Back From Pennsylvania…

I completely admit that this post is bit tardy, considering that I attended this event back in April, so I apologize for the lateness of this post…enjoy!


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Recently I took a break from the usual round of activities to travel back east to Newville, Pennsylvania to attend the Great War Association’s (GWA) Spring 2017 battle event. For those of you who may not know, the GWA is an umbrella organization for First World War reenacting that draws reenactors from all over the nation (and even Canada) and they sponsor two events yearly at their site in Newville, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. Events typically draw anywhere from 300 to over 600 reenactors (Fall is typically the better attended event). The site itself is a small-scale recreation of a First World War battlefield complete with shell craters, trenches, bunkers, and even burnt-out buildings- it’s truly a “reenactor’s reenactment”.

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Here I am looking all heroic and all…

I’ve been involved in the First World War reenacting for over 20 years and I have always meant to participate in a GWA event but, as usual, life usually got in the way until this Spring when I decided that I needed a small break from the usual so off I went. The logistics of getting there was interesting to work out, especially since I’d never been there before, but in the end it all worked out. I found that flying into Baltimore was the most practical- there are cheap non-stop flights available on Southwest Airlines and rental cars are easy to arrange at affordable prices (of course, it’s even cheaper if you’re traveling with others). Finally, I was able to get a couple of good motel rates for before and after the event itself- it pays to book early. 🙂

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We three Bavarians…

Weather-wise, Pennsylvania presented a bit of a contrast to what I am used to in Southern California- it was warm and humid  during the day (and really warm when the sun would come out) combined with the occasional shower. At night, the temperature would drop almost 20 to 30 degrees and on the last night of the event, it was freezing. In many ways, this mirrored the actual Western Front experience although we only had to “endure” for two days.

So, what’s the clothing tie-in? I thought  you’d never ask…well, in contrast to what I normally deal in, the order of the day is wool…lots of wool in shades of feldgrau and steingrau. Below is feldgrau as defined by the RAL color standard (RAL is the German color standard that was initially developed in 1927 and is the equivalent of the American Federal Color Standard System). Below is the RAL standard for feldgrau:

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And for steingrau:

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Of course, color standards are only an approximation and especially since it was developed after the First World War. Here’s an approximation of what feldgrau often looked like:

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Needless to say, the subject of color is very subjective so the above is just to give a general idea.

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Me coming out of the rain. Lack of sleep caught up with me…and yes, the wool does repel water (to a point)

As to the uniform itself, I am wearing the 1915 (1916 pattern for Bavarians) pattern coat, or bluse, which was a wartime simplification of the basic tunic. For trousers, I am wearing the prewar 1907 pattern. As for comfort, well things can get itchy sometimes and definitely hot in warmer weather but in cold weather, it serves its purpose very well.

Overall, it was a fun and exciting trip and I am looking forward to returning in the Fall. 🙂

In The Works…Shirts!

In anticipation of traveling up north to San Jose for the Clockwork Alchemy 2017, I am attempting to finish up some old projects that have lingered on for far too long and one of those is this men’s shirt that I started back in March. Long ago I decided that I needed to update my modern wardrobe so I resolved to make some shirts comparable to ones that would be made custom and utilizing finer fabrics with interesting patterns and colors. Fortunately, I have easy access to Mood fabrics which offers a wide variety of Italian shirting fabrics and the choices are nearly endless and after great deliberation, I settled on a purple/white/blue striped lightweight cotton:

Adam Shirt

For the pattern, I used a McCalls shirt pattern (6044) that I modified to better fit my long torso and simplify some of the assembly steps.

However, while the fabric is exquisite both in terms of color/pattern and finish, it was difficult to work with because of the slick finish; the fabric would constantly shift while running it through the sewing machine or even when simply cutting the pieces. It took me a lot longer to cut than I had anticipated because of the need to pin EVERYTHING securely. Also, in the course of sewing the pieces together, I was forced to redo seams whose edges had shifted out of position- Mr. Seam Ripper was busy throughout the sewing process.

