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A 1790s Redingote for Fall

So pretty!

I’ve always been in love with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art‘s Woman’s Redingote, attributed to Europe, 1790s. It’s just superb. The tailoring is impeccable – I love the high collar and the button tails down the back. The textile is, let’s face it, pretty ugly on it’s own – but made into the redingote, it’s awesome.

Yeah, the link for it is right below. I’m still learning this WordPress stuff; I can’t make it look pretty yet.

http://collections.lacma.org/node/206270

redingote LACMA2

About a year and a half ago I bought some lightweight brown wool. It drapes beautifully, and I originally wanted to make a nice, practical 1740s work dress from it. Something with pleated cuffs and a shorter skirt.

But to hell with practicality. I wanted a redingote more.

I didn’t have a pattern; I draped the back and loosely based the front on a caraco in Patterns of Fashion. Years ago, I adapted this pattern to fit me, and since then I’ve been using pretty much the same one, tweaked a little, for every gown and jacket I make. Not the best way to do things, but until I get a dress form and can drape, it’s the status quo.

Looking back, I made some mistakes. I was ‘guesstimating’ most of the construction without ever seeing the original. I cut my collar in one straight piece, which makes it wrinkle awkwardly. If I was going to do it again (which I would love to do) I’d copy a collar from a man’s suit of the time – one with a seam down the back, and the pieces angled.

Also, I only learned after I had finished mine that the original was made with a separate bodice front inside, which laces or buttons (I know this by hearsay, never saw it … ­čśŽ ) which keeps the strain off of the buttons in front. I didn’t make mine with that, but I think I can adapt what I’ve got to accommodate it. I think the under-bodice system would also keep the redingote in place; it tends to pull up in front because of the weight of the skirt at the back. I am also thinking of putting a piece of boning or two down the center back to get that smooth curve.

My redingote

My redingote – please excuse the non-1790s hair.

I copied some details from the original redingote. Others I took from prints of the time: a trained skirt, long sleeves, the straight edge at the bottom front, and the double-breasted front. Because it’s double-breasted, I had some fitting issues around the lapels – they aren’t as wide as the original’s are, and they don’t fold as nicely.

I made the entire redingote from 100% brown wool, and it’s lined with white linen and faced with glazed peach chintz. The buttons are brass. The whole thing is hand sewn with linen thread.

My redingote, back

My redingote, back

It’s been 90% finished for a year or so. The trained skirt is unlined at the moment, so the wool picks up EVERYTHING I walk over … leaves, sticks, you name it … it’s annoying. I think if I line it it will keep it from picking things up, but I’m not sure exactly how to do it. If I line it halfway up, I’ll get an awkward seam line across the width of the skirt. If I decide to line it all the way up, I have to figure out how to attach the lining at the top. I may just cut the trained part off and level it like the original. That being said, the train is so much fun to wear!

Hat, 1790s

An original hat, 1790s – the sort of thing I wanted to wear with my redingote.

Hat Reproduction

Hat repro, half-made … and a poor attempt at frizzing my hair. I later added white and peach ribbons to the front of the hat.

Though it’s not completed, I wore it last year to the Market Fair in Dover, DE. I wore it with my horrible reproduction hat I made from wool and a few quarts of wood glue (I don’t recommend that). Even though the hat sucked, I got something awesome out of it – I had my portrait done with a camera obscura.

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Well, as I say in my title, it’s for fall and fall is certainly here. I’m thinking of wearing it again for an upcoming Market Fair. The theme is more colonial at this event, but I don’t have anything warm to wear for a date before 1790. Maybe I will make something – or at least have a nicer hat for the redingote made by then … stay tuned.


Two purses from the 1930s and 1940s

Well, I’ve been busy – I’ve recently relocated to New York City. Unfortunately, my clothing collection can’t come with me; it’s still in storage at my previous home. I’ve been bringing individual pieces up to NYC with me every week or so to work on, and this week I took a little blue clutch that needed some TLC. I picked it up recently at an antiques store. I got upset when I saw that the seller had taped two stickers onto it, and all the adhesive had come off onto the silk. Grr!

navy silk clutch

The silk clutch, probably from the late 1930s to 1940s.

It’s pretty faded; originally it was a very dark blue. The design on the front is made with blue cording and four whimsical little flowers with rhinestone centers. With those meandering lines, it kind of reminds me of something by Schiaparelli.

Or maybe it’s James Thurber that I’m thinking of.

