Friday, 30 September 2011

Rebuilding the LBD

Having procrastinated long enough (this is becoming a habit!) I started dismantling the LBD last night; late last night so no chance of pics, not in our little, atmospherically lit cottage.

The first job was to sew the gathered tulle onto some bias tape, it is now ready to then be stitched onto the taffeta later.

Unpicking the bodice and trimming the boning went far easier than I expected.  I have left the black chiffon in as the lining is gold and I didn't want it to show.  It is instead covered by the chiffon which I handstitched in place.  The boyf was right, it looks lovely.

Following that success, I unpicked the skirt from the bodice, where it had been gathered into a rosette, and stitched it back so that it hangs straight and the hem is now all even.  I now have a completely blank canvas for the tulle skirt and new waistband/belt.  That's tonight's job, after a quick dinner in the pub :o)

Megs and I went walking

on a cold and misty morning,

and this is what we found.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Why blog? A wonky thyroid, that's why!

I read a wonderful post today, by Fran of Skulls and Ponies - a great blog, with a fantastic name!

Fran talks about the identity of a blogger, finding your feet and your voice in a largely anonymous world, then about her reasons for starting her blog and about the question that I guess plagues most bloggers, "how much do I share?"

My road to blogging echoes hers in many respects and it got me thinking that whilst I will always protect the privacy of the people who share my life but not my blogging, I have nothing to be ashamed of how I came to be here and perhaps I shouldn't feel the need to hide it.   I shy away from writing about it because I never want to sound self-pitying; I can't imagine anything worse for anyone to read (myself included) than lots of self-pitying prose! But in reading Fran's wonderfully direct and honest posts, I found comfort and strength in seeing that someone else had "made good".  Perhaps I could use my experience to help someone else?  ..."Don't be so presumptuous darling!" I instantly say to myself!

That said... here goes.

A very dear friend asked posted this on Facebook the other day:

It's hard to explain to someone who has no clue. It's a daily struggle being in pain or feeling sick on the inside while you look fine on the outside. Please put this as your status for at least 1 hour if you or someone you know has an invisible illness (PTSD, Anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, Diabetes, LUPUS, Fibromyalgia, MS, ME, Arthritis, Cancer, Heart Disease, Epilepsy, Autism,M.D. etc.) " Never judge what you don't understand."

It means something to her to spread the message, and it means something to me to do so too.  To that list I could add my own personal favourite (for favourite, read nemesis) Hypothyroidism; then we can add his good friends Anxiety and Depression, just to name two!

Two years ago (there or thereabouts) it felt as if I was imploding.  Having been terrified of needles my whole life, my deepest fear was having an illness that involved blood tests. Suddenly I had this "life long condition", 4-6 weekly blood tests were the norm and at 35 years old I couldn't scream, cry and fuss as I had as a kid!  The initial thrill of having an explanation for how I had been feeling faded fast as the drugs worked for a couple of weeks and then had to be revised again.  The symptoms, for me, were all invasive, nothing seemed immune, and being rather stubborn I spent far too long fighting my body instead of listening to it.  This, combined with some external situations that arose, gradually led me into a spiral of anxiety, anger and depression.  I fought myself, thinking it was the way out and ended up fighting the people I loved in the process.

Luckily I have good people.  Very good people who kept the faith and have helped me through.  I chose therapy over medication and so getting to a healthy happy place again required a lot of thinking and it was as I was doing this that I returned to my love of stitching.  I should explain.  Some people with HT find that it greatly affects their mental function, I did.  At 36 I was unable to name the most simple, common objects (cutlery for example) without have to play word association or just wait till it came.  I would be halfway through a sentence and have no idea of what I was saying.  Simple maths and problem solving was sometimes impossible - hard for a lover of crosswords and Sudoku. Always a person with an "energetic mind" (thanks Fran), I found myself constantly overthinking.  Not about the sensible things (like what is that thing that cuts your food called) but instead I would get caught up in an endless anxious monologue.  Finding a space in all of this where I could think my way back to a healthier outlook was very hard until one day I saw some dolls I'd made for the 10yr old and remembered how I loved the thought process involved in making one.  I found something random to sew and gradually found that the thinking, if it didn't quite stop, did certainly calm again.  Sewing, for me, is a meditation.

As I found a calm focus, I found my real voice again.  I started a diary but it could become too introvert and I wanted a format which couldn't allow so easily for that.  Plus I was now making sure I did something creative at least once a day; it became an important lifeline for me and gave me such confidence.  I generally like to make things for other people and so a space in which I could document what I was making also became important.  A blog seemed a perfect outlet: a digital scrapbook/diary which could become a keepsake for the things I had made and a chance to talk, if only for and to myself.

