Sunday 30 June 2013

Lace and Lacings

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is Lace and Lacings, which has given me the impetus to finally finish the purple satin corset (aka the Evil Purple Satin Corset From Hell).

Finally! The completed corset

So where was I up to, the last time I bundled it back into its box in disgust?

Previously, in the saga of the EPSCFH . . . . . The corset was started on a one-day course in November 2009, and is based on the Laughing Moon Dore corset pattern. It is made from black coutil covered with purple duchesse satin, and therein lies the root of much of its evil-ness. Knowing nothing about corset construction at the time I chose this as the outer layer, not realising just how many problems I was storing up for myself.

On the course I had got the basic shape of the corset made, and the busk inserted. In October 2012 I picked it up again, stitched some of the boning channels, discovered that the tutor's take on the pattern had omitted about half of the boning channels, redid some of the existing channels and added the missing ones, then added a waist stay, set the grommets and added a modesty panel. All of these gave me endless problems trying to work on the corset without marking the satin.

And now  . . . . . Fishing it out from its hiding place last week, I was pleased to see that I'd attached the binding to the top edge, something which I didn't remember doing. Unfortunately it was downhill from there. I soon discovered that although all the boning channels were attached, not all of them were wide enough to get the bones through. Stitching had to be unpicked which, having been in place so long, left yet more marks on the satin.

Marks where stitching has been unpicked

There was also the problem that I didn't want one side of the channel to be stitched through the waist stay and the other not, so where possible I left that portion of the channel unchanged. As a result in several places the width of the boning channel varies dramatically.

Boning channel disasters

I wasn't happy with the centre edges of the busk, either. Because the satin had only been attached to the front panels and not the facings, a line of the black coutil showed at the centre.

More than just a shadow - the black coutil visible at the busk edge

I got round this by cutting bias strips of the satin and attaching these to the facings.

The satin facing

The advantage is that the coutil doesn't show. The disadvantage is that the bulk of the fabric has made the busk loops slightly smaller, so the corset is harder to fasten.

No black visible

About the one thing I was happy with was the way the edge binding turned out, although again the thickness of the satin made the ends rather bulky once the raw edges were turned in.

The completed binding

Despite being pleased with the binding, I decided to cover it by trimming the corset with black lace. (I know, I know; I spend ages covering up the black in one place, and then add black somewhere else - there's no pleasing some people!) I couldn't find any suitable lace, so did this by attaching two laces and slip-stitching the straight edges together. Directly below the top binding I applied a wide lace, and then stitched along the shaped edge to hold it in place.

Top lace - part one

Then on top of the binding I added a narrower, denser lace, and again stitched along the top edge to hold the points down.

Top lace - part two before the upper edge was sewn down

I also attached the narrow lace to the bottom edge.

One problem with using a wide lace was how to handle it at the back, where it overlaps the grommets. I really like the way the Jen of Festive Attyre dealt with this; on her corset she attached the lace first and put the grommets through the fabric and the lace. Unfortunately when I set the grommets I hadn't even thought about trimming, so I just cut the lace away, following the edge of the pattern.

The shaped lace trim at the back edges

Anyway, the EPSCFH is finally done (hurrah!). On top of all the problems I've already mentioned, when I came to photograph the finished item I noticed just how prominent the waist stay is. See the first photograph above for proof.

Also, flash photography highlights some 'interesting' lines across the satin from the grommets, which aren't that visible to the naked eye.

Pull marks to the left of the grommets

While I'm pleased with the fit on the hip, the fit around the bust is a great deal better on the dressform than on me; there is some strange wrinkling going on there.

Better at the hips, worse at the bust

Despite the added modesty panel, and the front top coming well over the bust (very different from the original pattern, not sure how that happened), the battered state of the satin makes it highly unlikely that I'll wear it over rather than under other garments. Although if I ever do make good my vague plan to create my own version of the Rate The Dress Victorian Batgirl costume, it will certainly come in handy.
Side view showing just how high the front is

In the almost four years since I started this corset I feel that my understanding of corset construction has come on enormously, from a wide variety of sources, including of course from The Dreamstress herself. So here are my Lessons Learned:

1 - Never use satin as a top layer for a corset

2 - Decide on the construction details before you start; waist stay, top line, trim etc. Then give careful thought to the order in which these things should be done. A lot of my problems came from the piecemeal way in which the corset was made; I frequently had to unpick work I'd completed successfully, because I hadn't considered something I'd want to include later.

