Friday, June 29, 2012

A Pair of Corded Stays c. 1800-1820

An embarrassingly long time ago, I started talking about a new pair of stays for 1812 events.  I actually finished them in March, but I never got pictures of them!

As I posted before, I really wanted a pair of supportive stays that didn't dig into my legs when I sat down.  As you can see, I contoured the bottom edge to allow more room over my thighs and hips, modeling them after a number of period illustrations and an extant pair of riding stays.  I'm happy to report that I've worn these several times now and even driven in them with no signs of dig-in-itis!  Not a bruise to be seen.

I used Past Patterns #001 as a base and modified it to suit my needs.  The original pattern didn't come anywhere near large enough to go around my giant ribs and abundant endowments, so I added several inches to the body piece.  The hip and bust gores are unaltered except for the bottom edge.

The stays are made of three layers--the cording is sandwiched between an outer layer of cotton sateen and an interlining of cotton drill.  The lining is cotton sateen, and the bones sit between the lining and interlining so that they don't show through.  I used spiral steel boning for the body, which would have showed grey through the top layer of sateen.  The cording, being white, didn't matter if it showed or not.

The center back is boned with spring steel, though as you can see it still has quite a bit of flex to it.  As you can also see, my barrel-shaped rib cage affects how the stays close quite a bit.  The grommets are enamel coated metal, though it wasn't uncommon to see little bone "wheels" set into the fabric for lacing, as I discussed in a previous post.  The binding is just normal herringbone-weave cotton tape, as is the drawstring in the top edge over the bust and the ties for the busk pocket.

Normally, I avoid embroidery like the plague and have often said that I despise it with the fire of a thousand suns.  However, I figured since I was doing so much fiddly work with all the cording and decorative stitching, that it wouldn't kill me to do a little bit of simple embroidery.  There are tons of surviving examples with varying amounts of embroidery, and mine actually turned out looking pretty nice (if I do say so myself).  I only say that because I was pleasantly surprise!

And because I'm darn proud of the embroidery, have one more closeup!  The construction and topstitching were done by machine (because I wanted to be able to wear these sometime this century) with glazed cotton quilting thread and the embroidery was done by hand with #8 Pearl Cotton.  The cording is Sugar & Cream cotton yarn.

Last but not least, don't forget the busk!  I'm wearing my "test" busk, which I made out of a length of poplar from Lowe's.  My lady mother, who is much more confident with power tools than I, sawed it to size and roughly into shape, and my dad helped me rasp, sand, and drill it to refine the final shape.  I also got a book on chip carving out of the library, but it looked like a really good way for me to lose a finger or two so I'll have to live with having an undecorated busk for the time being!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Genesee Country Village 2012

Up until last year, I'd never even heard of the Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford, NY.  Little did I know that this was a serious and vital gap in my knowledge.  The village is my absolute favorite open air museum site, and their 1812 event is one that I look forward to all year.

I can't really even begin to describe how beautiful and idyllic the village was.  I fell in love with it last year, and this year was even better.  There were a lot more people in period dress, and nearly everyone I saw was in good period dress, which is something I really appreciate.  More than once I looked out the window of the building where I was stationed and saw a picture-perfect gentleman out for a stroll with his lady, or a mother and child carrying parcels or water back to their home.  It was like being part of a living painting.

Julie styles a dancer's hair early in the day.
Julie, a few other ladies from the unit, and I were stationed in the Romulus Female Seminary, demonstrating hair styles of the period.  In some cases that meant rag rolling little girls' hair so they would have curls later when they took them out.  In other cases we just did a pretty hairstyle and let the little victim little girl pick a ribbon color to put in it.  In all cases, the kids we coiffed left with beaming smiles and pretty hair.  They may or may not have made the connection between the fashion plates we had on display and their own hairdos, but they left happy and felt beautiful, so in that sense it was a resounding success.

