Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gratitude

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who commented on yesterday's post, be it here or elsewhere. When I posted it, I really was not sure at all what kind of response it would get, and obviously something like that is pretty personal. It was a little nerve-wracking! I've been really touched by the amazingly positive response, though, and I just wanted to express how deeply I appreciate it. I hope it brightened your day a bit, and thank you again. :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Love the One You're With

I'm bored of sewing. Let's talk about hot-button topics instead. Today? Bodies!

"Love the one you're with" usually refers to another person, but in this case, I'm saying it in terms of loving your own body. The idea is this: Everyone has a body, and you only get one of them. It's the one you've got, for better or for worse. And, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of. You've got one, I've got one, that person over there has one, and we're all limited to the body we were born with.

I suppose talking about something like this is like ripping off a band-aid. You can pick at it slowly, beating around the bush, or you can rip it off in one go. I'm a fan of the grab-and-yank method, so I'm going to start by saying some very honest things.


Friday, November 25, 2011

How It's Made: Teal Ballgown

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Sometimes when I'm lacking in inspiration, I'll go to Samantha and say, "Sami. I have a job for you." She says, "Uh...okay?" no doubt fearing that I'm about to ask her to do something crazy. To be fair, sometimes I do. But in most cases, I'll then continue, saying, "Find me some ideas for my next sewing project." When I went to her and said, "I need a new ballgown but I don't have any ideas," she came through!

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I loved the lines of the red ballgown, and I had eight yards of teal silk taffeta just lying around in my stash after a once-in-a-lifetime sale at Fabric.com. I figured the hardest part would be finding a suitable lace. While I wasn't able to find a fine black lace of the type pictured in the plate, I stumbled upon a gorgeous wide scalloped Alençon lace at Etsy shop Uncommmonstuff.


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Because of the type of lace, the best treatment was to apply it flat and trim the extra fabric from under it, like you would do for a camisole or lingerie piece. In fact, the instructions from this Threads article, Create Couture Lingerie details pretty much exactly what I did.



The bodice is mounted on a lining of cotton twill, with white silk organza over the bust and the teal taffeta for the faux swiss waist. The organza is wide strips cut on the bias and hand sewn around the neck, bust, and shoulders of the bodice. The waist was sewn separately, the top edge piped, and then mounted by hand over the organza. All the layers were then treated as one for piping the bottom and attaching sleeves. The sleeves are gathered silk organza over an organza undersleeve, to make sure they stay puffed high on the arm. The bodice itself has a deep v-neck, which is filled in with a cotton net tucker. The tucker is finished off with a tiny black silk ribbon, 2mm wide, from Silky-Way.



Photo by Samantha Bullat

What's left? Oh, the underskirt--it's just a simple white cotton underskirt with a layer of the silk organza mounted to it just above knee level. I'm not actually sure how correct that is, but it solved my two problems of, "How do I make an underskirt with minimal bulk at the waist and minimal use of expensive fabric," and "I don't have a petticoat long enough to wear under a skirt this length." Combine petticoat with underskirt, et voila! Problem(s) solved.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gettysburg Remembrance Day 2011

So, Gettysburg. There's so much to say about it, but nothing tops the experience of being there. It's noise and glow and history and people people people. It's earthy and otherworldly all at once and time seems to have no real place in the whole experience.

Now, I realize part of that is because we left home at midnight and got in to Gettysburg at 11 a.m. on Friday, so of course my internal clock is all weirded out, but still. Gettysburg is an amazing trip and I wouldn't miss it for the world.

As I said, my mom, Matt, and myself left Grand Rapids at midnight on Friday and we drove through the night to Gettysburg. Besides avoiding any major traffic, this meant we got to Gettysburg in plenty of time to sleep and dress for the Remembrance Day Military Ball on Friday night.


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New ballgown!

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Not new, but well-altered

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With our gracious escort


I really enjoyed myself at the ball, and the calling was superb. They had floor managers to help teach the dances, and it really made everything run very smoothly, as did the fact that the caller would demonstrate the dance before having everyone line up, pair off, and try to muddle through. The music was also wonderful, with a gorgeous big brass band. Nothing beats live music!

Saturday is, of course, the main event. The parade started at 1:30, so thanks to my mother's foresight we were able to park near the end of the route, and eat lunch before going to the parade, which would later prove to be a lifesaving idea. As it turns out, the restaurant we were going to go to after the parade was closed, as was the second choice in eateries. Those who were in more pressing need of sustenance headed into the main area of town to find food, but Matt, my mom, and I split off to visit the Soldiers' National Cemetery and eat a late lunch of our own.

The Cemetery was beautiful. The Soldiers' National Monument towers at the center of concentric circles of curbstones, each marking the names of the fallen and each grave marked with a flag. There's a hush over the place, and even with knots of people wandering through the site, it's quiet enough to hear just the flutter of flags for acres and acres.


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And of course, because half the fun is dressing up, we took some clothing pictures, too. I wore the pink silk, and it afforded the opportunity to carry that fabulous lace shawl I got on a steal earlier this year. Matt was kitted out in a new pair of trousers and a waistcoat & necktie courtesy of yours truly, and a shirt, collar, and coat from Mike's closet. Mom wore the plaid, as it is her favorite, and also a bonnet that I made back last year but never finished. She sewed the ties on last week and wore it with pride this weekend.

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As always, there are many more photos at my Flickr!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Somewhat distractable, aka the Scarlet Macaw

Despite the fact that I've been sewing my own costumes and historical clothing for years now, it's very rare that I'll actually put effort into a proper costume for Halloween. I usually end up throwing on whatever comes to hand and saying "yes," when people ask me "Are you Laura Ingalls? Jane Eyre? Jane Austen? Lizzie Bennet? A princess? A pirate?" etc etc.

