Tuesday 31 July 2018

HSM 18 Inspiration: #8 Extant Originals

The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for August 2018 is Extant Originals: Copy an extant historical garment as closely as possible.

First and foremost, we would like to encourage you to simply give it a go - have fun with it, make that garment you love, find a garment you love, get yourself something you will love wearing. This post - fair warning, it is quite long - tries to compile further guidelines and advice if you want to up your game and do your best.
Sometimes, the idea of doing that may seem just like a very unrealistic dream: for example, I love this c. 1790 silk jacket from Severočeské muzeum in Liberec to bits, but I have not yet come across a good modern version of those late rococo silk brocades with scattered flower bouquets.

With this inspiration post, I would like to guide you towards finding a realistic and perfectly doable version of that dream. You may have to start small, but small steps can eventually lead to a full historical outfit.

Right up front, I’d better clarify what exactly we mean by “extant historical garment” and “as close as possible”.
We certainly don’t insist you actually find a historical garment to physically hold and study and copy exactly. What we want you to do is what many of you already do – find a picture, preferably more pictures, of a garment in a museum collection or on a trusted auction site, and make a garment for yourself (or a family member / friend) that looks as close as possible to it.
(If you’re lucky enough to have physical access to your chosen item, or have an heirloom / personal collection item from the HSM time range you can recreate, that’s a plus but by no means a requirement.)
“As close as possible” is definitely, at least to a certain extent, up to you and your circumstances, just like the historical accuracy of your HSM entries is to a certain extent up to you. If you have not yet, read Leimomi’s post on the various ways of approaching historical accuracy – that alone may help clear some things up.

1790s silk taffetta jacket, Abiti Antichi.
I love this one equally as much, and solid-coloured silks are easier to find. (Although I actually have other plans for this challenge, the comparison serves as a good example.)

What we would like to see with this challenge in particular, however, is a greater attention to the pattern shapes, techniques and details that make a historical garment historical – try to really recreate the construction, the seamlines and trimmings, and get inspired by garments genuinely worn in the period rather than prints and paintings (although those may also offer you insights the extants alone cannot).

The good news for sewing (and crafting) newbies is, there are many, many simple accessories to be found in museums, and the HSM timeline reaches all the way to vintage styles, so you really don’t have to struggle with an elaborate gown or coat for this challenge! You can always make a simple neckerchief, cap, bag, or pair of mitts. Underclothes are also a good place to start, and quite ubiquitous in collections.

1930s silk drawers, Chapman Historical Museum, ID 1992.005.0004. Complete with pattern!

Early 19th century stock, British, linen. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession number 08.187.8

Kendra has a (non-exhaustive, possibly already a bit dated) list of online collections here - that's a good place to start if you're new to this.

It's also a good idea to contact the museum if you want some additional info - often, the process of uploading the images online is half automatic, and the people working in the museum may know more. Try to get in touch with the costume curator if they have one / if they list those contacts, and politely ask specific questions (for example, I once asked what fabric was the 1848 kacabajka actually made of, as several books listed conflicting info, and whether it had any boning in it.)

While the accuracy is up to you, try to make informed choices. And to help you get an idea, I put together some (non-exhaustive!) lists of changes from the original, ones we would absolutely find acceptable, and ones we will rather frown upon.

