Tulle-ageddon: The Sequel

The Tulle-ageddon wedding happened on Sunday. The bride had booked me in help her get into the dress, to manage the lacing, and to help out with any last minute dress emergencies that might arise, so I’d blocked out a fair amount of time for her on Sunday. I can’t remember if I mentioned, but I also made a flower girl dress for this wedding. The girl in question lives interstate and was only going to get to try on the dress for the first time the day before the wedding. That it was the day before, and not the morning of, was the result of some none-too-subtle suggestions on my part. And lucky it happened that way. I’d worked off some measurements given to me for the dress and it turns out that someone really can’t measure. The dress was big on the girl who, it turns out, is roughly the same size as my five year old niece, even though she’s twice her age.

Suffering through the fitting process

Suffering through the fitting process

That's a whole lot of taking in and up required...

That’s a whole lot of taking in and up required…

The dress was ferried to me early on Saturday afternoon and I sat down with my unpick, cursing myself for having overlocked the seams, for sealing the bodice with the lining, for not insisting that the girl try on the dress earlier. I picked, I swore, I mentally cursed the world, and I re-made the dress, finishing up at about 11pm and heading straight to bed so I would be bright eyed and bushy tailed for the wedding preparations. When I got there, it turned out I’d been a little conservative in just how much I’d taken the dress in – it was still a little big – but incredibly glad that the work was done. In the interests of fairness, there wasn’t nearly as much tulle in this little dress as there was in the bride’s (which I never photographed properly, since I only did alterations to it), but there again, there wasn’t nearly as much girl in the dress either.

Looking unbearably sweet enough to compensate for the remaking of the dress...

Looking sweet enough to compensate for the remaking of the dress…

The poor girl was so shy I felt like I was torturing her when I was taking the photos...

The poor girl was so shy I felt like I was torturing her when I was taking the photos…

Complete with sparky belt that just wouldn't sit right. It shifted every time she moved, but I didn't have time to put in a couple of stay stitches...

Complete with sparkly belt that just wouldn’t sit right. It shifted every time she moved, but I didn’t have time to put in a couple of stay stitches…

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The urge to procrastinate

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I’m back studying 3 days a week at the moment, which means that I am feeling the urge to procrastinate. I’m not sure why the two go together – I’m enjoying the study so far – but whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing, you can guarantee that I’m doing something else. And the something else very rarely involves work, either. You’d think by now I would have managed to play off my two main causes of procrastinating against each other. But no. So, instead of reading about cultural material conservation, like a good little masters candidate, I’m wondering how to start a museum of fashion in Australia. As far as I know, there is nothing of the kind already.

It might be that I was inspired from my travels through the UK last year during the lost months of blogging, and just how many places there are for a costume nerd to visit. Everywhere from Killerton House, in the wilds of Devon, to the V & A in London, or the civilised Museum of Costume in Bath. And that’s without moving off a single train line. After I dragged an uncomplaining friend through 2 weeks of clothing historicism – complete with dress ups, which were photographed but will never, ever be shared with anyone who wasn’t there – I was very upset at the lack of similar enjoyment opportunities at this end of my flight. That was after I got over, or at least accepted, the terrible quality of almost every photo I took on the trip. Camera shaking in excited hands, where you can’t use a flash? Leads to blur, reflection, and frustration. Guess which picture from this post was taken by me. A quick google search both before and after my trip led to disappointment on all sides. There are a couple of private collections which are occasionally open for viewing; there are touring exhibitions, like the Edward Steichen exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – worth a trip for anyone in Melbourne, just to marvel at the beading on the exquisite 1920s evening wear if nothing else – but there is nothing more permanent. And this made me sad. Australian fashion history is neither long nor, according to some, terribly illustrious. But it is being lost. The online Australian Dress Register is probably the closest we have to a permanent display. It suggests that there are collectors out there, and that there is enough interest for people to have begun a digital record of what is held in private hands. It is a missed opportunity to let it slide.

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So, while I put off finishing a reading about the need for uncertainty in conservation, I’ve been daydreaming and finding ways to spend millions of dollars. And that was before it occurred to me to check fashion and costume auction listings… As a semi-employed student, there’s no hope of me ever realising this particular day dream. But a girl can dream. And in the mean time, she can procrastinate some more looking into funding and finding the perfect building to house it…and making lists of potential acquisitions…and drooling over photos… and, in short, anything that isn’t what she is supposed to be doing.

