Monday, July 29, 2013

Dress Journal #9: New Clothes Mean New Underwear

     Historic spinning demonstrations have become a hot commodity. I have three this year: one was in April at Ardenwood Farm in Fremont, and there are two upcoming ones--in October and December--at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, north of St. Helena. These are all circa 1855 demos, in "costume," so I need something appropriate to wear.
     "Costume" can be pretty broad when it comes to local historic sites. Most historic sites (Sutter's Fort in Sacramento is a notable exception) let their volunteer docents wear whatever they can manage in the historic clothing area; as a result, it's usually a hodge-podge of long quilting calico skirts, long-sleeved blouses, and aprons. The docents mean well, but I have to work to a different standard. It's how I roll.
     Fortunately, I have a big fabric stash, I know my way around a sewing machine, and I have the time to build proper clothes for these historic spinning demos. I have about 9 weeks before the next demo, so I dug out some pretty sage-green print for a mid-1850s basque waist and skirt, to be worn over starched petticoats (no hoop skirt--not period). The same skirt, with a different basque waist, can be used for Dickens Fair in December, so I'm covering a lot of bases with a few multi-tasking pieces. But first, I need underpinnings: chemise, drawers, corset, petticoats, stockings.
     The first layer is chemise and drawers. I haven't built (to completion) mid-19th century garments for more than twenty years, so new chemises and drawers are essential: this is the layer that goes into the washer and dryer after every wearing, so once I'm sure the pattern works, I build multiple sets (rather like having a well-stocked lingerie drawer).
     Speaking of patterns, I use (and heavily modify) commercial patterns. I can--and would--work with a sloper and do the pattern design myself, but I lack an essential tool: a close-by pair of experienced hands to do fittings on my body. My dress dummy was last fitted in 1984, and over the years the "sands of time" have shifted to the point that her figure is not anything like my figure. Fortunately, the variety and quality of commercial patterns has improved greatly in the past thirty years, so a lot of the alterations are to get the fit exactly the way I want it.
Simplicity #9769--Drawers
     For the chemise and drawer patterns, I'm using two of Simplicity's "The Fashion Historian" patterns, #9769 for the drawers and #5726 for the chemise, as I want a chemise without puffed sleeves. Both of these are pretty decent: the drawers pattern only needs adjustment for my size and measurements. On the other hand, I don't care for the "modern" version of the chemise, complete with faux drawstring. The beaded trim along with edges of the "sleeves" will be eliminated, the buttons and buttonholes abandoned, and the beading along the neck will be functional.
     I'm in luck! At some point in the past couple of years, I started work on some mid-century clothes to wear to Dickens Fair, and already cut out and started to sew a set of drawers from this pattern. They just needed finishing, so a couple hours later, I had a set of drawers.
Simplicity #5726--Chemise
     The chemise needed to be started "from scratch." As I was digging around in the sewing room, I came upon fifteen yards of cotton batiste, so it went into the washing machine as I started to make the adjustments to the pattern. Once finished (and the batiste was dried and pressed), it was a simple matter to lay out the pattern, cut it out, and sew the chemise. In the process, I remembered why I hate flat-felled seams: either do them on the sewing machine and suffer scorched fingers as the raw edges are turned under and pressed, or do them by hand and take a lot longer. I'm glad to report that my scorched fingers are doing just fine.
     By the end of the day, I had a chemise and a set of drawers that only needed some minor handsewing (neckline, waistband, drawstrings). I also need a spool of lavender ribbon to thread through the beading on the chemise and drawers, but that will have to wait until Wednesday's trip to the fabric store.

  • Chemise
  • Drawers   

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Good-bye to Old Friends; Hello to New Friends

The Gilmore is gone. After 18 years of faithful service, including the occasional mishap (why I don't weave with a temple) and tangled warp, I've sold my big (46" weaving width) 4-harness/6-treadle floor loom, and we delivered it to a very nice young woman down in the South Bay.

