Saturday, August 26, 2017

Green and White 1860s

This summer was busy. It was the kind of summer when it's easy to just close up the sewing room and not think about making anything until things quiet down...but I also had a big finale at the end of the summer I wanted to be dressed for: Historical Dance Week in Denmark. So close up the sewing room I did not!

in Christiansfeld, Denmark
As I mentioned in my last post I had fabric waiting to be made into a new 1860s dress, and the Denmark dance week seemed like a perfect deadline to set myself. Even though the 1860s is one of my favorite periods to wear (and dance!), it's been several years since I made a new dress because the sheer volume of fabric means everything needs extra time--hemming, decorating, construction--and I am notoriously bad at leaving myself enough time for projects.

But this time was different! Mostly, anyways. I was still hand stitching trim and closures after dance classes ended for the day, but in general this project really confirmed for me how far I've come in the last few years. I started with enough time to actually do the project right, I didn't skip steps, and I am so happy with the result! Hooray!

Some construction details:

the bodice is based on TV442, with an adjusted neck and waistline for my short-waisted, round-shouldered self
 There are actually two fabrics in this dress--I spent a long time at the fabric store running around to find two matching cream, slightly textured faux silks! Most of the bodice and the base of the skirt are the plain fabric, and the ruffles, sleeve caps, and bertha are the embroidered fabric.
the sleeves were an experiment, and I was pleased with the final result! After I took this picture I stuffed the poofy undersleeve, which I like better

lining up ruffles to attach the the skirt

construction help
My fabric had a wide border design and the center was filled in with regularly-spaced "medallions" in rows, all embroidered with metallic green cord that was couched onto the faux taffeta with fishing line. The ruffles on the skirt are made from the border embroidery design, and the other bodice details (sleeve cap, bertha) use the medallions. I spent a lot of time picking out embroidery for this dress! In order to get the blank space I wanted (at the top of each ruffle, around the bertha, and on the sleeve cap) I ended up picking out the bits of embroidery I didn't want. I was really lucky, because ironing the pieces got rid of the holes--sometimes with dead dinosaur fabrics that doesn't work.

cooling down on the porch in between dances--it gets hot in the ballroom!
I felt like a giant cupcake in this dress, and it was a blast. I'm not usually in princess mode, because we're usually running the event. I'm the one lifting furniture, washing dishes, plating refreshments...and throwing my clothes on at the last minute. Not that I don't love doing those things, but it was kind of fun to feel like a princess. All I had to do was get dressed and show up!

in all of these photos my face is blurry...oh well, my face isn't the important part!

the bertha has one medallion at center front, and two medallions at the back. Both the bertha and sleeve caps are trimmed with green velvet ribbon
To complete the princessy feel, I did a royally inspired hairstyle. I've been really into braided circlets at the front of the hair, probably because I recently acquired a fake braid that is just about right to circle the front of my head. Either rolls or braids at the front of the hair show up quite a bit in magazines of the mid-60s, but the style is perhaps most associated with Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria and Bavaria.
Image result for empress sissi
Empress Elisabeth, mid 1860s
Peterson's Magazine, 1864
Godey's, c. late 1860s
I did indeed use my fake braid, and then my actual hair is looped around a rat to keep it low in the back. I have a comb in the back with sparkles and pearls (which I wore as bun bling with my 1817 dress in Scotland), and a tiara at the front, because this was a fancy European ball and I was really leaning into the princess thing.

I was so pleased with this dress, and it was the perfect thing to wear for such an elegant evening. I'm already looking forward to wearing ruffles again at home!

historical adventures are much better with friends

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I've got a bit until the next event I want to make a new dress for, which is good because I have something planned that involves ruffles. And since it's 1860s, I'll be at it for a while. 

