Sunday, 15 July 2018

I shouldn't have, but I did

Just a short post this week, not least because I've been out for much of the day at Fine Tuned, a vintage and independent makers' festival in Liverpool. I only discovered last night that it was on this weekend, so this involved a last-minute change of plans. Earlier in the week though I did something else unplanned, which I really, really shouldn't have done.

Yes, I bought more fabric.

I already have a lot of fabric. I've also currently got not one but two dressmaking projects on the go. And there's the teensy, weensy matter of a 28,000-word dissertation to be handed in at the start of October.

I only went into the shop to buy some more thread for one of the current projects, but naturally thought I'd have a quick browse. Anyone who is familiar with my makes will know that I'm fond of a bold pattern, so when I saw this, it was love at first sight.


It's a rayon, which only added to the allure as I want to get more experience of working with rayon. The plan is for a straight, 1950s/60s dress. Vogue 8875 (a 1955 reissue) is the current favourite, but I'm wondering if I should look for a slightly later style.

With a possible pattern choice

Obviously something from 1960 or later would have the advantage of tying in with my Vintage Pledge plan to move away from the 1940s and 1950s, which in turn would make me feel a little less guilty! Decisions, decisions.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Presents from America

My tutor, E, was in the U.S. for work recently. She also had time for a bit of travelling round, and came across a few sewing-related things while visiting flea markets. And because she is a lovely, sharing, person (and I'm not just saying that because she's my tutor!) she brought them back for me.


The buttons are one set of metal and one of plastic. We both wondered why only one of the black plastic buttons had been used.

Contrasting styles of button and card

The two copies of The Workbasket magazine are from August and November 1951. The November issue has a mailing label attached.

I love the idea of knowing who read this originally

Both contain knitting and crochet patterns, and the August edition has instructions for a patchwork quilt.

Pineapple quilt pattern

There are also articles on cookery and gardening, and book reviews. As with many British magazines of the period, there are syndicated dress patterns on offer.

Mail order patterns

Readers who didn't sew could buy dresses instead.

Dresses for under $3

Another regular feature is "Women who make cents"; short articles on ways in which women can make money.

Money-making tips, and a Christmas card advertisement

The Workbasket's masthead describes the magazine as, "Home and needlecraft for pleasure and profit", and ways to make money, either for bazaars or to supplement the family income, feature heavily. This is especially the case in the advertisements.

The August issue contains an astonishing number of advertisements for selling Christmas cards; 30 different firms in a 64-page magazine. These range from a double page colour spread to little more than a single column inch.

Woman pictured with lots of money, just in case you didn't get the idea

Other things which readers could sell to friends and neighbours included uniforms, fruit trees and stockings.

Sell nylons, get a Chevrolet

There are advertisements for learning new skills at home - although I'm not sure I'd want to be treated by a nurse who had trained via a correspondence course!

From nursing to fashion design

Christmas cards aside, the most frequent type of money-making advertisement is, unsurprisingly, for making things.

Making money features heavily in all the copy

Probably the saddest advertisement I found is this one for selling hair. You mail the hair to the company, who then make you an offer. If you don't accept it, they return the hair. No suggestion of a guide price is offered, and as you could hardly re-attach the returned locks I suspect the company worked on the basis that most people would accept whatever they were offered, no matter how low.

On a cheerier note, some of the other ads have not exactly stood the test of time. This one made me smile.

Even a MAN can do it!

As did this one, albeit for an entirely different reason.

"Living image of your own child" Not creepy at all. Definitely not.

Given that matters to do with health and safety were a bit more lax in the 1950s, I did wonder what, exactly, caused this tree to glow in the dark.

Also not worrying at all

Making money from religion seems a very dubious practice, but clearly some people had no qualms about it.

Serve the Lord and earn

However just in case you were tempted to keep the goods for yourself, or sell them and not return the cash, the sample mottos sent out are on the theme of TRUST!

The final gift from E was this pattern.

Butterick 6758, 1972

We were both intrigued by the body language; it's as if the girl on the left is being given a telling off. Also I suddenly realized how rare it is to see a woman of colour in a pattern illustration. I had a look through my pattern collection, and out of over 400 patterns, dating from 1923 to 1991, I could only find three other examples. Two are Butterick, from 1986 and 1991. The third one, rather unexpectedly, is this:

Vougue Couturier 2453, 1970

Clearly this is a whole new rabbit hole of research for me to dive down! Thanks to E for providing it.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern

Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern is the current exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, and was on my list of things to visit on my most recent London trip.

