Thursday 28 November 2013

European women's fashion, 1600-1650, an overview

The 17th century saw a multitude of fashions and this post and the next one, will try to find a few key ones. Fashion in the previous centuries had been clearly confined to geographical regions. 16th century Venetian, English and german fashion, for example, were quite different, even if they were all fashionable at the same time. The invention oft he printing press, however,  didn't just enable literaure to spread wider and faster, but also fashion prints. Regional fashion was still evident in the 17th century, the Spansih fashion probably the most well-known, but fashion trends travelled much faster through Europe. Trends still hung around for decades, though and different fashions could be worn at the same time, especially in the first half of the century.
The late 16th century fashion with a long bodice, wheel farthingales and over the top decorations still held strong in the early 17th century. It changed slightly, the deep necklines became oval instead of square and the farthingale tipped forward in the front. Though it became obsolete as everyday fashion, it was still in use as court wear, especially in England, where queen Anne insisted on it until her death in 1619.
Elizabeth of England by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, 1612

With such a cumbersome formal attire, a more wearable combination of a waaitcoat and petticoat, with or without a loose gown, were wron at home or less formal occasion. In England it seems to have been hugely popular with embroidered linen clothes, but as far as I know that was a specific Brittish fashion, as was the trend of being painted in such informal wear.. All over Europe knitted waistcoats were worn, though.

Detail of a painting of Dorothy Carr by William larkin, 1614-1618
Another fashion from the early 17th century was a high-necked gown worn with a large ruff. It had hanging sleeves and a very distict shape of the bottom of the bodice. It was worn over a farthingale as well, but of a very different shape than the wheel farthingale. This style seems to have been popular in Spain and Germany.
Margherita Gonzaga, Duchess of Lorraine by Frans Pourbus the Younger, 1604-1605
In the late 1610's the long waist started to creep up and the farthingale was abandoned, at least outside Spain. Throughout the 1620's decorations grew somewhat more austere and black clothes more popular.

Unknown lady by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, 1618
In the 1630's fashion changed quite a bit. Sleeves which genereally had been quite narrow now grew very wide and the waist of the bodices grew to rest a bit above the natural one. One popular style were the Burgundian style with slitted sleeves. They were usually quite plain, decorated with ribbons in a contrasting colour.

Lady Anne Ruhout by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, 1631
This kind of gown had it's heyday in the 1630's, but the one Henrietta Maria of England worn on a multitude of portraits kept it's popularity throughout the 1640's as well. It had a bodice that looked more like a jacket, worn open in front over a stomacher. Large ruffs and collars were worn well into the 1640's, but falling bands and plain collars became more and more popular in the 1630's and was always worn with this type of gown. 

Hnerietta Maria, Queen of England by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, 1632-1635
Another popular style was a plain gown with a closed front. Here with a square necklines, but they could also have be high-necked or, pointing forward, widen to show more of the shoulders. It was very often black and udually worn with a white collar and cuffs.
Unknown woman by Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen the Elder, 1648

The Spanish, as usual, were doing their own thing.

Maria of Austria, Queen of Hungary by Frans Luyucks, 1635

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Plan your sewing and sew what you planned

Finished; 18th century stays, started in early 2010.
As I said yesterday I was a bit amazed when I counted this years finished sewing projects and found that they number sixteen. That’s probably more finished projects in one year than I have ever managed before and there are still 1 ½ month left of 2013. However, these projects are both UFO’s and brand new projects. I have finished eleven UFOs and still have thirteen to go before that pile is done, so I’m not halfway through. However, some of these may be stuff that I will need to let go of and decide not to finish. I have also started nine new projects this year, though most of these had been planned for a long time and five of these are finished.

I know that the UFO pile I had at the beginning of the year was rather extreme, and probably still is. As one of my workmates put it when I told her; “How on earth do one get to have so many unfinished things going at the same time?” Indeed, how? Well, not quickly, that’s for sure. The oldest UFO I had was the Edwardian blouse that I finished early this year, which I started at least fifteen years ago. I have learned a lot this year and I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Finished, tartan skirt started in September
2013 and a brown silk noil blouse, one
of this year's new, but planned, projects.
First; Analyze your sewing. As I sew multiple periods, I started with an analysis of what I actually sew and grouped my projects into four lists; 18th century, anything else pre-1930, the 1940’s wardrobe project and anything else post-1930. I used a free app for that, which also allowed me to give every entry priority A, B, C. I gave A to the projects I wanted to finish next and B to everything in the UFO pile, reserving C for purely planned projects. I know not everyone needs to do this, but for me it was vital. For the first time I realised how many UFOs I really had and also were most of them were- in the 18th century, in my case.

