Sunday 29 July 2018

Ocean Liners at the V&A

My dissertation is due to be handed in 9 weeks on Tuesday (gulp) and the Dissertation Police* have made it very clear that attempting to get an extension to this date is not acceptable. So blog posts for the next couple of months are likely to be short and sweet - and getting shorter as the deadline approaches!

As a result, this week's post consists of photographs from the recent Ocean Liners: Speed and Style exhibition at the V&A, which I managed to visit a couple of days before it closed. Naturally I was most interested in the clothing on display, but I did take some other shots.

Advertising posters

I was fascinated by this poster advertising something I had never thought about; the first voyage of the Titanic - from New York. I wonder what happened to people who had bought tickets, other than feeling a strong sense of relief?

Sailing on 20 April - or not

This tiara belonged to Marguerite, Lady Allan, who was travelling on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk in 1915. Her two daughters were among those drowned, but she survived along with her two maids. One of the maids somehow managed to keep hold of the tiara, even though none of the party was in a lifeboat and the ship sank beneath them.

Tiara! (Gina - one for you!)

There was strong competition between the various liner companies, and as part of this they were keen to publicise any stars travelling on their ships. Marlene Dietrich was filmed on one voyage, and photographed wearing this Dior suit when she arrived in New York on the Queen Elizabeth in December 1950.

Christian Dior day suit, wool, 1949

Film still of Marlene Dietrich in a fabulous hat

Fashions for lounging by the pool were displayed in a suitable setting.

Swimwear from various eras

Most of the clothing on display however was evening wear.

'Salambo' dress belonging to Emile Grigsby, Lanvin, 1925

Close-up of the dress, showing the beading on silk georgette

Evening wear belonging to Emile Grigsby, pieces left and centre by Poiret

A feature of ocean liners was the 'grande descente'; a large staircase down which passengers could parade to dinner each evening, dressed in their finest gowns. For the exhibition the V&A recreated the three ensembles shown above, to create film footage of the clothes in motion. You can read more about it here.

With the 'grande descente' film showing in the background

Post-World War II liners had a very different look. This display featured an illuminated panel from the private restaurant on the SS United States, and a dress used in an advertisement for the Andrea Doria.

Even the table has stars on it

Also in the exhibition were some of the souvenirs which were sold on board the liners. Unfortunately I forgot to take a note of any of the details.

'Queen Mary' blouse

Clutch bag, quite literally 'ship-shape'

* - The Dissertation Police are two of my friends who (with occasional input from my mum) have taken it upon themselves to demand regular updates on my progress, and generally make sure that I'm not slacking. One of them has even got her cat to join in; he has proved remarkably adept at texting, and regularly gets in touch to enquire how many words I have written!

This is the baleful look I get if my output is considered unsatisfactory!

Sunday 22 July 2018

The pom-pom skirt

Being able to make your own clothes is mostly a good thing. Your clothes fit. Things like sleeves and pockets can be added. You know exactly where items were made, and under what circumstances. But for me at least, there is one disadvantage.

On my recent London trip I came across a lovely skirt, with a trim of different coloured tiny pom-poms around the bottom and two rows of ric-rac in matching colours above. Much as I liked it, it seemed very expensive (I'm a terrible cheapskate when it comes to buying clothes!) and it was black, which I don't wear.

Then I remembered that my local fabric shop sells pom-pom trim. So naturally I thought, "I could make one of those". This despite not exactly being short of other things to do at present. (This is the disadvantage; if I see something which I could make, I almost always want to have a go at making it!)

Making one turned out to be easier said than done. Despite the pom-pom trim being available in several colourways, it was impossible to find matching ric-rac. But eventually I came home with pom-poms, satin bias tape, two types of leaf-shaped trim, and a remnant of plain green cotton for the skirt.


I planned to make a ¾ circle skirt, but realised that if I made the pieces a little narrower then I could cut them with the grain running lengthways rather than across. So what I ended up with was more or less a ⅔ circle skirt, with a seam and zip at the back and two more seams at the front.

Of course I wanted pockets, and inspired by this 1950s Bruyère couture summer dress which I saw at the most recent Kerry Taylor auction, I decided to make them curved.

