Friday, January 31, 2014

Portuguese Folkloric Costume: Apron

The apron, or avental, is the next layer in this costume. It is decorated with a geometric floral design in loud colors (pink, navy, turquoise, yellow). The design is woven into the fabric with thick colored yarns, which are pulled up to create the design. The avental's fabric is also woven with narrow red, yellow, and green stripes. These barely perceptible stripes represent the colors of the Portuguese flag: green for the hope of the nation, red for the blood spilled protecting it, and a yellow globe.

The bottom edge of the avental is bound with matching red cotton tape. A large, decorative herringbone stitch has been worked over the tape (the tape is first sewn down with a zig-zag stitch in coordinating thread).

The avental is made of a lower, colorful panel attached to an upper, cartridge-pleated panel. The upper panel is made of the same handwoven material as the skirt. The cartridge pleats are set with red embroidery thread; in this photo, the pleating threads are visible. As usual, a zig-zag stitch is used to join pieces, and a straight stitch to join the upper and lower pieces. The upper and lower pieces are first joined, then the upper piece is cartridge pleated. The waistband is bound with red cotton tape, which has been hand-stitched down; the tape forms the waist ties.

You can see information about this and other varieties of regional Portuguese costume at the Folk Costume & Embroidery blog.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Portuguese Folkloric Costume: Skirt

The saia, or skirt, is a simple but striking component of the traditional costume from the Minho region of Portugal. This is part of the Traje de Lavradeira, or working woman's costume. It is meant to hit the mid calf, but some dancing groups shorten the saia for ease of dancing.

The main fabric is a handmade red wool, with white and black stripes.  The bottom facing is made of a black wool (I'm not sure, but I think it's worsted--feels like felt but is very soft). The black facing is pinked along the upper edge, and is decorated with a continuous embroidered image of flowers, vines, and berries which mimics the embroideries of the 18th century. 

The interior facing on this particular model is made of a nautical themed cotton. The saia is entirely machine stitched, except for the embroidery. This saia actually wasn't bought in Viana do Castelo; the saia, bodice, and apron were bought in Aveiro by my grandmother. I believe the sewist who made this was attempting to imitate the styles of Viana do Castelo, as this piece isn't representative of the traditional costume of Aveiro. This may account for a few differences in decoration and design (though minimal) from the original costumes.

The saia is cut as one large rectangle joined by one side seam. It has an ivory cotton waistband facing. A strip of elastic is zig-zagged in place along the middle of the waistband and facing. Traditionally, these skirts are deeply cartridge pleated along the waist, and are sewn to a cotton tape of a matching color which is used to tie the saia and secure it to the body. As this saia was made for a child, it's sensible that the waistband was elastic: I wore this from the time I was 8 to about 14!

Again, for more information and pictures of the variety of this costume, I recommend Folk Costume & Embroidery's informative post.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Portuguese Folkloric Costume: Chemise

My town has a strong immigrant presence: waves of Irish, Italian, Portuguese, and South American immigrants have enriched the community for centuries. As a child and teenager I danced in my local Portuguese Folkloric dancing group. We bought our costumes straight from Viana do Castelo in the province of Minho, Portugal, whose emblematic folkloric history is often used to represent all of Portugal.

Though the Minho area has several costumes for different regions, people, or occasions, we wore the red Traje de Lavradeira--the working woman's costume. This costume in itself has different variations in color and region, though generally the red costume is associated with happiness and young women. Folk Costume & Embroidery has an excellent post about these outfits and their variants.

The costumes are constructed with historical sewing techniques: embroidery, cartridge pleating, gussets, hand bound eyelets, smocking. I'm fascinated with the mix of modern and historical techniques and materials. Through the next few posts, I'll be showing you all the pieces of my costume!

The first layer is the Chemise, though mine is more of a shirt. Bear in mind that I wore this outfit when I was much smaller; the chemise/shirt would hit the top of my thigh. My dress form's proportions are awkward, so the chemise/shirt hangs very oddly.

The shirt is made of 100% cotton; traditionally, they are made of linen. It is embroidered with azure blue cotton thread in a satin stitch, a herringbone stitch, and a decorative border stitch (?). The front placket and sleeve cuffs fasten with large snaps.

The sleeves are softly gathered into cuffs.

If only my chemises and camicias looked this neat! The wide sleeve is tightly smocked at the top. The sleeve gusset has been showing up in undergarments for centuries, and both my 18th century chemise and Italian camicia are sewn in this way.

The satin stitched flowers are complimented by stem stitching (I believe) and french knots. I've always loved how lush and heavy the embroidery is!

The side seams open into about a 5 inch slit. The interior seam allowances are zig-zagged to prevent fraying.

This shirt was actually my more recent one, the one I wore as a teen. We fell in love with this more decorated version! My child chemise/shirt is not as decorated and detailed as this one. It lacks the slits along the side seams. Both the smocking and the embroidery are more sparse. This chemise/shirt is smocked into the cuff, rather than gathered. For whatever odd reason, the placket on this shirt opens in the opposite direction.

The rest of the series will cover the skirt, apron, pocket, bodice, undergarments, and accessories (shoes, socks, scarves, and delicious jewelry). These garments have such a quaint quality to me, being that they are handmade by independent laborers and that they represent my country's culture!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

6 Unusual Must-Have Sewing Room Tools

Sure, we all have the needles, thread, and scissors in our sewing boxes. But when I was recently organizing mine, I realized that it contained a few unconventional tools that greatly aided my sewing! These six items were either free or inexpensive.