Ava & Julie relaxing after a long day of hair styling
Saturday evening after the visitors left, our unit had a potluck supper together.  It was a great time to chat with far-away friends, meet new people, and of course the food was excellent.

The turkey needed a little help thawing
Day two was a little warmer than Saturday, but the weather was still just as lovely (minus a couple raindrops in the afternoon).  Our unit dedicated a new flag, which was painted by our commanding officer--in his other life, he's an amazing artist and graphic designer.  Our fifer received his new musician's coat, made by the inimitable Ericka, so now our young musicians are both smartly attired.  

New flag dedicated as the ladies of the regiment look on
Since Julie and I both traveled light for this weekend, we took the opportunity after closing time on Sunday to take a few pictures around the village.  We didn't see even close to all of it, but we'd been so busy that we all had to rotate shifts for lunch and bathroom breaks, so it still felt like we had a full weekend even though we didn't get out of our assigned building much.  Next year we might stay an extra day and pay admission so we can wander the museum & village at our leisure, though!

Predictably, I found the closest four-footed being and tried to make friends.

I did succeed in befriending the baby oxen, but only by dint of bribery.

Julie taking a turn in the gardens, no oxen in sight.

More civilized strolling

Old dress, new accessories
I was very content with my decision to not finish the new dress for this weekend.  Pretty much as soon as I had posted about it here, and made it known I wasn't going to finish, I felt so relieved.  I slept like a baby the night before the trip, I didn't feel pressured to ask Julie to drive so I could sew (actually I drove quite a bit and she read to me, which was wonderful), and I just generally felt a lot better about life without the looming deadline.  Even though I work well under pressure, it was nice to have a backup plan.

To dress up "this old thing," I paired it with a printed neckerchief from Anokhi USA.  They're not a historical retailer and not all of their designs are appropriate for my purposes, but they had a good selection that were appropriate, online ordering, and fast shipping.  I received the scarves only a few days after I ordered them!  The Silly Sisters also carries printed kerchiefs, as does Burnley and Trowbridge.

The bonnet is also new, and courtesy of my loving mother.  I had the silk in my stash with a bonnet in mind, but I'm terrible with millinery and was still working on a deadline, so she jumped in and tried her hand at bonnet-making.  It turned out beautifully and was pretty much exactly what I had in mind.  Thanks, mom!  Maybe you can come with us next year. (Hint...hint...)

They were just really cute, okay?
So in conclusion, if you haven't been to Genesee Country Village & Museum, you should go.  And if you're at all interested in 1812 events, you should plan to come visit us there next year!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Better Part of Valor

You know how they say, "Discretion is the better part of valor?"  Well, it's actually a misquote.

To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of
a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying,
when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true
and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valor is
discretion, in the which better part I have sav'd my life.
Henry The Fourth, Part 1 Act 5, scene 4, 115–121

So basically, Falstaff is saying, "Hey guys, I totes pretended to be dead, now I'm not really dead because the dude who wanted to fight me thought I was dead and didn't kill me!  It's cool, right?  That's good life choices, not cowardice, bitches."

And that, my friends, is what I am doing.  I've been working late nights and long hours on a dress for this weekend, and I've reached the decision that it's just not going to be done.  It's been a long time since I called a retreat on a project like this, but this morning at two a.m. I put the sleeves on and realized that I hated them. I had to make a choice.  I could get the dress into wearable condition and debut it this weekend "as is," if I worked on it tonight (in addition to picking up groceries, cleaning out my car, and packing.)  If I did that, I'd be using the sleeves that I hated, there wouldn't be any trim, and it'd be pinned shut in the back.

Or, I could cut myself a little slack, re-pattern the sleeves, do a few mockups, and get a design that I really like.  I could take time to trim the dress as I intended, an then wear it in July or August at Chilicothe or Greenfield 1812.  I know I'll be a lot  happier with the dress overall if I do that.

