Monday, January 24, 2011

That Blasted Bloomer Business

Welcome back, "esteamed" friends.  Please help yourself to a cup of tea or a nice cordial, and settle in.  Today, we'll embark on something rather intimate - lady's delicates, with a focus on bloomers.

This past autumn, I felt my budding steampunk wardrobe was insufficiently wenchy.  I decided I wanted to create an outfit faintly reminiscent of Agatha Heterodyne, from Girl Genius ( in her "whoops I'm wandering about in my underthings" look, with a bit of saloon-girl flair.  So:  chemise, bloomers, and corset.  

I have a corset, so that was taken care of.  The chemise was fairly easy, as I already had one in my possession, which just needed some treatment.  I took my old chemise made about 18 years ago for the SCA (which I had then hacked short about 5 years ago for a burlesque show) dyed it in a tea bath (50 teabags, 25 cups of hot water), finished the hacked-off hem with double-fold wide seam binding, washed it, and voila, chemise done.
Tea Bath (still with bags)
Chemise in tea bath (bags removed)
Chemise unhemmed and undyed
After hemming and tea-staining
I had a pattern for period-styled bloomers (picture below), so I figured it shouldn't be too difficult to make some (other than the concepts of waistband, and fitting it).

Now, I haven't used a sewing pattern by myself for a garment since Grade 7 or 9, and my memories of that experience are not pleasant. (I have more recent and equally unhappy memories from about 18 years ago or so, of an attempt at a pirate shirt by pattern, which ended with someone else doing sleeves and collar and cuffs.)
I bought a lovely cotton which was a decent match in colour and weight for the tea-stained chemise.  I wanted something inexpensive ($5 per metre) and relatively non-wrinkling.  I took my pattern, and fabric, and laid it all out according to directions.  The pattern looked so ludicrous when held up to my body, that even with my limited sewing knowledge, I decided to alter it a bit, shortening the leg by 2 inches (I'm only 5'2") and narrowing the lower part of the legs by about an inch, and bringing the pattern's taper up higher to remove some of the ... um ... crotch sag.

I cut it out and eyed the pieces dubiously.  Holding up to me, they looked insane.  I shrugged, figured I was likely missing something because I don't sew from patterns, and decided to continue.

Now, I *had* actually noticed the pattern would make crotchless bloomers.  I figured I could get around this with lingerie snaps, or, if I was lucky, there would be sufficient fabric to overlap across my parts nicely, and I wouldn't risk flashing people inappropriately at Steamcon or any other public event.

So I followed the instructions to sew the pieces together, including the waistband.  Well, the waistband got attached flawlessly, and the flat-felled and French seams were beautiful (thank heavens for Google) ... but the bloomers themselves looked like this ...
The alarmingly wide crotch / butt region ("rear" view)
Fuller view of bloomers
Now, I had wanted attractive, sexified bloomers, since my plan was to wear them as is, NOT concealed under a dress.  On the pattern package, they don't look bad, and I had already decided to finish the leg ends by gathering it in for a trimmer look.  But ... the crotch came almost to my knees, you could fit at least two more asses in there along with mine (yet the waistband fit just fine), and they came to my ankles (despite the fact I had removed two extra inches from their length before cutting).  And yes, I followed the correct size - in fact, the pattern had been bought years ago, and I am now a bit bigger than the pattern was geared for, but my only modification for that was to add an inch to the waistband length alone (since the bloomers gathered into the waistband, no need to add there).

But here I was, in possession of baggy, supremely unsexy, unflattering bloomers, with a very open crotch and room for a few more bums than I possess.  I did NOT take a picture of me wearing them, mostly because I was, in fact, in tears at this point.

After stepping away from the project for a couple of days, I realized radical alterations were required if I was going to salvage the situation (I had no more fabric).  I removed the lace from the legs (I don't know why I added the lace trim before trying them on - that was a mistake).  I tried the bloomers on inside out, and, in front of a mirror, tucked, folded, pinned and repinned them til they fit more closely, and then VERY carefully extracted myself from the now-hazardous pin-riddled bloomers.

