Sunday, 28 October 2012


It's been a frustrating week.

The purple satin corset continues to find new ways to annoy me. Despite carefully marking the positions of the eyelets, somehow a few of them ended up distinctly out of line. One of the eyelets didn't set properly, but nor could it be removed, so more hammering was needed to at least smooth it down a bit. Oh, and inserting eyelets can now be added to the (very long) list of Things Which Make Satin Ripple.

Wonky eyelets

I bought my own copy of the Laughing Moon pattern so that I could check where the boning should go, and this confirmed that there should be bones both on the seams and partway across the panels. Meanwhile someone who had been on the same course a day later than me lent me her completed corset to inspect, which proved that the tutor only intended us to bone the seams. I've ordered some more spiral steels from Vena Cava Design, but discovered that not all of the boning channels on the seams were sewn wide enough to get the bones down, so will have to be redone. Again.

Where the bones SHOULD go

While I wait for the bones to arrive, I thought I'd tackle another challenge. Stretch fabric is a bit of a mystery to me. I've used it to cover bras for dance costumes, and to make simple things like belts and arm pieces, but I've never tried anything more structured. A calamity with a dress over the summer (I'll post about it sometime, when I've recovered from the trauma) convinced me that I need to start from basics. Kwik Sew pattern 2632 (now out of print) includes a wrap top, and as I fancied a change from the black top I wear for class and rehearsals, I thought I'd begin with that.

Pattern for a wrap top

Constructing the top went reasonably well, apart from a slight ripple in one sleeve. Unfortunately finishing off the raw edges was another matter. I used a wide zig-zag stitch, but despite using a suitable needle for stretch fabrics it skipped a lot of stitches, so I had to go over some parts again. The result looks fairly messy, so clearly I need to experiment a bit more to get this right.

The finished top (don't look at the edges)

The third piece of frustration came from my stash. We always have a Ya Raqs end-of-year girls' night out, and this year we are going to a 'Vegas Night'. Of course, for this I need a suitable dress. My plan was to use Vogue 1302, and I had the perfect fabric; a brightly printed satin with a dark background.

My dream fabric

When I took got it out however I discovered that it has quite a stiff hand, almost like a taffeta. As the dress requires something soft like charmeuse or shantung, the fabric almost certainly won't work. I need either a different pattern, or a different fabric.

After all of this, finally some good news. Along with several of the other Ya Raqs girls, I recently went to JoY, a middle-eastern dance weekend. In the souk and in workshops we noticed a new type of hip belt; made from two long pieces of stretch fabric sewn together either side of the hip, with the ends hanging loose. I decided to tackle stretch fabrics again, and have a go at making one.

I bought a remnant of a fine knit fabric, and drafted basic pattern pieces for the part which fits around your hips, making the back piece deeper than the front.

Belt pattern, front and back

Then I pinned these to the middle of the fabric, cut roughly towards them from each side, and then cut out along the top and bottom of the pattern pieces. I used woolly nylon thread to overlock a rolled hem on all of the raw edges apart from the top edge of the pattern piece, stretching the fabric as it went through the overlocker to give a 'lettuce leaf' effect. Finally I made a loop of elastic to fit around my hips above my skirt (I still prefer a circle skirt to trousers, very old-fashioned!), and attached the pieces to it.

Colour co-ordinated belt, wrap top and circle skirt

If I make another one (and I probably will), I'll make both pieces a bit longer. Finally though, a success!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Patterns past and present. Part 3

Butterick 3986 is another pattern without a date, but as the price is given in shillings and pence it must predate decimalisation in February 1971.

Late sixties?

The envelope back is printed with both imperial and metric measures, but this and the bust size are the only pieces of metric information; the yardages and standard body measurements are all imperial.

Centimetres start to make an appearance

The instructions proudly state that, "For your sewing pleasure…this new, improved guide is scientifically designed to make the sewing and cutting instructions clearer and easier-to-follow". As the instructions don't look very different from those found in a modern pattern, the scientific design clearly worked.

Scientifically modern-looking instructions

There is a large gap in my pattern collection, namely the 1970s. There is a reason for this; having lived through it the first time, I can't imagine wanting to recreate any of those fashions.

