Sunday, 21 May 2017

'Making do' on the hat front - part one

I've got very behind on blogging about my hat making activities; since posting about the Gatsby cloche I've been on not one but two more courses at Hat Works! Time to catch up a bit. The second course was this weekend, and while it was as much fun as ever it was also tiring, so this will be a shortish post.

Way back at the end of April, I went on a course to make a 1940s hat. But in true-make-do-and-mend style, we made our own hat blocks as well!

(Almost) Everything you need to make hat blocks - paper, card, masking tape and a glue stick

First we made a head-shaped block from the paper. The sheets were folded double, then taped together to form a cylinder which fitted to your head - a bit like making a chef's hat out of paper. Next we cut down from the top, but not all the way. Here my dressmaking habits came to the fore, and as a result I made my cuts longer, and closer together, than was necessary.

The paper base cut into strips

Because I'd made the cuts so deep, mine would not stand up

Next we worked in pairs, folding the strips over each other's head, taping them down, and trying not to tape hair in at the same time. The end result was a head-shaped dome.

Dome-shaped block in progress

This was then covered with more (lots more) masking tape to make it more rigid, then packed with scrunched up newspaper, and taped across the bottom to hold the paper in place.

The other method of block making we tried was to make a shape using card. Sue and Marie, the tutors, had brought along a fabulous hat which they had made on a cardboard block.


They had also brought the template for the block, so I decided to use this rather than make my own.

Unfortunately all of the photographs I took of the block-making process on the course were with the flash on, which has blotted out the details. So I took some of the completed block at home. This at least gives an idea of how well it stood up to being used.

The block is slightly asymmetrical, and consists of two top sections and a side. I made my block slightly less tall than the template. First the top pieces were taped together, then the side was taped into a tube shape, and finally the two were taped together.

Making the cardboard block

Then as with the dome block, lots more tape was added. The shape was packed with newspaper, paying particular attention to stuffing the edges of the top, and yet more tape was added round and under the block.

The completed block

Showing the asymmetrical shape

Careful packing keeps the shape of the top crisp

The underside, with the paper packed and taped in

The block could be covered with a thin layer of papier maché and varnished, to make it more durable, but it worked perfectly well as it was. But the hat itself is a topic for another post.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Butterick 6620, and a(nother) skirt

I seem to have been doing all the stupid things this week - mostly involving zips - but happily it turned out alright in the end.

It all started with me failing to resist yet another craft cotton remnant; in this case a length of Northcott's Artisan Spirit 'Shimmer' fabric by Deborah Edwards.

Image taken from the Northcott website

The selvedges run along the top and bottom, so the fabric is dark at the sides and lighter in the middle. After the disappointment of the skirt of 'meh', I wanted to have a go at making a full skirt next, and thought that this would be perfect for the job.

The remnant was big enough to cut out a front and a back and leave enough for pockets. So I sewed the pocket pieces onto the sides, sewed round the pockets and down the side seams, pleated the fabric into eight big box pleats, and sewed the pleats down, ready to add the waistband. Only then did I remember that my hips and waist are not the same width, and that if I was going to get this skirt on, it needed a side opening! (There are times when it's really hard to believe that I've been dressmaking for over 40 years - sigh.)

I didn't want to lose a pocket, but thought that I could unpick the seam where the pocket back joined the skirt back, and put a zip in there. And it worked! The pocket was concealed by a box pleat anyway, so the zip is also hidden. In the picture below I've put a white slip into the pocket, so that you can see where it is.
Zip, pocket and box pleat

Having made the skirt, I decided that I wanted a top to go with it. I wanted something quite plain, and ideally 1950s to go with the skirt. This fitted the bill perfectly.

Butterick 6620, 1953

I decided to make view B, with the three-quarter sleeves.

It needed to be in a colour to tone down the red a bit, but white or cream seemed too much of a contrast. Then I remembered that I'd got a length of pale green cotton in my stash, left over from lining my sewing bag.

The pattern is labelled "quick and easy", and it certainly is. There are just two main pattern pieces, the front and the back. The centre front and back seams give it extra shaping, along with the darts. For views B and C there is a narrow neckline facing. I chose to understitch all around the neckline, even though it is not included in the instructions.

I also overlocked the facing edge
The sleeves have the small darts at the elbow which are a typical period detail, and are finished with bias binding. Most modern binding seems horribly stiff, even after washing, but I'd got some vintage binding of a reasonable colour in my stash. Unfortunately there wasn't enough to do the hem as well, so I just overlocked the raw edge and machine sewed it.

