August 25, 2015

Modern Mending: Or, why I chose to fix an inexpensive bra and blog about it.

Or, in which a broken bra makes me get ever-so-slightly political... bear with me, if you will. 

Let's not beat around the bush: it's not just an inexpensive bra, it's a cheap bra from Victoria's Secret that had been marketed in such a fancy way, I, like many others, just generally assumed it was worth the still-too-high price. So why, then, did I decide to even put forth any effort to save the stupid thing? Annoyance. 

I'm annoyed that one day after I bought the thing, washed it in an appropriate manner and wore it to run errands, the front middle portion that attaches the cups snapped leaving me with an embarrassing situation and a useless item of clothing. I tried returning it and another one that was already showing signs of coming apart at some pretty important seams, but all I received were the typical responses given in these situations. With a bad attitude, to boot. So now I was determined to mend these stupid bras and wear them proudly - bad mending stitches and all!

I think, however, there are some important lessons here. We have all realized clothing we buy off shelves in these mass-market stores are cheaply made, often at an increasingly depressing cost to other human lives. We do live in a society where something like a $20.00 bra is seen as expendable - oh well, another one snapped so I'll just go pick another one up when I get my next coupon in the mail. But that's $20.00, or $40 in this particular case of two crappy bras! The former is easily a decent lunch out with my husband and daughter, and the latter is a delightful date night dinner! I'm sure the lousy customer service on top of a lousy product made something in my head snap, but it was certainly a wake up call to the ugliness of a big retail industry I wish we could abolish.

Without belaboring the issue too much, I clearly decided to take my sewing skills and apply them in an imminently practical way and sew up my busted brassiere. And while I did it, I made sure to think about the fact that I will never buy another product from VS again and that it might actually be time to invest a little more time and effort, and money, into sourcing better-made items from companies with far better business practices. Or make my own. They'll likely last longer and I'll be less annoyed if and when I have to fix whatever might break on them.

I'm off my soap-box now and we should return soon to the regularly scheduled programming.

Until next time...

August 9, 2015

Madame Francoise is almost finished!

Françoise is hanging out on my dressform every day as I continue to chip away at the many parts that go into making one of these fantastic dresses. I'm kind of surprised by my own level of patience I've been exhibiting during the whole process. 

I do kind of hate setting sleeves in the proper manner. I machine-basted the lining and the sleeve together to make my life a bit easier during this process, but otherwise I put the sleeves in by hand and it all worked out pretty well. In fact, several lightbulbs went off about the specific shape of the armscye and where it's meant to align properly with the sleeve. When I put the dress on I noticed a huge difference in how my shoulders now fit.

After the sleeves were put in, I attached some robings that will cover the lacing that will be sitting under the stomacher.

After I made it this far, the dress sat around for a while as I tried to come up with the best way to trim the gown. I am attempting to stay as close to using the materials and techniques from the 18th century but when it came to my trim I had to steer on the side of affordability over accuracy. I had to go in for around 50 yards of faux silk organza ribbon, so if I had been buying the real thing we would have been eating mac'n'cheese and hot dogs every night for a few months.

Here's the gown so far.. I forgot to put the underskirt back on my dressform before I took pictures, but it also has the wreaths pinned in place.

Believe me, this was a huge exercise in patience and perseverance. I had the epic work of Angela at Starlight Masquerade guiding my progress throughout and I'm so happy that she took the time to take so many pictures of her construction techniques for lurkers like me to follow. I didn't do things exactly as she did, but her site was definitely a huge help.

I'm also using this dress from the 18th century as my inspiration...

Isn't it glorious? I really have to envy the lucky woman that had the chance to wear this. And also respect those who made it, considering I had the opportunity to do some of the work with a sewing machine and save myself quite a few hours' worth of labor.

Just pinning everything in place took a long time, but now I have to sew everything down and hope that the puffs and pleats all stay in their places. I'm really, really thrilled with how it's turning out. I just ordered 100 teardrop pearls that I hope will be here soon so I can start putting some bling on this girl. If I have enough of the pearls left over, I hope that I'll be able to make some jewelry to go along with it. In the meantime, I'll be working on the sleeves some more and also buying another 20 yards or so of the ribbon to I can start making some bows to join the wreaths. Things to do, things to do!

