So That Construction, Eh?

I said I’d post about the construction of that robe a l’Anglaise later, and this is later, so here we go.  In case anyone else is crazy enough to muddle their way through one of these as a beginner, here is my experience doing just that, for better or worse, with all the links to things that I used.

I finished the stays first (well duh), in all their historically inaccurate glory.  The multicoloured thread is particularly great.  You can just see it here in this picture, where I’ve only lined half.  Luckily, extant stays are pretty messy on the inside too, so I don’t feel quite so bad.

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Messy, neat.

Basically, I drafted the pattern myself, flying very much by the seat of my pants and relying heavily on the stays-related posts from the Mantua Maker and the Dreamstress, because they’re professionals and know what they’re doing.  Mine are nowhere near as nice, but they are my first set and they do the job.  I decided on a 1780s-y ‘prow-front’ shape, made a toile and fiddled with it until it vaguely fit me.  Then I cut out the two layers of calico (because I’m a cheapskate), basted them together around the edges, sewed the channels with a backstitch, (gosh it sounds so quick here.  In reality it was like 6 months of jolly procrastination), then cut the cableties that were the bones to size (without hurting myself this time.   When I made the Green Soprano Gown back in February I managed to take a chunk out of that bit between the thumb and index finger cutting cableties with blunt scissors.  DON’T DO THAT.) and put them in the channels.  Then I whipstitched the seam allowances down and joined the pieces together with a whipstitch as is the done thing.  Then I covered them with brown linen and a spaced backstitch, cut the tabs, attached the shoulder straps and bound the edges with a bias binding that was sloppy as all hell because I suck at bias binding.  Possibly also because I did it while working Theatre box office shifts, having to sit out front for 2.45 hours doing nothing while they did the Tempest. I was dog tired.  Then I poked lacing holes (spaced for spiral lacing) with my dodgy-brothers awl (a really really sharp pencil followed by a size 5 metal knitting needle), and bound some very sloppy eyelets that look like wilty daisies.  Then I lined it.  Behold:

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Functional wilty daisies.

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But also vaguely attractive.  The maroon ribbon was a good choice, I feel.

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Here they are with and sans petticoat.  Dido hasn’t quite got as broad shoulders as I do, so the straps sit funny on her.  But on me they’re vaguely indecent, so Dido’s what you’re getting.

Stays done, and maximum uplift achieved, I could then pattern the robe.  There’s also another great post, again from the Mantua Maker, about draping and constructing robes a l’Anglaise which was EXTREMELY helpful.  It seemed like gibberish until I had the bits in front of me – much like pinching the laterals off tomato plants seemed unintelligible until I actually had tomato plants with laterals to pinch – and then it became crystal clear.  Basically, I put my stays on Dido and draped the pattern over her.  Sadly she’s…. just a little less squishy where it counts, let’s put it that way, so I made a toile first and then tried it on myself, and a little adjustment was necessary.   It’s a really efficient way of patterning though, because you don’t have to true the seam lengths or do any geometry, as fun as that is.  This was the pattern I ended up with:

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Complete with curved back seams. Hawt.

Then I cut out the fabric and lining (eek):

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Yes, I’m aware stripes are scarier, and I’m not the best at stripe matching.  I’m both an idiot and a sucker for a pretty stripe.

Then I basted the back panels together, wrong side to wrong side, seam allowances inwards, and sewed them together with a backstitch very close to the edges, leaving a little gap at top and bottom for turning in at the end.  I used some twill tape to make boning cases for the CB.  Then I did the same on the front, only sans twill tape.  I finished the front edge with point a rabbatre sous le main, and then I pinned the front and back to my stays (on myself) and worked out the placement of the side seams from there.  At this point I had a strange dream (well, strange for me.  Most of my dreams are incredibly violent and involve using machine guns or Buffy-style kickboxing to fight either zombies or Voldemort.  I kid you not.  For me, a bloodless dream qualifies as strange) that I went to New Zealand for a costuming workshop run by Leimomi from the Dreamstress, and got loads of help fitting the robe, so she’s now the Dreamstress quite literally.

