Sunday, 14 July 2019

The Vogue Woman

I'm slowly filling in the gaps in my collection of Vogue Pattern Books/Vogue Patterns, so when I came across a few copies from the 1990s I snapped them up. This is one of them, from 1993.

Vogue Patterns, March/April 1993

Lynn, who writes the excellent American Age Fashion project, has written about The Vogue Woman patterns - you can read her post here.

'The Vogue Woman' was another attempt by Vogue to appeal to the older sewist, following on from half-size patterns*. It made sense: by the 1990s dressmaking was declining in popularity, so persuading the audience you already have (an audience which is getting older) to buy more patterns may well be a better bet than trying to tempt younger women to take up dressmaking. Indeed the issue's editorial suggested that The Vogue Woman range had been introduced in response to comments from readers who don't want to dress "like a trendy young girl".

The first batch of twelve patterns came in either sizes 6-22 or 8-24, with five of the patterns having a petite option. The designs aimed to be stylish rather than ultra fashionable, and had built-in adjustments such as longer hems and looser sleeves. Elasticated waistbands featured too. Given that in one of the books I've read for my Masters research**, most of the older women interviewed disliked elasticated waists intensely, I did wonder just how popular that feature was.

One thing which probably did find favour was the larger print instructions. I compared a 1993 Vogue Woman pattern to a 1990 Vogue Career one, and the difference was immediately apparent.

Instructions are easier on the eyes

The pattern instructions also contained information on how to pad sloping shoulders, and stop shoulder straps from digging in.

Extra information in the pattern

The print size may have differed, but one thing had not - the measurements. This really surprised me. The 'Guide to back views and fabric yardages' at the back of the magazine includes a chart of bust, waist and hip measurements for each size, but the Vogue Woman patterns are labelled "See pattern envelope for measurement information", which to me implies that they differ from the standard measurements. However while half sizes had catered for shorter back lengths and thicker waists, The Vogue Woman clearly had the same measurements as the (presumably younger) users of Vogue Career patterns.

Comparing measurement charts

The editorial and article on the new pattern range featured older models (i.e. 40 to over 60), and named them.

Models for The Vogue Woman range

Clockwise from top left they are Betsy Berry, Lillian Marcuson and Grethe Holby. Betsy Berry was the 40-year-old referred to, while Lillian Marcuson had had a modelling career in the 1950s before retiring to raise a family. Grethe Holby was born in 1948, and was a dancer as well as a model. According to this article Ford Models took five years off her age when she joined, which makes me wonder what age Vogue Patterns thought she was in 1993!

Like Vogue Career patterns, the envelope shows the figure in a setting rather than just a blank background. Unlike a lot of Vogue patterns from the era, the background is in focus, and quite extensive.

One of the first Vogue Woman patterns

The accompanying line drawing of the dress shows a woman with white hair, but noticably younger and thinner, which seems to be the standard pattern art approach to drawing older women. Even on patterns which were specifically aimed at older women, clearly the representation of older women could only go so far.

* - At this time half-sizes still going, just. They were no longer separate patterns, instead they existed as alteration lines on regular patterns. The key in the 'Guide to back views and fabric yardages' includes a symbol which translates as "Half Sizes: Special adjustment lines for Half-Sizes on sizes 14-24". However none of the 45 other patterns for adult women’s clothing featured in the guide appear to include this option, so it's not clear how widely it was in use by 1993.

** - Twigg, J. (2013). Fashion and age. London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Academic.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

All the tartan dresses

The Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding dress isn't the only garment in the Wild and Majestic; Romantic Visions of Scotland exhibition; there are lots of other tartan clothes on display. I must admit though that I was very partial, and only recorded the dresses, not the various men's suits.

First up, this boy's kilt dress, c1820. The lower part is styled to resemble a kilt, and the buttons and braid reflect the way military dress details were used in civilian clothes at the time.

Kilt dress, front and back

This 1823 painting, reproduced in the exhibition, shows how such a dress would have been worn.

Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge with her children Prince George and Princess Augusta

King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822. Many of the details of the visit were planned by the novelist Sir Walter Scott, including a grand ball at Holyrood Palace. For this, Scott recommended that the ladies wore plain white silk dresses with silk tartan scarves. Clearly Mary Jane MacDougall followed his advice.

White silk gown with silk tartan sash, c1815-25

The dress has mesh oversleeves finished with silk tartan, and is trimmed with beetle wings and more mesh, with a silk tartan sash over the top.

Sleeve detail

Hem detail

While the royal visit was not without controversy, it did provoke interest in tartan as a fashion item.

'Evening dress', Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 1822

Lovers of the wilder end of 1830s fashions may feel that all their Christmases have come at once when they set eyes on the next dress. Clearly 'less is more' was not a phrase which ever occurred to its owner. Sarah Justina Davidson married Colonel Ewen Macpherson in December 1832, and this riot of two different silk tartans and all the trimmings is thought to have been part of her trousseau.

