Friday, February 26, 2021

A Red Wool Flannel Welsh Dragon

 This winter has been so extremely difficult. Anxiety and restlessness and despair settled into, it seemed, my very being. Logically I know there is no justifiable reason for this and it is probably related to lack of sunshine and the cold weather (warm days and sunshine put me into an immediate cheerful mood) but the last few weeks have been so, so hard. It has been hard to force myself to become very interested in anything and the smallest tasks have seemed exhausting.

Since I know this happens, to some extent, each winter I kind of plan for it. In January I ditched social media for a time (I did reactive Instagram, but am much happier and calmer being off of facebook). I picked up work again on my family tree on and started researching more into my fathers direct line - the Edwards - a hard line to research and such a common name! - but felt it was the right time to do that. My 3x grandfather immigrated to America from Wales in the 1880's and was, himself, born in Wales in 1854. 

I had been reading a book about Welsh superstitions / folk stories around that time in relation to my studies in OBOD - British Goblins: Welsh Folklore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions by Wirt Sikes - and felt it was a cool connection to be reading about an area my family came. The more I read the book and researched my ancestral connections the more excited and interested I became. I was so grateful at the time to have this to kind of hold onto, to carry me through the dark days of winter and give me motivation to do more than just sort of exist and mechanically go about my days. 

I fell down a few rabbit holes I'm still fascinated by and continuing my research in - Welsh National Dress (yes, there will definitely be a Welsh outfit in my future!) and Welsh cooking - and discovered that Wirt Sikes wrote another great book about daily life in Wales, Rambles and Studies in Old South Wales and once I'm finished with my current book I will begin that one. 

Anyway, I have had little motivation for sewing lately. I have plenty I could and should be doing but it's been hard to even think about threading the machine and getting to work on anything. I did, however, briefly feel interested in making a little stuffed dragon from some red flannel scraps I've had forever. I found Jennifer Carsons etsy shop and fell in love with her whimsical and lovely patterns for all kinds of fantasy creatures. I sensibly bought what seemed to be an easy pattern and what she calls a perfect choice for a first time dragon charmer and I printed it out. The Laying Western Dragon pattern would be a nice little project to work up during the cold dark days of February, or so I thought. 

It took SO. LONG. for me to finish this project. I ended up feeling completely overwhelmed by it and I had to break it down into so many manageable chunks to get it done. This has nothing to do with the pattern, which is well written and clearly illustrated, but everything to do with my own mental state at the time. Little by little though, I kept at it. A seam here, turning a sewn piece there, stuffing later, then sewing the stuffing hole shut a different time.

I used my 1920s treadle to sew together the main pieces and the rest was done by hand. I ended up mostly sewing Dewi - for so I came to call him -  in various half hours of dark evenings after dinner and while everyone else was watching tv in the living room. 

The past week the weather has warmed up and the snow has mostly melted and I feel 100% better and completely different than I did at this time last week. I want to start work on more serious projects so yesterday I sewed the back legs and attached them - something that probably would have taken me a week to do when I was still struggling so much with the winter. 

The red dragon is featured on the Welsh flag and is symbolic of a folk tale in which a red dragon (the Welsh, or Cymry) fights against a white dragon (the English). Red wool flannel is itself very symbolic of Wales, as wool production was extremely important to the Welsh economy. (Even the shifts rural women wore in the early 19th century were often of wool flannel, rather than linen or cotton!) 

If you have never heard the story of the Red Dragon, I highly recommend this Youtube video (and the channel itself  is definitely worth a subscription!) The Story of Lludd, Llyfelus & Y Draig Goch 

Dewi the dragon seemed to evolve into his own sweet  natured person as I stitched him together. He is certainly not a fierce dragon like the one prancing across the flag but I adore him as he is. He has blue eyes, for my father and grandfather Edwards and his name came from the youngest son of my great-great-great grandfather Edwards who came to America with his wife and oldest son in the 1880s. I remember when I first read the names of his children I was suprised to see Dewi at the end of a long line of traditional, "sensible" names. What kind of a name was Dewi? Then I came to find out that Dewi is a common Welsh name, which is a form of the name David. My grandfather Edwards was David and David is my own fathers middle name. 

