Friday, June 29, 2012

1860's Sheer Summer Shawl

This week has been unreasonably hot. Now, I know that June is quite often very hot but this week it seems to be hotter than average. Weeks like these are the only time I think that there may be some grains of respectability in the theory of global warming. But I should rectify my complaint. The first few days of the week were perfect. Low humidity, mid-70's, a cool low-50's at night. Perfect for enjoying everything about summer and for cuddling with your Loved One under blankets at night as the cool breezes blow in from the open windows. Then suddenly, the temperature jumped to around 100 degrees and the humidity is unbearable.

We have an 1860's event this weekend, although now, as it has fallen out with several other 1860's events this year, it looks like we may be staying home. This time, simply because of the projected 99 degree weather (with a chance of thunderstorms) we will experience this weekend. Still, earlier this week when we were still tentatively planning on attending I was working to get our clothes ready and since I knew it would be hot and that for several days I would be holing up in the house with the air conditioning running full blast, I thought it would be nice to make a summer weight shawl to use at the event since the only ones I currently have are heavier and more appropriate for cooler weather.

I stopped at Wal Mart on Wednesday and found some really lovely sheer cottons in their clearance/value fabric section. $2.50 a yard! I bought three yards of a sheer white-with-blue-stripe cotton and yesterday made my shawl.

It is sewn completely by hand. Not on purpose but because that is just how it worked out. The three yards of fabric were just enough for a 45" square for the base of the shawl and the remaining yardage was cut into 6" wide bias strips to edge the square.

I decided to hem the enormous bias ruffle by hand. #1: It looks better. #2: I woke up around 4 a.m. yesterday morning and couldn't go back to sleep so I employed the time between then and the men-folk waking up in hemming the ruffle. I was exhausted by the time they got up but at least the ruffle was hemmed!

Always alert for shortcuts, I turned up a narrow hem on the 45" square, to the outside. Then while the boys and I watched Sarah, Plain and Tall yesterday afternoon I gathered and attached the ruffle to the shawl, effectively gathering, tacking the gathers and hemming the square all at the same time! I took about 4 running stitches on my needle 1/4" down from the top hem on the bias ruffle. I drew them up, and then took a backstitch to attach the gathered section of ruffle to the hem of the square.

I love having a frilly, lightweight wrap to use now, although I may have to wait til our next planned event in late August to actually wear this. But I am still praying the weather will cool down so we can go for at least part of the day tomorrow to our event. There will be dinner and a dance and dear friends to visit with. We'll see! I have always thought, though, that no events should take place in June or July unless it cannot be helped. They can be torturous months in the midwest!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Regency Project: Apron ~ Skirt and Finishing

The apron is done. It is June 26th. I made it. I did it, with four days to spare. Woo-ha. Now that certainly will inspire me to get next month's project done *early* in the month! Because, who knows, maybe sometime in the late part of next month I'll be kinda occupied with a new little person. (Although, knowing my luck, she won't appear til the latest possible date sometime in late August! Which would totally stink because we have two events late next month to attend and I'd prefer to be somewhat comfortable by that time. . .)

So anyway, to pick up where I left off, we start with the skirt. I don't know the actual dimensions of the skirt. I just eyeballed it. It is a plain rectangle and I hemmed it narrowly on the sides and with a 1.5" hem at the bottom. As per usual, I did all the stitches that will show from the outside by hand:
I decided to leave the front of the apron flat as it seemed to be more flattering than having gathers or pleats all the way across. The extra fullness in the width of the apron was taken up in three pleats on either side, and the waistband was sewn to the top edge:

Then the bib was sewn on:

To finish the waistband on the inside, I cut a strip of white cotton and sewed it to the outer waistband, creating a facing. This also helps strengthen the waistband and prevents it from stretching.

And lastly, to fasten the back, I sewed on two hook and eyes:

I TOTALLY love this apron! It works just as well over modern clothes as it does over period garments and it covers everything that normally would get stained. I am pretty sure I am going to be making another one to use for modern life. The two aprons that get rotated in my kitchen are sadly past their prime.

