Thursday, November 12, 2015

Slacker Update

I've noticed as I proceed through adulthood that I seem to have a limited amount of creative energy.  Like, when I was in school, I felt like I could do sixty-leven creative things all at once--I used to write stories, draw, sew, blog, journal, doodle in class...all sorts of stuff.  And then the whole full-time job thing happened, and now I'm lucky if I can get in a little bit of sewing after work in between making dinner and doing house projects.

Oh, yeah, and that's a thing.  We bought a house!  We started looking in the spring and this fall, we completed the purchase and moved in, all in one whirlwind weekend.

To be honest, it's such a cute little house in such a nice area...SO much more wonderful than anything I ever dreamed we would be able to have.  I'm so grateful!  Rich got a workshop all to himself, and I got space that will become a sewing room.  We also are super happy that it has a fenced back yard...that wasn't on our "must have" list, but our pup Trixie is loving it.  At first she was a good little apartment dog and didn't stray far from our sides when we would take her out, but she has now learned that the yard is her own little kingdom and she surveys it on the regular.  She even has a favorite stick that she leaves outside the door when it's time to come inside.

Anyway, my big projects have been house-related this fall.  I'm about 90% done painting the dining room and kitchen, and have started taping in the master bedroom.  I have crappy pictures of the dining room, but my phone doesn't like taking indoor photos at night, so I'll have to dig out my real camera to get decent pictures.  I'm really happy with how everything is coming out, though, and want to share!

Another project we've taken on this year is growing our pet population.  Back in July, we adopted an 8-year-old kitty named Lucie.  She was an owner surrender at a nearby shelter, and we met her one Saturday while picking up supplies for Trixie at a local shop.  We were already in the process of applying at a different shelter to adopt a cat, but Lucie took one look at my husband and picked him as Her Human.  She flopped right over on her back and offered him her belly, and for him it was love at first sight.  We took her home a few days later.

Lucie with her favorite human, doing her favorite thing--getting attention!

We also added two ferrets, Bob and Jane, to our family.  They are also rescues, from the West Michigan Ferret Connection.  Dee, the owner, tells us that they were probably neglected and possibly abused, but they've come a long way in terms of trusting people!  We're glad to be able to offer them a quiet, safe home where they can come out of their shells at their own pace.

Lastly, we've once again grown our rat colony.  We now have seven, two girls and five boys.  Three of the boys are babies, brothers from our favorite breeder (which is where we also got the girls.)  Let me tell you, they are adorable!  They're still quite young, so very excitable and energetic, but they're very sweet.  The other two boys we just picked up last weekend.  I received word through an online group that there was a pair of intact males that had been surrendered to a veterinarian in Indiana, due to abuse in the home.  We made arrangements and were able to take them...and we've been very pleasantly surprised.  They must have gotten good socialization at some point because they are very snuggly!  We're very much looking forward to getting to know them better, and so thrilled with how personable they are already.

Sticky, one of the babies.

Minty, Sticky's brother.  Not pictured: Torvald, the other brother.

Sleepy rescue baby!

Other sleepy rescue baby.
So, while I haven't been very good about updating, at least I've been keeping busy!  This winter I'm hoping to get my sewing space organized and get going on my big old list of projects.  Til next time!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Genesee Country Village & Museum 1812 Weekend

I think I can safely say that this is one of my favorite events.  Every time I've been, it's been a simply wonderful time at a great historic site.  GCV&M is located in upstate New York and many of the reconstructed buildings on-site are from around the area.  The exhibits and galleries are always top-notch and it's really special to be able to get a taste of what it would be like to live in a charming rural village for the weekend!

While there, Rich and I celebrated our first anniversary.  Our friend Julie made us a cake, which was amazing!  It was such a wonderful way to celebrate, spending time with great friends in a beautiful setting.

We actually left Michigan the Thursday before the event and gave ourselves a whole day to go to the museum and village as tourists, which was fantastic!  I've been there four times now, and Julie has been three...but we had never had a chance to go into all the buildings because the reenactors are always so busy during the actual event weekend.  Not that that's bad--there's tons of chatting with friends, catching up, talking to visitors, and it's all great--but we wanted to see all the cool stuff!

Walking around as visitors was really a blast and we had a fantastic visit.  The interpreters were all VERY knowledgeable about their various stations and activities, even when I asked weird questions.  They were so welcoming and approachable, and I learned a LOT!  Even without trying to! ;)

This little guy caught my eye in the village's brewery--the only working
19th century brewery in the US!
These cows were not impressed with us.
The Susan Greene collection was, as always, flawless.
We also took some time to photograph Julie's new outfit.  She made a fantastic bonnet and dress with multitudes of hand-sewn tucks.  It was lovely!

If you haven't been to Genesee Country Village & Museum and ever find yourself up in that neck of the woods, it is definitely worth a look!  It did take us a whole day to see the museum and village, and we still didn't hit everything, but even a few hours there would be wonderful.

For more pictures, check out my Flickr album.  I already can't wait for next year!

Monday, June 1, 2015

HSWTF #5: Fancy Clothes Can Be Practical

The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for May was "Practicality."  The prompt said something about princesses needing grubby clothes too, so of course I made a silk dress for this challenge AND made it fit the theme.  Disregard the constabulary!

Well, no, actually, it was because I had an old dress that didn't fit anymore and needed something relatively fast and forgiving for Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance over Memorial Day weekend.  Also, to be fair, my living history projects have been HEAVILY weighted toward the practical end of the spectrum.  For 1860s I've splashed out for silks and fashion-plate inspired garments, but my 1812 and 18th century clothes have mostly been sturdy, sensible garments.  Therefore I feel no guilt at all in re-purposing a nice dress, making it over into another outfit, and calling that practical.  It is practical.  And period.

