Sewing Fast and Slow

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OK, so I do have a bit of an reputation for being a fast sewer. And because of that I have been exposed to a variety of opinions  ranging from ‘ Wow, you sew so fast, you must be good!’ to  ‘ It really must be crap, nobody can make it properly in that time’.

 

The fact is, however – neither of these sentiments are always true.   You may be labouring on one item for ages – but that in itself doesn’t mean that the finished item will be a masterpiece – it may still be ill-fittng, badly stitched etc.  Similarly – you can make items fast – and  that in itself doesn’t mean they are poorly made. There are exceptions to every rule, but the most important thing is –

 FIND THE PACE THAT SUITS YOU

 To produce a quality garments you need to be working at a pace  you are comfortable with. If you rush it – it will be reflected in the final look; but if you  procrastinate too much, you may loose interest/heart to the project , get bored – and that will show in sloppy work too.

 If you are in the comfortable position of  sewing just for yourself, as leisure,  do take your time. Unless, off course there is an unexpected event this weekend and suddenly you have an urgent need of a new frock… If you are earning your bread sewing things, you will need to find a pace you are the most efficient at without compromising the quality.

 I get asked a lot, how I can  make things quickly – and the answer is – not every item is made quickly – this simply depends on the purpose of the garment, the client’s purse and my own private time constraints .  The most important factors are the purpose – and the quantity you are making.

 The purpose of the garments  will  considerably influence the speed at which you can produce an item -. If you are aiming at  historically accurate garments and are making everything by hand ( the ‘before Singer’ eras)  because your garments will be shown to the public etc – it will take much longer than a garments that looks fine, has handfinished details but inside seams machined.  But if you are making modern clothing and are free to use sewing machine, overlocker etc – that would cut the timing considerably.

a few examples

1. –  2 17th century gowns,  one handmade ( 1660 style, in green silk); and a 1634 in blue satin with machined innards and the rest handfinished.  The handmade took me  5 solid days of stitching; the other one only 3. But can you spot a difference ? unless you look very, very closely, you cannot…  (more on  making the blue gown  and construction details here)

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insides all handstitched

 

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insides channels machined

 

2. Tudor gowns – this one  is completely handstitched – petticoat, kirtle, gown – every single stitch.  Took 2 solid weeks

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kirtle detail

These two were made using a machine, with hand finish – all inside seams are  machined, but lining is inserted by hand, all visible seams, eyelets etc are hand stitched. Each took about a week.

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 A post on making Tudor kirtles and gowns is here  and the French hoods here

3. Napoleonic bling –  military lace sewn by hand ( 6 hours each side)

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and on a machine, with hand finishing –  3 hours each side

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A short tutorial on the machine style is here

 The other factor is the quantity – how many items of the same sort you make. In short – experience.  The more doublets/corsets/bustles you make, the easier it will get and  the faster you will become. This is mostly down to the fact that if you are making a new piece of clothing, you do take your time considering the best way of  putting it together, you make mistakes – but this is a very valuable time, as with every mistake, ever minute spent pondering on how on earth do these two bits fit in, you learn.  My first corset took 3 days as I was just experimenting with techniques.  Nowadays I can make simple corset in 3-4 hours, and if anything, is is better and much more structurally sound than the one I made in 3 days…

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With that in mind, if you feel  you would like to speed up your sewing,  these are the tips I found worked for me:

* quality sewing machine and tools.   The machine doesn’t have to be expensive, but it needs to be reliable.  You don’t need an industrial model straight away – though I love my semi industrial Janome for its speed – just make sure it does its job consistently and without mishaps. Also – do that the advantage of the many different attachments. I love my ruffler for example – without it  it would take me much longer to make flounced petticoats, gathered chemises etc.

 It is worth investing in some specific machinery if you make lots of similar items -for example, for corsetmaking getting an eyelet setting press  meant  shaving at least 30min off the complete making time.

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ruffler in action

*take notes. If you are working on a new project, just jot down bits that caused you problems –  next time you wont have to work it out from the very beginning. I admit I had problems working our suspenders production – and since i wasn’t making a lot of corsets with suspenders , the first  couple of times i had to work out how to make the things, made mistakes and wasted time.  Once I started making a lot of them – I simply made a sample one and pinned it on a board, within reach if i ever need to be reminded how to put the thing together.   Sorted, no more wasted time.  you can always take photos and scribble on them too 🙂

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* Practice – basically  that’s where the experience kicks in. The more you make, the better you can get at it ( practice makes perfect!) but remember to practice only the bits that worked – repeating the mistakes again and again wont do you much good, o matter how long you spent practicing it :-(. The more you sew,  the more you will learn about how different fabrics behave, which stitches, needles, setting to use – almost automatically, without  sitting there and looking for the manual.

* if you are making clothes mostly for yourself, save the mock ups and make them into generic patterns, you can then adjust them  ( neckline, hems, sleeve length etc)  to fit in with a new project – and it will save you at least an hour or two on making a mock up from a scratch. The same  applies to your repeat clients; or, if you are making a lot of stock items,  a few graded hard patterns  will  not only speed the work up, but also ensure consistent sizing.

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* Neat work environment. Well, this actually doesn’t work for me at all, by work space is consistently chaotic, cluttered -some would call it messy, even… but I generally know what is where. I have attempted a neat work environment, works for about 2 days and then  get s back to its original  chaotic state.  But if you are a person who can tame the chaos, and organize the space well – that would help too!

* plan ahead. Time management is essential, especially if you are running a business –  I have written a whole post on just this issue – here

*outsourcing.  Sometimes it is simply easier and faster to rely on others who are better at certain things. I can make handwoven braid, lace, etc – but I know I cannot make the braid as fast as those who specialize in it. So when time is an issue, I buy my braid, points, laces from people who are expert.  Money well spent!

