labricoleuse: (shoes!)
In the third year of graduate study, our students complete several capstone projects, one of which is the historical reproduction. For this project, they choose a garment from our collection of antique garments, the Costar Archive. They must study the garment closely and then reproduce it as closely as possible. Often the source garment is very fragile, oddly-sized, and not a garment which could or would be worn onstage. Our students reproduce the pattern of the source garment, but adjusted/altered to the measurements of a modern physique.

Third year graduate student Denise Chukhina has completed and photographed her historical reproduction project, a replica of this 1895-1905-ish velvet bodice. (You can read all about the garment itself at the link, and see several detail shots of its embellishments and design features.)

Left: original antique garment on custom pigeon-breasted display form.
Right: Denise Chukhina's reproduction, sized up to fit her own measurements.

Oblique view illustrating the "pouter pigeon" silhouette.
Denise elected to do her reproduction in navy instead of black like the original.

Denise's bodice incorporates velvet, silk chiffon, and satin;
it is trimmed in glass beads and hand-dyed braids and lace appliques.

Detail shot of the hand-beaded collar and some of the lace appliques.

In addition to the reproduction itself, the students write a research paper about the garment, analyzing its construction and relating any known information about its provenance. They also digitize their patterns. Both of these documents will then be uploaded to the Costar site after the student's work has been graded and the degree conferred. So, if you like this bodice, check back in a few months and you can grab the pattern for it from Costar!
labricoleuse: (history)
One of my favorite perks of doing a short-term contract in NYC is getting to check out exhibits at the various museums and galleries in the city. Of course there's cool stuff going on at my stand-bys like the Museum at FIT and the Met, but i stumbled upon a small exhibition at a historic home which turned out to be fantastic.

I'm staying in a sublet up in Washington Heights, and when i moved in, i did a little looking into neighborhood attractions and came across the Morris-Jumel Mansion, a home built in 1765 in which George Washington once slept. They've got an exhibit running by an artist/historian named Camilla Huey entitled "The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding."

Huey takes her inspiration from the lives of eight women whose lives entertwined with the statesman Burr--wives, daughters, wards, and lovers. She clearly did a great deal of research about the womens' lives, reading their correspondence and novels and memoirs and diaries, and the exhibit's two program booklets are fascinating peeks into the lives of an impressive range of women. Huey created art installation pieces within the context of the rooms of the mansion itself which incorporate corsetry and the written word, to evoke the lives of these women.

Upon entering the mansion, visitors encounter an enormous glowing resin coffin stuffed with onionskin, cotton fabric, and corset elements, representing the loss of Burr's daughter in a shipwreck. The spiraling open staircase is filled with a torrent of letters and documents, suspended from the bright red pannier-cage of Burr's last wife, Eliza Jumel, a woman born in a brothel who escaped prostitution, got an education, and became one of the wealthiest and most ruthless women in the late 18th century America.

Every installation in the exhibit is visually thought-provoking, and to see these pieces within the mansion itself in which Jumel and Burr once lived, 200 years ago, is incredibly moving. If you find yourself in NYC before the exhibit closes in September, it's only $5 admission. And, if you happen to go on a Sunday and wind up scooting in with a big tour bus group, it's only $2!

Here are a few images...
Read more... )
labricoleuse: (frippery)
I recently came into possession of a fairly sizable collection of hat blocks from an estate sale. The blocks have an interesting story behind them, as well as being interesting in and of themselves.

The original description of the lot mentioned some blocks from Empire Hat Block Company, a blockmaker based in NYC in the early part of the 20th century. Being not only a maker of hats but also a scholar of hatmaking history, I have come across references to Empire in many sources and seen their surviving blocks in many a hatmaking workshop. I don't have exact dates for them, but I have seen their advertisements in old hatters' publications as early as 1914 and as late as 1967.

They started out just after the turn of the century in a space up on W 111th, but by the 20s they operated from a workshop facility on E 22nd large enough to take up two street numbers (312-314). The business seems to have been a partnership between two blockmakers, Joseph Buxbaum and Samuel Gussoff, though how many block-carvers they might have employed in their heyday, i don't know. They manufactured loads of styles for both men's and ladies' hats.

So, anyhow, when i read about an estate sale lot of hat blocks which included styles made by Empire, i knew that if nothing else, those blocks would probably be worth having. I had no clear idea how many blocks were in the lot, or really what they all looked like. There were some photos so i could tell there were brims and crowns, and I knew they ranged from 22 to 22 1/2 in size, and that was about what i knew when i bought them.

The box that came was enormous, so big it took two of us to carry it from the reception area to my car. I couldn't wait, i unpacked it right in the back of my car, and this is what i found inside:
Read more... )
labricoleuse: (design)
Our department is often the recipient of generous donations of vintage and antique clothing and textiles, for which we are always overjoyed and grateful. These typically come from theatre patrons and university alumni, sometimes from the estates of the deceased, usually from people who for whatever reason don't want to discard the items or give them to charity. These donors may recognize the items' intrinsic scholarly or cultural value, or they may just have a vague idea that the theatre might could use great-grandpa's old top hat or Aunt Ella's collection of ballroom dance gowns.

