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.
Ta-da!



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.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

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 jmbarrie.co.uk (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.]