Sunday, 9 August 2015

A Nursing Friendly Nightgown

While pyjamas are very practical when one has to get up with a baby at odd hours (especially in the winter), I prefer nightgowns, just as I prefer skirts and dresses to trousers. Finding one that is both inexpensive, flattering and practical to breastfeed in is, however, a bit of a challenge. So, at long last, I made my own. It has been a long while since I made any night clothes, as there have been so many things of a higher priority to do.

The material once was the skirt of a mid-19th century-ish cotton print dress that I made more than ten years ago. When I realised that the fabric, as well as the construction, had some issues, I tore it to pieces, but kept the fabric, as that was too pretty to just toss away. It lay in my stash for years, waiting for the right project, and this was it. The construction is simple: raglan sleeves, the fullness taken up in pleats, and a self-fabric drawstring in the bound neckline. 

The side seams are left open for a bit, and closes with two buttons each, scavenged from a worn out blouse. 

It would have been better to have the nursing slits located a wee bit more to the front, but this was simpler, and works well. Also, they are nigh on invisible when closed. 

I made the nightgown very full, so I can use it should I ever become pregnant again. 

This is now my favourite night clothes. It’s comfortable, looks feminine, and is practical for nursing. And to keep things real; I do not usually wear a matching bow in my hair when I sleep, and I did tidy up before taking the pictures.

Friday, 10 July 2015

14th Century Kirtle Makeover

I’ve been meaning to give my maroon kirtle a makeover for a long time. I wanted long sleeves, instead of the short ones. As so often happens, it didn’t get done until just before the event, when I realised that, due to breastfeeding related reasons, my yellow kirtle just would not close. Something I'd only wished to do now became absolutely necessary.  I removed the short sleeves just a few days before the event, cut out new ones, and began to stitch as fast as I could. 

But then I decided I wanted quite a few buttons – the quality and colour of the fabric is really rather nice, so I might as well give it the most fashionable trait of the century. 

I made twenty-four small (less than a centimetre in diameter) cloth buttons, a round dozen for each sleeve. Here’s an illustration of the whole progress of button making.

When we went to the event I still had a few button holes left to sew, which I did when only the one-year-old and myself were awake of all the camp.

I had pictures taken by Andrea, and as I planned to submit the made over dress to the manuscript challenge, I did my best to imitate the inspiration image. The veil is a bit too long, but it will have to do. In the inspiration image you can't see the front of her dress, nor if there are any buttons on the sleeves. Most likely the dress is one that pulls on over the head, but as you can't tell for sure, I call it good anyway. Same with the sleeves.

Stained glass window of Adam and Eve working. It was made in the late 14th century, 
and was originally from Marienkirche, Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany
but after WWII it was taken by the Soviet Union and is now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Though I forgot which way she was turned, I still think it ended up rather nice. Thanks to Vix for lending me her distaff and spindle. I'm afraid I made a mess of her work. I'm a decent enough spinner on a beginner's level, but I haven't figured out how to work with the distaff yet.

I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the greyish-blue kyrtil made for hubby, but sometimes life does not co-operate. I did achieve half the challenge anyway.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

14th Century Child's Shoes

Now I’m back from the medieval event, and it will be mentioned in a few posts, as I didn’t have time before to blog about all the things I made for it. If you want to see pictures now, you can go to my groups Facebook page.

My one year old could use his brother’s old shoes, though being a wee bit too large, but my three year old needed new ones. I have been to this event before, and know the terrain. Though our usual camp spot is grassy and pleasant, you have to walk on both cobblestones and gravel to reach the bathrooms. Also, there’s no knowing what the weather will be like, not to mention the possible danger of sharp objects. So I had to make him shoes.

 His old shoes were boots, which were secure enough to stay put even on small toddler feet, but now he’s old enough not to kick of his shoes by accident. I decided to make him a small version of the Bocksten Bog man’s shoes, dated to the 14th century. It’s a model I’ve made before, so I had an idea about how the pattern pieces should look. Now, I’m decidedly not a shoemaker, so if you are proficient at this, brace yourself. If you have any handy advice, please share. I hope to become a decent shoemaker sometime in future.

First I traced his foot on a piece of paper, and then used that to draw a sole. I drew an upper to. I made a mock-up from them - too small. The second attempt, seen here, worked well, with minor alterations.

