Thursday, 31 March 2011

The light blue dress, and something new...

The dress.

Now then, work on the light blue dress had to fall by the wayside for the last few weeks, thanks to all that had to be done by the re-enactor's market.

That was last weekend, and I've nearly recovered from the run-up to it, so I've started working on it again.

I've been working on the central panel at the front of the bodice area. If you look at the design, there's an overlap at the centre front. i've decided that this should be a separate piece, not an overlap of the two sides.

I want to fill this with a sort of beaded smocking.

I tried making a version with just the georgette, but it was too flimsy to hold the shape while stitching.  I tried using an interfaced layer of satin, overlaid with the georgette, but that was much too stiff.  So I tried a layer of unstiffened satin with the georgette overlay, but that was too stiff.
I basically had the dilemma that I wanted the smocking to only be a layer of georgette, over a flat (unsmocked) layer of satin, but the georgette isn't up to the job of holding the smocking while working on it.
Then, while testing out an embroidery pattern for something else, I suddenly realised - water soluble stabiliser.   So yesterday I cut a piece of stick-on cold water soluble embroidery stabiliser, and marked up the smocking grid on the back.  I stuck it to the georgette and ran the gathering threads, and started stitching the smocking in place.  I'm only about half done, but so far so good!

The 'something new'.
A "Napoleonic" hussar's uniform.  I use inverted commas for the 'napoleonic' bit, because strictly speaking it isn't.
It's loosely based on a Napoleonic Brunswick uniform, but the brief is that it's to have certain aspects of the uniform, and to be in certain colours, but the exact details are up to me.
The dolman and trousers are to be in black, the trousers to have leather re-inforcement and lace, the dolman to have dark blue facings with black lace and silver lace, and the waistcoat to be dark blue with silver lace.
As it's not a reproduction, I get to use my imagination on this one, and make certain bits of it up as I go along, which makes it much more fun.  don't get me wrong, I can do (and have done) a straight, dogged, exact repro, but there's much more scope for creativity in just 'making stuff up', and that makes it fun!
Anyway, starting with the dolman - the cuff and collar are braided (by hand) in a narrow lurex russia braid.  I've used lurex because I wanted to have a different shade of silver from the wider military lace (which is metallised polyester).

Now onto the waistcoat - the narrow braid (that you can see behind the wider braid, and at the (false) pockets) is the same lurex, and is sewn on by hand, because I couldn't get the loops to behave to my satisfaction with the machine.
The wider braid, in slightly squiggly rows, is metallised polyester (proper military lace.  The pattern of that is taken from an original Brunswick wastcoat (though the fabric isn't dark blue, and it isn't a hussar waistcoat, but an infantry one).

Dame Elizabeth Taylor

I'm in the middle of writing the blog post I intended to write today, but have broken off from it to add this one.

That's becasue I just saw the news on the BBC website that Elizabeth Taylor has died.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch old movies with my Nana.  The beautiful women in beautiful dresses (Ginger Rogers, Vivienne Leigh, Marylin Monroe, etc) were what made me want to be able to make dresses one day.

But the one who inspired me more than any other was Elizabeth Taylor.  (It helped that, like Anne of Green Gables, I was desperate to have a mane of raven black hair, not the silver-blonde-turned-to-red hair that I do have.)

Even now I still have a selection of pictures of Elizabeth Taylor on my sewing room walls.
This is the one that stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw it - the hair, the make up, the dress...

One of the world's great actresses (a double oscar winner), a great style icon (she did 'glamour at 40 and 50 in an age when cauliflower haircuts were the norm), and a great person (she continued to campaign for her HIV charity despite her own severely declining health).

I truly hope she rests in peace.

Postscript - and don't you love it that she purposely arranged to arive late for her funeral!


I am sometimes made to think quite hard about criticism of my work, or critcism of others' work.  I have recently been forced to think about it once more. 

Now, I should really have stated right at the front that I genuinely believe that constructive criticism is a good thing, regarding any aspect of anyone's work.  It helps you to learn, and it keeps you sharp.

Unconstructive criticism, pettiness, and general sniping is not helpful, but extremely hurtful.  As anybody who makes things knows, each piece carries a part of the person who has made it.

