Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A collection of printed chintz gowns of the late 18th century

Victoria & Alberta Museum, London. Indian textile, gown made in Britain
  • IS.3-1948

Victoria & Alberta Museum, London. Indian Textile, gown made in Britain
  • IS.3-1948
Victoria & Alberta Museum, London. Indian Textile, gown made in Britain
    • T.121-1992
Victoria & Alberta Museum, London. Indian Textile, gown made in Britain
  • T.121-1992

Victoria & Alberta Museum, London. c. 1785, English block printed cotton
Victoria & Alberta Museum, London. Close-up of gown textile.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Action-Adventure Post

Many things to write about, but I will start with the now 99.5% finished pet-en-l'air, worn at my first event: an 18th century picnic at the Edmonton Legislature. I'd planned on attending mostly because it gave me a concrete deadline in addition to an actual occasion to wear the thing, and turns out events are a great way to pressure yourself into finishing things. Magic.

Full period outfits are usually comprised of a million separate pieces, which was a logistical/technological/will-powerical challenge. For a long time, my only two priorities were the stays and the gown itself, but after a colleague peer-pressured/guided me into making a bum roll, I was forced to consider all the other pieces I wanted/needed for this outfit to reach its full potential. Then, I took that big list and divided it into necessary things that would compromise the entire ensemble should I not finish them (bum roll, under petticoat, cap, hat) and stuff that is not quite so critically necessary (neckerchief, pocket, more petticoats). There was also a third list, which included things that I was not going to make or buy (mostly shoes, sometimes your sanity and budget need to be placed ahead of historical accuracy). But anyhow.

The thing I am most proud of this entire outfit is the cap. The fact that I am wearing a cap at all is a feat in itself, and the the fact that it is actually cute and historically accurate is a minor miracle. If you consult the above list of NECESSARY THINGS THAT MUST BE FINISHED, you will see that the cap is part of that list. Logically, this would imply that I hadn't left it for the literal last moment (as in, the morning of the event) and hadn't gone out late the night before. So, basically this the story of how I made a cap from scratch (fully patterned, mockup and final cutting and sewing) in less than two hours. 

Selfie of me feeling damn cute in my 2 hour cap.

It's machine sewn and pretty ghetto on the inside, also I didn't pre-wash the linen so this thing will probably be french cleaned until it cannot be french cleaned anymore. But it's a pretty decent cap in the à-la-dormeuse style - exactly what I wanted.

Also, after finishing the cap I trimmed my hat blank and made some linen ties. It was an action packed morning. Without further ado, here are pictures:

Look at that totally trimmed up hat

As you can see, the drafting system I used has modern set-in sleeves. I don't mind too much, but I would like to eventually try a gown cut entirely historically accurately (if such a thing is possible).

We ran into Cinderella!

The jacket was drafted based on Elizabeth Friendship's book, Creating Historical Clothes. Petticoats were done according to the Starkins sisters' fabulous instructions that can be found here. I drew from a lot of different sources for the cap, but mostly I relied on Sue Felshin's internet retro tutorial. I'm sure I've mentioned, but I bought most of my supplies including the striped silk taffeta, the linen for the cap and the hat blank from Burnley & Trowbridge.

Anyways, I'd still like to fancy-up the stomacher, trim the sleeves, add another petticoat and maybe take the hem of the pet-en-l'air up a little bit at the back. But so pleased! Really! Here's a couple photos of my inspiration:

LACMA M.2007.211.3
La lettre ou Jeune femme tenant sa correspondance dans un boudoir, Louis Rolland Trinquesse
Close-up of a gown that was sold by Whitaker Auctions some time ago, I decided I didn't want to fiddle with tiny bound edges on my trim, so I just turned it twice and slip stitched it down. The contrasting blue edges do add a certain something though, don't they?
Anyhow, that's all for now... next write up will probably be on my indigo Mélilot!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Title Goes Here

In the absence of any sense of continuity or narrative, I'd like to write a bit about my current project(s):

1. The pet-en-l'air. I started this as a school project, and just about finished the jacket as my final hand in. I got an A, even though I didn't finish the armscye seam (official reason: I am going to be taking it out ot cut the armscye down a bit. Other, possible equally important reason: the regularly scheduled end-of-semester nihilism).

Here are some pieces of it.

It's based mostly off of this LACMA specimen, and drafted from Elizabeth Friendship's Creating Historical Clothes (which I love, for the patterns, not the history lessons). The book gives you instructions to draft a française with robings and a stomacher, but I wanted something a little more like the LACMA jacket, so I just kept the front from the basic 18th c. block, cutting a gap in between the two fronts for a stomacher. Later on, this is revealed to be a mistake, because one straight cut panel of fabric down the front can hardly be expected to accommodate the curves of the bust, waist, and hips all in one go. Learning... it's fun.

