Wednesday, March 13, 2019

...And a Green Dress

"...but not a real green dress, that's cruel..."

Bonus points to anyone who knows that reference.

Back in December, I regaled you all with the long and sordid tale of my 1860s sheer dress. And I ended by noting that while I liked my dress and was proud of myself, I thought I could do better. So I set out to do better. And I think I did (do better, that is).

I decided to make a relatively simple day dress, of cotton. Not sheer cotton, just regular cotton. So I ordered the sewing pattern (Truly Victorian's darted bodice) and went to Jo Ann's Fabric to pick out some fabric. I hemmed and I hawed and eventually picked out a nice, bright green with a small-scale, light-green floral print. It was not necessarily, I knew, 100% period correct, but it felt roughly appropriate. (I did feel kind of meh about it at several points during construction, and it still isn't really a perfect period pattern, but I still love the color, so I'm overall pleased with my choice.)

The first step was to mock up the bodice, which I did in white muslin:

It's a little hard to tell here, but the sleeves are far too long and bulky. I'm a very petite lady (4'11"), so things tend to swamp me unless scaled way down. What's a girl to do? Well, redraw the pattern, that's what. I kept the lines for the arm hole (armscye) the same, because otherwise I'd have had to alter the torso, but I took off about 3 inches in length and 2 inch in width (from each piece of the two-piece sleeve).
This was attempt one; I actually had to take a little more off the width.

As I worked, I got a little help from a friend:

This is Penny, and she likes to hide under the pattern paper when I lay it out. She pretty much just likes hanging around and "helping", and she'll be our companion for the rest of this post. Oh, just for s's and g's, here's my sweet Penny-pie when not hiding underneath a pattern:

Anyway, once I was pleased with the fit of the sleeves and the bodice, it was time to cut into that fashion fabric and start sewing.

This is just pinned closed, and the collar is just draped around my neck. The collar I bought separately because I didn't want to fiddle with making one myself and because the one I bought has a nice lacey edge.

Now that the torso of the bodice was done, it was time to turn to the sleeves again. Now, the sleeves are a two-piece coat sleeve, curved at the elbow with just a bit of fullness until they end in an open circle with no cuff. The bodice is, as you see above, likewise undecorated (the collar notwithstanding). And so, feeling that this just wouldn't do, I decided that the dress needed some embellishment in the form of ribbon. So I did some googling of CDVs (cartes de visite--photographs) and Pinterest-ing, and found THIS:

This was a perfect reference for my sleeves. So I bought myself some white ribbon to contrast with my green fabric (though honestly it appears from photos that the trim was always darker than the fabric). I cut the sleeves out of my green fabric and used string to lay out exactly how I wanted the pattern to look. Then I sewed on the ribbon and sewed together each piece of the sleeve:

The next step, of course, was to attach the sleeves to the torso:

A note about the sleeves and the bodice. This is a lined bodice. In the sheer dress, the outer shell and the lining are separate for a reason. Here, the lining and fashion fabric work as one. In this pattern, you cut the same shape out of both the fashion fabric and the lining fabric, then you sew them together along the edges and continue, treating them as one piece. So I did that, and it worked perfectly for the torso, which needs structure. The sleeves, however, ended up very stiff. The fabric I chose (the green) is a fairly sturdy cotton. It's a little heavier weight than average t-shirt cotton. Add another layer of lining, and it's pretty sturdy. That's fine for the fitted torso, but it made the sleeves stand out on their own, and it looked pretty bad. The picture above minimizes the effect (I was trying to show off the decoration). I'd already sewn on all my ribbon, though. I wasn't about to redo all that. So I just went in and very carefully cut away the lining from between the ribbon decoration, and it worked WONDERS. The sleeves looked much better.

I still had a few refinements to the bodice. I added the closure (hook-and-eye tape) and then covered the white bit of the hook and eye tape that peeked out from underneath. That made a surprisingly large difference, not to see that bit of white. I also had to adjust the neckline because, even though I followed the directions for the pattern, it closed unevenly at the neck. I also needed to actually attach the collar, which I did loosely.

With all that done, the next step was the skirt. Now, the skirt had been a bit of a struggle for me on the white dress for a few reasons. First of all, that fabric had a lot of give to it. This green cotton had a lot more structure to it, meaning that when I folded and pleated it, it didn't stretch and distort itself. That was greatly appreciated. For the white skirt, I actually cut out three panels, then sewed them together. This fabric was 44" inches wide, and I needed a skirt 38" long, so in this case I just used it as one continuous piece; no piecing together panels.

I'd also figured out a plan for the waistband and for how to pleat. For the pleating: cut a strip of lining fabric as long as my waist, plus 1 inch for closure overlap. Mark off that overlap allowance on each end, then find the center. Mark off an inch to each side of the center, to give space for the last of my pleats to be laid down. You'll then have two halves, to either side of the center. Start folding each of those two sections in half until you have fourths, eighths, sixteenths, et cetera. I reduced each quarter of the waistband into sixteenths. Then I moved over to my fashion fabric. First, I decided to add three parallel, horizontal lines of ribbon around the bottom of the skirt to make it pretty. Then I hemmed the length to 38". I should note that this was SIX YARDS of fabric. SIX YARDS. So I had to run SIX YARDS of fabric through the sewing machine four times, once for the hem, and three times for the ribbon.

Anyway, pleating: I laid out my six yards of skirt and folded it IN HALF, and this is what it looked like:

This is six yards, folded in half.
Then I did what I had done with the waistband I just created: I marked off an inch for the closure overlap and an inch at both side of the center-back. Here, I also marked off an inch on each end for the seam closing the skirt. Then, like with the waistband, I started folding and marking the fourths, eighths, sixteenths, etc, until I had exactly as many marks on my fashion fabric as on my waistband. Then I started matching the two. I started at the center back, pinning together the inch of waistband and the inch of skirt that would be un-pleated. Then I matched up each mark and folded over the excess, laying the first pleat on that flat 1 inch of fabric I'd just pinned in place. Then I worked along, matching up my marks, pinching up the fabric and laying the excess flat as a pleat. I repeated until I had pleated all those six yards of fabric down to 27" of waistband (plus an un-pleated inch on each side for the closure overlap, so 29" total).