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beautiful handwoven braids from Nordulf

* limit procrastination. Yes, I am guilty here too… when time is of an essence and I know I need to concentrate I simply try to eliminate the procrastination  sources – switch off facebook, usually.:-)…  I answer my emails once a day in the morning, then switch off the  outlook too, so no notification, pings etc distract me.  It is not always possible, but when it is, it is great. I found I work much faster when I go to my Stitch and Bitch sessions at Julia, at Sew Curvy –  I haven’t got a laptop with me, I put the phone aside, and all I can do is work ( and chat)  – and  am at my most productive.

* set a time limit. If you like competing against yourself and enjoy a challenge – set a deadline.  I work best when on a tight deadline, it motivates me far more  than anything else – and I love it. Not everybody’s cup of tea as some people find it stressful – though there is a way around it, if you are willing to have a go. If you set a deadline  on a bit of sewing that is not hugely important  and failing it won’t influence your work in general, you can see whether you enjoy the challenge.  And if you don’t – back to time management and planning….

*music.  Again, different music works better for different projects –  so find out which tunes motivate you, jeep you alert and happy. Similarly, for hand sewing I love audio books and learning languages.  while stitching hems is pretty boring, listening to the Game of Thrones  etc makes the task not only enjoyable, keeping your mind occupied and stopping if from looking for distractions, but  you will sew faster too.

  Having said all that – remember it is not always a race.   I do often have to rush things for myself, as I ‘squeeze ; private projects in between the commissions ( best example , a ballgown in 24hours here_)- but  I also have a few long term bits I work on and I enjoy taking my time – I am just finishing  a lace making project I started about 3 years ago, for example:-)

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 So find your own pace, the pace that works for you, and stitch happy ! 🙂

 

Fun Medieval Photoshoot

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Sometimes the timing is just right – a few months ago I was preparing stock items for the approaching market, and  it just happened that a friend and a client was stopping by  on her way to Devon. We had fitting scheduled for her new Victorian outfit, but  on an impulse we  decided to do a min shoot of the stock medieval items – using Amy and me as Models, and accompanied by  Amy’s ferrets and bird.

 You will no doubt recognize Amy ( the owner of Feathers&Flight Historical Falconry) from our precious shoot as she was the awesome Neobedouin and  Neonavajo in our Steampunk Amazones collection

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 And so without further ado a plan was hatched –  Amy came over ( not without adventures – blowing her tire  just off the motorway, abut 15 min away from us), fitting was done, pizza consumed and we set about photographing 4 medieval gowns. It was also a test of one of our new backgrounds, so lots of playing with set up, props, lights etc was insured – Pitcheresque Imagery sure had some fun with that!

 late 12th/13th style gowns were first. We did a few product shots and then  tried to do a generic ones involving the pets too:-)

 1. Burgundy wool and silk trim gown, lined with linen – worn over a silk undergown. here with Flynn, the barnowl

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2. A wool gown with silk trim

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With Mr. Baggins

Then it was time for  15th century.

first – an early 15th century houppelande in silk, lined with linen ( this one is still available  from our shop – here)

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 and then a late 15th century Burgundian gown in wool sateen with brocade collar and cuffs

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 For this look we tried to experiment  and  stage the Lady With an Ermine portrait look –  but the ferret ( Merry – and he was very merry indeed!) was very excited and the whole thing turned out to be very challenging – lots of fun ( much to the irritation of the photographer, I suppose), but trying to get him to stay more or less still in a graceful pose was tricky ( especially since we didn’t really want the animals to touch the gowns – there was for ale after all)… still we got a few fun pixs!

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Merry is all grace and loveliness – but Amy is clearly up to no good here! 🙂

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giggles galore…

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ewww, what’s that thing??? ;_)

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and at last, success 🙂

 And a few behind the scenes shots to wrap it up!

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ghastly attack

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practicing the fashionably pregnant look. The closest I will ever get to the real thing I think! 🙂

Hope you enjoyed these – I am already looking forward to our next stock photoshoot at some point at the end of June/beginning of July! 🙂

The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them!

 Over the years I have been asked about  a variety of problems within historical costuming – and how to avoid them. I have already written a few posts on different aspects such as the look, fabrics, etc – but here … Continue reading

Victorian riding habits – bespoke and stock items

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We have recently been doing a few habits, so I thought I put a post about them together:-)

Over the winter I have been working on a  bespoke one – based on my 1885 version , but in luscious bottle green superfine wool, with  burgundy braid decoration. The colour combination worked very well and suited the client’s colouring ( and the horse’s ) well – and we were lucky enough to grab a few photos when we delivered the habit to sunny Devon.

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Another bespoke habit  for another client is  happening  too, I will post the photos as soon as the work is finished and we get some pictures.

In the meantime, let me introduce to our latest batch – somehow earlier habits, destined to become stock items.

It all happened as  I was working on a certain secret project ( details soon)- we had a horse booked for a side saddle at Historic Equitation, and the day before I found myself  ending the commission work earlier that expected – so had a few hours free, and  6 metres of some rather lovely green cloth…. the temptation was too much! I  went for the simplest look I could think of: no decoration, purely utilitarian,  roughly 1860 look -with big skirts and plain, short bodice  – based on this look.

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The cloth was fantastic – it draped beautifully. W e used the habit for the shoot and for some riding, and had a short photoshoot at home too – with and without petticoat ( period solution as either  corded petticoat or turkish trousers in the same fabric ( so that when the skirt billowed at speed while riding, the legs would be modestly covered). As  you can see, the skirts are very long  to cover the legs, and although they look lovely when mounted, they are a bit of a pain while walking.  Ladies either carried the skirts, flashing the petticoat, or used buttons t o hitch them up – as  shown on this fashion plate from La Mode Illustree

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btw, lots of more images on my Pinterest board 

I was wearing a corset,  white blouse and a velvet ribbon neckband,styled my hair and restyled my top hat a bit  to achieve the look:-)

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skirts on a petticoat here ( shamefully modern bridal one….)

