Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What I'm Sewing Now: Heading Into Winter

Whoops!  I haven't updated in ages!

But I've been sewing.

A lot.

The fall reenacting season ended with a challenge, a gentlemen's agreement, and a plan.  How so?  My husband needs a new regimental coat. I hate tailoring men's clothing.   A friend of mine has skill in men's tailing and a significant other who needs clothes.  I love making ladies' clothes.  So? An arrangement was born.

I then picked up another "assignment" to make a friend new reenacting clothing.

I also am sewing all the buttonholes for the regimental coat.

So, I am currently:

1) Working on buttonholes.  I finished a cuff.  This is going to take a while.  For those not aware of the extent this job requires, officer's coats had extended buttonholes that (but of course) need to be hand-stitched.  They look divine.  They take quite a while.

2) Making two "basic wardrobes" consisting of a shift, two petticoats, a bedgown, an apron, and a cap for my friends.  Stays and a gown will probably happen for one or both ladies next year.  So far I have an apron and a bedgown finished, and four petticoats in various stages of completion.

3) My own pair of new stays.  Those are finished.  And pretty--I promise a post about them soon!

4) Hopefully, a new gown for myself.  I have this delightful greensyblue linen that I want to roll around in that I plan to make into an en fourreau gown.

I'm going to try to treat this blog as my accountabilibuddy in terms of finishing all of this.  Keep me honest, folks!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Babyface's First Birthday Party

In planning E's first birthday party, we waffled a lot on what kind of theme, if any, to pick.  We aren't really cute people.  There's nothing wrong with teddy bears or picnics or Disney or any of that, we just can't pull it off.  What we do like?  Vintage and historical themes. 

So even though the normalcy of picking a Bootlegger's Ball for our child's birthday is questionable, it's what we went with.  Finding other 1920s inspired first birthday parties floating around for inspiration?  A harder feat.  So in case anyone else is so inclined, I'm posting our party concepts here!

Babyface E invited her friends to bring their "sweet tooth and dancing shoes" to our place. 

We had a spread of vintage-recipe treats--pie, old-fashioned thumbprint and gingersnap cookies, and a chocolate layer cake, plus sandwiches and crudites.  

The treats were all homemade from favorite recipes from family and friends, but I saved some cleanup sanity by picking simply pink and black disposable tableware.

It was a Bootlegger's Ball, so of course we had hooch--grown-up beer and root beer in the brown bottles favored by bootleggers everywhere:

Despite the prohibition against selling booze, Champagne remained a popular drink throughout the 1920s, so we paid homage to that with fizzy sparkling ciders and juices.  We also concocted a "Shirley Temple" punch (with a little jug of white lightening floating around in case someone wanted to spike their glass).

The tower of coupes was made from plasticware glasses, but we skipped the drama (and the mess!) of a poured Champagne fountain.

Our cake--I considered doing a Deco design with store-bought fondant, but decided to do a homemade cocoa whipped cream frosting because, well, it tastes awesome and that's really the point of cake, isn't it?

E had a happy, peachy, flapper-inspired lace dress with jazzy pearls.  More on creating that later--a simple and cheap custom project for an Art Deco birthday or a fun photo shoot, especially as similar items go for over $50 on etsy!

Each of the menu items had a fun card--the font geek in me spazzed out a little playing with Art Deco inspired fonts on dafont.com.  

Our playlist--hits from the 1920s and 1930s, plus some Django Reinhardt, evoked a speakeasy feel.  We left some space open by the drink tables just in case anyone wanted to break into the Charleston.  

And I think the party was the bee's knees!

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Obsession: Homemade Baby Food

I feel the need to explain.  I'm not a terribly crunchy mama.  I'm not terribly concerned about pesticides and GMOs and bogeymen in grocery store food.  I'm just terribly cheap.  Have you seen how much Gerber charges for a little cup of mush?  Yeah.  I'm too cheap for that action.

So for the last few months, I've been making Baby E's food.  

Plus, there's something satisfying about dumping ingredients in a food processor and whirring it to squishiness.  
The tools of the trade: 
Food processor (I have a cheapie, super basic Ninja).
Ice cube trays (for freezing prepped food)
Fruits, veggies, grains, whatever you want to throw together

Seriously, it's that simple.  

Now, plenty of people make their own baby food and manage to stay reasonably sane.  But I've gotten a little obsessed to the point that I really enjoy coming up with new blends...and new ridiculous names.  So, a few of my favorite baby food recipes.  Just combine in the food processor, blend to a smooth consistency, spoon into trays, and freeze.  Or serve.