I then modified my pinned bunchings and tucks, guessing at what would look best.  I cut the legs shorter by about 6 more inches, to below my knee, and I took in and narrowed the legs considerably.  I basting the leg seams, and it was looking better.  I followed the same slow procedure of pinning and basting to try and "tuck in" the butt, as well as closing the crotch seam from 2 inches below the centre front waistband, along the crotch, and up to about 5 inches from the back waistband.

Here is what the bloomers ended up looking like, when laid out on top of the  single leg pattern piece I had used.  And the second shot is of the completed bloomers folded in half, laid out on top of the single leg pattern piece folded in half.  Note the HUGE difference.

This project ended up being what a friend of mine likes to call "yet another goddamn learning experience."  However, the bloomers turned out okay, and I learned I can improvise even with a pattern.  Remember, I'm the wing-it-without-a-pattern woman, with no training in proper sewing, adjusting for fit, etc. 
Front view of finished bloomers at waist
The rear of the finished bloomers
I chose to finish the bloomers differently from the pattern.  So rather than have the waist tie shut with a cord, I used a wide flat hook and eye for the waist closure, and I used lingerie snaps to close the gap in the bum.  This also allowed me to have an overlap in the back seam (again, I planned to wear these as is, and didn't want to be "overexposed").

To finish the legs, I gathered the leg ends slightly, so they were just barely big enough to put on, and finished the edges with seam binding to prevent fraying.  I trimmed the legs with gathered wide blue lace (3 times the circumference of the bloomer-leg), sewn into a circle and then sewn to the leg end along the gathering point of the lace .  I then took baby-blue eyelet beading lace, threaded a deep blue velvet ribbon through it, and attached it by sewing it, top and bottom, over the gathering seam on the lace  I made two tiny bows out of small bits of the same ribbon, and hand-stitched them in place on the front of each leg, so it looked like the legs tie shut there.
To complete the outfit (for added saloon-girl effect) I made a choker out of wider deep blue velvet ribbon, edged with lovely beaded trim (thank you ladies from Plush for your goodie basket access!), and decorated with a fleur de lis pendant and a lovely button I had found.
And voila, here are three pics of the final complete outfit:
The steam-wench ensemble, complete with gentleman accessory
Final note on this outfit.  I love it, and it is fun to wear.  For a short while.  I wore it for most of a day at Steamcon II.  However, this outfit is comprised of a chemise tucked into bloomers, with a corset worn over all ... so, going to the loo ... was, well ... challenging, time-consuming, and required assistance with lacing up the corset afterward.  I look forward to wearing this outfit again ... but the first time I need to go to the loo, I'm changing into a new outfit!

Thank you for joining me and listening.  Good luck with your costuming experiments, dear friends! And feel free to share tales and links of your own adventures!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pimping the Parasol

Welcome to my Salon.  Today, we have another how-to for you, from the Steam Wench.

This time, I'm going to outline how I pimped a parasol for my Steampunk outfit.  I had never done this before, but I found a lovely vintage umbrella when visiting Seattle, at Red Light Vintage Clothing (Capitol Hill location).  It had a lovely carved wooden handle, and interesting striations and staining from being stored closed for many years (see Fig 1 and 2).  I couldn't resist.  I had to buy it, and then make it mine.
This is the tale of how I took this abandoned vintage umbrella and pimped it into my lovely parasol.

The first thing I did was open the umbrella and wipe down the fabric surface umbrella with a damp, clean cloth, which removed some small smuts of flaked rust and surface dirt.

Additional supplies I used in this project, in addition to the parasol are:

- extra-wide double-fold seam binding (brown)
- brown bobble-trim (found in the bargain section of Fabricland)
- brown velvet ribbon (narrow)
- teal blue fabric flower from a cheap hair clip (from Ardene)
- pretty gold and teal buttons (from Dressew)
- teal blue ribbon (very narrow)
- a glue gun
- Fabri-Tac
- brown ruffle ribbon (extracted from a hideous thrifted blouse also used in the Bustle Skirt project (see Fig 1 and 2)
Fig 1 (scary blouse)
Fig 2 (ribbons segments removed from blouse)

Fishing the Raw Edge
Since the fabric of the umbrella was frayed and had no finishing left around the edges, I decided to finish the edges between each rib with seam binding.  I cut the seam binding in appropriate lengths to fit between the ribs, pinned it in place so that it overlapped the raw edges, and then machine sewed it into place as best I could, along the "inner" and open edge of the seam binding.  Then, I hand-stitched the inch or so on either side of the rib.  Attaching the seam binding was an interesting dilemma.  I desperately wanted to machine sew it (way too much handsewing otherwise), but you try sticking an open umbrella into a sewing machine ... hence, machine stitching plus hand-stitching.

