Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 1

This multi-part tutorial will cover some key details of making a bodiced petticoat using the bodice portion of the basic Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern. The tips are designed to supplement Jennie Chancey's online directions for a bodiced petticoat but to cover elements that a novice seamstress might not be familiar with and to address some oddities I noticed in the online directions.

As always, please click on each image for a larger version

The dress pattern has been out for quite a few years now, and it's more Regency-inspired than accurate, and so this bodiced petticoat is probably not entirely accurate either, but it's fairly easy to make and is a most useful substitution for stays. Bodiced petticoats were indeed worn during the Regency period, sometimes in replacement of stays and sometimes as an underdress worn with stays. Several of us in our period sewing group here in Kentucky are making bodiced petticoats as part of our ensembles for the JASNA Jane Austen Festival in Louisville this coming July. I am making one too as a backup, as I will shortly be making up the Past Patterns Transition Stays (#030), and plan to wear them instead.

The Tutorial

Modifying and Cutting Out the Pattern Pieces
In Jennie's directions, the first step is to modify the bodice pattern pieces so that they'll work for a petticoat, and then to cut them out.. The directions cover the process clearly, so I will not linger on them except for one point.

Look that this picture from the directions, copied below:

It shows the front pattern piece with the new, modified front piece, which has been lengthened, straps narrowed, and neckline enlarged by setting the original pattern piece a little angled to the folded fabric. Note how the edge at the bottom right curves up a bit.

When you unfold the new front piece, this is the effect that upwards curve at the fold will give you:

...the bodice bottom looks like the bottom of a bikini top. While the original instructions called for the fabric at the neckline to be trimmed straight across from the lowest part of the neckline curve to the fold, to remove the dip effect, these instructions appear to have been left out for the bottom of the bodice. Look at the picture of the the bodice front from later in the original directions:

There is no dip there! Now, because when the toile is fitted you will be cutting a good bit of the bottom of the bodice away anyhow, you may not care to trim the bottom straight. However, I'd take the time to do so. You won't have to look at a wavy bottom when you're trying to judge the length of the petticoat bodice, and you'll have a straight line to follow when you do cut off the excess fabric.

Note: Because I was quite distracted when I cut my front bodice out, and neglected to add a full 2.5 inches to the bottom, my bodice bottom isn't long enough to trim out the dip. That was quite an error. While I know that much of the bottom will be cut away anyhow when I fit the toile, I fear that mine is just too short to begin with, so I will recut a fresh bodice piece and baste it again. So what you are seeing in this tutorial is my first bodice front...before I have have corrected the problem.

Fitting the Bodice Toile

The next set of steps in Jennie's directions is under heading "Fitting the Bodice Toile". First she asks you to baste the pieces together, but she doesn't tell you how, imagining that you have the original directions for the dress at hand. If you don't and you're newish to sewing, here they are, illustrated. By the way, the order of sewing the pieces that I use is the same order that is recommended in sewing manuals of the day.

Here below are the right back piece with its matching side piece. (Note: I had a cutting issue here, too...the day I cut my bodice I was helping four other women cut theirs and gave very scant attention to my own. So the back piece is TOO SHORT! Ugh! Memo to file: never try to cut while talking or listening to others talk.

Dealing with Curved Seams

Stitching a curved seam can be tricky, so I will show you how it can be done fairly easily.

First, match the top of the back piece (in front in the picture below) to the top of the side piece (behind it in the picture below).


Now, start smoothing the raw edges together with your fingers. Pin the fabric at the left edge just as soon as you get those lined up (image below). Make sure the pin is set perpendicular to the edges of the curve, for you will be hand-sewing right over it.

Then keep smoothing the raw edges together further down the curve. The piece underneath will not feel like it wants to match up on the curve with the piece on top. This is normal. If you work slowly, though, the edges will line up -- sometimes holding the two pieces of fabric between your thumb and forefinger and lightly rubbing them, using your thumb to rub the front piece either up or down compared to the back piece, will help to align the edges. The picture below shows two pins having been set. Note that they are relatively close together. I find that the steeper the curve, the closer together the pins need to be to control gapping.

