Monday, June 4, 2018

The Fussbudget: 1873-4 Dress Details

While in the past I have thrown together bustled ensembles for steampunk events and college shenanigans, before April I had never attempted an actual 1870s gown. So when I started this project, I told myself I just needed to go slowly and focus on making something that fit well.

But then I got...fussy.

And by fussy, I mean I couldn't get Tissot and The Buccaneers out of my head, and so my simple plan somehow developed a lot more ruffles. The romancey cupcakey dresses I imagined in palaces were the only thing I wanted to make. 

"Too Early" by James Tissot, 1873
Then once I had an idea in my head, I didn't want to give it up--which made finding fabric a lot more difficult! As time ticked towards my flight and I got more desperate, I tried something crazy and ordered sheer cotton voile curtains on Amazon. They were available on Prime, they were a nice stripe, and they would have to do. Once they came, I took a quick trip to Homegoods with The Boy, who helped my sort through bedding options to find a suitable set of queen-sized cotton sateen sheets to use as an underlayer.

In the end, this ended up being a blessing in disguise because as I ruffled away I ran out of fabric...but it was easy to order more curtains from Amazon! Even so I don't think I would recommend the home furnishings approach to fabric shopping--everything I bought swore it was 100% cotton, and not a bit of it was. This was some dead Dino all the way.

I was also lucky in that several years ago I made my first 1870s dress, modifying a Truly Victorian pattern to work with a natural form silhouette. I still had the pattern pieces already fit to my body, so I was able to save a lot of time by being able to just cut things out and go! This time I used the original back pleats since I wanted the bustle silhouette. (I took a look at the TV website and I no longer see this particular pattern listed, unfortunately, so I couldn't figure out the number!)

The sleeves I cut just using a little math, and consist of a striped bias-cut overpuff with a fitted gold undersleeve. 

Like many women traveling to Bath before me throughout the 19th century, I bought some accessories at the indoor market (friends are a great and terrible influence). So I also dressed the bodice with a new metalwork brooch and my hair with a gold and pearl comb, which worked well with the earrings and necklace I had already planned to wear, and I think the brooch especially finishes the bodice nicely. I would have been rather plain without it!

back pleats in the bodice

can you see my secret plaid on the overskirt? when the sheer layers of stripes overlap magic happens!
For the skirts I started with TV208 (trained skirt ensemble), which includes both under and overskirts in the pattern. For the underskirt I actually made two skirts: a cotton sheet base layer and a sheer curtain with vertical stripes. I also included a pocket for the first time! Oh my goodness, I want to put pockets in everything now. It was way easier than I expected and so useful. The skirts are assembled separately (the pocket is in the base layer and the sheer stripes have a pocket slit in the side seam), but attached as one to the waistband.

I cut both skirts without a train, as this ensemble was purpose-made for dancing. (PSA: never drag your train on the dance floor!!!)

For the overskirt I used apron front B and a draped/improvised back based on the little fabric I had left. Both are cut with the stripes going horizontally. I plan to order more fabric to improve the back in the future! I also added a butt bow based on some fashion plates from 1873-1874 made out of a pillow case from sheet set.

Finally, everything is trimmed with bias ruffles (2 ruffle layers on the underskirt, 1 on the apron) and pleated satin ribbon trim. I couldn't find multiple widths of the same cream ribbon, so I folded it to create proportional ribbon sizes for each layer: the underskirt is the full width (2" I think?), the apron is 3/4 width, and the bodice is 1/2 width. (Many many thanks to Peryn and Emma for help slamming the last bits of trim and hooks and eyes onto the bodice the day of the ball!)