Scrambled Dinosaur Eggs 
This turns out green and mottled and for some reason dinosaur eggs came to mind.  I had a batch of green beans by themselves that E would not eat (can't blame her, have you ever tried eating green beans with the texture removed?  Ick.)  So I came up with something that incorporated the beans.
Green Beans and/or Peas (about a cup total)
Pears (either two fresh or one can--and anytime you do canned, make sure you're not buying the stuff in syrup)
Brown Rice (cooked, about half a cup)

Orange GooGoo
It's, um, orange.
One cooked sweet potato
A couple cooked carrots
One peach, nectarine, or half a can of peaches

This one is so tasty I want to eat it.
Half a can of pumpkin or equivalent 
One apple, cooked soft
Dash of cinnamon

This kind of whips up soft and fluffy-looking.  And is a good way to get rid of the metric ton of zucchini that always accompanies late summer
Half a decent-sized zucchini
Half a banana

Fun, easy, money-saving...who could ask for anything more?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Shortgown Gets In On the Action

The lovely thing about a shortgown?  After a night in a tent with the world's crabbiest baby, during which you sleep maybe 4 out of the 8 hours you're trying to, you can just throw it on.  And that's that until you get up the fortitude to get into your stays.

The treacherous thing about a shortgown?  Sometimes that fortitude never comes.

Look at that face.  Someone else was tired, too.

Fortunately, it doesn't look that godawful.  Better with stays, of course.  And not really correct without them. But still.  Better than nothin'.  

And as I walked down a couple of camps a friend stopped me--she had a petticoat in the same fabric!  I was worried that the effect of the two together would be overwhelming, but it was actually rather fetching with a sheer apron over it.  And even stayless, the whole outfit looked like I actually meant it.

Pinning myself back together.

And I leave you with a shot of our two cannons readying for artillery demo.  I'm on the ground with the lantern--hard to see the full ensemble, but you do get a nice glimpse of my red American Duchess shoes peeking out in the grass!

So I'll say, first wearing of the shortgown is a success.  And the friend from whom I borrowed the petticoat?  She got the ensemble the next day, added a brilliant ruffled cap with matching blue ribbon and a kercheif, and looked smashing.  We've decided--it's the Sisterhood of the Travelling Chintz.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Assembling a Shortgown: The Great Authenticity Decision Plays Out

Assembling a shortgown is not hard.

It's pretty much three steps.

First, you set in the pleats on the back to fit it.

Pleats pinned in the back of the lining, before stitching
Detail--pinned pleats.  The pleats are the only exciting detail in this garment.  
So I'm going to picture-whore them.

Stitched pleats, before pressing

Then, you fold it over and stitch down the inside of the sleeves, under the arms, and down the sides in one fell swoop.  (Well, two swoops.  One per side.)

The side seam.  Do this twice, and you've got yourself a shortgown.

You repeat this on for the lining, then you join the lining to the outer fabric.  Easy-stinkin'-peasy.

Of course, I had to overthink the whole thing.  And you have to hear about it.

Extant shortgowns are, of course, handsewn. First the pleats were sewn in, then the garment folded in half at the shoulders and the seam that runs from the wrist, down the length of the arm, under the arm, and down the sides of the shortgown were sewn.  Then the lining was sewn in by whipstitching.

So--the Great Authenticity Decision.  Do I handsew or machine sew?

It should be noted that I do enjoy handsewing.  The Sky Blue Gown, my most recent adventure, was handsewn.  Handsewing is awesome.  But let's be frank--it typically takes longer.  And then my decision making took another turn...

Depending on the project, handsewing may or may not impact authenticity to the same degree.  Of course no sewing machines existed in 1778--so any 100% accurate garment would be 100% handsewn--but there is a big difference between the shortgown and the gown I recently made in terms of how sewing technique affects construction, and ultimately authenticity (and fit).  The shortgown is sewn much more like a modern garment--interior seams on both shell and lining completed and then the lining is attached.  Wham, bam, finished shortgown, ma'am.  The gown, on the other hand, is draped and sewn in stages necessitating the involvement of both lining and outer fabric, so you can't just whip them both up and then smack them together like you can with the shortgown.  So while one sacrifices elements of fit and authentic methodology to sew a gown on machine, one really doesn't when one throws a shortgown together.  In short--the seams on the shortgown can be stitched by hand or by machine and the garment doesn't change.  On the gown, they do.

I decided to sew the interior seams of the shortgown on machine without a second thought, because this is entirely unseen.  I debated about the lining--this part is seen and noticeable if one machine sews with the usual "bag lining" modern method.  And I surprised myself by deciding to machine sew it.  Why?  For one, I wanted to finish quickly.  Yes, I caved on that point.  But on another point, I realized that I am more confident in my handsewing than in machine sewing--the idea of topstitching was freaking me out a little because I knew I might muck it up!  So I decided to accept the challenge, sacrifice a little authenticity, and get the project done in one afternoon of sewing instead of a week or so of handsewing after the baby was in bed.

And the fabric?

It's the infamous Curtain-Along Fabric!  I missed the excitement last fall (Believe it or not, I was a tad busy with a newborn) but when I saw this (on sale, no less) at JoAnns, I figured it's pretty much the best thing going mass-market for the price for a project like this.  Perfect? No.  A darn good representation?  Heck, yes.

The final project, on Felicity:

The blue thing in the background is a toy whale.  In case you were wondering.

A simple, utilitarian garment to throw on when needed.  Done and done.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Simple Shortgown: The Whys and Whats

It's funny--I've seen it discussed many times on many costuming and living history blogs what the difference between a costumer and a reenactor is.

