Author Archives: m d b

practice practice pratice

I’ve been working through every single pattern I can get my hands on, and transcribing them to metric. My pattern manual is intended to make them so easy to use that all you need to do is skim to get to what is needed. I’m very limited by how limited tailors were though. They had to work within the law in terms of their practice and in terms of what and how much fabric they were allowed to use based on both their practicing level and how much of any fabric was allowed to be used in any garment.

There is also an incredible document I need to track down because it was a demand that tailors outside of that country to made a brides garment be of the style (and social level) that would be expected once she arrived.

But the limitations had much more immediate effects on clients who physically did not fit within the narrowly defined limits of cloth. I don’t want to perpetuate that, nor give even a hint of validity to it in our lived context.

So my collection of portraits does help a lot in the structure of garments across a range of sizes and how that varies so much between not only countries but even cities. But not yet many adaptations of cutting diagrams. This is why I’m going through each pattern. There are a few, I want to know if the differences are universal or if they are to illustrate the first step of a series of grading.

And with my renewed eye for tailoring flow on effects I can even work out systems for creativity within the very rigid sumptuary and tailoring laws.

So my aim is to explain why these bottlenecks occur without telling people to follow them.

The aim of a Modular system is to do exactly that. Don’t like the skirt? Swap it out. Like the skirt but it doesn’t work as it is, I’ll offer alternative ways of using it to find a commercial pattern or book or other artisan.

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Three for one

I wound up spending a little more time converting the Vasquina cutting diagrams and incredibly that one diagram does appear to have engraving and printing errors as well as makes considerable compromise in cut by being so short! But really. All three in a single page? But that’s what seems to be going on.

I did also reread the opening chapters and yes, rounding is to the nearest smallest fraction. These are 1/12, 1/8, 1/6, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 no 1/5 or 1/7 of 1/9.

Thus my sb (5/6) and ob (7/8) that I worked out would add together to make a non whole fraction and so is rounded to 7q. So the rounding is not due to curve but imperfect fractions.

There was a massive fine also for copyright infringers of this work so that remains a potential motive for keeping an error still. A massive fine that was divided between the plaintiff, the judge and the royal household.

But my other idea that the book would not be quite as needed by master tailors as much as their journeymen is also stated quite up front.

I had previously gone through the Saya and they are so much more formalised, perhaps not surprising.

I need a break but it was good practice.

I’ve also been filling in the gaps of my tailoring timeline so I need to prepare more preview images and get citing on maybe 30, 30(!!!), new inclusions.

What this also means is that I have to create some more cats by century and decade. It’s pretty draining and repetitive work but if I don’t have the (current) ability to change the view (details, grid etc) then at least I can help people find the nearest date range more easily.

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It’s a trap or multiple errors?

One of the first things we are warned about tailoring manuals is to not trust the diagrams- meaning the line art. Usually this is because the hand drawn manuals are very rough sketches indeed, and the printed works rely on being able to fit the diagram within set dimensions for the press.

I have digitised copies of the 1580 and 1589 books by Alcega (in my timeline of manuals) as well as the printed and translated physical copy. It’s very interesting to compare them side by side. Clearly the engraving was reused.

This diagram is actually reasonably well proportioned given the measurements- the length of the outline is nearly double the width and the indicated length is 2 baras, the width after folding is one baras.

The waist of the skirt front (lower right) is close to the indicated width of 1/3 of a baras (t) as it’s a little shy of 1/3 the width of the diagram. The length of the skirt front is pretty close to 1 1/4 baras (bq) by eye. And the skirt back waist width is a little shy of half the width- mm is iiim, or three finger widths narrower than 1/2 of a baras (m.)

The text explains the skirt is 1 1/4 baras high and the hem is 14 palmos- or quartos (q, or 1/4.) This would be 7 hand spans for a side front and side back.

I redrew the pattern as it appears in the recent reprint and translation and I wound up with the hem measurements as ob for the half back hem and sb for the half front hem. Added together it’s very close to 14 palmos/q after all!

