Saturday, December 31, 2011

18th Century Wool Breeches-Finis!

My son has been wanting some wool breeches and waistcoat to go with his Lafayette coat. We found the perfect wool sample through one supplier that wanted $60 a yard. (faint) We had to bypass perfection for economy. After requesting samples from 3 other suppliers, my son settled on the buff broadcloth wool he wanted. My son's birthday was in October and the wool arrived in November.

Also in November I took a Burnley and Trowbridge 18th century breeches class from the Colonial Williamsburg tailors, where we got to learn all the details to hand sewing a silk pair. I incorporated a lot of ideas from that class. However wool is sewn a bit differently, so while at CW during Grand Illumination, I inspected one of their wool pairs to gather ideas on how to properly sew a pair for my son. This wool pair is a different cut than my son's and the stitches are so incredibly wonderfully skilled by the tailor, that they were difficult to see. Wow! Love that craftsmanship! Anyway I ended up guessing at what I should do.

During Grand Illumination weekend I spent downtime seated on benches surrounded by 1774 holiday festivities to hand sew my son's breeches. Time was of the essence because my son's linen pair, which he was wearing, had many minor explosions over the course of the weekend due to the weakening fibers in the garment. It was almost the more I stitched the woolen pair the more I could hear the linen pair ripping away here and there. I spent at least an hour Friday night sewing repairs. Because that took away from sewing the new pair, my son volunteered to do some mending for me Saturday and Sunday nights. By the time we got home I had this much completed on the wool breeches, having only cut out the fabric late the night before we left for Williamsburg. I kept busy and had a lot of fun participating in activities that weekend, but in snatching a bit of time here and there, much can be accomplished, even while hand sewing. One nice thing about hand sewing is that it is portable!
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Busy with holiday preparations and school study and planning, I kept hearing these wool breeches calling to me. Despite the mild Texas type winter Virginia experienced in December, snowy weather was certain to descend as it has the last two years we've lived here. Finally the breeches are done in preparation for our next visit!

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My handworked buttonholes are improving...

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The reinforcment stitches were done at the end since I sewed everything together on the streets of CW. These are much easier to sew before completion.

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The back...

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I used linen tape from Burnley and Trowbridge. Although I grabbed as little of the fabric as I could for the handworked eyelets, the larger ones indicate all the bulk where the waistband meets the body of the breeches. I decided not to stress it since one of my sewing teachers from the Colonial Williamsburg Costume Design Center stressed that we not be perfect in our stitches since perfection is not always seen in extant garments. So that is what I claim while I am perfecting my skills. ;)

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A little bar tack reinforcement...
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Although I completed sewing these a few hours ago, my son has already worn these breeches a couple of weeks ago when we visited Colonial Williamsburg.
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Friday, December 30, 2011

18th Century Boy's Breeches

A couple of months ago I took a Burnley and Trowbridge 18th century breeches class with the Colonial Williamsburg tailors. I left the wonderful class with nearly half the breeches completed. I have finally finished handsewing them! Actually they are toddler's breeches but they are so cute I can't help calling them baby breeches. They are based on an original for a 3 year old boy in the Colonial Williamsburg collection, acc. # 1971.1564.

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I've been absolutely terrified I might lose one of the smaller pieces or the brown silk thread spool.

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Specifically I needed to finish the knee band (above) and the waistband (below) on the first side, then do all the sewing on the other side. I still need to trim threads, but I couldn't wait to announce the completion of the hand stitching.

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I still need to hand work the eyelets and buttonholes, as well as work the buttons. These have already made a great reference for my son's wool breeches, though wool is sewn a bit differently from silk.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Trains in Washington DC


The day after Christmas we took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather and lack of yearly gigantic snowpiles to venture into Washington DC to see their Christmas decorations. Everyone has always told us we *have* to see the Christmas trees at the White House Ellipse and the Capital and see the train display at the Smithsonian's Botanical Garden. We arrived with great expectations only to be hugely disappointed. Thankfully the Canadian and Norwegian Embassies saved the day!

First stop was Union Station to see the terrific train display. Many thanks to the Norwegian Embassy for this! This was my absolutely favorite part of the day! I can stand for hours watching various trains clickety clack back and forth on different tracks through vintage towns. The scenery on this side was of the fjords and majestic snowy mountains of Norway.

