Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book reviews

Yay!! I got some new costume books in the mail!

I'm a librarian by trade, so pretty, new books make me happy.

Anyway...on one of my historical costuming lists someone asked if the Martha Pullen favorite places series of books were any good. They are at Hamilton Books for $7.95 each so I decided to take a chance on them.

Bottom line...I would have paid much more for them. They are a steal at that price!
The ones I got were these:


 I didn't get the DAR quilt collection book or the V&A children's collection books because those areas don't really interest me. Oh...and the Martha Pullen's vintage collection book is volume 1. Hamilton Books didn't have volume 2 available.

For those of you who don't know who Martha Pullen is, she is the founder and editor of "Sew Beautiful" magazine. She also has a big business in heirloom sewing and quilting supplies, sewing books, and TV sewing shows

For historical costumers, here's the run down on the books to give you an idea of whether or not you'll like them.

First of all, they are much heavier on children's clothing than most costuming books. There are between 50 and 60 items featured in each book and they are split about evenly between adult and children's/babies' clothing.

Second, since Ms. Pullen founded her business on heirloom sewing, there are a LOT of things with lace and/or embroidery.

Third, there are almost no men's clothing at all.

Fourth, most items are featured in a 2-page layout. One large, full-page photo of the item with a 1/2 to 3/4 page description that includes 1 or 2 small detail shots. There are 5 or 6 items in each book that are given a 4-page spread with more photos and detail.

Fifth, there are small drawings of some of the embroidery patterns from the items in the back of each book. The drawings can be enlarged for use in hand embroidery and re-creations of the items. There is also a mention that Ms. Pullen sells a CD with the embroidery patterns for machine embroidery.

Finally, the items featured are mostly between the late 1890s and early 1910s. I'd say at least 3/4 of the adult clothing falls in this time period. (except for the DAR museum book)

Comments and criticisms on particular books:

The Kent State Museum

I've always wanted to visit the Kent State Museum's costume collection, so I was very excited to see these books.

They have a couple of dresses from the 1820s, but most things fall into the time period that I mentioned above.

Descriptions of the items are good, sometimes giving dimensions of lace or trims, etc. They also mention things that sewers like to know, such as bodices and sleeves cut on the biases and things like that.

My only criticism is that the dates are sometimes hard to find for each item. Each description starts with a quote from a period magazine or book that relates to the featured item. The date for the quote is clearly given. But sometimes these quotes are several years off from the actual date of the items. You must read through the first paragraph of the description to get the clothing's date.

But that's a small quibble and shouldn't deter you from getting the books.

The DAR Museum

This entry in the "favorite places series" is a little more spread out time-wise and gender-wise.
There are several men's waistcoats from the 1700s and up to the 1830s.

The women's clothing is also earlier than those from the Kent State books. One item from the 1700s, 5 from 1800-1820s, 5 from 1830-1860s, 4 from 1870-1880s, and the rest from later.

The date for each featured item is found right at the top of the description. The items are separated by age and gender. All of the children's clothing is at the front, then women's clothing and then men's clothing at the back.

The descriptions in this book are a little more geared toward what was going on in society and fashion over-all than the previous books, but still have some of that construction info that we costumers love.

The Vintage Collection of Martha Pullen vol 1

Ms. Pullen collects white clothing with interesting lace and embroidery. So that's what you'll find in this book. The vast majority are white. And out of the women's clothing, only 1 item is earlier than 1900.
This book, like the others, is split evenly between adult and children's clothing.

It also has 2 pillows and 2 embroidery scraps featured in addition to the clothing.

Unlike the others, which were written by curators of the museums mentioned, this book was actually written by Ms. Pullen. Since her main interest is in sewing, the descriptions in this book are more geared toward sewers. She gives much more nitty-gritty detail about the construction than the other books in the series.

For example, here's a paragraph from the description of a woman's camisole from c.1900:
"The padded satin stitch flowers and bow design on this particular piece were worked on both fronts of the camisole and again at the center back. Hand scallops formed with a buttonhole stitch were meticulously worked all the way around the neckline, down both sides of the front, and around the armscyes. A strip of a beautiful Swiss beading, through which ribbon is run to cinch in the camisole, defines the waistline. Eyelets worked in sets of two completely around the neckline serve the same purpose; ribbon is woven through them to pull up the fullness and to tie the camisole closed at the top. The bottom was finished with a 1/4 inch wide hem secured with a running stitch. The seams are French, and the whole camisole was made entirely by hand."
The pictures aren't as interesting for me, because of the white, white and yet more white! of the items, and because of the narrow time period featured. But the construction details mentioned more than make up for that. I might have bought the second volume at full price just for that, except that it's out of print and used copies I've found are way too expensive.

