Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 review

It's that time of year again. The time when I come to review what I've made in the last 12 months, fret that there won't be much to write about, and surprise myself with just how much I've done.

This year I was even more worried than usual about how little there would be. My college work takes up a fair amount of my time, and a longish bout of depression in the spring left me not feeling like doing much at all.

But despite all this I'd somehow made more than I remembered.

First up, hats. After the excitement of completing my first hat in 2016, I made several more this year (and have even more blocked and waiting to complete). As well as finally finishing my silk percher hat and experimenting with straw, I made felt hats from the 1920s, 1940s and 1950s. Thanks to Sue Carter and Marie Thornton of The Millinery Studio for their excellent tuition, and to Bronwen Simpson of Hat Works for everything she does organising classes and Open Blocking days.

Clockwise from top left: 1940s, 1950s, 1950s straw and 1920s

Beaded silk percher hat

Much as I love drafting my own patterns, there's no denying that it does take time, so I don't do as much as I'd like to. However, I did manage to create a late 1950s/early 1960s pinafore dress, and make a few improvements to my CC41 dress pattern.

Pinafore dress and CC41 dress

Self-drafted patterns don't count towards the Vintage Pledge, but I did sort of fulfil my promise to make up three of my vintage or reissued patterns. Only 'sort of', because the original plan was to make all three items from a selection of my patterned stash fabrics. Simplicity 4896 was made from bought fabric, and Butterick 6620 was made from plain stash fabric. Only the infamous Dress of Frump was made from fabric which I'd earmarked for the Vintage Pledge.

This year's Vintage Pledge; the Dress of Frump, Butterick 6620 and Simplicity 4896

Despite the epic fail of Simplicity 1587 I have not, after all, given up on green clothing. As I had hoped, the stiff green dress made from New Look 6093 improved no end after a couple of washes. And I'm still chuffed that I was able to rescue my green and blue cotton skirt. But the item which I think received the most compliments of the year was the dress I remade for the British Heart Foundation's Big Stitch campaign. That was something I'd never done before, and had never thought of doing - and it was great fun.

Green success, and the Big Stitch remake

Who knows what the New Year will bring, but here's hoping for a great 2018!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ghosts of Christmasses past

Despite Vintage Gal's words of encouragement, I'm not a lot further on with Style 4649. So instead for this week's post I decided to just go for pretty pictures, and look at Christmas outfits in some of the Winter/December-January issues of Vogue Pattern Book that I have.

Warning: Readers of a sensitive disposition may want to stop before they reach the 1970s!

Beginning in December 1952, all is poise and pearls and fabulous hats.

Black jersey fabric from McCulloch and Wallis [sic]

The editorial a year later suggests that the reader will have made outfits for Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and a post-Christmas event in January. And party dresses for the children, and presents. Phew.

Lots to do in 1953

December 1957 is back to poise and elegance, but no hats.

Dresses with back details

The 1958 edition suggests that at a mere £5 each (approximately £81/$108 in today's money), the reader could make every one of the 10 dresses in the article for the party season!

Bargain frocks!

What I can only describe as 'mad hair' dominated the 1966 issue. I couldn't decide which photograph to use, so here are two of them.

Vogue 6922

Vogue 1652

Four years later, even though it's only the start of the 1970s, it's a very different look.

Vogue 7644

1973, and it's all about lurex knits and wide trousers.

So shiny! So brown!

The 1970s are sometimes described as 'the decade that style forgot'. And sometimes with good reason.

1975. There are no words

Moving swiftly on (but not necessarily for the better), I hadn't realised that what we now think of as 'Eighties style' had actually begun by December 1979.

Bill Blass for Vogue, 2286 and 2304

Two years later, and while I don't particularly like the dress, it is nice to see an older woman feature in the Vogue Pattern Book, long after the demise of Mrs Exeter.

Vogue 8182

Finally, an image is from 30 years ago, December 1987. I made a number of items in the 1980s which I wouldn't necessarily want to admit to now, but at least I can say that I never made a bubble skirt!

Vogue 1992, Bellville Sassoon

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Step away from the shiny

I really shouldn’t do it. I ought to know better by now. It ends badly every time, but still I persist.

Yes, I’ve been sewing satin again.

