Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas, Curtains, Corsets, and Quilts - Oh My!

What a crazy month! As you can imagine, the last few weeks have been spent in preparation for Christmas - and Oh! am I ever one of those shining, happy Christmas people - I LOVE Christmas! I have to say that I am ecstatic that our local jazz stations have chimed in on the Spirit of the Season and are now playing Christmas tunes - you won't hear Mama's Shoes, that's for damned sure (thank you, Jesus! - or, rather - thank you producers of Smooth Jazz & Dayton Public Radio!). I no longer have to jump out of the shower like mad idiot and risk electrical shock to change the station...

In the meantime, projects abound, and I finally stopped dragging my feet and made some sheers for the living room and dining room. I do not like making sheers - drapes, yes - but not sheers. When making drapes, the project material is usually substantial in weight and can be easily manipulated, but not flimsy, airy, chiffon-like polyester - it's charmeuse's most evil cousin, I swear it! My machines treat me to a spin of mechanical mayhem every time I slip this cursed material over my feed-dogs: broken needles, tangled thread, eaten fabric. Indeed, I could just go out and buy the things, but have you seen the cost of sheers? $20 a panel - why, that's extortion! Why purchase when I can spend a couple hours gritting my teeth and mumbling profanities under my breath whilst I make my own for a fraction of the cost? And, this is precisely what I did! lol! New sheers now don my downstairs windows - project DONE!

Now, coming in February, Tonia and I are hosting our first costume ball. We have been talking about doing this for years, but for one reason or another we just never managed to get it off the ground. I am delighted to say that we did it, and excitement and stress for the merry occasion abounds! lol! And, since the theme is Federal/Colonial, there are costumes to be made, made, made in quick order! Of course, no historically inspired vêtement would be complete without the proper underpinnings - my corset is currently a work in progress. I have it completely boned and I just started binding it. As with all my corsets, absent are the straps - this is more comfortable for me (although I have been considering them this time around for decorative purposes - I do like the look). Now, notice if you will, that I constructed my stays with a stomacher - as I was telling Elma and Tonia (we girls were discussing the designs of our respective corsets for the ball, and at that point, I was the only one who had a front-lacer), I do not want proper costuming to be contingent on whether or not someone is around to lace me in my corset - lol! And the stomacher has a very practical function - flexible wear - I want my corset to fit well even when I gain or loose a pound or two. It's a matter of practicality... In the end, Tonia agreed, and now she has committed to a front-lacing corset and stomacher.

Ahhh, and I started a new quilt. It's a very simple piece quilt that I constructed out of the hundreds of fabric samples I receive each year from my wholesalers. I only used the cotton swatches, of course, and no cutting was needed - all the pieces were pinked and perfectly dimensional, so my part of the construction process was astoundingly easy! I call this quilt God's Promise - each piece of fabric, which makes up the spectrum of color that transitions across the quilt top, is unique - not one piece is the same as another, celebrating the rich diversity of God's creation (especially His children, who are beautifully and wonderfully made in His image). I am excited to work on this quilt and will certainly post pictures of its progress and completion. Sometimes simplicity in form produces the greatest function and affect -oui?

Now it's time for me to scuttle off and prepare for this evening's Christmas celebration. I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and blessed New Year - may Christ's spirit envelop you in love, peace, and goodwill...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bridge of Dreams...

What a fabulous Saturday! Me and the ladies packed up our wallets and a picnic lunch and traveled up to Amish country yesterday - I cannot tell you how much fun we had! Me, Tonia, Candi, the Pattys (that's my sister and Tonia's best friend), and Tonia's mother, Gail, all piled in the van and away we went. Sadly, our friends Elma and Cassi could not make it this time around (of course they will be present at our next ladies' outing under threat of death and dismemberment), however, there are more wonderful events to come with all of us ladies in attendance - watch out world!

Ohio has the second largest population of Amish in the United States, and a whole tourist and craftsmanship industry has been build around this community. Most of our Amish are located in the north-eastern part of the state, particularly in Knox and Wayne counties. This region of Ohio is stunningly beautiful, rich with forests, marches, wildlife reserves, rolling hills, terraced farms, charming towns, and Amish intrigue. It's a trip we ladies try to make a couple times a year, if anything just to wonder at the Amish way of life, to escape the chaos of the city, and to enjoy the sense of peace we all feel while there. It's odd arriving home, sometimes, after a day in Millersburg, Berlin, or Martinsburg (where my dad lives) - the big cities seem so polluted and our lives overly communicated and many times have Tonia and I said, "One day I will live here" (or some place like it)?

