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It has been an amazing season so far for the garden. Everything is growing so well and we’ve been enjoying full-sized tomatoes for over a month, which is the earliest we’ve ever managed.

We’re also getting lots more than is typical since the late blight usually cuts into the peak production. Not only are the large amounts of tomato, the tomatoes themselves are really big! This one is our personal record for size and was 2 pounds, 8 ounces! It’s also the third one we’ve had over 2 pounds so a remarkable harvest. There are so many we’re actually doing some canning but this one will be carved up for dinner!

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After figuring out how to make my own custom plus-sized 20’s “flapper” dress, I wanted to finish the look off with a period headpiece. The dress was an evening style, so a fascinator or headband was the way to go and I ended up with something that was a bit of both.

We had recently found a group of tubular peyote bead woven necklaces and bracelets. One necklace had beads that matched the beaded details on the waist scarf and trim from the dress so it was the starting point. It was a bit too short to work as a headband so was sewn to a short band of black covered elastic. That gave the needed additional length and some flexibility to the fit. Plus, I find a bit of stretch is always more comfortable and stable on headpieces.

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The necklace/headband looked pretty good already, but I wanted it to have more impact. The scarf that makes up the main body of the dress had been cut apart in the process and some of the middle was also taken out in shaping the neckline. I’d held on to the leftovers and was able to salvage a piece with some nice shape and sparkly accents that was about as long as my palm.

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The edges were sealed by burning, like the dress neckline,and then it was mounted to a piece of black felt with some interfacing. This gave it body and stability. Some rhinestones were added. A scrap of the black silk velvet was used to make a small poof and a vintage rhinestone button was added to the centre. An ostrich plume and a few coque feathers were an easy way to get impact, height and movement with very little weight. The velvet poof was used to cover the bottom of the feather cluster. A bit of the same beaded trim that was used on the dress was added along the bottom edge. A pair of felt straps on the back secure it to the headband but allow it to slide freely so it’s very easy to position for the best look and comfort.

The black raspberries have mostly settled in so I thought it was time to talk a bit about the findings so far.

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I put in a number of plants in early 2016 and was given another group last spring so we have a mix of 1 and 2 year olds. Last fall was busy so we didn’t do much in the way of care or clean-up on them either. They are planted in bed that has partial shade to almost full sun. It was were the neighbours hooked up to the sewer system so while it was well dug earth, it wasn’t really improved.

This variety fruits on the second year canes so there was only a very light crop last year. This year was a different story!

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We’ve been getting an average of 1-2 cups a day for most of the past couple of weeks. There are still some left to ripen but most are finished now. I expect we’ll only get another 6-8 cups.

While they are very productive, getting the fruit is a bit harder than picking the fall reds. The branches are very high, so some easily rise above 5′ to 6′ high in beautiful arcs, and all are equipped with vicious thorns. The light picking last year left my hands and arms really scratched up so this year I made some armour. A pair of older leather gloves had their fingertips cut off and a bit of brown faux leather was used to make a pair of bracers. They may not be pretty but they work. I’m still getting a few scratches around my elbows and some clothing snags, but am otherwise unscathed. To be clear, this isn’t me being overly sensitive, some sort of protection is a requirement. Even the birds have left them alone.

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The fruit itself has a surprising, unique flavour that is significantly different from the red. I’d always wondered why “blue raspberry” flavour had no bearing on any raspberry I’d ever tried but it’s clear it was based on fresh black ones. While they are pleasant fresh, they are, in our opinion, best used as a cooking berry. They cook up with solid, yet juicy texture and a deeper, richer “raspberry” flavour. The colour is also lovely. The red ones tend to both get a bit mushy and their red colour can also end up looking grey when cooked and mixed with other things. With the blacks, they cook to a rich purple with deep reddish juice. The smaller, drier fruits also hold together better and they work more like a blueberry in terms of being easy to be mixed in and still hold on to their shapes. They make a lovely pie.

