Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The wonky wonk

wonk: a person who studies a subject thoroughly, a nerd
wonky: awry, wrong, not working, unsteady
That wonderful word “wonk” entered our vocabulary a couple of weeks ago, thanks to Covert Affairs (ok, a guilty pleasure!) and Google.  The boyf and I looked at each other and yep, that’s me… I’m in very good company though, I've always liked Bill Clinton!

Our newfound knowledge was perfectly timed as I have since had plenty of opportunity, this past couple of weeks, to indulge my inner wonk whilst I wait for a particularly annoying bout of the wonky-Ts to pass.  This time, for whatever reason, on top of all the usual thyroid nonsense, I have ached as though with flu, all day, every day and particularly in my arms, wrists and hands.  I haven’t been able to hold a pen to write comfortably, or type, and the farthingale with its 2.6yds of cotton drill has been way too heavy to handle.  It sits patiently on the back of a chair till I can work with it again.

But, every cloud and all that, I have not, therefore, been distracted from prepping for my first appointment with an endocrinologist (fingers and toes crossed) and have become the thyroid wonk with the wonky thyroid – catchy don’t you think? ;o)

Good news is I’m getting better again.  I still ache, but not enough to put me off doing stuff and I have decided that I will handstitch the seams of the farthingale.  Although hard on the hands, I won’t have to hold the fabric as high or as firmly as I would if sewing on the machine; and I can take my time, curled up on the sofa in front of the fire.  It will also be a chance to work a flat-felled seam again; one of my favourite seam finishes and authentic to the period.  It's nice to be back, I've missed doing.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Trust in yourself

I'm fairly certain someone, somewhere (and I'm paraphrasing badly here) said that children are our greatest teachers.  Tonight the 10yr old had a "balanced argument" assignment for her homework and, after a long discussion, she should have sat down and written happily away.  Instead, over 90 minutes later, she had a couple of paragraphs of pretty averageness and I had a headache.  There was a total disconnect between what she knew and what she was able to say.  

Though she did find time to write a poem that included a line about roses opening like tulips in a summer's breeze.  Truth be told, she probably had her priorities right!

Then, as she's getting ready for bed, she just blows me away.  In a 20 minute speech, even if it was peppered with "like" every other word at times, she told me about her friends at school who don't know yet that being cool is fake and not as cool as being themselves.  That the girl who is turning herself into a shadow of the most popular girl is making herself less likeable for it and that the younger boy who is being bullied needs to learn to have courage in himself instead of trying to emulate the bullies and thus drawing more fire.  She finds herself doing the same thing sometimes and doesn't like herself for it, but said that sometimes its just easier to conform than it is to stand up for someone or stand out from the crowd. 

Her conclusion?  That it's hard to be yourself sometimes, but you are more honest and will feel better for it, and for the people that don't yet know that?  They, and I quote, "need to learn to trust themselves".     

My 10yr old may not ace her SATS in May (though she will now be getting some extra tutoring) but she's got LIFE just sorted.  I wish I could say I'd had a hand in this, she's worked it all out for herself, but I am one proud Mama!

Monday, 23 January 2012

An Elizabethan Farthingale, part one

The boyf went this weekend, on very short notice, to Fort Collins, Colorado; leaving the dobe and I alone for a whole day and a half, until the 10yr old returned and we all went back to school/work.  It seemed the perfect time to start on the farthingale. 

I wanted to make a farthingale based on Juan Alcega's pattern (below) as I knew, as soon as I learnt that it was from 1589, that I couldn't turn down the chance to work with a pattern so old!

There is a great deal of study of the Alcega pattern available, from Janet Arnold's interpretation to more modern ones, including research of the instructions/measurements and their modern equivalent.  However, having now read the TT, and in looking closer at the pattern draft, I went with Drea Leed's instructions as they seemed to based on the most sensible interrpretation of Alcega's drafting.  Tudor tailors created and cut patterns which minimised wastage as best they could.  Alcega's pattern, whilst creating a design that uses bias to strengthen the garment, has very little wastage when made following Drea's instructions.  In my case, approximately a foot square from 2.6yds of 60" fabric. 

