Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blue 1860's Corset and Hey Days Living History

I am finally getting some "finished" pictures of my new reenacting corset. Last year I made a nursing friendly corset that was boned lightly with cable ties and used cable ties and hook and eyes in place of a center steel clasp busk. Malachi is still nursing, but not as much as he used to and is in fact down to a nursing session or two every other day now. :( I figured the time was right to make a new corset. This one is made using the LM Dore pattern and it has a steel busk down the front, which does definitely make a difference in the overall shape as it gives a separation to the bust, whereas the hook and eye closure on my other corset gives more of a monobosom effect. I still used cable ties for the rest of the boning.
I wore it for the first time last weekend at Naperville and experienced some stretching and my bodice kept gapping at the bust point. This problem grew worse as the day went on. All week I have been a little worried that I could not fix this problem. Then I came across some great advice on the Sewing Academy message board from a highly reputed corsetiere, Kay Gnagney. She says: "But I would also suggest trying different chemises - I found that the chemise really influenced how my breasts (D) settled into the corset cups. I have chemises of different styles and cuts and the difference this makes is definitely noticeable; it can add or detract from comfort and fit. . .The chemise is essential to the way a half high corset works, and pulling it down is very important.If it is loose above the corset in the front, when you move, bend over even just a bit, your breasts are able to fall upwards into the pouch created by the loose chemise. And when you stand up, they will not be able to fall back into their proper spot in the corset, NEVER. So now the breasts are uncomfortable posiotioned/squished somewhere at the top edge of the corset or above. Not good."
(in the above picture, the gap at the back is not totally even, but after this picture was taken I tightened up the corset again to make an even gap. My "squishable flesh" is more squishy on the bottom than on the top. :) I tried pulling my chemise down and yesterday had a chance to try out my corset again. After David got home from work yesterday afternoon we made a trip to a little living history encampment our unit was doing. I made sure my chemise was pulled down firmly over everything to keep it in place. I put on my corset before we left and tightened it again about a half hour once I put it on. I then put on my dress. It hooked together well in front. I had only about a 1/4" overlap but it was an overlap! And best of all - no gapping at all during the whole afternoon and evening! Everything stayed exactly where it was placed when I dressed. No stretching of the corset either.
Here are a few more pictures from our living history. I dressed Malachi in a tunic that belonged to David last year. He really should be wearing a dress but I just finished washing and ironing and starching all his petticoats and dresses and didn't feel like having him inevitably get them dirty just for a few hours of wear. Mrs. G. from Pastoral Symphony Farm made this tunic. I love how the colors looked on Malachi; they really set off his eyes. :) David and a licorice stick. He lost a button from his tunic while playing in the sand, but thankfully shell buttons are a dime a dozen and I have a ton of them here. I wish there was a reliable source for reasonably priced china buttons. :( I need to make both boys lighterweight cotton twill hats. It was HOT yesterday! Yet they both refused to take off their wool caps. You know you are a reenactor when your pre-K toddler thinks it is normal to wear wool in the summertime. :)
David and I


Monday, May 17, 2010

Naper Settlement Civil War Days

We got back late last night from our first overnight event of the year and we had a great time. It is rather like waking up from a beautiful dream to leave a fun event and return to the daily grind. Not that the daily grind is terrible, but it is often, for me, like coming back to earth after soaring for a bit above it. I was very glad to feel such disappointment though. It means my passion for living history and reenacting is returning. I am emerging from The Slump.

The reason I didn't enjoy coming home and returning my thoughts to what needs to be done here is because I have been swamped with sewing lately. I told David last night that I will finish what current projects for other people I have but after that I will not take on any new jobs (unless *very* particular friends or family!) :) so I can focus more on my home and family. If any of you dear ladies are full time employees as well as wives and mothers. . .well, my hat goes off to you! Working even part-time on sewing jobs the past few months has been hard to juggle with housework and taking care of the boys. It was so nice to get a few days break from all that and just have fun this weekend.

This was our first year attending the event in Naper Settlement. We went with our Confederate unit, Chesnut Light Artillery and we will definitely be going back next year. The event is, for us, way up north, near Chicago. We usually do not do such northern events but the drive was really not bad (a bit over two hours) and despite a seeming southern/central IL prejudice against nothern IL (often referred to locally as The Great State of Chicago - you have to understand our interesting state politics to understand the bitterness -) I have never been with friendlier or more helpful people in my life.

