September 18, 2014

18th Century Stays

When we relocated to Florida, we moved close to St Augustine, which is most famous for it being the oldest, continuously occupied city in the contiguous United States. I have since started volunteering at one of the many museums in the area (with an eye on making myself so valuable they'll just start throwing money at me to keep me there) to start immersing myself into what I hope becomes a career of mine.

In any event, part of my job there is to wear a period costume and kind of play a role as I impart historical information. Much of the background research has already been done for the area where I'll be working, but as my lord and master (and mistress) have said, there is always room for more knowledge and growth. I had the great, fabulous, wonderful good fortune to also have made a connection with the volunteer coordinator there, who is also in the process of redoing the whole wardrobe for the volunteers so things are more period-accurate. She is also a devoted costumer and loves accuracy. Match made. Plus, I finally have a legitimate reason to make beautiful, period gowns like I've been longing to do.

For my first project, I'm using the great J.P Ryan patterns for the 18th century stays and the robe a l'anglaise. Of all the gorgeous dresses of that period, this is the most direct of them with a full skirt that is pleated (yay!) and attaches to a lovely, fitted bodice. For the period fabrics for the dress, which will include the petticoat, I picked out simple solids in navy blue and off-white, 100% linen. One of the things we are trying to achieve here is a very specific look of fabrics and dresses for the women that would have lived and worked in this very poor, yet thriving, colony that was at various times under the French, Spanish and English. Since the woman I'll be portraying was a middling soldier's wife with five children in a three-room house, she needs serviceable fabrics and would have likely had limited (if any) access to some of the more beautiful fabrics that would have been seen in Europe at this time.

For the stays, I bought a cotton canvas, or duck, fabric, a mid-weight but soft linen for what will sit against my chemise (also of the mid-weight linen) and a heavy-weight cotton that has a lovely sheen to it that will be what people would see. Oh my! We ARE always looking for ways to attract more museum patrons: what about one day where we all run around in our historically-accurate skivvies? My lady's one extravagance would be the fabric for the outer portion... which makes me think that some things never change. How many of us wear lacy underthings under a cotton t-shirt?

I blew these pictures up extra big to show how pretty the stays were looking before things became a little crazy with the boning. This pattern calls for it to be fully-boned, but I have been reading a lot lately (from my historical-costuming idol) and have learned that if you have a smaller, more easily contained frame, you can get away with a half-boned pair of stays. I, however, want things smushed down and pinched in as much as possible... so full-on for me!

So in this picture, all I have put together are the front center panels, mid-front and side pieces with the casing lines sewn in just a couple of spots. I kind of cheated and bought the plastic boning that is already in casing, so for the most part I just made my life a little easier and attached that directly to the bodice, but in some places I did put 'channels' where I could slide in the pieces.

As you can imagine, the more boning that goes in, the more feisty the stays get to move through the machine. Yes, I also cheated and machine-stitched. I will hand-stitch another pair of stays, but that will be as part of what I'm doing at the museum. A sort of display, if you will, of how these things were done. The women who do this in Williamsburg are a great inspiration to us here and we will try to share some of the same thing with visitors to St. Augustine.

I have been pleased as punch with myself over this project turning out pretty-all-right for my first go-round. To be honest, I've been so very intimidated by making something like this but we all have to start somewhere.

Here's where I left off today. The bottoms of the boning pieces can get kind of stabby and I had poked enough needles underneath my fingernails (we all know that wretched feeling) that I felt it was better to leave them for the night and attack the other side tomorrow.

Hello, my pretty! Once I get the boning in and the linen lining attached, it will be time to trim the whole thing. Talking with my costume mentor at work, I was thinking a pretty navy blue trim out of the extra linen from my dress. Otherwise, I will just use a white piece of twill, which will also add a lovely contrast to the grey.

I cannot wait to get one with the rest of the robe a l'anglaise but to get its fit right, these have to be ready first!

Until next time...

