Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Inaugurating the Pizza Oven at Sunwise Farm and Sanctuary

Last Saturday, heavy clouds and drizzle parted for a few hours as our sewing circle gathered at Kathleen and Greg's farm to celebrate spring and the new outdoor oven they had built.

The evening before Kathleen and Greg and home-ground grain and prepared dough for four pizzas, and more for six loaves of bread and lots of rolls. It's likely they prepared the fixings for homemade yogurt, too. Then, as the morning light dribbled in, Greg stepped out and lit the oven with wood culled from the farm, so that by 8:30 it was well started, and would be ready about noon, some 800-900 degrees hot.

We made our way there by ten, and stepped out of our vehicles into, as Jenni put it, a place out of time. The gardens are lush with lavender, and melissa, varieties of thymes and others I cannot name at sight, countless perennials, a happy fig tree, spinach and vegetables intermixed. The wall at the edge of the drive is made of lilac in full, gorgeous scented bloom, barely-blue iris, grown for orris root as much as for their beauty, beneath. There are standing stones, honeysuckle at the end of a walk through the minute valley, views of distant hills beyond, a cozy house that they built full of air and light and Kathleen's gentle paintings and artwork, smelling like tincture of heaven and also of coffee and toasted grain.

The bees are hard at work in their boxes: they caught four swarms last week. We tasted last year's honey, and I grew greedy for it, because it tastes like every happy herb and flower you can name plus the love of bees, but alas, it's saved for bee tea.
We watched as Greg prepared the oven he had built, that they had painted and Kathleen had smoothed with slaked lime, an oven so sturdy it might easily last until our grandchildren's children are adults.

We gathered round to watch as coals were swept back, peels brought out, the heat radiating around us, and Greg placed the first pizza in. It sizzles, and flames licked the coals far back in the oven. Two minutes later, and he pulled it out, and there it was, the first pizza, and we ate that and most of three more out under the trees, new mown grass scent in the air, with birdsong and distant mooing and a cockadoodle-dooing as serenade.
The tots rambled the gardens and porch, rested their bare little feet on Cai, who is so Corgi-cute that I could just hug him about twenty times an hour, we talked about fresco-painting and bread and what the stars tell and prayer and gardens.
We planned more Regency gown details in Kathleen's studio. The boys hugged whatever person seemed most convenient at the moment, Cai had his ears scratched, no one worried about gathering clouds, knowing by instinct that they'd come in good time, after we had visited bee boxes and were ready to wend our way back to time.
Alas that not all of us could be there, but thank you Kathleen, and Greg, for the most blessed day one could ask for.

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 4

This is the fourth part of a multi-part tutorial about making a bodiced petticoat using the bodice portion of the basic Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern. The tips are designed to supplement Jennie Chancey's online directions for a bodiced petticoat. If you missed the first sections, you can read parts 1, 2, and 3 here.

As always, please click on each image for a larger version.

In this post, we assemble the bodice. Please refer to Jennie's directions for this portion of the project, under the header "Making the Final Bodice".

Photo: My sewing corner in the guest room. These days little Christopher has my old sewing room for his bedroom, so I do my work mostly here. It may be hard on the knees after awhile, but it works :}

Adding the Neckline Drawstring Casing and Drawstrings

Our next task was to add the drawstring casing and drawstrings to the neckline of the bodice lining. It is sewn to the right side of the fabric, the side that will be next to the body. If we sewed it to the side with the bones in it, when finished the casing would be inside the garment where we couldn't use it :} We used the same Wright's single-fold bias tape for the casing that Jennie Chancey recommended.

We constructed it as Jennie recommended. Her directions are quite clear, so I will not repeat them here. (Again, these directions are a supplement to hers, not a replacement for them.)

The only tip I offer is to baste the drawstring casing to the bodice before stitching it down. Since it will be against your skin, you want to apply it very flat, without creases or bumps.

Here is a photo of the casing of drawstring casing after being applied and sewn:

Then we threaded the drawstrings through the casing. We cut two pieces of poly ribbon, one for each side of the front of the bodice, making each ribbon long enough to not only thread through its portion of casing, but to tie at center front, and to stick out a wee bit at the shoulder edge so it can be sewn into the shoulder seam.

We used poly ribbon for the drawstring simply because that is what we had. I have often thought that it would make good sense to use 1/8" wide linen twill tape, since that is not slippery and will hold better when the garment is gathered.

Also, Fitting and Proper (Sharon Burnston) has documented a shift (dating anywhere from 1790 to 1810) that closes with a very narrow 3/16" hem instead of a casing, and that is threaded not with ribbon, but with heavy linen thread. (pp. 44-46). Next time I would be tempted to do the same, because the hem and string would be far less bulky than what we have here.

