Sunday, 17 January 2021

My UseNine2021

I've made my selection for my 2021 #UseNine challenge - here's hoping that I can do better than my 2020 total of five fabrics used. I've learned from last year's big mistake, however, and chosen a wider range than just nine summer-weight fabrics. Of course, the four pieces which I bought last year but didn't use had to be included.

My 2021 choices

I have ideas for all nine, but concrete plans with actual patterns for only six. So, without any more ado . . .

The numbered version

1 - This is a lightweight cotton from Ditto Fabrics which I bought last year because - pineapples! I have a rough idea of how I want to use it, but that's all so far.

2 - I don't often take inspiration from pattern envelope illustrations, but when I saw New Look 6594, I immediately thought of this pale blue viscose remnant which I've had for a couple of years.

A perfect pairing - hopefully!

With careful cutting out (my specialism!), I should just have enough for view C. I think it's got a distinctly vintage tea-dress feel, and should work well with the drapey viscose.

3 - This was going to be my December 2020 dress before Life got in the way. Although at first glance the fabric looks like a heavily embroidered wool or cotton, it's actually a cleverly printed viscose, bought from The Dress Fabric Company on my Edinburgh trip in 2017. It had been in danger of falling victim to Special Fabric Syndrome*, but when I spotted Style 557 for sale, I knew that I'd found a suitable match.

I’m planning to make the full-skirted version

4 - This grey ditsy floral is another of last year's purchases, also from Ditto Fabrics. It's a relatively thick cotton, so suitable for a spring/autumn dress rather than a summer one. Hence, I'm going to make view 1 of Style 2887 - another of my Style '79 patterns.

There may be a slight tweak to this one

5 - By 'eck, black velvet is difficult to photograph! Bought at the end of last year, this heavy-ish cotton velvet is another fabric for which I have A Plan, but no concrete evidence to include here.

6 - Another photographic nightmare. This teal poly satin really didn't want to play ball; it was determined to appear a particularly unattractive sludgy grey! Much playing with filters was needed to get even close to the right colour. This is my choice for the first Sew A Vintage Style Dress Community challenge - more details to come.

7 - I've already posted about my plans for this fabric from Spoonflower, but here's a quick reminder of the pattern I'm going to use.

Making use of the stripes

8 - The only one of my unused 2020 UseNine choices to be carried over into 2021. I love this vintage-style crepe from Watson and Thornton, and know exactly what I want to make from it.

View A is the plan

I've even got the perfect buttons and buckle for the job.

Picking out the dark red in the print

So what's holding me back? Well, I suspect I've just been put off by the disaster that was the Dress of Frump™. It will need at least one toile to get that bodice front right.

9 - Finally, a very wintery choice - a brushed cotton. This is going to be used for view B of Butterick 6866, but with the two contrast tabs of view A.

I love the neckline detail

So, how many of these will I actually make - any more than five will be a win!


* - This happens when a fabric is too precious to be made up with any old pattern, so is put aside until something suitably special comes along. The longer it’s left, the more special the pattern needs to be to justify cutting into the fabric; and so a stalemate is reached, and the fabric just sits there forever. See also, the saga of the Anemone Dress.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

It’s a new year, and I'm back sewing again - yay! I'm not short of projects, either. Last year's December dress is still outstanding, I've got some brushed cotton waiting to be made into a cosy winter dress, and there's also the first challenge for the Sew A Vintage Style Dress Community (the new name for the Vintage-Sew-A-Dress-A-Month, which has now moved to quarterly challenges). Oh, and I really should do something with that black velvet remnant before it creases too much.

So, am I cracking on with any of these? Reader, I am not.

Yes, it's happened again

Debi, aka Ms1940McCall, who makes the most wonderful vintage clothing (see it here and here), has come up with the idea of a monthly theme for her sewing and has invited others to join in. January's theme is 'loungewear', which she has expanded to include underwear. Which prompted me to think about a project I have had in mind for years, and make myself some slips.

I love full, rather than waist, slips: they have the same effect as lining a dress without the hassle of having to add a lining and, of course, one slip can be worn with multiple dresses. Naturally, I'm talking about the proper, old-fashioned, shaped sort of slip, not the modern ones which are essentially a tube of stretch fabric with shoulder straps. Without really meaning to, I have acquired a selection of vintage slips, mostly from the 1970s.

My slip 'collection'

The two on the left are both 'St Michael', which was Marks and Spencer's own-brand label. They are both too small for me, but I have kept them with a view to copying the styles someday. The other two are labels I have never heard of. The blue one is (rather haphazardly) made from cotton, and like so many RTW clothes it doesn't fit me well due to my short torso. Which is why making my own is the way forward.

