Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The light blue dress, and something new...

The dress.

Now then, work on the light blue dress had to fall by the wayside for the last few weeks, thanks to work that had to be done by the re-enactor's market.

That was last weekend, and I've nearly recovered from the run-up to it, so I've started working on it again.

I've been working on the central panel at the front of the bodice area.  If you look at the design, there's an overlap at the centre front.  i've decided that this should be a separate piece, not an overlap of the two sides.
I want to fill this with a sort of beaded smocking. 

I tried making a version with just the georgette, but it was too flimsy to hold the shape while stitching.  I tried using an interfaced layer of satin, overlaid with the georgette, but that was much too stiff.  So I tried a layer of unstiffened satin with the georgette overlay, but that was too stiff.
I basically had the dilemma that I wanted the smocking to only be a layer of georgette, over a flat (unsmocked) layer of satin, but the georgette isn't up to the job of holding the smocking while working on it.


Then, while testing out an embroidery pattern for something else, I suddenly realised - water soluble stabiliser.   So yesterday I cut a piece of stick-on cold water soluble embroidery stabiliser, and marked up the smocking grid on the back.  I stuck it to the georgette and ran the gathering threads, and started stitching the smocking in place.  I'm only about half done, but so far so good!

The 'something new'.

This is a commission, not a 'want to' project, as such.

A "Napoleonic" hussar's uniform.  I use inverted commas for the 'napoleonic' bit, because strictly speaking it isn't.

It's loosely based on a Napoleonic Brunswick uniform, but the brief is that it's to have certain aspects of the uniform, and to be in certain colours, but the exact details are up to me.

The dolman and trousers are to be in black, the trousers to have leather re-inforcement and lace, the dolman to have dark blue facings with black lace and silver lace, and the waistcoat to be dark blue with silver lace.

As it's not a reproduction, I get to use my imagination on this one, and make certain bits of it up as I go along, which makes it much more fun.  don't get me wrong, I can do (and have done) a straight, dogged, exact repro, but there's much more scope for creativity in just 'making stuff up', and that makes it fun!

Anyway, starting with the dolman - the cuff and collar are braided (by hand) in a narrow lurex russia braid.  I've used lurex because I wanted to have a different shade of silver from the wider military lace (which is metallised polyester).

Now onto the waistcoat - the narrow braid (that you can see behind the wider braid, and at the (false) pockets) is the same lurex, and is sewn on by hand, because I couldn't get the loops to behave to my satisfaction with the machine.

The wider braid, in slightly squiggly rows, is metallised polyester (proper military lace.  The pattern of that is taken from an original Brunswick wastcoat (though the fabric isn't dark blue, and it isn't a hussar waistcoat, but an infantry one).

Dame Elizabeth Taylor

I'm in the middle of writing the blog post I intended to write today, but have broken off from it to add this one.

That's becasue I just saw the news on the BBC website that Elizabeth Taylor has died.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch old movies with my Nana.  The beautiful women in beautiful dresses (Ginger Rogers, Vivienne Leigh, Marylin Monroe, etc) were what made me want to be able to make dresses one day.

But the one who inspired me more than any other was Elizabeth Taylor.  (It helped that, like Anne of Green Gables, I was desperate to have a mane of raven black hair, not the silver-blonde-turned-to-red hair that I do have.)

Even now I still have a selection of pictures of Elizabeth Taylor on my sewing room walls.
This is the one that stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw it - the hair, the make up, the dress...

One of the world's great actresses (a double oscar winner), a great style icon (she did 'glamour at 40 and 50 in an age when cauliflower haircuts were the norm), and a great person (she continued to campaign for her HIV charity despite her own severely declining health).

I truly hope she rests in peace.

Postscript - and don't you love it that she purposely arranged to arive late for her funeral!

Monday, 21 March 2011


I am sometimes made to think quite hard about criticism of my work, or critcism of others' work.  I have recently been forced to think about it once more. 

Now, I should really have stated right at the front that I genuinely believe that constructive criticism is a good thing, regarding any aspect of anyone's work.  It helps you to learn, and it keeps you sharp.

Unconstructive criticism, pettiness, and general sniping is not helpful, but extremely hurtful.  As anybody who makes things knows, each piece carries a part of the person who has made it.

The events that have made me feel I have to write about the subject are several... and include (though are not limited to)...

A costumer being roundly slated on an internet forum - this is not me, but another costumer who has had a fairly cataclismic time personally for the last few months, and for whom no slack whatsoever has been cut!  (Obviously I'm naming no names.) 

Somebody asking me for my honest opinion on another costumer, and me being stuck in the really, really difficult position of knowing that s/he was not very good, and carrying all the guilt of trying to convey that to the person asking, as well as the guilt of 'dissing' somebody who does what I do, and doubtless tries as hard as I do.

