Victorian seaside adventure!

Some things start unexpectedly…. last January I picked some lovely silk that just screamed Victorian Seaside Bustle frock… And so for the summer I put a few days aside to make it – and to nip somewhere on the coast for … Continue reading

That Bespoke Thang…

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Over the last 20 years of sewing for other people this is one of the more often-asked  questions – “Why is bespoke more expensive than ready to wear, off-the-peg garments?”  And this request accounts for about 80% of the email I am getting nowadays too:
“I saw your off the peg riding habit/gown/corset and I love it –  I would like it made bespoke for me, in a different fabric and colour and with more decoration – will the price be the same?”

 

 

The reason for the difference in price is simple – as already stated in one of my previous blogs,  ( A Queen on a budget, please), nowadays ordering bespoke is very rare thing. People are used to all the cheap, ready made clothing they see in the shops, and  even with specialised items such as corsetry and historical  clothing,  a lot of people do not realise the difference between the ‘off-the-peg’ and ‘bespoke’, especially when made by he same person or company.

So,to make things simpler let us have a look at what you are actually paying for – at least  as far as my own merchandise is concerned..

  Off the Peg items:

* Fabric

* Labour –   a generically sized pattern is used to cut out the fabric, followed by assembly and decoration: the price will depend upon the complexity of the garment and time needed to execute it

*Notions – decorations, buttons, thread, embroidery, etc

*Packing/postage/delivery if required

*My professional expertise, knowledge and experience!

 

 Bespoke items.

  • Fabric

 

  •  Labour –
    • initial measuring  session with a client
    • drafting their specific pattern
    • making up a mock-up ( toile)
    • fitting the mock up on the client (with second client visit)
    • cutting out fabric based on final pattern from re-fitted toile
    •  assembling  the garment proper,
    •  fitting session with a client – these stages may be repeated several times depending upon how many items are to be made or how complex the garments may be)
    •  final assembly of the garment(s)
    •  adding decoration, finishing touches, etc
    • pick up session  with finished garments – although rarely needed, there is usually time assigned for any last minute corrections, as well. In my case you are likely to get a free photoshoot  with TimeLight  Photographic too, if you wish 😉
    • after-care –  small repairs or minor adjustments are generally provided for free; bigger ones may be provided at a reduced hourly rate. People usually come back to resize a garment if they have lost or gained significant weight,  or to add more decoration, reapply a hem guard if the  original one is worn out, etc.
  • time  (apart from actual making of the garment)-
    • fitting sessions, measuring sessions have to be scheduled in.
    • consultation, either in person, on the phone or by email, giving advice on style,  fabric choices, historical accuracy, etc.  For a relatively simple garments emails and message exchange may take several hours to write, research, etc. In the most extreme case I received over 250 emails from one person in one week about her commission…
    • research. Lots of research.
    • sourcing the fabrics, embellishments and other providers for items we do not supply direct (blackwork, embroidery, shoes, etc)
    • writing up contracts, quotes and invoices
    • chasing up clients  to settle on fitting dates, etc. Fortunately, a good contract means we don’t have to chase folks for the payment! (more on contracts for businesses running a business – contracts)

 

  • notions – decorations, buttons, thread, etc
  •  

    packing/postage/delivery if needed

  •  

    my professional expertise, knowledge and experience.

 

  • stress!  I am an introvert and dealing with people, however lovely, and no matter how enjoyable it is for me, (and make no mistake, I love my work and so far all of my bespoke clients have been amazing – to such an extent that we often develop friendly relations afterwards and stay in touch socially), this stress still takes its toll. After a few ours of fittings I feel as if I have run a marathon and all I want to do is sleep:-)

 

See the difference?  A riding habit that looks the same  will take 3 times as long  if made bespoke – and that is usually  true for every other item.

Above – a bespoke habit  worth over £1000 in quality cloth, fittings, handmade and hand applied braiding and an off the peg habit from our online shop – £370

 

Another thing to consider is  the fact that I make off-the-peg garments largely to satisfy my own insane desire to create pretty things – I make them in the size I want, in a fabric I like and have available currently and in a style I feel inclined to – I don’t have to  consult a client on what they would like. If I change my mind half way through – that is fine. If I feel tired and don’t fancy pushing myself to finish by a certain deadline – that is fine too. Full creative freedom.

Bespoke work is much more complex, since I have to adhere to the client’s ideas, body type, etc, so it provides quite a different feeling. Taking someone else’s ideas and making a fully functional garment, looking the way they want it too look, and fitting them well is immensely satisfying. All the hours of research, fittings, handstitching etc are worth it not only in terms of the financial reward-  the look on the client’s faces when they see themselves in the mirror wearing  their new clothing for the first time is a great reward too – and, I won’t lie, I love  to see my work worn and admired. The last session when a final outfit is tried on is always stressful – no matter how experienced you are, you are always worried that maybe this button is a tad too tight, or maybe the skirt is 0.5″ too big. Paltry things, easy to sort out within minutes, but irrationally, I still always worry!

But when it all comes together – well, the moment is magic. And  I don’t charge for that! 😉

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Running a Costuming Business, part 3:The Art of Objectivity

 

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A short follow up on my earlier posts, ( part 1 and 2), dealing with running a creative business – not only a costuming one I suppose, but applying to many art- and craft-related business as well.

This point has come up recently, but in quite a few places, and so I though it was worth discussing it here. I have mentioned ‘constant learning’ and pointed out how important it is if you want your  business to succeed, but  I neglected to mention one important thing:

MISTAKES.

…and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, mistakes are  your friend.  They show  you clearly in which areas you need to improve, they make you aware that there is yet more research todo/ techniques to study, and  as a result, you get better! The thing is, everybody makes mistakes- but not everybody learns from them.

I am often asked by  folks for an opinion on their creations – and they all ask me for an honest opinion. And an honest opinion I give, highlighting both the points of excellency, and  stating what areas could do with some improvement (as a college teacher I have had decades of practice on how to do this, at least now it comes  handy for my own business too!); and guessed what?  A few folks are happy,  a few take the comments on board and apply in their future work, a few listen, thank me and ignore whatever was suggested – and that is all fine. However, quite a significant  percentage are angry and actually resort to abuse,  (“how dare you criticise my gown! I spent months working on it!” ; “You are just  jealous, you must hate my work –  all my friends are saying this piece is perfect!”; and even “go fuck yourself, you ‘know- it-all’,  my work is faultless; afraid of competition, huh?”).  They do make for an interesting read sometimes, and sometimes they leave me puzzled – so after some thinking and a few discussions with friends,  I realised  an important thing:

Very few people are able to view their work objectively.

