A Heartfelt Thank You

I want to send out heartfelt thanks to reader Elisabeth, who pointed me in the direction of Sharon Ann Burnston’s article on 18th century chemises. I think she just may have saved me from myself.

As my lovely linen was washing yesterday, I pulled out my pattern to review the instructions and realized that it calls for 3 1/2 yards of fabric however I’d only ordered 2 1/2. Oops.

But 2 1/2 yards of 54″ wide fabric seems like it should be enough. I’m not 54 inches wide, after all. I don’t want full sleeves with cuffs and ruffles. And if it’s a bit on the short-ish side I can live with it. But there was no way I was going to get the chemise I wanted out of the pattern I had without that extra yard.

Enter Plan B – Sharon Ann Burnston’s article. I need to measure and draft it out on my pattern material (conveniently printed in a one-inch grid) but I think it will work.

So many thanks, Elisabeth – looks like I might be able to bail myself out of this one without having to buy more fabric.


She Sits and Sews! – a sewing room update

Before: white walls, white blinds, white lamp, white sewing machine.

Before: white walls, white blinds, white curtains, white lamp, white sewing machine.

Yesterday I got the urge to sit down and sew for the first time in a long time. Whew! It wasn’t anything big or splashy, but I hope it’s a sign.

As most of you know, I’m a person who loves color. I get a little nuts without it. The place I’m currently renting, like most rentals in the U.S., has white walls and white blinds on the windows. It’s like living in a milk carton.

I’d put up a calendar and some photos from my travels in France over my desk, which helped my writing area.

I’d put up my Quimper tinware over the bookcase with my cookbooks, which helped the kitchen.

I hung a quilt I’d done years ago on the wall between the bedroom and the hallway, which gave a visual shot of color as one comes around the corner to the bedroom.

But the sewing room has remained white-white-white and, therefore, not a mentally lively space in which to sit or work.

fabric2Yesterday I was going through my fabric stash, wondering what on earth I was going to do with all of it, when I came across a length of cotton fabric I purchased a long time ago with the intention of making something to wear. I liked it because it’s colorful and fun and reminds me of the mille fiori glass made in Murano, Italy.

But it’s a bit too heavy to drape well and when I laid it out I noticed that the background ran on the diagonal, which is never a good choice for me. So I’d held onto it for eons because I love it and couldn’t bear to part with it, yet didn’t have the faintest idea what to do with it. Then I stood there with fabric in hand, lamenting the boring whiteness of my sewing space and inspiration hit like a ton of bricks – make curtains. Now.

So I did, right there and then. I didn’t do a bunch of fancy measurements – just cut the length in half, made sure each piece was oriented in the same direction and started hemming, then finished the edges, then turned the top down for the curtain rod.

By complete and absolutely delightful coincidence, the colors in the curtains go with the colors of the fabric bins on both sides of the storage units I’m using as low room dividers. There’s a knitting side and a sewing side and the fabric looks great with both.

So now the room is perked up considerably and I get to see that fun fabric I love every day. It couldn’t have worked out better if I’d planned it.


When Your Muse Wanders Off…Indefinitely


To be fair, I probably should have written this a while back. But I’ve been confused and haven’t known what to say so I’ve been putting it off. I’m sure you’ve noticed I haven’t been posting much lately – for a couple of months, in fact. Well, there’s a reason and I’ve been struggling with it.

What does one do when one writes a blog about reproducing historical fashions and one’s sewing muse abruptly just ups and leaves?

That’s what’s happened to me. At first I thought it was just all the kerfuffle from deciding to move and then getting the whole thing organized so all the pieces came together in the right order. Then there was the move itself and a month of pure chaos – half living in one town and half living in another. That was followed by the exhaustion of unpacking (still not finished, by the way) and further sorting. And so passed December, January, February and a good chunk of March.

(original source unknown)

(source unknown)

Now it’s two months later and in that time I’ve not even been able to make myself sew. Which is so very weird because I have loved sewing since I was a kid, just as I’ve been interested historical fashions since even before I started sewing. Then suddenly – poof! What the heck? I have a marvelous sewing space, a small mountain of a stash, a tall filing cabinet full of patterns…and not a single thing moves me.

