Tuesday, December 25, 2018

. . . And a Tintype

I shared the journey of sewing myself a period-correct 1860's dress in my previous post, along with some photos taken on my phone (because of course that's how I took the pictures). Somewhere in the middle of sewing my dress, I was listening to an Abraham Lincoln-themed podcast (what? don't you listen to Lincoln podcasts for funsies? why DON'T you?). One of the hosts was talking about her trip to Gettysburg for Remembrance Day weekend (hey, I was there, too!), and she mentioned going to a place called The Victorian Photography Studio, where she got dressed up and had a photograph taken using the wet-plate processes available in the 1860's. My little ears perked up. Period photography, did you say? Why, I have just the outfit for that! Or I will, once I finish sewing it.

So, once I had finished sewing it, I set up an appointment, which was for Saturday. I drove up to Gettysburg to the Studio, which is near the cemetery. I was a little early, but it was probably a good thing. I filled out my information downstairs (it's in an old house; the downstairs has some old-fashioned-looking chairs and blue and gray uniform jackets and a mannequin with a paletot, and a lace-draped table with books about photography) and was taken upstairs. I got dressed in the dressing room, which took me, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes (including doing my hair, which probably took longer than dressing). Then I went out into the studio.

The studio is well-lit with a skylight, but there are also some electric lights (in case it's a cloudy day, I guess). My photographer asked whether I would like to sit or stand (stand) and whether I could like to pose beside a chair (yes). He asked about props, and I settled on a black fan, to contrast with my white dress and match my dark trimmings. The photographer positioned me beside the chair and had me lay my hand on it (it was actually my right hand, though it looks flipped in the photo). He talked me through the process of preparing the plate: It's already coated with something (I have this in my research notes since I've research photography, but I would have to dig it out), and it needed to be washed in collodion to make it light-sensitive. It was placed in a wooden case(ugh, I can't remember the proper terms!) and then into the camera.

Here, try this for a much better explanation of the process: https://www.britannica.com/technology/wet-collodion-process.

Anyway, once the cap was off the lens, the plate was exposed to the light, and the photograph was being taken. The exposure was for 13 seconds. My photographer explained that on cloudier days, the exposure is longer, and that if he had taken it outside, he wouldn't have exposed it for more than 6 seconds. I, in the meantime, had to hold still. I could breathe and blink, but not move my face. I was going for pleasant but not smiley. I think I accomplished that, though I am a little cross-eyed in the picture, haha!

In any case, once the exposure time was over, the plate was removed to the dark room, where it was fixed. My photographer brought it out in its little bath of chemicals. It was still a negative, because what you get when you first take wet-plate photos is a negative image. In order to make it a positive image, it has to go into a potassium cyanide bath. As you watch, like magic, the negative image almost dissolves into a positive image. This is some pretty nifty chemistry, and honestly it's the sort of thing that they should show kids in school, because it's immediate and really nifty. I took a video:

And below is the lovely result. It is, of course, in black and white, but it's hard to capture the silvery quality to the image. It's really a beautiful object in itself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

. . . And a Dress

For a while, I've idly considered the idea of putting together a reproduction Civil War-era dress, or at least a very close approximation. I wanted a dress of the correct style and cut, though I was--and am--willing to compromise on things that aren't so easy to see, like drawers and stockings.

But recently, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, I got really fired up with this idea and decided now was the time to make it happen.

First thing was first. You might be able to get away with not-period-correct undergarments that won't be seen, but you simply cannot wear a dress from the era without a corset. It will not fit or look right with a modern bra. I'm no fashion historian, but I know very well that all those myths about corsets making it impossible to breathe and moving your internal organs were just that: myths. Or at least, they're myths as far as this era goes. They're actually perfectly comfortable if fitted properly. I also knew, however, that I had no chance of sewing a corset myself, not one that was any good. So I ordered one online (through Treadle Treasures), and really it wasn't all that expensive and was very well-made.

I also looked at cage crinolines. This is essentially a hoop skirt, though it's just the "bones" of it--the hoops. The problem was that honest-to-God cage crinolines were several hundred dollars, and this project was just for fun, so I was not interested in paying that much. Instead, I compromised by buying an inexpensive hoop skirt usually used for weddings. It was just right for me, actually: the circumference and length were great.

The other key undergarment was the chemise. Well, technically, there should be drawers as well, but I had no real interest in making or wearing drawers, which are loose pants, almost like harem pants, that reach to about the knees and aren't sewn shut at the crotch (ahem). I'm perfectly happy skipping the drawers and wearing modern panties, which no one will see because nobody had better be looking up my skirt. A chemise, however, was necessary, because you do not, I repeat do NOT, wear corsets directly against the body. Why? Because they will quickly become dirty with your body oils, and corsets are elaborate and expensive and meant to last for a long time. Same with the fabric of the dress; it's meant to stay clean by being separated from your skin by the undergarments. That's the point of the layers of undergarments people wore: to keep their outer clothes clean (and to keep warm when it's cold). Body linens, like chemises, could be easily washed and would usually be changed daily. Some people would change multiple times a day if they had the means and the desire.

Anyway, a chemise is a relatively simple garment. I had a little difficulty with this one (as I will have with anything I ever try to buy ready-made or sew from a pattern). First, it was just way too big, even though I used my measurements to decide which size of the pattern to use. That shouldn't have been a surprise, since I'm petite. I ended up having to take a lot off at the shoulder (because the neckline was sitting too low), four or five inches off the skirt (because it was halfway down my calves!), and taking in the flare at the armpit (which was just a bit too, uh, flare-y). I added lace to the neckline and hem, and voila. Chemise!

