Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer Flies

Flies are not just hanging around the picnic basket!  Silk ones are on the porch and in the kitchen.  Don't ask me why, but summer brings out the fascination for Fly Fringe, so I am rolling with it.

First, the silk.  Years and years ago, I took a class at Colonial Williamsburg with Rick Hill on Fly Fringe.  All that was available at the time was twisted silk, and while the technique was taught, the end product was less than wonderful due to the product we were using.  But I did get the general idea, which is all that matters.

Enter the Japanese Embroidery Center with rolls and rolls of flat silk, in every color of the rainbow.

This makes excellent flies. There is 60 meters per roll. Because of my fascination with flat silk, I have taken quite a few classes on Japanese embroidery and have learned to use the silk as a thread for embroidery.  There are some tricks to working with it, not the least is getting it off the spool with out getting it tangled!

These hints are for working with any of the flat silk products.  The most important trick is to treat your hands ahead of time.  File your nails, lots of exfoliation and hand lotion ahead of time.  No lotion when you are using the silk, but soft and smooth hands won't catch the silk strands.

Once a spool has been started, when not in use, I wrap it in plastic wrap, like Saran Wrap,  so the thread will not get tangled up with other threads in the bin.  Disaster!

At 8.00 a pop, it is not cheap.  The biggest mistake people make when using this product is not using enough of it or buying enough of the colors they need.  You need at least 8 lengths put together to make a good fan.

In order to strand the silks, a simple board (2x3) with two nails at either end works great.  Tie one end to one nail and wrap around until you have half of the number of strands desired.  Then use that strand doubled.  My wrapping board is 5 feet long.

The nails are at a slight angle, and I sanded the board to prevent the silk catching on any rough spots.  So for my 8 strands, I wrap around the board until there are 4 strands.  Cut it off at the nail, thread a tapestry needle with the cut ends, and use it doubled.  This makes the length of silk about 30 inches long, which is workable.

My preferred silk is vintage spools that I found at a local shop, they keep them for decoration, and I buy them for fly fringe.  I have been hoarding them, but finally have enough that I can part with a few, so put them on the website for sale, limited colors, unless I can find more.

This is my favorite because not only does it brush up easily it also is easier to handle and much cheaper, each spool has a LOT of silk.  I use 10- 12 strands, as my go to number.  Each spool is different, so I test out the fans.


My other choice for fly fringe, is the Au ver a Soie brand- Soie Ovale.  Lots of colors.  15 meters per spool, but unlike the JEC flat silk, only 4 strands are needed for a good looking fan, so in the end, the smaller spool price wise is less expensive.

The advantage for someone starting out making fringe, is the ease of handling of the strands of the Soie Ovale.  They are less apt to pull and end up in a clustered mess.  4 strands are easier to work with than 8 or 10. It also comes off the spool easily.  Sounds like a simple advantage, but if you have ever tangled up a spool of flat silk you will understand.

The creamy fly on the left was made with the vintage silk, the green fly with Soie Ovale.

What do you NEED to get started? 

Making Fly Fringe is low tech.  So low in fact there is no tech at all.  The supplies needed are:

A wrapping board, flat silk, needles with big eyes, a good sharp pair of small embroidery scissors, and a ham.  Not a Virginia Ham, or a Canned Ham, but an ironing ham.  And just to make things interesting, a pump spray bottle of hairspray.  I use White Rain.

That's it.  If you don't have a ham, substitute a pincushion.  Seems weird to have a craft that needs so little equipment, doesn't it?  More on the technique soon.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Looks for the Lower Sorts

So what if your impression is not high end?  How do you capture the right look to greet L'Hermione? Even the lower sorts take their cues from the fashionistas.

