Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Favorite Kitty, Happily Adopted

Several weeks ago my friend Polly told me about Sophie, a four-year-old cat up for adoption from the Scott County Animal Shelter. Polly had met her at Petsmart and thought she'd be a lovely companion for our kitty Ladybug. Sophie, she said, was sweet-natured and purry and pretty...and liked children! Inexplicably left by a family when they'd moved, she'd spent over four months without a home already.

I'd been so hoping for another kitty, and so I visited her page on Petfinder. Without ado, I fell in love. She's a dilute calico, long-haired, gentle-eyed. She wants to be cradled. She wants to remain close to her people all day. She needs love. We have plenty and more to give, I thought.

Photo: Sophie's sweet, soft face. Courtesy Petfinder.

We couldn't adopt her: family life here is so short on sleep and long on work due to the twins that my husband couldn't see adding another member just yet, so with regret, he nixed the idea.

I scrambled to see if a friend or friend of friend could take her in, not the first time I've done something like this. So many little kitties I've fostered, fed, socialized, found homes for with family, with friends. In recent years tiny striped Piper, named for his big voice, sat on the car armrest between my husband and I from Kentucky to Asheville to meet my parents, and then lapsat his way to Wilmington, North Carolina, to be their kitty. A year or so before that sweet-natured, floppy, sprawl-all-over-you Dixie flew with me to Atlanta in his own carrier to live with a colleague. And there have been others. I hoped to help Sophie, too.

Sophie Finds a Home...with Natalie

This morning I spoke with Polly, and what a funny thing, Providence heard me, for Polly saw her adopted. She'd been back to Petsmart with two kittens she's trying to place, and sitting there in the adoption corner, she watched a little girl and her parents arrive. They found Sophie's cage. They had it opened, the little girl picked her up, and fluffy Sophie settled in her arms. The girl had vision problems, Polly said, and looked like she very much wanted a friend to love. The little kitty, it was clear, wanted a friend too, and cuddled with the girl. And so she was adopted, and off they went. The little girl's name? The same as mine: Natalie.

Photo: Fluffy fur and diluted colors, and a playful paw, and that happy tail, like a flag.

Coincidence, say you? Hmmm. As my mother said, her Natalie (me) so wanted to save a kitty but couldn't, and already has Ladybug to love. This little Natalie wanted and needed a kitty friend, but didn't have a kitty, so the right Natalie for the kitty was found.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Last Saturday Sewing Circle: Materials for The Inaugural Meeting

We've done it! A group of us are trying out a period sewing circle, to meet on the last Saturday of every other month. At this inaugural meeting, we'll talk about the varied nature of period sewing, think about what each of us would like to make, and I will show a portion of my antique clothing and period-inspired and period reproduction pieces.

Photo: Pauline in her walking skirt, circa 1911. Photo courtesy Big Brown House.

Period-Inspired Skirts: A Fun Starting Project

Because many period-style skirts need fitting only at waist and sometimes hips, and because they're often made with straight seams, they make a good starting project. Fashionable and wearable they can be, too. Who doesn't like a little swish around the ankles?

Without getting too deeply into fashion history, I can tell you that in years past the term "walking skirt" meant a skirt that was easy to wear for, well, walks and rambles, shopping and informal occasions like snipping flowers. Walking length skirts were normal for working clothes, too, when you expected to become grubby and needed to climb or kneel without the pretty appendage of a tail -- a train -- trailing behind you.

Photo: Dame Nellie Melba, 1909, in a skirt with quite a, train. From State Library of Queensland, Australia, uploaded to Flickr.

Here's a video from 1904 with many shots of women in skirts of walking length: see how they move! (See also the post on Edwardian Promenade about the clip.)

Here's an original walking skirt with felled seams. Functional and pretty! See the blog post "Anatomy of a 1900-1911 Vintage White Heavy Cotton Skirt".

Some Skirt Options for Our Circle

Sense and Sensibility Patterns carries a pattern called the Beatrix skirt, that was inspired by the skirts that Beatrix Potter lived in on her farm. The style dates to 1909 and depending on the fabric used and how you cut the waist and hem, and how you sew the seams can go from outdoorsy and functional to the elegant clinging line of that year, complete with a small train. The skirt is fullish, but is not meant to flare out. Like most skirts of that year, it's composed of multiple gored panels: 9, in this case. The panels help shape the skirt around the body for a smoother line.

Photo: Outdoorsy version of the Beatrix skirt. Photo courtesy Sense and Sensibility patterns.

I've made this skirt several times and have helped friends to make it too, and each time it's a fun process. There was the dressy version, for instance, and now the version that will be incorporated into a lingerie dress. For our purposes, the pattern is especially helpful because Jennie Chancey, the pattern designer, has posted illustrated directions. What I can show is how the pattern can be altered and period techniques used to create different effects.

