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July 25, 2014

Mary Poppins' carpet bag is an amazing thing.  It's the quintessential Bag of Holding, similar to the one Hermione Granger had.  And of course I decided I was going to make it rather than buy it, because I like making bags.

Previously I had complained that I'd made a bag too small.  I had the opposite problem this time!  I based the dimensions loosely on a bag I'd gotten at Disney World that has proven ideal for overnight trips.  That bag was 14"x14"x6". Of course, sometimes when I'm packing it, I wish it were JUST a little bigger, so when I made this bag, I did so.  It's HUGE, but I don't feel it's THAT much bigger!  I made it roughly 18"x14"x7".  It's just a basic oversized rectangle (an extra inch all around for 1/2" seam allowances) with squares cut in the two bottom corners.

I found the fabric as a remnant at Hancock Fabrics.  Isn't it gorgeous?  7/8 of a yard proved to be PERFECT.  I paired it with a fake leather knit-type fabric from JoAnns.

The fancy thing about carpet bags is that they have a large purse frame around the opening.  I couldn't find one big enough in the time frame I had, so I faked it with some 1/4" strips of basswood - heavy duty stuff that took forever to cut by hand.   Then . . . I glued heavy duty magnets to it.  The first set proved to be not quite so heavy duty, but I eventually found  ProMag Neodymium Magnets (Super Strong - Not a Toy!) at Michaels.

I made the handles myself, from a Russian blog post.  Thank goodness for Google Translate!  I used felt to line it, and found it bunched up oddly inside, which was a pain to work with, but it worked out well.  So far it's nice and comfy to hold - I haven't done a weight stress test on it yet.  For when I do get tired of holding it, I included two rings inside to clip a shoulder strap to.  Also inside is a hanging pocket for little items I want to have easily available, particularly my wallet and cell phone.

I messed up horribly on the interior, but I'm hoping no one will look.

The bottom is strengthened with a rectangle of illustration board, and I've attached six small purse feet.  I probably didn't NEED those, but they really jazz up the bag.
You also may notice the little rectangles sewn on the bag.  Those are for straps which I haven't made yet, which I hope will help distribute the weight properly when the bag is full, and also help keep it closed.  I wanted to use this bag for Victorian type cosplay, which meant no visible magnets, or zippers.

This was my inspiration piece:
I didn't look for latches, and I didn't bother with the lock, because it seemed pointless to put a lock on a bag that can be carried off, cut open with a knife, or easily accessed through the open corners of the bag!  I have to remember to tuck in the sides when I'm closing it, or it looks funny.  I'd like to put something in that spot, though.  Maybe a name plate?  My own personal logo?

Here's a blurry costume preview:

Still left to do - add buttons to the blouse, finish the hat, make bag straps!  

Now, what should I put IN the bag?  Spoon, sugar, measuring tape, medicine bottle?

July 24, 2014

I've been working on a costume for an upcoming convention.  It's one I've always wanted to do, and felt I would be good at imitating - Mary Poppins!  I also feel she'd be a good character to tweak for various themes.  I've seen tropes for her in Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and I think she'd be a lot of fun to turn Steampunk.

carpet bag in progress
Mary Poppins is an easily recognizable character.  A particular hat, a carpet bag, an umbrella, heeled boots, long skirt, and a little red bow.  Easy, right?  I had everything I needed except the hat and the bag.  The carpet bag was easier and harder, and will get its own post because I ended up making the silly thing.  The hat . . . the hat drove me crazy.

I looked at lots of pictures and of course the movie, particularly the moving in scene.  It's essentially a straw boater, or skimmer, hat.  Black.  4 Daisies with 8 cherries, one of them quite wonky on the side.  I could NOT find a hat the right shape and color anywhere.  Well, ok, I found one, but felt $44 for a costume hat was a bit much.  I was unwilling to use spray paint, but since I couldn't find the right shape anyway, it didn't really matter.  I was planning to just make one out of felt, but an inner voice just kept telling me it would be WRONG.

Finally, I stumbled across this page on Violet LeBeaux's blog.  Take apart a hat and remake it?  OK!  I found a $9 big black sunhat at Walmart.  It'll do.  It's squashy, which hopefully means it will survive longer and add to the floppyish look it has in the movie.  Then I got to work.

