Sunday 24 November 2019

Making a modern hussif - part 1

This project has been on my 'to do' list for several months, but the impetus to get on with it came from finishing the University Centre Shrewsbury banner. When I delivered the banner to the campus I thought that I had best take a small emergency sewing kit along as well, just in case any last-minute fixes were required. They weren't, but as I hunted round for something suitable in which to carry pins, needles, thread and scissors I thought, "I really need to make that hussif".

Make a what? A hussif, or housewife, is a small, portable, roll-up sewing kit, as explained in this article by The Dreamstress. They were often carried by men who were away from home for long periods, such as sailors or soldiers, to enable them to carry out repairs to their clothing.

Women used hussifs as well. I first came across them at the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event in June, where all the mantua-makers who were involved in making the dress had their own. In this photo of Peryn Westerhof Nyman at work on the back of the dress her hussif is in front of her, there is another one between the two reels of linen thread to her right; and a third one rolled up on the table by the window.

Hussifs galore!
All of these were of course historically accurate to the eighteenth century. There are lots of Victorian and more modern designs out there as well, and numerous tutorials on how to make your own, such as this one.

Hussif by Julia's Place

The great thing about a hussif though is that there is no right or wrong; you can make whatever design, to whatever size, suits your requirements. I've seen examples with loops for silk skeins for embroiderers, and others with rotary cutter pockets for quilters.

My thimble dates from 1905, and my original idea was to make a hussif decorated with Art Nouveau embroidery to complement it. Thinking about it was as far as I had got until the Shrewsbury trip, when something rare happened - realism set in! It dawned on me that if I wanted a hussif to actually use, at some time within the next decade, then I would have to scale back my plans.

As I was going to Shrewsbury anyway, it seemed only sensible to pop into Watson and Thornton while I was there, and buy some fabric (because obviously I had nothing suitable at home!).

My fabric choices from the Tilda Candy Bloom collection

The dark fabric is for the outer layer, and the lighter ones for the inside. On the train journey home I made a list of what I would want the hussif to contain. I came up with: pincushion and pins, needles, scissors, thimble, tape measure, seam ripper (because, realism) and a pocket for threads. Plus a few more pockets for the things I'd forgotten to add to the list.

When I got home I laid out these tools on an A2 sheet of paper. Once I had some idea of the arrangement I wanted, I drew out the various pockets and other elements, and added seam allowances. The end result was longer than the paper, so I had to draw it in two parts. Because the drawing is in pencil it doesn't photograph well, but here goes.

Click to enlarge for a (slightly) clearer image

The lining is to be a little smaller all round than the outer layer, so that some of the dark fabric shows on the inside. I cut out both the outer and inner pieces from a stashed piece of plain white cotton, somewhere between a craft weight and duck or twill. These pieces were cut to the finished sizes, with no seam allowance. Then I cut the outer shape, with a 1" /2.5cm allowance all round, from the dark fabric. This was folded around the white cotton outer piece, and the corners mitred. To get the curved end smooth I cut a template from scrap card, gathered the blue fabric over it, pressed it, and then removed the card. The raw edges of the blue fabric were then stitched down onto the white, taking care that the stitches didn't come through to the right side.

The completed outer layer
So progress is being made, but what about the Stashometer? It's not looking good. I guessed (correctly) that the hussif would require the full width of the fabric, so bought fat quarters of the light fabrics, and half a metre of the dark.

Oh. Dear.

I may have to sew non-stop from now until the end of the year to fix this!

Sunday 17 November 2019

More costume goodness at the Walker Art Gallery

An English lady's wardrobe is not the only costume exhibition currently on display at the Walker. The Design Gallery on the ground floor often has a small costume display, and at present it is showing Dressed to Impress: Fashion in the 18th Century.

Part of the display

The 13 costumes on display belonged to 'the middling sort', those who were neither poor nor extremely wealthy. Because they are all displayed in glass cases, reflections were a problem when trying to take photographs. The men's dark suits proved particularly tricky, but I was able to photograph some of the waistcoats

Silk satin waistcoat, 1760-80

The displays are arranged so that it is possible to see the backs of most garments.

Back view of the waistcoat

One of the display cases . . .

. . . and the other

Among the menswear on display is this early example of 'shapewear'. For those men who lacked the requisite shapely calf, help was at hand in the form of padded stockings. These were worn with a pair of ordinary silk stockings over the top, and are displayed here with the left stocking inside out to show the wool padding.

Silk stockings with wool padding, 1775-1800

My interest however was in the women's wear. This dress, seen in the centre of the second display case, is made from a stunning silk brocade woven with flowers in the centre of plain silk medallions, with textured fabric around them. The maker clearly wasn't sure what to do with the pleated trim around the waist when it reached the back pleats, so it rather peters out.

