Sunday, 18 October 2020


Much as I enjoy dressmaking, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. So, I decided that before I started my October Vintage Sew A Dress A Month dress, I wanted to do something different - and it became far more different than I had expected.

This illustration is from the cover of a 1940s issue of The Hatters' Gazette. It used to be on display in the Hat Works Museum in Stockport (currently closed for refurbishment), and I've long thought that it would be fun to try to recreate the hat featured - Lystalite model W386. It looks as though it might have been made from fabric, rather than straw or felt, and that is what I decided to use.

My inspiration - from March 1942

I used Vogue 7464, view C, as the starting point, having compared the illustration with photo of me wearing the completed hat and decided that brim was about the right size.

The proportions are similar

I started with the lower, flat, brim, and made it using the 'wrong' buckram again, i.e. upholstery rather than millinery buckram. I know that it works for this type of brim, and it also makes a smoother finished surface and is less messy to work with than the hatting variety. However, I now know a lot more about hatmaking than I did in 2015, including how to attach brim wire properly. Instead of folding the buckram over the wire, I attached the wire round the edge. To make life easier for myself, I 'stitched' round the brim with an unthreaded sewing machine to punch holes for sewing into. I used my 1917 Singer for this, as I needed holes to be close to edge, and it was easier to do this with a hand crank machine.

Punching holes for sewing

The tradition way of sewing on brim wire is to make two overcasting stitches from the same place - one in the same hole and one in the next hole. This will be covered by binding so for the sake of my eyesight, sanity, and migraine prevention I decided against using white thread. For some reason I have got three reels of one shade of turquoise, so I used some of that - see picture below.

The wired brim was then hung on my hat block with two pins ready for me to work out the upper brim layer. Because the front section is only slightly larger than the lower brim and the back section is much larger, I decided to do it in two parts. Wallpaper lining paper worked well for making a mock-up; as it was thick enough to hold its shape, wide enough to cut out large pieces, and I had lots of it. I started with the front half - made a first draft, attached it to the lower brim with paper clips, and then refined the shape until I was happy with it.

The front half of the brim

The back section was much more complicated. First, I modelled the wavey outer edge in fine-gauge wire to work out how long it should be. I knew that what I needed to create was a shape which looked like part of a doughnut. I had the length of the outer curve (the wire), the length of the inner curve (half of the inner curve of the lower brim) and the width of the doughnut (the same as the width of the lower brim), but I didn't know what proportion of the doughnut I needed, or the width of the doughnut's inner hole.

The information I had to work with (in mm)

I was convinced, however, that it should be possible to calculate these from the information I had. This involved digging deep, deep into memories of O Grade maths, but to my complete amazement (and, I must admit, pride) I did manage to work it out. I should take a moment here to say thank you to Mr Foley my maths teacher, as clearly what he taught us about simultaneous equations has remained lodged somewhere in my brain for 40 years!

Showing my workings - I still prefer to do things like this on paper

The first draft didn't quite work, because I hadn't taken into account the fact that the centre back needs to be more tightly curved than the sides – more of a horseshoe shape than a doughnut. Armed with my newly-rediscovered mathematical skills, I split the back brim into two separate sections, and worked out their shapes.

The back half of the brim

The base for this brim was two layers of thick interfacing. In an attempt to avoid obvious join lines I created two, non-symmetrical, pattern pieces; one of the front and a side, one of the back and a side. This meant that the join was in a different place on each layer.

The completed pattern pieces

The pieces were butted together, and stab stitched onto the solid layer underneath. The edge of this brim will be wired, too, but I will sew on the outer fabric first, as the wired shape will be unwieldy.

The interfacing brim base

I'm quite used to needing to do odd bits of arithmetic when I’m sewing, but I never expected to have to do algebra as well!

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Hatbox heaven

(Thanks to my friend F for suggesting the title.)

A problem with hatmaking is that you then need to store the finished articles. Modern hatboxes (or at least, the ones I've seen) tend to come as flatpacks, are made from very flimsy card, and always seem absurdly expensive for what you get. So when a lot of 'assorted hatboxes' came up at the local auction, naturally I put in a bid - and got them. They are all sturdily constructed and as well as being useful, I've had great fun researching them.

Hatbox heaven indeed

Two of them are probably not actually hatboxes, but have clearly been pressed into use as such. Bernat Klein was a textile designer who established a business in the Scottish Borders. He seems to have worked mainly with tweed fabrics and yarn, and judging from this post, the box would originally have held wool. Spiers of Berkeley Square (the orange box) was a celebrity hairdresser, so this smaller box may have contained a hairpiece or haircare products (although hopefully not bottles of his egg yolk, rum and vinegar shampoo).

