Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goldwork-Embroidered Petticoat: The Swags Are Done!

Here debuts the new bottom-of-the-petticoat. The last stitches went into the goldworked swags last evening, and I sighed a long sigh. That was a pleasant, slow, mosey-speed project, handling tiny spangles and wriggles of purl, and wee gold beads that glowed and sparkled like caught rays of sunlight.

Completed goldwork swags of leaves, abstract flower elements, and bows.

The full petticoat as it stands -- lays -- now.

The full petticoat. It's embroidered all across the front panel,
50-plus inches.
Here's how it looks when hung up. A little more elegant than mashed out on the floor, eh?

The petticoat is meant to hang narrowly down the body.
The spangles, in particular, catch sunshine, and I hope, candlelight.

Checking to see what the elements do when caught by the sunshine.
 On a whim I took out the gown it was designed for and laid it in place. The gown is trained, so the petticoat sits up high in it, reminding me of a doll's dress.

Perhaps I'll do a photo shoot, perhaps...wouldn't it be neat to see how it looks on? I haven't tried it yet!

What's next on the horizon?  A breather from this project, I think. The next phase is to build out the swags with interwoven elements in silk chenille and flat silk (ovalle) thread.

The design is taking shape slowly, but it shouldn't be rushed. Probably a couple of thoughts will be sketched and then mulled and chewed on until one of them, or a combination of them, hits as being right. To help, I am gathering extant examples and designs on a Pinterest 18th Century Embroidered Garments board.

Meantime, that little sleeveless spencer is calling!

Today I leave you with...

...our crabapple tree, in full blow. Unaccountably it reminds me of the petticoat. It isn't gold, and the blossoms aren't artificially swagged, yet, there is something the two share. A controlled palette? Out and out luxe?

A person can't stay on the philosophical heights too long. Here is a more appropriate ending. That round ball of mostly tummy is Blueberry Muffin, looking super-sized, rolling in joy, or is she just trying to scrape off that heavy fur?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sabine Has Made Pattens: Yes, Real Pattens!

A teaser: pattens' progress
Short post here. How can I tell the story of her patterns better than our Sabine? Go and read "Hoch Hinaus!" on Kleidung um 1800. In German and English.

Echt hoch hinaus!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

1790s Sleeveless / Convertible Spencer: Fitting the Toile

Sleeveless spencer toile view from the front
So you thought I killed the sleeveless, convertible spencer project, did you? April Fools early, for not a bit of it; the project's alive and very well, thank you.

In fact, the little breeze of a garment is now toiled and fitted as of this morning, with the expert fitting help of my friend Jane. It is just SO much easier and more efficient to have someone help wrinkles on the back, no strange puckers seen when your arms are at your side, caused by toiling with the toile with your arms up, trying awkwardly to pin! Thank you and bless you, Jane.

Besides, it was a delightful friendly morning full of excellent coffee, excellenter conversation and lunch, and a trip to admire the garden, where the asparagus is up, the spinach wintered over, the sweet peas putting out shoots, and the cut forsythia branches used as staking aids last fall have rooted and are blooming! Tough as nails is right, Jane!

A Refresher: The Design

Here below is the overall design I following. Remember it? The February 1796 Gallery of Fashion sleeveless spencer, or body, with epaulettes and chain in the back?

Add caption
Recall the pretty little inspiration sleeveless spencer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (called by them "jacket (spencer)"?

Finally, the pattern I drew up? Have a look at the 1790s Convertible Spencer: The Actual Project Begins post. Gee, that was back in January.

Whoop! I forgot to report on how I draped the thing on a pillow dummy wearing my cross-front dress. Oh, phooey. Hope the images are still around; the old computer died, and they may have deleted. If they live still, will report in a non-chronological post.

Suffice it to say that I dressed a fat pillow, not having my dress form at hand, with my cross-front dress, and then draped the paper over it, first following the lines of the dress, seams, and then changing them to fit the lines of the Met spencer. Then I added wide seam allowances for fitting, and cut out the pattern pieces.

It felt very period to do so. I was taking the lines of a dress that I had, and adjusting them for a different style. As explained to Jane this morning, each period has its conventions in cut; the conventions are subject to endless variations, but once you learn them, you can adapt what fits you endlessly.

All right, so you are somewhat refreshed, I hope, and the fitting pictures will make more sense.

The Fitting

Swedish tracing paper has body, and is good for making toiles of fitted garments of firm fabrics, or so I have found. Plus it's easy to draw on and cut, and translucent, so it's easy to see seamlines and so on underneath.

It's also white, and I had donned a cream top this morning, and Jane's house is in neutrals. Mmm. Can you see, or shall you squint like I am right now?

Here is the back.

