Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bridle Party!

My friend Christy gave me a lovely Christmas gift: a show bridle with silver accents. She no longer rides, and  so she passed this bridle --practically brand new! -- on to me.

I got spurs, too!

The pale color of it (called "Light Oil") has been very trendy in the past few years and usually is natural undyed leather. This bridle, however, had been coated with a paint-like finish of this pale color.

Light oil tack can look very pretty on the right color horse, but my Imp is a dark bay and I felt the contrast of a pale bridle would make his head look funny. Also, my saddle is a dark oil (dark brown) and so they wouldn't match. Finally, the pretty silver accents were not very noticeable against the light leather. 

Is this starting to sound like a project? Because, yep -- that's what I was thinking, too! And so I bought a bottle of leather dye at the tack shop. 

I bought "Dark Brown", but this picture shows the black kind. 
I asked them what sort of prep work I would have to do before using the dye, and the girl said that their tack repair guy uses acetone to remove previous finishes.  "You mean like nail polish remover?" I asked. 

Yep! Cheap nail polish remover. Some of the fancier brands are non-acetone, because acetone is stinky and extremely flammable, but the store brand I keep around for removing labels and paint and other small jobs was full of acetone and perfect. After scrubbing away about two inches of the finish, which took about half an hour, numbed my fingers, and made everyone a little dizzy with the fumes, I decided to see what kind of result I would get from just putting the dye on without taking the old finish off first. 

You know, it worked pretty darn well. I had to use a few more coats than I probably would have had to if I'd taken the finish off first, but it saved hours of time and looks just fine. More than likely, I'll have to touch up now and then, but I have half a bottle of the dye left so that's not a problem. 

Here's the after picture. I think the silver really pops now, and the dark color will look terrific on Imp. I'll try to remember to get a picture of him in it to share here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Remember a week or two ago when I linked that video of JourneyQuest and said I'd explain later? Now that the gift involved has been presented to its recipient, I can finally post pictures here and show you what I made.

This is my friend Christian Doyle, who portrays "Perf", the professional adventuring wizard part of the cast of the show JourneyQuest. It was my husband Dave's idea to create a doll of Perf --a cuddly "action figure", if you will -- and present it to Christian for Christmas.

I was convinced that I had no yellow fabric, that there was nothing the right shade for a doll body, that making the hat would be difficult. I opened the drawers of my stash and there, sitting right on top, was the exact shade of yellow I needed for the robe, a paler piece for the hooded tabard, and some peach linen just right for the body. The next drawer held brown leather for belt, boots, and the hat trim, and a piece of chamois that when wetted, shaped, and dried formed the hat perfectly. It was easy and fun, and I didn't have to make any trips to the fabric shop to buy anything!  Dave made the sword, and in a final bit of inspiration, I added a squeaker so that Perf would utter a frightened "Eeep!" when squeezed.

I think he turned out rather well, and when Christian posted this pic of Facebook, we learned that 58 other people liked it too!

Here they are together, for a side-by-side comparison.  If you took Wee Perf's hat off, you'd see he has the same scruffy hair as his larger human counterpart.

Awwwwwwww...  I know, right? Too cute!

Steampunk Corsetry

Did everyone have a super Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/Festivus/other December holiday occurrence? I did!

I was especially pleased to finish my trial corset in time to wear it to a few parties. I learned a few things about corsetry at the same time. For example, when they say "Boots first, then corset" they're not kidding. I had to have Dave tie my shoes! And that it's really best to believe yourself when you take measurements. 

When I drafted my corset pattern, my waist to hip measurement was something like three inches. (I have a really short torso; my height is all in the legs.) I compared that to the six inches that the sample pattern showed and thought I must have measured wrong. Thinking that perhaps it would be nice to have a little more length on the hip to really smooth my figure, I added a few inches. 

I used a brown wool for the front and sides, and a brown satin for the back panels, to give the look of a vest. I used interfacing to bond the fashion fabric to the brown duck cloth I used for the lining, which reduced fraying significantly and  made sewing the panels together much easier.  I got that idea from Cathrin Åhlén's corset-sewing tutorial . That girl is one smart cookie! 

Cotton duckcloth lining. Sturdy, inexpensive, and kind of boring. 

The fun side! 
I stitched three channels of boning into the front panel instead of using a busk. Next time I think I will use a busk to make it easier to put on/take off, but this worked out fine and really, it is just a practice corset.  I used 1/4" cable ties for boning, and along with the seams, that makes for a fairly supportive garment. Steel boning would be fantastic but I'll save that for when I'm making a really professional model. 

Seal brown half-inch double-fold bias tape finished the top and bottom, and I set in eleven grommets on either side of the back panels, and then I laced it up and took it for a test drive.

It's hard to take a good picture of oneself. Plus the lighting was an issue.
You see what the problem is there? Yeah. It's about three inches too long at the bottom. 

My dog can shoot lasers from her eyes.
We were heading out to a party that night, so there was no time for me to reshape the bottom line. I wore it as it was and decided I'd just not sit down. Who needs to sit down at a holiday cocktail party, right? Turns out it was a dinner party and chairs were kind of a big part of the experience. I discovered the cable ties allowed me to fold the bottom up a bit, thus preventing the topline from rocketing up and forcing my boobs into my neck, but like I said at the beginning -- lesson learned! This is why making a practice garment is an important step, and trusting your measurements, even if they aren't the same as somebody else's.

Oh, and the parrot?  That's Mossberg. He's animatronic, kind of hilarious (the fez was my own touch of fancy) and was only $5 at a thrift shop. Want one of your own? Try Amazon. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012


All righty, the skirt is done. Imogene the Dress Dummy is standing on the dining room table, all tarted up while the reed boning I ran through the bottom of the underskirt learns to behave properly. Here's the best pic I can take with our funky nighttime lighting and a flash.

