Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adventures in hat blocks & blocking. . .

I was recently asked if I had ever tried blocking felt hats, and my answer was no, that I'd only worked with shaping straw hats. So, I decided to block a felt hat! I placed an order with a millinery supply shop for a lovely quality black wool felt capeline (and some shellac) but just had a funny feeling it was going to take a while to get to me. As I was very anxious to get going on this project, I bought a couple of cheap hat blanks on eBay. This turned out to be a good decision because I'm still waiting for the millinery supply hat, but the eBay hats arrived on Saturday!

So, I had hat blanks, but the one critical thing that I was missing was a hat block. I searched everywhere I could think of online, but all I could find were the usual oval/head-shaped blocks. What I was after was a round block, with a sort of tapered cylinder shape. I simply could not find what I had in mind, but one can not very well shape a hat without something to shape it on! So I thought perhaps if I had a fabric with no give and a firm weave, I could make it of fabric and stuff it somehow. As it turns out, I have this ridiculous plaid fabric that I've been hanging on to even though I thought it really had no purpose since it was almost like plastic, it was that stiff and non-stretchy! Even on the bias, this fabric pretty much doesn't budge! So, yesterday, I patterned it and sewed it up. . .

I left the seams on the bottom outside intentionally so that it would be a bit easier to sew the opening once the form was stuffed! And, that brings me to the next problem: What to stuff it with? I thought perhaps sawdust, since that is what I use for making the bodies for my reproduction French fashion dolls, but I didn't have enough on hand to fill it. So, I decided to try sand, since it's really cheap and can be bought at any Home Depot or Lowe's. Here is the finished item (and my highly sophisticated sand scoop!) ;)

I felt like I might have over-stuffed it a bit, so I ended up removing a bit of it. Woody was very helpful with this. . . Or, maybe he thought this was some funky new form of a litter box!

I think this option could theoretically have worked, but even though the fabric did not stretch, and the sand was VERY tightly packed (I used a mallet and pounded it into the most compact pile of sand I could manage), the entire thing still seemed to shift a bit from side to side if given a decent nudge. After all, this is sand we are talking about! I think it would have been a giant headache to be worried about checking that it was still upright and level the whole time I was also trying to shape the hat! So it's a good thing I have such an awesome husband who was willing to try to turn a log from the wood pile into a wood hat block!

We don't have a lathe, so Glenn was limited to chisels and his sander. I think it actually turned out quite well! (It actually tapers a bit more in "real life" than it appears to in the picture. Not sure why it would not photograph the way I was seeing it!) I felt like I could totally use this for my felt hat making experimentation.

Funny story: We had this long conversation on Saturday morning about how it would be so great to know someone who did woodworking, or who at least had a lathe, but alas, we didn't have the proper connection. Meanwhile, little did we know, Glenn's brother was not even thirty minutes away, messing around with his newly-purchased lathe! Found that out this morning at Easter brunch. Things I wish I knew yesterday!!! Ha ha ha!

This morning, I got up early so I would have time to block my hat before heading out to Easter brunch at the in-laws' house. Here is the "before" shot of the capeline:

I got it really damp and pliable using a combination of my steamer and a plant mister, molded it over Glenn's block, and used push pins to hold the brim out the way I wanted it. I was aiming for something along the lines of some extant 17th century hats in the Victoria & Albert Museum, (T.22-1938 and T.23&A-1938). I think it turned out pretty well! Mine might not taper quite as much as my inspirations, but after all, this was about challenging myself to shape a felt hat, not create a hat block, right? So I'm calling this a success! ;)

So now, I'm letting it dry, and also waiting for my shellac to arrive in the mail. Then I'll give it a couple of coats of that, then trim it, and it will be ready to wear!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Regency Intensive Dance Weekend, and the start of a new dress. . .

I've just returned home from the CVD Regency Intensive Dance Weekend, and thought I would promptly post my few pictures. Why so few? Because we were dancing almost non-stop! There were five hours of classes on Saturday, followed by a soiree in the evening. The pictures below are from that soiree. . .

Glenn looking thoughtful and dapper:

And myself looking perhaps a little tired and overwhelmed (as indeed I was):

