Sunday, July 29, 2012

Costuming the Civil War: Links

Welcome! Some of you may have been in my class on "Costuming the Civil War: Getting the 1860s Look" on Saturday the 28th, at the Dallas-Fort Worth Costumers Guild retreat. As promised, here is a list of my favorite 1860s-related links.  Some are informational and some are for shopping.  I'm sure I will add more in the future, too. Watch this space for updates. ;)


Elizabeth Stewart Clark: The Compendium
Excellent articles and free patterns, in PDF format. I recommend:
  • Assembling Your "Best Bet" Wardrobe
  • Defining the Work Dress
  • Make a Basic Petticoat
  • Make a Simple Chemise
  • Make a Simple Slat Sunbonnet
  • How to Make Women's Split Drawers
The Graceful Lady: Originals
Anna Allen has collected images, mostly from ebay, of original garments, CDVs (photographic prints), and fashion plates, specifically for the early 1860s.

Bonny Blue: Historical Help
Geared toward beginning reenactors, this is an excellent introduction and how-to's for reproducing the 1860s.

Curiosity Shop: Glenna Jo & Bill Christen's Presentations and Works-in-Progress
Excellent presentations and articles from a very knowledgeable couple.

The Sewing Academy
A forum started by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, this is one of my favorite online places to hang out. The depth of knowledge here is matched only by the members' friendliness and willingness to help. I particularly enjoy contributions by Glenna Jo Christen and Carolann Schmitt, who began reenacting in the 1960s. If you have a question, go here and search the archives for an answer with evidence to back it up.


Timely Tresses
 Bonnet patterns, kits, and buckram and braided hemp frames, from 1795-1865.  Their research into the early 1860s is particularly meticulous. The variety they offer isn't simply different styles, but shows how bonnet shape changed subtly but significantly from the late 1850s into 1865.

Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile
 Pam Robles (another member of the Sewing Academy) does gorgeous and incredibly accurate bonnets and hats, specializing the 1860s but spanning Regency and the full Victorian period. She also offers buckram bonnet forms as well as beautiful fancy woven straw bonnet forms. And she is the only source I know for accurate and varied straw hats.

Robert Land Historic Shoes
The only source for accurate side-lacing low-heeled 1860s boots. He also offers Regency varieties and newer-styled 1860s boots.

Bonny Blue Historical Clothing
Owned by Atlanta Shannon, who I know personally. She does beautiful work and takes custom orders.

Originals by Kay
Famed for their custom corsets. Also offer a variety of ready made items and cage crinoline kits, and also do custom orders.

Past Patterns
Patterns taken from originals but graded into multi-sized garments. This line has a good reputation and I have had success with those I have used. They include extensive historical notes.

Laughing Moon Mercantile
Offer a beautiful day dress pattern. I have not personally used it yet, but Anna Allen of the Graceful Lady was  very impressed.  [ETA 3/11/13: I've now fitted it to me, and I love the look it gives; I can't wait to make my first dress with it.] Their basic Victorian corset is slightly long in the hip, but otherwise perfect for the 1860s, and has very high reviews.

Fig Leaf Patterns / Dancing Leaf Designs
Patterns developed with Kay Gnagey of Originals by Kay, such as a wrapper pattern and a paletot (coat).

Truly Victorian
Also have a very good reputation. Specialize in post-Civil War patterns, but offer quite a variety of 1860s skirts and bodices. Remember that 1860s skirts are mostly squares, and be careful that the bodice option you choose is appropriate for your use, time period, and fabric. The 1858 round cage crinoline is too big for most uses. IMHO it also looks too round, but I have not seen the pattern myself.

More to come!

Also, feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or email me. Thank you for visiting!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sewing Room, with Bonus Table Tutorial

Yes, I have a whole room for sewing and storing costumes! (And the computer and mailing supplies and vintage to be resold &c...)

