Sunday, 19 November 2017

Hooray for Hollywood

I have finally made a start on Hollywood 1531, the 1938 suit pattern which I bought from the lovely Gina of Beauty for Ashes a year ago.

Hollywood 1531, a 'pattern of youth'

I’m still tracing off pattern pieces, so don’t have much to show yet. So instead I thought I’d write a bit about Hollywood, 1930s patterns, and how all this came together in the form of Hollywood Patterns.

We tend to think of celebrity endorsements as a relatively new thing, but in fact they have been around for over 80 years. In the early 1930s the Modern Merchandising Bureau began promoting fashions based on current films in its Cinema Fashions shops. Initially at least the shops were exclusive and expensive, with dresses costing up to $30. In time they expanded to a chain of almost 2,000 shops, selling clothing and other items endorsed by movie stars. Other companies followed suit, and the Modern Merchandising Bureau also put some older styles, which had already had a run in Cinema Fashions shops, into mass production.

The best known film-based garment of this time was the ‘Letty Lynton dress’, designed by Gilbert Adrian and worn by Joan Crawford in the 1932 film of the same name. Over 50,000 of Macy's department store’s replicas were eventually sold.

Joan Crawford in the 'Letty Lynton dress'

Not surprisingly, the idea of star endorsement spread to pattern companies. In 1933 Butterick launched their ‘Starred’ patterns; based on actual clothes worn in films. This example, clearly influenced by the Letty Lynton dress, was worn by Helen Chandler in the RKO film Christopher Strong.

Organdie dress with big sleeves - looks familiar?

Helen Chandler in 'Christopher Strong', image from IMDB

The ‘Starred’ range only lasted for one year. One obvious problem was that clothes on film were designed to be dramatic, and few of them translated easily into everyday wear. Also the price of 50c put the patterns at the upper end of the average price range for that period (30c-50c).

Well and truly above that average were Vogue Patterns, which cost 40c-$2. According to Joy Spanabel Emery’s History of the Paper Pattern Industry, 1932 was the worst year of the depression for pattern companies. People were making more of their own clothes than ever, but buying fewer patterns. New, cheaper, pattern lines were introduced in response to this, such as Advance (15c, but only 5c in JC Penney stores) and DuBarry (10c, sold in Woolworth’s). Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue Patterns, wanted to compete with these lines, but not at the expense of Vogue’s carefully cultivated image. Instead he brought out a new line, Hollywood Patterns, launched in 1933.

Hollywood got round the problems of the ‘Starred’ patterns (and potential licensing costs) by not linking their clothes to particular films. Instead many of the envelopes featured a head shot of a Hollywood star, while the illustration showed a similar-looking woman; the implication being that this was a garment that the star had worn.

Hollywood 1382,1937 or 38, image from Etsy

In fact, Hollywood Patterns marketed their patterns as "modeled after the clothes of Hollywood movie stars", the idea being that these were the sort of clothes that the stars would wear at home.

Like Advance and DuBarry, Hollywood Patterns sought a tie-in with a major chain store; W.T. Grant. Special versions of the patterns were produced to be sold in the stores.

Two versions of Hollywood 1041, 1935, images from Etsy

The W.T. Grant version of this pattern is one of only a handful that I have only come across which make reference to a particular film. That two 'Gone With the Wind' inspired patterns were released together is testament to just how popular the movie was, while the use of green ties the patterns in with one of the best-known dresses from the film.

Hollywood 1987 and 1988, 1940, images from Etsy

Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind'

Hollywood 1531 features Maureen O’Sullivan. Given that she was best known for playing Jane in the ‘Tarzan’ movies, it is probably as well that this is not a pattern based on a film costume! In fact, I did manage to find a photograph of Maureen O’Sullivan wearing a suit, from the same time as the pattern (I'm trying to ignore the state of the hem on Jane Wyman's skirt!).

Jane Wyman (left) and Maureen O'Sullivan, 1938

I’m not entirely sure what qualified a pattern as a ‘Pattern of Youth’, given that this one is for quite a similar suit, but apparently not youthful.

Hollywood 628, 1944, image from Etsy

Despite the name, not all Hollywood Patterns featured film stars. From the company’s beginning in 1933 to its end in 1947, some patterns just had illustrations.

