Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Heat is On

Salem Massachucetts is hot. A good time to don 1804 attire and become an accountant in a West India Goods Store for the Annual Maritime Festival. Since the building is normally an NPS office, visitors are slightly confused when it magically tranforms into a store. More so when Kitty fills it with some tiny fraction of her 19th-century collection that isn't for sale.

At left is the stock throughly sweated with heat applied. It dried in this grotesque shape. Lesson learned, reshape the buckram while still wet.

The Cossacks (too late for 1804) are nearly done. All they need are stirrups to pull the fancy toe cutout down over the shoe. Like Rick James. New Morroco braces with springs are in the planning stages, but more pressing matters intrude.

What Cheer Day nears, and will require a gentlemen's 1799 coat. The traditional black wool of a physician, complete with giant collar and lapels should do. Why not make two coats at once? Fort Dobbs Timeline deserves an accurate Maryland or Delaware Continental who fought in the Carolinas. The 1781 regimental coat is a model of cheapness and expediency. The old veterans were not impressed. Still, USA buttons and better than being naked.

Our WCD character, Dr. Bowen will need breeches and some ruffles on his shirt. Rather than retire the Invincibles trousers, why not convert them to breeches?

The tops of the Cossacks are enough to make a child cry. It's the feeling you get when you open a box in a museum collection and ask "who would wear these?" Can't wait to wear the whole mess.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Adventure

Historic homes are a pleasant fiction. Most held generations of families or were sold more than once. They may have been gutted or had plumbing and heating installed. To restore them back to a particular year seems impossible. How do you know how they were before?

First, what walls have been moved/removed? What going on with the stairs? What were the rooms used for originally? Fortunate is the curator who has an inventory of all the furniture by room. Mostly it's guesswork. But what if a direct descendant, living four hours away, offers to donate a bed that was known to be in the house 200 years ago? Just needs to be picked up.  That's an adventure worth having. Kitty's job took us to the wilds of Vermont. Driving a large cargo van is an exercise in faith. Best just to shout "WITNESS ME!" When changing lanes.

The donor is delightful, a wise woman of 85. Like the house it came from, the bed had been upgraded, it's rope pegs cut off to take a modern box spring. The handiwork was unmistakable: small carved roman numerals marked every groove and slot. The hand carved posts are perfection. You know you are in Vermont's hinterlands when Google's hotel and dining recommendations start near Montreal.

Time to tackle the terror of flap pockets. Here is the back of the trousers and pocket (with cover in place.) The top of the bag back will act as trouser front for the waistband. The L-shaped bit at bottom left is where the flap stops and the leg seam begins. It's confusing. There are more photos here. It's easier to assemble the pants first, then sew the pockets together. Just don't sew the flap to anything.

Here is the even more confusing front. The bag front is pinned on, and the L-cuts don't match the trouser fronts exactly. Not a problem since the whole thing gets trapped in the seam. Pleats peek out from the pocket edge, and the stripey bearer lining is evident. The edge of that wonky L-notch on top lines up with the bag back and completes the waistband front.  Next come the waistband, buttons and button holes and the outside leg seams.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


On the left, a trouser front with the bearer and fall welt pinned wrong side along the fall cut location. There is a strip of interfacing on the back centered on the future cut. Kanniks Korner directions have you sew everything, then cut the fall, which was done here.

On the right, the cut is made, the bearer tucked under, and the striped lining whipped over the cut edge. The welt gets folded, origami style, around an interfacing piece. More details are here. Super narrow fall on these babies.

The stock got a band and a five-piece faux bow. This is similar to neckware at GCV right down to the odd detail of both tails in back.  Here it is before gathering for the knot. Anyone who has made cockades or put bows on bonnets will recognize this. Once the bow and band are gathered and knot applied, the band end is sewn down. Stock finished.

Friday, July 8, 2016


So there's THIS guy.

He's hiding in the background of William Sidney Mount's Rustic Dance After A Sleigh Ride. The suit is damn fresh, but check out the pleats in those trousers. Early 19th century fashion went bonkers with trousers. There were tight, lower-calf hugging Pantaloons, Moschettos with feet or shoe tops like overalls. Breeches were still worn for dress occasions, but hipsters wore long pants.

Alexander I brought Cossack dress to London and the result was ridiculous. Think MC Hammer with stirrups. The remarkable number of these that survive in museum collections may indicate how embarrassed their wearers were after one outing in them.  Our hero appears to be wearing a less baggy version.

Holy hell. There might just be enough checked material left, but only if the legs are a reasonable dimension. The pleats might make the wearer look less frog-like. Since the coat turned out well, let's go back to Laughing Moon for the pattern. It includes most waist sizes for all the different crazy trouser patterns from the period, even a cord pattern for Pantaloon Trousers.