The back and side back seams needed no tweaking. The back fits smoothly. You can see my stays underneath (made by Sarah Jane Meister, and so comfortable!)

The back is meant to be wide and steeply tiny diamond here, more of a trapezoid.

Oh my, I just had a breathless, horrible moment, looking at that image. It appeared I had placed the straps incorrectly! Actually, while pinning everything together this morning, there was a dorky moment when I pinned the straps to the right and left of just the front pieces, and left the back hanging. Jane laughed when it wouldn't go on.However, those wide allowances for fitting are fooling the eyes. Let's look at a marked-up copy.

Hmm. Now that I look at it, I see a basic error. The garment edges are colored in blue. When pinning, I didn't fold back the armscye seam allowance. The edge of the toile is snug, but the garment line when sewn is way loose. Will have to take at least part of the seam allowance away and try the toile on again. Don't want too snug, but not this loose. Dress fabric is liable to blouse out of too-large armscyes.

Plus, while the Met spencer has very much of a squared neckline -- from an earlier garment iteration, perhaps? -- it's too boxy and too low. I like the curve of the fashion plate. Even the adjustments in red are wrong. The height is better, but I want to curve the neckline a little. Just a little, because the straps really are just rectangles, but just a wee. The plaiting of the lace trim will lend a curve.

The waistline looked too high, so I marked a lower one in red, but now am rethinking that. O Hive Mind, your thoughts?

Here is the front.

Here's another very basic error. Have a look at the pattern that I made, in the post linked above. Note how wide the fronts are. Why? I did the design so long ago the reason has escaped. Perhaps it was the fat pillow distorting the cut, perhaps it was me being generous with the double hem that I will need in the center front in which to insert a bone to each side and also lacing eyelets.

Whatever: we have TOO much fabric entirely. I have folded it in back like wings so it's pretty funny looking. In addition, am not sure whether to lace it up edge to edge or to leave a little room.

Do you think the garment would look goofy with dress showing through: this is, after all, the early Regency, not the Long 18th Century, or 1830. So I am going to lace edge to edge and if evidence shows the contrary, then eh, I take in some fabric.

Might fuss with the height of the front a bit. Imagine it without the seam allowance and it seems pretty nice...or is it?

The waistline needs shortening, just a little. Also, while my pattern includes the spencer skirts, or peplum as we would call it, the fashion plate lacks it and frankly, I think the spencer will look better without the little skirts, so I am leaving them off. Can reuse this pattern again later for a wool spencer, in which the peplum would make better sense.

Then too, two tiny vertical darts will need to be set in the chest area, as in the Met spencer, once I have donned the real dress and am working with the silk. Doing those darts now would be a study in failure.

Here are the adjustment marks:

The last image, the side view. All okay here. Didn't Sarah Jane do some pretty embroidery on those stays?

So, first fitting is done. A few tweaks, then it's on to dying the fabric lilac and cutting it out!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What We've Been Up To

Christopher's bridge dance, on top of a
so-cold stream.
Not much costuming. After a late winter spell, springtime has arrived and everyone in this family, everyone in town, is outdoors as long as it's not actively raining. Sunshine's been aplenty, so hours outdoors are aplenty.

Yesterday the boys and I ventured a first real hike. Some miles out in the countryside, where the land lumps and bumps next to the Kentucky River, there's a sanctuary called Raven Run, that's life and protection to bobcats and deer, mink and muskrats, beavers and spring peeper frogs, wildflowers and moss, great trees and enormous vines.

There are springs, and homesites, tiny family cemetaries, some. like Mr. Moore's, of just one headstone, small streams and Raven Run itself, ruins of an overshot mill at that creek, and in one corner, palisades -- tall cliffs -- overhanging the Kentucky River at the bottom of a gorge.

They had first lessons in trailcraft: how to stay on the trail, and to lean into steep spots, how to find good footholds, and how to put one foot right in front of the other, Indian-wise, so as to be as quiet and make as little mark as possible.

At what the trail map called the water gate, where the foundations of the mill surrounded small cascades on flat-laid bedrock, we paused for a long while. Who can resist playing in silver shallows? Not me, certainly, who grew up next to what what was the most fascinating creek possible, loaded with dam possibilities, fallen logs, shallow cave-like recesses in low shale cliffs, fossils galore, overhanging hemlocks, and bloodroot and phlox and grapes.

Successfully negotiating the creek.

A moss forest clings to a miniature cliff.

Several miles later we returned to the picnic grounds and had a second, much-needed picnic boost, and then Noah fell asleep on the ride home, while Christopher supported his head in one hand and dangled the other out the car window to enjoy the breeze. All sleep last night was deep and happy, despite a midnight thunder-boomer.

