Sunday, 26 January 2014

The pyjama game

This week, I have been making a pair of satin pyjamas for Mr Tulip. This isn’t as decadent as it sounds; there is a good practical reason for it. One of the problems which Motor Neurone Disease causes is that as all the muscles get weaker, it becomes harder to move around in bed. Crisp cotton jim-jams against crisp cotton bedding just make the problem even worse.

When I first posted abut Mr Tulip’s diagnosis, Lyndle very kindly sent me a link to her late friend’s blog in which he recorded his life with the disease, and it was here that I came across the idea of counteracting the bed problem with slippery fabrics. I’ve not been able to source any satin bed linen yet, but pyjamas were another matter.

It took a while to find a suitable satin. Too thin would be a bit chilly, and too thick would be heavy, which could defeat the whole idea. Finally I found a soft satin in a rich purple, and putting aside memories of my previous trauma with purple satin, I got to work.

For a pattern I started from Simplicity 1504.

I’ve not used Simplicity patterns for a long time, so it came as a shock to discover that unlike most multi-size patterns, Simplicity do not use different line styles for each size. So, I had to keep my wits about me when cutting out.

Vogue and Simplicity multi-size pattern pieces

I made a few alterations to the pattern; lengthening the sleeves and legs, and dispensing with the bias-cut cuffs on both. I also made the breast pocket slightly larger, to hold the TENS machine which My Tulip sometimes uses, and moved the waistband up to the waist instead of the 2.5cm /1” below which the pattern specifies.

I also discarded the suggested cutting layout, and made up my own instead. The pieces fitted together nicely, and only took up 3 metres of fabric (which leaves me with a spare metre of purple satin, not sure what I’ll do with it!)

Cutting out in progress

The trousers in the pattern are pull-up with a drawstring, but Mr T finds a fly front easier to use. I have never made any trousers before, so this particular alteration required a careful study of an existing pair of his pyjamas, and a generous helping of guesswork.

I altered the front crotch seam to add an extra piece for the fly.

Front trouser piece altered for a fly fasten

On one side I put on a facing, on the other side I folded the fabric back and turned the raw edges under. Then I sewed the two sides together along the bottom of the fly. Rather to my surprise, it worked!

As ever with me and satin, the seams ended up a bit puckered. However I discovered that this time it was the overlocking to finish the edges which caused the puckering, not the straight machining. Where the seams weren’t overlocked, they were pucker-free. So that’s definitely an improvement in my satin sewing technique. Yay!

As with Mr T’s shirts, I used press studs rather than buttons for fastening. I did add buttons on the front though, just for the look.

The end result is quite alarmingly shiny. Obviously most of the construction is done right sides together, so it wasn’t until I had pressed the completed pyjamas and turned them right side out that I saw just how shiny they are. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to display the finished article, as they drowned my dress form. However Mr Tulip gamely agreed to model them, so here they are!


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Hay on Wye

Mr Tulip and I have been away for a few days, visiting Hay on Wye.

Hay on Wye is a small market town in Wales, just over the border from England. It has winding lanes with picturesque cottages,

Bear Street

sixteenth century inns,

The Three Tuns

an old market building, which is still in use,

The old Butter Market still hosts a weekly market on Thursdays

antique shops,

Only one dog is an antique

I didn't dare enquire about this!

a quirky florists,

The large flower by the door is made from feathers

gift and interiors shops,

a castle which has seen better days,

The Norman castle, with Jacobean addition

and even a shop which appears to sell nothing but chandeliers and garden furniture!

But Hay on Wye is best known for one thing.

Just some of the shop signs in Hay

In 1962 Richard Booth opened a book shop in Hay, and Booths is still in the town today. Over the years it has been joined by many other bookshops, and Hay is now the National Book Town of Wales, and home to the annual Hay Festival.

Booths today

There are bookshops everywhere, mostly secondhand. Some are specialist, like Boz and Murder and Mayhem.

Boz Books specializes in Dickens and nineteenth century authors

Murder and Mayhem - the clue's in the name

Even the former cinema is now a (massive) bookshop.

Home to around 200,000 secondhand and antiquarian books

While some of the books aren’t even in shops!

Books for sale in the castle grounds

Amazingly, there are some shops in (less ruined) parts of the castle; including The Old Curiosity Shop, which sells vintage clothing, sheet music, magazines and assorted bits and bobs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I didn't buy any clothes, but I did have a happy time browsing through boxes of buttons and buckles (and yes, made a few purchases).

The Old Curiosity Shop on the left

After fabric and general sewing/crafty stuff shops, there's no shops I like more than secondhand bookshops. Just seeing old books, with their wonderfully decorated spines, is a pleasure.

A selection of children's books

Some of the shops are more than just rows of shelves; Addyman Books houses some of its stock in the interior of a nineteenth century Transylvanian Church!

The Art and Photography section of Addymans

Somewhere to sit and browse

Vintage Penguin books

Sometime I'll post about some of the books I bought, but I'll finish with this image, which sums Hay up perfectly.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Past, present(s) and future

Past: a little piece of history.