It looked like this prior to being ironed down (in future attempts, I figured out how to do this without an enormous amount of tedious ironing of pleats):

And Penny again tried to get underneath the things I was working on. I didn't mind. I mean, look at that furry little butt!

Once I had it all pleated and pinned and ironed, I sewed it in place to my strip of white lining fabric. Next came the actual fashion waistband. I cut a length of the fashion fabric that was as long as my white strip, plus a bit for seam allowance on each end. It was twice as wide as I wanted my eventual waistband to be, plus, again, seam allowance. I folded it over lengthwise (to its intended width) with the right sides together, and sewed both ends. I then turned it out so that I had a long rectangle with the right side showing, a nice-looking seam on both short ends, a fold along the top edge (ironed flat), and an opening all along the bottom with raw edges. It was kind of a long, thin pocket. I then slipped the top of my pleated skirt, attached to my white strip, into that pocket. I folded under the raw edges of the green waistband and sewed it all in place. The only thing left to do was sew together the main seem of the skirt to make it a circle instead of a rectangle of fabric, and add the hook-and-eye closure. And there it was, a pleated skirt of six yards of fabric:

As soon as I was done, I tried it on:

Not a great picture, because it was dark and the lighting in my apartment isn't great, and of course my hair and glasses are modern, as is the window A.C. behind me. But still, I HAD A DRESS.

Now, I still had some work to do. I had to redo the collar. It really is too long for the neckline, so I had to kind of bunch it up a bit at the back, but oh well. I also ended up taking the skirt up an inch and sewing the skirt to the bodice by hand instead of having them as separate pieces. I also added buttons and a brooch and did something with my hair (I parted it in the middle, then put a hairnet over it; I also tried on my nifty boater hat). And of course, Penny was curious and came to check things out, too!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

...And Finding Neverland

I had the pleasure this past weekend to see Finding Neverland, a musical play, at the National Theatre in DC. I say it was a pleasure because it was, though there were weak points; I went in mentally prepared for wild inaccuracies. After all, I have seen the movie with Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie. Going in with the mentality that I should enjoy it for the echoes of the true story, for the music, and for itself rather than for what it *could* or maybe even *should* be, I came away pleased. I also came away with a nifty fridge magnet. (I'm serious--I collect magnets from places I go and have covered my closet door with them.)

It was a rainy, cold day in DC, just a few degrees too warm for snow. I left myself plenty of time to get to the theater because I was taking Metro and, well, Metro sucks. (As it happens, I got to the station just as a train was pulling out and had to wait twenty bloody minutes for the next train. And you wonder, Metro, why ridership is down?) I got to the Metro Center station plenty early as a result. I decided to exit into the Macy's and wandered around the shoe department for a bit. Then, about half an hour before the show, I decided to walk to the theater. It was only two blocks away. I apparently got there just as they were opening the doors to let people in. I took a quick look at the merch and decided on that magnet. The t-shirts were, of course, overpriced and while they were cute I wasn't drawn to them. The CD was expensive, too, and I wasn't sure I would like the music (as it turns out, I was pretty unenthusiastic about the music, so I am okay with the non-purchase).

I set off for my seat in the balcony. "Up to the fourth floor," I was told. And it was most definitely on the fourth floor, and there was plenty of space--and stairs--between each floor. I was out of breath by the time I reached the top of the theater. I made my way to my seat down some rather steep steps. The upside of the steep stairs was that my view wasn't obstructed by the head of the person in front of me, and although I was pretty high up, I could see the *whole stage* quite well. I've been to plenty of shows where I was lower/closer and could see only half the show because of the big honking heads of the people in front of me. A few other things to note about not-the-show: there were a lot of kids (this was a matinee), which I loved; it was very warm up there in the balcony; the show wasn't entirely sold out, but it seemed like a pretty full house with a very receptive audience.

The show began with a light dancing around in the air in front of the stage--Tinkerbell. This was accomplished, I believe, by a see-through scrim draped in front of the stage, which the light was shined against. It was one of many really effective effects (see what I did there?).

We then open with Barrie addressing the crowd directly. (Quibble #1--and I will stop counting after one because my quibbles will be LEGION--was the use of "James" all the time; he was "Barrie" or "Jimmy" or sometimes "Jim", and later he was "Uncle Jim", "the Bart" [for Baronet], or Sir James if you're nasty.) Barrie says something about Neverland or imagination or whatever (watch out or you might get stuck in the sappiness in this play), then says he will tell us about how Peter Pan came to be. He tells us that it began a year ago in Kensington Gardens.

Record scratch.

Me: What?

The play: goes on without me.

Me: Oh fine, wtf ever.

For the record, it was 1897 when Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies boy.

Anyway, it's the opening scene and four boys come barreling in. Major issue #1: the number of boys. Poor Nico! He's completely missing from this reality. But, having seen the movie, I knew that this would be the case. Another thing I noticed is that they seem to have rearranged the birth order, though it isn't clear; it seems as if they have Peter as the second child instead of the third. In any case, while Barrie tries to think, the incorrect-number-of-boys-in-the-wrong-birth-order jump and cavort in his general vicinity (rude!). Then their mother, Sylvia, rushes in. Another quibble. Sylvia was not there when Barrie met George (and it was George he met first). The boys were with their nurse; that was the standard way a middle class family would behave; the nurse would take the boys to the park. It wasn't until a New Year's party some months later that Sylvia (and Arthur!) met Barrie and they put two-and-two together and realized that her boys were the boys that Barrie had been playing with in Kensington Gardens.

But in this reality, the nurse, Mary Hodgson, isn't there, and neither is Arthur (major issue #2). This is, again, like the movie. How much neater that Arthur, the father, is already dead! His absence also rather accounts for the lack of Nico. Here, Sylvia is already widowed. We see her having fun with the boys and encouraging them to be pirates. There's some singing and dancing and stuff.

