Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day & Jacksonville, IL Reenactment

This appears to be a rather gloomy Father's Day. I awakened, after dreaming about a strange mixture of church labyrinth's, washing machines and oatmeal, to a stifling humidity. It is raining and wet and gray. The little boys all got cool baths this morning to help them to keep cool and little David soon afterwards got into my baking cabinet and tried to taste of my vanilla extract. The kitchen smells very nice now. Little David did not seem overly fond of vanilla extract.

I am thankful this day for my father. He is a wonderful man. He and my mother had their 24th anniversary a few months ago and all through my life I have looked to him for ultimate protection and security. I remember as a little child having fears of bears or wolves coming in through my bedroom window at night. I also greatly feared Robbers. I imagined them creeping in and getting a knife from my mothers butcher block and murdering us all before carrying off our wordly wealth. Some nights I would waken my father, fearful of a noise I heard in the basement or in another part of the house. He would always go look and then tell me that everything was okay. This from a man who worked long hours and multiple jobs just so we could make ends meet! The thought of him getting up from his well deserved slumber at night to reassure me that there was nothing to be afraid of touches me so much as I look back on it. Thank you, dad, for your sacrifices, your love, your patience, your sense of humour, your prayers and your teachings of the Bible, your following of God and for leading my brothers and sisters and I to an early knowledge of our Savoiur. Thank you for still being there for me, even now as I have little ones of my own. You are and always will be my daddy. I love you.

Yesterday David and I and Malachi went to Jacksonville, IL to spend the day at the reenactment there. I didn't take very many pictures because it was so hot and smothering. I got very sick towards the late afternoon and don't know if it was because of my corset, or my multiple layers of clothing or because I was suffering from the heat. Probably a combination of everything. We left early since a storm was coming in and I did not improve in health. We also were late getting there because of a mishap with David's buttons on his waistband and an unforseen tearing of my petticoats.

It was hot, crowded, noisy and very different from the restful atmosphere of Billie Creek last weekend. Yet I still did have a good time and felt bad we had to leave early and miss the ball in the evening.

Some of the ladies from the Old State Capitol Living History were in attendance and, in my opinion, were the best dressed young ladies present and the best examples of correct dress in the fashion show! Oh, to be young again! To wear short sleeves and open necks! Alas, my Great Age weighs heavily upon me.
Here is a lovely young lady with Malachi, who would not look at me or the camera and favored another lovely young lady, who was standing to the side, with his long-lashed glances. This is the only picture David took of my new dress. It took me a long time to get the trim sewn on it and I still haven't applied it to the back yet. I like it, but I think I should have worn my green dress yesterday. The close fitting sleeves were hot and the dark color seemed to absorb the heat more than my other dress does. I was happy that even with a 135" hem circumference I was still able to wear this dress with my cage. Cages are wonderful things to wear in hot weather. And looking through more pictures of ladies from the period I find that more often than not their skirts were not any fuller than this one. Hmm. Perhaps that means I can take that extra panel of fabric out of my green dress skirt and use it for something else. Like a dress for Judah and a tunic for David, who are both fast outgrowing their clothes! Before our next event (in August) I really need to make my sheer dress. I think that would have been perfect to have worn yesterday and perhaps would have prevented me from getting sick. I need to be brave enough to cut into it.Here is David with his perpetual reenactment-cigar. I got his vest done on Friday afternoon but he doesn't like it because I vented the back center seam. I had forgot his horror of vents. Last year I vented the back seam of his sack coat but he made me sew it back up. I can't really sew this vent back up due to the cut of the vest back so I need to take the vest apart at the side and shoulder seams and put a new back in. And a new lining, if I can figure out how. I lined this one with white cotton but it is horribly stained with the sweat that David sweated yesterday. A last picture of the baby. He was mostly happy but at the time I took this picture he was hot and very tired and didn't like laying upon the grass and didn't like laying on my lap because he could feel the rungs from my cage beneath him. His underdresses are getting too small for him too. Thankfully I made a big overlap in the back so I can just move the button closer to the edge to make it bigger. I really hope these last him the rest of the season!Happy Father's Day!