In this picture, I hadn't added the lace yet.
The next thing I needed was, well, a dress. There is a pretty healthy online trade in Civil War-era clothing and patterns, so I had a few options. I could have a dress custom-made; I could buy a ready-made dress; or I could sew my own. The first was too expensive for me. I wasn't willing to spend $400-$500 dollars for a dress. I did, however, find a dress with a 27" waist. (For the record, my natural waist is the same as my corseted waist, for a few reasons: I don't have a lot of give there, I've never "trained" my waist to be smaller, and I have no real desire to try to make my waist significantly smaller. Also, my corset will not go much smaller anyway (I ordered it for my natural 27" waist"; maybe I could/should have ordered it for a smaller waist; you can always leave the laces looser).

I had two problems with the dress when it arrived. The first I knew I would have: it came to me unhemmed, per my request (by the way, the dress, too, was from Treadle Treasures). So it was far too long (remember, I'm very short, 4'11"; I ended up taking 13" off the hem). The second was that it fit, like the chemise, too high in the shoulder. It looked like I was shrugging, or a linebacker. So I was left staring at this well-made dress with these visible fit problems, wondering how on earth to solve them. To make the thing fit really well, I would have to take the entire thing apart and put it back together. That would mean taking apart the lining, as well. Of course, I have no real sewing skills (did I mention that I am a *complete* novice?), so I knew I would be doing a pretty poor job if I did it myself. I'd have to take apart and resew practically the entire thing just to take some length off the back and adjust the shoulders. So I ruminated, and my solution was essentially to pinch the outer fabric and lining at the back waistline seam and sew it together by hand. It's basically tacking it in place, but it worked fairly well. As for the skirt, well, it took a little experimenting to get the length right, and it was a lot of fabric to try to wrestle with, but I did get the length right, and I pinned it in place. The result was this:

I'd say it looks pretty darn good! It falls nicely and fits pretty well.

I should note the style of the dress. It's a day dress with a fitted, darted bodice and pagoda sleeves. The pattern is a black-white-and-green plaid, and it's trimmed in green. I bought white under-sleeves to go with it (the sleeves were a bit long, the cuffs were too big, and the elastic closure too loose; all of which needed fixing).

I started to hand-sew the hem, since I didn't have a sewing machine (one worth mentioning, at least; what I had was a joke). It was a long process, and I spent several hours and got only about a third of the way done (ugh). I also pinned the undersleeves where I needed them.

Then I came to a screeching halt, because I'd gotten a little frustrated with the fact that this dress didn't fit me as well I would like (aside from the problem with the shoulder seam, skirt hem, and undersleeves, the pagoda sleeves are also a few inches too long for me, and overall the dress is just a little bulky on me). I'd decided to try the second route: sewing myself a dress. This was a very ambitious and possibly crazy idea, because, as I mentioned, I have no sewing skills or experience, except for piecing together a simple dress for a costume back in high school. But I do like making things, and I have pretty good visuospatial skills and can follow directions and measure things carefully. I knew from the start that this was going to be a pretty tough task.

Spoiler alert, I was right. Also spoiler alert: I did it anyway, and though the result is a little messier than I would like, I still did it.

I ordered 8 yards of white Swiss-dot fabric. It's a very light, sheet cotton fabric with small same-color textural dots (ie, three-dimensional, like little balls of lint!). The pattern I ordered (through Truly Victorian, pattern 447) was for a sheer dress, a popular summer/warm-weather style in the 1860s. I also had gotten several yards of white muslin for the chemise and to mock-up the dress. I definitely needed to practice and figure out the puzzle-pieces of the bodice before attempting to make it with my "fashion fabric". I was, after all, a novice.

I poured over the instructions that came with the pattern and got to work. For this particular pattern, you can customize the front and back to your measurements, using a formula they provide. This was great for me because I have such unusual measurements (my shoulders are wide compared to the length of my torso and the circumference of my waist). I did notice, however, that there was no pattern for the skirt. I contacted the pattern-maker and then almost instantly realized that there was a diagram rather than a pattern, because 1) these skirts are enormous and a pattern would be the size of my entire living room and 2) they're relatively simple, using big rectangles of fabric that you hem at one end and pleat at the other.

Anyway, I got underway with my mock-up. The bodice for this style of dress comes in two parts: the inner lining, darted in front and consisting of three panels in the back, and the outer lining of the lighter fashion fabric, which is gathered at the center back and on each side of the front closure. The lining fits snugly and sits right at the edge of the shoulder, and has (or should have--I skipped these) little sleeves. The lining goes all the way up to the neck, where it closes snugly, and has long, very full sleeves that are gathered at the shoulder and cuff (bishop sleeves). The lining and outer shell are (meant to be) connected along the side seam, around the waist, and around the armscye (the sleeve opening).

When making the bodice lining, I found a few things. I'd used my measurements, but even with allowing a very narrow seam allowance, the fit was snug. I also found that, yet again, it was too high in the shoulders, so I had to take about 1-1/2" off at the shoulder.

Next, I mocked up the outer shell. Confession: though I wasn't as precise as I could be on this muslin mock-up, it actually looks a lot crisper than the final product, because the fabric has a lot more structure to it (see the picture below).