When we receive a donation, our Loans and Acquisitions Supervisor works in tandem with our Costume Director, Assistant Costume Director, myself and other costume faculty and staff to determine how best to store and/or use the items. The donor fills out a donation form which basically thanks them profusely and advises them that the donation may be used for a variety of different purposes, but that we cannot make any guarantees about how it will be used. So for example if someone says, "I will give you my mom's wedding dress, on the condition that you use it in your next play," we have to regretfully decline, because we can't make that type of guarantee. Even if the show has a wedding in it and the costume designer loves the dress, what if it is 6" too small in the bust for the actress who gets cast? So, no.

If an item is particularly remarkable--say, an intact or reasonably intact 19th century gown, or possesses a couture label inside--it is likely to be put into the Costume Archive collection for documentation, research, and study. Research assistants work on photographing and writing descriptions of these pieces for sharing on the website, and our graduate students make an exact reproduction of one of these pieces as part of their final year of study. For example, if you look at the page for this silk Edwardian blouse, you will see links to a full descriptive paper, bibliography, the reproduction which was made, and the pattern.

If an item is not something we would put into the archive but is nevertheless in great stageworthy condition (say, a decent 1950s day dress, or a standard 1960s-cut mens 3-piece suit), we put it into our extensive departmental costume stock where it may be used potentially in our own productions or by the many student and local groups who borrow costumes from us.

If, however, a piece is not an archival item nor is it stageworthy (by which i mean, it may be too fragile to withstand a theatrical run, or be damaged beyond repair), then one of the things which we may choose to do is salvage whatever parts of it might be useful in other ways. For example, a dress made of rotted silk with some beautiful cotton lace trim, we might remove the intact lace and put that into trim stock or antique trim study collections, and discard the rotted silk.

I often have this sort of task come up with hats--a hat comes in where the base structure of the hat is wrecked with moth damage or irreparably torn, but the silk flowers or vintage plumes on it are still in fine or restorable condition. This post is about just such an item.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
One of my former graduate students, Randy Handley, recently purchased an antique Allie-Maillard conformateur. I had the good fortune to be able to inspect and photograph it while recently visiting him, and an interesting historical twist presented itself.

I've been researching conformateurs for quite a while, and particularly since i acquired my own. I've gotten pretty good at taxonomizing differences between models and dating their age and original likely retail value based on things like whether they have a brass nameplate or a mother of pearl nameplate, mostly wooden keys or mostly brass keys or even mother-of-pearl-inlaid keys. Randy's conformateur had one element to it that is new to me though. Let's take a look...

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
Because the shows we are about to mount are set in the time of extraordinarily large and architectural hairdos, our Wig Supervisor needs frames on which to build the hairpieces. This fell to me so i took some documentary pix to share.

Here are a few photos showing how i made a mount for the frivolously fun "Apollo's knot" style, as well as a couple cool ones of an antique bustle-draping dress form!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Costume Director Judy Adamson's period patterning class presented their next round of 19th century projects--1830s gowns--which is quite timely, given our next show on deck, Nicholas Nickleby!

photos )

I also have another interesting blog to plug, for costume history and reproduction enthusiasts! Trying on History is the blog of the Vassar College Costume Collection, tracing their historical reproduction projects utilizing garments in their clothing archive. Thusfar, the blog covers mostly their first such project, a 1910-era gown from the Franklin Simon 5th Avenue store in NYC. The collection has received an internal grant funding the reproduction program, and it looks like it's shaping up to be a really cool educational feature--i'm looking forward to following future projects-yet-to-come. Check it out!
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
In this blog, I've often mentioned the CoStar collection, an archive of antique and vintage clothing housed here at UNC-Chapel Hill (hosted by our graduate program, curated by program head Judy Adamson, and jointly utilized as a research tool by the Department of Dramatic Art and PlayMakers). CoStar has a continually-expanding online presence in the form of a searchable web archive of the collection of largely 19th and 20th century women's couture, which can be accessed by anyone with a browser. If you've used the site in the past, you'll notice that CoStar has undergone a design overhaul, to a more user-friendly browsable structure than its previous layout.

Each garment in the collection depicted online is accompanied by specific information about its construction, history and provenance if known, and some even have scalable patterns, images of graduate thesis reproductions, and attached research papers, such as this striped silk taffeta bodice worn by Mrs. Edgar Grout for her wedding on June 30, 1897, featuring a scaled pattern and analysis by Emily VanDervort (MFA '08), or this bodice also in striped silk taffeta from the same era (of unknown providence) which includes an analysis and photos of a reproduction by Jade Bettin (MFA '06). The online archive will only continue to grow as present and future research assistants slowly make their way through the documentation process--what's currently shown is perhaps 10-15% of the entire collection, which itself is continually expanding through the generosity of donors.

But, the real point of this post is not to focus on CoStar, which is probably a familiar topic to long-time readers. It's to announce something exciting and new!

In addition to the CoStar resource (which is primarily Western women's clothing of the past couple centuries), an entirely new archive site has gone live, NowesArk, an online catalogue of our non-Western clothing collection! NowesArk is curated by Professor Bobbi Owen, whose collection forms the bulk of its pieces.

