Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Barbara Johnson Online

The fabulous resource of the Barbara Johnson Album is now online for all to see at the V and A website.  The pages are there in entirety, but I was somewhat disappointed to see how small the images were and how difficult it is to read the text, so I came up with the idea of exploring some of the pages in more detail.

Victoria and Albert Museum


First, what is the Barbara Johnson Album and what is the big deal?

Barbara was the child of a minister, she was born in 1738 in England.  The date of her birth is important as her entries are dated and we can tell how old she was as the book progresses. If my math is right, in 1777 the date on this page, she is 39 years old.

She was a clothes hog.  And a scrapbook fiend.  Perfectly preserved in her swatch book, she kept pieces of the fabrics and trims purchased for her, along with notations beside each, noting yardage, price and often the width of the fabric and the intended project for that fabric.  We in turn can extrapolate from all this, some amazing facts for our own use.  




Very difficult to read online, the text describes "blue and white strip'd lutestring".  Lutestring or lustring as it is also spelled, is a very crisp silk taffeta, glazed for extra shine and even more crispyness.  Lutestring is perfect for the late 1770s new style of gown, with small tight waist pleats, and narrowing back pleats, a total departure from the heavy brocaded silks of earlier decades.  

She is using this silk to make a "nightgown" a rather old fashioned term to describe an English gown or in costume terms a "robe a la Anglaise".  She is buying 11 yards and 3 quarters, at one half ell wide.  The width of this fabric could be anywhere from 19.5 -21 inches.  A true half ell is 22.5 inches wide. Our modern fabrics are still often sold at the ell width of 45 inches.  So let's translate to modern fabrics at 45 inches wide. 

 She bought (and I am going to round up the 3/4 to a yard). 

6 yards of 45 inch wide fabric


That is the amount of fabric required by most of us today to make an English gown.  

Notice the shading of the silk stripe, hard to tell by this image, because there is no scale, but the stripe in the book can be measured and it is 3/8 inch wide from dark edge to dark edge.  Somewhat small but perfect for the the narrowing pleats of the later English gowns.  This purchase was made in 1777, at a cost of "three and sixpence a yard".  ( I am going to let some other math loving soul, figure out the total cost in pounds and shillings!) 





This advertisement from the Connecticut Courant, August 31, 1779, has for sale a "striped Lutestring", so we can definitely tie in this type of fabric from the Album to our own American Colonies.

For Costume and Historical Clothing purposes we can often find this type of shaded stripe in the home dec department. Now you can document its use and go for it when you find one in a suitable color!  Happy Shopping.  





Wednesday, March 26, 2014

All You Need Is….

Fellow bloggers.. wake up!  Here comes some sunshine yellow.  A beautiful gown, so elegant in its simplicity.  The plain fabric really shows off the beauty of the back pleats.  All you need is some yellow silk + our English Gown Pattern and TA DA.  You have this gown.

Kerry Taylor Auctions



 Just pinked. The trim is only on the robings. 


The fabric looks so rich and strong.  This gown appears to be in excellent condition. 


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Home Improvement Sewing Supplies

Need a long table for cutting out?  Don't want to spend a fortune on a "cutting table" at your local sewing center.  Get thee to a Home Improvement center for your home sewing needs.

A door.  A cheap door. Works wonderfully for a large cutting surface.


For 24 bucks a hollow core door is a quick fix.  (get the one without the predrilled hole for a doorknob).  Put it over an existing small table or sawhorses and you have a really long and large surface to work on.  Throw on some cutting mats and now you are cooking.  Takes hardly any space to store when not in use.

Don't look at the mess, look at the table!  This is my studio with our grumpy elf supervisor doing a selfie.  Three doors on tables.  Cheapest workroom ever.



Home Improvement Centers are also terrific places to shop for measuring tools.  Much less expensive than sewing centers.


Invaluable when cutting out.  I use mine constantly, it makes a great edge to cut against with a rotary cutter.


A 48 inch long metal ruler for 8.97.  Who can beat that?  A must have.  Discount job lot types of places have these even cheaper than the big retailers.

Once you have your door, and measuring tools, pick up some cheap clamps to help secure your rulers for cutting out those long piece of fabric on the straight.


