Sunday, January 25, 2015

The To-Read Pile for 2015

"But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself."
-C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Every January I make new resolutions about what I'm going to read in the forthcoming calendar year.  I've been doing this for at least seven or eight years (so we're talking as far back as sixth or seventh grade... yikes), and generally not meeting the standards I set for myself every year or even remembering wehich books I'd intended to read (cough...), but since the advent of my Goodreads account in 2012 or whatever it was, I've gotten a lot better at keeping track of the books I go through. Last year I set myself a goal of reading 50 books throughout 2014, but I only managed 36... this year I'm conveniently ignoring last year's record and setting another goal of 50 books.  Heh.  But this year I'm adding a little twist... the 50 can consist of any books I choose, provided I read all the books currently on my (and my sister's) shelves that I haven't yet read.

There turned out to be twelve titles spread between two bedrooms whose pages I had not yet covered. (...That sounded punnier in my head.)  This doesn't sound like very much, but believe me, after years of reading and rereading every single book we had in the house that was within my reach, having twelve books in my (and my sister's) possession that I still haven't read yet is kind of mind-boggling.

Also, to be completely and totally honest, there are more than twelve books in our house that I haven't read.  My parents have lots that I haven't ventured into yet, and even my sister has a couple more that I wasn't interested in.  (I knowwwww I should read Ivanhoe at some point.  But except for Anthony Andrews' face, which was pleasing to look upon, the movie bored me, and the book is really long and I just don't feel like getting into it right now.)  So these twelve books are just the ones that I actually, y'know, have inclination for.  (And they DO include all the unread books on my own shelves. Just for the record.)

Anyways. So.  On to the books and their stories.    The stories of how I got them, that is-- I'm not including novel summaries in this post.  You can go look 'em up under your own steam later if you want to.

We begin with The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a snazzy little number I picked up at a library booksale for 50 cents. Or maybe it was 25. I don't remember.  It was a pittance, anyway, and the book is a classic and I figured I'd better get around to reading the rest of it after actually enjoying the excerpts I had to read for 11th-grade World Lit, so I bought it.  It's fat and pink and looks scholarly on my shelf, despite the somewhat cartoonish cover.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte was another inexpensive find at a local used-book store.  Jane Eyre is one of my top favorite books ever ever ever, so it's about time I got around to reading more by the same author.  I've actually gotten about ten chapters into Villette (about a year ago), which is no large feat because there are about sixty-eleventy-hundred chapters all told, but what I did read was enjoyable, so I'm looking forward to picking this up again.

The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp (sequel to the former) by Madeleine L'Engle were FREE.  FREE GRATIS AND FER NOTHIN'.  My aunt was cleaning out her basement and doing some major downsizing on her bookshelves, and when I was at her house last August she marched me into the rumpus room, sat me down in front of the shelves, handed me a Coffee Bean Direct tote bag (that's the company she works for-- and hey, look, I gave them a shout-out! There ya go, Aunt Meg! It's a thank-you to them for giving you so much free tea which you then pass on to your loving and grateful niece!) and told me to take whatever I wanted, because she needed all the books OUT, and naturally I obliged because I am an obliging and helpful sort of person, hence my newfound possession of two novels I knew very little of, besides the fact that they were written by Madeleine L'Engle, whose Meet the Austins I enjoyed immensely and whose A Wrinkle In Time was kinda weird but really well-written.

I am the queen of the run-on parenthetical sentence.

I had the privilege of winning The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes in Hamlette's giveaway last summer, and though I read the greater portion of this extremely captivating book while at the beach during said summer, I still haven't finished it.  I tend to get caught up too easily with library books which have a ticking deadline, and the patient already-owned books on my own personal shelf get shoved to the wayside in the process.  Sorry, Exploits.  I'm coming back, I promise.  

I saw the movie of Lorna Doone two years ago (and reviewed it!) and Anne-girl has read the book and enjoyed it (I swiped this one from her shelf, speaking of which) but I still haven't gotten around to doing so.  It's not going to be quite exactly my cup of tea, I think (Anne and her Wilber are not quite sure what exactly my cup of tea IS)-- for I am told there's a part where John Ridd rips a tree up by the roots or cracks it in half or something just for the heck of it, and that kind of superfluous he-man-ism doesn't really make for enthralling reading in my book.  (Ha. Haha. See what I did there.)  BUT I'm willing to give it a try.  We shall see.

Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton has the distinction of being the very first sequel to Jane Austen's work-- it ties together Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park at least, and perhaps the other novels too.  I can't remember now-- I got about a third of the way through this a couple of years ago when I bought it, but it went by way of Exploits and lost its popularity to a library usurper.  Now I'm determined to pick it up again.  (This was another find at a used-book store.)

Oh, look, and I got The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan at a used-book store too. Don't pretend you don't see a trend.  This one was published in like 1917 or something and I got it for a dollar, so I felt it was a good bargain and I like reading plays, so it should be fun.

P.G. Wodehouse is, has been and will continue to be one of my favorite authors of all time.  I don't actually know anything about The Little Nugget, but if it's half as good as the Jeeves books or the Blandings Castle books or The Plot That Thickened or any of his other stand-alones, I shall be quite satisfied.  This one is Anne-girl's, by the by.

More Letters from Pemberley is a sequel to Letters from Pemberley by Jane Dawkins, and I haven't yet gotten my hands on the original, but I intend to do so, and then I'll read the sequel.  (Can you guess where I picked up this little purple volume? Can you? Can you?)

Alison's Adventures by Lucy C. Lillie is so very old and out-of-print that it isn't even listed on Goodreads. (GASP.)  So naturally when I saw it at a-- all together now!-- USED-BOOK STORE, I simply had to buy it.  Look how pretty and cute and published-in-1918 it is.  Now THAT's my cup of tea.  (Spoiler alert, Anne and Wilber.)

The Man in the Iron Mask is a sequel to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and I still haven't even finished The Count of Monte Cristo, let alone The Three Musketeers, and between you and me I would rather eat a Three Musketeers bar than actually read the book, but that's neither here nor there.  I don't actually know if this one will get read this year. Probably not.  But I stuck it in there to fill out the even dozen, and hey, it also looks scholarly on my shelf.  (Place a wild guess as to where I acquired this one.)

Sooooo, there are some of my reading goals for this year.  What are yours?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Refurbishing Saga: Or, How I Turned a Day Dress Into a Ball Gown

This is the story of a dress that started out with a career by day and ended up working the evening shift, a dress that was plain-Jane (as in Jane Eyre, as she was one of the style inspirations) and became Cinderella-at-the-ball.  As in, literally at a ball, because I wore it to a Victorian Christmas dance hosted by a local Civil War reenactment group.  (It was a blast, to use a very un-Victorian turn of phrase.)

And today I'm here to tell you how it happened, just in case you're interested in refurbishing a dress of your own.  I've always thought it a very old-fashioned, bookish thing to be restyling a dress to serve a new purpose-- very Little Women-esque.  So when my sisters and I were invited to this ball and I started thinking about what I wanted to wear, this dress popped into my head and I couldn't resist seeing what could be done with it.  (Last year we attended the ball as well, and I wore this outfit, but though it was fun and festive and fit nicely, it was difficult to dance in as the blouse kept coming untucked.  Heh.  So this year I wanted a one-piece dress.)

I started by examining the original dress and deciding what needed to go and what could stay.  The first main element that I needed to get rid of was the sleeves-- they're decidedly 1850's-full, and long for daytime wear.  What I wanted was an 1860's evening dress, so off came the sleeves.  I love my seam ripper.

With the sleeves off, the next step was to bind the raw edges to prevent fraying later.  I used a zigzag stitch on the sewing machine.  A handsewn whipstitch would be much more period appropriate, but ya know what, I live in the 21st century and no one's going to see the bound edges.  I went for the machine.

The original armscyes in this dress were much too big on me-- this was actually only the second Victorian dress I ever made, and I was still figuring that stuff out.  (The original dress was loosely based on Simplicity #2887... I say "loosely" because I eliminated most of the trim and the collar, replaced the princess-seamed front with a regular waistline and gathered skirt, and changed the sleeves entirely.  So basically the bodice was the same.  Sort of.)  Anyway, I took the armscyes in slightly and then trimmed the top of the armholes to create less of an off-the-shoulder slope where the sleeves attached.  (Didn't get a picture of that step, though, sorry.)

