Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: Period Costumes for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1500-1800

Cover Art for Period Costumes for Stage & Screen 1500-1800 by Jean Hunnisett

Here's another classic costuming reference: Jean Hunnisett's Period Costumes for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1500-1800. I previously reviewed the 1800-1909 volume here.

Period Costumes for Stage and Screen walks you through draping women's clothing for the 16th-18th centuries.  The first quarter of the book gives an introduction to measuring and draping, with techniques for constructing basic bodices, petticoats, and a variety of skirt-supporting hip pads. Chemises are also covered briefly.  The remaining three chapters each cover a century of clothing: specific support garments like corsets, farthingales, and panniers, as well as gowns and some accessories, such as partlets and ruffs.  Line drawings of dresses from period painting are included, as well as cutting diagrams.  The appendix defines some of the terms and tools used, and also offers guidance on skirt widths and estimating yardage.

There's a lot of material to cover, but I think the author does a good job of showing multiple versions of dresses, so that a determined designer can create a variety of garments for a given time period, using the same basic shapes but varying the sleeves, collars, trim, etc.  She does an impressive job of deciphering garment/cutting shapes from historical paintings.

I also appreciate the "philosophy of costuming" remarks made at the beginning of the book: in addition to distinguishing between designing "clothing" for realistic settings versus "costumes" for fantastic ones, Ms. Hunnisett recommends studying of original garments, and using the appropriate undergarments of the time period.  In a perfect world, every designer of historic costume pieces would take those last two concepts to heart.

This is definitely a good book for performance costuming: it focuses on recreating the look of a time period rather than making generically old-fashioned garments.  As with the 19th century volume, living historians can use this information, but it might not be ideal for their interpretive goals.  A costume which needs to look good from yards away is different from a garment which will be inspected at close range; theatrical blocking and quick changes may require sacrifices in accuracy which are antithetical to a true reproduction.  Ms. Hunnisett's book does address the later, but--being aimed at costumers--also gets into detail about simulating the different layers and garments for when true accuracy isn't possible or desirable.  While this makes sense for costuming a period play or film, I can't countenance such an approach for living history.

Score: 4.5 Stars. [Subscores: 5 for costuming, 4 for living history use]

Accuracy: The shapes are taken from period paintings, but the techniques and materials are often modern attempts to emulate the older methods.  Very useful if you're trying to recreate garments from Holbein's court portraits.

Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced.  While basic draping is explained, this isn't a step-by-step illustrated pattern: you'll need a fairly solid sewing background or a lot of enthusiasm (and good spacial reasoning) to use this book.

Strongest Impression: The world (of costume dramas) would be a better place if theatrical and movie costumers read this book and observed its advice.  Living historians will likely find the information useful, but should look into period construction techniques, and may find other titles more helpful to their objectives.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Man's mid-19th century shirt, made from Past Patterns #007 view B (retired; view B is now #011, view A is #010).  The neckline was re-cut to better fit the wearer.

This shirt is made from a smooth linen, with shell buttons at the cuff and placket.  The cuff buttonholes turned out fairly well, in my opinion.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: The Tudor Tailor

Cover for "The Tudor Tailor" by Ninya Mikhaila & Jane Malcolm-Davies

The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies.  

I think this is my new favorite costuming book.  It's very detailed and clearly written, with explanations not only of garment cut and fit, but also of sewing techniques, period fabric options, and research methods.  Unlike many of the costume books I've read, this one covers both men's and women's garments.  And did I mention the pictures?  It's chock-full of pictures: period illustrations, portraits, and surviving garments over the first fifty pages, cutting diagrams and beautiful reproduction outfits for the rest.  The draped garments (women's bodices and men's hose) have photos illustrating each step of the fitting process.

