Thursday, November 16, 2023

When life gets in the way

 Going through my photos, it's been very clear I haven't accomplished nearly as much sewing this past year as I usually do. This has been the toughest health year for me yet, unfortunately, with a surgery for a fibroid that was bleeding me dry, a lot of joint pain from what I think is an undiagnosed autoimmune issue, and a lot of nerve pain in my extremities and headaches from spinal stenosis, which was an unpleasant surprise at the ripe old age of 38!  I've been in and out of physical therapy quite a bit, and have a pain management doctor now... did not foresee any of this happening! On top of that, the rest of the year has been punctuated with smaller things like a mild bout of covid, a second degree chemical burn on my arm, and a second degree burn all the way around my ankle from a freakish bonfire accident (thanks to my husband who is still slightly in the doghouse).  It has felt like every month brought a new health challenge!

Setting that aside though, I am really happy with the few things I have managed, including this beautiful cloak from Scroop Patterns: 

This has been something I wanted to add to my wardrobe for a long time (more accessories in general, actually!) because I think the more layers of complexity there are to an ensemble, the more convincing it looks. This silk taffeta came cheap from FabricGuru a couple years ago and I have kept it in mind for this exact project ever since.  

 Making the trim felt like it took an eternity (especially with hurting hands!) but it was also really soothing in the sheer repetition as I waited on hold on the phone with doctor's offices for hours πŸ˜’

I also finished a rose-red taffeta petticoat, and while I haven't worn it yet, I think it'd go really well with my black sacque for a touch of drama, or under my blue damask volante for a pop of surprising contrast color. 

One of the other things I accomplished at the end of the summer was to dump out ALL of my badly-organized fabric, measure it, re-fold it, and file it according to fiber content, because I find that tends to be the factor that holds the most importance for me when I need to find something quickly. 

This bin of all-cotton will be quick and handy to reach for when I'm in need of lining for things (other than that chunk of burgundy with the yellow print, which is destined for a Regency day gown).

My sewing room is nothing glamorous, just a basement room that sometimes gets water in the corner (hence everything sitting up on platforms or wheels!) but I feel very lucky to have a dedicated storage space at all! So now I have my synthetics, cottons, linens, silks, furs, and wool all consolidated, and even better is that now it's all CATALOGED. I say that with a thrill because my career is as a public library cataloger, so it gives me tremendous pleasure to have an accessible-from-anywhere catalog of my stash!  I did it in Google Sheets so that I can look at it on my phone as well.

So now I have a sortable record of everything in those bins; with one click on a column, I can look through my fibers, the colors, how much yardage I have, etc. A lot of things are already designated for projects I've had in mind for a very long time, but this should help me shop more wisely and hopefully less, now that I see just now many ideas I've already got the fabric for.  

This was quite the effort and took me several days to work through, but it's going to be such a good tool. I came across a meme recently that said "Did you know buying fabric and sewing are two different hobbies?" and the shriek of denial that exited me was tremendous... I need to do more sewing and less buying, no matter how much of a dopamine rush I get when I find a great deal πŸ˜…

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Dancing our feet off

Much belated posting (but what else is new) of fun had at local dances! It's a delight to look back through photos again and relive the events several months later because they really were highlights of my year! This blog is ending up serving as the perfect scrapbook of memories.

First up was a ball in February in Ste. Genevieve where we met up with our friends Ron and Justine and had just far too much fun. Displeased with the Marie Antoinette portrait trim of the last blog entry, I ripped off all the lace and self-trimmed the jacket -- now I like it so much that want to wear it all the time when the weather cools off again. 


My husband has been complaining for a while now about his lack of fancy wardrobe, and while I love him, I don't love him enough to stumble through a J.P. Ryan frock coat pattern, so I gave Butterick 3072 a try for the coat and a new vest. The results were delightful! I could stand to add more buttons at the coat's skirts and beneath the pocket flaps, but it went together on the first try for the mockup and this was one of the fastest men's makes I've ever done. There are a number of stash taffetas set aside for more 18thc ensembles for my husband that will be done with this pattern. I don't think the pattern called for a stiff facing for the front edges but I knew even with the fairly hefty lining, the buttons would go all twisty and the edges would droop, so I added an interior strip of canvas. The breeches are Simplicity 4921 and while it may be a tacky pirate pattern, the pants are actually really decent for fall-front breeches. He was happy with it and comfortable in it anyway, so that's what matters to me!

 We ended up matching Justine's brother, and then their friend Michael was wearing red, so we joked that it looked like the "Christmas War" between red and green. 

Somehow we're just not made for the solemn and serious life... any time the four of us get together we can be sure there will be goofing off.

The BostonTea Boys were getting ready to drop a hot new album, I mean, crate of goods into the harbor...


