Thursday, 27 March 2014

Adventures in Gilding

As you may have surmised from my previous posts, I've been experimenting with goldwork on illumination, and perhaps, not too successful. I've made several attempts in trying to get the technique down, all with varying levels of failure until recently.

Having done my research in reading various online tutorials and referenced a few books, I set out to try gilding on parchment.In typical overambitious fashion, for my attempts I copied out two images - an acanthus leaf copied free hand from the G√∂ttingen Model Book, and a stylised pomegranate traced from Italian Renaissance Textile Designs. 

For the leaves I attempted to use the glair as size, while for the pomegranate I used diluted PVA as size, for comparison and contrast. I mixed each with a bit of red gouache, the idea there being it will make an almost colourless liquid easier to see on the page. The images below can be clicked to enlarge, but even in the smaller images, the cracking of the gold over its base layer is clear.

After consultation with a friendly local laurel, I found that glair is more often used to create pigments for painting than as a size. Right so, scratch that for any further gilding attempts. I had also picked up a commercial modern, but the attempt I tried with that seems to have grown it's own little legs and walked off, so I can't show it here. But trust me, it didn't work either.

On a household day Thora suggested I try just painting up the parchment I was using with gouache, to make sure it wasn't so permeable as to not be usable for my purposes at all. A couple of splashes later, and while the end product is quite matt, it had no troubles adhering either.

One of the vital steps in gilding is reactivating the size by breathing on it, and allowing the moisture in your breath to make the glue sticky again. Lack of humidity not really being an issue in Ireland, a part of my mind starting wondering if I should make sure I could still fog up a mirror by hawing on it, or if I'd suddenly become undead while I wasn't looking.

The gouache test confirmed, I moved on to trying my new garlic size, to see if that would work any better than the previous attempts. Go on guess. I bet you know the answer. Again you can see the crackling in the attempts to lay it out. At this point I was becoming very frustrated. It's one thing to get things not-quite-right as you learn, it's another to be following the instructions from a book and still fail. 

You might notice, as I went on, my practice pieces became smaller. Granted I probably should have started out small until I got the hang of it, but it says something for the state of my confidence. So, one more try I told myself, and this time I checked the method in one of Thora's books, and found something that none of the previous tutorials had mentioned - sealing the paper.

So on my last attempt of the evening I drew out a tiny leaf, painted it meticiously with garlic size and waited for the longest thirty minutes of my life. Time up, I repainted with size and waited for the new longest time of my life; a whole hour. I carefully reactivated, applied leaf in three layers, burnished oh-so-carefully, and voila! A tiny, but perfect little gilded leaf!

This was the overview of my attempts but when I next have the kit out, I'll make sure to take pictoral notes of all my steps, in the hopes that this might help someone else get started. 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Making size - garlic juice

When I made the glair, I was attempt to make a period size; that is, a period glue for attaching gold leaf to parchment. Since that didn't go so well (which is going to be its own post), I decided to try another period size - garlic juice.

Initial set up was to dice up the garlic cloves and grind them in my mortar. I gave up after about 10 minutes of this, when it became clear that the garlic was more intent on escaping the mortar than obediently turning into mush. I think before I try this method again, I need to invest in an rougher mortar so the garlic has something to grip onto.

So I gave up and reached for *coff* ye olde stick blender. In mere dozens of seconds, garlic mush!

My first attemt to extract the juice from this was to try pushing it through a fine metal sieve. And while this did give me the first few drops of juice, very shortly afterwards a fine pulp starting coming through; not so great.

I remixed the fine pulp with the mixture in the sieve and this time tried sqeezing it by hand in a piece of muslin. Squeezing too hard here produced the same problem, but another quick reset, and this time I had liquid gold!

The tiny jar of the right is the product of two whole bulbs of garlic. I didn't press the pulp completely dry, as I intended to pop it into a jar and leave it in the fridge until my next stir fry. I do hope this size works. I shall be trying it out shortly!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Making Glair

I found a few tutorials on making glair for use in illumination online, and while very good they didn't answer one question. So I have to make it for myself.

For those of you that haven't looked up the other tutorials, making glair is a very simple process. First, you need to seperate egg whites from the yolks, being very careful not to allow any yolk fat into the white. Then you beat the egg whites until they're stiff, the same process as making meringues. Or if you don't know how to make meringues, whip the egg whites until they've changed from a liquid to a white froth. When you think it's stiff enough, tilt the bowl gently; if the froth starts to slide, then you need to whip a little bit more.

