Monday, December 31, 2012

Threaded Bliss

Cranberry Red Wool Jacket
and Matching Petticoat,

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2012.

When I found out the family was making plans to spend Christmas week in Williamsburg, I decided I really wanted to make something new and festive to wear for the occasion.  I didn't have much time because of work deadlines that stretched until 5 days before Christmas, so I had to choose a project I knew I could finish quickly in the little time I had.  I elected to go with a matching jacket and petticoat combination for three reasons: 1) I already had a working jacket pattern that I knew worked well, so I didn't have to wait for Ashley to help drape and fit me something new; 2) a jacket is way faster than an entire gown; and 3) I had exactly 3 yards of cranberry cassimere wool that was the perfect holiday color!  So in four and a half days (which included a loooong day in the car!), I put together this jacket and petticoat, just in time for Christmas!

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2012.

The pattern: The pattern for this jacket is largely based off of the same Janet Arnold "Jacket C" pattern that we used to make Ashley's gold linen jacket.  I made the same alterations as before, cutting the front piece completely separate from the side/back piece, and including the gusset as part of that front piece, rather than stitching it in separately.  And as with Ashley's jacket, I elected to use the sleeve pattern from the Costume Close-up jacket that I'd already tweaked to my measurements.

The primary difference in pattern between this cranberry jacket and Ashley's gold one (and the Arnold original) is that for this one, I elected to use a stomacher to close the front, rather than having the edges meet at center front.  Unlike with my blue chintz version of the Costume Close-up jacket, which uses a stomacher laced into place, this one is pinned in in the same manner as a gown stomacher.

Construction details: As with all of our eighteenth-century sewing projects, this jacket and its matching petticoat are sewn entirely by hand.  The construction details, as I mentioned in the gold jacket post, are almost identical to those featured in our jacket tutorial series, with the exception - as I mentioned above - that this jacket has a stomacher that pins into place to fill in the space at center front.

The front of the jacket with one side folded back to reveal the interior. 
The front does not close at center front, but rather is filled in with
a pinned-in stomacher.

The stomacher front.

As with the original Janet Arnold jacket, and Ashley's gold one, this cranberry jacket also does not include slits at the front sides; rather, that added gusset piece (here integrated into the pattern of the front piece to save time) helps provide the extra space necessary to help the jacket flare over the hips and petticoats.

The back of the jacket, showing how the pieces are cut at angles
in the skirt to flare out at the waist over the petticoats.

A view from the back.
Colonial Williamsburg, December 2012.

The fabric: A to-die-for lightweight cranberry red cassimere wool from Burnley and Trowbridge that I couldn't resist when I saw it at the gown workshop.  This wool is so soft and drapes so beautifully that I wish now that I'd gotten the rest of the bolt!  The jacket is lined with a medium weight ivory linen.

Finishing the look: As you can easily surmise by the color choice, the picture poses, and the accessories, this ensemble was created specifically with Christmas wear in mind.  It is worn over a linen shift, my blue-green wool fully-boned stays, and a linen underpetticoat.  A striped cotton muslin neckerchief fills in the neckline, and my cap (almost impossible to see in most of the pictures!) is made of striped linen.

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2012.

In the pictures, I've complemented the outfit with ivory and pearl grey silk accessories: a hat, a muff, and a breastknot with a couple of paper flowers.  These were actually created to go with another outfit that I didn't have time to finish, so I just went ahead and paired them with this one instead, and I ended up really liking the way they all went together.  The black cloak in the picture below has its hood lined in the same ivory silk taffeta that is used on the hat and muff.  Since I plan to do a separate post for the hat and muff, I'll save any more details on them until then!

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2012.

