Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Of a Princess's upside-down-ice-cream-cone-with-the-tip-lopped-off-by-a-Knight Hat...

...aka a flowerpot (or 'truncated') hennin blog post about my posh hat in the making. ;-)

Ok girls, i'm going to have to do to you what my archaeology lecturers did to me when they told me to forget everything i'd learnt about Indiana Jones and Time Team...

You know that pointy, cone-shaped hat you wore as a little girl to look like a medieval princess? Otherwise known as the 'conical' or 'steeple' hennin? Well here's the crush. It was a French fashion that didn't last very long. Probably for very obvious reasons, pure impracticality probably being the most likely. For some inexplicable reason, in the modern day it epitomises what girls think of when they think medieval princess... however they are extremely pretty!

You can find one of the best collections I've ever found of such image examples on Marie Chantal Cadieux's page:
Her whole website remains one of my most used web pages as a resource for costume help. It's excellent and very well thought out!

You may notice that many of these hennins do not have an entirely pointy top - they tend to be slightly rounded, or lopped off. Many women when historical re-enacting now (including myself) opt for something somewhat more practical. Like this:

... and it's fantastic! You just gather your hair into a ponytail or plait, fine hair net or grip it back, tie a width of lined fabric round your head with a flap over your forehead... put a flowerpot shaped frame on your head made with leather, felt or buckram and place a linen or silk hennin coverlet over the top. Pin your flap and coverlet together, pin over a cotton/linen/silk veil if you wish, then fold the two back to secure it to your head! Voila! Your hair stays clean and protected, unaffected by the sun, wind and rain. If done well it should hold all day and you needn't fiddle with it. Here is same hennin of mine with veil added:

Some hennins have a headband of black round the head and along the base of the hat, with a loop over the forehead, presumably to allow it to be pulled back on if it slips. I use one of black (cotton, not synthetic) velvet with my heavier hennins for it has friction that helps the hats fix.

One must note that hennins look a great deal better if worn at at least a forty-five degree angle on the head or parallel with the floor, rather than straight up. Search all images, and you will find that non of them are worn like tower turrets. In my own image of the hennin without a veil I feel that on this particular occasion it was not far enough back, though i have a suspicion that that had more to do with the misshapen nature of the frame underneath.

The best simple frame without fuss i've found yet is the felt fez. My one was not cheap, so i made sure it fitted comfortably before I splashed. It has so far survived many squashes in a travel bag. See below:

Before I'd even covered it, it was required for an event at Kelmarsh last year, so i simply hid it under a beaded silk veil Worked a treat, hardly anyone noticed it was just a fez:

So this year I was determined it deserved a cover worthy of a noble Lady! Not sure where to start, I bought some goldish coloured silk and couched gold thread down in a diamond pattern on it. Couching work was a popular embroidery technique, and it was something I knew I needed to practice.

Couched gold thread with black intersecting crosses.

I've covered the whole fabric with it.

Added glass seed beads in green, gold, black and pearly white. Pearls were a more authentic option than pearly white glass, but also a lot more expensive.

This has so far only been a quarter completed, so its a slow process - normally I can be found on the train sewing these tiny beads on. Some passengers think i must be so patient, others think i'm plain mad! :-) I'm not patient, i just want this posh hennin so badly! Not sure i'll finish it in time for my show this next weekend, but i'll get there soon... fingers crossed...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Of the late 15th century Armourer's wife... 3

Part 3:

So one Squiggle sewed like mad today, trying to hand stitch the skirt of my over-gown on firmly - this wool's quite heavy and i don't have much faith in my stitches, so i was concerned it would drop off.



Letting it hang for a while, hopefully it'll settle itself. The bottom hem needs levelling and sewing together. The side lacing and sleeves are next, plus finishing the under dress and sleeves. So close now! Then all it needs is a partlet, apron..... ;-)

Saw all my scraps of damask and brocade today and wondered if i should make a panelled modern dress or coat with them....

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Of the late 15th century Armourer's wife... 2

Part 2

So to recap, the dress on the right is the dress that first inspired me:

I loved the colours of green and pale pink, and i have enough gold brocade for the under sleeves... the fiancé is hoping to make it an appropriate belt. I have a ready-made pale pink head linen wrap from a traders fayre to match, so looking forward to the comfiness of that this summer...

