Reworking a vintage fur

Posted by on Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Throughout history, people have worn a lot of fur.  When I make clothing for reenactment, I like to get as close as I can to the original pieces, but work within a budget and keep some modern sensibilities in mind.  I don’t object to using leather or hides from herd animals, particularly those we use for meat, but I’m a little hesitant about hunting species like foxes.  We need foxes and other predators, and I’d like the foxes who are alive today to do their foxy work out in the wild.  BUT vintage furs are often readily available if you know where to look, and they can be easily reworked for use in reenactment.  Before you buy a vintage fur, look it over closely for signs of wear and make sure that it’s not too far gone to use.  A lot of old fur preservation techniques used chemicals that made the skin dry and delicate over time, and things we wear for reenactment need to be pretty hearty to last more than a few events.  If you find any holes or worn spots, make sure you don’t overpay for the item.

I got this red fox jacket at an estate sale a couple of years ago.  It’s in decent condition, but it’s far from pristine, and the styling screams “Jackie O!”  I don’t think that’s bad, but I do think it’s fair to say that reworking this into a different garment or two isn’t a crime against fashion.

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I started by removing the button and button loop, and then the lining. Linings are generally just whip-stitched into furs, so stripping out the lining only took about ten minutes.  I was gentle as I worked though, since this jacket is made of skins that have been pieced together and it already had a few small holes in it.

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When I got to the cuffs, I removed the horizontal bands of fur, since the sleeve shape and cuffs seem like one of the things that most clearly dates the jacket to the 1960s.

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You’ll notice that this jacket has a reinforcing fabric inside each of the fur pieces.  That seems to be pretty common, and it helps lend some strength to the pelts, so I left it in place.

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Next, I  found spots that would need repair.  In this jacket, there were two weak spots on either side of the neck were seams come together.  I am lucky enough to have a really great sewing machine, so I just ran a quick line of stitches in each spot that needed repair.  If your machine can’t handle this thickness or if you’d rather work by hand, a bit of hand stitching would also work.  A thimble would be helpful, since any sort of leather sewing can be hard on your hands if you’re not used to it.

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Once the holes were repaired, I gave some consideration to the final shape I was shooting for.  Even if I took in the sleeves of this little jacket, I think it would still look very 1960s.  That sort of thing is seriously hard to overcome when you’re shooting to rework a modern garment to look like something from a very different part of history.  I have seen evidence of sheepskin and leather jackets and vests in early period garments, but not fox fur.  I also considered the pockets.  Despite what a lot of us heard for years and years, the Huldremose find shows us that pockets did exist in the ancient world.  But these pockets are slash pockets towards the front of the jacket where some pelts come together, and the pockets are made of flannel and pretty ratty . . . and I just don’t know.  They make sense on a jacket, but less so on a capelet.  Right–the pockets are doomed.  So are the sleeves.  Unfortunately the sleeves are raglans rather than set-in sleeves, so the shoulders will require some shaping to lay correctly.  It’s not too daunting, but it’s worth some thought and measurements.

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This fur is thin enough that I can pin it like normal fabric, so I started by pinning off the sleeves and pockets and trying it on to see how things laid.  Once I had a shape I liked, I got to stitching.  I tried it on again and once I got all of the lines as smooth as I wanted, I cut off the sleeves and pockets.  I’ll save the sleeves for other projects.  I predict a fox fur hat.

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And here is the restructured fur.

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Now for a lining.  Slick linings make sense for coats but not for capelets–I hate it when capelets slide all over the place, so I opted for something textured and warm.   Since I just happen to have some vintage hand-woven Scottish wool about the same age as the fur in a beautiful green, I went with that.

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I experimented on a scrap to see how obvious machine stitching would be, and the answer was “completely, terribly obvious.”  So I opted to hand-sew the lining into place.  I pinned it into place along the front edges and neck and sewed those sections first, and refitted and sewed the hem last.

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And done.  I need to consider a closure, but I have a number of brooches and chains that should work.  Or I could stretch a strip of finished fox fur between the sides and pin that in place with brooches.  Either way, a damaged, dated jacket is now wearable and I have scraps of striped silk and fox fur to use for another project.  Win-win.

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Whirlwind Autumn

Posted by on Monday, October 10th, 2016

My favorite annual event is not happening this year, so we put our heads together and decided to re-allocate that vacation time to maximize fun and insanity and limit my opportunities to mope.  Coincidentally, some friends asked me to write something unusual for them, so I spent a great deal of time researching Sarmatian and Bastarnae run-ins with the Illyrian Roman regimes in the later ancient world.

