Sunday 27 November 2016

2017 sewing - first plans

I know, I know; it's not even December yet, and here I am talking about next year's sewing! Realistically, I know I haven't got the time to start any new projects before the end of the year (although I hope to finish a couple off), so it's 2017 here I come.

I've had a hankering for some time to make a vintage suit, ideally 1930s or 1940s. Goodness knows why, as I have almost no reason to wear a suit these days - I'm putting it down to having watched Brief Encounter once too often!

What started it all

This grand plan was kept in check by the fact that I wanted to use a period pattern rather than a reissue, and suit patterns from that era are few and far between. And also by the minor consideration that it was a mad idea - but that rarely stops me.

Then the lovely Gina of Beauty From Ashes posted that she was selling some of her vintage patterns as a fundraiser for Jessica Cangiano of Chronically Vintage, who tragically lost pretty much everything she owned in a house fire in October. Gina had linked up with her friend Lily of Mode de Lis to sell the patterns, and when I followed the link Gina had posted, I found this:


From the pattern number I think that it is late 1930s, probably 1938. It's almost my size, it was an opportunity to help (in a small way) someone who has given so much to the vintage scene, and it was a pattern from a friend's stash. What more could I want?

The pattern arrived beautifully wrapped by Lily; I was torn between wanting to open it immediately and taking a photograph of the pretty package - as you can see, my blogging instincts won out!

It was almost a shame to open it - almost

Suggested fabrics include 'novelty woollen' and 'novelty cotton'. I assume that the term meant something like this, rather than what we think of as 'novelty prints' now.

1930s textured cotton fabrics from

Envelope back

As usual for the period, the instructions are a single sheet, with one side taken up with cutting layouts. There are also a lot of pattern markings to transfer on the jacket pieces.

Pattern pieces and skirt instructions

The instructions themselves are brief.

Jacket instructions

My local fabric shop held its pre-sale preview evening this week, with extra discounts on the night. So although I'm not going to be making this up for a while, I decided to stroll down and check if they had any (non-novelty) period-appropriate suiting.

Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, showing the suit fabric

I didn't find any herringbone suiting, but I did find this. It's actually a slightly more olive background colour than it appears on my monitor, and the fabric is beautifully soft. So much so that the jacket will probably need some sort of interlining.

Fabric and pattern

It's a long time since I've done any tailoring, so this will definitely be a challenge!

Lily still has some patterns for sale in the Fundraiser for Jessica; the link is here.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Home Chat

When I go to a vintage fair, it's not just old dress patterns I'm on the look-out for. I also love looking at women's magazines, because you can glean so much information on everyday life from them. So when I recently came across 'Home Chat', a new-to-me publication, of course I bought a copy.

MGM publicity shot of Deborah Kerr on the cover

My November 1944 copy was published by Amalgamated Press, but according to this website the title was originally published by Alfred C. Harmsworth, founder of 'The Harmsworth London Magazine', which I wrote about here.

It was a weekly magazine, as the picture shows it was quite small, and the cover was the only colour printing. The 3d cover price would be 51p / 63 cents today.

There are a few 'state' advertisements, such as these from the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade.

But in the commercial advertising it's interesting to see how manufacturers got round the problem that there wasn't actually much available to sell.

Some acknowledge that supplies are limited, but still available.

Some look forward to a time when their goods will be more widely available (and make reference to the current state of the war).

And some are purely there to keep the brand name in the reader's mind at a time when I assume the goods were not available at all, because the manufacturer was engaged in war work.

One of the articles in the magazine is called, 'I'm Looking Forward To -', and is written by Charlotte Haldane. Although Mrs Haldane had worked as a war reporter you wouldn't know it from the tone of this piece. Instead she looks forward to the end of clothes rationing and the arrival of "wonderful and fantastic new materials" which have been developed during the war. One such material is nylon; "a product of coal and air" - a description which must have totally confused anyone who didn't already have some idea of what nylon was.

