Sunday, 26 July 2020

Masks for the motion-sickness challenged

First up - this is a post about a fairly niche subject, with a long introduction. I'm aware that most people won't read it, but I'm putting it out there anyway, just in case it helps anyone else.

As a child, I suffered dreadfully from travel sickness, especially in cars. This was unfortunate as both sets of grandparents lived over 200 miles away, so long journeys were a regular event. However, even trips to a beauty spot about 40 miles from home were rarely achieved without an emergency stop. Various people assured both me and my long-suffering parents that I would grow out of it.

Reader, I did not. What actually happened was that as an adult, there are fewer occasions when I have to sit in the back of a car, so it troubles me less often. Even sitting in the front though, journeys on roads with plenty of twists and turns are still problematic. Mr Tulip and I holidayed in the Peak District a lot, and the drive over the Pennines often had the same result as those childhood picnic trips.

None of this is to say, 'poor little me'. Yes, I feel an idiot as a grown woman travelling with friends to have to ask to sit in the front "because I get car sick" (and I feel even more of an idiot if I have to ask the driver to stop), but I'm well aware that a lot of people cope with far worse. This is just to set the stage for what's coming next.

Presumably whatever prompts the travel sickness is in some way linked to the fact that I absolutely cannot stand anything against the back of my ears. I can't even tuck my hair behind my ears for more than a minute or so without feeling queasy - in fact part of the reason why I keep my hair long is so that I can put it up when I'm working on anything which requires me to lean forward.

Normally this isn't an issue; in fact apart from the fact that I have hair clips all around the house, I never even think about it. Then Covid-19 came along and with it (eventually) the requirement to wear a mask in some situations. The vast majority of commercially-available masks (and most patterns) have ear loops, which for me are a complete non-starter. Not for the first time in my life, I thanked my lucky stars that I can sew, and set out to make myself a solution. The solution hasn't been perfected yet, but I thought that I would share my progress so far.

Version 1
My first attempt at a tie-on mask was made using these instructions. They were easy to follow but, to keep the construction of the mask simple, the ties run vertically from the sides. However, they go around your head horizontally, so in time they will pull away from the main part of the mask. I dismantled this mask to make version 3, so there are no pictures.

Version 2
This was a variation on version 1. This time I put binding along the sides, and attached the ties horizontally along the top and bottom.

Version 2, front

I also added a channel on the inside of the top binding, to hold a length of wire so that the mask can be fitted round the bridge of my nose (and hopefully stop my glasses from misting up). All those scraps of millinery wire which I kept because they 'might come in handy' - just did!

Version 2, back showing the channel for the wire

Because these are flat masks and not shaped in any way, I make the interior in a different fabric so that I can easily tell which side is which.

This design fixed the weak point of the ties, and is a perfectly wearable mask (although I do look as though I'm about to whip someone's appendix out). The only problem is that with the two sets of ties it is a bit cumbersome to put on.

Version 3
This was a further adaptation of version 1, I gathered up the sides some more, and rather than binding them I enclosed them in curved side pieces. The mask hooks under the chin, and the single set of ties come from the top and tie at the back of the neck. I also elasticated a short section of the ties, to make the mask fit more snugly.

Version 3, side view

Again there is a channel for a wire over the nose. This can be removed for washing the mask.

Interior view

Showing how the wire shapes the top of the mask

I'm a lot happier with this version. The only problem is that I do tend to get the ties tangled up in my hair when I'm tying it on. Version 4 is currently in production: this will involve slightly longer elasticated sections, and an experiment with a button fasten at the back. If it doesn't work, I can easily convert it back to ties. If anyone reading this would like more information, please add a comment and I will get back to you.

Sunday, 19 July 2020


Yet again, things have not turn out as planned. After the intense stripe-matching of Vogue 7422 and the fit-and-buttonholes complexity of Simplicity 2683, I had decided to go for something simple for my July dress for the Vintage Sew A Dress A Month challenge. The intention was to make New Look 6594, a modern pattern with a distinctly vintage feel.

