Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Year in Review

I usually take a minute to talk end-of-year nostalgia in terms of what I made this year.

This year I didn't make a whole lot of anything.

I made two things.

Exactly two.

One was the Cream Puff Silk Hat, which I lurve for being huge and awesome and not subtle, so very in-your-face-18th-century-aesthetic:

The other is a bedgown.  I failed to blog about making the bedgown; it's a simple linen piece made with the Larkin and Smith pattern, so there's not much to talk about there as their research and instructions speak for themselves, but as I'm taking a second to talk sewing, it's worth mentioning how this one happened.

The beginning of this year was hot.  Stupid hot.  I don't know what happened, but every darn event in the early season was sweltering.  So two friends and I decided--we need bedgowns.  Lightweight linen, no nonsense, no stays needed bedgowns for the times when it is too ding dang hot to get dressed properly without risking heat stroke.

So we got together one Saturday and cut and sewed and got mostly finished on our projects, then finished up the hems and cuffs and whatnot at home.  


It's great for mornings, before I've had time to get laced into stays, and it's great for evenings when I want to undress a little.  And for hot days--and days when one wakes up with a migraine (yes, that happened in camp and no, it's not fun)--it's unbeatable.  

E and I on Bedgown Sunday:

And since I didn't get much made this year, a quick review of some of my favorite moments instead--because, really, I make this stuff to get out and enjoy living history in:

E and her bestie hitch a ride from me.  This wagon was the best distraction during long event days!

Blowing bubbles in the shade!

I just love this shot, taken at Historic Locust Grove by the lovely photographer behind Asha Ananda Photography.  I'm taking a peek in on the kitchen with my husband behind me.  There are most likely shenanigans brewing in the kitchen, for what it's worth.

Another from Asha, and I hope my friend here forgives me, but laughing like your face might fall off is probably the best part of reenacting.  I'm fairly sure we had just coined a new euphemism for eighteenth century whores based on breakfast foods, and trust me, funnies.
Yes, that's a modern coffee cup.  Sue me.

And I leave you with my child, crawling on a cannon, holding what appears to be some kind of beer stein.  Lovely.

I hope your year held as many memories, and all the best in the New Year!

Friday, December 11, 2015

All I Want For Christmas...and a Giveaway Link!

So, there are a few things a historical clothing enthusiast always has on her Christmas list.  Books, books, fabric, books, fabric, and fabric top that list.  But I've found one more covetable--the necklaces and earrings at Dames a la Mode.

Seriously--I love that this is historical jewelry that one could wear with an 18th century ballgown or jeans and a white shirt and look equally fabulous:

 And the pearl earrings she creates remind me of these stunners:

Italian or Russian Woman, Pietro Antonio Rotari

Finally, she's doing something I've seen very little of anywhere else--millinery flowers.  You can read about uses for crafted false flowers at this post at The Sign of the Golden Scissors, but I'm really excited to see someone exploring this idea.

So, if you're like me and are salivating over these designs, enter for a chance to win a set at American Duchess.

And cross your fingers that your family listened when you told them what you wanted for Christmas!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fall Market Fair at Locust Grove--Perfectly Normal Family Fun

This year we introduced Little E to Locust Grove at the Fall Market Fair.  She's been twice before, but both times she was a wee thing and wouldn't remember:

First event at one month old

Second time at seven months old

Three-year old E quickly decided that this event was great and that this site is the happiest place on earth.

We agree fully.

Making a historically accurate doll? On the docket this winter.

I mean, that's a working kitchen chockablock full of awesome people talking, singing, sewing, knitting, chasing babies--is there anything better?

Photo from Asha Ananda Photography

And taking a peek at the action inside:

Photo from Asha Ananda Photography

Just rather happy that my hair is staying up and my false rump is doing its job:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Photos from a Fabulous Fall Event

Sometimes you have a weekend that reminds you why you love reenacting.

A group of us gathered at a huge forest preserve in a little corner of east-central Illinois a couple weeks ago, and it was just that kind of weekend. No modern intrusions, not a huge group of people but enough to get out on the field and have some fun, and beautiful fall weather.

