Friday, January 6, 2017

Simplicity Pattern Catalog, August 1940

Simplicity August 1940
Simplicity Pattern Catalog, August 1940
About a month ago I acquired my first vintage counter book - you know, the big pattern catalogs we go and flip through at the fabric stores. I began my obsession after visiting Simplicity back in October and flipping through a couple of their original books. This first catalog, which is not the one I'm sharing with you today, was such a work of art that since then I've been on a bit of a bender, snapping up pre-1950s books whenever I can find (and afford) them.

So far I have two late-30s and two 1940s. The '40s books are both Simplicity, one from 1940 on the dot, and one from 1946. The difference between the two is astounding. I'll show you pages from the '46 later, but today I'll share a few of my favorites from the '40.

Simplicity August 1940
The dress on the left with the crazy plaid work is calling my name! So is the dress on the right!

Simplicity August 1940

I'm fascinated by the juxtaposition between the 1940 and the 1946 book. On the personal side, there's literally nothing I don't adore in the 1940 book and there's almost nothing I DO adore or even like a little in the 1946 book!

Simplicity August 1940
The 1940s catalog is choc full of interesting gathers and shaping like this.

Simplicity August 1940
This plaid-trimmed blazer needs to go in my closet right now.
Also of note, the patterns in the 1940 book are pretty complex, despite the "Simple to Make" stamp being tagged on patterns that we today would by no means consider simple projects! Apparently 1946 didn't think so either because their "Simple to Make" patterns are more in-line with ours today - two seams, no armscyes, etc. The 1946 patterns are *so* simple they're boring, but by contrast, the 1940 patterns are so complex they're intimidating. I'm intrigued as to why this major shift occurred....(down the rabbit hole we go!)

Simplicity August 1940
Here's and example of what 1940 calls "Simple to Make." Does this look simple to you?

Simplicity August 1940

Another interesting note about the 1940 book is that it contains older patterns, like our books do today. There are quite a few obviously 1930s patterns still available in 1940. In the 1946 book, though, everything looks new for that year. This is probably more me not being attuned to the subtleties of the mid '40s year-to-year, but there's also a marked change in the style of the illustrations. Fascinating. Bring on the social context.

Simplicity August 1940 Pattern Catalog
A very 1930s pattern still available in the 1940 catalog - a good example of how fashion flows.

Simplicity August 1940
A cute late 1930s look still available in the 1940 catalog. 
Of course, the most frustrating thing about flipping through these tomes of focused dress history is that I can't pull open the pattern cabinet at Joanns and help myself to any of these. It's that same feeling of despair that comes with "shopping" old catalogs. There's the joy of online pursuit, though - hunting pattern numbers on eBay, Etsy, and Facebook groups - as well as the challenge of drafting your own version. There's no shortage of inspiration, at least!

Simplicity August 1940
There's a small section on undies - mostly slips and negligees, but a few brassieres and tap pants.

Simplicity August 1940
This is one of my favorite spreads in the book - there's only one like it, and I'm not sure what it signified - mix and match, perhaps? Individual separates patterns (instead of suits)? Quite fun.
Next time, I'll show you snaps from the 1946 Simplicity catalog and we can compare and contrast. For now, back to sewing!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The "State of the Book" Address - Updates and Progress

Well it's been a couple months now since we announced the writing of our 18th century sewing book, which now has an official title: "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them With Style."

In the past two months we have been sewing *like mad.* We weren't given very much time to write this thing, to be honest - about four months once the table of contents was approved. The scope is....big, to say the least. We're doing four different gowns in four chapters, and also accompanying those gowns are accurate accessories to make up a complete outfit.

So far we've made two of our four ensembles - the 1740s English Gown and the 1790s Round Gown. It's been quite the adventure, cracking the construction of original garments and photographing every step and stitch along the way as we construct the dresses using all original methods. "Just doing it" is one thing, but having to photograph and explain it in a way that makes sense has been challenging.

Yes, we're teasing you....
As we turn the page on 2017, we're right back at it on the most complex and time-intensive of the chapters: the 1760s Sacque. Luckily, though, there's now three of us on the project - Maggie from Undressing the Historical Lady is arriving this week to double our stitch-speed.

So while we can't show you official-ness from the book yet, we wanted to give you an update and let you know how excited we are, despite the short time frame. In the words of Simon Sinek, "working hard for something we don't care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion."

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Last Project of 2016

1930s-inspired hooded wool bomber jacket.
It feels like I haven't sewn much this year. I certainly have lapsed on the blogging, which I greatly apologize for! Everything we've been stitching up since October has been for next year's 18th century sewing book and we can't share it, so it goes without saying that it's been very difficult to do anything other than that.

