I needed a self-care project, so I sewed myself a witchy 18th Century riding habit

Remember that brief, shining moment of time around June of 2021 when the vaccines had opened up to everyone over the age of 18, COVID cases were on the decline, and suddenly it felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel? Right before Delta was isolated and the CDC recommended masks, even for vaccinated people, in areas experiencing a “high” level of community transmission of COVID. I’d been plugging along okay, making franken blouses and poking at random small individual pieces and slowly making a dress for a ball that was supposed to take place in October 2021 when the high of that June all kind of came crashing down. Somewhere around Labor Day I realized I was floundering a bit (the cancellation of the October ball did not help) and that I needed something, desperately, to keep myself busy and to have something to look forward to.

I’d also been silently lamenting the fact that it was nearly Halloween season and I did not have a black, witchy gown to wear around Halloween time. So the day after Labor Day, despite the fact that Halloween was only about 7 weeks away and I work full time, I decided I needed to make a dress AND schedule a photoshoot with a photographer in order to have some witchy-vibe photos in time for Halloween.

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Pandemic Projects

Once upon a time, in Ye Olde Upstate New York in the year of our Lord of Chaos 2020, I was mired in several work projects, including changing staff structures, retiring department heads, and conference trips on top of also having costuming programs I had been asked to do after the success of my 2019 grant project. Suffice to say I was Stressed. Printable calendars scheduling every hour of my day and getting canker sores stressed. A stressed I hadn’t been since grad school. And then all of a sudden a global pandemic fell from the sky and everything shut down. All the events and programs I’d been stressing about were canceled, my library closed to the public (“for a couple weeks”) and we were all sent home to librarian remotely as best we could.

The sudden silence was jarring. It was like emerging from a raging river that was carrying you to a definite destination instead onto huge, still, mirrored lake so big you couldn’t see the shores to try to navigate your way across. I was adrift, but my mind and body were still so locked into go-go-go mode that I couldn’t stop. And with nothing else to direct that frantic energy toward, I picked up my sewing.

I was lucky in that my years of “someday maybe” project planning had left me with a huge stash of fabric that I had to pull from. Some had been purchased for designated projects that I now had time to start, and some had been purchased just because it was a steal and I knew I would find a use for it. I also had a bag (a literal bag, for organization purposes) of UFOs (Un-Finished Objects for those who don’t know) that had never had a deadline, and so got thrown to the wayside in favor of more pressing outfits. So despite everything being shut down, and the few places that were shipping sewing supplies being overwhelmed with orders I had plenty of stash to pull from.

I sewed on my lunch breaks, I sewed after clocking out of work, I sewed all weekend long on my couch and in the park. I started with a UFO, but I also quickly cut out new pieces I’d never had time for before and alternated between cutting and machine sewing in my sewing room and handstitching pre-sewing machine era items in my living room. Sewing kept my hands busy, even while my mind was unsure where to look or how to feel. I discovered that handsewing for me was as good as meditation (if not better, since meditation never really seemed to do much for me). As news orgs started interviewing psychologists recommending taking up hobbies and reconnecting with family over Zoom to get through, as everyone started renovating their house and taking up gardening, I put my head down and sewed and kept sewing and it felt slightly manic, but also no worse than the manic feeling of work stress I’d had before everything shut down.

In those first couple of months I probably finished more individual pieces than I had for all of 2019, though by late summer, as things seemed briefly like they were trending toward “normal” and a whole new kind of stress (re-emergence stress as well as pandemic burnout) popped up, my creative energy began to ebb. Since then it has been an up and down ride of spurts of sewing focus followed by general malaise that couldn’t be filled with Jane Austen movies, good fiction, bad fiction, stupid app games, or even sewing.

But here it is now in June of 2021, on the other side of the “second wave,” when at least half the country is now vaccinated, and though we can’t say yet that the pandemic is truly over, this is as thorough an accounting as I can manage, for the moment, of the projects that got me through it. So far.

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Williamsburg Wardrobe

Back in early October 2019 I heard that Burnley & Trowbridge, purveyor of my favorite fabrics, kerchiefs, and other goods, would be holding a minimarket in February of 2020. Since making a trip to Colonial Williamsburg had been on my travel “to-do” list for a couple of years, and I assumed the minimarket would bring other costumers into town for the weekend, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to finally make the trip. That was further reinforced when Colonial Williamsburg announced that the same weekend would be a “Fashion Days” weekend, featuring programming specific to the clothing culture of the area. And coming off the high of having finished my Saratoga Dress, I immediately got ahead of myself with grand plans of finishing a bunch of UFOs and making a new riding habit (a hand-sewn one at that) for the weekend. I booked my stay at one of the Williamsburg hotels, and then sat down to plan.

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New!

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For quite a long while now it has been my intention to synchronize my online handles and change them to something that makes more sense for what I use my online presence for. My online life has become centered around costuming, and I want to do more programs and presentations about costuming in my area, so to make it easier for people to remember how to find me online, I’ve changed my blog title and my Instagram username to The Victorian Archivist. The name comes from the fact that my Real Job is as a librarian who does some work in the archives at our library, and I tend to find excuses to wear my historical costumes to work (or just around town). So I’m that librarian lady who wears Victorian clothes, hence, The Victorian Archivist.

The content I post will remain pretty much the same. You may see a bit more about archival costume illustrations or patterns now and then, but my focus will still be on creating costumes and posting about my construction process.

Does the new name mean I will only be sewing Victorian costumes now? No, I will still be sewing other eras as well; Victorian just seems to be the most recognizable and nameable era to the general public, so Victorian Archivist is easier to remember and catchier than, say, the 18th Century Archivist. Or the Historical Costuming Archivist.

I look forward to bringing you more historical costuming content under my new name! I still haven’t shared all of the pretty finished photos of my Saratoga dress, so that will be coming very soon!

Review: Puresilks

This post is going to be a bit different from my usual posts about my sewing projects and processes. This is a review of sorts of my experiences purchasing from a website that I learned about from other costumers. I’ve only been able to find one other blogger’s review of their experiences with the site, so I want to contribute my narrative to the community in hopes that it will help someone else make an informed decision when deciding where to purchase their fabrics.

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Drafting the Saratoga Bodice

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Once I had chosen the dress for my project, I had to develop a pattern for the bodice. I didn’t want to simply use a paper pattern that had already been developed by someone else; I wanted to do my best to draft a new pattern that would mimic the original image as closely as possible. For this I turned to Fashions of the Gilded Age by Frances Grimble.

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