Sunday, 25 March 2018


Unfortunately family illness means that this week's planned post about the History of Fashion in 100 Objects exhibition at the Fashion Museum Bath is going to have to wait a while. So in the meantime here's a little taste of what's to come.

Early twentieth century items in the exhibition

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Royal Women at the Fashion Museum

Royal Women is one of the two exhibitions currently running at the Fashion Museum in Bath. (The other is A History of Fashion in 100 Objects, which has been extended to 1 January 2019. I posted about the incomplete exhibition here, and will write a post to fill in the gaps soon.)

None of the women featured in the exhibition was a reigning monarch, but as members of the royal family they could not dress simply to please themselves; their dress choices sent strong visual messages.

The first dress on display is the wedding dress of Princess (later Queen) Alexandra, from 1863.

The remodelled wedding dress

Alexandra is said to have disliked the very wide crinolines of the time, and chose a narrower skirt. The dress was subsequently remodelled by one of Princess Alexandra's favourite dressmakers; Madame Elise.

The original appearance of the dress, trimmed with Honiton lace

Side view showing the train

Close-up of the bodice

Madame Elise also made this tartan silk dress from around 1870, possibly for a function in Scotland. It is displayed with several items in the plain, tailored style which Alexandra was known for.

Yachting jacket, 1890s, silk dress, 1870s, croquet jacket, 1863, waistcoat, 1890s

In fact, her style was so unfussy that when this 1890s dress was acquired by the museum in the 1960s it was considered insufficiently regal-looking. Mind-boggling though it seems now, the pearl trim was actually added by the museum for display purposes!

Lilac silk evening dress, Morin Blossier, about 1893

The final dress in this section needed no embellishment. It was easily my favourite in the exhibition, and the museum seem to think so too, as it features on all the publicity materials.

Embroidered chiffon evening dress by Doeuillet, 1910

The dress is in such good condition that it's possible that it was never worn. It may have been ordered before Edward VII died, and then could not be worn while Alexandra was in mourning.

Close-up of the bodice

Please, no drool on the dress. Image © Fashion Museum Bath

Unlike her mother-in-law, Queen Mary (or to give her her full name, Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes) was not known for her clothes. The exhibition only has two of her dresses and one, in black sequins, proved impossible to photograph well. The other is the dress which she wore to the wedding of her granddaughter, now Queen Elizabeth II. The dress originally had a high neck and long sleeves, and was remodelled.

Gold lamé and turquoise cut velvet dress, Norman Hartnell, 1947

Queen Mary was however known for her hats, so it seems only right that the exhibition includes one of them.

Pale blue silk georgette and swansdown toque, 1935

The first thing which struck me about the two dresses which belonged to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was just how tiny she was; I'm 5'4", and these dresses are for a figure a fair bit shorter than mine.

Grey silk satin beaded evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1954

Lace evening dress embroidered with gold thread and sequins, Norman Hartnell, 1954

Unlike her sister, Princess Margaret did not have to always wear the work of British designers. She was a keen adopter of the New Look, and of Dior's designs.

Cream silk chiffon day dress, Christian Dior, 1952

From newsreel footage of the dress being worn at Ascot, 1952

Although I didn't particularly like this striped cotton evening dress, there's no denying the clever use and manipulation of the fabric.

Cotton lawn evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1949

Close-up of bodice

Evening dresses by Norman Hartnell, l-r 1949, 1953, around 1953

Royal Women runs at the Fashion Museum until 28 April 2019, and it is included in the Fashion Museum ticket.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

New sewing machine!

Well, new to me.

I’m just back from my annual trip to Somerset. Sadly the atrocious weather last weekend meant that I only managed to get down there in time to see the final show of the Majma dance festival, but I’ve still had a fun week, and made an exciting purchase.

Driving from the M5 to Glastonbury I passed several signs for an antiques fair at Shepton Mallet, taking place this weekend. Vintage Gal has posted about some of her fabulous finds at these fairs, so I was thrilled to discover that I could actually go to one.

There were only a few textile-related stalls, but I did still manage to find a couple of 1970s Style patterns, some vintage metal lace and two lots of hat veiling, and some lovely sparkly buttons.

Not exactly a wasted trip, then!

And then just as I was about to leave, on one of the outdoor stalls, looking a bit sorry for itself and getting damp in the rain, I found this.


It was the case which caught my attention; I saw vintage film footage of these being moulded at last year's Plywood exhibition at the V&A. When I opened the case I found that the machine already had both a needle and a bobbin in place, so to the bemusement of the seller I threaded it up with a spare bobbin, and tried sewing round the edge of my handkerchief! It worked, I’ve wanted a hand-cranked machine for a while, and it clearly needed someone to rescue it from damp and neglect. . .

More ooh!

It’s quite worn in places and is clearly older than my mum’s 1953 Singer: it is plainer, and the section for the bobbins etc. has a wooden lid instead of a metal one. I guessed at 1930s because not many were made in the 1940s - the Clydebank Singer factory mostly went over to war work. Armed with the serial number, I went online to investigate, and found this helpful site.

The all-important (and wonkily stamped) serial number

I was, quite simply, stunned. My 'new' machine was made in 1917! No wonder it looks a bit worse for wear. And it’s still in working order (although to be fair there’s not a lot to go wrong). Clearly Singer had never heard of the concept of built-in obsolescence.

Essentially it’s the same model as the 1953 version; which is useful as this one doesn’t have an instruction booklet.

Mum's (now my) machine in its case

There does seem to be a wealth of information about 99K Singers online though, so I can give it a thorough clean and tidy up. And then, of course, I want to make something with it.

Although the 99K was designed to be 'portable', this really just means 'not attached to a treadle mechanism'. One thing it is not, is light. Casually swinging the case while strolling along, à la Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker, is not going to happen!

Erm, no (image © Universal)

While writing this post I realised that I now own four sewing machines. Some people might regard this as excessive. I am not one of these people. I am just unreasonably excited!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Butterick 4384 - part 1

When I first looked at this pattern my initial thought was, "Hm, buttonholes down the front. Not my favourite thing". But look closely (Butterick kindly put the back views on the front of the envelope) and you can see that there is a zip fasten as well. It is a false front placket, so the only buttonholes are on the cuff of the long-sleeved version.Yay!

Front and back views

I'm using a thick but soft plain purple cotton for this dress, and going for long sleeves. The pattern calls for 1½" wide lace, which is attached right across the front and shaped over the bust darts.

Pattern, showing lace placement

The only lace I could only find that wide was nylon and unattractive, so I went for a braid instead. However it is only 1⅛" / 3cm wide, so I added a fifth row and changed the spacing. It took a bit of fiddling to get it so that the rows of braid don't overlap.

Front with the braid attached

The braid did tend to gape away from the fabric, so I ended up sewing round each circle - fun! Then I decided that I needed to remake the front placket because I wasn't happy with it. Fortunately I had some fabric leftover, and recut the pieces with the front slightly larger than the back so that the seamline doesn't show when they are stitched together.

Front, placket and buttons pinned onto Nancy

I've decided to go for the purple buttons rather than the cream, partly because the cream ones will look odd on the cuffs. The purple buttons do have quite long shanks though, and stick out from the placket a bit.

The collar pieces are sewn onto a band and then this is attached to the dress. I keep forgetting that the opening is at the back; I even cut the collar interfacing out on the fold as usual, and then had to split it!

Collar and band made up

So far I feel as though I have been sewing this dress forever and not got anywhere, but hopefully the end result will be worth it.