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Things have been pretty busy here in the sewing room and, since I don’t have any neat finished projects to share, I thought I’d give you a peak into what’s in the works:

The covered bones and all eleven hanging straps. Just have to finish the waistband and I can start assembly

Covered bones and all eleven hanging straps. Just have to finish the waistband and I can start assembly. Yay!

My cage remake I wrote about awhile back is still in pieces, the bones are covered in fabric now and the hanging straps are all stitched with boning channels every 2 1/4”.  One of my goals for this year of sewing is to increase my hand stitching skills. Before now most of my stuff has been about 60% hand and 40% machine, which isn’t bad but I’d like to take it up a notch and sew at least some of the outfits with 100% hand stitching without taking months to do so. Since my cage already needed a lot of hand work, I’m going all the way. Already I can tell a big improvement in my technique.

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The center bone has the old casing on it, the edges were zigzagged together, where as the new ones are smoothly slip-stitched for a tidier look. Pardon the bad light – this is the only picture I have of an old bone casing.

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Two of my reenacting friends are having an 1860′s wedding at the beginning of May, for which I have been asked to be a bridesmaid, so what better excuse to wear a new dress? I made this wool dress back in the fall but never did the finishing touches or put trim on it. Haven’t settled on a trim color or style yet, have to add a few hooks and finish putting in the hem first. I’m particularly pleased at how the piping ‘pops’ in the back, gives it a tailored look.

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This weekend I will also be delivering a dress order to a very patent customer. Love her choice of fabric – it turned out nicely if I do say so.

Very last thing added to a custom order - the 'Miss Maggie' label!

The very last thing added to a custom order – a ‘Miss Maggie’ label!

My younger brother is going to be joining me this year at reenactments so his uniform is also on my list of things to make. I’m starting with the easiest stuff first, some basic shirts, while he researches appropriate coat styles and fabrics. Our unit has a soldier training day next month so I will have to get a move-on with his coat and pants.

Shirt #1's pieces. I'm going to be using a mixture of machine and hand stitches on this one, mostly because time is running out

Shirt #1′s pieces. I’m going to be using a mixture of machine and hand stitches on this one, mostly because time is running out……

Time to get back to my pile of stitching, hope you enjoyed this peek at a few of the things on my sewing table. Though I will admit to having cleaned it up a bit for pictures. :)

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1860′s Mourning Outfit

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Some years ago, a friend gifted me with a whole bolt of black brushed fabric. The content was (and still is) a mystery but after a burn test and picking at the fibers, I believe it is a wool/cotton blend with perhaps 5% man-made material – not 100% perfect but so close and such a lot of it, I didn’t mind much. The bolt sat in the back of the stash for ages until it was finally pulled out and used for an 1860s Swiss waist I made. The fabric has a nice hand, heavy but not hot or too bulky. So when I decided to make a mourning dress, I know I had the perfect fabric.  :)

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The design is a close copy of Kosha-the-Cat’s ‘Mourning for Prince Albert’ outfit with the exception of the skirt trim. I fell in love with the style since it has a more interesting, fashionable look than most mourning outfits. The short jacket is a separate piece from the sleeveless bodice and has wide split sleeves lined in a window-pane fabric. This, with the white undersleeves and collar, makes the outfit ‘full’ or ‘fashionable’ mourning rather than the black from head to toe ‘deep’ mourning.

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The silk ruching was added to help lengthen the skirt, I had run just shy of enough fabric for the skirt on the bolt. But with ruching and ribbon to hide the seams, I inserted a 8” piece of black fabric and covered it in trim. Problem solved!

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There is a narrow velvet ribbon running all along the edge of the jacket as well as countless glass bead clusters that took wayyyyy too long to sew on. But the detail they add is perfect! I’m not a 100% happy with the fit – there are some rather bad pull lines near the arm holes but it’s not as noticeable when moving, so I’ll leave them for now.

All in all, it is a fun dress to wear – my first with pagoda sleeves. And yes as I have been asked before, the red snood and shawl are fairly appropriate for fashionable mourning wear. Now to find other ways to use lots of beading and ruching for trim, I enjoyed adding them and the end was surprisingly fancy, yet subtle.

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So I have been thinking about doing this for sometime but only got up the courage this week.

I have completely taken my cage apart. 

Now you might ask, why is this such a big deal? Well, when I first made my cage it took almost a week and a half of work, mostly spent trying to figure out how the heck to make the shape right, so it’s no small thing to undo then do all over again. The original cage was put together following instructions from an historical costuming book and posts on the Sewing Academy forums. I used a  fabric-covered-bones method with a casing around the bottom three bones, the thinking behind this was I would be able to stitch the hanging strips directly to the bones’ covering. This eliminated my having to use rivets to secure the bones (and so potentially the shape could be changed over time if needed). Still being fairly new to the whole reenacting/1860′s dress making thing, I didn’t have a clear idea what was exactly period correct so I just tried for the general shape. Nevertheless, the end result was pretty good and served me well for a season and a half of reenacting.

Front and Back of the original cage.

Front and Back of cage, version 1.

Once you add petticoats, the shape is softened but still doesn't have the right look.

Once you add petticoats, the shape is softened but still doesn’t have the right look.

As you can see, the shape of the sides is straighter at the top, only getting that correct domed effect towards the bottom. The top three rungs are the main culprits, being far too close to the body with not enough ‘booty’ in the back (and please forgive the odd closures in the front, another thing that was never properly fixed). The whole silhouette is a bit too round for my taste, after doing more research I have found that the cages have more of an elliptical shape with a smooth flatter front and a domed, rounded back. Plus the bagginess of the bottom casing is not as smooth and pretty as I had originally imagined. So with all this in mind, and armed with a sharp seam ripper, I took my hard work apart………

The sad remains of a faithful cage.

