Sunday, 26 April 2015

Quilt Stories

Yesterday some friends and I went to “Quilt Stories”, the latest Textile Stories Study Day run by the University of Chester.

The Textile Stories Project looks at the meanings of textiles in everyday life, and this was the third study day it has held. The day consisted of a number of talks about various aspects of quilts and quilting, plus a chance to look at quilts which other attendees had brought along, all interspersed with generous quantities of tea and cake (although of course nowhere near the quilts!).

The first speaker was textile artist Christine Garwood, who spoke about how she uses fabric and stitching to create her artwork. You can see some of her work here.

From creating new work we moved to a very different aspect of quiltmaking: conserving old quilts and other textiles. Jacqui Hyman of the Textile Restoration Studio spoke about cleaning old pieces, stabilizing them to prevent further deterioration, storage, and display.

The final speaker of the morning was Claire Smith, who was a researcher for the V&A exhibition Quilts: 1700-2010. As well as telling us about a number of the quilts which appeared in the exhibition, Claire also provided insights on how the selection process for the exhibition worked and how the exhibition space was designed; all aspects of an exhibition which (if done well) largely go unnoticed by the visiting public.

1730-1750 clamshell bed hangings, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Detail of an 1829 quilt by Elizabeth Chapman, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Back view of the above quilt, showing the paper foundations, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

After a delicious buffet lunch, quilter Pat Salt talked us through her design process, and how she develops her quilt series. She had brought examples of her work, and there were oohs and aahs from the audience as quilt after lovely quilt was unfolded for us. Thanks to my friend S for taking the photographs.

Fabric 'breaking out' of its triangular patch

Unwanted fabrics were dyed yellow for use in this quilt

Kantha quilting on Blue Jugs quilt (detail)

Seam allowances on the front are a feature of Pat's work

Appliqué mini quilt
The final talk of the day was given by Fiona Roberts and Liz Johnson, on the University’s 175th Anniversary quilt.

Although I have mentioned this quilt before in this blog, it was only in the context of the magnificent cake made for the unveiling ceremony. Fiona and Liz talked through how the quilt came to be, the stories behind some of the blocks, and the challenges familiar to anyone who has ever been involved in a group project: the joy of deadlines, and just how different interpretations of the measurement “14 inch square” can be!

The completed quilt

The quilt in progress

A completed block and its inspiration, the floor of Senate House

Initial plan for the 'Founders' block

It was great day, with a varied and enjoyable program. Thanks to Deborah Wynne and her team for organising it all, and for allowing me to use images from the Textile Stories blog, as I had forgotten my camera. It’s a long time since I’ve made a quilt, but I may just be inspired to make another.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Getting ahead

(Clichéd I know, but it had to be done.)

I live about 40 miles away from Stockport; a town in Greater Manchester which was once the centre of the country's hatting industry. By 1884 the town was exporting more than six million hats a year, but the last hat works closed little more than a century later.

In April 2000 Hat Works, the only millinery museum in the UK, opened in a restored mill. As well as an extensive collection of hats and headwear the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and has live demonstrations of working machinery. It also runs millinery courses and yesterday I went on my first course there, on sinamay.

The museum

Although I’ve seen hats and fascinators made from sinamay, I didn’t know what it was. It is made from the fibres of the banana palm, which are processed and then woven into a fabric which can then be dyed and stiffened, and shaped with steam.

Different colours and weaves of sinamay

As well as examples of the different types of sinamay, the tutors Marie and Sue also brought along examples of trimmings which can be made from sinamay; ‘feathers’, curls, leaves and bows, to name just a few.

Some of the trims you can make . . .

. . . and some more

The idea of the workshop was for us each to make whatever sort of head piece we wanted and just to have a play with sinamay and see what it could do. Not being a fan of the a-bird-flew-into-my-head-and-exploded look (thanks to Aisha for the memorable description) I knew that I didn’t want to make any sort of feathery fascinator. I do however love The Girl With The Star-Spangled Heart’s style, and especially her hats, so decided to go for a small, 1950s style hat instead.

We were each given a piece of sinamay to work with, and started off by finding the bias, and cutting off a bias strip.