I got to the point of considering whether I should let this blog go altogether – admit that my urge to sew was gone for good, pull myself together and move on.

But I just couldn’t do it, and for two reasons: 1) because I could not believe that my sewing muse has departed for good and 2) there is a lot of historical sewing I haven’t yet explored and I’m still interested in learning about it.

So, after months and months of pretty much agonizing over what to do, I’ve finally made a few decisions which I hope will entice my muse to return.

First off, I’m dropping out of the Historical Sew Monthly – at least for the time being. I’ll keep the badge and link active on my home page because I think it’s a great idea and support the HSM wholeheartedly. I just don’t want that additional bit of pressure from a deadline right now. Having said that, the Challenge for May (Holes) is finished and I’ll be sharing that with you as soon as it’s been blocked.

I am really drawn to hand sewing at the moment, so perhaps focusing on a couple of small projects to get the wind back in my sewing sails. A friend of mine has A Big Life Event coming up soon and I’d like to make something for her, so perhaps a little something of a historical nature would fit the bill. So my second decision is to work on smaller projects so I can get to the finish line – hoping that garnering a series of successes will help bolster my enthusiasm.

And, with the HSM retired, I can pick what I want to make for myself and do it at my own pace. My third decision: be a little more selfish in choosing what garments to make and start with something casual that won’t be on display…anywhere. I’m interested in having something to wear around the house other than sweats. And I’m interested in the idea of wrappers. And it so happens I have two Laughing Moon patterns for wrappers and the fabric to make them. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll try that – something just for me to be worn just for myself and my pleasure.

Lastly, my fourth decision is that historical sewing needn’t be confined to garments and accessories only. I’m still hand sewing my 1840’s reproduction quilt using historically accurate reproduction fabrics I’ve collected over the years. I used to think that English paper piecing was the definition of mind-melting, repetitive boredom. But now I find it relaxing, almost meditative. And I believe that making home goods counts, so it’s staying in the mix and you’ll be able to watch it grow over time. Here’s the pattern, as made by someone else (I don’t know who) and posted online:

"Grace's Quilt", based on an extant 1840's quilt

“Grace’s Quilt”, based on an extant 1840’s quilt

So that’s where I am. A little of this, a bit of that and, hopefully, great success in luring my muse back home.

Just a Quick Sewing Room Update

I unpacked a few more boxes of fabric (!!!) today and finally got the sewing table cleared off, the Ott Light lamp in place and machine all set up, plugged in and ready to sew. This is why I love my new sewing space…

sewing room view

…especially because this is my view while sitting at the sewing machine – calm and peaceful even on a rainy, grey day.

window view

The next phase of unpacking involves some major shuffling of storage containers, shelves and what not. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge, but I’ll get there.

Boxed In

Unpacking 1

Today the seemingly endless towers and corridors of boxes got to me. I can’t find anything…bits and pieces, here and there, but not everything for one single project. It’s driving me nuts and today I came close to snapping. It was me or the cardboard – and the cardboard lost.

I started by unpacking fabric, which accounts for a number of boxes. five boxes went down today: 2 large and 3 small.

Unpacking 2

I folded individual pieces. Yardage was wound back onto bolts and stacked on the bookshelf – Victorian-era prints on the top shelf, pre-Victorian on the bottom shelf.

Unpacking 4

The surprise of the day was locating my stash of 1930’s reproduction fabrics, for which I have something very special planned.

Unpacking 5

The find of the day was the electric cord and foot pedal for my sewing machine. WooHoo! Victory!! (Or at least a step in the right direction.) Now I need to get the rest of the boxes off of the sewing table so I can actually use the machine. One step at a time.