It works in both directions. Some  people create amazing things  but in their own eyes they are nothing special, just ‘something I made’ . The are the perfectionists, never satisfied with the end result, and sometimes suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’. As a result they do put their own work down, and either under-price it or, if making things for themselves, they get disappointed with the lack of perfection. Usually  they just need a bit of a boost, usually from another person whose opinion they feel they can trust, to start looking at their creations in a different light. Sometimes their sense of underachievement may come from comparing their own work to other artists to whom they look up – and that issue can be dealt with as well.

If you think you might be one of these folks, there are a few things you may do, to try to look at your own work in a more realistic light:

  • Read up on the Impostor Syndrome and ways to overcome it; (a good start here)
  • Set yourself realistic goals. Aim high, yes – but in small steps rather than one huge leap.  Take small steps, each bringing you closer to your ideal.
  • Identify the issues that you think your work has, write them down and then discuss  – ideally with a specialist in the area, an outsider who will be objective, but if you have friends who are able to tell you what they really think, that can work, too. Seek out a few good, informed opinions – if none of them perceive the same issues as yourself, there is a high probability that the issue is really only in your own head! If they agree and state that there is something upon which you can improve, don’t despair. Simply note the advice and plan for how to deal with it. This is one of your targets, and gives you something tangible to work on, whilst on your way to ‘perfection’.
  •  Talking about perfection – well, it means something different to  everybody.  I  usually assume absolute perfection is unattainable, but one can damn well try to get as close as possible! Do not over-obsess though – that one, tiny, skipped stitch you found on the inside or that one buttonhole 0.2mm out of alignment?  It will most likely not be noticed by 99.9% of the population…
  • Know your limits: everybody has different strengths and different weaknesses – use your strengths to your advantage.  You can make a great piece of clothing with a commercial pattern, but when trying to pattern things yourself you end up in a mess?- either take lessons or a course in patterning, or just concentrate on doing what you are good at! Or, if you cannot follow a pattern at all and get lost in calculations, but can free-hand them with ease and the end result is amazing – well, ditch the patterns! There are may ways leading to the same result, all of them equally good.

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  • Don’t always compare yourself to the top of your profession. Yes, look up to them and learn from them, but also take time to compare yourself to your peers, and also to those who are just starting out.  This is crucial – and works for many walks of life.  I  had a similar experience in Mixed Martial Arts quite recently –   for the last year or so I have been trying to spar with the best fighters, thinking that these guys are the ones to learn from. I was right, but only partially.  I was learning, but couldn’t see it, and the fact that I was having my arse handed to me again, and again, and again, wasn’t particularly motivating. I did some sparring with the beginners, and enjoyed the teaching and coaching part, but it was only when I came across somebody who was my peer, more or less,  when I understood how much I had learnt. These guys were not the cage fighters I usually worked with, but blokes who had been coming for the last year or so – fit, young and looking quite formidable. I sparred with them a few times half a year ago or so  and was just about able to handle it.  So now I expected something similar – but it turned out much better. Suddenly all the moves that I wasn’t able to pull with the ‘pros’ now worked! I seemed faster and more agile – although obviously I wasn’t – they were just a bit slower than my usual sparring partners. My ego soared! At least until the next round when  I was ground to dust by one of our pros…  it is a lengthy example but I hope it shows how working with all, levels, higher and lower can help you understand your own capabilities: Working with the best can provide you with inspiration and will make you learn; working with peers will help you assess your own work better and you learn from each other a lot too; working with beginners will help you realise how far you have come – and will help them to improve as well.

 

* Take photos of you work and if you are feeling particularly low, have a look at the old ones.  more often than not, you will see how far you have come!

*and a final note – Do not use the Impostor Syndrome as an excuse for sloppy work – if  one sleeve is longer than another, if the collar doesn’t align or the hem buckles it is not you telling yourself you are trying too hard to be too perfect and most people wont notice it anyway. Grab that seam ripper and set too work, it will be worth it!

 

Now, let us have a look at the other end of the scale.

Some people are not able to see their own mistakes – and the reasons may be  numerous, ranging from a case of Dunning- Kruger Syndrome  to the fact that your family and friends may be pumping you full lies so that you stay happy. Or maybe  you are starting  on a long road and are so ecstatic about the first step as a whole, that you cannot see the details which could be improved (been there, done that, got the tee shirt. I now cringe when I look at those ‘masterpieces’ I used to be so proud of!)

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one of my early corsets…. essentially a tube. but gosh, i was so ecstatic about it!

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4 years and about 60 corsets later…. getting better!

Most often, the apparent confidence in one’s own brilliance comes not from an over-abundance of self esteem – but rather a lack of it. Often, people are bought up in the belief that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all cost – and that admitting to one is just as bad. Years of self delusion, denying all possibility of any fault, usually re-enforced  by the white lies that family and friends feed you, and you somehow loose the ability to see your mistakes – and most importantly, to learn from them.

Now, if you are making things for yourself, and love what you doing – that is really all that matters – especially when  you are happy about your results. You are happy and that’s the end of it – enjoy it, and what everybody  else is thinking does not matter at all.

However, if  your professional career depends upon it, and you are making things for other people, this can be detrimental to the development of your business and indeed can stop you from fully realising your creative potential. It will also make you very unhappy – you are producing fantastic things, but nobody wants to buy them – why?  If you want to succeed, you need to understand how to adjust your perception – even though your mind is telling you clearly that there is no fault with the product, it is just that all of those other people are wrong, and being awkward! ;-0).
There are a few techniques that may help:

