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. 🙂

Dressing The Lawman

Recently someone asked me the question: “What did lawmen wear in the Old West?” The easy answer is: “the same clothes that everyone else wore.” OK, I’ll admit that that answer is a bit snarky and it is a legitimate question. Our perceptions of what lawmen wore have been to a great degree shaped by what we’ve seen in film and television with all its inherent inaccuracies.

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When considering the question of fashion and lawman, one’s head is filled with images from such iconic movies as Tombstone or from television shows such as Gunsmoke. In reality, “lawmen” in the American West during the late 19th Century took several forms to include town and county sheriffs/marshals, state rangers such as the Texas or Arizona Rangers, and federal marshals. Also, there could be a variety of semi-private “lawmen” such as Pinkerton detectives (who often functioned as a law unto themselves).

TEXAS RANGERS — (Standing from left) Jim King, Bass Outlaw, Riley Boston, Charley Fusselman, Tink Durbin, Ernest Rogers, Charles Barton and Walter Jones. (Seated, from left) Bob Bell, Cal Aten, Captain Frank Jones, J. Walter Durbin, Jim Robinson and Frank L. Schmid. – Courtesy Texas Ranger Research Center; Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum —:

Texas Rangers, c. 1888

This photograph was made in about 1880, and shows three agents from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The man in the middle is William Pinkerton, son of the group's founder, Allan Pinkerton. Allan Pinkerton was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, and provided protection for the president while he was in office.:

Pinkerton Detectives c. 1880. The man sitting in the middle is purported to be Allan Pinkerton, the company’s founder.

Also, it must be noted that for many jurisdictions throughout the American West, the position of “Sheriff” at the country or municipal level was typically an elected one with all its inherent flaws and they had a variety of job duties of which apprehending criminals was only a part. Other duties could include serving warrants and summonses, supervising executions, jailing prisoners, investigating crimes, collecting stray dogs, and collecting taxes. Collecting taxes was one of the most important parts of the job since it was taxes that paid for the sheriff’s deputies and the costs of running the government.

While the popular conception of the Old West lawman is that one of a steely-eyed gunfighter staring down one or several desperados, all intent on murder and mayhem. The reality was that it more about dealing with drunks and generally keeping public order, specially in the newly-formed cow towns such as Wichita and Dodge City.

That said, let’s move to the clothes- here are just a few pictures of real Western lawmen:

John Slaughter, Sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona 1887 – 1890

Bass Reeves Lawman the Original Lone Ranger ✔️:

Bass Reeves, Deputy US Marshal, 1876 – 1907

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Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas born January 3, 1850 was an lawman on the American frontier most notably Oklahoma. He was appointed US Deputy Marshal out of Fort Smith, Arkansas working under Judge Isaac Parker.:

Looking at the above pictures, it’s easy to discern that their clothing pretty much mirrored what was generally worn. For the most part, it mostly consisted of trousers, shirt, vest, and a sack coat. In warmer weather, a jacket was not worn and sometimes just the shirt was worn. Allowing for the “dressing up for the camera” effect, it’s still obvious from the more informal portraits that it wasn’t an affected style. In many instances, there was little difference between what a lawman wore and what others wore except for the badge and perhaps more guns.

Lawmen as seen on film.

For anyone desiring to recreate the look of a Western lawman, probably one of the best places to start is with either a sack suit or for something more “out on the trail,” a pair of trousers, shirt, and vest but that’s only a suggestion. There are a lot of original pictures that one can use to base their research on and they can adjust their look depending on what sort of an impression. One thing I do want to note is that except during times when lawmen were in active pursuit of a criminal or otherwise expecting trouble, they were not walking arsenals with multiple pistols and a rifle or shotgun. In town, lawmen frequently simply carried a small caliber pistol in a trouser or coat pocket (often reinforced because of the weapon’s weight).

And another…

Finally, it should be noted that as an elected public official, a county or town sheriff or marshal was expected to project an image of respectability (although the definition of “respectable” could be somewhat elastic) and as such, they tended to dress the part. For many, the position was viewed as more of a means to a political career than anything else and they acted accordingly. One good example of this was with Johnny Behan, the Sheriff of Cochise County. For the most part, he was more concerned with collecting taxes and keeping up appearances; for the actual work of enforcing the law, deputies were hired. Pictures of Behan show him dressed in a sack suit, looking like any middle class small town businessman (which he basically was). Like today, image and respectability were important during the Victorian Era and dressing correctly played a key role.

Johnny Behan, c. 1871

Reality is often pretty dull when compared to what is portrayed in film and television and that especially applied to the lawman of the American West and we hope that you have found this post to be informative. 🙂