Sunday, 16 April 2017

Fashion drawing in the 1930s

When she is not hunting out 'interesting' items for me in the Oxfam bookshop in town, or going to local auctions, my friend F is an artist. Recently we successfully bid for a mixed lot between us, as it contained some vintage patterns for me and a box of issues of The Artist magazine from the 1930s for her.

Glancing through the magazines I came across a series of articles on fashion drawing. These ran from September 1935 to February 1936, and took a firmly 'commercial' approach. (All the following illustrations are from the magazine articles, unless otherwise stated.) The author, who was general manager of a commercial studio, began by lamenting the fact that most students wanted to become poster artists or illustrators, and regarded commercial fashion work as distinctly second-best. As a result, in his opinion, they had no idea of what was required, and filled their portfolios with examples such as this:

How not to do it

Better, but still not right

I hadn't really thought about this, but of course there must have been a huge amount of fashion drawing work at the time, because photography was so little used. Looking through the 1930s magazines I own, photography seems to have been reserved for illustrating knitting patterns.

Stitchcraft, August 1937

This article on knitted clothes in Paris uses illustrations.

Stitchcraft, September 1936

Photography was expensive, but this wasn't the only reason it was rarely used. Mr Hymers (the author of the series) wrote that, "the fashion idealization of the human figure is impossible without intensive and costly retouching". Given that he recommended that figures should be drawn as nine heads tall (the reality is seven and a half heads tall), you can see why photographs would be of limited use.

Colour printing was also rare and expensive, and colour commissions were kept for the best artists. Therefore Mr Hymers advised students not to include colour work in their portfolios.

Colour spread in Good Needlework, December 1935

Even magazine covers were often only a single colour. For example the artwork on this cover is reused in the magazine, but in black and white.

Mabs Weekly, June 1934

What was needed for fashion drawing was a knowledge of, "clothes, dressmaking, sales psychology and . . . 'fashion trend'". Obviously for something like this 1935 article on remodelling last year's evening frocks, it was important that the reader could clearly see how and where the alterations were made.

Good Needlework, February 1935

Similarly, an advertisement for the magazine's dress patterns would need clear illustrations.

Woman's Weekly, February 1938

For clothing advertisements, Mr Hymers recommended talking to the buyers if possible, as they would know what a garment's selling points were, and what to emphasize.

Stitchcraft, September 1936

Later articles covered the different types of illustration. For commercial work line, line and wash, and full wash were the most common, although occasionally something like conté pencil might be used.

The three stages of a wash illustration

Dry brush drawing

Full wash drawing

Conté and wash drawing

Dry brush on rough board

The articles also included some information on grouping figures and block making.

Good grouping

Bad grouping; sadly there's no explanation of what is wrong with this

It was necessary to consider the practicalities of block making when deciding poses. For example, an extended arm on a nine inch high figure could add a further nine square inches to the block; and the block maker would charge accordingly.

Perhaps most important of all was the need to consider the target audience; the type of woman who would buy the clothes being illustrated. Mr Hymers warned:
"The average woman reader of the Midlands or North, particularly such as buys from mail order catalogues, is repelled by a sketch showing a woman with cigarette, ear-rings, plucked eyebrows or other features which might prove exceedingly attractive to a different type".

He then made things even worse (to this modern, northern reader at least) by adding, "Whereas the smart woman . . .". Ouch.

The final article ended with advice on applying for a position in fashion drawing.
"Dress as neatly and smartly as you can, but do not try to impress by extremes, as this casts doubts on your knowledge of what smart women should wear."
To me this suggests that the author expected women to be applying for these jobs.

All of which reminded me of the fashion illustrations in the Putting on the Glitz exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

A selection of hat illustrations from the exhibition

These were all the work of Winifred Aileen Brown, who learned fashion drawing through a correspondence course, and worked as a freelance illustrator from 1925 until she married in 1935.

