December 30, 2015

The Sophia Project: Complete

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; 
but it is the journey that matters, in the end." 
~ Ernest Hemingway

Hello, dear readers!  Well, this is post number 100.  I can hardly believe it!  I had wanted to celebrate with something special, so I thought I'd finally share the long-awaited conclusion to the project that started this all...May I present the Sophia Project: Complete!  

For those of you who have yet to be introduced to the Sophia Project, that was the name I gave to the main project of my costume internship at the Genesee Country Museum.  Back in February of 2014, I was introduced to this 1870s wrapper, fondly named Sophia, - an informal yet fashionable, semi-fitted or loose dressing gown - too tattered and fragile for the Susan Green Clothing Collection.  Thus, it became my goal to deconstruct, pattern and reproduce the wrapper for the historical village interpreters in the 1870s buildings.

From July of 2014, when the project began (The Sophia Project: Introduction), until its completion in March of 2015, I stitched off and on for nearly a year, under the guidance of my mentors, Bevin Lynn and Cheryl Sundlof.  Truly, the amount of detail and care put into the construction of historical garments never fails to amaze me; and, all of the adventures with recreating Sophia only increased my appreciation for the seamstresses of the past and present.

Front detail shot of the original wrapper.

Front detail shot of the reproduction wrapper.

When I left off last in February 2015, I had just completed the Trimming of the Wrapper, which featured over 625+ inches of hand-stitched bias trim along the body and bias tape on the edges of the bows.  It took the rest of the month (devoting only a single day a week) and the first week of March to finish the rest of the bows and stitching on hooks and eyes.  On the last day, I had decided not to add the tatted lace collar because none of the 1870s extant examples I had seen had one.  (Standing collars, yes, but not lace like Sophia's.)

It was almost the end of day, and the costuming ladies were working on their projects when Mr. LeCount turned and stated that he liked how Sophia was coming along.  "Good," I replied, "because it's done."  And with that, there was silence.  The stitching stopped, and everyone turned to gaze at the wrapper.  Sophia was finally finished!

Sophia - complete at last!

Enough talk though, let's move onto the pictures!

Completed Photographs of Sophia, the 1870s reproduction wrapper: These were taken in the costume shop shortly after her completion.

Front detail shot of hooks & eyes.
Notice the half lining and facings.

Front detail shot of sleeves & bows.

Side by side.

Back detail shot of lower half & hem.

Photographs of Sophia, side by side with the original wrapper:  Also taken in the costume shop, in the same place.  Costuming received quite the face lift over the winter as Cheryl says, the vibrant blue sure adds a pop of color!

Back detail shot of the Watteau pleat on the original.

Back detail shot of the Watteau pleat on the reproduction.

Sleeve detail of the original.

Sleeve detail of the reproduction.

Studio Photographs:  The museum had the opportunity to have their fashion show ensembles professionally photographed at Tantalo Studio in Rochester.  Bevin made sure that Sophia was properly photographed, and that I received copies for my portfolio - a huge thank you to the studio, Bevin & the model!

Photograph by Tantalo Studio.

Photograph by Tantalo Studio.

Photograph by Tantalo Studio.

Village Photographs:  And, last but not least, Sophia in action!  She spent her first season in the Hamilton House, the museum's grandest 1870s building.  Jessica, one of the many, devoted village interpreters & Hamilton expert, willingly allowed me to photograph her - thank you!

Photograph courtesy of Maria M.

Wow.  After months and months of sewing the wrapper, and then months and months of writing and rewriting the blog post, it's done.  What a journey!  Every time that I sat down to compose this post, I just couldn't seem to find the words to end the project, two years in the making.  With one more smile and a step back, all I can say is thank you to all of those at the museum who have taught, encouraged and shaped my future.  Thank you, not only for opportunities over the last year and half, but for the direction in the next four years of college and beyond!

