Stitching Through Time…Appreciating Your Wonderful Talents!

My Grandma Novak, now in her 90s, has spent a lifetime developing a skill that in current days, is rather uncommon…

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She is a master embroiderer, an artist of cross-stitch…

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She’s learned every technique, using every sort of thread, bead and pattern…

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She worked in the quaintest of stitch shops for some years, offering advice and assistance to others learning and practicing the craft…

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She attended events for embroidery, entered her fine works and won awards for her special pieces…

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I’ve viewed her stitching, hung around her house, all of my life. I even tried my hand at cross-stitching once and had a little fun with it, though the bug didn’t bite me (this art form requires a very particular, loving patience)…

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As I recently snapped a few photos at Grandma’s, I got up-close to some of her works and was awed. I was awed at my grandma’s hard-earned talent, but also for everyone out there who works to learn and perfect an art over the years…

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I got to pondering, how often do we wonder what it’s truly worth, concerning our individual passions and talents? I mean, who will ever really see and appreciate those things we work hard at? You might spend hundreds of hours practicing or producing something that hardly gets but a fleeting premier out in the world. I sometimes think that way about my books…

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But I guess when I thought about it, I truly felt that if you love what you are doing, you must enjoy every moment of it, no matter who may ever deeply appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Sew, knit, dance, write, sing, cook, plant, bake, click your camera, marathon, draw, create…Stay Inspired…enjoy your passions and pursuits, for you.

But just in case we ever feel that our special talents are hardly appreciated, I’m certain that we’re wrong. You inspire someone else, right now! Of course, no one can truly grasp the time and hardship it took to do what you do, except you. But others do see and admire what you do and make in this world…I promise!

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 Grandma Novak, your stitching is the most special in the world. Mom, you are a true artist with a beautiful imagination and your costumery is incredible. Grandma Ina, your garden is alive with color and bounty because of your caring hands, and you’ll always be the best cook I know. Charlie, your drum solos are amazing and your commitment to music and percussion is awesome. Dad, your master creations in the garage are truly extraordinary.

Thank you for inspiring, me.

Pretty As A Picture

These photos are of my cousin, who is some years younger than I (though now a young woman). Lita (my mother, artist & costumer) made this Elizabethan gown for her for an outing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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This little lady was so patient (in quite warm weather and having never worn a full costume before), and so polite (walking here and there with grace), and so pretty! I don’t know how she did it; when I was her age (and well beyond it) I fussed a great deal with my costumes (squawking when something didn’t fit) and romped around like a wild thing on the run (hardly graceful). She was a natural! A true noble!

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The headpiece was spectacularly stitched with pearls lining the top and a veil hanging from the back. The white and green color combination smiled upon youth and innocence. The entire silhouette was perfect, with a crisp bodice and perfectly measured skirts over just the right size of farthingale. Such a well crafted costume!

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And look at that pretty smile, the perfect accessory for such an ensemble!

I think kiddos make the best historical reenactors; mini nobles and peasants, awesome! They make the reenacting of history more authentic. For instance, it is ever obvious when adults are acting in their costumes (as much as they try to be a merchant or lady-in-waiting, etc.). But when children are dressed up and start playing, talking and running, they forget that they are in costume and just behave naturally (just being, not acting).

My cousin was a lovely addition that day, and certainly convinced all that she was a noble young lady from the days of yore!

A Merry Band

This photo was taken when I was about to turn 13. I’m the one to the top, furthest left. Lita made all of the peasant costumes shown here and all of the kiddos were the children of a couple who were friends with my folks. My mom put in a good bit of work to make sure everyone had a costume for our special outing. What a merry band of children we made! Running, yelling, laughing! It was summer and a festival day!

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I grew up an only child and things were quiet for me. Being just one, I was also very independent. So, it was always a romping experience to gather with this troupe of brothers and sisters for a summer barbecue, a weekend camping outing, or a trip to the amusement park. But the best excursion of course, was to the Bristol Renaissance Faire! What fun we had!

