Friday, 25 July 2014

Ottoman costume - progress of a sort

An early post this week, as I won't have the opportunity to post it on Sunday.

Not for the first time while making this costume, I found myself looking at something laid out on the table and thinking, "My, that's an 'interesting' shape". The latest candidate is the cotton lining for my entari/caftan, which is also doubling as a toile for the outer layer.


Ottoman caftans are described as being 'bell-shaped', unlike Persian caftans, which have smoother lines. This example shows the shape particularly well. (Apologies that I don't have any more details for this image).

15th century Ottoman caftan

Even though I need some extra width to accommodate the gathered bulk of the excessively wide trousers, this is taking things a bit far. The illustration that comes with the pattern seems to suggest that some sort of pleating occurs, so I think I'll experiment with that.

Looks like pleats to me (she says, hopefully)

While I pondered what exactly to do with my big curvy side pieces, I thought I'd get on with the hat. I have an embroidered hat of Mr Tulip's which is exactly the right dimensions, so I worked from that.

Hat inspiration

As I no longer need all of the patterned fabric of the shalwar kameez suit set for a wide sash, I used some of it to make the hat. A pillbox hat should be perfectly simple to make; a strip of fabric sewn round a circle of fabric, right? I did just that, with some interfacing sewn in to stiffen it. Unfortunately when I tried the first attempt on, it looked as though the band narrowed from the top down. The effect was a brimless version of this hat, not at all the look I was after!

The Arnolfini Wedding by Jan van Eyck

When I looked at Mr Tulip's hat properly, it was obvious that there was a slight gather where the band meets the top. I did this to my hat, and it looked much better.

To trim the hat I dug out some red and gold braid which had been lurking in my stash for years. It was surprisingly heavy. When I inspected it, I discovered that the red and gold 'cords' which are unravelling in the botton left of the photograph are actually fine wire round tightly round a thick cotton core. Adding a bit of weight to the hat is no bad thing, as it is currently very light and flimsy.

Braid to trim the hat

The duppata which came with the shalwar kameez will be pinned onto the hat. The last time I tried using a dupatta as a veil for dancing, I discovered that although it looked very light, it actually had the floaty properties of sheet lead - reasonable really, as the whole point of a dupatta is that you don't want it to blow away! So, I can be reasonably sure that my headgear isn't going to go anywhere.

The gomlek (shift) is a very simple T-shaped tunic with underarm and side gussets. It should be slightly longer, but making it this length allowed me to get both the body and sleeve parts cut out with a selvedge at the hem. The construction is by machine, but all the seams are finished by hand, as I find that this gives a softer result. The neck opening is hand-finished as well. I hadn't sewn the buttons on when this photograph was taken.

Almost-completed gomlek

The medieval fair all this is being made for is a weekend event. I hate wearing the same shift two days running, so I've had to make two of them. That's a lot of hand-finishing.

So now back to the coat and its huge pleats.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

All change

(Or, why the costume I’m actually making is very different from the costume which I thought I was going to make.)

Back in May it all seemed so simple. I was going to make a new costume for the Medieval Fair I would be attending with Ya Raqs in the summer. I pretty much knew what I was going to make and shopped accordingly: big harem pants, a white cotton blouse with long sleeves split from the elbow, a lavishly trimmed coat which fitted under the bust and also had long split sleeves, and a wide sash.

I had these sort of images in mind, even though they date from a far later period. Somehow I blithely assumed that because it was 'traditional' dress it would have remained unchanged for centuries!

Ghaziya, c. 1839

Ghawazee dancers by Emile Prisse d’Avennes, 1848

Well unsurprisingly, that’s not quite how it’s turning out.

The first thing to go was the wide trim. This is made from a 5cm / 2” wide braid with alternating circular and flower motifs, woven in blue and red, and then heavily decorated with sequins, beads and sew-on stones. It’s pretty, and it prompted the colour scheme of the entire costume, but in the cold light of day, even with no research whatsoever I could tell that it’s not remotely appropriate. So into the stash it goes.

Modern (too modern) braid, back and front

Then I went online and did some research on Persian and Turkish costume for the period. It started promisingly when I found this. The sleeves and neckline were different, but I could live with that.

Turkish costume

However, even though the image was described as "15th century Turkish women’s costume", it was obviously not a contemporary 15th century image. So rather than just dive straight in, it was back to the research.

