Sunday, 28 July 2013


The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is the first colour challenge: white.

Although I’ve been busy with other challenges (and even the odd bit of, whisper it, non-HSF sewing) recently, I haven’t totally neglected my 1920s beaded dress. This challenge gave me an opportunity to try out a few ideas, and make an accessory to go with the dress.

Having outlined all the painted flower motifs for the skirt, the next job was to decide on the outline beading for the gold-painted sections.

I took the first of my attempts at the front neckline motif (the one with the paint marks in the ‘white’ sections) and outlined it with beading; half in light gold, and half in mid gold.

Half and half

Then I fiddled a bit on the computer to create a complete motif in each colour.

Two 'complete' motifs

The mid gold beading is definitely too dark; it overwhelms the painted motif. So light gold it is.

The gold panels will be outlined with beading, and then applied onto the dress. As a trial run for this, I decided to make a bandeau to match the dress.

1920s hats were worn very low on the head, like this.

Headdresses or scarves, paired with evening or dance dresses, were worn in a similar fashion.

So a narrow scarf, with a painted and beaded motif in the centre would a) be period-appropriate, b) allow me to use the discarded scary monster motif (the other way up is not-at-all-scary), and c) be good practise for applying the motifs to dress.

Unfortunately I have long-ish hair, which isn’t very 1920s, and the Princess Leia look is not really what I had in mind.

Erm, no

Fortunately for me, American Duchess has collected lots of fabulous pictures of 1920s bandeau-wearers with curled hair piled up.

Much better

All of these images are on her fabulous 1920s inspiration Pinterest board; you can find it here. In fact, all of her inspiration Pinterest boards are well worth a look; click here for the full set.

The bandeau itself is very simple, just a length of leftover satin from the dress, with a narrow hem. The motif was cut out with approx 6mm/¼” seam allowance around each side and clipped around the curves, the bottom was left longer. I then tacked the motif onto the centre of the scarf. On the first side, I turned the raw edge under and slip-stitched the motif into place with one action. The second side I did in two stages. First I turned the raw edge under, and secured it in place with tiny stitches hidden under the inner (gold) side of the beading. Then I slip-stitched the motif onto the scarf with more tiny stitches hidden under the outer (ivory) side of the beading. Obviously this was more work, but I felt that it gave a better result, and it’s the method I shall use on the dress.

I didn't turn the edge under all the way around the motif. At the bottom I just extended the appliqué, and folded the straight edge of the fabric over the hem of the scarf.

The appliqué extended to the bottom edge

Coaxing/cajoling/forcing my hair into curls was a lot more hard work than the sewing, as it’s something I don’t do very often. As the bandeau on its own isn’t a lot to look at, I wore my assuit shawl (which started the whole Egyptian-inspired, 1920s, beaded dress idea off) with it for the photographs.

The Small Print:

The Challenge: White

Fabric: Ivory satin crepe left over from my 1920s dance dress

Pattern: None, it’s just a rectangle

Year: 1920s

Notions: size 11 light gold seed beads, also from my 1920s dance dress supplies

How historically accurate is it? Very, it’s all hand sewn and beaded, and the style was common in the 1920s

Hours to complete: Probably about 5, the satin was very resistant to being folded into a narrow hem!

First worn: This afternoon, to take photos

Total cost: A big fat £0.00 as I had all the bits already, even a pre-painted motif

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Eastern Influence - part three, finished!

A week late for the challenge, but the Mikko dress is finally completed!

Last week I was, to put it mildly, disheartened when I realised that I didn’t have enough fabric left to make the belt. But after I’d thought about it for a while, I realised that while I didn’t have enough fabric left to cut the belt out crossways, I did have enough left to cut it out lengthways.

Of course, lengthways is how a belt would normally be cut, as it utilises the stronger warp threads of the fabric. However the belt on this dress is sewn on and is purely decorative, so doesn’t need to be strong. Also there was the problem that the design didn’t really lend itself to a belt cut in this way; it would have birds and tree trunks sideways on.

The belt piece, cut out and pressed

Unfortunately I didn’t have any choice, so a lengthwise belt it was. I ended up with two birds and two tree trunks showing, although one of the birds will be covered by the overlap of the belt.

Pinned on to the dress, with bird and tree trunk showing

The way I got round this was time-consuming, but worth it. First I traced off the tree and bird sections. Then I laid the tracing over the various scraps I had left, and identified sections of the print which could be cut out and applied over the parts of the belt I wanted to cover. I trimmed these pieces to size, and tacked down the raw edges. Finally I attached the pieces to the belt.

