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Friday, February 10, 2017

Dickens Caroling

It is probably apparent by now that I LOVE Christmas. It is probably also apparent that I am equally likely to dress up in costume for Christmas as I am for Halloween. So it should be no surprise that when I go Christmas caroling, I dress up like I'm from a Charles Dickens novel. Admittedly, I dress up more like one of the wealthy side characters than any of his protagonists because I have no desire to dress up like a street urchin.

At any rate, I recruited some friends to come caroling in costume with me during the Yates Mill photos with Santa event. There was one minor flaw in my plan: I owned exactly two 1860s dresses, and I recruited two ladies to sing who needed to borrow them. That left me with nothing to wear. So of course, I needed a new dress. And bonnet.

Money was tight, as usual, but we had received a $50 gift code to Amazon, and I got lucky enough to find a 10-yard lot of red plaid fabric that I liked for $50. Score! So I ordered it and crossed my fingers, hoping it would get to me in time since I did not have money to expedite the shipping. It came in fairly good time, and I loved it. My only complaint was that it was advertised as 100% cotton, and it was definitely not. There was no label, but I did a burn test, and the fibers melted. Oh well. It draped nicely and looked good, so who was I to complain when I got the fabric for $5/yard?

Who knew 10 yards of fabric could fold up this small?
I had projects for paying customers to finish, so I was unable to start my new dress until two days before I needed to wear it. That is not a practical time frame, but I have never claimed to always be practical. I had to try, or I would have nothing to wear for caroling. (Or I would have to take one of my dresses back, but that seemed mean.)

I used Simplicity pattern 1818 for the jacket/bodice. I am fully aware that there are more authentic patterns out there, but this one really isn't bad, and I already had it. (And have I mentioned that the really good historical pattern companies are more expensive? They are worth the money, so I am in no way undervaluing them. I'm just poor.)

Because I was in such a hurry there was no time to make a mock-up. (I know, I rarely do them anyway, but I probably would have on this one.) I went straight to cutting out my lining. It wasn't exactly a mock-up because I didn't have enough of my lining fabric to cut it out twice, but it was less intimidating than cutting into the plaid. I did a fitting with the lining, and it was proportioned well for me, but a little tight, so I let it out a bit at the seams and made a note of the new seam allowances for assembling the outer fabric.

I didn't have time to be really perfect with pattern matching the plaid, but I did my best to line up at least the horizontal lines. Some seams turned out really well, and the ones that didn't are still pretty good, considering how little time I had. (Some of these pictures were taken later, so they include embellishments that were not added in the initial two day sewing binge.)

On this side, one dart turned out very nicely, but the other is a little askew.

I'm very happy with both of these darts.

The back makes me the least happy. Perfect pattern matching wasn't going to happen on those curves, but I feel like they should have been better. However, my greatest displeasure is with the center back panel. I centered the wrong part of the plaid! I blame sleep deprivation.

This side seam also turned out nicely.

This one is a little off, but not enough to bother me much.

The sleeves are actually curved the way your elbow bends, so this is the inside curve of one sleeve. I think it's pretty good.

This is the outside curve of the same sleeve. It's a little off, but not bad.

This is the outside curve of the other sleeve. I really love the way it lined up.
The main body of the jacket is lined in a stiff red fabric to give it the structure it needed, but I added a facing of the plaid along the front edges, including the lapels. I really wanted the lapels to be black velvet, but I couldn't find my remnants of that quickly. The sleeves are lined with the main plaid fabric because they are very wide, so the inside would show some. When attaching the linings to the outer fabric, I sandwiched in some off-white pom pom trim the same way you would put on piping. That was risky when I was in such a hurry, but I knew I wanted it there, and I would never open it all up to put it on later. Despite the rush, it turned out okay.

I had planned to make covered buttons, but I realized, too late to send my husband to the store, that I did not have enough covered button kits left. Luckily, I had enough black buttons of an appropriate size in my stash. Panic attack averted!

During all of this, I paused only to snack give my dog basic care, go to the bathroom occasionally...I didn't have time for sleep or actually taking good care of myself. My dog wasn't very neglected, though. He was fed and taken out appropriately, and while I couldn't cuddle him very well, he had a nice comfy place to lay near me. And he genuinely wants to sleep most of the day. Any Italian greyhound owner can tell you that they are very lazy dogs. But I digress.

So at some point, on no sleep or possibly a short nap, I started the skirt. That I did with no pattern because I didn't really need one for the style of skirt I wanted to do. The skirt panels actually needed to be rectangular to facilitate matching the plaid more completely on the skirt. Once I figured out the length of panels I needed to cut, I began measuring lengths of plaid. I did mess up the second panel I cut because I forgot to cut off some wasted fabric in order to start at the same place on the plaid as the first panel. Luckily, I had enough that I was able to simply set that panel aside and not use it in the skirt. I cut the rest of the panels out correctly.

