Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of the Year Sewing ~ Regency Short Stays

I have been on a wild cleaning spree since David went back to work after his Christmas break. The tree is taken down and the ornaments and decorations packed away. Today I swept everything up downstairs and mopped everything and dusted everything. Two days ago I spent three hours cleaning our tiny closet of a bathroom. With great joy did I vehemently scrub away the soap-spots on the tub with a bristle brush and baking soda! I've reorganized the office and sewing room, hung new pictures, taken old ones down, rearranged furniture and cleaned all the mirrors and windows. The end of the year hustle to make things nice before the new year begins. Sigh. It is always like that around here.

So, therefore, I have not had much to post about. Unless you want to hear about and see pictures of the newly reorganized and decluttered office closet, which I really had to clean out to be able to put away the Christmas things.
I did find time to finish up a set of short stays from the Sense and Sensibility Regency Underthings pattern. I got the pattern a few weeks ago and had not yet used it til yesterday when I cut out the short stays. I don't really need a new set but I was curious to see how they went together and if the size I normally make would work for me. They went together very easily and quickly - I finished them today - but the size is absolutely enormous on me. I can usually wear a pattern size 18 from the S&S things but not with this. My underbust measurement is 30". The underbust measurement on the finished size 18 stays is 37". WAY big. And the cup size, cut with gussets in a D cup, barely goes a quarter of the way up to the midline of the bust. The width of the cup could work for me, with some amount of squishing, but the gussets need to be a lot longer for my particular size. So. They are now For Sale, and I posted them in my Etsy shop. Somewhere out in this great world there must be someone whom these will fit prettily. I corded these, instead of boning them. I wanted to get in some practice on cording so I can remake my 1820's/1830's stays with cording instead of boning. I was shocked at how easy and how quick the cording process went. I have no idea why I have thought that cording took so much time and was so hard to do. It's not, and I love how it looks and how it gives firm yet flexible and comfortable support. I can't wait to make a fully corded corset of my own now!I have so many projects I want to start on right away. There is a gorgeous 1790's gown in Costume in Detail that I long to copy as well as a drop front regency dress that I simply am dying to make up. For some reason, post-Christmas is always a very regency time for me. It may have something to do with the fact that several Christmas's ago I received the dvd of Pride and Prejudice and consequently, each year at that time I get into a regency mood again. Plus I have my 18th century stays to keep working on and I also want to make all of us a Tudor outfit (peasant) for a Ren Faire about six months from now (if we go. We'll have to give up a CW reenacmtent to go to it and David still isn't sure if he's willing to do that or not!)

So much to do! So hard to know where to begin. In the meantime, I clean. For one can think and plan quite easily while one cleans and it is always more pleasant to sit down to sewing work when the house is tidy and everything neatly put into its own place.

May you all have a very blessed end of the year!



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1820's Christmas Dress

Today it has rained and rained, slowly and steadily and the rain has washed away nearly all of the snow we received a few days ago. The wind comes from the easterly direction and is warm. I don't think we shall have a white Christmas after all. Rather a brown and gray and silver sort of Christmas, with the wet and damp of the outdoors combated by a warm wood fire and smells of roast duck and cheesecake and cranberry-apple pie and a cut glass punchbowl simply swimming with ruby-red punch that David makes from ginger ale and frozen cranberry juice. (Assuming, of course, that the duck comes out well).

I finished the last of my Christmas gifts and have them all neatly packaged and wrapped. I was very proud of myself to have only to bake something for my grandparents before I was done with all my Christmas preparations. I whipped up a batch of cinnamon swirl bread and baked the two loaves as I have done countless times before. They came out terribly. The taste is excellent but it seems the loaves underwent some sort of writhing and twisting contortions while within the oven. The dough has burst open in some places revealing the brown and sugar crystaled interiors. I just cannot give these to my grandparents. It never fails that when I want to make something especially nice for someone dear to me that the thing I am making turns out wrong. Especially when it comes to cooking and baking. The fudge won't set, the cookies burn, the apples in the pie are still crunchy, the cake has a dip in the middle, you get the idea. Sigh. I will make a batch of my tried-and-true favorite blueberry muffin recipe tonight to give to my grandparents instead of the bread. If they don't turn out it is not my fault. I am under some sort of holiday-baking curse.

