Sunday, 15 January 2017

Simplicity 4896, progress and anti-progress

I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted about this - nine months!

I have made some progress since then. Having luckily realized that the fabric had a directional weave before I started cutting out, I ignored the cutting layout and cut everything from a single layer. I was so successful in fitting all the pieces together with minimal waste that I actually ended up with 30cm / 12" fabric left over! Very make-do-and-mend.

I had assumed that the neckline would be very similar to the later Butterick 5716 (now out of print), but in fact it's got three little darts on each side of the undercollar, to give it some shape. It's a really interesting, and unseen, detail - exactly what I love about using vintage patterns.

Shaping the collar

What I don't love so much is the instructions. I think that I may have made welt pockets before, but if so it was over 20 years ago - and I don't remember anything about how to do it. The relevant section of the instruction sheet measures 7½ cm by 9½ cm / 3" by 3¾", and even when I could I see it (I needed a magnifying glass), it made very little sense.

The poor printing didn't help

Eventually I decided just to follow the steps, mystifying though they were. After all, until I reached the point where I had to cut the actual coat front, I could always unpick it.

Basting on the welt

Amazingly the pockets turned out fine, with only minor wrinkles.

The pocket bag on the inside

The finished pocket on the outside

So that was the progress, what about the 'anti-progress'?

I didn't want to use the type of modern lining fabric I use to line skirts, so instead chose a mocha-coloured satin - it's what I also used for the pocket bag above. I wasn't really happy with it though, as it didn't have enough structure.

Then when we went to Shrewsbury for the Story of Wool study day (last May!), it seemed only right to take my sewing friends to visit Watson and Thornton fabric shop. Among other things they stock a good selection of proper, old-fashioned, self-patterned coat lining. So I bought some and abandoned the satin lining, which was made up but not sewn into the coat - and then ground to a halt.

Time to get started again.

The University Chapel Project - belated December 2016 update

Oops! This post got completely forgotten in the run-up to Christmas - apologies to all involved.

The kneeler group got together as planned on Saturday 19 November to put the kneelers together. They got close enough to completed to take a few pictures in the chapel, and Ros did the last bits of finishing off later.

One of the kneelers on the chapel steps

Ros with the kneeler

The kneelers have since been used for a wedding in early December. Both the bride and groom are known to several members of the kneeler group, which made the first use particularly special.

The back, showing the date and the initials of the kneeler group members

When I came to put this post together I realised that I only had pictures of one kneeler, but will get some photographs of the pair next week.

The next meeting of the group will be on Friday 27 January, at noon, in room CSH111 in Senate House.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book review - A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

I came across this book entirely by accident. I was ordering something serious and academic for my course, and it popped up on the 'You might also like' screen. Now bearing in mind that the previous time I'd ordered something serious and academic online, it had suggested that I might also like 'Finding Dory' (possibly Amazon's algorithms thought that I needed some light relief), getting a suggestion that at least vaguely related to my order was progress.

(Note: all other images in this post are from my own collection, not from the book.)

It looked like something that I would indeed like, and it was December, so I thought, 'Merry Christmas to me', and added it to my order.

I was hoping for an interesting read, and it certainly is that, and much more besides. Joy Spanabel Emery is a costume designer and Professor Emerita of Theatre at the University of Rhode Island, USA. She is also the curator of the Commercial Pattern Archive at URI, and knows her subject in depth. The result is a book which as well as being entertaining and immensely readable is thoroughly well-researched (I may have been slightly too thrilled by the discovery that it's got references and footnotes!).

Emery begins with a brief review of the earliest works to offer patterns, mostly written for tailors. She then considers how nineteenth century technology such as sewing machines and dress forms affected home sewing, before going on to the formation of the first pattern companies in the 1850s.

1874 dress pattern, read about it here

The now virtually unheard-of Demorest was the first firm to sell mass-produced patterns, followed by Ebenezer Butterick in 1863-4 and James McCall in 1871. The 'cut and punched' tissue pieces familiar to anyone who has made up a vintage pattern seem to have become the norm early on, and continued unchanged until 1921 when McCall introduced printed patterns. I had no idea that they started so early, although thanks to a comprehensive patent only McCall offered printed patterns for several decades.

'Cut and punched' pattern pieces

1930s pattern; McCall was also the first to produce envelopes in colour

Printed piece from the above pattern

And that is the joy of this book. It is stuffed full of fascinating snippets about the pattern industry; how smaller players such as DuBarry and Hollywood Patterns came into existence, how patterns were sized and marketed, and how the industry coped with the changes to home sewing as the twentieth century developed.

DuBarry and Hollywood patterns

Some parts provided answers to questions I'd always vaguely wondered about; for example, where on earth did the word 'Deltor' come from?