Fitting a piece of armour to mark for points that doesn't seem to work in the same way as other pieces I've fitted...  I'm not an armourer - it could just be that this armourer does thing differently than those whose work I'm more familiar with.  So do I say something to the client, that something seems not quite right, or do I keep schtum because I'm not an armourer (in any other than the linen sense)?

And more personally... 

Being told by another costumer that I was "very foolish" for staying up for several nights (not in a row) to complete a couple of commissions because
I didn't want to let down the clients... 

Having an armourer (a different one) tell me that he had no understanding of how clothing is cut, but then proceeding to lecture me on how clothing should be cut... (again, obviously, naming no names)...

And finally the most hurtful - a post on an internet forum referring to a piece from my website.  This was a commission for a fancy dress party.  As I say in the bumf below the picture, it's not meant to be historically accurate - it's not based on one extant tunic, it's based on a number of extant tunics.  Clearly, the "3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment" never actually existed. 

Criticisms levelled at the costume were:
that it's not accurate and the Austrian knot work is "wrong", and in the wrong place. 
Yes, true, in the first part.  It's not an exact period replica of a highland tunic - I make no claim that it is (in fact I specifically state that it's not).  It's an amalgam of several highland and non-highland British tunics.   The Austrian knots (and actually the whole cuff pattern) are taken from an extant non-highland British tunic - actually several - of the Bedfordshire, Dorsetshire, and Warwickshire Regts, where the lace appears at the vertically central point of the topsleeve (it does with several other units too, but these were the ones that I based the lace on).

But to be frank, there are so many variations on cuff patterns and lacing patterns in Victorian uniforms - they're different for each regiment, and each branch of a regiment, not to mention each rank within that regiment... and if you take into account private purchases, you can pretty much double it, that you'd better be sure that you've looked at every extant piece, and every picture and read every desription, before you say that something isn't right.

And again, it's a fancy dress costume.  As I have never claimed any accuracy for the garment as a whole, if I had completely made up the cuff and the knot work, would it really matter?  Only to somebody with a rod up their....

- that the tunic doesn't fit, and that the cut is incorrect. 
Simple answer to that one - my client had lost quite a lot of weight at the time the picture was taken, so the tunic is too big.  Much as I'd love to have clients who are like mannequins, i.e. who don't ever change size or shape, I can't - I make for real people.
- that the kilt worn is too short. 
Again true - possibly.  Although if you look at the actual original photographs of things being worn, they are often a lot shorter than you would think if you are only familiar with modern kilts.  However, as I state in the information, I supplied only the tunic, so the length of the kilt is outside of my control (I'm blamed for it anyway though).

The person making these statements did so, clearly, without any thought that I might see, or become aware of them.  In the comments he states that he'd 'happily say these things to [my] face'.  Actually, when he saw me, he did nothing of the kind, and upon being challenged on the comments face-to-face, he responded that he was "only joking" and didn't mean any of it. 
I believe the phrase 'keyboard hero' is often used in these situations, although my own personal term would be 'coward'.

Obviously, that leaves me assuming that he was attempting to build up his own image by bringing somebody else's down, or to make himself feel better in some way by cutting somebody else (me) down.

[Warning - the following paragraph is catty and comes from a place of hurt and defensiveness...] The really invidious thing, though, is that he's a competitor, of sorts.  He doesn't actually make anything (I suspect he would understand precisely how misplaced his comments are if he did) - he imports cheap Indian rubbish of the best* 'tat' variety. 
As this person is well known to have used (modern) Russian military greatcoats as a substitute for American Civil War ones (which aren't the same colour, or remotely similar in style, and don't even have the same number of body panels or the sme shape of sleeve), I'm not certain he'd recognise tailoring or historical accuracy if they came up and bit him on the behind!
Does he declare his interest (i.e. competition) on the posting in which he criticises my work?  Not as far as I've seen.  
*and yes, that's sarcasm, chaps!

He's also extremely rude - in fact, downright cruel (and libellous) - about my client, and calls him several nasty names that only a mean spirited and vicious person would use. 
And that's what really gets me (and is the reason for this mini rant).  I can defend my own work and my research.  I have little problem with that, if any.
I can't defend against school-bully type comments of the lowest order.

I suppose the point of this post is to say that if you have a criticism of my work - or the work of anybody who makes things for a living - be sensitive.
Be conscious of the fact that we invest a piece of ourselves into everything we make, and that it hurts to be criticised unjustly, or in a way that's unfair, or that takes no account of the fact that I'm a human being - but if you have constructive criticism, which could help me in the future, then please tell me.  Don't just moan on a forum or other online venue - tell the person you're talking about!

Anyway, I'll have some interesting work stuff to write about as soon as I've loaded the pictures (and found the camera).