3 - If you definitely want to use a certain fabric, this will to some extent dictate the style of corset you make. For example, if you are mad enough to use satin for a top layer, external boning channels are a far better choice; as demonstrated by The Dreamstress's entry for this challenge.

4 - Always make a toile, unless it's a pattern that you have used before and you are confident that you haven't changed shape. It is far easier, and cheaper, to alter a mock-up.

5 - Did I mention that using satin for the top layer is a Very Bad Idea?

The small print:

The Challenge: Lace and Lacings (challenge 13, halfway through!)

Fabric: Black coutil and (sigh) purple duchesse satin. Looking at the photographs above there are a variety of different purples on show, but for UK readers, the satin is the colour of a Dairy Milk wrapper.

Pattern: Laughing Moon Dore and Silverado corset pattern

Year: 1838 - 1899

Notions: Busk, flat and spiral steels, corset lace, two styles of black lace for trim

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is historically accurate, this interpretation rather less so, especially the top front

Hours to complete: Too many to want to think about!

First worn: Just now, to take photos

Total cost: Unknown, as I didn't keep a note of the initial costs

Sunday 23 June 2013

The Staffordshire Hoard

A couple of weeks ago I saw an exhibition which totally took my breath away. Mr Tulip and I went to Stoke on Trent to see the Staffordshire Hoard.

A selection of finds from the hoard

Discovered in 2009 in an unremarkable field near the M6 Toll motorway, it is the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon treasure ever discovered. It mostly consists of decorative pieces from swords and helmets, although there are three Christian crosses as well. No blades for the weapons were found, and it is not a burial site. How the hoard was collected, and why it was buried there, remain a mystery.

Most pieces were buried, but this one had come to the surface

Having been encased in soil for well over 1,000 years, many of the pieces can’t have looked very impressive when they were first unearthed. The sheer size of the hoard, over 1,600 items, means that almost four years later not all of them have been cleaned. Some pieces are displayed as they were found, so that visitors can get an idea of the work needed to restore them. This post on the hoard website explains the cleaning process.

The object above, cleaned

Many of the pieces are decorated with intricate garnet inlays in gold, creating a beautifully rich effect. Some are purely geometric patterns. The variety is stunning; I don't think I saw two pieces of the same design.

Pommel cap. This motif wouldn't look out of place in an Art Deco setting!

Garnet and gold strip

Other pieces feature animals, frequently interlaced.

Lidded cloisonne pommel piece with interlaced animals

The depth of colour was increased by setting the garnet pieces over textured gold foils.

The bottom right centre piece shows the effect of the textured foil

Other pieces are gold only. Some are decorated with ornate filigree work, while others are three dimensional.

Seahorse or stylised horse in filigree work
Horse head terminal

Most of the above pictures give you no idea of just how mind-bogglingly small these pieces are. The seahorse above is only 4.1cm (less than 1¾") from top to bottom.

Each display case has several magnifying glass to hand, so that visitors can properly appreciate the fine details, while i-pads mounted on the walls of the gallery allow you to look at close-up pictures of many of the items.

Magnifying glasses are needed to see the full detail

Given that these pieces were made by people working with no magnification or strong artificial light, the workmanship is truly astounding. I was talking to one of the museum staff about this, and she told me that they had consulted an eye specialist at the local hospital. His view was that the work must have been done by young people with a natural aptitude for it, working with the piece inches away from their noses. He also thought that their eyesight would eventually have been totally ruined by the work; a sobering thought, as I don’t imagine that Dark Ages social care was very good.

Another tiny piece, as yet uncleaned

It was hard to drag myself away; the items on show were just so stunning. Clearly I’m not the only person to feel this way; the hoard seems to have struck a chord with a huge number of people, especially around the area where it was found. Almost £1m of the £3.3m needed to save it for the nation was raised in record time through public donations, and when the first items were put on display, people queued for up to five hours to see it.

If you would like to see the Staffordshire Hoard for yourself, the good news is that you won’t need to queue for five hours. The exhibition at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent runs until 1 September, and admission is free. More details can be found here. There is also a permanent display of items from the hoard at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, also free.

