Friday, December 30, 2011

1940s Halter Cocktail Dress: Skirt and Final Construction

Remember way back when, I started posting about a dress I was making? Yeah, me either.

In fact, I finished the dress weeks ago, and wore it to a party, and already made some adjustments to it. But with the holiday rush, I didn't show you the wrap-up!

To recall--this is a 1940s halter dress, made of silk charmeuse, from Butterick pattern #5209.

The biggest change I made to the pattern was to assemble the skirt differently. The original pattern calls for a gathered skirt, which I didn't have great confidence in. Oh, it would be easy enough, of course--but there's also the potential for belly-pooch-poofing--which, I tell you, can strike with a gathered skirt with or without a real belly pooch.

So I pleated the skirt instead. Big, simple, dare I say nearly architectural box pleats.

I worked the pleat placement on the dress form, and pinned the individual pleats and pinned the skirt to the bodice. I then stitched down each pleat by hand, and then sewed the skirt in place between the bodice layers.

All this pleating, fussing, and working over the same spots time and again was made much easier by the little step I took first thing--zig-zag stitching the edges in a sort of faux-serging finish technique. No fraying. And no need for hemming the interior of the bodice lining, either.

In its not quite finished glory, pinned and unpressed:

Of course I failed to get a picture of it complete, with me actually in it. Instead, Sophie Biscuit in a Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pretty Things I Want to Make in 2012

I confess. I'm a project scatterbrain. Or perhaps a sewing magpie. You see, I have a million projects on my wish list, and whenever I see something pretty and shiny and special, I add it to the growing tally of Pretty Things I Want to Make.

The New Year gives me a chance to focus a bit. Not that I won't meander off the first time I spot something enchanting, but at least I can start the year with bit of focus.

Without further ado, my wish list of projects for the coming year!

1) Regency ensemble. I started last year with the intention of pulling this together for an event, and then my plans changed and the project fell by the wayside. No more--I have a potential event in March and plan to drop in on the Jane Austen festival in July. Plus I have pattern, fabric, and other sundries just sitting in the sewing room, waiting for me to get back to them. Sorry, pretty pale blue linen--I've ignored you too long. The gist of the gown I plan to make at right--bib-front with oddly droopy sleeves that I plan to rework. I also *hope* I can pull off Regency stays in time for the event, too--in my ideal world, one makes underthings first, clothes second to ensure accuracy and proper fit!

2) I really don't *need* it. But I *wants* it. A 1910s era gown. I don't know if it's Downton Abbey fever, the Titanic anniversary, my own personal weird interest in WWI, or what, but the zeitgeist has spoken, and it's swept me along with it. I'm unsure as of yet if I'll make this as a strict reproduction or use 1910s as an inspiration for a modern formal gown. I don't really have an event for 1910s...perhaps I shall have to create one? Anyone want to come over for a 1910s dinner party? (*crickets*) Regardless--it's something about the square neck, the column silhouette, and the sumptuous layers. This pattern (left) from Promenade captures pretty much what I'm after.

3) This may be a full-blown project, or it may be a vintage-shopping/modifying adventure, but I have a Prohibition-era party to attend in February. I would love to create a simple but fun 1920s dress. Alas, 1920s is not at all my research forte, so I wouldn't have a clue where to start on my own...and haven't found a pattern yet for a dress I would like.

4) More 1930s-1950s era repros. I would love to get a more varied wardrobe of wearable "new vintage"--skirts and blouses I can wear to work, dresses for church, that kind of thing. Too much of what I have veers too close to costume. So this is that open, magpie-friendly category--I sees what I likes, I makes it. The pattern at right, from Butterick Retro, is in my "bought it for a dollar" bin of maybes at home--I might give it a whirl.

5) As I said in point the first, I like to think of costuming in terms of underthings first, outer clothing second. In that spirit, knowing I want to create a late Victorian ensemble at some point in the undefined future, I'd like to try my hand at a 19th century corset. This may be an experimental work in progress--or it may surprise me, like the 1780s first-round stays did, and turn out eminently wearable! This isn't a priority, but corsetry fever may strike me...perhaps in the lazy summer months.

6) And of course, projects as they come along! I may find I've worn out an eighteenth century piece, and need a replacement, or a friend might ask for something for reenacting purposes. I have the green linen stays half-finished, for instance--I plan to have them done early in January. Then...who knows what else 2012 will bring?

Do you have any big creative plans for 2012? Projects that have been sitting on the back burner? New creations just waiting to come out and play?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Sewing Roundup

This year was a good one for me, sewing-wise--each project taught me something new, and really expanded my understanding and abilities. I can't wait to launch into another year of historical sewing and learning and general geeking out, but before I do, the year in review.

