Sunday 30 March 2014

Thank you, cats

In the post about my helpful feline assistants, I said that they had not managed to botch anything up too badly yet. I forgot to mention the several pieces of bedding they had managed to tear into.
After that post, they created a masterpiece:

This used to be a pillowcase. After it met our cats, it evolved into stash fabric.

I was thinking of using it as binding for my Regency stays and turning them into a fully bedding project (the damask I'm making the stays from is old duvet cover). But this fabric is too thick for that purpose, so I'll have to come up with something else. Since I'm hoarding blue and white fabrics for patchworking, I guess that's it.

It happened when I was away at school, so I have no idea who was responsible. It could be either of those who come inside.

Saturday 29 March 2014

In other news, the Regency stays...

... are finally nearing completion, but too slowly to have been finished for the Under It All challenge weeks ago. Now that I'm already pretty sure my rather unconventional technique is working out (with exceptions), I feel safe enough sharing some details on the thing with you. :-)

I ran into a problem with the stays: over the years since I started making them (eeek!), my cup size has grown (I have a no-longer-fitting bra to prove that), and they ended up being too tight over the bust.

A quick check with the ever-so-helpful ladies in the Historical Sew Fortnightly group on Facebook and a quick search on the Met site proved that three bust gussets were OK in this style of stays, especially if it's a necessary alteration for fit. The Met one is later than I aim for - it's 1833, while I'm aiming more for the 1800s-1820s era -, but it's still basically the same style and I actually pan to wear these with my 1848 clothes as well (hopefully). So I went that route and started adding another gusset between the two - so far, it's just the inner layer.
And bang, I found out about another problem with my pattern: I made the gussets too full at the bottom way back when. They should have been more triangular. Now my bust is too "droopy" - everyone who commented on Facebook agreed.

 Also, I was told the back should be higher for proper period posture. Next time...

So now I'm going to introduce some darts to the inner two gussets, and all my carefull precise technique that was meant to ensure the stays looked neat now goes down the flush, but it's a great learning process. Next time: next time, I'll make the two gussets wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. And insert them a bit further apart.

I'm also thinking of taking a cue from that extant pair and adding vertical cording in between the gussets, where the Met stays have boning.

Ah yes, cording. After years of unsuccessful trips to various shops in search of the seemingly ordinary thing that is hemp cord, an internet search finally yielded a "stone" shop that carries it (= no additional shipping cost and I could see what I was getting). So while I was there, I bought two balls of it. Hopefully that will last me a while.

This was before a lot other work happened, but it gives you the idea.

The thicker channels contain a remnant I found at home, which I decided to use in what I assumed to be the places that need the most strengthening. The narrower ones are the new cord.

I changed my plans, and instead of the "pull doubled cord through a finished channel" technique I originally wanted to use (I used a variation on that in my wrap stays/brassiere), I'm doing as much of single threaded, tightly packed channels, sewn only as I go (kind of like what The Dreamstress did), as I can. It's not so much that I would not be satisfied with what the cording in my wrap stays does - I like it a lot. It's rather because I was not sure what cording pattern would work best towards a smooth fit with the long stays, and the thickness of the cord varies greatly over its length; so I decided it was better to keep figuring it out as I go.

There are only two "bones" (= cable ties) in the back, to reinforce the lacing. The rest is all cording, and guessing by various tries in front of the mirror, it's working out just fine that way. I just need to add more of it here and there, like at the waist - I'm thinking horizontal rows like under the bust, but maybe a bit curved like on many extant examples.

And I've found a piece of wood that's perfect for a busk - I just had to cut off an oddly shaped bit at one end, and additional length on the other side under the hole. The hole is a very convenient feature for lacing it in and securing it that way, as I've seen some busks do, and it was already there. It turned out it was exactly the right length after I cut it haphazardly! My father's habit of hoarding wooden odds and ends definitely paid off for me here. :D

Now I need to sand it down considerably - I really do not want any sharp edges cutting through my damask. I've already sanded it down a bit, but I think it needs more. I'm also toying with the idea of a wood-burned pattern... *cough*. I'd definitely add some varnish (I think we have a linseed variety that could even be historically correct) in either case.

