Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking Forward

Last year I didn't write or post a "this is what I want to accomplish this year" list. I think I knew somehow that the year was going to be really hard. I struggled a lot with anxiety (A LOT), and I'm still having trouble dealing with it. Don't worry, I'm working with professionals on a game plan :) This year I want to make more time for sewing and things that bring me joy. And it seems that the repetitiveness of certain things help soothe the anxiety (like baking! Making bread is fantastic for working out some tension!) so the rituals surrounding sewing can only be good for me :)

My biggest project for the year will be an 1867 ballgown to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. Luckily a few of the challenges for this year's Historical Sew Monthly line up with that challenge, plus I'd really like to participate for an entire year.

One of my inspiration images!

January: Firsts & Lasts: Already started! A mid-1860s chemise :)
February: Re-Make, Re-Use, Re-Fashion: I wonder if the base skirt of my ballgown will count? I sewed it up years ago but now I need to re-make it. Perhaps an elliptical hoop with salvaged boning from a modern hoop skirt.
March: The Great Outdoors: mid-18th century riding habit. Again. IT SHALL BE DONE.
April: Circles, Squares & Rectangles: A petticoat for a 1780s gown or the riding habit skirt, depending. Maybe both!
May: Literature: I'm not sure that I have a favourite historical literary character, but I'm sure I can come up with something. (In general I can't read actual historical fiction. The language norms just bypass my entire brain. I don't know how many times I read one page in Persuasion until I gave up and went on to the next one, but it was definitely more than three.)
June: Metallics: This one will be tricksy D: I haven't got an idea yet. I do have a yard and a half of gilded linen though.
July: Fashion Plate: I have a plan! I need a loooot of red soutache :D I don't know if this will get done, I may be frantically completing outfits for Costume College!
August: Ridiculous: Oh gosh, where can one start?
September: Seen Onscreen: If I am very very lucky, I can pick up some beautiful red silk in LA and recreate Caroline's beautiful red dress in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice (say what you will about the movie, that dress is stunning!) Failing that, a recreation of Jane's adorable Spencer jacket from Austenland.
October: Out of Your Comfort Zone: There's many things I could do for this one, many things are out of my comfort zone!
November: HSF Inspiration: I really love the idea of this one. And there is a LOT of beautiful pieces made over the last 4 years (almost 5 by the time this rolls around) to choose from. I will probably choose something small, as this is during National Novel Writing Month.
December: Go Wild: I have a bit of beaver pelt rescued from a coat (I think) that I got from my aunt's estate. It's destined for a muff cover.

I'm also considering addressing my everyday wardrobe. I've been finding some of the things I've had for the last few years are no longer comfortable to wear. But I need to give this some serious thought. I really like vintage styles, but I really don't have the energy or patience to dedicate time to also creating vintage hair and make-up and accessories to go with outfits. I might get there some day, but right now it's enough that I can drag myself out of bed to feed my cat. Plus the added bonus of living in a place with very distinct seasons, necessitating multiple collections. Summer clothes really don't work in winter! I should probably start with looking at capsule wardrobes. This is a relatively low priority though.

Add in my usual con circuit, plus the additional pieces I need for Costume College, and I should have a very productive year!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Review

Happy holidays, friends! I love doing the year in review, looking back on the things I made and remembering the pieces I forgot, so here it is!

There really isn't a lot. This was a very rough year, dealing with my mental and physical health, my cat's health, all the bad news of the world (so... much... bad... news...), struggling to make my budget work, and the death of a beloved aunt. I tried to participate in the Historical Sew Monthly, and I only got to 4 challenges (with some plans for others). I made more things than I blogged about, so here is the complete list.

