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.

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