I used bias tape to make the waistband. The bias tape is pale green. I mean, how cheesy is that -- it's like I didn't even try to make it match anything at all. Oh, wait -- I didn't. It's going to be hidden under the corset anyway, so it doesn't really matter, and this is the sort of decision-making ability I have at 11 pm after sewing all evening. Like, none. None decision-making ability.

I think I should head to bed. *yawn* G'night!


I felt I should add a few notes on construction. I followed the method used on the original pretty closely, though I did flat-felled seams instead of using a serger, pressing the seams open, and then running stitching down either side to make two channels.  Because this left me with only one seam channel for my drawstrings to lift the skirt, I simply ran the cord up in the seam as far as I wanted, then brought it through the fabric, went back through the fabric into the seam channel again, and ran the cord back down -- pretty easy, and it works just fine.

I don't own any crinolines or a hoopskirt and I wasn't really in the mood to make one at this time.  That satin material frays like crazy, with fine hairy frizz that I wanted to keep under control, but I didn't want to lose a whole lot of width by turning even more seams.  I solved both these problems by covering the raw edges of my ruffle/skirt with a fold of bias tape before stitching them together.

(I also added a layer of burgundy taffeta to the ruffle to give it more body and a touch of fancy!)  The bias tape controlled the fraying and left a nice finish while also providing a channel, which I ran a few feet of reed into, basically making the underskirt into a hoopskirt. I'm not sure I'll stay with the reed -- it would make car travel an adventure -- and my second choice is aquarium tubing, which I have around here somewhere but can't find at the moment. The nice thing about aquarium tubing is that it will give the shape you want but has a little more flexibility so you can make it through narrow doors or get in a car.

I got my corset pattern pieces made and cut out, so I'll be working on my first practice run of that next. Hopefully it will turn out nice enough that I'll have two corsets: one brown twill for "everyday" wear and one to match this posh skirt. Stay tuned!


The reason why will be apparent later on, but for now, I'd just like to direct you all to the very amusing series  that some of my friends have been doing for your entertainment for a while now.

It's really good, you guys. If you've ever enjoyed the geeky thrill of Dungeons & Dragons, or played Warcraft-type games, or enjoyed The Guild, then you'll like this.

I'll give you a week or two to watch all the episodes, and then come on back here to share why this is important. (Besides the fact that it's awesome!)

Almost Famous!

One of our local theatre groups, Prodigal Sun, did a holiday production including a play called "Yes, Yes, No, No: The-Solace-of-Solstice, Apogee/Perigee, Bestial/Celestial Holiday Show". Dave was one of the main performers, and three days before opening night he came home with a plastic bag containing knit hats sodden with glue and a handful of sticky cotton balls.

"Can you make sheep ears for us? The cotton balls aren't working out."

Can I make ears? I laugh at ears! Ears are what I do best! I can make ears in my sleep!  I whipped out some white felt and pink fleece scraps I had left over from other projects, threw the glue-y hats in the wash, and fired up Sally the Sewing Machine. Half an hour later, I had this:

I thought they were adorable!

When I went to see the show on Friday night, I found I'd been included in the program's "Special Thanks" section.

Look!! They even linked my blog!
The best part was when the actors whipped out the hats and put them on, and I got to hear the whole audience collectively go "Awwwwww!" and die with cuteness. Those sheep really stole the whole show, and that's not something one can do with cotton balls glued to one's head.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Stripey goodness!

I've got the skirt panels put together, and the zipper in. It's the first zipper I've ever installed, and it's not as tidy a job as I'd like, but it'll be covered by a corselet so I'm not gonna sweat it. There's no proper waistband yet and I still need to work and attach the ruffle, but I tried it on and did a little prance around the living room anyway, just because I'm so pleased and excited about it. Here's a pic of it folded on the tabletop:

There's one seam unfinished in this pic, but I assure you, all my seams are properly flat-felled and fray-free.

Truly dazzling, and the way the stripes chevron together at the seams makes me happy, happy, happy.

And because I mentioned her by name in my previous blog, here's a snap of Sally, my old workhorse of a stitcher:

If you could see the back of her carry-cover, you'd see the price tag still there from when I picked her up last year from Goodwill -- $7.99. She's an English-made Singer, and has her little quirks -- like how there's only one bobbin in the world that she will function with, so I have to unwind and reload it with every color change, and how using heavy-duty thread makes her bind up every few minutes -- but we have an understanding and she gets the job done. Dave has offered many time to buy me a nice new machine, but for the amount of machine sewing I do, there's no reason to spend the money. (I'd rather have new tires for my car! haha) And I kind of like the weird retro color and the personality that comes with these old stitchers.

Okay, I gotta get back to the ruffle. LoTR is playing in the other room and I can't miss the dragon fireworks!

Saturday, December 8, 2012


I guess it was a year or more ago that I told y'all about my score of nine yards of pink and brown striped taffeta, and how I wanted to make a Victorian bustle dress out of it. Well, my recent foray into the world of Steampunk has provided me with a super reason -- and desire!-- to pull that yardage out and get busy.

I'm not holding myself to strict authentic period style and pattern this time; I'm really just in it to have some fun and make myself a froofy-poofy candybox of an outfit. 

For a pattern, I'm using instructions written by Cathrin on her blog "learning to fly".  Her hand-drawn step-by-step notes look an awful lot like the sort of stuff I fill my notebooks with, so I immediately felt at ease with her project. 

Here's a pic of the skirt Cathrin made.
Mine will be much more colorful! 

The panel seams on the overskirt have drawstrings in them! Isn't that fun? I like the idea of being able to adjust the amount of poof in my overskirt, and the construction method is very familiar -- except that I'll be machine sewing this skirt, not hand sewing.

I'm a little spooked by that, I'll admit.  Hand sewing allows one a great deal of control. Machine sewing goes so fast, it's easy for me to make a mistake and then it's such a hassle to rip out the stitching. If I didn't want to wear the dress for New Year's, I'd probably just work it up by hand. 

