Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Georgian gown plans

Very recently, I and my fellow costumeophiles went for a tour and tea at Castletown House in Celbridge, Co. Kildare. It's a wonderful place, built in the 18th century as a legacy, its has only recently been given over to the state so restoration work can begin. We had a private tour, all wandering the halls in vaious eras of garb, and a very fine day it was.

For me, this meant another trip out for my 1880's evening gown. Unfortunately yes, the evening gown, I haven't had time to make a day bodice or a walking skirt, and lets not stat on how shocking the lack of head covering is. I have many, many plans to "finish" this outfit off with frills, frills and more frills, but that's going to have to wait until IRCC is over. 

A day trip being a good excuse for all things costume, it was noted how out outfits were woefully incorrect for the house itself, so plans are now afoot to make an 18th century outfit.

I've settled on the 1780's style of a robe à la polonaise gown, colour and all to be decided. The robe à la polonaise is a distintive style, which is characterised by the gathered skirts at the back of the gown, such as this example from the Kyoto costume institute, or like the black and white striped gown Christina Ricci wears in Sleepy Hollow. I've always admired that dress, and yes, all I needed was the excuse to make it. Happy costumer.

And what costume post would be complete without the obligatory shoe shot!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Soap Making - Rendering the Fat

Making the lye, step II is going to be some time happening on this blog. I tried to filter my batch and again, no lye. The egg sank and when I tried using a hydrometer to test the specific density, the density was the same as water. To add salt to the wound, there appeared to be maggots living in my supposedly caustic solution quite happily, so lye it very much wasn't. I chucked it out and I think I've identified where I went wrong on this attempt, and it's one of three options:
  • I misidentified the wood and you simply can't leach lye that isn't there. 
  • I had too little ash to too much water, so it would have been lye, if I'd evaporated off some of the water,
  • or I had lye, but didn't filter it soon enough, so it exhausted itself on the straw in the bucket 
In the mean time, I've been working on the oils I'll be using for this project. Thanks to a local butcher, I've gotten my hands on pig and cow fat which I'm wet rendering down into a usable fat for soap making. Wet rendering involves adding the fat to hot water and summering away, periodically skimming the fat from the surface of the water. This method gives a lighter, more deordorised form of fat, and leaves my kitchen smelling faintly of bacon. The resulting lard is beautifully silky, and as previous soap making I've done has exclusively been vegetarian in ingredients, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how well it turns out as a soap. 

The beef gave up it's fat more readily, giving a harder, lightly yellow coloured fat. It's easy to see how this gives a harder soap. 

Now I just need to get my hands on the commercial potassium hydroxide pellets a friend secured for me, and I'll be able to start soap making! I have a total of 8 bars planned: pure lard, pure tallow, tallow & lard comabined and olive oil - each of these combinations I'll do once with potassium hydroxide (KOH) and once with the more modern sodium hydroxide (NaOH) for comparison. 

I'm also tempted to put some of the lard to use in enfleurage - a technique for, well, harvesting the perfume for delicate blooms while the Whiskey Mac rose is still blooming in the back garden. And if that's successful, it'll make a most delightful soap.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

IRCC3 distractions

23 days left.

Even if I wasn't watching the calender, I'd know the dealine was approaching, because the usual gremlins are making their presence known. Three weeks to go and I should be putting every effort into the final details (and correcting the mistakes), but what am I thinking of instead?

- Quotes on trousers
- Project Hollyhock!
- Petticoats! All of the petticoats!
- Parasols...little mini hats too while I think of it
- Project Cinnabar - wasn't entirely sure about this name, but eh, it's stuck now.
- Corsets! I miss corsets...

But I'm being good! I didn't find out until after I'd cut the fur that I prefere the look of ribbon trim on my zimarra, and over 20m of hand sewn ribbon later, I still have a lot to do. Need about a dozen more buttons too. Onwards!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Fabric preparations

Finding myself with an empty washing machine recently, and no clothes waiting to be washed, I took advantage of the gap to pre-wash som fabrics for later costume use. Often, people can be unsure if they should pre-wash a fabric or not. Pre-washing removes any sizing which may be on the cloth, or in the case of fibres such as linen or cotton, can shrink these fabrics before use so the finished garment won't become distorted if it's washed afterwards. As a general rule of thumb, treat the fabric as it will be treated when it's in use - if it's for a garment that will be washed often, or will be used for detail work like embroidery, make sure to prewash. If it's a fancy fabric unlikely to ever see water, like a brocade, you may be able to get away without the pre-wash, but make sure you remember that.