Let us forge on.
Assembling the Bodice Pieces: Lining

At last we were ready to assemble the pieces of the bodice together. Remember that we have pieces for both lining and for the exterior, "fashion fabric" side that shows when the petticoat is worn. Each side will be constructed separately. We started by constructing the lining.

First, we sewed one back piece to its side back piece, and then the other back piece to its back piece. Remember how tricky it was to work with this curved seam when we fit the toile? Well, here we go again. Please refer to part 1 of this tutorial if you need a refresher.

Here is a photo of the pinning in process:

Next, here is where I freely admit I goofed. I sewed the side back pieces next to the fronts...so that I had all the pieces of the lining sewn together. Bad idea. If you do this it becomes very hard to deal with the shoulder straps.

At this point, this is what I had, below. You are viewing it from the right side of the lining...the side that will be next to your skin. Please click on the image to read my warning notes again in blue text :}

The step we should have taken next was to sew the shoulder pieces together. Here are the seams for one shoulder of the bodice below, pinned.

Then sewn (on my handcrank Singer machine). Notice the end of the drawstring sticking out from the allowances. When sewing the shoulder seams, we wanted to make sure that each drawstring was securely sewn into each seam.

Now we had the bodice lining pieces assembled, and we set them aside to await a later step.

Assembling the Bodice Pieces: the Outer Bodice

Now it was time to follow the same process for the outer bodice pieces...the fashion fabric pieces that would show when the bodice is worn.

Completing the Bodice Assemblage

It was late in the evening when I put together the bodice for Polly, and I rather felt like I had been working on this project forever, which was, with a stretch of imagination, true. We had begun back in the fall, but holidays intervened, and then research. Perhaps at this point you're feeling a little bodice-bored yourself. Persevere, I say!

Affixing Lining to Outer Bodice

It was now time to affix the lining to the outer bodice.

Per Jennie's directions, I laid the bodice lining down flat, right side facing up. Then I laid the outer bodice atop it, right side down. Now the right sides were together.

I commenced to pinning the lining to the outer bodice at the neckline, all the way from the center back one side to center front, then again on the other side, from center back to center front.

In the photo below you see once side pinned.

Notice how there are more pins at the curves than there are on the straight stretches. These extra pins will help hold the pieces in the proper position, with less likelihood of puckering, when they are sewn together. Sewing machines are more apt to have this issue than handsewn pieces, but it's best to be safe, unless you are an accomplished seamstress.

Jennie's directions require you to sew a 5/8-inch seam at the center back edge, narrowing down to 1/8 inch at the beginning of the front neckline, that is, at the shoulder seams. Or that's at least how I understood it.

In order to create a nice, smooth transition from 5/8" to 1/8", I used the principle of halving:
  • At the center back edge I marked, in pencil, 5/8 inch from the raw neckline edge.
  • At the shoulder seam I made a second mark, 1/8 inch away from the raw neckline edge.
  • Then I found the center of the space in between the two marks, and measured a little more than 3/8 in from the edge.
  • Now I had two sections.
  • I found the center of the section closest to the center back, and measured approximately a quarter inch (2/8") from the edge. Then I eyeballed further marks, to create a smooth transition.
  • I did the same for the other side.
  • I made plenty of marks. Unless you're really sure of yourself, it's really easy to let your line of stitching wander...it's good to have marks to sew by. This is especially true of handstitching, because you cannot see as far ahead of you as you can on a machine. Trust me on this. 
The photos below capture the process.

Then I sewed the neckline edge, being careful not to sew over that drawstring ribbon at any point. You can sew in one operation like Jennie did, or sew from center back to center front, then stop and sew from center back to center front on the other side. Because I do not like to have so many pins sitting around, I did the latter.

Jennie writes: "When you reach the "neckline,"just stich a scant 1/8" away from the top edge. When you get to the bodice front, you'll be stitching right on top of the stitches you made when you sewed the drawstring casing on."

Sewing the Armscyes

Remember how, like a dork, I had sewn up the side seams under the armscyes? Well, now that's where that mistake began to show itself. That is because the next step is to sew around the armsyce. If the side seam is sewn, as in the leftmost portion of the image below, how do you easily turn the shoulder straps right side out?  Jennie explains that her method is a simple way to deal with shoulder straps and sleeveless garments, and she's right. Once I figured out how it worked, I realized how nice a method it is.

So, as you can see in the rightmost portion of the image below, I have ripped out the side seam. Now that side of the bodice is only attached at the shoulder seams.

So, our step is to stitch all the way around the armscye...around the U shape, if you will.

Here is the seam, sewn.

