The Fat Reenactress

The Fat Reenactress

Monday, April 21, 2014

Post # 3  KISS    (keep it simple, stupid)     Monday April 21st, 2014

A little while back, someone had asked for some advice on what to wear for working class 18th century, especially for the larger size.

My answer for this is really simple:    you can't go wrong with a bedgown. It's a working class garment, it's loose fitting, and can we worn with either a weight gain or loss. There are a number of patterns out there, but the one I find the most flattering, on EVERYONE (read...skinny and heavy)  is the Mill Farm pattern for the European bedgown.  

This pattern can be lengthened or shortened to what you feel is a good working length.(if you make it longer, it's an AWESOME thing to wear for your nightly jaunts to the porta potty...make it long enough to cover your butt, and you're good to go!)  It is cut very generously...and if you are bigger than the largest size's really easy to increase the is literally just two seams down each side, from the sleeve cuff to the hem. The rest of the garment can either use a hem stitch or a rolled stitch around the bottom and the neck and front. In fact, if you wanted a garment to practice your handwork on....this is the perfect one.

It simply pins shut in front, and when you tie an apron on over it, you end up getting more of a fitted look. I like this garment because the neckline is very flattering and looks good on everyone.  You can find this pattern from most sutlers, but I do know that Burnley and Trowbridge do carry it.

As for fabrics, I would stick with either plain or striped linen or a linen/cotton blend. You want something lightweight, but not TOO light weight. I steer clear of using florals for this garment because it IS a working the florals for a pretty fitted jacket.
Everyone loves a striped linen bed gown!!!   :)

I'm not going to say too much about the french or english bodice that most people are having fits/discussing over. My personal opinion is that it's not a documented garment, regardless of the quilted ladies waistcoats in collections  (two totally different garments, in my opinion). Also....I don't find it a flattering garment at all...whether you're heavy or thin. WHY would you wear an unflattering garment??? I have the same feelings towards the pennsylvania german short gown, with the drawstring waist. I made my obligatory one and put it on. I literally looked like a sack of potatoes with a rope wrapped around it. Nope. Never wore it...never made another one.
I just finished my newest bed gown and can't wait to break it in. Loving the new colors.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Post #2   A long Regency Corset                                Sunday, April 20, 2014

Foundations. It's what we build upon. That is why foundation garments are important in order to get a "period correct" look. We build our look over our foundation's what lets the fabric flow right, hug the right spots, and maybe even smooth out the bumps we'd rather not have.

I've always been told that the foundation garment in the 18th century was referred to as stays, or a body of stays, or bodies while in the 19th century, they were referred to as a corset. For ease of understanding, I will stick to those terms through out this entire blog process. If I muck up...please point it out...and I'll correct it.

This posting will discuss Regency corsets and the fluffy woman, particularly the long corset.  There are quite a few examples of early 19th century corsets in the Kyoto Collection....found in the book Revolutions in Fashion.  There you can find the wrap corset (bra styling almost)  which I classify as a short corset of sorts.

                                                               Photo from Kyoto Collection

You will also find the long corset...which is what I will be discussing more in depth. Here is an image, again from the Kyoto collection, of both a long corset, and a shorter set...transitional stays. I use the word stays for these since I believe they are late 18th century.
                                                      Photo from the Kyoto Collection

Many women opt for the short corset for use in the Regency period since 1) they're easier/quicker to produce, and 2) they give enough support while producing and enhancing the more natural form that was made popular during the Regency/Federalist era. These are great for many women who are younger and "perkier". Also, those women without a lot of  top shelf  "assets"  are able to produce that "top shelf" that many ladies (and gents) look for.  And even for the heavier woman....depending on her body shape, this shorter style may work, provided that your bosom is bigger than your belly. bosom has always been sadly lacking, while the belly has not. Thus, my love for the longer corset.  The short corset seems not meant for the lady of the "vegetable" variety (i.e. those of us shaped like an eggplant, tomato, potato or even pear). Something more is needed. Big guns need to be brought out....this is where the long corset comes into play.
fashion plate of the era.

