Monday, October 28, 2013

Lady Mary's Walking Suit (or how Pinterest made chaos of my project list)

So I had projects planned for the next few months.  I was going to knock out a shirt to replace the shredded linen one that Jay wore for Sunday in the Park.  Then I was going to make the 1940s evening dress I need for the Anachrocon dance. Then there was an 1890s skirt and shirtwaist for Anachrocon, a mid 19th century waistcoat for Jay.  And HSF challenges interspersed between projects.  This was a managable, if slightly aggressive schedule for someone who has maybe 6 hours a week to sew.

Then on my nightly Pinterest review, I came across this Downton Abbey photo.  And Lady Mary's walking suit beguiled me with it's siren song:  "Here.  Here is your next project.  Forsake all others.  I am what you really want to make."   And I was sucked in like a sailor on the rocks.

Reasons why I absolutely need to make this suit (or at least an approximation of it)

1) It would be, dare I say, flattering on plus sized me
2)  It looks simple enough to be a manageable project and yet elegant enough to be gorgeous
3)  It's trimmed with black velvet!
4)  from my VtM LARP days, I already have the black velvet gloves and a hat that will require minimal reworking
5) I might be able to get away without a corset under it

I totally need to disappear from the world for a week or so and do nothing but sew!!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

More Kanzashi!

We're out of the hotel and back in the house...  with no furniture on the main floor, the refrigerator in the garage and left over building materials still piled up everywhere (did I mention that our contractor....  to put it politely...  has subpar project management skills?) The cats think the piles of wood are dandy, though.

But I have a sewing room again..  yay! And I celebrated by leaving suitcases packed and puttering around in it a good chunk of the weekend.  What did I make?  Despite having a laundry list of projects that need to be done, I put my kanzashi making practice to good use and made myself a hair clip using some kimono fabric that I'd bought a while ago.

It was silk or rayon crepe and I learned quickly why the book I'd been using (Kanzashi in Bloom by Diane Gilleland) specified ballpoint pins.  Using quilting cotton, dressmakers pins went through the folded petal with no problems.  The crepe was heavier and took extra mass of the ballpoint pinhead as well as a thimble to get the pin through the folds.  On the upside, having the larger pinhead made it easier to manipulate the petal in the early stages.  Note to self:  Follow the directions the first time.

I also broke down and started sewing the second row of soutache on the 1890's shoulder cape that I did for HSF #20.  I still deeply regret using the (cheap) dupioni, but I hate to waste it (and all the time I put into it) so I think I'm going to add a longer under-cloak out of black wool at some point and see if I like it better. Maybe that qualifies for HSF#1 "Make Do and Mend" in January. *hopeful thought*

I'd feel better if I could find at least one period example of using 2 different fabrics, but I may just have to decide that, despite its origins as an HSF challenge, the project is steampunk rather than historical.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


We're currently living in a hotel while we have 2 levels of hardwood floors replaced from a water pipe bursting under our kitchen sink.  (thankfully, all of this is paid for by our insurance!), so I haven't been terribly productive sewing wise.

 But I brought some handwork to the hotel and I've been playing around with making Japanese kanzashi flowers.  Historically, these are the tiny tiny flowers made folding thin silk squares that are on a geisha's hair ornaments, but the book said to start with 3-4" squares as a beginner.   I also used cotton as an experiment.  (and found in the process that the crisper the cotton the better.) The tote bags are donations for an auction for breast cancer research at work, hence all the pink and white.

Once I had made a few of the larger ones, I made a few with 2" squares as hair clips for a friend's daughter.

The white and pink polkadot kanzashi was the one that I think came out the best (and was the last of the three that I made with the 2 inch squares for petals.  So feeling brave (and having a LOT of time to kill this weekend), I tried using 1" squares as petals.  And immediately went from feeling pretty confident to feeling like a hulking gaijin brute trying to make all the folds with fingers that suddenly felt like logs.  But I got one to turn out mostly ok  but I'm not sure I will attempt it again (and I have absolutely NO idea how anyone could make the folds on anything smaller than a 1" square..  or with a flimsy silk.