This year, got invited to a friend's party and didn't want to spend all evening in a corset, which turns out was a good idea because I'm pretty sure I ate like four cupcakes and half a tub of hummus on my own. Anyway, here's the look:



The wings are made from a bent wire coat hanger, covered with fun foam and newspaper. I had to dye the blue feathers with watered-down acrylic craft paint, but the red and yellow I bought as-is at Michaels. I used masking tape and a hot glue gun, and I only ended up with one blister from the crazy-hot glue, which means I did really well on the accidental injury front.

Anyway, The wings took one evening and a few hours in the morning before the party, and the makeup I just dug out of my theatrical stash the day before. The shirt is one that I already owned. Overall, it was really easy to wear, and it was fun to do something so different from my usual projects!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

St. Crispin's Day

I make no secret of my love of Shakespeare. I have a short list of my favorites, categorized by genre--Twelfth Night is my favorite comedy, for example, and Hamlet my favorite tragedy. My favorite historical piece is, without a doubt, Henry V. I ready it for the first time in high school, when my entire Rhetoric class was required to memorize and present the famous St. Crispin's Day speech that Henry delivers to his men before the Battle of Agincourt. He prefaces his speech by releasing any man who doesn't wish to fight, and then goes on to paint a picture of the future, where the men who stand beside him that day will look back and remember their bravery and brotherhood.

Years later, the rallying words still never fail to make my skin prickle and often there's a suspicious tightness in my throat. The cadence of the speech itself is so familiar as to have worn grooves in my mind, and I find myself mouthing the words as I read, or breathing them softly to myself whenever I hear them spoken. And since my own limited eloquence can never hope to convey all that these words make me feel, I'll bow to the Bard and let them speak for themselves:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

You, Me, We

For the most part, this blog is about playing pretend. Which is all well and good, but real life is out there no matter how far and fast you run. So let's talk about something real for a minute. Hi, my name is Katie...and I struggle with depression.

Things started going downhill in May of 2009, but it wasn't until August of the same year that I realized I had a real problem. That was the first time impulsively I attempted suicide. Over the ensuing eight months, I kept a journal that, in hindsight, chronicles my deteriorating mental health in terrible clarity. I experienced everything from euphoria to panic attacks to cutting and at least one other suicidal episode before I finally got myself in to see a doctor.

My friends and family did everything right. They supported and cared for me, and encouraged me to get help. In the end, though, the decision had to be my own. You see, depression is a horrible, insidious, isolating monster. Not only does it tear you down from the inside, it also convinces you that it's all in your head. I don't feel bad all the time, so maybe it's not real, or What if I'm just doing it for attention?

It's not all in your head. It's not your fault. You are not alone. And, there is help.

Depression and anxiety are real disorders, and they are frighteningly common. It took my doctor about 30 seconds to tell me on no uncertain terms that I was depressed, and she put me on a low-dose antidepressant to pull me out of the danger zone. And you know what? It worked. Within three days, my coworkers were commenting on how happy I seemed. My parents could tell the difference almost immediately. It was wonderful.

Unfortunately, despite so many wonderful advances in modern medicine, there's still a secrecy and shame about mental health--in some cases, an actual stigma. I had a run-in with a coworker once, about a month after I first saw my doctor, where he decided it would be a good idea to lecture me about how he's "really anti-drug on things like that." I ended up telling him where to shove it, but if he had come at me like that prior to being put on medication? Dis. As. Ter. My friend Jackie put it best when she said:

Mental illness is not a stigma. Depression in particular is not a stigma. As I tell my patients with depression (especially those with Dysthymia) you have to think about it like you would diabetes. Diabetes is chronic. There are days when things will be really good and your blood sugar will be within the perfect range. And then there are days where it will be like riding a rollercoaster without a harness. Most diabetes is due to your body not processing a chemical correctly, in this case insulin. Most depression is caused by your body not processing a chemical correctly, in that case serotonin. Now diabetics aren't shunned away from like Quasimodo...why should people with depression be treated poorly? The answer is they shouldn't.

Having depression or anxiety does not make you less of a person, and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Don't let your own mind or anyone else tell you otherwise. It's hard. The one thing you need to do--take responsibility for your own mental health--is the one thing you feel least equipped to do, and it can seem impossible at times. And unfortunately, it's not an instantaneous fix. There is no magic pill that will solve all your problems. I'm one of the lucky ones in that the first thing my doctor tried did work, and worked well, but I've had to change things over time to get back to where I was before I got sick. My doctor and I have worked together for over a year now to perfect a combination of things that works for me, so that I can manage my mental health and function as a whole, content person. There are still issues--I feel wonderful, but I'm struggling with weight gain as a side effect of my medication, for example. But every step is progress, and it's always worth it.

On the whole, I suppose I'm sharing this for several reasons. Me? I'm nothing special. But I made it, and if I can, so can you. And when it was worst for me, it really helped to know that I wasn't the only one. And because every time I say something about my own experience with depression, it seems like someone else comes out of the woodwork--either they struggle with it as well, or they know someone who does...and it helps to be able to talk about it. And so I talk about it, because we are not alone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Things I Did At Mississinewa 1812 by Katie Jacobs

1. Made 0 purchases.
2. Handed out 1 business card.
3. Took 2 naps.
4. Hung out with 3 super-awesome non-bloggers.
5. Tried 4 new kinds of period drinks.
6. Threw up 5 separate times.

So the moral of the story is, I had a great time. No more recipe sampling "for science" though!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An 1860s Hairdo...With a Little Help

So. Hairpieces and reenacting. I promised to talk more about this, and here we are. I posted about this once before, but long story short: I wear a modern haircut in my 'real' life and use hairpieces to emulate period hair when doing historical events. Here's just one of the many ways I've used a hairpiece for 1860s hairstyles.

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Step one: Cheesy smile.


