Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Practical 1925 Apron Made from a Man's Shirt

Being the end of the month, a Historical Sew Fortnightly is due. I had a work in progress that I had to set aside.  I've been quite busy with a plethora of gardening that has resulted in some pain in my hand, wrist, and arm.  No more sustained hand sewing for me for a while! Disappointed that I had to set aside  my project, I assumed I would skip submitting an entry for this month's challenge, Practicality. Then I started thinking about this book, one of the favorites in my historic sewing collection: Amy Barickman's Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion, and Fun. Amy Barickman has revived the works of one of America's first home economists, Mary Brooks Pickens.  In 1916, Pickens opened The Women's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, while also establishing correspondence courses. The courses taught were "dressmaking, millinery, cooking, fashion design, beauty and homemaking."  (p8) Reading this book is a delightful trip through time to the 1920's and 1930's. The book is arranged monthly, according to courses offered seasonally.

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I recalled reading directions for making an apron from a man's shirt.  Yes! I found it on p30 and 31, under the month of January. It was originally written by a Margaret Murrin, for Inspiration, in 1925. There is no pattern to cut out and lay on fabric, but there were diagrams and explanations for 3 different variations of aprons. Interestingly, one apron used primarily the long sleeves from a man's shirt.

I didn't think I'd ever make these aprons. I'm not completely keen on them in the book. Nor am I completely keen on 1920's clothing. However I am a teacher by trade, I like to teach history with clothing...so I could at least save this for a history lesson someday.   Little to my surprise...


I asked my husband if he had any extra shirts that he no longer wanted. Actually he said he had a robin's egg blue colored shirt that he could give to me. He said it was faded so he no long wore it. When I saw it I was sad, because I loved that shirt. I bought it for him years ago.  I don't think it has faded, although it looks so in the pictures. It's actually a bit more colorful than it appears in the photos. I hesitated to cut into it because I liked it so much, but I finally did.  Oops, forgot to take the obligatory "before starting the project photo."  One sleeve is already cut out... 

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It was super easy to cut out! The diagrams and instructions are crystal clear about the cutting  process! However I couldn't find the finishing directions. I assumed we were expected to turn under the edges and machine stitch. After doing that, it looked quite plain, so I decided to add white rickrack. The author had suggested using rickrack in the long-sleeve based apron, so I decided to go ahead and perk up this apron with rickrack.  Also nothing was mentioned about how to attach the ties to the body of the apron. I considered just sewing them together but that made the apron a bit too tight when trying to take it off.  I knew the best option would be a button and buttonholes.   

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I dug through my button stash and found these adorable heart buttons. Dare I say, the more I worked on this shirt apron, the more I was liking it! I've always loved this shirt, and I am tickled that I can now wear it myself. It carries a lot of special meaning to me.

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The shirt pocket was right in line with one of the straps that I cut (this apron is all in one piece). Pockets were not shown in the diagram. I decided to keep the pocket for the fun of it. I could imagine the designer encouraging me to do so. I trimmed the seam line of the pocket with rickrack.  

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Here's the proof that it was once a man's shirt! A label inside my apron! I love it!

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I love this apron!

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The rickrack! The robin's egg blue fabric!

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The criss cross in back!

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The heart buttons!

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And how about that unpractical pocket in the back? However I thought it was more practical to leave it on instead of ripping it out and destroying the fabric. How funny would it be if someone slipped me a note in my pocket while I was busy cooking? 

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Very simple. Cute. Only 2 hours to sew from a 1925 Magic Pattern, which really had no pattern as we think of it today.  It was all written directions and diagrams.

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Yes, I think this apron will get lots of use! Everyone in the family likes it and have pretty much laughed through the entire process. I don't think any sewing project has brought so many gleeful looks from my family members. Fun, fun, fun!

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And now for the HSM details:

HSF 2015

What the item is (and what practical things you can do in it): An apron made from a man's shirt using directions from 1925. Practical in that a man's shirt was used to convert into an apron. Cooking can be done with it, which is also practical, to keep my clothes clean.

The Challenge: Practicality

Fabric: Cotton/polyester from a man's shirt

Pattern: Magic Pattern

Year: 1925

Notions: Rickrack, buttons

How historically accurate is it? Accurate in sewing method and style. Inaccurate in materials...I used my husband's old shirt. Can't imagine where I'd find a man's 1925 shirt...and not that I'd have the heart to cut it up. I thought it was practical to revive the 1925 pattern for today.

