Sunday, 27 January 2019

Waste not . . .

An unpromising start

An old zip with whiskers of thread attached may seem an odd opening image, but it formed half of the inspiration for this week's post. The other half was two scraps of dress fabric held together with press studs (snaps), clearly cut from a dress*. Both were in a box of 'sewing ephemera' bought at an auction. They immediately took me back to my childhood, as they were precisely the sort of thing which used to be in Mum's sewing box when I was little. I have found similar items in other workboxes at the auction I go to.

The sad reality is that many of the auction lots are from house clearances, so it's very likely that the previous owner was a similar age to my mother. That is to say; they either grew up during the World War II, or their mothers had lived through it. The zip and the press studs are reminders of a different age, with a very different approach to clothing.

Most sewists, especially those with an interest in vintage dressmaking, are familiar with old buttons and the idea of a 'button box': indeed it formed the basis of this book on women's lives in the twentieth century. I love using old buttons whenever possible, as they really add a touch of authenticity to a vintage-style garment. These buttons are from a dress I had when I was little. They have made their way from Mum's button box to mine, and hopefully will find a new home on a dress or blouse one day.

Buttons from the late 60s or early 70s

However it wasn't just buttons which were kept. Zips, press studs, and hooks and eyes were all snipped off worn-out clothing, and stored in workboxes until they were needed again. The clothing itself went into the rag-bag, and was used whenever a cloth was needed for cleaning jobs.

It was often a long time before clothes were deemed to have reached the ragbag stage, though. Mending, both of clothing and items such as sheets and tablecloths, was a regular task. Kay Smallshaw's 1949 book How to Run Your Home Without Help devotes a whole chapter to the subject. While acknowledging that it can be a tedious job, she asks, "what man doesn't expect his wife to take it in her stride?", and provides instructions on darning, patching, and repairing household linens and shirts. Every old workbox which I have come across has contained a darning mushroom, and one also had a large collection of darning wools.

You can never have too many darning mushrooms

Darning wools in a variety of shades

(Full disclosure: At this point I should admit that, much to the bemusement of several of my friends, I do darn thick tights when they develop a hole in the toe. It isn't even to save money: rather that I hate the idea of throwing out something which is 99% perfectly fine, just for the sake of a problem which can be easily be fixed, and a repair which won't show anyway.)

Darning is one thing, but I'm not entirely convinced by the claims of this 'invisible' mending kit. It consists of thick woven fabric patches, in black and dark blue, with some sort of adhesive on one side. It could be used either to anchor a patch of matching material into place, or to hold the edges of a tear together. While I can see how it could work on suits, raincoats and umbrellas, the claim that it is equally suitable for silks and satins seems unlikely.

Works on everything, from umbrellas to satin

From clues I have found, either in the workboxes themselves or in other items in the lot, it is apparent that these women were not necessarily re-using zips or mending clothing due to financial constraints. In the film Brief Encounter, set in the late 1930s, the heroine Laura is depicted mending clothing in the evening. Elsewhere in the film it is clear that she lives a comfortable middle-class life, complete with a maid.

Laura (Celia Johnson) with her mending

Like me with my darning, mending and re-use seems to have just been the natural thing to do, because anything else would be unduly wasteful. Even after rationing had ended, clothing was a resurce to be used carefully; not worn once or twice and then thrown away.

I should make it quite clear that it isn't for a minute the intention of this post to suggest that everything was better in the past. There are many things which I believe have greatly improved: ranging from healthcare and (some) technology to social attitudes. But when I see these examples of the thriftiness and care of the generations of sewists who came before me, I can't help wondering if we have lost an attitude which was worth keeping.

* - Sadly I don't have an image of this. I had snipped the press studs off the fabric, and put them in my 'press stud box', before I thought about this post. Old habits die hard!

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The copyhat

Strange how you (or at least, I) can own an item of clothing for ages, and yet never really look at it. I have a blue, wool-mix, cloth hat which has been in my wardrobe for years: at least five, and possibly closer to ten. It's seen a lot of wear in that time.

The original blue hat

Not only is is getting a little worn now, but it doesn't really go with my new winter coat, which is dark red. So when I found a remnant of thick black fabric during my workroom tidy-up, I decided to take a pattern from the original hat and make a new one. And that was how I came to look at the construction in detail.

Front view

The hat has a round top, a loosely pleated crown, and a brim with what I'd always assumed was a corded section near the bottom, to stiffen it. However when I looked properly, it's slightly different.

Side view showing the brim seam (and lack of)

The brim is made of two sections, and is wider at the front than the back. However the edge of the brim does not have a side seam, just a single join at the back. It is a folded bias strip, attached between the two layers of the crown, and the 'cording' is actually the seam allowances.

Back view

The crown is evenly pleated at the back, and top-stitched either side of the centre back seam. The seam joining the top to the crown is also top-stitched on either side. The folds around the crown are loosely stitched in place at the front and sides, but not to the lining, so there must be another layer of fabric inside.

(This may be a good time to mention that I'm now the owner of my very own antique hatblock, bought at an auction last year. It is my size, a good basic crown shape, and even came with its own stand.)

The hatblock

But back to the hat. I have no idea where the fabric came from, but a burn test showed it to be synthetic, possibly acrylic. So I can wear the finished hat in the rain!

The top and inner and outer crown pattern pieces were easy to create from measurements. I used a piece of cotton drill for the crown base, pleated the hat fabric onto it, and sewed all round the outer edge.

The folded pleats at the back of the crown

Then I randomly pinched fabric into pleats at three evenly-spaced points around the crown, and sewed them down.

