Friday 30 October 2009

My son, the zombie

My son decided to go as a zombie at an early Halloween-party today. For some od reason he is stubborn, knows exactly what he wants and can verbalize it too. Can’t imagine whom he got that from… So even if I was, graciously, allowed to do the make-up, it was after his strict directives. White, green and blood. And if anyone wonders, he became a zombie after a bicycle accident. Or so I was told, anyway. He did became a rather adorable zombie, though:




Thursday 29 October 2009


I feel silly, but changing to wintertime has seriously jet-lagged me. I don’t have energy for anything, at the moment. It feels like I haven’t sewn anything either, but that isn’t exactly correct. I’m in the process of hemming the brown-red wool skirt and I’ve cut out a green wool skirt too, that’s going to have four pleats. And I’m stitching away on the embroidered polonaise. It just feels like everything goes so slowly!

I bought a book: Vintage Hairstyling. I love it. Very instructive- now I need an opportunity to actually do one. Well, time rather, but I do feel a need to dress up and does something fun. As it is now is, I have nothing fun planned until the 12th Night Ball, and that’s not until next year!

Speaking of hair, I think I have to accept that my hair won’t grow any longer than BSL. Cutting off 2 centimetres leaves me with the same length I had after cutting it two centimetres off in June. *pouts*

Thursday 22 October 2009

Corset mock-up

I got into a bit of a slump after the lecture. Even positive energy can be draining, but I've been sewing a little. I've long wanted to make an overbust corset, but so far I haven't pulled it off. I bought a pattern, which I should have known was a bad idea. One of the reasons I learned pattern construction was because commercial patterns always have to be altered. So even the largest size was too small for my chest, but too big every else. But I've lacked good instructions on how to draw up a pattern for an overbust, even if I had some ideas, so I just let it float around in the back of my brain. In September I started to subscribe to Your Wardrobe Unlock'd and tried their instructions on how to draw up an 1870's corset. And this is what I have managed, so far.

Of course, the most important thing before even starting a project, is to have a cat lay on it. Here Spiff eagerly helps me to try out the paper. He also helped with important tasks like chewing on the measure tape, chase the eraser and bat at my pencil. In other words, I couldn't have done it without him.

I found it very easy to draw up the pattern, but then I know pattern construction- I guess it's harder if you don't. It's really not as hard as it first seems. If you take it slowly and just concentrate on the step at hand, then it's not so difficult.

So, here's my mock-up. It's just in one layer, the fabric is a piece of upholstery velvet that was laying around. The boning channels are made out of the seam allowances, with two extra channels in blue gross-grain ribbon at the front.

The pic is a bit angled, but I think you can see that the corset isn't straight. I don't know why, so perhaps you have an idea? My body is rather symmetrical, so I don't think that's the problem. My thought is that I somehow screwed up the pattern pieces when I cut it. Other ideas?

Problems that I can see, but know how to fix are that I need extra boning channels in the back. Also, I need spiral bones at the side-seams. I have that at home, but I need to cut it, and I didn't want to for the mock-up, as I was unsure if I wanted this length. So now it's just plastic boning, which doesn't work. I also need a longer busk and two extra boning channels at the sides of the busk. The cups are a little too low-cut, just to my nipples, but that's easy to correct as well.

I'm surprised, and pleased, on how well it fits! My breast don't flow over, even if it's cut low. (I've tried it without a top too, but that wasn't decent enough to show.) It was a but difficult to lace myself in, so the bottom is much looser than the top. That is why the side-seam looks tilted.

However, I felt that I could easily have laced the corset tight without discomfort, and I'm fairly certain that when laced in evenly, that tilt will be no more. I got down 10 centimetres around the waist- I wonder how much that will be when I'm properly laced.

Next step is to sew a proper, but not fancy, corset. I want to be sure I have a working garment before embellishing it. I've done that before, making a pair of stays by hand and then finding that the pretty thing didn't fit me at all! Also, Your Wardrobe Unlock'd's sister site, Foundations Revealed has a free tutorial on how to adapt old corset patterns to your own measurement. Very exiting!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

It's fun to be a lemming

And it's fun to do costume memmes too.

1. What was your first costume?
My first was when I did the costumes for the play The Marriage of Figaro. I was 20 and had a lot of ideas, a clear view of what I wanted, very small sewing skills and absolutely none when it came to pattern cutting. Add a budget that wasn’t even small, it was diminutive, sp there was no money or skills to make proper 18th century underpinnings. Still, I felt that I managed an 18th century air and it was lots of fun.
Yes, it’s me in the front looking so grim.


First costume I made just for me was an 18th century blue jacket and petticoat in linen/cotton with pink details in 2001. It was a lot of fun as I used one of the jackets in Janet Arnold- in fact the very same pattern I had used for the play I just mentioned. So it was fun to make it with stays and hoops and see how it was supposed to turn out.