I found a few things. First, the sleeves were 3" too long. Instead of re-cutting, I just folded it under at the elbow, taking out those 3" and planning to remove those 3" from the pattern for when I cut out the sleeves from the fashion fabric. Two, because I had altered the bodice at the shoulder, the pieces no longer fit together as they should. I decided to let this go. They still could fit together at the sides and the bottom seam. Third, though I cut out two sleeves, I didn't bother to gather the second sleeve at the shoulder and cuff. It's time-consuming, and it would just be a mirror-image of the sleeved I'd already mocked up. Hence the one-sleeve look below. Four, I wanted an actual cuff with buttons on these sleeves, though the pattern didn't call for it. Five, putting the lining and outer shell together was more difficult than it might seem. You see, at the front, they both button, and they button separately, but at the bottom they button together . . . I had to go over the directions there several times just to try to wrap my head around this. In the end, it took me sewing on buttons and cutting holes and actually manipulating the fabric to understand the mechanics. On one side of the front closure, you have to leave a slit in the lining for the outer layer to pass through. The bottom two buttons (at least on my bodice--it would depend on how you space your buttons and the slit) pass through both the lining and the fashion fabric. Then the two layers button separately. Also, as I pieced together this mock-up, I learned which order to sew the seams in and so forth.

In any case, with the process more or less figured out, it was time to get started on the actual dress. The bodice would be first, and I would worry about the skirt later. So I cut out all my pieces. I had by this time borrowed my mother's sewing machine (bless her!), so I could make some quick headway. I actually retained most of the mock-up lining I'd made, because I planned to use the muslin anyway. I did redo the front panels because the old panels had been handled and sewn this way and that so many times they looked a mess. Since I knew what I was doing (uh, sort of), it was relatively quick work to gather and sew together the pieces of the outer layer. I then gathered the sleeves at both ends and attached the cuffs and sewed the sleeves to the bodice. I even pinned the side seam. I was ever so excited to be so close to finishing the bodice (this was, by the way, several days' hard work). And then I tried it on and, oh no! The sleeves seemed way too long! I was perplexed for a while, until I pulled out the pattern I had altered to take off those 3". I'd done it wrong; I'd taken the three inches out of the circumference of the sleeves rather than the length.


I could re-cut, tossing the incorrect sleeves. But that would be a waste of fabric and time, and the sleeves were already attached to the rest of the bodice, and all that time gathering at both ends . . . I'd have to undo all my work on the cuffs, and unstitch several bodice seams, too . . . . It was late that evening, but before I went to bed, I came up with a not-so-great but decent solution. I would just take the 3" off the end of the sleeves. I would take off the cuffs, measure the three inches up from the end of the sleeves, and cut it off. I'd have to redo the gathering at the cuffs and the cuffs themselves, but at least I wouldn't have to undo everything. So that's what I did the next day. I figured that with so much fabric, it wouldn't be noticeable if the exact curve of the sleeve at the elbow was slightly different, or if there were 3" less fabric in the circumference of the sleeve. I was right; the sleeves look fine.

With all that put together, and the side seams sewn up, what was left was the closure. I mentioned the work I did to figure out how to place all the buttons and holes on the mock-up. But when figuring all that out, I did not actually sew any buttonholes. I just cut unfinished holes in the fabric. I had to do much better than that on the final product. So I set to work trying to figure out button holes. The sewing machine I used did not have a buttonhole foot, so I was using the zigzag stitch and trying to make neat, straight, perpendicular lines in the shape of a tight rectangle, the middle of which would be the buttonhole. If that sounds easy, it is not. It took a very, very long time to make it look neat, and in the end I had to do some hand-sewing to neaten it up. I also hand-sewed the buttonholes on the cuffs.

I was working feverishly on this one night, and it was getting late when I finished the final buttonhole at last. But I was in a fever to get the bodice done (I may have literally been feverish). All that I needed was the buttons. So I sewed them on as quickly as I could, very loosely, and I put that sucker on, and I was so, so pleased. I literally jumped for joy at quarter past 11:00 on a work night. The picture below is from the next day, in the sunlight. A completed bodice! (And my white hoopskirt.)

Hurrah! Bodice completed. That was definitely the difficult--or at least complicated--part. Now what remained was the skirt. That was my thought as I went to bed the night I finished the chemise. I went to bed doing mental math, attempting to determine how big to make my pleats.

While I appreciated the diagram that has come with the directions, I found a different plan online that seemed more intuitive. It involved taking 5 yards or 3 panels of 60" fabric, dividing it into four sections, and pleating each section. I used that as my guide instead of the diagram that came with the pattern. I had 55"-wide fabric, and, again, I figured that in the end a few fewer inches of fabric in the skirt wouldn't be noticeable, so I sewed together 3 panels of 55"-width fabric. The length was the distance from my waist to the edge of my hoopskirt (which I measured at 39"), plus 1" for the seam at top and 5" for a seam at the bottom. The trouble with all this was that this fabric is very light and has a lot of give to it. Also, 165" is a LOT of fabric to try to wrestle, especially when you don't have much space to work with. I tried my best to make it nice and crisp, and it turned out fine, but it is a little wonky, especially around the waist.