All-in-all, I'm glad I bought these books. The photography quality is good, the usefulness of the descriptions varies, but is overall good as well. Definitely worth more than the $7.95 I paid for each of them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Teslacon (part 4): and the rest...

Not gonna talk much on this one.
Just gonna show pretty pics that I took of other people.
(Mostly from Thursday before I got lazy.)

Hubby with a steampunk dalek made mostly from an old washing machine. Note the mustache

A dead barbershop quartet that was serenading in the vending room.

A lovely author named Lisa that we had a nice time talking with.

And finally, a few pics from the Masquerade Ball:

Teslacon (part 3): the male perspective

I thought I'd make a little post about my husband's costumes, even though I didn't make them.

Here's a close-up of my hubby:
Yes, he really is as ornery as he looks! ;)

His character was an airship gambler. That's the steampunk version of a riverboat gambler. So he sewed card suit charms on his hat. The side you can't see has a pair of cards stuck in the hatband that he informs me is called the "dead man's hand". He made the hatband himself (with the help of a friend) out of copper flashing and parts from an old grandfather clock.

Here's the full-length version. The pants and shirts that he wore were all hand made, and the vests and accessories were purchased to go with them.

One day he wanted to have me paint his face for the photo session. The first one went up too far on his forehead and ended up being covered by his hat. The second photo was the final design that he wore.

Teslacon (part 2)

So here are my other costumes from Teslacon. I went very heavy on the red and black because I already had pieces from my Madame Red costume and I re-used my neo-bedouin outfit.

So this is what I wore on Friday:

I wanted a kind of mad scientist/Victorian lady look. I took my Madame Red skirt and built on that. There's a band of plastic test tubes sewn around my hat (which I bought at Naka-Kon because it was the right shade of red!) The test tubes are filled with things that I scrounged from my craft room - pearls, stones, glass micro-beads, metal chains and variegated copper foiling. It got quite a few comments. :)

For the top, I wanted an old-fashioned, asymmetrical labcoat-style closure. You can't see it very well in the photo, but there is a triangular flap that snaps across the shoulder and down to the center front point. But I wanted it to fit with the Victorian bustle. I looked all over for a good pattern and found that I already had one - Truly Victorian's 1883 tail bodice pattern.

I had to re-do one of the front panels so that it had the right closure, but otherwise it was perfect!
The fit wasn't so hot because I only had a few days before the convention to get it done.

(How many other costumers are frantically sewing up to the very last second? I see you out there looking guilty!)

Because I was cutting it so close, I didn't make a mock-up.
The sleeves are much too loose as a result. I'll have to redo them. And I think I can finesse the bust area to be a little smoother, too.

It ended up being not quite as "labcoat-y" as I wanted, though. (Yes, I know that's not really a word.)
The water-soluble marker that I used to mark the center line down the front wasn't quite as soluble as advertised. I was left with a faint line down the front.

There was much screaming and gnashing of teeth when I discovered that!
Okay, maybe not so much teeth-gnashing, but there was some throwing and cursing.

I didn't have time to redo the whole thing. (Last minute, remember?)
So I grabbed a bunch of decorative braid that I had left over from a previous costume and used it in a military-style effect to cover the little (giant!) boo-boo. Then I trimmed around the wrists and around the tail.

It turned out all right, I thought. It was very eye-catching among all of the browns and muted colors that are typically used for Steampunk.

And I wore my neo-bedouin outfit on Saturday.

Not going to say much about this one since I've already talked about it in a previous post. I did wrap a different turban to go with the red and black theme this time. Added some beads and a Japanese hair ornament stuck into it, too.

This is me hamming it up for the camera, pretending to be regal and the queen of my alien planet.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


My husband and I went to Teslacon for the first time this year. Teslacon is one of the largest steampunk conventions in the Midwest.

It was fun! But I was so lax in taking photos that I hardly have any. And most of those are from the first day. I'll put some up in a future post.


For now, I'll post pics of mine and my hubby's costumes from Thursday (Halloween, as it happens).

Here's what we were walking around in:

 And here's the professional shot (from Realtime Portrait Studios): 
My, aren't we adventurous-looking?

And here's what I wore for the Halloween masquerade ball:

Tres dramatic, no?