I finished my dress today - well, except for the hook and eyes - and am very happy with how it came out. I haven't had a new dress for Christmas for a long time and well, isn't every girl excited to have a pretty new frock to wear for a special occasion? :)
It took me a little while to figure out how I wanted to attach the ruffle. I debated over whether drawing it up over a cord or hemming the top side and attaching it directly to the skirt. At last I decided on a more practical solution that will hold up the best to every day wear and washing in a modern washing machine. I just gathered the ruffle and covered the top edge with a bias band and then turned under and hand stitched the top of the bias band to the skirt. This way I had way less handsewing to do (since I like to handstitch everything that can be seen from the outside) and it is very sturdy. I really like the ruffle. It gives a little added feminine flair and also helps the skirt obtain that characteristic 1820's triangular/gored shape.
The bias band also helps to hide the imperfections of the fabric I used. It was a $1.50 cotton from Wal Marts bargain table and the check is not woven, it is merely printed. The print was not exactly on grain so the lines of the print do not match the straight torn lines at the top and bottom of the skirt as well as the top and bottom of the ruffle. I chose to add the ruffle to hopefully help hide the lines of the print at the plain skirt hem and the bias band to hide the weirdly angling lines of the check where I attached the ruffle.

I decided to make just two bows for the bodice. They are placed slightly down on each shoulder and attached with a safety pin. The belt hooks closed in the back. A lot of fashion plates from the 1820's show gowns heavily trimmed but this is just a plain cotton day dress so I tried to think of something a girl from this area may have done, in a rustic backwoods community, to dress up a plain frock for a special event. The bows and belt seemed like a very simple and easy way to accomplish this and they can easily be removed and reattached whenever the need arises.

The necklace is a wood carved cross pendant on a black linen cord. The two items (cross and cord) were from David to put in my stocking. I decided to put them together and save him the trouble of having to figure it out for himself. :) I like the simplicity of it. And yes, the necklace is going back into his little "stocking goodie" bag so I can get it permanently on Christmas morning.
I am NOT looking forward to sewing on hook and eyes. You know when you reach that point of hand sewing where your fingers are rough and indented with millions of tiny pin and needle pricks and catch on everything you touch? I am at that point now. But I Must Get This Done. I suppose I will work on it while sitting directly in front of the oven watching my muffins with suspicion and passionate eagerness - "Oh, please come out right this time!"
I don't think I'll have time to post again until after Christmas, so I wish all you dear readers a most marvelous and wonderful God-filled day! Merry Christmas!!



Friday, December 18, 2009

Preparations for Christmas

I was startled yesterday to realize it was one week - one week - til Christmas Eve. Where has December gone? It seems like just last week we were looking forward to Thanksgiving. When I was a child, the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to last forever. Now, they are gone in the blink of an eye.
The tree is up, and each day the mailman usually delivers a Christmas card or two from dear friends and beloved family. Each card is duly admired and read and then hung upon our mantle with the others, til Christmas Eve, when they will be taken down and replaced with our stockings.

The boys admire the tree and the lights but have no idea about the presents they will find beneath it on Christmas morning. In some ways, I envy their innocence. They aren't anticipating piles of gifts and when we go to the store they don't even look at the new toys stuffing the shelves. For them, the pretty lights and the fact there is a tree in the house in enthralling and interesting enough. This year, they are old enough to begin to understand about the baby Jesus who was born to save mankind from their sin. We have a sturdy ceramic nativity set that they enjoy playing with very much and the baby Jesus is of course their favorite piece!

As the years of our marriage have brought us children in quick succesion, David and I have not had much time to think about how we want to have Christmas for our family before the babies themselves were in our arms. Some traditions we have done away with (Santa Clause, for example, who is traditional in David's family), some we question and some we embrace. Some we would like to begin but have not done so yet.

This year, we have a tree, though which, perhaps, has it roots in pagan practices, symbolizes to David and I the tree upon which our dear Lord was nailed. His sacrifice was indeed the Greatest Gift, and the Christmas tree, overshadowing all the smaller gifts beneath, is a lovely reminder to us of this fact.

We are not giving slathers of presents to each other. I have mentioned before that Christmas is not my favorite holiday. I do not like the whole modern atmosphere of Christmas because of the focus on finding the "perfect gift", spending large amounts of money and impressing people with hosting grand Christmas parties. So David and I are giving a few toys and gifts to each of the boys and they have gifts from their grandparents as well. For each other, we set a small limit on spending funds and have got each other a few meaningful, useful gifts. We both know what we got for each other but the rule is that we will not be able to see or use our gifts until Christmas day. :)

I have been working on a few homemade gifts for other family members. Here is a sneak peek of a few of them:

