Soap Explorations and a Little about Pleats

Smocked Apron

First, I’m still working on my smocked apron. I put away my second mock-up and started on the real thing, mostly because Christmas Revel is NEXT week!  The gathering stitching is going slow, but I’m making tinier pleats and more rows – 12 rows of 3/8″ pleats as opposed to the 8 rows of 1/2″ pleats of the first mock-up.  Hand pleating is very tedious.

I used the yard stick on the cutting board method with dots instead of lines, hoping the blue water-soluble marker will wash out easier. Somehow though, maybe because I was talking with the family instead of fully concentrating on measuring, my dots are not lined up. After I did the pleating stitches on the first row, I realized the other rows of dots are not lined up.

Probably I should have pulled the one row out, water spritzed out all the dots and do it again possibly taping the edge of the fabric to the cutting board with architect’s tape. But no! I thought I would just eye-ball line it up by visually tracing the rows of weft threads from each row down to the next. Oh my!!! That took a while.

Late last night, after my husband and daughter got home from doing an SCA demo at ComicCon, I was just about done with all twelve rows of the pleat stitches, when they caught me with the cloth spread out on the bed, just staring at it. And they knew.

“No you are NOT going to pull all of those threads out and start all over again!!!”  I was still tempted.  The conversation then took a personal turn. I acquiesced to their suggestion just to go with it.

Of course my husband had to get in the last remark of “And don’t you blog about this either!”  Well, I have to win some part of the argument.

Yes, the pleating stitches are nice and nearly all even, which says a-lot considering that each row has about 80 pleats. Times that by 12.

BUT . . . it’s not perfect. I see it being off a warp thread or two here and there, and it just bugs me.  I did say I would go with it as is, so I’m going to do that. The smocking will start today.

 

Holiday Soap

I’ve been a soap-maker for about 12 years. Not the melt and pour kind, either. The fully gloved and goggled, playing with lye and fats, having a few battle scars and taking a few Silkwood showers (ala Meryl Streep)  kind of soap maker.  That last part was a long time ago.

There are two major methods of making soap from scratch. Cold process and hot process.

Cold process allows for more artistic play and makes a harder bar (hard bars lat longer), but it takes 6 weeks to cure before you can use it. By artistic, I mean this:

IMG_0121 and IMG_0122

I made these a couple of years ago. Pretty, huh?

Hot process soap is not as artistic and not as hard, but you can use it right away.

Which one is more medieval? Hot process – hands down.  I have soap recipes from the Middle Ages:  four 16th century, one 14th century and one 12th century.  To quote one, “Boil by itself until it is cooked down and reduced to thickness”  That’s hot-processed  (or HP) soap making.  One day, I’ll do a how-to on making soap using medieval recipes. Just not today.

I made some yesterday with my youngest daughter. We made 7 lbs: 2 lbs each of lavender and peppermint (all natural), 2 lbs of an artificial scent called “Christmas,” and 1 lb of unscented, for my middle daughter who hates smells.

Coming up in the next couple of weeks, I have a few soap gifting occasions. Although HP soap is ready to use right away, it’s best to let it sit so that the water can evaporate out and make it a harder bar. No one wants  mushy soap.

So I’m wondering if I can speed up that evaporation process by using the oven. Set the temperature to a low 170 degrees, put the soap in while still in the wooded molds, turn the oven off and let it sit overnight. I have not been able to find anyone in my soap making communities who has tried this evaporation method, which may mean that it’s a really bad idea. I’m willing to give it a go anyway.

Results will be posted tomorrow!

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Pleated Embroidered (Smocked) Apron: Mock-Up #1

First, I finally got the fabric I’m going to use for the side-laced cotte dyed!!

Freshly Dyed Fabric

I love the color! I was thinking it would be a bit more blue-ish, but I am pleasantly surprised by the results. I put it next to my white muslin for comparison.

I ended up using Dharma’s fiber reactive procion colors:

One part #30A Emerald Green

One part #32A Electric Blue

And 3/4 part #46 Brilliant Blue

On to the Pleated Apron

My first mock-up of the embroidered pleated apron is done!  It’s a style of aprons that popped up around the mid 14th century and lasted until the late 16th century without changing much in style. I found a couple of new pictures demonstrating the over 200 year range of this accoutrement.

Luttrell Psalter
1320 – 1340 England

Detail from The Seamstress
Edward Schoen 1535

What I like, other than the bling quality, is that it makes the simple apron not so simple and allows it to be worn with fancier garb.