If David will condescend to aid me, I will get pictures up of the finished apron in the next day or so. The timer on the camera stopped working earlier today so I need an extra set of hands! Maybe I can even convince David to dress up in his regency clothes for a few pics as well. ;) What wife does not love seeing her hubby dressed in handsome period attire? It's so much easier to imagine oneself a Jane Austen heroine if one has a dressed up man as an accessory.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

June Regency Project: Apron ~ Bib and Bands

It is a bit disheartening to go from grand plans of a sheer and elegant white gown to the lowly apron. However, this month, it was just not practical to do the gown I had in mind. That will have to wait for a different month. (maybe September? Likely not til after the baby arrives.) The days are flying away from me and with other commitments and projects and many hours spent outside every day my sewing time has not been excessive lately.

So, an apron seemed like a good idea this month as it would require very little by way of materials and would not take long to stitch up. 

I have found it rather difficult to find much information on aprons during the regency era. I liked the ones I've seen in several Jane Austen movies (like Sense and Sensibility) but movies aren't documentation, obviously. I found Bethany's post about regency aprons quite helpful. I especially liked this painting, which shows a long, ample apron that appears to have a bib front, and shoulder straps and a waistband that fastens in the back. 

As Bethany pointed out in a later post showing her gorgeous reproduction apron, this style of apron really does look quite a bit like the aprons from Sense and Sensibility!

Since I felt guilty that this project was going to be so quick and simple I tried to think of a way to dress it up a bit. I decided to take some inspiration from the 1798-1805 gown from Patterns of Fashion 1. I have always admired the tucked bib on this dress and so decided my apron needed a tucked bib, too!

The bib from the original dress is cut on the bias, with the tucks being sewn on the straight. I was using scraps of linen left over from cutting out the last batch of baby diapers for the bib and bands so I didn't have a piece of linen big enough to cut the bib on the bias. So I cut it on the straight and made the tucks on the bias. There are three groups of three tucks and I am not totally happy with how they came out since obviously, bias stretches and it was hard to get everything to lay flat and be crisp and even. However, it is just the nature of bias to be slinky like that so I will have to live with it. 

I made a narrow band for the top of the bib and two side bands, which, although it corresponds to the aprons in Sense and Sensibility, is also seen on the bib of the original gown. I like the framing qualities of the bands. It helps improve the wobbly uncertainty of the bias tucks. 

The apron skirt is up next. It is cut to be quite long and will have some fullness across the front, although I'm not sure if I will take up the fullness in pleats at the side and leave the center front flat, or if I will use tiny pleats or gathers all the way across. I have to hem the skirt first and hopefully by then I will know what to do!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

In the Spring of the Year You Were Born. . .

Dear Little Anne,

The spring of the year you were born was a beautiful spring. In March, the winter winds faded and green mists draped the branches of the trees and crept into the brown earth, whispering words of life to it. Soon, millions of tiny flowers and baby grass stems pushed their way up through the dirt to see the sunshine, which smiled on them.

In the spring of the year you were born your brothers were little boys and every day they would stop their rough boy-play to press their ear against my belly, where you were growing into a beautiful woman-child. Sometimes you would move and they would feel you move and they would ask me how much longer it would be until you were born. Your influence on your brothers was gentling and tender, even though you were not here yet.

In the spring of that year your brothers loved to look for flowery things; in the clipped green yard, in the herb garden, in the pastures where the grasses were allowed to grow tall and wild. They would bring me their findings with smiles and quiet words of wonder at each delicate stalk, or thin-veined petal. They asked if you, too, would like flowers. And I felt you move in my belly, and I said yes.

So they spent one morning in that spring looking for perfect flowers for you. From the ones they brought to me we chose the prettiest and pressed them between books; books that your brothers love and that maybe you will love too, someday, when you read them.

For weeks we let the flowers press until one day in early summer we took the books down and opened them to find the little blossoms ready for you. Your brothers carefully arranged them and glued them to paper and we put them into frames to hang on the wall in your room.