Open gown and matching petticoat, 1760-65

Side view

The odd trim finish at the back

This costume spans a number of decades. The brocade dates from 1736-38, the gown was made around 1770-80, and the quilted petticoat 1750-80.

Keeping fabric for decades is clearly not a new thing!

Piecing at the top of the skirt

This gown had been altered in the nineteenth century for fancy dress wear.

Silk brocade sack-back gown and petticoat, 1765-70

Side views

Fortunately, the trim remains unaltered.

Sleeve detail

Sleeve and bodice

The family that originally owned this dress believed that it had been a wedding dress, but it may just have been a 'best' dress.

Silk satin damask open gown, 1750-70

I had great fun playing 'spot the piecing' around the exhibition. Some examples required close inspection, but some made it easy. I don't know enough about eighteenth century dress to know whether this join was just careful use of fabric, or remodelling when pointed bodice fronts became fashionable - all suggestions gratefully received.

Using just the spotted part of the fabric makes the join less obvious

I loved the jaunty quilting design on the petticoat.

Silk and wool quilted petticoat, 1750-1800

Another example of an open gown with a quilted petticoat had the skirt arranged in a polonaise. The green silk brocade was my favourite fabric in the exhibition, but the costume was nigh-on impossible to photograph without reflections.

Silk brocade open gown 1770-80

Another exuberant silk and wool quilted petticoat, 1750-1800

Annoying reflection on the polonaise

The best view was from the back, framed by two other gowns

Dressed to Impress runs until spring 2020, and is free to visit. Alternatively, all the costumes are featured in this book about National Museums Liverpool's eighteenth century costume collection.

Sunday 10 November 2019

An English lady's wardrobe at the Walker Art Gallery

I have posted before about the Tinne collection, the remarkable collection of clothing accumulated by Emily Tinne, a Liverpool doctor's wife, in the period 1910-1940. Consisting of over 700 items, it forms the largest collection of one person's clothing in any museum in the UK. An English lady's wardrobe is a new exhibition of over 70 costumes from the collection. While there aren't quite that many photographs in this post, it is a long and image-heavy one, so make yourself comfortable! Click on any image to see a larger version.

Day and evening wear from Mrs Tinne's extensive wardrobe, (l to r) 1910, 1913, 1925, 1928-30, 1932-35, 1935-36

Pauline Rushton, Curator of Costumes and Textiles at National Museums Liverpool, has been given access to a large number of the Tinne family's photographs and letters by surviving family members, and these shed some light on certain aspects of the collection. Quotes from the letters appear throughout the exhibition, which begins with information about the family. While the Tinnes made their money from sugar (the exhibition does not shy away from their links to slave and then indentured labour), Emily Margaret McCulloch was the daughter of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. Born in India, she was sent to live with family members in Edinburgh when very young, and later to a school for the children of missionaries. All in all, it seems to have been a frugal and somewhat rootless upbringing, and it is possible that her extensive shopping habit once she found herself with a home and money of her own may have been connected to this.

Part of the display about the Tinne family

Mrs Tinne did not just buy clothes. She also had items made by her dressmaker, Mrs Taylor, who was the wife of the chauffeur to a family who lived nearby. The Tinne collection includes some lengths of fabric which were never made up, and numerous dress patterns. Sadly, a favourite of mine from the collection, Weldon's frankly-named pattern Smart Fashions for Wider Hips, does not feature in this exhibition, but many of those which do appear reflect the 1930s view of older women whose figures had filled out.

'Outsize' and 'Matrons' patterns

The clothing part of the exhibition begins with day wear, starting with items from soon after Emily Tinne's marriage in 1910. Although she had seven pregnancies, the collection includes very few maternity outfits; one is displayed here.

Teens era clothing, the maternity dress is on the right

As is obvious from the above photograph, the exhibition space is very light and airy, and the clothes are displayed in such a way that it is possible to see the sides and back of many of them.

Views of a hand-embroidered natural tussah silk dress, 1916-18

1920s and 1930s items

One of the joys of the Tinne collection, from a curator's point of view, is not the special items it contains but the everyday ones. Clothes such as this inexpensive ready-made dress were rarely deemed worth keeping by their owners. Mrs Tinne however was in the habit of buying multiples of such things in different colours and then leaving many of them unworn.

Cotton and rayon mix dress, 1930-32

I particularly liked this smart dress with its bold buttons.

Wool crepe and rayon silk dress, 1932-35

The sleeve detail on this dress is amazing, but I wonder if it would be annoying to wear?

