Back Where I Should Be

If this wasn’t a busy semester at first, it certainly is now: But this may be due to more than just my school work. It’s pretty well known that my favorite holiday is coming up (I’ll give you a hint, it’s Halloween!).. and I am in full-swing costume making for this year. There are 26 days left to finish my costume.

So, I promised to tell you about that.

This Halloween, I’m going to be a flapper. Not the kind of flapper with the silly polyester fringe and stretch sequin headband and feather boa, though- If you’re thinking of the premade dresses they sell in those Halloween stores that magically pop up in empty stores for one month every year, you’ve got another think on the way. My flapper costume is 100% authentic, and true to the time period to the best of my knowledge. I spent two months researching before I even bought the supplies. I should also note that if you’re thinking of this costume as something out of the new Great Gatsby movie, you are mistaken, although slightly less so. The dresses the women wear in that movie are certainly inspired by the dresses that flappers wore, but they’re glamourized for the purposes of Hollywood. Note that you can see waist shaping in their dresses, and, in some instances, cleavage. It’s along the right track, certainly, but not quite.

If you’re not interested in the history of the flapper, feel free to skip this paragraph- the rest of this post is about the dress itself, but I love the history as much as I love the project, so bear with me. Flappers were young women of the 1920s- the country was in an economic peak, as this was immediately before the Great Depression, and culture was booming. Everything was, really. The mentality was generally a desire to be free from the constraints of their gender- to be more unencumbered, like men. Flappers took up smoking and drinking, and they were promiscuous and flirtatious. They didn’t want to be men, per say, but they wanted to be treated more like equals. In an effort to separate themselves from feminine fashion of the past, they chopped off their hair (today, we call it a bob), and wore straight cut dresses, whose hemlines were significantly higher than ever before. Not nearly as short as they are today, but at the time, knee length was scandalous. Bustier girls often bound their chests with strips of fabric, in order to achieve the straight, thin shape that was considered ideal for a flapper. I’ll be doing that- it helps the dress lay better. Also, rayon had been recently invented, so that made its way into their dresses when they weren’t made of silk or sometimes cotton. Mine’s silk, because I like silk.

Now then. My dress has two layers- the sheer outer shell, and the lining. Chiffon and Crepe de Chine, respectively, the chiffon is where all the cool stuff is happening right now, but I’ll talk about that more in a minute. I dyed the fabric to a deep, subdued red color (that process is detailed in a previous post, if you’re interested- it’s really quite cool), and then bought my beads to match.

Shell and lining fabric

Shell and lining fabric- The crepe de chine came out pinker than the chiffon- not that that’s bad!

The pieces of the lining are all cut out, and the parts that can be machine stitched are finished. There’s a fair bit of hand sewing, of course, because this was the 20’s and normal people still did that. You see, the argument for normality has absolutely everything to do with context. In the wise words of the great Albert Einstein;

β€œEverybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Maybe I’m a fish trying to climb this 21st century tree. On the other hand, I really like the internet- so maybe I’ll just stick to my one day of the year to pretend to be a 20’s girl, and then come back to reality for another 364.25 days before I pretend again. It’ll be more like 3 days, though, because I want to enter some contests over the weekend, and Halloween is on a Thursday.

(note that this quote only loosely applies to the situation- I like it anyways though.)

Sidetracked. Sorry. So the pieces for the lining are cut, sewn, and pinned, and Lucille is currently displaying the progress in our living room. This was initially frightening, because Lucille is approximately the size that I was as a senior in High School- and things have shifted a bit in the four years or so since then. The dress hangs off her oddly, and gapes a bit at the underarms. I panicked a bit, and tried it on myself- and it’s fine. You don’t get to see it on me until it’s at least a little closer to done, though- if not totally done.

Lucille and the not-quite-finished lining

Lucille and the not-quite-finished lining

With the lining satisfyingly moving along, I turned my attention to the chiffon. A bit harder to handle, but with enough bottles of nail polish to hold it down as I cut, all my pieces turned out straight. I sewed the bodice together (french seams!), and starched the living daylights out of it so that it would take the beads without too much puckering. This worked out beautifully, I’m very happy that I decided to try it. Usually, I would have used a stabilizer on the back, but any tear away varieties would have torn the fabric on their way out, and leaving it on the back means it would show through the sheer fabric. Bad things, either way. Besides, I like to work with a loose piece of fabric when I do my bead embroidery.

