Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Ottoman costume finally gets an outing!

As promised some weeks ago, a photograph from my recent day out with Ya Raqs at the Formby Viking Medieval Market. You can read all about the day here.

With Myriam and Phoenece in the Ya Raqs tent

The costume has been packed away for some time, and I've never had the opportunity to wear it for a full day's event. The Absurdly Large Trousers (which somehow are barely visible here) need a fasten at the ankle cuffs to stop then from slipping over my feet, but apart from that the whole thing was very comfortable.

I'm thrilled by just how much my costume matches the source images I used for inspiration; the fastenings are too ornate really, but the overall shape is pretty good.

Turkish dancers, image possibly from the Bodleian Library

Dancer, c16th, image possibly from the Bodleian

Thanks to Kebi for the photograph.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

#vintagepledge - Vogue 2401 finished

From initial post to finished item in one week! It's a long time since I've managed that. There is an explanation for this burst of creativity. Yes I'd bought some silk with no idea when I might wear a silk dress, but then in a moment of, "Buy it, and it will come", (a worrying precedent, given my weakness for buying fabric!) a reason came along.

My friend Suzanne Iuppa, for whom I made a costume last year, was organizing Chester Writers' contribution to this year's Chester Literature Festival; a series of readings on the theme of 'Gothic'. I ended up reading two excepts from classic novels, and dress of blood-red silk seemed not just suitable for this event, but almost entirely necessary.

Backstage at 'Gothic'

As this was the third time I'd made up the bodice, it was as time-consuming as ever, but not difficult. I did make a further small change however; reinforcing the back darts and then snipping them open at the widest point, to make the bodice back lie better.

I hadn't made the skirt for the mock-ups, but it was straightforward. There was of course one change. Whether it's a simple day dress or a fancy frock, I'm on a pocket-adding roll at present. (Although I must admit that the shape of this dress makes the pockets oddly far back, but never mind.) Usually the skirts of Vogue patterns are far too long on me, but this one was just right.

Like my version of Simplicity 1777, the skirts are laid over the bodice and top-stitched, proving that this construction method persisted until at least 1952. I finished the completed waist seams with bias binding, as the fabric frays a lot.

Interior shot, showing bound seam and clipped darts

The silk is very heavy and stiff, more so than the quality of the weave would suggest, so I suspect it has been heavily treated to give it more body. This gives the dress quite a sculptural quality; as though there is a separate flared coat over a straight dress.Certainly it didn't need a net petticoat to hold it out.

The dress on Nancy

One thing I did discover, as I made my way to the event, is that it's not an ideal dress for someone who walks everywhere. I had to clutch the fronts together, and even then I was grateful for the long slip I'd worn underneath. I think that I need to make this alteration before I wear it again.

Whenever that may be, at least I've had a reason to make the dress and wear it once. I love it, and it was perfect for the Gothic look which Suzanne wanted. Hopefully I'll have some more photographs to post soon.

23/10/16 - As the images from the event don't really show the dress, here's a standard back-yard shot instead. It's also a better representation of the colour.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Vogue 2401

I’ve had this pattern on my ‘To make’ list for a long time. Then on my last trip to Goldhawk Road I found myself in Fabrix, which sells a silks in a mind-boggling array of weights and colours. Trying not to drool over the fabric, I decided that I really fancied pushing the boat out and making a silk dress (while wilfully ignoring the minor detail that I have absolutely no reason to ever wear a silk dress!).

After a lot of deliberation, I eventually decided on a deep red heavy dupion, and decided that this was finally time to break out Vogue 2401. It’s only taken me four months to get round to starting it, which is quite good going for me.

Pattern and fabric

The pattern is defined as ‘average’ (or in French, rather wonderfully, as ‘less easy’). At first glance, it doesn’t look it. Like Vogue 2859, it has some oddly-shaped pieces.

Pattern piece shapes

I couldn’t work out how all of these would fit together, much less how to apply my usual Vogue alterations of shortening the bodice above and below the bustline. The easiest solution seemed to be to make a toile of the bodice with no alterations, work them out on the toile, and then transfer them back to the pattern.