Always A Lady

I had this dress on my mind today, remembering when I was but a youth. I was about 13 years old here, but I recall this dress like it was yesterday. I don’t want to make the other gowns jealous…but it’s my favorite.

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I love that in this dress, all that was around me was exciting and I wanted to learn everything about Renaissance history.

I love that it meant time with my mom at our favorite place; the trees, the music, the costumes, and those summer grilled foods.

I love that I was wearing something that my mom made for me during the dull winter, but that when spring came and I tried it on for the first time during alterations, I had something to look forward to…summer, dressing in a costume, being dazzled by a world of courtiers, merchants and fools!

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I love how I felt: happy, healthy and alive on this single day. It teaches me to strive to take advantage of each day that I have right now. I don’t want to take anything for granted.

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I have a distinct memory from that day. A court actor in an elegant gown said, “All you need is a hoop, and then you’ll be a lady.” It was a harmless remark; noble Elizabethan ladies wore farthingales under their skirts. She meant that once my costume had a hoop, I’d look like a noble. Sadly, I didn’t understand. I wondered why I wasn’t already a lady, when I thought I was. I felt sad. Children don’t always understand what adults mean.

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I was a persistent child however, and my mother ordered me a little hoop in a tiny catalogue of historic recreation pieces. It was a big deal to send in a check and an order form, waiting for that hoop. No internet orders back then!

I had my hoop, and Lita crafted many more gowns, and with them were more hoops. And I grew up.

But remembering this dress and this day, farthingale or no, I certainly was a lady. I’m thankful for the wonderful women in my life, who set the example. They wore no hoops at all, just jeans!

Lady Of A Summer’s Day

Another one of Lita’s magnificent creations, the one we call the ‘mother’s dress’. This image was taken when I was 22 years old, the role was a reenactment of a Lady Mary Hastings of Queen Elizabeth’s court. She was a married woman with children, and Lita designed the gown to appear modest and mature (a closed partlet, natural colors, no excessive flash).

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Of all the costumes, this one wins the award for perfect fit! When one is reenacting history, and wearing a costume, it shouldn’t look like a costume. What the actor is wearing should look like their everyday clothing. In this gown, I actually felt like a normal woman going about my day, no tugging, adjusting, agonies (from cutting corsets or sharp and loose boning). The gown was not too heavy, no back aches or tripping over hems, the weight was perfectly balanced.

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I was very fond for how the collar was delicately tacked down with little gold beads instead of plastered around my neck. I can’t stand any clothing around my neck (I would have made a fussy Elizabethan having to wear all those starched lacy collars). I also loved the fabric textures and colors; natural color combinations can look every bit as rich as bright ones. And, I loved all the muted gold cording at the sleeve ties and around the hem of the overskirt, as well as the olive velvet lining the hem and running up either side of the forepart.

It was just the kind of simple yet noble gown I could see meandering around an English manor house in, and one Lita envisioned for that lady of history, something Lady Hastings might have worn on any normal day.

Candy Canes On My Shoulders

Just starting college, I was fortunate enough to join the Guilde of St. George, a group reenacting the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Their home is the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI, though they also volunteer at schools, libraries and other venues, to share Elizabethan history. Here is Lita’s (the costumer) fabulous creation!red3.jpg

These first three images were polaroid photos! I guess we didn’t have time to spare, we needed the photos in hand immediately. They were taken in the spring just before my first summer in the guilde. Ah, the anticipation I felt! I’d already been attending Elizabethean dance and reenacting workshops all that spring.

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These were taken before the dress was completed. It is fun now to look at before and afters, as they remind you of the phases that a gown must go through to get the right fit. I was to wear this dress for about 10.5 hours each Saturday and Sunday for 9 weekends in weather that grew into the mid-nineties, and humid at that, over outdoor terrain (rocks, roots, hills). Even after dress rehearsals, I better understood how the dress and I were getting along, and Lita made some adjustments.

