Sunday, 31 October 2010

Halloween

As many of you might have realized by now, I like dressing up, and so, naturally, I love Halloween. This year though, I didn’t plan to go to the church-hosted YSA party in Gothenburgh (more than two hours away), as I’m so tired, and it would be a Friday to Sunday thing – way too long for me right now. But a day or two before the Saturday dress up dance, some of my friends told me they’d only go for the one evening, and then home again, and asked me if I’d care to come. Well, that changed things, and I had to try to find a costume in a hurry.

In the end, I brought my 14th century white linen shift, and dressed up as a ghost, with a nasty looking “vampire bite” (made from fake blood paste from the toy shop, eye-liner, blush, eye shadow, powder and water paint) on my throat. Everyone who asked was told that I had been on a date that went bad some 700 years earlier.


Picture by the talented Daniel Nilsson.

The neat thing about dressing up like a ghost when you’ve been exhausted for weeks is that it’s actually an advantage if you look gaunt and tired...


Picture by D.B.

I guess it was my being in character most of the time (if you can call it that when you’re actually just lacking the energy to keep a smile on your face and a look of interest in your eyes for more than a few minutes at a time...) that nominated me to the prize for scariest costume. I even won (first time in my life I've ever won anything, I think), though I think it was really a tie between me and my friend J. W., the crazy professor.

Mind you – it’s a strange thing, that when I’ve spent weeks on a costume, making sure every detail is right, hardly anyone has noticed it. When I improvise with a days notice, on the other hand, I win. It’s an odd world... But as I plan to make a really nice costume for next year, this will most likely be the only prize I will ever win, but that's all right. I make them for my own pleasure anyway, and that's the important thing :D

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

1840's Cap

Last week I made 60 inches of hem stitching on a thin white cotton fabric. The plan is to use it as frills on an 1840’s cap, but I felt I needed to make a trial run first, so as not to waste all that work on something that wouldn’t look right. For this cap I used fabric cut from an old, worn out blouse. Recycling is nice.

There are a few caps in museums, but they are all fancy caps, made from silk ribbons and blonde lace, and that doesn’t fit my social position. The case is the same if you look at fashion plates of the time. Most paintings and photographs show the frills of the cap framing the face, but I managed to get a couple of side view pictures. Also, they showed women of my class, servants and upper lower/lower middle class women.



Detail of The Bottle, plate II by George Cruikshank, 1847.



Servants Gossiping, 1849.


This is what I came up with. The pattern needs some tweaking before I’m completely satisfied with it, but for a trial run it’s good enough, and perfectly wearable. I might add ties to it though, pretty ones that will be decorative when hanging loose.


The fabric is thin cotton, woven in stripes. The cap is constructed in four pieces, the front, crown, and flounces folded lengthwise to make them double on each side. Piping is sewn in between the front and crown, as it is pretty and also prevents the cap from stretching out of shape.


Drawstrings beginning at the same place as the top of the frills and tying at the nape of the neck makes the cap fit properly. Of course it’s hand sewn – sewing machines wasn’t common in the 1840’s, and even if they were, a cap is too delicate to look good with clumsy machine sewing.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Belle's Blue Dress in Detail

I’ve had a few people asking me how I constructed Belle’s blue provincial dress, so I thought I’d make a post on it. It’s not that difficult, actually.


First the blouse: any pattern could do as a base. Make the sleeves a little shorter than to the wrists, and cuff them. As you can see I haven’t even hemmed the bottom edge yet, but since it won't show…


The most important thing on the blouse is the characteristic collar, which should be folded down in back, and taper into nothing at centre front. This is how it looks, with the centre back folded. It’s sewn in two layers. There’re probably better ways to do the collar, but I was short on time when I made it. Next time I make this costume I'll experiment a little more with it.


The bodice could be made using any tight-fitting dress pattern, just making the neckline square. If you want to drape your own, this is how I did it. My bodice is made up from four pieces; two in front and two in back.


