Sunday, 29 October 2017

Model Image at the Lady Lever Art Gallery

Very few of my local friends sew, so I don't have many opportunities for getting together with them and discussing latest projects etc. What they do do however is let me know about local events and exhibitions which they think I'll like. So when my friend S went to Model Image at the Lady Lever Art Gallery last week, she emailed me almost as soon as she got home to say, "You'll love this".

I went today, and she was right.

The exhibition is based on photographs of June Duncan. Born in Liverpool, she initially trained as an actress and dancer before becoming one of the top fashion models of the 1950s. As well as images of her childhood and working life, the exhibition includes a number of 1950s evening dresses from the collection of National Museums Liverpool.

Photograph of June Duncan 1951-2, 1950s evening dresses

The Jean Dessès dress is displayed to show off the embroidery on the back, but it's also possible to see the side zip on the left, and the hooks and bars which hold the wrapped-over left skirt section in place.

Ball gown, silk satin and silk chiffon, Jean Dessès, 1955-6

Born in 1924, June Duncan was always naturally very slim - she twice failed the medical for military service in World War Two for being underweight. Before and after the war she trained as a dancer and actress.

June Duncan (fourth from left) in chorus line with Lena Horne, 1947

1950, aged 26

She began modelling in 1948, and by the early 1950s was working in both London and Paris.

Aquascutum, 1952-5

Dior wool suit, 1951-2

As well as Dior, she also modelled for Worth and Fath.

Photographs of June Duncan modelling for Worth (left) and Dior (right)

The Daily Express included her in its list of the ten top-paid models of 1952, although by her own account even top models then were paid nothing like the sums they receive now. (What she was paid per day equates to around £200 in today's money.) For some jobs models were even expected to bring their own shoes, gloves, jewellery and hats!

The top ten models of 1952, June Duncan is on the far right

As well as photographic modelling, June Duncan posed for illustrations for advertisements.

1950 advert for Votrix vermouth on right

1952 advert for Horrockses towels and pillowcases on left

Many of the dresses in the exhibition are high-end brand names sold by upmarket stores in Liverpool.

Tina Berlyn dress, 1955

One dress is by the 'Jonelle' label, John Lewis Partnership's own brand, sold in George Henry Lees. The jutting pockets are reminiscent of Butterick 6877.

Jonelle dress, 1953-6

There is also one dress made by a local dressmaker, Beatrice McKenzie of Southport.

Rayon dress with beaded detail, 1953-6

Model Image runs at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 15 April 2018.

Update, Nov 2019: When browsing the December-January 1952/3 issue of Vogue Pattern Book I came across this advertisement for Jacqmar fabrics. The model looked familiar, and Pauline Rushton of Liverpool Museums confirmed that it is June Duncan, so I thought I'd add it to this post.

Another June Duncan advertisement

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Edinburgh - the costume post

My trip to Edinburgh didn't just involve taking photographs and walking up and down slopes and steps (although there was a lot of that) - naturally dressmaking and costumes featured as well.

The Dress Fabric Company, the lovely fabric shop in Bruntsfield, will get its own post in time. For now I'm featuring the two costume-related places I visited.

First up, the National Museum of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland - the main gallery

The Scottish National Costume Museum, Shambellie House, closed in 2012. The costume collection is now displayed on the ground floor of the Art, Design and Fashion galleries. As so often seems to happen in museums nowadays, the combination of glass cases and reflections of illuminated images elsewhere made it hard to get decent photographs; so what follows is an eclectic mix of some of the pieces on display.

Keeki by Harvy Santos, 2015

Gauntlet gloves, c1610-30

Evening dress, Lucile Ltd, c1918-20

Embroidered jumps, c1730-60

Beaded satin shoes, c1910-14

Stays and stomacher, c1730-50 (2 & 4), wooden busk, c1670-1730 (3)

Evening dress of silk net, c1810-20

Court mantua, 1750s

Wool suit, Tommy Nutter, 1989

Finally, although I couldn't get a good photograph of the whole thing I had to include this dress; it makes such clever use of the printed fabric.

Block printed dress, c1740-60

The catalyst for the trip was an exhibition at another national museum; True to Life | British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I absolutely loved it: even if the entire rest of the holiday had been terrible (it most definitely wasn't), it would have been worth it for this alone.

Realist British painting of the inter-war period is almost forgotten now; the names of many of the artists featured were unknown to me. As the exhibition title suggests, the emphasis was on accurately representing the subject, with considerable attention to detail.

For a costume nerd with a love of inter-war fashions (i.e. me), this was heaven. The front cover of the catalogue gives a good idea of what was to come.

By the Hills, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, 1939

I spent far too long trying to work out what was going on with this dress; the gallery assistants must have wondered what on earth I was doing. The red section overlaps the black (which has braid on it) on the left side, but the black overlaps the red on the right!

The Yellow Glove, James Cowie, 1928

Even the stockings and shoes, and the kink in the hat brim, are perfectly rendered in this painting.

Elsie, Dora Carline, 1929

My favourite was this one, probably because of the fabulous hat!

Pauline Waiting, Sir Herbert James Gunn, 1939

This was the golden era of rail travel, and the railway companies frequently employed famous artists to create artwork for their advertising posters. I loved the 1920s outfit in this painting for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, but I was a little worried by the reader's virulent green drink!