On this day I decided to prewash some light black linen, a purple brushed cotton and some ivory cotton voile, yes all in the same wash. I know, I know. I never learn. This is not the first time a foolishly choosen slection of fabrics in pre-wash has colour bled on me. For some reason I think, especially with purple fabrics, that this time the dieties of fabric will look with favour on my industriousness, and will grant me an un-bled wash. But the gods of costuming care nothing for my neglect to seperate whites and colours.

And now you're thinking - that fabric...if that's the fabric she was talking about, it doesn't look like there's a colour bleed there. And you'd be right, this is the pre-washed fabric after I fixed the run, and here's how. 

Often, when faced with a colour run, there are commercial products that can assist in reversing the mistake. I tried one of these, but it lighted the pale purple cotton to a pale pink - even less desirable as a colour. So I decided to bleach the fabric. Word of warning here, bleach, in addition to removing dye, will also weaken the fibres over time, so this is not the best of methods to use on very delicate fabrics.  

I wanted a very weak solution to bleach my fabric, because I wasn't removing that much colour and cotton voile is not the most robust of fabrics. I disolved about 1 tablespoon of ordinary household bleach with 1.5L, a full kettle, of boiling water, then added cool water until I was able to put my hand into the water to be able to stir the fabric. Using latex gloves, I massaged the still damn fabric in the water, making sure all of it was exposed to the solution. I left it soaking then for about an hour, then machine washed it as usual at 60oC. And voila! Lovely white cotton voile. It's even better than its original ivory colour...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

IRCC3 - layer four

No, you haven't missed a post, I have indeed skipped the update of layer three, but with good reason. I'll come back to it shortly.

For layer four of the competition, I've been making myself an Italian style coat, or Zimarra.

I've been making my zimarra from an old curtain. Just one curtain has given enough fabric for body and sleeve, both flared as the zimarra is not a fitted style. Almost all of the seams are french seams, and all hand sewn as part of the competition. 

Apart from attaching the sleeves, (the one on the picture is just pinned in place for the picture), I'll be trimming the front and open sleeves edges with some white fake fur. For the zimarra front and sleeve closures, I'll be using the embroidered buttones I mentioned in my last post. I have eight of those done so far, which should be enough for just one sleeve. Oh well, it's enjoyable work at least.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

16th Century Embroidery

For my birthday this year, I treated myself to a copy of Elizabethan Stitches by Jacqui Carey. I'm fascinated by the embroidered samplers of the period, especially those of Queen Elizabeth, like this embroidered bookbinding, completed by the Princess at the age of 11. Embroidery techniques from the 16th century are subtely different to modern stitches, enough so that I can see myself enjoying the challenge of learning them.

So far I've been working with just one stitch, but for two differnt projects.

The first is using detached buttonhole stitch to cover wooden beads. This was a common technique to embellish beads in the day, and if the time it takes me to do each button is anything to go by, they were a very effective way of displaying your wealth.

I've been using cotton embroidery floss to make these buttons, using all six strands together.The floss fluffs out when it is used, in theory filling the space between stiches so none of the wooden bead is visible. Hmm, yeah, my technique still needs tweaking.

Something I don't think I've mentioned here before, but I currently hold the post of seneschal of my shire. For those who don't know, the traditional symbol of office for that role is a gold key displayed horizontally on a red background, just like this one in progress in fact.

Again, I'm using cotton embroidery floss for this, but only two strands at a time, again in buttonhole stitch. Or do give it the full title from the book, Elizabethan corded detached buttonhole stitch. Takes longer to type out the name than it does to do a row of this stitch. I've really been pleasently surprised at how quick and easy this stitch is.

I've not decided yet what this is going to be used for. Do I have enough velvet to make a bag? Or do I turn it into a little, personal keepsake? 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Partlets and coverings

The Realm of Venus competition rolls on, and I'm not saying I'm nervous, but I have started counting the days remaining (42). But it's finally given me the incentive to try making that piece of garb that's been most intimidating me - the partlet.

The partlet is like a modern day bolero, designed to cover the skin exposed at the top of the bodice. These could have been made of many kinds of material, and were supposedly used to preserve the modesty of the wearer, but when those versions were made of barely opaque or even transparent silks or lace, you're left wondering...

My first version is made of nice, crisp cotton, in the style of the wedding portrait of Isabella de Medici.

I'm a little miffed the ruffles aren't staning up more, but when I find my curling tongs, I'll revisit that with some of the starch solution I made up for my linen cardboard experiment.

So with the hat, that's two accessories made for the competition. I have an idea of two for the next one, a bag for archery bits, but shall have to see how that goes. There's still a lot of work to go on the veste.