November 27, 2011

How to use Google Books to find fashion plates (and just about anything else you can think of!)

On my fashion plate blog, I was recently asked if I would post fashion plates from the 1860s-1890s.  I had to decline, simply because I am not interested in that period of fashion history and therefore haven't put much study into it (and certainly haven't sank the hours upon hours upon hours collecting images like I have for the 1770s-1840s).  I hated to deny someone the opportunity to see fashion plates from that period, however, so I recommended that she look into one of my favorite sources, Google Books.

  In my opinion, this is one of the best uses of the internet I have ever seen, especially for those of us interested in history.  Google has amassed a staggering collection of public domain books, journals, magazines, etc. and digitized them in (usually) pretty good quality.  I have collected many of the fashion plates that I post from there, but it is also a wonderful place to find patterns and other inspiration.  My only qualm with GB is that it can be a little hard to navigate the first few times I used it, so I put together a few tips in case you are interested in diving into the wonderful world that lives in the massive servers of The Goog.  Fair warning:  it is the ultimate time sink, and I will occasionally find that I have spent HOURS going down the rabbit hole!  Have fun!

(Another warning: they don't have much from pre-1810, so it isn't a great source for images of 18th Century stuff.  They do have many of the early Lady's Magazines digitized, they just don't have engravings in them.  They are still fascinating to read!)

The first step is to find out what you want to search for.  You can search by term, date, author, title- anything, really!  For fashion plates, I always search by title, as that can be the most specific term.  You really only need to know one publication title, and you can find others from there (more on that below), so just stick something in (Ackermann's Repository of the Arts, La Belle Assemblee, Godey's Lady's Book, and La Mode Illustree are all good choices!):

The rest is told in (great big) pictures!  Yay!

Here's the search results:

And here's the view when you click on a publication title:

And here's how you save something:

September 22, 2011

Bonnets by Year: 1794 and 1795

To continue on my Bonnets by Year posts, I offer these gorgeous toppers from Gallery of Fashion, from the years 1794 and 1795.  I did two years on this one, because bonnets and hats weren't the most common fashion choices for these years.  Obviously there is going to be a lot of evening wear in a fashion publication, and all but turbans were daywear, but they still weren't frequent.  The vast majority of the women were shown wearing bandeaux (a strip of fabric wound 'round the head with hair peeking out.  They often had feathers stuck in the front):

Bandeaux, April 1794

You can distinctly see the transitions from hats to bonnets in these years.  Many of them are still mostly hat-like, with brims that are generally even around all edges and hard, tall crowns.  They are mostly straw or chip, with some being fabric covered.  We see no soft crowns yet!  Many are adorned with tall feathers placed in front and ribbons galore, but you see a couple that are tied to the head with fabric.  

(Click for a much larger version!  It will open in a new frame then just click the link of the bottom left)

September 19, 2011

Bonnets by Year: 1797

I was bitten by the bonnet bug earlier this year, and I can't seem to stop making them!  I tend to get really bogged down in projects that take a few weeks (or longer!) to make, and they always end up being tedious and unpleasant by the time I finish them.  I can whip out a bonnet in a couple of days, and it is a really fun way to experiment with colors and trim that I wouldn't normally use.

Since I started my fashion plate blog, I've been collecting fashion plates and have been paying particular attention to the bonnets.  I found it tedious to scroll through my collection (and I was always distracted by the pretty dresses!) so I put together one-page collection of just bonnets from fashion plates.  Here are all of the bonnets featured in the publication Journal des Dames et des Modes (also referred to as "Costume Parisien")  from the year 1797.

Click on the image for a larger version, it will open in a new screen
 then click on the link on the bottom left for the full-size image

I really love the bonnets from these early years.  Since they were still a relatively  new fashion accessory, women are experimenting pretty wildly with the styles and look of them.  Look at all that variation!  I have a hard time picking my favorite, but I think it is the yellow and black on on the bottom row.  Which one do you like best?

I'll be featuring a new year every so often.  The first few years are pretty sparse, but starting around 1800 there are many more plates and publications to draw from, so you'll see a lot more bonnets!

September 16, 2011

Laure Bro's Voile Gown

First I have to start out by saying I am amused that my inagural post is about 19th Century fashion.  That is very out of the ordinary for me, as I focus almost solely on fashion from the 1770s and 1780s, but my need to dress up and do fun things has forced me to finally venture out of my comfort zone, so I present you with my most recent creation.

In my sewing infancy, about eight years ago, I came across A Portrait of Laure Bro by Theodore Gericault, circa 1818.

(By the way, this image is often misnamed as Laura Bro.  Her name is Laure.  There also seems to be some confusion about the date.  I've also seen it as 1819 or 1820, but I trust Aileen Ribiero, my source.)

I was deep into my research of the 1770s when I first saw it, and while I was struck by her beauty and her lovely gown, I wouldn't be pulled off my track, so into the back of my head she went.  When the need for a nice Regency gown presented itself this year, she popped back into my consciousness and the dress was born.

The inner fabric of the gown is white linen that I had on hand. If I did it again I wouldn't use the linen, because it ended up being quite heavy in the skirts. Blame it on rigid resistance to using cotton (the perils of the 18th Century mindset...) and happiness that I was able to use something in my stash. The outer fabric is a truly gorgeous white cotton voile that I got from Exclusive Silks, one of my favorite fabric sources. It has the most gorgeous drape and hand, and while it was finicky as all hell to work with, the end result is really lovely.

I started construction with the bodice.  It is in two layers: a very low cut opaque layer and a sheer, gathered layer with a higher neckline.  The neckline looks bound and is cut very wide- almost to her sleeves.  The width of the neckline at it narrowest point was going to be a problem for me since my Regency stays have wide shoulder straps.  I wasn't about to make a new pair, so I had to deviate from the original at that point.   The gentle gathers of the bodice front are a beautiful feature, and one that I worked really hard to capture.

There was some invention when it came to the back of the bodice.  Obviously, the painting gives no hint to what the back looks like, but I decided to carry over the gathering so that it echoed the front of the gown.  The back is finished with self-fabric buttons.

Bah!  You can see my stays peeking out...

 The sleeves were probably the trickiest feature of the gown.  It isn't entirely clear from the image if they are opaque or sheer.  Depending on when I look at the image, I can see both!  I decided to make them up in the voile only, knowing that I could insert a linen layer if needed, but I fell in love with the look of the sheer sleeves on their own, so I stuck with those.  The voile is crisp enough to give them some puff without the heaviness of the linen.

The skirts of the gown are mostly pretty cut and dry, with the exception of the tucks.  I think this is an especially beautiful and elegant finishing technique.  I wanted to incorporate the selvedge edge of my voile into the hem of the gown, so I actually cut the skirts along the width of the fabric instead of the length.  Somewhere along the way I ended up cutting it too long, so where Laure has 4 tucks, I ended up with 6.  

Lucky for me, I came across two yards of gorgeous silk ribbon that was the perfect color to match the beautiful Laure Bro.  It is such a simple addition, but I think it makes the gown. 

Every time I get to wear clothing from my Regency wardrobe, I am amazed at how breezy and comfortable it is compared to my typical 18th Century dress.  More and more, I am enjoying my dip into this new time period!

Now if only I could find those blue shoes...