Pocket inspiration 1, image © Kerry Taylor Auctions

I based the pocket shape on Butterick 6055, but altered to make them flat instead of standing out from the skirt.

Pocket inspiration 2 - Butterick 6055

I overlocked the inner and outer curves and pressed the seam allowances under. Then I did two rows of top-stitching around the inner curve.

Pocket ready to be applied to skirt

The pockets were then pinned to the skirt, and sewn into place with a futher two rows of top-stitching. The skirt waistband covers the upper edge.

Completed pocket

The skirt hem was just overlocked, as it was covered by the trim. I machine stitched along the top of the pom-pom tape, and overcast along the bottom. A word of advice to anyone thinking of making something similar - do not sew the pom-pom trim on first. Otherwise sewing the other trims in place will involve 10% sewing and 90% disentangling the thread from the pom-poms. Ask me how I know!

The satin bias was wider than I wanted, so I machine stitched along the centre, then folded it over and hand sewed the bottom edge.

The bias trim machined and pinned in place

The leaf trims were both attached by hand, with each leaf having to be sewn down separately. Suddenly the cost of the bought skirt didn't seem so excessive!

All the trims in place - finally!

The end result is worth all the work though. Initially I paired it with a white shirt and a wide belt, but then I realised that the colours made it perfect to wear with Butterick 6620.

The completed skirt

So now I'm keeping away from ready-to-wear clothing, in case I get any more ideas!

Sunday 15 July 2018

I shouldn't have, but I did

Just a short post this week, not least because I've been out for much of the day at Fine Tuned, a vintage and independent makers' festival in Liverpool. I only discovered last night that it was on this weekend, so this involved a last-minute change of plans. Earlier in the week though I did something else unplanned, which I really, really shouldn't have done.

Yes, I bought more fabric.

I already have a lot of fabric. I've also currently got not one but two dressmaking projects on the go. And there's the teensy, weensy matter of a 28,000-word dissertation to be handed in at the start of October.

I only went into the shop to buy some more thread for one of the current projects, but naturally thought I'd have a quick browse. Anyone who is familiar with my makes will know that I'm fond of a bold pattern, so when I saw this, it was love at first sight.


It's a rayon, which only added to the allure as I want to get more experience of working with rayon. The plan is for a straight, 1950s/60s dress. Vogue 8875 (a 1955 reissue) is the current favourite, but I'm wondering if I should look for a slightly later style.

With a possible pattern choice

Obviously something from 1960 or later would have the advantage of tying in with my Vintage Pledge plan to move away from the 1940s and 1950s, which in turn would make me feel a little less guilty! Decisions, decisions.

Sunday 8 July 2018

Presents from America

My tutor, E, was in the U.S. for work recently. She also had time for a bit of travelling round, and came across a few sewing-related things while visiting flea markets. And because she is a lovely, sharing, person (and I'm not just saying that because she's my tutor!) she brought them back for me.


The buttons are one set of metal and one of plastic. We both wondered why only one of the black plastic buttons had been used.

Contrasting styles of button and card

The two copies of The Workbasket magazine are from August and November 1951. The November issue has a mailing label attached.

I love the idea of knowing who read this originally

Both contain knitting and crochet patterns, and the August edition has instructions for a patchwork quilt.

Pineapple quilt pattern

There are also articles on cookery and gardening, and book reviews. As with many British magazines of the period, there are syndicated dress patterns on offer.

Mail order patterns

Readers who didn't sew could buy dresses instead.

Dresses for under $3

Another regular feature is "Women who make cents"; short articles on ways in which women can make money.

Money-making tips, and a Christmas card advertisement

The Workbasket's masthead describes the magazine as, "Home and needlecraft for pleasure and profit", and ways to make money, either for bazaars or to supplement the family income, feature heavily. This is especially the case in the advertisements.

The August issue contains an astonishing number of advertisements for selling Christmas cards; 30 different firms in a 64-page magazine. These range from a double page colour spread to little more than a single column inch.

Woman pictured with lots of money, just in case you didn't get the idea

Other things which readers could sell to friends and neighbours included uniforms, fruit trees and stockings.

