Friday, January 30, 2015

Finding a Way to Mourn

This year didn’t start out how I’d planned.  After Christmas, I was ready for new challenges, had my January sewing project (a corded petticoat) planned out, and was ready to start as soon as we got back to the Netherlands.  We flew in on the 8th, and on the 11th, I was told I’d probably need to come back to the states, as it seemed my Grandfather, suddenly, was dying.  So I flew back on the 13th, he died the morning of the 14th, and I spent the next two weeks in the states, visiting with family I hadn’t seen in a long time, and some who I had just seen at our Christmas get together.

Obviously, I didn’t bring any sewing projects back to the states, so I’m a little behind on the corded petticoat—though I did get pretty far into a new crochet project.

As I’ve sewn historic clothing, I’ve learned more about the cultures and eras from which I sew.  One of those cultural practices regards mourning.  I don’t know much, but I do really like the idea of visible mourning.  That a person should, for a specified amount of time, wear full mourning, and possibly half-mourning after that. The people they’d encounter would know they were grieving, and you could avoid the awkward answers to the simple “How’s it going?” type questions (though I have no idea if Victorians asked those sorts of questions).  The practice was also a reminder to the person in mourning that it was okay to not be okay.  That this is something awful, and your entire being could reflect that.

Apart from the Jewish practice of Shiva, where you sit for seven days and reflect, and sort of let it sink in (which I also really like the idea of), most modern (Western) practices surrounding death are really rushed and truncated.  Seeing everything that had to be done by both my grandfather’s wife, and my dad and his brothers, meant they were kept hopping between planning a funeral and contacting everyone who needed to know—which included friends and family but also social security and the local paper and the lawyer, and the list went on and on and on.  Between all that, there’s not enough time to reflect, and then there’s the funeral, where you sum up an 86 year life in an hour, and then it’s done.  And the world continues.  But you’re left with a ‘what just happened??’ feeling that is hard to communicate to others.

So I’ve been trying to find a way to mourn.  A blogger I follow, Sarah with Romantic History actually wore mourning to her living history events for a summer when her grandfather died, and found a lot of value and comfort in doing so.  I don’t attend living history events, nor have a dress to turn in to mourning wear, so I thought of maybe wearing a black fabric or crocheted bracelet for a certain amount of time, or planting a tree, or maybe having a cord by my bed and every night tying a knot in it and thinking of a memory (I read about that somewhere), but I forgot what you were supposed to do with the cord when it was full of knots, and the last tree I planted died, and a bracelet didn’t feel like enough.  In the end, I decided on something a little different.

Remember the corded petticoat I mentioned at the beginning?  I was planning on machine sewing it, to save loads of time, though I’ve kind-of always wanted to hand sew one.  Now, I’m going to make the time for it.  86 rows of cording, one to celebrate and remember and cry over each year in the life of a wonderful man named Harry.  86 days of sewing.  Each day, I will sew no more than one round.  I won’t watch TV while I sew (my usual hand sewing practice), but may listen to a podcast or music. I might not sew a round every day, as life does continue and some days other obligations will impose themselves. 

Though my mourning practice won’t be visible like standard clothing, I hope it will provide the time to reflect that I’m desperately looking for, and in the end I will have something rather unique to keep and cherish and wear: a memorial petticoat.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Combining Two Loves: The HSF and Data

I have a fondness for data.  Spreadsheets, databases, charts, pretty much all of it.

Combine that with my being a member of the Historical Sew Fortnightly, and I start to get curious about things like how many of our members are actually participating in the challenges, and which challenges are the most popular.  So I turned those questions into a giant spreadsheet, and then made that data easier to read through two charts:

Despite the fact that we almost doubled our membership in 2014, about the same number of people participated.  Although, we did almost double our numbers of those who completed all challenges in the year (26 in 2013 (plus the bonus #0 for a total of 27) and 24 in 2014): 4 "full-marathoners" in 2013 and 7 in 2014, and only two people did all challenges both years.

As far as I could tell, 389 people participated in at least one challenge.  If you're a member of that group, you did better than about 80% of our members! (At the end of 2014, we had about 2000 members.)

