Saturday, October 13, 2012

My wedding dress!

Hi sewing friends!

It's been a while since I posted here--our engagement has been long and difficult, and my life has kicked into high gear in the meantime.  I've been sewing, though, slowly but steadily, and cooking and baking and fermenting and homebrewing and all of the other things that keep me grounded in difficult times.  The first thing to go, though, is always sharing my projects in a public space like this one.

My wedding dress is by no means the only sewing project I completed in the last few months, but it was the most challenging and I think the most important.

In the planning phase, I was particularly drawn to Claire McCardell's dresses in silk jersey--I posted a few on my inspiration board.  I love the contrast between a structured midriff and a soft, drapey skirt and bodice, and McCardell's designs get it perfectly right.  This is my version--a pretty good try, anyway.  There will be no pictures of the inside because a rapidly approaching and non-negotiable deadline does not make for the cleanest interior finish.

I opted for floor length because I may never have another chance to wear a real, full-length formal gown.  I'm planning to hem it to ankle length later, and hopefully wear it again, if I'm ever invited to anything fancy enough.

The veil is just a yard of cotton/silk voile I had in my stash from last year, scalloped at the edges and pinned to my bun.  Here's a picture of it in action:

As for the event itself: it was lovely!  We got married in our backyard, with my parents as the officiants, and Dear Wife's mother read a passage from the Bible, which was very meaningful to both of us as she has had a difficult time coming to terms with our marriage.  I almost can't believe that all the people we love came together in one room to celebrate our (legally binding!) union.  I am a lucky, lucky woman.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thoughts on Things & Making

Update on the Seamless Pledge:

As predicted, it was not all that hard to stop myself buying new clothes.  In fact, I hardly noticed; I had to think really hard about my purchasing habits to remember whether I'd bought anything new or not.  As it turns out, I didn't buy any new clothes, mass-market or otherwise, until early June, when I got a couple of bras at JC Penney (using this excellent guide to tracking down 1940s-style bras, thanks Tasha!).  And that was it.  I haven't bought any clothes since.

I've sometimes considered doing the Fashion on the Ration challenge, like Susannah and Ali, and I may still, but I'm not sure the challenge format is really for me.  When I approach sewing (or any other "making" process) with rules or rigidity, the fun seems to go out of it.  I love to challenge my skills and my capabilities, but the broader picture--the relationship between consumption and production in my life--seems to have its own energy.  I feel as though I am watching something evolve very slowly and mysteriously, and without any particular direction from me.

A year ago, I wouldn't have anticipated my current relationship to clothes, food, personal belongings, and all the other "things" in my life.  Now, I find myself valuing more those things whose making I had a hand in, or whose maker I know.  I'd rather eat homemade mustard, local eggs and honey, rather drink homemade mead and shrub and currant wine.  I'd rather wear a skirt, a dress, a hat that I made.  Correspondingly, my day-to-day life is different now.  I grocery shop once a week because that's when the farmer's market is open, and I don't eat tomatoes in March or cabbage in July because they just aren't available (and if they are they're not very good).  There are some compromises--through April and most of May the "green vegetable" portion of our diet was filled almost entirely with spring varieties of garlic and onion--but even the compromises are liberating, because they remove choice.  When there is rhubarb to be bought, I buy rhubarb.  When there isn't, I don't.

The same is true of clothes.  My me-made wardrobe is small still (but growing--I counted it all out for an upcoming post on wardrobe planning, and was pleasantly surprised!), so when I get dressed in the morning I am often choosing between a couple of outfits, with minor variations--more if I've just done laundry.  I know my students got very tired of seeing this skirt, since I wore it at least twice a week--if not more often--from January into April.  But the thing is, I love it.  I made it out of fabric that makes me happy, in a style that flatters me and a cut that fits perfectly.  I wore it twice a week not out of artificial deprivation but because it's the best thing in my closet--just as spring garlic in April beats out California bell peppers or Mexican tomatoes any day.

