Saturday, 31 December 2011

Thank you Father Christmas!!

So I try to keep the huge list of costume books that I want/need for Christmas and birthdays, mainly as I would be constantly broke, but also as I believe that that is how life should be; we shouldn't have everything that we want immediately- I mean, should we!?

And good old Father Christmas did not let me down!! My lovely family bought me 2 books which I have been hankering over for the last year or two:

 'A History of Costume in the West'. Francois Boucher - Thames & Hudson
1996. This book is great- tonnes of colour images, and fantastic text including contextual historical information as well as the detailed fashion and textiles documentation.  * This book is currently out of print, so second hand copies are few and far between, and on the pricier side.

This second book I wanted for a particular reason-

Inside there is the only image that I have seen so far of a Regency dress fastened at the back with the Dorset buttons which I make:

'The Art of Dress ~ Clothes and Society 1500-1914' Jane Ashelford - The National Trust. 1996. The aforementioned dress is in the Killerton Collection, at Killerton House, Devon. Flicking through this one, it has detailed descriptions about the life and work of seamstresses & tailors, and chronicles the development of shops and retailing. I was also interested to read that Rudolph Ackermann (of Repository of Arts fame), "boasted that he was the first shopkeeper to have his premises illuminated by gas when it was installed there (101 Strand, London) in 1810".

Costume Films:
I am so excited about one of these, that I am afraid that if I do watch it, and it doesn't live up to my expectations, I will be terribly disappointed!! A few months ago I read 'So Bright and Delicate: Love letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne' by Penguin Classics. It had me enthralled. He wrote so beautifully; I was sad when it ended (as of course, does his life along with the book).
If I am feeling brave, I might tuck myself up in bed and watch this tonight. I must admit, I can't wait to see all those Regency fashions!!

The other film is 'Young Victoria'. I was very interested in the late 1830s fashion here, so will be writing again with what I thought of them.  I LOVE the fact that Queen Victoria was lucky enough to have fallen in love with Albert, as the marriage was (like all English monarchical marriages until very recently) in all reality an arranged one.

I will just leave you with one image of Fanny Brawne, who went on the marry another, and had 3 surviving children. Isn't she lovely?

A very happy New Year to all!!

with love,

Monday, 12 December 2011

Thomas Lawrence ~ Regency Portrait Painter Extraordinaire

Those of us who have a real passion for Regency clothing and the period in general, are very familiar with the image below. She is Margaret, Countess of Blessington, who was a darling of London Regency society, famous for her literary salons. It was painted in 1822, when she was around 33 years old.

Utterly gorgeous. Whenever I look at her, my eyes always linger on down to the fabric of her dress; I can almost feel that silk, it is so beautifully and accurately represented. Yes, of course, as a seamstress I appreciate the style of gown, but it is the quality of painting that draws me in.  I actually do rather love Art History, and completed a course at undergrad level (sadly not the entire degree), about 3 years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

It is not just silk that this artist paints with such verisimilitude, look at Princess Sophia here (George IV's sister) in her velvet gown:

Again, you know that the fabric is velvet, you can feel the pile.  Lawrence was the portrait painter of the day, and with these 2 examples alone, you can see why.

With a star that shone so bright in the art world, it is no wonder he was chosen as Royal Painter in 1792 after the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and later on was elected as President of The Royal Academy in 1820. So it is time to find out a bit more about this artistic wonder, and just how he came to be Regency Portrait Painter Extraordinaire.

Now sadly, his reputation at the time of his illustrious career was well, a little infamous to say the least, with tales of his love life often preceding those about his work. He also suffered a breakdown much later on in his career, but was able to recover and continue as brilliantly as before. He never married.

Born to an inn keeper in the west on England in 1769, his talent and love of art was apparent at an early age; at 12 he had his own studio, and was accepted into The Royal Academy in 1787.  His first Royal Commission was of Queen Charlotte, in 1790. The Prince Regent later sent him across Europe to capture the likenesses of all those sovereigns who had assisted in the defeat of Napoleon, creating the great Waterloo Gallery in Windsor Castle around 1818-20. He remained The Royal Painter until his death.