Now they ask me, how much longer will it be, Mommy, until our little Anne is here?

Not much longer, I say. Before the summer ends.

They tell me they miss the spring, and are sad you were not here to see it. But for you, they have preserved a little piece of it; these flowers from the spring of the year you were born. Because every princess needs flowers to pave the way for her arrival. These are yours.

Your Mommy

Monday, June 18, 2012

I Went to Olde English Faire, The Archers and Jousters Were There

I have been severely lacking in the event department so far this year. I think the only events I have gone to include The Festival of Maidens (January), the Candle-Lighting Ball (April) and, well, that is it. We had several other events that we were scheduled to attend but due to various circumstances had to change our plans quite at the last minute. So that is why I was so happy this weekend to be able to go to the Olde English Faire!

David and I left the children with my parents. I felt a bit guilty leaving them behind but I did offer all of them the chance to go with us. They all, of course, declared they would much rather go to Grandma and Grandpa's house and in the end, I was glad that they did since it was a very hot day and it would have been difficult keeping them all hydrated and in their woolen clothes. Plus it was nice to be able to walk hand in hand with David, just us two. Time alone so rarely happens for us and it was good to have some hours with him where we didn't have to continually focus on children asking a million questions an hour, or screaming and whacking at each other, or endlessly requesting to go potty.
The Faire seemed smaller this year but the quality seemed better. The location in the park was different than last year and was much easier to navigate. There were plenty of shade trees and benches and the merchants had a very nice area to set out their wares. There were some good quality vendors interspersed with the typical fantasty-clothing, belly-dancing, henna-tattoo vendors which made browsing interesting and fun.

There was also a tent where several chess sets were set up. David was happy to sit down and play a game with one of the gentleman.

The chess sets were handmade by this gentleman and a friend. It was nice to see this game set up as an alternative to the more carnival like games going on in a different area of the park.

We watched a jousting tournament, hosted by the guys from Full Metal Jousting! It was one of the most exciting parts of the afternoon and I got a bit carried away, cheering and screaming with a most un-ladylike demeanor as the champions battled it out in the arena. Seeing the men emerge on their horses, armour-clad, noble bearing, was swoon worthy. My goodness!

Prior to the tournament, each knight gave a yellow carnation to a random lady in the crowd, as a token that they would be fighting for her honor. The little girls who were chosen as the Ladies Fair were adorable to watch - I truly admire the generosity and kindness shown by these guys to their audience, especially to the children. For sure this will be something those little ones will never forget!

I stood on the hill to watch, in the hot blazing sun and consequently was sunburnt quite badly. David, since he is taller, sensibly stood in the shade of several trees farther up the hill. One of the trucks parked there housed two dogs and David promptly fell in love with them.

After the tournament, we went to the living history camp in a different park of the park. This group demonstrates various aspects of 14th century life and focuses on the skill of archery.

It was wonderful and inspiring to see a progressive group like this! One of the ladies I spoke with mentioned how that morning she assisted in plucking ducks that they later cooked and ate. I think David was impressed. Even 1860's groups typically do not go to that extent in their pursuit of authenticity.

This group is headquartered not far from our own hometown. It would be lovely to get involved some way, sometime. If only David liked the medieval period better! But maybe he will learn to. I will wait and in the meantime will try my best to convince him that wearing hose and braies are very manly and much more desirable than the 1860's cotton overalls he currently wears beneath his tunics.

The archers were skilled and swift. It actually grew a bit monotonous watching their arrows fly since they rarely missed the target! I liked watching them, watching how their clothes moved, how they acted and talked with each other, with the background of leafy trees and summer sunshine. It was easy to imagine that we really had found a way to travel back to the 14th century.

Now I am all inspired to work on our wardrobes for the next medieval event, The Fields of Cloth and Gold which will be in September. It is not that far away and I think both David and Judah could use a new outfit before then, and, of course, the baby will need a full supply of shirts and caps and some sort of gown - I do not think I could, with mental comfort, wrap her up in strips of linen - and I'd like to make David a new hood and a hood or heavier woolen veil for me as well.

