Wednesday 26 November 2008

Blood, Guts and Gores

I've been toying with the idea of adding videos to this blog, or another suitable host. I have but one problem, what would you like to see? Each period seems to have it's own bugbear. On the living history forum here in the U.K, the thing that gets medievalists 'punching the wall' , is the problem of inlaying gores into skirts. For E.C.W. the thing that makes you furious, seems to be tassets. The 18th C 'quandaries of note' are Frock coat tails and stays. A lot of people tell us that they have project that is stalled for the lack of someone to say "try doing this or that". Well here's your chance, to save your sanity! How about a video on measuring to fit? Toiling? What would you like to see? Or, more relevantly, what would be useful?

Monday 17 November 2008

Lethal Beauty

The fashion shows at T.O.R.M were a great success. We were trying to get away from the 'same old, same old' format and instead, concentrated on characters from history. The theme this time was 'Lethal Beauty' bringing in, among others, Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Caravaggio, Lady Ferrars, Dick Turpin, Black Bart, Anne Bonney and Mary Anne Cotton. A lethal collection indeed! The picture shows Rachel from Tamworth Castle trying on her new Medieval Hennin - after her appearance as Typhoid Mary!
The show finished with a WWI soldier going through the actions of the poem 'The Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed. He then presented arms while the 'Last Post' was played. Very moving.
How many people does it take to put on a fashion show? The answer is LOTS - and we'd like to thank every single one of them.

Friday 24 October 2008

Portrait of a Black Knight

Splitting the web albums wasn't that successful as there were still too many shots in the 1700-1920's one, making it a devil to load! So I've done it again, splitting that in to two and making a new album for Victorian and Edwardian - All the albums are here. Ten of costume.

We've also had a couple of good shots sent us, John White provided three pics of his Henry VIII clothing in action
Ian Pycroft of "Black Knight Historical" also sent us the picture shown, wearing his new 18th C. outfit for the first time. He was also kind enough to say that he "Received many compliments - it was worn with much grinning and that he felt like a millionaire..".
Ian runs a lot of Historical events, normally in the East of England. His last event at Mannington was said by someone to be "the best multi-period show ever". Shame we missed it. Still, if you're in the area, Ian is running the Historic Christmas Fair in the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral 12-14th December.

Monday 6 October 2008

Pictures & Dynasties

Various (1700-1820)

It is generally accepted that the medieval period finished at 1485 and this was the start of the Tudor dynasty. It is not so easy to do so in historic 'fashion', as people did not throw away all their clothes just because there was a new king on the throne!
A long time ago we decided to split the time periods like this in our slideshow and so far it's worked reasonably well, except for those customers who are on the cusp of changing periods.
I mention this as I've had to split one of the web albums into two as it was just taking too long to load. Now we have 9 albums that may be of interest to 'the costume conscious' . If you would like to see them all go here.
The pictures will take you to the one I've split. Previously called 'Various', they are now called Various(1000-1700) and Various (1700-1920's).We hope you like them.
Various (1000-1700)

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Tudor Royalty

Elizabeth I
It does seem to be Tudor month here at Chimera, and Tudor Royalty at that. First we had Henry VIII for Mr. White, made from the customers' own materials - with two pairs of breeches, one with codpiece and one without, for audiences of a 'nervous disposition'-or schools! John is a consummate performer and with the anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne next year, we think he will be very busy.Three weeks in production,this outfit!
Next, a costume inspired by the portrait of Mrs. Elizabeth Buxton, in Norwich museum. The outfit consists of ten pieces, chemise, bumroll, stays, (see 'Tudor Bodies' posting) wheel, petticoat, skirt, bodice, Embroidered stomacher, ruff and supportass.This one took one month to complete!
Kirsty does look very regal - and very like Elizabeth I.
King Henry VIII

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Leading Characters

The theme for the fashion show at T.O.R.M this year is 'Lethal Beauty'- in all it's aspects - from dangerous people to weapons and even to make-up. As you will probably know the 'white face' make-up used for hundreds of years contained copious amounts of lead which lead (forgive the pun!), to skin diseases and even worse. One of the best methods of duplicating the 'white face' effect is to use Titanium dioxide and talc. It is best to avoid modern cosmetics as a) They don't give the right 'look' and b) although they won't kill you, they will cost you an arm and a leg!
I must admit I find the only people with white faces that really annoy me are clowns!
If you go to T.O.R.M this year expect to meet up with Henry VIII -and possibly 'Good Queen Bess'
Leading characters if ever there was.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Trades and Guildworkers