These shenanigans were followed up by a late night Taco Bell run so I can't say it was the most historical of events but one of the most enjoyable πŸ˜‚

Not long after, on my birthday weekend, a small public dance event was held under the St. Louis Arch, and I finished up long corduroy Regency pants for my husband from Laughing Moon pattern 131 (which have since been very much taken in because we both were not happy about how baggy they ended up being but that was entirely my fault over-estimating how much room his legs would take up, lol, not the pattern at all), Laughing Moon 125 for a vest, and then there was a half-finished Regency tailcoat passed on to me that had been sitting in a bin for years, so out that came and was duly finished... I thought he looked quite handsome in the whole ensemble!

...even though the pants clearly didn't fit right.


I feel very lucky he's willing to play dress-up with me, so all the tailoring for these events didn't feel like much of a chore. Usually I hate sewing for other people and avoid it like the plague, but for a well-dressed escort it's worth it!  He is very much a Mr. Bingley... very amiable, good-natured, and ready to please.
After the dance (which we weren't at for very long, I was running out of steam that day and working on a headache) I persuaded him to stop at a local mausoleum in our county that I'd heard of but never actually seen in person. It's extremely impressive, built into the side of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi flood plain.

The honey-colored limestone looked warm and inviting next to my gold dress (silk is from my friend's shop at Ensembles of the Past) and I almost felt like I was stepping forth from some ancient Venetian doorway -- at least, so said my wishful thinking and FOMO over all the folks who were at that time attending Carnevale.

And to wrap up the dancing sessions, just this past month we met up with Ron and Justine again for the first (and definitely not last!) dance in many a year held at the Peterstown House in my hometown. The president of the historic house's association estimated that probably no dancing had been done there in a hundred years, but it used to be a very well-trod floor according to local documents!

Of course historic house air conditioning is never going to be up to snuff and we knew it would be a toasty evening, so the men went very rural-casual in their shirtsleeves and vests, and I wore an older cotton gown (from my favorite Regency pattern, Laughing Moon #126) rather than sweat to death in silk! You can see E's pants are considerably less baggy here than last time after some hasty downsizing, haha.

...I won't show you the more ridiculous selfies we took; good thing we are both wife'd-up, because no respectable man would have spoken to us after our nonsense.

(the very picture of gentility, for a couple seconds anyway)
And we can't seem to be together without needing to get food at some point, so of course we opted for yet another historically-accurate food source on this evening: strip-mall sushi!!
Until next time!

Friday, February 3, 2023

Holiday Historic House trips (photo-heavy!)

 Oops behind again, this seems to be a perpetual theme... I had wanted to post this in December yet! It was an extremely happy month of exposure to historical homes looking their very best in all their holiday trappings, so I'm taking the time to fully document it for myself to look back on.

My sweet friend Justine of Early American persuaded me to go down to Ste. Genevieve to do a couple of house tours and hang out for the day, and then in turn, she came across the river to tour the Pierre Menard home, the last true remnant of French Kaskaskia (because the rest got washed away by the Mississippi by the mid 1800s). It's been a true delight visiting, and it turns out our significant others get along very well -- in fact we are going to a dance this weekend!

We started at her friend's store in a historic house, full of adorable Early American and primitive-style home decor (and tinned tea, and Christmas ornaments... with enough money I would have bought out the whole store).  After a quick mosey to the town's adorable small post office and a stop at Quintessential Rivertown Tea for a delightful hot cup, we headed over to the Centre for French Colonial Life and looked at the many French artifacts in the museum before we were taken just down the street to the house tours, with the Bolduc House (c. 1788) being the first. I know from descriptions of the historic French homes on the Illinois side of the river that they were often little 1 or 2 room shingled/thatched plastered and whitewashed homes that have semi-medieval French roots, but it's delightful to see them with period furnishings like the one below. Families were generally crammed into one room at night, so beds with curtains you could pull shut were essential for privacy. A second larger room was then added to the house later

A second larger room was then added to the house later, with more room for socializing.

This beautiful armoire, stained by flood water at the bottom (always a threat in this riverine area) is a locally crafted piece of 18thc furniture, and the guide was explaining the stylistic differences between it and Canadian-made or French-made pieces.

I certainly would have liked to take it home with me!
This middle room, barely larger than a wide hallway, was the owner's "office" from which he conducted most of his business dealings. The bench on the far right folds down to reveal a bed!
The tour moved immediately next door to the Bolduc-LeMeilleur House (c.1820) and Justine and I loved the color scheme... soft ivory and a light greyish-green.

This house was considerably less cramped than the older, previous one, so yes I think I could settle in here quite well, haha.

