The Mystery in the Cathedral

mystery in the Cathedral

Do you know what's going on in this picture? John sent it to me to ask if I could help him date the dress the woman is wearing (looks pretty early-1930s to me, or else set WAY in the Art Deco Future), but I'm so intrigued by everything going on in this photo (the box! the altar! the little-girl pages with swords! the priest!) that I asked him if I could post it and set y'all loose on the problem.

This is what John knows:

The photo was taken in the Cathedral in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The man is Msgr. Thomas M. Conroy, which dates the photo anywhere from 1921 to when the altar was changed about 1933 or so. No idea who the lady is, or what on earth they are doing, let alone in that gorgeous apparel. [ETA: the lady's name may or may not be Rosemary NEDILASEN or NEUBAUER.]

The photo above is pretty small; if you want to download a REALLY BIG one, that you can enlarge to see the detail on the box (a reliquary? an offering of some sort? a time machine?) you can grab it here. [UPDATED: here's a closeup of just the box.

My first thought was perhaps the woman was taking vows of some kind (to become a nun, or to join the Space Vestals — I'm sorry, I can't pull myself away from that Art Deco Future) but John thinks that novices usually didn't wear so much makeup. Or so much velvet.

What do you think is going on? If you KNOW, that's wonderful, but in the meantime, idle speculation is encouraged.

Little Match Girl


matches-print dress

Julie (of Damn Good Vintage sent me a link to this amazing dress … I'm just showing you the fabric, because that's what I'm coveting. (It's listed by Capricorn Vintage, click on the image to check out the actual dress part of this dress.)

My list of "fabric I'm gonna make when I have a spare minute (and figure out how)" is getting really unmanageably long. I mean there's these matches, and then there's the little pies, and the robots of many descriptions, and then there's all the alphabet-y, font-y things I want to make, and the gingko … and on and on. And I haven't gotten any further than buying this book on fabric design in Photoshop. (It looks good. I haven't read beyond the Introduction. Oh, and I found this mysterious plug-in, too, but at 600 Euros I'm not buying it any time soon.)

What fabric designs have you been searching for?

[Oh, and edited to add: the 2008 Bloggies award nominating ends this Friday … if you enjoy this blog, might you consider nominating it? I have no idea what category suits best … maybe "topical blog"? (Although "topical blog" sounds like some kind of blog ointment, for when your blog has a rash!)]

"Pssssst!"

McCalls 3430

Libby sent me this image, a pattern she bought at Funkoma Vintage just for the illustration. I would have done the same. What on earth is going on in this picture? Nothing good. What was the illustrator thinking? "I know what will make women want this dress! Let's show them how catty and backstabby they can be while wearing it!"

I would like to know what YOU think these women are saying to each other … leave your dialogue in the comments if you are so inspired.

This also reminds me of An Idea that I've had for a while. Why isn't anyone selling large poster-size prints of great pattern images? If you scan them at a high-enough dpi you can send the images to any number of online photo-processing places and get a poster-sized print (which costs about $20, I think). And wouldn't you want a huge blowup of a great pattern as a sewing-room picture? (Heck, I'd put them all over the house!) Someone should be doing this on Etsy, frankly, and if nobody IS doing this, I present this idea to anyone who wants to start this as their home-based business, free of charge. Go right on ahead. I bet you could charge $35-40 for it, and more if you framed 'em or had them put on foamcore backing.

(Of course since most of these images are probably still copyright there might be SOME difficulty but I think that a good case could be made for these being a derivative work. And the pattern companies sure aren't doing anything with their images …)

If you do start doing this, let me know and I'll post about this here.

How to Choose a Sewing Machine

Okay, so lots of people commenting on the previous post (and in email) wanted to know how to choose a sewing machine. Or what model they should buy, specifically. I can't tell you what model to buy … in the same way I couldn't tell you what kind of car to buy, or what flavor of Life Savers you should like. You have to choose one that fits YOU. (Scary, I know.)

First off, remember that most of the choices ahead of you are good. Your life will not be ruined if you buy the "wrong" machine. No one will mock or scorn you for not optimizing your purchase to the utmost. Remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and with sewing machines (and with other things like digital cameras and so forth) the more time you spend reading about them the more high-end features will seem like necessities … and so your "dream machine" will get more and more expensive (and further and further out of reach).

