Testing Times

Anna

Now that I’ve developed my Princess Anna cape, I need to work on the dress that goes under it. Anna’s dress has some fancy stuff going on though, so I’ve been forced to do some product testing to avoid attempting fancy stitching. Not sure if you can see the design clearly in the picture above, but, doing a little photoshop work, it looks a little like this:

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After a little research, I decided that I wanted to do something with paint. The catch there, of course, is that the bodice of Anna’s dress is black. There is no end of difficulty finding a simple, affordable paint that will show on black fabric. And then I stumbled across Derivan FabricArt Markers. They seemed to meet all of the requirements. Easy to use, not hugely expensive, and, in the kicker, available in a white that seems to allow colours to show on black. The video on the website shows them producing some fairly crisp images on black fabric. I got excited and ordered a few. I got even more excited today when I heard the postman quite literally throw them at my front door. (Side note: How hard would it have been for him to take the extra 12 steps and put them at the front door, instead of standing at the bottom step and throwing? Thank god they were well wrapped within the package, or I think I might now be reviewing shards of marker.)

In my excitement, I didn’t wait to test them. I had a bodice cut out from an earlier failed experiment, and decided that it would do for testing. I carefully stencilled on my design – which was the purpose of the Photoshop exercise, creating a working stencil – and waited for the white paint to reveal itself. I have to admit, I probably had unrealistic expectations. It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break. But I was not wholly disappointed with the first attempt. After all, I’d been aware that I might have to do multiple applications. So, rather than throwing the pens away in disgust when I didn’t get a clear image after the first application, I patiently did another round, and then a third. Before heat setting the third application, I was excited again. It looked great.

IMG_1226And then I ironed it. I followed directions. I’d waited for it to dry. I used the right heat setting, on the reverse of the fabric. I moved the iron evenly over the design, and hopefully turned it back right side up. And this is what I saw.

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Yeah. It was gone. It looks a little like the design had been flocked. But not really. Looking closer, it was embossed onto the satin of the bodice. It was visible in the right light, and kind of cool, but not at all what I wanted. Not entirely daunted, I moved on and thought that perhaps another application of white, followed by some colour may have the desired effect. I bet you’re waiting on the edge of your seat to know how this turns out, yes? So I’ll cut to the chase. Another white, and two layers of colour, and this is where I stand:

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Look closely, and you can just make out some colour there. Some. Again, I show that my skills with a camera are a little lacking, but even allowing for that, it’s not great. All in all, not impressed. It may warn on the packaging that there are no guarantees with dark fabric, but if that’s the case, don’t use it in your video promo, Derivan.

In no way could I give this to a kid and have them think it was a real Anna dress. I’d already written off my chances of doing the design on the skirt. But now I’m really back to the drawing board. I have no skill with a paint brush, and no desire to spend the $12-15 per colour that would let me test them, since there’s every chance that this would also fail. And I don’t really want to give up the time to embroider them all – that’s a whole lot of time to invest in a kids costume. So I’m back at the drawing board and researching alternatives. If anybody has any ideas, short of buying a sewing machine that will embroider, I’d love to hear from you!

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…

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.

The problem with making one thing…

…is that you need something to go with it.

Now that I have my snazzy cloche hat all ready to wear on the disgustingly hot days we’ve been having here in Melbourne this summer, I find myself wanting a full outfit to go with it. So i’m looking into making myself a 1920s-ish day dress, using one of the many retro cotton prints I have in my stash. There are, once again, a couple of problems with this idea.

The first is styling. I love 1920, but finding images of something to be made in cotton is a nightmare. For some reason,t he early twentieth century is a period that I’ve glossed over in my own library. I just straight from bustles into the late 1930s. Hitting the inter webs for inspiration turns up a whole lot of party-appropriate outfits and some gorgeous suits, but limited supplies of summer-y everyday-wear. I did, however, find this piece of loveliness.

1920s Arts & Crafts DressIt seems to do just what I want, but the simplicity of the style means that it needs the embroidery. I’m far too impatient to be able to sit down and accomplish that, even if I wasn’t using the search for a unicorn like this to avoid doing things like what I’m being paid to do. Anyone for altering the hem on a meringue wedding dress by hand? No? Yeah, unicorns it is…

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Something  like this is also quite sweet and, apart from the cutwork, which I figure can be achieved by other means, probably quite do-able. But here we start to run into the second major problem with me making myself a 1920s dress. As deceptively simple as the designs are, they are made to flatter a particular figure type. Boyish, athletic, slim. A figure type which is decidedly not me. I’m more…well, I’ll flatter myself and say Christina Hendricks. Which all means that these little dresses would hang on me like a sack. Comfortable? Probably. Attractive? Well, it all depends on hoe you like the side of your barn to look.

The problem just kept coming…and coming…and coming.

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Sure, there were a couple of things that I could use. Like the hemlines of the 1925 school girls in this photo – especially the one second from the left.