Before, during and after the patching process

Once the belt was attached to the dress, the joins hardly showed at all.

Ta dah! The completed belt

With the belt done, it was on to the last few details. I topstitched the pleats partway down the skirt, hand sewed the hem, and attached the button.

The finished dress

I must admit that it’s not the most flattering or glamorous dress I’ve ever made. The V shape of the contrast panel on the front provides a distraction from the complete lack of shaping in the bodice, but the back view; oh dear!

Not my best angle

The dress is a very different style from the flowing, bias-cut ‘frocks’ I tend to associate with the 1930s, but that reflects the owner of the original. By the early 1930s Emily Tinne was in her mid-forties, and had six children. From the dress patterns in the Tinne Collection it is obvious that by this time she had a fuller figure, and her day dresses at least reflected the styles worn by a woman of her age and social class.

Pattern envelopes from the Tinne Collection

'Matronly' does rather sum up this dress, (am I the only person who cannot come across the word “matron” without mentally adding a Kenneth Williams-esque “oooh”?), but for all that I’m really pleased with the end result. And it used up a remnant which was threatening to take root in my stash - an extra reason to be happy!

Sitting pretty

I do need a suitable bag to go with it however, and there is a challenge coming up which fits the bill nicely. . . .

The small print:

The Challenge: Eastern Influence

Fabric: Red and cream cotton remnant of Japanese-inspired design from my stash, 1/2m satin-backed crepe for contrast panel

Pattern: My own, from a dress in the Tinne Collection but with a few alterations

Year: 1930-32

Notions: Vintage button and buckle (probably later than 1930s)

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is historically accurate, but I overlocked the seams.

Hours to complete: About 30, including drafting the pattern (and fixing the belt)

First worn: This afternoon, to take photos

Total cost: £2.40 for the satin-backed crepe, £1 for the button, £1.50 for the buckle, so £3.90 in total.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Eastern Influence - part two (of three)

Unfortunately I’m going to be late completing the current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge; Eastern Influence. For a number of reasons it’s not been a good week for sewing, and today I had a bit of a disaster, of which more later.

Because the fabric I’m using for my early 1930s dress is such a bold design, it was important to cut the pieces out with the pattern in mind, rather than my usual approach of using as little fabric as possible. To make this easier, I cut out duplicates of the main pattern pieces. I didn’t draft patterns for the skirt or the belt, as these are just rectangles.

The main pattern pieces

I cut out the front pieces with the trees and birds at much the same height, and the back piece with the design more or less symmetrical around the centre back. Finally I cut the back facing in such a way that it would provide a contrast to the main back piece.

Fronts and back cut out

First I attached the back facing to the back. It felt totally wrong, applying a facing right side to wrong side.

Attaching the back facing

I trimmed the neck seam as normal, pressed the lower edge of the facing along the line of the interfacing, trimmed off the excess fabric, turned the facing to the right side of the back and stitched the edge down.

The finished back facing

The front facing was originally traced off the main front piece, but for the crossover ‘tabs’ I changed the pattern slightly, making the main front piece slightly larger and the facing slightly smaller. When I sewed them together matching the raw edges this meant that I had to gather the front piece slightly. When the completed front was turned right side out, the result was that the sewing was all on the facing side, so does not show on the right side.

Front tab from the wrong side, and the pattern for the different sized ends

Then I understitched the front edges by hand, you can just see a bit of it in the above photograph. It's a good job I've finally learned to use a thimble, as the fabric is quite closely woven.

The  centre front panel was cut from a slightly slubby satin-backed crepe, lined with cotton as it was a bit too thin on its own. The top edge was bound with a scrap of the main fabric, as on the original dress.

Completed centre front panel

I then attached the fronts to the centre panel (which is slightly too long).

The front pieces pinned together

When I turned the pinned front over, I was relieved to see that the raw edges of the facings were in line with the raw edges of the centre panel, as planned.

The wrong side - everything fits!

The next thing was to pin the vertical pleats from the shoulder together, and the front was then ready to be stitched to the back along the shoulder seams.

With the shoulder pleats in place

If you look carefully at the photographs above, you will see a number of tufts of thread sticking out of the dress pieces. These are tailor tacks, and I couldn’t have put the dress front together without them.

Tailor tacks are a way of transferring information from the pattern to the fabric without using a medium such as chalk or pencil, which might leave a mark. Click here to see how they are made.

Tailor tacks

In the above photograph, the circles mark the tailor tacks used for different purposes, as follows:
  black - where to attach the button through the two tabs and the centre panel
  pink - where the centre panel meets the front pieces
  brown - where the gathered part of the sleeve head begins
  blue - the left and matching right tacks come together to form the first pleat
  green - as above, for the second pleat.

