Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Mother of the Stash*

aka  A Tale of Two Fabrics.

Because there's no way I'm leading with the next photo in this post. . .

The Sewcialists blog is marking May 2019 with a theme month: Sew Brave. The idea is to push out of your comfort zone, and sew something which scares you. So I'm taking this opportunity to . . . . make a cotton dress.

On the face of it, this is hardly the ultimate in derring-do. Cotton is super-easy to work with; that's why The Great British Sewing Bee starts off with 'Cotton Week'. And it's hardly as though I never make cotton dresses; see here, and here, and here, and - well, you get the idea. No, the 'brave' bit is the cotton in question.

In May 1991 Mum and I went to Florence. On the theme of being brave, and for the amusement of my readers, I'll actually share a photo from that trip.

Lots of black, a dodgy perm, and a cardigan at least five sizes too big for me - oh dear!

We found a fabric shop in Florence (of course), and despite barely speaking a word of Italian we managed to buy some material (also of course). We both bought cottons with floral designs; Mum's was an iris print and mine was anemones.

Mum's iris-print cotton

Mum, being sensible, made her fabric up almost as soon as we got home. She made a simple shift dress, to let the fabric take centre-stage. She also recently gifted the dress to me (thanks Mum!).

The iris dress

I on the other hand was not sensible. I kept my fabric until I could find a pattern worthy of it. Of course I never did, and it fell victim to Special Fabric Syndrome: the longer I waited, the more special the pattern needed to be in order to justify using the material.

My anemone-print cotton

In the 28 years that the anemone cotton has been in my stash I have: lived in four different houses; been employed by seven different companies (while doing the same job, long story); had all sorts of changes in my personal life; started a Masters, acquired a collection of vintage patterns and - failed to find a suitable pattern for three metres of 142cm wide cotton.

In a way, it's the Masters that prompted me to finally take action. I was talking to several of my fellow students recently, and realised that none of them was actually born when I bought this! 28 years feels like an abstract thing, but to look at a friend and think, "I've got fabric in my stash that's older than you are", really brings it into focus. There was also the small matter of doing the sums and realizing that I have owned this dress length for more than half of my life!

I'm sticking with a pattern I've used successfully before (because there's brave, and then there's foolhardy), New Look 6299, albeit probably with a little frankenpatterning around the neckline.

The basis for the dress
Wish me luck!

* - In Britain, the longest-serving Member of Parliament is known as the Father of the House (so far, the position hasn't been held by a female MP), hence this fabric's title of the Mother of the Stash.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Making Grace - part 3, finished (!) and pattern hacks

I finally have a completed dress! Most of the work turned out to be in the bodice, so once I'd made and attached the sleeves, the rest of it was fairly straightforward. I couldn't find any buttons for the cuffs which even remotely matched the greyish green of the fabric, so I went with mother of pearl instead. My hand-stitched buttonholes are getting much neater these days, which I'm chuffed about.

Cuff, button and buttonhole

On the skirt, my first pattern hack concerned the slant pockets. The instructions were to make the pocket, then sew the smaller pocket bag to the skirt along the opening. This would involve sewing two pieces of soft, drapey fabric together on a bias, so was sure to stretch - and then stretch some more in use. So I decided to add a stay tape along the pocket opening. Before sewing the pocket pieces together I laid a piece of cotton tape very slightly over the seam line for attaching the pocket to the skirt, basted it in place along that edge, and machine stitched it to the pocket piece along the other edge of the tape.

The pocket made up - the tape is machined on the left side, basted on the right

Then when I attached the pocket to the skirt, I sewed through the tape and both layers of fabric.

The pocket sewn in place, and the basting removed

Finally I top-stitched along the edge.

The completed pocket*

The instructions suggest that once the drawstring has been fed through the casing, the ends should be knotted to stop it from coming out. Instead I sewed it in place at the centre back through all the layers of the bodice and casing.