2. Did someone get you into costuming? Or on your own?
All on my own. As a child I always loved the clothes in costume movies and longed to have such clothes myself..

3. What is your favorite costume?
My red pet-en-l’air. I always feel very pretty when I wear it.

4. Which is your least favorite costume?
The horror of a polonaise I did when I was dead broke. The cut was good, but all the dead dino… I just wore it once and over my very first pair of stays that fitted me horribly.

5. At conventions, do people compliment you on your costumes?
I never been to a convention, but I do get compliments at events..

6. How many have you done?
Just for myself, not that many, as I sew rather slowly. But ten completed outfits. And six pair of stays…

7. What are the top 6 on your list of "Want to Costume!"
In no particular order; finish my embroidered polonaise. A 1870-ish steampunk outfit. An early 16th century German gown. A 1660’s gown. A 1910 evening gown. An 1860’s day dress.

8. What female costume do you want to do most?
One of above, but which one depends on my mood.

9. What male?
An 18th century waistcoat with ribbon embroidery.

10. What do you prefer to do, make or buy your costumes?

11. Your most memorable experience? What makes it so memorable?
When Gustafs Skål had their tenth anniversary we had a party at <the Echo temple at Haga. Late at night a friend and I was sitting under an old oak inside it, looking it. People were dancing inside, and the temple was lit by torched. It was a truly magical moment, looking in. A moment of time-travel.

12. Your dream costume?
Too many to count!

13. Is there a pattern in your costuming? If so, what?
I like to wear costumes that could have been worn in Sweden at the time. Luckily for me there are books with patterns taken from extant garments in Sweden. And that is why I want to make a German 16th century gown and not an Italian, as Germany was the big cultural influence in Sweden at the time.

14. Your most recent costume?
My white 1797’s gown.

15. What do you prefer? Cosplaying in a group or on your own?
I don’t really get what cosplay is, actually. But I prefer wear my costumes in a group of likeminded.

Thursday 15 October 2009


Foundations Revealed is up and running. I predict that I will want to sew a LOT of corsets now…

Tuesday 13 October 2009

White skin and powdered hair

The 18th century society of Gustafs Skål holds a weekend of lectures on the 18th century every year. They cover fashion, dance, architecture, food and music, and also beauty. It was my pleasure to talk about beauty and this post is the part of the lecture that was about the make-up. If you prefer, there is a version in Swedish here.

Beauty ideals

Whatever epoch in time we belong to, we want to be beautiful. The ideals vary, but no matter what they look like, that is what we want to look like. In the 18th century it was beautiful to have pale skin to show that you could afford not to work in the sun. Rosy-red cheeks was a sign of health, and the, preferable, bud-like mouth was to be red as well. As a contrast to all the white and red, a black, well-placed beautymark did the trick. The eyes weren’t painted, but the eyebrows should be dark. The skin was to be shiny- like porcelain, but not the hair. Powder made it suitably dull to contrast beautifully to the face.
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It is pictures we have to turn to, if we want to see how people looked back then, but to use paintings as proof can be a bit risky. The freedom of the artist (or the demands of the customer) may transform and beautify. Like this portrait by Roslin of Queen Lovisa Ulrika. A contemporary description of her says that her skin was very wrinkled and destroyed, but even if the portrait shows an elderly woman, her skin doesn’t look that bad.

Still, the paintings mirror the taste and ideals, so of course some conclusions can be drawn from them. An example is that the really pale faces, seems to belong more to the early 18th century and to the most formal occasions. Rouge, on the other hand, seems to be used even when the skin tone is more natural than white.
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It is two different artists that portray the very pretty Charlotta Fredrika Sparre in the middle of the 18th century, but it is still interesting to see one person in two very different faces. She is wearing masquerade costume on both portraits, but as a vestal her face is unpainted, apart from the rouge and her hair has its natural colour. As La Folie her face is pale and her hair powdered.
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A few words on my choice of products

Many of the ingredients at the time were poisonous and therefore I haven’t used them. How period it may be with white and red from lead, tin and cinnabar, they are bad for you and I haven’t used them. Titanium oxide and zinc oxide are white pigments that came during the 19th century and work in the same way as white from lead and tin and can used as substitutes. I probably don’t need to say this, but I do anyway; Never use poisonous products on your skin!

Another ingredient that often turns up is spermaceti, a waxy substance that comes from the Sperm Whale.. It is not poisonous and perhaps you can get it today, if you are prepared to pay for it. I haven’t checked that out as I don’t find it very ethical. Jojoba oil works very similar and I have used that instead.

The make-up

My beautiful models, Caroline and Abigail, in their natural state.

And after.