Today I cleaned it a little. It was pretty dusty and will need a better cleaning than what I’ve just given it, but it’s a start. I was worried that the interior was full of mold, but it turns out it’s makeup powder, maybe blush.

*phew*

The clutch was made by Maben Bags, with a little stork logo.

The clutch was made by Maben Bags, which had a little stork logo. I haven’t been able to find much information about this brand, expect that they seem to have begun business around 1935.

I can’t get the adhesive off. The fabric is so faded that I’m worried it’s been structurally compromised (yay big words) and since it’s silk I don’t want to wash or rub it. I’m not sure how to go about removing it.

Because my clothing collection is based on a very limited budget, I don’t have acid-free paper to wrap these pieces in. I came to something of a solution today: I took out the sewing machine and whipped up a few basic cotton bags. While they can’t protect the pieces from abrasion, they’ll be better than nothing. So the clutch got its own bag today, and it’ll be returned to my collection soon.

A tiny cotton sleeping bag.

Yes, I know it might be considered overkill to take so much care of a purse that’s so badly worn. But I like to.

I have one other purse in my collection from this general time frame. It’s a black silk clutch with a tiny version of itself inside as a coin purse.

DSCN9735

My other 1940s purse, by M Faille.

Anybody else reminded of Alien? Or is it just me?

Anybody else reminded of Alien? Or is it just me?

Yeah, it’s just me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on an item from the 1970s: a beautiful red velour hat. I don’t have a ‘before’ picture, partially because I’m ashamed of the state it’s in. I was given this hat years ago, and it had been in perfect condition at the time. I didn’t recognize it as ‘old’, however, and since it didn’t fit me, I packed it away nicely and put it in storage – worst move ever. Bugs got to it, and by the time I found it, it had a few bug holes. I’m pretty upset at myself for that.

The silver lining is that now I have a perfect opportunity to try freezing an item to kill the bugs in it. The hat’s been in the freezer for a week now, double-wrapped in plastic and taped up so it won’t get wet. I’m going to take it out on Saturday or Sunday … we’ll see if freezing has helped!


What Survives

I’ve been watching silent films lately, and it’s made me so appreciative of them. Through old films, we get to see people and ways of life that have, for the most part, completely disappeared. “See that old guy in that 1924 film? He could have been born in the 1850s.” Crazy.

I am always fascinated by what’s still around after a long time. Look at antiques. Conditions meet, somehow, and we’re left with something that may have been considered garbage before. Now, in some people’s eyes, it’s a little treasure.

A European pin ball frame, dated to the 17th or 18th century. Though it's spent probably hundreds of years underground, the wool used as a pin ball remains glued to the inside of the frame.

A European pin ball frame, dated to the 17th or 18th century. Though it’s spent possibly hundreds of years underground, the wool used as the ball remains glued to the inside of the frame. I’m not sure if it was originally pinkish, or if that’s from the dirt. I like to think it was pink.

I’ve begun my own clothing collection recently. Someday I would love to work in a museum as a textile conservator, and I decided it would be wise to practice on some of my own garments first, to get some experience. Of course the project grew, and before I knew it I was scouring thrift shops for old things, and asking for donations from friends and relatives. My collection doesn’t have much that’s very remarkable or expensive in it, but it’s got tons of sentimental value, and I think it’s all fascinating.

A good family friend donated an entire 1962 full-dress US army uniform, and as I was hanging it up, I found a box in the jacket pocket. It was the box for uniform’s epaulettes – and the epaulettes were inside. As well as the plastic bag they came in, the ordering forms and the receipt for the entire uniform. On eBay this might only fetch a few dollars, but in my mind, it’s priceless little time capsule. Yeah, I know, it’s not crazy old. It’s still very cool, though.

The box I found - epaulettes, bag, order form and receipt.

August 11, 1962: epaulettes, bag, order form and receipt.

For the pin ball and the epaulettes, conditions miraculously met, and the stuff survived. As a conservator, however, I (will) have to learn how to bring those conditions together continuously and reliably. No pressure.

Here in southern Delaware, we’ve got bugs. Summers are humid and hot, while winters are humid and cold. These conditions are difficult to deal with since I don’t have a sealed or perfectly climate-controlled room to store my collection in. I’ve been racking my brains for cheap, viable ways to preserve my items. I’ve created covered hanging storage. I’ve bought packs of desiccant, which seem to work pretty well in our 100% humidity (“doesn’t 100% humidity mean pure water? Should I be drowning now?”). I bought a huge bundle of fiberfill and I’ve begun wrapping and padding hangers for the heavier dresses and coats (soooo tedious … ). I got a few yards of muslin and making my own garment slipcovers – archival materials companies, beware; I can make one for less than $3.