This book starts with a brief introduction to researching 16th century clothing, pointing out the different types of resources available and the strengths and weaknesses of each; there's also some discussion of the philosophy of sewing historic clothing ["replication, reconstruction, or re-creation"]. From there, it delves into the different garments and the combinations in which they were worn, the fabrics which were available, and which garments they were used in,  There's information on sewing methods, with sketches of the different techniques.  I particularly appreciated the two-page table of fabrics (including the most common usages of each and the closest modern equivalent), and the line drawings showing examples of ordinary and court attire by decade.  Many quotations from period sources are used in discussing the different garments, what they were made of, who wore them, and how.  

The final, and largest, portion walk the reader through cutting out and making up men's and women's clothing: smocks/shirts, hose, breeches, kirtles, petticoats, bodies, farthingales, jerkins/doublets, gowns, waistcoats, partlets, ruffs, and finishing with caps, bonnets, coifs, and hoods for the head (everything but shoes).  As noted before, each garment has cutting diagrams and pictures of the finished reproduction.  Instructions for sizing the patterns up and down is included; draping is used for bodices and hose.

There isn't much I'd change about this book: the only trouble I've had with it is having to hunt for the page which deals with how the pattern grids scale (easily solved by bookmarking page 52). I'm also curious about the inclusion of French seams in the techniques portion: my Victorian research suggests whipping and felling are the more common seam finishes for fine materials up to the end of the 19th century.  I'll need to do some more research to see if the technique was used earlier.

Score: 5 Stars

Accuracy: High.  Lots of good sources cited, original images included, and the completed repros look like 16th century clothing rather than "costumes".

Difficulty: Intermediate and up.  There's enough instruction provided for a beginner to get started, but so much material makes for a very steep learning curve.  Some sewing/draping/drafting experience (or a knowledgeable friend) would be helpful.

Strongest Impression: I really like it!  This book starts the reader out with good research methods, but also provides enough background information to get started right away.  I found the cutting and stitching instructions clear.

Garments I've made: Smock, Kirtle, Headrail & Hose

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Linen Smock

Made from instructions in The Tudor Tailor.  The material is 2 oz white linen from Dharma Trading Company.  It's all hand-sewn with cotton thread; linen thread was used on the fasteners (including the three thread-covered buttons).

Repro 16th century linen smock.
Linen smock, 16th century design from The Tudor Tailor.
It could use some ironing.
Thread button and hand-sewn buttonhole on repro 16th century smock.
Cuff. These are the second nicest buttonholes I've sewn.
Collar and thread button close up, repro 16th century smock.
Collar and neck fastener.

Friday, July 22, 2016

HFF 2.15: Smell, Sight, Sound, Touch

The Historical Food Fortnightly Icon

The Challenge: Create a "feast for the senses."  I tried to make a dish that was pretty as well as tasty (sort of remixing Challenge #7).  The baking paste also smelled sort of nice?  I've got nothing on sound, however.

