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 Fran├žois 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...

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...