The Grand Tour, Part 1: Amsterdam

Last summer, Jeff and I took a trip to Europe. Three weeks, three countries…though really we only spent a couple of nights each in two of them. We both studied French and therefore chose to keep most of the trip in France, including nearly half based out of Paris. Since I’m writing this just after returning from our second major trip of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to finish paring down the old photos for the blog before we start on the new set. We (mostly Jeff) took about 4000 pictures in Europe. Thank goodness for digital cameras! We got it down to roughly 250 for general family and friends viewing. And it looks like I will be able to tell our story here using about 50 of those.

Note that third button on the left!

So let’s take a metaphorical journey back to July, where we started off with a very long journey: an attempted four hour train ride to Chicago – blocked by downed trees – replaced with a shared Uber ride, followed by a couple hours of down time and a seven or eight hour flight. We arrived in the Netherlands shortly after the crack of dawn, and were delighted to find that the Amsterdam airport had a beautiful shortcut for buying a train ticket into town. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted that we forgot upon arrival at the train station that we meant to take additional public transit to our hotel, so dragged ourselves and our luggage on a meandering yet beautiful walking trip through the central city.

I love the northern European port architectural style of tall, narrow buildings. Some of them still have hooks at the top for using ropes (and pulleys?) to bring loads of supplies upstairs. Amsterdam’s canal layout makes it easier to tell where you are, too. While I liked the city’s bike lanes in principle, I found that my instinctual way of crossing streets wasn’t compatible with the new traffic pattern. It would have taken maybe a week or two to adjust my movement habits, but we only had two days in town. We found an outdoor market and a hole-in-the-wall cafe with delicious food on our way to the hotel, then I succumbed to a nap while Jeff went out hunting for a European sim card. He ultimately got one, but was never successful in getting it to work.

We spent the majority of our time in town wandering and eating, not entering any of the major attractions. We stumbled into a free organ concert in a local cathedral (Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals may never be the same again). We perused two separate outdoor markets – one food, one art. We tried a cone of Belgian fries and ate waffles with ice cream. Come evening, we sought out a restaurant whose discount card was stocked at our hotel for rijsttafel – essentially Indonesian tapas, which I finally picked up enough Dutch to translate as “rice table”. We strolled past many of the notable landmarks (even hearing some street musicians in the amazing acoustics central tunnel of the Rijksmuseum), and breezed past the many outdoor shops (finding the fish mosaic pictured above).

We learned that the train station (left) was built as the East India Trading Company’s headquarters. The next day, we walked around part of the exterior of the zoo, had more food and art adventures, discovered that tulip bulbs souvenirs destined for the US have to be specially certified and can only be purchased at the flower market or the airport. We got a bit lost past the red light district trying to find local art galleries.

We don’t normally do food pictures, but our last dinner in town was translated as “beef stew” and served with a wedge of the local sausage on top.  Although it was delicious, we felt there was something off about the label. See if you agree – it’s pictured on the left. We also don’t tend to drink very much, but there again we felt it was worth doing something special in each European country, so we tried some stroopwafel liqueur  – it was nicely smooth and sweet.

Plumbing

Hello friends. I am here to report that I have successfully navigated my first – and hopefully only – plumbing experience.

I changed a faucet.

For some reason the lovely people who rehabbed our house before we moved decided they would put a faucet with two knobs in the kitchen. Well, I finally decided enough was enough and I would like to be able to turn the water on with my wrist when my hands were covered in goop, thank you very much.

So a couple of months ago…er, maybe more…Jeff and I picked out a new faucet. And last weekend I went to basic plumbing class. I learned interesting things about U-traps, the changes in plumbing technology over the last few decades (for real!), and how easy it is to change out the components of a faucet so you don’t have to replace the whole installation if you don’t need to. Too bad going from two handles to one wasn’t one of them.

Of course I made sure at the end of class I knew the right steps to follow. Like, you know, turning off the water to the sink before doing anything else. Which turned out to be impossible. Luckily, Jeff stepped in for that bit.

