Early Costuming Progress for 2016 Sunday, Jan 31 2016 

I know I haven’t posted for a couple of months, but that’s not because I haven’t been sewing. I sewed up a storm—a superstorm! A veritable Winter Storm Goliath!—at Christmas… so I couldn’t share any of *those* projects until after everyone had their gifts.

…Which they still don’t. Sigh. At least two handmade Christmas gifts are STILL wrapped, upstairs, in the guestroom, waiting for Certain People to deign to come pick them up.

How much sewing, you might ask? Well, my Project 41 tally stands at 34, as of this morning, because I just finished the first garb project of 2016! Or, if you like, the last garb project of 2010. Ahem. Yep, it’s a UFO!

St Cath corset front

This is a version of Simplicity 2621, Elizabethan pair of bodies/corset, which you might recognize, because I’ve used it twice before. My pink corset and purple kirtle are both from this pattern. What’s unusual about this version is the boning. I used hemp cord (one of my favorite ways to stiffen period bodies. Gosh, that sentence sounds weird, doesn’t it? Large blocks of ice also work, but the logistics are terrible….), which gives a slightly softer/curvier silhouette. And, you know, it took six years to finish, so.

I started it way back a million years ago, got all the major construction done, and then for whatever reason stalled out before binding & eyelets. A couple of years later I pulled it out, trimmed down the hemp cord ends and added half the eyelets. Yes, half. Don’t ask me what happened to the other half; I have no idea. When the Historical Sew Monthly announced the 2016 challenges, and specifically that the January challenge was Procrastination, I had the perfect candidate!

…And then put it off for another three weeks.

St. Catherine corset back

Excuse the wonky lacing; all I had was a too-short shoestring. If I were starting this project now, I would probably have set the eyelets for spiral lacing; modern criss-cross lacing is faster for CJ to manage, so. That’s my excuse.

The eyelets are done by machine; my Viking has the wonderful feature of making lovely, functional lacing eyelets with the addition of this little gadget:

eyelet plate

The eyelet plate, which attaches to the machine bed like so:

eyelet plate in situ

And just like with hand-worked eyelets, you open the hole with an awl, then fit it over the (I don’t want to say “nipple”)… raised part of the plate. You then zigzag around the hole, while steadily turning the fabric by hand. It’s magical!

eyelet making

You would normally want to use thread. 😉  These are done with Gutterman silk sewing thread, and I lowered the presser foot pressure as far as it would go. Sometimes with the bulk of the fabric + the bulk of the thread, it can get hard to turn, and you can get too much thread built up in one place. Lowering the presser foot pressure makes sure you can turn smoothly. Two passes, the first one narrower (4.0) to cover up any raw edges; the second wider (4.5) to get beautiful full coverage, and there you go.

I did these AFTER construction (I believe I mentioned!), because I knew the hemp cording would be flexible enough to maneuver through the machine’s harp space. For a rigidly-boned piece (cable ties, steel, reeds, synthetic whalebone, etc), you’d want to do the eyelets first. There’s some tight turning in a fair hurry involved here!

St Cath strap

My previous versions of this corset all have straps that are too long. I knew these would be, as well, but was too lazy to try it on (since it only had half its eyelets!), so I held my breath and lopped off 2.5″. Having straps that don’t meet the bodice is period, so I figured I’d be safe either way.

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player, Italian, 1563 - 1639, c. 1612/1620, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player c. 1615

I used French binding (which is bias binding with both raw edges pressed to one side, instead of toward the middle) made from ivory quilting cotton with a lovely soft olive/tan ditsy floral print that matches the khaki canvas perfectly. I love the muted colors, and it’s nice to finally see them together after all this time. I did NOT LOVE the French binding, less so with the cotton. It just didn’t ease as nicely as the microsuede I prefer to bind corsets with, and the two layers shifted and wrinkled on me. Meh. It turned out OK, but I’ll stick with my regular binding from now on. (I made the binding when I started the corset. It was also the first and one of the last times I ever did continuous binding. I *far* prefer to piece my binding strips! This Colette tutorial changed my binding life.)

I am hoping (that it fits; it’s been six years, after all, egad) to also construct the rest of the ensemble that goes over this pair of bodies, but you will have to stay tuned for future HSM challenges for that.