It all began when I went to a Kerry Taylor auction in September. There were lots (no pun intended) of lovely 1930s and 1940 clothes, including several blouses in pastel satins. And it struck me that this was exactly what I needed to go with my 1938 suit (when I eventually make it). So somehow, by the time I got on the train home a couple of days later, a length of lightweight pale peach satin from Cloth House had slipped its way into my luggage.

The inspiration. Image © Kerry Taylor Auctions

Now I’ve not completely forgotten my previous traumas with satin. There was of course this, and the Dress of Frump™ was made from satin as well (although to be fair, that was the least of its problems). So I exercised some restraint, and chose a simple pattern.

Style 4649, 1944-5

One of my problems with satin is that I’ve never been able to machine sew it without the seams wrinkling, so I decided to sew this blouse entirely by hand, and see if that helped. It did, but because the fabric frays so much, every seam has to be neatened. So in effect, I sewed the blouse twice.

Inside view, showing the neatened seams

The front (piece B) is cut on the bias, and gathered with rows of small stitches at each shoulder. Because there is a curve across the top, the two gathered sections are at slightly different angles. One lies perfectly, the other - not so much!

Bodice front, showing the rows of gathering stitches

The 'good' side, gathered and pinned to the bodice back

I have left adding the pleats to the bottom of the bodice until the whole thing is made up, and I can decide on the best place to put them. The pattern calls for small shoulder pads, and I will probably make these myself because bought ones will be too bulky with such a fine fabric.

The neckline and back opening are finished with a bias facing. I’ve not tried this before, but fortunately Making Clothes for the Older Woman has a section on how to do it. The pattern instructions don't mention stay-stitching the neckline first, but attaching a bias strip to a bias neckline sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, so I have added stay-stitching.

The current state of affairs

Although the whole thing has gone reasonably well so far, I’m not feeling the love on this project. It’s become one of those things where I’ll find any excuse to do something other than sew, and I’m really not looking forward to tackling the facing. It will be impossible to prevent the stitches holding the facing in place from showing, so the best I can hope for is to make them as small and regular as possible. Any hints or suggestions will be gratefully received!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Blasts from the past

I've lamented more than once on this blog that I disposed of lots of my dress patterns in the past. Sometimes I'll come across a familiar image on Pinterest and think, "I had that", and wish that I still did. So when I acquired two 1980s Perry Ellis for Vogue patterns earlier this year, it really got me thinking about a couple of my former favourites.

The first one was a very loose-fitting Perry Ellis coat. I replaced the single button fasten with a large press stud and made it fully reversible, with a purely decorative button on each side. I loved the end result, and literally wore it until it wore out. Because it was a designer pattern, it proved easy to find the details online.

Vogue 1213

The second was a dress, and this was much harder to track down. All I could remember was that it was another Very Easy Vogue pattern and was loose and straight, with a V neck, long-sleeved or sleeveless options, and an attached overbodice. I made the long-sleeved version in a plain teal fabric, lined the sleeves with the same fabric in dark red, and wore it with the sleeves rolled up so the lining showed. Because the neckline of the shortened bodice was lower than I was comfortable with, I added a small false front, also dark red. This was another make which got a lot of wear.

The closest pattern image I could find online was this one.

Vogue 9235 - note the fullness of the dress

Now I've had a few dressmaking mishaps in my time, but I was pretty sure that I'd never accidentally made a maternity dress!

So the mystery remained unsolved, until I was flicking through a 1984 issue of 'Vogue Patterns', and there it was. My dress. Apparently made up from a tablecloth, but my dress nonetheless.

Vogue 9004, in a bold fabric

Although the coat is from 1983 and the dress from 1984, I must have bought them a few years later. Vogue patterns were beyond my student budget, and I know I made the dress for work.

Vogue 9004, looking more restrained

Now that I had the dress number, naturally I was curious to see if the pattern was available anywhere. And lo, it was. Unused, and almost my size. I also happened to find the coat; unused and in my size. . . .

Reader, I bought them. They are now sitting on my worktable, where I can admire them and occasionally pat them.

Given a) the current weather and b) the fact that I've already got Butterick 5716 and Simplicity 4896, I'm not really in need of another loose coat with almost no fastens on it. But the dress is another matter. Especially when I had a hunt though my stash and found these.

