Monday, November 30, 2015

Late Sixteenth Century / Early Seventeenth-Century Smock from the Tudor Tailor

For my PhD I've been given funding to reconstruct as historically as possible some of the garments that my research examines, namely, bodies and farthingales (I'm documenting this process on my separate academic blog). Of course in order to show my reconstructions to an audience during a presentation, or even when I'm using them to experiment with movement and size, I'll require a model; and in order for my model to be 'decent' in front of a number of other people she requires a smock underneath!

The Sixteenth Century Smock - An Overview. 

Smocks were the most basic undergarment of all women and men in sixteenth century Europe, and indeed had been so for hundreds of years and would remain so, in one form or another, until the twentieth century. They were made from linen and sat closest to the historical body, were worn underneath every type of clothing, and as a result even the poorest person often owned many smocks.

Throughout the sixteenth century various styles of smocks and shifts developed - from those that were intricately embroidered such as the smock dating to 1615 from the Victoria and Albert Museum below, to those that had elaborate frills around the cuffs and neckline. Interestingly, it was these frills that would eventually turn into a separate accessory in the second half of the sixteenth century - the ruff.

Women's Smock of Linen, linen thread, silk thread; hand-woven, hand-sewn, hand-embroidered, hand-made bobbin lace.England c. 1615-1630. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Smocks and shirts served two main purposes during the sixteenth century. During the early modern period outer garments, especially those made from luxurious fabrics such as silks and velvets, were rarely laundered in order to maintain their condition. It was the smock then that absorbed sweat and other body excretions, and it was this item that was regularly cleaned and laundered instead. Medical theory during this period also viewed the skin as porous and weak and the hot water from public baths or full immersion bathing was believed to create openings for disease such as plague to slip through.  Linen, as a porous fabric, therefore replaced the role of skin in bathing practices, as it was believed to absorb dangerous matter that could then be laundered and removed away from the body.   Thus, instead of cleaning the skin one would simply remove and clean their ‘second skin’ – their smock.

I didn't want to spend a lot of time of my smock, and there was no need for it to be hand sewn, as it's not one of the actual reconstructions that I'm supposed to be doing. So that lovely nineteenth-century invention came in handy: my sewing machine!

The pattern I used for the smock came from Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies wonderful book, The Tudor Tailor. The book provides patterns for two types of women's smocks, and five types of men's shirts. I decided that in order to get the most use of of my smock that I would make option g) a "smock with simple hemmed neck and sleeve." So no fancy period specific neck or wrist cuff, or embroidery.

All smocks during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century were basically the same, they were made from a collection of basic geometric shapes: rectangles, squares and triangles. Although regional differences could exist. The necklines of English and French style smocks such as the styles in the Tudor Tailor differed quite a lot from those of Italian style smocks during this period due to different countries styles, as is evident in the picture below:

Women's Chemise of white linen embroidered with lavender floss silk and gold thread.
Venice, late sixteenth century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

Construction of my Sixteenth Century Smock

Because the basic shape of the smock contains no curved lines, the pattern was easy to scale up onto my chosen pattern paper (which is actually the inexpensive baking/parchment paper from the baking aisle).  I used a lightweight white linen that I bought a few years ago when I was travelling in Vietnam. It's probably not the most accurate type of linen used in smock and shirt making, I feel that it is maybe a bit too see through, but it does the job.

The smock was easy to put together and as I was already sewing it with a sewing machine, I decided not to use period specific construction techniques in regards to hemming and seams (as it would take too long) - so I just did those the same way I would do on a modern garment I was constructing. I've worked out that my favourite way to finish a seam, as I don't own an overlocker, is to leave a large allowance, trim one side down, fold the other side twice and then sew together to hide both raw edges. It ends up looking a little like a french seam.

The only difficult part of this smock were putting together the gussets in the underarm area.


I had to read the Tudor Tailor's instructions about ten times before I attempted them but I'm happy with how they eventually turned out. Then all I did was hem the bottom, the neckline and the arm cuffs and that's it!

