Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review- Fashion in Detail

One word; stunning. This book's images literally left me breathless. For the costume historian there is a wealth of highly-detailed imagery of pleats, embroidery, buttons, spangles, lace, and whole items like gloves, stomachers, and vests. If the book has a fault, in fact, it is that there are too few photos of the whole garments from which these close-ups are taken, but the reader is given line-drawings to compare.

For those more interested in techniques, prepare to drool. There is a wealth of information here about stitching techniques, seam placement, boning, quilting, cording, slashing, pinking, stamping, knitting, blackwork, and more.

Woman's smock, English 1620s-1630s
Clearly I cannot fail to recommend "Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries" to all lovers of historical costume as well as decorative techniques, and should you doubt my reasons for enthusiasm here are a few more photos just to tantalize you.

Stomachers, early 1700s
Detail of glove beading, Engish 1603-1625

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yellow Stays by American Duchess

I realized while working on my quilted petticoat and mantelet that I had never actually posted photos of my new front-and-back-lacing corset, made for me by the talented Lauren at American Duchess. I had mentioned back in November of last year that the tester stays were done, and early this year I received the finished stays.

They lace with blue ribbon in the front over a separate stomacher, which is jacquard on one side, and the same bright yellow as the binding on the other, so I can wear it either way for variation. The straps also tie on so they can be completely removed if necessary. The other nice thing about these is that, lacing front and back, they are easy to put on by myself and very adjustable. I love them, and will happily wear them under all of my 1780s clothing.

For information on the construction of these stays you can visit Lauren's posts about them on her blog. I also realized after I put them on with my chemise for the first time that they look a lot like these ones from the Galerie de Modes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22nd, 1781

In Paris once more, and the weather is more chill than usual for this time of year. I do hope it won't last. I am to hold my first formal Lever of the season this afternoon, but am secretly most anxious, for what if nobody comes? My sudden departure a few months ago may certainly have lost me a few friends. Msr. Poisson is at least certain to attend as he and I have much to discuss.

I arrived to find a bill from my marchande waiting, it seems that once in while one really must pay merchants, so I did. I expect to see my new clothes very shortly.

I think I hear voices in the hall, someone has arrived. It is time to begin the masquerade.

Olympe, Comtesse

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Know Your Clothes- Hats

"We are ill-informed even of the articles we wear. People come to years of discretion scarce know the difference between a plain hat and a Lunardi; and I have heard a lady, who I was told had a very good education, mistake a Parachute for a Fitzherbert." - The Lounger no. 76, 1786

What an earth are Lunardis, Parachutes, and Fitzherberts? The writer clues us into the fact that they were all types of hats, but what did they look like and how were the different? The fabulous resource "The Dictionary of Fashion History", provides the answer.

Balloon hat/Parachute hat/Lunardi- (1783-85) A hat with a large bloon-shaped crown and wide brim made of gauze or sarcenet over a wire or chip foundation. Very fashionable in those years as a compliment to Vincenzo Lunardi (1759-1806) and his balloon ascents.

So a Lunardi and a Parachute are basically the same thing; what makes the Fitzherbert drastically different? The brim was oval in shape and the crown of puffed fabric was raised slightly.

How ever could the young lady have confused the two, indeed?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Countess' New Clothes- Quilted Petticoat Part 1

Before I really get into working on the mantelet itself, I need to start with the quilted petticoat. I'm cheating a little bit because I bought pre-quilted fabric a while ago, for just such a project. Buying an old quilt with some variation in the quilting motif would have been nicer, but we live and learn.

I also have been collecting lots of pictures of extant petticoats in museums and private collections, and in so doing I've come to a realization; nowhere can I find an example of one with a ruffle on the bottom. Hmm.
Hooded caraco and quilted petticoat, 1775
Mid-century quilted petticoat
1753 quilted silk petticoat, the Met
This example from the Met is really interesting for its stripes of different fabric. It's also a really useful for pointing out the bunching of the fabric around the waistband. If you don't want to add that much bulk, what do you do with a quilted fabric? This red petticoat from Williamsburg has the answer; a band of thinner, unquilted fabric at the top which can accomodate either a waistband and ties, or even a drawstring channel without adding much thickness.

So I think I'll be leaving the pink ruffle off of my petticoat, and save it for an upper petticoat or trim on something else. I'll also be using the thinner fabric and an applied waistband to close. If anyone has seen illustrations or garments contrary to my research, I'd love to know about it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Favorite- Queen Charlotte by Ramsay

Queen Charlotte with two of her children
by Ramsay

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13th, 1781

Tomorrow we leave for Paris again, and in a strange way I am excited to be going. Maman is not speaking to me at the moment and has not responded to my messages. I was finally compelled to tell her of my marriage and it did not go well. She disapproves strongly and was moved to tears as she told me so, though she had never before objected to my affection for Thierry. I suppose this, coming hard upon the heels of the failed marriage plans with F-, was poor timing. I would have found it very hard to keep such a secret from her, for I have always desired that we should be friends.