Teal crepe and a dark red silky lining - hmmm

I may have found my Christmas holiday project!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Making clothes for the older woman

"In the world of to-day it is terribly hard for the older woman to look her best, in something that fits and suits her, is up-to-date and does not cost the earth."

"Our choice . . . suddenly contracts sharply. There are only two or three (sometimes fewer) that are any kind of fit - and that's not saying much. Of these two or three not one, probably is the colour, style and price we really want."

Both of these quotes could easily come from any number of contemporary sources; it is only the spelling of 'today' which provides a hint that they do not. In fact, they come from a book which is almost 70 years old.

Yes, my friend F has been at it again, finding another gem in the charity bookshop where she volunteers. Making Clothes for the Older Woman, by Agnes M Miall, was published in 1948. Post-war austerity is very evident in its pages, from the declaration that it is printed "in complete conformity with the authorised economy standards", to its references to clothing coupons and remodelling old clothes. It is a world away from a throwaway society; clothing and fabric purchases had to be considered with care, and made with a view to lasting as long as possible. More than once the author points out that clothes which fit badly will wear out faster than ones which fit well.

There is some information on basic dressmaking techniques such as making belts and plackets. There are also handy hints: I especially liked the idea of buying two thimbles from different manufacturers, because each one will become annoying to wear after too much use in slightly different ways, so you can swap between the two to sew for longer - especially useful at a time when domestic sewing machines were in short supply. But most of the book is about adapting bought patterns to fit older bodies (rather than fit the bright young things who appear on pattern envelopes).

The author starts with six basic figure types.

For each type there are notes on what styles to wear and what to avoid. The chapters on fitting then explain the alterations required for each type, for example, "Leonora and Penelope may need the kind effect of a little fullness over the bust".

This approach could become horribly twee, but actually it works. The overall effect is one of a cheery, no-nonsense, good friend wryly pointing out that neither you nor she have the figures you once had, but that there's still plenty that you can do to look your best. Not all of the advice has stood the test of time (for example, the idea that a puffed sleeve is a good look), and some of it is brutally honest - but isn't that what good friends are there for?

Most of the illustrations are line drawings, but still clearly explain fitting faults.

I've certainly had skirts which hang like that

Based on the author's advice, I thought that it would be fun to go though some of my patterns from 1947 and 1948 and look for styles suitable for the different figure types.

First of all, a couple of no-nos.

"Square necks, by the way, almost without exception are unbecoming to the woman past her first youth." So that's this pattern out of contention, then.

Vogue 6336 - 1948

'Slacks' are, "risky garments . . . for all older women", so these culottes may be the same.

McCall 6768 - 1947

These out of the way, I looked for something which would suit each type.

Petite Leonora "can easily look dumpy" if she wears clothes with too many horizontal lines. A dress and a full-length coat looks better on her than a suit, but if she does wear the latter then it should be "unelaborate, but not of a schoolgirl plainness". This suit with its waist detail seemed to fit the bill.

Butterick 4022 - 1947

At the other end of the scale, Juno looks best in "severely cut suits" and in tailored dresses. "Diagonal lines are good", which makes her the perfect candidate for this dress.

McCall 7078 - 1948

Editha's squarish figure benefits from "button-through designs with their unbroken line all down the figure". She should wear striped fabrics, but never those with a crosswise pattern "except in small quantities for contrast". The illustration on the left ticks all of these boxes.

McCall 6752 - 1947

While these three types are either tall or short, Marianne and Augusta are average height; 5'3" to 5'7" (1.6m to 1.7m). Marianne wants to take attention away from her bust, so requires a "bodice as plain as possible, with lengthening vertical lines" and "interest concentrated on the skirt". With this in mind, she might want to make the skirt of this dress a little fuller, but the shaped pockets do add interest.

Simplicity 2137 - 1947

Augusta is the reverse, wanting to draw the eye to her upper half with "shoulders judiciously but not extravagantly widened, interesting collars and upper sleeves". The neck tie and unusual 'sleeves' of this dress should do the trick.

Vogue 6268 - 1947

This just leaves tall, slim Penelope. As she gets older, her slenderness is in danger of becoming "scragginess" (hard to imagine this being seen as a problem in today's society). She "needs clothes that fill her out a bit, give her width in proportion to her height". Among the things she can wear are blouses with horizontal yokes, and skirts with hip yokes (which are to be avoided 'like the plague' by other figure types).

