Thursday, March 22, 2018

Researching 18th Century Looks: Mezzotints and Genre Paintings

The Enraged Macaroni, 1773
by Philip Dawe
While dressing up in silk gowns and portraying the aristocrat is a ton of fun, most often, reenactment events call for middle, and lower class impressions.  While there are a ton of beautiful portraits by European painters to reference for aristocratic European impressions, finding inspiration (and documentation) for more regular folks is quite a challenge.

All the advice from the reenacting community when researching one's impression says to "reference period images", but it's not always obvious where to look.  Portraits in oil on canvas of lords and ladies from England aren't always helpful when portraying a middle or working class person in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War.  Museum collections of extant pieces often aren't helpful either, as they usually belonged to the wealthy, (and the European).

Some of the Best Places to Look

The British Museum Collections Search

The Yale Lewis Walpole Library Collections Search

You can use the names of the creators and publishers of popular prints from the period as search terms.

In no particular order, some of those names include: William DoughtyDaniel Gardner, Carington Bowles, Matthew Darly, R. Sayer and J. Bennet, John Raphael Smith, James Birchall, James Bretherton, John Boydell, P. Stee, and Philip Dawe.

The fruit barrow painted by H. Walton
engraved by J.R. Smith.
Mezzotints: More than you probably wanted to know. French manière noire; German schabkunst)

"A manner of engraving on copper or steel by scraping or burnishing a roughened surface to produce light and shade." - Miriam Webster

Period mezzotints are a great source for visual references for everyday folks.  They feature satires, scenes of street life, political cartoons, and such.  The images were etched backwards into softish metal, and then inked like a stamp.  They were used in newspapers, magazines, and what passed for "mass produced" images in the 1770s.  The National Portrait Gallery has a lengthy article on the origins, and the specifics if you're interested. 

There is a great article on mezzotint print-making at The Drawing Studio.  It details the process of burnishing a copper plate, applying ink, and making a print.

Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University in the UK has a special collection of printmaking stuff, and they've got an article on the process here - Printmakers and Publishing in the 18th Century
Contemporary 21st century artist, Jim Hubbman's article on mezzotint printmaking, The Mezzotint Process

 I have assembled here a few resources, and search terms that will help a newcomer to the hobby, or the documentation process.  A few databases through which I have found several period mezzotint images include:
John Raphael Smith
Self Portrait in colors chalk, c. 1807
National Portrait Gallery

When looking for these mezzotints, helpful search terms include the publishers of popular

When searching for these names, click the "advanced search" button, and limit your date range from 1760-1780, or so.

The artists who made the original drawings from which the prints were made include:

John Raphael Smith

There is a lengthy article on the function, use, and significance of this uniquely British art form from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Timeline of Art entitled The Printed Image in the West: Mezzotint.

In this article, Elizabeth Barker tells us that Mezzotints circulated widely and were sold cheaply like posters in a variety of sizes (including "royal" 24x19 inches, "large" 18x24 inches, "posture" 14x10, and "small" 6x4)  Collectors of these popular images assembled portfolios or albums of leading figures of the day, or displayed "genre" scenes on their walls.  Such "furniture prints" might be framed, mounted on stretchers, or passed directly on the walls of people's houses, and public spaces.

Plucking the Turkey
by Henry Walton, 1776
Genre Painting The term genre painting refers to paintings which depict scenes of everyday life.  The painting included here was exhibited in London in 1776, and may have been a coded, pro-British political message regarding the hostilities with the rebellious colonies...

British Artists who worked in this style during the 1770s include:

As always, consider context.  Most of these images are from Europe, and not the North American colonies, and what's suitable for London in 1776 isn't necessarily suitable for Boston, or rural New England in the same year, but there will be certain constants.  Mezzotints and genre paintings are definitely not the only sources, but they are some of the best visuals for non-aristocrats from the Revolutionary War period.  Runaway ads, probate records, and other print sources are some of the best for specifics of middle and working class women's dress, but don't tend to involve visuals. Happy Researching.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

White Silk 18th Century Bonnets

For sale at

White: Believe it or not, the (distant) second most common color for silk bonnets after black in the period including, and surrounding the American War for Independence (Revolutionary War).

Examining Don Hagist's Wives, Slaves, and Servant Girls, I took a tally. I counted, the word "bonnet" mentioned 100 times int he advertisements. The number made calculating percentages rather simple. Out of those 100 bonnets, 69 were black. Eight more were black with colored linings - white, blue, or red. 77% of the bonnets described in the book were black. The next most common color was white with 12, followed by green with 5, and blue with 4.

The book is a collection of runaway ads from American newspapers from the Revolutionary war years, and is very helpful in determining accurate working class portrayals for the period. It is especially helpful, since a great deal of period imagery of women from the years between 1770 and 1783 come from England, and frequently depict upper class women.