Bobble Trim
Then it was time for the bobble trim!  Yay, bobble trim!  Child of the Victorian era and the 1960's!  Who doesn't have fond memories of bobble trim?  Well, okay maybe I'm just odd ... or should lay off the opium and absinthe ...

I decided I wanted a ruffle on the outside of the parasol, on the edge, so the bobble trim needed to go on the inside.  An added bonus was that adding a continuous strip of bobble trim on the inside, would allow me to hide the bare patches around the ribs, where the seam binding ended and the fabric showed through.  Being a parasol, the inside is visible when you have it open.  So, I started pinning the bobble trim on at one point, and pinned it all along the perimeter of the umbrella, bobbles at outer edge.  I had to do little tucks at each rib tip, to accommodate the sharp corner.  

Once again, I had to manhandle an open umbrella in the sewing machine (I used one hand to stabilize umbrella, as well as balanced part of it on my raised knee (used a footstool to raise my leg).  I sewed the umbrella with the underside up, attaching the bobble trim along both edges of the trim.  I had to hand-stitch the bobble trim around the ribs, once again for about an inch or so on either side of the ribs.  I whipped through all the maching work first, and then did the handstitching around each rib after.  See Figs 3 and 4 for closeup of the attached bobble trim from the underside.  Fig 5 shows the open umbrella with the bobble trim sewn on the inside.  Fig 6 shows the umbrella closed, showing the seambinding along the outside edge, and the bobbles peeking out.
Fig 3
Fig 4
Fig 5
Fig 6
At this point, determine whether or not the existing closing-strap of the umbrella can handle the extra bulk of the trim you have added.  I did NOT do this, and realized it only at the end.  It is easier to replace the strap now, BEFORE trimming the ribs.  My instructions for replacing the strap are at the very end of this entry (because I figured it out late).  It was, fortunately, doable - just would have been tidier at this stage.

Rib-Tickling... I mean, Trimming
Now, it turns out, the next step was to trim the ribs. (I did NOT realize this til I had worked on the ruffle and pinned it on - so I'm saving you my grief.  This will also explain the order of what you see in my photos!)  At this point, I realized this was going to have to involve glue.  There was no other way, with the umbrella intact, to trim the ribs.  And the umbrella was simply to0 fragile to embark on a complicated procress like trying to safely remove the fabric from the skeleton (yikes, I can't even imagine trying to do that).  

I selected a nice dark brown velvet ribbon, moderately narrow, to trim the ribs.  I cut the ribbon into lengths to match the ribs, ensuring they would go from the top and tuck nicely under the ruffle along the circumference.

So, with the umbrella OPEN, and using Fabri-Tac and toothpics, I gingerly glued the velvet ribbon strips along each rib.  I will confess, this involved extensive unladylike (and suspiciously sailor-like) swearing.  Lots. Of. Cursing.  Finally, however, it was done (see Figs 7 and 8).  Please recall I goofily did things in a different order, so the pics show things I haven't discussed yet.
Fig 7 Ribs Trimmed (ruffle is just PINNED on at this stage)
Fig 8 (Close-up of Ribs)
The Ruffle
The next step was the ruffle.  I took the strips cut from the scary blouse (Fig 2) and stitched the ends together to make one loooong ruffle.  I then did a gathering stitch down the middle of the ruffle, so I could pull the thread and gather it a little more, to make it a little more, well, ruffly.  