Here's our starting point. I realize that my hair is considered long by some, but I've faked period hair with much shorter locks before, too. It's a little harder to integrate the hairpiece when you have less natural hair to work with, but it's by no means impossible. The major downfall of my modern haircut is the layers--it's nearly impossible to get a nice, full-looking period hairstyle with thinned or layered hair. Sure, I can make my hair into a bun, but compared to the full, lush styles of the 1860s, my little stub looks pretty pathetic. That's why you use fake hair to fill it out!

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Tools of the trade: Mousse, bobby pins, waving iron, comb, and The Bun


Here they are--the secret ingredients. The very first thing you need is goop--some sort of styling product that will goop up your hair and make it workable. Trying to do period hair with clean, fresh-from-the-shower hair is a recipe for disaster. Or at least lots of cursing. I personally swear by mousse--it gives my hair a good amount of malleability without weighing it down. It also doesn't dry into a crisp like gel or hairspray, so it's nice for something that's going to take a little bit of working. Gel is fine, too, and hairspray should be used to shellac everything down at the end.

Mousse your hair up thoroughly, combing it through to make sure you've got it all over. Then--and this is specifically for 1860s--part your hair in the center and smooth it down on each side. Then part it again, going from one ear, up over the top of your head, and down to the other ear. I usually part it a little behind my ear so that I have plenty for doing rolls in the front, but you'll want to experiment with various part locations to perfect your own style.

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I put all my parted sections into little ponytails to keep them separated.


Next, I chose to use my waving iron to give my front hair a bit of texture. There are a few reasons, not the least of which is that you do see this in period images. Also, I have some not-quite-bangs that need to be hidden. It's easier to disguise them if my hair has a little texture, so that works in my favor, too. Thirdly, waving or curling the front sections give my pin-straight hair more body, so when I roll it toward the back, the rolls have a bit of spring to them rather than just lying flat against my head. I have broad shoulders--I look less like a pinhead if I have broad hair, too. Before I had a waving iron, I used to just spiral curl my front sections with a regular curling iron to get the body I wanted, but the waving iron works better for the texture you see in period images.

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Next up: the rolls


At this point I decided that the waving wasn't going to quite give me the body I needed, so I pulled out two old sponge rollers I had and took the plastic bits off. That way, I could use the cylindrical sponge sections as "rats," or padding under my hair.

I tried to get good pictures of me rolling the sponges into my hair--I really did. But I was doing this by myself with a camera on self-timer, on a tripod on my parents' bathroom counter, and it just was not working for me. So...I'm sorry, no pictures of a potentially-tricky part of the process. It's not really hard, but it may take a couple tries to roll the rat/sponge/whatever into your hair and get it situated the way you want. I pretty much just finger-combed the waved section forward, nestled the sponge about where I wanted it, and then simultaneously twisted the hair back and down, enclosing the sponge in the roll as I went. It's almost a folding motion--comb hair forward, hold sponge in place, fold hair back over sponge and twist as you pull the hair down and back to cover.

Yes? No? I can make a video of anyone wants to see; I'll just have to bribe/pay/coerce my sister/mother/Samantha/Mike/someone into helping me.

Anyway, at this point, I was starting to sweat and my mom was starting to get into "okay let's go now p.s. I need the bathroom and can you help me with my hair?" mode, so I was rushing a little.

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I would love to be able to say that rushing explains this face, but...


It took a little finagling to get both rolls symetrically situated and similarly-sized, but with that done it was time to decide what to do with the back section of my hair. I decided on four braids--braids are great because they keep your natural hair under tension between your scalp and the braid, which gives you something to which you can anchor your hairpiece. Anyway, I braided my hair in four pieces, distributed as follows:

One braid behind each ear, using the waved sections leftover from the rolls and a narrow section of the back hair, divided from crown to nape vertically. These were situated to show below my ear from the front, to visually balance the width of the rolls above my ears.

Two braids in back, made by parting the remainder of the back section vertically down the center and starting the braids about level with my ears.

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Starting to braid. Man...naptime yet?


I pulled the braids to their respective sides and fastened the hairpiece so that the bottom was just a teeny bit lower than my hairline at the back of my neck. Then, I took the two back braids and crossed them up and over the hairpiece, tucking the ends under and pinning them in place. The two braids behind my ears I looped back and tucked up under the bottom of the hairpiece, again pinning the ends under the bun so they wouldn't show.

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Ear-braid looped back, back-braid goes up and over.

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You can see how some of the back section comes forward to go into the braid behind the ear...right?

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A view from the side.

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This hopefully shows a bit of how the hair folds back from the roll and continues into a twist...which then continues into the braid behind the ear. More convoluted than a Michigan roadwork detour!

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The overall look, complete with straw hat.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Holland Civil War Muster 2011

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Van Raalte Farm, Holland, Michigan
9/17/11


So, apparently, there's a Civil War event in Holland. Color me surprised. Now, I don't feel too badly about not knowing this, because it's only a three-year-old event, so I wasn't living in Holland anymore by the time it got off the ground. It's put on by the Holland Museum, and I think it's got a lot of potential.

Because Holland is so very close to home as far as reenactments go, my mom, Samantha, and I decided to make a day trip of it. We got there too late to see the battle or anything, but I will say that the venue, Van Raalte Farm Park, is really lovely. I have vague memories of hiking there from when I was 12 or so, but I'd forgotten what a lovely park it is. The original home built by Benjamin Van Raalte (son of Holland's founder) still stands on the site, and there are dozens of beautifully-maintained trails to wander in addition, of course, to the normal attractions of a modestly sized reenactment.

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On the porch of the Van Raalte house


Because we arrived later in the afternoon, we did miss some of the larger scheduled demonstrations, like the daily battle. We wanted to make sure we didn't miss anything, so we made our way through all the camps--there were separate areas for civilian and military for both Union and Confederate troops, as well as a special impressions area, several presentations on the porch of the house, as well as a handful of sutlers.