You  will find that when the curve of the fabric becomes steep, that it's maddenly hard to line up the raw edges of your two pieces of fabric if you hold them flat. Solution: bend the two layers of fabric with your fingers. When they are laid over the curve of your finger you will find that their own curved shapes will come together. See the image below for one way to hold your fingers to achieve this...

...or you can hold your fingers as shown in this next image, below. It's probably easier, as you can also handle pins at the same time.

Here we go, another pin set, below.

You will manipulate the pieces of fabric and pin them right down to the end of the seam. When you're done, here is what you will see from the front...

...and from the back.

Now, let's lay the pinned seam out flat, as below. Voila! Here's roughly what it will look like when stitched.

Hand-basting Seams: A Rapid Method

Now, here is a little bit on how to hand-stitch a basting seam quickly.

Note: I use red for basting as it's easier to see when fitting a toile (mockup), but if I fear that the red dye might bleed onto the fabric, then I use white thread.

I basted this bodice with a 5/8-inch seam allowance, for that is the original dress bodice allowance.

As in the picture below, run your needle in and out of the fabric several times before you pull the thread through.

Look carefully at the picture. See how close I keep my hands, with my thumb near where the needle is going in and out of the fabric. What I am actually doing is
  • pushing the needle through the fabric until I see half a pinky-nail's worth of steel
  • rocking the fabric to nip just that pinky-nail's worth of fabric onto the needle
  • rocking the needle downwards again and through the fabric until once again I see half a pinky-nail's worth of steel
  • rocking the fabric again to nip just a pinky-nail's worth of fabric onto the needle again.
Note: in a lot of cases my basting stitches are the length of my FULL pinky nail, but I made them smaller today because the seam line shows better for the camera. 

    I keep nipping and rocking and the fabric just builds up on the needle. It can get pretty tight on the needle, as many as eight or even more stitches all piled on, as you can see below. It takes just a matter of moments, of seconds, to do this.

    Now I pull the needle through and out of the fabric, as in the image below.

    Then I keep basting clear to the end of the seam. It does not take long at all and it's very precise.

    Here is the basted seam. Why is one end longer than the other? Remember my cutting issue? Yes...I will be recutting and basting, but wanted to get this tutorial posted in time to help my sewing circle. Honestly, usually I cut better than this, much better. Anyhow, a little humility is a good thing, and errors, they are endemic to life.

    Completing the Bodice Basting

    Next step is to baste the other back piece to its side piece, as shown in the picture below. (Goodness, if I keep seeing the evidence of my cutting errors my hair's going to stand on end.)

    Now it is time to baste the front piece to one of the basted side/back pieces. See image below of the pieces laid out flat.

    Here it is stitched.

    Then it's on to basting the other side/back piece to the other edge of the front piece, as shown in the image below.

    Now it's time to baste the shoulder pieces together. In the picture below I have laid the shoulder strap that's part of the back piece up to the edge of the shoulder strap belonging to the front piece.

    And now I have basted them together.

    And here we are. All pieces have been basted and we're ready to fit the toile. Oh dear, those dark shapes at the picture's base? My feet...oops :}

    Next posting we will cover fitting the toile. That should be interesting.

    Oh, and by the way, if your toile seems huge, it could be a cutting error but also remember that we have added lots of fabric to a pattern that was made to create a loose-ish outer dress, not skin-fitting inner support wear, so do not despair.

    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    Remembrance of the Christmas Now Past

    Christmas Eve, for which I waited so patiently to sing by candlelight in the cathedral, left in the winks of two tired children's eyes, and Christmas Day came and went, and Boxing Day, and now we're breathing more slowly and naturally once again. And sweets are banned: welcome that lack!

    Now the pause for New Years, celebrated here quietly, with a lucky meal New Year's Day of collards and hoppin' John with red-eye gravy, the delectable secret of which is a splash of coffee. Then it's the Pageant: will the twins dress as sheep or just watch? Then Epiphany, with King Cake (a momentary reprieve of the sweets ban), and then with a sigh the Christmas tree is admired a last time and comes down, to go to rest as garden mulch.

    Photo: the tree in the evening.