Challenge Details:

What the Item is: 16th century pair of bodies (corset)

The Challenge: January, Procrastination

Material: Cotton canvas, quilting cotton binding; hemp cord boning

Pattern: Simplicity 2621

Year: Mid-16th century (conjecture)

Notions: Hemp cord, silk sewing thread

How historically accurate is it? Eh. Really, not so much. This was the very beginning of stiffened bodies in Europe and England. This pattern, in its original incarnation (with rigid boning and tabs at the waist), is inspired by and very similar to the only two extant “corsets” from the period. My version, intended to be used in Italian costuming, is going farther afield still. Italian gowns of this period generally had stiffened bodies, not separate corsets, and although the use of cording to stiffen bodices/corsets is more widespread and earlier than costumers have traditionally thought (Salen, 2007), the use of hemp cord to stiffen Italian Renaissance bodies is thoroughly the theory, conjecture, inspiration, and work of Jen Thompson (Festive Attyre) and other experimental historical costumers. THAT SAID, it has been a proven method for re-enactors to achieve the soft, gently curving silhouette common to Italian costuming of the period. So, assuming the gown to go with this ever gets made, the LOOK should be correct, if not the underlying construction.

Hours to complete: Um…. This is the procrastination challenge, after all! I started it in 2010, worked on it again a couple years later, then pulled it out this month to finish half the eyelets and apply the binding. Maybe 4-5 hours this month to finish everything up?

First worn: Not yet. Praying that it still fits. Or fits again. Or will fit again. Or something. It’s finished, what else do you want from me? Sheesh!

Total cost: Hmm. It took about a yard of canvas at US ~$7.00/yard (2010 prices), plus a yard of the quilt fabric for the binding, plus maybe another $6-7 for the hemp cord, around $5.00 for the silk thread, and around $850 for the sewing machine that does eyelets….


The sad reason I’ve not been around much lately Wednesday, Dec 9 2015 

I love and have loved ALL of our dogs, each in their own way. But Tessa… Tessa was my heart. And on Friday afternoon, she left us.chris-steph-tess-sept-26-2015.jpg?w=750&

At Fair this fall, just before she started having symptoms from a nasal tumor that destroyed the bones in her face and made it hard for her to breathe. In November, DH took her ten hours by car to Colorado State University—the first road trip any one of our pups had ever taken!—for radiation therapy. The therapy worked, but there were complications from the anaesthesia: It turned out she’d developed a condition called mega-esophagus, which put her at risk for aspiration pneumonia, the same d@mn thing that killed her sister Ladygirl three months ago.

She never regained her strength after the first round of pneumonia (in Colorado). When she was well enough to travel, DH brought her back to KC, and she spent five days in ICU here, getting no worse and no better. With heavy hearts, we finally brought her home for hospice care, and she spent her last few days here at home with her two sisters and brother, resting comfortably, still “our” Tess. She died in DH’s arms on Friday, quickly.

A comfy spot jpg

On her third day in the world, still unable to see, hear, or walk–yet scaling mountains, nonetheless.

Tessie was a late bloomer. When her brothers and sisters were playing together, learning The Doggie Rules, she was in the corner, eating cardboard. smiley: embarassed Consequently, she missed out on early socialization and ended up at the bottom of the pack, picked on by her sisters and shy around people. She didn’t want to be petted, picked up, cuddled, or held. She’d struggle and try to bite, and she was afraid of everything. I spent her first year trying to figure out how to reach her. It crushed me that this gorgeous dog didn’t love me like her littermates did.


For my birthday the year they turned one (so she was 14 months old), my mom gave me Patricia McConnell’s book The Other End of the Leash, about primate-to-canine communication. McConnell, a zoologist and animal behaviorist, explained that dogs see “ventral-ventral contact” (chest to chest… or hugging) as aggressive behavior, and if you want a dog to approach you, you need to lean back, arms held open. Tessa just happened to be walking past me as I read that very passage. I set the book down, said, “Hey, Tess,” leaned back—and she THREW HERSELF into my arms, as if she’d been waiting her whole life to show how much she loved me, but I’d never given her permission before.

And she never stopped hugging, for the next thirteen years.


Tessa’s supervillain name was “The Pounce,” because you never knew when she would sneak up and bury you with a hug. Even her villainy was all about love.

Tess was—I’m not kidding here—perfect. She was as close to a pure soul as has ever been; full of nothing but love for everyone else, not a drop of malice or selfishness. It was an absolute joy watching her come out of her shell over the years, get over her initial shyness and reservations once she discovered that SHE was free to shower the world with affection. And she did. I have funny memories of Gracie Pigeon, exasperating memories of Ladygirl… but all my memories of Tess are ones of love. (Well, and that cardboard thing. Ahem.)

Oh, yes: And she could fly.

Miss you, AngelPuff.

Hallowe’en Finishes & Projects Update Sunday, Nov 1 2015 

magic potion for posting

“Magic Potion” by Sandra Cozzolino

Boo! My favorite holiday has come and gone, but not without some making! Here are Finishes 21 and 22 in my Project 41 Challenge. (It’s only been four months, and I’m more than halfway through!)