Hours to complete: Two hours!

First worn: Today for photos.

Total cost: Less than $6 for the rickrack was my current investment. However I did buy this shirt for my husband years ago, probably for $10. The buttons were from an old garment from my daughter's outfit when she was a little girl, which might have been a gift from family,, or a yard sale or thrift store purchase I made. If I purchased it retail, I spent $10 or less on it. I simply don't remember which outfit the buttons came from.


Ben Lomond Historic Site...and the Virginia Carters

In May we visited the Ben Lomond Historic Site in Northern Virginia.

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Although it was a quick tour due, its history had huge beginnings. In fact, I basically gave my family the entire tour! Would you like to time travel to the era of the Carter family of Virginia? Let's go!
The story of this small historic site is huge because the land was originally owned by Robert "King" Carter of 17th century Virginia fame. Robert Carter earned the nickname "king" as he amassed huge land holders in early Virginia.
In the early 18th century, this particular site that we visited was part of a huge inheritance Robert Carter's grandson inherited at a young age. This young man, Robert Carter III, was provided a prestigious educational opportunity in London that he squandered. Returning to Virginia uneducated, he returned in shame and faced lack of opportunity. He could neither marry well nor land a prestigious spot as a burgess. No one would associate with him much less vote for him. (Education and manners were exceedingly important to the Virginians.)
Robert Carter III journeyed to Annapolis, Maryland where he married well. His wife's name was Francis Tasker, whom I protrayed in one of our homeschool history presentations and whom I was prepared to portray in a first person interpretation workshop I attended if called upon. I have an absolute fascination with this lady, and her husband because their love story and how they wonderfully influenced society is so grand. 
A great book to read about Robert Carter III is The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father who Freed His Slaves by Andrew Levy. The book was highly recommended to me by Gowan Pamphlet when I was visiting him at Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago. Gowan Pamphlet was a freed slave in the 18th century Williamsburg who became a Baptist preacher.  (I highly recommend his programs at Colonial Williamsburg.) More details on this book and our visits to Carter historical sites we have visited will be collected into one blog post soon.
When Robert Carter III died, his land was divided among his heirs. Also all of his slaves had been freed, so his heirs did not inherit any slaves. Only land. Sadly his descendants did not follow in their father's footsteps. Instead they purchased slaves of their own.
I've already mentioned a descendent of Robert Carter III who lived on land at the site of the Battle of Manassas. (You can read about our visit here and here with more information to come specifically about the Carters.)
We've also toured Oatlands Plantation (blogged about here), which was owned by another descendant of Robert Carter III.
Now to that list we can add Ben Lomand Historic Site.  Robert Carter III, who had named this land Cancer Plantation, died in 1804. In 1830 his grandson, Benjamin Tasker Chinn, assumed ownership, bringing his ten slaves to work the land. He built the structures now seen on the property (although they had been rebuilt after the war).

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In 1838 he married a cousin, Edmonia Randolph Carter, who named her new home after her ancestors' Scottish home, Ben Lomond. He leased the land to the Pringle family who lived there during the Civil War. The structures were used as a hospital during the Battle of Manassas, as was most any available building near the site of a battle. It is only a couple of miles away from the battle site where an elderly Carter cousin died in her home when gunfire and artillery penetrated the walls.

When we visited I was participating in Me Made May so I showed off some of my sewing in The Old Rose Garden.

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Unfortunately the roses were just past peak on our visit but I can tell they were gorgeous when they had been in full bloom!

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They are the one of the largest collections of antique roses in the Washington DC area. Unfortunately the roses have nothing to do with the history of this land. They were planted here in 1996. At least they are a nice setting for viewing the back of the Ben Lomond house!

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

When Wallpaper Meets History

How did you develop your passion for that thing you love? Oh, I know! It was by laboriously scraping wallpaper, wasn't it? Not! Or perhaps...

In the 1930's, a Cape Cod lady, Dorothy Waterhouse, fell in love as she scraped off the wallpaper from her home...and the result is now a catalogue of 6000 wallpaper designs from the 18th and 19th centuries. From Waterhouse's own collection, we can enjoy 1400 wallpaper patterns. When she passed away her archive was donated to Historic New England who then donated 4800 more samples to the collection...all viewable on-line!