Photos of the cutting and construction, to date, seemed a little pointless as you would see nothing more than me wrestling with a huge amount of black cotton drill!  There is no pattern as you mark and cut the fabric directly.  What is of note is that I went with 60" wide fabric as Drea comments that the amount suggested by Alcega is more suited to a much shorter woman and, to maintain the desired shape, I would require more width in the pieces.  Once there is shape to pieces I may talk more about the detail, but for the moment I am faced with huge black panels that will not photograph well!  The great shame is that I do not have enough of the cream cotton twill left for bone casings, which sit on the outside of the farthingale and are often decorative, but I think I will either make then in drill to minimise their appearance altogether, or play, as the Tudor's loved to do, with tonal blacks and use a satin or gosgrain ribbon.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Elizabethan Bumroll, done!

"Horn of Plenty", "Oh my goodnplenty!" (my favourite all time dyac iphone fail!) and scenes from True Blood (season two) have been scattering through my brain this week as I made the Elizabethan bumroll, you'll see why....

I decided to line the cream cotton twill with the black cotton drill.  I sandwiched all four layers together, putting the ribbon ties in between the two cream layers and pinned everything together.

I used my favourite cheat and sewed around the pattern, rather than tracing it.

Once sewn, I trimmed the excess fabric away, clipped the inside and outside curves, turned it inside out and curled up on the sofa with the leftover fabric to start the stuffing.  I intended to only use the leftovers and then buy foam wadding, but the fabric stuffing went so well that I decided to continue with it.  I should have taken photos but it was a very cold night and the fire was going strong, I decided to be lazy and remain warm!  Mid-way through the stuffing and I had what looked more like Viking horns than anything you would want to wear round your waist and hips, and my bumroll has quickly become the source of much hilarity... 

The stuffing takes some patience, and muscle, but once stuffed and with the seam sewn closed, it looks good.  Miss G is now back in work mode and models it well I think!  The corset is only loosely laced on (the laces now follow a more correct pattern) and I'm not sure it's sitting correctly in the photos but it fits my hips like a glove.  I can see, now it's complete, why the original pattern was larger, it seems smaller than it looked on paper, but I still think that the smaller size will suit me better.  I also weighed the bumroll and it's well over 2 lbs, the corset is another 1lb+ - at this rate I will need to take up weight training!  

I couldn't resist a few close up pictures too, an attempt to give you an idea of the size of it in relation to my waist. 

I'm itching to get started on the farthingale now, the final step in creating the structure under the final outfit.  The final piece of the underpinnings is the chemise, but I will need a pattern specifically tailored to match the kirtle and gown sleeves; that I can't do myself from instructions online as I think that I am pretty much decided on buying the Margo Anderson pattern and then adapting it if needed.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

An Elizabethan Bumroll, drafting the pattern

After a busy day and going to see War Horse (a truly brilliant piece of film-making, alternating masterfully between the horrific, the beautiful, the inspiring and great love; and yes, I cried pretty much throughout!) I needed something quiet and relaxing to do.  I decided to draw up the pattern for my bumroll. 

Once again, using the instructions on elizabethancostume.net I slipped back into my corset and took a measurement a couple of inches below my hip.  I followed an interesting tip of using a length of rolled up tin foil, which allowed me to both measure and retain a shape. To keep her from the TV, I enlisted the help of the 10yr old, she took the photos and learnt a little about pattern making for half an hour or so.

We laid the tin foil on a length of greaseproof paper, the 10yr old held it flat and I traced the internal circumference.  I then evened out our rather wonky line by hand.

The instructions suggested adding 5" to each side edge and 8" to the top edge to create the outer edge of the bumroll.  The author of the pattern is 5'11" and "busty"; now whilst I can't claim any bustiness, I am almost equal in height so I started with her suggested measurements.  It was immediately obvious that "busty" counts, after a little discussion the 10yr old and I went for a redraw by eye.

We reduced the outer circumference and then drew a centre parting; the width of the front edges is not stated, we chose to use the width of the ribbon which will be used to tie the bumroll on.

As my drawing wasn't going to be entirely exact both sides, I folded the pattern in half, picked the narrower of the two sides and cut out a now perfectly matched pattern.  The top is extended by 5" and the sides by 3.5".

It still looks rather big so I did a little googling; always a great Google search, "Bumroll", Images!  Most bumrolls look a little thin and insubstantial, not what I imagine them to be at all, certainly not when you look at the historical data.  The TT also has a relatively thin one in their patterns.  I may yet find that this needs amending, I won't know until its at least in fabric form, but I am aiming high... or is it large... with a bumroll that shouts "I'm here" rather than one that disappears under the dress.  Apart from anything else, I am looking at quite heavy fabrics for my main dress, I need a bumroll that can withstand the weight.

