Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Shaping the Body - and bonus shoes

Last week I went to York for a few days. It's a lovely city, which deserves a post of its own. So for now I'll stick to what took me up there in the first place; the new long-term exhibition at the Castle Museum, Shaping the Body.


As the poster suggests, the exhibition uses items from the museum's collection to look at how body shape has been affected by the clothes people wore, the food they ate, and their changing lifestyles (for example, comparing the job of a modern supermarket checkout operator to an assistant in an Edwardian grocery shop). The main gallery looks at changing fashions from the 1600s to the present, and naturally this was the part which most interested me.

Exhibition entrance

Introductory display

Each section has information on the fashions of the period, for both men and women, plus fashion tips, and an explanation of some of the terms used.

One of the main information panels

One of the supplementary panels

As the exhibition is about body shaping, there is a range of support garments on display.

Linen stays, 1760-80

Cotton corset 1815-30, and horn busk 1780-1830

Corset, 1860-75

Cotton twill spoon busk corset, 1880-90

Anti-corset, 1880-90

'S-bend' Edwardian corset

Brassiere 1950-59, corset 1935-50, and Liberty bodice early to mid 20th century

Naturally there is also plenty of clothing.

The Age of Luxury, 1700-1800

The Racy Regency, 1800-1820

Wearing it Large! 1840-1870

Mourning dress belonging to Queen Victoria, 1896

1970s fashions

There are plenty of accessories and amusing oddities as well.

Brocaded silk shoes, 1730-50

Kid leather shoes, 1795-1800

Bargello embroidered shoes, 1720-30

Children's shoes commemorating Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887

Child's ear straighteners (to prevent sticking-out ears), 1901-30

Moustache cup (to protect a waxed 'tache from hot tea), 1895-1901

Following on from my recent post about zero waste fashion, and proving that there really is nothing new under the sun, I was interested to see that both the bodice and skirt of this Georgian silk dress had clearly been pieced together.

Joins clearly visible in the bodice, and just visible in the skirt

Throughout history, those at the cutting edge of elegant dress have always had to suffer the cruel jibes of less, erm, fashion-forward individuals, and the exhibition has plenty of examples of satire through the ages.



The exhibition's own website brings this trend right up to date, with a photograph of one of the adult-size costumes available to try on.

Remind you of anything? Image © Anthony Chappel-Ross for York Museums Trust

The darker side fashion is also covered: this display of fashion dangers includes a collar made from spontaneously-combusting cellulose, a dress dyed with a substance containing arsenic, and a fire-hazard crinoline.

Dangerous Fashion

The exhibition ends with a number of short films on how various people have chosen their 'look' and what it means to them, plus an interactive questionnaire. I felt that the result I got was a fair assessment.

Proud to be a 40% fashion failure!

Then as if all this wasn't enough costume goodness for one visit, at the nearby Fairfax House I found this.


Sadly there was no photography allowed (I did ask, OK plead), so you'll just have to believe me when I say that it was wonderful. Fairfax House had brought together shoes, clogs and pattens from museums up and down the country to form an astonishing exhibition. These images are from the exhibition website, and are all copyright Fairfax House.





A Century of Shoes: The Rise & Fall of the Georgian Heel is on until 26 June. Shaping the Body is a long-term display, and currently has no closing date.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Fashion on the Ration comes North

Bother! I've got lots to write about this week, but I've also got a bad migraine, so my usual post will have to be delayed a day or two.

Instead I'll just tell you that Fashion on the Ration, the Imperial War Museum's wonderful exhibition on 1940s street style, has just opened at IWM North in Manchester. Even better, it's on for a full 11 months (until 1 May 2017), so there's plenty of time to arrange a visit.

Mum and I had a day trip to London to see it last year, but we enjoyed it so much that now it's on our doorstep we will definitely be going again.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Almost silk headpieces

My latest course at Hat Works has been a two-part affair, on making fabric-covered headpieces.

All the hat blocking I have done so far has been with wool felt. On this course we learned how block buckram, and some of us got as far as covering it with silk!

Whereas the buckram I used for Vogue 7464 was like extremely thick interfacing, this buckram was loosely woven, and coated in some sort of sizing. Once sprayed with water it becomes mouldable (and extremely sticky). Sue and Marie had brought along examples of buckram shapes to show us.

