Thursday, January 02, 2020

Clothes I Did Not Make In 2019


While I'm very proud of all the garments I made in 2019, I feel I need to be honest about the things I didn't finish.

I started sewing this shirt for myself in 2018.  I somehow messed up the stitching on one of the buttonholes.  I carefully picked out the stitches, and then lost my nerve.  

I bought this vintage yarn at an estate sale in 2018.  It was in its original box.  I found a 1950s knitting pattern and got to work.

Smog helped me knit.

As did Cardigan.

Likewise, Sleeves.  All the cats were very helpful.

The week Cardigan died, I discovered a major error in my knitting.  I was distraught, and also recovering from surgery, and I just sort of abandoned this project.  At this point, I no longer remember what the error is.

I think part of the problem is the fact that some skeins of this yarn have faded differently than others.  Since I match color for a living, this may be a deal-breaker.

In October, I set about copying this wispy 1920s dance dress.  It's in pretty rough shape.

The dress has a fascinating structure.  The skirt is a rectangle, with an oval cut in it for the bodice.

I got a good start on a copy, and then ran out of time.

I darned the largest rips in the antique frock and wore it to a ball.  I relied on good posture, and a  "bitch, I'm fabulous" attitude to make up for the fact that I was wearing a dress that was riddled with holes.  (Also all the wrong undergarments.)

At the moment, I'm working on a sweater, made from vintage yarn, and knit from a vintage pattern.  It's one of those one-size-fits-someone patterns, so I've had to do a lot of improvising.

This project is temporarily on hold, because I've got to get some other sewing done, right away.

And we won't even speak of the two baby quilts that I need to finish.  At the rate I'm going, the recipients will be in college when I deliver their blankets.

Clothes I Made in 2019


A while back, I challenged myself to improve my garment-making skills.  But, because I can't do anything the easy way, I challenged myself to sew and knit from vintage patterns.

I particularly wanted to improve my sewing.  I had the idea that vintage dressmakers had a higher level of skill than folks today, and that by working with vintage patterns, I'd be exposed to a great range of techniques.

Also, it seemed a way of ending up with a wardrobe of clothes that I could wear to vintage events.

Or maybe I just wanted to torture myself.  Knitting a garment using teeny-tiny knitting needles, and then cutting it up on purpose tends to support the "torture myself" theory.

But rather than delving into the reasons for why I did any of the absurd things I did in the past year, let's look at what I did.  As it turns out, I made quite a few things.

I knit a waistcoat for Robb, based on a pattern from the 1930s.  I used wool that I'd dyed, using either invasive plants or trimmings from my own garden.  (I wrote about this project, here.)  Robb wore this to a Tweed Ride in Sacramento.

I learned a lot on this project, but there were times where I thought hitting my fingers with a hammer might be more fun than continuing with the knitting.  So, educational or torture?  Maybe, a bit of both.

The next project was the direct result of some fortuitous dumpster diving.  Someone at work was throwing out old party decorations, including hundreds of ostrich feathers.  I grabbed the lot of them, chucked them into a five gallon bucket of custom mixed dye, and made myself an absurd Edwardian-esque hat.

I sewed these feathers into batches of threes, and stitched them onto some tulle that I'd already dyed.

The cats did not know what to make of this.  Oh Cardigan...  I miss that cat so damn much.

I happen to live in a place that boasts several stores that sell vintage hat-making supplies.  So, in addition to fully 99 feathers, my hat was adorned with a mixed bouquet of antique floral ornaments.

I wore this to an Edwardian picnic in Los Gatos.  The blouse I wore is an actual antique, and I made the skirt.  I also taught myself re-weaving, so that I could strengthen Robb's somewhat threadbare plus-fours.  (Check out Robb's antique leather puttees.  How often does one get to use that word?)

I actually started this project in 2018, but life got in the way, and it was put on hold.

I sewed two versions of this dress.  I made a test version out of green cotton shirting material.

I wore this dress all summer, and while I don't think anyone paid any notice to it at all, I really like it.  This is the sort of garment that doesn't draw attention to itself, which is just fine with me.

I also made a version for the Seersucker Ride in Chico.

I can't decide if this dress is a success or not.  While I'm very proud of how I constructed the dress (bound buttonholes! fully lined bodice! exquisite pattern matching! beautifully bound seams!), I don't have a clear idea if this garment is even remotely attractive on me.