Over Christmas, I mentioned to my mum that I’d been blogging about her Singer sewing machine. She explained that she bought it when she was living in London, and had got tired of cutting out patterns and then having to wait until she went home for a weekend (about 170 miles each way) to sew the item on her mum’s machine.

Then at New Year she presented me with this: the receipt! (Note: years of working in I.T. with people who look after financial systems has made me aware that it is not a good idea to publish your mother’s maiden name on the internet, so the image has been slightly doctored.)

It’s such a wonderful thing. The Singer logo, the details all neatly written out by hand (including the fact that Mum seems to have become ‘Mrs’ rather than ‘Miss’, two years before she got married), and D. Bax’s signature for the company at the bottom. So much more interesting than the boring till rolls of today.

£30.8s.6d is the equivalent of £730 ($1199) today, so she pushed the boat out a bit. However in terms of cost per use, and given that it’s still going strong over 60 years later, I think that it was a bargain!

Present(s): In Scotland, where I grew up, a common question after Christmas is, “Was Santa good to you?” Well, I’ve been so busy posting about what I did in 2013 and about finally getting Vogue 8686 finished, that I’ve not got round to mentioning that Santa was very good to me indeed.

One of the many benefits of taking part in the 2013 Historical Sew Fortnightly was discovering the joy/time thief that is auction houses’ websites. Firms such as Charles A. Whitaker and Kerry Taylor Auctions fill their websites with lots of really clear photographs of items from upcoming and past sales.

Kerry Taylor has now written a book Vintage Fashion & Couture: From Poiret to McQueen, illustrated with images of items she has sold at auction. Split into decade-based chapters from 1900s to 2000s, for each decade it looks at the influential designers and a ‘style icon’ of the time.

Both Dior and Chanel feature in more than one decade. Chanel appears in the chapters on the 1920s and the 1950s, with the latter section concentrating on the famous Chanel suit. Even ready-to-wear vintage Chanel suits are highly collectable, but if an original is beyond your budget, you could always try making your own.

Last year I went on a day course, “Secrets of a Chanel-style Jacket”, taught by a lady who has studied extensively with Claire Schaeffer (whose book “Couture Sewing Techniques” is almost as well-used as my beloved “Vogue Sewing”). There was too much to really cover in a single day, but I was interested enough to want to learn more. Now I can do so at my own pace and in the comfort of my own workroom, as Claire Schaeffer’s latest book is, The Couture Cardigan Jacket. This covers everything you need to know to make a jacket; basic construction, buttonholes, sleeves, edges, pockets, and the final little details to give that real ‘couture’ feel are all covered. Plus, the book comes with a DVD, so you can see exactly how it’s done.

An accompanying DVD also features in my next book; Draping: The Complete Course by Karolyn Kiisel. As the title suggests this is a course; split into sections on beginning, intermediate and advanced draping. Each section contains several chapters, which in turn are split into several exercises and a project, some with further variations to try out.

Some years ago I saw a fascinating documentary series on the House of Chanel, following a single collection from the first designs to the catwalk show. The stand-out moment for me was watching a senior member of staff take one of “Monsieur Karl’s” sketches, and create it on a dressform with only muslin and pins. My immediate thought was, “I wish I could do that”, and while I’ll never achieve that standard, at least I can make a start!

From draping to something else I want to learn; pattern drafting from period patterns.

The Voice of Fashion by Frances Grimble contains 79 patterns from editions of the fashion magazine of the same name from the period 1900 - 1906. As well as entertaining editorials from the magazines there are fashion plates of the finished items, and diagrams of the pattern pieces, which are then drafted to size using the ‘Diamond Cutting System’ (full details and the measuring scales required are included in the book).

To me, the thing which really makes garments of this period is the incredible detail of the decoration, and plenty of this is available to drool over in Paris Haute Couture.

This is actually the book which accompanied an exhibition of the same name in Paris last year. Like Kerry Taylor’s book, it is split into chapters for each decade from the late 1800s to 1960-70. Each chapter includes information about a particular aspect of couture, such as perfume or labels, plus photographs from the period, such as workers in a couture house. Of course there are also photographs of garments which I assume were in the exhibition, including some stunning close-ups.

Proving that eye-watering detail in decoration is not just a thing of the recent past is an item in my final book; Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress: Volume 2.

Like the first volume, this contains garments and accessories from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s costume collection, with scale drawing, instructions for making up, and x-rays to show hidden details of the construction. It also has its share of close-up photographs, including some of this beautiful bodice from 1660-70, trimmed with parchment lace. The work which must have gone into making the lace is truly mind-boggling; I don’t think I’ll be attempting this any time soon!

Bodice detail with lace, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Future: so what will I be attempting in the year ahead? Well, over the past week I’ve been attempting to bring some order to my stash. I frequently buy fabric with the idea of using it for a project, put it away, and then can’t remember what the project was. So I’m trying to match the frankly alarming quantity of fabric in there to my ideas. On the basis that my sewing time is increasingly limited, and there is far more available fabric than there is sewing time, I’ve also been thinking about what to make my priorities for the year. I’ve come up with the following five-point plan.