I made the toile in woven gingham as this makes it easy to identify the grainline. As ever, I tailor tacked small circles, big circles and squares in different colours of thread; this turned out to be invaluable when making the bodice up.

Actually, the pattern isn’t that complicated, so long as you follow the instructions carefully. Like the famous Walkaway Dress, it has no zip or buttons. Instead the front panel fastens at the back with a grosgrain belt, and the backs wrap over it to tie at the front. As a result, making it up seems very odd until the final stages, when it all magically comes together.

Once made, I had a fitting session with Mum. The good (and unusual) news was that the bust points were in exactly the right place, so no above-bust alterations were needed. The bad news was that this was the only good news. Alterations were as follows:
  • Front (consisting of actual front and the underbodice side fronts) - shorten by ½" at centre, extending to 1½" at sides
  • Back (consisting of back and bodice side fronts, which are attached to back at side seam) - shorten by 2" all the way across, which also involves shortening the ties
  • Sleeves - make narrower at wrist
  • Narrow both front and back across shoulders, tapering to nothing at the waist.
The toile with the shortening alterations tacked in place

On top of that, I changed the ties. The tie is made by folding the bodice side front piece so that the end is double, but this would be far too bulky in the heavy dupion. So instead I redrew the piece without the folded section.

Tie piece, with fold line marked

After so many changes, I decided that a second toile was needed, to check everything before I started cutting out in silk. It was perfect, so now it’s time for the ‘real thing’!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

#vintagepledge - Simplicity 1777 finished

There's good news and bad news. The good news is that Simplicity 1777 is finished, I'm really pleased with it, and it's received lots of compliments (including, "That's a very pretty dress", from a male colleague, which is a first).

The bad news is that when I started to make a dress with ¾-length sleeves, with the intention of it being suitable for autumn wear, I hadn't really considered how thin the fabric is. I was less-than-toasty in it, even in a well-heated office, so it may not get much more wear this year.

Oh well, it will keep. After all, a 1943 dress is hardly going to go 'out of style'!

Getting suitable buttons was surprisingly tricky. I found some red ones which were a perfect match, but they were so perfect that they almost blended into the fabric. Then on the button stall in the local market, which has come up trumps for me before, I found some buttons in the exact shade of blue. Unfortunately they were a bit small, and square, which didn't seem entirely right for the period.

Possible button choices

The solution? Combine the two! Most buttons from the 1930s and 1940s seem to have been a single colour, but some multi-colour ones did exist.

Celluloid buttons from the 1930s

Because the blue buttons have four holes and the red only two, I made a couple of fake stitches on the blue first, before sewing through both buttons. The end result looks like four-hole buttons, sewn on.

The completed two-tone buttons

The sleeves and skirt were finished by my usual and totally non-period method of overlocking the raw edge, turning under a single layer, and hand sewing the hem.

And here's the finished dress. (Try to ignore the henna tattoo! This was to do with an event I attended with the Ya Raqs girls, at which I finally got to wear my Ottoman costume - hopefully I'll have some pictures to post soon.)

So that gets me up to three of my four pledged vintage makes for the year. I'm starting my studies next week, which will limit my sewing time, but I do have one final project in the pipeline . . .

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Simplicity 1777, pattern-hacks

After my grumble the other week about the lack of period details in Simplicity 1777, I thought I’d better write a post about the changes I made to give it a (to me, at least) more authentic 1940s look.

First up, the easiest thing to alter; the length. Early 1940s styles were slightly below the knee, so I added a generous 10cm / 4” to the skirt length, and then shortened it at the end.

A model in a Utility dress, 1943. From Wikimedia Commons

Next, not a ‘period’ alteration, but something to note. The skirt is quite straight at the back, so I had to go up a size between the waist and the hips to accommodate my sway back. For me, simply adding extra width at the side seams usually results in unattractive wrinkling across the skirt back. Instead I cut the whole skirt back to the larger size, and took in the excess at the waist by adding an extra dart on each side. This made the skirt hang beautifully.

Perfectly fitting skirt back

Moving upwards to shoulders. My primary source for 1940s fashion facts (aka ‘Mum’) tells me that not all dresses had shoulder pads. However for me the military-inspired, square-shouldered silhouette is a critical part of the period look. Plus a great many of my 1940s patterns include pattern pieces and/or instructions for making shoulder pads, so I decided to add them to this dress.