HSM 1: late 1830s cap

Regency drop-front gown, petticoat, and vest

Green wool spencer

HSM 2: Market Hat

HSM 4: 1838-1840 Honeycomb Shawl from The Workwoman's Guide

Jareth the Goblin King (Ball) from Labyrinth


Blue Natural-form skirt

Natural Form petticoat

Fuu from Magic Knight Rayearth

Photo by Dorothy Tse

Scarlet's Cape (plus some work on the shirt)

Chihiro's Bathhouse uniform from Spirited Away

Sophie Hatter from Howl's Moving Castle (Unfinished)

Black Regency drop-front gown (unfinished)

Miramar tunic

HSM 10: 1795 Cotton Open-Robe from Patterns of Fashion

Ceinture a la victime

HSM 11: Many-era seamed Stockings

Summer house-dress

And of course some yarn-based projects! I made a hood, some mitts, a scarf, slippers, dance socks, a baby blanket, and a hat. I try to keep my Ravelry page up-to-date :)

I have BIG PLANS to be more productive next year! In early November, my friend NutMeg caught a seat sale and mentioned it in time for Nicole and I (and another friend) to jump on, so I'm going to LA for Costume College!! I'm so excited, I've wanted to go for years! I had already planned to work on a Big Project for Canada's 150th birthday this upcoming year, and it will make a fantastic gala gown too. I have to make pretty much everything from the skin out, so I'm starting the year with underwear :)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Regency Gown 3 Ways & The Myth of Perfection

Earlier this year I made a white Regency gown out of an IKEA curtain, and accessorized it with a dark green vest for the February ball.

For the October balls, even though I had started a ballgown some time last year, I decided not to finish it (partly because of a health issue, which I'll get into below, and partly because I was working on the open robe, which was my preferred option to wear) and instead wore my white gown again both days. On the first day I wore with the open robe:

And on the second day, I made a long red ribbon to wear wrapped around my torso:

The ribbon was 3 width-of-fabric rips 3" wide. I hemmed each length with the narrow hemmer foot for my machine, which was an exercise in both patience and frustration, and then French-seamed the lengths together. I took inspiration from this post by Cassidy on lesser-known Regency accessories, especially the first one, the Ceinture à la Victime. Family history as told by my maternal grandmother is that one of her distant relatives escaped the Revolution in France, though it was not talked about (even her own grandmother didn't like to speak of it, though she would have been around 100 years removed from it). I don't know if I believe it, but it does make a neat little point in my mind to connect with the past. Nevertheless, the ribbon-wrapping was very prominent for many years beyond the Revolution (see Cassidy's post for more!), so I felt comfortable with accessorizing with it. More than one person commented on the fact that it looked like a completely different gown. Mission accomplished!

On the myth of perfectionism: last year, this post by Wearing History made quite a few waves in the blog circle, and for a good reason. We all focus so much on perfection, when even historical sources show, sometimes, that things were not made "perfectly". I do admire those who strive for "perfection", though the term is, to me, a moving target, and different to each person. What is perfect to us now may not be so later in our journey, and we should be forgiving of ourselves at our current stage. So many times, when I am reading, the author will say something about their creation that I would not have noticed at all had they not said something. It is so true that we are our own worst critics, being so intimately familiar with our creations. But sometimes, even other creators who know you and your work do not pick up on those things that we perceive as flaws.

With that in mind, when I posted the picture of my gown and Ceinture à la Victime ribbon on Facebook, I did not comment on what I thought was wrong with everything in the picture. I have a lock of hair across my forehead that got put back later and was not photographed. I probably had threads hanging out of my ribbon because the narrow hem foot and I do not get along, and Jenny started being cranky partway through the stitching. My shift sleeve is sticking out under the gown sleeve, which I only noticed in the photograph! I'd also lost the ribbon for lacing my stays closed, and replaced it with a dark pink one, which is totally visible beneath the sheerness of the dress, and also only noticed that when I was uploading this photo. Oops.

As for not finishing the other gown, early in October my lower back seized up on me, requiring numerous visits to my health providers to help put it back to rights. As I do most of my sewing on the living room floor, cutting out the skirts of my gown was not an option. It happened approximately 2 weeks before both of these photos were taken, and I'm happy to say that after much work my back is better. I'm still not 100%, but at least I don't feel like a sneeze will set it off again :)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

HSM '16: 10: Historical Heroes: Regency Open Robe

I had this fabric set aside for a specific project, and when it became time once again for the Regency ball(s) in Edmonton, it was also time to make it! It also happens to coincide perfectly with this month's HSM theme. Huzzah!

