I've been thinking an awful lot about this:
http://www.ravenrook.com/clothier/bagatelle/art.jsp

Wanted it for years. Years. I'm not sure I could translate any of it into, say, stuff I could wear to work or something practical like that, but I would really love to have this pattern. Mostly, I think, to see how it's put together. Perhaps make myself something nice for a modern dress party. I have all kinds of ideas about getting some William Morris-oid patterned fabric for the accents on that...

I'm trying to think of what it is that makes patterns so damned appealing that we collect dozens, or hundreds. I think it's the possibilities they represent. No, you don't have that outfit, but the pattern gives you the tools to do it, or better. You may not have that outfit right now, but you could. You now own the possibility.

I've been asked why I buy patterns since I'm able to draft up my own - and the answer for that is sheer laziness, and not feeling like reinventing the wheel. I don't so much see them as templates as I do suggestions. I made a kirtle last fall for [livejournal.com profile] clearbell, and I made some significant changes to the original - not stylistic changes, and she's not hard to fit - just things to make it fit better. Comparing the original with the final piece was a real eye-opener - it had been a long time since I'd made anything, and I'd forgotten how much fiddling I did with stuff. So, yes, I'd have to confess to using commercial patterns to get something that's about the right size and the right shape initially, but after that? Pffft. I can riff from here. Mostly I want to see the shapes of the pieces, and mentally assemble them. I know how I'd probably do it - I want to see how someone else did.

Which brings me to this: Why are reasonably skilled seamstresses are slaves to a pattern? They follow it and follow it, down to the last detail. The only thing I can figure is that their original sewing lessons were either from one of those Home Ec teachers (or someone who was taught by one) that taught you absolutely must follow every single instruction on the pattern and never deviate from it, no argument, no appeal, no exception. I can understand this sort of caution in someone doing something for the first or second time... but after that, doesn't it sink in that there are other things to do with it? It definitely did with me, and most of the things that occurred to me were things I really didn't have the skill to execute properly just then, but which was acquired by the various attempts. So. Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better. It's all a learning process.

So, your Friday question is - why do you get patterns?
Okay, I have the beta-test version of my smock cut, and started on the embroidery.

The hardest part was figuring out how big to make the neckline. I consider myself unforgivably pudgy, but beneath it there, my frame, and especially my shoulders remain a stubbon 10-ish. As in, unless I'm very nearly dead, I'll never wear anything off the rack smaller than a 10, because that's the size my shoulders are. So, when the most visible part of a garment is going to be right where my body hardly changes, but it also has to cover the rest of my loathsome adipose carcass - yeah. One size will not fit all. And in this case, it may well not ever fit anyone else.

So, I played around last night, and came up with a good way to freehand Tudor roses, which is a good thing, because I can't draw worth a damn. I can get the basic shape and do the detail work with the threads. Originally I was thinking I'd do violets - mostly because I have an enormous amount of purple embroidery thread, and I happen to like them, but I wasn't able to find them as embroidered decoration in any other 16thC examples I had handy last night - at least not where they were by themselves, but rather in the context of something else.

Which brings me to this. I am going to talk to the empty auditorium here for a minute. I'm going to try to make this make sense, but chances are I've completely missed the point, so don't take me too seriously.

Original, period clothes, by which I don't mean actual extant examples. I'm talking about original work done within the period parameters (as much as reasonably possible).

This is a big bugaboo of mine. It's wonderful that there is so much source material out there now to learn from. If we'd had anything remotely resembling this back in the early 70s when I got started (except for a single broadcast of Elizabeth R here in the states), there is no telling how far and how fast I would have gone. I'm pretty sure I would have left the solar system years ago, yanno?

So. How come I keep seeing things that are supposedly copies of garments in portraits, often down to the trim and fabric being near-perfect-replica? Some are uncannily accurate, and I can appreciate that, but those who actually manage to achieve this are really a very small percentage. If you want to copy, fine. I totally get it. It takes a tremendous amount of skill (not to mention time, money, and other stuff) to bring off a good copy of something from a painting or an extant piece - and when it's done right, the effect is amazing.

But what about a little originality? I see so many outfits which are an attempt to copy a portrait (or copy a copy of someone else's copy, by which time they're not really recognizable as such) that it makes me wonder if (a) people simply aren't very imaginative, or (b) people are afraid to use what they've learened to experiment. No excuse for the first, but I have some empathy - although little patience - for the second. Sticking with known things is safe. You can produce documentation on the spot, if you're asked, and yes, some of us have been asked and are ready with it. Copying requires no extrapolation.

However. The clothing worn in portraits is the equivalent of what's worn to the Academy Awards. Wealthy persons got good use out of it, but unless one was a monarch (or a Medici), one didn't go about like that 24/7 and I'm none too so sure what the Medicis did on the weekends). The same people who had these stunning things also had more commonplace clothing. But there's kind of a problem with that, too - because now that people are actually researching it, you keep seeing things that look pretty familiar. (Seen one Flemish, seen 'em all? No? Then how come I see so many of the same dress?)

I'm NOT talking about spanning eras or cultures in a single suit of clothes, although I see it done with alarming frequency. I'm talking about exercising your own personal taste within the period. Imagine for a minute that my 16thC persona has come back to the country from Greenwich, where just now (1580s) anything Italian/Spanish/French/Flavor of the Month is all the rage. I do not have a court tailor. However, I have a perfectly able tailor in Ewell to whom I'm able to describe and perhaps draw this in detail for. I can't copy the exact goods I saw there, except for a length of fabric I may have bought from a fashionable draper. I can incorporate the right elements from the period. The result is a suit of clothes in the flavor of the month, in a color that suits me rather than one as close as possible to the example, and done with my own accessories which are like, but not identical to those I saw a month earlier (by which time this suit would get me laughed out of Hampton Court). By changing a few, mutable details, you can have something that is your own. You do look like you've just stepped out of a portrait. Your OWN.

Uhm, so. Yeah. I'm trying out a smock pattern.

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tudorlady

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