Thursday, May 23, 2019

Grant Days at Ulysses Grants Boyhood Home

Before it gets too far away from me, I want to post some of the pictures from our first event of the season, now nearly a month ago! This event takes place yearly at the Ulysses Grant Boyhood Home historic site, and though we did not attend last year, we did the year prior and had a lot of fun!

I initially planned to go to a rendezvous held the same day but after a few friends said they would be at Grant Days, I decided to go there instead and I am glad I did! I took three of the boys with me and the other children preferred to stay with Grandma.

It was a cool day and really rather perfect weather for donning lots of layers. I didn't know if any of the clothes from last year would fit any of the children but thankfully we managed, although I will definitely need to make my oldest son, David, a new suit for any future events.

Grant Days is a small living history since the area in town is not situated well for a battle. I like these types of events better, though. A battle is a huge crowd draw, but life in the 1860's was SO MUCH MORE than battles. Most civilians of that time, especially those in the more northerly states, likely never saw any type of battle. They continued to live life as best they could, caring for themselves and their families in as normal a way as possible, and probably everyone alike, north and south, desperately wished for an end to the conflict.

I really like seeing the Grant home and I never lose a happy thrill of excitement when I step through the doorway into the home that Jesse Grant built for his family when his famous son was just a little boy. The names and personalities of the prior inhabitants seem to warmly fill the home still; it was, after all, not that long ago the rooms echoed with the sounds of childish voices, the low murmur of adult conversation, maybe the sounds of Ulysses himself giving a sermon (though he was the only child in his family not forced to go to church).

It was also nice to see friends who were encamped in the yard across the road. My oldest son was absolutely thrilled to talk with a blacksmith who came out to demonstrate his craft and was even more thrilled when he was allowed to sit at the forge and make an S hook (with some help!) Since that time he has become obsessed with blacksmithing and hopefully in the future he can do more!

We watched a period style magic show, talked with members of the local Sons of Union Veterans group and enjoyed a nice lunch. A big birthday cake for Ulysses was presented and cut and consumed. Happy birthday Mr. President!


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

My Remade Blue Print Dress

Well, I finally did remake this thing! And in its new state, I think it will be quite serviceable for a long time, barring any more bleach accidents 😂. Perhaps one day one of my girls will be big enough to wear it, as with short sleeves it is a style more commonly seen on young ladies.

I may attend an event this weekend as long as there are no baseball games. Due to the rain we have been having a game this week was cancelled so there is a chance that the game will be made up this Saturday. But if not, I may go out for the day to a local reenactment just to visit with friends and enjoy the historic village.

My 1860's wardrobe has been pretty static the past year or two. I made several new dresses in 2017, but last year the only new thing I added was a black silk fashion bonnet (which dang, I *still* have not blogged about!) I sold both of my summer sheer dresses since there were things about both I didn't like. Namely, the fit.

I lost enough weight the year after Rosie was born that I needed to become used to a different shape and size. I think that is what threw me off on fit. I made my new corsets with a much lower waist than I had previously done. When I was heavier, a higher waistline was more flattering. When I lost weight, the smallest part of my waist shifted downwards, dramatically, and so, fitting a corset with the waist "at the smallest part of the waist", as I had always done, resulted in a *really* low waistline. It just took me awhile to realize this and to realize that: 1. A corset fitted this way isn't terribly comfortable and 2. This threw off the proportion of silhouette really badly. I wondered why all of my new dresses looked off. Finally it dawned on me - the waistline! So rather than remake my sheer gowns, I sold them because I still have a dress length of a lovely sheer plaid on my shelf that will, eventually, become a new, better fitted dress.

So currently I have only three 1860's dresses: My sacque and petticoat, my shorter length, green plaid wash dress (that doesn't really go well with wearing a hoop) and this blue cotton print. I kept my sacque and petticoat because it is only fitted in the bodice via a belt at the waist, so I can easily belt it at a higher waistline. My green plaid was made with a shorter waistline anyhow, since by that time I was beginning to figure out that is what my dresses needed to look  better and I kept the blue cotton print because, well, I just love this fabric and cannot find more of it anywhere!

Then over the winter bleach got on it when I dropped an open jug in my joint sewing/laundry room and it splattered everywhere. Horrible day! This dress was liberally splotched all up the skirt on the side and so I figured all it would be good for was to take the good portions of skirt to make dresses for the little girls.

Anyway, last week I started thinking about the upcoming event I may go to and decided to try to make a new dress so I would have something a little nicer than my working-class sacque and petti or wash dress to wear. I had my new dress length of fabric all ready to go when I was just struck with the feeling that I really, REALLY needed to remake the blue dress. So I deconstructed it that afternoon and began putting it back together.

Once the skirt was off, I realized that the bleached area was only up a portion of the skirt about 15" wide. I cut out the bleached area and assured  myself that 15" from the skirt wouldn't really affect the overall look of the skirt fullness, especially if I wear this dress with my smaller hoop. I sewed up the seam and reattached the hem facing and turned my energy toward the bodice.

Initial problems with the bodice included the waist being too low, the armscyes being super tight (my chemise sleeves wouldn't fit through them!) and the fit being pretty dang tight across the bodice/chest since I was intent on matching the pattern at the front opening and overlapped the bodice a bit more than I usually do, to achieve that matched pattern.