Plus, I'd really like to actually sleep at some point tonight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sturdy Closure Edges

Over the past week, I've been kind of kicking myself that I didn't take any construction photos of making Matt's clothes. We were in a big time crunch, but there were still some really neat techniques we used, specifically in the building of the waistcoat. I was super happy with how that turned out, so I decided to use a few of those methods while assembling my latest project.

I'm working on an 1812 dress with a back closure and since I liked the interfacing and stay tape method we used for Matt's vest closure so much, I decided to use it on my center back opening. The dress is a gorgeous worsted wool from Wm. Booth, Draper, and I used 3.5 oz handkerchief linen and cotton twill tape for the reinforcement layers.

First, I prepared the neck edge.  I'm using piping on mine, but normally I'd just press the edge over and possibly baste it.  Then I marked the center back where I wanted the finished edge to be.  Since it's inside and the fabric isn't sheer at all, I just used a ballpoint pen.

I cut the strip of linen on-grain, about an inch and a half wide--enough to allow space for button holes if I decide to do them.  The linen should butt right up to the center back edge, but not go into the seam allowances.  I wound up cutting it long and then trimming it later.

Baste it in.  It doesn't have to be pretty.  It just has to keep the linen from sliding around while you do your thing.  As you can see, my basting is pretty huge, but that means it'll be easier to take out later.  Also, you'll save yourself a lot of headache if you don't knot your thread.  Just stitch a few times in the same place to secure the end.

Use a little tiny catch stitch or whip stitch to secure the edge of the linen that does not touch the center back edge.  When you stitch through your fashion fabric, only catch one or two threads.  You don't want this to show on the outside, so use a matching color and be careful where you stitch.  A little concentration now will pay off.

Next, the stay tape.  This is what gives you a nice, solid edge, so make it a nice, straight one!  This goes on top of the linen, flush with the center back edge.

More catch stitching...I used a z configuration instead of an x to save thread and time, but the same idea applies.  If you stitch all the way through, make sure you only catch a thread or two of your fashion fabric.

I had a lot of extra fabric in my center back, so I trimmed it off to reduce bulk.  I like a 5/8" seam allowance because of reasons, but you could do as little as a quarter of an inch.  Just remember, when you fold it over it has a little extra thickness to cover, what with the interfacing and stay tape, so account for that wee bit of extra bulk-especially if your fabric is prone to fraying.  You don't want to lose that nice clean edge because your fabric decided to shred right out from under you.

I basted my seam allowance in place just for ease of handling, but you could just as well pin it.  Fold your lining edge over, and attach!  I like a fell stich for that, but a whip stitch or whatever you fancy would work just as well.

And that's it!  A beautiful, stable edge that won't bag, stretch, flop, or rip.  Can't go wrong with that!

Friday, June 15, 2012

And now for something completely different...


This is Jackson...I've been riding him in lessons for a month or so now, and just signed a partial lease so I get to ride him two extra days a week. He's a total sweetheart; the other family who's also leasing him calls him their "golden retriever in a horse's body"


This is his other side--notice that he has one blue and one brown eye. He's my little lopsided cutie! He's a paint, though as you can see he's mostly white. His story is a little sad--he's been out at my teacher's dad's property for three years, not being ridden or used except for a couple times a year. His owner couldn't afford to keep him, so she just kind of left him there three years ago. Now he's at our barn, taking the place of my teacher's horse (who is having summer break from lessons) and I adore him.


He's so different to ride than Molly, the beautiful little bay quarter horse I've been on for the last six months. And I still love her to bits. She's really sweet, and always comes to say hi when I'm there. Today I actually got Mollysnot on my face because she wanted kisses on her nose when I was done hosing Jackson down after our ride. But Molly is...Molly. I hesitated on leasing her because I felt like I'd reached the limits of her abilities. She was trained to do western, so walking and trotting mostly worked fine, but she's pissy about things like cantering and dressage, she's awful at jumping, and she's just kind of...Molly.


