Sunday, December 27, 2015

Quilted Hood Progress & Odds and Ends

I hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Christmas! We had a very nice one here and the weather was unseasonably warm. We smoked a lamb roast on the grill for Christmas dinner with oven roasted veggies and little David made a steamed cranberry pudding for dessert. Today, finally, after weeks of sunshine and open windows I had to turn on the heat, and we are using the leftover lamb for a big stroganoff later tonight.

I've been working on some handsewing the past week since it's been nearly impossible to have time in the sewing room. Since participating in the Vernet project I have come to really appreciate handsewing on a level I never have before. It is really perfect to have a small project to work on in spare snatches of time here and there. I decided to see if my sunbonnet pattern could work as a winter hood (minus the pointy edges) so that is what I am working on. I like the flared brim of the sunbonnet. We will see how it makes up for cold weather use.

This one is very simply made in plain wool, hand quilted to a cotton lining and cotton interlining. The stripes make a handy little guide for the quilting lines. It will be rather lightweight. I am pleased with how it is turning out so far and hopefully it will be done by the time the boys resume school. Then, I can work on the 1840's dress again. 

2015 has been a pretty pathetic year for sewing. I did sew a lot but not much of it was for me or my family. I hope to do more next year. I don't have many specific plans yet but do hope to follow along with the challenges for the Historical Sew Fortnightly. (actually monthly now, with one project per month.) 

  • January –  Procrastination – finish a garment you have been putting off finishing (a UFO or PHD) or make something you have been avoiding starting.
  • February – Tucks & Pleating – make a garment that features tucks and pleating for the shape or decoration
  • March – Protection – make something to protect yourself (from weather or injury) or your clothes (from soiling etc.)
  • April – Gender-Bender – make an item for the opposite gender, or make an item with elements inspired by the fashions of the opposite gender
  • May – Holes – sometimes the spaces between stuff are what makes a garment special.  Make a garment that is about holes, whether it is lace, slashing, eyelets, etc.
  • June – Travel – make a garment for travelling, or inspired by travel.
  • July – Monochrome – make a garment in black, white, or any shade of grey in between.
  • August – Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better.
  • September – Historicism – Make a historical garment that was itself inspired by the fashions of another historical period.
  • October – Heroes – Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero.
  • November – Red – Make something in any shade of red.
  • December – Special Occasion: make something for a special event or a specific occasion, or that would have been worn to special event of specific occasion historically.
I'm trying to determine what I want to do as far as costuming goes. I'm still trying to figure out exactly why I want to do this and what the purpose is. What is my goal? 

When the boys were little we often went to Civil War reenactments and I had a lot of fun planning and making their outfits. As the years passed, though, I grew pretty disillusioned with mainstream reenactments. I have greatly enjoyed the few progressive events I've been to and hope to do more of that but it is probable that those events will be limited in number to only one or two per year.

I also really love going to more "farby" events like Renn Faire's and multi-era rendezvous'. It's so much fun to just wear what you love and spend some time doing fun (if not strictly HA) activities with people you enjoy being around.  

I also like just dressing up in period attire (whatever the period may be) and going on a hike or picnic, visiting a museum or historic site and enjoying the heightened sense of time-travel that dressing in period affords.

All this kind of bothers me because costuming just doesn't make practical sense. I'm having a hard time rationalizing it since, really, why? Why do it? At best it affords a creative outlet for me and lets me participate in some activities I enjoy with like minded people. At worst it's a waste of time, space and money. 

Sometimes there just seems to be so many other, better things I could be doing with my spare time. But still I dream of dresses and by-gone fashions and society and making things fills me with keen delight and satisfaction. It's the little girl who never grew out of the dress-up days, I suppose, still fondly imagining herself a princess or maid or Laura Ingalls, as the case may be. 

As the kids get older I constantly need to readjust my plans and schedules to accommodate their changing needs and desires. There's not much room these days for living history events (although they love those, too!) 

