Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Victorian New Year's Wish...

The first commercial Christmas card printed in 1843
The Victorians loved their greeting and post cards, always beautiful, sometimes bizarre, and created for nearly every occasion! When the Penny Black stamp was introduced in England in 1840, the greeting card phenomenon was born and quickly became an inexpensive and thoughtful way to spread love and cheer during the holiday season. By 1895, little more than fifty years after the first greeting card was commercially printed in England, nearly a quarter of a million different types and designs of greeting and post cards were available on the market. Here are some notable Victorian holiday examples:

Compliments of Getty Images - the Hulton Archive

Compliments of The Doodle Place at Wordpress

Compliments of The Papermaker's Journal at Blogspot

Compliments of The Doodle Place at Wordpress

Compliments of Getty Images - the Hulton Archive

Compliments of The Doodle Place at Wordpress

Compliments of The National Library of Ireland

Compliments of Number One London at Blogspot

Compliments of Vintage Postcards Revisited at Blogspot

Compliments of The Doodle Place at Wordpress

Compliments of Getty Images - the Hulton Archive

Compliments of The Doodle Place at Wordpress

Compliments of Sexy Witch at Wordpress

Compliments of The Doodle Place at Wordpress

Compliments of The Ephemera Society - Artist Kate Greenaway (1880)

Compliments of Parisian Party

As the Irish say...
May the new year bring
The warmth of home and hearth to you.
The cheer and goodwill of friends to you,
The hope of a childlike heart to you.
The joy of a thousand angels to you,
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.

Many blessings, happy sewing, and Happy New Year!  ~Angela

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Viola! Marie's Victorian Gown

Happy Winter Solstice - lol! Last night I put the finishing touches on Marie's Victorian gown, and here she is, in all her loveliness! Merry Christmas and happy sewing! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Little Peek of Progress...

As usual, it's hand pleating the knife pleats around the hem, this time for the overskirt, that takes me more than a minute - :). Now that the overskirt is complete and attached to the underskirt (I made these two skirts one piece for wearing ease), I can resume the finishing detail and complete the gown! 

Happy sewing! 

Overskirt attached to the underskirt - tested for fit before adding the waistband

Final fitting before completing the remainder of the finishing detail

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ewww, There's Snooki on the Tree!

Being a high school English teacher and a parent to two young adult daughters, I credit myself for being up on pop culture and the latest trends. I even took my youngest and her "bestie" (best friend, for those of you who aren't current on the ever evolving teenage vernacular) to a packed midnight premier of Breaking Dawn (and yes, I've read the whole Twilight series against my better judgement - I think it took me a few weeks to regenerate braincells). And, regarding Justin Bieber, I do hope that this baby-mama-drama is put to rest and the Canadian boy wonder is able to move forward with his successful singing career (like most, I seriously doubt that he fathered a child). Although I feel bad for the Biebs, I surely don't want to brush my teeth with! You read right - while shopping with the hubs this afternoon, we encountered some questionable holiday gift items (which gave us both a good chuckle) - and of course, they deserve mention:

Isn't it enough that the Biebs has a successful ladies' fingernail polish line and has been dubbed by style gurus the world over as "the beauty expert that teen girls trust"? Why No! These ridiculous, yet lucrative, marketing and public relations feats have now extended to dental hygiene - that's right! Who doesn't want Bieber teeth? Ooo, and better yet, while you're lovingly brushing your pearlies with the pulsating Bieber brush, it will serenade you with one of two Bieber tunes...

And just in case you have ever wondered how the stars of the Twilight crew manage to create their sensational hair styles, wonder no more! You, too, can create Edward's textured styled coiffure in minutes...

...or, maybe you don't care for Edward - how about Esme's smooth and sleek locks of loveliness?

No can hairdo? No worry! Here's a styling wand to recreate Bella's sensual loose and natural waves...

Oh, I see! You're a Rosalie fan and nothing less will do than her dramatic, looks-like-a-bad-wig bouffant!

As for Alice, Emmet, Jasper, and Carlisle? Who cares about them when you can have your choice of Jersey Shore Mix and Match tree ornaments - and two for $10! (WTF?)

Despite the hilarity and morbid fascination of my Christmas shopping experience today, I did have time to work a bit on Marie's Victorian gown. Right now, as it stands, it looks like a little number from the early 1940s. But, once I get all the details squared away, with the trim and the draped overskirt completed, it will resemble a gown from the 1870s.

Peplum added to the bodice.

Sleeves on; testing trim placement

Aside from a slim belt (constructed from a trim similar to that of the trim on the hem of the underskirt and sleeves), trim on the sleeves at the base of the upper arm, and added knife pleats around the hem of the draped overskirt, I plan to keep the decoration elegantly simple for this gown. Aside from the gown's decoration, I still have some finishing work to do, like fine stitching around the collar and peplum, and some pill buttons sewn on the cuffs and down the front of the bodice (if I can find the right size and color). 