I think I'll make a key lime pie for David. Something cool and soft for this hot, humid day. I think the rest of our meal will cook in the crock pot! It's just too hot to keep the oven or stove on for very long!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Billie Creek Village Reenactment, Rockville, IN

It was all I ever hoped it would be. I have, I confess, been in a reenacting "slump" for the past few years. I haven't been very excited about going to events and the only thing remotely interesting about them is making the clothing that we wear to events beforehand.
But, picture it. Here in central Illinois, most events take place in a flat, open area. Few trees to provide shade. The ground is usually cemented and what is not cemented is coarse grass, recently mown, with hard, stubbly stalks on which to pitch your tent and make your habitations. The morning sun is blazing and hot. The afternoon sun is drowsy and hot. Smells of Hot Dogs and Funnel Cakes press themselves heavily upon the nostrils. Much sightings of polyester and ostritch plumes emerging from tiny straw hats, or enormous boquets of plastic flowers bedecking wide brimmed ones. Massive outbreak of Hoop Lines in skirts. Fashion ranging from 1770's quasi-colonial to 1970's Pioneer-Little-House-on-The-Prairie. A fondness for proudly displayed blue and red coolers seems to be the pervasive idea.

By contrast, picture this.
A quiet, meandering creek, banked by soft green grass with tiny flowers nodding therein. Slender, lovely trees bending over the waters provide restful shade. A worn pathway leading over a rustic, turn-of-the-century covered bridge into a little historical town, complete with a boardwalk, a school, a restuarant and general store, two churches, homes, a blacksmith, a woodwork shop, a candle shop and other misc. buildings. . .The air is still and quiet and the low murmur of voices can be heard as ladies in sunbonnets and well fitted work dresses bend over their cooking fires or walk modestly through town in company of their citizen husbands. Soldiers with good facial hair and authentic uniforms lounge in the shade; some nap beneath their shelter halves. A "village green" in the center of the town features a white painted gazebo and a black iron fence encloses it. A wonderful place for certain little boys to run and play while Mama and Papa rest upon a bench in this lovely little park. Did I chase children? Yes. But here. . .there was so much for them to do and so much for them to explore. Everything they did that delighted them equally delighted me. Visit the church? Of course! While little David appreciated the acoustics that magnified the sound of his boots stomping upon the floor I appreciated the coolness, the soft light sifting through the windows, the rows of dark wood pews, soft and glossy, facing the pulpit.
It truly was the best reenactment I have been to for many years. I had heard that it was dying and at last dead and so was curious to see what was really the case. What I found was indeed a smaller number of people and a smaller number of vendors but the quality had vastly, vastly improved. It seems to definitely be a Progressive Event now. Can I describe the thrill I felt when I realized I was looking all around me at women wearing things that I wanted to copy? One lady in particular had a lovely, airy striped slat bonnet. The curtain floated so prettily behind her as she walked. Hmm. . .a new use for the striped fabric I still have on hand? :)

The Federal Camp:
Nothing so very extraordinary, but David was quite impressed with the neat rows of tidy tents all in a row. Very military and not commonly seen at the events we usually go to. So here it is.

After a firm talking to prior to getting him out of his carseat, little David suprised me and kept his cap on his head for most of the day. He took it off only after it began to rain, upon which action Judah snatched it up and wore it for the rest of the day. Judah wore his new corded sunbonnet for about five minutes. He didn't like the fact he could only see straight ahead of him while wearing it. Sigh. I guess I will save it for Malachi.

