Monday, November 24, 2014

Take Back Halloween 2014 Costume Contest

From left to right: LaSiren, Morrigan, Ching Shih, and Anne Bonny/Mary Read
Take Back Halloween is a website I've admired for a long time. The site, created by Suzanne Scoggins, a writer and women's history specialist, in 2011, aims to provide girls and women with a range of creative, do-it-yourself costume ideas. 

The site offers costume ideas in four categories: Glamour Girls, Goddesses and Legends, Notable Women, and Queens, encouraging girls and women to “celebrate your heritage,” “explore the female divine,” and  “honor your personal heroine” without going into the realms of ethnic stereotypes and oversexualization.

“You go into a party store and the only astronaut costume is in the male sections in large sizes. If a girl wants to be Sally Ride, the message is she can’t. If there’s a girl costume, it’s an orange tube dress that looks like a Hooters waitress…or a sexy policewoman or sexy firefighter. The message we’re giving our daughters and sons is incredible,” said Scoggins in a 2013 interview with Today.com

I was so inspired by Take Back Halloween that this year, I wanted to create a Demeter costume based on the costume on the site. Though it was far too cold this year to sit in front of my home in a sheet to hand out Halloween candy, I still remain very inspired by the breadth of amazing costume ideas on the site.

This year I wore my Bronzino Gown again, and decided to submit my costume to Take Back Halloween's annual costume contest as Vittoria Colonna, an Italian Renaissance noblewoman and poet. I was absolutely floored by all of the amazing entries this year and felt honored just to be among such a group of creative and talented women. 


I was absolutely ecstatic to learn that I was named one of the winners in the Take Back Halloween 2014 Costume Contest, earning a Special Achievement award for Outstanding Artistry, Notable Woman Category! I am beyond honored to not only be listed as a winner among so many impressive entries, but also to be a part of such a great movement. 



Earlier this year, I wrote an article for The Pioneer Times, the William Paterson University Communication Department-sponsored student-run newspaper, about Take Back Halloween and the sexy Halloween costume takeover. Below is an excerpt of my article, with more information on Take Back Halloween and the Halloween costume industry:

“It’s about bringing fun and diversity back into Halloween,” said Scoggins in a 2013 interview with Today.com. “Sexy costumes for women went from being an option to a requirement.” 
The Halloween industry is larger than we may realize. The National Retail Federation predicts that this Halloween, more than two-thirds of Americans will be buying Halloween costumes. 
Though many women’s costumes aren’t specifically labeled “sexy” or “sassy,” the miniskirts, body-hugging fabrics and cleavage-bearing cuts say otherwise. Spirit Halloween even sells a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles corset and matching panty.“There’s nothing wrong with sexy (for adults), and if you want to go that route, fine,” said Scoggins. “I just want a full range of options.” 
The scary part is that sexy Halloween costumes have turned into a polyester arms race, with a greater number of oversexualized costumes apearing each year and increasingly in the teen and girl categories. 
Of BuyCostumes.com’s selection of teen costumes, nearly 30 %  had hemlines that barely covered the buttcheek. Not to worry, the rest only barely covered the thighs. And consider that costumes that were once unisex now offer a bodycon version, such as Crayola’s classic crayons. 
This is exactly what Take Back Halloween! is fighting with nearly 100 costume ideas, including women you may have learned about in school like Ada Lovelace, Persephone and Queen Victoria and icons like Diana Ross and Grace Kelly.  
The site also features lesser known history makers: Liliuokalani (the last queen of Hawaii), Wu Zetian (the only woman to rule as Empress of China), Mama Quilla (the Inca goddess of the moon), Enheduanna (the earliest known author in human history), and Asase Yaa (the earth goddess of the Ghanan Asante people). 
Each costume page includes illustrations or period artwork portraying a woman, a brief biography and list of her accomplishments, and instructions for creating the costume. The costumes, which cater to women of all shapes and sizes, involve no sewing to put together and only the occasional double-sided tape or safety pins.
In our over-sexualized society, a resource like Take Back Halloween is critical to show young men and women that women are more than sexual objects. It is also refreshing to see costumes that differ from the thousands of identical polyester gypsies, Disney princesses, witches, and pop culture icons that roam the streets on Halloween.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Embroidered Monogram Satin Pouches

You might remember this purple satin from my Hermione Beaded Bag. I still have so much of this purple polyester satin; it frays so badly, and lets off that obnoxious polyester sheen, that I am hesitant to use it even as a lining.

At the end of August I had the idea of turning that purple satin into little drawstring gift bags! I made about 4 plain drawstring satin pouches to package a few souvenirs for my colleagues. Then it occurred to me that these little pouches would look great with an embroidered monogram!