  •  It is very difficult to judge your own work accurately – so seek the opinions of outsiders, just as mentioned above. Try not to get upset when critical advice is offered, but do take notes and decide which parts need more work. Make sure the ‘experts’ you are asking for advice are indeed knowledgeable folks with experience and not just a friend of a friend who once made a hankie….
  • Assume from the start that what you have just made may have faults. Although lots of art is deeply subjective, at least in costuming things can be made easy – you cannot  ‘objectively’ state how pretty something is, but there are measurable quantities and aspects – below are two of my check-lists, for corsetry and off-the-peg  Victorian dresses. Lists like that are  great, and you will soon find that in time they become mental check-lists, and that you are  noticing a mistake as you work  along and correcting it as you go – much easier than doing so after the garment is finished!
  •  Seam ripper is your best friend –  it is frustrating, dull and infuriating, but it is really worth it to rip and redo a wonky seam!
  • …as is the tape measure. You may not see that the collar is uneven, but you cannot argue with the tape informing you kindly that one edge is half an inch higher than the other….  These may be details – but oh, so often they do make a difference between a mediocre dress and a superb outfit!
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Your Best Friend

  • Get some distance – after you make a garment,  put it away overnight, or at least for a few hours and go for a walk, or do something different. Then look at it with fresh eyes and try to asses it as somebody else’s work. I once spent a whole day working on a replica bolero jacket for a museum. I was battling with a lurgy and not feeling great, but decided to soldier through.  I shouldn’t have. I felt better the next day and one look at the garment made me go: “Oh, crap, I need to do the blasted thing again”.   There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it just did not seem right, I went through my checks with a tape measure etc, and realised what was the problem : the bias bits were not done well enough, the trim was a bit uneven, buttons just a notch out of alignment… I spent the whole day remaking it from scratch. As it turned out, the client liked both –  but I felt better knowing that I had made an item better suited for public viewing
  •  As in the opposite spectrum, perform frequent ‘reality checks’. Seek advice from people you admire, compare your work to your peers’ and study together, help beginners –  a few times, I have realised my own mistakes only after seeing them on a student’s work. And the occasional bitch-and-stitch sessions can be not only educational, but fun 🙂
  • As before, do take pictures. Compare your old work with new pieces; if you are learning and improving, there will  be clear evidence of it, and it will sharpen your ‘mistake hunting’ senses. By the same token, if you look at the skirts you made over the last 3 years and they all feature an uneven hem – well, you know precisely your next personal improvement goal!
  •  Having said all that, don’t go over the top trying to find out the slightest faults in every single item. Improving is one thing – loosing your joy in making things is quite another, and it is never a good thing trying to make a living doing things you don’t enjoy any more…

 

Well, that is it – I believe my first blog ever with more text than pictures, a rarity!  I hope my musings were not too hard a read and that they may help some people. If you have any ideas on other techniques people can use to learn how to assess  their own work (more or less objectively), please share in the comments!

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Medieval Glamping at Sudeley Castle

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After last year’s success at Sudeley castle , the Black Knight Historical team were invited once more – and that meant we were hired to entertain the visitors. The theme changed however – whereas last year we were inside the castle, doing 17th century stuff ( lace making, apothecary/early science), this time it was all about Richard III.

Which meant Lucas was one of the Richard’s cronies, Ratcliffe, and I was his wife Agnes. Which meant – posh stuff, posh tent, poshness galore, even more so since Eleanor (as Cecille Neville, Duchess of York, mother to the king) was to reside in our tent too.

And all of which meant that I needed to update my wardrobe. I had one posh frock but needed another one, plus a new kirtle, posher than the woollen ones I already had.

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Because one posh frock is never enough…

And as it happened I just managed to grab some lovely silks at the last market. They were supposed to go towards stock items, but I just couldn’t resist… not only that, I simply couldn’t afford much mid-season ( we had spent a bit on updating the tent’s interior), so I simply had to make do with whatever I had in my silk stash.

So, for a late 15th century I decided on a kirtle in this style, from the Marie of Burgundy portrait – especially since the silk  I had, from Watts&CO, was almost exactly the same ..

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I did not have time for the trim, belt and a new henin, but since it wasn’t meant to be an exact copy, the rest of the details could wait their turn ( I wonder how long will that be..). The rest however worked well.

The style is almost a transition gown, when the flat fronted kirtle started improving in cut and began to fit nicely, slowly transitioning into the kirtles of the early Tudor style.

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Working on the back of the bodice, attaching lining

Mine is lined with  brown silk ( gold/orange for the sleeves), and the bodice section is strengthened with one layer of fine linen canvas – more than enough to keep one’s assets in place; Indeed I quickly discovered that it was giving me much more of a cleavage than I had reckoned for! At the event, for modesty’s sake, I covered the bosom with a placard or a linen neckerchief, but the frock will need to be adjusted so that  the neckline will go up a bit. Heaving bosoms are not exactly the way to go in high medieval fashion… (more on silhouettes across the ages here)

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The sleeves are funky. I laced up mine with lovely points made by Lucy the Tudor; the dress fastens at the back with a longer lace too.

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 The kirtle worked wonderfully – I wore it on its own ( that is with a chemise, hose, headgear, etc) when inside the tent. The tent represented my household so it was still proper to be on a slightly more relaxed footing, without the overgown. I was at home, weaving, while my important and recently-made-very-wealthy husband was discussing important business with the king. And the queen mother just happened to pay a visit…

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So a great compromise, posh enough to be seen indoors – and, for one day at least, it was a blessing since it was incredibly hot!  3 layers is not much, but  it just wasn’t too nice to be sweating!

I was mostly sitting in the shade, and demonstrating weaving – both on a rigid heddle and on tablets, and both styles proved to be very popular with the visitors. I enjoyed long and detailed chats about the history of weaving narrow wares, textiles etc, and  it was a pleasure to exchange views and information with a very polite and well informed public. A few  ladies  had actually had a go at the weaving themselves 🙂

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Threading the little loom with linen threads in preparation for tablet weaving

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Tablet weaving in action

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Eleanor talking to the visitors – wearing a Prior Attire gown in gold metallic silk too!

As far as the gown was concerned, I had a length of black damask and was hoping it would be just enough…

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After some serious calculations ( yes! maths happened!), measurements, and drafting, trying to plan how much of the fabric I could use, and still match the pattern, it transpired that it was just enough for a voluminous gown with a modest train. I didn’t mind the modest train, my other frock has a long one, so a variety is there – plus I planned to posh this frock up with some fur…

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The first lady in the black was my generic inspiration – again, the fabric seems almost exactly the same style!

The fur was purchased from GH leathers  – 2 plates of white rabbit ( oh, and one of black for Lucas – didn’t I mention he was getting a new robe too?)

The gown was cut and made, lined with red silk and then the purfells  were prepared – fur was cut to shape for the hem, collar and cuffs, and the borders were secured with tape.

