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!

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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.

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