Only 99 cents.  Get a few.  Use them to clamp down the metal ruler, it keeps it secure while you use the straight edge for marking or cutting.

And just when you think you are all done shopping at the orange or blue monster, hit the Laser Aisle and find a cheap laser level.  It shoots a straight line.  Priceless, ok, it has a price, cheap at 15.97.


Need to cut out some buttonholes?  The Hardware Aisle is the place for you.  Wood chisels are the way to go.


They often come in sets with a variety of sizes.  Use on a cutting mat, and you will get perfect holes every time.


Not 18th century, not pretty or pink, but cheap, practical tools that can save you time and money.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Starting The Sacque Pattern

The last time I patterned an original gown, the blog suffered.  It suffered big time, so this go around I am determined to keep up with posting.   First, because I like blogging, second because it is a good record of what I did, and third because others might find it helpful in understanding what goes into developing a historical pattern.

The last pattern we published was An English Gown, with enfourreau pleats and a stomacher front.  This pattern will be An English Sacque, c1770s.  It is a gown made for small hoops, and it requires much less fabric than an earlier sacque.  It is very appropriate for late 1760s-1770s.

Why does the world need another sacque pattern?  We have found there is a market for reenactors and costumers who want the opportunity to work from a pattern based on an original example and made using 18th century construction.

This sacque, as in all our patterns will be made in the 18th century manner.  No crazy directions for machine sewing something in a torturous way something that was never meant to be machined.

The dating is done by first examining the fabric, and then the style.  So let's look at the fabric.  It is sweet beyond words.  I really would like to find something similar to reproduce this, but might have to settle for something else.



For scale the blue stripes are 3/4 inch wide and the white stripe is one inch wide.

This gown has an English provenance, so the first stop to try and date the fabric is the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I know the aesthetic of stripes is very much 1770s.

V and A

Not the same, but the similar overall theme of stripes and small flowers.  This sample book has example from the 1770s-1780s from the firm of Batchelor, Ham and Perigal.  (love this)



Again, similar but not the same. Very much 1770s.  So the next step to try and find more fabrics similar to mine will be extant gowns in museum collections.








Wednesday, February 19, 2014

18th Century Child's Gown

Working on the child's gown has been a lot of fun, and at the same time has allowed me to use a great deal of the research work that was done on our last trip to the UK.  Hazel and I saw several children's gowns, three in the Museum of Childhood, one in Merseyside and one at the Museum of London.

There is another gown in the collection of Nottingham that is in Dr. Clare Rose's book on children's clothing.
Children's Clothes Since 1750
It is very similar to the gown pattern that I am creating.  I had some detail questions about the gown that were not listed in her book.  She was kind enough to respond to my inquiry, and this gown is now on my have to visit in the future list.  There are remarkable similarities in all the gowns that I have seen so far.  Just as in adult gowns, there appears to be conventions (not rules) in the construction. 



The child is laced into the gown from the back.  The lacing holes hidden by a placket that covers the holes, and yet allows access for lacing. 

The point of the gown is not attached to the gown skirts, which are finished and then attached.


The point floats free over the gown skirts.  The sleeves and shoulder straps set in the normal 18th century manner, which for a modern sewer is a little abnormal! 

This particular version does not have leading strings but I am providing an option for those who wish to use them in the pattern. 

If anyone has leads to children's gowns in other museum collections, I would appreciate the information.  I have seen the gowns at the Metropolitan in New York and hope to get to the Smithsonian soon to see the Copp Family child's gown. 



Saturday, February 15, 2014

In the Works!

Currently being digitized and graded are two 18th century patterns to add to the Larkin & Smith Historic Pattern collection.  One is an 18th century Child's Gown.  I had so much fun creating the prototype for the little girl's gown, it was not work, but pure pleasure.  I was obsessed to get it done.

The fabric that I found for this gown is amazing. It has been in my stash for a while, waiting for the perfect project.  Not only does it have brocaded flowers, but the flowers vary in the direction they facing.  What is so amazing about that?  Well, it allowed me to match the fronts in a way that would be impossible in motifs that all look the same way.  I had to waste a bit of fabric, but to get that visual, it was worth it.  I only had 2 yards of 54 inch wide fabric, 2.5 would have been ideal, so I ended up having to piece one of the back skirt panels.  Of course, a period solution that would bother no one in the 18th century, so it does not bother me either. (liar, it does, but it is ok)



You can see on the bodice front how the flowers are facing each other.  This fabric would have made an amazing gown for anyone, but alas, it was only a remnant. The flowers are brocaded on a striped satin ground.



