Monday, December 31, 2012

Indecision 2013

No this is not an election post. Well, not really.  Not the US government at least.

At some point in the last year I caved in and stopped writing my To Do lists in various and assorted binders, notepads, sketchbooks, folders, and folios, and started a Google Doc of the projects I wanted to get done.

That doc is about three pages long now. Among the sewing things are such items as "Learn Google App Engine; make a taggable collection database" and "Tinsmithing". And such long-delayed things as "Medieval kirtle and gown" (circa Costume College 2011, when the bonus track was medieval) and "Fix striped bustle gown" (circa 2006?). 

I've also got some new projects to work on like making a German dress so I can go play with all the Deutschers on my list, like making additional Art Deco stuff because dangit it's so COMFY, and more Victorian stuff because, well, why not? There is so much to do, and I'm having trouble picking the first one to start on. 

This, dear readers, is where you come in: Leave a comment, help me choose what three items I should prioritize. Pick one from each list, or three from a single list, I don't care. :) Just help me narrow it down!

Non-sewing, but sewing-related things:
  • Write an article on salvaging deteriorated patterns
  • Scan Petersen’s Magazine
  • Transcribe over The Ladies Wardrobe Unlock’d
  • Take a pattern from the 1930s girdle
  • Take a pattern from Edwardian bodice
  • Shareable pattern/artifact database
  • Document new old Singer machine (howto videos?)
  • Scan 1946 California Stylist
Sewing things to finish:
  • Finish English Gown
  • Finish 1946 dress
  • Rework striped bustle
  • Make Transitional stays
  • Rework Restoration Hardware polonaise 
  • Finish Edwardian underwear
  • Restart Edwardian outfit?
New stuff: 

  • New 18th century stays (opens up all sorts of new possibilities)
  • 16th century German T-front dress
  • Felicite curtains dress
  • 1820s corset with French holes
  • Roller print 1830s dress (requires new corset, petticoat, drawers, sleeve plumpers?)
  • Siren Suit
  • Pink Drink Commando dress
  • Medieval kirtle & gown
  • Unspecified 1930s bias gown
  • Beach Pyjamas
  • Allegory of Fall bustle
  • Velveteen riding habit (requires additional corsetry)
  • New calico Victorian (pioneer/prarie dress)
  • 19th century Caraco
  • Goth Hawaiian dress
  • Black and white border print 1950s dress 
  • (1950s crinoline for above)
  • Pre-quilted Victorian petticoat
  • Rayon velvet 1930s dress
  • Wool flannel petticoat
  • Cotton flannel petticoat

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Perfect Example

The other day I was griping about nobody indexing the DIY pattern republishers. Today, I have a good example of why this would be a good thing.

Almost a week ago, I bought a pair of patterns from a seller on Etsy called Lyle Pattern Company.  The seller asked for the buyer's bust measurement, then promised quick delivery of a sized pattern. The images were pretty compelling, there was no shipping cost involved, and for $2 a pop, why not? 

Well, first two days go by without even an acknowledgement of the purchase. Then I send an email specifically restating my bust size, and asking when they'd be available. The seller promises to have them to me tomorrow.  Tomorrow rolls around, and still no patterns! I message the seller and ask what's up, they claim that they've sized the pattern up and are double checking and re-truing the pieces, and that they'd be in my email box... guess when? Tomorrow. 

Again, the deadline is missed, so I inquire further about what the seller's process is so I can better understand what's going on.  No response. Monday night I email them again to say "Hey what gives" and lo and behold, this morning, I have a pair of PDF files in my email inbox.  I don't open them at work because I'm on Windows over there and, well, viruses, duh.  But when I get home and look at them, it's pretty... well... awful.

The patterns from "Lyle White" and/or "Lyle Sewing Pattern" are actually a PDF taken from a PowerPoint slideshow as revealed by the file info. (The copy of PowerPoint is licensed to "Daniel" in case you're curious.) What makes this problematic is that there is NO. PATTERN.  What you do get is bits of a few pictures of the pattern envelope, cut up and put into this horrible PowerPoint theme of a frame.  Most of the identifying information has been removed, so I can't even find the pattern number or maker and actually buy or borrow a copy - it's been effectively anonymized and it actually kinda pisses me off a bit.

Sure, I could probably re-draft the pattern from the picture, but those pattern layout pictures are notorious for not having all of the proper markings, and being not-quite-to-scale particularly on the smaller pieces and facings.  At that point, couldn't I just find a copy of the pattern envelope somewhere, and work from that? What did I just pay $2 for?

So I opened a PayPal dispute, and it turns out that the seller has had multiple stores, and multiple email addresses, but they all point back to one Liliana Balan, formerly known as Boutique Vert and Vert Boutique, and she's got an Etsy shop right now called LylaPatterns (like Lyle, but not, eh?) selling crochet patterns.  Oh, and if that wasn't sketchy enough, she's Romanian. Yay. Because Romanian Scams are the new Nigerian Scam.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Many Faces of Reproduction Patterns

The GBACG has become well known for their giant and fantastically useful Great Pattern Review, although it's updated less frequently now. Unfortunately, I'm finding that there's really no end at all to the number and variety of small-time pattern publishers out there.

