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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The glitter ball

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I know. It’s been AGES. And I’ve start to write posts in my head so many times, I’ve lost track of them. But I have a moment of breathing space in the insanity that has been my life for the past month and bit, so it’s time. Time to update. Time to explain. Time to sparkle.

The busy has been caused by a few things, mainly a terrifying coming together of the need to work – damn those people and their expectations for payment of bills – and the need to pass my course if I plan on ever graduating. In between, there have been moments of incoherent rage at just how many other things I’d rather be doing than whatever was in hand (especially if whatever was in hand was my laptop and I wasn’t cruising for inspiration…). But there has also been a birth, of sorts, so it’s not all bad. Perhaps I had better explain.

In my enthusiasm for sewing things for my niece, back in April, I made a costume for her birthday. She was Queen Elsa. Then someone approached me through my normal dressmaking means, and asked me to make another one. So I did. And somewhere along the line, a new sideline was born. So yes, now my sideline sidelines have sidelines, but that’s beside the point. Because in refining Elsa’s look before launching her into the world (of Etsy, complete with terrible place-holder pictures until I can bully – er, convince – a photographer to take some nice ones for me for free), I realised that the key to success with five year olds was bling. And lots of it.

Of course, this has a side effect. I have no photos of the wreckage of my bunker when I finished the last dress. I’m still to traumatised to contemplate it. Let’s just say that some point during the first one, I learned that I should have sparkle clothes, and drop sheets, and, well, things that could be quarantined. Because glitter gets everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

But on the plus side, there is now this:

There will be more – and that’s without factoring in the PDF pattern I’m putting together for this one. Once I get my head around the fact that I will be going out with glitter in my hair, on my face, under my nails, in places that glitter should never be. Because every princess wants to sparkle. And now I’m off to make more costumes (or I will be in two weeks when the final assignment gets handed in to my lecturer…), none of which will sparkle in any way. Unless you count the tape off high-vis workwear. Because I’m off to sew for boys now. Anyone fancy themselves as Turbo?

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.)

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…

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…

Flies in the Ointment

The current climate means that the title of this blog has been slightly false of late. I haven’t been sewing. I’ve been eyeing off various unfinished items, but haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to pick them up and finish them. But that hasn’t stopped me plotting new projects and eyeing off larger spaces so I can spread my cutting wings.

I went to check out a place on Tuesday, thinking that redundancies are likely to kick in early next week at my day job. I backed that up with an interview for my own job on Wednesday and walked out of head office feeling very dispirited. It seems that, even after I complained, bitched, moaned, and told them I was looking for a job outside the organisation, there is every chance they are wanting to keep me. Why, I don’t know, but if I’m in the best candidates it’s a pretty damning indictment of the others. But if I am so unfortunate as to continue my employment, I won’t get a pay out. Which means I won’t be scaling up my sewing operation. I will instead be locked into my soul destroyer of a job for that bit longer, losing that much more heart with every day that goes by.

Of course, part of the reason that I’m not able to expand is my habit of shopping. This month’s binge was at Amazon, where I loaded up on a combination of gorgeous photographic records of historical clothing, to the more practical break downs of the patterns used to create them. My favourites are the two shown below, but it’s a close run thing.

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I’ve never really been much of a fan of the natural form period – I prefer the bustle periods that bookend it – but there are some stunning ensembles in the Fashions of the Gilded Age. I can see myself putting together at least one of them, once I narrow down a fabric selection and stop spending on other things long enough to by it! The only frustration is that there are often patterns without a corresponding image to show what the pattern is for – just a vague description of the garment along the lines of “double-breasted jacket”.

The V&A books, in contrast, are all images no patterns. In their way, this series of books (of which I now own a couple) is just as helpful, given that the details shown help to give life to the garments. There is more than construction detailing – there is information on finishes, fabrics, and possible uses, what the desired shape of the time was. At the end of the day, historical clothing is driven largely by the underpinnings and without them, it is generally agreed that it is impossible to understand how fashions were put together.

Thanks to my dithering and attempts to think up ways to self-sabotage my interview, I haven’t gone in-depth in these books yet (or the other 4 that also arrived recently). Fingers crossed for a pink slip next week…

The Bug Lady

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It seems I am going through a phase of being attractive to – ahem – wild life at the moment. First, there was the sighting of The Thing in my bunker. Yesterday, the world of bugs struck again.

Out for my Sunday constitutional, it was somewhat later than I normally endure exercise, so I was hot and sweaty. A particularly persistent fly was buzzing around me, much to my annoyance. It’s hard to keep to a set pace when you’re waving your arms like a mad woman in an attempt to rid yourself of the little pest. It was sticky, buzzy, and more than I was prepared to deal with. But it got it’s revenge on my continued attempts to swat it.

Not only was I sweaty, red faced, and decidedly hot, but I was also short of breath. Which meant my mouth was open when the fly got too close. And when I say too close, I mean that it was inside my mouth and part way down my throat before I even put the equation together and started to gag. Yep, I swallowed a fly.

Just to round out the grossness, there was another incident at work today. My office is the reverse of my sewing bunker. It’s a glass box, for the most part, with the windows to the back looking out over garden beds which have struggled in the recent lack of rain. It seems they aren’t the only things to have suffered though. Some of the wild life has been drawn out, and I don’t mean the swans that have appeared on the lake.

It took a moment to notice what was climbed along the flower stalk of an iris. Then, just as the stalk wouldn’t support the weight anymore, I realised that it was a rat moving through the greenery.

Yep. Flies, vermin. It’s all happening around me at the moment. Does give a whole new meaning to the rustling I’ve heard in the grass on my way into the office of a morning…