Sep 12

Back to the sewing

Surprisingly, I’ve actually managed to make time for a little sewing here and there even though the school year has started back up.

image imageI made a couple of aprons for my kids.  The design needs a bit of tweaking as they are having a hard time keeping them on the shoulders, but I like the coverage they provide.  Plus, they are easily reversible to become “capes,” which my kids are currently enamoured with.

I also made another PB&J skirt, this time in a Star Wars print.


I do do apologize for any formatting issues with this post.  I’m working on my tablet today, which makes posting a little trickier.image image

Sep 11

Digging Deeper

As I mentioned in my previous post, the short answer to why I’m now wearing scarves on my head is that I’m unhappy with my hair.  What has been a source of angst for me for the past two and a half years is now a non-issue.  Fantastic!

However, as I got ready to go back to work and anticipated some of the reactions I might get, both from students as well as from colleagues I’ve worked with for over six years, I realized that I needed to dig a little deeper and figure out the motivation underlying this decision.

I did some of the type of soul-searching that I haven’t done in quite awhile.  Here’s what I came up with: I kind of don’t know who I am anymore.  The ways in which I’ve defined myself for nearly my whole adult life have all shifted in the last few years, leaving me feeling a bit unmoored.  I haven’t really noticed it until now because I’ve been so busy with being Everything I’m Supposed To Be.

My hair was really just the tip of the iceberg because that was one way in which I used to define myself (that girl with the long red hair) that’s now gone.

The deeper, but equally obvious change has been becoming a mother.  Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely adore my kids and wouldn’t change anything about them for the world.  Many of the changes they’ve brought have been welcome changes.  That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve had to let go, or at least put on the back burner, many of the things that used to be very important to me.  For two and a half years, I haven’t really been my own person because I belong to them right now, because they depend so entirely on me.

And then there is the incredibly deep issue that I can barely bring myself to write about.  My faith and belief system has undergone an incredibly drastic change over the past decade.  I still believe very deeply in the Bible and in the core values of the Christian faith.  What I’ve completely lost faith in is the American Church.  I am so disillusioned with what I see in the public/political face of the church right now.  It physically pains me to see how so-called “Christians” portray themselves and the issues that they choose to take up.  I feel the loss of this connection, this fellowship, very deeply and in ways I usually don’t let myself think about.  When I do think about it, I despair of ever finding a faith-filled community who share my focus and values.

So, these are the deeper reasons why I cover my hair now.  To show that I am myself…to be noticed as Me, but also as a way to both connect with my faith as well as set myself apart from what the church has become.


Sep 10

Love/Hate Relationship With My Hair

I’ve always had this sort of love/hate relationship with my hair.  At various times in my life I’ve hated it…for being fine, for being straight, for being some really nondescript shade of light brown, for how hard it is to curl, for going gray while I was still so young.

But at other times and in many other situations I absolutely loved my hair.  It is incredibly soft, which lent itself well to developing a long-lasting habit of playing with and twirling my hair.  It takes dye VERY well, so I’ve always been able to dye it at home, saving me a small fortune (since I had to start while I was still in my early twenties).  Overall, I’ve spent most of my life feeling very firmly that my hair was my best attribute…my crown…the one thing that I actually wanted people to notice and compliment me on.

And then I had kids.

I’m trying not to blame it on the kids (too much).  I’d already been a bit dissatisfied with my hair for several years.  I’d cut it short since it was looking very bedraggled when it was long.  It looked much better but was a lot of work to maintain, had to be “done” every day, and it just didn’t feel the same as when I’d had long hair.

Having the twins just sort of intensified all those problems as I no longer had the time or inclination to do my hair everyday…shoot, I don’t even have time to shower everyday, so doing my hair just isn’t happening.  This past summer, I spent more time with my hair thrown into a pony tail than I did with it down, which is a Big Deal for me–I’ve never liked how I look with my hair pulled back like that.

Shortly before going back to work, I sought out my stylist to try to get a workable style that would carry me through the school year.  While she did give me something lovely, after a few days I really just wasn’t feeling it.  I hoped it would grow on me but I found myself nearly crying over my appearance.

It was at nearly that exact moment that I was introduced to an online community of women who cover their hair for a very wide variety of reasons.  I discovered them through a costuming acquaintance, and something in my heart just clicked.  These women looked so beautiful and so confident…the very things I felt completely devoid of after a challenging summer with two two-year-olds.