The events that have made me feel I have to write about the subject are several... and include (though are not limited to)...

A costumer being roundly slated on an internet forum - this is not me, but another costumer who has had a fairly cataclismic time personally for the last few months, and for whom no slack whatsoever has been cut!  (Obviously I'm naming no names.) 

Somebody asking me for my honest opinion on another costumer, and me being stuck in the really, really difficult position of knowing that s/he was not very good, and carrying all the guilt of trying to convey that to the person asking, as well as the guilt of 'dissing' somebody who does what I do, and doubtless tries as hard as I do.

Fitting a piece of armour to mark for points that doesn't seem to work in the same way as other pieces I've fitted...  I'm not an armourer - it could just be that this armourer does thing differently than those whose work I'm more familiar with.  So do I say something to the client, that something seems not quite right, or do I keep schtum because I'm not an armourer (in any other than the linen sense)?

And more personally...

Being told by another costumer that I was "very foolish" for staying up for several nights (not in a row) to complete a couple of commissions because

I didn't want to let down the clients...

Having an armourer (a different one) tell me that he had no understanding of how clothing is cut, but then proceeding to lecture me on how clothing should be cut... (again, obviously, naming no names)...

And finally the most hurtful - a post on an internet forum referring to a piece from my website.  This was a commission for a fancy dress party.  As I say in the bumf below the picture, it's not meant to be historically accurate - it's not based on one extant tunic, it's based on a number of extant tunics.  Clearly, the "3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment" never actually existed. 

Criticisms levelled at the costume were:
that it's not accurate and the Austrian knot work is "wrong", and in the wrong place. 
Yes, true, in the first part. It's not an exact period replica of a highland tunic - I make no claim that it is (in fact I specifically state that it's not). It's an amalgam of several highland and non-highland British tunics. The Austrian knots (and actually the whole cuff pattern) are taken from an extant non-highland British tunic - actually several - of the Bedfordshire, Dorsetshire, and Warwickshire Regts, where the lace appears at the vertically central point of the topsleeve (it does with several other units too, but these were the ones that I based the lace on).

But to be frank, there are so many variations on cuff patterns and lacing patterns in Victorian uniforms - they're different for each regiment, and each branch of a regiment, not to mention each rank within that regiment... and if you take into account private purchases, you can pretty much double it, that you'd better be sure that you've looked at every extant piece, and every picture and read every desription, before you say that something isn't right.

And again, it's a fancy dress costume. As I have never claimed any accuracy for the garment as a whole, if I had completely made up the cuff and the knot work, would it really matter? Only to somebody with a rod up their....

- that the tunic doesn't fit, and that the cut is incorrect.
Simple answer to that one - my client had lost quite a lot of weight at the time the picture was taken, so the tunic is too big.  Much as I'd love to have clients who are like mannequins, i.e. who don't ever change size or shape, I can't - I make for real people.

- that the kilt worn is too short.
Again true - however, as I state in the information, I supplied only the tunic, so the length of the kilt is outside of my control (I'm blamed for it anyway though).

The person making these statements did so, clearly, without any thought that I might see, or become aware of them.  In the comments he states that he'd 'happily say these things to [my] face'.  Actually, when he saw me, he did nothing of the kind, and upon being challenged on the comments face-to-face, he responded that he was "only joking" and didn't mean any of it. 
I believe the phrase 'keyboard hero' is often used in these situations, although my own personal term would be 'coward'.  (If he 'didn't mean it' then his only motivation can have been to cause upset.)
Obviously, that leaves me assuming that he was attempting to build up his own image by bringing somebody else's down, or to make himself feel better in some way by cutting somebody else (me) down.
[Warning - the following paragraph is catty and comes from a place of hurt and defensiveness...] The really invidious thing, though, is that he's a competitor, of sorts.  He doesn't actually make anything (I suspect he would understand precisely how misplaced his comments are if he did) - he imports cheap Indian rubbish of the best* 'tat' variety. 
As this person is well known to have used (modern) Russian military greatcoats as a substitute for American Civil War ones (which aren't the same colour, or remotely similar in style, and don't even have the same number of body panels or the sme shape of sleeve), I'm not certain he'd recognise tailoring or historical accuracy if they came up and bit him on the behind!
Does he declare his interest (i.e. competition) on the posting in which he criticises my work?  Not as far as I've seen.
*and yes, that's sarcasm, chaps!
He's also extremely rude - in fact, downright cruel (and libellous) - about my client, and calls him several nasty names that only a mean spirited and vicious person would use. 
And that's what really gets me (and is the reason for this mini rant).  I can defend my own work and my research.  I can't defend against school-bully type comments of the lowest order.
I suppose the point of this post is to say that if you have a criticism of my work - or the work of anybody who makes things for a living - be sensitive.