First up is that fun wallhanging, a piece of cross stitch I finished several years ago. It’s been sitting in a drawer forever, because it unexpectedly turned out huge (you can’t really tell from that photo, but it’s sitting on my office chair and totally obscuring the serger behind it!), and I didn’t want to go to the expense of framing it. But this summer while rooting through my stash, I stumbled upon that fun bat fabric, an anniversary gift from C.J. a couple of years ago (I love bats, so this wasn’t weird. Or it might be weird, but I love bats.), and everything clicked into place!

First I finished the edges of the needlework with the Wave Stitch on my new Babylock serger, using Wooly Nylon in the loopers:

magic potion detail

Then I sewed it directly to the top of the bat fabric. I then fused the bat-needlework sandwich to some thick double-sided craft interfacing backed with black cotton sateen (the lightweight stuff for quilting), and did another round of Wave around the whole perimeter. The stitch turned out beautifully, although I did snap a needle thread a couple of times. I swapped out the needle for a topstitch needle—MUCH better!—and managed to pick it up right where I’d left off. You can’t even see the join anywhere (correcting a serger mistake can be tough, since the machine has already sliced off the fabric you were going to sew on!).

I just love the colors, the verse, and those jolly old witches:

magic potion witches

I left a pretty wide border around the needlework, because I wasn’t quite sure how to attach the stitching to the backer board. I thought about using buttons, and I found these that matched so perfectly:

…But then I just ended up sewing the needlwork and bats together, so I didn’t need them, and when I went to attach a couple just b/c… I decided I didn’t like them. Ah, well. They’ll find another use eventually, I’m sure!

Next up is a little quick weekend sewing. And by “quick” I mean, I was planning on working on it while answering the door for trick-or-treaters, but I was finished with it by noon. That quick. 😉

I made this tunic, McCall’s 6796, from some luscious charcoal shimmer ponte I’ve been hording for a couple of years:

Charcol Ponte Tess FOR POSTING

I’m not totally sold on it, but C.J. said it was awesome, so. Tess is divided.

I do really like the fancy little collar treatment:

Charcoal Ponte three quarters

…Even though I screwed it up:

collar error labeled

And had to fix it by hand.

All fixed! Another invisible repair.

All fixed! Another invisible repair.

Incidentally, those are the same buttons I used on the rose cardi.

Charcoal Ponte Tree FOR POSTING

The fabric is super soft and feels really luxurious, so I’m sure I’ll get some wear out of it, even if I’m not 100% thrilled.

I will have a final Teresa Wentzler October update soon (I made a fair amount of progress on my Castle Sampler this month!), too, along with some musings on the Project 41 Challenge, its effectiveness, and its relationship to my sewing & writing.

Enough making! If you’ll excuse me, I have a NaNoWriMo quota to fill!


Everything’s coming up cardigans! Tuesday, Oct 20 2015 

New Look 6330

Once upon a time, a middling seamstress’s wandering eye chanced to behold a certain knit blazer emblazoned with fairytale roses, and she instantly wanted it, more than anything else in the world. Well, other than food, shelter, and rampion, perhaps. At any rate, moving along. Alas for our poor seamstress, said blazer was forever out of reach—too costly, too large, and then, poof! Discontinued.

Rosie Blazer

What was our poor heroine to do? “Why,” she said, “why couldn’t I make one, just like that?” And then, by stroke of fantastical luck, she thought she had found the Perfect Fabric. But oh, lackaday! When the fabric at long last arrived, it was not all she had hoped. It was flimsy, unreliable, and had plainly Misrepresented Itself.

Still, not to be deterred, our plucky seamstress forged on in her hunt, over hill and dale, through many a dark midnight, seeking an alternative… when what should appear but the most unlikely of patterns, in a guise that was so thorough, she might easily have overlooked it:

Resigning herself to her fate, our Seamstress began her Epic Labors, seeking to undo the curse of bad fabric.

This tale has a Very Happy Ending! Behold our bold seamstress now:

Rose Cardi BLOG

The wild, beastly, thorny fabric, TAMED! Huzzah! There was much rejoicing throughout the land, and the seamstress and her new rose cardigan lived happy ever after. Or they had a pretty decent week, anyway.

Mannequin BLOG

A closeup of the featured closure, elastic loops with pewter rose buttons:

rose button closure

I am giddy by how well this silly thing turned out! This fabric has been haunting me, ever since its disappointing arrival a year ago, when the Good Advice from the Collective was to simply send it back. But I stubbornly hung on to it. I don’t even remember buying the New Look pattern; I was probably looking at the sharkbite-hem version initially, but what fabric I had in mind, I have no idea! This is better.

