Tuesday 24 November 2009

Historical Fashion Review

Fashion Show November 2009
"Wow"! seemed to be the reaction from all the audience at the Historical Fashion Review at TORM last weekend. We've had lots of e-mails all ready. C.B wrote
 "My friends and I ALL forgot to bring our cameras with us, which was very annoying.   It was a marvellous parade and it was great to be able to talk to people and to see the costumes at close hand and pick up some tips.   You are all so talented!"  Even the participants  had a great time, which is lovely as they all donate their time and expertise gratis. Some of the ensembles in the review were truly amazing and we  thank all the other costumiers for their efforts. Debbie Lough Costumes, My Lady's Wardrobe, Harman Hay, Prior Attire, Sarah Gilkes, Cloak'd & Dagger'd, Anne Laverick, Janes' Wardrobe, Amourclass,  Jo Badger Historic Costumes and Dressing History. Other organisations helped as well, Chris Bruce from Plantaganet Events, Ian Pyecroft from Black Knight Historical, Kirsty Sherwood and Rachel  Wanklin from Tamworth Castle,  Lin from Birmingham Museum and a big thank you to all the costumiers customers and models, who 'strutted their stuff' (but VERY elegantly!). Thanks to all the 'dressers', stage managers, sound and light technicians who helped put some extra features into the show.
Apart from the fashion show, we met some of our 'mail order' customers from abroad for the first time. It was lovely to meet you all and we hope you enjoyed your stay in England. This show is getting very cosmopolitan and the number of visitors from other countries is astounding!

Sunday 1 November 2009

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!

A Town criers' clothing from the early part of the 18th Century. The client is the crier for Castle Donnington, a town in the midlands, which has had a town crier since the late 1200's!
 This position going back so far, Terry decided that he ought to have an earlier costume than most town criers, who usually decide on a  coachmans  coat  from the regency or early victorian - and because he liked the style!

I am aware that this blog is read in over 20 countries, so I'd better explain what a 'crier' did.
Really, he was  a town officer who made public proclamations, normally using a trumpet or bell to gain the attention of the crowd, before bellowing the news or public notices as loudly as he possibly could! Usually announcing his presence by shouting 'Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! (or similar, it seems nobody can decide or find out what was originally done)!

Competitions are held throughout Britain for the loudest and best dressed crier - We think that Terry is in with a shout - for both categories!

Wednesday 7 October 2009

French Hood & Feedback

We got some feedback on our first French hood kit this week :-
"Hi Gini, I think overall it took me about 10 hours. I had to hand sew nearly all including the French seams as my machine died whilst tackling the buckram early doors!. I really enjoyed making it, and it was fantastic value. I only added some more billaments from a local fantastic craft shop I found in Retford. The one really tricky part was the sewing of the final linen lining in the finished coif. Thanks for all your help it was a great experience bringing history alive; I cannot stop looking at it! Many thanks again, Sian".
Really nice to know when something works first time! The picture on the left shows the finished hood and we really think Sian did incredibly well for her first piece of historical clothing!

It's not the only nice feedback we've had lately. L wrote:-
"Btw, I went on to your website it's even better than ever - wow! The blog is fab & as for the gallery...that calash is to die for, & as for the passementerie buttons...I was salivating! The heralds coat for Kp is sooo cute! It brightened my day up, that's for sure... "

N. Left us a lovely comment here.
A. A textile designer from Italy, thinks we're the best E.C.W supplier he's seen and hopefully he's going to come to The Original Re-enactors Market this year to meet us......
Simon wrote:- The costume is absolutely fantastic. I'm not lying when I say that it has exceeded all of my expectations!I love the close firm fit of the doublet. I appear to have lost around a stone in weight when I wear it! As soon as I can I'll get some photos sent up to you to add to your porfolio, if you wish.
(Yes, please Simon)!
I also ended up on Uberbrum (of all places!), while having a break at 'Talk like a pirate day'!

Thank you one and all, but be sure that we're not going to rest on our laurels and that there will be some new and exciting ensembles ready soon!
We are also working on the Fashion show for T.O.R.M in November. All ready, we have a spectacular show in prospect and we'll keep tweaking the show until it squeaks!

