Monday, December 12, 2011


This past Saturday my performance group danced in downtown Omaha as part of the Christmas festivities there, and afterwards when we briefly shopped around I bought the book above, "Art of Dressmaking" put out by Butterick pattern company in 1927. It cost $10, which is a lot for me to pay for a book, but I'd like to store up more old books about sewing.

Then in the free pile at church on Sunday I picked up this beat-up leather jacket. It had a hole, a tear, and some stains, but I figured I could cut it up and maybe make a cap or some small bags for my reenacting kit.

Since I can't afford to buy much material by the yard, I often utilize already made garments by cutting them up and re-making them. Here's the coat again with cuffs, zipper and lining taken off. There are quite a few seams, so there aren't any really large pieces of leather, but I'm sure I can still put it to good use. It's always interesting to take a garment apart, especially tailored coats and jackets. There's obviously so much work that goes into these more heavy duty items.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Event of the Year

Yes, I've been.... missing. My excuse is I've been organizing this big event that happened just last Friday. So now it's over and I feel so relieved. I've been working on this event off and on since I paid for the facility in July, mostly sewing costumes. I'm surprised now to realize how much pressure had built up. I feel better now. I'm sure that next year, if I decide to do this again, it will be much easier.

Caleb playing at the Ball in his 1820's military jacket.
The epaulets and collar are still untrimmed because I haven't gotten the white wool and extra button from my supplier, but I think Caleb looks great. Military coatees are the best.

Besides being the dance event of the year, it was also my birthday. I didn't plan it that way on purpose; that was the only weekend the facility was available, and what better way to spend a birthday than dancing? I told Jen that I didn't want anyone to sing Happy Birthday, but they did anyway, and gave some very kind gifts.

If you live in Omaha you might know where this is; I have to say having the Ball in a real ballroom was totally worth the extra cost. I can not say enough about excellent facility and staff. I'm very thankful it worked out to have our last dance in 2011 here.

More details will be posted on the dance website, for those of you who know it. Now that the costumes are made and the public is satisfied, I'm really looking forward to enjoying the last few dance events of the year. Jen and I are calling for a private Christmas party and we have two performances, and then I get to start planning a whole other round of workshops, performances, and public dances!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sewing like the Dickens

The guest room has become a costume closet for items going to the Fezziwig Ball and coming dance performances. What you see above is about half of what I've been preparing in the past few months; the other half was given out at our dance rehearsal last week. Since this is our first year performing outdoors in the winter, I've been scrambling to add warmer articles for the ladies to wear. I've taken two women's suit coats and cut them down into Regency Spencers. I've finished Caleb's coatee, except for the collar trim which I don't have yet.

Lamentably, Scrooge's coat requires more work. When I enlarged the pattern from a size 38 to a 43 I forgot to enlarge the sleeves, so they turned out way too tight. I added a strip down the underside of the sleeve, and now they're too big, and they hang funny. Poor Scrooge.

This is the bodice for Mrs. Crachit, also known as my mother. How do you sew a historical looking outfit for someone who doesn't care if it looks correct or not, and is only going to wear it once or twice? Plus she keeps insisting it's too tight and it makes her claustrophobic. This is our last year as the Crachit family, since next year Jeremy will be too big to be Tiny Tim. And frankly, our family is not very good at acting, so we don't make the best Dickens characters.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


This has been an interesting year for relational interaction, in three specific ways:
One. The longer we stay in this church, the closer we become to those in it. As we all grow and change, especially as many of us ease out of school into "the real world", maintaining healthy relationships in church can be a lot of work! Specifically those friendships with people who have very different personalities, and learning how to better relate to young men as friends.

Two. In the past year I've come to know my Grandma better. Hard of hearing and with poor eyesight, Grandma is changing from being an strong-minded independent lady to a someone needing in-home care. Taking care of a person who can hardly walk down the hall has been challenging, and I haven't even done that much. Yet.