When my egg whites were whipped, I covered the bowl with a tissue and left it overnight, on the counter out of the fridge. The next day, the glair liquid can be gently poured out of the bowl and into a jar for keeping. I opted to throw a clove into the jar too, to keep the smell at bay as the glair ages.

And the question that I wanted answered? What happens to the fluff after the glair is poured off? I thought it might still have been similar to whipped egg whites, but it turns out it's more like medieval styrofoam. Good to know.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Victorian Evening Bodice

Finally, there was the evening bodice. This was the piece I had the most invested in, emotionally, and the one I was most worried wouldn't work out. The pattern I used for the bodice is a modified 1889 Low Bodice for Gown by Ageless Patterns. The pattern actually came with no construction information, so I applied the techniques I learned in making up my Truly Victorian tailed bodice.

The pattern is sized for a 36" bust and a 28" waist, significantly smaller than my own measurements, or so I thought. I started out by tracing the pattern onto a heavy duty pattern paper which friends regularly source for me. It's fabulous stuff, light enough for tracing, heavy enough that I can pin and sew it for mock ups. To fit the mock up, I laced my corset onto a couple of pillows, pulled it down to my measurements and pinned the paper on. This was the result:

Without modification, the pattern fit. Just to reiterate, the pattern was, on both bust and waist, 8-9 inches smaller than my own measurements. I was confused, but very glad I'd done a fitting step.

The pattern consists of just 4 pieces, front, side front, side back and back piece, which is cut on the fold. I was using a medium weight cotton velvet, as I'd used for my other pieces in this ensemble, so I decided to forgo an interlining and used black satin for the lining.

To ensure the bodice maintained its crisp lines, I added boning channels to all but the very front and side seams, but that was an issue of supply (not having the bones in stock) rather than demand (I had originally planned to bones all of the seams).

I joined fabric and lining using the shell method, that is pinning both pieces front sides facing, sewing along all of the edges and then turning the bodice right side out thought an unfinished lining seam. This allowed me to keep making adjustments as needed... and oh yes, did I need more. To do a proper fitting, I laced the corset onto myself this time, discovering in the process that sewing in a corset is easier than I thought. And the first thing I discovered was even though pillow me suited the mock up nicely, real me needed another 8 inches removed from the waist to give a proper fit! Also, while the body of the pattern didn't need to be enlarged, the armholes of the pattern still suited a smaller set of arms, and I dropped the armscye by three inches to give myself space to put it on. Many hours and some frustration later, and she was made, though not nearly finished. From wearing it too, I've discovered the armscye needs a little bit more adjustment, but that should be a small enough job.

Though a flat bodice does not photograph well from any angle.

I feel the need to mention the trim. The trim was one of the best bargains I ever picked up. Initially spotted by a friend, it was part of a remenant bag of trim that cost all of 50p. I dug through that remenant pile for all I was worth, and came up with another three bags, giving me over 20 metres of trim for just £2! The lace is machine sewn onto a tulle backing, so to for my purposes I've been triming away the tulle before tacking it on.

Just like the train, there was a temporary agony over just how much trim to apply. Overall I fail at Victorian trimmings, I like my garments much too simple to go for the proper trim upon trim, with a little added trim just to be sure. Black and red is an undeniable classic though, so the lace was added at both top and bottom edges, and my but it looks good.

Oh, I also learned how to waltz that weekend, as shown in this picture taken by Andrea's camera. These dresses were just made for dancing, even if I'm going to have to add a wrist loop to the next adjustment of this gown.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Victorian Evening Gown Train

This is one of the posts that was supposed to have made an appearance last week. Quite last minute, I decided my ball gown needed a seperate train in order to be complete. Thankfully I had just enough fabric left for the purpose, even if I had to pin it widthwise rather than lengthwise to ensure it was long enough to cover the skirt train. And considering I'm working with velvet, lets not think about what that did to the nap.

This was a draped train; I had no pattern to work from, so it was just a case of evening out the sides, curving the ends, and pinning in pleats to the top and placing it back on the dress form until I was happy with the fall. I haven't included the action shots from the various pinning attempts as really, they're not all that action-y.

I was rather happy with the end result, even though I felt it was a bit short. I may just have to make a cathedral length train one of these days just to get it out of my system. Rather happy, not completely happy. Something kept bugging me about the train, and it took until the friday of the weekend away for the words to form: all of the other red velvet pieces of this ensemble were trimmed with black lace, so for this piece to belong, it had to be trimmed too.

That's what I was sewing in my regency dress in the last post. And saturday morning before my carriage ride. Makes all the difference doesn't it.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Coopershill House Party

I really had intended more costuming posts last week. I thought I had everything just nicely finished that I could talk about it. But as time crept on, I realised I hadn't got nearly enough trim applied, and was left sewing frantically while at the house itself. So I'll start by talking about the weekend itself and I'll use the follow up posts to go into more detail about my costuming.

