Come play with us!

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Just a quick update to let you know we will be setting up at the Vista, CA event this weekend – March 8/9. The event takes place at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, 2040 N. Santa Fe Ave, Vista, CA. Call for directions 760/941-1791, or go to Gold Coast Festivals for more information! That link will take you directly to the Vista page. We are very excited to visit our friends, immerse ourselves in history, and teach doll making and home making to all visitors who stop by. Hopefully we will see you, too!

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Mid Century Child’s Chemise

Here’s a little project I have taken on to create a period accurate suit of clothing for my 7 year old daughter. Check back for more as the project proceeds!

Notes from the Melody Maker

I have finished the first installation of practice on the Mid Century Sewing Project as I referenced a couple posts back! The first item I decided to try was the child’s chemise from the Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Girls Linens 1840-1865 pattern. While the pattern comes with a 30 page booklet, do not let this intimidate you, as it did me at first. It is packed full of helpful tips on making your garment as period correct as you want or can, plus complete instructions for three garments with a variety of options.

I am glad I made this as a practice run because I made a few mistakes and some decisions on construction about half way through the project. First off, I learned how to make the run and fell seam, an historic technique that encases raw edges inside a seam and adds greater strength to seams…

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Extending the life of a dress

Our 19th century counterparts were very good at using every resource until it was completely used up. They didn’t have a local Walmart or Target available to run over and buy a replacement. Stores were sometimes a full days ride away from home, and so they stocked up on certain things, and used and reused things diligently. In their day, it was called “being frugal.” These days we have rebranded it for school kids and we call it recycling.

In a woman’s repertoire was the ability to remake dresses from one fashion to another, or to update a look with new trims and decoration. In particular with children’s clothing, it was important to make them last as long as possible because children grow! If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder, she refers to Ma “turning” hers and Mary’s dresses. This involved removing the skirt from the bodice and turning it so that the hem became the waistline. This would hide worn hems and keep the skirt looking fresh. Children’s clothing was also often made with growth tucks and extra wide seams so the clothing could be let out as the child grew in height and size. When tucks were removed, a pair of faded lines would show and the part of the fabric that was inside the tuck would be a bit darker than the part exposed to washing and sunlight. To help disguise this, trim was frequently sewn over those lines.

Today I want to show you one method to making your child’s reenactment dress last a little longer. I bought this dress when my daughter was 4 1/2. She has worn it through two full seasons and I expect she will wear it through the current season. When I first bought the dress I took up 4″ in growth tucks, they have all been let out but the dress is still a bit short. Because it fits her nicely through the body, I wanted to add length.

Old drawers

Old drawers

Since this is all about reusing and recycling, I started with a pair of drawers I had that developed a tear that could not be repaired. The drawers have nice lace and are gently ruffled. I cut off the lower portion of each leg and threw away the rest. Next, I decided to use two of the three bands of lace to extend the length of the dress. I carefully cut close to the edge of the lace.

Careful trimming

Careful trimming

Once I cut away the lower portion, I cut open one seam. Because the drawers were made with a serger, to eliminate bulk, I cut away the entire seam, and I was left with one long piece. The hem of the dress is 78″ and each individual section of the lace was 50″. So, I next sewed the two sections together, making one 100″ long piece. I determined I would sew just next to the edge of the lace and placed it on the inside of the hem.

No, I didn't pin it

No, I didn’t pin it, naughty naughty

I made sure that the edges met at the end, stitched them together, then finished sewing the lace onto the skirt. Because my daughter is tall, I am quite used to adding length to her dresses and pants. If you aren’t, be sure to carefully measure the exact length of the skirt hem, then measure again. Cut your lace with enough to make a 1/4″ seam, then stitch it right sides together. Finally, sew it to the skirt. A tip for measuring the exact length you need is to pin the lace into place and baste it, then cut the length. You would have to remove the basting and I would never take this extra step. It depends on your comfort level and sewing experience.

Voila, 4 extra inches!

Voila, 4 extra inches!

Now, a friend mentioned to me that if I added a bit of lace to the sleeves it would look more like I intended to have that white ruffle all along, so I used the third piece of lace from the drawers to do just that. I cut away every bit of fabric and seams possible while still retaining about 1/2″ of fabric above the upper edge of the lace. I did this because the sleeve is an elastic gathered sleeve. (Yes they had elastic, yes they used it.) I couldn’t stitch right on the edge of the sleeve because of the casing, hence the extra 1/2″. I removed the elastic from its casing, then pressed the sleeve nice and flat.  Next, I attached the lace to the inside of the sleeve.

