A lot has happened recently and I figured since I've been getting more traffic on this blog I'd better give an update!
First of all, many of you will be disappointed to hear that I've put an indefinite pause on my Laura Ingalls Wilder project. Being able to work on this project was a huge blessing and I've enjoyed every moment. But after putting on several performances I found I didn't really want to put my energy into it anymore. It took me a little while to admit because I worked so hard on it, but my heart wasn't really in it anymore.
Who knows, maybe I'll come back to this project someday! But for now, my Laura Ingalls obsession will just be a hobby. However, I want to thank everyone who was so incredibly excited and supportive of me during the process. I was overwhelmed with the positive response I received along the way. Thank you!
Now, onto new business! I'm so excited to share that I will be interning at Old Sturbridge Village next summer AND doing seamstress work professionally. Between both of these things, I should be sufficiently busy! I will try to keep my blog updated with history, sewing, and other random moments, but I encourage you to follow my Instagram (@what.rosalie.sews) if you are looking for more frequent updates.
Until next time,
If you are unfamiliar with this issue here is what the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) put on their website: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/clla
After several weeks of online discussion, I've decided to address this here on my blog. It is hotly debated in the Laura Ingalls Wilder (LIW) communities and I have remained teetering on the edge since I first heard about it. As a long time Laura fan, her books bring a lot of nostalgia for me. I felt conflicted because I wouldn't want to see parents and teachers banning these books. They are beautiful books and they truly are a product of the time they were written in. Stories about self-reliance, hard work, the importance of family, and yes, unfortunately, colonization. But we can love and adore the Little House books while addressing the many problematic parts of them.
Taking LIW's name off of the award does not erase the history. This is the slippery slope argument: "If we take LIW's name off of a literary award are we blemishing her legacy and erasing her work from history? What's next?" LIW is a beloved author of many, many Americans. Taking her name off of one award isn't banning us from reading them. It isn't banning us from loving them just as we always do. It's reminding us that those are dated ideas and we should not be turning a blind eye to the fact that they existed and continued to exist. If we ignore them it allows for them to be perpetuated.
The ALSC says:
"We acknowledge that Wilder’s books not only hold a significant place in the history of children’s literature and continue to be read today, but that they have been and continue to be deeply meaningful to many readers on a personal level. We also acknowledge that they have been deeply painful to many readers, and have been across decades alongside their popularity. Both of these things are true. Neither the option to rename the award nor the option to sunset the award and establish a new award demands that anyone change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder’s books."
The award itself is a stamp of recognition. It is impossible to print a disclaimer on every book which holds the stamp. While taking LIW's name off of it gives many of us a knee-jerk reaction it's also the beginning of a conversation. From here we can discuss how to present them to children going forward. The books should serve as a platform for conversation as well as a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read.
I recently found THIS clip about dealing with racism in the books we love. Grace Lin says that we should treat these books like a racist relative. They aren't right, but we still love them. She says we should be keeping an ear out so that we can address the racism when it comes up, with children and with ourselves. I encourage you to watch the video yourself. She puts it clearly and beautifully in an easily approachable way.
I am sad to see Laura's name removed from the award. I love her dearly and it's hard to think about the complexities of something I love so much. That being said, I don't think it is wrong. As scholars of LIW we must step back and be willing to see the big picture. An 80+ year old book is going to be dated. Just look around and see how far we've come in science, law, and technology since the 1930s. The world has changed immensely, so it makes sense that the common idea of what is right and wrong has changed as well. We can still love and appreciate LIW's stories without ignoring the fact that they are racist.
Pa assured her. "You've never failed anything you tried to do, have you?"
(These Happy Golden Years)
Last Monday (March 19th) I became Laura Ingalls for a half hour. I've been working on this project for almost a year now, but I feel like I've been working on it since I picked up the first Little House book. It was as if all my years of reading and studying this subject finally were coming together. And I was terrified.
