Friday, May 25, 2012

Romeo Victorian Festival



Last fall, a bunch of friends and I went to the Northville Victorian Festival. My roommate Kimmy, my boyfriend Greg, and I all dressed up in the best Victorian Garb we could come up with for the occasion. It was fun! There weren't very many people in costume, which was a little disappointing, but there were games, lots of food – including my favorite, shaved ice! - and we bought some really yummy smelling soap from a dapper young soap vender. A few of us also painted fairy doors that we now have hidden around our homes. (There are two at my apartment. Think you can find them?)

This year, Kimmy discovered that the village of Romeo, MI also has a Victorian festival. From the website, they seemed to have a very different bend than Northville. Romeo promised people in costume, a special Victorian currency printed just for the occasion that the local shops along Main St agreed to accept, a working blacksmith shop that dated back over 100 years, and a Civil War encampment.

Not really sure what to expect, Kimmy and I donned some garb and headed northeast to Romeo. Kimmy ended up with a more steampunk look this year rather than wear a more historically accurate outfit because it was just too dang hot to wear a high-necked, long-sleeved blouse. My outfit was actually pretty period, just not from Michigan. I wore the Mexican peasant dress that I'd made the week before with a blue skirt that I'd bought last year for various “reenactment” events, and a shawl about my shoulders, plus a paper parasol for shade (boy, was it needed). The least authentic things I wore were my really nifty sunglasses purchased from last year's World Steam Expo, and the bit of ribbon I had around my neck secured by a cameo.

Despite wearing what amounted to two skirts, I was kept quite cool. Both layers were 100% cotton, thus breathed, as they say. Even the shawl was light and comfortable. The suede boots I'd borrowed from Kimmy were quite warm, however, and became a little uncomfortable to wear as the afternoon heated up.

The Romeo Victorian Festival was not nearly as large as the Northville Victorian Festival, nor nearly as well known even to the locals (we had a few people stop and ask us if there was some event going on), but it definitely had a more historical intent. There were many more people in costume, some very beautiful and quite detailed, and the atmosphere of downtown Romeo was already very period without being dressed up for a festival. (We instinctively kept an eye out for fairy doors, but there were none.)

The Civil War encampment was in the park behind Main St, and was quite small, consisting of a few sleeping tents and a large common tent under which men, women, and children all in appropriate attire lounged in the heat, talking, doing needlework, and braiding each other's hair. Men dressed as soldiers stood ready to answer any questions. The park also had a raised gazebo where kids from the local school band played a few concerts throughout the day.

The welcome booth in the parking lot of a BP station offered free bottle of water, a raffle, and a walking tour guide map of the listed historical homes in the area – there were a lot! One of the women recognized Kimmy as dressing steampunk and asked if were going to World Steam the following weekend. We answered yes, and she said that she would try to be there, but her husband refused to go with her, though the man she gave the evil eye to was dressed quite appropriately in a suit and bowler.

We stopped for lunch at the Antique Bank Cafe, a – you guessed it – cafe built inside an old timey bank. It was also an antique store. You can see the old vault complete with door, and view a few pictures sprinkled around of what the bank once looked like when it was still operating as a bank. I chose a chicken salad on croissant and Kimmy ordered a wrap. Both were delicious, and the lemonade was most excellent on such a hot day!

We ended up taking the tractor-pulled trolley for $1 each for a tour of the area. It stopped at various points of interest, like the historical society headquarters located inside a home restored to look as it did when it was built, and the blacksmith shop, as well as pointing out various historical homes and buildings along the way and dishing out random facts about Victorian life, such as that it was considered rude at the time for a man to give up his seat to a lady because the seat might be warm from his bum. Though how she could feel it through all those layers of clothing, I'm not quite sure.

At the blacksmith shop there were not only three groups of blacksmiths working away, two on what I will call pop-up forges and the third inside in the actual shop (though he was taking a break to answer questions about the stuff in the shop), as well as a group doing vintage handmade rugs and another with a bunch of vintage bicycles. One gentleman rode around on one of those bikes with the ginormous front wheel and little tiny back wheel. To get it going, he had to push it, then quickly hop up onto the seat via a little step that jutted out near the little wheel and immediately start peddling. I was impressed. I'd like to see a woman in Victorian garb attempt this. There was a lady doing needlework that answered questions about the bikes and explained the history of the bicycle, which I found quite interesting.