Nora Bradley is now a women's clothing shop in Belfast. It is described as 'long-established', but I haven't been able to work out if it is the same business as this shop in 1960s London. Scotts of Old Bond Street was set up in 1758, but in 1969 was taken over by the even older Lock & Co, founded in 1676. The Worth box is, sadly, from the London shop, not Paris.

By the standards of London's hatmakers, Christy's is a johnny-come-lately, having only been established in 1773. This splendid red box held a couple of surprises. First there was an actual hat, a very 1970s-looking felt by Frederick Fox, with an unwired brim and glued on (the horror!) motifs.

Lots of browns

Under the hat, I discovered that the box has an internal support; presumably to prevent ones topper from being shaken around in the box and having its brim damaged.

How to keep your hat in place

One of the boxes also contained this 'tebilized' label. Vogue Pattern Books from the 1950s contain lots of advertisements for tebilized fabrics; a treatment which made materials crease-resistant. I'm not sure why the label is in the shape of a hatbox, as Tootal were known for making fabric, ties and scarves, not hats.

Garment label in the shape of a hatbox

The remaining three hatboxes are all from Henry Heath. The large box is very plain, but the text-heavy lid of one of the others, dated June 1936, states that Henry Heath had several shops in London.

That's a lot of information

There's more on the box side

The main shop was 105-109 Oxford Street. and the factory was behind it in the same building. And what a building it was. You can read all about it, and its unusual but appropriate statues, here. I tend to avoid Oxford Street when I'm in London, but when I'm finally able to go down there again, I'll definitely take a look.

The box even contains the hatbox maker's label inside.

Made by George Howard of Southwark

The other box is similar but altogether sturdier. Clearly Henry Heath didn't just sell his hats in his own shops, he supplied shops outside London as well.

A box which could safely be posted

A shop's label has been added to the box

Walker and Ling's shop in Milsom Street, Bath, is long gone, but the firm still exists in Weston-super-Mare. This particular hat was sent in March 1935 to an address in Yatton Keynell, a village about 14 miles from Bath.

Close-up of the label

On the subject of hats and travel, I've saved the best until last. Also in the auction lot was this beauty.

6" ruler for scale just visible in front of the lid

Side view

F still teases me about the fact that a few years ago I went to this exhibition about plywood, and even worse, enjoyed it! Among the exhibits were some plywood hatboxes - the ease with which plywood can be bent makes it an ideal material for making something this shape. So now I have my own plywood hatbox.

The pieces are held together with metal strips

Sadly, the interior label has been removed. But when I turned the box over, I found this on the base.

Wanted on voyage

Close-up of the label

Enough of the ship's name was visible for me to be able to look it up on a list of Cunard's vessels and identify it as RMS Berengaria. Originally the SS Imperator, the ship was launched in Germany in 1913, and given to Cunard as war reparations six years later. Cunard and the White Star Line merged in 1934, becoming Cunard White Star Limited, so this label must predate that.

From what I have been able to find out, Cunard's 'vacation specials' could have been one of two things. A combination of a reduction in U.S. immigration and the economic depression following the Wall Street Crash meant that passenger numbers for transatlantic crossings dropped considerably. The supply of liners far exceeded demand, and shipping companies turned to cruises as a way of filling their vessels. So this may have been a perfectly innocent holiday trip. However, at the same time, Prohibition meant that ships registered in America had to be 'dry' whereas those registered elsewhere could serve alcohol once they were out of U.S. territorial waters. By the 1930s the Berengaria was, despite various refits, looking rather old-fashioned compared to newer vessels, and seems to have been used for a number of these 'booze cruises'. Either way, I like to think of this hatbox as having had quite an exotic life.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Style 2630 completed

A question over skirt length meant that I didn't quite complete my September Vintage Sew A Dress A Month dress in time for #sewvintageseptember, but it's all done now. Happily, there were no further unusual techniques to confuse me - it was just a case of getting on with things.

Long-time readers (thank you!) will be familiar with the faff that is me trying to choose buttons. This time it was quite straightforward; I found some small buttons with a pink rim and a transparent, slightly tinted, centre, which fitted the bill perfectly. As with Vogue 7422, I replaced the buttons below the waist with press studs/snaps because I prefer the look. I did put buttons on the cuffs, even though I can get the dress on and off without opening them. Similarly, the one at the neck is unlikely to ever get used.

With the neck buttoned - not my favourite look

While the buttons were straightforward, deciding on a belt was trickier. I wanted something more structured than a simple tie belt, but equally didn't feel that a buckled belt would be right. In the end I made a fabric belt with curved ends and a cord tie. I remember this being a very 70s thing, as seen on this Molyneux pattern from 1977.