The event is held in the grounds of a pretty historic town, representing the early settlement which is now the city of Naperville. We didn't get to see all the historical buildings they had there since there were just so many and we didn't have time to go through or look at each one, but we were encamped right next to the church. There was also a schoolhouse, a meeting house, several little shop buildings, a post-office, several homes (including a timber log home) some out buildings and a reconstructed fort. Vendors included the typical sutlers, a wet plate photographer, a pewter smith (is there a certain name for that?) and a shoe shiner. I met some absolutely fabulous ladies who are fellow members of The Sewing Academy. It was one of the highlights of my weekend to talk with them a bit and oh! I was so inspired by all their various lovely clothing to upgrade my own things and make new things. . .it was a visual feast. :) I do not get out very often to talk with other ladies/mothers so it was also wonderful to just visit. Another highlight was talking with a navy guy about navy uniforms and practices. I do think I have a new passion in naval clothing. :) The above photo is of a gentleman I had the pleasure of visiting with for a bit early on Saturday morning. The quilt in the picture is one that he made depicting a wedding quilt made by four girls - one the bride, and three friends of the bride. To do this, the gentleman made this quilt with four different styles of piecing/quilting. Each block is different. He had many other beautiful quilts that he had made, including sanitary commision pattern quilts and a jaw dropping family album quilt that had the names of his personal family (going back hundreds of year!) appliqued onto squares and sewn to a tree motif. When a person in the tree died, he said, their name was moved out of the tree into the graveyard, which was borders round about.
Next to the quilting gentlemans camp was a large Victorian mansion. It had many porches and stairs which the boys loved to play on. Here is Judah on one of the porches. I was so thankful I made their wool coats and brought them. Usually by this time in May it is hot and summer like but we have been experiencing rather cool and wet weather lately. Excuse the little modern red plastic car Judah is holding. :P We went to McDonalds on Friday night to eat after we set up camp and he got this in his happy meal and refused to part with it.
Here is Malachi on the porch with his poor little scuffed toe boots. I don't have a picture of David on the porch. He ran from the camera most of the time.
Here is me on the porch. This is my new red dress which I wore for the first time this weekend. It is a basic gathered style (with the gathers put in as tucks instead) and a V neck for summer wear. I had some problems with the bodice pulling which got worse as the day went on. I wondered if I had made the bodice too tight when I remade it. However, I at last concluded it was my corset (also new) which stretched a bit over the weekend. Hopefully my corset is done stretching. I don't want to keep having to adjust it while I wear it. It is embarassing to have a gapping bodice. This dress was really a practice run on a sleeve style I want to do with my sheer (yes, that same pink and gray plaid sheer I was working on last summer!) I like the fullness of the bishop sleeve but I think the frill at the shoulder ought to be a little wider and cut on the bias so it will drape better. The fabric is red cotton with a small overall white print that David got me for Christmas. I wasn't sure about using the small overall print since most prints of the time were geometrically spaced on the fabric but I did find a few examples of similar prints on the Reproduction Fabric website. And, there *is* actually a repeat in my print though it is hard to tell unless you look at it from a distance.
One of the homes had a beautiful garden around it. Here is a picture from inside of the garden looking out to the village green where the Confederate troops were drilling.
David, ever passionate about growing tomatoes, studies the tomato plants.
We contrived to get a picture of me with all three of my boy-O's. They aren't all looking the same direction and Malachi is indiscreetly inserting his finger into his nose, but, well, at least we are all together. Here, Judah walks towards the post office building across the village green.Back in camp, the boys had lunch. Our weekend of going without a cooler went well. We have gone for day trips just bringing non refrigerated food before but never a whole weekend since David has often wanted "real" cooked food for breakfast, like steak and eggs. This time, however, he was tired of hauling the cooler and trying to keep it hidden within the tent. He was tired of buying ice for it and dealing with soggy food when the ice melted. We brought cinnamon rolls, two loaves of bread, smoked sausage, two blocks of hard cheese (called "Irish Cheese" in our local stores), strawberries, grapes (out of season, I know, so not a terribly authentic choice to bring), molasses cookies, nuts, one dozen hard boiled eggs, unpeeled, and water and jugs of tea to drink. It worked very well and I had no dishes to do, no food to cook and clean up was just brushing off the crumbs! We did not starve and were quite satisfied. Dinner was provided on Saturday night in the church basement. Beef stew, rolls and butter and pie. I can't believe how helpful the food servers were - three ladies helped fill and carry plates for the boys and yet another lady assisted me up the stairway by holding up my skirts so I would not trip!Mr. I-Don't-Want-To-Take-A-Nap. Here a fabulous group demonstrates a lawn party. It was great talking to these talented folks. We even got to talk with a real, honest-to-goodness English gentleman from London.
Later we took the boys to the petting zoo. They so enjoyed seeing the animals and petting them. I pray that someday soon we may be able to get some animals, nothing fancy, just some chickens and perhaps a few goats to start off with. Here is Malachi on Sunday morning. This little green plaid dress was one that Judah wore last year. I can't believe Malachi is big enough to wear it! And I can't believe Judah was small enough to wear it just one year ago! David and I before church service. Judah and Malachi look out over the Confederate camp.David. Mr. I-Don't-Want-To-Take-A-Nap; Sunday afternoon. I had quite a time getting Malachi to take a nap after lunch on Sunday. He was desperately tired but he didn't think so. While I sat on the edge of the bed and sang little songs to the baby, little David came in and leaned on my knee. Two little spectator girls, perhaps ages 8 and 10, peeked in through the door. They smiled. I smiled. Little David went up to them, very close, looked up full into their face and deliberately exclaimed, "Cat Poop!" They looked startled, backed off, and little David, satisfied with his vocal prowess, returned to my knee.
The guys on the gun.
Our camp. David. This is the first shirt I made him using the LM Victorian Mens Shirt pattern. I made a few adjustments per instructions on the Sewing Academy to the pattern to make it period correct (since overall, the pattern style is post-war) and it has a removable, button on white collar. I like the way it looks on him though he is not used to such a collar.
Now the inevitable laundry, pressing and putting away for next time. Billie Creek Village is in another month, and my goal is to have my sheer finished for that as well as my new straw bonnet, which needs to be finished and trimmed. I got it in the mail last week from Pam at Mrs. Parkers Millinery and my goodness, she does exquisite work! I hope my trimming and finishing can do her bonnet justice!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls and A Red Dress