Rose Cardi front hands down BLOG

More details on the sewing and fit are here.

Postscript: Although the middle (technically) of our tale is one of triumph, there may indeed be a more Sorcerer’s Apprentice-style Act II. In her initial panic over the fabric, and still pining for The Blazer, the seamstress may or may not have ordered additional rose-print knit fabric. So my thinking was that I’d use the new fabric for the blazer (a Kwik Sew pattern), and this fabric for a drapey cardi… which this really isn’t. It’s far more structured and jacket-like than I was expecting. So now the burning question: How many rose jackets does a person need? Because I already have more than one. Really.

For anyone keeping track, this is Project #19 (since my 41st birthday in July). Project #20 is an infinity scarf from the remnants of the rose print knit, for my embroidery guild’s holiday charity drive. Projects #21 and 22 are supposed to be a couple needlework finishes (using the serger—really!), but I have somehow talked myself into Finishing Block again. Time to whip out the Stephen Pressfield and just do the work.



Cauled out for cockading & hattitude Monday, Oct 5 2015 

post serious ps

I saw an interview with Cindy Crawford last week, where she said, “Have a story in your head when posing for photographs.”  Here I evidently suspect this fence post of foul and nefarious doings, and am attempting to ascertain its guilt via mind meld. Glamorous! 

5 October 2015

Huzzah! It’s FINALLY really finished. Do you remember my big garb project from a year ago, an English fitted gown? At the time I had only completed the gown itself, with its epic short paned sleeves-of-a-million-pieces. But it was missing the appropriate period accessories: hat, caul, and proper sleeves.

Not anymore! Thanks to inspiration from the Historical Sew Monthly September challenge, Brown, I have at last completed the ensemble.

EFG complete ps color

Yond fence post hath a lean and hungry look….

The sleeves and caul are lovely, but the hat is the star.

brown feathers

I’ve made plenty of other hats before, but this was my first time working with buckram and millinery wire to construct a period hat completely from scratch. What fun! I can’t wait to try another one.

I used the Lynn McMasters Elizabethan Arched-Brim Hat pattern, which also included the pattern for the caul (made from these scraps).

caul shot crop

Believe it or not, this thing actually just stays on the head like that! For a whole windy day….

I really wanted a hat like the one Lucas de Heere gave his English townswoman, with the high, slanted crown and a narrowish brim:

de Heere Englishwomen

But I couldn’t find a commercial pattern with exactly that silhouette. The Lynn McMasters one came close-ish; but the mockups were not encouraging! It seemed like the crown was too short, the brim too wide, and the whole thing not quite large enough overall. Still, lacking enough understanding of hat architecture to alter the pattern, I forged ahead anyway. And it looks a gazillion times better finished than I feared!

Chris Steph Tess Sept 26 2015

This project involved a lot of hand sewing, wearing out thimbles, needles, and fingers along the way! I used black microsuede for the fashion fabric, and lined it in the same bronze taffeta as the fitted gown. Trimmed out with extra fitted gown trim, the most perfect feather cockade from Michaels, and a lovely vintage brooch from etsy.

hat snood morning glories

For the sleeves, I used the basic sleeve pattern from The Tudor Tailor and reprised some of my favorite fabric. I’m very pleased with them–scaled straight out of the book as drafted, the only alteration I made was lengthening them a wee bit. All of my previous sleeves have been far too large for me, so these are a vast improvement.

with jade ps cropped final

That might be it from me for garb this year (although the sleeve pattern is tempting me to make a couple more pairs—and I just cut one out this morning!—so who knows!). If anyone is still keeping a tally, I think this brings me to seventeen or eighteen finishes since my birthday.

Thanks for looking!

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge Details!

What the item is: A Trio of Elizabethan Accessories (Hat, Caul, Sleeves)

The Challenge: September Challenge 9: Brown. Brown is my favorite color (yes, really!), and I needed a set of proper period accessories to complete the duck green and bronze fitted English gown I made last year. I loved working with brown as an accent color—brown embroidery and lace on the caul; bronze trim and glorious brown feathers on the hat; and the small tan-and-cream motif on the black sleeves.

Fabrics: Hat is buckram base, covered in microsuede and lined in taffeta; sleeves are cotton jacquard lined in cotton sateen; caul is pre-embroidered muslin.

Pattern: Hat & Caul: Lynn McMasters Elizabethan Arched Brim Hat; Sleeves: Tudor Tailor

Year: 1560s-70s

Notions: Feather cockade, brooch, and braid for the hat; golden brown Cluny lace for the caul; just a bit of grosgrain ribbon to tie the sleeves on.

