Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pattern Development, the first stage

I started this blog to give you all insight into the pattern development process. But since I started it, everything I've spoken about has already been in development. So I really haven't taken you from idea to concept through development and testing and into production yet. That's about to change.

Today while doing research on a totally different subject, I started thinking about riding costume. Those of you who know me know that I love riding costume from almost every era. So no matter what I'm researching, if I see something about riding costume, I fixate on it. Now I have to write about this so I can get back to work on the thing I'm supposed to be working on...

I've been looking at two different riding outfits from the 17th century. One is a jacket dating to 1625-30 that is housed in the Nationalmuseum in Nurnberg, Germany. Another is a garment described in detail in Le Tailleur Sincere, a french treatise on tailoring that dates to 1671.

The problems: the Nurnberg riding outfit is just a jacket. The article in which it is described shows a number of "similar" jackets on women on horseback. But my copy of this article is dark and I cannot see details. So I'm going to have to track down these paintings elsewhere if possible. In any case, many of the painting show women near horses, not on them. So I'm not even sure if the clothing the ladies wear can be termed "riding costume". There is no matching petticote extant so it's hard to know if there's anything different from a regular, non-riding petticote.

The description in Le Tailleur Sincere is sketchy. It uses sixths, thirds, and twelfths of French ells (which are different from English ells and the author does not explain clearly what measure is meant). Also it does not show a made up version of the outfit. Seeing it in my mind, it sounds odd -- more like a sailor's smock from the Elizabethan period or an ECW soldier's coat than a post-Restoration lady's riding jacket.

My next step will be to make replicas of each. I think I cannot learn more until I see them made up, particularly the 1670s one.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Hemp Helps

Yesterday, I was trying to figure out how to better stabilize the edges of my Cranach Gown without using modern dressmaking "cheats" when my husband reminded me that I have hemp webbing in stock.. So I decided to try it. The picture at left is the gown with the lacing rings removed. See how it gapes?

This is a photo after I've inserted 1.5" hemp webbing between the interlining and the lining from slightly above the armscye to below the waist. The webbing is simply inserted between the layers of fabric, pushed to the edge, and pinned in place. No sewing has been done. The garment was not even removed from the mannequin while I did this. See the difference?
Here's the excellent change the webbing has affected on the left side of the gown.

I think I might go sew it down now, add some hooks, and try it on!

More soon...

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

One Thing Leads to Another

So Octoberfest at our local Faire is coming up, and my thoughts have turned to German stuff. I have a lovely Kampfrau Gown (shown here without Wulsthaube or partlet), but I'd rather wear something over the top like the Cranach Gown.

Those of you who've been reading this blog know that I've been working on the Netherlandish Working Woman's Outfit. Well tonite as I walked past my Netherlandish gown on the mannequin tonite, I thought, "Man, doesn't that look like a Cranach Gown!"

I'm having a thought. A friend of mine is making a German dress of the kind often seen in the paintings of Lucas Cranach. The dress appears in paintings most often in the 1530s and on women of wealth. They are typically made of velvet and gold brocade and embellished with jewels and other rich adornments. I made a reconstruction of this dress about two years ago and have since produced a pattern for it.

Here's the main picture upon which I based my reconstruction:
My reconstruction is meant to be the one on the far right. Here's another picture of an almost identical gown in a different colour:
And here's a full length shot of my reconstruction:
I'm extremely pleased with the way the sleeves came out. And the skirts I think are spot on. But I've never been quite happy with the way the front hangs together.

Here's a closer shot (without the harsh sunlight):

There are two main problems with the front of this dress. Number one, the Brustfleck doesn't lay correctly. I think I can blame this entirely on the fabric. In the mockup, I did the Brustfleck in linen cut on the bias and this made it conform to the bust as seen in the portraits. But the only fabric I could find with the right scrolling leaf pattern in gold was a silky polyester that needed a backing if it were to hold its shape. Unfortunately it holds its shape too well. I believe that a Brustfleck made out of thicker fabric cut on the bias will solve this problem.