It feels like it’s taking forever to get the new sewing room into action, but my real frustration is in falling so out of touch with the Historical Sew Monthly. The cap that was meant as January’s project is just not working out (more on that in another post). February is nearly one-third gone and I’ve not even selected a project, let alone started one. In retrospect, it would have been nice if I’d thought far enough ahead so that I’d chosen projects for the first few months and packed them all in a single, well-marked box. Unfortunately, life happened and best laid plans fell by the wayside.

So it goes. I’ll get it together, eventually.

However, unexpected things – very nice things – have been happening on the historical fashion/sewing front.

A member of my historical costuming group contacted me with a question, one thing led to another, and she asked if I’d be interested in writing an article for the group’s newsletter and participate in an upcoming gathering for members who need historical background to prepare for the planned Fall Event (more on that later, too).

A few days prior to that, I visited the police station to get an application for a new dog license for my Sophie. I ended parking in front of the local museum. I didn’t even know we had one, so I went in and ended up chatting with the volunteers. Turns out they were pretty excited that I had some knowledge of and lots of interest in historical clothing. The museum has a building where the collection is stored and the collection includes extant garments and other historic textiles. They’re looking for help working with that part of the collection and asked if I’d be interested. Moi? In a room filled with antique garments that I get to fondle handle, inspect and learn from? With someone on hand to teach me what is what? Youbetcha!

So it looks like another chapter in personal development is looming on the horizon. Both the museum work and helping provide historical background for a costuming event are something I’ve thought of doing for quite a while and it seems I’ll be getting a crack at both.

Old dog + new tricks = one very happy camper.

Upright and Still Almost Sane: an update on moving and HSM 2016

(From the Everett Collection)

(From the Everett Collection)

Few things will mess with one’s life like moving does and this move has been a doozie. Once everything was out of the old place it needed to undergo the checkout cleaning for the property manager’s approval to refund my security deposit. The security deposit was whopping big and I want it back.

But the old place hasn’t been well maintained and was in such poor condition that cleaning it wasn’t easy. The deteriorating wood needed careful handling. It’s difficult to scrub cracked and chipping paint. Two rooms needed repainting. I found a black widow spider in the coat closet and evidence of rodents in the former garage (I think they moved in after the botched construction job). In any case, I spend the last week driving back to the old place daily to work on cleaning it up. Even with fours hours of help on Friday, it still took forever. And I threw my back out in the process.

I finished with the house at 9pm on Sunday night and I’ve been barely mobile since then. Today is the first day I can stand up without pain and I am thrilled. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to start unpacking and arranging the sewing room.

And all that means that I’m dreadfully behind on HSM 2016.

January: Procrastination – finish a garment you have been putting off finishing (a UFO or PHD) or make something you have been avoiding starting. I was working on a hand-sewn cap of white organdy, which was due Jan 31st. Unfortunately, neither December nor January was conducive to sewing – I’m procrastinating on the Procrastination challenge.

February: Tucks and Pleating – make a garment that features tucks and pleating for the shape or decoration. I want to make an 1840’s or 1850’s dress, but I know that one short month is not enough time. So I’m working my way through my patterns to see what I have that’s doable in just a few weeks and I might be on to something. I just need to decide, get the sewing machine set up and start cutting. So as soon as I know what I’m doing I’ll pass it on.

Moving Mountains

The moving truck has come and gone. That was on Monday. I am still completely knackered and ache from head to toe – literally. I’d say I hate moving, but it wouldn’t do the experience true justice.

I miss my sewing!! I tried to work on the organdy bonnet, but I’ve been too tired and stressed to do a good job and it’s not coming out the way I want it to. I’ll post photos and discuss the issues at hand shortly. In the mean time, this is how the new sewing room looks today:

sewing room

I also have a small, unfinished bathroom off of the sewing room that I plan to use to store fabric and the mannequins. This is how it looks at the moment (and yes, that is a Victorian fichu plopped on top of a Regency petticoat):

fabric room

This is going to take a while to get settled, but I’ll be pulling it into shape one bit at a time. Looks like another year of not getting HSM #1 done on time, which is frustrating but is not exactly going to stop the world from turning.

