March 2008

It has taken me way too long to post this next section, and the section itself is long. So I’m dividing it up in the interests of getting the information here, where it is useful, rather than sitting on my computer being half-written, where it is not. I will also be putting the whole thing together on its own page, as soon as I figure out how I can do that without messing up people’s links. That way anyone who is interested should be able to get RSS updates on that page alone. Forwarding links will be provided!

PART TWO – how many pieces? Measurements, and Building the Back.

The first step to building a pattern off your measurements is, of course, having some measurements to work from. If the person wearing the dress will be corseted, make sure the measurements are taken while the corset is being worn! The basic measurements that you will want to have are:
bust (around the body at the widest point on the chest
waist (around the body at the narrowest point)
note: again as a result of modern fashions, a surprising number of people have no idea where their waist actually is. The waist is the narrowest, and also the most compress-able point on the torso. It is usually much higher than people believe it to be. If you or the person taking measurements have any cause to doubt the exact position of the waist, have your ‘measuree’ stand with their hands on their hips and bend sideways – their body will bend at the natural waist, and the flesh will wrinkle there. Measure that point.
back across shoulders – for me this is usually exactly what it sounds like – across the back at the level of the shoulder blades, stopping at the shoulder joint and before the arm. I’ve had people interpret it other ways – ‘armpit to armpit’, for example. That really doesn’t matter, you can use either one. What is important is that you, the person who needs the measurement, know what it represents.
back length – this is from the base of the neck to the point on the back at which you took the waist measurement. Where there will be variance here, if someone else is measuring, is whether they used the base of the neck, or higher – some people include the length of the neck in this measurement. Again, as long as you know, you can adjust.
bust point – the bust measurement marks the widest point on the chest on the horizontal plane, the bust point measures from the shoulder to the highest point on the bust. (Basically, picture shoulder to nipple). This measurement will give you an angle, and tell you rather a lot about the shape of the body you’re about to cover.
arm length (elbow slightly bent) not essential, but it’s a nice one to have, and saves the guesswork.

Other measurements you may want, depending on style, period, and how paranoid you are (I like to get as many measurements as possible, because it’s always good to be able to cross check yourself as you go)
waist to floor
neck circumference
upper arm circumference
hip (usually almost completely irrelevant, but might be useful if you’re doing one of those clingier, longer-torsoed late period gowns

The reasons for measuring in the corset are obvious. You will also want to know what the corset looks like, what style it is. There were three distinct phases of corset shape even in the basic overbust corset during this period. To that you can add the underbust styles, and the “spoon busk”, which adds an outward curve over the belly. Spoon busks won’t make a huge difference in your measurement, but an underbust will – the bustline will be lower, while a “straight front” will make the bustline higher, and add more curve to the back seam but less to the lower front. The only measurement that will change significantly is that bust point one, so you won’t be able to tell just from the measurements what your proportions are, to get everything sitting just right, you’ll want to be able to picture the undergarments in your head as you work.
(NB: corsets do not actually alter the natural waist measurement very much. The purpose of a corset in period is to emphasize the waist and mold the figure, not to warp it unrealistically. (There were tight-lacing fetishists, as there are now, but that’s a whole other discussion!) Generally, a corset will reduce your waist by 2-4 inches, but the corset itself adds two inches to the body’s girth, so by the time you’ve added petticoats, skirt waistbands, and a structured bodice, the waist will be back up to the natural measurement or higher. What a corset does is smooth and mold the lines of the body, and alter the posture, and the position of the breasts. So, if you don’t know what kind of corset will be worn, the measurements you take will be accurate, but they may be in the wrong place.)

Note for the following – I draw my patterns on scrap fabric – old bedsheets, or whatever, and add my seam allowances when I cut. Remember to make sure you add seam allowances, because I’m not including them in the measurements I discuss below!

Here’s a rough sketch (very rough, I just got a new draw pad and I’m still learning!) of what your back piece should look like:


If you can’t read my handwriting, which wouldn’t be surprising, your back length is that top shaped bit. You can cut it on the fold, but notice that there will be a back seam anyway – the fold will be at the edge of that jutting out piece that starts at the waist. Even if your bodice doesn’t have a long skirt attached, as this one obviously does, it will likely have some kind of skirt/ruffle/peplum hanging out over the bustle – this is to give a smooth line over the bustle and prevent the waist of the skirt from showing. That jutting out piece will be pleated into the waist, and all that extra fabric will spread out over the bustle of the dress.

