May 24, 2015

Back to the Shores...

... of Hawk Run Hollow.

 As much time as I've been having fun exploring new challenges in my sewing room, I found I was really missing the relaxation and enjoyment of cross stitching. I've had this pattern lingering in my stack for a long time and decided it was time to start it instead of just wishing it to life. Unfortunately just imagining it on my walls does not automatically put it there.

I'm using a 36 ct. linen from Lakeside Linens, but I cannot remember the color. The threads are a mix of Splendor Silks and Hand-dyed Fibers. The local stitch shop does not carry NPI and I already have a huge collection of both these threads, so I went ahead with those.

 I remember when I stitched Houses of Hawk Run Hollow how much I enjoyed the whole idea process of working in squares because, as many of you know, completing one square at a time really keeps me from wandering onto other projects.

The blue-gray palette is actually my favorite so I love being able to work with so many different shades of silk. Of course working on Shores makes me want to collect all the CHS samplers for an HRH wall but then I know I'd be stitching until I was 300. Or, if I left myself become a permanent part of the couch I might be able to be done by 250. How bad is it that while we're working on one great project, we're thinking of all the other projects we'd like to be doing? I hope I'm not alone here. 

Until next time... 

May 20, 2015

Un peu de ceci, un peu de cela

A little of this, a little of that... and a giant hallelujah, my Master's degree has been officially confirmed. My thesis was formally accepted about a month ago but until I had final word I was slightly on edge. I'll have to say, this last month has been an absolute delight because I've been able to get a lot of sewing done, gardening and trying to keep the house a bit cleaner than it had been.

My tomato plants are finally churning out some fruit and I'm really enjoying all of it. The heirloom cherry variety is super sweet and crisp, and I haven't tried the yellow pear tomatoes yet, but I'm thinking slicing and tossing them in balsamic vinegar will be a perfect cooling treat for the heat that has descended on Florida. Deer have attacked recently and so I had to throw out some tomato plants they absolutely destroyed, but I hope I was able to salvage some. I spent an entire day creating a pretty wicked batch of cayenne and garlic spray that I then applied in hopes they would sample some of my neighbors' offerings. Ah, well.

I'm finally reaching into the realm of millinery and have almost finished this hat as well as starting on two more. I'm waiting on some final flash of inspiration to give it one more piece of pomp, but I really like it so far. Feathers? A broach?

The ribbon is from leftover silk scraps that I pinked and gathered. It was certainly time-consuming but it was a great project to do while hanging out on the couch with the family. Usually I'm a hermit in my sewing room but these accessory projects definitely allow for some more relaxing and social creative time.

In the spirit of readdressing some things, I pulled this out of the closet and decided it needed a little something extra to make it more 18th century. While it does have some self trim, it's definitely missing anything more eye-catching.

Et, voila! Since I already had everything out working on the trim for the hat, I decided I would go ahead and make some for the pet-en-l'air. While the silk is a neutral color, when I could have gone for something more vibrant, I decided this was probably my best option.

The sleeves took some patience to get just right, but I absolutely love how it turned out. I have an itch to buy some light blue silk ribbon to make some bows to add to the sleeves, but I have yet to decide if I want to do anything else. The 18th century was not necessarily a less-is-more time period, but sometimes too many frills can be distracting.

I took inspiration from a lot of period sources as well as reproductions to do all of it and am most pleased with my first trimmed stomacher. It's not perfect and I might still futz with it some more but this was what it looked like when I finished.

The stomacher was perhaps the most fun to work on. As I get more comfortable I hope to make a full on mid-18th century court gown that will require something truly spectacular. Obviously that will wait until my talent and funds will allow such an undertaking.

In the meantime, I do get to work with these awesome Williamsburg print fabrics. I think it goes without saying that these prints make our hearts do a little pitter-patter. Since I was not very thrilled with my first effort at an en fourreau back I decided to try again and this time I am much happier.

Armed with a little more confidence and a lot more patience I set about this dress with a goal of hand stitching the vast majority of it. Even the stupid lovely sleeves were sewn together and into the armscye by hand. Big deal for me. And check out those tiny top stitches! I won't show you the dress inside, though... it's lined with a pretty heavy linen.

I've also been in love the "zone front" gowns of the time and have been wanting to try my hand at them. I used a basic piece of off-white silk taffeta for a bit of differentiation, as well as some left over silk from my pair of stays as the trim. The brown-purple of the silk was a perfect compliment to the colors in the fabric. 

