Sunday, 25 September 2016

Simplicity 1777, pattern-hacks

After my grumble the other week about the lack of period details in Simplicity 1777, I thought I’d better write a post about the changes I made to give it a (to me, at least) more authentic 1940s look.

First up, the easiest thing to alter; the length. Early 1940s styles were slightly below the knee, so I added a generous 10cm / 4” to the skirt length, and then shortened it at the end.

A model in a Utility dress, 1943. From Wikimedia Commons

Next, not a ‘period’ alteration, but something to note. The skirt is quite straight at the back, so I had to go up a size between the waist and the hips to accommodate my sway back. For me, simply adding extra width at the side seams usually results in unattractive wrinkling across the skirt back. Instead I cut the whole skirt back to the larger size, and took in the excess at the waist by adding an extra dart on each side. This made the skirt hang beautifully.

Perfectly fitting skirt back

Moving upwards to shoulders. My primary source for 1940s fashion facts (aka ‘Mum’) tells me that not all dresses had shoulder pads. However for me the military-inspired, square-shouldered silhouette is a critical part of the period look. Plus a great many of my 1940s patterns include pattern pieces and/or instructions for making shoulder pads, so I decided to add them to this dress.

Square shoulders from Norman Hartnell's 1942 Utility collection

It might have been possible to just make up the dress and insert shoulder pads, especially with the soft, drapey fabric I used, but I decided to do the job properly. I measured the depth of the (bought) pad, and redrew the shoulder seam so that it was that much higher.

Alteration for shoulder pad, bodice

For the back, this involved folding the dart closed, drawing the line, and then opening the dart out again. For the front, I laid the bodice front over the bodice side front, matching the seam lines, and drew the new shoulder line across the two.

On the sleeve head I added the extra length (the depth of the shoulder pad) below the notches, so that it wasn't affected by the gathering at the top.

The area where I extended the sleeve head

Finally, I re-positioned the notches and dots so that they matched.

As ever, I added pockets in the skirt side seams. Thanks to my friend Kebi for this article on how this particular alteration is a small act of rebellion!

The biggest change I made to the dress however wasn’t a pattern alteration, it was in the construction. The instructions follow standard modern dressmaking techniques, where two pieces are joined by laying them right sides together and sewing a 1.5cm / ⅝” seam. For Simplicity 1777 this makes joining the skirt to the bodice very fiddly, because the dress simply wasn’t designed to be constructed like that.

In the 1930s and 1940s (and possibly later, I’ve just not had the time to investigate this properly), a lot of clothing construction was done with what were called 'lapped seams'. These involved turning under the seam allowance on one piece, laying it over the other, and sewing through all three layers. Vogue 9546, which dates from 1942, uses this technique for the central waist section.

Vogue 9546, constructing the bodice

Vintage Vogue reissue 9126 is from 1947, four years later than Simplicity 1777, but has a similar shape. It also uses the overlaying technique.

V9126 also has a centre panel, gathered bodice and pleated skirt

I used this method to attach the bodice backs and bodice side fronts to the skirt pieces. Several of my vintage patterns mention using a contrasting thread to sew these types of visible seams, to give a decorative effect. Unfortunately the line of my sewing isn’t regular enough for me to want to highlight it!

This is also a good time to mention that there are a lot of pleats at the centre front of the skirt. I marked the top and bottom of each pleat line with tailor tacks, using different colours for the solid and broken lines. Then I pinned the pleats top and bottom, and secured them with two rows of tacking stitches. It was extra work, but worth it.

Pinning the pleats in place

Next I cut out the centre front section in non-fusible interfacing, and then trimmed off the seam allowance from the sides and the bottom point. Then I basted it to the fabric.

Interfacing attached to the centre front, with the bottom folded over

Next I turned the seam allowance over the interfacing, and pressed and basted it.

Raw edges pressed and basted down

Then I laid this over the skirt/bodice side pieces, and basted it into place from the shoulder seams down to the start of the pleats and gathers. (Yes, there was a lot of basting involved!)

