Draping Project – Challenges of Historic Garments

This post is the third in a series with students’ reflections on their class projects to make patterns for reproductions of historic clothing.

This semester, Professor Kenisha Kelly’s advanced draping class was assigned a challenge: observe one dress from the Historic Vassar College Costume Collection and recreate it in muslin. We were also tasked with designing a small fashion collection combining the historic qualities and styles of our dress with modern fabric manipulations that we had recently done. We had two hours one day in which to take photos, record measurements, and formulate a plan for how we were going to take this image that was created over one hundred years ago and turn our squares of muslin into a spitting image.

Each student was assigned a specific dress from a particular time period; mine was a casual teal day dress from the 1890’s (you can see it in the online database at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/items/show/1146, and you can see a 3D rotating view of it at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/VR/2004.031/2004.031.htm). The 1890’s were defined by intricate bodices and much smaller and simpler skirts than previously seen. Petticoats became smaller, however corsets were still in fashion, as well as tall collars and cinched waists. For my fashion line, I tapped into the steampunk style, a futuristic imaginative concept that puts Victorian era clothes in an advanced technical age. This allowed me to modernize the Victorian style and play around with cuts and colors, while maintaining the basic structure of 1890’s clothing concepts.

When it got down to draping our pieces, we found that each dress had its own details and difficulties. Some elements that defined my dress were tucks across the center front and back, incredibly full two-piece sleeves, and a Watteau back. Also notable, compared to my classmates, was that I didn’t drape over a corset as it was presumed that mine was a wrapper, and thus would likely only have been worn inside the home.

After we had collected our research, both in person on the individual dress and online on the general styles and trends of the era, we were given just a little over two weeks to drape bodices, skirts, collars, belts, peplums, sleeves, cuffs, and more depending on the dress. Using what we had learned about fabric manipulation in the class up to that point in the semester, we created tucks, pleats, gathers, smocking, etc. I began with my bodice and skirt and the manipulations that were included in those pieces, followed by the sleeve, collar, belt, and finally, the finishing touch, gathered trim around the wrists, collar, belt, and tucks at center front and back.

In those two weeks, we all ran into a number of road stops where we needed to rethink our original plan and rework the fabric again and again. One of the challenges that arose for me personally was that the bodice and the skirt were one piece with no seam, so I needed to drape them together, creating some very oversized pattern pieces and awkward off-grain seam lines where the skirt became fuller. Another personal difficulty was in the sleeves, which were both gathered, tucked, and matched up differently than I am used to, due to the way the shoulder seams are set very far back. Both of these took a few tries with both fabric and paper patterns; however, it resulted in a dress that, although perhaps not identical, was incredibly reminiscent of the teal wrapper and evoked the characteristics of the 1890’s.


Draping an Outfit from the Historic Collection

This post is the second in a series with students’ reflections on their class projects to make patterns for reproductions of historic clothing.

For an assignment in our Advanced Draping class this semester, I recreated a two part dress from our historic collection, Dark Blue Ensemble with Crocheted Lace, which dates from the 1900s (see it online in our collection database at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/items/show/797)The first step was a close examination of the garment itself, taking pictures and notes along the way.

This was an interesting part of the process because usually when we work with pieces in the historic collection we focus on their preservation and storage, not on the nitty-gritty of their construction. The bodice, which is made up of many pleats, sloping shoulders, and a puff sleeve, took me a long time to create. By the time I’d finished the bodice (and around 3 versions of the sleeve), the skirt seemed a daunting task. I ended up taking out the skirt to look at it a second time since it’s made up of many sections with various fabric manipulations–pleating and smocking–and it was difficult to see these details in my pictures. Surprisingly, the skirt was relatively simple to assemble despite the fabric manipulations. All in all, the assignment was challenging but super interesting. Recreating a historic garment causes you to get to know the piece on another level than simply researching or storing it.


“What Are You Doing” Video

Vassar’s Office of Communications just included us in a great series of videos they’re doing called “What Are You Doing,” showing behind-the-scenes work at the college.  They’ve shared a short video with me talking about the collection, and the link to the video was featured on Vassar’s home page last Thursday and Friday.

You have time to watch it – it’s only 1:44 long – short and sweet. Enjoy!

Recreating a Bustle Ensemble

This semester, some objects from our collection of historic clothing fell under some intense scrutiny from members of Kenisha Kelly’s Advanced Draping class here at Vassar. Each student was assigned one object from the collection to study and make a pattern for a reproduction. Some of the chosen objects, like the one discussed below, are not in good enough condition to re-mount on a mannequin for display, so the reproduction is the only way that we can truly appreciate what the shape of the garment would have been like on a body. This post is the first in a series with some students’ reflections on this process.