The second problem is that the lacing distorts the front edge of the dress. In the paintings the front edges, if not straight, are still very smooth. Some of this can be attributed to the painter "fixing" the lines of the dress. Many of the dresses look artificial in this way. But other paintings by other artists do not show the level of distortion I'm experiencing.

I think two things are contributing to this distortion. One is my fabric. It's too soft. It isn't creating a stable edge, even when not under tension. (And friends, please do not tell me to press interfacing to the wrong side of the velvet. Ewww...)

The other thing contributing to the distortion is that I cannot pull the lacing tightly enough to draw the sides as far as they should draw. This is partially due to the split rings I used as lacing rings. They're just not the right tool for the job. And they aren't sewn on terribly well. So when I lace up, I don't pull as much as I need to, as much as I pulled when the gown was on my mannequin and looked right.

I think these are really two artifacts of the same problem: the edge of the gown needs to be stable enough to draw it tightly across the torso. Looking at the paintings tonite, Bob said, "Those robings almost look like hemp webbing covered with brocade!" Well, he just sold some hemp webbing to a customer, so you can't blame him for having hemp webbing on the brain. But hemp webbing is stable yet flexible. And I have yards of it right here. I think the cotton twill tape is too soft and the linen tape isn't wide enough to take the strain.

I'm also going to take off the split rings and substitute metal eyes from sets of coat hooks and eyes. This is what I used for the Netherlandish Gown and they are extremely stable. See?

And what is the moral of this story, dear friends? Don't Substitute Fabric! Although Cranach is clearly painting velvet gowns, I know that our modern cotton velveteen is hardly the same fabric. And my particular velveteen was very soft indeed. The simple truth is that if I had made this gown from wool kersey, I would not be having these problems.

I know that many people make this gown with a kirtle or even corded corset underneath, but I cannot agree with their reconstructions. Stringent analysis of the paintings has given me no reason to believe that there is any kind of corsetry of stiffening in either the bodice of these gowns or underneath them.

That being said, the gowns are only ever seen on young women of slight build with very small breasts. Matter of fact, in a painting by Cranach called "The Fountain of Youth", the old women who are being carried or wheeled into the "fountain" are not wearing Cranach Gowns. But when they emerge from the fountain of youth young and rejuvenated, they all seem to put on Cranch-style gowns.

Sidebar: I think one of the aspects of historical costume that we most often ignore is age-appropriateness. We fall in love with a style in a painting that is shown only on teenagers and we disregard that it won't fit someone of out time of life.

Another thing we often ignore is body shape. Some types of clothing aren't shown on all types of bodies. It could be argued that the subjects of portraiture are like fashion models -- there's an ideal body type and the painters make everyone look like that. But a survey of the same style of gown painted by different artists will often belie that idea. However, the fact that we never see long lanky women in some of the Venetian styles nor big-breasted women in Cranach Gowns is a fact that cannot be ignored.

But I digress... I may be nearly 40, but I have the breasts of a 12 year old. Yup. I can still wear my training bra! LOL

More to follow...

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Netherlandish Working Women Part 4 -- The Accessories

Let's start from the inside and work our way out. The first element we have to examine is the smock worn under the dress. In a few paintings, (like Aersten's "Christ and the Adultress" from 1559, detail shown at left) the partlets are missing and a round neck can plainly be seen. Sometimes we can even make out a medium to low round neck showing through the partlet opening.

When women aren't wearing pin-on sleeves, their smock sleeves are apparent. They are often pushed up or rolled to above the elbows, but no cuffs are in evidence. They appear to be constructed of simple rectangles as were most smock sleeves. The ends appear simply finished.
By virtue of the stress wrinkles and tightness observed in the partlets, we can assume they are tied rather than pinned on. Pinned partlets show stress at the pinning point. These show stress more evenly distributed across the garment. Although we have no glimpses of ties, we also have no evidence of pins and ties seems a more functional option for a woman involved in physical labour.