And this was the final pattern.

 I used leather I had at home, 1 millimetre for the uppers, and 2 millimetres for the soles.

I put a welt between the sole and upper as I sewed, for strength and durability.

I also stitched a piece of leather to support the back of the shoe. Not puncturing the right side of the leather uppers was tricky, but I only messed up once.

Medieval shoes were really sewn on a last, like this one (number 5) for a child’s shoe in Malmö Museer, but I’m not there yet. I’m terrible with woodwork.

 I did try one thing to get closer to historical accuracy though: I did not use needles when sewing. In period, the waxed linen thread was twisted round a bristle, but as I don’t have any, I used fishing line instead, as advised by Sofia and Henrik. It took a bit of practice – at first it wouldn’t work at all, but after more advice and practice, it worked quite well, and I can see it working excellently with more practice.
In short, and to my understanding, this is how it works: you take your linen thread, and unravel the ends a bit, and pluck at the ends to make them uneven. You wax the thread, and twist it, with its unravelled ends, round the fishing line, which has been sandpapered for friction. The plucked, uneven ends of the thread makes the transition from thread to line smooth, and will slide through the holes made by the awl easy enough. This makes for smaller holes than a doubled thread and needle would require, and in shoes, this is a good thing.

 I believe that to be more accurate, I should have let the holes in the soles be at an angle, from inside to the side of the sole, instead of straight trough from inside to outside, but I decided one new thing was enough for his project, for which I had some time pressure. I’m keen to try to make angled stitches though, they make for a much smoother and more elegant result.

After sewing was finished, I dipped the shoes in water to make them more flexible (of course the shoes were also wet when I stitched them), and then turned them, letting them dry with rolled up pieces of terry cloth in them to keep their shape. I then greased the shoes (which darkened them a lot – rather nice, I think), added laces, and they were ready to go. 

 They were finished before the deadline of the HSM challenge #6 – Out of Your Comfort Zone.

The Challenge: # 6 - Out of Your Comfort Zone

Fabric: 1 millimetre leather for the uppers, 2 millimetre for the soles.

Pattern: Drafted and draped my own, based on period shoes.

Year: 14th century

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it? OK, I suppose – I don’t think it would stand out too much if sent back in time, though likely seen as the early work of an apprentice. There are a couple of period techniques that I did not use, and of course that affect the result. Still, one point to me for giving up sewing with needles!

Hours to complete: Not sure, possibly about 20.

First worn: At a medieval event last weekend.

Total cost: Not sure how much it would have been if the materials were bought new, but at this time it didn’t cost me anything, as everything was in my stash.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Importance of Stays

I've been meaning to take pictures of the early 19th century shortgown I made last year, to show how it looks on me when I'm not six months pregnant, and now I finally have. Actually, it turned into a comparison between early 19th century clothes when worn over different underpinnings. Now this is far from a conclusive comparison: there where many different types of stays, and for all I know less affluent women in some places might actually have used the overlapping bodice lining as only support (these linings are found in simple country women's dresses and spencers in Sweden as well, but no other supportive garments suitable for that class have survived as far as I know) - it works well enough, though not giving a very elegant silhouette. Each kind of supportive garment will give different results. However limited this comparison may be, it will still give a hint as to how very important the right underpinnings are for the impression you wish to give, and what year you wish to represent.

I used my corded, lightly boned stays with a wooden busk in front. The figure you get with these stays - even someone like me, a somewhat overweight mother of two - is one with a very high waist, bust pushed to the sides, and narrow ribcage. This was fashionable in the early 19th century, especially in the 1810's. The stays helps with posture, and prevents your outfit looking too much like maternity wear

 Walking Dress for mourning, Ackerman's Repository, December 1817

With the bodice lining you get a decent lift and support, but of the mono bosom kind. It will pull the dress forward a bit if the bust is heavy. It will not help with posture, and won't hide any fluff you might have. This general look is seen in the very early 1800's (though I should think most women of fashion would wear some more substantial support), and might have remained among the lower classes for a bit longer, especially in places where stays were not common among ordinary women.