My friend Asha captured some great images from the weekend, which I have shamelessy stolen and reposted here.  They're hers--and for more information about Ananda Asha Photograhy go to  You can see the full album on Facebook.

We had a large contingent from our unit there, along with our three-pounder, Milton.

Yes, we named our cannon.

That's me in the middle, probably checking to make sure all the right tools are in the side boxes.  My husband and I own Milton, so even though I'm not a man-at-arms, I feel a certain responsibility for him and usually involve myself in getting him ready to field in some way or another--making sure we've got rounds, checking the implements we use to clean and load him, double-checking that we've got a spare vent pick in the side box, plus ear plugs, because Milton is really loud.  He's my cast iron baby.

I attached new sleeve ruffles to this gown in the car on the way to the event...I'm not sure they're working.  In fact, I'm fairly sure they're a little too "floof" for this working gown.  I took them off and will be putting them on my silk gown instead.  On the upside, they're a gorgeous "book" muslin and were really fun to work with.  

It should be noted that by this point in the day I was quite literally falling apart--my skirts had gone all wonky in the back:

and I lost a pin:

which I didn't notice for a good hour after this picture was taken.  Well, you get a nice shot of my stays.  File under "Wardrobe Malfunction: 18th Century Edition."

Looking at prints and paintings, especially those by Sandby, it seems that wonky skirts and missing pins and other dressing imperfections weren't that uncommon in the life of everyday 18th century people.  Glad to know I'm in good historical company.

It was also E's birthday weekend--she turned three, and we celebrated with (a big modern frosting-encased) cake Saturday night. Sadly, I failed to get a picture of the cake with the only candle we had on hand--a huge beeswax thing shoved in the middle.

Asha did catch a shot of E playing with her birthday gift from her bestie (whose mom blogs over at ). Ahoy! Cake off the port bow!

And my favorite shot of the weekend: Bedgown Sunday Snuggles with E: 

(And the winter project? Correct shifts for E. I'm fairly sure she's wearing--get this--MY OLD SHIFT and though my parents didn't know any better then, there's some inaccuracies I need to fix.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cream Silk Covered Hat, or, I Made a Cream Puff to Wear on my Head

I decided a few weeks ago to make a new hat.  I haven't had time for many big projects this summer and was really missing sewing, and craving some silk.  I love that a wider variety of headwear is being represented in Rev War reenacting--that you see bonnets and silk-covered hats far more often than you did a few years ago--but there still aren't too many big, fashionable, silk-covered hats floating around in my neck of the woods.  It's appropriate for my officer's wife persona, so I decided to create one.

It's a bit of a monster, in a good way, on the order of the giant hats you see wandering around Vauxhall Gardens in printed form, and a little bit like a millinery cream puff.

An in-progress shot.  Step one is covering the top of the hat, and you can see the stitches along the edge of the brim here.  I then added decoration to the crown and edge of the brim.  The "poufs" around the crown are a tube of matching silk, and the brim edging (you can see it further down) is pinked and pleated silk.  

After getting all the decoration stitched down, I added the covering to the underside, stitching it to the silk that was folded over from the top to keep stitching from showing on the outside of the hat.  Then I added ties. I recommend pinning them first to do a test run--where you set the ties will affect how the hat shapes.  The further toward the crown, the flatter the hat will lie.  I wanted a little bit of shaping, so stitched the ties down a couple inches out from the crown.

Even though this isn't a Historical Sew Monthly Entry (it doesn't fit the current challenges), I'm stealing the "about this project" format here :)

Fabric: Cream Silk Taffeta from an ebay seller.  This project used less than a yard.
Pattern:  None.  You can just trace out the hat, adding an inch or two for seam allowance.  If you do want a pattern, what I did is very similar to the patterns and methods used in the Larkin and Smith pattern, which I recommend.  
Year: Late 18th century.  These big "statement" hats seem to get pretty popular by the 1770s.
Notions: A hat blank--this one is a straw hat I'd had for years and wanted to make over--and silk thread.
How historically accurate is it?  100% handsewn, and based on images and extant.  I never say 100% because I'm sure I've missed something, but it's pretty darn accurate.
Hours to complete: Probably 4-5.  The process is really simple, but stitching down the  top silk cover, the trim along the brim, and then the bottom silk cover took some time.  
First worn: Last weekend! And it made an impression on the public--I was asked about the hat, its significance, how it was made, and other questions more than anything else.  It created a great gateway for talking about clothing norms and the differing social statuses the visitors could notice in camp, and opened some great conversations.