What is little known about him is that he was quite a collector of art himself, and amassed a great collection of 'Old Master' paintings. So although he certainly made a great deal of money, he was just as quick it seems in the spending of it.

I cannot of course, leave off mentioning this mighty portrait of King George IV:

This version is from 1822, but Lawrence depicted the Regent, and then the King as he later was, in a similar pose for quite a few paintings, wearing different formal dress during various periods of his life. Lawrence did a pretty good job!! Reminiscent for me of another English King, the mighty Henry VIII. 

Lawrence died in 1830, rather suddenly, due to heart problems, or mismanagement by his medical team. He was laid to rest in St Paul's Cathedral.

Thank you Thomas Lawrence, for your outstanding contribution to 19th century portraiture, and for giving us costumiers beautiful examples of Regency Dress to drool over. Whilst I am on this thread (see what I did?!), I leave with one more fine example of a Regency beauty- well really the Extended Regency/Romantic era, of The Honourable Mrs Seymour Bathurst from 1828:

with love,

Further Reading:
'Thomas Lawrence- Regency Power & Brilliance.' Cassandra Albinson et al. Yale University Press 2010.
'Thomas Lawrence Portraits.' Richard Holmes. National Portrait Gallery Publications. 2010.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Antique Historika

Due to the changed circumstances in which I now find myself, assisting to care for my Dad, and taking over a lot of the practical jobs that 1.) he used to do, and 2.) that mum now no longer has the time for, I am finding that I am having to put Historika on vacation for weeks at a time, to catch up both with orders and with things at home.

To that end I have started up another shop on Etsy which I aim to keep open always. This sells items that will be ready to ship once they have been listed. That way I am not worrying about fulfilling orders on time, and I won't have a shop that disappears from view all of a sudden. I think that the 2 shops work very well together, and actually complement each other.

Clockwise: 1850s Sleeves, 1870s Embroidered Net Collar, 1890s Petticoat, 1840s Chemisette

So here we are: Antique Historika sells antique clothing from the Victorian & Edwardian periods (mostly the things that I love- underpinnings, nightwear and accessories), but I have laundered, repaired and restored them first. I am having a ball; the post is now the most exciting event of the day, and I love getting my hands on these extant articles of clothing. Looking at the seams, admiring the fantastic sewing skills of ladies from the past (and even raising the odd eyebrow or two at the awful examples!!) I am learning so much, and really do enjoy transforming these pieces; adding buttons, ridding them of those dreadful rust stains, and repairing holes, so that they are all ready to wear and looking beautiful once again.
Do pop over and take a look. It is taking me a while to get my stock together, but I list at least one item daily. There is 10% off your order until Saturday the 26th of November.

with love,

Thursday, 3 November 2011

'The Lady's Stratagem' - A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette ~ Frances Grimble

Apologies for my lack of posting for the last 2 months.  Learning about my father's terminal prognosis with Motor Neurone Disease (specifically ALS), has thrown my life into turmoil. It may be for a while that I only get around to posting on my here once a month or so, but I will try to do at least that. The last couple of months have been spent trying to come to terms with everything, and of course helping to support my parents with my father's care. His care needs will only continue to grow over the coming months, and I am constantly trying to balance my life in the best way for my family and I.

I am a positive thinker, and whilst I am fully aware that the future is both frightening and bewildering at present, I realise that my attitude towards how I deal with this is the most important thing. Taking each day as it comes is a must, and finding small things to be grateful for (such as amazing family, friends, and health care professionals), is an excellent way to ward off self pity.

And, of course, I do take great comfort in my love of historical fashion, and so now find that I need to immerse myself in this love of mine, to at least remind myself that some things thankfully don't change, and that it will always be a huge part of my life.

On to the post for today; gushing over a new book so I am so delighted to have found!

How I have longed to get my hands on this book! While I was searching for books written about 1820s fashion, I found this gem. It has been around for quite a while I know, but I finally had the money to buy myself a copy a month or two ago, after hankering after it for months and months!
The Lady's Stratagem Frances Grimble ~ Lavolta Press 2009

I don't know of any other book that describes the details of what a lady in the 1820s had to do with regards to her clothing, beauty and fashion needs. In here there is everything that she would need to know; from how to deal with spots, to how to make toothbrushes from Horseradish roots. It is truly remarkable!

