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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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

When Teachers Change Your Life

Once upon a time, I was in All-State Choir. I don't have a voice that really makes me stand out, so a lot of people don't realize I sing at all, but I'm a solid choral singer, and I worked very hard for that audition. My work paid off, and I got in.

Musically, it was a fantastic week. I got to make gorgeous music with a lot of talented people. I got to spend whole days singing--somehow without getting hoarse. We were directed by probably the best musician I have ever met. He could sing in any style you could imagine, and he could get 450 teenage singers to stay together with precision and really sound good on really challenging pieces of music. He even had me singing much higher than I had previously thought possible (by working with the whole choir, not just me). Would you believe that my vocal range used to be 2 1/2 octaves? It's true.

He was funny too. He was balding, but he would shake his head as though he were shaking out long hair and make comments about his luscious "Fabio hair." He did Elvis impressions and, in various ways, made really hard work fun.

But none of that is what really made a lasting impression on my life. You may have noticed that I don't have a career in music, and I can't still sing 2 1/2 octaves--my range doesn't quite span 2 whole octaves anymore. I'm an okay singer, but no one will ever be blown away by my voice (except possibly my husband, but he's hopelessly biased).

What really stuck in my head and made him important to me had nothing to do with music. He told us repeatedly during our rehearsals that, even if we forgot everything he taught us about music and singing, he wanted us to remember one thing: "There is always hope. Always!" He said it very forcefully, and I think he even made us repeat it out loud.

I'm sure he wouldn't remember me because, when you only have a few days with 450 new students, you can't get to know them individually, but I wish I could tell him that I've remembered what he said. That it has helped me through some of the dark times in my life. That it has been keeping me going lately.

His name was Paul E. Oakley, and he passed away almost 4 years ago. I wish I had ever had the opportunity to get to know the man for whom, "There is always hope. Always!" was the most important thing he felt he could teach us, despite vast musical talent and training. I hope that, where he is now, he knows what a difference he made, not just to me.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Christmas In July (part 2)

I was recently in a production of "Savior of the World: His Birth and Resurrection," which depicts the events surrounding those two great miracles, rather than focusing on the Savior's mortal ministry. I'm not an especially great actress, so I was in the ensemble, but I also got to help with costumes and props. Perhaps my greatest labor of love was making the swaddling bands.

There are a few things that many people don't realize about swaddling bands at the time and place of the Savior's birth. (I include that distinction because swaddling bands have been different in different cultures.) Swaddling bands in that culture were not just for wrapping up infants; they were made by a bride leading up to her wedding to be used in that ceremony. She would embroider them with symbols of, I believe, her own and her husband-to-be's heritage. It may really have been just one or the other, but my research was a bit hurried, and Mary and Joseph were both of the House of David, so that detail didn't matter as much to my project. The embroidery was to be identical on both sides to symbolize honesty in marriage--inside matching the outside and nothing being hidden. These same swaddling bands would later be used to wrap their children.

I used a double running stitch because it matches on both sides, and I am significantly less skilled at making any fill stitches match on both sides. I also didn't have a lot of time, and just outlining is obviously faster. Most of the motifs I used are symbols of the House of David, and all have meaning as symbols of our Savior Jesus Christ. When Mary was first betrothed, she did not know she would be the mother of the Son of God, and I don't think she fully understood His mission until He had completed it, so she would not likely have been thinking in those terms. However, they are all things she would reasonably have used; they just have other meanings for modern Christians. The bands are white, and I embroidered in shades of blue throughout because blue and white are the colors of the House of David.

The first motif I embroidered was a pomegranate. Most people think of this as a symbol of fertility, but in Jewish embroidery, it symbolizes a righteous priesthood holder, which of course, our Savior was. Mary would also have wanted to establish her family in righteousness. I adapted my design from two different ones by Paula Katherine Marmor. Her designs are in a renaissance blackwork style, but I liked them. I possibly should have used a different style, but it's a bit late to change my mind now.

My original design was too tall for the width of the fabric.

This has been adjusted for height.

I haven't done any blackwork for years, so this isn't my best work. I should have practiced.
The second motif (and the most complicated) I embroidered was a Tree of Life. The tie to our Savior is obvious, and it is one of the symbols of the House of David. I adapted this one from one I found here.

This design was also originally too tall.

My tree design altered for height. When I went over it in pen this time, I unfortunately used a very blotty pen.

This one looks a little messy mostly because I didn't photograph it until after it had been handled a lot, and I could still use some work on anchoring my ends in a double running stitch. I'm rather proud of it over all, though.
Next came a key. This was another symbol of the House of David. To me, it also symbolizes the keys of the priesthood (God's power and authority) and the key of knowledge. It is patterned off of a fairly generic skeleton key.

After the key, I embroidered a lion. A lion and lamb are symbols of the House of David as well as symbolizing the Second Coming of Christ when all creatures will live in peace. The Jews believed (and still do, I think) that the Messiah would come as an earthly king and strike down their enemies, returning them to earthly power. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah, and that He came with a much more peaceful mission, so I drew the lion dormant (laying down) instead of rampant (rearing up) as it is more commonly depicted in Jewish embroidery.

This design is more truly my own. I used drawings of lions for reference for the dormant position and several different pictures of very old embroidery for the general style.

The wavy lines on the lion's mane were done freehand.
The next motif I embroidered was a lily. This has no significance to the House of David, but it has long been a very common embroidery motif, so it is reasonable to believe Mary might have included it. I included it because lilies are a symbol of the resurrection. It also has personal significance to me because it is the name of both my own and my best friend's daughters who have both passed on, but who will live again through Christ.

I have lost my reference photo for this design, so I am unable to give credit where credit is due. If anyone recognizes this (even as very similar because it is not an exact copy) please help me figure out who to credit.

The final symbol I included was the lamb for reasons already stated, and Jesus Christ was and is truly the Lamb of God. Lambs also make me think of my mother because they are her favorite animal, although I confess that wasn't specifically a reason I included it. If it were really for her, it would be a "funny face" lamb (black face with white fleece) because that's her favorite, but that would be difficult to depict without fill embroidery.

I didn't even attempt to keep this true to old embroidery styles because I couldn't even find embroidered lambs, and embroidered sheep weren't particularly recognizable as sheep. This drawing is completely my own.

Swaddling bands are supposed to be 5-6 yards long, so I planned to repeat this series of motifs to fill the fabric. I ran out of time for embroidery, though, so I did the rest with paint pen. The swaddling bands were positioned during their scenes so that the embroidery was on display, but I didn't want the rest of the fabric to be completely blank if it showed.

This was photographed on my beautiful mosaic table, made by my sister.
Since I put a lot of work into these swaddling bands, I plan to keep them, so I also plan to embroider over all of the paint because I feel like that is more worth putting on display in the future. I want to work this into my Christmas traditions in the future, but I'm not sure how yet.

Until next time!