Season of life, I guess? I guess I'm floundering for a place to settle when it comes to this hobby of costuming. What do I make and what do I do with the things I make become the main questions. Cause hanging them in the closet for a vague someday seems pretty darn stupid. 
A random picture of my child from Christmas Day, just because she is cute and does not loudly flail and scream and resist being photographed.

I still want to make the 1840's dress, though. ;) I'm sure I'll rouse up from this ponderous, melancholy state soon enough. After all, some days I feel more like a corset and petticoats than yoga pants and a hoodie, ya know?

Anyway, here is to a fantastic year of sewing in 2016! To all the projects yet to be! 


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas from our family to yours! As the years have passed, I have come to look forward to choosing a photograph of the children for our annual Christmas cards. I enjoy looking back on them and seeing how much they have grown and changed over the years. As more babies have been added it has become a difficult task to get a "good" picture - generally our attempts end in disappointed frustration on my part and irritated naughtiness on theirs.

Since today was so warm and beautiful I told the kids they could get as dirty as they liked, if they would only consent to sit nicely for a few minutes so I could get a picture!

We went out to the lake where they soon discarded socks and shoes to run on the sand and wade out into the water.

Sticks, rocks and some water plants they plucked from the shallows entertained them for hours.

Rose slept in her carseat for a while.

But she soon woke up and enjoyed practicing her new skill of sitting.

She was the only one who did not get very dirty. 

There were fisherman out on the lake in their boats and the occasional passerby walking a dog. Farther down shore, a family kindled a fire on the beach. I was surprised that more people were not out. The hills echoed with the voices of children and the cawing of gulls.

What a beautiful day! 

The best discovery was a large carp skeleton, which they buried with pomp and ceremony since I did not wish them to bring it home. I also drew the line at them riding a floating log as a raft out into the lake. 

And when they were properly dirty they did consent to stop in their play to take a picture. 

Now as evening falls we are home with baths all round. The duck for Christmas Eve supper is roasting in the oven and we are looking forward to a fun evening of cookie baking (and eating!) and present wrapping and movie watching. 

So thankful for this time to recall the Greatest Gift given to all mankind. Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 11, 2015

A Regency Bodiced Petticoat

Back in October I made my new regency stays, a shift and a petticoat but only blogged about the stays. The shift is kinda meh since shifts are shifts, you know. The petticoat made me happy though! I have made two petticoats for myself prior to this one and both had a few features I really liked and a few features I didn't like so much. So for this one I got to combine my favorite parts about the old ones. It still isn't perfect but I think it will work really well under 1800-1820 dresses!

There were a few things I really wanted this petticoat to have:

1. A very fitted, very low cut bodice. My last two petticoats have both had to have the necklines cut down a lot after they were completed so they wouldn't peek out from the necklines of my dresses. I also wanted to avoid the drawstring neckline of my first bodiced petticoat. Having so many strings to tie was inconvenient. (petticoat strings, the string that holds the busk in the stays, the string around the gown neckline, the string in the shift neckline, all very confusing and jumbly after a day or weekend at an event!)

2. A very high waistline. After experimenting with regency styles for quite a few years now and hating the way they look on myself most of the time, I have found that if I make the skirts with as high a waistline as possible they look less dumpy. I actually fit the waistline about an inch or so above the bottom edge of the stays gussets. This gives a smoother, more columnar line to the bodice and skirts rather than an hour glass shape.

3. A moderately full skirt. Full enough to walk in, but not enough to make the dress skirt feel stuffed.

4. A flat front. Bulk in the front just adds to the unfortunate pregnant shape that a lot of regency styles seem to fall into. A nice flat front on both petticoat and skirt, combined with the flattening effect of the busk in the stays makes a much more streamlined shape that I personally think is more flattering.

I made the petticoat bodice in two layers of cotton and the skirt in one layer. I am very happy with how it turned out and so far it has worked perfectly underneath the sheer dress I made to go over it. The skirt is rather short and is finished with a few tiny tucks. The tucks aren't perfectly even as I didn't measure them and just eyeballed where to sew but they stiffen the hem ever so slightly and help prevent the skirt edge from becoming tangled between your ankles.

