Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top Three Internet Resources

Another long wait for a post! There are big things brewing, and my focus has been elsewhere - on things just off in the horizon which will hopefully pay off. More on that soon.

I planned this post to be a companion to my last post about online fabrics shops. In my day-to-day, modern life, I am an instructional designer and e-learning professional. My passion and vocation is leveraging technology and tools to improve the online learning experience. So the Internet is a friend of mine, and I love researching new things that make my life - and others' lives - easier. One of the amazing trends in living history is how reenactors have taken to the Internet to make their research and networking easier. It's kind of ironic, since we portray the past, but that's a discussion for another day.

So I'd like to share with you three resources that have changed my reenacting, have made life easier for me, and from which I think you might benefit, if you are not already benefiting from them. I also think they're a good cross-section of what is available out there.

As always, these links come with a caveat: Do Your Own Research. There are a lot of sources out there. Some are better than others. It's always best to go straight to the horse's mouth for your information by doing your own research into primary documents and artifacts. That way, you know the conclusions you come to are your own. I always say that you can make anyone believe anything if you say it convincingly, and I've seen some really convincing people lead some really unsuspecting folks astray. So do your own research and depend on yourself alone.

That's enough soapboxing - on with the links!

1. The Sewing Academy -

Ah, the Sewing Academy. I recently told an acquaintance that any civilian reenactor who is not on the Sewing Academy is not trying hard enough, and I mean it. The site is run by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, who is a noted expert on the mid 19th century, particularly women's and children's clothing. She's also someone I consider a friend and she's very sweet and funny and has a killer sense of humor (and she didn't pay me to say any of this). Mrs. Clark runs both aspects of the Sewing Academy - the first is a website filled with free patterns, patterns for purchase (which are well worth the money), articles with helpful tips for reenactors at every stage of the game, and so much more.

The other aspect is a forum, geared towards reenactors, with subforums for discussing anything from corsets to religion to food to upcoming events. The forum is frequented by some of the reenacting Big Wigs, the kind of people whose books you may have sitting on your shelf or whose pictures you have drooled over on Facebook. It's hard to decide what the best part of the forum is - the quality of the research (and a search function gives you access to all of the past discussions, which makes this forum something like an encyclopedia of reenacting), or the fact that everyone is Just Plain Nice. Living history is overrun with big egos, thin skins, and some cliquishness, but for the members of the Sewing Academy, "Civility" is the battle cry, and everyone really sticks to it. No question is derided, no request for documentation is met with jeers. Everyone is welcome. And that's what it really should be about, folks.

If you're not a member, you have to request membership, and since Mrs. Clark runs the forum all by her onesies (while homeschooling her kids and cooking amazing things and coming up with new puns and just being a superhero as far as I can tell) it can take some time. Stick around. It is worth it, I promise you.

2. Historical Sewing -

Historical Sewing is a blog run by Jennifer Rosbrugh. I only found this blog within the last year, and once I finished putting my eyeballs back into my head, I wasted a whole day cruising through all the great information she has there. It is truly a treasure trove of advice for anyone sewing historical garments.

One of the great things about this blog are Jennifer's philosophical posts. She often posts her musings on different aspects of recreating historical garments, which in turn make me think and give me a new perspective on something I may not have even questioned before or thought about in the same way. She also has a lot of inspiration up there, and her Facebook page often contains little bits of cheerleading that can pump you up when you maybe don't feel like sewing five yards of wool tape to bind the hem of your new dress (not that I've been there lately or anything...). She'll get your head in the right direction and have you up and sewing in no time.

And of course, there are tons and tons of sewing tips, from how to make sure your corset lines don't show through your dress to how to get those really really sharp pleats. There is a minor caveat - the authoress is a costumer, and so she makes beautiful things that sometimes use modern techniques or materials. For those of us focused strictly on reproducing garments that could be taken back in a time machine, these need to be avoided. Thankfully, the author almost always makes mention of this in her posts, so you never have to feel led astray - I love transparency!