The 1970s. Once was enough. More than enough.

Unlike most of my earlier patterns, Style 3095 was not bought at a vintage fair, although I have seen patterns from this and more recent eras being sold as 'vintage'! Dating from 1980, this is the oldest pattern in my collection which I bought new. When we moved house a few years ago I threw out a lot of my patterns (like mother, like daughter), and now really regret having done so.

I made views 3 and 4, I don't really 'do' bows

It is still a single size pattern, and that size for a 92cm (36") bust is finally a 14. Yea! The bust measurement on the envelope front and the fabric requirements on the back are in metric only, and although standard sizes are given in both metric and imperial, the use of half and quarter inch measures shows that metric is now the predominant measurement.

Very much metric

The pattern pieces are printed in several languages, probably reflecting the information on the envelope front about where the pattern was sold.

Multi-lingual pattern pieces

Vogue 1302 is the most recent pattern I've bought. It is high on my 'to make' list, although with all the draped panels it will be a challenge altering it to fit.

My next project?

The photos on the envelope front give more realistic idea of proportions than the line drawings of old, and even with French and English text, the simple, clean layout of the envelope back is a world away from all the information packed onto Maudella 5151's envelope.

Clear information

Like all modern patterns, it is multi-size, and as well as the pattern pieces, the instructions are in more than one language; the fourth page is in French.

One of the many pieces I'll need to alter

There have been so many changes in the world of home dressmaking since my mum made her dressing gown (sorry, housecoat) in 1954. Many 'how to sew' books will tell you that whereas sizing of ready-to-wear clothes has changed over time dress pattern sizes have remained constant, but even this small selection of patterns shows that this isn't true.

There are many types of pattern missing from my collection; half size patterns (size 13, 15 etc.) and patterns associated with Sunday newspapers are evidence of a time when dressmaking was a far more popular and widespread pastime than it is now. Nowadays reader offers in those newspapers are more likely to be a DVD - a very different way to spend your time.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

UFO Corner - the purple corset

I don't tend to have a big UnFinished Objects pile. Sadly this isn't down to super efficiency on my part, just that I'm more of a USO* girl. There are lengths of fabric and piles of patterns stacked up in my workroom, waiting to be used. Some of the fabrics and patterns even go together! Once I do start something though, I usually tend to finish it reasonably quickly.

Projects just waiting to be started!

There are always exceptions however. This corset was started on a day course a couple of years ago. Unfortunately most of us on the course didn't get anywhere close to finishing our corsets. Even more unfortunately, immediately afterwards Mr Tulip and I were going on holiday, so I didn't carry on with the project straight away. Occasionally I'd take a peek in the box where the bits were stored and consider trying to finish the thing, but the longer I left it, the scarier it looked.

I came across the box again recently, and having made the 1911 corset earlier in the year, suddenly it didn't look quite so scary. Then I realised that next month it will be a whole three years since I did the course, so I decided to get the corset finished before its third anniversary.

So what was I starting from?

We used the Laughing Moon Dore corset pattern, and before the course the tutor had cut out the pattern pieces for us, based on measurements we had sent her. She provided coutil, bones etc, and all we had to provide was fabric of our choice for the outer layer. Knowing nothing about corset construction, I chose a purple satin, not realising quite what a bad choice this was for a beginner.

On the day we cut out the coutil and fabric, tacked the fabric pieces to the coutil, cut out and attached the front facing, inserted the busk, sewed the pieces together, did the first fitting and made any necessary alterations. Actually that's not bad for one day, but a long way off a completed corset.

I didn't think to take any pictures before I started work again, but this was taken after I'd finished the seams and put in a couple of the boning channels.

More or less what I came home with, three years ago

The only instructions I had were a few scribbled notes on finishing the seams. These were to be covered with bone casing tape, although now I'm not sure why this was used, as there were only enough bones provided for the boning channels marked on the pattern, not for boning the seams as well. Once I'd completed the seams, I noticed that the thread I had used to sew around the busk three years ago was very different purple from what I had just sewn with, so I had to take out the busk stitching and redo it. Cue first lot of heavy sighs.