And just admire those teeny stitches - except that one big ugly one staring you in the face. The front of the gown was perhaps my most frustrating and at one point I almost gave in and went with a straight-forward bodice front. After a slight tantrum and a good night's sleep I persevered and am so happy that I did.

I'm having so much fun trimming these gowns as they should be. I'm planning on carrying through with the same silk for the sleeves but I haven't decided which fabric I'll be using to cover the buttons. I'm really apprehensive about this part because like many a modern sewer, I've always relied heavily on my handy-dandy sewing machine. I've watched the Ticonderoga instructional YouTube videos very closely and I think I'll sew up some silk with linen lining to practice on before I take the buttonhole chisel to my gown.

Dolores seems to have resized herself recently - probably from being wrenched about with stays going on and off. But I've been frequently trying this dress on myself to make sure it works and it fits me nicely - if not my misshapen dressform. I think it's time to start thinking about investing in a premium body double. So that's a complete run-down of the sewing room activities of late.

Until next time...

May 3, 2015

Mourning Gown

I've been doing a bit of research into the traditions of mourning - from the Greeks and Egyptians on through the twentieth century - and have found it to be an entirely fascinating and consuming study. It is also something humans tend to have in common with other mammals and animals that anthropologists, zoologists and behavioral biologists have been studying for years. If we narrow our interests down considerably and just focus on the fashion of mourning, it tends to be no less interesting or intricate.

It kind of goes without saying that the codes of mourning, dictated by the rigidly conforming society of Europe, would reach into the fashion world and dominate the trends of each generation. Symbols and colors were hugely important to convey meaning to others, as well as the respect due to the passing of close family or friends. Like the white wedding dress, the tradition of black to express the period of mourning was not something that was firmly set throughout Europe. There are enough fashion plates, however, from the eighteenth century to suggest that black was often regarded as an outward expression of grief.

I'm finally getting around to putting the finishing touches on this black silk mourning gown that has been 'in progress' for a couple of months. In the spirit of taking my time, I'm slowing down on all of the work and trying to hand sew the bulk of my projects. The hems on the petticoat and down the sides was a pain in the neck (or fingers), but I'm happy with the new effort and care I'm putting into these things. 

The construction of the gown was fairly simple, just a straight-forward anglaise. I decided to keep the gown unadorned, for now, but I've also ordered some pewter silk ribbon and so it might get some trim in the future. I have yet to decide if I really want to add anything to it. The skirt supports, recently constructed, have also made me love this dress even more. I also had to fix the pleats (something I'm doing a lot of lately) but after I did so it all looked so much better. 

 Once again, the sleeves turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Patterned sleeves tend to be much larger than my arms so I've made a couple of 'stock' cutouts from muslin pieces that will act as my fitted sleeves for the future. At first this caused some huge headaches because it shifted the part that went into the armscye but after much yelling and stomping, it was all solved in the end.

It's Corgi-approved. Until next time... 

April 25, 2015

Mid to Late 18th Century Stays... Number Four

Having stalked various museum sites, books and blogs on the subject of stays I have to admit I have become rather obsessed with making the perfect pair that I will love forever and ever, amen. I have found, however, that for me, the perfect pair of stays seems to be one of the Sisyphean tasks and I'll forever be stuck about half-way up the mountain. With this latest pair, however, I seem to have made great strides in developing my skills. I used a pattern drafted by Alicia at LBCC Historical because right now I just don't have the trust in my own abilities to draft and make a pair of stays on my own.

Here are some construction pictures. I used two pieces of heavy twill cotton to make the channels and then the facing fabric, as well as a third piece of twill for the inside. I sewed all the layers together, then stitched the pieces together and added a linen lining.

I was using a beautiful silk that the maker had named "Turkish purple" that was beautiful on both the wrong and right sides. I was somewhat tempted to use the more golden wrong side but decided to go with the purple instead. I had a little of fun with the accompanying trimming colors, which are bits of silk from other projects.

While I did not hand-sew the channels, I did make a huge step (for me) and did the lacing holes by hand. I love the effect, even if some of the circles are not perfectly round, and it made me feel a lot happier and like I was getting closer to making the Best Ever Pair of Stays. I used a combination of linen, silk and cotton threads.