You will want to clip the seam allowances at the curves a little bit so that the resulting shoulder strap, when turned right side out, will lay well.

Turning the Shoulder Straps Right Side Out

Now for a bit of work I never enjoy much: turning the shoulder straps right side out. Because the space is so narrow, and the enter bodice must go through that narrow channel (!), it's helpful to have a bodkin or the end of a wooden spoon to help pull and push the fabric through.

In the image below, I have started to pull back the fabric on one side of the bodice. I will keep going, turning the fabric right side out.

As here:

And here, where we are at the narrowest part of the process.

Here is what we ended up with, below, when both armscyes were sewn and turned right side out. As you can see, both side seams beneath the armscyes are open. It's these seams that we will close up next.

Sewing Up the Side Seams

Lay the bodice out flat, right side out. Under one armscye, where the seam is open, turn the fabric that's lying on top inside out, per the below.

In the image below I am turning up one side again for the camera, while the other side is already turned up.

Here below both sides are pulled out. What we could have done was to match the top halves of the side seams, and sew them, then match the bottom halves of the side seams and sew them.

However, it is easier to match both top and bottom, making sure that the seam you see in the middle (image below) matches at the horizontal seam at the center.

Here below I am pulled the fabric together to form a seam.

Then I pinned the seam together. I started at that middle seam, pinned the fabric together there, set another pin at the left outer edge, and then, using the principle of halves again, pinned in the middle to make two sections, pinned in the middle of those to make now four sections, and so on. This method of pinning ensured that if one side was a wee longer than the other, that the extra length would get eased gently in, without puckers or skewing the final seam.

Below you see the pinning process started.

Then I used the same pinning process for the right half of the seam, from the middle seam out to the right edge.
Voila: completed seam! See Jennie's photo for an example.

Next Steps

Now the bodice was all sewn up, except for the back seam. Next steps are to have Polly try the bodice on one last time, and to make up the skirt and waistband and complete the petticoat at last.

Friday, April 09, 2010

1790s Fashion: Sources for Extant Garments You May Not Have Thought Of

As I have learned in the last months, fashion during the 1790s was much more varied than it had been earlier in the century and in a way, more varied than what we would see later in the Regency. Earlier fashion staples co-existed with newer garment types, and hybridized rather like bunnies...frequently and in profusion.

Most costumers by this time are familiar with Demode's Real Women's Clothing, 1600-1919, which links visitors directly to extant garments in museum collections in America and Europe.

Photo: Screen shot of a late eighteenth century portrait ring from The Three Graces.

Alert costumers will also browse Ebay and well-known textiles dealers' sites. A couple of favorites for this era include:
I see references to most of these pop up repeatedly on costuming sites, with the exception of Antique and Vintage Dress Gallery, The Three Graces, and Cora Ginsberg. Those are under-utilized and really, you should have a look. Cora Ginsberg's catalogs are just as important as her listings, and frequently contain useful background information.

There are other types of sources, however, that I rarely see references to, or that are new.

Major Auction House Catalogs and Results Pages

Charles A. Whitaker Auction Company
They have handled some famous collections in the past, such as the Tasha Tudor collection. I find their site hard to use.

Christie's: Fine Art Auctions
A literal treasure trove. Their paper catalogs have graced coffee tables and reference shelves for decades. Now their online auction results pages can serve the same function. Choose the Auction Results link towards the top of the homepage. Then browse month by month to look for auctions having to do with textiles and costume. It's slow work but will reveal marvels for this decade. As with many museum entries, sometimes I have quibbles with the dating of items, but less here than on some museum sites.

The Dorotheum
In Vienna. I have not seen costumes among their offerings, but their jewelry is phenomenal, and of course the paintings and drawings. I visited the auction house back in 2001 and it was an overwhelming, Aladdin's Cave experience. Wien, I miss you.

Kerry Taylor Auctions
This company handles most of Sotheby's offerings. It is not particularly easy to browse, and sometimes you have to go to a related site to see listings, but it's still worth the effort.

It's less easy to find items, but if you use the search box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage, and enter "costume" or "dress" or "fashion", you can come up with items. Once you find an item to suit, click the sale number link at the top left of the item description screen to see the other lots sold in the same sale. Since sales often consist of similar items, this is a decent way to find sales consisting of multiple items of interest.

William Doyle Galleries
I haven't looked here much yet, but plan to do so in future.

Europeana: A New Way to Browse European Museum Holdings

Bjarne Drews pointed out this resource in the last month or so and I have used it several times. It's a portal to the holdings of several European museums. I find it best to find an item and then click the link to the actual museum's page, and then I browse their other holdings. Since I can read French and German decently, browsing isn't too bad, but you might find using Google's translator function helpful.