Read the story here   and enjoy a new passion!

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Reduced Shakespeare Company

(Youtube link added.)

A few years ago I put together a unit for us to study Shakespeare. This is a rather unconventional unit study since it is high school based and flew rather quickly in a matter of weeks, trying to gain a synopsis of Shakespeare's main works.  We read some of his plays together a la Reader's Theater style. We studied iambic pentameter deeply and attempted our own sonnet on any subject we wanted. We watched several Shakespearan adaptations on DVD. We linked historical moments to historical books.  A few months later we re-opened and extended our unit by visiting Historic Jamestowne where a historic figure's experience inspired one of Shakespeare's plays. As "reduced" as I thought I took Shakespeare, my lessons did not compare to a DVD, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by The Reduced Shakespeare Company that a friend of mine lent to me.  Taking advantage of Shakespeare's own words, that "Brevity is the soul of wit," three actors cleverly performed the entirety of Shakespeare's works in an hour and a half.

Now with all the Shakespearan works we've seen on DVD, we've had three different reactions. With some we were bored out of our gourd...or at least I was. With others, we enjoyed them thoroughly. But there is one DVD where we pretty much laughed ourselves silly. What can I say? How could we not? How could anyone fully encapsulate 37 plays and 154 sonnets in 90 minutes? Somehow they got it all in...and we all got it! This made a great review DVD to do at the end of our unit.  Although it would also make a good preview DVD, I think more meaning came from it because we had background of experience...though it took us a bit longer to study it than it did for them to interpret it.

The presentation, like much of Shakespeare's works (and other plays of the era) are bawdy.  Before showing this to your homeschool kids you might want to preview this.  I wouldn't show this to younger kids, but my high school kids watched it with my husband and me. I don't remember any specifics. But I did know then that my kids would have bawdy stuff to watch and read when they attend college, so we dealt with it and discussed anything the kids had questions about.

I can't find it for sale anymore. Here's a youtube of it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Bunny and the Square Foot Garden

This post is l-o-n-g overdue! In late April we got lots of gardening done! I'm determined to reduce our food bill so vegetable gardening has definitely been beckoning.  Even though I've wanted to do this years ago when we first moved here, I guess my having a bit more time after homeschooling made it happen. I hearkened back to my earlier gardening years by using one of my favorite resources, Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

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I first heard about him when my kids were toddlers. Back then we were living in North Texas and gardening with interesting plots of land. We lived on base housing where the back yard was a shared square of a courtyard, with only an interestingly small triangle being our responsibility. I made the most of it by planting a few vegetables and they did produce! I put flower gardens out front where we won Yard of the Month and Yard of the Quarter. Eventually we got a slightly larger house where we had a much larger yard. This is when my parents told me about the book when I saw their interesting non-conventional garden. I followed suit in my next few houses with good results. I even had enough produce for freezing and canning! Then I got busy with homeschooling...

To make room for all my homeschool books over the years I had gotten rid of my first copy of Square Foot Gardening. It is loaded with a lot of useful information like regional freeze charts for spring and summer. I have Texas dates memorized but Northern Virginia is a whole new world. I found this copy at a used bookstore that I got for free with trade-in.

Part of the slow-down too, was that my husband could not settle on a wood type that we could afford. He asked me to do some research and I found kits at Lowes. I asked him to buy one, but instead he bought two. His thinking was to make it twice as high to keep out the bunnies, especially since they were trying to make a home in this very spot.

He was concerned about animals digging from underneath, so I suggested putting in some fencing in the bottom.

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The last freeze date for Northern Virgina is April 15, and here it was! Time to go shopping. I remember that it was a cold and blustery day...not my idea of fun gardening. Sadly, Lowes was nearly out of all of their seedlings, so I was quite limited in what I could choose. Major disappointment! How I miss my favorite San Antonio nursery, Rainbow Gardens. I highly recommend them! They have a huge selection with lots of information in written form with each plant. Also the staff know everything. Unlike here. =( Therefore this garden is a huge experiment.


Guess who was watching? Baby bunny! Hmm....

