Thursday, January 21, 2010

Roots and Redwoods

You know, it is so much easier to blog in your head. I mean, the whole time I was away in California I blogged in my head. I'd be looking at Amish quilts or 17th century Dutch paintings I had a running blog dialog going on in my head.Alas and alack, th ey did not make it onto the computer but they are still in my head none the less.

San Francisco, for those who've never been, is a lovely city in comparison to a lot out there. The streets are bigger, it's cleaner, the transportation system can't be beat period. There is less traffic (thanks to the transportation systems one would think). Every place I ate was amazing, including an artichoke and onion soup at the De Young museum. It even beat Paris as far as meals go. The people are eclectic to say the least, and the ethnic neighborhoods actually felt like, well,neighborhoods. And, DAMN,those redwood trees are tall!

Yet I came away with a feeling of disconnect that I haven't ever felt in any other city before. It lacked warmth- I don't mean physically as it was warm whilst I was there. It was something else that I can't quite put my finger on. Lack of 18th century history? Maybe, though the town of Sonoma had enough history to please even me. Lack of passion? No, I saw passion at the Fat Chance studio.
Lack of....lack of what? I'm thinking it was lack of roots. My roots are here with my family, my friends, my co-workers, my troupe. I don't think I really appreciated my roots, my connectedness to others in my life until this trip. I've come back happy to be here, happy I went, happy to go again knowing that my roots are here when I get home.

More later on the de Young.....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

California, Here I Come

I like to think of myself as a well heeled traveler, but I’m not really. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been lots of places. But in the scheme of the world I really haven’t. For instance I was only in California once for about 24 hours. Most of what I remember was how beautiful the water was and how freaking cold! I remember the harbor seals barking at Fisherman’s Wharf at midnight, and this ubber creepy wax museum with a Sleeping Beauty that was breathing. I kid you not. Her chest was going up and down like she was breathing. I can’t wait to go back! So I am off tomorrow to California to do some sightseeing and take some classes with Fat Chance Belly Dance. Yep, not only do I live this strange 18th century life I also belly dance. But before you get visions of I dream of Genie costumes in your head or think of all those lovely ladies in those itty bitty costumes let me say that is not what I do. I dance ATS Tribal which stands for American Tribal Style. It is an improvisational style that is more earthy and grounded and lovely. It celebrates the beauty of a woman’s body and her mind and her soul. I love it. I have now passed the first level of certification for FCBD, General Skills. Next up is Teacher 1. But I’m not sure how long my body will put up with the rigors of the dance. Believe it or not it is a lot of work. And at my age things get swollen and stiff much easier than before. So, should I give up? Stick to knitting those doll shawls? Hell no. I’m going to dance till I die. So here’s to all those older gals like me that go out and kick ass when they dance. May we be dancing at our great grandchildren’s weddings! Wish me luck…..

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Test of Time

I’m trying to get Word to publish my blogs but of course technology has to elude me. When one spends much of her time with her brain engrossed in a period were bathing was considered optional for most folks and it took three months for the latest news from London (and fashion) to arrive in New Jersey it is no surprise that I have no idea which URL they are talking about and what is a URL?!

The one thing I have in my favor though is that I’m an nothing but if not stubborn and tenacious. So the test of time will be how long I will keep at it till I figure it out. And mark my word I will figure it out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Day To Do, A Day To Not

I listened to the clues today.  You know what I mean.  Those days that life is sending you clues that you shouldn't leave the house, that something isn't right and that you'd best keep to your house and away from moving or sharp objects.  That was my day today.  Forgot my wallet, walked down the driveway to bring in the garbage can and then forgot it, drove the car down the driveway only to have to walk back to shut the garage door and so on.. Once I understood that things weren't going to go my way today I gave up with the idea of going anywhere till I had to go to work (yes, I do have a 'real' job).  By listening to the clues I saved myself any additonal grief of having 'one of those days'.  Days like this are NOT days to pick up the sewing and it made me doubly happy that I finished up yesterday.

Back to the gown.  To attatch  the skirts to the bodice you first have to pleat them down to a size that will actually fit into the opening on the bodice bottom.  I usually do this by putting the bodice on the dress dummy, sitting down in front of it and then simply start pleating.  I've got an almost uncanny ability to pleat exactly the size I need with very little re-do.  Must be a gift.