I still can't always remember what that damned prong thing is called! but I am in a far better place and have a wealth of lovely things around me that I am proud of.  Including my little blog where opening up enough to share a "make, do or thought" has been, is, a good and important step.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The LBD, a 50's restyle

 Before I do too much permanent damage to the LBD (!) I decided last night to pin an idea together and get the only opinions that really count, the boyfs and the 10yr olds  ;o)

After dinner, pesto pasta – an obsession of mine, the boyf and the 10yr old helped me fold my several yards of tulle onto thirds, which I quickly pinned together… as the 10yr olds arms were threatening to “fall off!”

I hand gathered the full length of the tulle (I’ve tried machine gathering in the past with mixed results as it can sometimes catch and tear) and loosely pinned it in place at the waist of the dress.  It was immediately apparent that waist height was too low, so I moved it up to a low empire-line.

After a great deal of fussing with a piece of leftover taffeta; I decided, for now, on a simple, wide waistband.  It could look good with a cummerbund front; or, if I can find a pattern, I may look at the curved 50s style waistbands.

Left to hang straight, the tulle didn’t look right (the boyf was right on this one!) so I pinned it in rosettes at various points along the dress hem.  I will have to rework the original skirt; it’s handstitched onto the bust to create shape and an uneven hem; this will all have to be unpicked and the hem shortened.

Boyf also thinks that the bustline should be simpler, and my pinning of the existing chiffon is not simple enough!  This could be tricky to sort in the timeframe though; I am going to have to do a lot of very careful unpicking, remove some more boning (without compromising the rest of the bust) and I have a sneaking suspicion that I may regret it all!  Investigating further is tonight’s job…

One half up, one half down... I think the boyfs right, but it's going to be tricky.

As it is, once it was on with a very cute pair of bow-front satin heels, it looked like a definite possibility.  Far more so than the prospect of spending my lunch hours and most of next Saturday trawling dress shops and feeling grumpy!  As it is, I have till Friday night, and then I can still trawl on Saturday if needs be.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The emergency LBD

This should have been the post I wrote last night, if I hadn't been for the equally beautiful and horrifying Water For Elephants.  I am now officially in love with an elephant called Rosie and 1930s evening gowns.

* * * * *

That aside, upon the doorstep have recently landed more invites to Black Tie dinners than we would normally receive in a couple of years and after much debate and procrastination, we have accepted the kind invitations.  So yesterday, a quick Google and 30 minutes shopping later, the boyf emerged from a changing room looking impossibly dapper and happily parted with some cash.  I on the other hand am slightly panicked.  I have not, in the past, done well in store bought dresses; hence my love of vintage, which fits me so much better.  But I do not have the time at the moment to find something and wait for it to be posted from the States; so I pulled out of the cupboard my emergency LBD.

I made this dress a couple of years ago, it was made in an emergency dress for a Black Tie birthday party.  Lined and boned, it was the first dress I'd made in a good few years and it was the catalyst for the projects that I've done since.  Sadly, at the time I didn't know enough about boning to realise that plastic boning is just no good, or that long lengths of boning really need to be spiral boning.  The boning bent outwards when I sat down - luckily it was a stand up and sip champagne party - and the dress went back in the cupboard when I got home.

If I could remove the boning, it may be possible to rework the dress.  Luckily, the boning was zigzag stitched onto the lining: a quick-unpick loosened them and they could be pulled through a small opening at the bottom of the lining and trimmed.  

The other problem now is that the dress is now also a little too large for me and bunches badly at the waist.  It is a pretty safe design but the original plan for the dress included a tulle skirt; when I made it I ran out time and skill!  I still have the tulle so am thinking that perhaps I could keep the bodice and revisit the original plans for the skirt. 

I would also like to rework the bustline; I wasn't as confident a couple of years ago and as soon as I'd made a dress that was strapless and didn't cover my shoulders, I promptly covered everything up again with lots of chiffon and a cardigan!  This picture was taken once the boning had been trimmed, I kept the boning in the bust; it's definitely the best part of the dress.  I'm thinking I will tuck and sew in the chiffon; create a shelf-bodice style waist band and add a tulle overskirt.  Inspiration looks something like this:

I don't have much time for this.  I've just started resizing the pattern pieces for my Victorian Jacket so that I can start on the lining and get the boning ordered; I have the 10yr old's costume to start; Dolly sitting naked and looking at me! and I have Christmas projects to start thinking on...  I will have to find a safe spot for the Victorian Costume, stick this dress on Miss G and get something sorted quickly... the first party is next week!