Next is hairdressing and headdresses. The women in the top two paintings on this page appear to have ribbons wrapped around rolls of hair and those rolls wrapped around the back of the head in a configuration normally termed "hair taping". The bulk of the hair is concentrated at the back of the head where it can easily be covered by a cap of the type shown in Beuckelaer's "Market Woman with Fruit", detail from which is shown at left.

This cap does not appear to be the entire headdress of the market women. A structured veil, sometimes called a Flemish [sic] Hood, is worn over it as in the detail at right from one of Beuckelaer's Market Scenes.

In addition to smocks, partlets and headdresses, the Netherlandish working women appear to be wearing pin-on sleeves, soft fabric stomachers, and aprons. The aprons are not gathered or pleated to a band like other aprons in this time period but rather appear to be simple rectangles of cloth, more often coloured than white, tucked into a string around to waist.

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie -- Netherlandish Working Women Part 3

Detail from Joachim Beuckelaer's "Making Waffles"

One of the most notable features of Netherlandish Working Women's clothing as seen in the works of Aertsen and Beuckelaer is big butts. Actually, I never thought of it until a friend pointed out that they all have prodigious asses. It's been suggested that these women were wearing bum rolls or something similar under their skirts, but this is an unlikely accessory for a woman engaged in manual labour. Having made many dresses out of coat-weight wool, I feel confident that it's all in the pleating method and the materials used. Of course having a sizable bum to go under it doesn't hurt. =)

All the pictures of Netherlandish Working Women don't show the attachment of their skirts terribly well, but from the few paintings that show the backs and sides of the skirts, we can see that the majority of pleats are concentrated at center back. The sides and front of the skirts appear to be almost smooth. Since I cut the 25" width of fabric used for the bodice from one of my skirt widths, this pleases me. It means I really can get away with making an entire dress with only a little over two yards of fabric.

In this detail from Joachim Beuckelaer's "Flight to Egypt" shown at left, we can see on two dresses how the pleats at center back do not carry around the sides of the skirts. The pleats appear to be rolled or stacked pleats, and indeed this method of pleating yields pleats that prop up and stick out as seen in the paintings.

Detail from another of Aertsen's paintings entitled simply "Market Scene"

Detail of the Cook's torso from Pieter Aertsen's 1559 painting "The Cook in Front of the Stove"

Rolled pleats compressed to fill the center back and leave the sides of the skirts smooth. This pleat arrangement gives an effect similar to that seen in the artwork.

You might be asking yourself why, since I used so much information from the Shinrone Gown to construct the bodice, I didn't use that information to construct the skirts. The reason is simple -- the skirts shown in the paintings do not resemble the skirts of the Shinrone Gown. The skirts of the Shinrone Gown are running stitched from waist to hem at intervals that produce organ pipe pleats all around the gown skirts. This type of pleats are not apparent in the pictures of the Netherlandish gowns which appear to be pleated heavily at the center back and gathered or lightly pleated elsewhere.

A different detail from the same Aertsen's "Market Scene"

Because of the use of aprons by these working women, we never see the full front of the garment. We don't know where the pleats are, how heavily they're arranged. All we know is that in the few pictures we have that show the skirts below the aprons, the front does not appear to be as heavily-pleated as the backs.

There is one thing of which we can be certain: the skirts directly below the laced section of the bodice must be pulled taut so it does not gap. Therefore there can be no pleating in that area. In my reconstruction, the piece I have left for the skirt front is only 35" wide, so it is easy to gather from the edge of the bodice to the side seams without the bulk becoming overwhelming.

If you have a full width of fabric, it is also possible to cut the front skirts as a trapezoid with the top measurement equalling the front waist measurement and the bottom the full width. This would then require no pleating at all in front.

There must also be a opening at the center front of the skirts to allow the dress to slip over the shoulders. This can be accomplished by a 6" slit closed by hooks or by adding a center front seam.

