Friday, 18 September 2015

Green Plaid Skirt

A couple of years ago I had a period when I picked up a lot of fabrics (mainly old curtains, sheets and the like) in the local charity shop. It got a bit out of hand, with me bringing home stuff I had no idea what to use them for, and therefore I gave myself a one year shop stop on fabric, which I kept – go me! I’ve become much better at controlling myself because of it, so I can recommend that to anyone suffering a similar problem – I know there are plenty of you out there ;) But that still left me with lots of fabrics that needed to be dealt with. I bought them, it would feel very silly indeed if I didn’t use them for anything. None of them was too horrible, but a few would not have come home with me, had there been prettier alternatives.

Recently I decided to make a skirt from a tablecloth that had been weighing on my conscience. Though I liked the pattern, the bright green is not the first colour that comes to mind when my wardrobe (or home décor) is concerned. Still, I decided to make it work. 

The skirt is constructed from two panels of fabric, pleated to a waistband. It closes with two buttons and buttonholes at the left side, and have a huge pocket in the seam at the right side. I made two tucks close to the hem of the skirt, for visual interest and to help keep out the fullness. The hem has a wide facing of plain off-white cotton.

This is mostly machine sewn, another pat on the shoulder for that. I’m actually beginning to appreciate my machine. Still, a few things just look better when made by hand.

I took these pictures a few weeks ago on one of the last summer days. It’s now decidedly autumn, my favourite season. I have become quite fond of this skirt, and when worn with more sober coloured cardigans, or white delicate blouses, it still “feels like me”. I sometimes wonder if I should have made it a tad shorter, but I love long skirts, so I’ll keep it as is.

At the moment I’m working on several projects at once, not all involving sewing, besides being there for my family. I almost feel bad for posting so seldom, but I have much to do, and less time to do it in, so I’ll just have to do my best. There will be updates on them when I have the time.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Fuchsia Dress Makeover

When I was expecting B, I bought a dress. I don’t often buy dresses, preferring to make my own, but once in a while it happens. It has been used a lot since, mostly during my two pregnancies, but on other occasions as well, as it’s very comfortable, and cool in summer. However, it had a few issues. For one it was too short. I don’t wear clothes shorter than below the knees, and, as even skirts of that length show off my stubby legs to disadvantage, I most often wear them a fair bit longer than that. When I’ve been heavily pregnant the dress became almost indecently short in front. As a result, it has always been worn over a longer skirt, like it is here.

 Aren't the mice adorable? I made them for Halloween last year
and liked them so much I just had to leave them out.

Second, the neckline was too low in front, especially when the bust increased a size of five during pregnancy and early nursing. I needed to wear it over a tank top so as not to fall out during those times. (Alas, the difficulty of being "well endowed"; the slightest décolletage will make you look like a wannabe exhibitionist, at least if you're wearing anything more supporting than a nursing bra.) Also, the elastic was too wide, making the neckline warp in a weird way where it curved.

 Third, the sleeves where a bit too short for my liking, for a similar reason as the overall length.

After thinking the dress needed a makeover for the past four years,bu never getting round to it, I finally decided it was time. I found a piece of fabric in my stash, a gift from a friend, which would work well. There was just enough of it to make the changes I wanted.

I unpicked the seams at neck and sleeves, and removed the elastic. I cut the neckline a bit lower at the back and sides, as that was high enough already, but left the front be, as I wanted that raised. In retrospect I could have cut away a bit more at the back and sides. I then stitched a strip of the new fabric to the edge, and inserted narrower elastic. I did the same for the sleeves, except that I did not cut them shorter.

For the skirt I just sewed a strip to the hem. I didn’t have enough material to make it curved like the skirt, so I had to very lightly pleat a straight strip. Not the neatest job I've ever made, but it does the trick. I can now wear the dress as it is, with only a light petticoat under it – the material is quite thin. 

 I wish the sleeves were a bit longer though – as it is I still prefer to wear a cardigan with it. 

