Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Funemployment," or, The Luxury of Indecision

I am very excited to say that I got a new job, and I had a whole week off in between! So this week I've been enjoying the luxury of working on projects and finals without anything else on the books--just get up, sew, do homework, sew more, etc. Glorious!

This includes two big developments: I am almost done with my 1830s dress, and I decided to make my mother an 1850s outfit for the ball. So I've been hard at work! Both dresses were tried on for the first time this evening for last alterations, and I am unspeakably pleased so far. I promise to post detailed pictures once they've been worn and photographed, but in the meantime I have some cell phone progress shots. Because I had time to think about taking progress shots! And only swore a lot of the time but not all the time! Ha.

Before my week off, I actually did some significant work on the bodice beginning in late October, because we had sewing circle. Over the course of the October and November sessions I mocked up the pattern (TV455), made adjustments, and assembled the actual bodice so that I could have help fitting the darts. I find it much easier to have someone do that while I'm wearing the bodice! Then I cut an overlayer out of my bridal tulle that was wider across the front and back than my actual bodice (but actual size around the arm holes). I matched the arm holes and shoulders of the bridal tulle, and then painstakingly created tiny folds to pleat up the excess width. I tacked each tulle pleat to the silk bodice in three places (top, waist, bottom) as invisibly as possible, then bound the neck with piping and added a non-tulle-d waistband, which further lock down the pleats.

matching up the arm holes to start pleating the tulle

checking the look halfway

I also created long tulle oversleeves and short puffed silk undersleeves and attached those over Thanksgiving, so the bodice was in pretty good shape before my week off (which also never happens). I'd also already cut and assembled the skirt, so I had a large tube ready to go. This is when that indecision starts--I originally planned to make a padded, three-dimensional rolled hem in silk at the bottom of the tulle overskirt. I messed this up right away by sewing it together upside-down, and had to pick itty-bitty stitches out of the tulle (which took forever and was absolutely miserable), then once I'd fixed it, stuffed the tube, and sewn it shut...I decided I didn't like it. It seemed clunky, it wouldn't lay right, and it just made me sad! So I slept on it, and didn't touch it the next day. Instead, I worked on my mother's dress so that I felt good about progress. When I went back to my dress, I decided that yes, I really did hate the overskirt. So I made an entirely new one (luckily I had enough tulle) with no hem decoration and basted it to my silk. The two layers are cartridge pleated as one to the waistband, and the excess tulle (folded to the inside to adjust the length) adds some nice volume--almost like an extra petticoat.

Speaking of cartridge pleating...I did that! I usually don't have time, because it is hugely time-consuming. But I love the way they make the skirt hang, so since I had the time I took advantage of it!\. To further help give the skirt some body, I used craft felt to pad the skirt hem (based on this blog post). I sewed my felt to the silk as a facing, so it was super easy, lightweight, and rather stiff. It's not perfectly accurate, but not horribly off either. Definitely a trick I'll keep in mind for future skirts.

facing the hem with felt

marking cartridge pleats
stitching the pleats while watching The Crown, which I greatly enjoyed! Also, cat, because of course she needed to be on my lap for this

pleats drawn up and pinned to the waist

from the front
 I've also started finishing all the little bits, like putting cuffs on the sleeves and bias-binding the sleeve openings. I still need to sew down the neck piping and add closures, but otherwise this is basically done with a whole week to go until the ball! INSANITY. It's a pretty great feeling. (or it would be, but also finals. Still, better than sewing and finals...)

cuffs and binding on the oversleeves
My mother's dress is in pretty good shape as well-the bodice is done except for closures and hand finishing, and has been passed off to Mom to finish on her own this week. I measured the skirt for length this evening after assembling and hemming it over the week, so now I can adjust accordingly and attach it to the waist band. Then that's it, she's done too!

cutting the lining from scraps of Christmas print, because why not!

laying out skirt panels
On to Fezziwig's!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

1830s for Christmas

Despite a crazy fall (shenanigans! upheaval! homework!), I really wanted to make a new dress for Fezziwig's Ball, our annual Dickensian extravaganza in Salem. I've had a particular image sitting on my inspiration pile for ages, for an obvious reason...

portrait by Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet
it basically fulfills all of my love of 19th century romanticized Scotland in one go, with the tartan sash and the thistle hair. I haven't been able to find much information about this portrait, but my best guess is that it was done between 1828-1831 (when Dubois-Drahonet died).

It's not a period I do, so I've never had an excuse to make an 1830s ensemble. Fezziwig's is really the only opportunity, because the dress code is just "the life of Dickens"--1830s fits the bill! So this year I decided that was going to be my one project. And I'm up and running! I am really pleased with how things are going so far.

