Sunday, 28 June 2015

The University of Chester Chapel project

I'm involved in a new venture, and it's something a bit different from what I usually work on.

At the talk about the University of Chester’s 175th Anniversary Quilt at the Textile Stories Study Day in April, the speaker Fiona Roberts mentioned that the group who had made it were keen to tackle another project. She also extended an invitation to anyone in the local community who would like to get involved. I’ve lived near the university for all of the 20-plus years I’ve lived in Chester, and this sounded like a lot of fun, so I put my name down. Also joining is textile artist Christine Garwood, who spoke at the Study Day. On Friday the group held its first meeting for the new project; to make some items for the University of Chester Chapel.

Inside the chapel

We started off with a tour of the chapel. Thanks to Reverend Canon Dr Peter Jenner, the Senior Chaplain, and Fiona Roberts, Alumni and Development Manager, for the history which follows.

The chapel entrance

The university started life in 1839 as Chester Diocesan Training College, and was the UK's first purpose-built teacher training college. Its purpose was to take young working-class men from the industrial cities of northern England and train them to become teachers in those cities.

As a Church of England institution, the college expected its students to attend morning prayers at the Cathedral (about half a mile away) every morning. The exact time of morning prayers is no longer known; 07:30 is one possibility, but it may have been as early as 05:30. Either way, it seems that the students were soon keen to have a chapel of their own close to the college! So keen in fact that they built it themselves; digging the foundations, quarrying and carving the stone, and carving the woodwork. One of the later stained glass windows on the south side of the chapel depicts this.

Stained glass showing the students hard at work

The original college building and its new chapel, from Wikimedia Commons

The east window was designed by the students of the college, while the west window commemorates the university’s 150th anniversary in 1989. A new window commemorating the 175th anniversary has recently been commissioned.

The east window

The west window

Like a great many chapels, this one has a memorial to World War I. Unlike most memorials, this one has a gap in it. Some time in the 1920s or 1930s a group of former students were visiting the college, and one of them looked at the memorial and pointed out that he was still very much alive! So his name was removed - no easy task from a cast metal memorial.

The war memorial with its missing name

The plan is to make two kneeler cushions for weddings, two chair cushions, four altar sets of chalice veil and stole, and a single altar cloth which will depict the four church seasons and tie in with the altar sets. We have a few ideas, and hope to include an image of the Amber Peace Cross, made by university alumnus Frederick Starkey in the 1980s, which stands in the university grounds.

Amber Peace Cross

The timescale is to have at least the altar cloth and the appropriate altar set completed in time for the unveiling of the new window early next year, so there's a lot to keep us busy. Watch this space!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

#VintagePledge - Butterick 5716 finished!

Commissions have been completed, presents made (to be posted about once the recipient has actually received them!) and it was time to get back to finishing my swing coat.

The pattern . . .

. . .  and my completed version

When last seen, this coat was causing me all sorts of grief. I'd made a mistake cutting out the fronts, and the loose weave of the fabric meant that the coat lacked any sort of structure. In truth, I was quite glad that other calls on my time meant that I could abandon it for a while.

When I picked it up again, I decided that the underlining was definitely worth doing, so I cut out the front and back lining pieces from black voile, basted them into the coat, and stitched along the edges of each square of the fabric.

And stitched, and stitched. . . . . and stitched.

Interlining sewn into the front

Then I made up the sleeves, basted them into the coat, and - well, you can guess. The sleeves were a lot more awkward because I wasn't working on a flat piece, but finally it was all done. The coat now hangs much better, so it was worth the effort.

Then I decided that yes I did want the fronts as symmetrical as I could get them, pattern-wise, so trimmed down the right front so that its raw edge matched the left front. Of course, this meant that I had to alter the lining as well. I left the contrast collar section unchanged, and instead made the actual lining narrower.

Once the lining is sewn onto the main coat, the instructions just say to press the seam. However I wasn't entirely happy with the end result, so I understitched around the fronts and the neck, using a back stitch rather than a running stitch to make sure that the stitches went through all the layers.

The contrast cuffs form part of the inside of the sleeves, and can be folded back if desired. When I tried the coat on, I felt that the cuffs could do with being a bit longer, so I lengthened the sleeve linings. This meant that when I sewed the lining onto the edge of the cuff, the whole sleeve was longer.

A gust of wind shows just how full the coat is

After I'd taken the photos I needed to to some shopping, and couldn't be bothered to change. Yes I was a little overdressed for popping out to the corner shop, but it gave me a chance to try the coat out. It was surprisingly toasty; I think that the underlining really makes a difference, even though it's only a thin voile. Also, the coat doesn't flap open nearly as much as I feared; the collar and the pockets add a little weight to the front and hold it in place. So all in all, I'm really glad that I actually finished it!