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Then they were studiously attached to the garment, by hand – it takes some time, but the whole process of preparing and attaching the purfells was worth it – the fur lies flat and neat!

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I put on the gown next morning and we had a mini photo-shoot in the castle grounds before the public stormed in 🙂

I must admit that I like the comfortable, shorter gown without a huge train to lug behind, and the basic colours looked elegant – with just a hint of clashing reds and vibrant greens from the kirtle:-)

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Flashing the greens, matching the foliage around!

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The back view

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We found some nice windows for an atmospheric shot…

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…but the wind was playing up with my veil a lot – so had to swap sides!

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The grounds of Sudeley Castle are breathtaking, and the event went well the next day too – it was cooler, so I got to wear the dress most of the day, but it also rained rather a lot. However, Brits  are used to this weather so we still had lots of visitors, though instead of sun hats and sandals they came armed with wellies and umbrellas:-)

The king ( Jason Kingsley)  was around on both days, taking part at ceremonies, public dinners, shows and also entertaining the public while giving short demonstrations of exquisite horsemanship on ‘White Surrey’ (actually Warlord)

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A sneaky picture from the tent…

There were a lot of  things to see – soldiers, kitchens, craftsmen, camp followers, storytelling, a whole bunch of Richard’s many cronies, a fashion show  – in short enough to occupy a family for a day ( plus  for the visitors nice food, the castle, medieval market, ice cream, and beautiful gardens to roam around).

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In short, an exquisite event, probably the most enjoyable tented event of the year – and indeed staying in a posh medieval tent was very much like glamping…  all the things we have accumulated over the years, fur covers, woven mats, tables, tapestries, lanterns, etc – it was all worth every penny; not only to see the pleasant surprise on the  public’s faces – but for our own comfort!

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Despite the rain, the tent was dry, and the mats got  lightly wet at the edges only.  The bed with its layers of sheepskin and wool bedding, with coverings made in wool and fur was not only warm but comfy ( Lucas may have a different opinion, as I got the bed before I knew him – so it is a tad too short for him). Me, I enjoy sleeping under the canvas, especially in the rain – so I loved every minute!

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Tapestries made a real difference too, as well as all the paraphernalia – lots to talk about to the visitors. Some of the items were provided by Eleanor (the games table, religious items, a chair, etc. Still, there’s an ever growing list of what we need for the tent – more chests, more wall coverings, more chairs.. I now want a standing loom too… So, it looks as if we may need a trailer… or a van….

Oh, and did I mention that Lucas got a new robe? There it is, in  the same silk as my kirtle, so we were matching 🙂 I still have enough of it to make another short robe, I may  yet make a stock item after all…

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reading from Chaucer…:-)

And the usual  facts and credits…….

Green kirtle – fabric – 4m of green silk, £115 per metre from the website if I remember well, but I managed to grab a roll at the market at a £80 per metre:-)

4m of taffeta for lining, £25 per metre

silk laces, £25

overall cost of materials –  £450

The gown:

Black damask – 7m @ £60 per metre,

Red taffeta for lining  – £6m @ £25

Fur – £150

Overall cost of materials: –  £650

…and the article on  how to make Burgundian dress and a kirtle here...

With more medieval inspiration here

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Clothes – Prior Attire

Lovely bling (I got a hat gem specially for the event) – as always, by Gemmeus

Belt –  Bayley Heritage Castings

Shoes and pattens – NP Historical shoes

Photography – Pitcheresque Imagery

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And the good news is – it looks like the event  will be back next August, 20/21st!! 🙂  a new page has been created for the event, so keep your eyes peeled! 🙂

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Sewing Fast and Slow

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OK, so I do have a bit of an reputation for being a fast sewer. And because of that I have been exposed to a variety of opinions  ranging from ‘ Wow, you sew so fast, you must be good!’ to  ‘ It really must be crap, nobody can make it properly in that time’.

 

The fact is, however – neither of these sentiments are always true.   You may be labouring on one item for ages – but that in itself doesn’t mean that the finished item will be a masterpiece – it may still be ill-fittng, badly stitched etc.  Similarly – you can make items fast – and  that in itself doesn’t mean they are poorly made. There are exceptions to every rule, but the most important thing is –

 FIND THE PACE THAT SUITS YOU

 To produce a quality garments you need to be working at a pace  you are comfortable with. If you rush it – it will be reflected in the final look; but if you  procrastinate too much, you may loose interest/heart to the project , get bored – and that will show in sloppy work too.

 If you are in the comfortable position of  sewing just for yourself, as leisure,  do take your time. Unless, off course there is an unexpected event this weekend and suddenly you have an urgent need of a new frock… If you are earning your bread sewing things, you will need to find a pace you are the most efficient at without compromising the quality.

 I get asked a lot, how I can  make things quickly – and the answer is – not every item is made quickly – this simply depends on the purpose of the garment, the client’s purse and my own private time constraints .  The most important factors are the purpose – and the quantity you are making.

 The purpose of the garments  will  considerably influence the speed at which you can produce an item -. If you are aiming at  historically accurate garments and are making everything by hand ( the ‘before Singer’ eras)  because your garments will be shown to the public etc – it will take much longer than a garments that looks fine, has handfinished details but inside seams machined.  But if you are making modern clothing and are free to use sewing machine, overlocker etc – that would cut the timing considerably.

a few examples

1. –  2 17th century gowns,  one handmade ( 1660 style, in green silk); and a 1634 in blue satin with machined innards and the rest handfinished.  The handmade took me  5 solid days of stitching; the other one only 3. But can you spot a difference ? unless you look very, very closely, you cannot…  (more on  making the blue gown  and construction details here)

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insides all handstitched

 

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insides channels machined

 

2. Tudor gowns – this one  is completely handstitched – petticoat, kirtle, gown – every single stitch.  Took 2 solid weeks

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kirtle detail

These two were made using a machine, with hand finish – all inside seams are  machined, but lining is inserted by hand, all visible seams, eyelets etc are hand stitched. Each took about a week.