Several of the white articles of headwear were called "bonnets" but were described as being made of linen, or cotton, making me wonder if they are what reenactors now call "caps", or if they were brimmed bonnets. Insight on this is appreciated, if you have any.

In any event, I hope my research is useful to someone.

My tally:

1770: Total Mentions of the word "bonnet": 6
Black (3), Black with blue lining (1) White (1) Brown (1)

1771: Total mentions: 7
Black (4) Blue (1) Green (1) White (1)

1773: Total mentions: 10
Black (9) Blue (1)

1774: Total mentions: 9
Black (7) White (1) Green (1)

1775-1776: Total mentions: 36
Black (25) Black lined with white (2) Black lined with blue (1) (2) Green (2) Blue (2) White (4)

1777: Total mentions: 10
Black (7) Black with blue lining (1) Black lined with red or "pale red" (2)

1778-1779: Total mentions: 15
Black ( 10) Black with white lining (1) Purple (1) White (2) Brown (1)

1780-1781: Total Mentions: 11
Black (4) White (3) Black with red lining (1) Green (1) Dove Gray (1) "Reddish worsted" (1)

100 bonnets mentioned.

Black (69) + 8 = 77
- Black with blue lining: (2)
- Black with white lining: (4)
- Black with red lining: (2)

Other Colors: 13 - Green: (5), Blue: (4), Purple (1), Dove Gray (1), "Reddish" (1), Brown (1)

White: (12)

White Silk Bonnets (1752-1782)

English Heritage, Kenwood
Accession Number: 88028844

And check out that awesome blue lining.  Note she wears a white cap under the bonnet.

1773A decoy for the old as well as for the young

1774: The Invitation.
C. 1770 Portrait of Miss Theophila Palmer (1757-1848), niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds, half-length, in a white dress and bonnet Attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds

1776:  A lovely youth and a Charming Maid. Danceing at the Masquerade.  A satirical print.

National Maritime Museum

1781: The Bird of Paradise, Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library

Sold to a private collector, Dec. 2000 for over GBP 15,275
Henry Robert Morland was most famous for his portrait of George III.

1780 - Portrait of Anne Howard Vyse by Tilly Kettle (British 1735–1786) Auckland Art Gallery

1780: The woman in the background of 

The Pretty Waterwoman, or Admiral Purblind just run aground by Peggy Pullaway

Runaway Advertisements Featuring White Bonnets: 1770-1782
From Wives, Slaves, and Servants by Don Hagist

1770: Runaway advertisement from the PA gazette: 19 year old Margaret Stephens wore a “white sarsnet bonnet” (Hagist, 11)

1771: Runaway advertisement from the NY Gazette: 26 year old Mary Gordon AKA Mary Dill who was described as “ pale fac’d, down look, takes snuff and much addicted to drink, and a great lyar,”  wore a “white bonnet” (Hagist, 17)

1774: A Runaway advertisement from the VA Gazette.  A “well set Mulatto woman Slave named Bess had among her possessions a “white cotton shift and bonnet” (Hagist, 56)

1775: Runaway ad for Ann Owen in the PA packet.  Ann had a “white apron, bonnet, and cloth shoes.” (Hagist, 77)

1775: Runaway ad Mary Patterson in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  “She had on, and took with her, an old white bonnet…” (Hagist, 78)

1775: Elizabeth Cleland.  Pennsylvania Gazette. “2 bonnets, one black, the other white.” (Hagist, 83)

1776: “mulatto woman named Bess” took a “white cotton bonnet, and one black silk.”  VA Gazette (Hagist, 91)

1776: PA Gazette. An Irish servant woman named Jane Shepherd took “One white halfworn peeling bonnet.”  (Hagist, 96)

1776: PA Gazette.  Irish servant named Margaret Kelly took a “white linen bonnet”.  (Hagist, 104)

1778: PA Gazette.  16 year old servant girl named Olive Oatley took a “white linen bonnet”.  (Hagist, 126)

1778 Royal Gazette NY.  “negro wench, Phillis” took a “white bonnet” (Hagist, 126)

1779 PA Packet.  Servant Mary O’Brien took a “white silk bonnet” (Hagist, 138)

1782: Maryland Journal. 35 year old “negro wench” “A white silk bonnet.”  (Hagist, 153)

1782.  PA Gazette.  15 year old Margaret Morris took a “white linen bonnet” (Hagist, 154)

Monday, March 5, 2018

Fantastical and LARP Costuming 2015-2018: Steampunk Ensemble

March 2017 Steampunk EnsembleAfter the arrival of Young Sir, the entire costume collection fit a little bit... differently. I still had one corset that fit alright nearly two years after the baby, so I set to work on an 1880s inspired Steampunk suit for a LARP event, and for vending at Steampunk events.

The jacket is Truly Victorian's Jacket Bodice pattern (TV428), and the fabric is a polyester Fashion Poly Spandex Suiting Fabric in brown and navy.  The skirt is the tried and true Truly Victorian TV261 Four Gore Underskirt

 The mask was made by Forbidden Identity.  I perched it on top of a brown derby hat.

