Category Archives: Costume Design

Historical and historically- inspired fashions

Velvet Spencer Jacket

This regency era spencer jacket was made to be worn with a light blue silk gown. Both the gown and this jacket were custom designed for The Quotidian Theatre Company in Maryland.

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The gown is dark colonial blue cotton velveteen and fully lined in cotton. The sleeves are 2-3″ longer than cuff length to drape over the base of the hand (as most period Spencer jackets did.)

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The jacket closes at center front just below the bust line and is open to the neck. The back of the jacket features a decorative peplum to accentuate the regency era silhouette.

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Here is an image of the original jacket ours was based upon. (Image provided by client. Source not documented.)

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Customer Comment: “I wanted to let you know how beautiful both the dress and Spencer jacket are! They are expertly crafted and the design is lovely and elegant as are all the materials. I tried the costumes on the actress who will be wearing them in the play and they fit perfectly. Thank you so much for your brilliant work! I have passed your card along to other enthusiasts with a high recommendation. “

Blue Dress and Jacket Blue Dress and Jacket2

For more information about this jacket or any of our custom designed garments, please visit our catalog or email us at info@maggiemayfashions.com

Silk Regency Era gown

Just finished! This gorgeous light blue silk regency era gown for an actress with The Quotidian Theatre Company in Maryland. This original design is based upon an earlier gown I made for a museum in Ohio.

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The gown is 100% silk and is fully lined in lightweight cotton- including a full underskirt. See the matching Spencer velvet jacket that went with this gown too!

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For more info about this gown or any of our custom designed garments, please visit our catalog or email us at info@maggiemayfashions.com

Customer Images:

Blue Dress  Blue Dress and Jacket2

New historical patterns from Butterick

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Butterick has released some gorgeous (and pretty darn authentic) new patterns by Nancy Farris-Thee this season! While Simplicity seems to have had the upper hand on market for the past few years, it looks like Butterick might be giving them some competition.

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B5901

Butterick Pattern #5901

Over the past few years, Simplicity has been catering to Victorian era sewers and I am excited to see Butterick picking up on an era well overlooked amongst almost all pattern makers:

The ROMANTIC Period!

B5832-1 B5832-2  B5832  B5832

Butterick Pattern #5832

With all the hoopla about the upcoming 150th anniversaries of the American Civil War, the market has been flooded with tons of Victorian era stuff. Now Simplicity seems to be moving on to the Steam-Punk market. However, Butterick’s release of this beautiful Romantic era gown makes me wonder if the next big thing is going to be the 1830s and 1840s!

I do hope so!

Happy sewing everyone!

Boy’s marine corp uniform

Just in time for the Memorial Day holiday!

I delivered this little boy’s size 6 Marine Corp uniform to a local gal. She is getting married in June to a newly enlisted Marine and this outfit is for their ring bearer.

A great big thanks to all our service men and women for all you do and congrats to this new family on their upcoming wedding!

Boy's marine corp dress blues  Boy's marine corp dress uniform

Highland vest and tartan

Here are some images of a fun little project I worked on for a client in California. This highland vest and sash are intended for an evening gala celebrating the premiere of Pixar’s new animated film Brave.

Celtic Vest    celtic vest and tartan

My client actually has Scottish heritage in her family and here is her clan’s tartan.

Celtic tartan

I searched out something as similar as possible to make this sweet and feminine Highland ensemble!
celtic vest  celtic sash  celtic vest

Careers in Costume- job postings

Looking for a career in Costume? I stumbled upon this site the other day. There’s multiple job postings across the nation. All levels- from costumed character positions, summer internships at Colonial Williamsburg’s dressmaker’s shop, and full design positions!

Go to: Jobs in fashion
Do a search for “costume” in the “what” box

View current positions!

A career in Fashion History

I recently responded to an inquiry from a college graduate who is interested in pursuing a career in historic costume and fashion history. She asked me several great questions about careers in historical costume. I thought I would share our Q&A for anyone who might be interested in getting into “the business.”

Q: First of all, what are your recommendations for pursuing my interest in fashion history? As you have already realized, compared to other professions, careers in fashion history are far and few in between. However, they are not nonexistent. Fashion History careers range from living history interpretation to museum curatorial work to teaching. I would suggest joining The Costume Society of America. They have lots of great academic/professional conferences and do list job openings in the field of fashion history across the nation.


Q: What are your recommendations for pursuing my interest in fashion history? I have not found many graduate programs in the country for this subject. Do you know of any programs out there that I may have missed?
UNC- Chapel Hill has a great program in costume. You may wish to check out Kent State University in Ohio. And, Ohio State has a a highly reputable film school.