The final step was the hem, and this was another hack. The pattern only allows for a 1cm / ⅜" hem. It also uses the same pattern piece for the skirt front and back. Now if, like me, you have a sway back/big bottom and, also like me, prefer your hem to be the same distance off the ground all round, then you'll know that you need to make your skirt longer at the back than the front. And such a narrow hem doesn't leave a lot of room for manoeuvre in that department. For this reason I had added 10cm / 2" to the skirt length when I cut the pieces out. I ended up with a hem which was 1½" deep at the front and ⅜" deep at the back, so was very glad that I'd added the extra.

And here is the finished dress. It's OK, but sadly I can't say that I love it. It's not as bad as the Dress of Frump™, but then nothing is. Somehow it just looks a bit, to use a good Scots word, 'bumphly' - sort of rumpled and untidy.

Finished at last

I think that part of the problem is that the instuctions say to avoid gathering the tops of the pockets, so the front ends up with a lot of fabric bunched up at the centre.

Bumphle in the middle!

If I make the pattern up again (and I may well do so, it's a good basic dress) I think that I would make the skirt front narrower, and possibly shorten the sleeves a smidgeon. Certainly I do like the bodice. When I was taking the photographs I got distracted by a blackbird singing on the roof of the house, and the resulting picture of me looking up shows the collar and neckline off well.

The bodice is fine

Also on the plus side, this has used up a large chunk of the length of printed viscose that I bought in January. I have actually used half as much fabric as I've bought this year! This may not be something to be proud of, but it's better than nothing.

The stashometer - still not good, but getting better

* - The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the birds on the fabric in the three pictures of the pocket have flown round a bit! Somehow I managed to take two shots of one side of the skirt front, and one shot of the other; so for the sake of consistency I flipped the second photograph.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Making Grace - part 2, doing things differently

Aargh! Another week gone by, and still nothing to show for it. Even though the reality is that there are a lot of calls on my time right now, leaving me with very little opportunity to sew, it still feels as though the Grace dress is taking forever to make.

As I explained in my first post (which feels like months ago!), this is my first time using an indie pattern, and some of the techniques are different from what I'm used to. The bodice shape, with its yoke and stand collar, is similar to Butterick 5997, and it's interesting to see how the constructions compare.

First of all, the yoke. The method used by the Butterick pattern is the method I have always used, since I made this blouse, ahem, 40 years ago.

Style 2580, 1979

In this method the outer yoke piece is sewn to the blouse fronts and back, then the inner piece is sewn to the fonts, the seam allowance at the back is pressed under, and the inner yoke is slip-stitched into place along the back seam.

On the Grace pattern however all the yoke seams are machine sewn, with the bodice front and back rolled up into a 'parcel' of the two yoke pieces, and then pulled through the neck. I must admit that I was so dubious about this that I actually had to pin it together and do a trial run before I was convinced that a) I was doing it right and b) it would work!

Yes it looks odd - but it works

The other thing which is different so far is the collar. Usually I would expect to sew the collar front and back together, turn it right side out, and then try to wrangle it to the neckine of the bodice. Instead the pattern instructs you to sew the outer collar piece to the bodice, and then attach the inner piece. Genius - so much easier to handle! The cuffs are made the same way.

The outer collar attached to the bodice

Anyone who has read the comments on last week's post will already know that I wonder who this pattern is aimed at. The instructions run to 17 A4 pages (so I have to have my laptop to hand when I sew, as I can't bring myself to use that much paper), and are far more detailed than those on a Big-4 pattern. This would suggest that the intended audience is fairly new to sewing. However the ⅜" seam allowance, while making curved seams like the collar and sleeves a doddle, doesn't allow much wiggle room for the novice seamstress. But this minor query aside, there's no denying that it is fascinating to be introduced to new construction methods.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Making allowances

I had hoped to have some actual sewing to put on the blog this week, in the form of the Grace dress. Unfortunately while I have made some progress, it's not enough to show pictures.

One thing which did worry me before I started sewing it was the fact that all the seam allowances are ⅜"/10mm. For as long as I have been sewing, the seam allowance on patterns has been ⅝"/15mm. I'm so used to this that I even use it when I draft my own patterns. So I was convinced that at some point I would forget, and merrily start sewing up ⅝" seams.

