Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Summer in Amsterdam

September has started, summer is over now and it's back to university now after 3 months of what were probably my last real holidays ever.
All in all, this summer turned out to be less exciting than it could have been: of the day trips I had originally planned (and announced here earlier), not a single one became reality, either due to lack of time or due to bad weather. Yup, Dutch summer weather proved to be extremely disappointing: While practically next door Germany was experiencing its hottest summer in centuries, we got barely a handfull of days with temperatures significantly above 20°C. And during those few warm stretches, I was mostly in Germany, and couldn't even go to the beach here once.

But, on the bright side: We had a whole lot of people coming to visit us here this summer! And with its many summer festivals and events it really is hard to get bored around here - even when the weather is bad.

As soon as the sun comes out, we usually go into one of the many water-side beergardens here. Our favorite, as it's just around the corner, is the Waterkant. It does not have that many tables but you can always just grab a beer at the bar and sit down somewhere on the pier (or bring your own drinks - nobody really minds as the quay technically isn't part of the bar). It usually has sun until rather late in the evening, so it's also crowded during the week and many people arrive in boats to refill on booze there or to pick up their friends.

Another favorite is Roest in the eastern part of the city (sooo far away), which boasts a swing hanging from an old industrial crane going into the canal, for swinging into the water on hot days (yuck, canal water!).

And up in Amsterdam Noord, a 10 minute ferry ride away is Pllek, built from old shipping containers, with the most comfortable bean bags and canvas chairs on its little beach overlooking the IJ river. On one of those bean bags I managed to get my first sunburn in years - I guess my skin just was not used to the sun anymore.

Then there was the Grachtenfestival: A week of concerts, most of them classical or jazz, many of them for free and on stages built onto the canals. We went to see the opening concert on the Kloveniersburgwal, and since the stage was on the canal, the audience was mostly gathered on boats and the surrounding bridges.

Probably my highlight this summer was the Amsterdam SAIL 2015. It only takes place every 5 years, so we were rather lucky to experience it now: It is probably the largest free maritime event in the world and brought this year around 50 tall ships and hundreds of other vessels: antique steamboats, submarines, ships of the Dutch navy and basically everything else that was able to swim.
It was a magnificent sight to see them all come down the IJ river on the wednesday before the event - and I may have just rediscovered my love for sail ships, if I should ever win the lottery I'll buy myself a luxury cruise on the clipper Stad Amsterdam through tropical islands.
My poor smartphone camera pictures barely do it justice, so I'll just embed one of the official videos here.

During the weekend there were hundreds of side events: parties, concerts, parades, tours, children's events, ...
Oh, and: there were so many sailors in their uniforms out and about in the city... ;)

We spent a whole day wandering around the docks (they had even partially dismanteled one of the bridges on the eastern islands so the ships could pass through!), went onto several of the large ships and marvelled at everything to be seen. The boyfriend and I agreed on a ship from Sweden, the Götheborg, being the prettiest of them all - you can see her sailing in rather in the beginning of the video, in blue and yellow.

And, to stick to the naval topic: We finally managed to go on a boat here! With visiting friends, we rented an electric boat and, within our 2 hours, we managed to go almost once along the Prinsengracht and back. Much to my dismay, we didnt quite make it until the Amstel without the danger of being late to return the boat. Maybe we should get one for ourselves.

And I'm finishing this up with a picture from Museumplein, where the new wing of the Van Gogh museum was opened last week. To celebrate this, thousands of sunflowers had been arranged on the museum square in front of it in a maze - an impressive sight!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

London Calling - The Cumberbitch Dress

In the beginning, there was a First-World-Problem

and a piece of fabric from the Lapjesmarkt.

Fortunately, the internet is a seemingly bottomless resource for free sewing patterns, and while looking for more vintage fashion patterns in the style of the dresses in Masters of Sex (as I wrote earlier - my new addiction, thanks to my friend Rebecca), I found this awesome blog with lots of free 30s-50s inspired sewing patterns. Among them was a this cute 1950s inspired cocktail dress that was a perfect fit for the coupon of fabric I had picked up on the fabric market some weeks ago.