Some of you may recognize the skirt.  You can see it here in its original form, with a matching pink silk bodice.  I always liked that dress, which was inspired by an 1863 fashion plate.  As you can see in those photos, I was significantly larger when that dress was made.  I tried it on to see if it was salvageable for this year, and both my arms fit down inside the bodice with me.  I would have had to take the whole bodice apart, which sounds much less fun than making a whole new top!

The new look is inspired by another 1863 fashion plate, along with another from 1861.  This type of ensemble would have been fairly fashion-forward, not typically what you would think of as a practical kind of outfit.  However, remembering how many hours I spent on the skirt trim alone makes me think that re-using it can't be anything but practical in this case!

To re-use the skirt, I unpicked it from the waistband in the front and re-pleated it to fit my new waist size.  The sheer waist and corset cover were adapted from the same Laughing Moon pattern I've used since I started doing 1860s, with a modified Full Bust adjustment because my proportions in a corset are a bit problematic.  That's one thing about weight's not necessarily predictable, and some areas lose faster than others.  I my case, my bust did shrink...but so did everything else at various rates, so now I'm out of proportion according to clothing manufacturers and pattern-makers.  I guess I shouldn't complain, but...what size shirt do I buy?!

Oh, and I suppose I should mention that the corset cover (which you can't see except through the waist), is actually made from parts cannibalized from my old corset cover, so if nothing else...THAT is practical!

The Swiss waist (the little black belt/corselet thingie) was draped on my mannequin, which I dialed to approximately my measurements.  It ended up a teeny bit small thanks to turn of the cloth and the fact that I am wearing at least 3 layers under it, but I actually like that.  The lacing showing in front is quite fetching and you see it often in period photos, and it means that I might be able to eke out another couple events in this even if I lose more weight.  Or change shape.  I left the side seams exposed inside for future alterations as well, so further adjustments will be fairly easy (she said, optimistically.)

All in all, I am very pleased.  I've always liked that skirt and I'm glad it has a new life with this outfit.  I also am always in favor of plans that maximize time and minimize stress, like re-making an old outfit for a new season!

Historical Sew Monthly TL;DR:

What the item is (and what practical things you can do in it): Corset cover, sheer organdy blouse, and black silk Swiss waist, paired with a re-purposed silk skirt trimmed with velvet. The practicality comes not so much from choice of materials (obviously!) but the fact that the outfit re-uses a skirt from a dress that became much too large for me to wear anymore after I lost ~60lbs. I had a relatively tight deadline to figure out an outfit for a big event, and so re-sized the skirt to my new waist measurement and completed the upper garments to freshen up the look. In addition, the new corset cover also works under my sheer dress (not pictured here) and replaces an old one that ripped irreparably when I tried to re-size it.

The Challenge: #5, Practicality

Fabric: Cotton organdy from my stash (thanks Ginger!), Pimatex from Dharma Trading, brown polished cotton from Needle & Thread (also stash), black silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics.

Pattern: Laughing Moon #111 for corset cover and waist, self-draped for Swiss waist

Year: 1860s, first half of the decade. I took inspiration from fashion plates dated 1861 and 1863, as well as from photos from around those years as well.

Notions: Gutermann sew-all, cotton, and silk thread, Coats buttonhole thread, bargain-bin hooks, silk ribbon for lacing Swiss waist, antique china buttons.

How historically accurate is it? I really don't like this question. My sewing skills are nowhere near what you see on originals, so in that respect I'd say at most 10%. In terms of looking quite like the plates that inspired me, the percentage is much higher, but it's very simple in comparison with those--the waist could easily have insertion lace, or ruching, or both...etc.

Hours to complete: Too many. Many, many episodes of Burn Notice and Midsomer Murders played during the making of these garments! The Swiss waist and corset cover were relatively quick, but I had fits sewing on the sheer organdy.

First worn: Sunday May 24 at Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance.

Total cost: Surprisingly little. I took quite a bit from the stash and each individual garment didn't take very much fabric. Maybe $50?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend: Fort Meigs 1812 & Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance

I'm back from the past!  And I have pictures, as promised.  (Did I promise that?  I think I did!)  I hope you all enjoyed my mini Instagram updates throughout the weekend...I certainly enjoyed sharing snapshots of our experiences with everyone!  I'm still not sure how I feel about ##hashtags## but now at least I can say I gave it a try.

Saturday, we went to Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Ohio for their 1812 event.  The weather was just about perfect and we had a very relaxed day, sitting in the shade while chatting and stitching.

Some of you may recognize that dress...although I've never worn it before!  I made it back in 2011 for my friend Erinn to wear at a couple of events.  It was then loaned to another friend so that she could use it, and came back to me when I realized that I'd shrunk out of my entire wardrobe and had nary a thing to wear.  I was very surprised that it fit me, but quite pleased!

Rich is wearing his wool flannel trousers with a shirt that I commissioned from my friend Sarah, and a waistcoat from Julie at The Fat Reenactress.  His hat is by Matthew Brenckle.  I have very wonderful friends and acquaintances!

During the afternoon, we kept hearing a strange noise.  I theorized that it was a goat, while my mom thought it sounded like a child's toy.  Rich, not so keen on sitting in one place and chit-chatting, was busy amusing himself on the grounds of the fort.  Suddenly, he appeared at my elbow and said, "You know that bleating noise?  It's a fawn!"  And sure enough--this little one was hiding out in some underbrush near one of the gates!

