Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Visions of Sugarplums

I'm hoping to make blogging a more regular activity. This is made easier by the fact that my graduate studies are coming to a close for the semester, and winter break will be almost a month long. I enjoy my classes, but they take so much time and energy! Also captivating my attention are all the Christmas presents I am working on for my family. I decided that this year would be the year I knit everyones' presents. I got a good start while I was laid up from my surgery, but now it is crunch time, and I have three presents left to go.

Of course, now that I am busy, I get ideas. Lovely ideas, dancing through my head like the proverbial sugar plums. I suppose the end of the year is as good a time as any to make plans and lists. They will be staying plans and lists for the time being, however, as I have no time to work on them, between the aforementioned gifts and a smoking cap for which I have been commissioned.

First up after the new year is new undergarments. This fall I took advantaged of a coupon and bought a giant bolt of muslin. I could really use a second over-the-hoop petticoat, as well as a couple new pairs of drawers and a couple chemises likewise. I'm going to a three-day event in April and I will for sure need clean underwear for all three days, and right now I have one nice pair of drawers, one nice chemise, and one decent chemise. Don't judge. The petticoat I'm planning on making up with tucks - I've always loved tucked petticoats, and now that I have tons of fabric, I think it's time.

I also have my new bonnet - my first foray into millinery. I have plans and schemes which are too complicated to get into here, and which largely depend on what fabric and supplies I can find at a good price. I've needed a second bonnet for a long time.

After that, I have three dress lengths. One is a lovely sheer of the "barred muslin" variety in a nice orchid/lavender shade. The second is a sturdy striped calico in blue and brown that I plan to make up into a wrapper. The third is a Blackwatch plaid cotton broadcloth that is going to have to sit out this round - I got the length for free, and I'm just not certain about the weight and drape of it enough to commit to cutting it out.

What I'm really longing for, however, is a paletot. I have a cape that is on the inaccurate side of things, but works alright for the few outdoor events that I do. I've never had a real vision for sewing up a paletot, and it takes a vision to get me sewing - an inspiration for what the fabric can be and what I can do with it. However, an image of a light gray paletot with purple velvet trim jumped out of nowhere tonight and wrapped itself around my brain and it won't let go.

Of course, I have neither the time, the energy, the fabric nor the money for such an item. But now I have inspiration, so I'll just cling to that until the vision can become a reality. I am also trying to keep my acquisitions for living history reasonable. I have heard of women who own dozens of dresses. I don't need a dozen dresses. When I get all of the above items done, I will have a very well-rounded living history wardrobe that I can be satisfied with. The key word is satisfaction - being content enough with what I have.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm Still Here!

Wow...that was a long disappearance! To be sure, I had a good excuse. First was the end of the school year, which (as anyone who works in a school can tell you) is a small bit of insanity. Thankfully, I got through it all fine. After that, my doctors discovered a really large cyst on my left ovary. I had major abdominal surgery, which had me laid up for ten weeks - yep, I basically didn't leave my arm chair for ten weeks. Sort of put a damper on reenacting, as I missed several big events, had literally no energy to sew a thing, and couldn't even dream of putting on a corset.

But I am back and better than ever! Perhaps the biggest thing to go down this fall is that I planned my own event. Last February, I had the inspiration to recreate the St. Paul Sanitary Fair of 1865. A Sanitary Fair was a sort of bazaar held during the Civil War, generally to raise money for the charities having to do with the war. They involved games, food, sales of items, raffles, anything to raise money. The St. Paul Sanitary Fair was held in January of 1865, and raised funds for widows and orphans of Minnesota soldiers.
I won't bore you with all the details of the planning, but we recreated the opening ceremonies and the Hop held in conjunction with the Fair, and held a silent auction to raise funds for a group working to build a memorial for the soldiers from Minnesota who fought in the Civil War. We raised a lot of money, and everyone had a fabulous time!

The whole building was decked out in red, white, and blue. The dance cards and dance sets were all red, white and blue themed. And of course, the menu was patriotic - the dishes all had names like "JEB Stuart's Cooked Goose" (which was actually turkey) and "Grapes of Wrath Wine Jelly". My good friend, Kit, recreated the menu from the original Sanitary Fair - 30 dishes, all of them accurate to the period.
For the auction, I sewed a smoking cap. It was the height of Victorian Hideous-Chic: olive green velvet, red and gold embroidery, and lined in a paisley polished cotton. It went for quite a bit of money, and led to a commission for another one! I truly lead a charmed life - who else could make money making ugly smoking caps?That's it on the auction table. Try not to barf.

The best part of all was having a good time with good friends and raising money for a worthy cause.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Am I Crazy? Probably

Today, Facebook informs me, is National Reenactor Public Dress Up Day. Meaning that, apparently, reenactors across this great nation are wearing their kit/garb/costumes out in public today. Since I live where I work, I thought it would be no hardship to wear my dress, and so have donned my new wool dress for this evening's round of work.

