Sunday, March 18, 2012

Outdone by a Ten-Year-Old and Other Humbling Events

The last post I made (Going Polka Dotty) has become my all-time most viewed post.  It garnered a whole lot of interest, and rightly so - and I'm hoping it won't be too much longer before I will be able to show you a bit more of Son #1's girlfriend and her creativity.

Knowing now that the girlfriend has that innate craftiness & a creative bent, my neighbor and good friend Chris brought over a bag full of purses that she thought the girlfriend would enjoy either using, upcycling, or passing on to her friends.  There was a story behind every one of them and my son & his girlfriend were really interested in knowing the history.  So Chris started talking about her family's history in crafting & stitchwork, and then invited us over to see some of her handiwork and that of her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-aunts, and other family members.  She showed us some little purses that her mother & grandmother used to carry with them to special occasion events.  Be prepared to be rocked out of your socks!

Chris was trying to describe to Son #1 and his girlfriend what Petit Point meant (pronounced "petty point").  For those of you who don't do needlework, Petit Point is simply a smaller version of needlepoint, using canvas or fabric that had much tighter weave than what you typically see on a needlepoint canvas today.  As a matter of fact, until today, I had NO IDEA how small Petit Point could actually get.  I couldn't even see these tiny stitches without some high-powered glasses!

A Petit Point purse, about 6.5 inches wide and about 5 inches tall.
A close-up of the beautiful closure on the frame.  And now you can see more
clearly the tiny, tiny stitches that were on the surface.  
Amazingly, this purse had a compact stitched to match.  Inside were a couple of old
calling cards from Chris' grandmother & grandfather.  This compact is about 2.5 inches wide.

Hold onto your hats - you ain't seen nothin' yet!

A purse that had belonged to Chris' grandmother or great-grandmother.  You
can click on this image and see it larger, to get an idea of the detail in the ballroom scene.

The gorgeous frame clasp.  We were trying to figure out exactly what
"Haskenbale" meant.  The purse was made in Austria and was lined with
the most beautiful yellow silk, and you could see the handstitching where it
attached to the frame if you looked carefully.


I counted (with a magnifying glass):  that's about 40 stitches to the inch, folks.

The reverse side, with a tableau of knights.  Or maybe they were actors portraying knights.

Made in Austria.  

This purse's matching compact.  This one was about 3 inches wide.  

I thought about attempting to do something on this scale and couldn't even wrap my head around it.  Just holding a piece of history in my hands, though, I thought was enough.

Turns out, I was wrong.

Chris had taken us around her house to show us the various pieces she and her family members had done over the years, and they ranged from needlepoint pillows to chair seats to bell-pulls (and we were joking between the two of us that, darn it, no one ever seems to come when you pull them....).  Then she took us upstairs and started showing us some family samplers.  There was one brightly colored cross-stitched sampler in her bedroom that was dated 1934, with a Pennsylvania Dutch type picture and alphabet.  But nothing could prepare me for the sampler she had framed and in her guest bedroom.  (For any of you unfamiliar with what a sampler is, click here.)

Here is my giant piece of humble pie:

Combination sampler, most likely on linen, with alphabets done in buttonhole stitching (the top set - those are not knots, they are tiny.  Little.  Buttonholes.),
cross stitching (script and block lettering), and candle-wicking stitches.  

Just look at those tiny, tiny (did I mention TINY?) buttonholes making up the first set of lettering.
The top portion is crewel work, done in a sort of feathering stitch, some in chain stitching, some in
split-stitch.  I think parts of the columns on the sides were done by couching, but I could be wrong.

Now the Humble Pie part. Students of needlearts were expected to sign and date their work, which this young lady did.

If you thought you saw that wrong, you didn't.  This work was signed:
"Sarah Catherine By Me Aged 10    1818"

Talk about being owned.  Here I was, so proud of myself a few weeks back for being able to size up a dress pattern and drafting one from scratch - and being so scared to do it - I was now holding in my hands a stunning exhibit of hand stitching perfection that had survived intact nearly 200 years (thanks most likely to a very loving and appreciative family), done by a 10-year-old little girl.

Speechless.  Thank you, Chris, for allowing us to geek out over such a cool set of family heirlooms.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Going Polka Dotty

At long last - I'm able to post the most amazing refashion!  I've been teaching Son #1's girlfriend how to sew, but I certainly don't have to teach her how to think or be creative - she has such a wealth of fresh ideas and can see so much potential in the most common garment - and even though her sewing skills are still in development, she has no fear of reaching her goal.  Such an awesome student to have!

We went to the Assistance League, where I have been getting most of my garments to refashion myself - she was so intrigued with all the bits and pieces I've brought home, that she requested that I take her on a trip to see the place for herself.  It was so worth it when she spotted this maternity skirt - her eyes just lit up and I could almost hear the gears turning!

Silly me, I didn't take a photo of the skirt all in one piece (she was so eager to get started, I swear as soon as we hit the house the scissors started flying) but here it is right before it got really chopped up:

She wanted the skirt of the dress to retain that cute flippy look ,
with the underskirt intact.  We sewed the bottom part together
where we cut it from the original skirt so that the layers
wouldn't shift.  In theory.

She had a design in mind and brought over a dress that she had borrowed from a friend of hers that fit pretty well and she liked a lot.  From there, we found a similar bodice pattern in my Lutterloh collection, took her measurements, and drafted a fitted bodice pattern:

We then made a muslin from this pattern, tried it on her, and I pinned and adjusted it for fit (not photographed).  From there, we cut the outer pieces and the lining pieces from what was left of the top part of the maternity skirt.  Yes, she lined it.  Lining a dress (or jacket, or what have you) used to scare the bejeezus out of me, until I started sewing the maternity dresses for Jules Ford just this past year.  Yet she tackled it without hesitation, only asking me how to get from point A to point B, and soldiering through it all.  Such bravery!

She learned a lot in the process (and quite possibly some choice swear words from me, as those darn skirt layers kept shifting, and shifting, and shifting.....): how to draft a pattern of sorts, how to make a muslin and adjust it, how to line a dress with a fitted bodice, how to insert a zipper, how to gather the skirt, and some of the hand-finishing techniques used on a lined dress.  Just blows my mind; at that age, I think I was still getting over making a mediocre C- on the simplest A-line Home Ec skirt project ever.  That experience almost made me give up sewing forever.

All of this was accomplished over the course of about three weeks, with the last of the hand-finishing done this afternoon.  She could only work on it in spurts on the weekends, because she carries quite a full load at school.  But it was oh, so worth it:

Mission accomplished!
Nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from wearing something
you created, from the design idea through to the finished garment.
This bodice fits her perfectly, and we can use the adjusted muslin to
work on future projects.  Bonus!

Tried to get a better shot of the bodice - but my camera just hated
focusing on that black and white fabric.  I think her smile was
more important, anyway.

Another view - we tried so hard to keep
the flirtiness of the underskirt/overskirt, but that
top layer of sheer chiffon-type fabric almost
drove us nuts.  But she persevered!
Polka Dotty!

(These four photos were taken by Son # 1)

And yes, for those of you wondering whether the Sewing Assistant had a hand paw in things, I can assure you he did.  Here he is, consulting with her about her next refashion:

"Now about this seam, here....this is what I think you should do...."

....and consulting with me, over camera settings and such:

"Here.  Let me help with those buttons....or maybe that dangling lens cap...."