My Interview With Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective

As you probably know if you read my blog on a regular basis, I love making and wearing historical clothing. It’s rather common for me to pull historical clothing out of my closet and wear it to lovely places.

Below, I’m wearing my 1885 summer ensemble at the Lippitt House in Providence, RI. Look at that wallpaper! It’s fantastic! If you’re ever in Providence and the house is open I highly suggest a visit. The details are absolutely stunning and I found the guides to be engaging, knowledgeable, and truly invested in the information they were sharing.

While at the Lippitt House, I met a woman who was incredibly interested in my clothing, how it feels to wear, how I make it, and where my inspiration comes from. She eagerly asked lots of questions and shared about her own fascination with history as well.

I learned that Maureen Taylor is a genealogist and historian who now focuses on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history through her work as the Photo Detective. In addition to being an engaging person who loves history, she has extensive experience and has had opportunities to share her knowledge in prominent publications. When she asked if I would like to be a guest on her podcast I very readily agreed.

A number of months later and here we are: my interview with Maureen is available for a listen on her podcast! We discuss the 1885 ensemble I was wearing when we met, the 1863 dress I made last fall, and other historical clothing topics as well. Check it out and enjoy!

You can find Maureen Taylor around the internet in these places:

Web Maureen Taylor
Facebook @MaureenPhotoDetective
Instagram @photodetective
Twitter @PhotoDetective

c. 1855 Wool Cape

Finally, I actually have photos of a garment I made back in 2011!

The story starts with my desire to be warm for caroling at the Christmas ball, so I went looking through my books and came across the image below in ‘Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive’ by Carol Belanger Grafton. It looked warm and I liked the fringe, so off I went on my sewing adventure!

Since then, I’ve managed to wear my cape a number of times, often for Christmas caroling. Even though its date is c. 1855, I’ve found that the loose shape is perfect for wearing over the large sleeves of my 1830s dress as well. Here’s proof, from 2017:

 

That’s really the only photo I have that looks nice and shows the cape. Other photos that show the cape are washed out or blurry.

Last year I decided it was time to get pictures. I settled on a day I’d already be wearing 1850s (Annabelle is my dress and I’m also wearing a matching chenille headdress). It was important that there would be daylight (that’s the other problem with some of the photos I have, they’re taken during dark winter evenings–that’s usually when I’ve been caroling). Then I brought the cape (despite not actually needing to be outside for the event) and coerced the usual camera toting suspect into taking photos.

I made the pattern by looking at the inspiration image and drawing the shapes I thought would make it up, although I did take a bit of liberty in terms of closure and arm openings. I also referenced shapes and proportions in ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh and ‘Patterns of Fashion 2’ by Janet Arnold.

I wanted simplicity for the closure, so my cape has a single heavyweight hook and loop at the neck. For the arm openings, the fronts are simply separate from the curve that wraps around to the back of the cape.

For warmth, I decided on a wool exterior (also good for shedding moisture). To add even more warmth, I also added a layer of high loft polyester batting to the entire cape. That may not be the most accurate choice (at least in terms of fiber content), but it is quite practical. I thought of quilting the lining to the batting but decided it would be too time consuming. I’m sure the batting extends to the edges and is stitched down, but honestly I don’t remember exactly how that was accomplished.

I loved the fringe in the image and wanted fringe on my cape, too. But not just any fringe. Wool fringe. That was a hunt! I eventually found it at an upholstery company called The Fringe Factory.

To keep the lining soft against my skin,  I decided to line the entire cape with natural cotton flannel  to match the fringe as well as including a stand up ruffle of the flannel at the neck.

As you can see, the cape is quite long. That’s quite a bit of wool, batting, and flannel! I achieved my goal of warmth, but this cape weighs quite a bit!

Looking back at my notes, this cape was more expensive than I remembered (though that’s not actually surprising, given the yardage I needed and my desire for 100% wool). I didn’t record the yardages, but I did record the costs. I spent $58.67 on the flannel at JoAnn, $81.00 on the wool at Dorr Mill (I love their wools! They are gorgeous!), and $96.36 on the fringe at The Fringe Factory. The total is $236.03. That’s way more than I often spend on a single historical garment! I had better keep wearing this to get the cost-per-wear down!

Despite the cost, I’ve been very pleased with my cape over the last 9 years and I’m extra pleased to finally have well lit, full length photos so this garment can make an official appearance on the blog!

A New Faux Hair Braid (HSM #12)

December’s HSM challenge was On a Shoestring. The description is as follows: 

It’s an expensive time of year, so make an item on a tight budget (say, under $15, or less than you’d spend on a reasonable priced takeaway meal for one person in your country – and no ‘stash’ doesn’t count as free: you still have to count what you would have originally paid for those items)

I haven’t been sewing much in the past month and so I was having trouble coming up with any ideas for this challenge. Then I remembered that I had, in fact, sewn a small item that fits this challenge–a new faux hair braid to add to my 1830s hairstyle for the annual Christmas ball!

Just the facts:

Fabric (we’ll call this ‘materials’, for this entry):  1 pack of Kanekalon faux hair in dark brown.