These are the patterns I have to choose from. I own a couple of others, but they are for a 32" bust and redrafting to my size felt like a job too far until I know more about lingerie making.

Patterns from the 1940s to the 1970s

The Blackmore pattern is very fitted and has a side placket closure, which is more work than I want for this particular project, and Simplicity 9115 requires stretch fabric, which I don't have. I love Simplicity S20, especially the contrast cup details, but the main part is cut on the bias and so is a bit of a fabric hog, and I've got limited supplies of suitable fabric in my stash. Style 4905 and Maudella 4267 look as though they are essentially the same pattern. I decided (for once) to start with something easy, so narrowed it down to Style 1565 or Style 1462.

Reducing the choice to two

I was amazed by the difference in bust dart size between the two patterns. There is no suggestion on the patterns taking cup size into account, so I'm guessing that 1565 fits far more closely to the ribcage.

That's quite a difference in bust shaping

As an aside - Style had clearly not long moved to printed patterns when 1565 was produced, and I love the way that it uses the same markings as older punched Style patterns; for example the long oval to mark the fold. Obviously, Style decided to stick to what their customers were used to, but printed.

Sticking to the old punched symbols

In the end I went for 1462. It's very simple, so a good way to start, especially as I'm using a drapey, slippery, fabric. Also, my love of late 1970s Style patterns isn't going anywhere soon, so a 1976 slip to wear underneath seems like a good idea. I left the bodice section unchanged, and took 5cm/2" out of the 'skirt' length above the waist.

The pattern itself is straightforward. Join the backs together, join the fronts together, dart the bodice pieces and join them together, attach the bodice to the front, sew the side seams, neaten the raw edges, add straps - done. The trickiest part was attaching the bodice to the front: despite my best efforts it ended up slightly off, and with a minor pucker. If I make this pattern again (and I probably will), I'm tempted to experiment with attaching the bodice pieces to the front pieces separately, and then sewing the centre front seam in one go.

Smooth on one side, slightly less so on the other

I finished all the seams with a narrow, three-thread overlock, and was on track to have a plain but perfectly serviceable slip made up. Until I decided that it was a little too plain.

Usable, but nothing special

So, off I went to trawl through my laces and trims. I found a lovely scalloped lace which I bought years ago for a project, but in the end couldn't use because it was slightly too short, and the shop didn't have any more. It will look perfect round the hem of the slip, but my machine sewing skills aren't up to attaching it, so it will have to be done by hand. Gulp. I see a lot of box sets in my immediate future - and all those other projects may have to wait a while longer!

With the trim laid over

Sunday, 3 January 2021

2020 review

Well, 2020 is over, and good riddance! Time to review the year's sewing - and there's been a lot of it.

Just in case anyone reading this sighs, and feels inadequate because they think they achieved very little, I should just make a couple of things clear. I'm retired, and I don't have children. For months at a time this year, apart from doing my parents' shopping and sorting out anything they needed, I have had no demands on my time and nothing to do but sew. Indeed, sewing for me is a major coping mechanism for stress, and this year it provided a very welcome alternative to endlessly following the news.

The major win of the year, and the one I'm really happy about, is the amount of sewing I did from stash fabrics. Every January for goodness knows how long I have promised on this blog to reduce my stash, and every December I have had to admit to failure. But this year, finally, I did make inroads.

27 whole metres removed - woohoo!

A big part of this was courtesy of the Vintage-Dress-A-Month-Along, for which I must give a huge thank you to Renae, Lizzie and Erica for running the group. I only managed 10 dresses, because my plans to make my December dress and finish my February one last month were blighted by The Lurgy. On the plus side, nine of these were made from stash fabrics (29.7m), and the other one from fabric which I acquired by accident at auction (5m).

Ten dresses, and not a centimetre of fabric bought!

Other stash projects were a summer dressing gown, my 1940s Autumn Roses hat (my favourite make of the year), face masks, and two sets of scrubs (14.2m). In other dressmaking news, I prolonged the life of a favourite dress by replacing its broken zip, and finished a UFO which had been on the pile since 2018!

UFO, scrubs, hatmaking, dressing gown and mending

Fabric purchases included material for five more sets of scrubs (seen above being pre-washed in the bath). There was some left over, due to cutting out in bulk and my obsession with frugal pattern placement. I have earmarked it for toiles, and updated the Stashometer accordingly, as I know for sure that I'll never want to make anything out of blue polycotton. At the time I was very conflicted about making scrubs (I'm grateful to Sewcialists website for the discovery that I wasn't alone in this) but it was probably the only time in my life (at least, I hope so) that being able to sew was been of such importance and overall, I was grateful to be able to contribute.

