Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Christmas Caroling Season Approaching: Should I Make a New Costume, Yea or Nay?

Good morning and happy holidays, everyone!  I know it's only October 17th and y'all are probably festooning your front steps with pumpkins and "harvest decor" if you're thinking about holidays at all, but my professional caroling group just had our kickoff rehearsal/party last weekend so I'm already thinking ahead to Christmas.  Behold, me in the Giant Green Dress That Does Not Fit In My Car:

Final Christmas Caroling Job Last Year, Holiday Party at a Private Residence

That photo is from my last caroling job of last year's holiday season, a party at a private home in Charlotte.  The weather was perfect, the other members of the quartet were some of my favorite voices to sing with, and we really enjoyed singing together.  The homeowner who hired us had also hired a horse drawn carriage bringing guests up the their winding driveway past the beautifully lit trees to the house, where we met them at the front door with Christmas carols in four-part harmony.  (I am now BFF with Jake the Horse).
Imagine All Of This Dress Stuffed Behind My Steering Wheel...

So the dress...  You can read more about how I made it, which pattern I used, etc., here if you're interested.  I got carried away with the design, and wasn't thinking about the practical requirements of a costume that I need to put on at home and then wear while driving my little car to wherever the job happens to be.  Have you ever tried to drive in a hoop skirt with petticoats?  It's a hassle just getting in and out of the costume, it's restrictive and uncomfortable through the arms and shoulders, it's 100% silk so if I'm caroling outdoors and it rains on me, the dress will be ruined, and it's dry clean only...  Also the hoop skirt tends to knock things over, and when we were hired to go caroling door-to-door in a neighborhood the other night I kept tripping over the skirt and couldn't see where the steps began or ended.  There have been some close calls where, if someone hadn't been in the right place at the right time, I could have knocked over a Christmas tree or two.  This dress is ridiculously impractical, so even though our clients and their guests love it (especially the little old ladies at nursing homes), I am strongly considering making a new caroling costume for this year.  

Honestly, after two years, I am bored with wearing the same thing over and over again, struggling in and out of this dress 2-3 times a week for the whole month of December.  I feel like Charlie Brown!  I won't completely retire the green dress; I just need a different costume that I can alternate with it, something in a different color that is more suitable for outdoor events, with a warmer fabric and/or matching cape, something a bit later Victorian with a skirt that is not quite so full....  I want a costume that will be easier to get in and out of, more comfortable to wear and practical to drive in, and one that won't cost a fortune and take 50+ hours to sew.  So, without further ado, BEHOLD!  The Inspiration for my Next Caroling Costume!:

Inspiration: 1826 Fashion Plate from a French Ladies' Magazine
My costume is supposed to be "Victorian" or "Dickensian," and plaids were a huge fashion trend in the mid-19th century.  No, I'm not going to wear a dorky bonnet, but am thinking something like the red and green plaid skirt with ruffles with a frilly blouse, and maybe a little cloak to go over it.  

Because a LOT of work goes into shirtmaking, I ordered this blouse from a historical costume supplier:

Abbington Blouse from Historical Emporium
The blouse cost me $56, which sounds expensive until you consider that I would probably have spent that much on a pattern, fabric, lace trim, buttons, interfacing, and whatever other notions were needed to make it -- plus it would have taken HOURS of time that I don't have.  So I'm going to use this ready-made costume blouse as a starting point and just add more lace trim from my stash to make it more exciting.   In the Victorian fashion plate illustrations you'll notice that the shoulders and upper sleeves are very pouffy and frilly, and making the shoulders and upper arms bigger with ruffles and frills helps to make the waist look narrower for that hourglass silhouette:  
1826 and 1829

Also, just tucked into a skirt as in the Historical Emporium photo, my Abbington blouse looks more Little House On the Prairie than Elegant Caroling Fashionista.  It's not going to look Victorian if it's all blousy and loose at the waistline.  So I I'm going to make some kind of separate waist cincher/corset/belt thingy, similar to what this costumer Victorian Choice has done:

From other photos on their web site, I can see that Victorian Choice makes that waist cincher so that it ties with long sashes at the back -- which means it's totally adjustable in the event that a Caroling Fashionista eats a couple of extra slices of pumpkin pie...  

I haven't seen anything quite like the Victorian Choice waist cincher in my Victorian fashion research, at least not dating from my target era of 1840-1860.  The one below is an antique garment dating from the 1880s or so:

(At this point, you might be wondering why I don't just order my whole costume online and be done with it, especially if you're a sensible, practical person.  Unfortunately for me, I'm an impractical, ridiculous person who needs to have a one-of-a-kind costume entirely of my own making and incorporating all of my own design whimsies, so ordering a readymade costume online is simply out of the question). 

