Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Book Review: Creating Historical Clothes

Creating Historical Clothes: Pattern Cutting for the 16th to 19th Centuries by Elizabeth Friendship is another recommendation/loan from Elise, a lady of excellent literary and sartorial taste.

This book reminds me a lot of Period Costumes for Stage and Screen, so I'm afraid comparisons are inevitable.  Still, there are a number of differences between them.  First, Creating Historical Clothes covers the 1500-1900 time span in a single volume, while Period Costumes does it in two. They also differ in method: Period Costumes teaches you to drape patterns, while Creating Historic Clothes instead gives a solid introduction to drafting and grading flat patterns.  Though both are aimed at historic costumers, and are well-supplied with research and period images, I'd say that Creating Historic Clothes puts slightly more emphasis on the "historic" portion, Period Costumes for Stage and Screen on the "costume".  That being said, they cover similar ground, so a person who already owns one may find the other unnecessary.

Creating Historic Clothes starts out with a 60-page introduction explaining how to use the book to make your own patterns (whether historically authentic, passable, or "inspired by"), and manipulating basic patterns for bodices, sleeves, skirts, and trousers.  Honestly, if you're interested in drafting, this section alone is worth the price of the book and it should see you through modern as well as historic patterns. Cartridge pleating (gauging to us mid-Victorian sewists) is also explained, though few other sewing techniques are handled.

Each section thereafter is divided up by century, with a two-page summary of fashion trends illustrated by period paintings, a glossary of costume terms, and a list of artists active at the time.  It then goes through explaining how to draft patterns for bodices, sleeves, skirts, and foundation garments.  Most of these are given in 5-15 year increments; for example, the 17th century chapter has bodice instructions labelled: "early 17th century", "1630-1645" (plus two variations), "c.1655-1665", "bodice with tabs", "c.1655-1670".  Trends which do not follow the calendar are noted--so, if you're looking for late 1790s Empire gowns, you'll be directed to the early 19th century pages.

Note that undergarments (except for foundation pieces) and accessories are not included; the good news is that shifts/chemises, drawers, and petticoats are relatively straightforward, and the last can often be adapted from the included skirt patterns.  Corsets/stays and various skirt supports (farthingales, panniers, hooped petticoats, bum rolls, bustles) are included.

Given the wide scope of the book, I am impressed with the amount of nuance included.  You will likely want to consult additional references for specific historic impressions.  For example, the 1850s-60s section of the book gives a pagoda sleeve, which is a valid style--looking at other period images, however, would also point you towards bishop and coat sleeve options (which could easily be adapted from the basic straight and two-piece sleeves in the basic drafting section).

Score: 5 stars for costumers, 4.5 for historic sewists

Accuracy: High. Some fine details are lost in the sheer amount of information, but it shows original images and references period manuals (as well as secondary sources).

Difficulty: Intermediate and up.  You're on your own for the sewing, but the pattern manipulations are well-explained.

Strongest Impression: A versatile, well-researched costume-patterning book that I'd recommend to anyone costuming a period play or film, doing history-themed cosplay, or learning to draft patterns. Living history sewists will likely find this book useful, particularly if looking for a single title that covers four centuries of women's clothing; others may want more period-specific sources, and/or ones which cover period sewing techniques in greater detail. Someone with a large collection of costuming books may find this one redundant.


  1. Hello !
    I just bought that book, and I loooove it so much !! Unfortunatly sometimes photographs could be very helpful and miss... For example, do you have noticed the Bum roll pattern ? If you understand it I would be so glad if you could explain me (I'm sure it is so simple but my brains doesn't want...)! I thought that bum rolls were only to layers quite round and padded... Here there is a little piece of pattern that I don't understand at all ! And no one around has this book...

    So if you agree to help a young sewer in need this would be amazing !

    (Sorry for my English if I make some mistakes...)
    Thank you !

    1. Good point about more pictures being useful. :)

      As I understand it, the bum roll calls for 4 pieces: 1 rectangle based on the waist measurement ("ABCD" in diagram 2), 1 larger rectangle for the outer circumference, and 2 end pieces ("EFGH" in diagram four). The two rectangles are sewn together into a tube and stuffed, then the ends are finished off with the piece in diagram 4. So, when the "roll" is worn, the rectangular piece ABCD the part right against the body, wrapping around the waist like a belt. The larger rectangle is attached to the top and bottom of the "belt", making a tube around the body, and the ends of that tube are finished with piece EFGH--when worn, line EFH runs vertical, attached to the short ends of rectangle ABCD, while the arc EGH runs along the short ends of the larger rectangle.

      If that's still unclear, I can try sketching it out, but the next two weeks are rather busy for me, so it may take a while to get something posted.


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