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A week in my life

You get lots of glimpses of my life through posts about what I do, and what I’m working on, but I thought it might be interesting to get a look at my schedule for a typical week, to see what I do, and how I balance it all (answer: slightly precariously).

Like all my posts about my life, this is fundamentally honest, if occasionally technically un-factual, in pursuit of privacy.  So I may have fudged exactly what I did this particular week, and subbed in something from another week, or left out things that are strictly private.  But it’s still an accurate representation of what I do in a week.


This year, for the first time in 8 years, I’m not getting up early every other Sunday to teach Baha’i Children’s Classes.  I get up early (ish) most Sunday’s anyway, to head off to the vege market to  stock up on massive amounts of green (Mr D & I are slightly obsessed with fruits and vegetables).

This Sunday I had an even better errand to begin the day with – I met a student at The Fabric Store to help her pick fabrics for her latest projects: a 1930s dress and a Wearing History Air Raid Suit.  Qhile she was there she got enthusiastic about the Papercut Watson Jacket (I may have influenced her slightly by raving about how fabulous the versions of it I have seen), and picked up the pattern and some pretty wool for that too.  I wasn’t planning to do any shopping for myself other than some black merino for a cardigan, but there was midnight blue velvet, and ’30s ish feather patterned cotton sateen, so I may have blown my budget for the next few months…

Then I ran off to the vege market for kai choi and kale, broccoli and pak choi, watercress and spring onions to feed the beast.

One of her favourite people

One of her favourite people

Then it was home for a quick tidy up, before a friend came over to spent the afternoon sewing.  The light was nice, so we sneaked in a few pictures, documenting a cardigan I made months ago (mmm…green) and have never photographed, and the shirt I made for afternoon tea.

The photos are kind of a fun bonus – first you hear what I do on a fairly average weekly bases, and now you get to see what I dress like on a fairly average daily basis (lots of cardigans and knit shirts made by me):

Sewing knits, thedreamstress.com1

Sewing knits, thedreamstress.com3

Sunday evening Mr D usually makes dinner – venison stew (from wild hunted venison) with kai choi, potatoes and onions.  Then we watch TV (We’re being very lowbrow and watching Dancing with the Stars, but other couple-friendly options include Would I Lie to You, QI, Hunting Aotearoa, First Crossings, and anything narrated by Attenborough), I sew, blog, and we play Scrabble – more than often all at the same time.


Most weekdays I get up (not particularly early-ish if I can possibly get away with it), and have tea and toast with avocado while catching up on blogging and FB, and checking the news.

Mornings of every workday are spent doing computer-y stuff:  answering emails, writing class descriptions, syllabuses, working on patterns, working on magazine articles, researching, blogging, doing accounting. Blah, blah, etc.  Certain amounts of housekeeping may get done during this time, depending on how much I’m trying to avoid writing.

Afternoons I run errands (trying to get this done before school gets out and the shops get crazy), sew, and prep for classes.

3pmish I have a late lunch, which will keep me until I eat dinner after class.

4ish I start dinner, and while it’s cooking I run around washing dishes, making the bed (it’s been airing all day, she says primly, for the benefit of anyone who thinks it ought to have been done earlier), and doing whatever other tidying I can smash in.

5:30 I head off to teach a class most evenings, and I’ll finish off sometime between 9:00-9:30, and come home to have dinner and a relax with Mr D.

Monday’s class was the first session of Absolute Beginners – always very rewarding because I get to send everyone home clutching a drawstring bag that they made themselves and are going to show off to everyone! I love Absolute Beginners!


This week’s exciting deviations from schedule included scanning and photographing a bunch of magazine images and textiles for the next issue of Glory Days on Tuesday.  Lots of pressing and taking things on and off Isabelle and hoping that the light cooperated.

For dinner I made minestrone soup, with lots of basil (my basil bushes are just about done for the year), and real tomatoes.  They are getting really pricey, but it’s so much nicer with real than canned.

I had the night off from teaching, so got some sewing done.

Felicity got some laying in front of the heater being too lazy to bat her toy done:

Felicity the cat


Wednesday afternoon I spent with Madame O, draping a mid-19th c bodice on her, and working on the fit of my medieval gown.

Draping a mid-19th c bodice, thedreamstress.com1

Dinner was rice, grilled fish and steamed veg – I cook the rice, prep the veg so they just need to be turned on, and Mr D cooks the fish when he gets home.  Teamwork!

I payed for my afternoon fun on Wed night after class (Intro to Corsetmaking – such a great group of students this session!), when I had to scramble to write all the copy for my next Glory Days article, get all my photos edited and get it all in before midnight.


Most Thursdays I don’t have classes, so the days are a bit more relaxed.  I might treat myself to a trip to an op-shop or two, I do an hour or so of housework, and I try to make sure Mr D and I will really be able to spend time in the evenings.  This winter I’ve gotten into the habit of making him a roast dinner on Thursdays, which means a trip to Moore Wilsons (the closest Wellington gets to Whole Foods) for a meat-thing.