My first long corset that I made, I used the Mantua Maker's pattern. This worked out well, except that it would  "creep up" on me. No matter how tight I laced them, the corset always seemed to end up almost touching my chin! It turned out,  because of my body shape, I didn't need to include the hip gussets that the pattern called for. They allowed my corset to move too much, not anchoring down onto my hips since my waist and hips are almost the same measurement (I DID say I was eggplant in shape, right?). The other problem that needed fixed was that I had completely sewed the busk into the corset, not allowing it to "float" in the pocket as it should. The busk is the flat piece of wood that slides down the front of the corset or stay. It serves two purposes. 1) it keeps the front of your corset flat and 2) it bears most of the the stress that is put on the corset or stay. By sewing the busk into the corset, it didn't allow it to "float" meaning, while sitting, if my belly pushed the busk up, I could then push the busk back down into its pocket, without the entire garment of the corset moving.   You can see the outline of the busk sleeve in this original corset.
original corded long corset.

In 2010, I ended up signing up for a Regency corset workshop with Burnley and Trowbridge, in the Williamsburg, Va. area. We did a corded corset instead of ones with bones. (I ended up adding a few bones in strategic places, to help with the cording in smoothing out the rough edges).

While the corset was very similar to the Mantua Maker's pattern I had previously used, the main difference was that it was corded, based on original examples, and without the hip gussets. Instead of using rigid cane or boning, most of the support comes from the soft cords that were pulled into stitched channels, similar to the boning channels in earlier stays.  A group of 12 ladies got together for the workshop and we were then put into groups of  3 to assist each other in the measuring. Of course, I was placed into a group with two very LOVELY girls...two very PRETTY girls....two very THIN girls. After taking one of the girl's waist measurements, I HAD to satisfy my curiosity. I measured my thigh. Yup. EXACT same measurement.  The real topper was when she told me "you're actually not the first person to do that". Sigh.

By the end of day one of the workshop, we all had the majority of the bodies and the bust cups done. I believe we even had the pockets made for the custom length cut busks that Angela provided for the class. (Just FYI, a heavy duty paint stick from the Home Depot, cut to your desired length, also works great).

It was here that my biggest dilemma occurred. In order for my busk to lay flat on my belly, the top of the busk sat about 2-3 inches away from my breastbone.   To lay flat against my breastbone, the bottom stood away from my belly!! In effect, it was teeter tottering off the largest part of my belly!!! I showed this to Janea Whitacre, the supervisor of the Milliner's shop at Colonial Williamsburg, and who was teaching the workshop. When she saw this, she said "OH!"...then I teetered it...this brought another "OH!" She said with a smile "We'll get this, just start on the cording".

Janea was true to her word. On Sunday morning, she approached me and said she thought about me all night (nice to know I'm running through SOMEONE'S head) She said what I needed was some bosom buddies! They are little pillows that get sewn into the corset, just below the bust cups, on the inside, to help pad what the Lord didn't. Not only did it even out my measurements, but it "perked up" my bosom, putting them up where they should be! The added bonus was that these little pillows actually will "hook" onto my bust when my corset starts to ride up, thus keeping the corset in place!

Interior shot of my corset. you can see the bosom buddy/pillows, the busk peaking up at the top of it's casing, and also a bunch of repairs made since I've been wearing these since 2010!

Besides the cording that was the main support used for the workshop, I also felt the need to add a few metal bones in the back and to help control my back  rolls. Most of the repairs done are from boning that have tried to escape...I believe my next pair may end up being all corded...and maybe with more cording than this set.

