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.