In any case, once I had kind of wrestled this fabric into order, I put on my hoopskirt and held the length of the fabric up against it, just to see if I was in the ballpark. I had 4" of hem to work with (so I could lengthen or shorten the skirt). Turns out, it was about an inch too long, so I repinned the bottom hem. Once I had that figured, I zipped off the hem around the bottom edge and then started pleating. That was a trip. I'd figured out a method for pleating (see my earlier post), but I hadn't reckoned on the last little fold-over piece, which got in the way, and in any case, I think because of the give in the fabric and how precise I was trying to make the measurements, it kept turning out a little wrong. I had cut out a waistband of the right length to use as my template as I pleated. Once I had pleated the fabric, I pinned it and then sewed it to that waistband.

The next task was to attach the skirt to the bodice, and I'd been ruminating on this one for a while. There were no directions for this in the pattern, and I had difficulty finding anything online. So I came up with this solution: the waistband was sewn to the wrong side of the skirt fabric. I would proceed to pin the bottom of the bodice to the top of the skirt, with the right sides of the bodice and the skirt fabric facing one another. So it would be bodice layer, skirt layer (facing one another), and then the waistband. I would sew all that together, then fold the waistband over it all and sew it in place. It would be like a seam sandwich, with the seam contained with in the waistband. Also important was the closure: I would leave the last several inches of bodice and skirt unattached at the front and finished off the bodice seam and skirt seam separately. This was because they would close separately. I was using the dress I had purchased as a guide in this (if I were to do it again, I would not do this, but attached it all the way around).

Now, after doing all of the above, I found myself faced with several problems. In spite of all my efforts, I had not, as I thought, left an extra inch on both sides of the skirt for a closure. The result was that the bodice and the skirt closed apart from one another; the skirt was snugger, leaving the bodice a little loser over top of it, which gave it an awkward look. Secondly, folding under the bottom of the bodice to finish it off left it slightly bulky, exacerbating the issue of the different closures.

Solution? The green belt that came with my ready-made dress. That helped immensely. And, frankly, given that the dress was completed--really completed!!--I wasn't going to worry too much about those little issues. (Other issues: the front closure issue also meant the skirt opening gaped open slightly, which is less of a problem since both it and the petticoat are white; the cuffs look nice but tend to make a "v" at the buttonhole rather than closing in a nice circle; at the neck, the button tends to slip along the buttonhole, meaning the plackard doesn't sit in quite as neat a line as it should; also, the pattern doesn't really allow for enough fabric for the button plackard to be wide enough, so the buttonholes kind of extend into the single-layer fabric.)

In spite of these issues (some of which I'm going to attribute to the fact that this lightweight fabric is hard to use, most of which I attribute to my novice skills), I was super duper proud of the result, and it looked lovely:

You can see the intended effect of the sheer dress, though not super well in this light: there is the more opaque lining, and the lighter fabric over top. You can just see the shadow of the lining at my collarbone under the sheer fabric. And the skirt looks fine, as do the sleeves; you'd never know they "should" have more volume. (Anyway, being petite, it helps to take the bulk out of the fabric, or else it'll swamp me.)

The next step was my hair, because ladies in the 1860s didn't have modern shoulder-length bobs. The trouble is that my hair is not very long and is quite fine in texture. I was never going to accomplish a period hairstyle without some help. Of course, ladies of the time had the same problem as me; many had fine or thin hair, so they used additions to achieve the fashionable look. I did so through Etsy, buying a cheap dark-brown braid. (I also purchased a snood, but it hasn't arrived yet.) I did a bit of YouTube research and figured out how to do my hair. Step one: part in the middle. Step two: take a hunk from the crown of the head to the ear and forward, and twist it up and out of the way; do this on the other side. Step three: take the bit that's left in the back and coil it and pin it, then attach the braid and coil the braid around at the back of the head, pinning that in place, too. Step four: pull those bits of hair from the front towards the back, twisting them as you go, and wrap each of these twists around the coil at the back, then pin in place. And, ta-da:

And the other day, I put it all together: hair, underthings, and dress. Well, first, the underthings, haha!

You can really see the hoops in some of these pictures, but in most light it's fine, so I'm not too worried and don't feel compelled to sew a petticoat to remedy this.

So am I satisfied? Well, I'm very, very pleased, and I love my pretty dress. So, yes, I'm proud of myself and . . . satisfied. But there are some errors with the dress (though they aren't really evident unless you look closely). I think I might want to try again, incorporating what I learned . . .

Oh, and I learned about a place in Gettysburg that does honest-to-God wet-plate photography with Victorian style backdrops and all. So, yeah, I think I'm going to do that, and while I'm there I may stop by a fabric shop with lots of pretty, period-appropriate fabrics . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

. . . And the Imperial War Museum

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is herePart 2 of Day 1 is hereHere is Day 2Here is Day 3Here is Day 4. Here is Day 5Here is Day 6. This is Day 7.

My last day in the U.K. was a half-day, of sorts. I didn't have to be to the airport until about 2:30 for my 5:10 flight. I had the morning and a little bit of the afternoon to do one last major thing (and one smaller thing). In hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best idea to leave this one until the end. After five days of intense travel, lots of mental stress, not-great food, and excitement, I was one tired girl. And my last big stop was meant to be a pretty important highlight.