There are a lot of really insightful answers, often dealing with questions of authenticity, mission, where the individual derives enjoyment.  I don't have a good, complete, perfect answer.

But I did discover my own, personal derivation.

A costumer doesn't make clothing choices based on the premise, "But I just need something to throw on in the morning when I go to the portajon!"

I realized I'd hit a point where I didn't have such a garment--all of my clothing needs to be worn over stays, pinned perfectly in place.  I've had shortgowns in the past, but they've either been given away or are in the "spare things or scrap things" pile.

Of course, full disclosure: Prints and paintings depicting women wearing bedgowns and shortgowns often lead one to believe that they are, in fact, wearing stays underneath these garments.  Which makes sense--stays are like basic underwear.  But the loose cut and forgiving fit also suggests that maybe they were intended to be thrown on as a kind of pre-stays wrapper in the morning or post-stays loungewear at night.  Speculation on my part, yes--but it's how I find myself using a roomy garment!

Is this lady wearing stays beneath her shortgown?  Hard to tell--but I love that scowly expression.

"You kids get off my lawn!"

I've used this pattern before--in fact, it was one of my earliest 18th century projects.  The pattern is something like this one:

from the Mara Riley website, except it's a little longer and the pleats in the back are a little different.

Another place you can find a similar pattern is in the book Fitting and Proper.  Costume Close-Up has a shortgown pattern that, instead of using pleats to fit the back, uses a drawstring.

I have no idea where the original of this pattern came from--it was passed around the ladies of our regiment years ago, and I suspect that the originator drafted (or Frankensteined) the first pattern herself.  I copied my friend's copy onto the wrapping paper affectionately referred to as the BabyBabyBaby paper:

(Yes, when a friend and I made her first 18th century ensemble, we used this pattern, and found ourselves randomly, incoherently babbling "Babybabybabybabybaby" while cutting it out.)

This time around, of course, I had my own BabyBabyBaby to contend with while laying out the project.

She likes fabric.  A lot.

It's the easiest pattern in the world to cut out--you lay the center edge (the one with the neckhole in it) on the fold, pin 'er down, and cut 'er out.  The center front will need to be cut to form the opening.

And when it's cut out and unfolded, it looks like this:

This is the lining--basic white linen.  See how the center front has been cut so it opens in the front? That's the trickiest part.  Easy-peasy pattern.

Next time--the assembly of the shortgown, my choice of fabric, and the Great Authenticity Decision plays out in this project.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

DIY High Chair Placemat

It's no secret that I like old-fashioned furniture.  Lucite will never have a place in this house.  (Nothing against Lucite, it just ain't my thang.)  And while I can appreciate the appeal of easy-to-clean, low-maintenance, un-dingable plastic furniture for babies and small children, I couldn't get behind a plastic high chair in a dining room that's 1890s architecture meets 1940s furniture.  So I love the hand-made oak chair my parents found at a random Rural King.  

(I'm pretty sure there's a retired gentleman who works part-time at the store and they let him sell his baby furniture on the side.  He sells out within hours of setting up his "shop" every time.  How cute is that?)

The only downside--babies are incredibly messy eaters.  Seriously--they have pretty much zilch for table manners and their dexterity is nothing to write home about, and it makes for some messy meals.  The wood tray of my lovely high chair was getting downright sticky every second meal or so.  Not that you can't clean the tray, but it's more of a chore than a wipe-clean surface would be.

So I made an easy-to-clean, DIY solution!  And you can easily finish in one nap-time.

You'll need:

Clear contact paper  
A piece of fabric 
Velcro dots
Pinking shears

That's it!  The only thing I bought was contact paper.  You need such a small amount of fabric that you probably have an unused scrap sitting in your stash, or an old clothing item that could be repurposed.  (You could also use pretty paper, like scrapbooking paper, and even create a fun collage.  The result won't be quite as flexible as fabric, though.)


Drape the fabric over the tray.  Cut to size.  (Yes, you could make a paper pattern and trace it out for perfect results.  We're going for usable and quick, not perfect here.)

Trim down about a half inch to an inch.  (You need the contact paper to adhere to itself along the edges, so the fabric needs to be smaller than the tray.)


Cut two pieces of contact paper (with backing) to the right length for the fabric.

Peel the backing off the contact paper.  This is the hardest part of this project.

Lay the fabric flat on one piece of contact paper.  Smooth it out and pick off any cat hairs that may have found their way onto the fabric during this process.  Lay the other piece of contact paper on top, sandwiching the fabric, sticky sides together.

You can get away with some finagling once the paper goes together, but not much.  Once you have it like you want it, smooth and press the paper together to adhere it completely.

Trim the sandwich to size, giving yourself a half inch to an inch of clear border.  (I used pinking shears for all steps of this project because I liked the look of pinked edges.  Other decorative scissors would be fun to experiment with, too.  Or you can go plain.)


Attach velcro dots to about four points on the tray, and to corresponding spots on the mat.  

That's it! So easy you can knock it out in a naptime, and very cost-effective, too. 

Time: About twenty minutes
Cost: $5.50 for the roll of contact paper.  I had the other supplies on hand.  Plus--this roll is huge!  I foresee many more contact papered projects.