Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I did on my six month vacation

I feel a little sheepish, to be honest. I didn't post about moving to London for six months on this blog, so anyone following only my costume adventures has been in the (admittedly normal lately) dark. We're wrapping up our trip here this week (ish - with a detour through Austria and Germany for a bit first), so I suppose now is as good a time as any to report on my costuming activities.

I suppose I should mention that I had two 50lb suitcases when I came out here. I borrowed a lovely Bernina from a fellow Kentwellie, Tamsen of Passamezzo for the duration of my stay. ...And I just shipped seven boxes of stuff back. That's including mugs and teapot, souvenirs, booksbooksbooks, a bunch of reenactor items I bought while here, a few costumes that I won't be using in the next few months, a box of mudlarking finds that I'll be using to teach classes. And I still have two 50lb-plus bags that I'm taking home with me.

This is what my sewing setup looked like. See that big bag under the table? That's the "sewing and reenactment bag". Also, that awful Rowenta iron made me miss my industrial iron so much.

When I packed, I thought to myself "Hmm, what sort of reenactments are there in the UK?" and packed accordingly. Along with a selection of patterns I intended to make, I brought along a huge amount of various types of historical undergarments, some half-finished Georgian stays, fabric for three or four Regency dresses, a couple of Victorian projects I'd been working on, a ruff that was taking forever to finish, and a set of Elizabethan smock, stays, madder red petticoat and jacket. And a bunch of shoes, of course.

The first thing I heard about was a 1940s event at Brooklands, which as I found out, is a huge transportation museum. Not "transportation" as in "to the colonies", no no, "transportation" as in "a bunch of old dudes who really like tinkering with engines". There were early bicycles, motorcycles, racecars, commercial and military airplanes, just... everything. It was a bit crazy.  I managed to adapt the bodice of one of the 1940s patterns I'd brought into a blouse (though geez, remind me next time to add a shirttail!) and I found a "land girl" style skirt on Amazon, though the girdle I bought didn't arrive until several days too late. I also bought Mike some 40's style clothes when I visited the Imperial War Museum for the Fashion on the Ration exhibit. And although it hadn't occurred to me that I might want to actually buy some hot rollers or something so I could actually do something with my hair... We looked pretty good. :)

The next bit was Kentwell, which I'd intended to just visit in costume for a day or two, and then go home. Imagine my surprise when I was told that visitors were discouraged from visiting in kit!  Well, whoops. I contacted the office and was very sweetly (and entirely surprisingly) added to the roster for the Main Event during the summer. I was also told that the stuff I'd brought was too late for the 1588 year we'd be portraying, and that I'd need different kit. Hooo boy. I bought a bodiced petticoat bodice (just the bodice) from another Kentwellie and then set to work chopping it down to my size.  I brought out that madder red petticoat and hemmed it up a bit, and then pointed it to the petticoat bodice. I then shopped until I found a suitable-ish wool, and made myself a square necked half-sleeved kirtle and some half sleeves for if I needed them. Thankfully I was able to reuse most of my accessories from 1556 (2012) so I didn't have to completely refit.

There aren't many pictures, for a number of reasons. Partly, I think, because I was in the kitchen and so entirely out of my element that I hardly looked up at all from my focus and worry. And when I was outdoors, I hardly looked up at all because without a hat and without my usual sunglasses, I suffered mightily from the glare. Sean Byrne took a lovely picture of me looking... I don't know... tired and annoyed? while walking plates from an emergency rations donation back to the main kitchen. As a picture it's not wonderful, but I'm relieved that there are some pictures of me in this kit.
Proof that I can squint, balance a tray full of plates, and walk at the same time!
Finally, we also went to Bath for the Jane Austen Festival's opening weekend. I had one half-completed Regency dress in the bag, and the materials for at least two more, so I worked frantically on getting one mostly-done, and then mostly-finishing the other, alternating on handsewing and machine sewing up until the night we arrived. In the meantime, I ordered a pair of breeches and a shirt for Mike from a lovely shop on Etsy, socks and reasonably peri-oid mens modern-formal latchet shoes on Amazon, and then spent waaaay more time than I'd like to think about going back and forth to the National Theater's costume hire location to find, fit, pick up, and return a beautiful late-Regency tailcoat and waistcoat. Oh, and I found an excellent top hat for him in a little market in Shepherd's Bush. It was a lot of work, but I think he ended up looking better put-together than I did! (Anyone who says that costuming is only sewing is so wrong. :P)