September 17, 2014

Inaugural Wine Wednesday

I'm going to start this off really classy and introduce you to one of my favorite box wines. That's right: I've sampled enough boxed wine over the past year or so to form a pretty solid favorite. There were some definite losers, but overall I think if your personal tastes are not too refined then you won't be disappointed. Underwhelmed, maybe; but not flat out bummed that you brought home essentially four bottles in a cardboard box and now have to make your way through it or end up tossing all that.

All jokes about Franzia aside (they're still reporting sales of 58 million boxes a year, y'all!)*, the crop of wines out there available in convenient boxes are actually serving a few purposes beyond just getting people smashed. They're reported to be more friendly for the environment* - particularly the BotaBox brand I like - and the wine lasts longer once opened and, therefore, is less wasteful. Win-Win. Sure, you're missing out on that satisfying "pop" you can only get when opened a traditional bottle of wine, but even cork has seen a dramatic down-shift in use over the years. Many of the companies seek to use recycled cardboard and make the whole kit-and-caboodle recyclable.

Let's get to the heart of the issue here: tasting. I like this Shiraz but to be honest with you, I cannot accurately compare it because it's the only Shiraz I've ever had. I actually bought this by accident thinking it was the box of Merlot I was choosing. This one is what I would call on the lighter side of reds. I'm not going to talk about notes or hints or any of that because I can't pick up on those with any amount of certainty and don't want to sound like a complete jack-a**. I think it's actually the perfect wine to go with any kind of heavier food because it won't compete with the flavors. It's not "bold" or "spicy" and goes down rather well. It can get a bit acidic-tasting if it's been sitting around in the glass too long, so bottoms up! Best part is... it was $18 for the box. Just thinking of all that value for my money makes it taste even better!

So, if you've never given boxed wine a try I'd certainly recommend this brand as a good place to start. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also favorites of mine, but I have yet to try any of their white wine... another post?

If you'd like to read more about boxed wine from an (arguably) more reliable source, there was an article in the NYT a while back.

For next Wednesday...

It's a Malbec from Portillo vineyards in Argentina. I found it at my local supermarket for $9.00 so I'll be looking forward seeing if it can compete with some good stuff I've tasted once-upon-a-vineyard-tour.

Until next time..

September 16, 2014

One whole year...

Is it even permissible to use this same blog after I haven't made a single post in almost a whole year? Whether I'm following some unknown written blog rule or no, I have decided to revamp this space to include a lot of other things besides only cross-stitching and books and open it up to all the things that go on creatively in my house (and my head)... and also Wine Wednesdays... but more on that later.

So... we've moved. Again. My daughter is turning is five. She's in preschool five days a week, for six whole hours. Yup.. that's 30 hours that just opened wide in my schedule for all sorts of funtivities. Although, I am in the thesis-writing phase of finishing up my Master's degree in History, so I often have to shelve my creative funtivities for any free-time that opens up. This is also where Wine Wednesdays will come in later.

Being five, my darling daughter - like so many her age across the country - has decided that Disney's Frozen is the BEST.THING.EVER and must be Anna/Elsa for Halloween this year. She missed out on being Anna/Elsa for Halloween last year because I'm slow to catch up with popular culture and missed out on the initial wave of Disney-inspired hysteria. Well, have I made up for it this year! C can now not only be Anna, but she can also be Elsa; or vice versa! I was such a sucker that I decided to make her two dresses to choose from, but I made it infinitely easier on myself by just using one pattern and a variety of trims to make them unique.

I've actually had this pattern lurking around in my 'one of these days' stacks and decided that this would probably work just as well as any for what I wanted to achieve. One of the things I've learned over the years is to read the pattern. It seems so stupidly simple and yet, I'd always jump ahead and not pay attention to things and end up buying way too much fabric and cutting excess pieces and just creating a whole lot of waste. Obviously for the Anna/Elsa dresses, I was not going to use those long sleeves, the Elizabethan-type collar, or try to achieve that under gown look. All I really wanted from a pattern was a fitted bodice with sleeves, and a full skirt that I could pleat. Done.