Then, think a bit of why projects don’t get finished. A rather difficult process. I isn’t like someone forbids me to finish what I do, but I have only myself to blame. I found four major obstacles to why my UFO pile has been growing for years.

1. Making clothes for a special occasion. At first this looks like a good example of getting things done, but in fact it usually means starting something new and with a time restraint which means I push everything else on hold. By the time it is finished I’m usually in a very bad need of a sewing break and by the end of it I have lost momentum and inspiration on whatever I was doing before and as often as not, I start something completely new.

My solution: No more short term deadlines and definitely not with a fixed date. I know that a lot of people feel that they need a deadline to get things done, but I just get stressed and stop enjoying what I do. After all, I sew because I like to do it, so why should I push myself into disliking it?

2. Not having an overview I have touched on that already, not really knowing what I had started on made it easy to forget them altogether.

My solution:  Making lists. I have several, actually. The ones I mentioned already, which looks like this:

My 18th century list. Next is the embroidered polonaise, started 10 years ago, then a pair of brown stays, started one year ago, followed by a banyan for J, which I think has been an UFO for 2 years.
I like to use the app because it is easy to move projects around and when I am finished I tick them off and those get stored at the bottom of the list, making it easy to keep track on. It is very encouraging to easily see how much I have accomplished! Then I have a few paper lists. A sheet of paper and a pencil is all you need, but I really like the free downloadable templates The Project Girl offers. I use these two for listing every started project with notes on what I need to do and what I need to get and for one big list with every project I have, sorted after priority, with the most pressing project at the top.

I need to allow myself to work on more than one project on any give time, because otherwise I get bored, so I proclaim the four top projects on the list those I’m allowed to work on. And I can't work on anything else until I have finished something. Then I just take the next one. This has worked amazingly well for me! Because of the 40’s sewing project I have a lot of projects planned that I want to work with as well as my UFOs, my list have two 40’s style UFOs, one period UFO and then a new 40’s project, and then back to two 40’s UFOs. Right now I’m hemming a black dress and re-fitting a toile for a brown jacket (40’s UFOs), the 1640’s gown (period UFO) and the faux fur (new 40’s project. When one of these is finished, I’m going to make a 40’s grey wool gown, another UFO, and so on. At the moment all my new projects are long-time planned 40’s clothes. Any period projects that are on the planned stage will have wait until next year. I revise this list regulary, as things change and a static list wouldn't serve my purposes. If changes are needed, changes are made!

3. Perfectionism. The main reason to why so many of my projects get stalled when they are nearly completed is a fear that I won’t like the clothes when I’m done with them.

My solution. Allowing myself to accept that not everything you do will be top notch. And that’s OK, because I can sew, so I can change things. Or make something else. Very simple in theory, not so simple to apply, but I work hard on it!

4. Clutter. That is actually something that stops me sewing anything, just not UFOs and is something I have been working on for years. I don’t think chaos breeds creativity. Of course, while you are working on something, things can be pretty chaotic around you, and that’s fine, but for me to be able to work, I need to have an underlying order. I need to know where my things can be found. This is an ongoing process and it is slowly getting better and the better it gets, the more productive my sewing time becomes.

My solutions, so far:. Having all my fabrics in a card catalogue. I have to store my fabrics in the attic, so having a card for every piece with a fabric sample, a note on how much there is and perhaps what I plan to do with is, as well as in which box it is, helps enormously. It took a long time to make and it needs to be maintained, but I love it. I always know exactly where my fabrics are and never have to go throuigh box after box to find it.

I store sewing notions in stackable boxes from IKEA, all labeled.. I don’t have a whole sewing room, but rather one half of a room, so there isn’t that much spade. Still, I can have my sewing machine permanently up.

 Working hard on keeping it uncovered too…
I also have several shelves, as well as various cupboards for storing books, fabric and this and that, which is very much a work in progress, but there is a much better order in my workspace now than it was a year ago. I also took the time to sort through my gigantic box with ribbons, mostly untouched since I inherited from my grandmother almost 10 years ago.