Three. I've done a great deal of traveling this year, from Nebraska to Scotland, from California to Illinois. I've met people and made new friends at Presbytery, Liberty Day, and Reformation Faire. House-sitting, babysitting, and dance events have kept me out and about a great deal. Dance acquaintances, church family from other states, and new contacts through the dance business have added to my acquaintances. My family is planning a trip to Texas over New Year's, and I'm thankful that since Jen has to stay home to teach and watch the dog, that I can stay home too. It seems like every other week I'm packing to go somewhere, and I confess as thankful as I am for the opportunities I'm getting tired of it.

People are difficult. How do you deal with people?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Adventure is out there!

This past weekend Jen and I traveled with some friends to an Advanced English Coutnry Dance Workshop in Iowa. We stayed in a seedy Super 8 motel. We got the last non-smoking room in the place, which happened to be a handicap accessable room with one bed. And it smelled pretty bad, too. Our view out the window was an old truck from decades past.

The band was Bare Necessities, whose recordings we use heavily at our own dances. The location was a neat sort of 1950's dance hall. The music was great quality and I really enjoyed it; but the cross-dressing flute player really unnerved me. The hall with the wooden floor was neat, but the drawings of nude ladies in the refreshment room made getting drinks a perilous mission.

We all got sore. It was eleven hours of dancing in two days. The dances were more advanced than what we teach, but I think I can say we more than held our own dancing among the lifers(those who have been dancing all their lengthy lives, which most of them had).

We got all dressed up for the formal dance on Saturday night. Colonial clothes are the best.

We were very glad to have our friends there. The atmosphere between the two different dance camps, conservative and liberal, is extreme and can be stressful. We joke that there the people who dance ECD are either home schoolers or hippies, and that's really fairly accurate. It was an adventure to attend, and I'm glad we went.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


This being the month of thankfulness, I thought I'd post about something I'm thankful for.

My Sewing Room.

Our house is two old houses put together, so in the middle upstairs is this medium-sized room with low slanted ceiling on both sides. It makes an awkward bedroom because everyone else has to walk through it to get to the bathroom and storeroom. The slanted ceiling makes it hard to place furniture. But in our unheated second story it's the warmest room because the stovepipe runs through it, and the antique floor grate is in there too. We girls use it as a sitting room, retreat, and most importantly, a sewing room.

I've become very thankful for this space during the dump of costume sewing in the past year. I can spend my morning upstairs alone, concentrating on my work. I can make a mess and not have the pressure of cleaning it up for lunch. If we move it's doubtful whether or not I'll have a space for sewing.

Thank you, God, for my sewing room.

Caleb's Coatee...

Is too large. Anyone have any tailoring tips for me? All I know to do is take if off, take in the seams. Put it on. Take it off, take in the seams. I already have one tail completely done, and I do not want to take it out.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Make Do

When you have to sew a large quantity of costumes, like I do, with a deadline, like I do, improvisation can be your best friend. For myself, for paying customers, and for my brothers I sew period correct clothing, but for performances I don't always have the time or the money to sew the right way. Thrift stores and donations are my supply stores; coupons and creativity are necessities. Here you see before you a wool suit coat, probably from the 1990's and too large for any of my family members. Rescued from languishing in a dusty closet, it is ready to be transformed to a new purpose.

Chop it up.

Cut out the sleeves and the collar. Hack it to pieces. Vent your anger at the people who gained weight between costume fittings, and those sour individuals who don't like their costumes. Forget your mountain of waiting projects and scissor that thing apart.

Take your traced, borrowed or stolen but certainly not bought pattern of a nineteenth century man's waistcoat and place it where convenient. Make it fit. Save the front seams and buttonholes if you can.

At the end of cutting you should have the all the parts for a basic, not entirely correct waistcoat- an easy way to spice up any man's wardrobe. You may have to add some lining to the back piece, if you take out the usual polyester lining like I do. Take off the plastic buttons and buy some metal ones at Hancock's when they go 50% off.

This is how I sew. Shocked?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My little camera doesn't take very good quality close-up photos, so I had Caleb take a few with his super fancy camera. Here is tail number one, close to completion. All the buttons are plugged in, the pleat is stitched down, and the lining is ready to be put over all.

The top of the tail with its beautiful and expensive buttons.