I moved very slowly with this project because I really wanted to make sure I was doing everything right. I made a boned mock-up, I did the binding three separate times to get it looking nice and made sure to pay attention to detail. OF COURSE, I missed something. In lengthening the pattern a little bit, I completely forgot to lengthen the stomacher and it annoys me to no end. I'm going to re-do that part of it in the near future but for final fitting purposes and pictures, I just kept it as is.

Naturally I have a bit more squishiness than Dorcas (that's her name this week) but one gets the idea.

I really like having the front lacing as well as back to work on getting the best fit. I'd like a little bit more separation at the top, but I have lost a bit of weight since taking the initial measurements and making the mock-up (which I forgot to account for, of course), so when let out further, the back ties a bit too close together at the top. So I pulled in the front and just called it a day.

You can see the linen lining and whip stitch peeking there, but I am thinking of hiding that with some more silk strips. This has every possibility of becoming one of those unending works of art that I'll always be fiddling with.

I actually am pretty pleased with what I've been able to do and how far I've come since my first pair last fall. I kept more mental notes of where I need to improve but these are by far the best fitting and most comfortable ones I've made. I definitely learned a lot by slowing down and being open to redoing certain parts of the process - amazing how that happens!

And since we were already out in the yard between tornado warnings, I decided to snap some quick pictures of my garden..

The growing season in Florida is a spectacular thing. I started seeing flowers peek out all the way back in February and now the plants have simply exploded with the perfect mix of rain and sun. My lantana and butterfly bushes are so vibrant but they're threatening to take over my tomato plants, so I"ll have to trim them soon.

I've already harvested some pole beans, zucchini and a cucumber. Once they've finishing producing, I'm planting Brussels Sprouts, more squash and lettuces.

And I planted probably 50 tomato plants of all different varieties. It's a strange thing, but I'm somewhat of a tomato snob (thanks to my dad), so I bought a bunch of heirloom and unique tomato seeds to try. I'll happily pay $5 for 25 seeds instead of $6.99/pound at the grocery store.  I'm most excited for my Black Krim tomatoes to start producing fruit and I'm hoping if I talk sweetly enough to the plants, I'll be harvesting some perfect beauties in the near future.

Dorcas also enjoyed the brief airing. Until next time...

April 20, 2015

Big, Fabulous Hair

A while back I took a pretty big leap for me and invested in a pretty high-quality wig from Arda Wigs. They have received very good reviews and weren't expensive, which is exactly what I needed for my first attempts at 18th century wig "making".

Photo: Arda Wigs

So this is the wig I bought - it's called "Merry" and is considered one of their medium-length wigs. The reading I have done from others out there have suggested that the wig be curled before starting on 18th century hair-styles, so I thought I would save myself the step of curling a straight one and just go with one that was already there. Arda also has a huge selection of colors and styles, so I was able to pick a fairly dark one that will best match my own hairline. 

After trying, unsuccessfully, some other styles that just weren't looking neat enough, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for the super teased out hedgehog look that was so popular towards the later half of the 18th century. Following the advice from the American Duchess, I just started teasing the ever living life out of the thing. This is what I had to work with after about 15 minutes of doing things to this wig I'd never do to my own poor hair. It definitely reminds me of that episode of Friends where the gang is in Jamaica and Monica's hair goes crazy... you remember:

Photo Credit: via Google


Anyhow, I started with a pretty awesome rat's nest worth of hair at the top to give me some initial volume and then kept pulling the sections gently around the head and pinning in place. Like it was suggested, I had to get over my fear of trimming some of the hair, which I desperately needed to do as the length and thickness of the wig was getting to be too much. Amazingly, yes, that can happen!

I thought about leaving the bottom portion as seen in these two photos, but I thought at some angles it looked a little too Cavalier-esque and wasn't really what I was looking for. It did look nice with an addition of a floppy hat, but I went ahead and kept pulling up the pieces into the whole cloud.

Et, voila!

Once again, my camera fails to capture it well but so far I'm so happy with it. I am super thrilled that I could salvage the wig I purchased because I was beginning to think I'd never find a good use for it. I did add some hair spray but I'm not sure it helped very much. Of course, one of the beauties of this hair-style is the kind of fussy look. If it deflates during travel, I can just take a comb to it and a few more well-placed pins.

Up next, I'm going to turn my hand to some millinery and finally make myself a proper 18th century hat... or two... or three. 

Until next time...

April 9, 2015

The Virtue of the Re-do.