Spring 1779 from the Lewis Walpole Collection
This print is the inspiration for our "Spring" cap.  The cap shape is typical of the late 1770's, a larger caul with pleated wings.  How the cap is worn makes the difference between ho hum generic 18th century and the late 1770s.  It is set on the head in a way that creates a triangle of hair at the forehead and a tall pouf at the top of the cap.  In order to achieve that height at the top of the head, you need to have hair there.

This can be achieved in several ways.  If you have long  hair a bun at the top of your head will do the trick.  Those with less hair can place a "troll" ponytail right on the top of your head.

And those with short hair can stuff their cap with some tulle or fake hair.  No one will be the wiser, especially if you are wearing a hat.  It is the height of the hair under the cap that makes it so charming.

Note in the colorization of this print, the apron was painted the same color as the gown.  Color prints were hand colored after printing and sometimes interesting errors occur, like the stripe on her sleeve but not on her gown.  But even with those errors, the color combinations look right, not wrong.  Green petticoat, yellowish gown, blue handkerchief and red bow.  An easy way to dress up your lower class handkerchief is the pretty bow.  The bow is a direct knock off from the fashionable gentry.  Also note she is wearing what I would call "sleeves" over the bottom of her gown sleeve.  (but only on one, another colorization error?)  And her pocket is under her apron.  Visible with the paper poking out.

Over at the British Museum, this same print has a different colorist.

Totally different take on the colors in the exact same print.

Let's take a look at another cap -- this one from "The Sailor's Present"

The Sailor's Present 1778 - Lewis Walpole Collection
Notice the same triangle shape of pouffed hair at the forehead and bit of height at the top of the cap.  Once again some neat color combinations to note.  A green hair ribbon, red handkerchief, yellowish brownish gown, white apron and pink petticoat.   No attempt to match the gown or the petticoat with the hair ribbon.  The sailor's present is a bright blue ribbon, and even that goes perfectly with the colors depicted.  Her hat on the ground shows simple ribbon puffs in blue with a bow that hangs off the edge.  A gift from another sailor?

The hat on the standing woman has a slight tilt, not the extreme fashionista tilt, but enough to show us she has something going on with her hair and cap underneath.  No flatheads!.

From these two very simple prints, we can take away a great deal.  The most important is the height of hair, the next is no matchy patchy.  Choose your colors wisely, and they will all work together.  Try being random, pick out the petticoat that is on top of the pile, dive into your ribbons and chose the first one that comes to  hand.  You might surprise yourself with how well it all goes together.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

It's Something in the Hair

Stephanie Smith of Larkin & Smith

Boston is getting ready for our turn to step on board the Hermione and welcome her to our city.  So in preparation we are going to take a look at the easiest way to portray 1780.   Your closed front gown is just perfect, the small flat straw hat is still in fashion, you have everything you need.  But what makes the strongest statement for 1780?

You can get the gown right, the accessories, the shoes, even the hat, but if the hair isn’t right, we’ll let’s put it this way….…you miss the mark.

Why is hair so important?  For one thing, it’s around your face and it’s something that everyone sees.  For another, it determines the way your cap and hat sit, and yes, that makes a huge difference.

So looking forward to the Hermione’s visit to Boston, let’s take a look at hair.  

Museum of London 1778

The hair of the late 1770’s is tall.  A fad that started at the beginning of the decade doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.  However, the conehead of the first part of the decade widens out a bit and nothing around the neck becomes sausage curls at the neckline.

And all this hair, even though it may be partially covered by a cap, influences the direction your hat takes – yes direction, as in vertical (or at least titled at quite an angle)

And all those pouf, puffs, ribbons and feathers become an integral part of the scenery.

From the Museum of London 1777
Not only would you miss all that decoration if the hat were horizontal, it would flatten all that wonderful hair!

Now, yes, these are fashion plates, but they are telling us about "the look.  So before your stroll along Rowes Wharf, take a stroll through the dated prints between 1775 - 1779 and get a feeling of what's going on above your neck.