As I mentioned before, pale skin was the thing to have and it was supposed to be shiny too. A beautiful skin is often described as varnished, or glazed. Even without white make-up a shiny surfaced could be created with a lotion that contained nacre. Or use “An Admirable Varnish For the Skin”, a mixture of egg white, juice of lemon and some rosewater. Works very well, at least until the egg white is dry and starts to peel off… Rouge could be found in a number of red shades and could be placed all over the cheek, much in the same manner a blush spreads. Or it could be a smaller field on the middle of the cheek, or on the cheek bone.
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Caroline's make-up is rather heavy, the white pigment is Titan Oxide. I bought the pigment as a powder, so to make it stick I needed something for it to stick to. There are a number of recipes for pomades and I chose to make one that contained almond oil, bees wax, jojoba oil and a little rose water. It became a very thick cream and after spreading it on Caroline's face I dipped a sponge in the pigment and worked it in. It was a bit tricky to make it cover evenly and the end result became rather sticky. As this was just a test make-up, I just painted Caroline's face, had it been for a ball I would have painted all visible skin.

In the 18th century you didn't use different products for lips and cheeks and on Caroline I used red pomade on both. The red in it comes from alkanet root. To colour her eyebrows I used burnt clove. It gives a rather good colour, but unfortunately I had got pomade on the eyebrows and they got a bit too grey. To finish the make-up off, I put on two beauty marks. These were cut out from black paper, but I've used black taffeta before. If you use fabric, then it's good to prepare it so it doesn't unravel. A thin layer of glue work very well.

I used the same technique on Abigail, but different products. Instead of Titan Oxide I used talcum powder and you can see that it gives a very different result. Her skin got a little paler and it didn’t get as shiny either. Zinc Oxide is supposed to cover better, though not as well as Titan Oxide, and I would really like to test that too, one day.

Abigail’s cheeks and mouth is painted with liquid rouge. The red colour here is from red sandalwood and Brazil wood that has been soaked in brandy. I promise that you can tell when you sniff the bottle! This colour is much more yellow in its tone that the rouge with alkanet root it’s a bit tricky to apply as its liquid,. I found it easier to work with if I just took a little at the time. Then it’s also easier to build up to the strength of colour you want, if you just let it dry between applications.

It’s clear when you try these pigments out that they behave very differently. The ladies, and gentlemen, of the time did have a choice on how pale they wanted to be. Perhaps it’s not so wrong to assume that really white and poisonous make-up was saved for the really grand occasions. People didn’t die of lead poison in droves, after all and all the case I have read about has been about ladies who was known to be very heavily made-up at all times.

Powdered hair

Most people know that they powdered their hair white in the 18th century, but that wasn’t the only colour that was used, though it was the most common. Hair that has been powdered white doesn’t get white, it gets grey, more or less dark depending on your natural hair colour. Even if you could colour you hair black, or bleach it with lye, these methods were hard to control and the results unpredictable. To powder the hair was an easy way to change the colour. There were black powder as well as brown, grey and blond and if you were dating, there were also blue, pink and lavender. To get the powder to stick to the hair, the coiffure needed to be prepared with pomade, which could have been made from animal fat. As I used myself as guinea pig for the hair powdering and I really didn’t want to have animal fat in my hair, I used a modern substitute in the form of hair wax. I, or rather Caroline, used a big powder brush to apply the powder. We did it outside and I was wrapped in a sheet to protect face and clothes. Getting powder in your nose and throat is not funny!

This is how it looked after a go with the white powder. I find that the big brush method works fairly well, but I was a bit short of time and applied the wax unevenly- you can clearly see where it has stuck best. My hair is dark brown and it got rather grey. We used talcum powder, but starch, flour and ground up plaster of Paris was also used.

I have always wanted to try out coloured powder and decided that this would be a good occasion to try blue. The best would probably be to buy coloured pigment as a powder and mix with the white one, my guess is that that is what they did in the 18th century- as an example there is a recipe for blond powder where yellow ochre is recommended. But what I did was to but a crayon of dry pastels and pulverized it. A word of caution, though. Coloured pigment is even nastier to get in your lungs than plain powder.

My hair got beautifully blue! And the blue stuck to my scalp very well, it took me three washed to get rid of it all. If you powder your hair you have to take into account that it do disappear gradually as the day go by. But take it as a comfort that this is very period- it happened back then too.

A few words finishing words

Though I’ve held this lecture a number of times, I still learn more and each time I have new information. My lecture is very much a work in progress and I appreciate comments and questions. What I’ve said here is what I found to be true from the sources I’ve had and I’m always on the lookout for more information.

A big thank you to my models and to Madame Berg, who provided some pictures.!


La Couturière Parisienne have a section on 18th century beauty I found the recipe for the face pomade here, as well as modern substitutes for white pigment and that they don’t all behave the same.

