Friday, May 15, 2015

When life throws you lemons, make a hat!

Like many people, I was very touched by the recent blog post on Wearing History about Social Media and the Myth of Perfection. I can relate to many of the things she has gone through, and I SO admire the courage that she showed by giving us a glimpse into the less public side of her life. I think Lauren started a conversation that really needed to happen. It is SO easy to feel inferior, jealous, or like the people around us live charmed lives when we only see the highly curated images that are typically shared on blogs and Facebook. I can also relate to the Dreamstress's post on Privacy, Perfection, and Blogging, because I too am an extremely private person, and there are just some things that I don't feel comfortable talking about in this very public forum.

2014 was a very bad year for me. 2015 has been much much worse. I have been struggling with what to say or how to say it here on my public site, so this string of recent articles was very timely for me. Everybody is different, but for me, costuming is my joy, my creative outlet, and most of all, my escape, and I just don't want to talk about sad personal things here - that's what LiveJournal is for! But if you notice that I'm not posting as much, I'm replying to emails even less than usual, or you see me wearing lots of black for awhile, just know that there's a lot going on beneath the surface, and I'm doing the best that I can.

So on a lighter note, I thought I'd show you a quickie project that I just completed last week. I wanted to wear my Edwardian half-mourning outfit to a DFWCG outing, but we were going to a crowded museum, so I didn't want to be a nuisance in my ginormous Merry Widow hat. So the night before the event, I whipped up a much smaller version to wear instead.


Edwardian hats are some of the most delightful things to make because they often appear to be big piles of fluff with very little rhyme or reason to them. I started with a flat brimmed straw hat that I found at an estate sale, and then I took some scraps of velvet and piled them on top to make the crown seem much bigger than it actually is. I tacked the velvet down by hand, and I just folded and scrunched it up as I went until it looked "right". (I know that's not very helpful, but I don't know any other way to say it!) I finished it off by adding 4 feathers that I lightly curled with my curling iron, and an antique buckle brooch that I bought on Etsy. These brooches are quite common and are often surprisingly affordable, and I love them because they are so easy to switch out from one project to the next.

Even though I don't want to delve into sad personal topics today, I will share one "myth of perfection" confession with you all. I often retouch my photos to remove wrinkles, blemishes, dark circles under my eyes, or fix my hair a little better. I figure that all of those issues could be avoided or at least lessened if I used expensive eye creams, botox, wrinkle fillers, or a hairdresser... but I'm poor and Photoshop is free, so eh? why not? I also take an average of 50 photos for every 1 that is good enough to show up on my site, so I'm extremely selective about what I show here. I often wonder if people see me in person at costume events and are shocked by how old and ragged I look compared to my online photos.  :)  But it's really hard to put yourself out there for the amusement and nit-picking thousands of strangers. A bit of retouching makes me feel braver and less self-conscious - it's like a psychological coat of armor - so I feel more comfortable sharing more photos of my costuming work, which is the real point of it all. So now you know my dirty little secret, and if you'd like to see the raw, un-retouched me, just roll over this picture and take a peek.

So am I spreading the myth of perfection by retouching my photos? Maybe. Am I going to keep doing it? You better believe it! Because in the end, costuming is not reality - it's an escape. Reality is not always pretty and it's not always fun, but I'm grateful to have this quirky little hobby where I can take a break from the real world to cast off my woes, wear silly hats, magically erase my wrinkles, and laugh with my friends. For me, it's the best therapy in the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Regency Chemise



This year, I'm thrilled to be participating in a group project that will recreate the costumes illustrated in Vernet’s Merveilleuses and Incroyables from 1814.  (for more info, check out the Facebook page) We are supposed to keep the dress that we are making a secret until the grand reveal in December, so I decided to focus my blog entries on undergarments and accessories for most of the year and save my dress for the very end.  I’m really excited to have an excuse to make myself some new and improved Regency undies, and I am looking forward to hand-sewing everything from the skin out.  I know, I know… that probably sounds like madness to many of you, but I’ve grown to love hand-sewing over the years, so it seems like a fun challenge to me. 

The first garment on my list was a new chemise.  There isn’t much to blog about with a simple shift or chemise, but I’ll share my progress here anyway.  My chemise is made from a lightweight linen/cotton blend fabric, and it is stitched with linen thread.  The seams are all sewn by hand with a small backstitch, then I flat felled the seams. 