If you live too far away to visit either of these, then the hoard website contains lots more information and images, and the Conservation & Research blog lets you follow all the latest developments in the ongoing story of the hoard.

Friday 21 June 2013

Pretty Pretty Princesses

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is Pretty Pretty Princesses. This time all the challenges have been posted in the Historical Sew Fortnightly group on Facebook, so click here to see lots of pretty things fit for a princess!

Sunday 16 June 2013

How to make a wrist pincushion

I attend quite a few sewing workshops, and one thing which often attracts comment at these is my pincushion. In fact, on one occasion someone admitted to suffering from, “pincushion envy”!

My pincushion, worn on my left wrist for ease of photographing (normally I wear it on my right wrist)

You can buy pincushions which you wear on your wrist from lots of places, but I always found them too big for my skinny wrists. The only solution was to make my own. It was quick to do (I made it while watching “Groundhog Day” one afternoon), and the result is a perfect fit; so much so that I often forget that I’m wearing it. I’ve walked down the road with it on, after popping round to a neighbour’s to help her with a dress alteration. I’ve typed with it on, after doing some sewing in my lunch break at work. In fact, it gets so much use that it’s going a bit bald in places, and I’ve had to patch it.

Pin-free, and showing the patches

As I’ve just made one for my mum, this seemed an ideal time to post a tutorial, so that you too can have a perfectly fitting wrist pincushion.

You will need:
- felt (a 22cm / 8½” square piece was just big enough for the size of pincushion I wanted to make)
- 2.5cm / 1” wide elastic
- a small piece of thick card
- needle and thread
- stuffing
- glue (optional)


Begin by measuring the width of your wrist where the pincushion will sit, side to side. In my case this is 5.5cm / 2¼”.

Wrist width

Cut a circle from the thick card, with the diameter equal to the wrist width measurement.

Cut two circles from the felt. One should have the diameter equal to the wrist width measurement plus 2.5cm / 1”. The diameter of the other depends on how big you want the pincushion to be. On my pincushion the top piece is 16cm / 6¼” across, so I added a 2cm / ¾" seam allowance to this, which gave a diameter of 18cm / 7".

Calculating the size of the pincushion

Run a gathering stitch around the edge of the smaller felt circle. I used the thread double thickness, to make it stronger. Place the card in the centre, and pull up the gathers. If you want, you can put a thin layer of glue onto the card first, for extra stability.

Making the pincushion back

Sew the elastic securely onto the felt, leaving quite a long 'tail' extending across the card.

Attaching the elastic

Place the card circle on your wrist, felt side down, and wrap the elastic round your wrist. You want it to be a snug fit, but not circulation-stoppingly tight. Remember that you need to be able to slide the finished pincushion over your hand. Also remember that the card circle will bend slightly with use. Pin the elastic to the felt on the other side of the circle, so that the end overlaps the 'tail'. Cut the elastic, leaving an overlap across the card.

Securing the elastic

Sew the elastic firmly to the felt, and then onto the other end of the elastic to make a loop. This makes it more secure than just sewing the elastic to the felt.

The completed pincushion back

Side view

Now run a gathering stitch around the edge of the larger felt circle. Again I used the thread double thickness. Pull up the gathers to form a bag shape, and adjust until the circle formed by the gathers is the same size as the felt and card circle. Secure with a couple of small stitches, to stop the gathered edge from changing size.

Pincushion back, and gathered top

Now turn the elastic over, so that the loop is in front of the felt, not behind it (like the 'side view' picture above). Sew the large gathered felt circle onto edge of the felt and card circle, leaving a small gap. I found that the easiest way to do this was to make a few loose stitches, and then pull the tread tight.

Because the trickiest part is sewing through both the felt and the elastic, I started just before one end of the elastic, and sewed through that, round the circle, and through the other end of the elastic.

Sewing back and top together

Stuff the pincushion firmly, and sew up the gap.

Stuffing the pincushion

Squish the pincushion a bit; to distribute the stuffing evenly, and get a nice round shape. Any there you have it, your own made-to-measure wrist pincushion.

Finished! Side view

View of the underside

Sunday 9 June 2013

Macclesfield silk

Less than 40 miles from my home is Macclesfield; a town which has been involved in the silk trade for over 350 years, and which was once the world's biggest producer of finished silk. Given my interest in all things fabric-related, you might think that I would know all about the place; but in fact yesterday was the first time I have visited it properly.