Then I took a ballpoint pen because I hadn't bothered to invest in chalk or a fabric pen *cough* and marked where I wanted the new neckline to fall.  Ignore the random flower pin stuck into Mademoiselle's patient and unresisting fabric-skin.  ...Actually, don't ignore it because I want to give these pins a shout-out.  They were a birthday present from Melody last year and I absolutely adore them-- SO much better than standard straight pins.  If you drop one, the flower head makes them much easier to see in the carpet, and they're longer than standard pins so you can cover more territory on long seams.

Neckline cut! Yiiiiiiikes.  Past the point of no return and all that.  Now it's time to bind it off.  I considered making my own bias strips to bind the raw edges, but I didn't have enough leftover fabric and it would have taken forever. So I simply basted the two edges together (there's a full lining inside the bodice, btw-- forgot to mention that) and...

...finished it all off with cream-colored lace bound around on both sides.  Simple and effective.  Plus it looks cute.  If I do this again I won't cut the neckline quite so wide, though.  It wasn't too low, per se, but it ended up gapping a little more than I'd anticipated.  I ended up wearing a 21st-century camisole under it at the ball for modesty's sake, heh.  In the future I'd probably take some small darts at the sides of the neckline to create a more square shape and allow it to lie flat along my collarbone.

Sleeve time!  I didn't get rid of the sleeves I removed, of course-- just saved them for later. I measured how long I wanted my sleeves to be and then cut that much out of the original sleeves, making them just a tad narrower than the previous ones.  Enough space to gather the tops, but not quite so much fullness as I'd had before.

The skirt, though not needing any adjustments to make the change from day dress to evening gown, was looking a bit plain, so I decided to add a strip of lace trim near the bottom to dress it up a little.  I just ironed the skirt, pinned the lace in place and sewed a really long running stitch along the top side and bottom side to keep it on while listening to  the A Tale of Two Cities soundtrack. (Highly recommended.  James Barbour's voice is the stuff dreams are made of.)

Then I took a long piece of 4" wide lace, pleated it, pinned it in place over the neckline and sewed it down by hand.  I don't have a picture of the process, unfortunately, but here's how it looked when it was done.  Now the dress is starting to look, well, dressy!

A close-up of the neckline.  I considered binding the edges again with ribbon or something, but discovered I didn't have anything that matched or complemented the color, so I just left it as it was.  

Close-up of the newly trimmed hemline.

Finally, I cut out cuffs for the sleeves, gathered the bottom of the sleeves to the cuffs, gathered the tops of the sleeves and inserted them in the armscyes and the dress was done!  I'd experimented a little with adding more lace to the cuffs of the sleeves, a la The Young Victoria, but it ended up looking silly so I got rid of it. :P

It's still not a truly authentic 1860's evening gown, being cotton print instead of solid silk, satin or taffeta, but I was very pleased with how it turned out-- and it served me well through the Gothic Reel and the Soldier's Joy and all those other delightful dances.  All in all, I'd call this project a success. :D

What have you been sewing lately?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

MFL 50th Anniversary Watch-Along: The Recap

(That's MFL for My Fair Lady, not NFL.  Never that.  MFL definitely trumps that.  Can I get an amen.  *We* know how to better occupy our time. :P

Well, here we are again with our recap of this week's fabulous My Fair Lady 50th Anniversary watch-along!  Whew, that's a mouthful.  :P

My Fair Lady 50 years

On Wednesday evening, Melody and Amy convened at Amy's blog with Hayden, Ashley, Evie, Jess and Ally to watch and discuss the first act of My Fair Lady. (We called it the first half but really it's closer to the first three-fifths, as the show isn't divided evenly down the middle the way it should be.)  Hayden sadly had to leave early, but the rest of us stayed around and nattered for 254 comments.  (And made the discovery that Blogger has learned to make multiple pages in comments when we talk too much.)  We were united in our disapproval of Eliza's father Alfred, rejoiced in the delights of the Rain in Spain, and made fun of Henry Higgins and his rudeness.  Also we agreed that Freddy Eynsford-Hill, despite his nice singing voice (Prince Philip!) and his moderately nice face, is a dweeb and we hope Eliza didn't go for him.  Naturally we fangirled over I Could Have Danced All Night.  Because who doesn't.  And wondered why on earth Higgins has so many servants.  Because he's a bachelor with a medium-sized house.