Historical sewing was my major failure of the year. I had a study visit to the Fashion Museum scheduled for March, and when this was cancelled I rather lost interest in the 1874 project - a poor excuse, I know. I do still want to do it next year, but not sure if I will attempt to do the Historical Sew Monthly challenges. Every challenge I did complete this year was underwear related, which makes sense as I'm starting from scratch in historical costuming. I made a Victorian chemise, drawers and corset, redid the boning of my 1911 corset to make it more comfortable and reduce wear, and then altered the drawers to fit properly as they were a little short in the crotch. I didn’t blog about the alteration, but the centre top picture below shows where I added the extra length. In total I used 4.5m of fabric, of which 3.9m was from stash.

So much underwear

None of the fabric which I bought this year actually got used, but I know what I intend to make from each of the three, 4m lengths of cotton. I will list them separately on 2021 Stashometer, as an incentive to use them. A last-minute dash to my local fabric shop for supplies before Cheshire went into Tier 4 resulted in a semi-impulse purchase of 4.5m remnant of black cotton velvet (which proved impossible to photograph). I know what I want to use it for - it's a project I've long wanted to attempt - but I'm not sure if my skills are up to it. There's only one way to find out!

Dress cottons bought but not used in 2020

All of this sewing used up a lot of thread.

Out of curiousity, I kept all of my empty cotton reels for the year: in total there were 14 Gütermann, one Drima, and one spool of basting thread. In addition, I used a lot of black, white and off-white thread, but I buy these on the largest spools I can get, so none were used up completely. Rigid plastics cannot be recycled where I live, so these will end up in landfill, which bothers me. I have reused one Gütermann spool to store a skein of gold thread, but there is a limit to how many things I need to store on spools. I do wish that wooden reels would make a comeback!

My 2020 empty spools collection

Looking forward to 2021, I want to continue trying to use stashed fabric where possible, although I know that once fabric shops can open again, purchases will almost certainly be made. I will probably create my own "UseNine" grid for the year, including my four acquisitions from last year, of course, and try to improve on last year's five used. The Dress-A-Month-Along as become the Sew a Vintage Style Dress Community, with quarterly challenges, and I'm very excited about the first one. More details coming soon.

Here's to a happier 2021 all round!

Sunday, 27 December 2020

One day the sun will come out


Still no sewing to report. Antibiotics are making steady progress, but it's very slow. So, in the last days of a year which can't end soon enough for most of us, here are few thoughts instead.

Seven years ago today I was a couple of weeks away from my 50th birthday, still reeling from my husband's fatal illness diagnosis, and wondering what the coming year would bring. Three months later, I was widowed.

If, at either of those points, you had told me that in spring 2020 I would be attending the graduation ceremony for my Masters, I would have thought you were talking complete gibberish. But in March, days before the first lockdown, there I was (and yes, the sun did come out!).

Sunshine

With the 'Dissertation Police'

Going back to university was not something I had ever remotely considered until this course came along, but I was very glad that I did. As well the interest of the course itself, I was extremely fortunate to be part of a cohort with some fantastic young women: despite the fact that I was old enough to be the mother of any one of them, they took me into their group, and I learned so much from them. And despite all the grumblings on this blog about writing my dissertation, on the whole I enjoyed bringing it all together. The interest this sparked in dress and fashion theory continues, as is obvious from the Christmas presents I requested from my parents (plus a hedgehog pincushion and a sewing machine trinket box added by my mum).

Christmas presents

Which brings me back to the quotation at the top of this post. It is taken from the final scene of the film 'Brooklyn', slightly altered by me to fit the theme of something as well as someone. This has become one of my favourite films, and not just for the costumes. Although the character is talking here about starting a new life in a new country, I always feel that it applies just as well to widowhood. When my husband died, after 20 years together I really couldn't imagine any sort of pleasurable life without him, and this feeling persisted for a long time. But going back to studying, possibly because it was so utterly different from anything I had expected to do, provided a framework for something which wasn't just my old life with a Mr Tulip-shaped hole at its centre.

One of the very few positives of this year (and I'm well aware that I have a hugely privileged life compared to a great many others) has been the discovery that, almost without realising it, I have built a new life for myself which is satisfying enough to make me miss it when it's temporarily suspended, and greatly look forward to getting it back.