The trip was prompted by the Adamley silk sale. Adamley is one of the few remaining silk firms in the town, and specialises in silk printing. Twice a year it holds a one-day sale of roll ends and printed seconds. Mr Tulip came with me, to fulfil what is clearly the role of all husbands at the sale: patiently holding onto the items already selected while their partners search for yet more goodies!

Adamley silks on sale at the Heritage Centre

Purchases packed in the car boot; we set off to visit the town's museums. As the sale was held in the first of these, we didn’t have far to go.

Macclesfield Heritage Centre, the words "Sunday School" just visible at the top of the building

The Heritage Centre is based in the old Sunday School, where the children working in the silk industry received a basic education on their one day a week off work. The museum tells the story of the silk industry in the town, starting with the button trade.

By the mid 17th century button making was an established cottage industry in Macclesfield. The buttons were made by women and children, working at home. Firstly layers of floss were wrapped around a wooden mould, and then this was decorated by wrapping it with silk and mohair yarns. Chapmen provided the materials, and collected the finished buttons, which were then sold as far afield as London.

1750s sample card of Macclesfield buttons

The trade links to London provided the next stage of Macclesfield's involvement in the silk industry; yarn preparation by the process of 'throwing'. Originally done by hand, the town's first water-powered throwing mill was built in 1744. Raw silk was brought from London for throwing, and the yarn returned to London to be used by weavers in Spitalfields.

Mantua of Spitalfields silk, V&A

As fashion turned from the elaborate figured Spitalfields silks to plainer designs, silk weaving began in Macclesfield. Initially this was done by weavers in their own homes, known as garrets. These had a workshop on the top story, above the living quarters.

1960s photograph of weavers' garrets

In the early 19th century weaving began to move to the factory system, a change which was exacerbated by the development of the more costly jacquard and power looms. Even if a weaver was not directly employed by a mill, he would have to pay to rent a loom.

The silk industry was subject to regular fluctuations in trade, with many of the downturns occurring when Britain was not at war with France. French silks were considered to be superior in terms of both quality and design; so whenever they were more readily available, the British silk industry suffered.

By the 1830s there was a view that more needed to be done nationally to improve British design, and a number of design schools were set up. In Macclesfield this began with the wonderfully-named Useful Knowledge Society, which held drawing classes. In 1852 the Macclesfield School of Art was established, with its own premises. The Art School is now the home of the Silk Museum.

Macclesfield School of Art

By the 1880s it was recognised the technical as well as design skills were needed for the silk industry to be successful, and the Silk Museum contains many examples of the course work completed by students of the Art School and the later Technical School. For example, it was not enough for a woven fabric to have an attractive design; the warp and weft threads must cross frequently enough for the cloth to retain its strength.

Exhibition sample by Cyrus Fytton

Laboratory book and woven sample

The examples of students' weaving were especially interesting to me, as I own part of a sample piece of Macclesfield silk. It is 3.5m long and woven with a black warp and different coloured wefts, in sections approximately 9cm long.

My sample of Macclesfield silk

The Silk Museum also has a section on the development of synthetic fabrics. As well as the weaving and printing of various rayon and nylon fabrics, Macclesfield was the birthplace of crimpelene - but I'm trying not to hold that against the town!

Printed nylon and (shudder!) crimpelene

Macclesfield did not just manufacture fabric; a number of firms were established in the town to make machinery for the mills.

1920s(?) advertisement for a machinery manufacturer

The Machine Gallery contains a number of these machines, including the massive silk picture loom.

The silk picture loom

One of the woven silk pictures

Near to the Silk Museum is Paradise Mill, the third of the Macclesfield silk museums, containing 26 restored Jacquard looms. Sadly the mill can only be visited as part of a guided tour, and all of the places for the day were already booked up by a large party.

There is a lot more to see in the museums, I've only written about parts of them. They are certainly well worth a visit.

Finally, when looking for images of Spitalfields silk to use in this post, I came across a recent photograph of  weavers' houses in Macclesfield. To my surprise it came from the blog of a friend of Mr Tulip's, the writer Clare Dudman. You can read her post about the decline of Spitalfields here.