Some of these folks literally bought a couple of antique books that are out of print, scanned them, and are selling the PDFs online. There's not really any DRM to speak of, except that most of it is pretty niche and not a lot of folks will be interested enough to pirate it. (I mean, really, I can't imagine these things on torrent sites at all.) Some of these are scans, some of them are tracings, some of them are PDFs of line drawings of tracings... barely any of them come in multiple sizes, some are copies of period drafting systems (complete with scanned drafting aids) and some of them are line art with period instructions for enlarging and transferring patterns.

Nobody is reviewing these!  It sucks!  Because there are a ton of great resources out there, and nobody is willing to take a chance when they don't know that they're getting a Big-3 style paper pattern with instructions.  Can we standardize this somehow?  Or at least develop some notation format that would give people an idea of what to expect? 

Maybe something like:
Pattern: Paper, Printable, Draftable.
Instructions: None, General, Step by Step, Complete with Pictures

Maybe I just need to put out a review template for homebrew patterns, and then start reviewing them? It's really frustrating to pay $8 for a digital pattern, then find that it's a scan of a rotary diagram for drafting, which requires rather a lot of setup before it'll do anything for me.

One of the things I'm doing when I restore old patterns is enlarging them to my size. This is literally the quick and dirty slash and spread method, where I figure out how much bigger my bust size is, take the pattern size, and enlarge the pieces by the difference in inches, divided by the number of seams, per seam.  I'm not doing any fancy grading, because apparently aside from my bust, I'm actually fairly normal sized.

And I would appreciate knowing, given the myriad people and myriad methods, what each seller is actually doing.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

So Retro It's In Right Now

I've had my head down over a bunch of vintage patterns lately, doing some restoration work, and also making a few of them. This has been my favorite, so I've had cap sleeves and giant shoulders and trendy scallop necklines on the brain:
So it took me a moment to notice when a coworker walked by wearing this....

That apparently, the late 1930s and 1940s are IN.  Holy crap.  If I finish this dress in the next few weeks, I could wear it and be fashionable both among reenactors and... among HIPSTERS.

And then there's the Sheer thing. At some point I need to braindump about all the amazing sheer dresses, but until then I have a Picasa album squirreled away with a bunch of it.   But I give you:

Exhibit A: Vintage.

Exhibit B: Modern.

Whatever is old is new again, baby!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Today, I discovered that the set of two giant bound periodical volumes that have been taking up space in my bookshelves, the ones that I thought until last night were mostly advertisements for fashion houses and fabric mills, are actually... the entire 1946 year of the California Stylist. Just like Vogue is today, the first *hundred pages* of each issue are nothing but ads.  Which explains why I thought it was a fabric merchant's periodical.

1946 is just post-war, and there's a lot of interesting analysis of the past decade's trends in the January year in review. Also, man, I wish we had some of these things today. Some lovely woolens in the adverts.

Anyone have any requests?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Collection Bug

It's struck again.

First it was sewing machines, then, thank god, it was just vintage sewing machine attachments, which are easier to store. Then gelatin molds. Now it's vintage patterns.

I blame that one really awesome Anne Adams pattern, which was in just not quite the right size. Or was it the playsuit one, where I was able to resize the pattern pieces just by moving them over?  At any rate, I've been bit, and bit bad.

How bad?  Well... bad enough that I'm seriously considering trying to develop either a database or some sort of taggable webform so I could actually keep track of the dang things. We're talking in the hundred-something, at this point. The problem that necessitates tagging is that I never know why I'll be looking for a specific pattern. Am I looking for an example of the cutting instructions from a specific mail-order company? Do I want to make a robe or a dress for specific function? Am I looking for a year, or range of years?  Am I searching for a slip or other underwear pattern?

If there are any of you out there with a similar issue, what do you do to catalog your collections?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Costume College 2012

It was a great year. Perhaps not *quite* as magical as last year, but really, what could possibly follow that?  This year was epic in its own right. Sadly, there aren't lots of pictures to go around, but I can tell you what I wore at least.

-Thursday's Carmen Miranda party, I wore the 1940s Hawaiian playsuit. No pictures.
-Friday I dressed in my Kentwell kit. No (usable) pictures. Oh heck, here, have one from Kentwell proper anyway.
Courtesy Aurie Bradley
-Friday night I wore the 1960s Jiffy tiki dress. (It was an entire blue ensemble! Hilarious! I'm going to have to get more pictures of this one later.)
Courtesy Marion McNealy
-Saturday day I wore the revamped bicycling costume, though it's still not quite right. (Again, no pictures)
-Saturday night I went all out in my tux drag kit. It was pretty draggy. Somehow my tux chafe marks faded by the next day.
Courtesy Amy Liebert
-LATE Saturday night I changed into a modern dress and combat boots and did some real dancing. No pictures of that, because honestly I think most of the attendees felt I was cheating. Whatever - I was there to dance.
-Sunday was 1930s undies in the morning, then the 1930s day dress (which I really loved - so comfy and flattering!) No pictures, again. :\
-Sunday afternoon a few of us got into historic bathing suits, and I reprised the 1930s woolen suit.