Ageless Artifice A company that makes beauty products after historical recipes. They have a limited assortment at the moment, but plan to enlarge it. I bought the liquid rouge and the red pomade from them, and I’m very satisfied with their service, products and prices.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab A perfume company that makes a few perfumes after historical recipes. They make two 18th century perfumes, Marie for the ladies and Vicomte de Valmont for the gentleman.

The Toilets of Flora A complete beauty book from 1779, online, with everything you need to be the perfect beauty, rococo-style.

Sunday 11 October 2009


I’m good and writing the English version on 18th century make-up, but even the wicked needs rest, so I did this as a pause:

Your result for The Steampunk Style Test...

The Aristocrat

75% Elegant, 34% Technological, 63% Historical, 28% Adventurous and 17% Playful!

You are the Aristocrat, the embodiment of steampunk elegance and poise. For you, dressing steampunk is first and foremost about simply looking good, with accessories and details to follow. However, this does not mean that you ignore the demands of creating a “steampunk look.” Your outfits weave together a balance between technology and style, and between period accuracy and beautiful anachronism. While your fashion inspiration may come from anywhere across the Victorian social spectrum, you always find a way to make your outfit beautiful. You will probably be found in the clothes of the steam age elite simply because of the greater elegance available to them. Chances are you dress this way because you like it, and you would still dress in this manner even if steampunk was not a popular interest.

Try our other Steampunk test here.

Take The Steampunk Style Test at HelloQuizzy

I’m rather drawn to Steampunk and is toying with a friend on having a Steampunk party. So don’t you think that I must do something fun Victorianesque clothes for that? I’m already working on an 1870’s corset, as a matter of fact…

Monday 5 October 2009

Having had a very nice weekend

At least I had a great time holding my lecture. It seemed that my audience enjoyed it too. No nig boo-boo’s, if you don’t count the moment when the ribbon in my pocket hoops gave way and it suddenly was on the floor, and not on my hips. The blame on that is on Spacecat Spiff, who seems to regard string and ribbons as things he is to chew on- and through... I also got a little rushed for time, which at first surprised me, as I’ve been doing this before. But I had two models this year instead of one, and of course that filled up more time. I had quite a bit that I didn’t have time to mention, but I guess it’s better than the opposite. You know, when the speaker say about 20 minutes before the end that well, that was all s/he had to say and any questions?

One thing I really wanted to say was this, though; did you know that Madame Pompadour had several pair of drawers made of black, knitted silk?

I’m going to write a post about doing the make-up, but as I want that to be as good as possible, I won’t rush it. It ought to come later in the week, though.

I didn’t have time to go on more than one lecture than my own, but that was a dancing lesson. A lot of fun, though I had danced all of them before, though my legs ache a bit today. Always nice to be able to practice a little. I would like to go on the 18th century cooking class, one day, and the minuet class.

In the evening we had a little Salon, but I was very tired and didn’t stay long. It was very nice as long as I stayed, though. And Kristinehof has turned into such a wonderful 18th century house now. It was also fun to be able to talk with Lithia Black in person and I hope she didn’t find the dress I lent her too unbecoming. I should have taken a picture of her. And I should have had someone to take a picture of me, but I didn’t. But here is a very nice picture of the evening that sets the tone very nicely:


Thursday 1 October 2009

18th century beauty and 1860's gown

I'm working on my lecture on 18th century beauty. Gustafs Skål is holding their 18th century lecture weekend this week, and it will be the third time I'm holding my lecture. I look forward to it, as this will be the first time I will be able to do the make-up with period beauty aids. Well, as much as is possible- regardless how period lead white is, I'm not going to use it. :-) It will be very interesting to see how these products work. I have a feeling that they will behave rather different than modern make-up I also hope to be able to try out coloured hair powder. I'm not just talking about the beauty part, but also about hygien and beauty ideals- it is, after all, a three-hour lecture, but I'm thinking of writing a post about doing the make-up. Would there be an interest of an 18th century make-over, using period beauty aids?

I've recently managed to budget in a prescription to Your Wardrobe Unlock'd. Lots of interesting stuff and I've started to make an overbust corset with the help of the pattern drafting tutorial. That one, alone, make up for the money spent. Somewhat to my annoyance, I find that there have been a costume competition this year for making a late 1860 gown. I've been toying with the thought of making one for a while, and it would have been fun to have been part of a group sewing. I really hope there will be another competition next year. There were only three entries this year, but I still hope there will be another one. Still, there are a number of useful articles about making a gown from that period, so I think I will try to make my great-grandmother Laura's gown. So my next move will be to figure out the material. It looks to me like it's checkered and, obviously, in a light-coloured fabric. I wonder it it's silk or cotton? What do you think? She would certainly have been able to afford silk, but the fabric isn't very shiny. It is, on the other hand, a rather faded photograph. And I need to do a little research on what colours that was popular.
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