Or, If You Want Something Done Right, You’ve Got to Do It Yourself
I make reference here sometimes to the fact that I like to make costumes. I am by no means an expert seamstress or designer, but I am decent at both and improving by the project, and I have
tackled conquered some hella-hard challenges (such as full 18th-century costumes for both husband and myself…and, yes, I made my own stays and paniers). I have been known to do things like make a corset in one night, without a pattern until I made one off my own measurements and intuition (I was trying to use someone else’s method and, boy, did it stink). Generally I create my own patterns, either off of other people’s methods or designs that I want to replicate, not so much because I want to be that hardcore Project Runway as because I just can’t find commercial patterns for what I want. Which is often historical or fantasy-oriented, which at the commercial level tends to get dumbed down to vaguely similar-shaped garments that in no way match the contstruction methods or patterns of original garments.
Here’s the dirty little secret about historical clothing: a lot of it was not hard to make, in terms of putting the pieces together. It was hard to make because it was either made by hand or decorated in ways modern minds can’t conceive of accomplishing. It was also generally custom made to someone’s figure, so unless you’re making your own pattern off of ratios between your own measurements, the fit won’t be quite as perfect.
So. I have been thinking about book covers and such for soon-to-be-released (they will be, damn it!) upcoming works as well as re-publishing my Twelfth Night novellas with covers more in line with the new stuff and pretty ebook files now that such seems entirely possible thanks to JW Manus. I have ideas in mind for some of the images that would be feasible with props I already have on hand, like nice gloves that look vaguely vintage. But at least one cover requires a partial body (the neck-waist so popular in romance composition right now), with something resembling period-accurate clothing.
I have a photographer picked out (actually it’s a couple, yay, teamwork!), and they are scouting locations for a shoot. I have basic design concepts in mind. What I don’t have is wardrobe. I don’t need much–just a spencer jacket (basically a 19th-century bolero)–because I can either drape uncut fabric for an “empire gown” or hike up my 18th-century petticoat to just under the bustline. Either way works, as long as the jacket covers the top of the “skirt.”
The jacket is the sticking point. I want to get this photo shoot done before Christmas, so I don’t have time to buy a custom-made piece on Etsy (I checked the ready-mades, and none would fit my needs, alas). I don’t have anything in my wardrobe of real-life that could be, at a stretch, vaguely Napoleonic. None of the costume shops I have access to do, either. My choices are to completely abandon the concept of a body shot or to make my own spencer.
To that end, I purchased fabric and buttons at my local Hancock’s Fabrics, ignoring all my usual rules of only buying period-accurate fabrics. I actually found a really fabulous fabric, because it is double-layer so I don’t have to line anything, just French seam or flat-fell the seams, and I won’t care–I won’t–that it’s a poly/nylon blend and not silk. Or linen. Or cotton.
I spent tonight at my local academic library taking photos of the relevant pages in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion and Jean Hunnisett’s costuming handbook. (I had to take pictures because my friend who is a librarian there and normally checks books out for me has too many fines to take anything out right now. Yes, that’s right, my librarian friend has kept books for so long she has an exorbitant fine at her own place of employment. Indeed, she is a tragic biblioklept.)
So, the good news was that all relevant volumes were on the shelf.
Bad news was that I didn’t really like any of the patterns in either book. None of them were quite what I have in mind. So it looks like I will be making my own original patterns, after all, with help from those ladies in the areas I most need it still–armhole angles and sleeves.
Sigh. And here I thought this was going to be easy, what with just copying a pattern from one of them and all.
Or, as Anne Taintor would put it: