Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Look who's finally got a dress form

I finally broke down and bought a dress form. After months of deliberation, I decided the best one for me would be one of those wire ones that you can mold to the shape of your body. I tried one of the plastic ones they sell at Joann's but it didn't really work out for me. I am very short-waisted, and I'd have had to pay a lot of money for one that has an adjustable back waist length.

So I decided to spend that money on this Dritz My Double adjustable wire dress form from oh, maybe the 1940s or 1950s. I hope that was a good decision. They don't make these anymore.

Behold, the dress form in all it's squinched up glory.

It's got saggy boobs and a crooked back. 

It appears to be a little bit distorted. Nothing made that clearer than when I slipped a dress onto it to photograph for my etsy store. It looks like the dress form has scoliosis.

Stand up straight!

I haven't fitted it to myself yet. I need to find someone to help me do it.* The instruction booklet refers to a fictional lady named Aunt Jane in order to explain how to stretch and pinch and tweak the dress form into her exact double. Later on in the booklet, I think they actually start to refer to the form as Aunt Jane.

*On a side note, my ex came over to help me set it up, and he saw a couple of bras on my dresser and said, "Are those your bras??" I was like, "Uh... Yes?" And then he said, "They look HUGE." Thanks a lot, ex. Thanks a lot. I'm already self-conscious about the size of my boobs and now I feel like I've got big ole mama-looking "features."


There is something I really can't STAND in the sewing community, and that is the naming of dress forms, and even worse, calling one's dress form "her." I can't stand it. I CAN'T STAND IT!! It's on the same level of irritating as people who call their husband "hubby" or who use the phrase "easy-peasy."


That said, it IS kind of fun calling my dress form Aunt Jane, and it helped to keep me from having a fit of rage as I tried to pull that dress over it's head while it wobbled back and forth because it didn't come with the stabilizing rods. "Come ON, Aunt Jane! I NEED YOU TO COOPERATE."

I really like Thread-Headed Snippet's approach to naming dress forms/mannequins. Her "Assless Boobs on a Stick" is pretty famous in the sewing/costuming world, and for good reason. Her entire post on the donated mannequins for her Jehossee exhibit made me laugh till tears came out of my eyes. And I didn't realize this until I was just looking back at that post, but she summed up exactly what I was feeling about calling your dressform by a name to help deal with the frustration of dressing it:

I was met in the Archives by a motley crew of donated* dressforms upon which I was expected to perpetrate my grandeur and awesomeness. As I wrestled with them in turn, I came to understand their quirks and gave them names to ease the process and offer a more focused outlet for my invective. The names were easy to remember because they were generally rooted in the unique psychosis/ deformity of each of the Cranky Ladies. (See what I did there?) They were respectively, "Charcoal Charlie," "Jangles," "Crunky Brewster," "Kevin" and "Assless Boobs On A Stick."

So I may call mine Aunt Jane, from time to time. I may even talk to it and curse it for being difficult or thank it for cooperating. But I will NEVER call it "her." :D

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Old letters: Estella to Mr. Freddie Cagle

This is the last in the series of letters I have involving meanie Freddie Cagle. This one takes place in 1969, 20 years later than when we first met him. Let's see what Estella has to say to Mr. Freddie.

[FROM: Estella, 958 - 105 Avenue, Oakland, CA TO: Mr. Freddie Cagle, Rosebud, Texas / October 16, 1969]

Dear Freddie, 

Whell how are things going for my boy? Man you ought to be out here in Oakland now. Man this set out here is too, too, mean.

Freddie, whitey doesn't have a chance with these Negroes out here. Man everywhere you look is Black Power and signs with United Blacks, and Black's where it's at, and they've got a mean gain out here called the Black Panther's and they all wear black leather jackets and ride mean ass motorcycles, and they don't allow whitey to walk the streets after dark.

And Freddie the Natural out here is out out out of sight. My husband has a natural that is long as mine and I'm getting a natural as soon as my permanent wears off. Freddie everything black out here from 8 to 80 wears the natural and some of them is to mean. My husband got some groovy ass cousins too, and I'm learing from them.