1780 from the Lewis Walpole Collection lwp 04247

Should we modify the extreme hairstyles of the fashion prints?  Yes, of course, but there should be some height to your hair, some tilt to your hat.  Some indication of non generic 18th century.   It won't cost more than a few dollars at Sally's ( a well know beauty supply in the Northeast).  False hair is really inexpensive.   More to come on this topic. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

More Fabulous Flies

Continuing on from the last post, more really neat examples of using flies in trim.  All of these are from the Gallica Bibliotheque, c 1730s.

Not what you would expect. Rows of zig zag with two rows of 5 fan flies.  At 7am my brain is not even going to attempt to figure out how they got all the rows to stay so even.

A little more average use of flies, but this time with some metallic loops thrown into the equation, and 5 fan flies.  And what a mix of colors and mixture of colors within each fan!

Another chenille variation with what I am calling tree flies, through lack of better terminology.

And this one has it all, chenille loops, woven trim, flies and metallic accents.

One more just cause.

I love this, not only are the colors so vivid but you can actually see how it was constructed. Two rows of silk, connected with what I would call insertion lace.  What came first, the lace or the fly trim?  Guessing, I would say the trim came first and the lace was made and attached afterwards.  But who knows?  It looks really difficult to make lace between two rows of trim, but I know zippy about lacemaking.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fabulous Flies

I am so in love with fly fringe.  Always have been, it is the till death do us part kind of passion.  Something about the combination of silk and color and the pop of it.  

Who could not love it?  

Who wants to make it?  

 I do.  And I have to find a way to make it easier, faster and achievable for anyone who wants to try it.  

Here are some utterly awesome examples of fabulous fly fringe.  For the most part, fly fringe is incorporated onto something else.  A foundation of another trim is almost always present and the flies are woven in or attached, but I would have to say almost always woven into the trim.  They were ready made and thrown in as the foundation was woven. 

These examples are from the Gallica Bibliotheque, c 1730s, and will fall into the pretty to look at but are you kidding me category of achievability. 

This is a pretty complicated piece of trim.  There are two foundational elements looping around, with a 5 fan arrangement on only one end of each fly.  If the 5 fan was on both ends, it would disrupt the looping of the other parts of the trim.  Fans are usually arranged in an odd number, 5 or 3 being the most common.  These types of foundations can be made on a tape loom.  And yes, it would take a wee bit of time to achieve.

This one has three looping foundations.  The best I can see, one is woven and the other two are possibly pieces of silk chenille??   You can clearly see the fly fringe is woven into the trim going almost straight across.  The fans are arranged in a tree shape, not something you see very often, but very cool and not difficult to do.  It is actually the loops that would drive you crazy. 

This is the more typical type of fringe we see over and over.  Three fans on each end, attached to a foundation of a narrow woven or braided piece.  Notice the variations in the colors of the silk, that is also very commonly seen.  There are examples of all one color fringe, but often the fringe is coordinating with the silk of the gown and is picking up the color range in the fabric.  

All of these are quite lovely, but really do land in the above mentioned category.  Not that they are impossible, they are not.  But let's face it, not happening. 

So next post, I will look at some more fringes, this time in the possible category, and further on will go into the best silks, tools and tricks to use when making this gorgeous and so often overlooked trim. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

18th c Ribbons

18th c ribbons came in all shapes and sizes, more combinations than one can shake a stick at, and the colors!  Woven, brocaded, striped, moire, picot edge, metallic, net, dotted, and the list goes on.

Ribbons were a necessary luxury for holding the cap on your head.  A real luxury when used as a gown accessory at bosom and elbows.  We as reenactors have silk satin or taffeta as our only options.   While this is completely correct, everyone is starting to look alike.  Cookie cutter syndrome in the making?  Is it really representative of the look of the 18th century?  Should we attempt to mix in a more diverse assortment of ribbons?  My vote is yes.  

These ribbons are all from the Gallica, Bibliotheque Numerique, c1736.  