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Once we were done with shooting, I  shared the photos and  put the habit in our online shop – and was flooded with likes, shared, questions etc – and the habit sold within 12 hours, surely  a record! not only that, there is now a queue of side saddle ladies awaiting news whether it fits the lady  who bought it – just in case she returns it….

As a business minded person, I just couldn’t  ignore this situation – and since   had a bank holiday looming ahead ( which I had hoped to leave free  to rest – silly me…), I decided to act on it.  Luckily I was picking some cloth for commissions from my wool merchant, and while at it, I picked a few lengths suitable for habits…

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A very busy time with a sewing machine followed –  and I just managed  to get 2 habits done for another scheduled side saddle session – this time with lovely Jane on her Zara at a very well kept Wakes Manor Livery Yard

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I experimented with a slightly later look for these two – the first one was  based on  a fashion plate from Harper’s Bazar, 1873 ( the sitting lady)

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I used the lovely soft dove grey cloth, edged with black and decorated with velvet ribbon.

Work in progress…

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It is a size ( or even two) too big, but with a loosened corset it looked  well enough – sadly I didn’t have a size 14/16 model  at hand ( working on it..)
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The habit is now available in our online shop, at a discounted price -details here

The second habit was based on this one from the MET 

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I liked the edge treatment and tried to emulate – I used piping and topstitching combination

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and  it fitted me well  – really like the look!

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Then it was Jane’s turn – it fitted her well too –  and kudos to Jane who wore a corset for the first time – and not only wore it, but rode and jumped in it too ( part of  a secret video project I am currently working on..)

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 and yes, there is a corset underneath all that!

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 This habit is also available in the shop – Here

 I have enjoyed making these – and now have plans over summer to work on a few more models in a few sizes options – I already have nice berry coloured cloth and dark green twill put aside for the purpose:-). Although they are stock items,  each habit will be a little bit different, so that  each is unique – nothing worse than going into the Historical class  and finding another lady wearing the same model! And of course if you want something special there is the bespoke option with fittings (  and a different price bracket too….)

Many thanks to all involved in the project so far – greatly appreciated! And a big thank you to the photographer – images courtesy of Pitcheresque Imagery 

Georgian Ball in Bath, March 2015

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It all started innocently enough – I was approached to create a set of Georgian attire for a ball by  new customers, a lovely couple.

We discussed the designs, fabrics , fitting schedule etc, and it was all going smoothly – and then I just had to ask: what ball is it anyway?

And hearing it is the one in Bath, organized by the Bath Minuet Company, we just had to go along and buy tickets….. after all we did enjoy the Regency Ball there a lot! And Eleanor, our friend jumped at the opportunity and joined in – and commissioned a frock too. So suddenly I ended up with having  2 big commissions plus trying to get some time to make Lucas; kit – and maybe there would be just enough time to get mine sorted too – I had my pink robe anglaise, just in case I wouldn’t, but since I got some lovely brocade last November, I did hope to be able to knock something out for myself too.

Eleanor’s set was done first, as she was available for fittings early… After much deliberation on which fabrics o use, Eleanor decided on a crispy mat silk in slate – we had quite a lot of and it went very well with pink roses and gold braid, and the design was loosely based on the robe francaise worn by Mme de Pompadour.

the foundations were first – stays, and pocket hoops in silk!

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then the petticoat, and draping on the francaise –  there was loads of fabric going into it!

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playing with the trim…

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the gown and basic trim ready, now just the roses and the stomacher

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sleeve before pinking – I pined it at the last moment, as although the fabrics didn’t fray much, we wanted the edges sharp for the event:-)

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decoration on the petticoat – frills, flounces and roses

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and a very important moment – once the roses were out of the box, Merlin jumped in It was the very first time in the last 3 years when he actually willingly went into a box… weird moggy

 

 

The original commission that started the whole Georgian frenzy was interesting too – a suit of black satin for the gentleman, with an embroidered waistcoat, and a robe anglaise, with the cut away front ( zone front) for the lady. Plus set of undergarments for both.

I especially enjoyed working on the embroidery – with silver metallic tread and silk..

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that frame was an amazing investment. well worth it if you are working on larger pieces

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waistcoat ready

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the back

 

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and a frilly shirt

The lady’s kit consisted of a chemise, a pair of stays in silk brocade, skirt supports, skirt in silk satin, with a fringe, and a robe anglaise in striped  silk…

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the stays ready

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detail of the back

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working on the anglaise – after a rial run with the trim we decided against it. the fabric did not lend itself well to piking and the thing frayed like hell, leaving bits of thread everywhere, especially on the white satin…

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the back

with just  2 days to spare I  was pressed for time to work on Lucas kit – and our initial plan of using gold and red pinstripe silk ( breeches, waistcoat and jacket) were discarded in favour for some lovely silk taffetta I was hoarding for myself – but  it meant the colour could go with an original waistcoat Lucas already had, so less work… plus, how could I refuse my husband….

As much as I would like to spend days embroidering his jacket, making fancy buttons etc, we were pressed for time so drastic measures had to be taken – Lucas decided on a  posh modern trim instead. Looks correct and although makes the kit more of a theatre costume than re-enactment piece, for the ball it worked just fine..

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And then with just  8 hours to spare, I had a go at my robe francaise.  I had just enough fabrics to get a francaise and petticoat in it, though not enough for any decoration  and I even had to piece  one sleeve and the flounces. I do love the fabric, and I was very lucky to get it at a reduced price – I payed £40 a metre instead of the usual £75 or so). The ladies at the Sudbury Silk Mill where I got it from said it was because of a fault running through the length, but since I could barely see it, i did not mind at all.

