Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New Style of Corset - 1860's

The blue twill corset I made last year was worn, literally, to pieces. I managed to make it work for the last Civil War function we attended, last November, but it is really impossible to make it work again. Plus, due to the fact I have lost some weight, and the corset has stretched, has caused there to be almost zero "gap" in the back. Major discomfort.

I debated making a new corset using my beloved Laughing Moon Dore corset pattern, which I have used the past five years. I picked up Simplicity 2890 at a 99 cent pattern sale a few months ago though, and having heard good things about it, decided to try something new.

Simplicity 2890 consists only of two main pieces - a front and a back - and the major shaping for the bust and hips is achieved through the use of eight gussets. This corset was designed by famous corsetiere Kay Gnagney of Originals-by-Kay and she has posted some helpful advice in fitting and making this corset over at The Sewing Academy.

Following her helpful advice, I chose and cut the size I thought would best fit me. One thing I had to take into consideration was the cup size. From what I've read, this Simplicity pattern is designed for an A or B cup. Gusset size is easily changed and very customizable, so I just made my own bust gussets for fit. They ended up shorter and more "petal" shaped than the ones in the pattern. Each persons gussets will be different from someone else's.

Besides the gussets, the only thing I had to change on the pattern was taking in a bit of width from the front hip gusset and taking in the side seam at the top a bit. That's it! I'm used to drastically having to alter patterns to fit me so I was pleasantly suprised to find how good of a fit I got with this pattern right off.

This corset seems so little compared to past ones I have made. There is not much to it. It is short and curvy and the waistlines hits at the bottom rib. My last corset was mildly uncomfortable after hours of wear because it dug into my waist, which I had positioned at the smallest portion of my waist. My lower ribs are wider than my waist, but it is a period placement for the waistline. I could already tell a huge difference between the fit and feel of my last corset and the mock up of this one.

I have my shell all sewn up and am awaiting the boning and busk so I can finish it up. I am trying to make this as inexpensively as possible so the corset is 2 layers of stash fabric. The inner layer is white cotton duck left over from a project last year and the outer layer is gray linen. I know that linen was not commonly used by the time of the American Civil War but I chose the fabric I had that had the least amount of stretch and were the most firmly woven.

After this I have a new ballgown to make before a dance and dinner on April 9th. I hope I can get it all done before then!


Monday, March 28, 2011

Vintage Pattern Goodness

On St. Patrick's Day David and I enjoyed a rare afternoon out, alone. He had taken the day off work to attend a parade with our Civil War reeancting unit, but due to various situations, our unit did not end up marching in the parade so we were left with a whole day of our own. We spent the morning with the boys at the park and after lunch their grandmama came over to watch them while David and I went out.

We decided to go antique shopping, then see The King's Speech and after that we went out to dinner. It was a lovely time and the movie was awesome. Talk about 1930's fashion inspiration! Besides that, a great plot and great actors and it was just all around enjoyable.

We found a lot of interesting things at the antique mall but with our usual reluctance to fork over $$ for things we don't really need we did not buy much. We did come away with a few goodies, though. A wooden ark with wooden animals and a wooden Noah for $10, to bring to reenactments this year, and a few vintage patterns for $1.25. I bought a bundle of women's patterns and a bundle of children's patterns.

The best were the girls pattern from the mid 1950's. Oh! So cute. I told David that if we ever have a little girl, she will wear dresses like these. :)

The ladies patterns were mostly an assortment from the 70's and early 80's, but there were a few pretty ones. I love the Gunne Sax looking pattern, and the yellow halter top pattern (perhaps without the possibly ridiculous collar) could be made into a very cute sundress by attaching a skirt at the slightly raised waistline. I can think of all sorts of cute sundresses with ruffled skirts, tiered skirts and floaty circular skirts. :) (Speaking of halter tops, what DO you wear beneath one? I cannot imagine wearing a strapless bra all day long as they constantly fall down and need hiking up. . .) The nice thing about these patterns is that they are all sized to fit me, or nearly so.

I haven't been sewing much lately but I need to get my bum in gear this week. Our first Civil War event is in three weeks and I need a new corset and my hoop skirt needs a renovation before it is wearable. Actually, in two weeks we are planning on going to a dinner and ball so I will need both before then! And perhaps a new dancing dress.

Can you believe it is almost APRIL? Alas! This spring is merrily flying by, it seems.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Buttons Can Be Expensive

I have not been in the mood to sew at all lately. At least, things that I NEED to sew and finish up. I have many different projects in my head that I want to start now, (tunics, regency dress, 1860's corset, 1930's dresses for spring wardrobe, Easter outfits for the boys) but I know that I would feel overwhelmed and worse if I had half a dozen projects at various stages of completion littering my sewing table. First things first.