First up, the Procrastination Project. The short cloak should have been done in 2010--I had the fabric and everything I needed. But. Somehow it didn't happen until fall 2011. No worries. I learned more about pattern drafting, and used a gridded, scaled pattern by itself for the first time.

Next, a 1770s jacket and petticoat ensemble for my mother, made of the most cheerful block print in the world. Happy, happy, pink, pink. I played a bit with historical construction methods, and am totally sold on what I learned.

The easy one--a quick and simple 1940s cocktail dress. Not sure I really learned anything here--but I did refine my dart-making techniques :)

Perhaps my favorite project of the year, and the one that stretched me the furthest--1780s stays. I started these unsure that I could make corsetry work for me--and I did! This whole project was a learning process, so I can pretty much safely say everything I did on this piece was learning something new! Now in the midst of a second pair, and loving it more the second time around!

Not quite a sewing project, but the new wig rounded out the tweaking and refining of my best 18th century ensemble. The details really do make the outfit, so I've learned--and proper hair is the best accessory. And, wigmaking (er, styling, since I used a pre-made wig) isn't quite as scary as I'd feared!

Lastly, the 1880s-inspired modern Sapphire Gown. I enjoy modern dressmaking even more now that I have a better foundation in historical methods--it gives you tricks and hints when the modern method doesn't quite cut it, and opens a whole world of inspiration! I learned how to create a boned foundation piece--a technique I have a feeling I'll be repeating very often!

And one final project, complete but not up on the blog yet--a second 1940s cocktail dress. Skirt construction and final product posts are forthcoming, but she makes it onto the 2011 list since she came out to play for my 2011 Christmas Cocktail Party!

What's your favorite project of 2011? And--looking forward--what to get started on in 2012?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Films for the Vintage Enthusiast

I have a pet peeve. It's when, on December 26, people decide Christmas is over and start taking down the decorations and packing up the holiday cheer until next year. To me, the season is twelve days long--and we're only at the very beginning! To celebrate, some of my favorite old holiday movies that you may not have seen 500 times already.

If you like White Christmas, you'll love Holiday Inn. If you can ignore the blatantly racist blackface number. Some film channels cut it, for obvious reasons, but here's the thing--it's actually somewhat integral to the plot to know that the number is in blackface, and I've contended that since Bing's black housekeeper sings in the number, the producers probably thought they were being progressive. Muscle through it, call it a history lesson, and be glad that we've learned a few things since 1942.

In all seriousness, it's a charming film about a hairbrained business scheme--an inn and nightclub that's only open on holidays. Between Bing's chocolate-smooth singing voice and Fred Astaire cutting a rug (and providing one of the best-choreographed inebriated scenes in film), it's pure Golden Age entertainment from the first frame to the last. Watch for the straight-up WWII propaganda midfilm.

You know what's fun at Christmas? Nuns, that's what. The Bells of Saint Mary's was released as a Christmas film. I don't know if Come to the Stable was or not, but the live nativity scene opener would indicate so. Regardless. Nuns having fun. Enjoy.

OK, here's one I thought I'd never see. Yes, Santa and Satan, together at last.

It's a truly horrible low-budget production from late 1950s Mexico, entitled Santa Claus. Why does it make my list? Because it's hilarious. The gist--Santa's magical child labor-fueled sweatshop (not kidding) gears up for Christmas, but Satan has other plans--sending his best minion Pitch to Earth to turn children away from the jolly old elf and to a life of paltry crime. Christmas Eve is a battle from the moment Santa winds up the mechanical reindeer (still not kidding) to the moment he drugs some parents in a restaurant with his "Cocktail of Remembrance" (also not kidding, and sounds like something that's illegal in 67 countries) to the climax where has to call on (no, still not kidding) his buddy Merlin for help. For extra hilarity, cue up the Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on the film.

I was wondering while watching the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol if Dickens' holiday tale might just be the most oft-recreated story in film and on stage. Anyone know?

I recommend the 1938 version for two reasons. First, it's short. At an hour and a half, it gets the whole story out without spinning its wheels (much like Dickens' original novella). Second, it spend more time on Fred, who's a larger character in the book than most films portray, and in doing so, creates a much more cohesive storyline with an element of emotional family drama that's usually missing.

Oh, and a third reason. This particular Tiny Tim is less obnoxious than most. Seriously, Tiny Tim is usually so saccharine-sentimental that I'm rooting for him to bite it and leave that empty stool in the corner.

Costume aficionados--no, I also can't tell when this version is supposed to be taking place. Vaguely 1820s, perhaps?