Points of great interest to me:
Thinking about making the 1820s petticoat (one day) that I promised myself, which is this one,
Manchester City Art Galleries
I was pleased to find instructions and diagrams for cutting the gored skirt. The chapter on stay making is utterly fascinating. It has everything that I had wondered about, and lots more besides. Instructions show you step by step how to make various forms of stays, with advice on fabric, which type of boning to use, and pattern diagrams.

There is a superb section on embroidery, with diagrams again and which fichus, and collars were to be worn when.  Shortly after that there are a few pages regarding holes and repairs.

The chapters that are wonderfully engrossing are at the back of the book, gently advising a lady how she is to behave in society at certain events, and how she must treat those around her, both abroad of the home and inside it. Titles such as 'Deportment in the Street', and 'Religious Propriety in Social Intercourse' are a tiny taster of some of the gems in this section.

Once I had finished leafing through it (the ooh and aaahh's took up a fair amount of time), I was slowly coming to realise how sewing would have taken up whole days for the ladies that had to undertake all this work. I am actually surprised that they found the time to do anything else!! If you were a lady in the 1820s who owned such a postion in life that you were able to be at leisure all day, if you weren't making new items, you were often mending those clothes of your own, or others' that needed it. How did they find that time to do all that visting, and 'paying calls' upon one another?!!

I cannot wait to get into bed tonight, and curl up with this somewhat hefty tome, which is totally worth the arm ache!!
Thank you Ms Grimble, you have made a young woman very happy!!

If anyone out there is like me, and LOVES the 1820s, buy this book, now! Do it! Or, failing that, put it right at the top of your Christmas will not be disappointed!

with love,
p.s I hope to get back to my 1820s corded stays very, very soon.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

'Looking Over My Shoulder': The Cunningtons (Costume Historians)

As there is so much more to say about our dear friends the Cunningtons, I thought that I would continue the subject on to this next post, and see what else there is to find out about them.

And, as if by magic, I recently stumbled across a wonderful British Pathe Film narrated by the man himself (C.W. Cunnington), in the 1930s. 'A Century of Dress from the Famous Collection of Doctor C.W. Cunnington':

It is just 1 minute and 44 seconds long, and takes us rapidly through women's changes in nineteenth century fashion via his costume collection... What a gem! To be able to hear his voice (very BBC British, of course) is a delight. He describes each outfit shown, and peppers in some details of the context in which they were worn.

The end sentence, as he nears present day (1930s), really caught my imagination:
"You see how a woman clung as long as she could to the idea of elegance? Nowadays we prefer comfort; can't we have both?"

Now he was saying this in the 1930s (very pretty and elegant decade, to my mind). I can imagine poor Doctor C feeling utterly aghast at our modes of ' fashion' these days- jeans and a jumper!!??  I do wonder sometimes if that is why more and more people now are looking backwards to fashions of long ago, and enjoy their weekends of re-enacting, as our clothes are so boring and not very elegant or inspiring at times.

But, I digress, so  on to the point of the post- C.W. Cunnington's autobiography:
Looking Over My Shoulder (Faber & Faber 1961).

Firstly, the title. I did wonder about this, and fairly early on in the book, C.W. explains his love of history as 'looking over my shoulder' at times past. I shan't discuss his complete life story, interesting as it is, because I really want to get to the nitty gritty- his collection of costume, costume artefacts and documentation.

Historical dress is first mentioned when he visits the 'Nordiska Museet' at Stockholm on a holiday with Phillis in 1937 (seven years after the new 'hobby' of collecting costume was begun). Here he notes that the museum "provides a catalogue of the costumes in three languages. No English museum provides one even in English."

Nordiska Museet, Stockholm
I was surprised, and disappointed to learn that the museum which Cunnington had taken the infamous silk dress (see my previous post) to in 1930, was the Victoria & Albert Museum. Looking for more information about the article, he was told that it was "Victorian", but that was all the information that could be given about it.