I'll also cop to it that it took me until September to remember that I didn't have any way to style my hair, so rather than buying a 220v curling iron to last me a month, I bought a hairpiece and some rollers. Which actually presented their own problems, because I didn't have a wig stand or anything, sooo...
Not my most glamorous moment, I  know.
So the first dress was what I'll call the "blue sprig" dress. It's cut from a single California King sized flat sheet that I got at my favorite thrift store in Redwood City for... I think $3? Something like that. It's solid, a little stiff, and definitely opaque, but it was easy enough to work with. For the first time, I actually tried making a front-opening gown that wasn't a bib-front and... surprise! It actually worked pretty well. I also made a chemisette from some leftover linen, which turned out to be a good thing as the day of the festival was both cold and sunny by turns. I also added some lacing-loops to a pair of pointy-toed ballet flats that I'd found at one of the local London women's careerwear shops, and made an extremely quick and dirty drawstring reticule.  I started on a bonnet. I didn't finish it, but I did use some of the velvet ribbon I'd brought for it to cover the spot where my real hair didn't match the hair-fall.

I'm sure there are pictures, but the only one I have is the selfie I took of us waiting for the promenade to start.

You can sort-of see us here, but there's no good way for me to link directly to the exact photo - basically, scroll 2/3 of the way down and look for a picture of a homeless man selling newspapers, and we're near that.

The other dress I made for the ball we went to - how disappointing that was! The ball on the official programme of the Festival was both in a wretchedly utilitarian hall (complete with fluorescent lighting, aluminum truss hanging from the ceiling, and gigantic disco ball), and absolutely not the ball that all of my friends went to. Also, I failed at correctly wrapping my turban often enough that I eventually got it and took a photo, so here...

There was a quite good dinner, and some decent dancing (though we won't speak about the quality of the calling).  Sadly, I haven't seen any photos so you'll have to do with this blurry shot that I got a security guy to take as we failed to sneak into the other ball.

It's basically impossible to see here, but this gown is made from an old embroidered linen tablecloth (that I'd found full of holes, again at my favorite thrift shop), over a length of Indian cotton sari gauze, the idea being of course to look as naked as possible. I have to say, mission accomplished: it's really sheer! Even with my chemise and my petticoat under this dress, I could feel the air from my hand-fan through the gown. (Which was, come to think of it, rather nice actually.)
I wouldn't use the gauze again though - it sticks and clings to itself like mad, which is great for saris, and less good for dancing. It clung so much that I ended up adding a drawcord flounce to the bottom of the pink layer just to give it more weight, otherwise I'd feared it would keep hiking higher and higher. The turban is a pink silk damask dupatta from - again - my favorite thrift store. I also made a piped-drawstrung neckline based on some of the examples I'd seen in the V&A and the Museum of London - but those are posts for another day!

So, six months, three four costumes? I guess that's not bad. I mean, it's not the best sewing rate I've had, but if you count all the museum study I've been doing, I think it's okay!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hostage Situation in the Public Domain

Has this happened to you?

Months ago, you found the perfect primary source for something you're researching on Google Books. Because it's on Google Books, you bookmark it, but don't bother downloading the PDF - it'll always be there right? (Wrong.) Fast forward a few months, and maybe you want to check your notes on something, maybe you want to double check that image, and lo and behold, your precious primary source is no longer accessible. Instead, you see the dreaded NO PREVIEW AVAILABLE message. It's like this for every edition.