So, I have been trying to get David's breeches done. They are SO close to being done. Buttons and buttonholes and that's it. Last Saturday we went to Jo Anns to look for appropriate buttons. I was going to cheat and use the modern covered button kits to make the 15 buttons I need for David's breeches. But when we realized that it would cost nearly $15 for the flimsy metal bits to  put the buttons together, I balked. The fabric used cost less than $4. I was not going to spend $15 for non-historically-correct buttons. So we went to Menards and I got a packet of 18 metal washers for less than $2. I've been working on covering the washers with fabric discs and sewing around the middle to hold the fabric in position around the washer. So far I've made 9 of these, and they are attached to the breeches by a thread shank. I don't know how long they will hold up but they are quite similar (sans washers) to the buttons I've made for our medieval clothing, which are holding up beautifully. . .I guess time will tell!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Paint in the Kitchen

I am absolutely sore and exhausted today, but it is a good feeling. Between Monday and Tuesday I was able to get the cabinets and the walls painted in the kitchen and sore ankles are worth it. ;) I think I only sat down  yesterday to eat an orange, check the email once or twice and change Malachi's diaper. But, it is done.

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Since we moved here a year and a half ago I have gone through agonizing mental pains in trying to decide what color to paint the kitchen. It tends to be a dim room, despite the two windows, since it looks out to the north and west. I thought and thought, got paint samples and taped them to the walls, tried to think of what would look pleasing with the paint color of the living room and dining room, etc. etc. I think I was overthinking it.

I went to the thrift store on Saturday and found two lace valances that had a pale silvery-blue ribbon woven in at the top. The kitchen was the only room in the house that had not yet received curtains so I brought the valances home. I decided I really loved the silvery blue color so on Monday we went out and got paint in a similar hue; called "Sea Scent".

Now that it is on the walls, it is a little darker than I had imagined. But it is so fresh, and clean, and airy. I love it. I got a semi gloss finish for scrubbability and to help reflect the light, and to help bring more light in I hung an old mirror on the wall. It does help open the room up tremendously.

I can't believe how much a few dollars worth of paint can make a room come to life. I have hated cooking in this kitchen and have been embarassed to have people over and in it since the walls were so streaky with lime green paint, stained, chipped, etc. Now I won't mind at all if people want to hang out in the kitchen with me - since it does seem to be a popular gathering place when we have company! The thing I really can't believe is that I have wasted a year and half trying to find the "perfect" paint color before I did this. Why, oh why? 

The boys seem to like it. Judah kept telling me I was "doing a good job, Mommy" yesterday while I worked on painting. David was excited to see the green paint go "bye-bye" (and so was I!) and Malachi runs through the kitchen with his blankie in tow screaming "Blue! Blue! Blue!"

You know, Mr. Malachi, that this color almost exactly matches your big eyes with their innocent gaze.

Of course, you and I both know that the innocent gaze you have is nothing but a big, fat cover up. But we won't tell. Everyone else can think you are an angel. I won't blow your cover, little dude.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Regency Breeches for David - Progress Report #1

After watching "Master and Commander" this weekend and going through three mocks up of breeches, I finally set to work on this interesting garment for David's regency ensemble.

I started out with the 1775 two-piece leg breeches diagram from The Cut of Men's Clothes. Using David's measurements, I drew out the pattern, trying to get the shape as similar to the ones in the book as possible. In the end, we were left with this pattern, taken from the last mock up: (yes, David looked very cute in blue floral breeches but he would die of embarassment if I posted a photo of him wearing these).

So I cut the breeches out on Monday and started sewing them together yesterday. This is definitely a learning process. All the little pattern pieces I had to create as I went (and they were soon after hopelessly scattered everywhere due to the fact little David thought that he could "help" me by drawing letters, staircases and little houses all over them). The more complicated parts are now done since I wanted to get them out of the way first - the pockets, and the fall front. I am so glad I have had so much practice making these kinds of pockets for David's 1860's wardrobe. The fall front scared me, but now I have a much better understanding of how it works and I think that will also help hugely in my understanding of how a regency era apron or bib front dress works.

These practice breeches are made of some heavier weight cotton fabric, in a brownish-yellow color. If they turn out wearable David can use them for informal daywear, I suppose. I have some pretty pale gray heavier weight linen to make a prettier pair and I can change a few things on those that I don't particularly like about these. (for instance, the curve of the crutch seam on the leg front - I think it should fairly straight until it reaches the curve of the crutch rather than gently sloped like it currently is, for a flatter appearance on the body).

