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!