I was thankful my pink linen gown still fit for this past weekend. The only part that was a bit tight was the bustline, but I just laced it a bit more loosely there and all was well. I apologize for not wearing a proper gown underneath it in these pictures, but it was just so hot and I thought that I could get by wearing just my smock underneath. A few images do support the wearing of a smock underneath a short sleeved outer gown, although I think the images date from a bit past the late 1300's. Here we are at 32 weeks!

The only new thing I made for the event was a veil and circlet, roughly basing it on the instructions here: Silk Wrapped Circlet. I put my version together the afternoon before the event and used some heavy wire for the base. I wrapped it in tan silk thread although the wrapping was not as tight or closely packed as I would have wished it to be.

It took so long to wrap the wire I didn't feel like wrapping the thinner wire that I wound around the base, so I left it plain. I put a few black beads on the front (wood; so not a great material choice but hey, its what I had) and made a quick veil out of a long rectangle of sheer silk that I hemmed all around and stitched to the circlet to secure it.

I did get a lot of positive comments on the veil. So many people wondered how I could possibly keep the veil from slipping off and they were delighted to find out I had stitched it on. It does make so much sense to just saw the darned slippery thing to the circlet. Why had I never thought of that? A huge thank you to the documentation from the Silk Wrapped Circlet site! I also got a lot of nice compliments on how well the pregnant belly looks "so medieval" and I was called Maid Marion more times than I ever imagined. I don't know if a true maid of the period would go around unapologetically pregnant but I will bypass any historical deviations of the term and circumstances since the people who spoke thus to me were modern spectators and likely were just trying to link what knowledge they have of the period to what they were seeing in front of them.

All in all it was a very satisfactory event. Many people still lament the fact that the Faire no longer takes places at Jubilee but I am grateful that even though the state has made it impossible for the Faire to continue there, Wildlife Prairie Park has wholeheartedly welcomed the Faire to its own grounds. I'm glad it still can live on. It would be a huge shame to have it go by the wayside. It has become such a summer ritual in this part of the state for so many people.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Necessary Nappy

And so it came to pass that Sarah, who had borne David three sons, found herself again with child. Being weary of the country she had sojourned in the past six years, a land flowing with urine and feces known as The Disposable Diaper, she lifted up her voice and cried unto her husband,

"My lord, the day draweth nigh for me to deliver thy child. I beg of thee to give unto thy maidservant a goodly sum, with which I may purchase goods of linen and woolen cloth to wrap the bum of the child that I will bear unto thee. The customs of the people of this land are loath to me and the thing they call The Disposable Diaper hast irritated the bums of thy sons and would you have it irritate the bum of thy daughter also?"

And her husband pitied the woman and said unto her;

"Let not thy countenance fall, woman, for the request you have asked of me has found favor in my sight and I give unto thee this sum to purchase cloths of linen and wool. Go with a cheerful heart and do this thing which you have asked. Only do not burden thy husband with intricate sayings of the construction and designs of these garments you will make, for such words burn in my ears and befuddle my mind and is like the talk of foolish men unto me for I understand it not."

And so Sarah went and took the sum and purchased the cloths of linen and wool and made diapers for her child.

Okay, seriously, I am *completely* sick of disposable diapers! I have no idea why I did not try using cloth diapers with the boys but I think it is because I was so young, and everyone I had ever known used disposable diapers. My mom had hinted in the past of a Dark and Terrible experience she had once had using cloth diapers on me and I had become terrified of the dim unknown world of cloth diapering. I envisioned a pee soaked mass of fabric and baby every time I changed a diaper.

One by one the boys came in quick succession. I didn't really have time or the resources on hand to look into cloth diapering more. We were on a tight budget and the few cloth diapering sites I did look up boasted what seemed to me to be very high prices - definitely out of our price range since we could not afford all that up front. But after Malachi, we had a three year break. In that time, I had educated myself. And so when I found out I was pregnant last winter I knew for sure I would try cloth diapering this time.

