Tuesday, November 27, 2012

the capelet of fits & starts

Capelet, Mantelette, Small Cape, Cloaklet. I'm not sure what the correct term actually is but whatever the proper title of this garment one thing is clear - it is kicking my butt.

I started this project a month ago and have been working on it in fits and starts ever since. Heavy emphases on the "fits". Really this should be a simple project. You know, a nice easy garment to ease my way back into costuming after what has turned out to be a long hiatus from personal costuming. A quick project to cross off my costuming list and get the ball rolling on my very ambitious costuming schedule for the coming year. But no, of course it's turned out to be anything but!

I started out by following the example of Aubry & Loren by scaling up the lace mantelette in Costume Close-Up.

I scaled it up to the original size, cut out a mock up and tried it on.

HORRIBLE! Clearly the sizing was off but more than that, the proportions were totally wrong. Plus it really wasn’t what I had in mind when I pictured my perfect capelet. It's not fair how it could look so cute on my friends and yet so awful on me! Merh.

Unfortunately for my sanity this project is one that I am not willing to be anything less than perfect. Why? The fabric. I was generously given a length of the most amazing cashmere/wool by a non-sewing friend. It's a wonderfully warm but lightweight fabric that is unbelievably soft to the touch. The color shifts from a slate-gray-green to a bottle green depending on the light. It's a fabric far above my normal budget and one I will probably never be able to replace. So I wasn’t going to waste it on anything I wasn’t 100% happy with.

So the question became do I alter/fudge the CCU pattern to both fit me and the stubborn vision in my head or should I start with another pattern and work from there. It was going to be about the same amount of work, so it came down to what did I feel like.

I pondered that for a few weeks and as I pondered I researched. My main question was did the capelet in my vision even exist in the 18th century? Largely thanks to Pinterest (and the links/museums/collections it lead me to) I found many more capes/mantelettes that I had ever seen before. I found a very interesting variety of construction and styles. It seems capes are like everything else in the 18th century - made by a variety of seamstresses, in a variety of ways, for a variety of bodys. There aren't really any rules, only the restrictions of the technology of the day, the skill of the seamstress and the mindful cost of fabrics. In the end I found all the elements from my vision, although not all in the same garment. Still it gave me the confidence to break away from the only extant pattern I had in CCU and create the capelet I really wanted.

One of the main elements I wanted was a full back. I thought proportionally it would look better on the curvy me but also I wanted the more luxurious feel of extra fabric. No skimpy capelets for me! Costume Close Up, in addition to the lace mantelette and woman's wool cape also has a 1780s men's cape. The men's cape was fuller, cut in a generous half circle. After finding some women's capes that seemed to be cut the same way in my research, I used that as my starting point.

But rather than going to the bother of scaling CCU up I cheated. I trolled through my Mom's pattern stash (pattern hoarders in the family do come in handy sometimes) and pulled out every pattern that had a cape. Then I looked at the pattern shapes and found one that matched the men's cape in CCU. I'm so lazy!

I basically laid that out on some muslin and, with the help of a couple of measurements, I lengthened it overall and drew in the elongated front. A quick try on and it was pretty much perfect.

I tweaked the shape of the elongated front a bit, futzed with the pleating of the neck, trimmed the angle of the front (so the edges met nicely) and worked on the shape of the hem (my shoulders hiked up the hem in an odd looking way so to even it out I had to trim the back, cutting off the perfect circle in the back) but one toile later I was done. With my heart skipping a beat or two, I cut my amazing fabric. That was too easy!

My next challenge has been the hood. I have found a few 18th century capelets without hoods but the vast majority seem to have them so even though I will probably never use it (hoods destroy carefully styled coiffures in my experience), I need a hood.

I've always loved radiating pleats on the hood on my red cape so I started with that. In making my red cape I used the hood as-is from CCU, making no changes whatsoever. The one thing I was never happy with was the awkward way it hung in the back. So I started tweaking and toiling, trying to get a hood that looked good up and down.

p>So far it's been nothing but frustrating as I can't seem to get it right no matter how many tweaks I make. I've lost track of how many toiles I've done, having given up on documenting every change. So now I'm trying to decide how anal retentive I'm going to be with this. Should I keep tweaking or is it time to say "good enough". Or should I just forget the whole thing and make it without a hood. I'm pondering.

Also in the pondering pile are the questions of lining (I've pretty much decided on a black silk taffeta lining, although my budget may dictate China silk instead) and trimming (black silk ribbon or vintage fur - again more of a budget question than anything).

thinking... thinking...

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