Total Cost:  $12 total.  The fabric was $8 for the one yard--yay for sales! The thread was about $4 for the spool, and I already had the hat blank.  
 And finally, a few photos from the weekend with the hat in action.

The Husband and I in front of our unit and our cannon:

And another one.  (Chilly morning--I spent most of it in my short cloak and gloves.)

Finally, a close up that gives you a good look at that pleated trim, and the fact that I actually fixed my hair:

All in all, very pleased with this project!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Little Musing on Why Historical Sewing is Important, with Golden Eagles

You all know if you’ve been here before: I sew historical clothes.  That is to say, I research the styles and methods originally employed in garments made over two centuries ago, and I attempt to recreate those styles using those methods.  I remember the moment distinctly when I decided that what I was doing was important.

I was stitching while watching Netflix—I believe that this was a compromise reached with my toddler, who wanted me to read animal books, and my desire to finish a project.  I found a geography documentary series and pulled it up. (Wildest China, and unfortunately, it’s not streaming any longer—I checked for you, but others in the “Wildest” series are and they’re worth a watch.)  It had plenty of animals for her, but made a unique departure from most animal-centric shows in that it also explored how humans had traditionally encountered the ecosystem depicted, and in what ways this lifeway persisted and in what ways it was changing.

The ecosystem depicted was the Chinese steppes.  The people were nomadic herders.  They also hunted with golden eagles.

Very few hunters remained—most young men from the community were moving to cities to find modern, more stable jobs.  They didn’t hunt for subsistence, though they did eat the meat—instead, it was vital to them to keep this folkway alive.  Later I read an article about one of the only female golden eagle hunters.  One article  stated that though tradition dictated that boys apprentice as hunters, not girls, the fact that most men were leaving the community forced an exception.  (And for good measure, another female golden eagle hunter, with stunning images, in Kazahkstan)

I watched the magnificent spread of wings, the powerful talons outstretched toward prey, the obedient return to the mounted hunter. And I looked down at my hands, a length of linen spread between them, a neat line of stitches running down a seam I was working on, and it struck me.  What made my breath skip at the golden eagles and their handlers was the same thing that drew me to historical sewing.

It was preserving a disappearing art.

Now, golden eagles are far more exciting than backstitches, and mounted hunters far more interesting than rainy-day seamstresses.  Still, something links us.  We believe that the task which is “no longer necessary” is in fact intrinsically necessary.  We can’t bear to let a skill honed by generations before us die.  We want to invest time and effort and learning into a lifeway that isn’t exactly thriving—in the case of the nomads, it’s fading, in the case of the historical seamstress, it’s been dead for decades.

But it’s worthwhile.

The only known female golden eagle hunter in Kazakhstan is also a lawyer.  I hear her, because I understand the sentiment exactly, in her when asked how she plans to combine office work with bird handling[. S]he said “I don’t need to give up being a berkutchi. I will do both things at once.”

We guardians of antique lifeways don't have to live in the past.  We can live in both places at once.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Silk-Covered Hat: Research and The Plan

I was jonesing for an 18th century project, and I really wanted to play with some silk.

What better than a silk covered hat?

I'd done one already, but I trimmed it rather specifically to match the Borderline Obnoxious Pink Caraco.  I wanted something that would match anything, and I wanted to use a hat blank I had on hand.  That blank happens to be large, and I didn't want to cut it because a) nervous and b) these hats are the cool sort of project that you can remake multiple times, so I wanted to keep my options open on this pristine blank.

So my first thought was:

The Fruit Barrow, by H. Walton, 1779 

Because it's *gorgeous* and the right size and black and covered in ostrich feathers and...