Finished feather number one- only... seven more to go!

Finished feather number one- only… seven more to go!

So that’s coming along- There are two different feather designs which alternate along the 8 points at the hip line. At 8 feathers, and with 4 weeks until Halloween (slightly less, at this point), I have to bead two feathers per week to get it done on time- while also finishing the rest of the construction, finding the perfect shoes, making a hair accessory, and willing my hair to grow out just another centimeter so I can have an appropriate hairstyle. That last bit I can do while I’m beading, though. As you can see, I’ve finished the first feather of this week, and moved on to the second. I’m also considering the possibility of a feather on the shoulder, but we’ll see what that likelihood is in another week or two.

Number two- hopefully will be done tonight!

Number two- hopefully will be done tonight!

I had forgotten just how much I enjoy bead embroidery, too. My first prom dress had this kind of freehand beading, though that was an abstract kind of paint-by-numbers situation. The second was a more densely packed version using cross stitch fabric, which was a little different and fun in a new way. The third, and the last prom dress had sculptural flowers that were stitched separately and sewn on. That was wonderful, and I really loved how it turned out.My sisters and I are now out of proms- next comes weddings, so long as I can find someone who’ll let me make a dress for her!

A tower of beads- my favorite kind of bead storage, if you're at all interested.

A tower of beads- my favorite kind of bead storage, if you’re at all interested.

Now, though, it seems that I’m back to my roots, in a slightly different way. Bead embroidery is difficult, and it’s intense, and it often leaves me sore, and in a bit more pain than I was when I started, but here’s the thing. I began the first feather after a very stressful day full of classes and homework and the like, and as soon as I stitched the first few beads down, all my troubles melted away, and it was just me, in the middle of the night, me and my beads. The fabric draped over a pillow in my lap (helps me not to slouch), and the beads on a small leather swatch at my side. It’s positively meditative, and it gives me the opportunity to think through things, and often come up with solutions to problems in other parts of my life. Or, I just settle down and empty my brain of everything except the task at hand. It’s beautiful, and that outweighs the negatives.

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This weekend, I want to finish the second feather and hand stitch the lining bodice top to the skirt. That’s really the beauty of older styles: Things are interchangeable- The patterns were written so that a person could create the garment with or without a sewing machine. It’s my opinion that hand sewing creates something a bit more personal- even though I do so very much love my dear sewing machine. When I was young, I hated hand sewing. I thought it was too slow, and just generally not worth it. I was always in a rush to finish. I also thought that pressing one’s seams was unnecessary and not worth the trouble. I suppose those are the sorts of things you learn as you grow up- that a bit of patience and extra care along the way leads to something you’ll be happier with in the end. I’ve found that this observation also tends to apply to life in general. I love to work slowly and enjoy the process. The Boy observed recently “you seem to enjoy the process a lot more than the finished product.”- I do enjoy the finished product though, but I think he might be right.

And now, for something completely different!

Those of you who know me will recall that I have a rather intense fascination with mushrooms. Of course, I love the ones you put in food, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Maybe at a later date, I’ll post a whole album full of the photos I’ve taken of mushrooms- because, there’s a whole album’s worth of them… But for now, suffice it to say that I love finding mushrooms.

So the story begins: I was leaving work, out the door of the art building, when I spied a whole army of mushrooms growing just off the sidewalk- in the grass, of course. Yesterday, the sun never really came up- it was just generally stormy and threatening-looking all day, though not actually raining at this point. I saw them, let out a little involuntary squeal, and ran (actual running, not just fast walking) back to my apartment. I felt compelled to beat the rain, lest the mushrooms drown before I had a chance to photograph them. I dropped all my stuff on the floor, grabbed my camera/tripod/equipment, plus an umbrella to protect said equipment should it start to rain in the middle of my shoot, and then went back to the mushrooms.

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They were still there, and it was not raining. Good.

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I experimented with lenses, and extreme angles, and got some silly looks from passers-by.

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But those little mushrooms were adorable, and I took a lot of pictures. It didn’t even start raining until after I was safely back in my apartment!

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So, that was a super exciting part of my day- worth getting distracted from a post that was, otherwise, pretty centered around one topic. This doesn’t seem to usually happen with me, my mind is sort of all over the place.

Edit: This dress is finished! Have some pictures:

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