The pattern itself was around 1 size too large for me, this time I adjusted the size directly on the cut fabric pieces (I like to live dangerously!), which worked out quite well, although I feel that I could have taken it in a little more. The pattern is very well explained with an A4 page of instructions. Almost too much for my taste, since I daresay I know my stuff and I'm too impatient to read longer texts, but it will probably be a great help for less proficient (and less impatient) seamstresses.

Please note the pattern matching in the front and in the back - the zipper in the back spoiled my efforts a little, but if you don't look too closely it's okay I guess.

Overall cost: 1€ for the fabric, 2€ for the zipper.

In the end, things worked out a little differently than planned: We arrived in London on saturday morning and were greeted by sunshine and warm weather, so we spent the afternoon in Camden town, which was rather busy, given that it was holiday season and a weekend.
Mad Tea party in Camden

Camden Lock

 Canals, boats, biertje - we instantly felt at home. Shopping on the famous Camden Market however wasnt much fun, the exchange rate for the British Pound isn't exactly favourable at the moment. Towards the evening, we met up with our friends and then went for dinner somewhere near our hotel. Followed by another beer, in a pub nearby. Once we had settled down with our drinks at a table, who walks in? 
None other than Benedict Cumberbatch.
I'm proud, we girls were well-behaved and did not jump into full fangirl-mode, let the guy have his after-show pint and just found it incredibly cool to breathe the same air ;) After all, we would see him on stage on Monday evening.

One of the few sunny spells - Walkie-Talkie, Tower Bridge and The Shard

The rest of our stay in London was completely rainy, so we spent most of the time in Museums. I went to see the Shoes - Pleasure and Pain Exhibition in the V&A and now would like a copy of the high-heeled victorian leather boots they had on display *sigh* We also went to the Science Museum (always worth a visit, even if its just for seeing Charles Babbage's brain floating in a jar) and to the Tate Modern.

No pictures allowed inside :(

Mandatory book haul at Waterstones Piccadilly Circus
All in all I have to say, living in Amsterdam really spoils other cities for you. London seemed dirty, loud and noisy in comparison, and not exactly pretty either, with its inhomogeneous architecture (Old church next to steel-and-glass-skyscraper next to ugly 1960s concrete block...) and so much traffic. My last visits to London always gave me this adrenaline rush of finally being in a metropolis again, but now that I'm living in the prettiest capital of them all, I just don't feel it anymore.

And to conclude this post: Hamlet was simply divine! Probably my favorite theatre moment so far: the whole cast was amazing (after all, the Royal Shakespeare Company should know their stuff), the stage design placed the story in a hauntingly beautiful castle, and even the Shakespeare-novice and theatre-agnostic in our midst was well-entertained. I have to admit, I cannot really judge the quality of the production itself, since it has been more than 10 years since I thoroughly read Hamlet, but that may be for the better (I tend to over-criticize).

Super-bad interval selfie with champagne!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Back to 1951

A while ago I went on a nightly ebay-spree and ended up buying several vintage sewing magazines. I originally had started out looking mostly for 1940s magazines, inspired by the amazing kick-ass tv series Agent Carter, but soon saw that there were barely any magazines around from that decade. It does not pay any compliments to my intellect that it took me a while to figure out why so few German fashion magazines from the 1940s were up on German Ebay - yup, I guess at that time German women had more pressing worries than how fashionable they were.
The magazines I bought were a Vobach magazine from 1936, where the patterns turned out to be rather underwhelming, and Beyer's Mode für Alle from 1951, with several dresses that immediately caught my eye.

For the beginning, I picked out the blue cocktail dress shown on the right side - it's supposed to be embroidered with pearls and sequins, but I'll probably leave it plain. The pattern sheet containing the pattern pieces turned out to be quite a challenge. With more than 100 different pattern pieces on each side and everything printed in black, the sheet might as well have contained the strategy plan for the Russian invasion and it took a lot of patience and good lighting to locate and trace the pattern pieces that I needed.
So, time for a mock-up. Other than modern patterns, vintage sewing magazines contained only a single size for each garment. Having to scale everything up or down is more work, but then again 

First mock-up: Definitely too large. Not exactly flattering for Ada, my mannequin.