Last year I bought a house. Until that time I lived with my parents. All of my sewing supplies and equipment were stored in my little bedroom. I had two under-bed boxes of fabric, three stacking bins in the closet, one medium dresser drawer of tools and supplies, multiple boxes of patterns and trims in the closet, and the knee-hole under my desk was usually full of sewing boxes, current projects, and things that couldn't possibly fit anywhere else. I had another bag of fabric in the attic, along with some wool batting. My sewing machine lived on a shelf in the closet.

In order to sew, I set up a decades-old card table in the middle of my floor, next to my bed. I sat on my vanity stool to use the machine. The ironing board was on the other side of the table. I couldn't get the under-bed boxes out with the table set up. Cutting out involved a cardboard cutting mat on the floor (again, no table) or occasionally on my bed. Did you know a cardboard cutting mat is the exact size of a twin mattress? You'll thank me later.

Going from one small bedroom to an entire house is of course fantastic. Part of what made my house The One, though, was its bonus room: A loft under the peak of the roof. It is not open to the rest of the house, but the stairs enter directly with no door. It has no bathroom, but a huge closet. And one big window (directly opposite the neighbors' house, the only drawback). Perfect sewing room!

I spent a lot of time looking for sewing room inspiration. With no furniture to speak of, I had a very blank slate to start with. Here's what I had before New Year's.

The white farm table was $85 at an antique mall, and it just about killed me to get it upstairs. The legs screwed off easily, but the table top itself is incredibly heavy. It must be solid oak. I had to roll it on its corners from the vehicle to the front door, slide it across the carpet, and tug it with frantic strength up the stairs. It's wonderful, though. The white paint is heavy and smooth, with enough existing nicks that I don't feel bad for using it. It's heavy enough that it doesn't shake or move when I shove it or the machine gets going fast.

The lamp is an old "ginger jar" (my name!) from my parents' attic. I've since gotten another one, but this one is still in use on the computer table.

I also love the small bin organizer (from Target), which holds tools and some notions.  One has scissors, one has pins and pincushions and tape measures, one has drafting tools like pattern weights and chalk, one has fasteners like hooks & eyes and snaps...

The thread spool holder will eventually go on the wall. I didn't want to make a bunch of holes yet, though, because I'm still settling in and things can move. As it happened, the table has since moved, so this was a wise choice.

The yellow chair is one of a pair of original Victorian Eastlake chairs I got for a bargain at $75 for the set. Since then, the webbing on the bottom has torn. I still need to replace it. Oops!

I love my mother's wooden ironing board, and hated using the flimsy metal ones owned by college students and hotels. This one could be longer and taller, but I found it, complete with cover, for $15 at another antique mall.
 The trunk barely visible on the right I bought at an antique mall (See a trend here?) 4 or 5 years ago. It holds nearly all of my Civil War reenacting gear. Dresses, outerwear, and petticoats hang up elsewhere, and my undies (chemises, drawers, and corsets) are in a smaller chest to be handy for fitting. In my old bedroom, this trunk also held up my computer. I sat on the end of my bed, keyboard on my knees, mouse on the windowsill, and my feet on the small chest. It worked, but I don't miss those days!

And here is my darling, my cutting table. I'm fairly tall at 5'9".  My old sewing layout had lots of disadvantages, but I never knew the misery of cutting on a regular table until I moved into my house. Oh, my back and shoulders! I'd rather cut on the floor for the rest of my days!  This table is counter height, roughly waist high on me.  It's simply a door, covered with oilcloth, and resting on two large-size bin organizers, also from Target like the small one. The organizers are 36" tall exactly, so with the depth of the door, the surface is over 37" from the ground.

The door is slightly too narrow and too long to fit the cardboard mat exactly, but it's very close. After 6 months of constant use, I'm still thrilled to have it. I use it constantly, not just for cutting. All of my pattern draping and tracing, layout, pinning, taking notes, and even ironing - it's my preferred workstation.

Ironing? I don't mind ironing, but huge lengths of fabric can be a real pain. My new board is smaller than the one I'm used to, too. In desperation, I pulled out a wool blanket, which is thick and insulating, and clamped it to the table top with $1 heavy spring clamps from Home Depot. Worked like a charm! I could iron the entire 60" width at once, and as long as my arms could reach. It took 1.5 hours to iron 15 yards, instead of 2 or 3 times as long. Yay!

