Sunday, 28 April 2013

Scary monsters, and yet more painting

A couple of weeks ago, I blithely mentioned in a post that I had finished all the fabric painting for the beaded dress. However I spoke too soon.

In “Patterns of Fashion”, Janet Arnold mentions that the original dress has a small label inside to distinguish the front from the back. Having made my orange dance dress from the same pattern, I can confirm that it is very hard to tell the difference. So I decided to simply things by adding an extra motif on the front of the dress at the neckline

I based this on part of the centre motif on the hip band, but turned round by a quarter.

Hip band, centre

While I was painting it, I knew that it reminded me of something, but I couldn’t quite think what. Then it struck me; this ...

looks very like this ...

... but with horns!

I asked Mr Tulip for a second opinion; and he confirmed that once you’ve seen it, it’s very hard to un-see it. So, I needed a new design.

I didn’t want to introduce yet another motif, so used the design from the side of hip band instead. This shows what the side seam should look like when completed.

Hip band, side (mocked-up from photograph)

I tilted the side pieces up to make the motif slightly narrower, and to form a triangular shape.

The new neckline motif, not a monster in sight

There was a bit more painting to do. When I painted the hip band I had heavily outlined the design, and when washing the outliner out, this also removed some of the gold paint and the colour underneath. So, these areas needed a repaint. This was tricky as there was no longer any outliner to protect the design, so I had to use a fine brush with tiny amounts of paint. For the new motif I simplified things by painting the colour, then washing out outliner, and only then adding the gold.

In between all this painting, I have completed the beading on another two motifs, and I'm happy to report that they are wiggle-free. Progress!

Friday, 26 April 2013

A wiggle

The good news is that I have started work on the third and final set of the skirt panels. The bad news is that all is Not Well in beading-land.

This is what I got when I took the panel out of the frame. The line of darker gold beads on the right is fine, but the line on the left has a distinct wiggle in it.

One side smooth, one side wiggly

This hasn't happened with the other panel designs; they have turned out much like the line drawings.

The other motifs

My embroidery frame is large enough for me to bead two motifs at the same time. The other panel is smooth on the left but has a wiggle on the right, albeit not nearly so pronounced.

Same (smaller) problem, but other side

I think that I may have stretched the fabric too tightly when I was sewing or I bunched the beads too closely together. However it seems odd that it has only occurred on one side of each motif. The alternative is that the fabric was not stretched evenly in the frame.

I am going to work on the next pair very, very carefully, and see how they turn out. But whatever happens, a certain amount of unpicking and reworking will be needed on the first pair.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

By the Sea

This fortnight’s challenge in the Historical Sew Fortnightly is By the Sea. I haven’t taken part in this challenge, although I was tempted by a couple of images.

First up was this studio portrait of a lady in a dress so nautically inspired that it even seems to have an anchor attached to it!

Victorian lady, with anchor

Try as I might, I can't see anything supporting the anchor. Unless this is the Victorian equivalent of Photoshop, my best guess is that it may be attached to the skirt somewhere under the lady's right arm.

I bought the photograph at an antiques fair, and there is no information about it other than the fact that it was from the studio of Arthur J. Melhuish; portrait painter and Photographer Royal to Shah Nasser-ed-Dini of Persia. He also took a number of photographs of the British Royal family, so I assume that the sitter must have been reasonably well-off.

She was also something of a completist when it came to accessories. As well as the anchor on the dress and the large anchor necklace, she even has anchor earrings.

More anchors

The second image is from the Tinne Collection. This is a wool serge two-piece bathing costume from 1910, and was worn by Emily Tinne on her honeymoon. It has a matching pair of espadrilles and a rubberised cotton sateen bathing cap.

1910 bathing costume, © National Museums Liverpool

I love this costume, especially the colour, and in a perfect world with a lot more free time it would have been fun to replicate it. In a similar vein Cait, who writes the Curse Words and Crinolines blog, made a lovely, slightly earlier bathing costume for the challenge; you can see the result here.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Mrs Tinne's Wardrobe

In late 2011 I went to the Lady Lever Art Gallery on Merseyside to see the exhibition The Finishing Touch - Women's Accessories, 1830-1940. As well as the exhibition itself, I came across a display copy of a fascinating book; “Mrs Tinne's Wardrobe, A Liverpool Lady’s Clothes, 1900 - 1940”. Always keen to add to my library of costuming books, I trotted down to the gallery shop in eager anticipation, only to be told that the book was out of print.

When I got home I contacted National Museums Liverpool via their website to express my disappointment that the book was no longer available, and received a reply that hopefully the title would be reprinted soon. Then last summer I received an email from Pauline Rushton, curator of Costume and Textiles and author of the book, to tell me that the reprint was now available. Finally I could get my own copy!