In the meantime, happy sewing...or brushing with the Biebs and styling to Twilight - but please, keep the Snooki off the tree - lol! ;)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tailor Made Part I: Rise of the Dressmaker

Tailored clothing is a relatively new concept in the history of human apparel – before the early Middle Ages, clothing was simply draped, loosely fastened, or wrapped around the body. Shaped or tailored clothing sewn together to fit the human form first appeared in the northern and mountainous regions of Europe and Asia where close fitted garments were necessary for warmth, protection, and freedom of movement.[i] Despite this significant change in garment construction, from draping and pinning to shaping and stitching, making clothes remained a non-paying domestic endeavor performed by both men and women of the time. It was not until the 12th century that tailoring became a paid profession throughout Europe as advances in naval technologies opened up greater trade opportunities among the European, African, and Asian continents. [ii]  

As the appearance of new towns and villages cropped up across Europe to facilitate the booming trade opportunities of the High Middle Ages, a new and affluent middle class – or bourgeois - was born from the common folk and immediately generated the need for a class of skilled tradesmen to service their growing demands. Like other emerging, profit making trades of the age (i.e. tanners, coopers, and other crafters), tailoring guilds were formed in towns and cities to safeguard the interests and privileges of its tradesmen by controlling who could pursue the trade professionally, the production of goods and services, the exchange of specialized knowledge, and the availability of trade resources in order to discourage regional competition. Consequently, it proved difficult for anyone wanting to sidestep the authority and endorsement of the guild to conduct business, particularly tradeswomen.

From their inception, tailoring guilds excluded women – at least from official records - a practice common in all male-dominated, profit making vocations of the Medieval and Renaissance eras.[iii] Prevailing academic, political, and religious ideology reinforced the importance of gender roles, separating domestic obligations (women’s work) from professional pursuits (men’s work), and making it illegal in most European countries for women to engage in commerce reserved for males.[iv] Notwithstanding their absence from official guild records, women’s participation in traditional male trades, regardless of its legality, was customary in many regions, often out of pure necessity. Claire Crowston, in Women, Gender, and the Guilds in Early Modern Europe, explains that “[cultural] notions of appropriate female tasks – sewing, decorating, [and etcetera] – [encouraged] male employers to hire women in sectors from which they were theoretically forbidden.”[v] Thus, tradeswomen who were hired outside of the guild’s authority were often freer to produce variations in their product base (both in quality and kind) for a broader market share, but always in exchange for their professional propriety, particularly in the form of extortion, where many working women were forced to pay operation fees to guild officials to thwart harassment. Further, it was not uncommon for guilds to illegally include women simply to increase membership revenues.[vi] Albeit the pervasive treatment of tradeswomen as second-class laborers by the trade guilds, Crowston notes that women, “[when] given control over guilds, [used] that control to restrict and regulate the labor market in the same way as men.”[vii]

By the mid-18th century, as the guilds reached their apex of corruption and political philandering, the tailoring trade became saturated with competent apprentices and journeymen unable to secure employment for any reasonable length of time (usually for no more than six months out of the year). Consumer demands for fine clothing and textiles flourished as the production of goods and services expanded to include foreign markets. The tailoring guilds found it increasingly difficult to sustain control over their local markets and prevent competition. In an erroneous attempt to prolong their dominion over their respective industries, guild regulations and fees were restructured to secure business for its most esteemed and prominent members (and to discourage would-be competition by younger, more vernal tailors) rather than assist and benefit its members on the whole.[viii] In 1791, at the beginning of the French Revolution, the First National Assembly of France abolished its guilds, and as more European nations adopted free trade laws, guilds increasingly lost their power. By the mid-19th century, most of the guilds across Europe had been disbanded. Opportunist in the tailoring trade took advantage of the surplus of consummate tradesmen, hiring apprentices and journeymen in number and paying them significantly less than the salaries mandated by the former guilds. Here, the predecessor to the mechanized assembly line of the Industrial Revolution was born – the sweatshop.