According to the site staff, it's not uncommon for deer to hang around inside the fort.  Mothers will also often hide their young in a safe place and go elsewhere to graze, so as not to call attention to the fawn with her presence.  This little dude wasn't too happy with the sudden influx of reenactors, tents, and boom-sticks for the weekend, but chances are that his mummy came back for him once things quieted down in the evening.  Being able to see such a teeny-tiny little fawn so close was a real highlight for me, though, and it was nice to know the staff were keeping watch over him.  He really was tiny, too--probably about the size of my 18lb dog in the body, but of course with long, spindly legs.  So darling!

Aww, aren't we lovely?  (It's been almost a year and I still find the name puns amusing...)  Oh!  By the bye, I used pomade for the first time at this event and LOVE it.  I washed my hair the night we left (Friday) and pomaded it while damp.  I ran out of energy to roll it (we didn't have camp set up til almost midnight) and instead used a curling iron on it the next morning.  With a spritz of hairspray just for my own reassurance, the curls lasted all day and actually survived being braided and slept on--I had to wet them down the next morning to incorporate them into a smoother 1860s hairstyle!

The pomade was a last minute thought and I just grabbed a random tin from my local Sally Beauty Supply, but I HIGHLY recommend it for period hairstyles!  I might be the last one on this natural hair care bandwagon, but in case you are interested in trying it, you can get period recipes at Heirloom Hair Care or LBCC Historical, both on Etsy.

Anyway!  Sunday and Monday were spent at Greenfield Village, this time in the 1860s.  I again had not one thing to wear that actually fit me, so the weeks leading up to the event involved lots of sewing.  My wonderful mother helped me out with a new chemise and drawers, and I re-sized a skirt from an older dress that was now too large.  With the addition of a new corset cover, sheer organdy waist, and a black silk Swiss waist, the skirt took on a new life as a fashionable outfit that was also comfortable and cool in the heat.

Overall I'm quite pleased with the outfit and it also functions as my Historical Sew Monthly submission for this month--the challenge itself is "practicality," and while this particular outfit is more couture than commonplace, the fact that it re-uses an older skirt and that it saved me a lot of headache and panic on a deadline seems very practical, indeed.

I don't have as many pictures of this event, because while both sites have a high emphasis on historical accuracy and maintaining a period setting (i.e. no visible modern gadgets like phones or cameras), Fort Meigs was not very crowded.  At Greenfield Village, there were constantly visitors around and we had to quickly snatch snapshots in the brief lulls, or wait until after hours to photograph anything.  I do have more pictures of my outfit, but I'm saving those for a post about the HSM and the outfit itself!  So for that reason, I leave you with a photo of my husband and some sheep.

Shortly after this they did come over for scritches.  Baaaaaaa!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Let's Do This!!

It's been quiet around here for the past few weeks for the simple reason that I've been sewing madly and even a little frantically to prepare for this weekend.  Memorial Day weekend is sort of the "kickoff" for my summer reenacting, with my 1812 regiment's big opening event at Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Ohio, and Greenfield Village's Civil War Remembrance weekend all at once.

As of right now, Rich and I both have outfits to wear and most of our stuff packed in the car, so in not very many hours we'll be on our way to the past!  We'll be spending Saturday at Fort Meigs, then Sunday and Monday at Greenfield Village.  If you're in the SE Michigan or upper Ohio area, you should come out and see us!  Both sites are worth a visit and it's always fun to come when there are dozens and hundreds of reenactors around...we're a fun time. :)

I'm bringing my nice camera with me, but you can swing my my Instagram (linked in sidebar) for mini updates throughout the weekend.  Phone is charged and ready to go!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shoe Truce

American Duchess Renoir and Nankeen Boots
How do I begin?  I haven't exactly been vocal about it in public, but I've mentioned a few times in passing that I'm not exactly the biggest fan of some of the options out there for reproduction footwear.  Recently, however, I received some very sad news and learned that one of the most often-recommended reproduction shoe manufacturers in living history circles will no longer be in business within the next couple of months.  There has been no official announcement that I know of, but I learned from the owner of the business that he is finishing his current commissions and taking steps to shut down his operation after inquiring about custom orders via his website.

Well, with the departure of a major player, that changes the face of the market quite a bit.  It just so happens that I had been hoping to buy a pair of boots in a particular style from that merchant, but had been putting it off since common knowledge was that in order to get any kind of customer service, you had to call.  I don't know if anyone here knows this, but I HATE making phone calls.  I CAN do it, but I don't LIKE to do it.  So, now I'll never have my Dream Boots, because I was too chicken to pick up the phone.  Ah, well.  C'est la vie, I suppose.

As it happens, just before all of this occurred, American Duchess posted on Facebook about their annual spring cleaning sale (which is ending TODAY so get over there if you've been procrastinating!), as well as a pre-order for their newest 18th century style, the Dunmore.  Well, despite my skepticism over the years regarding the brand, I'm not one to say no to a shoe sale.  And to be honest, the Dunmore style looks rather fantastic.  And it comes in wool!  And oh by the way over the past year, there have been some pretty great styles released that look pretty darn good.  So I might have gone a little wild.  I mean, I do already have shoes for Civil War, but they're kind of uncomfortable and rub my ankles raw.  And I can fake it with ballet flats for regency, but I've always wanted's totally legit; trust me!

Last night, my in-stock order arrived and I was able to try on my newest acquisitions.  On the left of the photo above you'll see the 1860s-1870s boot, the "Renoir," and on the right is the fabric "Nankeen" style regency boot.

And holy, holy shit you guys.  I love them both to pieces.  They're nicely made shoes--certainly nicer than the cheap ballet flats and fashion boots I normally wear!  They are machine made, but the materials are much higher quality than I would buy in "real life" and in comparison to high-end fashion boots these days the cost is comparable.  I got mine on sale, so that helped make it more palatable for my cheap-ass self, but to be completely fair--if I bought these in a nice shoe store at the mall, I would be happy with them.

