Monthly Archives: October 2013

Market Fair Preparations

With an event (the Market Fair in Dover, DE) in early November coming up, I’m under the gun. I need to clothe 2-4 people c.1770 from my meager stash of costuming, and I need extra clothes to display and to demonstrate with. So now comes the big push: I need to finish *all* my sewing projects and complete a handful of new ones within three weeks.

First up was reworking a checked linen shirt for my dad. I had made the collar too small when I finished the shirt. Instead of making a whole new collar (which would mean I’d have to sew another buttonhole … I hate buttonholes … ) I took the collar off, cut it in half, and added a piece to the center back.

Widening a shirt collar. I took it off and cut it in half, then added a strip down the back & re-attached it.

Widening the shirt collar: the original cut in half, and the addition about to be added. Also the iProduct playing Mozart – you’ve gotta have that atmosphere.

The finished shirt, with the collar and back of the body both pieced. If I had been more careful, I could have lined the checks up and made the seams almost invisible.

The finished shirt, with the collar and back of the body both pieced. If I had been more careful, I could have lined the checks up and made the seams almost invisible. More on me and my accuracy in sewing later.

Except for the button rings, this shirt is 100% linen, and 100% handmade. It feels sooooo good.

Except for the button rings, this shirt is 100% linen, and it’s 100% hand sewn. It feels sooooo good. And looks sooooo bad all wrinkled and droopy.

My second project was for myself. I have needed a muff for a while because my hands get cold easily, so I made one from a leftover bit of wool from my red wool cloak. I also made a cover for it, to make it a little more versatile. It was a nice project because it wasn’t difficult sewing, and it took only an hour to get the actual muff done. The cover took a little longer.

The muff, with the cotton and silk cover on. It'll look better in context. I hope.

The muff, with the chintz and silk cover on. It’ll look better in context. I hope. And yeah, I know how to sew a straight line, I was just making this up as I went / too lazy / not caffeinated enough to do it.

So what’s next? I have a mental list of things I want to make, but I’m not sure how many I will be able to actually finish. I’d love to make a small child’s set of clothes, with a pudding cap and stays, to demonstrate with. I really need to get a few more petticoats, short gowns or jackets, chemises and shoes (eek!) made. A pair of stays or jumps to demonstrate with would really make me happy, but I probably won’t be able to do that in time. We’ll see how much I am able to do before the end of the month!

The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum: A Queer History of Fashion & RetroSpective – a review

I just got back from a visit to Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where I was able to walk through the galleries and see the two exhibits now on display, A Queer History of Fashion and RetroSpective. Both are free to the public and open until January 4, 2014 and November 16, 2013, respectively.

Photo on 2013-10-08 at 15.58 #3

Here’s the link to FIT’s museum website, below. Again, it’s ugly because I haven’t learned how to make it pretty yet.

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk

A look at clothing both created and worn by members of the LGBTQ communities over the past 300+ years, this is an interesting and discussion-sparking exhibit.

Focusing mostly on designer clothing from 1960 to the present, this exhibit offers a lot of information. It’s also well-planned and well-lit, so that almost every piece can be easily seen. Many outfits are semi-hidden behind others, but that speaks to the sheer volume of how many things there are to see. There are clothes from a scattering of the top names of the past century – fashion designers, movie stars, artists and more.

The one thing that disappointed me was the 18th century portion of the exhibit. It includes a 1790s suit, a banyan, and a truly horrible ‘Mollie’ outfit made from a reproduction chemise, a Renaissance Fair corset made from black sparkly brocade, and original shoes, quilted petticoat and red wool cloak.

From my research on gender-bending clothing of the 18th century, I’ve found that an outfit like this was simply not worn in public by anybody other than, possibly, a prostitute. In general, 18th c. LBGTQ people had to hide their true selves almost constantly, because simply being LBGTQ was a crime in a lot of places. Wearing something like this would be to wave a red flag in the face of a bull – not that it would make people immediately think “homosexual”, but the outfit would immediately bring to mind the 18th century debate on the desired tightness and completeness of women’s clothing and how it reflected their morals. Anybody, male or female, who wore an outfit like this would be immediately marked as “morally loose”,  and in 18th century thinking, that wasn’t a far cry from homosexual.

