Sunday, 31 August 2014

Curtains, part 1

Do you ever find yourself wishing that you’d never started a project?

The spare bedroom is the sunniest room in this house, and Mr Tulip frequently used it as a sitting room. Most days that was where I’d find him when I got in from work, and as a result I hate to go in there now. So I decided to ring the changes a bit, and redecorate.

It all seemed so simple (which, in retrospect, is never a good sign). The walls are painted a pale green, and the lower part is covered with textured wallpaper, with a border along the top. The plan was to strip off the wallpaper and border, paint over the green, and make some new curtains. Easy.

The room, before I started

When I started I soon discovered that unlike pretty much every other room in the house, the walls are covered in lining paper. And between the lining paper and the textured wallpaper there is at least one other paper and with another border on top of it; five layers in all. Thank goodness a friend lent me a wallpaper steamer!

I was able to keep the upper section intact, but the lower section will need covering with fresh lining paper before it can be painted; and I’ve never hung wallpaper in my life. Eeek.

On the plus side, the room is now a couple of millimetres wider in each direction, plus all that steam means that my pores have never been so deeply cleaned! Oh, and that frizz-ease which I dutifully apply to my hair, despite suspecting that it doesn’t do a blind bit of good? Let’s just say that I now know that I was wrong. Very wrong.

Anyway, back to the curtains. This is one area where I do know what I’m doing. However I had thought that it would be a bit boring to post about making curtains. But then a friend asked me a few questions about curtain-making, because she couldn’t understand some of the instructions in the book she’d got, so I decided that a post might be helpful to anyone who normally sticks to dressmaking.

First of all, dimensions and fabric allowances. I am keeping the existing curtain track, but I were replacing it I’d go for something a bit longer, so that the opened curtains didn’t cover so much of the window.

The length of the track, and the length that I want the curtains to be, are as shown.

Track and curtain length

The fabric is 140cm / 55⅛” wide, excluding the plain white selvedges. Curtains should normally be at least twice the width of the window they cover, so in this case I should make each curtain out of 1½ widths of the fabric. However, as I mentioned above, the track does not extend much beyond the width of the window. Then as well as the attached lining, these curtains are going to have a separate blackout lining behind them, which will make them bulkier when pulled back. As I prefer good light to aesthetic appearance, I’m going to stick to a single width of fabric per curtain.

The curtain length should be the length that you want the finished curtain to be, plus 30cm / 11¾” for the hem and heading. So for my curtains, the length should be 175cm / 69”. If you are using a plain fabric, those are the only calculations you need to make. But my fabric has a pattern.

If you are using patterned fabric, you want the two curtains to line up and be easy on the eye, like this.


And not jarring, like this.


To do this you need to know the length of the pattern repeat. Lay the fabric out, and find a distinctive point in the design. Then find the repeat of that point, and measure between the two.

Measuring the pattern repeat

In my case, the distance between the tops of the dark purple leaf shapes is 63cm /24¾”.

Divide the length of the full curtain piece by the length of the repeat, and round the result up to the next whole number. For me that is 175 divided by 63, which comes to 2.78, which is rounded up to three. Therefore each curtain length needs to be three repeats long, which is 189cm / 74½“. The curtains will be shortened to the correct length during the making-up process.

If the curtains are to have a lining, cut the lining fabric to the same dimensions as the curtain lengths.

Well, that’s as much as I’m going to do now. I’m off to start filling holes in the plasterwork!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dressing on £1,000 a year

When we went to Hay on Wye back in January, it wasn’t just books that I bought. In a shop which sold only maps and prints I found a large filing cabinet, with drawers labelled “cars”, “Europe” etc. Inside were loose pages from old periodicals, which had been kept for their illustrations.

Naturally I looked through “costume”, and found a couple of sheets featuring women in Edwardian dress. When I realized that they were from the same piece, I hunted through the drawer again, and managed to find the entire article. It had no author, and this was its title.

Unfortunately, because it was just loose pages rather than the entire magazine, I had no idea of the date of publication. So, I picked the collective brains of the wonderful Historical Sew Fortnightly community on Facebook, who placed the two images I’d posted firmly at the very start of the twentieth century.

The only other information I had was the magazine’s title, which appeared at the top of every other page; “The Harmsworth London Magazine”. This turned out to be exactly the clue that I needed.

Originally launched in July 1898 as, “The Harmsworth Magazine”, it appears to have been renamed “The Harmsworth London Magazine” in August 1901, and then just “The London Magazine” from August 1903. So top marks to The Dreamstress, who suggested precisely the 1901-03 timeframe!

