Sunday, 7 July 2013

Eastern Influence - part one, creating the pattern

This is my first attempt at consecutive Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges, but Lace and Lacings wasn’t really a new challenge; more of a welcome prompt to finish off something which might otherwise have languished in UFO Purgatory forever. So onto the next challenge; Eastern Influence.

The biggest obstacle to my (admittedly feeble) attempts at stash reduction is, unsurprisingly, in my local fabric shop. However it’s not this:

Rolls and rolls of lovely fabric

But this:

Even more temptation

The shop sells remnants of all sorts of fabrics by weight (my sewing bag came from the 'curtain' and 'coloured sheeting' sections), but it’s the 'craft cottons' section which is my biggest weakness.

A selection of the remnants in my stash

Remnants give a lot more variety; the stock changes frequently, whereas many of the rolls are standard orders which are always available. With the remnants, once it’s gone, it’s gone. They also present a challenge in that a garment has to be made to fit the fabric available: there’s no going back for a sneaky extra half-metre if you suddenly decide you’d like long sleeves instead.

Sometimes a fabric catches my eye, and I just buy it with no idea what I’m going to do with it. The danger with this is that occasionally I’ll buy something so striking or appealing that I feel it merits a special project to be worthy of using it, and so it just sits in the stash forever.

This particular fabric is a perfect example. I fell in love with its Japanese feel, but then couldn’t think what to use it for. So when The Dreamstress announced that Challenge 14 was going to be ‘Eastern Influence’ I remembered the wise words in her Tips for doing the Historical Sew Fortnightly, namely, “Any use is a better use than just sitting there in the stash. . . . Just pick a pattern, pick your fabric, and stop worrying about what you could have made”, and resolved to finally make something from it.

Japanese-inspired cotton

On closer inspection, it’s quite an odd fabric. The trees have a definite Japanese look to them (the fabric is called “Mikko”), but the birds look to me more like the sparrows and finches I get in my garden than anything I’d associate with Japan. It’s quite a large repeat; 52cm / 22 ½” wide by 62.5cm / 2’ ½” long, and the pattern repeats an awkward 1.8 times across the width of the fabric. The fabric is approximately 3m / 5’ 10” long.

The length of the remnant suggests a dress, but the bold pattern calls for something with quite plain lines, and not a lot of darts or shaping to break up the design. I pondered for a bit, and then remembered this dress in the current exhibition from the Tinne Collection in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.

Day dress, 1930-32

Although the dress is made from a cotton/rayon mix, the straight bodice and pleated skirt are perfect for my idea, the plain front panel would provide a bit of relief from the busy pattern, and the early 1930s date puts it within the time limit for the Historical Sew Fortnightly. Result!

The dress has long sleeves but some internet searching turned up this dress of a similar style, from much the same period, with short, cuffed sleeves.

1930s dress with similar dropped waist, belt and front

I also found this slightly earlier dress pattern, which has lovely little pleats at the shoulders.

1920s dress pattern

So, to work. I cheated a bit by starting the pattern design from a modern, loose tunic top, and swung the bust dart up to the shoulder to provide the extra fabric for the pleats. My first toile was too wide, so I took it in at the centre front and back. I then tried on the slimmed-down toile, and decided straightaway that the sleeves need lengthening and the shoulder pleats could do with being moved slightly closer to the neckline.

At this point, things started to get interesting. I have no dress patterns that old, or any knowledge of 1930s dressmaking methods, so had no idea whether techniques such as the application of facings were in use by then. I turned to the “Home Dressmaking” sections of my various 1930s needlework books, and found that these included references to facings, but gave no more information.

Looking closely at the photographs I took in the exhibition (slightly fuzzy, as I wasn’t using a flash), I could see that the dress back has a separate piece at the neckline; it is slightly bulkier, and the pattern doesn’t match.

Dress back neckline with added piece

On the front however, there is a line of stitching parallel to the edges of the flowery fabric, but the pattern is unbroken.

Dress front neckline with stitching (see white flower on left)

As the patterned fabric also lies proud of the plain centre piece, my best guess is that:
1) the dress back has a facing, attached to the outside rather than the inside of the main piece, and
2) the dress front has a conventional facing.
This could be interesting when I come to sew it all together.

The plain centre panel on the dress looks a slightly odd shape, but I wasn’t sure if this was just down to the way the dress is displayed on the mannequin. Fortunately Mrs Tinne, true to form, had bought several dresses of a similar design to this one. They are in the book of the collection, so I was able to refer to them as well as my photographs.

Based on these sources, I sketched my first attempt at the dress front onto the toile and tried it on.

First attempt at drawing out the dress front

From this I decided that the centre panel was too small, and that the crossover section of the dress was too high. I redrew it, tried it on, the cut out the neckline to what would be the finished edge, and tried it on a third time.

The final dress front, with vintage button and buckle laid on top

The crossing sections at the top are slightly wider than on the original. This is because I have a vintage button which I want to use on the dress, and it is larger than the button on Mrs Tinne’s dress.

Once I was satisfied with the toile, I carefully cut it apart along the line of sewing.

Toile front, laid flat

Then I drew out the pattern pieces by tracing them off the toile onto tissue paper and adding seam allowances.

Patterns for dress front and plain centre panel

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