Courtyard View of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Interestingly, on the V&A's website, under the heading of their 'Textiles and Fashion' department, it reads-  

"The V&A has collected both textiles and dress since its earliest days. For many years garments were only acquired if they were made of significant textiles, as fashion had a low status within the decorative arts."

They were indeed slow in getting their act together in the study of all aspects of costume, if one of the largest museums in the England (established partly to house arefacts from the 1851 Exhibition) hadn't recognised it early enough, by its own later admission.

So off the Cunningtons went; collecting, researching and documenting everything to do with English costume that they could find. Whereas the V&A were only interested at that time with outstanding or unusual textiles, this couple were fascinated with what common women wore in the past, and the 'psychology' of dress and sexual attraction (Freud undoubtedly assisted in this view with his contemporary theories, which was garnering much discussion at the time).

Through advertising in 'The Times' for people to send in Victorian photographs, they managed to obtain 15,000 such examples of everyday clothing!! It was through exercises such as these that they began to see the chasm between the Fashion Journals of the day, and what was actually worn. (A bit like future historians seeing the fashions of our high-end catwalks, and presuming that we all wore those clothes!!)
Duchess of Leinster - Late 1880s
As their collection accumulated, it began to be put to a worthy use - exhibitions of fashion history benefited charities and local communities. And, by 1933, C.W. Cunnington was back at The V&A, but this time to give a lecture himself on 'English Women's Dress in the Nineteenth Century.' By this time their efforts had been detailed in the national press, and more contributions of clothing were offered by the public to add to their all ready large collection (now housed in 2 sheds in their garden). The Cunningtons were becoming known for their scholarly efforts, and even showed Queen Mary (consort to King George V) around an exhibition on one occasion.

Queen Mary

Although we would think nothing of a couple collecting antique under-things today, in the 1930s it seems that some people considered this a little odd, to say the least, and Cunnington had to put up with Victorian comments from some quarters, about amassing ladies' 'unmentionables'.

In 1935, under the suggestion and encouragement of Reverend, C.B. Mortlock, a keen championer of the couples' work, Cunnington completed his first book- Feminine Attitudes in the Nineteenth Century (William Heinemann).  After this followed Englishwomen's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (Faber & Faber, 1937), partly illustrated by his wife Phillis.

That same year he met and became great friends with James Laver (I feel another exploration of a fashion history contributor coming on...), who was to go on to receive a Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for his work in fashion history, in 1962.  He and Laver met at Alexandra Palace, when Cunnington had a talk on 'Hats through the Ages' televised; and they were to produce another programme together concerning dresses from the collection the following month. These programmes were part of 'Clothes Line' - the first television broadcast concerning the history of fashion in 6 parts. The very last programme of the series became infamous for a national scandal - one of the actresses modelling the clothes wore a backless dress, and was lighted in such a way as to appear naked. Viewers were outraged, and the BBC received many a complaint!!

Cunnington's third book, Feminine Figleaves (Faber & Faber, 1938) was not well received by the majority of females, who were displeased at his attitudes towards women's thought processes and his general criticisms.

Meanwhile the interest surrounding their 'hobby' continued to grow apace, and in 1938 they met the head of US 'Vogue', and artists and film production employees continued to visit and make notes regarding the 'correct' use of costume.

From 1937 onwards, the Cunningtons began to dream of a National Museum of Costume; to house their collection and continue the work that they had started. This subject was even discussed in The House of Commons, but sadly the idea was rejected, after the Minister of Education decided that there was no suitable venue available. Two years later the Second World War broke out, and the Cunningtons had other, weightier problems to occupy their minds.

But, by 1941, Cunnington had had another book published, Why Women Wear Clothes  (Faber & Faber). At the end of the war, and after much hard work during it (both worked long and strenuous days as medical doctors), C.W. and Phillis decided to retire to the island of Mersea in Essex. They sold their medical practice, and looked once again at disposing of their costume collection. Luckily, in 1945, it was bought by the Director of The Art Gallery and Museums of Manchester, and a beautiful 18th century house, 'Platt Hall' was to be its new home, thus creating The Gallery of English Costume. It was then opened to the public in 1947. Money to fund the purchase came from many sources, including Queen Mary herself, a long time follower of the couples' work. Her majesty continued to send photographs of Royal family members to the Cunningtons over the years, to add to their paper collection.