Here's a look at the fabric I'm working with: the pink and brown will be the overskirt, and then I wanted a different look for the underskirt. I chose an antique gold taffeta. 

Gosh, the pic makes that gold look very washed out. It's such a lovely warm tone, really -- like caramel!  I originally thought a dark brown would be better, but the stripe is really more of a burgundy and when I tried to match it, the dark brown just looked blah and a matching burgundy made me think of barbershop quartets. For a while I carried a bolt of pale green floral damask around, and I'm still wondering if I shouldn't have gotten a few yards of that, too -- it was so unexpected;  pretty and fresh with the stripes! I have plenty of the pink stripe left, so maybe I'll make another skirt with the green for spring or something. I decided on the gold because it went nicely with the stripe, fit in with my "candybox" idea, and was on sale. (I got almost three yards for ten bucks!) Also, when I make a corset/wide belt/cincher for this outfit, I can use leftover gold fabric to bring it all together. 

I got all the skirt panels cut out tonight. My directions say to zig-zag or serge the edges to prevent fraying, but I think I'll just do proper flat-felled seams; it'll look more finished. It will change the way the drawstrings work, because I'll have one seam channel where the original item has two, but that's not a huge obstacle. 

Okay, enough yapping -- time for me to pull out Sally the Sewing Machine and get to work. 

EDIT: Oh heavens, last night I lay in bed thinking about leaving the gold out entirely and just doing the whole works in the stripe. Would that be too much? Or would it be jaw-dropping -- in a good way? Gonna have to think on this... cast your vote in the comments section!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Working with Leather

Earlier in the year I braided a short-fork martingale for my saddle out of some heavy cord. It didn't hold up well and the other day when I hauled my saddle out of the back seat, I noticed the cord was frayed and breaking. I had some leather left over from making Dave's holster, so I sliced off a strip and played around with it for a bit, and then (using the hardware from my broken one) I put together this nice little piece.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out. It's sturdy but not heavy, and the leather isn't stiff at all. It will be a terrific addition to my set-up. I really enjoy making and repairing my own gear. Maybe I can make a few more to sell or give as gifts!

And in case you wonder where exactly the horse wears this item, here's a helpful picture.  See it there, between the breast collar and the reins? It helps smooth the action of the reins while I learn to keep quiet hands, and helps Imp keep his head in the right position so he can collect himself into a nice round, easygoing gait.

This is not my horse. It's just a pic I found on the internet.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

By request: the Steampunk Story, or "How Dave Came to Own That Thing in a Jar"

The story of the Thing in a Jar is written as a letter from an old (fictional) pen pal from Dave's childhood. It's a bit of an anachronism in that it's meant to convey the feeling and style of the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and HP Lovecraft, but Dave is only 43! It's the first thing I've written in this style, and I wouldn't put it in my "top ten", so to speak, but I think it's a good start. So, enjoy!

Hello, old friend.

I wonder if you still remember me. We stopped writing to each other a long time ago, and I’m not sure if a childhood pen pal is exactly the right person to entrust with these items, but really, you are my last hope. Allow me to explain.

I don’t have time here to cover in detail all the events that have happened since our last letters to each other-- prep school, Oxford, marriage to a lovely girl, and a career in scientific research that allowed me to travel to some of the darkest reaches of the globe. I have a story that you must hear and time is running out.

The reason I was in that underground cavern is hard to explain to a layman. More difficult still to explain are the horrible creatures I was looking for. You know that in the absence of the Sun’s light and fresh, wholesome air, organisms can ferment and grow, their shapes twisting and changing. That Darwin fellow calls it “evolution”, and maybe the term works with his little birds. But the hideous monstrosities that fester and feed underground in the dark are not evolved – the opposite, in fact! In my scientific circle, we call them “mutants”.

My team had discovered evidence in the area: signs of feeding and other activity. But when I proposed going into the cavern, the idea was met with resistance. ‘Some things better left alone’, and that sort of nonsense. I tell you, it makes one wonder what is happening to the British spine, to see those calling themselves “men of science” turn into absolute jellyfish when confronted with noises in the dark. With my satchel over my shoulder, my pistol at my side, and my lantern held aloft, I entered the cavern alone.
The pathway was twisting and maze-like. My capital sense of direction only just kept me from becoming hopelessly lost as I wended my way in.  It was a filthy mess, littered with scraps of bone and bits of detritus everywhere, and the stench was enough to turn even a Welshman’s stomach.

I could hear scrambling, scratching noises in the near distance as I progressed deeper. It seemed my quarry was aware of my approach, and was just keeping ahead of me. Well and good, I thought. This cavern has to end somewhere, and then I’ll have you and we’ll see what is what.

And I was right. Eventually I reached a point where I could go no farther. The space opened up into a sort of chamber, and there, huddled in the corner and hissing like a cat, was the creature I’d been pursuing. It was ugly beyond description, looking something like my neighbor’s pet bulldog choking on a lizard, with tentacle-like appendages. As I got closer to take a more careful scrutiny of its god-forsaken visage, it made a sudden leap at me. I drew my pistol and fired a shot directly into its brain, dropping it in its tracks.

Once I was sure that life’s intricate processes were no longer at work in the thing’s corpus, I opened my satchel, withdrawing my field surgeon’s kit. As I leant forward to take tissue and hair samples that I would later study at my lab, the creature gave a sudden writhe. I soon discovered that the wretch was a gravid female, perhaps only days from delivering her pestilent offspring. A few quick strokes of my scalpel opened her up, and I drew forth three little things. Ugly things. But scientifically beautiful things! They would be the treasures of my research! I carried them out of the cave in a cloth sack, back to my tent. There I tried as best I could to keep them alive, but despite my efforts they were very feeble by nightfall and dead by morning. It was a disappointment, for live subjects are always best, but these things do happen. I popped each into a specimen bottle, covered it in formaldehyde to prevent decay as much as possible, and packed them carefully into a case of wood shavings. I had them shipped home, where I would be able to make detailed examinations in the fullness of time.

