Friday, February 21, 2020

. . . And a Great War Corset, Week 2

So, it looks as though this project will span only two full weeks, which is nice. I should note that a lot of thought and planning took place before the actual work began.

If you want a full intro of the project, including the supplies I used and the cost, see my post about week 1. But just to summarize, I decided to make a mid-1910s corset, a "Great War" corset. The pattern is the Rilla corset from Scroop. It was a fabulous pattern to work with, so if you want to make yourself such a corset, this is the pattern to choose.

Now, in my last blog post I talked about some fitting issues. What I decided in the end was to add 3/8" to each edge of each panel at the bottom, to give more room for my hips. I did not create new pattern pieces because I figured it would be something of a waste of time. Instead of retracing and redrawing all the lines I'd used with the original pattern pieces, then adding the extra 3/8" and redrawing, then tracing that onto my fabric twice . . . well, instead of all that I just used the same pattern pieces, traced them directly onto the fabric, added the 3/8" right there, free-handed the new lines, and cut out those pieces. By "those pieces", I mean the pieces for the right side of the corset. I then flipped those pieces over and traced them onto the fabric so I had the panels for the left side of the corset. This way I was more sure to have very symmetrical panels, and I wasn't tracing and retracing and tracing and retracing.

I should also note that, per my fitting of the mock-up, I removed 2" from the bottom of every piece because the mock-up was too long. This meant that instead of having to fit the pieces onto my fabric like jigsaw pieces, I was able to line them up right next to one another and even had a bit of fabric left over. That would come in handy later...

You might think this took, oh, maybe two or three hours. NOPE. This was approximately a day-and-a-half worth of work. First, there was quite a bit of tracing, measuring, and free-handing of lines. After all, I had to completely redraw eight lines, then trace them for the opposite side of the corset and refine them so they were pretty and smooth. I also carefully drew lines 1.5 cm in from the edge to guide me in sewing the seams. (I don't ever use centimeters, but the pattern said the seam allowance was 1.5 cm and that using the measurement in inches would be less precise.) So that meant even more careful lines. There were also matching-points so all the panels met up properly at the seams, marks for the boning, and marks for the waist stay. Multiply this by 10 panels, and you might see why it took me a while. I'm admittedly a bit slow.

Anyway, here is the first side of the corset, cut out of the fabric:



As mentioned, I used these as pattern pieces for the left side. And also as mentioned, I added lines for where the seam should be. There I hit a problem. I started cutting, and instead of cutting along the cutting line, I cut along the seam line. There was much cursing. I couldn't scoot the piece left and redraw/recut, because it was at the edge of the fabric. I couldn't scoot it right because there was the next pattern piece (and the next one and the next one, all lines up in a row). Thankfully, because I took 2" off the bottom of every piece and was able to rearrange my placement of the pattern pieces on the fabric, I had some space left over, so I was able to redraw the shape there. I was supremely annoyed to have to go through that whole process of tracing and refining and adding all the necessary marks again, but I did.

In the end, this is all that was left of my fabric, so not much room for error:


With everything now prepared, it was pretty much all downhill from there. Before sewing all the panels together, I had to prepare the front and back panels with the closures. In the front, that meant the busk. In the back, that meant eyelets for the lacing.

First came the busk. In the picture below, you see the loop side inserted and the knob side sitting beside it. To insert the loop side, I carefully placed the busk (according to the pattern) and marked where the loops should poke out. As I sewed on the facing (which you can't see here, of course, because it's turned under and is on the other side of the fabric), I sewed a seam from the top of the panel down to where the first loop pokes out, sunk the needle, spun the fabric around, and sewed back up to the top in order to make a really strong seam. I did the same thing for the space between the first and second, second and third, and third and fourth loops (from there down I just sewed a straight seam). I now had gaps in the seam to poke my loops through, which I proceeded to do. I then hand-sewed the busk in place along its edges. I probably could've done it by machine if I had a zipper foot, but I don't have a zipper foot and, anyway, this is much more precise.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$




The other side, that is the wearer's left, I added the knob side. This time, I could sew in the facing with one straight seam. I then slipped the knob side between the facing and the front panel, lined everything up, and marked where the knobs needed to poke through the fabric to meet up with the loops. I then poked little holes int he fabric and pushed the knobs through. Again, I hand-sewed the piece in place so it wouldn't move up and down or side-to-side.

