Margherita Makes a Standard for Coronation Monday, Mar 27 2006 

Last week, a friend told me that HRH needed a standard, so that he could have a tournament to choose a standard-bearer at Coronation (the weekend of April 1.) Would I be interested in making said standard?

Well, I said, I’ve never done one before, but I’m happy to try.

She sent me the specs for the banner. It was to be in Roman style, 18″ square with white fringe at the bottom and a pocket at the top that would accommodate a 1.5″ pole. The design was to be the Kingdom arms. Blessedly, they didn’t want the laurel wreath part of the design, just the crown and stars.

The banner is made from heavyweight cotton twill. I cut three rectangles 7″ by 23″, two white and one black, and sewed them together. Result: a rectangle of fabric 19″ by 23″, with three vertical six-inch stripes, white, black, white, as in the Meridian arms. The extra fabric on top would be folded down to form the pocket for the pole.

I took the pattern from the Meridian website for the heraldic fighting tabards that have the crown and stars, and used a copy machine to reduce the motif to the right size. I transferred the design onto some of the white twill and used iron-on adhesive to bond it to the appropriate place on the black stripe of the banner. Then I went over all the edges with a satin stitch, done by hand with white cotton embroidery floss.

Once the applique was complete, I folded down the top of the panel and sewed it to itself, forming the pocket. Then a 19″ square of white twill was pinned, even with the bottom edge of the panel, right sides together. The length of fringe was pinned in between the layers, upside down. I stitched around all the edges but the top (where the pocket is.)

I turned the banner through the opening at the top and pressed to give a nice sharp edge. To finish the banner, I pressed the raw top edge of the backing piece under and stitched it down.

This picture shows the finished banner, fringe on the bottom and pocket on the top.


Margherita Makes A Wool Dress (And Learns Some Valuable Lessons.) Monday, Mar 27 2006 

The story of this dress really begins in Sir’s Fabrics, a store in a little town in Tennessee that is renowned in local sewing circles for the amazing bargains you can find rummaging around on its tables. Sir’s is a vast store, so big it’s actually two stores across the street from each other, and their prices are very low. I imagine that they buy a lot of remnants or mill-ends from other places, because most of the fabric is in cuts a few yards long, folded on tables with no information on the fiber content besides the table signs, helpfully indicating things like “upholstery remnants $1.99” and “wool and wool blends $2.99.” So shopping there takes on the thrill of the hunt as you rummage through the tables looking for treasures.

On my last excursion to Sir’s I arrived in the middle of a sale event that had the whole wool table priced at $1.99 a yard. I bought a length of black wool for hats, several yards of a dark hunter green wool, and a bit of a striped lightweight woven wool blend. The green and the stripes, I determined, would be used for a winter dress; I had recently discovered (at an outdoor, winter event) that even with my cloak I would not be warm enough in my cotton garb, and I had several events that I planned to attend before the weather would be warming up again.

I took the fabric home and added it to my stash, and time went by, and before I knew it I was a week away from an event, the weather was frigid, and I needed my wool dress ASAP. It was going to be a quick and dirty job, laden with shortcuts, but I hoped I’d be warm that weekend.

To start, I laid my wool on the ground folded in half, laid an existing dress I had (a simple tunic dress) over it also folded, and cut out around that dress. Unfortunately I hadn’t folded the wool evenly, so one side ended up shorter than the other… I had to cut another strip of fabric to graft onto the bottom of the skirt. Oh, well. Piecing is period.

I then cut out two underarm gussets, and cut them in half to make two triangles for each side. I sewed the gusset halves to the body of the dress and then sewed the whole thing together down the sides. I cut strips a few inches wide of the appropriate length to use as decorative accents on the hem and cuffs, and sewed it on. The idea was that these would be sort of like facings, turned to the outside and sewn down to make hemming unnecessary and add a touch of color. I made a long belt out of some more of the striped fabric that would finish the look.

