Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Becoming Anne Bonney

The corset made its official debut at the Pirate Jamboree on Saturday. I know most of you reading this were there and therefore ogled it in all its (and my) glory, but for the two or three of you who are passing thru or reading this and never commenting, here it is. Of course, La Fab was interested only in was what UNDER the corset, and so all the shots are of the front. The back was unremarkable, except that I only awled half the eyelets and left them unfinished because of time (I was too busy making the treasure chest cake.) I decided to awl them rather than cut them because of the rather tempetuous nature of the rayon brocade I chose as the fancy outer fabric. It likes to fray a lot, and I worried about it fraying under either the metal eyelets or under the hand-binding ( I have yet to decide which I want to do). Since an awl just pushes the thread aside, you tend to have less issues with weakening and with fraying as well.

I used the world's crappiest faux-suede as a binding for the seams, as I have seen several examples of period stays that are bound with fine skin of some sort, either kid or deer. Unfortunately, the synthetic stuff I used had NO stretch at all, not even on the bias, and it was thicker than I wanted and deceptively tough, too. I started hand-binding for neatness, but eight inches into it, I gave up. Six layers of fairly tough material was too much for my meager hand sewing skills. I resorted to the machine. It did not turn out so well. It was bunchy and uneven and just. plain. wrong. It looks fine in these images, but it was so stiff on the armholes ( the cap, not the scye) that it made it stand out from my body and deformed the line I was trying to achieve. You can also see in the pictures that I managed to sew the top line completely crooked. Luckily, it's so close to the Twins that no one will ever be looking at that. The chemise I am wearing is actually a nightdown that I hacked off at knee length and tucked wily-nilly into my gauchos. I plan on doing a very simple chemise in a sheer cotton (no can do flax linen) at some later point, and provided I can find some lace that seems fine enough.

First I need to concentrate on making the paniers and the toile of the robe a la francaise. After actually feeling the weight of the fabric I plan on using, I think my original plan of going with 1/4 " boning spring steel is not going to work out. The hoops will collapse under the strain. So I need to find something stronger, and hopefully inexpensive. I want to maybe try to see if I can finagle some lumber strapping from the local timber yard, or maybe they can give me pointers. Ahh, hardware stores. A costumer's best friend. If that fails, we'll go with the pattern recommendation of doubling featherweight flexible boning, but with the understanding that they will have to be replaced sooner rather than later. One night's dancing is all they are likely to take. Like I'm planning on making several robes that will require paniers that can withstand more than six or eight hours of dancing. Sheesh.

As the papaya satin was prohibitively expensive - at $9/yard - I have reluctantly made the finally decision to not have the peachy confection of a gown I was pursuing. I will let you know about the colors next time, soonish I hope.

BTW, Blogger doesn't like the pirate pictures as they are. It steadfastly refuses to load them. Go figure. I will try to mess a bit and see if I can make them ore blogger-friendly, so you can actually see what I'm talking about.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


This whole week has been spent cutting boning for the stupid corset. I am working feverishly to finish it before La Fab's Jamboree in three days. The most trying part has been cutting the spiral steel, of which I needed thirty pieces. I ended up cutting like thirty five because I kept screwing up. All the corset making sites are so breezy about it - merely clip the wires on either side of the boning and pull it apart gently. Pardon my Francaise, but bullshit. This stuff is made out of steel, and I think it must be some kind of tempered steel, and it requires not just clipping but wrenching, twisting, cursing, scratching, more cursing, and bleeding. You would think the burly-lookin' shears I got for this purpose would do the job, but no. The wire laughed at it, and managed to dent the jaws, as well. After many bitter tears, I managed to get all the pieces cut this afternoon, finally. I am giving my hands a break before tipping the last half dozen. I did not cut them in the manner explained in the instructions, which was to cut each one to fit the channel you've just sewn. Screw that. Too much switching. I finally started cutting the bones one section of the corset at a time, and inserting them all at once. I am also not basting closed the ends once the bones are in, but the corduroy is holding them in okay. It only took me about six bones to figure out the most efficient and secure method of attaching the tips to the spiral bones, too. Oh well, live and learn, right? I am planning on making another, and next time I think I'll find it a breeze. It will probably be an Alaska Day costume, just because AK Day gives an opportunity to actually sport all of that fun mid-Victorian costume. I do enjoy the late Vic. era stuff, too, the square necks and bustles and bare arms... Hmmm... I begin to see a long line of lovely costumes ahead of me.