There are several ways to pleat a skirt onto a bodice including cartridge pleats.  I find those work best for super full skirts and someday, when I do another gown with them, I'll talk about that. But for this one I simply pleated from the front skirts to the back center with the pleats heading towards the back.  That means if you were looking at the front of the skirts the right side pleats are heading towards the left, and the left to the right.

Each individual pleat needs to have its own pin.  Once they are all pinned, and you check that they fit perfectly into the opening, it can be pinned to the lining fabric only.  I usually press up the edge of the bodice along the stitching line.  It makes an easy guide for sewing and a nice clean seam.  Sew the bodice onto the skirts by using a back stitch, about 10 inches to the inch IF you are hand sewing.  I machine sewed this into place.

Sew the skirts onto the bodice lining.  Once that is done you need to hand stitch the bodice onto the skirts.  This can only be done, IMO, while the gown is on the dress dummy.  The point of the back of the bodice needs to be sewn down ontop the skirts several inches.  If you do this with the gown laying down it will not lay flat.  Pin along the bodice edge and sew onto the skirts using a running stitch.  Remember not to sew through the lining. 
The skirts are now attatched to the bodice.   To finish up the gown hand sew the side seams and the hem. 


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Another Day, Another Gown

Today was a productive day.  Not only did I turn my daughter's room into a den for my sons (of which she is not pleased and they are) I also finished another gown that I forgot I had started.

How does that happen you ask?  If you had ever seen the very large pile of fabrics in my sewing room you'd understand.I came across it as I was digging under the pile for a piece of silk. There it was. A fully sewn bodice sans the skirt.  The fabric is red Chrysanthemums on a cream background. It is part of a collection of period correct prints put out by Colonial Williamsburg sometime earlier last year It's getting harder and harder to find and this particular one is very popular, at lesat the red and cream is.  I've got it in a purple and gold as well. 

So with the laundry done, the boys situated I pieced the skirts of the gown together. 

The skirts were pieced using a French seam.  For those of you who don't know what that is I thought I'd list the steps here.  Though it takes twice as long as just a simple straight seam it makes for a sturdy, well constructed garment.

All sewers know that you put the right sides of the fabric together and sew the seam to the inside of the garment. Not so with a French seam.  This time you place the wrong sides together sewing your fabric together so that seam line is to the outside, not the inside of the garment.  You can see that the rights sides of the fabric and the seam line are to the outside in this photo.

Next, turn the fabric to the wrong side.  Press along the stitching line so that both sides of the fabric are facing one another.  Check out the photo.

Now you are ready to sew. sewing.  This gown is a combination of hand and machine sewing.  Some of my garments are 100% hand draped, hand sewn, others are a combination of both.  My thoughts on that subject will be for another blog. But for now it's time to stitch.

Stitch alone the folded fabric about 1/2 inch all the way to the bottom.

Now comes the neat part.  Open the fabric and viola!  The selvage edges are caught inside that seam you just sewed, kind of like a casing.  When you open it to the outside all you have is a seam line.  And there is never the problem of raw edges with this type of seam.

Tomorrow I'll go over the technique I used for pleating the skirt and attatching it to the bodice.  Until then I'll just sit here and enjoy looking at another lovely gown.

Updated Photo of Draped Gown- She Needed A Petticoat

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Doesn't Kill Us....

For several years I was a member of a local re-enactment group, of which I spent many happy hours living part time in the 18th century.  When I finally got a real job working for an 18th century tavern the need to both play and work in the same field lost its appeal.

 Sadly I am no longer a member of that group but hold fond memories of it- both good and bad.  One of the most striking was the weekend I spent in Williamsburg, in a tent, in the rain.  It was my first trip down there in many many years and I was exciting to be there.  Then the rain started.  And boy, did it rain. I remember walking all the way from the Capitol building to the DeWitt gallery to watch a concert.  About half way through I felt an odd sensation...could it be?  Was I actually DRY for the first time in three days?!  Ah, the memories.