Courtesy Rebecca Maiten
Really, the outfits weren't the highlight (though zomg I am going to have to make more 1930s, that stuff ROCKS), but it was a) getting rid of a bunch of books (that weren't there in the morning for Bargain Basement, so I assume they found good homes) b) buying a 1863 bound copy of Petersen's Magazine, with tinted fashion plates intact, and c) winning the silent auction for the 1930s girdle (mislabeled as 1910s).  So I left with less stuff than I came with (though blame the humidity or something, it didn't pack up as gracefully as it did the first time).

The garment district trip was somewhat restrained, which was okay actually. We went to the FIDM scholarship store and I got some amazing lavender taffeta and some gold mesh. Then the District proper and I got two lengths of woolen for a super seeeecret project, some absolutely lovely washed Irish linen, some sheer striped cotton, and this weird silk and gold brocade that will make a rockin' brustfleck on a German gown... someday.

Oh right, and I should say - I think I'm going to make a German kit. Aiie. I should finish my English fitted gown first though, and let that be finally wrapped up and done with.

Plans for next year?  Well, I wasn't super happy with the lack of new classes, so I have ideas for some I could teach.  Restoring vintage patterns, sewing vintage patterns - I can actually provide examples, because I'm not actually selling reproductions so I'm in no way interested in preventing you from DIYing it. Sewing machine repair and troubleshooting?  Overview of Fancy Dress?  Or maybe a class on lacing strips, maaaaybe?

Sunday, July 15, 2012


It's funny, because I haven't felt like I've gotten a lot of sewing done recently. Really, it's just that I haven't *finished* much, and what I have hasn't been full outfits. I have a stack of alterations and fixing to do that's about half a couch-worth. I believe I might bring some of it with me on my normal Monday date... maybe.

And so of course I then start in on a 1930s dress. It's going shockingly fast - but then by "shockingly fast" I really mean "I didn't make (more) underwear and so the one layer is going quickly". I should be able to wear the 1930's teddy from last year over the 30's style hip corset I have, and be all set.

So then there's the really cool Victorian bifurcated bicycling skirt that I finally figured out, and I should alter that and finish it. And the Hawaii playsuit that I got mostly done while on the plane. And the gorgeous red 1930s wrap top that I need to hem (how do you hem 4-way stretch material? yikes), and the purchased stripey 18th century gown that I need to add hooks to. If it wasn't for the fact that this is going to be in LA, I'd just wear the Kentwell kit allll weekend....

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Sometimes, the cure for a multi-month, multi-layer, high-stress, nitpicky-detailed historic sewing project...

Is a 1960's "Jiffy" wrap dress.

I mean, it wasn't literally a three hour project like it said it would be - but I had to take the pattern up from a size XS to (using my handy sloper!) the far end of the Large size. And then I altered it because hook and eyes? Please. It's got a long buttonhole in the right side body, and the ties are extra long to wrap around and through.  Pictures later. 

I may make a few of these... it's pretty nice really.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Armadillo Neck: Nightmares in Fitting

It's been a few (BUSY) weeks, and I've just now finished my soooper seeecret article for Your Wardrobe Unlock'd, so I'm trying to get back to the other "just for me" writing that I've wanted to do. (Because onboarding interns and working three pyrotechnics shows and organizing a county fair trip and oh *work* isn't enough on top of writing an article?)

In my last post I mentioned the Armadillo Neck Issue. I'm sure you're all wondering what that is, right?

Entertainingly, almost all of my clothes for Kentwell were made from patterns derived in some form or another from my Venetian gown for the Realm of Venus Italian Showcase. I'd first taken the pattern for the Venetian and altered it to make a bodice for Much Ado About Sebastapol - probably the last "history" Renaissance Faire in California. I then took the bodice for MAAS and cut it down to 1556 shape to make the petticoat bodice, then enlarged it (woo ease!) enough to make the kirtle's bodice as well. I then added yet more ease and made a mockup, intending to make the English Fitted Gown bodice from the same thing but...

No go.  It was about six inches too small, so the front didn't meet at all. Lamely, I forgot to even look at the back fit. The sleeve was, thankfully, okay.

Que pasa gaposis?

So I started again!  This time I took the pattern piece for the too-small part, and laid it out against a manilla sloper that I'd paid a fashion-student friend to make for me. Unfortunately, I also hemmed and hawed a bit about the shoulders - the pattern for the mockup didn't match at all.  So I traced the shoulders and armhole from the sloper into the new pattern. Like an idiot.  And then I had to wait three days to get back to working on it, so I then promptly forgot.

It looked okay from the front, and it looked okay from the side (though ye gods I don't know how I thought I was going to move my arms in that), but then....

What the heck?  I had rolls going from the shoulder points and up into the line where my neck met the raised collar.  What?  WHAT?  I spent a good half hour trying to explain what was wrong to my boyfriend so he could take a picture for me to send gaspingly to the Costume Elves while begging for advice.  I made many strange and undignified faces. I finally gave up and tried to take the picture myself in the mirror.

 The next day, word came back from the Elves that "the shoulders are too high". They said they'd get back to me with a line drawn across my photo to help me figure out where to cut, but by this time I was about a week out from getting on a plane, and beginning to panic about not having everything done.  I spent an evening futilely trying to repin the mockup on myself in the bathroom mirror, which with petticoat and kirtle on, was pretty much impossible. Attempts to get assistance from my boyfriend in this were... pretty futile also, though he did try really hard to understand what I was trying to get him to do, bless him for a team player.