Additional images of this project can be found on its flickr page.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Inspiring Christmas Present with Folk Art from the Past

We both apologize for being so silent of late.  With hectic work schedules and Christmas preparations, neither of us has been able to find any time to blog over the past month.  We promise a series of (we think!) exciting posts - some belated and Christmas-related, some with sewing projects, and some quite random! - coming up very soon, so stay tuned!  :-)

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree
A Christmas tree decorated with hand-made folk art ornaments, the
traditional holiday centerpiece of the Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

This year, our family decided to spend Christmas week in Colonial Williamsburg.  Over the next few posts, I'll share some of my favorite sights from "Christmas past" around town, but here's a little taster to whet your appetite in the meantime.  One of my (many) favorite places to visit in Williamsburg during the Christmas season is the museum building which houses the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection.  Every year, the museum displays a massive two-storey Christmas tree in its atrium, which is literally drowning in hand-crafted ornaments.  The ornaments, many inspired by the folk art pieces in the collection, are created by the museum staff and local volunteers.  Over the years, more and more ornaments have been added, and the tree itself has become a symbol of the tradition of American hand-crafted artistry over the centuries.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

This year, I captured a handful of the many beautiful little pieces that reflect the clothing and fashions of the past.  What fashionable miniature treasures can be you spot in the pictures?  :-)

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

Some of the ornaments, like the two above and the one below, feature portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection.  The one below is one of my favorite portraits to bring out during our interpretive fashion programs and presentations because little girls delight in giggling to learn that their brothers would have been dressed like these two little boys in the eighteenth century!

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

Below is one of my absolute favorites.  Does she remind you of anything in particular?

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

If you'd like to read more about folk art ornaments and find some inspiration for creating your own, I highly recommend The Art-Full Tree: Ornaments to Make Inspired by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, by Jan Gilliam and Christina Westenberger (the latter of whom we had the pleasure to meet during the recent B&T gown workshop!).  Most of the ornaments featured in the book are currently displayed on the tree in the museum.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Christmas tree

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Threaded Bliss

Chocolate Brown Linen Round Gown,

Prelude to Victory 2012
On Palace Green after a long, hot day of cooking
and messing about in camp.
Prelude to Victory, Williamsburg, October 2012.

This gown was started at the same time that I started my peachy-pink linen gown and Ashley's tobacco-brown linen round gown (ahem...December of 2010...), and it suffered the same fate as Ashley's gown, getting buried - almost finished - in the basket of projects, until we dug both out and finished them up for Rock Ford in June.  So here, much delayed but nonetheless finished, is the long-awaited gown!

The pattern: Draped by me.

Prelude to Victory 2012
Front of the gown.
Prelude to Victory, Williamsburg, October 2012.

Construction details: This gown is entirely hand-sewn using the construction techniques detailed in multiple earlier posts, so I won't bore you with those details again!  The style is identical to that of Ashley's brown round gown, and the cut very similar to my peachy-pink linen gown, as they were all made concurrently.  The innards look exactly like those of Ashley's round gown, so I won't include any interior shots here.  If there's something you're really like to see, though, just let me know and I'd be happy to add it.

The only real difference between those other gowns and this one is that because of the limited amount of fabric I had (only 3 1/2 yards), I ended up piecing some bits here and there with this gown.  One of the sleeves, for instance, is actually made of three separate pieces.  But that just adds to my camp-following character, so I was actually quite pleased that the fabric forced me to get a bit creative!

Prelude to Victory 2012
Back of the gown.
Prelude to Victory, Williamsburg, October 2012.

The fabric: A chocolate brown medium-weight linen from, of all places, Joann, back when they actually stocked 100% linen.  I only bought 3 1/2 yards of it to add to the stash, not really thinking what I'd actually want to make out of it.  When found myself in need of new gowns for camp wear, I pulled it out and decided to see what it could do!

Finishing the look: I wore this gown (finally!) for the first time at Rock Ford Plantation in June.  Being a busy and high-traffic event, we didn't get a chance to take too many pictures during the day, so the only shots I have of it are when I was preparing supper (yes, that is kind of funny...the picture says it all...!  But you have to give me just a little credit because I didn't burn anything!).

Rock Ford Plantation, Lancaster PA
Cooking supper...yes, really...
Rock Ford Plantation, June 2012.

The gown is worn over my old Diderot stays, a linen shift, and a linen underpetticoat.  I accessorized it with a hat trimmed with forest green silk ribbons (missing in the picture, sorry!), and a red printed neck handkerchief, following the inspiration of the colors in one of my favorite prints from 1764:

A Description of a City Shower, Edward Penny, 1764.
Image linked from the Museum of London.