The magazine was marketed as “A sixpenny magazine for threepence”, with the launch editorial claiming that the low price could be achieved by means of a “gigantic circulation”. Therefore it’s safe to assume that article, with its subtitle, Being some of the trials of a society “splendid pauper”, was written with the author’s tongue wedged firmly in his or her cheek. I’m guessing that the piece was meant as a, ‘How The Other Half Lives’ (or more accurately, ‘How The Other Very-Small-Percentage-Of-The-Population Lives’) story, and that the sums quoted are reasonably accurate, and intended to provoke a response of “How much?!” from the reader.

Note: in converting the sums quoted to today’s money, I have used this conversion tool, and a date of 1902. On this basis, the society lady featured in the article has a mere £107,320 / $178,150 US per year to play with!

The article begins by detailing, “the annual campaign of smart society”. This starts with the London Season in May, June and July; a social whirl of Court functions, parties, dinners, balls, concerts, plays, race meetings, garden parties, luncheons, morning walks, afternoon drives, teas, bazaars, outings and the Chelsea Flower Show. Phew.

August brings yachting and the regatta at Cowes, followed by a (no doubt much needed) holiday in Europe. Then in September it is back to Britain for Doncaster races, followed by shooting in Scotland, before heading south again for Newmarket races in October. In November a quick trip to Paris to buy winter frocks and hats is squeezed in before the round of country house visits, shoots and more race meetings. London’s winter season follows, and then after Christmas another holiday is needed, this time to Egypt, Sicily or southern France, in search of sun. All of these events require suitable clothing, none of which comes cheap.

A ball or dinner gown costs on average £40 (£4,293 / $7,126), more if rich embroidery or hand-painted chiffon is involved, while "old lace" is too costly to even consider.

A simpler style of evening dress, known as a “little gown” costs £30-£35 (£3,220-£3,756 / $5,345-$6,235). To successfully negotiate the London season, our splendid pauper needs at least six evening gowns, plus a couple of “little gowns”.

On top of this a velvet gown is needed as the nights grow colder, and this will cost £40 from a dressmaker, or £50-£60 (£5,366-£6,439 / $8,908-$10,689) from the salons of London or Paris. A “drawing-room gown and train”, if required, is reckoned to cost at least £100 (£10,732 / $17,815).

For less formal occasions there are tea-gowns, tea-blouses and tea-coats. A tea-gown costs an average of £30 (£3,220 / $5,345), while a tea-coat costs a mere £25 (£2,683 / $4,454). However should the lady want to play billiards while wearing a tea-dress (I have absolutely no idea how likely this scenario was), she would need to splash out a further £20 (£2,146 / $3,563) for a short-sleeved dress, known as a billiard-coat.

Dresses for Ascot and garden parties cost £35-£40 for a crêpe de chine gown trimmed with “good lace”, £30 for taffeta, and £20-£25 for a “smart foulard”. Two winter and two summer frocks are the minimum which are required.

The article advises that country pursuits require their own clothing, but does not give any prices. A yachting gown for Cowes however will cost £20, and at least two are needed.

With gowns out of the way, the writer moves on to hats. These cost at least £4 (£429 / $713), and can cost up to £10 (£1,073 / $1,782).

These are piffling sums however, compared to cloaks and wraps. The author’s splendid pauper cannot possibly afford £500 (£53,660 / $89,076) for a sable jacket or chinchilla cape, her “fur fund” for one year only runs to £100 (£10,732 / $17,815). She will also want a winter wrap, for which no price is given, a dust cloak for £10, and at least two evening cloaks at a cost of £35-£40 each - or £50 if she decides to splurge on hand-painted chiffon.

Lingerie does not come cheap, either. A “modest” silk petticoat costs £4, but less modest ones can cost up to £15. Embroidered and pin-tucked handkerchiefs cost at least £5 (£537 / $891) per dozen, and even the most frugal lady needs to allow at least £100 for lingerie.

“Smart shoes” cost £2 (£215 / $356) per pair, plus ¾ as much again for ornamental buckles. Evening shoes cost £2-£3, and if each dress (that’s six evening gowns, two “little gowns” and one velvet gown, remember) requires matching shoes, that’s up to £2,898 / $4,810.

Further expenses listed include parasols (in colours to match each costume) at £7-£10 each, gloves at £20-£30 for the year, and £100 for “toilette” requirements such as make-up and hair colouring. Thus, explains the writer, an allowance of £1,000 a year “spells poverty instead of riches”. Whether the house-parlour maid earning £20 per year in 1902 would have seen it this way is another matter altogether!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Padded hangers

As part of my slow, long-running, and probably doomed attempt to get sewing space into some sort of order, I'm going through my stash. Well, the fabrics section at least - let's not get too carried away! While doing this, I recently came across a bag of fabric pieces which have been left over from various dressmaking projects. Some of the pieces were long but not especially wide, and not really big enough to do much with. They were however perfect for making padded hangers for some of my dresses.

