Monday, March 31, 2014

Simplicity 3809: All dressed up and no where to go

Well, I almost finished my new pirate costume in time for the last weekend of Sherwood Forest--which was this weekend. Pretty good considering I started it on a Saturday and took a day off of work to try and finish it. Instead, I wore my trusty red and brown outfit that I've worn to the last three Renaissance festivals including the one this past weekend.
Melissa is so gorgeous! Why can't I be gorgeous too!

I do think my back view is rather nice though. :-)

Back to the new pirate costume: I pushed myself too hard. I know better than to do that, but I did it anyway. I had a complete meltdown on Friday night after it took me a stupid hour and a half to put the trim on the chemise sleeves, and then had to take my dog out again, and then came back at 8:45 and the thought of installing the grommets on the bodice was too much, because I can't pound grommets at my apartment since I live on the third floor, so I would have had to pack everything up including Lulu and schlep it over to Kenneth's first-floor apartment to deal with the grommets with Lulu horsing around and me in a terrible mood.

I used a burgundy poly-silk blend duvet that I'd bought a couple of years ago for my stash. It took me all day to cut the pieces of the bodice out on Saturday. There are four pieces for each side of the bodice, and you have to cut interlining and lining for each one, so it was a marathon of pinning pattern pieces to fabric, cutting fabric out, unpinning pattern pieces from fabric and pinning them to different fabric, rinse, and repeat. It was so tedious.

The silk is a changeable silk, which is burgundy but shines black in certain lights. I cried a bucket of tears Saturday night when I got ready to start sewing the pieces together, because one of them shined burgundy and the other shined blackish-burgundy in my crappy light, and I thought somehow I'd folded the fabric wrong and cut two clones of each pattern piece rather than mirror images. Does that make sense?

The duvet...

See how the piece on the left is a different shade than the piece on the right? I thought I'd totally screwed up.

In the morning I realized it was all okay, that you can't fold fabric wrong in such a way that one piece will be right side up and the other will be wrong side up. But my meltdown did result in a fun conversation with my downstairs neighbor, who was sitting on the steps outside while her dog pooped. She is a creative person too and we had a lot of fun talking about project fails and trials and tribulations and the whole creative process, and in the end we were both laughing.

Well, here are some pics of milady wearing the almost finished outfit (sans grommets in the bodice).

Look at how well I matched the seamlines of the front and back pieces!

It turned out nicely, despite my meltdown. I am really proud of my craftsmanship on this outfit, except for the chemise for reasons which will be obvious when you see the picture. I'm not sure I ever want to work with sheer handkerchief weight linen again. It was a nightmare--it stretched out way too easily even on the grain, kept snagging in my scissors and I even bought new scissors to cut it. Snagged in the machine, though I changed my needle to an extra fine needle. My friend Kristine kindly gathered the bodice to the yoke for me after I tried twice and the thread broke on me or came loose both times. I've never had that happen before, even when gathering lots of yardage of heavier weight fabric.

So Kristine gathered the chemise to the yoke, and then I attached the facing to the yoke and cut the slit in the front and... I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

The edges of the split yoke got stretched as I was stitching them...

...and in a spectacularly glaring fail, the points of the split and the yoke don't match up.

But in the end, I just didn't like it. I'm glad I didn't buy fabric for it. I decided I'd go for more of a musketeer look, but now that I've (almost) finished it, I think the bodice is wrong for musketeer.

I'm glad I decided not to trim the skirt. I still plan to use it in a musketeer costume. I just have to find a good pattern for the bodice or jacket that I will pair with it. It's not a total loss. It's just the bodice I ended up not liking. 

In conclusion:

The Challenge: Make a new pirate/musketeer costume

Fabric: Chemise - handkerchief-weight linen swag from Goodwill Outlet; bodice and skirt - poly-silk blend duvet from Goodwill

Pattern: Simplicity 3809 for bodice and skirt, vintage McCall's 6359 for chemise.

Notions: Gutermann thread, cable ties for boning, zipper, lace trim for bodice and chemise.

Hours to complete: Three full days and four evenings after work before meltdown stopped project on the brink of completion.

Total cost: Duvet: $7.99; Trim: 10 yds gold Venice lace, $27.00, lace trim for chemise, $13.00. Notions: gold thread, burgundy thread, and zipper, $9.00, cable ties for bodice boning, $2.75. Pattern: $1.00. Total cost was around $60.00. It's amazing how much more expensive it is when you add trim.