P.S Congratulations to Birmingham on getting TWO gold awards at 'Britain in bloom'! (See Here) One award is brilliant, two is outstanding!

Monday 21 September 2009

'Anne Boleyn' French Hood

If people approach us at a show and their shopping list goes something on the lines of "Do you have any buckram, domette, black velvet, pearls...?" We could probably finish the list for them, as the chances are that they are looking to make a 'french hood'. Our first question is usually,"Have you made one before?" - as these can be tricky! If the customer is new to milinery we then try and explain what is required. "Do you have any white silk, millinery wire?".... and the list goes on.
We have decided to produce these in kit form and the kit will contain everything needed to make an 'Ann Boleyn style french hood'. All you need to add is needles, thread and have a day or two to spare! Full instructions will be included and we've put up a hidden step by step pictorial guide on picasa - that you will have access to - 50 photographs showing every step from the basic pieces to fitting the bilaments (ornaments).
Available in two sizes, Child (and small adults) and Adult.
Hopefully, these will save you running from one haberdashery shop to another to find what you need and discovering you have to buy far more than the quantity required - when you find it!
The only question left is, are you going to pluck the hair out on your forehead, as the tudors did, when you wear it?!
We made this one with a gold crescent so it would show up better in the photographs and the bilaments will be pearls only as in the original.

Sunday 6 September 2009

A Dressing up Gown..........

Built on a strict budget, this Elizabethan (tudor) gown is based on a 1580-1590 gown in the Nurnberg Museum. The front panel and sleeves of the Kirtle are of silk taffeta. A corded diamond pattern of linen has been applied and overlaid on this are 2,800 pearls and black bugle beads. The Kirtle sleeves are detachable. It is fully lined and has a heavy guard of linen at the hem.
The outer velvet gown has decorated 'guards' of black satin couched with black silk cord. The same decoration is applied over the shoulders and down the back, sleeves and collar.
The sleeves are possibly one of the most complicated patterns as it contains a heavy padded roll at the head and over this a boned skeletal structure which gives the shape. The outer velvet is
made up of many shaped panels, following the form given by the structure beneath. The Ruff is held up, by the collar, to frame the face.

This Ensemble has a dedicated web album

Tuesday 18 August 2009

A Coat of many stitches....

This one is a 'fair copy' of the boys red wool suit in the V.&.A (Ref:- No. T.327&A-1982)
The coat is made from the finest superfine melton wool and is raw edged at fronts, hems & cuffs. It is embroidered down the front, the centre back vents, the cuff tops and edges and the pockets in gold. It is fully lined and the fronts and cuffs are interfaced and then faced the same wool as the
outer. The neckedge is bound with 1/4" binding of the wool. All the linings, interfacings and facings are stitched in by hand in the same way as the originals were.
The Breeches are made from the same wool and lined in linen. They are also embroidered down the front outside leg to match the coat.

Before work could proceed, a sample of the embroidery was produced so that decisions about the buttons could be made. After a great deal of research on passementerie buttons 1690 -1720 and a fruitless worldwide search for an acceptable button of the right size [1"], we decided that reproduction passementerie buttons were the only solution. Starting with finding or producing a workable button mould, which was a feat in itself, we ended up producing our own wooden moulds in house and with several samples to show our client, one of which took two hours to make!

The entire suit took 105 hours to produce, 20 of which were spent on the 39 buttons, 23 on designing and embroidery programming, 21 on actual embroidery and the rest on cut and makeup.

This outfit has its' own web album here

Sunday 9 August 2009

Handing out Bouquets.......

I was in Birmingham this week as a 'costumed character' for the 'Britain in Bloom' competition.
The reactions of the everyday public to someone in costume proceeding from one venue to another seemed to amaze my 'handler', a lovely lady, who probably had never accompanied an 18th Century gentleman through the streets of central Birmingham before!
Having done this sort of thing for a few years, I find the responses are far less than they used to be. People are more used to seeing interpreters, fancy dress parties, costumed weddings and they find the appearance of someone in costume far less remarkable.
Probably the best reaction I ever got, was walking into a petrol station on the A40 a few years ago, at about 6 a.m, in full Cavalier outfit. The attendant was fast asleep with his head on the desk. He took a bit of waking and upon seeing me, he took off from his stool both horizontally and vertically for about 9 feet! The look on his face was picture! I wonder if he still has nightmares?............ Anyway, good luck to Birmingham in the competition. If they are looking for ideas for next year, I can't help but think of the Regency pleasure gardens.