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The train tracks wrapped around to the other side of the display, to the 1950's town set against the mountains...
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There was another 1950's town display...
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This Norwegian train display is the only place where I had to pull my family away, as much as I myself wanted to stay, in order to see the other sites on our to-do list for the day. As we walked out we saw a sign from the Embassy apologizing that they couldn't do their typical huge display complete with Christmas tree, due to renovations. Indeed renovations had taken over Union Station, complete with scaffolding and netting. Once home I googled for pictures of the usual Norwegian display and we all said, "WOW!" The Norwegian Embassy promised, via their sign, that the full display would return in 2012. Yea! So will we! That is most definitely our kind of train display.

As we walked to the famed train display at the Botanical Gardens, we walked by the Capitol and saw their tall and super skinny fake Christmas tree, one of the things to see on our to-do list. We weren't too impressed with that. When we left that evening we saw it all lit up in purple and blue. That was a tad better but nothing remarkable. You should see our trees and lights in Texas!

Our next stop was the Botanical Gardens where we had to wait in line for at least 3o minutes just to enter and then we had to work with the crowds and lines inside. At least everyone was nice and we met a family from our are of NoVA to chat with. She was surprised that we've been to more places than they have.

The Botanical Garden used natural elements to create their displays. For the most part I was not too impressed with these because they were mostly monotone and painted to look shiny, which made them look gawdy. The gawdiest were the homes of various creatures in the rain forest where all the trains ran. The display was huge, with trains running overhead on various tracks. I can't quite put my finger on it but I felt that so much was missing and I was really bored in here. I was wishing myself back at the Norwegian display. I love, love, love the fjords.
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However my family liked everything more than I did so I looked at one or two interesting plants and slowly followed them through the exhibit...
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I wasn't too keen on these trains either, but I did like 2 of them. This is one of them, a bumble bee car that ran by itself. Loved that! Maybe because it was finally a spot of color and fun and life in the room.

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However I did enjoy the homes of several of the presidents, although they did look a bit unnatural and out of place. Here is Mount Vernon next to a waterfall. Hmm...
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From the other side you can see Mount Vernon, Monticello, the home of John Adams and more. I think if there were more pointsettias in here to bring in festive color it would help offset the monochromatic natural elements and bring a bit of life to the room.
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Here is my other favorite train...the little ladybug near Abraham Lincoln's birthplace. Again that spot of color with the red made it so cute and fun! Love ladybugs!

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The other room was my favorite of the two. There was a lot more color and simple elegance with the pointsettias, which gently framed the national monuments made of natural elements.

Supreme Court...
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Library of Congress...
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Capitol...
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Washington Monument...
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Jefferson Memorial, with a stem at the top which I didn't catch in the picture. Hardly any pointsettias here so it didn't look as special.
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Lincoln Memorial...
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White House...
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As much as my family enjoyed the Botanical Garden, I didn't hear any wows or disappointments about leaving when I followed them out. We decided to see the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse and began our walk over there. We arrived, took one look and in shock asked, "That's it?" How disappointing. The tree was little, had a netted web of lights which looked tacky and the tree looked like it needed a serious pruning job. We saw a few red bows and greenery hung at the White House but overall it was a disappointment.

As we walked back towards Union Station, we passed by the Canadian Embassy which had the best Christmas tree that we saw in Washington DC.

After the disappointing trees at the Capitol and White House, we kept remembering our grand lights and trees in Texas. With this being the nation's capital and the plethora of tall evergreens on the properties, why not decorate one of them? It would look so much grander. The Christmas tree on Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, where we moved from a few years ago, gets a real tree donated to the city everywhere by HEB, a historic major grocery store. This year San Antonio got a 55 foot White Fir from California and had it's official tree lighting ceremony after Thanksgiving. The decoration can get a little over the top for me, but when incorporating millions of hand made themed decorations from children, it becomes real. In fact, the city of San Antonio, itself, has better Christmas light displays than what we saw in Washington DC. While in DC we saw a couple of strands on want-to-be-decorated trees which looked oh-so lonely. However in Texas many businesses use multiple strands of white lights to wrap the trunks or drip lights from the trees. Houston Street in downtown San Antonio is famous for this. We used to drive down that street all the time to see the lights and attend the Nutcracker Suite at the Majestic (a favorite I've had to forego in the past few years). Of course the best is the San Antonio Riverwalk. No one has them beat.

