Sunday, 22 February 2015

Fashion on the Ration

Love the pattern matching on the suit on the left! Image © Imperial War Museum

A bonus post for vintage-lovers this week, to tell you about this forthcoming exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Fashion on the Ration looks at how fashion adapted to the limitations imposed by war. From how women in the forces ‘improved’ their uniforms to siren suits (the 1940s equivalent of the onesie), and from undies made from silk maps to Utility fashions, the exhibition presents a sense of what life was like on the home front for men and women during wartime Britain.

Bra and camiknickers made from a silk map. Image © Imperial War Museum

It includes not just clothes and photographs, but also accessories, film, official documents, wartime letters, interviews and ephemera, some of which have never been on display before.

Patriotic printed rayon crepe dress. Image © Imperial War Museum

Fashion on the Ration runs from 5 March to 31 August 2015. Click here to read more about it.


The current Historical Sew Monthly challenge is Blue. You can see what other challengers, whose time management is better than mine, have made for this challenge here.

I’ve decided that this challenge is the perfect opportunity to finally get the entari of my Ottoman costume finished. So far the blue cotton lining has been cut out and constructed, ditto the blue linen/rayon outer layer. The next stage is to attach the fastenings, and for this I’ve decided to make and use frogging.

Although some entaris fastened with buttons, frogging also seems to have been commonly used. It appears in my original inspiration picture of dancers, and in other illustrations from the period, as well as on extant garments.

Dancers, image possibly from the Bodleian

Woman, mid 1500s

Woman's costume, image details unknown

Caftan associated with Selim I the Terrible (1512-20), frogging just visible

Indeed it seems to have been so widely used that it also appears on Turkish-inspired European clothing.

Woman in Turkish dress, Titian, date unknown

For my frogging I used some dark-red soutache which I had been given, and added a narrow gold cord, which I couched into the channel in the soutache. This livened the braid up a little, and also tied it in with the teardrop motifs which I wanted to add at the braid ends.

The fastening is a simple button knot and loop, and to make the knots I used a Clover button knot maker. This is a simple flexible plastic template, just under 5cm / 2” square, with numbered notches and holes. I forgot to take any photos when I was making the knots (despite making 8 of them!) so these pictures are of a sample I made just now without the gold cord.

Knot template, front and back

The knot starts with the cord coming from back to front through the left-hand hole. Then it is wrapped around the template, following the numbers. In some places the cord has to go under an earlier layer, but this is clearly indicated on the template.

Making the knot

Completed wrapping- front

Completed wrapping - back

Once the wrapping is complete, the template is bent slightly to ease the loops of cord free, and then the ends are gently pulled to shorten the loops and form the knot.

Finished knot

I left long tails of cord on my knots, and sewed the tails together with tiny overcast stitches.

The completed knot braids with gold cord

I wanted to group the fastenings together, rather than have them spaced evenly down the caftan, so I placed around with ideas until I was happy with the arrangement.

Planning the braid arrangement

Then I marked the seam line, outer edge of the decoration, and the individual lines of braid onto the caftan fronts with tacking.

Braid placement marked with tacking

I made the loops braids slightly differently. First I sewed the soutache together, then I tacked the braids onto the caftan. Next I couched the gold cord around the loop section, with the stitches very close together so that there would be no long trails of gold thread on the underside of the loop. For the rest of the couching I sewed right through the soutache and the fabric, which secured the frogging to the caftan. This worked so well that I did the same with the knot braids.

Blurred (sorry) picture of the loop braids

Finally I cut the braids to length, and covered the ends with the teardrop motifs.

Part of the completed frogging

Next up - complete the caftan by the end of the month!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

#VintagePledge - Vogue 9546

Woohoo! I’ve completed my first vintage pattern make for the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge, and I’m really pleased with the end result. Plus, it’s purple (well, heather), and I read recently that purple is currently an ‘in’ colour, so I am officially On Trend. This happens to me a) rarely and b) always by accident!

My first vintage pattern choice

According to Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s, Vogue 9546 was published in 1942. This seems to be confirmed by the envelope back, with its references to coupons and the CC41 restrictions.

Vogue patterns save you coupons!

This rather blurry image from Pinterest show the US version of the pattern, printed in colour.

Same drawings, in a different arrangement and in colour

Not only is the British version in black and white, but the instruction sheet is very poor quality paper, and now quite brittle. I scanned it onto the computer, so that I didn’t have to keep referring to the original.

Relatively detailed instructions for a vintage pattern

Unlike some of my vintage patterns, the piece name is stamped into each pattern piece and seam allowances are included.

Pattern piece, with lots of markings

The grainline is indicated by two large perforations, although sometimes you have to refer to the picture diagram to work out which two.

Diagram of the pattern pieces

Because the pattern is the wrong size for me, the first thing I had to do was resize it. I decided just to make the relevant pieces wider rather than regrade the whole thing, as I thought that I would have to shorten the bodice anyway. I did nearly come to regret this decision later!

I made a mockup of the bodice so that I could work out which pieces I needed to shorten, and by how much.

I love this drawing of how to alter the pattern

The pattern was missing the front facing piece, but once I had finished the pattern alterations this was easy to create from the blouse front piece and the picture diagram.

My fabric is a synthetic crepe, bought from one of the many fabric shops in Goldhawk Road on my recent London trip. Originally the dress was going to be blue, but then I saw this fabric and decided that it was the perfect 1940s colour.

