Tuesday, 31 December 2019

One final reduction

I managed to sneak a final make into 2019 - I finished my hussif this evening. Talk about cutting it fine. (In my excitement I forgot to photograph it with a ruler, so had to add the size details to the photograph.)


More details coming in a future post, but taking into account the outer and inner fabrics, interlinings, pockets etc. I estimate this as using half a metre of fabric overall. So the final stashometer figures look like this.

Totals for the year - under four metres

It's not great, and it would have been much, much worse without the destash, but I'm hoping for better things next year. Details to come in my 'Goals for 2020' post on Sunday.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Sewing Top 5 of 2019

It's time for a round-up of 2019, and this year I'm using the Sewcialists SewingTop5 for the format of my post.

For this post I'm sticking to hits, misses, highlights and reflections, with goals coming next Sunday. So without any further ado . . .

Top 5 Hits
Sadly, this didn't require a lot of thought, or an agonising selection process, because I've only made five garments this year! Completing my Masters dissertation (it was a research Masters, so the 28,000-word dissertation was the main part of it) took up a lot of the year. On top of that, I spent six weeks living at my parents' house when my mum fell and broke her hip. She is my dad's carer, and looking after both of them left me with very little sewing time. (Any carers reading this, feel free to laugh/roll your eyes at the fact that this was a shock discovery for me!)

The grand total of this year's makes

Left to right: Wardrobe by Me Grace dress, hat made by taking a pattern from a bought hat I already owned, Butterick 5997, Vogue 8964, the frankenpatterned New Look 'anemone' dress.

The hat has probably been the biggest success - I wear it a lot. The anemone dress is only recently completed and is a summer dress so hasn't been worn yet, but I'm just super-pleased to have finally used some fabric which has been lurking in my stash for almost three decades!!

Which brings me on to . . .

Top 5 Misses
The biggest of these has been the failure of my latest plan to reduce my stash. I'm hoping to make a further reduction before 2020 begins, but it will only be tiny and won't budge the Stashometer out of the red.

The sorry tale

I did have a pattern lined up for the 'retro cotton from Wells', but both this and completing the curtains were shelved when I went to stay with Mum and Dad.

Obviously the plan to complete the anemone dress for the #sewbravesewcialists challenge in, ahem, May was an epic fail as well! Still, better late than never.

Butterick 5997 has sat on my alterations pile since it was completed, as the neckline is just too low for me. I've not come up with a fix that I like enough to spend the time doing it, and as I'm not happy with the massive overlap on the cuffs either, I can see this being donated to a charity shop in the near future.

My main 'miss' of 2019 though has been missing sewing. I've been making at least some of my own clothes for over four decades, and have been sewing in some form for closer to five, so simply not having the time to make things felt uncomfortable, to say the least.

Top 5 Highlights
This will have to be a 'Top 3', as it's been a quiet year. Top of the list of course is submitting my dissertation and completing my Masters. A combination of natural reticence and very old-fashioned Scottish schooling means that I'm really not comfortable blowing my own trumpet, but I know that some of you have been following my 'progress' since I first mentioned my Masters on this blog (thank you), so it seems only right to let you know that I got a Distinction. Also, I must add special thank yous to the following people: Lynn of American Age Fashion for your research on Mrs Exeter - I cited your Clothing Cultures paper; and Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox of American Duchess and Rebecca Olds of Timesmith Dressmaking for your information about the work of women in the past as professional dressmakers.

Mantua-makers hard at work

Talking of which, the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event at the National Museum of Scotland was defintely another highlight. Watching an entirely hand-sewn, made-to-measure dress come together as it would have been made in the eighteenth-century, over the course of two days, was just fascinating, and I learned so much.

At the end of the weekend

Finally, putting together the University Centre Shrewsbury banner was hard work but a real joy. The commitment of the individual block-makers to the project just shone through, and it was a privilege to be involved.

