Sunday, 28 May 2017

Simplicity 1587, aka The Dress of Frump

Simplicity 1587 is probably the least flattering garment I have ever made. This is a bold claim, as there’s been some stiff competition over the years (late 1980s/early 1990s fashion, I’m looking at you), but still it - well my version at least - takes the biscuit.

If only

What makes this especially annoying is that it's a pattern I've wanted to make for a while. I've seen lots of great versions of it, such as this one by Kaitlyn of Simply Vintage. Esther of Dolly Creates loves it so much that she's made it five times! So when I found a poly charmeuse with a suitably retro floral print, it seemed like the perfect reason to step away from the craft cottons and try something different.

I made my standard bodice length alterations, which had worked perfectly on Simplicity 1777, and lengthened the skirt. Because the fabric was 150cm / 54" wide, I cut the skirt back as a single piece rather than have a centre back seam (the dress has a side opening). I forgot to make any alterations for shoulder pads, but I've noticed that a lot of my 1950s patterns have optional shoulder pads and no alterations to accommodate them, so decided that this wouldn't matter.

The front yoke has three pleats in each side, and getting them remotely symmetrical was a challenge. It didn't help that the fabric wasn't on the straight grain, an no amount of washing, stretching and pressing would fix this.

The pleats in progress

The bodice front and back are made up and joined at the shoulders, the skirt front and back are attached to their respective yokes, and then the bodice and skirts are put together. As with Simplicity 1777, I top-stitched the yokes in place, rather than use the modern method of placing right sides together, matching the raw edges and sewing the seam. This may not have helped.

The instructions are to sew the side seams and then set in the sleeves, but I decided to attach the sleeves first.

All made up apart from the side seams and zip

At this point, it wasn't looking promising. I hoped that it was one of those dresses which looks like a limp rag on the hanger, but fabulous when worn. So I sewed up the sides and tried it on - and it still looked like a limp rag. The front yoke lies weirdly and the pleats stick out, possibly due to the off-grain problem. There seem to be gathers in all sorts of odd and unflattering places, and the skirt yoke looks dreadful. The skirt is quite full, so there's a lot of hem, and I was tempted not to even bother. I did hem it in the end, but I can't say that I bothered too much about getting it level.

All in all it is so bad that I almost didn’t photograph the end result. Then I remembered the various discussions I've read in posts and forums over the years about the false image we all give online by only showing our successes and not our failures. So here it is in all its, ahem, 'glory'.

This is the best shot - it's downhill from here!

I think that part of the problem is that the bodice yoke should be shorter; the join to the main bodice is too low, which makes the gathered sections look peculiar.

All sorts of unflattering things going on round the bust!

Even though I lengthened the skirt pieces, there was still only enough fabric for a tiny hem.

There is so much wrong here, I can't even begin to say

Part of me really wants to redraft this and Get It Right, but part of me feels that life's too short. It's definitely one just to wear around the house. Ah well.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

'Making do' on the hat front - part 1, the block

I've got very behind on blogging about my hat making activities; since posting about the Gatsby cloche I've been on not one but two more courses at Hat Works! Time to catch up a bit. The second course was this weekend, and while it was as much fun as ever it was also tiring, so this will be a shortish post.

Way back at the end of April, I went on a course to make a 1940s hat. But in true-make-do-and-mend style, we made our own hat blocks as well!

(Almost) Everything you need to make hat blocks - paper, card, masking tape and a glue stick

First we made a head-shaped block from the paper. The sheets were folded double, then taped together to form a cylinder which fitted to your head - a bit like making a chef's hat out of paper. Next we cut down from the top, but not all the way. Here my dressmaking habits came to the fore, and as a result I made my cuts longer, and closer together, than was necessary.

The paper base cut into strips

Because I'd made the cuts so deep, mine would not stand up

Next we worked in pairs, folding the strips over each other's head, taping them down, and trying not to tape hair in at the same time. The end result was a head-shaped dome.

Dome-shaped block in progress

This was then covered with more (lots more) masking tape to make it more rigid, then packed with scrunched up newspaper, and taped across the bottom to hold the paper in place.

