Butterick 1915 Fashions (and thoughts on trying to KonMari myself out of being a hoarder).

I’ve officially started cleaning out my sewing room / having a full blown not-quite-midlife decluttering crisis and ebay-ing some of my old collected treasures. It’s funny the way my compulsions come full circle given enough time. About five years ago, I was interested in minimalism and simple living and trying to clear out my possessions to have time and space for what mattered most to me. Then I got interested in sewing ephemera and collecting sewing machines, and somehow my sewing room / sanctuary space became overrun with treasures.

Some of this is Asperger’s related, or to put it in non-identity-label terms, my learning style. When I become interested in something, it becomes obsessive, and I learn by immersing myself completely in the subject. I have enjoyed the process immensely, and pattern catalogs and sewing manuals and correspondence courses appeal to so many of my interests – visual art, graphic design, antiques, cultural history, gender history, material culture, crafting – that collecting them has engaged me as little else has.

But now, the cycle of my interests is shifting back to simplicity, and with a new baby and a desire to really move into patternmaking as an action and not just a study, I find that owning all of these delicate historical things is not providing me the same pleasure that hunting and studying it initially did. We don’t have enough room for me to store these things anymore, really. The sheer volume of kids toys we’ve accumulated with one kiddo who shares my hoarder tendencies is unbelievable, so with two, there’s just not room for boxes of books.

And what I want has changed. I want a crafting room or studio space that I can share with my kids without the worry that they might accidentally get ink on some antique irreplaceable thing that I paid a huge amount of money for. (Not to mention life in tornado alley makes a girl a bit nervous about all those 19th century leaflets upstairs when the sirens go off and we all pile in the basement.) I’d rather use the money from selling them to buy fabrics and art materials to engage with. So I’m finding new homes for some of the treasures I’ve accumulated over the years.

I keep reading Marie Kondo and hoping it will stick. There’s a passage in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I keep coming back to:

When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

Most of the things I’ve collected have served their purpose in my life, in that they’ve provided an education and a great deal of inspiration. I scan and reproduce some of my favorites as a history nerd / design passion project, so have the ability to return to the information they contain. So I think I’m ready to clear out the physical bulk and work toward having space and materials to put what they’ve taught me to use in making new designs, doing my own sketches, writing about what I’ve learned about fashion history.

So, if you are a collector of fashion ephemera, feel free to watch my ebay (here). I have so many things to clear out over the next few months. I’ll try to post about some of the things I send back out into the world as I go through the process, because some of the designs and information in them is really fantastic.

I put up a Butterick catalog from 1915 this weekend that has some fantastic illustrations and unique details in it that I figured I’d share here, just as fashion inspiration. I love the influence of the kimono on this era (and have been very into researching kimono inspired garments lately) that started with Poiret a few years earlier but can still be seen in the girdles and sashes and surplice necklines.

 

Some of these designs and silhouettes seem very dated but even the dated designs have details that could be incorporated to give personality to contemporary designs or simple garments. Others, though, if they were done in contemporary colors and fabrics and with a modern hairstyle, you’d never know they were hundred year old designs. The dress with a deep neckline, a sash and the midsection, and the ruffle detail low on the sleeve and skirt would be gorgeous in a light chiffon outer layer and a satin sash in the same color for subtlety or a bright contrasting one for drama, something like cream chiffon with a scarlet sash and maybe some scarlet ribbon detailing at the neckline.

Fashion magazines always appeal to my inner 15 year old art nerd, too. The way these illustrations are done is both pretty and illustrative in a way some eras aren’t. Personally, I like this better than some of the line drawing qualities of illustration in the 1920s and the harsher femininity sometimes illustrated in the 1930s. It’s interesting, too, because these illustrations seem to depict female faces as they would look with heavy cosmetic applications, though women would probably still have tried to keep their makeup applications looking very natural at this point in history, using maybe just a face powder, light rouge, eyebrow pencil, and a tonic on lashes.