A couple of posts ago, I showed you a picture of 'Tudor paned hose" in the process of being made. Originally, a lot of different craftspeople/ guildworkers would have been involved in the making process of certain items. At various periods, Silk workers, Dyers, Weavers, Voiderers, Clothworkers, Fullers, Broiderers, Tailors, Gold smiths, Leatherworkers, Girdlers, Buttonmakers, Hosiers, Hatters, Cappers, Milliners, Lacemakers, Narroware makers, Cordwainers and Ruff makers could all be part of the workforce to put together a single outfit - and what each did changed over the centuries. There are still small numbers of people carrying out these very specialised skills. Nowadays, it is more likely that you'd buy your shoes and belt from elsewhere and your tailors' role has magnified to absorb all those skills that are less available. Traditionally the tailor worked solely for men and the ladies were garbed by competent seamstresses - again, this has changed and most tailors, historical or contemporary, will undertake commissions for either gender. Indeed your tailor may not be a man!
The picture shows the final finished hose - and thanks to the invisible man for modelling them for us!

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Rifleman Harris

We just got back from the Military Odyssey at Detling in Kent. Lots of visitors came to the stand and we had quite a few people collecting finished items including that wonderful actor Jason Salkey and his wife.
Jason was in the cast of 'The Memphis Belle' & 'The Turn of the Screw', but you'll probably remember him better as 'Rifleman Harris' in the Sharpe series. Jason sells a series of marvellous DVDs covering the making of the shows. If you're interested in 'Sharpe', or an hilarious look 'behind the scenes', I highly recommend them.
Anyway, we'd made a new shirt for Jason and he was kind enough to give us an autographed photo saying "as good as the original!".
Gini spent a while repairing his rifle jacket, so the sleeves are now reattached to the body -and it fits over his new shirt nicely.
Sometimes it's not the glamorous items that put the smile on someone's face but it's the simple things - like a new shirt.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Dressmaking & Tailoring.......

I was having on of those moments, as you do, thinking about the words 'dressmaker', 'tailor','corset maker','costumier'etc., I do feel that these don't adequately describe what is sometimes involved in the production of a garment. A Victorian corsetier, in modern parlance, would probably be a 'textile stress engineer and constructor'- and I don't use the word 'engineer' lightly. Making various textiles and other materials work together, in the right way, in the right size, giving the right look, the right feel, giving the right impression and the right wear is engineering. - And precision engineering at that. The Tudor paned hose in the photo are a good example. Getting all the panes to hang in the correct place and manner isn't for the fainthearted. So, would 'Structural Textile Engineer' cover all the bases.. Well no, because that leaves out the design aspect..........
I was brought back to earth when Gini said "I'm just going upstairs to wrestle with a ten pound embroidered octopus......"

Thursday 7 August 2008

A Groom with a View......

I was told yesterday that my previous post was leaving out that poor disregarded person at weddings 'The Groom'. O.K, let's put that right...
You and your bride have agreed on a wedding with a difference - Great, the photographs will never look 'out of date', for a start! Now you're either experienced at this 'dressing up' or you aren't. If you are, you probably know what you want, - if you aren't, you are probably very close to someone who does know what you want! The main thing is relax, this journey can be fun. Once you have your 'theme' sorted, the main question is - are all your guests going to be costumed, or just the main wedding party? Hint- the more are costumed, the more your guests feel 'involved' and the more memorable your wedding becomes.
The picture shows Christian in his 'posh tudor' actually, not at his wedding , but at ours! We had a multi-period wedding where most of the guests were Re-enactors, Interpreters, Historians, Authors, Archaeologists, Musicians etc., so we settled on a wedding that let them all pick their favourite period. No-one let us down and didn't come in costume, but the fact that we were being filmed for T.V could have helped! (The one chap we were worried about, got really into it and spent all day doing '1st person')! So don't worry. Try and get everything in place for your guests to enjoy themselves, then leave them to it. Any glitches are the long suffering Best man's problem. The day is for you and your bride.
Still think you can't come up with an outfit?
You mean that there are grooms out there who don't want to be Mr Darcy???.......