Now all ribbons have been wound on cardboard if the didn’t have their own spools and is generally much easier to find!

I must say that my working on solving my “sewing problems” have worked wonders for my productivity. I get things done on a whole new scale and I no longer feel bad when I start something new, because they are part of the plan. I won’t be finishing all my UFOs this year, but I think I will in 2014!

Monday 18 November 2013

Want-list for 2014, my new hair and a mysterious 17th century gown

I’ve been in a sewing funk lately. Or rather, I have been so tired that I haven’t had any energy to sew more than a few minutes at the time. A combination of the season and a cold that just doesn’t want to break out. Still, this year I have finished 16 sewing projects! I couldn’t quite believe it, but I have! Not all of these were UFO’s, but I have made a huge dent in that pile. I still have plenty left, but I hope that in March most of them will be finished as well. So I dare to make a to-do list for 2014 that will include some brand new projects, as well as some old planned ones. I do have UFO’s too, but I’m not listing them here. I doubt I will have all these finished by the end of 2014, though as I have promised myself that I will only work on one of these projects at the time. I also have my 40’s wardrobe project to work on as well. Another promise is to not do any last minute sewing. I will make deadlines, but rather long-term ones.

First out; A Swedish court gown, ca 1780. I need to buy fabric, but I plan to start this in January. It consists of petticoat, bodice and robe, plus decorations. I want this to be finished by July.

Lady in court gown, engraving by an unknown artist, 1786
A 1650’s outfit for J. Doublet, breeches, collar and cuffs. The doublet and breeches will be in black wool. To be finished by October.

Doublet and breeches in black silk, worn by Karl X of Sweden, 1650's, 19326 (3403:a)
1640’s collar and cuffs for my purple 1640’s gown. (Stalled at the moment- I managed to sew the gussets the wrong way, and ended up with two right fronts… I haven’t stopped being annoyed with myself yet) Also to be finished by October.

A mantua. I know I want to make one, but I don’t know if I want to make one that would fit both sides of 1700 with a stomacher or an earlier one with a closed front. Colourwise I’m thinking of making up this one:

Recueil des modes de la cour de France, 'Dame de Qualité en Manteau' by Nicholas Bonnart, 1682-1686
Which would make it an earlier one by default, but I’m also thinking of a brown/red with gold or a black with silver. I do know that I want a mantua, though. Speaking of which, my friend Johanna draw my attention to this mysterious “mantilj” from the 1690’s. It is made of white embroidered silk and black silk gauze, and is more like an enormous shawl, than a gown. The “sleeves” are no real sleeves; the fabric is just draped to look like that. It is basted to the stomacher, and the skirt is split both in the front and the back, according to the description. I’ve never seen anything like it. Have you? It is impossible to tell much from black and white pictures, and the gown in store at Nordiska museet in Stockholm. I would dearly love to se it in person!

From Mode. Klädedräktens historia genom fem sekler by Carolina Brown
An Edwardian skirt. There is a pretty active 19th century group in Stockholm and several of my friends participate, so it would be fun if I could go too. I’m rather under-whelmed with 19th century fashion, but they do stretch into the 1910’s, and I rather like Edwardian fashions. I finished my embroidered blouse earlier this year and I have a really nice blue-grey linen that would make a lovely skirt and with luck, a little jacket too. I also need to make a hat.

Ladies skirts, 1903
An embroidered early 17th century jacket. (And skirt). I’m still working on a little frog purse, but when it is finished I will need a new embroidery project.

Lady Elizabeth howard, Countess of Banbury by Daniel Mytens, ca 1619
I also need wigs! I cut off my hair a week ago, and now it looks like this.

I’m so pleased with it, but it’s kind of difficult to make period hairstyles with it. It’s is a little longer than chin-length at the front, so I guess I could do a mid-18th century style if I cover the back of my hair with a cap, but that’s about it. So I will need:

A 1640’s style

Frances, Countess of Portland by Sir Anthony van dyck, 1640
A late 17th century style. I’m really tempted to try a fontange hairstyle, which would suit if I make a later mantua.

Louise Françoise de Bourbon, mademoiselle de Nantes by François de Troy, 1688-1693
An Edwardian up-do

I also have an old wig in a rather horrible brassy colour, which I think could work for an early 17th century style.