2. Concurrently, to be able to fit the pet-en-l'air, I was finally forced to finish my stays. After lots of stressing about nipple containment and several hours spent with a curved needle and pliers, I finally finished binding the tabs and was able to finally try on my stays completely finished:

Chemise hand-sewn by a colleague of mine who was decluttering her rather immense collection of historical re-pro garments. I was able to choose from three different chemises she's sewn over the years. Later, I found out she doesn't even use a thimble for hand sewing. How even!??

During the long, hard slog of tab binding. Figured midway through that beeswax catches too much on the leather, so I switched to thread condition. So much easier. (Lining? What lining?)

The shaping of stays is so addictive as soon as I finished these I immediately had the urge to start on a new pair with more thrust in the bust area, something along the lines of the ones over here. Definitely want to try some different kinds of boning - maybe reed or some of the other plastic boning available.

3. Draping. I took a semi-self taught crash course in draping for an entrance exam, that I failed. But the preparation pushed me to build my draping skills more than I ever would have otherwise. I was very nervous, because draping is something I have had almost no education in at, besides a mostly self-led module I did in high school (made a basic bodice block, thanks for supporting my dreams, Mrs. Clark).


The flower helps.

 As you can see, it's been a busy couple months. Beyond what I've mentioned here, I have a couple more things on the go that are at risk of being written about here later...

Sunday, 26 February 2017


I remember being in Williamsburg, listening to the apprentice mantuamaker (now a journeywoman milliner-mantuamaker!) talking about her process when making a woman's gown. In the 18th century, most of a woman's wardrobe was cut to her figure, without the use of patterns or measurements. By that, I mean that the fabric was draped onto her body with the shape pinned and cut until the mantuamaker had all the information she needed to actually make the gown.

These days, it's hard to imagine such a process. Most of the time, we have nothing to do with the actual making of the clothes we wear, something that has as many advantages as it does disadvantages. But that is not the point of this.

Back to my exceptionally skillful mantuamaker friend: she had draped and cut and pinned a piece of fabric to the body of her model, she looked up and she said, "Now I fiddle." She meant fiddling with the shape she had created, fiddle with the placement of the seams, fiddle with the fabric and how it was laying. Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle...

Now, according to the Merriam-Webster (online) dictionnaire, to fiddle (as a verb, and not having to do with the musical instrument), means one of four things:

  1. To move the hands or fingers restlessly
  2. To spend time in an aimless or fruitless activity
  3. To meddle or tamper
  4. To make minor manual movements especially to adjust something
Number four probably best fits what my friend was talking about - she was adjusting, making small changes to her pattern, so to speak, trying to find the most beautiful and functional form for that particular gown. Mostly, I find it interesting that the dictionary definition of fiddling seems rather negative, or, at best, neutral. Aimless, meddling... I would argue that the most important part of almost anything is the fiddling part. Broad strokes that accomplish more noticeable things, but small adjustments are usually what pulls things together.

These days, it seems like the only things I do are small, incremental steps towards an overwhelmingly large goal... Or at least that's how it feels. Maybe I'm writing this because I want to legitimize the fact that I am accomplishing very little that is concrete. Perhaps I want to feel a little less restless, a little less aimless.

But everything is a step to something else. Case and point, I dyed some of my stash with indigo yesterday. Which is an accomplishment, but it's still just fabric. Except now it's blue. Good work/does anyone care? Everything I do takes so long.

But on the other hand, indigo is magical. I wish I had a third hand so that I could have photographed that magical moment where the yellow-green textile turns indigo blue on contact with the air. Alas, only blue photos for you.

Hoping I have enough of the cotton for Mélilot

Top is linen, that I bought at Joann's when I was in Virginia, and the bottom is cotton that got passed down to me from my Grandmother. Would've liked a slightly darker shade - it's tricky to tell what the final colour will be when you have to wait 24 hours before rinsing the fabric after you take it out of the dyebath.

Also related to fiddling, here's a drape I did a week or two ago. I am loving the process of learning with my hands. Creating balanced volume is quite the challenge.

I've officially gone through the 5m of muslin I initially bought for draping.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Here, There...

Summer time. Somehow much busier than school time.

1. I grew a LOT of tomatoes.

That's only about half of them. Plus the ones on the windowsill, which are the ones I managed to kill.

2.  I've managed two dye projects in the past month. The yellow is osage orange - it turned out what I like to call Ichiban Yellow and it's about as nauseating/somehow enticing as real Ichiban is. I'm thinking of using it as a base for overdyeing other colours, because that's just a few too many conflicting emotions for me to handle on top of my regularly scheduled turmoil. The two little brown ones are cutch. I wanted to get a darker shade, but I didn't have time to get the requisite dyebath additives to make that happen, since it was a project with time limits. I've used just about all of the dyes I have in my collection, so now I think I'll try modifying the recipes I've already tried, see what crazy things I can come up with.