Butterick 'Deltors'

Others facts are jaw-dropping, such as the 1962 estimate that the American home sewing market "consisted of over forty million individuals who averaged twenty-seven garments per person per year". Twenty-seven???! I’d have to give up work, housework and possibly sleep to manage that.

27 - sadly, it's not going to happen

My only minor gripe was with the references to 'English' rather than 'British' pattern companies. It is corrected in later chapters and I doubt if most readers would even notice it, but as someone who grew up in Scotland and now works in Wales, I tend to be particularly aware of this.

British patterns: Style, Weldons, Economy Design (an offshoot of Style) and Maudella

The book also makes full use of the Commercial Pattern Archive to provide plenty of illustrations; mostly of patterns, but also from magazines and marketing materials.

Advert for a Bestway pattern offer in Woman's Illustrated magazine, October 1954

Finally there is an appendix of nine complete patterns, dating from 1850 to the 1960s. These are drawn out on grids to be enlarged, like those found in Janet Arnold's and Jill Salen's costume books.

As Emery says in her introduction, whereas garments preserved in museums tend to be high fashion and/or for special occasions, dress patterns are more representative of popular culture. Therefore although I'd primarily, and wholeheartedly, recommend this book to anyone with an interest in vintage (or even non-vintage) dressmaking, readers with an interest in fashion or social history would find a lot to enjoy as well.

Friday, 6 January 2017

2016 - a review after all

Lots of the people whose blogs I follow have been posting reviews of 2016, but after last week's crushing revelation that my plans for stash reduction had been a dismal failure, I didn't think I had much to review. But then I started to count up my makes for the year, and actually it wasn't that bad (apart from the fact that I'd bought new fabric for most of them - oops!)

So let's have a look.

Putting the 'dress' into 'dressmaker'

As well as the modern Blackbird Dress, I completed my Vintage Pledge to make up four of my vintage or reproduction patterns (OK, I actually pledged "at least four", but we'll gloss over that) with the Rosalind Dress, Butterick 6582, Simplicity 1777, and what I now think of as the Gothic Frock (aka Vogue 2401).

2016 was the year that I rediscovered separates. Having drafted a skirt pattern in January, I proceeded to get my money's worth out of it with a needlecord version with pockets, and a pair of skirts squeezed from one remnant (which didn't leave any spare for pockets).

Skirts. Lots of 'em

Which just leaves a few odds and ends.

Slip, pinny and assorted shortening

I really fell off the Historical Sew Monthly wagon this year, and only completed the first two challenges; making a 1909 slip for Procrastination, and lowering the front of my Edwardian chemise for Tucks and Pleating. Also on the alterations front, I shortened a jumper to a more vintage length - and I love it! I also made an apron to wear on my hatmaking courses, which brings me to the fact that . . .


Ta dah!

(As you may just have guessed, I still haven't calmed down from the excitement.)

So - plans for 2017.

I don't intend to commit to too much this year, as my course (which I am absolutely loving) is keeping me pretty busy. Things which I definitely want to do are:
  • Finish the other brimmed hat which I started last year
  • Finish my poor 1940s coat, which has been languishing on Nancy since April
  • Channel my inner Celia Johnson by making up Hollywood 1531.

Of course, other things will come along to totally derail these plans. When I reviewed 2015, I certainly didn't expect that 12 months later I'd be partway though a Masters! But that's all part of the fun.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Rosalind and the Collage of Even More Shame

So, it being the end of the year and all that, my original plan was to revisit January's Collage of Shame and remind myself which fabrics had actually made it from stash to finished item.

The evidence

It didn't take long, because the answer is - one. Just one. So now everything else on the collage is 12 months older, and therefore even more shameful.

The lucky winner!

This fabric got made up because Marie and Kerry invited me to contribute to the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge July Extravaganza, and I knew that I wanted to make up one of my vintage patterns rather than a re-issue; without this prompt my total could have been a big fat zero!

The end result is called the Rosalind dress, after Rosalind Franklin and her work on the double-helix structure of DNA.

Most of the details about the dress are in the post on Marie's blog here, but I thought I'd write up the pocket construction as it caused a lot of frustration but produced perfect 1950s pockets.

First the flaps are made up.

Symmetrical pocket flaps

Then the flap and the pocket front are sewn onto the centre front panel of the skirt. I used plain white cotton for the pocket fonts, as the main fabric would have been too bulky.

The three pieces sewn together

Then the pocket front is flipped to the inside, and the pocket back/ side panel of the skirt is attached. I was pleased with the pattern matching, but initially completely mystified by the line of the skirt side seam.

Showing the extra fabric in the pocket

Once the sides are aligned, the 'jutting pockets' of the pattern description become clear.