Unfortunately, Ohio, like other states with significant Amish populations, is in danger of losing hers - over the last few years, there has been an exodus of eastern Amish moving west of the Mississippi and settling in states such as Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. The Amish claim the land out west is cheaper, their communities are more isolated from the general population, and they mean to escape the overpopulated, tourist trap communities for peace. Indeed, a whole tourist industry has been built around the Amish communities here in Ohio, and honestly, it is far more a tourist experience than an Amish one. However, the thought of losing our Amish population to another state is simply dreadful - the Amish are one of the many distinct groups that make Ohio such a uniquely diversified state - I cannot imagine Ohio without Amish. And heaven help the northern half of the state, which has been home to the Amish for 200 years - that region will certainly feel their absence the most, both culturally and economically. I can only hope the Amish remain.

Despite the Amish moving west, the crowded shops and traffic lined streets of the many towns and villages that run along route 62 indicate that at least for now, it's still business as usual! The first stop we ladies made was at the Breitenbach winery right off of old state route 39. We sampled their many fruit wines before each of us indulged in a glass of our favorite. How wonderful to shop for wine while drinking it! lol! Oh, it was lavish, let me tell you, and oh so good. Breitenbach makes delicious fruit wines, the cherry wine being my favorite and Frostfire being Tonia's. This time around (and this is why I love going in the fall!), the winery was featuring their warm spiced apple wine - it was a hit among the ladies and each of us walked out with at least one bottle! In the end, we left with two cases of fruity spirits and some good cheer of our own! 

By the time we arrived at Walnut Creek general store, we ladies were stripping off layers of clothes, quickly warmed up from the wine tasting! There are other general stores around the area, like Swiss Market (which is about 2-3 miles up the road), and they all specialize in something unique, like grains and cereals, bulk and dried goods, fresh produce, and feed, etc. I like Walnut Creek because they have food samples everywhere, a country store with loads of over-priced merchandise I love drooling over, and every kind of candy and dried food you can imagine! So, needless to say, I stock up! This time around, it was red and blue popping corn for me (last time it was whole wheat flour and corn meal). I love open markets - I love sampling the products for freshness and quality, I love not just seeing my food, but smelling it, touching it, tasting it, and knowing where it's coming from. I wish our supermarkets acted more like an open market (getting their products locally, even if that means having seasonal items) - I'd feel better about shopping and feeding my family! 

Our last two customary stops were Zinck's Fabrics (a disappointment this time around) and the Guggisberg Cheese Shoppe. As usual, I bought the beautiful hubs his 2lbs brick of smoked Swiss cheese, while the other ladies loaded up on their favorite cheeses, confections, and sausages. We arrived just before the shop closed, so we missed out on the sampling (drats!), but thank heaven we got there! lol! Guggisberg is a must stop every time we go up - no exception! What good is all the wine we ladies buy with each visit without the complimentary meat and cheese? 
Of course, the Amish countryside doesn't rotate and revolve on city-folk time, which means most shops close promptly at 5 o'clock on Saturday and nothing is open on Sunday (I remember when all communities observed these rules - the days before 24-hour convenient stores and extended banking hours). We stopped at a couple little country stores as their owners were cleaning up and preparing to close. Tonia and PJ bought themselves a quilted handbag while the rest of us milled around sticking our noses in fragrant candles and admiring the beautiful handwork. Eventually we all piled in the van very tired, ready for the long drive home, and making plans for the next trip up, of course...

It was a good day - a very good day - made wonderful by the company of dear friends...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Formulating Federal Foundations

In February, my sister-in-law Tonia and I are hosting our first annual Federal Ball - we have been wanting to do this for a while and we are pleased to say that we finally will! Why the Federal/Colonial Era? Because of the opulence in design, because of the splendor in costume, because of the wigs, feathers, calashes, and the absurdity and vulgarity of the time! In what other era of fashion did men in western culture smear on lipstick, powder their noses, slip on heals, and bind themselves in corsets? Not that I will get my husband to do these things, but my goodness won't he ever be delicious in drop front knee-breaches and stockings! lol! 