I myself would not wear the clothes of a middle- or upper class woman without some kind of proper stays under them. For some (Swedish) working class impressions though, using the bodice lining for support just might be adequate.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Child's Green Kyrtle

If all goes well we’ll be attending a weekend event in a month, and as always, growing kids need new clothes. B, now tree years old, can wear the blue kyrtle, though it’s a tad too short for him. But evenings tend to get cold even in the summer, there is always a risk of rain, and our usual camping place at this event is high up on a frequently windy spot, close to the sea, so having the possibility to add an additional wool layer is vital. Kyrtles are much more practical than cloaks for children at play, and as he’ll need a larger one soon anyway, I made him one from green wool, left over from hubby’shose.

Quite long now, just clearing the ground. 
That did not prevent any walking or playing though.

I made the kyrtle wide and long enough for B to still be able to wear it in both two and three years’ time. At the moment it just clears the floor, and the sleeves must be folded back twice, but in a couple of years, the sleeves will fit nicely, and the kyrtle will reach to about just below the knees, a good length for a boy that will be wearing men’s clothes, and not those of small children, as he does now. 

 The whole kyrtle was made from this piece, about 150x75 cm, here seen on the fold.

The kyrtle is constructed from to main pieces, with two side gores that reach to, and becomes part of, the shaped armscye. A gore is also set in at centre front and back. This construction is found in several extant kyrtles called “Nockert type 2”.

The sleeves are so called S-sleeves, with a gusset set in at the seam at the back of the sleeve. If need be, I can open up the bottom of the sleeves later and add buttoned closures.

I needed to piece the sleeves a bit to get a kyrtle from the material I had, but that is perfectly period. It does mean that they took a bit more time to make than if made from one piece, but what you gain in one end you pay for in another.

I lined the top portion with a soft linen fabric, as I usually do on my young children’s kyrtils, to prevent any itching or chafing that might happen if the shirt worn underneath slips a bit. Not perfectly period, but it won’t show, and it’s a cheat I’m willing to make, as it’s not my children’s hobby - they just tag along.

The kyrtil closes at the neck with seven self-fabric buttons and buttonholes. 

I sewed the buttonholes one after another, with the thread lying loose between them, as seen in extant examples. It is a very fast and practical way to sew buttonholes, not having to fasten the thread after every one, or letting it travel between the layers of cloth, though perhaps not the prettiest look…

All sewing is done by hand with waxed linen thread, using stitches found in extant medieval clothing. 

One of the gores, sewn into front and back.

 The seam allowances and hems are rather narrow, ranging between 5-7 millimetres. 

 I submit this as a HSM challenge, though it’s more than a week late - the whole family got ill, so time and energy for sewing was a bit limited there for a while.
The Challenge: #6 Practicality

Fabric: Melton wool.

Pattern: My own, based on period kyrtles.

Year: Roughly late 1300’s.

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it? Decently – I don’t think it would stand out too much if sent back in time. Though the cloth name Melton didn’t show up until 1823, the quality existed during the Middle Ages - mine is machine woven though. The colour is OK for the period, but artificially dyed. The stitches are all period, as is the construction.

Hours to complete: Abut 15, including piecing the sleeves.

First worn: For the pictures.

Total cost: If bought new, the material would cost about 150 SEK ($18; £11,8; €16), but everything was in my stash. 

And terminology.... I've used to call this type of garment a cote in English, but I rather like the word kyrtle, as it's closer to the Swedish kjortel. Is there a difference, or are they just different words to describe the same thing? I wonder...

Crowfoot, E. Pritchard, F. & Stainland, K. (2001). Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. Bury St Edmunds: Museum of London.

Nockert, M. (1985). Bockstenmannen, Och Hans Dräkt. Halmstad och Varberg: Stiftelsen Hallands länsmuseer.

Østergård, E. (2004). Woven Into the Earth. Denmark: Aarhus University Press.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mending Trousers

Sometimes you need to do less creative and inspiring things, but I’ve begun to realise that mending clothes is not just economical and good for the environment, it can actually be fun, once you sit down to it. It's getting there that's the problem.... 

 Never got a 'before' picture of this...

Last weekend I mended my husband’s jeans, and my three year old's trousers. Both were mended in the same way: I put a patch behind the hole, and sewed rows of parallel running stitches over it. I did weave over the warp threads that still remained too.

Before and after.