Notice how the shoulder seam drops down. The width of that little dip for the neck is not wide at all – you only want about four inches maximum there (two inches either side) and all the rest is shoulder. Finding the length of that line is easy – from the centre back to the edge of the armscy is one half your back width, so once you’ve got your little neck scoop, the shoulder is an angled line from the neck to wherever the edge of your armscy should be. It should drop enough to hit just below the ball joint of the shoulder (if you poke yourself there, it hurts) but this doesn’t have to be exact, there’s no need to go poking the person you’re sewing for, just eyeball it.

The skinniest part of this piece, at the waist, is only a couple of inches. It can be as narrow as ONE inch! Don’t be shy – the narrower it is, the more bias is included in that sweet curvy seam, which means the more your fabric will be willing to shape to match the body inside it!

The curve of the armscy on this piece is actually quite short as well, again only a couple of inches. My sketching got a little over-enthusiastic there, it should probably be a bit shorter and less dramatically curvy. Wherever you end it, you are now going to draw that lovely curve up from the waist and out to the edge of the armscy. Don’t curve out too soon, but do keep it a nice sweep. Modern princess curves are almost square; just up and then out. You want something more graceful. If you draw an imaginary line straight between the waist and armscy, and then imagine another line joining them with a right angle (lines in red):


see how the line curves up, cutting the resulting triangle in half? (Cut a triangle in half? That sounds like math. I don’t do math, but hopefully you can see what I mean!)

Now, that back piece has a history. In some early to mid nineteenth century dresses, it even does have a straight line instead of a curve – that’s when you’re working with a crinoline rather than a bustle and the bodice lines aren’t quite as snug. But long before that, the backs of doublets worn by men and women were sometimes cut that way, and the front piece was just one enormous curved section that wrapped all the way around. That’s not desperately important, but I mention it because it works REALLY WELL and I still use a memory of that shape when cutting bodice fronts.

Before we get to the bodice front, however, you’ll be wanting the rest of the back. As you can plainly see, you have quite a bit of skirt there with nothing above it! This shape is easy in principle, and quite small – all it is doing is filling in that gap. I like to cut it next, and cut it a bit larger than I’ll need, because it’s the easiest piece to trim bits off of. Once you know that back seam is sitting nicely, you can cut your front to fit, and any excess can be trimmed out of the side seam, so you’ll never have to worry about messing up the more complicated back or front sections while making size adjustments.

Here’s the shape:


Again translating my horrible scribble: The long curved side matches to the back curve. In fact, it needs to be slightly LONGER, so that the cut of the armscy will line up, because it’s descending pretty abruptly here. Remember, even if you’re scrimping on fabric, it is less wasteful to cut something a bit larger than you think you’ll need, and have to trim it down, than to cut too small and have to throw away the whole piece. That’s true of this piece especially, because it’s got the most room for adjustment, and also if it IS wasted, there is nothing else in the bodice that you can use it for. Too short for facings, to small and off-straight for trimmings, too narrow and close to straight for bindings. Play it safe on this one!

The shorter side should be about the length of the armpit to the waist (usually about half of the back length). Period dresses had very very small armholes, much tighter and less comfortable than we’re used to. I’m not recommending this, you’ll want to widen it out a bit later. I AM recommending that you cut it this high to begin with, though. Though I’m boring you to tears, I will repeat again that this is where most of your playing around will happen, and some very strange things can occur with an armscy when you adjust the side seam. You want to have that extra inch or two, just in case.

Now, the diagram above is really a sort of general idea of the shape of this piece, because it can actually vary quite a lot from person to person. The bottom of it should have a very slight curve – more noticable the wider the piece is – because it is wrapping around the body to the side. The measurement I was just discussing, what will be the side seam, will probably angle out a bit, but it depends on how narrow your back waist is, and how wide and full the bust is. What you want is for the two pieces together to cover the whole back, to right under the arm. So if the waist is 28 inches, then one half the centre back at the waist plus one of these side back pieces at the waist should add up to seven inches. (plus seam allowances) If the total bust is 36 inches, then at the point under the arm, the two together should measure to 9 inches (plus seam allowances)


If the person the dress is for has a small cup size, you probably won’t be altering this piece very much. If they are larger busted, or have a straight-front corset, you’ll wind up trimming the top of that section smaller, because their chest measurement won’t be evenly divided, they’ll have more up front. The waist, on the other hand, because of the corset, will be more symmetrical. That is the reason I cut the pieces in this order, too – it allows me to play with the layout of the front as I go, because knowing what I have in the back tells me what I have left to work with from my measurements, how much I have to take in and where it looks best to do so.

