Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Getting M'lady Dressed

Whoa.  Where on earth did January get to?

I left the day after Christmas to go out to Tennessee to visit my parents, fully anticipating doing some crafting with my mom, the Craftmeister herself.  About all the crafting we did, though, was shopping and sorting - it rained nearly every day I was there and was really cold (in the 30's & 40's), so we really didn't get out that much, come to think of it.  I did help her sort and cull her stash of papercrafting supplies.

Loosely translated, that meant I helped her go through her 5 drawer bin storage of stickers of every make & size you can imagine.  I tried to make categories that would make sense to her after I left, since I wouldn't be there to help her find something she knew she had, but could never remember what drawer it was in.  Alas, even my herculean efforts went for naught, because she had seen a set of floral stickers while we were sorting that she wanted to use for her Christmas thank you notes, only they weren't in the "Floral" drawer.  So she ended up calling me to try to figure out where they were.  I remembered that particular set, because they were semi-holographic (which I would never use myself - I think they are a bit on the gaudy side, but hey, that's just me), and told her I was SURE I had put them into the Floral drawer.  Which could barely close.  Which meant she had to pull tons of stickers out of that drawer looking for this set.  And still couldn't find them.  Argh.  Turns out they were in the Butterfly stash.  Apparently, I'd seen the butterflies on them and figured she'd want them with the rest of the butterflies, and not the floral.  Whoops.

I also finished a kit that my mom had stashed in her "crap room" from eons ago - it was a scarf that used bulky yarn and you were supposed to weave it into a long piece of netting.  I'd never seen anything like that, and she thought because I mentioned it, I would want to have it.  I said no, I really had no use for any more scarves (I have tons that I've hand knit for myself and never wear), but I'd be more than happy to do it up for her so she could donate it or give it as a gift.  It actually didn't look too bad once it was done, but I still didn't want it, LOL.

The only other "crafting" I got up to while I was there was photographing the nutty birds that were coming up to the bird feeders on the back deck, and doing some of my freezer cooking for my folks, so they would have some fun things to pull out and cook after I'd left.  That was my Christmas gift to them.  Trust me, I wasn't being cheap - they have so much stuff they are trying to get rid of, the last thing they needed was more, well, STUFF.  So I thought I'd leave them with about a dozen or so home-cooked meals.  My dad and I went upstairs and copied all the recipes so that they would have instructions for everything that had gone into the freezer.  True to form, he called me about two days after I got home, wondering what he was supposed to do with the Lemon Chicken.  Seems the instructions that we'd copied (twice, on that particular one) had gone missing out of the stack that they'd carefully clipped together so they wouldn't go missing.

Once I got back, I thought I'd start going through my own crafting and sewing supplies and start culling things I know I don't need, won't use, need to go elsewhere...which doesn't exactly make for interesting blog reading.  Somewhere along the way I picked up that nasty stomach bug that's been making the rounds and then everything ground to a screeching halt.


So now that I'm up and running again, getting more client calls, I decided that I'm going to just keep working on the de-stashing/finishing UFOs project a little at a time until I get it done.  This year.  This year, I'm going to get it done.

Some of the de-stashing and project-finishing includes working on a job that my neighbor asked me to do, oh, months ago.  (Yes.  I'm cringing as I'm reading this.)  You might remember my neighbor - she's the one with the amazing collection of antiques that I blogged about here.  She brought over an antique boudoir lamp that her mother had handmade, probably back in the 30's or 40's.  It had a shade frame that sheltered a small bulb unit.  Over the frame sat a porcelain lady - or half of her, anyway.  The shade was actually meant to be her skirt.  Her mother had hand pleated, hand stitched, hand gathered, etc the fabric around the bust of the doll, in essence sewing the skirt onto the torso.  Which meant that to be washed, it had to be unpicked completely (very delicate operation, let me tell you), then very carefully hand washed (I left that part to my neighbor.  I was scared out of my mind.), then resewn to the torso of the doll.  She washed the fabric the best she could, then returned it to me to sew onto the doll's torso again.  I was still scared out of my mind, so it sat protected in a bag in my living room for months.  I used the mental excuse that I wanted to be able to devote time to it completely, not between client jobs, so it had to wait until I had time.

No more excuses.  This is the year, remember?