The cubbies are another idea I'm so glad for. The pink and green fabric bins hold a variety of things, from trims, flowers, lace, and tape, to patterns organized by type and size. One holds all my muslin, from the nice recently-bought lengths to the crazy shapes that are impossible to use but too big to throw away. One cubby holds ironing supplies: spray starch, distilled water, and spray bottle with water. (Way better than just a steam iron!) I've saved the zippered bags that come with bed linens and curtains, and use them for storing on-hold projects, especially those with lots of pieces or notes. And another cubby is the perfect size for a 3-drawer organizer. One drawer holds neat folds of interfacing; another holds all my zippers. I didn't realize I had so many!

The cedar chest was given to me by my grandmother over Thanksgiving. It holds almost all of my fabric, including all of my wool.  The rest is in the bins on the left.

There's plenty more stuff piled out of sight behind the table. This is very much a work in progress. I will post some more recent pictures soon, showing it in all its Costume College-related chaos.

Bonus Table Tutorial

I'm not sure anyone will find this beneficial, but I might as well write up exactly how I made the table.

The top of the table is a door. I got a hollow-core unfinished wooden door in the standard bedroom door size, 80" x 36".  It comes ready sanded and ready to prime, with no door handle hole cut.  Home Depot, under $30.

To cover it, I bought 2.5 yards of oilcloth (flannel-backed vinyl) from Joann.  I think the cover is somewhat optional; the door had no snags or sharp corners that I could find. I wanted something with a smooth surface and no dyes to rub off.

Then center the door on the oilcloth and get to work with a staple gun!

I folded and stapled each corner in several steps to get it reasonably smooth.

Don't pull it too tight. You don't want it loose enough to wrinkle or pull, but oilcloth isn't meant to be under a strain.

Then put it on top of your organizers, or matching low bookcases, or packing crates, or sawhorses, or whatever works for you.  Done!

I was planning on having the table top fastened to the top of the shelving units, but my father talked me out of it.  The door and the organizers are plenty sturdy; I've not yet had it rock or tilt. I've shoved the top over slightly when leaning on it, but that's all. And having them bolted together would make it extremely difficult to move or adjust. Sometimes I want it a little closer or further from the wall, and moving the organizers is a lot harder than just sliding the table a few inches.  I did move the whole sewing room around a few months ago as well. I was very glad then they weren't in one piece!

Whatever your current sewing setup, whether it's an entire room or a desk in the corner of your bedroom (or a card table in the middle of the floor), what is your favorite part of it? In my old one, I liked how I could get on either side of the ironing board.  Now, it's my tall table. What's yours?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vintage Style Alert

've owned and worn several pairs of vintage sunglasses over the years, and until now I haven't seen anything new that really captured the right look. Until now!  Target's Xhilaration line has some REALLY good vintage-style sunglasses for $12.99. There are two primary vintage styles I've seen:

* 1930s/1940s round lenses.  I've seen them in stores in leafy/limey green, red, royal blue, and black.  The website also shows pink and tortoiseshell options.  I've not personally seen vintage ones in most of these colors, but I believe the green, red, and blue would have been something available in the period. I know black were. I'm not positive about the tortoiseshell or pink, but they wouldn't surprise me. I only wish they had white, too!

The picture is skewed and doesn't really show how they look. For a similar angle, here are some 1930s originals from an excellent Etsy shop, Top Tottie Vintage.

The Target ones aren't identical - the upper outside corner of the frames is the most different - and the tinted lenses are gradient instead of solid.  They are overall larger in scale, which is good because most vintage sunglasses are sized for smaller faces. The lenses are also more perfectly round and a wee bit larger in proportion, though not truly oversized like most sunglasses in recent years.

* 1950s Ray Ban Wayfarers style.  (Did you know the Wayfarers came out in 1952?)  I've seen these in the stores in loads of colors! Turquoise, both translucent and solid pink, both mint green and lime green, purple, white, black, tortoiseshell, and even a translucent cream color that's VERY similar in shade to the yellow plastic of the vintage ones above.