Unleashing the nerd within

I have been open about my nerd status for a long time now. I’m comfortable with it, and feel no shame in admitting it. I am an enormous history nerd. It’s a trait  share with a brother. We’ve been known to get sidetracked when watching films because there is a historical inaccuracy, go into a discussion of what really happened, and miss half an hour of plot as a result. I’m not just a history nerd, though – I’m also a dress nerd. So it drives me absolutely insane when there are things that are just plain wrong about costume on the screen.

The thing most likely to send me into a fit of snide comments at the moment is an ad for genealogy website, ancestry.com.au. Specifically, this moment:

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Yep, that says that the woman climbing out the window was born in 1752. Except she’s wearing a dress that looks suspiciously Georgian style to me… and the actress looks nothing like a 50 year old woman. Which means that every time Mary Abbey appears on screen, I feel compelled to mutter something along the lines of, “Not in that dress you weren’t.” And that’s before my architectural training kicks in and I notice that it’s a gothic revival building, probably built after 1850. See? Nerd.

For those who know better – or, should I say, those who agree with me and are therefore in the right – her outfit should look more like what was once thought to be Marie Antoinette in her library. I know, it’s a fancy dress, yes. But so is the one in the video when you think she’s climbing out a window and, if you watch the rest of the clip, running off with her man (in which case surely she wouldn’t have been named Abbe yet, since presumably she’s a direct ancestor? See? Problems galore…).

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

The more I learn about historical clothing, the more it happens, too. It’s becoming a problem, getting in the way of all sorts of enjoyment on the small screen. Don’t get me started on the supposedly 17th century costumes in The Musketeers. Or pretty much any scene in The Tudors where a woman simply drops her dress and is naked for Henry VIII – no stays, no chemise, nothing, just an expensive gown crumpled at her feet…and then there’s the lack of head coverings, hair down and flowing.

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It’s enough to make me give up watching it. Or to give up watching it in company, because I can never keep my complaints about the inaccuracies to myself. See? Told you I was a nerd…

 

Moving On – and back

Well, now that the great tulleaggedon of 2014 has left the building, I can actually move once more and I’ve started to contemplate next steps for my own sewing. Yep, it’s another inspiration post. Because I’ve decided that, with one Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge under my belt, I should gear up for another one. It doesn’t matter that I have plenty of other things going on, both sewing-related and not – such as the post graduate studies I’m about to commence, or the tutoring jobs I’ve taken on, to pay the bills. Nope. None of that is important. All that matters is that I have a sudden yen to make use of some of the lovely pieces of woollen fabric I have in my stash to make myself a Victorian-ish jacket for the bodice challenge. Height of summer be damned; I survived tulle, I think I can manage wool. Although now that I think of it, perhaps something else. Perhaps something linen-ish, if I can find enough stash for it. Or maybe – but I should probably not get into that here and now.

Making something Victorian breaks many of my rules about only making things for HSF that I can actually use in my everyday life. Especially given that I’m wanting to make something with a false vest and a decidedly equestrian feel to it. But I can’t help it, I want one. So rather than doing the pre-readings for my studies, or getting on with finishing the Pink dress (which I have decided is likely to stay unfinished until the UFO challenge), I spent a fair sized chunk of today looking at inspiration.

There was the whole wardrobe of Samantha Mathis as Amy March in Little Women. I especially loved this outfit, with it’s silvery embroidery detailing. Because I have a thing for embroidery of all sorts right now. And bustles. But that’s a whole other story. I just wish there were better photos available online for this – I almost resorted to pausing my DVD and taking a photo to capture the moment. Which would have provided the perfect excuse to watch the film again. Not that I need one, really.

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Then there was the whole Pinterest board that I created for this, dedicated to the bustle period since looking for Victorian era jackets inevitably leads to bustle drooling.

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I cannot find the original location of this picture anywhere…If anyone knows, please let me know too!

I kind of fell in love with this one – enough that I had to create a whole gallery for it!

And, of course, there is the Dreamstress, who has inevitably been through every source known to man on all things historical clothing, and culled the pick of the crop for me already! Her Polly Oliver jacket may have been what originally put this in my head, actually, so I should be giving her extra cudos for this one!