As a member of the Advanced Draping class, I was assigned the Blue and White Striped Day Ensemble from the historic collection (see it online in our collection database at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/items/show/679).  At first when I saw the dress, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of details; pleats, gathers, and other fabric manipulations covered the ensemble.  However, upon further examination, I found that almost none of them effected the structure of the garment.  Another immediate difficulty was that we viewed the dress on a flat surface, even though the dress is defined by the way that it creates shapes on the form, especially as this is a dress with a bustle.

As I started work on creating the top, I ran into problems with the pleats that run down the back.  First I had to figure out how to connect the pleats at the base to the peplum in such a way that it splayed beautifully over the bustle.  Then, after stitching I found that the pleats were not holding their shape, and it took a lot of hidden stitching to allow them to be structurally sound while being able to open and give motion to the back.  The most exciting things I found while working on the top skirt were the triangle tucks I had observed, created the body of the bustle.  The little tucks that had not looked like much when the skirt was lying flat on the table suddenly were the excitement of the skirt.  It mimicked the bustling that would happen under some skirts (thus the name the bustle) without having any contraptions underneath the skirt.

There was one aspect of the skirt that I did not attempt to replicate, simply because of the time that we had to work, but I found fascinating.  The lower skirt had cartridge pleats at the waist to allow for the extra fabric to cover the bustle (I used normal pleats).

It was amazing replicating a fully created ensemble, because it allowed me to just do techniques I saw without knowing what their final effect would be as well as figuring out how to create effects without knowing how they were caused.

French Fashion Show Photos

Our Second Annual French Fashion Show event at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was a great success!  The folks at Contrast magazine, who co-sponsored the event with us (along with the FLLAC Student Advisory Committee, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, and VC Soundsystems) have posted about the event on their blog, with some great photos and a very cute highlights video.

From French Fashion Show

Meanwhile, here are some of our own photos from the event. We had 6 models wearing historic reproduction fashions from the Drama Department Costume Shop, as styled by Emily Selter. They were joined on the runway by contemporary models wearing related looks. Commentary for the historic looks was written by Sarah Cooley, Rebecca Endicott, Alexandra Figler, Ruby Pierce, and Emily Selter and narrated on the runway by Alycia Anderson and Ali Dillilio.

From French Fashion Show
From French Fashion Show
From French Fashion Show

We also displayed two dresses from our historic collection, in the back gallery at the FLLAC. On the left is our Cream Satin Dress with Blue-Green Beading and Sash (#VC1992024), which was designed by Jeanne Lanvin for the summer of 1921 (see more of this dress on our collection website). On the right is our Light Green Silk Gown with Lace (#VC1992034) from 1910-1914 (designer unknown – see more of this dress on our collection website).

From French Fashion Show
From French Fashion Show

Many thanks to Francine Brown and Joann Potter from the FLLAC, and Susan Hiner from the Department of French and Francophone Studies, for making this possible! Thanks also to all the models who participated: Akaina Ghosh, Margot Mayer, Nicole Alter, Emma Bird, Rebecca Chodorkoff, Sara Cooley, Brendan Counihan, Matt Dowling, Kevin Gish, Emma Goodwin, Julia Kawai, Simone Levine, Taylor Pratt, Jay Resit, Grace Sparapani.

Creative Commons License

All the images shown in this post are from the Vassar College Drama Department Research Collection of Historic Clothing and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You can also view these images directly in Picasa; from there you can see a full screen view, or download your own copy of an image.

Announcing: Another Fashion Show at the Art Center

It’s hard to believe it has already been a year since last year’s fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar. Well, it was such a success that we’re doing it all again!

Once again, we’ll  bring fashion to Thursday’s Late Night at the Loeb, on November 15. The galleries of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are open late on Thursday, until 9pm, with a fashion show at 7pm and historic clothing on display through the following Sunday. This event is a collaboration between the Frances Lehman Loeb Student Advisory Committee, the Drama Department Costume Shop, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, Contrast magazine, and VC Sound Systems.

Emily Selter ’14 has been leading a group of students to organize this fashion show and display, combining contemporary looks with historic reproductions, and a pair of actual historic dresses on display. Students will narrate the fashion show, providing information about the historical context of French fashion.

