Thursday, October 27, 2016

Behind the Scenes at Simplicity Creative Group, NYC

Lauren reporting -

We're back! Last week Abby and I traveled to The East Coast to attend Rufflecon and spend a few days in New York City afterwards.

While we were sipping hot toddies at the hotel bar, we met Ginny from Simplicity, a Rufflecon sponsor, and had a great chat that, among other things, resulted in a visit to the Simplicity headquarters on Madison Avenue the following Monday. How exciting! I had just sent off The Red Dress before we left, and of course I've always been curious what the inner sanctum of one of the major sewing patternmakers was like.

New York! The view from our Times Square hotel
Monday arrived and we walked from Times Square to Madison Ave, checked in (feeling very "official" with name badges), then went up to the floor that Simplicity occupies. Ginny showed us into the boardroom where a nice collection of early Simplicity pattern catalogs were laid out on the table for our perusal.

We enjoyed several 1940s catalog, a 1937 catalog, and a few 1950s too.
Then the unexpected - a meeting, like a real official meeting, with five of the top gals at Simplicity! Gosh! We talked all about vintage and costume patterns, about how patterns go from a concept to a finished product, a lot of history of the company, and ideas for the future. It was stimulating, to say the least.

Then the tour. We did a quick whirl around to see each department. There's a large area where patterns are cut and tested (*all the testing*) and sample garments are made for the pattern envelope photos. In addition, a great lot of work goes into writing and illustrating the instructions for each pattern, all the grading, marking, and laying out, the graphic design and information for each pattern, the catalog, and advertisements. It's quite intense! Typically a pattern, from concept to completion, takes about 5 - 6 months, which is faster than ever thanks to digital technology, and passes through myriad hands to become the best version of itself.

Many dress forms chill in the cutting room hallway. They had all sorts of shapes and sizes, even a tiny infant dress form.
Along our tour we even spied The Red Dress ready to begin its journey to becoming a full, multi-sized paper pattern for next Summer.

It was a wonderful experience, and there are many good things that came out of our meeting with The Patterning Powers That Be. One major thing we noticed is that Simplicity really cares about the fashion subcultures using their patterns - for example, the Lolita community, Steampunk costumers, and vintage fashionistas.

Original print from the 1937 Simplicity pattern catalog
We spoke particularly about the vintage patterns, and were pleased to find that Simplicity has started digitally scanning their original vintage patterns and grading them as-is, rather than re-drafting from scratch and leaving out or changing vital elements. This effort is particularly evident in their new vintage reissue patterns for this Winter catalog - a couple new 1940s and 1950s, and two new, *fabulous* 1930s dress patterns (8247 and 8248). We saw the sample garments for both of these patterns and were floored by how authentic and beautifully made each was.

Simplicity 8247 - 1930s dress with jacket.
Simplicity 8248 1930s dress with two views. This green sample dress was so beautifully made I was nearly convinced it was real vintage.
Since Simplicity is expanding their Vintage offerings more and more, of course we were full of ideas and have plans to develop more vintage patterns with them, particularly styles from before Simplicity existed.  .... but those are exciting development for the future ;-)

From the 1937 Simplicity Pattern catalog
All in all, what a splendid experience we had visiting the Simplicity headquarters and getting to know the women who make these wonderful patterns for us. They are truly professionals, many of them having been with the company for decades, and are as excited for the future as we are.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DIY Hair Powder Shaker, or, DIY Powdered Sugar Shaker (depending on your Pinterest Mood)

Hello Lovelies!

Abby here  -

Today, I wish to speak with you about Arts & Crafts, while attempting to teach ya'll something that will make Pinterest go crazy with excitement!


I guess it depends on 1 of 2 things.

1. You're really into 18th century hairdressing (like me) & you want/need a way to get the hair powder on your head.

2. You really like powdered sugar on everything.

3. All of the Above.

(Note: If you're 3. Welcome to the club. Powda-Sugaaaa!! <-- 10 pts to whomever can guess which "Bad Lip-Reading" Video I just referenced)

Anyways - what I'm about to show you is a very easy, fast, and relatively cheap way to make yourself a powder shaker that can be sealed securely & wont cost you $20 at Williams & Sonoma (please don't ask how I know how much they cost - it was a dark & desperate moment in my life.)