I modified the bodice pattern to become my dress bodice by adding a bit to the neckline. Worked wonderfully and the two finished garments wear very well together. I will have a post on my dress soon, but here's a (admittedly horrible quality) picture of how the petticoat looks under the dress:

The shift does need a bit of a modification as the sleeves came out a little too long and too loose for my liking and the neckline in the back is a little too high. I need to reposition the straps on my stays, too. I hopefully will get that done this month so I can go into the New Year with no UFO's on my sewing table. I have a blue and purple lightweight plaid I want to make into a hideously delightful regency gown with long tight sleeves. Gotta resist the temptation til I get the undergarments just how I want them!


Monday, December 7, 2015

A Watermelon Regency Dress

Sorry for the influx of posts! I hope to catch up on blogging about my sewing projects before the end the year. (Yikes! That's only a few weeks away!) Anyway, a few years ago, when Anne was not yet a year old, a friend gave me some cotton fabric for her. Green gingham printed with cheerful pink watermelon slices! It was cute and quirky and would make a perfect summer dress, I thought. This year, finally, that dress was made.

It was actually made in the fall, but who says watermelons must just be for summer? Not I, said Anne. And I agreed. Besides, our fall this year was very much an Indian summer and the days full of warm breezes, golden sunshine and walking amongst the leaves. Short sleeves and watermelons did not seem out of place at all.

This was the first dress Anne substantially helped with. Of course, she has always "helped" before but this time she cut out the skirt, and while sitting on my lap she guided the fabric through the machine and stitched the seams. She was very very proud to make the skirt herself.

The bodice is from the Sense and Sensibility regency girls dress pattern. I have found this particular bodice pattern to fit so well. This time we used a size 4 and it was pretty much perfect. The only thing I have noticed about this pattern is that the overlap in the back is HUGE, but that means I can easily move the buttons over to give her more growing room as she gets bigger.

A while ago I had bought a cotton sheet at the thrift shop to use for period undies. Along the top was a border of bright pink polka dot cotton. I was able to use that strip of fabric for some decorative piping in the back seams and along the neckline of the bodice. We sewed a narrow strip to the waistline for a faux belt.

Since Anne likes to carry purses of course we had to fashion a little bag for her to carry with this dress. There was enough of the pink polka dot fabric left to make a soft purse. The strap came out a bit too wide but since it doesn't bother her at all I am not going to worry about making it narrower.

The dress is still seen even now in December, only she likes pairing it with a hooded cardigan that is silver and sparkly. And her leather boots, of course. Her style is definitely her own. 3 year olds have a pretty confident fashion sense. ;)


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Salt Rising Bread

What is salt rising bread? I remember reading about it as a small girl in various books, such as Little  House in the Big Woods and Old Squires Farm where it featured under the homely title of "Mug Bread". Mug Bread was a reference to the beginnings of the dough and the somewhat uncertain process of capturing wild yeasts from the air, into a mixture of cornmeal and milk. 

From what I understand, this bread was invented as a substitute for yeast-risen bread and was baked in areas where commercial yeast wasn't readily available. Tradition says that this bread was made by early pioneers in the north east and Appalachian areas of the country. 

Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and ‘Injun bread,’ Swedish crackers, and a huge pan of baked beans, with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.”
– Little House in the Big Woods
The reader may not know it as mug-bread, for that was a local name,
confined largely to our own Maine homestead and vicinity. It has been
called milk-yeast bread, patent bread, milk-emptyings bread and
salt-rising bread; and it has also been stigmatized by several
opprobrious and offensive epithets, bestowed, I am told, by irate
housewives who lacked the skill and genius to make it.

We named it "mug-bread" because Gram always started it in an old
porcelain mug; a tall, white, lavender-and-gold banded mug, that held
more than a quart, but was sadly cracked, and, for safety's sake, was
wound just above the handle with fine white silk cord.