So leave the holly out a few more days, and curl up with a new old movie!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Happy Christmas to You All!

A Happy Christmas to All!

I will be away for the next week or so with holiday travels. Carry on without me, blogosphere! May your holidays be filled with comfort and joy, and may the New Year bring peace and bright shiny opportunities!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Happy Christmas

I have a finished 1940s dress to show you.

I have writing news and thoughts in the hopper.

I have holiday recipes I could totally share...if you like mincemeat.

But instead, all I've got is a Sophie Biscuit photo.

Five minutes after getting the tree up, she was in it. She was incredibly well-behaved, given the fact that she was a small kitten in a tree and could have wreaked havoc: no broken ornaments or chewed wires. However, she's been banned from the great room until the tree comes down after Twelfth Night.

And to all a good night.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Eighteenth Century Christmas

An eighteenth-century Christmas party isn't so different from a modern one.

Sometimes it's BYOB.

And there's always way too much food.

After dinner you might get down with your bad self to some of the latest music.

I don't know about you, but I always try to wear my best clothes to a happening party.

And my best hair.

At even the nicest parties, someone inevitably says something to cause someone else deep offense, and you end up having a duel in the front yard.

But in the end, no one ends up too horribly gored, and you make some new friends.

Need I say that I had a thoroughly enchanting weekend?

(Thanks, friends of ye olde Facebook from whom I swiped photos!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wanted: Camp Follower or Pack Horse

Women following the 18th century army did a lot of odd jobs. Laundry, mending, nursing. Gathering firewood, cooking, hauling water. I haven't come across this job before, though:

In a very common 18th century print trope, a dog appears in the foreground. Seriously--check out any selection of 18th century prints or political cartoons. At least half will feature a dog. Half of the dogs will be piddling. Some art historians suggests that the piddling dog serves as a commentary on the scene depicted--that it's meant to be taken satirically or derisively, because of the piddling pup. I'm not sure that's always the case, but this dog's actions definitely seem to be a commentary on the scene! Mother dog hauling puppy, hearty camp follower hauling officer.

Come across anything that's made you laugh today?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Very Honest Writing Update

A note: I'm bad at being honest. I don't mean that I'm a compulsive liar or anything--I just like to be positive and put-together and presentable--and sometimes being honest tears down the perfection facade a little. Or a lot. So bear with me on my attempt at frankness...

I need to be honest for a minute about writing. You'll notice it's been absent from discussion here for a while. It's not an accident. I decided, instead of "NaNoWriMo" I would do "NoWriteNovember" (I made that up) and take a step back to evaluate where I am and what I'm doing.

I figured it out.

I've been running scared when it comes to writing lately.

I'm still in the midst of querying, still have a couple fulls out. But the longer that goes, the more my stamina starts to wane. I'll admit that. I'll also admit that I see the prospects drying up the longer a full stays out, or the longer my "rejected" list on the agent database gets. There's some pragmatism there as well as emotional reaction--the options narrow. The more "no"s you get, the fewer chances at a "yes."

So I start to think about what to do next.

I don't mean what to do next in terms of writing--after enforcing a strict "NoWriteNovember" to see how I do without writing, I know it's part of what makes me happy. I'm just not sure if the rat race of publication makes me happy. Well, I know it doesn't in this stage--the unpublished stage. And I think I know why.

I'm an overachiever.

I always have been. I can't do partway, I can't try and fail, I have to succeed. And writing is a business in which success and effort, success and talent, success and perseverance do not necessarily go hand in hand. No doubt they're correlated--talented, diligent, hardworking people succeed more often than lazybones who write sludge. But--no guarantees.

And as an overachiever, I'm a control freak.

I can't control this. Not all the way. I can do the absolute best I can. I can edit and polish and hone. I can be type-A fantastic on my query process and uber-professional and do everything "right" but in the end--it's out of my control. Agents can hate my book. Agents can LOVE my book but feel they can't sell it. Agents can love my book, sign my book, and still be unable to sell it.

What does this come down to? The uncertainty of success in traditional publishing is at odds with one thing above all others with me--my pride. I can't stomach the idea of "failing" at something I think I'm good at. And I define success at ever-increasing increments with less and less that I can control.

Whew--it felt good to say that. To admit that this is MY problem--my pride.

So now that I've confronted all of that, I come back to the question--does writing for publication make me happy?

I think about the alternative--writing with no intention to publish. I do that, too, you know--I write embarrassingly bad poetry just for the joy of stringing words together like so many jewel-colored beads (see why the poetry is bad?). But novels? Novels are meant to be shared. Like pie. Or a layer cake. They're too big to make and keep for yourself without inducing stomachache or tooth decay.