What I wanted to happen was this: I would sew the fabric into a tube and then sew it to the sleeves and skirt bottom, wrong sides together. Then I would flip the striped fabric around the edge and up, which would leave a narrow edge of stripes on the inside and a wide edge on the outside of the garment. I’d then fold the raw edge under and stitch it down (normally I’d have hemstitched it by hand, but in this case for reasons of speed it would be topstitched by machine.)

All of this went well except for one thing – I put it together wrong, so that when I turned it the raw edges of the seam where I had sewn the strip of striped fabric into a tube was on the outside. *facepalm*

Again, I should have ripped it all out and started over, but I didn’t have the time – so I cut additional strips of fabric and sewed a patch OVER the offending raw edges.

Now all that was left was the neck. I had left a portion of the shoulder seams unsewn so that I could try the dress on but I hadn’t cut a neck opening yet. My plan was to cut a curved neck and bind it with the striped fabric. I put the dress on, got The Lobster to pin at appropriate points where the bottom of the neckline curve should be, and used something (a bowl, I think) as a model to cut out a curve.

Then it was time to bind it, and here I made another shortcut decision. Instead of making bias binding out of the striped fabric, I cut binding strips on the straight grain (right along the stripes) and used that. Of course, putting straight grain binding on a curved neck, it puckered. If I’d applied the binding by hand I could have eased it on, probably, but again, time- I used the machine.

Quick and dirty, but the dress was finished in time for the event, and did indeed keep me gloriously comfortable.

Now, the overview of the dress.

Good things about the dress:

  • The wool is wonderfully cozy but does not cause me to overheat, making it very good for winter wear.
  • Upon washing, the wool got fuzzy and soft and even snugglier to wear.
  • The final effect of the color is very nice indeed, and the striped accents really pull everything together.

Not-so-good things about the dress:

  • I failed to pre-wash the fabric, and it shrunk in the wash. Instead of ankle-length and long-sleeved it’s now tea-length with three-quarter sleeves. However, this is still salvageable by wearing it as an overdress.
  • I either cut the neck off-center or the puckered binding or some other error is causing the neck to pull to the left, making me feel as though the whole thing is hanging off my shoulder.
  • The patches on the sleeves and hem and the pieced on bit on the front skirt are the evidence of mistakes, though they’re not terribly conspicuous.

The verdict:

Even with its faults, I am very fond of this dress. It is warm without causing me to overheat, and as comfy and snuggly as a winter nightgown. If you don’t inspect it too closely it looks quite nice. I do need to make an undertunic to wear with this and my other tunic dress, as the full, gathered chemises I have don’t look right underneath this style. The sleeves in particular give me trouble. I have bought a nice cotton/linen blend that is intended for this project, and it’s the next thing in the sewing queue. It will go well with my earlier period clothes (the Messenger and I do early period to match his persona and late period to match mine, depending on weather and other considerations), especially after I make the gothic fitted dresses and sideless surcote that I have planned.

New readers: Welcome! Monday, Mar 27 2006 

If you’re visiting this blog because you attended my class “SCA Sewing for Beginners” on March 25, welcome! I’m going to be putting up the class handouts as soon as I figure out where I’m going to host the files, so that if you want to print extra copies or send to someone, you can.

I’m planning on updating the blog soon with construction diaries for a few of my recent projects, including the wool dress and the banner I’m making for Coronation. In the meantime, feel free to read the previous diaries. Please leave comments or send me email if you have any comments or questions! I’m always happy to hear from you.


Project Runway Finale thoughts Sunday, Mar 12 2006 

Well, OK, I said this wasn’t primarily a PR blog, but now comes the exception time – I just had to comment on the finale!

I was actually shocked when they announced the winner, because as much as I usually love Chloe’s designs her collection was my least favorite. The seaming and fit were amazing, the construction was beautiful, and some of the gowns were jaw-dropping in the innovation of the way they were put together – I would love to know how she attached a point of fabric to an edge, like on Grace’s dress. But the shininess and the puffed sleeves and the colors… it just really said “bridesmaid 1989” to me. Apparently the shiny fabric was a silk/wool blend, but it looked like a cheap poly satin on the screen. I liked the more structured gowns and the long chiffon print, but the rest was just…. eh. Taken cumulatively, though, I understand Chloe’s victory, especially given how last year’s winner kind of flaked on them…

Daniel’s collection: I actually saw fitting problems here more than in Santino’s collection on the first look. He kept having this strange flopping around the bust – M points out that in the short navy dress in particular, when Rebecca tried it on for Tim it fit but on the runway it flopped – I wonder if Daniel didn’t fit all his stuff for Rebecca, who is considerably more curvy than most models. However, I thought that the collection was sophisticated and elegant (especially considering his age and experience level) and some pieces – the 13th look, the white coat dress, the two evening dresses (although I wasn’t wild for the patch) were gorgeous. But the judges did have a point about it lacking cohesion – and a lot of those separates, though pretty, weren’t anything you couldn’t buy at Talbot’s.

Santino. I must say, I thought that judging purely from the collection, Santino was robbed. It pains me to say it because I really don’t like him – I’m not one of those people who is drawn to arrogant artistes. His constant assholery really drove me nuts, and there were at least two challenges where I thought he should have been out and wasn’t (the lingerie challenge and the makeover challenge.) However. I thought his collection was absolutely beautiful. Gorgeous combinations of flowing and structured pieces. Beautiful and unified color palette. Unusual pieces but none of the whickety whack that he usually puts all over everything – no butts covered with feathers, no tons of giant sequins, no bobbles. My favorites – the red leather and silk evening gown, the sunburst-pleated chiffon that Heather wore, the two peach/champagne gowns, and the crazy leather Elizabethan doublet piece, which came across as very Sir Walter Raleigh to me. I would have put it with something softer and more flowing than the skirt he paired it with, though.

Bottom line? Chloe will kick ass as the winner. She’ll put the prizes to excellent use. And with her quality and professionalism and lovely design, she’ll make beautiful clothes.

Daniel should take Michael Kors up on his offer, intern with an established designer, get the experience and seasoning he needs, and fulfill his enormous potential.

Santino was robbed, much as I dislike him. But I have a feeling he’ll come out of it all right.

Current Project Update Tuesday, Mar 7 2006 

Completed project that will get an entry soon: 1 – wool tunic dress.

Long term project update: 1 – Italian camicia; sleeves cut and blackwork started.

New crafts: 3 – hand spinning, tablet weaving, illumination. One scroll painted, one ball of yarn spun, one tablet-woven band in progress.

Short term projects yet to be started: 4 – early period shift, self-supporting kirtle with corded skirt, blue silk noil gothic fitted dress, black and white Meridian heraldic sideless surcote.

Margherita Makes a Corset Tuesday, Mar 7 2006 

My latest long-term project (and I do mean LONG term) is a Florentine dress from the early 1500s, partially because this is a lovely style and partially because another costumer has already done all the hard work in figuring out how to do everything. *G* The first part of this project that I’ve started was the corset, which is different from the other corset I’ve done in that it’s boned with hemp cord rather than steel. This allows the natural curve of the bust to show while still giving a nice smooth line.

I’m fairly happy with the way the corset turned out, although if I ever do another one I’ll be making it shorter, because the hemp isn’t rigid enough to keep the corset from bunching up at the hip. Also since the cord goes with the curve of the bust it also follows the curve of the tummy… but since the main purpose of this garment isn’t to compress the waist but to smooth the torso I think it will work fine. What I need to do is lace the bottom half only to the point that the corset is snug, and then pull the laces on top tight to give the proper bust support. Also it could really use some more rigid stiffening around the grommets. But I learned a lot regardless and I think that the corset is in fact quite usable, so that’s always a plus.


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I haven’t made the chemise for this outfit yet- it will actually be an Italian camicia, with much more lavish sleeves and a blackworked neckband, made of handkerchief-weight linen. Lavish and pretty, or at least I hope it will be.

I’d do the dress-diary treatment for this corset, except that Jen at Festive Attyre has already done everything you’d ever want to know on the subject:

Margherita Makes A Cloak Tuesday, Mar 7 2006 

The first steps I took in the cloak project were deciding on a material for it and deciding on what sort of cloak I was going to make. The most popular choice of fabric for a cloak is wool; it’s fire-resistant, water-resistant, historically accurate, and retains its ability to keep you warm even when wet. However, there were two very good reasons for me not to make my cloak out of wool: (1) I live in a hot climate and am hot-natured; I’ve never been able to wear even a wool sweater without sweltering; (2) wool is freaking expensive, and a cloak requires an absurd amount of cloth.

With those caveats in mind, I was delighted when a routine tour of the Wal-Mart dollar-a-yard rack yielded up a large bolt-end of heavy cotton twill in a very attractive dark sprucey green which proved to contain fifteen yards of 60″ fabric. The material is about the weight of denim, so I consider myself to be making the cloak equivalent of a blue jean jacket, which is just about as much additional warmth as I’d need but will still be heavy enough to give a nice dramatic swirl to the cloak.

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Another happy coincidence in this project was that my mother had found most of a 150 yard roll of decorative cording at an outlet and given it to me for my house. After making a few curtain ties, though, I hadn’t needed anymore, so it had just been sitting. But the colors blended beautifully with my cloak fabric, so I decided I’d fancy the cloak up with some decorative cording around the edges.

The next decision was pattern. Did I want a rectangular, full circle, half circle, or three-quarter circle cloak? Hood or no hood? I finally decided on a full circle cloak with attached hood- not the most historically accurate version but the one I thought was the prettiest and most convenient.

Since I am about 5’9″, I knew I’d need to use the full 60″ width of the fabric as the vertical length of my cloak. I could have cut it out in two half-circles and sewed it together, but I didn’t have a clear ten feet of floor to do the cutting in, so I ended up cutting four quarter-circles. To do this I first cut out four 60″ square pieces of the fabric and laid them out on my floor. Then I stuck a long, sturdy straight pin through one edge of my tape measure and anchored it into the rug at one corner of the square. Then, using a fine-point sharpie and the 60″ mark on the tape measure as a sort of impromptu compass, I drew an arc from one end of the fabric to the other. This process gave me four wedges of cloth.

To make the hood, I measured the distance from the tip of my nose to the base of my neck and then, using the same tape-measure-compass trick, I drew a half circle with that measurement as the radius. I made two of these so the hood could be lined, and set these half-circles aside for later.

I had a pack of denim needles for the sewing machine from when I made the corset, so I loaded the machine up with one of those. The first order of business was to sew the four quarters together, leaving one edge open to form the opening of the cloak. This gave me a HUGE circle of fabric that was pretty massive. Next I used my trusty compass trick to cut a hole in the middle for my neck- keeping it as small as it can be and still be comfortable.

The next thing I had to deal with was how to finish the raw edges. I knew that the bottom would be taken care of by the hem but I wanted to think of something that would make the front opening look neat; also I needed to figure out how best to attach the hood to the neck.

The solution to my problems, I decided, was to put facings in. Facings, for those who don’t know, are those strips of cloth you get around the necklines of shirts and such. They allow you to make a nice finished edge on the parts of a garment where there are no seams. The facings in my cloak would serve double duty by providing a good way to attach the decorative cording without the engineering of it being readily apparent.

I cut two strips of fabric, 60″ long, about 6 inches wide, and hemmed one side of each. These would be my facings for the front. I also cut two lengths of decorative cording, making sure there was several inches overhang on either side, as I wasnt’ sure how I would finish off and hide the cording edges.

I put an adjustable cording/zipper foot on my machine and prepared to attach the facings. The special foot would allow me to sew right up against the cord.

I layered my fabric like so: the cloak went on the bottom, right side up. Then the cording, with the decorative part facing inward and the little fabric tail that’s there to attach it lined up with the cloak edge. Then the facing, right side down. I pinned the hell out of this fabric sandwich so it would stay in place while I wrestled with the cloak, which is really heavy as well as bulky, and a real pain to work with, not least because after having it on my lap a while I’d get overheated.

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I sewed one row of stitching near the edge, basically to tack everything together. Then I moved up as close to the lump where the cording was as I could get with the zipper foot, and sewed a row of stitching right up against it. When that was done I flipped it inside out, which left me with a very nice finished edge, with the cording attached and the facing hiding all the rough edges.

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Next up was the hood. The first thing I did was make a sandwich of the two hood layers with a line of cording down the straight edge of the semi-circle (which would be the part of the hood that frames my face) and sew it like I had just done the facing. When turned and pressed, this gave me my hood, ready to be attached.

Now came a rather tricky part. To attach the hood I would need to gather the curved edge of the semicircle and sew it in to the neck of the cloak. Easy enough in theory, but have you ever tried to gather a double layer of denim-weight fabric?

I ran a row of gathering stitches and pinned the two edges of the hood to the two edges of the cloak, and then pinned the middle back of the hood to the back of the cloak. Then I adjusted the gathers as evenly as I could between those points and hand-sewed them down to the cloak. This was not at all pretty, or even, or anything; just meant to get the thing on there and stable enough to do some more work on. I decided that I would need another facing around the neck of the cloak to hide the rough edges where the hood was attached, so I cut a full circle of fabric, cut a slit up one radius to the center, and then cut out a neck hole the same size as the one on the cloak, so that I had about 8 inches of facing to work with that would fit around the neck of the cloak.

What I needed to do to get the thing properly attached was to make another “sandwich”, with the cloak on the bottom, right side up, then the hood, inside facing up, then the facing, right side down, and sew it all together; however, this sandwich was so thick (due to the gathers) that I was worried I wouldn’t even be able to get it under the presser foot of my machine. It did go, but just barely- I didn’t even have to lower the presser foot, as it couldn’t GET any lower. I sewed that seam with a dense zigzag stitch (hoping that would make it stronger) but left the first and last few inches unsewn, as I still had to deal with how to finish up the ends of all the facing and cords.

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Much to my chagrin, when I looked at the seam I discovered that I’d sewn it too low, and my distinctly unpretty initial tacking stitches were still visible. I’m going to have to sew the seam again, higher up. However, that’s postponed, as the next question to address becomes how I’m going to do the seam finishes on the three long seams on the body of the cloak.

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I usually use French seams when I sew, as they’re the easiest to do and require no special equipment, but this fabric was so heavy I thought that the little roll of fabric a French seam makes would make unsightly ridges. I’d thought about binding the seams with bias tape, but that would involve buying a bunch of bias tape. Finally I went to the shop and bought a felling foot, which helps you to create a flat-felled seam (this is like the side seams on a pair of jeans; flat and very very strong). I can’t do the traditional process, as the seams are already sewn, but fortunately due to the way I cut it out, each of the seams has one seam allowance that was on a cut edge and one that was on a selvedge. I used the felling foot to turn the selvedge edge over the cut edge and sew it down. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to go ahead and sew that down again to make a proper felled seam. I probably will, just because it will add a lot of reinforcing on those seams and the material is so heavy that I want to make sure that they are strong enough, especially where the cloak hangs across my shoulders.

Anyway, that’s where the project stands. I need to finish the long seam finishes, figure out what to do with those dangling ends of cording, re-sew the neck facing so it’s in its proper place, and then hang it up for about a week so it can stretch out before I hem it and run some of the cording around the bottom. Updates when I get around to doing all that.

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Margherita Learns to Sew (With Pictures!) Tuesday, Mar 7 2006 

I’ve tried to take up sewing several times in the past, but it’s never quite taken long enough for me to finish a project before. The closest I got was the time I was going to teach myself to quilt; I actually pieced the entire quilt top of the “teach yourself to quilt” book’s learning piece, and it looked nice, but the thing has been languishing in the quilting hoop, partially quilted, for more than three years now. As for the rest, I think the trouble was that there were no clothes I could make for myself that I couldn’t buy for far less money and trouble- so there was no pressing need to sew.