I've been wanting an open robe for awhile, after seeing some lovely versions around the internet and in person. My partner-in-crime Nicole made a beautiful one out of embroidered sari fabric last year:

And it's been on the to-do list ever since. I didn't have a pattern in mind at first, but as I spent more time working with patterns and drafting with them, I decided to make the open robe in Patterns of Fashion 1.

POF1 was one of the first historical costume sources I ever saw, so you could say that Janet Arnold is a historical hero :3 I still plan to make the gown that I first fell in love with. Some more of my historical heroes are the creators who stitch everything by hand, so aside from a few seams, this was constructed that way.

At the beginning of October, I started planning. I would use Laughing Moon 126 as the base of my robe. The pattern in POF was pretty close to my measurements, which made it easy to work with. I left the back alone, narrowed the straps a little, and modified the front to have a lower profile and more curved shape. Then I laid out my fabric and my pattern pieces and did some measuring, took a deep breath and started to cut. I had 4 metres of fabric, JUST enough to get the robe and sleeves cut out. For the sleeve, I used the sleeve from the swallowtail jacket in Costume Close-up, with some modifications. More on those later.

I didn't lay out my pattern quite right. The back side seams were off, so that made my pleats off :( But I had NO room for modifications, so I made it work. The lining was made from linen. I constructed all the long seams by machine, but most of the robe was stitched by hand. I polled my Facebook for options to make the front out of a different fabric. I had thought gold or green, to pick up in the boteh designs, but one lovely person suggested peacock blue or teal, and I just happened to have a scrap of teal JUST big enough. I wasn't sure on it at first, but forged ahead. Now I think it's the perfect accent.

It took a long time to get everything stitched down. By which I mean, it took half a season of Jessica Jones + a couple of movies. The pleats were draped on the mannequin and adjusted a million times. Sleeves had to be stitched in by hand because of the pleats. I didn't have closures done before the ball, so it was pinned closed, and I marked the overlap at the end of the night to add those later.


I had to put the sleeves in before I could totally finish the pleats over the shoulder. I only had enough fabric left to make them 3/4 length, and it was about this time that I noticed that the print was directional. So half of my robe is upside down! Oh well. Then the modifications I made to the pattern made it fit the armhole perfectly, buuuut it was too tight on the arm. It was hard to get the robe to sit right when the sleeves wouldn't rotate around my arm easily, but of course I discovered this after I'd already put them in. There's a 2" strip with a pointed end fitted in at the seam. I don't know if I like the shape (the front seam especially could use some tailoring), but as it was approximately 4 hours before the ball when I finished this, I chose not to worry about it. When I was at the ball, I didn't give it a single thought. I could move my arms, which was fantastic for playing cards.

At the end of the night, my lovely friends took some pictures (and I took some pictures of them). This was when I noticed that the front piece has a beautiful shape. I think I might take this pattern and use it for another dream gown...

Photo from University of Vermont.

The Challenge: #10 Heroes
Who your hero is and how the costume applies to them: Janet Arnold should be obvious! Also dedicated to long-time costumers who sew things by hand, share their processes, and have been inspiring me for far longer than they may know :) (in particular Katherine C-G and Jen Thompson. Links go to the gowns that inspire me!)
Fabric: cotton, linen, polyester
Pattern: Patterns of Fashion 1, Laughing Moon #126
Year: 1795ish
Notions: thread
How historically accurate is it?: Reasonably! The long back seam, lining, and side-back seams were done by machine, everything else stitched by hand. Poly sure wasn't period, and printed cotton would be a stretch for an evening robe, I think, but it looks fabulous!
Hours to complete: a season of Jessica Jones and 2 movies
First worn: October 22
Total cost: Free-to-me! For new materials at non-sale prices I would expect to pay $60-$80 for a cotton robe, and upwards of $120-$140 for a silk one.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Houndstooth Miramar by Scroop Patterns!