The result:


And then, diSASter. I spilled water all over my directions. Okay, so that's not much of a disaster. It was fine, but still. Oops.


The back panels came next. Alas, I didn't really get pictures of the process, but there isn't a whole lot to tell. I marked out where all the holes should go (many thanks to the handy-dandy diagram included in the pattern), poked holes as small as possible through the fabric for the eyelets to pass through, and put in the eyelets. This involved the eyelets themselves, an eyelet-setting tool, and a hammer. The hardest part was pushing the eyelets through the tiny holes, trying to keep as much of the fabric's integrity as I could. It made the tips of my fingers sore for a day or so.

With the eyelets in, I sewed together all the panels, which was maybe the least time-consuming part of the project. Then I put in the lacing. You'll notice the bow partway down. That's actually at the waist (this is an under-bust corset), and that's how you tighten it. You loosen the lacing, fasten the busk in front, give the laces a pull to tighten appropriately, and tie off the laces.



Again, I didn't get many good pictures, but there were still a number of steps left. I trimmed down the seam allowances and sewed in the boning channels. (I bought pre-made boning tape--not cheap, but saved me oodles of time. It's simple enough to make--it's just flattened tubes of fabric--but it's time-consuming.) I hand-sewed the center of each boning channel very precisely in place about 1/16" away from each seam towards the back of the corset. I did it by hand so I could make sure they all sat just right. It took about a day's worth of hand-sewing to do that, because every single stitch had to be carefully placed from both sides. Luckily, with that done so carefully, I was able to machine sew the two sides of each channel without much trouble, and that was a fairly quick process.

I took a bit of a break to visit Mount Vernon on Monday (Presidents Day), then came back to trim down all my "bones" (plastic zip ties), place them, sew them in at top and bottom, secure the waist stay (twill tape running around the waist beneath the boning channels), and then sew binding to the top and bottom (using purple thread, because purple). And it was . . . done!





Overall, I love it, and I'm really proud of the work I did here.

A few things to note. First, I had been a bit concerned about the weight of the fabric I chose. It seemed like the whole thing might end up being too flimsy. But with the boning channels in and the binding around the top and bottom, it felt much more secure, and I'm really pleased with the fabric choice. 

Second, the pattern calls for lace around the bust, but I didn't add that. I like it just fine as it is. 

Third, you'll notice the lacing isn't entirely even in the back. I think this is partially imperfect tightening technique--I think the space is there to pull tight where I need to pull tight. In spite of my best efforts, the fit might also not be perfect, but, hey, it's not bad for my first corset, methinks. You can see here that I pulled the lacing loops at the waist around to the front to tie it off. Trying to tie it at the back was difficult and awkward, and I just couldn't make the knot stay put. This method works just fine. Also worth noting: tightening the corset thusly took 1" off my waist. 

Fourth, I successfully solved that gap at the center front from the mock-up, so I'm pretty pleased about that. 

Fifth, this pattern also calls for garters, which attach the bottom of the corset to the stockings with a clip. However, I haven't added those yet. It should be a fairly easy thing to add sometime soon.

Lastly . . . yes, I know one stocking isn't pulled up as high as the other. What can I say? I'm a hot mess.



















Thursday, February 13, 2020

. . . And a Great War Corset, Week 1

Introduction to the project:

I am working on putting together a full get-up from the time of the Great War (that's World War I to those of us who are aware that there was a second world war--which nobody knew at the time of the First World War). First, the underthings, and yes, the underthings are always necessary. They are maybe slightly less necessary with this era than, say, mid-Victorian. You can't do a mid-Victorian look without a hoop skirt, and you can't do a hoop skirt without a corset, and anyway the dresses won't fit right in the bodice if you wear--shudder--a modern bra with it.

The 1910s silhouette was very different. By this point, corsets had gone through some various shapes and had ended up being long and hip-slimming. Instead of creating an hour-glass shape like the mid-Victorian corset or an exaggerated S-bend shape like later Victorian corsets, the corsets of this era started below the bust and extended over the hips, to create a longer, more columnar shape. This presaged the even slimmer, more columnar shape of the '20s. Also, it's worth noting that at about this time, some women started ditching corsets for brassieres.

All of which is to say that while maybe (maybe, I emphasize doubtfully) I could get by without a corset, it simply wouldn't suit my artistic sensibilities or my sense of the rightness of things. If I'm going to go to the trouble of sewing all this sh!t, I'm going to do it right, 'kay?