There's nothing objective about any of this.  There's nothing special about cream from Ithaca or blueberries from Baldwinsville, except that they are my cream and my blueberries and so I love them dearly (especially in combination).  There are probably much nicer skirts out there, made from better materials with more sophisticated detailing, but I don't care because I want to wear the skirt that I made.  There is something intangible about it.  It has to do with quality of life, and it makes me wonder what we are all missing in our alienation from the fulfillment of our most basic concerns--what to eat, what to wear, what to sit on, where to live.  I'm not pretending that I can be fully self-sufficient--I wouldn't want to be.  But there's a qualitative difference in my relationship to the things I've made versus the things I've bought.  I never, ever let homemade jam grow mold in the back of the fridge.  When my clothes lose buttons or pop a seam or start to wear out at the knees, I fix them.  My investment in the things around me is heightened, because my labor is more valuable to me than money, and to treat my things lightly is to disrespect that labor.

For the historically minded among us: there are a number of excellent scholarly books that cover the changes in the home production economy post-Industrial Revolution, but my favorite sources are as always primary.  The English Housewife assumes that farm wives will malt their own grain, distill their own perfumes, and spin their own thread (but not weave their own cloth, which was outsourced to a weaver).  And I think I have a whole post in me about the changing definition of "economy" in home economics texts from the 1910s to the 1960s--many practices that are heartily recommended into the thirties and forties (like remaking a man's suit into a little boy's, or darning your stockings) are cheerfully denounced twenty years later as "false economies" that deflect the housewife's energies away from presumably more valuable consumption activities (like shopping for bargains).  I'm secretly compiling the syllabus and reading list for the class I will one day teach on this subject, called something like ""False Economy": Rhetorics of Home Production 1912-1965."  Would you enroll?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blouses, Hats, & Weddings

As you may have noticed, things have been slow around here--I'm not the most regular blogger at the best of times, but wedding planning, work, and long unstructured days have been really getting to me lately.  It's not for lack of sewing, though!

The blouse that I talked about drafting last month came together quick and easy, and looks great:

It's wound up in at least one outfit a week and always gets compliments.  I'm particularly happy with how the sleeves turned out:

I widened them a bit so they could be comfortably rolled up.  The sleevecap pleat, though, was a happy accident: I was aiming for a regular pleat but got mixed up and made an inverted one instead:

I love the way it looks!  For a long time I thought I hated sleevecap ease--I kept picturing those weird pouffy leg-o'-mutton things from the thirties--but with a nice crisp pleat like this, it does really nice things for my shoulders.  At least that's what Dear Fiancee says.

Speaking of--we've set a date for our wedding, and it will be October 6!  Our wedding website is up at, so please visit and leave us a nice guestbook comment.  :)  There's a blog there as well, so as my wedding dress comes together (the next big project on my list...) I will likely be updating there as well.  I'm hoping that more blogs = more blogging.  I guess we'll see.

P.S. The last photo also documents my second shot at millinery (the first being here).  I may have mentioned before that my landlady used to work in theatre--she was the previous owner of my beloved dress form, Dottie--and she just happened to leave a wooden hat block in the house, conveniently sized to my measurements.  I used it to make up the pattern for this sun hat and it was a total breeze--just like draping on a dress form, but in miniature.  There was a refreshing lack of math (all too present in flat pattern designing).

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with it--though the next iteration will probably have wire in the brim for shape, and definitely ribbons to tie under my chin so the wind doesn't blow it away.  I'm not too proud to look like a doofus if it means my ears won't get sunburnt.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Forties Blouse, Take Two

It's nearly a year now since I started this blog, and a little longer since I started sewing in earnest (i.e. with the intent to make durable, street-wearable garments).  In even that short time, I've learned at least a couple of things, both technique and personal preference.  I can make a machine buttonhole, I can put in a lapped zipper, I can topstitch denim and flat fell a seam (sort of).  I no longer have to write out the order of operations for each garment before I start--my instincts are better, and I trust them more.  And now, when I set out to design a new garment, I rarely have to start from scratch; there's so much already in my collection to adapt.