Then there was the memory of the first day I showed up in camp in one of those lovely 'French' bodices. You know those vests which try to pass as jumps, be we all know they are just a vest.  In fact, mine was a vest!   Now in my defense this is almost 18 years ago before I knew better.  I had seen enough of these men-like garments on camp women before actually joining a unit myself, and let's face it, it was the Battle of Monmouth- or for those of you who aren't familiar with it, the Hotter Than Hell weekend.

So I dragged out an old 70's man's vest pattern and made myself a yellow linen bodice.  At least it was hand sewn.  Anyway, the women in the unit nicely tried to explain to me about the bodice and all its horrors.  I pooh-pooh them out of embarrassment.  But what it did in the end was to make me interested, truly truly interested in the proper garments and how they were worn.

But that's not what this blog is about.  This blog is about knitting.  You see one of those very same women, in another happy memory, actually challenged me in a way that I still apparently struggle with today.  The ladies were knitting in camp and I was admiring their work.  I myself did not knit.  When I said I always wanted to learn but never did she said "oh, you can't learn as an adult".  Oh really?  was my thought.  I promptly went to the library, got every book on how to knit and, damn it, if I didn't teach myself to knit.  Now, she wasn't being mean in any way.  She is a lovely person and it was just a passing comment.  But boy did it spark the competitive side of me.

All I have to say is thank god for Stitch and Bitch or I would have given up.  But I didn't and I can passably knit.  Made a really nice huge stocking which I now use for Christmas (I don't recommend that for a second project by the by).  Made several pairs of fingerless mitts where one is always a little bit bigger than the other (why count when you can guess?).  Made my two sons Harry Potter inspired scarves (Hufflepuff and Gryffindor).  I even attempted to make a shawl but sadly gave up when I couldn't fit anymore stitches onto the needles (circular needles?!  Scary). Needless to say, like their creator, they are not perfect, but perfectly accepted by their recipients.

I bought this beautiful book on shawls a few years back.  I long for one of those lacey, warm, dreamy creations wrapped around me (when I'm not dying from a hot flash).  So last week I took up a new pair of circular needles, bought the correct weight red yarn and started in on a Victorian Peddlers Shawl.

How hard could it be?  Knit one, yarn over, knit a bunch, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, and knit some more and so one.  Ha.  I had to restart the darn thing nine times. Yep, nine times.  I can whip together stays that will last a lifetime, spin the most beautiful yarn, but knit without mistakes?  Nope.  Not me.

I became obsessed, like a crack addict.  Mistake, rip out, mistake rip out, mistake rip out.....finally I swore that if I made one more mistake I'd stop and just buy one on Etsy.  You know what happened right? Mistake. But I continued, after all it was for me and don't the Amish make mistakes on purpose?  One must rationalize when in compulsive frenzy.  Finally one more mistake.  Several years ago I would have cried. But not this time.  My American Girl Doll sitting on my dresser.  Why, I thought, she looks cold. and so now my dear dolly has a new shawl. So you see, whatever doesn't kill you, or defeat you, will make you stronger. I am a stronger person to accept that I will never be a perfect knitter. But that's okay. It's okay not to be perfect.  It's time we all realized that.  My doll and I are very happy....and who knows, maybe it’s a new niche on EBay?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Here She of the hand sewn, hand draped gown.

I did it. The gown is finished. Well, it's finished to the point that I can wear it but there isn't any trim on it yet. One minute I was washing up some dishes and the next I was marching upstairs, picked up the gown, marked the new cutting lines and boom, it was done.

The skirts are nice and full, evenly pleated in the back. They are pleated heading to the left from the back center to the curve of the back side seam and then to the right from the front skirt openings to meet at the back side seam. This is different than my normal practice of pleating them all heading to the left beginning at the front gown opening to the back center seam. Also the sleeve was placed into the armscye differently than the normal roll and pin technique. I'm not a big fan of this new technique but at least I tried it once.

With only scraps left I may just have enough to do a reverse box pleat trim around the bodice neckline and the sleeve bottoms.

Now what to do about a petticoat. Normally I would have made a matching petticoat since it is a chintz print. And with the dollar being so weak and the fabric now even more expensive than before I'm forced to come up with a new plan. I'm thinking a red silk petticoat, perhaps quilted. I quilted a petticoat last winter based on one in the Williamsburg collection. Or maybe just a plane cream linen.