Pattern: None.

Year: 1830s, but it can be used for most of the 19th century.

Notions: 3 black hair nets, 2 black hair ties, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. Adding faux hair to make complicated styles was a popular practice in the late 18th century and through most of the 19th century, but of course my braid is made of modern materials.

Hours to complete: 3.

First worn: December 14, 2019.

Total cost: Approximately $9.

The wonderful thing about covering the braid in hair nets is that it stays super smooth and not frizzy. Sometimes I like the frizz (to match my own) so I also have a braid that does not have the hair nets on it. And, I’ve decided that it’s fun to have a sleek braid, too. You can see (and read about) my method for covering the braid with the hair nets in this post.

This braid is 40″ long. It is simple and ready to be styled in any way I can think of!

(Very Belated) Fezziwig’s Ball 2018

So, um, I’m about to attend this year’s Christmas ball… but I didn’t ever get around to posting about last year’s ball! So very belated-y, but in the spirit of getting ready for the holidays, here is a quick look at last year’s Fezziwig’s Ball, hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.

Bedecked with garlands, the hall was ready for guests…

…while jingle bells waited for the arrival of eager carolers.

During this quiet lull, I was getting ready with other hosts.

Fully dressed, I was ready to show off my hair. Braids, curls, puffs… it wasn’t huge in terms of size but it had a lot of parts despite that.

I counted the number of bobby pins it took to create this style at the end of the night when I took my hair down (and even kept the information in an easy to find spot for the last 12 months…).

The final count: 63 bobby pins.

The usual crew, fully outfitted for the early 19th century.

For the last few years I’ve worn my 1832 red velvet dress, so last year I changed it up and wore my 1824 green dress. I added a bit of holiday spirit with my red and gold tiara and other red and gold accessories.

This last one isn’t the best photo in some ways, but it captures the movement of my dress and the overall silhouette quite well!

This year it’s back to the 1830s with my red velvet dress. I’m looking forward to it after two years away! Maybe I’ll even post about before next December…!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part X: Photos From The Ball

I was able to wear my new 1863 dress, Genevieve, to the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ Victoria and Albert Ball in September. I’ve spent a very long time sharing all about the dress and you’ve seen some photos of the wonderful staircases in the hall as I’ve shared finished construction photos, but I thought it would be fun to share a few photos of the ball as well, for context.

On the night of the ball, there were many dresses and tailcoats to admire in a range of years focused on the 1840s through 1860s. There was also the lovely ballroom to admire, with a famed organ at one end and many pretty details and portraits along the walls.

The guests of the evening filled the ballroom with dancing and socializing, while, in a side room, a spread of delicious refreshments was waiting to be devoured by hungry guests.

While getting more serious documenting-sewing photos, a few silly photos made their way in as well. They started off staged but reasonably not silly…

Then we tried to point at a non-existent something…

And that turned into silly-ness! I think this last one was: ‘Oh no! We’ve made the invisible object disappear with our magical powers!’

Thanks for sticking with me through so many posts about one dress!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IX: Braided Crown Hairstyle Details

I am very pleased with how my hairstyle turned out for the first wearing of Genevieve, the 1863 dress I’ve been blogging about for the last few months. I took the idea directly from my inspiration drawing, though I changed the hair decoration that accompanied the style.

I’ve used false hair to have braided crown styles before (here’s an example of the same braid used for a Regency hairstyle), but that old braid is only about 1 ½” wide, which is a bit subtle for the look I wanted for this dress. It’s also long enough to wrap around my head about 1.5 times, which is longer than what I wanted for the new hairstyle.

So I decided to buy some new false hair and make a new, fatter braid. I used this hair in dark brown. It’s intended for African style braid extensions, so it has a texture that’s great for matching my curly hair–I don’t think it would work well for someone with straight hair. I also bought these black hair nets.

I used one bundle of the false hair for this braid. The hair comes braided already, but I took it out and re-braided it a little tighter than how it was originally. Then I cut the elastic on one of the hair nets so that it would stretch out to be as long as my braid.

I laid the braid on top of the hair net and wrapped the hair net around to the back side of the braid. Then I used large whip stitches to secure the net to the braid. You can see one of those stitches mostly centered in the next photo. Covering the braid with a hair net helps keep all the frizzies from making the braid look messy. (My old braid isn’t covered in a hair net, so it looks very organic, like my real hair… nice and frizzy!)

The final step was to go back and stitch the hair net down in the dips between each section of the braid. In the photo above you can see the hair net traveling between braid bumps, but in the finished photo below those are mostly sewn down and much less visible.

For the actual hairstyle, I secured the braid to my head behind the sections near my face that get swept back over my ears. (I also pinned the braid to the top of my head to keep it in place while dancing. Those pins were put into the back side of the braid (to keep them hidden) and secured into the roots of my hair.) After securing the braid I was able to arrange the front sweep sections on either side of my face. I made sure to cover the ends of the braid with these sections.

Then I arranged the back of my hair. I wanted to keep it simple to showcase the braid and the velvet bow, so I arranged the back of my hair into a low puff. It continues the ring of the braid around my head while being more unobtrusive than the braid itself.