This stop was the Imperial War Museum. I've mentioned being interested in Peter Pan, of course (see below for more on that; I didn't start my day at the IWM). I was led towards the true story of the five brothers who inspired Peter Pan by my research while writing a story set partly in 1917. The story of the Llewelyn Davies boys was a good "entry point" into the era. (I've done this with other times/places, like using Fanny Kemble as an entry point to the Sea Islands of Georgia, or Charlotte Cushman as an entry point to theater in the 1820s and '30s.) In any case, this story I wrote takes place during the Great War, which is a massive part of the IWM. I always want to see and learn more, and though I have a decent grounding in life during the Great War (don't ask me about military stuff), it's not as thorough as my grounding in the antebellum and Civil War eras. Hence, I had a great desire to see this museum.

But as I said, I was tired, and I was in a bit of a trance as I wandered through. The museum is in an impressive building, with a broad central hall filled with planes and rockets. Beyond that is the WW1 section of the museum, an area partitioned off into section that you wander through on a meandering path. The lights are fairly low and moody, and there are nooks and islands with displays and interactive areas and video screens. Maybe it was the tiredness, but it all felt a little shallow and gimmicky, and disjointed. I couldn't see a theme to the different areas, or any logical progression from one to the next. It wasn't chronological or thematic. And instead of just presenting the information in written form, it had to be delivered using sliding panels, or buttons you had to press or levers you had to pull, or through a video. I'm sure this is engaging to some people, but I found it a bit trying at times.

That's not to say there weren't some wonderful objects to see. There was rusty barbed wire and gas canisters and lots of uniforms from some of the many nations who were part of the war. My favorite thing, perhaps, was the display of buttons that were worn by war workers to show that they were contributing even though they weren't soldiers. Women would often give white feathers to men who weren't in uniform and call them cowards for not enlisting--the pins were a way of showing that they, too, were doing their part.

But I should back up, I think. Back to Peter Pan. Before heading off to the IWM, I decided to go visit the place where J.M. Barrie's longtime residence once stood. I previously posted pictures of his place off Kensington Gardens. He moved from there before the boys' parents died, I believe, to a place on The Strand near Charing Cross called Adelphi Terrace. He had a large flat on an upper level with a great view of the river and an enormous ingle that he would sit in. It was at Adelphi Terrace that Nico and Michael spent their later childhoods, after their parents died and Barrie became their guardian. Sadly, that building is gone, replaced, it would seem, by an art deco-ish monstrosity. But there *is* a blue plaque letting us know Barrie (and some others) lived there once.

From there, I decided to walk to the IWM. On my way, I passed Trafalgar Square (they were setting up for a bicycle race), and walked down Whitehall, past the Cenotaph and lots of memorials, to Westminster. I stopped by the statue of Abraham Lincoln, took a picture of Westminster Abbey, and was a little sad to see that Big Ben was literally under wraps. As I crossed Westminster Bridge, I took a selfie with the London Eye, and I really like the picture because I'm so clearly having fun.

In any case, I then did the IWM as mentioned above. When I was all out of steam, I headed back to my hotel across the street to pick up my bag (it took them a while to find it in the luggage room), then walked to the Tube and took it to Heathrow (easy as pie). I was at Terminal 5, and I have to say, though it's new I wasn't impressed. First of all, the signage to the gates wasn't good. Second, there were tons of places to buy high-end fashion and expensive jewelry, but nowhere to get some effing food, and I was hungry. Third, why on earth are the bathrooms always around three corners and through two doors? It doesn't have to be this way, British people. Third, though checking in was actually pretty painless, it was set up in such a way as to be confusing. I was supposed to be in, like, zone 1 area 2 or something, and the layout just made it unclear where I was meant to go next to drop off my bag. It was just a big area with a bunch of barriers and things, with no real direction of where to go and what things were. Fourth, to get to my gate from the main waiting area, I had to go down an escalator, board a shuttle, go down another escalator, and then go back up yet another escalator. This is a *new* building, mind you. It doesn't have to be this way, British people! Why make it so complicated? Why? Fifth, while a whole plane-full of people and I were waiting in line to board, passes in hand, we were all brought to a sudden halt by a lady who'd missed an earlier flight. For at least ten minutes, the lady at the gate was tapping at the computer and the passenger was asking whether she'd get business class and a window seat and so forth. Meanwhile, there are fifty people in line. Oh, and there's a separate line for first class, and somebody is there with nothing else to do but check in those people as they wandered up (there was no line). So they were there idly waiting for first-class passengers, while us scummy"economy" folks who *only* paid $750 just had to wait. Because eff us, I guess.


I did get on the flight just fine, and we lifted off, and away I went, back home to the good old US of A. I had an absolute blast on my U.K. adventure and saw and did so much, but at that point I really, really just wanted my own bed and a long stretch of calm and quiet.

Blue plaque stating that J.M. Barrie lived there.

The Adelphi, on the location where J.M. Barrie lives for many years.

Charing Cross.

Trafalgar Square.



Big Ben under wraps.

My fave, Abraham Lincoln.

Westminster Abbey.

Big Ben and a double-decker bus!

London Eye, Boudica statue.


Palaces of Westminster/Parliament, with Big Ben under wraps.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum.
Imperial War Museum. German uniform.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum. Livens projector; lobbed as canisters at the enemy..

Imperial War Museum. Gas shells. See next picture for info.

Imperial War Museum.

Imperial War Museum. Gas alarms.

Imperial War Museum. Worker's buttons to show they were doing vital work.

Imperial War Museum. VAD uniform.

Imperial War Museum. VAD uniform and the blue uniform worn by injured men.

