January 9, 2016

Beginning as I mean to go on...

There's a lot to be said for the idea that if you begin a new year with more than just intentions to do something and actually do something, the experiences of that year will be all the greater. I have high hopes for the productivity of 2016, and as such I decided that there was no time like January 8th to just dive right into one of the many projects that have been lingering on my "to-do" list.

It also helps that I'm beginning the new year with a few new 'toys' in my sewing room that will really help me speed up what I do... all those French seams get quite time consuming after a while! With my new Janome serger and my new professional dress form I am so excited to dig into 2016's sewing.

This is the first outfit I completed so far. I had purchased this Cloud 9 fabric from their Morning Song line a while ago but did not quite know what I wanted to do with it. I ended up using the Butterick 6090 pattern and thought it was a pretty good pattern. I did delete some steps in the instructions because I did not find them necessary but overall, this was a very simple dress to construct.

Plenty of chances to pleat in this pattern... and I still love me some box pleats!

Anyhow, I think I set myself up for a good beginning. Pretty print, easy project and success. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and that your own 2016 gets off to a great start. Heaven knows the world could all use a better year than 2015!

Until next time!

December 16, 2015

Proudly presenting...

... la robe a la française! I'm so excited to finally be able to share with you all the pictures from my photoshoot with my gown completely finished. I'm fortunate enough to be working as a volunteer at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, which is a part of what was originally a 19th century hotel complex built by Henry Flagler. While it's not an 18th century backdrop, we were able to play around with the building's features to create some really awesome images. And when I say we, I am fortunate enough to also be working with an incredibly talented photographer who works at the museum. 

This is how I arrived at the museum because another incredibly nice woman who works there had offered to help me with my hair... when I say "offered," I really mean that I "conscripted" her into service. (Thanks, Janice!) And I actually showed up in curlers, but those photos will be kept under lock and key.

I'd also like to say that this was Janice's first time working on an 18th century hair style. I showed her a couple of YouTube tutorials by LBCC Historical and turned her loose on my hair. I think she did a fantastic job and I was so happy that I went the entire day without getting the huge headache I had last time I did a pouf style.

So here I'll stop chattering and just let the photos do the talking! I'll only interrupt to say something cool about the museum...

Here we are in the grand ballroom of the former Alcazar Hotel. In the background is a beautiful escritoire that was commissioned by King of Holland Louis Bonaparte circa 1806.

These photos were taken in what was originally the Russian Spa - or steam room - at the Hotel. It was nicknamed 'the Senate' as many of Florida's politics and business ventures were discussed and settled in this room.

This was a nineteenth century version of electric shock therapy. I found this picture to be particularly lovely considering Marie Antoinette and her husband were enthusiastic proponents of this new technology of their day! So it's a perfect meeting of eighteenth and nineteenth century images.

Some of these really neat pictures were taken on the fourth floor of the museum, which was originally the servants quarters. What you can see while up there were the dormitories where they would have lived, as well as fascinating evidence of early fire-deterrent systems! Henry Flagler had outfitted his staff with the means to protect themselves in case of an emergency, which I find so neat to still see evidence of.

Viva la Starbucks - or, eighteenth meets twenty-first century. We had so much fun running around the museum taking these pictures. And if you noticed the gorgeous ostrich feather fan in a few of the photos, the museum's curator was so very kind to allow me to use it for our pictures to add some more luxury to our photos.

I can't wait to make some gowns that actually reflect the time period in which the museum was open as a hotel and do this again!

November 10, 2015

Contemporary Sewing

I've been wishing for quite some time that I could start to sew clothes for myself that I could actually wear on a day-to-day basis and my only problem was making the time to do so... and I also needed a little bit of self-confidence. Some previous sewing projects always wound up looking so half-hearted and sloppy that I would always get so disgusted with whatever I was making I'd end up tossing the whole thing in the trash. This time, I have reached success! And I'm so, so thrilled.

I've been sitting on the fence for so long hemming and hawing about what prints I wanted, what material I wanted to use, what pattern looked good, blah-blah-blah. For this dress, I went with a woven cotton from Cotton + Steel (whose lines I'm really beginning to love) called August Stampede in Navy, and the pattern is one from Lisette (Butterick 6168) that I've been holding in my "some day" pile for far too long.

I received this fabric yesterday and was so excited to get to work on it - it's such a happy print and I felt that being another designer's pattern, the instructions were written much better than the typical Butterick pattern.

The front keyhole makes the dress young while also remaining modest enough so I can wear it to my museum job without scandalizing the patrons. The other thing I liked about the pattern was the ability to make it into a tunic to be worn with leggings.

And would you just look at that invisible zipper! This is by far the best job I've ever done with sewing a zipper, invisible or otherwise. I'm so excited about finally adding that particular skill to my tool kit. I would have loved to show off this dress with me wearing it because it's so much cuter on a person than just hanging, but I seem to have caught some nasty Fall bug and I'm looking quite the mess today. Making something so quickly and that went well really helped me feel better, but now I plan on parking myself on the couch in what I call my invalid position until I kick this.

Until next time...

November 2, 2015

An Exercise in Frustration

A while ago I wrote enthusiastically about my latest iteration of 18th century stays and how I was so happy with it. While I was really happy with the pattern from LBCC Historical, I was unhappy with some of my, to be honest, sloppy technique. Towards the end of the whole project, I just wanted - and needed - a completed pair of stays for the rest of my projects.

I really loved the idea of a front-lacing pair of stays with a center panel that was separate. However, when I had the stays on, I found I had to lace the front so closely together, as well as the back, that it made the center panel almost obsolete. Further, because of how I had to lace it, the center portion only added more bulk to a silhouette that's meant to be rather trim down the front. Also, and perhaps more frustratingly, I had seriously overestimated how much boning I needed in each channel and when wearing them, some of the pieces were digging into my skin and making me so uncomfortable. These two glaring issues really needed to be addressed, and I was not willing to tear the whole thing up and begin again... so, some mending was needed.

Also, it just looked sloppy. It's one of those things that you just know is there and even though no one else knows, you know and it annoys you. I'm sure you all have experienced this feeling.

So the unpicking commenced with removing all the binding first (which I almost wanted to cry because I really do hate putting on the binding) as well as removing the tape that covered where I had stitched the panels together.

The decision I was most worried about was to go ahead and sew the front pieces together completely and do away with the center panel. I feel like the overall effect of the stays will be much more accurate without it and everything will fit much better in the end. I referenced some pictures of extant stays and really focused in on the pair of stays featured in Jill Salen's Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques from c. 1750.

I stitched these together using 3-ply silk thread using a criss-cross pattern to ensure that I gave the center seam extremely good support. I'm also going to fill in the lacing holes with cording to give another layer of strength to a part of the stays I feel might be strained. I am also reinforcing the panel seams with the same stitch just to make sure there won't be any unwanted ripping. I don't know how accurate this is as most are then covered with a ribbon of grosgrain or twill, but I felt that with the new sizing, I might need some extra strength in those places.

Next up, I have ordered some leather binding that I hope will be easier to use as well as feel a bit nicer when wearing. I've also just received a bit of silver taffeta to finish trimming Françoise, so hopefully I'll soon be able to do a fabulous reveal post soon!

Until next time...

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...