Pink! And Historical! And…

Well, everything, really. See, after a hiatus of posting – because writing essays has been more than enough time at the computer for the past few months – I’ve decided to see how many Historical Sew Fortnightly tasks I can tick off with just the one item.

I’m sewing like a mad thing at the moment, trying to get together items for a market stall in a bit less than a month. Items of children’s costume, since I’ve decided that I love sewing for kids. You can do the most over the top, outlandish things, and kids will love it. So, with that in mind, before the big reveal, let me tease a little and tick off a few challenges, however late I’m completing them.

1. Challenge #6 – Fairytale.

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In 1844, the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, The Snow Queen was first published. Earlier this year, a film was released with Disney’s take on the tale. Frozen has since become the favourite movie of every little girl on the planet – or at least it seems that way to anyone who wanders through a kindergarten and hears the spectacular versions of the hit song, Let It Go. I’ve had previous run-ins with Queen Elsa costuming, and with the frantic mothers who have been desperately trying to find a costume for their birthday girl. But this time, I’m attempting Princess Anna instead.

2. Challenge #3 – Pink

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Anna’s cloak is pink. Or at least magenta. I’m choosing to interpret this as pink. Which leads me to…

3. Challenge #2 – Innovation

Early fabric dyes were created using natural substances. There was a limited range of colours available, and many tended to fade. Science accidentally delivered an alternative when William Henry Perkins was attempting to synthesise quinine, but instead created mauveine, a synthetic dye. This was closely followed by Fuchsine in 1858 or 1859 (sources vary on the date), discovered by Frenchman Francois-Emmanuel Verguin, and, in 1860, Magenta, discovered by Brits Chambers Nicolson and Georges Maule. The colours were a great success, and many variations on the shades have been produced since. I’m using two of these in my cloak.

 

Bouguereau's Psyche, 1892, using magenta for the goddess's cloak.

Bouguereau’s Psyche, 1892, using magenta for the goddess’s cloak.

4. Challenge #10 – Art.

Okay, I know this one’s a stretch, but technically, the creators of the Disney movies are artists. These days they’re digital artists, but the skills are still the same. And given that I’m working off a single image, I figure this will fit. Give me some leeway, here, folks!

And finally…

5. Challenge #15 – The Great Outdoors.

This one is less of a stretch. I’m making a cloak – it’s made for wearing in the great outdoors. And anyone who’s seen the movie knows that Anna acquires the cloak in order to survive the blast of icy weather triggered by her Snow-Queen-sister, Elsa, as she treks to an ice palace to try and talk her down.

 

Wow, 5 challenges in one – better than I thought. So now I’ve covered that off, how am I making a Disney costume that is also historical? Well, keep reading and you’ll find out!

I know the inspiration image is a cloak, with a cape over the top. I’m simplifying things and just making the cape. The design for this is drawn from a pinterest page that shows a pattern book from what looks to me like the early 1940s. Again, I’m choosing to interpret it that way so that it fits the challenge!

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Not being blessed with the ability to read Spanish, I’ve had to guess on a few things and just take the image as my inspiration. But I managed. So, for the great unveiling of the finished product…

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The Challenge: I don’t really need to list them all again, do I?

Fabric: About 70cm of velveteen, and about 50cm of satin lining.

Pattern: My own, but based on the Spanish pattern book above.

Year: 1940-ish

Notions: polyester thread, 1m of satin ribbon

How historically accurate is it?: Reasonably accurate. I left the darts out of the original pattern and played with the length, but on the whole it’s pretty close. The fabrics are synthetic versions of things that were available at the time.

Hours to complete: Including drafting the pattern, and faffing about figuring the best way to iron velveteen (Answer? Dont! Use steam instead!), it probably took about 4 hours total.

First worn: Never worn – but going to be for sale on Etsy, and at the Essendon North Kindergarten Fete, so some time after the first sale!

Total cost: The fabrics were all bought wholesale, so providing a price to make is a little inaccurate based on what I would pay buying retail. I can say that I’m selling them for AU$30 though!

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Normal service…

… will resume once I get through with the thousands of words I have to write if I’m going to pass my current round of studies. I would like to think that this will get easier, but somehow it never does. In the meantime, here’s one of my procrastination projects – Queen Elsa for my niece, who was very excited when she unwrapped her birthday present and refused to do a normal pose for me when she insisted on putting on the dress.

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Another example of my wonderful phone-tography, but this is as close as I could get to an actual Elsa pose!

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Not sure what she thinks this looks like, but this is what I got when I asked for a smile…

For anyone interested, I plan to put this patter up on easy when I have breathing room. I couldn’t find any actual patterns, so made my own! The blue/aqua is a basic dance satin, with ribbon sewn onto the bodice. Everything else is crystal organza (although in the photos it looks kind of like I wrapped her in cling film – it looks much better in real life when the pearly iridescence shimmers as she moves.)

Incomplete, insomnia, insane.

I have been suddenly and – stupidly – unexpectedly busy of late. Who would have thought that going back to university for a post graduate degree, attempting to scrape a living, sewing, and generally surviving, would leave me with bout 4 hours a day for the combination of sleep and blogging, and that none of the tasks would get done properly? Apparently not me, or I would never have signed up for the insanity… All of this, of course, means, that my plans for Historical Sew Fortnightly-ing, for doing side projects, of completing any projects to my own satisfaction, seeing my friends and family, and generally having any sort of breathing space have fallen by the wayside. So I’ve made a point of carving out a few minutes to post a much delayed and incomplete entry for the Bodice Challenge of the Historical Sew Fortnightly, and added it to the list of things to be finished at a later date. Along with the planned rest of outfit to go with it…

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The front cut-aways are still to be determined. It’s missing sleeves, trims, seams… but you get the picture, right? You do? Please say you do… Because I have big plans for this outfit. If I ever get the time, I have enough of the striped cotton to make a bustle/overskirt, and what I hope is enough of the blue linen left to manage some sort of underskirt, cobbled together in truly period fashion with cheaper fabric for the invisible bits. There is some weirdness happening in various parts of this which need to be addressed before that, though. And the whole hemline needs to be adjusted (it’s going to be higher in front and dip down at the back over the bustle). And there needs to be – well, there needs to be lots of things. I figure this bodice is maybe a third of the way done, if I’m generous. And that’s having cheated and machined it. What you can’t see from these photos, though, is that it’s also flatlined. I didn’t want to cheat on everything! I figured I could justify machining since they did, technically, exist then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are many things I would change about this in hindsight, already. Not least of them is the way I’ve done the back seams. It is in no way historically accurate. Nor it is something that I like, so I’m tempted to pull them out and re-do now that I’m not in a mad challenge deadline mode. Although I’m in mad Conservation Professional Practices easy mode, which will be followed by more essays and… If you look closely, you might just see that steam coming out of my computer, my ears, my head, as I implode from all the pressures at the moment. No wonder my sewing was not going well, with all this going on. But I have to put it aside. A certain niece has a birthday coming up, which means that all other sewing not directly relating to income must be put aside to make a Queen Elsa costume, in full Frozen/Snow Queen glory. Good thing I discovered how to get through months with next to no sleep during my first stint at uni. Shame that was more than ten years ago and my body refuses to submit to demands for alertness on a week of four hours a night. Which might go some way to explaining any incoherence in this post.

 

 

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…

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…

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.