I used wooden hangers as they provide a degree of thickness to the finished hanger. You could use wire hangers and squeeze the top and bottom together, but they would need a lot more padding.

For my first attempt I used 1.5cm / ⅝" thick wadding left over from another project. Some online tutorials suggest using two or even four layers of wadding, but I want my hangers to provide support without taking up lots of space in my wardrobe, so a single layer was enough. Some of the same tutorials also suggest, whisper it, gluing the wadding to the hanger! The horror! I used a needle and thread instead.

To start off, I cut a piece of wadding slightly longer than the top curve of the hanger, and slightly wider that its circumference.

Then I folded the wadding round the hanger in the centre, and secured it with a couple of stitches around the metal hook.

I wrapped the wadding round the hanger, overlapping the edges slightly, and overcast the edges together. The stitches weren't especially neat, as they wouldn't be seen. At the ends, I wrapped the wadding over the wood, did a couple of long horizontal stitches to pull the sides in a little, and then several vertical stitches to close the wadding over the hanger.

The covered hanger looked like this.

Then I cut a piece of fabric slightly longer than the top curve of the padded hanger, and slightly wider that its new circumference. I turned under a narrow hem along one long edge, and finger pressed it.

The easiest way to attach the fabric would be to fold it over the hanger from the bottom, and sew the edges together along the top. I wanted the top of the hanger to be smooth however, so I used my awl to make a hole in the fabric, and pushed the metal hook through it.

Then I wrapped the fabric round the wadding, with the folded edge over the raw edge, and overcast the edges together. I started from the centre of the hanger and worked outwards for each side, and this time my stitches were much smaller and neater. The ends I folded over like wrapping a parcel, and secured them with a few small stitches.

And this is the finished hanger.

I had also found some scraps of domette (curtain interlining) which were left over from making a new cover for my ironing board, so I decided to experiment with padding a hanger with this instead of wadding. As it was much thinner that the wadding, I used three layers. The first layer was made in two halves, one for each side of the hanger, and stitched together in the middle.

The second and third layers were made from the rectangle of domette in the photograph above. I split it down the centre about ¾ of the way down the piece, then wrapped it round the hanger. This is it with one side wrapped.

I should add that there was nothing remotely scientific about all of this, I was just making it up as I went along!

The wadding method produced a much fatter hanger.

And here are New Look 6643 and New Look 6093 on their respective hangers.

I may well trim my hangers with any suitable scraps of lace or ribbon when I get onto the trimmings section of the Grand Stash Re-order, but for now they work perfectly well as they are.

This still leaves some quite large pieces of cotton unused. I do have a plan for some of these, but that's for a future post.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Opera coats

What, exactly, characterizes an opera coat (also described as an ‘evening coat’) seems to vary depending on where you look. For some it must be loose fitting, whereas elsewhere a fitted coat is described as an ‘opera coat’. Some insist on floor or ankle length, others allow it to be shorter. All definitions agree on one thing however; opulence is a must. Luxurious fabrics, rich decoration, tassels, fur – all of these feature heavily.

The earliest garments defined as opera coats which I have been able to find are from the late 19th century, and look quite close-fitting.

Charles Frederick or Jean-Phillipe Worth, 1889

Worth, 1894

Couture coat,  poss Worth, 1890s

It was in the 20th century that opera coats really came into their own however, especially in the early teens and 1920s. By this time, the coats had become far looser, presumably to ensure that they did not crush the dress underneath.

Poiret, 1912, from Met Museum

Poiret, 1911, from Met Museum

Most of the coats of this period wrapped over and closed with a single, low fasten, which was often a major element of the coat’s decoration.

Evening coat with tasseled fasten, Babani, 1910

Poiret, 1912, fasten detail

However this coat by Lucile was designed to be worn open, to show off the dress underneath.

Lucile, c1911, Museum of London

To me, this rather seems to miss the point of a coat. There again, I don’t suppose that many of Lucile’s customers went to the opera by getting the Tube (London Underground) to Covent Garden station and then walking to the opera house, whatever this poster may suggest!

London Underground poster by Horace Taylor, 1924

It wasn’t just the front of an opera coat which could be decorated, the back was frequently embellished as well.

1913 coat from Met Museum

In the 1920s, collars of heavily ruched velvet seemed to become a frequent feature on opera coats.

1928 beaded and embroidered velvet, from Phoenix Art Museum

Metallic fabrics also appeared more, including that Art Deco favourite, assuit.

1926, from Met Museum

While opera coats may seem to belong to a bygone era, as this article shows, they are still sought after today. It seems that nothing conveys luxury like an opera coat, a thought which was presumably on Sir John Lavery's mind when he painted his wife, Hazel, wrapped in one.