Here's the history deal - Women & Men pomaded & powdered their hair in the 18th century for a variety of reason (too many for me to go into at the moment). It is not something that is necessarily relegated to social class or strictly vanity (though social beauty norms are a thing & hair is a part of that). It was just a normal part of hygiene in the 18th century - just like washing our hair with Shampoo & Conditioner is a normal part of our hygiene in the 21st century (though this is starting to change - hooray - cause S&C is bad for your scalp/hair - fyi).

When looking for ways to apply powder to your hair there are a few different options. The one we are all probably the most familiar with is the bellows & mask that we see in prints like this one here.

The Englishman in Paris, 1770, James Caldwell via PBS 

La Toiette d'un Clerc de Procuruer, Carle Vernet (1758-1836) Here (Note: The hairdresser is using what is either a silk or wool puff with the hair powder in that drawstring bag instead of bellows. This is also extrememly common and often recommended in hairdressing manuals. You can buy new swansdown puffs on Amazon for about $50 a piece - expensive but worth it. If you're a die-hard you can try and find vintage ones in antique malls/ebay/etc but be away the quality of the feathers is going to be varied due to age.) 

But here's the deal - this is not the easiest or the only way to get that powder on your head. The powder puff is great for finishing your hair style on your own (like with that final application of powder after your hair has been dressed), but when it comes to trying to powder your hair or wig in the back, etc, it's not all that easy to use a puff. Personally, in my opinion, using a shaker is the easiest way to apply powder to your whole head. (Also - I'm biased because I came up with this idea on my own, only to later have it validated by primary sources *hair flip of accomplishment*.)

Lady Drudger going to Ranelagh, 1772, Lewis Walpole Digital Collection

The Lovely Sacarissa dressing for the Pantheon, 1773,  British Museum 
So yeah, these are variations of the same image, that's normal in the 18th century - but aren't they fabulous?! 

Now, here's the deal - the historically correct option for a hair powder shaker is going to be made out of tin, with a handle and a fine mesh sieve for the top (this is to help ensure that only the finest powder comes out - you don't want it clumpy - the powder needs to be "fine as snow"). So when it comes to buying a powdered sugar shaker to use for your 18th century hair powder, the ones with the holes are easiest to find, but obviously they're not going to prevent clumping as easily as a mesh shaker. I have bought my shakers up until this point...but when we were going to Rufflecon this past weekend, I realized that I didn't have my very expensive shaker from Williams & Sonoma with me in Reno (I was so desperate - it was ungodly expensive. Don't make my mistakes). 

When a shopping trip to all the big box stores gave me nada - I decided to get crafty & make my own. It was so quick, cheap & easy, that now I want to share with ya'll how I did it - Here we go!

NOTE: The use of a Mason/Bell jar is NOT - I repeat - NOT historically accurate. If you wish to use/make one for hairdressing do NOT use it in front of the public. This is NOT an interpretation tool. It is for private use in your bathroom. Kapeesh?! Cool.

Materials: 1. Mason/Bell Jar in the "Jam" size (I got blue cause I'm festive) 2. Wire Mesh (This came from one of those sink drain strainers in the kitchen section, you could also use window screen mesh from the hardware store, or whatever tickles your fancy so long as it's a wire mesh.) 3. Wire cutters 4. Sharpie.

Use the lid of the jar as your pattern. Lay it on top of the wire mesh and trace the pattern using a medium/large felt tip marker. It will be a bit hard to see so it's ok to make the mark thick. 

Look at me being economical in my patterning & cutting. *high five*

Using the wire cutter - carefully nip the wire around the outside edge of the mark. Don't worry if it's not exact, but try and follow the line as best as you can. The mesh can be a bit wiggly so don't worry if it stretches or compresses. 


Now it's time to add it to the screw-top-ring-thing part of the jar (what is that part called?)

Just pop it into place and push the edges into the top of the ring. If the mesh came out a bit big - you will see that you can just push the mesh up and it will create a dome shape. See? No problems. 

Double Boom.

Now you can add your powder and go crazy. POWDER ALL THE THINGS!!!! (Is it weird that I'm now craving French Toast?)

But wait! There's more! Don't forget the seal lid. Pop that sucker on.

And then add the ring back on top & guess what?

You got damn better security for storage/traveling than you do with those dinky plastic "lids" of the overpriced powder sugar shakers you buy at the store.

