Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Original Stays

A line drawing is nice, but seeing the original is even nicer.

The extant stays we used for our new pattern follow the convention of fashion fabric on the foreparts (front) only.  With the back and side panels in plain linen.  This is inline with so many other pairs of stays and the mindset of " if it don't show it don't matter".  The ultimate 18th century guideline.

Before beginning to pattern the stays, we needed to try them on a person.  Measurements are good, but there is nothing like having flesh to lace up to determine the actual size of the person the stays were originally made for.  Well, it turns out I was the person.  They fit me perfectly.  They were amazingly comfortable for the short time they were on.  Nothing at all like any other pair of stays I have ever worn.  And no harm was done, it was no different than placing a pair of stays on a mannequin.

The foreparts are green worsted, laced shoelace style over a stomacher.  We are using a repro stomacher since the original is long gone.  I have used the shoelace arrangement for some time.  It does do something different than spiral lacing.  Because you are pulling equally from both sides, it provides more compression and more shaping to the front.  The sides ride relatively high under the arms, but not uncomfortably so.  What the sides do is help control all the wiggly flesh under the arms that most of us have.  Some skinny minnies don't have any, but most women do.  In our workshop classes we call it schwable.

The back of the stays are not quite even steven.  Leading one to wonder, if these had been made ahead of time and then taken from the shelf and made up into the stays.

The back is spiral laced, the top of the stays are bound in white leather, the bottom only in leather in the front sections, the back bottom of the stays are bound in linen tape.  All the stitching appears to be by the same hand.

The front lacing holes are in a much darker green silk/mohair thread so when making the reproduction, I decided to go with the darker green of the silk twist.  There is obvious fading and damage to the outer fabric of the stays.

So a nice worsted was obtained and the sewing begun, using a silk buttonhole twist and linen thread for the back panels.  The original was sewn with 8-10 stitches per inch.  I ended up with 11-12SPI.

One thing a pair of stays will do for you is improve your backstitch.  I started with the back linen panels first, counting threads and by the time I reached the wool, muscle memory took over and the stitches were just as even as counting the threads.  As an apprentice staymaker for many years, I will say this pair was/is my master piece.

I varied somewhat and did leather all around the bottom.  I also decided on artificial whalebone as the boning material of choice.  In the past I have used all kinds of reed, some very good. Riven oak and pounded ash were also good. For a reproduction of a 17th c pair of stays for Plymouth Museum, I did use artificial whalebone and was very impressed with the look and feel of the finished stays.  And the same holds true for these, not only the look but also the feel is just like the original.  Having worn them in mid80 temperatures, I can vouch they are no hotter than anything else I have ever used as boning.  Unlike the zip ties a lot of people use, this is a corsetry product and does not have a memory. In other words it can be reshaped with heat if necessary.   I am happy with the shaping, the feel, the look and comfort level of these stays.  I am hoping they work as well for everyone else.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

New Stays Pattern: Now Available

The 18th Century Wish List

Hand made shoes, 18th century patterned brocaded silks, a well made pair of stays.  What do these things have in common?  They are all pretty darn difficult or impossible to find or when you find them completely unaffordable.  

Larkin & Smith hope we have just shortened that wish list by one item!  A great pair of stays that follow the traditions of 18th century staymaking are now within reach!

The  Front and Back Lacing Stays pattern is printed, envelopes stuffed and available online!

The pattern is taken directly from an existing pair of stays in our collection.  It is available in a wide range of sizes, from a  32 inch bust to a generous 50 inch bust.

Fitting point: take your measure while wearing a well fitting bra. Having the girls up where they should almost be will provide a more accurate pattern size choice.

Many of our customers have told us our English Gown Pattern is like having a workshop in an envelope.  We have tried to do the same with this pattern, and have also taken it a step farther and are offering kits with all the material requirements.