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Doesn't look like much yet. The idea is that we waste a lot of time and money gardening the old-fashioned way. Planting 4 seeds per spot only to return a few weeks later to pull out 3, is a waste.  Then planting entire rows of tomatoes, entire rows of squashes, entire rows of lettuces, etc, etc, etc, is a waste. Only plant what you need! Each plant only requires so much space, so  much can be packed into a square foot garden. Here I have lots of onions in all the extra spaces because I should be able to harvest them before the roots of the larger plants need the space.

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Here is a chart of what I have planted. I still need to find zucchini. A few weeks later when we were at Mount Vernon, I found a Roma tomato plant (the only type my husband eats), so that has since been planted.

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After weeding all the flower gardens out front, I got busy once again, so I haven't done much more with the garden. However my husband keeps checking on it and watering it, though we've had some lovely rains that help. On Memorial Day my husband announced that we had a Roma tomato on the vine!

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He's also added supports for the plants, and I need to review the chapter in the Square Foot Gardening book on pruning to maximize the yield for the space.
 
I'm going to do my lettuces and spinach separately in containers under the deck with more wiring over the top to keep the deer out.  I'm hoping the deer stay out of the square foot gardening. Tomorrow might be a good gardening day. I'm hoping because there is a lot of work to do!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring for Cotton Vintage Slideshow

In April vintage sewing blogger Lucky Lucille hosted a vintage sewing challenge, Spring for Cotton. We could sew anything we wanted from the 1920's to 1970's in 100% cotton. She has put the results of all the vintage seamstresses who participated in a slide show set to music here. My entry was the 1952 walkaway dress, which is at the 46 second mark, paired with another seamstress who made the same dress!

Last spring I got to participate in her Sew for Victory sewing challenge, also with our results set to a musical slide show.

Thank you for the fun, Lucky Lucille!

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Cousin, WWII, and Weeping Willows at Arlington National Cemetery

When I was a little girl I loved to pour over the family photo album. Something about reliving the past set in sepia tones pulled my heart strings even then. My mom would tell me about every family member page by page. On one page were some pictures of a certain young man in a WWII uniform. (Here is a copy of my mom's photo that she scanned for me.)

WWII Kenneth Chatham, cousin

Byron Kenneth Chatham, Jr. was always known to my mom as Junior. My mom was a baby when he fought in WWII as a tail gunner on a B-29. Sadly, he never came home. His plane was shot down over Japan on June 5, 1945. He was later buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

My husband began a new family tradition this year by marking a flag for those of our family members who died while in service to our country. (Then on Veteran's Day we'll put out flags for all of our family members who have or are serving.) My husband said, "This flag is for Kenneth."

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Sunday we arrived at Arlington  National Cemetery on a beautiful breezy, yet slightly humid sunny day.  Every grave had been devotedly marked with the American flag last Thursday.  Here is a great post by one of the Old Guard who participated in "Flags In." I follow them on facebook and it was touching throughout the day to watch them post the flags.

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By Sunday roses also marked the graves.  Memorial Day began in 1868 to honor those who died in the Civil War. Originally it was called Decoration Day...the decoration of the graves being flowers.

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In my hand I held the numeric information to help us find Kenneth's grave.  Plot 12 was bordered by Eisenhower, McClellan, Grant and Bradley Drives.  Since Eisenhower is near the entry point from the visitor center, that is where we began our journey.

I have been to Arlington National Cemetery many other times. This time looking for someone in my family was intensely personal. Humbled I walked by the seemingly endless rows of graves...of the many who offered the ultimate sacrifice so that I could be free.

As we came to McClellan Drive, we saw the large arch, an original entry gate. Here we made our turn.

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We were at plot 12...a massive piece of ground with thousands upon thousands of graves. Where do we begin?  I had other numbers on my slip of paper. We walked slowly to the first grave on the corner and noted numbers on the backs of the graves.  We had many thousands to go before we found Kenneth's section.  Which way? We weren't sure. Numerically though, we walked further up McClellan Drive. I suppose I could have asked...but I wanted the journey.  As I walked slowly up to various graves to check their numbers, we were getting closer to Kenneth's section but not by much. We were still thousands away from his. I noted the names and dates of those laying near me.  I was surrounded by pages of history books that now put names to battle statistics.  These were real people with real lives from real places who fought real battles. I quietly reflected at each grave as we walked closer to Kenneth's.