Enter the Messenger and his favorite hobby: SCA. (Short definition: group that dresses up in historical clothing and has various events, some of which take place indoors and some of which take place out in the woods. Fun, though it helps to like camping and history.) What this meant for me at the most basic level was that I needed a wardrobe of clothes that were appropriate to wear to an SCA event that were also pretty and flattering enough to wear on a date.

After browsing around and pricing what this sort of clothing costs to buy (lots. Bodices in particular are easily over $50 and you can’t find dresses much under $60. It makes sense as these are generally hand-sewn to measure but still, more than my discretionary budget would allow) I decided that it was time to dust off the sewing machine (a bare-bones model, obtained for $80 or so at JoAnn’s in support of the quilting phase) and teach myself to sew before I had to bankrupt myself buying kirtles and whatnot.

Fortunately for me, I discovered that the vast majority of the SCA period (antiquity up to the end of Elizabeth I’s reign) took place before the invention of the tricky bits of sewing (darts, princess seams, zippers, set-in sleeves) had been invented, so that if you can master gores, gussets, gathers, lacings, and pleats, that’ll do for most things.

My first outfit had a deadline; M and I were going to a Renaissance Faire together (Ren Faires attract a lot of SCA folk but the two activities aren’t officially connected) and we wanted to dress up. Because it’s much more fun to walk around one of those things if you’re wearing the clothes. Sometimes the tourists even take your picture.

Unfortunately my sister-in-law had borrowed the machine, so I actually sewed the entire first outfit (chemise, skirt, cap, and bodice) by hand.

By HAND, dude. It took two and a half months.

I think it turned out rather well, though. Especially considering it was quite low cost. The skirt was made from 5 yards of dollar-a-yard cotton I picked up at Wal-Mart; the chemise and cap came from a huge quantity of muslin that I had around the house from a former project; and the bodice (reversible!) came out of the upholstery remnant section of a local fabric store. I think I may have paid 8 bucks or so for the fabric, and maybe an additional 5 or so for the steel boning I used in the bodice.

As far as patterns went, I really didn’t use many. I used the instructions on this page to make the skirt and the ones on this page to make the chemise, and then used these instructions to draft my bodice pattern, with some help from looking at an old one belonging to my roommate The Lobster in figuring out the construction. The cap was a circle gathered into a band.

I have a few finishing touches still to make on that outfit, too. The skirt somehow came out too big in the waist, so I need to move the hook that closes it. And I need to put bias-binding around the edges of the bodice and reinforce the shoulder seams. But apart from that, I’m good.

The next thing I made was an Elizabethan/Tudor corset. Mostly to see if I could, because dude, a corset! It turned out well, and can take three inches off my waist without even being laced very tight. Quite the thing. It was pretty easy to make; I ordered a pattern for that one. It’s basically a tube of fabric with tabs at the bottom and what feels like about five pounds of steel boning all the way around.

After that I whipped up a quick gored skirt out of more dollar-a-yard Wal-Mart cotton, in order to stretch my wardrobe. That one was finished really quickly the week before an event and still needs to be hemmed. I may try out my new rolled hem foot on that one.

My next project was inspired by two things: 1) a planned weekend-long camping event in the mountains with M at the end of September and 2) a 15-yard bolt of heavy dark green cotton twill turning up on my good friend the Wal-Mart dollar-a-yard rack. The obvious answer was to make myself a nice cloak in case it got cold. And also because dude, I’ve always wanted a cloak. I mean, who hasn’t? They rule!

Introducting Margherita Tuesday, Mar 7 2006 

I’ve decided that I’m going to consolidate all my costuming and crafty stuff – dress diaries, class handouts, and the like – to one convenient location – here. I’m going to upload the old stuff first and then keep it up as I actually get stuff done… or at least that’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.