Buckram shapes . . .

They had also brought several fabric-covered hats for inspiration. The hat at the back is a button base topped with a curl like the one on the left in the photo above. The hat at the front is made from the same block as the example on the right above.

. . . and finished hats

On the first day we made two different buckram bases, so that we could learn a variety of techniques. The first base was simply made by shaping a square of buckram over a basic domed block. While that was drying, we blocked a second piece onto a hat block. I chose a heart-shaped block.

With pen, to show the block size. Guess who forgot to bring a ruler?

It was impossible to block the heart-shaped hat in a single piece of buckram, so I had to block the top and side separately. It was a sunny day, so we put all the blocks outside to dry. The chimney pot to the right is at the top of a tall chimney in the museum's courtyard. Fortunately none of the blocks fell off the ledge; it's a long way down!

Drying in the sun

For the first piece, we drew out our hat designs on paper, cut them out, and marked round the edge onto the buckram.

I was to come to bitterly regret this choice of shape!

The shapes were cut out, and then we sewed wire round the edges. This was where I got my first inkling that my design had been, ahem, ambitious. Because of the tightness of the curves I couldn't just oversew the wire; it had to be attached with buttonhole stitch to keep it secure. (Actually I cheated and used blanket stitch instead - very lax.)

Once wired, I could manipulate the shape.

Moving away from the dome shape

For the heart-shaped hat, I trimmed the side piece to the exact shape, and the top piece to have a 1cm / ⅜" lip. Sewing the two together took me up to the end of the first day.

We had a week between the two Saturdays of the course, and some of us took our pieces home to work on them. However judging by the amount of sewing being done yesterday morning before Sue and Marie arrived, I'm not sure if many of us had been that diligent with our homework! I had managed to wire my heart-shaped hat (oversewed this time), but that was all.

The two parts of the hat, and the wired edge

The next step was to cover the wire with bias strips of tarlatan. Easy for the heart-shaped hat.

Tarlatan covered wire

If anyone reading this is thinking of going on this course in the future, it's great fun but do not design something with tight curves! Trust me on this. No amount of stream / cajoling / brute force could get that bias to lie flat. In the end I snipped into it in places, and lapped the sections one over the other.

More tarlatan covered wire. Eventually

Back view

And this was as far as I got with this piece. I know what I want to do with it, but I need some other materials, which I hope to get next month.

I also know what I want to do with the heart-shaped hat. So far I've just covered the top with ice wool (a stretchy, fluffy fabric) to smooth over the jagged edges where the pieces of buckram meet.

With the ice wool added

I've got the materials for this hat, but whether I've got the ability to carry out my grand plan remains to be seen, as it's stupidly ambitious.

To be continued.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Another skirt

Sewing has rather taken a back seat recently. We've had a spell of hot and sunny weather, so I've been outdoors, making the most of it. After all, in the UK this may be all the summer we get!

Fortunately I do have a project to show you. It was finished a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't had the chance to blog about it.  As expected, my sort-of-bouclĂ© skirt has had a lot of wear, so I decided it was high time to make another one. This time I tweaked the pattern a bit and added pockets because, well, pockets.

I used a piece of red needlecord I had in my stash. It came from Watson and Thornton in Shrewsbury, and I'd bought it in a fit of nostalgia, as you rarely come across needlecord in shops these days. When I started to sew I began to realise why this might be: it can have a mind of its own when you're trying to stitch across the ridges, on the pocket edge for example.

The completed pocket

Partway through, I decided to line the skirt, and popped into town to buy lining and another reel of thread. This prompted the comment, "My, you're being restrained today", in my local fabric shop! (Note to self - buy less fabric.)

After a couple of frustrating attempts to machine sew the zip, I decided to hand pick it instead, a much better idea. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if it's not easier to just hand pick all zips from the start, rather than as the if-all-else-fails solution. The button I found in my button box; I've absolutely no idea where it came from, but it was perfect. The buttonhole was hand sewn.

Zip, buttonhole and button

So here's the finished item. Nothing massively exciting, but I'm pleased with it, and have ideas for a few more pattern variations.



One final thing. When I'd finished the skirt I went to swap my machine back to brown thread for my rather neglected 1944 coat. This was how much thread was left on the machine bobbin. Only fellow sewists will understand just how happy this made me!

Perfectly judged!