The bumroll will be made in the same cream cotton twill, I may line it in the black cotton drill as it is flexible.  It will be tied with black gosgrain ribbon.  I am undecided as to whether to stuff it with fabric (free as I'll raid the stash but harder to do and achieve a good shape, heavier) or polyester batting (better for the shape and firm but light).  I just wish I'd had time to sew it up tonight!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Elizabethan Corset, done

I have an Elizabethan "pair of bodies"; well, a modern interpretation of them, but if I'm looking for flat-fronted, angled torso, these will certainly do the trick!  I had done some more reading (Sarah Lorraine's article is particularly inspiring) and hand bound eyelets would have been historically accurate, but I loved the idea of  using the metal eyelets that I had originally bought; in the end, the look of the corset won over accuracy. As I've mentioned before, I have been thinking a great deal about the idea of accuracy in relation to making this costume.  Just the span of time between then and now makes it complicated: it is a juggling act between what is accurate vs what is achievable, and, ultimately, what I want to make for myself.  As the corset is already inaccurate in terms of it's constituent parts, no plastic covered stainless steel bones in the 1500s, I decided that I would extend it to the eyelets too.  I started off by marking their positions, starting an inch down from the top edge and placing them 1.5 inches apart.  

From then on, the boyf took over and I took photos, as many as I was allowed at least! He had brought home a hole-punch from work and proceeded to do his thing... holes punched;


and eyelets hammered in.  On our chopping board on the dining room floor; the only surface in the house strong enough to take some sustained thumping without ending up dented or damaged!

A proper toolkit, so different to my usual stuff.  I used Prym's new Antique Steel finished eyelets.

And there they are, a row of finished eyelets.  I also decided to place two eyelets at the front of the corset, at the edge of the central front curve and sitting, happily under the bone that runs at the edge of the front panel of the corset.  They will be used to  secure the farthingale to the corset.

The lacings that I bought are not what I thought I'd bought; more like extremely long shoe laces than the lovely corded ones I used on the Victorian Corset.  I will change them in time, but these are useful enough as test laces.  Elizabethan corsets are not laced in X forms, rather in spiral forms as this excellent article at Festive Attyre explains.  For the purposes of this first test try I did a quick X lacing, easier for me to put on myself, but when I change the laces I will use a different pattern.  The boyf tightened them for me a bit, though they could go another inch narrower, and I spent a happy half hour taking photographs and admiring my new corset/pyjamas outfit!

I love the gentle curve of the tabs over my hips.
A detail of the farthingale eyelet at the front.
It is far tighter than the Victorian corset, I am a size 8 and was spilling out in all sorts of places: those extraordinary Elizabethan busts, I think I may actually be able to achieve one!  The corset is also a great deal more comfortable too, I walked round happily for nearly an hour, with no problems breathing and could sit comfortably.  It was an entirely different experience to when I first put on the Victorian one. This is entirely down to the shape, it is not as long as the Victorian corset and the tabbed hips allow for greater ease of movement.  I am going to compare the widths of the two corsets, because I think that this one is narrower, it certainly felt tighter when the boyf was pulling it in, but again, because it is not as long, the areas being reduced width-wise are more malleable and adjust more easily.  Overall I am delighted with my first Elizabethan piece.  I am itching to get on with the bum roll and farthingale.  

Happy Birthday L & H

My good friend L has her birthday just after New Years, and her 11 yr old's just after that. On NYE we discovered, a previously unknown love of L's for champagne.  A discovery made in the worst possible way, a full glass in her hand as midnight struck and not being able to drink it as she had to drive home!!  This had to be rectified.  I decided on a joint, belated, b'day dinner with the lovely Mr & (soon to be) Mrs S too.  The boyf gallantly volunteered his chauffeuring services to pick L & H up, and the lovely S's to take them home.  L's present this year.... a lot of champagne and the ability to drink it!

As L & H have not really had to sample our new eating regime I decided on "Burger Tapas" for dinner.  A selection of veggie burgers, buns, grated cheese, lettuce and chips as the main focus of the meal with various vegan sides to spice it up for those that wanted to try (all from the bible of Hugh!): carrot hummus, spicy lemon and lime guacamole, refried beans made with the leftover Pinto Bean Chilli that I made the other week, and the glorious giant couscous salad.  Oh, and champagne!