  • Different colour or print / pattern, as long as it is historically accurate / plausible for the era and garment. (Life is short, money often tight and offer of fabric in modern shops limited. We all face these limitations here.) The good news (another) is that many actual historical fabrics are often crazier and more interesting than we imagine, so - depending on what the shops around you carry - it may not be as difficult to find an acceptable print as it seems at first sight.
  • Fibre content, to a certain extent. It is, for example, next to impossible to get silk trimming braids these days, so a modern alternative (like rayon) is fine – the more like the original, the better, of course. Some fabrics are also pretty much impossible to find (see the 1790s brocade above), but in that case I would advise choosing instead an item that’s easier to replicate in modern materials. Or at least stick to a similar natural fibre (like lightweight cotton instead of handkerchief linen) or a cheaper blend that behaves similarly to the original type of fabric. As usual, try to make informed choices here – try to find a type of fabric that will behave similarly, a similar weight of fabric etc.
  • Especially for earlier eras with garments that aren’t that well-preserved, some guesswork as to the shape of the whole is often necessary, and perfectly fine.
  • Machine sewing (for eras before sewing machines) in places where it won’t be obvious and won’t mess with the period construction techniques (like long seams in skirts or boning channels in stays that will be covered with outer layers). Handsewing everything isn’t for everyone. If handsewing isn’t for you at all, for health or other reasons, maybe pick an item that’s machine-sewn, or that’s simple enough that it won’t affect the construction?
  • Changes to pattern to accommodate a different figure from the original wearer’s are of course OK. Try to stick to the overall seamlines distribution of the original. (You may have to introduce additional darts or gussets to accommodate a curvier figure, or alternately reduce them for a slimmer one – try to do so in a period-like manner.) This may also involve slight variations in the proportions of trimmings etc., again to suit your own figure.
  • And of course, modern alternatives to baleen are not only acceptable but really necessary! Faux fur is also perfectly fine.
    1840s shoes, silk velvet with silk thread and ribbon embroidery, ermine fur, and leather, Russia, worn in Cambridge, Massachussetts. MFA Boston, Accession number: 97.155-156

    Not So Good:
    • Very obviously different seamlines. (E.g., the shoulder seams in many periods did not sit directly on the shoulder but further down the back.) Using a modern, non-historical costuming pattern with non-historical seamlines without the necessary alterations (for example, I've noticed that Burda's "historical" patterns are obviously based on modern pattern blocks and have modern seamlines only loosely imitating historical styles - like princess seams, so that's Not Very Good for the purposes of this challenge - or really the HSM in general). Do pay attention to the location of seams on your original, aside from proper undergarments they are the one thing that really makes or breaks a historical impression!
    • Very different material – like recreating a silk jacket in wool broadcloth or quilting cotton, or a lightweight satin item in stiff herringbone weave, etc. :D Use your sewing common sense, and feel free to ask in the Facebook HSM group (if you're there) if you don't trust your sewing common sense yet. The material also makes the garment what it is.
    • Very different colour / pattern, like using a loud pattern in a garment that was originally plain-coloured, or a very bright chemical-dye colour for an era in which it is not plausible... Avoid modern “photorealistic” prints, and use prints that look appropriate for the particular era.
    • Completely ignoring the construction of the original, like machine bag-lining an item that would have had the lining sewn in by hand, or "replicating" embroidery with a printed fabric.
    • Very different type & style of trimmings. This is one I think is particularly specific to this challenge! Do re-create the garment you chose.
    • Oh, and as always with HSM entries, we frown on doll clothes (unless you decide to recreate a whole historical “travelling fashion doll” from a museum, including the doll - that would be cool and acceptable), and clothes for sale (unless your directly previous three entries were not for sale).

    Well, I hope that more or less covers it in terms of "rules" (don't take that word too seriously ;-) ).

    1750s banyan, Chinese silk, Netherlands. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.797. Also has a pattern online.
     Fellow moderator Bránn has a post about scaling the pattern up to your own proportions that may help you with other scaled-down patterns.
    Earlier-style damasks somewhat like this seem a bit easier to find than later rococo brocades. 

    When it comes to getting the seamlines right, you really can’t go wrong with patterns taken from extant garments. Even if you don’t recreate the very same garment the pattern was taken from, it gives you a guaranteed accurate starting point if you’re lucky to find a pattern for a similar garment. Very often, if you look away from the bells and whistles of a particular garment, the “bare bones” of the pattern can work for many other extants. Changes to take the pattern to the shape of the original can, of course, be worked out in the mock-up stage. And even if you don’t trust yourself with scaling up such patterns, they can give you a benchmark to which to compare commercial patterns and their seamlines.

