Sunday, 17 September 2017

Flowers - part 1

Only a short post this week, as I've been away for the weekend and am not long back. It's been a hatting-related jaunt; to a flower-making weekend at The Millinery Studio in Huddersfield. The studio is run by Sue Carter and Marie Thornton, who regularly teach at Hat Works.

Yesterday was all about beaded flowers. We began with seed beads threaded onto wire, which was then bent to form flower and leaf shapes.

Examples of simple beaded flowers and leaves

In the afternoon we moved on to making individual petals by joining beads together with much finer wire. We started off with large beads, to learn the technique (there are two examples on the left of the photo above), before moving on to seed beads.

Flowers made from individual beaded petals.

I loved this technique so much that I carried on in my hotel room in the evening! Despite this, I haven't got a completed flower to show, so here's a close-up of one of Marie's beautiful examples.

Beaded flowers on a headband

Today we moved on to silk flowers. Again there were two types, but the technique was the same for both. For the first flower we cut out different sizes of multiple petal shapes, from stiffened dupion silk.

Flower pieces

These are then dampened, and shaped using heated metal tools.

Flower-making tools

'Action shot' of shaping the fabric, and a single petal in the foreground

Once shaped, the pieces had to be left to cool and dry; and this was where Sue and Marie's collection of beautiful vintage china cups came in handy!

Drying the petals in a cupped shape - quite literally

The second flower was made up of individual petals. These were shaped, and then assembled onto a wire 'stem'.

Rose petals, plus calyx and leaf

Again, this is not quite finished: I shall write a separate post about the completed items. There will doubtless be more to come, as I have finally found a use for all those small pieces of silk dupion and leftover packets of seed beads in my stash! Thanks to Sue and Marie for a fabulous weekend.

Update: I posted a picture of the proper flower-shaping tools because, let's face it, they look great. But you don't need to spend a fortune. Sue and Marie aren't known as "The Millinery Magpies" for nothing; they have assembled a collection of household objects which do the job just as well (just be careful how you hold them, as the handles get hot). Melon ballers, ice cream scoops, even a honey dipper with a ball-shaped decoration on the handle - you will never look at metal kitchen utensils in the same way again!

Bonus DIY tools photo for Cate!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A very vintage day out

I've been to Stockport for the day. Nothing new there, but for once I wasn't hatmaking. I had expected it to be a short visit, but it turned into much more.

The original plan was to finally go to the Vintage Village, a vintage fair held in the covered market hall. Even though it's been held every month for several years now, I'd never been. Initially I wasn't sure if I'd be going this time either, as I realised on the train over that I'd forgotten to bring a map. Despite the fact that I've been to Stockport several times for non-hat-related things, I don't know it very well at all; in fact the only places I recognize are the Hat Museum and the brewery (the latter purely as a landmark, I might add). So I set out from the station in what I thought was the right direction, and hoped.

Found it! The market hall

I had a good look round the fair, and bought some (more) vintage patterns, then on the way back to the station I called into HatWorks to buy some brim wire. As you do. I was chatting to Sue, one of the lovely staff there, and she mentioned that the Plaza cinema was open as part of Heritage Open Days. So off I went.

The Plaza

The Plaza is a magnificent Art Deco cinema; opened in 1932, converted to a bingo hall in 1967, and lovingly restored to its 1930s glory this century. To see lots more photographs of its construction and history, click here.

Much of the original Egyptian-themed décor was simply boarded over when the bingo hall conversion took place.

'Egyptian' in a loose sense of the word

Part of the foyer, with original doors and seating

Other items, such as the carpets, sweets stand and booking kiosk were recreated from photographs.

The sweets kiosk, with rather less elegant contents than in the original

The ticket kiosk isn't used, but does have a period telephone

One item which had survived almost unscathed was the magnificent Compton organ with its illuminated glass panels.

The organ when not in use

The organ pipes are actually behind the large panel to the right of the picture below. The panel on the left has nothing behind it.

Lit up, along with the illuminated orchestra pit rail

View of the auditorium from the Circle

On the first floor is the café restaurant, with its original Lloyd Loom furniture.

The café

The Plaza is a theatre as well as a cinema, and the backstage area was open for the Heritage Open Day. Because the whole building is built against a cliff (Stockport rivals Edinburgh for hilliness), backstage is actually underground - during the Second World War one of the directors temporarily moved his family into the dressing rooms when their home was destroyed in a bombing raid!
Sadly they didn't let me in here

At the other end of the building, right at the top, is this very narrow door.