And do we even need to talk about the resources she has linked up?? If you think there's a lack of fabric-induced drool in your life, start clicking on some of those links.

3. Google Books Advanced Search -

Maybe libraries creep you out. Maybe the closet library to you is one room in the town community center run by Mildred Johnson (been there, friend). Maybe you have agoraphobia, or maybe you have a severe mold allergy that prevents you from ever touching old books (which, if it's true, is a very sad existence and you have my deepest sympathy). These are all reasons why God created digitized books.

There are a lot of digitized archives out there - Project Gutenberg, Digital Public Library, The American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress. You should check them all out. But today, I'm going to tell you why Google Books is my favorite.

To start, either click the link above, or Google "Google Books advanced search". Yes, it is silly to Google that, but the way Google is set up can be baffling. If you need a moment to sigh over technology, take it now. Also, teenagers in my life have informed me that you can blow up the world by Googling "Google", but I am here to tell you that that is, unsurprisingly, just not true.

It will take you to the page shown below. Type in whatever you want in the search bar - and you can search for exact phrases or exclude words as well. Get creative. In the shot below, I'm searching for Miss Leslie (aka Eliza Leslie, the Martha Stewart of the 1850s and 60s). I have also limited the years to only include items published between 1850 and 1860.

Please take a moment to notice my awesome screenshot-ing skills. My tuition dollars hard at work, ladies and gentlemen.

Once I hit the search button, I get a list of results, like the ones shown below. Each entry tells me when it was published, the name of the author, whether or not it's available to read (some books must be purchased, and some are not digitized, but most books in the public domain are viewable).

When you select one of the books, it opens it in a reader. The bar at the top of the reader allows you to zoom in and out, to change the view, and to save it to your library (which is helpful if you use Google Play Books on your tablet or phone). One the left-hand side, you can search within the book. And if you really love the book, you can save it as an ebook, either to your computer or to your mobile devices.

Pretty cool, huh? The possibilities are nearly endless - read obscure Victorian novels for free, check out illustrations in Godey's, catch up on any magazine of the time period, research any topic. You. Are. Welcome.

This got to be a long post, but I'm really excited about these resources and being able to share them with you!

Do you have any favorite resources that you think cut the mustard? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top Four Fabric Shops

This quote came up in a conversation on Facebook about (what else?) the trials of shopping for historical sewing supplies at Joanns. Let me start off by saying that Joanns is fine for what it is - a craft store that happens to have fabrics. You better believe that when those 40% off coupons come around, I'm heading there for Gutermann's thread and giant stashes of pins and needles. Still and all, if one wants really beautiful fabrics, Joann Fabrics is probably not your first stop.

(It should also be noted I have a feud with my local Joanns store for their poor customer service and general crappiness, so the name just gives me an eye twitch.)

I am really lucky. There is a fabric outlet down the street from my work. Within two minutes I can frolic among bins of silks and tables loaded with shirtings. It's not a great big store, but the prices are phenomenal and that makes up for the selection. The fabric for the Empress Gown came from there - it's a great place to build up a stash, but you may not find the exact thing you're looking for.

A little further down the road is the fabric mecca warehouse. It's the kind of place you only go to when you have two hours to kill and some money in your pocket to burn. Imagine rolls of silk taffeta piled up above your head, a whole aisle of wool suitings and coatings, another aisle of cotton shirtings...30,000 square feet of fabric in all. Verily, we are spoiled.

But there are a lot of people out there who don't have those kind of resources. And then you have to turn to the interwebz. And where do you find those beautiful fabrics online at outlet store prices? Here's my top list of places to shop for fabrics online.