Cut everything up, re-sewed: yup, a lot better. The skirt will have to be shortened though.

My favorite stall on the monday-morning fabric market provided me with some black-on-black polkadot fabric, for the affordable price of 8€ for 4 meters. A rainy sunday afternoon and some binge-watching of Masters of Sex (my new addiction - a tv series around the Masters-Johnsson research, set in the 50s and 60s...) gave me the best motivation to start working and I needed around 6 episodes to bring the dress to its current state:

It's still too long, but I guess I'll need an occasion to actually wear it as a motivation to do the hem. It's a full circle skirt with around 6m circumference, and as hemming isn't exactly my favorite activity, I'm putting it off until I absolutely have to do it :)
And I might need a petticoat to wear it with...

All in all material cost so far: 8€ for the fabric, and I still had the zipper.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Summer plans!

You may have noticed, it's been quiet around here.

I had my reasons. I will not elaborate on them, but in the beginning of May something happened and I'm still dealing with its reverberations, on a practical as well as on an emotional level.
Since then, I spent a great deal holing up at home, binge-watching my way through Netflix (I even bought a TV! Imagine that!) and trying to ignore the fact that apparently someone in the Netherlands had forgotten to order summer weather for this year. Well, not completely. We still did some fun things since my I-might-miss-something-neurosis always makes me itchy after a while, especially in a city like Amsterdam. And I did not cancel my trip to WGT in Leipzig either, although this year is definitely not going down as my favorite WGT ever. I might catch up on here on some parts of the past months, we'll see.

Year 1 of 2 in my MSc is over now as well and I am proud to say that I've finished it with an 8.5 grade average - considering that a 10 is almost never given in the Dutch academic grading system, this is pretty good. If I manage to keep this average next year, I can graduate cum laude.
But for now I'm on summer vacation until the beginning of September, which I plan to enjoy as much as possible (and I do hope that the weather will show a certain level of collaboration on this one!). 

What I've planned so far:
Until mid-Septemer, the Rijksmuseum is showcasing its collection of fashion plates - with my Museumkaart and the Rijksmuseum around the corner, it's a must-see for me.

A festival in the Keukenhof in Lisse, organized by the same people as Elfia, but with more bands. I'm very much looking forward to this one, especially since we'll have friends from Germany over for the weekend.

It's just around the corner, but I've only ever been there at night for concerts or for changing trains. Will make for a nice daytrip, I guess.

Leiden & Delft
..will both also be good for a day trip, cute little student towns.

Den Haag
The Gemeentemuseum seems to have a decent costume collection, plus as the seat of the Dutch government and one of the largest cities in the it's probably worth visiting.

I've heard so much raving about Bruges, that I really need to see it - it may be a bit too far for a day trip (3+hours one way), so I might stay over night and combine it with Ghent. And it's Belgium, so there will be chocolate stores!

...because I have tickets to the most in-demand theatre play of all times, ha! Going there for a long weekend in mid-august, not sure yet what else I want to see while I'm there.

And, in other news: As of yesterday, my hair is purple!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Elfia - Elf Fantasy Fair in Haarzuilens

Phew, so last weekend was super-busy! My feet are only slowly recovering from everything we did, my head was fortunately a little faster, also thanks to Aspirin and Paracetamol!

Everything started on saturday, when we went to Haarzuilens, a town close to Utrecht, for Elfia. Also called the Elf Fantasy Fair, it is apparently Europe's largest Fantasy event and attracts up to 12 000 visitors per day - quite impressive.
When I came across it some months ago I didn't really know what it was, but it seems to be quite well-known actually, at least several friends expressed their envy when they heard that I kinda-sorta-maybe intended to go.