And that my friends - is how to save some $$ and feel accomplished in your craftiness in about 10 minutes. :)

Real Quick - The hair powder in my jar is my own, that I make. It's made mostly out of wheat starch (btw - wheat starch is not flour) which was the most common way that hair powder was made in the 18th century. If you want to do a super fast DIY & you don't want to drop money on wheat starch (cause it's hard to find & expensive) Corn/Potato/Rice starch will do fine - they have a similar feel to them (I've experimented a lot...) but unless you're doing a specific impression where you know flour was used - don't use it. Ok? It's too coarse & unrefined (name that Disney Tune!), and it will not behave the same way that a starch would. 

<3 <3

Monday, October 17, 2016

Spotlight: New "Londoner" Edwardian Oxfords

Lauren here -

This month we're celebrating the new Fall/Winter styles we've opened for pre-order all at once. Each week we're taking a closer look at each style, the inspiration and research behind it, and how we made our version.

This week the focus is on the "Londoner" oxfords. I'll just say right now that I'm madly in love with these (you may think I say this about all our shoes, but truly, these oxfords hold a special place in my heart). And for the first time for our regular product range, we've done some really interesting colors.

For the past several years, we've been wanting to do an Edwardian oxford. This is a style that I've been asked for by many people many times, so there was no better time to get it going than for this Fall and Winter season.

Londoner Oxfords in Cherry (left) and Tan (right)
The Londoners are based on a great many early 20th century women's oxfords. *A great many.* Women's fashion for this period is heavily influenced by menswear, with tailor mades and work clothes, sharp details and clean lines, paper collars, neckties, and the footwear to complement. Ladies' oxford shoes featured stacked leather heels, pointed toes, and broguing, and were worn by all social classes. We have several pairs of women's oxfords in our study archive, and museum collections are also full of them.

An original pair of women's Edwardian oxfords. Click through to see how these looked when they came to us....
In designing our version, I wanted to use the Gibson last and heel shape for comfort and stability, and the broguing was a must. I spec'd the design for ivory and black, and these were the first prototypes:

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz - the first prototypes for the Londoner in ivory and black. Uninspiring.
Hrm. How boring. What was in my head wasn't quite translating, so it was time to try something different.

What was it about the original oxfords that made them so cool? The design with all that broguing was pretty cool, but perhaps just as important was the patina. The antique oxfords were dimensional and came in all kinds of interesting colors, like deep dark red and burled tan.

Pair of Shoes, 1910-1914, Victorian and Albert Museum
Oxford, 1900-1919, Shoe Icons Museum
Oxford, 1914-19, Pierre Yantorny, The Met Museum
Shoe, 1910-14, Victorian and Albert Museum
Pair of Shoes, c. 1900, Victorian and Albert Museum
Shoe, 1910-14, Victorian and Albert Museum
This brought to mind some beautiful finishes I'd been seeing on men's classic oxfords lately, so we decided to give something like this a try. The result was a deep "cherry" cordovan finished in black, and a burled "whiskey" tan deepening to a darker brown, both with stacked leather heels and good sturdy leather soles.

"Londoner" Edwardian Oxfords in Cherry (left) and Tan (right) with two-tone ombre effects on the toes, heels, and broguing. Each of these is hand-finished and polished.
SO much better than the plain black and ivory, and I'm glad to see you gals feel the same. So far in the pre-order the "Londoner" in cherry has been the most popular, followed closely by the tan colorway. I know you are going to love them when they arrive!

Pre-Order for "Londoner" and all the new Fall/Winter styles is open through November 1st for $20 off per pair, plus nice combo deals on accessories and shoe care products. USA orders over $165 get free shipping as well. :-)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

New York, New York!

Today we are in New York City!


Although Abby has been here three times, Lauren has never been, so it's quite the experience. We're not at loose ends, though. Our three days are busy with all manner of fun thing, from seeing the dapper Dandy Wellington perform live jazz, to having a little pop-up shoe-showing party (do come if you're in the area!), to meeting The Vintage Voyageur, to perusing The Met, to checking out Slapback and other vintage shops, to seeing Dangerous Liaisons on Broadway (omg!), we are busy busy busy!

We just wanted to drop in an say hello before pulling on our spectator shoes and touring The Big Apple. We'll have lots of photos and fun to share with you here and on our Facebook page. For now, wish us luck (especially Lauren) in our NYC adventures.