Sleeve details

The darts, especially at the front, are very deep. The instructions just say to press them to the centre, but they wouldn't lie flat and pulled the top out of shape. In the end I reinforced the middle of each dart with a second line of stitching, then snipped them open and oversewed the raw edges of the cut.

The front darts before snipping them open

I had given no thought to how such a fitted top might be got on and off, but just happened to notice a reference to a 10" zip in the 'notions' section on the pattern envelope. Duh! There is a zip or a placket opening in one of the side seams. Usually I put side openings on the right, because I'm left-handed, but because the skirt has a side zip as well I decided to stick with a left opening on the top. It felt really strange, putting in a zip which opens upwards! Both this and the skirt zips were hand-picked.

Now with added zip
The description of the top says that it can be worn out or in, but I prefer it tucked in. I think that the skirt will be better once it's been washed a few times; it's currently a bit stiff. I'm wearing it with a net petticoat in the photographs, but wore it today with just a normal slip. I absolutely love the top, and can see a more of these being made.

Top worn loose

Top worn tucked in

Even though the green fabric was not part of the 2017 Stash Collage, it has been in my stash for ages, so I'm going to claim this as a #vintagepledge make. My first of the year!

One final thing. The pattern, like the Bestway one I featured last week, has got "Grey's, not exchangeable" stamped on the side. And inside the envelope I found this.

Grey's receipt

The date is November 1957, and one of the items on the receipt appears to be 5⅝ yards of fabric at 5 shillings and 11d per yard. The total on the receipt comes to £39.92 in today's money. None of the tops in the pattern need anything like that much fabric, so unless the owner was making a matching skirt as well, I can't imagine how the receipt ended up in that pattern envelope.But it was a lovely thing to find.

Grey's, Birmingham, c1945 - found on Flickr

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bestway Patterns

Any time you come across a pattern with the address "21, Whitefriars St., London, E.C.4" printed anywhere on the envelope, even if the pattern name is that of a women's magazine, you are actually looking at a Bestway pattern.

This has the Bestway name, but also the address

Bestway patterns seem to have been sold in shops like other makes of pattern (the one above has "Grey's, not exchangeable" stamped on the side), but they were mostly associated with the women's magazines printed by the Amalgamated Press such as Woman's Illustrated, Mabs Fashions and Woman's Weekly.

Bestway was owned by Amalgamated Press and was a large business; its Whitefriars Street office and factory employed 100 people, and up to 20 million patterns were circulated every year*. Some of its patterns were given away free with magazines. In this example the cutting layout, instructions, and fabric suggestions are given over two pages in the magazine but the pattern pieces are missing.

Free pattern, for the right-sized woman, February 1938

Nowadays the patterns given away with sewing magazines are multi-size, but such things didn't exist in 1938. The pattern which came with the magazine was for a 36" bust. Other sizes (32"- 40") could be sent away for at a cost of 4½d**, plus the price of the stamp. As the magazine only cost 2d, larger or smaller readers may have felt short-changed by this; I imagine many just adapted the 36" pattern. However, other Bestway patterns advertised in the same magazine cost between 9d and 12d, so 4½d was still quite a bargain.

Other Bestway patterns in the same issue

Post-war, all patterns had to be sent away for, and paid for. The pattern was still the main selling point of some magazines, though.

Woman's Illustrated, 11 December 1948

The magazine contained illustrations of the basic construction, and a coupon to send off. In this case the magazine also includes yardage requirements, so you can buy the fabric while you're waiting for the pattern to arrive - handy if you want to make if for Christmas!

All three patterns are 1s 11d each, including postage and purchase tax

Other magazines which sold Bestway patterns included Home Chat and Woman and Home.

Home Chat, 2 April 1955

Woman and Home, September 1957

Although most of the patterns were nameless, like those illustrated above, Bestway were able to offer some designer name patterns through the magazines.

Norman Hartnell for Woman's Illustrated, 1957

However unlike Vogue designer patterns, which came in large envelopes, these were basic wraparound covers with the instructions printed on the inside.

Pattern 'envelope' unfolded

Over time the Bestway name seems to have disappeared from patterns associated with magazines. For example the envelope for this Nina Ricci pattern for Woman's Journal gives no clues.

No name or address on the pattern envelope

The pattern is unused and still in its factory folds. It is only the printing on the pattern tissue itself which gives the game away.

'Bestway' just visible at the top of the box

This Woman's Weekly pattern doesn't even have the Bestway name on the tissue.

Woman's Weekly pattern from 1966

I've not been able to find out what eventually happened to Bestway - if anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you!

* - For the information on Bestway I'm indebted to "Making Modern Women, Stitch by Stitch: Dressmaking and Women's Magazines in Britain 1919-39" by Fiona Hackney in The Culture of Sewing, Berg, 1999.

