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

Sunday, 12 November 2017

#VintagePledge - Simplicity 4896 finished!

Finally! I can't believe I began making this in April 2016.

As well as making up the coat body and tackling the pockets, I had attached the facing before the whole thing ground to a halt. However try as I might to press the edge of the collar flat, it just wouldn't do so. Not even 10 months of hanging on Nancy (my dressform), with a row of basting stitches to hold it on place did the trick. As soon as I took the basting out, it sprang out of place. So I admitted defeat, and top-stitched it.

When I last posted about this project, I had decided to bin the lining I'd made, and start again with proper lining fabric. In some ways leaving it for so long turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because when I finally started again a couple of weeks ago, I had to reread the instructions. And that was how I noticed that as well as lining, the instructions also called for interlining. Somehow I had completely missed this before.

I used black cotton for the interlining. For each piece, the lining and interlining had to be basted together, then the piece was treated as a single unit.

Sleeve pieces showing the lining side and the interlining side

Once the coat lining had been made up, the instructions were to attach the lining to the coat by hand sewing through both along all the seams. This was very fiddly to do, especially down the sleeves. Only by wearing the coat will I find out if it was worth the bother. Once that was done, the edges were slip-stitched into place as normal.

Another new thing to me was the addition of "arm straps"; long tubes of lining fabric attached inside the coat fronts at the top and bottom. There was no explanation of what these are for - presumably in 1944 it was obvious. I'm guessing they are a way to hold the coat closed, as it has no fastens. I reinforced mine with cotton tape inside.

One of the arm straps

And here it is at last. A finished 1940s coat. The pattern is from 1944, and I'm wearing it with Vogue 7464, which is a reissue of a 1940s pattern, and Vogue 9546 from 1942. The bag is also 1940s, but I can't now remember where I bought it.

Better late than never

I've just realised that it's November, and this is my first item for this year's Vintage Pledge (we just don't talk about the Dress of Frump). Hopefully I'll get something else made as well before the end of the year.

Showing the full coat

Sunday, 5 November 2017

'Meh' no more

Grrrr! I had hoped to post this week about Simplicity 4896, the 1940s coat which I seem to have been making forever. Unfortunately even though I've 'only' got the lining to make up, this is taking far longer than I had expected.

So instead here's a short post about a quick win (yea!); fixing the less-than-successful cotton skirt I made back in April, otherwise known as The 'Meh' Skirt.

Now that the weather has turned cooler, I remembered the suggestion made by Kate of Sewing At Damgate, who thought that wearing the skirt with thick tights and a thicker jumper might be a better look. So I tried the skirt on and, while trying to work out what alterations it needed to fix the various problems, turned the waistband under. . . .

Bingo! It was as if the Good Dressmaking Fairy had waved her magic wand. All the fit issues simply vanished. The annoying, neither-one-thing-or-another length was transformed into something I like.

It fits!

Confession time: I've retained the waistband, and just altered the fasten (a hook and bar fortunately, not a button and buttonhole) and secured it to the lining in a few places. At some point I might shorten the skirt a little bit more, so that the tiny bits of blue flower at the bottom are removed.

I am unreasonably happy with this simple fix! I still love the fabric; and teamed with an old jumper of Mr Tulip's, my favourite green Splendette earrings, and a necklace I quickly made from glass beads from my local fabric shop, it makes for a perfect retro look.

Happy, happy, happy!

So there you have it; proof that revisiting a failure after a cooling off period can really work. Thanks for the suggestion Kate!