 Fashion Fabrics Club:
This is hands-down my favorite fabric store online. They have great prices with weekly deals, so you never have to wait too long to score a good price. I've bought silk taffetas, wool suitings, wool gauzes, wool flannels, and cotton lawns from them, and have yet to be disappointed - the fabric for the Governess Dress, the Lizzie Bennet Dress (yet to be pictured here) and my upcoming wool gauze mourning dress all came from here. Their pictures are clear and they give good descriptions. When I need a specific wool, this is where I go. I'm a big fan! Right now they have free shipping and some beautiful taffetas.
I'll be honest - I don't like cotton calicos. I think there are other fabrics that provide a lady with her "best bet" wardrobe. But others have reasons for sewing more hard-wearing dresses, and when you need a quilting cotton calico, this is a good stop. The fabrics are well-organized and you can search by manufacturer to find those Marcus Brothers and Windham repros. The prices are a little high, but not as high as your local quilting shop, and they also have great sales and clearances.

Thousands of Bolts:
 If you don't find what you're looking for at, head over here. It's all quilting cottons, and they're not kidding when they say thousands - they mean it. The fabrics are arranged by color, which can then be drilled down to historic prints. As always, be prepared to research a particular print before you buy it, but for choice and price, this is the place for quilting cottons.

Fabric Depot:
I go here for two things: silk taffetas and cotton lawns. There are often really great coupons, which you have to watch for. The fabric for the Picnic Dress came from here, and I just happened to stumble across it when it was 50% off with free shipping. You can't beat that!

It's amazing how the internet has changed reenacting, isn't it? Even ten years ago, when I first started, these kinds of resources were difficult to find. Now they're ubiquitous! No matter where you are, you can find fabric at outlet prices.

But what about the touchy-feelies? All of these stores offer swatching services - for a very little amount you can get a small piece of fabric to see what it feels like before committing to buying yardage. Always check out the return policy as well - most will let you return uncut, unwashed fabric for a total refund.

Did I miss any great online fabric shops with outlet prices? Comment and let us know about it!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I feel...silly.

As promised, here are some of the..outtakes from the photoshoot at the LeDuc House. Those of you who know me as a physical human being (rather than just words and pictures on the interwebz) know that my usual state is either laughter or sassiness. It could be argued that these photos show a truer side of me than pensive looks and gazes into the middle distance - but whether or not they make me any more attractive is debatable!

It is really, really hard to be serious around my friends.

I was asked to be sassy, so I gave them sassy.

Showing off the nameplate in the book - it belonged to a Lizzie Lockett. How awesomely Victorian is that name?!

At the very end of the shoot, I was quite hot and sweaty. This is what it looks like when I enjoy a breeze.

McKayla Maroney.

This is what happens when you jump up and down in a cage crinoline - I call it The Jellyfish.

I will leave you with one final picture. A friend passed along the image on the right, an original from the mid 19th century, some months ago. As we were taking pictures, I had the sudden inspiration to recreate this image. I wish I could say I was ashamed, but I've gotten a bit of a reputation for my unmentionables being on display, but that's a story for another day...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I Feel Pretty!

As I mentioned in my last entry, I just spent a week at The Lake. It was gloriously relaxing, being out in the wilderness with no access to the outside world. I love technology and am an admitted Facebook junkie, but balance is always good and I can’t remember the last time I was quite as relaxed as I was while kayaking through a secluded channel at sunset.


And as I also mentioned in my last entry, I recently did a photo shoot with my friend Anne. Anne finished editing the pictures while I was on vacation, and coming home to a virtual album full of beautifully edited shots was such a treat! As I’ve said before, Anne does amazing work, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to work together.

So this is going to be one of those annoying blog posts full of self-congratulatory pictures. Consider yourself warned, and proceed at your own risk, but AREN’T THEY SO PRETTY?! And introducing my new outfit - the Swiss waist ensemble! (As a side note, all photos in this entry are courtesy of Anne Victoria Photography and may not be used without permission.)

I've had this hat for six years...I think it was waiting for the right outfit.

A fabulous prize for anyone who can figure out what book I'm reading...

Recognize the lace veil?

I'm channeling Eugenie here

I'm not always serious...

I don’t generally consider myself a photogenic person, but Anne has a great way of capturing fleeting emotion and using light/color to convey so much. I’m having a hard time picking a favorite – do you have one?

Next post, I will include some of the sillier shots...I think I ran out of dignity at some point during the afternoon...