Friday 14 December 2007

Fashion roundabout

Fashion is cyclic. There are very few things out there that haven't been around before and come back into season. The probable exceptions are 'Ruffs' and leg warmers! Even the engineered jeans that were around a while ago, (You remember, the seams wrapped around the legs)? - these were almost a straight copy of saxon 'trews'. Though it's not our business to project future trends in modern fashion, it is quite easy to do. Some trend appears, it tends toward its extreme, then disappears. The mini skirt is a good example of this. The difficulty is that you cannot predict what we call 'design point breakthrough' - which doesn't necessarily appear on the catwalk. I wonder if this scenario actually happened?
"The last delivery from China of 200,000 pairs of jeans have all got the wrong size labels in, Mr Makuza"! "Nonsense lad, they're just err, um, aah, OVERSIZED jeans, new design and all that, Yes, that's what they are"!

Someone once said "Fashion is where you love something today that you didn't like yesterday - and will hate tomorrow"! and one thing is certain, fashions may go round and round - but true style goes on forever.

Saturday 1 December 2007

Local Resources

It strikes me that wherever we live, we ignore local attractions. They slip to the back of our minds and though we make special trips to the Victoria and Albert Museum or similar, we forget local resources. This week we spent a whole day at Tamworth Castle measuring the interpreters for new costume. Kirsty Sherwood and her team are doing a brilliant job at raising the standards and the castles' overall profile. They came in at 4th place in the 'UKTV Historys'' poll of Best Historical Sites and have won prestigious 'Tourist Board' and other awards.
Now, we must have visited the castle about half-a dozen times and still have never had time to actually explore. This time I made a concerted effort and spent a hour looking round this wonderful, though compact site. I was stunned by the artefacts I found and now have a research list for future projects.
I remember Gini once finding a victorian gown at Cusworth Hall with unusual features,which just goes to show. So, A new years resolution for us all in this 'searching-for-knowledge' industry should be, go and see!

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Patterns of the past......

Some people are amazed when they learn that we keep peoples' bespoke patterns forever. Like any good tailor we are able to put our hands on patterns that were made when we first started in the business. We have patterns and toiles all neatly filed away, awaiting the time they are needed. But doesn't the body change over time? Well, yes but it's easier starting from a previous pattern than 'from scratch'. The patterns also act as an educational tool, as research grows and is updated, so we can look back at the old patterns and see if they can be improved.
At the moment we are looking for a new member of staff to join our team and I can guess that a lot of the candidates will say "I learned from my Grandmother/mother/auntie".
Which is always a good start, but the question then arises - and how good was Grandma?
Was she really good enough to replicate the stitching on Queen Victorias' underwear, (which were 32 stitches to the inch)! just a 'home repairer' or somewhere in between?
With patterns and people, I reckon, you have to look back, to look forward!

Thursday 15 November 2007

Braids And Notions

In the 'How authentic' post on here, there's a comment by Gina B who can also be found on the Soper lane forum. We have great respect for these people, who do great research and make narrow wares,notions, passimentarie, buttons etc..At the moment we make most of our own notions - but I can foresee a time...
Getting the right fittings for any costume can be a nightmare, indeed, we received an order of some regimental buttons from a supplier 'across the water'. There's still an echo from the resounding thump as they hit the waste bin! Proper research and manufacture are very important to us. Finding a good Napoleonic button foundry would be heaven!

Talking of research,at the weekend we spent a lot of time with Dave and Miranda from 'House de Clifford' who were discussing the lack of fur on most later period costume. The addition of 'Verre' or 'Minniver', might just solve some of the grey squirrel problem round here!

Monday 12 November 2007

What to wear?........

We had a phenomenal exhibition at T.O.R.M , the enquiries and orders came thick and fast including large commissions from Nantwich Museum and Hampton Court. We also met up with customers old and new and many posters from the living history forum -which is a good resource for those interested in history and related subjects. It was great to meet all of you .
I love multi-period events, the only problem is what period to dress in! If you dress mediaeval, do customers think that you only make for that period or that is your specialism? We, in the end, plumped for Georgian, this time- a good wool suit, high topped wig etc ., for me and Gini in her new dress. I did have to keep the moustache (and thereby look 'french' influenced), but the rest of the bookings I have before Christmas are all for Victorian 'gentleman'!

Friday 2 November 2007

In the frame...

Last week, we have mostly been making stock - but did manage to turn out a redworked, shirt much like this one. A braided tudor doublet with hand made buttons like this , 2 parletts (Georgian) and 2 Regency ball gowns. Err.. no photos. There's the rub. When you're in a hurry and have a deadline to meet you always seem to miss out on the photographs. This means that some of our best production never ends up on the web site. Which is a shame. So if you have any decent photos of any of our outfits please send or mail us a copy. If you're e-mailing, high resolution, 'pretty please'!
I mean, we don't even have any quality pictures of this one for heavens' sake - made a few years ago and at todays prices would cost in the region of £15,000(!), if it was fully hand made again - although there was a nice article on it in 'Revival' magazine a few years ago. Talking of re-enactment magazines, we are told that there will be an article on the Williamsburg wedding in the November issue of Skirmish, which is nice. Newsflash- it may also appear in the Mail 'Weekender' magazine at some point.