And a bust pocket will have to be added. Should it come on top or to the inside?

* * *

The pattern! I can't find the pattern now, which is annoying, because I need to mark the changes... But the point is, I made the pattern myself, based on a basic style observed off countless historical specimen and this free corset drafting tutorial on Foundations Revealed. Lots of sketches were made, noting down seam lines, and then compressed into the probably simplest pattern possible. Just fairly straight front piece, two back pieces, gussets in between, straps.

I did not follow the drafting tutorial completely one-on-one, because it's a different style with the gussets. And of course, those were exactly the bits that turned out to be the most off in the trial (trial is pretty much the whole period from muslin to fnished product...). But I think, as my practically first ever foray into corsetry, it's not bad at all, and if the technique I used for making my own pattern for Regency stays turns out to work for other people as well, like my sister (ha, ha), I may even share it as a tutorial one day (ha, ha).

The pattern, as I made it, hinges on the underbust measurement. It makes sense with the style, right?
Because it's based off my actual measurements, my own drafted pattern, I think in the end I know better what I've done and how to recreate it or make better next time than I would have if I had started with a ready-made pattern. Maybe that's a wrong assumption, but it's pretty much the way I always work.
(I've actually used very few ready-made patterns in my life, now that I think about it, and most of the time it seemed more trouble than it was worth with the fit. Which is probably why I keep doing it this unconventional way.)

This was the final design in miniature form. Changes happened afterwards, like the cording pattern. More importantly, I
a) simplified it, because I did not need to insert an additional gusset in the back; it was wide enough,
b) and instead, curved it in in the back,
c) and the back armhole became wider.

Also, bad shape of bust gussets. Bad bad bad. DO NOT COPY THAT BUST GUSSET SHAPE!!!

Since I cannot find the pattern I used to cut out my fabric, I'm not sure if that's all and when various changes happened, but that's about it...
Come to think of it, the only part of the pattern that worked right from the start was the straps. I'm actually happy about that, because they're slightly curved and the curve had to be just right (and in the right direction!), and because of the lift, they had to be much shorter than normal; and I actually nailed it all.

This stays style has more give than the Victorian style the drafting tutorial is aiming at, so I could - and actually had to - be more generous with the lacing gap.

This post is most definitely one of those "mistakes happen" posts. Quite a lot of mistakes. For some reason, I made the back pattern piece much longer than the rest. 

* * *

I followed Sarah Jane's tip on construction - I don't know anymore where she said it, and don't feel like digging through her blog to find out, especially because it could have been on a forum. But she said she sews the front layers separately, and then sews them together with the back layers all in one sandwiched seam, which is what I did. (If you can't picture it, let me know, and I'll try to make you a picture.)
I basted the front layers together teporarily down the front to prevent shifting while I worked, and attached them together at the gussets with a small running stitch in the ditch.
I also wanted to follow Katherine's tutorial on gussets, but I think I didn't, and probably made my life more difficult than necessary.
The back edge is ironed under and topstitched (backstitched) together.

So those are some of the construction bits so far. There's more, and it's still not finished, so I'm definitely going to share more later.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Politics of fashion: A broad summary on the Czech national costume of 1848

Another of the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges is now up with details - the Politics of Fashion. Now this is one challenge that definitely suits my sewing plans wonderfully. I love it when the challenges match things I wanted to make anyway. There's no other point in it for me, given how slowly I make things.