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On the battlefield...

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Even though there was no battle going on.


Now, I'm not here to review the event, per se, but I do want to mention that (typical of Holland), the whole place was immaculately maintained and everyone was very friendly. With a location like Van Raalte Farm, the event could easily accommodate much higher numbers of reenactors and public alike, and I'd really love to see this event grow in the future! We actually shared a shuttle bus with the chairman of the event, and Samantha and I mentioned that we thought it'd be fun to participate next year, perhaps with a special impression of some sort. He seemed really positive about new ideas, and encouraged us to contact the museum for next year. How exciting! :D

After we'd walked our way through a good portion of the park, we decided hey--why not take a trip out to the lake, since we're so close? So we piled back into the good ol' Focus wagon and headed out to Holland State Park.

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Not pictured: "Big Red," the famous Holland Lighthouse
(Seriously--Google "big red lighthouse" and see what you get...

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Enjoying the shade


All in all, quite a wonderful day of seeing the sights! There are tons more pictures at my Flickr set if you're interested, and I also have photos for a bit of a how-to for 1860s hair. I have a unit drill day across the state for my 1812 group tomorrow, but stay tuned for more of this madness soon!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sourcing 102: Beyond Fabric

Clothes may make the man*, but accessories make the outfit. Anything from hats to shoes to jewelry--they all help complete the "look" of a historical ensemble. Whether you need supplies to make your own, or you just want to buy something ready-made; if you can't find what you're looking for locally, here's a list of online sources that I've found helpful over the years.

Again, I'm trying to include vendors from which I've personally ordered, so this isn't a list of anyone who sells anything the discerning costumer/historian/reenactor might want. This is just a group of my personal favorites.

Fire Mountain Gems & Beads
    This is where I ordered the coral beads I've used for various jewelry pieces. They have a great selection of gemstone beads (peridot, garnet, coral, agate...etc.) and an easy-to-navigate website. Reasonable shipping prices, and if I recall correctly my order arrived quickly.

Silky-Way
    Lightweight silk ribbon in a variety of colors and widths. Most of the stock is not silk satin, but more of a "China silk." I've used it for anything from sock garters to the trim on my plaid 1860s day dress. Great prices!

A-Z Needlepoint
    Multiple varieties of needlework threads and flosses. You can search by brand, color family, or DMC color code. The website is a little confusing, but as a needlework newb, I found the search functions and thread descriptions helpful. Reasonable shipping and delivery time.

Wooded Hamlet/Needle & Thread
    Anyone who has been to the brick-and-mortar location will tell you that the website doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of their stock. You also can't order online. However, I've ordered by phone several times, both for merchandise that's listed online, and for things I saw on the sales floor and foolishly didn't buy at the time. They sell black and brown polished cotton for $7.99/yd last I checked, though it's not listed online. I just called and asked, no problems. I've also done this for 54" hair canvas, $9.99/yd. Their narrow-wire hoop kits are wonderful (I own 2 in different widths), and they've got lots of fun notions available. I love the wooden thread winders I got from them, for example.

Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile
    I'm millinerily disinclined, to put it mildly. I can decorate a hat in a pinch, and I even blocked my own straw hat once, but I'm not enthusiastic about it. That's why I thank my lucky stars for places like Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile. With more options than you can shake a stick at, anyone should be able to find something beautiful and appropriate. Millinery is labor-intensive (which is why I don't do it), so be prepared to shell out the dough, but in my opinion the product is well worth the price.

Angela Liguori
    So far I've only listed places from which I personally have purchased, but a friend recommended Angela Liguori's 100% cotton ribbon to me, and I just haven't had a chance to try it yet. I will say I've never seen anyone else selling actual cotton ribbon--plain weave, finished edges--rather than twill or herringbone tape. So I can't speak personally about this one, but it came highly recommended!

Sock Dreams
    I spent 2 years at Michilimackinac wearing one-size-doesn't-fit-anyone-quite-right "reenactor socks" before someone pointed me at Sock Dreams' website. I got my first order in the mail and immediately said, "I will never order reenactor socks again." My personal favorites are the O Chevrons, O Basics, and the Military Bootsocks. And, free shipping! Can't beat that.

Robert Land
    Rober Land seems to be the go-to for ladies 1860s shoes, and now he's got a line of early 19th century styles as well. My pair of 1860s American Walking Shoes (actually boots) is nice, though not without issues (they dig into my Achilles tendon, but that's because my legs are not the same shape as the boots, not because the boots themselves are inherently defective). I always appreciate being able to order wide widths (see how much I love you, pinkie toe?), and there are lots of colors and styles to pick from.

Fugawee
    I have a love/hate relationship with Fugawee's shoes. I spent two summers wearing size 10 Wide in their ladies' colonial "Anna" style with no problem. I normally wear a size 8 Wide. So when I ordered my own pair of "Connies" because I liked the shape, I got a 9 Wide. They were fine for a while, and then all of a sudden at a random event, they became torture devices of unspeakable pain. I believe the issue is that I ordered a straight lasted style, but your mileage may vary. On the upside, the customer service is very friendly, and the prices are about what you'd expect for specialized shoes.

The Dressmaker's Shop
    I've never actually ordered from Kimberly Lynch of The Dressmaker's Shop, but I've bought plenty from her at events and her whole stock is online. In particular, I purchased a roll of her rice braid for bonnetmaking (did I finish the project? No. Is it lovely stuff? Yes.). She actually also has a fairly large stock of fabrics, but I haven't bought any yardage from her so I felt like I couldn't put this link on the fabric sourcing list!