In the end, it was worth the effort and I learned some valuable lessons about sewing with lighter, more “wander prone” fabrics and so now I have another shirt for the modern wardrobe:

Adam Shirt

I apologize for not having as many pictures as I would have wanted but unfortunately, life got in the way. However, I will be making more “modern” items in the future so stay tuned for more. 🙂

Putting On The Dog (aka Going Formal)…

Tonight we took a small break from our various projects and attended the Holiday Grand Ball put on by the Social Daunce Irregulars. The Holiday Grand Ball is somewhat of a Thanksgiving Weekend tradition for the two of us, providing a bit of a break from all the usual pressures created by project deadlines and the overall holiday frenzy as well as providing an excuse for use to wear some our latest creations. 🙂

This year was no exception for Karin but for me it represented a new departure. For years, I tended to avoid men’s formal wear like the plague, usually opting for some sort of uniform. However, uniforms get old after awhile and I decided that it was time for a change so I opted for formal wear but only on my terms. Like many, I raised on the idea that if one needed formal wear, one rented it and that usually meant some sort of cheap polyester nightmare (I still have prom pictures from 1978 with me wearing a powder tuxedo that I might actually be bold enough to post one day…). In the end, it just seemed to be of such limited use item that it simply wasn’t worth the expense.

So what changed my view? Well, a small confession is in order: it was from watching way too many episodes of Downton Abbey. Yes, that Downton Abbey… For many years, I regarded formal wear (or “penguin suits” as I normally called them) as an affectation that really bore little relevance even though I do a variety of 19th Century living history events and presentations. Besides, uniforms are just way more cool… 🙂 However, after watching Hugh Bonneville I changed my mind- I like the character and he seemed to pull of the look with a sense of presence without looking affected. It simply looked way too good for me not to try it. 🙂

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So, after doing some research I decided to have a tail coat and trousers constructed based on a style that was appropriate for the 1880s/1890s. Here’s some of the inspiration for my set of tails. First, we start with some overall impressions:

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Wedding Suit, 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.47.76.10a–c)

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Evening Suit, c. 1885; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.171 to B-1960)

Obviously the color choice was going to be black with both coat and trousers made form wool. Because I live in Southern California, I opted to have the coat and trousers made from a tropical weight wool. Also, I decided to have the coat made with panels of black silk set within the lapels- the contrast in fabrics between the wool and the silk make for a more interesting appearance and it’s a detail that one rarely sees on modern formal coats.

For the vest, I opted for one with a shawl collar made of white pique fabric with silk lapels, somewhat along these lines:

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Vest, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991.388a–f)

Just for contrast, here’s one in black wool:

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Vest, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991.388a–f)

It’s difficult to discern in the picture but it also have a shawl collar. Finally, I decided that I’d go for the “white tie” look, which was considered more formal, so I had a fixed bow tie made from ivory silk and opted for a straight detachable collar. Below is the final product:

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Not bad for the first time out! 🙂

I’ll be making some additional improvements for the next to time to include a more comfortable collar and not forgetting my white gloves. See you at the next ball…

 

Weekend At The Atelier

It’s been fairly quiet here at the atelier; with a major brush fire raging and the resulting poor air quality, I opted to remain indoors, catching up on various projects. One such project is making late 19th Century shirts for myself. At the suggestion of Karin, I started with a shirt pattern that was originally designed by Buckaroo Bobbins and subsequently acquired by Simplicity.

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The shirt pattern comes along with a vest and frock coat patterns (I have not used these so I cannot vouch for the quality) so you’re actually getting three patterns in the package.

I first started by constructing a shirt that rigorously followed the pattern. The instructions are somewhat confusing so if you don’t have prior experience in putting shirts together, you experience some difficulties so it’s best to have someone experienced available to walk you through the more confusing parts. The end result was fairly decent but I experienced the following issues:

  • The shirt is too short- it seems to be based on more of a modern dress shirt length and just packed the fullness of 19th Century that the long length supplies
  • The neckline is too high. The neckline was too high and simply uncomfortable (it would have been worse with a collar added on). Karin wound up cutting a lower neckline while I was wearing the stitched together back, front, and yoke. There was instant relief but now I had to re-cut the collar band (I was intending to wear it with a detachable cloth or celluloid collar).
  • Too much interfacing- unless you are using incredibly sheer fabric, there is no need to add the interfacing the plackets, collar band or cuffs, as called for in the instructions. Even adding it to the collar pieces is questionable. It just adds more bulk where it’s not needed.