...and yeah, I have no clue where to find really nice ostrich feathers.  And what, black? Put a black hat on my head for our often-very-warm events?  Hi, head, step inside this oven.

Suddenly I liked it better in the painting than in person.

And then I found cream silk taffeta on sale for obscenely cheap.

So cream it was.

There are tons of images of cream and off-white silk-covered hats.  So many options for trimming and styling these, and I love the layered textures of the ones that are single-color.  (Though the Unknown Lady's blue silk is lovely, too.)

Portrait of a Young Lady with A Fan, 

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by George Engleheart,

From the collection at Williamsburg,

From the collection of the Chertsey Museum,

Mrs. Oswald, by Johann Zoffany, about 1763-64, The National Gallery

I have the top covered and am working on designing the trim--I am leaning toward the crown poufs of Mrs. Oswald and the Unknown Lady, and considering some knife-pleated brim trim, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Showing Off: Buttonholes

I don't usually talk men's clothes on here, because, well.  I don't sew men's clothes.  I have very little idea how to.  It's true--complete weakness of mine.

So when my husband needed a new regimental coat, I did what any self-respecting but clueless-on-the-matter-at-hand seamstress would do.

I traded sewing work with a friend who tailors men's clothes impeccably.  

So the only thing about the New Coat that I had any hand in was...

...the buttonholes.

No, you know what? The Buttonholes.  Capitalized.  These things were an insane amount of work:

Officer's coats had decorate long-work buttonholes done in silk twist (aptly named, let me assure you).  There are twenty-some on this coat.  Each took me, once I got proficient, somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-five minutes each.

But he cuts a dashing figure in the end:

And if I ever want my own riding habit, I'd need to know how to do these boogers anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Entertaining Children When It's Historically HOT

We reenact.  We have kids.  So...what do you *do* with the kids?  No modern toys, no modern distractions?

Our kiddos have an array of historical (and historical-ish) toys, so they do enjoy playing with their "special" dolls, chalkboards, wooden figures, and tea sets.  Even those get old after a while, so we find other ways to amuse ourselves.

You can always sing...

I actually have no idea what E is doing in that picture.  We were, however, sitting in the shade listening to music played by a band.  Nothing like a little late Baroque music on a balmy summer day.

You can blow bubbles:

Believe it or not, this is a historical pasttime:

Our friends brought homemade bubble solution and paper straws (historically, reed seems more common, but as those were unavailable we went paper).  Then we poured the bubble-fuel in a wooden trencher and had at it!  I will note, the girls' clothes ended up, shall we say, "pre-treated" by the time we were done!

Sometimes, however, it's too hot for anything other than a kiddie pool:

Or a washbasin.

Or a bucket.

It was so hot, even the dog got in on the fun.

It should be noted that the kids ended up filthy, one gown got torn, and they were happy as clams.

For clean fun, there's always peekaboo:

Of course, E was already soaked from another dip in the bucket ("Hair washing" was the game of choice shortly before this photo was taken).

The last few photos are from an event last weekend--the temperatures crept up much higher than anticipated, but aside from the usual to-be-expected toddlers-over-it meltdowns, we had a lot of fun.  It's amazing how resilient, and resourceful, kids are when it comes to amusing themselves and keeping cool!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Times I Screwed Up

I'm loving the honesty circling the costuming world right now, and with it, I feel the need to apologize.

1) I'm a private, facade-loving introvert when it comes to personal struggles. While I fully appreciate the wonderful openness others are engaging while discussing what was *really* going on behind their beautiful costumes, sharing like that is just not me.  It's my failing, but it's also my personality.  And since, overall, I like me, I'll apologize not for being me, but for bowing out of what would likely be a valuable exercise.

However, as I commented on The Dreamstress's post (she has similar feelings on privacy and sharing and openness), there's another side to the Perfection Myth.  There is a myth of perfection that surrounds even our clothing itself.  We sometimes skip the part where we screamed at the fabric that wouldn't press correctly, where we ripped out the same seam fifteen times before getting it right, where we don't share how the silhouette is created, not with a fantastic rump pad, but with a wadded up towel (guilty!).  The “look how perfect I am” misleading makes others feel poorly and can be darn discouraging, but there's another side that I think we have to be even more aware of.  

