Sunday, 10 November 2019

An English lady's wardrobe at the Walker Art Gallery

I have posted before about the Tinne collection, the remarkable collection of clothing accumulated by Emily Tinne, a Liverpool doctor's wife, in the period 1910-1940. Consisting of over 700 items, it forms the largest collection of one person's clothing in any museum in the UK. An English lady's wardrobe is a new exhibition of over 70 costumes from the collection. While there aren't quite that many photographs in this post, it is a long and image-heavy one, so make yourself comfortable! Click on any image to see a larger version.

Day and evening wear from Mrs Tinne's extensive wardrobe, (l to r) 1910, 1913, 1925, 1928-30, 1932-35, 1935-36

Pauline Rushton, Curator of Costumes and Textiles at National Museums Liverpool, has been given access to a large number of the Tinne family's photographs and letters by surviving family members, and these shed some light on certain aspects of the collection. Quotes from the letters appear throughout the exhibition, which begins with information about the family. While the Tinnes made their money from sugar (the exhibition does not shy away from their links to slave and then indentured labour), Emily Margaret McCulloch was the daughter of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. Born in India, she was sent to live with family members in Edinburgh when very young, and later to a school for the children of missionaries. All in all, it seems to have been a frugal and somewhat rootless upbringing, and it is possible that her extensive shopping habit once she found herself with a home and money of her own may have been connected to this.

Part of the display about the Tinne family

Mrs Tinne did not just buy clothes. She also had items made by her dressmaker, Mrs Taylor, who was the wife of the chauffeur to a family who lived nearby. The Tinne collection includes some lengths of fabric which were never made up, and numerous dress patterns. Sadly, a favourite of mine from the collection, Weldon's frankly-named pattern Smart Fashions for Wider Hips, does not feature in this exhibition, but many of those which do appear reflect the 1930s view of older women whose figures had filled out.

'Outsize' and 'Matrons' patterns

The clothing part of the exhibition begins with day wear, starting with items from soon after Emily Tinne's marriage in 1910. Although she had seven pregnancies, the collection includes very few maternity outfits; one is displayed here.

Teens era clothing, the maternity dress is on the right

As is obvious from the above photograph, the exhibition space is very light and airy, and the clothes are displayed in such a way that it is possible to see the sides and back of many of them.

Views of a hand-embroidered natural tussah silk dress, 1916-18

1920s and 1930s items

One of the joys of the Tinne collection, from a curator's point of view, is not the special items it contains but the everyday ones. Clothes such as this inexpensive ready-made dress were rarely deemed worth keeping by their owners. Mrs Tinne however was in the habit of buying multiples of such things in different colours and then leaving many of them unworn.

Cotton and rayon mix dress, 1930-32

I particularly liked this smart dress with its bold buttons.

Wool crepe and rayon silk dress, 1932-35

The sleeve detail on this dress is amazing, but I wonder if it would be annoying to wear?

Printed rayon crepe day dress, 1932-35

The next section features underwear.

Underwear, 1900-30

Not only did Emily Tinne not wear much of what she bought, she even left the price labels on many things. This camisole cost 12 shillings and sixpence, which equates to approximately £49 today.

Cotton lawn camisole from Owen Owen 1910-20

Emily's passion for shopping did not extend to children's wear. She made many of her daughters' clothes herself, and favoured items which were made to last and could be passed down to the younger children.

Children's clothes

I have posted before about the changes in fashion in the period 1900-1935 as seen in my own family, and this exhibition makes the same point by looking at swimwear. The orange costume of wool serge was worn by Mrs Tinne on her honeymoon in 1910. While still bulky by today's standards, the knitted cotton jersey swimsuit she wore two decades later must have represented a huge improvement.

Bathing costumes from 1910 and 1930-35

When it came to outdoor wear Mrs Tinne, no doubt like many women of her class, clearly liked furs - although it's unclear how many of them she actually wore. I however do not, so I didn't linger over this section.

Coats, mostly fur

Hats though are another matter altogether. The accompanying exhibition notes explain that at this time it was usual for a woman to wear a hat outdoors. They go on to add that it was not usual for one woman to have 150 of them! This is only a selection of the 110 which still survive.

Hats, hats . . .

. . . and more hats

The item in the centre of the second photograph is a motoring bonnet, hence the long veil.

Evening wear comes next. Emily bought her trousseau in Edinburgh, and this dress comes from Henry Darling & Co. The shop had closed by the time I was growing up, but my parents remember it. The dress shows how slim she was when she married.