Green Tomato Chutney and Plum & Pear Jam

It's been a busy couple of days, I have some catching up to do.

However, before all that, this afternoon has been a very satisfying cookfest and as I'm particularly pleased with myself and the results here are the recipes!  

Pear and Plum Jam. 

I had a rare craving for both last week, which didn't last as long as they did!  So, after a quick Google to confirm that a) I wasn't mad and b) it would be possible, I came up with this.

Pears (peeled, cored and finely diced) and plums (destoned and cut into quarters) approx 800gms 
500gms jam sugar
1 knob vegan margarine
1/4 cup water

Everything went into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and was brought to boil for a 5 minutes.  Once cooked, I poured the mixture into a fine sieve sat in a bowl and pushed the majority of the pears and plums through (using a metal spoon) and the remainder was a smooth pulp.  Everything went back into the saucepan, pulp included, and brought back to boil for a couple of minutes, making sure the pulp was well stirred in and evenly distributed.  This was then poured into sterilised jars and sealed immediately.

* * * * * * *

Green Tomato Chutney.  

I started making chutneys and jams a couple of years ago when I began growing my own vegetables and it was my first summer when the tomatoes just would not ripen that I discovered Green Tomato Chutney.  I've made a few different recipes in the past, so off the back of a successful stab at my own jam (not exactly hard though I know!) I decided to get a little creative with my chutney.

Approx 600gms red and green tomatoes (my ratio was 20/80), quartered or halved dependent on size
Approx 250gms shallots, finely chopped
Approx 75gms dried cranberries (I am obsessed with cranberries at the moment, any excuse to use them will do!)
2 small green chillis, sliced
300gms suger (today I mixed 200gms golden granulated with 50gms dark brown)
300mls vinegar (could be white/red wine or cider but today all I had in the cupboard was 100ml red wine, 50ml rice and 150ml raspberry!)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 good pinch dried red chilli
A pinch of salt and a good pinch of ground pepper (I like to be generous with my pepper)

Everything, but the red tomatoes, went into a heavy bottomed saucepan.  I brought it to the boil and then simmered for 25 minutes.  I added the red tomatoes and kept it on the heat, stirring occasionally (I probably stir more than you should but I like to watch it turn!) until it was thick and dark and you could draw the wooden spoon down the middle of the pan and see the bottom (the lovely named "parting the waves" technique).  It was ladled into sterilised jars and sealed immediately.  Luckily there was a bit leftover... its good, spiced with a little kick (but not too much) and slightly wintery/Christmasy with the cranberries and hints of raspberry.

Oh, and then the rest of the peppers (there was a mix up, they should have been sweet reds, but I think they're jalepeno!) were pickled with peppercorns in boiled white wine vinegar.

A good afternoon's work... one I can appreciate in 6-8 weeks time!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Nina sings

Isn't it wonderful that we possess minds so powerful that we can wake up to the sound of another person's voice?

Today I woke to Nina Simone singing "it's a new dawn, it's a new day..."  So prophetic and yes, after that, I'm feeling good :o)

Sunday, 18 September 2011

It's time to give Dolly a face

Its been a busy day, but in the middle of it all, I sat down for half an hour and Dolly "grew" a face.

I was inspired by the picture below (from fingtoys on Flickr), which I came across by accident.  

She looks a little like Princess Leia! But she is beautiful and I love the knitted jumper.  Most importantly, she has the prim/Gothic/simple/black stitched face that I have been thinking about for Dolly.  I particularly love her fabric cheeks, I had not thought of cheeks...

So I quickly Googled needle sculpting techniques and, with the foolishness of one who knows no better!, stitched a nose.  The 10 yr old has been telling me that I should give Dolly Coraline-style button eyes, but I find them a little uncomfortable to look at, so I compromised with a pair of round jet beads, which I sewed on with four stitches (N, S, E & W).  It's a pretty detail, gives the eyes more shape - pulling the needle through with pliers, when it got seriously stuck, was less amusing!

Finally, I free-styled an embroidered mouth.  It's set slightly to the side, almost as if she is smiling to herself -  it's feels appropriate.


We finished the day with dinner with the B's.  Once the boys had gone to the pub for a game, or three, of pool, the lovely Mrs B kindly agreed to help me fit my jacket for the Victorian Costume.  Once I was all kitted up, and Mrs B had stopped laughing at my bloomers and inability to move, she spent an age adjusting and pinning and adjusting again.  She is a good friend is Mrs B and she can fit clothes beautifully!  
Thank you Mrs B x

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Emergency Surgery

has been performed on Legs thanks to some serious lovin from Megs!