Overall, the evening was quite a success.  We experienced some technical difficulties and some people had to float in and out due to company and schoolwork, but we had a great deal of fun. (See the post and comments here.)  And by the next evening, we were all ready to do Act 2 at Melody's blog.

Act 2 began with Melody, Evie, Ashley and Miss Jane Bennet-- Amy had a prior commitment and wasn't able to join the party right away, but then she did and everything became more wonderful.  (If that line's still in the final polished product of this post, it's probably because Melody was too amused to take it out.  Now Amy will be embarrassed, because it was supposed to be a joke but there are probably those who will take her seriously and think she's an uppity idiot.)  Anyway, we temporarily shipped Higgins and Eliza as they danced together, enjoyed poking fun at the Queen of Transylvania, collectively muted Alfred's stupid bachelor party song, whooped and hurrahed over the gloriousness of Mrs. Higgins and her awesomeness, and campaigned for Melody to rewrite Higgins' misogynistic torch song as A Hymn to Her.  (We will take donations at the end of the post to fuel this campaign.)  Ashley also pointed out that Colonel Pickering is really not quite such a gentleman as he is often made out to be-- he talks a lot about Eliza behind her back and only really treats her as a lady in public or when it strikes his fancy.

And we sincerely hope, of course, that Eliza made Higgins get his own dashed slippers.  Because, ya know.  (And you can see the post and them comments-- THOSE comments-- here.) 

On each of our blogs we had a little poll just to spice things up a bit, and here are the results.

On Amy's blog - 
"Which is your favorite song from My Fair Lady?"
The winner (as predicted by Amy) was "I Could Have Danced All Night" with 7 votes (28%). It was anything but unanimous, though, and here were the other choices--
"Wouldn't It Be Loverly" - 5 votes (20%)
"On the Street Where You Live" - 4 votes (16%)
"Just You Wait" - 3 votes (12%)
"Without You" - 2 votes (8%)
"The Rain in Spain" - 2 votes (8%)
"Show Me" - 1 vote (4%) 

On Melody's blog - 
"Which of Eliza's dresses is your favorite?"
The winning dress was the green one worn during "The Rain in Spain" (and part of "I Could Have Danced All Night") with 9 votes (56%).
Others were:
Purple "Just You Wait" dress - 4 votes (25%)
Ascot Ensemble, Embassy Ballgown and the Pink/peach "Show Me" outfit each with 1 vote (6%).

Thank you to everybody who joined in and made the evening fun!  We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Fair Lady 50th Anniversary Watch-Along: So It Begins

Our watch-along begins at 8 PM sharp, Central Standard Time!  I will be making the comments public and unmoderated at about 7:45 CST... hopefully no spam will creep in, haha.  Please try and be here 15 minutes ahead of time so that we can all get set up and ready together.  Also, please get your video ready and playing (and then pause it right at the beginning) so that when we start at 8:00, we won't be wading through ads or previews, but can all just start at the exact same point.

This will be the big Discussion Post, so I won't say much more, only direct you to the comment box.  Oh, and please vote in the little poll I've got going over on the sidebar!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Will it rain, do you think?"

Don't forget, folks, that the 50th anniversary My Fair Lady watch-along starts here tomorrow night at 8 PM Central!  If you plan to join us, please be here about 15 minutes early so we can all get set up and get acquainted and all that jazz.  Melody and I are looking forward to it and we hope you are too.  We've been spreading the word (and even inviting a fictional character or two... oh the joys of 21st-century transmedia!), so hopefully it will be a fun and lively gathering.

I'm killing two birds with one stone and using this post to announce that I'd Like to Share, the post link-up that I hosted for the past year and a half, has flown its last flight... or whatever it is that post series do.  Fun as it was, I think it's run its course-- but you can go look at the page whenever you want to access old links and remember the posts that were nominated in days gone by!  I have some new plans for this blog over the coming months, too... so don't go anywhere. :D

(I mean, you can go places.  It's not like you have to keep this window open all the time.  I just mean, don't leave and never come back.  Although I guess you could do that if you really wanted.  I'm not the boss of you.  ...I'm gonna shut up now.)