Photo Montage!

Original shape, I had just started taking apart the center when
I thought, "I don't need to take EVERYTHING apart" and
hopped down several rows to start cutting the seams.

The squashy straw material meant I could run it through the machine!

New shape!  Not perfect, but still, my first hat!

Not finished, but placement ideas.  'Berries' are small painted
wooden doll head beads.  They certainly distract from the unevenness!
All finished, with an obligatory prop shoot.

I'm excited.  I feel the hat is vital to the costume, and it's just hard to find.  I may have to paint the cherries darker.  I have some black grosgrain ribbon, hopefully it's not too thick.  I may have to line the inside to help it fit better.  Finished pictures will follow!

Now, everybody go visit Violet's blog and say thank you!
July 19, 2014

This rocking chair has been in the family a very long time.

I've always known it as "Grandmother Whitmer's Sewing Rocker."  My mother vividly remembers watching her grandmother sit in this little rocker while she made rag rugs for the poor.  We assume she bought it used, and there's no markings on it.  Perhaps I should check the Sears catalog?

It passed down to my mother, and lived in various rooms. I even had it in my bedroom for a while, and somewhere along the line I decided I was going to fix it, because the seat was falling apart.  I learned how to weave with fiber rush!  I did an OK job for a teenager.  It holds up well to sitting, but it looks a bit messy. The important part is that it's still useable!   

So imagine my surprise when I walked by the Birds of Prey Thrift Shop in Louisville, CO, and saw this sitting on the sidewalk!  Ridiculously cheap.

I actually passed it by the first time.  And the second.  I didn't NEED another rocking chair.  We already had an antique wooden one Brian's grandfather made.  It was just a rescue instinct, because I knew I could fix that little chair, no problem, and who else would want it?  I could SAVE IT.  Plus it's SMALL.  The rocker only stands 31" tall, the seat is 16" from the floor.  

Next thing I knew, I was impulsively calling my mother to ask if her rocker had mysteriously disappeared and followed me (nope, she was sitting on it at that moment!) and if I had any more of the seat material left over somewhere in her house.  (Alas, no.)  We chatted about the rocker a bit.  Then I found myself with the chair in my hands, babbling at the clerk about my history with this chair.  He gave me a discount!  I think he was just happy to see it go.  

The frame structure is in good shape, the only thing I can see wrong with it is that there's a dent in the top back rung, and the seat is missing.  There may have been repair work done to a back leg at one point, but it's not shaky or loose at all.  I managed to fit it in the back seat of my coupe!

I like that it's low to the ground and has a small footprint.  Rockers tend to take up a lot of space.  I always found the other rocker to be very comfortable to sit in, so I'm hoping this one will be too.  I'm looking forward to sitting in it to see!

Update 9/19/2014:  I finished the seat!  Click here to see Rocking Chair: Part 2.

July 18, 2014

I made this two years ago for my cousin for Christmas.  I'm surprised I didn't post it!  Also disappointed that I didn't take a picture of the interior.

I thought about it because A. It's her birthday today, and B. I'm now attempting to make a similar bag for an upcoming project.  

I thought I started with this Everything Bag tutorial, but obviously I didn't finish with it.  I'm thinking it might be this tutorial from Poppyseed Fabrics, simplified.  It's possible I stared at the directions for both and then combined them somehow.  In any case, I hope it's still in use, and that my cousin has a happy birthday!

July 5, 2014

I bought this Faded Glory maxi sundress at Walmart. I had to shorten the straps by 2 and a 1/2 inches, and took off the ridiculously long ties on the front, but after that I really liked how it fit.  It was super comfy and secure.  As in, if I didn't feel like putting a bra on, I didn't have to worry about flashing people.  I decided it was worth having multiples, but all the other colors were extremely dark, which is kind of stupid for a sundress.  Dark colors absorb heat!  So I studied and measured it for a while and eventually came up with a pattern.

 I don't know what my problem is.  I buy all sorts of patterns, but the dresses I seem to actually wear are the ones that I made by looking at dresses I already owned.  I wear my peacock dress, made from the bottom half of a maxi dress, all the time, but haven't yet worn my pink dress, made from a pattern.  Is it because I know how it will look on me and that it will likely fit the first try?