When watching Frozen the first time, I actually loved the artists' depictions of the gowns for the characters. One of my personal favorites (and thereby C's favorite) was the green coronation dress worn by Anna. To get the look of a dark and light in the pleats I bought yards and yards of dark green ribbon to be sewn onto the lighter green fabric. To try and mimic the other trim on Anna's dress, I picked out this wonderfully embellished ribbon on JoAnn's. I had to buy about 8 yards, so good job that it just happened to be 50% off that day!

Secret... I actually LOVE pleating. I think pleats are one of the most wonderful aspects of dress-making and add that certain "umph" to any good design. The pattern called for running a gathering stitch along the top and pulling the fabric along it, but I prefer the more symmetrical look of hand- done pleats for dresses like this. Plus, with the trim pieces sewn vertically onto the dress, the gathering stitch wouldn't have worked very well.

I actually squealed a bit.. more than C did when she first saw it. Her response: "where's the Elsa dress?" Spoiled much?

Honestly, if I could stuff myself into this I would. I don't have any pictures of the dress completely finished, but I added some pretty gold trim to the sleeves, as well as the bottom of the bodice to give it more of that 'coronation' look.

Here is the Elsa dress I decided to make. It's kind of an amalgam of all the dresses she wore in the movie (I think) and has turned out quite well. Despite all the pretty ribbon and trip on the Anna dress, C has decided this is her Favorite Dress. Ah, well.

I do have some other ribbon I bought to add to the bodice and skirt to try and mimic the embroidery on Elsa's dresses that I think will make me more excited about it. I mean, what's more important: that I like the dress, or that she enjoys wearing it? I thought so. 

This McCall's pattern in incredibly easy to use. I will have to say that I think I could have done without 2 yards of the skirt fabric and achieved the desired fullness by having C wear her costume, flounced petticoat. If you are purchasing a cheaper fabric (say $5 or less per yard) it might not be an issue, but the blue fabric was about $9/yard, so it definitely does add up fast. 

Who knows what she'll be for Halloween 2014, but at least she's well-prepared. Heck, I'm so prepared and in the sewing-zone, I won't bat an eye if she decides she wants to be Merida from Brave! I got this. 

So if you've been reading this, or skipped until you reached here, I'm going to pick up with my idea (from last year... yikes!) about my at-home, unrefined wine-tasting of those generally $15/bottle and under, and I'll be posting every (hopefully) Wednesday. I started this idea one night with my friend, Lola, and hope that I can persuade her to continue on with this misguided idea of ours!

Until next time... 

October 5, 2013

Fall Wreath

I spend too much time on Etsy and Pinterest. I know, without a doubt, I could have finished so many little projects, folded laundry in a timely fashion and would never stress over not having enough time in my life to get things done. Will I stop looking? No. There are some rather ridiculously complicated ideas that you might think will be easy there is a very great likelihood that you'll be missing large chunks of hair having pulled it all out in a fit of rage: but if you can look beyond the flashy things you'll come across ideas that are really quite good. And for me, once I see them, I always think "well why didn't I think of that?" but I didn't and so I can just be one more copy-cat. 

This burlap wreath with felt rosettes is my latest idea-theft, the first (successful) one being the ribbon topiary decorations I made for C's party. I have the bad habit, however, of just seeing something and only half-reading up on the instructions so I ended up buying a wooden wreath that is pretty on its own instead of the suggested wire wreath. I was not to be diverted from my ultimate goal, however and so decided to start by wrapping my length of burlap (I found one at JoAnn's that was 30 feet long, 8 inches wide) around the wreath first to give me a 'covering' so that then I could sew down the folds I made.

You can see my clumsy stitches tacking down the top folds onto the wrapped layer. If this sounds confusing I apologize. I was actually not even sure this would work out while I was doing it so I did not bother taking photos. I am still kind of impressed it actually worked - or has managed to so far. 

