Sunday, 18 March 2018

Royal Women at the Fashion Museum

Royal Women is one of the two exhibitions currently running at the Fashion Museum in Bath. (The other is A History of Fashion in 100 Objects, which has been extended to 1 January 2019. I posted about the incomplete exhibition here, and will write a post to fill in the gaps soon.)

None of the women featured in the exhibition was a reigning monarch, but as members of the royal family they could not dress simply to please themselves; their dress choices sent strong visual messages.

The first dress on display is the wedding dress of Princess (later Queen) Alexandra, from 1863.

The remodelled wedding dress

Alexandra is said to have disliked the very wide crinolines of the time, and chose a narrower skirt. The dress was subsequently remodelled by one of Princess Alexandra's favourite dressmakers; Madame Elise.

The original appearance of the dress, trimmed with Honiton lace

Side view showing the train

Close-up of the bodice

Madame Elise also made this tartan silk dress from around 1870, possibly for a function in Scotland. It is displayed with several items in the plain, tailored style which Alexandra was known for.

Yachting jacket, 1890s, silk dress, 1870s, croquet jacket, 1863, waistcoat, 1890s

In fact, her style was so unfussy that when this 1890s dress was acquired by the museum in the 1960s it was considered insufficiently regal-looking. Mind-boggling though it seems now, the pearl trim was actually added by the museum for display purposes!

Lilac silk evening dress, Morin Blossier, about 1893

The final dress in this section needed no embellishment. It was easily my favourite in the exhibition, and the museum seem to think so too, as it features on all the publicity materials.

Embroidered chiffon evening dress by Doeuillet, 1910

The dress is in such good condition that it's possible that it was never worn. It may have been ordered before Edward VII died, and then could not be worn while Alexandra was in mourning.

Close-up of the bodice

Please, no drool on the dress. Image © Fashion Museum Bath

Unlike her mother-in-law, Queen Mary (or to give her her full name, Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes) was not known for her clothes. The exhibition only has two of her dresses and one, in black sequins, proved impossible to photograph well. The other is the dress which she wore to the wedding of her granddaughter, now Queen Elizabeth II. The dress originally had a high neck and long sleeves, and was remodelled.

Gold lamé and turquoise cut velvet dress, Norman Hartnell, 1947

Queen Mary was however known for her hats, so it seems only right that the exhibition includes one of them.

Pale blue silk georgette and swansdown toque, 1935

The first thing which struck me about the two dresses which belonged to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was just how tiny she was; I'm 5'4", and these dresses are for a figure a fair bit shorter than mine.

Grey silk satin beaded evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1954

Lace evening dress embroidered with gold thread and sequins, Norman Hartnell, 1954

Unlike her sister, Princess Margaret did not have to always wear the work of British designers. She was a keen adopter of the New Look, and of Dior's designs.

Cream silk chiffon day dress, Christian Dior, 1952

From newsreel footage of the dress being worn at Ascot, 1952

Although I didn't particularly like this striped cotton evening dress, there's no denying the clever use and manipulation of the fabric.

Cotton lawn evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1949

Close-up of bodice

Evening dresses by Norman Hartnell, l-r 1949, 1953, around 1953

Royal Women runs at the Fashion Museum until 28 April 2019, and it is included in the Fashion Museum ticket.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

New sewing machine!

Well, new to me.

I’m just back from my annual trip to Somerset. Sadly the atrocious weather last weekend meant that I only managed to get down there in time to see the final show of the Majma dance festival, but I’ve still had a fun week, and made an exciting purchase.

Driving from the M5 to Glastonbury I passed several signs for an antiques fair at Shepton Mallet, taking place this weekend. Vintage Gal has posted about some of her fabulous finds at these fairs, so I was thrilled to discover that I could actually go to one.

There were only a few textile-related stalls, but I did still manage to find a couple of 1970s Style patterns, some vintage metal lace and two lots of hat veiling, and some lovely sparkly buttons.

Not exactly a wasted trip, then!

And then just as I was about to leave, on one of the outdoor stalls, looking a bit sorry for itself and getting damp in the rain, I found this.


It was the case which caught my attention; I saw vintage film footage of these being moulded at last year's Plywood exhibition at the V&A. When I opened the case I found that the machine already had both a needle and a bobbin in place, so to the bemusement of the seller I threaded it up with a spare bobbin, and tried sewing round the edge of my handkerchief! It worked, I’ve wanted a hand-cranked machine for a while, and it clearly needed someone to rescue it from damp and neglect. . .

More ooh!

It’s quite worn in places and is clearly older than my mum’s 1953 Singer: it is plainer, and the section for the bobbins etc. has a wooden lid instead of a metal one. I guessed at 1930s because I assumed that not many were made in the 1940s - I think that the Clydebank Singer factory went over to war work. Armed with the serial number, I went online to investigate, and found this helpful site.