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work in progress

 

And it turned out I had just enough some matching taffeta from my stash to work a trim – paired with a chenille braid:-)

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With just a few bits left to be stitched  later on ( buttons) we were ready – and fortunately our wigs, ordered quite late from the States ( from Historical Hairdresser) arrived with a few days to spare!

The day of the ball was full of mishaps…. first  I woke up with laringitis – voice gone completely….. Then,  1 hour into the drive we realised that Lucas’ lovely waistcoat is still at home….. so had to turn back… Then Bath was clogged up with roadworks and traffic jams. Luckily we were just in time to check into the hotel, get dressed and rush to the dance practice…

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Eleanor at the dance practice, minding our hats… and boots…

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after the practice, waiting for transport… surprisingly enough my redingote worked quite well as an extra layer over the anglaise

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Hotel elevators…. barely big enough for 2…

 

We had a few hours before the ball, so we finished last minute jobs, had a meal and started getting ready. 90 minutes before our carriage was supposed to arrive – and yes, carriage – we booked proper horsey transportation from Courtyard Carriages–   the company called us saying they cannot do it, giving a rather feeble excuse. considering that we booked them  with over a month before, that as a bit of a blow – so folks, if you are ever tempted to book a carriage in bath, Do NOT use them!

Still, we though, we will take a cab.  WE will need a bigger one, to accommodate all the frockage, and so a suitable vehicle was booked, using a dedicated hotel line to a cab company.

But alas – when we got into the lobby, there was not a car to be found…. finally, after 8 calls from us, the hotel etc, and lots of excused on the  side of the cab company, they sent us a car – 50 minutes after the agreed time! needless to say, we were not in the least amused – we basically missed most of the first half of the danceo not remember the name of the company, but if you are in the Travelodge Waterside, do not use the cabs line  there – the hotel staff was very helpful, and it was not their fault, it was purely that the company were managed by an incompetent prat.

 

Still, an hour late, we made it…..

We had a lovely time dancing, chatting, taking photos, doing more dancing and admiring the dance demonstration from the Minuet company – and so the evening went ahead smoothly ( though on my part rather quietly – still no voice – some may argue it was a blessing, especially considering the mishaps – a lot of very bad language would have otherwise occurred…)

Lucas grabbed some photos too – enjoy!

first, the results of all that stitching….

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Kelly and Glen in their finery

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then Eleanor…

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and me:-)

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And a few group shots too…

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here discussing programme for our Victorian ball with our dance master – Stuart Marsden

 

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and a few of the dance demo

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and some outtakes….

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my usual face…

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all together, it was a success and we will gladly come back again:-)

The next day saw us at the Assembly Rooms, meeting with Stuart and the  caterers and discussing our Victorian ball in May –  so looking forward to  it too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hussar style corset

 

 

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 The inspiration struck  when I was making a Napoleonic set  for a client –  a thing with loads of braiding, military lace etc. Against all odds, I enjoyed making it ( and a post on that one can be found here) and thought that it would be nice to have something like that for myself….  And then I remembered artwork of a Polish artist, Bartek Drejewicz and his Napoleonic pin up girls ( do check his facebook page out,  – not only Napoleonic but different armies through the centuries, beautifully rendered!). And yes, there are Steampunk corsets with military styling etc available – but non actually using the ‘proper’ military lace or specific historical styling… So I wanted to have a go….

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The final design was actually worked out one evening when I was clearing my offcuts and left overs bits – and noticed narrow scraps of the broadcloth i used for the jacket.  Not good for much more, but  just enough for corset panels…  I quickly adapted an overbust pattern to work as a waistcoat – with  a black busk in front and lacing in the back. It did come out a tad short ( not enough fabric) but the first step was done – a waistcoat in broadcloth, cotton twill being used as the strength layer.  I opted for a slight curve and not much of a reduction – so that  I would be able to wear it at work at the markets- but also because it was the trial version:-)

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I ordered more military lace and braid and once it arrived i started putting the lace on – it took me a few months as was working on it  in between commissions….

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So even with help ( ahem…) it took some time….

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Once the frogging was on, I could put some silver soutache on the borders and the collar….

 

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Then it was only getting some buttons ( beads….) and we were ready for shooting!

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I tried the corset first with my Regency chemisette and plain black leggings….

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Then I had an epiphany and fished out Lucas’s  dancing breeches  – in lovely white superfine. The just about fitted too! Then e had some fun with my old cavalry sabre as a prop:-)

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The chemissette, in case anyone asks :

 

Hussar Corset-41

 

The conclusions – well, loved wearing it ( and wore it to markets since) but a few improvements will be needed for the next  ones –  longer in front, more hip spring, and probably not using busks and frogging together – it is a pain to do it all up! Still, I think it is a success – and  more corsets in the style are planned, in different colours – already have a small stash of silver and gold military lace and braid, and am slowly collecting fabrics and props – I suspect we will have a bigger photoshoot with  more models ( and hopefully horses) just before Waterloo 🙂 Once the next models are done, will post a link here – including a link to the shop as they will be offered  on sale….

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Hope you liked this  experiment!

 

Credits:

Clothes, as always, Prior Attire

photography Pitcheresque Imagery

 

 

A queen on a budget, please…..

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‘I need an Anne  Boleyn dress… my budget is £300.  Can you provide the fabrics? ‘

‘I need a complete posh 15th century outfit ( hose, doublet, gown, hat),  historically accurate, silk and linen, hose in wool.  I can spend £250.’

‘Can you do a posh Victorian for £320? can add another £40 if you make a corset too.’

‘ I want a duchess gown, stays and underpinnings for a ball – how much would it be? I have about £280 to spend on the project’

‘ I found this steampunk coat on ebay,  I want one just like that, but in different wool, with silk lining, and made bespoke – can pay £100. ( the picture of the coat was attached – and I found it online too…. it was a Karen Miller , offered for £200.