We hope you’ll stop by next Thursday night (Nov. 15) if you’re in the area, or come over between Wednesday and Sunday to see the dresses on display. The Loeb is open from 10-5 Tuesday through Saturday, from 1-5 on Sunday, and open late on Thursday, until 9pm. In case you can’t make it, we’ll post some pictures the following week.

A “Glimpse” of a Digital Exhibition

We’re pleased to announce that you can now view a digital exhibition representing our 2010 exhibition “A Glimpse into Vassar’s Secret Closet.”

This exhibition was the culmination of the NEH-funded Historic Costume Preservation Workshop in the spring of 2010. During the 2011-12 academic year, student research assistant Julie Fields ’12 compiled photographs from the exhibition and turned them into a digital exhibition. Julie was one of the students who participated in the 2010 workshop, and then we were able to hire her to help build our digital collection, thanks to grant funding from the Mellon foundation for an inter-institutional workshop grant entitled “Digital Archives That Count.”

We hope you enjoy the digital exhibition!

Announcement image for A Glimpse into Vassar's Secret Closet: An informal exhibition of final projects from the Historic Costume Preservation Workshop
Announcement image for “A Glimpse into Vassar’s Secret Closet: An informal exhibition of final projects from the Historic Costume Preservation Workshop”


Costume History Class Visit, Fall 2011


Students from Kenisha Kelly’s Drama class “History of Fashion for the Stage” had a wonderful opportunity  to visit the Drama Department’s collection of historic clothing. To begin, historic collection Co-Curators Holly Hummel (Faculty Emeritus) and Arden Kirkland (Costumer for the Drama Department) introduced the class to the collection. Then the class was broken into four smaller groups, and each group focused on studying one object from the collection. Then the class was re-grouped, mixing from the previous groups, so that each student could view all of the objects on display and learn from the other students who had studied each garment in greater depth.

For this exercise, the objects were flat on the table, so that students could examine them inside and out. After asking them to try to imagine what the garments would look like on a body, Arden provided photographs of the garments on mannequins, so that the students could see the silhouette on a body.

 (click on any picture to view it larger)

Vassar Costumes at the Loeb

I am pleased to announce an exciting fashion event taking place this week at Vassar:

French Connection Poster

“The French Connection: an evening of art et fashion” brings fashion to Thursday’s Late Night at the Loeb. The galleries of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are open late on Thursday, until 9pm, with a fashion show at 7pm and historic costume on display through Sunday. This event is a collaboration between the Frances Lehman Loeb Student Advisory Committee, the Drama Department Costume Shop, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, Contrast magazine, VC Sound Systems, and the French Club.

One of our costume shop student employees (who is involved with all of the above organizations) is organizing a fashion show combining contemporary looks with a few historic reproductions. Professor Susan Hiner will introduce the evening with brief comments on the historical context of French fashion. Also, we have three dresses on display from our historic collection: a couture bustle gown from the late nineteenth century by French designer Emile Pingat, an exquisite black and white day dress with a French influence, and a mid-twentieth century striped dress from the Schiap-sport label (Parisian House of Schiaparelli).

We hope you’ll stop by on Thursday night if you’re in the area, or come by over the weekend to see the dresses on display. In case you can’t make it, we’ll post some pictures next week.

VCCC Gets NEH Grant for Preservation

Right before Thanksgiving we found out that our NEH proposal for a Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions was accepted! This grant will allow us to bring three professionals from the field of costume history to lead workshops for Vassar staff and students. Selected students will be able to get credit for participating in this Historic Costume Preservation Workshop (HCPW), by registering for an independent study in Drama, History, or Victorian Studies.

For students who are interested in museum work, this project will provide wonderful hands-on experience with our museum quality objects. Early in the semester, participants will work with textile conservator Jonathan Scheer to learn best practices for proper handling of costume objects and assessment and documentation of their condition. Then costume historian Jessa Krick will lead a workshop in museum cataloging procedures. Throughout the semester, participants will use the skills they have learned to build documentation for the collection. Later in the semester, costume historian and conservator Colleen Callahan will lead a five day intensive workshop for stabilization and mounting techniques to conserve and safely display the objects. She has recently done similar workshops at Mt. Holyoke and Smith.

The work accomplished through these workshops will greatly benefit our digitization and exhibition plans, and will provide us with documentation that is necessary for future grant applications. At the end of the semester, while the objects are all mounted, we hope to photograph them and host a small exhibition to the public. The photographs and other information about the objects will eventually be available to the public online, as part of our digital collection.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
This work by Vassar College Costume Collection is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.