Sunday, 13 January 2019

2019 plans

One of the things I did on my trip to London last month was visit the Burne-Jones exhibition at Tate Britain. As well as numerous paintings, including my favourite Burne-Jones work*, the exhibition included some of his comical sketches. Although he is usually considered to be a serious artist, he clearly had a humorous streak as well, and frequently poked fun at himself.

I  was reminded of one of these sketches this when I decided to tidy up and rearrange my workroom recently.

Mrs Wilkinson cleaning the studio, with Burne-Jones in the foreground

Burne-Jones dreaded studio-cleaning, and after several days of chaos I had every sympathy with him. Unfortunately I didn't have the luxury of help, so had to double up as both distraught 'artiste' and practical organiser!

However it is all done now. The room looks almost tidy, everything is labelled, and for the first time in nearly five years I have decent lighting over my ironing board. Woot! I even managed to find the left-over fabric from Vogue 2787, aka The Feed Sack Dress. I do still have the dress, albeit mended in a few places (from its unpromising start it has become a favourite that I'm loth to let go), but I think that the time for new buttons has passed.

The whole exercise did make me realise just how much fabric I have, and the depressing quantity of projects either half-done or not even started. So for 2019 I'm going to make a definite effort to chip away at this. I'm not going to measure my stash because a) it would be too embarrassing and b) it would take too long. Nor am I going to ban myself from buying fabric: I know well enough that I would have more success banning myself from drinking tea or eating chocolate. What I am going to do is keep a note of fabric bought and fabric used, with the intention that by the end of the year there should be a net loss. The previous attempt at stash reduction was a dismal failure, but I'm hoping I can do better this time.

So, 'progress' so far. . .

The 2019 Stashometer (of shame)

My excuse is that this is a fabric I've had my eye on for a while, and it was 50% off in the sale. Still not a good start, though.


* - Nothing to do with this post, but here it is:

Georgiana Burne-Jones by Edward Coley Burne-Jones, from Wikimedia Commons

Burne-Jones began this portrait of his wife Georgiana, known as Georgie, in 1883. The figures in the background are their two children, Philip and Margaret. He does not seem to have been the easiest person to live with (the description of the painting in the exhibition describes Georgie as 'long-suffering') but from everything I've read about her, I think the portrait captures her personality.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

2018 review (and the one that got away)

Because I failed to meet my 2018 #VintagePledge, I'd assumed that I didn't get a lot of sewing (or other creative stuff) done this year. But when I added it all up, there was more than I'd expected.

All the things

I started learning to knit, and made a scarf and some wristwarmers. I also made bags for both my knitting and my rapidly growing collection of knitting needles - people keep giving me their spares! I'm currently making another scarf, and on and off working on the World's Slowest Jumper. (It's not at all complicated, just that I don't pick it up very often.)

On the millinery front, there's only one completed hat to show for my efforts: the Chimneypot. There are a lot of part-made hats in my workroom now, and getting some of them completed really should be high on my list for 2019.

I bought a 101-year-old sewing machine, and used it to make an almost-1940s dress. I also made one modern dress using entirely stash materials (yay!) and three #VintagePledge dresses from the 1960s and 1970s. Separates were limited to two skirts: one very plain; and one far less plain.

There should have been one more dress in the list, but my remake of Vogue 2787 stalled once I had sewn the front and back together - one for the spring, I think.

2018 was a year of anniversaries, and this featured in my sewing. The centenery of the end of World War One was marked at the university with We Remember Them: a project to which the sewing group contributed by making poppies, 77 of which I made up into a wreath. 2018 was also the centenery of the first British women gaining the right to vote. This was also marked with an event at the university: for which I co-ordinated a project to make a commemorative banner.

2019 really needs to be All About The Dissertation (the Dissertation Police would strongly agree on this matter!) but hopefully I'll find time for at least a bit of sewing.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

#VintagePledge - more of the same

I knew as soon as I'd finished Style 2912 I knew that I needed more than one of these dresses in my wardrobe. I just love it so much: the easy shape; the neckline; the fact that I don't have to add pockets because it has them already. I bought the fabric more or less as soon as the first one was finished, but then Things Happened, and it all got a bit delayed.

The pattern layout is for fabric without nap, whereas the craft cotton fabric I chose has a strong directional print. I bought extra, but it was only just enough. Despite that, with careful cutting out I managed to get all the pieces, even the facings and pockets, cut in the right direction. (Indeed yes, I am a slightly obsessive completist - why do you ask?!)

Scatter Joy by Kathy Davis for Fabric Traditions

Finding buttons was tricky. This is nearly always the case: I think that I must just be very, very particular about buttons! I wanted gold ones, to tie in with the gold dots on the fabric, but everything I found was far too shiny for what I had in mind. Fortunately on my London trip MacCulloch and Wallis came up trumps, with the perfect buttons in matte gold.