Thankfully, when I tried on the bodice, sans sleeves, the fit actually was pretty good! Without sleeves my arms easily fit into the armscyes so I became aware that the tight fit of the sleeves may also have contributed to the tight armscyes. All I had to do, then, was shorten the bodice. I shortened it a good two inches which puts it around my rib cage but it looks SO much better and more historically proportioned than it used to. Finally! Shortening the bodice also increased the circumference of the waist, since the waistline no longer fell at the smallest part of the waist. I made a new waistband and sewed it onto the bodice to finish it. To cover a few stains on the bodice I added bands of trim and hand stitched those down. To enlarge the armscyes a tad, I repiped them and trimmed off half the seam allowance. Now I could easily move my arms! Yay! Finally, the original long, tight-at-the-top sleeves I made had to go. I had NO extra fabric to make new long sleeves so in the end, going with short sleeves was my best option. Each long, tight sleeve had more than enough fabric for a short, puffed sleeve sewn to a semi fitted lining of white cotton. I reused the sleeve caps on my first version of the dress to sew the puffed sleeves to,  before sewing them into the armscye.

Finally, the skirt was rebalanced, pleated to fit at the front, sides and side backs and cartridge pleated at the center back and whipped to the piped edge of the bodice waistband. A few new hooks and a new white collar and my dress was done! This time, instead of distributing the fabric equally around the waistline, I put more fabric into the sides and back of the skirt. This makes the skirts lay better over a hoop with a little bit of back thrust.

Short sleeved adult day dresses are pretty uncommon so I wouldn't necessarily suggest this style as appropriate for all ladies, all the time. There ARE photographs that indicate SOME married (indicated by wedding rings) women older than teens/20's DID wear short sleeved day dresses. To see some of these photographs, check out the photo albums from the Civilian Civil War Closet Facebook group. Never say never, right?! But this is far from the most common style and I only made my dress this way because I did not have enough material to make long sleeves.

I tried the finished dress on over my small hoop with a bum pad and two petticoats. The shape of my skirts is historical, though not the most fashionable shape. I could wear this dress with my larger, more fashionable hoop and have more of a back thrust to my skirts and more spring from the waist. I do prefer the little hoop since its more lightweight and easy to move in. So, I will have to experiment and see which is better. I need to redo the little hoop since the wires are poking through in some places and maybe I can redistribute the fullness at the waistline and also shorten the entire hoop to get a better bell shape. It is doubtful, though, I will have a chance to do that before this weekend.

Anyway, it is a great feeling to have made this dress wearable again! I love the fit of the bodice as it is so comfortable and looks so much better so I will make this alteration on my master pattern so future dresses fit better. 


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A 1970's Style Dashiki Dress

I bought the fabric for this dress a few months ago and made the dress in mid March, wanting to get in done in time for the spring equinox. While I did finish it by then, I didn't wear it for that particular occasion since it was a rather cold day and evening, so not terribly suitable for wearing a thin cotton dress. 

This gorgeous fabric was made in Kenya by a manufacturer specializing in these lovely cotton panels of fabric, which are traditionally made into shirts. I found the length at an antique mall in Cincinnati (the best finds at antique malls are often things that are not antique!) 😂 When I purchased the fabric it was boldly printed in red, black, white and gold. Once I decided I would make the material into a garment I overdyed the length in blue, to tone down the colors a bit so I could wear them. 

I did a little research on the material since I wanted to honor it by making it into something appropriate to wear. It is difficult, sometimes, when dealing with items crafted by another culture, to use those things in a way that honors their origin. I wavered between making a wrap skirt or a dress but decided on the dress as the best way to showcase this lovely material. My inspiration are the many extant late 60's/70's colorful dashiki dresses that were frequently worn by those in the counter culture of the time, embracing peace, tolerance and love and rejecting materialism, violence and inequality. While my own spiritual beliefs slightly vary from the stereotypical "hippie", I find a lot of similarities and it feels right to make and wear this kind of dress. 

Original 1970's Dashiki Dress from Etsy

Most extant dresses I have found appear to be cut in the same way, as a one or two piece design with cut on sleeves. This is a loose, flowing garment and does not require a lot of fitting or measurements to make a pattern. I actually just put my fabric on the floor, eyeballed it, and cut two pieces. These pieces were sewn together at the shoulders and the long under arm/side seam, to about mid-calf length. 

I used french seams for durability and tidiness. The neckline is bound with bias strips cut from the scraps of fabric left once the dress shapes were cut, and I made a few little eyelets along the front neck slit to lace a cotton cord through. The sleeves, utilizing the natural selvedge edge, are unhemmed and the skirt is hemmed with a narrow machine hem. I added ties made of leftover fabric at the high waist popular in the 70's, to give a little bit of shaping. 

It was a very simple project but I took my time to do each step well. There is a lot of love poured into this dress! I do not usually have a reason to make or wear a beautiful modern dress. To me, this dress is beautiful and I feel so happy when wearing it - full of joy and deep gratitude!

I do so love the sleeve shape on this dress!

I shall wear it tomorrow for May Day as we celebrate this wonderful season of planting and growing. I thank my son Malachi for taking these pictures for me last week when he and I, along with the littlest children, visited a sacred site near us to meditate and drum and just enjoy being outside in the greening world. 

My bodhran drum and I are still getting well acquainted 😂 but I am learning the deep connection that can exist between a person and a percussion instrument - so all my previous many years of bias against anything not string instrument related is quickly washing away!

Much love to you all!