1915 Picnic Dress, Part V: Finishing Touches

After the dress was structurally finished and the main embellishments were attached, I still had a few more things to do to finish it off.

First I made a belt, as it was necessary to cover up the closure at the waistband. I’d originally considered incorporating it into the dress itself, but ultimately decided that I’d rather have a little more flexibility in sizing, so a separate belt that could be cinched in or loosened a bit was preferable.

To make the belt, I cut a long rectangle of fabric and machine-sewed a bunch of 3/8″ tucks into it. I stitched the tucked piece to a flat band of fabric, right sides together, then turned and pressed it flat.

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I considered finding a sash buckle or pin to close it, but ultimately decided that it would be an unnecessary focal point on the dress when I really wanted the focus to be on the embroidery. Instead I closed the belt in back with snaps, though I left enough overlap to use a buckle later if I wanted to.

Next up were covered buttons, which seemed to be a popular decorative accent in the period. I bought 5/8″ covered button kits and covered them in a double layer of peach lawn– the second layer was necessary because otherwise the shiny metal button base showed through the sheer fabric, though I will note that even with very thin fabric, the extra layer made it difficult to snap the button-back into place. I stitched them to the dress in sets of three. They’re not functional, but I think they added an extra-Edwardian touch to the outfit, even if my fingertips were killing me by the time I’d covered all 18 buttons.

picnic-dress-buttons

Remember the lace I put on the sleeves while I was stitching up the bodice? Well, once I’d added the embroidered appliqués I realized that the lace was too white in comparison to the warm ivory tint of the organdy. I unpicked my hand-stitching and soaked some new lace in strongly-brewed jasmine tea to give it just a bit more of an aged look. I’ve discovered that black tea gives far too much of an orange tint to lace, and the organdy was more yellowish than anything, so jasmine tea was the perfect brew to use for this. I soaked the lace for ten minutes and then let it dry completely before giving it a rinse in cold water and letting it dry again. That gave it just enough of an off-white shade to keep the difference between it and the appliqués from being glaringly obvious.

Then I stitched the lace back into place on the sleeves, and added more of it between the tucks at the hem of the underskirt to tie the whole thing together. I decided this time around to just stitch it so it showed evenly over the edges of the tucks instead of undulating in and out of sight. It’s just easier, and it looks better on the skirt that way, so I changed the sleeves to stay consistent.

picnic-dress-hem-lace picnic-dress-sleeve-lace

So the dress is finished! Stay tuned for final pictures!

Lemon Rosemary Palmiers

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I love storebought puff pastry. It’s so easy to use, makes everything look impressive, and best of all I don’t have to deal with endless hours of rolling, chilling, and stressing over whether the butter is going to leak out in a mass exodus, leaving behind bone-dry pastry and the smell of burning fat in my oven. (which is what’s happened the last few times I tried to make it from scratch)

Anyway, it’s obviously a great thing to have in one’s freezer for occasions where a quick and fancy dessert is required, but it works just as well for less elaborate applications when all one wants is something to nibble on with tea. This is one of those times. I had an extra lemon in my fridge (leftover from my latest batch of lemon curd) and some fresh rosemary that was starting to wilt, and while looking for recipe ideas I saw one for lemon-rosemary palmiers. Well, those sounded great, as well as being incredibly easy (ingredients: puff pastry, lemon, rosemary, sugar), so I got started!

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Clotted Cream

clotted-cream

Clotted cream. Is there anything more quintessentially British-sounding than clotted cream? You never hear of it being eaten anywhere but with scones at tea time, and it sounds sinfully rich and somehow snooty at the same time. I had it for the very first time at a tea party, where it came out of a tiny jar (which did nothing to change my idea that it was a rare luxury), and blew my tastebuds away.

Seriously, this stuff is like a cross between butter and whipped cream. Rich enough that fills your mouth with decadence, but light enough that it’s not like you’re eating a mouthful of fat. You can pile it onto a scone in a way you could never do with butter, but it’s got more heft than whipped cream so it doesn’t just melt away on your tongue. It is also NOT SWEET, so anyone who claims that sweetened whipped cream is “basically the same” is lying…

I could sing its praises all day, but instead let’s make some!

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Blackberry Tea Cakes

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I attended a tea party recently– the best kind of tea party, with tiered servers and tiny sandwiches and itty-bitty desserts of all kinds– so of course I had to bring something of my own to contribute. The more elaborate dishes were already taken care of, so I thought it would be nice to have a plateful of relatively simple tea cakes on the table.