My reenacting hobby is something I have not talked much about with people who aren't actually in the hobby. Throughout high school and college, very few people actually knew that I was a living historian. Roommates usually found out, and I told a select few friends who could be trusted not to laugh. Living history is not a popular hobby around these parts - not like down south, where everyone at least knows someone who does that, or out east where there are a lot of battlefields. It wasn't that I was ashamed of it - more that I was uncomfortable. I didn't think anyone would understand.

But, I am no longer a child, and have put off childish things. It is remarkable how, the more I accept it myself, the more others accept it as well, and the more I enjoy it.

So, to that end, I am wearing my dress in plain view of several dozen teenage girls, most of whom are foreign and some of whom have a tenuous grasp on the English language. It's just one more step in me accepting my geek-dom and being proud of what I do.

It's only been half an hour I've already been called crazy.

Oh well. Can't say I didn't try.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring has sprung!

Good evening to all! I should say good morning. It seems like I only get a productive urge in the early morning hours. My sewing projects usually get completed during the wee hours, while I swill Diet Cokes and listen to cheerful music on my mp3 player. Ah well, in this world there are morning people and there are night owls. I know for sure I'm not a morning person.

Anyway, after the victory known as the governess dress, I've been taking a bit of a break from sewing. By "a bit of a break", I mean a month. There was more involved in my sewing projects than just that dress; I also finished a new set of underpinnings. I obviously don't have pictures of that, but they are made from a lightweight cotton broadcloth. I am never going back to cheap muslin undergarments - the new ones are SO COMFORTABLE. I also sewed a new headdress to go with my ballgown:
It is made of silk bias strips, the same silk used to trim the dress, folded in loops, with loops and tufts of lace (antique, a family heirloom from my grandmother, she inherited it from my grandfather's family, who used to own a dry goods store) with a big bow at the back. It was my first attempt at millinery from a period pattern and I am proud of how it turned out.

However, it was a GIANT HEADACHE and actually caused tears. My sewing projects generally involve some meltdowns and angst. This headdress involved a trip to the grocery store for peanut butter M&Ms to quell the rage. My other thought was to run the whole thing over with my car several times...I'm very glad I decided on the peanut butter M&Ms instead.

This was worn to my reenacting group's annual winter ball. It was a lovely time, but somewhat of a non-event. Usually the ball is a weekend blowout of period entertainments. This year, we were all still dealing with the loss of a good friend and our most recent past president. The entire weekend had a very subdued feel. However, I enjoyed myself immensely, even more because I was able to introduce a friend to the hobby. I danced every dance I wanted (and skipped many polkas), ate well, laughed well, won several hands of whist and one round of "I Love My Love With the Letter A", a very fun word game.

Spring has sprung indeed, and with spring comes a fresh feeling, and I now feel sufficiently recovered from all the jollification and frantic sewing. I'll be starting on my new calico dress this month, hoping to have most of it done by the end of May, since I will be moving home for the summer and sewing space at home is limited.

In the meantime, I am very busy researching an event that I am organizing for next fall. Our annual "Fall Hop" will be themed as a sanitary fair. There will be auctions, a raffle of a quilt, all with a patriotic theme. The funds will ostensibly be going to soldiers' homes, widows and orphans; in actuality, it will be going to a worthy organization, The Boys of '61. They are a group of veterans, Civil War enthusiasts, and reenactors who are working towards building a memorial to the soldiers from Minnesota who fought in the Civil War. There is a lot of excitement building around this event, a lot of it from me. I'm in way over my head and I love it.

I'm afraid this post got long without really saying much. Consider it a spring cleaning post: airing out some old things, and making way for some new things. Next post, I'll write a bit about my research into sanitary fairs in the area, and my next dress!

And, in keeping with the theme of "spring cleaning", I hope you like my new layout. I've not been able to find anything that really fits exactly what I want, but this seems to fit the bill nicely!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Finale of The Governess Dress

As promised, here are pictures of the finished Governess Dress!

This is me and my dear friend Ali at my reenacting group's weekend of festivities. On Friday night we had a gaming night, which is where the grey wool made its debut. On a side note, this was Ali's first event ever - we met through a mutual friend (Emily) and I promised her that I would take her to a ball. Doesn't she look fabulous? Ten times better than my first attempt!

The dress made a second appearance on Sunday, so I got some (blurry) shots of it. At least the sleeves look less rumpled in this one! The trim is based on an extant dress in the Smithsonian.

A (again, blurry) shot of the back, with the postillion. By this point, after two wearings, the postillion was badly in need of pressing. I'm not sure I'd make one like this again in wool, as it's just too drape-y. Taffeta would look much better. But, I am not complaining!

I got a lot of compliments on this one. I think I am most proud of this one out of any dress I've sewn - not because it's any better than any dress I've sewn, but because of the level of competence I showed. I was able to get it done swiftly, and with very little of the angst that I normally have. Most sewing projects involve at least three panic attacks; this one involved only one (when I cut a skirt panel without matching the plaid - easily fixable).

I am most proud of the way the bars of the windowpane line up. The skirt matches up perfectly horizontally; the back curve seam matches up as well as it can (since, well, it's curved); and the front matches up both horizontally and vertically. A new feat!