Hollywood 737, 1934, image from Etsy

Hollywood 988, 1942

Hollywood 1820, 1946, image from Etsy

Now that I know that Hollywood Patterns were an offshoot of Vogue, I'll be interested to see how the pattern makes up, as I've had good results from vintage Vogue (as opposed to Vintage Vogue - reissues) patterns in the past. Hopefully I'll have something to report next week!

Eckert, C. (1978). The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window. Reprinted in Gaines, J. & Herzog, C. (Eds.) Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body
Emery, J.S. (2014). A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution
Laboissonniere, W. (1999) Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s

Sunday, 12 November 2017

#vintagepledge - Simplicity 4896 finished!

Finally! I can't believe I began making this in April 2016.

As well as making up the coat body and tackling the pockets, I had attached the facing before the whole thing ground to a halt. However try as I might to press the edge of the collar flat, it just wouldn't do so. Not even 10 months of hanging on Nancy (my dressform), with a row of basting stitches to hold it on place did the trick. As soon as I took the basting out, it sprang out of place. So I admitted defeat, and top-stitched it.

When I last posted about this project, I had decided to bin the lining I'd made, and start again with proper lining fabric. In some ways leaving it for so long turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because when I finally started again a couple of weeks ago, I had to reread the instructions. And that was how I noticed that as well as lining, the instructions also called for interlining. Somehow I had completely missed this before.

I used black cotton for the interlining. For each piece, the lining and interlining had to be basted together, then the piece was treated as a single unit.

Sleeve pieces showing the lining side and the interlining side

Once the coat lining had been made up, the instructions were to attach the lining to the coat by hand sewing through both along all the seams. This was very fiddly to do, especially down the sleeves. Only by wearing the coat will I find out if it was worth the bother. Once that was done, the edges were slip-stitched into place as normal.

Another new thing to me was the addition of "arm straps"; long tubes of lining fabric attached inside the coat fronts at the top and bottom. There was no explanation of what these are for - presumably in 1944 it was obvious. I'm guessing they are a way to hold the coat closed, as it has no fastens. I reinforced mine with cotton tape inside.

One of the arm straps

And here it is at last. A finished 1940s coat. The pattern is from 1944, and I'm wearing it with Vogue 7464, which is a reissue of a 1940s pattern, and Vogue 9546 from 1942. The bag is also 1940s, but I can't now remember where I bought it.

Better late than never

I've just realised that it's November, and this is my first item for this year's Vintage Pledge (we just don't talk about the Dress of Frump). Hopefully I'll get something else made as well before the end of the year.

Showing the full coat

Sunday, 5 November 2017

'Meh' no more

Grrrr! I had hoped to post this week about Simplicity 4896, the 1940s coat which I seem to have been making forever. Unfortunately even though I've 'only' got the lining to make up, this is taking far longer than I had expected.

So instead here's a short post about a quick win (yea!); fixing the less-than-successful cotton skirt I made back in April, otherwise known as The 'Meh' Skirt.

Now that the weather has turned cooler, I remembered the suggestion made by Kate of Sewing At Damgate, who thought that wearing the skirt with thick tights and a thicker jumper might be a better look. So I tried the skirt on and, while trying to work out what alterations it needed to fix the various problems, turned the waistband under. . . .

Bingo! It was as if the Good Dressmaking Fairy had waved her magic wand. All the fit issues simply vanished. The annoying, neither-one-thing-or-another length was transformed into something I like.

It fits!

Confession time: I've retained the waistband, and just altered the fasten (a hook and bar fortunately, not a button and buttonhole) and secured it to the lining in a few places. At some point I might shorten the skirt a little bit more, so that the tiny bits of blue flower at the bottom are removed.

I am unreasonably happy with this simple fix! I still love the fabric; and teamed with an old jumper of Mr Tulip's, my favourite green Splendette earrings, and a necklace I quickly made from glass beads from my local fabric shop, it makes for a perfect retro look.

Happy, happy, happy!

So there you have it; proof that revisiting a failure after a cooling off period can really work. Thanks for the suggestion Kate!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Model Image at the Lady Lever Art Gallery

Very few of my local friends sew, so I don't have many opportunities for getting together with them and discussing latest projects etc. What they do do however is let me know about local events and exhibitions which they think I'll like. So when my friend S went to Model Image at the Lady Lever Art Gallery last week, she emailed me almost as soon as she got home to say, "You'll love this".