Here is a comparison of vintage 1930s sunglasses and the Target round ones. (Apologies for not doing quick 40s hair - it really does make a difference.)

Now the differences are clear, particularly the scale.  Note how in the picture on the left, the arm on the vintage glasses splay outward to fit over my ears, whereas the arms on the Target glasses go straight back.  This, dear reader, is called Fit. Vintage glasses do not fit my face well. They're useable, but they do not truly fit. It's like wearing a hat that's a half-size too small: it perches a wee bit higher or a wee bit further back than ideal.

Perfect? No. But still really darned good.

If you ever dress in vintage style for a particular purpose/look/event (as opposed to mixing it with modern for regular wear), please consider getting a pair of these. Target appears to be the only store with anything like these shapes, not to mention the range of colors. I don't expect them to appear overnight, but three months from now may be a different story.

1. Eyewear can be one of the most glaringly modern parts of a vintage getup. There are many valid reasons this can't be avoided. But sunglasses don't have to be!  Instead of putting on your big modern bug-eyes (I have 'em!) and throwing off your whole look, or going without and squinting painfully for hours (also done), just get a pair of these and keep them with your vintage accessories.

2. The right sunglasses will ADD to your look. Look at this lady!

3. Maybe your event won't be outside. But will you be walking on the street or driving to the event? I have been known to wear my bug-eyes into a Regency event because I was driving and forgot to leave them in the car.  Instead of trying to remember to take off the modern stuff, just use vintage-look ones. Nothing to worry about!

4. I'm in North Texas and I use sunglasses year-'round. Stormy days happen, but not too often. After a few not-happy winter outdoors events, I made the commitment to never be without sunglasses. For me, they're a necessity. And since I spend a lot of time and money to make sure other necessities, like shoes, fit the look, surely I could spare just a little money for sunglasses?

5. Vintage sunglasses are available. They are, however, not easy to find, nor cheap. I think I've paid $30-45 for the ones I've bought (the cheaper ones were damaged), and that after weeks of regular searches. A quick trip to Target and less than $15, and you've saved two or three times as much money AND a whole lot of time. My time is at a premium; how's yours?

6. As mentioned above, vintage sunglasses tend to be smaller across across the face than modern ones. My face is both longer and wider than average vintage. I can wear vintage ones, but they look a wee bit small. The Target ones fit me.

7. Vintage sunglasses have glass lenses, which could be dangerous if they break. In addition, glass lenses likely do not have as much UV protection as even cheap modern sunglasses.  (This is probably not a huge concern unless you're wearing vintage ones constantly, but it's a good thing to be aware of.)

8. Vintage sunglasses are brittle! I broke a small piece of plastic off the hinge of one arm of my first pair, and I can't repair them. My current pair came to me damaged (hence the affordable price), with the tip of the one of the arms broken off, and both arms really loose. In addition, many pairs (including these) have warped over the decades and can be awkward or uncomfortable to wear. The Target ones are less fragile, less expensive, fit like we're used to, and aren't irreplaceable.

They're not perfect. But in the interests of saving a good $30, hours of search time, and weeks without sunglasses, besides having a fun color, I don't mind a small compromise in the size of the lenses. It's a bargain!

Have I sold you yet? Go get some!

Image koshka-the-cat  (The vintage glasses in the center are virtually identical to the Target ones shown above.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Explanation and Welcome

It has been two months without an update since starting this blog. That's pretty unacceptable! My sincere apologies. Immediately after blog setup, my work situation underwent a temporary but drastic change.  As a result I've had to focus all my time and energy into a handful of necessities.  Unfortunately, "Scene in the Past" was one of many lesser priorities.  Hence the disappearance.

However, the work situation is back to normal. Hurrah! I intend to establish a regular posting schedule, both with new content, and with past/historical information as well.

Also, welcome! to those of you who were linked here from the DFWCG's Costumer's Lost Weekend page.  I'm excited and nervous to be teaching two classes on July 28th.  I will have posts with further information afterward, too.

In the meantime, here is a hint about one of my activities last week. More to come when I get better pictures!