It took me forever, however, to decide on what style of diaper and cover and what materials to use. There is so much information out there it is literally overwhelming! I came to rely most heavily on the personal experiences and recommendations of friends who have used or are currently using cloth diapers and balanced that against my personal preference for simplicity and historic significance.

In the end, I decided to make prefold diapers and use wool covers. I decided to use linen for the prefolds since in my experience, linen is highly absorbant and incredibly soft once it is washed enough. I liked the idea of wool covers since wool is my go-to "miracle fabric" and has natural properties that make it exactly suited to cover a diaper. And wool and linen happen to be two of my favorite fabrics, ever!

I used the prefold diaper sewing instructions from this site: DIY Prefold Daiapers and made them with linen from For the soaker pad, I ended up going with hemp fleece (which is really a blend of hemp and organic cotton) and used only 4 layers of fleece instead of the 6 layers called for in the pattern.

For the soakers, I used the sewing pattern and instructions here: Katrina's Quick Sew Soaker Pattern. I purchased a gorgeous 100% lambswool sweater from the thrift store and washed it several times in hot water to shrink it up a bit. I also dyed it with a packet of green dye to get a more deep blue-green color instead of the light blue and gray it originally was (it was a mans sweater). The finished soakers are not girly at all, but they are nicely gender neutral which is fine with me since I really do hope to have one or two more babies before I am done for good. (who wants to be done with having darling sweet little babies at age 26? Not me!) I really loved this soaker pattern. It was so quick and easy to make. The only part I didn't like was sewing the tiny leg cuffs into the leg openings but beyond that, a piece of cake!

In the end, the linen diapers ended up costing me around $3.50 each to make. The soakers, since I was able to get four of them from the one sweater, cost about 50 cents apiece. Not bad! I detest math but I did some calculations and assuming 10 diaper changes per day and use of these diapers and soakers for approximately 8 weeks, it is actually much less expensive to use the cloth diapers instead of the cheapest-of-the-cheap Wal-Mart Parent's Choice brand of disposables (which is what we mainly used for the boys). I presented my findings to my husband and I think he was happy. He is not at all sure about using cloth diapers but he tolerates the idea and indulges me, which is all I ask. I guess we'll see how these work once Anne gets here.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Making Lye Soap

I envisioned a post, in a few weeks, showing perfect, beautiful smooth bars of creamy soap. I even had the entire post written out in my head. But as nothing in this life is ever perfect, the hopeful post was doomed. So I will write this one in place of it. Because, after all, it is something to write about. 

I have been wanting to make real homemade soap for quite some time. I have fake kinds before - the "melt and pour" kind and the kind where you use glycerin instead of lye. But to me that didn't seem real enough. It was like eating a low fat, sugar-free brownie from a box when the thing you want is a real, dark, chewy, moist and decadent brownie made with plenty of real butter and sugar. For a while I have wanted to make some all natural soap for the baby and with only 9 weeks to go now, I knew I'd have to make it soon so it would have time to cure and get mild before she arrives. At last I got some oils together and was hugely delighted this week to actually find 100% sodium hydroxide at a new store in a nearby town. On Thursday I made my first batch of lye soap with coconut milk and rose essential oil and it seemed to come out well, but almost too well - I knew something had to give.

It did, the next day, when I removed it from the mold and tried to cut it. I molded it in a cylinder and wanted to slice it into rounds. Sadly, the rounds crumbled around the edges when I cut them and as I neared the bottom as I was slicing some of the rounds just plain broke away. My thought was that the soap had become too hard, too quickly. I didn't know what to do. I could have used the crumble-sided soap as it was but I wanted it to look *perfect*. I decided to rebatch the soap and cut it when it was not so hard. It took me a few hours to melt the soap down over low heat in the oven and after it had melted I pushed/patted it into a recipe box lined with plastic and wax paper. I was very disappointed at the appearance of my once-perfectly-creamy-white soap. It was so brown and gloopy and gelled. 