The newest one: ‘I cannot afford this gown in silk, because I have sick relatives and the medicines cost a lot, plus I have a lowly paid job and my car needs repairs – but since it is my birthday soon, maybe you can sell it to me at half a price?’

These quotes  are direct lines from many of the inquires  I get – and many similar ones abound too, and I suspect there are a lot of other costumiers who get them. And it doesn’t really matter that the price guide is on my website and facebook page, plainly visible to anyone,  stating plainly how much labour is for a specific item. And if you look, you will see that the labour for, let us say, doublet, gown and hose will amount to more that £250 and that’s not even including the fabrics. People look, add, decide it is too much and go and find a hire service or make things themselves. And that is fine – if you need a fancy dress for a night, you wouldn’t be spending hundreds on it –  but get something cheap  on ebay, make stuff for yourself and have some fun with it, or ask a sewing friend a favour ( backed by gin and chocolate, usually… :-))

But some people, knowing the labour prices still email me asking if I can make the same things  at a quarter ( or less) of their usual value… why? I had no idea, until 2 ‘prospective clients’ answered that question  for me.

‘ I know it is much less that you usually charge, but at least you will have some work from me’

Well…. at least it was straightforward… Needless to say that sometimes their offer would not even cover the cost of the materials – and so I would be actually spending time working at a loss.   Also, needless to say, it assumes I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs, desperate for anything to do, whereas I am usually booked for 9-12months in advance….

It would be an equivalent to me saying to a baker: ‘Here are 3 eggs and some icing sugar, you provide the rest and I want you to make me a 3 tier wedding cake, please’. Nobody does that, so why people assume costumiers ( or jewellers,  corsetieres or generally small businesses) are any different?

I had a good think and I  think there are a few reasons for it….

1. People simply apply the ‘fancy dress’ label  to all unusual clothing, and think the prices are the same as the Chinese mass produced medieval/victorian/edwardian/lotr  garb. Very often it is not badly meant –  nowadays very few of us have things made bespoke as we can get good quality clothing  from the local store.  Occasion wear items are exceptions  (wedding dresses etc), but otherwise, we are no longer used to  commissioning gear to be made for us.

2. Also, cheap, easily available clothing leads us into the illusion that all clothing is cheap.  The wool coat in M&S is £50 –  but if I am to make it, the £50 will cover maybe the fabrics. The time used to research, communicate with the client,  measuring and fitting sessions, patterning and making the garment would be all on top of that… But we are simply used to mass produced items ready to wear and have no idea ow much individual raw materials cost. May also have no knowledge of how much work, expertise, research and experience actually go into the item.   Not really surprising since we are no longer taught specific crafts at school. Also, we don’t know how much quality fabrics cost…

3. People forget that  they are also paying for the years of research, training, experience – and the uniqueness of the item. There are thousands of costumiers – but only very few specializing in historical  items. To boot, the garments will be one of a kind –  so a rarity value should also be considered.

4. For some reason people are convinced that small businesses are forever tittering on the verge of collapse and are desperate for any work at all. And although running a small business successfully means a lot of work and commitment, and it is not all plain sailing,  I don’t think I know of any quality artisans ( and I do know quite a few) who would not be busy. Yes, sometimes the business gets slack, but that’s when many guys work on the basic stock –  things that will sell at some point, whether at markets or on etsy, ebay or self hosted online shop. Those who do take commissions that don’t cover the materials, in hope of a bit of cash usually learn that in most cases, it is much more profitable to decline – and spend the time on a stock items or a showpiece that will be far more beneficial to the business in the long term. And if  cash is desperately needed, well, then we do flashsales:-)

5.  Small businesses are ‘more personal’ – so people  ask for, sometimes outrageous’ discounts because they know the person running the business is responsible for the pricing – and have no doubt put a huge margin on the product.  And so the ‘ pity me’ emails from complete strangers. The fact that  a lot of us do not put much ‘on top’, but charge exactly what the product is worth is so unusual in the corporate world many people do not get it. You do not go to the BMW salon asking them to give you a 20% discount on the new model because  your father is sick ( what on earth are you doing buying luxury products instead of medication and specialist care for the daddy then? ), husband unemployed and your salary is low – you go and buy a 10 year old Ford instead ( mine is 15 year old now and  works great!). But the salesperson in a salon may not have the power to amend the pricing – whereas the individual might just be persuaded to do just that if they pity our situation.

I think the above are the most  common reasons why we get so many request  for the ‘royalty on budget’. People see The Tudors or White Queen and want a dress for their Halloween party –  not realizing I am not the person who caters for such items.

It is slightly better in the established re-enactment ( though  even there  it seems there is an alarming number of wannabe queens, duchesses, princes and kings wanting  royal kit for a few quid… ) as people realise that  if you want to re-enact nobility, there will be a suitable price tag  attached. In the past, a good quality, showy outfit to impress your peers at court would often cost several months of middle class salary, and although  times changed, they haven’t changed that much – silk and cloth of gold may be more accessible and cheaper – but still beyond the means of most people.  And to be honest, you can make a good quality kit middle class  in decent wool and linen or cotton – it will look lovely and though it is not the cheapest thing ever, it will serve its purpose while you save up for the brocaded cloth…..

