That Bespoke Thang…

IMG_4649

Over the last 20 years of sewing for other people this is one of the more often-asked  questions – “Why is bespoke more expensive than ready to wear, off-the-peg garments?”  And this request accounts for about 80% of the email I am getting nowadays too:
“I saw your off the peg riding habit/gown/corset and I love it –  I would like it made bespoke for me, in a different fabric and colour and with more decoration – will the price be the same?”

 

 

The reason for the difference in price is simple – as already stated in one of my previous blogs,  ( A Queen on a budget, please), nowadays ordering bespoke is very rare thing. People are used to all the cheap, ready made clothing they see in the shops, and  even with specialised items such as corsetry and historical  clothing,  a lot of people do not realise the difference between the ‘off-the-peg’ and ‘bespoke’, especially when made by he same person or company.

So,to make things simpler let us have a look at what you are actually paying for – at least  as far as my own merchandise is concerned..

  Off the Peg items:

* Fabric

* Labour –   a generically sized pattern is used to cut out the fabric, followed by assembly and decoration: the price will depend upon the complexity of the garment and time needed to execute it

*Notions – decorations, buttons, thread, embroidery, etc

*Packing/postage/delivery if required

*My professional expertise, knowledge and experience!

 

 Bespoke items.

  • Fabric

 

  •  Labour –
    • initial measuring  session with a client
    • drafting their specific pattern
    • making up a mock-up ( toile)
    • fitting the mock up on the client (with second client visit)
    • cutting out fabric based on final pattern from re-fitted toile
    •  assembling  the garment proper,
    •  fitting session with a client – these stages may be repeated several times depending upon how many items are to be made or how complex the garments may be)
    •  final assembly of the garment(s)
    •  adding decoration, finishing touches, etc
    • pick up session  with finished garments – although rarely needed, there is usually time assigned for any last minute corrections, as well. In my case you are likely to get a free photoshoot  with TimeLight  Photographic too, if you wish 😉
    • after-care –  small repairs or minor adjustments are generally provided for free; bigger ones may be provided at a reduced hourly rate. People usually come back to resize a garment if they have lost or gained significant weight,  or to add more decoration, reapply a hem guard if the  original one is worn out, etc.
  • time  (apart from actual making of the garment)-
    • fitting sessions, measuring sessions have to be scheduled in.
    • consultation, either in person, on the phone or by email, giving advice on style,  fabric choices, historical accuracy, etc.  For a relatively simple garments emails and message exchange may take several hours to write, research, etc. In the most extreme case I received over 250 emails from one person in one week about her commission…
    • research. Lots of research.
    • sourcing the fabrics, embellishments and other providers for items we do not supply direct (blackwork, embroidery, shoes, etc)
    • writing up contracts, quotes and invoices
    • chasing up clients  to settle on fitting dates, etc. Fortunately, a good contract means we don’t have to chase folks for the payment! (more on contracts for businesses running a business – contracts)

 

  • notions – decorations, buttons, thread, etc
  •  

    packing/postage/delivery if needed

  •  

    my professional expertise, knowledge and experience.

 

  • stress!  I am an introvert and dealing with people, however lovely, and no matter how enjoyable it is for me, (and make no mistake, I love my work and so far all of my bespoke clients have been amazing – to such an extent that we often develop friendly relations afterwards and stay in touch socially), this stress still takes its toll. After a few ours of fittings I feel as if I have run a marathon and all I want to do is sleep:-)

 

See the difference?  A riding habit that looks the same  will take 3 times as long  if made bespoke – and that is usually  true for every other item.

Above – a bespoke habit  worth over £1000 in quality cloth, fittings, handmade and hand applied braiding and an off the peg habit from our online shop – £370

 

Another thing to consider is  the fact that I make off-the-peg garments largely to satisfy my own insane desire to create pretty things – I make them in the size I want, in a fabric I like and have available currently and in a style I feel inclined to – I don’t have to  consult a client on what they would like. If I change my mind half way through – that is fine. If I feel tired and don’t fancy pushing myself to finish by a certain deadline – that is fine too. Full creative freedom.