I had planned on a vegan cheesecake for dessert but failed to read the last part of the recipe which requires overnight refrigeration... that I've made today and, after "careful" tasting, will drop a slice off to L, if there's any left!

It was a lovely evening, food went down a treat, champagne went down a treat and a great deal of giggling ensued.  People sometimes look at me as though I'm mad when I insist on cooking up an unnecessary storm, but good food makes for a good party and its so satisfying to see empty dishes and a table full of happy, talking, laughing people.  It's the moments like that that make the world just a little righter.

And, apart from cooking cheesecake the morning after the night before, we have also discovered that with the addition of a little rice and tomato salsa, refried bean, carrot hummus and guacamole burritos make a mighty fine lunch after the night before.  Particularly when breakfast was the cheesecake scrapings from the mixer bowl; I hang my head in shame... to hide the cheeky grin!

Even the dog had a burrito.  Erm, it is good or bad that she eats from a plate?!

I'm trying out Bloglovin...

Follow my blog with Bloglovin ...we'll see how it goes :D

Friday, 13 January 2012

Finishing the corset, part two

I really should start calling it by it's proper name, "bodies"...  but that aside, the finishing is done.  It took two separate evenings, with a 24 hour break in between to rest my fingers, to bind the bottom and another two to do the sides and top. 

The main issue was that I left the bones in their channels and so, on the coutil side in particular, the needle met a great deal of resistence but I would rather that than a misstitch into the lining and then a lot of unpicking when the bone wouldn't fit back in again!  In the end I ran two lengths of thread simultaneously, one for the front and one for the back and alternated sewing sides every 6 inches or so, this made it go much quicker. 

There are suggestions that you leave the main wooden bone panel open at the top and then lace it in place with holes drilled through it and the front of the corset, but I like the severe look of this corset, I didn't want a bow on the front softening it.

I took a couple of quick photos on my phone this morning, it still needs to be pressed and I will take some other photos later with my camera, but it gives you an idea.

Now the boyf and I (I am enlisting help on this one!) need to tackle the eyelets... please let there be no mistakes or accidents, I have gone way too far to have to rebuild this bodies from scratch!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Finishing the corset, part one

I won't be typing much, my fingers are too sore! I started on the binding for the corset mid-afternoon yesterday, with the first row of tabs; thinking, rightly, that it would be best to work on them whilst fresh and not too tired. Goodness! The first took over an hour and to bind those four and the front panel took 4-5. At 10pm, more in my stride but facing the next row of tabs, I took myself to bed. I'm not entirely sure that I'm even happy with the results, but that could be a tired, grumpy, ruined fingers opinion. I've learnt to sit back and look again later. We'll see how it goes tonight...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Accuracy and Historical Costumes

In the meantime, I have been reading my new Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion Vol.3 (sadly doesn't include the dress style that I want to make, but is a fabulous source for detailing) and the Tudor Tailor (love this book!)  Frustratingly, the more I read the more muddled the picture seems to get.  According to the TT, my corset is too late for the gown with the sleeve style that I want; farthingale or not is a subject of some debate and the bum roll gets no mention, thus far.  In comparison, some of the online sites that I have looked at are very specific about the corset/farthingale/bum roll combination being correct for the time frame that I am looking at.  Looking at pictorial evidence, I see the bum roll shape that I am after, and yes, the farthingale is up for debate, but I think I would rather that than a series of heavy petticoats.  Kirtles I am now more confused about than ever, and as for the gown.. well!

In the depths of a sleepness night last night, I contemplated my favourite passage from the TT, which discusses the three types of activity associated with making historical clothing: replication, reconstruction and re-creation.  Replication aims to duplicate an item entirely, reconstruction involves "justifiable speculation" and re-creation "uses guesswork and imagination".  The TT's outfits are reconstructions and the passage, when badly paraphrased and edited by me, reads something like this:

"The aim of the project will also determine the integrity with which the costume is... made.  A key issue in this regard is the notion of ... 'Accuracy'.  The more accurate a reproduction costume is, the valuable it will be as an educational tool.  Each garment has a cultural biography, courtesy of the society that made it.  A reconstruction takes shape as a biography is built for it."