Detail of the Cook's skirt hem from Pieter Aertsen's 1550 painting "The Cook"
For months, I've been wracking my brain, trying to figure out the reasoning behind cutting a skirt higher in the front than in the back. Since this is a working woman's garment, it doesn't make sense that it's just a fashionable element. So there must be a functional reason. One explanation that occured to me is that the hem that most often get dirty on a person who bends forward in her work is the front hem. This seemed reasonable. However I couldn't wrap my brain around how to cut the hem to accomplish this effect. I'm trying to construct this dress using nothing but rectangles. Cutting a curved hem flew in face of this. Would a working woman really sacrifice that fabric and cut her hem in a way that made it more likely to ravel? Perhaps the top of the skirts were cut on the curve and the hem was really straight but only appeared curved because the top was.

I couldn't make up my mind about any of these ideas, so I began my reconstruction. And guess what -- it worked itself out. Tightly lacing the rectangular bodice makes the front tip upward at about the same angle that the skirts tip up in the pictures. Therefore rectangular skirts attached to this bodice will also tip up in front. Problem solved!

Please take notice of how the bodice tilts from front to back. The bottom was parallel with the floor until I began lacing. Then it settled upward. I was about to try to correct this when I remembered the uneven skirts phenomenon.

Detail of one of the female crowdmembers from the Braunschweig Monogrammist's 1545 painting "Ecce Homo"
Detail of the background figures from Pieter Aertsen's 1560 painting "The Peasants by the Hearth"

The bodice completely sewn and laced up. The skirts pinned into place.

Next: The Accessories

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Netherlandish Working Women Part 2 -- The Reconstruction of the Bodice

I have some ideas about this reconstruction that may clash wildly with anything you have ever seen in period clothing. However, my construction is based on extant garments I have personally examined, most notably the 16th century Irish common woman's dress known as the Shinrone Gown, a dress roughly contemporary with the pictures painted by Aertsen and Beuckalaer.

As you've read in previous posts on this blog, I have noticed a decided difference in construction and pattern shapes between the clothing of the wealthy and that of the working classes. The extant garments that have survived in burials and bog finds do resemble fashionable clothing (although 20-50 years out of date) but are different in more than just the expense of materials. They are almost entirely composed of rectangles and derivatives thereof (triangles, squares, et cetera).

Most discussions of the evolution of clothing construction mention this phenomenon but the discussion ends at the beginning of the Renaissance when shaped armscyes, set-in sleeves, and other curved pattern shapes enter the archeological record. Clothing historians seem to neglect the fact that all level of society (and indeed all countries and cultures) didn't become wealthy and blessed with vast yardages of fabric at the same time the Venetians did. Even in properous cities, the clothing of common people remained functional, utilitarian, and conservative in cut and fabric use.

That's not to say that common people didn't try to emulate their betters. This phenomenon is too well-established throughout time to dispute. However, a certain look can be achieved without breaking the bank. Indeed, the construction I am going to show you today takes only two yards and 8" of 60" wide wool.

When looking at Aertsen and Beuckalaer's paintings, there are two things I do not see: a side seam or a back seam. The truth is that paintings are not photographs and painters are not tailors -- missing a seam isn't that important. We also cannot see the backs or sides of many of the dresses. But in those paintings where the back and sides are plain, there are no seams.

So the first step is to construct a bodice without side or back seams.

This construction is not without substantiation. The Shinrone Gown, while possessing side seams that slant backwards from the armscyes, has a back piece that is nothing more than a 18" x 18" square. The armscyes aren't shaped -- they are simply the place where the front stops being attached to the back.

The front of the Shinrone Gown bodice is also a square. The straps are integral and their backing is created by slicing horizontally at the base of the strap and folding an equal width under, doubling the fabric of the straps. The bottom of the bodice is folded up and under, providing a self lining, and these two elements meet at the bottom of the shoulder strap inside and are whipstitched to each other.

I would like to clarify at this point that I am not insinuating that Netherlandish Working Women's dress is identical to the Shinrone Gown. However, both dresses are under-bust, lace up the front yet don't close, and were worn by working women during the same time period. It would be less than wise to disregard the breadth of evidence and construction techniques that the Shinrone Gown can teach us about common people's clothing.