I so want to see somebody recreate this!

Sleeves - go double of go home

Making sure that the hem doesn't miss out on the trimming madness

All this and lace as well

Looking positively restrained by comparison was this dress worn by the then Princess Victoria, c1835-7.

Silk velvet, trimmed with lace and silk tartan bows

Close-up of the bodice

Victoria's love of Scotland is well known. In 1842 she and Prince Albert spent two nights at Drummond Castle, as guests of Baron Willoughby de Eresby and his wife. (This very non-Scottish name is explained by the fact that Lady Willoughby de Eresby's maiden name was Drummond, and she was 'Chieftainness of the Clan Drummond'.) A ball was held to mark the end of the royal visit, for which Lady Willoughby de Eresby wore this dress of Drummond silk tartan.

Another dress trimmed with net

Attempt at pattern matching at the front

But none at the back

And that would be it, but for one teensy, weensy confession. My train home from Edinburgh wasn't until mid-afternoon on Monday, so in the morning I went for a stroll round the south side of the city. When I found myself outside Edinburgh Fabrics of course I had to pop in, to see if it had changed at all. And it had - it was even better than I remembered. There had been a lot of talk about linen over the weekend, and there I was looking at a large selection of the stuff, in glorious colours. . .


I'm telling myself that as souvenirs go, at least it was a healthier option than than Edinburgh rock, tablet, or any other Scottish sweet treats!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

How to make a hexagonal ribbon cockade

I love to read your comments, and will always try to help if someone asks a question. So when a reader got in touch to ask about the hexagonal ribbon cockade which appeared in this post, I dug out some ribbon and tried to remember how it was done.

I must admit, this took a while as it's well over three years since I last made one of these! It's actually very simple to do, but with the right ribbon can look very effective.

You will need a ribbon which is the same on both sides.

First, fold the ribbon like this.

Then fold the upper end of the ribbon (in this case, the left end) under the lower end, like this.

Repeat the step, folding the upper end under the lower end.

Keep repeating this until you have a complete hexagon. I pinned the cockade to a board as I was working, so that I could take photographs, but it is possible to do this just by holding the ribbon in your hand.

Slip-stitch along the join, marked with a green line in the photograph below, and secure the centre with a couple of small stitches.

Then fold the ends of the ribbon under the cockade, snip off the excess, and secure the ends in place. The cockade at the start of the post was made from two hexagons sewn together, the grey one is made from a wider ribbon.

Hope this helps!

Monday, 1 July 2019

Wedding Gown in a Weekend

Friend (earlier this week): You're off to Edinburgh this weekend, aren't you? Got anything planned?

Me: Yes. I'm going to spend two days in a museum watching a group of women make a dress.

Friend (dubiously): Riiiight. Have fun.

And I did. And have a lot of photographs to prove it.

I haven't done any historical costuming for a long time, due to a combination of lack of time and lack of opportunities to wear anything I make, but I still take an interest. So when I heard about Wedding Gown in a Weekend, a project to recreate the Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding gown over a weekend in Edinburgh, the opportunity to see this and pay another visit to the city where I grew up was irresistable.

A bit of background: The original dress was worn by Isabella MacTavish for her marriage to Malcolm Fraser in January 1785 at Ruthven, near Inverness, and has remained in the family ever since. Remarkably for a dress from that era, it does not appear to have ever been altered. According to family lore, it was Isabella's wish that the dress be kept as a wedding dress. To the family's knowledge it has only subsequently been worn by Isabella's daughter-in-law, then by the current owner in 1978, and by her daughter in 2005.

The dress is on loan to Inverness Museum, but is currently on display in Edinburgh as part of the exhibition, Wild and Majestic; Romantic Visions of Scotland at the National Museum of Scotland. I went round the exhibition when I arrived in Edinburgh on Friday.

The dress and arisaid on display

Back view

The fabric is what is called a 'hard tartan', woven from a worsted thread. Something which wasn't apparent from the photographs I'd seen before was just how textured the resulting cloth is.

Not the smooth soft tartan I'm familiar with

So that's the (stunning) original, what about the recreation?

The project was the brainchild of Rebecca Olds of Timesmith Dressmaking. Among many other things, she arranged for the fabric to be recreated by  Prickly Thistle, and assembled a team of dressmakers with extensive knowledge of eighteenth century costuming. This included Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox of American Duchess, Peryn Westerhof Nyman, Katy Stockwell, Alexandra Bruce, Georgia Gough and Flora Macleod Swietlicki.

Abby and Laren had done a lot of preparatory work before they arrived in Scotland, including making a mock up from wool flannel with a linen lining - you can read about it here. The mock up included details such as the linen lacing strips under the bodice front, and even the mistakes which the original mantua-maker had made (of which more later).