Hello friends! I hope you have been well! Summer slipped me by for yet another year, and here we are in OCTOBER already. It's even snowed twice! I'm also preparing for my yearly foray into novel writing, so things will become quiet again, but after that, I have big plans for organizing and using my fabric stash.

Just a short time ago, Leimomi, aka The Dreamstress, put out a call for pattern testers while I was at work. I was SO excited, it was really hard to wait until I got home to submit my application! I've seen a few bloggers put out similar calls, and just never got around to applying even though I really wanted to, so this time, I made sure to apply! And lucky me, I was also selected to test the Miramar top/tunic/dress pattern :D

Miramar (seen here on Leimomi's blog) is a knit top with either short or 3/4-length sleeves and a drapey neck, aimed for sewists without a lot of experience sewing knits. I've been sewing for 22 years now, and one of my first projects was a t-shirt, but oh boy, let me tell you how much I hate sewing knits... I can probably count them all on both hands. My biggest take-aways from those few projects was ball-point needles, let the machine do the work, and use the serger if it's available. I've avoided knits whenever possible. But I also want to sew more things for myself for my everyday life, and let's face it, modern wardrobes are filled with knits. So, I was really excited to have the perfect chance to experiment with sewing knits! And let me tell you right now -- this pattern is awesome, and I LOVE the tunic I made.

I picked up my fabric for a steal. It was already on sale, and I got it for half-price because the piece I took was pre-cut and the cutter marked it as a remnant. Score! I wanted to use a nice geometric fabric with a fun border, but because the sleeves are cut in one piece with the body, I thought the linear print would be a: too hard to match (read: I didn't want to take the time for it) and b: would bug me if I DIDN'T take the time to match it. (I might go back and buy it anyway, especially after seeing a similar print on Leimomi's blog; it was a great print.) Stripes were SUPER IN last season, I guess, because there were tons in the sale section! I settled on this great black and white houndstooth-and-crosshatched print that stretched VERY well.

Full disclosure: I got a test copy of this pattern to try out. I printed it at work on my fancy professional copier/printer (that was having feed issues) and taped it together there. I have access to a guillotine paper cutter so I did use it, but in the future I won't bother, as my lines didn't print 100% square and I had to trim a lot of them again with scissors, and sometimes the guillotine cut too far into the pattern area. Then I traced my selected size out onto tracing paper (the tunic length on the front was missing from my copy, but this has been corrected!), laid out my fabric and got sewing!

The total time it took for me to put this together was about an hour to prepare the pattern, and 3.5 hours to trace, cut and assemble it. For the most part, I used the serger. It fought me a lot, rolling the top layer instead of cutting it, but since that gets contained by the looping threads, it didn't bother me enough to unpick it. I used my sewing machine for the back neck seam, the front fold-over, and the hems. Then I nanced around the house for a few minutes, pleased with my work, and the pattern for making it so simple! I wore it to work the next day with leggings.

Good coverage for leggings :)

"I like that top; I like the length" was the first comment I received on it. Why thank you! Then, because I'd posted about my project on Facebook (only to tell people that they would get to see my awesome new project if they saw me in person, no pictures for now!), one of my coworkers stopped by to see it, and then a few more did. I'm really proud of it! It's really comfy, and the print is right up my alley. Now that the pattern has been released, I posted a picture (above) to show friends who didn't get to see it in person, to great positive feedback. I really love it! It's definitely going to be in regular rotation for the rest of the year.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

HSM '16: #2 Tucks and Pleating: Market Hat

At the end of January, I got an opportunity to volunteer for a local Regency event, to which I enthusiastically agreed shortly into February. I immediately started planning my gown, wanting to both wear my new stays, and also not wear last year's gown for the 4th time in a row. Not the least because last year's gown has a lower back, and my stays would be very visible over the neckline. Oops?