How historically accurate is it? Except for the fiber content of the fabrics (linen, silk, and wool would have been period), it’s pretty good. The patterns for the sleeves and caul are from reliable sources and are dead on. I am a little more iffy on the hat. It doesn’t really look like like hats of its type from period sources  and illustrations (the brim seems too wide, and the crown is too short); and I read that the designer’s original source/model for the pattern was a book whose research and silhouettes are now considered out of date. So I just can’t say for sure. Construction was a mix of hand and machine. I’d give myself about 85%.

Hours to complete: Hat: About two weeks, so maybe ~30? Caul, a bit under 2 (some fitting and fussing); sleeves, about 1.

First worn: Kansas City Renaissance Festival, Oct 2015.

Total cost: The sleeves and caul were all scraps left over from other projects, so free! The hat was about $40, all in, with the pattern and specialized millinery materials. The cockade was the real bargain! I stumbled across that lovely thing, as is, in the floral aisle at Michaels (large US craft store). It was on sale for something like $2.00, and I instantly knew it was meant to be on my hat!

Fall Projects with Pens & Needles Friday, Oct 2 2015 

HF headshot

I have nothing new (that I’ve finished making) to share today, but as we enter the last quarter of the year, some annual traditions are getting underway. Really obsessive readers (are there any?!) might have noticed that we’ve had a wee bit o’ redecorating this fall: I’ve changed the name of this blog to “Elizabeth’s Pens & Needles.” Because Mirth & Matter from Elizabeth’s Pens and Needles would not fit on the banner. But mostly because I’ve shifted most of my news &c over from LiveJournal to this WordPress page, and it’s easier to manage a single site… particularly when stuff sometimes overlaps.

Anyway… we were talking about Fall Projects! Things to work on while you curl up by the fireside with your pumpkin spice whatever, while Other People go out and rake leaves and do other awful yardwork stuff. *shudder.* I will nuke your latte while you mulch. You’re welcome.

On the Business Side of things, story structure guru Alexandra Sokoloff is once again sharing her novel plotting tips in her NaNoWriMo Prep series on Screenwriting Tricks. Want the advice all at once? It’s all in her book, Stealing Hollywood (formerly the e-book only, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors).

I am a big fan of this book, and am glad to have a paper copy to scribble in at last. I have not yet decided whether to keep going on a current revision, or shake things up with an all-new manuscript in November… but I will be working along in the book all month either way.

On the Needleworky Side, I finished up the stitching on the little Hallowe’en Fairy, and intend to have a finished project to share soon. On the rarest confluences of events (thanks, no doubt, to last week’s Supermoon!) I have thus managed a gap in my stitching schedule just in time for my needlework group’s annual tradition, Teresa Wentzler October! Founded by Jen Harper in 2007 or 2008, TW October is responsible for the completion of one of my favorite projects ever, Peacock Tapestry, which sat as a UFO for four or five years (after four or five years of stitching). Jen got us all riled up about our TWUFOs again, and:

For the last several TWOctobers, however, I’ve mostly been consumed with Fair garb sewing, and rarely have a chance to stitch much. Not this year! I am a day or so away (now I’ve jinxed that) from finishing this year’s garb work (pix TK!), and have the whole month open to work on another TW WIP, Castle Sampler. Check out my spectacularly inspiring progress pic, as of October 1, 2015:

Castle Sampler WIP Oct 1 2015

Someday, it may even look like this:

TW Designworks, Castle Sampler. Designed by Teresa Wentzler, 1992.

I’ve had this chart in my stash for many, many, many a year. It was a birthday gift from my in-laws the first year I was married. Which was, if you follow me on Facebook,  you’ll know… a while ago. I didn’t start it until the TWOctober after finishing Peacock Tapestry, though… and I only work on it during the stitchalong, and only get a week or so each year to fit it in. I hope to make a lot more progress this year!

Stay tuned for progress pix and garb pix. I should have an update to a project started last year, plus a gift from a friend to share (!), and I’m gathering up all the odds & ends for my September entry at the Historical Sewing Monthly (still waiting on the arrival of last-minute lace).

Project musings… Wednesday, Sep 23 2015 

I have nearly finished a couple embroidery/cross stitch projects, so it’s time to kit up some more. I have Mill Hill/Sticks “Love Me, Love My Dog” almost ready to go:

I have swapped out the included perforated paper for evenweave, sorted & bobbined up the threads, and mostly colored in the chart. I know I’m an oddity that I do this, but honestly: See those nice bold letters in the motto/caption? You literally could make out nothing on the chart. The symbols all have very similar weights, and it was impossible to distinguish what was letter and what was background. Brown and orange colored pencils solved that in no time.

I have also recently acquired some glow-in-the-dark fabric from Fabric Flair. (Squee!!!) I have no idea what to stitch on it, but I have a fat quarter, so my options are pretty open.

Since I am nearly done with Mirabilia’s Hallowe’en Fairy (my first Mira!), and somehow managed to acquire about, um, 30 Miras and TIAG/Butternut Roads at an EGA stash grab… I am thinking again about Stargazer.

I have had the chart and beads… and TWO fabrics (!) in my stash for a few years now, but I’m not totally sold on either fabric. One is a really dark mottled navy from Picture this Plus, and another is a periwinkle overdyed from Silkweaver. The navy is too dark, and the peri is too light. But the bigger problem is that neither fabric looks like the vision I have always had in my head for this piece. And that is for it to be on fabric that looks like she’s standing in the woods, gazing up at the twilit sky.

You know, like this:

stargazer inspiration 1

Or this:

stargazer moon

Although I have imagined it with that deep greeny-turquoise tint the sky sometimes gets (not, alas, last night when I was taking photos!):

stargazer fabric ps

I feel guilty about the fabric already in my stash (the PTP was especially expensive), but I’m in a wildly experimental phase right now (which NEVER happens), and I’ve had a crazy, zany idea.

I think I’m going to make my own fabric! (Or, more likely, alter the fabric I already have.) Heck, I’ve watched enough episodes of “Quilting Arts!” I ought to be able to figure this out. I’m not sure what my options are, but I am investigating various methods. Right now I’m looking into (ie, checking out Pinterest) water-soluble ink pencils, and other surface treatments.

Maybe Derwent Inktense?

Or Dye-Na-Flow?

Maybe even diluted acrylic paints?

I do know I’m not up for a big, scary dye project (our Radagast experiments indicated that our facilities are not up to snuff for much of that), but I think there are enough options for surface treatments that I can figure something out. (Have also realized that I don’t really know the difference between ink and dye.)

If anyone has ideas, suggestions, or tips–do please share!

And I will have more FINISHES to share soon. So stay tuned!

Off to my wool applique class tonight. 🙂


Good night, sweet Princess Sunday, Sep 6 2015 

I can’t believe I’m writing this. The very notion seems utterly impossible. But against all reason, somehow our amazing, maddening, crazy princess Ladygirl has left us.

LG montage

Ladygirl was one in a million. The first pup in our litter with a name, she resembled Milord’s childhood dog, Lady, and thereafter resisted any efforts to change her name to something else. Whenever anyone met her and asked her name, the response was invariable, “Of course it is.” She was all princess.

LG was bossy, demanding, uncompromising, and so full of life and love. She was convinced the rest of us were here to pay court to her. As we used to say, “It’s Ladygirl’s world. We just live in it.” Boundaries and rules did not apply to her—unless she made them up. Her attitude toward silly things like fences, baby gates, and the like was a scornful, “Pffft. That’s for dogs.” At age 10 (!!!) she discovered she could jump the babygate that blocked off the dining/sewing room, and routinely would sit on the other side of it, smiling smugly at me. “This room is Ladygirl’s. Those other rooms are for the dogs.”

River Snip

Photo 2011 River Templin

She kind of had delicate health (well, she was a princess, after all—you know how sensitive they can be!), but didn’t live like it. In 2013, when she was 12, she had massive, major surgery to re-route her digestive system (scarring from pancreatitis had crushed her gall bladder bile duct and was damaging her liver), and nearly died from complications. She spent nine days in the ICU… during which time the silly girl charmed the entire staff, who would put heart-shaped stickers on all her bandages.  Ten days later? She jumped over a babygate.

Sadly, one of the complications of that initial surgery and associated issues was a propensity for her to develop aspiration pneumonia, and she’d—we’d—spent the better part of the last year or so fighting off one round after another. Endless courses of antibiotics, daily respiratory therapies, and (the last few weeks) complicated new feeding methods, became her daily routine. And through it all, she bore it like the princess she was—even treating the indelicate task of taking her temperature as though it were a great honor… for me.

The latest round began in June, and we figured she’d fight it off eventually, just like she always had. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. The years of damage to her lungs made it impossible for her to bounce back this time, and when she aspirated again last week, it just overwhelmed her. Wednesday morning she was running across the back yard, barking at the neighbor dogs and informing us archly what she wanted for breakfast. And Thursday night she was gone. That fast.

She’s hopped over one last gate, and I hope she’s smiling smugly down from Heaven at me saying, “That’s for dogs.”

Good-bye, baby girl. Never another like you.

Embroidery Hoopla! Monday, Aug 31 2015 

PHOTOSHOP photoshoot badge whitework CROP

Would you like to see one of my most prized possessions?

You might have seen it before; it has already made a couple brief appearances on the site. But today it deserves a feature of its own.