The shift of silhouette from the heavily corseted, tiny waistline of the first decade of the 1900s is fascinating. From what I understand this was probably partly due to the popularity of Titanic era designs by Poiret, Fortuny, and others that were inspired by other cultures with a more natural silhouette, but also due to necessity as World War I changed everyone’s lives so dramatically from 1914 onward, changing the daily activities of women, causing material shortages such that designs had to use less fabric, and so many other changes.

The corsets and undergarments really deserve an in-depth post of their own, so more on that later.

Happy Sunday!

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Bicyclists and Cersei and Oz, oh my!

Happy Saturday. A morning of bright, clear light here. Drinking coffee as the rest of the house wakes up.

As sewing goes, I’m happily sewing up little samples of lingerie for different sizes to test, learning about the legalities of garment tags, etc. I’m also mulling a jacket project, in part because Game of Thrones will be back on soon and I’ve wanted to make something power-dressing Cersei inspired since the last finale. And also because suffragette bicyclists in spats and bloomers and epic riding habit style suit jackets has hooked my interest.

 

Remember Miss Gulch from Wizard of Oz? Sure, she was a horrible wretch in the movie, but if Frank L. Baum was writing a story set in 1900, could she also have been a caricature of the New Women of the day? Game of Thrones and bicyclists may not seem to have much in common but in my mind they relate because a) I love cinematic representations of women that involve them not always being perfect and good and angelic but instead as creatures capable of the full range of complicated humanity and as straining in various ways against their prescribed societal roles and b) fitted bodices with high collars as activewear for the WIN. Structure wise Cersei’s ruling with an iron fist wardrobe is not so different from the traditional riding habit/”sportswear” of the 1800s. I’ve always found her wardrobe fascinating; even in her more feminine garb of earlier seasons there was often an element of armor; arguably for Cersei her femininity IS a kind of tactical wear. Cersei as a character is fantastic. We feel for her earlier struggles and can understand why her life made her what she now is, although we can’t condone it. We almost root for her strength and defiance when she is imprisoned and powerless and still threatening Septa Unella. But then she gets power, and she’s terrifying. She’s a complicated representation of human ambition who happens to be female. In 50 years I wonder what humanities scholars will have to say about that in relation to the Clinton campaign. Not that I’m equating Cersei and Clinton, but she’s the closest thing we’ve had to a female president, and the reactions to Clinton are so intense it’s kind of fascinating. ¬†I think especially in her earlier days in the White House the world preferred her playing dutiful wifey and baking cookies and not hyphenating her name, and some of the casting of her as shrew figure by the right (then and now) seems loaded with gender symbolism. She’s got a different field of symbolism to navigate than a man, and, well, the rest is history.

But bicycles…the women circa 1900 seem to have been subjected to a lot of mockery and derision for their chosen mode of transportation. Some things I read talked about people looking at it as scandalous because of the physical exertion, the physicality and the fact that (oh lordy) women were sitting on a seat in such a way, that it meant more outings with the opposite sex. And given the eternal strain of youthful generations against the prohibitions of the old, it must have had some subtly sexy, defiant undercurrents that resonated with some subset of the population because there are some great advertisements of women riding bicycles floating around the interwebz. (There are also a large number of topless Grecian goddess type bicycle women?) Here are some from the era that interest me at the moment:

 

And there are a few surviving garments in exhibitions that have me drooling:

 

So I’ll have to play around and see what kind of GoT watching garb I can come up with. ūüôā

 

(Photos are all from Pinterest searches of things like “Victorian bloomer bicycle” etc. Most are uncited. Some of the great extant garments are originally from The Met exhibitions, and some of the advertising is originally from the French Gallica website.)

Wardrobe Building: Underlayers

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(source)

Happy New Year. ‘Tis the season, I suppose, of navel gazing, doomed promises to oneself, aspirational yearnings. Mine usually involve decluttering and increasing my focus, which is why they typically fail to materialize. My nature is what it is.