For me, that is exactly what these projects are, an education into how women dressed, at distinct periods in time, and the experience of how it may have felt for them.  The education is a selfish one, but in learning for myself, I do also have the chance to share the detail with those friends and family who are interested, and I do want that knowledge to be accurate.  A replication is beyond my skills and budget, but I think that the Victorian Costume could be classed as a reconstruction and would like to achieve the same level with this project.  If the corset/farthingale/bum roll combination, which I am already invested in and keen to try, does prove to be inaccurate in terms of the covering gown design I like so much (as the TT suggests), do I have to give up my romantic end image in favour of accuracy?  Or am I going to slip into re-creation and then live with the nagging voice (cos there is one!) that says "this isn't quite right, is it!"

More reading/research required, and I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get the Margo Anderson patterns as the ones in the TT are, again, not exactly what I am after.  But then, do I get the Tudor or the Elizabethan patterns? or damn the costs, both?  Ouch, I hear my bank account having a moment.

Decisions, decisions.... shall we go back to admiring my half finished corset?

The Elizabethan Corset, part one

I deliberately saved the corset make till the weekend.  I don't think it will take too long to make and I wanted to be able to properly focus and savour the experience, with lots of tea and good music etc.  I was also hoping that the bones would have arrived, which would mean that I could complete it in one go... there is impatience in my patience!

As with all good plans, the bones and busk arrived in time and I have had a clear Saturday in which I can knuckle down and get sewing (once I'd done the shopping, painted more of the dog kennel and supervised Megs with the chooks for an hour or so!)... here's how it went:

I pinned the pattern to the coutil and cut around it.  Then I paired the cotton twill top layer and the cotton drill lining, before pinning and cutting out the pattern again.  I matched all three together, making sure that the more flexible top fabrics matched the coutil and pinned them together.  The busk that arrived in the post was slightly wider than the measurements given at elizabethancostume.net so I laid it on the coutil side of the fabrics and marked the new measurements.  From there I marked each bone width individually (I had allowed for some excess on my original pattern, so could still fit them all in as planned), sewed the line, checked the bone for fit and continued from there.

All set and ready to go..
Cutting out the coutil 
Cutting out the top and middle fabrics
Pinning the three layers together
Checking the bones for fit
It's a lot of bones! and it looks a little like a skeleton..
Sewing the channels in place
Half done, now to finish it...

Once I had sewn in all the bones, I tried a quick fit and panicked, I was certain that it was far too small!  Before I went any further, I cut some gosgrain ribbon into 15" strips, tacked them onto the corset, dragged the boyf upstairs and mock laced it for a more proper fitting.  It does fit, and is surprisingly comfortable but if these measurements are correct, then I underestimated the Elizabethans, this is one tough cookie of a corset!

I thought that I had enough gosgrain ribbon to bind it, but I don't - quick shopping trip tomorrow - and I need the boyf's help to trim the busk to size and hammer in the eyelets.  Today was sewing, tomorrow we're back to corset building.

Amazon and I

I love books.  I keep books... ok, I hoard books.  Well, at least, I did.

In our old house there were books on bookshelves everywhere... the spare room was a library with a bed in it.  The cottage, however, has not a single bookshelf.  My cookbook collection is sacrosanct, they were never up for discussion.  As for the rest, after a great deal of sorting (weeping and wailing) and tactical giving away, I have my core collection: stored (the "must haves") in one of the pair of Chinese Wedding Baskets that doubles up as a coffee table, boxes in the attic and, as I discovered the other day (a secret stash of vegetable growing and poultry care guides) in the second drawer down of the sideboard!

Along with my reduced collection came the demise of my love affair with Amazon.  When I had the space, an "it's a quiet afternoon" trawl was common and I was one of those folks who had wish lists for my wish lists.  Since we moved here, I hadn't been on Amazon for months, over a year, until I bought the 10yr old's Kindle for Christmas.  And suddenly, we're back!  We have discovered that the 10yr old eats Kindle books for breakfast: the initial four books were read by the the day after Boxing Day and she has used up every gift voucher given to her since (thank goodness we thought to ask for gift vouchers!)  And, if the book she wants is not available for the Kindle, she is now discovering for herself that special feel of a good, well-loved, second hand book.  I, meanwhile, in the pursuit of the perfect Elizabethan Costume, am in "legitimate" need of some research material (oh, I can make it sound so perfectly logical to myself!) and, in all the "One Click" Kindle excitement have found myself rather caught up and merrily buying away.  Every day this week a little (ok, some not so little) amazon.co.uk package has arrived... it's like Christmas all over again :o)