Here, the hem was yet to be measured. Lita already knew (with that clever-artist-sewing-brain), but I learned that the front must be higher (or you trip 50 times a day) and the back longer to cover the bum role to get the correct silhouette. Also, one must make the chemise sleeves longer than your shirt sleeves would normally be. Once you get the bodice on, it pulls the sleeves up and they’ll be too short otherwise.  I also learned that before you work with fabric, you must wash the fabric (even a few times). This is because, unwashed fabric inevitably either bleeds color or shrinks dramatically once exposed to rain or a spilled goblet of water.

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We also discovered that in spite of the excellent wire boning that was used within the bodice, a serious corsette (as every noblewoman reinactor in the guilde wears), is the only way to keep the bodice from folding at the tummy. The following season, Lita made one excellent corsette (which I think straightened me out and made me grow taller by 2 inches).

In the end (seen below at the faire), the cream petticoat (underskirt) was removed for this striped one. Did you know that Elizabethans wore stripes? Yes indeed! The cream would not do out of doors, as it became grimy with dust the first day. And, I had a serious thing for chocolate ice cream at the time, oops! The sleeve ties were removed in favor of hidden hooks and eyes as I get ribbons caught on everything.

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Though I’ve always said I have a favorite amongst all the gowns that Lita has made, it’s actually not true. I have a place in my heart for every one. What did I love about this gown? First, the pearls. I am a sucker for pearls. Those strands around my body…if it was acceptable to wear pearls like that today, strung and swinging around my torso, I’d be the lady to do it. I love how the pearls are dotted everywhere, even the hat. Secondly, Lita’s chemise was incredible. It is painstaking work to hand-fold the cotton at the neck and at the wrists before sewing it into the body of the shirt. That with the pretty little bands of color that played off the gown, loved it. But my favorite part? The upper part of the bodice was her best bodice work in my opinion. The stiff candy cane shoulder rolls and exceptional design kept the bodice from falling down my arms or shifting (I’ve got sloping shoulders and get pretty darn grouchy when my costumes shift about).

It was so exciting to be a part of the guilde that first season, and I learned a great deal of history. But you know what made such delightful memories? The workshops, the dance classes, and all the planning with Lita. We’re like history gossip girls when we get together, we can talk costumes and history for hours!

All The Pretty Things

For some time, I had this blouse that was ill fitting. If I were honest, I don’t even think it fit properly the day I purchased it, but I loved the colors and the fabric so much that I bought it anyway. And every time I wore it, it just didn’t feel right. After many wears, I simply gave up.

For those who know me, I’m neither a shopper nor a keeper. I don’t like shopping for clothes at all, and when I’m through with a garment, I have no trouble throwing it away if it is ruined or giving it to charity if it isn’t. Only, I couldn’t part with this blouse! I’d look at it in the closet all of the time and knew that if I wore it, I’d just feel uncomfortable all day. But what to do with it?

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I have a lovely friend and mentor who is fabulous with a sewing machine. One day, she told me that together with her young daughter, they’d made little bags to give away as party favors for a birthday party, using fabric scraps. When I saw photos, I felt the outcome was exceptional…the kiddos at that birthday party went away with a very special gift to remember the event! And then, I thought of my blouse.

This photo is the result. This mother-daughter team repurposed my beloved blouse so exceptionally that I felt the quality was better than what I’d find in a shop. With what they were able to render from my top, there were three bags of different sizes made. I love them. I use them all of the time.

However, these are more than pretty bags. They embody re-use, and happily with an item I couldn’t part with. But also, they are caring craftsmanship by two ladies who were proud of the work of their hands, thus making something beautiful and useful. Rather than just another thing I own, they make me smile when I use them because they are special. They remind me of how lucky I am for the friendships in my life. And they remind me of what it means to not just gobble up yet another thing at the big chain store, but to value the good things in my life.