At this point, I want to address a particular issue that comes up when we talk about wearing stays or corsets. Many people believe that the goal of these garments is to reduce measurements around the waist, when in reality,  the goal  is to give the body the shape needed for the look of the period. Think of it this's to SMOOTH the body rather than to SQUEEZE it.  I read an article back in the 1980's about stays and how much the body could be squished...stating that thinner women, with less fat to deal with, could really only squish one to two inches, safely, while fluffier women could squeeze up to four inches without hurting organs and such.  I see the main job of foundation garments is to shape, smooth, lift and round out where things need to be shaped, smoothed, lifted and rounded, not to squeeze us into uncomfortable situations.  Work for a period correct shape rather than "reducing" measurements...because ladies....if you're my size, no amount of squeezing and lacing is going to make me look like a size 8.  But a good foundation garment WILL make me look more the part of the period. I don't know about others, but I do find that when I wear the correct foundation garments, they actually add anywhere from 1 to 3 inches to my measurements. I find it's because my body is more "squishy" and that I can "cheat" with maybe a smaller size....but once you put your corset or stay on....that smoothed out fluffiness is "firmer"...and add to it steel or cane, extra fabric, and you have a different measurement entirely. Remember....those are only numbers. The end results of your efforts is in how you feel...and if you feel you accomplished getting the look of the period/era that you're working towards. 

You be the judge....

Sunday, April 6, 2014

First Blog entry and Introduction.                               Sunday, April 6th, 2014

For my first blog entry, I'd like to introduce myself and give you some of my background.
     My name is Julie Rockhold, and I've been reenacting for almost 34 years. I started when I was 13 years old, and I've been fat that entire time. I've dealt with fitting issues all my life (clothing wise and socially ) and have been driven to achieve that "period correct" look, in spite of my size.
     When I first thought of doing this blog and calling it the Fat Reenactress, I asked my friends for their thoughts and opinions. general consensus was, there are LOTS of us out there, who are overweight, but want to look "period correct". My friend, Angela, suggested I use the 18th c. term "prosperous" instead of fat. I thought about it, but realized 2 things
                  1) I'm fat. I own that. No matter what you call it, "fluffy", "prosperous", "Reubenesque", or "built                        for comfort", what it all comes down to is....overweight. the only term I DO have issues with
                       is Obese. Oh, and just when that word didn't seem unpleasant enough, let's add  "morbidly".                          Ah, yes.... LOVE seeing "morbidly obese" on my medical charts. (and the medical                            field, anyone over 25 pounds overweight is considered "morbidly obese").

                   2)  The Fat Reenactress just trips off the tongue.

     But back to my bio. I started reenacting the 18th century in an Explorers group ( a division of the technically...I can say I belonged to the Boyscouts.) representing Voyageurs, french canoemen, that were common in the Michigan area where I grew up. From there, I became interested n the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. I started my 1812 career by volunteering at fort Meigs, in Perrysburg, Ohio.  For the Revolutionary War, I joined the 10th Va. Regt. out of Michigan, then later joined the 84th Royal Highland Emmigrants (British)....gotta LOVE a man in a kilt!!!
     During my college years, I worked at 3 different National parks.
       1) Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial
       2) Valley Forge National Park (for 3 seasons)
       3) George Washington's Birthplace and National Monumment (for 2 seasons)
    Each one was a different time period....War of 1812, Revolutionary  War, and  1730's civilian life.

     Over the years, I've joined various reenacting groups, depending on where I was living at the time. In 1995, I met my husband, Terry.....he deserves a whole blog post of his own....and needless to say, he shares in my love of history and clothing.  We married in an 18th century wedding in 2000.  Since then, not only does he do Regency events with me, we have also branched out into Steampunk/ Victorian.

     This blog will not only deal with clothing, research and producing items for the larger woman, but it will also deal with just being heavy in the hobby and in today's society. I'll share my trial and errors with patterns, but I also hope to show how to add to your image (and hopefully self confidence) and your impression through the use of accessories. Remember....accessories ALWAYS fit!!!!!

     I hope you'll enjoy this blog, and I welcome ALL comments....good AND bad. But just be aware, I can be as sharp tongued as anyone, so nasty comments will be dealt with accordingly.