It’s my hoop. To be more specific, my circa 1905 Gibbs “Princess” brand 6-inch embroidery hoop:

Hoop Whitework 1

That’s right: For the better part of 20-odd years, I have used an antique hoop for nearly all of my embroidery, and it may well have seen more than 100 years of steady use!

Hoop Logo

Gibbs Mfg Co, out of Canton, Ohio, was once the largest maker of embroidery hoops in the world. This 1916 ad is for their more popular style, the Duchess. (I have one of those, too.)

1915 Ad for Duchess hoops

My Duchess and Princess hoops came to me from an estate auction in central Iowa (where I grew up) in the early 1990s. I don’t know their provenance before that, or anything about the needlewomen who owned and used them before me, but I can say these things were built to last! And they are built well. The hype from the ads wasn’t. It’s all true. They really do have the best tension and hold of any hoop, ever—certainly any I’ve ever used, at least. Unlike modern hoops, they’re not adjustable. They don’t need to be. (Technically, Gibbs calls them “automatically adjustable.”) The secret of the Princess hoop is what Gibbs called “the bowspring,” that curvy band of metal shown below (click for full size):

Hoop Spring

It allows the hoop to flex to fit thick or thin fabrics and hold them taut while you stitch. I’ve stitched everything from lightweight needlepoint canvas to heavily-fulled wool kersey, to the finest Irish linens and cotton batistes, and it’s brilliant at all of them. The wood is finely turned, and further burnished to incredible smoothness by its long lifetime in use. The 6″ size is easy on the hands and nicely portable. Gibbs made these hoops in seven sizes, from 4 to 12″. My Duchess hoop is one of the larger ones, and I also have a 10″ Princess from a different auction. But the 6s are my favorites.

1905 Trade Ads

October 1906 trade magazine write-up on “Improved Embroidery Hoops,” featuring the Princess automatically adjustable hoop. Click for larger version.

One of my favorite aspects of being a needlewoman is the connection I feel to generations, to centuries, of needlewomen before me. I don’t have a personal needlework heritage in my own family (my mom was/is a woodworker; and although my grandmothers each sewed all their clothes, stitching was not a pastime we shared or ever did together). So I am connected to my stitching forebears most strongly through my equipment.

So when the Historical Sew Monthly August challenge, “Heritage and Heirlooms,” came up, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.

“We’re honouring history and the future by celebrating our own personal heritage, or creating something that will be a heirloom for the next generation of sewers and makers as we:

re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations.”

Badge Extreme Closeup

Although I’ve been stitching nearly all my life, I have only recently joined the Embroiderers Guild of America. One of our first tasks as members is to design and stitch a namebadge to wear to meetings (or they will fine you! A whole 25 cents!!). A while back I stitched (in my 95-year-old hoop!) this little fleur-de-lis, but never made it up into anything. Since I use that piece as my avatar on my online stitching groups, it seemed the appropriate candidate for my badge. I pulled it out (found the floss to go with it!), and added my name and the date I joined the EGA.

Finished Badge Closeup

The back of the badge is a scissor (and class fees!) pocket. The backing fabric is a scrap of printed corduroy from my very first “historical” costume ever, a cloak I made in high school. I still love that fabric (and have worn the cloak as recently as this century). That jacquard trim wandered into the party, and the scissor charm and the beautiful fleur-de-lis scissors were birthday gifts from Milord.

Scissor Pocket Back

I am thrilled to pieces with how this little thing came out, even if it did get a bit carried away! Gilding the lily, anyone?! I have done all kinds of needlework in my lifetime and don’t seem to have any particular style or leaning toward what I make. But this piece… this one is very, very me. I think it’s a perfect expression of my personal needlework heritage, and I will love wearing it.

badge worn

whitework hanky finished

click to zoom

…But while I was prepping this blog post, doing the research on my hoops’ history, I realized I needed to stitch something from the hoop’s own era! So I whipped up this little whitework hanky. The design is from Wm. Briggs’s Album of Transfer Patterns from c.1900 (Dover 1986 reprint—also period-appropriate to when I began using the hoops!). As my 1905 sister stitcher might well have done, I sent away for the fancy work (handkerchiefs) via mail order. The cotton is fine/sheer enough that I was able to trace it directly over the page in the book. The book does not suggest which stitches or weights of thread to use, but the design itself does. I used primarily a mix of stem stitch and lazy daisies (detached chainstitch), with a couple fly stitches and straight stitches tossed in for good measure. Two strands of floss for the bolder bits; one for the finer ones. I like the way the stranded cotton photographs against the sheer hanky fabric.

So there you have it. From 1905 to 2015, my beloved heirloom hoop in good use.