I also love the wreaths I've been seeing with these felt flowers and wanted to include them with the burlap. I just looked up online 'felt flower tutorials' and found a wealth of YouTube videos to get me started. These guys are unbelievably easy to do and great for watching a show at the same time. 

Fall has definitely arrived here in Washington - the cooler temperatures were quickly followed by leaves starting to turn. We have had a few rainy days but we keep getting graced with these gorgeous sunny afternoons that still pull the kids outdoors. What makes this project even greater is that I set myself a crafty task and completed it with some measure of success even after having to improvise a little. 

Until next time... 

October 2, 2013

Here we go...

Are you ready for a super, duper long post? I mean, this is kind of ridiculous thinking of all the things I'm going to try and cram in here for (I hope) your enjoyment. September was I.N.S.A.N.E. around this household and now that it is October I have plans to do very short of absolutely nothing of any importance if I can avoid it. I guess I will still pay the bills.

I had planned to share with you all my summer of gardening success but I seem to have flaked on that sometime around August. I've never been much of a successful planter-gardener. I can tend to things just fine if they're already there, but my planting seeds/bulbs and getting a product seems to elude me. Until 2013! I had Gladiolus flowers everywhere in my yard as well as these massive zucchini plants. My success wasn't total as I couldn't manage to grow herbs (three basil plants died), Brussels sprouts or pickling cucumbers.

I had ALSO planned on sharing these pictures of the gorgeous scenery we saw out on the Olympic Peninsula this past July. (Apparently I was pretty ambitious in July). We stayed in a cute little beach town called Seabrook Village and were super close to the ocean as well as the Hoh and Quinault rain forests. On one of our walks we collected that huge haul of sand dollars which became somewhat of a silly game of trying to outwit the seagulls so we could find whole ones instead of the cracked open ones strewn everywhere. Two guys/gals ended up stalking us for about 10 minutes knowing full well what I was hoarding in my sweatshirt. If you're ever looking for a great vacation I highly suggest checking out this part of the world. Some parts of it are truly desolate but right around every corner was always something to see and enjoy!

Something happened to August and now I'm thinking it might have had something to do with these guys. We've apparently been hoarding V-8 juice and have decided the best way to go about depleting our stock is to enjoy that great summer beverage - the Bloody Mary. We looked for an interesting twist, though, and Jeff was able to find a couple that incorporate Old Bay seasoning into it. YUM! Check out this one and this one! Both are delicious but have quite a bite to them so back off on the horse radish, hot sauce or Old Bay.

Then September showed up and my life went into overdrive. I had my last month of school with all the usual nonsense that seems to pile up at the end, a friend's wedding, my daughter's birthday and my mom and dad stopped by for a visit from Virginia. Crazy, I tells ya!

Cinderella still seems to be the reigning (pun intended) favorite of the Disney princesses in this house so I was happy to throw together a princess tea party with at least a theme that carried the colors of Cinderella. I am kind of a snot and purist about the old Disney movies and seriously dislike the fact that every thing that can be marketed with a Disney princess is done so - but in that cheesy, too cartoonish way of the "updated look."

I took some inspiration from Pinterest and Etsy and made the ribbon topiaries and then just used mine and my grandmother's wedding china for the teacups and serving dishes. I'd like to mention that the first time my wedding china has ever seen any use was for my four year old's birthday party. Just sayin'...

Throwing the tea party was actually a lot of fun. We invited our friends as we tend to drag Caroline with us to most social events and she's quite the social butterfly - our friends are her friends, we've been told. I made a variety of open-faced tea sandwiches but by far the favorite was the cucumber with dill and cream cheese, but my personal favorite was the one with blue cheese and walnut spread with apricot preserves on top. It was a fantastic party in my mouth. We also had goat cheese with pear and honey; brie, apple and smoked ham; and fig preserves with prosciutto. I felt fancy.

In the days since my life has slowed down I've been determined to put in some serious cross-stitching time. I was able to finish the #9 block of Anniversaries of the Heart by Blackbird Designs and make headway on block #10. I'm looking forward to finally finish this one but before that I have to figure out whose initials go where.