I have meant to write a post about it since then, and a weekend visit to the exhibition, Mrs Tinne's Wardrobe, at the Walker Art Gallery has finally prompted me to do so.

Emily Tinne in 1910

Emily Tinne (1886-1966) was the wife of a Liverpool doctor. Although trained as a cookery teacher, upon marriage in 1910 she gave up work, as was normal at the time. Thereafter she brought up a family, managed the family home, and shopped. Especially shopped.

In the period 1910 - 1940 Mrs Tinne acquired a truly astounding quantity of clothes, many of which she never seems to have worn, as they still have their paper labels attached. While the sheer volume of her purchases does not accurately represent the wardrobe of most middle-class women of the time (her husband had a private income, over and above what he earned as a family doctor), the clothes themselves are typical of many of the mainstream fashions worn by a woman of her age and social position in the inter-war period.

The Tinne family in about 1926

Upon Mrs Tinne’s death her daughter offered the collection to National Museums Liverpool. Even though many garments were in too poor a condition for the museum to accept, the Tinne collection still consists of more than 700 items of clothes, as worn by one family over many years. As many of the everyday clothes of this period were either thrown away, or the fabric reused in the ‘make do and mend’ years of the Second World War, it is probably unique.

As well as buying clothes, Mrs Tinne had many garments made for her by as local dressmaker, and the collection also includes a number of 1920s and 1930s fashion magazines and paper dress pattern supplements by makers like Weldon's. By this time she had borne seven children, and her figure reflected this. Unlike the 'Plus Size’ names used by pattern companies today these patterns are, shall we say, 'frank' in their titles, with ‘Outsize’ often in the largest typeface on the pattern envelope.

Less-than-subtle pattern envelopes

The current exhibition features 14 outfits, 10 of which have never been on public display before. It includes evening and dinner dresses, furs, day dresses and a rare maternity dress from about 1920.

1930-32 day dress, © National Museums Liverpool

1934-36 dinner dress, © National Museums Liverpool

1935-36 evening dress, © National Museums Liverpool

Details of previous exhibitions from the collection can be found here and here.

But back to the book. It contains beautifully clear photographs of 280 of the best-preserved items from the Tinne collection; day, evening and outdoor clothes, plus accessories, children’s clothes, hats, shoes and underwear. Overall it provides a fascinating picture of the changes in women’s clothing from the end of the Edwardian period through the looser, drop-waisted styles of the 1920s and on to the more tailored designs of the 1930s. In addition there is more information about the Tinne family, and on shopping in Liverpool in the inter-war years. An interesting read, plus lots of drool-worthy photographs - what more could you want? The book can be purchased from National Museums Liverpool’s online shop here.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A sewing bag

This is my workbox. It belonged to my mother-in-law, and was passed to me when she died. I use it almost every day, and it is a constant, happy reminder of her.

My workbox

However it’s not really suitable for taking on public transport.

I’m going on a sewing course in Liverpool in a couple of weeks, and far and away the easiest way to get there is by train. I don’t want to take the workbox with me, and as carrying a pair of dressmaking shears loose in a bag is a bad idea for a lot of reasons, I’ve bought a small plastic box which is the perfect size for my scissors, pincushion, needle box etc. Then I decided to make a bag to hold the box and any other things I’ll need.

A hunt through my stash turned up a bright curtain fabric remnant, which was ideal, and some sheeting which was a good match for the lining.

Bag fabric and lining

The great thing about making bags is that rather than trying to find something which is ‘near enough’ the size and shape you want; you start off with the ideal dimensions of the finished article, and work backwards. In my case, the bag needed to hold the box and another essential item at the bottom, have room for the samples I hope to complete on the day, and be a size which fits comfortably over my shoulder.

Because the pattern has an obvious direction to it, the bag needed to be made from two pieces of fabric sewn together, rather than just folded at the bottom. This was when I discovered that the black ‘stems’ are not evenly spaced. I added a base piece of plain black cotton to the bag, so the mismatches at the join won’t show.

The mismatched join

Unfortunately the required dimensions meant that there was an untidy-looking narrow strip on green at the side seam. I covered this with black cotton tape.

Side seam before and after

The handles are made from thick cord which I got from the ‘£1 bundle bin’ in my local fabric shop, also covered with the plain black cotton. I added a strip of the black cotton at the top of the bag as well.

The completed bag

The lining has two pockets, which are just the right size to hold pattern envelopes, plus an elasticated pocket sewn into the side seam. This is to hold a thermos flask. I like to drink a lot throughout the day, and find it best to have my own supplies with me, just in case.