After a brief conversation with K about it, I pulled out my meager stash of scarves and started experimenting, ordered a few items online to help me in this journey, and made the decision to jump into covering my hair full time, at least for this season in my life.


Sep 10

Goals and Changes

Years ago, when I first decided to start my own website, I was inspired by my costuming Heroes.  I wanted it to be something where I could share my process, what I learned as I went, and tips and tricks I came across in my sewing/costuming journey.

Over the years, my hobbies have expanded.  Originally, I tried to keep everything separate.  I worried that readers who were interested in costuming would not be interested in my modern sewing or my crochet and knitting projects, and that individuals who  might be interested in all of that might not be interested in my book reviews and my experiences in teaching.

I’ve slowly brought some of these things together as I’ve realized that I simply don’t have the time or the capacity to keep up with multiple blogs.  It also got a bit more complicated in those instances when hobbies sort of cross pollinated.

Lately, I’ve also stopped being quite so worried about readers knowing more about my personal life.  (Seriously though, I think there are maybe five or six of you reading my blog, so is this even really an issue?)  There has been a bit of chat in the costuming world lately about transparency and authenticity (my words, theirs were more like being a bit more open about one’s personal struggles in this hobby, but these are the words that are really resonating with me.)

In the midst of all this, I’m sort of going through my own sort of…identity crisis?…mid-life crisis?…spiritual crisis?…maybe all of the above.  It has me feeling like I should put my personal process out there for more than just myself.  Sure, maybe I’m still just talking to myself here, but sometimes it’s enough to just write it and send it out into the world.

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that this blog is not just going to be about costuming anymore.  Costuming and sewing will still be a part of it, because that is still a big part of my personal identity, but there will also be a lot more posts about other parts of my life as well…being a wife, a mother, and a teacher… being a Christian who finds myself incredibly heartbroken over the modern American church…being a woman who is trying to figure out who she is again after so much change.

Aug 14

When Given a Chance

IMG_1588I almost never made this dress.  While I absolutely love Decades of Style patterns, the “Given a Chance” dress didn’t really speak to me.  As a larger sized woman, I had that little inkling that the dress would not be flattering, no matter how adorable it was looking on everyone else.

I almost never bought this fabric.  While I love the design, especially as one of the more subtle “character” fabrics that Joann’s carried this summer, I just didn’t know what I would do with it.

But then, the two ideas gelled in my mind.  The pattern and the fabric were perfect for each other.

Of course, by the time I put two and two together, the fabric had been discontinued and I had to hunt down a store that still had at least three yards.  Thankfully, their website makes that easier now; though, as a side note, their count was off…the store I went to was supposed to have four yards left, but only had just barely three.

IMG_1586I decided to test out the pattern with leftover fabric from my blue challenge…it would be something I could actually wear, but if I ended up not liking it,it was no great loss.

I’m not going to lie…at first, I hated it.  I had one of those moments looking in the mirror where your clothes stop lying to you about what you really look like.  Since having the twins, I’ve put on quite a bit of weight, but I’m usually pretty good about masking that fact, at least to myself.  This dress just doesn’t do that for me.

Eventually, I decided to go ahead and take it along to Costume College with me.  I got a narrow belt for it, which improved the look greatly.  It ended up being one of those dresses that is just so easy to wear that I want to slip into it all the time.

One thing you may want to think about, though, if you are going to make this up, is fabric choice.  The yoke is lined, so you want to chose something fairly light.  For this version, the body fabric is rayon,which drapes beautifully and moves well, but it also shows every curve, which is what I didn’t like about the dress at first.  My second version is out of a quilter-type cotton, and while the drape isn’t as nice, I feel it does a better job of skimming the curves rather than hugging them.


Version 2.0

Version 2.0

I’m so glad I went ahead and made version two.  THIS was my vision.  I had been so worried about how fat I felt in the first version and was concerned that the heavier cotton would make me feel even worse, that I almost didn’t make it at all.  I’d even started looking for other patterns that I might be able to use for the fabric.

The finished dress, however, ended up being more flattering than the first.  Because the cotton hangs in straighter lines, it skims my curves rather than showing every single one.  (Also, I may have take just one tiny step toward accepting my body the way it is right now and simply wearing what makes me feel pretty, and wearing an exploding Tardis dress makes me feel pretty.)

Oh, and the yoke fabric on this one is left over from the back of the teddy bear quilts I made for the twins.  After making the quilts and two toddler pillow covers, I had about a 36″ by 12″ piece left, which was just enough for the yoke.