Last time I left off, I was having problems simply getting the dots straight. Here’s what I worked out.

That green thing in the upper right is a home-made Bat-a-rang I made for my son’s birthday party 3 years ago. I still find those things everywhere!

I made a perfect rectangle of a piece of cotton muslin by pulling threads. Here’s a quick and dirty tutorial on it: http://www.sewing.org/files/guidelines/4_204_straightening_fabric_grain.pdf

I squared the edges on my large fabric cutting board and used the marks to make a line nearly across the entire apron every half inch.  Half an inch was too big on one of my previous attempts, but with the method I’m trying, it’s perfect.

Keeping the fabric still lined up on the mat, I marked every 1/2″ in the perpendicular direction. The fabric did slip quite a bit, so generally between each row I would re-straighten it on the mat. It doesn’t matter how many rows you make, but it needs to be an even number (we’ll get to that later).

At this point, I have eight long lines going across, and about 70 dashes going up and down.

Somewhere I read a tip that said do all of the gathering stitches at once. So I threaded 8 needles – I used sharp, medium length embroidery needles. I used normal DMC embroidery floss in a light, but not white color. Avoid the urge to use a completely contrasting color, like red. I did that with the cartridge pleats on my partlet, and when I pulled them out, it left red residue in the holes.

The method I used was I ran along the length-way lines. A smidgen before every dash, I pushed the needle through the fabric. Using the same motions used in a running stitch, right after each dash I came back up.

Tie the back ends of the thread together in batches of 2 and 3. It makes it easier to adjust when gathering the fabric.

When you get to the end of your threads, but still have more line to finish . . .

Start pulling the gathers. That’s why you tied the threads off at the other end and why it’s easier to work all 8 rows at once.

When I finished gathering the gathers, I thought that it looked way too small. I knew that I wanted the apron wider than this.

So I set about spreading the folds and trying my hardest to keep the columns straight. Then I laughed and realized that the smocking will loosen the gathers. I re-pulled the threads together, although not as tight as I did at first.

Take a chop-stick, or something like it, and pock into each pocket created by the gathered threads. It is tedious, but when you are done . . .

all of the rows line up nicely, and . . .

the front looks just lovely.

Now for the smocking. It helps if you understand the pattern first before the stitches.

The Pattern

  • You are working with 2 rows at a time. That’s why you made an even number of rows.
  • I labeled the columns to make it easier to understand.
  • Remember: rows go side to side. Columns go up and down, like columns on a building. It’ll get confusing if I don’t make this distinction.
  • Start at the lower LEFT of the whole damn thing. Believe me, it makes a difference. (Yeah, I tried starting on the right – a big mess)
  • At the bottom left corner, Column A and Column B get stitched together. (Stitch explanations come in a minute).
  • Then go up one row, and Column B and Column C get stitched together.
  • Go back down one row and Column C and Column D get stitches together.
  • Go up one row and Column D and Column E get stitched together.
  • Go back down one row and Column E and Column F get stitched together
  • And so on, and so on, until you finish those 2 rows.
  • Here’s a little visual I threw together:

The Stitches

  • Bring your thread up from the bottom on the leftish to middle part of the top of A. In this case, A is not at the end.
  • Bring your needle around the other side of B and push it through both A and B.
  • Do that one more time. Bring the needle around to the other side of B and go through B and A.
  • Now bring the needle around again, but this time slip the needle into B only. You are going to run the needle up B to the row on top of it. BUT you are doing this under the cloth.
  • Now you are going to do to B and C what you just did to A and B.
  • And then come back down C to the first row.
  • Now repeat with C and D. And then with D and E. And so on.

When you get to the end of the row:

  • Connect the last two together and then tie your thread off underneath.
  • Ignore the thread in the middle, it’s just a loose thread that got into the frame.

Starting a New Row

  • Whatever you do, do NOT, I mean do NOT, just move on up to Row 3 and think you’re going to just work your way back to the left.
  • It does NOT work that way. Yeah, I learned that the hard way too.
  • Go back to the beginning of Row 3 all the way on the left.
  • The pattern for Rows 3 & 4 is the same as for Rows 1 & 2
  • Repeat again for Rows 5 & 6, and then 7 & 8.
  • Keep doing it until you finish

Progression

All Done, At Least with the Smocking

  • After the first two or three, I grew tired of having to tie off the loose threads in the back. The pleats are still fairly tight, and that made it a little more difficult.
  • Once I was done with the smocking, I took out the gathering stitches.
  • Loosened the pleats.
  • Then I tied down all of the loose threads.
  • Front view

  • Back side

All that was left was to hem it and add the apron ties and waistband.

