Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Pinkie Promise

I had planned to share with you my completed Ginger Linen dress today, but just as I was finishing that up, I had a bit of a change to my plans. Plus, it's too cold to be wandering around outside in just a single-layer linen dress to take pictures, and I don't have a suitable interior picture-taking spot at the moment. So even if I was going to share the finished dress with you today, it would have been in bits and pieces, rather than the full photo shoots I normally do. Which would have not been cool, really. I can, however, share this little teaser of the neckline with you:

While I was completing the finishing work on the ginger dress, I decided to pull out the navy blue wool I originally purchased 6 years ago. I had intended it to be used for my now-defunct Garb Quest project, but at the time I still had so much to learn about dressmaking that I feared ruining the piece. I carefully folded it and preserved it as if it was a precious document, and had gotten it into my head that it was the most valuable piece of material I had. Which was a load of bull that I fed myself out of a lack of confidence.

So I pulled that sucker out, ran my hand over it, remembering why I loved it so much (it's so wonderfully soft), and washed it. We hung it up in the shelter in our backyard to dry, but then it rained, then it dropped below freezing, and eventually 2 days later, the wool came back in, only to be draped over our living room furniture to finish drying. If I'd still had any inkling that the wool needed to be preserved, it had been tossed out the window and fed to the possums by that point.

We turned the heat lamp on to prevent the wool from freezing overnight.
To me that was a lesson. Authentic materials (or at least authentic fibers) are costly, and they can tend to feel like investments that must be protected. But the reality is that we purchase these things not just to use them, but to LEARN to use them. Mistakes are always going to be a part of that process. Instead of fearing that a beautiful piece of cloth might be ruined by our ineptitude, we can embrace the opportunity to learn how to deal with any mistakes we may or may not make, and stop allowing them to hold us back. I bought that wool all those years ago to turn it into something. Whether I'd done it then or now, it would still teach me - there's always something new to discover when you're on the path of learning a skill.

So, back to my original point. I got the blue wool ready, and decided that I wanted to try to make a dress with it for the next event I was attending. I was still on the fence about it, though, since there were at least three other projects that needed my attention first. But while I was contemplating this, with the hem of my ginger linen dress still waiting to be completed, a friend started messaging me.

She needed some prompting to help her get back on track with a dress that had been waiting around to be completed for several months. If I had to guess, I'd say that she already knew she needed to get on it, but she needed that other voice to back her up. I was more than happy to oblige. We continued to chat, and then realizing that we would both be attending the event at the end of February, she suggested that we should pinkie promise to both have complete, new outfits for the event.

Now, I'm not sure how pinkie swears work in your circles, but in mine, a pinkie swear is serious business. It's a contract of trust. My husband reminds me when we pinkie swear that a broken pinkie promise means a broken pinkie. And I really like my pinkies. So when I decided to swear on my littlest finger, that's something I don't take lightly.

Since I was very close to completing the ginger linen dress, and the washed wool was waiting to be cut, I sent her my digital pinkie swear, and the deal was struck.

from The Queen's Book (BL Harley 4431), circa 1414, fol. 178
I had already tagged the navy wool to be a component to my Manuscript Challenge outfit, so I needed to figure out how to do it so that it would work has a middle layer. In the challenge outfit, the navy dress is worn under the gray outer gown, as a cote/kirtle. But in order to make the dress for Candlemas, to wear over my ginger linen dress, I need it to function as an outer gown on its own merit. 

Since the ginger linen dress has long sleeves with buttons at the forearms, it makes sense to wear the navy dress sleeves up, to expose the ginger dress. But the navy dress sleeves also need to be able to work down. The solution I have come up with is to make the navy dress sleeves with three buttons at the wrists. The buttons can be undone, and the sleeves loosened enough to roll up to show the dress underneath. The effect will be identical to the rolled-up sleeves spotted in French manuscripts from the first 3rd of the 15th Century, such as this example from The Comedies of Terence:

from The Comedies of Terence (BnF MS Latin 7907 A) circa 1400-1407, fol. 8
This also means that the wool dress won't have any lacing, since it needs to be a fashionable outer layer when worn over other dresses in this rolled-sleeve manner. But that's something I do anyway, since lacing is mostly not a viable option for anything but the lowest supportive layer on me. (Which is what I would wear under the wool dress when wearing it with another outer gown. My supportive short cote is one such bottom-layer option.)

So I'm going to skip sharing the finished Ginger Linen dress with you until I can share the entire new outfit next month. I'm sure you don't mind missing out on photos of me freezing my butt off today if it means you get to see something worth the photo shoot later on.


  1. I'm excited! I'm trying to learn as much as possible, so as to be a better seamstress.

  2. Where do you get your wool cloth? I've been having a hard time finding 100% wool cloth online with no pattern.

    1. The navy wool above is from Joann's. My local store usually has some flannel wools in their wool suiting selection. Sometimes they are on sale, but not often. A lot of my wools have come from Class Act Fabrics ( She doesn't have too many photo of what she's got on the site, but if I email her as tell her what I'm looking for she'll list out what might fit the bill. Her prices have ranged between $11-$19/yrd. The only other place online I've purchased from is Wm. Booth, Draper ( In fact I'm about to place an order there this week. Mostly in the $20/yrd range, but very good quality, and they cater to historical costumers.

  3. Thank you for your thoughts on learning from the preserved navy fabric. I needed to hear that!