I wondered how I could possibly fit my gown and/or accessories into the challenge theme. It only occurred to me late in the month that the pleating required to fit the skirt width into the center back would absolutely qualify, because up until then, I had already started another item that was "done enough" to also work. And, I think, be more suitable, since the challenge info states "make a garment that features tucks and pleating for the shape or decoration", and this item is most definitely shaped by the pleats.

Introducing: The Market Hat!

You've likely seen some version of this hat around the internet before. I first saw it way back in summer 2013, in photos of the Curtain-Along meet-up at Costume College that year. Oh, what a lovely hat Loren wore! Then, in 2014, I realized I needed a similar hat in order to recreate an art piece for the Art Challenge (which I still have yet to complete). Where could I find a pattern for such an enchanting object?

At the time there wasn't many. I scoured the internet and came up with a few ideas -- Kannik's Korner has a similar item, that I could probably use to suit my needs, and The Sign of the Golden Scissors. But, both of them seemed awfully expensive at the time, especially since I couldn't find shipping rates. I thought I might get around to developing my own pattern, if I ever decided on what I was actually looking at. I had a hard time imagining the 3D object laid out like a 2D pattern, so I put off thinking about it for a long, long time.

I did not get around to drafting one. My chosen pattern was not any less expensive, but several factors made it the best option. Maggie of Undressing the Historical Lady put out a pattern in between these two in cost, and unlike the others, was a print-at-home pattern, so at least I wouldn't have to pay shipping! That pushed into the "best option" category, in fact, and I bought it last summer when the exchange rate was sliiiiightly more reasonable than it is now.

I tried to look at options for the brim board at Michael's, but all I could find was a humongous sheet of material that I didn't feel comfortable purchasing, even if I used a coupon. It was 24" x 36" and I only needed a fraction of that. I used a found-item from work that would otherwise have been recycled, sheets of super thin cardboard that came on top of a stack of loose paper to protect it. But since they were only 8.5" x 11", I had to use several sheets (three, in fact) to get a piece wide enough and stable enough to go into the brim. And even though I followed the directions for the brim, pressing in my seam allowances and stitching by hand, my brim board was just too big to fit into it. I had to trim and trim and trim until I could stitch up the seam allowance for the caul to attach to. (I take full responsibility for this issue. The pattern pieces fit just fine together, and I think my board ended up being thicker than the recommended material which took away from the fabric too much.)

The caul's shape, as directed in the pattern, is achieved entirely by pleating. One could theoretically play with the pleats, how many and how deep, to achieve a different look. I have 9 pleats on either side of a central box pleat. And then I immediately had to run to the mirror to try it on!

It's been languishing ever since, waiting for the final two steps (finishing the caul/brim seam and then decorating), but I would not feel bad about wearing it should the need arise at this exact moment. I used some of the leftover fabric, actually in a separate cut, for one of my accessories for my ball outfit, but saved the rest from this cut to make a "ribbon" to decorate with. Partly complicated by the fact that I could not find my pinking shears for most of the month. They had decided, for the last 6 months, to make their home with my partner-in-crime.

And since this post is ONLY 6 months late (HA!), it still hasn't been finished... and I've misplaced the spare fabric... but I could still totally wear it right this moment!

The Challenge: #2 Tucks & Pleats
Fabric: 100% polyester
Pattern: 18th Century Bonnet/Market Hat
Year: late 18th century
Notions: thread, ribbon, bias tape, thin cardboard
How historically accurate is it?: Looks great! I don't know if this type of cardboard was being produced in-era, and we won't even touch polyester.
Hours to complete: 10 or so.
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: $27 CDN for the pattern, materials were all free-to-me! I would expect to spend roughly $30-$40 CDN (without the pattern) on this if I were to buy all new materials. Silk is difficult to get in Edmonton, and with the exchange rate being so poor right now, even "cheap" silk is expensive to ship in. Americans might be able to do this project for under $20 US.