There is nothing quite like finishing a new frock, only to discover that you must pick it apart and remake it. Thankfully, because of my Esteemed Husband, I am quite used to taking apart a garment that is not quite right and remaking it to very particular specifications. Sigh. This time it was the bodice that was giving me problems. I used the paper pattern I traced from my fitted toile a few months ago, but added 2" extra to the front edge to make a turned facing. Well. When I finished the dress and tried it on yesterday I found that I hadn't needed to add the 2" extra. I had already included enough for a turned facing when I traced my toile. The finished bodice was too large across the chest, causing ghastly vertical folds of fabric. The waistline was also too large. So I had to take the bodice apart and cut down the front openings, take off the collar, redo the neckline piping and take off the whole skirt and reset it and cut the waistband down a bit.
Still, there is a secret, wild, exultant joy that comes with remaking something. A feeling of intense satisfaction of knowing a garment will be made right and will be finished instead of tossed into a deep dark closet with other projects of uncertain success. I still have to finish adding (again) the hooks and then I need to work buttonholes and make covered buttons for the cuffs and add a wee frill to each sleeve cap but that should be the work of an hour, perhaps. It will be done today. Which is good, since I need to wear it this weekend.
I also need to make a double batch of cinnamon rolls to take with us. Several dear commenters mentioned the cinnamon rolls I talked about briefly in a recent post. Here is my favorite recipe for cinnamon rolls. (And I've tried lots!) The original recipe calls for making the dough in a bread machine and cutting them into mini cinnamon rolls. I always double the recipe and make big size cinnamon rolls instead and, of course, I make the dough the good old fashioned way since I do not have a bread machine.

Maple Cinnamon Rolls
  • 1 and 1/3 c. milk

  • 2/3 c. maple syrup (note: due to sometimes not having enough grocery money to spend on real maple syrup, I've also used the fake Aldi stuff and though the flavor is not as wonderful as the real thing it is still very good).

  • 2/3 c. soft butter

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 6 c. flour

  • 2 pkg. yeast (I buy yeast in bulk, so um, dump in what looks to be about right) :)


  • 1 c. packed brown sugar

  • 4 TB flour

  • 3 TB cinnamon

  • 1 stick cold butter


  • 1 cup powdered sugar

  • 3 TB butter, melted

  • 3 TB maple syrup

  • 1 to 2 TB milk


In a saucepan, warm milk, syrup and butter til butter is melted - do NOT boil. Cool to a warm temperature beneficiant to yeast (I do this by feel; there MUST be a scientific temperature for putting yeast into liquid but I do not know what it is). When nicely warm to the touch, put in yeast.