Black silk dress, 1910

The Tinnes were from the social class which dressed formally for dinner, and while Mr Tinne's work as a GP may have meant that his evenings were taken up with seeing patients, Mrs Tinne at least had a busy social life. She clearly liked beaded dresses, silk velvets, machine lace and, especially, black.

Evening wear

I had never realised that many 1920s beaded dresses came as pre-made panels exported from Paris, to be put together by a dressmaker. The collection includes one such panel, which has been mounted so that it can be properly seen. It cost seven shillings and sixpence - about £21 today, so far less than her cotton camisole from Owen Owen!

Silk crepe and beading dress front, 1925-30

Silk velvet devoré dinner dress, 1932-34

While the dress above is entirely suitable for someone of Emily Tinne's age and shape in the 1930s, the collection includes a number of very glamorous dresses designed for someone much younger and slimmer. The Tinne family believe that Emily bought them simply because she liked them, but with no expectation of ever wearing them. One such is this dress with an attached cape, beautifully bias-cut to catch the light in different ways.

Silk satin-backed crepe and silk satin, 1935-36

Although Mrs Tinne clearly liked clothing and hats, shoes do not seem to have excited her interest so much. Although the exhibition includes a number of pairs, they are relatively plain. Also, they have all been used; there is no evidence that she put away pairs unworn, as she did with clothes.

Shoes, and yet more hats

The final part of the exhibition looks at the inter-war shopping experience in Liverpool as Emily Tinne would have known it. This, I imagine, will mainly be of interest to people who know the city. It certainly made me realise just how many big stores have closed in the time since I moved down here. At the top of the market was the ladies outfitters Cripps, on Bold Street, which offered entirely bespoke clothing. This was long-gone by the time I arrived in 1982, and the premises had become a bookshop. I remember it as being a very large shop, so clearly Cripps was a successful business.


Below Cripps were the department stores; with Hendersons, George Henry Lee and the Bon Marché at the top, then Lewis's, Owen Owen and Blacklers. The Bon Marché became part of George Henry Lee in 1961, which explains something I had often wondered about - why Lees as I knew it consisted of two apparently separate stores joined by a single corridor on the first floor. Hendersons, by then Binns, closed in 1983, and Lewis's, Owen Owen and Blacklers all followed. Lees was renamed John Lewis Liverpool, and decamped to the swanky new/soulless (delete as preferred) Liverpool ONE shopping area in 2008. As I don't shop in Liverpool that often now, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these stores and taking a trip down memory lane, albeit while feeling rather old!

I bought my sewing machine here in 1986 - unlike the store, it's still going strong

I think that anyone with an interest in inter-war fashions would greatly enjoy this exhibition. I certainly did - indeed, I'm already planning a second visit. An English lady's wardrobe runs until 1 March 2020, and the museum is hoping to tour it after that. If this has piqued your interest but visiting is out of the question, the revised edition of Pauline Rushton's book on the Tinne collection is available to buy here.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The University Centre Shrewsbury banner

I can finally write about the 'secret sewing project' which I alluded to a few weeks ago. I have been putting together quilt blocks to create a community banner for University Centre Shrewsbury.

The banner was the brainchild of Professor Deborah Wynne who, as well as being the organiser of the Textile Study Days and my dissertation supervisor for my Masters, is a lecturer in the English Department at both the Shrewsbury and Chester campuses. When the first students on the English BA Honours degree course at Shrewsbury were coming to the end of their studies, Deborah thought that it would be a good idea to commemorate the occasion. She asked the students to each make a quilt block 30cm square, containing their name and something which represented themselves and/or their time at Shrewsbury. The result was 17 very different blocks. Knowing that I sew, she asked if I would be able to put them together into a quilt.

I must admit that initially it did look like a challenge. 17 blocks is an awkward number to work with, and there were some 'variations' from the 30cm measurements. Add to that a wide selection of backing fabrics, and some alarmingly narrow seam allowances, and I had my work cut out. The first thing I did was photograph all the blocks and print out small images of them, all to scale. I played around with these until I got an idea for a suitable arrangement. I decided to make an extra block containing information about the banner, and to make it the same size as the largest of the 17 to balance it out. This gave me a basic layout to work with.

One of the potential layouts for the blocks

The inspiration for my block came from the banner at Glasgow Women's Library, which I visited a couple of years ago. The idea of books and a hot drink seemed perfect for the student experience!