A little bit of work, and my men will look decent a while yet. It’s certainly gratifying that you see an instant result of your labour.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Social Media: the Myth of Perfection - and the Reality

Lauren of Wearing History wrote an inspiring blog post the other day, about how many of us put the best light on things, while toning down, glossing over, or failing to mention that which is not so good. This, while perhaps rather innocent in itself, might lead some people to think that our lives, skills, homes, families and projects are picture perfect, while theirs are not. It’s far too easy to compare our own weaknesses with someone else’s strengths, or to compare our periods of trials with others’ periods of happiness. Hardly a fair comparison.

Lauren issued a challenge to other bloggers, to share the “behind the scenes” stories of some blog posts, to show that none of us are perfect.

I have actually blogged a bit about feeling unhappy, but have tried to tone down that part lately, as I want the blog to focus primarily on my projects and events, and not so much on my private life. As this is for a good cause however, I will share some of my stories.

When these were taken back in 2009 I was going through a depression of a kind that would have made the young Marianne Dashwood proud; it was so spectacularly pathetic, and yes, a young man was the cause. I’m still embarrassed about it – not the depression (that is nothing to be ashamed of), but the reason for it. Going to pieces so completely over someone who had never encouraged me in the first place was silly. We would never have been able to make each other happy, I've been able to see that for a long time now. Anyway, sewing and dressing up was one of the most important things that kept me on my feet, and pulled me out of bed every day. 

A year and a half later (beginning of 2011) and things are lots better: hubby and I got married. But there is always something to prevent things from being perfect: my sister that died a few years before wasn’t there. The fabric my dress was made from had her name – remembering my sister even on my wedding day. Also, my dad had been ill for years, and had to endure some pain to attend our wedding. He’s still not recovered. Granny got ill and couldn’t come at all. 

 Summer 2011 and I am happy, pregnant with our first child. But only a few weeks later, I would have a nervous breakdown at work, probably triggered by pregnancy hormones, and having to do a procedure on a child that I remember my sister dreaded when she had cancer. I couldn’t go back to work for weeks, and then only half time, until I went on maternity leave. I went to a counsellor and talked about my sister, her illness and death, what I’d gone through: topics I had avoided for years. It was tough, but I have been much better since, and the subject is no longer something I shy away from. 

Beginning of 2012. I’m a new mother to a lovely, sweet baby - but only just recovering from being very tired from blood loss, and in so much pain from birthing injuries - partial rupture - and from breastfeeding being tricky - it took three months of blood, sweat and tears to get it to work properly. Thank Heaven it went so much smoother the second time, both giving birth and breastfeeding!

Not all “behind the scenes” stories are that serious though – most are of much less impact, some a lot more amusing. Here are a few:

Empire/Regency stays photo shoot. Hubby was away, baby was asleep. For a bit. In the middle of the shoot (camera on self-timer) he woke up, and I had to blow out the candle and dash. Ever tried to cuddle up in a springy bed, nursing a baby, while wearing a wooden busk? Not comfortable. I had to whisk it out, nurse baby back to sleep, put it back in, and continue the shoot. Also, I didn’t yet have a proper early 19th century shift. 

Taking pictures of my new short gown. In lieu of a petticoat: a piece of raw silk fabric, tucked in a belt. 

New cap, trimmed with silk ribbons. Only, I could not find all of the ribbon, just enough to trim one half of the cap - the other side is quite plain…. That little detail was remedied before I used the cap at an event though.

Hobbit photo shoot. If I hadn’t gone through all the trouble to have my hair curled, and carrying all that stuff up two flights of steps from the kitchen, turning my sewing room into a hobbit larder, I would never have done it that day – the children were not co-operative, which stressed me out. A stressed mum is a bad mum, and getting worked up over a silly photo shoot felt wrong.

For the other pictures in this post, both boys were sitting by the window, having a laugh looking at me running back and forth, setting the camera, and posing. 

The point of these blog posts that are sprouting up now, are to show that we’re all human. We all go through hard times, and can always use encouragement. We have to be kind and considerate when we comment on other blogs – even the most dazzling smile might hide fatigue, stress and grief, the most amazing outfit might have several failed attempts or mistakes behind it. A less than successful attempt at a period dress is still better than no attempt – we all started somewhere. If putting other people down make us feel better, then perhaps we ought to take a good look at ourselves instead of others for a bit.