Pesky Parasol Adventures – Improving a Costume Parasol

Well, I’m a touch obsessed with antique parasols.  At my first Civil War event, I had a good costume—but my parasol was cringingly horrific.  I had one of those big battenburg lace numbers that really isn’t even in the neighborhood of historical accuracy, but that some sellers out there purport to be civil war era.  Ok, here I am with my hideous parasol:

I did try to dress it up by adding trim to coordinate with my dress . . .

But at the same event I saw impeccably accessorized Ladies with these tiny little black parasols.  I had never seen anything like them before.  After the event I researched, and discovered those were a type of parasol carried in the 1860s.  I fell in love with those tiny specimens —as well as parasols from all times.  I spent a lot of time scouring ebay and Etsy for reasonably priced small antique parasols from the civil war era.  I managed to snag two, in the $35 to $60 range—that were actually useable as is, with the original fabric in good enough shape to use.  They are folding “carriage” parasols, simple, but quite fun.  Unbelievable that I found them in that price range, because ones in good shape go much much higher.  In any event I kept one for myself, and one for Barb for civil war era promenading.

But what to do for my first Regency promenade?  Different eras require slightly different parasols.  Regency parasols, from the fashion plates I’ve seen, are also usually smaller than modern parasols, but vary in size and shape.  Popular shapes include pagoda shapes as well as shapes similar to civil war era parasols.  They can have tassels or fringe or various and assundry frills, but unlike civil war era parasols, Regency parasols tends to be colors other than black.  Some regency parasols fold in half like the civil war carriage parasols and have short handles (even when extended); others have longer wooden handles, with some even long enough to use as a walking stick.

For my first Regency promenade, I wanted to find a parasol, but unlike a civil war era parasol, I really haven’t been able to find a period one in good enough shape to use—being that much older, the ravages of time take their toll.  And even the tattered ones I’ve seen need much repair, and are still really expensive.  So, I found a costume parasol that had a long wooden handle and a smaller canopy.  The handle was painted white and 28 inches long and a white nylon canopy, 25 inches wide. So, a good proportional size, that could easily be used, as is.  Although not historically accurate, a good effort and MUCH better than many options out there.  Plus the festival was in Louisville in July—a parasol for shade being a good thing to have in any event.  And it was inexpensive, in the $10-20 dollar range, after shipping costs.

Here is the costume parasol


Well, good basic shape and size—but a couple of nights before heading the festival, I decided I wanted to tart it up a  bit and to hide just a smidge the more the obvious plastic bits.  I looked at fashion plates for inspiration and came across this, with the tassels.  Adding tassels to my parasol would disguise the plastic tips at the end of the ribs.

A fashion plate I used for inspiration in perking up my parasol





And more fashion plates for inspiration:

I also wanted to change the shape a bit to make it look a bit more like a pagoda parasol a classic regency shape.

So I took the plastic knob off the top and pulled up the cover a bit to elongate the cover.  I wanted to add a new longer finial to the top, but didn’t have time to get to a hardware store to get a dowel rod to make an extension before the festival (darn working for a living taking up precious crafting time!).  I took scissors to the edges and scalloped the shape between the ribs to give it more of a pagoda look and hemmed the edge.  I didn’t do it quite evenly (in a hurry and just cut each panel by eye with no measurements or marking it up before just chopping and hemming), but I didn’t completely butcher it.

Overall I was pleased with the improvement, and think it looked good at the festival.  One vendor was selling the same costume parasols in their shop (along with very nice antique ones) and the woman said how she wished I would have been in earlier so she could have shown some customers things you could do to improve or customize  the costume parasols.  Made me feel good that she liked what I had done—but more importantly, I liked what I had done, and thought it good for a first effort, with little time.

Me with my parasol – and yes the sunglasses are period – they are replicas of a pair Thomas Jefferson had.







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