Back to the project at hand:

A Starting Point: Simplicity 8910
Let me assure you that there will be NO dorky bonnet on my head, but I DO like the View C cape from this Simplicity pattern shown above.  I've got a lightweight red microfiber that looks and drapes like velvet and won't need lining for the cape, and I bought some heavy black pom pom trim to use where red trim is shown in the pattern photo.  But I don't like the skirt in that pattern because there is too much bulky fullness at the waist, which would look frumpy-dumpy, and I think the skirt might even have an ELASTIC waist, God forbid.  I have a different pattern that I'm planning to use for my skirt, this OOP (Out of Print) Butterick:

OOP Butterick Pattern 3418
I like this pattern better than the Simplicity skirt pattern because of the princess seams, which keep fullness at the hem while reducing bulk at the waistline.  I may even gather and attach my skirt to the waistband by hand the way my original costume was made, because that historically accurate technique wasn't difficult and it really did allow a tremendous amount of fabric to gather up at the waist without any bulk.  That's key to creating the illusion of a corseted silhouette without actually having to wear a corset -- waist cincher with full, puffy blouse above and full, puffy skirt below.  

I'm thinking of a hybrid between View D with the three tiers of gathered ruffles and trim, and View B that has the flat skirt panel in the front with fullness concentrated to the sides and read of the skirt.  Look at my historic inspiration photo again:

See?  The skirt is gathered on the back and sides, but flat (not gathered) in the front.  With enough fullness in the back, that could even give a hint of a bustled effect (without having to tie a pillow to my derriere).  From a historical authenticity perspective (which absolutely NO ONE cares about besides me), notice the ruffles on the skirts -- three tiers of ruffles, even a contrasting plaid ruffle on the one on the left, and the ruffles are clearly cut on the bias due to the diagonal direction of the plaid.  Plaid was a very fashion-forward trend in the mid-19th century, as were the very full skirts supported by hoops and petticoats.  But what really stands out to me in researching women's fashion circa 1860 is the bold, graphic trim on the skirts:

Chevron With Plaid!
Ruffles, Plaid Banding, Bold Trim
Ruffles, Banding, BOLD!

Check Out the Coat Trim!
Interlocking Ring Applique
These are some wild getups, aren't they?!  Those super-full skirts were never plain; they were canvases waiting to be embellished with dramatic, showstopping trim.  That's why I went with the bold, black scalloped ruffling on my previous costume -- and I want to have that drama for my new costume, too.  

For my skirt fabric, I bought some green and red plaid cotton flannel from JoAnn and some red floral yarn trim:

For My Skirt?
So, what do you think?  At the moment, I'm feeling kind of "meh" about it.  Here are the pros:

  1. 100% cotton flannel can be preshrunk, so my finished skirt could be washable -- no more dry cleaning costs
  2. This is an outdoor-friendly fabric that won't be ruined by a sprinkling of rain or snow
  3. It's warmer than the silk I used for my last costume, which would be a plus on cold evening gigs
  4. Several yards of red yarn trim can jazz up that plaid fabric so it looks more interesting and more 1860s Fashion Forward
  5. The plaid will make it easy to cut the skirt panels straight, and I won't have to mark where the trim goes because I can just use lines in the plaid fabric itself
  6. I was originally thinking of skirt view D, with the three tiers of ruffles and the red yarn trim just above each ruffle, but I'm having second thoughts about that because of the bulk of flannel ruffles...

And of course the cons are that it's too "expected," too cliche, and not nearly exciting like a silky satiny outfit.  The biggest factor sabotaging my "sewjo" with this project is that everyone to whom I've mentioned my plan to make a new costume this year has reacted with DISAPPOINTMENT.  :-(


Anyway.  Here is the plan for the little cape thingy:

Simplicity 8910 Double Tiered Cape
The other thing I can do is disregard the skirt pattern instructions when it comes to gathering and attaching the skirt to the waistband, and use the hand stitched cartridge pleat technique I learned from making my previous costume:
Inside the Waistband of an Antique 1860s Dress
Doing the skirt that way is not hard at all, not using Tiger Tape to space my hand stitches and heavy duty upholstery thread that won't break when I pull up the pleats.  This method can't be done by machine, but it really does enable you to get an authentic bell-shaped skirt without thickening up the waistline.  Those pleats rotate outward when you put the skirt on with a petticoat, so there is no gathered seam allowance adding girth at the waistline itself.  It's genius.

Anyone who has managed to read all the way through this rambling stream-of-consciousness post without falling asleep deserves a prize, and here it is:  I will now listen to and consider YOUR opinions!  Please leave me a comment and let me know if you think this new costume idea would result in a crowd-pleaser or a disappointment.  If you don't like this idea, what would you suggest instead?  I have about 6 weeks before the caroling season starts in earnest.  Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Longarm Quilting Practice: Let's Play With Cheater Cloth!

Good morning!  I learned SO much at my APQS New Owner training last week, and I'm anxious to get some time in my studio now to put all that information into practice.  I came home with more thread, gadgets and gizmos, and a little less fear of routine maintenance.  