So this is my upper body nearing completion. (Please excuse its state of crumpledness, it does need an iron). The pink lining is somewhat more transparent than anticipated as it is almost like a lawn, but it feels so soft! The green wool was bought from Bernie the Bolt, and is an absolute dream to work with, such gorgeous weight! Pins are still in place down the sides until i sew them, but for the most part it is finished. Still deciding if i should further decorate the dress....



The skirt is more than a full circle of fabric - the lining is all cut out and sewn together,though the outside green is just cut out and needs putting together. Hopefully this'll be done in the next few days. The short outer sleeves will be attached when the skirt is complete....

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Of frivolity and flights of (wedding veiled) fancy...

I was asked by Mum what kind of veil i wanted for my wedding outfit today. She's decided to make the lace for the edge of it (yay!), so she requires a vague idea of how much she needs to slave over. Momentarily stumped, I proceeded to research Regency styles, realising this was one big area i'd completely forgotten. According to this quick research, women didn't always wear them and only if they could afford such frivolity. The lace edging was usually the expense that put many off. Most veils that were drawn appear to have been of medium length with a square/round hem and lots of flowers with curled hair, usually pinned to the back of the head or gathered and draped over the top. (see below)

I'm not so sure about fancy flowers, but a lace edged veil with decent length would be rather lovely....

...and then i saw these and yearned to be in their shoes:

...Then i thought, stuff it! Long, wind gusted veils are marvellous for photos on a windy day! Then i found the amazingly dazzling Grace Kelly in all her graceful glory:

Suddenly i wasn't so sure i wanted a Regency dress or a long veil at all, recalling the number of times i'd drawn up scribbles of long sleeved lace dresses with silk buttons and tailored features like hers and both my grandmothers' (no doubt inspired by Grace). The guns will be stuck to though. Gorgeous as it is, i have found my Mr Darcy and i'll kick myself if i'm not Elizabeth Bennett for it. :-) And it gets better... i found evidence for a long (to the floor and beyond) veil in the midst of Regency, so it's not all mad... ;-)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Of the pondering of early corsets...

Part 1

'Surely there must be something at the V&A Museum?', ask my parents. Well in the world of post-1500 AD, yes. However if there were evidence of early corsets pre-1500 AD stashed somewhere in the V&A, my bones have a funny feeling many historical re-enactor women would be rabbiting on about it by now. There is little doubt from the multitude of images of women with unnatural figures that the corset probably started in its infancy as early as the 1400's at least. As i shall demonstrate below:

Medieval silk weaver
There is very little way this neckline and waistline could be achieved without the aid of a bodice.

The Romans de la Rose (Romance of the Rose)
The lady dancing in the bottom left hand corner was inspiration for a noble lady's dress a couple of years ago. I struggled to find affordable rose pink velvet for it, so i substituted it with a gorgeously light-weight red velvet (see below). If you look carefully at the ladies above however they all have a poise that is difficult to attain without further support, for to dance with good balance requires the upper body to lean forward slightly with the weight on the toes, rather than backwards with the weight on the heels. Their stomachs/hips appear to extend forwards distinctly as they stand in an odd posture, though whether this is a desired attribute of fertility with broad hips shown through artistic licence, the use of petticoats or the effect of a bodice it is not clear. 
I've seen other front lacing dresses with very flat, taught stomachers; flatter than i can achieve without a firm frame underneath. There is something that has not been quite right about my dress, so i think it needs a little boost...

Corsets of some shape or form have been around for thousands of years. According to my research by the 1500's this would have been referred to as a 'pair of bodies', mostly at this point worn not with the aim of displaying a slim waist, but to keep an even, flat-fronted, round shape. The below website seemed the most informative on this matter:

It is my suspicion that corsets, just like the suggestion that Henry VIII's rather protruding codpiece fashion being the result of having to hide syphilis and the development of mending scarred skin tissue to casual cosmetic surgery, are rooted in a desire to correct medical problems. When tailored clothes came into being between 1300-1500, so did the exposure of physical human imperfection become highlighted.
When a mother is expected to bring up marriageable daughters who have grace, eloquence and poise, the choice of nagging them not to slouch is not attractive. Why not stick them in a bodice so graceful posture becomes habit and their spines grow straight? If you have given birth to one or more children, you figure may not be what it once was, so why not give it a little boost? If you have a diet that does not encourage the ideal figure, why not give it a bit of a leg-up?