We will also look at the ribbons from the Foundling Hospital, c 1750s and see if there is a big stylistic difference in the 20 years in between. 
And we will see if we can match ribbons to the portraits of women wearing various sorts of ribbon bows.  

So there is a lot of ribbon work to be done. But since when is looking at pretty things work?   It is not work at all.  (Well, quite a bit on my end, but still not work, just time).

Picot edge, moire, shaded stripe.

What we are looking at for the most part are all silk ribbons, aside from the metallics.  The option for copying ribbons like these is vintage rayon or vintage silk or a non silk modern equivalent.

Brocaded, scalloped  edge. 

Unbalanced stripe with a picot edge.
 This looks like a ribbon we could find today in any fabric store.  Stripes are timeless.

Brocaded stripe with a scalloped edge.

Shaded stripe, picot edge.

Moire, scalloped edge.
Our 18th century yellow, once again.

Woven with velvet spots. 
Love this one, how light and airy on a cap or hat!

Woven Metallic, silk fly fringe. 
How stunning would this have been?  Pink flies on shiny silver.  I would venture this was trim and not ribbon.

For a sense of scale, this is the full page.   What jumps out at me at first glance is the edge finish on almost all the ribbons, the diversity of color, and that they are all over the map in style. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Big on Bows!

Since bows are so prominent throughout the 18th century, but especially the 1770s and 80s, it seems necessary to take a closer look at the style, ribbons, size of ribbons and end finish of ribbons.

There are so many portraits to choose from, it will be difficult to fit them all in one post. Bows are Everywhere.

Mrs. John Hancock (Dorothy Quincy), MFA Boston

Dorothy, one of the richest women in Boston, BTW, is wearing a simple pink taffeta gown.  Her bow is actually not ribbon but self fabric, pinked.  Two loops one either side and what appears to be four tails.  Elegant.  No sign of a center loop, indicating it was gathered and sewn not tied in a knot.

Genevieve Jacqueline Pecoul, 1784, Lourve

Her ribbon is at least 2 and 1/2 to 3 inches wide.  Tied in the center with a knot, but the knot is so small it suggests a narrower ribbon was used to secure the loops.  Cut ends, in a soft zig zag, and the color!  Mon Dieu! How many of us would choose that combination?  We as moderns are more apt to go matchy patchy.  Boring!

No idea who this lovely older woman is, but she is sporting a pretty darn big bow.  I would guesstimate her ribbon is 2 inches wide and has a stripe along the edges.  No evidence of a tied loop, and fishtail finish to the bow.  One of the issues with Pinterest is the lack of citations.  So this poor lady is nameless, but even so we can look at her accessories.

One of my favorite images this month.  Love bows on bosom and sleeve.  Two loops and 2 tails at the bosom, and four loops, two tails and a center knot.  Ribbon appears to be at least 1 and 1/2 to 1 and 3/4 inches wide.  Once again a color combination that we probably just would not choose.

Margaret Doughty by James Northcote, 1774
Who has not seen that look on a preteen?  Her bow is pretty, and her cap and her cloak, so we can ignore the pout.   Obviously on a cloak the ribbon is purposeful and tied with a loop.  Once again we are looking at a wide ribbon approximately 1 and 3/4 to 2 inches wide with a zig zag finish.  Nice choice of cap ribbon by the artist, matches her cheeks perfectly.  Her cap is almost identical to our Mrs. Carr cap kit. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hankering for a New Handkerchief?

When looking closely at the handkerchiefs from the late 1770s we saw so many of the shaped handkerchiefs, that we decided to make it happen and designed some.  Two are ready.  One is still in the works.

This is our white on white check cotton shaped handkerchief with the tails tucked in.  We are selling this as a kit with precut fabric.   Kits are available also in fine white muslin and silk gauze on the Larkin & Smith website.  We have more images further down the post.