This time, I didn't just line up the horizontal lines in the plaid; I also sewed the fabric panels together in such a way that the vertical lines repeat exactly when they should. I have to just brag for a second and say that it's well enough matched that you can't see the seams unless you are really looking. And
I did that in a hurry and very sleep deprived. I am extremely proud of that.

See what I mean?
Jon helped me put in gathering threads, but I did the actual gathering. The skirt also got minimal embellishment due to lack of time, but I sewed the same pom pom trim that I had used on the bodice along the hems. This wasn't a particularly time-consuming addition because I top-stitched it on at the same time as sewing the hems. I finished the dress sometime Saturday morning, only a few hours before I needed to put it on, so from the time I woke up Thursday morning until I went to bed Saturday night (which I didn't even do early), I stayed coherent and functional on a little caffeine, a couple of 2-3 hour naps, and sheer determination. It probably wasn't my best life choice, but I still really enjoyed Saturday. And I looked pretty good too! (People must have been so distracted by my dress that they didn't notice the dark circles under my eyes.)

I was honestly pleased with how my dress turned out even that first weekend, but I always knew I wanted to add certain things, so I did as soon as I got the chance. First, I added black Venice lace to the bottoms of the skirt layers. Then I hunted down my remnants of black velvet and added it to the lapels. I bought more covered button kits and covered those in black velvet as well and sewed them on. I added some more lace to the bottom of the bodice/jacket. It took me a little longer to find the perfect width of black velvet ribbon at the right price, but finally I did, and I put it on the sleeves with little bows in front. Now the dress it truly done, and I love it even more.

I originally intended to include my bonnet in this same post, but this is already so long that I have decided to give the bonnet its own. But lest you get the wrong idea, I made the bonnet before my fabric ever came, so its creation was not also crammed into those two crazy days.

Happy crafting!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Court Jester

I have had no time to post lately, but for Halloween this year, my husband was a jester. We designed the costume together...last year. You may or may not remember the sketches I included at that point. I finally made it this year, and I really like how it turned out.

I used Simplicity pattern 4059 as a jumping-off point. The pants, or Venetians, were generally the right style for our design, but they were a bit on the long side, so I shortened them. I also added triangular dags to the bottom as well as bells and trim.

my dag pattern

The doublet got modified significantly more. I mainly used the main body pieces and the sleeve pieces, not the pieces for the peplum or flange (that's what the pattern calls the little part that sticks out over the sleeve at the shoulder). It is pied between a yellow brocade and a black and gold brocade. I used the same dag pattern I had made for the bottom of the Venetians to trim the bottom of the doublet, making two strips, one in each fabric. The sleeves are opposites, with one being yellow on the outside of the arm, black and gold toward the body, and the other black and gold on the outside of the arm, yellow toward the body. The whole doublet is fully lined because I find that easier than most edge finishes, and this is, of course, also adorned with lots of trim and bells.

The most unique feature of the doublet is the closures. Jon had the idea to have interlocking tabs in the shapes of playing card suits, so the yellow side has tabs alternating between hearts and diamonds, and the black and gold side has tabs alternating between clubs and spades. I used snaps to hold them down even though they are not remotely renaissance (invented in 1885, according to a quick search) because laces wouldn't work at all, buttons would require buttonholes all the way through the tabs, which was not the look we wanted, and hooks and eyes would be very finicky to open and close and would run the risk of constantly snagging the brocade. So, since they wouldn't show to the outside anyway--snaps.

I made the tabs as separate pieces from the doublet front because that way I could experiment some with the size and spacing. (We all know I rarely making muslins to test that sort of thing like I should.) I made them by cutting rectangular pieces of the outer fabrics and the lining and drawing the tab shapes on the lining in fabric pencil. I sewed lining to right side of outer fabric along the pencil lines, then cut the shapes out after sewing. Then I turned, pressed, and trimmed them.

figuring out the proportions of the shapes

Here, the tabs are finished, but only pinned in place to figure out spacing. I ultimately spaced them more, reducing the number of tabs.

The hood is mostly a copy of one I made for myself several years ago because Jon liked the fit of it, although I cut a lining to fit the mantle portion and pinned it, right sides together, to the outside of the hood, then traced on dags using the same pattern piece as before, but bending it at the narrow parts to make it fit the curve of the mantle. I sewed along that line, cut the excess fabric away, and then turned and pressed it. I sewed the gold cord on, here and everywhere else on the costume, using a zigzag stitch on my sewing machine and carefully adjusting the width of the stitch to barely pierce the fabric on one side and just miss the cord on the other side so that the stitches wrap around the cord, but don't pierce it.