Frustratingly, the thumbnail image shows the same as it always did, proving that Google does have this book stored away somewhere, but something has changed and now it's unavailable. So what's different?  Now there's a "Buy this book" button, and it points to one of those awful "print on demand" services. If you're so foolish as to buy this print on demand book, you'll get a low quality, mostly-illegible black and white (not even greyscale!) gluebound softcover book. If your book had color plates, you're out of luck. If your book had nice engravings, you're out of luck. If you wanted to read most of it, you're also probably out of luck.

The kicker - and the real rage-point for this post - is that it's clearly been printed from the public domain PDF. The same PDF you decided not to download.

The list of historical resources now locked-off on Google Books is staggering. Every time I go back to the service, there's less and less that I can read. If I find relevant stuff now, I download it right away, because chances are it'll be locked off behind another $25 piece-of-garbage printing by the time I think to look for it again.

We're talking sewing manuals, pattern drafting, early fashion magazines, tracts on domestic economy, herbalism, plain sewing, steam trains, premature burials, Victorian medicine, and even trade journals!

Worst, because the Google Books site doesn't make a lot of money, it seems like Google is totally unaware that there are companies out there holding our Public Domain works hostage. The closest I can find to any awareness is this article about another flybynight selling free journal articles to the unsuspecting.

So has this happened to you too? Please comment below. If you can list the titles or link to the Google Books that should be in the Public Domain but are now locked off, even better.  And - Please share!  The more attention we can draw to this problem, the better.

Knowledge in the Public Domain should remain so!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Indienne Summer Begins

Ladies and gentlemen, I did not expect to be inspiring and heading up a group project when I visited FabMo on Friday. However, when I walked in, there was this amazing - I didn't know the content at the time - filmy rayon Indienne print chiffon. There were two bolts. And after a bit of deliberation I picked up ten yards, because hey, at a buck a yard, WHY NOT?

Trunk picture: 40 yards of folded lovely crazy stuff.
I also bought a crapload of linen and some really lovely cotton voile (also in an Indienne print), but that chiffon stuff kept calling to me. Finally, I paid, walked my things out to my car, and posted a picture to a private group on Facebook...

...And then spent the next five minutes sitting in my car fielding questions, then the next 20 minutes back inside the warehouse, posting pictures, giving fiber contents, and basically acting as buyer for a bunch of friends remotely. In the end, after having one of the FabMo volunteers reel off about thirty yards of the stuff, I offered to save her time and just buy the whole bolt. For $30. Yanno, because reasons.

I didn't even take it out of the car. I didn't, because I knew I was going to be at the McMac Fabrications beta launch on Sunday. And because I am a pusherfellow bargain hunter, I brought the bolt in.

Just about everyone tried to stick to their fabric diets. "Oh, I don't need any more fabric. I have so much already!" I almost feel bad. But when I ripped the first person's purchased yardage off it, everyone's heads swivelled around, and I'd soon sold off the remaining yardage.  I call that a win. :)

And so now we're starting a small group on Facebook to post what we're doing with it. We've had proposed ideas everywhere from filmy Regency gowns, to high hoop summer voile gowns, to 30's lawn dresses and full-skirted 1940s Dior.  I can't wait to see what people come up with, and I'm expanding the theme to include any Indienne print, just for funsies.  Are you interested? Look us up. :)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Busy Weekend Full of Edwardian Things

It's been an insane weekend.