That mug was sixty-eight years old, and that silk cord had been on it
since 1842. Its familiar kitchen name was "Old Hannah." I suspect that
the interstices of this ancient silk string were the lurking-places of
that delightful yeast microbe that gave the flavor to the bread. For
there was rarely a failure when that mug was used.

About once in four days, generally at night, Gram would take two
tablespoonfuls of corn-meal, ten of boiled milk, and half a teaspoonful
of salt, mix them well in that mug, and set it on the low mantel-shelf,
behind the kitchen stove funnel, where it would keep uniformly warm
overnight. She covered in the top of the mug with an old tin coffee-pot
lid, which just fitted it.

When we saw "Old Hannah" go up there, we knew that some mug-bread was
incubating, and, if all worked well, would be due the following
afternoon for supper. For you cannot hurry mug-bread.

The next morning, by breakfast-time, a peep into the mug would show
whether the little "eyes" had begun to open in the mixture or not. Here
was where housewifely skill came in. Those eyes must be opened just so
wide, and there must be just so many of them, or else it was not safe to
proceed. It might be better to throw the setting away and start new, or
else to let it stand till noon. Gram knew as soon as she had looked at
it. If the omens were favorable, a cup of warm water and a variable
quantity of carefully warmed flour were added, and a batter made of
about the consistency for fritters. This was set up behind the funnel
again, to rise till noon.

More flour was then added and the dough carefully worked and set for a
third rising. About three o'clock it was put in tins and baked in an
even oven.
- Old Squires Farm 

There is something rather nasty about the process if you think about it too much. You can read much more about the details of the process of leavening at this link: The Disquieting Delights of Salt-Rising Bread where I learned, to my uneasiness, that this kind of bread was successfully made from bacteria from an infected wound. 

I have always wanted to try making this kind of bread myself. I tried making it once before, as a teenager, but the attempt failed. There were no bubbles or "eyes" after the initial mixing and waiting period and I threw it out. Since relocating to Appalachian country earlier this year I have seen salt rising bread in the bakery section of several grocery stores and so once again was seized with a desire to try to make this mysterious bread. 

I used this recipe from and mixed up my milk, sugar, cornmeal and salt and set it in a warmed oven. (and the little girl in me was delighted to use a large blue crockery mug! Just like "Old Hannah" from the above story!) ;) I didn't use a crockpot to keep an even temperature and as the day was rather cold and damp I didn't expect my starter to work. I turned the oven on warm every so often throughout the day and then turned it off after about a half hour. A few eyes had appeared which encouraged me. That night, I shut the oven off completely and went to bed. 

The next morning there were so many bubbles that the starter was frothing and foaming. The starter was making a whistling sound as gases released from the bubbles. Hooray! I mixed in more warm water, some flour and some sugar. The recipe called for shortening but I didn't use any. I let the sponge rise and it doubled in just over an hour. I then kneaded in the rest of the flour and shaped it into two large loaves and let it rise. The bread baked up beautifully golden brown with a distinctive cheesy smell. 

It was absolutely delicious. Everyone enjoyed it sliced with butter and jam, but it was best toasted. 

I plan to make it again for Christmas if all goes well. While I do love the scent and flavor of yeast risen bread this is a very nice change once in a while. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Anne's Thanksgiving Dress

The weekend before Thanksgiving was cold and wet and I was sick. Fevers, chills, that sort of thing. While the boys watched Prince Caspian and the babies napped to the lullabye of rain tapping against the window I wrapped myself in a blanket and descended into my basement sewing spot to try to organize a few things. Anne followed me down and while I refolded and stacked fabric she pulled out her favorites and pretended to sew. A few smallish pieces of poly/cotton blend I set aside, unsure what to use them for. She pounced on them and immediately begged me to make her a dress. Both prints had blue flowers in them and she has been asking me to make her a dress with blue ribbons. So, a few hours later, we had a dress!

I used the trusty Sense and Sensibility girls regency pattern for the bodice, lengthening it about 2". The skirt was sewn as a little tube with a small ruffle and the sleeves elbow length with a small ruffle. The overskirt was cut as two U shaped pieces. I *just* had enough of each fabric to make this and used up almost every last scrap! It was a good feeling to get those fabrics off my shelf and made into something that will be used. 