The all-important (and wonkily stamped) serial number

I was, quite simply, stunned. My 'new' machine was made in 1917! No wonder it looks a bit worse for wear. And it’s still in working order (although to be fair there’s not a lot to go wrong). Clearly Singer had never heard of the concept of built-in obsolescence.

Essentially it’s the same model as the 1953 version; which is useful as this one doesn’t have an instruction booklet.

Mum's (now my) machine in its case

There does seem to be a wealth of information about 99K Singers online though, so I can give it a thorough clean and tidy up. And then, of course, I want to make something with it.

Although the 99K was designed to be 'portable', this really just means 'not attached to a treadle mechanism'. One thing it is not, is light. Casually swinging the case while strolling along, à la Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker, is not going to happen!

Erm, no (image © Universal)

While writing this post I realised that I now own four sewing machines. Some people might regard this as excessive. I am not one of these people. I am just unreasonably excited!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Butterick 4384 - part 1

When I first looked at this pattern my initial thought was, "Hm, buttonholes down the front. Not my favourite thing". But look closely (Butterick kindly put the back views on the front of the envelope) and you can see that there is a zip fasten as well. It is a false front placket, so the only buttonholes are on the cuff of the long-sleeved version.Yay!

Front and back views

I'm using a thick but soft plain purple cotton for this dress, and going for long sleeves. The pattern calls for 1½" wide lace, which is attached right across the front and shaped over the bust darts.

Pattern, showing lace placement

The only lace I could only find that wide was nylon and unattractive, so I went for a braid instead. However it is only 1⅛" / 3cm wide, so I added a fifth row and changed the spacing. It took a bit of fiddling to get it so that the rows of braid don't overlap.

Front with the braid attached

The braid did tend to gape away from the fabric, so I ended up sewing round each circle - fun! Then I decided that I needed to remake the front placket because I wasn't happy with it. Fortunately I had some fabric leftover, and recut the pieces with the front slightly larger than the back so that the seamline doesn't show when they are stitched together.

Front, placket and buttons pinned onto Nancy

I've decided to go for the purple buttons rather than the cream, partly because the cream ones will look odd on the cuffs. The purple buttons do have quite long shanks though, and stick out from the placket a bit.

The collar pieces are sewn onto a band and then this is attached to the dress. I keep forgetting that the opening is at the back; I even cut the collar interfacing out on the fold as usual, and then had to split it!

Collar and band made up

So far I feel as though I have been sewing this dress forever and not got anywhere, but hopefully the end result will be worth it.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Not-so-famous names

One of the things which intrigues me about the 'designer' vintage patterns in my collection is which names have stood the test of time, and which have vanished without trace.

Vogue Couturier patterns seem to have started off claiming to be 'couturier designs', without actually naming the couturier in question. Then in the late 1950s while Vogue Paris Originals continued (unsurprisingly) to be the pattern line for French designers, other named designers started to appear in the Couturier line, complete with the country in which they were based.

'Michael of England' was actually born in Ireland. Michael Donnellan was head of Lachasse before starting his own house in 1953.

Michael of England, 1957

I've not been able to find out much about 'Giovanelli of Italy', possibly because he may also have been known as 'Giovannelli-Sciarra'.

Giovanelli of Italy, 1960

Like Michael, 'Galitzine of Italy' was not actually born in the country which appears on the pattern envelope. Irene Galitzine was born in Russia, but her family had to flee the country before she was two years old, and settled in Rome.

Galitzine of Italy, 1968

As well as names I had never heard of, Vogue patterns can offer up some surprises in terms of longevity. I tend to think of Molyneux as a designer of the 1930s and 1940s, so was surprised to find that the house still existed in the late 1970s.

Molyneux, 1977

It's not just Vogue patterns, either. While Butterick Young Designers Mary Quant and Jean Muir are still familiar names, Gerald McCann is less well known, certainly in this country.

Butterick Young Designers, 1967-9

A year ago I had no idea who Mia Fonssagrives was, either. I came across her name at the World of Anna Sui exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum last summer, where her career was credited as a major influence on the young Sui. She is still a designer, but now of jewellery and sculpture. Curiously the name came came up again at the recent Louise Dahl-Wolfe exhibition, also at the Fashion and Textile Museum, where this photograph of her mother, the model Lisa Fonssagrives, was on display.

Mia Fonssagrives, 1967

Partly because the name was familiar, and partly because I've just finished reading Fashioning Memory by Heike Jenss (about dressing in 1960s style), this pattern is going to be my next sewing project - and the first in my 2018 pledge to make up patterns from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The 'chimneypot' hat - part 2

Finally it was sunny enough to take some pictures!

I posted about making the block and the hat here, this post is all about the trimmings.

This was the reason for wanting to use a rust-coloured hood for the hat.