Plain neckline

Unfortunately I don't have any photos wearing it yet, but when I finish my sixteenth century bodies I'll make sure to take one!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

1940s / 1950s Inspired Summer Playsuit / Circle Skirt Mash Up

I've been going a bit crazy lately with buying fabrics and I've recently rediscovered the stress-relieving properties of sewing. I've also decided that while I'm temporarily earning decent money from tutoring and marking for the University where I'm doing my PhD, that I'm going to give myself something I've been wanting for a few years: a damn fine vintage and retro summer wardrobe!

On a recent trip to the fabric store I saw this yellow safari / Hawaiian fabric. I had actually seen it before: last year for my birthday my housemate bought me a cute headscarf made from this exact same print. I really adored the print and just had to buy some of it now that the opportunity had presented itself. Plus it just screamed "make something beachy and summery out of me."

As I was already purchasing a lot of fabric that day I decided to only buy 1.5 metres in order to make a short circle skirt or similar, not thinking that I would in fact have enough left over to make a whole outfit.

The first step in this process was drafting a simple circle skirt that would come down to about mid-thigh. I did this using these online tutorials: Birdee Tutorial and MerricksArt Tutorial. Making the skirt was incredibly simple. All I had to do was fold the fabric twice, find out the radius of my waist measurement and cut out a quarter circle out of the corner of the fabric (see above tutorials for more details).

After that I also had to cut out a waistband, hem the bottom of the skirt and then add a zip. For the zipper I decided to recycle one from a top that I hadn't worn in years as I never liked the fit of it.

Is it just me or are tops with zips at the front incredibly uncomfortable and unflattering?
Zip salvaged
Then I just added it to the back of the skirt and it was done!

When I realised that I had 0.4 metre of fabric left over I decided to make a cute top to go with the skirt. But first I had to look for inspiration. I decided that I liked the square/boxy tops of the late 1940s and 1950s:

The top I eventually made was adapted from the bodice of a vintage Junior and Teen 1950s/early 1960s dress pattern that I own, Butterick 9417

The bodice pieces went together easily - really it's just three square/rectangular pieces of fabric with darts added to created shape. To finish, rather than having buttons at the back or a zip, I decided to fasten the top with press studs, which worked quite well!



Overall I'm really happy with the finished two piece and I'm excited to wear my new outfit out one day in the sun!  :)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What's New is Old Again: Converting a Disappointing Online Purchase into a Retro 1940s Tie Top

Previously I've remodeled a hideous "granny nightie" into a Victorian/ Edwardian combinations undergarment with great success. So when I attempted to wear this modern dress for the second time and realised it was still everything I had originally thought - it was too big in general (and thus made me look like I had no waist) and definitely much too big in the chest area and with a lot of overhang in the back. I decided rather than throwing it away or giving it to charity (it had been a year since I purchased it so I couldn't return it), why not remodel it into a cute tie top?

I love 1940s beachwear, and in particular, I love 1940s style tie tops. It seems that I'm not the only one though. Although I couldn't find any pictures of women wearing these in the 40s, there were certainly a lot of sewing patterns produced with this top design, for both beach and lounge wear.

I actually own a vintage pajama tie top from the 40s that I purchased from Viva Vintage (these are their photos but I do own this I swear!), which I adore but probably won't wear that much as I'd like to keep it in good condition.


There are modern reproduction styles that you can buy such as this one from Trashy Diva:

via Trashy Diva

And modern reproduction patterns such as this 'Sunkissed Sweethearts Sarong Separates' from Wearing History:

via Wearing History

I actually own a 1940s pajama pattern that features a tie top, with a slightly different styled neckline to the ones I've posted above, and I will be making this at some point (I have a feeling that by the end of this summer I will own A LOT of tie tops!):

But I thought that this would be a good experiment and a great way to remodel a piece of clothing that I was only going to give away otherwise.

So this is the dress I purchased from the online store ASOS, which accounts for why it fit so badly. Don't get me wrong I like ASOS and they have some great stuff, and this dress was well made, but it was just never going to look good on me. These are the perils of online shopping where you can't try things on!

The front was a lot more gape-y on me

I mean look at that overhang in the back! Maybe on a tiny model it looks fine, but on me - nope!

The waistband was made from a piece of elastic that had been sewn into the seam that separated the top and bottom of the dress. So all I did was cut the top of the dress from the bottom (I've kept the material from the skirt of the dress to use in future sewing projects).

