Sunday, 18 August 2019

Diversity on the Catwalk

I must admit, I've been putting off writing this post for a while because I wasn't sure what to write. I'm still not sure, so have decided to just go with a mainly descriptive post, with a little bit at the end about my problems with it.

Body Beautiful: Diversity of the Catwalk is a free exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, which looks at how the fashion is attempting to explore more varied ideas of what constitutes beauty. I first came across it in this article, and went to see it when I was in Edinburgh for the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event.

The exhibition poster

The exhibition includes two garments lent by activist Sinéad Burke: a version of the cut-down Burberry trench which she is wearing in the exhibition's publicity materials, and a dress made for her by Christopher Kane.

Clothes lent by Sinéad Burke

The latter is based on a dress from his catwalk collection but altered to keep the proportions (for example, it has fewer buttons on the front) and to fit properly - the skirt is 5cm / 2" longer at the back than the front so that the hem is level. I was fascinated to read in the accompanying notes that it has the zip at one side rather than the centre back because this allows Ms Burke to reach it herself rather than have to rely on help to dress and undress, a detail which was a standard feature of dresses in the 1940s and 1950s is now largely obsolete.

The rest of the exhibition is split into five sections, looking at disability, race, LGBTQI+, size and age. Each section consists of a display of information and statistics, a large illustration as a backdrop, and clothing related to the section.




As a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman, I really don't feel qualified to comment on representation in any of these categories, but the last two were a different matter.


The large image behind the mannequins is a photograph of model Paloma Elsesser. She is 1.71m / 5' 7½" tall, and a UK size 16 - which is the average size in this country, hence the T shirt in the display with '16' on it. The bustier on the far left was worn by model Denise Bidot when she walked for the Chromat Spring Summer 2015 collection - the first time a plus-size model had opened a straight-size show at New York Fashion Week. According to a video shown alongside this section, she was astonished and thrilled that as a curve model and 'only' 1.8m tall she was selected for such a job. She had good reason to be; according to the accompanying notes for this section, in the Spring 2019 season shows there were only 54 curve models out of the 7,431 castings across the four fashion cities, and this fell to 50 in the Autumn 2019 shows.

Finally, there was the 'Age' section. This managed to make curve models look almost mainstream: less than 1% of the castings in the Autumn 2019 shows, a mere 36, were models aged 50 and above (and we have already established that three of those were Karen Bjornson, Pat Cleveland and Alva Chinn in New York). The exhibition freely admitted that age lags behind race, gender and size in terms of catwalk representation.


The image would have almost have been funny, if it weren't such a stark illustration of what the fashion industry sees as 'old'. Apparently demonstrating that 'feminine beauty is ageless' it consisted of four supermodels from the 1990s whose ages at the time the photograph was taken were, by my calculations, as follows: Nadja Auermann - 44, Yasmin Le Bon - 51, Stella Tennant - 45 and Eva Herzigova - 42. The accompanying clothes are from brands which were quoted as designing for a range of ages up to 70, albeit while mostly using models at least 20 years younger - with the honourable exception of Simone Rocha; the designer of the black outfit on the right.

I'm well aware that all of this is just restating arguments I've made several times on this blog this year. I'm also aware that I was in a bit of a grumpy mood the day I went round this exhibition, so may not have given it the benefit of the doubt; and of course, none of this is the fault of the exhibition itself. The fact is that the fashion industry is just not in the business of representing reality. But the thing which I found depressing was that 'diversity' seemed to be expressed within such narrow parameters. It was as if you could be disabled so long as you were also thin, a larger size so long as your body shape met certain acceptable proportions, old but not too old etc. I think that for me part of the problem is that the fashion industry is on the whole so far removed from reality that it is easy to accept that the whole thing is artifice. Once a degree of reality in introduced in one area (along with, it must be said, more than a hint of self-congratulation in some cases) then it just serves to magnify how unreal and unattainable the rest of it is. But I would be very interested to hear what other people think.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

From the archives

I have done absolutely no sewing this week. Not a stitch. No dramatic reason, just Life getting in the way. Now I do try to post something every week (see here for why I do, this is still a commitment I take seriously), so this left me with a dilemma of what to write about. Then when I was looking through a drawer for something, I found the box which contains this.