The completed crown piece

The short ends of the crown were sewn together, and the top attached.

For the brim pattern, I folded the hat in half from front to back and laid it on paper, then drew round the bottom edge. Then I trimmed the paper brim until the top edge matched that of the fabric version.

Brim pattern, with the bias strip at the bottom shaded

From this I made patterns for the front and back brim sections.

The brim sections, with the back on top

I sewed the fronts to the backs, then laid the two brims right sides together, with the bias strip folded between them. Next I sewed round the bottom edge, and trimmed the seam allowance. The brims were then turned right side out, and pinned together round the top. I used the zipper foot on my machine to sew round the brim, as close to the cut edge of the seam allowances as possible.

Encasing the seam allowances, almost finished

The completed brim was attached to the crown, and then the crown was lined. I always struggle with the right thickness of hat-lining fabric: too thick, and it makes the hat stiff; too thin, and the lining falls down. The fabric I chose this time was really too thin and flimsy, so I attached the lining to the seam at the top of the crown with a couple of bar tacks. These hold the lining in place, but not so tightly that it might tear if the hat is pulled on firmly.

Back view of the new hat

The completed hat is a bit more stiff than the one it replaces, but then the original may have been more stiff before it spent years being stuffed into bags etc. I'm very pleased with the end result. The hat can be pushed back on the head and the brim turned back all round, to give a halo effect.

Halo hat

It can also be worn with the brim up at one side, or just partially turned up.

Up at one side

Brim up all round

The scarf is just another basic knit-two-purl-two in James C Brett Marble Chunky. The colours go really well with the coat. I really ought to try a more ambitious scarf pattern; but this one has the advantage that I don't have to concentrate, so can knit and chat at the same time.

The other great thing about the hat is that it's all from the stash. Unfortunately it didn't use a lot of fabric, but it's a start.

Not much, but better than nothing

Sunday, 13 January 2019

2019 plans

One of the things I did on my trip to London last month was visit the Burne-Jones exhibition at Tate Britain. As well as numerous paintings, including my favourite Burne-Jones work*, the exhibition included some of his comical sketches. Although he is usually considered to be a serious artist, he clearly had a humorous streak as well, and frequently poked fun at himself.

I  was reminded of one of these sketches this when I decided to tidy up and rearrange my workroom recently.

Mrs Wilkinson cleaning the studio, with Burne-Jones in the foreground

Burne-Jones dreaded studio-cleaning, and after several days of chaos I had every sympathy with him. Unfortunately I didn't have the luxury of help, so had to double up as both distraught 'artiste' and practical organiser!

However it is all done now. The room looks almost tidy, everything is labelled, and for the first time in nearly five years I have decent lighting over my ironing board. Woot! I even managed to find the left-over fabric from Vogue 2787, aka The Feed Sack Dress. I do still have the dress, albeit mended in a few places (from its unpromising start it has become a favourite that I'm loth to let go), but I think that the time for new buttons has passed.

The whole exercise did make me realise just how much fabric I have, and the depressing quantity of projects either half-done or not even started. So for 2019 I'm going to make a definite effort to chip away at this. I'm not going to measure my stash because a) it would be too embarrassing and b) it would take too long. Nor am I going to ban myself from buying fabric: I know well enough that I would have more success banning myself from drinking tea or eating chocolate. What I am going to do is keep a note of fabric bought and fabric used, with the intention that by the end of the year there should be a net loss. The previous attempt at stash reduction was a dismal failure, but I'm hoping I can do better this time.

So, 'progress' so far. . .

The 2019 Stashometer (of shame)

My excuse is that this is a fabric I've had my eye on for a while, and it was 50% off in the sale. Still not a good start, though.

* - Nothing to do with this post, but here it is:

Georgiana Burne-Jones by Edward Coley Burne-Jones, from Wikimedia Commons

Burne-Jones began this portrait of his wife Georgiana, known as Georgie, in 1883. The figures in the background are their two children, Philip and Margaret. He does not seem to have been the easiest person to live with (the notes in the exhibition describe Georgie as 'long-suffering') but from everything I've read about her, I think the portrait captures her personality.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

2018 review (and the one that got away)

Because I failed to meet my 2018 #VintagePledge, I'd assumed that I didn't get a lot of sewing (or other creative stuff) done this year. But when I added it all up, there was more than I'd expected.

All the things

I started learning to knit, and made a scarf and some wristwarmers. I also made bags for both my knitting and my rapidly growing collection of knitting needles - people keep giving me their spares! I'm currently making another scarf, and on and off working on the World's Slowest Jumper. (It's not at all complicated, just that I don't pick it up very often.)

On the millinery front, there's only one completed hat to show for my efforts: the Chimneypot. There are a lot of part-made hats in my workroom now, and getting some of them completed really should be high on my list for 2019.

I bought a 101-year-old sewing machine, and used it to make an almost-1940s dress. I also made one modern dress using entirely stash materials (yay!) and three #VintagePledge dresses from the 1960s and 1970s. Separates were limited to two skirts: one very plain; and one far less plain.

There should have been one more dress in the list, but my remake of Vogue 2787 stalled once I had sewn the front and back together - one for the spring, I think.

2018 was a year of anniversaries, and this featured in my sewing. The centenery of the end of World War One was marked at the university with We Remember Them: a project to which the sewing group contributed by making poppies, 77 of which I made up into a wreath. 2018 was also the centenery of the first British women gaining the right to vote. This was also marked with an event at the university: for which I co-ordinated a project to make a commemorative banner.

2019 really needs to be All About The Dissertation (the Dissertation Police would strongly agree on this matter!) but hopefully I'll find time for at least a bit of sewing.