Take this blouse:

It took a very long time, and countless re-reads of Peter's men's shirt sewalong posts, to get that pattern to work.  I was, and am, incredibly proud of it.  But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see all the things I could do better.  For one, I hate facings on button-up shirts--they're a pain in the ass to iron.  The collar is okay, but I've since realized that I much prefer more assertive collars, like this one:

I'm excited, too, to try some techniques I'm no longer afraid of, like flat-felling the sleeve and side seams.  Wish me luck everybody!

(Something else I've learned: I love to make sew-in interfacing out of contrasting quilting cotton.  I'm thinking of calling this the Secret Owl Blouse, for this reason:

Happy Monday everyone!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

DIY Roundup Part Two: Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Greetings friends!  I haven't been doing much sewing lately because my sewing room looks like this:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The "Oh My God, I Made These, I'm So Awesome" Jeans

Time I spent talking about making jeans, considering making jeans, idly thinking about making jeans, telling people I was going to make jeans seriously really soon like maybe this weekend: approximately six months.
Time I spent actually making jeans: fifteen hours, tops (counting the trip to Joann's to pick up the denim).

Jeans: high-waisted medium-wash denim jeans with two back pockets, two hip pockets, five belt loops, back yoke, gold topstitching, contrast pocketing & waistband facing, side jeans zip and jeans button.

Monday, March 19, 2012

DIY Roundup Part One: Dairy Projects

Hi all!  I've been off blogging for the past month or so, partly because I took a few weeks of much-needed Laptop Vacation, and partly because my energies lately have been drifting away from sewing and towards what I like to think of as "lifestyle DIY."  I've been having a few thoughts in this direction lately, and when Dear Fiancee came home from her library day job with a copy of Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, I was sold.  Readers, I have tried every project in that book that an apartment dweller can reasonably try.  In the past month, I've started an herb garden, cut my own hair, brushed my teeth with baking soda and a cloth dentifrice, made my own lip balm, forayed into traditional food preservation techniques, lassoed wild yeast out of the air and put it to work for me in the form of a sourdough starter, and so on, and so forth.  I figure I've been keeping this to myself long enough: it's time for a DIY Roundup series.

Today I'll be laying out how to make butter, yogurt, and cheese--future posts will be themed around fermentation-based food preservation, apartment-friendly herb gardening, homemade cleaning products, and probably a few more things I can't think of at the moment.  As I'm not an expert in any of these things, often I'll just be referring you to a wonderful tutorial someone else put together.  I hope this inspires somebody!

First, and easiest, is butter.

All you need to make butter is a medium-sized container with a secure lid--I use a quart canning jar--and enough heavy whipping cream to fill about half the volume of your container--I do a pint at a time. It has to be heavy cream, not light--there's not enough butterfat in light cream to make successful butter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reading List Part Four: So You Want to Learn Some Primary Source History

With bonus jokes about how the Irish are dumb!
I recently discovered that my university has a Science and Technology library, which contains all the TX books--domestic history!  Ever since I made this discovery, I've been a veritable font of trivia about housekeeping practices of the past.  Did you know that seventeenth century farmwives gave their buttermilk to the poor as charitable sustenance?  Or that it was permissible (even admirable) for a middle-class Victorian housewife to do light needlework or knitting while receiving calls of an afternoon?

The English Housewife, written (or, more accurately, loosely compiled) by a gentleman farmer named Gervase Markham, is the only book you'll ever need for your new life as a seventeenth century English farmwife.  It offers instruction on everything: how to use your knowledge of "physic" (medicine) to cure diseases like bloody flux and pleurisy, which cheeses to put by in which months, the best methods of weaving woolen or linen cloth (not for your own use, but so that you can spot a cheating tradesman), and so forth.  Markham made his name writing manuals for farmers, and at one point there were so many editions of his books circulating that his publishers made him sign a pledge never to write another book about cow diseases.  True story.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Made Underpants!

I know, I know.

Pilch knickers: in green seersucker with darts, a button placket, and some buttons from one of those dollar-a-bag button lots at my local fabric store.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Foray Into Corsetry, & Some Thoughts on Self-Sufficiency

This is my current project:

Gussets!  Cording!  Laces!  It can only be--a corset!  Sort of.  Let me explain.

