Thursday, December 13, 2012

This is my normal

Obviously, my recent creative pursuits have been somewhat taken over by Steampunk, and it's provided a refreshing contrast to the vast majority of what I constantly sew and make (which has not before appeared on my blog).

As many of you probably know, I work at the Costume Design Center of Colonial Williamsburg.  I was a stitcher for about a year and a half before becoming the first hand approximately six months ago.  (I say "the" first hand instead of "a" first hand since I'm the only one... in the shop there are two cutter/drapers, myself as the first hand, and about twelve stitchers)

For eight hours each day I fit, alter, cut, make, and repair countless pieces of clothing for the historical interpreters and actors at CW.  Lately I've been working a lot with our designer on a couple special projects, including some experimenting with 18th century techniques for painting silk (that's been loads of fun so far).

Naturally, the vast majority of what I work on is 18th century clothing, though due to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War there are now several programs set in that time period for which I've made mid-19th century clothing, plus some 17th century pieces for programs at Jamestown.

I can't even begin to tell you how many full allotments of clothing I've worked on.  Hundreds.  Too many to possibly remember.

Men's civilian coats.  Regimental coats.  Waistcoats.  Breeches.  Shirts.  Shifts.  Petticoats.  Plain gowns.  Gowns with ridiculous amounts of trim.  Caraco jackets.  Bedgowns.  Short jackets.  Jackets from Patterns of Fashion and Diderot.  Aprons.  Cravats.  Kerchiefs.  Caps.  Haversacks.  Trousers.  Gaitor trousers.  Spatterdashes.  Riding Habits.  Cloaks.  Greatcoats.

And that's just the ordinary, 1770s stuff... special programs and the theatrical plays often branch out into other time periods or sometimes simply get a little bit crazy.

Here's a small sampling of things I've made at work... obviously this doesn't cover the whole scope of what I do, and have done, there, but it should give you a general idea.  All designs, materials, etc belong to Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Wool coat and small clothes, cut edge with hand finishing and buttonholes.  Worn by Tailor's Apprentice Michael McCarty.

Continental Army Officer: Regimental Coat.  Worn for the portrayal of The Marquis de Lafayette. Photo by Jurgen Vösych.

1860s Dress for the Women of the Civil War Tours.

Corded Mid-19th Century Corset.

1770s Stays.

Fife and Drum Regimental Coat.  Incidentally, this is the first full garment I made working at CW.

So there you have it.  A little taste of what I'm up to all those hours I'm not working on my own projects and ideas.  Being surrounded by the 18th century all day every day has certainly changed my attitude in regards to my own work... I think it has a great deal to do with why I've become so inspired lately by Steampunk.  Historical clothing has become my normal, and like the Amazon commercial says, "normal just begs to be messed with".

Monday, December 10, 2012

Liebster Blogs!

Having recieved the Liebster Blog award from Comtesse Olympe de la Tour D'Auvergne about a month or so ago (many, many thanks!), I was faced with a difficult dilemma.  One is supposed to pass the award along to five other blogs, with less than 200 followers, who you feel are deserving of recognition.  The award has been going around for quite a while now though, and the vast majority of those on my blog-roll who have less than 200 followers have already been recipients of the award.

If anyone has other little-known, un-awarded blogs on their list, I'd love to find out what I might be missing!  As it is, here are three really great blogs which deserve many, many more followers than what they currently have.

Sweet Threads, Dude! - It is a crime that this super talented costumer has less than twenty followers.  She makes truly awesome historical menswear.  Seriously.  You have to check her out!
The Third Wyrd - Fantasy illustrator with various paintings, studies, and works-in-progress.  Great stuff!
Stitcher Baby -  Historical costumes ect... Lindsey is studying for her master's degree in Costume Design, and does quite wonderful work.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I am the Night - Steampunk Ballgown

 Every good costume event naturally includes a Grand Ball of some sorts, and Teslacon was no exception.  The ball itself was hands down the best dance I have ever been to, far outstripping all the Civil War and Regency balls in terms of equal numbers of men and women (all who had clearly made an effort to look as fabulous as possible) and general affability and an eagerness to be social and mingle. It was glorious.

For my gown, I mainly drew inspiration from evening gowns from about 1905-08, and as the whole theme of Teslacon was 'a journey to the moon' Nicole and I themed our dresses accordingly.  She was the Moon and I was the Night.

