Sunday, 28 July 2019

Slow going (and worse)

'Progress' on the anemone dress is achingly slow. In part this is due there being lots of other demands on my time at present, and in part because after a mere 28 years waiting to use this fabric, I really want to get it right. But on top of this, sometimes contending with my own stupidity takes up a lot of precious time.

Exhibit A on the stupidity front is the sleeves. They are taken from New Look 6093, but with the much flatter sleeve head of New Look 6299. I decided to make the elastic longer and the ruching less ruched because - well, I have no idea why I thought this was a good plan. The end result was a mess. It didn't look like a plain sleeve, and didn't look like a ruched sleeve either. So, I decided to unpick the elastic, shorten it, and sew it back in - after setting the sleeves into the dress. How hard could it be? Very hard, it turned out.

A completed sleeve

On the whole, New Look patterns fit me well once I have shortened the bodice. Occasionally though, they can gape at the back neckline. Again, it would have been sensible to check this fit detail before spending ages hand-picking the zip, but where's the fun in that? I couldn't face unpicking the zip to fix this, so instead I added an extra dart at the neckline either side of it. Fortunately I realised this mistake before I'd attached the facing.

Dart between the zip and the princess seam

The darts were added in an emergency fitting session with Mum, but we decided that even with this fix the shoulders still needed a little extra help. The shoulder seams are far too narrow to accommodate bought shoulder pads, so I had to make my own. I used the instructions in Vogue 2787 and drafted my own pattern pieces to fit the space available.

Completed shoulder pad

The one thing which I am happy with is the piecing and pattern matching in the back godets, which worked out really well. It is practically invisible.

Piecing like a pro

Join, what join?

But leaving aside the various fit and alteration issues, I have another problem with this dress. I was aiming for a vaguely vintage look, however I fear that instead it's developing a distinct 'late 1980s bridesmaid' vibe - and no-one wants that! I shall just have to plough on (slowly), and hope that I can somehow style it out.


Sunday, 21 July 2019

Location, location

Despite living not far from either Manchester or Knutsford (the model for Cranford), Elizabeth Gaskell's work had pretty much passed me by until recently. But then a friend recommended the BBC's 2004 dramatisation of North and South, and I decided to take a look. And was confused.

Not long after the opening credits came this shot, which we were assured was 'London'.

London. Or not

Now I'm not aware of any part of London having stonework that colour. But I am aware of a lot of Edinburgh having stonework that colour. Pretty much all of the New Town, in fact. (See this post about why the 'New Town' is not actually that new.) It turned out that quite a lot of the series was filmed in Edinburgh, mostly in parts which I recognized but did not know well. So on my recent trip up there, I set out to investigate. Apologies for some of the screen grabs being slightly blurry.

The first location I checked out was directly opposite the National Museum of Scotland, where the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event took place. These are the steps where Margaret Hale is accosted by the mill workers, and then rescued and helped to a carriage by Nicholas Higgins.

Looking up the steps

Getting into the carriage

The archway just visible in the first picture is a prop, but what really surprised me was just how narrow the street is at the bottom. The shot with the carriage must have been carefully set up so that the pavement on the other side was just out of the frame.

Looking down the steps

This pretty much set the tone for the rest of my exploration. I was fascinated to see how cleverly the locations had been used, admittedly sometimes with a little computer-generated help, to give a rather different impression.

Bizarrely, despite living in or near Edinburgh for 18 years and then visiting regularly for a further 17, I had never been up Calton Hill. In particular I'm amazed that Mr Tulip, who never saw a hill he didn't want to drag me up, had never insisted that we go there. It is at the east end of Princes Street, and home to the old city observatory and various monuments.

The Dugald Stewart Monument, with the Old Town to the left and Princes Street to the right

Various characters are seen walking here throughout North and South.

Margaret Hale, with the Dugald Stewart Monument in the background

With Milton/Manchester in the background

A similar view - albeit with restoration work going on

This seemed very odd, until I came across this image. It was used (sadly without any details) in this article about the novel Mary Barton, so I assume that it is a drawing of Manchester, where both novels are set. What runs under the bridge in Edinburgh is actually the railway station, not a river, but there are certain similarities - including Braid Hills standing in for the Pennines in the background!

Tall buildings and wide-span bridge

There is a lot of death in North and South, which I assume is why all the tombstones were added to Calton Hill.

Margaret talking to Bessie Higgins

In reality, the Calton Burial Ground is at the foot of the hill.

The burial ground seen from the hill

This was somewhere else I had never visited. Although it mostly contains gravestones, around the edges are these elaborate family tombs. I assume that they once had roofs, but now there are signs dotted around the burial ground warning that the structures are unsafe.