So with those faults, I decided to redraft the pattern to reflect the addition of 4 inches to the length of the shirt and the lowered neckline. To do this, I first assembled a muslin (or toile) and then had Karin cut down the collar. Next, I disassembled the pattern pieces and drafted new pattern pieces to include the yoke, placket, and shirt front and back. Just to be complete, I even mounted them on oak tag (I normally do this for all my patterns, they last longer and less prone to creating error when tracing and cutting the fabric). Here are some pictures of the effort:

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The yoke, before and after. The “before” piece is on the left. Note the lower curve for the revised piece. This is the neckline on the yoke.

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And the new shirt back and front pieces.

I then decided to create a new shirt that would reflect the modified pattern. I managed obtain some 100% cotton checked shirting fabric that would work for a late 19th Century shirt for only $2 a yard so I was set.

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In the course of constructing the new shirt, at Karin’s suggestion various changes were made to the construction details to as to simplify construction and enhance historical accuracy (all, of which I took copious notes of). After 1 1/2 day’s work, voila!

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This is not the best picture and there’s still a bit more to do to include finishing the armhole seams, installing buttonholes, and sewing on buttons.

Overall, I am pleased with the pattern and I was fortunate to have Karin to guide me through the rough spots. One of the most important things to bear in mind when working with any sewing pattern is that the pattern is just a start and often the instructions are either vague or unclear as to actual construction (and sometimes, they’re simply non-existent).

Being dependent on just the pattern can be a major source of frustration and result in suboptimal results. The reality is that one really has to have a knowledge of how clothing is actually constructed and be able to work from that knowledge. Here at Lily Absinthe, we draft our own patterns to reflect our designs- often times, using a commercially produced pattern is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. With our own proprietary patterns, we determine the precise designs that we want.

It’s been a learning experience for me and allowed me to expand my knowledge of patterning and construction. For my next attempt, karin has promised to let me use the pattern than she drafted from an original 19th Century tailoring sources so that I’ll have a new challenge. 🙂 Now to get those button holes installed… 🙂

Adam’s Atelier Travels To Heritage Square

This past Saturday, we were guests at a very nice wedding for one of our clients that was held at the Heritage Square Museum in Los Angeles. The wedding was a period affair, Edwardian to be precise although clothing ranged a bit on either side (not including the outright modern). Karin arrived early just to make sure that there were no last-minute complications (there weren’t, thank god) and otherwise assist. In the meantime, I was pretty much on my own so I decided to walk around and get some pictures.

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It was a warm day so I decided to take these pictures from a nice, cool shady spot. 🙂

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Heritage Square is composed of a series of restored houses that were moved (yes, moved) to the museum site from various sites in Los Angeles and the structures have been restored over the years. It’s come a long way since I first visited the museum in 1994. It’s a wonderful slice of a vanished Los Angeles, a Los Angeles that pre-dates the car, freeway and all it’s attendant growth and development. For a description of the various buildings at Heritage Square, click HERE.

One of the more striking houses was the Hale House which was built in 1887. I was unable to get a good picture of it so I lifted one off the internet 🙂 :

Hale House, Heritage Square, Los Angeles - Hale House - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

To me, this house is especially striking and especially the brick chimneys (which are all unreinforced masonry). Beautiful to look at but not the most optimal for earthquake county here in California. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture any interior shots on this visit, but I can assure you that those are just as interesting and especially when you look at some of the details as impossibly small, curing stair cases and the like (in an era where building codes were minimal to non-existent).  In many ways, the museum is a living time capsule and well worth a visit for anyone interested in architecture and interior design of the late 19th century.

As for myself, well I was definitely dressed for occasion and keeping cool at the same time:

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Here I am dressed in my linen sack suit. Although it’s not too visible, I am also wearing a starched fabric detachable collar which is a lot more comfortable than the much stiffer paper/celluloid variety. Believe it or not, wearing a detachable collar is quite comfortable and it’s now standard for me whenever I am wearing civilian clothing.

Also, because of the heat, I decided to give my new straw boater hat a try. I bought it from Darcy Clothing in the UK (highly recommended) and it presented an interesting wearing challenge. The crown is very low and it almost perches on the top of my head. I was able to create some inner tension by adding a thickness of cotton fabric inside of the hatband but I would be careful wearing this on a windy day. Otherwise, after wearing the boater for a few hours, I forgot about the low crown and it was quite comfortable. It’s a look that I highly recommend for summer and in fact is very appropriate for the late 19th Century.

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And finally, the selfie…it seems to be de rigueur these days. 🙂

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OK, that was extremely silly…in future posts, there will be more about the wedding dress and wedding itself so stay tuned. 🙂