For anyone mourning losses at the end of this dismal year, I hope that one day the sun does come out for you, too.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Dressed for War - the story of British Vogue's wartime editor

No sewing again this week. Not because I'm busy with Christmas preparations; in fact, quite the reverse. I've come down with several different infections all at once - none of them serious on their own, thankfully, but combined enough to make me feel quite ill. After struggling on for a couple of days, I just had to accept that whatever hasn't been done for Christmas by now just won't get done, and there was nothing for it but to rest, and let my body recover.

What this did do was give me time to read, and to finish a book which I started some time ago, Dressed for War by Julie Summers. This is a biography of Audrey Withers who, despite being editor of the British edition of Vogue throughout the 1940s and 1950s, is now hardly known at all.


Withers was born in 1905. After graduating from Oxford in 1927 she initially worked in a bookshop, before deciding that she really wanted to work in publishing. Her first foray into this world ended when her employer made the decision (entirely legal at the time) that the role needed to be filled by a man, and sacked her. Fortunately, her next job, as a subeditor at Vogue, was much more successful; she spent the rest of her working life there.

Although Dressed for War describes itself as the story of Withers' editorship "From the Blitz to the Swinging Sixties", the vast majority of the book concerns itself with the wartime years. Her predecessor in the role was Betty Penrose, an American, and the picture Summers paints of British Vogue (known within the company as Brogue) at the time is one of a publication quite strictly overseen by its U.S. parent. When Withers took over in 1940, the difficulties of communication with the New York office, and the requirement to reflect the very different British wartime experience from that of America, meant that Brogue increasingly needed to find its own voice. Summers deftly weaves together the stories of both this and the practical issues of producing a magazine during wartime.

For me, of course, one of the most interesting of the latter was the bombing of the Vogue Pattern Book premises in April 1941. At the time, Vogue had approximately 800 different patterns in production, and this was a highly profitable element of the overall business. 350,000 patterns were destroyed in the ensuing fire, but fortunately duplicates of the master patterns and some cutting machines had been stored safely outside central London, and production was quickly restarted.

Not all of the destruction which Brogue suffered during the war was caused by bombing raids, however. Britain's supply of wood pulp from Canada, needed for paper manufacture, had been greatly reduced, and there was a drive to not only save paper but also to donate old paper for salvage. As a result, Withers decided that the entire pre-1942 archive of British Vogue should be pulped for the war effort!

Brogue's wartime content was not just patterns, fashion and making-do, however. Withers hired Lee Miller as a war correspondent, and Miller's work, and the relationship between the two women, is covered in depth.

Summers is clear about the amount of help and information she received from the Condé Nast archivists, both in London and New York, and my one criticism of the book would be that she may on occasion have accepted information at face value without digging any deeper. Nast, for example, stated that it was he who introduced different sizes in dress patterns and that prior to this none of his rivals, including Butterick offered anything other than a size 36. Nast was born in 1873, was educated to university level, and then spent 10 years working for Collier's Weekly before moving to a publication called Home Pattern. By my reckoning, this would have been 1903 at the earliest. According to A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Butterick introduced sized patterns for women and girls in 1866, and the Commercial Pattern Archive includes a Butterick pattern from 1872 in a size 31. This is hardly a critical detail, but enough to make me wonder about other claims.

As I mentioned earlier, Audrey Withers is now little known, unlike some other female journalists of the time such as Alison Settle. However, reading this book I discovered that she had actually played an important part in forming my own fashion choices. At some point in the latter part of the 1970s, my mum acquired a copy of In Vogue: Six Decades of Fashion by Georgina Howell. I used to love looking through it, but my favourite image of the entire, substantial, volume was this one.

Fashion is Indestructible by Cecil Beaton, 1941

To me, this was the epitome of pared-back, drop-dead elegance, and still is. The building is Temple Church, destroyed in the same bombing raid that wiped out Vogue's patterns. The suit is by Digby Morton, one of the British designers who would later be part of the 'Utility' clothing scheme. And the model is not actually a model at all but Elizabeth Cowell, one of the BBC's first television announcers (click here to hear a snippet of her incredibly refined voice). Most importantly, Summers has discovered that the idea for the shoot came from Withers herself. In a further link, Georgina Howell came to work for Vogue by winning their annual talent contest, which Withers had introduced. My love of 1940s styles can be traced back to this one photograph, and therefore, it turns out, to Audrey Withers.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Sew Christmas Tree

I posted last year about my 'sewist' Christmas tree; with a few sewing-related felt ornaments from the V&A shop amid the baubles, and a sewing bear 'fairy' on top. This year I decided to go one better, and make the entire tree sewing-related.

Tree detail

First up, I improved upon the gold tinsel covering the base by making a proper tree skirt. I used the misprinted fabric left over from Style 2833 (the blotchy base colour didn't matter for this), and some gold trim from my stash.

