Sunday, 27 October 2013

Vogue 8686, the bodice

The work on the house is complete, but has left a fair bit of mess, and my studio needs a good clean before I can move back in. Fortunately the things which I couldn’t move were carefully wrapped up in dust sheets, so should have come through unscathed.

I couldn't face moving all my books!

I’m still exiled to the dining table, and have not got as much done this week as I’d hoped (this is becoming a depressingly familiar refrain). However the bodice of Vogue 8686 is now complete, and that is definitely the most complex part of the dress.

My standard alteration for Vogue patterns is to shorten them by 3cm between waist and bust, and by 2cm between bust and armscye, but this time I just wimped out, and removed the full 5cm / 2” at the ‘lengthen/shorten here’ line on the pattern, just above the waist. The reason? It was just too complicated to do anything else.

The bodice consists of three parts: a full length front section, a short back section which goes from the waist to halfway up the back, and a complex piece which forms both the sleeves and the upper part of the back. At the front, the bodice and this third section fit together quite simply to form dolman sleeve effect, with a dart shaping the shoulder line and the stand-up collar.

Bodice front and sleeve, with the dart at the top

To remove the 2cm between bust and armscye I would have had to shorten both the centre back and the bodice front sections of the sleeve. Now that I’ve actually made the bodice up, I can see how I could have done this, but when I was doing the pattern alterations it was just beyond me, so I took the easy option.

The sleeve/back yoke piece

Like Vogue 2787 the pattern has a lot of markings; squares, triangles, large circles and small circles. As you can see in the picture above, I had learned my lesson, and tacked each type of marking in a different coloured thread.

The bodice construction begins with the darts in the bodice front. Then the sleeves are attached, easing the bodice in slightly to fit. Also like Vogue 2787, this isn’t done by laying the pieces right sides together and sewing: instead the seam allowance on the sleeve is turned under, the pieces lapped together, and the seam is stitched close to the folded edge. The same technique is used on the back, and to attach the skirt. Next come the darts to form the shoulder and collar.

Front completed

The next stage is working the bound buttonholes, and this is where there appears to be an error in the pattern. The buttonholes are made from a single piece of fabric, which is cut from piece number three of the pattern. When I cut it out, I marked the outline of the buttonholes with white thread, and the square marking with black. The square marks the centre back. The buttonhole piece is then placed on top of the left back, matching the squares (step eight in the instructions). As the illustration in the instructions shows, the edge of buttonhole piece is slightly to the left of the raw edge of the back, so the positioning in the photograph below is correct.

Buttonhole bother

The only problem is that buttonhole piece is lying right side up, whereas the instructions are to place the pieces right sides together.

It wasn’t a major problem. I realised almost at once that the instructions were wrong, and re-marked the buttonhole piece on the wrong side. However it could confuse someone without much dressmaking experience.

Once the buttonholes are done, the two sleeve/back pieces are overlapped, and the lower back section attached. Then the neck facing is constructed and attached.

Back completed

The instructions are then to sew the underarm/side seam, and after that make up and attach the sleeve facing.However the sleeves have an attractive curved edge at the bottom, and I decided that it would be easier to attach the facing first, and then sew the whole seam, facing and all.

I couldn’t find any buttons that I liked for the back, so I decided to use self-covered ones instead. Because the fabric is relatively thick, the buttonholes are quite deep, and need buttons with a longish shank. So, after my complaint about Hemline self-cover buttons the other week, I found that they were perfect for the job!

Completed buttons and buttonholes

As my usual dressform is wedged deep behind goodness knows what, I took these photographs on another, 'pre-loved' dressform that I've been given; some day I plan to do it up a bit.

The bodice is gathered slightly between the yellow marks and the side seam when it is attached to the skirt, so it is actually more shaped than it appears here. So far, I’m happy with the way this is working out.

The completed bodice - front

The completed bodice - back

Nice sleeve edge detail

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Bound buttonholes, a comparison

Oh, me and my big mouth! Last weekend, The Dreamstress posted that she was busy working on her piece for the current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge, green, and asked if anyone else was having a ‘green weekend’. Well, the pattern alterations of Vogue 8686 were coming along nicely, I had the (green) fabric ready, and I expected to have some time to make up the dress during the week. So, like a complete idiot, I posted that I hoped to actually get a challenge done on time.

Well, you can guess what happened. All sorts of things turned up to take up my time. Worst of all (from a Challenge point of view), some work on the house which we had been talking about for ages is finally going to happen, and some of it is going to happen in my studio. So not only have I had to relocate to the dining room (I have to put things away when we want to eat, horror!), but I also had to move out everything which wouldn’t take kindly to a lot of dust: rolls of fabric, sewing machines, more rolls of fabric etc. etc.