So there is my justification for wanting a proper 1910s corset. (I often refer to it as Edwardian, but really it isn't; it's just easier to say that. See, the corset works for the middle of the 1910s, and King Edward died in 1910. However, because the Great War began in 1914, the "Edwardian Age" is usually extended just a bit to that year since the war was such a bright, clear dividing line between "then" and "now". This corset would work from slightly before the war to slightly after the war.)

You may be wondering what the heck made me think I could and should try to make my own corset. I'd been glancing over the costs of corset supplies, and when I added them all up, it was kind of expensive. The alternative was to buy one, but that's *very* expensive. Of course, paying someone to put in the time and effort--and to create something of professional quality--might be worth that money. But then I came across a few things. 

First, I came across a pillowcase that an old roommate had left behind. Just the single pillowcase. It had a cute design of grayish-blue flowers and was made of a sturdy cotton. I puzzled over what I could make out of it--a blouse of some kind?--and then it hit me: it could be material for a corset! It would probably be *just* enough. (Spoiler alert, it was *just enough*.)

Second, I found out that it is a legitimate costuming practice to use zip ties as boning. Zip ties are dirt cheap, which would save me some money, so I was all for this. And the ladies of American Duchess use zip ties, and they're hard-core, so I figured I was good to use them. Of course, there is synthetic boning, but it's . . . well, plastic. Just like zip ties. And you wanna know which is cheaper? It's zip ties. Zip ties are cheaper.

There's metal boning, too, but it's expensive and, as I understand it, plastic actually is more similar to the boning that was used back in the day. I should explain: while some boning was metal (steal), a lot of boning was made of baleen. This come from the cartilage of whales. For obvious reasons, actual baleen is no longer legal to use. Plastic is lightweight like baleen and will shape to your body with warmth, like baleen. So. Zip ties.

Thusly, my vague plan for a 1910s corset began to coalesce. The last step was to figure out how to make this mysterious, intimidating garment. It helped IMMENSELY to watch Bernadette Banner make a corset on YouTube, and I found a few blog posts talking about the process. With these examples came the realization that corsets are made by people, and I am a people. If other people can do it, why not me?

But how exactly would I figure out the right shapes in the right size? I found a diagram online that showed the proper shapes for the various panels, but that would have required a lot of adjusting and fitting, and I knew I wasn't up to that. Luckily, I found the Rilla Corset pattern by Scroop Patterns. It seemed to be just what I was looking for, with decent directions (it's always a bit hard to tell what, if any, instructions come with a pattern...it turns out the directions were even better than I had hoped). On some of the Facebook groups I'm a part of, I found comments saying what a great pattern it is. I was sold. I bought the pattern, then went ahead and bought the items that I didn't already have:

Pattern: $12
Fabric: already had it
Twill tape for waist stay: already had it
Zip ties (bought at Home Depot): about $4
9" busk: about $15
Bone casing (because I wanted to save myself time, rather than make it myself): 6 yards at $3.50/yard= $21
Lacing: 8 yards at $0.69/yard= about $5
Eyelets and eyelet tool: about $7.50
Twill tape binding: 4 yards at $0.69/yard=$3

Grand total=$62.50.

That would be less if I hadn't been too lazy to make my own casing for the bones, but in this case it was worth the money not to have to do that difficult, tedious, time-consuming task.

Wanna know how much a professionally made corset will run you? It's well into the hundreds of dollars. Check out Red Threaded. I'm not saying those corsets aren't worth the money--they most certainly ARE. But I simply couldn't bring myself to spend that much. Hence . . .


THE CORSET
WEEK 1: The Mock-Up

The first step is, always, to mock up the thing you're about to sew. This is probably doubly important for me, who is weirdly shaped. I'm 4'11", with oddly broad shoulders, a good-sized bust, and fairly narrow hips. Basically, nothing EVER fits right unless it's specifically a petite size, and even then it doesn't always fit all that well.

The weekend before last (that is, the weekend of the 1-2, Superbowl weekend), I got in the mail my order with all the stuff listed above, except for the fabric and zip ties (which I already had). I was giddy with delight. Along with my corset things, there were three different kinds of trim that I was excited to get in my goody bag (I mean, I paid for them, it wasn't, like, trick-or-treating). I was so excited that it took me a while to realize that something was missing: the busk. The busk is the front closure. And without the front closure, I couldn't really test the corset. Without the busk, I couldn't pull it snug and tight like it was meant to be, so how could I know how well it fit?