Museum of London, 1775
 From the fashion plate cc1775, a small handkerchief with a bow center front.  The bow is a theme repeated over and over.  The ribbon is often large, at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide.

Powerhouse Museum, 1777

More shaped handkerchiefs from 1777, another bow at center front and on the right the handkerchief is worn with the tails are crossed in front.

 Portrait of a Lady, c 1780, Ulster Museum.  Shaped handkerchief trimmed with lace, and once again that prominent bow at center front.

These detail shots from Miss Tipapin, c 1778, shows a variety of smaller handkerchiefs.  And of course, the bow.

Lace trimmed, with a bow, the tails are tucked into the bosom.

Here we see a ruffle, but can't see the front.

Our versions of the shaped handkerchief, suitable for the summer season of 1780.   The precut kits including fabrics, thread and directions are available on our Larkin & Smith website.

White on white cotton check, with a self ruffle.  Leave the tails down, tuck them in or cross in front.  A lot of options with this handkerchief.   Note the bow is not included in the kit, but we are adding more and more ribbons every day to our website.

Creamy silk and cotton trimmed with vintage French cotton lace.  So soft and delicate, this fabric is delicious.  Simple sewing with really eye popping results. Also available on our website here.

A gentle curved back, what could be prettier? Head off to the Hermione in a new handkerchief!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Details, Details

Zooming in on the details is what we do.  Big pictures are made up of little pixels, so get the small pieces right and the big picture becomes a piece of cake.

English fashion plates from 1775-1779.

 Zoom 1775

Powerhouse Museum

Let us assume these ladies are as advertised, wearing the highest and latest fashion of 1775.  Some very interesting details to see here.

The cuffs on this gown when we look close up, are in the latest style of gathering at top and bottom, with puffy in-betweens.  Sometimes the fabric is puckered, but not in this print.  These could be gauze or self fabric.  Notice the small white ruffle extending past the sleeve.  A much shorter and less full sleeve ruffle for her. This is the girl on the left of the print.

Her gown skirts are also most interesting.  Two possibilities.

First  it is a very narrow en fourreau set of pleats.  But I see a point where the bodice meets the gown. I think these are separate bodice and skirt. But I could swing the other way too.  The skirts are looped up in a polonaise style, tied with wide ribbons and two bows.

The woman on the right is wearing a cloak that is almost completely obscuring her gown style.  So we actually have no idea what the front of either of these "latest" fashions actually looks like.

But we do see a scarf/shaped handkerchief, scalloped or gathered, with little tiny, what I am assuming are rosettes, probably ribbon.  And of course a big bow.

Her gown petticoat and front skirts ar decorated in an elaborate pattern of diamonds, with rosettes, bows and a row of pleats, suggesting a more formal gown underneath the cloak.

Add more traditional double sleeve ruffles and wide skirt, we can safely assume she is dress and the girl on the the left is undress.

Zoom 1777

Museum of London

These stylin gals are decked out to the max. Big hair, big hats and not so big handkerchiefs or sleeve ruffles.  The all enveloping handkerchief is being supplanted by a narrower shaped handkerchief.  The gal on the right has hers crossed in front, the middle girl has a big bow.  Notice the aprons are shorter and shaped, trimmed with either ribbon or self fabric.

 One of the most distinctive features of gowns at this point in time is the row of ruching down the center front.  You see this consistently during the late 1770s, it is like they can't let go of the trimmed stomacher quite yet.

The bottom of each petticoat has some sort of decoration.  Large ruffle on the left, small ruffle in the middle and a swag effect on the right.

I wish the zoom feature was better on the MOL site, but keeping in mind these fashion plates are very very small, it is amazing the amount of detail crammed into them at all. The actual size of the print above is 72mm by 120mm.  To colonials like us it is 2.84 inches by 4.72 inches. These prints were in the almanacs, and Lady's Memorandum Books.  Tiny little pocketbooks with all kinds of extraneous trivia and songs and poems.