However a quick look through some of my vintage patterns shows that the ⅝"/15mm allowance has been far from universal in the past. Although initially patterns had no seam allowance included, this Butterick pattern from 1923, which is one of my oldest, has an allowance of (mostly) ⅜".

Butterick 4530, 1923

The exceptions are the wonderfully-named "outlets", the areas which you might want to let out. These are described on the Deltor (instruction sheet) as having "an additional amount", which on measuring the pattern turns out to be an extra ⅜".

Outlets! and seams! on the Deltor

McCall were a forward-thinking company in the early twentieth century, being the first to introduce both printed patterns and coloured artwork, so I assumed that their patterns would include seam allowances. They did, and the information is on the envelope flap. Again the allowance is ⅜".

McCall 283, 1935

Advance patterns allow a whole ½", a point which is stressed on the envelope back.

Advance 2229, 1939

There could be no missing the seam allowance information

Meanwhile Simplicity continued with the idea of variable seam allowances. The envelope back for this blouse pattern includes the information that ¾" is allowed for underarm seams, while all other edges are ½".

Simplicity 4139, 1942

I'm not sure if this difference is because the underarm seams need to be stronger, or if it is to allow for 'outlets' (although that would seem an odd place for them). The coat pattern Simplicity 4896 has wider seam allowances at the sides, "to permit alteration".

From Simplicity 4896, 1944

Also allowing for alterations is this pattern from Bestway, a British pattern brand mainly associated with women's magazines. Most of the allowances are ½", but the side edges of the skirt (but not the bodice) have 1" allowances "for fitting".

Bestway 18928, 1940s

Vogue does not seem to have been an especially innovative brand; for example it was very late moving to printed patterns. By 1955 however it had adopted the now-familiar ⅝" seam allowance: it is mentioned on the instruction sheet of this pattern.

Vogue S-4644, 1955

Meanwhile Maudella, another British brand, were clearly late adding 'turnings' (seam allowances) at all. At least the fact is made very clear on the envelope.

Maudella 4279, 1950s

On the back of this pattern envelope however, it states that "⅝" allowance added on all seams".

Maudella 5151, 1960s

And the Grace dress? It's early days, but so far I've remembered to sew ⅜" seams. In fact, for things like attaching the collar to the bodice, the narrower seam allowance makes the whole thing far easier to handle. Perhaps I need to rethink my attachment to ⅝" seam allowances for everything.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Half-size patterns

After my harrumph last week about a feature on half-size patterns failing to explain what half-size patterns were, I found this in a newly-acquired issue of 'Vogue Patterns', dated Summer 1972.

All is made clear

Interesting that although this is in a magazine devoted to Vogue patterns, it stresses that the same sizing is used by all the pattern companies. Half-size patterns are defined as being for a figure with a short back-waist length, and a larger waist and hips in comparison to the bust than on other patterns.

There's a lot of information on there, so to make it easier to understand (and to indulge my sad fondness for spreadsheets) I decided to look at how one size compares across the figure types. Ideally I would have used the same bust size for all comparisons, but this was not possible because Miss Petite only goes up to bust size 40", and Women's starts at bust size 42". So instead I used my bust size of 36" to compare Misses' patterns to Half-size, and 42" bust to compare Women's to Half-size. The metric equivalents are shown in green.

Misses and Half-size measurements, 1972

Because the Half-size patterns use bust measurements of odd numbers, it's not possible to make an exact comparison using the figures above. So I worked out the average of the two Half-sizes. (Well, I did warn you about the spreadsheets!)

Comparing all three figure types with a 36" bust

For the 36" bust at least, the hip measurement does not change between the Misses' patterns and the Half-size. The waist is a fair bit bigger, though. The back waist length is slightly shorter than for Miss Petite, which is in proportion to the shorter overall height.

Because the Women's sizing is described as "for the larger, more fully mature figure", I didn't expect there to be much difference between this and the Half-size apart from the back waist length.