 I happened to have several yards of challis fabric that I had claimed from my sister's abandoned stash. (I expect any fabric I leave in someone else's basement for over 6 years to be fair game for whoever wants it.)  With nothing to stop me, I made a dress.  And now I'm sharing a tutorial, because I am definitely making this again.  There was a lot of challis in that stash . . .

I liked this dress because it seemed so simple.  No zippers, no buttons, no sleeves, no collars, and the way I designed it, only two pattern pieces to deal with!

I had to learn two new techniques for this dress, and found two great online tutorials for sewing with elastic thread and making bias tape.   Don't be intimidated!  The waistband proved to be extremely easy for me, and the bias tape would have been even easier if I had waited and bought the right tool.

2 yards of challis or similar lightweight fabric - 60" width
thread to match your fabric
Elastic thread

Wow, that's it?  You'll also need a few . . .

sewing machine
an iron and ironing board
a marking pen or chalk
sewing and safety pins
seam ripper (no one's perfect!)

To make the bias tape, I found a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and a see-through quilting ruler to be invaluable, and should have had a bias tape maker, which I bought after the fact for future projects. It's possible to do carefully with an iron and your fingers, but someone designed a cheap tool to make this easier, and we should use it!

  • Wash your fabric before cutting out.  (If it's not washable, then why are you
    Reenactment, and I used weights
     instead of pins
    making an easy-wearing sundress out of it?  Washability is part of the comfort level!)
  • Draw out the pattern.  I used brown Kraft paper from a Dollar Tree roll.
  • Cut two pieces from fabric.  (For the collar, I dipped down about 1" in the middle for the back piece, and 2" for the front.  Be sure to mark or cut notches to indicate where the waistband will go.
  • With right sides together, sew up one side of the dress.  lay it out flat, and clearly mark your sewing lines for the elastic, from one marked notch to the other.  You'll want to mark these lines on the right side (outside) of the fabric, as this will be the side facing up when you're sewing.  
  • Set up your machine for sewing with elastic as described in the elastic tutorial, and sew four rows across the entire width of the dress, about 1/4" apart.  (that's usually the edge of your sewing foot, which is what I used for reference.)  
  • With right sides together, line up the ends of your newly sewn rows of elastic, and run a seam across all four on the open side of the dress.  Then line up the rest of your fabric and sew the other side of the dress shut.  (If you're more accurate than me, you can just sew down the side and everything will magically line up.  I had to prioritize what part I wanted to be exact.)  
  • Make some 1/2" bias tape following the bias tape tutorial, or buy some if you don't mind it being a different color and fabric.  I suppose you can also do this right after you cut out the fabric.  You won't need much, I estimate about 2 yards.
  • Run a gathering stitch along the front and back sections of the dress, and pull it in, til the top measures roughly 10" across.  You may find you'd prefer it wider or narrower, adjust as you like.  I safety pinned temporary straps to the dress and tried it on so I could see where it would hit on me.  
  • To attach the tape, unfold it and place it right sides together along the edge of your dress.  Baste it down, then fold the rest of it over to the back of the fabric, and sew it in place.  If you have no idea what I just said, I understand.  Check out this tutorial on sewing with bias tape.  Check that your stitching doesn't wander off the front of the bias tape.  Do the armholes first, then the back.  Allow a little extra on the back so you can fold it over for a clean corner.  
  • For the front, allow about 7 to 9 inches of bias tape to overhang on each side of the collar.  These will be your straps, and you'll need to fold them in half and sew them down.  Then you can take your time adjusting the length before sewing them to the back of the dress.  (It's quite possible that this would be easier to do if you did this to the back, then you could actually adjust without taking them off.  Either way will work.)  I ended up making 7" straps.
  • Sew down your straps, lining them up with the edge of the back.  Fold over the bias tape from the top edge of the back and stitch down.  Cut all your threads.  Try it on again.  
  • Hem the dress and iron if needed.  Now put it back on and run around all happy and comfortable.  


