Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Jane Austen New Year

First, look what I got for Chrimmus!
Jane Austen themed notecards

Jane Austen guide to life skills

Friends and family obviously got the memo that anything Jane Austen would be acceptable. I will spend the New Year acknowledging universal truths.

So since I was recently bequeathed a large treasure trove of cross stitch materials, I'm in the mood to do my own version of an 18th century sampler. You'll remember that in the past I tried my hand at embroidery using an easy beginner's pattern that more or less looked like an image by the time I was done with it. Okay so embroidery is not technically cross stitching since most of the stitches are running stitches. BUT ANYWAY.

Now I want to try something a little more daring: a sampler. Have we talked about samplers? Samplers were the 18th century girl's professional portfolio. Alongside cookery and maintaining children, an 18th century girl showed her future husband that she was skilled enough to manage the linens of a large household through her sampler. Here's a cool example:
18th Century Sampler by Elizabeth Laidman
Sampler by Elizabeth Laidman 1760. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The sampler is basically a compilation of the alphabet, plus decorative details, and perhaps an inspiring biblical passage or targeted SEO meta tags. Okay not that last part. But if you want to read more about samplers, the Met Museum has a pretty interesting account.

The funny thing is, cross stitching has had some kind of hipster-y comeback. This is partially due to cool crafty people like Julie Jackson, creator of the amazing Subversive Cross Stitch, and also partially because of hashtags or something.

So what's my sampler going to be? All I'll say is, it involves some Jane Austen and some sass.
Jane Austen giving attitude

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Happy birthday, Jane Austen! I won't sport with your intelligence by restating what everyone else does. You know how good you are.

Our joint birthday treat on this most festive occasion is a delicious recipe for a whipped syllabub from Colonial Williamsburg, and some damn good words of wisdom faithfully collected by BuzzFeed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Cross Stitch Christmas Miracle

Omg! Look at what I have.

This weekend I received a bountiful present from my roommate's stepmom: her cross stitch collection!! She decided she couldn't use it anymore, and because of my crafting passion I got to become the proud recipient.

This variety fun-pack includes multi-sized wooden embroidery hoops, tons of colorful embroidery floss on handy key rings, and retro instructional booklets that I am praying will include at least one soft-focus filter photo of someone in a turtleneck.

You may recall that I gave embroidery a stab (ha! see what I did there?) a little while back and made this cute flower pic.

It was obviously nowhere near as gorgeous or intricate an undertaking as the many beautiful examples of 18th century embroidery you can find elsewhere, but it was fun and pretty and easy to do, and let's be real, that's what the 18th century mod girl is all about.

This year, cross stitch Santa ornaments for everyone!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ho Ho Ho! Have a Pineapple.

Pineapple hanging outside a home in Annapolis, MD.
Oh, how the year passes. And once again it's that special season where we rig up twinkling lights, hang mistletoe near unsuspecting crushes, and stake a big pineapple outside our front door to alert the neighbors that we've returned from a long sea voyage and are ready to receive social callers.

Not one of your cherished holiday pastimes? Me neither. Mine is to sit around in sweatpants and eat a box of those white chocolate-covered Oreos while sobbing over the intrinsic beauty of The Little Drummer Boy claymation.
OMG, right?
Courtesy of Christmas Specials Wiki.

To be fair, the whole pineapple-on-a-stake calling card may have never happened. Yet pineapples were a large component of 18th century art, architecture and table decor, particularly at Christmas; and they were costly and exotic fruits that when gifted or served, were considered a great honor and treat to the recipient. I have to agree. It's a delicious fruit with a surprisingly pleasing and artistic shape, for all that it's so thorny. I loved seeing pineapples everywhere at Colonial Williamsburg, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them decorating houses in Annapolis, MD as well.
Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Marketplace. Buy it here!
Not everyone agrees, however, that the pineapple was particularly associated with hospitality. If you're a nerd who likes reading about pineapples, on Team Pineapple is history buff and New Jersey-dweller Hoag Levins, and on Team Edward is History Myths Debunked.

Colonial Williamsburg maintains a tactfully neutral Switzerland response, saying we can't really know for sure, but someone in the 1930's started decorating Colonial Williamsburg that way, so what the heck you only live once, let's sell them in the gift shop.

Can we really ever know, and does it matter all that much? I mean, why is there a custom of hiding a pickle in your Christmas tree that I only heard of last year? Is this really a thing?

The truth is, before scientists could diagnose everyone with S.A.D. disorder, we had to come up with festive ways to stave off suicide through the dark and cold winter months. Pickles and pineapples are delicious, so why shouldn't they become accidental symbols of merry-making and good company?

What are your weird winter solstice/Christmas/Chanukah/4 hours of sunlight survival traditions?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Turn: America's First Spy Ring

So apparently I'm behind the times and only just discovered AMC's TURN. Thanks to a whole bunch of graphic 18th century sex on this show, I'm betting Colonial Williamsburg is going to get a big boost in tourism this year.

TURN is a pretty fascinating drama exploring the spy ring that developed in America during the Revolution. The show is set in a Long Island town called Setauket that is British-occupied, and follows the lives of its inhabitants and stationed soldiers as they react to the unfolding events that lead to war. I believe the show has received mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it and it's certainly been popular enough to secure a second season.

