Sunday, 24 June 2018

We Remember Them - the poppies project

Last Friday (22nd June) was the Centenary Service for We Remember Them 1918 - 2018, the University of Chester's commemoration of the 77 staff and students who lost their lives in World War One. The university sewing group's poppies project has been part of this.

77 poppies - one for each of the fallen

Most of the poppies were three-dimensional, but three had been worked in cross stitch. These were sewn flat onto the wreath, and the others attached around them.

The wreath with the cross stitch poppies and the third row attached

Once the wreath was complete, it had to be sewn onto the backing fabric. Because the backing would be laced across a board for the display, it needed to be stretched before the wreath was attached. Otherwise there was a danger it would tear when it was pulled taut. I got round this by pinning the stretched backing fabric across a large notice board, and then sewing on the wreath (with a metal ruler underneath where I was sewing, so that I didn't accidentally stitch the whole thing to the felt cover of the board). It was quite a stretch to reach across at the corners!

Attaching the wreath to the backing

The completed wreath sits inside a beautiful oak cabinet made especially for the project by Rob Nicholas, a very talented cabinet maker from Liverpool. Rob based the cabinet on World War One campaign chests; the wooden boxes soldiers were given to store their belongings. The cabinet can be displayed flat, or raised like a lectern in keeping with its academic surroundings. There is a poppy on each side of the base, and the names of the 77 are carved into the interior. It is a lovely piece; when Rob delivered it we were all thrilled.

The cabinet

Friday's commemoration began with a service in chapel, which had been specially decorated for the occasion. Because the university was originally a teacher training college, many of the 77 were teachers. The display included 77 crosses decorated by children at some of the schools where they had taught, along with more of the poppies.

The display in chapel

As part of We Remember Them, members of the Alumni Association had researched the names on the war memorial, and had been able to trace a number of their descendents. Many of these family members were able to come to the event, including one lady who travelled all the way from Australia! After the service there was a lunch in the dining rooms, and a chance to look round an exhibition of the information found so far.

Part of the exhibition

Posters about individual alumni

The poppies project display

All in all, it was a lovely day. It really brought the 77 to life; no longer just names listed on a  memorial, but individuals with stories and families, and lives cut cruelly short. It was a real priviledge to have been involved.

The wreath inside the cabinet

Sunday, 17 June 2018

What's new at the V&A

I'm in London again, to go to the latest Kerry Taylor auction. It will surprise no-one to learn that whenever I visit the V&A, for whatever reason, I always pop into the costume section for a quick look round. I've been there so often that most of the pieces on display are very familiar, but occasionally there's something new to look at. And so it was this time.

One case, of 1920s evening dresses, has been completely replaced. It's still 1920s, but a mixture of day and more formal wear.

Bright young things

The background image hasn't been changed though; it is based on this Callot Soeurs dress which formed part of the previous display.

1925 embroidery

Central to the new arrangement is this 1923 lamé and lace wedding dress, displayed with a photograph of the bride and groom.

Medieval style wedding dress

There isn't much information about the ensemble beside it.

Coat and evening dress

The case opposite contains 1930s clothing. Much of it is unchanged, but this Charles James dress is definitely a new addition.

Gold satin evening dress, about 1934

Sadly it was impossible to get a back view, but I was just about able to see the side construction.

Angled skirt darts and shaped side panels

Most museum pieces tend to be designer garments for wealthy people, so it was nice to see this suit, made in the 1950s in Guyana for the donor; a teacher who moved to Britain in 1951.

Cotton skirt suit

I don't remember seeing this suit before, either. I love the different fabrics in the skirt, and the single jacket pocket and side fasten.

Wool and silk moiré suit, Givenchy, 1955

I know that the V&A owns far more items than it can possibly display, so it's nice to see that they do swap things round from time to time.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The poppies project - making the wreath

I've been very bad at posting about the Poppies project, the University of Chester sewing group's project to commemorate the 77 university staff and students who died in World War One.

In my defence, it's been difficult to post about. Unlike our previous project, this time most of the work has been done by group members at home. At each meeting more poppies were added to the collection, but not much actual sewing or knitting took place during meetings. One exception was when Nicola brought in her embroidery - her poppy was made up of four embroidered petals with wired edges.