My hands hurt too much to take pics. I'll get completed ones at the party.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What do the simple folk do?

First off, if you can place the title of this entry, why, you're almost as dorky as me. A cookie for you. Now down to business.

The French Revolution is suddenly everyplace, fashionwise. It probably has something to do with the new Sofia Coppola movie about M.A., but I don't care. First Vogue does a tribute to British designers in May, and John Galliano's rococo ballgowns make an appearance. I thought it was a fluke, a mere coincidence. But no. I pick up Vanity Fair's Sept. issue, and in quick succession, Juicy Couture has a girl in a huge pink wig and a full skirted, empire-waisted gown; Dolce and Gabbana has a whole four page ad/spread featuring ringlets and (again) Empire-waisted gowns, young men in frock coats - well, models really, but the idea is young men - all of which is set in a darkening garden on gilt chairs; and Daniel Swarovski has drapey Greco-Roman tops and ringlets again. This is entirely ca. 1790, several years later than the strictly Rococo, pre-Revolution era court gown I am making, but it interests me, not the least because someone is confusing the downfall of the sun Kings with Students' Revolution of 1830, and possible with a Jane Austen novel. Then in the article on Kate Moss, she is dressed as Gloria Swanson dressed as Catherine the great, and there is a brilliant example of a modern take on the 18th century caraco, complete with hooped skirt. Of course, this is almost overshadowed by the brilliant photo of Kate's ta-tas, with the hoop removed from the skirt, but no matter. There are cravat-like ruffles and sleeve business and even a train on the Gaultier ensemble she half-sports.

On top of that, Chris B. asked me a great question today. First he asked who M.A. was, and I impressed even myself with my recall of Ancien Regime history, and then he asked me - Why all the hoopla? What's so great about a self-centered, pampered icon of the French monarchy? And here's what I think: (self-important aheming) We cannot imagine in this age, in this culture and society, being defined by our circumstance. We are masters of reinvention, we have a firm faith in self-determination, we view those stranded in untenable situations as too lazy or weak-willed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a move on, dammit. But life was not like that even a century ago, certainly not two and a half centuries ago, and certainly not for a member of the aristocracy. The only way that you survived was by playing the game by the rules. What happens to someone trapped by circumstance? When you are stifled by expectations in the same way you are stifled by the corseted fashions of the time? When you are a political being not allowed to participate in political process? When you are an icon, an idol, the wife of a man descended from a self-declared god? When you are in the company of others every moment - from the second they bring your chocolate in the light of mid-morning until they remove the pins that hold the wig to your head before you sleep at dawn - so that you never know a moment's privacy or peace? How do you raise your children? How do you learn to love? I think that M.A. was a woman trapped by circumstance. She was never offered, at the age fifteen, the chance to be anything other than the Dauphine and eventually the Queen of France. She never was allowed to do more than play pretend at the life she might have chosen, if choice had ever been a consideration. And we, looking back from the rosy future that she could not have conceived of, thank our lucky stars that we are not she, no matter her beautiful gowns and priviledge. In the end, the people of France knocked her from the pedestal she had occupied since birth by taking the cruelly humanizing step of expediting her death. I can't remember now what philosopher said this, or perhaps it was just a friend with a dark sense of humor, but I am reminded of a saying I once heard: The inside of every coffin lid looks the same.

By the way, the spell check on this template does not recognize the word 'blog'. Oh, the irony.

Monday, August 14, 2006

So... Here we are again.

There has been some muttering on some fronts that I do not update this blog quickly enough. Don't bother wondering who you are; there are only like three of you out there. I am trying, but for heavens sake, I have a lot to do - I have sewing, and research, and Oreo cookies to eat, and novels about Marie Antoinette to read (she went by her Austrian name of Antonia, BTW), and stell boning to be frightened of cutting ... The list goes on and on. But here you are, you ravening masses, you. Some proof that the project progresses. I am ready to start the seaming that will hold in place the boning that will hold in place, um, me. But it is a liitle intimidating. I have read a review of this pattern that wqarns of the top edge rolling once boned, so I am thinking again of modifying the pattern a bit to suit my purposes. But my determination to have it finished by the Pirate Party is complete; I will stand for nothing else.