I owe a ton of thanks to Suzi Clarke as well as Dawn Luckham (both members of the S&S board) for helping me figure out how to make these. . .I never could have done this without their great advice and tips.

So, this is where I'm at in my construction process! The buttons you see in the pictures are not the ones I will be using as I will be making covered buttons, but I wanted to get an idea of the placement and how it will look. I have a lot of finishing work to do. . .


Monday, March 7, 2011

Quickie Weekend Quilt-Top

A few weeks ago my mother in law came by and handed me a plastic grocery bag. It was one of her thrift store "finds". She is the Queen of Thrift and finds amazing deals. This one was a 3 yard length of high quality green and white polka dot cotton. It was lovely. Into my head sprang a dozen potential uses for this pretty cloth and I decided soon after to make a tunic for Malachi from it.
A few days later I was happily cutting and pinning a little tunic, experimenting with a new design. I had pleats pinned at the shoulders and the waist and had lightly sprayed the fronts with starch. I lifted my iron, tested its warmth and pressed the fabric, finding satisfaction in the smooth, crisp folds of fabric that emerged from beneath the iron as it slid over the pleats.
Then I stopped. I sniffed. Something was dreadfully wrong. That strange aroma - what was it? I kept pressing and the smell got stronger and stronger. I set the iron down and went around the house looking for something on fire. It was some kind of a smoke that I was smelling and I feared the boys had put something into the oven and turned it on. But all was well, so I came back to the ironing board. I started to press again but the smell was overpowering by now. Finally, I clutched up the fabric and pressed it to my nose. THAT was it, then. And then my mind flooded with recognition. Cigarette smoke.
I have nothing in particular against cigarettes nor the people who smoke them. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories embrace the scent of cigarette smoke. I was fathoms deep in love with my Grampie as a little girl and was never happier than when I was sitting with him at his house as he read the paper, putting on The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show for me to watch while he took in the news, or going out with him to "the shed" where he kept the mower; a place heavy with the smell of gasoline and oil with a hard packed, dirt floor. And Grampie smoked cigarettes. In fact, he always lingeringly smelt of tobacco, aftershave and money. To this day I cannot smell a dollar bill without thinking of Grampie. But while cigarette smoke on Grampie may be nostalgic and sentimental, it is absolutely unappealing on fabric. (And to anyone interested, Grampie gave up cigarettes altogether a very long time ago and has never gone back. I'm proud of him.)
I found myself in a bind. I washed the fabric and dried it, but the smell was still there, subtle and sinister unless exposed to warmth and then POUF - the smell came out in full force. I would have to throw it away. But 3 yards of beautiful fabric? The fabric hoarder in me screamed at the thought.
I stuffed it in a bag with old clothing waiting to be cut down into quilt squares and thought about it. Or, to be honest, I didn't think about it. But I knew it was there if I wanted it, and I could no longer smell it since it was in a bag.
This weekend I was chomping at the bit to sew something. I didn't sew at all last week (well, except for some throw pillows for the boys beds but that doesn’t really count). I am prone to, at random times, tear scrap fabric that is not big enough to make any thing with into 4" squares. I have several plastic gallon size bags stuffed with these 4" cotton squares and whenever I want to make a quilt top, I can dip into the pile. Judah and Malachi both got quilts made from this 4" square collection and I made my mom a table runner last Christmas with these - since they were already ready and waiting to be sewn, it took me only two hours to make it.
So on Saturday I wanted to make something. I got out my bags of 4" squares and looked through them. I had some pretty pink squares (but not many) and quite a few tan and white striped squares. Green would be nice to set off those colors. . .and my mind leaped to the polka dot fabric, stewing in the bag. I got it out. I sniffed it. I couldn't detect any cigarette odors right off. I tore the fabric into a lot of 4" wide strips, then pressed the strips, and tore them into 4" squares. When I pressed the fabric, I could indeed smell the odor once more but it didn’t seem as potent as before. I laid out a block with the green, striped and pink squares and I thought it looked all right.
In the end, I had just enough of the pink and striped squares to make fifteen 9-patch blocks. I am a lazy quilter and do not feel any guilt about boosting the size of a quilt top by alternating plain squares with pieced squares. The printed fabric for the plain squares came from a yard of very nice home dec cotton fabric I got at Mission Mart for 50 cents. I ended up with thirty blocks altogether and set them 6 x 5. If I had had enough blocks to set them 7 x 5 the quilt top would have ended up large enough for a twin size bed, but as it is, it will make a very adequate nap or "throw" quilt. I'm hoping that with the green fabric being surrounded by different fabrics, the cigarette odor will be dispersed and un-concentrated. I can't really smell it anymore. I'm very glad I saved this fabric, now.
The best part about this method of quilt making is that it costs so little. One reason I never got into quilting before is because fabric is so expensive and I just can't afford $50 worth of cotton for a twin size quilt top. But by using the scraps that are available, the quilt tops I've made have cost nothing. I use a blanket for the middle and, usually, a sheet for the backing so the cost for a completed quilt is never more than $5 or so. I can get nice, soft, worn blankets at the thrift shop for next to nothing and there are usually very nice sheets to be had which, with a good hot washing, work great as the back.
Another nice thing about sewing quilt tops with 4" squares is that it is FAST. This one took me a few hours to sew up. A nice Saturday afternoon project. And as quilts usually have names, this one will be "Memories of Grampie - Springtime and Cigarettes".