An Abrupt End-of-Year Transition Has Taken Me by Surprise, and a Tweak to HSM #12


It’s time I shared a bit of my personal life, because things around the old homestead are undergoing a radical change at a time of year when there is already plenty of hustle and bustle (no costuming pun intended) to keep anyone busy.

Eight years ago I moved to this city on the advice of my allergist and I love it here. It is the best place I’ve ever lived and I have tried ever so hard to stay here. But it is a tourist town at heart and the prices of everyday goods and services are priced accordingly. It has become too expensive for me to stay and so, sadly, I must move elsewhere. I did everything I could to avoid this, but sometimes what must happen must happen. My lease is up at the end of January, so the hunt was on.

One week ago, last Sunday, while hunting online I found a nice place in a safe neighborhood in a town about 40 miles away. It has everything I need, a few thing I want (like heat that works and windows that don’t leak) and nothing extraneous. It works for the budget and is close enough that I can still come back into town to see friends and get together with my knitting buddies. And, thank the heavens, it is closer to fabric stores and major services so no 80+-mile commutes for a spool of ribbon or thread.

On Sunday I downloaded and filled out the application. On Monday I drove to the property manager’s office. As it happened, the old tenant had just turned in the keys so I was able to see the property. It is in excellent condition and perfect for my needs. There is even a separate area off the living room that will make a light-filled sewing room. So on Monday I submitted my application and the fee. On Thursday I got the call that the application had been accepted, the background check had to process first, and Sophie was approved. Tomorrow, Monday, I drive back out to sign the papers and put down the holding deposit.

I’ll be in a nicer home and my cost of living will go down by quite a bit, both of which are great. But I move in 19 days. EEK!! As a result, I’m in a bit of a scramble.

So, I haven’t gotten a lot of sewing done. OK, I haven’t gotten any sewing done.

I’m scaling back HSM #12 to one project only – the cap. At this point, I’m not sure it’s going to end up looking like I thought it was but, since it’s going to be under a bonnet for the most part, I can live with it for the time being. And if I don’t like it, I’ll just make another one (if there’s a challenge to re-do a re-do).

No Gaps Here and the Overskirt is Conquered…with a Twist.

Adjusting the waistband on the underskirt went smoothly and now it closes completely. And having a pieced waistband lends an air of authenticity to the construction, doesn’t it? I’m going with “yes, as a matter of fact, it does” because this is exactly who women of the period dealt with weight gain. Unless they were so incredibly wealthy they could afford to have a new wardrobe made, that is. Alas, I find myself a bit below that financial circle so it’s alterations all the way.

2015-09-12 11.10.15

I’d already put a slim pocket in the right side back seam, but I want to add a safety pocket to the left side back seam so I won’t have to carry a handbag of any kind. The safety pocket flies together when you’re following the instructions and not adding all sorts of extras, like I did on the first one. Total construction time is under an hour when you keep it simple. It also comes out smaller, because of the 5/8-inch seam around the edge, but it’s still plenty big. And without the layer of paper pieced fabric it’s a lot less bulky so it stays pretty flat.

I’d intended to sew it together such that the front-facing pieces showed the fashion fabric to minimize visibility. However, when needle met fabric my brain chirped “right sides together” and the front of the back piece ended up as the back of the back piece. Sadly, I didn’t notice this until the pocket was nearly completed. Curses, foiled again! Happily, when I pinned the overskirt side piece in place I realized that the pocket opening is not visible at. Better yet, it’s hidden even when I reach into it. So I left it as it was, sewed on the waistband attachment and called it done.

2015-09-12 12.05.10

2015-09-15 11.35.14

Today, I decided, was the day the overskirt was going to submit to the will of the seamstress, one way or another…and, hopefully, on the first try. It did, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t surprise me along the way.

When I’d first cut the front apron out, in 2014, I made an error and cut the lining too narrow. Luckily, the center portion is straight and on-grain. So I cut it in half and inset a strip of the dress fabric. Presto-chango! Problem fixed.

