Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Looking back at my first sewing machine, I'm wondering what's better, new machines or old?

My first machine. A Kenmore 12 Stitch.

I'm really excited about my new (and new to me, but old) machines, and they are all very snazzy and cool, but after a comment about a Kenmore yesterday (thanks, Thread Headed Snippet!), I thought I should devote a little time and love to my first machine, Kendra the Kenmore. 

Haha cheesy, I know.

I really started sewing in High School. Before that, I was always interested, but it was really just dabbling and hand stuff. My mom has had this Kenmore since she bought it new in about '79 or '80. It is crazzzzyyyy heavy and it was probably pretty sweet when it was new. Look at all those stitches!

Oooo fancy stitches...

This machine supplying my only "vintage" sewing experience (by default - just had an old machine, not on purpose) until now, I can at least say that new machines, though shiny and full of stitch options, come no where near. This machine faced the boiling summers of Vegas, below zero temps in Colorado, multiple moves and probably a fall or two, since it was so darn heavy! I know I dropped it as a kid...

Finally, two years ago, after 30 years of chugging along, it finally gave out on me one day and I had to take it to the shop. It just wouldn't turn on. It was probably the first time it had been cleaned, oiled, or even opened up since it came off the assembly line! 

While it was in the shop, I couldn't stand the thought of being without a sewing machine, so I thought I'd treat myself to a new one. I bought a Babylock. Nothing crazy, but definitely a decent machine. I must admit, I was pretty stoked about the automatic button hole...

The Kenmore and the Babylock.
Same size, but the Kenmore weighs twice as much.
Metal versus plastic, hmmm...

When I got the Kenmore back, I finally gave my mom back her machine, thinking I had the better end of the deal. Bah! Barely two years went by when the Babylock conked out (a day before I needed to finish the brown wool gown, no less). I took it in and called up mom to get back the Kenmore. 

I forgot how amazing this thing stitches! The presser foot really holds down the fabric, where the new machine just didn't have the weight to keep yards and yards of fabric in line, even when I held it up (think how many yards you wrangle for a mid 19th century skirt!). The Babylock also skips stitches like it's going out of style. 

So, basically, I know I just bought a new Singer, but I think that might be my last new machine. I think I will use it for crafty things, and light, not precise work. The fancy stitches are fun for that, whereas they rarely ever have a place on historical costumes. The Babylock, I've kept for taking to workshops and traveling... though a Featherweight would be great for that... I need something light. My new singer is a bit of a monster.

Testing out the singer on yards and yards of
sheer cotton - yes, folks, there is a sheer 1860's dress
on the horizon. So far, so good, by the way.

For costumes, however, I think I'm going to mostly stitch vintage. The old machines just do such an amazing job of stitching. They handle the fabric so well, and compared to my new machines, the stitches are so precise. Yes, if there's a problem, it might be hard to locate a part, but I've been trolling Ebay most of the day, for "research" (wink wink), and you can find soooo much! All kinds of parts: original and new replacements. Not to mention, the older machines have a bit of style ;)

I am trying out the new Singer with some light cotton, for a sheer dress. So far, so good. But I'm only on the first tuck. I'm curious to see how it will handle silk satin (hopefully soon up will be a satin Victorian corset). One thing I can say, so far, it's better than the Babylock...

An opinions on new machines versus old? What do you all prefer to sew with?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A vintage day out in 1930's knits.

An oldie, but a goodie. I found these photos from last October that I never shared. Sorry for the weird cropping, but I didn't know if any of the other girls in the photo wanted to be shown. It was a "vintage" outing.

Monday, January 28, 2013

New additions to the family...

...the family of sewing machines! That is steadily growing.

I've been on a bit of a sewing machine binge lately. To be specific, a Singer binge. And it all started one morning at 6 am when I saw "singer" go by as I scrolled through the TV guide. I've never been a tv shopper, but within ten minutes I found myself calling HSN and ordering a machine.

