Thursday, 31 December 2015

Looking forwards, looking back

Some of 2015's projects

It’s that time of year again; time to review what I’ve achieved in the last 12 months, and consider what the coming 12 may bring. It's also a good time to say a huge "Thank you" to all the people who put so much time and effort into making the things which make me happy actually happen.

First up, the Historical Sew Monthly, where I actually managed to complete all the challenges! Yay! Obviously the fact that there were only 12 this year helped, but never mind. From the quick-and-easy of my shoe clips and my suffragette cockade, to the major projects of my entari and my ‘Delphos’ dress, for the first time in three years I completed the full set, and am basking in the rosy glow of achievement. As ever, thank you to Leimomi and the HSM moderators for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

'Delphos' dress for the Historical Sew Monthly

Sadly the glow of achievement isn’t quite so rosy on the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge front. There I only managed two out of my three vintage pattern pledges; Vogue 9546 and Simplicity 2683 (both, for some reason, purple). It’s not all bad news however; as with the Historical Sew Monthly a huge part of the fun has been seeing what the other participants have made. Thanks to Marie of A Stitching Odyssey and Kerry of Kestrel Makes for a great year of giveaways, interviews, and a fabulous Pinterest board! Plus, while I fell short on making up my vintage patterns, I did make up several vintage re-issues; my Horrockses homage, my swing coat and my 1940s hat.

Swing coat for the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge

Talking of hats . . . . 2015 was the year I discovered millinery, and I love it! From sinamay and buckram, through veiling and fabric flowers, to making and blocking felt, I’ve learned so much - and enjoyed every minute. I feel truly lucky to have the Hat Works museum just up the road; thank you to tutors Lorna, Sue and Marie, and to Bronwen and the rest of the museum staff.

On top of this I did make a couple of 'ordinary' dresses, all from New Look patterns. There was also a last-minute Christmas dress made from another of my Goldhawk Road purchases. It’s a stretch satin knit with black and gold lace fused onto it, and it was available in lots of different background colours, but I really liked the green.

'Christmas' fabric

Such a fancy fabric only needed a very simple pattern, so I used New Look 6643 view A again, and while the lace layer made it tricky to cut out in places, it made up beautifully. I used plain cotton for the neck facing, as I thought the lace would be too scratchy.

So what will 2016 bring? At present, it looks like more of the same. I’m already booked on a couple of new courses at Hat Works. The 2016 Historical Sew Monthly is happening; the challenges have already been issued, and now I have a standard of completing them all to live up to. I even know what I’m going to do for the first challenge, Procrastination (although for obvious reasons I’m tempted to put off starting it for a while!).

Marie and Kerry have promised a new Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge, and I’ll be entering in a spirit of Must Do Better.

Meanwhile, when I came to put together the montage at the top of this post it was apparent that I really need to improve my photography skills, so that’s another little job for the year.

However, despite all my plans, I expect that something totally unexpected will come along to distract me - hopefully it will be fun!

Whatever your plans, both sewing and beyond, I hope you have a great year. Here’s to 2016!


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Re-Do / Brown

The last remaining Historical Sew Monthly challenge for me to complete was September’s; Brown. For this I decided to make a bag to go with my Wiener Werkstätte dress and hat.

I turned to the Wiener Werkstätte archive for inspiration, but couldn’t find many images of complete ensembles with bags.

Mela Köhler illustration (with bag), 1911, image © MAK

Photographs which included bags weren’t especially inspiring, either.

Woman with fringed bag, image © MAK

I did find some images of bags in the archive. The styles all seemed to involve either long straps or drawstrings.

Photographs from the Wiener Werkstätte archive, all images © MAK

Widening my search, I found lots of Wiener Werkstätte beaded bags. Some were even brown! However most were from dates later than my dress and hat, and anyway a completely beaded bag was more work than I had time for.

Beaded bag with drawstring and beaded tassel, circa 1915

Beaded bag, 1910, image © Leah Gordon

I was still wondering what to do when I went on my London trip. But then, in one of the shops on Goldhawk Road, I found this brown silk with a metallic brocaded pattern, clearly inspired by Gustav Klimt. It was just the thing for a drawstring bag.

Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt, 1905

Brocaded silk, showing scale

I turned the fabric sideways, so that I could use the contrast selvedge as a feature. It was folded in half to form the top of the bag. I sewed on a length of cotton cord in loops, and covered this with blanket stitch in a metallic yarn to create the looped top common to many of the beaded bags I’d seen.