Now I'm trying to recall whether the stuff with Frohman and the theater comes before or after the Kensington Gardens scene. It doesn't matter a whole lot. What matters is that Barrie is under pressure from that hard-nosed Charles Frohman, his producer. Aside from him being an American, they got Frohman totally wrong. He was a producer, but he was Barrie's American producer, not the London producer. They were great friends, and he was a risk-taking, cheerful dreamer. In this version, he is pressuring Barrie to write him a play, or else, it's implied, he (Barrie) will be fired! That's not how theater worked; he wasn't the in-house writer who could be sacked. And he was pretty famous at this point, so he was given the benefit of the doubt. In the case of Peter Pan, which was a wild departure, he actually offered Frohman another, safer play in case Pan failed. But, yeah, no, he wasn't under that kind of pressure to write this play. And to be clear, it took him many years to develop the idea and then write the play.

We are introduced to Mary Barrie, JM Barrie's wife, and to Emma du Maurier, Sylvia's mother. We also meet "Lord Cannan". Yikes, where to start. Clearly, we needed the "disapproving characters" for both Barrie and Sylvia, and we needed the "uptight snob" character. Mary, Emma, and Gilbert would have to do, I guess. But, ooph, what caricatures they become! It's insulting to the real people, and it's pretty simplistic writing, but, uh, I guess it's a musical so that's fine? Anyway, to set the record straight, Mary wasn't a snob or a sniping harridan. She was a frustrated wife; she seems to have loved Barrie, but he didn't return that love in the way she wished. Years after the play premiered, she was caught in an affair with Gilbert Cannan, a young novelist friend of Barrie's. There was a messy divorce, and it was made public that Barrie was impotent. Pretty nasty stuff.

As for Emma du Maurier. She was not particularly well-off, and she was not as exacting as she appears here. She did worry about her daughter, who had to raise five boys alone after Arthur died. But of course for the purposes of this play, that's blown way out of proportion. A lot of her disapproval given to Emma came in real life from Mary Hodgson, the nurse.

Barrie's relationship with the boys, especially Peter, inspires him the write Peter Pan. A lot of the elements seem to just appear fully-formed in his mind, which is a bit misleading as far as the truth and as far as how the creative process really works. We have a ton of input from Peter, who contributes the name Tinkerbell, for instance. This is major issue #3. Peter was not favored. Look, I get it. We cut it down to four kids because five was way too many. And even four is a lot, so we focused on one. And Peter Pan is, after all, named after this boy Peter (in reality, Peter Pan got his start when the real-life Peter was a baby and Barrie told his older brothers, George and Jack, that Peter could fly, like all babies; he didn't ask Peter's permission to use his name). Just ask the real Peter Llewelyn Davies--he'd tell you just what a curse that name was.

It was, in fact, George who inspired most of the ideas and stories for Peter Pan. He was Barrie's childish muse. He was a charming boy, good-looking and friendly. He was also, like other little boys, "heartless". Barrie picked up on the particular mood of boyhood from George, and to some extent Jack and Peter. About the time of the play, he became more involved with young Michael, who was four when the play premiered. Michael inspired alterations to the play the year after it was first staged, including the famous scene where Peter says that to die would be an awfully big adventure. Peter, from the beginning, had a more fraught relationship with Barrie and Peter Pan, and would do so for the rest of his life.

Anyway, we have some big production numbers here with pirates and with the theater company putting on Peter Pan, who all think Barrie has gone crazy. This is not too far from the actual reaction of the actual theater company that first put on Peter Pan. Everyone thought Barrie was off his head. It was a play for children (not totally unheard of, but unusual) that called for extraordinary production values (flying people! fairy lights!). It had Indians and pirates and a dog that acted as a nanny. Everyone was wary, but I'm sure they weren't quite as outraged and shocked as is portrayed in the play. They were all actors; they did their job as they were asked to do them.

We have a scene where Peter puts on his own play. Sylvia gets ill partway through, and they have to stop. Peter is very upset and starts tearing things down. Sylvia tells Barrie she doesn't want to see doctors because she doesn't want to put the boys through what they went through with Arthur's protracted death. The troubling truth is that it appears almost the opposite really happened. Sylvia was ill (cancer), but everyone around her kept the truth from her.

Before she passes, we have a lovely scene of the entire acting troop putting on Peter Pan for her in her bedroom. We get bits of the play interspersed with commentary from Peter. Peter Pan is flying around, and there is great use of bursts of glitter and a light for Tinkerbell. This was all really well-done. Oh, and as part of this play, and the actual Peter Pan play, there is an actor dressed up as the dog Nana. The real dog on the stage, playing the role of the historical dog Porthos, actually trotted up to that actor in his dog suit and sniffed his butt. That was not planned, and it was absolutely hilarious.

Right after the play is performed in her bedroom, Sylvia passes away. It is a beautiful scene. Sylvia is dressed all in white, and she's all alone on the stage with a spotlight on her, the wind whipping around her. There's a burst of glitter, which sounds a bit tacky but was beautiful as it swirled around the stage in the wind. Peter Pan came to the window, beckoning her to fly. She climbs out the window. Then her shawl is let go by Wendy in the wings, and the wind catches it. It swirls around and around and around in an eerie dance.

A few historical notes: the entire cast did perform the play in a bedroom for a member of the Llewelyn Davies family, but it was Michael, not Sylvia. And Sylvia didn't die until six years after the play premiered. By that point, George was 16. We see Frohman celebrating, and of course he did, but he was in America. Also, as an epilogue, Frohman was killed when the Lusitania was sunk during World War I.

After Sylvia's death, we have a bit of an epilogue in which it's all but stated that Barrie adopts the boys and shares the duty of raising them with Emma. Which . . . nope. I honestly can't recall whether Emma was even still alive at this point. The boys actually stayed in their home, with Mary Hodgson looking after them. Barrie became their official-unofficial guardian. They had several aunts and uncles, but none of them were able to support five children. Barrie had been in their lives for well over ten years at this point and was probably closer to them than the aunts and uncles anyway (they called him Uncle Jim). Importantly, he was fabulously wealthy and could provide for them. There was a lengthy clash between him and Mary Hodgson over the boys, but Barrie won in the end; he more or less raised Nico and Michael. George and Jack were old enough to be largely self-dependent, especially given that they were away at boarding school much of the time. Peter was somewhere in between, I guess. But Emma, at least, was not really a part of raising the boys.