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Medieval Shoes - Venturing into Footwear

I have been sewing historic clothing for over ten years now. That doesn't seem like very long, but it is interesting to look back and see how I have progressed - in either good, or bad ways - since then. For one thing, I no longer get the "big picture". That's sad. It really is. I spend so much time worrying about details that if I see a picture of someone wearing something I have made, I usually have a moment of shock and think "Oh? Did I really make that? I don't remember it looking like that!" If I make a new dress, instead of enjoying the overall look and feel of it, I worry about a certain buttonhole which may not be perfectly in line with the others. Or slightly more gathers on one side of the bodice than the other.

I blame David for this. It is all his fault. When we got married and I began to sew for him, he was very particular about the details. The first frock coat I made him I had to remake several times. He was young and selfish and demanding. I was young and selfish and full of sinful pride about how I could make anything for him, anything at all. I was eager to show off my skills and make my husband proud of me. Admittedly, the First Frock was really not very good. He was picky about it, and although I knew it was lacking, I wanted him to like it anyway, just because I made it. We both learned some lessons, with tears and yelling and, I admit, throwing uniform pieces upon the floor and stomping upon them in defiance. My, my. The immaturity of 19 and 20.

Now, it seems, we have both softened a great deal. I realize now just how far I have come from my beginning attempts at historic clothing and just as soberly realize how far I have yet to go. David has learned to enjoy the "big picture". But now I am worrying about the details.

So, of course, I love to think of the details in a particular outfit from a particular era. Shoes are something that can really make or break a good impression (at least, for me) and they are often one of the most expensive items to purchase if you are buying ready-made.

A month or so ago I began to seriously think about medieval shoes. At our last event, I wore my leather Victorian repro boots. They weren't glaringly bad, but they weren't right, either. The boys wore whatever dark colored, unobtrusive shoes I could come up with. So they didn't look right, either.

I did some research and read some articles about shoe making and decided that it sounded rather simple, after all. I decided on a very simple shoe shape from Marc Carlsons site,  Footwear of the Middle Ages. A simple, one-piece upper and a sole, with an opening at the side for lacing. You can see this design here: Side-Laced Shoe. I had the hardest time figuring out if the lacing was on the inner foot or outer foot. I experimented, and discovered that I preferred the inner lacing as I was able to shape the opening to acheive a better fit on the inner foot. I still don't know which is the right way or if it even matters at all. Suggestions?

I referred heavily to James Barkers great article on shoe and pouch making from Historic Life. I traced a basic sole for my foot, being careful to trace just exactly where the skin of my foot came in contact with the ground, or else the sole would be too big. I measured and eyeballed to come up with an upper shape, and then sewed the pieces together out of some heavy fabric as a mock up. I went through three mock ups before I got a nice, tight-fitting shoe that hugged the foot all around but left enough room in the toes for comfort. I also extended the sole to make a pointed (must of modest length) toe. I have to have a pointed toe, you know! It's one era of history where the pointy toe like this was in.

After my mock up was made and fitted to my satisfaction, I realized I didn't have enough leather on hand to make shoes for myself. I had odd scraps in various sizes of thin black and red leather, and heavier leather for soles, but not enough for an adult sized pair of shoes. I found out that there was a Tandy leather store close by so David promised to take me some weekend so I could find leather for my shoes. Well, one thing or another has come up so we haven't been able to get to the leather store yet. But let me continue.