That might reflect the kind of rounding done on the fabric which is something I do with my manual. I ignore pi and round to 3 and 6 for circular skirts. As fabric is not paper and we need to turn for hems it doesn’t make much difference, especially as I also then use a hand width (across the base of my fingers) for turnings and use the barest turn under for the hem (I’ll do a proper article about this as it’s wonderfully freeing.)

So what might be going on?

Clearly the second edition has a few more skipped areas, compared to the first. The most obvious is the nearly missing q of the bq length of the skirt front (lower right again.) And if you have the recent reprint of the 1589 book, you’ll find there is an additional error following the bq of the back skirt panel (upper left). Quite a big error as it looks like part of the letter j.

So it’s possible there are two more errors, but at the engraving stage. It’s possible the engraver flipped ob (baras minus 1/8) into bo (baras plus 1/8) for the back skirt hem, but they would have also missed entirely the s of sb (baras minus 1/6)the skirt front hem winds up close to being.

So two engraving errors and errors from using the potentially worn engravings are all possible here in a single diagram.

The question is were they left in deliberately like a trap street so that if the book is copied it’s easy to prove? Or accidentally- that is a lot to miss- or just left because a tailor of the time was supposed to know these all off by heart and they would just know where to annotate if being used in the workshop for journeymen.

Of interest is just how much compromise had to be made in the hem of these garments based on increasingly narrower and patterned fabric, and these too were memorised.

Not only are the side pieces increasingly broken up into smaller and overlapping pieces, but the hems get a little narrower. The waists rarely get narrower, usually by a few finger widths.

Even the above pattern is a compromise, but in height. The preferred length for both vasquina and saya skirt fronts is 1 1/2 baras (bm.) At this time anyway.

I’ve got myself a project from more than 40 years before these were printed but these and the hand written masterpiece books are all helping me use one of the most complicated fabrics I’ve ever bought.

I can’t use any of the extant works as they are but because all of them round to fairly large units of measurement it’s helping me figure out what is likely to have come before. And it all works in to my modular system- this is a much bigger work that I’ll also break up and publish as an article so that my own manual becomes much easier to use, and to ignore. The point of it is to be modular so that means being able to mix in modern patterning and any of the many systems and patterns.

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Wow. My cunning plan to connect has worked. I search for new digitisations/publications of tailor’s patterns pretty frequently (I mostly find long essays of the early 20thC atm) and my Frock Chick Files site pops up each time. This is great because I use a non invasive preview file and link directly to manuscripts and articles/books about it. So this means it’s easier to find some deeply buried archival links.

I have doubled my pre 1700 books thanks to wonderful friends who understand what I’m doing and I understand what they are doing and respect it all.

But I need to remember that Social Media is a really important tool, so I’m going to add SM links to authors of printed works because I know how powerful a simple like can be while wrangling a few centuries of manuscripts and published works alike.

Today I found the transcribed text of the Schuster manual and it pretty much ignored all the frocks. I’m not surprised, I think the forward is of a time where that was valued less, and it’s why I have dedicated my focus to frocks- but frocks for all. If you want or need a frock I want to help. I am more interested in how my understanding helps everyone including all genders because it is really tough as it is.

My pattern book is the same. I’m apparently of a height and size that works for the Spanish manuals and several extant garments, but that doesn’t help people who are not. So a huge part of what I’m doing now is to take the frock based garments and turn them into metric graphed patterns and to take the extant garments and look for all the piecings to both extend a hem and to add to the body seams.

It’s actually really cool. The language, not so much.

I think about my community and how that language is so negative and I am working on taking the best and leaving the rest in both how I share the originals and my work.

My spoiler here is that most body adjustments happen at the side. I know! When patterning though you start with a stable back panel, and adjust side and CF seams. What is maybe suprising is how very little that CF seam varies. I think in my system (and Alcega et al) with cutting the shoulder straps off you wind up able to adjust the side and the join where the shoulder meets the bodice. It’s a really cool little zone that acts like a hinge to change the direction of fabric and so can change the fit into that really complicated curve at the front of the join between arm and body.