Spencer's Mercantile
    Oh Spencer's Mercantile, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. My first introduction to Spencer's was at the Seige of Old Fort Erie. I walked into their tent, turned to Gwendolyn, and said, "Do you think if I handed them my credit card and backed my car up to the tent, they'd just start loading stuff in?" I still feel that way about their stock, and I can't speak highly enough about their customer service. They sell everything from socks and shawls to flintlocks and writing desks.

Hats by Leko
    Your one-stop shop for millinery supplies, patterns, etc. Straw hoods and capelines of all sorts, sizing, millinery wire, buckram forms...and the list goes on. The minimum order ($28) can be a little pesky, but if you stock up on staple items (like buckram and wire) to fill out your order, it's not a bad deal.

Corsetmaking.com
    No matter which way you slice it, corsetmaking supplies are pricey. I've been really happy with my purchases from Corsetmaking.com, though. Their shipping seems a little expensive, but I've done a side-by-side cart comparison with a couple other vendors, and the prices usually come out within pennies of each other. Corsetmaking has the advantage of having a user-friendly site and giant selection, so two thumbs up!

*"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society" ~Mark Twain

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sourcing 101: "Where did you get that fabric?"

When it comes to buying fabric, there are two schools of thought. One is that you must see the wares in person before buying. This is great if you have brick-and-mortar locations at which to shop, or are willing to travel. Me? I'm an introvert. If I had it my way, I'd never leave the house again and all my meals, fabric, and other needs would be delivered to me by a sprite who would leave things outside the door and knock, and then leave so I didn't have to talk to him/her/it when I picked up my delivery. That's why I do the bulk of my fabric shopping online. My packages are delivered by the UPS man, not a sprite, but he does knock and then leave so I'll allow it. (He also doesn't bring me my meals, but that's another issue altogether.)

Ordering online doesn't always work out perfectly. Sometimes you don't get what you wanted, but I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford to make mistakes like that. Frankly, I know enough people who sew that I can usually unload any unfortunate buys pretty quickly, whether it means listing things on etsy or randomly shoving 8 yards of wool at my unsuspecting friends. Because ordering fabric sight unseen is something of a craps shoot, your mileage may vary. My creative process involves me buying yardage and then assigning it to a project after I have the goods in hand. It's a bit harder if you pick a project and then have to hunt for The Perfect Fabric, but that's not to say it can't be done.

Anyway, the point is that when people ask me, "where did you get that fabric," probably 75% of the time the answer is "online." Which is not helpful for people who want to find something similar. So here's a list of my favorite online vendors, with notes on what I have ordered and liked from them.

Exclusive Silks
    When I think "silk taffeta," this is the ideal I have in mind. The lengths I've ordered have all been a great midweight taffeta, with a good, crisp hand but not stiff. I've found the colors on their website tend to run a bit lighter than the actual fabric, but I've always been happy with the quality of the taffeta, if not the color. I also get all my cotton organdy here. Their "hard finish" is SUPER stiff--like, screen door stand-up-on-its-own stiff. I like the soft finish for caps, though; crisp enough to avoid droopiness, but not so rigid that it has a personality of its own.

Shobha Imports
    The best price I've found on 100% cotton net, great for ballgown tuckers, bonnet bavolets, etc. I bought 10 yards of the stuff and am still working my way through it.

Shoreline Handwerks
    Not sure about the "e" in "handwerks," but they regularly stock Southern Belle cotton, which is what I use for my 1860s petticoats, and anything that needs a crisp, midweight cotton. And which I cannot find locally to save my life.

Fashion Fabrics Club
    Oh, FFC. I have a love/hate relationship with this place. On the one hand, their customer service is seriously sketchy. On the other, they do sometimes carry random obscure great finds. Like the figured silk taffeta with metallic pattern. Or tropical wool in colors other than "boring." Or wool gauze. Order if you can't find something comparable anywhere else and cross your fingers. Overall my luck has been good.

Fabric.com
    This is the flipside from FFC. Great customer service. Sometimes their stuff ain't so great. On the other hand, their prices are pretty good, and they do swatches so you're less likely to get burned. Of course, the one time I got something I didn't like, I didn't bother to order a swatch because the sale I wanted to take advantage of was ending soon. But, if you do end up with a dud, again, great customer service, so you can return.

Heritage Trading
    Beautiful block printed and ikat cottons. Some of their shawls have potential, too. If you see something you like, buy it now because it may disappear, and in the *cough* number of years I've been watching their store, I haven't often seen repeats of merchandise. Once they've sold out of something, it's gone.

Farmhouse Fabrics
    I shop here when I have some extra pennies saved up. Heirloom quality fabrics...but with prices to match. I've gotten gorgeous swiss muslin here on sale, though, for about half the normal retail price, and they do fractional yardages, too, if you're doing a small project. Their cotton velveteen is beautiful, and this is also where I got the soutache braid for Mike's smoking cap and the trim on my asymmetrical wool 1860s dress. In short, they carry somewhat-obscure high-quality fabrics and supplies, but be ready to pay.
Wm. Booth, Draper
    By reenactors, for reenactors. He carries the NYC police uniform wool so coveted for great menswear and uniforms, and a rotating stock of other types and colors of wools, silks, hemps, linens, and cottons. For me, as a woman/civilian, the selection is somewhat hit or miss. Last season, they didn't have anything that caught my eye. This season, I want 8 yards of everything. Go figure! They also carry notions, tools, and patterns that are worth a look.
Burnley and Trowbridge
    Caters to the "historically discriminating" consumer (museums, reenactors, etc.) Rotating fabric selection, so again, if you find something you want, snap it up. I also have friends that swear by their shoes, and they carry various other reenacting and sewing essentials if you're so inclined.

Fabrics-store.com
    99% of my linen purchases come from this site. They do free swatching, have several different weights, and tons of colors. All of my 18th and early 18th century underthings are made from 3.5oz softened white Fabrics-store linen, and all my linen 18th century petticoats are made of the 5.3oz in various colors. Relatively inexpensive as linens go, and with the free swatching you can't go wrong.