A 1911 Skirt That Flares More
You might also be interested in a plain five-gore dress skirt from 1911. That year skirts flared out around the feet a bit more...the last year long skirts would do so. This pattern for this one comes from a high school textbook of the era called Textbook on Domestic Art and must be drafted. You can download the entire book from Google and print out the pages you need.

The drafting directions are clear, and the process requires little more than large sheets of Kraft paper or newspaper, a yardstick, a pencil and eraser, and the ability to add and subtract. Detailed drafting directions for skirts as a whole, based on a five-gore underskirt (petticoat), start on page 74, with directions specific to the skirt itself starting on page 119. Now, since these patterns are based on proportions, we may have to fiddle with the initial draft a bit if you aren't proportioned like ladies of the era, and most women aren't: the textbook expected this. See my blog post on drafting and using algebra to get the right sweep on an underskirt from a pattern in the same textbook, for instance. It all ended well...

An Narrow 1912 Skirt

If you're willing to read teeny-tiny print and do some drafting, you can draft a narrow skirt, from 1912 from Thornton's International System of Ladies' Garment Cutting, available on the Costumer's Manifesto site. I made a skirt for my friend Denise using one of these patterns, called the "New Style Costume Skirt" and it turned out very nicely. Construction was easy since the skirt was only in two pieces, but if you decide to make this skirt, we'll need to cut the fabric somewhat large and carefully fit it to you because it is snug around the hips.

For directions, see page five in the series of scans and look for the New Style Costume Skirt image and its directions page .

If you wish to try another Thornton's pattern, or any other Edwardian pattern, for that matter, that will be fun too, but since I'll not have made those skirts, we will have to do some fiddling and thinking things out, especially if the pattern is to be drafted.

After We Meet, What Next?

If you use a commercial pattern, you'll obtain the pattern, and if you want to draft one, you can either try it yourself or we can meet and do at least part of it together...if you don't mind small children underfoot.

Then, it's on to cutting out and fitting, and in my next Sewing Circle post, I'll write about period manuals that I think cover these issues most clearly, along with some superb dress diaries, fully illustrated, that show all this in action!

See you soon, ladies!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Edwardian "Lingerie" Dress Diary: Part 5

It's been awhile since I've had much to report on the Edwardian tea dress that I started, goodness, last spring! You know how it get sidetracked with other projects.

Anyhow, I've gone back to it in as much earnest as I can muster, and have gotten the sleeve cuffs mostly added. This doesn't sound like much, but the cuffs are entirely of period lace, and I had so little of that lace that one cuff wasn't long enough to go around my wrist.

Old Sewing Stitches Make a New Cuff

So I had to take a tiny remaining lace fragment, and attach it to one end. I did not seam it the way you might with two pieces of fabric, but used as closely as I could an old method described in Frances' Grimble's The Ladies' Stratagem -- I laid one end of the lace over the other end, hoping that the pattern would match up decently, and then very carefully overcast and sewed the two pieces together with as invisible stitches as I could do, following the curves of the lace pattern.

Photo: the cuff in progress: the ends are being overcast together. Click the image to see how the pieces of lace are joined.

What this did was to blend the fragment in with the rest of the lace...if you look carefully you can see the join, of course, but it's not only less visible than a regular seam would be, but uses less lace so was able to eke out what I needed to go 'round my wrist.

I still had 'nary enough lace to seam up the lace into a cuff, soooo...I am in the process of overcast stitching the two ends together, with tiny, very close stitches. Again, this is an old method.

One last thing. One cuff makes use of an existing period machine-stitched hem to create the cuff hem. The piece of lace for the other hem -- the too-short one, natch -- lacks this premade hem.

Soooo, once again I turned to an old hand-sewing method. I turned the hem double like normal, but then "stitched", and this is the formal term, down the hem. To make a line of stitching, you 1) pull the needle up through the fabric for your first stitch, then 2) carry the thread back behind where it came up a few threads, push the needle through to create a stitch, then pull it up in front of the stitch the same number of threads forward as you did backwards, then 3) carry the thread back and place it in the hole made by the previous stitch. Do this over and over again. You will create what looks like machine stitching, but with only one thread.

This stitch is time-consuming, and I am not yet very good at it at all, but the result does look enough like the machine stitching on the other cuff to take casual observation. See the picture above.

I took a tip from Elizabeth Stewart Clark's board and attached the work to my knee with a pin. The tension created on the fabric helps you to make a straight line. Other sources suggest you draw or base a line to follow, so your stitching line won't wander: I'd forgotten that when I did this hem and you can see the line wander a little.

Photo: the bodice to date

Next Steps

After I get the other cuff attached, and bind the raw inside edges with voile, then I finish the back of the bodice with hooks and eyes, and sew down endlets of lace back there, then attach the bodice to the skirt, oh, and add period lace insertion to about a foot above the skirt hem.

Cheri Owned Fabric of the Same Pattern: Did It Come from the Same Dress?