Imperial War Museum. Mess kit.

Imperial War Museum. Shaving kit.

Imperial War Museum. Info on x-rays and the evacuation
plan for injured soldiers, what look like forceps, and the medical cards
that accompanied wounded men as they were transported down the line, away
from the fighting.

Friday, November 30, 2018

...And Pleats

That's right. PLEATS. Like what you put on a skirt.

And, why yes, I AM about to start working on a skirt. Thank you for asking.

I am, as usual, getting way ahead of myself. You see, I've been feverishly working on sewing a reproduction 1860's dress. Specifically, it's a sheer dress with bishop sleeves. See, some time back I decided to get serious about the idea of getting together a period costume (the period being the mid 1800's). I purchased a lovely, well-made dress online (a black-and-white-and-dark-green-plaid dress with pagoda sleeves and a white collar). While I like the dress, I was somewhat frustrated by the fit, because I have an unusual, petite shape. Clothes very rarely fit me well. In any case, I thought to myself, how hard could it be?

Cue my maniacal laughter after weeks of figuring this all out from scratch. See, I have no real sewing experience. Luckily, I'm pretty good with spatial things and am both artistic and a good draftswoman. So I was able to art my way out of problems or engineer my way out, for lack of a better way of putting it. For instance, I free-handed a few lines for the pattern to alter them, and I had to figure out button placements using math.

In any case, there are a few more blog posts about the sewing of the bodice, but the bodice is now complete (hurrah!).

The next step is the skirt. And this requires pleating. Lots and lots of pleating.

See, I have to get 160" of fabric down to a 26" waist (there will be another 1" on either side of this that will be un-pleated; these two inches will overlap and result in one more inch, for a total waist of 27").

And that--getting that much fabric down to so little--requires many pleats. And I have been trying and trying to figure out the math. Yes, I was sitting here doing algebra. Or at least, I was trying. And I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I was trying to work out a formula to convert the overall inches to the waist inches and to simultaneously tell me how big to make my pleats and how much to overlap them, and . . .

Well. It's enough to boggle the mind. I set down my calculations and, in frustration, took a break. A bathroom break. As I walked to the bathroom, I thought to myself that there must be a much simpler, more practical way to figure this out. Screw math.

And then it hit me. Divide the total amount of fabric (160") by a certain number of pleats. Actually, let's make it simpler. I have to pleat the skirt in four sections. So let's take 40" and divide it by, say, 20 pleats. So I would mark every 2" on my fabric. Each of those will be one pleat. Now, I take my 6.75" (which is 26"/4, because, again, this is a one-quarter section of the total waist length of 26") and I divide that by 20, as well. That's 0.3375" (close to 3/8"). I now have 1/20 of the total fabric and 1/20 of the waist length. All I have to do is reduce each 1/20 of the total to 1/20 of the waist length. In other words, I reduce every 2" section I marked off to 3/8". By the time I've made 20 pleats, I'll have used 20 twentieths of the total fabric (i.e., 100% of it) and created 20 twentieths of the waistband (i.e. 100% of it).

How do I reduce each 2" to 3/8"? First, I mark out 3/8" on a card, for ease. I put one edge of my 2" section on the first 3/8" mark, then pinch together that 2" section until its second mark meets the second 3/8" mark. That fabric I just pinched up is my pleat. Making sure both my 2" marks are still touching both my 3/8" marks, I lay flat the fabric I just pinched up. It should make a neat fold. I have now made one pleat that uses 2" of fabric that advances me along the waistband by 3/8". If I do this 20 times, I will have used 40" of fabric and made a waistband of (about) 6.75". That's just right for my purposes. I repeat that four times, for each section of my skirt, and I'll have used all 160" and made a waistband of 26".

I'm sure this will all make much more sense with pictures...

But, to summarize: decide on a number of pleats (this is arbitrary, but a nice round number is easiest). Divide the total length of your cloth by that number, and mark this interval out on your cloth. Also divide the desired length of your waistband by that the desired number of pleats. Then pinch together  the marks you made on the fabric until what's left is that second number (waistband/number of pleats). The excess you pinched up is your pleat.

This is actually a fairly simple technique, with very little math required.

I will try to spruce this up with pictures soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

. . . And Oxford and Peter Pan, Too

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is here. Part 2 of Day 1 is here. Here is Day 2. Here is Day 3. Here is Day 4. This is Day 5.

After a very long day in Haworth and then travelling to Oxford--and in fact after four very, very full days of intense traveling and sightseeing--I was more than a little tired upon waking up in Oxford. I woke up at my usual early hour. I can't recall quite how early, but I was up and dressed and out the hotel door looking for breakfast by about 7:30.

The view out my window in the morning--a red hot air
balloon rising over Magdalen College.

Hot tip. It is not easy to find breakfast in the U.K. (or at least Oxford) before 8:00. You wanna know how I know? Because I tried. Good Lord, I tried. But the High Street was deserted, as were the back streets. I wandered a bit along rainy Oxford streets cluttered with bikes, past ancient stone buildings that housed various bits and pieces of Oxford University. But I was hungry and really in search of food, so I kept walking and walking, towards the covered market at the heart of town. Oh, there were cafes. But were they open? No. I saw light and people inside one and went in--the door wasn't locked--only to have the people behind the counter look at me like I was insane and tell me they weren't open yet. They weren't rude, but they--oddly--seemed surprised that I would walk into an open cafe. At last, I found a Cafe Nero that was open. It's possible it was 8:00 by this time, or else that was the only cafe in ALL OF OXFORD that was open before 8:00. Which, come on. Cafes should be open bright and early for breakfasters. Isn't that the point of them? Do you want my money or not, guys?