Caleb has a nice camera.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Caleb's Growing Coatee

I hope you're not all sick and tired of hearing about the coatee, because it's a long ways from finished.

I had to cut the tails down to a shorter length to fit Caleb's class and era. I've tacked down the front flap of the tail and stitched on the fake pocket, which will have four buttons on it for decoration. The tail pleats seam to serve no purpose since they're going to be stiched closed as well.

The tail pleat with its two decorative half hidden buttons.

Plugged buttons, on the underside. Poke through the wool with an awl, push the button loop through, and thread a bit of fabric through. The button is secure and flat on the outside of the coat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reformation Faire 2011

I've just returned home from a whirlwind trip to our sister church in Illinois to call a dance for their Reformation Day Faire. We had a wonderful crowd of dancers. It's always fun to call for a different group. And it's always cool to see so many men in kilts. The food was amazing, and we even got paid to be there. Was that a good deal or what?

(Picture stolen from someone I barely know on Facebook- I didn't take a single picture)
I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my back the last evening there. It certainly wasn't because I was doing something athletic, so I'm rather disgusted with myself. If one is in pain they at least ought to have an interesting story to tell why. I spent the ride home trying not to move, breathe, cough, sneeze or laugh. The last time I pulled a muscle it was because I was trying to reach the gas pedal in Dad's pickup.

It took us an extra hour and a half to get home because road crews are taking down the large sandbags along the highway that runs from Blair to Mossouri Valley. The highway is closed for five days while the road is returned to normal after the extensive flooding.

We're glad to be home.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

1820 Military Coatee: The Continuing Saga

I'm taking a dance trip this weekend, so the coatee is at a standstill until next week, but I did get a hold of a completed coatee to use as an example. I took a few pictures for your information.

This coatee is definitely in need of some TLC: a good cleaning, new lace and buttons. It's a much used hand-me down, roughly 40 chest and rather short. The owner is something of a collector who regularly loans out clothing to the less fortunate, so far as I can tell.

The cuffs are sewn right side to right side and then folded down, and the lining stitched under. I learned how to plug buttons the other day, which creates the buttoned-down look you see above.

There's a slit on the side of the cuff to allow freedom of movement. The cuffs should fall down the knuckles.

The collar has yellow wool trim, which means the wearer is Artillery. Caleb is Infantry, which would be white wool trim and different buttons.

The tails fall mid-thigh. The pockets are fake, and the edge of the wool folds over the front of the sides.

Here you can see the side-edge folded over and part of the fake pocket.

Notice the placement of the curved back and shoulder seams related to the underarm seam.

To the modern bystander or experienced reeactor these details may seem obvious and boring. But I am learning by trial and error, tooth and nail, and if any fresh, new 1820 military reenactor ever finds my blog I hope these pictures help just a little. I'm very thankful to those who have helped me and answered some of my many questions.


Two green waistcoats with metal buttons.

Sneak peek at the Fezziwig Ball: The Ghost of Christmas Present

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To Move or not to Move?

I haven't posted about our thoughts on moving for quite some time, and since some people have been asking what's going on I thought I might summarize it here.

Our moving saga of four years continues to grow in drama. It was four years ago that we decided we needed to move closer to our church and Dad's work in the city. Since that time we've considered almost every living condition under the sun, from building our own house to erecting tepees. Then when the price of building materials went up we started actually looking at houses. Jen went for the ones with tall white pillars where ladies wear evening dresses, and Dad went for the unique ones like the $800,000 western movie set.

With Grandma's growing need for in-home care we began to seriously consider the few options open to us. All the houses on the edge of town within our price range are either small compared to where we're living now, or in need of much repair. It's a hard choice to make: is it worth it to move and go into debt if we will be moving to a smaller or needy house?

Just last week we made an offer on a beautiful old house, much smaller than our own but fifty miles closer to Dad's work. The family in residence is a really sweet family that decided to move because the Dad lost his job. We're waiting now to hear if they will negotiate with us, since they thought our offer was too low.