All in all, Elfia is probably best described as a mixture between a renaissance faire, a comic convention and a goth festival: You can get the typical medieval market food, can do archery or watch swordfights and jousting (which we missed, but we saw the pretty horsies!). A games room is installed, talks and workshops take place in several tents or in the castle itself, take part in a Quidditch tournament or get autographs from the guests of honour. This year, some (minor) actor from Game of Thrones was a guest, including a replica of the Iron Throne. Previously, apparently Terry Pratchett or Robert Jordan had been guests, wow!

We took the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Utrecht, took then a sprinter train to Vleuten, from where the shuttle bus to Kasteel de Haar in Haarzuilens left. In costume on public transport - after having a car for the past several years, that was quite a setback!
But it showed me yet another reason why I love Amsterdam so much: While back home in Karlsruhe I got weird comments and catcalls as soon as I was wearing a dress and lipstick, in Amsterdam I can be out in broad daylight in a victorian ballgown without anyone batting an eye. What a relief!

The area where the Elf Fantasy Fair takes place is really gorgeous: A watercastle and its surrounding gardens, with little bridges, cultivated parks, romantic ponds and even a hedge labyrinth (the latter wasn't much of a challenge due to lack of leaves at this time of the year).
Sadly, the weather was not exactly optimal for an outside event and was mostly coldish, grey and drizzly, but towards the late afternoon we caught at least a glimpse of the sun. Who schedules this sort of event for April in the Netherlands anyway?!.

We somehow missed most of the official program. As first time visitors, it was rather overwhelming and we took hours just to see the whole area. We tried ALL TEH FOOD though!

I made a new friend - he's a buzzard!
The costumes were really remarkable, even for someone who has been to the WGT and Gala Nocturna - We saw princesses & knights, TARDISes & Doctors, fairies & fauns, zombies and cowboys, and all sorts of other curiosities like a gender-bent steampunk Darth Vader or an elf who had brought her parrot along as part of her costume. Nearly everyone there, except for the photographers, was costumed!

In the evening, Abney Park played on one of the stages: not as much fun as when I saw them last time, which I attribute to one of their singers having left the band, but it was a very cozy setting and the audience was all in all a lot more open in showing their enthusiasm than the German audience in Leipzig was some years ago. By the end of the concert, my feet were mostly dead and I was glad when we could board the Party-Shuttlebus back to the train station. Already looking forward to Castlefest in summer!

Thursday, 16 April 2015


I learned a new word this week: Rokjesdag, the first day in spring when all the girls wear a skirt with bare legs underneath for the first time (although I can assure that the picture on the matching Wikipedia article is not at all representative for that...).
So, this first really warm day of spring weather was last friday and we immediately took our workgroup meeting outside onto the campus square and complemented it with ice cream and a bottle of Rosé from the campus supermarket. Super-tough student life!

Yesterday we had again around 20°C, no lectures and no imminent assignments due, best conditions to start my day with a piece of the supposedly best Appeltaart of Amsterdam at Winkel. I must say, I've gotten really fond of Appeltaart by now - although it does not contain any chocolate and often even has raisins in it. But with a nice crunchy crust, cinnamon filling and a big portion of slagroom, it's really hard to resist! And the one at Winkel yesterday was still warm inside, mmh!

Afterwards I did the best thing I could imagine: I went to the beach with friends! Admittedly, it was still a little cold with all the wind... but it did feel like a small mid-week vacation!

No beach trip without fresh seafood!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Gala Nocturna - The Swan Princess

Well, of course I did not sew the dress from my last post without the prospect of an occasion to wear it! Just like the last two years, we went to the Gala Nocturna, a dark-romantic costume ball in Belgium. This year, it not only moved to a new venue, but also to a new city: After having taken place in a baroque church in Antwerp for several years, the Gala had moved last year to a beautiful 19th century hall and an adjacent orangery in the Antwerp Zoo and this year to the Concert Noble in Brussels - an 18th century ballroom and therefore probably the most 'conventional' venue for the Gala so far.
But conventional does by no means mean it was boring: several grand halls in Louis XIV style, connected by brocade-curtain adorned doorways, stuccoed ceilings, antique portrait paintings on the walls and the grand ballroom sported the largest crystal chandeliers I have ever seen. In short, everything you would imagine for a fairytale ballroom.