I found these tutorials from the Fashionable Past immensely helpful too, even though I wasn’t making mine en fourreau.  She uses so many pictures and is so clear.  It’s impossible to miss the point, really.  I’m thinking if I’m crazy enough to attempt another of these, I’d make a jacket with an en fourreau back (I don’t even know if that’s really historically plausible, but hey.)

Then was the bit I was secretly excited about: the sleeves.  I’m not great at modern sleeves, but I feel like the 18th century version had more room for adjustment, so I was interested to see how it panned out.  I drafted a pattern, tried it on and adjusted it.  This is what I ended up with (and then I closed out the dart because it ended up laying flat that way anyhow):

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Sleevilicious.

And exactly as I anticipated, the 18th century method of sleeve setting in was easy, fun, quick, and generally awesome.  This post from American Duchess made it very clear.  Because Dido is as armless as a Greek statue, I did make sure to try them on pinned first, but there was relatively little wrestling required, and I even fluked some bonus stripe-matching.  Here is my catalogue of stripe-match flukes:

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Top-sleeve fluke-match.

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Two more flukes.

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Yet more sleeve flukes.

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Here’s some of the damage the robe took when I kept trying to reach glasses on the top shelf in the kitchen.  Stupid.

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This stripe-match was deliberate.

Also the last photo shows how I closed it with pins in the end.  I had hooks and eyes, but they were stupidly fiddly getting dressed, and after ten minutes of struggling I caved and broke out the straight pins.  Next time I’d do buttons maybe.  Or just pin it again.  Hell, here I go talking about next time again like it’s a thing.

Then I attached the skirt.  I know that’s meant to be the easy part, but I struggled.  Next time I’ll do it differently.  (Bad Belinda.  Stop talking about next time.  There is no next time.) I may even detach it and try again if I get massively bothered (no I won’t, what am I saying?)  It was a big rectangle. Why are rectangles hard and yet sleeves are easy? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  I am that crazy lady who can sing the Lied der Lulu standing on her head, yet would prefer to be disembowelled with a plastic spoon than sing Vedrai carino.

The petticoats were a different matter though.  Nice and simple.  There’s a tutorial from A Fashionable Frolick that had way more detail than I needed, not being any kind of re-enactor, but was also very straight-forward and made it a breeze.  I made two.  I was going to make three, but two seemed to cut the mustard, especially with the Alligator Bum underneath, and I didn’t have loads of time.  The under-petticoat was a plain cotton that had loads of body, and was hand-sewn, the outer was of a soft off-white silk twill and was machined because I ran out of time.  I also half-hand-sewed/half-machined a chemise, and didn’t bother to finish the neckline or hem (again because time).  Then I didn’t bother to roll a hem on my fichu either.  God I’m lazy.

So to summarise:

The corners I cut:

-I didn’t make pockets.  I used a small drawstring bag I made when I was like, 13 tied onto my petticoat waistband.  I started pockets but never finished them.

-I didn’t end up bothering with stockings.  It was 28 degrees, and I was wearing an anachronistic pair of red patent clogs.  Also, I found that my legs are so damn skinny that even with the garters tied below the knee as was the done thing, they fell down pretty much right away.  What did skinny girls do back then when this happened?  I’m curious.

-General lack of finishing/trims.  I will trim it someday.  I like it plain, but I feel it wants a row of pleated or ruched trim around the neck and sleeves.

-Various material inaccuracies.  The chemise is cotton, not linen.  Basically anywhere a linen thread would have been used, I used cotton because I’m cheap.   The waist sash is unknown content synthetic that was in my stash.  The structural layers of my stays are cotton calico rather than linen, and the ribbons are nylon rather than… whatever was used then. I’m pretty sure they didn’t use nylon.

-The mad machine rush to the finish line.

The things I would do differently:

-I’d try another method of attaching the skirt.  I found that really tough.

-No hooks and eyes.  They are the work of bealzebub.

-Shorter petties.  Like, walking length.  To show off my anachronistic clogs and keep them out of the damn way.

-The clumsiness of the tabs on my stays bugs me.  I want them more tooth-y and less deflated-balloon-y.

What I liked:

-Silk thread is great.  It’s like butter.

-Spaced backstitch is awesome.

-The period method of setting in sleeves is fabulous and I wish modern sleeves were as easy.