The banner

Top 5 Reflections
Again, I haven't got five things to list here, in fact this section is really just thoughts on one reflection; that sewing is a huge part of who I am, especially now that I make most of my own clothes. Home dressmaking provided the topic for my dissertation, and clothing exhibitions and events have frequently been the catalyst for holidays and trips away when I've been at a loss for something to do as a break. Having so little time to sew for much of the year did, at times, feel as though part of me was missing.

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen lots of articles reviewing the decade which is coming to an end, and it suddenly struck me that I have been a widow for over half of it. In the early days after Mr Tulip's death, sewing was a familiar and absorbing activity in which I could lose myself - for a little while at least. Judging from the stories shared in the Sewcialists' Who We Are - Sewing Through Grief series this year, I am not alone in this. The first garment I made which Mr Tulip never saw or heard about is getting a little shabby now, but I suspect that it will stay in my wardrobe for a long time because it is so much more than just another dress.

The first version of the CC41 dress

All things change over time, and that includes me - both mentally and physically. Over this last year I've become aware that the pattern alterations I have made as standard for years are no longer quite right, and I need to spend some time working out why. With sewing as a hobby, I am never short of something to do!

Sunday, 22 December 2019

28 (and a half) years later

It's done! I have finally made a dress from the fabric I bought in May 1991!


When it last featured on this blog, all was not well with the anemone dress. Quite simply, I didn't like it. Somehow it had a distinct 1980s/1990s bridesmaid feeling to it, which was really not the vibe I was originally going for. It has languished on the UFO pile since then, but I decided that I really wanted to get it completed before the end of the year.

When I tried it on, it still had that just-stepped-out-of-an-early-Richard-Curtis-romcom look, plus the neckline gaped oddly at the front (possibly an unintended consequence of my alterations to stop it from gaping at the back). Happily my attempts to un-bridesmaid it with accessories worked, namely wearing both of my net underskirts beneath it, and adding a belt and 1950s jewellery from Splendette. The neckline I fixed purely by accident -  I pinched the fabric together at the front, and discovered that this did the trick. I have sewn tiny pleats at the bust, something which is a feature on some of my vintage patterns, but I think I may change it to gathers to tie in with the ruching on the sleeves.

Bodice pleat detail

Then all I needed to do was sew in the shoulder pads (pinned in place since July) and hem the skirt. Admittedly this was quite an undertaking, as with the godets it is in effect a full circle skirt.

Demonstrating the full skirt

It does make for a very pleasantly swishy effect with the net underskirts.

Attempting to demonstrate the swishiness of the skirt

The end result is very much a 'vintage-y' dress, not of a specific era, but I'm OK with that. It's eminently wearable, and I'm just happy to have finally, successfully, used the fabric.

Mostly 1950s, with some 1940s details

I'm not really one for resolutions, but looking at these pictures I've decided that I do want to learn how to do my hair properly in 2020. My current method of putting it in randomly directional pin curls and hoping for the best leaves a lot to be desired. The wild mess you see here is actually the brushed out and vaguely styled version. On the plus side though, if I ever want to do 18th century 'hedgehog' hair, I'm sorted!

In theory, this completed dress should put the stashometer even further into credit. In theory.

However . . .

Alas, no. Fabric Was Bought during my London trip. But that's a story for another post.

Instead I'll finish with something you can just see in some of the photos above, my 'sewist' Christmas tree. When I was in London I found these cute felt tree decorations of buttons, cotton reels, scissors and a measuring tape in the V&A shop, and I just had to get some. In fact, I may make some more myself next year. Plus there was also this really sweet sewing bear with his own scissors and cotton, and a tape measure scarf, who makes a perfect 'fairy' for the top of the tree.

Merry Christmas from Black Tulip

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Contrasts at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Two very different styles currently on display

The V&A wasn't the only costume-related visit I made on my most recent London trip; I also went to the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Their current exhibition is Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous, which marks the 50th anniversary of the eponymous fashion house. I must admit that I tend to think of Zandra Rhodes designs as frilly, loud, often shiny, and frequently pink - so pretty much the antithesis of my own preferences! But, I also think it's worth exploring beyond your own preferences.*

Archetypal (for me) Zandra Rhodes, from 1981

The ground floor of the exhibition displays a number of Rhodes' designs, and I must admit that at this point, I wasn't getting a lot out of it.