The sad remains of a faithful cage.

Taking it apart only took a few evenings, now the bones are free from their casings and ready to be reassembled into version 2. During my research for the new cage remake, I found this neat idea on Mcburbage’s photostream:

Such a fun color and I love how she did the front lacing.

Another inspiration for the overall shape comes from Kosha-the-Cat’s costume website:

    

This one is made of a much narrower wire placed closer together than mine but the silhouette is perfect. So with these and other inspirational ideas, I’m ready to start the redo. Still want to do a covered cage and I love the idea of using a pretty colored fabric rather than plain cream or white. There is usually at least two petticoats or more worn over the cage at a time, so color peeking though isn’t an issue. I’d like to go with a more delicate pastel rather than a brighter color, pale lilac being my top pick. After a hunt through my fabric stash though, I didn’t find anything suitable so have decided to use a white top sheet from a recent thrift shop purchase that I then dyed to the desired shade.

Cage dyeing supplies: A white sheet, purple Rit dye, and gloves to keep my hands from turning odd colors......

Fabric dyeing supplies: A white sheet, purple Rit dye, and gloves to keep hands from turning odd colors……

Stirring the fabric around for an even coloring

Stirring the fabric around in the dye bath for an even coloring

The sheet after 20 minutes on the dye bath - a lovely shade of purple!

The fabric after 20 minutes in the dye bath – a lovely light purple!

Dyeing the sheet was lots of fun and a nice way to get what I had in mind without having to wait, or buy yet more fabric. Which I have been trying to avoid lately. Now granted, Rit dye may not be period correct but it was handy and did the job. The color is rather hard to photograph without being washed out but this might give you an idea of the finished color.

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Sweet and dainty!

Now that the fabric is out of the dryer, I’m off to iron it and cut out my casings. Hopefully I will be posting about the new lilac cage soon, though it might be awhile if last time I made a cage is anything to go off of. Hmmmm, what have I gotten myself into?

Cage supplies all ready to use

Cage supplies all ready

This post is dedicated to my dear friend, to inspire (and tease) her as she starts her own whole wheat bread adventure.  ;)

Smells goooood

Smells so gooood

Bread making is something I learned back when I was eleven, interestingly enough it was my Dad who first showed me the basics. I remember one Sunday afternoon we took over the kitchen and made a few loaves, using up all the flour in the house and making a mess in the process. I’ve been making bread on and off ever since.

My stand-by recipe makes four loaves, which fits nicely in the oven and my wonderful Bosh mixer. Unfortunately four loaves doesn’t last long in this large of a family. So for a while I would spend an afternoon every other week or so making twelve loaves to restock our freezer supply. Then three years ago I had an opportunity to set up a table at a local festival to sell crafts, including my bread. After some thought and working out a system, I got up early the day before and had 52 loaves by 5 o’clock that night. Whew! Now that is more like it. I sold about half of the loaves and the rest my family was happy to eat for me. Which meant I didn’t have to make more for quite some time. Yay!

A few weeks ago I decided to give this mega baking another try. It had been a long time since I had made any bread and there was now extra room in the freezers. Didn’t even get started ’till almost 9am, but thanks to some fine tuning to the assembly line, the last loaf was out of the oven at 4pm on the dot and I was wore out but feeling very productive.

Yummy looking, isn't it?

Yummy looking, isn’t it?

My assembly line method is pretty simple; I line up one bowl each for the number of batches being made, in this case twelve (one went straight in the mixer) and measure out the olive oil, wheat gluten, dough enhancer, honey and salt. This way when it’s time to start the next batch all I have to do is add a bowlful in with the water, flour, eggs and yeast. I prefer not to add the water and eggs in ahead of time since I like the water fairly warm and don’t want the eggs to sit out all day. The yeast of course is added only when the batch is under way to maximize it’s rising power. After the bread has kneaded for a while, it’s turned out into a large bowl to rise, freeing the mixer for the next batch.

Almost done rising, which is good since it would be spilling out soon....

Almost done rising, which is good since it would be spilling over soon….

Here you can see this batch is almost ready to be shaped into loaves. On the left behind the bowl is our trusty wheat grinder which can grind up to 12 cups of wheat berries which is just over a batch’s worth of flour. When I first started using fresh ground flour, it took me almost a year to get a nice tall fluffy loaf consistently instead of heavy squaty things. But boy was it totally worth it! The difference in flavor and texture of fresh ground bread versus white flour is pretty extreme.

Ready to shape into loaves

Ready to shape into loaves

Once the dough has reached the right height, it gets turned out onto a large cutting board to be divided and shaped. I have eight bread pans so, if I can keep the timing right, there is always a batch in the mixer, one in the bowl rising, one rising in pans and another in the oven. Unfortunately I got caught up in everything (and had messy hands most of the time) so there is no pictures of the rising loaves. But I did get a picture of this one loaf that got a bit too tall and close to the element in the oven, making a burn mark that strangely resembles a backwards Gandalf rune from Lord of the Rings. Yep, I’m nerdy.

The Gandalf loaf!

The Gandalf Loaf

Here they all are at the end of the day, bagged and ready to be frozen.

54 loaves of bread

51 loaves of bread – we had to eat one while it was still hot, of course!

Arrrrr!

Arrrrr!

So there you have it, bread baking on a larger scale. In the process I went though almost an entire 50 lbs sack of wheat berries, one and a half things of Sam’s honey, and surprisingly a lot of salt. Suppose it adds up, I was scrambling to have enough for the last batch. But now we have bread to last a good long time, though now I’m hearing complaints there is no room for anything else in the freezer…….

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Someone just loves it when I get out the camera……..

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