So how were they made? Most assumptions i've heard are that buckram and some kind of glue, for it has been documented. But that's not to say that it was the only way. This first method has complications, for the buckram they used then i have heard is different from the 'buckram' we know now; the glue could be messy to make and use. So in this knowledge i gave up the hunt for an alternative solution for a few years... Until i found this recently:

Yup. The alternative possibility is Hemp Cording. Which would back up my 'seam strength' theory. It would be slightly softer to the body form and truer to early paintings than the Tudor shape using buckram. For those like the silk worker (at the top), a bodice would require all materials they could get their hands on to create the desired finish. Since my medieval roles now stretch from merchant and armourer's wife to nobility, i must strive to craft a bodice that could have been created by middle classes with limited materials, yet look like a piece worthy of a Knight's Lady. My Mum said 'why bother putting so much effort into something no-one will see?'. My response is that unless it is tried, it will never be unravelled - this is an adventure of self-satisfaction and experimental fiddlings...

My initial ideas have been to use two layers of cotton or linen for the cording, using either rolled scraps or string. For additional shape some twisted wire inserted in major cord seams. On the back, a simple lining, on the front a wooden busk placed down the centre between the cording, covered with silk or fine leather (which my mum suggested) to hide the bumps. These developed, for if i found a busk too uncomfortable then the plan B was to try couching wire of experimental thicknesses in an opposite direction to the cording on the back. So if cording were vertical, wire would be horizontal and vice versa.

Food for Thought:

Triptych of the Family Moreel, 1484

Portrait of a Young Woman by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485

Giovanna Tornabuoni, ca.1488

The Lady with an Ermine - Cecilia Gallerani, 1489

Margaret of Austria, 1490

Part 2 to come, with drawings and deliberation on the shape of the pattern i could use....

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Of the One Dress...

Part I

Yep folks. The One Dress. The One dress that occupies every girl's mind form the moment she can put crayon to wall. The One dress that will be worn on (hopefully) the one day that will peak her youth and carry her into a lifelong commitment of Marriage. From the moment I could scribble, Regency dresses became a highlight of such dreams. Then i forgot about it for the next ten years...

...until The Man came along. Not just any old man, The Man. Hopefully, he's the One Man too. Rather like the One Ring, but somewhat less evil. It's all a bit of a shock. After years of expecting to be soberly courting a man for at least a year (if not more) before he bends the knee, this Man did it in passionate whisked-away fashion, which actually was marvellously refreshing! A grand total of four months courting...

...sometimes you can know a person for a lifetime, and still not feel like you know them. And sometimes you can know a person for a week and feel like you've always known them.

Ok, call me mad. Go on, get on with it! Cos we already knew it. :-P Funny thing is, this guy comes from a family that seems to uphold a tradition of short engagements and long marriages lol.
But once, i asked my Mum how she knew it was the right time/person to say 'yes'. She thought, then shrugged, then said 'it just... felt right'. Me: 'so how will i know when it's right?' Mum: 'You'll just know, it'll feel right'. Then she smiles this mysterious and fond smile... I didn't really think much of it until university, when relationships began to really happen and I realised what I really wanted out of life and someone to share it with. There was something different about this guy from all the others...

Then the One Man popped the question on the 3rd Jan this year. I already knew the answer and he knew the chances were i'd say yes, but he still asked me properly. Suddenly it made sense what my Mum meant when you just... know. I was still really surprised when he asked, which made it magical. It was a moment more special than i could have ever imagined. <3 :-)

Then the next thought was. OMG. The ONE DRESS!! What do i do? Where do i start?? All these years i've had ideas; the one moment I need to make decisions, i can't! Arggggh! Everyone naturally expected us to have a medieval wedding... after all, medieval history is our specialist zone. However we wanted something refreshing. Something to give us an excuse to get some gear for a different period that we wouldn't otherwise afford. So Regency theme it was. Maybe my little inner girl finally got her dream! :-D