David and Judah Discover the Governor's House:
Near the little village green, this pretty little home sits on the south east corner. The gate was open and inviting and a brick pathway led up the door. What more invitation did the boys need? Judah peered in the window, enjoying the fact that it went nearly to the ground. David enjoyed the fact the gate was loose and he attempted to shut it on several occasions. Inside the home Judah explored the rooms that were open. Here he is in the hall between the kitchen and the front room.
The battle took place only shortly after we arrived. We had forgotten to take into account that we would gain an hour after we crossed the Indiana state line. We thought we'd arrive by 11:00 a.m. and have a bit of time to walk around and have lunch, but alas, we arrived around noon and David immediately set off in persuit of the commanding officer for Federal medical. He discovered that the hospital was set up in a large barn.
While he mingled with the other surgeons and stewards and the young men who seemed to be helping with the miscellaneous, more menial tasks, the boys and I enjoyed the tree-shaded park. David, of course, also soon discovered a sutler with cigars and got his characteristic two. He then came back to retrieve us.
The battle was situated on the far southern end of the village. We passed through the village, passed the barn, passed a large pavilion where the evening dance would later take place and passed the sutler tents. We passed the lemon shake-up stand that was beyond the sutler tents and then passed through the Confederate camp. We passed a farmhouse. By this time we were on the northern end of the battlefield, which was placed within a valley. The creek bordered one edge, a steep hill the other. Woods were all around. The path grew muddy. Little David lost one of his shoes. A kind young man from the Confederate Camp ran after us with the shoe. Otherwise, I would not have known until much later that it was missing. David left us to traverse to the far southern end of the battlefield and took his place among the other medical persona and the ambulance. I could tell who he was only by his height and his red checkered shirt. This was the hardest part of the day for me. I put the two older boys in the wagon and spread Malachis quilt on the grass. He rolled to his tummy and scooted his way to the edge of the quilt. A few moments later, he was meditatively chewing some grass stalks. David and Judah were for a few minutes amused with drinking water in their little glasses, poured from their daddy's canteen. But once their thirst ceased, their interest did too.

How good God is. The boys started attemting to climb out of the wagon as they wanted to follow David to the field. It is very hard and difficult to grasp two squirming, strong toddler boys and to try to keep them in the same place when they want to go both in different directions. I prayed, since I knew I needed help. A sweet lady from the crowd offered to help me and she played with Judah while I held David. Judah was unsure at first about being friendly with a strange lady, but he did warm up to her after a bit! Malachi was good on his quilt until the battle began and then he cried at the shock of the first cannon. Another lady held and cuddled him until David came back. I tell you, the acoustics in that valley were something else. The cannon and rifle fire were amazing to hear.

The soldiers marched back to their camps after the battle and the wounded were taken to the hospital.
David and the others attended to them. David was the most handsome of them all. I love how he looks, carrying his doctors bag!We ate our lunch then and little David napped for almost an hour. Malachi nursed and Judah was full of energy. He did not nap at all. Once little David woke up we set out to explore the village a bit more. David wanted to look more closely at the sutlers. Malachi and little David were packed into the wagon and Judah, with tireless chubby legs, walked.
The wagon is not period correct at all, but we figure it is better than our modern double stroller. I can't seem to get around the need to have something to help me haul the children and the few necessary items I need to bring for them. It has come in very handy. Other mothers and fathers had wagons too, but theirs were much more period looking. We inquired as to where they got them and one man told us they were from Ireland. Well. I doubt we could afford to purchase a wagon from Ireland and then pay for the cost to ship it here but perhaps David could build one similar to it, if we could find wheels somewhere.

Later in the afternoon it began to rain. We took shelter in the hospital-barn. Here Judah looks out into the rain.

The boys found a wooden stairway and went up it with great excitement. Steps! I was worried that they weren't supposed to be up there but I was reassured that it was entirely fine for them to go upstairs if they desired to. I went up too. A large collection of antique farm equipment was stored up there. Judah found something with a wheel on it. He loves wheels. So he spun it round and round and round. It entertained him for quite a while. Here are both my older boys. In the same picture, too. A rather rare occurence. The rain did not stop. Little David enjoyed the barn but after a while Judah grew weary of it and ventured outside into the rain. He got quite wet and quite muddy. He picked clover and brought it to me and watched a trickle of water streaming off of a roof corner with intense concentration. He was happy when his daddy bought him and his brother a watermelon candy stick from the general store. As it was wet and rather chilly and Malachi was damp from the rain in his little strapped underdress we decided to come home earlier than we had planned. We cannot wait until next year and are looking forward to it very much.And yes! I had a "Magic Moment". While I was in the barn, during the rain, the surgeon and one of his young helpers came in. They spoke about lighting candles and the surgeon sent the lad in search of some in the upstairs of the barn. I felt I was looking back into history then. It was wonderful.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer Sunbonnets & Headgear

