Monday, November 30, 2015

The Caroling Costume!

Not too long ago, my sister was hired onto a professional Christmas caroling company.  She was in need of a specially made Dickensian-style costume and she needed it fast.  For some reason she thought this was something that I could do and for some reason I said yes but with some conditions.  We agreed on trading services (costume for graphic work, coming soon!) and decided that we needed to pull in the big guns - we called Mimi.
Our Mimi is quite the amazing woman, in so many ways.  She's 88 years old but you wouldn't think she's a day over 70.  She raised my father and his two brothers for which she deserves multiple medals!  Her style is enviable and her eye for decorating is on point.  Mimi has sewn for as long as I can remember.  In fact, before I started sewing but wanted things changed up, I'd take them to Mimi and she'd fix them up without blinking an eye.  I once gave her a bag of scarves that I dreamt would make a beautiful skirt and she made it happen.  When I spent time in India, I brought back fabric for her and she made a shirt that I still covet.  For my 18th birthday, she showed up with at least 10 handmade garments to add to my closet.  It was amazing.  She is amazing.

So I gave Mimi a ring and to my elation she was in.  I'm not sure she quite knew what she was getting herself into, though!  For many years of her life, she lived in a smaller Oklahoma town and volunteered with the community playhouse where she would alter costumes for the actors.  I LOVED spending time at the theater with her and seeing the costumes come to life thanks to her work.  I'm filled with sewing memories of Mimi but I had never sewn with her prior to this project.  I was thrilled to finally have that opportunity.
Meanwhile, Afton and I were busy planning what the costume would look like.  She found a pattern on Ebay that she had to have approved by the director and we sourced our fabrics at Joann's.  We needed a LARGE amount of fabric so I knew I could use a combination of coupons and their sales to cut down on the costs and Af was able to see the potential fabrics in person at her local Joann's.  It just made sense.  We settled on a polyester 'suede cloth' that looks satin-y on one side and suede-y on the other, giving us many different texture options.  Thankfully, it was easy to sew with too.  It took a bit to decide upon and gather everything up that we needed.  We were finally as ready as we could be.
We decided to set up shop at Mimi's apartment.  It was great not to have to fully clean up my workspace every evening (no kittens and no toddlers!) and immediately get back to work.  We needed every moment we could to work.  Did I mention that we had a two week deadline to get this shipped to Afton?  That added a bit of a stressful element but we did it!  For twelve days straight, we both used every spare moment we had to complete the costume.  I did my best to keep track of our hours and, if my records are correct, we clocked over 100 hours of work, much of it hand sewing.  The pattern included approximately 50 pieces (including lining and interfacing) so cutting alone took forever.  The end result included one (complex) jacket, two detached sleeves, a dickey collar, a satchel, and an enormous skirt.
We started work right before finals week at school so life was a little crazy for me during that time.  What was nice about that though was that I was able to stitch some in class while my students were taking their tests!  I also did some stitching in a board meeting and constantly at home.  Every little bit of trim you see was meticulously hand-stitched on.  I'm not certain my hands have recovered yet, two weeks later.

If I wasn't in school or in a meeting, I was at Mimi's sewing.  Often I had Rio with me but there were a few days that it was just myself and Mimi.  One evening, Rio and I decided to stay the evening which was quite the experience (hello, cranky kiddo!) but wonderfully memorable.  The conversations we shared, the laughs we produced, the moments we created, and the memories we formed were priceless and I'll forever cherish them.  Definitely the highlight of making this garment for my sister was sharing it all with Mimi and Rio.
In regards to the dress, it was a challenge but one that I welcomed!  This pattern was a bit more complex than anything I'd completed before, to say the least.  Boning?  Check.  Casement pleats?  Check.  A million buttons?  Check.  You get the picture.  Everything was a challenge.  But we did it and we're proud of it!  This project absolutely consumed me.  I literally dreamt about it, it was the only thing I could talk about, and my mind was constantly thinking about how we would get through the next step.  I read that pattern more times than I care to count.  There are only a few things that I would have done differently which all involve the skirt.  Not having Afton nearby for fittings made things a little challenging as well but we managed.  In the end, she had to have the skirt taken in just a bit since she opted to wear a petticoat instead of a hoop skirt underneath.  That sucker was long!  Now she just needs a pin to finish up her collar and she's good to go!  I believe she may scallop the bottom of the skirt just a bit to shorten it just a tad more and to give it more 'embellishments' which the director is allllllll about.  Also, the bonnet?  Afton made that!
So would I do this again?  Oh yes.  This dress gave me the confidence that I can make anything if I at least try!  Seeing it moving and conveying the feeling that we set out to create was amazing.  I am all about costumes, if you couldn't tell already.  Bring them on!


  1. The costume turned out great! What a priceless gift of sharing the experience with your mimi. I'm sure Rio will remember it for a long time too.

  2. Such an 'ambitious' project accomplished with love and determination.


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