When I brought the gown out for wear again during Prelude to Victory a couple of months ago, I opted to go with the red handkerchief again, and added a blue checked apron to complete the look, echoing the color of the quilted petticoat in the image (see the "header" picture above).

Additional pictures of this project can be found in its flickr set here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bringing Mary Todd Lincoln to Life: The First Lady's Costumes in "Lincoln"

Last weekend, I finally got to see "Lincoln," which I've been eagerly anticipating and reading about for months and months.  The film did not disappoint; all of the hype and praise being lavished on it is very well-deserved and I highly recommend it.  It sounds like a cliche, but the movie truly is very much a monument to the almost super-human accomplishments of one of our most honored presidents.  Daniel Day-Lewis does an unbelievable job at representing the intelligence, the quirkiness, and the heart of the enigma that was Abraham Lincoln, and the film is beautifully filmed with incredible details that will make your heart stop.

In this brief interview, the production designer, Rick Carter, discusses how he created a calendar of the last weeks of Lincoln's life to ensure that what emerged on screen would be as accurate as it was possible to make it.  Because so much documentation exists about what absorbed the president both personally and politically, and about what the spaces and furniture and artifacts of the rooms of Lincoln White House looked like, the production team was able to recreate what would have been in certain rooms on certain days, from the letters and books on a table, to the maps on the wall.  Even the sound of the ticking watch that emerges at moments throughout the film is accurate to the most minute degree: Spielberg had Lincoln's own pocket watch taken out of museum storage so that its own unique sound could be used in the movie.  I don't think any movie has quite captured and conveyed so completely an immersion into a historical period as this one does.  It really is quite an achievement.

Of course, being a period film, you know where much of my visual attention was drawn!  Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln worked well with Day-Lewis's impression of the president, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much she looked the part.  "Lincoln"'s costume designer, Joanna Johnston, describes in this video how Field strategically gained weight to achieve the exact waistline and body shape of the First Lady she would portray, much to Johnston's delight because it meant the original proportions of Mary Todd Lincoln's gowns could be maintained in the recreations.  Some of the gowns you see in the film were almost exactly reproduced from extant pieces.

Joanna Johnston with two of the gowns she designed for
Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) for the film.
Photo linked from

In this previous post that I did after a visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln House Museum, I mentioned the handful of clothing items and accessories that are currently in the museum's collection.  I inquired whether any additional clothes were known to exist, and the docent pointed me to the Smithsonian inauguration gown, but said she didn't know of any more.  I've since discovered a handful of other gowns held in various museums (I feel a new post coming on...!), and Johnston says she inspected many of them - in addition to the numerous photographic and artistic representations of Mary Todd Lincoln, and contemporary fashion plates - in preparation for designing and creating Mary's look for the film.

One of the extant dresses owned and worn by Mary Todd Lincoln (right).
It was one of the inspirations for the film gown below.

It is evident from Mary's gowns, visible in both extant items and in images, and by the (borderline politicized) controversy that raged throughout Lincoln's presidency over his wife's more than extravagant clothing expenditures, that the First Lady delighted in stretching fashion to its limits and was defined by a very unique sense of style.  She loved to display her shoulders (much to the chagrin of Washington society because of her age) and to indulge in bright colors (fuchsia, anyone?), heavy trims, and elaborate decorative elements.

Costume sketches from "Lincoln," by Richard Merritt.
Images linked from SAA Illustration Hub.

One particular dress (shown above and below), Johnston explains in this very interesting video overview of the costumes, is a combination of two of Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses.  Johnston had a French striped silk satin fabric overprinted with the floral design to meld the look of the two original gowns together.  The source for the floral sprays is pictured in the original gown above.  Period antique lace and a typical Mary Todd-sized corsage completes the stunning visual and historical effect of the ensemble.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.
Photo linked from

Another fantastic video interview with costume designer Joanna Johnston can be found here.  And here's a link to another article with a close up of another one of Mary Todd Lincoln's movie dresses, complete with bonnet.