Tuesday, September 10, 2019

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The Isabella Mactavish Fraser Project - Day 2

Georgia Gough wearing the finished Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding gown and arisaid - Edinburgh, Scotland
I'm back with the second day reporting from the Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding-gown-in-a-weekend project, a wonderful demonstration we did with Timesmith Dressmaking at National Museum of Scotland June 29 - 30, 2019.

Bright and early on the second day, Abby starts to fit the gown back and bodice fronts on Georgia.
When we left off, the team had come up a bit short with our day 1 time-target, so first thing in the morning on day 2, we set to fitting the gown on Georgia.

The fitting was done over all of Georgia's underpinnings - shift, stays, bum pad, and petticoat. The pleated back was pinned to Georgia's stays, then the bodice fronts were pinned at the center front closure. Next, the shoulder straps were pinned to the back temporarily and the side back seams of the lining taken up and pinned for a good fit.

The gown front pieces pinned down the center front, ready for fitting through the side back seams to the back panel.

Fiddling with the shoulder straps and back - tricky!
Also during the first fitting, we took the opportunity to fit the sleeves. The Isabella dress has very interesting sleeve construction, with extensions, overfitting, and on-the-fly corrections that we tried to recreate in our dress too. To do this, we purposefully made Georgia's sleeves very tight when her arms were straight, so much so that she could not comfortably bend her arms. The sleeves came off, were stitched, and the cuffs and correction done later on...

A quick fitting of the sleeves on Georgia and our opportunity to purposefully overfit them at them elbows, just like the original gown (although it wasn't on purpose back then!)

Taking in the sleeve seam. This seam was lapped from the outside, so it was quite easy to adjust it.
With the bodice side back seams in the lining stitched, Abby made "the scary cut" of the back skirts where the excess fabric is pleated towards the center back. Also at this point, the lacing strips of the bodice were stitched in, the skirt panels sewn on, and the tartan of the bodice fronts turned and stitched down from the outside along the side back seams.

Abby makes the Scary Cut on the back panel, where the skirts will be pleated into the back. This is a "make or break" moment for all pleated back gowns!

This cut is so scary because if it's too short or too long, the waist won't sit in the right place. It also creates a weak point in the fabric that can tear easily if not handled delicately before being stitched and finished.

Coming together - with the bodice fronts and back fit on Georgia, the gown comes off the body and the pieces are sewn together.
Now is when we kicked it into higher gear, pleating up the skirt panels by eye, basting them, and preparing for the second fitting. The second fitting with Georgia determined how much to fold over at the top of the skirts to level the hem, the placement of the shoulder straps (and subsequently the waist), and the sleeve.

With skirt panels all joined, the skirt is pleated towards the back on both sides.

...but before the pleated skirt is sewn onto the bodice, we needed another fitting! The gown went back on Georgia and we leveled the hem of the skirt by marking and turning down the top of the pleated skirt panels.

Now the gown nears completion. The sleeves are set on the body, the shoulder straps pinned in place for stitching later, and the skirt is turned over at the top.
At this point we ran into *challenges,* not unexpected. As all human bodies are different, Georgia's shoulders were quite a bit wider than Isabella's, so we could not accurately replicate the back of the original gown. The sleeves were set on in a more familiar though no less accurate-to-the-original way, but it is one of the major compromises we had to make with our version of this dress. Lastly, before the gown came off for the final stitching, we fit the cuffs and made the clip at the crook of the elbow to allow Georgia to bend her arms.

After the winged cuffs are placed, Abby makes the correction to the overfitted sleeves - a small snip at the crook of the elbow to allow Georgia to bend her arms. This is on the original and is in my opinion one of the most interesting parts of the story of this gown.
Final stitching was fast and furious. The bodice was back-stitched to the skirts right-sides-together through layers and layers of the thick tartan, causing bleeding and savaged fingers for Abby, Katie, and Peryn. The interior of the sleeves were roughly overcast, turned and hemmed down like the original, and the shoulder straps and outer back pleats were backstitched into submission.

