Sunday, 24 February 2019

Older women on older patterns (or not)

As most people everyone who knows me in real life will readily confirm, large chunks of the modern world pass me by. I almost never wear trousers, except for going walking, and I don't possess even a single pair of jeans. Similarly, this blog is pretty much my only excursion into social media. Most bizarre of all, to some of my friends at least, is my determination to avoid getting a smartphone for as long as possible.

One result of this last quirk is that Instagram more or less passes me by. So it was only by chance that I came across the Sew Over 50 Sewing Challenge, and the Instagram account which launched it. The idea of the challenge is to make up a garment from a pattern which features an older (i.e. over 45-50) person modelling it; either on the packaging or in other associated artwork, such as online. As Susan Young, one of the founders of Sew Over 50 explains, the number of patterns which fall into this category is shockingly small.

This prompted me to look through my vintage patterns, and I discovered that this situation is nothing new. Even allowing an elastic definition of 'older', I found very few patterns which might qualify. Vintage patterns tend not to have photographs on the envelope, but even where the artwork features a model with clearly grey hair, the features are youthful. Possibly the idea was to imply that the design would be suitable for an older woman without the inconvenience of actually having to portray one.

DuBarry 5002B, 1941

Here the figure in the yellow dress is greying at the temples, but that is the only suggestion of age.

Economy Design E8, 1950s

The figure at the top left here has slightly grey hair, but I think that it is being used to indicate that this version of the top is a sophisticated 'evening' look, whereas the other three are more casual.

Simplicity 4320, 1953

The grey hair in this artwork meanwhile is fooling no-one.

Vogue 6346, 1964

To me the figure on the right on this Maudella pattern looks slightly older, but still has a youthful, slim figure.

Maudella 5151, 1960s

This Blackmore pattern appears to show an older woman, but this is implied by the figure rather than the face. Blackmore used a different pattern number for each size, and the fact that this pattern is available in bust sizes 40" to 46" (102-117cm) suggests that it is for what would be termed at the time 'matrons'.

Blackmore 8492, 1950s?

Hairstyles seem to have also been used to imply age without having to actually show it, as demonstrated by these two patterns from Woman's Realm (a weekly woman's magazine). The pattern on the left implies looks for older and younger women, whereas the one on the right is far more youthful.

Woman's Realm, styles for different ages

In fact, the only pattern I could find which clearly featured an older woman was this one.

Vogue 8129, 1981

Even here, the accompanying artwork shows a much younger figure. Also, I haven't been able to find any other Vogue patterns from around that time featuring the same model: this appears to have been a one-off.

So there you have it. Of over 500 patterns in my collection, the vast majority of which are for adult women, I can find eight which meet my very generous definition of 'older' women. It's just as well that I make my own decisions about what to make and wear, otherwise my vintage dressmaking days would be over!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Butterick 5997

I am currently making interlined curtains. This is a long, slow job, involving a lot of hand sewing - it's what box sets were invented for. Unfortunately, as I have little time to spare at present, the warmer weather will probably be here before they are completed. On the plus side, although I have bought the top fabric and interlining, I do have a huge amount of curtain lining already, so the project is contributing to my plans for stash reduction.

However once I'd finished the first set, I needed a quick dressmaking project as a breather before I did any more.

My stash includes a lot of Liberty Tana Lawn: bought in various sales at my local fabric shop. Most of it is dress lengths, but there was also one shorter piece, ideal for a top. Not something which I make very often, but I suddenly remembered that I had Butterick 5997, which came free with a sewing magazine.

Simple top with an attractive neckline

There are no shaping darts in the bodice, so no length adjustments required. I thought that it would be a quick, easy make - ha!

I decided to go for a hybrid style: view B, but without the pocket, and with the collar of view A. The lawn is printed in a diamond pattern, and I made sure that lines of diamonds ran down the centre front and centre back. In addition to this, the fabric is so fine that anything beneath it shows though, so I was careful to cut out all the facings so that the black outlines of the diamonds matched up exactly.

The fabric made up beautifully, but there were two problems: one with the pattern, and one with my stupidity. First, the pattern. The cuffs on view B are ludicrously wide. I have thin wrists, but even allowing for that, the cuffs were absurd. The image below shows how much overlap I had to allow to get anything even vaguely sensible: and even then I can get the top on and off without undoing the cuff buttons. The buttonholes are hand sewn.

