Sunday, 25 November 2012

Goldilocks and the Great Sleeve Mystery

This has intrigued me for a while. At exhibitions I keep seeing dresses from the 1950s and 1960s where the bodice and sleeve are cut as a single piece. The shoulder seam extends down the sleeve, and there is a separate piece set into the underarm. This appears on evening and day dresses, and both the ‘inspiration’ dresses for my Vegas Night dress have it, so clearly it was a common feature of the time.

One-piece sleeves on an assortment of dresses

I can understand the purpose that the underarm piece serves. If the sleeve and bodice are cut out as a single piece with the sleeve sloping down, it is impossible for the wearer to raise their arms. If the sleeve and bodice are cut out as a single piece with the sleeve at right angles to the bodice, the garment will pull at the neck when the arms are lowered because there is not enough fabric to go over the shoulder.

The gusset enables the one-piece bodice and sleeve to imitate the effect of a set-in sleeve, which is shaped to allow the arm to be raised or lowered.

How a set-in sleeve allows arm movement

Despite its apparent widespread use, this type of sleeve construction doesn’t appear in any of my vintage patterns; they all have set-in sleeves. So, I turned to my pattern drafting books, and this is where the Goldilocks reference comes in.

 Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting is a standard textbook for a number of fashion and design courses. Unfortunately it only covers set-in sleeves; there was nothing on this type of sleeve at all.

“Dress Pattern Designing” and “More Dress Pattern Designing”, both by Natalie Bray, were published in the early 1960s.

Natalie Bray's 1960s pattern drafting books

I love just looking through them, as they have wonderful line drawings of the various styles of the time, and how to draft them from the basic blocks.

Various bodice styles, and how to draft them

From “More Dress Pattern Designing”, I discovered that the style I’m looking for is called the “Kimono Block”. The block and its variations are covered in depth, and while I definitely want to go back and read this properly sometime, it was a bit too much depth for what I need just now.

Finally I turned to Hilary Campbell’s Designing Patterns.

Not too little, not too much

This was recommended on a three-day pattern drafting course I went on earlier in the year. With clear diagrams and concise instructions for the kimono block it was, like Baby Bear's chair, porridge and bed, just right. We created our basic bodice and patterns on the course using this book, and armed with those I was able to draft my own front and back kimono blocks and of course the mysterious underarm gusset piece.

Drafting the kimono front block

The next step is the toile, and the complex-looking task of setting in the gusset.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The die is cast

Vogue 1302

Well, my plan to make Vogue 1302 has been put on hold for a while, as I simply can't find any suitable fabric that I like. I've tried three local fabric shops and various mail order companies, to no avail. Actually, I did find something suitable mail order, but at £47.50 per metre it would have been a very expensive dress. Not even the recent trip to London came up with anything that fitted the bill.

I did find my dream dress in London however, which would be perfect for the occasion (a "Vegas Night" with the Ya Raqs girls).

Embroidered wild silk cocktail dress

There are just two, slight, problems. Firstly, I am not remotely the shape to fit into this dress, and all the boning and powernet in the world would not change that.

Serious curves, and a back view

Secondly, and slightly more problematic, it is a 1962 Christobal Balenciaga dress in the V&A's permanent costume collection.

As I don't embroider nearly quickly enough to recreate the dress for our Christmas night out, I'll have to come up with an alternative. Sticking with the taffeta-like satin which I wanted to use, and the 1950s/1960s theme, I've turned for inspiration to two other dresses which I've seen this year and really liked. The first was in the Glamour exhibition, the opening dress in fact.

Inspiration number one

A 1950s red silk satin cocktail dress by Branell at Julius Garfinckel, USA. I loved the fact that it's not too fussy and is mostly about the shape, but the wrap detail at the waist gives it a certain something.

The second dress dates is from Shambellie House. It dates from 1961, and is made from pale green artificial silk. Although a similar shape to the cocktail dress above, it was worn as a bridesmaid's dress. The fitted waist section is actually a continuation of the full skirt, with the fabric taken into pleats. The seam lines are just visible.

Inspiration number two, a theme is emerging!

So, I have a definite idea. One obvious difference is that I'm using patterned fabric, not plain. I can't get any more of the fabric, and I'm not using a commercial pattern, so I'll need to draft the pattern pieces before I'll know if my idea is actually possible. Oh, and all this with less than a month to go.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A visit to the V&A

We spent some time in London last week, which included a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum so that I could visit the newly refurbished costume galleries and the exhibition, Ballgowns - British Glamour since 1950.

First of all, a word of warning to anyone wanting to see the exhibition, Hollywood Costumes. It is incredibly popular, so much so that all the tickets for the day are usually sold out by 2:30pm. When we got to the museum at about 11am the queue at the main ticket desk was already well out of the main hall. Fortunately for me, Mr Tulip nipped down to the Costume Gallery while I stood in the (entirely stationary) queue, and he discovered that I could buy a ticket for Ballgowns at the gallery itself.

The exhibition is in the centre of the gallery. On the ground floor are ballgowns since 1950, in a dozen cases, split by theme, colour and (broadly) era. They range from elegant 1950s frocks to a 1994 Vivienne Westwood dress made for a debutante attending Queen Charlotte's Birthday Ball. On the mezzanine is a collection of contemporary gowns, reflecting the move away from formal occasions such as balls to red-carpet events as the time when formal evening wear is most on display.