And in case you're wondering where I might my new purchases... remember the post-Christmas clear out of the tape and CD collection?  It's amazing how much space they took up; I can probably get a good three dozen books in that chest instead!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Veg Everyday! by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

As some of you may know, for health (rather than ethical, an important distinction, as I've come to find out) reasons I became a vegan/vegetarian last year; trying to keep to a ratio of approx 80/20.  I have vegan breakfasts and lunches and then dinner is at the very least vegetarian, sometimes vegan-able for me, and sometimes pure vegan. 

I think that I would, in all honesty be happiest as a vegetarian, but, as it turns out, I have huge ethical objections to dairy production know that I know what really goes on.  Don't talk to me about the poor dancing Anchor cows in the latest advert; it makes my blood boil!  Our milk consumption, I am delighted to say, is less than a quarter of what it was and I drink no milk at all, it's just that old demon cheese that we are all struggling with!  And when I say that "we" are struggling, I mean me: I am strict with myself, but have discovered that cheese is like a dangerous lover, you know it's not good for you, but you can't resist the odd flirt!  As for the boyf and the 10yr old, if I suggested a ban on cheese, they would disown me!  Again, however, consumption is way down and those lovely cheese board, bread and wine dinners are definitely a thing of the past.

The boyf and the 10yr old have gamely stuck with me all these months but I was starting to feel a little as though I was letting them down as, more and more, our dinners were coming out of a box!  Vegan food in particular seems to take an age to cook and we don't have that long in the evenings, but long before I gave up meat, I was giving up on packaging.  Now, in doing one good I was failing in my attempts to do another - why has eating well, both tastefully and ethically, become so complicated!  

Good vegetarian cookbooks seemed to be hard to find, I went through all the libraries offerings and found not one I would buy.  Online vegan websites are particularly good, as is The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone, but being primarily American in origin, there were often ingredients that are hard to track down in the UK and I have terrible trouble accurately converting measurements.  Dry good in particular, a half cup can vary by nearly 100gms depending on the "good" - it lead to some pretty funky eating!

Then a dear friend gave me a copy of  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's, Veg Everyday! and my cooking is transformed!  Everything about this book makes me smile, from the forward, to the photos, to the beautiful illustrations, and the wealth of easy to cook and delicious recipes.  My friend recommended that I read the forward, he thought that I'd like it and he was right.  HFW has such a good way about him and his journey to eating more veg is very similar to mine; you start of just eating, then you think about what you are eating, then you think harder about where it comes from and how it gets to your plate, then you think about the impact of all of that on our beautiful planet, and yes, suddenly, you want to eat more veg!  Plus, you don't really want to eat stuff that looks and tastes kinda like meat, because what's the point?  If you have got to the place where you know that you need to eat more veg, then you eat more veg!  A third of the recipes are vegan and he says that another third are adaptable to vegans (who "will know what to do"!)  I would disagree, the majority of the recipes can be made vegan, without too great an adjustment.

Looking for dinners that I could get used to and thus knock up quickly once we were all back at work/school, over the holiday I picked 4-5 recipes a week, shopped for them and jumped right in.  Shopping is a treat, mounds of veg piling up the basket and so little else; cooking is (always) good fun; and the dishes have been without fail interesting and delicious.  I love picking next weeks recipes and now have some new favourites that can be rotated in.  Of particular note have been the Macaroni Peas (very good), the Kale and Mushroom Lasagne (as events transpired I ended up eating the whole 6 portion lot over a couple of days!), the "fiery" bean Chilli, stuffed peppers, Fennel and Lemon Linguine, various risottos (especially the Mushoom and Chestnut one) and tonight I have high hopes for the Swede Speltotto...  We're all eating veg that we normally wouldn't too, it's lovely to test the taste buds again, and I am slowly working up to the Beetroot Tarte Tatin (pictured) as it would be my idea of heaven if, currently, no-one else's!


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Corset Fabrics and IT heaven

It pays, when you are a secret IT geek, to have friends in IT.  Especially when you have a new laptop and they have the software and space licences!  So this evening I am installing a couple of my favourite bits of IT kit, which is generally pretty boring and laptop battery destroying, but ultimately worth it and gives you time to think.