Interior shot

So all in all, a made-to-measure means of transporting my sewing stuff, for very little cost. (And a little bit of stash reduction, to boot!)

Sunday, 7 April 2013


For this fortnight’s Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge, Accessorize, I have made a bag decorated with Palestinian embroidery designs from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Actually, I completed the embroidery a while ago, but the challenge gave me the impetus to make the bag up.

The completed bag

Embroidery in Palestine was always used to adorn clothing rather than for purely decorative items. As a result, very little has survived from before the mid nineteenth century; the clothes were used until they wore out, and were then thrown away. Much of the embroidery is done in cross stitch, and red is the predominant colour.

Embroidery examples

Woman from Ramallah, early C20th, Wikimedia Commons

The fabric used for clothing was originally hand-woven, which gave it a loose, open weave, and made it ideally suited for doing counted thread embroidery. Later when fabric was machine-made and therefore more tightly-woven, the women adopted the technique of sewing over waste canvas, and this was the method that I employed as well.

The embroidery completed on the waste canvas

Originally the embroidery was done with silk floss, but in the early 1930s DMC began to market their perlé thread in Palestine, and this was used instead.

Most of the motifs which I used were taken from photographs in Embroidery From Palestine by Shelagh Weir, which features a number of garments from the collection of the British Museum such as these (both images © The Trustees of the British Museum).

Dress 'thob', Masmiyyeh or el-Na'ani area, south of Ramleh, c.1920

Dress 'thob', South-west costal plain, late 19th or early 20th Century

The end result would doubtless make an expert in Palestinian embroidery wince, as I used motifs from coats and dresses from Galilee, Ramallah, Jaffa and the south-west coastal plain, whereas in the early part of the twentieth century each area, and even village, had its own particular motifs and colours. Weir mentions a conversation she had in the late 1980s with a shopkeeper, who still knew which number of red DMC thread was correct for each village!

For more information on Palestinian costume, click here.

I did the back of the bag first, with two rows of simple motifs. Once I was happy with it, I moved on to the front. Then I stitched the cord which forms the strap up the sides of the bag, and then wrapped it in embroidery silk. This was actually trickier than the cross stitch, and the back is definitely not as neat as the front.To finish the bag off, I added some tassels, and Roman period glass beads from Tillermans.

An example of beaded tassels

The back of the bag

Much clothing in the Middle East incorporates elements to protect against the evil eye, and in the case of Palestinian embroidery it was common to include a deliberate mistake, to distract anyone or anything which was tempted to harm the wearer. I included this idea in the bag, by slightly changing the order of the colours in the cord wrapping.

The light blue thread is in a different place on each side

Although I’m pleased with the end result, there’s a certain sadness associated with this project. Originally the bag was intended to hold my sewing kit when at events with Ya Raqs; over the years I’ve had to do various running repairs on costumes, and even on the tent! However a combination of other demands on my time and a knee injury has meant that reluctantly I’ve had to give up dancing with the troupe. I’ll keep dancing (and making costumes), but there is a world of difference between dancing for myself, and avoiding the moves which I know will cause me problems, and performing in group dances. So at present, I have an accessory, and nothing to accessorize. However I’m sure I’ll find a use for it, as it’s too pretty to just put away.

The small print:

The Challenge: Accessorize

Fabric: black cotton from stash

Pattern: made up myself from various examples

Year: 1930s (when DMC threads first became available)

Notions: embroidery silks mostly from stash, black cord for strap
How historically accurate is it? the motifs and decoration are based on actual garments, the combination of the motifs is almost certainly wrong
Hours to complete: quite a lot!

First worn: not yet

Friday, 5 April 2013

Improved Productivity Levels

Now that all the fabric painting has been done, the next stage is couching the beads round the various motifs. That’s a lot of hand sewing, and I could really do with something to listen to while I sew. It doesn’t have to be radio or CDs; I frequently treat television as ‘radio with pictures’, and just glance up from time to time. If I could find something which Mr Tulip could watch as well, that would be even better.

Happily for me, something which fits the bill exactly has just started.

When I first got together with Mr Tulip, I knew nothing about cricket (apart from the fact that England weren’t very good at it at that time). However it quickly became apparent that Test Match Special was going to play a big part in my life, so it made sense to at least understand what was going on. Almost 20 years later, I remain hazy about the precise details of leg before wicket, but have done an awful lot of sewing while listening to cricket commentary.

It’s some time before the first Test Match of the season, but the 2013 IPL (Indian Premier League) started on Wednesday. I certainly won’t watch/listen to all of the games, but 76 matches over 54 days equals a lot of potential sewing time.

And just to show what I’ll be doing, here’s a picture of the section I'm currently working on.

Before and after the beading