Unfortunately neither photography nor sketching(!) was allowed, so I have made do with this picture from the main galleries, which gives a taste of the exhibition.

Pierre Balmain evening dress, about 1950

Of all the dresses on display, one particularly caught my eye, and not entirely for the right reasons: a Norman Hartnell cream satin dress made for the Queen Mother. It had an overskirt of petal-shaped panels, each edged with blue beading. On the front panel one curved edge was beautifully smooth but the other was, rippled! Several of the other panels were the same. Let me just repeat that: a dress made by Norman Hartnell, couturier to two generations of the royal family, and displayed by one of the top museums in Britain, had rippled satin. I'm not proud of this, but after all my recent battles with satin, this quite made my day.

Anyway, on to the main displays. Unsurprisingly, all of the costumes are displayed behind glass, so apologies for the quality of some of the photographs.

With the centre of the gallery taken up with the exhibition there seemed to be less space, and therefore fewer costumes on display. However the overall theme of the gallery seemed to be less about showing as many costumes as possible, and much more about how the 'look' of a period was achieved. For example, next to an early nineteenth century evening dress was a display of the many and varied undergarments

1825 evening dress

Chemise, corset, sleeve support, dress sleeve and petticoat with shoulder straps, 1825-35

A mid nineteenth century bodice was displayed beside an uncut length of the fabric used to make it.

Jacquard-woven silk and bodice, about 1865

And a late nineteenth century bodice was displayed flat and opened out, to show the construction.

Jacket bodice, 1886-88

Mirrors in some of the display cases allow you to get a back view.

Late nineteenth century dress, side and back views

And accessories, which were previously in separate cases, are now displayed alongside clothes of the period.

Hats, shoes, gloves and a miniature dress from the 1950s

Finally, many of the cases have a background panel based on one of the dresses on display.

Callot Soeurs evening dress, 1922-25

I assume that when there isn't an exhibition on, the centre part of the gallery will not be used to display more of the permanent collection. I may need to go back to find out!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Shambellie House

Some time ago I posted about the 'Off The Peg' exhibition at the National Museum of Costume Scotland. Finally, I've got round to posting about the museum itself.

Shambellie House, which was built in 1856 for the Stewart family, is an archetypal Scottish Victorian country house.

Shambellie House - crow step gables and pepperpot turrets

Charles Stewart, the great grandson of the original owner, donated his superb costume collection to National Museums Scotland in 1977. He also bequeathed Shambellie House to the nation to be used as a Museum of Costume. Although the first floor rooms which are used for special exhibitions are now fitted out as standard museum display spaces, the permanent collection is arranged in rooms which still reflect their original use.

The first room you enter is the dining room, which is furnished in the taste of the period, with dark furniture and bold red carpets and wallpaper. The dresses are examples of the bustle style that was fashionable in the 1870s and 1880s.

Bustle-era dresses in the dining room

The grey silk dress on the right was worn as a wedding dress in 1873, while the narrower skirt of the striped dress on the left suggests a later date of 1875-79. Finally the magnificently bustled grey silk satin princess line dress in the foreground is slightly later again; late 1870s to early 1880s.

After the solid, heavy décor of the dining room, the drawing room next door is much lighter. The dresses in here all date from the 1890s. This is the only room is which the clothes are displayed on figures rather than mannequins, and I must say that I found it distracting, especially the gentleman with the deep tan at the back!

1890s fashions

The dark red velvet dress in the background was made with a day bodice in the early 1890s, and the evening bodice on display was made a few years later. The beautiful satin brocade dress in the foreground was also made in the early 1890s, by Ellen Oliver of London.

Entering the library you return to dark décor. This has the effect of making the woman's white cotton pique riding coat and breeches look even more striking.

Woman's tailored riding outfit

These were made in around 1913-1920 for Miss Katherine Stewart, who wore them in Egypt or Palestine, hence the use of white.

Upstairs in a light and airy bedroom are fashions from the period after World War II.

Post-war fashions

The pale green artificial silk dress on the left was worn by a bridesmaid in 1961, while the grey pleated silk chiffon cocktail dress on the right dates from 1958.

I spent ages admiring the clever use of striped fabric in this Jean Desses suit from around 1952; it is only when you look at it closely that you realise that two different stripes have been used.

1950s suit jacket

I loved the fact that so many of the rooms had been left as they were when Shambellie House was a family home, and this was even the case with the bathroom!

Undies hanging up in the bathroom

Charles Stewart was among other things a book illustrator. He first began his collection of garments so that he could study them for his work, but as well as historical clothing, he amassed an impressive collection of fancy dress.

Fancy dress

Due to the extreme fragility of some of the items, this is the only part of the collection displayed behind glass, hence the strange reflections in the photograph.

Shambellie House is now closed for the winter, but sadly, it may be closed for good. It is part of the National Museum of Scotland, which includes a number of museums spread around Scotland. However the NMS is now considering closing its costume museum, claiming that the running costs are too high in relation to the number of visitors. Although small, Shambellie House is a fabulous museum, with helpful, friendly staff and a lovely atmosphere, and it would be a great shame if this little gem was lost.