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Overall, the black raspberries have made a well timed addition to the fruit collection. They are a great cooking berry and their timing has fallen in a fairly empty period. The strawberries are done and the blueberries are just starting so it gave us a nice bit of small fruit coverage. The plants seem low maintenance. We’ll need to remove this years fruiting canes in the fall and intend to do a deep leaf cover again. While they are extremely well armed, it is possible to pick around them and they have fended off both birds and other berry thieves.

After making a prototype plus-sized 20’s flapper style dress for myself from some scarves and a refashioned skirt, I felt confident about trying another and using the “better” scarf. What I liked about it was that it had a very period appropriate, Art Deco pattern and sparkly details. I’d also found a black satin, tiered skirt to use for the bottom.

Having had a trial run at the design, I knew exactly the length I needed for the front and back panels of the dress. This scarf was a bit shorter than the “practice” one, but was the same width. I still cut from the middle, but this meant there was a bit less left-over for the sleeves.

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To finish the top, the cut seams were sewn together to close the shoulders. I then cut out the neckline, working around what looked good with the pattern and my comfort. The scarf looks like silk but is polyester, so I was able to finish the edges of the neck-line by careful burning. This is a great trick when it works but you MUST do fabric tests before risking a bigger piece. It’s also important to keep safety in mind at all times when setting fabric on fire!

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The sides were done with pieces of a fine black crepe from the stash. I used the same fabric for most of the sleeves but was able to edge the top of the sleeve slits with what came out of the middle of the scarf. A vintage black button with a white rhinestone, closed each sleeve slit.

A pretty black silk burnout scarf was used to make up the dropped waistline. It had beaded details on each end as well as long beaded fringe and a pair of small black fur balls on each end. All of these were perfect for the period and I wanted to show them off as much as possible. To do so, I figured out how much I’d need of the ends to get the look of a knot and some swing. Those pieces were cut from each end. The centre piece was then roughly hand-sewn down to a strip of black satin along the top and bottom edges. The satin was slightly narrower than the scarf so it has some bag and movement, to further sell the look of the waistband being a scarf. The centre wasn’t long enough to cover the whole waistband but I had another black silk scarf and I was able to cheat and use it on the back. The removed ends of the scarf were shaped into a knot and then hand- stitched back on to the waistband.

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The light satin skirt that was chosen for the bottom started with 3 tiers of fabric. The top tier was too small to use so it was taken off. The gathering along the top of the second tier was really helpful because it made it very easy to exactly match the width to the bottom of the waistband. I just had to let the gathering out enough to line them up! Losing the top layer also kept the length from being too long. It came to below the knee on me, but would be almost floor length for a shorter person.

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We had some beaded trim in our supply stash that not only matched the beading on the waist scarf, but also tied into the bead and sequin details on the skirt! A line of the trim was added between the top and waist and again between the waist and the bottom skirt. There was also a fine fringe on the main body scarf that was left and it falls over to further accent the beading.

This design came together very quickly with the waistband details being the most complicated sewing involved. The finished dress has great swing and flow and is light and comfortable to wear. There is still the issue of the burnout in the velvet being see-through but I just wore a camisole under it and that worked perfectly. I realized after you could tie in any other colours you wanted by wearing a close-fitting tank or even long-sleeved shirt underneath and it would show through.

I made a headpiece to go with it, but that will get it’s own post.

With the refashioning and remaking of men’s shirts, I’ve been mostly making casual and “work” wear plus-sized dresses but that’s not all I’ve needed. One of the other problems with finding suitable plus-sized clothing is when you have an special event or need things a bit more costumey. Last fall I was going to a 20’s themed event and wanted a period flapper style dress. There are some places doing repro dresses, but I couldn’t find anything I liked in my size so making it became necessary. I did a bit of research into period dress styles first to see if I was going to have to invest in a pattern but looking at how big the range of variations was, I decided it was possible to get away with just upping my modding game.

We had a couple of beaded/sequined jackets in the stash and the original plan was to salvage panels from them, mix the panels with silk or crepe fabric and make the bottom from another skirt or a scarf. We had a couple of black silk burnout velvet scarves but went looking and found another silk scarf and 2 large polyester velvet ones.