In the midst of all that research, I taught my Early Period Embroidery and Weave Structures classes at Atlantia University in Mid-September.  I had an amazing time.  I’ve been teaching at SCA events for years, but that was the first time I’d taught at a University, and it was great to have an auditorium and a projector rather than having to lug crates of books with me, risking damage to the books and to my own poor back.  I had amazing groups of students for both classes.  I get such a rush from nerdy discussion of archaeological finds and experimental archaeology.

And then I polished up the new creation and we headed down to Alabama.  All of that research of mine came together in a Coronation ceremony for our friends who just stepped up in Meridies. We kept the material on lock down so the ceremony could have the greatest impact, and I think our work paid off.  Now that it’s all said and done, I can confidently say this is one of the most enjoyable, successful collaborative Bardic projects I’ve ever taken part in.  In short, Barthelemy and Oda wanted to do something unusual for their coronation.  Because I have always essentially hidden in a cave, anything I produce for an elevation or other ceremony in the SCA winds up being unusual, because I am rarely exposed to things like elevations.  I am also focused on a far earlier period in history than most of the SCA, so I have more facility with the ancient world than most.  They asked for an origin story that would tie in their two personae and explain how they ended up wearing crowns and having a Sarmatian reign.

Initially, I worried I wouldn’t be able to unite everything in a reasonable narrative, but their flexibility allowed me to pinpoint and work from a long-term alliance between Sarmatians and Bastarnae in the Balkans.  A number of Preachain’s southern members are in a household called the Bastarnae based on that ancient Germano-Scythian people, so that discovery delighted me–I loved the idea of some of my nearest and dearest with us on that stage.  Once the research was done and my Muse started knocking, it was pretty clear that Roma–the Goddess who embodies “Roman-ness” and Istro, the God of the Danube, would be the philosophical governors of the two sides of our story.  We settled on a ritual drama for the Ceremony, with nods to Ancient Greek theater and Shakespeare.  I generally build packets that include my notes and bibliographies when I work on projects like this, so I shared my notes out to the Royals as well as a few of the other principal players to allow them to request that I include or exclude certain things.  I did all of the speaking, so we didn’t have to ask anyone else to memorize lines, and we’re lucky enough to have friends who are amazing costumers and actors who could help make everything work on the day.

I’m proud of what we came up with: I composed a free verse poem that begins with a recitation of the historical record rewritten with my style and biases.  We then had a break for a song to mark out where our invention began, and then I continued with the story of Barthelemy and Oda and how they managed to seize the crowns.  For the actual ceremony, we had one dear friend of mine representing Roma and another dear friend as Istro/Danube, so the Romans and Barbarians (Bastarnae and Sarmatians) each had a god on a plinth to protect and rely on.  Each of the tribes and the Romans had a small group of actors to portray their actions.  The song they chose for the break is called Road to Rome, and it’s a huge favorite of mine.  We did a few quick run-throughs for blocking and lighting, and the excellent stage manager primed the audience to be ready for something different.  The Ceremony itself went off without a hitch.  All of the actors did a great job, and the singer who punctuated that break sounded amazing.  The whole weekend was fantastic.  Many friends from all over Meridies came out, and everyone was so welcoming to Alherin and me.  I couldn’t pick a nicer home away from home that Meridies.

If you want to read or hear the ceremony, here is the packet, complete with audio file.

Now we’re home for a few days before we head south again for War of the Wings.  I’m lucky to have such great house sitters, and I’m glad the puppy hasn’t disowned us yet.  And I need sleep.  And for clothes to dry faster so I can pack them again.

 

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Transferring embroidery designs onto black fabric

Posted by on Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

I learned how to embroider as a child, and it’s one craft that has stuck with me through my entire life.  For me, the biggest challenge of embroidery is transferring a design onto fabric–particularly dark fabric.  I cannot draw.  I don’t mean I’m not as good at drawing as I would like–I straight up can’t do it.  Something is wrong in my neural pathways.  No amount of practice or lessons has ever made it better.  So when I can’t use something like a transfer pen, I have to look to other methods.

I decided a couple of days ago to make a present for Alherin.  Our amazing friend Bran Mydwynter designed and painted his shield a while ago (we’ll repaint it Bran–soon), and I love the design, so I figured I should start there:

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I took a photo of the shield, opened it in photoshop, and got to work.  I simplified and cleaned up the image and swapped the colors to black and white rather than black and red–no reason to waste a ton of ink printing color I don’t need.  I printed out a couple of copies so I had one to use as a pattern and one for reference.  For this project, what is printed black will be embroidered in red, and I will want to reference something as I work–just in case.  For more colorful embroidery projects, I generally print several copies and color on them until I come up with something that’s just right.

