From my motherland-Scotland

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Love the pin stripes on the lady to the right.

These two ladies had their photo done in Edinburgh Scotland at the Parisian Photo Co.  I found possible dates for this studio (1887-93) here at this site.

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Nice jewelry on this lady.

The dresses do not appear to have bustles of the late bustle period (1883-89)…

but do have larger sleeves of the Belle Epoche so I think this would be in the 90’s range for this photo.  If this studio lasted until ’93 then this photo is ’90-93.

Greetings from Milwaukee

I bought this cabinet card that was made in Milwaukee in the 1890’s.SAM_2770 aI’m guessing that this is a 1890’s photo because of the sleeves.SAM_2770 bInteresting paisley-like fabric on the middle lady’s bodice, don’t you think?  I wonder what color it was.  I think she is a daughter and the two seated people are her parents.

The back of the card is very pretty!SAM_2770 cI’d like to see a building like that.  Also, note the add in the top left window.  12 cabinets and a life-sized crayon for $4.75.  Well that brings an image to my modern mind of a gigantic wax crayon.  Pretty sure that was not what this photographer was selling.

It seems a crayon portrait  was a process.  Copied from this website. Go to the link and scroll down till you see the below quote and an accompanying photo.

Crayon Portraits/Charcoal or Pastel 1860 – 1905/1930 Crayon a French word meaning pencil, the term “Crayon portrait” is any art that is both free hand, and photographic. Photographic crayon portraits, they usually measure around 16 x 20 inches, usually a vignette and often a convex oval. When found in frames they were a large gilded, or ornately decorated frame. They were the commercial attempts at photographic enlarging, through the Woodward Solar Enlarging Camera, patented by Woodward in 1857. The weakly printed solar enlargement required the crayon portrait artist’s touch up work in order to strengthen the image. Crayon portraits enjoyed great success from roughly 1860 through about 1905, and in some isolated areas until the Great Depression. These were the first “life-sized” photographic images that were available for portraiture. Artists used bromide, silver, and platinum prints as the photographic base. An out of print book (1882) by J. A. Barhydt describes the process of making the portraits, “Crayon Portraiture: Complete Instructions for Making Crayon Portraits on Crayon Paper and on Platinum, Silver, and Bromide Enlargements.” Now and then a copy shows up on eBay for around twenty bucks or so. Unfortunately, the genre is not highly valued as a topic to historians of photography, as evidenced in most texts on the subject.
Concerning the dating of one of the artifacts . . . the enlargements were made from an earlier daguerreotype, ambrotype, tintype or late, any variety of the smaller prints made from glass plates. As a result, dating the image can be tricky and may require research. A daguerreotype made in 1847, for instance, might not have been enlarged until 1867. While clothing styles may have been updated on a few images, this is rare by my experience, and I have examined thousands of crayons as a photographic materials conservator who specializes in them. If there is a question regarding the date of the artifact, seek a conservator’s examination–or date the artifact as closely as possible to a decade using circa; c1865, c1875, etc. To assist the dating of artifacts, there are books available showing clothing styles of the 19th century and how fashion changed from decade to decade. Attempt to date both the original and the enlargement if possible. This information was found on, author unknown.


The Paradise

Just finished Netflix binge watching The Paradise.

Credit for the photo and info on the show here.

Credit for the photo and info on the show here.

I liked it.  The show features the above girl, Denise as she leaves her small town to work in a large department store (a new concept in the 1870’s). There were some interesting plot lines and some cool characters but we all know why I watched it…costumes!  Some were really pretty and to my eye, good theatrical representations of what might have been worn.  I did have trouble with Miss Glendenning.  Some of her dresses in season one…they were often white with extremely strong contrasting colors in them.

Link to photo origin here.

Link to photo origin here.

They were so strong that it seemed like modern polyester material.  It probably was modern polyester but it shouldn’t have looked like it!  I also had some issues with the actress-seemed too old for the part of a young heiress in the 1870’s looking for a husband (in season one).  They married her off in season two and that suited better.


Confirmed: my job does get in the way of my “art”

In between catching up on the laundry and grocery shopping, I have been spending the remainder of my vacation in the sewing room.  I have completed the 1872 Lilac Dreams bodice!  Yeah me!

Truly Victorian 1872 Vested Bodice TV403

Truly Victorian 1872 Vested Bodice TV403

The white part has little white buttons running up it that the glare washes out but I was making myself crazy trying to get the fabric to not look blue and didn’t notice I had washed out the white part.  Me thinks I need a better camera.


I think I may need to tack that bow down a bit more.  It seems to be sitting a bit cockeyed.


That is how it is supposed to sit.

In addition to finishing the bodice, I have cut out and sewn two skirts a la assembly line style.  There is a purple skirt to go with this bodice and a blue one for another project.  I’m at the hand sewing stage now.  They both might get some trim but I’m going to wait and see how they look with their bodice and over skirt first.  They might not need anything…especially the purple as the pattern it pretty wild on its own.