As I explained last Sunday, big puffy super-bloomers turned out to be a later element of Turkish costume. As it transpired, so were split sleeves, the neckline cut under the bust, and wide sashes. Instead the entari, the garment worn over the shirt, had a round  or 'V' neckline and usually short, wide sleeves with a curved edge for the bend in the arm. It was often fastened with frogging. The belt was long, but narrow.

This site, which was the source of my shalwar pattern, has lots of useful information information on Ottoman costume. Especially helpful for me are several images depicting dancers.

I love the fact that the bottom two dancers appear to be doing something cheeky/coy with their face veils, a move which is still used (with varying degrees of cheesiness) today!

Having decided on the basic design, it was on to fabric choices. The gomlek, the long shift or undershirt, came to below the knees and was always made of a very sheer fabric. I'm going to use a fine muslin.

The original plan for the outer layer was to use the same fabric as I used for the trousers, but in a different colour, and lined with a third colour. I soon realized that it's far too soft and drapey to hang properly, or to support the weight of the decoration, so I planned to interline it with cotton. However, the more research I did and the more I thought about it, it seemed silly to put so much work into something which would be so inherently wrong. Back to the fabric shop I went. I wanted to keep it plain, and found a linen/rayon mix in a suitable colour. Yes it should really be pure linen, but I will be sitting on floor cushions for two days, and a linen entari would look as though I'd slept in it after an hour or so. The lining fabric also ended up being replaced, with cotton. The very boring photo below shows the original coat and lining fabrics at the top, and their replacements below. Shame, because I really liked the colour of the original coat fabric. Still, I'm sure I'll find a use for it.

Well, I did say it was boring!

The frogging is going to be more ornate than is entirely appropriate, but there are some things which I can't quite give up! It started off with just the maroon and gold cords and the leaf motifs, but then I remembered that I had some dark red soutache which had migrated from my friend Kebi's mother-in-law's stash to mine, and it's a perfect match.

Frogging materials

Now all I need is for the Time Fairy to pop round with a few extra days!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Tunisian costume

Following on from my previous reference to the generally unflattering look of costumes for traditional Middle Eastern and North African dance I give you - my completed Tunisian costume.

Keen followers of the Historical Sew Fortnightly might remember that I made most of this costume for the Squares, Rectangles and Triangles challenge last year, and that I wasn't entirely happy with the end result. Since then I've fixed the qamisa (blouse) by inserting gussets in the sides, and worked out how to wear the melia (wrap) properly. In the last couple of weeks I finally made the qalsoun (pantaloons) and the yellek (waistcoat) into which the edges of the melia are tucked. Neither are visible when the costume is worn, but the qalsoun were just visible in the back view picture of the super-wide Ottoman trousers in the previous post.

All of this activity was necessary (there's nothing like a deadline to spur me into action!) because I needed a costume to wear at a recent event with Ya Raqs. As you can see, it's not the most form-fitting clothing. It is really comfortable to wear though, and stays in place far better than I had expected.

Me in Tunisian costume, with Tameri in a ghawazee coat which I also made

Despite the clear lack of drop-dead elegance, I'm really pleased with the end result. So much so that not only am I actually happy to publish pictures of me wearing it, I've even used one to finally create a profile picture! Thanks to Dave of DFlockton Photography for allowing me to use his pictures.

Photo by DFlockton Photography

Photo by DFlockton Photography

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Under $10

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is very straightforward; make something for under $10. You can see the other entries for this challenge here. Straightforward challenge, yes. Simple to achieve, no. The pound is currently quite strong against the dollar, so this gives me just £5.80 to play with. (To put this into context for non-UK readers, The Times newspaper currently costs £1.20 on a weekday, and £1.50 on Saturdays.)

Fortunately, on my recent trip to Manchester I bought some fabric at £1 per metre. This is to make a new costume for a medieval fair I’m attending with Ya Raqs, and as it’s now only a couple of weeks away, it’s time to get sewing.

I’m going to make an Ottoman costume, and for this challenge I decided to make the trousers. Easy. Everyone knows that that Turkish trousers are huge, full, pouffy things, right? Like this.

Ghawazee dancers, David Roberts, 1842

Or this.