I wrote about doing up the cuffs on the Sense and Sensibility board, and what an usual surprise, Cheri wrote to say: "Oh I wish now that I would have waited to sell some fabric that I just sold. ::sighs:: Did yours look anything like this: Why is it when I get rid of something or sell something, it's afterwards that I wish I hadn't?!"

Photo: Cheri's piece of fabric. Photo courtesy Cheri.

Oh, my goodness, it's the same pattern! Plus, she bought it from an Ebay dealer too: I'd gotten mine from a dealer in Maine, but she cannot remember where hers came from. We wonder...was it the same person?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Boots!

New boots, new boots, nothing like the love for new boots.

These are darlings, besides being so comfortable, as so many boots definitely are not. They're what a friend called paddock boots, from Bob Mickler's, a tack shop here in town, and their shape and the snap button boots on the side recall the button boot style that I love so well.

Made by Ariat, they're sturdy as anything, constructed of strong leather that still manages to be supple, and the sole not only has a shank as almost as wide as three fingers held together, but also one of those air package thingies inside. I can easily wear them all day.

What an unexpected Christmas gift from my husband! We'd agreed to exchange only a book apiece, but there was this lovely treat, a big box under the Christmas tree, and was I happy! I've been without boots. Had wanted badly to purchase the Fugawee Victoria balmoral-style boots, which the Ariat boots hint at, but since whatever boots I found needed to be worn with everything, indoors and out, period or not, these were so practical. Hooray for practicality with a traditional, vintage touch.

Right boot, right side

Ditto, left side

Left side

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Split Seconds: A Cookie with Warm Memories

Split Seconds are simplicity itself to make. Do not let the title fool you into thinking that they're "partly homemade" baked things. No, these are butter cookies dotted on top with your favorite jam or preserve and they are delicious in the way only butter cookies can be.

Because my husband and I have a bet on that we will leave desserts alone for an entire six months (I make exceptions for ladies' teas and Easter), today I wave goodbye to baking and sweets for awhile by baking these cookies, and filling the house with a favorite aroma and even nicer memories.

Cooking Collections of Memory

Back in the 1980s I started what became a series of recipe collections, each contained in a bound artist's sketch book, on nice thick paper. Each book was filled over several years and each reflects, by accident, my favorite dishes and menus during that time. Because many of the recipes are accompanied by notes, the results are also an imperfect history: old beaux, sisters, friends, dinners and parties get their time, and later there is a recounting of the evening my husband and I became engaged, and a long account written during September 11.

What I wrote about this recipe, back in book number 1: known oddly enough as Second Cookbook, 1987:

One of my earliest cookie memories. Mom used to make these pretty often, and sometimes I think I can remember her first kitchen, or the one in the first house she and Daddy ever owned. it had red counters, and lots of windows, and red and white checked curtains. One of the counters was like a bar and you could sit on one side, the breakfast nook side, and watch mom cook -- especially I remember helping her bake (i.e., eat dough, pat it or cut it out or lick batter from spoons). [Today's note: I wrote this in the eighties, when being a child wasn't so far back. Now that kitchen, circa 1963-1968, would be a spot I would ooh over as a friendly retro kitchen, with those handmade cafe curtains and linoleum -- Mom, correct me if I am wrong! -- counters with aluminum edging, and half-windowed back door out into a sunny yard with flower beds, and a white picket fence that closed with a chain and cannon-ball weight.]

Now, you can make these into long ropes which you cut into bars, or you can make them into little rounds. Red jam is best -- it looks like rubies.

Mom made them while we lived in Germany, too (when I was around five or six years old).

The cookies, attributed to a Mrs. Karen M. Fellows, come from "Fun-Filled Butter Cookie Cookbook", by Pillsbury.

The Recipe

[Note: My cooking notes are in brackets. The rest is in Mom's words.]

Bake at 350 degree F for 125-20 min.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Sift together

2 c flour [all-purpose white flour; I use unbleached local flour from Wiesenberger Mills]
1/2 tsp baking powder (double acting) [note that this recipe dates to a time when single-acting powder was commonly on store shelves, too]
2/3 cups sugar

Blend in

3/4 cups soft butter
1 unbeaten egg
2 tsp vanilla

to make a dough.

Place on a greased cookie sheet, either in long rolls [which you have rolled in your hands like play dough] or in little flattened rounds.

Make a depression 1/4-1/3" deep, either in the rounds, or [down] the middle of the rolls. Fill depressions with red jam or jelly. Strawberry, or especially rasberry, is best. [Since then I have used other types of jam and today, in fact, I am using a peach jam from Renfro Valley, Kentucky.]

Bake until light golden brown. [Again, about 15-20 minutes, but watch carefully, because butter makes cookies that are a light golden brown move to dark burned brown in what seems like a heartbeat.]

While warm, if in bars [Mom probably meant to write "long rolls"], cut [cookies] into squares. [We always cut them into narrow oblongs, so that they are not so big.]

This evening I will add pictures!