    Costuming Plans

    Then I will begin to sew once again, and unless costuming ADD strikes, I'll be working on a single project, to which our period sewing society is devoting itself...we're making full ensembles for the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville in July! A peek into the concept for mine: the year is 1797 and my lady loves white-on-white stripes embroidered with green, and a matching green robe with ruching, wee flat green silk shoes, green-on-white reticule, and a flat cap of net lace!

    Photo: Noah drives his fire truck -- their new easel -- and Christopher rides, making motor noises. This was their main gift and I think they like it very much. Only sometimes is it a board for drawing.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Snow Hush

    "Then all is silent and the snow falls
    Settling soft and slow.
    The evening deepens and the grey
    Folds closer earth and sky
    The world seems shrouded, far away.

    Its noises sleep, and I as secret as
    Yon buried stream plod dumbly on and dream."

    The last two stanzas of a poem entitled "Snow". I read it last evening, snugged down in the chaise, waiting for Christopher to stop rearranging his burp cloths in his crib and settle to sleep. Outside the air grew steadily colder and despite our good windows I could feel its fingers trying for cracks, a bitter cold left as a dubious gift after a squally day.

    First photo: "Too much snow", Ithaca, NY.  Photo courtesy ForeverDigital.

    As I read, I took an interior walk down quiet roads that I hope aren't too changed with the passing of 30-odd years, and I remembered each view, memorized with love and daily repetition. Then I wrote it down as a comment on Rebecca's blog, and realized I'd written a prose ode, or maybe an elegy. So here it is, as much so that I can go that way again as to invite you to come along.

    I remember quite viscerally walking home from school as it snowed,
    the hemlocks drooping with the weight,
    the very occasional car muffled to near silence by the whitened road,
    the crystal tinkling of icy water at the waterfall next the little bridge,
    where the flow had built ice caverns and pinnacles for me to dream over,
    and as I came closer to home -- it was a long walk --
    sometimes the bells from the carillon on Cornell's campus,
    rung by a student practicing,
    sounding like the tower had gone under a blanket,
    and then suddenly like they were just around the bend.
    I miss those walks,
    and cold as I would get,
    generally I went at a mosey.
    Why hurry when life was so beautifully malencholy?

    Second photo: Taughannock Falls, December 8, 2005. Photo courtesy Alexey Sergeev. Third photo: McGraw Tower, Cornell University. Photo courtesy ForeverDigital

    A postscript: Browsing around photos of my hometown, it is reassuring to know that things haven't changed overmuch. A big thank you to Alexey Sergeev of Texas A&M and ForeverDigital on Flickr for recording some of the places I love most in all the world but haven't been able to return to.

    About Taughannock Falls: It's up Cayuga Lake some miles from Ithaca, and is giant, its spray dampening your hair hundreds of feet away, the tallest straight fall east of the Mississippi, they say. My little falls, passed every day on my walk down Hanshaw Road, was maybe six feet high, a fairy cascade over a miniature shale cliff, that murmured under a little bridge just feet away. At a sudden drop below our home, a perhaps 75-foot fall, "my" little creek, in which my sister and I played endlessly, spilling off a deep lip into a tight dell,  just past the edge of what used to be Irene Castle's mansion.

    A five-minute walk from home? Creek after creek, fall after fall after fall, large and small, views down utterly dizzying drops of 400 or more feet, a suspension bridge that swayed when you had the courage to jump on it, another gorge-spanning bridge with a pierced floor to let the rain through, and you had better not look down, or risk being rooted to the spot, whitewater so far, far, far down, a gentle shake, a growling over the gridded bridge floor, as a car went by. Sometimes part of Cayuga Heights Road clinging to the hillside took a notion to visit the valley floor and the road would cave a little at the outer edge. Carl Sagan built his home on top of a gorge-view mausoleum. And floating above in the evening, the lighted clock face of McGraw Tower ringing the passage of time, its bells sometimes singing songs. Have a listen.

    And read the rest of  "Snow", written long ago by an Archibald Lampman and sung much more recently by Lorena McKennitt, on Rebecca's blog at http://ladieshistorictea.blogspot.com/.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    A Christmas Meme

    This little meme was passing around some of my favorite blogs yesterday, with invitations to join in, so I am doing so as soon as chance has offered! It's been fascinating to learn about everyone's Christmas memories and predilections...I'd love to read more so if you like, please write yours, too!