There are a lot of arguments floating about, how a polyester silk will look quite as good – and they cannot afford silk/handmade etc, so it will have to suffice.   Well, it may be harsh – but if you cannot afford the king’s outfit ( with all the trappings it needs, jewelry, fur etc), than maybe  start with a simple soldier’s kit instead and climb the social ladder – many people do exactly that and  it takes years of saving to get higher class kit – but many stay at the middle class too, for a variety of reasons – and, to be honest, portraying a medieval farrier or an Elizabethan gardener is just as interesting and complex as a queen…

Obviously, lots depends on the purpose of the garment – if you need it for living history, educational displays and events, it simply needs to be correct fabrics, cut, finish etc, no matter what class you re-enact.  If you participate in battles and nobody is likely poking at the seams of your doublet and fingering your collar, you may be able to get some money saving short cuts. And if you  need a gown for a fancy ball, a social gathering, a photoshoot  – simply an item you’ll love to wear  – well, you can use whatever is suitable and you can afford – and produce stunning results with minimal costs:-)

There are a few shortcuts if you need/want a flashy outfit though, even if you want it made correctly and in correct fabrics:

*Save up! obvious, really, but there it is…. designate one  source of savings a month or a week and it will happen –  go our to dinner once less,   buy less modern stuff you don’t actually need all that badly – or even simpler – set up a separate saving account and put an deposit there every month, deducted from your salary straight away – you won’t notice this much, and whether it is a £20 a month, £10 a week or £100 a fortnight, it will soon amount to a neat little sum.

*take small steps…   you can often add on things to enrich your stature ( and clothing) in time.   Opt for a woolen doublet and gown, add handmade braid on it or embroidered cuffs a few months later…. Also – buy bodice, but apply lace, braid decoration yourself

* Sell the items you don’t use any more….

* sell your products – and have one sale a month that goes straight into the new kit fund…

*barter – either skills or products. You make wooden pattens but a doublet is beyond you – talk to the costumiers who re-enact, many are happy to barter  things like that.  Your shoemaker needs driving tuition? a plumber? you’d be surprised how many  things can be arranged this way….

*pay in installments – most businesses welcome the solution.

*learn to sew….. yes, may take time and investment in machinery or courses – but will pay off in the long run.  Even if your skills won’t go beyond a simple chemise or a cap – you are already saving some money

* buy ready made items – stock items are cheaper,  often quite a lot cheaper than bespoke items. If you find an item at a market or in an online shop that you know is of good quality and it fits you – grab it, will  be much cheaper  than ordering the same items bespoke ( then you pay for the time, fittings, individual patterning etc too ). Our stock items in the shop are often about half the price of  bespoke ones – especially if i happen on a sale silk in a local silk mill…

* Hunt bargains! go to markets to look out for bargain  quality fabrics – you can often save up to 50%  on the fabric – and usually this is the factor that drives the price of the costume up.

And as  I was often asked at how much different outfits cost – let us have a little display of different pieces and their prices…. more info on how much to charge can be read in the blog on running a costuming business

*please note that I do not subscribe to the idea of charging the retail price of fabrics if I get them cheaper at trader’s rates. If   the silk from James Hare costs me £40 per metre, the client will pay  exactly that, and not the inflated retail price.

12/13 century gown, middle class:

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Gown in  wool, lined with linen, all handstitched and hand embroidered – value £500

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gown for a queen – in silk, with silk bands and girdle, lined in silk –  with a kirtle in silk too. Labour (machine and hand finish) and materials  £600 – £700. Together with   the accessories – shoes, jewellery, crown etc, = well over £2000

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Middle class kirtle and gown in wool – £300

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Wealthy merchnat’s wife kit – kirtle and gown in wool, gown lined in linen with fur trim – £400

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Lady/high status gown in brocade, lined with silk, all handstitched – the brocade itself  ( needed 8 metres is now retailing at £140 per metre… the dress value is  around  £2000, plus the kirtle, shoes,  pattens, jewellery – another £400

reversible burgundian gown in silk, with silk lining –  – stock item – £350

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early 15th gown in wool, with linen – commission – value – £300

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robe and chaperon in silk brocade, commission – £ 400. the same items in wool would cost £260

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silk brocade robe, lined with silk – stock item – £220. Normally just the fabric would be that much, plus another £200 for labour – but this particular silk was hunted down at a silk sales, hence the affordable  price!

Peterborough Heritage

Royal Tudor gown – over £3400 ( detailed pricing here );  high born lady gown in silk velvet, lined with silk – £550. same gown in wool would cost £350;

Henrician Outfit-5

Upper class Tudor set in wool, silk and fur – around £1000.  same outfit in quality, royal silks would probably double the price

off the peg  high quality Tudor gown and kirtle form the shop –  £400 and £240 respectively

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High status lady outfit, in silk satin, with silver lace – with  2 petticoats – £850

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middle class outfit in wool – £450

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Courtier  outfit in silk, lined with silk, silver lace, wrapped buttons – £800

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Middle class kit in wool  – £400

210412 Allan Burnett as james watt at kinniel house, boness.

18th century set in wool and linen, with lots of handfinish –  £ 600

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similar set but in silk, though machine finish  and blend fibre waistcoat lowers the price – £700

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Day dress in cotton, £300 ( including petticoat and bonnet)

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day dress in wool, stock item – £ 400

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Visiting dress in silk, heavily decorated – £ 1000

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WWI dress in silk with lace, £ 350

Edwardian Outfits July 2014-17

WWI dress in cotton, with a silk sash – £ 270

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Victorian corset, stock item, part of our Bare basic range  – £125

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Victorian corset, bespoke work, with exterior channels and extensive flossing – from £300

 

replicas of 1885 riding habit in quality wool, with handmade ( the blue habit) and hand applied braiding,  made bespoke, with a safety tailored skirt and riding trousers – coat  around £1000

Also replicas ( but not exact) made as stock items, generic sizing, machine finish – pricing from £350 (these ones are actually in our shop equestrian section, here)

 

As you can see, it is often the price of fabric that makes the outfit expensive – or the fact that it is  a commission and not a stock item.