So, being a child of my generation, I slapped that photo up on Instagram, as you do.  And immediately started getting the side-eye for it, which considering that I've mentioned my skepticism of the American Duchess brand is actually kind of understandable.  But it did get me thinking...which is dangerous.

In the beginning, I was straight up Not A Fan of the AD designs.  I felt that they fell short of the mark on accuracy, all while marketing themselves as super-accurate.  Over the past few years, however, things have come a long way!  I think I finally perked up and noticed the changes when the Stratford style was released, which was developed in conjunction with a shoemaker that specialized in that particular period.  To me, that spoke of a desire to learn and grow, as well as elevating the 'brand status,' so to speak, in terms of accuracy and research.  In the meantime, though, there's a subtle yet definite feeling in certain circles that not all shoes are created equal--there's a right way and a wrong way, and buy buying AD shoes, I've started doing things the wrong way.


So, here's the scoop on the not-quite-drama.  Some of it is the same-old-same-old costumer vs. reenactor bullshit, where the reenactors are all This Is The One True Way blah blah.  And, granted, a reenactor is more likely to see nasty outdoor conditions while wearing historical clothing and shoes than someone who primarily does indoor events and that kind of thing.  Then again, there are some events that are downright cushy--Greenfield Village has paved roads, paved sidewalks, and beautifully maintained lawns.  It's not exactly the great American frontier...with a modicum of care, one can keep one's shoes perfectly nice at an event like that regardless of make and model.

Some people also are really big into the handmade aspect of things--as in, a handmade product is Always Superior to something mass-manufactured.  I kind of agree with that, in terms of finding it very impressive that people dedicate so much time and effort to learning the skills to do things like making reproduction shoes.  You don't see me doing that, even though I think it's valuable to keep those skills and information alive, so of course I'll support those who have dedicated themselves to that if I can.  However, I'm also a shameless consumer and will totally throw money at a problem if that will fix it.  I buy stuff made in China all the time.  It's the world we live in and if I can get what I want that way, I'll do it.  Maybe that makes me a terrible person...but at least I'm a terrible person with nice things, I guess?

Some people just really dislike American Duchess and/or the proprietress herself.  I myself was skeptical of the brand and, if I'm honest, jealous of her seemingly instantaneous popularity.  That last part is not something I'm proud of, and it was definitely caused by my own insecurities.  I've been on a sort of half-hiatus for the past couple of years, haven't made anything new, felt like my 'research muscles' have been atrophying and like I'd forgotten everything I ever knew.  I'm also super bad at promoting myself and am horribly socially awkward even at the best of times.  But you know what?  American Duchess is a small business.  Sure, the shoes are manufactured overseas, but as far as I can tell it's Lauren and two? other people making this happen.  It's not like she's running some retail cabal Wal-Mart knockoff.  And over the past year or so, I've seen what I would call some major improvements in overall look of the shoes and historical accuracy.  I can appreciate that--we all start somewhere, and she's put in a lot of work to offer something that wasn't available before.  And, in my current job, I get a bit of insight into what it takes to run a business...and you can sign me up for that, um, NEVER.  I'm great at fetching coffee and making copies, but boy-howdy do I respect those who have the drive and know-how on the business-making side of things.  Because I don't.  At all.

Then there's the durability.  Will these hold up to years of abuse out in the field?  I'm guessing not, but then *I* want to be suffering in the same conditions?!  Um, no.  I've come to accept that I am not 'hardcore.'  I was moreso in my early 20s, willing to brave the cold and rain and mud and heat in the name of toughing it out and Reenacting, Dammit.  My very first reenactment was in such bad weather that they actually canceled the event for our safety.  I've walked til my feet bled (thanks to my oh-so-correct handmade shoes) and then kept walking in my socks.  I've been in such bad shape at events that I had blackouts and don't remember a good chunk of the weekend.  And you know, I'm glad I survived.  Do I want to do it again?  Oh HELL no.  I do this shit for fun, not for invisible brownie points.  Not to mention that I'm no longer single and living alone with no responsibilities other than a dead-end job.  I have a husband and pup to keep up with and a job that matters to me.  I need more sleep than I used to and am making conscious choices to take better care of myself--body and mind both.  Sometimes that means getting a hotel room, or skipping an event if the weather forecast is abysmal.  It also means taking care of my feet.  I invested in good shoes for running and walking the dog, to avoid getting blisters and raw spots.  They won't last forever--in fact, you should replace athletic shoes fairly often because the materials that make them healthy to walk and run in and protect your body from damage in high-impact sports don't hold up over time and use.  Those kinds of shoes are also hella expensive, especially when you're used to dropping $10 or less on ballet flats at PayLess.  But they're an investment, because nobody likes bleeding feet or stress fractures.

And you know, it occurs to me...why the hell is this even an argument?  Why am I even writing this?  For crying out loud, at my last 1812 reenactment I wore a pair of London Rebel flats made out of 100% synthetic materials, tied with polyester grosgrain ribbon.  And people congratulated me on them.  When I went to Williamsburg and my feet bled through my socks and I wore a pair of totally modern shoes on my last day there and walked down DoG street in my bloody, dirty stockings, people offered me sympathy and went out to buy me band-aids and Neosporin.  But I buy nice shoes that are real leather, with leather soles, that are dainty and cute and make me happy--they are decently researched and as far as I can tell they are well made...and I'm getting the side-eye about them because they're a certain brand that may or may not last for decades but nobody knows yet because they're new.

What the fuck, people?

