Geeky Garters

I just had my costume fitting for Nixon in China.  Verdict:  I look darn-tootin’ adorable in a Mao suit.  The dude in the van who tried to kill me on my bike afterwards is clearly jealous.

In the meantime not having my wallet means I don’t have my swipecard to get into the practice rooms, so I can’t practice.  Sad panda. So all that creative energy has gone into the 18th Century garters to hold up the stockings of which I posted earlier.  Well, most of the creative energy.  The rest of it is slowly losing the will to live as the Snatchy Poltergeist continues to snatch my stuff, and randoms continue to badger me in the street, brazenly ignoring my maximum-strength FOF (F*** Off Face). One garter is now done.  Nothing is more indicative of the creatively-frustrated soprano than the sudden ability to embroider at speed.  Except perhaps the ability to fry the brains of paintball spruikers with my fiery fiery laser-glare.

Enough wallowing.  One of the best things about being an amateur seamstress is I get to decide exactly how historically accurate/inaccurate I’m going to be.  When you work in an industry where you’ve got to be good at taking criticism for everthing you do without taking it personally, it’s sort of refreshing to have a hobby where you can do what you like and nobody can pull your socks up.  I want to hand-sew everything?  Fine.  I want to use a mix of accurate, semi-accurate and inaccurate materials?  Fair enough.  I want to include quirky modern details in my otherwise relatively historically passable garments?  Sure, why not.

All that sounds pretty reasonable right?  So bear with me… I have made one and a bit hand-sewn, mostly cotton (but I’ll fess up to using polyester ribbon), hand-embroidered garters in the spirit of the 18th Century, with an obviously modern twist.   Often the garters of the 18th Century bore mottoes.  Here are some examples:

met garters 1790s

These are from the Met, c 1790.  Quite a sparse, neoclassical statement.

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These ones from the MFA in Boston are more what I’m aiming for.

Now, bearing in mind that the mottoes often went across both garters (with half the words on each garter), no points for guessing what I’m putting on mine.

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The finished product.  …….. be with you.  Ringing any bells?

Yes, I am a dork.

Now I just want to make tons of garters with little geeky things on them.  I want a blue pair that say ‘made in Gallifrey’ with little TARDISes on.  I want a black pair that say ‘ass deep in alligators’.  My dear friend Death will get the reference there.  

Anyway.  Here are some construction pics.  I was using a pretty sturdy calico so I didn’t feel like it needed too much reinforcing.  There are also teeny tiny random spangles that I found in my sewing box.  I think they came with a skirt years ago… The skirt’s long since moved on, but I’ve still got the small number of emergency spangles.

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Step one, drawing up the design.

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Step two, manic embroidery.  I used a mix of stem and satin stitch. (Them’s all I know)

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Step three.  Woo yeah!  Gratuitous action shot!  (Just like Indiana Jones, only not)

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Ready to go on the ribbon.

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I turned the edges under and backstitched it down with white thread

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My favourite flower.  Thar be subtle colour differences.

I apologise profusely for the close-up shots of the carpet.  When the estate agent says our house is heritage listed, they only mean the carpet.  I swear it’s the original carpet from 1880-whatever.

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Did I Say Soprano? I Meant Zombie.

Ah, weekends.  I remember when I used to have them.  Regular meals too.  Those were halcyon days…  And then I had that real clever idea that I wanted to be an opera singer.

I can handle the whole exhausting schedule thing, and I’m getting better at the whole work/uni/opera balance.  But then my wallet got stolen at work on Friday.  That really chucks a spanner in anyone’s works, but I still had to head off to a gig after and sing like nothing had happened, and get up the next morning to put in a 6 hour long production call.  Boy was I happy that the guy behind the counter at King and Godfree’s didn’t ask for ID when I hauled my zombified arse in there after production call to pick up wine (that I still haven’t drunk thank you very much.  But it’s nice to know it’s on standby). Well.  I guess that zombies don’t really need ID.  Surely alcohol works like a preservative once you’re dead?  Such has been the glory of my life recently.