You know, I have never been one to just set-out looking for a particular fabric for a particular project - I have always been one to buy fabric that I like when I see it, and then assign a use for it. I find that I suffer less designing and tailoring frustration that way. The truth is, many fabrics are difficult to find due to seasonal availability, like wool or silk, for example. Certainly, I can order these fabulous fabrics from my wholesalers, but dealing with the quantity is sometimes impractical (So, what do I do with the other 40 yards of salmon silk? Curtains, maybe? Naw...). I buy whatta-steal-fabric retail whenever and wherever I inadvertently find it. Granted, I don't always have the money to buy what I see (and I hate these prudent moments - if only I were a millionaire!) and I am forced to pass it up, but I almost always find something else of comparable quality and price. When I happened upon my dress fabric this time around, I was a happy, happy girl - and it just so happened it was a "dust bin" fabric - a sage and mustard brocade on the bottom of the barrel, clearanced from $26 yrd. to $1 yrd. I could have kissed the clerk at the cutting table! And not a few weeks later, while at JoAnn Fabrics, I discovered a complimentary mustard colored tapestry fabric in the remnant bin that I will be using to accent the gown. I am very much looking forward to working with these fabrics! Yippy!

Tonia managed to find the deal of the century for her Federal gown last summer while we are shopping at a fabric outlet warehouse in northern Ohio. She spotted a striped navy brocade for $3-something a yard and bought all 18 yards. Originally, she was going to use the material to make her wedding gown (the theme of her wedding was initially going to be colonial, but she and her fiancé decided a medieval themed wedding would be more appropriate), but as plans changed, she stored it away. No doubt, when Tonia is finished with her polonaise, it will be beautiful in the navy brocade!  Of course, while Tonia is very sure of her design (she usually is), I am teetering on a couple design elements for mine (as I usually am). I know that my mediocre sketch shows a stomacher, but I am thinking about 86-ing the stomacher. Rather than a ruffled sleeve, I am considering a cuffed sleeve, and I am not quite sure if I want more than one row of pinking and pleating on the skirt. Whatever my choices, I will feel more confident about them once I begin to work the fabric. The hubby's frock, waist, and breaches will be constructed of a medium smoky blue brocade, and the boots (in the sketch) are going to be changed out for shoes. As usual, I will post progression pictures - thank heaven I have until February to work! 

In the meantime, my beautiful pear wine will be racked this weekend (this is my chance to nip a taste to see how it's coming along) - I am excited about bottling it this spring! Oh my! And, just in time for the Second Annual Lady's Tipsy Tea! lol!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jumping the Broom

This past Saturday was Tonia and Shawn's wedding - it was lovely! The wedding was held outside in a wooded area just a few steps from a pond teaming with ducks and swans. I admit that I was worried - well, we ladies of the wedding party were all worried - as we were waiting at the side of the party house for the queue to begin the wedding march, it became quickly over-cast and a few sprinkles were felt (nothing came of it, thank heaven). The occasion was a small affair of about fifty friends and family. The groom's mother put together a scrumptious spread of finger foods, and my sister-in-law Whitney (who is a pastry chef in Columbus) created the beautiful cake (I think Whitney bewitched the butter cream icing - it was freaking divine). And can you believe it, the bride and groom did not smash the cake in each other's faces! 

Like the other gowns I constructed, I made my gown simple - as I always say, if you have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, go with what you know rather than with what you do not. It's not prudent to dive into something complicated - so, I kept it very simple. For my gown, I constructed the shift from a heavy blue bridal satin; the bodice from a royal blue velvet trimmed in black braiding and silver lace; and the over-skirt (which is attached to the bodice) is a blue sparkle organza. As you can see, where Elma's gown (pictured with me in the cinnamon-colored gown) laces up the front, mine laces up the back. While this style of bodice and gown is very basic, I cannot say enough for its comfort - if your going to be laced in anything for several hours, this would be the gown to be laced in! (For construction pictures, see The Dressmaker's Album)