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Plus, I’m not sure if you noticed it, but… Bustle! Hmm, I can see some more rule breaking in future…

Taming the Beast

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Muhammad Ali was a man known, if you ignore his talent in the ring, for his rhyming taunts of his opponents in the lead up to a boxing bout. Before the 1975 “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman, he told the press that his preparations for the fight had been different to his usual routine. This time, he said, “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” He was – and, in the view of many, remains – a great fighter who would never take a backward step (unless, of course, it was part of a strategy). For all his abilities, though, I think I could take him after this week. Perhaps not in the ring – I’m not suggesting that even now when he is racked with Parkinson’s disease that I could ever go toe-to-toe with him – but in other fields, sure. Because although Ali wrestled an alligator, he never, so far as I am aware, wrangled bridal tulle.

This is what a wedding dress looks like during alterations. Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of my work table... Which in this case is actually my 6ft dining table, covered half a meter deep with fabric.

This is what a wedding dress looks like during alterations. Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of my work table… Which in this case is actually my 6ft dining table, covered half a meter deep with fabric.

A casualty of war. Many pins fell by the wayside, unable to survive the rigours of tulle combat.

A casualty of war. Many pins fell by the wayside, unable to survive the rigours of tulle combat.

Whoever came up with the idea of a net fabric that seems lighter than air as a dress fabric was either insane, or never sewed themselves. And that’s before you factor in the varying degrees of slipperiness, stiffness and prickle. Insanity is the only reason I can think of for using the fabric in the first place. Sure, the final result can be pretty, no doubt the reason that brides throughout the western world keep returning to it generation after generation. But the process for getting there is painful. Just attempting to work around it to take up the hem of a wedding dress at the moment has caused no end of grief. There are two outer layers of soft tulle on the skirt, which I think would probably come in as a triple circle, and a further three layers of underskirt. Sandwiched between that is the taffeta layer and then there is another lining layer. The diminutive bride in this case will need an aisle at least 2 metres across just to fit her dress.. The hemming process took an entire day, to get around roughly a third of the hem (the rest doesn’t require alteration). It probably would have been quicker if I wasn’t working by hand, but I was. Space constraints wouldn’t let me get close to a sewing machine with this dress. So I spent a day doing metres and metres of hand rolled hem. Today I’m doing the rest of it.

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But that’s not my only tulle at the moment. The same wedding involves a flower girl dress, designed to tie in with the wedding dress. More tulle. Thankfully not quite as much, but just cutting the pattern and managing the double layer of floaty stuff was enough to mess with my head this week, not to mention with my ludicrously sensitive skin. I’m pleased with the finished result, but left with what will no doubt become a life-long aversion to tulle. Enough that I would almost rather time travel back to Kinshasa in 1975 to face George Foreman at his peak than to risk another explosion of netting. Yet, just as Ali beat Foreman, I can sense that I am winning my fight against the dread stuff. And I haven’t even needed to rope-a-dope.

The knock-out blow...

The knock-out blow…

Disconcerting Light Bulb Moment

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Sewing away, if not merrily, at least busily, last night, I got a bit of a surprise. Before I explain, I ought to set the scene.

It has been a hot summer in Melbourne. As in I’m looking at the weather forecast and seeing a night coming up where the minimum temperature is forecast to be 30 degrees. That’s 86 degrees in the old speak, or American speak. It’s hot whichever way you look at it. My sewing space is a bunker – technically known as a store room – under the house. It has no windows, a door that doesn’t go all the way up and a low ceiling. It also catches the full heat of the north sun during summer, meaning that it is unbearably hot to be in there during the day. A mad rush finishing effort in the lead up to Christmas, spending 5 hours at the machines in 40+ degree heat confirmed that I need to sort out some other arrangements for hot weather. In the mean time, I try to restrict my time in the bunker to night times, and I only go down there for overlocking. It’s not ideal, but it does the job.

Except that my overlocker has also developed an issue. A while back, the light stopped working. It would flicker on and off for a while, but eventually it just went off and stayed off. I didn’t bother with replacing the globe, just adjusted a work lamp that I use anyway, and continued to sew. It wasn’t quite the same, but it did the job and didn’t need me to get out the screwdrivers to access the innards of the machine.