I just finished whipping these up at the end of October...for once I have my Christmas gifts made well before Christmas! I made three bags, monogrammed with an "A," an "L," and a double monogram "JR." The monograms are made in DMC cotton thread and worked in a simple and quick chain stitch. Each monogram is an original design!

The pouches each began as a single rectangle, with the upper, lower, and side edges serged to prevent fraying. The monogram and eyelets for the ribbon drawstring were then embroidered, and the top edge turned twice and sewn. The pouches fasten with a narrow pink satin ribbon.





Embroidering on the satin was difficult, as the satin had a tendency to pucker and snag. The pouches were too small for me to use my embroidery hoop, and using just my hand to regulate the tension worsened the puckering issue.

This was a very fun and rewarding project! The satin pouches can be used to hold jewelry, spare change, or small gifts. They were an easy, personalized gift which the recipients loved!

Have you ever embroidered on satin? What was your experience with that?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Garment Cutting Guide & Fashion Plate Hoarde

Loren at The Costumer's Closet recently published a "Bits and Bobs" segment that really caught my attention. I love the links she shares in these segments, but one link in particular made me jump out of my seat.

Loren linked to "a treasure trove" of garment cutting guides from the 19th and 20th century: Siam Costumes, a database of hundreds of advertisements, periodicals, photographs, catalogs, magazines, and pattern books! There are also fashion plates of ancient, Renaissance, cultural and fancy dress costume.

Below are some snippets from my favorite resources on that site; prepare for drool-inducing, swoon-worthy designs!

Les Elegances Parissienes, 1921
El Salon De La Moda, 1902

The Designer, Empire House Toilette, January 1900
Sears Roebuck Co. Spring/Summer 1938, Maternity Garments
Peterson's Magazine, June 1873
Peterson's Magazine, 1873
The Postilion Girdle (it has a peplum in the back!)
Slipper Embroidery Pattern
19th century Mardi Gras Costume...a fish?

One negative about the site is that not every resource is organized; in one source, I was able to find fashion plates from the 1870s, 1900s, and 1940s. I recommend setting aside a rainy day or two to explore all of the amazing and inspirational resources on this site!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Scarlet Letter Embroidery


I completed this fun embroidery project in early 2014 as part of an oral project on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter for one of my American Literature courses. The Professor required our projects to bring in an "extra" element to make them stand out, i.e. Fun Fact handouts. This was my second time reading this novel and it's one of my favorites, even if it is a bit difficult to digest.
Her attire, which indeed, she had wrought for the occasion in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer—so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time—was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.
"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it? Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?"
"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, "if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!"
... Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puritan, settlement, with all the townspeople assembled, and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne—yes, at herself—who stood on the scaffold of the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom.
I used red cotton thread instead of gold thread because I had never worked with gold thread before, nor did I know where to find it. I used a large scrap of black poly-cotton since this was just for a demonstration; I could always trim the fabric a bit and pin the letter to a bodice.

I used the following image as a pattern. I found it on Google but forgot to note the source! I didn't include all of the design elements for sake of time. To transfer the design onto my black fabric, I printed out the design and pinned it to my fabric. I then put the fabric and design into an embroidery hoop, placed the hoop over an industrial flashlight, and used the flashlight as a makeshift lightbox with with to trace the design onto the fabric.


Note: pictures have been brightened to show detail. They are not true to color.
I used this Scarlet Letter Embroidery project as a way to learn new embroidery stitches and techniques. I used Mary Corbet's video tutorials, and each tutorial is linked below:
  1. Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch
  2. Stem Stitch
  3. Satin Stitch
  4. Chain Stitch
  5. French Knots
  6. Split Stitch
  7. Double Chain Stitch



The Scarlet Letter Embroidery was a great project, allowing me to expand my embroidery skills and explore a famous American novel in a whole new way. My classmates enjoyed the Scarlet Letter visual and I think it added to our perception of the flashy and extravagant "A" that Hester Prynne makes.

Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? What are your thoughts on the book?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Female Hobbit Costume: Honeycomb Smocked Apron


Ever since Katafalk released her excellent honeycomb smocking tutorial, I've been itching to create a Medieval smocked apron. I think this is really a quick and satisfyingly easy way to add a little extra to an article of clothing that would otherwise be super boring (it's a hemmed rectangle, after all).

I didn't get too fancy, however, and did just 4 rows of smocking, which I think does the trick. It really adds to the homemade, Hobbit-y feel and adds character to the costume. The waistband and ties is cut in one continuous strip of fabric which is entirely handsewn with an invisible whip stitch.