Square shoulders from Norman Hartnell's 1942 Utility collection

It might have been possible to just make up the dress and insert shoulder pads, especially with the soft, drapey fabric I used, but I decided to do the job properly. I measured the depth of the (bought) pad, and redrew the shoulder seam so that it was that much higher.

Alteration for shoulder pad, bodice

For the back, this involved folding the dart closed, drawing the line, and then opening the dart out again. For the front, I laid the bodice front over the bodice side front, matching the seam lines, and drew the new shoulder line across the two.

On the sleeve head I added the extra length (the depth of the shoulder pad) below the notches, so that it wasn't affected by the gathering at the top.

The area where I extended the sleeve head

Finally, I re-positioned the notches and dots so that they matched.

As ever, I added pockets in the skirt side seams. Thanks to my friend Kebi for this article on how this particular alteration is a small act of rebellion!

The biggest change I made to the dress however wasn’t a pattern alteration, it was in the construction. The instructions follow standard modern dressmaking techniques, where two pieces are joined by laying them right sides together and sewing a 1.5cm / ⅝” seam. For Simplicity 1777 this makes joining the skirt to the bodice very fiddly, because the dress simply wasn’t designed to be constructed like that.

In the 1930s and 1940s (and possibly later, I’ve just not had the time to investigate this properly), a lot of clothing construction was done by turning under the seam allowance on one piece, laying it over the other, and sewing through all three layers. Vogue 9546, which dates from 1942, uses this technique for the central waist section.

Vogue 9546, constructing the bodice

Vintage Vogue reissue 9126 is from 1947, four years later than Simplicity 1777, but has a similar shape. It also uses the overlaying technique.

V9126 also has a centre panel, gathered bodice and pleated skirt

I used this method to attach the bodice backs and bodice side fronts to the skirt pieces. Several of my vintage patterns mention using a contrasting thread to sew these types of visible seams, to give a decorative effect. Unfortunately the line of my sewing isn’t regular enough for me to want to highlight it!

This is also a good time to mention that there are a lot of pleats at the centre front of the skirt. I marked the top and bottom of each pleat line with tailor tacks, using different colours for the solid and broken lines. Then I pinned the pleats top and bottom, and secured them with two rows of tacking stitches. It was extra work, but worth it.

Pinning the pleats in place

Next I cut out the centre front section in non-fusible interfacing, and then trimmed off the seam allowance from the sides and the bottom point. Then I basted it to the fabric.

Interfacing attached to the centre front, with the bottom folded over

Next I turned the seam allowance over the interfacing, and pressed and basted it.

Raw edges pressed and basted down

Then I laid this over the skirt/bodice side pieces, and basted it into place from the shoulder seams down to the start of the pleats and gathers. (Yes, there was a lot of basting involved!)

After this I did the rest of the dress construction. I put in the zip, using the lapped method the instructions suggest, but hand sewing it because I’ve developed at strange addiction to hand sewing zips. I sewed the shoulder and side seams, and put in the sleeves. (One thing I should mention is that the sleeves do have small, period-appropriate darts at the elbow.) Then, and only then, did I tackle the centre front properly.

Several online reviews I’ve read of this pattern mention that the gathered section can go a little baggy/unflattering/plain downright weird. By leaving it until I had an almost completed dress, I could try it on and fiddle with it until I was happy. I found two things.

One: on me at least, it was far better to have most of the gathering lower down. This makes some of the gathers radiate upwards to the bust, which just looks more flattering.

The completed gathered section

Two: I needed to pull the side fronts in a lot at the waist. This photograph show just how much of the bodice sides I pulled in to the centre.

Compare this to the photo of the centre front section above

Once all of that was done, I top stitched the bodice centre front in place.

Top stitching and padded shoulders - pure 1940s!

Then I made up the facing and attached it. The instructions are to machine stitch the facing 'in the ditch', but I hand sewed it in place with slip-stitch, so it doesn't show on the right side at all.

