Friday, November 21, 2008

Wreath Making

We are on a rather strict budget so as the holidays approach I find myself not able to spend much on decorations. And honestly, when I look at the decorations within my price range I'm not impressed with the quality or overall look of most of them. Nice things can be had at second hand stores but I don't often get to the second hand stores to look. (We did find a lovely nativity set for $2 at a thrift store this past Monday, though! It has a candle behind the manger where baby Jesus lay and I can't wait til we light it!)

We had a few days of nice weather this week so a few days ago David and I were able to get out and go hunting for decorations from The Wild. We had a wonderful time although we were somewhat cold and we found a lot more than we thought we would. We found all of these things locally, mostly around the edge of the woods at a local park.
Here are the results, after being sorted and somewhat organized on our old kitchen table, which is now on our enclosed side porch:

What we found: (and alas, I know not the technical nor scientific names of most of these things, so bear with my labeling)

Big Red Berry Clusters, from a Thorny Vine

Tiny Red Berry Clusters, from a different Thorny Vine
Purple-Pink Berry Stems from a vine intermingled with the abovementioned Thorny Vines
White Berry Clusters, from a Tree with Red Stems
Red Berry Clusters from a Different Tree
Deep Red Cone-Shaped Things That Grow on Trees
Dried Grasses, Assorted
Dried Mustard Yellow Blossoms
Dried Things that look like grain in long stems
Assorted Dried Blossoms that are probably Weeds, but look Pretty
Dried Queen Anne's Lace Heads
Two kinds of Greenery, one long-needled pine and the other - unsure of correct name. . .
Big Pine Cones
Little Pine Cones

I decided to make wreathes since I have a little experience with attempted wreath making in past years. None of my previous attempts ever came out well, so I took a new view of the project and came at it from a sewing perspective. The frame and wiring of the greens is like the construction of a basic gown. The decorative things added after the basic wreath is made is like trimming a dress.

To make the basic form, I used some of the pine sticks left after I cut off the greenery and tied them together in a circular shape. I used basic twine for tying and cut the ends off. I used 3-5 sticks per wreath (so far I've made three). Then, it was just wiring on the greenery. I used florists wire that we got for free earlier this year to do my wrapping. I wrapped the wire around the form, adding greens to the sides and front as I went.

Here is one wreath with the basic form done:

After that, I laid out my pine cones on the wreath to decide where I wanted them and how many I wanted to use. I used the little cones since I'm saving the big ones to do a plain pine cone wreath later. For the long-needle pine wreath I glued the pine cones to wire and stuck the wire into the frame, but for the shorter needle greens I just hot glued the cones directly to the wreath.

Then, it was just a matter of laying out decorations and arranging them how I wanted, and gluing them down. Simple, easy and completely free!

Here is the finished wreath I made earlier today for our living room. It has small pine cones, purple berry stems and mustard yellow blossoms and white berries arranged on it, with strands of things that look like seed stems sticking out at the sides.

Here is another one I made this afternoon that is more "holiday" looking, with red berries:

(sorry the pictures are not of the best quality, and the colors are washed out. The lighting was not that good when I took these).

I can't wait to make more in different sizes and using different materials! The best thing of all is knowing I can make something pretty for our home that doesn't cost us anything but spending a little time in the creation.



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

$10, 2-Hour Dressform

I have long wanted a dressform, but due to the high prices of new ones and the somewhat bad reviews I've heard of the cheaper new ones, I have long thought that a dressform was not in my near future. I put out wanted ads for old ones, looked at thrift shops and garage sales but antique ones were often as much as new ones and thrift stores tended to want to keep the ones they had, to display things on. I made a duct tape dressform once, with the help of my mother. That kind of flopped. Literally. The duct tape figure was really heavy and it was almost impossible to stuff and when at last I got her nearly done, the figure was not at all the same as mine and the measurements were off. She died a quick and painless death.

After brainstorming a bit I recently came up with the thought that I could make my own. Why not? It seemed simple enough. A stuffed figure the shape of a woman, a pole or rod for her to stand on, and a stand of some sort at the bottom to keep the whole thing secure.

So, here are the results of my brainstorming, $10, and 2 hours of work! Meet Miss Mattie, a.k.a "The Naked Lady".

What I used:


Since I didn't care if this dressform was an exact replica of me or not (I plan on using it mainly for display purposes), I used a basic dart fitted bodice pattern (From my 1950 dress pattern) as a base and went off that for my pattern. Below is a quick drawing I did to show how I altered the base pattern pieces. I changed the darted front bodice to princess-seam and added length at the bottom and a high neck at the top. I also made the shoulders a bit wider. I did the same for the back, except it did not have a dart so I did not have to princess seam it. If you don't have a dart fitted bodice pattern to alter I'm sure you could get one at any store that sells patterns. A princess seam sheath type dress pattern could also work very well and that was my plan B, if plan A didn't work. If you want the dressform to be a replica of you, I'd make a muslin first out of the altered pattern and fit it to you smoothly. Use the fitted muslin as your final pattern.