Between taking the Seamless pledge, reading the entire backlog of the makeshift project (which is brilliant, and which I highly recommend checking out), and discovering other blogs with similar sensibilities like handmade mess, I've been thinking a lot lately about self-sufficiency in my wardrobe.  As my sewing skills grow, too, I'm reconsidering my knee-jerk assumptions that certain things have to be store bought.  After all, Natalie Purschwitz wore homemade shoes for a year.  Shoes.  And I'm balking at making underwear why exactly?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Secret Christmas Blouse Part 2

My sewing career has been a strange and uneven one.  I spent a lot of time on the Craftster forums in high school, posting pictures of my hilarious, lopsided halter tops; then I made a few things in my college dorm room that were reasonably wearable, if you don't mind mismatched plaids and unfinished seams.  (I know I made an A-line skirt in some kind of wool blend fabric with tiny dogs embroidered on it--I hope I didn't get rid of that thing.  It was kind of awesome.)  Essentially, I sewed at about the same (beginner) level for five years or so, before I finally sucked it up and learned how to draft patterns by a method other than "eyeballing it."

This is all to say that I am finally, finally skilled enough to make a stupid back-button blouse.

Secret Christmas blouse: back-button blouse in wool jersey.  That's about it really.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I'm Naked Under This Photoshop Filter (Not Really)

I've been meaning to make a croqui of myself, a la Ali from Wardrobe Reimagined, for a while, and tonight I finally got around to it.  I asked Dear Fiancee to take some pictures of me in my skivvies (quite the hardship, I am assured), and then I ran the Photocopy filter on it in Photoshop and traced the edges.  It came out like this:

My croqui is flexing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Secret Christmas Blouse

I'm just about finished with the back-button blouse I've been planning for months--it took me so long to get around to it, but the construction has been a two-afternoon affair, basically.  When you draft your own patterns, the hardest part is often getting started, since that's where the bulk of the mental work is: looking at vintage patterns for inspiration, picking which of my own patterns to adapt for this project (mostly this blouse pattern, since I wanted a fairly boxy silhouette that I could then tuck in at the waist), and then laying out all the pieces and tracing and measuring and tracing again and adjusting and measuring something different and double-checking seam allowances and etc. etc. etc.  By the time I finished drafting, I knew this blouse inside and out, and it came together in no time at all.  (It helps that wool jersey doesn't need seam finishes.)

I'll have finished pictures up soon, but for now, I wanted to explain why it's called the Secret Christmas blouse.  See, I needed to interface the button plackets, and I like to use leftover scraps from other projects to make sew-in interfacing for this sort of thing.  The first thing that came to hand was this bright red quilting cotton, which, next to the sort of army-green-ish wool jersey, looks like this:

Secret Christmas!


Friday, January 20, 2012

I'm Taking Another Challenge That I Don't Really Need!

In my long and storied tradition of signing up to do things that I've really already been doing for quite a while:

I, Jessie Roy, am taking the Seamless Pledge until the last day of classes for this semester, May 1. Since I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes (last August?), I’d like to make this harder by challenging myself to make my own lingerie. Possible exception: bras, if I find them too far beyond my skill level. I may even learn to knit. WHAT.

I'm serious about that knitting thing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Feel Like Someone Will Get Mad At Me For Calling This Steampunk...

No matter!  Friends, the only steampunk thing about this skirt is the buttons.  It's much too short to be convincingly nineteenth-century.  Incidentally, I mark two hemlines on all my skirt patterns: just below the knee, or "summer length," and this mid-calf style, or "winter length."

Steampunk skirt: four-gore A-line skirt in the leftover wool flannel from these trousers, with a side zip, belt loops, notched back waistband, and Steampunk Buttons!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Crafty Christmas & How to Make Handkerchiefs

I went minimalist this Christmas: nuclear family only, all homemade, nothing fancy.  I didn't post any process photos, since let's face it the primary audience for this blog is my mom and I didn't want to spoil anybody, but now that Christmas is well over, here's a recap of what I made!