Having said all that – I must stress that  despite a few of the messages like that, the majority of people do appreciate the fact that their items are unique, made lovingly, and  individually fitted. And it is those lovely people that  make businesses like mine thrive – I used to teach in a college before, and the job, though rewarding, was nowhere near as rewarding ( both in hard cash and job satisfaction). I  may be working longer hours, but I love my job, and would not be doing it if i didn’t – or if it didn’t pay my keep:-) 🙂

More on running a costuming business can be read about here: https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/running-a-costuming-business/

Hope the post has been useful to you, if you are new to costuming.  For those of you who are running businesses – have you come across similar experiences? if yes, do you have any other theories  that would explain them? Feedback welcome!

1895 Winter Project

Iz and Lucas in the Snow-1a

I have  done a lot of earlier Victorian (1876-86), but i have not really ventured into the 90ties ( though I did make a 1895 Ripple jacket for my Christmas outfit last year), so the Belle Epoche ideas had been brewing awhile here…

and then, a few moths ago, I saw this on Pinterest

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I mean –  huge skirt ridiculous lapels, mega-sleeves, a very ugly hat – how can you not love it!? I immediately pinned it onto my 1890ties board and started planning…

It was a longer project i planned to do more or less over the Christmas break here – I don’t celebrate it, but many of my clients do, so there is a bit of a free time to carve for my own projects there:-)  I wanted to make  as many bits as I could in the gaps before the commissions and hopefully shoot it with a wintry landscape, should we be so lucky as to get any snow here.

starting ith the foundations..

Corset.

I already had a corset cut to a Symingotn pattern ( patterned by Cathy Hay) – I made it for my wedding 3 years ago, when I was just starting my corsetry adventure, and so it doesn’t fit particularly well (  the back laces form () at the back, never a good sign.. ) Still, it survived 3 years of extensive use, and it looks nice and is very , very comfy…

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my old ‘wedding’ corset in coutil and silk

Since I now had an excuse to make a new one, i set down to work. I redrafted the same patter to fit me better, and this time made it a one layer affair in a lovely  mink coutil from Sew Curvy. I also decided on external bone channels – and you can see the details on construction in the little video I put together – Here.

The blue flossing and external tape worked well with the mink colour and I put some antique lace at the top too.

It fits nicely and is comfy, and once it is properly seasoned ( worn for a bit, so that it adjusts to my body) i bet it will close in the back. Both corsets are 27″ waist.

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The petticoat was easy – I used my old antique one:-)

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To get the proper width of the hem, an underskirt was often worn too –  there are a few existing ones , and whereas some are made in cotton, there are a few made in silks, with rather nice lace – a very elegant affairs!

I  hunted out some nice lace on etsy and used leftover silk from my Regency gown

I used up 12 metres of that lace… all gathered and sewed in two tiers – to the hem and to the flounce

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The skirt was next. I used a Truly Victorian Pattern for the Ripple skirt and it worked a treat! I made mine in boucle wool, with stiff cotton lining.

Late Victorian Wear-14

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 The blouse – well, in this instance i ran out of time a bit and used a blouse I found on ebay, from Cotton Lane. Thy make pretty neat shirtwaists, that are not too different in construction from the proper stuff – and as I dislike sewing shirts etc, I simply plan to alter this one – I will remove the sleeves, cut out the pin tucked panel and the cuffs and sew them onto a proper, leg of mutton style sleeves in the same cotton. I will need to re-insert the collar too, to fit my neck better, but altogether I think it should pass muster – will update this post once it is done ( february, as want to wear it for the next market! )

 And then it was time to think about the coat….

 I wanted to make it in green wool and line with cotton. When I went wool shopping i was irrevocably drawn to the wool I used for mu 1876 February dress – lovely , napped fabric, soft and warm. I couldn’t say no…

 The lining was a rather pricey cotton flanelett – light, but soft, with a slight nap, to keep me war,

 Other ingredients included  rabbit fur,  linen interlining for the lapels and collar, tape for channels and lovely buttons made by Gina B.

   Looking at many original coats and patterns from the era, it is easy to notice that the coats dould me made either with bodice and skirts cut separately or together. I decided on the former – and adapted a pattern for the skirts from one of the coats shown in this book – 59 Authentic turn of the century patterns 

The bodice getting ready… I adapted a pattern of my old Victorian bodice and played with a mock up untill I had the correct shape of the lapels… took a few goes…

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The ‘sleeves of doom’ were quite a challenge. I found  a pattern for the sleeves in the same book and played with them – they consisted of a normal sleeve, lined, and a puff . the sleeves are cut on the bias, to achieve the fitted forearm, and the puff is interlined and stiffened with layers of net…

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the undersleeve

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the puff with net being attached

 But the net and pleating wasn’t enough to achieve the desired look. shoulder supports were needed.

 I found a few pictures of them, and in the end settled on the wire  and tape ones. they go inside the puff, and are tapes are sewn onto the undersleeve.

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I must admit that try as I might, the pleated effect seen on the original escaped me ( I almost got there with cartridge pleating but realised in the end  that i would have to have more fabric – and a different shoulder support, possibly with the wired running in the other direction, so that the pleats fill in between… just a theory.

 Still the sleeves did work out quite well…

   time to attach the skirt to the bodice… the bodice was boned on every seam and has a waiststay as well.

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planning the waistsay

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Thebuttons were next – they are decorative items, as the coat closed with hooks and eyes under the fur trim:-)

The hat was simply an adapted hat  from my 1876 frock – i simply drew the line at  making an ugly hat and decided to temporarily re-arrange an existing one – and since the brim was wired, it was easy to shape it differently, add feathers and a bow:-)

On the day we used a new backdrop for some of the pictures ( no snow here, alas) for a  cheesy Victorian postcard look, with the props being a few things we picked up on ebay – antique sledge and skates 🙂

sledge

 it was time to get dressed – and  I realised a bit of a mistake as soon as i put the coat on – the skirts were voluminous and heavy, squashing the shape of the  Ripple skirt, and dragging on the floor 😦 so that’s another thing I will need to sort out before a proper outing – cutting the hem short and probably adding a bit more stiffening to it too, to help it flare out.

