My Very Good Excuse

…okay, two excuses.  I have not posted much in a good while.  This is partly because this has been a very difficult late summer/fall for me.  Much of the time it has been a never-ending allergy attack, with occasional pauses.  Now that the ragweed and elms have stopped blooming, I am getting better.

I used to have a wonderful allergy medicine to turn to.  It almost always worked the first dose, but on particularly bad occasions it might take two.  Unfortunately, it has been regulated out of existence by the FDA.

Drixoral - Dexbrompheniramine Maleate, and Pseudoephedrine Sulphate. Wonder drug for thousands of allergy sufferers.

The manufacturer was having best practices issues, and so Schering-Plough had to find another manufacturer to make it.  Unfortunately, the regulations are so stiff, it wouldn’t have been profitable enough for any of them to agree to do it.  As a result, Drixoral suddenly vanished from the shelves in 2008, never to return.

So now I have to make do with Chlor-Trimeton, which helps some, and Dimetapp, which has a similar antihistamine to Drixoral and sometimes works.

Many have taken to ordering Drixoral from Canadian pharmacies.  Sometimes it comes from Turkey.  I’m still trying to decide whether to try this.  It’s pretty expensive.

I don’t appreciate my government causing my life to be ruled by people with meth labs.  They could have just reclassified it as a prescription-only drug, as has been done with other drugs.  That would have been fine.

Anyway, on to excuse #2:

I’ve been learning to sew… and with a deadline, to boot!

I’ve wanted to learn to sew for a long time.  I’ve been able to do repairs and little things without really knowing how to sew, but I wanted to be able to make clothes and really know how to do things.

Then we went to our first Renaissance Fair.  It was such a hit with the kids, I promised them costumes.  Strange thing to do, when you have no idea how to read a pattern or operate a sewing machine.  But off we went to the thrift store anyway, shopping for things that might be useful for making costumes.  Bunny-Wan Kenobi wanted to be a musketeer, and, naturally, ILoveBunnies wanted to dress like some fine lady of the court.  Not having a budget that would allow for either premade outfits or new fabric, the thrift store was the natural choice.  Where else can you find large pieces of fabric for very little money?

I spotted a green crushed velvet maternity dress, and Bunny-Wan Kenobi (who loves green) thought it would make a great musketeer tabard.  It still had the original tags on it, but I got it for less than $4.  I found a green sheet that eventually became the lining for the tabard for under $2.  Not having really any idea what sort of dress ILoveBunnies might end up having, I just started looking for colors and patterns, and large pieces of fabric.  I came away with a bunch of red and beige.

A low-quality beige sheet with a vaguely Renaissance-ish pattern, a red sheet, a semi-sheer red sheet with taffeta-like properties (strange material for a bed), a pair of sheer beige curtain panels, some brocade placemats (red with blue, green, and gold stripes at the sides, with a cream design; and some others that were tone-on-tone cream brocade) — but the pièce de résistance was a very large piece of somewhat nubby, woven, red fabric.  That piece of fabric was $1.49, the placemats were 59 cents each, and the curtains and sheets ranged from $1.50 – $2.50 or so.

So now I had fabric, but I still didn’t know how to sew.

My mother's sewing machine, which I must somehow learn. My mom made clothes for herself when she was young, and for herself and me when I was very little. She has not sewn for many, many years, and cannot sew now because of her eyes. She is losing her central vision to macular degeneration.

Time passed, and we moved.  Last fall, we went to the Renaissance Fair here, and it is a much better one than the other one.  The kids put together some clever makeshift costumes and went as pirates.  But now there was renewed interest in some real, fancy-dancy costumes.

Still, things stayed busy, and, besides, the tension on the sewing machine was out, and my mom couldn’t remember how to correct it.  So the machine stayed stored away, and no progress was made on learning to sew.  That is, until ILoveBunnies joined the Junior Docent program at a local museum in September.  She went through training, and her first event was scheduled two and a half weeks later — at which time, she would need to be in period costume as a typical pre-Civil-War girl.  She needed a chemise, a skirt, an apron, and a cap.

Unfortunately, for this, I had to buy 100% natural fiber material — cotton, wool, or linen — for fire safety.  Used materials won’t do, if you can’t verify that they are 100% cotton, wool, or linen.  Thankfully, Hancock’s just happened to be having an anniversary sale, and I was able to buy some good cotton fabric for half price, and some historical patterns for $.99.  I still sank almost seventy dollars into the outfit by the time I was finished, in spite of the sale.

Mom taught me how to read the patterns and understand the various instructions as I went along.  She couldn’t really do much, because of her eyesight, but she could certainly teach me.  I started stitching, with tension adjustment instructions beside me, but the tension turned out to be correct.  She had taken it to have it serviced, but had thought that she had messed up the tension after that.  Apparently not!