Research commenced; the more i read, the more it hit me how much i'd really not previously grasped a lot of the basics of Regency costume. Or perhaps i'd simply lacked the confidence and know-how to work from the foundations up? It's so beautiful because it is unlike any other dress fashion either side of it, particularly the 1800-1820's bit. Mostly Grecian and Egyptian inspired, women fashioned themselves after goddesses and Greek statues. Influential women include Empress Josephine, Recamier and Lady Caroline Lamb. They wore soft printed cottons, muslins and silks. Cotton and silk velvets and Indian sari material had a lot of influence, whilst at the same time signs of the militia featured in their coats and jackets (pelerines and spencers) with braid and buttons. Their hair was curled and bound by ribbons and bands of fabric. Even corsetry had a break from most hard boning - focus was not in the figure so much as the impression. In fact these softer versions were more commonly referred to as 'stays'.

With regards to the One Dress, what would i choose? One of the blessings of a later period is that there are more visual sources and patterns available. The image that made the biggest impression on me was this:

This was Luise Von Preussen. To me this image was one of the most inspiring; her hair and tiara are dazzling!

So the focus became the most Grecian-based decade, which seemed to be 1800-1810. The one below was the other picture to catch Squiggle's eye. Augustin, 1801. Her dress is so simple, yet those sleeves completely make it! Not sure my ears would take those massive pearls...

The next image is where i chose to start when it came to understanding the basic features (from the V&A Museum, 1800) - usually a round or square neckline, gathered, with an opaque petticoat and translucent gown, a sash of some description and sleeves that don't necessarily have to be puffed:

Part II will look at the materials used for such dresses, and where it might be appropriate to use which. May include some personal sketches...

Monday, 7 March 2011

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

With the sudden event of engagement to an armourer and passionate re-enactor like myself, the requirement for late fifteenth century dress for shows (suiting that of the rising merchant/craftsmen class) has arisen, and so here is my research and progress thus far.
I require something that is practical and warm, though bits of decoration/flourish are allowed. 

The image above was my initial source of inspiration, dated at roughly 1465-8. I love the lady on the right hand side with her brocade sleeves and very clear waist seam with gathered skirt. The way her belt hangs casually and the combination of a stunning green with pale pink lining.  And again below, the 1470's lady at the feet of Christ shows a side laced gown with a gathered skirt waistline.

A lady below, again in green, has a similar waistline with little or no gathering but a full skirt. Note the way her belt equally hangs loose.

This woman below has been important, for unlike any garment i've made before, this outfit will have side lacing using metal closed rings and so this image has been increasingly valuable to help me understand how to do it.

With the aid of Mary G.Houston's 'Medieval Costume in England and France', i've decided to use one of her excellent pattern illustrations to try and shape my costume. Here are some initial sketches of what i hope to achieve, pattern-wise they do not necessarily follow what i have now, but they should give an idea:

Front and side:


The first sketch above has a 'frill' thing along the bottom of the underdress, which until now i assumed was extra flair to keep the skirt out. However i've been informed that it is actually extra skirt length pinned up on the outside, which makes sense! So now i no longer will have a frill; there never should have been one! I intend to make a silk partlet to sit on top or lie underneath the neckline to keep off the sun.

The Under Dress

Thus far the Squiggle has entirely hand sewn her bodice section - it needs the lacing finishing on the right hand side and decorative gold thread edging, but once the skirt is added, it will be complete!

As you can see, the lacing on the top edge will possibly require some stiffening such as braid or cord to prevent it from wrinkling. It is my hope that the tension of the removeable sleeves will also help keep it flat to the skin. If all else fails, the two flaps will be joined. 

Here is the back of my bodice, it has limited shape on a hanger, but once on me hopefully will make more sense.

Latest Development:

Skirt has been added to the bodice, just needs the bottom hemming, the inside seams tidying and the removable sleeves added! Quite happy with the front, very little alteration needed.

The back as I thought needs some taking in at the centre seam to fit round the shoulders, for it's quite tricky to do the back all by one Squiggle!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Of a Knight's Lady...

Today has been a fruitful one for the Squiggle! Frustration over the skirt hems of my underdress ensued this morning, only to soon be distracted...

After some organising with a lovely new friend, I started to become a small part of something exciting and new for me:

With myself attending an increasing number of fiancé's shows this year, it was pretty inevitable i suppose! ;-) But a pleasant surprise and thus far i have been made most welcome among their company. Squiggle looks forward to the forthcoming events!