I couldn't find any vintage patterns in my collection suitable for Penelope, but the reference to the perils of hip yokes reminded me of something. Yes, Penelope might actually be the person who could carry off Simplicity reissue 1587, aka the Dress of Frump™.

Simplicity 1587

Finally, I'll finish with a quote which I think all vintage dressmakers can agree on, regardless of age or figure type. "Practically all dresses look better over a slip than over just knickers and brassiere".

Sunday, 26 November 2017

A hat for St Catherine's Day

Yesterday (25 November) was St Catherine's Day. In Britain St Catherine was traditionally the patron saint of lace-makers: the day was known as 'Catterntide' and marked by the baking of 'cattern cakes', small cakes containing caraway seed.

In France things are a bit more adventurous. There St Catherine's Day is the day when unmarried women traditionally pray for husbands. Unmarried women who are 25, known as 'Catherinettes', are given extravagant yellow and green hats, usually made by their friends, to wear for the day. However Catherinettes who are lucky enough to work in couture houses traditionally have their hats made for them by their bosses! All of which means that St Catherine is now also the patron saint of couture workers and milliners.

Catherinettes, Paris, 1909 - from Wikimedia Commons

I may not be an unmarried 25 year-old, but St Catherine’s Day still seemed like a good reason to abandon my current project for the day, and make a hat. Or more accurately, finish a hat. (I have so many hats to finish and Hat Works courses to write up, but Life keeps getting in the way!) It's not yellow and green, and it's nothing like as outrageous as the picture above, but it is now finished, so yay!

I started this hat at an Open Blocking event in August. Open blocking days are for hatmakers with previous blocking experience. There is no tuition, but irons, steamers, and Hat Works’ magnificent collection of blocks is made available for use. Over two days I blocked or reblocked six hats, so it’s fair to say I made the most of my time!

Blocks available for use on an Open Blocking day

Stupidly I forgot to photograph the actual block, but it’s in two parts; a deep brim and a shallow crown section which fits on top. The pieces can be blocked separately, or in one piece from a single hood. I chose to do the latter, and used elastic to hold the hood in place around the crown and brim.

Elastic holding the hood in place for drying

This was the hat I brought home, and this was how it stayed until yesterday.

The blocked hat

As ever, I hadn't put the hood on the block entirely centrally.

Underside, showing the uneven excess hood

The first job was to trim off the excess hood. Then I added a petersham ribbon band inside the crown to stop it from stretching, and sewed brim wire round the edge of the brim. The wire was covered with narrow black petersham; folded in half, and stretched slightly so that the outer edge would be longer than the inner.

Partway through covering the brim wire

I had found some wonderful textured petersham for trimming, but unfortunately it was wider than the narrow crown. So instead I went with an idea I’d seen somewhere; use more of the narrow ribbon as a base, and wrap the fancy stuff round it.

Textured petersham ribbon

Wrapped abound a band of the plain petersham

The whole trim was finished off with a small bow at the back.

Back view

And here is the finished hat. The 'lampshade' style and super-shallow crown mean that the brim is nowhere near my head. I can’t use an elastic to hold the hat on, as it would bend the crown. Instead I secured it with a hat pin.

Completed hat

By the time I finished the hat, and it stopped raining for long enough for me to take photos, it was so dark that the underside of the brim shows as black. Eventually it got so dark that the flash activated on my camera, so here you can see the underside.

The underside isn't black after all!

It may not be green and yellow, but my St Catherine's day hat goes perfectly with my red and black swing coat, and I'm very pleased with it.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Hooray for Hollywood

I have finally made a start on Hollywood 1531, the 1938 suit pattern which I bought from the lovely Gina of Beauty for Ashes a year ago.

Hollywood 1531, a 'pattern of youth'

I’m still tracing off pattern pieces, so don’t have much to show yet. So instead I thought I’d write a bit about Hollywood, 1930s patterns, and how all this came together in the form of Hollywood Patterns.