For the actual project, I decided what I liked best about this portrait was the sheer over-layer, especially the sleeves. So I went looking for extent garments with similar features, and found a few that spoke to me:

1820s, Kent State collection
1829, Bath Fashion Museum
1830, FIT
1830s, Stete Hermitage Museum
1832, LACMA
I also found several descriptions of dresses from 1830-31 with "sheer net oversleeves," and so I decided to use bridal tulle to make the over-layer instead of something like sheer organza. I'm not sure this is really fine enough, but it looks good so far--light and floaty and almost invisible, so I'm happy with it.

I'm excited to share more progress on this project as construction continues!

Monday, October 31, 2016

In Memento Mori: Mt Auburn Cemetery and the Rise of Rural Cemeteries

By the second decade of the 19th century, urban areas like Boston found themselves running out of space to bury their dead. As a solution, architects turned to the suburbs to build a "rural cemetery" where there would be space for the dead to rest peacefully. The first of this new type of burial ground, Mount Auburn Cemetery, opened in Cambridge in 1832. Mount Auburn was built by the Massachusetts Horticultural society and modeled on natural garden landscaping of the English countryside, sprawling across 72 acres.

Gate to Mt Auburn Cemetery, 1860s

It started a movement for larger burial sites outside of the main urban environment, where visitors could spend time in the garden, visit loved ones who had passed, and commune with nature. Mount Auburn's founders envisioned a site that "commemorates the dead in a landscape of exceptional beauty and tranquility; providing comfort and inspiration to the bereaved and the public as a whole." The site included monuments, hills, a wide variety of plants and trees (including exotic samples), walking paths, ponds, and in the latter half of the century a tower with views of Boston. While Mount Auburn served as a place to bury the dead, it was also a large natural space with many nooks to explore and enjoy.

Illustration of the Mt Auburn Grounds
The idea caught on. After Mount Auburn came Mount Hope (Bangor, ME) and Laurel Hill (Philadelphia, PA) in 1836, and more in major cities throughout the next few decades. These spaces were "experimental gardens," providing public green spaces with nature, sculpture, and quiet where families could picnic, stroll, and enjoy the air outside the city. Rural cemeteries provided sanctuary to both the living and the dead, a communal location for gathering.

It's an interesting idea--the living and dead enjoying nature together--one that's fallen off in popularity in the 21st century. But you can still go walk in Mount Auburn, and it's definitely worth the trip.

Images in this post are either courtesy of the Mount Auburn Cemetery site or from the Holliston town burial ground, shot with my Petzval.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Optics and Adventures: An Island Climb with my Petzval Lens

Last weekend I stepped back into the 1920s for a getaway at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island. Built in the 1910s (and not much updated since), the Oceanic really feels like stepping back in time, and the island is a beautiful place to take an electronics break for the weekend. I was excited to do some photography while we were there, and on Sunday we went for a walk to explore the rocky outcroppings on the island. I brought along my Petzval, a reimagined 1840s portrait lens. The optics are very different than my modern lenses, leading to a small single point of focus and swirly, blurred edges. In bright colors, like this weekend, it gives the photos a sort of dreamlike effect that I really love. Plus, the focusing knob (a small dial on the bottom of the lens shaft) is the same style of mechanism as the original--without auto image stabilization and focusing support, it's a very different, more deliberate shooting process. Another good way to feel like I'm stepping back in time.

I'll do another post about the event itself, but for now here are the fruits of our adventure as seen through an old-fashion optical marvel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

1920s Bathing Suit and Swim Boot Details

I'm excited to be heading off to the 1920s in a few weeks, so I've been doing a lot of 20s sewing to get ready! The first project on my list was re-doing my 1920s bathing suit and adding swim boots.

The suit was initially a quick and dirty project the day before an event, and is made from a pair of stretchy athletic pants and a knit dress (both black). It was perfectly serviceable, and I'm glad I had it (it would have been sad to miss the swimming!), but I had really wanted it to be improved before I wore it again. I originally wore it with black ballet flats as makeshift swim shoes, as little bathing slippers were popular during the early 20th century and the rocky terrain especially called for them. 

bathing suit and slippers last summer
actresses on the beach, 1926--Myrna Loy, center, is wearing bathing slippers
The shoes were falling apart when I used them, and they didn't survive the excursion, so I decided after that that I really wanted to make new bathing slippers for this year. I mentioned this to my friend Quinn, and she was kind enough to pass my desire along to Gina of Beauty From Ashes, and Gina shared the pattern she drafted for bathing boots from an original pair. Thank you, Gina! This was incredibly generous and I am so grateful! 

Quinn has posted about her bathing boots already, and she was good and took lots of in-progress shots. I was not! So I recommend popping over to check out her interesting research and images. I do have some inspiration images to share though!