To make a knee length dress, I hemmed it at 24" from the waistband.  Cut out around 25-26" from waistband instead of 36.  I did this partly because my fabric turned out to be 58.5" wide, and not 60", and partly because it's just as nice at either length!

I did not include seam allowances, mainly because I forgot, and was excited about getting even numbers on my measurements.  I used a half inch seam allowance when sewing.  Keep this in mind when drawing out the pattern and be sure to add on whatever seam allowance you prefer.  This style is REALLY forgiving, so if you forget, too, it will likely turn out all right anyway!

This pattern was based on the size small dress - I usually wear a medium, but the sizing was rather off.  My measurements are 34, 30, 42, and I'm 5'6" (yes I did just admit all that) so you might need to adjust slightly for your own measurements.  I think the waist ended up being about 22" wide on the fabric, (44" all the way around) and it fit perfectly around my torso after the elastic was installed.

inside view of the shirred elastic thread.  I swear it's
much straighter than it looks!
The elastic 'shrunk' the dress roughly 12", to give you some idea of how much shrinkage to expect when shirring fabric with elastic thread.  I started out with 44" of fabric, take off about 1" for seam allowances, and it fit quite nicely around my 30" torso.  Not too tight, not too loose.

I have a drop-in bobbin, and used the machine to wind the thread on the bobbin rather than doing it by hand, based on recommendations I read online.  It worked perfectly for me!

I COULD have just made a pocket to thread elastic through, but I feared the elastic would be too heavy for the fabric and drag the dress down.  I also could have foregone the bias tape and the spaghetti straps and gone with something simpler, but figured I might as well learn how to do it.  The nice thing about this pattern is it's easy to alter.  Add ruffles, add pin tucks, make wider straps, add sleeves!

If you want regular sleeves, try adding another 3.5" to the 4.5" measurement (this is the armhole sleeve height) on the pattern above.  Then your collar measurements will be a 4.5" deep curve for the back, and 5.5" curve for the front.

Once I cut out one arm hole curve, I used the cut piece to draw and cut the second armhole, so they would match exactly.  I also could have folded the pattern in half and cut both curves at the same time.  Otherwise I don't know what to tell you to do about drawing the armhole curves, except to eyeball it, or pull a sleeveless dress/shirt out of your closet that fits well, and copy that.

I folded the fabric in half following the selvage and cut out a full shape because the full piece of fabric allowed for it.  If you have a fabric you just HAVE to use that's narrower, I recommend buying 3 1/3 yards of fabric, opening it out flat, and cutting out two separate pieces (make sure the fabric is running the same way for both).  The dress measures about 48" long altogether, so two pieces (front and back) would require 2 2/3 yards.  the 2/3 yard left should give you enough fabric for the bias tape.

I realize there may be raised eyebrows about me 'copying' a dress, but frankly you can't copyright clothes, and I did not copy this dress exactly anyway.  The original dress is actually about 7 separate pieces - 4 skirt pieces, a separate waistband, and then the front and back of the bodice.  I also left out the keyhole in the bodice. I simplified quite a bit, mostly to see if it would still work.  So far it has!

Questions?  Comments?  Did I make a horrible mistake somewhere?  Please contact me, either through the comments section or click on 'my web site' on the left, and then the 'contact' link.  If you make a dress using this tutorial, I would love to see photos!
July 2, 2014

You can't have an interest in history and live in Colorado long without hearing about Isabella Bird.  This Victorian English Lady Traveler ventured all over the world, including a stop along the Colorado Front Range, and had an amusing bit to say about it.  I found "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" in a thrift shop, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I found Isabella fascinating.  A typical Prim and Proper Englishwoman who seems to  be attempting to escape society.  She generally scorns the people she meets and waxes poetic about the scenic views she finds.  She seems happiest when she's alone in the wild.