But then upstairs I came across this display.

The design process

Rhodes is at heart a textile designer, who turned to fashion design when she felt that others weren't making the best use of her fabrics. This display shows just how much the textile and clothing are linked.

Once a design is created, it is handpainted onto kodatraces, which are then used to transfer it onto silk screens for printing, and pattern cards are created to indicate the colour combinations. The fabric is then printed, and a garment created from it using a combination of fashion sketches and draping on a dress stand.


Silk screens

Pattern card

Chiffon panel

The designs can be revisited, and very different garments produced. The pattern illustrated here is from Rhodes' 'Mexican' collection and dates from 1976, but was reused in 2019.

Dresses from 1976 and 2019

Also upstairs is the 'Chiffon Forest', a selection of textiles dating from 1969 to 2019.

Silk chiffons in pinks and yellows

It seemed a shame to imagine cutting into this one

Once I understood the process, dresses like this one made a lot more sense.

From 1976

A different designer, and a very different aesthetic is on display in the small downstairs room.

Norman Hartnell - A Tribute looks at the first British 'Fashion Knight'. He is now mostly known for being a royal dressmaker and for his beautifully embroidered and beaded clothes.

Evening coat, circa 1940

Embroidery for the royal wedding dress, 1947

Blue and white embroidered dress and short evening coat, circa 1953

Publicity shot of the same designs

However he also designed clothes for the government's Utility scheme, and the display includes a Pathé newsreel film about the collection. I recognised the dress on the left (apologies for the poor image quality) as being one of the ones I included in this post.

The dresses being modelled in the 'salon' . . .

. . . and photographed outdoors

The film also includes alarming (to me, anyway) footage of a cutter using a bandsaw with absolutely no safety features whatsoever to cut through multiple layers of fabric. I did wonder how many of these people ended their careers with the same number of fingers as they had started with!

Aaaargh! I do love how they are using irons as weights, though

If this hasn't put you off, you can watch the whole feature here.

Both the Zandra Rhodes and Norman Hartnell exhibitions continue at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 26 January 2020.

* - A few times I have been to an exhibition and come out feeling that my prejudices were both justified and confirmed, but this only happens occasionally. It's very rare for me to get nothing at all from my attempts to widen my interests.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

That awkward moment . . .

. . . when you realise that you have spent so much time in the Victoria and Albert Museum's costume court that you can recognise a new addition when you see it.

I was there recently, doing some research for a project I am planning for next year, and as I strolled out I spotted this dress and thought, "Ooh, that's new". The accession date of 2018 confirmed this.


Just to put this into context: I live 200 miles from London, which is actually the closest I have ever lived to the capital. Although I go to visit exhibitions etc, it's only a couple of times a year. That I know the V&A's costume collection so well is testament to the many, many hours of 'misspent' youth (and middle age) devoted to gawping at historical costume.

And this one is well worth gawping at. The label describes it as having been made in the Netherlands in the 1770s, from English copper-plate printed cotton. Despite my best efforts leaning against the case, it wasn't possible to see the front.

The best I could manage

Fortunately, the dress is on the V&A website: you can find the details, and more photographs, here.

Front view, image © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

The fabric itself is amazing. At first glance it just looks like alternating 'stripes' of broad and narrow motifs. On closer inspection it becomes obvious how much variety there is.

Different motif designs, I think I got them all

As they appear in the fabric

Clearly whoever made this dress was a skilled dressmaker, as they made excellent use of the print.

Bodice back

Strips of the wider motifs are used around the neckline

Piecing around the shoulder

The centre back 'stripe' is a striking feature

Clever use of the design on the cuff to mimic trimming

Different elements on the front and back of the cuff, but carefully matched

Whether by accident or design, the wider motifs barely show in the gathers at the top

Finally, if this dress inspires any visitors to have a go themselves, the museum bookshop has just what they need.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

Now all that is needed is for Ikea to use this fabric design for a range of bedding!