Meat, fur, feathers & me

This post was sparked in part by a reader question, and in part by tomorrow’s terminology post (which means, in a way, you are getting a response from the future.).  It also interlocks with Steph’s post on taste, and judging (or not judging) other people by their clothes.

First, the reader question:

A reader asks “How do you feel about fur?  Would you use it if doing so was historically accurate?  Could you consider a reproduction with faux fur historically accurate?”

As a bit of background to this, I have a very specific and defined attitude towards animals and meat.  I will eat local unfarmed fish as long as it’s not a species that has been identified as being at-risk (bluefin tuna, orange roughies etc.).  I eat wild game in areas where the wild game is an introduced species (so deer & goat in NZ & Hawaii).  I don’t eat commercial meat, even the ethically farmed stuff.  I just don’t like the idea of something existing merely to die.  I don’t eat pork.  The thought is just disgusting to me.  Pigs are too much like humans.  At the same time, I try not to be a pain about my diet.  If I go to someones and get served meat I pick around it as discreetly as possible.  I’ll even cook meat for people.

How do I feel about fur?  

I’m OK with vintage fur, both wearing and using it, but I think that the fur industry needs to end.  It’s outmoded and unethical.  There is no reason to use fur anymore: unlike leather for shoes, we have found fur alternatives that work just as well as ‘real’ fur.  Wearing new fur is one of the few places in fashion where I will judge you.  I think it goes beyond tasteless to being cruel and unethical.

Although I am sanguine about wearing vintage fur (vintage meaning 30+ years old), the vintage fur pieces (two stoles, a jacket, a hat and a number of scraps or damaged collars) that I own were all Nana’s (she had almost 2 closets full of fur).  I don’t think I could buy a vintage fur piece, even at an charity shop.

I do wear leather.  I don’t think we are killing animals for the leather, and I feel that non-leather options work as well.  I don’t wear leather clothes other than shoes and belts, and I can’t see myself buying leather furniture.

The one limit to my willingness to wear vintage fur is astrakhan.  The knowledge of how it is sourced, even if it was before I was born, creeps me out too much.  I won’t judge you for wearing vintage astrakhan, but I can’t put it on me.  I gave Nana’s astrakhan hat and collared coat to an op-shop.

And now you are all wondering what ashrakan is.  You’ll find out tomorrow!

Would I use fur on a historical outfit where doing so was historically accurate/correct?

I’d use the scraps or damaged collars from Nana, but otherwise no.  My commitment to history doesn’t go as far as to ignore my ethics, or cause harm to my body.  That’s where I draw the line.

Could you consider a reproduction with faux fur historically accurate/correct?

I could.  Others may not.  For me, using faux fur is no different than reproduction (plastic) whalebone, or using the closest modern weave when the historical one isn’t available.  It’s not the same, but it serves the same purpose, and a seamstress of the time would probably have recognised what it was meant for, which is my rough standard.


These are all just my choices, and my opinions though.

2011: the year in review

Another year over, another just begun.

It’s interesting looking back at 2011.  It was quite a year.  It was a year of trips: the South Island, Australia, Tauranga, the Hawke’s Bay, Taupo.  It was a year of commissions: Carolyn’s wedding dress, Polly’s wedding dress, Judith’s Panniers, Kerry’s Steampunk Bustle, Shell’s wedding dress, the 1932 White Zombie gown for PorcelainToy.  It was a year of research and information: Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, Jeanne Samary, textile terms, Ninon d’Ecolet.  It was a year of finished projects: the 1660s Ninon dress, the 18th century gentleman’s ensemble, the 1770s silver stays, the 1890s black corded corset, the 1900 ribbon corset.  Most of all it was a year of people: Shell, my sister the Naiad, Steph in Australia, each and every one of you wonderful readers, and darling, much-missed Jo-Anne.

Here are some images of the year.  Each of them should link to a post if you see something really exciting and want to know more. :-)







Finished project: Love at First Flight dress

I’ve been sewing like mad for all sorts of clients, and I’ll show you images of those soon.  As a little treat for myself I took some time to whip up something for me.

This is my Love at First Flight Dress:

The inspiration for the dress was the amazing Echino fabric by Etsuko Furuya for Kokka.

