Sunday 19 May 2024

Normal service will be resumed . . . soon

Warning: contains references to bereavement.

No sewing, knitting, or otherwise creating this week, I just haven't been in the mood. Today, 19 May, would have been our twentieth wedding anniversary.

Obviously, it technically still is my wedding anniversary in that 20 years ago today I said "Si" to a stream of incomprehensible Italian (we had been provided with a translation of the vows beforehand and A, who spoke Italian, had confirmed that they were accurate!) in a fifteenth century palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. But a wedding anniversary really requires two people.

I'm very lucky to have a comfortable life and supportive friends but still it's been a difficult 15 months, with a lot of dates that I would far rather weren't significant. Ten years since the first symptoms, the diagnosis, A's death, the funeral. Today is, thankfully, the last of the big, round-number, anniversaries.

And so, we carry on.

Sunday 12 May 2024

Old and new

I'm combining a new-to-me method with some tried and trusted favourites.

My big worktable on which I do my cutting out is temporarily out of commission, so I'm having to use my dining table instead. Obviously, this gets used for lots of things, and if I want to do any cutting out, I have to clear it first. So to minimise the time spent clearing things off and putting things back, I have decided to try batch cutting. The intention is to cut out the pieces for three separate dresses at once, and then sew them.

My starting point

I know that lots of people do this, possibly for the reason for which I'm giving it a go, but I have never tried it before. Given my fondness for squirrel projects, I have always been worried that I will end up with multiple cut-out but unsewn projects lying around. So I will have to be disciplined for once, and actually do the projects I have planned!

To improve the (limited) chances of this actually happening, I am sticking with patterns which I have used before and which I therefore know I can make reasonably easily and quickly. Like the Grace dress, the existing versions are all in heavy rotation in my wardrobe.

First up, Simplicity 4463. I have found that I greatly prefer this, with its simpler skirt, to its reissue version 1777.

The original illustration

It's very much a winter dress however, made in a thick, slightly fluffy, cotton. I decided that I want a summer version as well, and I am going to use a cotton lawn which has been in my stash for a while. I originally had other plans for it, but decided that it would be perfect for this project. As a slight change, I am going to make view 1, albeit all in the same fabric.

The original plan

Butterick 2535 is another easy-to-wear 1940s dress which gets a lot of use. (My taste seems to be moving away from full-skirted dresses, and I don't think that it's just because of all the ironing involved!)

I haven't decided on sleeves, yet

For this I'm using a cotton print which is, gasp, not blue! I rarely wear brown, so I'm not entirely sure how this will turn out, but I do need to try other colours occasionally.

Another fabric bought because I liked the print

Finally, Style 1271. I don't feel that view C of this has really worked. I don't know exactly what the problem is, but it just feels frumpy. It has been put aside while I consider how to tweak it. View B, however, always gets compliments when I wear it.

My versions of B and C turned out very differently

I wasn't really planning to make another one of these, but then I spotted this remnant, which I thought would be perfect. The stripes are across the fabric, but I will cut it out with the stripes running lengthwise.


It's going to be a challenge to cut out, as there isn’t a lot of fabric. At least that has limited the damage to the Stashometer.

It was going quite well!

I must admit that even I am dubious about how well batch cutting will work for me, but here goes!

Sunday 5 May 2024

A new 'Grace'

Some things are slow burners.

Exactly five years ago next week I finished making a Wardrobe By Me Grace dress. As I wrote at the time, I wasn't totally enamoured of the end result. It was nowhere near Dress of Frump standard (my benchmark/nadir for dressmaking failures), but it certainly wasn't my new favourite dress, either.

To be fair, I did describe it at the time as a "good basic dress", and over time it has become one of my go-to dresses. The drawstring waist means that it's always comfortable - and a doddle to iron, as well. It always looks smart, and can be dressed up or down. And it has pockets. In short, it's had a lot of wear over five years, and while it still looks perfectly presentable, I decided that it was time to make another one.

I suspect that part of the design's allure is its late-1970s vibe. The band collar, shoulder yoke, and lack of darts or waist fitting - these are all details regularly found on my beloved 1979 Style patterns. So when, while documenting some more of the Stash Shop, I found a length of cotton which I had bought simply because the print was so utterly 1970s . . . well, it was clearly a match made in heaven.

1970s details, meet 1970s fabric

Happily, I had just the right amount.