In working on this piece, I *gasp* actually followed the fitting instructions in the pattern before cutting out my pieces, and lo and behold, it worked.  I only had to take it in in one small spot at the waist.

I wore it again to vend at Roseland Cottage's Victorian Fair in September, 2017.  The lovely photo in front of the pink house was taken by photographer, Amanda Manso from A. J. shaw Studios in Eastford, CT.

If I had been planning ahead, and not just thinking "oooh, the pretty fabric," I would have gone with natural fibers.  While exactly the professorial daywear vibe I was going for, it is brutal outside in the sun.  This one may have to be relegated to indoor use only.

In other news, the TV 1887 Imperial Tournure is everything I ever wanted in a lobster tail bustle and more.  I of course, had to make mine in deep red cotton twill.

September, 2017: Vending at the "Steam Rollin' " Steampunk themed Imagine Main St. Event in Manchester, CT.  This was the second trip out for this ensemble, and my first time actually selling stuff I made in person without Ian and Royal Blue Traders.

I did alright selling fabric flower fascinators, feather cockades, and other accessories.
Vending at the Victorian Fair at Roseland Cottage September 2017

I also had occasion at Roseland Cottage to do a quick pencil portrait of my fellow sutler, Bear.  I've been working on a second teacher certification in art - yet another explanation for my lengthy absence from costume blogging.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

She's Back! What I've Been Up to Since 2015

Highlights from The Last Four Years

July 2015: I had a baby!  He's a sweet little handful, and doesn't give me much time to sew, much less blog about it.  Now that he's two and a half, I found myself once again with the time inclination. Here are a few hi lights of various costume projects from the last (nearly) three years.

I've been pretty solidly focused on my day job teaching costume design at an arts magnet high school, and our several productions a year, but I also have been expanding the 18th century millinery operation with my good friend, Ian Graves at Royal Blue Traders.

The sales of these caps and bonnets has been paying for my return to school in an effort to advance my professional credentials.  Thank you to all of our customers, and to Lauren Stowell at American Duchess for the shout-out back when the Hermoine was visiting Virginia in June, 2015.  She featured my shop in her article, The Versatile 18th Century Market Hat.  So thank you, Lauren.  I think I nearly exploded from a fan-girl squee attack when someone pointed it out to me.

Bottle Green Shot Silk Taffeta 1770s Robe A L'Anglaise

2015? My mom's bottle green shot silk taffeta  late 1770s robe a l'anglaise.  She is a tiny stick woman.  It didn't take much fabric.  Now, if only we could get her to wear an 18th century hair dressing...  At least I could convince her to wear stays.

My mom is not a reenactor, or even a historical costume enthusiast, but we do manage to get her to come to a winter ball here and there.  The last few years, my unit, the Ninth Regiment of Foot has hosted a ball at the Hartford Armory's Officer's Club.  Most of my work for myself since 2015 has been for this event, since I don't get the opportunity to dress as a lady too often.

Jan 2015:  Blue Silk Taffeta Shortgown and white striped silk organza petticoat.

 I was five months pregnant, and I wanted to go to the ball, but my options were somewhat limited.  I made a pair of maternity stays, and improvised with a button-front short gown.  The lighting at the Officer's Club isn't the greatest, so getting good photos with an iPhone is always a challenge.

February 2017: Brown Linen English Gown

Attempt #1 with Larkin and Smith's English Gown.  The 20+ page instruction booklet with the detailed photos and diagrams was extremely helpful, but I ended up with way too much volume in the sleeves.  Steph from Larkin and Smith helped me to set them properly when I ran into her at the New England Reenactor Fair in Sturbridge.  Overall, not bad for a first try, but I learned a lot with this gown that I was able to apply to two later versions.  More on this in greater detail later.  Also, American Duchess has a decent article on 18th century sleeve setting.  Setting 18th Century Sleeves the 18th Century Way

July 2017: Attempt #2:  Printed Cotton English Gown

July 2017: The Little One explores his first 18th Century Event with the Ninth Regiment of Foot.  We'll have you marching to the colors in no time, my boy.

Attempt #3: Jan 2018:  The Strawberry Cupcake

The fluffiest of pink cupcakes.  Larkin and Smith's English Gown in strawberry pink silk taffeta.  This  was my second attempt with the pattern, and sleeve issues were more under control, and the fit around the waist was much better.  I also had a lesson in how to pin a stomacher from Hallie and Steph which helped immensely.  Placing the pins horizontally makes all the difference, as does pinning the robing independently of the stomacher.

Caps, Bonnets, and my travels with Royal Blue Traders - The Northeast Reenactor Fair has been good to me these last few years.  Look for us in Portsmouth, NH at the Colonial Trade and Craft Fair at the end of March 2018.