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!

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