Until next time...

July 28, 2015

Progress on the Robe a la Francaise

Progress on the French robe is moving along, albeit very slowly. Turns out, while I love doing pleats, I also hate doing pleats.

In my quest for a dress done as correctly as possible I've looked at what seems like hundreds of photos of other ones and I guess things started to get a little mixed up in my head. As a result, it took me about 3 or 4 different times to get the front panel of the skirt pleated just so. The fabric itself pleats beautifully and creates a lovely effect that I can't seem to capture on my phone's camera. 

Here are the side pleats looking ever so lovely... or so I think. I'm really excited that my pocket slits have lined up well with my underskirt and allows me to access the panniers very easily. I really hope that I remember to add them to the quilted petticoat I'm making or else all that extra stitching will be for nothing!

I'm pretty happy with everything at this point. I have some hidden eyelets in the bodice lining (yes, handstitched!) that allows me to tighten the dress closed. I have not even begun to really narrow down on a stomacher pieces at this point and I also know that I have hours and hours of creating and applying trim in front of me.

I'm so in love with the back pleats! I can see how Watteau fell in love with painting them. There's something so lovely about how the fabric drapes gracefully down the back. For a while, the whole notion of how the pleats stayed in place completely eluded me until I started working on this dress. With the front pieces tied nice and tight, the whole bodice comes together perfectly (which I rarely say about anything coming out of my sewing room) and the rest falls into place.

It does look so plain now in the pictures, but I know once I add all the other bling it will truly begin to shine.

Right now I'm breathing a sigh of relief that the pleats are finally in place and the front bodice pieces are sewn onto the lining. I still have about another month of work left ahead of me (if my current state of progression is any indicator), but I have now completed one of the bigger hurdles of the whole project.

My question to you guys, if you all wouldn't mind helping me, is thinking of another color that will add just a little pop of something. I will have pearls and self-fabric trimmings but I was wondering if I could incorporate another shade or totally different color to the dress without it looking garish.

Until next time...

July 19, 2015

Happy dance...

I've done it, you guys. I finally bit the bullet and took advantage of a fantastic sale on silk taffeta and bought myself 12 yards of a very pretty, but subtle, bronze-gold length of fabric to make my robe a la française.

I was determined to do this right and not my usual throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method of doing things. I have been reading up on construction methods for about a month and seriously studying the art and skill of making bodice slopers, as well as draping techniques. I spent a lot of time on Craftsy and actually invested in some of their construction courses - even though they're modern techniques and clothes, the foundation of skills was what I was aiming for.


... with my belly full of a delicious breakfast, I buckled down this morning with this awesome book by Elizabeth Friendship, my tools and my yummy bolt of silk hanging out, cheering me on. I'm happy I took the sloper/draping courses online, but I think I could have made a decent stab at pattern-making by just using this book. But it's nice to have both... 

It's a slow-going thing, but I persevered and was able to get my lining pieces cut and sewn together by lunch time. I don't really care to spend time hand-sewing my lining pieces, as they rarely see the light of day and I like to save my patience for hand-stitching those area that are actually more difficult with a sewing machine and need a certain amount of precision.

I then started working on the underskirt for the whole schebang. Doing the side pleats actually pushed my carefully-cultivated calmness to the breaking point but I think I finally hit on something that I like. It's not sewn in place yet, I'm saving that for when I've had time to sleep on the whole project. Hidden in there is an opening for me to reach the pockets of my panniers. On a side note, I'm working towards a gown that is more of a 1770s-90s shape, rather than the ultra-wide court gowns of the 1740s-50s.

I haven't decided on trimmings yet, but here is the shape of the skirt so far with the hem just pinned in approximate place.

Back... here comes the good stuff.

Like the underskirt, these pleats still aren't sewn in place until I'm sure I'm really happy with everything. Right now they are as even I was able to make them after four or five tries and I was getting tired of my epic day of exercising patience and good judgement.  

As of 9 o'clock tonight, this is what I have so far and I'm pretty happy with it. Nothing is sewn in place, so that's my next task. Then I'll finally have to decide what kind of trim I'm going to do. Hopefully I'll have the yardage to do something really fun and fancy as I've been admiring the fantastic work done by Starlight Masquerade, as well as the pretty work the American Duchess is currently doing.