Do I like it?  Yes, I think it is beautiful.

Can I improve on my techniques? Absolutely! Even looking back through the pictures I saw a couple of things I can do better on next time. All-in-all, smocking can be fun!

Making the 16th Century Flemish Working Class Woman’s Gown Part 2: The Construction

It’s been a month since I’ve posted anything about  my 16th century Flemish costume. Where did I leave off? Ah, the dress. On to the construction.

This is a continuation of a series of posts I’m writing on my construction of a 16th century outfit, which would have been worn by a working class woman of Flanders. I wrote about my analysis of the gown in the last post in this series: https://maniacalmedievalist.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/making-the-16th-century-flemish-working-class-womans-gown-part-1-the-documentation/

Most of my construction was based off of Kass McGann’s ideas posted in Reconstructing History: http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/blog/the-netherlandish-working-womans-outfit-part-1.html

When it comes to 16th century Dutch dress, there are two main theorists. Kass is one. The other is Drea Leed: http://www.elizabethancostume.net/lowerclass/makeflem.html . It’s not that I disagree with Drea. I felt that Kass’s ideas would result more in the look I wanted to achieve than Drea’s.  The look I want comes mainly from the paintings by Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen, two 16th centruy painters who mainly worked out of Antwerp.

If you go to Kass’s part two in her Netherlandish Working Woman’s Outfit ( http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/blog/the-netherlandish-working-womans-outfit-part-2.html ), she gives fairly straight forward instructions on creating the bodice part of the gown.

I started out with two squares of my linen. I sewed them together to give the bodice extra strength when lacing.

Using my modern awl, I made the holes for the eyelets. I really do need to get a more period awl.

I laced the square of fabric around the mid-section of my dress dummy.

To prepare for making an armhole, I made a slit from the top of square, where it hit my shoulders, down to about armpit level.

I squared off the hole in order to get to the shoulder seams.

The square I used was way too long. I ended up wasting a good bit of fabric at the top. If I make something like this again, I’ll figure out how to use measurements to get a more accurate piece of fabric.

I sewed up the shoulder seam a bit at a time until it fit fairly snug.

detail from Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Joachim Beuckelaer

The pieces of the skirt are pretty geometric.

At this point, I had not had as much experience making pleats, so I first tried box pleats.

Flight into Egypt, detail
Joachim Beuckelaer

The rear ends of the women in these paintings are awfully large, but I couldn’t justify using a bum-roll. Why would a working class woman wear a bum-roll? My guess is that the look was achieved with pleatings. Box pleats, however, did not work.

So I tried cartridge pleats. I’m not unhappy with the pleats, but I still need to go back an re-attach them. My method of attaching them to the bodice part flattened them out a good bit more than I wanted.

Overall, I’m happy with it. I achieved the look I wanted, minus a few minor errors. I did, however, learn quite a bit.

Beginning to Smock

I take back all the bad things I said about cartridge pleating and blackwork counted stitch embroidery. Smocking! That’s the real pain in the tush!

It’s for the decorative apron I’m making for my Christmas Revel A&S entry. It’s a project for which I have the documentation. It’s not so big that it’ll take months and months to complete, but it has a degree of complexity.

Yesterday, I looked over the documentation. The pleating part looks like cartridge pleats but on a larger scale. I figured that since I know how to do cartridge pleats, this should be no problem. Wrong! My problem is that it is so much larger and getting the pleating marks even is not easy.

At first I berated myself and told myself that I must be daft if I can not figure out how to do this. That was after I spent 5 hours doing this:

Ignore the squiggly on the side; it’s part of an abandoned project. As you can see, the dots are no where near even. At first I was trying to use the edge to make the dots line up. I gave up on that and drew a base-line to use. Still, even with my fancy ruler they would not line up. Plus I was making the dots 1/2″ apart, and after thinking about it (and 5 hours of cursing) I wanted them closer together.

It really didn’t help that I was doing this on my lap, using a large cookbook as a table. I was kind of in the middle of a Psych marathon with my 14 year old and didn’t want to get up.