On another note, I purchased a copy of Dangerous Liaisons to use as costume research, and now I cannot stop watching it. So many things about it: first, that the costuming is indeed dlicious, and enviable; second, Malkovich was actually strangely sexy; third, the very meaness of it is what appeals. Don't we always wound the ones we love? Can't boredom drive us to terrible heights?

See what happens when ladies aren't allow to slump in chairs? They have to almost recline! The most interesting thing, though, is that it makes me wish that I had chosen something other than peach for the color of the gown - the cafe au lait taffeta with rust trimmings that Mme. Merteuil wears is divine, even if it is a day dress. There is the peacock satin evening gown, though, with the shell pink trimmings, and the rosy thing with the acid green petticoat, that also appeal. It makes the monochrome palette I chose seem insipid, almost. Anyhow, now I am investigating the inkling of an aquamarine overgown with peachy-pink petticoat and robings, even though I said no ice blue. It's hard not to get caught up in the minutae, especially when that is what the Rococo aesthetic was all about.

But before I persue that, which is after all a long ways off, I have steel to cut and tip.. I hope the yellow of the tipping fluid doesn't show. I can't imagine how it will, through the opaque satin and even opaquer (new word!) cotton twilled corduroy.

I just fixed the Rococo link, if anyone is interested.

Friday, August 11, 2006

It's about damn time!

I have now basted and marked the pieces of the corset, as you can see. They really don't look like much yet, but believe you me, it's gonna be something. You might also be able to tell that my koi are swimming upside down. That other piece of material is what I wished I could find by the bolt to make the whole thing out of. It is, in fact, a remnant I bought on eBay for $4, approx. It will become a trim of some kind, perhaps a deep flounce or ruffle on the hem of the petticoat. I also ordered some pale peach scalloped lace for the sleeve flounces.

I am having some difficulties imaging precisely how this cutting boning to size thing is going to work. The tipping fluid I bought takes four hours til it's touchable, and 24 hours to cure. I might just have to measure against the pattern. Whatever. It will all work out.

Now that I am immersed in the particulars of construction, I have less time to concern myself with the philosophical questions that have engaged me since I began this project. Most intriguing: still, why? I have actually begun to feel a bit obsessed with this. I am reading biographies of Marie Antoinette and her portraitist, I got books on pattern drapery from the period and the details of extant costume, I think about if I should make drawers and a chemise or just get by with modern bits... It's really reached ridiculous proportions. I am even planning another costume after this one - first a mid-Victorian corset in red and white striped taffeta, and then a lawn day dress from the Regency period in England - you know, a Lizzie Bennett sort of a thing. Maybe Mr Darcy will magically appear, looking aloof and stern, and sweep me off my feet so that I will never have to take another stitch with my needle to support myself. Ok, I don't support myself now with it, but you know what I mean. What will I do with them all once they are finished? I dunno. Rent them out for amateur theatricals, maybe. I can't think of anything that would be more appropriate than that. I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Work commences...

Well, I finally went and did it. The bits started trickling in yesterday, and I cut the corset pieces. It took some creative overlaying of seam allowances to get all of the interfacing pieces out of the low-pile twilled corduroy I used, but I cut all of them. And then realized that the reason people buy expensive scissors is so that they have sharp ones when they need them. My less than perfectly sharp ones wreaked havoc on the slippery satin brocade I chose as the outer layer, and I thnk it affected the exact size. Oh well, I'm pretty sure that's why the seam allowances are so big.

On the bright side, I got to buy heavy duty equipment at the hardware store. I was standing in the aisle with a pair of metal cutters - aviation snips for anyone who cares about that stuff - contemplating the hacksaws when a very confused, very dirty, slight man in a filthy flannel said, "That's a handy little one, right there." I looked at its petite self and thought about the likelihood of its cutting forty pieces of 1/4" steel boning, and said I thought maybe something a little burlier might be in order. I gestured with the wicked metal jaws of my new aviation snips, and that pretty much stopped the conversation dead in its tracks. Then I bought myself a new Xacto knife with faux-Delft patterns on it. The snips work a dream, although I think I might need some goggles. N more cutting of metal yet, tho. I have sewing to do.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I gotta get some pictures up here.