Challenge Details:

What the item is: 100 Years of Embroidery Heritage. Whitework Handkerchief, and Renaissance Revival Chatelaine, stitched on an antique embroidery hoop from 1905.

The Challenge: #8, August, Heirlooms & Heritage

Fabric: For the whitework, cotton batiste ready-made handkerchief with crochet cotton lace. For the chatelaine, natural linen with metallic gold accents. The backing fabric is vintage printed corduroy from the early 1990s.

Pattern: Whitework, Wm Briggs & Co Album of Transfer Patterns, 1900. Chatelaine, Fleur de lis motif from Abbey Lane Designs “A New Beginning” spot sampler, 2005 by Susan Gastler. Construction, My own, based on previous finishes.

Year: Whitework, 1905. Chatelaine, 2015.

Notions: Whitework, DMC stranded cotton. Coton a broder would have been the preferred choice then and now, but stranded cotton was also widely available and what I happened to have on hand. Chatelaine, DMC rayon embroidery floss, jacquard trim, cardstock & batting for mounting, twisted cord, scissors charm, and pearl-head straight pins.

How historically accurate is it? The whitework is extremely accurate: Original period design, stitched on reproduction (or rather, ongoing-production!) period fancy goods, with authentic antique equipment from the era. About the only inaccurate part was the electric light I used to stitch it by! The chatelaine is also “accurate” to 2015—a modern heirloom using heirloom tools and modern/vintage materials. 🙂

Hours to complete: Whitework, about an hour. Chatelaine embroidery, unknown. Chatelaine finishing, a little over two hours, maybe? (Unless we’re counting Thinking Time, in which case it’s closer to about 10!)

First worn: I debuted the chatelaine last week at my EGA meeting. I don’t really know when I’ll have an occasion to carry the hanky—perhaps it will go in a hope chest to be passed down or discovered by someone in another 80 years.

Total cost: Oh, I wish I knew! The hoops came in an auction lot twenty-five years ago or so, and I have absolutely no idea how much they cost or what they might be worth. I have seen them on ebay and etsy for wildly varying costs, and typically they come in lots of several older hoops. I think you could expect to pay around $20 US for a lot at auction; probably much less at a yard sale or thrift store for a single hoop. The hankies were 3 for $10. The embroidery design came from a Dover book that I purchased, but many similar period needlework books are digitized online for free. For the chatelaine, everything came from stash except the pins.

This has been my very favorite HSF challenge so far. What a wonderful way to do honor to those who came before us, and to the ongoing work that we do.

(And for anyone keeping track, these mark Projects #6 and #7 of my Project 41 Challenge.)



An Eventful Post & Project Update Wednesday, Aug 12 2015 

So I actually have a job, if you can call it that. I do something that brings in income, but it’s, as Sheryl Crow might say, a comic job—sometimes it seems almost silly to call it a job, when I’m having so much fun!

Pym and Steph

At Bartle Hall with borg.com editor Hank Pym (aka CJ Bunce)

This weekend (last weekend now, I guess) was the inaugural Kansas City Comicon #KCCC2015 where borg.com and I shared a booth again! I signed books for fans and hung out with The Cool Kids.


With local authors Colleen Boyd and Bethany Hagen

Sunday I joined fellow local authors Colleen Boyd (far right) and Bethany Hagen (center) for a panel on YA fantasy. Our intrepid moderator did a fabulous job steering our conversation of writing process, feminism, and teen agency. Well done, crew!

Friday was, surprisingly, my best sale day. Call me cynical, but I suspect it had something to do with the awesome steampunk outfit Milord got me for my birthday.

ecb at kccc 2015 day 1

Saturday was our big cosplay day. CJ/Milord reprised his Radagast, and I debuted a new Hobbit ensemble, which was a big hit, not just with the fans, but with guests as well!

sean rad mim

Yes, that’s Samwise himself, actor Sean Astin

We were invited to join the group photo that LOTR cosplay group Springfield Fellowship took with Sean, but you’ll have to take my word for it, since we haven’t gotten our copy yet (stay tuned!). In the meanwhile, you may have seen this, from the same photoshoot:

All the Springfield Fellowship costumes were amazing, but I was particularly taken with this dwarf (rarely seen!):

Stacey Dwarf

As always, it was wonderful to see all the fans, friends, family, and fellow cosplayers out at KCCC15, and hoping for another great show next summer!

A very quick Project 41 Update! Thanks to Epic Cosplay Projects, I’ve completed Projects 2, 3, 4, and 5!

hobbit chemise underpetticoat wip    Phone petticoat

Hobbit bonnet

2.) Quilted petticoat, 3.) Chemise 4.) Outer petticoat, and 5.) hat! More details on the Hobbit Page!

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