I'm not quite sure what to call it. It's kinda quasi-historically-inspired, kinda fantasy, kinda 1970's-does-hobbit-does-18th-century. Right? 

Whatever it is, already it has seen a lot of use. It's one of those annoying sorts of dresses that needs to be ironed after every washing but it makes Anne happy. Whenever it is clean and hanging in her closet, she wants to wear it. In these pictures she is cooking pretend eggs near the fireplace in an itty bitty cast iron skillet. I was so pleased how the wreath matched her dress, too! Earlier this year I traded a little hobbit dress for several floral wreaths and some soap and man, this one sure matched her dress really well.

I am really loving Anne at age three right now! So fun to sew for a little girl with a huge imagination and an even bigger personality!


Friday, November 20, 2015

Finished Bonnet

The bonnet is done! I have just a few things left to finish up before the deadline on December 7th. Pretty sure I will make it, although I may not have one piece of the ensemble. We'll see. I still have a little over two weeks.

Benjamin helped again when I sewed in the lining.

Finished lining.

The silk satin was beastly to sew. I hemmed strips to use as ties and decoration in an effort to save money, since wide silk ribbon can be pricey. Ugh. It wiggled and grew and shrunk under my fingers and was a general pain. Next time I will cough up the cash for ribbon or get taffeta.

I do like the finished look and the simplicity of the decoration. If I was to redo it for use after the fashion plate reveal, I would remove the zig zag edge and use a darker ribbon, such as olive green or brown or blue.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sewing a Straw Bonnet

I am not a milliner. I have utmost respect and appreciation for those who are. Millinery is a mysterious art and science. All my attempts at millinery have been somewhat unsatisfactory and as of yet I have not been overcome with a desire to become more proficient in this skill. Therefore, I will preface this post by repeating: I am not a milliner. What follows is my attempt at recreating a straw bonnet from a fashion plate. I have no idea of the accuracy of my methods. I just did what made sense to me. I think originally the straw braids would have been molded and sewn over a hat block, but lacking that myself, I had to improvise.
I started by making a paper pattern for the brim and crown. The brim is rather capote shaped and the crown basic and roundish. (Yeah, that's a lame description). I took apart a vintage straw hat for the braid and dampened it. I decided to sew the brim and crown separately and then join the two pieces. To start I loosely basted the first row of straw directly to the paper pattern. 

The next rows were sewn overlapping the prior rows. They were just sewn to the braid, not to the paper pattern. 

After each row I checked the shape against the pattern and steamed it into place. 

Getting close!

Finally the brim piece was done, and could be trimmed and removed from the paper pattern.

The short edges were joined and a braid stitched around the raw edge.

I slipped the crown into the brim for a preliminary peek, before sewing the two together.

Here the crown and brim have been joined and the bonnet steamed and shaped. So far I am quite happy with it, although my fingers are sore! All the whole I was sewing it I kept thinking of the story of Rumpelstiltskin who spun straw into gold, and wondered at the state of his fingers! 

I next have to size it, then line it and trim it. The brim is finished with a zig zag edging of straw which I sewed on tonight, although it was too dark to get a picture of it when I was done.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Little Helper

After finishing my dress, a certain small boy decided to decorate it with a red popsicle. While the resulting bright pink splotches were delightfully artistic to his eyes, they caused a bit of a panic in the heart of his mama. Thankfully the spots washed out with much rinsing and the rest of the popsicles were urged upon the willing palates of his older siblings.

I wanted to photograph the gown today but Benjamin had to photo bomb each one. 

He pointed a pencil at it and muttered what creepily sounded like the killing curse. 

Look Mommy! Tent!

Then he got down to business by draping the tape measurer around his neck and carefully inserting a pin into the middle of the skirt. 

Now I am working on stitching straw braid and he is helping with that, too. This time I made sure his snack is of a benign nature. He can't do much damage with animal crackers. 

Can he?