So that's our current state: we may buy this house. We may move. We might also stay where we are, and if so, turn the library into a bedroom for Grandma. Either way, life is changing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Coatee

My two goals for this house-sitting jaunt, are, you recall:
  • Relax
  • Sew
It's not really happening that way! I feel like I've been dragged hither and yon most of the week. Yesterday, though, I did very little because I had "Low spirits," ie I wasn't feeling well at all. So that counts as relaxing, and today I'll get back to sewing. I sewed the side seams and sleeve seams for the coatee the other day, and tonight I'll be fitting it on the handsome model to make sure it fits.

The sleeves are slightly curved down the side. I've never sewn with wool before, and this material seems so stiff that I don't know how it will ever press down.

On the right here you can see the two back peices with a center seam attached to the side front, using a very curved side seam. Very different from the straight modern seamlines we have today.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hunting Frock: The Saga Continues

The hunting frock pattern that was kindly copied for me is a size 40 chest. My brothers are several pounds, inches and years aways from possibility of having a 40 chest. I've enlarged patterns with success before, but never cut them down ten inches.
The cut of the pattern and shape of the garment are unlike anything I've ever constructed, probably because I've never sewn men's outer garments before. The person who devised this article of clothing was clearly demented, or maybe just evil. I understand now how it goes together, but I've given up on it fitting smoothly, especially with the size change. My sewing standard has become "You're wearing it, no matter what!"

Start your day with Nutella- especially if you're going to be sewing all day long. I've cut out three waistcoats and three ladies caps for the upcoming Christmas Ball.

As far as Caleb's coatee, I thought it was going to be simple. I bought a pattern from Smoke and Fire because I got tired of borrowing patterns. The trim is different, but the basic pattern is, I  think. the same. It still scares me, though. The navy blue wool material was given to me for a donation of what I had on me, which was $5 total(I think the cheapest wool I've ever seen was $10 a yard, and this is nearly three yeards). The white linen lining I bought at Hancock's for probably $5 a yard. Caleb and our costume fund are paying for the 38 buttons at $2 each(sigh), and I'm doing the labor for free. We're doing it the cheap way, but I can totally understand how with the cost of materials and hours of labor these coats go for hundreds of dollars.

The coatee front and back from the top.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

House-Sitting Again

I am watching someone's house again, and I'm already on day six. I was trying to figure out the other day how many weeks I've spent in this house over the past year, and I guessed that all told it came to ten weeks. The residents have had a busy travel year.

I'm glad to be here. September was a rather stressful month, with guests, the History Festival, and house-hunting(just thinking about moving is stressful). I'm enjoying the relaxing sensation of silence, my own bathroom(three bathrooms to myself!), and the freedom of my own basic schedule. Jen is always warning me how dangerous it is to live alone, because it's easy to succomb to independent living. But it's so relaxing.

And I do have chores. Today is domestic day: water the immaculate flower beds, laundry, dishes, and an afternoon trip to take Grandma to the Doctor. My goal while here is to get a great deal of sewing done. So far I've cut out three bonnets and three waistcoats, but what I really need to work on are military coats for my brothers. I'm just scared to start on them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Week is the Providential History Festival

This week is the Providential History Festival. PHF involves, among other things, packing meals for four days; showering in outdoor temperatures; calling a dance with a live band; meeting old and new friends; exhaustion.

I have a cold. Yesterday, Sept. 11th, I stayed home from church, blew my nose, and watched videos of the terrorist attacks that ten years ago changed America. After ten years, it was good to be reminded of what happened that day.

Sewing is put on hold until after the event. After the event we're planning to relax with good friends for a day before getting back into the ruotine. I'm looking forward to starting a new dance session with new dances and dancers, and the upcoming challenge of sewing historical clothing for my brothers.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hunting Frock: Green Glory

The coat(some assembly required) and it's wearer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sewing a Hunting Frock

I have easily a dozen sewing projects to complete between now and December, one of those being a military hunting frock for my brother Andrew. When he re-enacts at the Ft. he has to borrow a frock, and besides being old and much used all their frocks are much too large for him(he is still growing).

I came upon a large quantity of undyed cotton canvas, and since it was practically free I decided to take it home and dye it the correct shade of green. Several weeks ago I used normal Rit dye to stir up this mass of cotton(wet material is heavy!) and it turned out disappointingly tie-died and in the end, faded in parts from being out on the line. My first experience with hand dyeing was less than perfect.

