Saturday, January 26, 2013

Consider a vintage jacket

I've been thinking about sewing, and what it means to make a garment for oneself.  Where do you get your design ideas?  What are your priorities?  What fabric do you choose and why?

This is a jacket sewn by my great-grandmother, sometime in the late 19th, early 20th century.  My great aunt saved some of her mother's clothes, and a couple of weeks ago I pulled them out to have a look and think about what it might have been like to make clothes a century ago here in rural Texas.

The red fabric has an iridescent, slightly metallic sheen.  It's lovely to look at, but kind of stiff and itchy.  Maybe some kind of rough-weave silk taffeta?  I wonder about the availability and expense of acquiring such materials in what was then a remote settlement, barely a town, in central Texas.

The trim on the jacket is a beautiful brocade which reflects the Japonisme movement popular in art and fashion from the late 19th into the early 20th c.   An example is this William Merritt Chase painting from 1898 called "Japanese Print".

She looks so comfortable in her kimono and chair.

Here is a portrait of my great-grandmother wearing an ornate high-necked blouse, typical of the period. I wonder if she sewed it herself and applied all the lace and trim.
Beautiful, but still, surviving Texas summers without air conditioning, wearing clothing designed for life in Victorian England?  That must have been rough.  And corsets.  Everyone wore corsets.
Comfort, particularly for women, I don't think was high on the priority list.

Design ideas and patterns?  I bet the deliveries of fashion magazines from "back East" were much anticipated.   Shapes and cuts in fashion illustrations were probably studied down to the minute detail.

I love the care she took in structuring the lines of the jacket.  It seems she was determined to make something fashionable, elegant, civilized-- in other words, a frock that denied the harsh realities of living in rural Texas. I understand the patience required, the intense desire to "get it right", and the tremendous sense of accomplishment felt when things finally come together according to plan.

The top-stitched seams on the back of her jacket remind me of the V-detail on the back of the kimono top I made recently.

I'd like to think there's some kind of familial design synchronicity going on-- Japanese influence, attention to seam detail and construction-- although my fabric choices lean towards cotton and linen, and comfort is high on my priority list.

I also doubt I'll be spending as much or more time structuring the inside of the garment as the outside of it...

It's the inside that tells the real story....  many tiny hooks for the shell....

and many more for for the lining.
Got to stay buttoned up.

So much spontaneous, just-make-it-work hand sewing inside that stands in stark contrast with the neat lines and seams on the outside.

It's likely she sewed her clothes on this machine...

....pumping away on the foot pedal.
In the summer, that must have been really hot.

Go granny go.