Bespoke work is much more complex, since I have to adhere to the client’s ideas, body type, etc, so it provides quite a different feeling. Taking someone else’s ideas and making a fully functional garment, looking the way they want it too look, and fitting them well is immensely satisfying. All the hours of research, fittings, handstitching etc are worth it not only in terms of the financial reward-  the look on the client’s faces when they see themselves in the mirror wearing  their new clothing for the first time is a great reward too – and, I won’t lie, I love  to see my work worn and admired. The last session when a final outfit is tried on is always stressful – no matter how experienced you are, you are always worried that maybe this button is a tad too tight, or maybe the skirt is 0.5″ too big. Paltry things, easy to sort out within minutes, but irrationally, I still always worry!

But when it all comes together – well, the moment is magic. And  I don’t charge for that! 😉

Georgian Ball - Bath March 2015-56

 

Advertisements

Georgian Adventures in Stamford 2015

Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 2

 

There is a Georgian Festival in Stamford every other year – and this year we were contracted for a couple of jobs there ( thanks to Black Knight Historical).

The festivities lasted 3 full days with lots of lectures, meetings, Georgian market  and  living history – but our adventure started on Friday night –  at the Georgian ball!

We arrived in plenty of time , and were led to a proper  theatre style dressing room – and it turned out we were sharing it with Dr. Lucy Worsley, who dropped in for a moment of respite between her  talks, book signing and other public duties. We have met before as worked for the Worsley/Starkey documentary in Hampton court the year before, so it wasn’t too awkward. Still,  not often do we get to share a dressing room with a celebrity – and I felt a bit overdressed on the occasion 🙂

IMG_2423

although, as you can see, we clearly had the same colour scheme  in mind 🙂

At the ball we danced, we chatted – and then provided some entertaining background during the buffet break as the folks were queuing for  some lovely food –  there was chatting, playing cards and some sketching  taking place….

IMG_4714

After the break ( and after eating rather a lot of left over cake) there was more dancing and frivolities – until it was time to drive back home….

Saturday was a day off,  and Sunday we were taking part in the fashion show, so with a day off in between, I decided to make myself a new outfit – just  because I have always wanted a jacket, and because i had the fabric for ages!

I made the skirt in a lovely quilted cotton, with a fringe, and   then worked the rest of the day on a 1790 pierrot jacket.

I quickly drafted the pattern and then fitted it – mock up first and then playing with the real thing, in silk and linen

IMG_2462Sunday morning saw the jacket finished – but i had a few hours left before we had to make a move. so time to make a new hat! a gigantic one! Not the best of my creations, admittedly, but it  did the job.

 

IMG_2469

 

Then it was packing the gear and setting off.

The fashion show went down a treat – there was a huge variety of costumes, from different decades and different walks of life, and the commentary was super as well…  a few behind the scenes shots..

IMG_2473

men looking splendid….

 

IMG_2471

I was modelling a 1790 redingote, and Eleanor was wearing her lovely francaise ( more on making it and more pictures  in the Georgian Ball post.

IMG_2493

Amy fro the Period Costume Shop in a stunning polonaise  ( love the fabric!), me in the redingote and Kelly in her anglaise!

IMG_2496

some unspeakable and unmentionable things happened too….

 After the show, I could change into my new bits and have a stroll around Stamford – and take a few pictures

But I was not exactly happy – I felt the wig did not work very well with the colours of the walking outfit. So when we got back home, I changed  wigs and we went on to snatch some autumnal pictures at the local Nature Reserve…. much  happier with these!

 

Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 36Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 17Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 15Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 4

Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 9

 

we even had a go at some heavy machinery….

Georgian Butterscotch - September 27, 2015 - 26

 

all together, a cracking weekend  was had!

credits:

photography –  Lucas from Timelight Photographic

costuming – Prior Attire ( the  walking outfit is now available for sale – here)

shoes – American Duchess, naturellment!

Fabrics for historical costuming

IMG_00001607

We all know that very often it is the fabric that makes The Dress. A wisely chosen set of materials will bring out the beauty of the design, will enhance the tailoring – or even hide some dressmaking mistakes.  A less than perfectly sewn dress will look amazing if the fabric is right – and a fantastically well stitched creation can be badly marred by a poor fabric choice.