These instructions are predicated on my assumption that you don't have a lot of money to spend on a machine. If you just won the lottery, have a rich uncle, or are independently wealthy, just buy whatever you see first. If it turns out wrong you can just go buy another one.

So. To buy a sewing machine, first you need to figure out whether you are an experienced machine user or not. If you have never used a sewing machine, then that answers the question: you are not. In that case, WHAT machine you buy is a lot less important than WHERE you buy it. You want to buy locally, from someone who offers classes, and who will guarantee the machine and offers a good warranty for repairs. (The exception to this rule: if you want to buy a machine from a friend who is upgrading her machine and promises she will teach you how to use it … and you believe her … go ahead and do it. Otherwise, buy from a local shop.)

Go to your local shop (if you're lucky enough to have one!) and tell 'em right off you're not buying that day, only looking. If you are a complete novice, tell them that. Ask to try out some machines. Better yet, if some place near you offers sewing classes, take one before even thinking about buying your own machine. You'll get comfortable with the classroom machine and will know what you like and dislike about it, and then you'll be able to articulate what you want in your own machine (automatic threading, a knee lift, whatever). Take notes. Tell them what you sew (dresses? handbags? quilts? fabric art? Someone who alters a lot of jeans needs a sturdier machine than someone who makes organza wall hangings, for instance.), ask for recommendations, try things out, write down model numbers, and tell them you'll be back. Ask if there are things that people usually ask that you're not asking. (This is a good question for buying just about anything. You'd be surprised how many people selling things don't answer the questions you should be asking. "Most people who come in to buy a howitzer ask about the kick. This one has quite a bit of a kick … this one over here is a little softer.")

If you're new to sewing, definitely try for a used machine from your local shop. Ask about their trade-in policy. Most shops will be happy (or SHOULD BE HAPPY) to sell you something a bit simpler and then have you trade it for something fancier later, rather than sell you something so intricate you'll never use it and never come back.

If you are an intermediate-level machine user (you've taken a couple of classes, made some skirts or tote bags), you probably know roughly what you like in a machine, and I recommend buying a used machine that was higher-end when it was new. Something with a good straight stitch and a good zigzag and maybe a buttonhole function, but not a lot of fancy embroidery stitches (unless embroidery stitches are your reason for sewing). Again, trying things out at a local shop is a good idea for you. You can also do the whole Craigslist/PennySaver/estate sale thing, too, if there's a good local repair shop you trust, because the price of a used machine plus a tuneup (my tuneups usually run $80) is cheap enough to be worth it. (Try to see if someone selling you a used machine will let you bring it back to them if the repair shop says it's not repairable. An estate sale won't let you do this, and if the machine is under $100 probably a Craigslist seller won't either. If the machine turns on and runs it is probably tune-uppable. If it won't run at all, makes horrible grinding noises, or smokes … not so much. Also, don't buy something that seems to be missing a lot of parts.) If you buy this kind of machine, you'll know when you've outgrown it — you'll start wanting to make things that need special presser feet or you'll start being picky about the quality of your topstitching. Then you can upgrade.

Beginning and intermediate machine users: do not buy machines that are:

— in a mass-market store like Walmart or Target. They are usually intended for small home alterations, not serious sewing. There are exceptions, but if you're not an experienced user you won't know if you have found an exception. Also, these model numbers change a lot so it's hard to find good reviews online … (if anyone knows different or has "good" models that are available at these places, please leave them in the comments)!

— are advertised as "special class machines" or "special buys". They're not and they aren't. They're usually low-end no-name models and won't come with classes or a good warranty.

— themed with any kind of licensed character. The money they spent to license Barbie or Hello Kitty or whatever is money they didn't spend making the machine comparable to other machines at the same price.