For beauty of situation and variety of elegant scenes, these gardens [presumably Vauxhall] cannot be surpassed by any pleasure-ground in the Kingdom. It contains about sixteen acres with a great number of small, delightful groves, and charming lawns, intersected by serpentine walks, which at every turn meet with sweet, shady bowers, furnished with handsome seats, some canopied by nature, others by art.

It is also decorated with waterfalls, stone and thatched pavilions, a canal running through with two elegant cast-iron bridges thrown over it, after the manner of the Chinese. A sham castle planted with several pieces of cannon, bowling greens, swings, thatched umbrellas as a shelter from sudden rains and storms.

From the pavilions and bridges, an enlightened observer may fascinate his senses with the enchanting view of hills, vales, dales and magnificent structures that surround this Elysian Field.

Tuesday 21 July 2009


We love the fact that a lot of our customers nowadays have done far more research than in the past. We remember the days when desert boots were 'de rigeur' for portraying the ECW! It's a lot different now and many people go to great lengths to get the look correct. As we supply all sorts of costume from Museum and 'Walking portrait' to LRP and Renfair, we are frequently asked if we can supply an item from our standard range, "But I need it to have such & such as I'm playing a ........." The answer is nearly always "Yes, of course!"
The question of customising also arises when we are providing items for export. Our main area of expertise has always been historical clothing worn in the UK, with the additions of other European and Oriental fashions that influenced what was worn here. Now we are as likely to be asked to provide an 18th C Swedish wedding suit or a 17th C Italian Soldiers coat as anything else. This also means the research library here at Chimera costumes, grows at an ever increasing rate! I wondered whether it was just the weakness in sterling that caused this influx in export orders, then we had an e-mail from a customer in the U.S stating that his suit was of 'Exceptional quality'
I think that may be the reason.....

Monday 6 July 2009

Comparing the Market....

We make historical clothing, not 'fancy dress', we are not high fashion, 'collection changing twice a year' catwalk gurus. All these things though are interrelated. Fashion designers have always looked to the past for inspiration, the most famous probably being Vivian Westwood. Whatever colours and/or patterns are in fashion affect the materials available to us, - unless we have them made - so we too, have to look ahead to what will be in High street fashion 3 years ahead. We also get a lot clients who want items that go a 'step further' than those they can buy from normal outlets. This makes prediction of future trends quite important to us.
At the moment we have a lot of people visiting our site from www.wgsn.com who are trend forecasters for the fashion industry.They seem to think that one of our photos has possibilities for future silhouette outlines. We will see. You can almost guarantee that one of them will be, but which one?
I said at the beginning of this that we don't make 'fancy dress', but try telling that to 'dmoz' supposedly the most comprehensive human-reviewed directory of the web. Which of course is the problem. I've now spent two years trying to get them to recategorise us with no luck, as different editors move on and there's no continuity. I'd love them to remove us altogether as we spend hours answering queries that are not relevant to us -and other directories pick up the listings and include us as well! Making even more people land on the wrong web site! Talk about 'compare the meerkat!

With the appearance of what are realistically 'fall-front breeches' in the shops,'Out of Fashion' seems a bit of a misnomer. Will I have to change the name of the blog to 'Future Fashion', perhaps? Simples!