So finally, I threw myself upon the mercy of my amazing friend and ex-housemate, Laurie Tavan of Daze of Laur. We puzzled over the drawings in the Tudor Tailor, cut some muslin, and she went to work draping a new bodice pattern for me.  It came out amazingly, though neither of us were entirely sure about the front open collar part.

(Also, it was really sunny, which is why I look both sweaty and washed out. Oh, and stressed.)

Laurie patterned two different versions of the collar, and I then took the muslin home to true on paper. Costume Elves approved, and without actually doing any more try-ons, I rushed to make the gown.
Trued patterns are a thing of beauty.

...Which I didn't actually finish enough to wear at Kentwell, but hey. I got there and had clothes enough. I'm going to count it as a net win.

 The first thing I did, of course, when I got home, was to lay out the trued draped pattern against the armadillo neck version, just so I could wrap my visio-spatial, geometry-loving brain around what exactly had gone wrong.  So I give to you, dear readers, images to help you learn from my folly. The front and back are pictured, with items from my sewing table holding them down. I put a post-it note beneath the collar of one pattern piece so you can actually see the edge.

Bodice Front
Bodice Back

 Wow.  So yes, somewhere in there I added about three inches to my back length. I'm not sure exactly how that happened, but there you have it: The Armadillo Neck Explained!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kentwell Come and Gone

I promised folks I'd post more about Kentwell as I was leading up to it. Apologies; I simply couldn't deal with work and sewing *and* trying to blog at the same time.  So let me run down a few notes and thoughts.

Everyone liked my kit when I got there, so I know I kept up appearances for the American side at least. I definitely got a bunch of pleasant comments about the bodiced petticoat, so that's something as well.  The most common question I got was not "did you make that?" but "who did you get your kit from?" which was flattering in a way.  When they found out I made it, the next question was inevitably "how did you manage to get costume approval?"  The answer is Facebook and email, and a fortuitous time difference.  Every night before falling into bed after an exhausting day of working and sewing, I'd take pictures of where I was and send or share them to one of the Costume Elves. Any questions I had would be answered by the time I got back to the sewing machine the next evening.  (Though the Armadillo Neck issue was an exception that caused me to panic and draw on Laurie's generous draping help. More on that later.)

I want to do a proper photo shoot before really posting too much about the kit itself.  Though I need to actually finish the fitted English gown so I can. But there WILL be photos!

Yes, you may have guessed that this means that not everything got done. True.  I brought a ton of handsewing on the plane, and finished some costume parts just in time to need them for laundry rotation purposes.  I wore the same smock for four days without an issue, but I was bid to low board (fancy dinner table!) on Thursday, so I needed a clean apron.  I ended up putting the cuffs and buttons on the smock just in time to change out to it, and then changing my apron for a fresh (creased from folding!) one.

I did make two pairs of woolen sleeves to go with the kirtle, though I only ever used the maroon ones.  I also pinned them on, which was nice because it made them much easier to deal with on the one warm day.

Here's the rundown of unfinished things:
-fitted English gown (needs sleeve hemming, front skirt lining sewed down, hemming, hooks and eyes)
-third green apron
-white apron
-black apron
-second partlet (needs ties)
-leather drawstring pouch

Additionally, I ended up buying a lot of crockery there. I got some wonderful glazed redware from Annot's Pots, which meant that I was able to leave the trencher at home.  Did I mention that I pushed the baggage weight limits both coming and going?  No?  Well, I did. I also bought a pair of Pilgim shoes in the slip on Tudor style, which were fantastic and kept my feet warm and dry despite the rain.  And because Kentwell is a working farm, the Agricultural Inspection Service insisted on cleaning and sterilizing them for me on my return to California.  I totally would have let them to my laundry too, if they'd asked.

I made a rosary, and made chaped laces, and bought a knife and pricker from a medieval group. I made a belt from a piece of thin leather strapping and a medieval belt buckle that I bought online. I bought garters (which I didn't need) and dressing pins (which I used a lot) from Historic Enterprises.  I only wished I'd had more socks! I ended up making a long sack out of some of my spare linen canvas, which I carried around as a haversack.  Handy thing that.

It's now nearly 11pm, and I'm still jetlagged as hell, so I'll have to write more later.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

T-Minus 2 Days

I will say this for this crazy thing I am doing: my handsewing has gotten much, much better, and much faster.

The secret?  Shorter, finer needles, and shorter lengths of thread. And a thimble when I have many layers to push through. (That's right folks, thimble is for pushing, not for preventing you from stabbing your fingers, as my spotted and pricked digits will attest.)

Here's the laundry list of ToDo:
Handsewing on first smock: fix neckline, add cuff buttons, shorten sleeve slit, add laundry mark.
Handsewing on second smock: fell the inner seams, cuff buttons, cut and hem neckline, add laundry mark.
Kirtle: finish the laces and put on their chapes, hem it. (Possibly lacing holes for sleeves? Not sure and that can be done when I get there.)
Gown: Cut and attach puffy cap sleeves, cut skirting, sew skirting, attach skirting to bodice. Trim and guards? (Maybe later)
Aprons: hem second green apron, cut and sew both black and white aprons. Cut additional black aprons, give away green apron kits?