I went today, and she was right.

The exhibition is based on photographs of Jane Duncan. Born in Liverpool, she initially trained as an actress and dancer before becoming one of the top fashion models of the 1950s. As well as images of her childhood and working life, the exhibition includes a number of 1950s evening dresses from the collection of National Museums Liverpool.

Photograph of June Duncan 1951-2, 1950s evening dresses

The Jean Dessès dress is displayed to show off the embroidery on the back, but it's also possible to see the side zip on the left, and the hooks and bars which hold the wrapped-over left skirt section in place.

Ball gown, silk satin and silk chiffon, Jean Dessès, 1955-6

Born in 1924, Jane Duncan was always naturally very slim - she twice failed the medical for military service in World War Two for being underweight. Before and after the war she trained as a dancer and actress.

Jane Duncan (fourth from left) in chorus line with Lena Horne, 1947

1950, aged 26

She began modelling in 1948, and by the early 1950s was working in both London and Paris.

Aquascutum, 1952-5

Dior wool suit, 1951-2

As well as Dior, she also modelled for Worth and Fath.

Photographs of Jane Duncan modelling for Worth (left) and Dior (right)

The Daily Express included her in its list of the ten top-paid models of 1952, although by her own account even top models then were paid nothing like the sums they receive now. (What she was paid per day equates to around £200 in today's money.) For some jobs models were even expected to bring their own shoes, gloves, jewellery and hats!

The top ten models of 1952, June Duncan is on the far right

As well as photographic modelling, Jane Duncan posed for illustrations for advertisements.

1950 advert for Votrix vermouth on right

1952 advert for Horrockses towels and pillowcases on left

Many of the dresses in the exhibition are high-end brand names sold by upmarket stores in Liverpool.

Tina Berlyn dress, 1955

One dress is by the 'Jonelle' label, John Lewis Partnership's own brand, sold in George Henry Lees. The jutting pockets are reminiscent of Butterick 6877.

Jonelle dress, 1953-6

There is also one dress made by a local dressmaker, Beatrice McKenzie of Southport.

Rayon dress with beaded detail, 1953-6

Model Image runs at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 15 April 2018.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Edinburgh - the costume post

My trip to Edinburgh didn't just involve taking photographs and walking up and down slopes and steps (although there was a lot of that) - naturally dressmaking and costumes featured as well.

The Dress Fabric Company, the lovely fabric shop in Bruntsfield, will get its own post in time. For now I'm featuring the two costume-related places I visited.

First up, the National Museum of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland - the main gallery

The Scottish National Costume Museum, Shambellie House, closed in 2012. The costume collection is now displayed on the ground floor of the Art, Design and Fashion galleries. As so often seems to happen in museums nowadays, the combination of glass cases and reflections of illuminated images elsewhere made it hard to get decent photographs; so what follows is an eclectic mix of some of the pieces on display.

Keeki by Harvy Santos, 2015

Gauntlet gloves, c1610-30

Evening dress, Lucile Ltd, c1918-20

Embroidered jumps, c1730-60

Beaded satin shoes, c1910-14

Stays and stomacher, c1730-50 (2 & 4), wooden busk, c1670-1730 (3)

Evening dress of silk net, c1810-20

Court mantua, 1750s

Wool suit, Tommy Nutter, 1989

Finally, although I couldn't get a good photograph of the whole thing I had to include this dress; it makes such clever use of the printed fabric.

Block printed dress, c1740-60

The catalyst for the trip was an exhibition at another national museum; True to Life | British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I absolutely loved it: even if the entire rest of the holiday had been terrible (it most definitely wasn't), it would have been worth it for this alone.

Realist British painting of the inter-war period is almost forgotten now; the names of many of the artists featured were unknown to me. As the exhibition title suggests, the emphasis was on accurately representing the subject, with considerable attention to detail.

For a costume nerd with a love of inter-war fashions (i.e. me), this was heaven. The front cover of the catalogue gives a good idea of what was to come.

