Friday, January 24, 2014

The Empire Diadem Hack!

Ever since I started doing regency reenactment I have been coveting an empire diadem.
Coral and pinchbeck diadem, early 19th century

They seem to have been extremely popular in France and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe.

pearl and pinchbeck purported to have belonged to Madame Recamier'

Garnet and pinchbeck comb

Diadems often came in jewelry sets called parures.

Everyone wore them from queens and empresses to the daughters and wives of the bourgeoisie. 

Victoria Duchess of Kent, mother of queen Victoria

Miniature on ivory of a girl wearing a coral parure with diadem

Woman wearing a pearl diadem, by Boilly

Unknown sitter and artist ca 1810. Wearing a pearl diadem.

They came in a myriad of styles from gold sent with real precious stones to pinch beck set with paste. But the single most popular style seems to have been pinch beck with coral, followed by pinch beck with pearls ( mostly faux pearls).

glass pearl and pinchbeck diadem, early 19th century
 But despite these diadems being all the rage back in the day they are rather scarce today. They are very hard to find especially in the United States, I come across them more often on European auction sites.They do sometimes come up on eBay or on the antiques website Ruby Lane. But they are always without fail way out of my price category. You can easily spend $800- 1000 on one on Ruby Lane, and while they tend to go cheaper on eBay( if one is lucky enough to find one) I have never seen one go for under $400. They tend to be cheaper in Europe but even there you can expect to pay at least $250 and thats usually for one in not so great condition. As a stay at home costume designer married to a post doc, I just can't justify paying that kind of money to buy something to put on my head so I can play pretty pretty princess...
So I have been trying to come up with a way to fake the empire diadem look.
This is harder than it would appear. Modern tiaras don't have the right shape. They tend to curve backward like a crown, but the diadems of the empire period where more crescent shaped and followed the curve of the head running from temple to temple. Also the decoration is all wrong, modern rhinestones are too sparkly to pass as 200 year old paste and the settings are all wrong coming mostly in very shiny silver tone, when back then gold was more the thing. A while back I did make a diadem out of a belly dance necklace that had a bunch of gold tone metal crescents on it.It's still available on eBay here 

Weird bellydance necklace I made a Diadem out of. only the top crescent is big enough though for a diadem. However,the smaller ones make nice hair combs

I took the necklace apart and simply wired a comb to the back, it actually looked pretty good and I think it works well for perhaps the earlier directoire style . But it wasn't quite the classic diadem look I wanted.

Somehow I don't seem to have any pictures of me wearing the belly dance necklace diadem, this is the best i could find.

Then about a month or 2 ago my friend Kat who is the queen of buying tiaras on eBay, found this tiara. From this seller on eBay

eaby picture

back view

The shape was perfect, the pearls too and surely something could be done about those rhinestones and the silver color. Besides the thing cost $10 so it wouldn't be a big loss if it didn't work out. So I ordered it.
It took a couple of weeks to come from china, but I wasn't disappointed once it came, the thing defiantly had potential. 

Tiara before I pimped it.

My first idea was to pry out the rhinestones and replace them with pearls. But it tuns out the rhinestones are glued on with some sort of magical glue that entirely resisted my attempts of prying the buggers out, not even acetone could soften the glue, now that's some hardcore jewelry glue! So there I was with this tiara that was just wear to sparkly for me to want to wear it for regency. Then I had an idea. I had some wax based gold leaf paste that you can just apply over just about anything to gild things. 

Rub on gold leaf paste
Perhaps it would work over the rhinestones? I wanted to gild the metal anyway so why not give it a try. So I did and it worked like a charm. I used a brush to apply the gilding being careful to not get it on the pearls. It was really easy and only took about 15 minutes. Then I let it dry for about and hour and voila!

After applying the gilding
The stuff covered the rhinestones and silver metal making it look like cut steel jewelry, only in gold. I'm not sure what the style is called but I'm 100% sure that I have seen gold toned cut steel jewelry. I do not know if gold toned cut steel was around in the early 19th century, but I know that cut steel jewelry was all the rage. 

Early 19th century cut steel diadem
I think the diadem turned out looking pretty awesome, and even if I'm not sure if they had the gold tone variety of cut steel in the early 19tje century, I'm just going to roll with it. Because when worn with a period hairstyle it looks very much like an authentic empire diadem. 

Looks pretty good with a period hairstyle and matching pearl jewelry.

Close up.
Besides,for $10 and 15 minutes of work applying the gilt, this is the cheapest, fastest and most authentic looking faux empire diadem known to man! I plan to buy more of the tiaras I used as the base and experiment with painting the rhinestones. I've seen some tutorials online where people have painted rhinestones with nail polish and it looks just like enamel. That could be really cool. Also I'm pretty sure they have the paste I used in silver color, which could perhaps yield a nice faux cut steel look. But it will have to wait because when I contacted the seller to do a bulk order they told me they where out and wouldn't have more until February.  So I will have to wait a bit to get more to do some more experiments and make some diadems for sale in my shop. Because even though I just told you how to make a knock off diadem, you should still totally buy one from my shop!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lovely Josephine

I've not done much sewing yet this year. I had grand plans of catching up on my work and all, but other than Lottie's twelthnight dress and cleaning my sewing room I've not accomplished much on the sewing front. You see I just came down with some sort of flu like plague that has left me totally retched and unmotivated to get any work done. I did however do a tiny bit of work yesterday. I finally finished my Josephine reticule. I started it way back in November, it was intended for the HFS challenge # 25 one yard. But then my dad passed and my life went  topsy turvy for a while,I never got around to finishing it, until now.....
I've been wanting to make a medallion reticule, and while this sort of decoration seems to have been more popular on muffs,

silk muff with chenille embroidery, french 1785-1810

Silk muff cover, late 18th century, Museum of fine Arts Boston

Silk muff cover 1785-1810. Museum of fne Arts Boston

I've come across at least two extant reticules of that style, and I think they are charming. 