Here is the frame of the lamp, with the underskirt billowing up over the doll's head (a la Marilyn Monroe?):

The Big Reveal
 Clever, no?  My neighbor's mom was nothing if not ingenious.  She hand-wrapped the frame with satin ribbon, to protect the underskirt from catching on the bare wire.  Brilliant, really, when you think about it.  It also keeps the wire from rusting onto the underskirt.  (Did I mention she was ingenious?  Just wait - there's more...)

Anyone who has relatives who lived through the Great Depression (the first one, not the most recent one - side-stepping any politics here, thank you very much) knows that women had to make do back then, and most of them carried the idea of making things to last forward for, like, ever.  So when a pillowcase or a set of sheets became stained or torn, you could still cut it apart and use it again.  For an underskirt for a doll lamp, for instance.

Okay, history lesson done for today.  Time to hand-stitch & hand-gather this underskirt back onto the doll torso.  The doll's torso is maybe about 3 inches in circumference (must be that diet, darn her).  The underskirt?  Probably about 4 or 5 FEET around.  I kid you not.  Lots.  Of.  STITCHES.  With a healthy dose of OMG while pulling the antique fabric into a gather. (Did I mention I was nervous scared out of my wits?)

Gathered back onto the torso.

Full, dreamy, flowy underskirt.  

Now for the REALLY scary part.  The overskirt and the bodice were made from some really lightweight, woven fabric that was probably part of a crinoline or fancy semi-sheer curtains or something.  I'm making up stories for all of this stuff because I have no idea what it was before it became a lamp.  My neighbor doesn't know, either, other than that her mother thrifted all the fabric, and designed and hand-stitched the entire ensemble.

Scary fabric.  Hand hemmed, hand-stitched.  Fraying.  Delicate.
(Did I mention scary?)

 Dude.  Once false move and this thing would have shredded.  Every time I pierced it with the needle & thread, I was having a miniature heart attack.  This is why:

The bottom of the fabric was shredding every time I touched it to adjust.
This isn't going to make it through another spring cleaning, that's for sure.

 I hand stitched both the underskirt and the overskirt - there was no way in Hades I was going to even attempt to run either of these through my sewing machine.  I did this in the afternoon, to maximize the amount of light I could work by, because I didn't want to take any chances.  After making gathering stitches nearly all the way around the skirts, I had to lift them over the doll's torso and then complete the stitching - basically, stitching them onto the doll permanently.  I imagine she could have put buttons or something like that into the fabric to make it easier on and off, but that's not what she chose to do.  With all those gathers, I can't even imagine how on earth she would have been able to get buttons & buttonholes into the fabric anyway.  She could have put a casing into the waist and used cord to gather it, but that would have been just as much work and wouldn't have resulted in the nice soft pleats.  My respect for this woman just went up a couple more notches, actually.

M'lady with her overskirt, gathered & hand stitched closed.
Time to get 'er into her bodice.

 Bodice time.  I want you to take a look - a very close look (you can click on the photo to bring it up in a new window, full size) - at the amount of detailing that this woman put into this dress.  The bodice piece is hand ruched (you can still see her original stitching), and the upper part (the off-shoulder part - I'm no expert in period costuming so I have no idea what this is called) is ALSO hand ruched, hand couched with gold cord, and has little, tiny, ribbon roses hand sewn to it.

I.  Am.  In.  AWE.

And this was all done BY HAND.

 Bam.  I am humbled by my neighbor's ancestors once again.

M'lady, completely dressed once more.
Her handmaiden may need some counseling, though.

I was mentally kicking myself because I hadn't photographed her BEFORE I started the project, so I couldn't remember how my neighbor's mom had finished the bodice/waist area - both the top of the two skirts and the lower edge of the bodice were unfinished, but there was no stitching like they had been sewn together, and there were no more pieces (like a waist wrap or anything), so I wasn't sure how to finish it off.  I decided that since the porcelain doll had blue ribbons in her hair, that I would use some satin ribbon that was almost the right proportion to the dress, and tie it in a bow and leave it trailing like you might see in the Regency era.  (OK, if that's not accurate, please feel free to comment and educate me - like I said, I'm no expert in period costuming.)

I think M'lady was pleased.
I know my neighbor was.

Sorry, I didn't think to photograph her plugged in.  It just didn't seem - well - appropriate to light her up.

Next time:  Neko's blanket project goes to the dogs.

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