The loop top completed

The loosely-woven selvedge wasn’t strong enough to support the pull of the gathering, so I added a strip of cotton to reinforce it.

Showing the cotton stay inside

The drawstrings are two simple twisted cords of the same metallic yarn.

With the drawstrings added

The bag is lined with cotton from my stash. I gathered it at the bottom, and added a ‘tassel’ of a glass bead, and loops of rocaille beads in two colours, inspired by the 1910 bag above.

The bead tassel

The completed bag

The small print:
The Challenge: Brown
Fabric: Metallic brocaded silk, cotton for lining
Pattern: My own
Year: circa 1910
Notions: Metallic yarn, glass beads
How historically accurate is it? It’s a mix of lots of different bag styles rather than a copy of any one, so I'd say 50%
Hours to complete: About seven
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Silk £5, yarn £3.50, everything else from stash, so £8.50

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The University Chapel Project - December 2015 update

A combination of Christmas commitments and bad weather meant that last Friday’s meeting of the Chapel Stitchers was smaller than usual – so more mince pies to go round! Those people who had not forgotten to bring their completed hands (sorry) laid what they had completed so far on the background cloth to give an idea of how it might look.

Panoramic shot of the hands laid out

(Thanks to Kath for the photos. As well as the hands, I forgot to bring my camera along – sigh.)

It was great to see so many different interpretations of the basic embroidered hand idea together; hopefully the end result will look amazing.

A selection of the hands, some completed and some in progress

We also experimented a bit with coloured organza overlays, but agreed that no decision is needed on this until the frontal is much closer to completion.

Testing the effect of organza overlays

With the altar frontal starting to take shape we spent some time discussing the other elements of the project. Ros and Claire are keen to make a start on the kneelers, and Kath has asked for people to bring idea and sketches to the next meeting. We also need to decide on the design for the stoles, lectern cloth, and communion sets. The suggested stole design of the amber cross and hands on one side and simple lines of the colours at the base on the other side was popular, but other ideas are welcome.

Suggested stole design

The next meeting is on 8th January, 12 noon in the usual room in Senate House (CSH112). Please bring along make as many hand shapes as you’re able to make, but don’t forget to take some time off from sewing to enjoy your Christmas!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Recreating Selma

When I was researching Mariano Fortuny one image kept coming up; a woman in a vivid gold dress with, rather bizarrely, a matching cardigan.

Mrs Selma Schubart by Alfred Stieglitz, 1907. Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art

At first I was just horrified by the idea of teaming something as iconic as a Delphos dress with something as mundane as a cardi, but when I looked at the source, something else finally dawned on me; this was a colour image, taken in 1907. I hadn’t realised that colour photography began so early. And so I fell down the rabbit hole of researching autochromes.

Alfred Stieglitz was clearly a very early adopter of the autochrome process, as it was patented by the Lumière brothers in 1903 and first marketed four years later. The process used special glass plates covered with tiny grains of potato starch dyed green, orange-red, and blue-violet, with the gaps filled with lamp-black.

Microphoto of an autochrome plate, from Wikimedia Commons

The images captured on the plates could not be reproduced; each autochrome was a one-off image, and could only be viewed with a strong light source such as a magic lantern. The colour filtering also required long exposures, which made it impossible to use for moving images. As a result, the autochrome process never became widely adopted. Nonetheless, to an early twentieth century audience, seeing images in colour must have been amazing. To an early twenty-first century costume nerd, seeing clothing as it was worn 100 years ago, rather than on mannequins in a museum, is also pretty amazing.

Portrait of a woman, 1915, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018212)

The novelty of colour images, and the rich colours achieved, seem to have lent themselves to exotic subjects.

Ouled Nail, image © Museé Albert Khan

Woman in assuit costume c. 1915, image © George Eastman House Photography

Dancer in Ghawazee costume, 1920, by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont

"Cleopatra" in Domain cricket ground, 1914, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018196)

Image: “Cleopatra,” 1914, Auckland, by Robert Walrond/Te Papa

You can see more images from the Te Papa collection, and read about it, here and here.

The starch grains give autochrome images a hazy, slightly pointillist effect. As well as compiling a great collection of autochromes on Pinterest, Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre has created some wonderful faux autochromes on her blog, which you can see here.