The crown was made with the dag pattern. The outer layer is yellow lined with black and gold, finished with the same gold cord and bells as elsewhere on the costume. The inner layer is black and gold lined with yellow, with a layer of buckram in the middle to make those points stand up, and again, finished with the cord and bells. Once I put the two layers together, I added the black and gold trim to the bottom edge.

All fabrics were given to me by friends at different times in the past. The trim and gold cord were parts of past Cheeptrims orders to make my orders reach their minimum order cost. I bought cheap brass bells in three different sizes at JoAnn Fabrics, and I ended up using 61 bells if I have counted it up correctly. I don't really know how many yards of cord or trim are there, but it's a lot. The stockings are from Sock Dreams, and Jon made his pointy shoes quite some time ago.

Commence crazy photo shoot of my husband hammin' it up. (Please forgive the horrible lighting. He works long hours, so we had to do this after dark.)

It's so jingly!

Lastly, the choice to make the Venetians red instead of pied like the doublet was a conscious one to help me along in making Jon a Christmas elf costume (at his request). He already had a green doublet that was originally made to go under the gown below. (Historically, doublets were much more equivalent to shirts than they were to jackets.)

He also had his pointy shoes and a pair of white stockings we bought from Js Townsend some time ago to go with his Colonial outfit (if I ever finish his knee breeches). All I had to make just for the elf costume was a hat. I made his candy canes by cutting very narrow strips of red and white felt and twisting them together. On my costume, I can only take credit for the vest (made last year) and the hat (made last year or the year before).

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flowers, Flags, and Frills

Okay, folks. I keep hoping that I will post more regularly, and then I don't. So thank you for continuing to look at my pictures and maybe read what I have to say. I haven't done any major new costumes lately, nor have I finished some of the things you have seen...still. I will, though.

I have made some more new flags for the Sanderson High School color guard. I made two sets of flags for the girls, but I only have pictures of one.

Some of the talented girls spinning my flags
I also had to alter a few of those uniforms because they didn't fit right. To make life easier on myself and the girls, I attended practice, had the girls who needed alterations try on their uniforms at the beginning, set myself up in the cafeteria to sew, then had them try on again at the end. With the fit right, I took the uniforms home to cut off the excess fabric and finish the seams, then I brought the finished uniforms to practice a couple of days later.

Since my last post, I also made a flower crown. It has no specific purpose yet. I'm just planning to sell it in my Etsy store once that goes live.

This is made entirely of flowers left over from my wedding bouquet.
In July, Jon and I met a nice lady from Historic Yates Mill County Park at the downtown Independence Day celebration here in Raleigh, NC. We were dressed in our Colonial clothes (which aren't great, but they're a work in progress), so we got to talking about what other costumes we have and what we do with them. (Yes, I call them costumes, and anyone who is bothered by that should probably chill. The word used to mean approximately "outfit," and besides, sneering at the word "costume" is pretty insulting to all of the amazing professional costume designers out there. Something can be historically accurate and still be a costume.) And that led to us signing up to be volunteers at the Mill. Jon's costume was approved as it was, but I was told that I needed to wear a collar with my dress, so I crocheted one. I've never made crocheted lace or anything that delicate, so it was a new experience, but I think I went pretty well.

Just the collar so you can see the detail

The collar turned out a little bigger than the neckline of my dress, so I either need to make a new one or alter the dress. I haven't decided which yet.

Back to the Mill, I'm very excited about it. It has been fully restored, and you can buy corn that has been ground there, using granite mill stones and a water wheel--there's no electricity. It was also equipped to grind wheat, and that has also been restored, but it is not used because part of that system is closed, so it cannot be cleaned adequately for FDA approval. We assist with the tours, and we are being trained to do more parts of the corn grinding tour as well as some of the other tours.

In December, Santa will be at the Mill for pictures, and there will be some kids' activities and craft sales as well as Dickens Christmas carolers--me and Jon and a new friend we made! A few other people may join us, but it's just us so far. We're also hoping to start a dance class in the visitor center, teaching the same types of dances that we used to do with Old Glory Vintage Dancers. I really hope we get approval for that!

Happy crafting!

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Dress from the Wrong Part of Mexico

A friend of mine from Ecuador has a daughter in a dance class that includes Mexican folk dancing. She bought fabric, ribbon, and thread, and I got to work. I made the style she had sent me pictures of, it turned out very nice, and everyone was happy.