Q: And if not, are there certain books that you could recommend to me (I’m sure there are hundreds) that would give a good general overview on fashion history?
Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank. It is a very broad overview, but it is a great introductory to the history of western fashion. The Janet Arnold pattern books are great for looking at historic garment construction. But my favorite is Costume in Detail 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield.

Q: Your website mentions employing ‘historical sewing techniques’. Can you expound upon that for me? You also mentioned in your artist statement that you are a self-taught seamstress, so I was wondering if you had taught yourself all of these methods or if they were learned at some sort of institution.
Historical sewing techniques primarily refers to the cut and draping of a garment that is consistent with the period from which it originates. I do also try to use as many actual period stitch applications as possible when making historical garments. However, there is a fine line between “sewing historically” and making reproduction historic garments. Many historic sewing techniques require hours and hours (and hours….) of hand sewing. This is OK if you have lots of time and are creating say a couture art piece. However, when making garments for resale (or under deadlines), this is just not always feasible. Therefore, I try to replicate historic construction techniques as closely as possible when appropriate.

I learned about period sewing techniques by looking at original garments (in person and in books) and then I just went into my studio and tried to replicate what I saw. As for sewing in general, my mother taught me to sew when I was 13 and in college I worked in the University costume shop.

Q: Do you purchase the fabric for your garments at a general fabric store? Or do you go to a specialty store or order online?
Finding appropriate fabric is a big issue. Cities like NYC and LA still have viable fabric markets. However, in my part of the world, garment sewing is becoming an obscure hobby and domestic fabric suppliers are drying up faster than you can say “Welcome to BigMart.”

In the past I experimented with purchasing materials online and have had a mixed experience. Sometimes I got what I expected, sometimes I did not. Many online retail fabric stores purchase lots of discontinued fabrics and tend to run out of your fiber before they can process your order.

Right now I work exclusively with two wholesale distributors here in the US. One specializes in reproduction cotton prints.

Q: Are they worth the time and money when constructing a period garment, or can they easily be replaced by modern-day substitutes?  It depends upon your intended end use. I am a historical costumer who specializes in authentic period attire. My primary clientèle is museums. If I were creating something say for theater, I might be able to use substitutes. 

However, it is my personal opinion that spending the extra money to purchase high quality, period appropriate fabric is worth it. I am serious believer in doing things right the first time because if you don’t, you will only have to go back and redo them again later.

Q: As for your patterns, do you draft them yourself? Are they altered from patterns you have collected over time? Or do you use patterns you have found in books, on the web, or at stores?
When I first began over 17 years ago, I primarily altered commercial patterns I had in my collection because they were already graded to fit different sizes. Now, I have a more in depth understanding of pattern drafting/size grading and am able to work from my own patterns. This has allowed for greater creativity in my designs.

Q: How did you began this career as a freelance historic costumer? I realize it is not your only method of income, but how did it all begin?
I do not think I chose a career as a historic costumer as much as it chose me. My fascination with historic clothing began when I was about five or six. In elementary school, I used to sketch Edwardian style dresses instead of doing my lessons. In middle school I made my first dress. In high school I sold my first dress. In college I studied History and Historic Textiles. I also studied abroad and worked in the theater’s costume shop. 

I earned degrees in History and the Visual Arts and then went on to earn a Masters degree in Visual Arts Education. In 2000, I launched my website. Since then, I have devoted most of my time to the study of historic dress and began developing my own designs based upon my research. I also teach part time at the local university.

Q: Did you know people in the film industry that would frequently commission costume pieces from you? Also, do you know anything about being a Historic Consultant for films/plays/etc.
My website has been my main source for business. Yes, I do network within the film and theater industry but the majority of my work comes directly from my website. Publishing scholarly articles about historic clothing and displaying images of my work online has been my biggest asset.

In closing, here is some advice:
Get connected– network amongst professionals already working in the field. Find a mentor if possible.

Stay active– Read, research, learn, and create!

Create a portfolio– design and create four or five garments that are exclusively your own and make them available for view by professionals already working in the field.

Promote yourself– Let people know you are out there and are willing to work!

Be business savvy– Knowing how to recreate historic clothing is important, but knowing how to run a business is imperative!

I hope this gives you a little direction in your pursuits!
My Best!
-SJ


(This is a repost from my blog: September 2011)

New Historically Accurate, Authentic, Reproduction Fabric!

Attention Historic Seamstresses! I am really excited to announce I have begun working with an American fabric distributor who carries an extensive line of high quality reproduction cotton prints! I am going to do my best to be competitive on pricing. Many of the designs are straight out of Eileen Trestain’s Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960. If you have a particular color or style you have been looking for, please let me know and I will see if I can locate it for you!

Here is a quick glimpse of what I have to offer right now.

As of right now, I have approximately 15 yards of each print listed in my Etsy shop.