We decided on the good, better, best concept for the materials, but even our most basic kit will yield a lovely pair of stays.  We are trying to knock down the obstacles to obtain a reasonably priced and good pair of stays.  You only buy what you need, so we have varied the kits by size in each category as the larger sizes obvioulsy need more materials.  Keep checking in as our fabrics will be changing frequently, some of them are very unique and have short yardage available.
All the complete kits contain linen foundation fabric, outer covering fashion fabric, linen lining, binding materials, boning and of course the pattern.  Our experience examining extant stays was put to use in the choice of materials available.  No funky colors, weird upholstery brocades or drapery fabrics, you know the ones I mean.  

We are also offering kits in a materials only version for those who already have a stays pattern they have worked with previously. 

You may want to mix and match our stay making supplies and make up your own version of a kit.  In each case, you’ll have everything at your fingertips to create a fabulous, great fitting pair of stays.  And with our detailed instruction guide, even a novice sewer can create a pair of stays to be truly proud of.  

Materials Only Stays Kits-No Pattern Included

The instruction booklet will guide you in making your stays every step of the way.  We have included directions for machine sewing and hand sewing the channels, both versions follow the same instructions for assembly based on the original pair of stays.  Diagrams, line drawings and photographs will provide a spiral bound 18th century staymaker's apprenticeship.  (And it will not take 7 years to learn!)

Making a pair of stays is an investment of money and just as importantly, time.  Stays should fit well, be comfortable, and provide a stable foundation on which to build an 18th century wardrobe.  We think our first stay pattern will meet all of those requirements.  We are very excited about it and hope you all are too!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tying the Knot

No one is getting married, engaged or becoming thunder buddies for life.  We are tying knots today.  A simpler process one could not encounter in all your 18th century projects.

Grab a Ham

Pitfalls: None (just don't fall on the way to get it!)

I have a bunch of hams acquired over the years.  All you need is one.  I like the long narrow one for sleeves when making fringe, but it does not matter in the least for this particular fringe.

For this trim, I happen to have on hand a suitable base with some modifications.  This was purchased because it has the look of the foundation of many 18th century trims.

It is not made of silk, the down side, but rather man made fibers.  The upside is that it looks right, which is really all we can ask.

In order for this trim to work the way I want, the snail part has to be removed.  A small snip.  A pull.  Bye Bye snail, hello foundation.

Tie the Knots

Pitfalls: Not enough silk in your fans. 

Cutting fans too long.

Making fans too far apart.

Making fans too darn big! 

Strand your silk, thread your blunt tapestry needle and get going.  I am using  Au ver a Soie-Soie Ovale, four strands all together.

Tie a knot.  Leave a 1/2 inch tail.  Thread the needle thru the trim.  Tie another knot, leave a  1/2  inch tail.  Trim as needed.  I like my fans to be no more than 3/8 inch long after the knot.  Even smaller if I am making 3 fan or 5 fan flies.

Butting In

We like to pose pictures because it makes them more interesting and it's fun to use period prints and paintings for inspiration. When we were kidding around with this one at the Hermione event, we had no idea it had been posed before.

Dueling butts on Rowes Wharf

Lewis Walpole Collection 1786 #786.05.16.02

This one uses a more modern theme, and it's for you ladies and gentlemen who worked so hard to create some really first class impressions.  And there are no buts about that! 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Larkin & Smith Stays Pattern

It is going to print this week, and the pattern will be available next week for sale.  So what is it like?  Why are we so excited by it?

First,  it is a copy of an original pair in a private collection.  So all the details are straight off the extant garment.  This is not an amalgam of multiple pairs of stays.

It is front and back lacing.  In our classes we are frequently asked for that style for ease of dress, so we decided to make that pair first.  In an ideal world everyone should have both a back and front lacing pair and a back lacing pair.  Many of us are on our own, dressing in parking lots and behind trees, you never know where!

