When Life Gives You Lemons, Bake a Cherry Pie and Pile on the Ice Cream

Lately it seems the theme running through my posts has been “don’t let this happen to you.” A lot of things have been happening in the background of life and they’ve been affecting my sewing, my energy, my accuracy and my learning. So I thought I’d let you in on what’s been going on.

This is not a simpering blather of excuses or an exercise in pointless whining, just the way things are.

Over the last two months I’ve had my cataracts replaced. I’m thrilled to get light and color back into my life, but the blurry vision while my eyes heal has made things difficult and tiring. Then I developed iritis, an inflammation of the iris (the part of the eye that expands open and contracts down to regulate the amount of light that comes into the eye) and ended up with excruciating light sensitivity, which meant sewing with sunglasses on.

A few months before that, my eyes had started swelling up (no, not allergies) and my fingers had started turning yellow and purple and going completely numb. Just for the record, it’s hard to sew when eight of ten fingers are completely numb (although it does make cutting fabric fairly exciting). My hair started falling out big time. And I was getting really fatigued.

Cut to the chase – I’ve managed to develop a case of lupus. Technically, it’s lupus erythematosis – an autoimmune disease in which your body can’t tell itself from outside stuff and so, in its confusion, starts attacking everything, including itself. Great – my body has started emulating Homer Simpson. Oh, joy.

But there is good new in all of this, and on a couple of fronts.

First off, it’s early on and it’s not yet severe. A radical change in how I eat (an anti-inflammatory diet) is making a huge difference already; hardly any episodes of numb fingers, less hair on the floor and in the shower. A rigorous course of prednisone eye drops nipped the iritis in the bud and my eyeballs are happy again. And the fatigue is slowly improving.

Another upshot of all this is that it hit home the reality that my time here is not unlimited and I don’t want to waste it doing stupid things or things I don’t want to do (unless absolutely necessary, of course, like pay the electric bill).

Which brings me to my 1880’s Bustle Dress project.

I blew it. Big time.

I saw this photo of an extant garment, fell deeply in lust and decided I had to make it. Just had to make it. Had to.

Even though there is a lot of detail, it looked reasonably straightforward (at the time). And I would be making it as part of a class, so I wouldn’t be on my own. No, it’s not a beginner’s project. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was in love.

I didn’t have the fabric I really wanted to use, but I had something in my stash that would do well enough. So I read the directions, read the class instructions, watched the class videos and dove in. As often happens with me, it is the moment of actual construction that I start noticing the kabillion little details that my eye so blithely skimmed over not more than one week prior. Wait… How… But… Huh?

Buoyed up by the knowledge that I had my Facebook sewing group and Jennifer Rosbrugh at my fingertips, so to speak, I asked a question about the construction – which part(s) is/are the underskirt and which part(s) is/are the overskirt. And did I really need to flatline the underskirt in this case?

For reasons that remain unknown, I missed Jennifer’s response and spot-on de-construction of the construction techniques. By the time I caught her response I’d already cut out the underskirt in the fashion fabric…the wrong fashion fabric. Which left me without enough to make the dress the way it is in the photos. I could play around with it and make it work kinda, sorta, more or less, but…

By yesterday afternoon I was feeling very unhappy about the whole thing. This dress is going to take a lot of time to do it right and result in a dress that I’ll love. I went through the rest of my stash and unearthed two acceptable fabric substitutes – but I’d purchased them specifically for other dresses.

I had a chat with my online historical sewing buddy, Nessa, explained my dilemma and confessed that I didn’t want to make a dress unless it was a dress I really wanted to make.

Cue the light bulb.

I do not want to make this dress so that it’s “good enough.” I love this dress. If I’m going to give it all the time and effort it deserves, I want it to be the dress I want. I needed to stop, right then and there, and let the answer come alive. Not this fabric. Not this way. Not now.

So I gathered the pieces and carefully set them aside. The underskirt is cut. I have enough striped fabric left over for a bodice, although not the original one. And I have enough solid and striped fabric for an overskirt, although not the original one. I don’t know what I want yet – so I’m letting those thoughts percolate. One day soon they will gel, make the answer known, and I’ll know how to proceed. For now, however, I’m fine with letting it rest.

(from reproductionfabrics.com)

(from reproductionfabrics.com)

I’ve been sitting on this yummy reproduction fabric for a while. It could work for a bustle dress. But I bought it to make an 1880’s tea gown, and I still really want it for a tea gown. So it’s gone back onto the shelf to await it’s transformation. (Funny thing: I bought dark green solid fabric for an underskirt and couldn’t figure out why it just didn’t look right. With my eyes now seeing true colors again I discovered that the squiggly intertwined chain is cream and black, not cream and dark green. No wonder it looked so wrong. I set a deep black against it and the color popped like mad. Bingo.)

The other fabric is a pink and floral stripe; a bit of an overly-girlie choice for me, but it spoke (giggled?) to me and I bought it. The original plan was to use it for a Regency dress, but the print is all wrong so it’s been killing time on the shelf. I love how the Victorians used stripes – I even have a Pinterest board devoted to it. But the thought of being swathed in rosebuds proved a bit much for me to swallow. I needed another fabric to provide visual relief.

That’s when I spotted some green dotted cotton that I’d once planned to use for an underskirt, and which looked fine in the store, but which I promptly hated the moment I got it home.

Hmmm. Could it be possible these two poor rejects have just been waiting for me to notice their co-wonderfullness? Would it be possible to make a lovely summer bustle dress from these two retail disappointments? Why, I do believe the answer is…absolutely! Pink and green were commonly used together. True, the rosebuds are still a bit on the contemporary side, but not desperately off. And that funky almost-chartreuse green is right on.

2014-05-25 14.00.42

The pinks are actually much softer and the green is almost a pastel chartreuse.

I know exactly what I want to make, and I’m going to be breaking/bending the class project rules to make it. (I hereby publicly extend my profound apologies to Jennifer.) But I think it will be worth it. An 1873 polonaise in the pink rosebud stripe with an underskirt in green dotted cotton with a ruffle in the rosebud stripe. Girlie without overkill. And, hopefully, very Victorian.

Truly Victorian #410

The underskirt and its flat lining are cut out, ready to be sewn.

And I am thoroughly happy.

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3 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Lemons, Bake a Cherry Pie and Pile on the Ice Cream

  1. There is not much more to say to this but: *hugs big time*. But you know what it really funny? I saw a fabric very similar to your pink floral stripe one at the fabric market… and almost bought it. It’s striking how our fabric tastes overlap sometimes. 🙂

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