These are SHOES!  Who doesn't love shoes?!  People who are WRONG, that's who! ;)

Okay, so here's me, standing on my soap box (stop telling me to stand up; I AM standing!  Shut up, I know I'm short!) and saying:  I am giving American Duches brand shoes a chance.  I'm calling a shoe truce!  I didn't like the early styles.  The new styles look good to me.  I'm tired of my feet hurting at events and so far, these boots seem comfortable and not painful.  Maybe I'll end up hating them and bleeding from my ankles--but I won't know unless I try, and if I do then I'll disinfect them and sell them to someone else to enjoy at a reduced price.  And frankly, I think that's more than fair.

There are a lot more things I could say on this--the value of a convenient web presence, customer service, advertising, just so many facets to the conversation.  But I've been running my mouth quite long enough and I'd very much like to hear your thoughts on the matter!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Regency Ball 2015

Wonderful dance programs!
One event I look forward to every year is the Regency Ball in Lansing each spring.  This year was particularly wonderful, both in terms of weather and the event itself.  My mom was unable to join us (she was visiting my sister and bro-in-law for the weekend) but that worked out well for me...I ran out of time to figure out a dress for myself since none of my stuff fits anymore, so she graciously loaned me one of hers!  Rich looked very fine in his brand-new trousers and braces, with a beautiful striped silk vest from Julie Rockhold of The Fat Reenactress.  Oh, and I put rolled hems in his cravat the morning of the ball--AND starched it!

Lining up to dance
I hardly recognize him without the beard...

I didn't have to make that dress!

Such a fun evening

Friday, April 10, 2015

Rich's Braces

I did actually finish my regency stays!  They're super-basic, just some light boning with no cording or anything, but they will work for now.  No photos yet, because I couldn't find a chemise that didn't need mending and nobody wants to see corset photos with no chemise.

What I do have photos of, though, is the stuff that I've made for Rich.  We have a regency ball tomorrow night and his trousers needed buttons, buttonholes, and braces in order to be wearable.  As of last night, he now has all three!  All that's left is to hem them.

Above, buttonholes in progress.  I started with the ones in the fly that you wouldn't see!  I've always been chicken to do hand-stitched buttonholes before, being absolutely certain that they'd look like crap and pull right out of the fabric, but these seem pretty sturdy (and don't look too terrible for a first try!)  I used the information from this post on 18th century buttonholes, and found both the linked Burnley & Trowbridge Facebook album and the Youtube video by Stuart Lilie to be very helpful!  And you know, they even go pretty quickly once you get into a groove!

The buttons Rich picked are 5/8" horn ones from Burnley & Trowbridge.  The internet told me that buttonholes should be the width of the button, plus 1/8" for ease of use (more, if you've got super thick buttons).  I started out by marking my fabric and using teeny scissors to snip the holes, but I had a hard time getting a consistent size.  So I switched to a chisel, which is what Hallie Larkin recommends in her post and was very accessible to me...there's a Lowes right down the street from my job.  They work great, by the way, and the three-pack I got included 1/2", 3/4", and 1" for about $12.  Definitely the way to go, in my opinion!

Because the trousers sit at or above Rich's natural waist, they just fall down if there isn't something there to keep them halfway up his torso.  I mean, he has a bit of a tum, and narrow hips, so even his everyday jeans and trousers need a belt, but that's not really an option here.  So, he needed a pair of braces!

A while back, Kannik's Korner was offering kits for braces, but when I contacted them they didn't have any in stock and I had a I had to wing it.  If you're looking to make some, though, I would absolutely contact Fritz and Kathleen!  I like what I was able to come up with, but I'm not sure it's the "right" way to go about it, you know?

This image, found on Pinterest (without a link back to an original source and said to be a detail of "The Filial and Heroic Devotion of Mademoiselle de Sombreuil in September 1792") iswhat I based my construction on.  I used leather I already owned for the tabs and purchased buckles and webbing from Needle & Thread in Gettysburg...over the phone, since they don't do online ordering.  But they were very helpful and I highly recommend them!

Stitchin' on lunch break

I didn't take any pictures of the tab-making process, which was quite hard on my hands and very nerve-wracking.  The leather was pretty thick to begin with and I had to not only shape it, but also shave (skive?) it down to a more manageable thickness.  This involved very sharp blades and honestly probably needed more hand strength than I currently possess, so it took a while.  And I didn't take pictures because I was too busy worrying about injury avoidance.  I managed to stab myself once, but it was while I was energetically sweeping leather shavings off the couch while holding an unsheathed knife, like a dingbat.  So, you know, it went pretty well.

Fortunately, I had a little baggie of glover's needles lying around from previous projects, which worked great for attaching tabs to straps.  I also have this funky leather thimble thing that came with a quilt-of-the-year block kit that I got ages and ages has been absolutely invaluable in the past several weeks, both for this and for doing eyelets in my blue wool stays.  I can't seem to work with metal thimbles, but this one works great.

Above, you can see how I shaved the leather down pretty thin where I wanted to stitch.  The thicker part is thinner than it was before I attacked it with a box cutter,but still too thick to get a needle through.

For comparison--here are the pieces after skiving for the basic tab shape, but not yet thin enough to stitch.  In a couple places I left too much leather and it was quite hard on my hands, even with the thimble.

The braces are actually four separate pieces when disassembled--two in the back, two in the front.  These are the front tabs, wit buckles attached.  I'm debating whether to sew another line across the tabs, so that the stitching is a box rather than an upside-down U...but the thing about leather is that it doesn't naturally have holes in it like a woven fabric, so each stitch is basically perforating the material rather than passing between threads or fibers.  I know it probably wouldn't make a ton of difference, but it seems fine to leave it with minimal stitching for now.  And, you know, my hands hurt.