Tomorrow we are going for a day to the Civil War reenactment at Billie Creek Village in Rockville, IN. I cannot even begin to describe my excitement. It's been eight years since I have last been there and I wonder - I hope - that my feelings and experience will be similar to what they were when I first went there. It was my very first Civil War reenactment and oh. I can't describe it.

I have been working on bonnets for me and the boys since we were bonnetless. I finally finished them up today so we will be set for tomorrow. I have my corded sheer bonnet from last year but I don't like how it "wilts" around my face as I wear it. So we each got a new one.

Malachi's Sunbonnet:
Malachi got a corded semi-sheer sunbonnet to protect his delicate little head from the sun while yet providing maximum airiness so that he won't get too hot. The bonnet is made from a tan/white stripe cotton I have. I have yards of it left, so it is nice to be using it up. The brim is a rectangle that is folded in half to provide a self facing and the cords are inserted between the layers. I used the peaches n' cream cotton cord and sewed in two rows of 5 cords, then a final row of 3 cords. This stiffens the brim quite nicely. Since it is so small, I think the bonnet will retain the stiffness here and not wilt around Malachi's face.
The inside (all the bonnets have the same inner construction) has the seam between the brim/crown and curtain finished and a drawstring is inserted so that the bonnet can be adjusted at the back of the neck. Judah's Sunbonnet:Judah's sunbonnet is made from a very lightweight cotton twill fabric. This fabric was actually a Ralph Lauren shirt that I got David from a garage sale but it did not quite fit right. So I chopped it up to use for this bonnet. Judah's bonnet is the same style as Malachi's bonnet but it is a good deal bigger (Judah has a big head) and has 15 rows of cording instead of just 12. I put piping between the brim and crown, for sturdiness and visual interest.
My Sunbonnet:I tried something new this year. I have made slatted sunbonnets and corded sunbonnets in the past but have never made a quilted sunbonnet. I have made quilted winter hoods and I liked how the brim retained stiffness without me having to starch it or put slats in it. I read some posts about quilted sunbonnets on the Sewing Academy and then went ahead with mine. I used leftover blue cotton print from one of Malachi's gowns (there wasn't enough left for a pinafore, but just enough for this bonnet - and I mean just enough!) I made the same style as Judah's and Malachi's. The brim and curtain are both rectangles and the crown is a U-shaped piece gathered in.

It is quilted in rows parallel to the brim edge. I didn't try anything fancy since my machine does not have a walking foot and the fabric kept bunching up underneath. I had to take out and redo almost every seam at least twice. It still isn't perfect but I'm hoping no one will get close enough to notice the puckers and uneven rows. Sigh.
I really like how it retains the shape of the brim, even if it is folded or smushed. It springs back into shape immediately. Yeay! The only drawback is that since there is cotton batting in the brim, it IS a bit warmer than a slatted or corded sunbonnet but I'm willing to let that go in favor of its other merits. I can't wait to make a few more!

If I have time tonight I need to get Judah's new pinafore finished up. His dresses barely fit him anymore, though. The waistline sits too high now and the skirts are a bit too short for my liking. I hope they will last until he turns two in September, and then I will put him in tunics. Hopefully by then he will be fully potty trained, as well.