Which is what I’ll be getting to next time. Also to come are linings, underlinings, and boning! Feel free to nag if it doesn’t happen soon enough! Also, if I’m unclear (which wouldn’t surprise me) or have missed something, or if you just have a question about stuff I might have an opinion on, you are welcome to email me. Seriously. I will cheerfully babble about costuming with people at the drop of a well-trimmed bonnet!


Today’s gratuitous lamb picture:

The naked old people are going well. They actually make up very quickly, the greater part of the time involved is me, consulting the shape of imaginary naked old people in my head (all of the old people I know tend to wear clothes; they get cold easily) and figuring out how to cut those shapes. Despite what I said last time, I even have pictures, because one of them is also supposed to be fat, and so there is so much stuffing in the costume that it looks like something even without a person in it.

Note – if you or someone you love is, in fact, a naked old person, please don’t be offended, I’m just doing my job. Although yes, I am obviously enjoying an utterly juvenile delight in saying “naked old people” as often as possible.




There’s another chubby and also hairy-arsed one (a guy), and two skinny ones, and the other two are just kind of podgy and droopy. As appropriate. These are (did I mention before?) for LYSISTRATA, which hopefully explains everything.

Speaking of old people I know, I bought a vacuum cleaner. Yes, of course I can bring that together, would you really still be reading this blog if it didn’t come with the challenge of figuring out how the heck a) turns into b) or even f) in my mind? I didn’t think so. Here then, is my wandering and pointless story:

Like most people at one time or another, I had two grandmothers. Both were tiny and quite pretty, both were willing to let me stay at their house for at least a week every summer from quite a young age, and both ate food to stay alive and breathed oxygen. After that we pretty much run out of similarities, except that they both loved me a lot but also both ‘got along’ better with my brother once he came along. This was never actually spoken, but I had the impression that he was easier to deal with because he wasn’t weird. (This is not true. My beloved brother is really VERY strange, but is also really good at faking normalcy.)

My one grandmother was kind of dotty, but very very creative. She was (at least by the time I knew her) kind of overwhelmed by the whole ‘housekeeping’ thing – she would do laundry, and run a vacuum around at least the main room of the house now and then, and I might even have seen her dust a few times, although I wouldn’t put money on it. What she liked to do was sew, and draw, and make little dolls, and make clothes for the little dolls, and cut paper, and tat lace, and paint tiny pictures on rocks, and crochet, and… you get the idea. Also she kept budgies, and taught them to talk. And she fed the birds outside, and I’m pretty sure she talked to them too, although they never answered (that I know of).

My other grandmother was SuperHouswife. June Cleaver was eating her dust. She vacuumed all the rooms every day and also dusted, and hosed down the outside of the house, and trimmed her hedges and cleaned the patio (possibly with a vacuum) and swept the porch… and that was just the stuff she did before she started whatever she was planning to do that day. I am not kidding.

Guess who I resemble more? If you picked June, you have not been paying attention!!!

I like having a clean house. Really, I swear I do! It makes me happy! And it makes me happy to be the one cleaning it, because I get kind of creeped out by the whole ‘other person coming in to clean up my mess’ thing. I would be the one who would clean up for the cleaning lady. Or, conversely, I would not clean up for the cleaning lady, and she would shriek and run away and never be seen in this town again. Either way, I lose. Because although I do really and truly like it when my house is clean, I would on the whole rather be sewing, or making lace, or knitting, or spinning, or talking to chickens or hugging sheep. And so most of the time, those are the things I actually do, and otherwise I just kind of run a vacuum around in the places people will see, and try to convince Raven to dust. Which even works, sometimes.

And then the vacuum cleaner broke.