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Degrees of Competence

We were contacted by yet another organisation today. The normal phone call goes something on the lines of "We're looking for work experience for our students", but this one was a little different. "Have you thought of taking on an apprentice?" An interesting idea and a path that we've gone down in the past. "An apprentice in what?" I asked. "Well, that would be up to you" came the reply. Which sort of got me thinking. Are there that many people wanting to do an apprenticeship in historical costume? In the past, we've had people working here who have gone on to do some great things, running their own business or working in prestigious establishments, graduating from good colleges - with good degrees - and they make us rather proud!
We have an intern with us this summer. Something we try to do, to give something back but yes, we are looking for a genius! Someone who can live on very little, who can hand sew like an angel (when necessary) and quickly, someone who can follow instruction, someone who can use an industrial flat bed or overlocker competently and safely (or has the capability to learn), who can fit in seamlessly,(sorry!) Who can work a CAD P.C without it falling over, who's got both the 'eye' and the passion for the subject and the innate ability to carry it forward. Now where can we find someone like that? They don't exist? Ah, but we've got one,- what we really need is TWO!

Sunday 24 May 2009

A World Wide Web

I suppose I should be used to it by now, but I'm still astonished by how our customers find us. The web means that your work can be seen by anybody, anywhere, anytime which is just mind-blowing , if you think about it! I came to this technology fairly late and took to it like, well, a duck to petrol! Still, I'm learning.
Our web albums are now the favourites of people from Minnesota to Munich and Korea to Clapham. We're getting some nice comments from people worldwide. At the moment, we have orders on the books from America, Italy, Poland, Australia and on the list goes. If it wasn't for Captain Arthur Phillip (see above), I don't think that Australia would be on the list, or perhaps it would be a Dutch uniform, as the dutch were very interested in the area and it was only a matter of time - who got there first. Phillip was the first Governor of New South Wales, lead the first colonisation of Australia and founded the city of Sydney.
Quite a difficult commission this as we had to work to a mannequin - without having access to it - which made things rather strange, as most mannequins don't have normal human standard sizes! There are bumps where there shouldn't be - and 'bits' missing where there should! You also have to build differently as you don't need 'ease', but you do want it to look good in the decided 'stance'. Research was also intensive, there being no extant 'Admirals undress uniform 1814' to work from.
Must go, got to answer an e-mail from Berlin!

Thursday 30 April 2009

Shades & Tones

It is really difficult to describe a shade. Let's take these 'stays'. Teal? Petrol? Powder? Bright? Baby? All these descriptions are subjective and it depends on which part you are looking at! I've worked with colour for roughly thirty years and I still wouldn't count on trying to memorize one. A picture would help - but even that has its limitations as printers still have difficulty duplicating shades and printing onto different mediums. Computer monitors are even worse at portraying what you want to show, using CYMK, RGB, etc is O.K, but when different monitors are not set the same, you are back to square one. Where you put things, ( RED or BLUE), can make it even worse!
In the past, 'Rich' colours meant exactly what it said. You were wealthy enough to have the cloth put twice through the dye bath OR had enough to afford expensive dyes. Presuming, of course, that you could ignore 'sumptuary laws', which were enforced in certain periods of history. What we call 'Sad' shades were worn by the poorer sections of society and were usually duller and more easily available from local sources. How people went on the past with dyes, pigments and paint is still a subject of much debate, conjecture and experimentation. I tell you all this because Jorge has revived his blog on medieval colour & painting here. and his web album is here. Both, well worth a visit.
His lovely work, I think, helps to prove that the world in past times wasn't quite as dull as some people imagine.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

The Devil is in the Detail......

I saw a good sign yesterday outside a shop. It read 'Nearly Organic Rhubarb', which had me quite confused. It was almost as good as one I saw some time ago which said 'Crocuses - Last Week!'
It is so easy to get it wrong, to make signs confusing - and at worst misleading. We spend a lot of time trying to get the text on our website right and it bothers us if anyone misreads it. It makes us spend a lot of time checking the wording and saying to ourselves "O.K, what's it not saying that it should"? or "What's it saying that could be misinterpreted?"
Try these:-
95th Rifleman officers Dolman, rifle green cloth, black worsted braid, and silver metal buttons, made in your size, and using the standard frogging, lined with black cotton.
Seems to be O.K? We see a lot like this and for the price, they can be fairly good. What's it not saying? Well I don't see any interlining, which may cause the weight of the buttons/braid to drag down. How much braid? Is it wool? What's 'standard frogging' anyway? How many buttons? Are they Ball, Half ball or flat? Where are the velvet collar and cuffs? Any Austrian knots? We call this sort of thing 'Weasel words' - because if you ask for it made properly, the price suddenly doubles!
Here's an alternative;-
Made from the finest grade, Rifle Green, melton wool, it is interlined internally to support the extravagant amount of wool worsted russia braid and 80 silver plated, ball buttons. The collar and cuffs are of black velvet. Braided round shoulders. Bespoke made. Austrian knots to side back. Braided all round hem, cuffs and front of collar. Lined in good quality linen. Buttons embedded into main cloth.
This actually goes too far the other way. If someone is very short, or young, the chances are that 80 buttons won't be used as the braiding would be too close together. But which one would you read? Which one would you want? In the past, I have ordered things that were what I wanted them to be - not what was on offer. The Devil is in the detail. What I can say is that here you get what you ask for. We go the extra mile, (that's 1.609343994 kilometres), to get it right!

