Dressmaking scissors or upholstery shears? 13 inches (from memory)
Somerset has been sitting quietly in the corner of my room for a few months now. I’ve been cleaning and moisturising the remaining leather, in the hope that some of it might be salvageable.
Over the holidays, I finally was able to drive down to Brisbane and take Somerset in to be assessed by Wendy Tidbold, who is a professional sidesaddler. The verdict was grim.
None of the leather is salvageable, it needs to be stripped down to the tree and built back up again using new materials. The cost for this would be the same, if not more, than getting a brand new one custom-made.
Also, Somerset’s tree is the old fashioned sort so harder to ride in, and harder to fit a horse to. And it’s all too big for me, about an inch and a half too big.
However I had lots of fun checking out Wendy’s collection of saddles, and drooling over the new ones she’s made.
So I came home and decided to strip Somerset down to the tree myself. At least this way I get to learn about saddle construction, and the tree will be far easier to store without all the lumps of old leather.
Sadly I didn’t photograph me removing the rest of the leather. It was quite interesting, especially the fixed head. It was wrapped with the cream checked wool fabric and the stuffing was built up to provide the different raised areas around the embroidered part.
Can you see the crack at the base of the fixed head?
But the head is still firmly in place and there’s no movement. On inspection, it seems that the whole tree is made of laminated pieces of wood, and maybe that the head was constructed separetely? The raised cantle is seperate too. The things I learn!
Then I tried to work out what to do about the layer of cheesecloth, stuck down with brown… paint? I understand saddlers used to use cheesecloth and shellac to bind saddle trees, but this isn’t laquery, it’s like nasty paint.
I decided to try sanding it off. Didn’t shift my cup of tea at first.
Sanding got rid of the rough wooden edges, but didn’t really remove the brown paint. It just made dirty powder everywhere that was all tacky. I had to hose off the tree to get rid of it all!!!
So I need to hit up Bunnings for some solvents. But since I have no idea what the brown gunk is, I don’t know which solvent to use!
Three things I love : sewing, sidesaddles and history. How excited was I when I saw that the Historical Sew Fortnightly had a challenge that I could do something for?
The theme was Flora and Fauna, which I have loosely interpreted as being appropriate for a horsey-print canvas sidesaddle cover for Somerset. Because she was looking rather sad, dusty and messy in the corner of my room.
So, to find a pattern.
There are none.
So I browsed the interwebs, and had very helpful people like Leila Marvin, Sarah Parry and Suzy VanderPeer send me photos and info about genuine, turn of the century covers.
Basically, in the days before elastic, covers were made-to-measure for each saddle.
Erk. Look at all those tricky angles! The cover was slashed under the leaping head so you could get it on and off the heads. Many were piped around all the edges, and had split pigskin keepers, reinforcing and/or accents.
I’d never drafted something myself before, and to be honest, a sidesaddle cover was a hard thing to start with. But that’s never stopped me before….
Then I started sewing. So far all was going well, but for some reason (it seemed logical at the time) I put the heads pieces together first, then tried attaching all the bigger pieces to that. It didn’t work. Everything pulled out of shape and it was awful.
I guess it was like trying to make a sleeve, then sew the rest of the dress around it.
I ended up unpicking almost everything, attaching the sides to the seat, then last of all the heads. It worked better.
Obviously it isn’t finished. That’s because Somerset isn’t finished. When she has flaps, flocked panels and girthing her underside will be a completely different shape to what it is now. So I can’t exactly ‘fit’ the cover to something that has yet to exist.
I’ve left heaps of extra material on the edges, and have about 2m of the canvas left. So when Somerset is finished (sometime in the never-never) I can finish the cover to match her.
Oh the wedding was INCREDIBLE! Such, such a fantastic time, and everything was perfect – the weather, the location, the outfits, the people, the food, the drink.
My plans to wear the two dresses went awry, as it turned out the ceremony and reception were in the same place :-p so I just wore the Vionnet dress. However, I didn’t have a suitable hat and it was extremely sunny. A quick visit to the most amazing Napier art deco hat shop, and I left with a rather expensive but fabulous white hat.
Not really 1920s but oh well. And it wasn’t until later that day I realised it was a basic hat, with the brim folded up and stitched down. I’ll be making some more of those soon!
There are no brilliant ‘dress’ photos of me from the wedding, but I’m in a couple of group shots.
The next day I wore the purple dress to the post-wedding breakfast, and out to Hastings to visit my great-aunt. There are some photos but I don’t know who has them on their cellphone.
