Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour
Or, the Purloined Coronation Regalia

Although I'm not talking about sewing, I am continuing the Regency theme by reviewing the sequel to Sorcery and Cecelia. I must say, I like books that have interesting subtitles. I love the Regency/magic combo. This book was in a journal format, and I like that almost as much as epistolary.
But I am sorry to say, this book disappointed me, in several ways.
  • First off, I was unhappy with the lack of uncomfortable content in the previous book. There was nothing terrible in this book, but there were several things that made me feel uncomfortable. A reference was made to "fallen women," to a girl having "no reputation left to lose," and a veiled reference to prostitution which would likely go over the heads of younger girls. The two worst spots were with Kate and her husband Thomas. First, a scene in which Kate, Cecy and Kate's mother-in-law are chatting, the evening after their wedding. The mother-in-law says something like "you know what you're supposed to do, right" and Cecy replies something to the affect of "How can you live in the country and not know," while Kate says "My aunt explained it once." The book then says that the mother-in-law proceeded to give Kate a better explanation; later Thomas comes in and Kate feels awkward around him, before the scene closes. The second and worst part was when, later on, Thomas quotes part of the current wedding vows to Kate, "With my body, I thee worship," and adds "we'll have some of that later." I was not at all pleased by the authors' insertion of this sort of thing into the book and almost stopped reading. Less bothersome in my opinion, but noteworthy, that there was one or two uses of d---n.
  • Honestly, I found Cecelia quite annoying in this book. At several points, her husband would scold her for doing something foolish, and she would reply with something like "But I didn't die" or "But nothing did happen." That's not the point, woman! Something might have happened and if you don't start behaving more sensibly, the next time something probably will. And I won't feel bad for you. She also seemed to find immorality in women (and the discomfort of men when the subject was brought up) frankly amusing. And when a man was murdered, she and Kate both seemed happy about it. Kate admitted to feeling bad about her cold-heartedness, but Cecy didn't think she needed to.
  • I wasn't a big fan of Thomas, Kate's husband. He was supposed to be romantic but I thought he was just a little annoying and grumpy. Kate was okay. I did like James.

Plus there was something about Cecy which reminded me of Lydia.

The plot was still interesting, and I have still started the third and last book. However, I cannot recommend it as enthusiastically as the previous one. 

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spencer Jackets

As there is limited time for costume changes in the play (and limited dresses for the eleven girls involved), my twin and I were talking about how we give one dress a different look. Since we both love spencer jackets, that was an obvious thought. I had found a pattern several months back that I liked, but being a complete and utter cheapskate, was unwilling to pay $15 for one. My twin thought that it would be easy to just cut the bottom half off of a modern jacket, and sure enough, you can google tutorials for such a thing.
I bought a grey blazer (of a thin, completely-un-period 100% polyester material). I confess that when I get into a project, I just want to finish it, and I neglected to take pictures pre-chopping.
Converting a jacket into a spencer is quite easy — find one that has a top you like, try it on with your dress, and mark on the jacket where the waistline of the dress falls. Then add seam allowance!! I'm not sure if I neglected to do this, or simply failed to mark the waistline of my dress accurately, but when I had chopped and hemmed the jacket, I found that it was too short in the back. Happily, my twin suggested adding a ruffle, like this one:

I had saved the chopped off fabric, so I cut this in a semicircle, ran a gathering stitch along the flat edge, and played around with the look of the back until I was satisfied.

Ruffle pinned on; I also put darts in the back to help it fit me a bit better, as you can see by my bright white thread.

The back of the spencer; the white thread of the darts still show a little.
I then trimmed another piece from the leftover fabric, folded the edges over, and topstitched it onto the back. I like the idea of a jacket being authentic and hand sewn... but I figured its made out of a rather odd stretchy polyester anyhow, so being machine-sewed hardly makes a difference.

With an added band for a more finished look.
My favorite detail: the four cloth covered buttons of which I am quite proud.

If you have never tried taking a picture of your back, it is quite a difficult thing, I assure you.

Happy sewing!

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Regency Fichus (Actually Chemisettes)

Good afternoon, Miss Dashwoods, Bennets, Proudfeet: whoever may be reading.

After finishing the work on the first tail coat, my next object was to figure out how to make a fichu that would stay well for stage. What is a fichu? Kindly observe the next two pictures.

Do you notice the thin white material tucked into the neckline of each dress? That is a fichu. If any more experienced costumers are paying attention to this, correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand, a fichu is a triangular piece of fabric worn as above, whereas a chemisette is more similar to a dicky. See the next two pictures.

Sometimes they have a sort of shirt collar appearance, like Lydia's on the top left, or they may have a large ruff. 
Personally, I prefer the look of the fichu, but unfortunately, the few times I have worn one (that is, used a triangular lace shawl I had), it was extremely fussy. It tended to "ride up" and could only be adjusted in private. Obviously, not very practical for stage.

I found this image of a chemisette about a week ago, and decided to see if I couldn't cut something in that general shape, then mess around with the collar to get it to look more like a fichu.
This is what I did.