Two months later I returned to England. The crate was waiting for me in my lab, along with an unholy stench.  Unpacking the crate, I discovered that one of the bottles had broken during shipment and the liquid had drained, allowing the contents to rot. Two were left, and they were perfect, floating serenely in their formaldehyde baths. 

A colleague, Quentin Watford, stepped in from the hallway to welcome me back. “Good to have you back with us, Pelham,” he said. “Maybe now you can explain the scintillating aroma exuding from that mysterious crate. Entire floor’s been leaving windows open for a month. Getting quite drafty, what?”

I excitedly showed him the two remaining specimens, setting them like matched bookends on my desk.

“Good Christ!” he gasped, leaning in for a closer look. “What on earth are those wretched things?”

I told him my tale as we carried the odiferous crate, its broken contents, and the soiled shavings down to the incinerator to be burnt. 

Watford was intrigued, declaring they would positively be the highlight of any scientific exhibition at which they were displayed.

Things get tricky now, old man, but stay with me.  When I returned to my desk, I had the distinct impression the things in their bottles were looking at me. It’s an odd but familiar enough sensation to anyone who has spent time with a bottled menagerie; something about all those dull eyes floating there in the clouded yellowish solution. I picked up one bottle and tapped my fingernail on the glass, smiling --and may the Devil take me if the creature didn’t blink.

It was alive! But how could it be? After two months in a sample jar, with no oxygen or other natural sustaining force – and I swear on my honor as one of the Queen’s loyal subjects that the thing had been stone cold dead when it was put in the jar.

Nervous reflexes, you say? After two months of soaking in formaldehyde? The solution should have stiffened the membranes beyond the twitches of mere residual electrical impulses, if indeed it were possible for those impulses to occur so long after death.
I called out for Watford.

When he arrived, I picked up the bottle to show him. I’m sure he thought I was completely mad, but when I tapped –-there it was again, that blink! -- his pipe dropped from his mouth.  With trembling hands, he took the jar from me, regarding the thing inside with even more curiosity than before.

“Pelham, this is utterly unique!” He cried. “How could it possibly be so? Returning to life from death is remarkable enough, but to do so in a sealed jar filled with a poisonous chemical preservative? And it’s been two months!” His eyes narrowed with suspicion. “All right – you got me. What’s the trick?”

I assured him there was no trick, that I was as astounded as he in every respect. I had called him in only to confirm what I had seen, to make sure my travel-wearied brain wasn’t playing tricks on me.

“You see what this can mean?” He said. “This little thing holds the secret of resurrection in its mutated form. Think of what we can learn from it! The future of medical science will never be the same!” He slumped, sitting on the edge of my desk and cradling the specimen jar.

He begged me to let him have one to study. He offered me money, quite a lot of it. There was a look in his eyes that concerned me, and I began to feel protective of the ugly little things. I had brought them into this world, after all, in a bloody sort of way. They were mine. Taking my specimen back from him, I made excuses and not-very-subtle-y pushed him out of my lab.

I put the creatures into a cabinet and locked it tight, then prepared to take my leave for the day. At the last moment, I decided to take one home so I could spend the weekend making some preliminary sketches and notes before beginning serious study of the two on Monday.

When I returned to my work the following week, I was met in the hallway by a sheepish-looking Watford.

“Don’t be cross, old fellow,” he began, “But I had some extra time on my hands over the weekend and wanted to take a better look at your latest acquisitions. I’ve made some notes we can discuss later this morning. Mind-boggling stuff, absolutely.”

I unlocked the door and surveyed my lab. The wretch had done far more than look, and that was certain – the place was an absolute shambles: papers and books scattered everywhere, chairs overturned, bottles of chemical tipped, with the contents leaking and dripping. And in the corner, the cabinet where I had so carefully stashed my specimen, with the lock broken open.

Furious, I turned on Watford. Of course he denied everything. He had only picked the lock, and had returned the creature to its place last night, he said. I made my way through the debris and turned back the cabinet door, now hanging on a single hinge.

The specimen was gone.

There was an inquest, inspectors and constables pawing and trammeling over and through my laboratory and study. Watford maintained his innocence and despite my protests, managed to keep his position at the facility. The specimen was never found.

A few months have passed since then. I have developed the habit of carrying the second specimen back and forth with me, to and from work.  I have no doubt that if I left it unattended for any length of time, Watford would have it in an instant. He no doubt managed to drop or contaminate the other, and tried to cover up his shenanigans with the appearance of a false break-in. This last surviving representative, with its astonishing viability, must be kept safe at all costs.

There is no one I can trust it to here; the small publicity brought on by the criminal investigation has made it a coveted object to my professional colleagues, all of whom seem desperate to open it up and cut it to bits to satisfy their indiscriminate curiosity. Unbelievable foolishness that they should want to kill it to see why it lives.

And so, I have instructed my solicitors to have it delivered to you in America upon my death, in the hopes that you will find it as astounding and worthy of protection and observation as I did. 

Ever your faithful friend,
T Pelham

Gone Steampunk; Back Later.

Originally, I was making these things as a Christmas present for Dave, but as I got more and more into the creative process, I realized that keeping it all a secret that long would be difficult. When I'm creating, I tend to bend my entire mind towards my goal, and I knew when I suddenly started checking out Steampunk movies, literature, and websites, Dave would be sure to notice. Also, I was almost certain to leave some bit or piece laying around accidentally, or even forget myself and start talking about it in a "what I did today" sort of way. I decided the only way to make sure it had its full impact was to give him the present earlier, for his birthday.

As I see it, every good Steampunker needs a few basic things: stylish clothing, a weapon, an invention, and a interesting talking point.

I thrifted hardcore for a week while Dave was out of town for a cigar convention, and got him a black pinstripe suit and a suitable tie.  Not particularly steam-y in itself, but a good base to build on, and besides, it was in his size and the price was right. I called this ensemble "Like A Sir".

