Wednesday, October 18, 2017

...Meanwhile, Longarm Quilting Practice Continues

Getting Better, But Not There Yet
So I've been working on that cheater cloth practice quilt some more.  It's definitely more challenging than just practicing different quilting motifs on solid fabric.  I've been experimenting with different thread types and colors, and changing up the way I quilt each printed 54-40 or Fight and Dresden Plate block.  The quilting really does change the way each one looks, so it's nice to be able to just try out different things from block to block without worrying about having to rip anything out so all the blocks can be the same in the finished quilt.  For instance, I was surprised by how much I liked those loopy squiggles in the blue star points of the block above.

Stitching In the Ditch, Without the Ditch
The first thing I did each time I advanced this practice quilt was to practice precision straight line quilting with the help of a ruler.  If this was a real pieced quilt top instead of a printed "cheater cloth" panel, I would be stitching right along the seamlines between patches.  As you can see in the photo above, this isn't as easy as you might imagine -- even with a ruler! -- but I am definitely getting better at it.  And stitching along those fake seamlines really makes the cheater cloth look more like a real pieced quilt, don't you think?

HandiQuilter Mini Ruler, 2 x 6
Here's why it's tricky.  You can't put your ruler right along the stitching line, because the presser foot is in the way.  The outside edge of the presser foot that rides alongside the edge of your ruler is 1/4" away from the needle, so the ruler needs to be lined up 1/4" away from where you want your line to stitch.  I quickly learned that I needed to stitch SLOWLY and keep my eye on the needle in order to stay on that printed seam line.  That's why it's so time consuming to do SID (Stitch In the Ditch) on a real quilt.

Once I had the "ditches" stitched down, I practiced some freehand fills, feathers, pebbles, and straight line fills using the ruler.  When I started this piece, I thought I was going to want a matte, all-white thread, and I did like the white on white for the stippling around the Dresden plate.  However, I was surprised to discover that I really preferred the light blue Glide thread over most of the fabrics, just a shade or two lighter than the solid blue patches.  

Feathers are still really challenging.  I'm getting better at backtracking, but still working on controlling the machine on diagonal curves.  That's why my quilted feathers aren't shaped as nicely as the ones I doodle on my iPad with my Apple Pencil.  But I think they're looking less and less like ogre toes every day.

Behold, Sub Par Feathers
More Feather Practice on a Dresden Plate
See the straight line quilting on the blue triangle, lower left corner of the above block?  Used the ruler for that.  Nice, straight lines, but again, had to go pretty slowly to keep the ruler from slipping.  I did ALL of the triangles in that "fabric" this way, even though it doesn't show up well, because practicing straight lines with the ruler was one of my primary objectives with this piece.  I tried spacing the quilting lines 1/4" apart using the lines on my 2" x 6" HandiQuilter Mini Ruler, but I think on a real quilt I would at least need little dots marking where each line ends and begins to get spacing that I was happy with.

Wretched Attempts at Pebbles
Yeah, those pebbles were intended to be ROUND...  Not!  But isn't it interesting the difference that the thread color makes?  Those quilted rocks I made in white thread caused the blue triangles to virtually disappear and blend into the adjacent blue and white print.  If you scroll back up to the picture where I was using light blue thread on the dark blue triangle, you'll see what I mean.  

Ah, well -- that's the whole point of practice, isn't it?  The only reason I'm posting these pictures is so I can look back on them at some point in the (hopefully not too far off) future and say:

I can tell you that I now understand why professional longarm quilters charge so much more for custom quilting.  All this fiddling around with outlining blocks and SID and special fills in each little patch is taking me forever!  But I'm very much looking forward to taking it off the frame and comparing the quilting at the top of the practice quilt to the quilting at the bottom.  Happy Stitching. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Christmas Caroling Season Approaching: Should I Make a New Costume, Yea or Nay?

Good morning and happy holidays, everyone!  I know it's only October 17th and y'all are probably festooning your front steps with pumpkins and "harvest decor" if you're thinking about holidays at all, but my professional caroling group just had our kickoff rehearsal/party last weekend so I'm already thinking ahead to Christmas.  Behold, me in the Giant Green Dress That Does Not Fit In My Car:

Final Christmas Caroling Job Last Year, Holiday Party at a Private Residence

That photo is from my last caroling job of last year's holiday season, a party at a private home in Charlotte.  The weather was perfect, the other members of the quartet were some of my favorite voices to sing with, and we really enjoyed singing together.  The homeowner who hired us had also hired a horse drawn carriage bringing guests up the their winding driveway past the beautifully lit trees to the house, where we met them at the front door with Christmas carols in four-part harmony.  (I am now BFF with Jake the Horse).
Imagine All Of This Dress Stuffed Behind My Steering Wheel...