And then we figured out that it was from the wrong region of Mexico. My friend had me make a dress from Jalisco, and her daughter was supposed to have a dress from Sinaloa. Oops! There are two pieces of good news in all of this. First, they will need the one from Jalisco later. Second, I get another commission already. Oh, and the skirt from the Jalisco dress is still an appropriate shape to practice the dancing from Sinaloa, and there are a few weeks before they perform. So I guess that's four pieces of good news.

So here is the Jalisco dress I made. It's actually a blouse and skirt.

I made the top tier of the skirt a full circle, and the ribbon on that tier makes a square inside the circle. This is often a star, but when worn, a square gives a similar appearance, and it was easier to fit onto a child's skirt. The next tier is rectangular with double the fabric of the circumference of the top circle. Because it did not have a curved hem, the ribbon is sewn on in straight lines. The bottom tier is double the middle tier and also has the ribbon sewn on in straight lines with lace at the hem. Having a full-circle top tier and so much gathering in the other two tiers creates enough fullness that the skirt can be lifted up as high as it will go on the sides without it pulling up in front and back, which is important in the corresponding style of dancing.

The blouse is a very simple style with puffed raglan sleeves and a ruffle collar. The collar has lace to match the skirt, and collar and sleeves are trimmed in ribbon. (I would have put all four colors of ribbon on the collar, but I didn't have enough yellow since I accidentally used it on the sleeves instead of purple.) I also have to admit that I didn't realize how regional traditional Mexican dress really is, so this top is kind of a mixture. The solid color fabric and ribbon and lace are typical of Jalisco, but it should actually have a high neckline, and the ruffle should form more of a "V." The scoop neck and round ruffle are common in other regions of Mexico.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cultural Inaccuracies

I have frequently admitted to knowingly using the wrong fabrics for a given time and place because I can't afford the right ones. And I will acknowledge that the quality of my research varies based on a lot of factors, including how much the client cares. Sometimes my inaccuracies are more conscious. When I copied a Madeleine Vionnet gown, I added cap sleeves to the design because it was for my own personal use, and I don't wear sleeveless things. I stand by those choices, no matter what anyone thinks, but I am more conflicted about a recent design.

As you may know, I was recently in a production of "Savior of the World." I made some of the costumes, but for most of them, I was following the instructions of the costume designer for the show (who did an impressive job with a tiny budget). However, I did get to design my own costume for the "Many Saints Shall Appear" scene.

In that scene, I represented one of the dead who rose from the grave shortly after the Savior's resurrection. We had no lines, and we didn't really dance. We simply pantomimed the joy of coming back to life. We represented different cultures that existed before and during the time of Christ, and I chose ancient India. (Greece and Egypt were also clearly represented. The other costumes were less specific.) I admit to assuming that the clothing was similar to current traditional Indian clothing. I know they have worn saris since before the time of Christ, but I admit to not knowing exactly when they began to wear salwar kameez, which is what I chose to wear.

As usual for me, I used the fabrics and trim available to me (in this case, from the costume designer, not my own stash), so it's not entirely accurate, but I've done worse. "Salwar" technically refers to a specific type of very loose pants that are cut on the bias, but "salwar kameez" is often used more generally to refer to the type of Indian outfit with a dress over pants. I chose to make the narrower type of pants known, I believe, as "churidar." I made the kameez or dress with an almost circular skirt portion because I wanted it to twirl well. (Don't judge. Skirts that twirl well are extremely satisfying to me.) I made a veil out of the same fabric as the kameez.

The design choice that causes me some mental conflict was the fact that it is white. That choice was not mine, but I do agree with it. Something about our costumes needed to set us apart as resurrected beings, and the audience was, after all, western. But in Indian culture, white is the color of death. So that makes me less likely to wear the salwar kameez very freely because it could be perceived as mourning clothes. (I also struggle with what is and is not cultural appropriation, so although I love clothing from a lot of other cultures, I don't often wear them without a specific reason.)

I used a crepe fabric for the churidar because it would drape nicely on my legs and not be too terribly hot. The kameez was made of a layer of heavy cotton twill (for opacity) and a layer of sheer crinkly fabric over the top. The sleeves were sheer. The trim I used had a silver floral design down the center and borders of diagonal silver lines, so I used just the center to trim the neckline, the whole trim at waist and skirt hem, and the narrow border at the hems of the churidar and the veil. I liked the slight variation that gave me. It also allowed the amount of trim I had to stretch further.

I was in a big hurry making this, and I didn't take enough time to get this trim to lay perfectly flat.

I was very pleased with how the pattern matched up at the ends of the trim that went around my waist.

I was also able to line it up very well around both ankles.

I was not so lucky with the trim at the edge of the skirt.