Friday 26 October 2007

Measure for measure

Sorry I've not had chance to post lately but we've been snowed under with enquiries - almost as many as the beginning of the season. We always work on the first come, first served basis and perhaps people are trying to get in the queue before we go to T.O.R.M on the 9-11th October. Sales at this show usually extends our delivery dates by a few months for bespoke items. If you've never been to this event, it's well worth a visit, imagine about 100 traders selling costumes and artefacts for all periods of history. To see everything properly it will take you all day to get round, but it's THE place for unusual Christmas presents!
I think that everybody in the historical industry, who is any good, always has a healthy order book which means forward delivery to our customers. (The same doesn't apply to 'off the peg' ranges of course, which we can usually deliver within 14 days). So a little forward planning can save you a lot of problems. As an example we have weddings booked where the production time and schedules are planned over 2 years ahead! If you have a target deadline for your particular event or exhibition, let your supplier know!
But just to get back to T.O.R.M for a second. When you are measured for clothing, your tailor needs to concentrate and it doesn't help if there are twenty people interrupting with "Have you got a?.." or "Can I just take this?....". Help us to help you. If you need to be measured, try and come Sunday morning, when the throng isn't so great and we can give you the time, and the fit, you deserve

Thursday 18 October 2007

How authentic is 'authentic'?

You could start with wool from the right type of sheep, (or the right flax),
Spin & dye using the correct methods, dyes & mordants, weave using
the right loom, weave, thread count and pattern, cut using the right snips
or shears. Make up using the right patterns, linings, stitches and thread,
right types of fastenings, braids, notions. Used all the research available.

But how authentic is it?

Let's presume for a second that you are copying an extant garment.
Has the colour faded? Who wore it? What for? Was it for every day wear or something special? Has it been adapted to change it's size or style since first being made?
All valid questions. I am sure that you'll agree.

And what do you call your copy?
Facsimile, reproduction, replica or reconstruction? The picture on the left, (Based on the Wedding dress of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon) has only 17,000 pearls & glass beads instead of the originals 24,000+ , so we don't call it a copy. We say 'Based on'.

And if the size being made is different from the original, it's not
really a copy anymore - is it?

Most people ordering garments from a tailor are not going to go the
'authentic as possible' route, unless it's for Museum or educational study.
It really is an expensive way to go.But when does compromise go too far? The answer really, is in your court.We will make what you ask for, but fancy dress and 'McHalfords' Tartan car rugs worn by 18th C ' highlanders' is somewhere we won't go.
It's a good idea to do a little research yourself - and be careful of popular

As a friend of ours says,
There is more evidence of pirates with cross bows,
than pirates in 'Bucket top' boots!

Wednesday 17 October 2007


At some shows, people will often come up to admiring the costumes and ask if they have seen us [or the costumes we produce] in this or that theatre
production, film or on TV. Then they will say "I wish I did what you do, it must be so glamorous!". Now, getting to bed at 11pm on the day before a show, having spent all day packing and finishing and then getting up again at 3 am to go to the show; or finding that whenever you look at the clock on the computer, it always seems to say 2.30am, just the date keeps changing..........[Oh no!I just looked up and it's 2.30 am again!]. No, it doesn't feel glamorous - or anywhere near it! But think about this for a moment.

The Chambers dictionary says this:-
Glamour. [noun]
1. The quality of being fascinatingly, if perhaps falsely, attractive
2. Great beauty or sexual charm, especially when created by make-up,
clothes, etc.
ETYMOLOGY: 18c Scots variant of gramarye, an older variant of grammar,meaning 'a spell', from the medieval association of magic with learning.

Now I suppose that what we do is fascinating, and perhaps some may consider it attractive but have a false impression of what is required, [though I do
know we wouldn't give it up!]. It is a given that in a lot of garments, we aim to add great beauty with clothes. Gini does seem to be under some kind of enchantment - I see the effects of that spell on her every time she walks into a fabric shop, mill or anywhere where there's haberdashery. Watching her in creative mode is as exciting and fascinating for me as it seems to be for our customers. When she's spell weaving, it looks like pure alchemy! I can almost hear her muttering under her breath "Take a length of this, the collar of that, the sleeve of this, that braid, this embroidery in that colour, that button. Add this cut of skirt to flatter and that colour to enhance the eyes............"

The Etymology works also, as Gini does use a lot of learning and
adds.........well, just a little magic!

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Cutting your cloth...........

Our cloaks are not inexpensive, but we were contacted lately by a nice chap from Companions of the forest who was raving about them.
At an all day event, where it rained constantly, he was the only one that
was dry.
What's that worth?