I chose to perform for my homeschool co-op. This is a group of people who have known me for many years. In some ways this was great. It was all people who knew me very well and weren't going to be annoyed or unsupportive if I messed up. But it also made me more nervous because I knew every person in the room. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stay in character when I looked at one of my friends, a parent, or a kid. Truthfully though, most of my worries were in the buildup. I'd put so much work into my costume and my research and now my vision was finally becoming real.
So here are a few things I learned:
My 1880s dress is complete!!! (See part one here) After I finished the mockup of the bodice, the process was rather straight forward. I cut the pieces out of my fabric, flatlined them, and sewed them all together. After I put the pieces together, I left it alone until I could finish the skirt. That way I could be sure that the bodice would fit over the skirt properly.
I cut out all the skirt pieces and sewed them together. It was pretty simple, almost all straight lines of sewing. The overskirt was the same, although the front draping was a little confusing at first. They are two different pieces, so they are put on separate.
After finishing the skirt (I left the hemming and adding ruffles until the end), I tried the whole thing on. My bodice didn't have sleeves yet, which made it easier to figure out where the bottom should lay. After I pinned it at my waist, I took it off and added the boning. My pattern didn't have instructions to add boning, but I decided to add it after doing some research. Most bodices from the time period were boned, and I know what a huge difference it makes in fit. I wanted to have a perfect fit for my bodice, that was my main goal. Nothing bothers me more than a victorian bodice with too much room (or the wrong shape)! So I ended up hunting the internet for what sort of boning would be best. I finally settled on German plastic boning, also called "artificial whalebone." (I was convinced mostly by this post) I used some leftover twill tape as boning channels and sewed it to my seam allowance. I will NOT be using twill tape again for boning. I forgot how much that stuff frays! Plus, it's too thick and too wide. My boning was floating around in it's channels and I had to add flossing, which I'm terrible at. Needless to say, the inside of this bodice it not pretty.
Next I added the collar and sleeves. the collar came out beautifully and the sleeves were not half bad either. I don't have a pressboard for sleeves, so that made them a good deal more challenging.
I did all my buttonholes by hand. It definitely took a lot longer, but I would have felt like a terrible cheater if I'd done them by machine. My buttonholes definitely need practice, the first few ones were very messy, but they all came out functional in the end. :)
Finally I sewed on the buttons, finished off the sleeves, and added the ruffles. It was complete!!!! I kind of can't believe it. I've been planning this dress for about a year now and it's finally done. I figured I only spent about 20-25 hours on it total. The sewing was all pretty straight forward, the bodice was definitely most challenging and took up over half of my total time spent on the project. That was mostly all the fitting and handwork I had to do on it though. Overall, it was an immensely fun project and I'm already dreaming up what I'm going to make next. ;)
I have always been daunted by historical dress making. The moment I start considering dress construction, the perfectionist part of my brain chimes in and all of the sudden I find myself trying to find a way to make the PERFECT dress. Perfect seams, absolutely 100% historically accurate, exact fit, etc. etc. But, alas, this is not possible. I do not live in the 19th century, therefore I can never create the real thing. Still, I try to hold up to historical accuracy as much as I can. Perfect fit and seams will come with practice and patience (which I sometimes lack).
I chose a pattern from Past Patterns. #905, #906, #907, three piece ensemble circa 1883-1884. It's basic, no frills and lace, just a simple ruffle in a few spots.
So that wasn't too hard, but then I got stuck on fabric. I found a really lovely print on Reproduction Fabrics. I emailed Reproduction fabrics and they told me they decided to stop carrying it and gave me the manufacturer number. I googled it and found the exact fabric on a quilting website.
I adore the pink clover against the brown. Clover is one of my favorite summertime flowers. Plus, I feel like Laura would love this fabric. It's simple and practical, but so beautiful. I love it.
I did a mockup, which took me longer than I expected. It was difficult to reach behind me to smooth and fit the fabric. I traced the smallest size of the D cup pattern. My proportions mean that I had to take a LOT out of the body of the mockup. I ended up taking some out of every seam to make it fit, since the waist and hip were way to big.