December 23, 2015

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

"'It is required of every man,' the Ghost returned, 'that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!'"  
~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

At last, the Yuletide photo shoot is here!  Though the last weekend of the GCV&M’s Yuletide Theatrical Tours (which I blogged about here) took an interesting turn, despite sickness, the show went on!  I ended up switching to the role of Mary Shannon, the Irish maid of the family who ends up professing her love to John MacKay Jr., much to the distress of Jeannette…long story.  

Anyways, for the longest time now, I had wanted to shoot on the beautiful grounds at Penfield’s Oakwood Cemetery (the same location of the annual ghost walk I had participated in for two years previously).  And sporting my Jeanette dress, which I blogged about here, and ruffly cap, details here, we did – enjoy! 

Completed Project Shots

Though it was cool, crisp - one might even say downright cold - and quite windy, Maria, my sister and loyal photographer, and I braved the wintery conditions at Oakwood Cemetery for the perfect shots.  Do not let the green fool you, within a few hours of leaving, Penfield’s landmark was coated in a light dusting of snow.

The photo shoot lasted nearly an hour, with several breaks to thaw our pink hands in a warm car and the bribe of Starbucks directly afterwards.  We maintained companionable silence and straight faces – with the occasional grimace when the wind picked up - out of respect and quiet reflection on the hallowed grounds.  (All photographs courtesy of and many thanks to Maria M. – what would I ever do without you, sister?! :)

Series the First: A Walk Among the Tombstones

Oakwood Cemetery is the largest graveyard in the Town of Penfield with the oldest, official burial record dating back to 1837.  (Naturally, we set our photo shoot in the oldest section of the cemetery.)  In fact, the oldest tombstone, dated September 8, 1812,  marks the final resting place of John Strowger.  The Oakwood Cemetery Association has made over 15,600 burial records available online to the public for genealogical research here.

Series the Second: In Quiet and Still Reflection 

For fellow Sherlock fans out there, I found the tombstone of what appears to be "John Watson..."

A shot from beneath the protective canopy of what locals know as the "Lincoln Tree," my favorite location in Oakwood Cemetery:

Series the Third: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep 

Oakwood Cemetery also has a mausoleum.  It's corroded doors, protecting a sleeping multitude, served as an unusually beautiful backdrop.


Historical Sew Monthly December Challenge: Re-Do

Since the dress & cap were finished within the perimeters of the challenge, I am happy to enter my mid-century Yuletide outfit as my last and final entry in the 2015 Historical Sew Monthly, hosted by The Dreamstress!

The Challenge:  #12 Re-Do - It’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.
  1. The dress qualifies as a re-do of Challenge #6 - Out of Your Comfort Zone because it is my first experience sewing a mid-century day dress & attempting double puffed sleeves.
  2. The red silk accessories qualify as a re-do of Challenge #7 - Accessorize as they add that final touch to create the perfect period look and bring the entire outfit together. 
  3. The cap qualifies as a re-do of Challenge #8 - Heirlooms & Heritage because I used an heirloom sewing supply - vintage/antique lace - to create my new heirloom to pass down to the next generation!

Fabric:  8 yards of a "cat-eyed" reproduction fabric, white muslin for linings, brown broadcloth for facing, red silk, cotton lawn

Pattern:  Multiple, cobbled together from several sources.

Year:  Mid-19th century, specifically late 1850s to early 1860s 

Notions:  Matching threads, hooks & eyes, twill tape, vintage/antique lace, large mother of pearl buckle 

How historically accurate is it?  Very, 90-95%, though I still need to make those under sleeves or cuffs...please see my previous blogposts on the dress (here) & the cap (here) for all of my construction notes & historical inspirations.

THE inspiration.
(Image via: Pinterest)
Hours to complete:  Did not keep track, though I know it is a whole lot of hours!  The cap alone took 40+ hours to complete.  

First worn:  For Yuletide dressed rehearsal. 

Total cost:  Again, did not keep track...estimation: at least $150 in materials & resources...


December 21, 2015

A Liebster Award!

