An Introduction To Eleanor (HSM #10)

The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for October is Heroes – Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero.

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You may or may not know that one of my favorite movies is Gone With The Wind. (I posted about this topic years ago when the blog was in its infancy–most of what I claimed then is still true and the 1860s will always have a special place in my heart, but I can now say that other periods give me excited wiggles too!) You can read the old blog post to get more specifics, but the essential point is that despite her personal shortcomings and the turbulent and controversial history of the period, Scarlett reminds me of the clothing that I love and therefore is an historical costuming hero to me.

And this gown has an added historical hero, Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull, who came to my rescue when I was contemplating what sleeve style to give my dress.

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Eleanor “Felicie” Bull. 1863.

Prior to finding her image, I had been planning to name this dress Johanna, in honor of the friend who convinced me that I needed the fabric a few years ago. But I had sort of decided this was weird, since all my other dresses from this period have names that I like, but that are not from a specific living person. Once I found this image I was completely overtaken with excitement–I love the name Eleanor and there she was, helping me out! The choice was obvious.

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I made a new hair decoration to go with Eleanor. I had the perfect stem of purple velvet leaves, but no flowers to match the dress. So I dyed some white millinery flowers to a golden yellow. They have a fluffier texture than before being dyed, but the color is perfect. Using millinery flowers brings me so much joy, because it’s easy to shape any section since each stem is fully wired. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to wear my Dames a la Mode purple earrings and necklace.

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Regarding dress construction, we must start with a bit of a personal habit, or perhaps a theory, though I’m not sure it’s as thought out as that. When the opportunities arise for me to make multiple garments from the same period that could be carbon copies of each other in different fabrics (so much speedier on the patterning and planning front!), I hardly ever take that easy road. I am drawn to exploring the small variations.

So it is with Eleanor. I decided to: knife pleat her skirt instead of box pleating, cartridge pleating, or gathering; to make a plain darted bodice instead of using seams or gathers; to make the bodice straight across all around, which is more unusual for evening gowns made of silk than having points in front and back; to overlap and topstitch her side back seams; to omit the oft-seen bertha around the neckline; and to have single puff bias cut sleeves. These things all make this dress just slightly different than my others from this period, adding a bit of thought and time to the process. And if we’re talking about time, let’s just mention how mind-boggling cutting plaid pieces with curved seams and darts is when the pattern matching is important to you!

I collected images of plaid gowns with a focus on evening bodices and noticed these features, which is why I decided on them. The most useful images are in one place here, on my Pinterest board for the project. I was contemplating the sleeve type when I came across Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull. Interestingly, she shows all of those traits I’d decided on. I loved her simple sleeves and restrained bodice trimming, which then set me on an extensive Ebay and Etsy hunt to find just the right brooches to replicate her style. Yes, I did look through about 150 pages of bow brooches to find just the right one for less than $15. Plus many pages of gold oval brooches. I couldn’t have wished for better results! Remember the look I gave you a look a few posts ago? The only thing I did was to brush the oval brooch (which is new, not vintage) with a bit of brown acrylic paint to bring it down to the old gold color of the bow brooch.

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Other construction details include flatlining the bodice and facing the skirt in a remnant of dusty mauve cotton from my stash (used it up, yay!), creating boning channels in the darts to keep the front nicely shaped, and finishing the neck and bottom edge of the bodice as well as the armholes with very narrow cording.

Just the facts:

Fabric: About 6 yards of silk taffeta and 1 yard of cotton.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #702, 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices and Period Costumes for Stage and Screen as a reference for the sleeves.

Year: 1862, given the details that I decided on.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, canvas to interline the belt, narrow yarn for cording, and plastic wire ties for boning the bodice.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 99% on this one. Materials and methods are well researched and executed. This would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: I really didn’t keep track. But I can safely say many!

First worn: October 22 for a ball.

Total cost: $98 total: $68 for the silk, $10 for bow brooch, and $18 for the oval brooch.

I’ll end this with my photographic homage to Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull.

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Returning Heroes 2015

Back in March, I was again able to attend The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers‘ annual strictly-Civil-War ball (this is the 5th year I’ve been there, wow!). It’s been a joy every year I’ve attended and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, I only had my phone to document the evening, which means my pictures came out rather blurry. Here’s just a few.

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Obviously, the most important thing to document was that I was able to wear my Refreshing Apron for the first time with a mid-century dress.
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Also, I danced. In this case, a schottische. (Other people danced, too, and looked quite elegant and lovely.)

Evie is always special to wear and was accompanied by the usual accessories and undergarments. The only thing I did when I came home was to mark front on the skirt, because every time I wear this gown I struggle to remember where front is! (It makes a difference when your skirt hooks to your bodice–without everything lined up properly it just doesn’t work!)