-Fishing around the blogs of awesome people for inspiration.  You are all magnificent and wonderful.  Particularly American Duchess, the Dreamstress, Before the Automobile, Temps d’élégance, The Fashionable Past, the Diary of a Mantua Maker, Dressed in Time, and Démodé.  I am always inspired by what you do and in utter awe.  Many a happy hour was spent procrastinating and not writing program notes for my recital.

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This is how it is now, on Dido.  God I need to piece a wedge onto the back of the skirt….

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Clothes for the Recital that I’m So Glad is Over.

Do excuse my recent lack of postage.

I FINALLY did my first Masters recital; the evil one; the one that got postponed last year because I had a month’s worth of the flu and pharyngitis; the one that I’m so so so glad is finally over, despite the fact that I had a cold and had to keep dashing off stage to blow my nose, much in the manner that more normal sopranos might dash off to swig from glasses of water.  I thought putting the tissues on the piano would be a bad idea, though it was mighty tempting.  Then maybe my level of professionalism would be on par with the con’s; they managed to bugger up my program notes, which I had given to them formatted to a tee after adhering to all their pernickety editing suggestions.  Fancy that… a red squiggle.  Wordpress doesn’t think pernickety is a word.  It keeps suggesting ‘pumpernickel’. Which is a great word too, don’t get me wrong, but not so relevant in the context.

And I actually managed to finish my skirt and top ensemble.  At 12:15am the night before, admittedly, but yes.  Finished.  Now I have things to wear when performing in winter.

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Ta-daaaa! A blurry photo.  Excuse the general mess.

The skirt took about a week, partially because I was working around loads of practice and trying to maintain some semblance of contact with other humans, but mostly because my Janome is to the lovely Fabric Store silk as hot wax strips are to Wolverine: not exactly as Kryptonite to Superman, but it’s still not a fun combination, and the result doesn’t look very attractive.  I should’ve known, because I’ve used this particular kind of silk before when I made my lace crop-top back in the mists of time (*cough* last year *cough*) and my machine has horrible memories of needle-breakage associated with it.  But in the lead-up to my recital, soprano-brain was a bit of an issue and I figured that last time I’d been trying to flat-fell chunky seams and use bias binding (ie: more layers), so if I used a brand-new, sharp-as-a-psycho’s-scalpel, small-as-I-could-get needle and set the thread tension very very carefully, what problem could a mere two layers possibly pose?  (OH THE STUPIDITY)

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Exhibit A: Nasty buckly seam.  In centre-front of all places.  😡

Doesn’t seem to matter how fine a needle I use or how few layers I have or what my thread tension’s set as, I end up with a buckly seam.  So I thought, stuff you Janome, and hand-stitched the rest of it.  What can I say?  I’m a control freak who likes to watch things while I sew.  Many, many episodes of Buffy later, I have a rather nice skirt.  The buckly seam thankfully hangs in a fold, hiding its shameful buckly nature from the eyes of good citizens.  Then I just stitched the silk over the top of the foundation layer of the waistband with backstitch so you have these little lines of topstitching, which the silk will eventually fade around so it’ll look a bit interesting.

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Pinned and ready to go.

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Little backstitches are prettier than buckly machine mess, anyway.

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Then it was slipstitched over the pleats.  Hot-damn I’m proud of that neat curve.

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Okay, so the inside’s all messy.  But it’s secure and there’s no chance of fray-age and I could not give fewer damns.

The skirt ended up being a circle skirt cut to twice the length of the waistband and then pleated on (haphazardly).  The zipper was set in with a pick-stitch, because I HATE sewing zips on the machine.  Hate hate hate, like stompy eye-pokey-outy hate.  Only on the morning did I notice that on me the lining hung more crooked than it did on the dressform, and so I had to emergency-tack it up a bit, but it’ll be an easy fix for The Weekend That Never Comes.

The top was my first foray into jersey-land (aka Mordor.  Stretch fabric is clearly the work of Sauron), negotiating the perils of Twin Needles and Clear Elastic Stay Tape of Doom.

