Why I sew and love Regency costume (CoBloWriMo Days 4 & 5)

Yesterday was spent boning the 1620s stays. And, yay, they are officially boned now! Photos will follow. So tonight is spent catching up on the CoBloWriMo fun I have missed. The prompts for the past two days have been to blog about our favorite era and to tell the story of how we got into costuming / costume blogging.

Those two points go together nicely, so here goes the story. Usually I try not to get too personal on the blog, but today I might make an exception, or two.  ;)

First of, I have been a part of the costuming world for about five years now, and it is one of the best journeys on which I have ever been. Before that, I was just very interested in costumes, both historical and ethnic. In my teens I sketched a lot of costumes to accompany fanfiction and other stories I wrote. Some time ago I ran across a folder with in a drawer with some of those sketches still inside. I had forgotten I had done most of them in ball pen… oh my goodness *chuckle*.

With the costume journey my sewing journey began as well. I had not sewn much, aside from the usual mending, before starting my first costume, an 1850ish wrapper. It took ages to finish and I learned the skills I needed off Youtube tutorials. Up to that point, my relationship with crafting and needleworks had been very complicated. On the one hand I come from a family of talented knitters, cross-stitchers and sewers. My grandmother, for one, was a tiny lady who had to make and alter most of her own clothes. She was already old when I was born and we only spent the first ten years of my life knowing each other. But I remember going out with her one fall, to collect chestnuts. It felt like going on a promenade with the perfect 1930s lady in a tailored wool coat, feathered fedora and fur stole. This was when I decided I want to be such a lady one day, too.

On the other hand, any crafting endeavor since nursery school had been connected with frustration and self-doubt. The main reason for this were teachers and educators who had no patience for the clumsier kids like me. As a result, I have been told “you can’t do it!” more often than I can count. And it stuck, until well into my teens. Eventually I stopped caring what people thought of me or my skills and just started trying out crafts at my own pace. I found a mentor in my high-school art teacher and majored in Art although everyone but the two of us thought I would fail graduation if I did. Although in the end it was my best subject and I learned to use my creativity as well as my hands.

After falling back in love with embroidery around the age of 16, it took another six years for sewing and costuming to come around. I had had a friend in the SCA before that but never believed there were more people like her who sewed actual, historically accurate clothes. Then I started googling, found The Dreamstress, Fashion Through History *waves at Åsa* and the Historical Sew Monthly. After that the list of fascinating historical costume blogs to read grew and grew. I was hooked and decided to give it a try.

Everything started in the same year as my study abroad term in Vienna. By the time I got there I had finished the wrapper and a sort-of Regency day dress. I was yet undecided if I should fully dive into the hobby or which period to sew. Then I found something interesting. By the time Wien Museum (a comprehensive museum of Vienna’s city history) still ran an open fashion library at Palais Hetzendorf. My first visit there was just amazing. It took care of any further questions. I came in, asked the librarian about extant journals and she inquired which time period she should get me. Totally clueless, I asked back which was the earliest they handed out to visitors. A moment later I had issues of Ackermann’s Repository from 1800 on my study table. Ever since, Regency has been my main and favorite era. This shawl dress from Wiener Moden Zeitung has been my dream gown ever since.

Wiener_Moden_zeitung_1

Promenade dress from Wiener Moden-Zeitung (c. 1816).

The plate with the yellow Corinthean robe I use as my blog image comes from the same journal. It looks like a pretty close Regency resemblance of myself, glasses and all. ;)

corinthian dress

Corinthian dress from Wiener Moden-Zeitung (c.1810-20).

There is another funny story about my relation to the French Empire era. I only learned about it from my mother some two years ago. It is this: My middle name is Désirée. It is a bit peculiar seeing how my parents have never been to France, let alone speak a word of French. So I asked why. It turns out, I have been named after Désirée Clary Bernadotte through a series of crazy coincidences. The first is that my father loved novels on the age of Napoleon and had his mind set on naming a daughter after Désirée. She had given Napoleon a run for his money and he admired her for it. Secondly, there was once a Swedish ferry called “Princesse Désirée”, named after a direct ancestor of hers. My mother saw it as a little girl and chose to name her daughter Désirée, too. If that is not peculiar, I do not know what is. Thus, Désirée and her times will always play a special role in my (sewing) life.

Désirée Clary by Francois Gérard (1810).

And this has been my entry for the past two prompts. I hope it has not been too lengthy to read. Tomorrow I will try to be good again and return to the a post a day routine.

Love, Nessa

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