Fabric Guru
    This place sells ends of rolls and odd lots of decorator fabrics. Most of their stuff is just that--home decor. However, they do have a section for silks, and I was lucky enough to find the printed silk for my "Fancy" dress here. Also, all the curtains in my house are made from various fun prints I found at Fabric Guru. Low shipping, good prices, and you never know what you're going to find.

Dharma Trading
Thank you, Maggie, for the reminder/recommendation!
    Lots of natural fiber fabrics of various types and weights--specifically, Maggie and I have used their 56" combed cotton lawn with great success. It's a lovely fine semi-sheer with a soft hand and beautiful drape. They also sell a variety of dyes, if you're in the mood for something other than white.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fair at New Boston: Sunday

Sunday rumbled in with a bit of rain and some residual thunder. When I arrived on site, it looked like a canvas warzone. High winds the night before had taken down several tents, and there were some merchants who lost portions of their inventory to falling canvas, rain, or general craziness. Some of them packed up and left, while others righted their things and soldiered on.

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Resetting after the rain.
Photo by Debbie Hoerauf


Because of the storm damage, the fair opened at noon instead of ten, but there were absolute scads of people waiting. I was very impressed; despite the weather, there was a massive inpouring of visitors as soon as the gates opened.

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Because of the heat on Saturday I wore my lightest cotton dress to keep cool (ha!). The muddy conditions of Sunday called for a harder-wearing ensemble, so I was really glad I had thought to bring my striped linen crossover. Wool probably would have been the best choice, since it doesn't get quite as heavy when wet as linen does, but I was really very pleased with how well this outfit did in the inclement weather.

More shopping was accomplished, and I bought a mug that had escaped from the previous night's storm damage. It rained off and on for the rest of the day, and we almost made it out half-dry. Of course, it started pouring as soon as we began to take our tents down, so hard that there was actually water pooling in the canvas as we were folding it.

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My "go figure, it's raining" face.
Photo by Samantha Bullat


Despite the surprise!downpour, packing out didn't take as long as it could have...considering that it wasn't safe to take my car onto the field and we had to pull everything out in a wooden handcart. I mean--there were other vehicles on the field, but that meant it was extremely muddy and rutted, and with my car's low clearance we agreed that getting in on the field wouldn't be the problem. It'd be getting it off the field without getting stuck that would be the issue! So we dragged our gear out with only a little trouble, lashed the wettest of the canvas to the top of the car, and made our escape from Ohio all in one piece.

All in all, I had a wonderful time. I always have fun with the 1st Regiment folks, and for me the crazy weather really brought about a feeling of "we're in this together." I was astonished by the huge turnout from the public, and I definitely am looking forward to this event again in a year's time!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fair at New Boston: Saturday

Saturday morning dawned bright and hot, although I slept through a good portion of the morning thanks to my ever-wonderful sleep medication and the coolness of our shady campsite. Eventually some of the women in my unit came and dragged me out to play, and it was fantastic!

Fair at New Boston is like no other event I've ever been to. It really felt like going to a state fair or similar event, only...200 years ago. I realize that's the whole point, but it's a different atmosphere than anywhere else I've gone. There was one long row of food vendors, with delicacies ranging from peaches and pound cake to bison and brunswick stew. The rest of the field was filled with artisans, merchants, and craftsmen plying their trades and selling their wares. I saw some familiar faces, like the lovely folks at Spencer's Mercantile and Regency Revisited. There were others there I'd never seen or met before, and it was great fun to make the rounds, shopping and chatting the whole time.

My one major purchase is something I've been wanting for a long time but had never nailed down where to get it. I met Andrea of Amey's Adornments when I noticed a beautiful queen-stitched pinball hanging from a silver ring and chain in her display. I asked if I could take a look, and she mentioned she was out of the rings but would be making more this fall if I was interested. And BOY was I interested! It's no secret that I have a thing for pinballs of all sorts, and while many of the examples I saw at Winterthur have silk ribbons or braided cord to hang them, I can see myself shredding through a nice, delicate ribbon in about 4.5 seconds. I've had my eye out for a metal ring and chain set for about a year now, but I just couldn't make up my mind and it seemed my only option was to fork over a few hundred to Colonial Williamsburg. Which is fine, but I would rather support an independent small business than History Disney a large corporation. So I happily shook Andrea's hand, gave her my money, and skipped out with my order confirmation.

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I don't even know you guys. It was really hot.
Photo by Debbie Hoerauf


About then is when the heat started to get to people. Rumor in the street was that temperatures had soared to above 100F and despite near constant ingestion of water, it was almost impossible to stay hydrated. No one in our unit actually passed out, but we had a couple people who had to lay down, and we began applying handfuls of ice to foreheads and necks as the day wore on. Despite the brutal conditions, the fair was still packed. As the proverbial mercury rose, more and more of us sought shelter under our unit's fly, cradling mugs of water and commisserating about crazy weather at events past. I don't know about you, but I find that facing the elements can bring about cameraderie faster than almost anything else. Either way, we had weather and cameraderie in spades.

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Finding refuge in a bit of shade. Fortunately the conversation was good!
Photo by Debbie Hoerauf


When the sun started to set and the air was still at blood heat, I finally caved to my inner wuss and called in to town to reserve a hotel room. Right about that same time we started to hear thunder, and shortly thereafter lightning forked across the gathering clouds. Any doubts I might have had about not roughing it that night were promptly banished. The gates closed at six, just in time for the hard, soaking rain that began to fall. Big, fat drops splattered down and the sky was the color of lead shot, lanced through with purple and blue lightning.

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The last of the sun on Saturday. It was still hotter than Hades at this point.