Then I started trying to take the wing nuts off. The one under the spray nozzle had so much gunk stuck to it. And the gunk fell on my face. Ew! Getting them started was an incredible challenge. I had to hit them with a hammer, bit by little bit, until they loosened enough to turn. Even then, Jeff had to hold the top part steady so they didn’t just rotate around themselves.

Getting the water supply tubes off the faucet leads was similarly challenging. It made me wish I’d followed the teacher’s suggestion of getting a sink wrench. But since I hope never to need one again, I’m just as glad I didn’t spend the money. Especially since it went into new water supply tubes. Turns out the ones that were in there were specially cut to fit the exact dimensions of the old faucet. With a pair of new lines in the center, instead of offset to the left and right, they no longer lined up straight. In short, dear readers, they leaked.

I would like to add a digression, however, that in order to put the old water supply tubes on the new faucet, I came up with a lovely hack the likes of which the internet adores. The nut meant to seal the tube to the faucet intake insisted on sliding all the way down the tube. So I grabbed a hair clip and put it around the tube (note that the opening is large enough not to pinch it!).

See? Hack!

After a trip to the hardware store for new supply lines, they went on as smoothly as anything. And no leaks!

Spencer

Well, despite my best intentions of making Jeff’s regency coat first, I was compelled to make my own spencer. It went much the same as the dress bodice, since I’d cut out a larger (particularly a higher neckline) version of that same pattern. Having learned about the intended gather under the bust, I instead removed quite a bit of width from the back edge of the front piece. Between that trim and the wider cut of the shoulders, the shoulder seam came out a bit farther than it should. I think that’s also part of why there’s some pull at the center of the bust (though the bottom edge still needed a dart).

I thought I might be able to fix it by throwing in a new seam, but I think it’s going to take entirely re-setting the sleeves at this point. Which I thought I was too lazy to do, but looking at this picture enough might change my mind… As far as the sleeves go, they got left ungathered (though with a fold in back since neither one went on straight).

 

Regency Dress

At last! I took my own sweet time figuring out how to make a franken-pattern out of Simplicity 4055 because even though the drawstring back is a valid option I wanted a bib front with a diamond (hexagonal?) back. I spent quite a while looking up images and figuring out how the dresses were constructed. Once I got out the pattern, I taped the bodice pieces together and cut them up to make the appropriate back shape. The rest I left as a single piece. I doubled the cuts for each piece of the bodice so that it would be fully lined, and also cut out two big flaps to be the bib front.

I put the bodice together first. I must be getting more patient, because the diagonal lines along the back came to points very nicely. I believe I basted the armholes and attached the liner to the bodice along the top hem. Then I checked for fit. Lo and behold the pattern intended lots of gathering under the bust. I folded it under the underarm instead. Lots of fiddling with the closure followed. Probably because I was supposed to insert boning. I tried grommets and lacing them up. They fell out. I considered a desperate run to the store for boning. I decided on hooks and bars. They’re in a sort of triangle pattern. Any additional description is gobbledygook. Should you want a picture of that specifically, ask.

Once I had the bodice almost all together, I added the sleeves. I decided to edge them in bias tape (hooray for Mom’s contribution to the stash) rather than hem them. I forgot they were meant to be gathered shut to arm circumference. So first I left them belled out, and probably with the tape on the wrong edge. Oops.

I did ultimately hit the thrift store for a couple of curtains to make the underskirt. One was apparently a valance, so the underskirt is of necessity rather short. But I didn’t have to hem it much, so there’s that. I did look back at the pattern when I got to the skirt. Attach front to back at side seams. Okay. Gather back. Nope. I decided to pleat. So I pinned! The pleats turned out pretty as a picture. Only I didn’t take a picture…

Anyway. I attached the back of the skirt (and underskirt) to the back of the bodice, turned under the liner and hand stitched it in place. Then I started mucking with the front. I tried a lot of things. I honestly couldn’t tell you in what order. I should have had a lot more width (6-8 inches) in the back and not pleated it all and brought it around to say the front of the hipbone (hanging from part of the closure of the bodice).  As it is, I left open, sewed shut, and reopened a six inch slit in skirt (and offset slit in underskirt) to get the dress over hips or shoulders.