Oh boy! Here we go!

While on vacation last fall in the States, I found a place that sells real silk fabric at prices I can only dream of here in Canada.  I found some at a price that I’m hard pressed to find in a decent cotton.  If I do find it here at that price, it is so hideous that you’d have to pay me to cart it out of the store.

The thing is, the cost of silk is ordinarily so prohibitive for me that I’ve never knowingly used it.  (I did hope that a bolt of fabric I once found at a thrift store was real silk but I’ve never found out for sure).  That prohibition has caused me to fear the day I’d cut into it and sew it.  What if I botch it up and I’m left with a huge pile of expensive useless?  What if I pull it off and manage to sew something that fits and stays on my body and I wear it and dump cranberry juice on it or tear it on the car door before I even get to my event?  What if I try to wash it and it shrinks into some sort of horrid worm shaped doll dress?  Oh the humanity!  These fears have hung over me, even though I didn’t actually pay the high price.  KNOWING that I would have paid a high price for it HERE has frozen me solid!

I’ve stalled and procrastinated on that project long enough.  Today I took the plunge.

Hard to tell in this dark "selfie" but I'm cringing as I make the first cut!

Hard to tell in this dark “selfie” but I’m cringing as I make the first cut!

The skirt is cut out now and there is plenty left over for a bodice and perhaps I can use the scraps on a hat.  SAM_1685Tomorrow we bite the sewing bullet and put this puppy together.

Now I have to decide what to call this dress.  1860 …..hmmm….Silky Skies Dress?  Sure why not.

HSF: Challenge #24 Redo

I believe the goal of the challenge was to take something that we really enjoyed making and make another one or to finish something that didn’t get done.  My redo is the 1880’s Tea Gown aka “Ugly Sack”.  So ugly even the camera wouldn’t look at it properly.

SAM_1356It brings to mind this phrase from Star Trek.

It was ugly in so many ways.  There were optional darts at the waist that I didn’t put in because I thought it would be more comfortable.  That coupled with the unneeded extra material added at the front for the “girls” and you had the sack formation.

Then there is the absolutely overwhelming pattern!  I said to myself, “Self, you need to break out of the box and go for a bold pattern.”  Well, Self, I say to you, “Get thee back into thy box!”  When a large woman wears uninterrupted, vast expanses of floral print, she takes on the appearance of a sofa.  Just sayin’.

So my redo was to put those darts in and with some strategic tucking, pull in all that extra fabric I had put into the bodice part.  I attempted to break up some of that wild pattern by adding some lace.  I don’t know.  Would more help?

What is going on with that pose?  A bit Nora Desmond if you ask me.

What is going on with that pose? A bit Nora Desmond if you ask me.

I didn’t change the back because I liked that part.SAM_1620I don’t loath the thing now.  It is warm.  I would make a decent house coat if not buttoned to the throat.  A bit frumpy (there is an understatement) but at least it would get used.  Not any uglier than some of my sweat suits and PJ.

I can’t see using it as a costume piece.  Even if I had chosen a nice sedate fabric, I’m not sure I’d ever use it that way.  I try to wear costumes the way the original Victorian’s would have worn their clothes.  They didn’t wear tea gowns to go on outings on trains or picnics.  They didn’t wear them to GO to tea.  They wore them when just hanging out at home, having tea with close friends or family.  If this were to get wear at a costume event, I’d have to invite some folks over for tea.  And my house just isn’t Victorian enough.  I guess I could try to find a house museum that was from the 1880’s and pretend I was the lady of the house…..

Ditto that!

I was going to do a cabinet card post today (my go to post when I don’t have anything new to share), but the lovely Dreamstress got my mind churning on another topic.  Costumes and Accuracy.

I wont quote back what she wrote because you can and should read the actual post.  In fact, you probably did read her post before wandering over here to read mine!  Rightly so!  I did want to share some of the  thoughts that have been running through my mind all evening since her post.

First of all…I agree with what she said totally.  And I’ve gleaned a new concept or two that will impact my choices (I hope) for future projects.  One was weave.  I really have no idea how many ways there are to create a fabric.  I understand knits.  I understand that denim is made differently from a brocade but beyond that….  I don’t know.  Perhaps, one day, I will take the time to learn different weaves for fabrics and more importantly, learn what was common during Victorian times and how to recognize if the fabrics I’m looking at are correct (or at least close enough).

Further to the topic of fabric, I was thinking about getting good fakes as far as color and pattern go.  I rely a lot on what I see in museums for what was available at the time.  Color and patterns terrify me.  I keep drifting towards plain browns for fear of picking a color that was simply not possible at the time.  I force myself buy color and pattern so I wont end up with 50 plain brown dresses and I tell myself it is a 50/50 crap shoot.  I may discover something is horribly wrong and then never be happy with the dress again (a good reason to not blow $400 on fabric for one gown) or I may stumble across an example that is a near perfect match and think I am the most gifted costumer.