I have now made as many kanzashi as I know what to do with and we have another week in the hotel...  it's likely to be a looong week.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #20: Outerwear

I spent last night frantically handsewing soutache on the shoulder cape to meet the challenge deadline.  And then I tried it on and....  well, hated it. :(  Having to hem it up 4" to bring it all even to the side seams brought it up to just above my elbow and it just felt like a silly length to me.

I was frustrated beyond belief to get the #$%^ing thing finished and then end up hanging it in the closet and never wearing it because I didn't like how it turned out.  But Jay suggested that I could do something Inverness style so that it became the top of something longer.  The more I think about that, the more the idea grows on me. has some 60" dupioni in a luscious colour called black cherry that I may need to get a swatch of.  Or perhaps a forest green.  Matching blacks would be crazy making but a contrasting colour (especially with continuing the black soutache trim) might be striking. Note to self:  do some research to see if mixing colours like that was ever done.

Lessons learned:
1) my pattern drafting is rustier than I thought.
2) handsewing takes longer than I expect (and should be done in daylight if at all possible)
3) Cheap silk dupioni looks striped.  Don't buy cheap dupioni.

 It's difficult to see the row of soutache edging the front and bottom in this picture.  My original thought was to add a second row but I ran out of time for challenge #20 and I'm not sure I like the garment enough to put the additional hand sewing time in unless I follow through on the Inverness thought.

As I posted previously, I tried to recreate the multiple tucks on the collar of an Emile Pingat cape, but I think the slubbing of the dupioni worked against me because the effect is far more subtle than I was hoping for.  To me, the tucks look too much like the slubbing to be really noticeable.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday in the Park with Jay

Had another session working on the shoulder cape yesterday.  After spending far too much time picking apart seams I had put in the last time I worked on it, I finally made some progress and I now have a finished cape with a tidy hand sewn hem ready to be trimmed.  HSF #20 ends tomorrow, so I have a lot more hand sewing to be done tonight to finish it in time.  Wish me luck!

But the weather was sunny when we woke up today, so I thought it would still be possible to go to Sunday in the Park. So I get up and start settling on my long hair piece to wear under the snood I have and just about the time I get it perfect, Jay says:  "Uh...  I figured we'd go out to breakfast before we started getting ready."  So I decide "the hell with it" and throw on jeans and a tshirt (black, of course) and we go to Waffle House, where my snood is nowhere near close to the oddest thing people are wearing.

We're talking over coffee and I mention that I hope I can get all the trim on the cape by tomorrow and Jay says:  "Well..  we could always skip Sunday in the Park..." and I think "  Hell no, I've been working on costumes for a month for this!"  and look at him closely.  "Do YOU want to skip Sunday in the Park?" I ask neutrally.

"Well...the aviators scarf I ordered never arrived, I'm afraid the outfit looks too WWII and I know you don't like the khaki camp shirt I was planning on wearing under my bomber jacket....."    (We won't talk about the three conversations we had over the course of the past month in which I suggested that we could make his outfit look less WWII and more steampunky by putting a waistcoat and high collared shirt with a cravat under the jacket and he balked at the idea.)

So we finish breakfast and go home and I drag some stuff out of the LARP box.  A battered white linen shirt I made years ago that's loosely modeled on a Romantic era men's shirt:  floofy sleeves and a high collar, a burgundy silk cravat from another shirt that I made and lost to an ex (I still mourn that shirt!) and a black man's vintage U front dress waistcoat.

The shirt is on its last legs, it has a long tear in one sleeve and another under the arm where the fabric has given out. But hey...  it's going to be under a waistcoat and a jacket.  But it looks as good as I suspected it would and better still, he likes it.  So we're back on track for going to Sunday in the Park (thankfully!)