Logic Lane--appropriate for Oxford.

Hooke and Boyle and microscopes and cells!

Oxford is very bike-centric.

In any case, I fortified myself with a chocolate croissant and some hot chocolate (what? I was feeling grumpy and therefore rather indulgent of myself). Then I went back to my hotel, checked out (and left my bag), and went back out as a light rain started to fall. I waited for the 3A bus nearby, and was delighted to find it was a double-decker. It was my first double-decker on this trip to the UK. I sat on the top deck at the front, watching the rainy landscape.

By the time we reached my destination, Rock Farm Lane, the rain had lightened up. I had carefully examined maps and satellite images beforehand, so I set out fully prepared to find my destination: a marble monument on a dam above the pool--or "lasher"--created by that dam. The monument is to a series of young men, mostly (all?) Oxford students, who drowned there in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now why, you might well wonder, would I care about this pool and this monument?

Because one of these young men was none other than Michael Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired Peter Pan. He and a friend, Rupert Buxton, drowned there in 1920. The exact circumstances of their deaths aren't known. They were seen swimming ("bathing", they would have said), and they were seen going down (maybe?). It's hotly debated whether it was accidental or suicidal and whether J.M. Barrie's role in Michael's life had anything to do with it. There's at least one blog post-worth of material there, so suffice it to say that I believe it was an accidental drowning. Michael was afraid of water and could not swim. It's possible he got into trouble and his friend tried to help him, but they both went down (a drowning person can become very desperate and drown their rescuer); or, Rupert got into trouble and Michael tried to help even though he couldn't swim, and ended up drowning himself. After all, that place had claimed more than a few other lives. It's still entirely possible it was suicide. Who knows? There are rumors the two young men were homosexual, but there's no actual evidence of that. Possible, but not conclusive. The truth is, we'll never know exactly what happened.

But in any case, given my fascination with the story of the Llewelyn Davies family, this was one site I wanted to see, even if it is a little macabre. 

It was about a ten-minute walk from the bus-stop to the little cluster of buildings around Sandford Lock and the Kings Arms Pub. It's a picturesque spot right on the Thames, with a lock across the river. Everything was lush and green, and it was a calm morning; the rain had stopped. I watched a boat go through the lock, then crossed the top of the lock once it was closed.

The lock closing.

On the other side of the lock, I turned right and started walking along the riverbank. I was on an island there. To my right was the main channel, leading to the lock that was now behind me. To my left, on the other side of the island and not visible through the trees, was the other channel, which had a dam instead of a lock, which was further upstream than the lock. Obviously, all the boats on the water would be on the side of the river that I was on; you can't go over a dam, but you can through the lock. Houseboats lined the river, and a group of kayakers were skimming the water.

House boat + kayaker.
As for me, I kept walking, through a fence and through yet another sheep pasture, then through another gate. I kept going along the trail that paralleled the riverbank. It became heavily forested as I went; I went over one bridge, then stopped before I reached the second.
The first waterfall I passed.

From my research, I knew that if I turned left, there was a faint path leading towards the dam and the memorial. I had figured from my reconnaissance that this might be a bit sketchy, so I wasn't put off when the path became more and more overgrown and I was pushing through branches and wet leaves. I came to the end of this path at a big chain-link fence advertising that it was dangerous to go any further and everything beyond that point was part of the dam property. I couldn't get through there, but I could (kind of) see the monument, so my heart leapt.

The, uh, "path".

Through the links of the fence, looking towards the monument.
I wasn't easily deterred, so I crashed on through the thick woods along the riverbank, trying to get a better perspective. I came out of the brush at two different points; the second spot was the best, and I had a decent view of a the weir/lasher/pool below the dam, with a swan gliding towards me across the water, and the monument atop the dam, and the campers on the other side of the river.

The dam and the monument (it's a little lost amongst all the
machinery, isn't it?).

The monument atop the dam.

The swan that was hanging out there on the pool.

A different view.

Zoomed in on the monument. If you open the full-size
picture and zoom in, you can just make out Michael's name. There
are better pictures of the monument (though not the inscription)
if you just Google it.
[As a side note, I'd tried to determine exactly what was on the other bank and had concluded that it was some kind of industrial site and that I wouldn't be able to go there--though the presence of campers (?) makes me think I was wrong. Oh, another note: there was trash here and there through the woods, so it was clear I was not the first person to go back there; obviously, people had gone back there to hang out and leave their chip bags (ugh).]

I stood there a minute, listening to the rush of the water at the dam and watching the surface of the lasher. It looked quite calm. From what I understand, though, there's a strong current underneath. However, unlike Oxford students of the 19th and early 20th centuries, I had no desire to test that water, so I turned and crashed through the woods, back towards the actual path along the other bank of the island. I found myself following faint deer paths (sheep paths?). At one point, going over a log, I pricked my finger on a stinging nettle, so that was exciting. In any case, I broke through back onto the path just as someone else was coming by. He looked a tad bemused at this petite girl clambering through the woods. Maybe he thought I was doing drugs back there or something. The truth was much . . . nerdier. [I also wasn't 100% sure I wasn't trespassing, so I just kept walking.]

