Sunday, 21 February 2021

Stuck in the middle

Sometimes, a project just fights you every inch of the way. The other day the Gentleman Caller asked how I was getting on with, "The dress you've got to finish by the end of March", i.e. the first of the Sew A Vintage Style Dress Community quarterly challenges. I had to shamefacedly admit that I haven't even started it yet, because I'm bogged down in something else.

This was meant to be a 'quick and easy' make - when will I ever learn that this assumption is a recipe for disaster? I've made up the pattern, Vogue 9546, before. It just needed a few alterations to fix a couple of fit issues and then, in theory, I'd have it made in no time.

Vogue 9546, from 1942

The dress consists of three parts: a blouse, a skirt, and a midsection. Each is constructed separately, and then the midsection is laid over the other two and secured with lapped seams. There is a side opening for either a zip or a placket fastening.

The diagram shows the midsection clearly

It is the midsection which is causing all the problems. Not for the first time, the issue comes down to my fabric choices. I quickly realized that the silky red fabric I wanted to use, while perfectly fine for the skirt, was far too flimsy to work for the midsection on its own. The solution was to flat line it. Fortunately, I still had some of the cotton I'd used to line Vogue 5215 left over, and it was ideal for this as well. (Once we can travel again, a day trip to Shrewsbury is needed, to get some more of this excellent fabric from Watson and Thornton.)

Usually flat lining involves cutting out pieces exactly the same shape as the sections to be lined. However, if I did this, it would mean that there would be at least five layers of fabric (two cotton, two outer fabric, one of blouse/skirt) in the lapped seams, and many more in the front points. I worried that this would be too bulky, so decided to omit the top and bottom seam allowances.

Flat lining the seams, but not the top and bottom edges

I sewed the midsection fronts together, the backs together, and the left side seam (I always put the opening in the right side seam, because I'm left-handed). Then I folded the outer fabric over the top and bottom edges, and tacked it in place.

The completed midsection, from the back

Next I sewed the midsection onto the blouse. The lovely Ms 1940 McCall, who (unsurprisingly) makes a lot of 1940s patterns, has recently posted a video about using an open toe foot as a guide for sewing lapped seams straight. I followed this fabulous piece of advice, and it worked like a charm – thanks Debi!

The blouse attached - it was all going so well at this point!

Unfortunately, sewing the midsection to the skirt didn't go so smoothly. I don’t know what the problem was; if it was the convex rather than the concave curve, or the fact that I had tacked this edge last and didn't want to pull the outer fabric too tight, but the lapped seam failed to catch the cotton lining most of the way round. When I held the dress up, this quickly demonstrated exactly why the midsection needed flat lining to provide the strength and stability to support the skirt!

I spent some time considering how to fix this. I also spent some time considering the possibility that this dress just didn't want to be made, and I should cut my losses and bin it. In the end, I decided to try adding a second row of stitching to the bottom seam. My machine has an option to sew with the needle pushed to the left, and for the first row I had done this with the fold resting against the left 'prong' of the foot. After some experiments on scraps, I opted for the same arrangement, but with the fold resting against the right 'prong' for the second row. Then, of course, I had to repeat the process on the top seam with the blouse section.

Sewing the second row

The end result would not have looked remotely so neat if I had tried to do it freehand, indeed I'm pretty sure that it would have ended up in the bin!

Impressively parallel rows of stitching

After all of this work and changes of plan, I’m currently not exactly feeling the love for this project. However, I think (hope) that I'm on the home stretch now, and with any luck there will be a completed dress to show next week.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Lockdown shopping

I've come across a few articles recently about people increasingly buying things online just to alleviate the boredom of lockdown. Popular items appear to include clothes, and fitness equipment. Obviously I don't need to buy clothes, and I have no intention of acquiring fitness equipment, but that hasn't stopped me from doing some lockdown shopping of my own.

Mystery parcel - it's about 92cm/36" long

A bit more of a clue

Here it is!

This is 'dot and cross' paper, used for drafting patterns. The dots and crosses enable you to keep the horizontal and vertical lines exactly at right angles, which is vital when you are drafting the basic pattern shapes known as blocks.

Basic bodice block, from 'Metric Pattern Cutting'

I made a basic bodice block on a course years ago, but really need to redraft it as I have changed shape since then. Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich was the book recommended on the course. Once you have your basic bodice, sleeve and skirt blocks, you can manipulate them to create patterns for different styles.