I decided to use Laughing Moon #115 for this garment, and the pattern is based on a surviving chemise in the designer’s collection.  The sizing worked well, and it saved me a good bit of time and effort vs. drafting my own pattern from scratch. It would have been nice if the instructions had been more detailed about inserting the underarm gussets – those were tricky with the felled seams – but I worked it out eventually.  I’m sure there are some wonderful tutorials online somewhere, but I was too lazy (or maybe too stubborn) to go searching for them.

The only thing that I didn't like about this chemise pattern is that it has a very high neckline in back, so I cut it into a more rounded shape after it was assembled to lower the back edge.  Both square and round necklines were common in Regency chemises, although I'm not sure if they were ever combined into one garment.  I actually like the rounded back better than the square front, so I think if I made this pattern up again, I would choose the high neckline option for the front and then round off the shape of both the front and the back of the chemise.


I also wish that I had cut the selvage down to something narrower than 5/8" before felling the seams. Period undergarments usually have tiny seams, and mine look pretty ham-fisted in comparison.  But this was my first time to hand-sew a chemise, and I learned a lot from the process, so I'm still pretty happy with the end results.

My biggest discovery was that chemises don't take nearly as long to sew by hand as I had feared.  It always seemed like too much effort to hand-sew something that would rarely be seen by anybody other than myself, but this chemise made up so quickly that it was really no trouble at all.  I only worked on it for a couple of hours over 3 evenings, and it was a soothing and mindless project while watching movies and TV.  

As one last finishing touch, I thought it would be a fun to embroider my initials on the front under the neckline.  Embroidered initial are commonly found on period chemises, and I can imagine that if you lived in a Regency household filled with women, it would be quite necessary to monogram your garments so that you didn’t end up wearing your mother’s or your sister’s underwear.  I'm afraid that if I was one Jane Austen’s heroines, I definitely wouldn’t win any praise for my needlework skills… but I guess this is good enough for a modern Janeite.  ;)    


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Mojo Dress


2015 has not been very kind to me so far with sewing projects.  I had a string of sewing/shopping disasters, so I finally got fed up and took a break from anything costume-related for most of February.  But inspiration comes from the strangest places, and for me, it was seeing the horribly tacky 60's/70's clothes in the new Mad Men promo pics.  I know most people would run screaming from all that pastel, plaid, and big hair, but I love it like crazy!  It's hideous and glorious and it made me want to sew something RIGHT NOW, so yesterday I whipped up my own pastel plaid monstrosity to wear to a retro-themed bowling event today.  It felt great work on a no-stress dress for a change, and hopefully it will help me get my sewing mojo back on track again.

To make my dress, I used a very simple mail order jumper pattern from the late 60's or early 70's.  The fabric is vintage wool plaid that I found at an estate sale many years ago.  This is actually my second garment that uses this fabric - it also made an appearance in a pair of Victorian pants.  What can I say?  I LOVE crazy plaids!  The dress is finished off with a few vintage buttons that were given to me by my mother-in-law, but unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention and make the dress button on the wrong side.  Whoops!

I also used today's outing as an excuse to wear my Vintage Coat of Awesomeness.  That was another amazing estate sale discovery.  God, I love that coat!


So that's about it.  It was fun to make, fun to get dressed up, fun to do something different, and fun to indulge in my Mad Men obsession.  A perfect palate-cleanser project.





Sunday, January 11, 2015

Little House natural form dress


I'm planning on going to Costume College again this summer, and it is never too early to start making dresses!  The theme for this year is "Plucked from the Pages", so a couple of my friends and I are planning on wearing Little House on the Prairie inspired outfits for one of the days while we are there.  I have been obsessed with all things "Little House" for most of my life, so I decided to make a very simple wool natural form gown that would be right at home on the prairie during the early 1880's, which is when the last few books took place.  I remember spending many hours of my childhood (and adulthood!) pouring over the illustrations in those books and re-reading the passages that described their dresses.  Although my outfit isn't meant to copy one specific dress from the book, I was definitely influenced by several of the charming illustrations and descriptions from the series when coming up with my design.