I used about 3 yards of natural muslin for my dressform. You can get this at Jo Anns for under $1/yard with a 40% off coupon. I suppose you could use anything that is sturdy and even weave though. You could even make the form out of two layers of fabric with the even weave fabric as the bottom layer and a decorative fabric for an outer layer. I'm not fancy, so I just went the plain way. :)


I used about 45 oz. of poly fiberfill stuffing for mine. I got 3 bags of 20 oz. stuffing at Jo Anns for 50% off and used all of two bags and just a tiny bit of the third bag.


For my stand, I used a heavy cardboard tube, the kind you can get home dec fabric rolled up on at fabric stores. This worked very well for me, and was free.


My darling husband kindly dug out our Christmas tree stand from the storage unit his mom has. We used this the first year we were married and we haven't used it since. It worked perfectly for supporting the cardboard tube and is very sturdy. It's not the prettiest thing in the world so I will probably make a skirt type thing for the bottom of it to cover the green plastic and metal, eventually.


To make the form, I cut out my pattern from the muslin and sewed the pieces together, leaving the bottom open. I added a short standing collar to the neck at the last minute since I thought it would look better. To finish off the neckline and arm openings I piped around the raw edges and sewed in a slightly oval-shaped circle to keep the figure of the form. The ovals were slightly bigger than the holes they were sewed into so needed to be eased. This created a nice rounded fullness at the neck and arm openings that seem more realistic to me than a flat surface.

The longest, most tedious part of the construction was stuffing the thing. I used very small amounts of stuffing at a time and carefully tried to smoothly stuff the muslin shell. It took me the better part of an hour to get her as I wished her to be. I stuffed from the bottom, inserting the pole once I got the neck area stuffed. When I got near the bottom, I turned under a 1/4" seam allowance all around the bottom opening, pinned up the hip edges to within 2" of the center area where the pole was, and stuffed the hips. Finally, I stuffed the crutch area and slip stitched the opening shut.

After that, it was a simple matter of inserting the pole into the Christmas tree stand. And there you are! My husband seemed rather impressed but solemnly stated that she needed clothing.

Things I Would Do Differently Next Time:

Next time I would cut the pattern pieces slightly smaller, or take up a bigger seam allowance since the finished figure has measurements that are a bit bigger than my own. Although she is definitely squishable enough for me to put my gowns on her, she definitely fills them out well.

To make a more pronounced derrierre, next time I would take out a dart at the waist of the back pattern piece to create more fullness below the waistline. Since this is a display-only dressform it's not critical right now, but its something to keep in mind for future forms that may need to be made to a certain type of figure.

I also cannot figure out how to make the form anything more than an A-cup. I honestly have no idea, so if any of you know how I could do this, I'd LOVE the information! :) In the meantime, she'll be undergarmented and padded out if needed!

It's nice to have a dressform at last, but also a little startling to catch a glimpse of a figure you are not accustomed to at odd times during the day!



Sunday, November 16, 2008

1820's Dress Details

As promised, here are the construction details/notes/pictures for my 1820's dress. I was pretty happy with how it turned out for my first try at recreating clothing from this decade. I *really* love the overall style, the flexibility of overlapping styles and the complete wearability of this style for every day. Now that my dress is done, I can't wait to go to New Salem and pretend I really live there as I walk around. Our trip there will probably have to wait until next spring :( but by then hopefully all five of us will have appropriate attire from this era!
Dress, Overall View:

I wanted to make my dress in a style that was representative of the gowns worn between 1825-1830. I chose the later in the decade date since that is the time a lot of settlers were coming into Illinois in the counties near us. Most towns near us were established in the early 1830's, but in order for there to be a town, there must be early settlers, right? :)
The overall style has the transitional sillhouette I fell in love with. The bodice is slightly shorter than the natural waist, but longer than the very high waistlines of the early 1800's. The sleeves are moving to the big sleeve styles of the 1830's but are still graceful and not too enormous for everyday wear. The skirts are plenty long enough and full enough to be modest and feminine yet not so full as the later skirts of the 1830's and 1840's and not as slim in the front earlier in the 1800's. My dress took 5 yards of fabric, which is a modest amount for a historical style dress.

In looking at original dresses when coming up with ideas for mine, I was shocked at how many options there were for different features like neckline shapes, sleeves and decoration! On my dress, I used the machine for hidden seams but any seam that could be seen from the outsdie I did by hand.
The Bodice:

The bodice of my dress was based on the pelisse-robe bodice in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion. I chose this style because the pieces looked basic and easy to work with and the bodice had a front opening - something important to me since I breastfeed my babies and need access! :) I used the lining pieces of the pelisse robe as my basic pattern, and altered my fitted Civil War bodice pattern to approximate the look. All I had to do was shorten the bodice by a few inches, and move some seams to be in the appropriate places and add some seams at the back bodice. I also trimmed the shoulder line so that instead of an 1860's dropped shoulder, I had an armscye that sat right at the point between my shoulder and arm.