Maria's Sampler from GigiR designs is also coming along. Because of the darker fabric and it being 40ct I have to work on this one when I can get really good natural light. My Ott-Light seems to do something odd between the fabric and threads, so it actually makes it harder to see with it on. Bummer! Since night time is my usual stitch time I'm thinking this one is going to take me a bit longer to complete. 

Deep breath - we're almost done. I won't bore you with more writing but just share with you my meager fall decorations that I recently dug out. I am planning a trip to Pier1 to help fill it out some. 

 Until next time... hopefully sooner and shorter!

August 18, 2013

End of Summer

The nights are definitely getting longer here letting me know that the peak of summer is even further behind us and we are slowly drifting towards fall. I always feel a bit of longing when I notice the light in the sky shift towards that Fall hue; but, I also get excited thinking about all of the Fall-happenings. So this time of year is a definite bitter-sweet moment for me. I have decided to add a little something to my blog and considering part of the title is 'and things,' I think it'll work quite nicely. More on that later.

My fabric shop-owning friend brought back a lot of fun things from the most recent market, some of which I showed in the last blog post, but this stack of delicious wool fat-quarters was actually the first fabric purchase, ever, requested by my husband. I was just mentioning that she had brought back a stack and was going to divide it up to sell in smaller bundles (each fat quarter is supposed to retail for $10.00!) but he actually asked me to call her and ask if we could purchase them all since he was really interested in having a wool quilt. Lucky me!

It is fairly soft wool and I definitely love the colors. My only dilemma is that it is pretty thick, so I think I'll have to get some coordinating cotton fabric to use in addition so as to cut down on the seam bulkiness. I'm still thinking about how to tackle this particular issue but I'll get there!

This was just another one of my 'I'll figure out something to do with this' purchases from Fabric Chicks but I really couldn't say no once she pulled it out of her goodie bag. It's 24 fat quarters from a Riley Blake line that comes in 3 color-ways to make this adorable collection of fabrics. Sad thing is, I haven't really had too much time (again) to work on any big projects. I am getting to a semi-burned out state with school right and its hogging all of my free-time or desire to do anything.

Every once in a while, though, I'm finding a few moments to put some time in on Maria's Sampler 1831 by GigiR Designs. This sampler is certainly full of motifs I've never done before but I'm pretty excited to see the whole thing finished.

I'm using the selection of threads, mostly Gentle Arts cottons, suggested by the designer and the fabric is a 40ct Lakeside Linen... something. It's fairly dark and molted but I think that was done to get as close to possible as the original now looks. Also in the works are, as usual, Frances Eden (so close!), Hannah Pepper (which I've had to pick out again) and various others that I'm trying to finish up borders and random motifs.

Now onto my 'new thing'...

So I've read more than once now that wine 'experts' apparently are not all that 'expert,' or at least they are human and subject to make mistakes when judging swill from ambrosia. These declarations, however, often result in one bottle costing upwards in the hundreds of dollars, or being found on your grocery shelves for $5.00. Most of our 'pedestrian' palettes will probably never taste the high-brow vintages so we content ourselves with Robert Parker's usual grading system, as such, to purchase wine. Maybe you take the advice of an acquaintance. Or, like me, perhaps you choose to take a shot in the dark every once in a while to see what you get. This is what happened to me the other day at Trader Joe's. I have a great time playing in Trader Joe's - to me it's not a real grocery store but more like a fantastical world of hidden wonders and nifty packaging. Well, my happy-go-lucky experiences took a wee stumble when I opened this bottle of Malbec and sampled the goods. 

My untrained tongue was immediately affronted with the powerful taste of - and this is technical, you guys - tires. Or what I imagine tires would taste like. There was just something completely off in this bottle of wine and granted, it could have been a bad bottle, but I know that I won't be taking another chance on this particular Malbec. There's no use in discussing the 'full body, coffee taste, hint of blackberry,' yadda, yadda, yadda because I could not get past the tires! So. My personal vote would be an absolute no - I wouldn't even try to cook with it. 

