Friday, 13 August 2010

Material matters!.....

It's been on my mind lately that while we don't watch T.V very much here, usually documentaries- and occasionally a series that looks promising - we aren't enjoying them a lot. If any of the broadcasting companies have the brief 'To educate end entertain', they are falling far short of their objectives.
Do you think it would be worth putting a petition together? Perhaps something on the following lines?

'We the undersigned, have an attention span of more than two minutes, we do not need to be told what is coming after the break, if your programme is interesting enough, we'll be here to see it. After the interval we do not need to be told what happened before the break.  It smacks of not having enough material. If you do not have the material to fill the time slot - don't make the B.......y programme! We are not children, please do not dumb down your programme or show us what is going on through the 'round' window. We get it. (Hint to the History channel - If you make the battle scenes 'fuzzy' It shows that you couldn't get the right people - and your costumes are up to 50 years out of date). Plan ahead. It is no good going to suppliers at the last minute to provide stuff for your programme - all the good ones are busy and you end up with second best - again.  Most of us do not care about so called celebrities who are famous for being famous - we'd rather see someone with talent.  So, BBC - repeat after me, "Monty Don is a good presenter"!
Now would you like me to run through that all again to make sure you understand and remember it? No, well don't do it to us either - we're not stupid!

This is of course a first draft and suggestions would be welcome. To give it more effect, I'm thinking it should be handed in - in person - by Katie Price perhaps? ;-)

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Case for Needles

By the time you read this we should be at the Festival of History, which is one of the biggest shows in Britain. There you can see all the newest & best productions of the old - if you see what I mean! It features some the best in 'costumed interpretation', that this country has. We call it costumed, but it really means 'clothed'.  The vast majority of the interpreters there are professionals and the demands on the clothing they wear is legendary. It has to be well made to stand up to the rigours of being worn constantly, maintainable within the confines of history, and to instantly give an impression of status and purpose. We try to build clothing that stands the test of time and we have lots of clients who come back to us and say "The one you made for me in 1998 is still going strong, but I'd like a change...."! I wonder if much modern clothing lasts as well?
 The picture shows a needle case made when Gini was 5 years old - and it's still used everyday - O.K it may not be the best needlework ever seen on here, but even at that age - Gini built to last!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Haberdashery & Textiles

All over England haberdashery shops are closing down and it's getting harder and harder to find things that are 'right for period', whatever that period happens to be! This sort of thing seems to be a continuing theme on this blog, sorry, but it does affect a lot of our customers! We've been adding items to our haberdashery shop - Here.- and we've managed to find a good linen range at last. With an excellent drape, this linen pleats & gathers beautifully, making it suitable for shirts, chemises, petticoats, ruffs, collars, cuffs & linings. 58"/147cm wide 7 oz per metre square/10.5 oz per linear metre. O.K, it may be a little more expensive than buying from traders at fairs, etc., but there are a couple of advantages. We are not talking 'ends' here which are, of course, 'ends' for a reason, but a fully repeatable range that will be available 24 hours a day - not just when they happen to be 'on sale'. We are going to try and add good wool and velvet ranges soon - we're in negotiations at the moment, so watch this space! Meanwhile, lace, braid, pewter buttons and much more are available for you to look at and hopefully, drool over!
If you're looking for certain items there, use the pull down menus and hit 'search'. If you still can't find what you're looking for, contact us. If we don't supply it, we usually know who can....... and we're always looking for ideas of things you'd like us to stock.
 Have a look, go on, you know you want to!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Film & T.V

We were asked lately, if we did Film or T.V costume dramas. The answer is no, not a lot! In the past we have been involved in special pieces for a few shows, 'The Prairie House',  'Elizabeth' and the upcoming  'Edwardian Farm' among them, but it's not quite that easy. To be able to do our best Gini has either to be the designer, or to be really in tune with the designer and to be 'reading from the same hymn sheet', so to speak. Imagine, a great friend of ours was 'historical adviser' on a certain film. The designer wanted a British Napoleonic Infantry officer to wear black, because he didn't like red! Now, while there was a certain leeway in officers' dress, if you want to give a decent impression of 'Infantry officer' of the time, red is the only choice. Another problem is time scale, throwing 20 -30 characters into the mix, on what is always a very tight schedule, is not an easy option. - and sometimes a leading actor or actress hasn't been confirmed, so the size to make to is academic until the last minute.