Want to admire more market hats? Maggie's own market hat, which you can see on the Etsy listing, is also visible here at American Duchess; Lauren of American Duchess has a lovely one (this is more of a research page, so be sure to click through to entries at the beginning of July to see the finished item in action!); The Couture Courtesan has a beautiful piece made from her own pattern; Peryn's gorgeous hat (and dress); and so did Festive Attyre with Maggie's pattern. Got more? I'd love to see them! Even after looking at them all summer, I still think this hat is adorable!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Adventures in Cosplay: Jareth the Goblin King

Shortly after David Bowie's death earlier this year (I won't go into how much his death affected me -- I "met" him at all the wrong moments in my life, but I still loved him), my partner-in-crime, Nicole, asked if I would be her Goblin King at our spring convention. She thought that the time was right to make her Sarah ballgown costume (something that had been on her to-do list for the past 10 years), and course she needed a Goblin King.

Photo by T.T.

Of course I said yes ;)

We purchased 5 metres of teal taffeta and a metric butt-ton of jewels in blue, black and silver (this is a very technical measurement), and got to work. I created the shirt, jabot, vest, and coat, and wore a pair of black pants and boots I already owned. Nicole sourced the wig, and spent around 40 hours (with some assistance from other friends) gluing jewels to the coat.

It was quite an experience. The sewing itself was very easy, if time-intensive. While I have decided that writing and posting about my mental health is not the ideal way to deal with it, I do want to touch on it briefly. I started experiencing full-blown anxiety attacks in the middle of this sewing, and I was finally self-aware enough to recognize them as such. It's been quite a roller coaster ride, learning to manage them, and I have a long way to go yet. They seriously coloured the creation and wearing of this costume.

I started with McCalls 6818, a Once Upon a Time costume pattern, modifying the skirt, collar, sleeves and cuffs. The shirt was made with Simplicity 4923, with a lot of width taken out of the body and sleeves. The jabot is a rectangle with circular ruffles sewn to it, and a fun necklace part on top. The vest is a pillow case with some nice floral mesh sewn on top. The final touch was to sew a string of blue LED lights to the edges, to go with Nicole's lighted skirt. I ended up sewing them on the night before I wore it. Not recommended. One of my ongoing costume goals is "no last minute sewing", but I really didn't make it for this con. Next time! I will strive to do better.

The day we wore them, I used a YouTube tutorial to create my makeup, and eventually we set out to the con. We had entered the costume contest in the master category. While I usually don't enter contests, Nicole wanted to, so I figured I could do it this time, and she has won more than enough contests to place her squarely in the master category. That was its own set of fun (part of the anxiety manifests as stage fright...) but we (ok, myself, mostly) got through it and then we had to wait for the results.

Photo by T.T.

Photo by T.T.

Photo by T.T.

I was a little surprised that we won best in class: craftsmanship, and then even more surprised when we won best in show as well. It really made all of the stress and headaches of the construction and sewing at 11pm and removing part of my eyebrows worth it.

Accepting our Best in Show award. Photo by Calgary Expo crew.

We even had someone make fan art of our pictures! Some of the nicest things people said to me over the weekend was how much I looked like David Bowie, and I didn't quite realize it myself until I saw this manipulation of the movie poster and myself side by side. Super thanks to that YouTube tutorial!

I'm so sorry, I don't know your name, awesome person! Please let me know so I can credit you!

Honestly, the experience was not my ideal situation, but it was so amazing at the same time. We waited a long time before going on stage, with others in our category, and everyone was so nice and so supportive of each other. After the contest was over, as we left, we got delayed over and over as people stopped us to congratulate us. People reached out to me on Facebook with the same, both people I know and total strangers, and I felt really connected to the cosplay community. It was really wonderful, and I am glad I took part in it (shhh don't tell Nicole. She'll make remove part of my eyebrows again! ;)) Thank you, everyone, so much, for creating a welcoming and warm community where even anxiety-ridden oldies like me feel at home.