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.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dresses in Motion-Dancing at the Regency Weekend

Last weekend I attended our annual Regency Weekend in Salem, MA. This is one of my favorite events of the year because over the course of the weekend you get a chance to talk to people and get to know them, and everyone works so hard on their dancing that by the final ball it really feels like you've stepped back in time! There's no teaching (you don't need it), and everyone is familiar. It is how I imagine balls in Austen's novels would have felt.

The final ball is held in Hamilton Hall, an 1805 building in lovely Federal style (and yes, named for Alexander Hamilton). The hall was originally built as a meeting and social space for Federalist families of Salem, and is about as close as the US gets to assembly rooms.

Hamilton Hall today, via
Hamilton Hall has an upstairs ballroom with a sprung floor. Sprung floors are double-layered with springs or dowels in between to create give and "springiness." This cushions the impact when you're dancing, and it's a noticeable difference. Seriously, I cannot stress how awesome this floor is, and how much easier it makes dancing the night away! The Hamilton Hall ballroom also has a musicians' balcony, another iconic feature of dance spaces from the early 19th century. We're lucky to have wonderful musicians, and it is so fun to see them up above us!

Hamilton Hall ballroom, via; the musicians' balcony is visible in the top right
One of the things I love about dancing and doing other activities in my historic clothes is getting to understand how they influence motion. Dancing clothes are designed for dancing (no trains!), so it's fun to actually get to the ball and see how they do. For the Sunday evening ball at Hamilton Hall, I wore the 1817 dress I made in March. I'm still really happy with it, and it was such fun to really let loose and put it through its paces!

And thanks to some friends, I can share a little bit of clothes in motion! Here are a couple of videos of me dancing from the night-I'm so pleased with the swooshy motion of this dress!

The first is a small clip of the finishing dance La Boulanger, which you can see danced through at a previous ball here, and read more about the history of here (#3 on the list).

The second is several times through The Young Widow, which is a country dance CVD is rather fond of because it is interesting and weird, and that weirdness also means that the active couple gets a break! To see what I mean, keep an eye on my partner and I--we're the active couple.