Yet, all in all I’m pleased with how it turned out. I did all the sewing by machine, a very rare thing for me. As I did, for once, make a New Year’s resolution this year, to become friends with my sewing machine, it felt very nice. I have another dress like this one, in a greyish black, that also need a makeover. I must consider how I want to go about that, as I want a slightly different design than to this one.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

A Nursing Friendly Nightgown

While pyjamas are very practical when one has to get up with a baby at odd hours (especially in the winter), I prefer nightgowns, just as I prefer skirts and dresses to trousers. Finding one that is both inexpensive, flattering and practical to breastfeed in is, however, a bit of a challenge. So, at long last, I made my own. It has been a long while since I made any night clothes, as there have been so many things of a higher priority to do.

The material once was the skirt of a mid-19th century-ish cotton print dress that I made more than ten years ago. When I realised that the fabric, as well as the construction, had some issues, I tore it to pieces, but kept the fabric, as that was too pretty to just toss away. It lay in my stash for years, waiting for the right project, and this was it. The construction is simple: raglan sleeves, the fullness taken up in pleats, and a self-fabric drawstring in the bound neckline. 

The side seams are left open for a bit, and closes with two buttons each, scavenged from a worn out blouse. 

It would have been better to have the nursing slits located a wee bit more to the front, but this was simpler, and works well. Also, they are nigh on invisible when closed. 

I made the nightgown very full, so I can use it should I ever become pregnant again. 

This is now my favourite night clothes. It’s comfortable, looks feminine, and is practical for nursing. And to keep things real; I do not usually wear a matching bow in my hair when I sleep, and I did tidy up before taking the pictures.

Friday, 10 July 2015

14th Century Kirtle Makeover

I’ve been meaning to give my maroon kirtle a makeover for a long time. I wanted long sleeves, instead of the short ones. As so often happens, it didn’t get done until just before the event, when I realised that, due to breastfeeding related reasons, my yellow kirtle just would not close. Something I'd only wished to do now became absolutely necessary.  I removed the short sleeves just a few days before the event, cut out new ones, and began to stitch as fast as I could. 

But then I decided I wanted quite a few buttons – the quality and colour of the fabric is really rather nice, so I might as well give it the most fashionable trait of the century. 

I made twenty-four small (less than a centimetre in diameter) cloth buttons, a round dozen for each sleeve. Here’s an illustration of the whole progress of button making.

When we went to the event I still had a few button holes left to sew, which I did when only the one-year-old and myself were awake of all the camp.

I had pictures taken by Andrea, and as I planned to submit the made over dress to the manuscript challenge, I did my best to imitate the inspiration image. The veil is a bit too long, but it will have to do. In the inspiration image you can't see the front of her dress, nor if there are any buttons on the sleeves. Most likely the dress is one that pulls on over the head, but as you can't tell for sure, I call it good anyway. Same with the sleeves.

Stained glass window of Adam and Eve working. It was made in the late 14th century, 
and was originally from Marienkirche, Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany
but after WWII it was taken by the Soviet Union and is now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Though I forgot which way she was turned, I still think it ended up rather nice. Thanks to Vix for lending me her distaff and spindle. I'm afraid I made a mess of her work. I'm a decent enough spinner on a beginner's level, but I haven't figured out how to work with the distaff yet.

I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the greyish-blue kyrtil made for hubby, but sometimes life does not co-operate. I did achieve half the challenge anyway.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

14th Century Child's Shoes

Now I’m back from the medieval event, and it will be mentioned in a few posts, as I didn’t have time before to blog about all the things I made for it. If you want to see pictures now, you can go to my groups Facebook page.

My one year old could use his brother’s old shoes, though being a wee bit too large, but my three year old needed new ones. I have been to this event before, and know the terrain. Though our usual camp spot is grassy and pleasant, you have to walk on both cobblestones and gravel to reach the bathrooms. Also, there’s no knowing what the weather will be like, not to mention the possible danger of sharp objects. So I had to make him shoes.

 His old shoes were boots, which were secure enough to stay put even on small toddler feet, but now he’s old enough not to kick of his shoes by accident. I decided to make him a small version of the Bocksten Bog man’s shoes, dated to the 14th century. It’s a model I’ve made before, so I had an idea about how the pattern pieces should look. Now, I’m decidedly not a shoemaker, so if you are proficient at this, brace yourself. If you have any handy advice, please share. I hope to become a decent shoemaker sometime in future.