The site is super-brand-new (to the point where the "about" section isn't up yet, and the splash page has a couple of typos), but already features 74 items to look through--primarily Japanese and Chinese garments and accessories, though also a few Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Middle Eastern pieces. Graduate research assistant Amanda Phillips (MFA '09) spent her final semester of graduate school supervising a team of several undergrad work-study students on this project, all of whom devoted many hours to documenting these pieces and getting this web resource up and running. Bravo, y'all!

With both of these archives, in the course of researching you can assemble a collection of "favorites" in a scrollable sidebar window (titled "My Stars"), by clicking on the little star/plus graphic next to a garment's title on its description page. So, suppose you are looking at the CoStar collection for bodices in the 1895-1900 window--you could add the two bodices linked above to your My Stars section, keep looking for more bodices that fit your specs and then later go back to read through the particulars or print out the extra info for all the bodices you find. If you are perusing the NowesArk collection for furisode examples, again, the star/plus graphic allows you to quickly weed through the garments and collect up specific furisode links to easily navigate between later. "My Stars" spans both archives, so if you add a bustle dress from CoStar and a haori from NowesArk, you'll see both no matter which archive you are perusing.

You can read detailed info on browsing and searching the collections here, and learn more about the consolidated archive project in general here.

Because we are clearly totally committed to creatively-relevant acronymous naming conventions, both of these archives are collectively known as the Cloaks Archives, accessible by a central clearinghouse page linking to both archives' sites. I'm looking forward to seeing how these collections continue to grow and develop in the future! (For example, i cannot wait til the archivists get to this one box i've seen in the storage area marked "1920 beaded gowns.")

Happy researching!

BTW, please do drop a comment and let us know how the sites are useful to your research or could be improved, and definitely share your experience should you use one of the scalable patterns to make your own reproduction, or as a starting place for your own "take" on one of our pieces!

ETA: I'd love to see someone make up this 1893 day dress, or this 1886 riding habit, or this intricate 1902 velvet bolero from the provided patterns. Also, i'm feeling a little bit of regret i didn't title or subtitle this post "ZOMG FREE PRD PATTERNS BBQ," since i know a common complaint is that there are really only so many period patterns out there commercially available or scalable in references like Janet Arnold's books.

If your university or institute has its own online archive of a similar or related collection, please comment with a link. And, if you have pieces you wish to donate to either collection, email me at < costume -at- unc -dot- edu > and i'll put you in touch with our Acquisitions Coordinator.
labricoleuse: (manga avatar)
The Graduate Students Association of the Department of Dramatic Art hosted a showcase on Saturday, April 27th, featuring work from students in all three areas of focus--costume production, technical direction, and acting. I attended (albeit on a pile of pain meds due to my dental emergency) and took some photos of the displays. All costume pieces displayed are draped or drafted 100% by the artists (meaning, nothing from an extant/commercial pattern--we don't produce any costume or project from commercial patterns). All props items are 100% handmade via carpentry, carving, woodturning, welding, brazing, electrical wiring, etc.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (history)
I'd hoped to post over the weekend with some images from our graduate showcase--there were several striking exhibits of the MFA candidates' work! And, i'll make that post shortly, as soon as i can get all the photos together and edited, but i was unfortunately waylaid by an emergency root canal. Ugh, i'll gladly go the rest of my life without doing that again. There's little more all-consuming than extreme toothache, i think. Thankfully though, it's a quick recovery afterward; once i had the procedure Monday afternoon, i was on the fast track back to functionality.

A couple of exhibits of interest are presently up at Charlotte's Mint Museum of Art. "The Art of Affluence: Haute Couture and Luxury Fashions 1947-2007," currently runs through June 30, 2010, while the newly opened "The Heights of Fashion: Platform Shoes Then and Now" closes in May of 2010. If you follow these links, you can see a few examples of the pieces on display.

On Tuesday, I went with a group from work--four other faculty/staff members, and five graduate students--to check them out. We try, as a department, to take a research trip involving something of this sort at least a couple-few times a year. (Past examples: visits to other couture and costume exhibits, historical clothing archives, and professional symposia.) I'd been doubly-irritated with the tooth situation as the trip's been planned for quite a while and i didn't want to miss it, nor the opportunity to write it up here. So glad i was able to attend after all!

If you've never been to the Mint--I hadn't--it's a striking Federal-style building in the midst of sprawling, lush landscaping. Their website states that it "initially served the region as the first branch of the United States Mint, coining $5 million in gold from 1836 to the outbreak of the Civil War. A grassroots community effort during the Depression saved the original...building designed by William Strickland from demolition and moved it to its present Randolph Road site." Admission is reasonable ($9) and parking is free (!); it'd be a great place to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds. We didn't, though; we lunched beforehand at the eclectic, funky Southern-style diner, Dish. The Mint also has a sister Museum of Craft & Design, in downtown Charlotte a short distance away, which i'd like to get back to check out at some point.

The Mint has a decidedly confusing layout in general, with galleries spilling one into another and no cohesive flow from one exhibit to another--one minute i was looking at 8'-tall portraits of King George III and the next, i found myself in the midst of a Warhol exhibit entitled "Cowboys and Indians." I suppose this can partly be chalked up to the fact that it wasn't designed to be a museum at all, but it seems like some kind of consideration and forethought could be put into steering foot-traffic in a more logical, welcoming sense.

