Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Steampunk Tea Part Two: Oh, Do We Have Bustle!

It's evening three after the steampunk tea, and outside the breeze is still blowing the last bits of Autumn off the record. Yet how can I complain of a little wind, when much of the East Coast is enduring a flooded, wind-wracked, nerve-wracked sort of hell? Most of the rest of the country is thinking of you all, and praying the storm just gets itself gone.

To Rebecca up in the D.C. area, we are so glad you all made it through neatly. To cheer you up even more, as promised here are the last of the pictures of the steampunk tea.

The edibles subtly convey our state's culture. Kentuckians are especially good at tea sandwich fillings: olive nut (which is what it says, whipped into cream cheese and sometimes mayonnaise, and herbs), ham salad (which is, you guessed it: like chicken salad but with finely chopped ham instead); Benedictine (cucumbers and cream, dyed green); chicken salad, pimento cheese, and numberless other variations. Our table was loaded with a goodly assortment, and rounded out by spinach and nutmeg tarts, tiny vanilla cakes, apple tart, and red velvet cake, as velvety and as deeply truly red as always, except for the popping white of the frosting.

Look at the massive wrinkles in the bodice! It fit well when I made it. There's an easy-but-annoying explanation for the iffy look: the corset underneath is upside down. However, at this juncture the bustle overskirt was sitting neatly, for I'd not sat down, nor been running about, as I'd do later. It is interesting to see how easily disarranged a dress can become, unless one takes careful steps to avoid that. More on that later.

And that durn hat! So it was askew right from the get go. What shall I claim as excuse? Why, the truth. I dressed before we set up the tea things, and was in a dreadful hurry -- hence the corset/bodice mess. I looked at the immense chignon hairpiece I'd made, thought of how I'd be contorting myself into frustration to attach its minute combs to the back of my skull, and discarded it. Next went the gloves, simply forgotten. The proper belt buckle was waved off as just too much effort too. Noting the minutes ticking, I flopped the hat atop the head, rummaged in the too-dark travel bag for three vicious hat pins, and finding them, hesitatingly punched them through the hat, heedless of the handsome lace, and into my hair, praying quietly that I wouldn't graze the skin, and thanking Heaven for a current tetanus shot. I wonder how many women have contracted lockjaw from contaminated hat pins in the head?

One of the party's conceits was that I'd greet everyone as they stepped off the airship, thank them for flying the Concord, and wave them into the house. In the event, only a few passengers were treated to the schtick; ah well, it's so hard not to say "Oh, hellllllo! So good to see you; I've been missing you", and offer to take their platters for them...

Our partygoers, before we tucked into afternoon tea. [Durn hat.]

Rebecca, we decided on a buffet: no formal tea seating this time, but we did balance our cups and plates without spills, so you will be proud of us. Shall I whisper that in an attempted sniff Julia plopped the lid from the lavender "elixir of life" bottle into her tea, to the sound of snorts and hoots?

Leaden outdoors as it was, with spots of rain, we went outdoors anyway for playacting and to bat at a very special pinata.

Herewith, proof that Jenni and I really were after bustles worthy of balancing a dinner plate.
I could have carried a small cat, or even a small child, back there, had the steels been more numerous... [Yes, those are stewardessian golden wings on that hat.]

Pinata. What did you think it might represent, other than an airship? Jenni built it, Rebecca. It was neat. It was well built.

Hanging it from the pergola was simplicity.

Whack, whack!
Whomp. The ordinarily tough tobacco stick broke in half, then in thirds.
A tree limb was substituted. Whack!
And so it went, rounds and rounds, and the pinata held and held, until finally enough of it opened up to let fall some candy, and we called it a success.

(Video courtesy Jenni of Living With Jane)

Our teahouse proprietress Polly called us back in.

Not before I requested a back view of the dress, never having seen it, and not being able to turn myself around fast enough to catch a view.

Oh vanity, thy name is Woman. The first sight of the result had me sigh in frustration. The afternoon had not been over-kind to the overskirt. It had lost its symmetry, and the rosette at the waistline went off center. A second look many hours later brings more charitable thoughts; I look probably as real as most women do after some exercise in a big poufy complex outfit.