The other method of block making we tried was to make a shape using card. Sue and Marie, the tutors, had brought along a fabulous hat which they had made on a cardboard block.


They had also brought the template for the block, so I decided to use this rather than make my own.

Unfortunately all of the photographs I took of the block-making process on the course were with the flash on, which has blotted out the details. So I took some of the completed block at home. This at least gives an idea of how well it stood up to being used.

The block is slightly asymmetrical, and consists of two top sections and a side. I made my block slightly less tall than the template. First the top pieces were taped together, then the side was taped into a tube shape, and finally the two were taped together.

Making the cardboard block

Then as with the dome block, lots more tape was added. The shape was packed with newspaper, paying particular attention to stuffing the edges of the top, and yet more tape was added round and under the block.

The completed block

Showing the asymmetrical shape

Careful packing keeps the shape of the top crisp

The underside, with the paper packed and taped in

The block could be covered with a thin layer of papier maché and varnished, to make it more durable, but it worked perfectly well as it was. But the hat itself is a topic for another post.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

#VintagePledge - Butterick 6620, and a(nother) skirt

I seem to have been doing all the stupid things this week - mostly involving zips - but happily it turned out alright in the end.

It all started with me failing to resist yet another craft cotton remnant; in this case a length of Northcott's Artisan Spirit 'Shimmer' fabric by Deborah Edwards.

Image taken from the Northcott website

The selvedges run along the top and bottom, so the fabric is dark at the sides and lighter in the middle. After the disappointment of the skirt of 'meh', I wanted to have a go at making a full skirt next, and thought that this would be perfect for the job.

The remnant was big enough to cut out a front and a back and leave enough for pockets. So I sewed the pocket pieces onto the sides, sewed round the pockets and down the side seams, pleated the fabric into eight big box pleats, and sewed the pleats down, ready to add the waistband. Only then did I remember that my hips and waist are not the same width, and that if I was going to get this skirt on, it needed a side opening! (There are times when it's really hard to believe that I've been dressmaking for over 40 years - sigh.)

I didn't want to lose a pocket, but thought that I could unpick the seam where the pocket back joined the skirt back, and put a zip in there. And it worked! The pocket was concealed by a box pleat anyway, so the zip is also hidden. In the picture below I've put a white slip into the pocket, so that you can see where it is.
Zip, pocket and box pleat

Having made the skirt, I decided that I wanted a top to go with it. I wanted something quite plain, and ideally 1950s to go with the skirt. This fitted the bill perfectly.

Butterick 6620, 1953

I decided to make view B, with the three-quarter sleeves.

It needed to be in a colour to tone down the red a bit, but white or cream seemed too much of a contrast. Then I remembered that I'd got a length of pale green cotton in my stash, left over from lining my sewing bag.

The pattern is labelled "quick and easy", and it certainly is. There are just two main pattern pieces, the front and the back. The centre front and back seams give it extra shaping, along with the darts. For views B and C there is a narrow neckline facing. I chose to understitch all around the neckline, even though it is not included in the instructions.

I also overlocked the facing edge
The sleeves have the small darts at the elbow which are a typical period detail, and are finished with bias binding. Most modern binding seems horribly stiff, even after washing, but I'd got some vintage binding of a reasonable colour in my stash. Unfortunately there wasn't enough to do the hem as well, so I just overlocked the raw edge and machine sewed it.

Sleeve details

The darts, especially at the front, are very deep. The instructions just say to press them to the centre, but they wouldn't lie flat and pulled the top out of shape. In the end I reinforced the middle of each dart with a second line of stitching, then snipped them open and oversewed the raw edges of the cut.

The front darts before snipping them open

I had given no thought to how such a fitted top might be got on and off, but just happened to notice a reference to a 10" zip in the 'notions' section on the pattern envelope. Duh! There is a zip or a placket opening in one of the side seams. Usually I put side openings on the right, because I'm left-handed, but because the skirt has a side zip as well I decided to stick with a left opening on the top. It felt really strange, putting in a zip which opens upwards! Both this and the skirt zips were hand-picked.

Now with added zip
The description of the top says that it can be worn out or in, but I prefer it tucked in. I think that the skirt will be better once it's been washed a few times; it's currently a bit stiff. I'm wearing it with a net petticoat in the photographs, but wore it today with just a normal slip. I absolutely love the top, and can see a more of these being made.