As I was laying out the various possible parts, and sketching some options, I realized that the scarves were large enough that we could just skip the whole plan of fussing with the beaded stuff and use the scarves as the upper body of the dress. The 2 polyester scarves were quite large and rectangular and had designs that were already very 20’s while the new silk scarf was long and narrow with a great chevron pattern and beading that coordinated with some beaded trim in the stash. I had seen a few period dresses that used a faux scarf detail as the low “waist” so that seemed like a good way to transition to a skirt and complete the dress.

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It seemed like a good design concept, but I was concerned about how well it would work out in practice and I wanted to be sure that the fit would be right. Rather than making a muslin prototype, I figured that we had 2 of the big scarves and a pair of possible skirts so I might as well go ahead and make a second dress.

The first step was basic math. I measured the scarf in both directions and then myself, both around the widest section and then down the front to get the dropped waist length. The scarf was quite a bit longer than needed for the top so a section was taken out of the middle, leaving 2 pieces the right length. (and handily with finished hems on 3 sides) I calculated the size for a pair of fabric inserts for the sides. They were a bit narrower at the top, and slightly curved there since that was the bottom of the arm-holes. The thin black crepe that was used for the inserts also made up the bottom of the sleeves. The sleeve tops were done using the left-over section of the scarf. The split-top style really appealed to me since it gives a sense of being sleeveless without actually exposing the upper-arms and is still period accurate.

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For the bottom of the dress, I used a pleated black satin skirt. It was small, but I only needed the bottom 1′ or so and there was enough flair to it that it fit just fine. It had some nice button details on the waist band so that was removed and used as the front panel of the transition section. The back was cut from some black satin we had in the stash.

The donor scarf was dark pink/purple as well as black and we had some beaded trim that matched so a line of it was added between the bottom of the scarf and the top of the transition section.

The neckline had to be hand-finished with a rolled hem but I cheated on the inside of the sleeves and did those with the machine.

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The whole thing came together really quickly and mostly had simple straight seams. Making the trial version helped out since this one came out a bit bigger than needed as well as too short for me. I also found the beaded trim more of hassle than expected but figured out how to work with it by doing this one. It didn’t help that the trim was on a bright pink ribbon so any spots where it wasn’t perfectly caught are super obvious.

The biggest issue is that the burnout velvet is partially see-through. I’m wearing a sports-bra in the pictures, which is an option, but any black or colour coordinating slip, tank or camisole worn underneath will work.

I wanted to keep trying some new shirt refashioning design concepts and this was one of the more experimental shirts. It started with a very plain grey shirt, in a polo style. I mixed it with a pair of small men’s shirts that both had some teal and black in their patterns. A small length of fabric in black and white was added in as well.

The central grey shirt was cut right up the side seams and the sleeves fully removed. The collar was also taken off and a v-shaped yoke cut in.

Large, roughly diamond shaped pieces were added to the sides. The tops were not pointed but flat, to enlarge the arm holes. I put in one of each of the donor patterns and let the bottom points extend below the hem of the central shirt.

Big, blousey sleeves were made using the donor plaid shirts. Each one had a large strip of the black and white fabric as the top with the plaid along the bottom. They were gathered slightly into salvaged cuffs with a rolled hem space between the edges. The contrasting cuff was used for each sleeve and the sleeves contrast with the side inserts. (so the sides and cuffs match)

The drama level of what was done to this point meant that the neckline needed to stand up so a large ruffle was made from the black and white fabric which was soft and flowy. There was enough of the darker plaid left to edge the inside of the neck and tie it all together.

This turned out to be a little too busy, even for me, but it was a possible way to use smaller amounts of fabrics. The other flaw was that the lighter plaid fabric wasn’t wash-and-wear, but needed ironing after every wash. That was too much trouble and this one didn’t end up getting worn very much.

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The store will be closed the weekend of June 23-24 since I will be a vendor at the Oxford Ren fest, just outside of London. This is the first year for us at this newer location but we’d been pretty regular when they were in Woodstock.

I’m moving away from the masks so will have a big selection along at great prices. The mutant stuffies, jackets and jewellery as well as some other oddities will also be under the tent.

As a result, the shop will be closed but we may be able to arrange it if you want to stop in. Just email or phone but I won’t be there for framing..

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