Remember the yellow trousers are too short on top and only come down to the ankles. Adding two inches to the top and three to the bottom solves both problems. Hopefully the stirrups will last awhile since they ride on the instep.

Here is the watch pocket bag pushed through the slit in the waistband and interfacing. A self fabric cover hides the bag back. Heaven forbid a bit of white shows when opening your pockets. Next time more stock progress and Cossacks continue.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Know Your Enemy

The sight of a recreated company of properly-dressed, shaved, 18th-century soldiers emerging from the woods their ancestors fought over never fails to thrill. These New Englanders covered 16 miles in two 80+ degree days in New Jersey. Historians among them regaled the others with the actual events of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth, a deluxe battlefield tour.

Camp followers marched with them: stays adding an extra layer of misery to the process. Monmouth County was a wasteland in the late 1770's. The long coastline allowed the British to come and go at will. Escaped slaves were armed by the Crown and returned to torment their former owners. Whigs gave up fighting openly and began secretly retaliating against anything vaguely Tory (including Quakers.)

The Pine Barrens hid a den of horse thieves, pirates, and smugglers. Old religious and county grudges returned. A group of civilian reenactors attempted to recreate this strife for the march, but were thwarted. The lesson is no plan survives first contact with the event site.

At first glance, volunteers/employees and historic interpreters have much in common. They share a love of history and feel strongly about surviving objects and buildings. Sadly, humans fear change and are hostile to outsiders. Negotiations sometimes fail. The volunteers are at the site every day. It feels like home to them. Interpreters can appear arrogant when told a metal bread cooking device can be operated with the feet (hence, toe stir) or a pair of fireplace tongs are for when cows choke (cud-puller.) It's hard to relate to someone who says: "just stand there and don't touch anything." Hours of kindness can sometimes gain trust. In the end "the plan" never trickles down to the people who spend every day on site. The event planners need to be flexible and understanding.

  On a more positive note, here is the buckram Federal neck stock with checked cotton whipped over it. The buckle can be found here, but needs to be removed from it's mount. Another piece of buckram is used for the tongue. The body is lined, and some originals have soft leather chin guards to keep the cloth from fraying.

Next up: a band with a faux bow to complete the project.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GCM After Action Report

Well, it's comfortable. Genesee Country Village's early 19th century weekend made an excellent place to test the Summer tail coat. None of the interior seams are finished, the sleeves are not lined and the cuffs just tacked on.  It was way too hot to button anything.

After some initial confusion, our group of seven and a half settled in two different buildings. Rather than interpret a trade we formed a party of well-off folks at leisure, sketching our surroundings with period implements. Using a camera lucida is remarkably difficult, but that may be because it required a bench.

The old trousers and waistcoat made the outfit bearable, but changes are required. These were fine to start, but the yellow pants are not tall enough, and the linen waistcoat is too long. I find these chaps inspiring. Some checked trousers with stirrups perhaps?

The coat revealed some interesting issues. One arm appears to be 3/8" longer than the other. It may be an anatomical problem. Since the sleeves need to be a tad longer it was easy to roll one cuff down slightly more, and make up the difference on the back of the other.

The maddening droop of the overlapping front is fixable. Kitty pressed her face to one of the displays at Genesee (without even being asked) and found two small internal buttons on a period coat. These engage the top and bottom button holes of the right front to hold it up.  Time to whip over the cut lining edges, line the sleeves, and return to the blue neck stock. Last, trousers and a short waist coat.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pad Stitching Continued

The clock is ticking. Better to race to finish things rather than enjoy the process. Communing with harassed ancestors is what it's all about.  This is the first project with two layers of interfacing, the lining stuff is much lighter. Widely spaced pad stitching holds it over the shoulder to the back.

The right front lining gets a pocket. Here is the bag front stitched on and pushed through the opening. A welt will cover the hole. There is a surviving Federal tail coat with welted pockets on the outside of the tails too, so that's next. It also has simple turn back cuffs.

Another interesting feature is the lining back yoke. Often these are just a flap, this one gets some firm interfacing and a light pad stitch. Here it's sitting on a linen waistcoat and shirt for fit. In period garments this just hangs down, sometimes the bottom edge is pinked. It provides a broad foundation for the horse collar to come.

Strange as it sounds at first, the outer collar is sewn to this neck edge. The under collar, with all it's pad stitching is sewn to the coat body. Furious pad stitching on the lapels holds them up. Where they meet the collar needs to be resolved before the lining goes in. Stay tuned.