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!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Green and White 1860s

This summer was busy. It was the kind of summer when it's easy to just close up the sewing room and not think about making anything until things quiet down...but I also had a big finale at the end of the summer I wanted to be dressed for: Historical Dance Week in Denmark. So close up the sewing room I did not!

in Christiansfeld, Denmark
As I mentioned in my last post I had fabric waiting to be made into a new 1860s dress, and the Denmark dance week seemed like a perfect deadline to set myself. Even though the 1860s is one of my favorite periods to wear (and dance!), it's been several years since I made a new dress because the sheer volume of fabric means everything needs extra time--hemming, decorating, construction--and I am notoriously bad at leaving myself enough time for projects.

But this time was different! Mostly, anyways. I was still hand stitching trim and closures after dance classes ended for the day, but in general this project really confirmed for me how far I've come in the last few years. I started with enough time to actually do the project right, I didn't skip steps, and I am so happy with the result! Hooray!

Some construction details:

the bodice is based on TV442, with an adjusted neck and waistline for my short-waisted, round-shouldered self
 There are actually two fabrics in this dress--I spent a long time at the fabric store running around to find two matching cream, slightly textured faux silks! Most of the bodice and the base of the skirt are the plain fabric, and the ruffles, sleeve caps, and bertha are the embroidered fabric.
the sleeves were an experiment, and I was pleased with the final result! After I took this picture I stuffed the poofy undersleeve, which I like better

lining up ruffles to attach the the skirt

construction help
My fabric had a wide border design and the center was filled in with regularly-spaced "medallions" in rows, all embroidered with metallic green cord that was couched onto the faux taffeta with fishing line. The ruffles on the skirt are made from the border embroidery design, and the other bodice details (sleeve cap, bertha) use the medallions. I spent a lot of time picking out embroidery for this dress! In order to get the blank space I wanted (at the top of each ruffle, around the bertha, and on the sleeve cap) I ended up picking out the bits of embroidery I didn't want. I was really lucky, because ironing the pieces got rid of the holes--sometimes with dead dinosaur fabrics that doesn't work.

cooling down on the porch in between dances--it gets hot in the ballroom!
I felt like a giant cupcake in this dress, and it was a blast. I'm not usually in princess mode, because we're usually running the event. I'm the one lifting furniture, washing dishes, plating refreshments...and throwing my clothes on at the last minute. Not that I don't love doing those things, but it was kind of fun to feel like a princess. All I had to do was get dressed and show up!

in all of these photos my face is blurry...oh well, my face isn't the important part!

the bertha has one medallion at center front, and two medallions at the back. Both the bertha and sleeve caps are trimmed with green velvet ribbon
To complete the princessy feel, I did a royally inspired hairstyle. I've been really into braided circlets at the front of the hair, probably because I recently acquired a fake braid that is just about right to circle the front of my head. Either rolls or braids at the front of the hair show up quite a bit in magazines of the mid-60s, but the style is perhaps most associated with Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria and Bavaria.
Image result for empress sissi
Empress Elisabeth, mid 1860s
Peterson's Magazine, 1864
Godey's, c. late 1860s
I did indeed use my fake braid, and then my actual hair is looped around a rat to keep it low in the back. I have a comb in the back with sparkles and pearls (which I wore as bun bling with my 1817 dress in Scotland), and a tiara at the front, because this was a fancy European ball and I was really leaning into the princess thing.

I was so pleased with this dress, and it was the perfect thing to wear for such an elegant evening. I'm already looking forward to wearing ruffles again at home!

historical adventures are much better with friends

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I've got a bit until the next event I want to make a new dress for, which is good because I have something planned that involves ruffles. And since it's 1860s, I'll be at it for a while. 

But I have such fabulous inspiration! Last summer while helping with a series of 1860s sewing classes, I found fabulous fabric at my favorite local haunt. 

green metallic on white faux silk--it actually has a pretty nice, crisp taffeta feel...but is definitely made of dead dinosaurs

And while it's not a perfect match to any particular period fabric, it seems to be perfectly suited to the ruffled confections from the 1850s and early 1860s. As I psych myself up to start gathering, here are some of my favorites.

beetle wing embroidered ensemble, c.1860 (via)
Ensemble with day and evening bodices, c.1855 (Met)

evening gown, 1850-55 (via)
evening dress, c.1860 (via)
taffeta day dress, 1859 (Met)

evening dress with fab fringe, 1856 (Met)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Embracing the Romantic: Mameluke Sleeves

I have been on a Regency princess sleeve kick lately-first my 1817 ballgown, and now a day dress. Both are made with the same base bodice pattern (based on a dress in Patterns of Fashion), and then...embellished.


Yeah, something like that.

During my winter campaign to come to terms with Regency (and develop a well-fitting pattern), I realized that I really need to find something in my clothes that is distinctive and structured, because otherwise I feel like I am making/wearing a nightgown. A very fancy nightgown, sure, but still a nightgown. So I need to make myself feel less nightgown-like, and so far sleeves seem to be the thing to do it.

This time I went full-on Romantic Movement: sheep-tastic levels of sleeve poof in gauzy white cotton. The long, regularly-puffed mameluke sleeves strike me as quite romantic, and accomplish their goal of helping me embrace Regency clothes. They say "heroine in a Gothic novel" a la Catherine Morland, or "wandering around on moors reciting Byron." I love them!

The romantic movement lasted throughout much of the early 19th century, and drew on Medieval romance archetypes for inspiration. The movement encouraged looking to the natural world for inspiration, valued imagination and emotion, and lauded passion. This is the same movement that inspired many of the Scottish-set romantic works that started the tartan craze, so it's unsurprising that it speaks to me. And this dress captures that sensibility-airy, dramatic, nostalgic, but also au courant and impractical. Perfectly suited to a heroine who needs to be visible on a moonless night on the hillside.

staring out of windows is romantic, right?
There are seven puffs on each sleeve, gathered at intervals and sewn to a fitted undersleeve to hold everything in place. I'm not totally sure of this as a period method, as the only insides of extant garments I've seen seem to be unlined and use ties inside to hold the puffs in place on the arm, but I think it's not unreasonable. And I'm definitely happy with the shape it gives-take a look at some of my inspiration in comparison:

Ackermann's Repository, 1815 (via
1814, LACMA collection

Costume Parisien, 1809
and mine!
I had a blast wearing this dress for the first time, kitted up with a chemisette, tartan shawl, and Hartfields that I painted green (I purchased them in white, although that option no longer appears to be available). We don't have any moors in Salem, but as one of the largest cities in the United States during the 1810s we do have some lovely examples of period architecture. So I wandered there instead!

outside a merchants' house, built 1817

inside the Old Town Hall, built 1816-1817
 Now I just need to make some friends, visit their estate, and convince myself there's a mystery afoot.