Ungathered sleeve

Ungathered sleeve

Finally, I added the elastic back into the casing. Because our dress has a belt it will hide the faded lines from the bodice tuck I let out. This much extra length should get my daughter through at least this year, maybe even one more…fingers crossed!

Dress with extended life!

Dress with extended life!

The next time you are tempted to sell the current dress and just buy a new one, try channelling our ancestresses and their frugality. A little bit of time and some scraps could save you a good $50 – and that’s $50 more toward YOUR new dress, don’t you know! :-)

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Prado success, on to Costa Mesa

What makes an award look even better? Two cute little girls holding it!

What makes an award look even better? Two cute little girls holding it!

We introduced a new “room” to our household at Prado – a wall tent as our bedroom – so our full household now features a kitchen, parlour, children’s play room and bedroom. It was a lot to set up, but the hard work paid off and we took 1st Place as the Most Authentic Civilian Camp for the second time. Squeee!

When we set up at Costa Mesa we will be just a diminutive version of our household, with a fly and small tent, but we will have our bookshop, and will be teaching handcrafts. Hope you will come out and join us!

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2013 Season

The 2013 Season for us is beginning this weekend at the Prado Park Civil War Encampment, Prado Regional Park, Chino, CA! We are excited to expand our household a little bit with the addition of a tent/bedroom, and we plan to camp over the weekend. We will have displays of children’s games and activities, the household, and our little bookshop with all original work available for a small donation.

This event is a fundraiser to support a Boy Scout Eagle program and people in scout uniforms get into the event for $2 – this includes Girl Scouts and leaders. So if you are a Daisy or an Eagle, wear your uniform and enjoy the day! Admission to the park is $10 per car and helps the park continue to provide space for great historical events like this one, camping, park and fishing facilities for the general public, and much more for the enhancement of the area.

Click over to the Southern California Civil War Association (SCCWA) website for more details. See you there!

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Victorian style pomanders

If you are looking for a historical craft activity to do with your kids, or just on your own for the joy of it, you might try out a Victorian style pomander. Pomanders were made from citrus fruits pierced with cloves and date back to the 15th century. The cloves helped preserve the fruit from spoiling and the aromas helped fragrance the home for many months. They were often hung in bunches from ceiling beams. Remember, homes often had one great room for cooking, eating, socializing and sleeping, so the pomanders helped to keep unpleasant odors at bay. Cloves were sometimes inserted in symbolic shapes and as the fruit dried the pomander became a good luck charm. They could be made annually to continue the good luck in the home. By the 17th century, the wealthy had decorative holders to put the pomanders into so they could hold them close to their nose. Not only did they help hide unpleasant odors, but they were also used for disease prevention as it was believed that certain spices could prevent diseases or noxious vapors from entering the body through the nose.

Pomanders enjoyed a revival during the 19th century with the greater availability of citrus fruits. Americans had access to oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits grown in Florida and California in particular. Follow these simple instructions to create an aromatic and lovely historical holiday item. They can be hung from the ceiling as in old, or displayed in a bowl on a table.

Citrus spice pomanders

Orange, lemon or lime

Whole cloves


Implement for poking holes – some people suggest a clean 2″ nail

Pour a small bowl full of whole cloves.

Create a design on your fruit – spiral, stars, crosses, etc. – by poking holes into the skin of the fruit. Place the holes no closer than 1/4″ apart, otherwise the skin of the fruit could tear; also because they shrink as they dry you could lose some of the cloves if they are too close. Place a clove into the premade holes. If you are working with oranges or lemons, you may want to make a few holes, place the cloves, then make a few holes, place the cloves, etc., as the lighter colored fruit skins can disguise your holes and you may lose your pattern.

Proceed this way until your design is complete. Gently but not loosely wrap a ribbon around the fruit, tying it in a knotted bow at the top. You can also tie it in a loop to hang from a hook. We used boutonniere pins to ensure the ribbon did not slide off the orange.

The pomanders will dry but should not spoil because of the preservative effects of the cloves. As they dry the pomanders will naturally lose some of their scent. To refresh their fragrance, place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with ground cloves, then bake at a very low temperature for about 15 minutes. At that time you can also adjust the ribbons to ensure they do not come off.


Enjoy your traditional holiday pomander!

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