We have been making stays and teaching stay making for over 13 years.  It all started with one of Mark Hutter's first classes in stay making, I fell in love with them and have been making and studying them ever since.

Steph and I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to examine and study 18th century stays in small New England collections such as the Colonial Dames, Duxbury Historical Society, Memorial Hall, Deerfield, Litchfield, Connecticut Historical Society and in larger collections such as the Museum of London, Leeds, Colonial Williamsburg, Liverpool Merseyside, Norwich, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum.

All of that research and experience is brought into the instructions.   It is a spiral bound apprenticeship in 18th century stay making.

Front and Back Lacing Stays 

The instructions are fully illustrated and take you step by step through the process.  Both machine and hand sewing channel directions are included, but even if you sew the channels by machine the stays are assembled in the exact same way as the original pair, by hand.

No weird machine workarounds.

There are two sizes per pattern, starting at size 32 and all the way up to size 50.

We are providing for sale on our website all the materials in a good, better and best format at different price points. Making a good pair of stays should be an achievable project for all budgets.  We will be putting together full kits for sale as well, they will be going up on the web this weekend.

So stay tuned. (yes, the pun was intended).  We will announce when the pattern is up for sale on the site.

Plus more blog posts to come on stays, material, boning etc.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bows in Boston

After all the blog posts, all the controversy re the flowers and hats (did not see any BTW),  all the work of the organizers, the Hermione has come and gone from Boston. Mon Dieu, what a crowd she drew.  Unlike many of the other ports she tied up right downtown.  Tourist central.  Steps from the meccas of Faneuil Hall, Freedom Trail and the North End.  Many of us did not have the opportunity to board, the crowd was so huge, and the line so long.  But that being said, a good time was had by all as you will see.

So how did it turn out?  I was brought to tears (actually was), by the turnout of our women in Boston.  Bows on the Bosom, hair piled high, the ladies and gents showed off the Best of Boston.

The girls captured it. What else can I say.  They were amazing.  

Backs against the wall, trying to find some shade, the variety of colors, hats and gowns were a visual treat.

The photo ops were everywhere.  

The Bow!

The Butts!

Steph and Hal in conference.  What next?  1760s, Newport, Rhode Island!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Seeing Sailors

Jack on a Cruise 1780 Lewis Walpole Collection
Where there are ships, there are sailors and L'Hermione will be bringing French Sailors -- ooh la la!  So be on your guard girls, you may not be able to resist their charms.

Given the number of satirical prints of sailors with young ladies, "chechez les femmes" appears to be their pastime while on shore leave.  Or perhaps it is the sailors who were really the prey?

A Sailor's Pleasure 1781 The British Museum
Easily a look that many young girls could reproduce.  A calico or printed linen gown, print handkerchief, check apron and a black silk covered hat.  Her gown skirts stylishly brought up in the back.

1781 Lews Walpole Collection
Some serious signals being sent out by both Jack Oakham!

An English Man of War taking a French Privateer 1781 Lewis Walpole Collection

An English Sloop Engaging a Dutch Man of War 1781 Lewis Walpole Collection

So careful girls beware those Jack Tars, or should we say Jacque Tar?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fly Foundation

It sounds a little weird, to tell someone to make a foundation for flies, but that is what you have to do.  Make it or buy it.  Flies do not live alone or unaccompanied, or tied onto a random strand of silk.

Fly fringe is mounted onto something.  Another trim, like "snail", which is the period term for trim with even loops along the edges, (it looks like a snail), or a narrow woven or braided trim.  They can even be mounted onto flat silk, but that silk has something going on, it is wrapped around wire,  knotted or braided, the flies are not just knotted onto another strand of silk that is just a strand of silk.

Foundations can be woven on a tape loom by those unpaid interns, or the rest of us can mount them on store-bought trim we have found that is suitable.  But finding that perfect trim is not as easy as it sounds.

So lets look at some foundations.   We can't choose ours until we look at originals.