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 A post on making Tudor kirtles and gowns is here  and the French hoods here

3. Napoleonic bling –  military lace sewn by hand ( 6 hours each side)

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and on a machine, with hand finishing –  3 hours each side

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A short tutorial on the machine style is here

 The other factor is the quantity – how many items of the same sort you make. In short – experience.  The more doublets/corsets/bustles you make, the easier it will get and  the faster you will become. This is mostly down to the fact that if you are making a new piece of clothing, you do take your time considering the best way of  putting it together, you make mistakes – but this is a very valuable time, as with every mistake, ever minute spent pondering on how on earth do these two bits fit in, you learn.  My first corset took 3 days as I was just experimenting with techniques.  Nowadays I can make simple corset in 3-4 hours, and if anything, is is better and much more structurally sound than the one I made in 3 days…

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With that in mind, if you feel  you would like to speed up your sewing,  these are the tips I found worked for me:

* quality sewing machine and tools.   The machine doesn’t have to be expensive, but it needs to be reliable.  You don’t need an industrial model straight away – though I love my semi industrial Janome for its speed – just make sure it does its job consistently and without mishaps. Also – do that the advantage of the many different attachments. I love my ruffler for example – without it  it would take me much longer to make flounced petticoats, gathered chemises etc.

 It is worth investing in some specific machinery if you make lots of similar items -for example, for corsetmaking getting an eyelet setting press  meant  shaving at least 30min off the complete making time.

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ruffler in action

*take notes. If you are working on a new project, just jot down bits that caused you problems –  next time you wont have to work it out from the very beginning. I admit I had problems working our suspenders production – and since i wasn’t making a lot of corsets with suspenders , the first  couple of times i had to work out how to make the things, made mistakes and wasted time.  Once I started making a lot of them – I simply made a sample one and pinned it on a board, within reach if i ever need to be reminded how to put the thing together.   Sorted, no more wasted time.  you can always take photos and scribble on them too 🙂

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* Practice – basically  that’s where the experience kicks in. The more you make, the better you can get at it ( practice makes perfect!) but remember to practice only the bits that worked – repeating the mistakes again and again wont do you much good, o matter how long you spent practicing it :-(. The more you sew,  the more you will learn about how different fabrics behave, which stitches, needles, setting to use – almost automatically, without  sitting there and looking for the manual.

* if you are making clothes mostly for yourself, save the mock ups and make them into generic patterns, you can then adjust them  ( neckline, hems, sleeve length etc)  to fit in with a new project – and it will save you at least an hour or two on making a mock up from a scratch. The same  applies to your repeat clients; or, if you are making a lot of stock items,  a few graded hard patterns  will  not only speed the work up, but also ensure consistent sizing.

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* Neat work environment. Well, this actually doesn’t work for me at all, by work space is consistently chaotic, cluttered -some would call it messy, even… but I generally know what is where. I have attempted a neat work environment, works for about 2 days and then  get s back to its original  chaotic state.  But if you are a person who can tame the chaos, and organize the space well – that would help too!

* plan ahead. Time management is essential, especially if you are running a business –  I have written a whole post on just this issue – here

*outsourcing.  Sometimes it is simply easier and faster to rely on others who are better at certain things. I can make handwoven braid, lace, etc – but I know I cannot make the braid as fast as those who specialize in it. So when time is an issue, I buy my braid, points, laces from people who are expert.  Money well spent!

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beautiful handwoven braids from Nordulf

* limit procrastination. Yes, I am guilty here too… when time is of an essence and I know I need to concentrate I simply try to eliminate the procrastination  sources – switch off facebook, usually.:-)…  I answer my emails once a day in the morning, then switch off the  outlook too, so no notification, pings etc distract me.  It is not always possible, but when it is, it is great. I found I work much faster when I go to my Stitch and Bitch sessions at Julia, at Sew Curvy –  I haven’t got a laptop with me, I put the phone aside, and all I can do is work ( and chat)  – and  am at my most productive.

* set a time limit. If you like competing against yourself and enjoy a challenge – set a deadline.  I work best when on a tight deadline, it motivates me far more  than anything else – and I love it. Not everybody’s cup of tea as some people find it stressful – though there is a way around it, if you are willing to have a go. If you set a deadline  on a bit of sewing that is not hugely important  and failing it won’t influence your work in general, you can see whether you enjoy the challenge.  And if you don’t – back to time management and planning….

*music.  Again, different music works better for different projects –  so find out which tunes motivate you, jeep you alert and happy. Similarly, for hand sewing I love audio books and learning languages.  while stitching hems is pretty boring, listening to the Game of Thrones  etc makes the task not only enjoyable, keeping your mind occupied and stopping if from looking for distractions, but  you will sew faster too.

  Having said all that – remember it is not always a race.   I do often have to rush things for myself, as I ‘squeeze ; private projects in between the commissions ( best example , a ballgown in 24hours here_)- but  I also have a few long term bits I work on and I enjoy taking my time – I am just finishing  a lace making project I started about 3 years ago, for example:-)

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 So find your own pace, the pace that works for you, and stitch happy ! 🙂

 

The Myth of Perfection

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A recent post  by Wearing History  shed some light on the weird phenomena that social media create –  what people usually show is just the good sides of their lives, creating the illusion that this is the only side.  But reality is in fact far from perfect:-)

The blog post is well worth a read  – and Lauren also threw a gauntlet asking other bloggers to  help dispel the myth that everything is always ideal  ( another one by American Duchess here)- well, this is my contribution.

I must admit that I am a very optimistic and at the same  a very pragmatic person – and to start with I just couldn’t   find anything worth mentioning – yes, there have been good times, and bad times, but in the end, it all worked out ok, and that’s all that matters. I think I have been very lucky so far – no partucularly serious injuries, illnesses, tragedies, etc –  just some boring everyday reality, really…. So I suppose a few of the  bits below may seem trivial – but trivia are also a part of our lives, so, for whatever it is worth, I decided to include some banal thing here too.

Here we go!

 

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York, circa 2006. Had a  horrendous toothache – to such an extent that I spent half the day trying to get an emergency appointment with a local dentist – and then the other half with my jaw frozen up and dribbling – but at least pain free…

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Wideacre muster with Grenvilles, August bank holiday, 2008

A  fantastic event – made even more interesting by the fact that one of the troopers brought viral gastroenteritis with him…  he spent the first day and practice in tent, recovering – the following day our CO  got and and was busy ‘purging’ and so unavailable for action. The day after ( luckily Tuesday, so no battle) I spent early morning  hanging out of my  tent, looking at the contents of my stomach. Then had to drive back home, stopping ever few miles  for some more stomach action ( though my man had provided me with a bucket, secured in the passenger’s seat. very helpful). I was  able to get back to solid food 3 days later, was off work for a week. In total, half the regiment succumbed to the virus. And oh, one of the troopers came back with a broken hand ( and he wasn’t even riding.. )

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2 more Grenville events – just before and after my wrist operation, when was  in such pain I could hardly grip my sword… My right wrist is in a brace, carefully hidden in the gauntlet.

and underneath:

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ouch….