Hm. Something's missing....
Well, I had done exactly zero thus far, so I contacted customer service and got started in the meantime on a mock-up. Luckily, the directions for the Rilla** corset were fabulous. Each size was based on the bust measurement, but the directions also indicated the waist and hip measurements that each pattern size corresponded to. So the 38 pattern was based on a 38" bust, X waist, and Y hips. I used this to help me figure out what size(s) to use (not the 38"...). As it turned out, my bust was between two sizes, my waist was between two different sizes, and my hips were yet another size. So, my bust was between sizes A and B, my waist was between B and C, and my hips were size D.

Which was . . . awesome.

But first I needed to test something. I needed to be sure my pillowcase was going to have enough fabric. So I printed out my pattern pieces, taped them together, cut them out, and placed them on the pillowcase. And . . . it was close. I spent twenty minutes trying to make it work, but it just didn't. Then inspiration hit. The hem was very wide, so if I unpicked it, I would have about 10 or so more inches of useable fabric. Success! Proof of concept:


It fits!
Now I knew I didn't need to go buy fabric or rethink the whole project. And I should note that, yes, I know that this is a fairly sturdy cotton but it isn't really the sturdy fabric usually used in corsets, like coutil. I am okay with this. This will be for very occasional use, and I want it to be fairly light and breathable anyway.

Step one was to cut out new pattern pieces based on the sizes from the directions. I bought some tracing paper, taped it together, and traced the lines for the various sizes. Then I freehanded the lines between the respective sizes for my bust, hips, and waist and cut out the new pieces. Wisely, I actually cut the fabric using the largest of the sizes and just traced the smaller shapes onto those. That way, if I found it was too tight, I had a little leeway.

Tracing and reshaping.


The 12 pattern pieces for this corset. The two at the ends and the two in
the middle are facings.
I sewed all the panels together. For the back panels, I turned the facing inwards, then ran a line of stitching about 3/8" from the edge, a 1/2" in from that line, and then another 3/8" in from that line, thus creating three channels. The two on either side were for boning. The area in the middle wouldn't be used for boning at all but as the zone for eyelets for lacing up the back. Instead of wasting the time and the eyelets on a mock-up, I just cut little holes where the eyelets will go in the final version. I laced her up, and I taped on the zip ties, two at each seam (oh, and I slipped zip ties into those channels I'd just made in the back panels).

So, we had, roughly, a corset. Excitedly, I wrapped it around myself, and it almost magically unfolded itself two a floppy two-dimensional thing into a lovely three-dimensional shape that formed to my body. Well, mostly. At first glance, it looked awfully small. But of course, with a busk, I would be able to pull it all nice and snug.
All mocked up with no way to close...

But the busk was still in the mail. It didn't arrive until this past weekend, i.e. a week after everything else. Luckily, all the above steps took up most that week.

As soon as I got the busk, I got to work inserting it.


Now, there is a whole, proper way to insert the busk, but again this is a mock-up. So I just ripped the stitches in the center-front seam between the front panel and the facing. That is, I ripped those holes on the right center-front panel, so there were slots to poke those loops through. On the left side, I lined up the knobbed side of the busk, marked where the knobs needed to go, and ripped little holes to push the knobs through.

And like that, I had a mock-up. And it did fit. However, I realized I'd made a mistake. At some point long ago, I had measured my hips, and I used that measurement without re-measuring. This was a mistake, because that measurement was wrong, and I don't quite know why. It was off by 2". So I traced out more shapes, trying to do what I had done before by using the various sizes as a guide. But it didn't seem to be adding any actual width to the hips. So I abandoned that method and did the prudent thing: I kept the shapes I had but added about 3/8" to each side of each piece. Also, the mock-up was about two inches too long, so I pinned up the hem.

And the result:


This is overtop the combinations I recently made. Now, there are a few issues. It's a little wibbly-wobbly. That, I think, it largely due to the fact that the bones are taped in and the fabric isn't very sturdy (I'm really hoping this is solved by sewn-in bones and sturdier fabric). You can see the zip ties poking out the top because they aren't trimmed to size. I don't have a pic of the back, but the lacing is a little wonky, mostly because I need to learn how to tie it off well at the center. But the key is that the lacing IS even all the way down once everything is pulled in tight. You can also see that it still gaps open a tad at the center front. It looks like more than it is because I'm standing with my hips at an angle, and also a small gap is fine. Even so, for the final product I will be adding just a little width to the front panels.