Two of the family tombs

Stockbridge, on the north side of the city, is another area I didn't visit when I lived there. This may have been because it's at the bottom of a very steep hill, which I would have to climb back up again! More recently I've become acquainted with it via the fabulous photoshoots which Debi of Ms1940McCall has staged around there - I love playing 'Guess the location' with her Edinburgh-based posts.

St Stephen's Church is partway down that hill. If you look down to it, both parts of north Edinbugh and the hills of Fife are visible behind it. Plus, the buildings to the right of the church are quite modern.

St Stephen's Church, with background

Shoot it close to, looking upwards, and with a conveniently placed cart to the side - and it becomes the institute where Mr Hale lectures.

A different view

The biggest surprise however was the street where the Hales live.

The busy, if not prosperous, street

The archway with 'Stockbridge Market' over it made it quite easy to find.

A bit of a giveaway

The area behind the arch was covered over for filming, which makes it look like there is a market hall there, and the properties on one side were turned into shops.

Baskets, chairs, and other goods for sale

The Hales' home, on the left with the black door, was tweaked a little to remove the very obvious downpipe - either by boxing it in or by computer.
Not the world's most unobtrusive plumbing

Look - no downpipe!

But the thing which amazed me was just how short the street is. There is so much going on in the various scenes shot here, that I had assumed it was a long street. In fact, there are only a handful of properties.

You can see the end of the street in the foreground

You can also see that I took this photograph just as the heavens opened. Faced with a long, uphill walk back to the hotel in a thunderstorm I was forced (forced, you understand) to take shelter in Elaine's Vintage Clothing just around the corner until the rain eased off - and came out with a very nice scarf! Downpours aside, the whole thing left me with a renewed admiration for the people who do all this unseen work in costume drama; those who work out how and where to set the shots up and who tweak real life to allow us to see something totally different.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

The Vogue Woman

I'm slowly filling in the gaps in my collection of Vogue Pattern Books/Vogue Patterns, so when I came across a few copies from the 1990s I snapped them up. This is one of them, from 1993.

Vogue Patterns, March/April 1993

Lynn, who writes the excellent American Age Fashion project, has written about The Vogue Woman patterns - you can read her post here.

'The Vogue Woman' was another attempt by Vogue to appeal to the older sewist, following on from half-size patterns*. It made sense: by the 1990s dressmaking was declining in popularity, so persuading the audience you already have (an audience which is getting older) to buy more patterns may well be a better bet than trying to tempt younger women to take up dressmaking. Indeed the issue's editorial suggested that The Vogue Woman range had been introduced in response to comments from readers who don't want to dress "like a trendy young girl".

The first batch of twelve patterns came in either sizes 6-22 or 8-24, with five of the patterns having a petite option. The designs aimed to be stylish rather than ultra fashionable, and had built-in adjustments such as longer hems and looser sleeves. Elasticated waistbands featured too. Given that in one of the books I've read for my Masters research**, most of the older women interviewed disliked elasticated waists intensely, I did wonder just how popular that feature was.

One thing which probably did find favour was the larger print instructions. I compared a 1993 Vogue Woman pattern to a 1990 Vogue Career one, and the difference was immediately apparent.

Instructions are easier on the eyes

The pattern instructions also contained information on how to pad sloping shoulders, and stop shoulder straps from digging in.

Extra information in the pattern

The print size may have differed, but one thing had not - the measurements. This really surprised me. The 'Guide to back views and fabric yardages' at the back of the magazine includes a chart of bust, waist and hip measurements for each size, but the Vogue Woman patterns are labelled "See pattern envelope for measurement information", which to me implies that they differ from the standard measurements. However while half sizes had catered for shorter back lengths and thicker waists, The Vogue Woman clearly had the same measurements as the (presumably younger) users of Vogue Career patterns.

Comparing measurement charts

The editorial and article on the new pattern range featured older models (i.e. 40 to over 60), and named them.

Models for The Vogue Woman range

Clockwise from top left they are Betsy Berry, Lillian Marcuson and Grethe Holby. Betsy Berry was the 40-year-old referred to, while Lillian Marcuson had had a modelling career in the 1950s before retiring to raise a family. Grethe Holby was born in 1948, and was a dancer as well as a model. According to this article Ford Models took five years off her age when she joined, which makes me wonder what age Vogue Patterns thought she was in 1993!

Like Vogue Career patterns, the envelope shows the figure in a setting rather than just a blank background. Unlike a lot of Vogue patterns from the era, the background is in focus, and quite extensive.