But sometimes you want something a bit more casual, and for that, I got him "The Country Squire": striped trousers, a vest, and a cravat that I made myself from a bit of real silk.

Next was the weapon. Without realizing it, I chose a weapon that is so prevalent in Steampunk circles that it is considered a standard: the Nerf Maverick. I sanded off the labeling and gave it a coat of semi-gloss black spray paint, then touched up the barrel and highlights with Antique Gold Rub-n-Buff. This is my new favorite stuff. It's easy to use, gives good results, and cleans up without much fuss.  (I added more R-n-B after this pic was taken.)

And I banged out a holster for it using my incredibly basic leatherworking skills and a piece of saddle leather I got from the local tack shop for $15.

The invention took a lot of imagineering, to borrow a term from Disney. I decided that I wanted something clockwork with a specific function. I went to Seventh Sanctum and used one of their generators to come up with a name: the Deflecting Directing Mutant Manipulator. I call it the D2M2 for short. In my mind, it is a household item that can be used to either prevent mutants from approaching, or to coordinate the actions of any that do into something useful, say, doing the dishes or chopping wood. As you can see, it has a small end for single mutant control, or you can use the wide end to work with a larger group.

It's constructed from a lantern body, a hose coupler, and two candle holders form the base and the wide end. The handle is part of a curtain rod. Inside is the clockwork. There is a winding key (not shown) that doesn't actually wind, but looks good.  In this picture, I haven't applied the Rub-n-Buff yet.

No Steampunk outfit would be complete without the goggles. I got these at Harbor Freight Tools for five bucks. A bit of black spraypaint, touched with brown to "age" it a bit, and Rub-n-Buff for the accents, and ta-dah! A very cromulent pair of goggles.

Finally, the "talking point" -- a conversation starter, if you will. This is the bit that took the most thought, actually. I had to come up with a plausible reason for Dave to have such an item: where it came from, what it is, all that. So I wrote up a short story from the viewpoint of an old penpal from England who had grown up to become an eminent biologist. He found/captured this in his travels and (after a brief altercation with a covetous colleague) sent it to Dave in America, to keep it from the greedy clutches of his fellow scientists.

Here it is in it's pre-bottled state,

....and here it is after being properly preserved.

Whew! I'm tired after all this creating! I'm gonna go take a nap. Next time, I'll let you read the short story that went with all this. =)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Thanksgiving in America...

...which means I pretty much have to write a post about being thankful for stuff. And I am; don't get me wrong. I have a lot of people, places, and things to be thankful for. But mostly today I am thankful for a garage where I can be creative. I am grateful for a husband who doesn't snoop when I tell him to stay out of that garage because I have super-secret things in there that he mustn't see until his birthday. And I am thankful that his birthday is in four days because I have a ton of photos and blogging to post here but I can't until after I give him his birthday present, which is super-secret and currently in its last stages in the garage.

And if you've been spending the last few weeks wishing I would post an update, then well, first you need to get a life (I mean really, sheesh!) and second, you can be thankful in four days when I'll be posting all sorts of wonderful stuff for y'all.

Until then, here's a picture of Thanksgiving at OUR house. Yep. Really!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

For fun!

If you haven't met Kate Beaton yet, you really should. Her cartoons are hilarious, especially the history ones. As you know, I'm a huge fan of the Bayeux Tapestry (or "B-Tap" as I'll call it from now on, because it's so hip!), so when I saw this on her site, I had to link it for you to enjoy as well. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Horsing Around

Here's a little side project that took me two nights: I made cooler-blanket for my horse Imp. It's just a light cover to throw over him after exercise so that he won't catch a chill when he's sweaty. 

I got five yards of burgundy and green plaid wool in a package deal at a yard sale, along with smaller solid colors, and I figured right away that I'd not be making a dress or anything for me out of it. Besides the color combo, sewing with plaid is a pain! Matching up the pattern -- no thank you. But a nice square horsey blanket, well, that's another matter. And I think you'll agree that the colors are quite attractive on a bay like Imp. 

It's basically just a 74" x 74" square (you can see a seam going over his rump where I pieced it together) with a strip of bias tape on the front edge. I hemmed the other three sides and braided some cord to make ties for the chest. Simple, really, and I think it's very handsome!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Just stuff.

Do you remember that flamingo-pink wool that I was working with last year? I found it again in my stash and it's really nice wool, thick and warm and... oh, so very pink.  A week or two back, I picked up some packets of Dark Brown Rit dye at Goodwill for 29 cents each, so I decided to try once more to change that pink to something a bit more bearable.  I used twice as much dye in half as much water as usual, a really stout, dark bath, and stirred and simmered it for half an hour. I rinsed it by hand and now it's doing a rinse cycle in the washer to get the last bits out. Then I'll put it in the dryer on a low tumble. 

Yeah, you heard me: I boiled it and now it's going in the dryer. That's not how you treat wool! I can hear you splutter, aghast. Wool needs to be delicately hand washed in cold water, and laid flat to dry! You've made a terrible mistake!

Ah, no. I treat my wool like it's sensible, hardworking stuff, not precious princess poofery. Before I sew, all my wool yardage gets a warm wash and a low tumble. And yes, it shrinks a bit. But it also gets rid of all the chemical sizing and nonsense that manufacturers put in -- things that I'm sensitive to and make me itch. The fabric tightens up a bit, but also softens --and I know that when my things get dirty, I can pitch them in the washer instead of spot-cleaning them, sending them out for expensive dry-cleaning, or handwashing them in the tub. 

**News Flash!**  I just put it in the dryer, and it's a lovely burgundy now! I'm so excited! 

You may notice things slowing down here as the holidays get closer. That's not because I've stopped making things -- in fact, quite the opposite. I have to start production on Christmas and birthday gifts for family. Since a good majority of the people I'm making gifts for also read this blog, posting pictures of my projects would spoil their surprises! But there's always something going on in Wenny-world, so keep a lookout for side projects and other holiday merriment. 