Future hikes? Undoubtably. They are already laying their plans.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Goldwork-Embroidered Petticoat: an Impromptu Embroidery Frame

Sophia, my impromptu embroidery frame
Last post I promised to show you how necessity prompted me to create an impromptu embroidery frame that supports itself, has a large working surface, and allows me to embroider with both hands at once. Here she is.

Meet Sophia*, a former footstool, now the perfect portable embroidery frame for light, loosely woven fabrics.

KEY NOTE: this will NOT work for stiff or tightly woven opaque silks, because every pin used to attach the work to the frame will leave a pinhole that is essentially permanent, unless somehow you can massage each back into place or hide them with trim.

*Named in honor of a friend's granddaughter.

Making the Frame

How is she made, you ask?

It's dead simple. Let me show you.

Get yourself an old footstool. It should have no sharp edges anywhere, no scrapes or dings that can catch at fabric or embroidery. Take off the top so that you are left with just the frame. Then possess yourself of yards and yards of cotton tape (I get mine from William Booth, Draper), or tear up old fabric into long strips and make one continous strip of them.

Now, wrap all sides of the footstool in the tape. Wrap as tightly as you can, and wrap the stool in two layers. You want a tight-but-soft surface into which you can stick long pins to hold your work in place.

Tie the ends of the tape or fabric in place with half knots. Done!

Starting to wrap the footstool.
 How to Use the Frame

Stretch the fabric to be embroidered over the surface of the frame. Then at intervals of an inch or so, pin the fabric to the tape. Smooth and tighten as you go, repinning if neccessary, and yes, it's usually neccessary to tighten a few pins.

In the image below the white-headed pins have secured the work to the frame.

See the white-headed pins? That's where the work is
attached to the embroidery frame.
 Here is the frame at work. I am setting spangles with silk thread. One hand is beneath the frame; you can just see it through the fabric, which is very sheer. The right hand is on top.

In the top left corner I have set the spangles on a needlebook so that I can just pick them up one at a time with the needle. The cotton has a nap so that the spangles sit in place. Purl sits well there too. I'd like to make a velvet dish like goldwork embroiderers used to use, but haven't.

Using the embroidery frame.
I can work just about anywhere with this frame: at a table, with it set on my knees on a chair, or set on my legs when sitting on the floor. The rest of the petticoat just floats around the frame. I am careful to keep the area clean, and watch for affectionate cats who want to lie on my efforts!


When I found the footstool years ago, it had a plywood top slapped on with brads, and a thin foam pad glued atop that, and the fabric cushion was missing. The footstool body was clearly handcarved and had a nice patina, and I was sure that some DIYer had put the skinny top on it, so I snapped it up at a garage sale price and brought it home, intending to recover it myself. Life intervened, and it lived for years holding books and sweaters in half-hidden locations.

Enter the goldwork petticoat project. You should know that had I wanted to embroider this petticoat from the get-go, I'd have embroidered the fabric panels before making up the petticoat. That was the usual MO, then and now. I'd have used a version of the classic rectangular embroidery frame, as seen below in Diderot's Encyclopedia. The broideress sitting in the right of the plate is working on a man's waistcoat. For those interested, you can read Diderot's description of the various types of embroidery in his encyclopedia entries.
Brodeur, plate from Diderot's Encyclopedia.
Image courtesy what appears to be an EU project;
cannot find About Us page on the site. 
You can get embroidery frames today, but they are very expensive, and as you can see in the plate, one has to stitch tapes to the edges of the fabric and stretch the fabric with cords into a drum-tight surface. Not going to do that with a finished petticoat, am I?

On this project I had first worked with an embroidery hoop, but such hoops limit your working area and will not work for continuous motifs like can't smash goldwork into the side of the hoop without utterly destroying it. No go there!

Then I used a square frame that Dad made me ages ago to make thread table mats with. I wrapped the sides with cotton tape, and pinned the petticoat to it. It worked okay...that's what you see in previous posts, but the work area was small and I couldn't get my hands underneath since one hand had to hold the frame. The frame didn't fit into my old floor stand with clamp, either, and besides that thing is ugly.

So, noodling about, I remembered master embroiderer Robert Haven telling me he made his own frames, and Norah from Nashville's antique hoop stand all wrapped in tape that I saw last fall at a tambour embroidery class, and I ached for something pretty, something with grace. And bethought me of the forlorn footstool. The rest is now history.

If you are interested in traditional embroidery frames, they are out there. There are all kinds at verying price points, but before buying, I'd be sure to read up on them, at length. Some work better than others, and many, I'd say most, are not meant for the large expanses of fabric costumers use. See Mary Corbet's Needle 'N Thread for details. She is my current favorite Web source for things embroidery and she does careful reviews.