Now that's done, the next step is cutting the fabric. I'm using the mockup as my lining, so that eliminates using more muslin and I can just follow my pattern marks that I made during the fitting.
I'll post another update further into the process!
Corsets were worn by almost all women in the nineteenth century. They provide support for large, heavy skirts as well as shaping for the garments of the era. Laura speaks of her frustration with her corsets in her books. However, she would not have worn a dress without one.
[Laura's] corsets were a sad affliction to her, from the time she put them on in the morning, until she took them off at night. But when girls pinned up their hair and wore skirts down to their shoe-tops, they must wear corsets.
--Little Town on the Prairie
Corsets in the 1880s were not considered optional. An 1880s dress would look very odd without the proper undergarments (The Pragmatic Costumer does a good job explaining this in her blog post). This is not very different from modern underwear. Most 21st century women don't go out in public without a bra of some sort. So, in many ways, the corset is not different from our modern bras. It provides support and shape and for our bodies and our clothing.
I ordered my corset kit from Sew Curvy Corsetry. It was the most affordable corset kit in the style I desired and had good reviews. I began my corset in April and it took me until November to complete. Because it was my first time sewing a corset, I would discover I needed a certain tool, piece of advice, or a tutorial before I could continue. Then my corset would stand untouched for a couple of weeks before I got back to it. For this reason, it took me much longer than I expected, or was necessary.
I wanted a corset that fit well to my shape, which is why I opted to make my own. Because I was completely new at it, I chose a kit with full instructions and all the supplies. My corset kit came with white coutil, spiral boning, a regular flexible busk, eyelets and a setting tool, and laces. This corset had no lining. Prior to beginning the process, I watched a lot of videos and read blog posts on corset construction. There are a lot of great resources available, and whole blogs devoted to corsetry, both modern and historical.
The most difficult part was probably the binding. I wouldn't have guessed, as I've done binding before. What I found was that I had not left enough excess at the top of my pattern, and my bones here slightly too long (they came pre-measured in with the kit). Also, I should have left the boning channel tape a little longer than the pattern. I didn't think about this until I was trying to stuff my boning into the channel so I could sew binding over top. As a result, my boning is now pushing on the binding. I tried a few different methods of fixing this, but its not an immediate issue, so I have just left it for now. Eventually it will probably push its way through the binding, but I can always add new binding. I'm not too worried, as this is my first corset and I feel certain I'll make a new, better constructed one in the future.
I started reading the Little House series at a very young age. My sisters and I played Little House, I built log cabins out of blocks, and made little Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, and Carrie dolls. When I was twelve, I got the chance to go on a trip through the mid-west, stopping at almost all of Laura's homes. That was when I began to see Laura as a person, not just a character. On that trip I met so many enthusiastic people who wanted to tell us all the historic and gossipy facts about the Ingalls family and the people they knew. It was fascinating, and it brought a level of reality to Laura's story that I had not seen before.
Laura’s story is a very typical American concept. It is very picturesque and beautiful, and I think that is why people are initially drawn to it. But when you get past the pretty parts, you are left with the gritty, dirty, day-to-day moments, and those are my favorite. There are beautiful moments, but there are also hard moments. Pioneer families, cowboys, and the western movement, are all romanticized by media as an "American dream" and the Little House books feed into that story. Covered wagons, cotton print dresses, and baking bread all seem very nice, but the reality was often much harsher.
I often find textbook history unexciting. Learning about wars, great events, and famous people gets dull quickly. I believe the reason so many people say that history is boring, is because it was taught to them through this widespread method. Most people don't learn to love history through big events, but through personal connection. Whether that’s local history, a museum, genealogy, etc. My hope with this project is to create a personal connection for people to Laura and to the 1880s.
I would like to share the ups and the downs of what life was like in 1880 Dakota. I want people to see the more complex character of Laura then what they see in the books and TV show. I want to show people a comparison to their 2017 lives. I want them to see the difference between the everyday items they use and the ones used in the 1880s. That’s what I find most interesting about history, and would like to pass on.
My name is Rosalie Silliman, I'm a history enthusiast with a love for sewing and costumes.