Once the pattern was ready, I prepared my background fabric, making sure it was much larger than the image I’ll be embroidering.  I want lots of options for finishing this, and I want a piece that’s easy to put in a hoop.

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I got everything lined up on grain and pinned that sucker like crazy.  I used safety pins because I have enough holes in my hands already.  I’m essentially quilting paper to fabric.

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Next, I sewed.  I used red thread because it will be easy to see when I get started but it will blend into the embroidery once I get to work.  Those swirly bits are tedious.  Trust me.  I went slowly.  Well, slowly for me.  I have an excellent machine with a knee lifter, so those things speed this process up a lot.

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Once everything was stitched, I started removing the paper.  That process gets much more difficult as it goes along.

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A pin or stiletto is necessary for the very small sections.

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And then for a little while I wanted to burn the whole thing and pretend this never happened.

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And, finally, it was clean enough to start embroidering.   It took me under an hour to get to this point from when I printed the image.  I think that’s much more efficient than any other method I’ve tried for transferring a pattern onto a black background–particularly considering that that pattern will stay put unless I remove it with a seam ripper.  It won’t wash off, it won’t bleed, it won’t damage the fabric, and it will still be there if I abandon a project for years and years.  I just picked up an old project and the heavy wool background cloth had eaten the pattern lines.  I was not pleased.  But that’s another story, and all is well.

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And then it was done.  I may revisit this and fill in the negative space with black embroidery with feathering, or I may make a larger version for that process.  But he will be able to wear it at Pennsic.

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In other news, Etaine and I started on a new gate banner for Preachain.  She acquired the perfect madder red wool background and made the pattern, then we cut and arranged the pieces and I did the applique and prepped the wool for the background.  The linen sub-banner will be removable for washing, since we don’t want that red to transfer onto the natural linen.  This will probably get some handwoven trim and some large figures on the red and some antler stuff.  BUT I won’t be sewing on thick wool while were camping, so I am happy.

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Filed in Celtic,embroidery,tutorials | One response so far

Crazy Lanea’s Summer Sewing Tips

Posted by on Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

1. Sangria helps. So does delivered food. Hot kitchens ruin everything in July.

2. Unplug the damn iron dammit! What’re you trying to sweat us all to death? Crimeny–the puppy can’t stop panting.

3. Enclose yourself and your beloved window AC unit in a region of the home that has doors. Trap yourself and those deserving of comfort in that region. Laugh at the sweating non-believers.

4. You know how we used to love wool? Well, wool betrayed us. We don’t talk to wool anymore. Wool knows what it did. We shall reconsider wool’s role in this family in September or October. Maybe. No guarantees. Wool-silk is a collaborator and we know it. Wool-silk knows it. No one here is above suspicion.

5. Prepare the necklines on all tunics and dresses and hand-finish them before bothering with sleeves or side seams or any of that nonsense. A well-faced neckline is a neckline that doesn’t itch, and we’ve all itched enough thanks to that damn heat and those fracking bugs.

6. Linen is not to be trusted. It comes apart at the seams like that coworker of yours who cries at every single meeting. Finish your seams to prevent fraying, because fraying seams are itchy seams, and that is un-fracking-tenable.

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Completed

Posted by on Friday, June 10th, 2016

I finally finished a quilt I started ages ago, and I love it enough to keep it.  The blocks are giant scrappy string-pieced things, which I quilted as I went.  I assembled the thing and quilted the sashing once I made all of the blocks, which is definitely an interesting technique.  I still feel nervous quilting something this large, but I’m proud of it.  Now to make pillow covers to match.

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Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

Posted by on Thursday, May 12th, 2016

I should be gardening. I have been gardening, but I can’t quite manage any good photos because it’s been raining all month. Let me not dwell.

Despite the rain, Maryland Sheep and Wool was as wonderful as ever. We had a relatively painless set-up despite the rain, because Jennifer was able to pull the truck and trailer into the hall so we could unload it in place, away from the rain.

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We had a new neighbor this year, and both she and her work are delightful.  She makes bags from vintage textiles, and they are astoundingly cool.  Check it out:Range of Emotion.

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All of that rain gave me a bit of extra sewing time, so I made another selvage bag.  It’s a bit larger than the first one I made, and has similar lining and pockets.

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I finally started assembling the blocks of my string quilt, and I am wondering what on earth took me so long.  Storing those giant blocks and moving them around to work was annoying, and the quilt is going to be lovely.  I plan to keep it.  That’s a first.

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Yarrow was an adorable hindrance during layout.  As usual.