Gathering and ironing a seam on the apron.

ILoveBunnies started learning the machine, too!

The day before the event, I put the finishing touches on the cap, and got everything washed and ironed.

ILoveBunnies' Junior Docent dress -- beige chemise, beige skirt with tiny flowers, blue pinner apron, and (not pictured) a reversible mop cap that is blue on one side, and the flowered print on the other. The drawstrings had not been added to the sleeves at the time of this picture.

With ILoveBunnies’ first event in the bag, it was time to finally start on those costumes.  We got some more patterns on sale.  ILoveBunnies looked at all the fabrics, and decided which ones she wanted to use, and in what combination.  Since I had just made ILoveBunnies an outfit, I started with Bunny-Wan Kenobi’s tabard, pants, and shirt.  Once I had the tabard sewn, I set ILoveBunnies to work hand-sewing the decorative rope.

I bought the gold fabric for the fleur-de-lis, the double-sided fusible web, and the rope new (but on sale). I carefully ripped out the seams of the maternity dress. The front of the dress became the front of the tabard, the back (which, unfortunately, had a center seam) became the back, and the sleeves were used for the tabard's sleeves (or epaulettes). I had very little leftover material from that dress!

The incredibly fray-prone rope needed some special treatment. I did misjudge the knot's position. It should have been closer to the end.

I had my doubts that Fray-Block could handle this gold rope alone, so I looked up how to finish the end of a rope. I found an animation for the Sailmaker’s Whipping Knot, and, even using thread and 1/2-inch rope, it worked very well. If I needed to cut in the middle of the rope, I did two of these knots about 1/2 inch apart, and then cut between them. I then used Fray-Block on the ends and on the knots themselves to keep everything secure. Here’s the animation: http://www.animatedknots.com/sailmakers/index.php

I finished by making his pants and then his shirt.  Meanwhile, Shay made arm braces for him and also a scabbard for his sword.

The braces were made of heavy leather that Shay found at a yard sale, and strip leather bought cheaply at Hobby Lobby.

The scabbard was a combination of cardboard and strip wood, covered in faux leather vinyl. The belt loop is leather from yet another yard sale, and more strip leather, and it's adjustable to different width belts. The sword is a Zorro sword from a local party store. Some things are just hard to find at a yard sale.

Bunny-Wan Kenobi's nearly completed outfit. Sorry for the very poor quality. Also, we tend not to include faces online.

Then it was time to start on ILoveBunnies’ outfit, which would fit over her chemise from her Junior Docent ensemble.  By this time, again, I had only a couple of weeks left before Student Day at the Renaissance Fair!  A typical day looked like this: get up, get kids going, have breakfast, start sewing, get kids going on schoolwork, keep sewing, grade papers, eat lunch, back to sewing, help with dinner if needed, eat dinner, sew some more.

I was going to start the bodice first, in case that was all I had completed, she could wear that over her chemise and call it done.  Then, I discovered that the bodice was in Misses’ sizes, not Women’s, and ILoveBunnies wears women’s sizes.  Unfortunately, this meant that the pattern I had was too small.  Another pattern sale was only a couple of days away, so I pulled out the skirt pattern.  It was in Misses’ sizes, too, but this one went much larger.  I was able to use it, and got cracking on the skirt.  It called for some 6 yards of fabric with many large pleats.

I made the center contrast panel first, using that patterned beige sheet and a beige sheer curtain panel.  I cut them out, basted them together, and treated them as one after that.  Then, after cutting the rest of the panels from that long piece of nubby red fabric, I assembled it all.

The beige sheer makes that cheap sheet look like a million bucks! The pattern on the sheet shows through the sheer subtly, more where the sheer touches it, less where it doesn't, not at all if the sheer ripples. The picture doesn't do the effect justice, but you can see the swirls and flowers of the pattern showing through, especially at upper right. Farther left, a ripple in the sheer causes the pattern to disappear.

Pleats, another first! They were tedious, but easier than I expected. It was as I was ironing the pleats in that I realized that my marks that I had so cleverly used my transfer paper for all but disappeared when exposed to heat! I ironed very carefully after that, and repentantly returned to using the chalk for markings for the remainder of the project.

Then, having hit the sale at Hancock’s again for a larger pattern, it was time to make the bodice.

 

I used two placemats on the bodice. I cut the edge seams off, wondering what I would find inside, since they were a bit stiff. I was delighted at first to find interfacing fused to the brocade, but, upon removing the solid red back of the placemat, I discovered that the interfacing was cracked, wrinkled, shifted, rippled -- anything but usable. I was able to peel the interfacing off rather easily, leaving behind a layer of fuzz.

Immediately upon cutting out the pieces needed for the front and back panels, I laid them on wax paper and went around them with Fray-Block.  It was obvious that I would pay dearly if I did not.

