Sunday, 27 October 2019

How to make a powder sifter for a vintage compact

Among the many 'old-fashioned' things which I decline to give up (using a watch rather than a phone to tell the time, sending actual, physical birthday cards, etc. etc.) is face powder. In my world, shiny noses are good on dogs but not not on me.

Most of the time I use modern pressed powder which comes in its own plastic compact, but if I'm dressed up then I like to use my 'proper' compact, which I inherited from Granny R. However it is very obviously 1950s or later, and so not correct with 1940s clothes. (Indeed yes, I am a completist - what makes you ask?). So when this apparently 1940s compact came up at the local auction recently, I treated myself to a congratulations-on-finishing-my-dissertation present.

Silver and guilloche enamel RAF 'sweetheart' compact

There was no date given in the catalogue, but the hallmark inside is from 1938. This wasn't that only surprise it held, though. The well for the powder is smaller than in Granny R's compact, and it has more of a curved shape at the base.

The compact open

Granny R's compact closed (with bonus powdery fingerprints) and open with powder inside

Thanks to this website, I realised that Granny R's compact was made for pressed powder, and the earlier RAF compact was made for loose powder. Also, that the latter should come with a sifter to hold the powder in place, like this one from The Vintage Compact Shop.

A similar compact, complete with sifter

I do already own a compact with a sifter. It is part of a metal evening bag which I bought at a vintage fair (and which I really should blog about sometime).

The compact closed . . .

. . . and open, with sifter

Basically the sifter is a metal frame, with gauze stretched over it, and the edges covered in a type of velour. So I thought I would have a go at making one for my new compact - here's how I did it.

Thin card for the template
Pelmet buckram (see below for details)
Silk gauze
Narrow ribbon (I used an absurdly long hanging loop which I'd cut out of a jumper)
Baking parchment
Fine fabric for covering the 'frame'

Pair of compasses
Scissors (sharp, but not your best fabric-cutting ones - the buckram will ruin them!)
Iron and ironing board

A metal frame was out of the question, so I used buckram. Two layers ironed together make quite a rigid material. I had used this approach to make a belt for Butterick 6582, and three years later that is still going strong. It does need to be the right type of buckram, though. Millinery buckram has an open weave, and is coated with an adhesive which is activated by water. I used what my local fabric shop sells as pelmet buckram; it has a closed weave, and is coated (on both sides) with an adhesive which is activated by heat.

Millinery buckram (top) and pelmet buckram.

First of all work out the size of the sifter by experimenting with templates cut from thin card. It it best to cut a hole in the centre of the template before trying it in the compact, because if it is a tight fit, it will be very hard to pull it out again (ask me how I know!). The sifter should have a diameter very slightly smaller than the powder well.

Once you have worked out the outer diameter of the sifter, draw two circles of this size on the buckram, each with another circle about 9mm / scant ⅜" inside it. Then cut these out. Rather than try to cut the inner circle directly, I found that it was easier to cut a small circle in the centre, and then gradually spiral out from there. This leaves you with two rings of buckram. Next, cut out a square of silk gauze, slightly larger than the ring, and a short length of the ribbon. It is possible to use another type of gauze if you don't have silk, but it must be heat-resistant.

Fold the ribbon to form a small tab; I found it easiest to iron this to keep it in shape. This is what you will use to lift the sifter out of the compact. Place a piece of baking parchment on the ironing board and on top of this lay one of the buckram rings, then the gauze, then the ribbon tab with the cut ends pointing outwards, and finally the other buckram ring placed exactly on top of the first one. I have shown this on a coloured background below, just to make the layers more visible.

Buckram rings, silk gauze and ribbon tab

Place more baking parchment over the top, and firmly press the layers together with a warm iron. You might want to experiment with some scraps of buckram first to get the heat/time combination right, but always remember to do this between two sheets of baking parchment. I found that about 15 seconds on the cotton setting worked best. The buckram will stuck to the baking parchment a little but can be gently peeled off, taking care not to separate the pieces of the sifter in the process. At this point the buckram will be quite pliable, so make sure that the sifter is entirely flat, and leave it to cool. Once it is completely cold, cut off the excess gauze and ribbon.

Stuck together and with the excess cut away

Cut a bias strip from the fabric and iron it to form bias binding very slightly more than twice as wide as the frame. You could use shop-bought binding if you prefer, but I tend to find this a bit stiff. Initially I was going to use blue fabric to go with the enamel and the RAF theme, but then I realised that compacts tend to use pale pink or cream edgings because they won't show the powder stains so much. The pink silky crepe fabric I used is a bit bright, but it was in my stash and the right weight. Fold the binding in half lengthways and wrap it over the frame, then sew the two edges together with tiny stab stitches through the gauze. Make sure that several of the stitches go through the ribbon tab. I had tacked the edges of the binding to keep them flat, but I found that the tacking was also useful for gathering the edges in.