We came to one end of the plot on the corner of McClellan and Grant Drives. We turned left on Grant Drive where we were now only hundreds of markers away from Kenneth.  We walked up the hill, more graves. Some family  members are buried with the soldiers.  One baby only lived 6 months. Did the soldier ever get to hold his baby or was he overseas serving his country during that time? My heart ached as I read stories on each tomb. Stories contained only in names, places, dates, wars, honors, family...the details of which are stories lost to time.

We came midway down the plot on Grant Drive when the next set of graves marked a new set of numbers. We walked down a trail between the markers, down, down, down the hill, past soldiers of  the Spanish American War, WWI and WWII. Surrounded by heroism, bravery, sacrifice makes one most humble, indeed.

At the bottom of the hill we turned up the next section of graves. At this bottom portion of hill, row upon row, I sensed that we were nearing Kenneth's grave.  My pace became more deliberate.

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In this sunnier section of the cemetery we came upon two weeping willows near a dry creek bed. I slowed my steps.

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Teardrops blended with weeping willows as a tombstone came into view...

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I found Kenneth. Named after his father...Byron...my great uncle whom I met  many years later with his wife, Aunt Mary, when I was a little girl visiting my mom's hometown. My mother's mother and Aunt Mary were sisters. Everyone called Uncle Byron and Aunt Mary's son Junior. That's how my mom remembers him. I've called him Kennneth.

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Kenneth enlisted in the Air Corps three days after Pearl Harbor in 1941.   All I know of Kenneth's active duty service is that by 1945 he was a tail gunner on a B-29, stationed in Guam. He wanted to see his wife by September for their wedding anniversary, but needed extra missions before he could do that. Therefore he volunteered for this particular mission. On June 5, 1945, PFC (Kenneth) Chatham climbed into the B-29 fortress dubbed "City of Burbank" or Old Soldier's Home with ten other crew mates. Mission: Kobe, Japan with 30 other bombers in a total armada of 473 planes. In the bombing attack, Japanese fighters snared "City of Burbank" causing it to veer out of the formation. After a spin and barrel roll it regained level flight when Japanese fighters pressed the attack. At 30 feet one of the eyewitnesses noted a wing had come off. While the bomber spiraled down 6 parachutes were seen ballooning into the air when the plane crashed into a dry creek bed.

Later Commanding Officer Frederick M. Hopkins, Jr. wrote these words to Kenneth's wife:
On Memorial Day, May 30, 1946 - services were held for those who paid the highest price and those miss-ing in action.  It is our desire that you should know that we have a more personal appreciation of the heroic deeds of your loved one.  He was a man of the Twentieth Air Force. His every flight, and his every mission was a personal act of service in the highest tradition of the Army Air Corps.
Kenneth's body was not found for another five years.  When they were, he and four others from the B-29 fortress known as "City of Burbank," were buried between the weeping willows near the dry creek bed...among many others who too risked their lives so we could be free.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

17th Century Virginia Book for Kids

Virginia Bound by Amy Butler was gifted to my son several years ago by someone at Colonial Williamsburg when she first met us! The book was rather thematic with our meeting, because we had recently moved to Virginia. Likewise, the book tells the story of Rob's first year in Virginia.

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However that is where the similarities end. Unlike us Rob did not arrive in Virginia by choice, even though we all arrived due to a job. The difference is that my husband chose to take his job offer in Virginia. However Rob was unwillingly indentured through the dastardly act of kidnapping. Thus the drama unfolds of the trials and tribulations of a young boy at the mercy of his owner, struggling with whether he dare ever trust people again.

Set in 1627 this book gives a unique glimpse through historical fiction into the early settlement of Virginia. Although the Parr's Hundred is fictional, it is based on other early Virginia settlements like the Martin's Hundred.  When I sewed my 18th century cloak, I ordered a hook from Burnley and Trowbridge. The hook is based on one found at an archaeological dig at Carter's Grove near Colonial Williamsburg.  Before Carter Burwell built his home on this land in the 18th century, the Martin's Hundred lived on the same land in the 17th century. Even in Texas where I come from, the first settlers that Stephen Austin brought to Texas was called The Old Three Hundred and settled in East Texas.