Ready to hit the local Spar!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Behind the scenes, at home and away.

Months ago, when I posted about the Georgians exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath, I meant to write a follow-up piece about the main costume display. Well time passed, and other things came up, and it never got written. So finally, here it is.

Poster for the Fashion Museum - another dress I want to make!

Note: because a) flash photography is not permitted, b) I didn’t have a tripod with me and c) I’m hopeless at standing completely still while taking photographs, most of the images are less crisp than I’d normally post. Apologies, and if anyone has any tips about avoiding camera shake, I’d love to hear them!

The display covers one hundred years of fashion, from Regency to Edwardian. It is displayed in 10 cases, approximately one for each decade. For each case there is information about the fashions of the period, a quote from a novel of the time, and a focus on a particular type of accessory.

White muslin in the 1800s case

And white cotton in the 1910s case

The museum also holds a number of Lady Mary Curzon’s Worth dresses, including the “Oak Leaf” dress. This is no longer on display, and has been replaced with the white satin "Orchid" dress.

The Orchid dress and part of its 14' train

Train detail

Bodice close-up

Click here for more details of the Orchid dress.

Although each case is lined with period-appropriate wallpaper, the theme of this section of the museum is “Behind the Scenes”, and the displays are set out like the museum stores.

Wallpaper in the 1820s and 1830s case, image © Fashion Museum, Bath

Boxes in the 1840s to 1860s case, image © Fashion Museum, Bath

The displays were changed in January this year, and some of the items on display have been changed. The “Behind the Scenes” element has also changed; shelving has been removed, and replaced by more boxes.

The previous 1870s display

As well as the cardboard boxes, I was amazed to see plastic boxes in use. I was even more amazed because they were exactly the same boxes that I use in my workroom. So while what I produce is certainly not of museum standard, at least I can say that I have something in common with the Bath Costume Museum!

Hats stored in plastic boxes, image © Fashion Museum, Bath

1880s dress, and more boxes, image © Fashion Museum, Bath

"Behind the Scenes" in my workroom

Sunday, 7 June 2015


Last month’s (i.e. May’s, because I'm running super-late) Historical Sew Monthly challenge was Practicality, defined as:
"Fancy party frocks are all very well, but everyone, even princesses, sometimes needs a practical garment that you can DO things in. Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period."

I did struggle with inspiration for this challenge. Few practical clothes appear in museum displays or on the pages of costume books. Often this is because they simply haven’t survived; while a wedding dress might be carefully preserved, the outfit you wear while doing the housework is unlikely to merit the same treatment.

Then, while looking for something else in my local museum, I came across this in a temporary exhibition on the role of ‘motherhood’ between 1910 and 1960.

What could be more practical than a wrap-over pinny?

I loved the fact that such a utilitarian garment had the decorative touches of blind piping and extra pieces around the armholes and front.

Decorative details

For the pattern I started from my basic bodice block, greatly increased the ease, lowered the armscyes, and added the front overlap. The shoulder and side seams were meant to be seam-and-a fell, but I forgot to start with the pieces wrong side together, so they ended up as self-bound seams instead.

I’d never tried blind piping before, so I did it by cutting 1½“ bias strips, folding them in half, and machine basting them onto the main section with the raw edges matching. This meant that when I sewed on the extra section with a standard ⅝” seam, I should end up with ⅛” of the piping showing. Because I was using a firm cotton this worked well, but I think that it would be tricky with a less well-behaved fabric.

Piping completed (top) and in progress

The hardest thing was attaching the extra pieces to the main section. This was entirely due to my own stupidity; I kept thinking that I was attaching ordinary facings, and put them on the wrong way round. There was a lot of unpicking, and a lot of muttering! It didn't help that I then had to attach identical pieces to form the actual facings, so I got even more confused. 

The straps are the same colour as all the other parts, but for some reason have come out differently in the photos.

Front view. I need to move the pocket!

I couldn’t work out exactly how the straps fastened at the back, so I just used a press stud (snap) and added a purely decorative button.

Back view

The small print:
The Challenge: Practicality
Fabric: Green and cream cotton
Pattern: My own
Year: 1930s
Notions: Press stud for fasten, button
How historically accurate is it? Very. It is based on an actual garment, the fabric is right, and the original is machine stitched, so I’m giving myself 95% for this one.
Hours to complete: Forgot to count, but unpicking made up a large part of them!
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: All from stash, even the button. Yay!