Sunday, 24 March 2019

Making Grace - part 1, the pattern

This is a whole new area for me, making something from an indy, PDF pattern. I now sew mainly from my collection of vintage patterns and, if I do want to make something more contemporary, I'm fortunate (although my bank manager might use another word) to live within easy walking distance of a fabric shop which stocks all the main pattern brands. However when the Sew Over 50 Challenge was launched, almost all of the eligible patterns were from independents - the choice from the Big-4 was woefully small - so I decided it was time to spread my sewing wings a little.

This proved to be easier said than done. I have never really thought of myself as having a particular 'style', but turns out that I do, and most of the patterns suggested for the challenge are not it! I settled on the Grace Dress from Wardrobe By Me. It has got quite a 1970s vibe going, which ties in with my growing (and slightly worrying) love of 1970s Style patterns. The description on the website recommended using a fabric with a lot of drape, and I realized that the stash fabric which I bought on a whim in January, a soft printed viscose, would be perfect - win!

Close-up of the fabric, more below

Purchasing and downloading the pattern was easy. As this was my first time working with a PDF pattern, I really appreciated the 2" and 5cm squares which Wardrobe By Me include on the first page so that you can check that you are printing to the correct size. I was using the A4 option, which prints onto 36 sheets of paper, put together in a six by six formation. Each sheet is clearly numbered, and the instructions show how they should be arranged. The instructions state that there is no need to trim the sheets, but the print came out with a ⅛" margin on each edge. I'm not sure if this was due to me or the pattern, but I had to snip the corners off each sheet in order to see overlap properly. My rows of six sheets were a bit uneven - but that may just be that I'm overly fussy. It did feel like a lot of work, but perhaps it gets quicker the more of these patterns you do. In the end I simplified matters by not sticking all 36 sheets together: instead I made up three separate sections, based on the pattern pieces.

The pattern comes in 13 sizes, but fortunately there are instructions on how to remove any sizes you don't need. I printed it out with two sizes, and made a bodice toile to find out how much length I needed to take out. I also wanted to check neckline after Butterick top debacle. From the toile I realised that I only needed smaller size, but the two sizes had the same line style, so at times it was hard to tell which one to follow to cut the smaller size. (All the other sizes had different line styles, it was just unfortunate that the two I used were the same.)

Showing the line styles for the two sizes

Unless I missed it, the pattern has no cutting layout, so I was glad that drafting my own patterns has given me the experience of working this out efficiently. Also, it took me a while to find the dimensions of the neck tie and waist drawstring in the instructions; they were tucked away in the sizing chart.

The pocket bag pieces didn’t quite match, so I redrafted one of them to match the other. I must admit that this has made me slightly worried about how well the other pieces will fit together, but time (and sewing) will tell.

As well as taking up the bodice, I also lengthened skirt by 2". The only other change I have made was to change the direction of cutting the collar and cuffs to across grain rather than along it. My fabric has a design of birds sitting on branches, and it would look odd if it were used sideways.

The fabric, apologies for the creases!

The background of the fabric has more of a green tinge than is apparent in the photographs, and birds in the print are a strange mix. A few of them are recognizable species, others - I have no idea!

Some of the birds in detail

Everything is cut out now, so the next stage is sewing.

Sunday, 17 March 2019


I've been on another of my trips to Somerset, and this time I had a day out in Frome (rhymes with 'broom', not with 'home'). It's a lovely town, with lots of old buildings and a street with a stream running down its centre, and last year the Sunday Times 'Best Places to Live in the UK' listed it as best in the South West. Unfortunately the weather was far from lovely, so the photographs I took don't really do the place justice.

One of the things which makes Frome stand out is its independent traders. From March to December there is a monthly market called the Frome Independent, and there are a great many independent shops as well. Many of these are situated on Catherine Hill.

Looking up Catherine Hill . . .

. . . and looking down

One thing which Frome is not, is flat.

Steps up from Catherine Hill

Fortunately there are places to sit down if it all gets too much.

Somewhere to take a rest

I spotted a few lovely hanging signs, such as this:


and this:


and, erm, this.