1) Make at least two summer dresses which I can wear (i.e. not too period-based). As I have found 14 (14!!) summer dress lengths in the stash, the only problem with this is deciding which ones to make.

2) As several of the dress candidates are full-skirted 1950s style, make a white net petticoat to go with them (my pink one is a bit too, well, pink.)

3) Finish my 1920s beaded dress.

4) My 1911 corset has been languishing unused in its wrapper since it was completed. So, I'm aiming to make a complete early Teens era costume to go with it, and also some accessories for my 1920s beaded dress. The intention is to use as many of the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges as I can to make items for these two outfits.

5) There is also a ‘mystery project’ which I’m keen to try, but that’s under wraps for now, as I try to decide just how mad an idea this is.

Of course, all of this is only one inspirational Pinterest board or HSF challenge away from being totally changed, so let’s see what the year actually brings!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Celebrate (and Green)

Whoohoo! Vogue 8686 is finally finished, and in 2013 as well. Admittedly only just; I sewed the hem at my parents’ house on New Year’s eve.

Originally this was intended for the Historical Sew Fortnightly Green challenge, but that went very awry. At times, given the number of ‘fit-sigh-take apart-try again’ cycles I went through, I did feel that it qualified for the Re-Do challenge as well! Fortunately the last challenge of the 2013 was Celebrate, defined by The Dreamstress as:
"Make something that is celebration worthy, make something that celebrates the new skills you have learned this year, or just make something simple that celebrates the fact that you survived HSF ’13!"

So, after all the angst that has gone into making this, it seemed fitting to celebrate its completion. Plus, I can celebrate learning a new vintage sewing construction technique; a side placket fasten with press studs.

The completed placket

I wasn’t sure how well this would work. The fabric is quite thick, so I worried that all the layers involved could make the end result fairly bulky. However I ruthlessly trimmed and graded all the seams, then carefully overcast all the raw edges as the fabric frays very easily, and stitched the lining under the edges of the placket.

Inside view of the placket

The end result looks really neat; far better than I had expected (the wobbly seam in the picture is due to the dressform having considerably less curvy hips than I do).

The fastening closed

Plus, the skirt finally fits perfectly. A massive thank you to Leimomi for her suggestion as to why the fit was initially so bad; I shall try out her method next time I make up a Vintage Vogue pattern.

I took the waist of the dress in quite a lot in order to get it to fit, so the next potential problem was that the separate peplum and belt would be too big. Fortunately by a combination of making the side seams slightly wider towards the top, and using a much smaller seam allowance on the join between peplum and belt, I was able to match it up to the dress.

The peplum, with the narrow seam allowance marked at the top

Initially I didn’t think that the big hem on the peplum would work, but I did manage to ease in the extra fullness. I made up the lining the same way, sewed it to the peplum at the top, then turned the lining under, trimmed off the excess and slip-stitched the lining in place. Then I attached the belt, and held the interfacing in place with five rows of topstitching.

Completed peplum and belt, inside view

I used a vintage buckle to finish the belt off. It didn’t have a prong, so I used a tip of my mum’s, and made the belt a little wider than the space in the buckle, so that it wouldn’t slip open. Thanks, Mum!

Close-up of the buckle

Completed peplum and belt

The eagle-eyed may have noticed that some things seem to be the wrong way round. This is deliberate. Because I’m left handed, I moved the side fasten to the right of the dress, as it is easier for me to reach there. I also swapped the belt round.

There is a tiny bit of shine on the right side of the bodice, where I accidentally moved my press-cloth while pressing the dart. This gives me the perfect excuse to disguise it with this super-cute wooden swallow brooch, which was a present from my sister-in-law.

The perfect accessory

After all that, the dress fits perfectly, and I’m delighted with it. So much so that I actually have pictures of me wearing it, complete with a Christmas tree just sneaking into view at the right. Actually, it had to be photographed on me, as there wasn't a dressform to hand. (I ‘acquired’ my mum’s dressform some years ago, but that’s another story.)

Back view

Finished at last!

The small print:
The Challenge: Originally meant to be completed for Green, actually completed for Celebrate.
Fabric: Linen-effect fabric of unknown (man-made) composition for dress, equally unknown synthetic fabric for lining
Pattern: Vintage Vogue 8686
Year: 1933
Notions: Three self-cover buttons, seven snaps and one hook and eye for fasten , vintage buckle for belt, three (! yes, there was that much unpicking) 100m spools of thread
How historically accurate is it? The pattern is a re-issue of a Vogue 1930s design and construction is accurate for the period, but fabric is definitely not. Say 65%
Hours to complete: Too many to even contemplate!
First worn: 31 December, to celebrate New Year at my parents' house
Total cost: Fabric £27.13, lining £11:47, thread £4.80 (three spools at £1.60 each), vintage buckle £2, pattern and other notions from stash, so £45.40.