Hazel in Rose and Gold, Sir John Lavery, Walker Art Gallery

If you too would like to revel in the sumptuousness of opera coats, I've collected lots more images of opera coats on this Pinterest board.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A bodice

When I go to the various vintage fashion and textile fairs which are held in the area, I’m mostly on the lookout for patterns, and also for buttons, trim etc. to add that authentic touch to something made from modern fabric. I don’t go with the intention of buying vintage clothes. (I have however been known to study a garment intently in order to commit construction details to memory, so that I can try them out at a later date. This may involve having to go for a cup of tea, so that I can sketch the item while it’s still fresh in my mind – oh the sacrifice!)

Nevertheless, at a recent fair in Liverpool I actually bought some clothing. It was only a few pounds, and is in a very sorry state, but I bought it so that I could study its construction in detail.

My purchase

At a guess I would say that it’s late 19th century, but I’m hoping that readers with a better knowledge than mine could date it more accurately. Stupidly, I forgot to take any photographs with a tape measure in place to show the size, but the waist stay is 68cm / 26¾“ long, and the measurement from the base of the collar to the waist stay at the centre back is 33cm / 13”.

At first glance it appears to be made of a plain black ribbed silk, but some of the photographs I took show that it is actually a moiré.

Photograph showing the watered effect of the moiré

The centre front panel is made of fine ivory silk mounted onto cream cotton. It is slightly pouched. The silk is almost entirely shattered (a description which I love, as it is so evocative and so completely accurate).

The damaged silk

The top part of the ivory silk is pleated into machine-sewn pleats of 0.3cm / ⅛”, placed 1cm / ¾” apart. These can be seen most clearly in the part of the panel which was under the black part of the bodice.

Relatively undamaged pleating

Almost none of the silk remains on the lower part of the central section, but from the fragments which remain it is clear that this part wasn’t pleated. The collar has also lost almost all of its silk, but from the shape of the tiny portion which remains, I think that this was also pleated, with the pleats running parallel to the top edge of the collar.

The remains of the collar silk

At the base of the bodice is a false belt made of pleated fabric, with a black metal buckle.

The 'belt' and buckle

The bodice opens at the left. There are two hooks and eyes on the collar, then a row of large hooks up the centre front on the right side (on the black strip in the photograph below) hook into a row of eyes on the under layer of the left front. This single layer of cotton is beige on the underside but black (with wear marks) on the top. A second row of hooks, along the edge of the centre panel, hook into the thread loops on the under layer of the left front. The two hooks at the top of the pleated section hook into thread loops just below the shoulder seam.

Fastenings, stage one

Finally there is a single hook on the edge of the left black silk section, but I cannot find anything for it to hook into.

Fastenings, stage two

The bodice is interlined with the beige cotton, and has nine bones; six on the seams, one at the centre back, and one on each front piece. The bones are encased on black tape, with yellow flossing at the top. There is a black twill tape waist stay, which fastens with a single hook and eye, and which has a vertical hook for the skirt at the centre back.

Interior of bodice

One of the bone tapes has the maker’s name printed in gold; CAPRIMAL.

Boning, and maker's name

The seam edges are overcast by hand in a colour to match whichever fabric is visible, so most are sewn with black thread, but the armhole is overcast with beige thread. The bottom edge is covered with black tape.

Finishing of seams

The right edge of the ivory silk is not finished at all, as it is normally covered by the black part of the bodice.

The raw edge of the silk

The back is very plain, apart from a curious detail where the collar sections rest below the neckline of the black part of the bodice.

Bodice back

The decoration of the bodice is a leaf design, made from black and ivory cord, opaque black and translucent ivory beads, and ivory gauze with black embroidery.

I think that the decoration of the bodice is a sewn-on trim, rather than worked directly onto the bodice. The pattern consists of a pair of motifs, which alternate around a vertical axis. The collar motifs are symmetrical, whereas the motifs down the front are not. To me this suggests that making the fronts symmetrical would have wasted too much trim; if the decoration had been created on the bodice then surely it would be symmetrical throughout.

The collar decoration is symmetrical

The front decoration is not

The motifs on the front have been placed so that they slightly overlap the edge of the black part of the bodice.

Trim extending beyond the edge

The sleeves are cut in two parts, with pleating at the elbow.

Sleeve back

They fasten with two hooks and eyes, and have a shaped cuff decorated with three rows of machine stitching. The cuff is stiffened with buckram which was originally covered with more of the ivory silk, now badly damaged.

Cuff detail

The join between the sleeve and the cuff is covered with more of the trim, this time placed symmetrically.

Sleeve trim

So that is my research piece, in all its faded glory. I'm trying not to even think about the work required to recreate it!