Statement of purpose: I create and recreate historical dress in order to understand its original creation and wearing processes, and to reinvigorate interest in the aesthetics of the past, its material culture, and its creators and wearers. In order to do so, I research the history of clothing design, the historical practice of dressmaking, and the social/cultural role of both. My works emphasize historically appropriate materials and construction methods, and so serve as a means of understanding the visual, tactile, and engineering aspects of clothing from the past – and the past more generally.
In less formal terms… Kendra Van Cleave has been sewing since she was a wee lass, when her mother taught her sew on her Singer machine. Her first big project was a purple calico sundress for 4-H. Little did she know that she would have to participate in a judged fashion show wearing this sundress (evil fascist 4-H!), where her hem was determined to be sub-par. Her hems sucked for a long time after.
Later forays into sewing were relatively unsuccessful, such as the upsetting-to-remember tiered iridescent lace skirt made with her mother’s help (after sewing wrong sides to right sides too many times, they swore that next time they’d just buy the damn thing).
Kendra discovered the joy of sewing late in high school, when a friend (very sweetly!) made her a very badly fitting Renaissance Faire bodice. She thought, “I can do better than this!” and lo, she could! Her first bodice (bright blue cotton, coffee dyed to pass costume approval, and smelling of coffee forever after) was a success, and she was soon suckered into creating costumes for other Ren Faire friends. She quickly developed a need for a new costume every year, and when she started dancing at historic balls, a dark path opened before her.
Kendra primarily creates historic costumes for herself (she has sewn for profit before, and could be talked into it again for the right amount of money). She is a certified member of the Costume ADD club (ie she likes pretty much any era), although she’s particularly fascinated by the 1770s-1790s, 1870s, and 1910s; she’s been spending the last couple years intensely studying 18th century costume. She has an almost unnatural passion for stripes, thinks that all clothing should include box pleats and massive amounts of piping, and would be inordinately happy to spend her life on the couch hand sewing.
Kendra has merged her interests in social/cultural history and fashion. She studied European history as an undergrad, then received a master’s in history focusing on American social history (along with one in library science). She now works as a librarian at a university, and pursues scholarly research in the history of fashion. She’s published three scholarly articles on fashion history, one about the late 18th century robe à la polonaise, and two about the role of fashion in the lives of students at Smith College (a Northeastern US women’s college) in the 1920s. She’s now working on a larger research project on the late 18th century trend for Turkish-inspired high fashion, including the robes à la turque and circassienne, which will hopefully become a book. She has self-published a book on the history and how-to of 18th century hair and wigs.
Kendra has taught numerous workshops on the history and how-to of fashion and costume, primarily for the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild and Costume College.
CONTACT THE SEAMSTRESS
Questions? Email me (Don’t forget to change the “at” to an @!).
I love getting email about this site and costuming, but be forewarned that I’m not always prompt about writing back (job, life, sewing, etc.). It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I kind of suck!
- Best in Show for The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Maids of Honor, 1855, Costume Con 26 (2008)
18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques. A book that combines meticulous research with easy to follow instructions that will help you create historically accurate hairstyles of the 18th century.
Scholarly writing & presentations related to costume:
- Van Cleave, Kendra, and Brooke Welborn. “`Very Much the Taste and Various are the Makes’: Reconsidering the Late-Eighteenth-Century Robe à la Polonaise.” Dress 39, no. 1 (May 2013): 1-24. Read summary
- “Fashioning the College Woman: Dress, Gender, and Sexuality at Smith College, 1920-29.” Journal of American Culture (March 2009).
- “‘A Style All Her Own': Fashion, Clothing Practices and Female Community at Smith College, 1920-29.” Dress (2005): 56-65.
- “Fashion (WWI),” and “Fashion (WWII).” In The Home Front Encyclopedia: United States, Britain, and Canada in World Wars I and II. James Ciment (Ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2006.
- “Moral and Dress Reform Movement, 1800-1869.” In The Encyclopedia of American Social Movements. Immanuel Ness (Ed.). Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2004.
- “‘A Style All Her Own': Fashion and Gender at Smith College, 1920-29.” Western Association of Women Historians Annual Conference, 2004.
Frock Flicks: the costume movie podcast.
COSTUME RELATED ORGANIZATIONS/EVENTS/AFFILIATIONS
- Board of Directors, Costume Society of America Western Region
- President, Greater Bay Area Costumer’s Guild (2004-2007)
- Board of Directors, International Costumer’s Guild (2004-2007)
- Historical Masquerade Judge, Costume Con 23 (2005)
- Performer, Oliver Twist, Dickens Fair (2007-2008)
- Performer, Fezziwig’s, Dickens Fair (2003)
- Performer, Merrie Pryanksters, Renaissance Pleasure Faire (northern California) (1994-1996)
- Performer, St. Cuthbert’s Guild, Renaissance Pleasure Faire (northern California) (1993)