But I have such fabulous inspiration! Last summer while helping with a series of 1860s sewing classes, I found fabulous fabric at my favorite local haunt. 

green metallic on white faux silk--it actually has a pretty nice, crisp taffeta feel...but is definitely made of dead dinosaurs

And while it's not a perfect match to any particular period fabric, it seems to be perfectly suited to the ruffled confections from the 1850s and early 1860s. As I psych myself up to start gathering, here are some of my favorites.

beetle wing embroidered ensemble, c.1860 (via)
Ensemble with day and evening bodices, c.1855 (Met)

evening gown, 1850-55 (via)
evening dress, c.1860 (via)
taffeta day dress, 1859 (Met)

evening dress with fab fringe, 1856 (Met)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Embracing the Romantic: Mameluke Sleeves

I have been on a Regency princess sleeve kick lately-first my 1817 ballgown, and now a day dress. Both are made with the same base bodice pattern (based on a dress in Patterns of Fashion), and then...embellished.


Yeah, something like that.

During my winter campaign to come to terms with Regency (and develop a well-fitting pattern), I realized that I really need to find something in my clothes that is distinctive and structured, because otherwise I feel like I am making/wearing a nightgown. A very fancy nightgown, sure, but still a nightgown. So I need to make myself feel less nightgown-like, and so far sleeves seem to be the thing to do it.

This time I went full-on Romantic Movement: sheep-tastic levels of sleeve poof in gauzy white cotton. The long, regularly-puffed mameluke sleeves strike me as quite romantic, and accomplish their goal of helping me embrace Regency clothes. They say "heroine in a Gothic novel" a la Catherine Morland, or "wandering around on moors reciting Byron." I love them!

The romantic movement lasted throughout much of the early 19th century, and drew on Medieval romance archetypes for inspiration. The movement encouraged looking to the natural world for inspiration, valued imagination and emotion, and lauded passion. This is the same movement that inspired many of the Scottish-set romantic works that started the tartan craze, so it's unsurprising that it speaks to me. And this dress captures that sensibility-airy, dramatic, nostalgic, but also au courant and impractical. Perfectly suited to a heroine who needs to be visible on a moonless night on the hillside.

staring out of windows is romantic, right?
There are seven puffs on each sleeve, gathered at intervals and sewn to a fitted undersleeve to hold everything in place. I'm not totally sure of this as a period method, as the only insides of extant garments I've seen seem to be unlined and use ties inside to hold the puffs in place on the arm, but I think it's not unreasonable. And I'm definitely happy with the shape it gives-take a look at some of my inspiration in comparison:

Ackermann's Repository, 1815 (via
1814, LACMA collection

Costume Parisien, 1809
and mine!
I had a blast wearing this dress for the first time, kitted up with a chemisette, tartan shawl, and Hartfields that I painted green (I purchased them in white, although that option no longer appears to be available). We don't have any moors in Salem, but as one of the largest cities in the United States during the 1810s we do have some lovely examples of period architecture. So I wandered there instead!

outside a merchants' house, built 1817

inside the Old Town Hall, built 1816-1817
 Now I just need to make some friends, visit their estate, and convince myself there's a mystery afoot.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dresses in Motion-Dancing at the Regency Weekend

Last weekend I attended our annual Regency Weekend in Salem, MA. This is one of my favorite events of the year because over the course of the weekend you get a chance to talk to people and get to know them, and everyone works so hard on their dancing that by the final ball it really feels like you've stepped back in time! There's no teaching (you don't need it), and everyone is familiar. It is how I imagine balls in Austen's novels would have felt.

The final ball is held in Hamilton Hall, an 1805 building in lovely Federal style (and yes, named for Alexander Hamilton). The hall was originally built as a meeting and social space for Federalist families of Salem, and is about as close as the US gets to assembly rooms.

Hamilton Hall today, via
Hamilton Hall has an upstairs ballroom with a sprung floor. Sprung floors are double-layered with springs or dowels in between to create give and "springiness." This cushions the impact when you're dancing, and it's a noticeable difference. Seriously, I cannot stress how awesome this floor is, and how much easier it makes dancing the night away! The Hamilton Hall ballroom also has a musicians' balcony, another iconic feature of dance spaces from the early 19th century. We're lucky to have wonderful musicians, and it is so fun to see them up above us!