Aug 12

Post CoCo Sewing Spree

Strangely, after working all summer on this:

Photo by Diana Habra Rotheneder

Photo by Diana Habra Rotheneder














I came home from Costume College and still wanted to sew.  Usually, I’m so burnt out at this point that I can’t stand the thought of sewing.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ve jumped straight into my next big historical project.  I’ve actually had the bug to sew some vintage-y stuff that I can wear everyday for work.

Decades of Style has been my inspiration.  I picked up a couple of new-to-me patterns while at CoCo and just jumped into them when I got home.

First up is the Arches skirt.

Version 1.0

Version 1.0

I had a few fit issues with my first version.  According to my measurements, I needed to go with the largest size.  Silly me didn’t actually measure the pattern itself to see how much ease was built into the garment and ended up with the waist being a solid two inches too big.

I managed to do a couple of quick fixes, taking in the back darts and the side seams…it’s by no means perfect, but it is still super fun to wear.

A couple of notes about the pattern.  The directions say to baste those two side front panels all the way down the pleat.  Don’t do it.  All you need to baste is the folded down part that you will top stitch.  Also, don’t make my mistake of top stitching nearly on top of my basting  stitches…that makes it rather difficult to take the basting stitches out, and they really do need to come out.

For the second version, I cut one size smaller for everything but the waistband, which I went down two sizes for.  I ended up needing to do a teensy bit of coaxing in order to get the finished waist edge of the skirt to fit the waistband, but the fit is so much better this time around.

Version 2.0

Version 2.0

I also made sure to keep my top stitching very close to the folded edge of the fabric, which gave me a much cleaner look.

Finally, for the second version, I shortened the skirt by nine inches.  The original length is tea-length on me (I’m only 5’3″).  My short version hits a little below the knee.  (I probably could have gone another inch shorter and still been below the knee, but I was very nervous about making it too short to wear for work.)









The second pattern I’ve been using is the “PB & J” skirt.

IMG_1183 The fit of this one also gave me some problems, again because the waist was simply too large.  (My measurements match the measurements on the pattern envelope, but there are about two inches of ease figured in.  I cannot have ease at the waistband of my skirts and trousers…they will not stay up that way.  I actually tend to need negative ease on waistbands because I squish.)

Again, I ended up doing some quick fixes that aren’t perfect, but will make do.

And the fabric is so gorgeous!

Because the drape of the fabric is so soft, it doesn’t end up looking much like and 1950’s skirt, but it is still going to be lovely to wear to work this year, especially once the weather starts to cool a bit.

I do think that I’ll end up taking the buttons off, as I pretty much always wear my shirts untucked.

I’m thinking of making a second version with the same modifications I made for the Arches skirt…smaller overall size, taking in the waist a bit more and shortening the skirt .

I’m really incredibly happy with both of these skirts.  They are beautiful and, compared to the sorts of projects I’m usually working on, incredibly quick to put together.  (Version two of the Arches skirt went together in about two and a half hours…from cutting out the fabric to sewing on the hook and eye.)

I’ve also made a second version of the “Given a Chance” dress, but I’ll save that for another post.  I still need to get decent pictures of both versions of the dress.

Aug 09

Historical Sew Monthly: Out of Your Comfort Zone


What the item is (and why it was out of your comfort zone): 1879 Overskirt from Harper’s Bazar

While I have scaled up patterns from a book before, the challenge in this particular project came from the rather minimal directions.  You would think a skirt pattern would be fairly straight forward, but the drapery of naturalform era proved to be rather complicated.  I ended up doing both a quarter scale and full scale mock up of the skirt before I finally figured out how it was supposed to be done.

The Challenge: Out of Your Comfort Zone

Fabric: Silk taffeta with a satin stripe

Pattern: Overskirt for Pompadour Foulard Dress from Harper’s Bazar, July 1879, reprinted in Fashions of the Gilded Age, by Frances Grimble.

Year: 1879

Notions: Cream colored embroidered net lace (nylon), ribbon to tie the skirt, hooks and thread eyes, black linen to face the hem.

How historically accurate is it?  I’d say it’s about 95% historically accurate.  I used synthetic lace, as that is what is available and within my budget, and there’s visible machine stitching on the ruched trim.

Hours to complete: I definitely lost count on this one.  At least 30.

First worn: August 1, 2015, at Costume College.