Now, going back to Whitney's butter cream icing (oh, my goodness!), I now know why my brother can sit and eat a whole tub of it with nothing but the hands God gave him - scoop and shovel in! It's a good thing Whit lives eighty miles away - I'd be forced to make "special visits" on a regular basis. My butt, hips, and heart would certainly protest, but my lips, taste buds, tummy, and the pleasure center of my brain would beat the others into submission. I decided long ago that Whitney's my go-to cake and pastry chick for ever and ever, and since it's asking for a diabetic coma (or triple bypass surgery) to eat a five-pound tub of butter cream icing in one setting (hope you have good insurance, brother), I'll spread out the buttery love between occasions - it's a good compromise - at least my butt, hips, and heart think so! lol! 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Medieval Mayhem on the Horizon

Eleven days until Tonia and Shawn's wedding and I still have a little work to go on two costumes, one of them being mine. I did a fair amount of work on my gown over the weekend, most of my time being spent hand sewing gobs of trim on the bodice. I still have to sew up the back of the skirt on the gown, serge the hem, add grommets (or D-rings, or some form of closure) and silver lace to the bodice back, and then the gown will be complete. Will I ever not be in a rush to finish a sewing project? I think not! lol!

Rosie's gown is complete, thank heaven, except for a couple slips of boning in the front of her bodice, a few gold grommets, and gold lacing to finish it up. Tonia posted a picture of Annie-kins (my other fabu niece) in her very lime green gown (in contrast to Rosie's lavender), and wow, the bride better watch out - our two little Tinker Bell faeries may end up stealing the show! lol! They are going to be so adorable as the flower girls - I cannot wait to see them together!

More progress pictures to come - and Halloweenie is right around the corner, too!  Yikes! lol!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

There's a Weddin' In 17 Days!

Oh, it's the big countdown to Tonia's wedding, and we are feeling the heat! Last night, T emailed me and told me she still had several things on her wedding sewing list to complete, mainly her gown and her fiancé's medieval-style shirt to compliment his kilt. This does not include some minor touches left on Annie's flower girl dress (my other really cute niece), decorating the club house, finalizing everything on the cake, and Lord knows everything else on the list she sent me, which I cannot quite recall (I think my brain filtered most of it out for sanity's sake - lol)!

This past Sunday I finished Rosie's flower girl dress, except for the grommets in the bodice, and I began to work on my gown the night before with little success - I was far too tired by the end of the day to get anything really done. I had very good intentions yesterday to work on it, but by the time I walked in the house, it was very late - so phooh! the evening was gone! 

However, a couple month's ago I was wise enough (or not so busy, I should say) to complete two of the guests' gowns early while I had the time. The gown above is my sister's, and it was designed with Tonia and Shawn's autumn wedding theme in mind. The bell-sleeve shift is constructed of a heavy antique gold bridal satin; the bodice, a crushed forest green velvet trimmed in a brushed gold and burgundy braid; and the attached over-skirt to the bodice is made of an iridescent olive/gold/burgundy organza - the picture does not do the gown justice (especially the organza) - it certainly has a WOW! factor. 

The gown below is made for Marie, my 17-year old, who really liked McCall's pattern 4997. The bishop-sleeve shift is made of a heavy lavender bridal satin; the over-gown is made of a crushed black velvet trimmed in silver metallic braid. The black, lavender, and silver colors look beautiful together; and indeed, the wearer of this little gem (that being my Maria) will make it more beautiful, still! 

Granted, these gowns are more costume than historical clothing, but who cares - everyone is going to look beautiful with a distinctly Camelot flavor, and we all are so excited about it, even if we are half crazy over details and tying-up loose ends right now. I will post progression pictures of my gown and Rosie's finished flower girl dress very soon. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's Not Always About Bad Customer Service...

...sometimes it's about bad customers. 

Granted, there are companies that excel at terrible customer service, especially those companies who have a monopoly on a necessary product or service consumed on a mass scale (i.e. fuel, power, and telecommunication products); therefore, the consumer is very often forced to reconcile bad customer service in exchange for a necessary commodity. It's not so easy to boycott a fuel, power, or telecom conglomerate over shoddy service or unethical practices when many of these Goliaths own the lion's share of varying markets. The fact is, unless I want read by candlelight, it's best I resign myself to paying the electric bill despite the inept service of my local power company. 