Wool Petticoat (1860/70) from the original Cunnington Collection, now part of Manchester City Galleries (Platt Hall)

Although the plan was to retire, and enjoy the quiet and leisurely pace of life in his late 60s, C.W. found that his finances did not stretch quite as far as he had hoped, and writing, lecturing and broadcasting on the subject of costume once again became part of everyday life. In 1948 he produced both The Perfect Lady (Max Parrish & Co), and The Art of English Costume (Collins). Two years later in 1948, he published his anthology, entitled Women. Yet it was his book detailing the History of Underclothes that proved to be the most successful by far. It had been begun by James Laver, who had asked Cunnington to continue it for him, which he happily did, getting it published by Michael Joseph in 1951. Phillis was to join him in writing this one, and all subsequent books. The following year saw English Women's Clothing in the Present Century (Faber & Faber).

Over the next  couple of years, Faber & Faber published by them a series of  'Handbooks' - Handbook of Mediaeval Costume (1952), Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century (1954), and Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century (1955). In 1959 the last of the series, Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century was completed, which included men's fashions for the first time.

1882 dress part of the original Cunnington collection, now at the Manchester City Galleries (Platt Hall)

In 1960 they wrote a Picture History of English Costume (Vista Books), and C.W. Cunnington's last book on costume was the Dictionary of English Costume (A. & C. Black), which was reformed and revised into The Dictionary of Fashion History with Valerie Cumming in 2010. In his autobiography Cunnington writes of further books that he thought needed to be written, including one which Phillis was to undertake after his death, which was published in 1967 (A. & C. Black) English Occupational Costume.

In fact, the last couple of pages of Looking Over My Shoulder are spent detailing all the work that he or future historians have yet to do, or those which he might have had the time to investigate further. This last paragraph or so sums up his last thoughts on fashion, and I am inclined to agree with him:

"From the seclusion of our little island we still get glimpses of fashionable dress.  They seem to suit the taste and aspirations of today, but being more familiar with the costumes of former times I cannot help thinking that the ones now displayed are rather amateurish; some, no doubt, are in fact very expensive, but they look cheap."  

Platt Hall, Manchester City Galleries

I will certainly be returning to the Cunningtons in the near future. I plan to look at C.W.'s legacy and efficacy in the field of fashion history, Phillis' own contributions to the field, and how contemporary fashion historians view them and their bequests; not only their writings (some of which of course now appear inaccurate due to later researches), but also the sheer depth and breadth of their truly priceless collection.

with love,

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Pioneers of Documenting English Costume: C.W. Cunnington and P. Cunnington

I was first made aware of this fascinating husband and wife team C.W. Cunnington (1878-1961) and P. Cunnington (1887-1974), when I read The History of Underclothes (C.W. Cunnington & P. Cunnington) first published by Michael Joseph 1951), and then shortly afterwards, English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (C.W. Cunnington, Faber and Faber 1937).  

C.W. Cunnington, 1935

Ever since, I have found myself picking these books up again and again. Yes, they were written many moons ago now, and research has been since updated, leading to many incongruities in their work, but there is still much of value to the historical costumer. Some of the psychological perspectives that they ruminated upon in their work (especially in 'Underclothes'), I find superfluous and at times irritating, but the wealth of photographs, detail, and historical quotes and references dealing in just English costume is a delight. The mass of drawings, fashion plates, and the inclusion of information regarding fashion accessories in the second book is invaluable. These weren't the only ones that they had published- their work starts in Medieval times and continues into to the 20th century.

When I first realised that it was a husband and wife team who had written these books about English fashion history (and there are a fair few, including those written solely by Phillis after C.W.'s death), I immediately thought 'Wow, a man that loves this stuff too, fab!!' And, yes, of course, I started to wonder just how and why these two began all of this work, and resolved to find out a little more about them. 