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Peterborough, Katherine of Aragon festival  – looking serene, but my car broke down on the way to the event, on A1. I was already in full kit, and spent 15min trying to coax the pile of junk into some semblance of life. A few well placed hits with a spanner did it in the end, so was able to get there, albeit late – and had no guarantee that I will have a car to go back home in….

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196188_478064845553848_870930021_n Holkham Hall  50ties event. It was June, but I was freezing ! more on the event here – Being MM. Also, being a sex symbol had its price – some of the comments from the public, whispered, were indecent – and  there were  a few older gents, who, why posing for photos, cuddles with me and the rest of their family, let their hands stray…. not a big deal, just unpleasant.

Fortunately the company of friends made up for it:-)

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 Bridal/Georgian photoshoot

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On my birthday, 18th April. I had a very painful operation on the 13th – just a few days before.  Heavily drugged with painkillers, suffering from blood loss and not able to move my hand, the shoot was not much fun – especially since I had 2 more models to dress up too.  I had to stand in a very peculiar way to hide the dressing….

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 Medieval pageant.  The owl crapped on my new silk surcoat.  3 times….

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My wedding. It was the first time Lucas hunted with me in the morning – and then we rode after the ceremony ( more on the event here – Victorian Wedding) . But a few months later he fell of a horse when we were riding in Pland, and fractured his vertebrae. He spend 3 months in a corset, and it healed but the picture above is one of the last pictures ever of him riding – the risk to his spine is now too great :-(((

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A very  hot day  in Hereford ( more on that here ). It was boiling  hot and I was drenched in sweat. Moreover,  with a heavy period, I suffered from cramps all day long – but the real problem was the fact that throughout the day  I felt  liquid running down my thighs, straight into my boots- and could not check whether it was sweat or blood….   Was happy to find out it was sweat, and was not leaving bloody footprints…

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Holkham 2013 – just a fortnight later our garage caught fire. Lost all my stock, lots of private stuff and despite insurance cost me a few grand. Still we got a nice photoshoot out of it!

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One of the effects of the garage fire was having to move house –  we found a nice place, a pricey one, but just on the  borderline of affordability.  We moved on Friday, and on Monday my husband was made redundant.  We did the shoot for the Summer dress while we we living off savings,  in a limbo of unemployment,  staying n a house we could not afford to rent. It did turn out ok in the end, but these were 5 very stressful months!

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 Georgian Ball, March 2015.  Completely lost voice. Some may argue though, that it was in fact a blessing on that occasion :-))

 Well, there you have it –  life is not all beer and skittles, silks and balls – reality does creep in. And so it should, it would be boring otherwise! 🙂

 And oh, the last one – my workroom  looks like that.  About twice a year.  For about half a day. Then creative chaos creeps in – and on every other day it looks like a fabric bomb has exploded.  A few times…  and sometimes there is too much work to spend time tidying… :-((

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The most common mistakes in historical costuming/re-enactment – and how to avoid them!

 Over the years I have been asked about  a variety of problems within historical costuming – and how to avoid them. I have already written a few posts on different aspects such as the look, fabrics, etc – but here … Continue reading

A queen on a budget, please…..

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‘I need an Anne  Boleyn dress… my budget is £300.  Can you provide the fabrics? ‘

‘I need a complete posh 15th century outfit ( hose, doublet, gown, hat),  historically accurate, silk and linen, hose in wool.  I can spend £250.’

‘Can you do a posh Victorian for £320? can add another £40 if you make a corset too.’

‘ I want a duchess gown, stays and underpinnings for a ball – how much would it be? I have about £280 to spend on the project’

‘ I found this steampunk coat on ebay,  I want one just like that, but in different wool, with silk lining, and made bespoke – can pay £100. ( the picture of the coat was attached – and I found it online too…. it was a Karen Miller , offered for £200  = should still be seen here.’

The newest one: ‘I cannot afford this gown in silk, because I have sick relatives and the medicines cost a lot, plus I have a lowly paid job and my car needs repairs – but since it is my birthday soon, maybe you can sell it to me at half a price?’

These quotes  are direct lines from many of the inquires  I get – and many similar ones abound too, and I suspect there are a lot of other costumiers who get them. And it doesn’t really matter that the price guide is on my website and facebook page, plainly visible to anyone,  stating plainly how much labour is for a specific item. And if you look, you will see that the labour for, let us say, doublet, gown and hose will amount to more that £250 and that’s not even including the fabrics. People look, add, decide it is too much and go and find a hire service or make things themselves. And that is fine – if you need a fancy dress for a night, you wouldn’t be spending hundreds on it –  but get something cheap  on ebay, make stuff for yourself and have some fun with it, or ask a sewing friend a favour ( backed by gin and chocolate, usually… :-))

But some people, knowing the labour prices still email me asking if I can make the same things  at a quarter ( or less) of their usual value… why? I had no idea, until 2 ‘prospective clients’ answered that question  for me.

‘ I know it is much less that you usually charge, but at least you will have some work from me’

Well…. at least it was straightforward… Needless to say that sometimes their offer would not even cover the cost of the materials – and so I would be actually spending time working at a loss.    Also, needless to say, it assumes I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs, desperate for anything to do, whereas I am usually booked for 6 months in advance….

It would be an equivalent to me saying to a baker: ‘Here are 3 eggs and some icing sugar, you provide the rest and I want you to make me a 3 tier wedding cake, please’. Nobody does that, so why people assume costumiers ( or jewellers,  corsetieres or generally small businesses) are any different?

I had a good think and I  think there are a few reasons for it….

1. People simply apply the ‘fancy dress’ label  to all unusual clothing, and think the prices are the same as the Chinese mass produced medieval/victorian/edwardian/lotr  garb. Very often it is not badly meant –  nowadays very few of us have things made bespoke as we can get good quality clothing  from the local store.  Occasion wear items are exceptions  (wedding dresses etc), but otherwise, we are no longer used to  commissioning gear to be made for us.