Hamilton Hall ballroom, via; the musicians' balcony is visible in the top right
One of the things I love about dancing and doing other activities in my historic clothes is getting to understand how they influence motion. Dancing clothes are designed for dancing (no trains!), so it's fun to actually get to the ball and see how they do. For the Sunday evening ball at Hamilton Hall, I wore the 1817 dress I made in March. I'm still really happy with it, and it was such fun to really let loose and put it through its paces!

And thanks to some friends, I can share a little bit of clothes in motion! Here are a couple of videos of me dancing from the night-I'm so pleased with the swooshy motion of this dress!

The first is a small clip of the finishing dance La Boulanger, which you can see danced through at a previous ball here, and read more about the history of here (#3 on the list).


The second is several times through The Young Widow, which is a country dance CVD is rather fond of because it is interesting and weird, and that weirdness also means that the active couple gets a break! To see what I mean, keep an eye on my partner and I--we're the active couple.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Nathaniel Gow Bicentennial Ball

As I mentioned in my previous post about my dress for the occasion, I was very privileged to attend the Nathaniel Gow Bicentennial Ball held in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms 200 years (to the day!) after the original event. It was a wonderful experience!

(A Note: All photographs in this post are courtesy of the official event photographer, Juliette Lichman. Please to not copy.)

The Edinburgh Assembly Rooms were built in the 1780s in Edinburgh's New Town and renovated in 1796 to add crystal chandeliers and other decorative touches to the interior. The upstairs ballroom is lovely and light, and stands today much as it would have in the early 19th century. As historian Colin Ross explains in his podcast about the building, the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms are quite special because any changes over time were only additions, retaining the existing spaces as they were. This means that while there are more modern touches in other parts of the building, the ballroom still feels like the Regency era. This includes the original musicians' gallery, a raised alcove in the wall where the musicians (and our dancing master) sat throughout the night. The acoustics in the room are incredible, and the music could be heard throughout the ballroom without any amplification! Quite impressive given the size of the room.

the musicians' gallery
During the early 19th century, the ballroom in the Assembly Rooms saw many balls, celebrations, political gatherings, and readings and banquets hosted by authors like Sir Walter Scott and W.M. Thackeray. A few years after the ball we were recreating, the ballroom hosted King George IV during his first visit to Scotland in 1822. A book written about this trip gives a glimpse into what the Assembly Rooms would have looked like quite near 1817, so I thought I'd share a bit:

"The principle ballroom is of magnificent dimensions and fine proportions, being 92 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 40 feet high; and its decorations, which are characterized by simplicity, lightness, and elegance, rather than by richness, consist of handsome fluted pilasters, of the Corinthian order, resting on the floor and supporting the cornice of the room; the centre of the south side is enriched with Corinthian columns of smaller dimensions, forming the decorations of the entrance, and supporting a balcony for the orchestra...and the elegance of the whole is summed up in the rich cut crystal lustres suspended from the ceiling."

Mudie's illustration of the Assembly Rooms-G is the main ballroom. Also interesting to note that S, the second ballroom, was "on this occasion appropriated to quadrilles." Other rooms connected to the ballroom were for playing cards and taking refreshments. 
In addition to the room, I greatly enjoyed the amount of tartan in the ballroom! And because I cannot beat his description, Mudie writes of the 1822 event:
"At nine o'clock, the room was completely full by nearly all the rank, beauty, and fashion of Scotland...The Duke of Argyll was conspicuous in the dark-green plaid of the clan Diarmid; and other noblemen and gentlemen gayly disported themselves in the mountain garb*. The scene was one of such extraordinary splendor as almost to entrance, at least to bewilder, the faculties in contemplation of it. The surpassing beauty of the ladies-their plumage, in constant undulation, appearing to the eye like an ocean of foam;-the glitter reflected from a profusion of jewels;-...the room itself;-altogether presented a scene which more than realized all previous conceptions of grandeur and magnificence."