Naturally what fabrics we chose differs – all depends on the purpose of the garment. If it is a one off frock cobbled together for a friend’s fancy dress party,  you may not want to spend a lot on expensive silks; however if you are planning  a creation that you are going to wear a lot, or if you strive for authenticity, the correct fabric choice is essential.

In this post I shall mostly concentrate on the historical accuracy and will try to provide a basic reference on which fabrics to use in which period. The list is aimed at providing a very general overview, so I won’t be getting into details like which weight for which garment in which century – would take ages and would make for a very, very long post indeed!  I have learnt a lot over the last 20 or so years in the field – but am not omniscient, so if you know of an article or a reference that would be helpful with researching which fabrics were used  when, please post in a  comment and I will add it onto the article –  it would be very much appreciated!

I will also get a list of providers of the fabrics I use most often.

So, there we go!

Rugby-20130315-02376

Medieval.

Linen:  for undergarments, shirts, basic tunics, lining, gambesons, etc. Bleached linen for the unmentionables for the wealthy, unbleached, natural one for the less fortunate. Other colours ( reds, blues, browns, pinks etc were used for tunics, kirtles, linings etc. Different weights were used for different  garments.

Wool –  different weights and types were used – including   patterns – herringbone and diamond were apparently quite popular in the dark ages and Viking era for example; fulled wools tend to become popular from 9-10 century, whereas plain weaves were generally available throughout the period. napped and sheared wool start to appear in the 14th century too ( broadcloth, wool satins etc)

Silk –  plain weaves and some patterns are used from mid medieval period in the north of Europe,  earlier in the south – proximity to Byzantium and the silk route.  Available only for the wealthiest, really – and even then was used sparingly considering its great value. Plain weave, early taffetas ( 13-14th century), basic brocades and damasks were used. Silk velvet starts to appear in the end of 13th century, if I remember well, and by 15th has evolved into several styles ( cut, uncut patterns etc).

Raw silk was probably used more by the steppe tribes, and duponi was not used much either, apparently.

LJP_5239

14th century dress in wool, lined with linen

Cotton – although there are some references to cotton imported from India, they are very rare – fustian was used however (cotton/linen blend) and there were several fustian manufactures established on the continent.  In England cotton as a name is used in the 16th century and most likely refers to woolen cloth!

Great article on the use of cotton in the medieval, Elizabethan and Stuart era – here 

Bedford Borough-20121112-01522

silk/linen brocade, fleur de lys pattern

16-17th century

 Linen – different weights any types ( cambric, lawn, Holland, buckram etc) – for undergarments, linings, ruffs, coifs, interlining, aprons, doublets, waistcoats etc

Wool – lots of varieties by that time, including blends with linen and silk; looks for broadcloth, scarlet, kersey, worsted, stammel, russet, cotton etc ); also, as mocado ( velvet using wool pile instead of silk)

Silk – again, lots of silk types used, in a variety of weights, patterns, blends ( cloth of gold, cloth of silver, tinsel) and grades. Look for satins, damask, velvets,grosgrain, sarcenet, taffets) Different types and patterns were popular in different decades. A good link showing some types- here 

Don’t be tempted by duponis ( existed, but very rare as second rate fabrics – contrary to today, slubs were frowned upon apparently), noil, stretch or crushed velvets…. Not period….

(Duponi lovers, do not despair, modern powerwoven duponi has hardly any slubs at all may be used as an alternative to taffeta. just avoid the slubby stuff where it shows…)

Cotton – see medieval note

tudor bride

Tudor gown in cloth of silver

 18th century

Linen – underwear,  waistcoats, breeches, also dresses in the second half of the century ( especial pattern or printed) – polonaises, jackets etc

Wool – breeches, waistcoats, coats, capes, cloaks, riding habits, travelling outfits, uniforms etc

Cotton – at last! Getting more and more popular – and cheaper (cotton from the West Indies and America) and with the Industral Revolution on its way, the invention of the Spinning Jenny and more advanced mechanical looms  meant being ablt to make cotton cloth in Englad too (  1774 saw the lift of the heavy tas levied on  brit produced cotton – it was established in the beginning of the century to protect native textile industry, and its revoking opened the marked for locally made cotton cloth :-); I believe the first cotton velvet is mentioned in 1790 or thereabouts – there is an extant male waistcoat made in cotton velvet in the States.