We could make our cloaks out of an inferior wool, not melton; we could use a less expensive lining to bring the price down - or none at all.
We won't. Clothes should work.

Years of experience bring, I think, a sort of 'check list', balancing
historical accuracy and currently available textiles, along with
consideration of the environment in which the garment will be worn -and
the customer who will be wearing it!
So what does all that mean?

In the past, we have had a variety of customers who brought cloth for us
to make up that was too heavy, giving for example, a coat which would have stood up on it's own. Another that gave us a silk that was too light, and needed mounting to another cloth to give it the right drape and make it less transparent. See through regency dress anyone? - I thought not!
Yet a third, with too short a running length of material when the one way design was factored in. The list goes on and on......
These all bring about substantial additional costs when having your
garments made.

Consideration should be given to the balance in weight, handle, colour and authenticity of linings & interlinings against the outer cloth.
Similarly, thought should be given to the finishing touches, such as buttons, braids, lace & trims etc.

If we are going to make up from customers' own cloth, we have to see
samples to make sure that it is suitable.
If you are going to supply the cloth, are you also going to provide
linings, interlinings, tapes, buttons, braid, lace etc etc?
Don't forget to add these into the mix.

So what I'm saying, I suppose, is use the experience and expertise of your costumier to give you the garment you need, one with a superior quality of make that is 'fit for purpose' and will last you for years.
Sometimes, that piece from the 'bargain bin' isn't such a bargain after all.

Sunday 14 October 2007


Sue, Jane & Janet, some clients/friends visited us yesterday to finalise the details of their dresses. (Victorian gorgeousness, if you want to know).

While they were deciding on various and arcane silks, Sue happened to mention that one had a lovely scroop, which stopped me dead in my tracks. Scroop? What's scroop?
"The crisp rustle of silk", explained Sue, in that everyday sort of a way she has.
I dashed for Websters' dictionary and there it was. Why didn't I know about this?
What a word! The Victorians thought the rustle of cambric and silk sensual and this word describes it wonderfully!
So don't be surprised in future, if you're asked - 'And what scroop level are you looking for'? or 'Are you bothered about scroop factors'?

Saturday 13 October 2007

Shoemakers' Children

It's not very often that we have clothes to 'play' in and like the shoemakers children going barefoot, Gini & I are always last in line. Yes, I do have various outfits for 'living history' and am frequently employed as 15th C Medieaval, Tudor, ECW,Georgian, Napoleonic and Victorian - but I look on these as work clothes (it can very useful being married to a costumier!).
Now the outfit for the wedding was a completely different kettle of fish! Mine was made from a very expensive reproduction Blue shot* brown silk , provenanced at 1770. Made up to the pattern of a suit held in the Williamsburg archives. The outfit was completed with queued wig, Tricorn, frilled shirt and stock, embroidered stockings, walking cane, fob watch and the shoes were made by one of Britains' best cordwainers - Sarah Juniper. Who, come to think of it doesn't have any children.
Williamsburg Wedding

*Sorry, I can't remember the American term for a shot fabric - somebody remind me!

Ginis' outfit as in the picture on the right. She is wearing a Robe a la Francais, made from a superb embroidered silk embellished with frills of the same material, edged and decorated with gold braid. Worn underneath and therefore not seen, is a lace edged linen chemise, silk stays, pockets and hoops. Ginis' shoes were again made by Sarah Juniper.

To complete the look, she is wearing a wig, hand made embroidered mittens of silk, fine silk tucker, decorated hat and period jewelry.

Thursday 11 October 2007

An Odd Year

It's been a strange year for us, everything from being up to our knees in water at the Berkely Castle debacle-in July (The less said about that the better)! - to outfitting and attending a 'Renewal of Vows' wedding ceremony at Colonial Willamsburg V.A. It was an honour to be invited and a privilege to attend.

What a great place Williamsburg is! We stayed at one of the Colonial Houses-The Chiswell Bucktrout house on Francis street -which was a piece of air conditioned heaven. The Wedding went off swimmingly in 18thC style and pictures are available here slides 10-18. I'll go into greater detail on the costumes on a later post. We still had the time to do plenty of research in the archives and with 'specialists' in various fields and I would like to thank them all for their hospitality, enthusiasm and help in some of the more esoteric queries we had!

It also gave us a chance to meet up with some existing and new clients and it was lovely to meet you all.
You know, working in the 'history industry' is something really special. O.K, we do grouse about ' various levels of authenticity' but, for the most part, the friendliest & most helpful people I've ever come across.
So here's to you - all of you.

Chimera costumes

My wife Gini Newton, is an Historical costume specialist and we run a business supplying Museums, Educational authorities and Re-enactors with quality costume & artefacts.
Some of our customers and friends (and a lot are both)! have suggested that we start a blog to explain some of the finer detail.
So here is our first foray into the world of blogging and I hope you (and we), have fun!