The layout did take careful planning

There isn't a lot to write about the construction, except to say that I was glad that I'd noted the first time that all the work is in the bodice, as it seemed to take forever to complete. I reinforced the pocket edges again, this time using selvedge from the fabric. I also lengthened the skirt back at the centre, which made it easier to get the hem level.

One thing I really like about this pattern is that it has proper sleeves with cuffs, a detail which is vanishing rare these days. To my delight and astonishment, I found the perfect buttons in my button tin.

Right colour, size and number - it's a miracle!

And here is the finished dress. I was a little concerned that the cotton poplin might hang more stiffly than the viscose I used previously, but it is fine.

With pockets!

One thing which has changed since I last made this dress is that I now take seated photographs. So here is Grace, seated.


I may have had my doubts about my first Grace, but I have none about this one; it is undoubtedly going to join its predecessor in the 'heavy rotation' category in my wardrobe. Plus, it's a few more metres out of the stash.

Another 3.5m gone

Sunday 28 April 2024

Blue Dahlia completed

I have finished my Dahlia shawl, less than three months after I started it. Not bad going for something which was my 'secondary' knitting project and which I could only knit in bursts as long as my (limited) concentration span!


Mistakes and unpicking continued to the end, but did lessen as I established a process. Once I understood it properly, the pattern was actually quite straightforward. The wrong side rows are just knit and purl with no increases or decreases, so in effect they are 'rest rows'. The 22 rows of the pattern are repeated throughout, with the motif section knitted an increasing number of times in each repeat.

I came across these lovely stitch markers from Rebecca's Room, which come in different colour combinations in each set. They were ideal for colour-coding each section of the pattern, so that I always knew where I was in a row. Also, I got into the habit of counting my stitches at the end of each section, which meant that I never had more than 22 stitches to undo when I did go wrong.

Sections separated with different markers

There were a couple of occasions when I started knitting the wrong row, but fortunately noticed in time. Juliana of Urban Simplicity, who is both a talented knitter and kindly generous with her knowledge, suggested a couple of ways to avoid this pitfall and, thanks to her, I remembered that I have this chart holder. It's a sheet of steel with magnetic strips, which you arrange to highlight the section you are working from.

Highlighting the row I'm working on

I had no idea how much of the shawl I would be able to knit with the wool I was using, but had the idea to weigh the ball after 64 rows and again after 72 rows. I then knew that I had used five grams, and knitted 1,112 stitches, so approximately 222 stitches per gram. I kept weighing the ball as I worked, and it averaged out at around 240 stitches per gram. When I was getting towards the end of the pattern as written I still had quite a lot of wool left, and was able to calculate that I had enough for an extra (sixth) row of motif, so that was what I did.

As it turned out, I would have had enough wool to have done the whole shawl in blue, but having knitted the centre section in black I stuck with my original plan and knitted the edging in black as well. It was a new type of bind-off for me (knitting through the back of the loops), so I practised with some spare wool first.

I must admit that once the piece was off the needles, it didn't look very impressive.

On a single blocking mat, for scale

But thanks to the magic of blocking, it was transformed.

Blocking still feels akin to magic to me!

The finished shawl came out slightly smaller than the pattern (measured at the row of five motifs) presumably due to using a different wool. I think that I may have been slightly over-aggressive in the blocking, as it seems a bit more holey than the photos of the original, but it's possible that the correct wool is a bit fluffier.

Unfortunately, while it was actually sunny when I came to take pictures this afternoon it was also absurdly windy, so I had to work indoors. Looking at the photos, I am glad that I went for the black edging as it adds contrast. All in all, I'm really pleased with the end result, and am delighted to have added lacework to my knitting repertoire.

Showing the back centre and edging

Arranged to show the centre 'spine'

Trying, and failing, to take photos outdoors

At some point, I may have to add a 'knitting gallery' page to this blog. Who would have thought it?

Sunday 21 April 2024

Back to Hat Works

So many hats!

According to this post, it's almost exactly nine years since I first went to Hat Works, the hat museum in Stockport. It has been closed for some time, for a refurbishment which took far longer than intended (thanks, Covid), but reopened recently. I went to visit yesterday, and it was well worth the wait.

Seen from the new walkway

The factory floor isn't greatly changed. Old favourites such as the block-maker's workshop are still in place.

Block making

The hatting machines all have new information boards, however, which show short film clips, made in the 1930s, of the machinery in use. These really bring the processes to life.

One of the new display boards

So much steam!

The big change is upstairs in the Gallery of Hats, which has been completely transformed. The whole space has been opened up, and made much brighter.