Sewing-wise there’ve been bits and pieces, but no wonderful triumphant finished products.  I’d been steadily beavering away at sewing boning channels for my late 18th Century stays (and feeling jolly proud of myself) when I ran out of the pale aqua thread I was using.  Seeing I still haven’t decided whether I’ll cover them or not at the end, I didn’t want to risk changing colours in case I wanted to leave them uncovered.  Naturally, I haven’t had the time or the energy to scamper down to Lincraft to get more matching thread.  The couple of panels that I’ve finished make me so happy to look at though.  I’ve got the hang of the whole stitching-in-a-straight-line thing.

Behold!

Before:

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It’s not linear.  It’s more of a wibbly-wobbly-stitchy-witchy thing.

*unsubtle Doctor Who reference*

Whereas after…

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Look at them purdy straight lines!  Who says practice doesn’t make perfect?

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Bella, as always, likes to help.  These are a friend’s stays though, not mine.

Seeing the stay making had hit a brick wall, I decided to continue with my Bottega Veneta inspired summer dress (yeah, I know it’s heading in to winter.  I figure that far away deadlines leave less room for stress and/or disappointment.  That and it’s Melbourne.  I’m sure a freak heat-wave can be expected some time in August.).  I sewed the oodles of darts into the lining.  Why oh why would I draft my own pattern to be full of accursed darts?  Well I did.  And they turned out lovely (for a change).  I moved on to my delicious silk ikat, and then realised I’d just blunted my last fine silk needle.  There’s no way I’m risking a larger or blunt needle on this stuff.  It was disgustingly pricey.  Plus, what’s the point of making a high-end-designer-inspired frock if you’re going to cut corners? I already cut enough corners for three seamstresses.  More trips to Lincraft ahoy.

Sunday being my one and only day off, I decided not to go out.  But without going and picking up new machine needles and thread, I couldn’t progress on either the stays or the summer dress.  So I decided to start a third, smaller project instead.  Stockings.  Of the how-can-I-best-approximate-18th-Century-stockings-with-only-things-that-I-have-in-my-immediate-environment variety.  It was like Bear Grylls, only with sewing.  Though there was that episode where he found a dead seal and made a seal-blubber vest in order not to freeze to death in the sea…

I had a pair of lemon-yellow stockings that had seemed like a great idea when I bought them, but that I never wear, so I earmarked them for adventures into costume, seeing whenever I put them on I feel like I should maybe have a pink polonaise gown and a massive puffy chapeau to go with them.  (Speaking of, I think I’ve found the fabric I want to make my anglaise out of…  it’s a pale pink satin-weave cotton with a subtle floral embroidery.  Jumping the gun much?)

So I cut them off at well-above the knee height (figuring that once they were cut and hemmed they’d be shorter.  I was right, and I think I should have left even more length, stumpy legs notwithstanding), did a rolled hem, and planned some embroidery.  My adventures on the interwebs , mostly over at the Dreamstress, American Duchess and the Pragmatic Costumer, tell me that the stockings of the 18th Century were ‘clocked’, that is, beautifully embroidered at the ankles, like these lovelies:

Met stockings Other Met Stockings

These are both from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now there’s one glaringly large difference between these beauties and my Jon Astons.  Mine are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay stretchier, being modern and mostly synthetic.  Now, back in the day, knit stockings did exist, but they weren’t anywhere as near as stretchy as modern stockings, and were still seamed and shaped like the ones from the Met.  This means that I’m not a hundred percent certain that it’s possible to embroider my stockings and have it work purely because of the enormous stretch factor.  But I’m going to give it my best shot.  My idea is to put the stocking over a big mug which will stretch it out while I’m sewing, and then hopefully they won’t rip when I put them on.

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The rolled hem.  I had to leave it pretty loose to allow for stretch factor, even for me.  I’m thinking a more sophisticated hemming system with more give would be required for someone with more curvaceous pins.

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A large Bach-print mug to stand in for my ankle.

My embroidery won’t be a patch on the examples from the Met, but I think a simple, fresh design will work better with the yellow anyway.