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Brides & Weddings

We are regularly asked to create bridal wear, historical and contemporary. In our experience, some Brides know exactly what they want down to the last spangle*, because it is the dress they've dreamed of since childhood. Others, though, can need some help with the creative process and this can only begin with information - and plenty of it! If you need information, then the most obvious way to get it is to ask and thus the process begins with an informal 'getting to know you' conversation, where Gini may often be heard to ask some pretty strange questions, that may seem have nothing whatsoever to do with wedding dresses……..
Before a bride comes to the first consultation, we ask her to put together a storyboard. This can take the form of a book, a large folder - in fact, it can be as creative as you like and should be visual. Collect images and items that appeal to you - a piece of cloth, an autumn leaf, pictures of landscapes, cars, colours that express mood. And of course pictures of dresses you like from magazines, weblinks…….you get the picture, but more to the point, this helps Gini to get a visual feeling about who you are and what you like. We keep the storyboard from our own wedding on permanent display in sewing room - covering Bride, Groom, Best Man, Bridesmaid & Pageboy.
At a first meeting, a good designer will assess your size and take a really good look at you from all angles [don't forget, your guests will spend a fair bit of time looking at the back of you too!]. They will be able to advise on colours and styles that will suit you and play up to your best features whilst drawing the eye away from any areas that you don't like - and we all have at least one of those! That's really what it's all about, you see…..Finding THE dress for YOUR day. Whether you are choosing an authentic period style, an historically influenced style or a contemporary style, the day is ultimately about Romance and adding those little extra touches which will make you feel so special and your day a dream come true.
* (Spangle -A sequin of our forebears )

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Carriage and Stature.......

An actor once said "It's only when I first put on the costume that the character comes together". We know exactly what he meant. Each period and different status that you wear informs your carriage, mannerisms and abilities. Male, 15th Century wear fits close all over. Tudor paned hose seem very loose, although with a girdlestead, all the weight is carried on the shoulders. The weight of the back pleats in an 18th C. Frock coat forces you to lean back and give the 'pigeon chest', so reminiscent of the period. Victorian gents' clothing just makes you stand upright! The addition of wigs, (no, you can't bend down) Canes, (Learning to bow, with a cane, in the different periods deserves an article on its own!) Kerchiefs, Hats, gloves and other sundries all help the character come to life. Spending a little time on these is well worth the investment. The photo was taken at the 'Festival of History', where we met lots of nice people, including Gina B
who has featured on here before - and there's a lady that likes 'fine details'!

Sunday 13 July 2008

Temporal Fugue

If we were a contemporary tailor, or if we specialised in one small section of history, it would never happen. Clients would just say "I need a new outfit (or in the latest case 35 outfits!), in wool, dull colours". and that would be it. No problem, sorted.

Ah, would that it were. It normally happens late on a Sunday afternoon at shows, when you've seen a few hundred people in 'civvies', or when you've been concentrating on a particularly difficult project for hours. The truis in the picture, for example. Then it happens. You can almost see it coming..

1st Customer "Hi, I'm after a Victorian Gents' outfit".
" Yes Sir, which date in particular?"........(and it's starting)
2nd Customer " Hello, have you any Elizabethan Ruffs?"...
" Of course Sir, plain, figure of eight, lace?".....(definitely on the way)
3rd Customer " Good afternoon, I'm re-enacting the Battle of Neringapatam".
"Err....... "(Temporal Fugue achieved!)

Just for a couple of seconds it kicks in. The Temporal fugue...which is the utter inability to remember dates, whole periods of History or even your own name.

So if you ever contact or meet us, give us a couple of seconds for our brain to 'get in gear'. You may just be witnessing a 'displacement'. It doesn't happen all the time, promise! ;-)
By the way, Neringapatam was a Naval battle off India in 1858, but I knew that, - didn't - I?.....

Friday 13 June 2008


We have here Mr.John White of "Select Society" collecting his new Regency outfit. The first shot is of the silk waistcoat.Lined and backed with silk. The horizontal stripe (at this date), usually shows that the clothes are being worn as'livery'.

With the coat added, the 'character building' seems to be progressing! The coat is a copy of one in the Victoria & Albert Museum, made by the same methods.

It is rather apt that that the coat is a V.& A. copy, as it was due to make an appearance there 6 hours later!

I'm sure you'll agree, very stylish!

New Team Member

Things have been so busy here, that it's been a while since I managed to post. So first of all, let me introduce you to our new team member, Ms Fiona Dowler B.A.. Fiona, although young, (well by the standards of the rest of us here..!), has an honours degree in woven textile design and is an award winning designer, as well as being an experienced art & design teacher. Most importantly, Gini has said that she has a 'fine hand' at sewing.
Seen working here on a tudor kirtle for Loseley Hall, Fiona has a lot of talent and we hope that she will enjoy working with us.

Friday 21 March 2008

Tudor 'Bodies'......

There a lots of pictures on here of things that that have been finished. So I thought, for a change, I'd show you something that has hardly been started! The commission is for a high status Elizabethan and the portrait chosen is one in the Norwich Castle museum & Art gallery of Elizabeth Buxton, by Robert Peake, dated 1588-90. As in nearly all periods, you have to build from the inside out, starting in this instance with shift, 'pair of bodies' and wheel. Over this you build the toile (a canvas 'mock -up')
and then you are actually ready to commence on the gown!

