Monday 22 September 2014

Costume research, a few tips and tricks

Sigismonda And The Heart Of Guiscardo by Moses Haughton
Some time ago I was asked what I think is the most important thing when it comes to making historical costumes and my answer was; research. Even if the aim isn’t to make a period correct garment, it is never wrong to know the subject. I know that many feel that research is boring and perhaps a bit scary, but I think it is fun and sometimes like being your very own private detective. When starting a new period it can be overwhelming and difficult to know what is correct information and what is not, especially with the Net which doesn’t make it hard to find information but rather to make it hard to know which of it that is useful. The ideal is, of course, primary sources, but that may be a difficult thing to do; sources can be in another language or located at a place which is difficult to get to. As I’m currently looking into the 15th century for the first time, I have a lot of things to learn and the very first step is to learn which sources to trust. And because I have been thinking about it a lot lately, here are a few pointers for finding trustworthy information. 

Woman Writing A Letter by Gerard ter Borch, c. 1655
Learn to Google. Think through what you want to learn and select a few search words. Try more than one so you make sure you catch as much as possible. Of course, this will yield a lot of information, but see it at a first stepping stone to get a broad understanding. If, for example, you want to make an 18th century Robe Française, a quick google will show you tons of pictures and links.
Be critical. It’s seems to be a default system that in every group there will be things seen as truths, something that everyone does and which is very easy to take for hard facts. Ask questions! If someone tells you this is the way to do it, the politely ask why, ask for sources. The same goes for blog posts and articles online, don’t just take the information for granted. So ask questions, but ask nicely. People are usually happy to share their sources, but don’t ask things like “Send me everything you know about XWY”. Get to know the basics of XWY on your own first. I don’t mind answering “I’m looking into XWY and I notice you say this or that about it and I wonder where you found that reference”, but I don’t have the time or inclination to do someone’s complete research. If you want to buy a period sewing pattern, do a little research on the pattern company to see what their patterns are based on and what kind of research has gone into the pattern. There are pattern review sites like The Great Pattern Review and a Facebook group; Costumer Pattern Review
Read books. There are tons of good books out there, so a trip to the library can yield quite a lot. Most of us never get the chance to study extant garments, but luckily people like Janet Arnold, has done it for us. Such books give detailed description of extant garments, usually with photographs of it as well as period paintings that depicts similar clothes.  
Man Writing a Letter by Gabriël Metsu, 1664-66
Read first hand sources online. There are several websites that scan original texts, saving you a trip to the library. For example; Google Books, Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg.
Read peer reviewed papers online. Well-researched papers and articles can be found at sites like Some university libraries have free articles in their catalogues, though you will have to search for them.
Theophila Palmer Reading Clarissa by Joshua Reynolds, 1771
Browse museums online. More and more museums have their collections available and one can find both extant garments and period paintings there. A small warning when it comes to extant clothes; if you find something unusual, you may have found something unique, but it can also be due to something being re-made. For example, the Victorians were rather notorious in changing 18th century clothes for costume balls.
Pinterest. A bit of a quagmire, I know. If you pin yourself, try to find the original source of the pictures if you can. For example, if you find a pretty gown on Tumblr and it is originally found at Metropolitan Museum, jump to the Met before you pin. That way you can easily find the original information later. If you re-pin, take a gander on what the pinner says about the picture, it may not be the truth. For example, there is a pretty 17th century gown going round that is said to be an extant gown. However, if you go to the original source it becomes clear that the gown is actually made for a theatre production in the 1990’s. Pinterest is really good for sorting pictures as you can make as many albums you like.
And last; You will make mistakes. You will draw the wrong conclusions. It’s not a big deal, see it as part of the learning process and be happy that you have a knowledge bank that is constantly growing.

Young Woman Reading a Letter by Jean Raoux

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Come and sew 17th century with me!

As you may remember I recently joined the Manuscript Challenge on Facebook in the hope of finally making a medieval outfit. I thought they idea of the challenge were excellent, you choose a picture, upload it and from the date you do that, you have one year to complete the outfit. So I asked Maria who created the challenge if I could borrow her idea for a 17th century challenge and she very kindly gave me permission. So I have started a 17th century sewing challenge, which you can find here. I hope you will come and join me in creating a fabulous 17th century outfit! The rules are Maria’s, though slightly tweaked to fit into the 1600’s.

1. Choose one picture from a painting, print or similar. The picture must be in color. Time frame: The 17th century, 1600-1699. The picture must be an original; a later interpretation/re-drawing does not count. An extant garment can also be used. State your image source. Choose carefully before you decide what image to use, since you will have less time to complete your project if you change your mind and pick another picture later on. You are allowed to use a painting/garment even if someone else has chosen it already. 

2. Publish your image and tell us which outfit (if the image contains several) you plan to make. Create a photo album for your particular challenge. The first image is the image you have chosen to recreate. In your album, add pictures of your creative process. Ask for help if you need it, we are happy to help.

3. Create your outfit according to the wearer’s outfit, as shown in the picture. This means the entire outfit! You are not allowed to mix and match garments worn by different individuals appearing in the same picture.

4. Let us in on your progress! You might upload pictures of how you proceed, or notes on your thought process. You can also blog about it!

5. Ask for help, tips and advice if you feel the need and wish to do so. We’re all here for you, to support you if necessary, and to cheer you on if you get stuck.

6. It’s entirely up to you whether you wish to use plant-dyed, hand-woven fabric, or polyester. The idea is to recreate a visual copy of your chosen image. Your level of hard core technique and materials is up to you. You set your own goals here – we do not judge or look down on anyone due to their choice of project execution mode.

7. You have one year to finish from the day you upload the picture.

Bonus – No rules, this section is optional! 

8. How long does it take? It would be interesting to know how much time you spent working on your project. 

9. What did it cost? Did you work from scrap fabric found in the trash, or did you splurge on the most expensive silk you could find? How do our budgets differ?

And here is my chosen picture:

A Young Woman at Her Toilet with a Maid by Gerard ter Boch, 1650-51, Metropolitan Museum
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