Because all the seams are so small, this gown was hand sewn in approximately 10 hours. There are eyelets at the back of the gown, which slowed me down a bit.  Plus, I was taking photos of each step of construction along the way.

The pattern was taken from an original in my collection.   I had this on display at the last Hive, and must admit I was pleased at the response to my darling little girl.





Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Check Apron Widths?


This past weekend, I gave a short presentation on Aprons and Handkerchiefs at the Hive.  A lot of the info was pulled from this blog, one of the reasons I write it!

For everyday aprons the survival rate is practically nil, so few of these well worn, practical garments survive.  So the everyday apron that I discussed was the blue check apron in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg.

Colonial Williamsburg, Accession # 1999-265

Made of blue and white linen check and dated 1776 with small white silk lettering.  But I always have a question and this one arises from the advertisements for apron checks in newspapers.


Newport Mercury, Jan 2, 1764

How wide are "apron width checks"?  Why list it apart?   The ad lists  3/4 wide checks, and 7/8 wide checks.  My math (poor as you will see) makes the 3/4 wide- 27 inches and the 7/8 wide -31.5 inches wide.  So what is apron width?

This apron is 55 inches wide, made up of two panels.

Here is my math error, in the program I divided 55 by 2 and got 22.5.  WRONG!  It is 27.5 and no one caught it, but I did in the end so all is well in apron land.

The fun fact stuff; Sharon B. was in the audience and pointed out the apron in Fitting and Proper, was also blue check linen.  It is 27.5 inches wide, butt seamed, and I believe the CW apron is also butt seamed.  So now I have two extremely similar aprons with the same width selvedge to selvedge.  Not a big sample to base a theory, but  I am going to do so anyway. With this second source, safely advising widths of check aprons to be at least 54 inches wide (as our modern fabrics will dictate).

Both aprons have narrow self fabric waistbands and figured tape ties.



Newport Mercury, July 7, 1764
So are these figured tapes the "Apron Tapes" in the reference?  For now I am going to say yes, having seen these kind of tapes also used on pockets.




Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What We Couldn't Fit In!

In an effort to provide more information than we could have possibly included in our English Gown Pattern, it was decided to set up some pages to support that extra content.



18th Century Costume Bibliography


First we have included a more extensive costume bibliography than in the pattern.  It just was not feasible to include everything, so a decision was made to only list a few pertinent books and point to this link for the remainder.  Don't forget about interlibrary loan, we can't own them all!

Yes, it is my bookcase. Head down in  shame at the shambles as I write this. 

Working With a Pattern


People come in all shapes and sizes, so one size does not fit all. Common adjustments such as lengthening or shortening the waist, expanding the sleeve and adjusting the shoulder strap are addressed. Just throwing more into a seam allowance is not a good technique to alter a pattern.  General tips for working with patterns too.  All you need is paper, a ruler and a pair of scissors. It is easy!  

Gown FAQ's


This will be a work in progress, as I solicit 18th c newcomers and seamstresses to feed me more questions.  If you can think of some that I have not, please let me know and I will get them on the page. If you have a question, chances are someone else will too.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For Sale! An English Gown Pattern

Here it is! 

Buy it here! 

(Note: Use your bust measure in stays when ordering)

The duo of Larkin & Smith has been teaching 18thc gown workshops for over 12 years. Lots of them. First the closed front gown, then as we did more research into what was actually in style in 1774-1778 we began making the English Gown in our workshops.

 What is an English Gown?  This style of 18th century gown has a pleated back, often referred to as "en fourreau", it is also known as a "night gown" even as late as 1774, but most often just "gown" in English publications.




The Genteel Undress 1774

"A night gown, round cuffs, to come over the elbow, robins tucked in"


From the Print "Fashionable Dress in Weymouth 1774"
For almost 50 years of the 18thc this style of gown did not change drastically until the late 1770s and then it changes a great deal in the 1780s.   There is a reason!  The open front style adapts to weight change, more easily than any other style of 18th century gown.  It will accept a 20 pound weight gain or loss with few problems of fit.  The back is in one piece, allowing for ease of remodeling. A factor which is extremely important during this pre-industrial revolution time period when materials were so expensive, making clothing precious, well cared for, patched, altered, passed down, and remodeled.