And since I read somewhere that you should never have a blog post without a picture, here's a free vintage embroidery pattern of a frolicking horse that I got from doe-c-doe, who has some really cute stuff and you should go check her out.

Also, I'm in a good mood because my wool turned out so nicely, so here's some overdyeing information that you might find useful.  Because pink is horrible and no one should have to wear it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We'll be back after these messages!

Just wanted to point out my store on Etsy. It's pretty basic right now, because I've only had it a few days, but I'll be putting more things there soon. Just in time for the holidays, y'see? 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A new hood.

Part of being creative is being adaptable.  Many times I've started a project with a plan, and ended the project with something entirely different -- and that's what happened this time. The green wool hood and sleeves I had planned to go with my new brown wool dress didn't play as well as I had hoped. It seems like too much work to pick out the too-slippery silk lining I'd put into the green hood, so I set it aside and looked in my smalls drawer for other options. (I think smalls is a much nicer term than scraps, don't you?)

I made a pair of brown woolen trousers about a year ago that didn't work out. The thick fabric made the drawstring waistband look bulky and unattractive. I've been cutting bits off the legs for this and that ever since and there was enough left to cut out a new hood. It's the perfect thickness, too, to keep one's head and shoulders cozy, warm, and dry. 

So here it is, in all it's odd-looking glory, gracing a plaster bust of my husband (hooray for theater props) and making him look a bit like ET because I've had to stuff dishtowels under there to make shoulders. I promise you that both the hood and my husband are more attractive in real life.

The seams were made with a running stitch and a half-inch seam allowance. Then I pressed them flat and whipstitched them for added strength, and hemstitched the edges down for a neat finish. Normally I would tuck the cut end under to resist fraying, but that would be very bulky and with wool it's not such a worry.

The buttons were a thrift store find. I got fifteen of them on a blouse for five dollars. I wish they were little bigger, but at that price I wasn't going to argue. They're not beads and wire -- they're one piece, solid cast. 
Sorry for the lousy quality of these photos. It was a little overcast this morning so there wasn't much natural light in the kitchen. I had to crank open the exposure to get a decent shot. 

There's a short liripipe tail on the back. I could have made it longer by piecing on an extra bit, but frankly, it bugs me to have that much going on in the back and they're a pain to turn out after sewing the seam. Short tails are just as period-acceptable, so there we go. 

Here you can see the hood, casually open as it would be on a temperate fall afternoon, with the brown dress. A very attractive match, I think! I'm still deciding if I want to add decorative embroidery. I think I'll get the sleeves done and then figure out if I want to add that touch of fancy. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Autumn dress

Well, the sun didn't come out. Instead it's been three days of damp grey drizzle, with occasional downpours. After a record 48 days of dry weather (that's actually Seattle; I couldn't find Olympia's report, but it's basically the same) the rainy season is finally upon us.

Even more reason to have a new wool dress to wear!

I promised you a picture, so here it is. Imogene the Dress Dummy would like you to know that she was having a bad day and felt the hallway lighting was unflattering. She says this is a terrible picture of her. Maybe so, she does look a little lumpy (sorry, Imogene!) but I've never figured out how to get that dress dummy to have a figure similar to mine so the fit isn't really the best, especially in the bust area.  You get the idea, anyway.  I haven't hemmed the bottom yet, but I mean to leave quite a bit of length. Usually I like to have my hem just brush my toes, but long hems are very period and it might be nice to have a little bit extra to keep out any drafts when I sit. The bit of green on her left is one of the pin-on sleeves I'm making to go with the dress. There will be embroidery to pretty them up and add a bit of fancy, as well as a matching hood.

The hood is giving me fits. I chose a piece of gold silk to line it, and it looks very nice except that it slides all over my head and won't stay up! The silk is too slippery! So I'm going to have to unpick my seams and replace the lining with linen that has the sense to stay put. Ugh, what a bother.

More as it comes!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


As the mornings become colder again, I've taken to having more savory breakfasts. Today's is naan bread with garlic hummus and some leftover bean soup. Delicious! 

I need to get you guys some pictures of  how the brown wool dress is progressing. I have one side's worth of eyelets (15, to be exact) and the bottom hem to stitch and it's done. It gets easier every time. To anyone who says that hand sewing a garment would take forever, I say unto you Nay! Two hours in the evening for the last few days and I'm well on my way to a new outfit. 

Outfit? Oh yes -- I made the sleeves short with the intention of making pin-on sleeves. That would make the dress more adaptable to changes in the weather, like when it's cool and foggy in the morning, but warms up and gets sunny in the afternoon. And then I thought it would be totally cute to embroider the sleeves with a design, and then use the same design on a matching hood. Oh my! A new hood! So exciting!

And I found some wonderful inspiration to share with you all. Check out this guy's stuff! It's AMAZING. 

Stay tuned for some pictures of the brown wool dress later today once the sun comes out. See you then!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Now that I've been sewing stuff for over a year, I've gotten to a really comfortable point.  My stash is full of all sorts of notions and yardage, and I've got a basic pattern for a standard dress that fits well and is easy to play with. Used to be when I wanted to make something in particular I'd find the bits as I went.  I had to draft up a pattern first, and I'd remember things I needed halfway through and have to make late-night trips to the fabric store. But no more!

Yesterday afternoon there was a slight chill in the air, and I saw a posting on the Glymm Mere mailing list that Yule Feast is coming up. Folks, it's Fall, and that means it's time for me to make a new wool dress. When I got home, I pulled a few yards of caramel-colored wool out of my closet, took a small cut of dark brown to use for trim, chose a piece of linen to line the bodice, grabbed my tried-n-true pattern and a spool of thread, and got to work right after dinner.

I cut out all the pieces and sewed the lining for the two front bodice bits while watching Battlestar Galactica, so this project is well begun. I even chose some crewel yarn colors out of the drawer to use for an embroidery design on the cuffs and collar.