The Gilmore, with the last warp--twill tablecloths.
I found the Gilmore through a 3x5" card tacked to a bulletin board at Straw Into Gold, the Bay Area's legendary fiber arts store, in early 1995. It was being sold by a production weaver (she wove saddle blankets) who was "retiring" because her shoulders couldn't stand the stress of weaving with a heavy beater. She sold me nearly her entire studio--the loom, all the bits and pieces a weaver collects, nearly all of her tools, her small weaving library, and her entire stash (about 200 pounds of yarns)--and kept only her spinning wheel and her Gilmore Gem 8-shaft workshop loom. We carted everything home, lugged the Gilmore up the stairs (we put a gouge in the wainscoting that is still there in the process), and got it installed in what was then my studio (now my sewing room). I removed the ten pounds of lead weights attached to the beater, added more heddles, warped it, and quickly learned all the quirks and idiosyncrasies of a Gilmore jack loom.

A lot of yarn has been turned into cloth on the Gilmore. I've woven everything from the rug next to the bed (the first thing and last thing my feet touch every day is something I've woven) to scarves and shawls on it. The last project on the loom was a pair of cotton twill tablecloths that I finished in early June. 

It was a pang to let the Gilmore go, but it was time. I needed a larger, more complex loom that is more versatile. I also needed to move to a loom that I didn't have to fold up to dress--the Gilmore weighs close to 200 pounds, and closing up a 200-pound loom by myself was getting to be a little bit of a struggle. 

Exit, the Gilmore. Enter, the Macomber.

Mongo the Macomber--my 56" 16H/23T loom
I wasn't planning on getting a loom this big. I was looking for an 8-shaft workshop loom to replace my Baby Wolf, and had reduced my "short list" to two looms: a Gilmore Gem or a Macomber CP, better known as a "Baby Mac." Then, in May, I found the Macomber through Ravelry's Warped Weavers Marketplace. It was big (56" weaving width), it was complex (16 shafts), it was a good price, I wasn't going to have to lift and close a 200-pound loom, it was in...Southern California, about 450 miles south of me. No matter--I checked the measurements from Macoomber, measured the back of the pick-up truck, and closed the deal. It took three days to drive down to Southern California, load the loom, drive back up to the Bay Area, and roll the loom--on furniture dollies--into the garage, but we did it. I spent the next two weeks finishing off the tablecloth warp, rearranging the studio, moving the Gilmore down to the dining room (no scratches in the stairwell this time), then completely disassembling the Macomber so it would be small enough and light enough for two middle-aged people to lug it up the stairs to the studio.

It's said that to really know a piece of equipment, take it apart and successfully put it back together again. I feel like I really know this loom, as I've reassembled it from the ground up. Along the way, the Macomber picked up a nickname--Mongo--after Alex Karras' character in the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles. Mongo is officially Macomber B4 #6636 (of the black name plate, Saugus MA series), built around 1968-1970, and sold to California State University Fullerton for their textile arts program. The university did not skimp on the "bells and whistles." Mongo has two plain warp beams--one with a friction brake and one with a ratchet brake--along with a warp separator bar, and plenty of room for four additional harnesses. As a school loom, he's suffered some indignities--including a warp being painted on the loom--but served well until the university eliminated the program in the early 2000s. I suspect he was used primarily as a rug loom: the warp painting debacle was with warps spaced 1/4-inch apart, and there were only about 50 heddles on each shaft. As I reassembled Mongo, I cleaned and burnished the metal parts with extra-fine steel wool, then gave them a coat of silicone, cleaned and waxed the wood, and added the extra treadles (now 23) and heddles (now 300 per shaft) to make Mongo a loom I can use.

I've now woven a couple of warps on Mongo, and I like my new friend a lot. There are still a few adjustments to be made: the weaving bench Bob Allen of Gilmore made for me a few years ago is a couple inches shorter than I really need to feel comfortable weaving, and I'd like to swap out the plain warp beam for a sectional warp beam as I really need to weave warps longer than my warping board. With these small adjustments, Mongo is a loom I will be weaving on for a very long time.