While there are a few things I plan to adjust before I wear this again (if I ever wear this again...I don't typically do 70s!), overall I am quite pleased with the way this turned out. Being fussy (and working with incredibly fussy fabric) had a happy ending!

yes yes, I'm a ballerina.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Buccaneers Take Bath

At the beginning of May I found myself drinking Prosecco at 1 in the morning with a very dear friend, debating dance history technicalities over onion tarts. We had just attended the Bath Victorian Ball, and we were savoring the moment. Given that she lives across the ocean from me now, our chances to dance together are was such a treat to get to see her!

Whenever I am lucky enough to attend a historic dance event abroad, I am reminded of Wharton's unfinished novel (and the 1990s mini-series) The Buccaneers. I am usually in a pod of friends--also all American ladies--and while we are quite well trained in the dancing, we never quite fit in with the unique historic dance culture of the place we're visiting. We change partners too frequently, we swap spots in the set between dances, we don't know the "customs of the country" (as Wharton would put it).

But if I do say so myself, we clean up rather well.

At events like this I always feel a bit like Nan and company, shipped off to England to make matches in old society (well, without the pressure to marry a Duke, that is). And I think that pushed The Buccaneers to the front of my mind when I started working on an early bustle period dress for this event (to match Emma's fabulous Huffle-bustle!). The result is a fussy, ruffly, ribbony, shimmery thing, which I promise to discuss in detail soon.

But first, I wanted to share my favorite pictures of the evening: our Buccaneers moment gossiping by a fireplace in the Assembly Rooms. Now all we need is a proposal and a scandal! (Just kidding, we managed to have a lovely evening without either.)

And of course, butt bow posing commenced!

It was an incredible evening, and I had so much fun dancing in the AMAZING Bath Assembly Rooms! What elegant surroundings! Even if I am ever a fish out of water, it's practically worth the flight for the chandeliers alone. 

As always, my favorite part of the evening was getting to dance with friends old and new. It is social dancing, after all! A particularly brilliant moment was Mr. Hart's Lancers, as Emma and I spent a week last summer studying Lancers quadrilles in Denmark. It was awesome to stretch the brain muscles, and to so immediately slide back into being a well-oiled machine. I suppose quadrilles are growing on me after all ;)

I think this was the moment we realized the arrangement for the dance was selections from The Mikado, which we both know well!

such satisfying swoop!
I have to admit, in the States we do our balls on modern time, and attending a more "realistic" ball (with a supper break at almost 10pm) was exhausting! Flopping after the ball was all the more satisfying for it.

Cheers to friendship, dancing, bustles, and intrigue!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Put Some Birds On It

This past weekend was Fezziwig's Ball, our annual holiday tradition in which we summon the ghosts of Christmas past for carols, dancing, and a whole lot of refreshments. It's a fun opportunity for me to wear a period I wouldn't otherwise get to explore, because it's our only ball of the year with a date range instead of a specific period ("the life of Charles Dickens," so 1812-1872). Last year I made my first 1830s dress, and I wore it again this year with a couple of improvements--last-minute hand finishing I didn't have time for the first time around.

I also changed my hair this year, because I am totally in love with 1830s hair and I wanted to try something different. So naturally, I hit the craft store holiday bargain bin for bits, and ended up with...birds!

I used wired burlap ribbon in black (closest to my dark brown hair) to make a sort-of upside-down T shape, with the short bits of the T loops that would be easy to get bobby pins through (the weave of the burlap ribbon in general was also good for stabbing through). Then I went to town with the hot glue gun, and created a little holly bush for my head. I took inspiration from styles like this, which mix ridiculous decoration (snakes?!) and vertical sweeps of hair:

1830 - Hairstyles from "World of Fashion" via Los Angeles Public Library | Visual Collections
hairstyles, 1830 (LA Public Library)
Sept. 1830. Casey Fashion Plates. Los Angeles Public Library
more 1830 styles (also LAPL)
"Fashionable Head Dresses for June 1830:" possibly from "La Belle Assemblee."
fashionable headdresses, 1830 (Wellcome Library)
women's clothing 1830 | Antique Print Womens Fashion 1830 Evening Dresses Head-dresses ...
new fashions for 1830(?-hard to make out the date) (Oldprint)
  I made a bunch of different bits, and then figured it out as I went. I used a rat to shape a vertical-ish on one side, and then added my holly tower on the other. I finished with birds, because birds are the best part! (No, there were no birds in my fashion plates. But there were snakes, so...artistic license.)