The Receipt: From Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management: 
1321. INGREDIENTS – Puff-paste No. 1205, the white of an egg, sifted loaf sugar. 
Mode.—Make some good puff-paste by recipe No. 1205; roll it out to the thickness of about 1/4 inch, and, with a round fluted paste-cutter, stamp out as many pieces as may be required; then work the paste up again, and roll it out to the same thickness, and with a smaller cutter, stamp out sufficient pieces to correspond with the larger ones. Again stamp out the centre of these smaller rings; brush over the others with the white of an egg, place a small ring on the top of every large circular piece of paste, egg over the tops, and bake from 15 to 20 minutes. Sift over sugar, put them back in the oven to colour them; then fill the rings with preserve of any bright colour. Dish them high on a napkin, and serve. So many pretty dishes of pastry may be made by stamping puff-paste out with fancy cutters, and filling the pieces, when baked, with jelly or preserve, that our space will not allow us to give a separate recipe for each of them; but, as they are all made from one paste, and only the shape and garnishing varied, perhaps it is not necessary, and by exercising a little ingenuity, variety may always be obtained. Half-moons, leaves, diamonds, stars, shamrocks, rings, etc., are the most appropriate shapes for fancy pastry. 
1205. INGREDIENTS – To every lb. of flour allow 1 lb. of butter, and not quite 1/2 pint of water. 
Mode.—Carefully weigh the flour and butter, and have the exact proportion; squeeze the butter well, to extract the water from it, and afterwards wring it in a clean cloth, that no moisture may remain. Sift the flour; see that it is perfectly dry, and proceed in the following manner to make the paste, using a very clean paste-board and rolling-pin:—Supposing the quantity to be 1 lb. of flour, work the whole into a smooth paste, with not quite 1/2 pint of water, using a knife to mix it with: the proportion of this latter ingredient must be regulated by the discretion of the cook; if too much be added, the paste, when baked, will be tough. Roll it out until it is of an equal thickness of about an inch; break 4 oz. of the butter into small pieces; place these on the paste, sift over it a little flour, fold it over, roll out again, and put another 4 oz. of butter. Repeat the rolling and buttering until the paste has been rolled out 4 times, or equal quantities of flour and butter have been used. Do not omit, every time the paste is rolled out, to dredge a little flour over that and the rolling-pin, to prevent both from sticking. Handle the paste as lightly as possible, and do not press heavily upon it with the rolling-pin. The next thing to be considered is the oven, as the baking of pastry requires particular attention. Do not put it into the oven until it is sufficiently hot to raise the paste; for the best-prepared paste, if not properly baked, will be good for nothing. Brushing the paste as often as rolled out, and the pieces of butter placed thereon, with the white of an egg, assists it to rise in leaves or flakes. As this is the great beauty of puff-paste, it is as well to try this method.

The Date/Year and Region: 1861, British

How Did You Make It: Made up puff paste using 1/4 lb each of butter and flour: used a scant 1/4 cup of water to make the flour into a paste, then rolled it out four times to incorporate the butter. Cut into rounds and stars, using an icing tip to cut out the center of the stars.  Brushed egg white over the rounds, layered on the stars, and applied more egg white. Baked 15 min at 400F, adding sugar 2 for the last 2 minutes.  Allowed to cool, then placed a spoonful of blackberry preserves on the center of each.

Time to Complete: 3/4-1 hour

Total Cost: All ingredients on hand.

How Successful Was It?: Fairly.  The pastry is nice and flaky.  The jam is jam.  Could possibly use a larger proportion of jam to pastry, but it's palatable as is--even if it didn't turn out a pretty as i could have hoped.

How Accurate Is It?: I used store-bought preserves, and the usual "electric oven instead of wood or coal-powered oven".

Thursday, July 21, 2016

White Waist

Here's my new white waist for early 1860s wear.  The inspiration piece is a basic gathered body with full bishop sleeves (from The Graceful Lady, first on the page).  I'm kicking myself over the fabric--I have a piece of barred cotton very similar to the original which I had just cut up for a fancy knitting apron before I decided to make a white body.  Alas.  Instead, I ended up using a piece of plain cotton batiste that was on hand.
Repro 1860s Victorian White Waist

I decided to make a detached half-high lining for this body: none of the originals I've found pictures of have attached linings, and my material is so sheer that an intermediate layer is needed to conceal unsightly corset and chemise lines.  I did not opt for a "corset cover" because I've still found little evidence that they were in use before 1865.  The lining is white pimatex; both it and the body are draped-to-fit, with dart and armscythe adjustments courtesy of Nancy.

The silk waist has an interior structure of crinoline, with 1/4" steel boning in the points.  It fastens with hooks and eyes on the side.  It is displayed (and worn) with the green wool skirt that also accompanies my 1850s velvet and lace basque.

Repro 1860s Victorian White & Silk Waists

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: How to be a Tudor

Cover of "How to Be a Tudor" by Ruth Goodman

Ruth Goodman's How To Be A Tudor is a highly accessible overview of daily life in 16th century England.  Like its predecessor, How To Be A Victorian, How To Be A Tudor uses the course of a day to examine how people slept, dressed, worked, ate, and amused themselves five centuries ago.