The yarn colors seem especially bright in the sunshine. I haven't chosen an embroidery design yet, so I don't know if I'll be using all the colors or just one or two, but they all looked suitably autumnal together. Anything can happen!

Friday, September 28, 2012


Here it is, my finished Gluckhaus game. Well, I still need to attach at string so it can be rolled up and tied shut, and I still need to craft two six-sided dice to go with it, but the big pretty embroidery work is done.

See for yourself!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Told ya I was making something!

It was time for another quickie project. I've been busy, like I said in my last post, and I really just wanted to have a little something at hand that I could pick up and put down fast without a lot of fussing around. So I whipped up a plan for a Gluckhaus board.

What's that? you ask. Well, it's a game. It's easy to learn, fast to play, involves gambling, and doesn't require any strategy or even  much thought.  (Click here for more info.) Mostly you just give or take coins. Because of its simple nature, I find it a little boring. I intend to spice things up a bit by involving a drinking-game element to it, or perhaps something in the way of a truth-or-dare or forfeit. We'll see.

So up there at the top, you have The King (12). And right under him is The Wedding (7). At the very bottom is The Pig (2).  If you roll 12, you get to take all the money in all the squares, because you're the king! If you roll 7, you get to take all the money on 7 as a wedding present.  And if you roll 2, you get to take all the money on the board, you greedy thing, except the coins on 7 -- because not even a pig would steal from a wedding.

I think I need to add an outline on the figures.
They're a little indistinct without one.

The cloth is a piece of wool/linen blend, and I'm using tapestry wool for the embroidery. The brown stitching on the natural-colored cloth looks very rustic, and I think a climbing vine with leaves and flowers will decorate the framework of the squares before I'm done.

There's a chill in the air these mornings that is prodding at me, reminding me that all that wool in the closet would like to be made into warm clothing. I wonder what I'll make next..?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Oh, where have you been, Wenny-girl, Wenny-girl...

Jeepers! It's been a long time since I updated. To be fair, though, it's been a while since I did any sewing. The last two weeks have been pretty much non-stop petsitting clients and working with my horses at the stable. Seems like the only times I stopped were to eat or sleep, and sometimes that felt like the same time. It's hard to eat a sandwich when your head is nodding, and yawning with a mouthful of that sandwich is just gross.

Now that Labor Day is past, my schedule is almost back to normal. With one exception: I've found a woman who will let me work with her horses since the training stable where I've been going is closing down. She has three out-of-shape horses that I have nicknamed "The Three Little Pigs" (TLPs, for short) and I have made it my goal in life to get them into good condition. Once the stable is closed, I'll be working with the TLPs three or four days a week.

Oh no! I hear you crying, But does this mean the end of Wenny Makes It? 

'Course not!  I still have all that wool in the closet, remember? And if you'll pardon the cliché phrase, Winter is Coming. New garments for the rainy season must be made. Plus there's my magnum opus! So never fear: Wenny will go on, probably far longer than anyone holds an interest.

Stay tuned. Tonight I'm gonna make a start on something and pictures will be forthcoming!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Big One, Update

I spoke about two weeks ago about a big project I have been planning for about a year. It's exciting to have a secret project under wraps, but you all have been pestering me so much to hear more details that I will relent and show you a few of my plans.

You saw the materials --the fine gold wool fabric, the crimson linen. There's black wool, too, and it all is going to work together in this:

A very rough sketch, but perhaps it will give you an idea of what is taking shape in my mind. To give you further ideas, I point you towards Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene Book I, canto 4:

Suddein vpriseth from her stately place
   The royall Dame, and for her coche doth call:
   All hurtlen forth, and she with Princely pace,
   As faire Aurora in her purple pall,
   Out of the East the dawning day doth call:
   So forth she comes: her brightnesse brode doth blaze;
   The heapes of people thronging in the hall,
   Do ride each other, vpon her to gaze:
Her glorious glitterand light doth all mens eyes amaze.

So forth she comes, and to her coche does clyme,
   Adorned all with gold, and girlonds gay,
   That seemd as fresh as Flora in her prime,
   And stroue to match, in royall rich array,
   Great Iunoes golden chaire, the which they say
   The Gods stand gazing on, when she does ride
   To Ioues high house through heauens bras-paued way
 Drawne of faire Pecocks, that excell in pride,
And full of Argus eyes their tailes dispredden wide. 

But this was drawne of six vnequall beasts,
On which her six sage Counsellours did ryde,
Taught to obay their bestiall beheasts,
With like conditions to their kinds applyde:

Monday, August 20, 2012

The new smock!

I thought that hand sewing a linen underdress would elicit more conversation on an airplane than it actually did. When I pulled it out on the first leg of our flight, the woman in the seat next to me exclaimed "Oh, look at you! What are you making?"

"A reproduction of a 14th century linen smock," I said, trying to keep from sounding boastful.

She took a sip of her tonic and lime and put her nose back into the Janet Evanovich romance she was reading.

And that was that. Well, what did I expect? And you know, if she had kept talking it probably would have just annoyed me. Instead I got to stitch in peace, like a little Tyrannosaurus Rex with my elbows crammed up close and my hands under my chin. I hate those tiny airline seats.

It was quick work to hem and whipstitch the smock together, and thanks to careful cutting, the sleeve cuffs and bottom hem landed on the pre-existing hem of the tablecloth and already had a nice finish on them.

The neckline is a bit lower
than my older one, but I like it .

Here you can see how I worked the existing pulled work into the smock design. And yes -- I cut the sleeves  into the body at an angle to save me the step of sewing in an underarm gusset.  

Details of the middle and lower hem.
Needs ironing!

I finished the smock faster than I thought I would, and then I didn't have any project to keep me busy on the flight home. And what a miserable flight it was! I think the air conditioning wasn't working properly. It was warm and stuffy, and the seats seemed even closer together than usual. Ugh. 