Exactly what I was looking for

If I thought the buttons were difficult to source, this was nothing compared to the belt. Really, how hard can it be to find a narrow navy leather belt? Very hard, as it turned out. In the end I gave up and took my inspration from the pattern envelope.

Going back to the source material

I bought some dark blue fabric and made an obi-style belt, using the one I made for New Look 6184 as a pattern.

And here is the end result.

The finished dress

Just how much I love this pattern was apparent when I came to sort out the photographs for this post. Usually I take lots of pictures, and can immediately discount several of them. In every single photo I took this time, I'm looking ridiculously pleased with this dress.

Looking back at the original post, I haven't actually achieved my Vintage Pledge this year. My pledge was to:
Make up at least three of my vintage patterns from the period 1960 - 1989.

Well I have made up three dresses: two from 1979 and one from 1967, but only from two patterns. Must do better next year!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Night and Day at the Fashion and Textile Museum

I have been looking forward to Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs since I first saw it advertised at the beginning of the year, and it certainly didn't disappoint!

(Warning - this is another picture-heavy post. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.)

Michèle Morgan photographed by Ernest Bachrach, c 1939

The exhibition includes over 100 outfits, as well as 30 photographs by Cecil Beaton, a selection of Pathé newsreels, and studio and press portraits. Downstairs covers 'Night' clothing, while 'Day' is upstairs.

As ever with the Fashion and Textile Museum, only a few exhibits in the first room are behind glass.

Sequinned evening dresses

This pair of dresses demonstrates the style differences between the beginning of the decade, and its end.

Velvet dresses from the early and late 1930s

There is also a display of some of the wealth of women's magazines which existed at the time: it was interesting to see which ones still exist.

Titles include "Vogue", "The Lady", "Miss Modern" and "Needlewoman"

The main room is where the sheer size of the exhibition really hits you. One section features clothing in black and white. . .

Monochrome elegance

. . . while another looks at the influence of cinema. I was intrigued by the dress on the right: with its cut and its chiffon sleeves, at first glance it looks more like something from the teens era than the 1930s.

Lamé dresses

The main display features a dazzling array of dresses, ranging from reds on the left to cooler shades on the right. Many of them are bias cut, with barely a rippled seam to be seen. I could only gaze at the workmanship in awe!

So much 1930s glamour

One of my favourite films is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (not least for the wonderful costumes by Michael O'Connor), and looking at this tableau, with the singer at the centre, instantly reminded me of the scenes in the 'Scarlet Peacock' nightclub.

Another view of the display

One of the things I love about the Fashion and Textile Museum is the care which goes into mounting their exhibitions. It is frequently possible to look at items from the back as well as the front.

Back views of two of the dresses featured above

It is also possible to look down onto this particular group of dresses from upstairs, which provides yet more detail.

Early to mid-1930s satin gown, seen from various angles

Finally downstairs there is a display of studio portraits by Dorothy Wilding, Madame Yevonde and Paul Tanqueray.

Women from Society and the Arts

Upstairs is less out-and-out glamour, but no less stunning.

Cool summer dresses in silk, cotton and organdie

Summer clothing also features in this display of holiday dressing.

Ready for the sun

This section includes my favourite item of the entire exhibition. At first I thought that it might be a playsuit with a wrapover skirt, but it is actually a dress: made from linen and trimmed with cowrie shells.

Mid-1930s dress, labelled 'Becker Fils'

There are plenty of day dresses on display, too.

A selection of early and mid-1930s dresses in rayon

Rayon and silk dresses. The one on the far left is probably home-made from a pattern

A great many of theses dresses have belts or waist ties, which reminded me of an observation made by the wonderful Vintage Gal when I wrote about reissue pattern Simplicity 1777 omitting the waist ties; namely that these were a feature of the period. They allowed for changes in weight or for dresses to be passed on to another wearer, at a time when people owned fewer clothes and they were expected to be worn for longer.

Back view showing ties, belts, and interesting sleeve shapes

A small display on home dressmaking, complete with a 1934 Singer machine, had me confused. There is a spool of thread in place, but it is ineptly wound round various points of the machine. Surely someone in the Fashion and Textile Museum would know how to thread a sewing machine?

The display

Yes I know it's super-nerdy but really, what is going on here?

The final section uses the 1937 coronation as a basis for a display of red, white and blue clothing.

Patriotic colours

It also includes two of the best hats in the exhibition.

Very different, but both fabulous

The Cecil Beaton photographs were hard to photograph due to reflections. However I did manage to capture this this triptych on the art of retouching - proving that there is nothing new under the sun, including Photoshop!