So, I gave up on this end. I turned the linen piece around and made a straight edge by pulling threads out and cutting along the missing thread line:

The dots may be hard to see from the faintness, but they are much straighter. I used my favorite ruler that let me see through to match up the now straight fabric edge to the measuring lines. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. It still took over 4 hours to do (and I’m not quite done yet).

All of this work left me a little anxious to get into the actual smocking, but I realized that I was still unclear about some of the details.

Sometimes before you can learn something new, you need to figure out what not only what things are called, but what questions you need to ask. So I needed to hit the books again and do a bit more research.

My first question was how do you get the pleats (and/or) dots even without going insane.  Turns out that it’s not that easy. My having problems with it wasn’t unusual. In fact they make specific tools just  for getting the dots even when smocking, such as iron-on smocking dots and dot templates. They also make machines that do nothing but make the pleats for smocking. Wow! So I’m not such a nutter-head for having a difficult time doing this.

I got some tips and thought of a couple of creative ways on my own to make the dots even and less time consuming. More on that later.

Then I started asking other questions:

When making the pleats, does it matter if I work from left to right and from top to bottom?

With the dots, do I go up one hole and down the next? Or do I go down slightly to one side of the hole and up slightly to the other side (or vice/versa)?

What about needle angle? Should it always be perpendicular to the fabric? Or can I use a running stitch?

And the type of needle. After it’s pleated what kind of needle do I use to smock? Long or short? Sharp or ball-point?

I found out some of the answers, and the rest I figure I will learn by trail and error.

So I put my nice linen down, cut a piece of cotton muslin and decided that it’s mock-up time. What will I use my mock-ups for? Casual wear. My girls could wear them. Or I just may give one out as a door prize when I teach a class on this stuff.

One things I did discover is that there are very little tutorials on-line on smocking from the beginning to the end of a project.  So I plan on making one. A smocking for dummies tutorial. That will come much later after I’ve learned it myself.

It may seem like I flit about from one project to another, not finishing any – or at least that’s what my husband thinks. But I’m not.

Side-laced cotte update:

  • Washed the fabric yesterday
  • Have one or two more dying test batches to try out before deciding on a color
  • Should be dying the fabric tomorrow

Blackwork Coif:

  • Still working on my needle-case in order to learn counted stitch blackwork embroidery.
  • Have the flowers and patterns picked out for the coif
  • The scroll-work design has been transferred to the linen I’ll be using.
  • I still have to decide on  exact placement and sketch it out, but I’ll do that after my needle-case is done.

Off to sew!

Christmas Revel Prep

I’ve felt run down for the last few days, but I was hoping it was just a low iron week. I added my vitamins back to my daily regimen in hopes that would I feel better, but I’m still tired. This morning I woke up coughing. At least with the vitamin increase, I should be able to fight off this bad boy a bit faster than normal. I’ll just cure it with some hot toddies. Ooo, and I have a grog mix I’ve been wanting to try.  I do have to run out to get the Thanksgiving turkey today, but after than it’s bed for me.

The realization that I will not get done with my blackwork Elizabethan coif in time to enter it into Christmas Revel’s A&S has hit me. Counted stitch blackwork is very, very slow. I’m not even half done with my needle-case cover, and all I’ve done on the coif is planned and sketched it.

So, I spent part of last night looking through the documentation I’ve gathered for projects that I haven’t yet made, and I decided on the pleat-work embroidered apron.  Since my next non-A&S compliant project is the side-laced cotte (I’m just going to  machine-sew it), I want something to bling it up. Not much jewelry was worn in the age of cotehardies. By the time they introduced waist-lines, even the girdle was not tremendously popular. However, in a few manuscripts and woodcut prints you see a very fancy apron.

It’s white, although I have seen a couple of other colors, and it’s most probably linen.  Along the top, normally gathered edge, you see pleat-work, sometimes plain and sometimes with embroidery on top of it. It looks very much like smocking in some of the pictures. I’ve never done smocking (I’m a virgin smocker), but it looks suspiciously like cartridge pleats – rows of evenly spaced gathering stitches.

This apron is seen from the early  14th to the mid 16th centuries. So I can wear it with my cotes or my late period Flemish garb, which makes it a pretty versatile accessory. Here are a few examples.

14th Century Pleatwork Apron

Early 14th Century
Brown pleat-work apron with white edging

Early 15th Century

 

Mid 16th Century

Now to figure out the how, and hopefully later tonight I’ll start the pleating.