I immediately thought of friands and financiers– two traditional French cakes made with almond meal that I’ve always wanted to try– but the guest list included some nut allergies, so those were out. Still, I figured that I could use brown butter (another traditional component of French cakes) for flavor and a high sugar content to get a touch of chewiness, and with a little searching found a recipe that I thought might work as a base.

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Green Pea-Avocado-Radish Tea Sandwiches

radish-sandwich

This past weekend I was trying to decide what kind of sandwich to bring to a historical picnic. It had to be easy to eat– nice, neat bites and no dribbly sauces or chunks that might fall out and stain my outfit– and not require too much refrigeration. It couldn’t get soggy over time, or squish too easily in my picnic basket, and of course it had to be both tasty and somewhat refreshing in the hot weather.

I settled on radishes as a must-have ingredient, basically because I like them and they’re crunchy, and after a little googling I found a recipe for a radish sandwich paired with a green pea and avocado spread. While I was a little concerned that the avocado would brown unattractively, the combination sounded interesting, so I gave it a try.

I actually really like these– they’re nice and peppery, both from the radish and the dash of hot sauce, and the avocado adds richness while the peas add sweetness. You can make the spread the night before and cover it tightly to avoid browning, and even the radishes can be pre-sliced as long as you store them in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator to keep them nice and crisp. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly before assembling your sandwich!

If you like, you could make these on tiny triangle toasts and serve them open-faced as well!

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Fluffy Scones

scones-with-jam

Did you know that heavy cream lasts basically forever in the refrigerator? I know there’s an expiration date on there, but in my experience it almost never actually goes bad– rather, it just thickens up. And if you’re like me and accidentally leave a pint of cream in the back of the fridge for *way* too long, it keeps thickening and basically turns into clotted cream. Really. It does. At least, that’s what I discovered last night when I got out the cream to make Penne with Vodka Sauce and found lush billows of thick, decadent cream instead of my expected liquid.

I promise I’ll do a post on how to make clotted cream intentionally at some point, but for now let’s stick to the story of what I did with the unexpected bounty in my refrigerator. What goes best with clotted cream? Scones, of course.

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Belle Epoque Wisteria Gown, Part IV: Tea/Coffee Dyed Lace

tea-lace-L-to-R

Part of my design for this gown included some frothy lace at the shoulders and bust, so I purchased a 25-yard length of lace on eBay for a really low price. Unfortunately, when it arrived it was blindingly white– something needed to be done. Well, something needed to be done to about 5 yards of it, anyway– I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever need more than that for the neckline of a dress…

I decided to tea-dye the lace to take the edge off of the white. I’ve never tea-dyed anything made from synthetic fibers before– only cotton– so to figure out how to dye my nylon lace I did some internet research first. I ended up following this tutorial by Cation Designs, which seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

First I used Darjeeling tea, which seemed to be an appropriate color when brewed, but when I’d followed the dyeing process and rinsed the dyed lace, it looked awfully dark and orange. Like, rust-colored. I didn’t have any confidence that it would dry significantly lighter, so as long as I had all of my supplies out I tried another option– coffee. I basically followed the same steps as for tea, but using instant coffee instead. I didn’t let the lace sit in the coffee mixture for as long, removing it after only about 3 minutes, and it ended up not only lighter, but less orange-y in color.

Side by side of the wet lace (Tea on left, coffee on right):

tea-lace-dark

 

It was around this point when I started regretting not having done any test swatches– I decided to try again, this time starting with a relatively mild coffee solution (the equivalent of one cup of brewed coffee diluted with about 6 cups of water) as opposed to the full-strength coffee I’d been using before. Instead of adding the vinegar at the end I soaked the lace in a water-vinegar solution ahead of time, per this tutorial. Then I dipped it for a bare 30 seconds into the diluted coffee before removing it and rinsing it in cold water. A decent amount of the color came out in the rinse, but it still looked somewhat creamier in color than the original white lace, so I decided to dry it and see how it turned out.

tea-lace-wet

Much better! Perfect, in fact. So I’ve learned my lesson– for just a hint of creaminess, dip the lace quickly and get it OUT of the tea/coffee solution before it picks up too much color. This totally goes against my experience in dyeing the seam binding for the ribbon embroidery– the only thing I can think of is that the seam binding was almost sheer, so just wetting it made it look a lot darker. Unlike the lace, which has pretty opaque threads that look much the same dry as they do wet. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that I need to chalk up to experience.

In any case, I now have five yards of light ivory lace to use on my ballgown. Let’s go!