Guys, they mean it when they call this weekend "intense." Indeed, for someone who has almost zero dancing experience, and especially someone like me who is better off learning things a small chunk at a time as opposed to ALL THE THINGS at once in one half of a day, it really is quite grueling and overwhelming. That said, the CVD people are AWESOME. They are so friendly and welcoming, and patiently guided us through each dance we messed up (which was almost all of them, unfortunately!) I did learn the basic steps so that theoretically, I can dance a dance if someone just tells me what the "moves" are and queues me as to when I'm supposed to do them vs. wait for the head couples to move to a certain point. . . But if nobody is prompting me? I get lost. Also, when they taught the basic travelling step at the start of the weekend, I apparently did it completely wrong, and didn't know that until several dances in, when another dancer kindly caught me aside on a water break and very patiently helped me re-learn it. But, since I'd missed the chance to repeatedly practice it (correctly, anyhow), it's like I couldn't get it into my muscle memory because I was so busy trying to memorize everything else. Anyhow. Really long story short is that it was a lot to absorb in a condensed amount of time, and I felt so bad about messing up all their dances, especially since we seemed to be the only ones who weren't pros! So, we decided that instead of doing the second day, we'd go off and have a tourist day in the north shore. Hence, no pictures of the grand ball. Instead, we took a little driving tour of the area had some delicious ice cream by the sea in Gloucester, and finished up the day by taking in a movie. Very relaxing, which is just what we needed after the non-stop pace of the day before!

I'd started a second ball gown (since there would be two evening events, and I thought it would be more fun to have a different dance for each!) but to be honest, by the time the classes ended, I already suspected I wouldn't be attending day two, so I didn't make an attempt to swiftly finish the second dress, and instead just wore my fancier ball gown to the soiree. Here's a sneak peek of the second ball gown that is not quite finished yet:

I really love this fabric, which is a wonderfully lightweight cotton with self-stripes as well as a thin silver metallic stripe running through it here and there (and cost me only $2.50/yard!) I finished all the seams as I went along, so I really do just need to add the skirt (panels are already seamed and ready to go), sleeve bands, and a hem. Exciting! But, I'm going to set this aside for a few weeks while I put finishing touches on my 18th century attire since there are now less than two weeks to my next costuming adventure: Fort Fred! Hooray for an exciting April full of sewing/costuming adventures!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's a little silly in my sewing room right now. . .

Well, the long story short is that I used old measurements for Glenn and the mock ups I assembled today were not a good fit. It looked so ridiculous - especially since the shirt has no sleeves yet - and I can't recall when we last laughed so hard! So I'm not sharing pictures of that with you, but I did go ahead and have some fun modeling the pieces for you myself. Over my modern clothes. I'm very silly today, I know. . . But if you don't laugh, you cry, right? Anyhow. . .

I call this one "Proud Mr. Darcy":

Regency gents know all about poppin' their collars! BWAH HA HA HA HA!!!!!

Um. . . I don't even know. Maybe I'm showing off my waistband? Or the fact that I didn't do any of the behind-the-scenes pieces on the pants so I'd be giving you a bit of a show if I weren't fully dressed in modern clothing underneath!

Right. Enough silliness. I'm going to see if I can get the patterns all traced and new mock-ups cut before it's time to bid farewell to this weekend!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Regency Menswear!

So there is potentially a change in plans, because it seems possible that my husband may be dragged along accompanying me to the Regency Intensive Dance Weekend! That would mean that it would probably be wise of me to spend my sewing time between now and then crafting his ensemble as opposed to making nice-but-not-necessary enhancements to my own wardrobe!

I already have a shirt and top hat well under way, which is a good start. . . And, I already knew I would eventually put together an entire ensemble for him, which is also good since that means I have already hoarded a nice little collection of fabrics and patterns to start with!

I've been thinking a bit more about the details and time period to shoot for with this ensemble, and I'm calling it "1810s" for now. These two fashion plates (both from 1813) give a good idea of the feel I'm aiming for:


As you see, I'm definitely going the route of long pants. (I just think it's a bad plan to try to introduce my husband to the idea of historic costumes by way of breeches and stockings!) The fabric I have set aside for this is a caramel colored cotton. Probably not the most frequent fabric choice for pants of this era, but the color is good, as I've seen it in multiple paintings and at least one surviving pair of pants from this era.

As for the waistcoats, I have something ridiculous like five silk fabrics hoarded away with the intention of becoming waistcoats! Among these are a waffle-like pattern and a blue stripe that are similar to those in the plates (which is a good part of the reason I chose them to be representative of what I'm aiming for!) The great thing about waistcoats is that they don't take up a ton of fabric, and can completely alter the look of an ensemble that is otherwise using the same garments. My only problem is in choosing which fabric to use first!

So that just leaves the coat, and this one will be a bit of an under-taking, I'm sure! I've done some tailoring before, and even did a coat for Glenn before (though not vintage. . . Well, I guess "Cobra Commander" is a bit vintage, seeing as how he's a 1980s thing!) so I can draw on my experience from those projects. I'm not sure if I'm going to go with the Country Wives pattern or with one of the Laughing Moon patterns instead, or perhaps I'll be pulling bits and pieces from here and there amongst multiple books and patterns to get the right look. . . We'll see! I've got my heart set on having a blue coat, but the only blue wool fabrics I can find are either a totally wrong weave, or much darker a shade than I wanted. I do have one option in my stash, but I am not completely in love with it, so may yet do some shopping around. . .