So with urging from our students, the decision to go forward was made.  We wanted to offer an accurately constructed open front English Gown.  The goal was to make real 18th century gown construction available to seamstresses around the country, there are so many who would like to attend workshops but just can't due to the expense of travel, time constraints etc.

Right away it was decided that the instructions would follow what we do in our workshops, with hand sewing a primary focus, so as to avoid the crazy machine workarounds so many historical patterns incorporate.

We demystify the pleated gown back of the 18th century gown.  A pleating template is included with the pattern for the pleated back, no more mystery!  We show you how to do it step by step. With the template even the novice seamstress will have success right out of the envelope.


In order to do this, we had to bump up the instructions, big time, from any other pattern.  There are 34 pages of step by step instructions, with 20 pages of color photographs, spiral bound.  As you can imagine this bumped up our printing costs quite a bit.  So our pattern has to be more expensive than other patterns, but we think you will find the instructions worth the extra cost.   Even a beginner can make this gown, experience is not a requirement.  There are two sizes per pattern envelope.

The pattern has been professionally graded, so that also added to the expense.  The pieces match up, we have made a sample of each size.  We have given every hint, sewing technique and diagram we could fit into the instructions and will be offering more tips and techniques on our website and blog in the coming weeks.

We also include with the pattern, a card, documenting the gown the pattern is based upon.  Keep the card in your pocket, it is a great talking point with the public and other reenactors as well.   The pattern was taken directly from an original garment in my collection.



As a kick off to the pattern launch we are also including 10 gown pins with every pattern.  Such a deal!











Sunday, January 19, 2014

One Down, More to Go

I am blessed.  Not bragging, just saying.  Good friends and supportive family mean everything and have brought me to a place that I have never aspired to, thought of or even wished for, a partnership creating a line of 18th century clothing patterns.


Nothing happens without my dear friend, and sister of the heart, Stephanie Smith.  Together, and with the help of many others, we have worked diligently over the years to bring workshops and lectures on 18th Century clothing to a group of people here in New England, then branching out to other parts of the country and reenacting groups over time.

Our qualifications have been won thru many years of attending lectures, conference and workshops,  presenting our own lectures and workshops and most importantly studying original garments.  Many thanks go out to my traveling companion and wonderful friend Hazel Dickfoss of Wm Booth Draper, she and I traipsed all over England, not once but twice, visiting museums across the country, examining original 18th century clothing.

 Steph and I have focused on visiting local museums and historical societies clothing collections, which we are so fortunate to have so many of in New England.  The opportunity to have seen both English and American collections has been enlightening to say the least.

This is where the blessed part comes in.  Many years ago I started a small collection of original 18th century garments, men's and women's, and it is this collection that is the foundation for the line of patterns we will be producing over the next few years.

The advantage to working with original garments include:


Not depending on someone else.
Did they get the scale right?  What did they leave out?  Is it really sewn the way they think and say it is?

Knowing what to look for.
Once you are familiar with 18th century construction, when you visit other museum collections, you know what is similar from garment to garment, what is different, what is a remodel and what is original.



You get to copy it.
This is a biggie.  This is the first step.  You pattern the original, make the original as it is.  When the garment is right there, and you can visit it over and over as you construct the copy, it makes a huge difference in figuring out the order of construction and all the steps in between. You  then have the freedom once you understand the construction to adapt it to the modern body and put into words how to make it.

So right now the pattern is being printed, the directions printed and bound, and we will launch on Monday or Tuesday, when I have everything in my hot little hands!

To be honest I feel a little lost now that it is done, so today's work will be starting to pattern the original of the next pattern.  An English Sacque!








Saturday, January 18, 2014

Check It Out!

We need more checks.  We need more checks.  WE NEED MORE CHECKS!  And now thanks to Paul, Hazel and Laura at Wm Booth Draper, a new check linen fabric has arrived.  And it is a good one!