'Charwoman to Dowager', 1930s

Most of the photographs on display are portraits however, such as this shot of society 'Bright Young Things'.

The Soapsuds Group at the Living Posters Ball, 1930

Night and Day runs until 20 January 2019.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The Chester centenery banner

Finally I can write about what I've been up to these last few weeks! Warning: this is a long post, as there's a lot to explain.

14 December was the centenery of the first general election in which (some) women were allowed to vote. In Chester this was marked yesterday with a day-long event exploring different aspects of the suffragettes and female political participation in Chester, called 'Chester: Suffragette City'.


The day was organised by Professor Emma Rees, a woman who manages to do far more with her time than seems reasonable. Among other things Emma is director of the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Chester, and runs the MRes course on which I'm a student. One of the things Emma wanted to do for the event was make a banner, so she looked round for a helper to run the project - someone with an interest in women's history who could also sew. Which is how I got involved!

Banners played an important role in the suffragette's campaign for the vote. It was realized early on that they added a strong visual element to marches and rallies, which helped to get press coverage. This poster for a procession in 1911, in the suffragette colours of green, purple and white, emphasizes the banners as a selling point for the event.


Banners were made for groups of workers and for specific places: to show that the demand for women's suffrage was widespread and not just limited, as detractors claimed, to a few women.

Banner design for scriveners (writers)

Edinburgh banner, based on the city's coat of arms

Some banners also celebrated women of note, to make the point that for all these women had achieved, they were still denied the right to vote.

Jane Austen banner

Banner-making workshops were held, and Mary Lowndes, an artist who was also a suffragist, wrote a pamphlet entitled Banners and Banner-Making to help would-be banner-makers.

Image courtesy of the Women's Library at London School of Economics

Based on this research, Emma and I decided that our banner should represent notable women of Chester throughout its long history, and should be in suffragette colours. In the spirit of the original banner-makers, it also needed to be a design which could be worked upon by multiple people.

I cannot draw at all, but fortunately Emma knows a man who can. Graham Boyd is a designer and muralist, and he came up with a design which fitted our requirements perfectly. Emma put out a call for people who could sew and who wanted to be involved in the project, and we were off!

For making the banner I borrowed heavily from the instructions provided for the Processions project earlier this year. Graham provided a cartoon (a full-sized drawing of the design), and I used this to trace each section of the banner onto a separate piece of white cotton.

Tracing part of the design, the fabric is held in place with pattern weights

All of the drawing with a frixion pen, which uses an ink which becomes invisible when ironed (thank you to Leimomi Oakes, The Dreamstress, who first introduced me to this fabulous tool). Because the individual sections of the design were going to be held in place with bondaweb before being sewn down, it was very likely that the ironing would remove lines which would be needed later in the construction process. To get round this, I went over all lines which I thought might be affected with tacking stitches in different colours.

Using bondaweb means that the design elements have to be cut out back-to-front, prior to being ironed in place. This was relatively easy with the lettering, because I could copy it into a document and them flip it before printing it out. For other pieces it was more complicated, but I only got one (fortunately small) piece wrong.

Tracing the letters onto bondaweb and fusing it to the fabric

Some of the completed letters

The design was split into six sections, one of which was lettering only. Four of the other sections I made up into 'kits': containing the backing fabric, the coloured pieces, instructions, and a repair kit of spare bondaweb and fabric in case any gaps appeared when the pieces were put together. Fortunately none of the repair kits were needed. The sections were given out to the banner-makers, to be worked on at home. Although I had every faith in my co-workers, I must admit that I was still very relieved when I got the sections back, and everything matched at the joins!

It fits! The two sections of St Werburgh, with the pieces which cover the join laid on top

Sewing the sections together

This seems a good point to talk about the figures in the banner. Minerva represents the city's Roman period. She is the Roman goddess of wisdom and warfare, and as a result is frequently portrayed with an owl for the former, and a helmet, shield and spear for the latter. Chester has a shrine to Minerva, the only one of its kind in western Europe still in situ. The medieval period is represented by St Werburgh, an Anglo-Saxon princess who became a nun. She is the patron saint of Chester, and the cathedral is named after her. She is alleged to have brought a dead goose back to life, after it had been eaten!

The central figure of the group, worked separately so that she could be applied over the join between two sections, is Susannah Brown. Along with her sister, in 1780 Susannah Towsey founded what would eventually become Browns department store in Chester. This was a millinery and haberdashery business, and Graham depicted her holding a ribbon to reflect this. She appears to have been an astute businesswoman; even after her marriage the business was very much in her hands. Initially she would travel down to London herself to buy stock, but as the business grew she sent an assistant instead: records exist of her providing detailed instructions of which shops the assistant should visit, and what to buy. As no images of Susannah could be found, I went through my books on eighteenth century costume (an arduous task, but someone had to do it!) to provide Graham with some images from the period.