Tailor tacks are not that widely used now, but I still find them the best thing for some marking tasks. Watching the Great British Sewing Bee recently I nearly cheered out loud when Ann, the eventual winner, extolled their usefulness while making a beautiful and complex lace-covered evening dress.

Having sewn the shoulder seams I then set in the sleeves, added the sleeve cuffs, and sewed the sleeve and side seam together in one go. Almost certainly not at all period-correct, but I always find sleeves easier to do this way.

Bodice front

Bodice back

I would have liked to make the skirt with the pattern matching at the side seams, but unfortunately this was not possible with the width of the pattern repeat. However I wanted to add pockets (not sure if the original dress has them, but I like to have pockets in my dresses), and as I had enough spare fabric to do it, I decided to cut the pocket backs out in such a way that the join of pocket to skirt would be invisible if the pocket gaped slightly. This was partly inspired by this fabulous dress by The Dreamstress. It was a bit wasteful, fabric-wise, but the pockets were all I had left to cut out, and the end result did look good.

Skirt piece and matching pockets

And then, and only then, did I remember that I needed to cut out the belt. Bother. Wailing and gnashing of teeth etc.

I looked at my various leftover pieces of fabric, none of which are remotely large enough for the belt, wailed and gnashed a bit more, and then decided that the best thing was to give up for now, sleep on it, and in the meantime make the most of the current good weather and go for a walk with Mr Tulip.

So this challenge will be a bit late.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Eastern Influence - part one, creating the pattern

This is my first attempt at consecutive Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges, but Lace and Lacings wasn’t really a new challenge; more of a welcome prompt to finish off something which might otherwise have languished in UFO Purgatory forever. So onto the next challenge; Eastern Influence.

The biggest obstacle to my (admittedly feeble) attempts at stash reduction is, unsurprisingly, in my local fabric shop. However it’s not this:

Rolls and rolls of lovely fabric

But this:

Even more temptation

The shop sells remnants of all sorts of fabrics by weight (my sewing bag came from the 'curtain' and 'coloured sheeting' sections), but it’s the 'craft cottons' section which is my biggest weakness.

A selection of the remnants in my stash

Remnants give a lot more variety; the stock changes frequently, whereas many of the rolls are standard orders which are always available. With the remnants, once it’s gone, it’s gone. They also present a challenge in that a garment has to be made to fit the fabric available: there’s no going back for a sneaky extra half-metre if you suddenly decide you’d like long sleeves instead.

Sometimes a fabric catches my eye, and I just buy it with no idea what I’m going to do with it. The danger with this is that occasionally I’ll buy something so striking or appealing that I feel it merits a special project to be worthy of using it, and so it just sits in the stash forever.

This particular fabric is a perfect example. I fell in love with its Japanese feel, but then couldn’t think what to use it for. So when The Dreamstress announced that Challenge 14 was going to be ‘Eastern Influence’ I remembered the wise words in her Tips for doing the Historical Sew Fortnightly, namely, “Any use is a better use than just sitting there in the stash. . . . Just pick a pattern, pick your fabric, and stop worrying about what you could have made”, and resolved to finally make something from it.

Japanese-inspired cotton

On closer inspection, it’s quite an odd fabric. The trees have a definite Japanese look to them (the fabric is called “Mikko”), but the birds look to me more like the sparrows and finches I get in my garden than anything I’d associate with Japan. It’s quite a large repeat; 52cm / 22 ½” wide by 62.5cm / 2’ ½” long, and the pattern repeats an awkward 1.8 times across the width of the fabric. The fabric is approximately 3m / 5’ 10” long.

The length of the remnant suggests a dress, but the bold pattern calls for something with quite plain lines, and not a lot of darts or shaping to break up the design. I pondered for a bit, and then remembered this dress in the current exhibition from the Tinne Collection in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.

Day dress, 1930-32

Although the dress is made from a cotton/rayon mix, the straight bodice and pleated skirt are perfect for my idea, the plain front panel would provide a bit of relief from the busy pattern, and the early 1930s date puts it within the time limit for the Historical Sew Fortnightly. Result!

The dress has long sleeves but some internet searching turned up this dress of a similar style, from much the same period, with short, cuffed sleeves.

1930s dress with similar dropped waist, belt and front

I also found this slightly earlier dress pattern, which has lovely little pleats at the shoulders.