Now, we tend to aquire things when other people are done with them, and as a result when things break it is rarely a question of replacing a belt or tightening a nut. Things around here when they break explode, or melt, or shatter, or burst into flame, that kind of thing. Sometimes a combination of two or more of those things at once. And it’s often not the ones you would expect, either. We had one TV melt, and another melt and blow up, I had a hand-held sander that seemed to be melting while bursting into flame. The vacuum – which until this point had been a pretty decent upright – shattered, and then burst into flame. Entertaining, really.

But I live in the country, and there are animals inside and out, and frankly it was getting kind of thick in here. Something had to be done, and since the vacuum cleaner had actually decided to burst into flame while Raven was trying to see what he could do about fixing the ‘shattered’ part, it wasn’t really going to be part of the game plan. So yesterday (because I would have no idea how to make one, and also I had a gift certificate) I went out and bought a brand new, briefly shiny shopvac. It is my first new vacuum ever, and I’m very excited. I cleaned lots and lots of the house with it yesterday, and when I get done writing this I’m going to go clean more. I’ve never had a vacuum that had both reach and suction at the same time before! I may even be able to get some of the cobwebs off the three-inch stucco that some lunatic put on the eighteen-foot-high ceilings in my back room! (Someday, oh someday I will have nothing better to do, and some scaffolding, and a hammer…!)

I’m quite sure the thrill will wear off, probably very soon. But in the meantime, I’m actually getting some spring cleaning done!

I’ve always been a lousy shopper.  First off, I’m cheap.  I pinch every penny until it cries ‘uncle’, and I talk myself out of buying darn near everything on the grounds that I can either make my own or do without.

For years and years now, I have refused to buy clothes, because I can make them myself and do a better job anyway.  The fact that I seldom actually get around to making clothes for myself does not factor in this discussion.

Today I was in the fabric store picking up naked old people stuffing (got all the men’s lower bits done and one whole woman*) and I saw a fabric that I liked.  It was less than two dollars a metre.  It would make a cute little summery blouse.  I did not buy it, because I thought “I can make that”. 

I think I need help.

*There are no pictures yet, because they don’t look like anything without people in them.  Once I get ’em done I’ll take pictures on the actors.

I’ve finally got my internet back. This is good news. Now I have to catch up on all the stuff I missed on the group I’m supposed to be a moderator of, plus all the other things that I haven’t bothered to keep up with in the past week, and reply to so many emails that they actually have weight. This is not so good news.

I’m making naked old people costumes for Lysistrata, which frankly I don’t really want to do very much. Also, I might have a cold – or my body might just be complaining about the naked old people. It does that sometimes, pretends I’m getting ill when really I’m just procrastinating.

So with all those reasons to feel grumpy, I was so happy when the post came, and I saw the postman put a big ol’ box into my mailbox. What might it have been?


A box chock full of red alpaca from Bev! It is soooo soft, I just want to roll around in it! (I haven’t. Nor have I spun any of it, because I’m not allowed until the naked old people are finished. I have, however, buried my face in it a couple of times, and made Raven feel it twice. And smell it once.)

So now I have incentive to finish my naked old people. Because you know, simply having an important deadline is never enough! Actually it is, I’m good about deadlines, honest. I’m just happier if I get to give myself a present at the end! So a big happy alpaca-scented “Thank you” to Bev!

I haven’t dug out any pictures of my (funny-looking, I warn you) house yet, so here are some more deck-sheep. The babies are getting so big!


This is what happens if you lie down for ten minutes in my house:


I’m not sure who was there first.

Actually, it’s not too different if you lie down outside, either – just different animals. Anybody have any advice on how to teach a sheep not to jump up on people? Because it’s really, really cute right now, but later on it’s going to hurt, I expect.

Usually, my internet connection is quite fast. A couple of years ago there was a program started to help farmers and other rural types around here to get decent internet. We had dial-up, of course, but since the phone lines around here seem to be based on the “tin can and a piece of string” principle, it was a tad frustrating. So they (y’know, “they”) installed all these wireless towers, and now we can have high-speed internet and a reliable connection, just like the city folk.

Except for when they have to move or fix something, like this week. This week I’m back on dial-up, and whoo boy, is it slow. Also, it keeps bumping me off line.

I had to do some internet stuff today though, so rather than bang my keyboard with frustration while I waited for things to load, I started a sock.