And of course, where they end is FAR from the end of the story. What I wouldn't have given to have them address, in any way whatsoever, the boys' futures. There's a brief moment when George says he likes a girl, but that's about it as far as hinting at the idea that the boys do actually grow up. Yes, there are limitations to the format of a play, but I think you could also play with it--have older actors kind of walk on and off stage while Barrie narrates what happened to the brothers. But I think the future is too depressing for this play, which is all about the power of imagination and so forth.  The movie had the same problem, but there it was even more egregious; the movie could have very, very easily added title cards at the end explaining what happened to the boys. That sort of thing is par for the course in films based on real people. So why not here? 

A few notes on the play as a musical. As I mentioned, I found the music itself pretty forgettable. Mostly, the production was carried by a lot of running and jumping rather than by the tunes themselves. The actor playing Barrie was, I think, a little weak. He also spoke like an American actor trying to speak like an Englishman. Which is a problem, because Barrie was Scottish (though admittedly he seems to have spoken something close to Received British Pronunciation). The kids were all wonderful. The song the four of them did together was fantastic. They were each super-talented, and some of them are super young to be so accomplished. The boy who played Peter blew me away, actually. I got a little teary eyed at one point, thinking of the real Peter. This boy had a great voice and did a great job with the acting. I have to say, their outfits looked more like 1930's or 1940's than 1900's, but whatever.

And that is all. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I would recommend going to see this if it ever comes to your area. But please be aware that it takes massive liberties with the history and leaves off most of the story. I suggest going and reading a book about it if you're interested. Don't read any of those quick, annoying articles titled something like, "The True, Dark Story Behind Peter Pan". Those articles are usually rife with errors and tend to interpret everything as evidence of child abuse. You'd do much better to dive into the true, complex, fascinating story.


The Lost Boys by Andrew Birkin
The Lost Boys miniseries from the '70's, with Ian Holm as Barrie (hard to find but SO good)
Peter and Alice, a play about when Peter Llewelyn Davies, as a grown man in the publishing industry, met Alice Liddel, who inspired Alice in Wonderland (these two really did meet).

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

. . . And Some Sporty Young Victorian Men

I have been very remiss in blogging. I have a lot of things to blog about, and in some detail. Particularly, I have a ton to write about in regards to costuming stuff--let's just say the white dress was not the end.

I wanted to get this quick blog post in, though. I saw this photo in a book at the Gettysburg studio where I had a tintype taken of myself. I was waiting for the tintype to cure (set? whatever the term was!). Luckily, while I waited there was a book of early photography discussing the details of the dress in each picture. Stupidly, I did not take note of the title of the book. But I did take a picture of this photograph and its caption:

If you zoom in on the second picture, you can read more of the details. I wanted to share this mostly because of how much energy and fun is in the picture. These two young men appear to be friends or brothers, rather sporty and athletic and ready to leave the studio and have a good time riding their horses too fast or getting a drink or rowing a boat or courting the young women of San Francisco (where this was taken). Their clothes, too, are exuberant; that's a lot of check pattern they both have going on!

And, of course, they reminded me of the characters I write about. These two could be Uriah McIntyre and Augustine Hanleigh in their heyday. So I took a picture and decided to share the joy.

Monday, January 7, 2019

. . . And Peter Llewelyn Davies

I have multiple historical interests (and my interests have shifted over the years). My big interests currently are the Antebellum period, Bleeding Kansas, and the Civil War (all of which are inter-related, of course), and the Edwardian age and World War 1. (Just a quick shout-out to the recently released documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. Go see it if you can.)

One particular interest is the Llewelyn Davies boys, who inspired Peter Pan. I was browsing the cornucopia of documents over at (you can hear JM Barrie and Nico Ll Davies speak!) and came across what's called "the morgue", which was a collection of family papers interspersed with Peter Ll Davies's commentary. It was collected c. 1950.

This really got me. Peter did not have an easy life and ended up committing suicide, and, well, this is an indication of the turmoil in this poor guy's mind (he had many proble.s unrelated to Peter Pan, for the record):

"[This is] the earliest surviving letter from its author [JM Barrie] to the writer of these lines [Peter], to whom the association has ever been fraught with complexities from which all others escaped.

"What's in a name? My God, what isn't?

"If that perennially juvenile lead, if that boy so fatally committed to an arrestation of his development, had only been dubbed George, or Jack, or Michael, or Nicholas, what miseries would have been spared me." [Not a question but a statement, interestingly.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

. . . And a Tintype

I shared the journey of sewing myself a period-correct 1860's dress in my previous post, along with some photos taken on my phone (because of course that's how I took the pictures). Somewhere in the middle of sewing my dress, I was listening to an Abraham Lincoln-themed podcast (what? don't you listen to Lincoln podcasts for funsies? why DON'T you?). One of the hosts was talking about her trip to Gettysburg for Remembrance Day weekend (hey, I was there, too!), and she mentioned going to a place called The Victorian Photography Studio, where she got dressed up and had a photograph taken using the wet-plate processes available in the 1860's. My little ears perked up. Period photography, did you say? Why, I have just the outfit for that! Or I will, once I finish sewing it.

So, once I had finished sewing it, I set up an appointment, which was for Saturday. I drove up to Gettysburg to the Studio, which is near the cemetery. I was a little early, but it was probably a good thing. I filled out my information downstairs (it's in an old house; the downstairs has some old-fashioned-looking chairs and blue and gray uniform jackets and a mannequin with a paletot, and a lace-draped table with books about photography) and was taken upstairs. I got dressed in the dressing room, which took me, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes (including doing my hair, which probably took longer than dressing). Then I went out into the studio.

The studio is well-lit with a skylight, but there are also some electric lights (in case it's a cloudy day, I guess). My photographer asked whether I would like to sit or stand (stand) and whether I could like to pose beside a chair (yes). He asked about props, and I settled on a black fan, to contrast with my white dress and match my dark trimmings. The photographer positioned me beside the chair and had me lay my hand on it (it was actually my right hand, though it looks flipped in the photo). He talked me through the process of preparing the plate: It's already coated with something (I have this in my research notes since I've research photography, but I would have to dig it out), and it needed to be washed in collodion to make it light-sensitive. It was placed in a wooden case(ugh, I can't remember the proper terms!) and then into the camera.