1920s dress pattern

So, to work. I cheated a bit by starting the pattern design from a modern, loose tunic top, and swung the bust dart up to the shoulder to provide the extra fabric for the pleats. My first toile was too wide, so I took it in at the centre front and back. I then tried on the slimmed-down toile, and decided straightaway that the sleeves need lengthening and the shoulder pleats could do with being moved slightly closer to the neckline.

At this point, things started to get interesting. I have no dress patterns that old, or any knowledge of 1930s dressmaking methods, so had no idea whether techniques such as the application of facings were in use by then. I turned to the “Home Dressmaking” sections of my various 1930s needlework books, and found that these included references to facings, but gave no more information.

Looking closely at the photographs I took in the exhibition (slightly fuzzy, as I wasn’t using a flash), I could see that the dress back has a separate piece at the neckline; it is slightly bulkier, and the pattern doesn’t match.

Dress back neckline with added piece

On the front however, there is a line of stitching parallel to the edges of the flowery fabric, but the pattern is unbroken.

Dress front neckline with stitching (see white flower on left)

As the patterned fabric also lies proud of the plain centre piece, my best guess is that:
1) the dress back has a facing, attached to the outside rather than the inside of the main piece, and
2) the dress front has a conventional facing.
This could be interesting when I come to sew it all together.

The plain centre panel on the dress looks a slightly odd shape, but I wasn’t sure if this was just down to the way the dress is displayed on the mannequin. Fortunately Mrs Tinne, true to form, had bought several dresses of a similar design to this one. They are in the book of the collection, so I was able to refer to them as well as my photographs.

Based on these sources, I sketched my first attempt at the dress front onto the toile and tried it on.

First attempt at drawing out the dress front

From this I decided that the centre panel was too small, and that the crossover section of the dress was too high. I redrew it, tried it on, the cut out the neckline to what would be the finished edge, and tried it on a third time.

The final dress front, with vintage button and buckle laid on top

The crossing sections at the top are slightly wider than on the original. This is because I have a vintage button which I want to use on the dress, and it is larger than the button on Mrs Tinne’s dress.

Once I was satisfied with the toile, I carefully cut it apart along the line of sewing.

Toile front, laid flat

Then I drew out the pattern pieces by tracing them off the toile onto tissue paper and adding seam allowances.

Patterns for dress front and plain centre panel

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The "Compactom"

First of all, I'd just like to stress that I don't normally take pictures of the furniture when I go away on holiday. Is that quite clear? Yes? Good. Sometimes however I come across something so splendid that it's worth recording.

Mr Tulip and I are in the Costwolds for a week, staying at Park Farm holiday cottages, near Stow on the Wold. The bedroom in the cottage contains this truly magnificent 1930s double wardrobe.

Lots of 1930s goodness

The label inside states that it was made by Compactom Ltd, 143 Regent Street, London, telephone Regent 1028.

Patents and registered designs to spare

The doors have simple handles of some sort of plastic, and are decorated with  burr walnut veneer panels, now slightly cracked in places, set into frames of another figured wood.

Sleek deco door knob

Door detail

The veneer detailing carries on to the inside of the doors, each of which has two diamond-shaped panels.

One of the veneer panels inside

The right hand wardrobe is a fairly normal wardrobe, with a mirror on one door and two racks for clothes hangers, albeit racks on a sliding mechanism so that they can be pulled forward.

One of the hanger racks pulled forward

The Compactom name appears here as well

Clearly the 1930s man-about-town had a wide selection of ties.

Not one but two drop-down tie racks

It is the left hand section however which sets the Compactom apart from other wardrobes.


So much storage! And all with handy glass panels so that you can see exactly what's in there.

As if the little windows on each cupboard and shelf weren't enough, there are labels to tell you exactly what is (or should be) in each section.

A shelf for dress shirts

A drawer for collars

Yet more collars, and handkerchiefs

Unfortunately however this section, with its layers of horizontal hinged leaves, is not labelled. I am mystified as to what might be stored in here, and even though it appears to be a man's wardrobe, Mr Tulip can offer no suggestions either.

Mystery storage

Even the space in the base of the Compactom is not wasted. On the right, it is part of the wardrobe.

Shoe racks in the wardrobe base

While on the left . . .

The indentations provide a clue

Yet more drawer space

Finally, each wardrobe has this little metal bowl attached to the top. Presumably it could be filled with something to keep the wardrobe's contents smelling fresh.

Keeping your clothes (and collars) sweet-smelling

As you may just have guessed, I love this. I like to think of it as designed for a 1930s block of flats, the very height of modernity. Presumably the idea was that all the storage requirements of an up-to-the-minute chap could be met in this single item, hence the name "Compactom".