Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Other Williamsburg Skirt

I spent the past summer working as the publications intern for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I spent my days writing and researching for an in-progress book, selecting photos for partner publications, fact-checking quotes and figures from editing-stage manuscripts- all  the things a history-loving undergrad tends to enjoy, and I was being paid to do it, too! The internship also came with two ancillary facts: I got the employee discount on Colonial Williamsburg goods, and I had a lot of free time in the evenings.

I also got to walk through this tunnel every day, which made me feel like I was entering a Studio Ghibli film.
It was during those free evenings that I took the time to get familiar with my new sewing machine. My machine is nothing fancy- in fact, even though I absolutely adore it to pieces, I'm pretty sure most would find it a bit embarrassing or childish -but the main thing that used to prevent me from sewing was how utterly scared I was of sewing machines. They were loud, they were intimidating, they had a bunch of weird knobs and things, and, oh, there's a sharp pointy object moving up and down really fast in semi-close proximity to your fingertips. Color me intimidated.

As I got into more and more sewing blogs and got deeper and deeper into cosplaying, however, my sewing machine fear became something I had to overcome. Ultimately my desire to actually be able to make things trumped, and I emerged from the summer triumphant, with a few headbands, a doll-sized yukata, a practice Sorbetto top and a pair of the tackiest-yet-greatest pants in the world for my friend to show for it. (Actually, considering the name of this blog, those pants are incredibly apt for it. Unintentional genius, me!)

That wasn't all, though: I also emerged with three-odd yards of fabric and six lovely silver buttons. A lesser-known CW (Colonial Williamsburg, mind, not the TV channel) product can be found in the Mary Dickinson shop on Duke of Gloucester Street (DoG Street, for the college students and locals- you should've seen how impressed a girl in my employee training class was when I told her that acronym!). It's the old-fashioned millinery, and while the website page for it only boasts of its ribbon-adorned hats, caps, cloaks and short gowns for sale, along the back wall it displays what really caught my attention: fabric for sale by the yard.

Additional perk of those straw hats: they make for GREAT shields against photo-happy sisters for you and one additional guest.
One of the only things I was a little disappointed in regarding my internship was that, since I was working behind-the-scenes, I wouldn't get to wear the period-appropriate fashions the interpreters get to. The fabric for sale in the Mary Dickinson shop was my chance at getting a little taste of that world, because it was fabric in the same patterns as many of the gowns the interpreters wore! I quickly selected a white fabric with a beautiful floral pattern in greens, blues and reds, and then, thinking I'd make a Mathilde blouse with it, went to look at the buttons for sale.They only came in packs of six at most while the pattern called for seven, but I figured I could work with that somehow, either by getting a seventh contrast button or just having the bottom of the blouse be a bit more open.

Fabric, buttons, and my very wrinkled bed sheet from over the summer.
Funny aside about purchasing those buttons: I ended up getting the anchor design ones entirely because of an interpreter I got to talking with in the shop. He didn't actually work in the Mary Dickinson shop, and I'm not sure why he was there at the time, but he was the one who ran across the way to get my fabric cut and then asked me about what I was making upon his return. I told him I was trying to decide between two button designs (they were both silver, but the others had maybe some kind of letter design?), and he insisted I get the anchor ones because, and I quote, "They'd match the buttons on [his] uniform's jacket, and will thus remind [me] of [him]".

Hey, five months later and I still vividly remember him. I guess he was right!

Anyway, I made my purchase (utilizing my employee discount, aw yes), and set off with plans of a Mathilde blouse in my head... and then nothing happened. I really don't know why I just sat on the buttons and fabric all summer, and never got around to actually making the blouse I had so firmly in my head, but when I moved into my dorm for the new semester I still had the uncut fabric and the unused buttons sitting there in my stash, begging to be made into something.

This skirt came to be in two and a half nights of focused cutting and sewing, breaks from reading for my courses and trying not to dwell on how utterly behind I was (and still am) on my thesis research. I know I'm just now blogging about it, but it was actually made a few months ago in September, although I can't say exactly when. I ended up scrapping the idea of a Mathilde blouse, because I didn't have the patience to print out the pattern and tape it together and pay rapt attention to each lovely detail- I wanted something made of that fabric now, dammit! However, Tilly still guided me through the project, as I instead shifted gears to her amazingly simple Picnic Blanket Skirt tutorial. Now, I call it simple, but it still contained two very new techniques to me: gathering and, gasp, buttonholes.

Yes, my buttonholes came out a little shoddy (first time doing them, period, though, so since they work correctly I don't mind!). Yes, the part of the skirt attached to the waistband gaps ever so slightly for some reason (but that just means I can imitate the look of a lady's short coat by wearing a billowy, lacy button-up blouse over the skirt to hide that particular imperfection!). Errors and all, I really couldn't be happier with how this skirt came out. It's a beautiful use of my sentimental fabric and buttons, even though I did have to dash out to buy a second set of buttons after all, as I ended up needing eight buttons altogether- good thing I live within five minutes walking distance of the shop! It's so full and long that I don't need to worry about it riding up when worn with a backpack (the source of a hilarious conversation between me and two grad students on the drive back from Punkin' Chunkin' yesterday- we all lamented the lack of a good social protocol for telling people their skirt rode up too much and made their underwear visible, a widespread plague of the college community), and if I wanted to really amp up the fullness I bet you I could fit a light petticoat underneath it. My only regret is that since I didn't have a pocket pattern on hand (ha ha) I ended up making a pocket-less version of this skirt, a fact I am sadly reminded of every time I put this skirt on and think, "Man, this thing would be perfect with pockets!"
The deer-in-headlights look of "I made a thing and am posting a picture of myself wearing that thing to the internet" Apologies for sunburn and camera phone pic, I just got back from Punkin' Chunkin' and live in a single dorm.
Next time, me, next time. Other things for next time: ironing the damn garment before wearing it. I don't know how something could get so mussed in a closet, but eesh.

Oh, and the title, some of you might ask? I refer to this skirt as The Williamsburg Skirt, as it's sort of my wearable memento of my summer spent working for Colonial Williamsburg and, in a way, of my entire college experience (I'm an undergrad at the College of William and Mary). However, I know that when many people think of Williamsburg, they're going to think of the hipster paradise of NYC, especially in fashion/sewing circles, from what I've gathered, so I tossed in the "Other" to emphasize which Williamsburg I mean. Hey, I thought it was cute!

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