Also an enthusiastic lass has asked for costume help, so i'm happily bubbling away on a costume stream... i do wonder why i don't finally answer a frequently asked question and make costume for a living....

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Of the tortoise and the hare...

Yup, as per Squiggle usual, I'm up writing at an ever-so-student and insane hour. The time is 01:41am, the place is my cluttered room, littered with the haunts and shadows of an incomplete and uninspired degree dissertation. To those of my current course, this will be familiar and almost comforting to read! ;-)

Q. So what does a Squiggle do, when all energy has run its course and the once tearing stride of a hare grinds to a halt? When the well of academic ingenuity dries up? A. The Squiggle realises that perhaps the mistake was to be a hare in the first place. Secondly the Squiggle tries and fails to imitate a tortoise and simply ends up staring blankly at a screen for half an hour. In a third attempt, the Squiggle tries to return to something different that usually produces satisfying and confidence boosting results....

.... and so within minutes the Squiggle can be seen heaving her fifty year old sewing machine onto her desk and the room rapidly evolves into a swirling soup of red linen and pins! Yes, this was the moment for the meditative creation of a 15th century dress. I learnt the hard way over six years that to hare through a dress is not ideal if you still want to love the result two years later. So the two tortoise p's; patience and precision! With a lack of suitable costume fitting that of a medieval armourer's wife (to be able to do re-enactments with the fiancé), I relished the opportunity to breach the gap between the simple Medieval patterns I have known for ages and the more tailored, Tudor styles that we are accustomed to today. Tailoring clothes to fit the female form was a growing feature in the fifteenth century, particularly in the later half - in fact just starting with a pre-tudor underdress has been a revelation experience in itself! It does not conform to casually quartering the measurements of garments; there are front panels, straps and side panels, not to mention the back panels! In fact it is more a test of mathematics and mental judgement than anything else which makes a vast contrast. We have more physical and artistic evidence for the construction of such garments, so thus i have less room to make guesses or self-inventions. Which leads me onto the subject that many women ponder:

Corsets. When did they start? How were they made, and why? In so far as we can tell, there was no use for them until clothes begin to fit in the fourteenth century onwards, though this is assumed, for we have no remaining evidence. And why should we? If they were purely functional, there should be no reason why they would last until today.
Be it a means of correcting posture, hiding a gluttonous diet or disguising the bodily dis-figuration from bearing so many children, there is little doubt that there must have been an origin to the advantageous Tudor 'bodiced look'. Some have suggested that strips of cloth may have bound stomachs, others have considered the use of whale bone, reeds and willow among other forms of support. In discussion with other costume enthusiasts, we have debated the use of feather or fish glue as a stiffener. This is not as ridiculous as it may appear; some Ancient Greek re-enactors have tried and tested fish glue to set layers of linen in order to form their body armour - and it works! However in attempting to re-create my own Medieval to Tudor transition garments, it has become apparent that it must have something to do with the placing of seams. A greater number of component segments results in many vertical seams, of which there are many seam edges with a chance of fraying. In providing enough material for future alteration and being able to 'double over' the edges at the back, they automatically produce a combined strength and stiff quality to the fabric, as well as ensuring that the garment lasts whole. Inside such seam folds, one might be able to insert an extra rod of some description. This is just a personal theory, and the general consensus seems to be that it most likely started as a whole dress with some minimal stiffening around the upper body, which went from there. I'm always trying to test the boundaries on this topic, so watch this space for many more crazy theories!

Thanks to Caroline for the following image of Maria Portinari, see how her dress has odd angles at the hips and the bodice of the girl behind her has a shape that only something stiff would achieve:

Because I have no wench-like bosom, any further support in my bodices risks only flattening myself further, so i shall settle this time for thick, flat seams. My current underdress has used about five-six metres of linen, for though it has a fitted top, the skirt is extremely full (photos to follow!) It already bears great weight, so it's becoming increasingly tricky to imagine the weight once i have a similar pink-linen-lined, green wool overdress on, with equal quantities of fabric! The neckline is Tudor square to suit the turn of the century, but it will have no hooped skirt, being based on some paintings from the time.

I considered hand sewing the entire thing, which i did for the bodice, but now the weighty Singer sewing machine is a true blessing.... Squiggle would have gone truly nuts without it! :-D