I have just been perusing some of my new favorite blogs. This is interesting because until about a month ago, I didn't like them. Hated them, in fact. The only one I liked at all was call In Passing, in which a snotty San Fran grad student wrote down all this things she - ahem - overheard. But then I discovered the wonder that is A Dress A Day. Now I am thoroughly obsessed with them, especially the ones that have to do with fashion. Someday I will work up the gumption I need to write a really catty, witty , delicious something, but this blog is not about ME, it's about MARIE, dammit.

On another note, I almost finished the mythic brown eyelet dress for DJ Fab, who has been patiently awaiting my sewing expertise for six weeks or so. I screwed up the collar by not paying attention to directions, and by the time I got things steaming thru properly, I neglected to notice that it looks like crap. I've done something hellish to the shoulderline, which makes the dress hang funny, and it's only about two sizes too small. Now, La Fab is a normal sized girl, but in 1952 when this pattern was printed, women were apparently dabs of things with nary a lush handful of delight to be held. I know this because the dress would not even pretend to wrap around her waist in the manner proscribed for wrap dresses. The only solution is to immediately visit my favorite pattern site and buy the rerelease of this, sized to modern figures. Sorry, honey. I promise you that someday you will have the marvelous vintage-style dress I promised you.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Waiting and whistling...

I have started this post several times and deleted it. I am not, as you might have guessed, a world class writer, and I have yet to be perfectly satisfied with what it is I've written for the world to see. The problem is not that I am a perfectionist, per se, just that I can't help but hold myself to the standards set by other people. My talents seem small, if that makes sense.

The problem is that it doesn't just pertain to writing. I am beginning to fret the making of this project before I've cut a single piece of fabric. I am intimidated by the ones who are a little better than me at noticing the drape of a piece of cloth, or who are determined to recreate an entire historical costume by hand without using modern tools, or who have such a flair for decoration and color that my efforts look like a colorblind righthanded kindergartener using lefthanded scissors made them. I envy those people, and I admire them, and I hate them. I feel stifled and useless in their presence. Usually I just go and eat some cookies and the feeling goes away, but the longer I wait for the right pattern to come in the mail, the more I'm allowed to second-guess my abilities. I am just waiting for the moment when the scissors slip and oops, there goes the pleated train.

I persevere, tho, because I have already told so many people about this stupid costume, and about this stupid blog, and the natives grow restless and beat drums. I have no desire to end up in a big stew of told-you-so.

May be I should just be a pirate for Halloween instead.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

'Tis folly to tease the gods...Let them eat cake, indeed.

This is what happens when you attempt tomake light of something that cost people's lives. The gods of toast crumbs abd sticky things that won't scrape off take heed of your wretched, ill-conceived existence and conspire to take you down a peg by irritating the holy hells out of you, one tiny thing at a time. First the UPS thing: I managed to track down almost all - almost - of the components I needed from various sources, and THEN I get Sarah's email telling me to have it all shipped to her parents house. Then this girl goes and makes my dress. Not nearly my dress, or something like my dress, but my dress, down to the colors and the serpentine ruching I was planning and the slight train and whimper whine whine whine. I actually had that fabric bookmarked because I thought it would be fun to be a little flashy, before I realized the power of subtlety. But in the half light she used to photo her work, it looks an awful lot like papaya. (Before anyone gets indignant on my behalf, let it be said that I am still going to make my dress according to plan.) Then I find out that the corset pattern I am so worried about isn't actually period-correct, which probably doesn't sound like a huge deal to the rest of anyone, but since the other patterns I am using are period correct, we could have problems with fit and hang. Namely, the bosoms have to be flat, flat,flat, and nearly at collarbone height, and that would be ruined by a big lump of lacing in the middle of them. So I need to modify the front of the stays.

The final blow, though, was opening the pattern for the robe a la francaise (technically a lengthened pet-en-l'air) and finding inside a pattern for a completely different gown. Minor, I know, but it will be at least ten days to exchange the damn thing. Meanwhile, I check every day to make sure no one has purchase more than 110 yards of papaya-colored satin, as I need at least 11 to make the thing.

For anyone who cares, the pattern was for a 1770's style caraco. It is similar to the pet-en-l'air, so I can see how it got mispicked.