Sewing on the binding

And here is the completed sifter, nestling perfectly inside the compact. Snug enough to stay in place if I turn the compact upside down, but not so big that it buckles when pushed into place. Next time I think I would try making the frame a little narrower, but I'm pretty happy with this for a first attempt.

Ready for action

I hope this is useful to anyone else wanting to make their vintage loose powder compact usable again. As ever, if anything is unclear or you need more information, please add a comment and I'll do my best to help.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Bride of Frankenpattern

Among other things, I am slowly working through the box of patterns which I bought in the summer. As there are around 100 of them, this will take some time.

The dates range from 1950 to 1997, and among the 1990s patterns are these.

Patterns from 1990 and 1992

That's a lot of wedding dress patterns for one person to own. At some point I will write a post about the whole collection, but from the information I've gleaned so far, I think that the owner of these patterns used elements from all four patterns for her daughter's wedding. Some of the pieces are cut out to size 12 and some to size 18, so I'm guessing that they were used for the bridesmaid(s) as well as the bride.

The off-the-shoulder look was clearly popular at the time.

Style 1883 - 1990

As were tight sleeves, princess seam pointed bodices, and full skirts.

Style 1888 - 1990

The pattern pieces for fabric roses were used from the three patterns which include them.

Simplicity 7919 - 1992

This option is slightly different - a straight skirt with a full overskirt.

New Look 6686 - early 1990s

Initially I thought that I would be able to work out the look of the dress from the pieces cut out from each pattern, but this wasn't possible. The ruched sleeves of Style 1888 were definitely used, but so were skirt pieces from three different patterns. I wonder if an initial idea was tried, and then replaced? Either way, the owner must have been a skilled dressmaker to blend all the elements together.

The collection also contains this pattern, complete with suggested neckline alterations.

Style 1674 - 1988

However it is unused and still in its original folds. Perhaps a different pattern was used and has since been lost, or maybe the bride chose not to have a flower girl after all?

Sunday, 13 October 2019


It's done!

That's me - centre front, in the hat!

Yes, the dissertation is finally handed in, and I have a life back. Not that I'm at a loose end - there's a huge backlog of tasks awaiting my attention, starting with a sewing project which I have to keep under wraps for now, but which does have a deadline. Plus ├ža change.

I had been wondering what to post about this week, when the latest issue of Sew Today arrived. Browsing through it I came across this, in a section featuring Butterick's latest releases.

Gasp! An actual, grey-haired woman! Butterick 6704

Cynic that I am, I assumed that this was going to be it for older-woman representation (after all, the Big 4 haven't exactly covered themselves in glory on this front), but I was wrong.

Pattern envelope for Butterick 6707

All the images are taken from the Sew Direct website, and close inspection shows that they have been digitally enhanced; some less than others. (To be fair, Sew Today/Sew Direct are hardly unique in doing this.)

Detail of further image for Butterick 6707

Butterick 6709

Butterick 6710

Butterick 6717

Another of the models used, while not grey-haired, does appear to be rather older than I'm used to seeing in the Big 4's images.

Butterick 6713

Could it be that, helped by campaigns such as Sew Over 50, the big pattern companies are finally getting the message that older sewists have disposable income, and we are increasingly inclined to dispose of it where we see ourselves represented? Here's hoping.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Focus on - The Culture of Sewing

I'm into the final stretch, so it's all getting a bit frantic. I haven't taken up smoking, but apart from that, this is a fairly good representation!


This week's book is the most academic of the titles I've looked at. The Culture of Sewing is an edited collection of writings on the history of home dressmaking in Britain and the United States. I'm not including an image of the book, as the cover is a black and white version of a photograph which may not be to everyone's taste - there is a link to the original image here.

I've referred to this book before, when I wrote about Bestway patterns. There are 37 chapters in total, covering a wide range of topics. These include among other things: Janet Arnold writing about the 1808 instruction manual The Lady's Economical Assistant; Joy Spanabel Emery on the history of the paper pattern; a case study of one family's pattern collection held in York museum; personal recollections of home dressmaking; the development of the domestic sewing machine; and Britain's Make Do and Mend campaign.

One chapter which was nothing at all to do with my dissertation, but I found fascinating (and I did manage to squeeze in a reference to it) is about the wives of U.S. Army officers in the second half of the nineteenth century. These women accompanied their husbands to remote postings, far from shops or dressmakers. They were unable to keep up with fashion and nor were they expected to, but they were expected to maintain standards of dress suitable for an officer's wife. Also very entertaining is the account of Singer's post-war advertising campaign for their Teen-Age Sewing Course, which is by turns funny and depressing. The basic gist seemed to be 'Never mind anything as boring as learning a useful skill, make a frock and Get A Boy'!

Like all academic books this one is not cheap, although Berg's publications are better than many in that regard. If you are able to get hold of a copy though, it is well worth a read. Barbara Burman, who edited The Culture of Sewing, has recently co-authored The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900 with Ariane Fennetaux, which is (yet) another item on my (long) reading list. I'm not going to be at a loose end when I finally finish, that's for sure.