Oh god. A new avenue of shopping.

To add a little context, I have been in the market for a new machine for a while now, and this one was crazy on sale.

So far I'm happy. I haven't sewn anything with it yet, besides repairing some pants, but I did use a new machine as an excuse to go to a sewing machine class. I highly recommend it. I've never gone to a class like this before. I was surprised how much I forgot about using machines. Even little things like "keep the presser foot up when threading."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Kensington Palace, part 3: A Court Mantua

I love big dresses, but there is something about these mid century court gowns that's just absurd! Take a browse down the photos. It amazes me how very narrow this dress is from the side. It reminds me of a paper doll version of an 18th century gown -- wide from the front, disappears from the side!

I will say, though, I love the stomacher and pinked trim across the skirt. Very pretty.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kensington Palace, part 2: Is that Christmas tinsel?!

In another room at Kensington Palace, two beautiful 18th century dresses were on display. Today I'm sharing the first one -- my favorite.

I LOVE this dress. Oh my gosh. 

It is made up of such interesting fabric. So often we see heavy silk brocades, embellished with goldwork, but this light, airy dress is not only the sole robe a la francaise I have ever seen made up of sheer, musliny cotton, but also sheer cotton that has been heavily embroidered in metal. The silver and gold "thread" is flat, thin strips, which are very, very much like christmas tinsel to look at.

The cotton is so sheer, you can see through the layers to the embroidery beneath. Very evident in the top photo.

The only other dress I can compare it to is this robe a l'angliase from the Met.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kensington Palace, part 1: Queen Victoria's Dresses

On a recent trip to Kensington Palace I was delighted to find a new exhibit about Queen Victoria. It was kind of, shall we say "artistically" done, so I didn't see a lot of information about each piece, but they are pretty to share, never the less. 

She was a tiny lady. I'm only 5'4'', and standing next to her dresses, I felt like a giant. Mayyyybe she reached five foot. I'm guessing. 

This first dress was the only one I found information on. In each room there was a little book tucked aside with all the information on each exhibit. They were hard to track down, and when found, often the book was already being read by someone else, so I kind of gave up looking for it.

But anyway, this silk dress was originally black. Time has faded the color to a brown, much like how those fugitive purples act.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Those pesky dark photos...

So often when one goes to a museum, the lighting is so low that your pictures end up looking like a blurry dark blob.

Above is a photo I took, on my phone, of one of Queen Victoria's mourning dresses. Now, disclaimer, I do not ever claim to be queen of photography. Most of my photos are snapped on my phone, with just enough effort to get a picture. I'm sure low light photos can be easily taken with a snazzy camera, but for today, I'm talking about working with the basics, so you can decipher photos for study, not for framing and putting above the mantle...

So back to fixing this. 

Below, I just used iPhoto, which comes standard on a mac, to enhance and lighten the picture enough to be able to appreciate what the photo is of. Further below, the same photo has been lightened excessively. Not so pretty to look at, but look how clear the buttons and sleeve caps and pleats become. Fabulous for study! And night and day from the original picture.

I'm no computer genius, but I will say, on most computers there is some basic photo editing software. You can also use an online photo editor. Monkey with the brightness, contrast, saturation, and shadows and you will be amazing what will pop out of the dark.

Just be sure to save an original of the photo, just in case you monkey too much...

Friday, January 11, 2013

One Lovely Blog Award

Before I left on my trip, Susan Ardelie of Life Takes Lemons, was lovely enough to grant me the One Lovely Blog Award! Thank you, Susan!!

I'm ashamed to say, with the busy holidays and then going away, it's taken me this long to pass it on.

Check out her post about her award here. She has some beautiful photos posted, and also links to other blogs she nominated. All very cool and interesting!

So, on to the award goodies...

1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Add the ‘One Lovely Blog Award’ image to your post.
3. Share seven things about you. 
4. Pass the award on to seven nominees. 
5. Include this set of rules.  
6. Inform your nominees by posting a comment on their blogs. 