A letter from Thierry cheers my spirits, as he says that he feels guilty for admitting to enjoying his forced sojourn in Venice, and wonders if I might delay any assistance in permitting his return to France. He jests, of course, and is very dear to keep me from worrying too much, but to Paris I go, and I will not fail.

Olympe, Comtesse

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Countess' New Clothes- Beaded stomacher finished!

A little while ago I posted my progress on a beaded stomacher which I was finally completing after a hiatus of too many years. This past week I finally finished it, and I'm pretty happy with the results. As often happens, I was only going to complete the beading, bind the bottom edge, and add tabs; but then I thought that a big green bow would be just the right touch, and then I had a little rondel of pearls from a broken brooch, and then putting it on a matching ribbon would be so of course it took me a little longer than initially planned.

The dressform would really show it better were it not so busty, but you get the idea. Next up, I'm finishing a green velvet Tudor gown from a few years ago, and finally getting past the research stage to draping that mantelet you all voted on. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 10th, 1781

In a few days we depart for Paris once more, where Msr. Poisson waits to meet with me on my arrival. Maman remains very curt and cold, and is not as well-pleased by my plan to divide the proceeds from the sale of Lespinasse with Andre. I understand how she must be feeling, though she little realizes it. It is her family home, though only for a few years, the sole legacy she had to give any of us, and now it will pass to strangers, but some sacrifice must be made. I am also giving up the place of my birth, to which she does not seem so much attached.

Andre is quite happy to acquiesce to this plan, as I knew he would be. He and his fiancee did not seem particularly taken with the castle when they visited, and it is a much older building than my other residences, they could hardly live there in style- or live there at all on their income. My estate agent is hunting for a buyer even now.

I have received no reply to my letter sent to the dowager Countess of Rodez. If I cannot garner an invitation to visit I will be unable to put the other parts of my plan into action; and for all I know she already has a match in mind for her daughter, so time is of the essence.

Today is for packing yet again, I think some sewing or music, reading, and hoping for a letter from my husband.

Olympe, Comtesse

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review- The Widow Cliquot

“The Widow Clicquot is someone we should all know about.... Long a shadowy, legend-obscured figure, in Tilar Mazzeo’s agile hands the widow sheds her weeds and takes form before our eyes as a distinctly modern entrepreneur....The result is narrative history that fizzes with life and feeling.”

Thus wrote one reviewer of this book, and having just finished it I can heartily agree. It is the first thing I've read in a while that was a pure pleasure from start to finish, and the narrative style makes for an easy and fast-paced journey. I learned so much about wine-making, history (both cultural and broadly European), and social convention. It was at times hard to put down. From the terrifying times of the Revolution to Napoleon, the Franco-Prussian War and nineteenth-century gentleman's clubs, it showcased the business acumen, heartbreak, and daring of a remarkable woman, the widow (veuve) Cliquot, who founded a champagne empire in the aftermath of her husband's early death.

At times it seemed as if the odds were too high and the times too dangerous for anyone to have survived and thrived, but that's exactly what she did through a combination of shrewd decisions, dangerous ventures, technological advances, and pure luck. Through it all both the historical figure and the author herself shine through, larger than life; one in a quest for success, and the other chasing after the woman behind the incredible true story.

More than a tale of economics and women's stuggle for equality, it's a human story with the best of themes; loss, rebirth, and triumphing over tremendous adversity. I found it truly inspiring.

Read this book? Liked it? Hated it? Leave me a comment to let me know!

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Cause De- The Family of Chevigne During the Revolution

It's been a while since we had an "A Cause De", but I came across this story while reading The Widow Cliquot and it's a good example of the experience of many families during the Terror, so perhaps more of an "Apres Ca".

The Count of Chevigne was a fond friend of the King, and held the honor of riding in his carriage and accompanying him on hunts, while his wife assisted at the balls of Marie-Antoinette and received invitations to the theatre at Versailles. Together with their four daughters and only son, Louis, they had a perfect life.

Then the Revolution of 1789 struck, and the Count went to fight with the royalist forces, leaving his wife and children behind. For a while they were left alone, fearful, but unharmed, but at the height of the Terror the arrest order finally came. The Countess, her sister the Countess de Marmande, and all five of the children were taken to prison to await trial and sentencing, even though her son was but a toddler. The condition of the prisons was abysmal and disease ran rampant. The Countess of Chevigne was starved and brutalized by the prison guards and watched her sister and three of her daughters succomb to illness and die.

Knowing that either by illness or guillotine her death was imminent the Countess made a desperate decision, begging a woman passing through the halls of the prison to take her two remaining children, in the hopes that they would survive and rejoin their father. Sadly he too would die within the year, and the children never reached him. They were instead adopted by two wealthy women from Nantes.

Eventually the children, and their uncle the Count of Chaffault, survived, and in the Napoleonic era Louis, now a grown man, was able to distinuish himself and regain the title Count of Chevigne, though none of the money that had once gone with it.