The seam allowances at the top of the midsection are pressed under, then the midsection is laid over the blouse and sewn through all three layers, rather than constructed with a conventional seam. The skirt is attached to the midsection the same way. This was clearly a common technique at the time, but I was relieved that I’d already come across it in Vogue re-issues 8686 and 2787, where it was explained in a bit more detail.

The bodice partway through construction

One thing which nearly had me flummoxed was the ties at the centre front. These were attached in a way which left no raw edges, but did leave a gap in the centre front seam between the ties.

? The instructions . . .

. . . and the finished ties

I didn’t like the end result at all, so took them off, sewed up the seam, and decorated it with three small, self-covered buttons instead. "Buttons for the purpose of ornament" contravene the Civilian Clothing Regulations, but I reckoned that any home dressmaker of 1942 who could tackle this pattern could also have made ball buttons from scrap fabric.

The sleeves have pleats at the elbow, and could be full length with a snap fasten at the bottom, or three-quarters. They are very slim-fitting, and this was where I realised that I probably should have regraded the entire pattern, as this would have widened the sleeves. Fortunately I have thin arms, so the sleeves actually fit well!

The dress has a side fasten, which could be either a placket with snaps and a hook and eye, or a zip. I went for a zip, but decided to hand sew it to make it less obvious. This turned out far neater than my previous attempt at a hand-picked zip, so I was very happy. The shoulder pads in the instructions are huge; made from a circle of fabric 25cm / 10” in diameter, with bound edges so no seam allowance to make them any smaller. I used bought pads, but covered them in fabric.

Also large by my standards was the hem; 5cm / 2”. Because it’s a plain fabric, to me the hem is really noticeable, and I may have to redo it. However I came across this article, about weddings in the second world war, complete with photographs of a bride in a very expensive short dress, with a very obvious hem (yes, I do notice things like that - sad but true!). So I’m taking mine to be ‘period accurate’.

The finished dress has a lot less wearing ease than we're used to now; so much so that it's nigh on impossible to get it onto Nancy to photograph it. So I had to model it myself. Thanks to S for letting me use her 1930s porch as the perfect backdrop, and to J for humouring his mum's lunatic friend and acting as photographer!

The finished dress, worn with the just-visible CC41 earrings

One pledge down, two to go.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

How vintage is 'vintage'?

In which I feel Very Old.

Yesterday I went to a vintage fashion fair in Liverpool. Part of the attraction was that it was held in the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral, which I haven’t visited for ages. It’s always interesting to have a look round there, marvel at the scale of it, and try to imagine what the completed cathedral would have looked like, had it been built.

Part of the crypt

There were some 1950s items on sale, but much of clothing was later than that, up to and including the 1980s. I’ve come across this in other vintage fairs, and I always find it slightly mind-boggling (and worrying) that something I wore the first time round now counts as ‘vintage’. There is also the awful possibility that one day I will come across one of my own creations for sale!

In some ways though I can’t complain. In the mid-1980s I made a dress from this 1948 pattern of my mum’s, which I loved. The pattern is now a candidate for a remake as part of the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge although I will have to, ahem, let it out a bit.

Simplicity 2683 - 1948

Another favourite dress of mine in the eighties was a 1950s sheath dress with a wide collar. I bought this second-hand, took a pattern from it, and wore both the original and my remake. So, given that I was wearing styles which were 30-35 years old, I suppose that it’s not unreasonable that people now want to do the same, which means clothes from the 1980s. According to Laver's Law, which defines fashions by their age, 1980s dress is now 'amusing'. Not the word which I'd use, but never mind.

Laver's Law

It’s not just vintage fashion fairs that regard the 1980s as fair game. The Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge allows patterns up to the 1990s. This fact, combined with recent fair visits, got me wondering. Sure enough, despite a massive (and now much regretted) clear-out in the 1990s, a check of my pattern stash reveals that I could actually meet my pledge of making three items from ‘vintage patterns’ simply by reusing patterns which I already have! Ouch.

This one dates from 1980. I think I made view 4. Certainly it wouldn’t have been views 1 or 2; I wasn't keen on bows then, and I'm not keen now.

I was horrified to discover just how old this next pattern is. 1982. Horrified because I still have a top I made from it in my wardrobe - view 1. I’ve been wearing vintage without even knowing it!

The co-hosts of the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge have both posted about their collections of vintage patterns (you can read them here and here), and have included, “The pattern I’ll never make, but won't get rid of”. This is definitely my equivalent. With a date of 1989, it only just sneaks in.

I have no idea why I kept this pattern, and it’s not something I’d ever wear now, but as it's survived this long I can’t imagine getting rid of it.

On the subject of my lost pattern stash, at a recent fair in Chester I came across a pattern which I used to own. In a fit of nostalgia, I bought it.

It dates from 1979. I made view 1, in a fine green cotton lawn with small white flowers. It's just as well that it was a fine fabric as the blouse contains a ridiculous amount of cloth; view 1 requires 2.6m / 2¾ yards of 115cm / 45" wide fabric. I've made dresses from less. Plus, I must have spent a phenomenal amount of time just ironing the thing.

So having bought the pattern the question was, where to file it? My vintage patterns were in one drawer, my remaining few Style patterns in another. Which was it to be? In the end it went in the Style drawer, as I convinced myself that it wasn't really vintage. Whatever other people might think!