As luck would have it, a book that I bought a little while later Fabric of Society: A Century of People and their Clothes (Jane Tozer & Sarah Levitt, a Laura Ashley Publication, 1983) filled in a few more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle:

  "In 1930, a middle aged doctor was passing a London antique shop, and spotted a beautiful old silk dress, which he thought might be turned into an evening cloak for his wife...but when they came to examine the dress at home, they could not bring themselves to to cut it up until they at least knew how old it was. So they took it along to a very august museum for advice, and were told that the dress was 'Victorian', perhaps dating from the 1870's. Little other information was forthcoming, and they left disappointed, under the impression that nineteenth century costume was not considered worthy of serious study."

This paragraph sums it up- here were 2 intelligent professionals (both being medical doctors), and lovers of history, who had found a 'challenge', and they set about collecting, researching and writing all they could about English costume history. I for one, am forever grateful!!

Once they had retired, and as their collection had become so substantial, the couple decided to put their costume hoard up for sale. Platt Hall, in Manchester, became its new home, and was now the property of 'The City of Manchester Art Galleries', becoming 'The Gallery of English Costume', in 1947. Included in the sale were 3,500 items, as well as their extensive library of texts and photographs.

While I was reading all about the Cunningtons' story, I noted that C.W. had written an autobiography Looking Over My Shoulder (Faber & Faber, 1961); the last book he was to write, shortly before his death.  I ordered a copy, and have just started to read it. He writes in a wonderful way; self deprecating, honest, light hearted, and humorous. I can imagine that if you met him, he would have a 'twinkle in his eye.' It is also a fascinating look into the life of a medical practitioner in the Edwardian years, with many a suspect mode of patient treatment, and the outbreak of the First World War. I haven't finished the book yet, and I feel that the irrepressible C.W. Cunnington is going to keep my attention for a good while yet (I have just ordered 2 more of his books from Amazon).

Amongst my many questions are what did the 'C' stand for, anyway? His second initial stands for 'Willett', but I can't seem to find what the C is. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!! Also, who was the brains behind the operation? Apparently the books written by Phillis after his death were very highly regarded, being considered more scholarly than the books written jointly or just by him.  (This maybe because much of the earlier work was dis-credited to some extent, Phillis then decided on a more academic approach).

But there is one fact which the costuming world is sure of- these two pioneered the study of historical clothing as a serious contribution to the Arts; and their rescuing of so many pieces of antique clothing (especially fine examples of very rare underpinnings), are a legacy to which we will be forever grateful. Their joint oeuvre of work laid down the basis for comprehensive research and debate, turning historical costume into an area of academic study at last.

with love,

P.S. The 'C' stands for Cecil! :)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My Passion for 19th Century Underpinnings

Where to begin? My love of under-things (although not stays or corsets, which I do love, but just not quite as much as other underpinnings), foundation garments and foundation articles, or underwear, has taken me quite by surprise.

My love of historical fashion first started around the age of 13 or 14. In 1991 I sat transfixed in front of the television watching 'The House of Eliott' series, set in a 1920s fashion house.  Two years after that, my family travelled up to York for our annual summer holiday, and we visited York Castle Museum. All I can remember of the displays there is drooling over the Costume section.

                                                             York Castle Museum

These two experiences are fond memories to me now, and I recall with affection the feelings that historical dress conjured up inside me- and I am thankful to say that I still feel this way about the subject. But back then it was the wide and sparkling dresses of the French middle to late 18th century, and the voluptuous shapes of the Victorian era that held my imagination captive. I was intrigued by the under garments and articles that were used to create the forms of dress, but only in respect of how the silhouette was created; I didn't see them as beautiful works of art like I did the dresses and outer-wear.

In 1994, I made my first item of pseudo historical dress- the idea is taken from one of my most favourite films of all time (I know, I have the WORST taste in films!!) 'The Slipper and the Rose.' I even have the preliminary sketch that I made based on Cinderella's 'pauper' dress, and a photo of myself wearing the ensemble (see left and below).

I made this without a pattern, just draping the fabric over the body form, and I got there in the end. Is it wonderful? No. But my enthusiasm and persistence paid off, and at least I had something to wear for the Christmas 'Do' at the Nursing Home where I worked on the weekends. I was so pleased with myself that I had created this all on my own. Sewing the dress, doing the research for it, and working with the fabric, left me head over heels in love with historical fashion.