I'm not saying we don't consider some, indeed, we have an enquiry at the moment for a film out of L.A and we certainly see our garments being worn on T.V (about twice a day, on average!). Sometimes it's an actor or re-enactor who specialises in a particular period, sometimes the wardrobe department who has ordered in bulk, sometimes we've clothed a regiment. - even our wedding was televised for Yorkshire T.V (2 x 30 min. programmes for the series 'I Thee Wed'). Just to prove how deadlines work, we had 13 weeks to put on a spectacular wedding, make sure that everyone was costumed, find an historical venue, find 3 chefs,13 serving staff, dress them as well, devise a 'timelined' historical banquet - 11 courses starting with Roman then saxon and ending 9 courses later in Victorian. The web album, if you're interested is here. All this while being filmed and having Claire and Michaels' wedding clothes to produce as they were getting married on the same day!(See photo).

So unless we have a little time to plan, Gini would much rather be 'consultant'!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Wool Trade-off!

Most of the materials used in historical clothing are getting harder and harder to find. Decent wools and linens, can nowadays be more expensive than a good silk! How different from most periods in history when wool and linen were the staples of the garment trade.
The make-up of wool has also changed in the last 150 years. Before this time when wool was hand woven, the thread was usually a lot thinner and the thread count, per inch, was a lot greater.  Most coats and uniforms would be made 'raw edged' because this sort of material is far less likely to fray. I wonder what sort of demand there would be for this type of wool today - £150.00 per metre anyone?
That is not the only change in wool through the ages. One of the difficulties in making medieval 'hose' is due to the weave of the wool available. Medieval Hose are cut on the bias and wool today stretches at very different rates than that available in the past. This would mean making a new pattern for every type of wool used.  The original wool made with a mixture of 's' and 'z' ply (in other words, one of the threads was twisted the opposite way), this gave the material incredible stretch - almost as good as lycra! You will notice when you look at medieval paintings that most 'hose' look like they are 'painted on' and that's the reason. Nowadays wool is woven with 's' ply only giving significantly less stretch meaning that it is almost impossible to give a smooth fit that will not tear in movement. This is why Re-enactment is littered with baggy, saggy ill fitting hose.
So, we could have it made. The last time we asked, we worked it out it would cost an investment of £12,500 for a medieval colour palette, - too large an investment when you consider that these are just one of the garments out of the hundreds we produce!
Or we could use material that had a small percentage of lycra. There are two reasons that won't happen.
1. It is dangerous near fires.
2. We expect our clothing to last a decent period of time. Once the hose had been washed a few times the lycra would be washed out and you'd be back to the baggy, saggy, old cloth look again.
Ah well, back to the drawing board!
The picture shows  some decent melton wool!

Friday, 30 April 2010

Ahhh, Cute!

The tiniest shirt we have so far had to make. In the picture you'll see an original taken from 'Clothes & the Child' by Ann Buck. (ISBN 0-903585-29-4). The other picture is the copy.  After the inevitable Oooohs! and ahhhs! from the staff at break, it got me to thinking about just what is it about miniature clothes that induces that reaction in women (and female costumiers in particular!). Most little girls like dressing dolls. We think it's a sort of 'hardwired' thing, where nature is way ahead of nuture and as they grow older only the style of 'doll' changes. On seeing a small child's clothing, most ladies will not remark on the style or materials and instead will say "Isn't it tiny!" or "Isn't it cute!"
Apprentices in the furniture workshops of the world often turned out exquisite 'apprentice pieces' to show their mastery of the craft and in some cases they are now worth more than the full size alternatives. Miniaturisation also happened in fashion history, where dolls were made as 'fashion messengers' or 'fashion envoys', if you will, being sent out by makers to clients and even to the courts around Europe.

In a 'pot luck' survey, a lot of costumier's dressed dolls in their childhood, especially those that work in the historical field. Were they subconsciously starting out on apprentice pieces? If so, then why aren't 'samplers' still popular?

Some think that, by definition, children's clothing should be cheaper than adults.We can quite see why people arrive at that belief. Clearly there is a cost saving on fabric, but the cutting is more demanding  as there is less tolerance, so any imperfections in stitching will glare and extra time could be needed to make up. Small, nimble fingers are required, which, in history, children were employed for. Ahhh, Not so cute!

Sunday, 18 April 2010


One of our friends was remarking the other day  that he'd been into a popular store to get some shoes and the assistant had some bad news for him when he requested his size - 10
"You want a size that is outside the ordinary, and of course, they sell out first!" he was told.
The same applied when he contacted someone 'on line' for regency boots. "I'm sorry we don't stock boots with that calf size, but we get a lot of requests for them!" the voice on the phone said.
Clearly, there is something wrong here!       