MordorHere dwell the dreaded jersey fabrics.

via lotr.wikia.com

I cut the pattern off a skivvy I had that fitted nicely (though I ought to have gone a little roomier because my jersey didn’t stretch quite as much as I thought), and it sewed up relatively quickly.  I couldn’t figure out how to do a drapey bit at the front, so I improvised one on after and covered the joins with some bows cut from the remnants of my silk.  With a singlet under it, it was *just* warm enough in Melba Hall.  A friend of mine the Best Baritone I Know nearly froze to death in his exam the other week, so I thought it’d pay to be cautious.  Boy did it ever.  My poor accompanists… it seriously looked like a scene out of Dickens backstage with them huddled there in their coats with their hands under their arms.

Now, Clegs doesn’t normally hold much fascination for me with the Fabric Store to compare it to, but when I went down there the other day to pick up the twin needle and the elastic, they were having a remnant sale.  Remnant sales are very dangerous.  I had to be prudent, but when they’re getting rid of just enough of just what you’re after for about 1/4 of the normal price per metre, you must strike, strike like the bargain-cobra.   Now I have enough silk crepe satin to cover my stays when I finish them (I would use it for something else it’s so nice, but that colour really doesn’t suit me unless I’m fancy dressing as a zombie.  My skin cells wouldn’t know what melanin was if some came along and bit them on the endoplasmic reticulum), and half a metre of the most airy and delicious silk georgette which is going to be a nasty beast to sew, but I’m not intending to make anything super fancy from it… maybe just a fichu for my as yet hypothetical georgian costume…???????????????????????????????

So pretty!  It’s like if soufflé could be a fabric.

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Guaranteed to make me look about 5 days dead.

And then there’s sissy-poo’s kitty-shaped hot water bottle cover.  The toile (do you call it a toile when it’s clothes for a hot water bottle?) is assembled, but I’m still trying to work out if the vaguely 3D face is going to work in practice when darts aren’t meant to be a thing you do with faux fur.  I guess the pile’s not too deep, I figure I’m going to treat it pretty much like velvet and see how it goes, unless somebody warns me off it in the next 24 hours.  There’s enough faux fur that I could probably make two or three attempts before I throw in the towel.???????????????????????????????

There will also be legs and a tail but I didn’t bother to pattern them.  I’m not sure how I’ll do the nose and eyes yet, but at any rate, this is the look I’m going for:

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Via au.catsadoptions.com.  KITTY WITH NO FACE NAWWWWWWWW!!!!

It beats doing tax.

Does My Bum Look Big in these Alligators?

Please excuse me if this post is effusive and/or ebullient.  I just had chocolate and then dumplings with my dear friends Death and Brave Sir R-. I am full of chocolate and good-quality dumplings and pleasant company.  I AM EBULLIENCE ITSELF.

I finished my geeky 18th Century garters on the 3rd.  What a massive coincidence that the day after was May the 4th.  As in May the 4th be with you, as in May the FORCE be with you, as in International Star Wars Day.  I had to explain that multiple times to various perplexed people down at my opera company yesterday.  Verdict: geeky opera singers are not as common as I might have bet, or I have spent way too much time hanging around with composers.  Oh well.  I guess this is an opportunity to remind myself how blessed I was to have an adolescence saturated in the glory of multiple forms of geekery, Star Wars being prominent amongst them.  Here, by the way, are my finished garters:

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If Obi-Wan was into Georgian period cross-dressing, these are what he would wear.

So in a continued vein of geekery meets Georgian-ery, I’ve started another accessory that will be essential in achieving a plausibly Georgian shape when I *finally* get around to finishing my stays and making this fabled robe a l’Anglaise.   Everybody who’s anybody references this amusing cartoon:

Lewis Walpole Library Bum ShoppeThe Bum Shop, from the Lewis Walpole Library.  (On their website you can zoom)

Yes, when a lady of the 1780’s asks you ‘does my bum look big in this’, the right answer is ‘does it ever.’  In the cartoon, they’re selling ‘rumps’, ‘bum-rolls’, ‘false bums’, or whatever you want to call them (‘posterior petticoat-plumping pillows?’, ‘arse-augmenters?’, ‘decoy derrieres?’) in order to give their patrons the fashionable bootylicious shape.  I saw a couple of other funny cartoons about the fashionable shape on my travels through the blogosphere…

Lewis Walpole Library Back BitersThose are small, Paris-Hiltony dogs sitting on the ladies’ bums.  Back when it was the magnitude of your bum that mattered, not your tote bag.