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"I shall have to be bought new clothes, for I have nothing fit to wear, and there will be balls and parties every night!"

I've decided that this year, I shall attend the "Regency Intensive Dance Weekend" hosted by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. This era for fashion is one of my favorites, and it's also my favorite era of dance out of those I've yet tried. However, I don't really know much about Regency dance. . . So how perfect is it for me to attend a weekend where I get to learn and practice dancing all weekend, plus, get to dress up three times?!?

So of course, I'm assessing my wardrobe and deciding what I'd like to make for this event. Luckily, I have both a wearable ball gown and day dress, so technically, I have all that I need to survive the weekend. But where's the fun in just wearing the same old things without at least adding a little something new here and there, right? Here are my current wardrobe plans:

Ball #1: New dress! Will be extremely simple style, using the pattern I used for my dotted Swiss dress with slight variation, and of a metallic striped cotton. Easy-peasy!

Ball #2: The Wicked Puffy Dress again! Because I think this might be my favorite thing I've yet made, and I want to wear it as much as possible. So I'll get the rest of the trimmings on in time for this event!

Day Event: TBD. I have my dotted Swiss dress which, if nothing else, is a great back-up option. But I'm contemplating a "something new" for this part of the weekend. Just not sure if I want to invest my time in a new ensemble (maybe finish my two-piece dress?) or maybe make some fun new accessories instead. . . If I am smart, I will instead focus my efforts on a Pelisse, since it's likely to still be chilly at this time of year and I get cold very easily. So, I'll have to mull this over and see what I'm most in the mood to make! ;)

So, stay tuned for some Regency sewing adventures! :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Wicked Puffy Dress, aka, that time I hand-sewed a Regency ball gown in two weeks flat. . .

I really had no intention of attending the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers Regency ball in Salem. . . But then, only a few weeks before, I found out my good friend was flying up from Virginia and attending it! Of course I had to go! But somehow, there was no Regency evening wear in my wardrobe. Shocking! With only a few weeks to the event, and knowing I wouldn't be me if I didn't hand-sew the entire thing, I did the only logical thing: Took on a big, ridiculously, very trimmed project!!!

After two weeks of hand sewing like a maniac (in between full time work, part time school, and other miscellaneous things like not neglecting time with my husband, LOL!) I produced this:

I still have a few things to do to it. Mainly, I need to add the puffings to the skirt! Also, the undersleeve should have a drawstring and bit of lace, and the oversleeve wants some bonus trimmings as well. . . But I'm pleased to say that construction-wise, it was done. As in, no safety pins holding this baby together! Hooray for that!

This is a recreation of the 1822 "Brudekjole" (aka wedding dress, but also very appropriate as ball attire) from the Danish "Nationalmuseet." You can see the original on their web site, here.

Since they provide the pattern for this dress (YAY!) I used that. I scaled the pattern up by hand using a gridded board and ruler, and stayed pretty faithful to it as is, save for a few minor changes to make it fit my particular size/shape. I had some translating adventures to try to figure out all the construction details provided, but I think I understood it fairly well! Things that didn't seem to make sense to me at first became clear as I actually reached that point in the pattern. So, it all went very well indeed!

The gorgeous parure (aka jewelry set) I'm wearing is made by the talented Taylor (my friend who flew in for the ball!) and you can purchase such lovely jewelry from her at her Etsy shop here: Dames a la Mode

All in all, the evening was perfect! I didn't actually end up dancing, but greatly enjoyed spending time with my friends, both local (including the lovely Sarah, who took these pictures for me!) and long distance, as well as meeting new folks, and of course, playing dress-up. ;) And, I had a blast stepping up to the challenge of pulling this off in such a short amount of time. It was a win-win!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Holiday Tea 2013

We returned again to the gorgeous "Gore Place" for our 2013 Holiday Tea! It was not "Jane Austen" themed this year, but the setting still made it the perfect place for our Regency attire, and as always, the staff are amazing, and seemingly appreciative of our willingness to play dress-up. ;)

I convinced my husband to tag along this year! I had thought to maybe have the start of a period ensemble together for him, but I ended up with a partially sewn shirt and the starts of a hat. So, modern attire it had to be, but I still think he looked dashing!

Gore Place has a ridiculously beautiful piano that was a very generous gift to them, and we were allowed to sit and pose with it (though not to touch it as we'd just had sticky tea deserts and this is a seriously rare and stunning instrument!)

Glenn so patiently stood by while we took lots of pictures of each of us having our turn to pose with the piano!

And then, he even stepped in as photographer so we could have a group shot of all the costumed ladies!