I had decided at that point that discretion was definitely the better part of valor, and I left to go have dinner with some unit members at the nearest Cracker Barrel. We chitchatted and munched until well after 9, and left for our respective hotels during a lull in the rain. The storm kicked up again just as I got to my gloriously air-conditioned room, and I was definitely grateful not to be on-site as I watched the thrashing winds and pouring rain from my third-story window!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fair at New Boston. In a word, INTENSE!

When we last left our heroes (aka, Samantha and myself), we had just finished beating a strategic retreat from the battle of the bat in my apartment and were on our way to Lansing. Stern warnings had been issued to Mike, in mostly-genteel tones, to the tune of "Be ready to go or we will kill you." And lo and behold! We pulled in and Mike's gear was all waiting for us in the driveway. It took hardly any time at all to load, which then left time for a short nap to make up for the sleep lost to bat-hunting the night before.

The drive down was uneventful, other than the heat. I don't know if it's appropriate or possible to call heat "excruciating," but this really was. You know how they say don't put a fishbowl in direct sunlight, because it will overheat and kill the fish? Picture my car as the fishbowl, and Katie!fish, Mike!fish, and Sami!fish slowly dying of hotness inside.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Mina (the nickname I've given the Garmin GPS we use when going on long trips) got us to Springfield, Ohio, with no incident, and no heat-related deaths. Things cooled off a little as the sun started to set, and we found a beautifully wooded campsite that was several degrees cooler than the field upon which the main event was set. Setup went smoothly until it got dark and we discovered we had...no light. ...MIIIIKE. He produced three scented pillar candles and a random votive from somewhere in his gear, but nothing with which to light them. Fortunately, the group of longhunters next to us provided fire, and I sat up putting last minute finishing touches on my clothes until I accidentally capsized my candle and the sloshing wax put the flame out. After that I gave up and went to bed.

~*~

There is more to come, and there are also pictures! I promise.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fair at New Boston: the Saga

Labor Day weekend--most "normal" Midwesterners will be grilling hot dogs and scarfing coleslaw with their family members. It's supposed to be inhumanly hot this weekend, so I'm sure many people saner than I will be hanging out in environmentally-controlled locales, enjoying that wonder of modern technology, air conditioning.

I, on the other hand, am going to be wearing 4-6 layers of clothing and camping in a tent all weekend. We're going to Fair at New Boston!

The plan is to leave here--Grand Rapids--at about 10:00 (fifty minutes from now), pick Mike up on the way, and all of us will head down to Springfield, Ohio, from there. To facilitate this, Samantha stayed at my house last night. Of course, nothing can ever be simple, so this week has been quite a saga in and of itself. I've not been able to get enough sleep, Samantha came down with a sinus infection, and to top it all off, well. At 4:39 a.m. today, I awoke to a little shake of my shoulder. "Katie," Samantha whispered. "There's a bat!"

"Where are we?" I mumbled. "What? No bat."

"Your house! There's a bat in your house!"

Stumbled out to living room. No bat, and all the windows have screens on them. Samantha wonders if maybe she dreamed it. Go back to bed. Fall asleep. Indeterminate amount of time later, Samantha's back. "I definitely did not hallucinate it this time; there is a bat!"

Stumble out to kitchen. No bat. Turn on all lights available. No bat. Look out onto back porch. "THERE HE IS!" cries Samantha. I don't see it, but I immediately shut the window that opens into the main part of the house, and she shuts the door. Then I look.

Holy crap, there's a bat!

Dilemma. It's somewhere between four and six a.m. What to do about the bat flying a grid pattern in my three-seasons porch. Decision? Go back to bed, deal with bat later.

Wake up this morning. Bat has escaped. Samantha checks main rooms while I shower. No bat. Leaving town in 40 minutes, still have to pack the last of the toiletries, etc. Decision? Leave bat, figuring he will either escape the way he came in, show up hungry and allow himself to be caught later, or die. Which might be slightly morbid, but any of those three options would mean there would no longer be a bat in my house with minimal effort on my part, and I find that I am all right with that!

So. Barring any more acts of bat, we're off to New Boston!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Genesee Country Village & Museum 1812 Weekend (2011)

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Erinn & Katie, June 26, 2011.


This past weekend was a weekend of firsts. It was my first time at the Genesee Country Village & Museum, the first time I've been to that particular event, the first time Erinn came with me, Erinn's first reenactment...like I said--lots of first-times! It could not have been a more perfect weekend. The site is amazing, the weather was lovely, the people were wonderful, and it was just...well, perfect!

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Erinn learning archery from our new friend Victoria.


One of the best parts about the experience was that we got to make (careful, considerate) use of the buildings, so there was a very home-like feel to our activities. We went calling on our neighbors, sat on the porch and sewed, took a turn about town; it all felt very like living in a Jane Austen novel. (Or, if you're me, Patrick O'Brian.)

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An afternoon on our fabulous porch.


Sewing-wise, the only new things I made for this event were Erinn's gown and cap. For myself, I brought my block print, and a green wool gown that I made back in January and never photographed, despite having worn it since then. Oops.

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Green wool in front of the McKay house, our 'home base' for the weekend.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Recent Acquisition

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Happy day! I am now the proud (and abundantly delighted owner) of a beautiful antique lace shawl. It was an extremely lucky find on Ebay, and it arrived in the mail today. It's in wonderful shape--there's a small hole at one edge that I'll probably reinforce with some black tulle or net, and a handful of tiny little snags near the upper edge on the net ground, where a couple stitches will stabilize it quite nicely. And it's gorgeous.

I had been shopping around a bit ago, thinking maybe I'd get one for my mom for Mothers' Day. She's really into textiles in general, and she loves pretty, delicate, lacy things. The lowest I saw for a price--for something with noticeable damage--was around $200. Not awful, but definitely not cheap.