ILoveBunnies wanted the red skirt fabric to continue to the sides of the bodice. The heavyweight interfacing showed through the lightweight fabric, so I added a layer of lining between it and the interfacing. I used the same fabric that I used to line the inside of the bodice. It's not the same kind of red, but what matters is that it is red, and it is relatively dark. The center contrast panel is just slightly wider than the red part of the brocade, so you can see some of the striping at the top corners and sides of the panel.

I asked ILoveBunnies whether she wanted me to use the center of the placemat (red) or the sides (striped) for the back panels. She wanted the stripes, for a little variety. In between, sewn to the lining, you can see one of the hooks that joins the bodice to the waistband of the skirt. These were optional, but for ILoveBunnies, they were needed for two reasons: if they weren't there, you'd be able to see the top of her crinoline every time she lifted her arms, and also the skirt ended up being slightly too large (I think the waistband stretched in spite of the fusible interfacing), so the hooks actually hold her skirt up!

I employed ILoveBunnies as much as possible.  She needs to learn to sew, too, and I needed her help in order to finish in time.  She sewed the hooks and eyes, did hemming, and things like that.

ILoveBunnies hemmed all 5 yards of the red portion of the skirt. Mom and I agreed that she could use stitches up to an inch apart in order to finish in time, since this was the day before the Student Day at the fair. I hemmed the beige part, because I wanted to stitch through only the sheet, not the sheer on the outside.

The crinoline was much too small when I bought it, but I verified with Mom that I could modify it. I preserved the zipper in the back, and sliced it open in front. I pulled out some woven cotton, and a knit thermal shirt I had stashed years ago. After applying Fray-Block to the cut edges of the crinoline (which were happily fraying in spite of the fact that all I had done was look at them), I reinforced them with a double layer of the woven cotton. I especially reinforced the bottom of the cut. A panel cut from the knit shirt filled the gap, and Shay put in eyelets to allow for lacing. I would have made a crinoline myself, but I was too pressed for time at this point. $20 at a thrift store... really, I would have spent that much on the tulle and inner and outer slip material anyway.

Just in case I ran out of time to finish the sleeves, I quickly made a newspaper pattern from ILoveBunnies' arm for this set of braces to cover the ends of her chemise sleeves. Since a lady dressed such as she would not be using a bow, she would be wearing decorative fabric braces, if she wore them at all. I had more of the fabric that I had used to make Bunny-Wan Kenobi's fleur-de-lis, so she wanted them made from it. I lined the braces with remnants from the chemise fabric. I didn't finish the sleeves, so it's a good thing I had these done.

ILoveBunnies in her almost-finished outfit. I was doing a pre-hemming fitting, having just bought the crenoline. The braces were not begun at this point.

Shay, who had borrowed a great kilt from a friend last year (which had been in his family for ages), wanted his own kilt this year.  Good tartan fabric isn’t cheap, though, so it was looking like it wasn’t going to happen.  Then we went to a Goodwill store we hadn’t been to before, and they had a bunch of bolts of fabric that they sold for 75 cents a yard.

Among all the bolts, Shay found the tartan from one side of my family — 8 yards of it, plenty for a great kilt!  It was made of fine wool, originally $37 per yard (the one he wore last year was even finer wool — you’d almost swear it was cotton — and would cost today some $60 per yard).  We bought it, and another bolt of the same wool fabric in beige (it was originally only $27 per yard).  I made him a very blousy shirt from it to wear with his kilt.  He found some good prices on a couple of accessories:  a brooch, a sporran, and a dirk (knife).  As I said before, some things just can’t be found at a yard sale.

Bunny-Wan Kenobi, Shay, and ILoveBunnies all looked smashing.

There were only a few kinks that appeared over the day that I need to iron out.  I need to add ties to Bunny-Wan Kenobi’s tabard so I can tie it to the shoulders of his shirt.  ILoveBunnies’ laces would not stay tied, so they need to be replaced with a different material.  The hooks and eyes were not secure enough, and one popped, causing part of the skirt to drag just enough to pop the hem in one place.  It turned out she had sewn the hooks only to the lining of the bodice, and had not used strong thread, so I am fixing that now.  The hem needed to be sewn again anyway, with stitches much closer together.  I am moving the eyes to the bottom of the waistband to pull the skirt up just a little farther from the ground.

The more I worked with the skirt fabric, the more I began to suspect that it is actually real linen.  It isn’t cotton or wool, but demanded high temperature ironing like other natural fabrics.

I have learned so much, and am really looking forward to making myself and my mom dresses for next year. :)  My mom has been just a wonderfully awesome teacher, and many of the things I have mentioned that I did are things that she suggested, or her answers to my questions.  Thank you, Mom!!!


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