The fabric is a greyish lavender lightweight rayon blend with a texturized stripe, and a shimmery black of some unnatural fiber was used for the accent.  The upper portion of the skirt was stitched with hundreds of small tucks along the stripes of the fabric before the pieces of the skirt were cut out and sewn together.  The bodice is also mainly constructed of the tucked fabric, and is lined with polished cotton of a similar color.  The bottom edge of the bodice is piped, and it closes up the back quite simply with hooks and eyes.

Of course, it's the accessories that really make an outfit, and I had loads of fun making the little half-mask headpiece to go with the dress.  It's made from clock hands, which were very lightweight and quite easy to shape as I wanted, stitched to a ribbon covered headband.  A spray of black feathers finished it all off.  The one thing I did not make, actually, was the wonderful, beaded necklace/shoulder piece.  I found it on ebay, and it worked perfectly with what I was aiming for.

We took a few pictures the night of the ball, but gowns rarely show to best advantage in hotel hallways, so yesterday Nicole and I got all dressed up once more and ventured out for a photoshoot.  We ended up taking pictures in the wonderful sculpture yard outside Charlie's Antiques... the owners were really nice and seemed quite happy to let us wander all around and take as many photos as we wanted.

We had SO much fun doing the photoshoot, and choosing only a few pictures to put on the blog was really difficult.  As it is, I leave you with perhaps more pictures than I would normally post... 

And finally, a couple images of Nicole and I together. Self-timers are a blogger's best friend!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Steampunk - Take II

My original plans for Teslacon included three totally different outfits, but due to time constraints the plan was altered somewhat.  On the second day of the convention I re-purposed the military style jacket from the day before (minus epaulets and tassels), and paired it with a matching skirt.  The pleated underskirt is made of the gold silk dupioni which lines the jacket, and the little drape is made of the same green as the jacket.

To be honest, this skirt almost never existed... I had talked about what I wanted it to be, but had run out of time to do anything about it.  The day on which we left I had to work all morning, and Nicole whipped it up based on what I'd described.  Aside from the bow in the back (which is actually the same bow used to adorn the sword scabbard on the previous day's outfit and is attached with a liberal dose of safety pins), the skirt was done that morning in a couple of hours. 

While wearing those short shorts the first day was fun, swords can get really heavy after a whole day of wear and I was very glad to be in something lighter and more comfortable the next day.

These pictures were taken in front of the super-awesome cigar rolling machine belonging to Foundry Cigars.  It was made by Dr Grymm Laboratories, and sort of felt like the embodiment of the steampunk aesthetic.  And yes, that is a cigar in my hand... they even had cogs on them!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Steampunk! The adventure begins with Teslacon III

Having just returned home yesterday from my first Steampunk event, I'm still floating on the high that was Teslacon.  I'll do more individual costume posts over the next few days, but I wanted to rave about the con for a bit first.

Nicole and I took the long drive to Wisconsin together, and the seventeen hours in the car (each way) was not in any way too high a price to pay for the awesomeness that ensued.  Steampunk as a genre has appealed to me for quite a while, and the reality of it exceeded all my expectations.  I honestly can't say enough good things about Teslacon... the immersive storyline was ridiculously entertaining, panels were amusing or informative or both, there were wonderful things to be bought in the dealers room, and the level of creativity shown by the majority of the attendees was beautifully refreshing. 

Most of all, I was impressed by the attitude of the Steampunk community in general.  Across the board, all the people we met and interacted with, from first-time con-goers to in-character staff to enstablished artists and authors, everyone was friendly and open and enthusiastic.  The general attitude was that we were all there to help each other and that information was to be shared and beginners were encouraged and artisans supported each other.  There was no snobbery, no one-up-man-ship, and it was glorious.  The reenacting community could learn a lot from the steampunkers in that regard.

Perhaps best for me personally though, I felt like I could be creative again.  Taking leaps of imagination was embraced and encouraged, and that was a marvelous feeling.

My outfit for the first day was inspired by an image of a military style Burlesque dancer from the 1880s or 90s, with added spatterdashes and a bit of juditious tweaking of design.  The whole outfit is worn over my mid-19th century corset.

The trim on the jacket and shorts is a metallic gimp braid, which was all sewn on by hand after the items were assembled.  I believe I used about twenty yards total for all the trimming.  Detachable lace ruffles are basted into the cuffs.

The little hat is built on a buckrum base and the visor is a rich brown leather edged with gold braid.  And the spatterdashes are a little bit sneaky... I actually fastened them with a long invisible zipper on the inner seams.  The buttons are permamently stitched down and don't actually function.

I had so much fun walking around in short shorts and a sword all day.  The strangest thing was having to remember that my legs had to do something in photographs... I'm so used to being in long skirts when in costume!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Deep inside the comfort zone

When some people are melancholy they tend to comfort eat.  I, on the other hand, go off my food and instead comfort paint.