Oh, and I made a new cap for David. The first one I made I didn't quite like since the brim seemed too small and the top too poufy. I know I don't know much about hats or caps for little boys who wear tunics but I did want him to have a hat with a brim to at least help shade his eyes from the sun. He has to have one eye dilated all the time for the next month or so (to strengthen his other eye, which was going "lazy") so he needs a bit of extra protection to keep that eye safe. I really like how this one came out. He looks so cute in it! Now, to keep him to keep it on his head is another thing altogether! It is made from cotton twill and cotton plaid, harvested from a worn out shirt of David's.
I can't wait until tomorrow!! :)

Here is a picture of me as a young teen in my very first "Civil War Dress". It actually was my second dress since I made up a test version of the pattern (Homespun Visiting Dress) in gray and white striped seersucker before I made this one. Anyway, I wore this blue one for the first time to Billie Creek Village. Ah. The birthplace of my love for historic costuming.
Here is my third dress. . .as you can see it is worse than the blue one. I liked it though. A rosebud print gown, with lovely big flowing sleeves and a big skirt, with a fitted bodice? I needed some help with fitting issues, so badly, back then! I have no idea what happened to this dress. The blue one eventually was remade three times and at last sold off when it no longer fit, when I was pregnant with little David. Hopefully I'll have some nice pictures to share after the weekend! Have a lovely one!



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anatomy of an 1860's Dress

Many of my dear readers already are extremely knowledgeable about the ins and outs of period 1860's clothing, but for those of you who might not have looked into it as much, and perhaps would like to know a bit of the characteristics of gowns from this period, I decided to do an overview of my new dress rather than just posting pics and writing a random "coat sleeve, tucked bodice" etc. blub about it.

For starters, this new dress (or gown! call it what you like!) is commonly known in reenacting circles as a "day dress". A day dress would, of course, have been worn during the day. An "evening dress", as contrast, would have been worn in the evening for specific social events. So, this is a basic style cotton day dress. It can be washed but for my purposes, and for the longevity of the fabric, I will most likely on spot clean it and fully wash it perhaps once or twice a season, as needed.
Front View:
Here is a full length view of the dress. Although there are many variations of style you can get into as you research extant original gowns, period photographic images and fashion plates of the era, this dress shows the basic shape and look of a dress from the era. As a broad overview, it has wide shoulders with dropped shoulder seams, a wide skirt hem and wide sleeves to create the illusion of a small waist. The neckline is high and is shaped in a shallow V. An alternate shape is a round "jewel" neckline, but I chose the V shape since it is much more flattering to me! The waistline ends at the natural waistline. On my corseted figure, this is the smallest part of my waist. The skirt ends a few inches above the floor. On the dressform it appears floor length, but I am a bit taller than my dressform.

Side View:
Here you can see the side of the dress. This also shows well the shape of a cage or hoop. As you can see, it pushes out a bit more in the back and is a bit flatter in the front. By the 1860's this was a common shape. Earlier hoops were rounder, and later fashion would favor a flat front skirt and a bustle in the back. My cage is one I made from a kit I got from Originals-By-Kay and is made from 7 wire rungs suspended from fabric tapes. It is about 108" around the bottom rung.

Back View:
Here you can see the back of the dress. The back is fitted to the figure and the skirt is pleated all around to the bodice. On some dresses, you can find gauging or cartridge pleating in the back section of the skirt. For this one I was in a hurry so I pleated it all the way around. Note that the skirt is even at the floor despite the shape of the cage. The skirt on the dress is longer in the back by 3" than in the front. The panels of the skirt are sewn together evenly (I used five 45" wide panels for this skirt) and the bottom edge hemmed. To account for the difference in length at the front, side and back of the skirt the upper edge of the skirt is turned to the wrong side and ironed flat. 3" more fabric is pressed down in the front of the skirt than in the back. This creates a sloping line at the top edge of your skirt that will pleat or gather up to drape evenly across the cage.

Collar and Bow:
Here you can see the shallow V-shape of the neckline a bit better. To dress up the space between the edges of the collar I added a black bow. This space could also be filled with a nice brooch, or a different style of bow. The bow is just pinned on with a straight pin so it can easily be removed.