Last night I was overlocking the bottom edge of a very full skirt. I had layers of fabric flowing out the back of the machine, layers of fabric still waiting to be fed through, and I thought I felt a gentle thunk on the desk but ignored it while I finished the seam. I was focused on the leading edge of the fabric and not paying huge amounts of attention to anything else, really.

So it came as something of a shock when I finished the edge and moved the fabric, to feel something hard bundled into a middle of it. A little investigation revealed that it was the light bulb from the machine. Not what you expect to find but better than the spider that I found in my bedroom last week (another one of the perks of the Melbourne summer – hot nights and huntsman spiders). It had obviously stopped working because it had worked its way loose somehow, and finally the combination of gravity and sewing vibrations had been too much for it. Given that it’s a screw-in job, I’m curious about how this could have happened, but at least I’m aware of it now and now that it took about 8 years of hard sewing to go the first time. Once I unscrewed everything and put the globe back in place, it worked perfectly once again so there’s clearly nothing actually wrong with it. If the machine is still in use 8 years from now, I might splurge and buy it a new globe anyway.

In the pink

It seems that I am destined to overcome the lack of pink in my wardrobe at the moment. First it was the hat. Now it’s a dress. It’s not necessarily going to be the most attractive thing in my wardrobe, once it’s on, but I’m attempting to make it at least period accurate to the 1920s – it is, after all, to go with the hat of good and evil – and decorative in it’s own right.

The decoration in progress

The decoration in progress

This insistence on decorative features has seen me questing through the inter webs for 1920s embroidery motifs. I should clarify here. The last time I attempted any kind of actual embroidery, I was not yet a teenager. Actually, I think that’s the last time I had much pink in my closet, as well – it went so well with the blonde hair I had as a youngster that my mother couldn’t resist it. My mother attempted to teach me embroidery, about the same time she attempted to show me how to knit and crochet. The results were similar. After an initial burst of interest, I put down the half finished item – can’t even remember what it was, but I seem to recall a blue bow as the feature of the design – and never picked it up again. My patience for this sort of thing has improved dramatically since then, as has my hand work, but I was not sure of what I would be able to pull off working only with half remembered instructions and a vague idea of several stitches. Even so, I figured keeping the design fairly simple would be best. That was how I came across a fantastic little French blog, Tricots et Broderies d’Autrefois (which I think, in my school girl French, loosely translates as stitching and embroidery from other times…although I could be very wrong about that…), laden with period appropriate embroidery designs..

Sounds promising, yes? There were so many options at first glance that I was a little overwhelmed, though. Not least because my French is rusty enough to slow me down in navigating the details of things other than pictures. There were enough pictures to leave me thinking, “Ooh, that one! No, that one!” for a good half hour, though. A closer look revealed that most of my favourites are fancy letters. Not sure about you, but I wasn’t keen on monogramming a house dress that I’m figuring will only get used as a cover-up to keep me from getting covered in threads when I sew, an elaborate apron, if you will (after it makes its appearance as part 2 of the HSF Pink challenge, of course). I picked out one of the floral motifs, though, and headed off to Spotlight for some purchasing. 45 minutes later I walked out, bamboozled by the array of colours in the embroidery threads wall and wanting to go back in and buy them all, and all the toys that were further down the aisle which I wouldn’t even allow myself to do more than admire from a distance. I was also extremely proud of myself for only leaving with two things that hadn’t been on my purchase list. Spotlight – when they have a sale, they do it properly. So hard to walk away from 30-70% off fabrics… But I digress (as usual).

Thank god I had the forethought to trace out the dress pattern before starting the embroidery. And to put the whole design on the pattern piece at once. Because I sat down on a 38 degree day, buried myself under a mountain of cotton broadcloth, and emerged several hours later, hot but satisfied with progress. Except I didn’t quite realise it was several hours. And I wasn’t finished. It would be another 5 hours before I would be able to put it down, cut the piece out properly and take a photo or two to share my progress.

So there you have it. On the whole, I’m quite pleased with the look of it. I kept to simple stitches and think I managed to hide my lack of practice with this skill reasonably well. You can’t see the hours, sweat and swearing that went into it – although you can still see the outline of the embroidery hoop, because I have yet to iron it.

And now I have actual paying work piling up that can no longer be put off, so my time for procrastinating with this dress is over for the moment. It will be finished. But first I have the more prosaic task of dog bed covers. The work of an itinerant sewing machinist is varied, to say the least.