Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Skirt Review.

I don't like it.  Here's why:

It's dark this morning, so I had to open up the aperture on my camera. This makes the photo quality a little grainy. Sorry about that.  But you can see the pleating -- and more importantly, what's not pleated: the placket in the middle, where the skirt fastens together.

I think that's the problem.

If there were pleating all across the back, and the fastening was on the side, I think the drape on this skirt would be much more becoming. As it is, there's a "valley" between the two gathered bits and it looks kind of horrid -- at least in my opinion.

Looking at the original piece from which this pattern was made, it's a bit hard to see what's going on at the back. It appears similar, but the photo is small and... well, I linked it, but I think I'll also just pop it here.

I made the pic as big as I could, you guys. I wish it were a better picture. Oh well.

I can't tell what those light-colored tabs at the top of the extant skirt are meant to be -- maybe an attachment point for the bodice, or to affix to an undergarment to help support the weight of the backskirt. They weren't included in the pattern, at any rate.

My pleats look bigger than these, and I think the dressmaker overlapped the placket or something to obviate the "valley between the pleats" appearance that I've made. It looks much narrower than mine, go figure.

I made my pleats half an inch, which seemed small compared to the cartridge pleats I'm used to seeing on medieval constructions. I think perhaps that was my problem: thinking with my medieval brain, instead of checking with more current Victorian trends. Squinting at the blurry pleating in this pic, I think mine should have been smaller. If I had done that, perhaps the extra wool would not have been needed, also.

All that said, the rest of the skirt turned out very nicely and I like the shape and drape of it. I think I'll write this one off as a learning experience, tuck it into my unfinished projects drawer, and maybe revisit it at another time.

Now... what shall I make next?

Friday, February 15, 2013

The sewing is back!

Gosh, remember long ago when this blog was about sewing? Pretty outfits... embroidery... whatever happened to that? Now it's all "I have a horse!" and "Look at the mask I made!" and "Steampunk! Rawr!" 

Well, feast your eyes, my friends: The sewing is back!

Kindly forgive the slightly blurry snap.
I'll take another one when the lighting is better.
The bottom hem still needs to be done, but otherwise my test run of an 1895 evening skirt pattern turned out quite well.  And yes, that's a bit of a train back there -- my hem isn't that uneven. And yes, I have a pillow under it to act as a small bustle.

The pattern I used was from Costume Gallery, presented free, online. I got to get out my graph paper and customize the measurements, which wasn't too difficult. Once you sew the darts, it's basically all long straight seams. On a machine, it goes together pretty quickly. Even the cartridge pleats at the back were not terribly time-consuming.

The directions called for a lightweight fabric, so I chose a shirtweight brown linen that I had in my stash. I would have preferred something more lively, but my stash is what it is and I use what I have. And besides, linen is so lovely to sew with. It just looks so nice stitched and pressed, and you can crank that iron up all the way to the top and there's that whoosh of steam-- very satisfying.

I know everyone is all about Downton Abbey these days, but I'm rockin' it old school and watching the 1970's series of Upstairs, Downstairs. It's a very satisfying watch and the actors are spot on. I think I'm rather in love with Hudson.  So I'm watching U/D and the machine is stitching away grungrungrungrungrun and I mark my pleats, feeling very domestic and happy.

I use standard DMC embroidery floss to stitch my pleats. The skirt instructions say to bring the fabric width down to three inches. I do, and end up with this:

Ugh. That looks terrible! This lightweight linen doesn't have enough bulk to make three inches of nice firm cartridge pleats. It's all loosey-goosey and untidy. This won't do!  I tear out the pleats and press the waist hem flat again. (I should mention here that I hadn't stitched the waist seam. You can see in the righthand part of the picture, I had just turned the waist over and pressed it.)

Away to my stash of wool! I measure out a strip of medium-weight wool and use a little spray sewing adhesive to keep it in place, folded the waist seam over and pressed it again so my wool was sandwiched in there nice and snug. Then I stitched the pleats again like before, and pulled them to three inches.

 Look how gorgeous that is. And the extra length on the wool gave a bit of extra body to the drape of the skirt. If I were to do it again, I'd make it a little longer, and maybe cut the tail end into scallops to improve the drape further.

And here it is from the outside. Mary Poppins practically perfect in every way!

I have to go to work now. For my next entry, I'll go over the details of the skirt, it's construction, and what I think of the general fit and look of it.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Washington is famous for many things: apples, trees, grunge bands... and rain. There are parts of the state that get so much, in fact, that they meet the criteria to be called rain forests: 68-78 inches of rain a year.  That's a LOT.

That's great, Wen, I hear you saying, But why are you going on about rain? We want to see pretty pictures of what you've been working on this week!

Okay. How's this for a picture?

That's mildew, folks, and mold. Furry grey-green yuck all over a very nice English saddle. It happens faster than you would think, thanks to all the dampness here.  The crud just loves to get into dark, damp places and eat up all the yummy sweat and grime and stuff that we and our horses leave on tack. This is why it's important to give your gear a wipe after riding rather than put it up damp and sweaty.

This is an extreme case. A saddle in regular use wouldn't get this bad. This one was in storage and -- if I'm any good at guessing -- elicited screams of horror when it was found. (No, it's not mine. It belongs to a client. But I would have screamed.)

Step one: get rid of all the crud. It wasn't until afterwards that I realized I should probably have been wearing a dust mask while cleaning. All those airborne mold spores -- I can feel them in my lungs. Ugh. *cough-cough* I just popped the whole works -- stool and all-- into the utility sink in the laundry room and used saddle soap on a damp sponge to wipe it all down. Then I got a fresh sponge and scrubbed the whole thing again, under all the flaps and into the crevices and it just felt so good, you guys.

Look at that. No more green!

Such an amazing difference -- now for the top coat! I used a product by Farnam called Leather New Foam that I got at the local tack shop. Cleans, conditions, and shines in one easy step! it says. I appreciate their use of the Oxford comma, though I am usually not a fan of one-step products as they usually produce substandard results. This stuff is pretty good, though, and came highly recommended. I just put a dollop on, rub it around with my hands, and then wipe off the lather with a bit of clean toweling.

I like how it gives a bit of shine without being dazzling.

The final step is a go-over with a moisturizing wax I make myself with beeswax, olive oil, and tea tree oil. The tea tree oil has anti-fungal properties which I hope will help prevent a recurrence of the nasty mess we started out with. 

Isn't it pretty? I can't wait to take it back to its owner and hear the happy exclamations.