Although these sweatshops of the late Georgian-early Victorian age produced garments of inferior quality “with no particular wearer in mind,” the costs of these garments were relatively inexpensive and served a growing market for ready-made (prêt-à-porter) clothing.[ix]  The middle classes found that they could now purchase what they once had to make for themselves. Likewise, new technologies, such as the power loom, the spinning mule, and the shearing frame, enabled unskilled workers to perform tedious, time consuming tasks, which had been traditionally relegated to junior guild members, with comparatively less effort and in a fraction of the time. As textiles became cheaper and more available, the wealthier classes discovered that they no longer needed to repurpose their clothing, but rather donated it to second hand shops. Tailors fast became the authorities and purveyors of fashion as the aristocracy competed amongst themselves for the finest fabrics and the most extravagant wardrobes. By the early 19th century, tailors had more than enough business to sustain themselves, often employing their own families in the trade, in addition to several apprentices, journeymen, and a number of unskilled laborers.[x]
While women were not typically employed in the tailoring sweatshops of the late-18th and early-19th centuries, those who were worked an average of 80-hours per week in exchange for their keep.[xi] A cheap and abundant source of labor, women were more commonly kept away from the tailor’s shop and employed in their homes to hand sew bails of piecework, a laborious task that paid significantly less than what the average male earned for the same work. [xii] Despite the limited income and employment opportunities available to most women due to pervasive cultural distinctions between men’s work and women’s work, this did not dampen the aspiration and success of the individual dressmaker – on the contrary, it created a boon. Female garments constructed by tailors were generally limited to underpinnings (corsets and hoops) and outerwear (habits and coats) - male dressmakers did not conform to society’s idea of masculinity, therefore the making of women’s apparel was left primarily to women.[xiii] By the latter half of the 19th century, women made up 99% of all dressmakers.[xiv]

(Proper citation when referencing this article: Thornhill, Angela. "Tailor Made Part I: Rise of the Dressmaker." The Merry Dressmaker. Blogspot, 27 NOV 2011. Accessed [Date]. <>.

[i] Franck, Irene M. and David M. Brownstone. Clothiers: Work Throughout History. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1987. 81.
[ii] Ibid., 82.
[iii] Malcolm-Davis, Jane and Ninja Mikhaila. The Tudor Tailor. London: Batsford, 2006. 42
[iv] Franck, Clothiers, 83.
[v] Crowston, Claire Haru. “Women, Gender and Guilds in Early Modern Europe.” The Return of the Guilds. October 2006: 12.
[vi] Ibid., 13.
[vii] Ibid., 18, 29.
[viii] Franck, Clothiers, 93.
[ix] Ibid., 93-94.
[x] Ibid., 86.
[xi] Ibid., 103.
[xii] Ibid., 99.
[xiii] Gamber, Wendy. The Female Economy: The Millinery & Dressmaking Trades, 1980-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997. 127.
[xiv] Ibid., 285 n. 2.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Constructing An Old World Enterprise...

1870s Bustle Walking Dress
from Old World Enterprises
I bought several patterns by Old World Enterprises (OWE) from Amazon Dry Goods about fourteen-years or so ago when Tonia and I started sewing together. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to construct or experiment with any of them. In the process of moving to Dayton, many of my patterns were somehow damaged. I promised myself that I would replace them one day. While scouring Ebay a couple of years ago, I discovered an OWE pattern that I had previously owned at a very reasonable cost, and from there I began to reconstruct my OWE pattern collection. Last week, Maria and I began discussing possible design elements for her Victorian gown and while having her look through my Victorian fashion plates and patterns, I was excited that she chose the OWE 1870s Bustle Walking Dress - an opportunity to use one of their patterns had finally presented itself! 

Like the good consumer that my daughter is (ahh, she takes after her mother), Maria enjoys changing things up a bit to suit her tastes (regardless of the pattern's design elements- lol!). Three changes are being made to this gown: first, the skirt has been cut so that there is no train; second, the ruffling around the neck (above the collar) has been removed (after constructing the toile, while the ruffling added a nice design effect, it covered too much of the collar bone area to display delicate jewelry); third, while the integrity of the sleeve pattern is being left alone (its pattern is not being altered), cuffs are being added to change the sleeve design from a bell to a bishop. Take a peek at this week's work on Maria's gown: 

Beginning of the bodice


Pleating detail

For construction pictures of Maria's gown as I am working on it, please visit my Dressmaker's Album at the right of the page - in the meantime, happy sewing!

Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallows' Eve (Boo!)

Making some sweet potato chips - yum!
There is so much to share! October is my busiest month. Aside from the costuming projects and a couple of small commission pieces, my family has more anniversaries and birthdays in October than any other month in the year. I have been cooking here and cooking there, and running here and running there! And eating and eating, like a horse. Not to mention the festivals and fairs going on every week, my favorite being the Circleville Pumpkin show. Oh yes, and I finally finished up my Victorian ensemble and had Maria take some pictures of me. Please let me share!

The Circleville Pumpkin Show

Molded pumpkins - aren't these so cool?

Me - in the middle of all the action (always!)

Circleville Pumpkin Show from the Farris Wheel

My new hand-blown glass pumpkin by Jack Pine (I get one every show)

Victorian Gown

I could have smiled - lol!

"Trick or treat, smell my feet, gimme something good to eat..."

Boo! Happy Halloween and happy sewing!