Shake city

There have been two earthquakes that measured over 6.5 on the Richter scale in Wellington in the last month.

The first one hit on Sunday evening July 21.  I was making dinner.  Mr D had just gone out to pick up his brothers for family dinner at our place.  I’d put rice on, chopped some vegetables, and then went to the bathrooms to wash my hands.  As I walked out, the earthquake started, and since it seemed pretty big, I stopped in the doorway and held on.  Standing there, I saw the only piece of damage in our house happen: the last embroidery hoop on a whole stack stuck on a nail in the wall fell off.

When it ended I thought “Hmmm…I think that was the biggest quake I’ve ever felt.”

Felicity bounded through the cat door, ears back and hair raised.  She’d never shown the slightest concern at any earthquake previously.

Still, I went on with my day, pretty unconcerned.  Then the in-laws called to check if we were OK, and asked if I’d managed to get ahold of Mr D.

Oops.  I hadn’t even thought to check.  Bad wife moment.

(aftershock as I write this.  I’m guessing 5.2)

Still, he called on my cell just as I was talking on the other phone, and was fine.  We had our family dinner, watching the news reports of shattered windows and a few fires, but luckily, no serious damage or injury.  A few buildings were shut down, and people camped with friends.

It didn’t stop shaking.  There were small aftershocks over the next weeks.  Instead of “Rain dying out in afternoon” or “Strong Northwesterlies” or “Scattered showers” the Dominion Post newspaper wrote in their daily weather section “Who cares, as long as it stops shaking.”

Some of us shrugged it off.  Some of it got a little tense and irritable.  Some, those who had lived through Christchurches quakes, or lost friends and family in them, or were not used to earthquakes, were very affected.

It hasn’t been too bad for me.  I’ve lived with earthquakes all my life.  Hawaii has active volcanos: earthquakes, usually small and minor, are not uncommon.  I went to university in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Earthquakes happened.

(tiny aftershock)

Still, they get on your nerves after a while.  You worry.  Will there be a big one?  After Christchurch, we’re apprehensive.  They survived the first, despite all the damage.  It was the second that killed people.  I was there between the two.

The second hit this afternoon.  It was 6.6.  Shallow.  I didn’t even feel it.  I’d just gotten in the car on my way to an appointment for my back.  I must have just started the car, or been turning, and missed the shaking.  It wasn’t until someone started signaling traffic and pulling us over that I realised something had happened.  I figured they were exaggerating (after all, I’d felt NOTHING), so I continued to head into town.

The CBD was strange.  Crowds of people outside.  Everyone on their cellphone.  And then the sirens started, and the traffic began to get heavy.  I managed to park.  Got a text from my appointment, but didn’t quite understand it.  I went to the building.  Lifts were down.  Climbed 7 flights of stairs.  All the offices were closed.  I stood there for a moment.  An aftershock hit.  I GOT OUT.  Even a tiny aftershock 7 flights up in a not particularly safe building on the reclaimed land of the CBD wasn’t fun.

Seven flights down, and I couldn’t tell if my weak legs were from the stairs or the quake.  I tried to get ahold of Mr D.  Network was down.  Got a cocoa at a cafe that was still open (thank you!).  Watched the crowds of people.  More sirens.  Mad traffic.  Got texts from Mr D.  Was he leaving work?  Yes, no maybe…

(tiny aftershock…getting stronger…wow…this is long….finally over.  Probably 4.7)

Went out to the street, to wait away from buildings.  Ran into brother-in-law.  Invited him over for dinner – I was pretty sure at this point no students would want to come to my evening class, so I’d have to cancel.  Our house would be safer than his apartment.

Mr D finally showed up, and we fought our way through traffic.  40 minutes for what would usually take me less than 15.  More aftershocks as we drove.  I saw a woman driving, her cheeks wet with tears.  I hope she’s OK.

We’re all sitting in the lounge now, watching the news as dinner cooks.  I’m writing, documenting aftershocks as they happen.  There has been damage in Seddon, where the quake was centred, but Wellington, despite all the aftershocks is OK.

