Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh, 1797, you kill me with awesome

Next month I will be attending a Jane Austen ball and I must have a new gown for the occasion as it's held in a tavern from the 1790s, and I don't have anything from that period.

After looking at a LOT of fashion plates, I realized that most of the looks I particularly love were from the year 1797.  There's still a lot of crazy layering and some strange experimentation, but things have more or less settled into a stable "look".

I find I'm especially drawn to the style which features an overdress with a cross-over bodice and an asymmetrical skirt.  There were quite a few examples of this style that I ran across, and I've posted my favorites here.  Most of the extant examples of over-dresses from this period that I've seen are made of some sort of colored or pattern fabric with a white (often embroidered) gown or petticoat underneath.  However I was really interested by the 'Afternoon Dress' fashion plate from 1797 which shows a white overdress with a vivid blue petticoat peeking through the asymmetrical opening of the skirt.  Clearly not following the norm.

Evening Dress- Gallery of Fashion, Nov 1795

Afternoon Dresses- Gallery of Fashion, June 1797 

Concert Room Evening Dresses- Gallery of Fashion, April 1797 

The gown on the left of this plate is my absolute favorite of all the ones which I looked at.  I adore the drape of the skirts, the trim, the rich but subtle embroidery of the petticoat underneath... I even like the crazy helmet headdress!

Evening Dress- Gallery of Fashion, June 1797

I sort of mashed up all the elements that I really, really like and combined them in my quick little sketch below.  A gorgeous antique embroidered sari which I bought off ebay will become the petticoat and will also be used for the sleeves.  The over-all color scheme is creamy yellow and white with purple or midnight accents.  And of course there will be an epic headdress with large ostrich plumes dyed at the tips to match the trim on the gown...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Portrait Miniature Experiment

A few days ago I sat down and finished the portrait miniature which I had started a couple months ago.  For being my first attempt I'm somewhat satisfied with it, and I feel like I learned a lot from this experiment.

Watercolor on rolled polymer clay, about 2" x 2.5"

I was mainly focused on trying to learn the technique and get used to the materials and scale of things.  With that in mind, I simply copied from an original in one of my library books:  English Portrait Miniatures.  Sadly, I had to return the book before finishing my miniature OR having the presence of mind to write down pertinent info concerning the artist and subject. 

There are definitely things I want to do differently for the next attempt, most of which relate to tools and materials.  For this first try, I simply used whatever I had on hand, but the student-grade watercolors made my job a lot more difficult.  The white especially... it seemed to 'puddle' on the surface far more than any other color and didn't blend half as well either.  Even if I don't buy any other new paint, I will certainly be investing in a good quality white before my next miniature.

Also on the top of my list are better brushes.  A lot of very small brushes don't have the good flow required for the paint to cling to such a nonabsorbent surface.  I noticed that the same tiny brush which left a good line on paper barely deposited any paint onto polymer clay.  I'm hoping that real squirrel hair brushes (which were used in the 18th cen for such a purpose) will improve things.

My final, and perhaps largest, concern is how to protect the surface.  Even when completely dry, one drop of water would lift the paint right up and and utterly ruin the miniature.  The clay slab is a bit too thick to put under glass with a frame (although that will probably be a possibility for the fake ivory I intend to try at some point soon), so I am trying to find a good spray varnish, intended for watercolor, which will seal the surface.  After all, it would be really pointless to have a miniature that you couldn't even risk taking outside!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Regency Gaming Night

This past weekend was spent very pleasantly in Fredricksburg at Jenny-Rose's Regency era gaming night.  Although tables were set up for several different games I ended up only playing Speculation, and game which relies heavily on bidding and gambling for any true entertainment... something all of us who played it seemed far too lazy to engage in!

The company was delightful, the rooms prettily decorated, and good times were had by all!

Before the gaming commenced, we all milled around the back-yard taking pictures of each other.  I didn't get any of myself with my camera, but plenty of others did, and I have happily stolen the ones that I like best.