If you are in Washington DC my official Christmas recommendation is to see the Canadian Christmas Tree at their embassy and the Norwegian train display at Union Station. We all agreed that as far as DC goes, we can now honestly say, "Been there, done that." We can check Washington DC off of our Christmas to-do list. Well, except the Norwegian display at Union Station which promises to return to its full scale grandeur next year.

If anyone wants to see great Christmas decorations I can recommend two places: Colonial Williamsburg and San Antonio, Texas.

Colonial Williamsburg decorates their buildings with natural elements and simple candles at the windows which look wonderful. Also they have a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Christmas Eve and that tree stays lit for a month or so. I saw them decorate it during Grand Illumination and it is a living tree in the ground that is tall and wide and covered in a million lights! I've seen it on visits in January and it is gorgeous.

When you are done visiting a Christmas with 18th century undertones of British influence, then head for the Spanish colony of San Antonio, Texas for great Tex Mex, great Christmas lights dripping throughout the town and a Texas sized Christmas tree on Alamo Plaza. Then listen to the carolers sing on the river barges on the San Antonio River where luminaria lit pathways meander along and over the river with candy colored lights dripping down from above.

When you are back in the nation's capital, enjoy the grandest in DC from the embassies. Many, many thanks to the Canadian and Norwegian Embassies for their fantastic displays! We'll be back to enjoy your work in full array!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If George Washington had a long overdue library book...

Yesterday we drove into Washington DC (stay tuned for Christmas pictures) and got to travel down the lovely George Washington Parkway which hugs the Potomac River. One end of the parkway begins at historic Mount Vernon. While driving along the parkway the kids were supposed to be finishing their copies of Machiavelli's The Prince, for their government studies.

Education in the 18th century was quite a bit different than that of today. The elite were most properly classically trained. George Washington fell into this niche, with hopes of a proper education culminating in Great Britain, as his brother had received. However Washington's father died so the finances were no longer available for the priviledged education. Therefore Washington is not quite known for his rhetoric during the early years of formation of our country. Yet he was still well read because he chose to continue reading books. The beginning of any educated person comes through reading books which is evidenced by his ability to communicate with his peers. Washington served as burgess, eloquently inspired his men to persevere in a seemingly dauntless war, led the Constitutional Convention and was unanimously elected president of the United States.

What types of books would a man like this read? As the New York Society Library restored their ledgers from 1789-1792 for digital publication, they stumbled upon record of a missing book. Now made available to the public, we can see what types of books were borrowed and read by such memorable people as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton is from New York, so that makes sense. Why would a Bostonian, like Adams, borrow a book from a library in New York City, in the days before interlibrary loans? Our nation's first capital was located in New York City, during which time our first president, George Washington, checked out Emmerich de Vattel's The Law of Nations on October 5, 1789. According to the ledger, the book had never been returned now had fines ever been paid for the overdue book. (oops!) There has got to be a story there! Did the library simply overlook this matter since a book of important subject matter was in the hands of the highly revered President Washington?

After discovering the missing book during the restoration, the New York Society Library continued to keep this information a secret. Somehow the New York Daily News found out and exposed the information. As a result, Mount Vernon found out and they contacted the library with special arrangements which in turn led to a special ceremony...read all about it here.

Since I am having the kids read some of the books the Founding Fathers would have read which influenced their ideas in forming our government, the very first attempt at self-government, I found this information espeically interesting. The Law of Nations is subtitled "Principles of the Law of Nature Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns." Written in 1758, it talks about the very same topics other Englightenment thinkers discussed like Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu.

As I pondered the significance of the book's check-out date, I googled "October 5, 1789." What happened on that day? My suspicions were confirmed by the dates of the French Revolution. Although Washington would not have been aware of the daily events as they happened (no CNN, no cell phones, no e-mail, no text messaging) he was well aware that a revolution in France was erupting. As a statesman, Washington was well aware of world events. As a friend, he was concerned about his adopted son, Lafayette, who was in the midst of the eruption.

Lafayette, the Frenchman initially inpsired by the ideas of liberty, came to America to help us achieve our independence. In France he tried to be the bridge between the monarch and the people. Lafayette drafted Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen which was adopted in August 1789. Lafayette became commander-in-chief of the National Guard.