Sell nylons, get a Chevrolet

There are advertisements for learning new skills at home - although I'm not sure I'd want to be treated by a nurse who had trained via a correspondence course!

From nursing to fashion design

Christmas cards aside, the most frequent type of money-making advertisement is, unsurprisingly, for making things.

Making money features heavily in all the copy

Probably the saddest advertisement I found is this one for selling hair. You mail the hair to the company, who then make you an offer. If you don't accept it, they return the hair. No suggestion of a guide price is offered, and as you could hardly re-attach the returned locks I suspect the company worked on the basis that most people would accept whatever they were offered, no matter how low.

On a cheerier note, some of the other ads have not exactly stood the test of time. This one made me smile.

Even a MAN can do it!

As did this one, albeit for an entirely different reason.

"Living image of your own child" Not creepy at all. Definitely not.

Given that matters to do with health and safety were a bit more lax in the 1950s, I did wonder what, exactly, caused this tree to glow in the dark.

Also not worrying at all

Making money from religion seems a very dubious practice, but clearly some people had no qualms about it.

Serve the Lord and earn

However just in case you were tempted to keep the goods for yourself, or sell them and not return the cash, the sample mottos sent out are on the theme of TRUST!

The final gift from E was this pattern.

Butterick 6758, 1972

We were both intrigued by the body language; it's as if the girl on the left is being given a telling off. Also I suddenly realized how rare it is to see a woman of colour in a pattern illustration. I had a look through my pattern collection, and out of over 400 patterns, dating from 1923 to 1991, I could only find three other examples. Two are Butterick, from 1986 and 1991. The third one, rather unexpectedly, is this:

Vougue Couturier 2453, 1970

Clearly this is a whole new rabbit hole of research for me to dive down! Thanks to E for providing it.

Sunday 1 July 2018

Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern

Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern is the current exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, and was on my list of things to visit on my most recent London trip.

The museum has been well and truly taken over; even the entrance lobby has been decorated in an Orla Kiely design.

The entrance to the exhibition

The main part of the exhibition begins with the 'Pattern Library'; a display of some of the many  patterns which Kiely has designed over the years, along with various objects made up in them.

The Pattern Library, part one . . .

And there's more round the corner.

. . . and part two

I must admit that I found the effect slightly hallucinatory. This may be because I'm almost exactly the same age as Kiely, so the 1960s and 70s patterns which she cites as a major influence in her work were also a big part of my childhood. For example, if I had seen these saucepans in any other context, I would have sworn blind that we had them at home when I was growing up!

So 1970s!

Things don't calm down in the main hall. Entitled 'Curiouser and curiouser', this section plays with scale; displaying some of Kiely's clothing both as huge garments hanging from the ceiling, and on tiny dolls in perspex cases. There are also two towers of rotating blocks, which you can twist round to make your own mix-and-match figure.

Dresses, and one of the towers - the chairs give a sense of the scale

More dresses, and the dolls in cases on the wall

One of the dolls

Naturally as a dressmaker I couldn't resist the temptation to look inside the garments!

Hong Kong finish on the hem of this dress

Upstairs there is a display of clothes (human-sized this time) on mannequins, and a large collection of images from publicity campaigns. Sadly reflections from the lighting made it impossible to photograph the latter.

Clothing and photographs

More of the mannequins

The most striking feature upstairs however is the wall of handbags. 100 of them, arranged by colour and cleverly hung to give a regularity to the display despite the variations in size. I had to wait a long time to get a picture without anyone there, but the effect was worth it.

A handbag for every occasion

Unfortunately, although the effect was impressive I found myself unmoved by it, and this rather summed up exhibition overall for me. Part of the reason why I was so entranced by last year's World of Anna Sui exhibition was that it seemed to have a very strong overall Anna Sui 'look', but managed to express it in lots of different ways. A Life in Pattern seemed to be more and more of the same - although perhaps that was the intention of an exhibition about rhythms and repeats.

Decide for yourself! A Life in Pattern runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 23 September. Meanwhile I'm looking forward to the winter exhibition; Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs, which along with an exhibition of Cecil Beaton photographs begins on 12 October. (Cate, I'm guessing that you might be interested in this!)