Top worn loose

Top worn tucked in

Even though the green fabric was not part of the 2017 Stash Collage, it has been in my stash for ages, so I'm going to claim this as a #vintagepledge make. My first of the year!

One final thing. The pattern, like the Bestway one I featured last week, has got "Grey's, not exchangeable" stamped on the side. And inside the envelope I found this.

Grey's receipt

The date is November 1957, and one of the items on the receipt appears to be 5⅝ yards of fabric at 5 shillings and 11d per yard. The total on the receipt comes to £39.92 in today's money. None of the tops in the pattern need anything like that much fabric, so unless the owner was making a matching skirt as well, I can't imagine how the receipt ended up in that pattern envelope.But it was a lovely thing to find.

Grey's, Birmingham, c1945 - found on Flickr

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bestway Patterns

Any time you come across a pattern with the address "21, Whitefriars St., London, E.C.4" printed anywhere on the envelope, even if the pattern name is that of a women's magazine, you are actually looking at a Bestway pattern.

This has the Bestway name, but also the address

Bestway patterns seem to have been sold in shops like other makes of pattern (the one above has "Grey's, not exchangeable" stamped on the side), but they were mostly associated with the women's magazines printed by the Amalgamated Press such as Woman's Illustrated, Mabs Fashions and Woman's Weekly.

Bestway was owned by Amalgamated Press and was a large business; its Whitefriars Street office and factory employed 100 people, and up to 20 million patterns were circulated every year*. Some of its patterns were given away free with magazines. In this example the cutting layout, instructions, and fabric suggestions are given over two pages in the magazine but the pattern pieces are missing.

Free pattern, for the right-sized woman, February 1938

Nowadays the patterns given away with sewing magazines are multi-size, but such things didn't exist in 1938. The pattern which came with the magazine was for a 36" bust. Other sizes (32"- 40") could be sent away for at a cost of 4½d**, plus the price of the stamp. As the magazine only cost 2d, larger or smaller readers may have felt short-changed by this; I imagine many just adapted the 36" pattern. However, other Bestway patterns advertised in the same magazine cost between 9d and 12d, so 4½d was still quite a bargain.

Other Bestway patterns in the same issue

Post-war, all patterns had to be sent away for, and paid for. The pattern was still the main selling point of some magazines, though.

Woman's Illustrated, 11 December 1948

The magazine contained illustrations of the basic construction, and a coupon to send off. In this case the magazine also includes yardage requirements, so you can buy the fabric while you're waiting for the pattern to arrive - handy if you want to make if for Christmas!

All three patterns are 1s 11d each, including postage and purchase tax

Other magazines which sold Bestway patterns included Home Chat and Woman and Home.

Home Chat, 2 April 1955

Woman and Home, September 1957

Although most of the patterns were nameless, like those illustrated above, Bestway were able to offer some designer name patterns through the magazines.

Norman Hartnell for Woman's Illustrated, 1957

However unlike Vogue designer patterns, which came in large envelopes, these were basic wraparound covers with the instructions printed on the inside.

Pattern 'envelope' unfolded

Over time the Bestway name seems to have disappeared from patterns associated with magazines. For example the envelope for this Nina Ricci pattern for Woman's Journal gives no clues.

No name or address on the pattern envelope

The pattern is unused and still in its factory folds. It is only the printing on the pattern tissue itself which gives the game away.

'Bestway' just visible at the top of the box

This Woman's Weekly pattern doesn't even have the Bestway name on the tissue.

Woman's Weekly pattern from 1966

I've not been able to find out what eventually happened to Bestway - if anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you!

* - For the information on Bestway I'm indebted to "Making Modern Women, Stitch by Stitch: Dressmaking and Women's Magazines in Britain 1919-39" by Fiona Hackney in The Culture of Sewing, Berg, 1999.

** - 1d is one old pence. There were 12 pence to a shilling (denoted as 1s or 1/) and 20 shillings to a pound. Britain changed to decimal currency in 1971, and the type of currency printed on a pattern envelope can help to give some idea of its age, although both currencies were included for some time.