The Glasgow banner

Unfortunately my drawing skills weren't up to even this simple task, so I cheated. I created a suitable still life, photographed it and displayed the image on my laptop, then laid a sheet of tracing paper over the screen and traced the outlines.

The 'design' for my block

The background fabric was a lucky find of a print of piles of books, and the books and mug are appliqué. I embroidered the dates onto the mug, and the other details onto the book spines.

My block in progress

Sewing the blocks together like a normal quilt was never going to work, so instead I mounted them onto a base of heavy white cotton. I drew out the placement of each block first.

The block placement marked out

Then I laid each block in place, and used rulers and some offcuts of board to check that it would be positioned correctly once the sashing was added between the blocks.

Checking the positioning of the first block

Even though I knew that the stitching attaching the blocks to the base fabric would all be covered, I still chose to use a matching thread for each block - just in case! I also sewed round elements in each block, to keep the fabric attached to its base.

All the blocks attached to the base fabric

Then it was time to add the sashing. For this I wanted a neutral fabric which would not detract from the blocks, but equally I didn't want something which was totally plain. Fortunately my local fabric shop came up trumps, with a subtly patterned fawn craft cotton remnant which was exactly the right size. I put the vertical sashing on first, machining one side, then flipping the piece over and slip-stitching the other side. The pieces at the ends of the rows of three blocks were wider, to fill the gaps.

The vertical sashing pieces in place

Next I added the horizontal sashing the same way. Once it was all in place, it really worked to frame each block, while at the same time acting as a unifying feaure.

The sashing completed

The backing fabric was added, and then the side and top and bottom borders. That was a lot of slip-stitching! I also added a sleeve along the top to hold the pole for displaying the banner.

The completed banner on display

It was a challenge to make it all work, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. It was just so apparent how much all the contributors had wanted to be involved. The degree of sewing skills varied widely, but the enthusiasm with which they had entered into the project clearly did not. It made me really want to create something which did justice to their creations. We had a grand unveiling of the quilt on Thursday, and a number of its makers were able to attend, and explain the inspiration behind their blocks. After so many hours spent working on banner, it was lovely for me to be able to put faces to some of the names, and to hear their stories.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

How to make a powder sifter for a vintage compact

Among the many 'old-fashioned' things which I decline to give up (using a watch rather than a phone to tell the time, sending actual, physical birthday cards, etc. etc.) is face powder. In my world, shiny noses are good on dogs but not not on me.

Most of the time I use modern pressed powder which comes in its own plastic compact, but if I'm dressed up then I like to use my 'proper' compact, which I inherited from Granny R. However it is very obviously 1950s or later, and so not correct with 1940s clothes. (Indeed yes, I am a completist - what makes you ask?). So when this apparently 1940s compact came up at the local auction recently, I treated myself to a congratulations-on-finishing-my-dissertation present.

Silver and guilloche enamel RAF 'sweetheart' compact

There was no date given in the catalogue, but the hallmark inside is from 1938. This wasn't that only surprise it held, though. The well for the powder is smaller than in Granny R's compact, and it has more of a curved shape at the base.

The compact open

Granny R's compact closed (with bonus powdery fingerprints) and open with powder inside

Thanks to this website, I realised that Granny R's compact was made for pressed powder, and the earlier RAF compact was made for loose powder. Also, that the latter should come with a sifter to hold the powder in place, like this one from The Vintage Compact Shop.

A similar compact, complete with sifter

I do already own a compact with a sifter. It is part of a metal evening bag which I bought at a vintage fair (and which I really should blog about sometime).

The compact closed . . .

. . . and open, with sifter

Basically the sifter is a metal frame, with gauze stretched over it, and the edges covered in a type of velour. So I thought I would have a go at making one for my new compact - here's how I did it.

Thin card for the template
Pelmet buckram (see below for details)
Silk gauze
Narrow ribbon (I used an absurdly long hanging loop which I'd cut out of a jumper)
Baking parchment
Fine fabric for covering the 'frame'

Pair of compasses
Scissors (sharp, but not your best fabric-cutting ones - the buckram will ruin them!)
Iron and ironing board

A metal frame was out of the question, so I used buckram. Two layers ironed together make quite a rigid material. I had used this approach to make a belt for Butterick 6582, and three years later that is still going strong. It does need to be the right type of buckram, though. Millinery buckram has an open weave, and is coated with an adhesive which is activated by water. I used what my local fabric shop sells as pelmet buckram; it has a closed weave, and is coated (on both sides) with an adhesive which is activated by heat.