Mr D has his meat-thing (usually lamb, occasionally wild venison if I want to participate), roast veg, and steamed broccoli and carrots, and I have roast veg (cooked in a separate dish to the meat) and a kale salad with cheese and/or nuts for protein.  (this one is very nice).  It works quite well, as Mr D gets his meat, and I get my kale salad, a taste which I have, to my infinite disappointment, never managed to convince him to acquire.

After dinner we generally play Scrabble, he generally complains about my using textile words (“scroop is NOT a word”  “yes it is!”  “Well, what does I mean and I’ll look it up”  “It’s the sound that taffeta makes”  “NO WAY is that a word…oh…wait…huh.  Huh (glare).  I still don’t think it’s a real word”) and I generally beat him.  I lost this week though.

Possibly because I had this on my lap, distracting me.

Possibly because I had this on my lap, distracting me.


Just an ordinary work day, though this one got a little exciting because I needed to get a few large scale patterns printed for my class, and while I’ve printed these docs lots of times, this time they wouldn’t print, so there was a bit of a last minute scramble and panic.

On the bright (well, sort of, as you will soon see) side, the extra hour in town while printing left me with time to get a flu shot, and while I was sitting at the pharmacists afterwards, making sure I didn’t swell up or turn purple or otherwise have a very bad reaction, I got to make a few more medieval buttons (much to their entertainment!).

Felicity was disappointed I wasn't at home sewing though.

Felicity was disappointed I wasn’t at home sewing though.

Friday’s class was Pick Your Own Project for advanced students I’ve worked with a lot before – fitting the toile for the ’30s dress I helped to buy fabric for on Sunday, re-sizing a ’50s bodice, cutting other ’30s dresses in tricky fabric, working through a jacket, turning Wearing History’s 1890s jacket into a coat.  Fun times!


Mr D & I are quite addicted to the very Wellingtonian practice of weekend brunch.  Mr D likes Sweet Mothers Kitchen (Cajun inspired, with tea served in teapots with real tea-cozies), I like La Boca Loca (Mexi-Kiwi fusion), Marrakech Cafe (Moroccan, with out of this world Moroccan-inspired French Toast), La Cloche (French), Floriditas (it has paisley wallpaper and cinnamon buns that would make Sunshine cry, so the rest of the food is pretty irrelevant) and if I really feel like standing in like and being as Wellington-ish as possible, Maranui (upscale Kiwi).  Most weekends Mr D gets his way and we got to SMK, as was the case this Saturday.  It’s rather indulgent, but being mostly vegetarian and non-drinkers keeps our food costs way down the rest of the week, so it balances.

The weather was fine this Saturday, so we pushed ahead on the last few bits of the project that has been taking half my weekends for the last four months: painting the exterior walls of the house.  We’ve got the whole back done except for tiny touch-ups on the windows and other bits, so we just need to polish those off and we’ll down brushes for the winter.

It’s amazing how much time the last few bits of painting take.  You think you’re almost done, and four hours of squeezing gap-filler for those teeny-tiny spots later, your hands are cramping, you’re chilled to the bone (it may be sunny, but it was cold), and if you are me, you’ve turned into an angry, snarling gremlin, because I’m like a weather dependent version of those Snickers ads: I’m not me when I’m cold.

So I stomped inside for a cup of tea, a bath, and a bit of time with Stephen Fry (I’m reading Moab is my Washpot) and my sewing.

Equilibrium and body temperature restored, I got dressed and we headed out for dinner at a friend’s.  Between all my friend groups (Baha’is, sewing friends, blogging friends, swing/vintage friends, other friends) and Mr D’s friends and family, it’s a rare weekend when we don’t have a party, a dinner, people over for dinner at our place, or a family event one day or the other, if not all of them on top of each other.

At dinner we were introduced to Bananagrams, which is a game I need to get my hands on asap: it was like an awesome-er, quicker version of Scrabble.

We got home with enough time for me to do a bit more sewing, and then it was off to bed, to begin it all over again!

Fashions for Winter 1931, from The NZ Mirror

Since it’s definitely hit winter weather here in NZ I thought you might enjoy some fashion inspiration for Winter 1931.

These are from the August 1931 edition of The Mirror (because, of course, August is definitely winter in NZ!)

First, some rather delicious coats, as they were ‘Favoured in Paris':

Winter 1931 fashions, thedreamstress.com1


#1 is a three-quarter ensemble in checked wool, trimmed with beige astrakhan (blech).

#2 is “the new collarless tailored coat in tweed jersey.’   Looks, and sounds, very wearable indeed!

#3 ‘The tunic coat…in navy serge trimmed with persian lamb’ (i.e. astrakhan by another name, still blech).

#4 ‘The loose bolero coat, in black velvet, worn with a tweed or checked skirt’.  So fabulous, and also so very modern – nothing new in fashion at all!

And to go with your chic coats, a lovely selection of blouses:

Winter 1931 fashions, thedreamstress.com2I particularly like the asymmetrical number at top left, and the lower left number with it’s cunning cross details – though I think I’d struggle to get away will all the frills and fuss.

