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 Well, I know it doesn't in this stage--the unpublished stage.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?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Feeling More Balanced: Fixing a Tipping-Prone Dress Form

Felicity, my fabulous find of a dress form, had one eensy problem that I needed to address. She tended to fall over. A lot. Sometimes on me. The issue was caused by the incredibly weenie feet on her stand, and the fact that a couple slats were actually missing. Simple arithmetic: weenie slats - some weenie slats = serious lack of stability.

What to do? Well, I found the answer in a delightfully cluttered antique shop. It's festive. It's fun. It's an aluminum and steel Christmas tree stand, probably for a fake tree, probably from that era that they were still making fake Christmas trees at the toilet brush company. (The fact that the first artificial Christmas trees were produced by, yes, a toilet brush company makes me laugh and also refuse to buy an artificial tree.)

Easy-peasy project--I hot glued felt circles to the bottom of the stand, and then screwed Felicity into place. I actually think the new stand is quite pretty, and doesn't look terribly patched-together, either:

She's still somewhat adjustable--it's a bit trickier now, but I preferred difficulty adjusting the form to the form falling over on me while I draped.

Of course, now that she's new and improved, I'm working on another set of stays and don't need her right away. Perhaps I need to whip up a Christmas cocktail dress in the spirit of the new stand?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taming the Monster: My First 18th Century Wig

There's been something a bit...flat about my 18th century ensemble.

It's my hair.

It isn't that I don't have enough hair to pull off 18th century height of hair--I do. I just don't have enough hands. Plus, when camping, it's not very easy to tease and train your hair into something 18th century fabulous. So I usually just go with a simple bun and a cap over it. Which, for the Forlorn Camp Follower look, is ideal. For something a bit nicer, however--for Officer's Wife Steps Out or Christmas Ball--it's a bit...flat.

So I decided to foray into wigmaking.

Step One? Research and inspiration.

Despite the inherent coolness of powdered court styles, I'm not really a powdered court hair kind of girl. I'm a colony girl, a country gentry sort of girl. Giant white (or, well grey) wig wasn't going to do it.

Plus the idea of blending my dark brunette hair into a grey powdered wig made me itch.

So when I found this portrait by Gainsborough of the Linley Sisters, I knew I had a winner.

I actually squeed a little over Mary's hair--she's the seated one. It's still 18th century voluminous, but tasteful. And quite nearly natural. (And aren't the two ladies just gorgeous?!?)

Step Two? Procure supplies.

This was the point at which my inner cheapskate emerged. I refuse to spend much on a first attempt wig--I know this won't be perfect, and really want something for an experiment more than anything else.

I found this at a post-Halloween 50% off sale. It's a monster. No, really, I think it's actually alive:

Egads. That's a LOT of fake hair. Felicity was a little weirded out helping me out by propping it up. The one thing I'll give it--it has some nice color variation, which helps it look a touch less fakey. But it's still pretty shiny.

And, of course, supplies to corral the Monster Wig. Secret weapons:

That's a large can of aerosol hairspray, bobby pins, scissors, and a needle and thread to match the hair.

Step Three? Go to town and get creative.

I started by untangling the whole thing a bit and shaking it out. I then created a rat at the crown of the wig. I would normally advocate teasing and pinning to create a rat, or even adding some extra hair. There was so much darn hair in this wig--and it was honestly such a snarled mess--that that was neither needed nor really possible. So I wadded it up and pinned and then, eventually, stitched it down.

I then sectioned the fronts and sides and pinned them back into the rat. This ended up with a nice swoop from the forehead and sides, and then I just twisted and pinned until most of the hair was up. Again, I would have loved to have gotten more creative than this. But--Mary Linley's hair wasn't elaborately coiffed. And the Monster Wig was already receiving some fun visits from the scissors, snipping serious snarls out. This was going to be a simplistic attempt.

My basic method was to arrange the hair, pin it to my liking, hit it with the hairspray, let it set a bit, and then stitch it into place. I'm sure a better wigmaker than I could probably work with pins alone, creating a wig with more future flexibility, but I saw pretty quickly that between my amateur abilities and the insanity of the Monster Wig, that was not going to happen. The fanciest I was going to get was a little pigtail at the base, like Mary Linley had.