Restaurant Car, Leonard Campbell Taylor, c1935

Although the bathing suits catch the eye, there are some lovely clothes elsewhere in this image commissioned by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. In particular I'd really like to recreate the green dress - but in a different colour, obviously!

Blackpool, Fortunino Matania, c1937

Sadly True to Life only has another week to run but if this has whetted your appetite, you can buy the catalogue here.

Sunday, 15 October 2017


I've been on my travels again. This time I've headed north rather than south, and spent a few days in Edinburgh. Although you'd never know it if you heard me speak, this is where I was born and grew up; I lived in or near the city until I went to college.

My parents grew up not far from where I now live, and moved back down here 18 years ago. This was only my second trip to Scotland since then. I had a great time, so this is a very picture-heavy post all about the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh truly is a tale of two cities, or to be more precise, towns. The original settlement was what is now called the Old Town, and grew up around the castle.

The entrance to Edinburgh Castle

The photo above doesn't do justice to how truly castle-y Edinburgh Castle actually is. It is perched on a rock, and dominates the city.

Looking up at the castle from the Grassmarket

Although the Scottish Crown Jewels are kept in the castle, it is not the official royal residence in Scotland. Instead that is Holyrood Palace, at the foot of the Royal Mile. The Queen stays here for a week each year.

Holyrood Palace

Edinburgh is very, very hilly, and the Royal Mile slopes downhill from the castle along a ridge. For a long time the city was confined within walls, so the only was to accommodate a growing population was to build upwards.

The Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile

John Knox's house (centre) on the Royal Mile

Many of the buildings along the Royal Mile are part of the original medieval city, but some are much more recent. It's hard to believe that this hotel was only built in 1990.

A modern addition

Most of the streets which lead off the Royal Mile go sharply downhill.

Victoria Street curves down to the Grassmarket

The Grassmarket was one of Edinburgh's main markets, where horses and cattle were sold.

The Grassmarket and the castle

Just up from the Grassmarket is Greyfriars Kirk, the final resting place of Greyfriars Bobby and his owner John Grey. The famous statue is nearby. Judging from the extreme shininess of the dog's nose, it must get rubbed a lot!

The statue of Greyfriars Bobby

Also leading off the Royal Mile are lots of narrow, pedestrian-only streets called 'closes'. Some of these open into little courtyards.

Lady Stairs Close

As well as steep streets, there are lots of flights of stairs.

Steps leading up to the Royal Mile

Eventually the overcrowding in the Old Town grew so bad that something had to be done. Rather than simply expand the existing town beyond the city walls, the decision was taken to build the New Town to the north of the Royal Mile. This was begun in 1767, and still retains much of its original Georgian architecture.

Part of Charlotte Square in the New Town

Many of the houses retain their original features, such as boot scrapers by the doors, and snuffers to put out the torches carried to light the way while travelling.

The snuffer is the diagonal tube in the lamp stand

Bute House, official residence of the First Minister

The area between the Old and New Towns was originally a loch (lake). This was drained and now contains the main railway line and station, the National Gallery of Scotland and Princes Street Gardens.

The Old Town and castle, with the National Gallery in front

Finally (and well done for making it this far!) this photograph of the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street was taken at seven minutes past three. The hotel was originally the railway hotel, and the clock can be seen most of the way along Princes Street, the main shopping street. It is deliberately kept three minutes fast, to ensure that people don't miss their train! The only time that it is set to the correct time is on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve).

The Balmoral Hotel, the North Bridge and Arthur's Seat

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Flowers - part 2

There is good news and bad news regarding progress on the flowers I began on the flower-making course in Huddersfield. The bad news is that my silk petal flower got a bit squished in my bag on the journey back. It can be restored with some TLC, I just haven’t had the time to apply any yet. So here is a photograph of its un-squished form in Sue and Marie’s studio.

Silk petal rose

The good news is that I finished my beaded flower. Sue had made up various mixes of different coloured beads for us to work with; pale shades, reds, blues etc. I used the pale and blue mixes.

My colour choices

It was great fun, making up petals with differing proportions of pale and dark beads. The possible variations in shading were endless, and I could easily (and happily) have made up enough petals to create a beaded chrysanthemum! I managed to restrict myself to making seven full-sized petals, however. Because they are made from wire, the petals can be shaped with different amounts of curl.

Flat and curled shaded petals

Then because I couldn’t resist, I made three smaller petals as well. The wire ends were twisted together to form the centre of the flower, and the wire wrapped in green thread.

Making up the centre section

The larger petals were then added one or two at a time.

With the larger petals added

I fancied making a sort of corsage, so followed Sue’s lead and mixed up some different shades of green beads, and made two leaves. These were made longer than the petals, simply by doing two rows with the same number of beads rather than adding or decreasing one in each row.

One of the leaves

These were twisted onto the wire ‘stem’ of the flower. Then I wrapped a scrap of fabric round it to give it some shape, and covered it with a small piece of blue/gold shot silk (which doesn’t photograph well!) finally I sewed a brooch pin onto the back of the silk-covered base, and now I have a ‘lily’ corsage brooch, with petals which wobble quite convincingly when it’s worn.

The finished brooch

This was immense fun to do. I especially liked the idea of mixing colours, but you could make petals in a single colour, or different colours following a pattern rather than the random effect here. This could easily get addictive!