But the retail market is another story. If we don't like Walmart, we don't shop there; and here, within the multi-billion dollar retail business sector, we often find our customer service experiences to be a bit more friendly and helpful than those we might experience from the commodities companies - and it's not necessarily because commercial markets value our patronage more than Time-Warner, BP, or Shell Oil. Retail giants like Walmart, Target, IKEA, and Staples, have made it tragically easy for the American consumer to refund or exchange almost any purchased item, despite the reason for the item's return, because their products are substandard and inexpensive to produce. We consumers, to the determent of our consumer savvy and purchasing responsibility, have come to sacrifice quality for cheap abundance, and we have come to apply these awful retail consumer standards on nearly everything we purchase. For those of us in the specialty retail market, like custom tailoring, this growing American consumer mindset has become our nightmare.

What brings this up, you ask? The other evening, I happen to be reading The American Duchess' blog when I ran across an intriguing entry she had posted on September 10, 2010, entitled "The Problem With Sewing for Other People" - naturally I was curious because we share the same professional trade. Oh my goodness did she ever hit it on the head! As my tailoring compatriot so poignantly stated:
"Sewing is perhaps a lost craft, and in today's world of ready-made, machine-perfected clothing from an overseas factory, it's difficult for people to understand that a custom made, hand-made, historical garment is not an easy, or normal thing to make."
Indeed, my dear Duchess! Far too often in own my tailoring adventures (especially as a seasoned merchant at our local Renaissance festival) I have heard window shoppers complain of the expense of my (and other merchant's) handmade goods. We tailors and crafters call these types of customers Big Box Shoppers because these people have absolutely no purchasing scruples when it comes to discerning the quality and uniqueness of a handmade product in correlation to price and construction time. Their comments are harmless and mostly silly, of course, and they are rarely paid any mind.

It is on the rare occasion when we specialty retailers experience a bad customer, and when we do, they are the worst kinds of people. I can handle the talkative, I enjoy the inquisitive, I can understand the indecisive, and I even appreciate the potential customer who has difficulty parting with his or her money (if only most of us were so prudent!), but I will not tolerate the hypercritical, the demanding, the intrusive, or the belligerent costumer. Because I am creating for a client a unique, handmade garment, one that has likely cost him or her a considerable expense, this does not give that person license to abuse me - they need to check their unrealistic expectations and behavior at the counter or else I will fire them as my client. Simply put, a client's patronage does not supersede my dignity. As the Duchess reminds us all, "[c]lothes are not made overnight, and hand-made clothes, even with the aid of a machine, take weeks, even months depending" - this bit of knowledge can be said for most handmade goods. If a potential customer wants off-the-rack, Walmart quality at Walmart prices, then I cannot help them and I refer them elsewhere.

Indeed, there are people, although very few, who are never satisfied, and whose patronage we specialty retailers can do without, as the American Duchess has attested to in  her blog entry "The Problem With Sewing for Other People". However, to the significant majority of the specialty retailer's unique customer base (in my case, those patrons who have made my tailoring experiences a joyful challenge), I would like to say Thank You & Please, Come Again...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

School's In, Wine's On

There has been no time for sewing - I have a blouse that I have been wanting to make for myself for two months now, and the material for it, a floral silk chiffon, is sitting on my sewing table begging to be cut. Regardless of time, though, there will be machines humming in short order - Tonia's wedding is the weekend of October 23, and I have yet to finish Rose's flower girl dress and my gown. I don't even think Tonia has started on her own gown! I think we are both due for sewing assistants - lol!

High school English has been consuming my time. I have taken a long-term subbing position at my daughter's high school. The regular English teacher was diagnosed with cancer late last school year - she spent the summer undergoing radiation therapy to shrink the tumor, and right at the beginning of the school year she went into surgery. Her recovery has been remarkable, praise God (and the skilled hands of her surgeons), and hopefully she will be able to resume her position by the first or second week of October. I know all the students are looking forward to her return (and so am I)!

Since taking this position, my days are packed - I feel sometimes as if I'm barely able to come up for air. But, as any educator will tell you, school does not stop for the teacher when the dismissal bell rings! Aside from standing and lecturing most of the day, there are weekly lessons, activities, quizzes, and tests to plan for for grammar, literature, and spelling. And then, there's still housework, dinner, and caring for this and that around the house - as any woman will tell you, no matter how many hours we work in a day outside of the home, and no matter how many capable hands there are available to help us inside the home, we always get the lion's share of domestic duties. I am positive I will run away one day and not leave a forwarding address!