If you are an experienced machine user, then you need to figure out your price range. Figure out your price range and then ONLY LOOK AT MACHINES IN THAT PRICE RANGE, unless you want to suffer wow-feature creep. Wow-feature creep is what happens when you see that the next machine up (that is $200 more) not only has automatic buttonholes, but also orders you new buttons from the internet every time you use one (for example) … wow! Now only a button-ordering machine will do … if you are tempted by wow-feature creep, can you make a list of FIVE projects you've ever made that special feature X would have helped you complete? Just one doesn't count. And a special wow-feature that requires ANOTHER purchase (like extra software, etc.) needs to have ten projects to justify it or it double doesn't count.

Once you have a firm grasp on your budget (you may have to wrassle with it a bit; I find it helps to point out to myself that I bought my first machine for $140 and used it for fifteen years; what does your price look like spread over fifteen years? A lot better, right?) sit down and make a list. What do you like about your current machine, and what don't you like? I liked that my old New Home was quiet, simple, and made nice stitches. I didn't like that the bobbin was complicated to load, and that it didn't make good buttonholes. So what I was looking for was a machine that did everything my New Home does AND made good automatic buttonholes and had a drop-in bobbin.

Then (and this is important) set yourself a time limit. Say "I'm going to research machines for [one hour, one day, one week, one month]" and then STOP. If you leave it open-ended you will never buy anything. Think "satisficing". To satisfice is "to decide on and pursue a course of action that will satisfy the minimum requirements necessary to achieve a particular goal" [OED]. Don't look for a perfect machine; look for a GOOD ENOUGH machine. (Don't forget to figure in things like back-orders and so forth; a machine that has 9 of your 10 important features may be the best option if the all-10
machine won't get to you for two months.)

When you've found the good-enough option, BUY IT. And don't let yourself go back and read reviews of OTHER machines after you've placed your order. (That way lies madness.) Instead, re-read good reviews of the machine you've picked out and wallow in your happy choice. Make plans of what you'll sew first, second, third … Clean up your sewing area for the new arrival. Buy some new machine needles (unless the dealer threw in a pack for free, which they should, honestly). And buy it from wherever you like (although the local store is still a great option for instant gratification, if for nothing else).

Once you have your new machine, don't be intimidated. This is not brain science, or even rocket surgery. Get some fabric scraps and some thread and sit down right now and work your way through the manual. Try every single thing it says your machine will do (this may take you a while). Don't put off trying something out just because you don't think you'll ever need it; once you see how easy something is you might find that the need magically appears. A sewing machine is not a terribly complicated device. Most microwave ovens are more complicated than a sewing machine! (I can never get my "defrost" setting to work right.) Don't stress about it. You can do it. Just jump right in and push all the buttons. If something doesn't work the way you think it should, better to know right away, too, while there's still a chance to return it. (If you find out in five months that the blind hemming foot has a crack in it, good luck returning it then.)

And that, my friends, is how you buy a sewing machine. (I've now bought two, I must be an expert, right?) Please feel free to leave other machine-buying tips in the comments …

Oh! And I almost forgot: Denise at The Blue Gardenia is having a BIG pattern sale! Buy 3 or more items, get 35% off! It runs through midnight (PST) TONIGHT.

A Thank-You Note

Dear Dress A Day Readers,

I hope you had a marvelous holiday, with lots of loved and lovely people around and laughing and eating delicious things. I had a fantastic time myself, and part of that was thanks to all of you!

I know the gift of your kind attention wasn't really a holiday one (more of an all-year thing, thank you!) but BECAUSE of your attention, all sorts of really nice people have wanted to advertise on this site … which led to me being able to buy a BRAND NEW SEWING MACHINE! (I decided to use any money raised by ads for this site for good — that is, more sewing — instead of evil.)

Here it is, isn't she lovely? (Click on the image to visit the helpful folks at Sew Vac Direct.)


ebay item 8305987417

So far I have made TWO shirtdresses. Yes, two. With the collars and the buttonholes and everything, and one was even Liberty-print! (The other was polka-dot. I'll have pictures probably early next week.) The machine is like a dream for buttonholes. I've always wanted my own robot, and now I have one! A robot that makes buttonholes, the best kind.

So — thank you all so much! (And thank you to our lovely advertisers, too.) I love the new machine and I promise to use it A LOT.

Yours,

Erin