Interestingly, 0n the day Washington checked out The Law of Nations, October 5, 1789, a mob stormed Versailles, the home of the monarch. Lafayette helped the monarch safely escape to the Tulleries. Meanwhile Lafayette tried to bridge the gap of ideas for a peaceful change from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, but the mobs eventually saw him as a traitor.

Timing is everything to making connections in history. Washington took the oath of office as first president of the United States of America in April 1789 in New York City. The weight of setting presidential presidence, leading a fledgling nation, diplomacy in eruptive events abroad must certain have occupied his mind, as he checked-out a Law of Nations six months later. Many questions come to mind as a result of this uncovered microscopic detail that magnifies the significance of his leading the first country in the world that was inspired by the very type of information found in Law of Nations.

George Washington was a man of a bit of self-education, highly attainable with the wise choice of reading classical history, government and literature. Mount Vernon is currentlycollecting the books that Washingon read in order to provide education outreach programs and more that focus on Washington's leadership.

The next step to self-education is thinking, discussing and writing about the material learned in the great books of classical history. The University of Virginia is making available the writings of George Washington. Surely scattered in his letters are the thoughts of influence of books read and experienced events.

Much of who Washington was and did was because of what he read. Shouldn't we seek to understand the foundations of our government more by reading the books that our first commander-in-chief, the President of the Constitutional Conventional Convention, the first president of the United States read himself? Shouldn't we pass on this heritage to our students, even at the high school level, to deepen their understanding of citizenship?

My kids will not read every book that Washington or the other Founding Fathers read, but we are getting a great start. My hope is to lay a contextual foundation for them to draw from in learning high school civics, in preparation for college and becoming informed American citizens fulfilling civic responsibilities. Hopefully they will continue a lifetime of reading great books that will prick their thoughts and deepen their understanding of their history, to help them make intelligent decisions as American citizens.

Our country takes many things for granted, including water downed history and government texts full of bias. Who learns from that? I had an awakening when I read Fahrenheit 451. We need to put fewer textbooks and more classics into the hands of our students. Great books are fun to read! I have inspired many a student to read books that they and others thought were too difficult for them. Instead of lowering the bar, we should raise it. Whether public school, private school, home school or self-educated, the key is reading, thinking, discussing and writing based from the Classics. It's timeless. It can be fun.

Tonight at dinner I shared this information at the dinner table and we were all laughing. I asked what happened on Oct 5, 1789 and my kids knew the French Revolution was at hand! We pondered the possibilities for future questioning for George Washington with a few giggles. I submit that learning can be deep and it can be fun!

Ah, the stories that an overdue book and a ledger can tell that make the study of government that much more fascinating...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gingerbread Village-Finis!

My kids are working on a gingerbread village which they started Thursday night.
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I told them it should look like Colonial Williamsburg. My son wants stained glass for the church, even though Bruton Parish doesn't have any. I think he is still thinking about those cathedrals in France. While I took pictures, I noticed many windows in place but no stained glass. He said it broke but he has other plans. Here are how he starts the windows.
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He wants to add a water wheel to one of the houses but I told him there aren't any in CW. He said he can't duplicate any of the buildings so he wants to add all of his own stuff. I told them to keep it simple, since they still had school to do in the mornings. A waterwheel will take forever. The kids promised, "Oh, we will Mom!" Now my son has visions of a windmill dancing in his head.

Friday afternoon they were determined to make slate roofs, with flattened tootsie rolls. I told them it would be quicker to spread on some icing from, sprinkle chocolate sprinkles over the top...done. Instead they labored over doorsteps which finally became my quickie tootsie roll version. All this while I conquered the homemade tamales yesterday!
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My daughter made this chimney and slate roof while my son mainly focused on the windows. I have to admit, it looks great! But they must learn the concept of deadlines. They do this with school work too. I give them a simple task and they decide to overachieve...

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Will they finish? I'll update more photos to this post as they progress. Meanwhile I'm popping some Josh Groban, Amy Grant, Von Trapp Children, Vienna Boys Choir and Nutcracker Suite into my laptop for our listening pleasure while they conquer a village and I conquer dinner prep for tomorrow.

Update: 10pm

By 6pm the gingerbread village was complete.
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It even has a windmill...dissassembled...just like the one in Colonial Williamsburg!
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Stained glass, like the Cathedrals in France!
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Wreaths!
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A steeple and cross!
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Do you see the creek that runs through it? (Back left corner...) The village also comes complete with oyster shell paths and piles of firewood!
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