Monthly Archives: November 2013

18th c. American Clothing Resources

Sometimes it’s difficult to find books that focus on American clothing from the 18th century, instead of France and England.  Here’s a list of my go-to research books that take a look at American clothing. It’s certainly not complete, but it’s the basis of most of my research.

The Mirror of Antiquity

The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition

Caroline Winterer

Cornell University Press 2007

ISBN 978-0-8014-4163-9

An utterly fascinating in-depth look at how classical ideas and ideals shaped American dress and culture. Recommended for those looking for a deeper understanding of 18th century women’s clothing & early American culture. A detailed, well-researched book. It covers the 18th century and much of the 19th. Illustrated, B&W.

Fitting and Proper

Fitting & Proper: 18th Century Clothing from the Collection of the Chester County Historical Society

Sharon Ann Burnston

Scurlock Publishing Co., Texarkana TX1998

ISBN 1-880655-08-X

A basic book looking at a few great pieces of clothing from the Chester County Historical Society. Mainly Quaker pieces, these are well-documented and the author shows how they were created. Men’s and women’s clothing is included – the book covers basic pieces of clothing worn during the 18th century. Graphed patterns included, illustrated, B&W.

What Clothes Reveal

What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America

Linda Baumgarten

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 2002

ISBN 0-300-09580-5

An in-depth look at clothing and culture in America during the 18th century – this book looks into the answer to “why did they do/wear that?” Highly recommended as a place to start a deeper knowledge of American life in the 18th century. Detailed research, fun read – an enlightening book covering all aspects of clothing. Well illustrated in full color – you’ve got to get excited about that.

Costume Close-Up

Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790

Linda Baumgarten, John Watson, Florine Carr

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Quite Specific Media Group LTD NY 1999

ISBN 0-89676-226-2

In essence, this book is a more detailed version of Fitting & Proper. A fascinating look at a handful of American clothes, showing how they were cut, put together, and how they aged over time. It’s great because it focuses on both men’s and women’s clothing. A good place to start costuming – this and Fitting & Proper are my go-to books for when I begin a piece of clothing, because they show the construction very well. Not a heavy read; many illustrations. Graphed patterns and color/B&W illustrations.

Tidings from the 18th Century

Tidings From the 18th Century

Beth Gilgun

Rebel Publishing Co., Texarkana, TX 1993

ISBN 1-880655-04-7

The most down-to-earth and practical costuming book that exists, to my knowledge. A fabulous book to begin re-enacting with. It covers more than clothing, too – the biggest themes of living history and re-enacting are included. An easy, fun read – many of the chapters are in letter format, like an 18th century novel. Some patterns, well illustrated, B&W.

Cloth and Costume

Cloth and Costume 1750 to 1800, Cumberland County, PA

Tandy and Charles Hersh

The Cumberland County Historical Society 1995

ISBN 0-9638923-2-0

I haven’t finished reading this book, but it looks pretty good so far. The biggest drawback are the pictures – the printing and photography are very poor in some instances. The book covers both clothing and its production in Cumberland County PA. Illustrated, B&W.

Have I missed any great reads you know of? Comment below and I’ll add them to my list!


A New Pair of Stays for Market Fair

Well, I wasn’t able to sew a whole bunch of things for the Market Fair on November 2, but I was able to squeeze out two wearable items. First, I made a new set of pockets which I’m pleased with.

New pockets made in linen diaper weave. The cloth was trimmed from a waistcoat that was updated from c. 1720 to c. 1760.

New pockets made in linen diaper weave. The cloth was trimmed from a waistcoat that was updated from c. 1720 to c. 1760.

I also started on a huge undertaking that I’ve been dreaming of for years – a new pair of stays, handsewn with metal (not plastic!!!) boning. I’ve always wanted pink stays, so I scraped together all the leftover bits from the frump dress / pinner apron project and got peachy-colored ones.

Close enough.

I only had two short sleeves and a bit of the bodice of the dress left, so I pieced the crap out of it and I actually finished the stays with that tiny amount of cloth. Here’s the pieciest piece:

This was half a day's careful work. I have about an ounce of scrap cloth left from this project, and it's all thready bits trimmed off the edges.

This was half a day’s careful work – ten pieced of scraps to form one pattern piece. I have about an ounce of scrap cloth left from this project, and it’s all thready bits trimmed off the edges. Everything else was used.

These are my old corded jumps that I based my new stays on.

I based the stays on two American originals from the 1740s-60s. I found that stays from this time are differentiated from earlier and later ones by two factors: the height of the stays in the front (higher than later stays, lower than earlier ones) and that most of the boning is more vertical than later, angled boning.

All the pieces in line, before all of them were boned.

All the pieces in line, before all of them were boned. I eventually shaped the top line differently.

The front four pieces from the inside, sewn together. I meant to make the front lace up originally, but I threw that idea out - too many eyelets.

The front four pieces from the inside, sewn together. I meant to make the front lace up originally, but I threw that idea out – too many eyelets.

The progress on my stays had to be interrupted because of work, so on the day before the Market Fair, they were in three pieces and none of the edges were bound. They also needed to be re-fitted because I had forgotten that those old corded stays stretched when I laced them up, and fresh new metal-boned stays weren’t going to stretch all that much. So I worked all day, and got enough done to wear them. I wasn’t able to bind the entire lower part of them, but I did get the upper edges done, and the eyelets in, and the whole thing pretty much fitted. The lining had to wait.

The stays from the front - the upper chest fits a little funny, but otherwise they are so much more comfortable than my corded jumps.

The stays from the front – the upper chest fits a little funny, but otherwise they are so much more comfortable than my corded jumps. It’s because of the tabs on the bottom – no more bones digging into my waist, yay! That being said, these stays don’t give me a lot of waist anyway. I’m kind of tubular.

IMG_0353

The side. I see now that the boning directly under my arm is too vertical; it makes the waist of the stays stand out from the body. Lessons for next time.

Final analysis: I’m not as pleased with the stays as I thought I would be. They still fit a little funny around the upper bust and waist. I think it’s because of the direction of the boning, and because they come up a little higher in the front than I’m used to. I’ll take a closer look at that later.

In the end, I went to the Market Fair with some stuff to demonstrate with, and I was able to dress two of my sisters, myself and my dad. It was a perfect sunny fall day. I had a table full of repro clothing and my sewing kit out, and I worked on a new stomacher for an early gown that I haven’t made yet (…). I spoke about what people wore, how clothes were made, who made them, and the issues facing re-enactors and living historians in reproducing 18th century clothes. I scared a bunch of little boys when I taught them that 18th century boys their age wore gowns like girls. I met some great people who were doing wonderful work creating their own clothing. I had such a good time that I forgot to get a picture of my table or any of us! Oh well, next time. : D