Sunday, 23 November 2014

Slightly strange sewing kit

My friend Kebi came over on Friday; mainly for a chat, a cuppa and an early mince pie (although to my mind it's never too early to start on the mince pies), but also so that we could cut out her latest project, Vogue 8920, on my big worktable.

When we were clearing stuff off the table she noticed an A4 sheet of thick perspex on there, and asked what it was for. I explained, and it struck me that I have quite a few rather odd bits and pieces in my workroom. I don't just mean things which are specialist but recognized sewing tools like a rouleau loop turner, and chalk powder and a felt pad for prick and pounce, but items which at first glance have nothing to do with sewing at all.

Loop turner, chalk and pouncing pad on the perspex sheet

First up is the perspex sheet. I use this when I have fabric laid double on the table, but I only want to pin through a single layer; for example attaching the roses and leaves onto the bottom of my Politics of Fashion dress. The dress was laid flat on the table, and the sheet slipped between the front and the back. It is thin enough that it didn't pull the dress out of shape, but unlike a sheet of cardboard the pins couldn't stick into it when I pinned the pieces onto the dress.

Rose and leaves attached to the dress

The next thing is a pair of knee pads, bought from my local DIY (hardware) store.

Foam knee pads with elastic and velcro straps

I now have a table big enough and high enough for most of my cutting out, but for really big things like circle skirts I still need to work on the (wooden) floor. My knees definitely don't appreciate all the crawling round on a hard surface, so knee pads really help.

From the same store, in fact bought at the same time, came a set of a dozen clamps in three different sizes.

Small and medium clamps

These are invaluable when working with any fabric with a mind of its own, such as chiffon or fine satin. The sort of fabric which sneaks across the table the instant your back is turned. Find the straight grain, clamp the fabric to two sides of the table, and it's (more or less) under control. If it's a fabric which marks easily, I put a pad of soft paper such as kitchen towel between the fabric and the clamp. The clamps are also handy for holding things like my cord maker to the table.

Decorating tape

Another DIY staple is low-tack masking tape, used during decorating. My sewing machine has seam allowances of ⅛" to 1" marked on the needle plate, but occasionally I need a wider seam allowance. Then I use a strip of tape.

Tape strip in place

It's easy to see, and because it's low tack, it doesn't leave any residue on the machine arm.

Next up, these.

Vernier calipers (in case you were wondering what the heck they are)

This isn't a tool which many people would need, but because I do a lot of decorative work I need to be able to check the diameter of beads and sequins easily. Sequins in particular often come in packets without size details and it's hard to check accurately with a ruler or tape measure, especially as the difference between two brands can be as small as half a millimetre.

Checking the diameter of a sequin

What little lacemaking I do now is on proper lace pillows; slightly domed, and mostly filled the traditional way with tightly packed chopped straw. However my original beginner's pillow still gets a lot of use. It is made from two polystyrene ceiling tiles, glued onto a thin wood base and covered with cotton.

My 30cm / 12" pillow

Nowadays it's used for beading. I can pin beads, sequins and embroidery stones onto it to plan out designs. Once I've decided on the pattern, I can put a sheet of paper over the pillow and pin through that to get a permanent record of the arrangement.

A design pinned out, and one in progress

Finally I'll come back to where this post began, with the greatest sewing aid of all; a nice cup of tea (on a coaster of course, nothing food or drink related is allowed to sit directly on the worktable!).


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Re-do, part 1 (probably of several) - roses

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is "Re-do", defined as:
"Pick any previous challenge and re-do it (or do it for the first time). It could be one that you didn’t finish, one that you wish you’d had more time for, or any time for, or one where you loved the theme so much you want to do it again."

Well, it's been a while since I've done much Historical Sew Fortnightly sewing, but this challenge throws up so many opportunities that the main problem is, where to start?

Under "one that you didn't finish" comes my Politics of Fashion Wiener Werkstätte dress and, specifically, the roses.

The first one turned out really well; exactly what I wanted.

It all started so well . . .

Unfortunately things went downhill from there! I just couldn't get my subsequent attempts to produce the flat flowers that I needed for the dress. Eventually I gave up in disgust.

The re-do challenge has inspired me to have another go. I unpicked the later roses and tried again. It took a couple of attempts, but eventually I produced the other five roses I needed for the sleeves and the dress corners.

The smaller roses on the bodice are made from narrower tubes of a different satin, and also turned out nice and flat.

The bodice decoration - apologies for the grainy image

However despite my best efforts and my new-found skills in rose flatness, the large bodice roses turned out very flouffy indeed.

Flat rose and flouffy rose

So I decided to cheat. I cut out small circles from a scrap of pelmet vilene left over from making last year's straw bag, stitched a double thickness thread into the centre back of the rose, pulled the ends of the thread through the vilene disk, and tied them in a knot.

Rose flattening - after and before

So now I have a selection of roses, in different sizes and colours.

Finished roses

When I checked through the previous posts about this project, I realised that I hadn't explained how the leaves were made. I hadn't taken any 'in progress' photos either (bad blogger!), so I part unpicked a leaf in order to explain now. Each leaf is made from half a circle of green satin. The half circle is folded to form a cone, then the raw straight edge is turned under and slip-stitched in place. Finally the curved edge is gathered through the double thickness, and the gathering pulled tight to form the leaf.

Leaf in progress and completed

Now all I need to do is assemble the leaves and flowers on the dress.

Monday, 10 November 2014

New Look 6184

One down, three to go! The first dress of my winter wardrobe is finished.

Normally when I make up a pattern which I haven't used before, the first thing I do is make my standard fitting alterations. For this one though, the first thing I had to do was find a suitable pattern with set-in sleeves. I used New Look 6912 for both the sleeve and the armscye, as it was a slightly different shape from the sleeveless 6184.