Here, try this for a much better explanation of the process:

Anyway, once the cap was off the lens, the plate was exposed to the light, and the photograph was being taken. The exposure was for 13 seconds. My photographer explained that on cloudier days, the exposure is longer, and that if he had taken it outside, he wouldn't have exposed it for more than 6 seconds. I, in the meantime, had to hold still. I could breathe and blink, but not move my face. I was going for pleasant but not smiley. I think I accomplished that, though I am a little cross-eyed in the picture, haha!

In any case, once the exposure time was over, the plate was removed to the dark room, where it was fixed. My photographer brought it out in its little bath of chemicals. It was still a negative, because what you get when you first take wet-plate photos is a negative image. In order to make it a positive image, it has to go into a potassium cyanide bath. As you watch, like magic, the negative image almost dissolves into a positive image. This is some pretty nifty chemistry, and honestly it's the sort of thing that they should show kids in school, because it's immediate and really nifty. I took a video:

And below is the lovely result. It is, of course, in black and white, but it's hard to capture the silvery quality to the image. It's really a beautiful object in itself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

. . . And a Dress

For a while, I've idly considered the idea of putting together a reproduction Civil War-era dress, or at least a very close approximation. I wanted a dress of the correct style and cut, though I was--and am--willing to compromise on things that aren't so easy to see, like drawers and stockings.

But recently, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, I got really fired up with this idea and decided now was the time to make it happen.

First thing was first. You might be able to get away with not-period-correct undergarments that won't be seen, but you simply cannot wear a dress from the era without a corset. It will not fit or look right with a modern bra. I'm no fashion historian, but I know very well that all those myths about corsets making it impossible to breathe and moving your internal organs were just that: myths. Or at least, they're myths as far as this era goes. They're actually perfectly comfortable if fitted properly. I also knew, however, that I had no chance of sewing a corset myself, not one that was any good. So I ordered one online (through Treadle Treasures), and really it wasn't all that expensive and was very well-made.

I also looked at cage crinolines. This is essentially a hoop skirt, though it's just the "bones" of it--the hoops. The problem was that honest-to-God cage crinolines were several hundred dollars, and this project was just for fun, so I was not interested in paying that much. Instead, I compromised by buying an inexpensive hoop skirt usually used for weddings. It was just right for me, actually: the circumference and length were great.

The other key undergarment was the chemise. Well, technically, there should be drawers as well, but I had no real interest in making or wearing drawers, which are loose pants, almost like harem pants, that reach to about the knees and aren't sewn shut at the crotch (ahem). I'm perfectly happy skipping the drawers and wearing modern panties, which no one will see because nobody had better be looking up my skirt. A chemise, however, was necessary, because you do not, I repeat do NOT, wear corsets directly against the body. Why? Because they will quickly become dirty with your body oils, and corsets are elaborate and expensive and meant to last for a long time. Same with the fabric of the dress; it's meant to stay clean by being separated from your skin by the undergarments. That's the point of the layers of undergarments people wore: to keep their outer clothes clean (and to keep warm when it's cold). Body linens, like chemises, could be easily washed and would usually be changed daily. Some people would change multiple times a day if they had the means and the desire.

Anyway, a chemise is a relatively simple garment. I had a little difficulty with this one (as I will have with anything I ever try to buy ready-made or sew from a pattern). First, it was just way too big, even though I used my measurements to decide which size of the pattern to use. That shouldn't have been a surprise, since I'm petite. I ended up having to take a lot off at the shoulder (because the neckline was sitting too low), four or five inches off the skirt (because it was halfway down my calves!), and taking in the flare at the armpit (which was just a bit too, uh, flare-y). I added lace to the neckline and hem, and voila. Chemise!

In this picture, I hadn't added the lace yet.
The next thing I needed was, well, a dress. There is a pretty healthy online trade in Civil War-era clothing and patterns, so I had a few options. I could have a dress custom-made; I could buy a ready-made dress; or I could sew my own. The first was too expensive for me. I wasn't willing to spend $400-$500 dollars for a dress. I did, however, find a dress with a 27" waist. (For the record, my natural waist is the same as my corseted waist, for a few reasons: I don't have a lot of give there, I've never "trained" my waist to be smaller, and I have no real desire to try to make my waist significantly smaller. Also, my corset will not go much smaller anyway (I ordered it for my natural 27" waist"; maybe I could/should have ordered it for a smaller waist; you can always leave the laces looser).

I had two problems with the dress when it arrived. The first I knew I would have: it came to me unhemmed, per my request (by the way, the dress, too, was from Treadle Treasures). So it was far too long (remember, I'm very short, 4'11"; I ended up taking 13" off the hem). The second was that it fit, like the chemise, too high in the shoulder. It looked like I was shrugging, or a linebacker. So I was left staring at this well-made dress with these visible fit problems, wondering how on earth to solve them. To make the thing fit really well, I would have to take the entire thing apart and put it back together. That would mean taking apart the lining, as well. Of course, I have no real sewing skills (did I mention that I am a *complete* novice?), so I knew I would be doing a pretty poor job if I did it myself. I'd have to take apart and resew practically the entire thing just to take some length off the back and adjust the shoulders. So I ruminated, and my solution was essentially to pinch the outer fabric and lining at the back waistline seam and sew it together by hand. It's basically tacking it in place, but it worked fairly well. As for the skirt, well, it took a little experimenting to get the length right, and it was a lot of fabric to try to wrestle with, but I did get the length right, and I pinned it in place. The result was this:

I'd say it looks pretty darn good! It falls nicely and fits pretty well.

I should note the style of the dress. It's a day dress with a fitted, darted bodice and pagoda sleeves. The pattern is a black-white-and-green plaid, and it's trimmed in green. I bought white under-sleeves to go with it (the sleeves were a bit long, the cuffs were too big, and the elastic closure too loose; all of which needed fixing).

I started to hand-sew the hem, since I didn't have a sewing machine (one worth mentioning, at least; what I had was a joke). It was a long process, and I spent several hours and got only about a third of the way done (ugh). I also pinned the undersleeves where I needed them.

Then I came to a screeching halt, because I'd gotten a little frustrated with the fact that this dress didn't fit me as well I would like (aside from the problem with the shoulder seam, skirt hem, and undersleeves, the pagoda sleeves are also a few inches too long for me, and overall the dress is just a little bulky on me). I'd decided to try the second route: sewing myself a dress. This was a very ambitious and possibly crazy idea, because, as I mentioned, I have no sewing skills or experience, except for piecing together a simple dress for a costume back in high school. But I do like making things, and I have pretty good visuospatial skills and can follow directions and measure things carefully. I knew from the start that this was going to be a pretty tough task.