Large overlap on the cuffs

The top has no fastenings but on the cuffs; it is pull-on. The second problem was the front opening. Because I did not need to shorten the bodice, I didn't think to shorten the opening, either. The end result is a rather lower front than I am happy wearing as it is. At present this isn't an issue, as I can easily wear the top over a T-shirt. I do need to think of a fix for warmer weather though. This is particularly annoying, as I stopped growing over 35 years ago, and you would have though that I would have grasped the need for neckline adjustments by now! Sigh.

Showing the curved shirt hem of view B

Tucked in

Overall, I do like the top, and I think I'll make it again. With a revised neckline, though. It has also used up some more stash fabric, so not a total failure.

Stash update

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Vogue's Guide to Practical Dressmaking

The book Vogue Sewing does not have a place on my bookshelf. This is because it actually lives on my worktable, within easy reach whenever I need to check something. It's my first port of call for any sewing queries, so when I saw its 1932 predecessor for sale, of course I wanted to see what it was like.

That cover! So 1930s

Despite the description on the cover, I would say that the guide is aimed more at the beginner than the expert. However given the publication date of 1932, it may have had a large audience of women taking up dressmaking for the first time. "Pick up your needle if you are interested in economy" is the sub-heading of the section titled, "Why learn to sew?".

The guide packs a lot of information into its 62 pages, and finds space for some advertisements as well. Unsurprisingly, the advertisers are also recommended in the editorial copy!

Index at the back

In an era when pattern instructions were brief (even on Vogue patterns), a book like this would have been invaluable to a novice dressmaker. So many things which I was taught by my mum, such as how to set in a sleeve, are clearly explained.

Sleeve details

For the modern sewist using vintage patterns, it also provides useful information on techniques which were common at the time, but have fallen out of use since.

Facings and collars

On my hatmaking courses I have heard people talk about the Very, Very Strict School of Millinery, and this guide could be described as the Very Strict School of Dressmaking. There are stern warnings about buying less fabric than specified, or failing to follow instructions, and the section, "Why learn to sew?" states firmly:
". . . rules are made to be followed religiously. Short cuts and makeshifts are what give to many home-made dresses their home-made look."

Naturally, Vogue patterns are the only patterns mentioned ("a dress made from a Vogue Pattern never disappoints you"), but in a tacit admission that readers may use other patterns, with sketchier instructions, there is a section on the order of work for different types of garment.

The order of work for a frock without set-in sleeves

Another indication of the times comes in the advertisements. There are two full-page ads for manufacturers of synthetic, 'artifical' fabrics.

You can see some Ferguson fabrics here

Celanese was made from cellulose (plant fibre)

Also sold as a 'silk substitute' at that time was Sylko thread. Clearly shade names hadn't been introduced in 1932.

Shade numbers only

Although the guide's section on fastenings makes reference to the "Lightning Zipp fastener", the word 'zip' or 'zipper' doesn't appear anywhere in the advertisement -  I wonder if it was covered by a patent at the time?

Wonderful illustration though

Amid all of this 1930s artwork, the advertisement for the French Bust Company looks very dated: by about 20 years, judging from the boy's suit.

Probably not going for a deliberately 'retro' feel

Ferguson Fabrics closed in 1949. British Celanese, now part of Celanese, still exists but no longer makes fabric. Sylko is now the brand name for Coats' machine embroidery thread. Lightning Fasteners (Birmingham) became part of Optilon, who do still make zips. And the French Bust Company went, presumably, bust (sorry). Of the advertisers featured, the only ones still trading in the same form 87 years later are Vogue Patterns, and the firm featured on the back cover of the guide.

A familiar name at last!

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Not just dummies: mannequins in costume display

First of all this week, I must thank American Duchess for posting a link to this article, which reminded me that I had intended to write about this topic.

The idea came from visiting the Fashioned from Nature exhibition at the V&A last year. Very early on, the mannequins caught my eye, especially the rough, papier-maché like texture of the heads and necks. I didn't recall having seen them before.

Two views of the new mannequins - with 18th and 19th century dress

As can be seen in the image on the right, not all of the mannequins included heads. Of the female ones which did (I don't recall seeing any male heads), the same 'hairstyle' was used for all periods.

Front view

The layers of material used in the construction appeared to be a deliberate feature.

Side view showing the patched effect

The section of the exhibition on nature as it related to more recent fashion also had new mannequins. These had facial features, and a (limited) variety of hairstyles, all short.