Fits of rage: At least one per day of work on this project. However, I just swore and cursed up a storm to get myself through them, rather than throwing the project into a crumpled heap in the corner. Two complete meltdowns complete with ugly sobbing and dog licking tears away from face.

Was it worth it: Yes, because it takes a long time to get good at sewing and everything I make is a chance to improve my craftsmanship and a step towards getting better. Not crazy about the money I had to spend on trim and notions, but that's part of it. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't. I'm extra glad that I didn't buy fabric for this project. The project is still salvageable because I really like the skirt. I don't know what I'm going to do with all that leftover Venice lace trim though!

I might make a skirt to go with the bodice, and finish the bodice up, and try to sell it in my etsy store to help recoup the costs of this project. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Old letters: Bit writes to her Mother

I have been sewing my fingers off for a week trying frantically to get my new Renaissance costume ready for closing weekend of Sherwood Forest. Which is this weekend. My friend Melissa and I are going to dress up together and head out there with her boys tomorrow. My dress still needs trim on the skirt, trim on the chemise cuffs, elastic in the chemise cuffs, and grommets in the bodice. I have to get it all done tonight.

So in order to get my mind off of the costume for a bit, I've decided it's time for a new Old Letters post. In this one, Bit writes to her Mother. Where Bit is writing from and where Mother lives, I don't know. The envelope didn't come with the letter. But I can guess that Bit is writing from Virginia, since she's sending her mother a card of Mount Vernon. And there's no date on the postcard, but Bit mentions rain from Camille, and my friend Google tells me that Hurricane Camille happened in August of 1969. BRILLIANT. THAT'S WHAT I AM. BRILLIANT.

[FROM: Bit, somewhere in Virginia; TO: Mother, location unknown / August 1969]

Dear Mother:

Thanks so very much for the $15 for the trivets and spoons. Needless to say, I haven't gotten around to purchasing them, but will when things settle down a little bit. 

I surely did enjoy having you visit, and hated to see you go, but I guess you had to. The weather has been very pleasant except for 2 weeks of Camille rain. It's bright and in the upper eighties. 

Mrs. Stratton will work on the Henry line if you'll send a copy of Grandma's [?] letter. She keeps asking for some dope. 

 I guess everybody is back in school now which is a relief. I guess I told you we're going to a convention (Shrine) in Baltimore Sept 11, 12, & 13. That will be about the time of our anniversary, so it should be fun!

David will go to Governor's Island for 3 months to Storekeeper's school, and then to OCS in Feb. if everything goes according to his plan. 

Roy is doing fine. This is his good time of year business wise, so his spirits are good. Has anybody been given their moving papers yet? I hope you can get what you need to get re-established. Isn't Sonny helping you find another place? Looks as if you should be able to find something in University Hills. I still think you should try to build a duplex. Call Hawks [?] Campbell when you get ready. Thanks again.

Love, Bit


Aww, how sweet of her mom to give her money for spoons and trivets. When I first read this letter, I got the impression of a young wife trying to make a nice home for herself and her family. Not a newly wed, but in her first few years of marriage. Yet, in transcribing it here, I started to wonder if David and Roy are her sons, or if one is her husband and the other her son. Either way, it sounds like she has grown kids, so I suppose she's been married for a while.

Okay, let's talk about that $15 for trivets and spoons. I checked the inflation calculator and $15 from 1969 would be around $95 today! Wow. That's a lot of trivets and spoons. How many could a girl possibly need??

Mrs. Stratton asking for dope all the time, hahahaha. Sign of the times for 1969, I suppose.

I wonder what the Henry line is. I wonder what happened that Bit's mother needs to find a new place to live and get re-established. I wonder if University Hills is the University Hills in Austin. 

Well, those are my really bland observations on a pretty bland letter. After the drama of Freddie and Mattie Cagle, everything else seems to pale a bit in comparison. Let's hope the next old letter will be more exciting.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sensory overload in the fabric store

So I found this antique postcard the other day and I had to buy it because it pretty much describes me in every fabric store ever, online or on the street.

If fabric stores these days were full-service, I have no doubt I'd be this woman. My approach to fabric stores is this:

1. Head over to Joann's. Enter the store full of anticipation.

2. Look at every bolt of fabric at least twice.

3. Choose one or two bolts of fabric and spend 30 minutes studying each one, trying to imagine how it will look all made up.

4. Pick one.

5. Look at every bolt of fabric again, just to make sure I didn't overlook something.

6. Start thinking maybe the one I chose isn't really the best one for the project.

7. Look at every bolt of fabric again.


9. Check the price and get mad because it's $16.99 a yard and too expensive even with a 40% off coupon. I want a new pirate costume, but not for $75!