I just love how Susan posted seven pictures, instead of just things about the blogger, so I am going to do similar: seven things about me, illustrated, and for difference, how about not regarding costuming?... Cheers!

Another dress from the India Rooms. Muslin, c. 1795.

Oh, this is a pretty one!

I don't have much to say. I'll just sit here and drool and let the pictures speak for themselves.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chintz Gowns at the V&A

In an earlier post, I mentioned there were some beautiful chintz gowns in the India rooms at the V&A. There were three on display, two of which I have seen before. The third, the embroidered gown on the right in the picture above, was new to me. I think it's my favorite of the three. It has tons of darning and patching, which I always love to investigate.

First, a printed fabric from South-east India, made up in the 1770's. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back in the sewing room: new year, old projects.

I'm back home after my trip, and while I looooooooovvvvveeee vacation, I love coming home, too. And, yipee! Now that the holidays are over, I have lovely me time again. Yay!

I've been itching to start a new project, but in the spirit of the new year and resolutions and all that, I have decided to challenge myself: I'm going to try really hard not to buy new fabric (I have soooooo much at home) and I'm going to try to finish up some of those pesky UFO's that are cluttering up my sewing room. 

Oh, and mending. I hate mending and altering, but those are piling up, too...

So, pat on the back today. I started by finally repaired the wool braid on the bottom of my brown wool dress. Then I gave some thought to the next challenge in the Sew Fortnightly challenge, since now that I'm back, I can participate. Fun!

1913? 1813? 1713?... I batted around some ideas and settled on 1813. I was just starting to trace out a new pattern when I came across the Patterson gown pieces, tucked away, half embroidered, half cut out. Half way there! Yay!

I managed to stitch up most of the bodice this afternoon, taking a break half way through gathering up the front bust. I pinned it all on the mannequin for a look. So far I'm pretty pleased. I'll probably sew up the dress and then go back and finish the skirt embroidery. That will take a minute or two...

Detail of embroidery on the Patterson dress.
Metropolitan Museum, 1983.6.1

It's not strictly 1813. It's actually almost ten years earlier, but the fortnight challenge was the incentive I needed to get it out of the pile. Maybe it was given to a poorer relation or maid and lived on after it's more fashionable owner discarded it.... Haha excuses...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A New Year's Day Well Spent

Ooooo I had a fun day yesterday!

I left the hotel and had a nice long walk to the V&A. Living in Vegas, I'm kind of enamored by pedestrian cities. No one walks in Vegas. It's too hot and everything's too far.

Unfortunately I can't share the exhibit with you, since there were no photos and no sketching even. Which I think is pretty silly, considering you can just pop in a movie, you know... Maybe they want to keep people moving. It was packed in there!

It was a great exhibit. Sooooo many costumes. Period costumes, modern, even digital costume design. All my favorites were represented: Gone with the Wind, Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth, Titanic, Moulin Rouge, Atonement, My Fair Lady, Breakfast at Tiffany's... It went on. And most of the costumes you could get pretty close to, to see, which was nice. 

One of the most interesting costumes had to be Vanessa Redgrave's gown from Camelot (1967). The long, long, train was covered in stitched on pumpkin seeds! Another interesting tidbit: this blue moire dress from Marie Antoinette (2006), was embellished with Christmas tinsel - that's an idea...

After the exhibit - and I was in there for a good two hours! - I went to go visit the fashion rooms. Walking down the sculpture gallery, on the way, I passed the "India" rooms and did a double take.

Yay! Chintz!

So of course I detoured and took a million pictures of each dress. I even got up the skirt of the middle one. It has a different print inside! And the one on the right has a ton of darning and piecing. I love piecing :) 

I'll share more of these pics another day soon. 

Oooh, and this pretty thing, too. A muslin gown from 1795. I don't think I've ever seen this one before. So light and gauzy!