Frances Bulwer, 1794, from Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield

Susannah in progress

Black net was used to provide shading in areas which needed it, although there were a couple of times when I did regret my bright idea to add tiny sections of black net to accentuate Susannah's ringlets! Where a line was needed to separate two areas of the same colour, for example between Susannah's neck and her fichu, this was done by applying a length of narrow black ribbon. Small details, such as eyes and mouths, were cut out from black fabric.

As more pieces were sewn together, it became harder for multiple people to work on the banner at the same time. Where possible we got round this by sewing from opposite ends towards one another, or by adding detail to smaller pieces before they were attached to the banner.

Working on the banner

Finally all that was needed was to add the border and hanging loops, and we had a completed banner. It was unveiled by the banner-makers at the Suffragette City event yesterday, after a talk by Graham and me. I particularly love the way that Minerva's owl and Werburgh's goose balance each other, and the inclusion of #MeToo brings the design right up to date.

The completed banner

One of the speakers was Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of Sylvia and great-granddaughter of Emmeline. It was a real thrill to listen to Helen speak while she stood in front of our banner.

Helen Pankhurst

It has been a very different project from the work I usually do, a steep learning curve at times, but great fun. A huge thank you to Emma for asking me to co-ordinate the project, to Graham for his fabulous design, and to my fellow banner-makers for all their hard work. Finally, here are a couple of pictures which Emma took on the day.

Onstage with Graham and the banner-makers

The banner alongside Graham's design

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Fashioned from Nature at the V&A

I'm very late to the party here, as this exhibition has been running since April, but I finally went to see Fashioned from Nature, the current costume exhibition at the V&A.

The exhibition sets out to look at fashion's relationship with nature, as a source of both inspiration and raw materials. One of the oldest exhibits is this woman's waistcoat from 1610-20. Made from linen and embroidered with silk and metal threads, at least some of the flower species are recognizable, even if the colours are not.

Woman's embroidered linen waistcoat

Similarly some of the butterflies and moths on this painted silk are actual species.

Painted silk taffeta dress, 1770s, altered 1780-85

Some of the exhibits show how natural materials were used to create structure, such as the cane supports in this calash (a type of bonnet designed to protect the towering hairstyles of the period).

Silk, canvas and cane calash, 1775-80, with x-ray showing the cane supports

There are sections on both cotton and wool. The wool section includes this amazing sample book of the different colours, types and qualities of cloth avalable. There are 39 pages, some with over 100 samples - oh to have so much choice today!

Sample book, 1795, probably from Somerset

The next section looks at nature used as decoration. The gleaming green accents on this dress are not sequins, but the wing cases of Indian jewel beetles: over 5,000 of them in all.

Cotton dress, 1868-9

Birds, especially those with iridescent feathers, were also sought-after for trimmings on hats and fans, and even made into earrings. This tray of specimens shows some of the birds still in their paper wrappers for sale.

Stuffed birds ready for use as trimmings

As legislation was passed limiting the use of exotic birds and feathers, or for customers who could not afford them, there were alternatives. The bird on this hat is actually a starling; bleached, dyed, and supplemented with larger feathers. Even the beak has been dyed.

Wool hat, around 1885, trimmed with a starling and other feathers

Other examples of alternatives made to replace natural materials include this amazing floral display modelled from wax.

Wax flowers modelled by John Haynes Wintorn, around 1875

The exhibition continues upstairs, where it looks more modern clothing. Recent examples on display show how nature continues to act as an inspiration to designers, such as this dress in a print derived from a 1904 book on birds eggs.

Printed silk georgette dress, Giles Deacon, 2016

Hat of cotton, velvet, silk and waxed flowers, Philip Treacey, 2016

Much of the upstairs section however looks at the impact of fashion on nature, such as the pollution caused by the manufacture of synthetic fabrics. It also looks at cruelty-free alternatives. Not exactly one for everyday use, is the use of beading to make this 'leopardskin' dress. The tiny beads give it a texture which makes it look amazingly realistic.

Beaded taffeta evening gown, Jean Paul Gaultier, 1997

This dress and coat is made from kibiso silk, a fabric made from the protective outer surface of silk cocoons, which is usually discarded as waste.

Dress and coat, Reiko Sudo, 2017

The exhibition also looks at the way that even in the relatively recent past materials were used with as little waste as possible. This stunning blouse was painstaking made by a London dressmaker from the remnants of a burnt-out German parachute.

Silk blouse made by Esther Ferguson, 1942

In considering the environmental impact of fast fashion, the exhibition includes a message dear to my heart.

'Mend More' jumper, Bridget Harvey, 2015

Fashioned from Nature runs until 27 January 2019.