So, on to the shops themselves. There were too many to describe them all, but are a few of my favourites. I loved the colours in this display, not least those of the birds.

Florist's display in Cheap Street

And I always like to see an independent bookshop.

Bookshop in Cheap Street (and the stream)

Sadly this vintage shop was closed for a refit.

The window display was wonderful

Poot Emporium is a collective which sells vintage and upcycled clothing by a variety of makers.


While Deadly Is The Female sells modern reproduction vintage brands.

Apologies for the reflections

If making your own is more your thing, there are shops which cater for this as well.

Frome Yarn Collective

Unsurprisingly, my favourite shop was this one.

Millie Moon

One half of the shop is used for workshops and classes, while the other is packed with fabrics, haberdashery, indie patterns, and an impressive display of vintage sewing machines.


Patterns and haberdashery

Confession time: I had already bought some cotton velvet from Sew Over The Moon in Glastonbury (because even though I don't need it until later in the year, good quality cotton velvet at a reasonable price was too good an opportunity to pass up) and some retro cotton from Sew Vintage in Wells (because it was half-price, and cute), so I resisted buying any more fabric. I did buy a few bits and pieces though. They were beautifully wrapped up, in sheets of discontinued pattern tissue - a lovely touch. In fact, nothing which I bought in Frome was wrapped in plastic; a detail which pretty much sums up the whole town.

Meanwhile, the stashometer - it's really Not Going Well

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Unexpected elegance from the 1970s

Usually when I post about exhibitions taking place in my 'local' museums I am referring to one of the venues which make up National Museums Liverpool, such as the Walker or Lady Lever art galleries. But today I'm delighted to be writing about somewhere truly local to me: the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.

According to this recent article in The Guardian, 1970s fashion is currently having a bit of a moment. In which case, the Grosvenor is clearly right on trend with its current exhibition, Unexpected Elegance: Female Fashion from the 1970s. Although only small, it covers a range of dresses from locally-made to designer, and from everyday to special occasion wear.

Image © West Cheshire Museums

All of the exhibits are behind glass, so apologies for the reflections in some of the images.

Part of the display

The exhibition aims to challenge the widely-held idea of the 1970s as 'the decade that taste forgot'. It covers the entire period, with dresses dating from 1970 to 1978, arranged in date order.

Dresses from 1970 and c.1972

The blue dress on the left dates from 1970, and was made by students at Bangor University in North Wales. The cut of the dress and the overprinting of the blue cotton/linen mix fabric were designed to work together, and the dress was sold commercially.

Printed cotton/linen shirt dress

The photo-realistic print of this c.1972 polyester dress looks like something you could buy in a fabric shop now. The ruffles and smocking detail look far more of the 1970s however.

Polyester dress by Eastex

The next dress is a wedding dress, made-to-measure by a semi-professional dressmaker in Liverpool in 1972. Because it was for a winter wedding, a warm fabric was needed. The choice was unusual for a wedding dress, but very 1970s - corduroy!

Empire line wedding dress

Covering those buttons with such a bulky fabric must have been tricky

From dressmaker-made to me-made. The red cotton mini-dress which features on the museum website was made by the donor from a commercial pattern c.1972-3. It may have taken her that long to do all the intricate smocking on the bodice. I would love to see the pattern it was made from.

So much work, and a fabulous collar

There's no mistaking the provenance of the next dress. I hadn't realised that Ossie Clark was born not far from here, in Warrington.

Ossie Clark dress, viscose fabric designed by Celia Birtwell

The dress was bought from Biba, c.1974

Next are two more designer dresses. This plain A-line wool mix shift dress with neat top-stitching details is labelled "Givenchy / Nouvelle Boutique / Made in France / Paris", and comes from the company's ready-to-wear label. The panel at the waist is printed faux leopard skin.

Givenchy ready-to-wear dress, c.1975

The flowing blue cotton tunic dress is in contrast to the fitted lines of the Givenchy, although both dresses are simple and plain. It is by Zandra Rhodes, and its only decoration is the printed pattern around the bottom of the skirt.