Or how about shoe support? Buy a pair of pantyhose and cut off the foot and part of the leg. Stuff it full of fiberfill, tie the top closed, and stuff that into the shoe. Voila, cheap shoe supports. It has spandex in it, but hey, it’s crazy cheap and it’s much, much better than nothing.

The Smithsonian has a few pages on textile preservation. One suggested that I could put cloves or pepper in sachets and store these near the clothing. The aroma is supposed keep pests away. I made a few sachets last week. They were easy enough to make, and they do smell peppery. I don’t think any of my pieces have bugs to begin with, but it’s a good precaution to take. So far, it’s kept some silverfish away. And it was certainly cheap enough.

.39 cents worth of nylon tulle, and a handful of peppercorns ... let's see if this works.

.39 cents bought me more nylon tulle than I know what to do with. I made the little bags with loops to go over the hanger hooks. I make sure the bags don’t touch the clothing.

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve created that ultimate mesh of conditions in which all my collection pieces will survive perfectly in. If I keep trying, it can only get better, right? I’m certainly learning along the way.

And because silent films are just awesome, check out A Fool There Was, with Theda Bara, 1915. There are a few versions on YouTube, none of which like it when I try to link them to this blog post.

Phooey.

But it’s a fascinating movie that’s somehow survived these 98 years. You’ve got to appreciate that.


Restoring a Singer Model 27: rust, treasure and a guinea pig.

I’ve never had much luck with sewing machines. They loop stitches, they bunch cloth, they act erratically … they frustrate the heck out of me. I’ve developed a good distaste for machines with more than two buttons, and don’t even mention computerized machines.

I figured I should try a treadle machine, just to see if I liked it better than a modern one. A year ago I bought a 1902 Singer model 27 with Sphinx decals to play around with and see if I could get to work. There was so much rust that the wheel wouldn’t spin more than an inch or two before it made a truly horrible crunching noise. At the least, I loved how it looked, even if it was destroyed. That’s the steampunk part of me talking. The steampunk part of me also named it Nigel.

The Singer, before I began cleaning.

The machine in its cabinet, before I began cleaning a year ago. Rust, rust, and more rust.

Well, it took a good 30 days, a quart of mineral oil (I used that because it’s nontoxic), ten packs of steel wool, and a lot of frustrated putzing, but now it works. I credit the genius of how the machine was made: the individual parts are very simple and if they’re not bent or cracked, and if they’re oiled, they should always work. This machine is still 50% rust (no really, it looks like the wreck of the Titanic inside, except no fish) and it works perfectly. For broken pieces, this model uses some parts that fit modern machines, like the foot and many screws and nuts. For the rest you can find either modern reproduction parts or scrap pieces online, so replacing pieces isn’t crazy difficult.

The 1902, looking a little shinier. The bobbin winder is taken off.

The machine today, looking a little shinier. I think a previous owner was a smoker; it was covered in grime. The bobbin winder is taken off here.

The technology in this thing is kind of astounding. The bobbin is oblong and fits into a complex little shuttle, which sits in a chassis that swings back and forth. It swings against a horizontal concavity shaped like a half-moon. The needle comes down through a hole in the middle of that half-moon, and this is where the magic happens. The needle ‘hiccups’, or makes a little down-up-down-up movement, and the thread (if it’s the right weight) loops around the moving shuttle. It slips in between the shuttle and the chassis, which swing right through the loop. This makes a twist that tightens and becomes the stitch.

The bobbin and the shuttle.

The bobbin and the shuttle.

The bobbin, in the shuttle, in the chassis, in the machine …

Another incredible thing: it’s almost silent, it just makes a snickety-snickety noise. I can listen to music, I can have a conversation while I sew. I don’t need electricity so I could literally sew anywhere I have a square foot of table. I just pick it up by the arm and haul it where I need.

Speaking of which, this thing is SOLID cast iron. If you drop it on your toe … oh boy.

I haven’t restored it fully, so it’s still missing pieces and I haven’t attached it into its cabinet or used it with the treadle yet. I use it by spinning the wheel by hand. When it’s oiled, I can spin the wheel once and just the weight of the machine itself makes it take 5-8 stitches before it looses inertia.