Up next on my, what I hope might become a lucrative career ("Idiot Tastes Wines" has a good right to it), wine guide I will sample and describe to the best of my abilities 3 of my current favorite white wines. Hopefully this takes off and you guys enjoy it! If I can't seem to find time to cross stitch or quilt, I can usually find time for a glass of wine.

Until next time...

June 20, 2013

Bi-Monthly Post

Well, it seems one of my resolutions for the year is about half-way out the window. I cannot seem to get on a regular schedule for posts - we all have our failings. Perhaps there should be a Semi-annual Resolution just so we can refresh ourselves half way through the year.

First off, I am trying to be domestic once again now that DH is home. He very often leaves for work long before I'm willing/able to get out of bed so I pulled up some muffin recipes and picked this lemon raspberry muffin recipe that is supposed to be, at least, a little better for you. It does have a lot of raspberries in it... Anyhow, when I tasted one it was kind of really amazing. The recipe calls for buttermilk and I think that it is some magic ingredient great chefs are hoping to hide from us. I mean, it's so simple but makes a world of difference in so many things I've baked. Moving on...

I'm finally getting my sewing room in order. The big white table off to the left is actually an island for a kitchen but as our house isn't really set up for one it was lingering in the garage collecting all sorts of dust. It's actually a very nice piece but I decided it could be incredibly useful as a cutting table. I put the board from my old cutting table on top of the nicer wood so I'm not scoring all sorts of lines into it. Plus, it's also the perfect height so I'm not cutting for five minutes and then giving up because I have a sore back!

It's just so pretty AND useful.. who knew? 

Exciting news! I finally took the plunge and ordered an adjustable dress form so that I could start practicing with draping and fitting for my own dresses. Making dresses for my little one is SO EASY compared to constructing fitted clothing for women but I'm looking forward to this new challenge. For whatever reason, I keep wanting to call her Maud. In any event, the bra is there because I kept reading on the world wide web that the fit of the breast and under-breast areas was kind of tricky and a helpful way around this was to put one of your own bras on the dress form and work around that. So far, so good!

I've already found it incredibly helpful in placing and then fixing the pleats in any dresses. Also, it shows me that I really need to work on installing zippers! I can't imagine I'll be auditioning for Project Runway anytime soon but I hope I can pick up enough so I can make some of my own things that fit me well and are made out of fabric I like.

 Oh yeah, I'm also painting again. This time it's the guest room that's getting a makeover. Moving on...

I still have a problem with starting and finishing things. I'm still working on Frances Eden from Handwork Samplers...

But then I've gone and started Hannah Pepper from the old Fine Lines magazine... I started this thing almost a year ago and found that I had miscalculated the fabric requirements. It's quite amazing how something like that can completely throw you off your game!

I'm using NPI silks and the fabric I dyed just recently. For anyone interested in this pattern, I'd highly suggest stalking eBay or Etsy to see if it pops up. I do hate finding patterns I really like and then discovering they're out of print!  I'm also working on probably a million other projects at the moment, but I won't bore you with my itsy-bitsy progress!

So I meandered down to my local fabric store where (and I presume here) my friend Melanie runs an adorable little haven of fabrics. She had just been to market in Portland and pulled out some of the new goodies to show me. I, naturally, had to go home with this 'stack' from AdornIt called 'Nested Owls'. It comes in a couple of colorways... which of course I had to buy both.

I mean, look at these guys! They're so cute. I have no idea what/who this is going to be for but I really love just about any fabric that has owls on it. Despite the design being a bit 'young' it might just be my own special quilt all for me. When I get around to it. Ten years from now.

I think I really just added to a stash of fabric that is getting a little out of control. When summer winds down and the sun decides to hide from us again, I'm sure I'll be able to find more time to work in my sewing room... fingers crossed.

Until next time...