What I loved was the head on lap, pitiful look on her face as she did her best to patiently wait for his antler, ear, leg, arm and tail to be sewn back on...

Best dobe face!  Look at all the stuffing everywhere...

Poor Legs, he's a little hollow now, but hanging on in there.  Literally!

Meet Dilly

There truly is no rest for the wicked in my house!  
It's Saturday morning and I had booked my lie-in as the 10 yr old is at her father's and the dobe will sleep for hours, as long as she has a spot on the bed.  What I hadn't accounted for was Dolly, endless thoughts of whom kept me wide awake... and eventually pushed me out of bed.

It seems she wants a face, and we will be going Victorian Gothic black for her dress... with very narrow sleeves and miniature pearl buttons.

But first, meet Dilly, my first Kate Erbach doll.

She is, by far, my most favourite doll pattern.  I have made her twice, once at the suggested size (8" tall) for my mother and here at 2.5x for me.  She is long and narrow, her face is just over an 1.5" wide and her hands 0.5", but she was a dream to put together.

Like Dolly, her body is canvas.  Her hair is Ecru embroidery cotton mixed with a very fine mohair handmade wool.  Decorated with handmade silk roses, ribbons and sequins.  Her dress, in faded Sanderson rose curtains!, was nothing more than two squares sewn together and gathered at the top, with folds and pleats sewn in and beading detail.  Her bloomers and sleeves are in white muslin and the sleeves were handsewn onto the arms, to make them as close-fitting as possible (a detail I will use for Dolly).  The bodice of her dress was based on a historical (Regency) outfit I saw, with a hint of Obi belt at the back; made with a selection of ribbons and handstitched into place.

I adore her, she spends her days sat with Old Man Chan, an antique Indonesian marionette, but today I'm going to tear her away and use her as inspiration for Dolly. 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

I've been a bad blogger...

so much has happened this past week, and I've found no time to write about it.  And it's been a heck of a week as well!

But, nearly at the end of it all, I have a rare night with the house to myself and finally had the time to focus on the important stuff - Dolly's hair!

Using a couple of pictures as reference points, I have sewn the strands of wool onto her head, twisting sections into roses and knots to give it texture and shape.  I love the process of shaping the hair and the final effect is transformative.  

This is the first stage, I will possibly add some more "hair", and then decorate it further.  
I usually like to flowers and ribbons but, in honour of her Gothic beginnings, I have decided to take a darker tack with Dolly.

Meanwhile, she sits (rather jauntily, I think) on the kitchen chimney.  It seems that Dolly met Megs earlier, so  a little distance is required.  It proves, however, that canvas bodies are definitely best; whilst her hair needed some cleaning and tidying, all the you could see on her body and face were a few toothy dents; no tears or damage at all.  Doberman 0 - Dolly 1!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

10 years on

I remember standing in the garden, holding my new baby girl, and listening to horror unfold on the radio.  I wondered then what world I had brought a child into.

10 years on, I am grateful that this year I was finally able to stand, in what is now a place of renewal and hope, and personally pay my respects to the souls lost that day.  Since that day, I have actively lived my Buddhist faith and discovered a real sense of purpose in doing what I can to make this world a better place for my daughter. No longer could I leave it to other people; it was time to do my part - and teach my daughter well.

It took just a few men, a very few minutes to create horror; it teaches us just how much we could do, for the good, if each of us chose to live the rest of our time with good intention, compassion and ethical responsibility.

As such, it was fitting that today was the day of the annual motorbike charity ride in aid of our local Air Ambulance service.  It is one of my favourite days of the year, but this year had a special poignancy and it was good to know that we were helping to save lives today.

My prayer today is for lost souls and continued compassion; may we all live actively with compassion.

An 1880 Mock Up

The Dinner Jacket instructions recommend a mock up; so a mock up I have made.  It's a quick and dirty piece of sewing so no photos of the process!  I am glad that I've made it though, as there is a fair amount of adjusting to do, particularly to the back panels.  At the moment it sits on Miss G, but she's just a little larger than me, so I will have to get dressed up at some point this week and trust the boyf and a pot of pins not to leave me too damaged!

At the moment the arms are just pinned in as the panels that I need to adjust on the back will change the arm hole size.  I also think the arms will need narrowing and that the shoulders will also need to be shortened.

The back edge of the dark green side panels is where the adjustments need to be made, you can see the bagginess along the edge.  I do love the sweep of the tail panel as it comes down the back of the skirt.