I had rooted round my fabric stash for a pale aqua-green shot silk which I was determined to use as my top corset fabric.  As clearly as I remembered the gorgeous colour, I had forgotten about the cream and beige bands of stripes, not too terrible, and the raised bands of darker green velour, yuck!  Back to the stash it went and, in making space, out came the cotton twill that I used for the skirt of my Victorian outfit.  It is a pretty simple fabric, cream and black stripes, but it has the most beautiful feel, to both work with and wear, and is a firm favourite.  I have more than enough left over to make a corset and a matching bum roll and I have to say I like the idea.  It will be lovely to use it in such a different manner, I need three layers of fabric for this corset and it will go very well with the remaining black cotton drill (left over from the box covers commission) and also with the leftover black coutil that I have.  The cotton drill would make a great choice for the farthingale too.  It would be a nice combination of dark and light; quite the opposite to it's pairing with the pale blue of the Victorian outfit.

I worried for a bit about using black as my intention for the rest of the outfit is soft creams, golds, greens (I think) but as I understand it from my initial look at the pattern, the farthingale will be under a full length kirtle and a full length gown on top of that (I'll certainly be warm!), I won't need to worry that it's black as you'll never see it!  I am also thinking that, if I have time, I would like to incorporate some blackwork embroidery (one of my favourite things to stitch) into the outfit, the black certainly wouldn't be out of place then.

So, in the tradition of using what I have and what's in front of me, buying only when necessary, I could have all the fabric for my Elizabethan underpinnings ready to hand, and more excitingly, to sew... hurry up IT kit!

Monday, 2 January 2012

An Elizabethan Corset: drafting the pattern

And so it starts.  I decided that, in order to decide whether or not to buy a pattern for the Elizabethan corset  (farthingale and bum roll), I needed to make greater sense of the instructions on elizabethancostume.net.  The site has a generator which gives you the measurements and instructions to draw your own pattern and three pattern adaptations from it.  I input my measurements, drew out the pattern and got the bug... there will be no need to buy a commercial pattern!

As with most instructions, when the author knows a subject inside out and back to front, there is an implied level of knowledge that sometimes needs further explanation/clarification.  My basic template drawn, I have had a lovely couple of days researching the various elements: bones, busk, fabrics, and looking at finished corset pictures to work out the missing elements.  Having a level of corset building knowledge has been useful, but Victorian and Elizabethan corsets are quite different, both in design and construction.  Unlike a Victorian corset, an Elizabethan corset is less about narrowing and curving of the shape; rather it is built to shape an entirely flat, straight front and provide support to hold up the weight of the farthingale, bum roll and outer skirts.  It has only a back closure and none of the boning should be flexible, as it would in a Victorian corset; the front panel is solid side-to-side bones.  Moreover, and most interestingly, the centre front busk should be made of wood.  As an Elizabethan corset ends in a point at the front, mid pelvis no less, this measurement needs to be carefully considered if it is to be held firm by a carved wooden busk!  There are modern alternatives, mainly wider steel bones, but none would have the solidity of wood; I found a supplier of wooden busks, and one is ordered and on it's way.

I chose the most "complicated but comfortable" corset pattern, with eight tabs at the waist.  The bones in the corset continue into the tabs and it is recommended that half inch and quarter inch bones are used.  A sample pattern of the layout of the bones is provided and it was good fun translating this into a final layout for my corset; juggling width vs strength vs pattern.  28 bones and a busk in total.  I thought the Victorian corset was firm, but it had flexibility built in and far less boning; it will be very interesting to see what this feels like.

Here is a scan of the final pattern, with the boning channels and individual bone lengths marked in red.

It's certianly far simpler than the Victorian corset was, at this stage on that I was eyeing up a dozen or more pieces!  The instructions regarding the fabric layers and the placement of the eyelets are not the clearest; again having some previous knowledge is proving useful.  I am still not entirely certain about the back seam; I didn't want to use eyelet tape again (the sign of a small progression in skill, I hope!) and I know that for stabiility the eyelets should sit inside of one width of bone and potentially there should be another line of bone sat to the right of them.  I don't have space for that, so have gone for a single, stronger bone (13mm); however, I will take a look when the bones arrive and may switch it for two narrower ones.
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