The background in these pictures is a painting my own son, David, made for me. I want to do a post on all David's paintings soon. He is an amazing artist and I love his work so much! This particular scene of a still lake with trees and hills, in shades of blue and white and green, is so calming and serene. 

So very happy that spring is in a few more weeks! I am so happy to be going into a warmer time of year. 



Monday, February 8, 2021

A Red Floral 1860's Wrapper

 There were no Civil War events for me to go to in 2020. Even though I have gone to fewer and fewer as the years have gone on, I did miss going to events last year. As the year wound down towards its end I did make one 1860's dress - a red floral wrapper, my first 1860's garment for myself in three years. 

My grandma passed away in July of last year and I felt I should make a mourning gown as I did when I lost my grandfather in 2013. However, I never made much progress on the black wool dress I halfheartedly began because it was too depressing and didn't feel quite right at the time. Finally, in September I found some red floral fabric  by chance at a local shop and I bought five yards of it as well as a yard of a coordinating print that was in the $1 pile. When I got the fabrics home it felt to me that they ought to become a wrapper. 

I love wrappers because they don't need to be worn with a corset and are useful for working-class scenarios (although, to be sure, fashionable, fancy wrappers worn by upper class ladies certainly existed too!) Many years ago I made a wrapper as a casual dress option for events when it was very hot or I didn't feel like wearing a corset or if I was pregnant or breastfeeding and dealing with the figure changes those conditions bring. Also, wrappers can be fun and loud and colorful and bright and all those things are what I think of when I think of my grandma. 

I began my wrapper in September and took a few weeks to make it. I took it very slow as I had to, in some ways, reacquaint myself with sewing techniques I hadn't used in quite some time. Finally, in October it was finished and my son Malachi took some photos for me at a local wildlife area. (My kids, as they get older, are less and less enthusiastic about taking pictures of my finished projects for me! 😂)

The wrapper has a fitted back and sides with a half fitted front bodice lining and full length loose front panels from the shoulder to hem. I carefully cut and pieced my trim fabric and sewed it on by hand. The lining fastens with reproduction hook and eyes from NJ Sekela and the fashion layer fastens simply at the neck and is tied shut at the waist with a self fabric belt that is inserted into the seam between the side and front bodies. 

The fabric probably isn't quite correct for the 1860's, but at this point in my life I am do not care so much about being exact. The overall effect is pleasing to me and the rich, warm red makes me feel happy and alive. I love thinking of the many hours I spent working on this and all the memories of my grandma that I thought of as I stitched. 

Had to include these pictures of Benjamin because he is just TOO. ADORABLE. Here is wearing his older brothers outgrown wool overshirt and short trousers. 

And oh my goodness Lucy was so little. She is 3x that size now.

It was a good project for me to ease back into 1860's sewing. In the several years it has been since I last made an 1860's dress my figure has changed enough to warrant a whole new base pattern (or bodice block). I had to alter my wrapper a bit as I made it to fit and it still doesn't fit exactly as it should. Since it's a loose, casual garment though, it's fine. Once the wrapper was done I did go ahead and take a few days to modify my pattern and come up with new, better fitting base. I also adjusted a copy of this base into a base pattern for a later 19th century basic bodice, too - so that whenever I have time or inclination to make that 1890's dress, or the 1880's work dress I have been wanting to sew on my (new! old!) 1880's treadle machine, it will be easy to start. 

Mock up from base pattern from 3 years ago.

Final mock up after adjustments were made!

Pattern for late 19th century bodices

Mock up of late 19th century bodice. This shoulder line works for earlier 70s and 80s but needs to go up higher onto my shoulder for later 80's and 90s things. 

I do need to do a post about that treadle machine! I love her so very much. She is an 1880's American No. 7 and she is just waiting for me to stitch up a plain 1880's petticoat and that work dress. I will get to it soon, I hope. I have my pattern, fabrics and my book of pattern diagrams for the skirt/sleeves out and ready to go. 

Much love,