Be conscious of the fact that we invest a piece of ourselves into everything we make, and that it hurts to be criticised unjustly, or in a way that's unfair, or that takes no account of the fact that I'm a human being - but if you have constructive criticism, which could help me in the future, then please tell me. Don't just moan on a forum or other online venue - tell the person you're talking about!

Anyway, I'll have some interesting work stuff to write about as soon as I've loaded the pictures (and found the camera).

More dress and corset...

Snatching 10 minutes here, and 10 minutes there (and a whole half hour after I finished working last, before I started hand sewing for work), I've got a little more done on these.

The corset:

I've now cut out the interlining, as well as the outer layers - I've tweaked the Victorian pattern that I'm using a little - other than the updating to a modern sizing that I'd already done, obviously.

I've raised the centre front a bit, and squared it off, and dropped the top of the centre back.  I've rounded off the botton of the CF, and taken the bottom of the CB down to a point.  I've also lengthened it very slightly, and shaved a little of the bust space out from the front, to make it a smidge more 'pushy-uppy'.

And this is the result - one half all cut out:

The dress...

I've cut out most of the bodice now - only the centre front panel remains, with which I'm still experimenting.

And I've cut the satin layer of the skirt too.

This is the bodice - front above, and back below - the back satin and georgette layers are exactly the same - with the front the georgette has a little more allowed for gathering over the bust (I didn't do a separate pattern for this, but just allowed for it when I was marking out before I cut it).  On the right of the picture are some strips of georgette that will make up the straps.

The front of the skirt - the dart is deliberately at a funny angle, and it's cut to the fold (the dart is marked with tailor's tacks).

The back of the skirt - again another funny angle for the dart (I like trying out different things).  It's marked in chalk here, although I have now used tacks again.

And that's as far as I am so far!

Corset and dress (continued)

A very quick post (because I'm running late today) with more about both the corset and the dress I posted about yesterday.

The dress is, as I said, in a crepe sating that I already had - and with a georgette overlay. Both of these are light blue - the georgette is ligther (in colour) than the satin (it's a given that it's lighter in weight!).

These are they, side by side.

The pattern for the under (satin) layer is all done - it's cut to fit the stand tightly at the moment - I'll be adding a little (not too much) ease into it when I cut it in the fabric.
Here are pics of it (in paper) on the stand in the corner of my sewing room.  The white lines on the dummy are the narrow bits of tape marking out the design lines.
It's not cut to the full length it'll be - though it's not meant to be long, it'll be a little longer than the almost micro mini length it is at the moment.
The corset is well on it's way too - I've cut it and started making it up - I have less photos of that, but the fabric I picked is a dark blue (shot black) taffeta that I've had for a while. 
The braiding is going to be done in a silver twist cord.  Now, yes, that means it's going to be more difficult to do...  I looked at black russia braid, but don't have enough that's not already spoken for - and I looked at silver, but it was much too shiney and looked tacky - the silver twist is a bit duller, and it goes well.
I haven't picked the buttons yet, and may well sort those out at the weekend or later - they don't have to be added till the corset's nearly finished, so it's no biggie.

The interlining is a cotton / linen (union) canvas that I have left over from something else - not decided on the lining yet.

A Dress

'Want to' project number two...

And another that I designed more than a year ago and haven't got around to yet (although the design has already changed a bit in the working, as usually happens with me...). 

This is the design (design right me, clearly!).  (Ignore the dodgy face - I've given up doing faces on sketches, because I am, and always was, rubbish at them, and no amount of guidance from my design tutor ever helped.)

The fabric I'm using for this one is a crepe backed satin, quite a heavy synthetic one, because I had it in - if I were buying the fabric I'd be using a silk).  And the overlay is a georgette, so a crepe weave again.