I think Justine said her fiance Ron actually made the replica table in the dining room. He does early furniture-making and painting. While this house and its rooms aren't lavish, they're plenty comfortable, and it's easy to imagine living in them even today, as opposed to the much earlier-style home we first visited.


Wrapping up this tour, we then headed a couple blocks over to the Felix VallΓ© house, which is run by the State of Missouri. It was built roughly 1818 and they keep it furnished in the style of the 1830s. It has a small general store out of which they did business at the front, and then several rooms much more ornate than the first couple houses we saw:

The small outbuilding to the back was used as a laundry room and bathing room, and I found the rusticity of its colors very charming:

I feel it's vital to note that French Colonial prosperity, though bolstered by the independent fur traders, craftsmen, and farmers, owed a chunk of its success to enslaved labor. Ste. Genevieve (and other French colonial sites) are only getting started on the necessary research for bringing to light the historically ignored contingent of Africans (roughly a third of the population in the area) who were brought in for work in the houses, the gardens, and the fields. Most of their cabins have been pushed over on the historic properties, and not yet excavated or reconstructed, so I'm looking forward to seeing the progress that appears to be in the works to show a sliver of their lives. There were also a few free people of color who owned houses in town in the early 19thc, some of which are still standing, a great educational opportunity that I hope will be expanded on.

In the back courtyard of another set of historic buildings, we took advantage of a perfect little entryway:

...visited the local pewter shop where I lost my cap feathers to a VERY curious and very large kitty (so handsome)...

...and peeked inside the imposing brick Catholic church, built in 1880.

We wrapped up our visit with lunch at "The Old Brick House," a restaurant that claims to be the oldest brick building west of the Mississippi River, built in 1780.

The very next day volunteered down at Fort de Chartres together in the store for a Colonial Christmas market! The store was frequently packed with people and the artisans were pleased with their sales. I picked up candles, ornaments, evergreen arrangements, heirloom seed packets, and more for Christmas gifts that turned out to be very appreciated by the recipients.

A couple weekends later (I think?) we met up again down at the Pierre Menard home -- this house is such a historically important building for the area, and yet the state of Illinois has been, as usual, neglecting it. Fortunately, it FINALLY has a much-needed new roof, so I'm hopeful other repairs will be done soon to keep it standing and in good shape. I didn't take an outside photo so I'm using an old one:

We started in the detached kitchen (built that way so it was less easy for fire to spread to the main house, to which it was connected by a breezeway) where Michell had it nice and cozy, with cider and cake for visitors.

They also had the old smokehouse open, so we admired the hand-hewn beams going up forever.

Inside the home, Justine and I lost our minds over the silk Regency-era gown in the dresser, worn by one of the Menard girls for her wedding and an occasion where she danced with Lafayette. Sadly it's in need of serious restoration and the silk is quite shattered.

This house is quite a treasure of French colonial architecture (built in 1802-3), and hopefully will be standing for a long time. Its signage and basement museum also need some major updating to include the rest of the site's occupants - up to 22 enslaved workers by 1830, and further archaeological work to locate their lodgings (probably on the south-east side of the house, from previous exploratory digs).
I parted ways with Justine for the day, and went from here to the Peterstown House up north, in my hometown, where they were having candlelight holiday tours. Despite living in the town for most of my life, I'd never been in... probably because until recently the place has been kind of a dump-site for everyone's 'oldey-timey' junk in the most disorganized, Cracker Barrel fashion, but it has some younger, more passionate historical society members now who are doing their best to restore the house to its original state, little by little. It was built somewhere between 1800 and 1830 (the left half of the house most definitely older, so it was added onto by 1830) and became a tavern, general store, and stagecoach stop with a large upstairs that was slept in, en masse, by unfussy travelers, until they picked up the next leg of their journey by coach. Eventually it was chopped up into different rooms for use as a boarding house around 1900, and once it was rescued from demolition in 1973, they've been trying to restore it ever since.

(That mannequin HAS to go)

This is probably the oldest part of the building -- the society president said they are hoping to have some dendrochronology done on the exposed wood and it's possible this room was erected even pre-1800.

There's still quite a bit of random county memorabilia in here -- some of it very cool, some of it not particularly historically pertinent (read: old junk handed down by relatives probably not even from this town), but I had such an enjoyable chat with the house's society president, Andrew, that he urged me to join to be a part of volunteering here. They're also working with master gardeners to transform the yard outside to a historically-accurate garden to the early 1800s, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. I will probably end up doing some weekend volunteering once they re-open in the spring; between staffing the Fort store and hopefully being at the Peterstown house, I anticipate needing to sew more historical clothes!

Hope you enjoyed this little sliver of historical holiday homes -- it was a very happy time for me to spend immersed in some delightful architecture, walking where so many have lived before.