I also wanted to have something new to wear this weekend for an outing to the museum with the DFWCG. The wool that this dress is made from is quite heavy, which makes it warm and cozy for winter. Plus, the narrow skirts and lack of a train made it much more manageable around crowds, which was nice since the museum was packed. Unfortunately, I ran short on time and didn't get to fine-tune my outfit as much as I would have liked, so I'll probably go back and made a few minor adjustments before it gets a second wearing a Costume College. I know these are nit-picky things, but the peplum is a little unruly and refused to lay flat in back, the collar and cuffs need a bit of lace, and the velvet collar seems a bit awkward to my eyes. Is it too wide? Should it be wool? Or maybe I just need to add some ribbons or a lace cravat to dress it up some more? I haven't completely worked a solution just yet, but luckily I have 7 months to mull it over.

I used the same basic bodice pattern that I used last summer for my plaid dress, and I reused my bonnet from that project too since the colors looked so pretty with the maroon.  The overkskirt pattern was drafted from the 1880 "sateen dress" diagram in Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol 1.  I discovered that the front of the overskirt was a lot longer in real life than the illustration shows, and I had to add in extra pleats to make it match up with the back panel correctly. But that's okay because I like the look of the longer skirt just as well. I also used two straps of wide elastic to keep the overskirt pulled back tightly, and that seemed to help the draping of the front a lot while still giving me freedom to move.

My favorite part of the dress is the set of antique Victorian buttons on the bodice, which are nothing exciting in photos, but I think they are quite pretty in real life. I love being able to use old buttons on a new dress. It's such a fun finishing touch.


I also got to wear my fur capelet again, which made me incredibly happy. It's so warm in Texas that it's always a treat when I can find an excuse to wear coats and capes!


As usual, here are some of my favorite photos, and there are a few more additional pics on flickr.







Sunday, December 14, 2014

1869 dress for Candlelight


I got a bee in my bonnet last weekend and decided that I couldn't bear to wear my same old bustle dress to Candlelight two years in a row, so I made a new 1869 outfit for the occasion. Luckily, this style of dress goes together quite easily, and I was able to pull all the supplies that I needed from my stash. All I had to buy this week was a $1 sprig of greenery for my hat. Now that's my kind of Christmas miracle!

The gown is made with green plaid silk that I picked up at a Fabrique sale earlier in the year for $16. No, not $16 per yard - but $16 for the dress length. Best. Deal. Ever! I had no idea what I would make with it, and I usually try to avoid adding things to my stash without a plan, but this was just too good of a deal to pass up. My students pointed out that the fabric looks like a roll of Scotch Tape, and wow - yeah it does! Maybe I can convince Scotch to sponsor my dress if I sew a big product patch on my back like a race car driver. But even though I do look a bit tape-ish, I thought the green was quite festive, and I matched the event's Victorian Santa so well.


To make the dress, I used a combination of patterns from Patterns of Fashion and Theatrical Costumes for Stage and Screen. It's a pretty simple dress on its own, and the only embellishment is a set of antique glass buttons with flowers cut into them. At first, I thought about adding fringe or rows of trim on the dress, but then I fell in love with a 1869 fashion plate from La Mode IllustrĂ©e showing a similarly austere gown worn with a black tunic over it. I poked around and found several period patterns for this type of garment, including one in the book 60 Civil War-Era Fashion Patterns that is referred to as a "pannier mantilla". I loved the description, which states: "a more useful article of dress is not likely to appear this season, and will more than repay for the slight trouble of making it." How charming!


I also found a similar garment and pattern in an 1869 copy of de Gracieusse that is archived on the Het Geheugen van Nederland archive (search for "gracieuse" plus the year that you want to find the magazines). This mantilla, which you can see in the middle of the top and bottom row of the illustration above, is a little more fitted and has an open V-neckline, so I used the body from this pattern, and the pannier flounce from the other. I always love detangling the pattern sheets in these old magazines, and somewhere hidden in this jumble you can find the pieces for my mantilla.


To finish the outfit, I dyed another pair of vintage gloves with Rit to match the yellow in my dress. I also took a straw pillbox hat from the 1960's and tacked the sides of the top together to make it look more like an early bustle tilt hat. I added a vintage moire ribbon to the back and a bit of Christmas greenery to the top, and that's it. The ribbons liked to flap around in the wind and stand straight up or wrap around my face and look ridiculous most of the time. I probably should have gone with narrower ribbon like the hat shown in this 1869 fashion plate, but the color matched my dress so well that I couldn't resist. Oh well. Go big or go home, right?  :)

On the way to the event, I stopped by my favorite Victorian chapel and took a few pictures. Here are some of my favorites, and as usual, there are more on flickr, plus a few others of our group at the Candlelight event.