So today I took to the tub again for a second and final try, whatever the outcome. I believe it turned out well enough. It was very hard to adequately stir the material to achieve an even dye; the material was heavy and bulky. Dye got everywhere, and even my hands are a sickly shade of green. But it worked. Stay tuned for glimpses of the long awaited hunting frock!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Coming Soon

For better or worse, I have two weeks to print my booklet.

Trousers, Trousers, Trousers

Yes, period 1820's clothing hang regularly on our wash line.

The final summer dance performance was on Saturday. My sharp looking group of dancers knocked the socks off friends and family at Ft. Atkinson State Historical Park through three performances throughout the day. Then I went home and collapsed. What exhaustion! What relief! Summer session is well and truly over.

The trousers held up well. No buttons popped, though everyone's hems were six inches deep in mud, after dancing in the rain on wet grass. Funny thing, after measuring all the men for waist size I made the trousers accordingly. But at dress rehearsal everyone's trousers were much too snug. At that point they just had to wear them. I figure it's their fault for gaining weight, right? 

Since we got home Saturday night with everyone's dirty clothes, the trousers soaked in the bathtub all of Sunday until Labor Day morning, when I labored to wash them all.

The ghost of Christmas Past is taking shape. I'm making an underlay of thin cream polyester(shocking, I know) with a layer of white cotton underneath that since it's so thin, and on top of everything will go a layer of this pale green stuff, which is terrible to work with. It's fairly stiff material, so as you work with it the little threads get stuck in your skin like invisible slivers. To finish it I'm planning on adding some emerald green beading around the neckline. Think 1920's flapper dress, here. It should be interesting. Hopefully the ghost I have in mind will consent to wear it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Performance Group: the Good and the Bad

(I actually wrote this last week, and delayed posting until now.)

This week was dress rehearsal for our English Country Dance Performance Group, summer session. This Saturday is our first summer performance, at the local Pirate Festival. We have two more performances and then this session will be done. I have been amazingly stressed over building number of dance events, so even as much as I enjoy dance group I will be much relieved when this session is over.

Last week my family went to family camp. I've probably mentioned here before that I do not enjoy camping or sports, so other than the possibility of meeting new friends I wasn't excited about attending. However, despite sleeping in tents and all that, it turned out to be surprisingly relaxing. Jen and I did call dances one night, but being disconnected from the World Wide Web forced us all to stop thinking of upcoming this and looming-on-the-horizon that. Which was good for all of us.

I've been surprised at the amount of stress generated by dealing with a few really outgoing people, who really don't mean any ill but cause disruption by simply being unknowingly loud. How can some people be so loud and just not notice it?

Oh well. Session is almost over. Performance group has it's ups and downs. I've learned the hard way lately, but made some good friends, and I look forward to continued relationships and new friends too.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Trouser update

Sewing helps: Chocolate, music, and extra thread.

The trousers, dictators of my life, are getting done:

And after that I have five shirts to sew:

I'm getting tired of sewing white.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The two main points of my Life

Dance activities are going well. The Ballroom has been rented for December; I may actually make more than $20 on the classes I'm teaching next week; and we have two more performance practices before dress rehearsal and actual performance. I will be very glad when the summer classes and performances are over, because as enjoyable as it is to teach dance this round has been rather stressful: exhausting physically with all the sewing of costumes, and relationally as I deal with unwitting and unruly performers. People can be so(to put it bluntly) rude without(I think) even knowing it. Do I ever do that? I hope not.
The trousers are coming along. I have the six aforementioned pairs mostly constructed, and I have to cut another soon and then move on to the men's shirts. Our sewing room is not air conditioned, and with this abnormally hot weather sewing is a real chore. Plus I'm really getting tired of looking at the boring white bedsheets that make up the trousers. It may come to a point where I say to the guys, you're wearing them whatever stage they're in so just deal with it!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sewing Projects

The ghost of Christmas past. Should be interesting.

A new colonial gown in grey linen with blue linen cuffs.

Six pairs of small-fall trousers.