We shall see. For now I'm just pleased to see it standing there waiting for the opportunity to be worn.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Can't Cut It

My intention today was to finish fitting the front of a draped gown I started in a workshop way back in November. Let me say this gown has become the bane of exsistance for a few reasons. The biggest is that the fabric, all five yards of it which believe me is not a whole lot for a period gown, came all the way from Holland. Den Hann and wagenmakers have the most beautiful period correct chintz prints you could ever want. I remember standing with my nose pressed up agianst the glass of the shop on my one and only trip to Amsterdam...left drool makes! I bought it when the Euro was higher than it is now, costing me in the end $140.00 plus. Now I'm not going to complain about that, the fabric is beautiful. But what the price of it caused me to do is to be afraid of it. Yep, afraid of it. I waited close to FOUR years before finally deciding to turn the nicely washed and ironed beautiful bundle into a gown.

So off to Virginia it went with me. What could be better than turning a period correct piece of fabric into a custom made gown? I know how to drape gowns, been doing it for several years now but one really can't drape upon one's own back. So what a better way to turn this into something special than bring it with me?

Well, let's just say things didn't go so well. I don't know what happened between Saturday and Sunday, but by the time I sewed it together and put it on it was at least two sizes too big. So I've been trying to make myself cut at least four inches off the front edge closure in order to make it fit.

The problem is I just can't seem to get my hands to grasp the sissors and cut. The gown went on today with the stays in the correct spot, bum roll on. It was pinned, checked and double checked. And then...nothing. Can't do it.

Oh, I know I can fix it, that no one will know (except you now) and that it will be just fine. But deep down in side that "I told you not to do it" voice is screaming in my head. I can always take in sleeves, re-pleat the skirts and rework trim to the cows come home. But if I mess up the front of the bodice I'm gonna ruin the whole gown, all $140+ class + hotel + gas of it.

I know it will be okay. It always is. I've seen enough Frankensteined 18t century construction to know that whatever I do it it, it's already been done. Now if only I could convince my right hand of that we'd be okay.
And so with the new year begins a new blog. I've decided to take one toe out of the 18th century world I live in and gently place it into the very modern 21st century world everyone else inhabits. That just made me sound like a nut. I must admit I am quite an eclectic person and lead a very eclectic life- with most of it spent in some kind of costume. But there is balance between the 18th century woman who cooks in a hearth and wears stays, has beef tongues in the freezer and is excited to find real Sago, and the modern one who works in retail and is planning new bathrooms for the coming year. This blog then is an attempt for me keep track of all my projects, programs and doings of my 18th century life inside a very modern world. With the memory not being as good as it once was I thought this would show me where I've been and where I'd like to go.

I actually was inspired by my food blog. For one year, beginning on January 1, 2009 right up until midnight yesterday I wrote down everything I cooked for an entire year. Sometimes if we went out to eat I added that too, but for the most part it was my year long venture into finding out what kind of a cook I really am, how much of the past creeps onto our modern table. To be honest I am quite proud of myself. Think about it. Do you remember what you ate last week? or even yesterday? It was sometimes a labor of fortitude and deep introspective thinking. If I let a week go by, which sad to say sometimes happened, I would sit staring at the wall thinking so hard you could hear those proverbial gears turning, trying to remember what we ate. Did we have gravy and macaroni (sauce to all you non-Italians) on Tuesday? And what the heck did I eat on Sunday?! Are there leftovers in the fridge I can go look at in order to jog the noggin? In the end I did it though. I remembered every blessed day. Every fajita, every chicken cutlet. So, what does that have to do with my 18th century life? Just that it has given me the 'atta girl' pat on the back, the knowledge that I can write every day (or at least several times a week) something important to me. It's given me stick-to-itvness. Is that even a word?! Who cares. I love it just the same.

So tomorrow I start in earnest with my projects and plans for this here blog. I am working on a draped gown that has become the bane of my exsistance, mostly due to the 21st century perfectionist wrestling with the 18th century "my fingers are tired" sewer. One of them is about to loose. More to come.....