First I traced his foot on a piece of paper, and then used that to draw a sole. I drew an upper to. I made a mock-up from them - too small. The second attempt, seen here, worked well, with minor alterations.

And this was the final pattern.

 I used leather I had at home, 1 millimetre for the uppers, and 2 millimetres for the soles.

I put a welt between the sole and upper as I sewed, for strength and durability.

I also stitched a piece of leather to support the back of the shoe. Not puncturing the right side of the leather uppers was tricky, but I only messed up once.

Medieval shoes were really sewn on a last, like this one (number 5) for a child’s shoe in Malmö Museer, but I’m not there yet. I’m terrible with woodwork.

 I did try one thing to get closer to historical accuracy though: I did not use needles when sewing. In period, the waxed linen thread was twisted round a bristle, but as I don’t have any, I used fishing line instead, as advised by Sofia and Henrik. It took a bit of practice – at first it wouldn’t work at all, but after more advice and practice, it worked quite well, and I can see it working excellently with more practice.
In short, and to my understanding, this is how it works: you take your linen thread, and unravel the ends a bit, and pluck at the ends to make them uneven. You wax the thread, and twist it, with its unravelled ends, round the fishing line, which has been sandpapered for friction. The plucked, uneven ends of the thread makes the transition from thread to line smooth, and will slide through the holes made by the awl easy enough. This makes for smaller holes than a doubled thread and needle would require, and in shoes, this is a good thing.

 I believe that to be more accurate, I should have let the holes in the soles be at an angle, from inside to the side of the sole, instead of straight trough from inside to outside, but I decided one new thing was enough for his project, for which I had some time pressure. I’m keen to try to make angled stitches though, they make for a much smoother and more elegant result.

After sewing was finished, I dipped the shoes in water to make them more flexible (of course the shoes were also wet when I stitched them), and then turned them, letting them dry with rolled up pieces of terry cloth in them to keep their shape. I then greased the shoes (which darkened them a lot – rather nice, I think), added laces, and they were ready to go. 

 They were finished before the deadline of the HSM challenge #6 – Out of Your Comfort Zone.

The Challenge: # 6 - Out of Your Comfort Zone

Fabric: 1 millimetre leather for the uppers, 2 millimetre for the soles.

Pattern: Drafted and draped my own, based on period shoes.

Year: 14th century

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it? OK, I suppose – I don’t think it would stand out too much if sent back in time, though likely seen as the early work of an apprentice. There are a couple of period techniques that I did not use, and of course that affect the result. Still, one point to me for giving up sewing with needles!

Hours to complete: Not sure, possibly about 20.

First worn: At a medieval event last weekend.

Total cost: Not sure how much it would have been if the materials were bought new, but at this time it didn’t cost me anything, as everything was in my stash.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Importance of Stays

I've been meaning to take pictures of the early 19th century shortgown I made last year, to show how it looks on me when I'm not six months pregnant, and now I finally have. Actually, it turned into a comparison between early 19th century clothes when worn over different underpinnings. Now this is far from a conclusive comparison: there where many different types of stays, and for all I know less affluent women in some places might actually have used the overlapping bodice lining as only support (these linings are found in simple country women's dresses and spencers in Sweden as well, but no other supportive garments suitable for that class have survived as far as I know) - it works well enough, though not giving a very elegant silhouette. Each kind of supportive garment will give different results. However limited this comparison may be, it will still give a hint as to how very important the right underpinnings are for the impression you wish to give, and what year you wish to represent.

I used my corded, lightly boned stays with a wooden busk in front. The figure you get with these stays - even someone like me, a somewhat overweight mother of two - is one with a very high waist, bust pushed to the sides, and narrow ribcage. This was fashionable in the early 19th century, especially in the 1810's. The stays helps with posture, and prevents your outfit looking too much like maternity wear

 Walking Dress for mourning, Ackerman's Repository, December 1817

With the bodice lining you get a decent lift and support, but of the mono bosom kind. It will pull the dress forward a bit if the bust is heavy. It will not help with posture, and won't hide any fluff you might have. This general look is seen in the very early 1800's (though I should think most women of fashion would wear some more substantial support), and might have remained among the lower classes for a bit longer, especially in places where stays were not common among ordinary women.