Mom and I just returned home from the supper program that our family volunteers at whenever we can.  It was their annual Christmas dinner tonight, and they, as usual, did a fantastic job to provide both a wholesome, hearty meal - a full ham dinner with all of the trimmings, extra sides & decadent desserts - as well as holiday cheer.  There were carolers, Christmas decorations, not to mention festively wrapped care packages of homemade Christmas cookies for each guest.  It was really something, but only a brief respite from the burdens and cold that each guest - from infants to senior citizens, entire families with school-aged children, the lonely, veterans, those with disabilities and hardships - bears.

This year, the numbers served were upwards of 200.  And for anyone to witness that and not feel deeply is a somber reminder of the great need in our own backyards and a glimpse of the good that people can truly do.  As we go into this holiday season, may we rejoice in the abundant blessings that surround us, and always make a conscious effort to extend a helping hand to those in need.

Anyways, I have some exciting blog news to share!  I was ecstatic to learn that I had been recently nominated for the Liebster Blog Award by the very lovely & very talented Chelsea of A Sartorial Statement fame! 

Official Award Rules: 
  1. Acknowledge the blog that nominated you
  2. Answer the questions the nominating blogger created
  3. List 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers that deserve some recognition
  4. Write 11 questions for them to answer 
  5. Notify them that they've been nominated 

Now, onto the blogging fun...

1) Thank you so much, Chelsea!!  It was such a surprise & honor to receive your nomination!  Not only does Chelsea sew all things Regency and attends fabulous historical events, she even made her own fairy tale wedding dress!  Just look at her stunning open robe made from a sari, her block-printed swallowtail jacket, and her ability to accessorize to perfection with a New Cap and Chemisette & a Blue & White Housewife.

Make sure to check out A Sartorial Statement, if you don't already follow her!  Thanks again, Chelsea, for all of the sewing encouragement & inspiration!

2) Chelsea's Questions: 

Where is your favorite place in the world?
Ooooh that is a challenging question!  Currently, I would say the Genesee Country Village & Museum.  Living history, 19th century clothing & best friends who are like family - enough said.

What has been your most challenging project, to date? 
It's a toss up between the Sophia Project, the 1870s wrapper reproduction of my costume internship, and the fairy queen costume, also designed and completed during the internship.  Both were extremely elaborate and time consuming, as well as employing a whole slew of new techniques.

What do you like to do most on a rainy Saturday when nothing else is planned? 
Sew, of course!  Pinning costume inspiration on Pinterest & dreaming up future wardrobe plans are close seconds.

If you could travel to the past or the future, which would you choose?  How far in time would you go? 
Another challenging question!  I would say into the past, specifically the 19th century because of my obsession the fashion.  Jane Austen's era, the American antebellum period or Civil War, or even Queen Victoria's court all sound appealing.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?  (Christmas is coming, so that's on my mind.)
Favorite holiday tradition, hmm...anything with the family ranks right up there.  The three of us - mom, younger sister and me - are close.  We each have very busy lives and are constantly on the run, so finding time to just enjoy each others company is a treat, especially during Christmas break.

How do you motivate yourself when a particular project is difficult or tedious?
I play music or movies in the background, which helps with sometimes tedious portions of hand sewing.  If I really come across a snag in a project, I move onto another portion or polish off an accessory for instant satisfaction, giving me time to rethink directions and tackle the challenge.  If all else fails, I take a break and set it aside (hopefully not permanently) until it decides to behave!

Do you ever have a hard time explaining your hobby to strangers?  If so, how do you handle that?
I wouldn't say that explaining the "whats" and extent of my hobby to strangers is all that difficult - I think the clothing itself and general excitement about/obsession over all things sewing (oh and the need to talk about it constantly!) gives my passions away.  However, the "whys" sometimes I deal with the questions greatly depends on the individual situations and people.  We don't choose our passions, we just embrace them!

What is your most invaluable tool?  
The seam ripper, hands down.