One of the first Vogue Woman patterns

The accompanying line drawing of the dress shows a woman with white hair, but noticably younger and thinner, which seems to be the standard pattern art approach to drawing older women. Even on patterns which were specifically aimed at older women, clearly the representation of older women could only go so far.

* - At this time half-sizes still going, just. They were no longer separate patterns, instead they existed as alteration lines on regular patterns. The key in the 'Guide to back views and fabric yardages' includes a symbol which translates as "Half Sizes: Special adjustment lines for Half-Sizes on sizes 14-24". However none of the 45 other patterns for adult women’s clothing featured in the guide appear to include this option, so it's not clear how widely it was in use by 1993.

** - Twigg, J. (2013). Fashion and age. London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Academic.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

All the tartan dresses

The Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding dress isn't the only garment in the Wild and Majestic; Romantic Visions of Scotland exhibition; there are lots of other tartan clothes on display. I must admit though that I was very partial, and only recorded the dresses, not the various men's suits.

First up, this boy's kilt dress, c1820. The lower part is styled to resemble a kilt, and the buttons and braid reflect the way military dress details were used in civilian clothes at the time.

Kilt dress, front and back

This 1823 painting, reproduced in the exhibition, shows how such a dress would have been worn.

Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge with her children Prince George and Princess Augusta

King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822. Many of the details of the visit were planned by the novelist Sir Walter Scott, including a grand ball at Holyrood Palace. For this, Scott recommended that the ladies wore plain white silk dresses with silk tartan scarves. Clearly Mary Jane MacDougall followed his advice.

White silk gown with silk tartan sash, c1815-25

The dress has mesh oversleeves finished with silk tartan, and is trimmed with beetle wings and more mesh, with a silk tartan sash over the top.

Sleeve detail

Hem detail

While the royal visit was not without controversy, it did provoke interest in tartan as a fashion item.

'Evening dress', Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 1822

Lovers of the wilder end of 1830s fashions may feel that all their Christmases have come at once when they set eyes on the next dress. Clearly 'less is more' was not a phrase which ever occurred to its owner. Sarah Justina Davidson married Colonel Ewen Macpherson in December 1832, and this riot of two different silk tartans and all the trimmings is thought to have been part of her trousseau.

I so want to see somebody recreate this!

Sleeves - go double or go home

Making sure that the hem doesn't miss out on the trimming madness

All this and lace as well

Looking positively restrained by comparison was this dress worn by the then Princess Victoria, c1835-7.

Silk velvet, trimmed with lace and silk tartan bows

Close-up of the bodice

Victoria's love of Scotland is well known. In 1842 she and Prince Albert spent two nights at Drummond Castle, as guests of Baron Willoughby de Eresby and his wife. (This very non-Scottish name is explained by the fact that Lady Willoughby de Eresby's maiden name was Drummond, and she was 'Chieftainness of the Clan Drummond'.) A ball was held to mark the end of the royal visit, for which Lady Willoughby de Eresby wore this dress of Drummond silk tartan.

Another dress trimmed with net

Attempt at pattern matching at the front

But none at the back

And that would be it, but for one teensy, weensy confession. My train home from Edinburgh wasn't until mid-afternoon on Monday, so in the morning I went for a stroll round the south side of the city. When I found myself outside Edinburgh Fabrics of course I had to pop in, to see if it had changed at all. And it had - it was even better than I remembered. There had been a lot of talk about linen over the weekend, and there I was looking at a large selection of the stuff, in glorious colours. . .


I'm telling myself that as souvenirs go, at least it was a healthier option than than Edinburgh rock, tablet, or any other Scottish sweet treats!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

How to make a hexagonal ribbon cockade

I love to read your comments, and will always try to help if someone asks a question. So when a reader got in touch to ask about the hexagonal ribbon cockade which appeared in this post, I dug out some ribbon and tried to remember how it was done.

I must admit, this took a while as it's well over three years since I last made one of these! It's actually very simple to do, but with the right ribbon can look very effective.

You will need a ribbon which is the same on both sides.

First, fold the ribbon like this.

Then fold the upper end of the ribbon (in this case, the left end) under the lower end, like this.

Repeat the step, folding the upper end under the lower end.

Keep repeating this until you have a complete hexagon. I pinned the cockade to a board as I was working, so that I could take photographs, but it is possible to do this just by holding the ribbon in your hand.

Slip-stitch along the join, marked with a green line in the photograph below, and secure the centre with a couple of small stitches.

Then fold the ends of the ribbon under the cockade, snip off the excess, and secure the ends in place. The cockade at the start of the post was made from two hexagons sewn together, the grey one is made from a wider ribbon.

Hope this helps!