Just some of the stuff I had to move

The result? I’m a long way behind on yet another challenge. I’ve made a start on the dress bodice, but I’ve only got as far as the buttonholes.

The dress has three buttons at the back of the neck, and these fasten with bound buttonholes.

Vogue 8686, back view

It’s a very long time since I’ve done bound buttonholes. The pattern instructions give the method which I’ve used in the past, but I vaguely remembered reading about a different approach, which uses patches of silk organza. I found details of the organza patch method in Vogue Sewing, and also in Gertie’s blog, so I decided to make up samples of both techniques, and see which one I preferred.

I worked two buttonholes by each method, so that I could refine the process as I went along. To start off, I basted sew-in interfacing to the back of each sample piece, to match the construction of the bodice.

The method in the pattern instructions
The pattern includes a single piece for cutting out the fabric for all three buttonholes; I shortened this to two. Once I'd cut the fabric out, I tacked through the pattern to mark the corners of each buttonhole. The fabric is woven from quite thick threads, which give a clearly defined warp and weft, so it will be very obvious if the buttonholes aren't exactly on the grain. With this in mind, I clearly marked the corners of each buttonhole with tacking along the gaps between the threads.

The buttonhole piece and the pattern. This is also the only photo which shows the fabric in the correct colour!

Then I laid the buttonhole piece onto the fabric, right sides together, making sure that the grains were properly aligned.

Buttonhole piece tacked into place

Next I sewed the rectangles marked on the pattern. This needs a very short stitch length; whereas I usually have the stitch length dial on my machine set to around 2.5, for this I set it to 1. The stitching needs to start partway along one of the long sides, and be overlapped by a few stitches at the end. It's particularly important that the long edges of the rectangle are perfectly parallel: I sewed the short edges by hand-turning the balance wheel of the machine, and counting the stitches.

The stitching shows up better on the wrong side

The buttonhole was cut according to the diagram below. The stitching is shown in black, and the cutting lines in red. Cut right into the corners, but be careful not to cut the stitching.

The buttonhole piece was cut in two, following the broken line on the pattern piece in the first photograph above. Then all the tacking threads were removed, and each square was pushed through the hole cut in its centre.

One buttonhole turned through, the other partway

The fabric has to be pulled firmly on the wrong side to make it lie flat. This is where I discovered that I hadn't snipped right into the corners in a couple of places, and had to cut through a couple more threads. Next I pinned the buttonhole piece to the main fabric at the centres of the short sides of the rectangle. Then I pleated the top and bottom sections so that they met in the middle of the cut-out rectangle.

One buttonhole pinned flat, the other with the fabric pleated and pinned into place

I overcast the folds together at either end of the buttonhole. I used contrasting thread for the example, so that the stitches would show. I also sewed down the raw edges, although this wasn't necessary.

Completed buttonhole from the wrong side

This was the finished article. Not very good. The buttonhole lips are not equally sized, and fabric is showing at the short edges. On the plus side, the buttonhole is exactly on the grain.

Could do better

For my second attempt, I trimmed a tiny amount off the raw edge of the long side of the seam allowance. This left a little gap between the two edges, which accommodated the thickness of the pleats meeting in the centre. I was also a lot firmer in pulling the short ends out.

The long edge trimmed

I tacked across the buttonhole piece an equal number of threads above and below the centre point. This made it much easier to check if the pleats were even.

The tacking line just visible on the lower section

The end result looked much better.

Perfectly even tacking lines, and the extra fabric trimmed away

And much better from the front as well.

Even lips, no side sections showing, and still on the grain

Definitely an improvement on the first attempt. And the two buttonholes are in line!

No contest

The organza patch method
I made a few alterations to the instructions I found online. These recommended marking the buttonhole on the interfacing on the wrong side of the garment. However, partly because the interfacing is black, but mostly because of the importance of having the buttonhole follow the fabric grain, I stuck with my tacking lines. However this time they are on the fabric/bodice itself. The organza patches are cut 2.5cm / 1" larger than the buttonhole all round.

The prepared fabric and the organza patches

I had marked the buttonhole shape on the organza, but it turned out that it wasn't really necessary, as the tacking stitches showed through clearly. As before, the outline is sewn with a short stitch length.

One patch pinned in place, and one patch sewn on

The buttonhole is then cut as before, and the organza pushed through to the back and pressed in place. It's important that none of the organza shows on the right side.