These tabs will button onto the back of his trousers, while the straps at the other ends are just hemmed and will pass through the buckles.  Even with skiving off a bunch of the overall thickness, I found that I needed to bevel off the edges of the buttonholes or we couldn't get the buttons through.  If anything breaks on these, it will NOT be the tabs!

So, there you go...the basics of Rich's trouser-holder-uppers.  Are they done right?  I have no idea.  Are they sturdy, decently made, and will they keep his pants up?  Absolutely.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stash Busting-My-Ass, More Like!

Okay, so I missed the February HSWTF deadline for the "blue" challenge.  I'm still working on it--my blue wool stays have acquired 85% of their hand-bound eyelets and will soon be ready for boning and assembly.  (She said optimistically...)


March's challenge is 'stash-busting,' aka "I'm not allowed to buy anything new for this project."  How fortuitous, then, that I had the materials for a new pair of regency stays already squirreled away for a rainy day.  I did make the executive decision to order a fresh copy of the pattern, Past Patterns 001, since while I did already own a copy, I slashed the pieces to add circumference to the body piece last time I used it and taping pattern tissue back together sounds like perhaps the least fun thing ever.

Actually, working with pattern tissue is probably one of my least favorite things to do.  I find the stuff infuriating--it's so lightweight that a stray mouse fart will blow it around the room, it shreds when you pin it to anything, and rips if you look at it sideways.  Which is why I procrastinated over cutting out my pattern pieces.  Which is why it's now, um, April, and hah, guess who doesn't have a pair of stays finished yet?  Oh, that'd be me.

However, about a week ago, I realized that hey--I sent my regency stays to a friend because they no longer fit me, I have no early 19th century undergarments, and OH, there's a regency ball in, um, like three weeks!  Two weeks, now.  Less, in fact.  April 11.  In any case, nothing motivates me like a deadline.  Let's DO this!

First step was to deal with the annoying tissue issue.  Fusible interfacing to the rescue!  It doesn't really have much use in terms of historical materials or techniques, but it's great for this--I seriously just ironed my pattern pieces to the interfacing and it decreased their annoying traits by about 4000%.  As an added bonus, they don't shimmy around when placed on fabric now!  Highly recommended.  A+, would fuse again.

So much better!

With that problem dispatched, it wasn't too difficult to get everything cut out on my lunch break, with the help of the ever-wonderful perfect-height filing stations.  I got the pieces cut--two layers of twill with an outer layer of cotton sateen--and appropriate basting done last week.  On Saturday, I set all eight gores, which went surprisingly well.  Until I then tried the corset on and got a very awkwardly-shaped reminder that I haven't fit into a B-cup bra since I was 12, and why would it be a good idea to start attempting that now?

Yeah.  The pattern comes equipped with gores labeled "B Cup" and directions to "widen at the top edge" for more room.  Well, I needed more room.  There was no way the temporary busk (aka 12" ruler) was going to come close to touching my sternum, and my chest was trying to become better acquainted with my chin and my armpits all at the same time.  Not a good look.  So, I put on my best-fitting, most uplifting bra with the straps cranked down way tighter than I'd normally wear them, put the stays on over them, and slashed down the middle of the gores until the busk could rest flat against my chest and everything shifted forward and settled down to a more natural and flattering position.

And no, I did not take pictures; you'll just have to imagine.

Anyway, I then measured how much space I needed at the widest point across the slashes and expanded my gores.  Much better!  There is a little extra space at the top now, but a drawstring will easily snug that in.

Next up, structural reinforcements. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Things I *DO* Like About Sewing

I have been reliably informed that my current ratio of 95% bitching to 5% sewing is not really a sustainable strategy given the amount of sewing that I need to get done in the amount of time between now and the start of reenacting season.  (Translation: My coworkers are tired of listening to me grumble about how much I hate sewing, even though I enjoy the finished product and the events in which I participate while wearing the finished product.)

So.  Positivity.  What do I actually enjoy about sewing, and the process of creating historical garments?  Well, let's see:

Finding Inspiration
Every so often, something will grab me.  It might be a particular dress, or a painting, or maybe even a fabric.  Whatever it is, it nabs my attention in a heartbeat and my brain just goes, "I must have that!"  I like those moments, because it's so much fun to work on a project knowing that you'll end up with something that you really, really want at the end.  It's very motivating, and makes the boring, non-exciting parts more bearable.

I like facts.  I like knowing that I've done things right.  In historical sewing and living history, I find a lot of contentment in having documentation to back up my design choices.  I mean, I was raised by two engineers.  Dad is an electrical design engineer and my mom is a computer programmer.  My husband is also a programmer.  I make my grocery lists in Excel.  I think in straight lines and boxes.  Research is great because then if someone asks me a question, I know what to say.  I like figuring out why things were done a certain way, what methods were used, breaking things down into their component parts, putting things together in ways that make sense.  Those things make me feel happy and satisfied, and it definitely carries over into my sewing!

Sourcing materials
Oh come on, who doesn't like shopping for cool things?  My design process a lot of times depends on finding a fabric that inspires me, so when I find a particular material that 'speaks' to me it's very exciting and often begets more inspiration for the other parts of the project.  It can sometimes be frustrating to have an idea in your head of what you want and not be able to find it, but that can also lead to the following point:

Problem solving
This includes things like having to adapt an idea to use available materials, draping or drafting patterns, fitting, and trimming.  There are others of course, but those are a few that most seamstresses run into pretty often.  I happen to really enjoy fitting garments, usually by draping and tweaking as needed.  I know some people HATE that part, but my spatial reasoning is pretty good and it's fun to see something take shape right before your eyes.  I really enjoy the flurry of activity, pins and seam allowances everywhere, and then stepping back and seeing the lines of a proper period silhouette emerging out of flat fabric.