Can you see yourself dressing 1931 style?  Which are your favourites?

14th century dress construction: fitting thoughts

In addition to having finished the buttons for it, I’ve got my 1370ish medieval gown all sewn together:

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com10

Actually, it’s been sewn together for almost two weeks now, but I’ve been busy working and making class samples (one seen in the photo with me) and having events and generally living life, and haven’t been able to do much work on it.

To sew it, I cut a linen lining for the bodice (using a great piece of vintage linen with very little give), flat lined the bodice sections, and sewed the dress together.

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com1

I’m doing all the main seaming with machine sewing, because between winter chillblains and arm stress extensive hand-sewing will just be too painful this time of year.  I know it won’t be totally historically accurate this way, but I also know even if I did hand sew it probably wouldn’t be totally historically accurate anyway.

I’m thinking of this as a learning garment – a working toile if you will. I know I won’t get it all right, but I also know this is the most effective way for me to learn a lot, so that the next time I will.

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com3

The first fitting definitely had a few fit-ssues.  Far too much fabric in the bodice to support me, wrinkles across the torso, and the whole bodice was sitting too low. (side note: I had no idea what the HA way to finish the bottom of a linen lining was, so I just folded it up and stitched.  At least it’s on the inside!)

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com2

And terrible, terrible back wrinkles.  The back and torso wrinkles are mostly about it being too snug in the wrong places, so they can be fixed by re-adjusting seam allowances (thank goodness I used 1.5cm seam allowances!).

The big issue I needed to fix before tackling those was the too-low bodice, which I fixed with the simple expediency of raising the shoulder seams, and re-cutting the armholes.  I’ll still need to finesse the neckline when I get to finishing, but that’s a fair way off.

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com5


Raising the armholes also re-adjusted the tightness around my torso, which helped a bit with the back wrinkles, though there are still a few:

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com8In addition to the obvious fitting issues of ‘this is too baggy in this spot / too tight in this’ I’m also really trying to think about how a medieval dress actually fits a body, as opposed to how we think clothes should fit the body – as period fit is not necessarily modern fit, for any period.

In looking at inspiration when I first embarked on medieval clothing I quickly decided I preferred the fashions of about 1370-80, because the earlier 14thc is very sack-y, with little shaping, and the early 15th century is very curv-y and bust-y, which I am not.

Basically I looked at Katherine’s effigy and thought ‘yep, that’s my body’ (sorry, not the best photo to show her whole body shape):

Effigy of Katherine, Countess of Warwick, died 1369

Effigy of Katherine, Countess of Warwick, died 1369

Then I looked at the more fashionable lady in blue in this image, and though “It is just not possible to show off that much of my bust and still have any curve – red lady is way more realistic”

Guillaume de Machaut épiant les amoureux déçus. - Le Jugement dou roi de Navarre.Maître du Policratique. Enlumineur de l'œuvre reproduite Date d'édition - 1380-1395

Guillaume de Machaut watching the disappointed lover. – The Judgement of the King of Navarre. Maître Policratique . 1380-1395

So I had a vague idea of shape changes in the 14th century from sack to flat to boob-a-thon, with corresponding lowering necklines, and knew I was going for option B simply because it fits my body best, and my (admittedly) modern sensibilities, which aren’t quite ready for wool sack (though I think I’m going to develop a love of wool sacks very quickly!).

I didn’t really analyse my observations any more than that, until Panth commented that I should look closely at the silhouettes in images (well worth it to scroll down and read the comments).  In doing so, I found her amazing blog post series on the 14th century bust shape (well, well worth it to read the whole series).

Her blog post answered so many of the questions I had about bust fit.  Most of the bloggers who have done 14th century extensively and blogged about fitting and pattern draping are quite busty women, and while they talk about bust support and fit, it wasn’t always clear to me what was period, and what was their desire to support their bust.  It is just not possible for me to have a lifted bust, with cleavage, and outward curve.  I can, however, very effectively have a quite androgynous torso, with just a hint of bust and waist.  Beyond fit, I just have a fashionable 1370s body, rather than a fashionable 1390s body.

Panth’s posts have given me a clear set of guidelines as I get to the final fit, so that I (hopefully) produce something that matches a specific 14th century set of ideals and silhouette, not a modern interpretation based on our ideals of fit and silhouette.

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com6

At this point, though there are still fit-sues, I’m ready to finish the front opening edge, and to sew the lacing holes.  With that done, I can finesse the final fit, finish the neckline, set the sleeves, do endless amounts of interior seam finishing, and equally endless amounts of hemming.

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com7

I’m pretty sure that the correct way to finish the front opening (other than tablet weaving, which I’m not going to attempt, and which, while it is period, doesn’t seem to have been universally used by any means, so skipping it is not cheating) is to turn the wool and linen in towards each other, so that raw edges are hidden, and then sew.

Anyone know if a stab stitch or whipstitch would be more accurate?  I have poured through my sources and can’t find the answer.

Fitting a medieval gown thedreamstress.com4