Drawstring bag with beaded tassel

I made this over 15 years ago, long before I started blogging. But it's one of the makes that I'm most proud of, so I decided that it deserved its moment in the spotlight.

It was made for my wedding in 2004. We sort-of-eloped to Venice, and I didn't want a wedding dress, so instead I based my outfit on the colours of Venetian buildings - all pinks and browns. My beaded top was bought, but I made a plain silk skirt to go with it, and decided to make a bag from the leftover fabric. The size was determined by what had to fit into it, namely the essentials of sunglasses, hankie and migraine tablets. Practicalities like cash and the keys to the apartment were left to Mr Tulip! The main section of the bag was interlined with heavy interfacing to keep the cylinder shape. The sections at either end were not interlined, to allow the drawstrings to work and for the bottom to be gathered to a point and finished with a tassel of glass beads.



Staying with the Venice theme, the decoration was based on the ornate mosaic floor of St Mark's basilica.

Antonio Visentini's drawing of the floor of St Mark's

The overall design for the bag was taken from a small section directly below the plain square in the illustration above.

Close-up of Visentini's drawing

Photograph of the floor - found on Pinterest

The circles and diamonds were cut out from a selection of small silk samples and the squares from metallic gauzes, all of which I had in my stash. The cream outlines of the various sections were made from silk ribbon, gathered and pleated to shape and stitched down along both edges. Split stitch in variagated pink silk thread was added along the middle of the ribbon to emphasize the interlaced effect, and beads added in the centres of the circles at each point of the diamonds.

Ribbon detail

The sections around each square were filled with embroidered silk gauze. For two of the squares, the patterns were based on examples in the mosaic floor - they are the two sections on the right in the photograph above. I used very fine silk threads from Mulberry Silks and widened the colour range from pinks and browns, but tried to keep it within a muted Venetian palette.

Translated into counted thread embroidery

The other 'mosaic' section

For the third section, I wanted to use the pink and white brickwork pattern of the Doge's Palace. This proved easier said than done. In 2004 there was nothing like the online resources now available, and it took some time and a lot of research to find an image clear and detailed enough for me to work out the design.

The Doge's Palace - a photogaph taken long after the event

Replicated in the varigated pink silk thread

The circles were too large to leave undecorated, but I wanted something which would not detract from the silk gauze embroidery. I adapted more elements of the floor design, and created three motifs using thread, sequins and beads, each of which was used twice.

Ring and star design

Interlocking circles

The decorated circles

And here is the finished bag in use on the day. This is me attempting to post our wedding certificate into one of the bocche dei leoni, the lion's mouths which were used for posting anonymous complaints and denunciations in the time of the Venetian state!

The bag turned out perfectly

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Additional information

For a lot of things which are designated as 'collectible', the rule seems to be that the fewer signs of use, the better. Toys which have never been played with, but remain pristine inside their original packaging - that kind of thing. I don't know how much old patterns are deemed collectible, but personally I love to find things which hint at a former owner. These are a few of my patterns which have at least a teensy bit of 'previous' attached.

Even when home dressmaking was far more popular than it is now, not all shops carried all patterns. Some had to be ordered in like this one, with "Mrs Judd to pay" pencilled on it.

Vogue 7678 - ordered by Mrs Judd in 1952

Other stores used a different method, combining a variation on the familiar 'patterns cannot be exchanged' stamp with the order details. This pattern came out in 1963, but appears to have been ordered four years later.

Vogue 5942 - ordered 22/9/67?

Vogue patterns appear to have been the ones most often ordered. I wonder if the higher price meant that fewer people bought them, so it wasn't worth the shops carrying a large stock?

Sometimes the previous owner made a note on the envelope of what they had made from the pattern. This one has an arrow pointing to the white blouse at the bottom left and the note "Made yellow calico blouse".

Vogue Special Design 6081, 1963

I'm not sure whether "Tunic top without the collar white/grey/red" beside view B on this envelope was a note of a) what had been made from it, or b) the project planned for it. But given how often I unearth a pattern from my stash and think, 'I bought that for something, but I can't remember what', perhaps I should adopt this technique!

Style 3595, 1972

Given that this Vogue pattern is for a very loose-fitting smock, all the alterations listed seem a bit excessive:
sleeve longer by 1"
yoke ¾" wider from neck to armpit
armhole 1" deeper
cut a trifle fuller if material allows

However the final note is "buttons to match belt", and as there is obviously no belt on the original, I'm guessing that it was adapted to be something else.