All the specialty exhibits were decidedly small--single rooms with a handful of pieces. In some cases (such as the 10-12 paintings in the "Cowboys and Indians" gallery), i found this a successful means of display, allowing me clean, uncluttered access to focus on the art. In others, it felt sad and almost desperate, as if the museum wishes to offer too much to too many with too little.

The Art of Affluence: Haute Couture and Luxury Fashions 1947-2007

We took a docent tour of this exhibit, which was a bit disappointing. Even though a colleague of mine had called ahead well in advance to inquire whether anyone would be available to talk to us on a professional or academic level about the collection and the exhibit, our guide's spiel seemed more suited to a group of high-school students than scholars and artists who teach and create couture production. For example, at one point she made reference to "allowances from our parents," asked whether any of us knew what a corset looked like, and later inquired, had we done any sewing ever? I don't mean to complain about the docent herself--she was kind and enthusiastic with an obvious love for the work. I'm sure her talk would have been great for most community and student groups touring the exhibit. I wondered though, since we did contact them in advance about our group, why hadn't anyone briefed her about the nature of our tour? The coordinators neglected to provide her with archival gloves so even the interior finishing views we'd hoped to arrange weren't possible. I guess resources are what they are, and you get what you get.

The exhibit hall reminded me of the display galleries at the Museum at FIT--largely comprised of banks of mannequins on low risers along the walls, low-lit, with notes in the foreground and posted alongside--except where the Museum at FIT is a succession of several long galleries, this exhibit was stuffed into a single room. There are maybe around 30 ensembles, total, on display, with a couple more cases featuring clusters of shoes and handbags.

One of the displays i spent the most time looking at was a single case containing an Yves Saint Laurent original shoe (a flute-heeled spectator oxford with a winklepicker toe), a high-end "knock off" of the design, and a budget version. The case is situated in the center of the gallery so that observers may see all three shoes from 360 degrees, and compare the subtle differences that set the designer original apart from each lower tier of production. You can see the different structure of the lasts used to create each slightly-different toebox shape, the progressively more luxe lacing material, the use of high-quality leather contrasted against less-expensive leather and vinyl, the different shapes and heights of heel. It was a great illustration of levels of quality in cordwaining artisanship and variations on a central design theme.

There are a handful of standout pieces in this exhibit--a Dior New Look dress in a multifiber four-color translucent jacquard shot with metallic accents, for example, and a stunning satin-and-tulle red Valentino evening gown--but it's heavily padded out with pret a porter pieces for the "Sweetie-Darling" set. A bespoke mod dandy's ensemble by Mr. Fish stands opposite an off-the-rack Hugo Boss suit. A couple of forgettable lingerie dresses try to hold their own against one of Zandra Rhodes' riotous ensembles. One of my colleagues remarked that she'd never seen a couture exhibit so heavily influenced by the taste of its curator; i'd agree that it was very narrow in its aesthetic range, though whether that's due to the personal tastes of those who assembled it or possibly the limited scope of the Mint's latter-20th-century collection, i don't know.

The Heights of Fashion: Platform Shoes Then and Now

The "Heights of Fashion" exhibit was a distinct disappointment.

It's contained in a single gallery smaller than my dyeshop, in which the walls are painted a jarring pumpkin orange, for no apparent aesthetic reason. Given that the majority of the shoes and boots on display are dark shades--black and tones of brown--a lighter contrast wall would have helped to illuminate details of construction and design, particularly given the low light so often demanded for the preservation of fabrics and leathers.

The arrangement of the exhibit itself is haphazard as well--one case containing samples of extreme footwear from various cultures and periods (Chinese lotus shoes and Japanese geta, for example) is positioned inexplicably between a pair of thigh-high fetishy "ballet boots" and a collection of mens platform loafers and oxfords, while two cases of "Goth" and "fetish" footwear divide overview displays of the 1970s and 1930s, respectively. There was no observably logical way to move through the exhibit and experience it in a historically or culturally meaningful way. Everything felt thrown-together, as if the exhibit expected to rely entirely upon the "novelty" of the items exhibited to carry it.

As with the couture exhibit, the few true gems here hide amongst chaff--a pair of black scalloped Roger Viviers, some tricolor patent Caboots mens platform loafers, the sky-high spiked oxfords from Vivienne Westwood's supermodel-hobbler line, all are interspersed in multi-pair displays on the sidewalls, surrounded by cheaply-made forgettable designs, poorly lit, poorly labeled, and difficult to inspect.

The modern platforms from the last decade exhibited are an outright embarassment. In a case representing "Goth" platform styles, there were a couple pairs of cheap Demonia/Pleaser studded and spiked boots, while in another "fetish shoe" case were the standard stripper-heel fare from lowball ripoff-brands like After Eight. These cases were the niche-cordwaining-design equivalent of a "fine portrait photography" gallery sign pointing to a display of arms-length cellphone snapshotz, but devoid of any attendant Dada irony.