BTW. The above is just an example. The only misreading we've had lately, was on shoe buckles!

Thursday 23 April 2009

For that Windy Old Weather.....

Dictionary: ca·las
h (kə-lăsh') pronunciation also ca·lèche (-lĕsh')n.
1. A light carriage with two or four low wheels and a collapsible top.
2. A top for this or a similar carriage.

3. A woman's folding bonnet of the late 18th century.
[French calèche, from German Kalesche, from Czech kolesa, from pl. of kolo, koles-, wheel, from Old Church Slavonic.]

As you can tell from the pictures it's not a light carriage with four wheels and a collapsible top but it WAS named after this.
The bow at the top front unties and forms 2 strings which the lady would hold onto to pull the hat forward and keep it in place in windy weather. This one has been reproduced from a late 18th C original found in America and is entirely hand made. The outer is made from silk taffeta and is drawn over canes to form the ridges. The inside is lined with white twill silk. I'd also have a slight quibble with the dates as the Calash went out of use about 1830, making it an 18th AND 19th Century bonnet. This makes it a problem where to put it in the web albums. The solution we normally take is to place it in the album where it makes its first appearance, so you'll find this in 'Various(1700-1820)'. There are now 25 Albums and it's becoming a bit of a drag to keep splitting them up to make them faster at downloading. Nevertheless, it is giving us a good reference file (!) and if we weren't so successful, I suppose it wouldn't be a problem....
Come to think of it - I'd rather have the problem!

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Not a Standard Tabard!..

Heralds Tabard (Child size)

We've just completed a tiny order for Kensington Palace in London. I say a tiny order because it was only 15" across and made for a six/seven year old, though it certainly took some time to complete.
When I first saw the photos of the original, I thought it was a bit odd and the lions on it were not the sleek lion/leopard beasts that you're used to seeing on Royal Standards and Tabards, but more like 'pug dogs' with a mane! The Irish harp was also very different to the normal interpretation. Never the less, we were requested to copy the original and we did - after requesting 'flat' photos to take away perspective issues.
Then there were the scaling problems to overcome. Getting a Lion Rampant to fit in a 3" space and still look like same and NOT like a red blob is not an easy task.
It was completed with a mixed technique of applique and embroidery on to quartered silk panels and took over a quarter of a million stitches. Someone in the office said that one of the panels should be bright red. "Why?" we asked innocently. "Because it has a quarter of vermillion stitches"! Groans - and a quick exit!
Anyway click on the picture to see more photos.

When was the original made? Well, it's not that clear. Gini has suggested about 1900, due to the sewing techniques. What was it for? They didn't have educational 'try-on' then. Perhaps Royal children played 'Heralds and Pursuivants' instead of 'Cowboys and Indians'?

Sunday 22 March 2009

Fashion shows.....

It's that time of year again and T.O.R.M crept up on us, well, like an express train! The fashion show with it's theme of "Noble Passions" went very well indeed. Our thanks go out to all those makers, models and backroom staff involved. (The next theme will be "A Night at the Movies").
The highlight for me was the 5 minute improvised argument between The Empress of Austria and The Czarina of Russia played respectively by Sue Lee and Alison Ryder-Hill of U.K Freeforms. Ladies you have my respect and admiration - for an hilarious and consummate performance.
Unfortunately, we don't have photos of the Sunday show but the Saturday show is below- and thanks to Ina Martin for the Photos.
Fashion Show March 2009

Friday 27 February 2009

Cloning the clothing....