So the dress...  You can read more about how I made it, which pattern I used, etc., here if you're interested.  I got carried away with the design, and wasn't thinking about the practical requirements of a costume that I need to put on at home and then wear while driving my little car to wherever the job happens to be.  Have you ever tried to drive in a hoop skirt with petticoats?  It's a hassle just getting in and out of the costume, it's restrictive and uncomfortable through the arms and shoulders, it's 100% silk so if I'm caroling outdoors and it rains on me, the dress will be ruined, and it's dry clean only...  Also the hoop skirt tends to knock things over, and when we were hired to go caroling door-to-door in a neighborhood the other night I kept tripping over the skirt and couldn't see where the steps began or ended.  There have been some close calls where, if someone hadn't been in the right place at the right time, I could have knocked over a Christmas tree or two.  This dress is ridiculously impractical, so even though our clients and their guests love it (especially the little old ladies at nursing homes), I am strongly considering making a new caroling costume for this year.  

Honestly, after two years, I am bored with wearing the same thing over and over again, struggling in and out of this dress 2-3 times a week for the whole month of December.  I feel like Charlie Brown!  I won't completely retire the green dress; I just need a different costume that I can alternate with it, something in a different color that is more suitable for outdoor events, with a warmer fabric and/or matching cape, something a bit later Victorian with a skirt that is not quite so full....  I want a costume that will be easier to get in and out of, more comfortable to wear and practical to drive in, and one that won't cost a fortune and take 50+ hours to sew.  So, without further ado, BEHOLD!  The Inspiration for my Next Caroling Costume!:

Inspiration: 1826 Fashion Plate from a French Ladies' Magazine
My costume is supposed to be "Victorian" or "Dickensian," and plaids were a huge fashion trend in the mid-19th century.  No, I'm not going to wear a dorky bonnet, but am thinking something like the red and green plaid skirt with ruffles with a frilly blouse, and maybe a little cloak to go over it.  

Because a LOT of work goes into shirtmaking, I ordered this blouse from a historical costume supplier:

Abbington Blouse from Historical Emporium
The blouse cost me $56, which sounds expensive until you consider that I would probably have spent that much on a pattern, fabric, lace trim, buttons, interfacing, and whatever other notions were needed to make it -- plus it would have taken HOURS of time that I don't have.  So I'm going to use this ready-made costume blouse as a starting point and just add more lace trim from my stash to make it more exciting.   In the Victorian fashion plate illustrations you'll notice that the shoulders and upper sleeves are very pouffy and frilly, and making the shoulders and upper arms bigger with ruffles and frills helps to make the waist look narrower for that hourglass silhouette:  
1826 and 1829

Also, just tucked into a skirt as in the Historical Emporium photo, my Abbington blouse looks more Little House On the Prairie than Elegant Caroling Fashionista.  It's not going to look Victorian if it's all blousy and loose at the waistline.  So I I'm going to make some kind of separate waist cincher/corset/belt thingy, similar to what this costumer Victorian Choice has done:

From other photos on their web site, I can see that Victorian Choice makes that waist cincher so that it ties with long sashes at the back -- which means it's totally adjustable in the event that a Caroling Fashionista eats a couple of extra slices of pumpkin pie...  

I haven't seen anything quite like the Victorian Choice waist cincher in my Victorian fashion research, at least not dating from my target era of 1840-1860.  The one below is an antique garment dating from the 1880s or so:

(At this point, you might be wondering why I don't just order my whole costume online and be done with it, especially if you're a sensible, practical person.  Unfortunately for me, I'm an impractical, ridiculous person who needs to have a one-of-a-kind costume entirely of my own making and incorporating all of my own design whimsies, so ordering a readymade costume online is simply out of the question). 