I hope this is the last. I hope this is over.  I’m worried now.  There was a documentary on TV about New Zealand’s other big earthquake, in Napier in 1931.  My neck hurts and I’m tense.  I don’t want it to shake anymore.  I don’t want anyone to be hurt.

(tiny aftershock).

The HSF Challenge #23: Gratitude

The Historical Sew-Fortnightly has been fantastic for all the things that have been produced: for motivating us to sew, and create, and finish things.

What has really made it great for me though, is all the connections: the sharing of our successes, our failures, our knowledge, our findings, our inspiration.

The international historical sewing community is amazing because everyone is so generous in their knowledge and experiences.  Huge amounts of information, research, knowledge, tutorials, and free patterns are put out by passionate amateurs and professionals who extend their work into their personal time.

Challenge #23: Generosity & Gratitude, due November 18, is not about a particular item or aesthetic, it’s about celebrating the generosity of spirit and willingness to help others that makes the historical sewing community great, and giving credit and thanks to those who have contributed to our collective knowledge without expecting payment in return.

Make anything that fits the general HSF guidelines, and utilizes research, patterns, and tutorials that have been made available for free, and acknowledge all the sources that have helped you to create your item.

This is also an opportunity to credit the more local, personal generosity that is so wonderfully prevalent among sewers: historical and otherwise.  So many people have given me fabric, materials, knowledge, and time, over the years, and I see this theme repeated amongst other seamstresses all the time: a more experienced seamstress helps others with fit, we give fabric to those who it would better suit, or receive materials when we need them for a project, and another seamstress had just stashed them.  We loan dressforms, and grommet presses, and patterns we have drafted, and have sewing parties to help one seamstress finish a project in time.  And it’s fantastic, and long may it continue!

There are literally thousands of articles, tutorials and patterns that I could link to, and showcase, to get you started, and to get you inspired.   I can’t even keep up with the new ones that get posted every week, much less list them all, but there are some on my (badly in need of updating) resource page, and some on this pinterest board of  Historical sewing patterns, tutorials, and useful articles.

And, for a little more inspiration, here are a few of my projects where I am thoroughly indebted to those who have gone before for their research and assistance:

My first attempt at a historical garment that was anything but pure costume pastiche was a 1550s-1570s Flemish working woman’s dress, based hugely off of Drea Leed’s excellent research into the period, and her instructions on how to construct the outfit.  I learned so much from this garment, both in terms of late Renaissance dress construction, and in terms of research.  Thank you Drea!

Mid-16th century Flemish workingwomans dress

Much more recently, making the 1660s Ninon dress, while my pure research came from Arnold & Waugh, among other sources, being able to read Kendra’s dress diary for her Nell Gwynn dress, and see how she put it together (and avoid the bits that gave her trouble) was invaluable.  Thank you Kendra!  (and to Anne Danvers for her 17th century petticoat article, and Sapphorama for her images of a 1660s dress, among the others listed in my resources section for this dress)

1660s Ninon's Dress

When I first tried to make a chemise a la reine, it did not go well (I believe mu’u-mu’u from hell was the phrase I used), but by studying the lovely detailed progress diary that Teresa posted of her chemise a la reine, I figured out how to do it and got there in the end!  Thank you Teresa!

1780s chemise a la reine

More locally, I can hardly say I made the 1880s ‘Century of the Fruitbat’ bustle, because so many people helped me with it.  Over the course of a couple of years one friend cut the pleating, another hemmed it, another pleated and sewed it on, someone else sewed on the hoop channels, and another friend did the buttonholes.  I’m pretty sure that Madame O, Joie de Vivre, Mrs C, and Emily among others, at one time or another, contributed to this!  Thank you, thank you, thank you all you dear seamstresses!

1880s bustle

Speaking of that group of amazing friends, Madame  O sewed more than half the hem on the pet-en-l’aire, and of course the 1909 Laurel dress owes most of its glory to Mrs C’s amazing work (and she bought half the fabric).  Thank you again you darlings!

And finally, from a HSF perspective, the fur for my Fur & Scales muff was a gift from the lovely Lynne, and Carolyn’s expert input was very helpful in thinking about the historical accuracies of an 18th century fur muff.  Thank you Lynne & Carolyn!