I think that it is only as I have become a mature adult, that I have been able to appreciate the beauty of underpinnings.  Perhaps as a teenager, my head was too easily turned by sumptuous silks and rich velvets in bright, bold colours.

This is in opposition to how I view underpinnings now; I feel that they are either beautiful in their simplicity and craftsmanship (the hours those ladies spent adding decorations such as tucks, embroidery and lace, which would often only be seen by them, or perhaps one or two other people, never ceases to astound me), or fascinating; when I contemplate how uncomfortable those women must have been, living in cages, crinolines and mountains of hot, stuffy, layers, I don't know how they managed!

I have a few original underpinnings from the Victorian era- just drawers and a corset cover. I also have an 1840s nightdress. It took my breath away the first time I sat down and looked at every seam, stitch and hand sewn button hole. It must have taken hundreds of hours to complete. The stitches are so tiny, and the work so precise.

The other thing I like about underpinnings is discovering new items that I haven't come across before, such as strapped Regency and Romantic petticoats (will have to keep those for another post), or a late Victorian 'The Scott' Hip Pad, which one of my lovely Etsy customers asked me to make for her a while back.

Underpinnings of 1893

Some items still retain a slight air of mystery, and there is often ambiguity surrounding their use; drawers and pantalettes of the Regency period being a case in point. And as so many underpinnings, like the dresses, were recycled and altered for subsequent generations, many pieces have either been lost for good, or have had so many adjustments, that it can be difficult pin pointing what part came from which era.

I also think that under-things have a similar personality to myself; unassuming, happy to remain in the background, and are many-layered. :)

And now, thanks to my Etsy shop, I am able to make these items day in, day out! I sell Regency and Romantic era underpinnings and nightwear at the moment. I really enjoy working with the plain white cotton and linen fabrics, and seeing how I can add and embellish the pieces with lace, tucks or little details such as threaded Dorset buttons.

Oh dear, this post was originally going to explain why I love under-things, and it has turned into a trip down memory lane. Oh well, that part has not been entirely unpleasant!!  (Apart from seeing myself with lovely, light brown hair- sadly the majority is now grey, covered up of course with henna!)

All the gorgeous, frivolous, pretty underpinnings, which are the foundation of 19th century fashions, will, I am sure, continue to mesmerise and fascinate me.

with love,

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Tale of Two Petticoats

Be still my beating heart... a post about underpinnings in my favourite decade of the 19th century: the 1820s!!!! So maligned, yet utterly beautiful in my opinion.

To my mind, the 1820s (the early to middle section) are the best of both worlds; we have the elegant, long line of the Regency in the skirt, and yet the waist begins its descent from the giddy heights of the under-bust, which continues into the Romantic period of the 1830s, leaving the viewer with a more flattering view of a lady's waist, and the welcome departure from shelf boobage.

I could quite happily continue about the stunning dresses and pelisses (oh, those pelisses!) of the 1820s, but first, we have to consider the underpinnings, don't we?

Wondering about what went on underneath dresses of the 1820s led me to a discovery in The History of Underclothes (C. W. & P. E. Cunnington, 1992), and that in turn on to the wonderful Platt Hall Costume Gallery, in Manchester City Galleries UK, where the petticoat mentioned and photographed in the book resides, along with ANOTHER 1820s petticoat!! 

Cotton Petticoat 1828-35 {Manchester City Galleries}
This beautiful cotton petticoat has embroidered net and moravian insertion lace frill around the neckline, piped armholes, 15 rows of cording or piping on the lower section of skirt, then a deep scalloped hem with open-work embroidery.

There are drawstrings at the top of the neckline, and at the waist. These fasten at the back, with 2 Dorset threaded white buttons, possibly Blandford Cartwheels or Cross Wheels.

The skirt section is made up of 5 panels- some are flared, some straight. They are gathered to the waistband.

There clearly aren't many examples of late 1820s and 1830s petticoats, as this one is mentioned in 4 books of mine. The dates of the petticoat vary with the printed dates of the books of course, but late 20s and early 30s seems spot on to me. This would have been worn with sleeve plumpers, chemise, stays, and small bustle, perhaps the 'Jean' bustle.