Only too bad I'm not into fairytales - but we'll set that aside for the moment.

The motto this year was The Swan Princess, mostly inspired by Swan Lake, and so most female and some of the male guests showed up adorned in gazillions of white and/or black feathers, many ballerinas and some rather creative dark swans could be spotted as well. Last year ("La belle et la bête"), everyone had horns, this year everyone had wings.

When we arrived, the historical dance lesson had already started and we joined in for one or two dances, until I got a little bored and a slightly annoyed, since people kept randomly entering the dance lesson without knowing the steps that had been taught before - chaos ensued, and off to the absinthe bar we went!
I was rather glad that the bars were a lot better organized than during the last years - one absinthe bar and two regular bars, both with incredibly fast and efficient staff. A direly needed improvement! The main bars served several themed longdrinks of which I only tried the White Swan, Prosecco with elder syrup, Not exactly exotic as a combination but nevertheless a nice addition to the drinks list.

Apart from the dance lesson, the program also featured an opening dance of the swan princess and the evil sorcerer - ballet, of course and a swan buffet, "for true swans only". We kept on making jokes what that might mean beforehand and we were right: It was a buffet featuring grasshoppers, maggots, worms, and other niceties of that sort. I did not bother to queue for the buffet, but I was told that the grasshoppers were deliciously crispy and comparable to chips.

What else happened? We chatted with friends and strangers, had a look at the little market that was set up between the entrance and the ballroom (not much temptation there, except maybe for the stall with gorgeous copper jewelry) and had our picture taken in the picture corner:

Don't we look elegant?  I think this is the prettiest picture I have of us two so far! I'm wearing my Victorian Oriental gown, my dashing partner is wearing a frock coat I found for him at a theatre sale last year. I really need to make a cravat for his outfit though...

Oh, and we danced! Someone took a video of the dancefloor, beautifully capturing the general splendour of the room, and you can see us waltzing by several times, looking very professional. If you're in Germany, you will probably not be able to see the video (Hallo GEMA!), but there's another version of it here on Facebook

All in all, I think the word "nice" applied best to the Gala Nocturna this year. I did have a good time, but I missed all the little surprises that made the last 2 years so special: the walking acts, the living statues, the spontaneous sword-fight shows...
The organisation has definitely improved since last year and I did not have the feeling of spending half of the evening in a queue. You still needed to exchange your money for drink tokens before buying anything at the bar, which is probably a lot easier for the bar personnel, but the fact that you weren't able to change leftover tokens back to "real" money at the end of the night was slightly annoying. Although, at least this year it was clearly communicated that they wouldn't be taken back anymore: I remember standing next to a poor girl 2 years ago, who still had 50€ in tokens at the end of the evening and Viona at the cashier station simply refused to exchange them again.

Also, the motto and the venue this year weren't quite my cup of tea. As I said, too much cliché  fairytale, too one-dimensional (hey, lets take a goth dress and glue some feathers on!), not historical enough. I guess this is owed to the Gala having grown rather big by now: a motto like this is just easier to relate to for a wider audience than "The Pope's daughter". Still, next year I'd like a proper historically inspired motto again, please!

But I'm not really complaining, my expectations got fulfilled: I got to wear my pretty new dress, met friends, danced until my feet hurt and got a little drunk on absinthe and prosecco. Let's see what the 2016 edition holds, after all it will be the 10-year-anniversary!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A passage to india - My Victorian Oriental Mashup Bustle Gown

The idea of an orient-inspired historical gown has been lurking in the back of my mind for quite a while now - during all my holidays in south-east asia I've seen so many lovely fabrics in vibrant colours and exotic patterns, traditional costumes and headdresses and embroideries, I really wanted to create something using this as an inspiration.