I tried hemming with a fancy stitch (where you just catch a little bit of the skirt for an invisible hem). I don’t like the experience much more than visible hems, but I think it rolls less than usual. So there’s that.

Here’s the bib front gown with the bib open to show the bodice. Now with bonus cat!

The bib front was an adventure. I didn’t realize at first I had to gather it. Then I debated which parts needed bias tape to go with the sleeves. I must have taken it apart, added new seams, cut new seams, and changed it again…just about twice over. And that may not be counting the remaining adjustments needed to get it to fasten right, which I tried briefly to do with velcro and finally managed with hooks and bars.

Closed bib and cat face.

That bias tape used to go down the (wider) sides of the bib. Then I narrowed it to make the fastening work. Bye-bye bias tape. I did put a strip around the (empire) waist, though. Overall, I think it looks very elegant! …and will do more so once I’ve ironed it. *grumble* I should probably make Jeff’s jacket before my own accessories, too…

Mechanicsburg Vest, Part 2

I decided to line the Mechanicsburg vest in the same fabric as the shirt. Cue more rolling…not really. The fraying bits are all tucked into the middle of the fabric sandwich. Getting there was a process though. I used the vest itself as a pattern again and may have neglected that little thing called seam allowances. I was also using the pillowcase from the sheet set, and didn’t want to add more fabric. Well, once I got my armholes set in (one at a time, unlike when I was working on the kimono/vest), the front right and left were decidedly short on coverage! So I got some more strips from the top hem of the top sheet, and tacked them on, and got my top, bottom, and side seams set.

For decoration/fastening, we decided on some cute little blue buttons to go on both left and right, which we’d ultimately like to connect with some brass chain. So there’s a bit yet to go on this piece, but it’s pretty close to done.

Mechanicsburg Shirt

Unlike replicating the trousers, making another renaissance shirt (once again taking some of the bagginess out) was an experience with a smooth flow from step to step with a very hard to work with fabric. It was slippery and it wanted to shred. Constantly. I rolled every seam under and stitched them down to keep tiny magenta bits from floating around everywhere. Needless to say, there were still many tiny magenta bits floating just about everywhere.

Look at that shimmer!

Oh! I did have to go shopping for this fabric, to complement the vest-in-progress. We ended up selecting a set of sheets at Goodwill. So the collar and cuffs are from the top hem, meaning I had less fiddly sewing, holding and pinning to do to get them in place. Though I did somehow forget how I wanted to handle that part of the process, meaning the collar might sit a bit oddly. I still need to add a hook and eye at the collar, and buttons at the cuffs. NOT FUNCTIONAL BUTTONS. Not with this fabric’s propensity to shred. But I do have some pseudo-Roman coin buttons that will be perfect.

 

Regency Breeches

So this is me cheating again. Instead of finding a closer to period pattern, I planned to take some of the bagginess out of the renaissance trousers and just replicate the process I used before. Plus, you know, add the appropriate front closure and also some cuffs. Are they cuffs at the end of the leg? Anyway. I digress.

Yes, you’re probably saying to yourself, you digress quite a lot. Why am I making regency breeches? Let me tell you through dialogue:

Me: I have good news and bad news.
Jeff: What’s the good news?
Me: There’s a regency ball in Lansing on April 8.
Jeff: Ah, so the bad news is there’s a regency ball in Lansing on April 8? And you want to go?
Me: See, you’re getting better at this!

There you have it, folks, I need more than just a fun dress for me. I have to dress (er, let’s amend that to “put clothes on”) him too. Second pun notwithstanding. Sorry.

