Friday, February 13, 2015

Meet Eleanor Roosevelt and How She was Made.

So remember four years ago, when Michaela had to dress up as Clara Barton for her Biography unit in Ms. Lawler's class? And I couldn't figure out exactly how to do that with clothes I had on hand so I sewed this costume for her? And she loved it?  And frankly, I loved doing it for her?

Look at how teeny tiny Michaela was!

Guess who else was carefully watching?  Jenna, who was in kindergarten at the time.
And guess who has Ms. Lawler four years later? Jenna.
And guess what the month of January's book project was? Dress up like your Biography book subject.
Jenna was thinking of doing Jackie Kennedy, and I had it all set in my head... a tweedy pink suit with a pillbox hat, gloves, a smart little black bag and of course, pearls and sunglasses (though the sunglasses I had in mind were really later NYC Jackie O, not First Lady Jackie).

But then Jenna read some really inspiring quotes about Eleanor Roosevelt and did some of her own research and decided that was the way to go.
And I admit I was a bit stumped.  Because after looking through lots of pictures and books about her, it was hard to find a defining look for Eleanor, other than her furs, pearls and hats.  And rather dowdy droopy-bowtie-at-the-neck rumply suits.  And I didn't have a fur.
So I went to my trusty Joann fabric store and looked through the patterns and narrowed it down to two choices- one an early, early Eleanor (like around 1910) dress with a yoke and lace and a long skirt and 86 steps of instructions.  Yikes.  The other was a slightly older possibility, around 1920's but pre-flapper, with chiffon and silky fabric.  And only about 67 steps to construct it.  I was thinking it would be appropriate for NYS First Lady Eleanor.
Thankfully, Jenna chose option #2.
We went back to Joann's for Jenna to choose her fabric and to buy the notions (thread, snaps, hooks and eyes- no zippers prior to the 1930's, I think- and boning) I needed.  Yes, I needed boning because the dress has a real live one corset underneath it.  Seriously.

So the picture below was a few days in to sewing, and I hadn't even cried in frustration once!
You can see the picture on the front of the pattern in  the right of the photo.  I was making the light green version.

I worked on it for about a week and a half from roughly the time the kids got on the bus to when they got home, with a short break for lunch.  One day I worked all day and then when I had Jenna try it on that afternoon, I had not gathered it right and it laid funny, so I had to rip out pretty much everything I had done that day.  But I still didn't cry!
The chiffon was a nightmare to sew because it's so fine, and I had to do lots of experimenting with the thread tension.  Honestly, the satin was not much better.
The corset was time consuming but once it was done, I am proud to be able to say I've made one.   The corset needed lots of adjustments because the pattern was a size 6 women and Jenna is really a size 14 girl.  I had to shorten it, too, but not just lop off the bottom- it had a vent slit in the back and it would have ended up being 2 inches of a slit if I just shortened it.  So I had to rework the pattern a bit to find a place to take about 5 inches out of the skirt.  The other issue was that of course Jenna does not have a bust yet, so there was some draping in the front of the dress that I am not skilled enough to re-work to remove.
But it eventually all came together.

The morning of the presentation, we used this picture to guide us for hair.  Eleanor had pretty frizzy/ curly hair, so I tightly curled the front and sides of Jenna's hair, roller curled the back, side parted it and pulled it back in to a messy bun.

I had to get special permission to come to the classroom for her presentation because Jenna literally couldn't get in or out of the corset and dress by herself.  It made it much more clear why each woman on Downton Abby has a lady's maid.  They were trapped in those clothes!

So here's Eleanor, about to go into her classroom.  The hat is an old Easter hat we curled up on one side and the fur is a mink stole of my grandmother's that my mom let Jenna borrow.  And of course a string of pearls.  Fancy Schmancy!

Better shot of the front of the dress.
There were chiffon cascades sewn into the side seams of the skirt.
The light blue you see poking out of the top is the top of the corset.

And the back.

Giving her presentation.

Once the kids guessed who she was, she wrote her name on the board and her teacher took her picture with the book she read.

I think Jenna had a great time dressing up all fancy in a custom-made dress.  I have to admit it was a bit anti-climactic coming home that day, the presentation over,  a little unsure what to do with this precious dress.  So for now it is hanging in Jenna's closet and she can slip it on anytime and play dress up.  With help from her lady's maid, of course.

And guess who might have Ms. Lawler four years from now?
And guess who is praying he'll choose to read a book about a soccer star, and we can throw some kind of jersey and mesh shorts on him and call it a day?

But with my luck he'll chose Abraham Lincoln, and I'll throw myself in to making a custom black suit complete with period-correct top hat.


Anonymous said...

You did an AWESOME job on this, Cheryl, and I am so in awe of your talents. You show your love for your children in so many ways, and I am certain that they will remember this love forever. I am beyond proud of you. Can't wait to see who Alec chooses to be on this project! Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Dear Cheryl...normally I'd say you're the mother all the less talented mothers love to hate! But you're such a dear, wonderful woman that I'm guessing they'll forgive you for your total intimidation! Jenna looked amazing....and I'm as impressed with your not-crying as I am with your sewing skills! Love, LW

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