From 1975, but still in print today

The dots and crosses on the paper are spaced one inch apart, so not ideal for drafting a pattern to metric measurements. However, this isn't really a problem for me. Given both my dress sense and my love of second-hand bookshops, it should surprise precisely no-one to know that most of my pattern-drafting books pre-date the move from inches to centimetres!

This is one of the oldest ones. It has a very basic bodice block, with only a single dart.

Edited by Catherine Franks

Back and front pieces are separate

There is no date in it, but the styles are very much from the period of the 1930s before hemlines started to rise - I'm guessing 1936-7.

Very 1930s dress

Very, very 1930s cape-sleeve detail

The next book doesn't have a date either, but I have seen it listed online as 1948, which seems about right.

Written by Lynn Hillson

There are no darts at all in the basic bodice block, but plenty of options for how to add them.

Back and front drawn almost as one

Different dart options

My collection then skips a decade, the next book I have was published in 1961.

A second volume was published in 1964

The bodice block is more complex than its predecessors.

More darts and shaping

In keeping with the book's title, there are lots of different options given for altering the basic block.

A few of the variations available

I have long wanted to draft the bodice block from each of these books, using the same measurements for each one, and see how they compare. Sadly, having the proper drafting paper won't magically give me more hours in which to do this, but it should make the job easier when I do finally find the time to try it.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Another slip

(I did consider calling this post "Second slip", but I thought it might confuse any cricket fans out there!)

My lingerie-making continues, and I have finished the slip which I cut out a couple of weeks ago. This one is from a Maudella pattern, which I'm guessing dates from the late 1940s/early 1950s. I should start off by saying that the photos don't really do the end result justice; it looks far better on me than it does laid flat or on Nancy.

Maudella 4267, undated

As ever with Maudella patterns, the instructions are brief!

Cutting layout, instructions, and a large Sylko advert squeezed on the back

As an aside, I must add that knickers with a button fasten at the back seems like the last word in impracticality to me!

Tricky for bathroom visits, surely?

The pattern uses gathering to shape the bust cups, rather than darts, and the front and back are each just a single piece. I made it from the same fabric as the Style slip, and again used some modern construction techniques such as stay-stitching the edges of pieces to prevent stretching, and overlocking the seams.

I definitely prefer the darted cups; getting the gathers even on such a flimsy and slippery fabric was quite a challenge. I like the way that the cups join the front section, however. The instructions are for a lapped seam here, but I chose to do a simple right-sides-together join instead.

Gathered bust detail

I do think that for me, a design with centre back and front seams gives a better fit. I have a sway back, and the way that the Style pattern flares out a little on the centre back seam below the waist accommodates it well. Having the back section in a single piece and cut on the straight grain creates a shape which doesn't hang so neatly on me - this back view illustrates the problem, albeit in a slightly exaggerated way.

Not a perfect drape

I still have some of the fabric left, and I'm tempted to draft a hybrid pattern using my favourite parts of both designs - a single front piece, two back pieces, and the cups shaped with a series of small pleats rather than gathers.

One thing which I don't seem able to do is make a plain slip. I trimmed the neckline and the hem again, this time with some pink lace from my stash. The lace is only finished along one side, so I bound the raw edges with bias binding made from the leftovers of my 1930s camisole from long, long ago.

Lace and binding at the hem

The completed slip

One thing I noticed with both this and the Style slip is that the shoulder straps are positioned closer together at the front than I would like, and certainly closer together than the straps of any of my bras. To try to compensate for this, I bound the back and sides of the top edge with one length of binding, then bound the front separately and extended the binding to make the shoulder straps. I did worry that bias shoulder straps might stretch over time with the weight of the slip, so they have stays of narrow cotton tape sewn inside to stabilize them.

Angling the straps to make them wider

The slightly fuller shape and the binding meant that this slip used slightly more fabric than the previous one.

Still some way to go to break even

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Style '79, again

A couple of months ago, I was able to indulge my love of 1979 Style patterns with a vengeance when I spotted this for sale.

Style counter catalogue, October 1980

Although it's from 1980, I reasoned that it would contain a lot of 1979 patterns, and it does. It's missing a number of pages at the front, but still provides some insights into home dressmaking history, and a whiff of nostalgia.

So, tackling the nostalgia-fest first. In October 1980 I was 16, and in 5th year at school (which in Scotland is the penultimate year of secondary school). We didn't have to wear uniform any longer, but were expected to 'dress smartly'. This was also when I really started making my own clothes. I don't recall making many dresses at the time; I made mostly separates as these were more useful for school.

