Sunday, 29 January 2017

Dressmaking 60 years ago

Gah! I finished my course work on time, but then I managed to leave my camera at the university on Friday and can't collect it until Tuesday, so couldn't take any pictures of my sewing. (Much to the amusement of all my friends, I have a very, very basic phone, which doesn't take photographs.)

This meant a rethink of what to write about, as it had to be something which I could scan. So today's post is all about another of my old magazines, a copy of Woman and Home from 1957 (which handily has pages slightly smaller than A4 size).

The cover features knitting, embroidery and toy making

By 1957 Woman and Home seems to have incorporated Good Needlework magazine (I wrote about the Good Needlework Gift Book here). There are lots of sewing, embroidery and knitting references in it, and plenty of advertisements for knitting wool, but I'm concentrating on the dressmaking-related items.

Page three is a full-page advert for Singer sewing machines.

Obviously buying your own machine wasn't considered an option!

Further on there is a smaller advert for Pfaff. Unlike Singer, this includes a price (and how to pronounce the name). Although it looks similar to my mum's 1953 Singer, it's a lot more expensive.

This is £979 / $1232 in today's money

But it is electric

There are four pages devoted to dressmaking patterns, all of which can be bought from the magazine. Because it is the September issue, they are all for autumn fashions. This is the first of the double-page spreads.

Full skirts for a suit and a dress

Straighter skirts, and a full-length but unfastened coat

Of the 92 pages (excluding the covers), only 12 are colour printed. Eight of these are advertisements; although strangely one of the adverts is in black and white. One of the colour editorial pages is part of the other double-page dressmaking spread.

Bright colours for a winter jacket

Supplementing the pattern instructions

Of course dressmaking requires fabric. There are two separate adverts for Viyella.

Full page colour

Close up - includes suggested patterns

Smaller, and black and white

Fabric for £6.68 a yard!

But the advert which really intrigued me was this little one, tucked away at the bottom of a page.

No, not the facial hairs one

This one

I'd love to know more about this. I wonder how much was in a parcel, and what sort of lengths. Unless you were making clothes for children, a selection of 36" wide, 2 yard lengths of different coloured fabrics would require some ingenuity to use.Sadly although there is still a business called Celic in Bedford, it now sells beds, so I've not been able to find out any more.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Normal service will be resumed . . soon

My next piece of course work for my Masters has to be completed for Tuesday, so life is like this at present:

Collecting books, 1964 (© British Library of Political and Economic Science)

So not only am I not blogging, I've not been doing any sewing to blog about, either. Hopefully this state of affairs will be fixed by next week. In the meantime here's a link to the fabulous article where I found the image above. It contains some excellent outfits - and hair!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Simplicity 4896, progress and anti-progress

I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted about this - nine months!

I have made some progress since then. Having luckily realized that the fabric had a directional weave before I started cutting out, I ignored the cutting layout and cut everything from a single layer. I was so successful in fitting all the pieces together with minimal waste that I actually ended up with 30cm / 12" fabric left over! Very make-do-and-mend.

I had assumed that the neckline would be very similar to the later Butterick 5716 (now out of print), but in fact it's got three little darts on each side of the undercollar, to give it some shape. It's a really interesting, and unseen, detail - exactly what I love about using vintage patterns.

Shaping the collar

What I don't love so much is the instructions. I think that I may have made welt pockets before, but if so it was over 20 years ago - and I don't remember anything about how to do it. The relevant section of the instruction sheet measures 7½ cm by 9½ cm / 3" by 3¾", and even when I could I see it (I needed a magnifying glass), it made very little sense.

The poor printing didn't help

Eventually I decided just to follow the steps, mystifying though they were. After all, until I reached the point where I had to cut the actual coat front, I could always unpick it.

Basting on the welt

Amazingly the pockets turned out fine, with only minor wrinkles.

The pocket bag on the inside

The finished pocket on the outside

So that was the progress, what about the 'anti-progress'?

I didn't want to use the type of modern lining fabric I use to line skirts, so instead chose a mocha-coloured satin - it's what I also used for the pocket bag above. I wasn't really happy with it though, as it didn't have enough structure.

Then when we went to Shrewsbury for the Story of Wool study day (last May!), it seemed only right to take my sewing friends to visit Watson and Thornton fabric shop. Among other things they stock a good selection of proper, old-fashioned, self-patterned coat lining. So I bought some and abandoned the satin lining, which was made up but not sewn into the coat - and then ground to a halt.

Time to get started again.

The University Chapel Project - belated December 2016 update

Oops! This post got completely forgotten in the run-up to Christmas - apologies to all involved.

The kneeler group got together as planned on Saturday 19 November to put the kneelers together. They got close enough to completed to take a few pictures in the chapel, and Ros did the last bits of finishing off later.

One of the kneelers on the chapel steps

Ros with the kneeler

The kneelers have since been used for a wedding in early December. Both the bride and groom are known to several members of the kneeler group, which made the first use particularly special.

The back, showing the date and the initials of the kneeler group members

When I came to put this post together I realised that I only had pictures of one kneeler, but will get some photographs of the pair next week.

The next meeting of the group will be on Friday 27 January, at noon, in room CSH111 in Senate House.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book review - A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

I came across this book entirely by accident. I was ordering something serious and academic for my course, and it popped up on the 'You might also like' screen. Now bearing in mind that the previous time I'd ordered something serious and academic online, it had suggested that I might also like 'Finding Dory' (possibly Amazon's algorithms thought that I needed some light relief), getting a suggestion that at least vaguely related to my order was progress.