I decided to make a child size shoe since I had enough leather for that. I started with Judah since he has the largest foot of all the children. Once he outgrows these, they will fit someone else - or so I thought. Now I am really thinking that there is no such thing as standard sizes for shoes like this. They are made to fit one individual and it's a matter of chance and luck if they will fit another person too.

So I made Judah's pattern in the same way that I made mine. Mock ups were gone through and perfected. I cut out the leather and began sewing it together. I finished sewing one leather upper to one leather sole and turned it and, my shining hopes and dreams fell and shattered when I tried the shoe on him. For some reason, the sole came out way too wide at the heel and although he can wear the shoe and keep it on, the heel slips up and down. That can't be comfortable.

I put the shoes and patterns away for a while and pulled them out again just this morning. I think I am ready to tackle this again. Amy from A Day in 1862 recently completed a darling pair of 1860's leather shoes for her little girl, so she has inspired me to give it another go. Amy, you are majorly inspirational!

I wish I could stick to one era of costuming but that is just impossible! My mind is once again filled with kirtles and tunics and veils and happy thoughts of events this summer. :)


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wrapping My Brain Around Breeches

I am not doing any sewing this week. I am prepping my kitchen for a much needed painting and trying to, generally, de-clutter and tidy things up in preparation for spring. The kitchen is my main concern right now, though.

I love this house, but whoever made the kitchen was lacking in common sense. Or perhaps it was a non-domestically-inclined man, who was not acquainted with the peculiar needs and desires of one who spends a great deal of time in food preparation. A room which would, if left open, be fairly large enough, but with the addition of an oddly shaped "peninsula" has made it so that whomever is in the kitchen is required to walk awkwardly round the jutting out counter top to reach anything at all - cupboards, refrigerator, sink. The whole thing was paneled at some point in the dim past and the cupboards are plain, and made of, probably, a type of plywood, perhaps laminated on the outside. To update this, some one, at some point, probably quite a while ago, splashed a lot of lime colored paint onto the paneling (getting a lot on the trim and the ceiling in the process) and slapped some white paint on the cupboards. White paint which, when scrubbed, comes off. It is in dire need of a good paint job with good quality paint. Then, at least it will look better and feel fresher and I won't mind the awkward arrangment so much.

So while I scrub and throw away things I think about David's regency outfit. The Cut of Mens Clothes finally came in at the library so I've been spending a few smuggled moments reading through the book and gulping hasty cups of coffee. I love it. (the book that is, not the coffee, although I am very fond of coffee) I need it. This book is Gold.

Before I make the tail coat (which I am most excited about, I must say) I first need to make the garments that will be worn beneath it. I have fabric for two sets of breeches on hand and am trying to figure out completely exactly how breeches are put together before I start cutting. The shape seems simple. It's just all the finishing details I am not sure of.

Note: The above image is from Please see this fab site for other gorgeous original examples!

I absolutely love how this book gives tantalizing excerpts from period tailors manuals. I loved this in particular:

"When the cloth is laid before you, do not omit to have recourse to the plate of the analysis of coats, and pay particular respect to the separated parts, the different modes and turnings that they effect. . .After you have sufficiently digested the plates, and your cloth being before you, mark down the back seam, as the plate directs, adn strike the shape of the back upon the cloth, bearing teh same similarities as the plate, and take care it answers to your measure in every part."  - The Taylor's Complete Guide 1796

I read it and had to read it again a few times before I dimly understood it. But now I'm very relieved to discover that my method of pattern making may not be too far off the mark. I'm very prone to taking diagrams and pattern shapes and making patterns based on those, substituting my own measurements (or those of the person I'm sewing for) to make the shape of the pattern. I never grade up patterns since I'd have to modify it anyway, so why not just start out with a good idea of the shape you are going after and use your own measurements for that? I was also glad to know I may not be absolutely insane and crazy and obsessed for going over, in  my mind, each particular pattern piece required and mentally putting them together to see what the finished garment will look like. Modifying a shape or angle here, adding to a piece there, to get the desired effect. It's so much easier and more practical to do all this mentally than to go through many many mock ups and time to get the right shape. It's probably because I can be abominably lazy, but, well, it is what I do.

So I have been researching breeches and trying to wrap my head around them. I came across this link to a pair of extant breeches c. 1790-1820. I am really appreciative of these photos being put online. They help SO much with knowing how to go about putting David's breeches together. Once I figure out the placket for the fall front (which, to me, seems difficult since the placket only extends the length of the slit front, and not to the underlap portion which is finished off by the underlap pieces being sewn on) I will go ahead and get started.

Anyone have good tips or links for an amatuer breeches maker?

Happy March to you all,