Here's that rosette. It was a duck to make and I'll do more of them with pleasure. It's a close cousin to one in Harper's Bazar.

Then it was back inside for charades and a last cup tea and a nibble. The afternoon's light faded, we wished friends goodbye, and multiple hands helped Polly wash up and put everything to rights. In some ways such traditional work is as fun as a party. More time for conversation, for breathing deep, for slowing down, and Monday morning quarterbacking the event.

Oh dear, I'd write more, but small Christopher is inconsolable in his bed. He has had five days of fever, on and off and tonight he is flushed and damp. Noah has had six. We thought they were well Sunday but that was either the boys' ruse to get to see their grandparents, or perhaps Fate's poor sense of humor, for here we are again....  Tomorrow promises another doctor's visit.

It all started a week ago Monday, after I had been sick that weekend. Both boys have missed school and all of us have missed sleep. My face shows the puffiness of sleeplessness in the tea pictures. I am so glad not to have missed that tea: what a relaxing moment of fun and sanity!

Oh, dear boy, do stop crying. I've been in to comfort you three times already...no, your voice is too pitiful, here I come...

So ciao, everyone. [Oh, he has stopped the wails. Probably fallen asleep mid-sniff.]

Next up, more tidbits on the dress construction (with views of my extant 1870s dress construction for comparison), and notes on what is left to be done. Wait, it's not done? No, it's not. Critical eyes will note that the skirt flounce lacks a finish, there are no bias folds covering the trim stitching -- an almost de riguer element of early 1870s trims -- there should be rosettes at the front overskirt "wings" and at the overskirt belt, and at the neckline lace is simply tacked in to the bodice lining. Many women would have worn an ornate jabot or equally ornate and removable lace collar.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Steampunk Tea, Part One

Natalie cannot hit an airship pinata to save her life.
After a few good whacks at thin air, her hat
slips askew.
My dearest Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are most cordially invited to Afternoon Tea at Rose Cottage Teahouse, Proprietress Mrs. Polly, on Sunday, the twenty-eighth of October. Rose Cottage is acclaimed for the taste and beauty of its Furnishings, its genial garden Setting, and applauded for the excellence of its fine Edibles and exotic Teas, not only within Scotia, the gentle nation in which it comfortably resides, but also so far as the lands of Lexington, Winchester, Richmond, and points farther afield.
We take the liberty of hoping that you will choose to honor us with your presence, and to afford your extra pleasure, will be pleased to carry you thither, and home again, in the famed and well-appointed airship Concord. Arrival and docking promptly at 4:30 post meridian. Our pilot does beg that any weapons shall be securely sheathed or holstered, and wishes to favor the ladies with the gentle word that hats should be well pinned and skirts perhaps weighted, to avert the possibility of any unfortunate accidents which might otherwise occur.
The favor of a reply is earnestly requested.
Ever your most sincere servant,
Mrs. Natalie
Stewardess, the Concord

Just hours ago the airship Concord docked at the Famous Kelly Avenue Teahouse, Rose Cottage, disgorging a set of friends, ready for a delightful afternoon.  Polly, our proprietress, and I, the Concord stewardess dispensing tea and sympathy, were joined by warrioresses, Mary Poppins (soaring in on her own umbrella), and an intrepid time traveler carrying the elixir of eternal life, trying to escape the clutches, teeth and net of a bounty hunter.

The menu of attractions:
  • afternoon tea, in three courses
  • "Guess what I am thinking of", a parlor game
  • charades -- miming common proverbs
  • an airship pinata!
Here you must know that this party was also in honor of our friend, now departed for northerner climes. Rebecca, we missed you very much, and dedicate the following glimpses, in this post and the next, of the afternoon to you.

"Not the net, dear sir, not the net!" cries Jenni, as the bounty hunter threatens vile capture, and the despoiling of the elixir of eternal life. Did you know that eternal life smells like lavender? Really, it does; one sniff of the precious oil is divine.

In which our proprietress displays her hat, and, sylph-like, blends with her tree. Oh roses, thou late bloomers, show thy faces bravely next days, for the forcasters have predicted snow by Wednesday.