The design for the bodies was taken from the 'effigy' pair in Westminster Abbey (dated 1603),well there are only a few extant samples available to choose from!

The last picture shows the toile in place and it fits well! Now we just have to plan the embroidery, execute it - and make the gown!

Monday 17 March 2008

Fashion Shows...

Wow,what a busy time we had at 'The Original Re-enactors Market' last weekend. This was on top of Gini being asked to produce the fashion show - at very short notice! Visitors from all over the E.U, Canada, America and even New Zealand attended. The theme at this show was 'Costume and the Media' bringing in items from Film and T.V etc., and hopefully, a good time was had by all.

The pictures show Lynne Osbourne, wearing her 'Regency' pelisse and bonnet,just before her 'exit'. The pelisse has a couple of 'secrets' one being that the skirts can be removed leaving a 'spencer jacket' for warmer weather! The other is that the jacket actually closes with hooks & eyes - not 'frogs'.

The next Fashion show, in the Autumn, is on the theme of "Lethal Beauty", so I am expecting to see Lucretia Borgia or Mata Hari perhaps?

Sunday 17 February 2008

A Portmanteau Gown.....

For a certain part she's playing, Sue needed to look 'outrageous and over the top '.
The discussion began with Sue saying "Well, there's that super purple one in the V&A publication , 19th Century Fashion in Detail" and Gini replied "Yes. And then of course, there's that fabulous magenta pink ensemble by Madame Vignon, 1870".

And so the dye was cast. Much "Oh Yes!" and "we could do this and that" later, a design was agreed on. Certain details from the original were kept, other details were added in [as if it wasn't OTT enough to begin with!].

Over 130 hours in production, including over 83 feet of scalloping and 80 feet of 'box' pleating! The materials used were fushia pink silk taffeta, black taffeta, fushia pink crepe backed satin and black chantilly lace. Each part of the outfit is lined with white twilled silk.

It has now been collected along with its' rather weighty technical instruction manual -'Fit tab A into slit B' etc!
Why? She also needed to be able to convert her outfit to fit any date from 1860 - 1900. And to be able to customise it to wear it for any time of day , from morning, to promenading, afternoon tea and ball gown. A tall order and not quite possible, given the evolving shapes through that period, but we managed to satisfy most by:-

* creating a skirt that can be worn over an 1860's crinoline looking fairly plain, worn with the day bodice
* Add in the lace overskirt, change to the evening bodice and it becomes full evening gown.
* Change the crinoline for a 'bustle' petticoat, pull up the hidden drawstrings within and it changes to 1880.
* Add the scallop frilled apron and tailed bustle pad it becomes a day dress
* Release draw strings and it develops a 'train'
* Change the bustle to a frilled 1890's petticoat, let out the drawstring, pull in the back ties underneath and it becomes 1890 evening gown.
* There are many more permutations - discussions are already in hand as to the adding of other bodices and accessories for 'other looks'!

We normally call this a portmanteau gown, but with the sheer amount of frills & 'Frockage' (Sues' word), I suspect it will take a couple of suitcases...........

These photos were taken at a 'try-on' so no wig, no tiara and the wrong corset, but I'll replace them soon as hopefully, we're getting proper pics done next week.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Finest detail......

We do have our favourite historical films here, things like "Dangerous Liaisons", "Restoration" and "Master and Commander"- the costuming in these is excellent.Unfortunately, Television is mostly at the other end of the scale, with a few notable exceptions lately.
With the introduction of HD television, will a higher standard of costuming be found on the worlds' T.V.screens? In the past, most costumes dramas had a certain leeway in as much as you couldn't see the 'fine detail' and it was only a problem to those like Gini who could spot a machined cuff at a hundred paces or even the hidden bits like "she's wearing the wrong period corset under that dress"!(and speaking of hidden bits - the photo is of Alices' petticoats). Hopefully, in the future, more care will be taken with costume and other details on T.V and while I've no problem with 'entertainment' as such, if you're in education, educate.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

With all the trimmings.....

'With all the trimmings' seems to have carried on since Christmas dinner all the way through January, with Victorian and regency gowns taking up a lot of this months production. Gini will often try and work a new piece or new designs just for fun and you can almost guarantee that they will be requested within a year, which is what happened with these trimming sample techniques - they are now being applied to this 1880's Victorian gown.(Isn't it a glorious colour)? We are also producing a shocking pink 'portmanteau gown' for the same event at the end of the month and by this time we also have to complete 4 Regency outfits,1 childs' christening robe and various petticoats and underpinnings. Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself?....