1. Clear Protractor or Small Clear Ruler
I received this clear protractor from my Geometry teacher in high school. At the end of the semester, I tossed it in a box and it sat forgotten until I got into sewing. I realized that the clear ruler edge of the protractor was perfect for drawing or marking seam allowances. It was more compact than my foot-long clear ruler, and is small enough to fit into my sewing box.

2. Protective Glasses
I've read several horror stories on the internet about sewing machine needles breaking and flying into a sewist's cheek, forehead, or (eeep!) eyes! I normally go at a reasonable pace when sewing, but sometimes I'm working under a tight time crunch and I floor the pedal. Initially, I was wearing sunglasses when I sewed like a madwoman, but then my dad brought me these protective glasses from his job. Now I wear them all the time, sewing quickly or normally, just in case the needle hits a pin and something goes bad!

3. Drafting Compass
I picked this up in a drawing class in high school (I think?). I've used it a lot to draw out circular templates, instead of using something more fixed like a coffee tin or teacup. This was particularly useful when drafting the "sun" shape for the Tangled Sun Banner I made for a friend. 

4. Hem Guide
The Scientific Seamstress created these free hem folding templates and they are brilliant! Since I didn't have printer ink when I was hemming the 1870s bustle I'm working on, I copied the technique on a piece of cardstock marked with a thick1/2" line. An easy and quick perfect hem! There are templates for straight, concave, and convex hems.

via Scientific Seamstress
5. Large Magnet
I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've tipped over my box of pins or dropped a needle onto the floor. I sew in my basement, which has dark green carpet, making it almost impossible to find a pin or needle if I've dropped one. Now I keep my William Paterson magnet in my sewing box--it's flat and wide, and if I skim it over the carpet, it picks up all the shiny sharp things!

6. Paint Brush
I made 40 eyelets on my Bronzino Gown, and the process was greatly helped by this technique from The Story of a Seamstress. After using an awl to make a small hole, she used a paintbrush to stretch out the hole. The paintbrush's graduated handle is perfect for opening up an eyelet hole, and the smooth handle slid through the fabric of my dress easily! Make sure that the paintbrush you're using is clean.

Are there any unusual tools you keep in your sewing box?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Ribbon Bow Belt Tutorial, And Cheers for a New Year!

First off, I'd like to wish everyone the absolute best for 2014--my year is already off to an incredible start! I went to a huge NYE celebration at a Portuguese restaurant with my parents and some family friends.

I debuted a Jessica Simpson textured lace dress and black American Duchess Gibsons. To break up the black of my dress, I made a belt from cream grosgrain ribbon. The ribbon was from the waistband of my Alice Dress--I had sandwiched the tulle between two strips of ribbon. Since the costume was poorly and hastily sewn, I was OK with taking it apart. The belt took about 30 minutes to make.

To make the belt, you will need:

- Approximately 2 yds. of ribbon in your choice of color; I recommend grosgrain because it's nice and sturdy, and the texture is fun.
- Coordinating thread
- A pant hook and eye
- Measuring tape, scissors, needle
- Fray Check
- Iron and Ironing Board

To start, cut 3 lengths of the ribbon: a 2.5 inch segment, a 30 inch segment, and a segment that's your waist measurement plus an inch (in my case, 26.5 inches--I'll refer to this as the waistband). I Fray Check-ed all the raw edges in this belt, as turning the raw edge under would've created too much bulk.

1. Apply Fray Check to the edges of all the ribbon strips. On the waistband, fold down 1.5 inches and press. Sew a hook to one end of the waistband. Now, fold along the crease created by the iron and sew it down with a whip stitch.

2. Determine where you want the belt to sit on your waist; it should be snug but not strangling you. The extra 1.5 inches in the waistband accounts for seam allowance and wearing ease. Wrap the belt around your waist and mark where you want the hook to be. Fold down the excess ribbon, and press. The hook should be placed right at the edge of the fold; stitch the hook, then stitch down the fold with a whip stitch.

3. Now, on the 30 inch segment, measure out 9 inches and fold in half--it should reach the 4.5 inch mark. Sew this down, and pres with the iron.

4. On the right-hand end of the ribbon, fold it at the 8 inch mark. On the left-hand end of the ribbon, fold the ribbon at the 1 inch mark. Press.

5. Fold the rest of the ribbon at the 7 inch mark. Pin it, trim 1/4 inch, fray check the cut edge, and stitch down through all layers.

6. Put on the belt and determine the placement of the bow. The fastening should be hidden beneath the bow. Pin the bow in place and stitch.

7. To keep the bow flat once the belt is fastened, slip a pin through the largest loop on the side of the fastening to attach it to the waistband. On the other end of the bow, sew a small stitch through the waistband and largest loop to secure the bow.

8. Finally, take the 2.5 inch segment, wrapping it around the center of the bow and waistband to conceal the stitching. Stitch down one end of the segment, then overlap it with the other end, stitching that with a whip stitch as well.

This accessory is a cute staple that can add texture and interest to any outfit! It will subtly define your waist and add a bit of retro flair.