The question also came up yesterday in a discussion we were having about tailors' dummies and dress forms. It seems to us that those on sale at the moment do not reflect the 'modern' body and haven't done for a few years. Now notwithstanding the possibility that all of our customers are unusual in some way, (we don't think so!) this tends to suggest the industry supporting the fashion & clothing world, are out of step with changes in national  body shape for men women and children. If this is true, it beggars belief, given the sheer volume of published surveys documenting these very changes. For the longest time Britons have suffered the lack of any standardised sizing in the shops,  when we are told by a client that they usually take a dress size 14 (English again!) for example, we have to ask where they are shopping! Marks & Spencer have very different sizes to Monsoon for instance

Nape to waist measures, particularly in men are elongating. Our male dummies are permanently extended to their maximum length and we are noting this is is not enough, on average by 1 1/2" !  We are talking adjustable tailors forms here, but display forms are also seriously 'out of kilter'.
Four to five years ago this did not seem to be an issue. We would be be VERY interested if others are finding the same thing.

As Alfred Pearlman once wrote "After you've done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years look at it with suspicion....and after ten - throw it away and start all over again!"

So to those that make tailors dummies. Your ten years are now up!

The Picture shows a modern display dummy,  reformed to give a 1660 corseted shape

Monday, 12 April 2010

Primary Source

An entry in my Diary for Thursday reads  'Fit in Bath'.  It wasn't to remind me to change our hygiene facilities, but to remind me that a couple of our customers from Luxembourg were having a holiday there and we had to meet them for a fitting. While we were there we had a few other appointments but managed to do a couple of other things and played at being tourists for a change. We visited the Jane Austen centre and found that Dave Baldock and his team had changed the mannequin of Captain Francis Austen.  We also visited the Bath Fashion Museum, as collections like that always have something to teach us.
Using extant garments, the actual original garment is what we call  'Primary Evidence' or 'Primary Source'.  Writings of the time, woodcuts and portraits we call 'Secondary Evidence'.  Modern writings, Tertiary evidence. This differs from the way that most modern researchers classify, but it suits us.
 The first thing to mention is that everything must be checked. Even original garments could have been changed, in fit or in purpose or even in colour!
Secondary & Tertiary evidence can be even worse as each step away from the original can bring bias, perspective and the sometimes, limited knowledge of the writer into play.

Most costumiers out there will have made something following the patterns of Janet Arnold - who was one of the best researchers of historical costume.
Don't get us wrong we think that she was one of the best ever and we use her books all the time - here's the 'but'!
We have done the same, but if you see the original garment after studying Janet's patterns, you will notice the odd detail not included or that you interpreted a detail quite differently from the original even though it was notated.

Even if the garment you're making is not meant to be accurate, surely, as an historical costumier you should know the differences!

The pictures show a couple of amusing fashion plates from the many, many hundreds of 'Secondary source' plates we have here.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Have you noticed how fashionable 'traditional crafts' are at the moment? At the beginning of the last recession, one of the only businesses with an increase in turnover was sewing machine manufacturers! So whether people are making for themselves or looking for an outlet, this seems to be the upcoming thing. 'How-to's' abound. That is a lovely thing, people can find out methods & techniques that before would have taken years of research.
Lately, I think even the B.B.C were amazed at the success of a couple of their programs.
'Mastercrafts'.  Monty Don with his erudite and understanding view of craftspeople and their problems - he was in the business for a while - his light touch and instinctive empathy made this a stunning production.
Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands  & Peter Gill, on 'Tales from the Green Valley', 'Victorian Farm' (and the upcoming 'Edwardian Farm'), have gone from strength to strength. Having known Ruth for a while, we were not exactly surprised at the plaudits the programs have received, but the number of them.

So is it their passion for the subject that makes them so inspirational to others? When Gini & I went to school we had teachers that had, after their names, more letters than the Royal Mail can deliver in week. - (but that's another blog)! The point is that most could not teach. We just wonder what we'd be, if all our teachers had been 'inspiring'?
Even a picture can inspire. Gini has been wanting to make the dress on the left since the publication of the book "Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail"- Lucy Johnston  in 2005 - Five years later and that's been done - but there's plenty more pictures out there!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Firm Foundations

A long time ago I was told that when designing,  "Form follows function". This was coined by Louis Sullivan  in 1896. What he actually said was "form ever follows function" and he was talking about architecture.  It really doesn't apply in costuming where the clients' choice, the purpose and the status of the garment means that 'function follows form'!
Still, any garment has to be built on firm foundations and the 'architecture' will not be right unless you work from inside out, building the undergarments layer upon layer to give the correct shape.
The stays in the picture are from the last quarter of the 18th Century, made in silk and hand made from start to finish taking over 40 hours.You may well ask why we've made something by hand when it will hardly ever be seen. I suppose there are a few answers to that.

