Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Conference Dress

As promised, here's the details on my conference dress.

The fabric reminded me more of a man's shirting fabric than lady's dress fabric (sorry Carolann!) and it just wasn't "speaking" to me, so I contemplated how I could change the fabric....

 And then I remembered the indigo dyeing class I had taken in the summer!

I considered dyeing the entire dress length, but indigo dyeing is best done outdoors, being both smelly and messy, and that was just not an option in January on Mackinac. So I decided to just dye enough for trim, but I still didn't have any particular design in mind.

So back to the books, but none of the fashion plates or photos of originals were giving me any inspiration, until....

I found this gown, which is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert. It has a surplice style bodice and a separate draped overskirt and lots of trimmings. While looking through the fashion plates and photos of originals, I had noticed that most black and white print dresses were post-War or early 1870's, and the V&A gown dates to 1868. While researching for my servant presentation,  I had found innumerable references to servants wearing overly stylish clothing made in inappropriate fabrics - thus my use of cotton to create an interpretation of a gown that was originally silk.

The surplice bodice was surprisingly easy to draft; it was really just an adaptation of my custom fit darted bodice pattern. The sleeves are coat style and the skirt has a bias cut ruffle, gathered on a cord and bound with the dyed fabric. Period ruffles were not generally very full, only about 1/3 fuller than the skirt - in my case, my skirt is 180" around and my ruffle is 240". Too full ruffles tend to give a bit of the "Holly Hobby" look - not a good thing! 

The draped overskirt is mounted on the belt - no images of the back of the inspiration gown were available, so I had only the written description to go by, so my choice may or may not emulate the original. The skirt on the original was gored, much fuller to the back and worn over an elliptical skirt support. I don't have an elliptical hoop and didn't want to deal with drafting a gored skirt, so I choose to gauge 60" of skirt down to 10" for the very back of the skirt and made one large box pleat in the front with small directional pleats over the hips - it shifted the bulk of the skirt to the back and resulted in a somewhat flat front - exactly the type of style compromises a servant might make when trying to go high style on a low budget.

I also created a little cap for this ensemble - separate post to come.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Conference Fabric 2013

Another eagerly awaited, annual highlight of the Ladies & Gentlemen of the 1860's conference is the unveiling of the "conference fabric" on Saturday morning.

Gentlemen presenters receive a vest length of fabric, this year a cotton velveteen, and the ladies receive a dress length, this year a black and white cotton print. Everyone receives the same fabric and makes (or has made by their seamstress or tailor) a garment, which is to be kept secret until the unveiling.

I am always amazed at how the choices made in styles and trims can lead to such different end results, with  the dresses in particular - there aren't as many variations possible in the vests.

A big thank you to my dear friend who took these photos for me - she sat on the floor in front of the stage in order to get clear shots!

Many participants use original garments or photos for inspiration, as with this sleeve variation - I love the green buttons!

Red was a great compliment to this fabric and this lady choose to use "red tape" as she works for the government and it's a great reproduction of the original dress in her collection.

 This is a great style, not often represented - an open neckline and short sleeves, worn with a guimpe and just look at the skirt detail!

Emily (the doll) in her new conference dress.

Another great example of using originals as inspiration - the yoke of this dress is shirred over gathered cords front and back - a really beautiful detail, and again, one seldom seen on reproductions.

And a bit of usually undercover detail: gorgeous garters! A class on making these garters was offered as a pre-conference workshop.

And the youngest attendee at conference, isn't he adorable in his conference fabric gown?

And he's the only participant to have both a conference dress AND a vest - a surprise gift during the unveiling.

I'll be adding detailed posts on what I created for Robin and myself with our conference fabrics...soon!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2013 Needlework Competition - Braidwork

A highlight of the Ladies & Gentlemen of the 1860's conference is the needlework competition.
This year's competition was for the best reproduction of an article of clothing or an object embellished with braidwork.

 Entries had to be a style commonly found and used between 1855 and 1865 and had to be made using
period construction techniques. A variety of materials and methods could be used to embellish entries,
including manufactured braid, hand-made braid, or embroidery stitches that resemble braid.

 Participants were divided into two categories - Those who have won in a previous competition, judged or popular ballot, competed in the Masters Class. Those who had never won in a previous competition, competed in the Needleworkers Class. Two prizes were awarded in each class: one for the best reproduction as judged by the speakers and one for the entry selected by popular ballot of the conference participants.

Here's this year's Needlework Class submissions - as there were only two, both were winners:

This teal silk necktie was the popular vote winner. It has gold braidwork and handknit silk lace and was accompanied by very good documentation.

The Judged winner is this grey wool Spanish jacket, with a scrolling couched design.

The speakers at the conference are the judges - I was one of the judges this year. We assign a value of 1-5 for each of the following criteria:

• Overall Appearance. Is the entry typical of an item used during the period? Does it have the correct
style and shape?
 • Fabrics and Materials. Are the fabrics, materials and findings used consistent with those used for similar
items during the period? Are they made from appropriate fibers? Do they have the correct weave, color,
pattern, weight and hand?
• Trimmings and Embellishments. Are the trimmings and embellishments used consistent with those used
on similar items during the period? Are they made from appropriate fibers? Do they have the correct
weave, color, pattern, weight and/or hand?
• Construction. Are period construction techniques used? Are they the appropriate techniques for this
• Workmanship/quality of detail. Is the workmanship typical of that found on original garments? Are fine
details and finishing incorporated into the construction?
• Documentation. What references were used in the creation of this item? Where did you get the idea?
Any unusual features should be especially documented.

We could also assign "Judge's Points" for outstanding effort in any of the categories.

There were several entries in the Master's Class:

A crimson wool flannel "Lancer's Jacket", with black braid and velvet buttons.

A heavily embellished vest, created as part of a fancy dress costume for a Pasha.

A "watering place" ensemble.

The Popular Vote winner was a net, silk and velvet mantle.

And the Judged winner was this brown wool paletot, based on an original. I was especially impressed by the use of crushed cuttlefish bone as the pattern transfer methodology and assigned extra "judge's" points for the documentation.

The needlework competition is a great way to stretch your skills and knowledge base; I spent a year researching cork soles as a result of the slipper competition and managed to find a source of material from a company that has been in production since 1852.

Next year's theme is a doll, with one outfit - you might want to start working right now!

Friday, March 1, 2013

An Evening Sociable

In July of 1861, Godey's Lady's Magazine informed us that:

"The most fashionable as well as pleasant way in the present day to entertain guests is to invite them to evening parties, which vary in size from the “company,” “sociable,” “soiree,” to the party, par excellence, which is but one step from the ball. 

The entertainment upon such occasions may vary with the taste of the hostess or the caprice of her guests. Some prefer dancing, some music, some conversation. Small parties, called together for dramatic or political readings, are now fashionable, and very delightful."
This years Ladies & Gentlemen of the 1860's conference started with a Thursday evening sociable; guests were invited to attend in their 1860's loungewear, if they so desired - a decidedly modern touch that would have been unthinkable in the 1860's!

Next was the entertainment, starting with feats of magic!

Dramatic readings,

 And song, both vocal and instrumental.

It was a delightful beginning to the conference and bravo to all those who were brave enough to step forward
and offer us entertainment!