    There are books with such scaled patterns of extants, so I will try to list some of them – I certainly can’t guarantee it’s all such books currently available, especially because I don’t own a single one of the physical books myself... If you don’t have them yet, it's probably too late to order now (sorry about that, I did start writing the post early, buuut...). You may get lucky in a library, though, or find a costumer living nearby willing to give you a peek.

    • the Patterns of Fashion series by Janet Arnold et al. – depending on the particular book, it covers a range of eras from the 16th to the first half of the 20th century.
    • the series of books by Norah Waugh - Corsets & Crinolines, and The Cut of Women's / Men's Clothes.
    • Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns, companion book to Woven into the Earth, both covering the Herjolfsnes medieval finds in Greenland.
    • Linda Baumgarten et al.: Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790
    • Fitting and Proper by Sharon Ann Burnston
    • Die Kostümsammlung Hüpsch im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt - dissertation by Johannes Pietsch, available online in PDF. It features baroque costumes, jackets and bodices, both male and female, from a range of dates ending with a cca 1790 spencer. (Bear in mind that some of the other 18th century pieces there are theatre costumes.) It also seems to be a pretty nice overlook of various sewing techniques for the era - if you understand German.
    • Regency Women's Dress by Cassidy Percoco
    • Corsets by Jill Salen

    The Museum of London has helpfully organised all of their garments featured in Patterns of Fashion together. Woman's smock, linen, 1600-1618, ID: A21968.

    But yet another good news – and one of the reasons I don’t have any of these books yet myself :-) – is that these days there are already many patterns of extant clothes available online for free.
    I’ve started compiling them in a Pinterest board, so if you use Pinterest, you can head there and take your pick (or give me tips in the comments here for ones I’ve missed!). Some of those patterns are – especially in the earlier eras – more along the lines of a rough draft of pattern shapes, and some – not many, I tried to avoid them, but I think some did slip in – are altered from the original to a different figure. But I make a point of only including patterns that come together with pictures of the original extant garment, and if possible, I pin a picture of the garment, not the pattern, so you can see what the pattern is for.
    It’s rather skewed in favour of late 19th century and early 20th century, but you can still certainly find a variety of eras there, and both women's and men's clothes.

    Dress and chemise associated with Mary Habsburg of Austria, queen of Hungary, 1st half of the 16th century, Hungarian National Museum.

    From cca mid-19th century onwards, there are also approximate patterns from women's magazines floating around online, like in the Godey's Lady's Book (the early issues don't have them). There are also tailoring & dressmaking books, many of which can be found, as linked, on Archive.org (where you can also search for other subjects to see if there's anything else not tagged with those two specific subjects). Bránn has also compiled a list. Some of those patterns come in the form of apportioning scales patterns, for which our member Alyssa wrote a nice explanation earlier this year as she made her own re-interpretation of an extant garment. And Nessa made a tutorial on drafting old pattern drafts like that in Inkscape, if you want to go digital.

     Pattern for "Lady's short paletot" from the November 1856 issue of Godey's Lady's Book.

     1850s silk coat, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art, ID: C.I.52.48.6. Obviously not the same garment, but also obviously following the same very basic seamlines.

    For even a bit later, you can also find magazines complete with their pattern sheets on some library sites. For example, Moravská zemská knihovna has scanned and shared most of the magazines Nové mody and Nové pařížské mody from 1917 to the end of the HSM era (and beyond, so avoid those), and many of the issues come with their pattern sheets also scanned (although many of them have the pattern sheet in a separate folder, so look closely). I wrote down a further explanation of how to deal with them on my Resources page (where I also haphazardly list other neat online resources I’ve come across). Others can be found on other library sites in different languages.

    So the choice of historical patterns available online is certainly quite large these days!

    For example, this blue 1890s jacket in the COSTAR collection - with pattern draft provided - bears certain similarities to many other 1890s jackets you can find online, like this red jacket sold by Antique Gown, or this beige-grey one in the Liberec museum. Moreover, a pattern for a similar jacket could e.g. be cobbled together from the pattern pieces offered in Thompson's Universal System (now unfortunately available only through the Wayback machine, so not all the pages may be there). The fuller sleeves of the Liberec jacket could be borrowed from this c. 1896-98 walking costume in the Danish National Museum. And last but not least, the Sophie Jacket pattern by Wearing History is also built along the same general lines.