Wm Booth Draper

Based on period examples, the thread count and pattern are spot on for use in 18th century clothing.  Especially appropriate for aprons, linings and shirting. Buy it all, my children, so they can design and order even more variations of blue check.  Because trust me, this is only scratching the surface of what was available to the 18th century shopper.

Metropolitan Museum of Art




As you can see from these blown up images of the Metropolitan Swatch Book, the variations of blue check that were just on not even half of this page are very different from each other.  This swatch book is dated 1771, on its way from England to New York.  The fabric is fustian, a mixture of linen and cotton, which is why there are some colored checks available on the page.

In combination with the overwhelming number and different blue linen checks found in the Foundling Hospital Billet Books, we can be very certain that blue check was common, affordable and so unavailable to all of us today.   More on checks later.  But be sure to check it out, literally and figuratively.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hair Raising

It has been a while gentle readers, but a New Year means lots of blog posts planned for 2014.  There has been a lot going on behind the keyboard so to speak, and I have a zillion ideas and lots of topics for 2014.  Now I just need 26 hours in a day! 

Starting off, I am taking my hat off and will be putting my hair up with Kendra's hair raising new book on 18th Century Hair Styles.  

Place Your Order Here
Kendra is filling a gap, a huge gap, in the costume and reenactor world, hair is one of those places where as a group we all have struggled.  Getting the right angle and lift, the right hair pieces and overall look are very difficult for the average Miss or Mrs.  How many of us have said bad words in our bathroom at home, laboring mightily to get our hair ready for that special occasion?

If you don't do something very often, it is hard to master any task, so a guide is what is needed and Kendra is building that guide for all of us.

For more info visit her Facebook Page.   You will find a lot of teasers (uh, pictures of hair that involve a bit of teasing!).

18th Century Hair-Facebook Page
Over at American Duchess, she has been kicking it up a few inches and has styled her hair under Kendra's direction and it is smashing.  She will be blogging more about her experiments in big hair in the coming days.

American Duchess
Now that is a hairstyle for a Duchess!  

Kendra is doing a marvelous job promoting her new book, using all the tools the internet provides, especially social media.  With today's desktop publishing capabilities as well as print on demand technology it is very gratifying to see someone take an especial interest and turn it into a niche publication.  We all have something we are passionate about, and because people are so diverse so are the passions.  

Can't wait for my copy!  


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Baby's Long Stay

Back from Colonial Williamsburg and the Threads of Feeling exhibit and symposium!  I must admit it is good to be home, but did enjoy seeing old friends and new ones as well.  The train ride was loooong and I am not sure of another train trip any time soon!

A few questions arose during the conference that sent me back to my visit to the Museum of Childhood  in London and Anne Buck's reference book on children's clothing:

Clothes and the Child: A Handbook of Children's Dress in England, 1500-1900


One of the questions raised by the audience dealt with the items of clothing listed on the intake sheet of the baby to the Foundling Hospital. Some terms are familiar even today, bibb, sleeves, blanket, shirt, clout, cap.  Some not so much.  Biggin, long stay, pilch, forehead cloth are items that are not as easy to visualize as being worn by a baby at all. 

I knew I had a picture of a pretend swaddled baby from my visit to the Museum of Childhood that would answer a few of those questions and dug it up this morning in the archives so to speak!  


Behind glass, so forgive the pic quality, this swaddled baby is wearing some of the listed items from the Foundling Hospital.

Forehead cloth, long stay, and bibb can be seen in this closeup of the picture.


The long stay is worn over the head and pinned down to the shoulder or beyond, over the forehead cloth.  A bibb is sticking out over it all!  According to Anne Buck  long stays are "probably bands which pass over the head and are pinned down on the breast".   Ms. Buck also references a more contemporary source, the Lady's Magazine, c1785, which describes the old fashioned style of swaddling, "in many places they add a stay band or a kind of headdress with two ends which hang down on the side of the head and are fastened to the breast with pins".  

So I think we have a pretty good answer to the question of "What is a long stay?"  What amazed me when I opened up Ms. Buck's book were the many references to the Foundling Hospital.  Even though it was mentioned in her book, with pictures, the true value of the collection did not make the light of day until Mr. Styles published his book:

The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England




I guess it just proves that sometimes an extra spark is needed and in the case of the Foundling Hospital textiles it was the color plates in this book.