Printed rayon crepe day dress, 1932-35

The next section features underwear.

Underwear, 1900-30

Not only did Emily Tinne not wear much of what she bought, she even left the price labels on many things. This camisole cost 12 shillings and sixpence, which equates to approximately £49 today.

Cotton lawn camisole from Owen Owen 1910-20

Emily's passion for shopping did not extend to children's wear. She made many of her daughters' clothes herself, and favoured items which were made to last and could be passed down to the younger children.

Children's clothes

I have posted before about the changes in fashion in the period 1900-1935 as seen in my own family, and this exhibition makes the same point by looking at swimwear. The orange costume of wool serge was worn by Mrs Tinne on her honeymoon in 1910. While still bulky by today's standards, the knitted cotton jersey swimsuit she wore two decades later must have represented a huge improvement.

Bathing costumes from 1910 and 1930-35

When it came to outdoor wear Mrs Tinne, no doubt like many women of her class, clearly liked furs - although it's unclear how many of them she actually wore. I however do not, so I didn't linger over this section.

Coats, mostly fur

Hats though are another matter altogether. The accompanying exhibition notes explain that at this time it was usual for a woman to wear a hat outdoors. They go on to add that it was not usual for one woman to have 150 of them! This is only a selection of the 110 which still survive.

Hats, hats . . .

. . . and more hats

The item in the centre of the second photograph is a motoring bonnet, hence the long veil.

Evening wear comes next. Emily bought her trousseau in Edinburgh, and this dress comes from Henry Darling & Co. The shop had closed by the time I was growing up, but my parents remember it. The dress shows how slim she was when she married.

Black silk dress, 1910

The Tinnes were from the social class which dressed formally for dinner, and while Mr Tinne's work as a GP may have meant that his evenings were taken up with seeing patients, Mrs Tinne at least had a busy social life. She clearly liked beaded dresses, silk velvets, machine lace and, especially, black.

Evening wear

I had never realised that many 1920s beaded dresses came as pre-made panels exported from Paris, to be put together by a dressmaker. The collection includes one such panel, which has been mounted so that it can be properly seen. It cost seven shillings and sixpence - about £21 today, so far less than her cotton camisole from Owen Owen!

Silk crepe and beading dress front, 1925-30

Silk velvet devoré dinner dress, 1932-34

While the dress above is entirely suitable for someone of Emily Tinne's age and shape in the 1930s, the collection includes a number of very glamorous dresses designed for someone much younger and slimmer. The Tinne family believe that Emily bought them simply because she liked them, but with no expectation of ever wearing them. One such is this dress with an attached cape, beautifully bias-cut to catch the light in different ways.

Silk satin-backed crepe and silk satin, 1935-36

Although Mrs Tinne clearly liked clothing and hats, shoes do not seem to have excited her interest so much. Although the exhibition includes a number of pairs, they are relatively plain. Also, they have all been used; there is no evidence that she put away pairs unworn, as she did with clothes.

Shoes, and yet more hats

The final part of the exhibition looks at the inter-war shopping experience in Liverpool as Emily Tinne would have known it. This, I imagine, will mainly be of interest to people who know the city. It certainly made me realise just how many big stores have closed in the time since I moved down here. At the top of the market was the ladies outfitters Cripps, on Bold Street, which offered entirely bespoke clothing. This was long-gone by the time I arrived in 1982, and the premises had become a bookshop. I remember it as being a very large shop, so clearly Cripps was a successful business.


Below Cripps were the department stores; with Hendersons, George Henry Lee and the Bon Marché at the top, then Lewis's, Owen Owen and Blacklers. The Bon Marché became part of George Henry Lee in 1961, which explains something I had often wondered about - why Lees as I knew it consisted of two apparently separate stores joined by a single corridor on the first floor. Hendersons, by then Binns, closed in 1983, and Lewis's, Owen Owen and Blacklers all followed. Lees was renamed John Lewis Liverpool, and decamped to the swanky new/soulless (delete as preferred) Liverpool ONE shopping area in 2008. As I don't shop in Liverpool that often now, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these stores and taking a trip down memory lane, albeit while feeling rather old!

I bought my sewing machine here in 1986 - unlike the store, it's still going strong

I think that anyone with an interest in inter-war fashions would greatly enjoy this exhibition. I certainly did - indeed, I'm already planning a second visit. An English lady's wardrobe runs until 1 March 2020, and the museum is hoping to tour it after that. If this has piqued your interest but visiting is out of the question, the revised edition of Pauline Rushton's book on the Tinne collection is available to buy here.