I think I have a brain that is addicted to systems and systematizing. I was never very¬†interested in all the fripperies and ebbs and flows of fashion until the last few years of my life. Once I started to see it as a system of recurring variances with social connections that ebbs and flows historically, it began to fascinate me. Now I’m like, excuse me, sir, do you have a second to talk about the recurrence of the flounce as a design element in the last 200 years?

I get really interested in wardrobe planning sometimes, too, but this is where a minimalistic focus might just be able to sneak in to my world. There are some great systems that break down wardrobe creation into addictive little chunks of lists and worksheets like Into Mind’s, here–she has a book and a workbook, as well as a ton of free materials on her website. (I think her system would be great for breaking down things other than wardrobes, too–like my cooking aspirations!) ¬†For a similar system for planning what items to actually sew, ¬†Wardrobe Architect¬†is fantastic too. There are vintage inspired ones, actual vintage ones, French ones, minimalist ones, capsule ones, the blogosphere goes on and on. It is funny the way that a perfect wardrobe seems to carry the promise of success, confidence, grace, coherence. If I can dress like a Hitchcock ice queen, surely my life will fall into place glamorously, yes?

I have emerged in the last few years with a relatively stable sense of my style. I learn toward dark minimalism basics with small touches of bohemian and gothic flair–simple presentation with an air of nostalgia or romanticism. Think Morticia Addams or Vanessa Ives in trousers. Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal¬†with a 1930s closet. Scully in a silk blouse and garter belt under that suit. I don’t do full blown femininity like gowns or dresses, nor do I like to show much skin. But I like little touches like a tailored waistline, cowl neckline or lace cuffs. I secretly wish I could wear a medieval ruff to the grocery store.

My sewing over the last few months has been somewhat guided by this style exploration. I decided to start with underthings, since I’m most picky and least satisfied by contemporary ready to wear in this regard, and because why not start at the bottom layer, my closest fit, the least ease and work my way out? Socks, underwear, camisoles, basic knit blouse shells. I also decided to stop fighting it and embrace sewing with knits–they’re more comfortable to wear, and my wardrobe needs are not at all elaborate since I work remotely. I may love trying to sew Vionnet dresses, but it’s silly for me to spend a month on one that I won’t be happy with and will wear maybe once in five years. But a drawer full of flattering, comfortable knit blouses that have some style to them? Yes, please. Also, since the significant other has been sharing his love of the pajama jean with messianic zeal, I have resolved to one day create a stable knit type pant pattern that can be stabilized enough in the right areas to pass as business casual. Also, I am much more likely to actually do my workout if I can do it in the clothes I have on. The more layers of resistance I have working against me being healthy, the easier it is to say screw it, and as silly as it sounds, not having to change into specialized gear will make a difference.

My New Years resolutions are simple enough–sew a new lingerie wardrobe and discard everything old, worn out or unflattering in my wardrobe. Work toward a satisfying, expressive, inspiring wardrobe guided by my style. Work out more so I feel better, and feel better in my clothes. Eat healthier so that I feel better and have more energy to accomplish my goals. Be more selective in my acquisition of material things, trying to opt for quality over quantity in all things, especially my wardrobe. Work on my sewing/writing space so that instead of being full of scraps and broken sewing machine parts and crafting clutter I have an enjoyable place to do my actual work. Try to acquire fewer things but more experiences of working through problems. Work towards my goals in small, steady increments instead of my sweeping general enthusiasms.

Toward that end, a finished object. Stockings, in the style of the 1700s, self drafted:

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I was going for a somewhat Victorian feel with the self stripe fabric and solid sole.
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center back seam with v-effect when sewn into shape.
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view from the bottom of the sole.
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side view.
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in choosing a stable knit rather than softer rayon spandex of my first attempts, the finished seams look much better and the fit is more stable.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, You Pretty Things: Poiret and the 1910s-20s

Sometimes I have to drown out the ugliness of the world with the beauty of human nature and human works. So this week there have been a lot of kitten videos, avoiding of facebook and beauty for its own sake. Just thought I’d share some of my current happy micro-obsession with Poiret, the art deco fashion illustration of the 20s, and the multiculturally inspired, out-with-the-corset elegance of the 10s. Many of these are Poiret designs, and many are Barbier illustrations.

a valentine offering.