Where, i wondered, were the extravagant original designs by New Rock, Luichiny, Swear, John Fluevog, and Pennangalan/Craig Morrison, whose couture fetish, club-kid, and Goth style designs had inspired the imitations displayed? I realize that they were, presumably, working with what the museum had in their collection, but certainly even a few well-placed ads soliciting loans of shoes of these sorts would have yielded much more exemplary representatives of these styles of platform footwear. After making such a point about the levels of quality between couture and descending-cost knockoffs with their Yves Saint Laurent shoe display in the earlier gallery, the predominance of cheap factory-produced work in the platforms exhibit shocked and jarred me that much more.

One element of both exhibits that seemed truly puzzling was the cavalier, silly conventions of labeling--some exhibit boxes' accompanying text began with goofy jokes (Example: "Q. How do you walk in these?" "A. You don't let go of the pole!"). On more than one placard, emoticons were featured. I suspect these sorts of inclusions were meant to appeal to younger museum-goers, but served only to trivialize the displays.

Permanent Historic Costume and Fashionable Dress Collection

There are a few historical gems to be found amongst the offerings from the permanent collection--a couple of 1830s gowns (also poorly displayed in a "diorama" style alcove with no strategic mirrors to show the backs of the garments) and an otherwise lovely 18th-century multicolor brocade robe a la francais which had been dubiously "restored" with the addition of trim clearly made from polyester satin ribbon. They had a general collections catalogue in their gift shop which depicted some of their other standout historical collection pieces, including a Fortuny original and an L.P. Hollander wedding gown (unfortunately not currently on display) that looked from the photos to be in even more pristine condition than our own Hollander ensemble.

I do have to give the gift shop some props for their array of excellent offerings--it's a small shop but the merchandise is well-chosen and heavy on good-quality books and exhibit catalogues. Much of their overstock from past exhibits is still available at can't-refuse prices--$5 for a folio catalogue from "To Have and To Hold: 135 Years of Wedding Fashion," for example, a title our party purchased several copies of! Unfortunately, they don't do online sales, but you can call to purchase items to be shipped.

The Mint's Costume Collection is a relatively newly recognized formal archive of work--director of fine art Charles Mo has mentioned in several interviews that before he came to the museum, the couture and historical costume pieces owned by the museum had been essentially treated like gramma's old clothes rather than the culturally-significant and finely-crafted artwork that it is. Though the collection was established in 1972, the gallery devoted to its exhibition dates back only to 2005. I gather from our docent that they are working with extremely limited funds (as are most arts institutions these days)--"Everyone's got their pockets sewn shut right now," she said. I also inferred that much of their labor comes from community volunteers rather than trained archivists and conservators; in light of that, i can understand why and how the robe a la francais on display got "restored" with JoAnn's Spool-o-Ribbon, but it's no less unfortunate for the piece in question. It's exciting to have another established archive devoted to the preservation and exhibition of costume, particularly recognizing it for its unique position at the intersection of art, craft, history, anthropology, and culture; i hope to see the Mint's exhibits in this area grow, mature, and expand in future.

All in all, though i've been quite critical, I do recommend a visit to check these out if you're in the area, or as a day-trip--there are a few gems to be found on display for couturiers and costume production artists. It's not worth distance travel though, unless you've got other reasons to be in Charlotte. The Mint is an institution to watch though, for forthcoming exhibits of this sort. They definitely have the potential to put together some future exciting offerings from their collection.

Now that the theatre season has ended and spring semester is coming to a close, this marks a good kick-off for the summer, which usually brings a bit more content in the realm of exhibit reviews and museum coverage. There'll be some millinery work, too, and soon...
labricoleuse: (history)
I've just found a wealth of other great blogs lately, the most recent being Theatre North Carolina, written by my coworker, Shane Hudson, PlayMakers' Associate Director of Development. Shane covers all kinds of topics pertinent to theatre in North Carolina (which i guess is implicit in the blog title). How exciting to find another blogger in the building even, just up the hall! :)

Her blog's not new, but I have to mention yet again the excellent [ profile] kuki_milliner, who's got some great images up from the recent Passejada amb Berret (Parade of Hats) in Barcelona, Spain, as well as an excellent couple of posts on the mechanics and products of her vintage spiral braid-stitching machine.

I was inspired by her recent miniature spiral-braid creations, and spent the weekend working on one of my own...

photo behind the cut, as well as some historical info... )
labricoleuse: (milliner)
PhotobucketSaint Catherine is the unofficial patron saint of milliners, thanks to the trade's association with the Catherinettes.

The term catherinettes historically applied to unmarried women over the age of 25, who were essentially "queen for a day" on the Feast of St. Catherine. Part of the custom involved the making of an elaborate hat and wearing it all day long, hence the millinery association. Catherinettes' hats were traditionally done in shades of green and yellow, though in modern celebrations, it seems to be more of an "anything goes" kind of deal, the more elaborate the better. The Parisian fashion industry throws a huge millinery-centric fete des Catherinettes celebration every year in November, and the custom has been adopted elsewhere around the world by milliners and millinery enthusiasts. Attendees wear grandiose, fabulous hats and often march in procession.