All hands on deck - Katie and Abby backstitch the bodice to the skirts while Peryn, Alex, and myself discuss next steps. This is a difficult part of the project when under time constraint because there are only so many hands that can work on finishing the gown.

We all agree that the way this bodice and skirt was stitched together was.....not the most efficient or cleanest way.....but we recreated the operation as best we could. The skirt was pleated, turned down, whipped across the top, then the bodice was placed right sides together and backstitched through ALL layers.
In the end, we ran overtime by about an hour and the gown was truly barely finished. There are things about it that reflect a rushed construction (like the original!), but seeing the final gown come alive on Georgia was a treat.

Exhausted, hot, hungry, a little frustrated, but the gown got finished!

Georgia Gough modeling the *barely finished* Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding gown late on Sunday evening at Greyfriar's in Edinburgh.

About 14 hours start to finish - the final gown worn by Georgia Gough at Greyfriar's Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland.
 The recreation is now in the care of Rebecca of Timesmith Dressmaking and will be used as an educational tool in the future.

Rebecca Olds with the final gown.
We were honored to work on this project and so very pleased that so many people came and stayed to see us bust this gown out. It was a hard slog, I'm not going to lie - the room was extremely hot, and we had atypical challenges with this gown that sucked the time away with alarming speed. While I don't recommend making a gown in a weekend, I hope that what can be learned from this exercise and the resulting piece will help other historic costumers learn more about this interesting, rare surviving tartan gown, and the role of mantua-makers in Scotland in the late 18th century.

Tired team! From left to right - Flora, Peryn, Katie, Rebecca, Lauren, Abby, Georgia, and Alex.

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Friday, September 6, 2019

Fall Historic & Vintage Shoes - Pre-Order is OPEN!

It's that time of year again - the best time of year - Fall!

Fall is a busy time for us here at ADHQ. We have a lot going on and so much to share with you. Today's announcement, of course, is that Pre-Order (and Re-Pre-Order) is now open for all the new and re-stocked American Duchess and Royal Vintage shoes. Here's what we have going on this season...

American Duchess

New Manhattan Button Boots in grey/black
New! We have two favorite shoes in two new colorways this year, voted on by you:

  • Manhattan Button Boots - Black/Grey - the most-voted colorway for the new Manhattans, the grey sateen tops are paired with glossy black leather bottoms, a 2 inch French heel, and true side-button closure.
  • Mae Edwardian Shoes - Navy Blue - finally some navy! Suede and leather pair on these elegant Edwardian shoes with a triple strap and 2.25 inch French heels.

Gorgeous Mae Edwardian Shoes in navy blue
We are restockings *a lot* of your favorites. They're all available to reserve right now, and delivery will be towards the end of October / early November. These are our best-sellers and most beloved, and they sell out quickly:

Colette Boots - restock!

Londoner Oxfords - restock!

Astoria Edwardian Shoes - restock!

Marilyn 1940s Pumps in Green
We have more new colors and styles in Royal Vintage this season. Thanks to you again, we were able to decide new colorways for older favorite styles, as well as what to bring back from "the vault." Here's Royal's lineup:
  • Aspen Retro Winter Boots - Black/Black & Brown/Cream - we have a restock of our most popular black colorway and we're also adding a brown and cream version and omg are they cute!
  • Claire 1940s Oxfords - Black & Brown - A very requested re-release, we're offering Claire again with a revised toe shape and leather soles.
  • Greta Retro Side-Button Shoes - Olive Green - an updated version of these ridiculously comfortable and styling, true side-buttoning shoes, Gretas now come with leather soles and are *great* for dancing.
  • Harriet 1940s Wedge Oxfords- Brown & Navy - a totally new design on our 2 inch wedge heel. The Harriets are suede and leather and come with leather soles. They're comfortable as heck!
  • Marilyn 1940s Pin-up Pumps - Green - the winner of our color vote, the curvaceous pump is now available in pine green, the color of the season.
  • Peggy 1940s Spectator Pumps - Brown/White & Navy/White - a revamp of one of our first designs, Peggy is back with a re-worked high vamp, improved last, and grosgrain edge binding just like originals.