I used this skirt pattern so often that the tissue fell apart at the tailor tack points!

3058, from 1980

This was such a favourite pattern that it survived various culls over the years. I never made the tie-neck version, but am tempted to give it a go sometime.

3095, from 1980

Clearly Style had a template for blouse pattern envelope illustrations! I owned and used both of these.

2580 from 1979, and 2408 from 1978

Finally, I also made this nightdress (the long-sleeved version, in cotton) at some point.

2533, from 1978. So. Much. Ironing.

The catalogue index lists 731 patterns in total. The earliest pattern in catalogue is 3734, which is from 1972 and is for a "nightdress and housecoat".

Eight year old pattern

The next-oldest patterns are for stuffed toys, items for babies and young children, dressing gowns, and smocked cushions. I was amazed that this last one was still available in 1980, as I tend to associate such cushions with the 1950s/60s. It would probably be popular now for retro decor!

4647, from 1974

These patterns are all for items which will not date quickly. The oldest patterns for clothes which are subject to fashion trends are these two.

4798 and 4909, both from 1974

Few of the patterns are quite that old, but nonetheless it's interesting to look through the catalogue and realize just what a transitional period this was. The photographs at the start of each tabbed section are very much of their time, as are many of the designs.

Hellooooooo, 1980s!

2936, from 1980 - it could not be from any other decade

But there are also patterns from just a couple of years before which, to me at least, have a very different, very 1970s aesthetic.

2520 and 2488, both from 1978

2087 from 1977, and 2440 from 1978

Sometimes the two decades exist side by side on a double-page spread.

2204 from 1978, contrasting with 2725 from 1979, and 2967 from 1980

The changeover isn't just limited to daywear. The batwing sleeves, looser shape and natural waistline of 2830 contrast with the slightly raised waist and more fitted form of 2077 - which to me is the archetypal '1970s sitcom evening dress'.

2830 from 1979, and 2077 from 1977

Bridal designs cover the two elements as well. The long, flowing sleeves of the mid-70s were clearly still popular - several patterns have them as an option. More contemporary styles, again with a natural waistline, were also available. It's also interesting to see that wedding dresses, even in 1980, still had a very covered-up look of long sleeves and high necks - possibly reflecting that most people still got married in church. Clearly the idea that wedding dresses Must Not Have Sleeves was still a long way off.

1204, from 1975

2890, from 1979

Meanwhile, half-size patterns were still clinging on, just. There are a handful in the catalogue, but none from 1980. 1979 appears to be the last year that Style created them, and although 2661 is available in half sizes, it is described as a "dress for shorter fittings", not a half-size.

2332 from 1978, and 1925 from 1977

2661, from 1979

Based on the patterns that I own, the number range for 1979 is 2562-2942. If you assume that all numbers were used, this equates to 381 patterns (some of the numbers in the range are © 1978). 143 of these numbers do not appear in the October 1980 catalogue, presumably the patterns had been discontinued by then. I have got information on 36 of them; either because they are in the Winter 1979/80 Style Pattern Book, or because I own them (and I must admit that, out of curiosity, I am now going out of my way to track down these apparently unpopular patterns).

There is no obvious trend that links them all, although a few are quite similar designs to other patterns which presumably sold better.

Discontinued patterns I own - perhaps V necks were unpopular

To be fair, I can't imagine many teens wanting to make these

Clearly Style did not hesitate to pull poorly-selling patterns; three eighths of the 1979 patterns were not in production by October 1980. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the earlier patterns which were still in the catalogue were there because they were still in demand, even if they were not the most up-to-date designs.

2353 from 1978 and 2964 from 1980 - different, but both selling

In her History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Joy Spanabel Emery mentions that one of the reasons for the decline in home dressmaking was that patterns were regarded as lagging behind current fashions. In part this was true; it took several months to convert a style into a pattern. Looking through this catalogue, though, it struck me that the pattern companies' need to be all things to all people may have contributed to their decline.

When I did buy clothes in 1980, I bought from shops which catered to my age group. Even large stores such as C&A had by then created separate 'boutique' sections for younger fashions. The twinsets and tweed skirts favoured by the older ladies of Edinburgh might have been delivered in the night by pixies, for all I saw of them in the shops I visited, and the ladies may have thought the same about my clothes. Dress pattern sales had no such separation - all styles, for all ages, were in a single catalogue. Even if older patterns were tucked away at the end of a section I wonder if the continued presence of dated styles, there due to continuing customer demand, contributed to younger people perceiving patterns as being 'old fashioned'?