The author provides excellent lesson plans here.  Most intriguing is her web page on the inspiration for writing this book, as well as how she researched and wrestled with how the characters might have talked, especially for the Pamunkey Indian girl. There is lots of interesting information to explore at her website.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Preventing Sewing Related Injuries

How often have we, as seamstresses, had to take a rest from sewing due to injury....from sewing?  For such a seemingly quiet activity that sewing exudes, over time it can be quite harmful to our muscles, tendons and ligaments. Proper ergonomics is key to protecting our ability to sew. A great resource that I highly recommend is Rx for Quilters: Stitcher-Friendly Advice for Every Body by Susan Delaney Mech, M.D. Even though the title says it's for quilters, it's applicable to anyone who sews whether it be historical clothing, modern clothing, home decor, crafts, etc, etc, etc.

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Several years ago I saw this author and her book featured on Simply Quilts with Alex Anderson on HGTV (those were the days!)  The author is a quilter herself, as well as a doctor, so she knows first hand what treachery our bodies can be tormented with when we engage in such a seemingly simple task as manipulating needle and fabric. Soon after I saw the show, I bought the book.

One of the things I have learned, not only from the book, but also from physical therapists, is that our bodies are designed to move. To keep our bodies at their healthiest, we must keep moving them. As much as I am content to quietly sit and stitch, it is to my benefit to be interrupted by telephones, door bells, washing machines and dryers, and numerous other errands and tasks.  Breaking my large chunks of sewing into smaller chunks is the most beneficial thing I can do for my health.  Even keeping the sewing  machine and ironing board in separate rooms creates greater efficiency, since it results in muscle stretching opportunities. I even do my hand sewing, patterning, and pinning in a room separate from the sewing machine and ironing board which provides more opportunity to stretch and relieve my cramped muscles.  I've been to the doctor often enough for a bad back...which has resulted in physical therapy...which has led to these new goals in the last few years to move more.

I hope this book helps others who are struggling with sewing related injuries.

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I saw this you tube video go through my fb newsfeed today where acclaimed seamstress Nancy Zieman interviews a medical expert on carpal tunnel syndrome.  Along with other things, they emphasize the need to take breaks from repetitive motion.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Couture Sewing Meets 18th Century

What precisely is couture sewing? That is what I pondered when I found Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer on a sales rack.

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My mom has often told me that my great aunt who lived in Manhatten, New York exquisitely sewed her own clothes for her secretarial position on Wall Street. Although my Aunt Laura taught me how to milk a goat and brush a horse while we were at my cousin's farm in Pennsylvania, I never learned much of her high end life in New York City. Sadly those moments can no longer be part of the future. Could this book teach me to sew as well as her and perhaps give me a glimpse into her life?

As I flipped through the pages of the book, my hopes soared as on numerous pages I read words like..."It may surprise some to learn that most of the techniques used in couture workrooms can be duplicated at home." (p8)

Haute couture literally means, in the French, "sewing at a high level." (p7)

The infamous Charles Frederick Worth, who established his unique style and process under the reign of Napoleon III is today known as The Father of Haute Couture. Worth combined his extensive knowledge of fabrics and skill, with bespoke methods, including showcasing seasonal fashions in Paris on live models to high end clients such as Empress Eugenie. (p12)

The author, Claire B. Shaeffer, takes the reader on a tour through haute couture. Since her credentials include an extensive knowledge base in haute couture and designing for Vogue patterns, Shaeffer's tour is explained with ease and confidence.

Haute coutre includes:
  • Fine fabrics, most of which are made of natural fiber (p9)
  • Pieced fabrics for design (p11)
  • Tailored fit to the individual (p11)
  • Use of a muslin, or toile (p11)
  • Mostly hand sewing is employed (p17)
  • Twice a year seasonal collections are designed for a public fashion show in Paris with live models (p17)
As I read Shaeffer's details on the uniqueness of haute coutre as compared to off the rack garment production, I was struck with the similarities to 18th century sewing, which I have boldfaced in the above listing.

Of course in the 18th century, only natural fiber fabrics were available. When I took my first historical sewing class with the Colonial Williamsburg Costume Design Center, we were taught about historical stitches and fabrics. We were given many lusciously fine fabrics from silks and damask to wool, as well as cottons and linens.  Quality fabrics assure ease in sewing, ensuring a quality look. I was hooked.

