Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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The Curious Polonaise-Sacque Jacket

1780-81 jacket - Glasgow Museums Collection - 1932.51.o

January is Costume A-D-D time. A whole new year lies ahead and we are all brimming with project ideas. Some I've even started and have abandoned for the time being as the new shiny ideas and events crop up.

Latest on my *grabby-hands* list is this amazing 1780-1781 Scottish jacket. What I love about this piece is that it is a bit weird: it is made like a polonaise in the front with loose open edges and a false waistcoat...but it has a sacque back.

The jacket is made from hand-corded linen, lined in linen. It was worn by Mary McDowall, the wife of George Houston of Johnstone Castle in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and is currently held in the Glasgow Museums Collection.

The fronts of this jacket is made like a polonaise, with the front edges flying open and canted to the back by both a pleat in the front edges and a tuck taken close to the side back seam. 1780-81 Glasgow Museum Collection 1932.51.o
Luckily for me, Abby and Brooke Welborn studied this gown and took excellent photos. I can't share these photos, unfortunately, but they've already helped immensely in understanding the quirks of this jacket.

My drawings and notes trying to work out how this jacket was made. I saw Brooke's photos after these sketches so now know there is a tuck in the front piece near the side back seam that helps shape the front of the bodice, typical of polonaise construction.
For instance, the skirts are cut and pleated peculiarly from the side seam to back underneath the sacque pleats, rather more like an English gown than a sacque. The cuffs are put on very interestingly, and the bodice fronts are shaped entirely by tucks. Some things I expect and understand and others make me scratch my head a little. It's the "wait, but why" that always intrigues me most, and the part I most enjoy, though.

The back of the jacket features narrow loose pleats. Curiously the side skirting is knife pleated back and under quite far and the whole waist edge is secured by a lining inside with no laces or ties at the center back, similar to an English gown. 1780-81 Glasgow Museums Collection 1932.51.o

I plan to make a version of this polo-sacque jacket in printed cotton lined in linen and will likely wear it with the green quilted satin petticoat. We do have an event to which I plan to wear this Scottish jacket, but I can't announce it quite yet. ;-)
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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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All About 1830s Corsets and Fan Lacing


One of the biggest questions we get about our 1830s ensembles is about the corsets, so we've made a video telling you all about them:



Both of our corsets were purchased from RedThreaded, who offers several different options. Mine is the "Sylvie" style with cording in the bust and torso, and the curved busk while Abby's is the standard 1830s corset. Both are great and very historically accurate.

Sylvie Stays by Redthreaded - these are lovely
I made some changes to my 1830s Sylvie corset. Since I have such narrow sloping shoulders, I added a single line of boning into each strap to help them stay in place. Corset straps from this period are a bit confusing when combined with the off-the-shoulder gowns. The straps are meant to sit out on the shoulders, but honestly it's easy to see why corset straps disappear later on. Slippy straps were an issue then as now, with various innovations like springs and early rubber elastic used. I went with an earlier technology (1) of a piece of light boning and it worked just fine.

I also changed my back lacing to fan lacing. My obsession with getting dressed myself becomes a challenge with some periods, but luckily fan lacing is very easy and can be done on any corset with cross-lacing eyelets or grommets. Fan lacing allows you to put your corset on over your head, pull up the ties all in one motion, and tie everything off in front for the perfect fit every time. It looks complex, but it's actually very easy. Here's how to do it...



Every set of lacing holes gets one corset lace, so if you have 12 sets of holes you'll have 12 separate laces.

Follow the above diagram for how to lace through the holes. Basically, when you pull both ends of the lace, it draws the edges of the corset together.

Once all the laces are threaded through the holes, pin them to a piece of fabric or cotton tape, etc., all together, on each side. The laces need to be shortened in the middle section, so do this part on the body or a dress form.

LACMA (link) - you can see each lace as it goes through its set of holes
The next part is the trickiest. You need to give yourself enough room to get the corset on and off over your head. I got my laces too short the first time and got stuck in the corset. A good rule of thumb is that you want about a 2 - 6 inch gap in the front where your tabs wrap around and tie. Any less and you'll get stuck; any more and you won't have enough adjustability to cinch in as much as you may like.

LACMA (link) - here you can see how each lace is "corralled" into that tab, which in turn has its own tie across the front of the corset.
Once the laces are adjusted, sandwich them into your little tab bit and securely stitch it all together.

You'll *love* this technique! You can also do it on Regency stays (which I definitely plan to do). Give a try! There is no alteration to the corset itself and you can always go back to regular back lacing if you don't like it. ;-)

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(1) You can see boning in the straps in 18th century stays in Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines.  
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