Monday, February 26, 2018

The Wild World of Sewing your own Lingerie

I've discovered that sewing your own bras is a fun and extremely gratifying activity. It never occurred to me that it's possible to make a bra yourself until Ladybird, one of the sewing bloggers I read, wrote a few posts about the Watson Bra pattern. This bra meets all my requirements: pretty, but with no padding or underwire.  The Watson Bra pattern can be bought online as a PDF download. Ordinarily, I shy away from PDF patterns because scaling the pieces to print correctly is intimidating to me. Bra pattern pieces, however, are small enough to fit on a single page and the pattern comes with instructions on how to scale, so I had no difficulty.

For my first attempt, I bought a bra making kit from the Tailor Made etsy shop. Bra sewing is tricky in that it involves narrow seam allowances, curved seams, and lots of raw edges to be finished. On the other hand, if your finished bra isn't perfect, you can still wear it because no one can see it. My first and second attempts are far from perfect, but I wear these bras all the time because they're pretty and comfortable. They can also be laundered with no fuss because there are no molded cups or underwire. Below is a little picture essay on the process. Apologies to those of you who follow me on instagram, since this may be a rerun for you.

First, I traced the pattern pieces onto stiff cardstock

I made a practice version out of an old tee-shirt

Tracing the pattern onto the back of the fabric

All the pieces cut out. The fabric is a scuba knit - medium thick with a firm stretch.
The bra cradle is lined with powernet mesh. All of this came in my kit along with all straps and elastic, hooks, and a piece of stretch lace that I used as an overlay for the inner half of each cup.

Finishing the inside edge with tricot elastic

Cups sewn into the cradle - this is the hardest part


Sewing the top of a cup through the loop that holds the strap.

The finished bra - this was view B, with a narrow band.

I couldn't wait to make another bra, but for my second attempt, I ordered a different scuba knit fabric and a "findings" kit, which is a set of lingerie elastic and hooks. This time I made view A, with the longer band. I'm happy with the second bra too. Both of them fit perfectly. (Watson Bra sizes range from 30B to 40D.) These bras are more comfortable than my store-bought bras. Now I'd like to branch out into different types of fabric. Unfortunately, the fine dressmaking shop in Charlottesville went out of business. There's a quilters' shop, but I doubt they have lingerie fabric. Joann's has lots of stretch fabric, but all of it is unspeakably ugly and they don't carry a full range of lingerie elastic, so I guess I'll be shopping online. 

Second attempt at the Watson Bra - the topstitching is tragic, I know, but I hope to get better at it. By the way, I realized this post sounds a bit sponsored, but it's not. I'm not promoting the products I linked to, just sharing in case anyone is interested in attempting this project. I really had a lot of fun sewing these bras.

Monday, February 19, 2018

I Was a Baby Borgia

Here's the story of how I poisoned the neighborhood kids when I was two. How do I know I was two? I'm able to date this memory pretty accurately, based on the house we were living in at the time, which we moved away from shortly after my third birthday, and the time of year. I was probably close to turning three or possibly just turned. Also, although it's the conventional belief that people have amnesia prior to age three, I have numerous memories from my babyhood, even one or two from infancy. It's a family trait to have a very long and accurate memory. As my uncle, who married into the family, said to Jon, "When did a Bermingham ever remember anything wrong?" (Narrator: Never.)

We lived in a little Cape Cod house on Pilgrim Road in Tonawanda, New York. It had a fenced back yard with a row of bushes along the back fence line. That summer, I must have shown a lot of curiosity about the berries on those bushes because my parents made a special point of telling me never to eat them. So of course I became obsessed. I have no idea what kind of berries they were, but after doing a little research, I think they may have been snowberries, which are toxic, but not fatally so.  According to Wikepedia, they cause vomiting, dizziness, and mild sedation when ingested by children.

Snowberry - these look like the berries I remember

One day, the other neighborhood children - we were probably all age four and under - were gathered in our backyard. I was suddenly struck with an idea of how to eat the berries and not be detected by the adults who were in the yard with us. We would play a game in which everyone skipped laps of the yard and every time you passed the bushes, you had to grab a berry and eat it. This is the part that seems the most unbelievable to me because I doubt I had the language skills to organize a game. Then again, we certainly played this game and as you will see, I got the blame for it. Round and round we skipped. On the first lap, I grabbed a berry. It was hard and tasted awful and I spit it out. We kept skipping, but I only pretended to eat a berry each time. The other children actually continued to eat them.

The next day, my mother stood over me and told me that the children I'd been playing with the day before had all gotten sick. One of them, the youngest, had been so sick he'd been taken to the emergency room. I understood the concept of "emergency room" because my great aunt was the chief administrator of a hospital and we would sometimes visit her in the convent on the top floor. The nuns' quarters were spartan, with no real space for visiting, so we'd walk around the hospital. I distinctly remember being allowed to play in an empty operating room around this time. So I was accustomed to making myself at home in a hospital and knew what an emergency room was, though I'd never actually seen one.

Easter Sunday, so a few months before the incident.
That's Sister Ellen, my great-aunt who ran the hospital.Also, my father and my brother, John.

Don't worry, no one died but the incident was considered serious enough that child protective services got involved. My mother told me that what I'd done was so terrible that someone from the county was coming specifically to yell at me. On the appointed day, my baby brother was whisked out of sight so he couldn't disrupt the meeting, I was sat firmly on the couch, and a woman - a social worker or visiting nurse, (police officer?) I suppose - arrived. I don't remember much about her. My memory may be faulty at this point, but I feel like she was somewhat nonplussed, like she'd been expecting me to be a teen age sociopath and had to quickly reshape her speech for a toddler. Not that I remember a word of what she said, but I do know she didn't yell at me because I remember feeling relieved that she hadn't.