Until next time...

June 10, 2015

Dresses on parade.

I finally had an opportunity to play dress-up on my recent trip to Virginia. My home-state offers up a much greater variety of actual or near-as-may-be 18th century backdrops for my dresses than does Florida, and I was eager to wear them myself instead of just showcasing them on my poor dress form. Michael Justice, a local photographer and friend of my mom's, was nice enough to come join us as we trekked in and around Lynchburg for some "just right" scenery. We settled upon the historic Point of Honor museum which was originally built in the 19th century but with some very apparent 18th century architectural carry-over; as well as the City Cemetery, which is a national landmark and the site of vital Civil War history and burials.  

Here is the redingote based off the late 18th century fashion plates and using the Nehelenia pattern. I made this using the blue and white woven linen from Renaissance Fabrics and just fell in love with the fabric as soon as I opened the box... which was a good thing since instead of being patient and ordering a swatch to confirm, I jumped in for a full five yards of it. 

I unfortunately did not have time to make a walking stick, nor did I make it to a tack supply store to pick up a nice dressage whip that approximates the kinds of whips ladies would have used when riding during that period. I used to have a lovely leather English hunting whip given to me by a Master of the Hunt from Lexington that would have been perfect for such an occasion, but it met an unfortunate end via some puppy teeth some years ago. 

The redingote continues to be one of my favorite things I have made. The cut and structure of the garment is so classical and practical, yet feminine with the long skirts. I'm so happy I took the time to go back and re-work the pleats. My restructured undergarments also helped the overall look: I'm wearing the most recent pair of stays, skirt supports, and two petticoats. 

Unfortunately my zone-front anglaise is not ready for its own photo shoot just yet. The bodice front just isn't making me happy, but wanting to get some more color out of this day I donned my first anglaise that I wore in St. Augustine and really enjoyed having it on again. I took out the hooks and eyes I had originally sewn and used the simple pinning method for the day. That really helped with the fit of the gown, as well as keeping it from bunching in the front.   

Here I am attempting to capture the idyllic pastoral imagery popularized by François Boucher... I need my adoring beau at my feet, but he doesn't like to get dressed up in period costume. 

My mourning gown was giving me some serious issues that day. The pins I was trying to use were simply too short to do a good job of securing the gown well enough. It seemed every time I changed position at all they would come undone. Michael was being incredibly patient with me, but because of that issue, I do not have very many photos of the front of the gown.

Silly pins... 

These ended up being two of my favorite shots and they were taken just down the street from my parent's house in one of the many historic districts peppered throughout Lynchburg. We were kindly allowed to borrow someone's yard and lovely gates for a few more shots. Although by this time we had completely run the course of my daughter's limited supply of patience and in the last photo you can see me slightly sporting one of those 'mom looks' we always have handy.  

I hope to keep being able to find occasions to play dress-up. Even with the makeup melting off my face, I had a great time. If you ever have a time when you are traveling through Virginia, I highly suggest jumping on the Civil War trail and visiting places like Appomattox Courthouse and Lynchburg for their unique stories and heritage. And take a day to simply walk or drive around this little city in Central Virginia - it is a fascinating mix of the earliest settlement periods, indigenous Indian heritage and 19th century industrialization that has left behind some fantastic warehouses now being converted into lofts and office spaces. There are plenty of architectural treasures and wonders to be found all around, one only needs to go looking. And do not limit yourself to simple hotels because there are quite a few absolutely wonderful B&Bs that will allow you inside these fantastic homes.

Please visit Michael's page Michael Justice Photography for more information on his lovely work. He also has an Instagram account that will keep you quickly updated with his ongoing projects, and can be found at the same name. I cannot thank him enough for his patience and for helping me show off my work.

I'll be heading up to Northern Virginia this weekend and I hope to catch a glimpse of L'Hermione as she docks in Alexandria for the weekend. Failing that, however, I have my dad on the hook for a photo session out at Gunston Hall with my mid-18th century pet-en-l'air, panniers and all.

Until next time...

Old City Cemetery
Lynchburg Historical Foundation 
Appomattox Courthouse: Civil War Battlefield
Point of Honor
Poplar Forest

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...