Peggy 1940s Spectator Pumps in navy/white and brown/white

New Harriet Wedges in brown

Claire in back in brown and black

New Harriet Wedges in navy blue

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019


The Isabella Mactavish Fraser Project - Prep and Day 1

Braining hard on the Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding gown - Edinburgh, Scotland, June 2019
Abby and I are back from our whirlwind trip to Scotland, and I've had a nice little run through the photos. At risk of repetition (Black Tulip and Atelier Nostalgia have both posted wonderful write-ups), I'd like to share some photos along the timeline of the two days over which we made our version of the 1785 tartan dress.

The original 1785 gown was on display in the National Museum of Scotland's wonderful "Wild and Majestic" exhibition, right next door to where we were making the recreation.
The original dress, belonging to the wonderful Isobel Beaton, was on display in the National Museum of Scotland exhibition "Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland." It was a treat to see it in person before we embarked on our project.

We had the honor of meeting Isobel Beaton, the owner of the original gown, who also wore it for her wedding.
Before the big weekend, the sewing team got together to run through the construction points. Abby, Nicole, and I worked on a test dress before we left, working out how the original gown was made, some of it very funky, so we would reduce the likelihood of surprises during the time-crunch project itself. We went over the finer points of sleeves and cuffs, bodice weirdness, lacing strips, and skirt panels.

Also in preparation, Abby cut the bodice and sleeve shapes on Georgia, our model, ahead of the project itself. This would have been a very interesting thing to show attendees, but with so little time (about 12-14 hours total), we decided to do the draping ahead of time.

Saturday morning arrived and we were all dressed in our 18th century clothes and ready to rock. The hard tartan, custom woven by Prickly Thistle, was rolled out and the skirt panels cut then yanked about to sortof re-tenter them, as the fabric coming off the loom skewed a bit off-grain, very noticeably with the geometric tartan pattern.

Rolling out the first yardage for the skirt panels.

The hard tartan came off the loom un-tentered, which meant a fair amount of tugging on the cross to straighten out the plaid.
With the team stitching the skirt panels, Abby set to work cutting out the bodice lining from linen, then the tartan pieces. This took an immense amount of brainwork and triple-checking photos of the original dress to make sure both front pieces, sleeves, and cuffs were cut as closely to the original as possible. We aligned "landmarks," such as the intersection of the triple stripe and the large blue and green squares, to the pattern pieces. Though this took a long time, it revealed the clever cutting the original mantua-makers did with the 26 inch wide tartan, using selvage and flipping pieces for maximum efficiency in their cutting.

Abby lays out the sleeve linings, carefully matching the plaid to the original as closely as possible. This took a lot of back-and-forth peering at photos of the original gown on the iPad, and some experimentation with flipping and rotating the pieces.
With the bodice fronts, sleeves, and cuffs cut out, they went to their respective seamstresses for stitching to the linings and other prep work while Abby painstakingly pleated the back of the gown. The Isabella gown is made with one 26 inch wide panel and Abby was able to work out the center back seam and the pleat width, depth, and positioning to match the original gown as closely as possible, right down to the center back offset in the plaid.

Peryn and Katie stitch the lining and tartan fabrics of the bodice fronts.

Abby works on the center back seam of the gown. The original has a slight offset of the plaid along this seamline, which Abby painstakingly recreated.
By the end of day 1 we had hoped to be at the first fitting, but we ran out of time. Despite missing our mark by about 30 minutes, we did have all pieces prepped and ready to fit and assemble first thing the next morning. Bodice fronts were sewn to their linings along the neckline and front edges; sleeves were lapped and pinned and cuffs were seamed, pleated, and lined.

With the bodice fronts stitched, the lacing strips were pinned into place.
Rebecca responding to an audience question asking about the underpinnings and layers of an 18th century woman's attire.
Stay tuned for the Day 2 post wherein we fit the gown, squeeze Georgia's arms uncomfortably, and speed-stitch to the end.
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