Sunday, 22 April 2012

Better late than never

Since the start of the year I have been taking part in the Bridges on the Body 1911 Corset Sew Along. The Sew Along actually ended in early March, but a broken sewing machine and wedding dress alterations (more on that soon), plus a serious rework of the corset itself, all got in the way. As a result, I have only just finished.

Finished at last!

 The Bridges on the Body blog follows the process of making all the corsets in Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines. For the 1911 pattern Jo invited other people to make the corset with her. Although the book provides scale drawings of each corset, plus a line drawing of the finished item, there are no instructions. Instead Jo posted regular, detailed, step-by-step instructions of each stage as she completed it, along with wonderfully clear photographs, interspersed with illustrations of corsets and dresses of the period like these.

As if this wasn't enough, Jo was also on hand throughout to answer any queries posted on the blog. Thus we all learned how to scale and resize the pattern, make and fit a mock-up, add a waist stay and facings to the real corset, insert the busk and bone casings, and make garters

Up to the point of lacing and trying on the corset, I was pretty much on schedule. Unfortunately this was the point at which I realised that the fabric I had used for my mock-up, although a fairly sturdy cotton, had a lot more stretch in it than I had thought. The gap when the corset was laced was far too wide; so much so that the lace I had wasn't long enough to lace it, and I had to tie two laces together!

After so much work I didn't want to abandon the project, or start again from scratch. I posted a plaintive comment on the blog, and Jo came to the rescue with the suggestion that I could open up the side seam and add a panel there, along with an extra bone.

The pattern. Jo suggested adding the extra panel between pieces 3 and 4

This wasn't entirely straightforward; because I had added a waist stay I had to unpick part of each bone casing and the facings to remove the stay and replace it once the panel was added. Also, I didn't have any more of the brocaded coutil I had used, so had to make the panels from plain coutil. It was interesting to see how what started as a rectangular strip became a curved piece in the finished corset. I'm tempted to follow the flowery language of corset advertisements of the time, and describe this as "a firm side panel imparting a smooth line to the hips", rather than something which rectified an error!

Side view showing the inserted, now curved, panel

I made the garters a dusty pink satin, and bound the edges of the corset  with bias strips of the same fabric. In keeping with the illustration I added a broderie anglais trim along the top edge. Even with a further bias satin strip threaded through the eyelets I felt that the trim was too stark, so I overstitched some of the embroidery  with shades of pink embroidery silk, which I then also also used for the flossing.

1911 corset - illustration

Finally it was down to the finishing touch. The illustration shows a large bow on the corset, but while I loved the exuberance of this example from Metropolitan Museum, when I tried to make a bow from some spare bias strips, the practical side of me worried that it would ruin the line of whatever was worn over it. I definitely wanted something to finish the top edge off, so settled for a small rosette instead.

Top detail - the embellished trim and the rosette

There are a few things I would do differently next time. First, and most obvious, I would be much more careful what fabric I used for the mock-up. Second, I would wait until the mock-up was made before ordering the coutil, bones etc. Although you may think that you know what you'll need from looking at the pattern, it is only when you have an actual garment to try on that you can be really sure.

The whole thing was great fun to do, and having the schedule to work to really helped me to keep focussed, and not let other projects take over. Finally a huge, huge thank you to Jo for all the hard work, time and help she put into the Sew Along - when's the next one?!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Tackling "The Stash"

No pictures this week, because to photograph it all would take up far too much time, and space!

If you sew more than a very occasionally, you will have a 'stash'. It's as simple as that. The dressmaker who claims that she doesn't have one possesses either a) a truly impressive amount of self-discipline, or b) a stash so out of control that she is in complete denial. The fabric which you just can't resist, the trim which you fall in love with, those stunning vintage buttons: it all adds up.

As well as fabric, my own stash contains patterns (including a worrying number of much the same basic shape, with variations which I could have drafted myself), and several boxes full of various beads and sequins. The last category comes from making dance costumes; I always keep an eye open for suitable trimmings for the myriad costumes I am planning to make 'one day'.

However as the bolts, boxes and cupboards full of fabric and associated bits and pieces threaten to take over my entire workspace, I have decided that something needs to be done. Therefore I have resolved to follow the example of Jo, who writes the wonderful Bridges on the Body blog (more on that in a later post, I hope). Jo's rule is:

"I can only buy fabric if I use a pattern I already have. And I can only buy a pattern if I use fabric I already have. The only out is if I go through the work of drafting the pattern myself then I can justify some new fabric. .... The goal of the sewing rule is to have less fabric in boxes and nicer clothes in my closet."

I'm going to add an extra condition: I can buy supplementary fabric such as lining or a contrast for a collar etc. but the main fabric must come from my existing stock.

So, we will see how I get on.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


Glamour is one of the current displays at the Fashion Museum in Bath. It consists of 22 evening wear dresses; ranging from a 1912 cream silk dress with mauve ribbon trim to a heavily embellished 2009 orange shift dress.

The exhibition

The colours are significant because unlike most costume displays, which are displayed in chronological order, these dresses are arranged by colour; in a palette which starts with scarlet, fades through pink and mauve to silver, then through orange and yellow to cream and gold. Displayed alongside the dresses is a selection of shoes, also arranged by colour.

Shoes, shoes and more shoes

The effect of such an arrangement is startling. When looking at a chronological display, it can become easy to see each garment in terms of its progression from a previous style, and to view the whole thing in terms of continuation. This exhibition, jumping as it does from the soft, frothy 1912 dress mentioned above to a slightly stiff-looking cream and gold dress from the 1960s, forces you to consider each garment as a distinct item.

Dresses from the 1930s, 1910s and 1960s displayed together

Because these are evening garments, luxurious fabrics such as satin and chiffon feature heavily. Many of the dresses make use of metallic threads or sparkling embellishments while others, such as the red silk satin 1950s cocktail dress which opens the exhibition, make clever use of folding and draping fabric. Combined with the sweep of colour, the overall effect is of a particularly well-laden and tempting sweet trolley.

Another view of the exhibition. The 2009 dress is second from the right.

One small disappointment: arranging the dresses in a row limits how much you can see of each one. For some it was possible to see each side by squinting down the display, as was the case with this early 1960s grey silk satin dress with pearl embroidery, but others were too close to their neighbours for this to be achievable.

Left, front and right views of the Michael Sherard grey satin dress

A mirror placed at an angle at one end of the display provided a tantalizing but murky glimpse of the back of a few of the gowns, but that was all. For someone who likes to get a feel of how a garment is constructed, plus its closures etc. this was frustrating.

The back views

This is a minor quibble though, and almost certainly wouldn't bother most visitors. Glamour is well worth a visit, and continues throughout 2012. For National Trust members, entry to the Fashion Museum is free.