Dancing girl, Cairo, 1860-1890

Erm, wrong. Every source I consulted in my research stated that this was wrong, sometimes quite firmly. It turns out that looking as though you have a small zeppelin attached to each leg is a late 17th century costume development. Earlier trousers were tight-fitting around the ankle. To make my trousers I used this pattern (scroll down to Salwar and click on the link).

At this point I hadn’t decided exactly what period I was planning to work to, but the accompanying notes state that for 14th century pants the full width of the fabric (115cm / 45") should be used, but for the 15th and 16th centuries the width should be approximately 150% of your thigh measurement. This tipped me towards the latter.

The pants are also incredibly long; the measurement used is waist to floor, but taken while bending forward to touch your toes. Presumably if you are going to be sitting on floor cushions a lot, the extra ease makes a lot of sense!

So, I cut out the two rectangles of fabric, and folded them in half. This was where I began to get worried. I very rarely wear trousers except for going walking, and have never made a pair, but my first thought was that this seemed like quite a lot of fabric. So, I fetched a pair of trousers for comparison.

Hmm, these are going to be big

The next stage is to cut off a triangle of fabric to shape the leg, and then turn this triangle over and attach it to the leg as a gusset.

Leg and gusset pieces - it's not looking any better

My totally non-period-appropriate fabric is loosely woven and frays a lot, so I used equally non-period-appropriate machine-sewn French seams for the construction. Having attached the gusset pieces, the leg seam is sewn, and then the two legs sewn together.

A completed leg - still no better

The legs have a narrow hem, and are folded over at the top to make a waistband casing. I sewed both of these by hand, and can confirm that it is a very long casing indeed.

The completed trousers go right round me. With an overlap. Nice.

So here we have the finished article. And what an article it is.


Over the years I’ve got used to most of my dance costumes being, ahem, less than flattering. It’s an occupational hazard of performing traditional, folkloric, Middle Eastern dance as opposed to modern cabaret-style belly dance. After all, it is the dance of a culture where modesty in dress is important and, contrary to many western depictions, this extended to dancers' costumes.

Ouled Naïl woman by Rudolf Lehnert, 1904, from Wikimedia Commons

These pants however are a whole new level of unflattering.

Nope, they're no better from the front

Gathered up they look slightly better

I’ve cropped the photos so that you can’t see the expression on my face. It is less than ecstatic. Now I understand why so many layers are worn over the top of the trousers; it’s to hide the awful evidence!

The small print:
The Challenge: under $10
Fabric: Man made, possibly viscose
Pattern: Rashid's Persian Salwar pattern
Year: 15th to 16th century
Notions: thread
How historically accurate is it? The pattern is accurate, fabric and construction method are not remotely so. 30%?
Hours to complete: About 6
First worn: Just now, to take photographs
Total cost: Thread from stash, fabric £3. (Just as well really. If they had cost any more, I would have considered myself robbed!)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Midland Hotel

(In which I finally manage something vaguely resembling a photoshoot!)

I’ve been away with my parents for a few days, to Morecambe, on the Lancashire coast. For many British people of a certain age, ‘Morecambe’ immediately makes them think of this.

Statue of Eric Morecambe on the promenade

However it makes me think of this.

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe

The Midland Hotel opened almost 81 years ago, on 12 July 1933. It was built by the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway, and replaced a Victorian hotel of the same name. The new hotel was designed by Oliver Hill in the ‘Moderne’ style, in the hope that this would attract wealthy visitors to the town. At the time Morecambe was a popular holiday resort, and among the guests at the new hotel were a number of famous stars of the day, who were appearing at the nearby Winter Gardens.

The hotel in the 1930s

Being a railway hotel, it also featured in LMS advertising of the time.

LMS poster

During World War 2 the Midland was requisitioned, and became an RAF hospital. After the war the hotel was returned to the LMS in a very dilapidated condition, but was eventually restored (although the revolving entrance door, which had been removed to allow access for wheelchairs and stretchers, was never reinstated). However in the 1970s cheap, sunny, Mediterranean holidays somehow lured holidaymakers away from the joys of the British summer, and Morecambe, like many other coastal resorts, went into decline. When I last saw the Midland, in September 1997, it was in a very sorry state (click here to see just how bad things got). Two years later it closed altogether.