Belt inspiration

I also remember these belts being very easy to discreetly loosen during a large meal - always useful! The construction was similar to the belt I made for Butterick 6582, with the cord sewn on to white cotton layer and then covered with dress fabric.

Very 70s-style belt

I think that what really makes this dress is the yoke: it's designed so that the sleeves fall from it perfectly. It does definitely need a soft, draping fabric, though - a stiffer fabric like a craft cotton would look very odd. This soft wool/cotton blend is perfect.

Yoke front

Yoke back

The pattern illustration shows the dress coming to just below the knee. However, I found that this length caused the full skirt to stick out alarmingly and look very dumpy. So, I took my tried and trusted approach of roping in Mum for a second opinion, and we both agreed that a longer length looked better.

Naturally, because this is a 1970s pattern, the dress has pockets. When I came to take the photos, I found that I naturally posed in pattern envelope illustration style with one hand in a pocket, just to show them off!

Pockets!! And an unbuttoned neck

When it came to recording this dress on the Stashometer, I wasn't sure what to do. The fabric was part of the 'assorted textiles' which were included in an auction lot which I bought, but the textiles weren't the reason why I bought it. In the end I decided to fudge the issue by including the fabric in the 'bought' column, but not including all the other fabrics which were in the lot. But I'm really pleased that after languishing in a stash somewhere for about four decades, this fabric has finally been put to use.

The dress is a 'stash neutral' make

Sunday, 27 September 2020

'New' sewing techniques

I've been working on Style 2630 this week, and finding parts of it quite challenging. It's a fairly simple dress, but like Style 2912 (also from 1979), there are some construction techniques which are entirely unfamiliar.

I'm making view 1

The first thing which I found odd was the complete lack of interfacing. Not even the cuffs or the collar have any. Suggested fabric include soft cottons, rayon, crepe, wool/cotton blends and fine jersey, so clearly the design is intended to be entirely unstructured. I did consider using a very fine iron-on interfacing for the collar and cuffs, but decided to stick to the recommended method - time will tell whether or not this was a good idea!

The method used for the front opening made no sense at all when I read the instructions; but I followed them to the letter, and they did work. The two pieces are sewn together along the stitching line ('1' in the picture below), then one side is snipped to the top of the sewing (the green circle), and the other to the small dot ('2'). The top sections are folded back along line '3' to form the facings, and then overlapped and sewn across the bottom.

Dress front pattern piece

This means that there is a pleat running down the front of the dress, with the front seam hidden inside it.

The completed front - lying flat, and turned back to show the seam

The dress front and back are sewn together at the sides, with the all-important in-seam pockets. Then the sleeves are made up and the cuffs added, and sewn to the dress. At this point I realised that I had an incredibly wide dress, which had to be gathered onto quite a small yoke!

Small yoke . . .

. . . big dress!

Joing the two was a long job, not helped by my rash choice to do all the gathering on a single thread rather than in sections. Although the illustration shows the dress gathered all round the yoke, it actually turned out with most of the gathers on the sleeves and back, with relatively little on the front. This seems rather odd, but all the marks and notches definitely matched up.

The completed back

The front, with facings turned back

The pattern just has a single layer for the yoke, but this was one thing which I did change. Even if I overlocked the seam allowance, it just seemed terribly untidy, and a lot of weight of dress hanging off a thin yoke. I used some of the soft cotton left over from my Victorian drawers and chemise to make a facing, which I will slip stitch into place round the bottom. The top edge will be inside the collar.

The facing pinned in place

I'm really not sure how this dress is going to turn out. I tried it on, and without collar, buttons or belt it looked very. . . baggy. Hopefully these additions will improve it. On the plus side, it is quite warm. I did a burn test on a scrap of fabric, and I think that it might actually be a wool-cotton blend. Using a fabric recommended on the pattern envelope - this may be a first for me!

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Reusing vintage storage

I haven't been doing any sewing this week, but I have been busy with a sewing-related project. I decided to take advantage of the late summer weather we've been enjoying, and work outside on something which I recently bought at an auction. It was described in the catalogue as a 'haberdashery cabinet', and it certainly looked like something for holding cotton reels in a shop.

Then, when I was cleaning out the drawers, I found this wedged under one of the dividers.