Silk net reticule, early 19th century, Baretto/Lancaster collection.

So when I found out that you can upload any image you want to and they will print it on fabric and send you a sample for just $5, I figured I would give it a try.I thought the results would probably turn out way better than if I tried the whole print your own iron on transfer thing. So I ordered 2 samples one with empress Josephine and one with queen Luise of Prussia( She's my homegirl ! No really, she grew up in Darmstadt which is only 15 kilometer from the village I grew up in.)

These are the samples as they arrived.
The samples yielded 4 pictures each, not bad for $5 a sample, and they turned out nice and crisp and defiantly better thank if I had tried the whole iron on transfer for sure.
My friend Erin had given me a small piece of mustard yellow twill silk that was perfect for th. is project.
I cut a simple rectangular shape then cut out one of the Josephine portraits in an oval shape and applied it and covered the raw edge with some mustard colored vintage trim.

Why stop here if you can pimp it up with embroidery?!
 Now I could have just sewn the thing up like that and have a really cute little reticule, but I got bit by the embroidery bug, I felt the thing needed some floral embellishment so I added a little embroidery underneath the picture. Once I was done with that I decided why stop there, there's a whole backside that's just calling for a monogram, and my initials just happen to be the same as Josephine's!  

The Imperial monogram of empress Josephine

So I copied out Josephine's imperial monogram to put on my humble little reticule. And because you can't just have letters on there I surrounded them by a floral wreath. So my simple little reticule turned into a multi day embroidery project. 

Front View

Back view

And of course Amadeus the evil thinks its his toy!

I think it turned out so pretty! As a finishing touch I added some neat vintage tassel that I got on a recent trip to Philadelphia. And voila. A colorful new reticule for moi! I love it! And I hope Josephine would have liked it too.

 I actually find it very appropriate that the first thing I made for myself this year was the Josephine reticule. Because, I have declared 2014 to be my year of all things Josephine. It's the bicentennial of her death this year after all. And I've been busily reading books  about her and just thinking of her a lot. I know I'm weird for thinking of some long dead French lady like I know her personally of something...

But anyway, for all my regency or should I rather call it empire costuming projects of 2014 I will ask myself WWJD? No, not what would Jesus do, but what would Josephine do! What Would she wear, what color would she pick and so on. Cause while Jesus is a great guy and all, he's not exactly known for his fashion sense.....

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Years Sewing.

I haven't done any sewing since the middle of November. Shortly before Thanksgiving my father got very ill so I hightailed to Georgia to be there with him and support my mother. I didn't expect to be down south very long so I didn't take my sewing machine or any of my many projects with me. But sadly my father died on the Monday after Thanksgiving. First there was so much to do with the funeral and all, and afterwards I did not want to leave my mother all by herself, so I stayed through the holidays and ended up spending over a month away from home. Granted I wasn't much in the mood for sewing anyway, but I do feel rather guilty at being utterly unproductive for such a long time, as I have a rather heavy workload for 2014... Oh well these things do happen and family is more important than playing dress up or my little business. Thankfully I have some very understanding customers.
Anyway, I came home to Pittsburgh on New Year's Day. The house is super messy and I really have more pressing sewing projects but I decided to go easy on myself and make my first project of the year fun and simple. So I made a cute little twelfth night frock for Lottie. I had originally planned to go to a friends twelfth night party in Philadelphia ,but my husband had to do some work on the weekend and couldn't watch Lottie for me, this did have the advantage that I could go the Woodville Plantation's twelfth night party instead. I already knew what I was gong to wear.

My 1790s Christmas frock.
My red and cream 1790s open robe and polished cotton petticoat are perfect for such a festive occasion. 

the Amish dress, I got it and the bonnet on ebay for a steal. They only needed a some small alterations to work for regency, but they are rather plain...

But the only winter frock that currently fits Lottie is rather drab ( no wonder since it's an altered Amish girls dress) So of course she needed something a little more festive. I had just the right fabric in the stash as well! An adorable cotton print in red and black on a cream ground that I found on clearance at Jo Ann's sometime this fall. 

Dress fabric closeup. I love the diamond pattern.

They only had 2 yards of it left just enough for a child's frock, so I got it for a new winter gown for Lottie. With the occasion quickly approaching I sat down Saturday afternoon and cranked out a regency gown for my little girl. 

I used the sense and sensibility girls regency gown pattern which is super fast and easy to put together I think it only took me about 2 or 3 hours altogether. The result was a simple and charming winter dress that goes so perfectly with her little red cloak and her new winter bonnet. 

Lottie's winter ensemble.

Her new winter frock, her pantaloons are getting rather short on her. I will have to let them down soon.

Somehow she lost her shoes and found my i phone during the course of the evening.

It also kind of matched my outfit. It was nice to wear some cheerful bright colors after my self imposed mourning of wearing mostly black, gray and purple for a month. 

we kind of match.
So now with the new year in full swing it's time I pick myself up and throw myself into work. I have grand plans for 2014! I'm branching out into 18th century costuming next, and there's of course endless regency sewing and commissions to tackle. Jane fest is looming on the horizon and I need to do some serious shop restocking for that! And then I have a super exciting top secret project, that's going to have its reveal later in the year! But first I have to get trough this arctic vortex thing that literally froze my sewing room!

Tonight it is cold that the windows of my sewing room have ice on them on the inside! I don't think my dinky space heater is equipped for this kind of cold, so sewing will have to wait till temps get above 0 again...

Happy New Year my Friends! May all your costuming projects be successful!