I'm going to - hopefully - deal with yet another way politics influenced fashion: I'm making one of those "national costumes" that were developed during the nationalistic emancipation that happened in Europe during the 19th century.
I've just made up the term "nationalistic emancipation", although it's quite possible someone's done it before. I mean that process of arising national consciousness in late 18th and especially during 19th century that eventually often resulted in new countries in Europe, some actually historical like mine is, others really pretty much new, or new amalgamations of historical states (hello, Italy and Germany!). It was a very political phenomenon indeed, connected to the various attempts at constitutional monarchy or more. Very often, it also led to ugly things, like nationalistic pride and conflicts and stuff like the affair of the ostensibly historical manuscripts (Rukopis královédvorský a zelenohorský) that were to prove the Czechs' famous history but were apparently falsified. People were so proud of them that those who dared to point out the inconsistencies were dubbed enemies of the nation (T. G. Masaryk, famously).
But it also involved language study - in many cases language saving - and recording of folklore, and increasingly successful attempts at literature and translations and similar stuff that is actually still going on around the world nowadays. (Like, hey, Apache Mescalero dictionary! Navajo Star Wars!) So even though it often seems like dusty past (especially if you have to learn about it for school and everyone's either treating it like something sacred, or scorning it, with no middle ground), it actually still carries a lot of significance nowadays. And without it, things like Karel Čapek's amazing writing or Stanislava Pošustová's excellent translation of The Lord of the Rings could not have happened. Just to point out some reasons why I personally am glad it happened. :-)
(Although, in this particular case, the costume does not have so much significance nowadays...)

I know some nations already more or less had their national costume / style of clothing - I think Poland was one (old portraits of Polish nobles definitely have their own style). Others had to develop their own - e.g. Germans were trying, too (I'm not sure what the results of that were - dirndl?). Yet others, obviously those nations that were well established already, did not bother. (Hello, Britain.)

Prague fashions of 1848. Note the red and white. Source (3)

Czechs bothered. And ended up with something that was actually pretty similar to, for example, Hungarian clothes (if you look at e.g. depictions of Lajos Kossuth, it's really similar). There were various reasons for that, one of them being precisely the concern of fashion that this HSF challenge is connected to. I believe, in the end, the most national part of it were the usual colours - they tended to go with blue and white, the accepted Slavic combination (which I so dearly love, too :D), or red and white, the combination found on the 19th century Czech flag. Or all of it, just as it combines on the current Czech flag.
You know how I was dreaming about the 1848 kacabajka? Talking about it with nothing happening, as is pretty much the norm on this blog by now?

The "Slavic kacabajka" of Ludmila Tomková from the collections of the Uměleckoprůmyslové muzeum in Prague. Source (1)

Friday 7 March 2014

A Spring Sunday walk

Here's another blog post that is a bit late, but fortunately just a bit. :-)

For Sunday afternoon, my sister invited two of her foreign (Estonian and Latvian) co-workers and friends to our hometown, because they wanted to get out into the country somewhere, but did not have the means to go for a big trip. And one of them really wanted to see a rybník.* And since we know how many different interesting things can be found in our little town, it was a good fit for a Sunday walk.

The weather turned out perfect. For the first time in months, I went out without a winter jacket or coat, and I was almost hot at times! And a bit cold after the sun set, but that's normal with early spring. Yes, spring has come. After the long, long winter we suffered last year, it is almost unbelievable. We have had a remarkably bright and sunny February, too!

See, Spring! It's now more than just the snowdrops, so I think it's official.

We circled through the part with Art Nouveau little villas and houses again, so I took photos of some old favourites in lovely spring sun... and could not take photos of others because of the sun.

My old frenemy the Winged Frog. (I was very afraid of it as a child, and then grew very fond of it.)

Then we went to the town square and I took a photo of our slightly outrageous neo-Renaissance town hall.

Apparently, though, I failed to take a photo of the row of oldest houses in town, immersed in conversation about it as I was.

This is the street that leads to the railway station. "Hračky" means "Toys" - there has been a toy shop there all my life. Given how many many shops have changed hands and purposes here over the years, sometimes many times, this is a reassuring little landmark.

The gothic back of the baroque Catholic church.