    Not only may finding a more common type of garment like the jackets above help you with finding a pattern - it may also help you with finding images showing more of the probable construction of that garment type. (Of course, if you're feeling adventurous and want to try your hand on an uncommon garment, that's even more impressive if you manage it well!)

    I must say I am very excited by this challenge, regardless of whether I manage to make something myself or not: it was my idea. I love poring over museum sites, digging through search results, and collecting images on Pinterest.
    Which brings me to my last verbose piece of advice for this challenge:

    Note that Pinterest, in this process, is only a tool that allows me to save disc space in my computer as I collect images, and link back to the source at the same time. “Only” – not a limitation, but rather a specialisation, akin to your fabric scissors being used only for fabric.
    It took me a while to tease out how best to use Pinterest for my interests. Bránn did, a while ago, write a very nice and detailed post explaining how Pinterest can be used as a highly specialised research tool. Some of those principles are very good for general costuming Pinterest usage. If you use the site more as a creative than academic research tool, like I often do, not all of them may be feasible, but they are still useful things to keep in mind.

     c. 1560 knitted and fulled wool beret, Germanishes Nationalmuseum, T3762.

    Historical costumers usually warn against using Pinterest as a resource because there is a lot of misattributed or insufficiently attributed images floating about, which can be very misleading. And that’s certainly true, and in your historical costuming research, should be avoided and weeded out as much as possible, by following the links to the original webpages and checking the info – if you want it to function really as research and not just loose crafting inspiration.

    It’s also true that museum sites often give more info on the object, which often does not fit into the Pinterest description (I should know, I’ve lost count of the times I tried to fit as much as possible in there and failed...)

    1935-45 ski jacket, wool, double knit, Czechoslovakia. Národní muzeum, ID: H8-18383. The Czech description explains it has a practical double placket that prevents snow from getting inside (sadly no detail pictures of that feature).

    However, thinking about this challenge, and my big museum-site crawls, it occurred to me that the main reason why searching for your extants only on Pinterest may be a bad idea is this:

    You can only find on Pinterest what someone else has put there first.

    Pinterest has helped me find online museum collections I never would have known about. But if I had stayed only in Pinterest waters, I probably would never have found any Czech / Central European items, or would have found them much later. And those of course are of the highest import to me personally, just like you may have a localised interest that won't be covered by the usual suspects... I found most of the Czech items by patiently trawling through various online collections.
    T.G. Masaryk's removable collar, 1920s. Národní muzeum, ID: H8-20161.

    I would not have come across the fabulous 1790s jacket from the Liberec museum, nor the fascinating cca 1905 corset that corresponds to a corset patent that’s available online – because at the time I found those, no one on Pinterest was probably putting things from Esbirky there yet. (And you can look at those posts and my few other "Deciphering historical clothes" posts to see how I go about figuring out an extant garment.)

    And that - unearthing hidden treasures, whether hidden just to you, or to the whole costuming community at large - is why searching online collections themselves can be so much fun, so exciting, and so very informative and inspiring!

    16th-17th century mitts, velvet, probably France. Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts, ID: 15418.a-b
    The Renaissance Tailor has a tutorial for gloves - the same process, but easier for only involving the thumb, should work for mitts, too.

    So dig in yourself, find an item that inspires you and that seems feasible to you, or find a pattern that fits the same criteria and an item to go with it, and re-create some historical fashion.
    Good luck!


    1. Thank you for your inspirational post! Your lists of acceptable vs not-so-good changes were especially helpful in interpreting the challenge.

      I've made a trimmed underpetticoat based on an extant. https://18thcstockholm.blogspot.com/2018/09/hsm-2018-8-trimmed-underpetticoat.html

      1. I'm glad it helped! And that's a fascinating garment you've recreated.