Luckily I had a couple days between Christmas and New Years "off," and I decided to make something for myself - a 1930s-inspired jacket. I love jackets and coats, and needed something cozy but with a short waist. I was inspired by the pullover in the bottom right of this 1930s Sears catalog page:

The inspiration jacket isn't really a jacket after all - it's a pullover with ribbed cuffs and band and a small collar. Adorbs!
I had some lovely plaid wool in the stash and a 1970s pattern that would serve as the base:

The pattern - Simplicity 5891 - and the fabric, a plaid melton.
The pattern, Simplicity 5891, was close-ish. I needed to adjust the waist measurement, which was easy to do with just two seams. I also wanted to convert the band and cuffs to ribbing, and add a hood.

My doodles and notes with adjustments and alterations.
The jacket shell went together easily. I took the time to do bound buttonholes, which came out a bit small. I'm not sure bound buttonholes were the best choice for this project, since the wool was so thick. If they'd been larger it would have been easier to work through them, but despite my mistakes at least I know they'll last a long time. I don't trust my stitched buttonholing technique!

Bound button holes - there's a lot more steps that come after this, so don't be deceived. They look nice, though.
The ribbing was both tricky and easy. The cuffs were a right royal pain but the band was surprisingly straightforward. The difficulties come from access on a modern machine, but I'm wont to think it's my technique that's in need of revision. Surely there's an easier way to do ribbed cuffs! For the band, I assembled it with the wool tab first, then applied it to the bodice. I added that little tab because I needed something sturdy to button to - you see this done in bomber jackets quite often.

The shell of the jacket assembled, waiting for the lining.
Lastly, the lining. I put the lining in by hand but only because I've never learned the proper way to do it by machine! I did some parts out of order - for instance, I should have stitched the lining of the sleeve at the cuff right-sides-together, then pulled it through and finished the armscye, instead of turning the lining and felling it to the cuff (what a pain!) - and it took me many hours to wrestle the lining in, but I won in the end.

Felling the lining in by hand. It took a long time, and my lining - a poly crepe - wasn't nice to sew.
I put a welt pocket in lining, since there was no room on the exterior for functional pockets (too short). This is the first time I'd ever done a pocket like this and I'm pleased with the result, though I see how to improve next time. I'm glad I took the time to add it, too, because it's the perfect place to stash my keys and phone on dog park days.

The "lips" of my interior pocket. These are made just like bound buttonholes, then the pocket back is applied. I used the instructions in the Vogue sewing book. This is my favorite part of the jacket, to be honest. 
All in all I'm very pleased with my last project of 2016, and happy that I carved out a little time to make something for myself that I will wear often. Wearing and loving something you made it one of the best feelings.

Cozy and cute - I've been living in this jacket since I finished it.
Happy New Year to you all! I look forward to your projects in 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What The Heck Is This 18th Century Dress?

I keep a Pinterest Board called "Historical Costuming Weirdness," wherein I pin all the things I find that don't match up nicely with what we think we know about historical dress *right now.* I love these images because they make me scratch my head and speculate, but most importantly, they make me research. Down, down, down the Research Rabbit Hole I go and if I don't find the answer iron-clad, I've learned an awful lot of cool stuff along the way.

Such is the case with these two 18th century portraits:

La Liseuse, by Jean-Etienne Liotard, c. 1746
A similar portrait attributed online to Jean Baptiste Mallet. I haven't found a confirmed date for this portrait, but based on the hair, we think late 1760s to early 1770s.

Artist Interpretation = Bunk

To be honest, I haven't seen a lot of mindful speculation on what these women are wearing. Most of the commentary has been "artistic license," and "artist interpretation," which is maddening because it shows a complete lack of understanding of historic portraiture and has become the thing to say rather than a simple "I don't know." Before I tell you what I think this garment is, I'm first going to say that in representative art prior to the 19th century, particularly portraiture, there was a reason for everything. There has to be a reason to depict something in a portrait. Often this is symbolism (look at any portrait by Holbein), but when it comes to dress, you just don't see clothing being completely "made up," painted from imagination. It references something real. Fancy dress, yes; extravagant gowns, yes; Europeans depicted in exotic dress of the orient, oh yes. But these items of clothing existed and were on that person (or a dummy) when he or she sat for the painter.

The reason I know this is because I am a trained artist, and the school in which I trained shares a direct link with the great masters of the Renaissance. My art training was intense, strict, all-consuming, and effective. Drawing from life was the foundation of everything. Reference, reference, reference. Does this sound familiar when applied to historical reenacting? To "just make it up" was as looked down on and as obvious as just "making it up" when re-creating a historical ensemble. To illustrate the point, here's an example of an artist "just making it up":

Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, by Jean Fouquet, c. 1452. Part of the Melun Diptych. This is an example of  an artist NOT drawing from life. Although the depiction is of the Madonna, the woman is believed to be Agnes Sorel, mistress of King Charles VII, who had died two years earlier. Definitely not drawing from life!
There was a very real shift in the philosophy of art in the mid-19th century. We call it "Art for Art's Sake," and this shift lead to well-defined and well-known stylistic periods: impressionism, post-impressionism, surrealism, dadaism, cubism, abstract art (and on and on to today). But this was not the expectation or leisure of working artists before the mid-19th century, whose financial security and success depended on their ability (and training) to paint realistically. Realism in art, especially portraiture, was king (the invention of photography replaces this requirement in the mid-19th century, and profoundly alters the course of art ever after). "Artistic license" is in flattering the sitter, enhancing what's already there, or downplaying what's not desired, but in the time when the gown painted in a portrait cost significantly more than the painting itself, it would be highly unprofessional for the artist to change it!