Cutting the bias strip

Then we experimented with cutting out shapes from paper until we got something we were happy with for our hats. This took a bit of imagination, to see the flat paper as a curved headpiece. I started off with a symmetrical shape, but decided that I preferred asymmetry, and ended up with something like a large comma. We cut our shape out three times, varying the grainline each time so that the end result would have a more dense appearance.

The initial shapes

Then we pressed the three pieces together. Because mine was quite large, I secured it with a few pins as well.

Fused together, darker and more dense

The bias strip was folded to make bias binding, just as you would do with fabric. Then this was wrapped round the shape and pinned into place.

Pinning on the binding

The binding was sewn on with small, angled stab stitches.

Ready to sew

Then came the magic bit! Holding the sinamay over the steamer made it pliable, and it could easily be shaped over the hat block. Once it cooled, it stiffened again.

Looking more hat-shaped

Once we had made our bases, it was time to play with making trims. It was amazing to watch just what different ideas the eight of us came up with for both the initial shape and the trimmings. I was going for a vintage look, so knew that I didn’t want anything which stuck out from the hat too much. I wrapped a further bias strip round the stand of a hat block, and steamed it to make a coil, which I then sewed together like quilling. None of the other trims I made were quite what I wanted for the hat, but they’ll be put to good use in the future – I already have plans for several other hats!

The one regret of the day was that I only had time for a very quick look round the museum and the temporary exhibition before it closed.

Display of contemporary hats

One of the information boards

Display of historical hats

From the temporary exhibition 'Making Headway'

A quick trip to my local fabric shop today (any excuse!) turned up the perfect trim, made from folded grosgrain ribbon.

Right and wrong sides of the ribbon trim

I sewed this round the front of the brim, and covered one end with my quilled coil. I’d noticed that a number of small 1950s hats seemed to have beading on them, so I made a small beaded motif out of bits from my stash, and attached this to the other end. Then all that was needed was to attach the elastic which the tutors provided yesterday and voilà, my very own hat.

The finished hat

(Apologies for the not remotely period-appropriate outfit to go with the hat. When I came to take the pictures it looked as though the heavens were about to open, so it was a case of grab whatever came to hand, and add a brooch!)

I must admit, it doesn't look much from the front

Definitely better from the side

Showing off the sinamay quilling

The back view really shows off the shaping

I’m absolutely thrilled with the end result. A massive thank you to the tutors Sue Carter and Marie Thornton for such an enjoyable day, and I’m really looking forward to going back to Hat Works and learning some more. Watch this space!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Horrockses DIY

Although the challenge I’ve set myself for the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge this year is to make up three of my vintage patterns, I also have a lot of pattern re-issues from the Big Four in my stash. For some of them I even have fabric as well! Vogue 8789, from 1957, was one such pattern.

Pattern illustration, view A

When I visited the Horrockses exhibition a few years ago, I was really taken with the dress on the exhibition poster, and especially its bias-cut bodice.

So when Vogue 8789 was reissued, I knew that I wanted to make it. I bought this perfect striped Rose and Hubble cotton in Over the Moon in Glastonbury a couple of years ago, and then did nothing with it.

Got fabric, got pattern, ready to go (in theory)

A year ago I redrafted the bodice pieces to include my standard Vogue alterations and cut out the bodice pieces and then . . . did nothing with it.

Redrafted bodice front

Then a couple of weeks ago, having got sick of having to move the cut-out pieces every time I needed something which was underneath them (which seemed to be frequently), I decided that it was time to finally Do Something.

The bodice pieces are cut with a self facing at the neckline, and it’s really important to make sure that the stripes 1) run parallel with the neckline and 2) match at the centre front and back seams. Once the pieces are cut out, the bodice is easy to construct. All the shaping comes from darts at the waist, and the pieces are shaped so that the stripes match on the curved shoulder seam as well as at the centre.

Completed bodice, inside out

I didn’t use the pattern pieces to cut out the skirt, as it is just four identical rectangles of fabric. However I did hit a problem, namely; which direction to have the stripes?

The Vogue pattern illustration shows the skirt with the stripes running vertically (and as I found here, Vogue re-issues do seem to stick quite closely to the original artwork). However nearly all of the examples of Horrockses dresses that I’ve found have the skirt stripes running horizontally, including this one in an advertisement for the Liverpool department store apparently known locally as “The Bonmarsh”.

