Sunday, 26 July 2015

The University Chapel Project - July 2015 update

Yesterday the Chapel Stitchers got together for the afternoon, to decide on the design for the altar frontal. We'd had a lunchtime meeting previously, at which we'd discussed ideas, but this one was far more 'hands on'.

We've decided that we want look to the future, and have a contemporary design, but also celebrate the chapel's history, and the fact that it was built by the students themselves. With this in mind we have decided to work with the theme of hands. We also want to incorporate the Amber Peace Cross into the design, as this is something which is specific to the University.

The plan for the altar frontal is to have a representation of the Amber Cross in the centre, with applique hands around the sides. Some of the hands will be plain fabric, while others will be embroidered. The plan for yesterday was to create a paper mock-up, so that we could see how this idea worked in practice. Kath had created a full-size paper template of the frontal, and we already had some hand outlines which we had created by drawing round our own hands. We want to get outlines from as many of the students and staff as possible, to make this truly a community project for the University.

Members of the group set to work cutting out hands, while I scaled up the Amber Cross from a photograph. To add more interest to the design, we also had hand outlines from children in the University's creche. Then the real fun began, as we started painting!


We laid the cross in place on the template first, and then started arranging the hands around it. Christine painted over the edges of the cross and then removed it, which created a lovely effect.



Once we'd got the hand motifs in position, it became apparent that we're going to need a lot of them! Probably around 30 on each side.


Powered by cups of tea and coffee, and the delicious home-made biscuits which Ros provided, the afternoon went very quickly. By the end we had a clear idea of what the frontal will look like. Exciting! I think that we were all really pleased with what we'd achieved.


The next meeting of the group will be on Friday 4 September at 12 noon, in the usual room at Senate House.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

#vintagepledge - Simplicity 2683

Most of the things I have made recently for the Vintage Pledge have been from vintage reissue patterns, such as my swing coat and my 'Horrockses' dress. Time to get back to my pledge to make up three of my vintage patterns.

Simplicity 2683 is a pattern of my mum’s, and it's a survivor. It survived Mum having a clearout of her patterns (sob) in the 1970s, and I acquired it about a decade later. It then survived me having a clearout (sigh) in the 1990s.

Pattern envelope

The pattern dates from 1948, and is for a housecoat, which was an informal garment intended for wear at home. Mum tells me that she made a summer and winter version, and wore them a lot.

I made the short-sleeved version in a flowered cotton in 1985 or ‘86 (I can remember wearing it to a specific event, but not the exact year) with a shorter skirt and a broderie anglais trim around the collar and sleeves. No photographs exist which is just as well, because while I’d be happy to share images of the dress, the likely accompanying hairstyle is another matter!

This time I planned to use a viscose with a vaguely 1950s pattern of leaves printed on it, and what was described as a ‘subtle silver overlay’. However when I looked at it, it wasn’t my idea of subtle at all. I got round it by using the wrong side of the fabric. As well as having no silver the background was lighter, and the design was slightly fuzzier, both of which I preferred.

Wrong side (left) and right side of the fabric

The fabric also went perfectly with some vintage buttons which I’d bought from The Old Curiosity Shop in Hay on Wye last year.

Fabric, pattern and buttons

Initially I wondered how I’d got my previous version to fit, as the pattern sizing is three sizes smaller than the one I currently use, and while I was definitely thinner 30 years ago I wasn’t that much thinner. However when I opened the envelope I discovered that I’d drafted new pattern pieces. I blithely assumed that I’d made all the necessary bodice length alterations at the time. (You can see where this one is going, can’t you . . . ?)

I made up a toile of the bodice, which needed widening but otherwise seemed to fit, so drafted new pattern pieces and made up the bodice. The instructions say to make the upper two buttonholes before attaching the facing. I decided to leave them until later, which turned out to be one of my better ideas.

One thing which I really like about the pattern is that the collar is cut with a curved shoulder seam rather than a flat one, so that it lies properly.

Back collar piece

As ever, I improved the skirt with the addition of in-seam pockets, and attached the skirt to the bodice. It’s a full skirt, so quite heavy, and once that weight was attached it became obvious that the bodice was much too long. Either I have partially shrunk in 30 years while miraculously remaining the same overall height, or I was a lot less fussy about fit when I made this previously. Cue much sighing, cursing, unpicking, getting Mum to help, fitting properly on Nancy, and being very grateful that I hadn’t made and cut those upper buttonholes.

The lower buttonholes are created by leaving gaps in the waist seam. Initially I was going to reinforce them with buttonhole stitch (hence last week’s post), but I decided that I didn’t like the effect. Instead I machined round the gaps, and made bound buttonholes for the two above.