**Just a note that the "Rilla" corset was just "meant to be", for multiple reasons. Aside from being a lovely pattern with good reviews, it also is clearly name after Rilla Blythe from Rilla of Ingelside, a novel I love that is set during the Great War. Seriously, go out and read this one if you haven't (and most people haven't). It's a sequel to Anne of Green Gables and is about her daughter, Rilla. But it's really about the war on the Canadian home front, and it's beautifully done.

Friday, January 31, 2020

...And a Pair of Edwardian Combinations

Materials: white cotton lawn, cotton lace, ribbon (yeah, yeah, cheap polyester ribbon; I don't care), three bone buttons
Pattern: Wearing History 1917 Combinations, plus a good deal of improvisation
Time to complete: about two weeks of off-and-on work.
Cost: including pattern and not including lace and buttons I already had hanging around: about $30-$35

Combinations are Edwardian underwear. They're the first layer and go under the corset and are made of cotton. I say "are" but maybe should say "were", since of course they aren't worn today except by costumers like myself. (I count myself a costumer, by the way.) They are "combinations" because they combine the chemise and drawers of the Victorian era. There are, of course, different styles of combinations. I didn't, until fairly recently, have much design on making myself combinations, and at some point I purchased this pattern from Wearing History with the vague idea that maybe at some point I would think about doing so: 1917 Combinations. Recently, in a flush of creative fervor, I decided to tackle this project. After some consideration, I decided the pattern wasn't quite what I wanted. It's basically a chemise, with the option of adding a tab that comes up between the legs and buttons in front.

I wanted something more like this:

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/157185?utm_source=Pinterest&utm_medium=pin&utm_campaign=weddingboard

From the Met Museum.
Okay, I don't have the skill to make something quite so frilly and lacy. But I thought about it and figured I could jury-rig something with the same basic shape. I could start with the pattern above, which gave me the basic shape I wanted on top. I just needed to figure a way to make a skirt into a pair of open drawers (which is what we have above). To help me out, I used the pattern for a pair of Victorian drawers that I had made and really liked. Looking at the pattern pieces helped me visualize how to make the shapes work.



I started with the 1917 Combinations pattern, cutting out the two simple pieces for front and back, sewing them together, sewing on the lace, and creating and adding straps. (The straps took forever, by the way! I created a narrow tube of my fabric and then had to turn it inside-out so the seam was on the inside, and that legit took an hour; then I had to press it flat, which took some time. It took half a day just to do that straps, and I hadn't bargained on that.)

The basic plan I came up with to alter this chemise-combinations thing was simple: slit the skirt at the center front and center back and add two strips connecting the front and back to go between the legs. I would therefore have two legs to step through and, well, an open crotch (this was how drawers were made in the Victorian and Edwardian age; and you better believe that I always wear modern underpants underneath when wearing split drawers). Because your back is longer than your front (due to, you know, your butt), the slit in the back would need to be longer than in the front. The fabric between the front and back would need to be straight along the bottom and curved along the top. Hence I came up with this shape, which I just free-handed:



You'll see that I shortened the width of this piece. I had pinned it in place and realized it sagged, which was weird, so I pinched it, pinned it, and sewed it in place; you can see the resulting seam there in the middle. Once I did that, I was happy with the shape and with the height of the slit in the front and back. It wasn't too high up in the front of too low in the back.

Next, I made a copy of this shape so I had one for each leg, then sewed them in place. I made it a wide, 1/2" seam because narrow little seams drive me nutters. The problem with that was the top of the slits I had cut. I now had a 1" wide gap, because of the 1/2" seam allowance at the top of each attached leg piece. So I added a placket (I suppose that's what you call it) to the right side of the cloth just above this gap, sewed a line just to either side of the center, then snipped along that center line. Then I could push through that placket from the right side to the wrong side of the garment, which left me with a nice finished edge on the right side of the garment.

I tried it on after all this and found that it looked good, except that there was a wee gap in the crotch-ular area that just wouldn't do at all. So I really quickly cut out a triangular patch and sewed it into place. Ta-da, problem solved!