Back to the project at hand:

A Starting Point: Simplicity 8910
Let me assure you that there will be NO dorky bonnet on my head, but I DO like the View C cape from this Simplicity pattern shown above.  I've got a lightweight red microfiber that looks and drapes like velvet and won't need lining for the cape, and I bought some heavy black pom pom trim to use where red trim is shown in the pattern photo.  But I don't like the skirt in that pattern because there is too much bulky fullness at the waist, which would look frumpy-dumpy, and I think the skirt might even have an ELASTIC waist, God forbid.  I have a different pattern that I'm planning to use for my skirt, this OOP (Out of Print) Butterick:

OOP Butterick Pattern 3418
I like this pattern better than the Simplicity skirt pattern because of the princess seams, which keep fullness at the hem while reducing bulk at the waistline.  I may even gather and attach my skirt to the waistband by hand the way my original costume was made, because that historically accurate technique wasn't difficult and it really did allow a tremendous amount of fabric to gather up at the waist without any bulk.  That's key to creating the illusion of a corseted silhouette without actually having to wear a corset -- waist cincher with full, puffy blouse above and full, puffy skirt below.  

I'm thinking of a hybrid between View D with the three tiers of gathered ruffles and trim, and View B that has the flat skirt panel in the front with fullness concentrated to the sides and read of the skirt.  Look at my historic inspiration photo again:

See?  The skirt is gathered on the back and sides, but flat (not gathered) in the front.  With enough fullness in the back, that could even give a hint of a bustled effect (without having to tie a pillow to my derriere).  From a historical authenticity perspective (which absolutely NO ONE cares about besides me), notice the ruffles on the skirts -- three tiers of ruffles, even a contrasting plaid ruffle on the one on the left, and the ruffles are clearly cut on the bias due to the diagonal direction of the plaid.  Plaid was a very fashion-forward trend in the mid-19th century, as were the very full skirts supported by hoops and petticoats.  But what really stands out to me in researching women's fashion circa 1860 is the bold, graphic trim on the skirts:

Chevron With Plaid!
Ruffles, Plaid Banding, Bold Trim
Ruffles, Banding, BOLD!

Check Out the Coat Trim!
Interlocking Ring Applique
These are some wild getups, aren't they?!  Those super-full skirts were never plain; they were canvases waiting to be embellished with dramatic, showstopping trim.  That's why I went with the bold, black scalloped ruffling on my previous costume -- and I want to have that drama for my new costume, too.  

For my skirt fabric, I bought some green and red plaid cotton flannel from JoAnn and some red floral yarn trim:

For My Skirt?
So, what do you think?  At the moment, I'm feeling kind of "meh" about it.  Here are the pros:

  1. 100% cotton flannel can be preshrunk, so my finished skirt could be washable -- no more dry cleaning costs
  2. This is an outdoor-friendly fabric that won't be ruined by a sprinkling of rain or snow
  3. It's warmer than the silk I used for my last costume, which would be a plus on cold evening gigs
  4. Several yards of red yarn trim can jazz up that plaid fabric so it looks more interesting and more 1860s Fashion Forward
  5. The plaid will make it easy to cut the skirt panels straight, and I won't have to mark where the trim goes because I can just use lines in the plaid fabric itself
  6. I was originally thinking of skirt view D, with the three tiers of ruffles and the red yarn trim just above each ruffle, but I'm having second thoughts about that because of the bulk of flannel ruffles...

And of course the cons are that it's too "expected," too cliche, and not nearly exciting like a silky satiny outfit.  The biggest factor sabotaging my "sewjo" with this project is that everyone to whom I've mentioned my plan to make a new costume this year has reacted with DISAPPOINTMENT.  :-(


Anyway.  Here is the plan for the little cape thingy:

Simplicity 8910 Double Tiered Cape
The other thing I can do is disregard the skirt pattern instructions when it comes to gathering and attaching the skirt to the waistband, and use the hand stitched cartridge pleat technique I learned from making my previous costume:
Inside the Waistband of an Antique 1860s Dress
Doing the skirt that way is not hard at all, not using Tiger Tape to space my hand stitches and heavy duty upholstery thread that won't break when I pull up the pleats.  This method can't be done by machine, but it really does enable you to get an authentic bell-shaped skirt without thickening up the waistline.  Those pleats rotate outward when you put the skirt on with a petticoat, so there is no gathered seam allowance adding girth at the waistline itself.  It's genius.

Anyone who has managed to read all the way through this rambling stream-of-consciousness post without falling asleep deserves a prize, and here it is:  I will now listen to and consider YOUR opinions!  Please leave me a comment and let me know if you think this new costume idea would result in a crowd-pleaser or a disappointment.  If you don't like this idea, what would you suggest instead?  I have about 6 weeks before the caroling season starts in earnest.  Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!
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