By the Hills, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, 1939

I spent far too long trying to work out what was going on with this dress; the gallery assistants must have wondered what on earth I was doing. The red section overlaps the black (which has braid on it) on the left side, but the black overlaps the red on the right!

The Yellow Glove, James Cowie, 1928

Even the stockings and shoes, and the kink in the hat brim, are perfectly rendered in this painting.

Elsie, Dora Carline, 1929

My favourite was this one, probably because of the fabulous hat!

Pauline Waiting, Sir Herbert James Gunn, 1939

This was the golden era of rail travel, and the railway companies frequently employed famous artists to create artwork for their advertising posters. I loved the 1920s outfit in this painting for the London, Midland and Sottish Railway, but I was a little worried by the reader's virulent green drink!

Restaurant Car, Leonard Campbell Taylor, c1935

Although the bathing suits catch the eye, there are some lovely clothes elsewhere in this image commissioned by the London, Midland and Sottish Railway. In particular I'd really like to recreate the green dress - but in a different colour, obviously!

Blackpool, Fortunino Matania, c1937

Sadly True to Life only has another week to run but if this has whetted your appetite, you can buy the catalogue here.

Sunday, 15 October 2017


I've been on my travels again. This time I've headed north rather than south, and spent a few days in Edinburgh. Although you'd never know it if you heard me speak, this is where I was born and grew up; I lived in or near the city until I went to college.

My parents grew up not far from where I now live, and moved back down here 18 years ago. This was only my second trip to Scotland since then. I had a great time, so this is a very picture-heavy post all about the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh truly is a tale of two cities, or to be more precise, towns. The original settlement was what is now called the Old Town, and grew up around the castle.

The entrance to Edinburgh Castle

The photo above doesn't do justice to how truly castle-y Edinburgh Castle actually is. It is perched on a rock, and dominates the city.

Looking up at the castle from the Grassmarket

Although the Scottish Crown Jewels are kept in the castle, it is not the official royal residence in Scotland. Instead that is Holyrood Palace, at the foot of the Royal Mile. The Queen stays here for a week each year.

Holyrood Palace

Edinburgh is very, very hilly, and the Royal Mile slopes downhill from the castle along a ridge. For a long time the city was confined within walls, so the only was to accommodate a growing population was to build upwards.

The Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile

John Knox's house (centre) on the Royal Mile

Many of the buildings along the Royal Mile are part of the original medieval city, but some are much more recent. It's hard to believe that this hotel was only built in 1990.

A modern addition

Most of the streets which lead off the Royal Mile go sharply downhill.

Victoria Street curves down to the Grassmarket

The Grassmarket was one of Edinburgh's main markets, where horses and cattle were sold.

The Grassmarket and the castle

Just up from the Grassmarket is Greyfriars Kirk, the final resting place of Greyfriars Bobby and his owner John Grey. The famous statue is nearby. Judging from the extreme shininess of the dog's nose, it must get rubbed a lot!

The statue of Greyfriars Bobby

Also leading off the Royal Mile are lots of narrow, pedestrian-only streets called 'closes'. Some of these open into little courtyards.

Lady Stairs Close

As well as steep streets, there are lots of flights of stairs.

Steps leading up to the Royal Mile

Eventually the overcrowding in the Old Town grew so bad that something had to be done. Rather than simply expand the existing town beyond the city walls, the decision was taken to build the New Town to the north of the Royal Mile. This was begun in 1767, and still retains much of its original Georgian architecture.

Part of Charlotte Square in the New Town

Many of the houses retain their original features, such as boot scrapers by the doors, and snuffers to put out the torches carried to light the way while travelling.

The snuffer is the diagonal tube in the lamp stand

Bute House, official residence of the First Minister

The area between the Old and New Towns was originally a loch (lake). This was drained and now contains the main railway line and station, the National Gallery of Scotland and Princes Street Gardens.

The Old Town and castle, with the National Gallery in front

Finally (and well done for making it this far!) this photograph of the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street was taken at seven minutes past three. The hotel was originally the railway hotel, and the clock can be seen most of the way along Princes Street, the main shopping street. It is deliberately kept three minutes fast, to ensure that people don't miss their train! The only time that it is set to the correct time is on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve).

The Balmoral Hotel, the North Bridge and Arthur's Seat