Courtesy of Gloria... I think...

I wore my old(ish) 1820 silk evening gown, though with new jewelry and a plume in my hair.

Courtesy of Nicole

Courtesy of Maggie

A selection of my pictures of the evening's company-

After the card playing had died down for the evening we just sat around chatting and snacking and drinking Good Things.  At one point, I pulled out my trusty drawing box, and did a quick sketch of Taylor as she sat across the table from me, lit by candlelight only.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sketches from UTR

If doing something twice constitutes the beginning of a habit, then I have effectively formed the habit of doing little sketches of friends and acquaintances at reenactments.

I had enormous amounts of fun with this at Under the Redcoat, and even though I'm shockingly late posting about it, I wanted to share my drawings from the event.  Like last time, they are all fairly small (so as to fit in my drawing box) and are roughly 5x7" each. 


Other-Sarah churning ice cream
Other-Sarah making ice cream

Sarah- 1st go 'round
I like this little sketch, but utterly failed to capture her likeness.  This was highly irritating.  See below.

Sarah and Jenny
Sarah (again) and Jenny
As you can see, for a brief while I switched from charcoal to graphite pencil... I was incredibly frustrated by my lack of ability to capture Sarah's likeness when initially using charcoal.  The second drawing was even worse (really bad in fact, and I can assure you it will never be posted anywhere online!) so I gave the graphite a try.  On this third go, this time in graphite, it wasn't totally awful so I let it be.

I feel like an invisible challenge has been laid down though.  Sarah is such an animated and vivacious person that capturing her in a flat, still format felt somehow a little unnatural and far more difficult than I had anticipated.  I will have to try again when I next see her.  And maybe again and again...

Right before I was about to leave for the day, I saw Abby walking across Market Square, rushed up to speak with her, and she kindly agreed to sit for me.   As we sat there (she very still and I sketching quickly) a lot of people apparently came up to see what was going on.   This included the official CW photographer who even videoed us.  I was blithely unaware of most of our audience however... I hadn't even realized how much I block out my surroundings when I'm drawing!  If there'd been an attack, I'd probably have died first.

Conclusion- I'll definitely be doing this drawing schtick again at my next reenactment.  I love being able to engage peoples' interest in a slightly different way than normal, and I'd really like to start building up an impression around the idea of a traveling portraitist.  Lots of very vague ideas at the moment, but it could certainly become something.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

quarter back gown for UTR

Since I live in Williamsburg, it was kind of an imperative that I attend Under the Redcoat this year.  Not that I objected... I'd never really been to UTR before, and was really happy to be able to experience the event and see many wonderful friends and new acquaintances in the process!

And of course, I needed a new gown.

I used a medium weight linen from Burnley and Trowbridge that had small lavender, white and black stripes and lined the bodice and sleeves with a light-weight white linen.  My friend Nicole draped the pattern for the bodice and sleeves on me, and I cut everything out about a week before the event.  If I didn't work full-time, this would have been a perfectly fine time-frame in which to sew a gown, but as it was I nearly keeled over and died trying to get it done on time.  Even so, Nicole ended up almost entirely making my petticoat for me so that I could actually get a few hours of sleep the night before I was supposed to wear it.

The innards of the gown are pretty typical-

The seams of the back pieces are constructed with the "weird running whip stitch thingy" which is seen in a fair number of extant garments, and which Abby (Stay-ing Alive) thoroughly describes in a very helpful post.  As I tried it out, I fell utterly in love with this method of construction.  It's fast, easy, strong, and looks really neat and clean.  And, as you can see from the photo below, it looks totally normal on the outside.

I still want to add cuffs and trim to the sleeves, but I was pretty satisfied with how it all turned out.  It was fairly cool and comfortable to wear and I do kind of adore the fabric!

UTR itself was also highly satisfying, and I was able to take my little drawing box with me and do some sketches of people... but I'll save that for another post.