We have confirmed that we will be appearing at Droitwich Arts4All on Saturday 8 November. You can hear us in a short taster ‘show’ at 1-1:30pm or 7-12 year olds can take part in a workshop with us from 2:30-3pm. This will be especially useful to get a feel for the great work we’ve been involved in with Pershore schools. It’s all at the Norbury Theatre, Friar Street, Droitwich. Find it here. Come see our frocks, our anecdotes and other hijinks or come chat to us at our table, where, when we’re not on the Main Stage, we’ll be (12-4pm).
Ok, my patterns for undergarments seem to be ok. I’ll need one for chemises, but there are a couple of internet tutorials out there, and they don’t seem to be too hard. Dresses..hmmm what do I like? Well it looks as though whatever I do, I’ll have to order from the States as that’s where most of the more historical patterns live. Here’s a good page which has lists of historical patterns. I think I’ll go with the JP Ryan Robe a l’Anglaise and/or Robe a la Francaise. They seem to be highly recommended and designed for wearing stays. The also seem to be quite versatile. I’ll draw up a few designs and see what the lades think!
I cracked the riddle of the princess seam on our Butterick pattern last night. For ages I wondered “Why do they include it at all?” To leave it out would make it much more accurate. Then I realised that this pattern was developed to fit and flatter a 21st century body without corsetry of any kind! It does a very good job of that, too. But 18th century women wore stays all the time. More digging reveals that stays do not, as I thought, make you that much thinner. They do, however redistribute you to a more conical shape. Well, that’s good news for a singer. I wasn’t looking forward to puffing and panting during my songs. Less curvature means the seam in the front isn’t needed, hurrah! Ok, so what do 18th century stays look like then? There are a few good sites on them and some pattern reviews. Here are a couple: How to make a pair of 18th century stays How to make an 18th century corset Ok. These look scary..terrifying in fact. there seems to be all kinds..front lacing, back lacing, strapless..but which is right? Eek! I consult the book again. well they seemed to have all kinds. And why not? Right, well, I don’t have time to draw out a pattern myself, even though there some instructions. I’m going to find a commercial pattern. I remember that I have one, butterick 4484, which I used for our pocket hoop panniers. Now the panniers seem to be reasonably in-period, not to mention practical, so I’ll stick with those. Woudn’t it be fab if the stays were too? Well, as it happens, there is a pattern review on How to make a pair of 18th century stays, it’s for B4254, but my pattern is the same as the front lacing design. Joy of joys, it says it’s ok, with some adjustments. Well if it ain’t broke….
I’ve spent some time this week knuckling down and doing some costume research. having had no internet access for most of the week, I thought I’d venture into the real world to do some fact finding. My first port of call was the library and its costume section. I picked out two books that looked as though they went into some detail and then set off to the art gallery next door. Much as I love Birmingham Museum, it yielded little in the way of 18th century portraits. There were a couple of nice ones, but what I really wanted to see were the backs of some dresses. I have a fair idea of 18th century silhouettes, and I know the front of a robe d’anglaise has no princess-seam (unlike ours) and loads of seams at the back, but I want details, like how many! You see, I’ve done a bit of digging on the internet, and there seems to be lots of conflicting information. I figured that there would be no arguing with a contemporary source. I think I’ll focus on 1760′s-1780′s and see what turns up. One of my books proved particularly useful, “Costume in detail” by Nancy Bradfield. It’s full of sketches and annotations from actual dresses. What really strikes me about the information here is the variety of styles of dress that were about in this period. And, I suppose that then, as now, people had their own idea of what styles they liked regardless of fashion. There also seems to be a lot of variation in the amount of seams/pleats in the back. I guess different dressmakers had their own ways of doing things. To my horror, many of the mid 18th century dresses seem to have the back bodice and skirt cut in one piece. I say horror when I think of the tiny amount of space that I have to work in! As I work toward the 1780s, I see with some satisfaction that our faithful Butterick pattern actually isnt too bad. The book shows that bodices were cut separately to the skirt and boned, like ours. The biggest inaccuracy seems to be the princess seam at the front. So why does the pattern call for that when it would be so easy to make it more accurate? Then it hits me… stays.