The boning channels gave me my first inkling that satin had been a Very Bad Idea. I wanted them on the inside of the corset, but if I worked with the coutil and tape uppermost, the sewing machine feed dogs marked the satin. Instead I had to tack on the casings, sew with the satin side uppermost, and hope that I didn't miss the edge of the tape. Sadly I did miss it, quite a lot. Cue second lot of heavy sighs, lots of unpicking and a few rude words.

Then I discovered that I didn't have enough casing tape to do all the casings. I had to unpick the tape from the longest seam, over the bust, and replace it with ordinary seam binding. This took several attempts to get right, and when I finally managed it I discovered that on one side I had managed to catch the waist stay into the stitching, at completely the wrong angle. Third lot of heavy sighs, more unpicking and some very rude words indeed.

All this unpicking left a few marks on the satin, and the rows of stitching for the casings and to finish the seams provided more evidence of why satin had been a poor choice. What had previously been a smooth and glossy top layer was now very wrinkled, and the shine of the fabric really emphasises any lumps and bumps.

Smooth without boning channels, wrinkly with them

Adding the back facing made me realise that flat lining the coutil to the fashion fabric had been another Very Bad Idea as it made no allowance for turn of cloth, so the coutil is now slightly bunched up on the inside. I had however finally got something resembling a corset.

On the way to a finished corset

There is one plus point to all of this frustration. When I made the 1911 corset, cutting the holes for the grommets took ages because I simply didn't apply enough pressure. When it comes to hitting this one very hard with a hammer, I don't think I need worry about holding back!

Grommet holes marked, pass me the hammer!

* - UnStarted Objects, in case you hadn't guessed

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Patterns past and present. Part 2

Vogue 5949 was the real surprise of my collection. Despite dating from 1963, the pattern pieces are unprinted.

1963, but unprinted

This pattern has a single metric reference, the first I found in my vintage patterns. At the top left of the envelope front the bust measurement is given as 86cm as well as 34".

Envelope back

The yardage details on the back include '1" Belting for B belt interfacing'. I was intrigued as to how the belt was made, as neither of the belted dresses illustrated on the envelope front have buckles. This must have been artistic licence however, as the sewing instructions (unlike Maudella 5151, there are instructions on making the belt) include attaching the buckle and making hand sewn eyelets.

The sewing guide has an unusual layout, with lots of illustrations and instructions together, and arrows linking the two. It does allow several instructions to be explained in the same illustration, for example 11, 12 and 13.

The curious instruction layout

As well as this there are instructions on fitting, which start with, "Wear the heel height and type girdle you plan to wear with the garment". Presumably not wearing a girdle was unthinkable.

Like my other Maudella pattern, 5391 does not have a date on it. However the envelope front proudly announces that this is a 'Printed Pattern'.

Printed, and considerably cheaper than the Vogue pattern

The whole envelope design is simpler; the front has just the illustrations and back views, while the back has the fabric requirements, albeit for 36" wide fabric only, and details of the pattern pieces.

A much simpler envelope layout

The pattern pieces look very boldly printed to me, although this may be because they are for a single size. Interestingly, there is information on the pattern pieces in three languages as well as English, and the seam allowances are marked as 5/8" and 1.5cm.

Printed pattern pieces

The price has gone up by 3d, possibly to pay for all that printing! The instruction sheet hasn't got any larger, though, and is only in English.

By 1967 Simplicity patterns no longer announce "printed pattern" on the envelope, presumably it is no longer a novelty. It is the first of my patterns to include "synthetics" as a suggested fabric, although only for view 2; presumably for the skirt, collar and pocket flaps.

Synthetics make an appearance

The pattern pieces for Simplicity 7066 are printed in five languages as well as English.

My 36" bust still makes me a size 16, though.

A postscript to last week's post. Yesterday I was telling my mum about looking through my patterns, and the extra pattern pieces I'd found with Simplicity 2683. She explained that the fabric she had used was quite narrow, so she'd had to split the skirt pieces. It was a crisp white seersucker with an overall pattern of blue flowers, and she had edged the collar and cuffs with broderie anglais trim, as suggested in the pattern. Funny how both of us have trouble remembering something we did a couple of weeks back, but can recall in detail clothes we made ages ago!