However it's not all 'in with the new'. She then goes on to talk about the features of war-time dress she would like to keep; namely the simpler, younger-looking designs. I wonder what she made of the New Look?

The part of the article which interested me the most was where she talked about what would interest "the future historians of dress", especially this:

"Women have taken to trousers - when the wearing of them facilitated their war-jobs - without arousing opposition, or even interest, or jokes on the subject in the music halls."

Her views on hat wearing are also interesting, especially as they tie in with what I've found out previously about hats in wartime. Nellie Wallace was a real person; a music hall performer well-known for her hats. So possibly it was the hats, rather than the trousers, which were joked about in music halls.

Sunday 13 November 2016

What is wrong with this picture?

Vogue Paris Originals patterns were introduced in 1949.*  Like the Vogue Couturier pattern range (launched in 1931) they came in larger envelopes; 21cm by 26.5cm / 8¼” by 10½”, as opposed to the 13cm by 21cm / 5” by 8¼” of standard Vogue patterns.

Patou, 1951

Paris Originals were marketed as line-for-line duplications of Paris couture garments. The couture association commanded a higher price; the price printed on Vogue 1137 is 9 / 2 (9 shillings and 2 pence), although it is stamped “7 / 6 Tax Free”. A normal Vogue pattern from the same year cost 3 / 6. A 1951 Vogue Couturier pattern cost 7 / 4, or 6 / - tax free.

For comparison with today’s prices, in pounds and US dollars:
9 / 2xxxxxx£14.18xxxxx$17.87
7 / 4xxxxxx£11.34xxxxx$14.29
3 / 6xxxxxx£5.41xxxxxx$6.82

Unlike Vogue Couturier patterns, Paris Originals were illustrated with a photograph as well as a line drawing. And here lies the answer to the question at the top of this post.


Well, that’s obviously photographed in Paris. Clearly the 1950s was a much more trusting age. Either that or Vogue assumed that customers who bought Paris Originals patterns were far less cynical than I am.

A few years later, any dressmaker who knew Paris well could have hours of fun playing, ‘Guess the location’.

'Somewhere in Paris', Patou, 1954

And a year after that Vogue removed all doubts and provided a backdrop which was undeniably Parisian.

Outside the Patou atelier, with bonus photobomb, 1955

So on the basis that if it’s good enough for Vogue, it’s good enough for Black Tulip, I’ve reviewed a few photographs of recent makes.

Photographed in Paris

Photographed in Milan

Photographed in New York

Photographed in Venice
OK, so the last one was actually photographed in Venice, but you get the idea.

* - For the history of Vogue’s special pattern ranges I'm indebted to Blueprints of Fashion – Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s by Wade Laboissonnier.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Style 4455

Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, has just written a book. An extract appeared in last Saturday’s Guardian Weekend magazine. One section was headed “You will always be tempted to replicate what you wore at 17. This is not always a mistake

In Ms Shulman’s case this has led to a weakness for mid-1970s fashions, but she went on to add, “If the 80s was your teen moment, it’s likely to be a bat-wing sleeve or padded shoulder and oversized jacket . . . that beckons you from across the shop.” Which made me feel a lot better, as it went a long way to explaining this recent purchase.

Now that's what I call 1985

The hair! The jumbo earrings! The bat-wing sleeves!

OK, I was slightly older than 17 when this pattern came out, and it's not one which I owned first time round, but I did have a lot of blouses like this. I also had a penchant at the time for old-fashioned men's dress shirts (that is, the shirts were old-fashioned not, necessarily, the men who originally wore them). Happily for me, all photographic evidence of this period was lost in a house move some time ago.

Anyway, proving that you can take the girl out of the eighties but you cannot entirely take the eighties out of the girl, when I saw this pattern at a vintage fair recently I just had to buy it. And now I have the editor of Vogue telling me that this is only to be expected.