Rather than loading up a real quilt top just yet, I'm going to do a few more SMALLER practice quilts, to get more familiar and comfortable with the process of loading a quilt.  I have zipper leaders on order for my 12' frame but in the meantime, I'll still be pinning directly to my leaders.

My first practice quilt was a huge king sized monstrosity of different colored solid fabrics.  That was fine for experimenting with matching versus contrasting threads and doodling different fill patterns.  I halfheartedly quilted some straight lines with my ruler on that first practice quilt, but what I really want to do with those rulers is learn to quilt straight lines EXACTLY where I want them on my quilts, like SID (Stitch in the Ditch, along seam lines).  The big learning curve for me with ruler work in quilting is developing the ability to eyeball the distance from my needle to the outside edge of my presser foot, because that's how far away my ruler needs to be from where I'm trying to quilt my straight line.  So I'm going to be loading up a 45" x 45" Dresden plate cheater cloth that I bought on eBay for my next practice piece:

Dresden Plate Cheater Cloth from eBay
Although it resembles a pieced and appliqued quilt top at first glance, the Dresden Plate/Snowball blocks and the 54-40 Or Fight blocks are just printed onto the fabric.  My goal for this piece will be to use my ruler to quilt all the "seamlines" between the fake patches, and around and between the blades of the Dresden plates.  Then I can quilt some fills in the blocks and the plate backgrounds.  By the time I finish quilting this piece, I hope to have better control when quilting with the ruler so I can tackle a real quilt top more confidently.

The quality of this vintage cheater cloth is pretty lame, I must say.  The weave is not as tight as the quality quilting cottons I'm used to working with, and the piecing design is printed onto the fabric crooked so that it's off grain.  I tore opposite ends of the fabric along the grainline to ensure that it would load onto the frame nice and square, and look at how askew the printed design is from the straight grain edge of the fabric:

See How Off-Grain This Print Is?

Close Up
Since this is only for practice, I'm going with the straight grain even though that will make it look crooked.  The great thing about the cheater cloth is that it was super cheap and I have zero blood, sweat, or tears invested in it, so there is no fear or anxiety about "ruining it" like there would be with a pieced quilt top.

108" Wide Paisley Backing Fabric from JoAnn
I used my 50% off coupon at JoAnn's to purchase 9 yards on a bolt of the above 108" wide cotton backing fabric for this and other practice quilts.  I generally only buy fat quarters of fabric for my stash, and only purchase yardage when I specifically need it for borders or a backing for a current project.

I've gotta say, I'm surprised there isn't a greater variety of cheater cloth fabric available today, considering the sheer number of quilters interested in developing machine their machine quilting skills.  If this is something you're interested in, I've found a couple of options that are available as of today:

Available on eBay here
That's a 6-yard length of 34" wide vintage cheater cloth, available on ebay here.  The seller says it feels like a blend rather than 100% cotton.  This would be great for someone who has a real pieced lone star quilt that they aren't sure how to quilt.  You could try out different quilting ideas on each of the lone stars printed onto the cheater cloth to help you envision which one you want to do on your real quilt.

24" x 44" ColorWorks Mariner's Compass Panel, Available on eQuilter here
44" Sweet Tea Barn Star Delft Panel Available from Fabric.com here
The cheater cloth panel pictured above is a digital print from Hoffman, so it's going to be a much better quality than the one I'm about to load onto my frame today.  At 43.5" x 44", it's also a great size for a quick and easy baby quilt, and it's only $12.98 per panel -- and if you buy two or more panels, they are only $10.38 each.  You could slap borders on it if you wanted a larger throw size.  I might have to buy a couple of these panels for myself.

Meadow Dance Quilt Top to Go Panel, by Amanda Murphy for Benartex
Benartex is offering the above 24" x 44" panel, designed by Amanda Murphy, specifically for practicing machine quilting designs.  You can get this one from eQuilter here for $8.25.

By the way, I don't do affiliate links, so I'm NOT compensated from any purchases you make via links in my blog posts.  I have only included the links for the convenience of you AND me, so that I can find these cheater cloth options later, if I feel like I need more practice after quilting the Dresden plates, as well as for the purpose of photo credits.

My quilting goal for today is to straighten up the mess in my studio from the oven mitts project, find the right size batting for my cheater cloth in my box of batting scraps (I bought some fusible batting tape in case I need to piece it -- waste not, want not, especially when it's just for practice!), and just get this piece loaded onto the quilting frame, ready to go.

I have some design work to attend to and a VOX choral rehearsal tonight, so I'll be listening to the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem on my headphones all day while I'm working in my office and studio.  In case you want to listen to it, too:

It's another busy week full of meetings, rehearsals, doctor and dentist appointments for Bernie and the kids, but hopefully I can squeeze in some stitching, too.  Have a great week, everyone!
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