The completed tree and skirt

Next came the baubles. My local fabric shop was selling some small and mini plain wooden reels, and these were the perfect starting point. Then I remembered that I had a box of mini spools of metallic machine embroidery threads, which I had bought ages ago and never used: I'd fallen for the pretty colours and somehow overlooked the small detail that I never do machine embroidery!

The bauble raw materials

At 40m per spool that was a lot of thread to rewind, but the end result was just what I'd hoped for. I added loops of gold thread to the larger reels, and arranged the mini ones in groups of three.

So sparkly!

The element that I am most pleased with, however, is my sewing machine tree ornament. I worked out the position of the embroidery, and completed it on the black felt before I cut it, as it was much easier to work on the full sheet. I drew the design onto stitch-n-tear and worked it in double running stitch, with French knots for the berries. Next, I cut out two pieces in the shape of the basic outline, which included the cotton reel, balance wheel and base. These three were then cut out again from separate pieces of felt (the balance wheel is grey felt painted silver) and applied to the front shape. The 'needle' is a length of wire, bent into loops at both ends, with the loops sewn onto the back shape so that the wire cannot come loose. Finally I sewed the two pieces together, with a teeny, tiny pinch of stuffing to give the section under the holly leaves a slight curve.

If Santa Claus made sewing machines!

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Milly and the stash

As I mentioned last week, there has been an addition to the 'bought' column of the stashometer – and it's all the fault of Brexit!

The whole thing actually began way back on my birthday in January, when my friend F gave me a beautiful coat that she'd found in a charity shop.

I took this picture for a flatlay challenge

Neither of us could tell if it was true vintage. It certainly has lots of details which I associate with vintage clothing.

The snap fasteners on the ribbon band

The complex construction of the sleeves

The lovely pocket design

But on the other hand, the raw edge of the collar has a more modern feel.

Not so vintage, but again interesting construction

There was a brand label in the coat, but no information on size, fabric composition or where it was made. This lack of information swung the pendulum back to 'true vintage' in my mind because I didn’t think this was legal any more.

Name label only

Milly of New York, now just called 'Milly' is in fact a modern brand, founded in 2000. Its strong vintage look is so convincing, however, that when I first looked up the name in January, I found at least one reference suggesting that it was a defunct brand from the 1950s/60s which had been resurrected by Michelle Smith. Tucked in a lining side seam I found a label marked "Milly sample", which explained the lack of proper labelling.

Anyway, true vintage or not, I decided that I wanted to make a late 50s/early 1960s dress to go with the coat. This pattern fitted the bill perfectly.

Vogue 9741, 1959

The only problem was that I wanted a fabric with some sort of stripe in it, to make the most of the design. I also wanted something with a brown background. Nothing suitable presented itself, so the idea got pushed to the back of the queue.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when Charlotte, who make the most stunning vintage garments and blogs at Tuppence Ha'penny Vintage, posted a series of reviews of various print-on-demand fabric services, including Spoonflower. I have looked at the Spoonflower website a few times, but never actually ordered anything. However, Charlotte mentioned that their EU orders are now printed in Germany, which means no customs duty to pay.

At the time I read the post, the chances of this still being the case after 31 December seemed slim (and at the time of writing, they seem slimmer still), so I decided that if I did want to buy anything from Spoonflower, I should do so sooner rather than later. Then I remembered my abandoned search for a brown-ish, stripey-ish fabric, and this seemed a good starting point.

Success! I found the perfect design, and courtesy of Charlotte's helpful recommendations decided to go for the petal signature cotton. Delivery was super-speedy; my order arrived within a fortnight of being placed.

Brown - check, stripes - check, period-appropriate design - bonus!

Because I am so used to fabric being cut from a bolt, it was a bit of a surprise to find that 'printed to order' means exactly that – there was a strip of plain white cotton at the start and end of the length. On the plus side, the order details were printed on one end - always handy if your purchase-to-use gap is as long as mine usually is! If I ever want more of this fabric, I know exactly what to search for.

The end of the printed section

I did have a momentary panic when I saw the fabric's alarmingly wide unprinted selvedges. However, Spoonflower's website does state the printed rather than the fabric width for each fabric type, and when I checked the yardage requirements it was obvious that I had factored this in when I ordered (and had promptly forgotten I'd done so - sigh).

That's a lot of white

There is no way that this dress will be made before the end of the year, so the fabric will be carried over to 2021, but despite it making a blemish on the stashometer's record, I'm very glad that I got it.

Still in credit, just not quite so much