    So here we go:

    Eggnog or hot chocolate? Real egg nog for Christmas parties, but hot chocolate all winter long, as a special afternoon treat. I love how egg nog tastes like luscious liquid custard but it seems to like me too much, attaching itself to me permanently around the hip area, so I try for just small sips. Sometimes that tactic is successful...

    2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? This is hard. Santa used to, and will a little bit this year, but all things considered I'd prefer St. Nicholas on December 6, with little treats left in shoes. Christmas is for celebrating the Nativity.

    3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white?Ah, now you've hit a bone of contention! I like white lights, or honking big old colored bulbs, which we do not own. I wonder if I could beg my dad for his old set? He built his own dimmer, which back in the sixties required some mighty interesting wiring hidden in a 12x12 inch wooden box. It's probably not safe, but the cool factor is very high. My husband prefers little colored lights. Our solution, like so many we have come up with, is to treat each other, with some years for white lights and some years for little colored lights. This year is a colored-light year. My ultimate wish? Real candles Christmas Eve, like the gentleman who writes a Passion for the Past.

    4. Do you hang mistletoe? We have once or twice. It grows here in Kentucky and in the depths of winter when the oaks and locusts are bare, it's a welcome bit of green high up in the trees. People used to shoot it down from branches and sell it, my husband's father says. Oh my, I just looked out the back windows and it's snowing pretty heavily and someone is running a saw. A holiday sound I associate with cutting firewood but I fear it's someone cutting branches that came down in yesterday's nasty winter winds. Did you all get wonked with them too?

    5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? My wonderful sweet understanding mother decorated the mantels with greenery and a snowman and the creche, and the corner cupboard and hutch earlier this week, and put up a fragrant wreath on our door while I helped to keep 20 little fingers to themselves. The tree? We go late, as in this coming weekend, but leave the tree up ostensibly until Twelfth Night, and sometimes after. We sigh when all the light and color fade to January's cold gray.

    6. Favorite holiday dish? Sarah Jane, I hear you! My favorite moment is just before I bite into my first Mexican Wedding Cake cookies, when all the memories of how it tasted years past flood over me. The anticipation is rarely disappointed.

    7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? There are many. Like the brrr-cold afternoon in our snug spot in Ithaca, behind foot-thick walls, making cutout cookies while snow squalls and the sun played king of the mountain outdoors. It was glorious. What a happy, minute little kitchen, with just one counter, 20-inch wide stove, and great big double white sink, all of it in powdered steel, built for the ages, and the window overlooking the wooded hillside behind us.

    Or making a draft-cutter, a fabric tube stuffed with rice to stuff at the crack under the front door, with baby Noah in my lap, watching me turn the hand-crank sewing machine I'd set up on the coffee table in front of the fire.

    Or the slow, snowy drives on barely plowed roads from Ithaca to Newark Valley to visit Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ken. Their den in the back, papered in browns, with a little tree next to the French door, and snow over the terrace out back, one wall all book shelves, and us all stuffed in there, adults talking, us wee bits just snuggling and listening, while their big fat kitty alternately froze her nose, pressed to old glass panes, the kind that weeps and grows paper thin at the top of each pane, at a window in the dining room, and heated her paws and tummy on the radiator. How I wanted to pet her, but she was Uncle Ken's devoted friend, not mine...

    8. When did you learn the truth about Santa? You know, I haven't a clue!

    9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't; our minds change about this like the weather, or maybe we simply forget to think about it.

    10. How do you decorate a tree? When I was very little, we lived in Schwabia, part of southern Germany, and my tastes were set there. Our tree sometimes has had popcorn strand garlands (probably not German style, except in the garlanding sense), sometimes gingerbread men strung on red yarn,  always the carolers with wooden painted heads, and little drums and little stuffed hearts made of a dark red velvet like you see in Europe, not the bright scarlet we use over here, trimmed with old-gold gimp. Mom made them while in bed with the bad flu that hit Europe in when, 1967?