2. Also, cheap, easily available clothing leads us into the illusion that all clothing is cheap.  The wool coat in M&S is £50 –  but if I am to make it, the £50 will cover maybe the fabrics. The time used to research, communicate with the client,  measuring and fitting sessions, patterning and making the garment would be all on top of that… But we are simply used to mass produced items ready to wear and have no idea ow much individual raw materials cost. May also have no knowledge of how much work, expertise, research and experience actually go into the item.   Not really surprising since we are no longer taught specific crafts at school. Also, we don’t know how much quality fabrics cost…

3. People forget that  they are also paying for the years of research, training, experience – and the uniqueness of the item. There are thousands of costumiers – but only very few specializing in historical  items. To boot, the garments will be one of a kind –  so a rarity value should also be considered.

4. For some reason people are convinced that small businesses are forever tittering on the verge of collapse and are desperate for any work at all. And although running a small business successfully means a lot of work and commitment, and it is not all plain sailing,  I don’t think I know of any quality artisans ( and I do know quite a few) who would not be busy. Yes, sometimes the business gets slack, but that’s when many guys work on the basic stock –  things that will sell at some point, whether at markets or on etsy, ebay or self hosted online shop. Those who do take commissions that don’t cover the materials, in hope of a bit of cash usually learn that in most cases, it is much more profitable to decline – and spend the time on a stock items or a showpiece that will be far more beneficial to the business in the long term. And if  cash is desperately needed, well, then we do flashsales:-)

5.  Small businesses are ‘more personal’ – so people  ask for, sometimes outrageous’ discounts because they know the person running the business is responsible for the pricing – and have no doubt put a huge margin on the product.  And so the ‘ pity me’ emails from complete strangers. The fact that  a lot of us do not put much ‘on top’, but charge exactly what the product is worth is so unusual in the corporate world many people do not get it. You do not go to the BMW salon asking them to give you a 20% discount on the new model because  your father is sick ( what on earth are you doing buying luxury products instead of medication and specialist care for the daddy then? ), husband unemployed and your salary is low – you go and buy a 10 year old Ford instead ( mine is 15 year old now and  works great!). But the salesperson in a salon may not have the power to amend the pricing – whereas the individual might just be persuaded to do just that if they pity our situation.

I think the above are the most  common reasons why we get so many request  for the ‘royalty on budget’. People see The Tudors or White Queen and want a dress for their Halloween party –  not realizing I am not the person who caters for such items.

It is slightly better in the established re-enactment ( though  even there  it seems there is an alarming number of wannabe queens, duchesses, princes and kings wanting  royal kit for a few quid… ) as people realise that  if you want to re-enact nobility, there will be a suitable price tag  attached. In the past, a good quality, showy outfit to impress your peers at court would often cost several months of middle class salary, and although  times changed, they haven’t changed that much – silk and cloth of gold may be more accessible and cheaper – but still beyond the means of most people.  And to be honest, you can make a good quality kit middle class  in decent wool and linen or cotton – it will look lovely and though it is not the cheapest thing ever, it will serve its purpose while you save up for the brocaded cloth…..

There are a lot of arguments floating about, how a polyester silk will look quite as good – and they cannot afford silk/handmade etc, so it will have to suffice.   Well, it may be harsh – but if you cannot afford the king’s outfit ( with all the trappings it needs, jewelry, fur etc), than maybe  start with a simple soldier’s kit instead and climb the social ladder – many people do exactly that and  it takes years of saving to get higher class kit – but many stay at the middle class too, for a variety of reasons – and, to be honest, portraying a medieval farrier or an Elizabethan gardener is just as interesting and complex as a queen…

Obviously, lots depends on the purpose of the garment – if you need it for living history, educational displays and events, it simply needs to be correct fabrics, cut, finish etc, no matter what class you re-enact.  If you participate in battles and nobody is likely poking at the seams of your doublet and fingering your collar, you may be able to get some money saving short cuts. And if you  need a gown for a fancy ball, a social gathering, a photoshoot  – simply an item you’ll love to wear  – well, you can use whatever is suitable and you can afford – and produce stunning results with minimal costs:-)

There are a few shortcuts if you need/want a flashy outfit though, even if you want it made correctly and in correct fabrics:

*Save up! obvious, really, but there it is…. designate one  source of savings a month or a week and it will happen –  go our to dinner once less,   buy less modern stuff you don’t actually need all that badly – or even simpler – set up a separate saving account and put an deposit there every month, deducted from your salary straight away 0 you won’t notice this much, and whether it is a £20 a month, £10 a week or £100 a fortnight, it will soon amount to a neat little sum.

*take small steps…   you can often add on things to enrich your stature ( and clothing) in time.   opt for a woolen doublet and gown, add handmade braid on it or embroidered cuffs a few months later…. Also – buy bodice, but apply lace, braid decoration yourself

* Sell the items you don’t use any more….

* sell your products – and have one sale a month that goes straight into the new kit fund…

*barter – either skills or products. You make wooden pattens but a doublet is beyond you – talk to the costumiers who re-enact, many are happy to barter  things like that.  Your shoemaker needs driving tuition? a plumber? you’d be surprised how many  things can be arranged this way….

*pay in installments – most businesses welcome the solution.

*learn to sew….. yes, may take time and investment in machinery or courses – but will pay off in the long run.  Even if your skills won’t go beyond a simple chemise or a cap – you are already saving some money

* buy ready made items – stock items are cheaper,  often quite a lot cheaper than bespoke items. If you find an item at a market or in an online shop that you know is of good quality and it fits you – grab it, will  be much cheaper  than ordering the same items bespoke ( then you pay for the time, fittings, individual patterning etc too ). Our stock items in the shop are often about half the price of  bespoke ones – especially if i happen on a sale silk in a local silk mill…

* Hunt bargains! go to markets to look out for bargain  quality fabrics – you can often save up to 50%  on the fabric – and usually this is the factor that drives the price of the costume up.

And as  I was often asked at how much different outfits cost – let us have a little display of different pieces and their prices…. more info on how much to charge can be read in the blog on running a costuming business

*please note that I do not subscribe to the idea of charging the retail price of fabrics if I get them cheaper at trader’s rates. If   the silk from James Hare costs me £40 per metre, the client will pay  exactly that, and not the inflated retail price.