Millinery buckram (top) and pelmet buckram.

First of all work out the size of the sifter by experimenting with templates cut from thin card. It it best to cut a hole in the centre of the template before trying it in the compact, because if it is a tight fit, it will be very hard to pull it out again (ask me how I know!). The sifter should have a diameter very slightly smaller than the powder well.

Once you have worked out the outer diameter of the sifter, draw two circles of this size on the buckram, each with another circle about 9mm / scant ⅜" inside it. Then cut these out. Rather than try to cut the inner circle directly, I found that it was easier to cut a small circle in the centre, and then gradually spiral out from there. This leaves you with two rings of buckram. Next, cut out a square of silk gauze, slightly larger than the ring, and a short length of the ribbon. It is possible to use another type of gauze if you don't have silk, but it must be heat-resistant.

Fold the ribbon to form a small tab; I found it easiest to iron this to keep it in shape. This is what you will use to lift the sifter out of the compact. Place a piece of baking parchment on the ironing board and on top of this lay one of the buckram rings, then the gauze, then the ribbon tab with the cut ends pointing outwards, and finally the other buckram ring placed exactly on top of the first one. I have shown this on a coloured background below, just to make the layers more visible.

Buckram rings, silk gauze and ribbon tab

Place more baking parchment over the top, and firmly press the layers together with a warm iron. You might want to experiment with some scraps of buckram first to get the heat/time combination right, but always remember to do this between two sheets of baking parchment. I found that about 15 seconds on the cotton setting worked best. The buckram will stuck to the baking parchment a little but can be gently peeled off, taking care not to separate the pieces of the sifter in the process. At this point the buckram will be quite pliable, so make sure that the sifter is entirely flat, and leave it to cool. Once it is completely cold, cut off the excess gauze and ribbon.

Stuck together and with the excess cut away

Cut a bias strip from the fabric and iron it to form bias binding very slightly more than twice as wide as the frame. You could use shop-bought binding if you prefer, but I tend to find this a bit stiff. Initially I was going to use blue fabric to go with the enamel and the RAF theme, but then I realised that compacts tend to use pale pink or cream edgings because they won't show the powder stains so much. The pink silky crepe fabric I used is a bit bright, but it was in my stash and the right weight. Fold the binding in half lengthways and wrap it over the frame, then sew the two edges together with tiny stab stitches through the gauze. Make sure that several of the stitches go through the ribbon tab. I had tacked the edges of the binding to keep them flat, but I found that the tacking was also useful for gathering the edges in.

Sewing on the binding

And here is the completed sifter, nestling perfectly inside the compact. Snug enough to stay in place if I turn the compact upside down, but not so big that it buckles when pushed into place. Next time I think I would try making the frame a little narrower, but I'm pretty happy with this for a first attempt.

Ready for action

I hope this is useful to anyone else wanting to make their vintage loose powder compact usable again. As ever, if anything is unclear or you need more information, please add a comment and I'll do my best to help.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Bride of Frankenpattern

Among other things, I am slowly working through the box of patterns which I bought in the summer. As there are around 100 of them, this will take some time.

The dates range from 1950 to 1997, and among the 1990s patterns are these.

Patterns from 1990 and 1992

That's a lot of wedding dress patterns for one person to own. At some point I will write a post about the whole collection, but from the information I've gleaned so far, I think that the owner of these patterns used elements from all four patterns for her daughter's wedding. Some of the pieces are cut out to size 12 and some to size 18, so I'm guessing that they were used for the bridesmaid(s) as well as the bride.

The off-the-shoulder look was clearly popular at the time.

Style 1883 - 1990

As were tight sleeves, princess seam pointed bodices, and full skirts.

Style 1888 - 1990

The pattern pieces for fabric roses were used from the three patterns which include them.

Simplicity 7919 - 1992

This option is slightly different - a straight skirt with a full overskirt.

New Look 6686 - early 1990s

Initially I thought that I would be able to work out the look of the dress from the pieces cut out from each pattern, but this wasn't possible. The ruched sleeves of Style 1888 were definitely used, but so were skirt pieces from three different patterns. I wonder if an initial idea was tried, and then replaced? Either way, the owner must have been a skilled dressmaker to blend all the elements together.

The collection also contains this pattern, complete with suggested neckline alterations.

Style 1674 - 1988

However it is unused and still in its original folds. Perhaps a different pattern was used and has since been lost, or maybe the bride chose not to have a flower girl after all?