We tend to think of celebrity endorsements as a relatively new thing, but in fact they have been around for over 80 years. In the early 1930s the Modern Merchandising Bureau began promoting fashions based on current films in its Cinema Fashions shops. Initially at least the shops were exclusive and expensive, with dresses costing up to $30. In time they expanded to a chain of almost 2,000 shops, selling clothing and other items endorsed by movie stars. Other companies followed suit, and the Modern Merchandising Bureau also put some older styles, which had already had a run in Cinema Fashions shops, into mass production.

The best known film-based garment of this time was the ‘Letty Lynton dress’, designed by Gilbert Adrian and worn by Joan Crawford in the 1932 film of the same name. Over 50,000 of Macy's department store’s replicas were eventually sold.

Joan Crawford in the 'Letty Lynton dress'

Not surprisingly, the idea of star endorsement spread to pattern companies. In 1933 Butterick launched their ‘Starred’ patterns; based on actual clothes worn in films. This example, clearly influenced by the Letty Lynton dress, was worn by Helen Chandler in the RKO film Christopher Strong.

Organdie dress with big sleeves - looks familiar?

Helen Chandler in 'Christopher Strong', image from IMDB

The ‘Starred’ range only lasted for one year. One obvious problem was that clothes on film were designed to be dramatic, and few of them translated easily into everyday wear. Also the price of 50c put the patterns at the upper end of the average price range for that period (30c-50c).

Well and truly above that average were Vogue Patterns, which cost 40c-$2. According to Joy Spanabel Emery’s History of the Paper Pattern Industry, 1932 was the worst year of the depression for pattern companies. People were making more of their own clothes than ever, but buying fewer patterns. New, cheaper, pattern lines were introduced in response to this, such as Advance (15c, but only 5c in JC Penney stores) and DuBarry (10c, sold in Woolworth’s). Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue Patterns, wanted to compete with these lines, but not at the expense of Vogue’s carefully cultivated image. Instead he brought out a new line, Hollywood Patterns, launched in 1933.

Hollywood got round the problems of the ‘Starred’ patterns (and potential licensing costs) by not linking their clothes to particular films. Instead many of the envelopes featured a head shot of a Hollywood star, while the illustration showed a similar-looking woman; the implication being that this was a garment that the star had worn.

Hollywood 1382,1937 or 38, image from Etsy

In fact, Hollywood Patterns marketed their patterns as "modeled after the clothes of Hollywood movie stars", the idea being that these were the sort of clothes that the stars would wear at home.

Like Advance and DuBarry, Hollywood Patterns sought a tie-in with a major chain store; W.T. Grant. Special versions of the patterns were produced to be sold in the stores.

Two versions of Hollywood 1041, 1935, images from Etsy

The W.T. Grant version of this pattern is one of only a handful that I have only come across which make reference to a particular film. That two 'Gone With the Wind' inspired patterns were released together is testament to just how popular the movie was, while the use of green ties the patterns in with one of the best-known dresses from the film.

Hollywood 1987 and 1988, 1940, images from Etsy

Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind'

Hollywood 1531 features Maureen O’Sullivan. Given that she was best known for playing Jane in the ‘Tarzan’ movies, it is probably as well that this is not a pattern based on a film costume! In fact, I did manage to find a photograph of Maureen O’Sullivan wearing a suit, from the same time as the pattern (I'm trying to ignore the state of the hem on Jane Wyman's skirt!).

Jane Wyman (left) and Maureen O'Sullivan, 1938

I’m not entirely sure what qualified a pattern as a ‘Pattern of Youth’, given that this one is for quite a similar suit, but apparently not youthful.

Hollywood 628, 1944, image from Etsy

Despite the name, not all Hollywood Patterns featured film stars. From the company’s beginning in 1933 to its end in 1947, some patterns just had illustrations.

Hollywood 737, 1934, image from Etsy

Hollywood 988, 1942

Hollywood 1820, 1946, image from Etsy

Now that I know that Hollywood Patterns were an offshoot of Vogue, I'll be interested to see how the pattern makes up, as I've had good results from vintage Vogue (as opposed to Vintage Vogue - reissues) patterns in the past. Hopefully I'll have something to report next week!

Eckert, C. (1978). The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window. Reprinted in Gaines, J. & Herzog, C. (Eds.) Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body
Spanabel Emery, J. (2014). A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution
Laboissonniere, W. (1999) Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s