Next, I switched out the blue ribbon at the neckline and waist with the same pale pink ribbon, rather than blue on top and white at the waist. This was straightforward: I just sewed the very ends of the ribbon together; as I pulled the old ribbon through the holes, it carried the new ribbon with it. I also secured the ends of the lace (though not the ribbon, which I used to tie the combinations closed) by hand-stitching them (machine-sewing wasn't quite precise enough for to finish it off, though I used it to do the bulk of the stitching).

Next, I wanted to add an opening to the center front at the top. This is a common aspect of combinations, and I like the look. I had to think pretty hard about how to create the placket and where to place it. It's too complicated for me to explain here, but suffice it to say that I did something similar to what I did above with the edge of the slits for the legs. One side of the placket I created was twice as wide as the other so that I could fold it over itself to create a sturdy base for buttons. The other side I folded back against the garment so it was, also, double-thickness to take buttonholes. I realized as I was doing this that I would have to unpick some of the hand-sewing I had done to the lace, because the slit for this placket would have to be off-center for reasons of geometry and math. So I unpicked that, then sewed the placket in place, put on the buttons (some bone buttons I had lying about), made buttonholes, and voila! Center-front opening!

The next step was to sew that lace back in place, then secure the ribbon on both sides of the opening. By securing the ribbon in place at the right length for my particular measurements, I wouldn't have to pulled the ribbon and tie it closed every time; I would just button it. (The waist I still pull tight and tie off; I step into the combinations, so it has to go over my hips.) I did leave some ribbon so I could tie a bow, just for the sake of having a bow rather than for the purpose of closing up the combinations.

The only step left was to add a ruffle along the bottom.

That was a fairly simple matter of cutting out a strip of my cotton lawn fabric about 3.5" wide. In retrospect, I wish I'd made it wider, or made two ruffles, but what I did works. In any case, I actually cut out three strips at 3.5" wide: two were the width of the fabric, and one was half the width of the fabric (which was 60"). I then sewed together those long strips and hemmed that new, very long strip (150") with a tiny hem. I cut the length in half so I had a strip for each leg. Then I ran two gathering stitches across the top, pausing at the halfway point of each strip. This way I wouldn't be gathering the whole length for each leg at once but rather one-half at a time. With that done, I sewed together the ends of both strips so I had two long loops. I pinned the top of the strips (the edge with the gathering stitches that ran from the seam to the midpoint of the circle) to the bottom of the legs: I pinned it at the side seam and the inside of the leg, then pulled the ends of my gathering threads until my ruffle was gathered to the right length. This sounds simple, but it took forever, and even so my ruffles aren't as even like I want them to be. I really just don't have the knack for making pretty gathers. You're supposed to stroke them, and I stroked them for all I was worth (wow, that sounds really dirty). Still, it turned out well enough; they look like ruffles, and gosh darn it, they are ruffles. So I'm satisfied.

And with that, the only thing left to do is to finish off the seams on the inside, which is too boring to chronicle here. But it will be done.

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with how this turned out, especially since I was pretty much making it up as I went along. It still reads more as a chemise and less as a pair of split-drawer combinations than I would like, but it's cute, and I'm pleased with it.

Next up: a corset! Now THAT will be an adventure.







A good look at the pale pink ribbon, placket, and buttons.

Hanging on my closet door from the "cat hook of destiny."

My combinations in action! Ignore the socks, if you can.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

. . . And 1917 (the Movie)

The movie 1917 has been getting a lot of buzz. It recently won the Golden Globe for best picture (drama) and is up for the best-picture Oscar. It is, somewhat uniquely, a big feature film about World War One, or the Great War as it was known at the time it happened (because they didn't know there would be a second such war). There simply aren't that many big pictures about that war, and there are a fairly limited number of miniseries about it. Especially in the United States, it's something of a forgotten war, which is a shame because I find it utterly fascinating.

I could go on a few rants at this point, about how my own interest in the Great War began and how I got to where I am today (that is, I know quite a bit about the time period and about general daily-life stuff, but I don't know much about the military movements or about such finer details as uniform, insignia, the exact structure of the armed forces, and so on), or about why the war is so little-known in the US, or on how the nature of the war led to its own obscurity.

But I won't do any such thing. Maybe some other day.