In any case, I walked back the way I'd come (Church Road) and watched another boat go through the lock, then hopped on the 3A bus back to town. It was about lunchtime, so I took the bus past my hotel to the heart of town. I considered where to go for food, but what I really, really wanted was a damn hamburger. I wanted some good ole Mickey D's, dammit. I found a Burger King first, and that was just fine with me. And no, I felt no guilt or qualms about eating Burger King while in ancient Oxford. You don't think they had quick/street food in medieval times, too? And besides, it was exactly what I wanted, and it hit the spot precisely. I was a happy girl with my burger, fries, and Coke.

My next stop was Christ Church College, just down the street. This stop was Alice in Wonderland-related. I mentioned Peter Pan, of course, and in previous posts I mentioned Jane Eyre. But I also am interested in the story and symbolism/iconography of Alice. It was here that the Revered Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) met a girl named Alice Liddell and wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Also, bonus: the Great Hall here was the inspiration for the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies.

Lucky for me, it was actually an open house that day, so I got to go in for free, and more things than usual were open. It was BEAUTIFUL. After entering, I went up the grand staircase and into the Great Hall (the Harry Potter-looking one), which was just as spectacular as you imagine. All along the walls are portraits of famous graduates of Christ Church. And, oh yeah, Henry VIII (who was, uh, not a graduate).

The Great Stairs leading to the Great Hall, Christ Church, Oxford. 
Ceiling of the Great Hall, Christ Church, Oxford.

Me in the Great Hall.

After leaving the Great Hall, it was back downstairs, then into the chapel, where I listened to some organ music, admired a few effigies, and marveled at a stained glass window depicting Thomas à Becket.

Chapel's ceiling; Christ Church, Oxford. 
Chapel, Christ Church, Oxford.

Thomas à Becket window.

Organ music, Christ Church, Oxford

Next was Tom Quad, where you get a great view of Tom Tower, designed by Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul's Cathedral).

Tom Quad.

I passed through some archways and into the gardens, and there was a little door that is referred to as Alice's door. It communicates between these gardens and the dean's gardens, where Alice lived (her father was dean of the college). It would have generally been locked, according to the article below.

Alice's door, Christ Church, Oxford.
Here's some more about that: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/travel/alice-in-wonderland-oxford-lewis-carroll.html

Beyond that, through another stone wall, is the ancient Pococke tree, from circa the 1630's.

I came back to Tom Quad, passed through it, and ended up at the Picture Gallery, which was open. I went in and viewed room after room of wonderful paintings, mostly 17th and 18th century and mostly religious in theme. Beautiful things, all of them. No photos allowed.

With that, my tour of Christ Church was done. My next stop was Alice's Shop across the street. I really wanted some Alice themed items. In the end, I was a tad disappointed. The store was tiny, and a lot of the things were somewhat indifferent in quality. I didn't want anything expensive or breakable, so I got a hand towel and some coasters and magnets. Looking back, I wish I'd splurged a little, but oh well. I did splurge a bit on England-themed souvenirs back on the High Street.

I had a bit of time before my 3:30 train left for London, so I took a left turn on my walk along High Street and walked past the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian. It became increasingly apparent to me that there was some kind of graduation going on, because the High Street was no longer deserted. It was absolutely thronged, and there were a lot of people running about in cap and gown and very fine suits (it was disproportionately men, and they were a bit older, ie not undergrads by my reckoning).

I passed under the Bridge of Sighs on my way towards the River Cherwell. As I reached the bridge over the river, which was stacked three-deep with skiffs, the bells of Magdalen Tower started tolling, and they kept on tolling. This was, no doubt, for the graduation. [By the way, it's pronounce mod-lin, a bit like the word maudlin; it's not pronounced mag-duh-lin like Mary Magdalen from the Bible.]

With that, my little adventure in Oxford was done. There was a heap more to see, but I simply didn't have time, and I'd hit all the places I'd set out to see. I had a few minutes to relax at the hotel, then got on a bus to the train station, passing by Oxford Castle along the way. The weather had cleared, and it was a lovely day as I waited on the platform for the train.

The train back to London was fairly quick--only a little over an hour. I took the Tube from Paddington to the Lambeth North station, nearest to my hotel.

You want to know what's funny? My hotel was the "Days Hotel", and it uses a logo with a rising sun that looks very (very) much like the "Days Inn" logo. In fact, I was under the impression that it *was* a Days Inn. But I learned my mistake when I got there. The hotel was okay. It wasn't a luxury hotel, but it wasn't a total dive; it wasn't the worst I've ever been in. In fact, it had A LIFT. An actual LIFT that went to EVERY FLOOR. Miracle of miracles! Most of all, it was right across from the Imperial War Museum, which I would visit in the morning.

For the moment, though, it was time for food. I went to the pub across the street, which, I had seen online, had superb pizza. And the Internet did not lie (in this case, anyway). This was BY FAR my best meal of my entire stay in the UK. The wood-fire pizza was delicious, the salad was actually wonderful, and the ice cream I got for dessert was wonderful, too. I felt like I'd been hungry most the time I was there because my appetite hadn't been good, and the food hadn't been very good, either, but this time I filled up and was so happy about it. It had turned into a lovely evening, too, which also brightened my mood.

As the sun set, I went back to my hotel. I took a shower, watched some terribly depressing show about The Troubles in Ireland, and went to bed.