Pattern matching perfection

Eventually after extensive research / drooling over pictures of pretty dresses on the internet, I managed to find a couple of examples with vertical stripes, which was enough for me.

From the apparently now defunct

In the process I also found two images which I just had to share.

First up, in the unlikely event that I ever find some fabric with bunches of bananas printed on it, I really want to recreate this dress. Because who doesn't want a dress with a banana-encrusted bust?

Yes, we have some bananas

Secondly, this fabulous picture of the Horrockses float in a Preston Guild procession in the 1950s, courtesy of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

Coming soon to a screen near you

Anyway, back to the dress. The skirt is very, very full. This picture shows the four panels sewn together (so the fabric is double thickness), and draped over Nancy, who is set to my height.

That's a lot of skirt . . .

It had to be tightly gathered to fit it to the bodice.

. . . and a lot of gathering

The dress is finished off with a petersham ribbon waist stay; I suspect partly to give some structure to the bias-cut bodice, and partly to stop the weight of the skirt from stretching the bodice. It fastens with a side zip, which I hand-picked although it wasn’t really necessary as side zips don’t show much. On the other side I added a pocket, because what dress isn’t improved by the addition of a pocket?

Such a full skirt looked a bit droopy on its own, so I made a net petticoat to go under it. The same as my pink one, but a far more sensible white.

I added a final touch to my Horrockses homage. Nearly all the Horrockses dresses I have seen have a matching fabric belt with a fabric-covered buckle, so when I came across an advert for Harlequin, who offer just such a belt-making service, I decided to splash out. The service was quick and the result is just perfect, even the loop carrier matches exactly.

The fabric belt

In true Horrockses style, I think that this will be a ‘best dress’ rather than a ‘everyday’ or even ‘work’ dress. Everything I have read about Horrockses suggests that their dresses weren’t cheap, something which my mum confirms. According to this website, the four guinea dress advertised above would cost about £118 / $172 today. However cost isn’t really the issue here; I just can’t face ironing that massive skirt on a regular basis!

So here is the end result. Unfortunately, although it was sunny the day I took the picture it was also very windy, so my attempts at Barbara Goalen-esque poise and elegance were scuppered by the need to keep my hat on, my hair from sticking to my lippy, and my skirt from blowing over my head! Oh well.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ottoman costume complete!

Woohoo! I have finally finished my 15th/16th century Ottoman costume.

Once I had completed the entari, all that was really left was the sash or kusak. Judging from the illustrations I found, this should be wider than a modern belt, but not nearly as wide as a nineteenth century hip sash. It should also be very long. I made mine out of the same material as the tarbus (hat), and 2.4m / 94½" long by 15cm / 6" wide.

The completed kusak

One description I read somewhere (and stupidly I forgot to note the source) stated that the kusak ends were often richly decorated. So, I finished mine off with gold braid, red and gold rocaille beads, and longer blue beads to pick up on the blue flowers just visible in the fabric.

Close-up of the end decoration

This also had the advantage of adding a bit of weight to the sash ends, so that it hangs slightly better.

The veil was simply the dupatta of the shalwar kameez set, with the cheap modern trim removed, and the ends straightened and hemmed. I attached it to the tarbus with medieval brass pins from Quartermasterie. I had expected these to snag the sheer fabric of the veil, but they are so beautifully sharp that they slipped through it perfectly.

The hat and trousers make the costume as a whole impossible to display on Nancy so there was nothing for it but to model it myself.

The completed costume

The complete costume is incredibly comfortable to wear; probably the most comfortable costume I have. The frankly absurd amount of fabric in the shalwar (trousers) makes them very easy to sit down in, and the flared shape of the gomlek (the white blouse) means that it hangs beautifully. Unfortunately it is traditionally made from sheer fabric and mine is made from a very thin muslin, so no pictures of that and the shalwar, however good they look together!

Sitting pretty (and comfortably)

As I explained in an earlier post, the costume that I ended up making is nothing like the costume I originally intended to make, so most of the materials I started off with are still in my stash. I was toying with the idea of making some sort of early twentieth century 'Arabian Nights' fancy dress costume from them, but then I came across this.

Suit, Poiret, 1913 - looks oddly familiar!

But that is another project for another time!