Pinning the facing in place

Finally all that was needed was the hem and the decorative buttons.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The University Chapel Project - September 2016 update

After a break for the summer, the Chapel Stitchers got together again last Friday to see what progress had been made. We have some of the embroidered names/signatures to apply to the back of the altar frontal, and Kath had also embroidered the start and end years of the project, but really this meeting was all about the kneelers.

Names and dates

The kneelers group have been busy over the last couple of months. Both the tops are almost completed.

Completed dove

The sides are coming on as well, with shading to match the outlining of the doves, and the Amber Cross on the front and sides.

Completed side

On the back are the initials of all those involved, plus the year.

Back, needing one more set of initials

The next meeting will be at noon on Friday 21 October, in the usual room.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Ynys Llanddwyn

No, it's not some sort of typing error. Yesterday I had a day off from trying to finish Simplicity 1777, and instead took a trip to one of my favourite places; Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey.

Llanddwyn Island seen from Newborough beach

Map of Wales and close-up of Anglesey

My Welsh pronunciation is a source of merriment to my Welsh-speaking colleagues (although to be fair, so are the attempts by all the other non-Welsh-speakers in the office), but very roughly, this post's title should sound like 'inis hlandwin'. Ynys means island, and Llanddwyn translates as "The church of St. Dwynwen". You can read more about St Dwynwen here.

To get to Llanddwyn you go to the village of Newborough, then carry on down a winding track through the forest.

Newborough Forest

Eventually you come to the car park, where you'll find these three sculptures, based on island landmarks and designed by pupils of the local school.

Carvings of local landmarks

Then it's a walk through the dunes and the marram grass, and onto the beach.

Marram grass holds the dunes together

The beach

As you can see, the sun wasn't shining when I arrived, so this doesn't really do Newborough Beach justice. It's over a mile of golden sand, lapped by the beautifully clear waters of the Menai Strait. The water was lovely and warm, and while I didn't go for a swim this time, I did go for a paddle. (Admittedly, spending holidays in my formative years on Scottish beaches may have skewed what I define as 'warm'!)

Llanddwyn is only an island at high tide, but I always check the tide times before I go - I know from bitter experience that if you are sitting on a rock waiting to cross, it can feel like an awfully long time until the waters drop enough!

And what rocks they are. Where the island joins the beach, and around its coast are pillow lavas, formed by undersea volcanic eruptions.

Pillow lava outcrop

Looking across the Menai Strait to Snowdonia

The sharp rocks made navigating the narrow Menai Sterait extremely hazardous, so a small beacon, called Tŵr Bach was built on the southernmost tip of the island. This was replaced by a larger lighthouse, called Tŵr Mawr, which was modelled on the design of Anglesey windmills.

Tŵr Bach, which now houses the modern light

Tŵr Mawr, with Snowdonia in the background

Llanddwyn also became the base for the pilots who guided ships through the Strait. Cottages were built to house them, and two of these have been converted into a small museum.

The pilots' cottages

The cottages and lighthouse (and sun!)

The island is part of the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve, and home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Sadly at this time of year there weren't a lot of flowers for me to photograph, but I did find plenty of these snails.

Teeny tiny (and pleasingly alliterative) stripy snails

The beaches are fenced off, to keep the sheep and ponies which graze the island from straying onto them. Humans can reach them through these lovely gates. It was only on this visit that I finally noticed that the carvings on the gates are all slightly different.

Gate leading down to a beach

And another leading back

Near Tŵr Mawr there is also this bench.

Carved bench overlooking the sea

The inscription is from verses by the 13th century Welsh poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym.
"O Landdwyn, dir gynired. O benyd byd a’i bwys", which translates as
"From Llanddwyn, a place of great resort. Through goodness, for the world, and its significance".
Many thanks to Dave Nelson for the translation.

St Dwynwen's church was once an important place of pilgrimage, but very little of it now remains.

All that is left of St Dwynwen's church

The church, Tŵr Mawr, and St Dwynwen's Cross

From there it was a walk back along the beach to the car park (if you are staying at the nearby campsite, there is a lovely walk through the woods which comes out right by the island), and then home. I always enjoy going to Llanddwyn, and yesterday was no exception.