Clearly projectionists had to be thin

This was the way to the projection room, also open for the Heritage Open Day. Up here are two 1948 projectors, rescued from a skip and restored. Two were needed because a reel of film only lasts 20 minutes, so a movie would consist of several reels, played seamlessly on alternate projectors.

The projectionist explaining how films were shown

The projectors are still used for 35mm film, but most modern films are shown on the modern digital projector just visible through the door on the right. Doubtless more efficient, but far less romantic!

Even more amazing was the last projector in the room; the 1928 'talkie' projector. The thing at the bottom which looks like a record player - is a record player, of sorts. The sound was separate from the film itself; on a big shellac record which had to be cued up to the film, was very fragile, and wore out after it had been played 40 times. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before this technology was replaced.

The 'Peerless' projector with Vitaphone turntable

I had a fabulous time going round the Plaza, and my short visit turned into a very long one. A huge thank you to Sue for telling me about it; I would have missed a real gem otherwise.

Image © Stockport Plaza

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Wiener Werkstätte ensemble - pictures

My historical sewing has had to take a back seat for a while, as I just have too many other things to do at present. But a couple of weeks ago I had the rare treat of a free day, plus I was due a haircut, which meant that my totally non-historically-accurate fringe (bangs) was long enough to be tucked out of the way. So, I decided to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for ages, and photograph my complete Wiener Werkstätte ensemble; dress, hat and bag.

On the basis that ‘if a job’s worth doing . . . ‘, I also wore all the period underwear I’ve made; my Edwardian chemise and (adapted) drawers, petticoat slip, and 1911 corset (all of which make this the most hyperlinked blogpost ever). The last item wasn’t really necessary as the Wiener Werkstätte, like the Aesthetic and Rational Dress movements in the UK, advocated not wearing corsets. But I was determined to go the whole hog, and I suspect that at least some of the Werkstätte’s clientele would have been reluctant to abandon corset-wearing. To finish the whole look off, I wore my American Duchess Astorias, and Edwardian stockings.

The results were . . . OK, but I’m a long way off happy with them (I did have fun messing around with filters on the photos, though!). I see it more as a learning exercise, and it shows how much I’ve got to learn about historical costuming.

The original dress (image © MAK) and my version

None of what follows will be news to anyone who does a lot of period dressmaking, and it all pretty much echoes what costumers such as Jennifer Rosbrugh regularly say on their blogs, but in no particular order here is what I discovered from the exercise.

First up, I wish that I’d used better quality fabrics for the dress. Even though I have no reason to wear it, if you’re going to put that much time making something, it’s not worth skimping on materials. I was far happier with the feel of the underclothes, which were made in period-appropriate fabrics.

It's a bit too shiny!

Which brings me on to the discovery, made very early on, that the chemise pattern (Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02) was not designed for dresses with wide necklines. Even with the alterations I made to lower the neckline, it was well and truly visible. For the sake of the photos I replaced it with a modern vest top (see the ever-excellent Frock Flicks for why I had to replace it with something).

Unboned sections of a corset will go where they want to go, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In this case I had clearly made it too long, so the top inch or so folded over, and resisted all of my attempts to make it lie flat. Unpicking and reshaping the top edge is fiddly, but do-able. 

Despite all the arguments I found when I researched the subject, I remain unconvinced by the combination (no pun intended) of long straight skirts and closed-leg drawers. They must have been a nightmare to do up after a bathroom visit.

The hat brim is too floppy. Much as I like the scalloped edge it definitely needs stiffening, either wire or brim reed. I shall have to take it to one of the Hat Chat sessions at the Millinery Studio for remedial work; although getting it on the train may be interesting!

The brim edge is lovely, but will have to be covered up

By this stage, the brim was buckling a bit

Far and away the most successful element of the whole outfit was the petticoat slip, made from a pattern in Frances Grimble’s The Edwardian Modiste. This was drafted to my measurements using a scaling system, and fits beautifully - so much so that I even photographed it! I can see that if I want to make any more clothes from this period, the Edwardian Modiste patterns are the way to go.

Fringe looking dreadful, slip looking good

Although there is so much of this outfit that could have been done better, I'm working on the basis that all of the items I made were for challenges in the Historical Sew Monthly, and one of the mainstays of the HSM is the "pursuit of greater historical understanding". Simply knowing that it could have been done better, and having some idea of how, is a start.