I've gotten wind of a couple of hat-centric events coming up in celebration, so i'm passing on the details in case any of my readership want to go check them out. (If you do, please take pictures!)

Chicago and NYC event images/details )

Are you planning anything chapeau-centric for St. Catherine's Day? Or, want to paste a link to your local millinery collective or guild? I'd LOVE to hear about it!

Locals, want to meet up for an impromptu St Catherine's fete (sporting hats, of course) somewhere? If there's any interest, i'd be glad to coordinate something.

You know, it's a shame that there's not an overarching united collective of regional milliners' guilds, either for the US or North America, which might also serve those of us who are (for lack of a better term) satellite practitioners. In addition to NYC's Milliners Guild and Chicago's Millinery Arts Alliance, Chicago boasts a second milliners' guild, Chapeau, and the Millinery Artisan Guild serves west coast milliners from Seattle down to LA. For those of us who practice our art in an area where perhaps there aren't enough milliners to warrant the formation of a guild, it'd be nice to have the opportunity to be a part of a professional organization addressing millinery concerns anyhow.
labricoleuse: (history)
An old friend and former colleague was in town this weekend, and this afternoon, she and I went and checked out The Merchant's House Museum (which is conveniently located like, two blocks from the Public Theatre).

Wow, what a cool place! It's apparently the only perfectly preserved 19th century merchant-class home in Manhattan that still contains all the original furnishings and appurtenances of 19th century life, all beautifully restored. It's a five-story house which was home to a couple and their seven children, as well as four servants. Though it's not free--admission is $8, $5 for students--it's very affordable, too.

You go on a self-guided tour (they give you a little notebook full of information you can read about the house and its inhabitants, arranged on a room-by-room basis), and there was an attendant guy who was very helpful and full of great "extra" information about everything from the location of the original privy to the finer points of lighting a gasolier. We were allowed to take non-flash photography inside, as well, so i have some pictures to share of some of the highlights (including some cool period attire stuff). Read more... )
labricoleuse: (history)
Even though i went to see this exhibit a week ago, I wanted to wait to write about it until i'd finished reading the companion book, Zaida Ben Yusuf: New York Portrait Photographer by Frank A. Goodyear III.

About a year ago or so, i discovered the photography of Miss Ben Yusuf while doing some research on her mother, Anna Ben Yusuf, author of the 1908 resource text on millinery techniques, Edwardian Hats. Zaida also worked as a milliner, both before and after she set up shop as a portrait photographer, writing magazine articles on "DIY" millinery techniques for magazines of the time and eventually accepting a leadership role in a milliners' trade organization. Ben Yusuf has been a role model of mine ever since--i am particularly drawn to women of earlier eras who blended craft and art as career fields and who were self-sufficient and independent.

At the time when i was avidly combing millinery sources for evidence of her writing, i discovered that portraiture historian Frank Goodyear had been doing his own inquiry into her work from the photography perspective. I wrote to him and he contacted me, and though we only spoke the once, it was so exciting to talk to another person--perhaps the only other person on earth at the time--who not only recognized her name but knew facts about her life and work. (Mr. Goodyear knew far more than i did, in fact, as her photographic career is much more extensively documented in publication than her millinery career.) It was so gratifying and I've been looking forward to Goodyear's exhibit and book ever since!

The exhibit opened in April and i decided to stop in DC to see it on my way up to NYC this summer. Mr. Goodyear has done an amazing job assembling her work from many disparate collections, though according to the companion book there are still loads of lost images she was known to have made. The book reads like a Who's Who of fin de siecle artistic, scientific, and political realms; Ben Yusuf really photographed a staggering number of successful people in her short photographic career (she only worked for maybe a decade or two as a portraiture photographer, bookending that with millinery endeavors). You can check out some of the portraits in the web exhibit online at the NPG website.

It's funny, in addition to portrait historians, i think costume designers and production specicialists are the folks who spend the most time really deeply analyzing portraiture--it's one of the primary sources of period research on the specifics of what people wore. As such, i'm used to looking more at the attire of the portrait subject than his/her face, and my experience of this exhibit and the entire National Portrait Gallery was informed by that. What an overload of excellent little details! If you're at all interested in historical costuming, the NPG is a great museum to wander through on a lazy afternoon (and, bonus, admission is free).

There are a number of other noteworthy exhibits there right now, from a focus on Kathryn Hepburn to "Recognize: Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture," which includes the paintings of Kehinde Wiley, whose work i'd read about and been interested in seeing for ages. Wiley creates huge larger-than-life-size portraits of black celebrities, layered over and backdropped with ornate floral and scrollwork patterns typical of like, Rococo textiles. I also really enjoyed "Ballyhoo: Posters as Portraiture", a collection that spans nearly two centuries of poster art and celebrity.

In reading Goodyear's companion volume, i realized that in working at the Public Theatre right now, i'm less than a block from Ben Yusuf's first 5th Ave studio location, just up from Union Square (which is the subway stop i take every morning). The book mentioned that she married late in life to a textile designer and possibly settled in Brooklyn--i have a vague notion that perhaps this summer i'll comb through a couple old Brooklyn cemeteries in search of her lost grave. We'll see if that happens. It'd make a nice weekend picnic afternoon.