Below the waistline fits perfectly, on Miss G at least, and the length of the tails is good.
The mock up really is a mess! but I was not expecting it to be much more than a quick proof that the jacket would fit, especially as we'd taken the measurements carefully and multiple times.  I'm surprised by the amount of adjusting that it seems to need but now glad, in equal measure, that I have the chance to get it fitting perfectly.  I've never worked on something that needs this level of tweaking before; it's going to be interesting.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Poor Dolly...

It seems that whatever I try to do, she is destined to go through a few more hard times before things get better!  I put her head on just before my holidays... sighed deeply and decided some serious holiday-time thinking was in order!
She looks, to put it politely, like a pumpkin-headed scarecrow...

Back from holidays and it was obvious that hair was needed.  I found a wool called Big Softie, which has a lovely textured and is vari-width.  It looked like it could really work to provide body as well as texture, and body will be important in a head this size!

I am sewing a centre parting, directly onto dolly's head.  I decided to build the hair by laying long loops across the head, varying the lengths as I did so.

So far, it's not pretty!

Poor Dolly... it's an improvement (dare I say it)
but there is still inspiration to find, and work to be done.
The good news is, the 10 yr old approves!

Sunday, 4 September 2011


When did you last sit still?  Just sit, unmoving, breathing, acknowledging the moment?

For me, it was at about 8.35 this morning... trussed up like a Victorian turkey and realising, somewhat belatedly perhaps, that even sitting in full late 1800s garb takes some getting used to.

Victorian dressing goes something like this: chemise; corset; boyf tightens corset, remember to breathe, stand for a few minutes to get used to breathing; bend over, remember that you can't bend over, bend at the knees, as low as you have to, to get whatever you want, however you can; breathe; bend over again in an attempt to get your petticoat on, remember you can't bend over and swear, put your petticoat on over your head; put your skirt on over your head, wriggling required; put your overskirt on, ridiculously pleased that is doesn't have to go over your head; admire your outfit, remember to breathe; understand the necessity of having someone to help dress you; move; breathe; sit; realise that sitting is surprisingly difficult and breathing is suddenly a challenge again; sit; breathe; sit; breathe; contemplate the comfort of being held up and in; breathe; enjoy the stillness; breathe; idly ponder Victorian women and their love for crafty hobbies that could be done sitting down, clever ladies; wonder what the heck this is going to feel like with another layer of boning on...and really, breathe...

Once sat, and breathing, it was a surprisingly comfortable experience; rather like a straight-jacket with your arms free!  After about half an hour I was relaxed and almost meditative, focused on my breathing and still; it was almost a disappointment to change into jeans and go slouch on the sofa :o)

The 1880 Dinner Bodice

So here it is, Truly Victorian pattern TV422: the 1880 Dinner Bodice, a truly nerve-wracking piece of clothing to both make and wear!

I have read the instructions, and re-read the instructions (a number of times...) and come to two conclusions:

a) this makes the corset look like a doddle, and
b) I need to man-up-woman (the 10 yr olds favourite new saying) and just get sewing.

So, I got measured this morning, spent a happy half hour with my calculator working out my "adjusted measurements" and selecting the pattern sizes accordingly (mostly a D, one C), lengthened where appropriate - confused yet? I was! - and eventually was able to trace and cut out my pattern pieces.

13 pieces for one jacket, to be cut out in the metallic poplin, a twill interlining and an inner lining; and lets not forget the 10 pieces of boning! ...yes, that's a medicinal glass of red wine you can see ;o)

Now all I have to do is adjustment the pattern: this piece will require an initial toile (muslin) in order to make sure it fits perfectly.  I'm going to raid the scrap bin, a patchwork toile maybe?

Finishing touches

I decided this week that it's time to start on the jacket for the Victorian costume.  First of all, I needed to take my measurements whilst wearing the rest of Victorian costume.  It's amazing the difference it all makes, I am at least 3" wider once the chemise, corset, petticoat, skirt and overskirt are on despite the corset initially reducing my measurements! 

It was also an opportunity to put closures on both skirts; including the pretty vintage button that the 10 yr old found in the garden during her recent excavations.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Well it's not cute or quirky

or look much like most other craft blogs... but it's more like me.  

Friday, 2 September 2011

Another tidy up

Maybe it's Blogger's new, beautifully clean, layout.  Maybe it's my wonderfully relaxed, post-holiday, brain.  Maybe it's just that time of year again.

Whatever it is, I have another new layout!  It's based on the very talented Yummy Lolly's Pin Up Girl template.  But, as beautiful as she is, I wanted to update my cow parsley (as you do!), so I've had a bit of a play.    Not 100% just yet, but getting there...
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