In the 18th century, many garments were pieced to economize the use of fabric. Fabric was expensive then, but labor was cheap, so every bit of what we would today call "scrap fabric" was used to complete a garment. I've seen a reproduction of Thomas Jefferson's blue great coat at Colonial Williamsburg, where the velvet collar was pieced at the corner.  I've also seen many gowns, cotton and silk, that were pieced in the sleeves and trim.  However in couture sewing, piecing occured to create a better look. Either stripes would be cut, rearranged and reseamed for a more pleasing aesthetic, or small pieces would be added to create a new look.  

Bespoke is a common word in the 18th century, which, as I understand it, meant that clothing was tailored to an individual.  Mass produced patterns were not used. Instead, mantua makers draped gowns on ladies, or used their stays for the draping. I've taken a draping class with the Colonial Williamsburg mantua maker, so I'm a believer! This draping process, which I must learn more about, is something that I now use in all of my other sewing. I am not great at it, but it has improved my sewing a bit! Tailors drafted patterns, not for mass production, but for the individual. I've taken a stay making class with the Colonial Williamsburg tailor, so I learned how to make my  own pattern, at least theoretically. To be quite humble and honest, I tend to be the dunce of these incredible Burnley and Trowbridge classes.  Nevertheless, I've at least learned the big idea and am committed to the process, even though I still have so much to learn. I have gained a huge appreciation for the craft of the tailor and mantua makers...thus I totally understand Claudia Shaeffer's details about the fine craft of couture sewing! I highly recommend the Burnley and Trowbridge classes where I'm sure that you will soar! Meanwhile I'll keep practicing, and practicing, and practicing...=) 

Muslins (some call them toiles) were often used in the 18th century before cutting into the main fabric.  This is how I have learned to do all of my 18th century sewing at Burnley and Trowbridge classes which are taught by the Colonial Williamsburg mantua maker or tailor.

Hand sewing, of course, was the standard in the 18th century since the sewing machine had not yet been invented. Despite the commonality of sewing machines, couture sewing prefers the precision and delicacy of hand work. Machines are rarely, if ever used.  Since learning from Colonial Williamsburg that I can actually sew an entire garment by hand, I have come to prefer that since I have better control of the fabric and stitches with my hand. In fact, the Colonial Williamsburg tailors, when hearing  my puzzlements over attaining a proper look with my beginning sewing (machine) efforts, have strongly encouraged me to sew by hand. I finally dared to take their challenge...and they were right! My sewing immediately improved!  My hat is off to those who can make machine sewing work, and I do believe there is a time and place for machine sewing, but for  me my love is now with hand and needle. (bliss) Many, many thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg tailors for pushing me into this direction! =)

Since  learning 18th century sewing, I've started employing more and more historic techniques to my modern sewing...muslins, hand sewing, self-fabric interfacings, and more. I never realized until I read this book, that there are some common elements between 18th century sewing and haute couture. I have much to learn in sewing  both historically, and in a contemporary way for my own wardrobe (as well as my daughter's...with a grand plan of one day sewing her wedding dress). I have been employing bits and pieces of my 18th century knowledgebase, so now I hope to add some couture techniques as well.  I'm sure this will be quite a long journey for me but, why not? This is my push so that I can learn and grow...I hope! 

Shaeffer not only thoroughly describes haute couture history and technique, she also takes us on a tour of the process a client goes through to attain her own couture garment from a Paris couture house. Since few of us could ever afford this, such a tour is dreamy. As I read her description, I was reminded of a favorite movie I saw on tv years ago with Jessica Lansbury, Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. Set in London near the time of Princess Elizabeth's coronation (1953), Mrs. Harris is a maid to a fine lady who has recently arrived home from Paris with two Dior gowns. She asks Mrs. Harris for her opinion as to which she should wear to the coronation festivities.  While gazing upon the lovely gowns, Mrs. Harris is smitten and begins to dream of how she could possibly attain her own Dior gown. She saves every bit of money she possibly can, then goes to Paris to get her Dior gown. Of course she thinks she is going to get it off the rack, but to her surprise she finds it's a bit more complicated than that! Meanwhile she makes friends who try to help to make her dream come true, despite the  massive barriers that come her way. Each step Mrs. Harris goes through matches the process as described by Shaeffer.