And a project like that wouldn't even be inauthentic: there have been several waves of orientalism during the 18th and 19th century, the late 18th century Robe à la Turque being one of the resulting fashion trends. I however preferred to go more towards the late bustle era, because

1) I've made several 18th century style dresses now: a Chemise dress, a regular Robe à l'Anglaise, a zone-front Anglaise, and a Robe à la Francaise...time for a new time period!
2) I wish I could insert more profoundly researched reasoning about victorian orientalism and imperialism here, but: I like bustles -

  • Bustles have lots of draping
  • Indian Sarees are drapey, too!
  • Embroidered sarees are gorgeous!
  • Indian vintage sarees are dead cheap on ebay
  • Therefore: saree bustle, here I come!

While looking for inspiration, I also came across the Duchess of Devonshire's Diamond Jubilee costume ball in 1897: The british high society assembled and dressed up as characters from history, literature, art and mythology, everything documented by photographers (so basically, just like today). Most costumes were exclusively made by haute couture designers like the House of Worth and some of them have survived until today. Especially the mythologically inspired dressed caught my eye: the hostess herself dressed up as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, the green embroidered dress reminds me a little of peacocks.
A nice collection of portraits from the ball can be found in this blog, including some analysis about the costumes.

So, anyway, I went on ebay and ordered 2 sarees, a red one and a plainer black one, and then I started working!

One of my sarees, before I cut it up - gorgeously embroidered!

Step 1: new underwear!
Of course I have dozens of victorian corsets, but none of them are really suitable for underwear, and I also needed a bustle.
While making the corset, I discovered one of the advantages of living in a large city now: I can spontaneously go to the store and buy a corset clasp, without having to order online, imagine that!

I found the lobster bustle pattern on American Duchess, while the corset pattern is probably my 5th Laughing Moon Silverado corset - it just fits comfortably and results in a nice silhouette. I made it from 2 layers of floral and herringbone coutil and a mix of spiral steel and flat steel boning - business as usual and nothing special.

Finished - lobster bustle and corset

Step 2: Foundation skirt
The black saree that I ordered as well got cut up first and I made a basic foundation skirt from it. The nice thing about working with sarees: they're already hemmed and this one even has some sort of facing on the hem, so it doesn't get damaged as easily. Amazing stuff for a lazy seamstress!

I actually intended to also make an additional cotton petticoat to go under it - but the flu and a family emergency got the better of me, so I didn't have enough time in the end.

Step 3: Drapery
This is where my lovely red saree went: The Truly Victorian 374 pattern for an asymmetrical overskirt was just perfect, since it allowed me to make full use of the beautifully embroidered border of the saree. It came together easily and nicely and I was glad that the saree silk was so light: in the back, lots of fabric had to go into little pleats, which would have been quite annoying with a heavy fabric!

I used the Pallu, the pretty embroidered front part for the front part of the drapery - I love how all of the pleats are falling, the TV sewing pattern is really amazing!

Step 4: Bodice
This was the part that I was a little afraid of: I had to modify the bodice pattern a little, since I wanted it to be closed in the back instead of the front. Also, I wanted it to fit perfectly over the corset to show off my corsetted waist :) . But once again I had the luck of fitting into the sewing pattern almost without any modifications, only for the sleeves I should have taken a little more width. They are designed to be off-the-shoulder, but for comfort it would have been nice to have them more closely fitting.

All in all, the bodice is made from 4 layers: Saree fabric, fusible interfacing, interfacing and lining, plus 12 steel bones to make sure the fabric lies smoothly.
Once the bodice itself was finished, I hemmed what was left of the red saree, folded it up and hand-stitched it to the bodice. I had originally planned for a more sophisticated drapery here, but in the end I stuck more closely to how actual sarees are worn - and I quite like it!


This was the first project where I used piping - gives it a so much cleaner look!

I finished it just in time for this year's Gala Nocturna (and by "just in time", this time I don't even mean "had to hand-stitch the rest on the train", but "the evening before", I guess my planning is getting better)) - but I'll write extensively about our trip to Brussels in the next blog post!