Traditional Snail Trim.  Very simple back and forth weaving with the gimp traveling along the edge.  Even I could figure this out on my tape loom and I am not a weaver in any way, shape or form.

Ribbon Foundation

This looks like puffs of green flat silk to which files are attached.  It is.  BUT there is a ribbon underneath the green silk keeping the entire thing together. The green silk is then attached to the wavy white trim.

The arrow is pointing to the woven ribbon underneath the green silk.

These dainty flies look like they are attached to just another strand of silk.  BUT that strand of silk is actually silk covered wire.

Here you can clearly see the woven foundation that all these flies are attached to.  It actually becomes invisible with all the flies perched on it, until you get really close up.

Simple woven trim that we are going to copy.

Some sort of a foundation is necessary.  Don't just make files and stick them on a gown, helter skelter.  Or stick them on a strand of flat silk.  If you are going to take the time to make the files, mount them so they will show to best advantage.  In this case, it is actually easier to do it right than to do it wrong.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fanfare for Flies

After looking at a number of complex arrangements of Fly Fringe, here is one that is spectacular and simple.

A shout out to Two Nerdy History Girls for their link to the National Trust, Scotland video of one of the spectacular gowns in their collection.  Follow the link to find more information on the history of the owner.

So traveling to the HD version of the video, I was able to catch some really nice closeups of the gown's fly fringe.  It is a sacque, with a compere front.  They seem to have attached a bow at the base of the stomacher.  A conservator's choice?  Have we seen bows at the bottom of stomachers?  Need to research that!  Not where I would have put the bow.

This brocaded fabric is seen over and over and over again in 18th century gowns.  This trim design is for once, something achievable.  Anyone can make this trim who can tie their shoes!

The stomacher is a working compere, the buttonholes are open and accepting the button, which is silk covered fabric.  But with all that trim looping around, even with all the buttonholes operational, they probably were not used.  But that is speculation.

Lots of single fans, simple knots, no muss, no fuss, just lots and lots of them, grouped in shades of color; blues, pinks and greens.  Some have fans on each end, and some seem to have a doubled loop on one end, and a fan on the other.  Which tells me they did not cut the ends as they came off the stranding board, loosing not one iota of silk in the process.  So what if a few of them had a loop on one end, among the hundreds!

Mounted onto a very simple foundation.  Applied to the gown in single rows.  SIMPLE!

Yet spectacular when seen in their entirety.

You can see how the flies are held within the trim very clearly in this image.

So how can we, with the two hands we all have, and without a room of unpaid interns, accomplish something like this?

We can do it and I will show you how!

Friday, July 3, 2015

More Looks at "The Look" of the Late 1770s

Fashion is really about changing details and accessories.  The uniform of gown, cap, apron and petticoat has not changed a great deal in the late 1770s, but small things have thus changing "the Look".  The more we look -the clearer the look looks!  And the easier it is for us to incorporate the look into our own look.

Let's take a peak at some more lower to middlin' looks of the late 1770's.

Apple picking in a gown and petticoat is easily accomplished with a dashing young man to give a helping hand!  And a pretty darn sturdy looking ladder.   Not too many of us would dare, even in jeans and a T shirt, to go down a ladder face first without help!

Autumn 1779 Lewis Walpole Collection
Some details jump out from this print that we can use to update our impression.

It's that cap again, both on the apple picking lady as well as the one to her left.  The lady on the ladder is clearly the fashionable one with her puckered cuffs and fancy cap and you've got to love the shoes.   The woman to her left also sports the cap and the puckered cuffs.  Height at the crown and curls at her neck, as well as the triangle of exposed hair at the front of her cap shows a much less fashionable look to the girl on the ladder, but still "the Look".

We have not focused too much on one other detail that is an easy update to the look of the late 1770s.  The puckered cuff is an easy way to take your gown up a notch.  Either self fabric or silk gauze will work.  Take off your old cuff and add a new one, instant update, small time and effort.  You can always put the old one back if you want to.