 

Take A Break With Me

My life is still unexpectedly busy and my only sewing has been decor-related as a result. What do I mean, you ask? The story (with pictures!) is coming sometime soon in an upcoming post, but for now I’m leaving only that hint.

This weekend, though (unlike last weekend!), I’ll be taking a break from my decor-realted activities. And if you’re in the Boston area and you don’t yet have plans for November 8th and 9th, you might consider joining the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers at a Civil War Dance Weekend in Chelmsford, MA. I’ll be there dancing the weekend away and would be pleased to see you there.

Not able to join us for this dance weekend? There’s an annual holiday ball in December and a special 1890s weekend in January coming up! Details can be found here. And if you’re just too far away to be in person at any of these events, I hope you still enjoyed the brief video and that you’ll enjoy the pictures of these events that will be included in future posts!

Georgina And Friends

Here are a few group pictures from the recent ball at which Georgina’s new evening bodice made her first appearance. As I mentioned before, it was a lovely ball with enthusiastic and elegant dancers. I had a fantastic time.

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Four of us wearing cotton dresses. You might remember that the print dresses (Georgina, the green dress, and the purple dress) were all made from mid-19th century historic cotton prints and worn with day bodices last summer at our George’s Island performance.

And remember this picture, from Newport Vintage Dance Week back in 2012? Different time period, obviously, but The Next Generation of vintage dancers is still going strong, so we thought we’d take a TNG picture at this ball, too!

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At Newport Vintage Dance Week in August 2012.
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A more recent group of TNG.

It’s very rewarding to be continuing the legacy of historic dancing in beautiful clothes with lovely companions and in stunning places. Next weekend, Georgina’s day bodice will be making another appearance on George’s Island for another vintage dance performance. I’m sure we’ll have pictures!

HSF #13: Cotton Print Evening Bodice For Georgina

A few months ago, I had a master plan to use the leftover yardage from Georgina, my 1858 cotton print day dress, to make an evening bodice in addition to her current day bodice for versatility and washability. Luckily, I was able to complete the bodice and a new hair crescent before my life exploded in June and I was smothered under an immense amount of work. I am pleased to have work, don’t get me wrong, but I was so exhausted by the end of the month all I could do was sleep and be disoriented! I’ve just come back from a vacation and feel like I can peer out from under my rock and join the world again! So, to celebrate constructing historic clothing for myself rather than other people, here is a post about a really neat addition to my historic wardrobe! And it fits into the current HSF challenge #13: Under $10, a bonus since the HSF challenges haven’t lined up very well with a lot of my projects this year.

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c. 1855 new evening bodice, with previously constructed skirt. Worn with all the usual underpinnings (chemise, my new corset, drawers, stockings, hoops, and petticoat) and accessorized with gloves, fan, earrings, and a new hair crescent. Oh, and I’m wearing burgundy velvet shoes! No picture of that, though.

Fabric: Reproduction mid-19th century cotton print, also used for a day bodice, and plain white cotton.

Pattern: I began with Past Patterns #701 but altered it extensively to fit me, to have pleats and gathers on the exterior, and to have an evening neckline. The sleeve pattern was drafted by me.

Year: c. 1855

Notions: Thread, plastic wire ties for boning, hooks and eyes, and cotton cording.

How historically accurate?: Based off of historic examples, constructed with accurate details… I think the only compromise is the plastic boning, which I used because I didn’t have the right length in metal, and because plastic is easily washable (and I want this to be a garment that can be washed easily–that’s part of the goal in having a cotton evening bodice!).

Hours to complete: I have no idea… 32 hours maybe? I really didn’t keep track at all on this project.

First worn: To a mid-19th century ball in June (one of the few moments of respite in my crazy month).

Total cost: About $3 for approximately 1 yard of historic cotton print and a lot of stash materials, which count as free, since I have no idea what I paid for them at this point! Let’s call the total about $8.

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Inside of the bodice.

As you know, I like things to be tidy. All of the seam allowances are either hidden between the layers of fabric or nicely finished. There are plastic bones in the darts and the side seams. The bodice is machine sewn and hand finished. (One amusing mistake is that I cut the lining with a center front opening for fitting purposes (and left lots of seam allowance, as you can see) but then forgot to leave seam allowance in the back… So the lining doesn’t extend all the way to the folded edge of the print, but it’s all covered up so no one will ever know and it fits just fine… it’s just one of those amusing things!)

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From the back with the right side flipped open.

The bodice closes with hooks and bars. I wanted to use metal bars but make sure they wouldn’t been seen, so I let about ¼” of the print extend past the points of the hooks to create an overlap. I also left extra print extended past the bars, in addition to all the seam allowance, in case I want or need to adjust the size of the bodice in the future. The bars are especially hard to spot on the print, but if you look carefully on the left you can see them. The neck and armsceyes both have very narrow cording.