Crafts and props:
Coifs: Done
Belt: Done, except it probably should be trimmed down a bit. It's reeeeallly long.
Rosary: Done.
Pouch: dyed and cut, waiting to get assembled and strung.
Commonplace book: text printed, waiting for me to get a chance to actually make a binding for it.

I'm trying to figure out how much of my in flight time should be spent sewing, and how much *should* be sleeping. Somewhere in there I also need to pack...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ow my hands

I'm still triaging things so that I have nothing but handsewing to do; consequently I don't have anything *done*, but I have several things that are wearable.

One coif needs the ear tabs taken down a notch, the other needs its draw-cord inserted into the channel.
The smock arms needed about 4 extra inches, so that addition is waiting for extra hand-felling, then to be gathered into the cuffs, and then the cuffs need fastenings, and then I need to cut the neckline and fell it.
I've got one green apron hemmed on three sides, and decided that overcasting the apron strings is a stupid stupid idea. I'm going to machine-close the other two with a pull-string to invert them, and just hand hem the second apron proper.
The petticoat bodice needs the armpit boning cut down a smidge and then the armhole re-sewn.
The kirtle bodice is all but done - I spent today doing the side lacing eyelets while watching Pride and Prejudice. I haven't hemmed the neckline yet, because I want to make absolutely sure it's in the right place before I do.  The skirting will be tomorrow's project.
Then it's on to the Gown and Sleeves. (Dum-dum-DUUUUM!)
 I still need to cut out the white apron, and the second smock, and possibly another partlet depending on if the existing one actually fits over the kirtle bodice decently. Maybe a black apron? Who knows.

Aside from the sewing, I need to notch my piece of leather strapping to fit the buckle I bought, make tying laces and put their chapes on them, make sure I have socks enough for while I'm there, find or make an acceptable pouch, make a new rosary, and finish the oak trencher that I started today. THAT's why my hands hurt. I've only ever carved pine before, and this oak is incredibly inconsistent and irritating to carve. And did I mention hard?  It's HARD.  Ow.

So much to do...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kentwell: Progress!

I'm not checking in as much as I'd thought I would, mostly because I'm taking that time I'd otherwise spend blogging, and using it to sew.  So here's a quick recap of what I've got so far:

One smock of white linen:  All of the body seams are sewn, and I cut a head-hole. I expect to shape the neckline of the smock once I have the petticoat and kirtle figured out, so that the appropriate close-fitted neckline band shows, and little else. I've got a bunch of seams that need flat felling in places that will show, so I've been bundling it up and taking it to work. Yes, to work.  I've got a recurring daily debugging and support meeting that I sit in on mostly because it provides really interesting background that's very helpful when I'm writing about that particular feature. I'm not actually needed in the meeting, but it helps me understand the system better, and so I don't feel like I need to participate in the discussion.  I've got most of the first smock's seams hand-felled now. That linen (and I wish I knew where it'd come from!) is a dream to work with, so I'm thinking that I might cut and sew the other smock lest I run out of things to do in that meeting.

The petticoat will be of russet woolen (lightweight!) with an unbleached linen canvas body - which is to say bodice - attached. I patterned the bodice piece off my most recent English bodice, then took it in a smidge so that I can lace it mostly-closed but still have room for the inevitable shifting and stretching that I'm told to expect.  I also had to take the waist up quite a bit to avoid tabbing it.  I always forget this, but later period Elizabethan stuff is ideally rather long waisted, and I have a very *short* waist.  We're talking 1" below my bottom rib here.  So I've always made my stays long and tabbed a la Effigy Corset, but that's not needed or really appropriate for early Tudor lines.  (For those of you tuning in at home, the Year this year is 1556.) The front is, of course, done in hand worked, spiral-laced eyelets. (More things for that meeting!) Those who're interested in such things will be pleased to know that I used a variation of the Dorothea Sabine von Neuburg front boning pattern, and I'm boning it with flat reed splints which I LOVE because you can work them with craft scissors.   The petticoat skirting then attaches to the edge of this bodice, but I haven't quite figured that out. There's apparently a way to do this so the edge pads the waist where it might otherwise dig in.

The skirt of the petticoat is cut and hanging out on my dress form.  The dress form is a story for another time as well. Sigh.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kentwell: Planning

Last winter, my cast at Dickens Fair hosted four of the participants from the Reenactments at Kentwell Hall in Sudbury, England. The story of how this came to be is long, and better told by they who did it, but suffice to say there are More Of Us in Europe. :)  I applied to be one of the several participants brought over this year for the Great Tudor Reenactments, and to my delight, I was accepted!

So now I have a huge costuming challenge before me, which I was putting off hoping I'd be able to churn out an Edwardian gown. (Ohwell.)

Here's the kit I plan for this event:
  1. 2 smocks 
  2. 2 pairs of drawers
  3. 2 coifs
  4. Woolen petticoat with supportive linen bodice
  5. Woolen kirtle
  6. Woolen gown
  7. At least three, and maybe more than three aprons
  8. Possibly an extra partlet
  9. Maaaaybe a waistcoat if there's time

So far I've made the two coifs but for some small hand sewing (shortening the tabs on one, and putting the ties in another), and I've got a nice calf-length linen smock cut and sewn, but not finished.  I started in on the petticoat last night.