Jane, you'll notice, is wearing a fichu, but on the outside, as was also done.
About 2/3 of a yard of white cotton
Straight pins
Cloth measuring tape


Measure from your shoulder to just below the bust (I did about ten inches). Double this number, and add an inch. This is the length measurement.
Measure a shirt from shoulder seam to shoulder seam. Add three inches to that.  This is the width measurement.

Starting from a corner of the fabric, mark 21 inches in one way, then nineteen inches the other way (these are my measurements).

Cut out this rectangle.
On the short end of the rectangle, start at the midpoint and cut straight up as far as your original measurement (for me, ten inches.)

Now measure the circumference of your neck. Divide this by 2π.  From the top of your cut, make a circle by marking the measurement around it. (See the picture.)

Cut out this circle. If you want, stop at this point and hem the raw edges. To make your chemisette have more of a fichu look, proceed.

Cut out two rough triangles as seen above. I put it on a messed around with it a bit do be sure it was comfortable and looked right.


Random note, most of the good examples are from Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Pride and Prejudice (1995). These two movies are (to my knowledge, which I admit is not extensive) extremely accurate in costumes and hair, for both gentleman and ladies. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for their modern renditions (2005 and 2008, respectively). The inaccuracy of those two is somewhat shudder-worthy, actually. (WHY do the ladies wear their hair down???)

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tail Coats

I first got my inspiration for converting an ordinary suit coat into a tail coat from this page. I link to it in fairness, for the idea that one COULD do such a thing would not have occurred to had I not seen it, but really, the tutorial was basically useless. There were a lot of words, which basically said "Buy a cheap coat. Cut it straight across at belly button level in the front. Hem it if you like, or leave it ragged to look edgy."

So I did further research (quite fun, by the way). A waistcoat (pronounced wes-kit) refers to the vest, not the coat. A gentleman would never be seen without his coat, as this would be considered highly improper. 
I noticed, in my studies, that some coats are cut more straight across the front, while others are more curved. In the picture below, you can see that I circled the detail on one coat with has an interesting shape.

Of course this got me wondering, was there any difference between styles? For instance, strapless gowns in our modern world seem more "formal." To their eyes, a sundress and a slip might look pretty similar (does anyone wear slips nowadays besides me?). 
Basically what I found was that the more straight cut was the more modern, while the curved was reminiscent of an earlier period.

With this reasoning, I decided that Willoughby's coat would definitely be the latest fashion of straight across. Mr. Palmer and Robert Ferrars are played by the same guy in our play, so I am going to cut his coat along the same lines.
For John Dashwood (an image-conscious married man) I decided to make it almost straight across, but slightly curved as seen on this very handsome burgundy coat.

For John Middleton and Edward I am taking inspiration from the coat below. It has an older look, but is not completely curved (see Colonel Brandon's below.) John Middleton, I think, has plenty of money to buy the latest things, but being a married man and more of a sportsman than a fop, wouldn't care that much. I really can't see Edward caring at all, beyond looking tidy and respectable.

As a character whose age and "infirmity" is constantly commented on, I have decided to cut Colonel Brandon's coat in the most antiquated style, as shown, basically curving straight down.

I found this photo of the back of the tail coat, so depending on the style of suit jacket the boys bring me, I think I'll just cut a slit straight from waist to hem, and hem the raw edge.

From there I'll just play around with the coats until I'm satisfied. Many tailcoats have buttons in the back, as shown, so if I can find matching buttons I'll add that.

Aaaand the first tail coat (John Dashwood's) in progress. In this rather poor picture, you can see the right side of the coat  is finished, and I just sliced the left side. I used handy-dandy tailors chalk to draw the curve.

That's it for now! Coming up next, fichus!
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Do Wallabies Eat Croissants?

Back in December I mentioned that I was writing a script of Sense and Sensibility for my drama group. Well, we are now in our second month of rehearsals, and now everything is Regency for me. Having read the book 3-5 times, watched the movie several times, and now poured over the words to make a script, for a while I was basically breathing and thinking in Austenese (and still am, sort of. Whenever somebody makes a comment that roughly parallels a quote, I have to resist the urge to quote back. And most of the time fail at resisting).
I love being in this play. Of course, as is always the case, about half the fun of acting is the costumes. My twin and I are kind of in charge of all the costumes, which is very exciting. I have found that in addition to loving sewing, I excessively enjoy costume research.
In hopes that it will prove amusing and enlightening, over the next few weeks I'll be posting pictures of my latest costume endeavors, which shall include:

  • Altering modern suit coats to fit tail coats
  • Figuring out the best way to make fichus or chemisettes
  • Making spencers out of modern jackets
  • Sewing and tying cravats
  • [Probably] sewing one or two Regency dresses from scratch (!!)
I love the costumes from this movie, but I rather hate most of the hats.
I've never sewn a dress from a pattern before, so I'm kind of excited about that. Although, I've found that I actually prefer altering/redoing things to just sewing them.

Good day!
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P.S. Ah yes, the title of this post: there is one unfortunate person in the play who has several times wanted to say "Wallaby" instead of "Willoughby." Add to which that "cravats" somehow reminds me of the word "croissants" in my mind.