You’ve already “heard” my rant on costumers who look down their nose at folks who choose to use synthetic fibers for costumes.  As I commented on Dreamstress’ post, I have laid a silk next to a fake and could not tell the difference…until I looked at the price.  If you have to set it on fire before you can tell if it is real or synthetic it is a good fake.  For me this is a hobby and not a career.  I’m not spending tons of money for a hobby when 95% of the people in the world could not tell the difference and 4% would have to set me on fire to know for sure. The 1% that could tell at a glance are not worth the money.

One day I will hand sew a whole costume, more as an exercise to prove to myself that I can be that disciplined and to learn what it feels like to do that task.  But for my purposes, at this time, I don’t feel I need to hand sew when no one will be looking close enough to see machine stitches.

My goal is not to create a counterfeit Victorian gown that will totally fool 95% of the world into believing it is a well-preserved dress from that era and force the other 5% to rely on chemical testing, x-rays and microscopic analysis to discover the fake!  Nor is my goal to get a museum to display my dress as a reproduction.  My goal is to feel pretty.  I kind of think of myself as more of a theatrical costumer than a museum curator or reenacted. My goal is to pretend for a few hours that I am a rich Victorian lady.  In reality I’m an actress, or more accurately, an 8-year-old in a middle-aged woman’s body and I am playing dress up with my other 8-year-old friends.  I want to have my “audience” suspend reality and allow themselves to imagine for just a moment I have stepped forward in time. They will not know enough/care enough/ get close enough to see the inaccuracies.

Besides, if I have car keys in my bag, deodorant on my body, fillings in my teeth and plastic boning in my dress I cannot be 100% accurate and I am not willing to leave the keys in the car, smell au natural, knock out my fillings and kill a whale for the sake of being authentic.  So why kill myself and wipe out my bank account trying to achieve the impossible.  I want to know what makes my dress different from a real Victorian dress so I can be more knowledgable about the time I am interested in.  I think it is a good thing to know that they didn’t have polyester blends and that they didn’t have sewing machines in 1840.  These are facts and facts are good.  Knowledge is good.  And one way to gain knowledge is to make a mistake.  Maybe I will discover that my Copper Penny dress is too vibrant a color for that era.  “Ooops.  I made a mistake.  I learned from that mistake.  Thank God I didn’t spend $40 a meter on real silk”.

And just like the Dreamstress says, you can hand sew a dress.  You can use only real silk.  You can use the perfect pattern and under garments.  And it can look more inaccurate than a machine sewn poly blend because the dyes available at that time did not make that color.

To put it short and sweet, my costume philosophy is “have fun learning and playing dress up.”

Whew….just made it!

For the other Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenges I have rearranged my plans in order to work on the thing that best suits the challenge.  As I am on a tight schedule right now, I will have to, instead,  interpret the challenge to suit what I am working on.  For the Flora and Fauna challenge I am posting the skirt portion for the swim suit I am working on.  It is made out of 100% cotton=flora.SAM_1106

The Challenge: 9 Flora and Fauna

Fabric: 100% cotton

Pattern: 253 Folkwear

Year: 1890s

Notions: rickrack and thread

How historically accurate is it? 95% I’m not sure what fibers are in the rickrack.  I also did not opt for the more common wool….to hot for summer wear in my neck of the woods.

Hours to complete: @10

First worn: will be worn May 11

Total cost: @ $15

Time! Time! Never enough time!

I joined the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge because I needed goals to push me out of a state of inertia I was in.  Right now though, I find a have too many goals and I’m feeling a bit swamped!  We are having a Victorian fashion show and tea for Mother’s Day at work and I have one dress for sure that I need to finish (it needs the skirt).  I’d also like to finish the bodice and hat for a second dress (but it is not mandatory).  That dress may get put on the back burner.  I was hoping to get an entire swim suit done for the Challenge but that wont happen.  I’ve reassessed and decided to just try to get the swim shoes done for the By the Sea Challenge.  One needs to make one’s goals manageable, after all.  I did get all the material for the entire swim suit today.SAM_1045

I went with traditional colors.  I didn’t go for wool, which is often found in museum pieces because it is just TO HOT here in the summer to wear wool!  I figure that swim suits worn in hot climates were possibly made of cotton, but they just didn’t survive to make it to a museum.  The bulk of the fabric is 100% cotton but some of the lining and trims needed to be blends because I couldn’t find pure cottons in the color I needed.  Hey, there were some synthetic fibers in the 1890s….may be not the exact ones I bought but they did have them.  I have basically one big chain store to choose from for fabric buying so I’m constrained by my own budget and what they have to offer.  Now lets see if I can get this thing done before the snow starts flying again!