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But I was still at a loss as to how to make something  vaguely authentic that wouldn’t make me look like a dreadnought. And I’m still at a loss. I’ve found an excellent chemise instruction page as well as many sites with guides for underwear (although again, noticeably lacking in what to do if you are constructed on more generous lines at the hip and bust), so now I just need to figure out what to put on over it. And, as I glance over at the wedding dress hanging, waiting for me to adjust it, or my job list, with about 4 other things that I should be working on right now, I’m tempted to go back to the start, dig out some of the white cotton that I’ve got in my stash, and see if I can’t resurrect my embroidery skills for an attempt on that first dress. Who says procrastination can’t be productive, after all?

New Year, New Resolutions

I’ve had some productive time away from blogging – and away from work in general – which has let me do plenty of actual sewing. The only thing that held me back over the break was the weather. I’ve discovered that my little sewing cave turns into a little oven at about 3 o’clock on sunny days, thanks to a trick of orientation that lets the hot summer sun bake the brick walls, even though there’s a two storey building about 3 m away to the north. I will actually post pictures of the finished items – all 3 of them! – when I find where my camera is hiding.

But now that I’m back at work, sewing has ground to a halt. It doesn’t help that it’s about 40 degrees outside – that’s 105 for those who calculate such things in fahrenheit – so the thought of moving away from the air conditioner is decidedly unappealing. So I’m killing time thinking up new year resolutions other than my usual “don’t make new year resolutions”. The first I’ve come up with is to keep on top of my filing here at work. Take a peek at how my desk looks after a day and a half of tidying to get a sense of how this resolution came into existence…

Yep. Exciting, isn’t it. Those mountains of paper are things that I still have to figure out what to do with. It’s not filing, but the same problem flows through into my sewing. So even though I have these things going on, I’m thinking about one of my other resolutions – to take part in the Dreamstress’s Historical Sew-Fortnightly challenge.

I completed the bonus challenge during my time off – photos will follow, I promise, but they haven’t even made it to the proper album for the challenge yet, either. A 1930s silk slip in a creamy colour that actually makes me look almost tanned. Almost. And now I’m moving onto the next one, to make something appropriate for a year ending in 13. To truly stretch my sewing boundaries, I’m going with 1813. I’ve never made anything earlier than the 20th century before, so its taking some research. The original plan was to make Janet Arnold’s 1808 riding habit, but I’ve scaled back my ambitions and am now looking at using that as inspiration for a spencer. I know, 1808 is not 1813 – but I figure a riding habit is something that you might not have replaced every year unless you were extremely wealthy (although how many poorer women would have been riding in the first place?), and also that styles moved slowly then, so the fashions are likely to have been fairly similar. Just to make sure, I’ve been doing some research.

The spencer is an odd little garment, really. It’s cropped, so it’s not exactly practical to adapt for current fashions (although that said I do have a couple of cropped cardigans that I wear with empire line dresses – so perhaps I’ll find a use for it afterall), but it was an essential element of the regency wardrobe. Most sources seem to suggest that it was an adaptation of a gentleman’s fashion. They seem to have been made to suit all seasons – having experienced the joys of a British climate, I can certainly understand the need for some sort of cover-up – and in fabrics from the most practical every day to the most sumptuous evening dress. I’m aiming a little lower, planning to use a simple cotton broadcloth which is not exactly historically accurate (the more common fabrics used seem to have been silks and wools, with the occasional foray into velvet, which I did contemplate), but as this is in my stash it is a winner. The biggest problem for me, other than trying to re-size the teeny pattern provided by Janet Arnold to fit my comparably gargantuan frame, is to narrow down the finishing details. There are so many options. Frills, braid, puffs, gatherings, pleats, double or single breasted? So, in an effort to find my way out of the wilderness, I’ve narrowed my thoughts down to these:

I love the pleats at the back of this, and will probably replicate if I can

I love the pleats at the back of this, and will probably replicate if I can

Love the idea of military frogging on the front, but have a feeling that is will be somewhere beyond my combination of time and skill at the moment

Love the idea of military frogging on the front, but have a feeling that is will be somewhere beyond my combination of time and skill at the moment

More pretty decoration that is unlikely to happen on my frist attempt...

More pretty decoration that is unlikely to happen on my first attempt…

Something more like what I think I will end up with. Although not in pink. I wouldn't want to look dead if ever I should wear it...

Something more like what I think I will end up with. Although not in pink. I wouldn’t want to look dead if ever I should wear it…

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So now I’ve just got to get on with sewing the thing…

And that leads me to my second, and final, new years resolution – to cut back on the procrastination. You can see how well I’m doing so far!

And now for something completely different

While I’m sitting at my day job desk, I have just had confirmation that something exciting has happened. The first of my Bettie Page stock has landed. Because I’m going to be selling things – at the moment, it’s a not terribly involved process of contacting me through my facebook page, or through email, or blog comments, until my website design is complete.

So Betties will be the first of, hopefully, many brands I will be talking about. Over the next couple of days I will post details of what exactly I have available right now. But for now, please join me in drooling over the potential of this outfit – which is available now!

I’ve worn Bettie Page before, and loved it. Now, I almost can’t wait to get out of the office and home to my lovely delivery of goodies…