Unrelated, being in NYC this summer reminds me every now and then of these little details that separate city living from rural or town life. Not the huge obvious things like 2934892384 more people and skyscrapers, but the stuff you tend to actually forget, like that your cell battery life is way shorter if you ride the subway regularly and it's forced to do a lot of time searching for service. Speaking of riding the subway, i need to head into work soon. I think i'll be going to a couple of exhibits this weekend and seeing at least one play, so maybe there will also be time to blog about that.
labricoleuse: (history)
I'll be arriving in NYC tonight, and I will most likely be beginning work on Monday at an as-yet-undisclosed location. (I need to find out whether i have their permission to cover anything about the job in the blog or not.)

On the drive up, i stopped in DC to visit some friends and catch a couple of exhibits at local museums. (I'm posting this from there--DC that is--before heading out for the rest of my drive.) The first one i'll talk about is BLUE, currently running through September 18th at the Textile Museum.

BLUE is a followup to the museum's 2007 exhibit, RED, and is similar in theme--it collects together the work of five artists currently working with blue dye as a medium, along with a historical section featuring a range of garments and textiles from various historical periods, cultures, and traditions, all in the thematic hue.

I think my favorite of the modern artists featured was Shihoko Fukumoto, who had several pieces shown. My favorite was Morning Mist 1999, a tea ceremony room made of indigo dyed linen on a delicate frame. It just looked like the most peaceful space to sit inside of.

Some of the highlights from the historical section were the 19th-century Japanese fireman's coat, essentially a large indigo-dyed quilted garment kind of like a kimono, and a tiny preserved piece of cloth dyed in indigo with a horse woven into it from the 5th century. (Many of the historical pieces are depicted on the website's image section, actually.)

At the end of the exhibit was a film room showing sections of a documentary on indigo, which was fascinating.

Upstairs from BLUE was another exhibit of accessories and clothing from Bolivia, including some really cool embroidered and beaded hats, and a hands-on informational section for "textile novices" explaining common vocabulary terms used when referring to textiles, including samples of different kinds of fiber before and after processing, and different styles of weaving.

In the Bolivia exhibit, aside from the beaded hats my favorite thing was a finely-woven shawl depicting both with traditional figures like horses and chickens and more modern images like airplanes and guitars. They also had some really amazing embroidered coca-leaf bags and some extremely finely-knit caps, pouches, and tiny dolls. Honestly, these things must've been knit with like, toothpicks.

The Textile Museum also has an extensive library on its top floor, but by the time we got through the exhibit, it was after hours. I'd love to go check it out next time i'm in DC, though! I did get to make a run through the gift shop, where i bought a couple of Maiwa Productions' documentaries, one on indigo production and one on natural dyestuffs. There was of course a huge amount of amazing fiber art and books and other publications, but i figured i'd invest in the videos, in case i decide to use them in the dyeing class i teach in spring. Students often ask about natural dyeing and indigo, and it'd be cool to have some footage to look at on those topics instead of just book-stuff. So far i've watched part of the indigo documentary and it's really fascinating, showing harvesting processes and the vat setups at indigo farms that have been around for centuries over in India and such.

Also, if you hit the Textile Museum while in DC, i recommend taking the metro and walking--the walk up S Street takes you past a lot of foreign consulates, some of which have really amazing architecture, landscaping, and sculpture outside!
labricoleuse: (paraplooey)
My students are hard at work on their parasol project--most are restoring antique frames whose canopies had rotted or were altogether missing. I try to do many of the projects in my courses along with or a step ahead of the students, so that i have a practical example for them to observe.

UNC has a large archival collection of antique clothing and accessories (many examples of which are accessible online at the CoSTAR costume archive's website). Some of these pieces histories are known, but many are anonymous donations or came to us so long ago that information as to their origin is lost. In the course of writing Sticks and Petticoats, i went through our antique parasol stock and sorted out what was in stageworthy condition, what might be restored to stageworthy condition, and what might be salvaged for parts in the restoration of other parasol frames. Among our stock i found this super-sweet little carriage parasol from the mid-19th century... )
labricoleuse: (history)
I've been sitting on this review for a while, meaning to post and and continuing to forget. Oops!

If you don't know the story of the treasure of the steamboat Arabia, it's a pretty incredible one.

Loaded to capacity with an enormous cargo of goods, the Arabia set sail up the Missouri River in 1856; her aim was to distribute merchandise to a number of frontier-town general stores north of St. Louis. A submerged spar (broken tree stump) punctured her hull and the ship with all its cargo sank within minutes. The passengers and crew all escaped with their lives; the only casualty was a mule tied to the ship's rail whose owner neglected to free him before swimming for shore. Over time, the course of the Missouri changed so drastically that the Arabia wound up discovered in the late 1980s in a Kansas cornfield!

Archaeological crews exhumed the entire ship and her contents; the ship has been rebuilt complete with original working sidewheel, and the museum contains displays of all the lading of the Arabia. This includes medical supplies, household goods, preserved food, bourbon whiskey, hardware and tools, fabric and notions, readymade clothing, shoes and boots, luxury items such as china and jewelry, firearms, you name it! All of it has been painstakingly preserved and displayed. There's even a restoration lab open on one wall to the public--you can watch as technicians work to restore items before your very eyes using equipment like a freeze-dryer, dental tools, tiny brushes, etc.