And then I found something I wrote down ages ago, when I first started writing my first novel.

I want to write someone's favorite book.

Just one person. That was my goal--write a book that one person would say, even for just a while, "This is one of my favorite books."


Puts the whole thing in perspective.

Next steps? I have no idea--the thought of publishing independently is creeping up for me more and more. I'm weaning myself away from the idea that self-publishing is "giving up"--it's not surrender to take a different road that will gain your goal. At the same time, I fear permanent, unalterable choices--and taking the self-publishing road means making a permanent mark on a potential career, for good or for bad.

So for now I'll be thinking. And writing again, now that NoWriteNovember is over beginning tomorrow.

And that feels good.

OK, now to actually clicking the "Publish Post" button and take all this honesty live....why is that the hardest part? :P

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

1940s Halter Cocktail Dress: Bodice

The only good thing about nasty, cold, rainy days? There's nothing better than staying home with a cup of Earl Grey and a sewing project.

Which means I'm nearly done with the 1940s Halter Cocktail dress! The skirt is pieced and I'm fiddling with it, then there's zipper and hemming (never my favorite part). The dress bodice, however, is finished as of last night.

I love the shape--the wider shoulders and nipped waist are so quintessentially 40s!

I made a couple slight changes to Butterick's directions (this is Butterick 5209) First, the instructions tell you to stitch the two top bodice pieces together up to a certain point. I left the two pieces separate, and will fit this part on myself. Finished pictures showed me that this was a finicky point--how high to join the front seemed like it would be better accomplished on real, live me.

Second, and more fun: I did a lapped-ish seam to join the waistband portion to the top of the bodice. I learned this technique on the Peacock 1930s dress, and it seemed particularly appropriate here--I thought about the gathered bustline and a traditional "right sides facing" seam and thought that the potential for Holy Bunching Batman was pretty high, so took a different route.

It's easy enough, and gives you better control, and lets you seam and topstitch at the same time. Which is kind of scary, but if you go slow you get a nice result.

Egads--the ugly innards of a dress:

This week--finish the skirt and put the finishing touches on! I have some sneaky changes to Butterick on the skirt front, too (*rubs hands together and plots...yessss...plotting*)

I'm curious--when you're working on a project--sewing from a pattern, recipe, or anything else with instructions--do you follow to the letter, discard the directions, or a little of both?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Short Cloak

I finished this short cloak all the way back in October, but failed to take pictures until about a week ago. With two events between finishing the cloak and the end of the season, I assumed I'd get pictures in action at a reenactment--well, go ahead and cue the laughter, since I never manage to get the camera out at events!

So Felicity agreed to model for me, instead:

The pattern is from Costume Close-Up--there's a full-length cloak in the book that I drafted a pattern from. Of course, it was cropped, but the basic shape and construction are the same.

I chose to do a short cloak, by the way, rather than a full-length one for practicality's sake. First, much of our event season is chilly but not cold--April through October means that though there are a few 40 and 30 degree days, it's mostly not frigid. Even more important, I can wear the short cloak and work in camp unencumbered. The full length cloak is pretty much good for sitting and shivering, not for hauling wood or stoking the fire.

The view from the back:

A slightly off-kilter but representative example of the classic "fan" pleats on the cloak hood. Thicker fabrics show this style off even better than the soft drape of this lighter weight wool.

The full layout. You can see that the center is cut from one piece and the two side panels are pieced. Plus I love how this looks laid out:

Detail of the pieced sides:

I did a mixture of hand and machine sewing on this project--mostly hand, but the side seams were machine stitched and then stitched down by hand. The hood construction was all by hand, as was...

The finish work. I finished the edges with matching blue silk ribbon. My dream of trimming with fur will have to wait until I find a vintage piece bedraggled enough to re-purpose, or perhaps be saved for another project--I like how pretty this simple trim is.

And my favorite detail! The seam that joins the hood to the cloak body is covered in the same silk ribbon.

Overall, a very simple project to take from drafting the pattern through completion--the hardest part was finding ribbon I liked! And it's incredible how warm even a thin cloak is, especially with the hood up. Despite temperatures in the 30s a couple times this fall, the cloak and a nice fire kept me toasty!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

1940s Halter Cocktail Dress--Fabric and Pattern

As if working on another pair of stays wasn't enough, I decided I want a new dress. Before Christmas. Because I'm capricious like that.

I've had this Butterick pattern (Butterick 5209) for some time, and decided I wanted to pull it out and make something kicky for my annual Christmas cocktail party.

