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.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Style love

For all sorts of reasons, I'm not getting any sewing done at present, and this state of affairs is going to continue for a while. So this week it's all about pictures to look at.

I've posted before about my love of (some) 1970s fashions, and in particular of Style patterns from that era. Basically, if it's got the word 'Style' in that bold curly font in white on a coloured background, I'm almost certainly going to like it. Much of the appeal of the Grace dress from Wardrobe By Me is that it has a similar look. In part this is due to its drawstring waist: almost none of my Style dress patterns from the late 1970s/early 1980s have a fitted waist. Judging from these examples, when I was learning dressmaking I can't have had to fit a garment properly until about 1985!

Demonstrating this point, here's my new favourite pattern: 1970s-does-1940s, complete with padded shoulders - 2912.

I feel a short-sleeved summer version coming on

The envelope back shows the shape of the pattern pieces.

The first of many back views with single pieces for front and back

Also with a 1940s feel is 2861. This does have a fitted waist, but is the exception in my collection.

Don't let those belted waists fool you

Separate pieces for bodice and skirt

Both of the above patterns are from 1979, as are these three. Clearly 1979 is 'peak Style' for me.

Unusual yoke and all-in-one sleeve

The pattern pieces make the construction clearer

Half size for shorter fittings, and another yoked style

That's a lot of dress on a short frame

Raglan sleeves were also a popular feature at the time

As were pockets - yay!

This 1981 dress has a slightly more complex construction: a panelled skirt joined to a gathered bodice with an elasticated waist.

It's not obvious from this picture

But the back view makes it clearer

A year later, a similar construction, but set-in sleeves have replaced the raglan ones.

That pie-crust collar - so 1980s!

Still got pockets

Also from 1982, another dress without a waist seam. The description doesn't mention pockets, but they are clear from the illustration. I'm not sure why it's described as a 'pullover' dress, when it clearly has a fly front, and the notions list includes '7 buttons'.

Hair that's bigger than your head is rarely a good look

Again, that looks like quite a lot of fabric

Finally, a pattern from 1983. The puffy sleeve-head has gone, the skirt looks much more straight, and the pleats in the bodice emphasize the square shoulders - aided and abetted by that most 1980s feature, the shoulder pad. The sleeves look far more bat-wingy (technical term) in the illustation than in the back view - I'm quite tempted to make this up sometime, to see which one is right.

Impressive pattern matching on the plaid

This one is definitely a 'pullover' dress