I have had much more trouble trying to find details for the second petticoat below:
Cotton Petticoat 1825-30 {Manchester City Galleries}

Here again the neckline is trimmed with open-work embroidery, and the petticoat has a drawstring at both the neck and waist, which presumably fastens at the back. The short sleeves also feature the open-work embroidery again, as does the hem of the petticoat.

There is a slit in the seam each side, for pockets.

I did wonder when I first saw this if it was an under-dress (due to it having the sleeves), which would have a net or sheer dress worn over the top, but most of those were made in silk.

I was trying to see what the deep band along the hem is, then found this paragraph in English Women's Clothing in the 19th Century (C. W. Cunnington, 1937)- 'An evening petticoat of muslin, with an attached bodice in the stomacher front style; short puffed sleeves. Above the hem, which is four feet wide, are seven narrow tucks.'  Could this be the one? The width of the hem (48") looks about correct to me.

The first, slightly later petticoat is just a dream. I could easily wear that as a dress in its own right! This is on my long list of 'one day I will try to make one for myself.' I have no underpinnings for the middle to late 1820s, having at present either Regency, or jumping straight into the 1830s, when the waist was at almost natural level again, with waisted, half petticoats. Wouldn't it be wonderful to try to make this one day?

with love,

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Introduction to Historikal Modiste

Welcome to my corner of the Blogosphere!

I am SO excited to have finally found the time (somehow) to get this up and running!  As those who know me are well aware, I am not someone to whom the contemporary world and everything in it comes easily; and that includes the mind-boggling online world!

But here we go! :)

My plans and aims for this blog are many. There are a million and one things that interest me, and I cannot wait to get started. If you have similar interests and passions as myself, then I really do hope that you will enjoy reading this blog, and will happily continue on these wanderings into 19th century fashion and social history alongside me.

So what does interest me? First and foremost, the history of fashion. I have had a shop on Etsy which sells '19th Century Underpinnings, Accessories, & Nightwear', for nearly 16 months now.  Almost every waking minute of my day is spent working on orders, coming up with ideas for new items to be created and listed, and dreaming of the many pieces that I have on my 'wish-list' to make for myself.

 1830s 'Jean' Bustle from 'Historika'- my Etsy shop

But aside from all the practical aspects of dressmaking, I LOVE to read about historical fashion (obviously), and also social history.  As I sew, or am planning my next item of 19th century clothing, I am always wondering what were the women of this time actually doing? How did they live? What was happening in the world? Were the people content and happy, or were they living through the nightmare of war, of disease or of transition?

And so my main ideas for this blog will be to chat about my latest discoveries in the field of historical fashion (my main interest at the moment is the nineteenth century), I will be writing about the social history of that time, and I will also be sharing my latest projects for myself with you (at the moment I am in love with the transitional period of 1790s, and have so many projects sat sitting in my 'projects for Naomi' box).

Also, if I mange to make the time (and it is a big if), I plan to use this space to chat through my ideas for 'Your Wardrobe Unlock'd' and 'Foundations Revealed' yearly (or so) competitions. But, having seen 2 years come and go without my finding the time to enter, we'll have to see!!

My VERY favourite part of historical fashion are the underpinnings, or foundation garments.  I have always been utterly fascinated by each era's silhouette, and how it was formed. How does the skirt stand out like that? How does a woman sit down with that huge bustle? And then once I see how beautifully constructed, sewn, and embellished some of these pieces are, I find myself amazed. But even the boring, uncomfortable and down-right ugly articles of underpinnings, such as the cages, or frames, I find engrossing and thrilling. This is mainly why the nineteenth century calls to me like mermaids to a ship full of men. The rapid changes and transfigurations of that period in fashion mean that there is so much to discover, especially those pieces which were only around for a couple of years or so.

An illustration from 'Punch' in 1881, deriding a form of crinoline cage, the 'crinolette'.

But for now I shall sign off, and will be back in a few days with my first 'proper' post. I have heard of a lovely story about the philanthropists of New York city assisting Lancashire cotton workers here in the UK financially during the American Civil War, when cotton from the US was unable to reach the mills, and workers' families began to slowly starve through lack of work. I hope to find out much more about this intriguing story, and will share it with you when I am able.

Thank you for reading! :)

with love,