The hugely complicated system for regulating thread tension. It's a mess of screws and springs that, once put together correctly, uses a nut to squeeze two metal donuts together. the thread runs between the donuts and the pressure of the donuts controls tension. The thread also runs through an annoying little wire loop that gets caught on stuff way too easily.

The ridiculously complicated system for regulating needle thread tension. It’s a mess of screws and springs that, if put together correctly, uses a nut to squeeze two metal donuts together. The thread runs between the donuts and their pressure controls its tension. The thread also runs through that annoying little wire loop that gets caught on stuff way too easily.

Some of the awesome Art Noveau decals. The machine's so rusty that I was originally tempted to take all the paint off and repaint it, but then I cleaned off the cigarette scale and these beauties popped up. I'm leaving it the way it is!

Some of the awesome Art Nouveau decals. The machine’s so rusty that I was originally tempted to take all the paint off and repaint it, but then I cleaned off the cigarette scale and these beauties popped up. I’m leaving it the way it is!

For more on the model 27, check out the The Franklin Institute if you’re in the Philly area. Their entire exhibit on simple machines (“Amazing Machines”) uses a Singer model 27 as an example of almost every simple machine they cover. They also have an 1890 Singer toy sewing machine which is adorable. There’s not much info online, though.

Because the Internet can never have too many pictures of animals being cute, here is a guinea pig on a sewing machine. Her name is Zubi, and she thought it smelled funny.


Buttons!

I’d always wanted to combine two of my favorite professions – archeology and the study of clothing – until I had a ‘duh’ moment, and realized there’s not a lot of clothing left down there.

Erm … yeah.

So I kind of dropped that idea. It’s always nice to return to it when I can, though. I love metal stuff, and metal usually survives pretty well underground. I call these O.R.Os – Old Rusty Objects. Here are a few O.R.Os (buttons) from the UK, all metal detector finds.

Some early buttons, and what is possibly a mount (top left picture, on left). The smallest buttons is like a doublet button, and is possibly lead. The oblong piece is a lead acorn-shaped button. The large button with a chip from the edge is a gorgeous medieval piece, with a fletched design in the center.

Three early buttons, and what is either a button or a mount (top left picture, on left). The smallest button is like a doublet button, and is possibly lead. The oblong piece is a lead acorn-shaped button, the loop at the top is broken off. The large button with a chip from the edge is a gorgeous medieval piece, with a design that reminds me of arrow fletching in the center.

Tudor doublet buttons and what might be an early sleeve button - if it's not early, it's 18th century. The doublet buttons always remind me of those Dots candies. The sleeve button here has a Tudor rose on it: my photography is bad and the button's corroded, so you may have to take my word for it.

Tudor doublet buttons and what might be a 15th c. sleeve button – if it’s not that early, it’s 17th – 18th century. The sleeve button here has a Tudor rose on it: my photography is bad and the button’s corroded, so you may have to take my word for it. The doublet buttons always remind me of those Dots candies. I like the one that’s ribbed. They are probably made of lead; they’re solid and pretty hefty.

Some tombac buttons from the 16th - 18th century, with one 18th century broken brass button. Tombac is an alloy of brass and copper, with possibly a little zinc, tin, or lead thrown in. Tombac is silvery-gold and seems somewhat stable - these buttons haven't corroded too badly.

Some tombac buttons from the 16th – 18th century, with a broken 18th century┬á brass button. Tombac is an alloy of brass and copper, with possibly a little zinc, tin, or lead thrown in. Tombac is silvery-gold and seems somewhat stable – these buttons haven’t corroded too badly. It was used for cheap buttons and jewelry.

One of my favorites: an 18th century sleeve button. It has a beautiful design of a ship under full sail.

One of my favorites: an 18th century sleeve button. It has a beautiful design of a ship under full sail. Like the earlier Tudor rose sleeve button, the link is neatly soldered so it wouldn’t stretch and fall apart. It’s a little ironic that on both examples, the second button itself broke off, instead of the link.

Another naval-themed 18th century button: a naval uniform button with a fouled anchor, haphazardly cut down to a smaller size.

Finally, another naval-themed 18th century button: a naval uniform button with a fouled anchor, haphazardly cut down to a smaller size. I guess it was easier to trim the button than enlarge the buttonhole – or maybe it wasn’t being used as a button any longer? Who knows.