In the meantime, to help lift my spirits, I made another batch of soap using the same basic recipe but adding honey and oatmeal at trace. It didn't trace quick as thick as the first batch but after a half hour of beating I poured it into a mold and decided to just let it become what it was going to become. This morning I took it out of the mold and cut it - I was terrified of it becoming too hard - and it was still somewhat soft and the knife easily sliced through it. Happiness! The bars aren't "perfect" and I think there are some air pockets in there from beating and beating and beating to bring it to trace but that is okay, since the oatmeal gives it a rustic sort of texture and appearance anyhow. And the honey makes them smell oh-so-good. 

I also removed the rebatched soap from the mold and cut it while it was still soft. It was almost *too* soft to cut but a thin, sharp knife did the trick quite well and now I have my bars of soap drying. And the color has improved. The rebatched soap is still not dry and has a slightly spongey texture but I read that for rebatched soap, that is normal since there is extra liquid that will have to evaporate as it cures. (I added 4 oz. liquid for every pound - this case two - per suggestions from experienced soap makers). 

Morals of story: 

Perfection is not attainable.
Adapting ones mindset to accept less than perfection is beneficial to ones mental state of happiness.
Embrace the unpredictable results of experimentation. 
Learn to love the rustic look.
Make more soap. It's fun.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Cherokees

I can, alas, boast no claim to any Native heritage beyond the fact that I am married to a man who has Cherokee and Blackfoot blood running through his veins. If matrimonial ties are deeper than blood, then good. I can claim Native-ness. But if they are just some sort of spiritual bond instead, well, I'm outta luck. But the fact I am married to David automatically makes our offspring partakers of that fascinating heritage.

And so, this past weekend we took the boys to a pow-wow and they were beyond delighted with discovering so many amazing things about their ancestors. The colors, the rituals, the honor, the music that seemed to swell out of the very earth itself, the dancing in the dusk beneath a sky clearing of storm clouds.

We have taken the boys to this pow wow before, but as they were all babies at the time they had no recollection of past visits. We have not gone for the past three years. I joked with David that every time we go to the pow wow, I am pregnant. It just seems to work out that way.

We met up with some friends there and had a pleasant time enjoying their company. Steward Blake offered to buy all the children a face painting session but the only one who took him up on the offer was David, who had his hand painted with a dragon. In this picture, you can see how very cautious he was of the painted hand. He held that hand out in perfect proper flatness so he would not damage the paint job.

Blake and Becky share a kiss before the storm.

With the inevitable rain, we left the grounds for a little while to take shelter in the pavilion of a nearby park.

The torrential downpour did not last long, however, and when the rain lightened and finally ceased we ventured out and the boys ran and played and laughed, having their own adventures.

We headed back to the pow wow in the evening and were just in time for the Grand Entrance. As we stood and watched the dancers, carrying flags, solemn and quiet, I could not help but blink back tears that started furiously to my eyes.
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It amazes me how these people can be so kind, so welcoming, so willing to share with outsiders their stories. The way the American government has treated the Natives over the last several hundred years is appalling. These people lived their own quiet lives in their own ways. They worshipped God in their own way; they had their own culture, their own language.

Bit by bit they were eliminated and forced into tiny reservations. Their children were taken and forced from an early age to adopt "Christian" names and were educated according to government standards. Those that did not comply were killed, or assimilated into white culture (like many of the Cherokee) and lived as white people. These circumstances were not random or contained - it was the systematic killing of a culture by our government. Even today, this still goes on. Just a few months ago I read about a native girl who was suspended from school after talking in her own language to a friend instead of using English. And yet! The remnant still carries on. They survive. They share with us. 

I am proud my boys can claim ties to this culture. I want them to grow up to understand the truth about what happened. It is not all "cowboys and Indians". There is so much more to it than that, and a deeper truth beneath the perverted Hollywoodization of the Native culture.

David was also very proud when David and Malachi, unable to sit still any longer, jumped up and danced their way into the circle.

Judah, always shy, hung back. But maybe next year! ;)