Bonus shot of some felting I did a few weeks ago with my sister

The whole family

3. I've discovered the joys of paper. Right now, it's all about Japanese paper. I've fallen hard for silk screened papers, which are done a lot like textiles except these are done one sheet at a time instead of continuously on a large roll of fabric. Every colour is done separately, by a different person, and the paper gets passed down a line until it all the colours are added. Apparently the patterns used come from archives that are brought out then immediately re-archived for re-use in a few decades. They are beautiful. I'm afraid to use them, but that's part of the beauty. Paper is inherently more ephemeral than textiles. We'll see where I go with them.

Entirely the wrong lighting, but still so very, very beautiful

4. I finished that sweater.

Might redo the collar

It turned out quite long. I blame the yarn. I still like it though. It feels good to wear. I call it my Faraway sweater, since I carried it with me through the second half of my time in France, then all the meandering way back home.

5. I was in Toronto last year this time. My mind has been far away, thinking about it.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Embroidery Musings

"The act of sewing is a process of emotional repair"

- Louise Bourgeois, French-American artist

I have been a knitter for a long time. It was one of the first things that I did in the textile arts and still the method I prefer and am most comfortable with. The reason that I took so strongly to knitting, and other textile crafts I subsequently took up is a little mysterious to me, even today. I know that I wrestled with knitting like an obstacle to be won, a problem to be unravelled. And I still remember the aha! moment I had when I fiiiiinally figured it out, almost instantaneously, after coming home from a family vacation. So, there's the thrill of figuring something rather clever out, which you still get on a regular basis by making new things or using new techniques (throwback to turning a heel for the first time!).  And, obviously, the thrill of making something physical and tangible (and soft and hopefully useful). That never gets old. 

Sadly, finishing pieces of a thing is less satisfactory. Single sleeves are not quite so exciting as a whole sweater.

There are other things that make textile arts fulfilling for me: their ability to tangibly embody thoughts, feelings and ideas through the process of their creation. This embodiment is the reason knitting can be such a perfect gift: it can wordlessly express love for someone important to you. In cold climates, knitting some a hat is personally giving them protection, wishing them warmth. It is a type of love that endures every time that person puts on their hat; a durable method of taking care of another. I imagine this is one of the reasons why it has survived so long as a mainstream(ish) hobby. 

Asides from all the positive emotions textile arts can communicate, there is also a darker but still very important role they can fulfill. Textiles can and have been used to express confusion, despair, sadness, anger, grief and insanity. This can happen on an individual level, like Agnes Richter's jacket, or on a social level, like Chilean arpilleras

I don't know why these kinds of textiles are so poignant to me, but their ability to embody the human condition is remarkable. It is more than words on a page, or any kind of speech. It is a deeply intimate physical expression of emotion that is able to communicate intangible experiences and injustices. It is meaningful for the same reason a gift of a hand knit hat is meaningful: it takes time and effort. It is purposeful. It is done for a reason and it means something.

As for me, this sums it up better than I ever could:

Found on pinterest, sadly I couldn't track down the original artist.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

List of Things

1. I went to Montreal again. Due to several twists of fate, I spent much of the time alone. Interestingly, traveling alone again was like a breath of fresh air. The ability to discover as I wish, and to only have to consider one set of needs suits me (does that make me sound unfriendly? Maybe I am.). I do well on my own. And, since I last traveled solo, I have gained a smidgen more self-confidence, in myself and in my language skills. Learning another language requires vulnerability, especially when trying to accomplish everyday transactions. Feeling uncomfortable in a language can paralyze you in social situations, making it near-impossible to make connections, usually when they're most needed as an isolated foreigner.

It helps that you will likely never see any of the people you interact with again.

Except you, Sir John A. I'll definitely see you again.

But one thing that solo travel has taught me is that positive interactions, even with strangers, are very important. Positive interactions are easier to achieve if you're not irrationally frightened of everyone you meet.

2. I went here. It's an exhibition space, but also a library and research centre. Most of this happens in the new, larger building they have, but visitors can check out the 19th century stone mansion that lives behind it. Here's a picture of my feet, some original hardwood, and some not-so-original but still wonderful tiling:

I spent 3 hours there. It was the best, most unexpected thing I did in Montreal.

3. I was exceptionally amused by all the Québecisms.

Photo prise spécialement pour les Français qui se moquaient de moi.

4. I did embroideries with all my free evening time.

5. I am now back home. It smells like spring, likely one of the best smells in existence. To be specific, I'm talking about Edmonton spring: the melting snow/wet pavement/unthawing earth smell that more than makes up for the inherent grossness of Edmonton spring (yayyyyy dirty snow and gravel piles everywhere). It's much too early for spring optimism, but for a winter that was not supposed to have any snow at all, I can hardly complain.