To construct the bodice, I cut the pieces out of my fashion fabric and white cotton for lining. I cut the back bodice in four pieces; two side pieces and two center back pieces. I put the seam down the back as an accident. I forgot to put the pattern piece on the fold when cutting out my fabric so it was a necessity! The lining does not have the center back seam, however. I treated the fabric and lining as one and sewed them together at the back seams, the side seams and shoulder seams.
After studying pictures of some original gowns, I decided to pipe the slanted back seams and the shoulder seams. I didn't pipe the side seams since I couldn't actually see the side seams on most gowns I looked at and I figured piping at the side seams would add visible bulk to my sides. The neckline was cut in a shallow V shape and piped, and the bodice was piped at the center front opening. The seam allowance of the piping strips were folded under and slip stitched to the white cotton lining.
Finally, I added a waistband. I did not pipe the waistband since I couldn't find pictures of original gowns with piped waistbands and there were no descriptions of piped waistbands from this period in Janet Arnold's book. Since I wanted to make my bodice with a dog leg closure (front opening bodice but side opening skirt) I measured around my "waistline" (where the edge of the bodice hit) and added a few extra inches so the waistband could wrap around me to the side, where it would later fasten. I cut another waistband of white cotton and it was secured to the fashion waistband by topstitching on all sides. The bodice fastens with hook and eyes and is darted on each side in the front.

The Sleeves:

I originally planned to make sleeves from the pattern for the pelisse-robe. I measured and cut and - the sleeves were too short and the puff at the top was non-existent! I had some temptations of just cutting the sleeve to 3/4 length and calling it good but at last decided I really had to try to make the sleeve work. I ended up cutting an upper sleeve and gathering it to the original sleeve. That worked really well for the puff at the top of the sleeve but it also made my sleeves too long. Since I had already piped my cuffs and sleeve seam I didn't want to cut off the hem and redo all that so I tuck up a diagonal tuck in each each sleeve.

They are still a bit too long so I plan on securing the excess sleeve length with a few pieces of twill tape so the sleeve will hang at the right length. In the meantime, just pushing the sleeve up so the lower portion fits my arm tightly works very well. The sleeve has a lining of white cotton and is piped and finished like the bodice. The cuff closes with hook and eyes.

The Skirt:

The skirt was rather problematic at first. I found many pictures and fashion plates of 1820's gowns but they all seemed to have a common feature and that was a smooth, plain front skirt. Since I'm pregnant I had to compromise a little and figure out how to add extra fabric to go across my tummy. At last I settled on cutting the skirt front in 3 gores so I had maximum fullness at the hem and minimal fullness at the waist, but I did have enough extra at the waist to lightly gather the skirt to the front of the bodice. The back skirt is a rectangular panel of fabric, cut to length.

The pieces are seamed together and the opening for the bodice is at the seam between the side-front gore and the center front gore. The hem is quite deep but the skirt was still too long since I used the very scientific method of measuring by holding my tape at my waist, draping it down across my tummy and trying to peer at the number that hit around the right length without distorting the tape - which is hard to do! I had to put two tucks in the skirt to take up the extra length. It could use another tuck, even, but right now I don't think I'll do that since I like the look of just the two tucks.
The Collar:

I don't know if collars were universally worn in the 1820's or not, but my mind has been so indoctrinated in 1860's rules and regulations of proper attire that I felt the dress looked unfinished without one. I used the top collar from the double collar in Patterns of Fashion. The collar was mostly made on the machine, including the hem, so it is not period correct in that regard but I like the finished shape and the ruffle around the edges. Instead of attaching the collar to a chemisette, I just bound off the neckline with bias cut strips of white cotton and that is basted into the neck of my dress, just like my 1860's dresses. I don't know if this is P.C. or not, but it works for me and was a lot less work than having to make a whole chemisette to wear beneath my bodice.

For these pictures the gown was happily modeled by my brand-new home-made dressform, which I can't wait to share with you all in my next post!

Hope all are having a lovely Sunday!


Friday, November 14, 2008

1820's Gown

Well, today was the first day I was able to wear my new 1820's dress. It has ended up taking me a lot longer than I originally anticipated to complete it. I thought surely a few days would be sufficient, but that stretched into a few weeks!

I am writing a post with the construction details, for those of you like-minded historical-fashion lovers who might be interested, and will get that posted as soon as a I finish up the dress form (hopefully tonight!) so I can take pictures of the gown on it.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures we took today. Forgive my rumpled skirts and tired expression. We took these after being gone to town for many hours. I did not know the skirt hem was so uneven, on account of Baby, but hopefully everything will be straight and proper after the birth. This one is carrying higher now, and at my prenatal appointment recently I was told the baby has very little room left. 9 weeks to go!

I look forward to a comfortable homey evening tonight with beef stroganoff for supper, little ones curled up on the floor with blankets, books and teddies, and sewing projects and a husband who wishes to watch a movie with me tonight. Master and Commander, anyone?