I got out a checked (houndstooth?) length of cotton from the stash, which was much easier to work with than the green stuff. The yoke only wobbled a little bit as I put it together. On the other hand, I learned some awkward lessons about precision cutting and piecing with patterned cloth. It looks fine from a distance, and probably even moderately close, but please don’t examine with a fine toothed comb! The other uncooperative aspect was my brain. Seriously, every piece that I could sew in the wrong direction – upside down, turned around – I did. So despite the easier sewing experience, I think it still took longer than the last version.

As for finishing touches, I actually fastened the waistband and front closure with snaps, with decorative buttons from my stash to merely give the illusion of usefulness.  The other two buttons are functional, with buttonholes and everything. Still a bit baggier than I’d like, but since I haven’t mastered trousers yet, it’ll do.

 

Blast from the Past

My mother is in the process of moving, so she brought me many of the items in her stash…including some of the first patterns I used back in high school. The dress on the left was a Halloween costume (green underdress for shimmery elf dress); it probably comes as no surprise that the top pleats did not turn out to my satisfaction.

The longer skirt in the middle pattern was the red costume piece I made to perform in at school. Not bad, but not great material. It has since gone the way of the dinosaur. And one of the vests on the right is the one I improved sleeves for to use as a lace up jacket to go on top of said skirt. I apparently hadn’t heard of shoulders at that point, so needless to say movement was difficult!

Mundane Mending

I am pleased to report that I have finally powered through my massive pile of mending:

  • I closed up a couple of tears (one about palm width, the other fingertip size) in a long flowing skirt;
  • I put the second button back on the waist of my brown pants (and boy has that been waiting a long time); and
  • I hemmed five pairs of pants that my mom gave me – and I really hope I like the length, ’cause I pinned all five at one go and didn’t try any of them on in the course of things…

Tinkerbell came and sat on my lap during the pants hemming session. Lucky for her, I was curled up on the couch so I could comfortably hold my hemming up over her head. And then she was further spoiled when I later returned to the dining room for a snack and instead of making her get up off of my chair, I moved it around the table and put a different chair in my spot instead. Of course, she promptly moved over to his chair so he’d have a hard time sitting down, too.

Making Tunics, Part 2

I started by sewing Jeff’s under tunic, the soft beige cotton (sacrificing the probable underskirt for the Regency dress). I mentally compared it to the vest I’d recently fitted, and knew I had a problem. Jeff couldn’t get it on. I added a triangular gusset under each arm. It was still too tight, so I added another, this time with the point up. Finally it was close enough.

I left the sides of the heavy red over tunic open through the torso. There just wasn’t enough fabric left to add back circumference. I hacked off the sleeves, put in the seams on the skirt, and called it a day. The rough, unhemmed look seemed like the best choice for this simple outfit – I guess we’ll have to hope that we won’t use them enough to need to wash them!

I moved on to the soft brown linen I wanted to be my own under tunic. As I started on the side seams, I realized I’d cut and/or sewn it at the wrong placement and rotation – I’d used the torso for the sleeves, and ended up needing center front and center back seams in addition to side seams. I started piecing it together, and added what I’d intended to be a skirt panel to the center front to get enough girth. The next panel became triangular gores on either side to widen out the hips. I added skirt panels horizontally instead of vertically, extending the length more slowly in order to get all the way around. The front was still shorter than the back by the time I was through, but it ended on the selvage so I could once again skip the hem. It was much shorter than I wanted.

Then I went back to the rough beige almost burlap that was left. With the sleeves and side seams stitched, it was a tight fit. And a bit scratchy. I cut off the sleeves and added them to the ends of the brown tunic as a decoy longer sleeve. That eased up the fit a bit, too, I expect. Rather than fine tune any further, I got out the minuscule bit of fake leather I was saving for Jaime (where it wouldn’t have been enough) and made belt pouches. The best bit? The belts themselves are just lengths of black cotton rope…because Lily’s a chewer, and we’d already bought a 100′ coil of it to avoid the $10 charge every time she wears one out.

If I get ambitious between now and April, I might try to make us caps…