Amazingly, most of this is able to come from my stash. 
  • The coifs were made of an anonymous linen that I had laying around, that used to have black linen embroidered flowers sewn to it until I snipped them off. This is the same stuff I made my maid apron from for Dickens. (Somewhere in the Stash, I have a plastic baggie full of black linen embroidered flowers.) 
  • The smocks come from a giant length of gorgeous white linen that I *think* I must've gotten from FabMo.  I have about 4 yards, which is enough for two nice full smocks. There's a second length of a different make that will be drawers and aprons.
  • I have a length of black linen, and a length of green. The black will be a "fancy" apron and another partlet if needed, the green will be the rough aprons. I need to make at least one white one too, but I'm going to wait until I have the rest of my things cut first.
  • The fabric for the body of the petticoat is a lightweight rusty red woolen suiting that I got from, and washed until it couldn't shrink anymore.  I believe I started out with ten yards, and ended up with nine or so.  I've only ripped the skirting from it so far, but it's already a dream to work with, and it steams up beautifully.
  • The kirtle and gown will be made from the Woolrich woolens I bought last year for use in my St. George household kit, but that I never got around to.
The petticoat is the only thing I've bought for so far, and that was to buy two yards of the "flax" color linen canvas from Fabrics-Store. Ironically, "natural" colored linen is actually bleached white and they dyed an unbleachable tan, so they have to give the *actually* natural linen a different color. 

My plan for tonight is to get the petticoat bodies stitched and possibly reeded, and begin work on some of the hand sewing on the smock.  All of our visible seams are to be hand-sewn, so that also means the hem will be hand-stitched.

And as I know that I can either work and blog, or work and sew, I'm off!  A post on accessories, later!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Make-Do and Mend: Jeans

Before we left for Hawaii I realized that I was going to need some shorts. Unfortunately for me, a rather chilly California winter was still in progress (and it still is, really) and the last thing retailers are pushing right now is sensible shorts. The best I could find was ahem-shorts, by which I mean garments that may have once resembled short trousers, but that now more closely resemble what the British would call "pants". Knickers.  Slightly too brief for me, thanks.

Neither was the internet any help. I ordered two pair of board shorts, neither of which fit even halfway up my legs. (And this when they professed that they fit two sizes larger than I am? Please!)

The day before we left I was working on the 1940's ensemble and dropped something on the workroom floor. When I bent to pick it up, I noticed the mending pile. The mending pile has a few pairs of my old favorite jeans in it, most of which have worn out at the most annoying place ever - namely the inner thigh. These jeans had stayed in the pile (rather than just being chucked out with the rest) precisely because they'd been so comfortable.  And they'd been expensive!  A pity to waste them. I'd tried mending issues like this before by doing some reinforcing darning with my zigzag machine, but I found that the whole chunk of darning ripped out a few washes later as the fabric surrounding it was just not up to a whole lot of support. A complete patch would have to be the thing.

First things first though, acquire patch material!  Since I was making cutoff shorts (pedal pushers? capris? something like that) this part was easy: cut off the legs. Make sure they come out even.

Next, I laid out the jeans so the worn panel was completely flat and on true grain.  This is trickier than it sounds, but you can figure it out if you mess with it enough.  I then took a small piece of scrap pattern paper and creased it to the crotch depth.

Next, I pin-pricked the line, just to be sure it was good and accurate, and transferrable.

Next, I cut away the excess paper to make a better patch shape.  And here's a tip - if you're doing this process for multiple pairs of jeans - even if they're from the same manufacturer - you're going to have to make a different paper pattern for each. They're all going to differ slightly based on the cut, the year of the cut, and the fiber content of the denim material.  And it hardly takes but a minute, so why not?
Then I laid out the proto-pattern on the straight of grain on the jeans, and cut it out.  (Remember to leave seam allowance!) Oh and the other nice thing - you can get one full patch from part of a single leg. Which means that if the patch wears out and the rest of the jeans are still sound, you can just... patch them again!
 I also added an inch to the inside, so I could dodge my patch around the already-pretty-thick inner seam of the jeans.

After cutting out two of these, I pretended they were part of a pair of jeans: I sewed them together along the crotch seam...

...And then flat-felled the join.
Next, placement.  I lined up the crotch seam of the patch with the crotch seam of the jeans, and pinned it in place.
I then opened the patch up and pinned it along the crotch line and then along each inseam, making sure that the end of the patch ended up at approximately the same part of each leg. With the patch tacked down, I then tucked under the edges of the patch and pinned that down too, for easier sewing.

The hardest part was probably adjusting my sewing machine's tension to deal with the extra layers. :P  Oh and not stabbing myself when I forgot and my pins switched directions halfway around the patch.

The end result?  Nearly invisible!  And I got to mend something, avoid paying for clothes that I don't know will fit, and also pick the exact length of the jeans.

(And for what it's worth, they looked and felt just fine while I wore them, too!)

The Fail Blog

This blog is starting to sound depressingly like Fail!Blog.  But to my credit, I did call it.