Saturday was the GBACG's annual Open House. I went and ran sound again, which was much needed since we've traditionally had issues with people being unable to hear, or unable to understand the speaker as they're distorted through the PA. (I did this last year, and the comments were that this was the first time attendees had been able to understand half the stuff spoken onstage.)
Backstage Selfies are a Thing. Not in wonderful taste mind you, but a Thing.
I'd also spent a chunk of Friday night going through some of the assorted boxes of Stuff in my closet, sorting through some of the giant pile of silk flowers (millinery projects that never were) and bags and bags of scraps of ribbon (because once upon a time I was a remnant bag junkie - this was before Joann's started giving you a discount to buy the last yard).  I also dug through the fabric stash a little more and ended up bringing three whole bags of *stuff* to donate to the raffle.  It was nice!  I sort of wish I'd had more time, because I'm sure there's more *stuff* that would've exited my home.
But yanno, I can never keep from acquiring things...

So this year we had a silent auction. And in that silent auction was a thing that I desperately adored. So I bid... rather higher than I'd actually planned to.  I'm not sure I'm going to tell you more than that, because I sort of think I'm going to write about it for a certain magazine... maybe? But here's a coy little peek.
Peeking dazzlingly from the tissue paper
I also ended up with a pattern for a 1910s dress, and a bunch of neat lock-together storage thingies. I forsee a Great Button Sorting in my future. So three bags in, slightly less than a bag out, that's not bad... right?

Today, I got up considerably earlier than I'd gotten up for like a month, and drove to Oakland for my first ever peek at the Oakland Museum's White Elephant Preview Sale.  That was a lot of sleep dep for an amazing experience.  I met up with Michelle and others for the first ever McMac Fabrications field trip, and we stood within visual distance of the entryway as the line grew longer... and longer... and loooooonnnnger behind us. A bit before 10 AM, the line began to creep up closer to the door, and at just a bit past 10 we were ushered through the gaping maw of that warehouse.

I have to emphasize that point. The place is huge. HUGE. I expected it to be about 1/4 the size it was. Oh. My. God.  The overwhelm factor in the first few minutes was just huge.

I was going to spend some time in the Women's department looking for vintage stuff, but in my sense of urgency and utter overwhelm, didn't realize there was a vintage *section*, and so spent some time discontentedly glancing around at all the 1980s and 1990s junk, and then promptly left. I sort of percolated my way slooowly towards the sewing, stopping in the home linens area to pick up a very fine filet lace tablecloth.  The sewing area really did me in. There were SO MANY awesome sewing machines, and at least four that I would've taken home with me in a trice given the opportunity. There were bins of ribbon, bins of lace, bins of bits of fabric, more wool than I could justify buying. But I'll spare you the narrative, and just tell you about the haul. :)

So this is my notions haul. The GBACG announced that they're having a summer whites event, and of course my brain went to Edwardian lace dresses... So I ended up with a giant spool of lace edging ($8) suitable for ruffs, I might add, and this five-yard chunk of compiled lace ($6) that desperately needs washing, plus a five yard cluny lace chunk, and this spool of white figured tape that I think will compile nicely into things like bandeau straps and the like.  Along with that I got this really nice brocaded ribbon (18" for $.50), 3 yards of navy seaside themed 1950s trim, and a spool of probably about 280 yards of rather wide soutache.  Er, I had a plan for that, hilariously enough. We'll see.

 Hard goods I was a little more restrained on - there was a seam roll, which is one of the things I didn't yet have, and two non-standard cams for a mechanical buttonholer. A box of giant tapestry needles, which I use all the time as lacing bodkins, and these lovely fancy handled paper scissors from about 1910-1930 or so. (Hard to date, since they have no maker's mark on them, only "Solid Steel" where the initial S is shared between both words. Googling has been unhelpful so far.)
 Patterns!  There weren't many vintage ones by the time I got there, and I was fortunate enough to find one with a reasonable bust size. The other two should be reasonably easy to enlarge since they're fairly simple, and the dress appears to be just a drawstrung shaped sack. It's a lot of trouble, but still SO much cheaper than Etsy.