(Image via: Dritz's How to Use a Seam Ripper Sewing Tutorial)

Actually, there is a story behind first and favorite seam ripper, one of those blue, plastic Dritz ones (pictured above), was a gift from Mrs. Meyers, the head costumer of one of the first shows I ever assistant costumed.  When she noticed that I was using blunt embroidery scissors to unpick seams stitch by stitch, she handed me this object - a.k.a. the seam ripper - that just effortlessly sliced through the seams.  I was taken with it!  Little did I know at the time just how invaluable the tool would become.  Oh such memories!

Now, I can't imagine life without my seam ripper...It's not like I don't use it for practically every project...

What is your dream project?  Time and money are no object - what do you make?
Um, just about everything that I've pinned on Pinterest!?!  I literally have a board  of nearly 100 "dream projects" saved...But, if I had to narrow it impossible as that would be...right this second I would say a Civil War kit including a proper cage, wrapper, wash dress, "better" wool dress and summer sheer.  I would love to start reenacting this summer!

This 1820s dress & pelisse are also on that dream project list:

Dress, silk and cotton, c. 1827, KM 17.926:2.
Coat, wool, silk wool, linen lining, silk decor, 1810-1815.
(Image via: Pinterest)

What is the last book you read?
Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion I & II cover to cover, and before that Shakespeare's Macbeth.

What is your biggest guilty pleasure?  (Food, TV show, clothing item, etc.)
Oh my, there are quite a few!  I horde fabric, modern "skater" dresses & cardigans...period dramas & practically anything BBC...Broadway musicals, fiddle & 60s/70s folk music...

3) While the first half is easy-peasy, the second half is challenging!  I truly believe that every, single blogger on my favorites list deserves recognition!!  One, for their outstanding talents, and two, for their courage and dedication to blogging.  Being a blogger, I realize that it can be difficult sometimes (but also rewarding) to post about our private lives and to put our personal work out there for the public.  

That said, for the time being, I'm going to keep the second half for another time and continue to think about those 11 bloggers & 11 questions.  Until that update, please take a look at Chelsea's blog & some of my other favorites listed on the sidebar.  Thanks for reading!

December 17, 2015

Yuletide 2015: The Cap, Complete!

In addition to the new dress with double puffed sleeves & silk accessories, which you can read about here, Jeanette demanded a new cap...

Not just any, ordinary cap, mind you, but a frilly mass of lace and ruffles that would have had Mrs. Bennet's approval!

Too many ruffles you ask?  Nonsense!!
(Image source)

As with any historic project, I began by looking at extant examples.  (Here's my Pinterest Board of 19th Century Caps)

I was inspired by the lace insertion, specifically on the front band,
on this mid-19th century cap from the Met.
(Image via: Met. Museum, accession number: 11.60.259)

I was also inspired by the lace edging on these flounces.
What a gorgeous 1840s cap with cording and Bucks lace!
(Image via: Etsy)

Pulling out my materials, a very fine, white, cotton lawn & a very delicate length of antique lace that I scored from a local, second-hand shop, I set out to work...

Hem rolling in progress.

...40 hours later...we have a finished cap!!

Front view of my newly completed cap.

I will admit that when I first tried on the cap, I was not pleased with the look.  However, within a few minutes of wearing it, it definitely grew on me - I love it!

Watching: BBC Sherlock, seasons 2 & 3

Construction shots:  The cap is entirely hand stitched with period correct techniques, including 1/16th inch rolled hems and rolled whipped gathers.  The lace edging was attached with a combination of teeny-tiny running stitches and the occasional whip stitch for extra security.

I love the neat look of rolled whipped gathers!

Lace edging close up shot.

Completed shots:  Featuring the cap from every angle imaginable!  I apologize for the poor lighting...

And even one picture of the cap on me thanks to our very talented & dedicated museum photographer, Ruby Foote: 

Mackay photo credit: Ruby Foote.
(Image via: Yuletide 2)

Jeanette does a lot of sewing in between and during scenes.  In fact, it took her the first two days of the opening weekend to finish her cap.  Only one weekend of Yuletide Tours left - hope to see you there!  (And back here for the upcoming photo shoot :)  Thanks for reading! 

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