The first petal of Nicola's embroidered poppy

We ended up with well in excess of the 77 poppies we had been aiming for; more than 100 over the target in fact! For various reasons, I hadn't been able to get fully involved in the project last year, so I offered to make up the wreath of 77 poppies which will be displayed in the campaign chest. The remaining poppies will be used in displays for the commemorative event, which takes place later this month.

The chest is being made specially for the project. I was given the internal dimensions, and decided that the simplest way to ensure that the wreath fitted inside was to make a mock-up from a cardboard box. It soon became obvious that the poppies would need to be tightly packed on the wreath; they completely filled the mock-up when laid flat.

The 77 poppies inside the cardboard 'chest'

The wreath base was made up from rings of 'bump'; thick curtain interlining fabric, sewn onto a base ring of heavy interfacing. The rings grew narrower, to create the curved shape - it ended up reminding me of the ending of Looney Tunes cartoons!

That's all Folks!

A final wide ring of bump was sewn over the top, to smooth the edges out. Fortunately bump both stretches and contracts quite easily.

Now looking more like an iced doughnut

Because the bump is quite fluffy, I had to cover it with a layer of cotton. This did not stretch to accommodate the curves, so I pleated it as I went round. To me the end result was reminiscent of puttees, the leg wraps worn by soldiers in World War One.

The completed wreath base

This gave me a base onto which I could sew the poppies. I sorted them by size and technique, and placed 12 of the smallest ones around the inner edge, and 26 of the largest ones around the outside. (Although the maximum size was meant to be 8-10cm diameter, there were some, ahem, 'generous' interptretations of these measurements!) As the photo shows, they had to be overlapped to fit them all in.

The first two rows of poppies

Sewing the poppies in place was hard work. Not all of them had backs which were easy to sew through; in some cases I had to attach a felt backing first, and sew that to the wreath. A lot of the time there wasn't room to manoeuvre the needle easily, so I had to use tweezers to pull it through the fabric.

The remaining poppies were attached in two further rings, of 17 and 22 flowers. These were even more awkward, as the space I had to work in got smaller and smaller. It was one of the trickiest things I've ever worked on, but the end result was worth it. I will post about that after the commemorative event, which takes place in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

An entirely stash make

This wasn't what I'd planned to make next at all, and nothing to do with my pledge to make up some of my 1960s-1980s patterns, but sometimes these things happen.

Not a vintage dress!

It all started with a bit of a tidy-up in my workroom, when I found a remnant of this.

Northcott 'Artisan Spirit - Nature Studies', image from Northcott website

I'd bought it around the same time as I bought the 'Shimmer' remnant, and I'd intended to use it for another skirt. The problem was that the material is 108cm / 42½" wide, so I couldn't use the full width unless I wanted a floor-length skirt. I'd put it aside while I pondered what to do, and then forgot all about it.

Finding it again, it still seemed a shame to waste any of the fabric. I thought about making a dress from it instead, but it would need to be something straight and plain.

Enter New Look 6643, one of my go-to patterns. I've used it several times, my favourite being the peacock dress. View A seemed the ideal style for what I had in mind, and fitted the width perfectly. I cut the two back pieces from a single layer of fabric, to get the position of the motifs right and the horizontal pattern elements matching with the front.

Pattern also from the stash

I really like the shape of the neckline and armholes on this pattern.

The armhole shape gives the look of a small sleeve

The neck facing was made from a piece of stashed blue cotton, and I already had suitable bias binding for the armholes and (for once) a zip of the right length and colour. I even had matching thread!

The one problem with the peacock dress is that the front neckline gapes very slightly. Taking inspiration from Simplicity 4463, I added a small front opening, which had the effect of using up part of the neckline width in seam allowance. It didn't need to be functional, so I just sewed the buttons to both sides of the opening.

I was especially pleased with the buttons; they were the spares from a Monsoon jacket which I had years ago. The jacket is long gone, but the buttons were still in my button box - the large one was for the front, and the small one must have been for the cuff. They were the perfect colour, and a nice textural contrast.

Buttons and false opening

The fabric worked perfectly with the shape of the dress. The dark section gives a belt effect at the waist, and the strong vertical elements of the flowers in the skirt balance the horizontal stripes - as you can see when I finally remembered to take a picture without my hands in the way.

Showing the full dress

I'm so glad that I didn't press on and make the skirt, this has been a far better use of the fabric. Yay for procrastination!