I ended up with something a little like this:

Now, this is when I discovered something else about the Monster Wig that I was initially frustrated by but came to adore. It doesn't quite fit my head. And I do not have a large head. Perhaps the band at the edge is too wimpy, or I'm bundling too much of my own hair underneath, but it's too small to stay securely on my head. However, when I came to trying it on, I found that securing it a bit behind my hairline and keeping quite a bit of my own hair out to sweep over the top produced a more natural--and quite fetching--look.

To make this happen, I stitched two combs to the front edge of the wig. Once they're slid securely into my hair, they Do.Not.Budge.

For a first attempt, I'm quite pleased at how it turned out! I plan to purchase a slightly higher-quality base (no offense meant, Monster Wig) to create a second, more structured wig.

The view from the front--see, I'm wearing my Armistice Poppy!

And from the side:

Still ahead, experiment-wise: I need to work on blending the shininess of the wig out a bit. Another coat of hairspray helped, and I'm going to give a bit of powder a shot, too. Also, a wee bow for the bit of pigtail.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Poppy for Armistice Day: A How-To

Yes, November 11 is now known in the United States as Veterans Day, and well it may be, to thank the many men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces. Yet once (and in other places in the world) the day is known as Armistice Day, for the treaty that, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ended the war that was meant to end all wars.

It didn't quite work out that way.

But I still like to think of November 11 as Armistice Day, to remember, in a bittersweet kind of way, that once we believed for a brief moment we had conquered war.

Following WWI it was traditional (and again, still is in other parts of the world) to wear a red poppy for Armistice Day, in reference to the poem In Flander's Fields. I like to continue the tradition (even though, technically, poppies in the US are for Memorial Day, as they honor those who died in service to their country, not those currently serving, as Veterans Day is intended to do).

I used a tutorial from my blog friend Isis to create a felt flower this year--not quite a poppy in form, but the red and the petals reference the flower. The full tutorial is on Isis' blog, and I'll show you my steps below. (thanks, Isis!)

It's easy--and inexpensive. All you need are felt scraps (heavy wool would work, too), needle and thread, paper and scissors, and a bead or scrap for the center bit.

You'll want to cut a paper pattern first, unless you've very steady hands, to make all the felt pieces the same shape.

Yep, my felt and my thread don't match. No worries--the stitches won't show.

Then, stitch the petals together. I pinched each petal at the base and took a stitch through it, to form the puckered inner part of the petals, then attached it to the next petal.

I then stitched around the center a few times, and once around the middle portion of the flower, where I wanted the petals to overlap.

Ok, it shows on the back. But you won't see that bit once it's on.

Finally, I added a pearl bead to the center. I wish I'd had a black bead on hand as that would look more poppy-ish.

Tomorrow I'll wear this pinned to my jacket, and happily share my gratitude to those who serve as the hope that someday their service will no longer be needed. Do consider joining me!

And thank you to those who have and those who continue to serve.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Has it truly been two weeks since I posted? I have excuses. For realsies. First, the last event of the season, at The Happiest Place on Earth. I was too busy to take photos, which was a shame, given the thick frosts turning the grounds silver in the mornings and the busy tumble of colors and activities that filled the Market Fair and battlefield each day. Fortunately, better photographers than I captured some of the choicer moments:

Also, a fun video. I'm a touch miffed that they showed all the cannons but ours. I think it's because we yelled at the camera guy to move back. We didn't want to accidentally blow him up. (Kidding about being miffed.)

And the most fun part? I came down with the world's nastiest cold over the weekend. By fun I mean not fun at all, unless you count an excuse to sip Scotch in an attempt to eradicate a sore throat of epic proportions "fun." Which I almost do.

After pushing myself through the weekend determined to enjoy every last minute consarnit, I was pretty much a miserable blob for about a week. I did nothing. I stared at the television and did more nothing. I'm better now.

But THEN, as though all this fun wasn't enough to keep me from the computer, I got a little surprise. Her name is Sophie Biscuit and she's a seven week old kitten. She's been purring a lot, so I've been kind of distracted.

Back to regularly scheduled programming and pictures of Sophie kitten soon.