Women's and Half-size measurements for a 42" bust, 1972

I was wrong. There is a slight difference in the hip measurement and a bigger difference in the waist.

Bringing things up-to-date, the Sew Direct website, which now covers all the main pattern brands, states that:
"Patterns have consistent, standardized sizing from pattern brand to pattern brand. This sizing is based off of body measurements that all pattern companies have agreed to, which haven’t changed with the passage of time. So believe it or not, a pattern size 10 from thirty years ago is based off of the same body measurements as a pattern size 10 today."
Certainly, a 36" bust has been a size 14 for as long as I have been doing dressmaking (which is rather more than 30 years!), so I didn't expect a comparison to modern sizing to vary from the 1972 figures. However when I looked at the current size charts I discovered that the waist measurements have been increased by an inch since 1972, which presumably reflects changes in body shapes. Women's Petite sizing has also been introduced. So it was back to the spreadsheets for a final comparison.

Women's and Women's Petite measurements 2019 compared to Half-size measurements 1972

There's not a lot of difference between Women's Petite and the equivalent Half-Size, but unfortunately for me Women's patterns start at a 40" bust. So now that I know what they are, Half-size patterns seem to be the way to go - I'm off to trawl the internet now!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Yet more of the same

By 'the same' I mean two of my recent topics: 1970s fashions, and the (in)visibility of older women on dress patterns.

Yesterday I was looking for an advertisement in some 1970s copies of 'Vogue Patterns'. I didn't find it, but I did find this in the Early Spring 1975 issue:

It's an actual, bona fide, older woman!

There were three more double-page spreads in the feature.




The feature was entitled, "The Clothes You've Always Wanted . . . In Your Size", and its purpose was to highlight Vogue half-size patterns. However, there was no description of what half-size patterns were, and how they differed from other patterns. In fact, bizarrely, the previous four pages were devoted to an explanation of misses petite patterns! Clearly the reader was expected to know about half sizes already.

I'm indebted to Juliana of Urban Simplicity for explaining half-size patterns to me. They were designed for the older figure: shorter, and with a lower bust point and wider waist than standard patterns. And unlike the patterns which Vogue had previously designated as suitable for Mrs Exeter, some of them were now actually being shown on an older figure. Progress!

The way the half-size patterns were marketed was that the same garment was available in two different patterns. For example the checked suit on the left in the picture above was pattern number 9037 in sizes 10-18, and 9038 in sizes 14½-22½. The artwork on the two envelopes was the same (thanks to the ever-wonderful Commercial Patterns Archive website for confirming this), and did not depict an older woman.

The next issue of 'Vogue Patterns' which I have is Autumn 1975 (I really want to get hold of Spring, Summer, and Early Autumn 1975 now, out of curiosity), and it has a feature of the same name. Whereas there had been a lot of beige in the Early Spring pictures, judging from the Autumn feature Vogue Patterns did not endorse the older-women-shouldn't-wear-bright-colours trope.




Winter 1975 sees our older women in party mood, and even (gasp) showing some bare arm.



The Early Spring 1976 issue marked the American Bicentennial, with lots of red, white and blue clothing. I love the byline on the first image: "All the Fashion That's Fit to Print".



The model used is clearly an older woman but blonde rather than grey-haired, a trend which carried on into the Spring 1976 issue. I wonder why: had there been negative feedback about the grey hair?



Spring 1976 was the last "The Clothes You've Always Wanted . . . In Your Size" feature. Early Spring 1977 included a feature with a grey-haired woman; again it concerned half-size patterns.




The Summer 1977 issue carried the news that some Diane von Furstenberg designs were now available in half-sizes. These were however shown on a conventional young, slim model.


I need to check properly, but I suspect that this marked the end of 'Vogue Patterns' featuring older women. Airbrushing and/or the routine use of younger models are so much the norm nowadays that there is something almost shocking about some of these images. I can't think when I last (ever?) saw someone of that age in a modern sewing magazine - it is depressing to think that we have gone so far backwards from that brief period in the 1970s when patterns shaped for older women could actually be shown on older women.