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I think progress

Currently trying to limit a fibro flare through every means I have so I managed about half an hour on the sofa in a nest of pillows and got my patterning book files into an order that seems to make sense. Probably will change it all later, I do know I want the pattern block sections separate from everything else so that they can be used however people need them.

I am really trying to work out if I should put the tailor patterns in with mine or have them separate? The point was to use my system, it’s built on the scant evidence we had 20 years ago, scant for frocks anyway. Recently I realised what I was doing was producing good but pretty specific to me garments. I happen to not need a lot of adapting pattern pieces so yes, my own would naturally blend in.

So fast forward to my current project which is c1530-36 Portugal. And a frustration with so few depictions of the specific gown type. The closed front and closed skirt front, and the full sleeve.

I have reread Hispanic Costume and in doing so have a bit more hat research (yes! bonet means the same item across many countries, though it’s “banit” or “benet” closer to Kleve.) But also wow. A bit of confirmation of what I was thinking and also “blam!” Totally rethinking how I read paintings.

So allll of that is whizzing around my head in all kinds of directions and I’m leaving notebooks all over the place because I know ideas start to coalesce into more solid forms when I’m not directly thinking about them.

Herding cats would describe it well.

Except they are all in my head and trying to talk to me at once.

Like in the shower I had a realisation that the Lengberg “bra” fits into my system. For all the reasons everything fits in my system. For the same reason I worked out my system from my patterns.

So that’s another cat up there. But this one is saying something much easier to understand than the rest.

But I forgot to write that down so I’ll open up another tab and…. done. Yay.

I don’t know why I thought rewriting 20 years of patterning research was what I needed to do this year.

But I did.

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editing down

This term is used a lot on fashion but it applies to research too. But if you don’t have too much then there is a bit of a risk for bias.

So I’m now at the point where I can edit out less useful information for what I’m doing, and there will be people who have already or will be working on them, so I can make sure I can offer added value.

Right now I have as many pages of extant German/Austrian tailoring books and as many Central European books as my single book. Early on I thought I’d omit outer garments as they are loose so don’t use the same skillsets that I have really tried to hone.

But, the importance of these garments in the existing manuals means that yes, I’m going to include them I have three robes of my own as well as at least one heuke.

The importance of these pieces is revealed by how many are included compared to the kinds of garments I most focus on. And I think it reveals why they are important. The costly aspect is in the fabric. So having multiple ways to get best bang for buck for these is going to be more important than a garment (bodice and skirt) that uses far less fabric.

I’m very excited by how this work in the tailoring manuals is really helping me with my Anne of Cleves and my own patterning book. It’s exhausting though so pacing is quite important.

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fly by post

Just sneaking in a further update to my projects before I can’t type any more- I’ve just got up so that’s where I am currently. BUT! I’ve spent enough time in each region, in each tailoring manual, in my own work, and I can now “edit” as per the critique in fashion.

So think means choosing the best examples of what I’m trying to illustrate. Ooh, it’s tough! Especially in those pockets of areas with a lot of art!

It’s been very interesting to add cities to the filenames of portraits as suddenly you find the other routes for change- trade. Even with limits on what can be imported there were exchanges of ideas, and fashion is part of that.

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Tailoring stuff

Aside from my research having to expand across time and countries to follow fashion trends, I’ve also had to go back to the more mundane realities of how tailoring worked in practice. Laws were in place to protect the trade and so that limited who could make what, and when you add sumptuary laws into the mix you start to look at portraits a little differently.

It’s not as simple as blending styles when cultures merge, nor scaling to fit, there are rules even for the rulers as to how much they could change what tailors could do.

So this results in less creativity in cut, that goes to the entire process of training from apprentice to master, more freedom in applied decoration, but within the bounds of sumptuary laws, and a heck of a lot of creatively in how you cut into the fabric outside of seams.