Total cost:  The fabric was from the stash (and technically came from a friend’s stash…I purchased it from her when she was de-stashing a few years ago).  I spent about $25 on the lace.


Now that this monster is finished, I figured I’d do a write up explaining how it all goes together, in case anyone else wants to use it (and save some time).  So here goes…

IMG_1189You MUST start with a base skirt.  The overskirt gets anchored to the underskirt in several places.  (Please forgive the glimpses of my very messy studio in the background.  I’m not a clean person and would pay good money for an organizational expert to come in and organize my sewing room.)

The overskirt pattern consists of three pieces.  The directions say to cut out two of each pattern piece.  Do NOT follow those directions.  Yes, you need two of the back, but the “right front” needs to be cut on the fold.  If you are following the pattern, you need only one “left front.”  I chose to make the left front and apron, and so I cut that one on the fold as well.  (I partly made this decision because the “right front” is not shaped correctly to make those graceful swags you see in the picture–it only produces a few unruly pleats toward the bottom.  If you are going to use only half of the “left front” you may want to choose a different pattern piece for the “right”, one shaped more like a trapezoid.)

First, finish the hems of each piece.  Trust me; it will be easier to finish the hems before you start all the pleating.  You might even want to add your trim at this point…that would have made my process much easier.

Now, baste all your side pleats in.  The back pieces are the most complicated…the top and curved part of the side of the piece are what get pleated to become the side seam.  You will also want to do the “tie-back” pleats across the back of the skirt.

The top edge of both front pieces simply get folded over.  You can technically fold them together and treat them as one, but I didn’t think of that until afterwards.  You’ll at least need to tack the “left front” to the “right front” and the center front.  I finished this top edge by topstitching.  It will not show afterwards.  (One note on this…your bodice will need to be fashionably long in order to cover the top edge of the underskirt.  You’ll see why in a minute.)

You can then finish the side seams and the back slit.  This is also the time to finish any other unfinished edges that you are concerned might fray.

Once you have pressed everything, you will want to tack and/or pin the pleats on the “left front” and the bustle in the back (*b gets tacked/pinned to *a on the pattern piece).  I chose to make a third pleat on the “left front” because with only two it wasn’t showing enough of the “right front”, but that might just be a result of making it up as an apron rather than the half apron/asymmetrical drape it was supposed to be.

Okay, now, putting this thing on.

First, I placed a hook on the center front of the overskirt and a corresponding thread eye on the underskirt to keep everything in place.

IMG_1191I then sewed ties to the side seam (which really ends up being in back).  This creates the correct drape over the hips.  This is also why your bodice needs to be long, particularly in the back.

While this placement works in theory, you’ll really have to play around with it.  I found that my bodice still wasn’t long enough and that the two front pieces were not wide enough at the bottom.  As the night progressed, it felt more and more like a hobble skirt, especially once I bustled up the train.

At this point, you have the entire back of the overskirt hanging down rather unattractively.  This is when you sew a hook to each side of the top of the slit and a corresponding thread eye just to each side of the underskirt center back.






























You end up with two unexpectedly graceful poofs on either side of the center back.  The pattern also calls for a scarf to be draped down the side back and the illustration shows a bow at the back waist.  I had very little fabric left from my underskirt and could not find any very wide ribbon to match my fabric, so I’ve left the sash off and settled for a bow at the center back pleating, which I love immensely.

Final thoughts:  I absolutely love the finished overskirt.  It’s exactly the look I was going for–an overskirt that had the right length and pizzaz to work well with my trained dinner gown.

However, the messiness of the front pleats bother the tiny little perfectionist inside me that I mostly successfully suppress.  The apron doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the “right front”, which never really drapes to my satisfaction.  The saving grace is that it’s underneath everything and really doesn’t show that much except for the trim.

Jun 01

The Dreaded “P” Word

Yep.  I’m gonna say it.  Polyester.

Even as a costuming hack, I don’t use polyester for entire garments anymore.  I will admit to having used it in the past.  This one time I found an absolutely stunning heavy poly satin that was from a designer’s remnants.  Eventually, it became this dress, which was really exquisite (especially once it was ironed).

For the most part, I’ve abandoned such practices.  I tend to stay away from synthetic fabrics because they tend to be rather obviously synthetic and rather warm to wear, which when I am wearing that many layers, I really try not to roast myself alive and provide myself with nice breathable fabrics.

HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that I never use synthetic fabrics.