Not much to say in terms of my own life / thoughts these days; feeling hermit-y, I suppose. But I do have this lovely little offering. Tilda Swinton’s speech from the V&A Bowie exhibition. (Original source: here.) I love it so.

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Tilda Swinton at the opening of David Bowie isDear Dave

When I asked you if you wanted me to say anything here tonight

You said ‘Only three words, one of them testicular..’

So i’ll pass that on

Here I am at surely the most eclectic of all the London branches of Bowie Anonymous
All the nicest possible freaks are here

We’re in the Victoria and Albert Museum preparing to rifle through your drawers
It’s truly an amazing thing

This was my favourite playground as a child
Medieval armour : my fantasy space wear

And, alongside, when I was 12 – and a square sort of kid in a Round Pond sort of childhood, not far from here – I carried a copy of Aladdin Sane around with me – a full 2 years before i had the wherewithal to play it

The image of that gingery boney pinky whitey person on the cover with the liquid mercury collar bone was – for one particular young moonage daydreamer – the image of planetary kin, of a close imaginary cousin and companion of choice

It’s taken me a long time to admit, even to myself, let alone you, that it was the vision and not yet the sound that
hooked me up – but if i can’t confess that here and now, then when and where?

We all have our own roots
And routes
To this room

Some of us – the enviable – found the fellowship early in the funfests of Billy’s Bowie Nights
or equivalent lodges from San Francisco to Aukland to Heidelberg and all points in between

For others, it was a more lonesome affair, paced out in a sort of private morse code like following bread crumbs through a forest

I’m not saying that if you hadn’t pitched up I would have worn a pie crust collar and pearls like some of those I went to school with
I’m not saying that if you hadn’t weighed in, Princess Julia would have been less inventive with the pink blusher
Simply that, you provided the sideways like us with such rare and out-there company
Such fellowship
You pulled us in and left your arm dangling over our necks
And kept us warm – as you have for – isn’t it ? – centuries now
You were
You are
One of us

And you have remained the reliable mortal in amongst all the immortal shapes you have thrown

Nothing more certain than changes

Always with a weather eye out
Always awake and clocking the fallout

Those Mayans must have known something when they set their calendar down before
January 2013

Because, of course, now all bets are off

I know, because you told me, how tickled you were to knock Elvis – for once! – out of the headlines on your shared birthday this year

There’s so much for all of us to be happy about since then

Yet, I think the thing I’m loving the most about the last few weeks
is how clear it now is – how undeniable – that the freak becomes the great unifier
The alien is the best company after all
For so many more than the few

They wanted a Bowie fan to speak tonight. They could have thrown a paper napkin and hit a hundred.
I’m the lucky one, standing up to speak for all my fellow freaks anxious to win the pub quiz and
claim their number one most super-fan tshirt

I want to give thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum for indulging us so
For laying on our dream show

For showing us – look at their advance ticket sales – that , as is
written along the bottom of this months Q magazine,
‘why we all live in David’s world now’

To Gucci and Sennheiser for putting up the cash, laying on the sound and vision
To Geoffrey and Victoria for curating an entire universe so beautifully, on behalf of us all

When I think of what it used to feel like once
To be a freak who liked you
To feel like a freak like you
– a freak who even looked a little like you

And then I think of the countless people of every size and feather who are going to walk through this trace of your journey here and pick up the breadcrumbs
in the great hub of this mothership over these Spring and Summer months..

And how familiar and stamped you are into ALL of our our collective DNA

I’m just plain proud

So

Where are we now?

Well
I know you aren’t here tonight, but
Somehow, no matter

We are –
And you brought us out of the wainscotting like so many
Freaky old bastards
Like so many fan boys and girls
Like so many loners and pretty things and dandies and dudes and dukes and duckies and testicular types
And pulled us together

Together
By you
Dave Jones
Our not so absent, not so invisible, friend

Every alien’s favourite cousin
Certainly mine

We have a nice life

Yours aye

Tilly