Here you can see how the collar is attached. The collar is a completely seperate item from the dress and is simply basted into the neckline of the dress with long running stitches. This enables you to take off your collar when it becomes grungy and wash it without having to wash the entire dress. This also keeps the neckline of your dress protected from your natural body oils and sweat. Cuffs or undersleeves (see previous post for a photo of me wearing this dress with undersleeves) serve the same purpose at the wrist.

Front Opening:
Adult womens day dresses opened down the center front. The front edges are turned back to the inside and slip stitched to the lining to finish the front edge. I used hook and eyes to close my dress although you can use buttons and hand sewn buttonholes as well. I find it faster and easier to stitch on the hook and eyes rather than sewing buttonholes. You could sew decorative buttons on the outside of the bodice but still use hook and eyes for the fuctional closure. I have done this with my silk dress (see three posts down). The hook and eyes I used here are white, since they are all that I can find locally, but I don't think white hook and eyes are period correct. In the past, when the stores still carried them, I used black hook and eyes.
Piping is used to strengthen seams and is made from the same fabric as the dress. I cut bias strips of my dress fabric and insert a narrow cotton cord in the center to use for my piping. Places I use piping are these:
The Armscye: Between the shoulder and the sleeve.
The Neckline: This finishes off the neckline for a neat look. You could also use plain bias binding here if desired. The Waist: You can use piping to finish off a darted bodice, or, as here a tucked bodice with a waistband. I piped both the top and bottom edge of my waistband. The piping at the bottom of the waistband reinforces that area to give you a sturdier place to attach the skirt. Bodice Style:
Bodice styles are usually sorted into "darted to fit" and "gathered". Darted bodices have the fashion fabric and the lining darted as one to fit the figure. This style is usually reserved for wool or silk dresses. For some reason existing darted cotton dresses do not seem to be common at all. Gathered bodices have the lining darted to fit, but the fashion fabric is gathered at the waist instead of being darted. As a variation, I tucked my fashion fabric instead of gathering it to keep the pleated theme of the dress going on. It gives a smoother, more tailored line for my body shape than gathering would, as well.
Here you can see the darted lining fabric on the inside of the dress. I use two darts on each side. Bodice Back:

Curved "seams" in the back of the bodice make a pretty line, and the small area between the bottom edge of these curves help add to the illusion of a small waist. Rather than a true 3-piece back, I find it much easier to make false seams or topstitched tucks in the back of the bodice. I pin and press them into place before stitching them down.
Skirt/Bodice Closure:I attached the skirt directly to the bodice. I pleated the top of the skirt and then the pleated edge was stitched to the very bottom of the bodice. Since the bodice opens in the center front I wanted to make a dog leg opening so that the skirt opened slightly at the side. This prevents a seam from being down the front of the skirt. Here you can see the waistband hooked together and how the bodice closes over it.
At the bottom of the skirt, I sewed on a hem facing rather than making a turned hem. This does two things. It preserves fabric because you do not need to cut enough in the skirt to allow for a turned hem (just 1/2" for a seam allowance) and it also protects the bottom of your skirt from dirt and wear. In this picture you can already see some dirt on the hem facing, and I just wore this dress once! The facing protects the dress fabric from this. When the facing becomes ragged, it is easily replaced. I used 4" wide strips of scrap fabric for mine, in a light color. This is sewn right sides together with the bottom edge of the skirt, turned to the wrong side and stitched in place with a large-ish running stitch that is long on the inside and short on the outside.
Attaching Trim:

To trim my dress I added black bands at the edges of the sleeve cap and the sleeve hem. Trim is sewn on with large-ish stitches so that the trim can be removed if you need to launder your dress (I learned this the hard way when black trim on a previous dress bled all over the dress fabric when I washed it!) and so you can easily remove the trim if you wish to update your dress with fresh trim at a later time. It is also much faster to attach trim this way. Here you can see the large stitches on the inside of the sleeve, showing where the trim is attached.
So there it is! Not a comprehensive overview by any stretch of the imagination, but hopefully it will give you an idea of some of the common features of period dresses.

Now to make a few more, since currently this is the only dress I have that fits!