The rough shape of them were cut out in a cheap leftover fabric, and then tried on, pinned and re-pinned until they fit like I wanted them to. All the shaping is in the front-, back-, and side seams, no darts. As most people’s bodies have different shapes, the pattern pieces will probably turn out looking different from mine.


Make sure not to do the neck and arm openings to big at first – just make them big enough to go over your head and to put your arms through, and then draw them on the fabric while wearing it. Don’t make the bodice too long, or it will wrinkle and look untidy. When you are satisfied with the fit you can use this mock up as the lining for the bodice, or save it as a pattern for later use.

I put self fabric piping in all the bodice seams, because it gives a nice finishing touch, and also makes the seams stronger – they also give a slight supporting effect, and prevent some wrinkling.


When sewing the bodice together, I had first basted the fashion fabric and lining together, and sewed them as one layer. With the piping, it made six layers of fabric in each seam (hence the light boning effect). I trimmed down the seam allowenses on the fashion fabric and lining, split and sewed down the piping fabric, to make the piping sit straight, and not "tip" to the sides.


I put piping at the neck, sleeve and waist as well, again for a nice finishing touch. My dress closes by hooks and eyes at centre back, but an invisible zipper could be used as well – I’d put it in a side seam, or it will not be invisible.

The skirt is made as any half circle skirt, lightly gathered and reaching to lower calf - simple as could be. Since the bodice is slightly pointed in front, I had to cut away a corresponding amount of fabric at the centre front of the waist of the skirt.


That’s it, a rough guide on how to make this costume. The apron is simple, a rectangle (straight, gathered or pleated) sewn to a waistband. And don’t forget to wear at least one petticoat. If not, the skirt will look skimpy, and will cling to your legs, which isn’t the right look for this dress. Oh, and a note on fabric choise: avoid anything shiny, polyesterish! It will look cheap and amateur-ish. If you're on a budget (like I was), better use a low price, plain cotton, as that will look so much better.

Hope this helped, and good luck!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A Real Scare

The floor in my combined living room/bed room creaks. Usually just when you walk on it, and mostly when I’ve been away for a few days.

Last night, in the early morning hours I woke up, from the floor in my room creaking. I had only just thought it strange when it happened again – and again and again, like someone walking slowly across the room, over by the door. My heart almost stopped, and I hardly dared breathe. Slowly, slowly I rose on one elbow, trying to see through the dark (not easy, since my bed is screened the cupboard I store my fabrics in) - nothing. Time is difficult to tell when you’re scared, but it might have been ten or fifteen minutes that I listened, thought hard of what to do, prayed, and gathered courage to do something. In the end I came to the conclusion that since I hadn’t heard anything for a while, there was most likely no one there, and if it was, it was probably a thief, surprised by my waking up, and might be possible to scare of.

So I switched on the light, and got out of bed. No one in that room. I walked into every room, and turned on the lights as I went. They where all empty, the front door was locked, and nothing was missing. I finally decided that it’d probably been the cool night air coming in from the open window that had made the floor set slightly.

Even after I had made sure I was alone, I was shaken enough not to be able to put out the light and go back to sleep for an hour and a half. When I finally did my dreams where affected by the fright, and didn’t give me much rest. Even now, more than eight hours later, I’m a bit skittish and feel like a wrung out cloth.

Being easily scared is very inconvenient.

Friday, 8 October 2010

More Cording

This week I’ve begun my last clinical. I’m at a neonatal unit, and it’s the most fun clinical I’ve had yet. Caring for all these small (in some cases, very, very small) babies and their families is a great blessing, but I pray none of my children will be too premature. The stress of the parents and siblings are enormous, as is the stress of the babies. Interesting as it is, it’s a very new environment for me, which means a lot of concentration to learn as much as possible, and to be attentive to the needs of my little patients and their families. When I come home I usually just crash into bed. I had the day of yesterday, and I slept for eleven hours that night. Wow. Usually I never sleep that long.