The handkerchiefs are not the enveloping triangles of the earlier decades, but narrower, sometimes tucked in and sometimes not.  What we don't see however, is a lot of overflow and exposure of bosom.

The most modest of females can become extremely showy when wearing 18th century clothing. Honestly.  Sweaty, sunburnt, jutting breasts are a common site at a big event.  Remember this was an age with no sunscreen, a handkerchief is not only a fashion accessory, but also sun protection.

The Pretty Bar Maid 1778 Lewis Walpole Collection
There's that cap again.  Big hair underneath and sausage curls at her neck.  Notice they are horizontal sausage curls and not vertical banana curls.  The bow at center front.  Even the barmaid is not showing her cleavage, so why are reenactors?

Neat colorization of this version.  Pink and green.  Here you can clearly see the bow and stripes on the handkerchief as well as the modest placement over the breasts.  The stripes were most likely woven in, but we can imitate that with applying silk ribbon to an existing handkerchief.

Once again, love those colors.  Yes, they were done with artistic license, but they work visually.  Blue and pink and yellow but all in the same deep tones so they are in harmony.

So after all this, where are we?  Easy Updates.  No Stress.

Bigger Hair triangle of hair showing at center front.

Big Bow on the front of the gown.

Narrower handkerchief, but still covering the girls.

Puckered cuff.

Tilted hat.

You don't need a new gown, apron or petticoat.  Just change a few ways that you wear what you already have to wear, add a couple of easy update details, and call it Macaroni.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer Flies

Flies are not just hanging around the picnic basket!  Silk ones are on the porch and in the kitchen.  Don't ask me why, but summer brings out the fascination for Fly Fringe, so I am rolling with it.

First, the silk.  Years and years ago, I took a class at Colonial Williamsburg with Rick Hill on Fly Fringe.  All that was available at the time was twisted silk, and while the technique was taught, the end product was less than wonderful due to the product we were using.  But I did get the general idea, which is all that matters.

Enter the Japanese Embroidery Center with rolls and rolls of flat silk, in every color of the rainbow.

This makes excellent flies. There is 60 meters per roll. Because of my fascination with flat silk, I have taken quite a few classes on Japanese embroidery and have learned to use the silk as a thread for embroidery.  There are some tricks to working with it, not the least is getting it off the spool with out getting it tangled!

These hints are for working with any of the flat silk products.  The most important trick is to treat your hands ahead of time.  File your nails, lots of exfoliation and hand lotion ahead of time.  No lotion when you are using the silk, but soft and smooth hands won't catch the silk strands.

Once a spool has been started, when not in use, I wrap it in plastic wrap, like Saran Wrap,  so the thread will not get tangled up with other threads in the bin.  Disaster!

At 8.00 a pop, it is not cheap.  The biggest mistake people make when using this product is not using enough of it or buying enough of the colors they need.  You need at least 8 lengths put together to make a good fan.

In order to strand the silks, a simple board (2x3) with two nails at either end works great.  Tie one end to one nail and wrap around until you have half of the number of strands desired.  Then use that strand doubled.  My wrapping board is 5 feet long.

The nails are at a slight angle, and I sanded the board to prevent the silk catching on any rough spots.  So for my 8 strands, I wrap around the board until there are 4 strands.  Cut it off at the nail, thread a tapestry needle with the cut ends, and use it doubled.  This makes the length of silk about 30 inches long, which is workable.

My preferred silk is vintage spools that I found at a local shop, they keep them for decoration, and I buy them for fly fringe.  I have been hoarding them, but finally have enough that I can part with a few, so put them on the website for sale, limited colors, unless I can find more.

This is my favorite because not only does it brush up easily it also is easier to handle and much cheaper, each spool has a LOT of silk.  I use 10- 12 strands, as my go to number.  Each spool is different, so I test out the fans.


