Monday, 5 May 2014

UFOs and PHDs, exhibit B - Tops and Toes

An extra-late post this week. I've been rearranging the house a bit, and relocating all my sewing stuff to a different room. My lovely friend Kebi and her equally lovely husband P offered to come over this afternoon and help me move the heavy furniture, and I wasn't going to turn the offer down! Thank you so much to both of them.

So, as the UFOs and PHDs challenge is still current, it's time to get another project off the pile.

When The Dreamstress published the full set of challenges for the 2014 Historical Sew Fortnightly I (like many other Challengers, I suspect) went through the list and thought about how I could use it to make things which would work together, rather than ending up with lots of unrelated items. Tops and Toes seemed like a good opportunity to embellish some shoes to go with my 'work in progress' 1920s beaded dress.

I wasn't entirely sure what I'd do, but then going through The Stash (Beads & Sequins section) for something entirely unrelated, I came across these, and it struck me that they were the perfect colours to go with the painted panels of the dress.

Navette embroidery stones

Then I remembered these, which I inherited from Granny T's sewing things, and an idea was born.

Mystery decorations from Granny T

For the shoes themselves, I went online. I knew exactly what I wanted; cream satin, with a strap, round-toed and low heeled, preferably with a Louis or spool heel. I found several possible pairs, and eventually settled on these from Perfect Bridal in the UK. The lace was a bonus; I figured that it would be easier to sew onto that than onto plain satin.

The shoes, from every possible angle

I must admit, these have been far and away my most expensive purchase for the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges (although to be fair, a lot of my entries have been made using stash stuff). I could have bought something similar far more cheaply from China. However experience has proved that once you factor in shipping costs, plus a hefty import duty, those Chinese 'bargains' online aren't such a great saving. Plus I knew that buying in the UK I would get the shoes within a couple of days. (Not that important, as it turned out, but never mind.)

Then it was back to the stash to look for other beads and sequins for the decoration. This was when I discovered that I had no flat round sequins other than hologram ones. While the 1920s saw a huge variety of sequins in every shape and colour (see Jazz Age Fashion by Virginia and Daisy Bates for some fabulous close-up images of 1920s embellished dresses), hologram sequins were a definite no-no for the period. A trip to my local store turned up not only flat, round, gold sequins, but also some unusual matte gold cupped sequins.

Beads, sequins and stones

I played around pinning the navettes and various combinations of sequins onto a board to get some ideas.

The first experiments

Then it struck me that I needed to know what sort of area I had to work with. I made a template by pinning a piece of net over the section of the shoe upper that I was going to decorate, and then cutting round the edge.

The net pinned on - side view

View from underneath

The completed template

While working away on all of this, I tried to ignore that fact that I had never actually seen any beaded 1920s shoes in any of my research. Shoes made from luxury fabrics, yes.

Brocade shoes

Shoes with embroidery, yes.

Embroidered evening shoes 1925-7, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Shoes with contrast leather and fancy cut-outs, yes.

Ignazio Pluchino ca. 1925, © Museum of London

But beaded shoes, no. Then American Duchess came to my rescue like a particularly well-shod Fairy Godmother. In a post on her blog, she mentioned that her fabulous collection of Pinterest boards includes shoes boards, so off I went to have a look. There on the 1920s board I found these lovelies.

Beaded evening shoes ca. 1925

Beading close-up

Thanks Lauren!

Armed with proof, I tried out a couple of arrangements of the stones and sequins.

Slightly different arrangements

I traced off the shape, and manipulated the images to see what each half would look like complete.

The right side at the top, the left side at the bottom

I set up my embroidery hoop again with a layer of net over a layer of organza, and set to work. As usual, I worked on both motifs simultaneously, so that the second one didn't end up looking much better than the first. It was tricky, keeping each motif symmetrical, and both motifs the same. Then I abandoned this plan, and did the beading edge of one motif in its entirety, as I wanted to check if it would actually work. It made the motif look a lot less flat and solid, so I did the other one as well.

Beaded and unbeaded motifs

Once all the beading was complete, I trimmed away most of the organza, then turned the raw edge under and stitched it down, as it frayed like mad. I pinned the net over the shoe, then stitched the net to the lace of the shoe under the beaded edge, and finally cut the excess net away (Carrickmacross scissors to the fore again), and there I have it, beaded 1920s shoes!

I must admit, I'm not entirely convinced by the end result. They look very shiny indeed. As the dress is nowhere near finished, I shall put the shoes away for a while, and review them later in the year. If I'm still not happy, they may be a candidate for the 'Re-do' challenge!

The small print:
The Challenge: UFOs and PHDs / Tops and Toes
Fabric: None, unless you count the satin and lace of the shoes
Pattern: My own
Year: 1920s
Notions: Navette embroidery stones, sequins, beads
How historically accurate is it? Probably not very, say 40%.
Hours to complete: Including all the experimenting, probably about 20 hours.
When I started it and when I finished it: Started 23 March, finished 4 May
First worn: This evening, to take photographs
Total cost: Do I have to? Deep breath. Shoes £80. Sequins £2.50. Everything else from stash.


  1. Wonderful! I'm glad I could inadvertently help :-) You did a fabulous job!

  2. Your research is fascinating! And the shoes look amazing :)