The brown ruffle was lacking punch, as it was, so I decided to add a very narrow teal ribbon down the middle of the ribbon.  So, after gathering the whole thing, I then pinned and sewed a narrow teal ribbon down the middle of the ruffle (one line of stitching, in the middle of the narrow ribbon).
Fig 7
Trust me when I say that it was tricky to get this ruffle the right length.  Sure, I could have made it longer and then just cut off the excess (oh, 20/20 hindsight) but no, I am a perfectionist, I wanted a minimal overlap.  So I measured the circumference of my umbrella, and measured my ribbon length, and estimated from there.  (end result was I was short a centimeter when I pinned it on, which provoked me to unpin the entire thing and stretch, stretch, stretch ...)  Here are pics of the parasol with ruffle but ribs not trimmed (it was after I'd pinned the ruffle all along the edge, that I started to realize I had to do the ribs before sewing it on).
Fig 8 (showing off the striation)
Fig 9

Yet again, attaching the ruffle to the parasol involved a balancing act of the beast on my knee while using my sewing machine, followed by hand-stitching to finish. 

Garnishing the Ferrule
So, I had to do something with the end, or ferrule, of the umbrella.  I decided to place a mini-ruffle at the base of the ferrule, using the same remnants from the scary blouse, trimmed with blue teal narrow ribbon in the middle.  I used a remnant about half-again as long as the circumference of the ferrule, and did a gathering stitch down the middle.  I gathered the ruffle so it was nice and full, and fit around the ferrule.  I added the teal ribbon down the middle, as with the circumference ruffle.  I then stitched closed the ruffle so it became a little wee roll, or loop of ruffle.  I sewed it so the joining seam would be on the inside.

I attached the ruffle to the ferrule using my glue gun.  I set it on so that the middle of the ruffle was almost at the base of the ferrule, and the ruffle splayed out over the umbrella top, and conveniently hid where the velvet ribbons on the ribs ended.
Fig 10
Next, I decided to add a flower.  I used a teal fabric flower from a cheap hair clip from Ardene.  I used the hot-glue gun to attach a pretty button into the middle of the flower (Fig 11).  
Fig 11
I also used hot glue to attach 2 long teal narrow ribbons to the underside of the flower, gluing the ribbons in the middle to form 4 dangly bits.  I then used hot glue to attach the flower to the ruffle at the ferrule, placing it over the seam in the ruffle loop, to hide it.
Fig 11
Fig 12
Closing the Parasol
Figs 13 and 14, below, shows the parasol, closed using the original umbrella's closing strap.  As you can see, it's very tight - I could hardly close it, because of the thickness of the bobbles and ruffles.
Fig 13
Fig 14

So, I needed to change the strap.  Of course, this SHOULD have been done before adding the velvet ribbon rib-trim, so I could hide the stitching under the velvet ribbon.  Fortunately, I was able to conceal what I did mostly, under the ribbon.

I trimmed the original strap as close to the edge as I could, with sewing shears.  I then cut a length of velvet ribbon long enough to easily and comfortably go around the parasol to close it, without causing stress on the parasol.  I folded one edge over, and where it doubled over, I sewed a decorate button onto the right side of the ribbon.  Immediately under it, I sewed one half of a snap onto the underside of the ribbon.  I determined where the other half should go, to close the umbrella easily, and sewed the other half of the snap to the right side of the ribbon, at that point.  I then hand-stitched the ribbon to the umbrella, where the original ribbon had emerged from the seam, tucking as much as I could under the rib trim to hide it.  Again, this was tricky to hand-stitch, as the umbrella had to be partly open as I worked.  And voila, a much more attractive and functional closure for the parasol (Figs 15 & 16).
Fig 15
Fig 16
Below, find several photos of the final product, in use at Steamcon II in Seattle, WA.

I hope you have enjoyed my little description of how I pimped my parasol.  Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you wish.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steamed Decor - Coffee Table Display

This is just a brief note on steampunkish decorating - I thought I would post oddments of my attempts at steampunk decor here.

With my interest in the steampunk scene, I would love to embark on a steam-decor blitzkrieg of my apartment, but I lack several things: 1. Hardcore steampunk maker skills; 2. Money to hire other folks' awesome maker skills or expensive items, and 3. I don't own my place, so my hands are tied in many ways for what I *can* do.