Lewis Walpole Library Bum BailiffThe caption reads: ‘The Bum Bailiff outwitted, or, the convenience of fashion.’  Notice the lady making her escape.

Again, the zoomable versions of both of those are in the Lewis Walpole Library.  Type ‘bum’ into the search box and you’ll find them.  It’s very satisfying to use a Yale library search engine to search for ‘bum’.  Try it, and tell me it’s not titillating.  Great word that.  Titillating.  Oh God I had way too much chocolate today…

Back to the bum.  There appear to be many varieties of bum in the shop picture, so I went with a crescent-y shape, like you can see at the bottom (HA) left hanging on the wall.  I didn’t have a lot of calico left (what do we make of a seamstress who routinely uses up her stash?  Sacrilege!), so I had to piece it, but I tried to piece it in the sort of segmenty-pumpkin way that they appear to have quilted their bums, so that I’d have a good guide to sew down later if I needed to.

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My one remaining piece of calico.  Cue Mulan music: “This is what you give me to work with?  Well honey, I’ve seen worse!  We are going to turn this sow’s ear, into a-“.

A bum.  That’s what we’re turning it into.

I also made the top bigger around the outside edge than the bottom, so it’ll puff more and sit more like a bum than a plate.  I have no idea if this is period or not, but hey, I’m embroidering it with alligators, and I’m pretty sure that’s not period.  That whole thing about enjoying being an amateur again.

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Exhibit A: gator.  His eye is a teeny tiny sequin.  (Also, wow, I matched the grain lines at the seam!  TOTAL FLUKE FOR THE WIN!!!)

The gator is part of a larger pattern that references the decadently violent Anita Blake series.   When Anita has multiple preternatural nasties out to kill her, she likes to say that she’s ‘ass deep in alligators’.  Seeing as this is a fake ass I’m making, I figured it was a priceless opportunity to use that gem of a quote (well, I’m normally arse deep in scores, not alligators, but gators are more fun to embroider and I still have oodles of yummy emerald green silk thread left over from my green soprano gown (which I’m thinking of putting through a refashion… but more on that another time)).

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It’s not done yet.  It’ll have two knives crossing at the front and another gator, and possibly some skulls for good measure.

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I’m particularly proud of the roses.

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Illustrating the probably-not-period pattern.  The upper layer will get pleated into this smaller layer.

I’m happy to say the whole thing is hand-sewn so far, and I’ll keep going like that.  It’s very nearly as quick, and it’ll be easier in the awkward curvy bits.  I’m getting pretty fast at hand-sewing.  Well. Fast for me at any rate.

I’ll stuff it with scraps (because I have a massive bag of scraps) and attach it to some twill tape.  I went to Clegs (ooh Clegs) and got loads of it.  I never realised how cheap it was, but despite its cheapness they don’t seem to sell it at Lincraft (grrr, Lincraft).  The problem is that I like the staff at my Lincraft; they’re all friendly and pleasant and the Clegs staff are all snooty and have the temerity to ask you whether you’ve made a toile yet when you’re buying fabric.  DO YOU MEAN THERE’S A COMPULSORY ORDER I HAVE TO DO THINGS IN???  Are you going to sneak round to my house and check that yes, there’s a toile pinned to my crappy home-made dressform before you’ll sell anything to me?  Hell, they should be glad they’ve never met my Gran.  To her, toile only means Toile du Juoy.  Rant over.  Then once I’m finished my bum all I have to do is finish my stays, whip up some petticoats and Bob’s your Uncle, I can (cue drum-roll) pattern a robe!  FUN.

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:

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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)

???????????????????????????????Another gratuitous action shot to show scale. See why I’m so damn proud? 

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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.

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!

Robe a l’Anglaise Envy and Other Envies

Envy is probably my go-to sin.  Apart from posting on Good Friday.  That’s probably a sin too.

Anyway.  I have a roaring case of robe a l’Anglaise envy.  I’ve just had two days of a delightful virus (pretty much all of Lent crammed into two days of dizzy, nauseous, achey-painy starvation, with my Dad helpfully informing me on the phone that I wouldn’t actually starve to death for another six days.), so I fed my eyes instead with lots of piccies of robes a l’Anglaise.  I want an excuse and or occasion that is both solid enough to withstand Catholic guilt and yet doesn’t cause me to hyperventilate over a silly self-imposed deadline.  My handsewing is like a French bulldog: sturdy, but not fast or pretty. (Though having said that, I rather like French bulldogs.  They have cute scrunchy faces.)