So far I've cut the pattern, on the stand, which I'll be photographing later on and posting.

A corset

Today's my birthday, so I'm doing stuff I want to, rather than stuff I have to.

I designed this corset (or pair of corsets - one's under and one's over bust, obviously), last year, but haven't got around to making it yet. (The photo file tells me I photographed it at the start of January 2010, though I'd designed it over Christmas).

Rough sketch below (very rough!).

So I decided that today's the day!
The actual design is based loosely on a rifles dolman (Napoleonic).
So far today I've done the pattern for the overbust version (in a basic sample size 12, because I already had a block to adapt in that size).
I now have to work out what materials I'm using - the braiding will probably be a russia or tubular, and the outer fabric either a wool or a silk. 
So the next step, this afternoon, will be to go and find the fabric and get on with it!

Some stuff from last year...

Ok, I haven't posted in a while due to being lost in an ocean of padding for the last few months. (It's ok to make, but dull as dishwater to write about).

Then it occurred to me that I have this huge pile of stuff from last year and the year before that I could write about instead (till I get back to making something vaguely interesting).

So first up is the table cloths. 'Yawn', I hear you cry! But these aren't just plain basic table cloths - these are pirate flag table cloths!

They're all made in linen, and the detail (the pictures) are all cut out of more linen, and sewn onto the ground. That bit was interesting when I got to the teeth!

This is a generic skull and crossbones, or 'Jolly Roger', used at some stage by most pirates that were operating in the 18th century. The name Jolly Roger is thought to derive fromthe French 'jolie rouge' (or 'pretty red'), the name given to the red pirate flag. There is an extant flag with a red ground, and a yellowish (possibly originally white) skull and crossbones.

This one is the flag used by 'Calico' Jack Rackam, and English pirate sailing in the East Indies in the early years of the 18th century. Obviously, it's basically another take on the Jolly Roger, but with crossed swords instead of bones.

This one is reputed to have been used by one of the most famous (and most feared) pirates of them all, Edward Teach, or Blackbeard. There's some debate over it actually having been used by him, but it's an interesting design none the less.

The designs on pirate flags actually have a meaning - a language if you will. The appearance of a skeleton or skull and bones is a warning to unsuspecting crews that death is on it's way. The hourglass signals that time is running out. If it has wings attached, then it inidcates that time is running out quickly. And if red appears on the flag, either as part of the design or as the background, it's a sign that no quarter will be given (i.e. that no prisoners will be taken).

So Blackbeard's flag reads that death is coming, time is running out, and that no quarter will be given to anyone on board a captured ship. In reality, (where Edward Teach was concerned, at least), this was bravado and show - about striking such fear into people's hearts that it made his job as a pirate that bit easier. There are no known accounts of Edward Teach ever killing, or even harming, anyone robbed by him or his shipmates.

The last of the pirate flags I made is almost certainly mythical, (dating probably to a book from the 1920s) but again, it's an interesting design, and I used it mainly because of the red ground (which as mentioned above, was used).

This one is supposed to have belonged to Captain Moody (if it existed, which as said, is questionable - he's often associated with Christopher Moody, although they were separate people).

The translation of the flag - the arm with a knife is said to mean that force will be used - the skull and crossbones that death is coming - the hourglass that time is running out - and the wings that it's running out fast.

Definitely an interesting project (and it gave me the chance to do some piratey research).

Hand Embroidery

Embroidery, (by hand, that is), is one of my favourite types of stitching.

All hand sewing is far more attractive to me than machine sewing, because there's so much more variety, and so much more to learn, but hand embroidery is the thing I like the best.

It could be because I started to embroider when I was very young. I was around two years old. I was apparently an annoying, curious child, so my Nana sat me down with a needle and thread to keep me from sticking my fingers into sockets, or the fire, etc, etc.

Or it could be because there's just so much to learn - there are so many different types of embroidery, and so many individual stitches, that it would take a lifetime or longer to master them all.

Or it could be that embroidery doesn't serve any real purpose. Embroidery isn't really functional, or utilitarian. It's a frippery - it's entirely decorative. A beautiful thing that serves no other real purpose other than to be beautiful!

