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...

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