The next dress is made from the grey and red calico below; I ripped out the waist of my one good wash dress, so that will be redone to be a work dress (fine by me, it was getting a little ratty) and the new one will be a nicer day dress. I didn't intend for half my wardrobe to be grey and red, I'm just lucky I can pull it off!

I also have a couple knitting projects to do, which will probably come first. I need a break before the next dress! We'll start that one some time after Easter!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Governess Dress

I mentioned in my last entry that I am working on a new dress. For my birthday, I received from my parents a length of gray wool. Well, actually, I told them I wanted a length of wool fabric, figured out the budget, and they gave me the money for it. I found it online and it is a lovely dark gray with a large black windowpane check pattern.

We call it the governess dress. In my living history group, I portray a governess for my friend's young daughter. The role is more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Wool is a very "serviceable" fabric, it wears well, and dark colors hide stains. There is a stereotype of the governess in a black wool dress; it wasn't always black, but wool was an eminently sensible choice for women in professions full of spit-up and spills.

I have been told often that I need to take more pictures of the construction process of my dresses. I suppose the steps it takes to make a dress are interesting to those who haven't done them. However, this is my fourth dress (fourth and a half, if you count the two bodices for one dress) and perhaps I've lost a bit of the wonderment that comes from seeing a garment come together. Seams all go together the same way; piping is made and attached; hooks and eyes are sewn in.

The worst part of any project, for me, is the skirt. Skirts all go together the same way. The seams are long, and there's so much fabric involved, it's easy to get swamped. Even the waist treatment, the only option for originality (box pleats vs. knife pleats vs. gauging), is tedious. But a bodice - ah, a bodice is a work of art! Fitting the darts and side seams take finesse. Setting a sleeve smoothly takes a sure eye and clean stitches. On this dress, I raced through the skirt just so I could get to the bodice.

To toss things up a bit, I cut the sleeves on the bias. I am also doing a postillion back - meaning a little flounce at the back waist. I predict I'll be done by next Sunday - it doesn't need to be worn until the 19th, but it'd be nice to have it done a little early.

And I promise I'll post pictures once it's done.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The silk bodice completed, and fabric aquisitions

Ack! I'm so sorry I haven't updated this in forever! Well, really, it's my blog and I can do what I like with it, thank you very much, but I figure that maybe some people read this sometimes and I hate to leave it hanging - especially when its purpose was to better document my living history clothing aquirements and projects.

When last we spoke, I was in the middle of making a silk bodice. In the time since I wrote that post and now, I have gotten a new job, and moved halfway across the state, which puts a major cramp in sewing. The plus side is that my new room (I work in a dormitory of a boarding school, so I only have a room to call my own) has four closets. One of them was immediately claimed as the Sewing Closet and has all my things lovingly contained. But moving and starting a new job really just has a way of putting a damper on everything.

But I did get the silk bodice done! There was a hairy part that involved the piping - I think some of the bias strips were not really cut on the bias, leading to this awful wrinkly/puckering thing that required way more time spent on the piping than ought to be. The final result was just amazing - the bodice pattern fits me so well, the friend who helped me drape it is truly a genius!

I suppose pictures are in order....

This is me at Fort Snelling's Civil War Weekend - the day the bodice debuted. Obviously, not a great shot of the bodice, but a lovely shot of me! You can also see the trim on the sleeves really well.

Boy, I really am not photogenic. This is me and a friend - she happened to show up and of course we had to get a picture together! The bonnet ties are hiding the bodice, but you get the idea.Once again proving that I am not photogenic, here is my dagguerotype from the event. I really do look like Miss Grimm. Use this photo to scare small children and animals. It was overexposed as well - still looks pretty cool!

The terrible part is that at some point during the event, I got some mysterious oily stain on the skirt. Thankfully, it is only on one panel, and hardly visible at all (and seems to be fading with time) and I also happen to have an extra couple yards of silk, so if worse comes to worse, I can do a new panel, or even just sew a patch over the stain. I like to think it contributes to my "poor governess" look. That is definitely the last time I wear the silk to a fort or such hard-wearing conditions, however.

This winter, I made some amazing fabric purchases. I found some lovely sheer cotton on sale at Joanns for extremely cheap, so I have a couple pieces of that. I didn't need any new fabric...but then the Mill End Textiles outlet in our neighborhood decided to liquidate. And I just couldn't say no to these....

Aren't they adorable?! The first one I got for $1.89. They told me there were 6 yards on the bolt and charged me accordingly...and then I went home and measured it. There were actually 7 and a half! Being that I'm tall, I need at least 7 yards for a dress (six and a half if I'm piecing) so that will be plenty.

The second fabric was a bit more costly at $2.99 a yard, but I am going to make it into a wrapper, I think. The grey and pink will come first, however.

But first of all - my parents bought me some lovely wool fabric for my birthday present! It is a dark grey with a large black windowpane check pattern. I will post about that soon. But now, it is very, very late...