With so much to do, it seems, and so little time to do it in, I did manage to make some pear wine today - the must is cooling and I will pitch the yeast tomorrow. Of course, the intoxicating fruity goodness will not be ready until mid-Spring, but all in good time for wine - it is certainly worth the wait. The hubs was talking about brewing some beer today, but I knew that wasn't going to happen because I wasn't going to be the one to brew it - lol! I can only do so much (I still didn't get around to making apple butter, laundry detergent, or prepping food for the week, but I did clean out my garage on Friday)! Besides, the next batch of beer I brew, I'd like for it to be a bitter cherry - the hubs is an uber-hoppy, India pale ale type of guy, which means I don't drink our beer (even though I am the brewer of the house). Hoppy beer is too floral, too antiseptic, for me - it's like sipping on Lysol... 

...I will have the time, one day, to finish my silk chiffon blouse, to delight in a bottle of bitter cherry beer, and pay a professional to clean my house - that is, one day, when I run away and leave no forwarding address... :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Never Too Old For PPG!

Finally, this afternoon, not an hour ago, I put in the last binding stitch to a Power Puff Girl quilt I started for my youngest daughter almost 4 years ago! LOL! Why did it take me so long? Well, it's just one of those things - other projects took precedence or priority and this one was always shoved in the corner or closet for whatever reason. I believe there was a whole 2-year stretch where I didn't even work on it, let alone think about it - its memory was buried somewhere in the farthest reaches of my exasperated, project laden mind - awful to say, but true!

Oh, and please, let me add to my personal embarrassment! This was not a piece quilt with running stitches - no! I wanted this quilt to be quick and easy - I constructed it using two pieces of a PPG flannel print for the quilt top, and two pieces of a solid eggplant flannel for the quilt back. Rather than use a running stitch like a traditional quilt, I decided to get clever and make stars...wherever there were flowers on the PPG print, I did a star stitch - a flippin' million of them, let me add! And here I thought it would be faster and more efficient to do this. Foiled!

However, early in the summer, when cleaning up my sewing room, I felt a deep twinge of guilt when I spotted the quit under a large pile of "to does" - I was forced to reconcile the thing, so I rescued it from the stack, took it upstairs and pushed myself to work on it whenever I had free time. Yesterday, I cannot tell you the joy I felt knowing that all I had left to do was hand stitch the binding on and Viola! Fini! Admittedly, I was a little concerned - would my daughter even care about the quilt now, being 17-years old and all! Well, pardon moi, I should have known better than to inquire! She said to me in the most matter-of-fact tones, "Mom, you can never be too old for PPG!

So there it is - Sugar & Spice, and Everything Nice (with jigger of Agent X for good measure)...  

Monday, August 16, 2010

Becoming Jane (not really...)

This past Saturday we held our Second Annual Regency Picnic - it was a wonderful event despite the 90+ degree heat and the suffocating humidity - we all stuck to the shade and after a while sent the kiddies to the beach to cool off - besides, what teenager wants to sit around a bunch of tongue wagging women fanning themselves - lol!

Last year, Tonia and I put this little shindig together as a way for us girls to have a little summer costuming fun - and what better era than the Regency, right? Especially in the August sun! This year, we tripled our guest list, along with all the tantalizing dishes and desserts (potlucks rock!) -! But wouldn't you know it, just when I was settling in for some tea and cheesecake (or apple pie, or lemon tart - I could not quite decide which I wanted first), a huge storm broke over the horizon and roared over the area - we were pounded to pieces! Thank goodness all the food was saved - well, the ham did get a little waterlogged, but nothing a strategic tip of the platter it was resting on did not fix...

In the meantime, we all ended up stuffed in the spider infested, rockin' hot park restroom until the storm eased up enough for us to return to our site and assess the damage. Nothing too tragic, save some very soggy napkins, croquet and bat mitten bags, soaked dresses, muddy shoes and stockings, and some shivering teens wrapped in dripping towels...

After everything was thrown into the cars and we were ready to break for home, Tonia and I decided it might be best to move our annual Regency picnic up to mid-September - still warm, but pleasantly so, with little rain and humidity, lots of sun, and gentle breezes - and too, the beaches are still open for the kiddies. Or, if we decide for some reason to keep the picnic in August, to rent a shelter house - what's $60? Lesson learned...