It is difficult to know the feel of a garment until you have worn it, the restrictions and posture it gives you, helps inform us for other work.
It could be that they end up on display for educational purposes somewhere, where the stitching and construction can be seen in great detail.

You know, I was once in a design studio, when one of the creative people shouted "It will do!" about one of the jobs they were working on. I walked out. If you're not giving of your best, you're not doing your job.
Gini once said that "good design costs no more than bad design".
What I'm really saying is the stays are for when "That will do!" - just won't cut it.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

'In Camera'

Rather a busy month, as we had 9 Regency outfits to produce, including a repro of this one on the left, which I think is stunning - Lady Worsley, by Joshua Reynolds. We turned up at the venue hoping to get some good shots of the costumes in action. Guess what? The camera decides to have a 'hissy-fit' and refuses to work! So if anyone has good photos of the weekend?  - I'm Begging!
We hope to include this outfit in the next fashion show- along with others.

I said in the last post that I'd put up links to the rest of the fashion show 'highlights' videos, so here they are in order.
Part 1 overture
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7 Finale

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Fashion Shows

At last I got the video from the last Fashion show and even putting up edited highlights is going to be a 'part work'! There's about 90 minutes worth to edit downThe first part is here. I KNOW it's called part two, but the first one is Gini doing the opening musical number and a lot of costume people won't want to see it. (if you do, go here)I'll put up the rest as they get finished.The videos were taken on a domestic camera, but I think Gabi & her husband have done very well! 
We are all ready in the process of writing the show for March and  have ideas for November, which is the 20th Anniversary of T.O.R.M, so that one has to  be spectacular! Well, even more spectacular!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Fashion Forensics ©

It has long been an ambition of Ginis' to let others see what she is privileged to investigate. In her work, a lot of access is granted to 'touch and handle' extant garments in the archives of museums and it does seem a shame not to let others see them.  If people are lucky enough to see these they are usually in glossy 'coffee table' books with maybe two pictures! Museums unfortunately are working with limited display space and only a few of pieces in a collection are ever on view to the public at one time. The Kyoto Institute is a good example where they have about 60,000 photographs of their collection and have produced wonderful books of what some of our friends call 'frock porn'(!). If you ever go there you will find about half a dozen outfits on display - the rest are 'in the archive'! The V.&A. Museum are at the moment trying to close down the musical instrument section to give more room to the textile collection, which does seem a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. (Gets off high horse - and back to the subject)!
We have an idea of making videos of some of the initial inspections, which will show the materials, structure, construction, previous conservation, alterations - almost the C.S.I of clothing!
They will be of  interesting pieces in the lesser known collections. Did you know that Bassetlaw Museum has about 5,000 costume pieces, for instance?  In the meantime, we have a web album of the one one the left A victorian ensemble of 1872. The staff and indeed, the public were fascinated at the detail that came out.  I'll try and put the captions up very soon - when the phone stops ringing!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Music Lesson

Well, A Happy New Year to you all!  I hope all our British & European readers aren't suffering too much in the truly awful weather conditions. We actually didn't get stuck in the snow,  but our car had a little problem and refused to start.
It took our Automobile Association, 6 days to get it sorted! ( I would have written A.A. there but that would look like we had a different problem! -"My name is Tony and I haven't had car trouble for six months"!) Anyway, the snow stopped customers getting to us, suppliers delivering to us and us delivering to customers, which caused a few headaches.

A break in the weather did give Gini a chance to get to Birmingham Museum to deliver and set up the display shown on the left, which is a copy of the ensemble shown in the painting "The Music Lesson" by Jacob Ochtervelt (1634-1682). Both gown and painting are on show at Birmingham Museum  & Art Gallery. 

Deeper analysis of this portrait raised some questions about the bodice/jacket and its construction - particularly the back. Looking at other portraits by Ochtervelt and his contemporaries, working in the low countries at this time period and examining other extant garments, did not resolve the questions and it may be that either the jacket/bodice is somewhat anomalous, or that we have discovered a style for the period previously unrecorded. With only one painting pointing towards this style of bodice back we still cannot be sure.