We had finished off the airship pinata, the candy all spilling to earth, and decided to pose all disheveled. My hat's even further askew, and the bodice all rucked up from batting at the pinata with a tobacco stick. What? You think that's some sort of cigarette, eh? Ah, friend, but we're in Kentucky. Tobacco sticks are about four feet long, of good tough wood roughly cut, and spiked at one end, and are endlessly useful, not just for propping up tobacco plants, but for staking anything...or hitting anything. Awful handy, they are.

Jenni (right) and I (left)

At parties I am a dreadful photographer, so that's quite literally all I have. Soon as compatriots send me the goods, Rebecca, I will post more!

Oh, and yes, the dress performed wonderfully, although I was not happy about the bodice fit. I appear to have lost weight, was often standing slightly hunched over, making the bodice wrinkle, didn't employ side bust pads, and so on. So different an effect than during the multiple fittings! 

It's comfortable to wear, however. A bustle is not as big as a crinoline skirt, so I had no fear of knocking over small tables. Plus, it collapses neatly when one sits, spreading a pretty small sea of fabric about, but revealing nothing. Second thing, I only backed up onto my own train once, and didn't fall, and only one party-goer trod on it, and it didn't rip. That in itself marks success. Third, the stiff sleeve ruffles you see on 1870s dresses have an advantage over more fly-away 18th century or 1930s versions: they stay where you put them and do not drag in the soup. Had they been airier, I'd be daubed with Polly's excellent cream of tomato soup in the above photo.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Steampunk Black Dress: A Shrunken Sleeve Cuff

Sorry, Mrs. C.: you thought the gargantuan cuff mad and Victorian, and it was definitely Steampunkish, but I thought it might attack me, Zombie-like, so the lace went away. For this weekend's event it's better so, for I will be playing an airship stewardess. Later we can address a more proper lace effect, with better lace, better placed.

What we lack for this event:
  • overskirt belt
  • sewing bias folds above the skirt flounce
  • tacking down the overskirt trim (the bias fold part of that will come later)
  • lace at neckline
  • airship insignia
  • hat!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Steampunk Black Dress: A Gargantuan Sleeve Ruffle

Lord love a duck, what is that THING at the end of my so-elegant sleeve?
A sleeve ruffle, made smaller than the original, believe it or not. The lace is vintage cotton, so it rather passes the time test, although no, it's not the Brussels lace the October 24, 1868 Harper's Bazar suggested but, eh, I don't love it. It's gone beyond spiritedly poufy to frowsy. I am tucking it in until it's no more than a peep at the edges. Plus, the gathers are going to be ironed into place all the way to the ruffle edge, to tone them down. Bleh.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Steampunk Black Dress: Progress...

Creep under a rock, did I? No, just lots going on, and so working on this dress had to go into background mode. Nevertheless, except for the overskirt waistband, or belt, as it was known, and the interior cords that pull up the overskirt, the dress is functionally complete, and I am trimming it.

Here it is.

Being a night-time shot, the color is not the best, but can you see how it's getting there?

What we have is a scantly box-pleated flounce, and box-pleated sleeves sewn down in two parallel rows, to create a very 18th century look. I wanted puffings, thinking that the black cotton trim fabric would be thin enough, but it's just a tiny bit too stiff to puff nicely. Voile would have worked better for puffings.

Still to complete, if I have time before the event:
  • overskirt trim: a single, narrow box-pleating*, with bias band and tiny header
  • double box pleating above the skirt flounce
  • bodice: single narrow box pleat with bias band and no header, and lace collar
  • iron the thing!
*often referred to then as a plaiting

After the event this weekend, I promise construction posts. This has been a super learning experience in the ways of handling linings, draping, and trimming.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a taste of what we've been doing: riding trains with dear friends! Here, the boys with their Atlanta friends.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Steampunk Black Dress: Overskirt Sneak Peek

Today I took a few minutes to loosen up the shoulder muscles after hunching over a computer all day to...pin an overskirt toile.

Take number one: a bit blah.

Is anything more relaxing than sculpture that can be undone and moved around with the move of a pin? It's like working with clay -- so malleable. Good for the shoulders, good for the soul.

Here's take number two, a few hours later. In the lamplight it's a bit hard to see the effect: can you squint it out? I've curved up the front piece where it joins the side piece, taking an upward-facing pleat in the front piece.