...and damned if I did not get my dessert (*cries*) - lol!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Sauce Is On!

Tomatoes, Basil, Eggplant
I love gardening! Veggie gardening, that is - I know nothing about flowers. However, I am reading up on edible flowers at the Ohio Department of Agriculture because I'm thinking about adding an edible flower garden next year. Oh, and did I mention, I LOVE GARDENING! lol! For me, it's very much a spiritual experience, and as strange as that might sound for some, I feel closer to God when I'm playing in the dirt - I don't even wear gloves (or shoes half the time) - it kills part of the aesthetic of the gardening experience not to have to scrub the dirt from under my nail beds. It amazes me still that the teeniest, tiniest seed can give life to the largest plants bearing the most succulent fruits. Nature astounds me, and I am simply taken in by it - I am awe-inspired, to say the very least!

Since I have gardened for most of my life, I like to shake things up a bit - give myself a little gardening surprise now and again. For my staple garden, like my tomatoes, legumes, leafy greens, peppers, various herbs, etc., I like to play Seed Bingo. For example, I place all my tomato seed varieties in one envelope, so when I plant and grow my starters in the spring, I never quite know which varieties of toms I will end up with until my plants begin to produce...

For the first time EVER, I ended up with 16 tomato plants that produced nothing but cherries and grapes. Surprise! I pickled, I ate, I shared - I did all that I could do within reason except make sauce out of them - there was no way in hell that I was going to blanch and peel a gazillion marble size tomatoes. And it was getting stupid, too - I had so many, I could no longer store them in the refrigerator or freezer - I had them in large mixing bowls and gallon-sized Ziplock bags sitting all over my kitchen. "Those are going to go bad, Sweetheart," said the hubs. "Yes, yes they are," I said in defeat, rolling my eyes.

Bloom County
Now, you may be asking yourself why I do not own a fancy-pants kitchen gadget like a juicer. Three reasons - 1) they are expensive, even for the manual juicers - I do not want to pay $80-$200; 2) I have flashbacks from the 1970s and 80s when RONCO dominated the market for cheap, too-good-to-be-true appliances that broke easily and sliced up appendages rather than veggies; 3) I never really had a need for one - it's easy breezy to core, blanch, seed, and peel larger variety toms for sauce. Ooo, but now, I was in a terrible pickle... 

...until Fortune smiled upon me. A Facebook friend of mine bought herself a saucer. Elma, like me, is an avid gardener, and considering that she has four little Happy Accidents (children) at home, who need a good feeding on a regular basis, every penny must count for something. It just so happened she posted pictures of the new manual juicer she had just purchased - I could not help but to ask her if she liked it, where she got it, and how much she paid for it. OverStock.Com - $39.99. On her recommendation, I purchased the Roma Food Strainer & Sauce Maker on Sunday. I used OverStock's standard shipping (5-10 days) and it arrived yesterday - Tuesday!! Holy Schmoly, that was fast!

And you know what I did this morning? Yes, siree! I juiced a gazillion cherry and grape tomatoes in two hours flat, producing just over four gallons of red, pulpy goodness! Right now, the sauce is on, bubbling away on my stove, reducing to a preservative free, thick and silky nutritious sauce, with garden fresh basil and oregano, thanks to Elma Sue! It's heaven in my kitchen once again - Hallelujah!

(For photos of the juicer, check out the Dressmaker's Album)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Dress For Rose

Rose's Gown (front)
That's one flower girl dress done (check!), and one more to go!

My brother and his fiancée are getting married over Labor Day weekend, and boy, can we all feel the crunch - it's just around the corner! Not only have I been given flower girl dress and bridal gown alteration duties, their reception is a potluck, and I am making my famous mushroom and spinach lasagna. It's a lot of work, but I am flattered to be put to use!

I suppose I should look at the happy couple's registry soon and purchase a gift?

Rose's gown is mainly constructed of white matte bridal satin, and rather than use the standard polyester lining with some interfacing around the neck and arms, I lined the whole bodice in the same matte bridal satin - it eliminates any sheerness in the torso and it adds weight to the bodice to better support the weight of the skirt.