Ohio, 1920s
Atlantic City, NJ, c.1920
souvenir postcard of movie actress Phyllis Haver on the beach
I'd already fallen in love with several yellow and black bathing suits, so I knew I wanted to go for yellow trim with my existing black suit. I purchased yellow and black cotton canvas online for my swim boots, and used the extra yellow canvas to trim the neck of my bathing suit dress and add stripes to the skirt and shorts. 

bathing suit (with matching cape!), 1920s (MFA)
knit suit, 1920s (via)
I decided to go with diagonal stripes because I thought they looked particularly sporty, and I'm quite pleased with the finished suit!

at the beach!
 Starting with modern clothing was a sneaky cheat to make this an easy, cheap project. Plus, it's very sturdy and machine washable, which is handy when dealing with sand and saltwater.

admiring art at the Nantasket Beach DCR building, which was originally built in the 1910s
Gina's boots patter went together easily, although our use of thicker cork for the soles meant that there was a lot of hand sewing. It worked out in the end, though, as the boots are very sturdy and help up well through beach adventures. I'm excited to wear them again! 
boot selfie?
Girls in boots and barefoot in the waves
 There are only two minor problems with this bathing ensemble: the stripe on the bottom of the shorts is a different color yellow, and my boots are too big. The alternate yellow is left over from the earlier iteration of the suit, but I didn't want to replace it with canvas because I was worried the less stretchy canvas wouldn't be able to handle my thighs. I've done too many squats to be contained! ha. The boot size issue is a little more confusing, but I think it's from a combination of tracing the pattern onto each piece (and thus getting a little larger each time between cutting and tracing) and my paranoia about ending up with too-small boots. I overshot! Oh, well. They look a little silly and duck-footy on land, but they're great paddles in the water.

 Overall, I'm incredibly pleased with this, and so excited to wear it again! I love the beach in any period, so it's a treat to be able to swim and wear silly clothes at the same time.

I am a ham in every period

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Adventurous Aside

My term is over today!! Two more papers to turn in and I'm home free to catch up on blogging and sewing and planning for some truly epic upcoming events. Whoo!

In the meantime, I am feeling truly grateful to be surrounded by friends who are wonderfully nutty and creative and talented...check out this video of us being ridiculous (edited into something coherent) for the moment, and I'll be back to sharing research and sewing progress in the near future!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Day at the Beach (in Black and White)

We've had some absolutely beautiful, bright, scorchingly hot weather the past few weeks, so I was thrilled to head to historic Nantasket Beach for an outing with the Tweed Club!

at Nantasket
Of course, Saturday morning dawned clear and bright...and cool! Possibly the coolest day we've had in weeks, with the promise of thunder. Not an ideal beach day. But that meant that we had the place to ourselves, which turned out to be perfect for taking pictures and running amok in true 1920s fashion. Plus, our period bathing suits (and all the aforementioned running amok) kept us nice and warm despite the weather. Perfect!

Nantasket Beach was the perfect location for a 1920s outing, as it's been a popular seaside destination for Bostonians since the 19th century. The boardwalk was full of amusements in its heyday, from the Klondike Arctic exhibition (complete with live polar bears) to towering roller coasters, carnival games, and wandering circus performers. 
Nantasket beach (and parking!), c.1920s
Beginning in 1818, Bostonians eager to escape the city could take boats from Boston to Hull--everyone from U.S. presidents to workers on their day off would--by the 1890s, over two million passengers were making the trip each summer. Resorts, restaurants, and the amusement park entertained visitors when they weren't on the beach.

postcard of Paragon Park, early 20th century
One particular amusement (a wildly popular one in Boston!) of Paragon Park was the carousel. Opening in 1928, the Paragon Carousel (known as PTC #85 for its manufacturer, Philadelphia Toboggan Company) features 66 hand-carved realistic-style horses and two Roman chariots (also pulled by horses). While the rest of the park has been dismantled, the Paragon Carousel remains as a historic legacy with its own museum and restoration workshop (which is an amazing process, still done by hand). 

the Paragon Carousel
James Hardison works on carousel restorations, courtesy of the Paragon Carousel Museum
Best of all, you can still ride it!

riding the 1928 carousel in our bathing suits
Given the gray weather and our sporting togs, I was feeling inspired by photographs of beach adventures from the period, and I wanted to capture the same feeling:

girls at Revere Beach (also MA!), 1919 (Boston Public Library)
1920s (Art Institute of Chicago)

So when editing the photos, I decided to shift into black and white. I love the way these turned out! And don't worry--I have another post on my outfit (specifically my super cool new bathing boots) coming soon...and those images will return to lovely technicolor. But for now, enjoy the brief dip into the 20s!

I am a ham.

Our fabulous tweed club hosts did a great job organizing the outing, and it was a blast to attend! Thank you!