Catholic Life, CL, costume, Fitz, float building, Florence, Food, Grace, Hayes Arboretum, Little J, Louisiana, Lowcountry Boil, parade float, sewing, St. Patrick costume, St. Patrick's day, St. Patrick's Day Parade, Sweet
So it turns out I do know how to make a St. Patrick costume after all. I was not sure about this before yesterday afternoon. I did not share this with Fitz. He had asked me if it would be possible to make one for one of our friends to wear on our float in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I had nonchalantly assured him that, sure, we could do that. No problem. And really, I tend to be fairly confident that I can make pretty much anything I put my mind to. Just I don’t guarantee that it’ll be pretty. I mean, usually it is, but sometimes… I did not share any of this with Fitz. Even when he suggested that, in addition to this St. Patrick costume, perhaps we should also make a very large Irish flag to drape across the back of the truck pulling our parade float I didn’t falter. Inside my head, however, it was a whole different story.
Still, that didn’t stop me from heading off to JoAnn Fabrics on Friday with my 40% and 50% off coupons and buying mass quantities of felt, and then having the bags ready to go Sunday afternoon when Sweet came to pick me up, along with my sewing machine, and a bag full of sewing necessities. We met up with Florence, and then headed off to Indiana to build a float.
Once we got there, we headed to the big workshop where Fitz had float preparations already going. A platform had been built across the top of a large trailer, which Grace was painting green. Plywood had been sawed into two huge shamrock cutouts, which Little J was covering with Astroturf. Fitz quickly set Florence and Sweet to blowing up balloons for the ballon arch, and then asked me what I needed to sew. I told him mostly I needed a large table, and an electrical outlet. He pulled an old table top from a corner of the workshop, set it on the sawhorses that had recently been used to cut out the shamrock, and I had a sewing table.
The next couple of hours were pretty much a blur of activity. I vaguely knew that everyone was very busy around me with various float building activities, but my mind was mostly occupied with figuring out how to turn a few yards of felt into some semblance of priest’s vestments. The chasuble was the easy part (btw, did you know that the first mention of the word chasuble we have is from a Medieval document called, coincidentally, The Life of St. Patrick? And that it was St. Patrick himself that made them famous as liturgical wear?). I held the felt up to Fitz’s shoulders to get an idea of the length, cut it to fit, cut a slit in the middle, made him try it on, and marked where to cut the neck shaping. Then I rounded off the bottom, and it was pretty much done. The stole was a little more difficult. First I had to measure some shoulders to figure out how wide, exactly, shoulders turn out to be. I’m glad that I did, since my first estimate (8″) was way too broad. It turns out that human shoulders (one shoulder, from neck to tip) is about 5 or 6″ broad. So I cut two strips of white felt 5″ wide, draped them over Grace’s shoulders until I got a look I liked, joined them together at an angle in the back, sewed them together with gold thread, and trimmed off the short ends. Then Grace took the gold fabric paint I’d bought, and painted her best approximation of Celtic knot-work on both sides. She did a great job, and the end result is really beautiful.
The most difficult part was the bishop’s hat, his miter. I figured I could sew one out of felt, but how to keep it properly upright? The answer, I decided, was poster board. I measured a few heads to get an average head circumference, and decided to make the hat 23″ around. This meant that each side needed to have a width of 11 1/2 inches. I drew my pattern on the poster board using that as my base width, and drawing it up to a point at the top, and then used that as my template to make a second. Then I laid that on my white felt, and drew the outline about an inch away from the edge to give me an ample seam allowance. I glued each piece of cardboard onto a piece of felt, and then turned the inch at the bottom up to cover the bottom of the cardboard (much more comfortable for the wearer). The glue on this hem wasn’t working very well, and I didn’t have time to let it set, so I just sewed the hem together, cardboard and all. Then I sewed two strips of green felt to the back piece for the lappets, and then sewed the two pieces together at the sides with the cardboard facing inwards. I tried it on a few people, only to discover that I had made it about an inch or so too big. That was easily fixed by taking it in at the side seams (I ended up sewing right on the edge of my cardboard liners). I used the last of the gold paint to draw a shamrock on the front, and it was done.
Somewhere in there I also sewed two huge Irish flag strips to use as skirts on the float, and about the time I was putting the last touches on the St. Patrick costume, the float trailer was ready to emerge from the garage where the rest of the crew had been working on it so that the giant shamrock and the balloon arch could be installed. This was a major undertaking. The first time we tried to install the shamrock on its post on the float, first it didn’t want to seat itself firmly, and then it was dangerously tippy. Fitz ended up removing the mount he had in place, and entirely replacing it with a sturdier one. This worked great, and soon the float was ready to take its maiden journey with all of the builders on the back around the roads of the arboretum.
The float survived the trip with only a few balloon casualties (those low overhanging branches…), and we all decided we were done with float building and ready for supper. Fitz had decided that we were going to have a Lowcountry Boil for dinner, so everyone crowded into the kitchen to prepare. Before we knew it (though not too soon for the hungriest), we were sitting down to dinner.
Traditionally, a Lowcountry Boil (potatoes, corn, onions, shrimp, and sausage all boiled together with seasoning and then drained) is poured out down the center of a table covered with newspaper, and people eat with their fingers. I’d done this before in Louisiana with Crawfish Boils, so I was ready, but some of the other girls didn’t like this idea at all. It was very funny watching some of the realize that if they wanted silverware they were going to have to bring it from the kitchen.
And now we just have to wait for Thursday to show off the results of our hard work. Those of us who are going to ride the float will be meeting in a designated parking lot at 7am to caravan up to Columbus. I understand that there will be a procession to Mass, then the parade, then a big party afterwards at which there will be much beer. And then we come home again. I’ll let you know how it goes!