The label did not describe any of this, and didn’t offer information such as where such an outfit would be worn (England, America, France) which could have been crucial in interpreting it. And of course, there is the added problem of the cringe-worthy reproduction clothing.

Finally, the exhibit does not mention two of the most iconic gender-bending outfits there were in the 18th century: the riding habit and the redingote. These garments were a big part of gay and lesbian issues in the late 18th century. While I can understand that the museum possibly did not have originals to put on display, perhaps a picture or discussion could have been included.

I give this exhibit a 9/10. This exhibit presents an awesome topic and illustrates it with outstanding examples of clothing (expect for the 18th century portion). I highly recommend it.


This exhibit focuses on revivals of fashion elements such as the bustle, hoop skirts and ’empire’ style gowns.

This exhibit is stunningly comprehensive. There are so many garments, accessories and textiles on display that each topic is supported by multiple examples. The exhibit is well laid out and each topic (say, ‘bustles’ or ‘panniers’) is given its own little nook, which makes comprehension of the ideas presented easy. Movies on clothing from the times adds another dimension to the exhibit, and guided tours are available as well.

Most of the clothing is presented somewhat poorly. The exhibit is quite dark where the older clothing is; too dark to see basic details like buttons, embroidery or seams. In addition to the darkness, putting the clothing in ‘nooks’ means that they can only be viewed from one angle. When I tried to lean in a little to see the garments, I set off alarms and was told off by a security guard.


I didn’t think that this exhibit was very inspired. The topic of fashion revivals is old, and the exhibit brings nothing new to the discussion except a presentation of the usual topics. There is not a lot of information offered on the labels simply because the exhibit does not stir the waters of this topic: it only skims the surface. I would have loved the exhibit to go into the deeper questions of why fashion goes into revivals, and the way these revivals reflect what’s going on in the culture at the time.

I give it a 7/10. This exhibit is great for visitors with a casual interest in fashion, and since it’s free, it’s a great way to kill half an hour. If you go, don’t expect to learn a lot from it, and don’t expect to be able to see the older garments very clearly.

I’d love to hear others’ reactions to these exhibits. Have you seen them? What did you think?

Rabid Watermelon

I’ve been working on some linen I bought at a thrift store a while ago. When I bought it, it was a color that can only be described as ‘rabid watermelon’ – not a nice 18th century shade. I didn’t take a picture of it before I began working on the color, which I kind of regret. That color was insane.

I’ve been wanting a pink linen dress for a long time, so I decided to remove some of the dye and tone it down to pink. I tried RIT dye remover, then I cautiously used bleach – neither worked. Since the hand of the linen was changing and I was worried that the chemicals were eating the fibers, I stopped.

Plan B: Dye it darker. I’ve been thinking of a brown linen dress as well, so I figured I could dye over the rabid watermelon. It might work better now that I’d used dye remover. WRONG. I used a whole bath of dark red-brown dye and it barely changed the color of the linen.

Plan C: Make a black dye bath, dye the crap out of the linen, and whatever color it comes out as, deal with it because it’ll be better than rabid watermelon. Well, I made a very dark dye bath, and the linen came out a beautiful shade of raspberry-bordeaux-wine-something.


The final color: because I’m not going to try dyeing this stuff again.

The problem is, I can’t find 18th-century linen dresses in this color. Well, let me re-phrase that. I can’t find original 18th-century linen dresses in that color. This color is popular for Halloween costumes (gag) and poor reproduction gowns (“I’ll wear it with a blue petticoat and a white apron and ‘mob’ cap and I will look SO 1776!”) (gag).

I’ve found red, red-brown and red-purple silk dresses – they’re all over the place.