10. Decide to look online for something cheaper.

11. Head over to the trims section and spend an hour looking at all the different kinds of lace.

12. Find something that would be PERFECT and then cringe at the price tag. This costume is going to be expensive.

13. Go home and look online for hours. Pick some great stuff and let it sit in my online shopping cart for three days while I think about it.

14. Decide to purchase it, only to find out the sale ended while I was being indecisive.

15. Decide to just get the cheaper of the two fabrics I liked at Joann's, because I got a 50% off coupon from them for signing up for text alerts. It's as good a deal as I'm going to get.

16. Go back to Joann's. Enter the store, full of anticipation.

17. Find out that all the fabric I liked is now on sale for 30% off, so I can't use my coupon. Refuse to purchase ANYTHING because I'd be paying $2.00 per yard than I would have if I could have used my coupon.

18. Leave store in a fit of rage.

19. Come crawling back two days later and grudgingly buy fabric I wanted even though I think it was a shitty move for Joann's to issue a 50% coupon during a week when they were going to have almost everything in the whole damn store on sale.

20. Make new pirate costume for the Renaissance fest and feel totally fabulous and infinitely talented when it's all done and I look amazing.

21. Start planning next project, and go through this whole thing again.

It's exhausting just thinking about it.

Going back to the postcard, the postmark on the back dates it to 1915. It's almost 100 years old. Here's a picture of the back:

Danville, June 11, 1915, 4:00 pm

TO: Miss Maggie Houghton, Cabot, VT

"Hello M I may be over Sat. night our Sunday anyway we plain to come over tonight but Rofe could not go everything is fine. I.S."

June 11, 1915 was a Friday. So the sender expected Maggie to get this postcard the next day. That's really efficient postal service! Especially when you look at the address. How on earth could anything be delivered with an address like that? Was the world really that small back in 1915 in Cabot, VT?

Well I guess it must have been. According to a Wikipedia entry, the population of Cabot Village, VT in 2010 was just 233 souls. But there's another Wiki entry for Cabot Town, which includes Cabot Village, that says the population was 1,433 in 2010. Confusing. But, according to the census records of 1910, the population really hasn't changed very much in 100 years.

Either way, it's a small town. And my goodness, is it rural and ever so beautiful. Look at the Google images. It's just lovely.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

1911 Edwardian corset is almost done

I really can't believe that I'm almost finished with the 1911 Edwardian/Titanic corset I started two years ago for the Bridges in the Body corset sew along. It wasn't hard to make, but for some reason I just worked on it in fits and starts. Now one half of the corset is completely done except for the lace trim. The other half just needs grommets, and then I can finish the top and bottom edges with bias tape and lace.

I finished inserting the bones and sewing the bias tape to the top and bottom edge of the finished half last night and while at lunch today I pulled out my stash of antique and vintage lace to try and decide which one to use to trim the top edge.

Here are the options:

Lace 1
This tatted lace is too delicate to use on anything that has to be washed. Plus, it's a monster to iron.

Lace 2

Pretty! But I think a little too wide, and too busy of a pattern. It fights with the corset.

Lace 3
This is three yards in one continuous piece. I think it was meant to trim a petticoat.

Lace 4
I love the way this looks. And these pieces are already the perfect length for trimming this corset. The only problem is that the color is slightly too "off" for blending into the corset. I'm not sure if I can get them whiter or not.

I've seen lace very similar to this as cuff and collar trim on many Edwardian and late Victorian gowns.

Lace 5
This is very similar to Lace 4, except narrower. I think it's too narrow for the top of the corset. But I love the off-white against the brown of the corset.

Lace 6
Crochet trim. I don't think this is antique, whereas I think that Lace 1, 2, 3, and 4 truly are Edwardian. That's just my gut feeling. But it definitely is very very vintage at least. It was in horrible shape when I bought it.

This was a monster to iron, which is why it's a good candidate for a corset. Those little scallops at the bottom shrivel up in the wash.

Lace 7
More crochet trim. It's not as wide as it looks--there are remnants of fabric attached to it from where it must have been cut off of a dress.

Maybe the pattern is too bold to complement the corset. It kind of takes over.

Lace 8
Very similar to Lace 7. Pretty, but it doesn't do much for me here.

As I look at these pictures, I find myself leaning towards Lace 1 and Lace 4.

Lace 1 looks almost perfect. It's much more striking in person than in the pics. And really, I can't think of a better use for it than as corset trim.