I was at the fabric store recently to purchase some muslin.  It’s a common lament among costumers that the quality of readily available muslin has seriously deteriorated in the past decade or so.  I was one of those lamenters as I perused the shelves…I could either purchase something cheaply only to have it practically fall apart while trying to mock up a garment, or pay an arm and a leg for fabric that would ultimately be discarded.

I ended up stumbling upon a fabric that was wonderfully crisp and sturdy–a poly/cotton blend.  And you know what?

I bought it.

And I USED it!

Not just for that mock up I was working on.  It recently became the hem facing on the naturalform skirt I’m working on.  I’ve even pleated up a bunch of it to use as a balayeuse once I get all the trim attached to the skirt.

Want to know why?

Because I’m a hack!

Oh, and because it is the perfect weight and hand for the job.  It gives stability to the hem of a rather thin fabric, making the train behave properly.

And no one will see it.  And even if they do, who could tell.  No one is going to set fire to me in order to do a burn test.

Okay, okay.  You now know.  And I know.  And how can I sleep at night/live with myself/etc.?  Quite easily, actually.  You should try it.

May 29

There’s never enough fabric

I’ve started working on a gown for the Costume College gala.  For the most party, it’s going swimmingly, especially as concerns simply making the time to sew.

My toddler twins have magically, practically overnight, become much more independent when playing outside.  Since my sewing room is actually a detached studio behind the house, it’s perfect for keeping an eye on the little ones while I sew.

The current plan is to make a naturalform evening ensemble.  It’s an era I absolutely adore, has a good amount of wow-factor, and I’ve got a beautiful tiara that will top it off nicely.  I even have coordinating fabric in (what I thought was) plenty of yardage.

Please forgive the messy sewing room...that is its constant state.

Please forgive the messy sewing room…that is its constant state.

The underskirt, which is already coming along nicely, is out of a lightweight, burgundy silk taffeta.  My coordinating fabric for the bodice and overskirt is a burgundy and gold striped silk taffeta.

So, here’s the dilemma.  The fabric is actually too thin for me to use my ruffler foot on the sewing machine.  (When I get to a seam, the mechanism that pleats the fabric tears a hole rather than working over the thickness of the seam.  I’m sure it’s a tension issue that could probably be adjusted, but I’m also not liking the look of the pleats on the finished fabric.)

I then decided that I would simply pleat by hand as I sewed the ruffle to the skirt.  (Oh, and let’s pause a moment for a hack confession: I hemmed both edges of the ruffle with the rolled hem foot on my sewing machine, and I measured the placement of the pleats with my fingers.  Ha!)  The only problem with this is that it took up a lot more of my yardage than the ruffler foot would have.  I now have two beautifully full ruffles and only enough yardage left to do half a ruffle for the third row that I wanted to do.

I have a few ideas for where I’d like to go with the fabric I have left, but isn’t this always the case?  You think that you buy enough fabric…often all that’s left on a bolt…only to discover that your vision is far bigger than your stash.


May 29

Confessions of an Historical Sewing Hack

Once upon a time, I wanted to run with the Big Dogs.  You know, those costumers who spend months researching and constructing amazing gowns that are as close to historical reproductions as we can get.  I remember being so envious of a group of friends who spent a long weekend learning to drape and hand sew 18th century gowns.  I followed blogs religiously and created my own website in hopes that one day I’d be worthy.

And then I realized, that’s just not me.

I’m always sewing for a deadline.  I have an incredibly consuming day job (which I really love, by the way). Now I’ve added two kids to the mix.

That level of perfection just ain’t going to happen.

And I’m okay with that.

I have reconciled myself to the fact that I am a hack.  Now, I’ve gotten to be a very good hack…a much better hack than when I first started.  But I just really don’t care to be perfect anymore.

Because, with my life, I’ve got to sacrifice something in this glorious hobby–quantity, authenticity, or my vision.  One of the main reasons I do this whole thing is to dress up at events and feel pretty…feel transported to an idealized version of the past.  This is also my creative outlet, and I enjoy the process of developing a vision and then watching it come to life.  If one thing has got to go, it’s going to be authenticity, because that’s not where my heart is…it’s not what drives me.

So, this is an official disclaimer that the methods you see on this blog will not be perfectly historically accurate.  In fact, you will often seen short cuts and time saving measures being taken.  You will see materials choices that are “close” but not exact.

Or maybe this is just me giving myself permission to put all that out in public so that I can stop pretending that one day this will be a “professional-ish” blog and giving myself freedom to blog the mess that is my process.