(Note: all other images in this post are from my own collection, not from the book.)

It looked like something that I would indeed like, and it was December, so I thought, 'Merry Christmas to me', and added it to my order.

I was hoping for an interesting read, and it certainly is that, and much more besides. Joy Spanabel Emery is a costume designer and Professor Emerita of Theatre at the University of Rhode Island, USA. She is also the curator of the Commercial Pattern Archive at URI, and knows her subject in depth. The result is a book which as well as being entertaining and immensely readable is thoroughly well-researched (I may have been slightly too thrilled by the discovery that it's got references and footnotes!).

Emery begins with a brief review of the earliest works to offer patterns, mostly written for tailors. She then considers how nineteenth century technology such as sewing machines and dress forms affected home sewing, before going on to the formation of the first pattern companies in the 1850s.

1874 dress pattern, read about it here

The now virtually unheard-of Demorest was the first firm to sell mass-produced patterns, followed by Ebenezer Butterick in 1863-4 and James McCall in 1871. The 'cut and punched' tissue pieces familiar to anyone who has made up a vintage pattern seem to have become the norm early on, and continued unchanged until 1921 when McCall introduced printed patterns. I had no idea that they started so early, although thanks to a comprehensive patent only McCall offered printed patterns for several decades.

'Cut and punched' pattern pieces

1930s pattern; McCall was also the first to produce envelopes in colour

Printed piece from the above pattern

And that is the joy of this book. It is stuffed full of fascinating snippets about the pattern industry; how smaller players such as DuBarry and Hollywood Patterns came into existence, how patterns were sized and marketed, and how the industry coped with the changes to home sewing as the twentieth century developed.

DuBarry and Hollywood patterns

Some parts provided answers to questions I'd always vaguely wondered about; for example, where on earth did the word 'Deltor' come from?

Butterick 'Deltors'

Others facts are jaw-dropping, such as the 1962 estimate that the American home sewing market "consisted of over forty million individuals who averaged twenty-seven garments per person per year". Twenty-seven???! I’d have to give up work, housework and possibly sleep to manage that.

27 - sadly, it's not going to happen

My only minor gripe was with the references to 'English' rather than 'British' pattern companies. It is corrected in later chapters and I doubt if most readers would even notice it, but as someone who grew up in Scotland and now works in Wales, I tend to be particularly aware of this.

British patterns: Style, Weldons, Economy Design (an offshoot of Style) and Maudella

The book also makes full use of the Commercial Pattern Archive to provide plenty of illustrations; mostly of patterns, but also from magazines and marketing materials.

Advert for a Bestway pattern offer in Woman's Illustrated magazine, October 1954

Finally there is an appendix of nine complete patterns, dating from 1850 to the 1960s. These are drawn out on grids to be enlarged, like those found in Janet Arnold's and Jill Salen's costume books.

As Emery says in her introduction, whereas garments preserved in museums tend to be high fashion and/or for special occasions, dress patterns are more representative of popular culture. Therefore although I'd primarily, and wholeheartedly, recommend this book to anyone with an interest in vintage (or even non-vintage) dressmaking, readers with an interest in fashion or social history would find a lot to enjoy as well.

Friday, 6 January 2017

2016 - a review after all

Lots of the people whose blogs I follow have been posting reviews of 2016, but after last week's crushing revelation that my plans for stash reduction had been a dismal failure, I didn't think I had much to review. But then I started to count up my makes for the year, and actually it wasn't that bad (apart from the fact that I'd bought new fabric for most of them - oops!)

So let's have a look.

Putting the 'dress' into 'dressmaker'

As well as the modern Blackbird Dress, I completed my Vintage Pledge to make up four of my vintage or reproduction patterns (OK, I actually pledged "at least four", but we'll gloss over that) with the Rosalind Dress, Butterick 6582, Simplicity 1777, and what I now think of as the Gothic Frock (aka Vogue 2401).

2016 was the year that I rediscovered separates. Having drafted a skirt pattern in January, I proceeded to get my money's worth out of it with a needlecord version with pockets, and a pair of skirts squeezed from one remnant (which didn't leave any spare for pockets).

Skirts. Lots of 'em

Which just leaves a few odds and ends.

Slip, pinny and assorted shortening

I really fell off the Historical Sew Monthly wagon this year, and only completed the first two challenges; making a 1909 slip for Procrastination, and lowering the front of my Edwardian chemise for Tucks and Pleating. Also on the alterations front, I shortened a jumper to a more vintage length - and I love it! I also made an apron to wear on my hatmaking courses, which brings me to the fact that . . .


Ta dah!

(As you may just have guessed, I still haven't calmed down from the excitement.)

So - plans for 2017.

I don't intend to commit to too much this year, as my course (which I am absolutely loving) is keeping me pretty busy. Things which I definitely want to do are:
  • Finish the other brimmed hat which I started last year
  • Finish my poor 1940s coat, which has been languishing on Nancy since April
  • Channel my inner Celia Johnson by making up Hollywood 1531.

Of course, other things will come along to totally derail these plans. When I reviewed 2015, I certainly didn't expect that 12 months later I'd be partway though a Masters! But that's all part of the fun.