Winifred Aileen Brown

Winifred did work for local department stores in Liverpool and Chester, but all the illustrations in the exhibition were for George Henry Lee & Co (now part of John Lewis). She would be called to the store to sketch live models wearing the latest fashions, and her drawings would then be used in adverts in the local papers.

George Henry Lee advert

As she made a lot of clothes for herself and her friends, Winifred clearly fulfilled Mr Hymers’ requirement for knowledge of clothes and dressmaking. Given that the ladies in her hat illustrations are wearing earrings and clearly have plucked eyebrows however, Lee’s target audience was obviously not the 'average woman reader' of the North!

Earrings! Make-up! Furs!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Pinafore dress completed

Well it's only taken until April to post my first completed sewing make of the year, but it's done! And I'm really pleased with the end result. (And I only sewed the plaster on my thumb to the dress a couple of times in the process!)

The completed dress

Having made up the bodice, the next step was to sew the skirt pieces together on one side, and sew bodice and skirt together. My pattern drafting must have gone a little awry, because the skirt was slightly wider than the bodice, but widening the side seams fixed this.

The 'belt' was made from a length of waistband petersham, covered with a strip of fabric. I machine sewed the two together on the wrong side, then wrapped the fabric round the petersham and slip-stitched it into place. Then this was attached to the top of the skirt with two rows of hand sewing from the inside of the skirt. The belt is a single strip, with the ends folded into the zip opening (just visible on the left of the picture).

The belt attached to the dress

The 'bow' consists of  a vintage buckle and a bow-shape made from fabric and lining. This was then attached to the belt.

Bow front and back

I had to baste the zip in place to fit the dress, and when I tried it on I found that it was too big over the hips. This is when you discover the disadvantage of a side opening - the zip had to come out and then be put back again. Once I was happy with the fit I hand-picked the zip; I've decided that for me this is just less hassle than machine sewing.

Finally I put in the skirt lining, and slip-stitched the bottom edge of the bodice lining over the top. Hemmed the skirt, added a hook and eye at the top of the zip, and all done.

There is a slight gape at the left armscye; I must have stretched it slightly when I was sewing it. I'll try running a gathering thread round it on the inside, and see if I can press it back into shape.

Showing the gape

Other than that, I'm happy. The end result has turned out pretty much as I envisaged it. My only concern now is that I don't have a period blouse to go with it - this modern M&S one is OK, but not quite right. I quite fancy something like this, with a bow.

1959 McCall's pattern

What I do have is some dotted swiss with pale blue spots, which I haven't used yet because I couldn't decide how to work around its sheer-ness. Obviously under a pinafore this wouldn't be an issue. Hmm . . .

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Vogue Pattern Book, April-May 1957

I had hoped to have a finished pinafore dress to write about this week, but taking a lump out of my thumb while chopping vegetables (I always knew that cooking is both overrated and dangerous!) has seriously curtailed my ability to sew. So instead, here’s a picture-heavy post about the next of my 1950s Vogue Pattern Books; the April-May issue from 1957. As this makes it exactly 60 years old, maybe it's the perfect thing to post about after all.

The price has gone up 3d (old pence) since 1955

The layout is similar to the 1955 issue. Of the 90 pages (plus covers) the first 20 are taken up with advertisements for fabrics. Nearly all of these adverts emphasize that the fabrics have been treated to make them easy-care. As before, they are often shown made up in Vogue patterns.

Vogue 8905 made up in 'Everbehaved' frosted cotton

Terms such as 'crease-resistant' feature a lot in the advertising copy. Tootal have abbreviated 'Minimum Iron' to 'MI', and then really gone to town with the concept.

MI3 - love the deerstalker hats!

Horrockses have a double-page spread.

Horrockses manufactured fabric as well as dresses

Clearly competition in treated fabrics was fierce. There are adverts for processes as well as individual cloth-making firms.

Yet more 'minimum iron'

Calpreta finishes outdo them all however, with a six-page advert featuring five different manufacturers.

Buy Britain's cottons!

All five are Manchester-based firms, which reminds me that I must write a post about "Cottonopolis" sometime.