With me being so tired all the time, I haven’t got much sewing done (I sound like a broken record, huh?), but I’ve finished the 60th row of cording on my petticoat. I want a few more groups of three cords before the single cords.


I’ve also worked on the back of my regency stays, whip stitching the top fabric and lining together at centre back, and sewn a cord in on each side. Between the cord and back there will also be boning, and on the other side of the cord, eyelets for lacing.

Not a very interesting post, but it’ll have to do as I’m of to the hospital again soon.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Cording This, Cording That

Whew, I’ve had very much to do in school this past week. Bleh. Still not done, I have a few more things to hand in before the weekend is over. On Thursday morning there was a frost, and it tells me to get a move-on with the coat – but it takes a bit of concentration, which I haven’t had for anything but school. Only projects that don’t need too much of my time, brains and energy have been worked on.

My corded petticoat is coming along nicely; I’m working on the 49th row. And, I did find evidence for corded petticoats in Sweden – huzzah! One example was in a book I bought in January (Underkläder – en kulturhistoria (2008), by Britta Hammar & Pernilla Rasmussen), but somehow it had not registered, even though I’ve looked at the picture a few times – it is a pretty small picture, and the corded petti was lying amongst a lot of other underwear, stockings, dresses and toys. It had belonged to a little girl who died in 1855, 4 years old, and a lot of her possessions were later donated to a museum. A search on the digital database of some other museums gave me another one, for a grown up woman. The cording is woven in, of course, but I still think sewing them in is a very good next-best-thing. The fun thing is, that I have grouped my cords in a way very similar to the extant ones, so that at least is period correct.


I also got a sudden stroke of inspiration for (finally – I’ve wanted some for years) making regency stays. I bought a white cotton fabric with woven in checks of a sort of dark brick red in a charity shop a couple of weeks back, and I would like to make a regency dress from it (no, it doesn't look like a kitchen towel in real life - the material is quite fine and sheer) - I hope there is enough material. I must have the right underpinnings first though. Regency dresses, when done right, can be some of the most elegant frocks in history, but if done wrong, you’ll look like a pregnant hippo in a nightgown, which is less elegant…. When I was a slim, almost bony teenager I could have gotten away with short stays, but nowadays I have a more feminine figure, so long stays are essential. I base mine mostly on a pair described, and with the pattern pieces drawn out in small scale, in the same book I referred to above. It’s in Swedish, and full of Swedish examples of underwear from the 18th century up till now, which is not all that common when it comes to fashion history. I also look at the ones from the book Fashion from the Kyoto Institute, and one from another Swedish book (Empirens döttrar – kultur och mode under tidigt 1800-tal (2009), by Anette Kindahl, Katarina Olsson & Ingrid Roos) I recently bought. It’s interesting to see how similar they all are – makes one wonder if the Swedish ones might have been imported. Either way – there’s evidence for them from here, which is the important thing.


They should be made from white or cream cotton satin, but I didn’t have any, and didn’t want to waste the opportunity either – inspiration comes and goes with me. I might make another pair sometime, in cotton satin with the embroidery done in yellow silk like the originals, but for now, a simple cotton fabric embroidered with cotton will have to do; I can look at it as a smart mock-up, and I won’t feel guilty. It’s not like it’ll show anyway – I wonder if not the fabrics might behave differently, though. The stays will have a combination of boning and cording, like the ones in the books. I’ve made the pocket down the front for the busk, with cotton cording down each side, and the channels for boning radiating out from that. I also made the eyelets for securing the busk. I haven’t done the bust gussets yet, since I don’t know what size they’ll have to be – I want to wear the stays and experiment, but for that to work properly, I’ll have to finish the boning and eyelets in the back first, and pin front and back together so I can try it on. So that’s next – starting on the back panels. Eyelets are a bit tedious to sew, but I find I really like cording – it’s fun to do, and it looks nice.
Now - back to my school work.