12/13 century gown, middle class:

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Gown in  wool, lined with linen, all handstitched and hand embroidered – value £500

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gown for a queen – in silk, with silk bands and girdle, lined in silk –  with a kirtle in silk too. Labour (machine and hand finish) and materials  £600 – £700. Together with   the accessories – shoes, jewellery, crown etc, = well over £2000

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Middle class kirtle and gown in wool – £300

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Wealthy merchnat’s wife kit – kirtle and gown in wool, gown lined in linen with fur trim – £400

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Lady/high status gown in brocade, lined with silk, all handstitched – the brocade itself  ( needed 8 metres is now retailing at £140 per metre… the dress value is  around  £2000, plus the kirtle, shoes,  pattens, jewellery – another £400

reversible burgundian gown in silk, with silk lining –  – stock item – £350

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early 15th gown in wool, with linen – commission – value – £300

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robe and chaperon in silk brocade, commission – £ 400. the same items in wool would cost £260

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silk brocade robe, lined with silk – stock item – £220. Normally just the fabric would be that much, plus another £200 for labour – but this particular silk was hunted down at a silk sales, hence the affordable  price!

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Royal Tudor gown – over £3400 ( detailed pricing here );  high born lady gown in silk velvet, lined with silk – £550. same gown in wool would cost £350

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Upper class Tudor set in wool, silk and fur – around £1000.  same outfit in quality, royal silks would probably double the price

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High status lady outfit, in silk satin, with silver lace – with  2 petticoats – £850

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middle class outfit in wool – £450

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Courtier  outfit in silk, lined with silk, silver lace, wrapped buttons – £800

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Middle class kit in wool  – £400

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18th century set in wool and linen, with lots of handfinish –  £ 600

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similar set but in silk, though machine finish  and blend fibre waistcoat lowers the price – £700

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Day dress in cotton, stock item  on sale- £300 ( including petticoat and bonnet)

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day dress in wool, stock item – £ 400

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Visiting dress in silk, heavily decorated – £ 1000

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WWI dress in silk with lace, £ 350

Edwardian Outfits July 2014-17

WWI dress in cotton, with a silk sash – £ 270

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Victorian corset, stock item, part of our Bare basic range  – £125

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Victorian corset, bespoke work, with exterior channels and extensive flossing – from £300

 

replicas of 1885 riding habit in quality wool, with handmade ( the blue habit) and hand applied braiding,  made bespoke, with a safety tailored skirt and riding trousers – coat  around £1000

Also replicas ( but not exact) made as stock items, generic sizing, machine finish – pricing from £350 (these ones are actually in our shop equestrian section, here)

 

As you can see, it is often the price of fabric that makes the outfit expensive – or the fact that it is  a commission and not a stock item.

Having said all that – I must stress that  despite a few of the messages like that, the majority of people do appreciate the fact that their items are unique, made lovingly, and  individually fitted. And it is those lovely people that  make businesses like mine thrive – I used to teach in a college before, and the job, though rewarding, was nowhere near as rewarding ( both in hard cash and job satisfaction). I  may be working longer hours, but I love my job, and would not be doing it if i didn’t – or if it didn’t pay my keep:-) 🙂

More on running a costuming business can be read about here: https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/running-a-costuming-business/

Hope the post has been useful to you, if you are new to costuming.  For those of you who are running businesses – have you come across similar experiences? if yes, do you have any other theories  that would explain them? Feedback welcome!

1860 gown

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I have never done a proper  day 1860 kit before –  yes, did ballgowns and bridal versions, but not day dresses – and not for me!  I didn’t actually need one either, but when I saw that wool it just screamed late 50ties, early 60ties to me – and my will power failed me. I got the wool and put it in the fabric shed…

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Over the next few months I  acquired a crinoline cage and experimented with the corsetry for the era too….

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Still, I was too busy dealing with commissions and stock items, so the project, and the fabric was still waiting. Then we decided to go to St. Audries Park  ball –  and I was kicked into a whirl of activity The venue is amazing ( indeed it is our wedding venue, and we held a short bridal shoot there too), and since we could all arrive early in the afternoon, we decided it would be a perfect place to shoot some Victorian frockage – the 1860 one included:-)

No time to rework the corsets, and since we would be shooting other eras,  I decided to save time needed to swap corsetry and stay in my 1880 corset – it did provide the right shape, as it turned out.

What I did need was a proper petticoat…. 6m of cotton and tedious pink tucks sewing, the petticoat was ready 🙂

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detail of the pintucks and lace – and the inevitable moggy under the crinoline….

I was happy with that -time for the skirts….

Not too difficult a job, though it needed a lot of seams – the fabric I had was vintage and narrow….

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80cm wide…

lots of hemming and pleating was done, and the hem was decorated with a wide velvet ribbon  in deep olive …

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Bodice next – I didn’t have a pattern, and so based mine on original items found online ( my pinterest board is here), cross – referenced with pattern diagrams from Jean Hunnisett.

Mock up being more or less shaped – just getting the seam placements here, I did the detailed shaping on myself wearing a corset…

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Once that was done, it was time to cut the fabric and lining….

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and stitch the thing up.

The seams are boned, turned to the side and secured. the edges are faced with the same fabric

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The sleeves were a modest pagoda style, trimmed with the olive velvet ribbon and a pleated satin ribbon on the inside of the cuffs.   Buttons were a nice eBay find – a velvet covered metal buttons, vintage 🙂

Chemisette with a plain collar and undersleeves with lawn and lace were next…

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close up on the sleeves – work in progress

and then, there was the bonnet – a spoon straw bonnet from Dressing History, trimmed with the following:

1 inside – a lawn lining and a cotton lace ruffle, paper and silk flowers

2. outside – combination of velvet ribbon, satin ribbon and pleated satin ribbon…. edges and bavolet in silk taffeta

The stockings and shoes from American Duchess  :-),  chemise in cotton and split drawers in cotton too –  and am wearing my corset in silk taffeta

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oops!

The result – well, I was amazed at how fetching the style was – I looked positively sweet, a perfect disguise for my somewhat grumpy personality ( and a grumpy mood on the day as I was suffering from a nasty cold) – must the be hat;-)

It was a fun style to wear and something tells me I am not done with the 1860ties yet! 🙂

The photos by Pitcheresque Imagery, and the dress etc by Prior Attire

hope you like it!

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