After this I did the rest of the dress construction. I put in the zip, using the lapped method the instructions suggest, but hand sewing it because I’ve developed at strange addiction to hand sewing zips. I sewed the shoulder and side seams, and put in the sleeves. (One thing I should mention is that the sleeves do have small, period-appropriate darts at the elbow.) Then, and only then, did I tackle the centre front properly.

Several online reviews I’ve read of this pattern mention that the gathered section can go a little baggy/unflattering/plain downright weird. By leaving it until I had an almost completed dress, I could try it on and fiddle with it until I was happy. I found two things.

One: on me at least, it was far better to have most of the gathering lower down. This makes some of the gathers radiate upwards to the bust, which just looks more flattering.

The completed gathered section

Two: I needed to pull the side fronts in a lot at the waist. This photograph show just how much of the bodice sides I pulled in to the centre.

Compare this to the photo of the centre front section above

Once all of that was done, I top stitched the bodice centre front in place.

Top stitching and padded shoulders - pure 1940s!

Then I made up the facing and attached it. The instructions are to machine stitch the facing 'in the ditch', but I hand sewed it in place with slip-stitch, so it doesn't show on the right side at all.

Pinning the facing in place

Finally all that was needed was the hem and the decorative buttons.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The University Chapel Project - September 2016 update

After a break for the summer, the Chapel Stitchers got together again last Friday to see what progress had been made. We have some of the embroidered names/signatures to apply to the back of the altar frontal, and Kath had also embroidered the start and end years of the project, but really this meeting was all about the kneelers.

Names and dates

The kneelers group have been busy over the last couple of months. Both the tops are almost completed.

Completed dove

The sides are coming on as well, with shading to match the outlining of the doves, and the Amber Cross on the front and sides.

Completed side

On the back are the initials of all those involved, plus the year.

Back, needing one more set of initials

The next meeting will be at noon on Friday 21 October, in the usual room.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Ynys Llanddwyn

No, it's not some sort of typing error. Yesterday I had a day off from trying to finish Simplicity 1777, and instead took a trip to one of my favourite places; Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey.

Llanddwyn Island seen from Newborough beach

Map of Wales and close-up of Anglesey

My Welsh pronunciation is a source of merriment to my Welsh-speaking colleagues (although to be fair, so are the attempts by all the other non-Welsh-speakers in the office), but very roughly, this post's title should sound like 'inis hlandwin'. Ynys means island, and Llanddwyn translates as "The church of St. Dwynwen". You can read more about St Dwynwen here.

To get to Llanddwyn you go to the village of Newborough, then carry on down a winding track through the forest.

Newborough Forest

Eventually you come to the car park, where you'll find these three sculptures, based on island landmarks and designed by pupils of the local school.

Carvings of local landmarks

Then it's a walk through the dunes and the marram grass, and onto the beach.

Marram grass holds the dunes together

The beach

As you can see, the sun wasn't shining when I arrived, so this doesn't really do Newborough Beach justice. It's over a mile of golden sand, lapped by the beautifully clear waters of the Menai Strait. The water was lovely and warm, and while I didn't go for a swim this time, I did go for a paddle. (Admittedly, spending holidays in my formative years on Scottish beaches may have skewed what I define as 'warm'!)

Llanddwyn is only an island at high tide, but I always check the tide times before I go - I know from bitter experience that if you are sitting on a rock waiting to cross, it can feel like an awfully long time until the waters drop enough!

And what rocks they are. Where the island joins the beach, and around its coast are pillow lavas, formed by undersea volcanic eruptions.

Pillow lava outcrop

Looking across the Menai Strait to Snowdonia

The sharp rocks made navigating the narrow Menai Sterait extremely hazardous, so a small beacon, called Tŵr Bach was built on the southernmost tip of the island. This was replaced by a larger lighthouse, called Tŵr Mawr, which was modelled on the design of Anglesey windmills.

Tŵr Bach, which now houses the modern light

Tŵr Mawr, with Snowdonia in the background

Llanddwyn also became the base for the pilots who guided ships through the Strait. Cottages were built to house them, and two of these have been converted into a small museum.

The pilots' cottages

The cottages and lighthouse (and sun!)