Now I'm home again, I've started work on the wimple and veil to go with my St. Birgitta's cap. Wait and see!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I'm headed to Utah in twelve hours, and so I should really be in bed getting some sleep. Instead, I've been working on a project to take on the plane so my busy hands have something productive to do. I cut that fancy tablecloth into smock-bits, faced the neckline, and pressed the seam-hems in. I'll stitch the hems and put it all together and come home with my fancy new smock.  It looks very liturgical.

I'll be back in five days. Until then, here is a video of baby goats  to amuse you.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

St Birgitta's Cap -- a seriously rambling post

Okay okay, finally a post showing something I've made. Thank you for your patience as I go on about faires and whatnot.

Here's where I started: Neulakko does it up right, very nice things. I was looking for directions on how to wrap/pin/wear a wimple and veil, and she makes it all very elegant and easy. Allright, I thought, I can do that. All I need are the pieces.

I have two very fine lightweight linen tablecloths. I need to make a new smock from one of them, and the other can be used for headgear, stockings, and suchlike. I used one whole day's worth of sewing time to determine which one I was going to make the smock from.

One tablecloth is very plain. In fact, I discovered while ironing it that it very likely isn't a tablecloth at all, but a true bedlinen -- a sheet! It had a wide hem at one edge and narrow hems on all the rest, and there's no channel for a rod, so it's not a curtain panel. It looks like someone -- perhaps another reenactor?-- wanted sheets of linen instead of the widely-available cotton or blends. Who knows. But it's about the size for a double bed, so there's a lot of nice fabric there that I can plunder for my new smock.

The other tablecloth has a design worked into it with embroidery and pulled threads.

Solid white is hard to get a good pic of, but I hope you can see the details.

I went round and round trying to figure out how to cut out my pattern pieces without wasting fabric, while saving as much of the embroidery as I could and placing it strategically on the bust, hemline, and sleeves.

Hold on, Wenny, I can hear you saying. This post is titled St Birgitta's Cap. Why are you going on about these tablecloths and your smock plans?

I'm getting there! Don't you see? Whichever one I make the smock from, the other one is for my cap, wimple, and veil!

So like I said, I was going round and round -- rather like this post-- and I finally decided that I'd use the embroidered one for the smock, and if it didn't work out, then I'd like to have the other plain one to fall back on. It's not like I have time on the evening before the faire to whip up a cap, wimple and veil (and braids!) much less a new smock, and doggone it, there's nothing wrong with the coif I made a year ago so I'll just wear that. Heck, it's going to be so hot, and there's no shade there, I should just wear my straw hat and call it good. ...But the hat won't look right without my hair out of the way tucked under a cap first.

I decided I'd make the cap. I even found scraps of linen from when I made my first smock that were the perfect size for a cap. I spent about an hour scouring the internet for a pattern -- not because it's a tricky shape to figure out, but because I was unsure of dimensions. A lot of the sites I looked at were across the seas in Finland or Denmark and Google Translate helps, but technical instructions become somewhat muddled. Finally I just winged it, and it came out pretty close to perfect.

I know, I know. Blue bias tape. Not exactly period, right? Well, at eleven o'clock at night, I had no time to cut strips from my scraps of  matching linen, stitch them together to get a piece long enough, and press and stitch that. I used the bias tape knowing that no one at a ren faire would call me on it, as they'd all be too busy being pirates and wenches. And once I tried it on, you know, it's really kinda pretty. I had read (and of course I can't find it now!) that colored woven bands were sometimes used, so I think that when I make my next cap, I'll try that.  Next cap? Yes. Because the shape on this one was a little off, and was pouchy at the back of my head instead of down at the nape of my neck. Practice, y'see. Once I get it right, I'll post the pattern for y'all.

In the picture, my hair is in two braids looped up and pinned to the top of my head. My long, fine hair was not substantial enough to fill out the back of the cap, so I cheated and added a skein of brown wool. It can't be seen, and adds a nice plumpness.

Okay, now I have to go to work. I think I'll talk a bit about my Big Project in the next post, so stay tuned for that!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

We're back!

...and not even sunburned. That alone makes this year's ren faire a success. Well done, us!

I took one picture there, you guys. One. While we were watching the fire juggler, I saw some pennants at a nearby stall, painted with the word "Huzzah!" and I thought they were kinda cute, but not $15 cute. I could make one of those in an hour, I thought, and embroider it, and it'd be even better. So I took a picture. The pennants can barely be seen in the snapshot, so I won't post it here, but it was enough to remind me.  Can't you just see me at tournament, merrily waving my pennant? Maybe I'll put a little jingle bell on it or something. Love it.

I got my nerd on with the blacksmith...

Me: Good morrow, Master Smith!

Blacksmith: Good morrow, my good lady.

Me: Pray tell me, what is the purpose of this? (holding up an item from his table of wares)

BS: Ah, see, this has an acorn at the end-- that's a nut, yes? And here, a knot has been worked into the iron. So it's a "knotty nut".

Me: (blank stare.) ...I ...see?

BS: (smiling disingenuously) Here's two on a ring, with this piece here added, see how it's twisted like a screw?

Me: Aye...

BS: So, if one has this, one can ask if a person wants to fondle one's knotty nuts and screw.

Me: (feigned innocence with a suspicious arched eyebrow) Indeed?

BS: ..and good master Smith doesn't get in trouble, because it's just an innocent request. (jangles the ring invitingly)

Me: (bemused look) And why would one want to do that?

BS: You see, it's... (sighs heavily, maybe not used to explaining) Perhaps it's for crazy people. Yes?

Me: It well must be. I think just this salt spoon, today.

And so I bought this wee salt spoon to go with the silver viking ship salt cellar I got a while back that was missing its spoon. I put a nickel by it for size comparison:

Now it's time for work, again, so check back later for more tales from the faire, and a picture of my last-moment St Birgitta's cap!