All green that I have ever seen, of English lawns in June, or Alpine valleys, seems poor and colourless as compared with the dazzling green of this sixty-five miles.  It is a joyous green, a glory.  Whenever I look up from my writing, I ask, Was there ever such green?  Was there ever such sunshine?  Was there ever such an atmosphere?  Was there ever such an adventure?  And Nature--for I have no other companion, and wish for none--answers, “No.”  The novelty is that I am alone, my conveyance my own horse; no luggage to look after, for it is all in my saddle-bags; no guide to bother, hurry, or hinder me; and with knowledge enough of the country to stop when and where I please.  A native guide, besides being a considerable expense, is a great nuisance; and as the trail is easy to find, and the rivers are low, I resolved for once to taste the delights of perfect independence!  This is a blessed country, for a lady can travel everywhere in absolute security. - Letter XXVI, The Hawaiian Archipelago

In Hawaii, Isabella learned how to ride astride a horse, and takes full advantage of it during her Colorado visit.  It might have been this that really got my attention.  In England she would have caused quite a scandal.  In Western America, she gained some approval from the men for her ability to adapt and keep up. (No opinion on what the women thought.)  In Hawaii, where she learned to ride this way, no one would have cared, because EVERYONE rode astride!

I thought since I was living in Colorado and into Steampunk, it might be quite fun to cosplay Ms. Bird.  But her outfit stymies me.  Obviously she couldn't ride in Victorian fashions.  Instead, she exported a riding outfit based on what was available and 'normal' to both native and foreign women in Hawaii.  But what, exactly, did this outfit look like?

In a footnote in 'A Lady's Life' she provides a hint:  "For the benefit of other lady travelers, I wish to explain that my "Hawaiian riding dress" is the "American Lady's Mountain Dress," a half-fitting jacket, a skirt reaching to the ankles, and full Turkish trousers gathered into frills falling over the boots,—a thoroughly serviceable and feminine costume for mountaineering and other rough traveling, as in the Alps or any other part of the world."

I continued searching, but only got a few more comments on her clothing.

I have nothing else to wear!
"Owing to my inability to get money in Denver I am almost without shoes, have nothing but a pair of slippers and some "arctics." For outer garments—well, I have a trained black silk dress, with a black silk polonaise! and nothing else but my old flannel riding suit, which is quite threadbare, and requires such frequent mending that I am sometimes obliged to "dress" for supper, and patch and darn it during the evening."


"Putting a minimum of indispensables into a bag, and slipping on my Hawaiian riding dress over a silk skirt, and a dust cloak over all, I stealthily crossed the plaza to the livery stable . . ."
"I wore my Hawaiian riding dress, with a handkerchief tied over my face and the sun-cover of my umbrella folded and tied over my hat, for the sun was very fierce."

What do you know, she does the same thing Jane Austen does that I hate - minimal mention of color or detail!

So, we have a few things to go on. Flannel, threadbare, Mountain Dress, turkish trousers, and the ubiquitous Hawaiian Riding Dress. What exactly IS that?  I turned to her previous book, The Hawaiian Archipelago, in the hopes of finding some answers, and pulled out some more hopefully useful clothing descriptions.

The native women all ride astride, on ordinary occasions in the full sacks, or holukus, and on gala days in the pau, the gay, winged dress which I described in writing from Honolulu.  A great many of the foreign ladies on Hawaii have adopted the Mexican saddle also, for greater security to themselves and ease to their horses, on the steep and perilous bridle-tracks, but they wear full Turkish trowsers and jauntily-made dresses reaching to the ankles.
The women seemed perfectly at home in their gay, brass-bossed, high peaked saddles, flying along astride, barefooted, with their orange and scarlet riding dresses streaming on each side beyond their horses’ tails, a bright kaleidoscopic flash of bright eyes, white teeth, shining hair, garlands of flowers and many-coloured dresses;
Many of the women were in flowing riding-dresses of pure white . . . 
. . . their drapery, which consists of a sleeved garment which falls in ample and unconfined folds from their shoulders to their feet, partly conceals this defect, which is here regarded as a beauty.  Some of these dresses were black, but many of those worn by the younger women were of pure white, crimson, yellow, scarlet, blue, or light green.  
I had on my coarse Australian hat which serves the double purpose of sunshade and umbrella, Mrs. Thompson’s riding costume, my great rusty New Zealand boots, and my blanket strapped behind a very gaily ornamented brass-bossed demi-pique Mexican saddle, which one of the missionary’s daughters had lent me.
My saddle-bags contain, besides “Sunday clothes,” dress for any “gaieties” which Hilo may offer; but I circumscribed my stock of clothes as much as possible, having fallen into the rough-and-ready practice of washing them at night, and putting them on unironed in the morning.   
 I even wish that you could see me in my Rob Roy riding dress, with leather belt and pouch, a lei of the orange seeds of the pandanus round my throat, jingling Mexican spurs, blue saddle blanket, and Rob Roy blanket strapped on behind the saddle!
 "Rob Roy" is apparently a red and black tartan fabric.