Brown-red silk dress, 1740-60, England. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Miss Ramsay in a Red Dress circa 1760-65 by Allan Ramsay 1713-1784

Allan Ramsay, Miss Ramsay in a Red Dress. 1760-65, The Tate Gallery.

Robe a la Francaise, 1770-80, The Mint Museum.

Robe a la Francaise, 1770-80, The Mint Museum. What an incredible color. Actually, although it’s silk, this color is similar to my linen. And look at that hat. That is an awesome hat.

Red linen dresses seem more difficult to find than red silk. I’ve found red linen used in small things like wallet linings, and for some men’s clothing. I’m not saying they didn’t have red linen – I’ve just never found a solid red linen dress.

I spoke to an acquaintance who is a Jedi at natural dyeing, and showed her a swatch of my wonky linen. She said the color could easily have been made with plants and materials found in the colonies through the 18th century.

What happened? Were there a lot of red linen gowns that didn’t survive? Did they all fade to pink or brown?

I’m beginning to think that shades of solid red were just not very popular for linen gowns. I’m not sure why. It was probably just fashion, because you can’t say they didn’t have red linen. Maybe what I’m seeing is a difference in class fashion: solid red was okay for silk dresses for the rich, but not for lower/middle class linen gowns … ? I’m grasping at straws here.

I don’t know. I want to make a dress out of this linen, but I’m not fully confident in the color. Oyy.


Shifting for Myself


*halfhearted clap* yay …

I’m so punny.

I’ve just finished my shift-on-a-budget, based on Sharon Ann Burnston’s awesome internet tutorial.   <~ this one.

I followed the patterns taken from her 1752 Connecticut shift. I had to alter it somewhat, because I was working with very thick, loosely woven linen. It was way, way too thick and loose for a shift – but this is my shift-on-a-budget, and I didn’t put out a single penny for it, so hey. The selvages had to be wider to accommodate the ravely fabric. Not like Bolero by Ravel-y; way less cool.

Because I was making it from four old aprons, I couldn’t use the incredibly frugal cutting methods used during the 18th century. I had to piece the body down the side, and I have three pieces making up the back. One sleeve is made of three pieces, and the other from two.

I narrowed some of the dimensions; such as the wide sleeves and body, because the fabric is thicker and I didn’t want it to be tremendously bulky.

I ran out of linen thread 80% of the way through, and had to flat-fell some seams with cotton-poly ickyness. I’m thinking of pulling those stitches out and re-sewing them in linen later.

I wanted to cross-stitch my initials in the front in black silk, but I only had a dark greyish-purple. I figured that was pretty close, so I began – but I can’t cross-stitch. I know, it’s like one of the easiest stitches in the world and somehow I can’t do it.

I’m going to blame it on the linen. The weave was so loose that my stitches never looked neat. There.

I wound up just doing the initials in an amateurish backstitch. I’ll take them out if enlightenment ever reaches me and I can cross-stitch them.


I did get to do something cool when I pieced the back: two of my pieces had selvages, and I butted them as Sharon Burnston suggests in her instructions. It came out feeling nice and smooth, even with the crappy fabric and my unfortunate-colored thread.


I can’t say that I’m perfectly pleased with it. The materials I had were crappy, and it shows in the finished product. The shift fits in with the theme of my budget outfit, though. It’s pieced from older clothes and handsewn, and it’s better than the shift I had before (that thing had too many drawstrings). I’m excited to wear it, especially with the button cuffs. To finish the shift, I want to see if I can reproduce a broken 18th century cuff button in my collection.

This one. Maybe without the ship etching. I love the octagonal shape.

This one. Maybe without the ship etching. I love the octagonal shape.

Now I’m stuck. I need another sewing project, and I only have half a yard of the same linen left, and a few yards of cotton-poly crap thread.

And the idea of making this is stuck in my mind … I don’t have anything to wear it with (yet), I just love it.


A quick sketch. The cups look like eyeballs and the straps look like ears … and now that you’ve seen it, that’s all you see …

But I wouldn’t try it until I had the materials to do it justice. Maybe I’ll just work on fitting and nail down a pattern.