Man you got to dig these skip parties these guys out here don't mind it. They get too school and say man I'm having a skip party at my pad all day and man every body skips school and goes over to the duds house and stay until 3:15 and go on home. These cats are something else. Freddie hurry up and come on out here and dig this set. It's really out of sight.

Whell, Freddie old buddy I could go on the rest of the night writing you but when a married woman's got a husband that is dying for her to hurry to bed you know how that is so excuse me while I turn out my light and no peeping. (smile)



How freaking cool is that! To have a letter from someone living in Oakland at the height of the Black Power movement and commenting on race relations and hair and gangs! Estella sounds like she's just moved there. Freddie was stationed in San Francisco in 1951, so maybe her husband is in the military. I wonder if she's from Rosebud and that's how she and Freddie know each other. I wonder how old she is too.

I googled her address, 958 105th Avenue, and she lived in a CUUUUTE little yellow house. I love it. I wonder what the property values are now and if she or any of her relatives still live there.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My lighthouse dress: McCall's 5094

I am so excited about my newest sundress! It's the second one I've made from McCall's 5094, but I haven't taken pics of the first version. I had to do a lot of reverse engineering on the first one, and I will have to do some on this current one, but I'm not sure if I have enough leeway. The first one I made from a size 14, and I think the bodice pieces stretched a lot and I didn't sew the shoulder straps on correctly.

Regardless, I'm very proud of my craftsmanship on this dress. Ignoring the fact that the pattern on the midriff is upside down, and I sewed the midriff lining onto the dress inside out. But I've learned how to press seams, clip curves, and trim seam allowances, and it makes a hell of a difference!

Even though I'm proud of the craftsmanship, I need to fix the pattern mainly because the shoulder straps are placed too far out on the shoulders to hide bra straps, and they slip down my shoulders.


And they need to be moved closer to the center back.

I had to stand weird because Lulu was hogging the foreground.

Here's a closer look at the strap placement.

This is what happens when you try to take pics with a doggie by your side:

Photo bomb!
Ah well. I am proud of my craftsmanship on this dress. It's not perfect, but I feel like I'm close to getting good enough to sell my homemade dresses on Etsy. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cleaning antique lace

I have a weakness for antique lace. I don't care how dirty or crumpled it is when I find it--if it's a good price, I'm buying it. I've accumulated what to me is "a lot" and I've been thinking for a while now that I need to clean it, but I've been too scared. But recently I bought a bag of antique lace trims at a thrift store for about $5, and most of these laces were in such terrible shape I decided I didn't have much to lose by washing them.

I bought a ziploc bag of something called "Victorian Pre-Soak" from one of my favorite antique vendors. The ingredients are listed as "peroxyhydrate carbonate". The instructions say to dissolve 2-4 tablespoons per gallon in hot water, allowing up to 10 minutes for the stuff to dissolve, and then soaking your items for 6-24 hours.

I started with this crocheted chemise yoke, which I have no idea of the age, but crocheted chemise yokes were popular in Edwardian times, and people haven't been wearing chemises under their dresses in about 100 years. And the condition it was in was, honestly, disgusting.

Here is the before:

I cleaned it with a solution of 2 parts hydrogen peroxide and a few teaspoons of baking soda, and got this:

I thought that was as good as it was going to get, and couldn't believe it when it looked like this after 24 hours soaking in the Victorian pre-soak:

I'm thrilled! I spent days soaking and rinsing and handwashing antique lace, and didn't even think about it. I was completely absorbed in it. It was so gratifying to see these old beauties restored, if not to their original condition, to something very close.

Here is another amazing example of before and after:

And these:

I still have some left to soak, but I just can't wait to try it on everything!

I sort of suspect that it's repackaged Oxy-Clean, but Oxy-Clean is made from something called sodium percarbonate. I am almost out of the Victorian Pre-Soak, so I bought some Oxy-clean to see how it works. Right now I'm soaking a couple of my blouses that have ring around the collar and underarm stains, and a vintage multicolor tablecloth that isn't very precious to me. I hope it works as well as the Victorian Pre-Soak.

I feel invincible now when buying vintage textiles!!