Even if I have a mountain of things which really Need To Be Done, I'll set it all aside and paint something familiar and easy and mindless with no other intent than to be doing.  I'm not trying to make great (or even good) art.  Most of the time it's a small-ish oil painting... there's something very soothing about mixing colors and the physicality of manipulating paint, without having the pressure of meeting any sort of expectations.

Here are a couple "comfort paintings" which I did recently.  Both are about 9x12 inches.  Neither are terribly good, but I kind of wanted to share this side of myself anyway.

One of these days I'll stop being obsessed by Bill Kaulitz's face.  Maybe.  But until that point, images of him will always make me feel better.

And this one was based off a stock image which I'd found on deviantArt.  It's kind of hard to not relax when drawing/painting pretty girls.  Although I suppose this one ended up a little bit dark.

Like I said, no real thought behind either painting, and they clearly show what I'm super comfortable painting... people/portraits/no-real-background-to-speak-of.  The 'comfort zone' is called that for a very good reason.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Plying my trade at Opsail

This past weekend was spent down in Norfolk for the big Opsail event, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.  I had promised to attend months ago, portraying a portrait artist/miniaturist of that era.  Both days I was there with Nicole, who was demonstrating shoemaking, while Samantha was only able to join us on Sunday.

Prior to the event, I didn't really know what to expect, and had the idea that I'd simply end up talking to people about artists and miniatures during the early 19th century, but that otherwise I'd be able to wander around and visit the tall ships and fort and whatnot.

To my great surprise and delight, people were genuinely interesting in my drawing, and, most specifically, in having me draw them.  I ended up doing a fairly brisk business with the small charcoal portraits, and aside from food breaks I did almost nothing but draw portraits straight the entire weekend.  It was definitely different to be at an event in a historical vendor type of mode as opposed to strict living history, but I must say I quite enjoyed it (even though I never did get to see all the ships). 

Apparently when I draw I look rather serious... I guess that must just be my 'concentrating' face, since I was actually really happy to be doing art again!

Naturally, I didn't get pictures of all the drawings I did for people, but I did get a quick snap of the sketch I did of the scrimshaw artist/sutler who was set up just a few tents down from me and one of Samantha.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Yo ho ho!

This past Sunday I did something a bit out of the ordinary, and went with a couple friends to the annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival down in Hampton.  There was a lot of wandered around the docks, checking out the sutlers' goods, people watching, meeting and chatting with the piratical side of the reenacting world, and just generally seeing the sights.

It had been AGES since I've gone to any sort of costume-ish event where historical accuracy could be thrown to the winds... and even though I am typically a huge proponent of Things Being Done Properly, I must admit it was loads of fun.

I put together various pieces of 16th and 18th century clothing in a gloriously innappropriate manner, and topped the whole look off with an awsome red velvet embroidered vintage hat, a pair of fantasy-esque shoes I had picked up at a local boutique a several years ago, and a whole lot of eyeliner.

Mike and Samantha both wore straight up 18th century, but I think we all managed to work visually together.  ;)  Besides the pictures here, I have a bunch more in a set on flickr.

I particularly enjoy this picture of Samantha and I.  She looks so sweet and happy, while I seem almost decidedly evil...

It's hard to say whether Pirate "reenacting" will become something I'd do regularly, but it was a great way to spend the day.  And in an odd way, I'm now really excited to work on Steampunk things.  I'm planning on going to TeslaCon this fall, and am overflowing with ideas.  Once you step outsides the bounds of historicity, the possibilities are as limitless as your imagination... a deeply satisfying thought!

Monday, April 30, 2012

on paper

I did this little painting a couple months ago as a bit of practice in trying to develop an 18th cen style of painting for portrait miniatures, thinking I should probably give stippling a try since that was a very commonly used technique.

I used a scrap of watercolor paper to paint on... even though ivory was the preferred surface, paper was definitely used at the time as well and has the benefit of being a LOT cheaper (though fittingly, it looks a lot cheaper too).  In fact, one of the coolest ways I've seen miniatures used is one found in 'Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion' which was painted on paper, and stitched into the center of a round silk reticule.  I'd love to make a reticule like that at some point. 

Anyhow, long story short, I think stippling is dreadfully tedious and it's a good thing not all miniature artists used that technique because if I has to stipple every miniature I would loose my mind.  There's a good reason I normally like to work with oils...