The organza is slightly visible, and the 'windows' aren't entirely rectangular

The next step was the lips of the buttonhole. For each buttonhole I cut two rectangles of fabric, each 2.5cm / 1" larger than the buttonhole all round. These were placed right sides together, and sewn across the middle. I sewed one by machine and one by hand, because I wasn't sure that the machining was following the grain exactly.

Important! These stitches will be removed eventually, so if they are sewn by machine, remember to increase the stitch length first!

Next 'butterfly' the pieces by folding along the stitching line so that the wrong sides are together. Press firmly.

One set of lips hand sewn together, the other set pressed flat

Pin this piece behind the window in the fabric, with the lips even.

This is where it gets tricky. Turn over to the wrong side, and fold the fabric back, so that the long seam allowance of the window is visible. Sew this to the buttonhole lip, sewing over the existing line of stitching. Gertie does this by machine, using a zipper foot to get right into the stitching line. I was a wimp, and sewed mine by hand.

Sew along the line of machine stitches visible in the centre of this photograph

This was where the problem with hand sewing the lips together became apparent.

The lips are coming apart, and the main piece is puckering towards the centre

The machine sewn lips stayed together, but as well as being uneven, the puckering persisted.

Still not right

The two completed buttonholes

And the back view

The verdict
Although it's not that obvious in the photograph below, the organza patch method produced what looked like a 'deeper' buttonhole, as the lips were set back from the window. Also, despite my best efforts, the grain of the fabric still curves in to the lips, both above and below the second buttonhole. For this fabric, I think that the method given in the pattern works best.

All four samples.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A sense of proportion

Undeterred by the disappointment that was Vogue 2787, I'm going to have a crack at another vintage Vogue pattern; V8686. This is a 1933 dress, with a detachable peplum on a belt, which gives it the appearance of being a two-piece costume.

I think that the first thing to do, to avoid further disillusionment with my dressmaking, is to accept that the end result will not make me look remotely like the pattern illustration!

Vogue 8686, front and back views

I am 1.63m / 5'4" tall. My ribcage at my bust is 28cm / 11" wide (side to side, not circumference). To have the same height to width proportion as the lady above, I would have to be over 2m / 6'6" tall!

This improbable statistic got me thinking about pattern illustrations in general. I clearly remember going pattern shopping with my mum in the 1970s, before photographs were used in pattern books, and Mum saying firmly, "Ignore the pictures, they are always drawn far too long and thin".

In an attempt to remember the actual proportions of the human body, I turned to this recent purchase from a second-hand bookshop (yes, I know I could have looked it up online, but where's the fun in that?).

Great cover

I must admit that I bought this purely for the fashions.

I want to make the dresses. All of them. And the suit. And the coat....

I'm hopeless at drawing, and it would take more than this to make me any better. But the very first illustration in the book shows how normal figure proportions compare to those used in fashion illustration, in the 1950s at least. Whereas the human body is generally considered to be 7½ times the length of the head, for fashion illustration it is 8½ times.

To see where the extra length is added, I measured each figure in millimetres, and compared the two.

I had read somewhere that when a figure is altered for fashion illustration the waist to hip section is not lengthened, but in this example it is actually reduced, presumably to allow other sections to be lengthened without making the figure too tall.

However, the addition of one extra head length seems positively restrained compared to 1930s illustrations. Going back to the Vogue 8686 pattern illustration, and applying the head lengths calculation, produces this.

A massive 9 head lengths tall, 9½ if you include the heel height!

This extreme long and lean silhouette, mostly extended in the lower part of the body, wasn't just limited to Vogue patterns. The dressmaking chapter of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework has this measurements chart.


Out of curiosity, I measured the various sections of the illustration, and then scaled them up so that I could compare them to the 'normal' figure in "How To Draw And Paint Fashions".

Again the waist to hip section is slightly shortened, but just look at the hip to shin comparison (it was impossible to guess where the knees should be). Almost 40% longer.

The increase in photographic illustrations in the late 1930s must have come as something of a relief to home dressmakers. Even though these were pictures of clothing for sale rather than dress patterns, at least they provided a realistic idea of how a dress might turn out. Lauren of Wearing History has collected some lovely examples here.

The widespread use of photographs on pattern envelopes should have made figure manipulation a thing of the past, but with photo editing software being so widely used now, I wondered if this was still the case. Not that altering photographic images is anything new. The 1890 edition of "London of To-Day", an annual handbook dedicated to the city and the London Season, had this to say about debutantes being photographed in their Court dress after being presented at Buckingham Palace.
"Stout people are the most difficult. They have to be fined down, and their waist rounded off in the negative."