And what happened to the pants part of the pantyhose?  Well.  A medical friend of mine put this link up on the book of face recently, and as a person who goes through stockings at the rate hipsters go through coffees, I think it’s a marvellous idea and will start putting together a box:

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia

PANTYHOSE FOR AFRICA! We use the ‘panty’ part to keep post-operative pads in place and we cut the legs off and patients plait them into bath mats. If you would like to contribute, please post clean pantyhose (second hand is OK but they must be spotless!) to PO Box 5066 Turramurra NSW 2074 or drop them into the shop at 1396 Pacific Highway Turramurra. They must arrive no later than 13 May to go to the hospital as luggage. Such an easy way to help. Thank you!
Photo: PANTYHOSE FOR AFRICA! We use the 'panty' part to keep post-operative pads in place and we cut the legs off and patients plait them into bath mats. If you would like to contribute, please post clean pantyhose (second hand is OK but they must be spotless!) to PO Box 5066 Turramurra NSW 2074 or drop them into the shop at 1396 Pacific Highway Turramurra. They must arrive no later than 13 May to go to the hospital as luggage. Such an easy way to help. Thank you!

Dido the Dressform Gets a Boob Job

I’ve decided to keep Dido.  I found a nasty memory foam pillow from IKEA that my Mum got one time she was visiting because she has a bad neck and had forgotten her normal pillow, and then left it behind because it was no good.  It’s perfect stuffing for Dido though, because it naturally wants to spring back into a rectangular shape, so it holds the cover in a flatter-front-to-back-than-side-to-side shape that’s a closer match to me, and it’s really good to stick pins in.  I added some extra, stiffer padding in the shoulders in the form of wadded-up cotton remnants (and I think I’ll add more), but she was still somehow lacking.  Behold:

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Dido stuffed with a memory-foam pillow.

She was actually more flat-chested than I am.  I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go.  So I stuffed a natty old pair of socks with some old shredded-up linen:

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Dido’s boobies.

She looks way better now, and finally we have matching bust measurements! After I’ve re-stuffed her shoulders, I’ll sew down the tucks I’ve made in the cover to keep them in the correct spot.

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Post-op Dido.  It’s not a massive difference, but at least she looks like a girl now.

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Tucks to lift and separate.  Mostly separate.

I also decided to jump the gun and decorate her a bit.  She has a bow on top, a ribbon to mark the waistline and some fairly hideous nylon lace around the bottom to hide the stripy shirting I’ve used to keep the pillow in the bottom.  It’s all only pinned on at the moment, because I still have some padding to do.  But she looks very pretty and might even turn out to be functional!

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So pretty!

She’s already been really helpful in making some much-needed adjustments to the toile of my stays. I tried them on again this afternoon after pinning out all the bits that needed pinning out on Dido rather than having to sit and measure and measure again, and I didn’t take any photos because they were effective to the point of indecency.  I have instead done a small cartoon:

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It’s a bit hard to read.  Sorry.

Dido the Dressform is Halfway Done

Remember that dressform I said I might get around to making?  Well I started.

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I used my snuggest princess seam block.

 

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As usual, my patterns look like bacon.


I might be jumping the gun here, but I’ve decided to call her Dido.  As in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. It’s an in-joke.  She’s really just a test… she’s made from some upholstery fabric I got at the UMSU Theatre garage sale, and stuffed with a pillow.  I’ll find something better to stuff her with once I’ve made some adjustments (mostly she should have my concave chest, and preferably some kind of neck.  I probably won’t ever be able to get her to do the funny flat-front-to-back thing that my ribs do… unless I make her some coat-hanger-wire ribs or something…  now there’s an idea… a dressform with a skeleton!).  For the moment if I need to use her I’ll stick her in a bra and it’ll go a ways to fixing the rather homogeneous shape of her chest.

 

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Front-side view (not like anyone could tell)

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Back view

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Side view.  Again, it’s hard to see where the front is. 

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She looks very pretty in my stays toile though.

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Hooray!  I have a (sort of) body double!  Maybe I can send her to Postgrad Seminar and teach her how to sign my name off for me…