However, I am a decent forager, and between keeping a sharp eye out for many years on eBay (before steampunk-connected stuff became outlandishly expensive), and having an excellent local source for nifty bits and pieces, I have accumulated some pretty cool oddments.  (Did I mention?  I'm also an appalling packrat.)  Now that I am working on tidying my very messy apartment (really, no, there is NOT half a dozen homeless people squatting in my abode, it just, um, looks like it), I am also trying to incorporate more steampunk details into my eclectically and erratically decorated place.

I thought, as I create little vignettes around my apartment, I will post them here, for your comment, entertainment, etcetera.

I decided to start with my display coffee table, which has a glass top and a drawer below.  The front 3 compartments of the drawer are visible under the glass top, and I decided that 2 of those compartments would make a fun display of some of my found steampunk objects - the 3rd, middle compartment is occupied by a portion of my vintage marble collection (which I wasn't about to move).

Photo of the cofffee table top

Objects found while scrounging, plus a rivet hammer
Assorted brass objects plus opera glasses

Closeup of a brass teapot and a small round brass box found while scavenging.

I'm interested in seeing what other people do for steampunk decorating.  Please feel free to post links to photos and tales of your own steampunk decor ideas, in comments to this blog. (I had hoped perhaps folks would be able to post photos directly in the comments, but I don't think that's an option.  But if you find a way around that, please do!)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Exhilarating Episodic Steampunk Pirate Fiction: The Sauder Diaries by Michel R. Vaillancourt

If, as I am, you are always hungry for new, quality Steampunk fiction, ready your plate for something new and toothsome.  The Sauder Diaries is an episodic tale being served for us online by newcomer, Michel R. Vaillancourt, at Scribd, at

Currently at seven posted episodes since its commencement in mid-November of 2010, this tale is being released with impressive speed, and a darn good thing, because each one is eagerly anticipated.  

Mr. Vaillancourt sets his story in an alternate world where the Crimean War has resulted in the development of advanced weaponry, such as the impressively-engineered HMAFS Bloody Rose, the airship on which the main character, Hans Sauder, finds himself after capture by notorious pirates.  Hans Sauder finds himself firmly persuaded to turn pirate (the alternative isn't shiny), and he joins the remarkably multinational crew (representing Scotland, Russia, Ethiopia, Norway, England, France, Spain, Arabia, and Slavic nations) of the Bloody Rose.

Each episode starts with an excerpt from Hans' diary, and is followed by a third-person narrative fleshing out the details of what actually occurred.  Each chapter is well-written and consistent, and Mr. Vaillancourt's tale is not marred by the plague of poor grammar and misspelling that taints much online and unprofessional fiction.

The characters are real, and are engagingly presented and developed throughout the story, which isn't as common as I'd like in the unpublished realm.  Included among the people you get to know is the upstanding and moral Hans (likeable for his foibles and yet occasionally making me yearn to smack him); the deliciously sardonic yet caring Doctor Koblinski, and two strong and quite different main female characters, Arietta the Chief Engineer, and Annika the Captain-Gunner.  These people are gritty, and most of all, REAL. 

The Sauder Diaries pose a refreshing change from much of what I've found in this genre.  This isn't trite and fluffy fiction, nor is it a series of unrelieved battle scenes, or endless intricate descriptions of incomprehensible tech for tech's sake.  There are sufficient action scenes, realistic characters, entertaining scenarios, conflict, humour, cool steam tech (love the dual-gas-bag airship with the EMIPALE - Electro-Magnetic Inductive Polar Aerostat Lift Engine and tempting hints of things to come with Galvanotaurs, Chimera and Dragons), and a spice of sexual tension to offer something for most readers of both genders to sink their teeth into.

I'm not into spoilers (hate coming across 'em) so I admit I am not giving you lots of details of the story itself.  And, as it is episodic fiction, none of us knows what happens next until the author tells us.

So, in summary, good people, if you have been jonesing for some awesome steampunk fiction and wondering where the good writers are, go read the Sauder Diaries.  You can find it online at Scribd (link below).  But be warned - it's addictive, and episodic, and Michel Vaillancourt will keep you coming back for more.  Keep an eye out on this new author - I hope we see more.  In print.