 Fabric haul: the filet lace tablecloth I'd mentioned earlier, plus a 5 yard length of this insane sort-of-Polynesian border print. I have NO idea what possessed me to pick it up, and less idea what to make of it... but hey.  Underneath it all is this amazingly soft bi-color wool twill. It's *heavy* as heck.
So preeeettttyyyy...
 Okay now we get to the fun part...  This is a middy-style day bodice - I'm guessing a child's size, but I haven't actually unfolded it and checked - in a lovely plushy velvet with silk trimmings. Basically finished, but entirely unworn. I saw this being hung up and literally made the incoherent grabby hands gesture at the woman behind the counter. She brought it over and I gasped at the price tag.
Is this a mistake?
 So no, it wasn't a mistake. It's marked down to five bucks for probably the same reason that it was left entirely unworn - there's a giant gaping hole cut over the back left shoulder.  I have no idea why, and there's no indication, so I've got a few guesses.  Either it was marred or stained in some way, or the kid took a good hack at it with some scissors. (I know I ruined a few really pretty things making tiny sewn sachets for mom when I was 8 or so.)  At any rate, someone very carefully trimmed the edges clean... and then never got around to patching the thing.
 Bonus, we have a clue about where this could have come from - either the fabric, or the blouse itself. (That's the selvedge in the back of the inside.)
 This was impossible to photograph, but I also found a lovely (though in need of some repair) 1920s camisole slip.
 Right *next* to it, I found this lovely thing that I at first took to be a 1940's evening waistcoat.  Until I touched it and...
 Nope! This is some sort of evening bodice, though I couldn't give you a really accurate date at this point. My brain keeps thinking 1870s, but it's small enough and plain enough that it could've been a less-fashionable garment made for a (very) young lady. I love that you can see all the piecing and piping and boning, and the sweat guards and hanging loops and everything.
But  the best part was... definitely the last bit.
 But this was what took the cake. This is the back of an Edwardian gown.

This is the front.  I squee'd. I really did.  It's so lovely, even if it's not in great shape.  The interior construction is really interesting, and I'm thinking about how best to document it.  What say you, dear readers? What do you want to know about this dress?

And now it's after midnight and I'm still working on other blog posts and I have email I need to get back to and and and...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I live!

It's been a few months, and I promise you a blog update on the other blog, for those of you who're interested in hearing about the what/where/why.

But I am *entirely* remiss in posting, and so I have to tell you that *tonight*, I am reprising my talk from Odd Salon last year at Nerd Nite SF. It's sold out, so my apologies for anyone who reeeeeallly wants to see this and didn't hear about it in time, and to anyone who expects me to be much more than a giant bundle of nerves tonight.  (Debating changing my LinkedIn headline to something like "Independent Researcher and Lecturer in Historical Dress and Fashion". What do you think?)

 So how about some costuming updates? That Tudor jacket came out well, and Noel lent me a ruff which made it look *amaaaaazing*.
Damn, it feels good to be.. like 1601ish.
So, remember that cotehardie that I cut out? I was going to make a woolen overdress to go with it, and indeed, I still even have the woolen (a lovely silver-blue heathered suiting from the 1960s) standing by, but for Halloween, inspiration struck late and I ended up using the pattern (with several rounds of modifications) to make a Game of Thrones dress over it out of the same silvery-blue silk that I made my Athena costume out of last year.  It turned out pretty well, all things considered! (Though I'm told it's not "screen accurate". Screw those people. I made this in less than a week! No fancy embroidery here!)

A lady of King's Landing
The other thing, was that the 2014 Holiday Party turned out to be "The Future" themed.  I joked that this was a test by the Events team after the 1930s dress for the last event - they know that "the future" is the one period I don't do.  But I looked at the inspiration boards that they provided, and I spent time drawing and browsing art deco resources and then Fabric.com had a sale on metallic lame.  And I was hooked.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the metallic lame was two-way stretch metallic PVC.  But dangit I'd bought the stuff and designed a dress around it, so like hell was I going to give up now!  I spent a good while patterning it out, and was stumped temporarily by the cowl-neck.  Searching for patterning images for the thing, I ran across a snapshot of a 1930s tailoring treatise, currently running for something like $100 on eBay for a broken down copy. But it turns out that Michelle had a copy, and was able to point me in the right direction.  Game on.