The final step was the bit of lace and the velvet bow. I opted for those instead of the lace framing the braid in the inspiration image. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish that without essentially creating a cap… and that’s not the look I wanted. So I made up something else!

The bow is one I was able to make after my bow disaster. I think it adds a nice touch of color on my dark hair. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it and the lace until the ball, so I bobby pinned each piece in place for that first wearing. Then one of my after-the-ball tasks before I could put this away was to sew these two pieces together and add a comb so that it is now an official accessory that will be easier to put in my hair the next time I wear this dress.

Here’s a side view of what all of that amounts to. I intentionally placed the bow and lace off-center on my head in order to pick up on the asymmetrical bow on the skirt of the dress.

When I did a quick trial with the braid in modern clothes it felt very large and I was worried it would be too big, but once dressed in Genevieve I think the scale of this new braid is great–an excellent hair crown size and length, and the hair net keeps it looking super tidy and frizz free!

 

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VIII: ‘Of Apricot Silk With Cream Lace And Red Velvet Bows’ (HSM #10)

DONE! I am so glad to be done. I’m also excited to have a new dress (and, despite the challenges and worries along the way, one I like the look of! YAY!).

I’ve kept you waiting to see photos of the finished dress. Life got a bit busy after the ball and then I wanted to share my final sewing details with you. But now it’s time to introduce you to Genevieve, my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown, also known as the Orange Monster for the last few months. Here she is!

I’m excited that this dress qualifies for the October HSM challenge.

Details: Sometimes the little things really make something fabulous. Focus on the details of your garment, to create something that just gets better the closer you look.

This dress is definitely one of those garments! I’ll explain and show you lots of reasons why in these finished photos, but there are currently seven other posts in this series sharing tons of details about the planning, patterning, sewing, and trimming process as well.

First, the facts:

Fabric:  6 ⅔ yards of apricot silk, ½ yard of dark red silk velvet, approximately ½ yard of ivory tulle, muslin scraps for hem facing, a scrap of canvas for stiffening the waistband, and about ½ yard of drab cotton for flat lining.

Pattern: It originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2 but has been adapted over the course of a few dresses.

Year: 1864.

Notions: 25 yards of 3 ¾” lace, 2 brooches, 3 yards of ⅜” polyester ribbon, a few plastic cable ties, about 1 yard of bone casing, a variety of hooks and bars, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. A few substitutions of modern materials exist but aside from that it’s pretty much as close as I can get.

Hours to complete: 57.

First worn: September 28, 2019.

Total cost: $112.78

The cost breakdown is as follows: $66 for the silk (local discount store in 2016), $12.50 for the velvet (WM Booth Draper in 2011), ~$2 for the tulle (local discount store in 2011),~$1 for the drab cotton (local discount store in 2018), ~$15 for the lace (Debs Lace and Trims in 2019), $6.28 for the brooches (Etsy in 2019), ~$6 for the ribbon (Farmhouse Fabrics in 2019), and we’ll say $4 for the scraps and other notions since they’re from the stash, reused from other projects/mockups, or used in very small quantities.)

Visible details, you ask? Well, in addition to sharing so many other details along the way, the finished dress has many visible layers of details. The most time consuming detail is the hand sewn 3 tiers of lace ruffle/silk scalloped & pleated trim around the skirt. This detail alone took 17.5 hours. There is a whole post dedicated to this aspect and the details that went into it.

That form of decoration is continued on the bodice sleeve caps. Here’s a closeup where you can see the pleated silk. It is meticulously hand stitched with tiny stitches everywhere it is used.

Another layer of detail is the bertha and sleeve caps. Those have tulle, gathered tulle, and lots of velvet details. My last post explains how these are made.

I found the sleeve caps to be rather unusual amongst dresses from this period, so I was pleased to find this fashion plate which has a similar look.

(This next one is a great ‘I’m plopped and tired of standing’ photo!)

And as for details, let’s not forget the velvet bows in addition the velvet trim. Especially that oversized skirt bow! I also spent quite a bit of time looking for the gold brooches to go on the velvet bows.

Aside from the photo above I don’t have many directly front facing photos of this dress–I guess I did a lot of my posing at an angle–but here is one that is slightly less angled and gives the full effect of all the trimmings.

I was super pleased to wear my American Duchess burgundy satin Amelie shoes with this dress! They matched my velvet trim quite well and were fun to have peeking out from under the giant skirt. It’s such a fun piece of history to have contrasting shoes that actually match your dress! Yay! You can see them in this next photo.

The venue we were in for the ball not only had a number of fabulous staircases leading to the ballroom but also many photos of generals and other military figures from the Civil War. It seemed fitting for this period of dress even if they do occasionally seem to be ‘photo-bombing’! Here’s an example. I love this photo! But does the painting look amused, or disapproving? Hm…


I’ve got a post coming up specifically about my grand crown hairstyle as well as a few photos of the ball in general. For now though, thanks very much for bearing with me through this project! I’ve appreciated your encouraging words and excitement about seeing the finished product!