The museum has been well and truly taken over; even the entrance lobby has been decorated in an Orla Kiely design.

The entrance to the exhibition

The main part of the exhibition begins with the 'Pattern Library'; a display of some of the many  patterns which Kiely has designed over the years, along with various objects made up in them.

The Pattern Library, part one . . .

And there's more round the corner.

. . . and part two

I must admit that I found the effect slightly hallucinatory. This may be because I'm almost exactly the same age as Kiely, so the 1960s and 70s patterns which she cites as a major influence in her work were also a big part of my childhood. For example, if I had seen these saucepans in any other context, I would have sworn blind that we had them at home when I was growing up!

So 1970s!

Things don't calm down in the main hall. Entitled 'Curiouser and curiouser', this section plays with scale; displaying some of Kiely's clothing both as huge garments hanging from the ceiling, and on tiny dolls in perspex cases. There are also two towers of rotating blocks, which you can twist round to make your own mix-and-match figure.

Dresses, and one of the towers - the chairs give a sense of the scale

More dresses, and the dolls in cases on the wall

One of the dolls

Naturally as a dressmaker I couldn't resist the temptation to look inside the garments!

Hong Kong finish on the hem of this dress

Upstairs there is a display of clothes (human-sized this time) on mannequins, and a large collection of images from publicity campaigns. Sadly reflections from the lighting made it impossible to photograph the latter.

Clothing and photographs

More of the mannequins

The most striking feature upstairs however is the wall of handbags. 100 of them, arranged by colour and cleverly hung to give a regularity to the display despite the variations in size. I had to wait a long time to get a picture without anyone there, but the effect was worth it.

A handbag for every occasion

Unfortunately, although the effect was impressive I found myself unmoved by it, and this rather summed up exhibition overall for me. Part of the reason why I was so entranced by last year's World of Anna Sui exhibition was that it seemed to have a very strong overall Anna Sui 'look', but managed to express it in lots of different ways. A Life in Pattern seemed to be more and more of the same - although perhaps that was the intention of an exhibition about rhythms and repeats.

Decide for yourself! A Life in Pattern runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 23 September. Meanwhile I'm looking forward to the winter exhibition; Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs, which along with an exhibition of Cecil Beaton photographs begins on 12 October. (Cate, I'm guessing that you might be interested in this!)

Sunday, 24 June 2018

We Remember Them - the poppies project

Last Friday (22nd June) was the Centenary Service for We Remember Them 1918 - 2018, the University of Chester's commemoration of the 77 staff and students who lost their lives in World War One. The university sewing group's poppies project has been part of this.

77 poppies - one for each of the fallen

Most of the poppies were three-dimensional, but three had been worked in cross stitch. These were sewn flat onto the wreath, and the others attached around them.

The wreath with the cross stitch poppies and the third row attached

Once the wreath was complete, it had to be sewn onto the backing fabric. Because the backing would be laced across a board for the display, it needed to be stretched before the wreath was attached. Otherwise there was a danger it would tear when it was pulled taut. I got round this by pinning the stretched backing fabric across a large notice board, and then sewing on the wreath (with a metal ruler underneath where I was sewing, so that I didn't accidentally stitch the whole thing to the felt cover of the board). It was quite a stretch to reach across at the corners!

Attaching the wreath to the backing

The completed wreath sits inside a beautiful oak cabinet made especially for the project by Rob Nicholas, a very talented cabinet maker from Liverpool. Rob based the cabinet on World War One campaign chests; the wooden boxes soldiers were given to store their belongings. The cabinet can be displayed flat, or raised like a lectern in keeping with its academic surroundings. There is a poppy on each side of the base, and the names of the 77 are carved into the interior. It is a lovely piece; when Rob delivered it we were all thrilled.

The cabinet

Friday's commemoration began with a service in chapel, which had been specially decorated for the occasion. Because the university was originally a teacher training college, many of the 77 were teachers. The display included 77 crosses decorated by children at some of the schools where they had taught, along with more of the poppies.

The display in chapel

As part of We Remember Them, members of the Alumni Association had researched the names on the war memorial, and had been able to trace a number of their descendents. Many of these family members were able to come to the event, including one lady who travelled all the way from Australia! After the service there was a lunch in the dining rooms, and a chance to look round an exhibition of the information found so far.