Monday, April 9, 2012

An evening in 1912, or, the Epic Titanic Dinner dress

Last weekend I had the very good fortune to attend a truly marvelous, and aptly named, Epic Titanic Party. 

Imagine an evening spent in a pleasant and tastefully decorated home with great company, good conversation, sparkling dresses, lots of champagne, and a mind-blowing and utterly delicious thirteen course dinner.  After the dinner all the guests changed into appropriate 1912 lounge wear, and, well... lounged.  And chatted.  And drank more champagne and absinthe before tumbling into bed.  (I am not too proud to admit that I didn't even get to a bed, but instead crashed right on the floor where I awoke the following morning.)

I can't begin to describe how perfect everything was and can never thank our host, Jenny-Rose, enough for all of her amazing effort in pulling it off so splendidly.

What I can somewhat describe, however, is my dress.

I've always really liked 1912 as a time period and welcomed the excuse to finally make a dress from this era.  I liked nearly every extant dress or illustration or fashion print that I saw, but none of them jumped out as The Dress.  More than any other dress though, I was inspired by this pink one belonging to Queen Maud:

In the end it was easier to not let myself be bound by trying to reproduce a garment, and I eventually simply bought fabric and then fit a design to the materials I had.

The embroidered fabric is an amazing vintage Dupatee which I found on ebay... a purple/burgandy crinkle silk chiffon with gold emboidery and sequins and tiny green and red glass beads.  I then purchased a plain silk chiffon in a matching color, and layered them over a base of congac/paprika/burnt orange silk charmeuse.  Burgandy velvet also decorates the skirt and is used for the bow on the front of the dress.

The charmeuse foundation of the dress is patterned from the 1910 dress in Janet Arnold, and the other layers were simply draped on top.  I can't even begin to imagine trying to flat pattern these sorts of dresses...

I don't really have much to say about my lounging "harem" outfit which followed dinner except that I threw it together the morning of the event, and from start to finish it was done in well under an hour.  Good times...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Back to the 1860s! Finally, a new dress...

I have finally gotten back to sewing for myself, and have a new silk 1860s gown to show for my efforts!  Last weekend the Mariner's Museum here in Virginia had their 150th anniversary event of the Battle of Hampton Roads (the fight between the Moniter and the Merrimac).  Obviously, I had very little to do with the naval history side of things, but myself and a few other ladies had a display of various sewing and needlework and fashions which we talked about and gave demonstrations of.  It was a long weekend and very exhausting, but quite fun.  It's always so refreshing to be able to do Civil War events every now and then...

There was a gentleman at the event who was taking tintypes, so the three of us had our image taken together.  I was a little amused that between us we represented three different generations, and had somewhat unintentionally dressed ourselves accordingly.  And I'm always happy to take on the burden of portraying the young, fashionable side of society.  ;)

It's also interesting to me to see how tintypes and period photography really give no real hints toward color at all.  One would never imagine, for instance, that the dress I'm wearing in the tintype is really such a rich, intense blue.

The dress is made of silk taffeta, which languished in my stash for a long time on the grounds that I already had too many blue costumes... but considering I don't wear them all at once, that reason fell apart under the weight of a non-existant budget.  The bodice lining and hem facing are brown polished cotton, and the trim is velvet ribbon.  Hopefully next time this dress appears in public there will be a great deal MORE ribbon on it.  The undersleeves are quite basic, made of white cotton organdy, and are basted into the armscye of the dress.

I also finally got pictures of the sontag I crocheted over a year ago.  This weekend was very chilly, and I was able to put it to good use.  The sontag was really easy to make, and I adapted an 1866 Peterson's pattern which was re-printed in 'Basic Accessories in Knit & Crochet' by Lynne Bury.  The original sontag would have been much too large for what I wanted, and since many patterns from that time say helpful things like 'do a lace pattern of your choice for 3-5 inches' I figured that it was entirely normal to use knitting/crochet patterns as general guidelines rather than the rule.

When I make clothes from the Civil War (or any time period for that matter) I typically fill my computer desktop with a collage of images that I'm drawing the design from, and which I will refer to when making trim decisions or finalizing the pattern.  Naturally I also refer to books, and for this time period I absolutely love 'The Way They Were: Dressed in 1860-1865' and its sequel by Donna Abraham. 

These images are what I had up when making this particular dress, mostly for trim placement and scale of sleeves and bodice points.

I also really love this image of a woman wearing a sontag.  Unlike most sontags you see many reenactors wearing, it's not very large at all and in fact doesn't even wrap around to her back.  The edge at least is clearly crocheted, and the contrasting color is something I considered and used when making my own.