Then Jackson came along, and I could do everything on him. He's not used to being worked, but he was well-trained in his youth and he knows all sorts of fancy stuff that I haven't even learned yet. He's really eager to please, and I can tell he's improving already after just a month doing lessons, as am I. For example, cantering on Molly was not only a battle of wills, but it was terrifying because I never knew when she was going to try to dump me off, and she's just...really wiggly. Jackson is like riding a cloud in comparison, seriously.


I also really like his pretty blue eye.

Anyway, so far Jackson and I seem to be getting along pretty well, so hopefully you'll be seeing more of him in the future!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Helping the Huebners

Hey, it's pre-event panic time again! What do you know? Genesee Country Village & Museum's 1812 Bicentennial Weekend is coming up on June 23-24, and a certain ginger-haired family needs some clothing!

Ashlyn helping with linen and twill tape.
I panicked at the beginning of the weekend after making a list of all the stuff we needed to get done, so my mother graciously stepped in and helped me with some of the prep work.  I cut out all the pattern pieces on Saturday, and Sunday morning cut the pieces for Matt's trousers.  While I cut out his waistcoat, my mom put together the basic pieces of the trousers so Matt could try them on when I went over to the Huebners' to sew that afternoon.

Hard at work, phew!
Sunday afternoon became sewing bootcamp at the Huebner house.  Matt had control of the machine, since he had some work to finish on his shirt-his very first sewing project!-and Erinn and I started work on the waistcoat.  We used the Kannik's Korner Man's Waistcoat pattern and followed the directions pretty much as-written, using linen from

Hey Ashlyn, where's your belly?
Between the two of us, Erinn and I knocked out the waistcoat in one evening, by hand, minus buttons & holes.  Not too shabby, especially since our little helper (as seen above) tended to be kind of...distracting.  Super cute, though!  Once the waistcoat got to a point where only one person could work on it and Matt's shirt was done but for buttons, I started work on finishing the trousers.  There aren't any pictures of those yet, though, since unfinished pants tend to be a bit sketchy in terms of coverage.

Lookin' good!
By the end of the night, we had a waistcoat ready for finishing work and a pair of trousers that just need some hand finishing and shaping in the legs.  I'm really happy with the work we did today, and it seemed like we all had a good time.  I'm ridiculously pleased with how everything is turning out, and sewing with the Huebners is such a good time.  They may be new to the hobby, but they're smart cookies and eager to learn!  And don't tell anyone, but Erinn's handsewing looks way better than mine--shh!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance 2012

So, I'm just going to say up front that I'm getting worse at taking photos every time I go to an event. It's kind of a problem. For example, I met the lovely Katherine this weekend, and her mom, Ingrid, and I meant to get a picture with them. I all but wrote it on my hand. And then when I saw them, I was too busy talking and laughing with them to remember that I had my camera in my reticule! Ugh, so, no pictures of Katherine and Ingrid...but they were sweet and wonderful and I met them Saturday in plainclothes and then they came back the next day in 1860s outfits and it was phenomenal. :)

There are a few pictures of when I wasn't busy having a brain fart, though, so enjoy!

This is my Julie

This was Julie's first 1860s event in period clothes; she's visited us at Greenfield Village every year since we started going, but always in shorts and a tee shirt! I absolutely love the outfit she put together. Her dress is a spotted cotton lawn, made up like a sheer with a half-high lining. She's an amazing seamstress, but she doesn't like computers so she doesn't really put her stuff online. I guess I'll just have to put pictures up instead!


My mom got a chance to wear her plaid dress's really cute, she keeps asking me if she can make modifications to it, and I keep telling her it's her dress so she can do whatever she wants! It's truly served both of us well at this point.


This pretty much sums up my role in the proceedings all weekend. My mom and Julie were elegant, accomplished ladies. I was full of derp. Yep. Also, this is my favorite outfit of JJ's. (Katherine...maybe this will make you glad I didn't actually take a picture with you!) ;)

Okay, okay fine. Here's an more dignified photo.