Seeing progress
Sometimes I get bogged down in doing the little fiddly parts of sewing that I don't find interesting or enjoyable, but throughout the construction process there are various points where you can definitely tell you're moving ahead.  Putting a bodice together and watching it go from little pieces to something resembling a garment, for example.  It helps keep me going through less-fun parts when I can look at the state of things and say, "yeah, it's actually getting somewhere!"

So, see?  I CAN be positive.  When I really put my mind to it!  And now I have more sewing to do...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Support for Jen's Supporters

This weekend, the online costuming community was rocked by some tragic news.  These amazing people have rallied around a friend in her time of need, but they will need support in their efforts to show love and care to a grieving family as well.

This donation page is to collect for gas cards and restaurant gift cards for people who are local to Jen, so that they can travel to help her, provide transportation, and offer to spend time and provide meals with her in the weeks and months to come.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Change of Plans

Happy Monday, y'all.  I think it goes without saying that I am NOT done with my February "Blue" challenge.  I'd love to say it's because I had a setback with my fashion fabric, but that's not really the reason.  Or at least, it's not the whole reason.

I did make a super tasty Thai curry soup, prep lunches for this week, take the dog for a run in SUN on BARE PAVEMENT and not ice, got my hair cut, waxed my eyebrows, did my nails, napped with my exhausted-from-new-job husband, and spent time with my empty-nester parents.

So, you know, all good things.  But very little sewing happened.  Some did, though!

I ripped off my "wool" blend fashion fabric and started over with a length of blue wool from my stash, which burn tested as wool ought to and smelled just terrible--as it should.  I also then re-hand-basted all the pieces together and started test stitching.

It turns out that this slight change caused my previous thread setup (Americana quilting cotton bobbin, plain cotton all-purpose top thread) to not look quite the same.  So I machine basted through my marked pieces and will be stitching my boning channels from the front, with the thicker thread on top and the tension loosened ever so slightly.  I got all ten pieces machine basted in one night.  That was...highly unexpected.

Three down, seventy billion to go.  This was after I tested various thread combinations, ripped several test lines out, and finally settled on the arrangement described above.  Now all that's left is to sew lots of straight lines.  And cut boning, install it, whip my seam allowances down, assemble, eyelet, and bind.  Oh, and put together a lining and stitch that in.

Easy peasy, right?  Yep, no problem at all. 

Why yes, tote bag.  I agree completely.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Progressing Backwards

Well hello, winter.  I see you've finally decided to show up.  My poor British husband doesn't know what's hit us--I've been telling him not to be a baby because we've had a pretty mild winter so far, but I guess I can't say that anymore.  Temperatures are in the negatives (Fahrenheit) and there's all sorts of warnings out for visibility, snowfall, wind chills, and frostbite.  In case you were wondering, 15 minutes or less to freeze bare skin means it's HELLA DANG COLD out.  The dog doesn't even want to go out to poo anymore.  On the bright side, cold weather means fuzzy blankets and puppy cuddles, so that's a plus!

I'll admit to not making very much progress on my stays this past week.  It's been breathtakingly cold, so curling up under the electric blanket and cuddling the dog has been very tempting.  Also, the hot water heat in our apartment building froze on Monday, and the complex shut off our water with no warning or explanation related to this.  We got water back by the time I got home from work, but not heat until later that that was fun.

The next day, Rich started a new job!  Which was exciting, but one thing I didn't realize was that it would mean I'm not only in charge of preparing dinner, but also two lunches now as well.  When he was home, I would take our lone car to work and then come home on lunch and make us both food.  Now, we're packing lunches ahead of time, which feels like way more work and prep than just making lunch at home.  I feel like all I've done for the past three days is think about, plan, prepare, package, and pack food for lunches!  When I'm not making dinner or doing dishes or cleaning the kitchen, that is.  Ugh.

So yesterday I finally got my poop in a group and took some sewing with me to work.  Since Rich now takes the car to his job after dropping me off in the morning, I have a whole hour for lunch, nowhere to go, no transportation, and it does NOT take me an hour to eat.

Anyway, over the weekend, I had traced my stays pieces onto twill and cut out two layers with big ol' seam allowances, and then cut the wool layers.  Rather than having ten pieces all bristling with pins to work with, I decided to baste all my stuff together.  So that happened on lunch yesterday, and a bit last evening.  Except for two pieces that needed to be pressed before basting.  So I busted out the iron.  Aaaaaannnnnd...

Well then.  I know you're not necessarily supposed to iron wool on your iron's 'lava hot' setting, but even if you do, THIS is NOT what is supposed to happen!

Now, I'm aware that many, many wools these days are blends.  I've been told that it's difficult for today's manufacturing processes to handle a 100% wool and that there are often small percentages of nylon or acrylic added.

But folks, this was SO synthetic.  For reference, here is what a burn test of a all-or-at-least-mostly wool should look like:

Differences between the burn tests I conducted included:

  1. The faux-wool caught on fire very readily and kept on burning--did not self-extinguish.
  2. The second swatch, the true wool, was more difficult to ignite and the flame petered out on its own.
  3. The burned edge of the synthetic melted into a hard plastic ridge that stayed hot for a LONG fact, I burned myself on it while showing Rich my sewing science.
  4. The burned edge of the true wool crumbled away into a dry ash and did not retain heat for long.
  5. The actual wool smelled like burning hair...gross!
So basically, the piece that I melted with my iron shows very little evidence of containing much wool at all, and the second piece that I compared it to is most likely 100% wool for realsies--or very, very close.  In any case, it's mostly sheep.