It wasn't just fabric. Jones, the sewing machine manufacturer, was based near Manchester as well. At this time they still sold models as both hand-operated and electric.

Dorcas was yet another Manchester firm

Next up is an advert for lace fabric, with what at first glance is an astonishingly racy outfit for the 1950s.


Actually the pattern looked like this; for the advert it has clearly been photographed to give the illusion of there being nothing in the middle section.

From the Vintage Pattern Wiki

Finally, on page 21, we get to the editorial.

The Paris Review begins:
"Spring this year takes the line of least resistance and captures the charm of easy elegance by taking a backward glance to the soft appeal of the 30’s, the yesteryears of femininity. So says Paris and we couldn’t be happier."

Suits should apparently have, "slim skirts worn 12 inches from the floor" while ball and dinner gowns, "are worn at least one inch above the top of the shoe". So precise! Meanwhile afternoon dresses have full, flowing skirts, but all other dresses should have skirts which are "stalk-narrow".

Clearly then many of the dresses in the feature 'Your Gentle Look' are for afternoon wear, as they mostly have full skirts.

A very flowing skirt indeed

The green dress looks very 1980s to me

Looks familiar?

Fans of Vintage Vogue reissues will recognize the dress on the left as Vogue 1044. This is a rare case of the drawing actually looking less improbable than the photograph; the model’s waist in this photograph looks ridiculously tiny to me. Perhaps it’s just the angle?

Vogue 9025 reissued

Although the feature text states that, "clothes are being made for the woman, instead of making the woman fit the clothes", the article on foundations promptly belies this.

If I had to wear these, I'd want to hide behind a large bunch of flowers too!

The text stresses the importance of "underpinnings which give line and firmness to the figure", and goes on to suggest that a woman should own at least four different foundation garments because, "To expect the same bra’ and girdle to go with everything from slacks to a ball dress is like wearing the same shoes with every outfit."

Next up, this season’s cosmetics.

Match your make-up to your clothes

I’ve included a close-up of the chart, just in case anyone wants to create that genuine spring 1957 look.

Click to enlarge

Returning to the main point of the Vogue Pattern Book, there follow two features on new patterns. All but one page are drawings only, but one feature is in black and white and one has some colour

Full and straight skirts

"Suits with something for everyone"

"Pleats have made a comeback"

There is a block just like the hat on the right in Hat Works

The ‘Under 21’ section includes beauty products and hair-styling ideas as well as patterns.

Separates, dresses and beauty products

Dresses for bathing, tennis and picnicking

I really like the idea of a cardigan trimmed with fabric to match a dress.

The cardigan pattern is in 'Vogue Knitting'

You may be under 21 but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to wear a girdle.

Clever use of stripes on the dress on the left

Similarly pregnancy is no excuse for letting things slide.

Clothes for going out, and for relaxing at home

The latest couturier designs are showcased.

Left to right: Cavanagh, Rodrigues, unnamed, Michael

Simonetta, and four unnamed designs

This section on skirts and blouses seems to set great store by making them in the same fabric so that the end result looks like a dress, which seems to rather defeat the object of the exercise.


On the left, two blouses and one skirt all in the same fabric

The article on new sewing machines includes some familiar names such as Singer, Jones and Viking, plus some which I had never heard of, such as Fridor. Several have a zig-zag stitch; I hadn’t realized that this was available on domestic machines so early.

Sewing machines that "almost think for themselves!"

Another innovation is iron-on interfacing.

Also, what's new in stockings

Most of the firms in the small ads are long-gone, but I recognize Rigby and Peller, and MacCulloch and Wallis.

Small ads and dress forms

Also still going strong is Cusson Imperial Leather soap. Although I don’t think that giving away leaflets on how to grow roses still features in their marketing strategy.

Send off for your "Grow roses well" leaflet

Finally we end where we started; the back cover is yet another advert for crease-resisting cotton from a Manchester manufacturer. This time with bonus racing demon in the background!

The only advert featuring all plain fabrics