  As to clothing.  I wear my flannel riding dress for both riding and walking, and a black silk at other times.  The resident ladies wear prints and silks, and the gentlemen black cloth or dark tweed suits.
when the natives saw me plunge boldly into the river in my riding dress, which is really not unlike a fashionable Newport bathing suit, they thought better of it.

Pa'u appears to be the common Hawaiian word for skirt, but specifically it's used to describe the Hawaiian female riding costume, and is apparently a tradition that is now mostly seen in parades.  I found a Pinterest board full of examples.  It must be quite impressive seen at full gallop!  It is, however, impossible to see how the skirt is constructed.  This article describes it as simply a very long, carefully draped piece of cloth, held in place with nuts.   Another article is here, saying essentially the same thing, so it's probably not so much a skirt to Isabella as a coverup.  It looks very difficult to get into by yourself!  As she mentions above, Isabella, when referring to her Hawaiian Riding Dress, is NOT talking about the native dress, but what the foreign women to Hawaii - the British, the missionaries, etc - were wearing.  This was fun to look at, but I've now established that this is not what I need, but wouldn't Steampunk Hawaiian be fun?

So - back to the description.
. . . "American Lady's Mountain Dress," a half-fitting jacket, a skirt reaching to the ankles, and full Turkish trousers gathered into frills falling over the boots . . .
my riding dress, which is really not unlike a fashionable Newport bathing suit . . .

Turkish trousers are apparently just bloomers, pre Amelia Bloomer, or good old fashioned harem pants.  I suppose there's some leeway in where the poofy part ends - below the knee?  at the ankle?

Now - Mountain Dress?  I'm still having trouble decoding that.  I found mention of Isabella clarifying her clothing description statement to John Murray.  I think she says it was the type of dress commonly worn by women visiting mountain resorts, but as I could only find half the statement, I don't know how much further she elaborates.  I would LOVE to have a jacket/corset combo to address a lot of issues, but they're hard to find.

In any case, I probably have enough to get started with.  Harem pants under a long, wide skirt sounds exotic and fun and easy.  Making them grungy and grimy and patchy will be interesting.  Unlike most Steampunk stuff, decorations will be minimal.  Since she traveled so much by horseback, she came to understand the value of weight for both her comfort and her horse's.   Isabella writes in The Hawaiian Archipelago:  "I have discarded, owing to their weight, all the well-meant luxuries which were bestowed upon me, such as drinking cups, flasks, etnas, sandwich cases, knife cases, spoons, pocket mirrors, etc.  The inside of a watchcase makes a sufficient mirror, and I make a cup from a kalo leaf.  All cases are a mistake,--at least I think so, as I contemplate my light equipment with complacency."  I think she would have loved having a Swiss Army Knife.  "I carry besides [clothes], a canvas bag on the horn of my saddle, containing two days’ provender, and a knife, horse-shoe nails, glycerine, thread, twine, leather thongs, with other little et ceteras, the lack of which might prove troublesome, a thermometer and aneroid in a leather case, and a plaid."

Granted, Isabella would have been horrified to appear at a convention in such attire.  She's just going to have to be in a rush to get to her rooms and hope her luggage has arrived ahead of her.

Isabella also traveled abroad, I'm hoping she went somewhere and wore a pith helmet, because I have one and I'm determined to incorporate it into as many outfits as possible.

Update 7/4/14

I got my wish!  I found this image for sale on Amazon.

That's allegedly Isabella on the left, about 30-40 years after her Colorado visit.  She is in Swatow (Shantou) in China.  If that's not a pith helmet, then I'm not going to find anything closer.  And take a good look at her ankles.  Think those are trousers under there?