  • Set the appointment
  • Attend the fashion show
  • Place the order
  • Attend fittings numerous times

Since few of us can afford a couture house experience, Shaeffer helps us home seamstresses realize our ultimate dream in another way...realizing the reachability to sew our own couture wardrobe at home. In the book Shaeffer includes many detailed helps from proper supplies to illustrated how-tos. I've already referenced the book to sew my 1912 blouse toil. Such was the beginning of my own 1912 blouse.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

1952 Walkaway Dress Meets 18th Century

In March Lucky Lucille posted a vintage sewing challenge for April: Spring for Cotton! While digging through my fabric and pattern stash I found:
1952 Walkaway Dress Pattern reissue, Butterick 4790
100% white cotton for the sheath part of the dress
100% blue and white gingham cotton that was also embroidered
netting for a petticoat

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While researching the 1952 walkaway dress, I learned that the reissue pattern is full of problems. If the pattern and directions are followed as written, the resulting dress won't look anything like the pattern cover.  In my research I found one blogger who not only did her research with the Butterick company, but shared the details with us!

Katrina of Edelweiss Patterns Blog has all the details here. Basically she called the Butterick company and got all the details on how to convert the reissue pattern to how it would have actually looked in 1952.  

The walkaway dress gained its nickname because  a seamstress could open her pattern and begin sewing in the morning then easily have a finished dress to wear by lunch! However, this pattern needed too many alterations to regain its authenticity to have it done in half a day. Nevertheless I was up for the challenge, so I ammended the bodice pieces according to Katrina's researched directions.

However, when I began to lay out the skirt pieces, I had a problem.  My blue gingham is actually recycled fabric from my very first Civil War gown.  A few years after I had sewn the gown, I realized the pattern I had used was not historically accurate, nor was the fabric.  Since I am pursuring historical accuracy in  my sewing, I decided I had lots of fun with my first attempt =), but now it was time to reuse it for another fun attempt. I do know there was lots of gingham worn in the 1950's, however I do not know if it was ever embroidered.

Anyway when I laid out the pattern, I didn't have enough fabric.  Oddly,  my McCalls Civil War pattern (which is not historically accurate) had called for me to cut long and wide panels for the gown's skirts, instead of cutting only the lengths needed from the width provided, which I know is done in the 18th century and I think is also done in the 19th century.  Thus when I laid out the huge 1952 circle skirt pattern, there simply wasn't enough fabric.

Undeterred, I decided to employ an 18th century trick...piece fabric!  This was quite a common habit in past centuries, even with silks and velvets! Thomas Jefferson had a blue great coat with a velvet collar...the collar was pieced! If it's good enough of Thomas Jefferson, then why not me? I have no idea when piecing went out of faze.  I'm guessing by the 1970's or 1980's the crazy notion we have of "perfect" sewing arrived on the scene.  I had a gut feeling that a 1952 lady would have probably pieced her skirt if she were in the same situation as me. (Hang in there for the surprise ending!)

Here you can see the piecing on the completed dress, as well as its unusual shape.  This is a wrap-a-round dress. The white part is a sheath dress that hangs in front and hooks in back. The blue part is the back which wraps around to the front and then hooks, with the white part peaking from underneath.

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For a perfectly non-pieced circle skirt, there would be no seam showing on the right side.

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Later I was researching something on Katrina's blog, when I read this  from Katrina in the comment section!
...all three earlier versions of this pattern called for less material by simply piecing the skirt back. When you viewed the skirt from the back, there was a horizontal line about 6 inches from the bottom or so. That way the sewer could place most of the skirt on a folded peice of 44″ wide fabric so the top of the skirt was close to the fold. Whatever part of the skirt pattern piece extended past the selvage was cut as a separate piece and sewn to the larger skirt piece. From 1952 – 1999 that was the way that all of Butterick’s walkaway patterns worked!-Katrina from Edelweiss Patterns Blog

How exciting is that? =)

I also followed Katrina's tip to turn the bias binding under instead of exposing it.  In fact, I made  my own bias binding, since it's so much more economical than buying lots of notions at the store. It's quite easy to do and I can do a post on that if anyone is interested, because I took lots of photos of the process.

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Appropriately reading a book from the 1950's, written by Winston Churchill!