Margaret Hay, Countess of Dunfermline by Marcus Gheeraerts, ca 1615

Friday 15 November 2013

Steampunk books and music

I love Steampunk in theory, but have never had any incentive to make any clothes. I think about it from time to time, but I don’t know when I would wear them. I’m much more drawn to make a Steampunk Victorian outfit than a true Victorian outfit, though. But I just read Gail Carriger’s latest book and as I really enjoy her Steampunk/Supernatural novels, here is a post with some Steampunk book and music tips.


Gail Carriger debuted with Soulless where she depicts a Victorian world were vampires, werewolf and ghosts are a (super)natural part in Society. In fact, it is the werewolves’ prowess as soldiers that has created the British Empire and it is the vampires that influence the rules and behaviours of good society. There are also, as it is a Steampunk novel, lots of scientists and a plethora of automatons, killer hedgehogs, parasols with extra devices and a lot more. The series contains five titles, Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless and Timeless, together they are called The Parasol Protectorate. The reason that some people can become supernatural beings are an excess of soul, but the heroine in PP, Alexa Tarabotti, is a woman who has no soul at all. Apart from making her rather pragmatic, her touch turns vampires and werewolves back to human beings, for as long as the touch lasts. The books are a series, but each contains their own plot. The main protagonist, apart from Alexa, is her friend Lord Akeldama, the most outrageous vampire ever and the gruff, but annoyingly attractive werewolf, Lord Macoon. There is also a large supporting cast of scientists, family, friends, werewolves, vampires and ghosts.

A prequel series l to The Parasol Protectorate is The Finishing School, which so far has two volumes, Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies. These are YA novels and the heroine is a 14-year old girl Sophoria, who are sent to a finishing school. Only, this school is really teaching the art of espionage. The PP books takes place in the 1870’s and the FS some twenty odd years before, which means that some characters appears here as well, not always as younger persons.


I enjoy these books a lot. They are fun and fast-paced and Carriger makes her world detailed and interesting. The characters may appear a bit simplified, Alexa and Sophronia are, for example, both independent, intelligent characters who are slightly awkward in social settings, but over the course of the stories, layers and some depth are developed- after all, these books are mainly for fun. I also find it deeply satisfying that Carriger has done her fashion research and clothes and accessories are frequently important for the plot. Or added fun, like Alexa’s friend Ivy’s penchant for really awful hats. And, the ladies keep their corsets on! It’s a bit of a pet-peeve of mine when Victorian ladies 8or earlier), doesn’t wear this essential item of clothing. The PP books contains a good deal of sex, but not too explicit and not all relations are heterosexual, which I think is a point if their favour.

Recently a novella was published in the anthology The Book of the Dead, which gives the story of Alexa’s father and a new series is planned, which will feature Alexa’s daughter, The parasol Protectorate Aboard.

Another book tip is The Other Log of Phineas Fogg by Philip Farmer. It was written in 1973, well before the concept of Steampunk, but it still contains plot elements that makes it rather steamy, though there are also some SF. It is, as you may guess, a version of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Here the bet Fogg makes is actually the cover for a mission to retrieve a teleportation device. Farmer also includes character from other Verne books like Captain Nemo, as well as Dr. Moriarty, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I haven’t read any other books by Farmer, but as I understand it he has written several books that takes place in the same universe.

And last, a music tip. Voltaire (sometimes Aurelio Voltaire) have been one of my favourite musician for ten years, or so. His music is a bit hard to place and has been called folk/Goth/cabaret/new wave, or, as he himself described it "Music for a parallel universe where electricity was never invented and Morrissey is the queen of England". All his music can be found on YouTube and Spotify, but in a Steampunk context I particularly recommends the whole album To the Bottom of the Sea and Mechanical Girl.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Historically accurate or just good and bad costumes?

Last weekend we went to Milan to see Verdi’s Aida at La Scala, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. I know that opera isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I like it. And this was the best production I have ever seen! Not only were the singers and the orchestra top notch, the scene and costumes were absolutely stunning. It was breathtaking and wonderful and I feel happy every time I think about it. It also made me thought, yet again, about costumes and historical credibility. Before I started to make historical clothes for myself, I spent ten years making costumes for various opera and theater productions. On amateur basis with lousy budget, but it was great fun and something I’m still very interested in. A costumer can set moods and enhance the director’s vision and, for sets that take place in the past, there is the issue of historical accuracy. Here, I think, there is a difference between the stage and the movies. Stage production need simplification and bigger gestures because the visual impact has to reach an audience that can be quite far away. Aida, for example, made use of the Egyptian iconography, but didn’t try to make authentic Ancient Egypt-costumes. It worked splendidly on stage, but in a movie it would probably look a bit crude. In movies, (or TV-series) I have a much higher expectation on historical accuracy, but it is still a bit tricky to say that I expect, or even need, a 100% accuracy. Costumes aren’t just clothes, but need to fit into an artistic whole. Still, sometimes inaccurate costumes makes me annoyed and irritated and I have been thinking of why I find it ok at times and sometimes not ok at all.