I created the skirt from two 60" wide panels of the matte white satin and white shimmer organza - the effect is truly beautiful and unfortunately the digital camera and the quality of the light in my living room does not do justice to the aesthetics of the gown! Notice I have left the length of the skirt slightly long and this is for good reason - as I said before, beautiful Rose is experiencing a growth spurt, so I have left an extra 1-1/2 at the hem of the skirt - if need be, I'll take it up at the last minute. Better safe... 

And, as you have guessed, the wedding colors are burgundy and white! Because burgundy is such a rich color, I had to keep the decoration on her gown at a minimum - her hair will be professionally styled with burgundy ribbons and fresh deep red roses, and she will also be carrying a basket of burgundy flower petals with burgundy and white decoration. Here, it is a matter of too much of a good thing - no sense in gilding the lily - or in this case, the Rose... 

(For construction photos of Rose's flower girl gown, please check out the Dressmaker's Album)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hats Off To You...

About 12 years ago, while strolling around an antique shop in Westerville, Ohio, I ran across what looked like an old accounting ledger. To my surprise, it was a college notebook from Wilberforce University’s millinery department, circa 1900-1910. I was thrilled to have in my hands such a rare and wonderful find! I snatched it up. The book is in pristine condition, the notes are very well organized, and the hand drawn illustrations are detailed and precise – it is an historical gem, giving wonderful insight into late Victorian/early Edwardian hat construction, cleaning, storing, and restoration.

Its author was a student named S.D. Barker, most likely a black woman, since Wilberforce University (founded 1856) is an historically black university. According to Patricia Hunt-Hurst (Oxford University Press, 2008), black women perfected their tailoring and millinery skills as slaves or paid domestic workers, where their tasks included making clothing for their master’s house (including his family and domestic servants), clothing for field workers, and quilts from discarded or worn clothing. It was common for wealthy plantation families of the south to “lent” their skilled slaves or freed domestic needlewomen out to other wealthy families for piece work. In some cases, this practice allowed black women the opportunity to make a small amount of money, and by the Civil War’s end in 1865, tailoring became one of the more common paying trades for black women (many with a previously established clientèle from former slave days).

But let us be reminded that tailoring was not always glamorous, particularly for our black sisters, who not only had to fight sexism in the trade, but racism as well. Hunt-Hurst points out that the tailoring industry (like most post-Civil War or Reconstruction industries) was fraught with prejudice, and despite their skill as exceptional dressmakers, black women very often found themselves stuck doing low-paying apprentice or piece work. However, by the time clothing became massed produced in factories at the turn of the 20th century and the retail department store became all the rage of the Gilded Era, black women found their tailoring talents in high demand for one-of-a-kind garments and accessories. Tailoring was (and still is) an honorable trade of precise skill, and colleges, particularly black colleges of the time, jumped on an unprecedented opportunity to satisfy a consumer demand for highly skilled tailors and milliners in the specialty clothing market. Wilberforce University was one of the more renown dressmaking and millinery colleges of the era.

So, hats off to you, S.D. Barker…

(To see more pictures of S.D. Barker’s notebook, please check out the Dressmaker's Album)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Love the Flower Girl...

This has been a crazy year for "must do" sewing projects and my list is not short! Currently, I am working on two flower girl gowns for my niece, Rose, who seems to be a popular addition in several wedding parties this year. 

The first gown is for a very traditional Labor Day wedding, and as you can see from the picture to the left, I created Rose's crinoline this morning - and yes, the crinoline is lined! There is no 10 year-old on the face of this planet (there is no adult on the face of this planet), except the drugged-up type, who will dare tolerate the gnawing and scratching sensation of heavy tulle against the skin. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for drugged-up children despite the occasion, but I am also a merciful aunt who recalls her own itching agony in crinoline dresses of days gone by...

The second gown is for a medieval-themed wedding the week before Halloween - my former sister-in-law, Tonia (whom I am close to), is getting remarried after 10 years of being a bachelorette! Whoohoo! I have already constructed my sister's and daughter's dresses for this wedding - mine is next, however Rose's will be at the very last minute. I made the careless mistake of taking her measurements in May and not taking them again before I began her medieval flower girl dress last week. She has hit this dreadful (for me) growth spurt, which completely alluded me (aka brain fart) and cost me a yard of purple Fidelio velvet! I had her bodice near completion when *POOF* she had biscuits (medieval slang for boobs). And you know, I worried about just this very thing! Children should not be allowed to grow between!