Silk –  taffetas, brocades, damasks, velvets –plain or very specific patterns –famous Spitalfields silks ; used for dresses, petticoats, coats, breeches, waistcoats, frockcoats etc

10533_1209801534596_1515469250_558663_2546177_n

striped silk for a polonaise

19th century

Linen, as before

Cotton – including muslin, lawn, voile and plain cottons for dresses, pelisses, breeches, linings etc also undergarments including corsetry

Wool – coats, habits, suits, cloaks, dresses, uniforms,  – everything goes! A variety of types and weights are used, broadcloth, superfine, shallon, worsted etc

Silks – velvets ( still mostly silks, cotton velvets or plushes used as furnishing fabrics too), tafettas, grosgrain, damasks, brocades, twills, satins etc – a great range of fabrics of different weights, weave and patterns used

IMG_00001977

more stripes , wool this time, made into a Victorian bodice

 A few generic notes

*avoid man-made, artificial fibres whenever you can. Polyester taffetas may be cheap – and not only do they looks so, but they are a nightmare to work with too.

*Sometimes (well, almost always!) quality will hit your pocket hard – but in the long run, it is worth it.  Don’t go for plastic embroidered duponis etc – save up  for a month or two and get plain silk taffeta; if you cannot afford a dress in silk velvet, use a cheaper silk, or blend – or wool – a very period thing to do, plus it is easier to clean.

*Hunt for bargains –  I have searches set up on ebay looking for  different silk fabrics and sending me reports every week – some of the listings are useless, but sometimes you can  stumble upon real treasures! Go to sales at silk mills, fabric stores etc.

*If possible,  do not skimp on fabric. True, sometimes you get  a fantastic end of roll silk –  and there is only so much of it – then piece the panels up and of course use it – but if you are at liberty to  get the proper amount of the fabric for the project, do so.

IMG02102-20110318-1240

Silk brocade, Victorian

Trims and embellishment.

More or less similar things apply – avoid artificial stuff!  Elastic plastic lace will spoil any Victorian outfit, rayon guipure  lace will clash with proper Elizabethan fabrics. Also mark that different type of lace or braids were used in different periods – putting a cluny lace onto a 12th century bliaud instead of tablet woven braid will not do you any favours.

Again, please mark all those notes are for historical attire – if you are making fantasy, bridal, steampunk, etc garments, you have  much more freedom with the fabrics and embellishment choice – I  love experimenting with the alternative bridal styles or Steampunk looks as my imagination can run wild and I can go for the trims and interesting fabrics that I cannot use for historical gear!

131105-AutumnBride-012

steampunk wedding gown using poly taffeta and satin – looks ok, but was an absolute nightmare to work with!

 Suppliers, in no particular order

Historical textiles – great quality  broadcloth, superfine and other

Hainsworths – wool

Whaleys – cotton, linen, silk

Bernie the Bolt – wool, linen, cotton – frequents UK and Europen markets – no website:-(

 Herts Fabrics – wool, linen –

 Renaissance fabrics – wool, linen, silks – lovely stuff!

Sew curvy – corsetry fabrics ( coutil, broche, drill)

 James Hare – lovely silks,  great lace,- you will need a trader’s account

 Silk Baron – silk velvet ( 80/20%), taffetas, duponi

Quartermasterie – lovely silks, also stunning silk velvet on cotton backing  – no website though! frequents UK markets

Harrington Fabrics – lace, silks, lovely brocades  – trader’s account needed

Watts&Co – church fabrics, absolutely gorgeous but very pricey ( looking at   £100 – £250 per metre, many fabrics made to order only)

Sartor – – historical textiles –  – great fabrics, do check the fibre composition information, as many of the stunning historical patterns are made in blends – half silk, half viscose:-(! some are 100% silk though and are a great find.

MacCulloch and Wallis – cloth, lace, haberdashery

Duran textiles AB – lovely silks and cotton prints, suitable for 18th and 19th century

Tudor Tailor – lovely wools suitable for Tudor and later costuming, plus linen and calico

Wm.Booth Draper –  great fabrics especially for 18th and 19th century

Happy shopping!

 

image