Sunday, November 30, 2014

1790s Autumn accessories

Gallery of Fashion, 1796

A few weekends ago, the DFWCG had its annual Georgian Picnic, and I decided to make some new cold-weather accessories to dress up my old 1790's spencer and round gown. Unfortunately, I ran short on time and had all sorts of unforeseen drama that weekend, so my fancy new accessories did not get finished and I ended up with a very boring outfit for the picnic. *blah* But I was so excited about what I was working on that I decided to give it another try and finish everything so I could at least do a photo shoot and share my projects here. I spent lots of time pouring through Gallery of Fashion illustrations when coming up with ideas for my new accessories, and all of those plates can be found on the Bunka Gakuen archive, which is an invaluable resource for studying costume of this era.


First on the list was a new fixed turban. The construction was very similar to the turban I made last summer, but this one has a 3-yard strip of velvet wrapped around the crown, which made it much rounder and taller than my first version. I didn't get a chance to decorate it before the picnic, so it was painfully plain during its first wearing. To add a bit more excitement, I added strips of fur to the twists and a drape in the back, and I like it a million times better now. It just goes to show how important those finishing touches are when making hats from this era. I used a straw hat as the base for this turban, and everything is tacked into place by hand, so it would be easy to change again in the future if I wanted to try something else.

Gallery of Fashion, 1801
I also had a massive hair fail on the morning of the picnic and didn't have time to work out a plan B, so I decided to invest in a new wig to make sure that never happens again. I bought the Aneesa wig by Mona Lisa (you can sometimes find cheaper prices for this wig on Ebay), and I think it's a nice match for the short cropped curls that you see in some of the fashion plates from this era. I took sections of hair and brushed them out, then I wrapped them around my finger to make distinct ringlets. It's sort of a silly look, but it seemed very Gallery of Fashion-esque, which is exactly what I was going for.


reticule from the MFA Boston - 1800
Next, I decorated a silk reticule with brass spangles. I made the reticule earlier this year, but it wasn't anything exciting, so I decorated it with a pattern similar to the bag shown on the left. My version is fairly subtle since the color of the spangles matches the silk so well, but I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out, and I discovered how fun it is to add spangles to things.  I don't think I'll ever have a plain reticule again!

The gloves were another quick project that helped to add some more color to my outfit. They are vintage gloves that I found at an estate sale, and they were originally orange. I over-dyed them with purple Rit to make them a burgundy color that would match my turban. The color is a little spotty in a few areas, so the next time I dye gloves, I'll be sure to wash them first to make sure any old grease or oil is removed, which can cause the dye to be absorbed differently in those areas. But it's nice to know that I can take boring old gloves and dye them any color that I want. I never even though about doing that before.


Gallery of Fashion, 1795
In the past, I wore my paisley shawl with this outfit, but paisley shawls don't typically show up in fashion plates until after 1800, so they aren't the most historically correct style to use with this period. So I decided to make myself a fur tippet, which is an accessory that you do see often in 1790's illustrations.  I had a small remnant of faux fur left over from another project, so I pieced it together and sewed it into a long tube.  Honestly, it doesn't provide much warmth unless you wrap it tightly around your neck, but they do look pretty glamorous, so I guess that's the main point.

Finally, I made myself a high-necked chemisette to fill in the neckline of my round gown and make it more appropriate for winter. I made it out of a vintage baby gown that had been badly stained and torn and was headed for the scrap bin. But I managed to salvage enough of the plain cotton to make the chest piece and collar, and then I used the lace edging to create some long ties that I could arrange like a cravat. I think more than anything, the chemisette helped to keep me warm by covering one of the few exposed areas on my body, and I love the smart and sporty look that it creates - perfect for a hike through the woods on a November day.

So I might have missed my goal of having these new accessories finished for the picnic, but I still had fun wearing them for my photoshoot, and I hope I get another chance to wear them to a real event in the future. You can see the full set of photos on Flickr, and here are a few more of my faves.