And yes, there's lots of 18th century sex, gun fights, tavern brawls and such, but the most important thing you need to know is that there is this smokin' hot dude, Continental Dragoon Ben Tallmadge:

I'm pretty sure that Season 2 is going to be all about how he wins the war with his deep blue eyes and earnest expression. Give me liberty, or give me this guy with his shirt off.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bitchin' Stitchin'

PREAMBLE: So obviously I've been MIA for awhile. If you spent the past year making fancy cockades per my last post to fill the time, waiting for something new from me, then you should consider investing in a wider social circle. Also, I'm so touched that you actually read the post about making cockades, because even I had some misgivings about the whole value of that one. But hey, you can't be afraid to fail.

So what's next? Maybe it's the whole bohemian/Coachella/faux hippie trend thing happening right now. Maybe it's a need to take a bit of a break from the kind of crafting that requires scrubbing excess globs of paint primer and hot-glue-gun glue from the coffee table. Maybe it's that I've run out of Ikea furniture to shabby-chic and my roommate won't let me touch hers.*

The point of this preamble is that there's a whole aspect of 18th century culture that I haven't even remotely delved into yet: embroidery. It's intricate, it's gorgeous, it's everywhere in fashion now, and it's totally 18th century. Embroidery, of course, has been around for centuries, but in Western Europe, it reached impressive heights in the 18th century, with household linens and clothing getting particular attention.
Embroidered purse from the Colonial Williamsburg online archive collection.
Available at

If you want to know what diva status looks like in terms of 18th century embroidery, check this out. Then come back and do some sewing with me. You'll need:

  • embroidery hoop/frame
  • embroidery floss (usually silk thread works best)
  • evenweave or block weave fabric (here's a good guide) or for the more adventurous, linen

I'd never tried embroidery before, so I found an embroidery kit that conveniently comes with everything but the embroidery hoop. I highly recommend this for a beginner, because the fabric in the kits has a handy picture screen printed onto the fibers so you can just stitch right over it. Ain't no shame in that game.

Basically, your kit will include instructions for how many threads should be used in each type of stitch. Separate your threads, then get to work!

As you can see, I sew about as evenly and accurately as a chick applying lipstick on a plane with turbulence. So what? This was really fun, and pretty easy to do. I'm going to follow the bohemian mantra sewn on this and give it the 18th century mod girl's seal of approval. Bam.

If you took one look at this, however, and are filled with the desire to do justice to it, you can purchase your own on Amazon.

 *Which I personally think is a missed opportunity on her part.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Feelin' Cocky In a Fancy Cockade

Spring is finally, most definitely here! Sorry I’ve been MIA for awhile, but here’s a little treat for the crafting soul: accessorizing with cockades!

Cockades from the 18th century are most commonly linked with men’s tricorne hats and with military dress–for example, cockades made up of blue, white and red ribbons were a common symbol of the French Revolution. But women picked up the fashion and began wearing them too, partially for their own political convictions, but also probably just because they were a stylish and official badge of sassiness all on their own. Check out this baroque babe…that style ain’t no lie.
A Portrait of a Young Lady (Yermolai Kamezhenkov, 1790)
The fun thing with cockades is that they are basically pretty easy to make, and totally customizable–in short, the perfect project for the 18th-century mod girl!

Your list of ingredients will vary depending on how you like to work with fabric, but essentially you will need:
  • Ribbons
  • Decorative buttons or items to top cockades
  • Bobby pins, headbands, or whatever you plan on attaching
  • Fabric glue (very useful for stopping ribbon edges from fraying) or Heat 'N Bond
  • Craft glue or a glue gun
  • Needle and thread

I played with constructing them in a few different ways, and today I’ll show you the most common style you’ll see. This is what I’ll call a flat pleat, to distinguish from the other types of cockades I made. The flat pleat means you just fold the fabric over in a zig-zag pattern, and then use an iron to flatten down the folds so you get nice, sharp pleats.

After making and ironing these folds, go over them first with a running stitch and use it to pull them together into a tight circle. Then go back over them with a back stitch to reinforce the circle. If you’re unfamiliar with types of stitches, here’s a quick reference from Use craft glue to lightly cover any ribbon edges to stop them from fraying, or press and iron ends with Heat 'N Bond.

Once the cockade is finished, you can hide the central seam with another smaller bow or a button, charm, or anything you fancy. Finally, glue on to the back whatever you want to make it an accessory. I glued a crafting bobby pin (it has a little flat metal circle on top which gives it a greater surface to stick to things) to the back of this one.

If you want to get all fancy with it, here’s a nice tutorial on making cockades the traditional way. I, however, am a firm believer in winging it, mod 18th-century style, if you’re not in the market for perfection. I used an iron to get the nice flat pleats, but I’m not sure I used the same exact method as the tutorial to finish off the ends. I just tucked the end of the ribbon in under the first fold I made at the other end of the ribbon, and that hid all of my handiwork. As long as you’re satisfied with how it looks, I call that success.

Now check out these 'artistic' Instagram pics. Award-winning, really.

So have at it! Grab some cute ribbons, fabric, buttons, and anything your 18th-century imagination inspires! More designs to follow, but if this looks fun and easy to you, feel free to post your own pics of personal creations.