I am in love with Lace 4 though. I'll have to stare at it for a while tonight to decide if the color will work well enough for the corset.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Renaissance fest costume in the works

How do the days pass so quickly? It seems like just yesterday I decided to make a new pirate costume for the Renaissance fest, but it must have been more like 3 weeks ago. I've been thinking about it and planning and thinking about it and stressing and thinking about it and suddenly I realized this weekend that I only had about two weeks left to make the following:


To this end, I ordered a bunch of lovely 100% cotton jacquard fabrics from for just $3.50 a yard! I will post about these later. But in a stunningly practical move, I am not using any of them in my costume. I feel really stressed out whenever I spend more than $50 at a time, but they had a 20% off coupon for first-time shoppers so I got 25 yards of fabric for just $78.00 and that includes the shipping. And I mean, the price was unbeatable.

I made am making my corset from a vintage tablecloth that my lovely friend Kristine gave me. It's pale yellow and is printed with dogwoods, so it already has two of my favorite things going for it. It's a tight weave, so I can use it in a single-layer corset.

I think it's darling. I am using Simplicity 2890, which I picked up at Joann's for $1.00. The corset was designed by fashion historian Kay Gnagey and I have actually worn one of her corsets a few times and loved it. It's my ideal corset. Originally this was going to be a practice piece but I decided to just make it all the way because a) I am too lazy to fit a corset properly to my figure, b) my figure is pretty much made for Victorian/Civil War era corsets, being an hourglass shape, proportionate boobs to hips, and short-waisted, and c) I don't have time to make another one before the Ren fest.

This was my first time inserting gussets into anything, and it could have been a rage-fest but I found this wonderful tutorial before I ever started, and that made everything a breeze. That being said, I forgot to do a 5/8" seam allowance, doing a 3/8" instead, so the bust is too big. I don't really care right now.

I'm still trying to decide if I'll use 1/4" zip ties for the boning or order steel boning. Steel boning isn't really that much more expensive than zip ties. It's the corset busk that's kind of expensive--and that damn shipping--so I might as well just get proper boning. I need to make a decision soon.

I almost ordered all that stuff this weekend but then froze with indecision because, in my usual can't-do-anything-in-moderation fashion, I thought as long as I'm ordering boning for one corset, why not order boning for FOUR CORSETS??? The shipping will be the same, and I want to make this corset again, and I have another Simplicity corset pattern I want to try, and since that other one looks easy maybe I should just make TWO of it also!?!?!?!

Moving on, I am using a 1970s dress pattern for the chemise/blouse. I get a lot of my patterns at my favorite thrift store, and they come 2-3 in a package. So for every one that I buy, I get two extras that are usually not something I'm interested in. I've been listing those extra patterns on my Etsy store, but there are a handful that I have put in the "No Redeeming Qualities" category destined for my trashcan. This was one of them. But juuuuuust as I was about to throw it out, View A suddenly struck me as an AWESOME lady pirate blouse.

Look at it.


I am going to use a sheer linen swag that my friend Melissa found for me at the Goodwill outlet last year. I should probably save it for something more important than a pirate chemise, but I'm trying to save money where I can. What's the point of having a fabric stash if you don't use it?

I'm going set the elastic slightly higher on the sleeve and then trim the cuff which white lace bordered with gold lace at the top, like so:

For the bodice and skirt, I'm going to use this Simplicity 3809, View A. I originally had grand plans to make an underskirt out of some of the white cotton jacquard I got from FabricMart, and make a bustled overskirt from the Janet Arnold book, which would have meant rescaling the pattern and being amazingly talented. But for the sake of simplicity (hahahaha), and lack of time, I'm just going to have to settle for a Big Four pattern. But it will still be cute!!

I am pissed off at Joann's for having their linen fabrics 30% off for the past two weeks at least, which means I can't use any of the 50% off coupons I've had. Assholes. I really don't want to spend $45 on fabric if I can avoid it. So after much stress and fuming, I've decided to dye my dark brown linen skirt from my previous Ren fest outfit black. And to make the bodice from a jacquard tablecloth I've had squirreled away and dye that black to match.

I spent 8 hours online yesterday picking out gold Venice lace trims for this outfit, only to realize that if I trimmed it like I wanted to, I'd end up spending some $50-$60 on lace. I can't afford that right now. So after all that, I just got 10 yards of one type of lace and I guess I'll be spending about $27 which includes the shipping, which is nice and cheap as far as that kind of thing goes.

Now I just need to stop thinking about stuff and actually do something about it.