Half-made cockade of folded ribbons

I'd made this on the Ribbon Cockades course at Hat Works ages ago, but had never done anything more with it. But as soon as I saw the hoods, I knew that this would be the perfect trim. I had a little of both shades of petersham ribbon left, so made up a few more sections. I also found some tan-coloured petersham in the museum shop, which I used for both the hat band and covering the centre of the cockade.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to curve the hat band tightly enough to fit round the crown, so had to add some (entirely decorative, obviously) pleats at the front. Looking at the photographs now, I can see that it also needs a little light dampening to shrink the top edge.

The completed cockade, attached to the hat

The finishing touch was the veiling. I knew that I had some some spotted veiling of exactly the right shade in my stash. I think that it came from the old Barnett Lawson (the days when you could hunt around in the back of the shop) - sadly they no longer sell this colour. It's beautifully soft as well, and drapes perfectly.

Several of the hats in my inspiration image had full veils, but I decided just to add a small one at the front.

1940s hats with veils and without

Even this provides several options for how to wear it. It can be pulled down over the face . . .

Showing the full veil

It's easier to see through than this photograph suggests!

Bunched up on the brim . . .

Bunched up with a slight overhang . . .

. . . or bunched up completely

Or it can be folded round the brim, and the excess tucked under the crown.

Wrapped round the brim

Possibly my favourite

Whichever way, I'm thrilled with the end result. Now I just need a dress to go with it!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Knitting inspiration

The chimneypot hat is finished, but I've not yet had an opportunity to take any photographs. So instead here is a slightly belated post about my birthday present from my lovely friend F.

Warning: extremely picture-heavy post ahead!

Woot! To say that I was excited by this would be a major understatement

All three books were published by Odhams Press Limited, and have the same endpapers in different colours. At least two were written by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster (the title page is missing on one). All have sections on knitting for women, men, and babies/children, but it's the women's items which I'm focusing on here.

None of the books have dates in them, but I think that "Knitting For All Illustrated" is the oldest; probably 1940 or 1941. There is a section on 'Re-making and making do', which begins, "Wool is scarce and precious now", but other than that there's little to indicate that there's a war on.

Each section begins with an illustration.

Morning clothes

Most of the items are made in a single colour of wool.

Pullover and sleeveless jerkin

This knitted dress is from the 'afternoon' section, but what I really noticed is that the hat is a similar shape to my chimneypot hat.

Now I just need to knit the 'frock' to go with it!

On the subject of hats, this fez was designed to be worn three ways - and I think that all three of them would look ridiculous on me.

Not top of my to-knit list

Some of the knitted underwear is very practical, some less so. Clearly at this time silk yarn was still available for making this bra and knickers.

Love the fluffy mules!

Close-up, showing the bra shaping

The thing which really caught my eye was this housecoat - it appears in the Vintage Knit book which I bought from Skoob last month. I can't imagine ever knitting it, but it was lovely to discover that I've now got both the original pattern and the modern version.

"You'll be getting up earlier in the morning to put it on"

At the back of the book is a 'how to knit' section. The individual topics are each headed with a drawing of a little wool person.

Click on image for a larger version

Things are altogether more serious in "Complete Home Knitting Illustrated". The foreword makes reference to coupons, so the book was obviously published after the introduction of clothes rationing in 1942. Far more of the items are made in several colours of wool, to use up oddments.

Contrasting sections, and a fabulous hairdo

Stripes use up small amounts of wool

There's not just knitting inspiration; sometime I really want to make the skirt on the left.

Great  (if wasteful?) use of check fabric

Silk underwear is nowhere to be seen; it's all wool.

At least she's still got stockings

Even the hat has a military look to it.

Glengarry-style cap, and another wonderful hairdo

Not everything is military and severe though. There's this pretty cardigan with a square neckline, for example.

Lacy cardigan for 'between seasons'

The section on re-knitting is greatly expanded from "Knitting For All Illustrated". I wonder, did anyone actually try this idea of replacing worn parts of a fabric dress with knitted sections?

Dress with knitted sleeves, back, and front yoke

Despite its title, "Practical Knitting Illustrated" is positively frivolous compared to its predecessors. Gone are references to shortages, rationing, and re-using wool. The New Look has not arrived in the illustrations yet, so I'm guessing the date is around 1947-8.

No contrasting sections to be seen here

Making a striped jumper from oddments is the closest this comes to 'making do', and even then the pattern suggests what colours to use.

Narrow stripes

Worn with a classic cardigan

Knitted underwear is a thing of the past, too. Instead there is a three-piece beach suit; a bra top and shorts for swimming, and a skirt to go over the top for sunbathing.

Sunny days ahead

It will be a long time before I'm proficient enough to try knitting any of these patterns, but it's nice to have the ideas. Thanks to F for a wonderful present!