Sizzle-reel time:

LACMA RalA 1785-90

Mmm…. stripy goodness…  Loving the crisp silk twill!  Feeling it wants a sash.

LACMA RalA 1785-90 back

Love the back point and the puffiliciousness… also the not-quite-perfect stripe-matching. It’s like some ancestor of mine was at work!

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Always always ALWAYS love a contrast petticoat!

All above images from LACMA.  SO GOOD.

I also particularly love American Duchess’s Revolution Dress.

I have a feeling this is going to be a terrible addiction.

Now, if I can justify stays I can sort of justify a robe, and I can justify stays because Mozart.  Mozart is the cornerstone of just about everybody’s repertoire, and most houses still like to go with period costume for Mozart (because people like it, so money), so I feel like it’s a safe bet that one day, somewhere, I will be singing Zerlina or Despina or Susanna or Blonde or the Countess or (fingers crossed!) Fiordiligi dressed a la late 18th Century (SQUEE), and so I would like to have my own comfy stays to sing in.  Having worn other people’s corsets before I can safely say that off-the-rack really doesn’t work out with my odd measurements in a comfy way, and I know that in the great cableties vs spring steel debate I prefer cableties.  Spring steel is great if you have some assets there to squish, but yeah.  Total lack of squishability.

I finished the toile last week, and, like everything else I’ve ever made, they are Mysteriously Too Big.  WHERE DOES THE EXTRA WIDTH APPEAR?  I took a good two inches off a tight bust measurement and a good inch and a half off the waist before I even patterned, and somehow they still manage to close easily and I can feel oodles of room in the damn things.  I followed all the rules!  I basted on the seam lines!  I whipped and butted them closed like a good seamstress (only messier)!  I need to curve the side seams more, but there’s so much to take off the bust that it’s going to mean some interesting adjustments.  I took a good 2cm out of the CB seam last night and it fixed the waist but not the bust. So I think this means taking it apart, adjusting everything and re-seaming.  Whoopee.  At least I didn’t run into armscye issues.  I never seem to have armscye issues. Thank the Lord.

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Stay toile ahoy.

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Arg stay toile fitteth not.  I know it looks like it does, but that’s just my ass going for contrast. 

Hopefully the acquisition of some kind of dressform will help with draping the robe.  I looked into it last year when my mother offered to get me one for my birthday, and found that, like everything else, they don’t exist in my size.  I could probably get a child’s one and pad the hips out, but it wouldn’t be long enough in the waist, which is one of my main fitting issues anyway, so purpose defeated.  I’m starting to think that if I sew up a very sturdy version of my tried-n-true princess seam block in upholstery fabric and stuffed it very tightly that it might approximate well enough?  Should be just like re-stuffing a chair.  I have some upholstery fabric lying around from the UMSU Theatre garage sale…  Maybe today.  I’m feeling I need it for my second load of envy:

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Here are my sketches.  Ignore the hand-shadow.

The Bottega Veneta dress envy.  Tucked in a secluded corner of this month’s Vogue is the inspiration for my Fabric Store silk-cotton ikat dress.  The colour and the detailing aren’t what got me (peach silk with what looks like the reflector tape on my cycling vest, only with studs…) but the cut is perfect.  It’s a good big picture, nice and uncluttered; just four of the models hanging out backstage and thankfully the one in my dress isn’t holding a bag and is towards the front so I can see the details of the dress.  Thanks, anonymous model!  So helpful! The print of my fabric will provide some visual interest to make up for the lack of studs and applied contrast… it’s the skirt patterning that’s bugging me though.  I think they’re crisp knife-pleats that’ve been tacked under the contrast strips, but how I pattern that sleek but relaxed shape for someone of my distinctly un-runway-model-like waist-to-hip ratio boggles my tiny soprano mind.  I’m not sure how to proceed.  Here’s my pattern so far, but the skirt is a bit too mega-flare:

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It’s like the ’70s.  Oh dear.

The Sewprano Sings Too? Never Would Have Guessed.