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Appreciating those who have served our country. The ball was held in a local town hall which had lists for all the 20th century wars. I don’t think they have 19the century war plaques, but we thought it was a nice photo opportunity.

I had very specific inspiration for this dress, since you don’t see too many cotton ball gown bodices. Here the specific examples which I referenced: sheer white bodice, sheer peach bodice, blue and white striped bodice, yellow and white bodice, floral print bodice, and purple print bodice (this last has a matching separate pelerine shown worn over the bodice, but the “off the shoulder neckline” in the description tells us that underneath is an evening bodice).

The defining design details were obviously the low neck and short sleeves, but there were other common details as well, such as double puffs or pleats to trim the sleeves, tubular sleeves without very much fullness at the top or bottom, 1.5″-2″ waistbands sitting on the outside of the skirt waistband, and gathered or pleated fullness on the fronts and backs (no darts on any of these cotton bodices). Some of the bodices have a yoke around the top so that only the bottom portion of the bodice is gathered, but this look says “young girl” not “grown woman” to me, so I opted for a bodice without a yoke.

In terms of construction, to have enough fabric in the print for the pleats and gathers on the print fabric, I first constructed and fit the lining. Then I separated one side of the lining to use as a pattern and added width to have space for the pleats I had planned. Once I had cut the print, I reassembled the lining and mounted the pleated print on top. From there on I treated the two layers as one.

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Bodice closeup and a nice view of my successful 1850s round hair style!

As I’ve looked at 1850s images and fashion plates in comparison to early 1860s, especially, what I’ve noticed is that the 1850s really attempted to make a woman’s head look round or wide, whereas by the early 1860s the styles begin to grown upward and become vertically elongated. Here are some great examples of the round 1850s hair look: from 1851-53, c. 1855,  from 1857, another 1857, yet another 1857, one more from 1857, and one from 1859. Here’s a super wide 1850s style and here is an example of the different shape of the early 1860s. The very round shape is what I was attempting to complement my 1850s bodice.

How? Well, I put gel right at the roots of my hair while it was still wet and then encouraged it to stand up from my head rather than being pulled back. I let it dry like that and it stayed all day. Later in the day, I styled it for my 1940s Anne Adams dress photos by brushing it out (and brushing my hair when it’s dry makes it big!!!). There was lots of added hair spray for that style, so when I went to restyle it there was plenty of fullness and air in my hair.  I puffed the fronts and pinned them up and behind my ears then did a big roll with the rest.

The finishing touch was a new hair crescent that I made specifically to complement the colors in the cotton print. The crescent is made up of fully wired millinery flowers in ivory, some of which I dyed to be pinkish. Each extension is a singular stem and I just twisted them together until I liked the result. Lastly, I sewed a hair comb in the center to help attach it to my head and stabilize the wires. Each side also has a bobby pin to secure it to my head so the extended bits don’t flap around while I’m dancing.

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Back view, and new hair crescent.

I’m super pleased with the end result: the bodice, the hair style, and the hair crescent! Oh, and the pictures (thanks!). And I had a marvelous time at the ball–it was one of the class of events which makes me feel radiant and at which I really enjoy myself (compared to those when I’m grumpy and grouchy at the world). And all the smiling and dancing gave me a lovely natural rosy glow in the pictures. The aloof face is my attempt at a 19th century portrait face (it took a long time to capture a picture then, which is my rationale for why everyone has a generally serious face!). You had to pick something you could keep still for a long time, and a big smile is hard to maintain without movement or looking staged.

A Floral Headband For Annabelle (Returning Heroes Ball 2014)

Not too long ago, I was again able to be part of the annual Returning Heroes Ball hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. I decided to wear Annabelle again this year, even though I’d worn her last year, because I’d just worn Evie and Belle at the 1860s Dance Weekend in November.

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Annabelle at Returning Heroes Ball 2014.

Each time I’ve worn Annabelle, I’ve been slightly disappointed with the various incarnations of flower hair wreaths I’ve attempted to match her: the first wreath and the giant mass of flowers. So this year I decided to try again to see if I could get something I like. There are quite a number of evening dresses decorated with flowers right about 1860 and many of them are depicted in fashion plates and portraits with matching flowers in the hair. Here are some examples: 1859 fashion plate, another 1859 fashion plate, a third 1859 fashion plate, 1861 fashion plate, 1861 portrait, 1862 fashion plate, and 1863 fashion plate. For this new incarnation, I decided to try a different style from what I have for my other two evening dresses (Belle has a crescent and Evie has a hair wreath).  The style I settled on I’m calling a headband. It creates a halo around the face and extends down towards the ears, but does not connect across the back of the head. Instead, the hair must be interestingly arranged to fill in the back of the head. Here’s an example of the headband style using flowers that match the dress from 1862. And here is the fashion plate that Annabelle is based on which shows a headband style hair wreath worn with the dress.