The island is part of the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve, and home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Sadly at this time of year there weren't a lot of flowers for me to photograph, but I did find plenty of these snails.

Teeny tiny (and pleasingly alliterative) stripy snails

The beaches are fenced off, to keep the sheep and ponies which graze the island from straying onto them. Humans can reach them through these lovely gates. It was only on this visit that I finally noticed that the carvings on the gates are all slightly different.

Gate leading down to a beach

And another leading back

Near Tŵr Mawr there is also this bench.

Carved bench overlooking the sea

The inscription is from verses by the 13th century Welsh poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym.
"O Landdwyn, dir gynired. O benyd byd a’i bwys", which translates as
"From Llanddwyn, a place of great resort. Through goodness, for the world, and its significance".
Many thanks to Dave Nelson for the translation.

St Dwynwen's church was once an important place of pilgrimage, but very little of it now remains.

All that is left of St Dwynwen's church

The church, Tŵr Mawr, and St Dwynwen's Cross

From there it was a walk back along the beach to the car park (if you are staying at the nearby campsite, there is a lovely walk through the woods which comes out right by the island), and then home. I always enjoy going to Llanddwyn, and yesterday was no exception.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Where I work

I am at heart a curious nosy individual, which means that I always love reading about other people's workspaces. So it seemed only fair that I should share my own. (Plus, let's be honest, I've just had a massive tidy-up. It will never look this neat again, so I wanted to show it off!)

Centre stage, in every way, is my work table. Years ago I did a short pattern drafting course, and the main thing I learned was how much easier everything is if you have a table at the right height. My table is 91cm / 36" high, and is so comfortable that a lot of the time I work standing up. It's a conference table from IKEA, and at 110cm by 195 cm / 43" by 77" is great for cutting out as well.

General view of my workroom

My sewing machine lives on there most of the time, so I needed a draftsman's chair to seat me at the right height. Fortunately very close to where I work is a place which sells refurbished office furniture, and they had exactly what I needed. There is a slot in the table for cables, and the foot control drops through there. It rests on a handy wooden plinth which my dad made for me years ago, when Mr Tulip and I lived in a house where the loft ladder didn't reach the ground (long story, don't ask!)

Sewing machine setup

As you can just see in the background, the ironing board is right by my worktable.

Because it's so high, there's plenty of storage space under the table as well.

Space to sit and work if I want to

Room for even more boxes at the back!

The shelving is Ivar, also from IKEA. I love it because it's fully adjustable, with holes for the shelf supports at 3cm / 1¼" intervals all the way up the uprights.

The current layout of my shelves

The two large plastic boxes on the left hold my vintage patterns. The instructions and pattern pieces are stored in large manila envelopes in hanging files, while the pattern envelopes themselves are in the ring binders underneath.

When I last posted a photograph of my books, I actually missed out a shelf. Here are the whole lot, complete with an extra shelf which holds a couple of really large books, some vintage magazines, and my pattern drafting paper.

All the books

Talking of pattern drafting; the organiser for my rulers and curves is possibly the best thing I have ever made.

Everything to hand for pattern drafting

The storage units for the plastic boxes are both from Storage 4 Crafts. On top of the one on the right are my notepaper block and bookplate stamp from Venice, and my pen holder from the now sadly closed Shambellie House costume museum.

In the opposite corner, on a desk acquired from Mr Tulip some years ago, is my overlocker. In the drawers underneath are my non-vintage patterns. As you can see this is also notice board corner, with ideas/inspiration, pictures I just like to have around, and my always useful Universal Pocket Patterns.

Overlocker, flatlocker, and a lot of cork

Also pinned up here as a reminder is an article about why you should never hold a pin between your teeth. I can honestly say that I have not done this even once since I read the article four years ago, but it doesn't do any harm to leave it there.

Finally, there are some things that you just get so used to having around that you don't even notice them. A couple of years ago a friend came round to cut out her latest project on my work table, and eventually asked, "Erm, why do you have a stepladder in your workroom?" The answer was that I got so tired of fetching it every time I wanted to photograph something on the table for this blog, eventually it just ended up there!

Not the obvious sewing room tool

So that is it, my workroom in all its glory.