The smocked apron is made from unbleached cotton muslin. Originally it was going to be made in a beige slighter darker than this, but I had difficulties finding fabric that satisfied my color, weight, and price requirements. The apron is 31 inches long and 23.5 inches wide. The smocked area is 12.5 inches wide (including the side hems). The waistband/ties are 66 inches long.


This is before I pressed the waistband/tie, and you can see the original topstitching of my machine. It looks much nicer handsewn! The hints of blue in the smocking is my chalk which has yet to be washed out.

On the hem, I used this mitered corner technique because I wanted to reduce bulk at the corners and create a more professional finish. I also used this technique when I made my embroidered handkerchief!


I was actually running out of time the night before this costume was to be worn, so I let my client know that I would create a gathered apron (with the waistband/ties topstitched) and that she could return the apron to me later and that I would take it apart and make it how we had agreed. I was really disappointed with the topstitching my Singer Simple did--the feed dogs seemed unable to feed the fabric evenly, so stitches kept slanting. My machine also seemed incapable of handling more than 2 layers of the muslin smoothly--gah!!

Have you ever tried smocking? If so, what did you make and what is your favorite smocking technique?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween 2014: The Bronzino Gown, Again


Originally, my Halloween costume for this year was going to be Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest. I got the idea nearly a year ago from Take Back Halloween, a site that provides hundreds of easy DIY costume ideas for women who don't want to wear a sexy costume. The Demeter costume was refreshingly easy: take sheet, pin sheet at shoulders, cinch with belt, wear flower garland. I wanted to take it a few steps further by creating an Ionic Chiton instead of a Doric Chiton, and embroider the hem of my green sheet chiton with acanthus and grape motifs.

Doric Chiton via Take Back Halloween
Ionic Chiton via Melina Design Studio
In the weeks leading up to Halloween I began to search for affordable greenery for the garland sash, cornucopia, and wreath crown. In order to have a decent attempt at Demeter I'd have to spend much more than I wanted to. Then the forecast for that week was cold, cold, cold, and I decided to just toss that idea and opt for the more cold weather-friendly Italian Renaissance Bronzino gown I made last year.

I was very disappointed with how my hair turned out last year, and for me the hair prettymuch ruined the look. My fine hair kept sliding out of the braids and was a total mess. This year, I showered the night before, blow dried my hair and then periodically moistened it with a spray bottle, and braided my hair in almost a dozen small braids. The day of, I just undid the braids, combed my hair gently at the scalp to cover up the "seams" between the braided sections and put my hair in a ponytail. I gently loosened the ponytail, split my hair, and tucked the ponytail in. It was very easy, relatively quick, similar to hairstyles in mid 16th century paintings, and held all day!

A few stray hairs, but I love the overall texture and historically "unwashed hair" look this style gave me!

Back view of the tucked ponytail
I also tried not wearing a lightly padded bra this year, as last year it caused unsightly wrinkles in the bodice and the straps kept slipping into view. Without a supportive undergarment though, I felt very "flat" and like my boobs had become "lost" in the bodice...perhaps I should have worn a tank top with a shelf bra to prevent the "sliding" sensation...

I love wearing this outfit (for the 4th time! I'm really getting use out of this $25 investment!) and feel so beautiful, no matter how "flat" my chest looks. I feel graceful and elegant and sexy in that grace and elegance, in the dignity and power associated with the dress of a woman of considerable rank. I also think that my physical features really "work" with the Italian Renaissance: I'm of Meditteranean descent (Portuguese) and my olive skin and angular face just won't look right with a robe a l'anglaise (though I'll make 18th century clothing anyway). I put on this whole getup to hand out candy, and certainly the best part was seeing the children get excited about my outfit. Several parents even asked me to pose in pictures with their children!


Mmmm...beautiful fall foliage in the background!




What did you dress up as for Halloween this year?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Female Hobbit Costume: Skirt


This skirt began with confidence. "Sewing skirts is easy," I thought, "you just sew up some rectangles, and a waistband and closure, ta-da!"

That is, skirts like this are easy when they fasten with a zipper or buttons; an entire elastic waistband in a casing is about as easy as it gets. This front waistband of this skirt was to be a flat, normal waistband, but the back was to be elastic in a casing. I spent several days flip-flopping between different methods and theories of construction, at one point praising the feasibility of this style and at another agonizing over a possibly horrid waistband. I even took photos of this skirt at every step during construction to create a tutorial, but now the photos are more like a cautionary tale.

The Female Hobbit Costume Skirt is made of 2 yards of fabric stitched into a tube and hemmed. All of the raw inside edges are pinked. This was my first attempt at an inseam pocket, which I self-drafted and sewed without issue.