The four buttonholes completed

I kept the dress quite long for the fifties look. I’m not sure if it would have been worn with a petticoat if it was intended for wearing at home, although the pattern illustration seems to suggest that it was. I took some photos with just a slip underneath, and then wearing my net petticoat. Unfortunately my camera decided to vote with its focus mechanism, so only the straight skirt images were usable. Gah! Hopefully I'll get some better images later in the week.

Finished, but petticoat-less
Update, Monday
Not sure whether the camera is still playing up, or the extreme breeziness was making the tripod wobble. Either way, taking this still slightly fuzzy photo reminded me that when I made this dress previously, I added a couple of press studs (snaps) to the skirt wrapover. Guess what tonight's little job is!

With petticoat, and wind!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Blanket v buttonhole

This week I had hoped to be posting about my latest 'proper' (as opposed to reissued pattern) entry for the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge, but unfortunately four large hand-stitched buttonholes are taking longer than planned to sew.

Buttonholes on a late 1780s frock coat, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

This did remind me that for ages I've been meaning to write a post about the difference between blanket stitch and buttonhole stitch, so here it is. (Note to anyone reading this who knows that I'm left-handed - I've flipped all of the images so that they don't completely confuse right-handers!)

Blanket stitch - the needle is inserted from front to back, pointing upwards, towards the edge of the fabric. The thread is passed round the back of the needle, and then the needle is pulled through.


The stitches can be spaces out, or close together.


The thread runs along the fabric edge in more or less a straight line.


Until quite recently i.e. when I made my embroidered camisole, I thought that buttonhole stitch was just blanket stitch worked close together. In fact, it is a different stitch.

Buttonhole stitch  - the needle is inserted from back to front, pointing downwards, away from the edge of the fabric. As with blanket stitch, the thread is passed round the back of the needle, but it is then passed under the point of the needle as well.


Once the needle has been pulled through the fabric, it is then pulled upwards. The thread forms a loop around itself.



This gives a thicker and therefore stronger edge to the buttonhole than would be achieved with blanket stitch, however closely it is worked.


It also explains the slight ridge visible on hand-worked buttonholes.

Archery coat, 1830-1850, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award

The lovely Gina of Beauty From Ashes, she of the very wonderful Sailor Suit of Swear and the I-hope-soon-to-be-completed (hint, hint) Ruth DeWitt Bukater Boarding Suit, has very kindly nominated me for a Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award. Aww, thank you Gina!


There are five rules for the award, but I’m going to be Very Bad, and wimp out at three.
1.Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site.
2.Put the Award logo on your blog.
3.Answer the ten questions sent to you.
4.Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer.
5.Nominate ten blogs.


So, on to Gina’s questions.

1. What do you watch/listen to while sewing? Quite often, nothing. However Mr Tulip got me into listening to cricket commentary on the radio (i.e. Test Match Special was going to be on whether I liked it or not, so I decided I might as well take an interest), so I’ll listen to that if it’s on. Occasionally if I’ve got a lot of hand sewing to do I’ll put on a DVD, but it’s got to be something which I’ve watched before, so I don’t get too distracted by watching it.

2. What costume/outfit has filled you with the most sense of accomplishment and joy? This dress, which I made ages ago and only blogged about in relation to pattern matching.


I hadn't done much dressmaking for several years when I made it, but it fitted so perfectly that I just sighed with joy every time I put it on, and it inspired me to start making clothes again.

3. What is your favourite fabric/trim/embellishment to work with when making an outfit? I have an unreasonable weakness for self-covered buttons - I have to stop myself from putting them on every garment I make, even ones which don’t need buttons!


4. Do you take a lunch/food break while sewing or sew right on through the hunger? I have to take a break. It might be a little late sometimes, but skipped meals and being a migraine sufferer really don’t go well together.

5. Would you rather read something Sci-Fi or a historical/classics novel? Historical/classics every time, I don’t really do Sci-Fi.

6. When going out to eat at a restaurant, do you like to sit outside in the fresh air or inside the restaurant? Living in the north-west of England, the climate tends to answer this one for me! It does mean though that when the weather is good enough to eat outdoors, I really appreciate it.

7. What has been your most favourite historical place to visit? Easy. Venice, hands down.


8. What fills you with awe and wonder when you gaze upon it and why? Venice again. It’s astonishing to think that centuries ago a group of people moved to a marshy, mosquito-ridden swamp for safety, and when the danger had passed, instead of moving somewhere sensible they stayed put and built this amazing city.

9. If you could take a time machine and visit a certain time, what era/eras would those be? I'm a bit of a wimp when faced with the prospect of disease and grime, so it would have to be a flying visit to Renaissance Venice, avoiding mosquitoes, fires, plagues and assassins.

10. Do you prefer to go barefoot or shod on the cool summer grass? Have you ever noticed that no matter how hot it is, that grass is always cool? On grass, shod. However put me on a beach and I’ll nearly always end up barefoot (unless the water is really, really cold!)