I certainly don't have the same figure as the illustrated women on the pattern have.  Most notably, my rib cage isn't conical.

I fear the bulky fabric overwhelms me.  I think it makes me look a whole lot bigger than I am.  I can't shake the feeling that I'm wearing a bathrobe.  In public.  With high heels.

But maybe I'm torturing myself.

On the other hand, my absurd kitty skirt is something I'm really proud of.  It's a totally simple construction, because I was trying to use every inch of this vintage fabric.  And I love it.

I haven't actually worn this, outside of our house.  If you're hosting an event where an absurd kitty skirt would fit the dress code, please let me know.  I promise to iron my skirt.

The week that my beloved kitty Cardigan died, when I was recovering from some pretty intense surgery, I sewed this dress from a 1940s mail-order pattern.  I typically agonize over ever step of my sewing projects, but somehow this project went together with lightning speed.  I really needed something to go right that week.

I wore this to a play-reading event, and somehow allowed myself to participate in a vintage fashion contest.  It was all very awkward.  I hate these sorts of competitions, but couldn't figure a way of not playing along.  So, even though the dress was a joy to make, I was still tortured by it.  Sheesh.

The next project was a couple of dresses that I made from this original 1920s pattern.  A bunch of people online were laughing at the fact that the person selling this on ebay was calling it a "thunder thigh dress" and generally missing the point of this styling.  While they were having a laugh at the seller's expense, I bought the pattern lickety-split.

I made my first version of this dress to wear to the Lake Tahoe Gatsby Festival. I also restored the original 1920s hat that I'm wearing, and made the flowers on my hat from vintage materials.

I originally intended to make a second version of this dress in a lovely celadon silk crepe de chine, but every time I touched the fabric with my construction-worker's hands, I snagged the material.  I ended up using a very fine cotton -- actually the same fabric as the first version, only in a different color.

At one point, I splashed a bit of dirty water on the unfinished dress.  I hand washed the soiled area, and hung it up to dry in the bathroom.  Robb, aware of the fact that I was sewing with a deadline, stuck a fan under the dress, which inflated like some kind of insane sculpture or blimp.  This photo makes me laugh every time I look at it.

I wore it to the Gatsby Summer Afternoon in Oakland. It was a magical day.

An online friend sent me a bag of vintage yarn. And so I made a cropped cardigan, using a 1950s pattern.

I suspect that dolman sleeved garments probably are intended to be worn on a bustier figure than mine, but I don't care.  I love this little knit jacket, and have worn it frequently.

The final outfit I made in 2019 was a skirt and jerkin (another underused word), which I sewed from a 1940s pattern.  (I also knit my lace scarf, over a decade ago.  I still want to back it with silk, because it tends to curl in on itself.)  I wore this to the Tweed Ride in Chico.  If you can't tell, I'm wearing one of my favorite hats.  It's a bonkers little hat from the 1940s, decorated with a completely goofy-looking sculptural turkey.  I'm also wearing an Essex crystal tie pin, that looks weirdly like my chubby kitty Sleeves, right down to its triple-chin.  Both of these were gifts from friends.  I swear, I'm the most fortunate person in the world.  I have friends who think, "This antique object is totally demented," and then think of me.

While I'm very happy with the fit of the skirt, I think I need to totally rework the jerkin.  I got a little carried away with seam binding, but failed to get a good fit.  Admittedly, fitting the back of a garment is a bit challenging, when one had neither a dress form, a sewing assistant, or (honestly) a clue what one is doing.

So, looking back, I'm very pleased with the entirety of my year's garment-making.  There are certainly things I'd like to have done better.  And that's okay.  Knowing where one went wrong is  a hugely valuable part of learning to do anything properly.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Oh I could write a sonnet about my 1920s bonnet...

This summer, I was going to be attending a couple of events that involved wearing 1920s daytime fashions.  I planned to make my own dresses, from an original 1920s sewing pattern, but I was at a bit of a loss for how to find the perfect hat.

I wanted to wear a wide brimmed hat, rather than a cloche. It seemed that my light airy garden party frock wanted an equally lightweight hat.  These hats caught my eye. I particularly liked how the floral trim was off to the side of the hats.