How To Be A Tudor has the same conversational tone, informative content, organizational structure, and geographical boundaries as its Victorian counterpart.  However, this book is kept fresh and interesting by the different time span and content: there's fewer cholera epidemics and considerably more ale brewing and religious turmoil.  The structure of this book also feels a bit tighter, as though the subtopics fit closer into the "daily routine" framework.  I'm not sure if that is my imagination, intentional editing, or the result of having fewer written records from the time (in spite of which, Ms. Goodman managed to assemble an extensive bibliography).   

There's little I'd think to change about this book, other than adding footnotes.  Even at 300 pages, it's an engaging read and doesn't feel overly long.  If another book in this style comes out, I'll make a point of reading it.

Score: 4.85 Stars (I'd still like some footnotes!)

Accuracy: Many primary sources were consulted and/or quoted, and a number of period illustrations are included; the book also details the author's personal experience with trying to live like a Tudor person.  There's an 11-page bibliography for those seeking more information.

Strongest Impression: Send your copy of How To Be A Victorian through a 300 year time vortex, and you get How to Be a Tudor.  A fun and informative read.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Thread Buttons

Thread-covered buttons: linen over wooden beads.

Still here, still working on a few large projects--one of which needs some special fasteners.  The thread is linen, the button forms are small wooden beads.

Monday, July 4, 2016

HFF 2.14: Waste Not, Want Not

The Historical Food Fortnightly Icon

The Challenge: Make a dish which averts waste.

The Receipt: Baked Bread Pudding from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management:

1250. INGREDIENTS – 1/2 lb. of grated bread, 1 pint of milk, 4 eggs, 4 oz. of butter, 4 oz. of moist sugar, 2 oz. of candied peel, 6 bitter almonds, 1 tablespoonful of brandy.

Mode.—Put the milk into a stewpan, with the bitter almonds; let it infuse for 1/4 hour; bring it to the boiling point; strain it on to the bread crumbs, and let these remain till cold; then add the eggs, which should be well whisked, the butter, sugar, and brandy, and beat the pudding well until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed; line the bottom of a pie-dish with the candied peel sliced thin, put in the mixture, and bake for nearly 3/4 hour.

The Date/Year and Region: 1861, British

How Did You Make It: Brought 16 oz of milk to a boil, stirred in 1 tsp. almond extract (subsituted for the bitter almonds), and poured over 8 oz of shredded bread.  Beat 4 eggs, added 4 oz butter, 4 oz sugar, 1 Tbsp brandy and mixed well.  Sliced 2 oz of homemade candied peel, and arranged in a pie pan.  Mixed softened bread and other ingredients, then pressed into the prepared pan.  Baked approximately 45 minutes at 350F.

Time to Complete: Just over an hour

Total Cost: All ingredients on hand.

How Successful Was It?:  Well-received at the potluck.  I thought the taste worked great: the almond was distinct, but not overwhelming, and the candied peel provided a nice contrast.  It wasn't overly sweet, and might even stand to have a little more sugar next time; I didn't notice any taste of brandy in the finished pudding. The texture was mostly good, though I found it a tad damp along the pan edges, and next time I would be tempted plate it early and allow it to dry a little.  I'll likely make this receipt again, since it went over so well.

How Accurate Is It?:  I substituted 1 tsp almond extract for 6 bitter almonds; the amount is pure guesswork, but I'm satisfied with how it turned out.  Shredding rather than grating the bread was my other main substitution, but that also seemed to work fine--a bit chunky on the top edge, but well-incorporated elsewhere.  No bread type was specified in this receipt, so I used what I had on hand (a sourdough baguette with a few bits of pumpernickel to make the weight).

Baked Bread Pudding from Mrs. Beeton's (1861)