I'm going to make View A, the halter dress; I plan at some point to make the more work-appropriate rendition, View B, if View A goes well.

And fabric. This particular choice may look familiar--it's the same as the Peacock 1930s gown. I love the color, and wanted to use charmeuse for this dress, and figured what the heck--I can't wear an evening gown that often, and this fabric is too pretty to relegate to the closet.

Fortunately, I was still able to get a few more yards from the ebay store I frequent (haunt) for silk charmeuse.
It's called Dark Slate Grey--I don't see anything slate or grey about it, but I love it just the same.

So, funny Sophie Biscuit the Kitten story--last night I was cutting the dress out, watching Mad Men, sipping some peppermint tea. The Biscuit decided that attacking the fabric was pretty much the best thing ever. Which, with onion-skin paper and delicate charmeuse and tiny kitten claws involved, was not the best thing ever from my perspective. So I shut her up in the kitchen to cut in peace. A few minutes later I heard a pitiful mewling...and discovered that Sophie had tried so hard to get back into the living room that she'd gotten her head caught under the door!

I fended off kitten attacks the rest of the evening.

What pre-holiday projects do you have in the hopper?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Round Two: 18th C. Stays

I'd barely finished my first set of 18th century stays when I decided to launch into another pair--this time, for a friend of mine who's been using hand-me-down stays and could really use a pair that fit properly.

Lucky for both of us, I still had plenty of canvas-weight for the innards, and some lovely olive green linen lurking in my fabric stocks.

This time around, I'm giving cable ties a shot for the boning. I used metal last time, and though the end result was fine, they were a pain--remember the "wrong size ordering debacle?" Yeah, I didn't feel like repeating that. I've heard only good things about cable ties for use in 18th century stays, so thought this would be a less expensive and less finicky material to try.

I also decided to be more authentic in my assembly methods this time--for my stays, I pieced the whole thing together and then did the channels and boning. Since I was a complete rhubarb at this, I really wanted to get the basic shape together first, in case I was totally off. Now that I'm more confident, I can do a better job of authentic construction--which will hopefully yeild an improved pair of stays.

Here's each peice cut and all three layers--two of canvas and one outer--pinned together and laid next to each other to show the shape. The lining will be assembled and tacked in separately.

So, once cutting was done, I marked out the boning channels (yep, with pen, because I'm sloppy that way) and started stitching!

...and stitching...

Fortunately, I had Sophie Biscuit to help.

She quickly determined that stuffed mice are more exciting than stays.

Still to come: all the boning, assembly, and finish work.

Also on the docket--another 1940s cocktail dress, hopefully in time for our annual Christmas Cocktails in December! Fabric ordered and pattern cut!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tackling a Pumpkin for Homemade Pie (and Pumpkin Seeds)

With Thanksgiving next week, I've got pumpkin on the brain. I love pumpkin--pies, breads, muffins, that over-sweet but delightful latte drink. (I once had a roommate who worked at Starbucks and was lucky enough to be there when the Pumpkin Spice syrup "expired" so got to bring it home and we feasted on Pumpkin Spice coffees for months...happy memories.)

A few weeks ago I decided to give making my own pumpkin puree for baking a try. There are several methods for this--I found baking the pumpkin to be fairly simple.

First--your pumpkin. Buy a pie pumpkin--though you can use the innards of your jack-o-lantern pumpkin (erm, before it sits on your porch for a month...) the tougher, stringier consistency will yield a less-tasty pie. And the extra water in this kind of pumpkin means you'll have to adjust the recipe for your baked goods.

Plus, isn't it cute?

Now that we've admired how cute it is, attack it with a large knife.

I cut the top off first, then set the pumpkin upright on the flat surface and cut the pumpkin in half.

Yicky insides--scoop 'em out.

You'll end up with a clean shell of pumpkin meat and skin, a pile of trashable junk, and a bowl of pumpkin seeds. Save those.

Arrange your pumpkin in baking dishes, open sides down, and then tent with foil. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour in a 350 degree oven. When the pumpkin is soft and the skin is sorta puckery, it's done!

Let the pumpkin cool a bit. If you're lucky, the skin will lift or peel right off. Otherwise, scoop the pumpkin out. Mash it up. Use it as you like. Leave the oven on for...

...those pumpkin seeds. Wash them thoroughly (this takes much longer than I expected--sticky little boogers!) and then toss with some oil, spice according to your tastes, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until toasty and golden.

My spicy-savory spice blend for seeds:

Toss with Olive Oil and
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne
  • Chili Powder
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt
  • Dash Nutmeg
Happy Thanksgiving Cooking! What's your favorite Thanksgiving recipe?