I did get started on the Edwardian, but I just didn't have time. I got it a good way towards completed, then when I tried on the bodice I found... that the pleated applied shoulder stuff was off. Not just a little off, but one-crawling-up-my-neck, one-hanging-off-my-shoulder off. Fixing it meant ripping everything apart and starting over, and I literally threw myself on the bed and wept in frustration and exhaustion. Not a pleasant feeling at my age. At least now I can have a pisco sour when things look black and sad.

At work we do this thing called "Five Whys" which is basically a business process for identifying failure points and correcting them.  If I did a Five Whys on this disaster dress, it would go something like this:
  1. Spent most of my enthusiasm on the corset.
  2. Consequently started on the rest of the ensemble later than I should have.
  3. Never got a good working brassiere figured out. The camisole thing didn't work for me, and I was bound to be disappointed any time the line suffers.
  4. Went for accurate and fiddly over simple and evocative.
  5. Didn't have a clear design in mind when I started.
  6. Didn't have a clear structural pattern in mind when I started, which you simply cannot get away with when you bust is this size.
  7. Didn't take the time to pad out my old Uniquely You dress form.
 Really, in the end, #7 was the one that killed it. If the bodice shell hadn't been hanging crooked on a dress form that represents me in 2005, I think I might have been able to salvage the thing.  But there's a lot here that I need to think about.  I have so many different things I want to do, and so little time for them, and I realize now that I am not realistically scoping my projects. This has happened at least four times now.  So: No more outfits where I don't already have the underwear.

So I need to make more undergarments. :P  I need to figure out an Edwardian brassiere, a 1920's bandeau that doesn't make me look like I am smuggling a batch of hamburger, and a set of combination underwear and slips.  This is to say nothing of the 1930's stuff I'd like to do... but what DID full figured ladies wear back then?  The beautiful surviving examples are clearly delicate lingerie for... delicately boned ladies.

And all of this has to wait until after Kentwell.  More on that in a bit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Of Edwardian Bras

The fact that there are no pictures of me in the 1940's playsuit should be testament to the fact that It Did Not Get Done In Time.  In fact, I finished all but the button and buttonhole on the shorts... on the five hour plane flight *home*.  Whoops.  Since the weather has been unabashedly nasty over here, I think I'll wait to take pictures.  But it is pretty cute, truth.

Instead, I moved on to attempting to make a Titanic dress.  Siiiigh.

The 1910s corset is done (as previously mentioned), but I've been waffling badly over the top garment. I simply cannot go without one at my bust measurement, both for decency and comfort's sake.  So I started in on making a bandeau from an extrapolation of a pattern taken from something in my collection.  Holy cow, NO.  It didn't look right *at all*. At my cup size, pleated bandeaus make me look deformed and lumpy, so not only are they uncomfortable and unattractive, but it gives the totally wrong line.  I think I may have actually thrown the thing across the room when I realized this.

I then spent a very long time looking at research, and extant garments, and and and.  And finally I realized - for my size, in this era, I basically need to make a fitted corset cover.

So I took my sloper block, and I traced around it, pivoting out the darts in the front strap and armsceye.  And tonight I put them together, braved the buttonholer on June (first time using it!) and then cut and fiddled the resulting vest-looking item into the correct neckline.  Right now it's done but for the (damn-near impossible to neatly roll) arm hole edges.  I ran a piece of eyelet beading all the way around it under the bust, and I cut the back a bit extra short to give a bit of lift.  I also made the straps *really* narrow (but still twice as wide as a normal bra strap) and placed them almost on the shoulder so I could, if I wanted to, do one of the wide boat-neck style necklines.  (I'm still deciding what the dress is going to be like, gah.)

I have a little over a week to drape a dress.  I get this feeling it's not going to actually get done.  ::facepalm::

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tropical Dreams

I have never been to Hawaii before.

And I'm leaving on a plane on Sunday, so today, after putting it off for... well, *forever* it seems, I got out the old vintage wrap top and shorts pattern that I have been meaning to make. I got this thing in college, probably in 2003. I haven't ever taken it out of it's little manilla envelope, so I wasn't even sure if all the parts were there.  The instructions are nearly crumbling along the seams with age and deterioration, like most of the mail-order pattern instructions do. (Something about the insanely cheap, breathtakingly acidic newsprint.)

This one is from some time in the 1940s, so it's cut economically. Also, it's a size 14, which means that it's a 34" bust - not something I'd be able to squeeze without surgical removal of body parts. However, since it's all based on a reasonably standard body form, I was able to make it work in short order.

I took my measurements, then found the difference between them and those of the pattern. Surprisingly, it was about 10" all the way round, so that made it easy. To be frank, I do expect to do some extracurricular fitting when I've exhausted the instructions - that's fine, normal, expected. I've also got a 10" difference between my bust and my ribcage. Not exactly typical or average for anything!  I figured out how much I'd need to enlarge each pattern piece, traced one side of the pattern onto roll paper, moved the whole thing over that much, and then traced the other side.  I then played connect the edges.

The result?  A pattern enlarged to size 20. I cut it out of black rayon crepe that I've been meaning to use for this.  It has a pattern of white and salmon-pink ginger flowers picked out with green accents, with stylized line drawings of hula girls, and some cursive thematic words like "lei" and "ginger" and "hawaiin".