Front and back views

Other hairstyles

This got me thinking about mannequins in costume exhibitions. Should you even notice them, and if you do, is this a bad thing? Do they detract from or enhance the clothes? Which is the most disconcerting: headless; featureless heads; or entirely realistic heads? I don't have answers to any of these questions, but it did prompt me to go back through the many, many photographs I have taken over the years, and attempt to get a feel of how costume display has changed.

I should add that none of what follows is in any way a criticism of the museums or exhibitions mentioned: I fully appreciate that much of the time the curators simply have to work with what is available. These are just my observations on different displays. I also apologise for the quality of some of the images. Not only have I clearly got a lot more fussy about taking photographs for this blog since I started it, but some of the photographs in this post were taken for my own reference only, not with a view to putting them online.

Most of the photographs are from the V&A and the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, and the Fashion Museum in Bath. I have been to all three of these venues many times over the years, so they provide a good narrative of changing styles. There are also some images from other museums, especially ones with new or recently updated displays.

'Realistic' mannequins, with features and wigs, seem very much in the minority now; and as a result, appear quite old-fashioned. These examples are from the now-closed Snibston Museum, and Platt Hall in Manchester (closed for 2019). Even here there is a difference between the painted figures of Snibston, and the plain white ones of Platt Hall.

Snibston (2011) and Platt Hall (2014)

Using paper or similar materials for wigs seems to be a less popular approach now than it was in the past: the only example I could find in the V&A was this one, in the British Galleries.

Regency hairstyle in paper

The Fashion Museum also used wigged mannequins in the past, for example in its Fifty Fabulous Frocks exhibition in 2013, where they were mixed with headless models.

Chanel suit - 1960s, hair and make-up - not 1960s

In some cases the exhibition got round the issue of trying to match the mannequin to the style of the dress by using obviously vintage models.

Clearly not modern mannequins

Vintage mannequins were also occasionally used in the main collection at the Fashion Museum. This rather racy bust is in stark contrast to the demure Victorian bonnet displayed on it, and also to the presentation of a similar bonnet in the V&A.

Very different display styles, both from 2012

The Georgians exhibition dispensed with headed mannequins, and this seems to have been the policy of the museum ever since.

From Georgians (2014) to Royal Women (2018)

The only exception is when the outfit includes headgear. Then the head is wrapped in white fabric, which I do find quite disconcerting; especially on the armless version!

Examples from A History of Fashion in 100 Objects (2016-present)

The Fashion and Textile Museum uses a variety of mannequins in its displays: headless; featureless; and with unpainted features. This scene from 1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs (2016) contains all three.

A variety of mannequin styles

Usually the headed mannequins are only used if there is a hat or headdress to display. The exception was the 2016 Missoni exhibition, where the ranks of closely-packed, identical figures were an important part of the overall look.

Slightly sinister figures at Missoni

Mannequins with a particular aesthetic also appeared in the Anna Sui exhibition.

The style of mannequins used in the original Anna Sui boutique

What I don't know is if these two exhibitions originated elsewhere, and if the decision to use the mannequins in this way was therefore made by someone outside the museum. The recent Night And Day exhibition was conceived 'in house' however, and I loved the choice, rare for the FTM, to wig the singer in the 'nightclub' scene - it really made her stand out.

The wig differentiates the singer from her audience

One thing which mannequins featured so far have in common is that they are all white. The author of the article referenced at the start of this post mentions that this is increasingly becoming an issue in the museum world, and it's interesting to see how three capital city museums have begun to address it.

Two of the V&A's recent exhibitions, Balenciaga (2017) and Ocean Liners (2018), have used non-white mannequins for some of their displays.

Balenciaga  (left) and Ocean Liners (right)

The Museum of London's Pleasure Gardens exhibit was opened several years ago, and refurbished last year. I can't remember what the original looked like, but the new version uses black mannequins.

Part of the Pleasure Gardens display

Another approach, used elsewhere in the Museum of London, is to (apparently) do away with mannequins altogether.

Look - no body!

Even when the outfit to be displayed includes a headdress.

No head either

These displays still use a support on a stand, but the Fashion Gallery at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh takes things a step further. Some of the exhibits seem to float in mid-air.

Dress by Lucile, c1918-20

Even the hats are displayed on transparent stands.

Keeping a clear head

The Fashion Gallery was only opened a few years ago, so this may represent current thinking in costume display.

I will finish however where I began, at the V&A. This may well be my favourite use of a mannequin (or part of one) - in a small section of the permanent display, devoted to 1930s Surrealism.

Having your jacket to hand