Interior of mock up showing the lacing strip

Before the event started on Saturday, Abby had draped the linen lining on Georgia the model, and had created the bodice pattern. While the bodice pieces were being cut out, Lauren explained to the audience what sort of undergarments would have been worn with the original dress.

Lauren demonstrating petticoats

This was the format for the two days: while various members of the team worked on the dress Rebecca, Lauren, Abby and Peryn took it in turns to explain what was happening, answer questions, and provide background information. I for one learned so much. I was also hugely impressed by the way that the members of the team who were working on the dress were able to follow the conversation and join in as required: when I'm concentrating on sewing my conversational 'skills' don't stretch beyond saying "Yes please" to offers of tea!

The tartan was woven 26" wide, the same as the original. The photograph below shows it laid out on the main work table.

Abby and Lauren cutting out

The fabric was slightly warped, so the rectangular skirt panels had to be pulled back into shape.

Every dressmaker has had to do this with fabric at some time!

As is obvious from the above two photographs, the team were working in front of a large window. As a result of all this light, some later pictures are a little washed out - apologies.

Like the original, the dress was sewn with unbleached linen thread.

Bodice fronts and a sleeve

At this point the dress was still in a number of pieces, which meant that several people could work on it at once. All of the team were dressed as mantua-makers of the period would have been, and even with the barrier and modern tables and chairs, it was easy to imagine this as a scene from a mantua-maker's workshop.

Lauren, Peryn and Abby at work

Modern technology did make the odd appearance though. Because the aim was to recreate the original dress as closely as possible, including the positioning of the stripes in the tartan, the team frequently referred to the photographs they had stored on a tablet!

Abby, with reference materials

Day two started with a fitting. First, the pleated back panel was pinned to Georgia's stays.

Fitting the back panel

Next, the bodice front was pinned to the back panel at the shoulders and the sides.

Pinning the shoulders

Fine-tuning the fit

Then the sleeves were added to check their fit.

Slipping on the sleeves

The sleeves were removed again, to be tightened, and the skirt panels were attached to the back. There were five panels in total, two on each side. This was where the period-accurate width of the fabric and its beautifully finished selvedges came in particularly useful: the pieces could just be sewn together, with no raw edges to finish.

Sewing the skirt panels together

One side of the skirt

Lauren then pleated the skirt by eye, pinning and then basting the pleats into place.

Pleating the skirt

Meanwhile Abby sewed the side seams and the lining only of the shoulder seams.

Basting pleats on one side, sewing the bodice on the other

Then it was time for another fitting. At this point there was a huge amount of heavy skirt only attached to the bodice by the small pleated section at the centre back, so Lauren had to support the skirt until it was pinned in place.

Lauren holding the skirt while Abby fastens the bodice front

Problems arose when the sleeves were added.

Sleeve fit issues

Georgia is not the same shape as Isabella; she has wider shoulders. As a result it wasn't possible to exactly replicate the fitting of the sleeves from the original dress. Far from being a negative I found this fascinating; it really demonstrated the skill that the eighteenth-century mantua-maker needed to be able to properly fit dresses to all of her clients, as opposed to the modern one-size-vaguely-fits-all approach. (I also made a mental note to never again complain about setting in modern sleeves!)

Once the sleeve was fitted, it was on to the pleated wing cuffs.

Attaching a cuff

Now came one of the mistakes from the original. The sleeves had been made tight, so tight that Isabella couldn't bend her elbows. This would be a problem at the best of times, but especially at a wedding celebration! The mantua-maker had solved the problem by slashing up the sleeve and covering the cut with the cuff, and Abby and Lauren had replicated this on their mock up.

The green line shows the slash to make the sleeve wider

Now it was time to carry out the fix on the reproduction dress.

Just cut into an almost-finished dress while it's on the model, what could go wrong?

By this point time was moving on, and it was all hands to the pump to complete all the stitching.

Everyone hard at work

But at last it was completed (bar a few little finishing-off areas).

Georgia in the completed dress

Finished off with fichu and arisaid

Back view

All in all, it was an amazing project to watch; the two days just flew by. Even though I can't imagine ever making an eighteenth-century dress for myself, I learned so much and had a great time. A huge thank you to Rebecca, Lauren, Abby and the rest of the team for a fascinating weekend.

If you would like to see the original dress for yourself, Wild and Majestic runs until 10 November. As well as Isabella's dress, there are a number of other fabulous tartan garments on display (in fact, I feel another blog post coming on), and the exhibition overall is a very interesting look at how the popular image of 'Scotland' came into being. Rebecca will be giving a talk about the project at the museum on Friday 4 October, the museum will advertise this event closer to the time.