If I finish it for the trip, I promise pictures!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

1910's Button Front Corset Reproduction

I admit that I've been lax updating here because I'm still so used to bitching about my costume drama on my old LiveJournal.  So you've been scant on updates here because I've vented quickly there, and moved on.  So here's a quick post for anyone who cares, about the finished 'teens button-front corset.

A bit of background: I bought the original for this at some convention or another that is lost in the mists of memory. The seller had said something derogatory about "tube corsets" but the original fit me and laced closed, and I thought the button detailing was too interesting to pass up.  It sat in my collection for a long time, and then Laurie Tavan of Daze of Laur took it down and made a pattern draft from it.  It turns out that draft was enough that I was able to make another one!
Approximately 1910 to 1914ish. Such simplicity.

First off, the original was factory made of a single layer of plain twilled coutil. I cannot imagine why I missed this myself, but my decision to make mine of a fashion fabric interfaced to herringbone coutil was... ambitious. I regretted it while I was razoring bulk out of my seams. I *also* realized that while the original corset had been made whole and then dyed, I was going to have to make-do with materials of all sorts.  So I spent a good week hand dying, lightening, and overdyeing notions in a bucket in the bathtub until they were approximately the correct shade of salmon pink to match the pink striped stuff I picked out of my stash. ProTip: RIT dye in bright pink + sunny yellow = salmon. Not an appetizing color or one I would've ever picked, had the original not been that exact shade. They're blotchy though, which makes me sad.  Oh well.  I also couldn't find pink decorative elastic, pink garter clips, a matching binding tape, or perfectly shaped buttons for the side front closure, so I used what was at hand.  I am not thrilled, but I suppose I am... content with this.

Hand dyed lacing and elastics.
Oh, and the other thing that slowed me down considerably was the time I wasted dicking around with my HomePro grommet setter. Turns out, the HP will only set a 00 grommet perfectly one time in 20, and I know because I only got one perfect one after 20 tries on scrap fabric. Most of them had an incomplete inner crimp, but the rest of the crimped badly, or warped, or compressed into an oval, or in some way just came out wrong. This was even with the rare-as-unicorns extra dies. In a fit of frustration I bought a really nice ClipShop setter from a lady on eBay. That one sets 00 grommets beautifully, but I discovered that the lacing panel you see there is approximately one metric buttload too thick for the "automatic piercing" feature.  So the HomePro with the extra fancy dies actually came in handy: I punched holes with the size 4 HomePro punch, which was just enough to let me enlarge the hole with an awl to admit a 00 grommet that I then set using the ClipShop setter. Doing it this way left enough fabric around the grommet that it gripped, which prevents the grommet from rotating, slipping, and generally warping the surrounding fabric and eventually pulling out.

One thing that was incredibly nice was having the original (in my collection!) on hand to refer to when wondering what I was doing. (Which happened unfortunately frequently.)  One thing that was incredibly frustrating was that this corset had clearly had at least four, if not six, different industrial machines used in its construction.  Nothing I could hope to make with a single-needle machine would ever be so neat.
Also, elastic is hard, and messes with your machine tension.  Unsmiley. The front gusset, the one that screams AHAHAHA LOOK AT MY JUNK, was possibly the most frustrating thing I have ever attempted to insert into a garment. All the fun of a Regency corset with bust gores, with a material that literally tries to bounce the needle back at the sewing machine. And by the time I'd fiddled it into place, the bottom edge had warped.  Siiiigh.

And just in case there weren't enough visual cues pointing to the crotch...
Also also, I am never allowed to make a corset out of striped material like this again.  Witness my OCD stripe matching in the chevron front and the slightly-more-tilted-than-the-original accessory panels. I expect these were inserted to make it look more supportive up there. Or possibly by some time-traveling sadist who realized I would be COMPELLED to pattern match my stripes.

I also matched my stripes across the button loops. Oh yeah, I am crazy. But those are so pretty...

Probably the most crazymaking part of this.
The button loops were an interesting experience, and are probably going to be the first point of failure on this corset, which makes me sad. Turns out, there's no good way to sew that inner edge without the clever tucking machine that I don't have. Cording all of those with rattail cord was irritating, but nothing compared to the frustration of trying to feed those miniscule edges through the machine. In the end, I sat on the couch watching Downton Abbey and hand-sewed them.  I forgot of course that the fashion fabric is a satin woven polyester, which means that the friction of the button loops against the button shanks (hand dyed polyester ribbon) is already pulling threads out of the satin floats. Ohwell.

The best irony here is that I did this button-front type (instead of converting it to a more traditional busk style) because I thought it would be less work.  Well, I was clearly wrong. Even if I figured out a better way to make and place all of those button loops, the buttons themselves were a crazymaking job to line up, straighten, and then knot and baste in so I could actually then sew their protective panel down over them. I really want to know how this was originally done, because I was just making shit up here.  I don't want to know badly enough to take apart the original, however.

So there we have it!  And maybe, when I've actually put together the combinations I cut out on Saturday, there will be pictures of me *wearing* it.  It's not the prettiest thing, but it'll certainly do the trick.