"Victorian Roses"
"Autumn Colorsplash"
I have also been slowly working on my dress for Christmas Eve. It is going very slowly as I keep having to postpone work on it for some reason or the other. It is an 1820's style and I think this is the last dress I will make in this style for a little while. It is getting - old. I still really like the overall look, I'm just tired of making dresses with this overall look at the the moment. The process gets so monotonous. Here is the bodice. It is made of a cream and cranberry check cotton with a darted bodice, scoop neckline and piping. The sleeves are bishop sleeves, based on a drawing of different sleeve styles in Patterns of Fashion 1.
Here is the point of construction that I am at now. I have the skirt pinned to the waistband but not sewn on yet. The folded up fabric you see laying on the neck will be an 8" wide ruffle all around the hem. The skirt is made from one 45" wide rectangular panel in the back and three gores in the front. To make the gores I folded a 45" wide rectangle, cut to my preferred hem length, in half and drew out a gore that was appx. 15" wide at the top and 35" at the hem. The two pieces left over after I cut out the center gore I used as side gores. This gives maximum fullness at the hem but a smooth line at the top. I did lightly gather the front of the skirt in case I ever wear this if I am pregnant again. Room to grow is always a good thing!
To finish it, I plan to add the ruffle and trim the top of the shoulders with cranberry taffeta bows with perhaps another bow at the center front neckline and a cranberry taffeta sash or belt. I also just got the Sense and Sensibility Regency Underthings pattern and would love to make a turn back collared chemisette to wear with it from some sheer voile I have.

Once I finish my current projects I hope to make David a few suprise gifts for Christmas. He has asked for a nice handkerchief and a woolen night cap so I think I can get those made for him before Christmas Eve. I recently saw a beautifully hemstitched hem on Sarah A's blog that she is working on a ruffled collar edge. I would love to try out that technique on David's handkerchief. I've been reading online about how to do it but it seems there are at least several different ways to construct this stitch. Does anyone have any tips, advice or links? :)

Have a lovely weekend dear ones!



Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Scrap Quilt for Judah

It once happened, in a doomful and unfortunate time Before Me, that David had a girlfriend by the name of Tabatha.

Early in our marriage David spent several days going through his belongings, digging into the hidden recesses of his closet into dusty and long-forgotten boxes, to remove from his life anything pertaining to this lady. I had felt quite natural feelings of dislike and suspicion towards her and was quite glad to help David in his riddances.

However, even then, I was not so hard hearted or jealous to deny that despite the evil tendencies of this woman (who had inconsiderately claimed my husbands affection for four years prior), she was not completely devoid of usefulness or interest. For she had made David a quilt that I asked him not to get rid of.

It was made all in squares, all in plaids and tied with maroon yarn at the top. It seems she had never finished it completely. It had, in the years of its use, become rather disfigured and worn but I thought it would work well for a spare blanket for reenacting.

We did use it as a spare blanket at reenactments. At home it sat folded up with other spare blankets.
It was a sad and forlorn little blanket until Judah moved from his crib to his toddler bed. At that time he needed a larger blanket and for some reason had an affection for the raggedy plaid quilt. So he has used it all this past year and it has become even more worn and disfigured - but loved.
Last year I made little David a quilt for his 2nd birthday. I wanted to make Judah a quilt for his second birthday but unfortunately the quilt did not materialize as I, as usual, procrastinated.
I have spent the past month or so trying to cut all my scraps into 4" squares. On Tuesday I decided that I had enough cut to make Judah a quilt for Christmas. I pieced eighteen 9-patch blocks with scraps, alternating with plain white squares. I sewed them together 5 x 7 alternating with 17 plain calico squares and then sewed calico sashed around all the edges. I used a big full size sheet for the backing and an old blanket for the middle and tied the corners of each square with dark turquoise colored wool yarn and there it was.
Now Judah has his very own quilt and the poor plaid one can once again be a spare, though I do not know how long it will remain here with us as it is definitely in the final stages of its life.
Now to make one for little Malachi. . .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Romantic Gown ~ Sense and Sensibility Pattern Review ~

I recently had the opportunity to use the Romantic Gown Pattern from Sense and Sensibility to make several dresses for a sweet customer. I have long admired this pattern but never used it until this project. I thought I would review it in case anyone else may have been wondering about it. Not that my thoughts may be particularly helpful, but, well, it’s a post worthy topic. :) And anything post worthy is most welcome since I've been rather neglectful of this poor wee blog as of late.