** - 1d is one old pence. There were 12 pence to a shilling (denoted as 1s or 1/) and 20 shillings to a pound. Britain changed to decimal currency in 1971, and the type of currency printed on a pattern envelope can help to give some idea of its age, although both currencies were included for some time.

Sunday, 30 April 2017


My grand plan for stash reduction is really Not Going Well.

I am on the online mailing list for my local fabric shop (probably a bad idea), and on Tuesday they emailed me a voucher for a flash sale which was being held the next day. Under normal circumstances I'd think, "That's nice, but I can't get home from work in time to get there". Unfortunately, I already had Wednesday off, so since I'd been sent an invitation it seemed rude not to just pop in and have a look . . .

Anyone who has been following my makes on this blog for a while will know that 1) I don't do frills, 2) I don't wear black and 3) I like bright colours. (One of my fellow postgrad students told me recently that she can always spot me in a group because I've got a distinctive dress sense; rightly or wrongly I chose to take this as a compliment rather than as, "You dress like a mad old lady".) So when I spotted this Liberty Tana lawn, it was love at first sight.

Yep, that's bright

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the print, here it is with my 6" quilting ruler (laid on top of an envelope, because it didn't show up against the pattern.

You can tell the size of the pattern repeat from this

This fabric shouts 'sundress' to me, and I'm tempted to take the easy route and just make another Butterick 6582 because I loved the first one so much. The only problem is that a combination of darker fabric, a sleeveless dress, and upper arms which resolutely refuse to go even slightly off-white in the sun is not a good one.

While I was pondering this problem, I remembered this.

Horrockses to the rescue!

This is a picture I took at the Off The Peg exhibition back in 2012 (why can I remember something from five years ago, but not five minutes ago?!). I loved the way that the bolero picked up the blue from the roses, and the way that the bodice had been cut to perfectly place a rose in the centre.

Bolero close-up

So, it was off to the remnants section to look for a suitable plain fabric. In the linen-mix bin I found a piece of just the right green. It was crumpled, snagged, and generally looking very sorry for itself, but it was the perfect colour, and at only £3 (before the discount) I decided to take a chance. Once I'd smoothed out the snags, and washed and pressed it, it looked far better.

Slightly over-exposed photo, but you get the idea

My only worry is whether there will be enough for the bolero; those front pieces with the all-in-one sleeves and the ties will eat fabric. I  might have to do set-in or raglan sleeves instead. If even that doesn't work I do have a Plan B; a Horrockses advertisement from the same exhibition.

Alternative, and slightly more formal, bolero

None of which gets me anywhere with my Vintage Pledge plans, but never mind!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The 'meh' skirt, and inadvertant vintage

Confession time. Whenever I've posted about my embarrassingly large fabric stash in the past I've tended to concentrate on dress lengths, because dresses is what I mostly make. However there are a few shorter lengths in there as well, mainly because I can't resist the craft cottons remnants bin in my local fabric shop.

This is one of them. I forgot to include a ruler in the photo, but the flowers are about 9½cm / 3¾" in diameter.

The colours and design give it a distinctly retro feel

There was little more than a metre of the fabric, so I decided to make it into a skirt, and used my standard skirt pattern.

I was very pleased with my pattern matching on the back. As ever, I hand-picked the zip.

Pattern matching happiness

Unfortunately this is about the only thing I am happy about. There are some serious fit issues around the waist. These were disguised by the looser weave of the woollen fabrics I've used for this pattern previously, but the firm cotton makes them very apparent. I made the skirt a bit shorter than usual for summer wear, and even with the narrowest hem possible I don't like the length at all. Finally, although I love the unusual colour scheme, it doesn't go with any other items I own. It doesn't even look right with a white top, so I had to hunt though my wardrobe to find something off-white.

All going wrong around the waist

I had forgotten that I'd still got this top, made from New Look 6320. I no longer have the pattern, but found this image online.

I don't have a date for the pattern, but I know that I made the jacket in either the very late 1980s or the early 1990s, so it would be a candidate for the Vintage Pledge. The pattern envelope describes the jacket as, "very loose fitting", and the pattern envelope does not lie. It was an absurdly large jacket. I had made it by the time I met Mr Tulip, and he used to tease me about the bagginess of it.

The top meanwhile has incredible wide sleeves, which on my short torso come down to waist level, giving a very odd look indeed.


All in all, it's not a pattern I regret getting rid of.

But back to the skirt. I think I'm going to take my usual approach of just putting it in the wardrobe for a while and then looking at it afresh, but I suspect it may be beyond rescue. I think I'll go back to dresses for a bit!

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!