What I came here to talk about was the movie, and suffice it to say that I am not an expert on the Great War, and I'm not a movie critic. But what I do have is thoughts and opinions, so here we go.

1. This movie is excellent. That's the overarching message to take away.

2. The movie is visually stunning, with a rich and faintly unsettling mixture of grand, beautiful, horrifying, claustrophobic, and ugly images. There are spring fields; there are cherry blossoms; there are men being shot and stabbed, and corpses rotting in No Man's Land. There is an awe-inspiring visual of a town on fire, at once entrancing and overwhelming. The trenches are muddy and bleak and felt lived-in (I will note that there probably would have been more mud; it was sometimes knee-deep). Moving through all these spaces on our characters' shoulders as if it were all one long take really brings us into these spaces and let us see them with the eyes of the two young soldiers we follow. The juxtoposition of springtime coming into bloom with the muddy, blasted landscape of war was especially, viscerally affecting.

3. The attention to detail is incredible. Now, like I said, I'm no expert on things like exactly what sort of button someone from X Battalion should be wearing, so there could have been all kinds of errors there, but I somehow don't think so. It felt to me that the director and production designer(s) took the same kind of approach as Peter Jackson in the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old (highly recommended); that is, they made every effort to ensure every detail is as correct as possible. Certain things stood out to me, like the bandages that Schofield pulls from his pack at one point. Soldiers carried massive amounts of gear with them, including a small first-aid kit (later, he pulls out several cans of food that he's been lugging all this time; at one point they both break out their electric torches). I know that's not A Big Deal, but it shows an understanding of what a soldier's life was like and what he had with him and how he would use it.

4. No Man's Land was, I think, appropriately shown. Obviously, there was a reason it was called No Man's Land, and this movie gives a grim demonstration of why. It was an almost literal hellscape, blasted bare down to the mud and then littered with barbed wire, bits of broken things, and the corpses of animals and men (and the rats and flies who fed on them). Aside from being a horrific sludge of putrefying and pointy things, No Man's Land was intensely dangerous. Just sticking your head above the parapets was a risky proposition (hence the trench periscope that made a cameo). Going out into No Man's Land, as our boys do, was just shy of suicide. Men went "over the top" a lot--and often didn't come back, or came back with holes in them. 1917 does an excellent job of portraying on film something of what No Man's Land must have been like in reality.

5. The writing is excellent. For my money, it feels like the soldiers behave appropriately for how soldiers would have behaved in these situations. There is a lot of emotion on display (the anxious, almost panicked expression on Blake's face as they set out is notable), but our characters get on with things, and they aren't dumb (too many movies use character stupidity as a plot point, and it was nice to have the characters act like properly trained, competent human beings). I'm thinking of the point where Schofield shoots a sniper, and, quite properly, doesn't stop shooting just because he thinks he's shot the guy; he keeps shooting as he nears the building and then makes sure to shoot the other guy dead. Although the writing is intense and fairly dense, there is a delightful level of Britishness in the British soldiers, which I appreciated. It would've been easy to take it easy on the British-isms, but I'm glad they didn't. The mordant humor and world-weary nihilism expressed by some soldiers (specifically Andrew Scott's character) was bang-on, too. There is a richness to the dialogue, thanks to subtext (something else that a lot of movies fail at), and there is a complexity that belies the fact that . . .

6. ...There is no backstory. I was perfectly okay with that. I didn't feel the lack of it at all. All too often, movies will stop the action and insert, in some awkward way, a character's backstory. It's usually either an as-you-know-Bob moment or a really forced chunk of exposition. Most of the time, we don't even need that backstory. If the writing is good enough, the aforementioned subtext will tell you heaps more than a block of exposition. In this case, we have enough hints to put together a little about out two main characters, and anyway what's important is their personalities, their mission, and how they accomplish it (or don't). Especially in a war setting, what you did and who you were before the war and irrelevant.

7. The movie is incredibly tense, from beginning to end. Partly because of the "one-shot" conceit, partly because of the music, partly because of the writing and editing, 1917 keeps you on the edge of your seat from the moment our two main characters step into the dug-out and are given their orders. Blake, without hesitation, starts for the front line, with Schofield, somewhat reluctantly, following him. There's really no break or let-up until the very end of the movie. There's always a danger around the corner, or if not a danger something potentially devastating (I'm thinking of the very end of the movie, when the action is more or less over but one of the characters is looking for someone and thinks that person might be dead. There are a few places to make you jump or gasp--and I did both.