However looking at one of my more recent pattern purchases and applying the 'head length' rule to it, the result is a mere, reassuring, eight head lengths.

New Look 6094

So with this in mind, I'm hoping that my version of Vogue 8686 may at least look a little like the modern photograph on the Vogue patterns website.

Here's hoping!

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Oops, late again. The latest Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge, Outerwear, was due on 7 October. Click here and here to see all the latest from the challengers.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Wood, Metal, Bone - completed

Just before the next Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is due, I have finally finished this one!

Having made up the ‘wood/straw’ element of my bag, it was time to start decorating it, as I wanted to do this before I started to make the bag up. My inspiration bag is decorated with felt leaves and flowers on a branch, and I wanted to do something similar, but not an exact copy.

Bag close-up

When I was going through my collection of 1930s sewing books to post about them, I found a pair of photographs in “The Art of Needlecaft”, illustrating how to make artificial flowers in felt. As I was already planning the bag at that stage, I decided to use these as a basis for the bag’s decoration.

1930s felt flower instructions

To make the leaves I traced off the first photograph, scanned it into the computer, and enlarged it to the size I wanted.

The leaves traced off and enlarged

Then I traced off individual leaves, cut them out, and played about on a life-size pattern of the bag and handle.

One of my ideas - not used, because it would totally cover the contrast straw strip

Once I had a design that I was happy with, I cut the leaves out of felt, and attached them by embroidering the veins through both the felt and the straw backing. I had considered doing this with wool, but instead used some of my favourite Mulberry Silks threads.

I have collected quite a number of these threads over the years. A lot of them are loose spools stored in a box, but I must admit that I keep some of them in their original packets, as they just look so good!

Mmm. Good enough to eat!

The flowers were a little bit trickier. They are described in the caption as “small circles pinched up at the centre”, but when you look closely at the photograph, they are clearly not circles.

Very odd 'circles'

I decided to ignore the ‘circle’ bit, and instead cut out five-petal flowers of various sizes. I gathered them in the centres with a circle of small running stitches, pulled the gathering up, and used the tails of the gathering thread to secure the flowers to the backing. For some of the larger flowers, I added either a smaller flower or a circle of contrasting felt in the centre. Finally I finished off the flower centres with French knots, again in Mulberry Silks threads.

I never used to be able to do French knots; being left-handed I couldn’t follow a diagram for them, and they always unravelled and came out as a small stitch instead. Finally my lovely (right-handed) friend R spent an entire evening patiently working out how to translate each step of a French knot into its left-handed equivalent, and teaching me. I’ve never had any problems since, and doing them is always a wonderful reminder of her.

The bag front completed

To make up the bag, I first lined the front and back pieces by machine-sewing a piece of cotton onto the back of each one. Then I cut a double-layer strip of fabric for the gusset, and tacked this into place on the wrong side of the front and back. Finally I cut bias strips of cotton, and bound the raw edges. There were a few changes along the way however. Originally I had planned to use red cotton, at least for the bias strips, and possibly for the whole thing. However I was so pleased with the felt decoration that I decided that red binding might detract from it, so I used cream instead. I had also planned to machine-sew the binding on, but decided that the whole thing would look better without stitches showing, so hand-sewed it.

Side view showing lining, gusset and binding

Finally, on to the handles. These were to be attached using wide bias strips, and originally I planned to machine-sew the strip round the handle. Of course, when I actually looked at my sewing machine, I realised that there was no way that this could be done. Duh! Instead, to keep things neat, I did a line of machine stitches on the binding, then folded it round the handle and hand-sewed the sides together over the handle.

One bias strip, and one sewn round a handle

Finally I turned the raw edges under, and sewed the binding to the bag top.

It’s been a lot of work, far more of it by hand than I had planned for, but I’m really pleased with the end result. I’m even hoping that if I team the bag, in a very non-period-appropriate way, with Vogue 2787 (aka the Feed Sack Dress), it might even detract from the general sackiness of the dress!

Finished at last!

The Small Print:

The Challenge: Wood, Metal, Bone

Fabric: Hank of straw plait, pelmet Vilene, cream cotton for lining, sides and binding

Pattern: My own, based on this bag

Year: 1930s

Notions: Felt and silk thread for the decoration, embroidery hoops for handles

How historically accurate is it? In the end, probably not very. 20%ish

Hours to complete: Lots more than anticipated!

First worn: Not yet

Total cost: Four squares of felt at 70p each. Two embroidery hoops at £1.36 each for handles. Everything else from my stash. So £5.52, but with lots of felt (and two half hoops) left over.