Now you know my partial motivation for spending hours digging for the reference for these portraits, so let's get back to them.

Jean Etienne Liotard and "The Reader"

The first is commonly called La Liseuse (The Reader), and is by Jean-Étienne Liotard, c. 1746. Further digging revealed that the portrait is of Liotard's niece (Mlle Marianne Lavergne, or Miss Lewis), and there are two versions of it.

Another version of La Liseuse, or Mlle Lavergne, the painter's niece.
Liotard was Swiss-French, born 1702 and perishing in 1789. He was renowned for painting Europeans in Turkish, Arabesque, and other fancy dress. He also showed an interest in regional dress, like in this lovely chalk portrait from 1737 described as a Roman lady:

click for larger image, to read the caption.
The portrait in the Rijksmuseum has an inscription on the back that says "Madelle Lavergne de Lion peint par Liotard." Another reference from a 1907 publication called "The Art of the Dresden Gallery" calls the picture "La Belle Lyonnaise."

Excerpt from "Catalogue of the Pictures, Miniatures, Pastels, Framed Water Colour, Drawings, Etc. in the Rijks-Museum at Amsterdam", 1905

Excerpt from "The Art of the Desden Gallery" 1907

This was the first real clue.

French > Lyon > Swiss > Zurich > Liotard

Immediately I went hunting for depictions of 18th century regional dress, particularly from Lyon. I found very little, and most of the images were from the 19th century, but I began to see similarities in garments....but not from Lyon.

The most similar depictions were Swiss, particularly from Zurich:

The caption on this one was "Swiss-Canton of Valais Lotschentaler wedding people". I feel this one is closest, but again this is from the 19th or early 20th century.

Swiss - Canton of Appenzell Ausser Rhoden - though sleeveless, the broad stomacher with spiral lacing through rings is very similar. 

NYPL - depiction of early 18th century Zurich dress, from an 1898 document. (there are many versions of this). The ensemble on the right most notably.
This bodice, though sleeveless, shows a similar under-bodice sort of garment, though this one looks like it's sewn to the outer bodice. Again, this is a 19th century image and we know that clothing, even regional dress, changed across this period.

None of these are spot-on, so I cannot and will not say categorically that what Mlle Lavergne is wearing is Swiss regional dress, but the connections are easily seen. Liotard was Swiss. This sitter was a real person. She was wearing real clothing.

Maybe-Mallet and the *Other* "Reader"

Now, the second portrait...

For the time being, I am going to say this portrait is by an unknown artist. Though the image is on Pinterest, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Mallet, I cannot find a reliable original record, accession number, or any mention of it in catalogs to confirm that it is indeed by him. (if you have a record, please let me know!) The reason for our skepticism is because Mallet was born in 1759, and the hair style of the sitter indicates the late 1760s to early 1770s, and the painting style the 1750s through 1770s. This is completely inconclusive, please note, but until we learn more about this portrait and where it's held, I'm not going to definitively say it's by Mallet.

Whoever did paint this portrait, it appears they came into contact with Liotard's earlier work at some point. The sitter is in the same pose, performing the same action, and is clearly wearing a very similar outfit, but the similarities end there. The sitter is looking straight at us, with fashionably dressed hair. Her gown appears to be a sacque in a subtley fancy fabric, but the ensemble lacks the details of Liotard's depiction, notably the apron, the bows at the waist, and the finely painted elements of the underbodice and lacing.

This portrait was "informed by" Liotard's, to use a very art world phrase. It's not a copy, but it's inspired by. This could come about any number of ways - the artist could have loved Liotard's work and wanted to do an homage, or the sitter could have loved Liotard's work and asked to be depicted in this way.

While both painters were painting real people, Liotard's portrait has an authenticity to it that the later work lacks. You can see this in the lack of realism on the later portrait's gown, which leads me to believe that his reference for the clothing was Liotard's painting, not real Swiss regional dress, OR that the sitter's marchande de modes concocted this costume.


The lesson I learned in all this, and that I wish to pass on to you, goes back to research. Don't accept a modern excuse of "it's just artist interpretation; it's just artistic license." Instead, dive down that rabbit hole and find the answers! There are myriad weird-ass things in historical costume, but just like in science, it's all "magic and mystery" before somebody uncovers the evidence and links it together, to the benefit of us all. That "somebody" could be you.

A super-big image of Liotard's painting can be seen and studied here.
The book with the portrait of the Roman woman is available here.
Read "Art for Art's Sake: Its Fallacy and Viciousness," 1917, here.