All-in-all, a rather small festival, but interesting, and we did happily spend the entire afternoon there. On our way out of town, we took a detour in the car to follow the walking tour guide and gawk at all the beautiful old homes from the comfort of air conditioning.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Making My Own Dress

Since making my own chemise from scratch, not to mention this darn corset, I've been feeling pretty confident in both my sewing abilities and my ability to follow written directions with minimal visual aids. 

Sometime ago, my roommate Kimmy decided that she would do an adelita or soldadera (the kickass female soldiers of the Mexican Revolution) outfit for World Steam Expo this upcoming Memorial weekend. Curious about how to put this together, I looked up what women traditionally wore in Mexico back in the day, and came up with something often termed a "puebla dress," but also known as a "Mexican peasant dress" and a "boho dress," that is still worn by many women today, probably because they are uber comfortable, lightweight, colorful, and just generally very fun.

This search led me to the Mexican dress, the best resource for such things that I have found on the internet. The fabulous webmistress includes a PDF file of her own technique for making this type of easy-breezy gown, which I decided to buy because $5 is nothing for a pattern and because I like supporting fellow clever crafters.  (She also offers a Native American triad dress pattern that I may try in the future. We shall see.)

The peasant dress is basically a chemise with short sleeves and no drawstring at the throat. Very simple, very cute, very comfortable for the approaching hot summer months. I went to JoAnn's and picked up a few yards of cheap 100% cotton muslin fabric because if I was going to be trying something new, I didn't want to use something expensive and end up ruining it. I used muslin for the chemise, and I find that to be quite comfortable, though I've only worn it out once. It turns out this pattern ends up leaving you with a fair amount of leftover, unused fabric, which I might be more upset about if I had paid an exorbitant amount (something I never do). Be warned if you do this yourself, though! Be sure the fabric is not too see-through. Mine turns out to be on the border. No brightly colored undies for me!
The basic pieces are the yolk, front, back, and two sleeves. The hardest part was spacing the pleats correctly, which, thanks to my previous experience with the chemise, was not that difficult to me.

I've actually opted not to do the embroidery. I was thinking of using it as a chemise for particular hot ren faire days, even though it isn't entirely period accurate. I also think I may just wear it around with a belt or a scarf tied around just under my boobs, creating an empire waist since without the embellishments, the dress looks quite plain.

Because this is a simple, not particularly form-fitting dress, it's really pretty easy to make. There are enough pictures to give a decent visualization of what each step is supposed to looks like, and the explanations are simple and clear. If I had one uninterrupted day, I', pretty sure I could make one dress from start to finish. As it was, it took me one late evening to measure and cut out the pieces, one afternoon to assemble everything, and another hour of a third day to complete the sleeves. As I said, quick and easy. I would have actually completed the sleeves sooner if I hadn't sewn my seem too close to the end so that the elastic wouldn't fit the first time. You can't tell by looking at it that I had to re-do it, though, so everything's fine.

Now I just need the weather to be warm enough to wear my new dress outside!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Speedway Flea Market

Last Sunday, the weather was beautiful, warm, yet mild, with clear skies and a gentle wind. So my boyfriend Greg, roommate Kimmy, and I all got up early and drove to the flea market at the Flat Rock Speedway. Yes, it was a flea market being held on the track of the speedway in Flat Rock, MI. I've never stood on a speedway track, so that was most interesting, and occasionally off-balancing.

I've always loved flea markets. You really do find the darnedest stuff at them! Up until now, the only real flea market I can recall having been to is the ginormous one in Shipshewana, IN, the largest in the Midwest with literally hundreds of vendors. About once every few summers while growing up, my parents and I would take the one hour drive south across state lines and spend a day toodling through the market and wandering around the little town, enjoying the best fudge I have ever had (sorry, Mackinac Island), and being served ice cream by Amish girls in hand-sewn dresses and Reeboks. (I've never figured out why the Amish wear Reeboks. It's just something I always noticed.)