The sleeve was taken from view C

I thought that I had bought enough material to make up view E, with some extra for the sleeves. However either I had decided to cover all options when I bought the fabric, or I have a seriously skewed idea of just how long my arms are; I had enough to make the full-skirted version at a length somewhere between the two on offer, plus the sleeves.

It turned out that the full-skirted version is very full indeed. I thought that skirt consisted of a front panel, two narrow back panels, and two sides. In fact there are four side panels; something which came back to haunt me later on!

Half of the side panels

I do like to tweak patterns a bit, but while writing this post I've discovered that I've achieved a first for me; the 'unintentional tweak' (a.k.a. 'not reading the instructions properly'). The first step is to construct the front neckline pleats. I thought that the instructions were to fold the pleats, matching the dots, and then baste around the neckline. This didn't seem enough to keep them stable, so my pleats ended up with two rows of pins and two rows of basting.

These pleats aren't going anywhere

Turns out that I should have folded the pleats, matching the dots, and then stitched them down. Oops.

From there it was all straightforward (she says, quickly reading through the instructions to check if there have been any more 'creative moments'). Make up front and back skirts, attach to bodice pieces, sew shoulder seams, add facing, attach sleeves, sew sleeve and side seams, put in zip. Then make up and attach the lining.

Obviously the lining doesn't need pleats in the front, so for the bodice I went back to my old favourite, New Look 6000.

New Look 6000 used yet again

The lining skirt side panels were cut slightly narrower than the skirt itself, as I felt that otherwise the end result would stick out too much.

I usually have problems attaching the lining to a dress; I struggle to align the two properly. This time I hit upon the obvious solution of putting the dress onto Nancy inside out, then the lining over the top and pinning it in place around the zip and the neckline. This would have worked even better if I'd thought to take Nancy's knitted cover off first, so that I couldn't pin through it! Sigh.

Attaching the lining (to the dress, and to Nancy)

Then 'all' that was left was the hem. This was where I discovered just how full that skirt is! It took forever to mark the hem, and forever and a day to sew it. The lining, unsurprisingly, was machine-hemmed.

Then the finished dress went back onto Nancy, the right way out this time, to be photographed. And I got a proper look at it. And. . . I wasn't thrilled.

There was nothing actually wrong with it. It's a perfectly serviceable dress. The fabric is pretty, and hangs well. The lining fills the skirt out nicely, and gives the 'creative' bodice pleating some much-needed structure. But it all looked a little bit boring.


So it was back to the drawing board, or more accurately the fabric shop, to buy some black not-too-shiny silky satin. I made up the belt from view E, and I think that gives the dress the 'pop' it needs.

Much better

All that measuring an hemming was worth it as well, because the full skirt swishes very nicely when worn. But you'd need a picture of me wearing it to see the effect. And that, as you should know by now, isn't going to happen!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Venetian lace

As I mentioned in last week's post about our Venice trip, one day Mum and I visited some of the other islands in the lagoon. As we have both made bobbin lace in the past, of course we had to visit the lace museum on Burano.

Venetian lace centrepiece, late nineteenth century, Burano Lace School

Banner outside the Lace Museum

Lacemaking in Venice can be traced back to the fifteenth century, when lace first started to be mentioned in sumptuary laws and dowry inventories. Then in the sixteenth century large numbers of pattern books for lace design were printed in Venice, far more than in other European cities. The majority of these were for needle lace rather than bobbin lace.

At this time, lace began to appear on both men's and women's clothing. For Venetian women this included the "bavaro", a type of collar, made entirely of lace, and lace used to highlight the shoulder holes of oversleeves.

Venetian Matron in Winter Dress, 1575-1600, Palazzo Mocenigo

Originally seen as a suitable pastime for aristocratic ladies, as demand for the lace grew many of the religious and charitable institutions in the city opened workshops. These had the double benefit of creating income, and providing an occupation for the resident orphans, spinsters etc. When these workshops could not keep up with demand, lace production was extended to some of the other islands in the lagoon.

By the late seventeenth century, Venetian lace had developed from its original, grid-like form into something more flowing and three-dimensional.

Collar, 1660-1675, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Venetian noblemen, late seventeenth century, Museo Correr

The simpler fashions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries meant that demand for lace fell. When it later came back into fashion, hand-made lace struggled to compete against cheaper, mechanically made laces.

The end of the nineteenth century saw a revival of interest in traditional crafts across Europe; for example, the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain. In Venice, this led to a revival in teaching lacemaking and the foundation of new lace schools.

Poster advertising the Burano Lace School, early twentieth century

Flounce,nineteenth century, Metropolitan Museum

Flounce detail

By the 1950s the Venetian lace industry was again in decline. However efforts are being made to keep the traditions alive and pass the skills on to a new generation. As well as having a huge collection of examples of Venetian lace from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, the museum has an excellent step-by-step display of how the lace is made, in Italian and English. Hopefully my photographs are clear enough to read.

There was also a lady making lace in the museum. Sadly my Italian was nowhere near good enough to talk to her, but she was happy for us to watch her working, and to take pictures.

The length of wood was there to curve the work so that it was easier to get the needle in and out of the stitches. Sometimes she would pull it partway out so that she could press the design against the end of the pole, and work the stitches against the sharp edge.

What isn't obvious from the photographs is that she was working with a very long thread. Mum and I agreed that we would be tangled up in knots in next to no time if we tried it!

Later on another lacemaker arrived, of a similar age. There seem to be very few younger lacemakers on Burano, although this may just be that they are too busy on a weekday to demonstrate their skills in the museum. I really hope that just as a number of British crafts seemed destined to die out in the 1950s and 1960s but were then revived, there is enough interest in this beautiful form of lacemaking to keep it alive.