Proof! Shade label from a spool of thread

When I bought the cabinet, it was in a sorry state. It had clearly been used for storage in a workshop, and was very grubby and full of dust. There were sticky labels on the grimy glass fronts and on the drawers themselves, and the whole thing had been thicky painted with a plastic-like grey paint. However, when I pulled the labels off the drawers I discovered that they brought quite a lot of the paint with them, and underneath was attractive varnished wood. This photo shows the cabinet partway through the job of removing the paint from the drawers.

Originally, all the drawers looked like the bottom two

Most of the paint came off the drawers quite easily, because the surface underneath was varnished. I must admit that peeling it off was actually quite good fun! For the main body of the cabinet however, there was no alternative but to sand it down. This was why I took advantage of warm, dry days - this photo shows the state of my yard after a sanding session.

Guess where the cabinet was standing!

Buried under the paint at the bottom of the back panel was a small metal plaque. Unfortunately, I managed to sand off part of the writing before I realised that it was printed, but just enough was left for me to make out "J & P Coats" and "Paisley".

More proof!

Unlike the drawers, the cabinet is made from a wood with an open grain, and it proved impossible to remove all of the paint. So I decided that I would have to repaint these parts, albeit less heavy-handedly. I left the drawers and the plinth as plain wood, and just lightly sanded and revarnished them. I also removed the remains of the labels from the glass fronts, and gave them a good wash. Finally, the drawers were thoroughly brushed out.

The completed cabinet

Some of the drawers have wooden dividers which can be slotted into place wherever they are wanted.

One of the dividers

Nearly all of the wooden cotton reels which I have are for Dewhurst's 'Sylko' brand, but I did manage to find a few from Coats. Oddly, the Sylko reels fit much better! They are just the right size for the channels, whereas the Coats reels are shorter, so waste space. The 'Drima' reels, which came later (1970s?) and are plastic, are far too long, so I think the cabinet must predate these.

L to r: Sylko, Coats standard, Coats Super Sheen, Coats Drima

I don't have enough threads to fill an entire cabinet, so I am going to use it for something else. The previous owner had written lengths inside some of the drawers, and this gave me the idea.

Lengths written in the channels

My enormous collection of zips lives in a box, and I have to go through the entire lot to find anything. By storing them in here, I will be able to tell at a glance that whatever colour/length combination I need, I almost certainly don't have it!

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Sustainable sewing

This is a first - I've never posted a five-year-old dress on this blog before! There have been lots of posts about things made from fabric which has been lurking in my stash for that long (especially this year), but not a finished article.

Old dress, new repair

Because it slipped under the blogging radar, I can't remember exactly when I made this dress. But I do recall wearing it for a friend's birthday party in July 2015, so I'm going to guess that it was fairly new then. It's my second version of New Look 6093, and my favourite of the three I've made. As a result, it's had a lot of wear, and a couple of weeks ago the zip broke. Even though the fabric is now a bit faded compared to its covered hanger, I wasn't prepared to let the dress go.

Dress and hanger comparison

Fortunately, it was an easy fix. The broken zip was an invisible one, which made it a little harder to unpick but not impossible. Then it was just a case of basting the seam together, hand picking in a new zip, and stitching the back facing back in position.

It's always fun to make something new, but increasingly I'm finding that I get a different, but equal, sense of satisfaction from mending something I already have. As the harmful effects of throwaway culture become ever more apparent, knowing that I can care for and maintain the clothing I have made becomes as important to me as having the ability to make it in the first place.

Much as I'm enjoying the Vintage Sew A Dress A Month challenge, I did worry when I started it that I might just be 'churning out' a dress a month which I didn't actually need. But this repair has reminded me that by choosing my fabrics and construction techniques wisely, and making clothes which fit me properly so don't suffer from stress points, I am creating clothes which will remain in my wardrobe for a long time. And because I favour vintage over up-to-the-minute styles, they will never look more 'dated' than they did when I first made them!

Which brings me on to this month's dress. A couple of weeks ago I bought a 1930s dress at auction. It is beautiful, but currently in rather a sad state - I will post about it when it is restored. Also in the lot were 'assorted textiles'. I hadn't paid much attention to these, but when I got them home I found various goodies in there - a couple of skirt lengths, a coat length, some lining, and a dress length.

The dress fabric is only 90cm / 36" wide, and a print which just screams mid-to-late 1970s. It's also a soft cotton in a twill weave which I just couldn't imagine coming across now.

Showing the weave, and the pattern

Naturally such vintage fabric requires a vintage pattern, and I'm indulging in my love of 1979 Style patterns to make up this one.

Style 2630

Even though the fabric is narrow, there are five metres of it, so I'm planning to make the long-sleeved version. There's no cutting layout given for it on 90cm wide fabric, but when have I ever let that stop me?! So after 40 years, this fabric will finally be used.