Vogue 9005, 1941

Butterick 6670 was obviously passed on from its original owner to a friend, complete with handy hints about making up pencilled on the front: "I made my dress exactly to pattern, but I hope you will fit yourself as the sleeves are a bit tight round the elbow since it has been washed".

Butterick 6670, 1953

The next two patterns are from the same lot, bought at auction. Clearly the owner liked planning possible alterations to the designs.

Vogue 6333, 1964

Vogue 6701, 1966

Rather simpler is the intended change to this Givency pattern, just rounding the jacket collar. Vogue patterns seem to be the ones most often adapted - possibly they were used by more skilled dressmakers.

Vogue Paris Original 2923, 1973

Extra information doesn't just appear on the front of patterns. The back of this one includes yardage requirements, and a checklist for making the skirt.

Vogue Paris Original 2567, 1980

Lots of notes on the back

My favourite though is probably this one. Although the pattern was issued by Vogue in 1950, the date stamped on it is 14 February 1951.

Vogue Couturier Design 556, 1950/51

On the back is a list of what all the separate components cost.

Cost breakdown (and fabulous hat!)

Material - 6 pounds 14 shillings and 3 pence
Pattern - 7 shillings and 4 pence
Interlining - 5 shillings and 9 pence
Sylko (thread) - 9 pence
Lining - 10 shillings and 6 pence
Buttons - 2 shillings
Pack etc - 2 shillings and 8 pence
Total - 8 pounds 1 shilling and 3 pence

According to this website, 8 pounds 1 shilling and 3 pence was 5 days' wages for a skilled tradesman in 1950, and was worth £251.62 in 2017. However, I can never see something like this without checking that the total is correct, and my reckoning it should be 8 pounds 3 shillings and 3 pence, which adds a whopping £3.12 to the 2017 total!

Either way, I'm intrigued by what 'Pack etc' means. Was the pattern being made up for someone else, and if so, why are there no labour charges added? Sometimes the extra information on patterns just leaves you with more questions than it answers.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Slow going (and worse)

'Progress' on the anemone dress is achingly slow. In part this is due there being lots of other demands on my time at present, and in part because after a mere 28 years waiting to use this fabric, I really want to get it right. But on top of this, sometimes contending with my own stupidity takes up a lot of precious time.

Exhibit A on the stupidity front is the sleeves. They are taken from New Look 6093, but with the much flatter sleeve head of New Look 6299. I decided to make the elastic longer and the ruching less ruched because - well, I have no idea why I thought this was a good plan. The end result was a mess. It didn't look like a plain sleeve, and didn't look like a ruched sleeve either. So, I decided to unpick the elastic, shorten it, and sew it back in - after setting the sleeves into the dress. How hard could it be? Very hard, it turned out.

A completed sleeve

On the whole, New Look patterns fit me well once I have shortened the bodice. Occasionally though, they can gape at the back neckline. Again, it would have been sensible to check this fit detail before spending ages hand-picking the zip, but where's the fun in that? I couldn't face unpicking the zip to fix this, so instead I added an extra dart at the neckline either side of it. Fortunately I realised this mistake before I'd attached the facing.

Dart between the zip and the princess seam

The darts were added in an emergency fitting session with Mum, but we decided that even with this fix the shoulders still needed a little extra help. The shoulder seams are far too narrow to accommodate bought shoulder pads, so I had to make my own. I used the instructions in Vogue 2787 and drafted my own pattern pieces to fit the space available.

Completed shoulder pad

The one thing which I am happy with is the piecing and pattern matching in the back godets, which worked out really well. It is practically invisible.

Piecing like a pro

Join, what join?

But leaving aside the various fit and alteration issues, I have another problem with this dress. I was aiming for a vaguely vintage look, however I fear that instead it's developing a distinct 'late 1980s bridesmaid' vibe - and no-one wants that! I shall just have to plough on (slowly), and hope that I can somehow style it out.


Sunday, 21 July 2019

Location, location

Despite living not far from either Manchester or Knutsford (the model for Cranford), Elizabeth Gaskell's work had pretty much passed me by until recently. But then a friend recommended the BBC's 2004 dramatisation of North and South, and I decided to take a look. And was confused.