Happily in 2003 the hotel was bought by property developers Urban Splash, who restored it to its former glory, but with modern facilities. Where additions have been made, such as the third floor rooms and the new dining room, these have been done in a way that ties in with the original building, but are obviously not original.

The hotel from the Stone Jetty

View showing the third floor addition

When the Midland was built, its modernity was emphasised with a number of original works of art, mostly by Eric Gill. Oliver Hill commissioned Gill to create the pair of seahorses which decorate the central staircase tower (although there are suggestions that their form owes more than a little to the local Morecambe Bay shrimps!).

Eric Gill seahorse (or shrimp?)

Gill also carved a large Portland stone panel for the entrance lounge, entitled "Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa". It depicts a story from Homer’s Odyssey, when the shipwrecked Odysseus is met by Nausicaa and three female servants carrying food, drink and clothing. The scene was chosen to symbolise the hospitality being offered to guests by the hotelier.

Odysseus panel

On the ceiling above the spiral staircase is another Gill work with a watery theme; a carved medallion of Neptune, Triton and two mermaids. Around the edge is a quote from a sonnet by Wordsworth; "and hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn".

Neptune panel

The medallion was designed and carved by Gill, and painted by his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier. Tegetmeier also painted the fourth and final Gill work; a map of the west coast of England from the Lake District in the north to Birkenhead in the south, with the Royal Scot (an LMS train) running along the top.

The map mural, with Morecambe at its centre

The hotel, and another seahorse

Liverpool is represented by a small image of the Adelphi (another LMS hotel), and the two cathedrals. When the Midland opened in July 1933 the Anglican cathedral was in use, albeit not complete, but work on the Metropolitan cathedral had only begun a month earlier. Building was halted in 1941, and after the war the original design was abandoned as too costly. So the mural, which used Lutyens' original design, shows a cathedral that never was.

Liverpool's cathedrals

If you look closely at the word Thirlmere, you can just see some ghostly lines on the left. This is because Gill originally carved ‘Thurlmere’, and had to correct it! We’ve all been there (OK, I’ve been there).


Some of the original furniture from the hotel survived, and is still in use today.

Cocktail cabinet

The two circular Marion Dorn rugs in the lobby, with their pattern of rippling waves, were lost and have been recreated.

One of the Marion Dorn rugs in the lobby

Marion Dorn also designed the seahorse mosaic in the lobby. The motif was also used on advertising, crockery and table linen, and even on the end of the metal banister rail.

Marion Dorn's seahorse mosaic

The seahorse on the banister, with some of the original paint just visible

In keeping with this, Urban Splash used a version of the seahorse on the drain cover in the showers.

Modern interpretation of the seahorse

The rotunda at the north end of the hotel originally housed the tearoom, and was decorated with a mural representing Night and Day by Eric Ravilious.

The rotunda at dusk

The original Ravilious Rotunda artwork. Credit: RIBA

Unfortunately a shortage of time meant that the mural was painted onto wet plaster, and began to deteriorate almost at once. It was painted out a few years later. In the late 1980s a temporary version of the mural was created from photographs of the original when part of an episode of Poirot was filmed at the Midland. Then last year the mural was repainted in what is now the Rotunda Bar.

Then and now - painting the mural

While not an exact copy (it has to take into account new doorways and the surrounding colour scheme) the new mural includes many elements of the original, plus modern additions such as the wind turbines in Morecambe Bay.

The new 'Day' mural, with wind turbines on the horizon

Figure linking Day and Night

The new 'Night' mural

Despite all these artworks, my favourite element of the hotel is part of the structure itself; the cantilever spiral staircase in the main lobby. This curls like a seashell up through three stories, crossing the long vertical windows of the tower as it does so.

The staircase from the top

And from the bottom

The windows have a double layer of glass, so that the lighting in the central section is not visible from the outside or the inside.

The central window lit up at night

I took lots (and I mean lots) of photographs of the staircase, in an attempt to capture just how fabulous it is. I still don’t feel that I’ve done it justice though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

View from the top landing

It’s a staircase that you really ought to glide down, in a stylish 1930s bias-cut evening gown. Sadly my wardrobe is lacking in such a gown (and I don’t have the figure to carry it off anyway). So, I made do with my now-improved 'feedsack' dress (accessorised with the straw bag), and my CC41 dress instead.