I was told the flea market at the speedway would be big, but I didn't figure it would be nearly the size of Shipse. I was right, of course, though we still managed to kill a few hours there, and everyone walked away with something. Kimmy picked up a plastic gun for $1 that is perfect for her upcoming World Steam Expo costume, minus a few steampunk touches that will soon be added, no doubt. Greg bought a pair of vintage spats in beautiful condition that we could not allow to not be purchased. I also got something for World Steam costume, a little leather pouch that is to be worn around the neck that reminded me of a medicine bag, and a pair of cheap sunglasses to replace the crappy ones I grabbed in an emergency from Walgreens years back.

Though I am happy with my purchases, I wish I could have gotten so much more! There were countless pieces of vintage costume jewelry that were just too outside of my pathetically low price range, beautifully preserved wood furniture, a dazzling array of old oil lamps and candle holders, and so many pieces that I couldn't identify, but I wanted anyway.

I haven't been to Shipshewana in decades, but after my experience at the speedway, I think it's high time for another trip! And if I drag Kimmy along - which I will - she can see the Amish and taste some traditional Dutch cooking at Das Essenhaus. I also have some friends who live down that way, and it would be nice to see them again.

Trolling your local thrift stores and antique stores are delightful experiences, and you can make some incredible finds. A flea market, however, is quite the singular experience, and a most pleasant way to spend a sunny spring or summer day. And this area is full of them! Mwa ha ha...

Friday, May 4, 2012

How to Donate to Charity When You're Flat Broke

We've all seen the guilt ads on TV. Sad, scarred puppy faces, kittens without mothers, children covered in dirt without shoes or adequate clothing. These ads are designed to make us feel bad and want to do something, like open a website and take out our credit cards, or text a code to a special phone number. I, like many of you, would love to help each and every cat, dog, child, and whatever else they parade in front of me that is in need of the basic essentials of life. Unfortunately, I can barely feed myself and my cat Memphis most months, let alone the thousands of homeless pets out there. 

For years I've been stopping by FreeRice.com, a strangely addictive website with word games in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. It started simple with just English, but has since moved beyond even language, and you can now be quizzed on famous paintings, literature, chemical symbols, flags of the world, multiplication tables, and more. This is not only an easy and fun way to keep your mind fresh (or learn a thing or two), but with every right answer, Free Rice's sponsors donate 10 grains of rice to combat world hunger. It doesn't take much time to rack up hundreds of grains of rice, and it doesn't cost you a thing.

There is a similar website called Free Flour. With each correct answer you give in their trivia game they donate one spoonful of flour. An even easier site that will donate a cup of food for every click is The Hunger Site. You may click once daily, and 100% of the sponsor money goes to charity. Yes, the site is full of ads, but they are small, do not flash at you, and there are no pop-ups. Remember, it's the ads that power the donations.

Another daily click charity site is The Rainforest Site. Each click claims to help protect 11.4 square feet of rainforest habitat. Along the top of the page are links to other daily clicks that include therapy for children living with autism and their families, books for children in need, meals for veterans, donations of food for rescued animals, and more. Another site like this with daily clicks is Care2, where you can protect wildlife and donate to shelter pets, among other things. There is also Clicks Give. Again, one click and a few seconds of your time are all it takes to donate to those in need. 

If clean water is your thing, check out Click For Your Charity. Select an ad to watch, watch it all the way through, and this website claims to pay for 7 days of clean water to "someone at need and at risk." The ad I watched was 30 seconds long. 

For those who enjoy playing games on Facebook, there is WeTopia. It's basically a really cute version of Sim City. You follow quests and build a town, cultivate crops, and visit your neighbors all the while collecting "joy." You may then donate the joy points you've accumulated to the charities in the real world of your choice. You also earn rewards for the joy you donate, kind of like trophies, that you may then place in your town for others to see. I like to donate to the free book charities because I am a nerd, but I also have donated to food pantries and free healthcare for underprivileged children. WeTopia has been promoted by celebrities Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber. It's cute, it's fun, and it helps kids in need in the real world. 

I hope I've helped some of you by pointing out all the easy ways to donate to charity without using any of your own money. You don't even have to own a computer or have your own in-home internet (I don't!). Every library I have visited in the past 10 years has had free terminals for patrons to use. If you are a student, your school probably has computers with internet access for your own use, as well. (I know spent countless hours dinking around in the computer labs between classes.) 

No, all these little clicks aren't the same as writing a check, or going out an volunteering in your community, but they are sure as hell better than sitting on your ass, feeling helpless, and doing nothing. Happy clicking.