Part of the exhibition

Posters about individual alumni

The poppies project display

All in all, it was a lovely day. It really brought the 77 to life; no longer just names listed on a  memorial, but individuals with stories and families, and lives cut cruelly short. It was a real priviledge to have been involved.

The wreath inside the cabinet

Sunday, 17 June 2018

What's new at the V&A

I'm in London again, to go to the latest Kerry Taylor auction. It will surprise no-one to learn that whenever I visit the V&A, for whatever reason, I always pop into the costume section for a quick look round. I've been there so often that most of the pieces on display are very familiar, but occasionally there's something new to look at. And so it was this time.

One case, of 1920s evening dresses, has been completely replaced. It's still 1920s, but a mixture of day and more formal wear.

Bright young things

The background image hasn't been changed though; it is based on this Callot Soeurs dress which formed part of the previous display.

1925 embroidery

Central to the new arrangement is this 1923 lamé and lace wedding dress, displayed with a photograph of the bride and groom.

Medieval style wedding dress

There isn't much information about the ensemble beside it.

Coat and evening dress

The case opposite contains 1930s clothing. Much of it is unchanged, but this Charles James dress is definitely a new addition.

Gold satin evening dress, about 1934

Sadly it was impossible to get a back view, but I was just about able to see the side construction.

Angled skirt darts and shaped side panels

Most museum pieces tend to be designer garments for wealthy people, so it was nice to see this suit, made in the 1950s in Guyana for the donor; a teacher who moved to Britain in 1951.

Cotton skirt suit

I don't remember seeing this suit before, either. I love the different fabrics in the skirt, and the single jacket pocket and side fasten.

Wool and silk moiré suit, Givenchy, 1955

I know that the V&A owns far more items than it can possibly display, so it's nice to see that they do swap things round from time to time.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The poppies project - making the wreath

I've been very bad at posting about the Poppies project, the University of Chester sewing group's project to commemorate the 77 university staff and students who died in World War One.

In my defence, it's been difficult to post about. Unlike our previous project, this time most of the work has been done by group members at home. At each meeting more poppies were added to the collection, but not much actual sewing or knitting took place during meetings. One exception was when Nicola brought in her embroidery - her poppy was made up of four embroidered petals with wired edges.

The first petal of Nicola's embroidered poppy

We ended up with well in excess of the 77 poppies we had been aiming for; more than 100 over the target in fact! For various reasons, I hadn't been able to get fully involved in the project last year, so I offered to make up the wreath of 77 poppies which will be displayed in the campaign chest. The remaining poppies will be used in displays for the commemorative event, which takes place later this month.

The chest is being made specially for the project. I was given the internal dimensions, and decided that the simplest way to ensure that the wreath fitted inside was to make a mock-up from a cardboard box. It soon became obvious that the poppies would need to be tightly packed on the wreath; they completely filled the mock-up when laid flat.

The 77 poppies inside the cardboard 'chest'

The wreath base was made up from rings of 'bump'; thick curtain interlining fabric, sewn onto a base ring of heavy interfacing. The rings grew narrower, to create the curved shape - it ended up reminding me of the ending of Looney Tunes cartoons!

That's all Folks!

A final wide ring of bump was sewn over the top, to smooth the edges out. Fortunately bump both stretches and contracts quite easily.

Now looking more like an iced doughnut

Because the bump is quite fluffy, I had to cover it with a layer of cotton. This did not stretch to accommodate the curves, so I pleated it as I went round. To me the end result was reminiscent of puttees, the leg wraps worn by soldiers in World War One.

The completed wreath base

This gave me a base onto which I could sew the poppies. I sorted them by size and technique, and placed 12 of the smallest ones around the inner edge, and 26 of the largest ones around the outside. (Although the maximum size was meant to be 8-10cm diameter, there were some, ahem, 'generous' interptretations of these measurements!) As the photo shows, they had to be overlapped to fit them all in.

The first two rows of poppies

Sewing the poppies in place was hard work. Not all of them had backs which were easy to sew through; in some cases I had to attach a felt backing first, and sew that to the wreath. A lot of the time there wasn't room to manoeuvre the needle easily, so I had to use tweezers to pull it through the fabric.

The remaining poppies were attached in two further rings, of 17 and 22 flowers. These were even more awkward, as the space I had to work in got smaller and smaller. It was one of the trickiest things I've ever worked on, but the end result was worth it. I will post about that after the commemorative event, which takes place in a couple of weeks.