Take Queen Margot, for example, a spectacular movie, set in Paris in 1575. The costumes are spectacular as well, but though they invoke the late 16th century, they do play hard and fast with historical accuracy at times and I still love it. It is a larger-than-life story, not directly based on the actual historical events it depicts, but on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel. The costumes may not be perfect from a historic point of view, but they are made to fit this story, and they do it very well.

Another good example is Fanny and Alexander from 1982. It is set in the first decade of the 20th century and I think the costumes do a good job invoking that time (the won an Oscar). But the costumer, Marik Voos-Lundh  has describes how she tried to keep to silhouettes and colour schemes of the time, she also purposefully simplified the clothes, using a lot less trim than was fashionable then. She also worked with matching costumes for a visual impact you just don’t get in real life. That is quite common, if you watch Downton Abbey, for example, the costumes are clearly matched so the colours harmonize with each other.

Christmas celeberation in the beginning of the movie. Red is a traditional Christmas colour, but was also symbolically important to Ingmar Bergman.

Muted pastels, not looking good together by coincidence.

Ripper Street has just started for a second season, and I really enjoy the costumes in that show too. It is set around 1890, which isn’t a period I know that much about more than the general look, so I guess those who are keener on the period can pick the fashion apart, much as I can do with anything set in the 18th century. I still think it evokes a very nice period feeling. The blonde on the pictures here may look quite garish, but she is a character who runs a better sort of brothel, so demure isn’t something to aim for. The strong colours became fashionable with the new dyes that were developed at the time and she always wears a corset and don’t leave her home without a hat.

For a stark contrast, take a look at this picture and tell me what period of time they are aiming for.

I would say late 1980’s. Well, why not say it must be 1990, just for effect. Because, in fact, the costumes are from the new Dracula series, set in 1890. I’m sorry to say, because I have been a fan of vampires since I was 12 that this series just isn’t good on so many levels, but the costumes are appallingly bad. And if they aren’t bad, like a beautiful suit with a tilt hat Mina wears in a later scene, they are still completely wrong- Mina suit would look great in something set in the 1940’s. I read an article were the costumes are described as Victorian meets Steampunk, but I can’t see neither here.

Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of England
as she was depicted ca. 1471.
Dracula is truly a prime example of historical inaccuracies that irritates me. To various extent series like The White Queen, The Tudors and Reign fits in here as well and I think I have pinpointed the reasons why I dislike the costumes. I think it is because the disregard for fashion history only has one purpose and that is to make something that looks old-fashioned but still doesn’t offend the aesthetics of the modern viewer. That is the sole reason and as it isn’t a very good reason, the costuming fells flat. If you have an idea, if you want to say something with the way the costumes are designed, then mistakes doesn’t matter that much. If it is just a fear of losing viewers, it will show.

Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of England
as she was depicted on television, 2013.
It is probably true that the average viewer has very dim ideas of fashion history and generally costumes gets more accurate the closer the time period is to or own time. Perhaps because more and more people actually know what was worn I, say, the 1920’s than they do about the 1520’s. I still don’t think that it is any reason to be lazy and slipshod about what was worn. Even if the costumes needs to, for whatever reason, to not be 100 % accurate, it must be a better deal to start with the actual proper fashion and work from that, adapting, than just making something that looks old-fashioned. In The White Queen, for examples, wimples and veils were banned just because they were deemed too unappealing for modern eyes. Mmm, ok, I sort of get that. Kind of, though I don’t agree. But I can’t see the reason to clothe the cast in something that looks more pseudo-medieval than late 15th century. And even if people don’t know about the correct fashion, I think it is a bit insulting to think that it can’t be appreciated anyway.

So to sum it up, I don’t mind costumes that aren’t quite correct if there is a clear idea and purpose behind it, but not when it just feels like lazy costuming. What do you think?
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