Different styles from 1975 and 1976

Abstract design in brown and pink

The caftan beside it is a similar shape, but longer and with long sleeves.

Made in Shropshire and bought in North Wales, c.1977

The caftan is also made of cotton, printed with a design of Persian hunting scenes. I must admit, that when I first looked at it I thought that the figure on the top right was hunting with an enormous flower as some sort of lance!

An unusual choice of weapon

On closer inspection, I realized that actually he was holding an arrow, and the flower was separate (and out of proportion to the figure below). What I still can't work out though is why the zip is sewn in place with matching thread, while the neckline is sewn with white thread.


The label has been removed from the final dress, so there is very little information about it other than that it dates from c.1978. It is made from man-made chiffon, with a nylon underdress, and has a bias-cut skirt. The collar is very 1970s, but there is something of 1940s film noir about the overall look.

So much synthetic, but fabulous with it

Close-up of the bodice

Unexpected Elegance runs until 7 July, in the Costume Gallery. Admission is free.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

The 'face' of Vogue patterns

When I was going through my Vogue designer patterns for last week's post on the representation of older women on dress patterns in the past, one model kept appearing again and again.

Diane Von Furstenberg 1976 and Nina Ricci 1977

Molyneux, 1977

Edith Head 1977 and Leo Narducci 1978

Albert Nippon 1978 and ChloƩ 1980

The model's name is Karen Bjornson. Born in Illinois in 1952, she moved to New York in 1970 to pursue a career in modelling, and was soon employed by the designer Halston as a house model. She then worked with numerous other American designers, and apppeared in various magazines including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan and Vogue Patterns.

The first appearance in Vogue Patterns which I could find was in the Summer 1973 issue. She was in various features, including this one where she wore a pattern made up in what was described as a "flamboyant rayon print".

I can't tell if it's rayon, but it's definitely 'flamboyant'

From then on, she featured in most of the 1970s issues I own.

Summer 1974 and Spring 1975

By 1976 she was modelling designer patterns.

A Dior design in the Winter 1976 issue

Early Spring 1977 (because nothing says 'career woman' like wearing glasses) and Early Autumn 1979

I have fewer issues from the 1980s, but she still seems to have featured quite often.

Early Autumn 1980 and Spring 1982

Autumn 1985 and Spring 1986

She also appeared on the cover eight times, of which I have six.

Spring 1976, Early Spring 1978 and Spring 1978

Early Spring 1979, Summer 1981 and Early Spring 1983

In the Summer 1981 issue she was the subject of an occasional series, "Who's Who In Vogue", which included the information that by then she had appeared on over 800 editorial and product pages, as well as numerous catalogue covers.

October 1981 catalogue, image from PicClick

I've not been able to find out how long Karen Bjornson worked with Vogue patterns, but clearly it was at least 13 years; which seems to me to be a remarkably long time in modelling terms. In 1989 she moved to Connecticut with her husband and retired from modelling to become a full time mother to their two daughters.

However that is not the end of the story. In 2002 the designer Ralph Rucci asked her to appear in his catwalk show, and further modelling jobs followed. Then in 2012 she appeared in About Face: Supermodels Then and Now, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' documentary about beauty and aging.

The models featured in 'About Face', image from IMDb

Having resumed her career at 50, she is not showing any signs of retiring again just yet. In February this year she appeared with two of her fellow former 'Halstonettes', Pat Cleveland and Alva Chinn, on the runway of Naeem Khan's show in New York Fashion Week.

Karen Bjornson, Pat Cleveland and Alva Chinn, image from Allure

All of which brings me back to last week's post and the Sew Over 50 Sewing Challenge. Obviously not many of us are 1.77m / 5' 9½" tall, or have that sort of bone structure, but if the 'Big 4' ever get round to reaching out to older sewists and their disposable income by producing patterns featuring women who look even a little bit like us (currently this appears to consist of two Simplicity patterns out of a total of approximately 2,000 patterns across all the brands), then reviving the relationship between Vogue Patterns and Karen Bjornson would seem like a good place to start.