I myself would not wear the clothes of a middle- or upper class woman without some kind of proper stays under them. For some (Swedish) working class impressions though, using the bodice lining for support just might be adequate.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Child's Green Kyrtle

If all goes well we’ll be attending a weekend event in a month, and as always, growing kids need new clothes. B, now tree years old, can wear the blue kyrtle, though it’s a tad too short for him. But evenings tend to get cold even in the summer, there is always a risk of rain, and our usual camping place at this event is high up on a frequently windy spot, close to the sea, so having the possibility to add an additional wool layer is vital. Kyrtles are much more practical than cloaks for children at play, and as he’ll need a larger one soon anyway, I made him one from green wool, left over from hubby’shose.

Quite long now, just clearing the ground. 
That did not prevent any walking or playing though.

I made the kyrtle wide and long enough for B to still be able to wear it in both two and three years’ time. At the moment it just clears the floor, and the sleeves must be folded back twice, but in a couple of years, the sleeves will fit nicely, and the kyrtle will reach to about just below the knees, a good length for a boy that will be wearing men’s clothes, and not those of small children, as he does now. 

 The whole kyrtle was made from this piece, about 150x75 cm, here seen on the fold.

The kyrtle is constructed from to main pieces, with two side gores that reach to, and becomes part of, the shaped armscye. A gore is also set in at centre front and back. This construction is found in several extant kyrtles called “Nockert type 2”.

The sleeves are so called S-sleeves, with a gusset set in at the seam at the back of the sleeve. If need be, I can open up the bottom of the sleeves later and add buttoned closures.

I needed to piece the sleeves a bit to get a kyrtle from the material I had, but that is perfectly period. It does mean that they took a bit more time to make than if made from one piece, but what you gain in one end you pay for in another.

I lined the top portion with a soft linen fabric, as I usually do on my young children’s kyrtils, to prevent any itching or chafing that might happen if the shirt worn underneath slips a bit. Not perfectly period, but it won’t show, and it’s a cheat I’m willing to make, as it’s not my children’s hobby - they just tag along.

The kyrtil closes at the neck with seven self-fabric buttons and buttonholes. 

I sewed the buttonholes one after another, with the thread lying loose between them, as seen in extant examples. It is a very fast and practical way to sew buttonholes, not having to fasten the thread after every one, or letting it travel between the layers of cloth, though perhaps not the prettiest look…

All sewing is done by hand with waxed linen thread, using stitches found in extant medieval clothing. 

One of the gores, sewn into front and back.

 The seam allowances and hems are rather narrow, ranging between 5-7 millimetres. 

 I submit this as a HSM challenge, though it’s more than a week late - the whole family got ill, so time and energy for sewing was a bit limited there for a while.
The Challenge: #6 Practicality

Fabric: Melton wool.

Pattern: My own, based on period kyrtles.

Year: Roughly late 1300’s.

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it? Decently – I don’t think it would stand out too much if sent back in time. Though the cloth name Melton didn’t show up until 1823, the quality existed during the Middle Ages - mine is machine woven though. The colour is OK for the period, but artificially dyed. The stitches are all period, as is the construction.

Hours to complete: Abut 15, including piecing the sleeves.

First worn: For the pictures.

Total cost: If bought new, the material would cost about 150 SEK ($18; £11,8; €16), but everything was in my stash. 

And terminology.... I've used to call this type of garment a cote in English, but I rather like the word kyrtle, as it's closer to the Swedish kjortel. Is there a difference, or are they just different words to describe the same thing? I wonder...

Crowfoot, E. Pritchard, F. & Stainland, K. (2001). Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. Bury St Edmunds: Museum of London.

Nockert, M. (1985). Bockstenmannen, Och Hans Dräkt. Halmstad och Varberg: Stiftelsen Hallands länsmuseer.

Østergård, E. (2004). Woven Into the Earth. Denmark: Aarhus University Press.