Steph took me to a fabric store while I was in Australia, and I saw this fabric and I had to have it.  It was love at first sight.

How could I not?  It’s pink and blue and red and green and turquoise and mustard.  And it’s linen cotton.  And it looks like Christmas in the Antipodes: all sunshine and ocean and brilliant red pohutukawa flowers.  And it has birds on it!   Just look at the full width of it:

And then I saw the Au$32 a metre price tag.  Ahem.

I bought everything that was left on the bolt anyway: just about 3 metres.  Did I mention that it has birds on it?

This is now probably the most expensive dress I have ever made strictly for myself.  That includes my wedding dress.  I like to buy my fabric on sale.

The pattern is roughly based on Butterick 6527, which I inherited from my Grandmother.  I made it without the cape, because 1) I didn’t have the fabric, and 2) it would be a bit much with the cape considering the fabric I did have.

I say ‘roughly’ because the pattern I have is a 32″ bust, which I am not, and it also has an 11″ bust to waist ratio, which I do not!  So I resized the bodice  and altered it so much I wish I had just drafted my own pattern.

The pattern also has a gathered gore skirt, and I wanted a simple rectangular gathered skirt to take full advantage of the fabulous fabric, so I completely re-did the skirt.

I whipped the dress up in one day of ‘ZOMG – love this fabric so much – must sew – just do – don’t think – don’t plan’ sewing.  Which mostly worked, because mostly I really know what I’m doing.  But even totally really knowing what you are doing doesn’t compensate for thinking and forward planning.  So the dress has a few minor issues that a bit of forward planning would have avoided.

I wish, for example, that I had trimmed just a bit off the length of fabric so that the pattern matched up at the back seam.

I was so worried that I didn’t have enough fabric that I didn’t realise that sacrificing 3 inches off fullness would still have looked good, and made the pattern match.  By the time I did realise I could cut a bit off I’d already sewn in the side pockets, and didn’t want to make the back of the skirt less full than the front, especially since I forgot to compensate for the un-gathered portion at the front of the skirt and had sewn my pockets exactly at the sides.

Learn from my mistakes, dear readers: think three times, measure twice, cut once, sew once!

While there are the tiny mistakes mentioned, most of the construction is quite beautifully done, and I’m very pleased with it.

The bodice is fully lined in calico/muslin (because after that outer fabric it didn’t need one of my trademark crazy linings) all stitched down with perfect tiny hand stitches.  I didn’t line the skirt, but I do wear it with a petticoat, because I love petticoats.

The zip is done with hand-worked prick-stitching and I even switched threads to match the different colours in the fabric.  Because if you are going to be insanely perfectionist when sewing, you might as well go all the way.

The back has with a cunning little peek-a-boo between the zip and a neck button (OK, that was partly because the zip I  had around was a bit short and I didn’t want to buy a longer one), and a darling little flower-painted button, a vintage ‘orphan’ from my button collection, to fasten the top-back:

Peek a boo zip

I made tiny custom-fabric piping out of a bright red to go all around the top of the bodice, and used bright cherry-red front buttons to match.  The buttons are ornamental: I didn’t see any need to make the straps button on and off, so I sewed them down (they lay much better that way too).

I repeated the piping on the edge of the pockets, which are my favourite part of the dress:

You see, I really wanted cutaway pockets on this dress.  But I didn’t want to mess up the amazing print with side seams.  So I got cunning and set the pockets into the dress, and supported them with some interior engineering.  So now the dress has pockets, but no side seams.

You have no idea how happy the pockets make me.  The first time I wore the dress (to a Christmas party, of course!) I ran around showing them to everyone.  My best response was “Cute” and then three minutes later “Wait…what?  How did you DO that?”  The awesomeness had to sink in.

The pockets are lined in red fabric to match the piping:

I just love red and pink together.  It’s so cheery, and unexpected.

The photoshoot for this dress was supposed to be all brilliant sunshine and sparkling ocean and blazing pohutukawa trees.  And Christmas Day was just like that, and I forgot to take pictures.  I thought I’d wear it again for New Years, and get them then.

Yeah.  It’s New Years.  Its freezing, it’s pouring, there is a howling southerly.  I had to make do inside with glaring grey light.

Meet the Dreamstress

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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