. Indian saris are becoming one of my favourite things to collect - they can be reused as something else or worn as they were intended. They're graceful and elegant. Wondering how i was going to use some of the saris i have to create a modern dress, i found this:
1950's black and gold printed cotton dress

It's beautiful! The neckline cut is straight across the back too, however i've chosen to have a slight 'V' instead, so the back panels have changed a lot. The front neckline however was the main inspiration, and the way it is clear that a sari was used to create this. 

I have a pink and blue sari with lovely bits of sequin embroidered round some of the edges. When cut, the fabric frays quite alarmingly, so I have had to work very quickly with it to halt disintegration:

The bodice of the dress - to be lined and have straps added, so the armholes won't actually be this small! :-)

It's a very rushed photograph and the fabric needs ironing, but hopefully it should give you the gist. The seams up to the bust are closer together on purpose since i'm quite a petite frame. It looks odd flat, but once it's against me it looks ok. I've hand sewn this first dress, simply for the control factor and the uncertainty of how such fraying fabric would be affected by a machine.

A closeup of the fabric:

The embroidery on the pink edge has had to be knotted wherever it was accidentally cut so as not to lose any embellishments. Hence only using the pink for the front of the dress. Still love it though!

Next is the lining, which is a must for this dress to protect the embroidery threads on the back and to dispel some of the fabric's transparency. (As advised by my lovely friend Licy) I have had enough soft pink cotton left over from my armourer's dress lining  to use for this project's bodice, which will suffice.  

I've not even thought about the lining of the skirt yet.... though i've a feeling it'll have to be pretty radical for those rogue gusts of wind... ;-)