I paid fifty-five dollars for mine. $55. Cincuenta y cinco.

You may all feel free to hate me now. ;)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

How To Be Seen

No, this isn't an entry about how to publicize yourself, or become famous. I'm fairly rubbish at that, so I'm in no position to give advice. No, this is an entry about how the public perceives you. Me. Us.

Last weekend, my friend Erinn and her husband & daughter joined us for a day at Greenfield Village, as visitors. It was really interesting to get their perspectives as first time reenactment-attendees. The biggest thing Erinn commented on was the different attitudes between reenactors. She found some of them to be very forthcoming and welcoming, and some of them to be downright off-putting.

When I was little, I loved visiting historic sites. The moments that meant the most to me were when the living historians took a few minutes to talk to me. The tours, the exhibits, they didn't mean much. It was the personal connection that left a lasting impression with me. When I was working in the living history field, I would semi-routinely invite women and children to touch my body when they asked me about my corsetry. I vividly remember a family of three small children and their mother running their fingers over the ridges of my stay laces in back, eyes wide with wonder and exclaiming in delight. I showed more than one family my hoops last weekend, and I definitely had a discussion about fake hair a couple times, as well as inviting strangers to touch the fabric of my skirts more times than I can count. For me, convention, dignity, and personal space go straight out the window as soon as I put on the trappings of yesteryear. If I can help someone make a connection with the past, even if it means stepping out of my own comfort zones, then so be it.

Maybe that says more about my comfort zones than anything, but there you have it.

Conversely, Erinn found that several reenactors with whom she came into contact barely managed a civil "hello," much less giving her a chance to ask any questions, or open any dialog. Some of them, unfortunately, were even people that she'd met before. Fortunately, that wasn't her sole impression of the event--being ignored--and she had several positive things to say, too, but it got me thinking. What's the difference between how one person comes across to the public vs. the next guy (or gal, if you prefer)?

For myself, I've put a lot of time and thought into cultivating an approachable persona both in person and online. I fervently hope that people aren't afraid to say hi to me, or to ask me questions. Reenacting is something I do partly for myself, but also because I like to share cool stuff with interested people. Personally, I'd be crushed to think that someone went home from a reenactment and told a friend, "She was really unfriendly. I didn't feel like she wanted to talk to me at all. Didn't even say hi."

Now, to be fair, there are two sides to every argument, and I've had plenty of rude questions and semi-arguments from inappropriate people, too. Not everyone is polite or interested, and some of the visitors I've talked to honestly shouldn't have been allowed out in public. However, is that really an excuse to cold-shoulder anyone before they've had a chance to ask a question? I try to think not, although I'd admit if pressed that I have fairly strong misanthropic tendencies. That doesn't mean I shouldn't put my best foot forward, especially in a situation where I'm in a position to share something I love.

So, I guess the question is, for all my historically-inclined friends--how do you want the rest of the world to see you when you've stepped back in time? What kind of persona are you putting out there?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance 2011

Oh, Greenfield Village...where do I even start? I just got back from a fantastic weekend in the 1860s. The weather was intermittently gorgeous and heinous, but even the bad bits couldn't put a damper on our fun. Saturday was absolutely perfect, in the low-to-mid seventies and partly sunny. I got to wear my new silk day dress, without being too hot, and it was marvelous.



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There will be more on the dress later, since for now this is just an event recap, but I was really pleased with how all my clothes (and my mom's!) turned out this year. Everything was done, fasteners and all, before we left for the event. This is an unprecedented amount of peparation on my part!

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The hat was another triumph. It's the one I made over the insulation-foam block, and trimmed with a few various bits I had left over from other floral projects, velvet leaves from Hats by Leko, as well as three coffee filter roses. I made them the night before and wound up blow-drying them in the bathroom at my parents' house so the watercolor wouldn't stain the straw of the hat. It worked out, though!

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My lady mother joined us for the weekend, and above you can see her in a cotton day dress of her own creation. I actually bought the fabric for a song and then sold it to her, since I don't need another cotton day dress. She also re-trimmed my straw-braid hat to coordinate with both this dress, and the plaid silk day dress that has now become officially hers.

Sunday was a bit warmer, and although my mother decided to tough it out in her silk dress (she's hardcore), I made a sheer for just that purpose--staying cool!

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Again...more about the dress later. Sunday night was full of adventure, beginning with Mike's party--which I took to calling the DFE. DFE stands for "Duck Fat Extravaganza," and the name comes from the fact that he published his tentative menu on facebook, and the main attraction was Duck Confit with pommes de terre à la sarladaise. For those of us who don't speak French, essentially that's "Duck cooked in duck fat, with potatoes...cooked in duck fat." Hence, Duck Fat Extravaganza. I did try some of the duck, sans fat, and it was really good. So was the bread, green beans, cheese, ham, angel food cake, and berries.

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Shortly after the DFE began, we were told by several people that severe weather was headed our direction. Tornado watch, 70 mph winds, the works. Being Michiganders, we just moved under a borrowed tent fly and the party continued. As it turned out, the weather system passed by us and we survived completely unscathed. There was a little rain, good company, and a nice breeze. And then...the ball!

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I didn't even feel like packing my ballgown this year, and my mom didn't feel like switching bodices out on the plaid dress, so we both wore our day dresses--I wore the sheer and she wore the plaid. I think it was a good choice for both of us, and by the time we got to that point in the weekend I was so tired I could have fallen asleep standing up.

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Sunday night was definitely the high point of the weekend...Monday turned beastly hot, and we didn't do too much. I may or may not have fallen asleep in the air conditioning of the Henry Ford Museum, and then crashed out in the tent afterwards. I didn't feel too poorly, but I got very tired, and so taking a nap made it much better when we were packing up and driving home. Gross weather notwithstanding, it was a lovely weekend, and there are plans already being made for next year!