Which is mostly to what my lack of bloggery lately has been due.  Also partially to it being very hot again.  The sewing machine and the iron just don’t go on when it’s over 32°C as a matter of principle.

But a lot of singing is being done because it’s that time of year when you’ve got to start thinking in competition mode, and I intend a sort of merry sweep through as many of them as I have the time/energy to do properly.  I have some absolutely scrummy Wolf lined up for the first cab off the rank, then it’s going to be aria central for a while; if I actually learn any arias that is.  I’m not renowned for being the most aria-obsessed soprano who ever lived, so I begged some suggestions from my effin’ awesome teacher this afternoon, who started with: it’s better not to leap into the big warhorses, it’s best at your age to start off with smaller simpler stuff; and then promptly rattled off some suggestions including some Lucia di Lammermoor and Peter Grimes.  Did I hear someone say simple?

Chamber’s still my happy place, so I have some stuff in a concert tomorrow – Shepherd on the Rock (the appropriate response is to chuck out some horns and bang your head around – it is unassailably awesome), some Spohr, some Roussel, and some Michael Head.

Now, don’t let me get started on Michael Head. Oh whoops, I am started, and now I’m probably going to offend somebody, but hey, this is my blog. His parents should have named him Richard.  His writing is so twee and sugary and pointless that it makes Dulcie Holland look like the next J.S. Bach. IF YOU’RE GOING TO PUT SO MANY GRATUITOUS RALLENTANDI AND AD LIBATUM-I (ad labotomy more like, in this case) INTO YOUR MUSIC, THEN WHY BE SO DARN NITPICKY ABOUT NOTATING EVERY INANE LITTLE RHYTHM? By default anything he writes is So Not My Fach.  So why am I bashing my larynx against this fluffy, poorly-constructed brick wall?  Because societally-conditioned-nice-girl brain was first to the consent buzzer. Now we see how feminism and singing intersect… But that’s another story.  Now I’m doing this damned piece and my [admittedly lovely] instrumentalist mates get to be on the receiving end of what happens when sopranos step outside their fach, and it ain’t pretty.  Once I’m done with it tomorrow I am no kidding going to take the sheet music out to the backyard and burn it.  Probably involving some kind of feather-waving, goat-sacrificing ritual so that it can never come back and make me sing it again.

…Unless I keep it to use for sewing patterns, that is.  Despite having the sewing machine off I’ve still been doing a lot of sewing, just mostly by hand while watching Buffy downstairs because I think it’s still below 30°C downstairs and my favourite housemate and I went halfsies on a box set of Buffy for Christmas.  So far I’m about a third done with an acetate pleated tulip skirt made from some acetate I picked up at the UMSU Theatre garage sale, and it’s going to be very poufy at the top but sort of nipped in at the bottom like an upside-down ’80s bubble skirt (I know it sounds ugly, but this is just like when the girl behind the counter at the deli at Vic Market questioned me buying 150g of goat cheese for a cheesecake,  TRUST ME. It’ll work, and it’ll be gloriously A/W 2013.  The cheesecake was great too, if you’re wondering.  I can’t find where the original recipe I used went, but this one’s fairly close, the base of mine was mostly butter and digestive biscuits… or what was left by the time I made it. They’re too moreish for their own good.  Damn it, now I want some, but it’s too hot/I’m too lazy to ride to the supermarket).

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What is the top doesn’t look like it in the pattern… and a bad photo of the pleats and the waistband.

Also I’ve been working on a toile for a pair of 18th Century stays as a totally gratuitous romp to refresh my mind after too long staring at my Nixon in China score.  Also to improve my hand sewing.  I look at amazing blogs by incredible people like Before the Automobile and Diary of a Mantua Maker and I get all inspired and then my hand sewing is more crooked than a medieval Pom’s teeth.  But the shape is generally looking on track and the fit (as much as I can extrapolate at present) is good, and also I guess there aren’t many people who memorise Nixon and make stays.  Even super wonky stays.

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For your viewing delectation, my abominable hand-sewing.

Once again, check out my illustrations in the next edition of Farrago, available from A Fair Few Places on the UoM campus, and COME TO CLASSICAL REVOLUTION AT OPEN STUDIO IN NORTHCOTE TOMORROW AT 5!