Sadly the Vionnet dress has not survived the wearings very well – my lazy hemming quickly frayed beyond the seam and I now have raw edges appearing. I’m going to destruct the dress and use the material as lining for skirts etc. But I am seriously thinking of making it again and doing it properly, making it shorter so more flattering on me, and belting the waist. I do have a ball coming up!
I have been sewing whilst in Hervey Bay, yes I have.
My cousin’s wedding is in a few weeks time. I will have to rush to get there – sit exam, drive to the airport, hopefully make the flight, land in the early hours, sleep on the floor in the airport, catch an early morning flight. I should get there 6 hours before the ceremony.
The wedding is Art Deco themed, which is wonderful (I love dressing up) and awful (I look terrible in shapeless dresses).
I far prefer 1940s or 50s fashion, it suits me so much more. But oh well.
Also, finding patterns for 1920s dresses is much harder. In the end I decided upon this dress, which afterwards I found was from 1919 so Edwardian/Art Deco. But it looked easy to sew and I could make it flattering on me.
There’s no real pattern, but I found an online tutorial on how to make it, at We Sew Retro - http://wesewretro.com/2012/05/20-minute-1920s-dress/
It took me a while to understand the instructions, but eventually I got it.
1) Basically, you get four square pieces of fabric, with a length of 1m on the diagonal. Took me FOREVER to work out that I needed around 0.70m along each side to achieve the 1m diagonal. It seems I have forever forgotten high school calculus.
2) You hem all sides of the square.
3) Lay one square on top of another, wrong sides together. Stitch across one corner asymetrically. This will leave a triangle flap on the right sides of the fabric.
4) Unfold, and on one square lay another square, wrong sides together again. Stitch across the far corner asymetrically again. You will have a chain of three squares joined together, with triangle flaps on the right sides.
5) Unfold again, and lay the last square on the chain of squares you have made. Stitch again.
6) You have made a chain of four squares, attached at their pointy corners. Bring the leftmost unattached pointy corner across to the rightmost one, to turn the chain into a tube of squares. Stitch as before.
7) Now flatten the tube of squares, and stitch two top points together. These will be the shoulders.
8) Make a sash.
Of course I didn’t make it as easy as that.
Firstly, the cheap satin material I brought was a complete bitch to sew. It was slippery and the weave constantly shifted. Trying to get a perfect square drove me nuts. Hemming it was hideous. I purchased a rolled hem foot for my machine but it just didn’t work. In the end I just folded the material over, straight stitched and then trimmed super-close to the edge. It looks OK but is already fraying madly.
I also got my sides mixed up and sewed the triangle drapey flaps to the inside. More than once. Le sigh.
I’ve also made it too big for me. I probably only needed a 0.7m diagonal. As a result it is unflatteringly long, especially combined with the dropped waistband.
Teagan tried it on, and it looked fantastic on her. I think I’ll tuck or pin the longest front points into the waistband so it’s a better length on the day. And I might cheat and wear the sash around my waist, not my hips.
I have a white feather and pearl headband, and I need a long string of white pearls. Combined with some fingerwaves in my hair and a touch of makeup, I’ll look great at the reception.
Oh yes, this is just for the reception. The other dress I’ve already blogged about is for the ceremony! You wouldn’t wear a ball dress to a daytime function, would you?
I’ve had a whirlwind start to 2013.
- I went back to Australia.
- Found out with 3 days notice that I needed to shift to Hervey Bay.
- My car broke it’s water pump -> blew the head gasket -> cooked the engine. She is dead.
- Cyclone Oswald blew in and while I am (mostly) dry, theres flooding everywhere north and south of here. I think that even if I had a car, I couldn’t get out of town.
So all this has changed my plans somewhat.
Somerset is looking GRAND in the storage unit. I gave her another coating of oil, and I’m hoping like hell the storage place doesn’t flood. However because my car is being scrapped, I have to buy a new one – which will use all my inheritance money, and more. This means she won’t be getting refurbished this year, very sad.
I did, however, bring Elna with me to Hervey Bay. My cousin’s Art Deco wedding is at the start of March and I am sewing myself two spiffing outfits. One for the wedding itself, and another for the evening function at the vineyards.
The day outfit I want to be cotton, light, comfortable and have a hat.
And I’m going to use some fabric from my stash. Hurrah!
So for the first time I have not got a proper pattern, and made a sketch of what I want.
I’m not completely drafting it by myself though – the Readers Digest Guide To Sewing, and the vintage guide “The One Hour Dress” is stepping me through it.