My third birthday (and my brother's second) in late August, so right around the time of the incident.

That was the end of it. Really the end because my parents never spoke of it again. Not once ever in my whole life, and we're a great family for telling "Do you remember" stories. My poor mother must have been mortified and relieved that my father's job transferred us to Boston soon after. I thought of this as a funny story - I told it to great comic effect at the dinner table one night - but written down, it seems kind of awful. I'm certain I had no intention of hurting anyone and yet I did. It's one of the worst things I've ever done.

I didn't write about this to show off my precocity as a criminal mastermind (OK, that might have been part of it) but because I've been thinking a lot lately about early memories. I think it's harmful to say that no one can remember anything from prior to age three. Many people may be traumatized by things that happened before they were old enough to understand what was happening, or little snippets of disjointed memory that they can't be sure are real or were dreamt. They might be unwilling to seek help, or worse, be told that what they remember can't be real. I've read that for babies and toddlers, what might cement a memory are strong emotions, because at that age we are creatures of feeling rather than intellect. This is not my earliest memory, but it's the first memory I have that took place over multiple days and involved several people.

What do you think? Do you have memories from before the age of three?

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Palliser Novels

Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels are a series that grew out of his beloved Barsetshire Chronicles. The Duke of Omnium, wicked and politically liberal, is a minor character in the Barsetshire books. He serves as a symbol of moral looseness and he's the head of the family that forms the central core of the Palliser novels. While the Barsetshire books focus on the dealings of the Church of England, the Palliser novels focus on the British parliament. British government is not my strong suit, but each Palliser novel has its human interest angle in the form of a love story, so don't be intimidated. I enjoyed the whole series, but I did skim over some of the dense passages about politics.  And now onto the summaries.

Can You Forgive Her? (1864) If you're wondering who it is you're supposed to forgive, it's the protagonist, Alice Vavasor, for behaving like an idiot. Alice is a young woman, who, owing to her mother's death and her father's negligence, is rather more independent than most Victorian young ladies. She is engaged to the eminently respectable but boring John Grey. She also has a dashing cousin, George Vavasor, who has ambitions of getting into parliament and who seems more romantic and exciting than plain John Grey. George's sister Kate lobbies hard for Alice to dump John and marry George. Meanwhile, Alice's cousin Lady Glencora has recently married Plantagenet Palliser and things are not going well. Lady Glencora, immensely rich in her own right, had been in love with the dashing, romantic, but also profligate Burgo Fitzgerald. Her family conspired to force her away from Fitzgerald and into marriage with Palliser, who is the heir to the Duke of Omnium. Lady Glencora teeters on the edge of infidelity, while Alice Vavasor makes one stupid decision after another. There's a third, comic relief plot line involving George and Kate's aunt, the wealthy widow Mrs. Greenow and the competition for her hand between two bumblers. This book sets the stage for the other books in the series. The marriage of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser is the core of the whole series. George Vavasor's foray into politics introduces us to the parliamentary angle of the books. Overall, this was an absorbing story, with a few scenes of shocking violence.

Phineas Finn (1869) The title character is a young Irishman, charming and extraordinarily good looking, who gets a chance for a seat in parliament. And so begins his political career. I've heard people say they didn't like this book. There are some long, skimmable passages about politics, but there's plenty going on in Phineas' personal life to keep you interested. He has a girl who loves him back in Ireland and manages to fall in love with two different women in England and a fourth falls in love with him and he fights a duel, and in general behaves pretty badly while also being mostly likable. Also, the story of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser continues in this book.

The Eustace Diamonds (1873) One of my favorite Trollope books overall, and hands down favorite of the Palliser series. There's not much about politics in this one and the story shifts away from the Pallisers, who are mere observers of this drama. Lizzie Greystock, no better than she should be, marries and is soon widowed by Sir Florian Eustace. A valuable diamond necklace, belonging to the Eustace estate was given to Lizzie by her husband. She refuses to give it up and obstinately won't understand the difference between something you own outright and a family heirloom that is really only on loan to you. In the meantime, she looks around for a new husband and is attracted to her cousin Frank Greystock, who is already engaged to a lovely but impoverished girl but that doesn't stop him from dallying with Lizzie a bit. (Trollope's novels often feature young men who are basically good, but behave like jerks where women are concerned. See also Johnny Eames, Phineas Finn, and Silverbridge Palliser.) If the BBC made a movie of this, I'd watch the hell out of it.

Phineas Redux (1873) Takes up the story of Phineas Finn again, a year or two after the end of the previous book about him. This time, there's been a murder and our friend Phineas has been accused! Also continues the adventures of Lizzie Eustace.

The Prime Minister (1876) Our old friend Plantagenet Palliser (now Duke of Omnium) is the Prime Minister of England. His wife, the irrepressible Lady Glencora bestirs herself to help him in his career by inviting all and sundry to visit them and plans numerous parties, much to the PM's annoyance. Even worse, she uses her influence as the PM's wife to help the career of a blackguard with whom she has a passing interest, which leads to scandal and humiliation for the Duke. This novel is also the story of Emily Foster, who marries a man her father doesn't approve of and has to face dire consequences as a result.

The Duke's Children (1879) Not even being the Duke of Omnium is protection against young adult children doing stupid and infuriating things. Plantagenet Palliser's three children, Lord Silverbridge (the eldest and heir), Gerald, and Mary, collect gambling debts, get expelled from Oxford, and fall in love with people the Duke doesn't approve of.