Photo: typical example of costume found using the Europeana portal.

To get started, type in "costume" in the search field...and you will get drawings and paintings and fashion plates and some costumes in the results screen...

In Closing

Have fun dropping down the rabbit hole, and see you in a few years...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 3

This is the third part of a multi-part tutorial about making a bodiced petticoat using the bodice portion of the basic Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern. The tips are designed to supplement Jennie Chancey's online directions for a bodiced petticoat. If you missed the first part, you can read Parts 1 and 2.

As always, please click on each image for a larger version.

In this post, we cut out the final bodice pieces and bone the bodice. Please refer to Jennie's directions for this portion of the project, under the header "Making the Final Bodice".

At the end of Part 2 of this tutorial, we had removed the basting on our fitted toile and voila, we had our pattern pieces.

Jennie assumes that you will keep those pieces as a master pattern, but since we weren't interested in making a second closely fitted bodice for any reason, we are using the toile pieces as our lining pieces.

In any case, we still have to cut the outer pieces as well. In the photo below, Kathleen has placed one of the lining pieces on fresh fabric and is using it as a template to create an outer piece. Kathleen's bodice is our model for this post...there are several of us in our period sewing group who are making them.

Here below is one of the pieces used as a template, carefully pinned and marked around. You'll notice that we have placed it on a fabric scrap...we saved every piece of fabric we could during this process in order to minimize waste.
Once all the pieces had been cut out, Kathleen marked each one with all the seamlines from the lining pieces, including the dart marks.

We set aside all of the pieces that would be used for the outer layer, and concentrated on the next step...

Boning the Bodice Lining

Here is the bodice lining with the darts clearly marked. Kathleen is ready to baste the darts together, in preparation for sewing down the boning casings.

To sew a dart, she first made a fold in the fabric at what she guessed is the lengthways center of the dart.

Here is her guess.

To make certain that she has lined up the dart markings on both "legs" of the dart, she placed pins along the dart line, then flipped the fabric over to see if the pin holes on the reverse side are on the dart lines there. If they were not she tweaked the fabric and repins until they lined up.

Kathleen's next step was to baste the dart. She basted from the bottom of the dart to the top of the dart.

Kathleen then basted each dart...there are a total of six.

Her next step was to add the bodice boning on top of the darts.

You have lots of choices for boning: steel boning, German plastic boning, reed boning, or regular old prom dress plastic boning, the kind sold with fabric boning casings already applied to the outside, ready to sew down.

Jennie's tutorial covers making your own boning casings from bias tape.

For this project, we used the prom dress plastic kind.

First, we laid out the boning, which comes in a continous coil, down against each dart, and cut six pieces, each as long as each dart. We can trim them to fit later.

Then we removed the plastic from the casing...it slides right out.

Next Kathleen placed a piece of casing next to the stitching line on the dart. We have the bodice lining wrong side up...with the folds of the dart on top.

She pinned down the casing. Then she very carefully backstitched the casing to the dart, starting at the bottom of the dart, backstitching to the top of the dart, across the top of the dart, and then down the other side to the bottom. She made sure that her stitches stayed OUTSIDE of the boning casing's own stitches so that should can insert the boning itself later.

One could do this step by machine, but she is sewing her bodice by hand. Since this portion -- and indeed all portions of the bodice -- gets lots of stress because it's so tightly fitted, she backstitched with small stitches.

Here below is the stitching underway. She stitched the boning casings down for all six bones.

Here are the bones, below, removed from their casings. They are made of a flexible plastic. Because when you cut them with scissors they get sharp edges, it's best to trim the tops and bottoms into slightly rounded tips so that they will not poke through the fabric and irritate the skin. In the photo, the bones have been trimmed...look for example at the bone next to the pair of scissors.

Nancy R., writer of Excels at Nothing,  wrote me to suggest the following further step:
When I've worked with plastic boning, I've always had really good luck runing the cut and rounded end though a lighter or candle flame. It further softens the sharp cut edge. Just don't touch it until it cools.
Thank you, Nancy, for a most sensible tip for handling tips.

After sewing the boning casings to the bodice, it's best to slip the bones in and check that they all slide in. If they don't, check your sewing and make sure it isn't blocking the channels. If it is, sadly you must rip out your stitches and resew.

It's also a good plan to make sure that the stitching at the tops of the bones is sturdy so that the bones will not pop through. Overcast the edges tightly or make multiple seams across the ends.

For ease in constructing the rest of the bodice, it's a good plan to remove the bones again and set them aside. Otherwise the bodice is rather stiff when you try to work with it :}

Next time, assembling the bodice!