Stir in eggs and salt. Mix in 3 cups of flour. Add enough remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto board or floured counter and knead for 10 minutes. Pat dough into ball, place on greased platter and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour.

Punch dough down and divide into two. Roll each ball into a rectangle, appx. 12" x 18" (very appx.!) Combine filling ingredients in bowl, cut in butter to make a crumbly mixture. Spread filling evenly over rectangles of dough. Roll up each rectangle into a fat log.Cut each log in half, then cut each half into 5 rolls. (I know it makes a weird number of rolls - 20 - but it is what works best for me). Place 15 rolls on a baking sheet. The remaining 5 rolls put into a seperate baking sheet. Cover and let rise for forty minutes.
Preheat oven to 375. Bake rolls for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and top with a clean towel. (if you don't do this the rolls will get hard on top). Let rolls cool beneath towel while you make the icing.

Combine the confectioners sugar, melted butter and syrup in a bowl. Add in enough milk for desired consistency. Spread over warm rolls and let rolls cool, uncovered, completely. When cool put into an air tight container.

These will be our breakfasts this weekend! We are going cooler-less. :) David finally got fed up with hauling it.



Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Springtime Ball Gown Costume

Happy May!! :D

It is pleasant to sew in the afternoons, though with spring coming upon us it is getting harder and harder to stay indoors! Still, it is necessary to get projects finished up. And this week we have had a colder spell and what with that and the wind it has been no very great loss to spend a few hours each day in the sunshine of the west bedroom - a.k.a. the "office/sewing room".

The past few weeks I've been working with a lovely lady who came to me with a finished skirt, a bolt of fabric and a desire for a ballgown bodice to wear to dances. The person who made her skirt was not able to make her bodice also so we had a few sessions of fittings, sketching and deciding on styles. In the end, we made two bodices that can be worn with the same skirt. One has a shallow scoop neckline with puff sleeves and the other has a squared neckline with loose bell sleeves. The lady desired her sleeves to be about elbow length. The fabric is a beautiful teal colored material with satin stripes and a geometric pattern of fern-like sprigs. The finished bodices and the skirt are more "costume" than "reproduction clothing" but I have enjoyed making some of these types of gowns for several local ladies. There are several local dance performance groups where the goal is a lovely appearance and good dancing. Strict authenticity not required. :)
Believe it or not, I ended up using Sense and Sensibility's Romantic Era Gown pattern for these bodices. It is against copyright laws to use most commercial patterns in paid dressmaking but Mrs. Chancey has graciously given permission for home dressmakers to use her patterns to make clothing to sell without a licensing fee. Sense and Sensibilty patterns are usually pretty good with sizing (the only issues I've had before with their gown patterns is a gappy neckline, but I think that is a personal fitting issue rather than anything wrong with the pattern itself!) and are a good base to start from when you don't want to drape a pattern from scratch. I cut the pattern for a back closing bodice and added a lot of extra length the front bodice so we could make a pointed front. With a combination of draping and drafting and an hour or so of fitting we came up with a good base pattern. Instead of using darts to fit the bodice I drafted the darts into a single princess seam that comes from the neckline down across the point of the bust to the waist. This helps create a very smooth fitted line, helps accentuate the feminine curve of the bosom and helps give the fashionable appearance of a tiny waist. As usual the bodices are flatlined with white cotton and the fronts are boned.

The puff sleeve bodice is trimmed simply with an airy ruffling of lace around the sleeve cuffs and also around the neckline. A matching teal satin ribbon drawstring is run through eyelets in the neckline ruffle to draw it up against the skin to prevent accidental glimpses down the front of the bodice! This particular bodice is my favorite. It is so sweet and old fashioned and feminine.
The other bodice is more smooth and tailored in line. The sleeves fit rather closely around the upper arm and then flare out in a graceful curve at just below elbow level. The trim is also more sleek and tailored than the other bodice. Flat lace and braid trim is applied around the neckline, sleeve edges and along the front princess seam lines.
I think this lady will be quite eye catching in this lovely color! It is the perfect fabric and hue for springtime dances, I think.