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Here is Annabelle’s new floral headband. 
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Back view of my hair style. I needed something dramatic to fill in the base of my head. I wanted to do a sideways oval surrounded by rolls, but that didn’t work out and this is what I ended up with. I was dubious at first, but I think it worked. (It’s hard to see, but there’s one big central roll/puff and one smaller one above and below that.)

In addition to my new headband, I was also able to wear my new ca. 1860 corset and my still rather new purple paste jewels (a matching collet necklace and drop earrings) from Dames a la Mode. They worked wonderfully with my outfit (of course, I did pick the purple knowing it would match multiple outfits…!) and I enjoyed wearing them again.

The ball was lovely, as usual, and filled with well dressed people and more uniformed gentlemen than we have seen in recent years. The dancing was well executed and the intermission boasted a lavish spread of refreshments that both looked and tasted scrumptious.

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Bowers, during the Grand March.
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Bowing at the end of a polka.
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One small portion of the refreshments table.
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Looking lovely and dashing.

You can see more pictures of the event at Raven’s Plaid Petticoats blog post about Returning Heroes.

1860s Dance Weekend: Part II, Sunday

This is part two of a series of posts about a recent 1860s dance weekend hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. The first post, which was about the Saturday of the weekend can be viewed here. This post is about the second day, Sunday. Unfortunately, we didn’t take as many pictures of dancing on Sunday as we did on Saturday. We did, however, continue our tradition of taking lots of pictures of us not dancing, but doing other things. So you’ll just have to humor me during this post filled with a little bit of dancing and a larger proportion of other things.

Before I get started on pictures of dresses and dancing, I’m going to share a few pictures of the building the event was held in, so you can get a sense of the atmosphere. Think cold New England winter… blue sky and a cold breeze… no leaves left on the trees…

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One of the lovely tall windows reflecting the slightly cloudy blue sky, with leafless branches joining the scene.
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Looking through bare trees at the lovely windows of the hall.
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I’m sort of cheating here. This pictures is from Saturday, when we were in a hall next door to the one pictured above. But I just loved the berries on the bare tree and the very New England style window and building behind them!

Now that you’ve got a sense of the venue, let’s proceed to the ball:

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Sewing a friend into her dress. I include this because it is an excellent shot of my hair!

I tried to do something different than my usual 1860s style for this ball, and I must say that I like the results. The more you try out different hair styles, the easier they become! I’d brought my curling iron and I wanted to make use of it for this ball. (I have naturally curly hair, so it’s quite ironic when I use a curling iron. My curls are quite frizzy, a bit wild, and untamed rather than cork screw like, so the curling iron acts as a taming agent.) In the end I had two curls, one hanging on either side of my head. I wouldn’t do this for every ball, but it worked well with the amount of crazy bling I had and with the heavy quality of my dress.

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See? Crazy borrowed bling! (The necklace is much more sparkly in person than in pictures!) I was quite dazzling, or blinding, depending on your perspective.

Anyway, in addition to the curls, I did my usual poofy side roll on either side of my center part. I tried to be imaginative in the back but ran out of time. It’s hard to remember now, but I’m pretty sure I braided the back section and made a bun  with the braid. Or perhaps I wrapped my braid around a bun that was made with the ends of the poofy side rolls. Either way, there was a bun and a braid. My Belle hair crescent was mounted over the result. I rather like that it was a little higher on my head than in previous wearings. It was a little more visible from the front.

As you can see, I wore Belle. She was my first historic dress, ever. I wore her more often when I first began vintage dancing a few years ago, but I got a little tired of wearing her and so she’s been living in my closet for over a year. She’s super heavy, which I remembered, but I hadn’t remembered that the weight of the skirt pushed my hoops into an awkward diagonal elliptical shape. I have a bum pad that fixes the problem, but since I’ve been wearing Evie so much and she doesn’t need it I’d forgotten to bring it! Oh well. It was exciting to bring Belle out again, and though I’m not the same size I was about 7 years ago when I made her, she still fits and is still stunning.

Here are some dancing shots from the ball:

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After the ball we took some more not dancing photos. Our prop for the night was a rather short column. And so I present to you a series of column shots:

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This is my end of the weekend “I’m tired” pose. I love how my tiers fan out and create an elongated effect. It’s quite regal! (The heavy fabric flowing across the floor reminds me of the image below of Sissi–Empress Elisabeth of Austria.)

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1867 Sissi in famous pose with her dog ‘Shadow’ by Emil Rabending

Well, there you have it. An 1860s dance weekend. I do hope you enjoyed it!