The front of the church and the old town hall (also baroque, I believe), which now houses, among many other things, the town library (so you can imagine how fond I am of this particular building). There is also the entrance into the underground. Our town, you see, dates back into the Middle Ages and there's a whole system of underground cellars and corridors. I think I've only ever seen a very small part of it myself.

After that, we landed in our favourite café - this expression now really has a certain distinction to it, because a new café has sprung up near the railway station. But we keep going to this one, because a) it is closer at hand, b) they have Fair Trade coffee and tea, c) the whole establishment has a lovely old-time-y feel to it, being situated in a gothic (!) house with a garden walled by the old town walls in part,


and as you can see, the owners have lovingly decorated it with various knick-knacks that fit the old world atmosphere,

d) all their "china" is blue-and-white glazed with lovely unique decor, and I believe local-made (and it just so happened that this napkin-holder on our table featured Estonia's national birds...),

e) they make their own delicious cakes that keep getting better and better; I had this cheesecake that was of the Czech quark/curd variety - those have a tendency to be too dry most of the time and not very deserving of the name of cheesecake, but this one was perfect - and no crumbs! just the "filling" and the dark chocolate on top, nom!

f) and, of course, blueberry milkshake. All four of us had blueberry milkshake. I don't think I've ever been to the café without ordering blueberry milkshake. I think I've tried one or two times, and failed.

Aside from the points mentioned, they also carry an excellent brand of ice cream, have a children's corner with games and toys and books, have local magazines to read, exhibit paintings by local painters, hold various events like concerts and lectures on local history, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

Then off we went to the park and our church. The bell-gate (it's a gate, right? not a tower!) has been sporting a new decoration recently - apparently, this chalice was found in the vicarage somewhere. It may have hung on the church originally, maybe? but it certainly looks better where it is now. (For a little bit more on the importance of the symbol of chalice in Czech Reformation in my words, see this old post that is also the first to mention our favourite café and the blueberry milkshake.)

And the church with its unique outdoors pulpit.

Then around the brook / creek / whatever else you would call it in your particular brand of English, and around the brewery (that is not brewing anymore), to the first rybník on our walk.

This one's not very impressive. Also, even though it's called so, I think the purpose of this "fishpond" is not so much to hold fish, rather it was originally a reservoir of water for the firemen? I'm not entirely sure.

Then we climbed up the cemetery hill from which you get a fairly nice overview of the town.

So that's us - Kadri, me and Elina. Marta did not want to have her photo taken, so she was the photographer.

And then we went to the other rybník - the one I've written about before, the one where I've seen the muskrat. This time, I think I glimpsed a kingfisher - too fast to take a photo, or even to see it properly, just flashing by; but it was an unmistakable shiny shade of turquoise, and in these parts, that could only mean a kingfisher. I can check an item off my birdwatching bucket list - that is, I could if I actually had one. If I actually had one, seeing a kingfisher would have been on it.

I took many many photos at the fishpond, because we arrived there just at the golden hour, and so it made for an excellent photography playfield.

There are even more fishponds over that way. I learned to ice-skate there. (Sort of. I suspect I would not be able to ice-skate again if I tried it now.)

* Rybník ("fishpond") is one of those curious parts of the Czech reality that you never fully realise is there until you've had a brush with a different reality. The Czech countryside is full of them. Small ones, large ones, solitary ones and whole systems of ones. Some are well kept, full of fish, deep, with pleasant paths shaded with carefully planted trees leading around them. Others are all sorts of muddy and weedy and forgotten. Some are used for swimming in the summer, and then, when they freeze over, come alive again with skaters on top of the ice. Others explicitly forbid all that because of the fish. Some can be used for fishing by people with the proper licence (like the one above is), and the banks, especially in the mornings and evenings, are occupied by the silent men with fishing rods whom you should pass with quiet reverence for their patience. That peace and quiet, only occasionally broken by the splash of a fish, adds a special charm to the landscape.