On occasion we are asked to replicate something that has been lost, damaged or God forbid, stolen. If the damage is light, we can usually discern its materials, manufacture and processes and do a good job on duplication. It becomes a little more problematic when the original item is not there to copy and you end up with a sort of 'identikit' picture of what you are trying to do - never an ideal solution.
So, (and I will say this only once)! If you have an item that you love, PHOTOGRAPH IT! and I don't just mean a picture of you dancing with someone else, at a distance, where the only relevant piece that can be seen is a shoulder. I mean the whole thing, front, back and sides. sleeves, linings, facings, embroidery, stitch lines, buttons and fastenings, notions - and then do it again in close-up! It would also help if you can identify any of the materials used, in other words, make notes of sizes and sketches. It will also help any insurance claims!
Another point. We like watching things like the Antiques Roadshow, (one of the few programmes that hasn't suffered from the 'dumbing down syndrome' and interminable advert breaks)! We do spot the odd uniform or similar and we are struck by the fact that the experts, even for insurance valuation, consistently undervalue them. Lets take one example. If a 95th Rifle officers Dolmen came up, (and it won't - shame!) the material costs alone would not be covered by the valuation. 45 metres of Russia braid, 80 odd silver plated ball buttons, wool good enough to carry the weight of all that. Linings, facings etc.- and going by past performance I suspect the valuation they would give to be about £450.00. So check your insurance!- and get out that camera!

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Quotations and Enquiries

This month has been quite a busy one on the enquiries front and we've had many interesting items to quote for including 'strapwork' (making the body of material from interwoven and crossed flat tubes of material or leather) and very complicated embroidery and applique items. Tudor and Victorian outfits do tend to be high on the agenda, which, I suppose, reflects the power of the national curriculum.
It seems that organisations are now looking to spend on fewer, higher quality items that will stand the rigours of heavy use, instead of having to replace them annually. We can only applaud their foresight!

Sunday 25 January 2009

Gone for a Soldier...

Quite a difficult project this, as Nikolaus wanted to portray the 37th Regiment of Foot (North Hampshire Regiment), as at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. We normally give a little extra time on uniform to enable us to research properly, but in this case, we had a very short lead time, so it's was all hands to the libraries!
British Soldier (37th Regiment) 1776

We had our work cut out on this one! We have given it it's own album. (Click on the picture) and you'll see most of the process of dressing. We've also added a few Comments by Cuthbertson - who really knew what he was talking about!
Now the Uniform, and Nikolaus, are on their way to Singapore, so Nikolaus can take up a new job there. Good Luck, Nick.

BTW. Do you approve of the Colour change on this site?

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Layouts & Dressing

Tudor Dress
It seems a few educational establishments are using the 'Tudor Dress' album as a resource, to show the stages in the way an early Tudor lady was dressed. There are very few things on the net that show this.
Dressing & layouts has been on my mind a lot lately and we're making changes to the website. The first one being that we've given 'Music' it's own sites. If you're interested, the music workshops are here and the ceilidhe band is here .
This is going to give us more space to show you what you want to see.

Thursday 8 January 2009

A Nice Warm Coat...

I really can't believe that it's been six weeks since I last posted on here! The time has just flown.
First there was the 'Christmas rush' and trying to get all the orders out on time. These included a new outfit for Mr White who was appearing in a 'Dickens' production over Christmas - at Williamsburg! We made him a nice warm outfit as it normally snows in Virginia at this time of year, unfortunately the weather had other ideas - and delivered 70 degrees of warm sunshine!
Then I came down with flu' and recovered just in time for us to fly to Spain for the holidays.
Now in the campo (countryside) it has cold nights but in the daytime reached about 20, which was very comfortable. -A little better than an outdoor event I did in Peterborough, in November, where it was minus 6!

Now back in Britain where the new year spreads before us like virgin snow, or should that be Virginia snow?