Spoiler alert, I was right. Also spoiler alert: I did it anyway, and though the result is a little messier than I would like, I still did it.

I ordered 8 yards of white Swiss-dot fabric. It's a very light, sheet cotton fabric with small same-color textural dots (ie, three-dimensional, like little balls of lint!). The pattern I ordered (through Truly Victorian, pattern 447) was for a sheer dress, a popular summer/warm-weather style in the 1860s. I also had gotten several yards of white muslin for the chemise and to mock-up the dress. I definitely needed to practice and figure out the puzzle-pieces of the bodice before attempting to make it with my "fashion fabric". I was, after all, a novice.

I poured over the instructions that came with the pattern and got to work. For this particular pattern, you can customize the front and back to your measurements, using a formula they provide. This was great for me because I have such unusual measurements (my shoulders are wide compared to the length of my torso and the circumference of my waist). I did notice, however, that there was no pattern for the skirt. I contacted the pattern-maker and then almost instantly realized that there was a diagram rather than a pattern, because 1) these skirts are enormous and a pattern would be the size of my entire living room and 2) they're relatively simple, using big rectangles of fabric that you hem at one end and pleat at the other.

Anyway, I got underway with my mock-up. The bodice for this style of dress comes in two parts: the inner lining, darted in front and consisting of three panels in the back, and the outer lining of the lighter fashion fabric, which is gathered at the center back and on each side of the front closure. The lining fits snugly and sits right at the edge of the shoulder, and has (or should have--I skipped these) little sleeves. The lining goes all the way up to the neck, where it closes snugly, and has long, very full sleeves that are gathered at the shoulder and cuff (bishop sleeves). The lining and outer shell are (meant to be) connected along the side seam, around the waist, and around the armscye (the sleeve opening).

When making the bodice lining, I found a few things. I'd used my measurements, but even with allowing a very narrow seam allowance, the fit was snug. I also found that, yet again, it was too high in the shoulders, so I had to take about 1-1/2" off at the shoulder.

Next, I mocked up the outer shell. Confession: though I wasn't as precise as I could be on this muslin mock-up, it actually looks a lot crisper than the final product, because the fabric has a lot more structure to it (see the picture below).

I found a few things. First, the sleeves were 3" too long. Instead of re-cutting, I just folded it under at the elbow, taking out those 3" and planning to remove those 3" from the pattern for when I cut out the sleeves from the fashion fabric. Two, because I had altered the bodice at the shoulder, the pieces no longer fit together as they should. I decided to let this go. They still could fit together at the sides and the bottom seam. Third, though I cut out two sleeves, I didn't bother to gather the second sleeve at the shoulder and cuff. It's time-consuming, and it would just be a mirror-image of the sleeved I'd already mocked up. Hence the one-sleeve look below. Four, I wanted an actual cuff with buttons on these sleeves, though the pattern didn't call for it. Five, putting the lining and outer shell together was more difficult than it might seem. You see, at the front, they both button, and they button separately, but at the bottom they button together . . . I had to go over the directions there several times just to try to wrap my head around this. In the end, it took me sewing on buttons and cutting holes and actually manipulating the fabric to understand the mechanics. On one side of the front closure, you have to leave a slit in the lining for the outer layer to pass through. The bottom two buttons (at least on my bodice--it would depend on how you space your buttons and the slit) pass through both the lining and the fashion fabric. Then the two layers button separately. Also, as I pieced together this mock-up, I learned which order to sew the seams in and so forth.

In any case, with the process more or less figured out, it was time to get started on the actual dress. The bodice would be first, and I would worry about the skirt later. So I cut out all my pieces. I had by this time borrowed my mother's sewing machine (bless her!), so I could make some quick headway. I actually retained most of the mock-up lining I'd made, because I planned to use the muslin anyway. I did redo the front panels because the old panels had been handled and sewn this way and that so many times they looked a mess. Since I knew what I was doing (uh, sort of), it was relatively quick work to gather and sew together the pieces of the outer layer. I then gathered the sleeves at both ends and attached the cuffs and sewed the sleeves to the bodice. I even pinned the side seam. I was ever so excited to be so close to finishing the bodice (this was, by the way, several days' hard work). And then I tried it on and, oh no! The sleeves seemed way too long! I was perplexed for a while, until I pulled out the pattern I had altered to take off those 3". I'd done it wrong; I'd taken the three inches out of the circumference of the sleeves rather than the length.


I could re-cut, tossing the incorrect sleeves. But that would be a waste of fabric and time, and the sleeves were already attached to the rest of the bodice, and all that time gathering at both ends . . . I'd have to undo all my work on the cuffs, and unstitch several bodice seams, too . . . . It was late that evening, but before I went to bed, I came up with a not-so-great but decent solution. I would just take the 3" off the end of the sleeves. I would take off the cuffs, measure the three inches up from the end of the sleeves, and cut it off. I'd have to redo the gathering at the cuffs and the cuffs themselves, but at least I wouldn't have to undo everything. So that's what I did the next day. I figured that with so much fabric, it wouldn't be noticeable if the exact curve of the sleeve at the elbow was slightly different, or if there were 3" less fabric in the circumference of the sleeve. I was right; the sleeves look fine.

With all that put together, and the side seams sewn up, what was left was the closure. I mentioned the work I did to figure out how to place all the buttons and holes on the mock-up. But when figuring all that out, I did not actually sew any buttonholes. I just cut unfinished holes in the fabric. I had to do much better than that on the final product. So I set to work trying to figure out button holes. The sewing machine I used did not have a buttonhole foot, so I was using the zigzag stitch and trying to make neat, straight, perpendicular lines in the shape of a tight rectangle, the middle of which would be the buttonhole. If that sounds easy, it is not. It took a very, very long time to make it look neat, and in the end I had to do some hand-sewing to neaten it up. I also hand-sewed the buttonholes on the cuffs.