My second chart only asks how many people did each challenge, but it also shows some interesting trends, most notably how interest drops off as the year goes on (this being especially pronounced in 2014). But you can also see which types of challenges were more interesting to people.  Both years, the "Under It All" (13.3 and 14.3) challenge was one of the most popular, and it was joined by other concrete themes like "Bodice" (14.4) and "Accessorize" (13.7).  Less popular were the challenges with more fluid themes like "Pretty Pretty Princess" (13.12) and "The Politics of Fashion" (14.11), though I often found these more enjoyable due to the added challenge of interpreting the theme.  If you'd like to compare the numbers to their challenge names, the Dreamstress' site has them all listed on the respective HSF pages: 2013 and 2014.

And if you have any desire to see the full set of data, visit here.

Hope you enjoy!  And feel free to leave a comment about what you've been wondering about the HSF, and maybe I'll continue with my figuring!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top 5 Goals for 2015

Because my 'Looking Back, Looking Forward' post was mostly about looking back, and I've had this year's goals swimming around my head, multiplying by the day, I decided I should really write down my top five sewing-related goals for the year.

1. Improve my photography: I don't know what is up with my camera, it seems to be losing its ability to focus, so that's one issue, but mostly I want to improve my outfit photo shoots.  I loved the day I was Miranda at the beach, but that was the only one this year not around my house or my backyard (except for the few that were in my parent's house or back yard.  Oh, and the one in my in-law's backyard).

So more this:

and less this: 

2. Finish things!  I really want to finish my 1880's ensemble, and my Miranda dress above isn't actually completed either (the blue outer layer has no buttons and a really sad machine hem)

3. Try new things!  I bought stamps (still need to find ink) for block printing, and I have been wanting to learn spinning (yarn that is) for years.  Hopefully, this will be the year.

4.  Accessorize!  I'm really bad at completing ensembles, adding the pieces like hats and jewelry and appropriate shoes to really make an outfit look accurate and turn me into someone else.  I have plans for two hats, one for the 1880's (probably buckram) and over Christmas I found a felt hat form to try blocking a late 1920's / early 1930's hat.

5. Improve my hair styling abilities.  Along with point 4, having a period appropriate hair style is key to getting the right overall look.  And I stink at doing my hair.  I was so proud of my gold Regency dress from late 2013, I wore it to a ball and everything, but my hair (which I managed to spend about 10 minutes on) looked like two doorknobs sticking out the back of my head.  I was self conscious about my hair that whole night, and that's not the point of going to a ball!
There are tons of vintage and historical hair tutorials online, and my goal is to try something once a month, hopefully documenting everything so I can reproduce it (or improve upon it) at a later date.

Most of these, you'll probably notice, don't involve big new projects.  A few of those are also in the works, but as I haven't found a lot of places to wear the things I created this year, and everything I make has a caveat that I should really make a hat, or find some broach, etc. before I wear it in public, I end up not wearing items even to events I could go to.  So this year hopefully I'll step back a bit, and work on the smaller things.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Looking Back and Looking Forward

It's that time of year where everyone is trying to figure out what they want to accomplish in the next year.  Like everyone else, I am plotting and planning for upcoming sewing projects and more travelling adventures, but I also want to reflect on what I've accomplished this year.

In 2014 I traveled to London, Brussels, the US (including to Louisiana for the first time), Trieste and Venice, Manchester (England), Belgium and France for a WWI battlefields tour, Groningen (Netherlands), and Paris for my very first fashion history conference.  Oh, and back to the US for Christmas.

In 2014 I began my two year term as a board member for the American Women's Club in Amsterdam, started as an assistant archivist at the Expatriate Archive Centre in the Hague, continued volunteering with the costume collection at the Amsterdam Museum, and lost my job with PhotographyBlogger when the website sold. And I turned 31.

And in 2014 I made 24 projects for the Historical Sew Fortnightly.  I increased my 30's wardrobe by two pairs of pants, a pair of shorts, and three blouses.  And a vest!

I also made really adorable 40's overalls which I need to wear more often.

I completed most of an 1880's ensemble,

and made my first medieval underdress, overdress, and shoes.

I made my first 1830's dress, and fell in love with the era.

And I made more Regency pieces: shoes, beret, and reticule.

Oh, and I made Dan and I hobbit costumes.

I had a lot of highs this year (I now want to go to all the fashion history conferences), and a few really powerful lows.  But I'm ending the year really satisfied with my life.

So on to 2015!