I like that.

Anyway, all of that said, my latest piece of embroidery does serve a purpose. It's a medieval (Wars of the Roses) livery badge.

This one is stitched in silk embroidery floss, on a linen ground (the backing fabric). The body of the badge is done entirely in split stitch, and the outline and detail in back stitch.

This is currently on display alongside an original metal badge of the time, at Wakefield Museum, in their exhibition 'The Battle of Wakefield', which is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10.30am - 4.30pm. It's on till the 29th January 2011.

The Importance of Being Fitted!

 People have lost the art of having things made for them!

I'm frequently baffled by the number of people who seem to think that having fittings is optional.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the long-distance thing here.
I have made things for people all over the world, from the Americas to Australia - I can do long-distance. For the majority of the garments and other things I make, I can post slopers and toiles to be fitted at a client's end. It works very well, and is the ideal way to deal with international clients who can't visit me, and whom I can't visit.

No, I mean things where it's arranged that fitting should be done in person.

I sometimes get the feeling that (some) people think I'm just being extremely difficult if I say that something will need to be fitted two or three times as a minimum. 

I'm really not.

Obviously, due to the sheer range of things I make, there are things that I can do without fitting. But some things simply have to be fitted. It's not that hard a concept really, is it? Clothes that fit tightly (eg arming doublets, hosen, dresses, corsets, etc), or that need to hang correctly to look good (eg gowns, other dresses, jackets, uniforms, etc), really do have to be fitted, one way or another.

I can cut things carefully and accurately, yes. I can hang things from dummies to check the lines, yes.

But here's a startling piece of information: cutting accurately cannot possibly hope to allow for all the vagaries of the human figure, even with all the measurements and notes on posture that I take. And another stunning fact: no dummy, even one padded to match a client's size and posture, will ever replace the fitting of a garment to a real human being.

For a start, dummies don't move. They don't have to sit down when their feet are tired, or to bend over and pick up the thing they just dropped, or to stretch to reach a high shelf. And they can't tell you if a tightly cut armhole pinches. You get the gist, I trust...

When somebody orders something from a clothes maker (be they on a street market in Thailand, or a designer dressmaker, or a tailor on Saville Row), what you're asking them to do is to translate your 3D form into flat shapes on a flat piece of cloth. And then back into 3D. It isn't remotely easy, it takes years to learn, and it can't be done instantly.

Without fitting, there will be errors. It's unavoidable.

If a garment needs two or three fittings, and somebody doesn't show up for one, or more, then only one of two things can result:
1, the order will take longer, because the appointment will have to be rescheduled;
2, the garment (or garments) simply won't fit.

I'm good at what I do, but I'm not a miracle worker! neither is anybody else who cuts or sews.

So the whole point of this post - if you order clothing or costume from anybody, and they tell you it needs to be fitted, show up.

On time.

And if they say you need a particular pair of shoes, or particular underwear, do as asked.

An explanation...

Just to explain why there are going to be a few new posts all at once...  after none for ages and ages....

I do have another blog...  this one is my 'non-advertising' blog (if you see what I mean).

And I've realised I've been posting to my other blog, and not copying across here as I intended.  So I'm catching up with that!

Static Museum Display

What with the Re-enactor's Market (TORM, aka The Original Re-enactor's Market), last weekend, and so much work to do in the run up to it, I haven't had the chance to post pictures of this recent job.

This is for a permanent static display, created by a sculpture company, for a museum in the Channel Isles.

The stuff was actually delivered a few months ago, but I got the photos from the client a few weeks ago. Forgive the background - it's not 'in situ' yet, and these are taken in the sculptor's workshop.

I made (or obtained!) the stuff for the figure on the left of the picture, with the blue gambeson.

There's a shirt, a gambeson (the blue), and a pair of hand sewn hosen (or hose).

The backseam is handsewn using backstitch, and then the seam is sewn down a second time, and the hems made, using a variation of whipstitch. The eyelet is reinforced with an internal metal ring. The photo has been lightened a bit to allow the stitching to be seen!

Non-sewn items (eg armour, etc) were provided by Mark Vickers, Cap-a-Pie, Kevin Garlick, Dr Timothy Dawson, and Armour Class.