Reproduction 18th century fur muff

Historical Sew Fortnightly – Favourites for Challenges 11-15

I can’t believe we are more than halfway done with the Historical Sew Fortnightly!  I’m half thrilled with what I have accomplished, and sad looking at the rest of the year and realising I’m never going to get all the things I want made.  My wish-list is just too long!

Once again, it’s time for me to share with you the projects that I have drooled over most, that I have most wished I had the time to make, and that best embodied the spirit of the Historical Sew Fortnightly; the quest to explore history, raise our skill levels and standard, stretch ourselves (or sometimes just get something done, rather than just procrastinating); and the spirit of the individual challenge.

I shared my favourites for Challenges 1-5 here, and for Challenges 6-10 here.  You can see all the creations for each challenge (because there are always dozens more creations that I wish I could feature!) either through the comments for each individual challenge page, or through the Facebook group albums).

I’ll share my favourites for 11-15, but I’d like to know if these posts are interesting, valuable, and appreciated.  Cause they don’t get much feedback, and they are rather time consuming and annoying to write (I have to think up 15 different ways to say fantastic!).  So if you don’t get something out of them, this may be my last one.  What do you think?  Shall I continue them?

Challenge #11 – Squares, Rectangles & Triangles

  1. Hilde’s Viking Apron Dress – The perfect example of the prevalence of garments based on simple geometry in many ancient cultures, meticulously made, and excellent research.
  2. Lace’s corded petticoat – I just love that she was inspired to make it by seeing other corded petticoats on the HSF.
  3. Black Tulip’s Tunisian ensemble – A really interesting garment, from both a historical, and cultural perspective.  I love her contribution!

Challenge #12– Pretty, Pretty Princesses

  1. Katie’s 1912 Girl Guide uniform inspired by Princess Mary, Countess Harwood.  Perfect proof that princess inspiration comes in all forms, and that princesses do more than wear ball gowns.
  2. Frolicking Frock’s 1870s gown based on Thyra, Dagmar & Alexandra of Denmark.  It’s very pretty, and it’s based on three of the most fascinating princesses of the 19th century.  What’s not to love!
  3. Jenni’s Georgian frock for her little princess –  early 19th century children’s clothing is so lovely, because it was finally children’s clothing, whether you were an ordinary girl, or a princess – as Jenni’s research and frock beautifully demonstrates.

Challenge #13 – Lace & Lacing

  1. Hvitr’s Minoan/Mycenaean heanos, c. 1600 to 1100 BCE – such a perfect example of how lacing can be used in many different applications, and has been used for millennia.
  2. Gina’s corded stays - Lace and Lacing was corset-o-rama, but these ones really stand out for finish, and perseverance!
  3. Laurie’s Edwardian lace dress – it’s all lace, all over, and suits her perfectly.

Challenge #14 – Eastern Influence

  1. Gouvernante’s 1730s banyan and capSooooooo much envy here!  Not only is the outfit amazing, and a classic example of Eastern Influence, but she has a man willing to wear it!
  2. Heileen’s 1770s-80s Indienne chintz pet-en-l’aire & petticoat – beautifully made.  The fabrics not a perfect match to 18th century examples (but it’s pretty darn hard to find any that is!), but the overall effect is so spot-on!
  3. Isabella’s mid-16th century Turkish jacket – this is a really intriguing and interesting area of Eastern influence, and one no-one else on the HSF really explored.

Challenge #15 –  White

  1. Melissa’s 1812 military waistcoat – She tried a new skill (tailoring) and the result is a triumph!
  2. Amanda’s 1862 sheer cotton summer frock – She didn’t intend it as a HSF challenge, but it was done just in time, and there is nothing wrong with that!  Her frock is still the perfect embodiment of the white dress.
  3. Danielle’s 18th century/Lucile inspired 1916 wedding gown – Watching the process of this gown’s creation was really inspiring as Danielle tackled pattern drafting and detailed work.

What do you think?  The creations are certainly inspiring and interesting, but is my doing posts on them?

And, as usual, Felicity photos to illustrate a non-image based article!


I’m so cute…


I’m so distracting…


You don’t need to sew, just rub my tummy!

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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