    When I grew up, my sister and I shared digs, and we had no money for a tree at first, so we put a begged branch in a bucket one year, and tied the round sticky husks from sweet gum trees to it. Then every year after we made a few ornaments, as like to those we grew up with as possible.

    Today the trees is a memory of the kind I grew up with, with some wooden ornaments received as gifts, a few red balls, always pinecones with similar red velvet bows tied at the top, my paper Sugarplum fairies and princes that I painted, and a few precious vintage blown glass ornaments, and a red velvet bow at the treetop. For a year or two I had a material moment and bought a lot more ornaments but each year they've grown fewer again. And that's it, until the boys' little ornaments join them.

    11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I love snow, so long as you can play in it! When the boys get old enough, I hope we can sled and sled and sled and skate and ski and build forts and get blue lips with the cold, if I have the fortitude. And if we have the snow. Kentucky is fickle.

    12. Can you ice skate? Yup, and still have my skates, but it's been way too long and I am sure they are dry-rotted. I think there's a rink here but it's indoors and frankly I prefer a (safe) pond or outdoor rink.

    13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Golly, no I don't. There have been some sweet ones over the years, and I loved how my (then to be) husband gave me a real cashmere sweater and a winter coat the first year we dated. What an amazingly kind treat that was for a struggling graduate student holding down two jobs. We have since reined in extravagant giving.

    14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? Attending Christmas Eve service. It never fails to bring me such peace, especially the late service. That and being near family, my own and my husband's. His family is warmer than buttered toast with honey and being there in all the chaos of children and phalanxes of ham and ambrosia and transparent pie and red velvet cake and baked beans and green beans and country ham and warm rolls and that green molded salad with the pecans and Derby pie, with a chance to run outside on the farm if it's warm enough and to watch the boys take it all in.

    15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Ambrosia. Hands down. Citrus and whipped cream!

    16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Christmas Eve service, again, hands down. That is the essence and high point of the entire season.

    17. What tops your tree? That dark red velvet bow, hand-tied and never straight. I can't tie well that high up and it's friendler that way, anyhow.

    18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving? Oh dear. I have a problem with the gift part of things. I love to give something which brings joy, but I get very stressed about all the shopping, and resentful about our culture's pressure to buy buy buy. I wish we drew straws with one gift for each person. That's why Santa Claus is not emphasized here, and the boys will receive a few special toys and books and needful things, but not reams of stuff.

    19. Favorite Christmas song? Riu Riu Chiu, a Renaissance madrigal. Joyous and intricate!

    20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum? One for old-time's sake. Where oh where did the pastel-colored cream mints and the ribbon candy go?

    21. Favorite Christmas show? Growing up we used to like It's a Wonderful Life and Charlie Brown Christmas, but our 1980s-era TV is turned off except for the occasional football game. (Go SEC!) I prefer radio programs! I can't wait for the caroling ones to arrive.

    22. Saddest Christmas song? There's an ancient lullaby about King Herod's horrible jealousy and the slaying of the innocents that has a tune to make you weep and lyrics to make a mother cry. Why they made it a lullaby I cannot fathom...but then, darkness and tragedy were a lot closer to Western daily life prior to the 20th century. Let's be thankful for the peace some nations have and pray that it finds its way to other nations still in the dark!

    So there you are! A merry Christmas to you. May it bring contentment and joy and thoughtfulness.

    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    The Twins: Whoa, Where'd They Go?

    The twins haven't appeared much in these pages lately, but that's because toddler isn't a very good word for their state. They don't toddle anymore. Mini-meteor might be more appropriate. Or maybe colt. They sure seem more adjusted to living in a field where they can satisfy the urge to run, than to a house, which offers too many corners and blind turns to negotiate in slippy socks.

    They may spend happy hours every day with their books tossed around them, explaining to each other the pictures that they see, but the rest of the day is for kicking up their heels or running full tilt, ringing an imaginary fire bell as they race to put out the next fire or rescue a kitty from a window. Whoa, boys, can I get your picture, please? Here we go -- wait, wait! Ack, that one'll be blurry. Oh, never mind.

    Memo to file. Next time, use the sport mode on the camera. If it's fast enough.