I do look a bit too chirpy in the pictures as well. Most of the models in the Wiener Werkstätte archive photographs look rather gloomy - sometimes with good reason.

If I was wearing that flowery-swimming-cap hat, I'd look glum too! (image © MAK)

Clearly I need a small dog

For me the most interesting thing about the whole exercise was how totally alien the whole outfit felt to wear. I regularly 'dress like my grandma' using patterns from the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but even when I go for the whole 'look' with period hair, stockings, hat etc, it still feels like only a very small variation from normal dress to me. This felt like 'dressing up'; definitely something from another world. But I’m aware that I was born in the mid-1960s, so would 1930s clothes feel like another world to a younger person? Or was there some fundamental change in clothing, say after the First World War?

That aside, I’ve left the most important thing I learned from this to the end. If you are wearing a long-line corset and shoes which fasten with buttons, there is a definite order in which these items need to be put on. Very definite.

Trying to use a button hook on shoes when you can't bend is doomed to failure!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

The 'chocolate box' hat

It’s taken a long time, but well over a year since I started it (May 2016 to be precise), I’ve finally finished another hat.

This one was made on a weekend course on making silk headpieces, at Hat Works. Silk on its own isn’t stiff enough for hatmaking, so these were made on a buckram base. As ever, the tutors Sue and Marie brought examples to inspire us, both in buckram and silk.

Buckram bases,

- and silk hats

We actually worked on two hats over the weekend, but the other one is a long way from complete, so will, eventually, get its own post.

For this hat I chose a simple heart-shaped percher block.

I forgot my ruler, so had to use a pen for scale!

Because it was impossible to shape the woven buckram over this block without wrinkles, the top and sides were made separately. Unfortunately there are no ‘in progress’ photographs: wet buckram is horribly sticky, and anyone handling wet buckram soon becomes horribly sticky as well, so there was no way I was going to pick up a camera while doing this.

Shaped buckram pieces drying in the sun

Once dry, the excess was cut off both blocked pieces, leaving a reasonable overlap on the top section and the tiniest of overlaps on the side piece. These were stitched together, and brim wire sewn round the bottom edge. Then to stop the texture of the buckram from showing through the silk, the wire was covered with a bias strip of tarlatan and the top was covered with a piece of ice wool - a loosely-knitted, fluffy fabric.

The buckram base, top view and underside

Tarlatan edge and ice wool top

Base completed, it was on to the silk. For this I decided to use a technique I’d seen in The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff. This involved sewing narrow tucks on the right side of the silk . . .

Hand-sewn pleats

. . . and adding gathering stitches on the wrong side.

Gathering stitches, positions alternating between rows

The gathering stitches were pulled up, and the tucks sewn together on the right side, to give an effect somewhere between pleating and smocking.

The end result

I had measured the hat before I started, to make sure that the completed panel would be the right size for it. Some of the excess silk was tucked under the pleated sections at each end, but some I had to pleat along the sides, as I wanted to keep it as a single piece of silk.

The covered hat

The resulting little compartments, the richness of the silk, and the shape of the hat all combined to remind me of old-fashioned chocolate boxes; the sort made out of pasteboard and covered with satin, with chocolates in individual paper cases rather than moulded plastic trays. This sort of thing.


So taking this as my inspiration I decided to bead the hat as though only a handful of chocolates were uneaten, with a few beady crumbs left in the folds of the silk in a couple of the other sections.

The 'chocolates' and the 'crumbs'

The lining was made from a curious silk remnant I found in MacCulloch & Wallis last year. As the pattern is printed on the bias, I think that it might have been intended for ties.

The lining fabric - the orange and purple go well with the hat silk

The lining was made from a bias strip sewn into a tube and gathered along one long edge, then sewn onto a central patch. Because the lining would not be the same depth all round, I decided to cut it with the stripes radiating rather than forming circles.

The completed lining

I actually cheated a bit (sorry, Sue and Marie!) and secured the lining in place with a couple of long threads I’d sewn onto the underside of the buckram base before I attached the silk outer layer. Once in place the lining was cut to shape, the raw edge turned under, and slip-stitched in place.

Sewn into the hat

And this is the finished hat. Well, almost finished: it still needs elastic, so for the photos it was worn I little more on top of the head than I'd like.