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The finished quilt will have five large squares on a side with dark blue sashing to coordinate with the blue center line in each one.  So far the top is entirely made of scraps, though I will probably have to cut some new stuff for the row sashing and binding unless I come up with some other bright idea. I am also contemplating pillow shams.  Like you do.

Gratuitous cat pic, for tradition’s sake:

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The goings on

Posted by on Monday, April 4th, 2016

I bought a charming new old house.  We’ve been very busy working on the house, traveling, playing with a puppy, hosting visitors, and running about like crazy people.

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The house went to closing a year and a day ago.  Since then we have added a pantry, which the house needed:

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Installed some light fixtures–one of which was a gift:

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And one I had been dragging around with me for ages:

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We started work on a hideous powder room (yes, that is a mummified mouse we found behind the ugly 70s mirror):

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Which is looking much better but still needs a new floor and a new old sink and toilet:

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Ben pulled some vinyl flooring someone put over antique green tile:

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And started hammering out plans for the weird abandoned well room:

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We have focused on making this place look like it’s ours.

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flowers

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The to-do list is never-ending, but this has been an amazing place to live over the last year.  We’re burying some deep roots.  Also, puppy.
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Filed in blather,house | 2 responses so far

Whirlwind

Posted by on Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

I posted right after Imbolc.

Since then, I made a couple of dozen garments for Ben, a few for friends and a few things for me. We went to Gulf Wars, which was an interesting mixture of fun times with friends and some pretty horrible weather. We on the early work crew had such a bad storm it prevented much work on the Early Period Life structures. Once the event officially started, we had several days of brutally hot weather and then more serious storms. Apparently a tornado touched down a few miles away and was generous enough to send us some very high winds, which took out tents and a few trees. Thankfully there were relatively few injuries, but a large percentage of the attendees left. I had written a ceremony for a friend’s laurel–which is a high level arts and sciences award–but the storm cancelled the ceremony. I had a wonderful time singing with Maebh and seeing so many of our friends from far away. We stayed until the end and had fun, but it was a weird one. I never got the camera out, barely got to see any fighting, and my teaching schedule got preempted and ran into all sorts of weird.

We then returned home to host Ben’s Mother, Brother, and niece and nephews. Museums, zoo, cooking, puppy spoiling, etc.

And now we’re preparing for Celt Wars 19, which is astounding. After that, I am teaching a double class at a local event, which should be interesting.

And then writing and translating. And embroidery. And possibly some leather work–we just found a trove of hides in the attic. And also puppy. This guy never stops.

I will add photos if I can ever get Flickr to behave again.

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Shelter, Sister

Posted by on Sunday, February 14th, 2016

A dear friend of mine has suffered far more than anyone should recently. I wrote this in her honor.  And then, because this is who we are, one friend turned it into some beautiful art, and many of us surrounded our beloved, hurting friend in the oak grove in my front garden and sang to her and spoke these words to her, all in attempt to help her remember that we will do our best to shield her from pain.  It seems a particularly apt thing to post on Valentine’s Day, which I choose to see as a celebration of all kinds of love.

Shelter, Sister

Shelter, Sister, in the arms of your tribe.
Let us drive off all those who harm you.
Let us hold you within our entwined embrace
And evermore shelter and guard you.

Heal, Sister, in the arms of your tribe.
Let us hold you and offer you succor.
Let us bandage your wounds with sacred salve
And evermore heal and protect you.

Rest, Sister, in the arms of your tribe.
Let us cover you and sing to you softly.
Let us sit by your bedside to ward off bad dreams
And evermore rest here beside you.

© 2016 Amy Ripton

I know I haven’t been posting, but oh have I been living.  We got a puppy, and we’ve done tons of work on our new old house, and I’ve been teaching and writing and making some things.  We are gearing up for our annual trip to Mississippi and a number of other fun events, and I am excited for what is in store.  I think, if I can stay motivated, this site will become more and more dedicated to a broader view of my research and writing and other pursuits and less about knitting.  It’s not that I knit any less–it’s just that I passed some sort of milestone a while back and most projects feel more comforting and less exciting.  I guess I’ve learned a lot of skills.  I know I have become more confident about my ability to teach knitting.  And since I adore teaching, that has been a boon.

Filed in bardic,Celtic | One response so far

Countdown

Posted by on Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

This Friday, I go to closing on this charming little place.

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It was build in 1895, and it’s on 3/4 of an acre. It’s also around the corner from a train station and outside one of the niftiest old neighborhoods in the greater DC area, so I’m very excited for the community I’ll be joining and the garden I’ll be building.  And the dogs I’ll be adopting.  Spending so long without a dog of my own has been difficult.

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