I patterned, I cut, and when it came time to cut the big side panels, I couldn't find a space in my apartment large enough. Whoops.  So I took them to work, and cut them out on the floor of the office between two desks. Then I took the whole thing home and started serging it together.

Now thankfully, I'd made a few knit material tops before, so I wasn't entirely surprised by working with this stuff. But man, if I thought doing French seams on a geometric pattern block was stupid, trying to serge a geometric pattern in *stretch knit* was stupider.  In the end I'm still not 100% pleased with the lay of the front stripe, and it ended up much more rounded than the art-deco steps I'd envisioned. But as is the case with so much in the costuming world, nobody sees the flaws but you.

I also wore this for New Years (because why not?) but sadly neither venue lent itself to photographing the material. And yes, I have an "updo mohawk" in both wearings. :)
Art Deco meets Art... Futura?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Running running running running.

It seems like I keep deciding I'm making a costume for this event or that event like the week before said event. Welp! If this helps keep me from overthinking it... yay!

Well, it looks like a giant arming doublet sleeve, but dayum does it look good on me. Laurie draped a Tudor block on me this evening over my old effigy stays (which I really need to remake, since they gap a little more at the bust now, and since I don't need them to gap for Venetians).  I converted that into an English Jacket pattern. (I made a quick and dirty mockup in ugly Christmas muslin, and yep, it'll work!)

Oh, and since I never did post a picture, here's the 1930s dress from the last post.
Or, well, at least it's the back of it. Definitely some things I would change in the next one (and there was almost a next one, except that it sounds like I can safely wear this to Gatsby after all).  But it went together beautifully and it's SO comfortable!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Doubting Myself

On a whim, I'm making a 1930s dress out of a polyester fashion chiffon that I picked up on my last trip to the Garment District - Oh crap, I haven't posted since May... Uh, yes! I was at Costume College!  I barely dressed up at all!  But I was there!

Anyway, I got a bunch of printed polyester fashion chiffons that I LOVE from the by-the-pound Michael Levine store. And work is having a sort of electro-swing themed summer garden party (a la Gatsby) so I decided fashion print + 1930s pattern = winning, right?

Well, none of my existing paper patterns (that I could find) actually were frilly enough for the purpose. I actually spent a few hours pawing through my research library and had an option picked out from one of them, when I realized that I'd actually picked up an amazing surplice-back 1930s dress at the local thrift store. 

I took a pattern off that, then enlarged it to my size. Then I spent a bunch of time freaking out about how I was totally doing this by feel, and went back and put the new-drafted pattern against an existing one that I knew fit. I altered it a bunch.  And then, still last night - this was all on Monday, you see! - I threw everything off my worktable and cut it out. 

Today when I got home from work I dicked around on the internet for a few hours, and at 9 really sat down to sew.  I ran gathering stitches in the underbust, set up my serger, and serged the skirt pieces together, switched it into a rolled-hem and hemmed a bunch of parts, then went to my sewing machine and basted the bodice parts together.

Yeah, all those alterations that I made based on that existing pattern that I knew fit me?  I'm taking them out. :P   Whoops.  Should've trusted myself!

So, on the "left to do" list is serge the side seams, re-roll-hem the neckline (too high!), serge the shoulder seams, gather the shoulder seams, and then gather the underbust and finally set the skirt into the bodice.  Then set the sleeves, and roll hem the hem of the skirt.

The one mystery remains - will this be a slip-on frock? Or am I going to have to cut bias and slit it and put in a side opening?  The original has no visible fasteners except at the wrists (and the snaps in the bra-strap keepers at the shoulder seams).  This is gonna be interesting!