  The ball itself was quite special beyond just being held in a magnificent space, as we were dancing the same program as the original ball in 1817. In 1817, the ball was played and called by Nathaniel Gow and his band. Nathaniel Gow, son a of a famous Scottish musician, was himself a violinist and composer sought after throughout Scotland to play at fashionable gatherings (actually he was also present during the 1822 visit Mudie describes, and received particular compliments from the king). Gow was also in demand in London, and thus saw many popular dances that may not have made it to Scotland yet. Quadrilles were a particular fad in the late 1810s and early 1820s, and Gow is credited with introducing many of them to fashionable Edinburgh society. It was some of these "favorite French quadrilles" of Mr. Gow that we were recreating at the ball.

standing up for a quadrille
Dancing at this ball was an interesting experience for me. I was very glad to attend the workshop earlier in the day, because historical dance is subject to variation based on the particular reconstruction of the source material. Dance manuals and music with instructions are amazing resources, but there's still room for interpretation (not least of which being the cultural lens of the historian) that can lead to differences between what I would do at home in Boston and what Stuart Marsden, our instructor for the evening, would teach. And there were differences! Most notably, Mr. Marsden instructed in French for the French quadrilles. While we do use French terms for some steps and figures, most of our calling at home is done in English--so having to remember the French terms took some getting used to!

our dancing master in the musicians' gallery
Many of the figures were also new to me. I know one of the earliest sets of quadrilles published in the UK, known as the "First Set"**, and some of these figures appeared in Nathaniel Gow's set as well-but with a few changes. According to Mr. Marsden, these changes were made by Gow to help the Edinburgh audience learn the figures when they were first introduced. So similar to what I know, but a little different! This was quite fascinating to see and hear discussed.

ladies hands round while men circle outside, part of a quadrille figure
I also really enjoyed the quadrilles that were totally new! My favorite was called "La Caprice" and included a mix of typical quadrille figures with waltz--the music changed to waltz time (3/4) for just that section of the dance each time it was repeated. So cute! This also makes sense as a novel figure for 1817, when quadrilles were still the dances of the young and energetic, "resisted by others, such as the 'old fashioned respectables'...[at] parties in Edinburgh" (Stapleton, see below) and the waltz was still newish and more accepted by young people as well.

in lines for a country dance
During one of the breaks there was also a performance of a traditional Scottish dance with music by the event's organizer, Talitha. I enjoyed watching this, and it was an interesting call-back to some of the tension in fashionable dancing of the period, when dances had a more national associated (French Quadrilles, Scotch reels and strasthpeys, German and French waltz). Many UK dancing masters call out the particularities of Scottish dancing in relation to quadrilles, and encourage the preservation of reels and strasthpeys--while bemoaning the attempt of Edinburgh musicians to play quadrilles to reel music: "If Ladies and Gentlemen wish to have their music played in such a ridiculous manner, they only, by so doing, show their ignorance of the refined delicacy of the Quadrille." Ha!

performance of a traditional dance
In general I greatly enjoyed the dancing, although it was certainly a marathon of complex steps and a rapid pace. This was also the first ball with a full supper (two breaks in fact-one for the main meal and one for dessert!) I have attended, and that was a neat, historical experience as well. I'm very grateful I was able to attend with a dance friend, so that I had a partner who I could totally nerd out with about historical dance reconstructions--the gossip is always the best part!

chatting before a country dance

*From a tartan history perspective, I can't resist pointing out that Mudie notes the tartan ensembles as "mountain garb" here--tartan is still more of a highland thing (and the ball was in the lowlands)--something separate from the "elegant dress [and] usual court dress" worn by most of the attendees. This is changing by the mid-century, with Victoria and Albert in Balmoral.

**Payne's First Set, published 1814-15 or Paine's First Set, published 1815-1816; they're the same figures, but Paine adds another. (Those were two separate dancing masters, not different spellings of the same person's name.)

For more on the 1822 royal visit, check out Mudie's book, A Historical Account of His Majesty's Visit to Scotland

For more on Nathaniel Gow and Regency dance in Scotland:
Regency Dances site
Stapleton, A.M. (2014). Pointed Encounters: Dance in Post-Culloden Scottish Literature. Google Books.

And Regency dance in General:
Capering and Kickery
Mr. Marsden's site