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Why the 17th Century?

2 Jul

Questions that people ask me quite a lot when we get chatting about my interest in historical dress are “Why? When are you going to wear it? It’s such a lot of effort for something that you’re only going to take out and look at. Can’t you get involved with a theatre group and then it would at least be used?”

Then someone usually points out that despite owning the relevant clothes, I’m never going to wake up in the time period.

To be fair, I’m not a complete idiot :P.

I found the Jane Austen dress easy to justify: there’s a festival every year in Bath, and it can be one component of that wardrobe. But I struggled to justify the Versailles dress (so called because it’s a ridiculous colour, with gold and pearls and lace and nonsense).

The 17th century is a horrendously underlooked portion of history. So many amazing and ground-breaking things were going on all over the world, yet we don’t seem to celebrate it, particularly in the costuming world.

As a child, I was obsessed (and I mean properly OBSESSED) with Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books, particularly those covering the ancient world, early Britain, the Tudors and the Victorians. Weirdly, that huge gap in the middle covering the 17th and 18th centuries, is what my imagination longs for now. But as an 8-year old, reared on a diet of Roald Dahl’s dark humour, I was seeking out books about horrific deaths and unjust punishments, not graceful courts and ostentatious dress.

This is a wider issue than just my own though. There is a wealth of information available for costumers about the Tudor period, probably propelled by the popularity of things like Ren Faires and The Tudors on TV. The Georgian period is also incredibly well-covered, and if you were to get stuck on how to make underpinnings or a little jacket from this part of history, chances are that there are a few dozen blogs and websites out there that can show you the answers. Late 17th century? Not so much.

Inspiration Picture

Courtesy of Wikipedia: Honthorst Roodere detail

I plodded along quite happily in a state of 1660s-ignorance until I arrived at university. I made friends with Emeline, resident of France, who bought me a DVD of the musical Le Roi Soliel for Christmas. And just like that, I was hooked.

I wanted to know everything about the 17th century. What they ate. Where they lived. What they wore. How power was distributed. Who was in love with who. How you go about looking like one of the sleepy-eyed gems of Lely’s court.

This Faustian need for knowledge continued alongside my sustainable development studies for another 3 years, and finding myself graduating last month, I decided to do something about it. Having read more books on Louis XIV than on wind turbines, and looked at more paintings than allotments, I got Googling and found Nehelina Patterns’ Baroque Dress pattern. I bought 6 metres of orange and gold shot taffeta, moved the Jane Austen dress off Maisie and got sewing.

6 weeks later, I’ve got a bodice and the beginnings of a skirt, and every time I look at it, I feel like my pining was worth it. It might not be the most perfect replica, or the most technically brilliant piece of dressmaking, but it’s all mine, and to me it sums up what the 1660s were all about. When I listen to Je Fais de Toi Mon Essentiel, it’s the dress I see in my mind’s eye, walking defiantly along Versailles’ mirrored corridors.

I’ll be back soon with a take on a chemise.

Until then,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents.


And your name is?

20 Mar

Hello there dear reader,

We find ourselves in an interesting situation: if you are reading this, it means that someone has stumbled across this little blog, still in its infancy, but aspiring to greatness.

Welcome to the Amazing Woman Talents WordPress page, where I hope to spread a little cheer and sunshine through the medium of pondering, sewing, baking and generally wishing that I was born in a different era.

The name of the blog came from a conversation I had with a friend last night. She was trying to describe me to her own friends, who don’t know me very well. And the best-fit for me at the time was “the one with the amazing woman talents”. So thank you Sarah, you have given rise to a domain name.

Amazing Woman Talents include, but are not limited to, any form of needlework, sewing, cooking, baking, drawing, promenading, dancing, historical dressing, hairstyling, daydreaming and odd pet keeping. That these talents may seem somewhat obscure and anti-feminist in the current era is their ultimate beauty. We live in a world of high-speed, electrically-powered instant gratification, and skills like darning socks and writing letters have become a thing of the past. But we can use these much maligned pastimes to fight back against an ultimately unsustainable and cold way of existing in the world. Celebrate your 21st century femininity: make your granny proud by taking advantage of all the opportunities she never had AND  fit some old-style crafting in at the same time.

Something you’ve made has a soul in a way that a bought item does not, and if I can inspire even one person to put down their  store card and pick up a sewing kit, I will have succeeded in my task.

Until the next time, I bid you Adieu

The one with the Amazing Woman Talents.

Mr Bingley and Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV a la 'Le Roi Soleil'

Hand sewing to create presents for your friends is one of the single most rewarding things you can do.