What was so amazing to me was the quantity of recovered items--not just a few buttons, but thousands of them; not just one pair of shoes, but dozens; not a single bolt of cloth, but a whole stack of them. The opportunity to inspect multitudes of everyday objects of 1856 was indescribably excellent. I took some time out of my drive back to Carolina from Utah this summer to visit the museum--only a short jaunt off of the interstate highway--and am so glad that i did. I kept saying to my friend that accompanied me, "This is awesome. This is awesome!"

My main criticism of the museum is its crummy gift shop. They are on the right track with some of their items--they reproductions of some of the recovered artifacts, a couple perfumes, a tiny child's doll, a bell, a key, a button--but by and large the merchandise blows. I wanted a range of t-shirt and hoodie designs to choose from, a whole array of postcards, a coffeetable book with excellent photos and documentation, etc., and they don't have much of that. It's largely stocked with standard generic state-souvenir crap you can get at any truckstop. Disappointing. Where are the parasols, reticules, ascots, fun sutlery things that would sell like hotcakes? The museum is well worth the trip regardless; they ought to fire their merchandising director though, because i really wanted to spend a ton of money in their gift shop but there wasn't enough quality merchandise for me to purchase. I bought a necklace made from one of the calico buttons and a single postcard.

Graspy shoppy acquisitivity aside, i highly recommend the museum to anyone interested in American 19th century history, particularly those with an enthusiasm for the minutiae of daily life. It's decidedly worth checking out!

* * *

And, speaking of costume related history, I've got a link from the GBACG list via La Bricoleuse reader (and pal) [ profile] trystbat: the Danish site Tidens Toej is an amazing resource for period garments! All the text is in Danish, but it's fairly easy to navigate anyway using intuition and online translating sites. The coolest thing about the site I think is, not only do they have excellent photos of their archived garments, but they have period research images (engravings, illustrations, etc.) *&* in some cases, downloadable PDFs of patterns for the garments! I like the format of the site so much, i'm going to forward the info to the folks that run our online historic costume archive, CoSTAR!

Also of interest, a page about shipwreck indigo. Essentially, dye professional Jenny Balfour Paul had the extraordinary opportunity to dye some cloth using indigo recovered in an archaeological exhumation of the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, the flagship of a fleet of ships that sank off the Caribbean Turks Islands in 1641.
labricoleuse: (history)
From time to time, i post about donations we receive to our vintage clothing and costume archive, CoStar. We are in the process of digitally documenting the collection, but our grant money only goes so far, and as such, we are perhaps 10-15% of the way through. The things i post about will eventually be more formally documented and become part of the online archive, but i am often so excited about particularly well-preserved donations that i "preview" them here. (For example, this post on a complete 1877 ensemble with underpinnings.)

The piece i want to share today is, as best i can determine from research, a straw hat dating from around 1907, donated to the archive by Anna Marchland.

photos, including interior structural view! )
labricoleuse: (history)
If you read a range of sources in the blogosphere, you probably are already aware of the fact that this week has been International Blog Against Racism Week (August 6-12, ending today).

I've read with interest--and often exasperation--discussions sparked in other blogs about a whole panoply of issues relating to race, bigotry, and prejudice.
I think that discussion itself is of great import--airing of feelings, respectful debate, even heated argument is better than silence and avoidance. Talking leads to thinking, and sometimes thinking facilitates changes of heart and mind. Even in the discussions that have exasperated me, i know many people's hearts are in the right place, that they are trying to understand or to make others understand, and that in and of itself is hopeful.

I did not want to make a randomly off-topic post, along the lines of "I know this blog is normally all about costume craftwork, but today i'd like to talk instead about the social and economic challenges faced by an interracial couple in rural Tennessee!" However, in the past couple of days, two situations have presented themselves which are both topical for La Bricoleuse, *&* address aspects of racism and race-based prejudice (and, in one of the two cases, sexism as well).

straw hat bigotry and stereotype masking )
labricoleuse: (hats!)
Part two, in which we learn that the majority of millinery work in 1914-16 was not at all dissimilar to the employment conditions of the seasonal-theatre costuming industry of the 21st century. Sections of this are more "dry facts-and-figures" than the earlier post i made with the first half of it, but they are interesting if you want to know about pay disparity among experience levels and such.

Read more... )

So, that's it for the Cleveland millinery scene in 1916. Hope you enjoyed reading about it. I have some other fascinating texts i'm planning on transcribing in future as well, of a similar nature--period resources on the nature of the work in various related fields.

And, thanks for the heads-up from [ profile] kuki_milliner, who posted the other day about the 50%-off e-book sale over at They offer a range of e-books on specialized millinery topics--strip straw hats, sinamay hats, double-brimmed hats, etc. Normally they're $25 each, which feels a bit steep to me for a 40-page .pdf download, but half that's a bit more reasonable. It might be worth checking out, particularly if you are interested in millinery techniques using specialty materials like straw and crin.

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