Anyway, I then proceeded to become VERY grumpy and ripped all my hand basting out (8 of 10 pieces were done, dammit...) and will today be re-cutting my wool layers.  I'll be using the same stuff I cut my swatch from, which is a lovely piece of fabric--but ugh, really?!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Pedantic Treatise on Thread

Nothing too exciting today, but I did some test stitching to see what I like best for my blue stays.

Here's my test swatch, which is two layers of cotton twill with a layer of the blue wool on top.  I actually started with the right side, with just plain old 100% cotton Gutermann thread on the machine, longest stitch length, same thread in the bobbin with the blue side up.  The next test was the same setup with a shorter stitch length.  As you can see, my machine threw a hissy fit and decided to skip stitches on this one.  I retaliated by changing the needle.  The next test was with the same thread setup, new needle, and a shorter stitch length with the swatch flipped so the blue side was on the bottom and I was looking at the inner twill layer while stitching.  

That seemed to be fine, but I then decided that the thread looks a bit thin.  The inspiration stays seem to use a fairly stout thread, so I changed to Americana glaced quilting thread.  The JoAnn near me carries this stuff in their endcap bins, and I tried it on the recommendation of my friend Mike "Captain Tightpants" McCarty.  In fact, I used it on my last pair of 1812 stays and really liked the look.  And yes, "glaced" is spelled that way on the spool.  Even though my word processor is telling me it's not actually a word.

Anyway, I was then seized by a temporary insanity and decided to try hand stitching a row.  That's the next test line.  And then I realized that even if I could sew a straight line and my hand stitching didn't look like it was done by a drunken buffalo with a blindfold on, there's no way in hell I want to or even can hand stitch sixty billion boning channels between now and the end of February.  So no, I will not be hand-stitching the boning channels on this MF-er.

Next was a row of stitching with the Americana on the top and a normal cotton bobbin...that sucked and skipped stitches so badly I pulled it right the hell out and you can't even see it in pictures.

After that I put a bobbin of the Americana in and flipped the swatch over so the twill was up and the blue wool was down.  The next two rows you see after the drunken buffalo hand-stitching (second and third from the left, in case you've lost your place) are that arrangement with gradually increasing top tension, since the bobbin is now functioning as the visible thread in the test.

The far left line is what I think I'm going to go with, which is Americana on the bottom, Gutermann cotton on the top, and my top tension set at between 6-7.  And nobody probably cares, but later on when I want to do this again and am going "shit, what did I actually settle on," I will hopefully remember that I took the time to type this all out and go back and look it up.

One benefit of having the bobbin thread end up on the outside of the finished garment is that I will be able to mark my boning channels on the inside layer of twill and NOT have to worry about removing them!  I can use a fine tip Sharpie or super sharp pencil and it won't show through, and I don't have to worry about if it washes out.  There will be a removable lining of checked linen sewn into the finished stays, but even if there weren't...who will be looking at the inside of my stays?  Nobody who cares about Sharpie or pencil lines, that's who.

I also tested out some boning arrangements--I received a roll of flat oval reed from a generous friend and experimented a bit with how many to use in each channel, how flexible it was, etc.  I'm still undecided on that, but here's an artsy-fartsy macro picture.  It's coming together!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Stays, again.

Remember those stays that turned out hideously too big, despite what the measurements SHOULD have been?

Okay, so I measured, and I did not accidentally add 10".  I made Rich double check my math and he agrees.  Adding 5" was too much.  Last night, I sewed up my mockup #2 and tried it on for size.

Oh hey, actual compression and shaping!  Well, this is looking more positive.  Less saggy.  All that good stuff.

Why am I posting such crappy pictures when I have a tripod and a self timer?  Or heck, even a husband who should be able to take pictures for me?  Bad blogger!

Anyway, yes!  Gap!  It's about 4.5" at the widest point, which is just about perfect when you're aiming to keep shrinking over time.  I am about 4,000% certain that I do not want to make a new pair of stays anytime in the foreseeable future, so while many people aim for a 2" gap, and some even prefer their stays to lace completely shut, I have no interest in that since I've got about 40 more pounds to shed and am obstinate about my sewing.

So, alterations.  Want to know what I did?  I added 1/2" inch in the center front.  That's it.  This is Baumgarten's pattern, unedited except for one. half. inch.

Which should have been at least 10" too small in the bust, and 6" or so in the waist.  So what happened?

Well, I'll tell you.  Squish.  Squish happened.  Which is something I entirely neglected to take into account.  See, I'm relatively certain Baumgarten gives the measurements of her actual source garment, rather than the size the wearer would have been.  And, as I mentioned, I still have about 40lbs I'd like to get rid of, which in practical terms translates to quite a bit of fluff hanging around still.  Also there's the fact that I have very soft tissue in my bust--and it's gotten even softer with weight loss.

So what happened with my last mockup was that I added 5" overall, meaning the actual mockup had a bust of 39" or so, and a waist of about 34".  My current measurements aren't that far off, at 44"-36".  Once you start lacing things up, my chub easily and obligingly squashed about, et voila.  No gap.  If I'd added 10" accidentally, I'd have been able to fit an arm down the side.  The good news is that I'm not crazy!  I did really only add 5".  The bad news is that I've apparently forgotten how to fit corsets, or at least forgot temporarily while being distracted by math.  The better news is that I've got a mockup that I think will work just fine, and am ready to start testing stitches and various marking techniques on my real fabrics.  Wish me luck!

P.S.  Here's a picture of my dog being cute with another project.  Which I need to write about!  The project, not the dog.