Then I angled all the side piece pleats at the waist upwards and backwards. Mmm, I like that. Angling the waist pleats curves the two upper pleats between the front and side pieces into two swags that emphasize the pannier pouf and carry both the front and the side a bit to the back.

Finally I further emphasized the curving edge of the front piece: I will have to cut it to shape.

Take number 2: there we go!

Doesn't look like the overskirt you expected, does it? Well, I became bored with the apron overskirt look, and opted for a split pannier design instead. It was very popular in 1869-1870, and there are several Peterson's Magazine patterns for this sort of overskirt.

I've chosen a favorite, the Panier Over-Skirt from the January 1869 issue. You can get the plate, the pattern and the full directions from Google Books' copy of the magazine. (See the Full-Text Fashion Magazines page on this blog for a link.) La Couturiere Parisienne has it too, although only partial directions: the directions for handling the second figure are not included. By the way, the pattern is very, very clever in its use of pleating to create side pannier poufing. My changes just emphasize the poufiness.

We're going for overskirt worn bt the second figure, on the right. She's wearing a vee-neck bodice by the way; the overall X pattern created by the bodice and overskirt trim is handsome and slimming.

Changes to the pattern:
  • making the back piece go the full breadth of my muslin;
  • cutting all the pieces three inches longer;
  • rounding off the front piece's bottom center edge and pleating it where it meets the bottom front of the side piece;
  • folding the two lowest upward-facing pleats between the front and side pieces much deeper;
  • pleating the side pieces, and angling them, to fit my waist better and to add some extra fluff;
  • simulating interior cords by pinning up the back into two poufs, one below the other.

The result is such fun. It's got the 18th century pannier effect going at the sides, and some nice pouf at the back. Once the real fabric is used, and lined, the effect will be even nicer. Okay, crossing fingers that it will!

Ciao for now...

Friday, October 05, 2012

Sewing with Babies Blog Award

An award awaited a morning or two ago! Sarah of Romantic History sweetly presented me with the Sewing with Babies Award. It recognizes mothers who try (and now and then fail) to find time to create something beautiful and/or useful with needle and thread, between feedings, nappy changes, laundry, nursery rhymes, and baby kisses.

I had to laugh: sewing with and around small children has been a fact of life for five years now. Over time, how I manage sewing with children has changed as they have changed, and as I have changed.

Now it's my turn to pass on the blessing. Here's how it works:
  • Post the text below, describing the award (you are of course welcome to use either of the images in this post on your own blog)
  • Link back to the person who gave you the award.
  • Describe what you do to make sewing possible, and still have a happy and content baby.
  • Pass on the award to three (or more) sewing and blogging mothers of small children.
Having to wear bear caps. One's willing to be amused.
The other is patently over it.
Mixing Sewing and Needles and Pins with Small Children

How do I make sewing possible and still have happy children? Is it fair to write that they like what I have made for them to wear? You be the judge: the pictures on this page may tell the tale.

The honest answer is that sewing takes a very back seat. It's children husband and household and job first, hobby second.

Like women of all eras, what I like to do is often saved for the times when the children are asleep. However, I have to be careful: those hours need to be shared with my husband, too. Lately I've been sewing and watching football with him. That's pleasant companionship. Since he does not watch much television, however, and I hardly at all, that means that I have to watch my ps and qs, and refrain from "hobbying" more than one or two times weekly.

Not enjoying their cowboy duds.
Since the boys are in school now, there is sometimes and hour or two on a non-work weekday, too. That's a real treat, because then I can sit in the sunshine or near a bright window, and leave cares behind completely as the needs of the project get happy, fully absorbed attention.

Like Sarah, I am a firm believer in quiet time for children...and adults. In the mid-afternoon, when the body slows down a bit anyway, is a good moment for the boys to read or to play quietly in their rooms, to let their minds wander, perhaps to sleep. If I am not napping too, that's a perfect moment to pull out the needle.

Will my Tinkertoy sword fit in the sewing box?
There are moments, however, when I can haul out the sewing box and work with the boys. That little cloth-covered box has fascinated them since they could sit up. The eraser that's unaccountably always lived in it has teething marks, the first thimble was lost down a heating vent, the hooks and eyes are mixed up, all because the contents of that box have been toys.