My other choice for fly fringe, is the Au ver a Soie brand- Soie Ovale.  Lots of colors.  15 meters per spool, but unlike the JEC flat silk, only 4 strands are needed for a good looking fan, so in the end, the smaller spool price wise is less expensive.

The advantage for someone starting out making fringe, is the ease of handling of the strands of the Soie Ovale.  They are less apt to pull and end up in a clustered mess.  4 strands are easier to work with than 8 or 10. It also comes off the spool easily.  Sounds like a simple advantage, but if you have ever tangled up a spool of flat silk you will understand.

The creamy fly on the left was made with the vintage silk, the green fly with Soie Ovale.

What do you NEED to get started? 

Making Fly Fringe is low tech.  So low in fact there is no tech at all.  The supplies needed are:

A wrapping board, flat silk, needles with big eyes, a good sharp pair of small embroidery scissors, and a ham.  Not a Virginia Ham, or a Canned Ham, but an ironing ham.  And just to make things interesting, a pump spray bottle of hairspray.  I use White Rain.

That's it.  If you don't have a ham, substitute a pincushion.  Seems weird to have a craft that needs so little equipment, doesn't it?  More on the technique soon.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Looks for the Lower Sorts

So what if your impression is not high end?  How do you capture the right look to greet L'Hermione? Even the lower sorts take their cues from the fashionistas.

Spring 1779 from the Lewis Walpole Collection
This print is the inspiration for our "Spring" cap.  The cap shape is typical of the late 1770's, a larger caul with pleated wings.  How the cap is worn makes the difference between ho hum generic 18th century and the late 1770s.  It is set on the head in a way that creates a triangle of hair at the forehead and a tall pouf at the top of the cap.  In order to achieve that height at the top of the head, you need to have hair there.

This can be achieved in several ways.  If you have long  hair a bun at the top of your head will do the trick.  Those with less hair can place a "troll" ponytail right on the top of your head.

And those with short hair can stuff their cap with some tulle or fake hair.  No one will be the wiser, especially if you are wearing a hat.  It is the height of the hair under the cap that makes it so charming.

Note in the colorization of this print, the apron was painted the same color as the gown.  Color prints were hand colored after printing and sometimes interesting errors occur, like the stripe on her sleeve but not on her gown.  But even with those errors, the color combinations look right, not wrong.  Green petticoat, yellowish gown, blue handkerchief and red bow.  An easy way to dress up your lower class handkerchief is the pretty bow.  The bow is a direct knock off from the fashionable gentry.  Also note she is wearing what I would call "sleeves" over the bottom of her gown sleeve.  (but only on one, another colorization error?)  And her pocket is under her apron.  Visible with the paper poking out.

Over at the British Museum, this same print has a different colorist.

Totally different take on the colors in the exact same print.

Let's take a look at another cap -- this one from "The Sailor's Present"

The Sailor's Present 1778 - Lewis Walpole Collection
Notice the same triangle shape of pouffed hair at the forehead and bit of height at the top of the cap.  Once again some neat color combinations to note.  A green hair ribbon, red handkerchief, yellowish brownish gown, white apron and pink petticoat.   No attempt to match the gown or the petticoat with the hair ribbon.  The sailor's present is a bright blue ribbon, and even that goes perfectly with the colors depicted.  Her hat on the ground shows simple ribbon puffs in blue with a bow that hangs off the edge.  A gift from another sailor?

The hat on the standing woman has a slight tilt, not the extreme fashionista tilt, but enough to show us she has something going on with her hair and cap underneath.  No flatheads!.

From these two very simple prints, we can take away a great deal.  The most important is the height of hair, the next is no matchy patchy.  Choose your colors wisely, and they will all work together.  Try being random, pick out the petticoat that is on top of the pile, dive into your ribbons and chose the first one that comes to  hand.  You might surprise yourself with how well it all goes together.