I was working feverishly on this one night, and it was getting late when I finished the final buttonhole at last. But I was in a fever to get the bodice done (I may have literally been feverish). All that I needed was the buttons. So I sewed them on as quickly as I could, very loosely, and I put that sucker on, and I was so, so pleased. I literally jumped for joy at quarter past 11:00 on a work night. The picture below is from the next day, in the sunlight. A completed bodice! (And my white hoopskirt.)

Hurrah! Bodice completed. That was definitely the difficult--or at least complicated--part. Now what remained was the skirt. That was my thought as I went to bed the night I finished the chemise. I went to bed doing mental math, attempting to determine how big to make my pleats.

While I appreciated the diagram that has come with the directions, I found a different plan online that seemed more intuitive. It involved taking 5 yards or 3 panels of 60" fabric, dividing it into four sections, and pleating each section. I used that as my guide instead of the diagram that came with the pattern. I had 55"-wide fabric, and, again, I figured that in the end a few fewer inches of fabric in the skirt wouldn't be noticeable, so I sewed together 3 panels of 55"-width fabric. The length was the distance from my waist to the edge of my hoopskirt (which I measured at 39"), plus 1" for the seam at top and 5" for a seam at the bottom. The trouble with all this was that this fabric is very light and has a lot of give to it. Also, 165" is a LOT of fabric to try to wrestle, especially when you don't have much space to work with. I tried my best to make it nice and crisp, and it turned out fine, but it is a little wonky, especially around the waist.

In any case, once I had kind of wrestled this fabric into order, I put on my hoopskirt and held the length of the fabric up against it, just to see if I was in the ballpark. I had 4" of hem to work with (so I could lengthen or shorten the skirt). Turns out, it was about an inch too long, so I repinned the bottom hem. Once I had that figured, I zipped off the hem around the bottom edge and then started pleating. That was a trip. I'd figured out a method for pleating (see my earlier post), but I hadn't reckoned on the last little fold-over piece, which got in the way, and in any case, I think because of the give in the fabric and how precise I was trying to make the measurements, it kept turning out a little wrong. I had cut out a waistband of the right length to use as my template as I pleated. Once I had pleated the fabric, I pinned it and then sewed it to that waistband.

The next task was to attach the skirt to the bodice, and I'd been ruminating on this one for a while. There were no directions for this in the pattern, and I had difficulty finding anything online. So I came up with this solution: the waistband was sewn to the wrong side of the skirt fabric. I would proceed to pin the bottom of the bodice to the top of the skirt, with the right sides of the bodice and the skirt fabric facing one another. So it would be bodice layer, skirt layer (facing one another), and then the waistband. I would sew all that together, then fold the waistband over it all and sew it in place. It would be like a seam sandwich, with the seam contained with in the waistband. Also important was the closure: I would leave the last several inches of bodice and skirt unattached at the front and finished off the bodice seam and skirt seam separately. This was because they would close separately. I was using the dress I had purchased as a guide in this (if I were to do it again, I would not do this, but attached it all the way around).

Now, after doing all of the above, I found myself faced with several problems. In spite of all my efforts, I had not, as I thought, left an extra inch on both sides of the skirt for a closure. The result was that the bodice and the skirt closed apart from one another; the skirt was snugger, leaving the bodice a little loser over top of it, which gave it an awkward look. Secondly, folding under the bottom of the bodice to finish it off left it slightly bulky, exacerbating the issue of the different closures.

Solution? The green belt that came with my ready-made dress. That helped immensely. And, frankly, given that the dress was completed--really completed!!--I wasn't going to worry too much about those little issues. (Other issues: the front closure issue also meant the skirt opening gaped open slightly, which is less of a problem since both it and the petticoat are white; the cuffs look nice but tend to make a "v" at the buttonhole rather than closing in a nice circle; at the neck, the button tends to slip along the buttonhole, meaning the plackard doesn't sit in quite as neat a line as it should; also, the pattern doesn't really allow for enough fabric for the button plackard to be wide enough, so the buttonholes kind of extend into the single-layer fabric.)

In spite of these issues (some of which I'm going to attribute to the fact that this lightweight fabric is hard to use, most of which I attribute to my novice skills), I was super duper proud of the result, and it looked lovely:

You can see the intended effect of the sheer dress, though not super well in this light: there is the more opaque lining, and the lighter fabric over top. You can just see the shadow of the lining at my collarbone under the sheer fabric. And the skirt looks fine, as do the sleeves; you'd never know they "should" have more volume. (Anyway, being petite, it helps to take the bulk out of the fabric, or else it'll swamp me.)

The next step was my hair, because ladies in the 1860s didn't have modern shoulder-length bobs. The trouble is that my hair is not very long and is quite fine in texture. I was never going to accomplish a period hairstyle without some help. Of course, ladies of the time had the same problem as me; many had fine or thin hair, so they used additions to achieve the fashionable look. I did so through Etsy, buying a cheap dark-brown braid. (I also purchased a snood, but it hasn't arrived yet.) I did a bit of YouTube research and figured out how to do my hair. Step one: part in the middle. Step two: take a hunk from the crown of the head to the ear and forward, and twist it up and out of the way; do this on the other side. Step three: take the bit that's left in the back and coil it and pin it, then attach the braid and coil the braid around at the back of the head, pinning that in place, too. Step four: pull those bits of hair from the front towards the back, twisting them as you go, and wrap each of these twists around the coil at the back, then pin in place. And, ta-da:

And the other day, I put it all together: hair, underthings, and dress. Well, first, the underthings, haha!

You can really see the hoops in some of these pictures, but in most light it's fine, so I'm not too worried and don't feel compelled to sew a petticoat to remedy this.

So am I satisfied? Well, I'm very, very pleased, and I love my pretty dress. So, yes, I'm proud of myself and . . . satisfied. But there are some errors with the dress (though they aren't really evident unless you look closely). I think I might want to try again, incorporating what I learned . . .

Oh, and I learned about a place in Gettysburg that does honest-to-God wet-plate photography with Victorian style backdrops and all. So, yeah, I think I'm going to do that, and while I'm there I may stop by a fabric shop with lots of pretty, period-appropriate fabrics . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

. . . And the Imperial War Museum

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is herePart 2 of Day 1 is hereHere is Day 2Here is Day 3Here is Day 4. Here is Day 5Here is Day 6. This is Day 7.