Last September an idea was concocted by the founder of our costuming group to spend a weekend away in Coopershill Manor. Much excited squeeing was heard and after a scrabble for rooms (though I did get my first pick to stay in the Venetian Room), serious costume planning began.

When we got there first, only the second car load to arrive, there was much excitment and running from room to room; website pictures are all well and good, but were the rooms actually as good? Very much so. Our host, Simon, gave us a tour of the room, showing us the family portraits in the dining room. Each room even had a tiny little vase of snowdrops gathered, I presume, from the abundance growing around the estate.

With the tour complete, I changed into my regency gown, a nice easy friday option, and got to sewing the trim onto my train for my ball gown before we were called to dinner.

Dinner was a sumptious affair. The dining room above was lit entirely by candlelight. Not enough to read a paper by certainly, but very atmospheric and romantic. We started with a potato and leek soup, followed by roast duck with garden greens and potaoes gratin. The duck was so soft and tender it melted in the mouth and the potato dish so popular I'm almost surprised it didn't come to blows for the last portions. A cheese course followed with local cheeses and a house made vanilla and pear chutney, a jar of which made it's way home with me. Desert was a poached pear with vanilla and berry parfait, before we retired to the drawing room for tea and home made fudge.
Saturday morning after breakfast I got to tacking down the train trim, while other amused themselves with magazines from the 1880's provided by our host, music and dance practice and general good company. I finished in good time before the carriage rides began, so was able to relax and wave off the first carriage load before changing into my riding outfit. 

The riding outfit of course featuring the new purple walking skirt! And the hat that I still can't get at the right angle. I swear, I'm going to have to get a wig to get this hat to sit properly. The skirt also featured at breakfast each morning as the not-quite-full-skirt size meant I could get away with putting it on without the bustle underneath.

The delayed carriage rides meant that when we returned I was very ready for afternoon tea. Home made scones with fresh cream and rhubarb and ginger jam, a jar of which also came home with me, the house's own blend of earl grey tea, and a delicious fresh coffee cake.

Duly refreshed, I retired to change as we had hired a professional photographer to visit before dinner; I hope to share those pictures here when they're available. I was quite nervous as I changed, I hadn't tried on the whole outfit together before, and I wanted so much for the outfit to match the image in my own mind. It was even better.

Dinner on saturday night started with a spinach and rosemary soup, followed by lamb cutlets in a spiced redcurrant sause with carrots and green beans. I should mention, if I hadn't already, all of the vegtables came sourced from the house's own garden, and the freshness very much came through as an ingredient. The cheese board featured again followed by a meringue for desert with banana and ginger cream. And for the occasion, I simply had to share a bottle of something bubbly with Suzanna. It was a special occasion after all.

After dinner, once again in the dining room, we danced and recited, music was played and laughter was heard until well after the witching hour. Thanks to Andrea, I now know how to waltz, but I may need to practice before I can move as smoothly as I'd like. Though moving in those gowns really is a wonderful feeling. What's that? Show you the gown already? Oh if you insist :)

It was a wonderful weekend. I felt quite sad on sunday when it all had to end and there were no more skirts to be smoothed out as we sat down. Already gossip circulates about doing this again, doing it annually, recreating that same, wonderful atmosphere. And I can't wait.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Victorian Walking Skirt Completed

And lo, a sewing weekend was had and much progress was made. I ventured out of the house once to get some essentials, but apart from that, I had my nose to the presser foot.. ok not quite that close. I'm very pleased with the progress I made.

In a previous post regarding my walking skirt, I was concerned with the shortness of the back hem. To solve this, I added a hem of box pleated purple taffeta. I cut the taffeta as a 4 inch wide strip, and set the pleats as I worked with a combination of pins and steam, before sewing them onto the hem of the skirt.

In order to correct the hem shortness which only existed on the back of the skirt, I sketched a chalk line around the hem of the skirt along when the pleats would lie, not where the sewing line would be. This allowed me to position the trim lower along the back hem where it was needed, and a little higher on the front hem.

My original plan had been to create a double line of pleated trim along the bottom of the skirt, and I did pin & pic a few times to try is out. But the simple look of just one line of trim looked so sweet and perfect, I didn't want to go further. Yes, I fail at Victorian accessorising, I am much too plain in my ruffles. 

Here's the finished piece. It's collapsed a little as the underskirt wasn't in place when I took these pictures, but I think she's going to do me a very pretty turn on the grounds of Coopershill Manor this weekend.