Friday, May 29, 2009

Chained to the Sewing Machine

After a very long time, I am willingly "chained to the sewing machine," finishing clothes to wear to the Pacific Primitive Rendezvous. After several years, the organizers of the rendezvous have very kindly decided to hold the event in Northern California, about three hours from home. Since they've been so considerate, I'm returning the favor by attending this year.

For those unfamiliar with rendezvous and other Fur Trade Era fun, a rendezvous is a late-18th/early-19th century historical event that attempts to recreate the big rendezvous of the Fur Trade Era (1831-1842). These events included shooting events, a lot of shopping (the purpose was to sell the pelts collected and buy supplies for the upcoming year), and a great deal of drinking and swapping lies. The present-day rendezvous continue in that tradition. The Pacific Primitive runs for about 7 days, and I'm planning on attending the first 3 days before returning home, repacking the car, and traveling up to Eugene (Oregon) for this year's Black Sheep Gathering.

I haven't been to a rendezvous in 15 years. I haven't even done very much reenacting in the past few years. As a result, I need clothes. Since the clothes I need aren't exactly something that comes off the rack at Kohl's, I have to make them myself. This isn't difficult--I've been sewing for more than 40 years--but does require some organization, always a tough thing at this time of year. I need two new skirts and probably new underpinnings, so I have some work to do.

The skirts are important (I can't run around without a skirt--it simply isn't done), so they're first on the list. I have some hand-dyed green linen for one skirt, but I need some red fabric for a second skirt. Fortunately, Hancock's had 5 yards of perfect dark cherry-red cotton and I had a 50% off coupon. Score one skirt! I hustled back home with my booty and washed it while I excavated the sewing room.

The problem with not sewing on a regular basis is that the sewing room becomes a place to store things I really should put away. I stacked things in there when we painted the studio in March, and now it was time to get them out of there. After several hours, I had a functioning sewing room again, the ironing board was set up, and I was ready to start knocking out skirts.

The skirts are classic Californio skirts: 3 tiers of gathers, simple waistband. I tore the linen into strips the width I needed, sewed the tiers, and gathered them. Ugh--gathering that much fabric (the bottom hem is about 150 inches) is a pain! However, I finally got everything gathered and sewn together before I called it a night. The next morning, I tackled the second skirt. I wasn't looking forward to repeating the gathering, and remembered that I had a ruffler for one of my sewing machines. The problem? Figuring out which machine it worked with. My Viking was ruled out pretty quickly, as was the Pfaff 230. I thought it might fit on the old White Dressmaker, but it didn't. Becoming desperate, I moved everything off the cabinet of my tried and true Kenmore, and tried the ruffler on it. Success! I ruffled the strips and sewed the second skirt in a few hours.

I handsew my hems and waistbands. I don't need to--I have a machine that does beautiful machine-sewn hems--but every time I do, I can hear my mother saying, "It would look better if you did that by hand." OK, Mom--I'll do it by hand. Handsewing hems in these skirts is time-consuming, but not tedious. I have a lot of British TV on the computer in the studio, so I just clamped my sewing bird onto my work table and sewed the hems and waistbands while watching episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood. The skirts just need buttonholes in the waistbands and buttons sewn on, and they're finished.

It's been surprisingly pleasant to sew costumes again, so I've begun planning the next big ensemble: a 1880s (2nd Bustle) walking outfit, out of striped cotton upholstery fabric and brick red cotton velvet. The goal is to get it finished (along with a complete set of new underpinnings) in time to wear it to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in December. If I start it this summer, I just might have it finished in time!