 Apart from that I am very happy how it all turned out – and hope we will see some proper snow at some point to take better pictures!

  as it is – the results below:-)


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  The cost.. ouch…

 corset – materials and labour – approximately £300,

 underskirt  – lace – £90, silk £30, labour £90 – £210

 ripple skirt – fabrics  – £50, labour – £150 – £200

 coat – fabrics and notions – £100, labour £300

 cheap blouse – £35  😉

 total – approx £1000….. plus the hat…

 Altogether  it was not the most expensive but not the cheapest set either – but it is comfortable, stylish  and more or less practical ( once you get used to the enormous sleeves) so I will be wearing it quite a lot for the markets etc, I think:-)

  And yes, I do love the sleeves… Power dressing!!!! 🙂 hope you like it too 🙂

 usual credits – Dressmaking – Prior Attire

 photography – Pitcheresque Imagery

 corsetry supplies – Sew Curvy

 Buttons – Gina B Silkworks, 

 Wool – Bernie the Bolt

 cotton lining, notions – Tudor Rose Patchwork

 Fur – GH Leathers 

Hampton Court filming for the BBC

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Back  in the autumn we were doing a few filming jobs – a couple of days for Horrible Histories ( not released yet, I think) and  a bit for the BBC – filming the procession in Hampton Court.

 

There were close to 100 people in the procession and the task of sorting out the costumes was managed, very aptly, by Ninya Perry  ( Tudor Tailor – rings a bell? 🙂 ) and her team.   She talks about sourcing the costumes in her feature for the BBC here. It was a mammoth job, but the results were stunning!

 

Apart from the volunteers there was also a cluster of re-enactors, usually wearing their own kit ) I was wearing my old Tudor frockage in cream silk brocade and silk kirtle,all handstitched ( more on than and how to make your own here) – and I must say it is with the relief that I realized that I actually still fitted into it! I had a role of the train bearer – so following Lady Mary like a shadow…..

 

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Lucas was one of the canopy bearers, and Darren from the Tudor Roses, whose outfits  i made as well,  had  a prominent role too, looking resplendent in his new clothes of red wool – and he  was kind enough to hire out  the previous outfit I made him, in black wool.

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The filming was – well , regular thing, comparing with other experience it was actually very well organized – yes, there was sitting around and waiting,  and yes, we were repeating the same scene a few times, but mostly the work progressed smoothly – and it was a pleasure to actually meet  David Starkey, whom I have always greatly admired.

In short – it was a good 8 hours work, but in good company, doing useful things – and we were fed well too 🙂

And the finished  programme can be seen d=for the next few weeks on Iplayer –

A Night at Hampton Court

and a few behind the scene photos below:-) enjoy the feature, lots of interesting things there!

 

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feeding time

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lots of gable hoods!

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Lady Mary and her lady in waiting gossiping…

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caught sneaking out…

 

Sophie’s Wedding dress

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It is always a pleasure to make clothing for friends – and even more so if it is the wedding dress they are after! And since apart from he historical bits ( Prior Attire) we also provide bridal gowns ( Prior Engagement)  it was a pleasure to be asked:-)

We have known Sophie and Chris for several years as we tend to attend the same events – they are accomplished musicians and provide music from medieval to modern times ( Blast from The Past). indeed, they were also our musicians of choice when we organized the Spectacular! Spectacular !ball ).  Over the years we have become good friends – and it was with joy that I agreed to making Sophie’s wedding dress.

Sophie was no stranger to our bridal fashions – indeed you will see her modelling a part of our Winter Bride collection back in 2013

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The first stages was agreeing on the styling, foundations etc. Sophie created a secret Pinterest board where she pinned her inspirations and we discussed the choices. in the end we ended up with a simple and yet surprisingly elegant design. Based on late Victorian fashions, the dress was basically an evening outfit from the late 1890 – a simple bodice and a flowing skirt, both decorated with elaborate lace.

Since Victorian fashions need a corset, a corset was the first to be created…. here at the fitting stage – we decided on a white sateen, with a gentle blue flossing. The corset needed to be providing the correct silhouette ( the whole dress may serve  Sophie as an evening Victorian gown in the years to come, perfect for  her work – concerts etc), but be comfortable enough so that she can stay in it all day, dance eat and enjoy the day.

 

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a modified TV01 pattern was used, white sateen, busk, flat and spiral steels from Sew Curvy

 

Over that a bodice in champagne satin was assembled ( lined with cotton lawn and lightly boned), with a back lacing and a rather stunning lace going over the neck and shoulders

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first fitting of the bodice

 

The skirt of the silk satin and lawn lining was next – here  at the first fitting, with lace pinned up. It as worn over a lacy and fluffy petticoat – an original one I lent Sophie for the wedding.

 

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the lace was  arranged and pinned over the bodice at the last fitting

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and then it was down to hours of stitching the thing on 🙂

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A shaped green silk sash/belt completed the look.

 

On the day, since we were invited to the wedding too ( yay!) I arrived early to help Sophie dress…

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and once we were ready, the fun could begin…..

The wedding was a truly amazing day – relaxed, full of love, laughter and happiness, with great company, excellent food , moving speeches, and, needless to say, fantastic music…

Pictures below by Pitcheresque Imagery – Lucas was providing a back up photography on the day, a few more snaps here..

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It also turned out that Sophie had all of the important three from us too – something blue ( flossing), something old ( antique petticoat) and something borrowed ( the petticoat – and my own bridal veil).

Lovely natural make up by Sarah’s doo-wop-dos

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all together – a fantastic day was had by all – congratulations to Sophie and Chris!

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