My last day in the U.K. was a half-day, of sorts. I didn't have to be to the airport until about 2:30 for my 5:10 flight. I had the morning and a little bit of the afternoon to do one last major thing (and one smaller thing). In hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best idea to leave this one until the end. After five days of intense travel, lots of mental stress, not-great food, and excitement, I was one tired girl. And my last big stop was meant to be a pretty important highlight.

This stop was the Imperial War Museum. I've mentioned being interested in Peter Pan, of course (see below for more on that; I didn't start my day at the IWM). I was led towards the true story of the five brothers who inspired Peter Pan by my research while writing a story set partly in 1917. The story of the Llewelyn Davies boys was a good "entry point" into the era. (I've done this with other times/places, like using Fanny Kemble as an entry point to the Sea Islands of Georgia, or Charlotte Cushman as an entry point to theater in the 1820s and '30s.) In any case, this story I wrote takes place during the Great War, which is a massive part of the IWM. I always want to see and learn more, and though I have a decent grounding in life during the Great War (don't ask me about military stuff), it's not as thorough as my grounding in the antebellum and Civil War eras. Hence, I had a great desire to see this museum.

But as I said, I was tired, and I was in a bit of a trance as I wandered through. The museum is in an impressive building, with a broad central hall filled with planes and rockets. Beyond that is the WW1 section of the museum, an area partitioned off into section that you wander through on a meandering path. The lights are fairly low and moody, and there are nooks and islands with displays and interactive areas and video screens. Maybe it was the tiredness, but it all felt a little shallow and gimmicky, and disjointed. I couldn't see a theme to the different areas, or any logical progression from one to the next. It wasn't chronological or thematic. And instead of just presenting the information in written form, it had to be delivered using sliding panels, or buttons you had to press or levers you had to pull, or through a video. I'm sure this is engaging to some people, but I found it a bit trying at times.

That's not to say there weren't some wonderful objects to see. There was rusty barbed wire and gas canisters and lots of uniforms from some of the many nations who were part of the war. My favorite thing, perhaps, was the display of buttons that were worn by war workers to show that they were contributing even though they weren't soldiers. Women would often give white feathers to men who weren't in uniform and call them cowards for not enlisting--the pins were a way of showing that they, too, were doing their part.

But I should back up, I think. Back to Peter Pan. Before heading off to the IWM, I decided to go visit the place where J.M. Barrie's longtime residence once stood. I previously posted pictures of his place off Kensington Gardens. He moved from there before the boys' parents died, I believe, to a place on The Strand near Charing Cross called Adelphi Terrace. He had a large flat on an upper level with a great view of the river and an enormous ingle that he would sit in. It was at Adelphi Terrace that Nico and Michael spent their later childhoods, after their parents died and Barrie became their guardian. Sadly, that building is gone, replaced, it would seem, by an art deco-ish monstrosity. But there *is* a blue plaque letting us know Barrie (and some others) lived there once.

From there, I decided to walk to the IWM. On my way, I passed Trafalgar Square (they were setting up for a bicycle race), and walked down Whitehall, past the Cenotaph and lots of memorials, to Westminster. I stopped by the statue of Abraham Lincoln, took a picture of Westminster Abbey, and was a little sad to see that Big Ben was literally under wraps. As I crossed Westminster Bridge, I took a selfie with the London Eye, and I really like the picture because I'm so clearly having fun.

In any case, I then did the IWM as mentioned above. When I was all out of steam, I headed back to my hotel across the street to pick up my bag (it took them a while to find it in the luggage room), then walked to the Tube and took it to Heathrow (easy as pie). I was at Terminal 5, and I have to say, though it's new I wasn't impressed. First of all, the signage to the gates wasn't good. Second, there were tons of places to buy high-end fashion and expensive jewelry, but nowhere to get some effing food, and I was hungry. Third, why on earth are the bathrooms always around three corners and through two doors? It doesn't have to be this way, British people. Third, though checking in was actually pretty painless, it was set up in such a way as to be confusing. I was supposed to be in, like, zone 1 area 2 or something, and the layout just made it unclear where I was meant to go next to drop off my bag. It was just a big area with a bunch of barriers and things, with no real direction of where to go and what things were. Fourth, to get to my gate from the main waiting area, I had to go down an escalator, board a shuttle, go down another escalator, and then go back up yet another escalator. This is a *new* building, mind you. It doesn't have to be this way, British people! Why make it so complicated? Why? Fifth, while a whole plane-full of people and I were waiting in line to board, passes in hand, we were all brought to a sudden halt by a lady who'd missed an earlier flight. For at least ten minutes, the lady at the gate was tapping at the computer and the passenger was asking whether she'd get business class and a window seat and so forth. Meanwhile, there are fifty people in line. Oh, and there's a separate line for first class, and somebody is there with nothing else to do but check in those people as they wandered up (there was no line). So they were there idly waiting for first-class passengers, while us scummy"economy" folks who *only* paid $750 just had to wait. Because eff us, I guess.


I did get on the flight just fine, and we lifted off, and away I went, back home to the good old US of A. I had an absolute blast on my U.K. adventure and saw and did so much, but at that point I really, really just wanted my own bed and a long stretch of calm and quiet.

Blue plaque stating that J.M. Barrie lived there.

The Adelphi, on the location where J.M. Barrie lives for many years.

Charing Cross.

Trafalgar Square.



Big Ben under wraps.

My fave, Abraham Lincoln.

Westminster Abbey.

Big Ben and a double-decker bus!

London Eye, Boudica statue.


Palaces of Westminster/Parliament, with Big Ben under wraps.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum.
Imperial War Museum. German uniform.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum. Livens projector; lobbed as canisters at the enemy..

Imperial War Museum. Gas shells. See next picture for info.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum. Gas alarms.

Imperial War Museum. Worker's buttons to show they were doing vital work.

Imperial War Museum. VAD uniform.

Imperial War Museum. VAD uniform and the blue uniform worn by injured men.

Imperial War Museum. Mess kit.

Imperial War Museum. Shaving kit.

Imperial War Museum. Info on x-rays and the evacuation
plan for injured soldiers, what look like forceps, and the medical cards
that accompanied wounded men as they were transported down the line, away
from the fighting.