Sense and Sensibility’s Romantic Gown Pattern, available from

General Description of Style:
This pattern contains several style variations on the typical mid 1820’s - mid 1830’s style dress. The dress is styled in the transitional fashion popular at the time, falling between regency era fashion and Victorian fashion. The gown features a slightly elevated waist, large “leg o mutton” sleeves that are puffy at the top and narrow at the wrist and long full skirts. The pattern also contains a pattern piece for short puff sleeves, suitable for evening wear. There are no skirt pattern pieces. Since skirts of this era can be simply rectangles, directions are given in the pattern for measuring and cutting rectangular skirt panels which are then gathered, pleated or gauged and secured to the waistband of the dress. Variations of style include directions for both front and back opening dresses, different neckline shapes and a collar suitable for the V neck dress. Instructions are also included on how to make a sleeveless “jumper” with the pattern.

Historical Documentation/Accuracy:
The pattern pieces all have a good shape for a basic 1820’s-1830’s style bodice and sleeves. The basic style is documented with photographs of original garments and fashion plates included in the pattern. The skirt instructions are good for a basic rectangular skirt. However, another style appropriate for this time period is a skirt with a smooth or lightly gathered gored front with a gathered back with gored side pieces. This style would probably be more appropriate if you are going for an earlier look. It is easy to measure and cut gored skirt pieces for yourself but the instructions do not include this style.
One thought I had was that the curved side pieces of the bodice back could come in towards the center of the waist more. Rather than having so much space between the two curved seams at the back bodice edge, it would look nicer if, perhaps, there were only a few inches of space between them as I have seen on the majority of the original dresses I’ve seen from this time period. The sleeve seams are called to be matched to the side seam of the bodice. I prefer to match the sleeve seam to a point on the front of the bodice, so the inner sleeve seam is running down the inside of my arm instead of under it.
The construction methods offered in the pattern seem a tad modern. I can’t say if they are inaccurate per se, but I like to construct my own dresses a bit differently with the lining and fashion fabric treated as one and seams overcast or left raw as per original dresses. The instructions call for sewing up the lining and fashion fabric separately and then sewing them right sides together and turning them. I prefer to use a turned self facing for opening edges (front or back) or piping for around the neckline and openings rather than using the method called for. The instructions also call for a center front or center back placket in the skirt. I like to use a center back skirt opening for a back fastening dress but prefer a dog leg closure on a front opening dress to avoid a seam or placket in the center front of the skirt. The instructions also call for the top of the skirt to be gathered along the raw edge and stitched directly to the waistband or bodice. A period method would be to turn under a little of the top of the skirt and attach the folded, finished edge of the skirt to the bodice with small whip stitches. This method makes a very smooth, low bulk waistline rather than having all the gathers or pleats bunched into the waistband.

Although no pattern for piping is provided, the online instructions for this dress do have a link to instructions on how to make piping. Very small self-fabric piping is a very nice period correct touch for bodice and sleeve seams.

Physical Characteristics:
The pattern is printed on heavy white paper and is clearly marked as to size and pattern piece. The pieces fit together well and seem to correspond well to the size measurements given on the size chart. The pattern comes with a thick stack of instruction sheets that clearly explain and illustrate the construction methods given. The pattern envelope is white paper and is illustrated with a group of ladies wearing the different style gowns contained in the pattern.
Technical Characteristics:
One very nice thing about this pattern is that it clearly explains how to make and fit a muslin mock up of the bodice before you cut into your dress fabric. This step is absolutely critical in getting a proper fit and so many patterns leave out this very important step.
The pattern also contains vintage illustrations on how to gaage a skirt. Gauging is beautiful and period correct and it is nice to see this addition and alternative to gathering or pleating.
Final Thoughts:
I would definitely recommend this pattern to anyone interested in making a dress in the 1820’s to mid 1830’s style. The sleeves are a little small for fashionable 1830’s appearance but could be made larger by enlarging the head of the sleeve in length and width, tapering down to the original pattern lines at the lower arm and wrist. In Janet Arnolds Pattern of Fashion 1 there are several diagrams for full gigot sleeves which were at the height of fashion in the early to mid 1830’s, and those can easily be scaled up and used in place of the sleeve pattern included in this pattern if desired.

I made the pictured gowns in the front opening style with the original pattern darted bodice. The bodice is attached to a two inch wide waistband and the skirts are gathered to the waistband and are made of three panels of 45” wide fabric. I set the skirts with a dogleg opening which opens to the left side. Self fabric piping was used at the neckline (pattern “jumper” neckline), armscyes, and on either side of the waistband.
Another lovely pattern by Sense and Sensibility! I think it is a lovely base pattern from which many serious costumers could create beautiful, appropriate gowns, combing outside research on fit and construction and additional style details with the information contained in the pattern. As is, the pattern creates a very passable dress and would be a wonderful and practical style to wear for everyday.