This is what I was left with

Then I cut maybe 1/2" up from the elastic and that allowed me to spread open the fronts of the wrap bodice. Then all I did was hem the bottom, and, voila! Done!

I'm looking forward to wearing this to the beach soon! 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pride and Prejudice... and zombies | 2015 Halloween Costume

I should probably start this post by saying this disclaimer: to be honest I don't really like any of Jane Austen's books, or any regency literature for that matter (shock!), BUT I do love zombies and historical clothing! My Halloween costume was originally going to be a pin up zombie, but when I saw the trailer for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I just knew I just had to go as a regency zombie. I also wanted to carry on the theme of using historical dress projects in my costumes, as last year I went as a French Revolution Guillotine victim and a Victorian vampire. 

The Dress

I've never sewn anything remotely related to the regency era, and I wasn't about to do a really historically accurate project as I knew it would be covered in fake blood that potentially might not wash out. I also didn't want to spend a lot of time fiddling around with scaling up a pattern from Janet Arnold, so I decided to buy Simplicity 4055 as it looked the most period accurate out of all the commercial pattern brands out there and fairly simple (and fast) to put together.

I bought a light grey poplin to make the gown. I chose this for two main reasons: it resembles a light cotton (like muslin) which was a popular fabric choice at the time, and because poplin is a poly-cotton blend I thought that the less natural fibres the less likely the fake blood would stain. I also bought some aged linen looking ribbon to embellish the dress and add to the overall historical undead effect.

The dress went together really easily and the pattern is easy to follow. However, I realised after I finished the dress that because I made view A's skirt from the underskirt pattern pieces (as I didn't want a top skirt overlay), it does not have the pleating at the back that dresses from this period usually had. Doh! Oh well, if I ever do make this again I'll make sure to include it.

The Special Effects Makeup

Of course no zombie costume is complete without some gory special effects makeup. For the makeup I used a combination of different products, mainly: Mehron's Extra Flesh to create the wounds, Mehron's congealed blood as well as some other cheap stage blood, Ben Nye's amazing Bruise and Abrasion wheel, Graftobian's creme foundation in the shade Buff to pale myself down. For contouring I used a taupe-grey shade of eye shadow from MAC called Copperplate, and for the dead looking colour around my eyes I used some brown, burgundy and purple shades from a cheap coastal scents blush palette that I've had for a few years.

I also put one white colour contact lense in my left eye to give a creepy effect (and also because I hate putting in contacts so I didn't want to have to bother with doing both eyes!) I did actually make and wear some fake teeth out of a playdough mold into which I poured liquid latex, to look like my cheek had ripped open exposing the teeth inside. However, after I did my makeup I realised that it didn't actually look like teeth anyway, and I'm not sure whether I didn't use enough latex to adhere it or the movement of my cheeks slowly disturbed it, but it came off half way through the night. But that's okay because it left a pretty disgusting looking flap of skin which actually looked better.

Rather than taking pictures and going through the process I actually decided to film it in time lapse which turned out pretty great. This is an hour or so worth of footage, condensed into a minute. Tell me what's scarier, the start without makeup or the end zombie!

The Regency Hairstyle

For the hair, I decided to channel Elizabeth Bennett from the BBCs production of Pride and Prejudice.


It was pretty simply. On three day old hair (I'm a zombie so it didn't matter if it was a bit dirty) I just parted my hair down the middle and rolled my hair into hotsticks, making sure I sectioned off the curls I wanted at the front of my face. I wanted it to be kinda messy and not perfect, as zombies aren't really known for their perfect 'dos. After I had finished my makeup I removed the hotsticks, took the a small part of hair near the nape of my neck and did two plaits. Then I pulled the rest of the back section of my hair into a high pony tail and bobby pinned the curls into a messy bun at the back. Then I took the plaits and wrapped them around the bun. I let the front curls hang exactly as they'd come out of the hotsticks. To finish I hair-sprayed everything into place.

The Finished Look

Once the my dress was on, this was the finished costume!

And what good is a zombie costume without a brain prop?

I hope everyone had an awesome Halloween! Oh, and yes, the fake blood did wash off - so I'll be able to wear this costume again, hoorah!