Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Project Sewn: A Trip to Sweetish Hill

HallÄ! God morgan, friends! Can you believe we're already in the third week of Project Sewn? Time has flown by, no doubt thanks to my recent weekends of manic sewing. Though I had planned to sew ahead in the competition, I'm too prone to flights of sartorial fancy to turn that into a reality. My ideas, they are both dogged and tardy.

This week, we're sewing along with the "Going Global" challenge. The idea is to choose a country as inspiration for an outfit, drawing influence from its culture, food, architecture, or whatever else gets your gears turning.

Now, this is where my political little mind hesitated for a few weeks. My mother refers to me, lovingly, as a "bleeding heart, touchy-feely socialist," which is not an incorrect assessment. To my mind, this challenge could quite easily verge into the dangerous territory of cultural appropriation, rather than the intended cultural appreciation. I wanted to steer clear of such territory, for my own peace of mind. That left me with a few safer alternatives: use something specific to a country, but not its people, like English roses or the Eiffel Tower, or channel a culture I have direct ties to. As you may have realized by the overabundance of yellow and blue in this week's entry, I chose the latter option.

While my mother's line is made up of English planters who came to America pre-revolution, my dad's family was one of the many millions that came through Ellis Island in the 19th century. They left their small village, outside of Gothenburg, Sweden and eventually settled in Iowa. (Note: His mother's side has a very similar story, only originating from Germany and winding up in California, instead. We Americans are such a melting pot!) Like many other American families, we've kept vestiges of this heritage alive in our own traditions. Swedish flags decorate our Christmas tree ever year and meatballs make regular appearances at large family gatherings. What's more, if you're a wee Danielson girl, there is a picture over a mantle somewhere of you in a lavishly embroidered yellow-and-blue dress. My mother, somewhat thankfully, couldn't put her hands on mine for this post. It exists and it is cute/embarrassing, I promise you. (Here, members of the Swedish royal family wear similar versions to my own)

For this week's challenge, I decided to make a modern, womanly version of that exact outfit. My vision was a dress in the same timeless blue and yellow of the Swedish flag, with touches of embroidery and heirloom sewing, all paired with a simple, feminine silhouette. This would be my homage to all those hard-working, hand-sewing Swedish foremothers of mine. 

Using a midweight bright blue linen, I made a base dress from Simplicity 1873 and a classic dirndl skirt. The high neck and slightly puffed sleeves of 1873's Version A fit my vision to a tee--simple, but with a dash of the romantic. Though the skirt of 1873 is already a pleated, full affair, I wanted something a bit more traditional than Cynthia Rowley's asymmetrical mix of box and knife pleats. Instead, I cut a wide dirndl skirt, which I box pleated myself. On something of a whim, I decided to concentrate the pleats toward the sides of the dress, rather than evenly spaced, for a fuller effect. 

I've made this pattern a few times now, though this was my first time using the higher neckline and sleeves. Y'all, these sleeves are my everything. They are so pretty and brilliantly constructed! The fullness comes not from the sleeve cap, as expected, but instead from five darts along the sleeve hem that cinch everything in. The resulting sleeve has a nice fullness that makes one think princess, not linebacker. When you've inherited not only blonde hair, but wide viking shoulders, from your Swedish ancestors, this is a welcome difference. 

Meanwhile, the high neckline would not usually be my choice, but I wanted the detailed embroidery to act almost as a necklace would, pointing interest toward my face rather than my decolletage. Not only did that work out splendidly, but I love the mix of high neckline and puffed sleeves. The whole dress makes me feel a bit like a Disney extra, with talking birds and helpful vermin just one cheery song away.

Let's see. What else can I say about this dress? Oh right, I EMBROIDERED THE HECK OUT OF IT. You see that charming yellow and white motif around the neckline? I did that myself and it took forever. We went to visit Sam's lovely parents last week and I did not stop embroidering. I embroidered in the car. I embroidered on the couch. I embroidered, to disastrous effect, while fetching with Seamus. The pattern is a variation on Sublime Stitching's Double Dutch, which I tinkered with to get the desired Scandinavian flair. 

After embroidering for days upon days, of course, my mother informed me that the embroidery on my own wee Swedish dress was actually just ribbon. That would have saved time, but I like this oh so much better! Hand sewing is soothing in the kind of way I'd always hoped knitting would be. Don't be surprised if I embroider 1000 things now. 

Technique wise, this was laborious but relatively pain-free. The design was made using a mix of stem stitches, split stitches, and french knots, which are the basic tools of the embroidery trade. To prevent buckling of the fabric, I interfaced the neckline before placing the bodice on a hoop. If you're also keen to do this yourself, check out the tutorials from Austin's own Sublime Stitching. Not only do they have awesome modern patterns, but Jenny's tutorials are super helpful if you're a beginner or need a quick refresher! 

Once the embroidery was finished, I turned my attention to the hemline. Usually, a traditional Swedish folk dress is accompanied by a coordinated apron skirt. Since such an addition would be a bit too much for everyday wear, I forewent it in favor of rick-rack. These three lines of yellow and white rick-rack maintained my goal of heirloom sewing, but kept it from being too literal an interpretation. It's such a cute detail, don't you think? We need a rick-rack comeback, sewing friends! 

Anywho! The dress is lined in more blue linen and finished off with a lapped zipper in the center back. The hem was turned with navy blue lace and could use a less timid pressing, if these pictures are any indication. I was terrified the polyester lace would melt, as can all too easily happen. That would have been a nightmare!

I adore this dress, y'all! I'm not sure there's a more Mary piece in my wardrobe. The only problem, of course, is that it's too cute to cover up with a sweater or jacket! So, if I wanted a second piece for this week's Project Sewn, I needed to get creative. 

Enter the ever-beloved bow clutch. Not only are they fabulous, but so easily DIYed. I needed my own version! I bought a length of mustard yellow leather-like fabric from JoAnn's and made it so. Though it looks a bit complicated, the project is just a matter of sewing rectangles in the correct order. I added an outside bow to a basic rectangular clutch, which sits free across the body, so that a cute hand hold is created. To keep up the theme for this week, I finished it off with a bright blue zipper for a bit of contrast. 

On Thursday, I'll actually be back with a quick tutorial for this project. Once everything is measured and cut, it's an amazingly quick bag project. Friends of mine may get entirely too many for birthdays this year! Personally, I now need them in a dozen more colors...

So, there you have it! What do you think of my updated Swedish folk dress, kittens? My poor grandmother had to put up with an emergency embroidery phone call, but I think it was worth it. All that hand-sewing was such a calming, centered sort of creativity. I highly recommend giving it a try, if you've yet to try real thread-work. 

 If you're of a mind, make your way over to Project Sewn to check out the other fabulous projects and vote, vote, vote! Incidentally, the title for this project is taken from one of my favorite places in Austin, Sweetish Hill Bakery, which not only sits at the base of Swedish Hill, but baked our wedding cakes. They also make the best Swedish-style cinnamon rolls in Texas!

No comments

Post a Comment