The Gallery of Hats

New lighting makes the displays easier to see, without damaging the hats.

Light and open . . .

And the hats themselves? Well, there are so many more of them. Whereas previously there were around 400 hats on display, now there are over 1,000.

. . . but still packed full of hats

The hats are grouped by themes, which allows the displays to show a variety of items from different cultures and eras. For example, the display of head wraps covers both turbans and a hat by Christian Dior.

The Dior hat is in the centre

Themes include design inspirations, and how the hats were made.

Straw and natural fibres

The decor is light and bright throughout

Inspired by the natural world

I loved the way that the displays include extra, related, items. Naturally, I couldn’t help noticing that the sewing machine was displayed back-to-front, but I'm going to be charitable and assume that the front had a bad case of pin rash!

Made at home

Marine inspiration

The display of hatmaking methods; sculpting, blocking, and draping, also has a maker's workbench, which I loved. It has a very realistic air of organised chaos, complete with tools stored in old tins and jam jars!

Examples of sculpting, blocking and draping

This will look familiar to any maker

It's not just hats, either. The museum’s collection of hatpins is displayed in a large pincushion.


Amid all this, I was delighted to spot one of my favourite hats in the collection on display. I'm not sure why a tiny percher in the shape of a cauliflower appeals to me so much, but it does!

Absurd, but adorable

As you might have guessed, the new look Hat Works is a definite winner for me. I'm sure that children and families will love it, but there's much for those with a more in-depth interest to enjoy, too - which is not a balancing act which every museum manages to pull off. It's currently open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 10am to 4pm, with last admission at 3:15pm - full details are here. General admission is free, but the guided tour of the factory floor, which is available on selected days, has to be booked separately. Currently the 'getting there' section of the website only covers car and bus, but the museum is also close to the railway station and the new walkway to Viaduct Park makes getting there a doddle - thanks to Sue at Hat Works for telling me about it!

Sunday 14 April 2024

Mrs Exeter in 1960

All of my current projects are unfinished, but too far progressed to split into two posts, so instead I'm going back to my 1960 Vogue Patterns counter catalogue, to look at this section.

Mrs Exeter, getting ever younger

Given that the catalogue is for January 1960, I was initially confused as to why Mrs Exeter would be planning a Fall wardrobe. But in the very small print on the last page, I discovered that it was actually issued in December 1959 in the U.S. So perhaps she was just running a bit late with her dressmaking plans, or the section was reused from an earlier catalogue. Either way, clearly there was a delay in it reaching Britain.

Possibly new releases

The description on the section tab is accurate, but a little misleading. There are only two patterns in size 46 (a 48" bust); one dress and one slip.

The sole size 46 dress in the section

And a slip to go under it

In fact, of the 77 patterns deemed suitable for Mrs Exeter, 13 go up to size 44, 40 to size 42 and 22 to size 40 (46, 44 and 42-inch busts respectively).

One of the patterns which goes up to size 44

A typical double-page spread in this section

Quite a few of the larger sizes are for lingerie and housecoats.

9358 goes up to size 44

9491 goes up to size Extra Large, bust 42"-44"

Most of the patterns are for dresses and suits. There are two blouses, a single pattern for a skirt, and also one for a bathing suit.

I would love to make this

Despite this section being named for Mrs Exeter, there is only one illustration of an obviously older women, and even then it is only the hair which gives any indication of age.

White hair, but no wrinkles

Otherwise there is, at best, a hint of grey hair in a back view illustration.

Grey hair in the back view

Other than that, the models, whether illustrations or photographs, are all youthful and slim.

The bottom figures would be more at home in the 'Juniors and Misses' section

This pattern goes up to a size 42, but the model is clearly not that

I have seen this photograph used for Mrs Exeter somewhere

Even some of the dresses don't look like an obvious choice (for the time) for a woman described as "approaching sixty", when she first appeared in Vogue.

Oddly, this pattern only appears in the 'Mrs Exeter' section

It would be a few years before Mrs Exeter vanished from Vogue altogether, but the start of the decade does give hints of what is to come. Clearly the name had sufficient recognition among sewists who bought Vogue patterns for it to retain its own section, and it's easy to imagine that older women would turn to it for the inherent validation that Vogue had decreed these styles as suitable for them. But at the same time, there is a sense of Vogue Patterns wanting to have their cake and eat it, removing all hints of age to ensure that other would-be purchasers were not put off by the association. There had always been a disjoint between how Mrs Exeter was described and how she was depicted, but it does seem to get more marked over time.