The top edge is gathered. I used front waist and back waist measurements, as our bodies are not symmetrical and tummies tend to stick out more than backs. The front half of the waistband correlates to the front waist measurement; the interfacing is catchstitched since I didn't have iron-on interfacing. The back half of the waistband is larger to accommodate the elastic. The total waistband circumference is the bust measurement and the skirt is meant to be slipped on over the bust.

Using the elastic casing method for this skirt wouldn't work because the seam allowances kept getting in the way and the non-roll elastic rolled so easily that just getting it through a few inches of waistband had it curled to such a degree as to be nonfunctional. I ended up using a zig-zag stitch to secure the elastic to the outer waistband. The hardest part then became stitching the rest of the waistband over the elastic. Stitching in the ditch and topstitching, both valiant efforts on my part, didn't work and the stitches had a hard time getting the waistband without getting the elastic.




The end result is, in my opinion, messy. Add in the fact that this elastic easily stretched out and became several inches too big for my client after a day of wear...I decided to take out the waistband, make the entire thing a flat, interfaced, normal waistband with either a zipper or button closure.

Do you normally fasten costume skirts with zippers or button closures? Have there ever been moments when your best-intended sewing plans completely fell through?

Museum Mystery Boxes: 1867 Black Silk Mourning Gown

This was the most stunning and surprising find of the antique goodies I found packed away inconspicuously in the Kearny Museum's attic. Right there, on the shelf, was an unassuming cardboard box with a piece of notebook paper taped to it reading:

"BLACK MOIRE TAFETA (sic) GOWN
CIRCA 1867
(GIFT OF MR. FRANCIS BENNET
OF JERSEY CITY)"

*begin heavy breathing*

In a mad rush of adrenaline I removed the box from its dark corner of the attic and brought it into the museum. To my utter surprise, I found this inside:


This nearly 150-year-old gem had been rolled up and stuffed into that cardboard box!
Note: If you own an antique garment and wish to store it, lay it flat on a clean cotton sheet or a large piece of acid-free tissue paper. Lay pieces of tissue paper or cotton inside the garment to help support its shape and reduce stress on fragile areas. Cover the garment with tissue paper and another cotton sheet. Gently roll the garment (folds create points of stress that, especially in silk textiles, accelerate deterioration) and store it in a flat, wide acid-free archival quality box. 
Very carefully, I unrolled the gown and to my complete bewilderment the silk was intact, without the shredding and tears that would result from the points of stress created by folding a silk textile this way. This silk was strong and stiff, and I imagine it must've made an amazing rustling sound as it moved.

This 1867 Mourning Gown is made from black watered silk taffeta. The skirt and bodice are flatlined in brown polished cotton.

The owner (presumably) of this gown attempted an alteration job that was never completed. She unpicked the stitches holding the bodice to the waistband and skirt to the waistband, and unpicked the stitches of the front darts. Altering dresses like these isn't unusual; the material was costly and mourning dresses were worn for a year. It was likely that she gained some weight and needed the dress several years after she first used it.

Incomprehensible numbers on a twill tape label stitched to the neckline of the gown
Here you can see the skirt and bodice removed from the front half of the 1" wide waistband
The watered silk taffeta bodice has 2 darts on each side of the center front placket.

The dress fastens in the front with 9 buttonholes and a row of hooks and eyes. Most of the black velvet covered buttons have been removed or lost, but a few remain and the velvet is very worn through.

The sleeves armscyes are piped. The sleeves are very wide, full and bell-shaped. They appear to be lined in ivory muslin or cotton and are lined in dark blue silk, which has begun to shatter and deteriorate, especially near the wrist. The sleeves are decorated at the wrist with 2 narrow strips of bias-cut watered silk; these strips are arranged in an arching shape above the wrist.

The dress is accompanied by a delicate lace collar that was pinned to the neckline; this is an incorrect archival practice which could leave holes in the silk. Ladies of the time would have sewn these interchangeable lace collars to their gowns with quick, long basting stitches to make removing and replacing them for wash easier.




The skirt is free from decoration except for a thickly piped hem. The stark decorations of this gown strongly indicate its status as a mourning gown: mourning etiquette required that dress trimmings were limited to fabric decoration during the first few months of mourning, known as "full mourning." Later, lighter colors and softer trimmings could be introduced.

This 1867 gown doesn't fit the mourning mold in several ways, however. Neither the dress or its sparse decorations are made of matte crepe material, but rather a shiny, eye-catching watered silk taffeta. I wonder if this dress was used as the woman's "Sunday best" after the period of mourning had ended...perhaps she was the widow of a Civil War soldier?