When they were younger, I sewed with them to just be with them, and to teach them about simple things: how cloth folds, what a seam is, and what seams are on their own clothes, what buttons are for, why mama likes to make things, and why they might like to make things, too. They were bright-eyed with my movements and then with the bright objects, and we could have as much as a half hour of them playing and me doing some handwork, before their interest flagged and we needed to move on to something else. Not long, eh? Precious time, though, precious time, for us together and for that chance to create.

Now they find missing needles and pins for me. Not by sitting on them, or walking on them, I will point out, so far. Then I get a good lecture on being careful with my things; it's turn and turn about.

At age five, they play ship or shop or soldier or tree service outdoors and I can sit in a sunny spot and do handwork. The point is, I only do handwork with the boys. I need to keep an eye on them of course, and be ready to lay down the needle to play with them a few minutes, when asked, or to offer rescue or help -- or to scold or referee.  That's another reason, I suppose, why most of my garments are handsewn: hand-sewing requires a mimimum of space and materials, and it's portable. I can sew where they are, so that they are out of mischief, and we are in companionship. They like this, I know. They will come up, and fiddle with the objects that used to fascinate them, and ask me what I am working on and ask to hold it. When they are a little older, I will ask them to join me, so they can learn, if they like.

Sewing and children blend together. Each is precious, each has its time and place.

So, to whom should this award travel next?
  • Living with Jane
    Dear friend Jenni and her little Autumn and my boys sometimes play together when we sew together; what could be happier than that?
  • Sew 18th Century
    Introduced to her blog by At the Sign of the Golden Scissors, I was hooked immediately. Her little girl is so darn cute in her pudding cap :}
  • Daze of Laur
    Laurie Tavan is well-known in the costuming community for the quality of her work, but for some reason I didn't discover her blog until recently. Her sense of humor when it comes to children is delicious. See for example "Further Assistance Not Required". Mothers of children and those owned by cats are likely to get a good low chuckle out of this one.
 This has been a joy to write. Happy fall, everyone!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Steampunk Black Dress: Houston, We Have a Bodice

Here it is. Unpressed, untrimmed, but functionally complete. The black bodice, which is really black and cream, and therefore in most lights looks gray.

The vee necked front, with three-quarter length sleeves.

Yes, yes, the neck is a little high. It has to support a standing pleated lace collar...

The back, showing how the coat-style sleeves curve towards the front, as if to shake hands or kiss.
My one concern: there is too much ease in that sleeve, so that I really had to do quite a bit of gathering. That should not be. Not at all. There should be a very little ease.

Oh deary dear. I am afraid I'll have to take these sleeves out and recut them with less of a sleeve head. I did choose the right size in Heather's pattern. Wonder why there is so much ease? Hmmm. Think I'll ask on the Truly Victorian site's bulletin board.

The combination of lining and interlining gives the entire bodice such structure. My 1850s bodice feels this way, and the 1870s bodice looks this way: although it lacks an interlining the polished cotton and taffeta are both crisp structurey sorts of fabric.

Peer closely at the image above. Do you see a cutting mistake? Do you? There is one...

Yes, I cut one side of the back on the wrong side of the fabric. It's hard to tell because the change is so minor, but there is a wrong side and a right side to the fabric. Oh well :}

Below, the inside. The bottom is faced with a bias strip, the neckline fashion fabric turned in and hemmed. As I'll tell you next post, that was the one step I believe another method would have looked better, although this one does the job.

Below, what we now call piping and was then called cording. It was a lot easier to do than I thought, although it took two extra steps.

That fabric is not nubby. It's perfectly smooth. What you see is a pattern of tiny triangles in black, woven in with the cream ground. It's beautiful fabric.

Oh, and the fashion gods must have thought me hubristic, because yes, the sleevils were a terrible plague. Again, later, after the pain is gone but the memory's fresh, I'll tell you all about facings, piping (cording), and the silly, silly, silly, silly sleeve mistakes that cost me time most unneccesarily.

Meanwhile, I have cut out the underskirt and will seam it up shortly. Then it's the overskirt, and lastly, the trim. If time grows short before the Halloween party, I can trim the dress conservatively and save the real frou-frou for later.