A while ago I was really excited about completing my first redingote pattern but the more I looked at it hanging out on my dressform, the more out-of-love I became. I was so unhappy with certain parts of it that I couldn't bring myself to finally put the buttons on and call it a day. 

So here's what we started with... 

I did really like where the buttons were placed, but to be honest I put them there to kind of hide a place where I futzed the back of the dress. The first go-round I could not get that nice little peak in the back these dresses are commonly known for. I was being incredibly lazy and did not make the best effort to make it as nice as I'd like. 

So... I decided to rip the seams open and re-do where the skirt attached to the bodice. I am also going to confess that I did not do it the correct way by sewing the skirt to the lining and then sew down the facing. It's shocking how much better things they work when they're done right. Don't tell my mother I said that.

Ta-da! Unfortunately I cannot get good pictures with this fabric, but you can see how much better the seam looks on the back, especially the nice point in the center-back. Yay! I was so much happier with how the dress was sitting. Also, I had a kind of revelation with pleating - turns out, direction does make a huge difference. Part of my other goal was fix how the fabric hung over the skirt supports and I realized the pleats really do need to go towards the center peak to create that lovely flow.

I also needed to find a way to fix the front of the dress so that everything came together smoothly and had a nice finish. I bought a lovely length of scarlet silk that will make the belt and I have some cotton muslin on the way to make an airy petticoat that seems so popular in the period fashion plates. My excitement has definitely returned with this piece and now I'm getting even more eager to wear it for the first time. I was thinking about trimmings for it, but I think beyond the red belt I'm not going to fuss with it too much. I think the striped fabric is enough. And of course a fabulous hat. 

To which I will add this fabulous hair style. Even though I was able to do a pretty good approximation of a pouf a few months ago, I still remember the nightmare that was my headache afterwards. This is a much more manageable look and something I'm able to fix up in about 20 minutes. I tell you what, though, I have no clue how these ladies lived without Aqua Net!

I'm working on a late 18th century mourning gown, as well as going back and working on my pet-en-l'air a bit more. I also have been working on my 19th century stuff, and have started with a pretty straight-forward linen pelisse. It still needs a bit of work and I need to do a pair of stays, but we'll get there. 

Until next time! 

February 15, 2015

Blowing off steam while making pretty things.

While I have been writing in earnest for a few weeks now, I have found that I have also needed the outlet my sewing room provides to give my brain a rest. It's amazing how much of a haven our sewing spaces become - letting myself be immersed in the world of thread and cloth, I believe, has made me approach my writing with a level of calm and levelheadedness. 

With that being said, I was able to complete this lovely blue petticoat for the pet-en-l'air I finished just recently. I have not hemmed the bottom as yet because I am trying to decide on the trimmings and how much they might take. I also want to make sure that I leave enough length that can be let out if I change my skirt supports in the future. Deciding and working on that should give me another couple of hours of playing one afternoon.

I asked for my pair of American Duchess 'Georgiana' shoes for Christmas for just such an outfit and I hope I can soon decide on the color I'm going to dye them so that I can sport the whole ensemble for photos one day soon.

Before then, my dressform (Esmerelda, I think) gets to look pretty wearing it around the house. Every once in a while, I forget where I might have placed her for pictures and scare the $&*! out of myself when I come across her at night and forget that she's there.

I was also able to put together, rather quickly I might say, this late 18th century version of a Redingote. I'm so excited to finally have one of my own as I've been drooling over the several pretty variations I've seen around Pinterest and other blogs. I used a pattern by Nehelenia and found it to be wonderfully easy to follow. The cut fits very well, especially in the shoulders where I usually have a bit of trouble getting things just right. I just had to adjust the sleeves as mine are pretty scrawny and I like how the fashion plates have the sleeves tight around the wrist and forearm.

 I used this wonderful woven cotton from Renaissance Fabrics (thanks to DH's Christmas gift card!) which is a perfect weight for what was meant to be a garment worn for traveling and going outside. The nature of the fabric also allowed me not to have to bother with any stiffening interlinings for the collars. I did not take any pictures of the inside, but I lined it with a fairly sturdy linen.

I really love this jacket and wish I could wear it out to the grocery store! I still have to attach the buttons on the cuffs and on the front, while also fashioning some hidden closures but that will be for another day. In all total, however, I think I will have only spent about 6 hours between cutting the fabric and sewing it all together. I have ordered a couple more Nehelenia patterns and hope I will find them just as easy to get through as this was. 

Until next time...