I was in good company! We were a well-coiffed 1830s gang. 

I hope your holiday festivities are joyous!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Denmark Dance Week

The thing is, I should have taken August off. In July I moved, took a summer class, made a dress, and performed, and just generally was awfully busy. But then I didn't take August off--I got on a plane to Denmark, wore the dress, danced my feet off, took a business trip, went to a convention, and finally started to unpack. All of this to say that when my fall semester classes started, I kind of crashed. I had my heart set on a new dress for a ball next week...and I haven't started it. Life happens. Stay tuned, and I'll start that dress eventually!

But in the meantime, I am a bad blogger and I'd truly meant to tell you more about the dance week I attended. I don't have a ton of pictures, because it was mostly modern clothes!

accidental color coordination for a sight-seeing outing
In fact, mostly it wasn't even cute modern clothes! I spent the majority of the week in leggings and batman shirts (just because I happen to own a lot of athleticwear with the bat symbol...I like to be batgirl when I work out), and that was great. Because the dancing was hard--I had to think a lot, and move a lot, and it was glorious.

getting ready for class

a small selection of notes

 I said (a much-needed) goodbye to my practice shoes at the end of the week :(
The week itself is run at a Danish folk high school, a boarding arts school built in the early 20th century. When it was built, it had the largest gymnasium in Scandanavia--perfect for dancing! Staying in the school was a nice chance to really get to know some of the other participants, as we danced together, ate together, sang together, and then all trudged up to bed.

the closet of our room, full of ballgowns!
 The dancing for the week was all based on the theme of "The Lancers," a quadrille that appears first in the 1810s and stays (in various forms) popular through the 19th century. In fact, a version of it is still danced as a folk dance in Denmark today! Each teacher focused on a couple of dances throughout the week, all of which tied back to the Lancers in some form. The teachers also each took a turn leading morning meeting: lectures on their dance research and the evolution of the dances we were learning. It was a great opportunity to think about dance history, how dances evolve over time, and to study through movement. We also had live music during the classes, in the evening, and for the balls. Quite a luxury, and so nice! The musicians made classes a lot more lively, especially towards the end of the week when we were all feeling a bit worn out.

candle light in the dining room after our "half way ball" on Wednesday night
Between all the dancing were a couple of sight-seeing trips, a lot of ice cream (I love trying ice cream in every place I visit! and Denmark puts marshmallow sauce and jam on theirs--yum!!), a lot of tea, and new friends...and then, of course, the final ball.

marzipan ice cream covered in marshmallow and jam on our afternoon off
The ball was held in Christiansfeld at the Brødremenihedens Hotel, a historic building that has been in the town since about its founding (1773). Over the centuries the royal family has stayed there when visiting Christiansfeld, and it was the site where the Danish and Prussian colonels signed the cease-fire agreement ending the Second German War in 1864.

the Brødremenihedens Hotel

Before we danced, we ate (this was somewhat a theme of the week). Dinner was held in the hotel dining room, which was elegant and lit with real candles. Apparently Denmark is known for its national love of candlelight, and this was a really cool thing to experience. It definitely changes the atmosphere!

examining our dance cards after dinner
my dance card from the outside...

...and the inside!
Honestly, I didn't dance very well at the ball because by the time we got there I was tired and hot and my brain was melting out my ears from all of the hard thinking I did during the week. But it was still a lot of fun, and I learned SO MUCH. I'm so glad I was able to attend! So I'll leave you with some of my favorite pictures, captured during a break from dancing.

Here's to picking back up and starting some actual sewing again soon!