This dark colored hat, with its billowing scarf was very appealing.  I like how there's no obligation to match the hat to the dress.  White dress and black hat?  No problems.

I like the woman on the left whose corsage matched the floral ornament on her hat.

It's one thing to know what I wanted.  It's quite another to find anything suitable.  I'd been unsuccessfully haunting the stores, looking for a modern hat I could sculpt into an appropriate shape all summer.  I'd had my eye on various auction sites.  There was nothing available for under $500.

And then this popped up. It was badly smashed, and adorned with some with truly tragic feathers.

Miraculously, it was in my price range.  While it was dented, it didn't seem to be broken.  

It's always risky buying antique garments online.  Hats are particularly tricky.  Not everything is flattering.  

(Certainly not that barbaric monkey-fur collar.  I loathe that stuff.  It horrifies me that our great grandparents thought it was the height of fashion to adorn themselves in the pelts of our primate cousins.  Thankfully, it's illegal to sell primate fur these days.  Likewise, it's illegal to sell the fur of big cats, or marine mammals, or other endangered species.  But given the political climate in the US, it's quite likely that our president will be dismantling these international treaties.)

Whenever I'm working on a hat for an outfit, I go through a phase of the project where I'm utterly convinced that I'm going to look like Professor Snape wearing Neville Longbottom's grandmother's clothes.  

But then I turn my thoughts away from Hogwarts and Neville, and toward Pride and Prejudice and Netherfield.

"Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it any better."
And when her sisters abused it as ugly, she added, with perfect unconcern, "Oh! but there were two of three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier coloured satin to trim it fresh, I think it will be very tolerable."

If Lydia Bennet could make an ugly hat look tolerable, so could I.

I carefully removed the wilted feathers, took off the squished hat band, and gently steamed the hat back into shape.

I sewed a batch of ribbon flowers using vintage ribbon, vintage instructions and some very weird-smelling vintage stamens.  I'm fortunate enough to live in a place that can boast several stores that sell vintage millinery supplies.  

I wore this hat for the first time at the Lake Tahoe Gatsby Festival.  My corsage was an antique leather flower.

I reworked the hat for the Gatsby Summer Afternoon.  I added a hatband, because I didn't like seeing my hairline through the transparent fabric of the hat.  I sewed more flowers, and rearranged everything so that the flowers were off to the sides.  And I made a matching corsage.  If I hadn't run short of time, I'd have figured a way to make flowing ribbons that trailed down my back.  But for now, I'm quite happy with how everything turned out.

We've Got All Sorts Of Baggage

The Gatsby Summer Afternoon has come and gone. The event was gloriously magical.  And we made a whole lot of crazy nonsense.

For those not familiar with this event, it's a day-long lawn party, where all the guest wear clothes from the 1920s and 1930s, and bring over-the-top picnics.  It's about the most insane party imaginable, a sort of Burning Man for the Downton Abbey crowd

Of course, someone has to schlepp in all those cucumber sandwiches, champagne bottles and vintage table-settings.  And once you're on site there's nowhere to hide anything that doesn't fit in with the aesthetic of the event.  

Robb started dreaming about a rolling cart that would break down flat to fit into our car, and that would also function as a serving trolley. He took his inspiration from the sorts of carts traditionally used at European railway stations.

The folks unloading those massive baskets are women, and they're wearing high heels.  This photo, presumably, was taken during the Second World War.  

This looks more like the Great War.  I'm not sure what's going on in this picture.  Is she working, or just goofing around?

Robb didn't make a direct copy of any particular cart. He took inspiration from a number of designs, and then built something that suited his fancy.

Robb matched the stain to a 1920s walking stick he owns, that folds down into a chair.  (You can see it in the top photo, to Robb's left.)  He wanted to have curving lines, and rounded edges.

Everything had to break apart easily, to fit in our car.  This cart struck me as part military campaign furniture, and part IKEA flat-pack.


It coordinated nicely with the piece Robb built last year:  a hand-truck that converts into a chaise longue.

In the end, we were having too much fun, and failed to photograph our picnic set up.

I think there's so much pressure to take perfect instagram-worthy photos of one's social life.  I often think that people are so busy documenting their lives that they forget to savor the moment.  But that's a rant for another day.


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