8. I do, in fact, have a few minor quibbles. I noticed that, while big artillery guns are show, broken and abandoned by the Germans, and while we see the light from artillery shells passing overhead (I'm assuming that's what the light is), we never hear the guns. A number of things characterized this war, and one of them was artillery. It was, in large part, a war of artillery. Reading the letters of Peter Llewelyn Davies, it becomes evident how omnipresent was the sound of those big guns. They could be heard in England, after all. That being said, I can understand why the constant boom of the artillery wasn't included. It would interfere with things like dialogue and music. So, I'll give them a pass on this.

9. I couldn't help but think that there is no way that such an important order would be sent by two men travelling together and only those two men. Surely, they would have sent another pair by another route, at the very least. In such dangerous territory, the chances of those two men getting killed are too high and the message too important to be entrusted to just them. You need insurance--multiple people by multiple routes. Although, as a friend noted, maybe they just told Blake and Schofield they were only ones, as a way of motivating them.

10. While humans are sometimes capable of remarkable things in extremis, I had a rather hard time believing all that our characters went through. Spoilers ahead! (Really, stop reading now if you don't want to know--you've been warned.) Schofield rips his hand open on barbed wire (tetanus, anyone?) and then puts that same hand into a rotting corpse (so much bacteria--there's no way that hand is not getting infected). He is buried in rubble, gets shot at multiple times, gets knocked down some stairs and hits his head badly enough that it bleeds copiously, is constantly running for his life, and nearly drowns as he's carried downriver. It's remarkable he doesn't collapsed in compete exhaustion, but after all that he sets off at a dead sprint, lifting his knees as he dashes across a bit of No Man's Land. It's hard to believe all that.

11. One last, lengthy thought. I was comparing this to the recent adaptation of Little Women, which I'm afraid I didn't like a whole lot. One reason was the terrible costumes and the lack of attention to or very deep understanding of the time period in question. They didn't take care in Little Women to ensure things were scrupulously correct. But they did in 1917. I realize this is, in part, due to the decisions of particular directors about particular projects, but it's still frustrating and is part of a trend. It seems to me that serious movies about serious things like war--featuring, naturally, men--are treated with utmost reverence. The buttons must be the correct buttons, to honor the soldiers (which, incidentally, is true, as far as I'm concerned). This kind of story does deserve that kind of care, and I applaud anyone who takes that care. What I want is for the same care to be taken for a movie about women on the home front or just in living their regular lives. These kinds of stories don't, apparently, deserve any kind of reverence, and there's no imperative to get the details right, it seems, because it's just women and/or it's just a domestic story. That's the underlying message and assumption.

It gets to a deeper message about who we're supposed to relate to/empathize with and how we're supposed to do so. We are expected to relate without any problem to these soldiers in their perfectly-correct uniforms with the correct buttons, but we can't be expected to relate to women in a domestic atmosphere unless they wear ludicrously incorrect costumes and spout some uncomfortably 21st-century ideas in decidedly 21st-century ways. Actual period dress is off-putting (apparently) if it's a woman, because the only way we can relate to women is if they read as "modern". I posit that we can, and should be asked to, relate to these women as they were, not as we today wish they might have been. Failing to do so defeats the purpose of fiction, which is, at its core, an act of empathy, of getting into and understanding someone else's mind. It does the audience a disservice, because it doesn't force them to examine their own assumptions and it feeds the old, deep-seated idea that different is bad, even when that "different" means "woman from a different time period".

Mostly, this is plain old laziness--"modern" is a crutch to make a character "relatable". The writer doesn't know how to elicit empathy for these characters who live in a different time than our own (usually because they have a very limited understanding of the time period in question), so they just give the character(s) an out-of-place 21st-century attitude because that's a shortcut to getting the audience to relate to that/those character(s). Most often, it's the female characters who are treated this way, particularly in the area of costume. If it's worthwhile to make the men's costumes properly, then it's worthwhile to make the women's costumes properly.

This was a pitfall that this film does not, mercifully, fall into, and overall it is an excellent film that you should all go see (in theaters--I doubt it would have the same effect in person). I hope that the buzz surrounding 1917 will lead to more Great War content in the near future, and I am still waiting for that Rilla of Ingleside adaptation (someone? anyone? Bueller?)