The shape of the flaps keeps them clear of the side seam

When I was in London at the start of the month I visited What Katy Did, and bought some fabulous Splendette earrings and some stocking with green seams, so this seemed like a good reason to take some more photographs of the dress.

Showing off the earrings

And the stockings

So now the question is; can I do better in 2017? Because let's face it, I'd be hard-pressed to do any worse!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

The entirely literal jumper hack

Years ago there was an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun in which John Lithgow's character railed against the misuse of the word 'literally'. As a pair of grammar nerds, Mr Tulip and I entirely agreed with him. I think I'm safe with the title of this post however. Not only is it about a hack as in a nifty solution to a problem, but it also involved chopping said jumper apart with scissors.

As I've mentioned before, the bodices of standard size clothes are always too long for me. This isn't an issue with fabric clothing, as I mostly make my own, but woollens are a problem. Making my own isn't an option, as I can't knit or crochet for toffee.

To make matters even worse, knitwear from the 1940s and 1950s tended to be shorter than today's styles, so I have absolutely no chance of finding anything to go with the sort of clothes I usually make.

1940s knitting patterns from Vintage in a Modern World

But then the wonderful Lauren of American Duchess mentioned in her blog that she'd shortened all her sweaters, and included a link to a how-to post. I really wanted to have a go, so off I went to the local charity shops.

I found this red, fine-knit, number almost straight away. Tucked into a skirt, it doesn't look too bad.

Vaguely 1950s

But worn over the skirt, it's supremely unflattering.


For hacking purposes, it had the advantage of being the same colour as one of the two spools of woolly nylon thread I own (woolly nylon is vital to the job). I won't go into details of what I did, as it's all in Lauren's post.

I must admit I was a bit nervous before I started. Not about Lauren's instructions, but about my ability to follow them. Taking scissors to knitwear has the potential to go horribly wrong, but I reasoned that even if it was a complete disaster at least Barnardo's had gained a fiver out of it.

The one thing I will say that if you don't have a needle threader, buy one before you try to set up your sewing machine (yes sewing machine, you don't need an overlocker/serger) with the woolly nylon - or prepare to go mad. The only other thing I'd add is don't worry if your seams look a bit stretched and rippled immediately after you've stitched them; the steam iron is your friend here.

I'm thrilled with the end result. At last, a jumper that's the right length! Thanks Lauren!!

Now I really don't like those before and after pictures where the 'before' features a glum, unkempt model with appalling posture, and the 'after' shows the same person standing up straight, with a radiant smile and perfect hair and make-up: the implication being that the 'Acme Wonder-Wotsit' can fix all these things, and probably make you a nice cup of tea as well. So I tried to keep my 'after' pictures as close to the originals as possible, including keeping the large button, which I will remove.


Well, when I say 'as close to the originals as possible', there was one teensy, weensy change in some of the photos. See if you can spot it.

. . .

. . .

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

A tale of two skirts (and one cat)

As well as the usual approach of selling fabric by the metre from rolls, my local fabric shop also sells remnants by weight. They are sorted by type, and priced by the kilogram.

Craft cotton remnants

If a piece is too large the staff will cut it for you, but there does have to have at least one metre left. This means that sometimes I end up with odd leftovers which aren't really big enough to do anything with.

Recently I wanted to make another skirt; one which would go with my red and black swing coat. I found the perfect wool mix remnant, but I was going to have about 60cm / 24" left over, and no idea what to do with it.

Pretty much all that was left at the end

I asked Mum for suggestions, and she wondered if I could possibly squeeze a second skirt out of it. With some very careful cutting out, I did!

Work skirt

Non-work skirt

All of which makes for a very short post, so . . .

I've been aware for a while that one thing which this blog lacks is cat pictures. Cats seem integral to sewing. They make sure that your pattern pieces don't blow away - by sitting on them. They highlight which book you need to consult - by sitting on it. They stop your fabric from sliding off the table - by - well, you get the idea.

I don't have a cat, but I do get to fuss over my friend F's cat, Teddy, when I visit. Last week when I was over, not only did I have my camera with me, but Teddy had kindly positioned himself in front of one of the cushions I'd made for F last year.

Not that he was keen to pose for the camera.

Not wanting to be photographed

Really not wanting to be photographed

Oh alright then, if you must

Teddy is a Norwegian Forest Cat, which means that he is very fluffy indeed. (I must confess that when F first told me he was a 'Wegie' I thought that she'd got a Glaswegian cat, but we soon cleared that up.) He is also very long-bodied; I sometimes wonder if under all that fluff there are actually two cats welded together!

Stretched out

He's not the most athletic puss you'll ever meet, so 'action shots' were definitely out of the question.

This was as active as we got

Sometime I'll have to take my sewing over with me, just to see if he sits on it!