Sometimes we don't share when we misread research or chose an incorrect fabric for a project.  We might keep mum when we made something in an inaccurate manner,and instead we play it off like we did it right.  I know I've realized months or years later that I was wrong about some detail in historical accuracy in a piece I've made, and haven't posted an update to say "Wait! Don't do as I did..."  Now, I know this is the academic side of me coming out.  Sometimes historical costuming is just for fun, and I'm in NO way picking on those costumes or costumers that never make claims at being accurate reproductions.  But when we do? We have to be honest about our shortcomings

2) So, more importantly, I apologize for screwing up.  No, that's not right.  I apologize for times I've screwed up and haven't talked about it.

Until now:

This "caraco" (at this point I'm not even sure that's the right term) is well-made, was easy to put together, is based on historical images, and the fabric is a boffo hand-done block print, but I'm about 100% sure it's wrong for my reenacting persona.  I've found maybe (I say "maybe" because I'm unsure if I'm seeing what I think I am) two images of these that aren't Dutch or French.  Without more research  backing up its use in England or British colonies, I'll be phasing it out of my wardrobe.  

I still love this evening gown best of all my modern projects.  But how did I come up with the asymmetrical drape? Oh, I put two bodice pieces on upside down and it fit funky, and taking out the lapped seams would have wrecked the fabric.  So I covered up the part I messed up on.  That's right.  You're looking at a salvaged hot mess.

I totally jacked up the lacing on this jacket.  Fortunately, it looks fine without the lacing.

This fit once upon a time. You can sort of see the messed up, rumpled-y front.  Believe it or not, I've gained a little weight over the eight years since I made this (what?!? I know, hard to believe).  Plus, new stays meant a new fit and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix the front bodice section to not rumple.  (Note: I'll blog soon about my not-quite-documentable solution...but I justify it as being close enough and DARN IT I want to keep wearing this gown.  See? Justification, not authenticity, in action.)  
The sleeve ruffles aren't right, either.
And there's a wadded up towel under there serving as a rump pad.  You're welcome.

I used cable ties to bone these stays.  Actually, I use cable ties to bone ALL my stays.  I also made weird mistakes with binding.  Grommets instead of proper eyelets.  For shame, me.

I never finished these.  Also, the eyelets are grommets, not hand-done.  The binding is crappy cotton tape.  But I wore them for my entire pregnancy...and lent them to a friend for hers.

The only infant clothes I had time to finish aren't right for 18th century infants.  Like, at all.  We just wrapped her in a shawl.

The front of this gown still doesn't fit correctly, the hems are machined, and the skirts are too long.  I "finished" it to that crummy standard two years ago.  And I've barely touched it since.  I keep telling myself I will, but I'm more attracted to starting something new than fixing something old.
Oh, and hey, my child isn't wearing a cap, which is particularly egregious here because she has a little bright pink clip keeping her bangs out of her face.

This fabric isn't quite right. That bothers me more than it should.  But I jumped on it before really looking at it further, and, well.  It's not quite right.

I reviewing more and more examples, I did the pleats on this wrong. In fact, it probably shouldn't be pleated at all, but a circle cut to size, given that most extants and images seem to point to that construction method.  (Even though I love the "spokes of a wheel" design--I don't want to claim it's correct to the period.)

I jacked up the front of this caraco, which I did talk about a little.  I also didn't do the side fitting quite right (with pleats).  That said, it's not intended to be a "French fly-away" front, so I'm still unsure of exactly what I *should* have done.  An excellent example of diving in with incomplete information--but of course, we would never sew if we always waited for a complete picture!
I was talking to friends in modern clothes (so not pictured) when this picture was taken, and I was so awkwardly aware that I was having my photo taken that I think I'm making a really weird face.  Fortunately it's dark and you can't see.

So, a few examples of my foibles.  I hope to be as honest as possible about what I know, what I don't know, when I guess, and when I screw up.  And please ask me if I'm ever unclear.