2015-09-15 12.18.02

My initial idea for getting the front apron to hold the side pleats without sagging was to add a layer of netting to give it some body without adding a lot of weight. That made a lot of improvement, but it still drooped a bit so I added another layer of netting. That did the trick! The apron held the side pleats and draped well without going flat.

2015-09-15 12.37.00

2015-09-15 13.21.43

Then it occurred to me that this overskirt was still in the early stages and if I wanted ruffles, like the ones on the other overskirt pattern, there was no reason I couldn’t add them. Sometimes I amaze myself.

A one-inch ruffle seemed too narrow, yet a two-inch ruffle was definitely too wide. However, an inch and a half looked just right. (Is this the “Goldilocks Method” of design?) In addition, I knew I didn’t want it too tightly gathered, so I went with a period-correct and not-too-crazy ratio of 1:1.5 – meaning that for every inch of fabric I want to cover, I need to cut an inch and a half of fabric for the ruffle.

2015-09-15 13.55.06

I was really happy with the results and was sitting down to understitch the ruffle when I noticed that I liked the way the lining side looked. A lot. Even better than the front side. So I flipped it around, put it on the mannequin, pinned in a couple of quick side pleats so I could see the effect and – what a difference!

“Right” Side Out…

normal side apron front

“Wrong” Side Out…

inside out apron front

I like the way the ruffle softens the edge of the apron and how the black in the apron will pick up the black in the fichu. So I’ve decided to make the lining side the outer side. The blue fabric strip down the center is a little boring, almost harsh in some ways, but I have a few ideas about that…

A Dedicated Sewing Room and The Case of the Missing Iron

A short time ago my sister was here to help me switch my bedroom and sewing room. We emptied out the former office + sewing room, scattered the boxes, sorted, made piles, re-scattered boxes and generally stashed things in any corner that was free (and some corners that weren’t). Then the room was re-painted and the bedroom moved from the other end of the hall. OK, it’s only a gap of about five feet from door to door, but it was still a complete move.

The new sewing room was now empty so the floors were swept and All Things Sewing were…honestly…stuffed willy-nilly back in. By then we were pretty tired and it was time for my sister to go. The rest was up to me to decide what went where and there wasn’t much point in her sitting around while I fiddled with where to put the filing cabinet and how to label the drawers.

This is how we left it:

And this is how it looks after I spent Saturday massaging the beast into a bit of relative calmness:

WooHoo! I can see the floor!

WooHoo! I can see the floor!

As you can see, I have to spend a bit more quality time sorting and putting away. Fabric awaits rearranging. Patterns in the filing cabinet ($9 at Goodwill – best storage deal ever) need sorting. And approximately 1300, or so it seems, little sewing toys and gadgets need a permanent home somewhere in the room.

The good news is now I can access and actually use the sewing machine once again. And I have access to the cutting table on three sides. Very helpful, that. The bad news is somewhere along the way my Rowenta iron went missing. Ironing board – check. Spare measuring cup for water to fill iron – check. Iron – ??? Well, it’s in there…somewhere.

My current project doesn’t need an iron. Since it’s meant to be a hidden pocket, a crisp pressing isn’t critical to its usefulness or success.

But I want to finish off the year and the HSM challenges by, at long last and finally, making a series of Regency items: a cloak, a gown and a bonnet. I’m fairly sure an iron will come in handy for those.

So it’s back into the dreadful mess once again. Or twice. As long at it takes. I need my iron!

By the way: The office ended up be relocated to the empty dining room, since I don’t have a dining room table or chairs. I had a built-in banquette in the old house, so no need then. And it’s just me, so I can do without the added expense. The benefit is that now my desk is surrounded by light, instead of being stuck in a corner. The kitchen is to the right, the bathroom is to the left and, in cases of writer’s block or critical brain fatigue, the sofa is about 15 feet behind me.


Late Breaking News! I found my Black and Decker collapsible travel iron, which is an excellent stand-by until the Rowenta decides to show itself again.

Black and Decker to the rescue!

Black and Decker to the rescue!