All this comes neatly back to the first image. When I was finishing my entry for the Silver Screen challenge, it struck me. I had a Delphos dress. I had shoes with buckles (almost). I most definitely had a cardigan. All I needed was a plain belt and some fabric flowers. . .

So, after we'd taken the 'proper' photos, Mum and I headed to a nearby park. The bench was rather too modern, but that turned out to be the least of my problems. Oddly, the hardest thing was keeping a straight face. My usual expression in front of a camera varies between, “Please don’t point That Thing at me”, and, “Haven’t you finished pointing That Thing at me yet?”, so in theory recreating Mrs Schubart’s look of resigned gloom should have been a piece of cake. In practice I just had a terrible fit of giggles every time Mum tried to take a picture. We got there in the end, though, and a combination of filters and fiddling with colour balance did the rest!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Liberty in Fashion

Last week I spent a few days in London. In between getting to handle a real, actual Fortuny dress at Kerry Taylor Auctions (I may have stopped breathing at some point!) and attempting to empty Goldhawk Road of fabric (thanks to Marie of A Stitching Odyssey for alerting me to this treasure trove), I went to the current exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum; Liberty in Fashion.

Drawing of the Liberty shop in London, unfortunately I forgot to note the artist

Warning: picture-heavy post ahead.

Liberty was founded in 1875, and the exhibition explores its impact on British fashion in the 140 years of its existence. The first room contained some of the oldest garments on display, and was the only one with display cases, so apologies for the occasional reflection.

Embroidered satin collar, c 1895

Court dress of Spitalfields silk brocade, 1907

Silk afternoon dress, c 1910

Close-up of silk and embroidered net cloak, c 1910

The next section covered Liberty's beginnings as an Oriental Bazaar, with clothing and fabrics imported from the Far East.

Devoré velvet burnous, c 1910

Display in the 'Dialogue With the East' section

Silk kimono, 1920s, with the Collier Campbell fabric it inspired

Liberty became associated with the Aesthetic movement, and the looser way of dressing that this embraced. These simpler garments tended to be decorated with embroidery, rather than frills or lace.

Silk crepe de chine dress, c 1910

Rayon jacket, 1920s

Jacket close-up, showing embroidery

Like George Henry Lee in Liverpool, Liberty produced its own collections inspired by the famous couture houses. Tucked away in a case I found these sketches, which would have been sent out to clients for approval.

1950s working sketches from the Liberty workrooms

Embroidery wasn't the only traditional craft which Liberty supported; it was also strongly associated with smocked dresses.

Traditional linen smock (L) and silk smock, both c 1910

The next section covered the delicate floral prints of the inter-war period, still considered by many to be the archetypal Liberty print.

Dresses from the 1930s and 1940s

Silk georgette dress, 1930s

Then it was onto something far brighter. In the late 1950s there was a re-evaluation of the Art Nouveau movement, which prompted Liberty to redraw a number of patterns from its archive in more vivid shades. These were used for both dress fabrics and clothes sold by Liberty.

Early 1960s clothes made from Liberty fabrics

Mid and late 1960s
Then, after all that colour. . .

I had forgotten (or possibly deliberately blanked from my memory) just how, well, brown the 1970s were. This display brought it all back.

Brown, brown, brown, and yet more brown

And there's more. But at least with a dash of red

The next section, on collaborations with designers, showed how since the 1990s Liberty fabrics have been used in clothing literally from top to toe.

A Philip Treacy hat (and an excellent shadow), 2000

Tweed and Tana lawn, Cacharel, 2004

Footwear by Jimmy Choo and Nike, 1999 and 2015

The final display contained fabrics from Liberty's newest collection, inspired by the Silk Road.

Clothes, fabrics, rugs and lanterns echo Liberty's beginnings as an Oriental Bazaar

One final picture, which has nothing to do with the exhibition. The Fashion and Textile Museum is in Bermondsey, in central London, just south of the Thames. In the nineteenth century the area was mainly docks and slums, and featured in Oliver Twist. Now there is a lot of new development going on, most notably the 95-storey skyscraper known as The Shard. All this makes for some interesting juxtapositions. I have no idea why the shutters of this building are painted in so many colours, it seems unlikely that it's by design, but I loved the contrast of the Dickensian foreground and the shiny modernity behind.

Old and new in south London