I remember enough about wearing a corset to put my boots on first, but corset lacing is a two person job and Jay remembers nothing about what the woman showed him at Dragon Con when I bought the corset.  But we manage to get me in the corset and I resolved to 1) not to think about the mess that the lacing looked like in back and 2) find some youtube videos or some tutorial on corset lacing and put Jay thru some dry runs before our next event.

So we're dressed and off...  finally.  We had a good time wandering around Oakland Cemetery and seeing the local artisans.  Maybe 20% of the people there were dressed in costume so it wasn't too odd that we were in costume, but I still lost count of the number of times that we got stopped by people wanting pictures.  (and that's my personal benchmark for a decent costume :)  )

But it was good to get home and out of the corset.  My boots were surprisingly comfortable, even at the end of the afternoon.  Jay wasn't so lucky, but at least we know where his boots rub and can be proactive for the future.

The big takeways were:
1)  we absolutely need to do a "dress rehearsal"  before a costuming event to make sure all of the little pieces parts are taken care of.  I thought I was completely ready and didn't realize that my reticule didn't have a handle till I pulled it out to put my iphone in it this morning.
2) I need to find someway to streamline juggling a reticule, a parasol and a fan
3) I totally need a Victorian looking pair of sunglasses!

 Me in Steampunk.  Sadly, my hat is completely invisible in the picture.

 Jay as a steampunk aviator

 Random gentleman that we ran into

Jay and I with another couple we met this afternoon..and colour coordinated with beautifully!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Target for costuming... who knew!

Spent another frustrating session on the shoulder cape last night.  I am beginning to think the whole project is cursed.  It's one step forward, two steps back all the way.  But The HSF challenge ends Monday, so I'm in the home stretch one way or the other.

The other frustrating thing is that we're supposed to have a tropical storm hit Atlanta tomorrow so there is a decent chance that it will be raining all day, so we may not even get to go to Sunday in the Park.

On a cheerier note, we were out at Target this afternoon doing responsible adult errands and we stumbled into the Halloween department.  Admittedly, there was a ton of schlock, but the real shock was that there was some stuff actually worth buying and their prices were crazy low.  Admittedly, none of it passes a historical accuracy test, but for steampunk it's just dandy.

The black velour top hats were $12, surprisingly substantial AND ran large enough to fit both Jay and I (both of us usually wear a 7 1/2 men's hat size so finding ready made hats that fit is always difficult).  I actually bought 2..  one to decorate a la riding habit and one to stay unadorned.

A black velour pimp hat.  Who could resist a black velour pimp hat?  Certainly not me!

The picture doesn't do the mask justice.  It's black metal filigree and has a rhinestones as well as the red metallic paint.  It was $15, which stunned me.  If I saw this on etsy (or at a con/ren faire) for $50, I wouldn't have blinked (I probably wouldn't have bought it, but I wouldn't have thought it was over priced).

Jay had vague thoughts of being some superhero called the Atom but the whole super hero bodysuit thing seemed pretty daunting.  (I hate working with knits) We found these "skin suits" at Target for $30.  It had an attached hood that zips over the face that will require some reworking, but it's a good starting point.

All in all it was a very pleasant surprise!  The problem is that I now own enough hats that I am really going to have to come up with a good way to store all of them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

So far so... adequate

The mockup of the shoulder cape went well...  even when I decided I wanted to add a high collar with detailing from an Emile Pingat 1895 cape in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (

The actual dupioni wasn't as painless to work with as I'd hoped.  It was a piece from a Hancock Fabrics sale, so it had enough slubbing to almost make it look striped when I put the pieces together.  That didn't thrill me, but it was already cut, so I hated to waste the fabric.

I'd also cut a pure full circle and probably should have made it slightly oval, because the length difference at the side seams really bugged me.  I swear it had hung more evenly in the mockup.  I'd been hoping for wrist length, but I know I'm going to end up hemming it up to the shortest points, which will make it elbow length.

And the collar tucks went in beautifully in the cotton mock up but gave me fits when I tried to recreate them in the silk.

Not sure this is going to be a finished garment that I am even the slightest bit happy with.