Not long after the opening credits came this shot, which we were assured was 'London'.

London. Or not

Now I'm not aware of any part of London having stonework that colour. But I am aware of a lot of Edinburgh having stonework that colour. Pretty much all of the New Town, in fact. (See this post about why the 'New Town' is not actually that new.) It turned out that quite a lot of the series was filmed in Edinburgh, mostly in parts which I recognized but did not know well. So on my recent trip up there, I set out to investigate. Apologies for some of the screen grabs being slightly blurry.

The first location I checked out was directly opposite the National Museum of Scotland, where the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event took place. These are the steps where Margaret Hale is accosted by the mill workers, and then rescued and helped to a carriage by Nicholas Higgins.

Looking up the steps

Getting into the carriage

The archway just visible in the first picture is a prop, but what really surprised me was just how narrow the street is at the bottom. The shot with the carriage must have been carefully set up so that the pavement on the other side was just out of the frame.

Looking down the steps

This pretty much set the tone for the rest of my exploration. I was fascinated to see how cleverly the locations had been used, admittedly sometimes with a little computer-generated help, to give a rather different impression.

Bizarrely, despite living in or near Edinburgh for 18 years and then visiting regularly for a further 17, I had never been up Calton Hill. In particular I'm amazed that Mr Tulip, who never saw a hill he didn't want to drag me up, had never insisted that we go there. It is at the east end of Princes Street, and home to the old city observatory and various monuments.

The Dugald Stewart Monument, with the Old Town to the left and Princes Street to the right

Various characters are seen walking here throughout North and South.

Margaret Hale, with the Dugald Stewart Monument in the background

With Milton/Manchester in the background

A similar view - albeit with restoration work going on

This seemed very odd, until I came across this image. It was used (sadly without any details) in this article about the novel Mary Barton, so I assume that it is a drawing of Manchester, where both novels are set. What runs under the bridge in Edinburgh is actually the railway station, not a river, but there are certain similarities - including Braid Hills standing in for the Pennines in the background!

Tall buildings and wide-span bridge

There is a lot of death in North and South, which I assume is why all the tombstones were added to Calton Hill.

Margaret talking to Bessie Higgins

In reality, the Calton Burial Ground is at the foot of the hill.

The burial ground seen from the hill

This was somewhere else I had never visited. Although it mostly contains gravestones, around the edges are these elaborate family tombs. I assume that they once had roofs, but now there are signs dotted around the burial ground warning that the structures are unsafe.

Two of the family tombs

Stockbridge, on the north side of the city, is another area I didn't visit when I lived there. This may have been because it's at the bottom of a very steep hill, which I would have to climb back up again! More recently I've become acquainted with it via the fabulous photoshoots which Debi of Ms1940McCall has staged around there - I love playing 'Guess the location' with her Edinburgh-based posts.

St Stephen's Church is partway down that hill. If you look down to it, both parts of north Edinbugh and the hills of Fife are visible behind it. Plus, the buildings to the right of the church are quite modern.

St Stephen's Church, with background

Shoot it close to, looking upwards, and with a conveniently placed cart to the side - and it becomes the institute where Mr Hale lectures.

A different view

The biggest surprise however was the street where the Hales live.

The busy, if not prosperous, street

The archway with 'Stockbridge Market' over it made it quite easy to find.

A bit of a giveaway

The area behind the arch was covered over for filming, which makes it look like there is a market hall there, and the properties on one side were turned into shops.

Baskets, chairs, and other goods for sale

The Hales' home, on the left with the black door, was tweaked a little to remove the very obvious downpipe - either by boxing it in or by computer.
Not the world's most unobtrusive plumbing

Look - no downpipe!

But the thing which amazed me was just how short the street is. There is so much going on in the various scenes shot here, that I had assumed it was a long street. In fact, there are only a handful of properties.

You can see the end of the street in the foreground

You can also see that I took this photograph just as the heavens opened. Faced with a long, uphill walk back to the hotel in a thunderstorm I was forced (forced, you understand) to take shelter in Elaine's Vintage Clothing just around the corner until the rain eased off - and came out with a very nice scarf! Downpours aside, the whole thing left me with a renewed admiration for the people who do all this unseen work in costume drama; those who work out how and where to set the shots up and who tweak real life to allow us to see something totally different.