Printed some shipping labels:


Did some internet banking:


Checked the weather:


Dropped by Ravelry:


I’m kidding, I’m kidding! I was only on Ravelry long enough to check my messages. That last picture is the other sock in the pair, and it already looked like that. But, you know it could have happened!

The dye in those socks, by the by, is yellow food coloring, the last of the sumac, and beets. I don’t know why the beets are orange, unless it’s one of those PH things, there was a lot of vinegar in the mix. I think it’s funny, because every time I’m talking to a non-crafty type about dyeing, they say “oh, you should dye with beets, they stain everything!” I tried dyeing cotton with beets ages ago and got no color at all – although it seems to me there might have been a reason I’ve forgotten. Had no luck with red wine, either. And when I tried beets on wool the other night, I got – orange.

I’m kind of happy, though, because these socks are turning out not-unpleasantly, which is about as far as you can get from what I was expecting. Yellow and orange top the list of my least favorite colors (but your rhinos are still cool, Lee!) and I thought these were going to be hideous. Another argument for dyeing before spinning! (A connundrum: I like spinning dyed wool, but I like dyeing spun yarn. Must seek balance.) Anyway, despite having spent hours of work and gallons of paint ridding my life of that weird pinky-orange, which the previous owners of the house apparently liked A Lot, I’m not going to mind wearing these socks after all.

Caboose on this scattered train of thought: Our place used to be a school. It was closed in ‘68, and shortly after converted to a house. Then there was an eerily long series of people who lived here for a year or two – enough to make us wonder, looking at the title search, whether the place was demon-infested or something – then one family had it from ‘89 to ‘99 or so, and then it was vacant until we bought it.

During all that time, and with all those owners, don’t you think it is terminally weird that nobody painted the walls? Oh, the original people did. And at some point, I literally think it was when the last owners were trying to sell it, someone wallpapered the tiny downstairs bathroom. But other than that bathroom, all the walls had one layer of paint. The only thing that had been done to personalize the decor, by anyone, was some sponge dabbing, which was done mostly as borders, on the same original paint job. I get the shivers just thinking about it. I can’t imagine living somewhere and not wanting or caring to make it mine. Sure, sometimes you have an apartment or something where you’re not allowed to change the walls, so you do what you can with pictures or slipcovers or whatever, but in your own house? That you bought and live in?
I just don’t get it.

Pattern: Acorn Stash Socks by Anne Hanson

Yarn: mine (I should really just stop pointing that out, it’s embarrassing. Soon I shall be able to refer to the yarn by the name of its sheep. For now let’s say “Suffolk”) dyed with sumac and kool-aid.

Loved this pattern, bought it as soon as it was released, and am happy to say that it is just as charming to knit as it looks like it should be. The tops of the acorns have a incr.7 that made me cross my eyes and double check the instructions the first time it came up, but really it’s not bad as long as you’re not prone to having a deathgrip on your yarn. I know my tension drifts towards the loose end of things, so if you’re tension is really tight, be careful. But it’s fun and an easy-to-learn pattern, and then you have cute acorns! It’s win-win!



I don’t know why precisely, it just was. I knit, I spun, I got the washing machine working, the lambs have figured out that I’m the one what knows where the grain is, and so they come pounding to meet me when I step outside (even Chloe!), and I baked butter tart squares. Just nice. Oh, and Raven went to the pharmacy and the grocery store for me and so I didn’t even have to go out into the world, and he stopped at the mushroom farm and got a big ol’ box of fresh yummy mushrooms.

And having been able to run the yarn-thing through the washer, here it is being all drape-y:


The silk, as you can see, continues to defy my attempts to prove that there is not-blue there. I think it’s because it’s so reflective, probably I should have built a light box, or something. I’ll get right on that. Maybe tuesday. Here is a detail shot that’s a bit closer to the real thing:


If I had known what the yarn was planning, I would have spun twice as much.  If I were to do something like this again, I would like to try it with a larger base and also with more but smaller pieces of fabric.  I like the overall grid effect, and I think I prefer these large pieces ON the smaller rectangle, but I can see myself wishing the whole thing was a bit bigger, and if it were I think I would like the look of smaller print pieces better.

I think the yarn was right, though, this was way more fun than just a dumb cowl.