Sunday 28 June 2020

Patterns of Fashion

Well, here we are again. It's the last Sunday of another month, and once more I do not have a completed vintage dress to blog about (although at least this time I have two days in which to finish it). So instead, it's back to The Great British Sewing Bee for post inspiration.

The penultimate episode was Movie Week, and for the made-to-measure challenge the contestants had to make a 1920s flapper dress. In this challenge I always enjoy trying to spot what patterns the contestants are using, and this time Clare's inspiration picture really caught my eye.

I recognise that image! Dress, 1928-9

It was an illustration from Patterns of Fashion 2, by Janet Arnold, one of my favourite costume books. Judging from the edition dates, I have had my copies of volumes one and two of Patterns of Fashion since the mid-1980s, and many happy hours have been spent drooling over the illustrations they contain.

Janet Arnold was a costume historian and teacher. Three volumes of Patterns of Fashion were published in her lifetime, and she had completed research for more. Volume 4, based on some of that research, was published in 2008, and volume 5 in 2018 (you can read my review here).

Volumes 1-4

The first two volumes, which cover women's clothing from 1660 to 1940, remain my favourites. They contain beautiful line drawings of garments housed in costume collections (mostly English, but a few French), alongside meticulous scale drawings of the pieces, drawn to ⅛ scale.

The pattern pices for the 1928-9 dress shown above.

It is astonishing to me that Janet Arnold could create these patterns from extant, complete garments - obviously without unpicking anything!

The books were intended to be used for creating costumes for theatre etc, and for some pieces there are detailed drawings of fabric or construction points, to help with this. There is often also information about the sort of support garments which would have been worn underneath.

1795-1810 riding habit, and details

Volume 1 also includes a timeline of women's fashion for the 200 years it covers.

Women's dress, 1660-1860

Both volumes begin with some text, and examples of Arnold's extensive collection of items relating to dress. Shamefully, I had never actually read any of this - being too distracted by the pretty pictures - but last year I finally did so; and found some useful information for my dissertation!

Example of the extra information in volume 2

The later volumes include some photographs, but the first two only have drawings. However, thanks to the wonders of the internet, it is now much easier to find images of the garments featured. The website of the Museum of London (listed as 'London Museum' in the books) even has a 'Janet Arnold' section, which contains photographs of all of its garments which appear in Patterns of Fashion; you can access it here. In this example, the close-up image of the lace on this dress shows just how detailed and accurate Arnold's drawing is.

Dinner dress with embroidered lace, c 1882-3

The lace in detail, image © The Museum of London

In other cases, images highlight details which drawings can't always make clear. For example, this drawing and pattern show how this dress is constructed and what it looks like, but the effect of the intricate beading can only really be appreciated in a photograph (click here for close-up images).

Evening dress, Vionnet, c1925

The pattern

Image © Kerry Taylor Auctions

This dress was sold in 2012, long before I first went to Kerry Taylor Auctions, but when I saw it on Kerry Taylor's new website recently, I immediately recognised it. Clearly, although I frequently can't remember what I went upstairs for, I do have most of the illustrations from Patterns of Fashion committed to memory!

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