So let us assume that the bodice of the Netherlandish Working Woman's dress is a simple rectangle. If you take a piece of fabric as long as your back waist (plus a couple of inches) and as wide as your waist minus four or five and lace it up with 12-stand embroidery floss, this is what you get:

Close up of the lacing:
Notice how the edges of the fabric tilt in the same way the edges do in the pictures. This demonstrates to me that the bodice of this gown is a rectangle. A straight warp edge will also take the straight of lacing far better than any other type of edge.

The same from the side:

But the fabric is disappearing as we travel up the body. And we need a shoulder strap.

So with the intention of making the shoulder strap like that of the Shinrone gown, I snipped down from the top and over a distance equal to my intended shoulder strap width times two.

The same from the side:

And if you weren't convinced it was working, here it is on a real body:

Next, I made a horizontal cut at the base of the slit shown above and folded under the excess, forming the shoulder strap. I cut off the excess fabric on the underside of the bodice from above the bottom of this slit. The pictures below show the bodice self-lined by folding up the fabric from the bottom and folding over the fabric from the shoulder strap. The back above slit level is unlined, exactly like the Shinrone Gown.
Although a piece has been cut away from underneath, the bodice remains a rectangle. It is 27" long by 25" wide with 7" of the length tuck up inside the body. The top of the back is folded over as well. I have not yet decided if I will cut off that excess. Nothing has been sewn yet, but you can see from the pictures at left that the bodice fits my mannequin quite well and conforms to its curves.

Next: The Reconstruction of the Skirts

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

I See Tits! Netherlandish Working Women Part 1

So I've been staring at the pictures of mid-16th century Netherlandish working women by Pieter Aersten and Joachim Bueckelaer for some time now and I'm finally ready to share some of my thoughts and begin my reconstruction of an outfit of this type.

First I have to tell you the first thing I see when I look at these paintings. Tits! Now, don't get me wrong -- I am not a woman obsessed by breasts. But the prevailing method of contructing these market women dresses produces a flat and conical torso. Matter of fact, one of the proponents of this construction actually calls it "the flat and slightly elevated bosom".

Friends, does this (left) look flat and slightly elevated to you? 'Cuz to my eye, that's big, round, and slightly droopy being barely contained from bursting forth by the strength of her partlet alone. As my darling Partner in Life would say: "Dem's some bosoms!"

And this isn't the only picture showing this silhouette. Matter of fact, in all of my flipping through books and websites and seeing photographs friends took in the museums, there is only one single painting where the bosom could be described as "flat and slightly elevated". Indeed, in that particular paining ("Fire" from Joachim Beuckalaer's "Four Elements" series), the woman standing in the left foreground with a chicken in one hand and a rotisserie in the other looks so conical and flat that it could be argued she's wearing boned stays.

But I fear I'm straying from the point. Here are a few more pictures of women who appear to have round and non-lifted bosoms:

If those are flat and slightly lifted, friends, I'm a monkey's uncle!

What I believe we're seeing here is a dress of the kirtle type laced over a soft unstiffened stomacher. In some of the paintings above, you can see the stomacher wrinkling and gapping as a boned stomacher or fitted underdress will not. In some the stomacher does not come up high enough to cover the breasts; it is merely located under the lacing and stops where it does. This varies from painting to painting. In the picture above ("Water" from Joachim Beuckalaer's "Four Elements" series) in particular you can see the edges of the stomacher sticking out past the edges of the kirtle, proving it is not an underdress. Look up!

Another breast-related phenomenon I've noticed in the paintings is that the front of the gown doesn't appear to cover the breasts at all. In almost every painting, the edge of the laced section is aligned with the edge of the shoulder strap, indicating that they are cut apiece and not cut separately and sewn together. The shoulder straps skirt the outside of the bosom and continue into the laced area where they draw a little closer because of the lacing. This indicates a completely different construction technique to that being purported thusfar.

In our next installment, I will show you what my experience studying extant common women's garments from the 16th century has taught me and how I think the Netherlandish Working Woman's outfit was made.

Next: The Reconstruction of the Bodice

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.