Certainly if you look at all the Spanish manuals skirts are the least creative in terms of cut. You have a set waist front and back, a set length, and the hem varies by exactly how well you can fit that onto different types of fabric. For vasquina the hem is even, for saya there are proscribed lengths for the train.

Bodices are also very narrowly defined. Even mixing low necked and high necked garments.

In terms of cut the most variety is in the sleeves.

And this makes sense yes? Aside from fitted sleeves they can move somewhat independently of the body so require less personalise measurement, and they are still made from less fabric than a skirt so have a bit more room within sumptuary laws.

And from there if you think about a workshop and the division of labour, then being able to slash/pink/cut into sleeves without the specific set of fitting skills you start to realise that this is the safest form of individualising otherwise very specific sets of rules.

A master tailor would focus on the fit, and the initial markings. So to make change there requires the agreement of the law and the guilds alike. Where the fastest and cheapest change is in the work of the apprentice and journeyman. So one of the fastest ways to change is to turn seams into hems- separate sleeves and then also make those sleeves in parts- and to cut fabric that isn’t structural- again this is easiest on sleeves.

Pendant type sleeves, wide sleeves, fitted sleeves, these can all be split along seams but also within.

It means there is less variety in length and width than we might expect, and if you also remember the division of measurements there is even less variety.

But all together with fabrics, also limited by laws, this still results in clearly defined style by time as well as place.

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Overlapping research

I’m not happy how long this is taking to rewrite my patterning book, but what I have done in the meantime has been very rewarding. It’s definitely paying off, and my hope is that it will be of benefit.

I’m still doing my virtual art tour, and occasionally dipping into the written parts of costume history books. And am remined of just why I started this “fix my errors” tour in the first place!

My “system” is very modular, so you can swap modern elements for historic. That won’t change, what I am working on doing is explaining the engineering behind each element.

My hands however are just not on board this train. I can’t write or draw, and typing this post has taken longer than it should, even fully splinted. It’s so frustrating to be at this point and have to wait. My thoughts don’t rest so I get very impatient and stressed. Especially as everything else in my life is also put on hold so I get behind in everything. Including health, and so that makes me even more impatient and stressed.

I might be able to at least wash my hair now that’s it’s shorter again.

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I’ve actually sewn

OMG. Over the last few days I have eased myself into Doing even a very little. So I managed to recut a panel of velveteen for my Anne of Cleves skirt so I can turn the front into the back and vice versa.

So far I have basted then sewn the panel into the new back layer, and have pinned the CB of the panel to make it into a width closer to the reality of the 16thC.

The calico underlining would ideally be linen, but the velveteen is a silk velvet substitute anyway (a pretty good one actually) and an underlay that moves with the velveteen is better than using what linen is available.

This is to prepare the panels for sewing the very fiddly metal woven trim.

I need to cut the trim on the bias as that’s the evidence we have of the Moritz von Saschen schaube. I’m not sure I can find a gold cord to cover the raw edge so I need to stabilise the whole lot on heat n bond then I can turn back a couple of mm that I can then stitch through. I love the effect of my other Anne of Cleves frock:

The gold bands are from the same weight metal I’m using so I am confident I can pin, bond, stitch the ground needed.

I’ve also been re-hemming my underskirts. One might need to be sacrificed for the yellow silk to line my new sleeves and hat, but I have my green silk to replace it for a stealth laurel kind of deal.

Ooooh. Actually I like that.

My first venture into this style is still appropriate and I am so happy to have it back. I traded an unfinished 1860s frock for her return. I think we both were better off in the end ๐Ÿ™‚

To turn this into a blue version of the Holbein portrait will be a “breeze” if I can get another proper metallic saree. The direction of grain is about all I’m concerned with but I think I can safely ignore it.

The cut of the bodice means I can easily change it.

The curve lower edge of the sleeves I cannot prove. At all.

But it really does match a few portraits more easily than what I can prove.

All in all, I’ve not wasted my time by devoting it to research.

It’s all given me more confidence in my Doing.

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