But then, I had a Squirrel Moment. (Thanks to Gina of The House of Whyte for introducing me to the concept of Squirrel Moments - those times when your plans are completely derailed by a new project or idea). Courtesy of lockdown, I had acquired a long, 1970s-style flicked fringe, and suddenly making a 1970s dress to go with it seemed like a good idea - this is what happens when I don't go outdoors often enough! Fortunately, thanks to my Projects Journal, I had a pattern and fabric combination already planned - in fact both the pattern and the fabric appear in pictures in the blog post where I wrote about the journal.

I've admitted before on this blog that late 1970s patterns are my guilty pleasure. However Simplicity 6563 is a bit earlier, from 1974. I bought it because I liked the gathered detail under the bust.

Simplicity 6563, 1974

The fabric was on display in my local fabric shop a couple of years ago. I fell in love with the inticate geometric design, and bought some with no idea what I would use it for. The print, and the fact that it's a very fine cotton with a lovely drape, made me think that it would be perfect for this pattern.

The fabric choice

The pattern is not labelled as 'easy', but when I came to look at it, I discovered that it only has six pieces, and much of the shaping is achieved by the front, back and side seams. The only darts are in the sleeves, and at the back neck.

From the pattern instructions

The gathered section at the front is not circular, and this also contributes to the shaping of the dress.

Dress front, showing the cut-out section

I wanted the skirt to be somewhere between the two styles shown, so lengthened it accordingly. As usual, I shortened the bodice. This time I tried tissue-fitting the bodice to work out what alterations were needed.

I only had 2.6m of fabric. It seems an odd length to buy 'on spec', so I think that either I purchased the last of the roll, or I was given a generous 2.5m. I wanted to cut the front so that the gathered section matched one of the elements of the print, and fortunately I was able to do this without any wastage. After all my plans for an 'simple' project, I ended up carefully cutting each piece from a single layer of fabric so that I could be sure that the centre front and back seams pattern matched. Even the sleeves are cut the same. Fortunately the print is non-directional, so I was able to lay the front and back pieces in opposite directions and put them side by side with minimal waste. Even so, I only had shreds left.

Pattern matching on the back seam

Although the instructions call for the circular 'trim' to be added as soon as the fronts are sewn together, I left this step almost to the end. I had a choice of motifs which I could use, and wanted to see which one worked best on the completed dress. As with many of my tricky dressmaking decisions, I roped Mum in for a second opinion!

Trim choices

We went for the light choice, which is effectively what was cut out from the fabric to make the gathered section.

If I make this pattern again, I will be a bit more careful with the gathering, so that the centre front seam lies more like an inverted pleat. But apart from that minor niggle, I'm delighted with how this turned out. As I had hoped, it proved a perfect match of pattern and fabric. Like so many 1970s patterns, it is ultra-comfortable, and the fit is perfect. Unfortunately, I don't think that the photos really do it justice - they look rather washed-out. Also, the dress took so long to make that in the meantime I had finally managed to go to the hairdresser's, so the 1970s hair which provoked the whole Squirrel Moment is no more (yay, thank you Mode)!

Front view

Side view

The Stashometer

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Bulk up the volume - dressmaking with 1960s fabrics

This new-to-me Vogue Pattern Book for winter 1968-9 arrived this week.

Excellent pattern matching on the front!

I assumed that the item on the cover was a jacket, so I was surprised to find this image on the contents page.

It's a dress! Vogue 2023, by Galitzine

The fabric is described as a 'novelty Lurex', and cost 49s 11d per yard. This equates to around £45.75 today, and the dress required three yards. The pattern itself cost 11s 6d, so all in all this was not a cheap project.

Leaving aside the cost, what really struck me was the thickness of the fabric. It looks fairly substantial, which is why I initially thought that the garment was a jacket. However a number of other dresses in this issue seem to be made from similarly bulky materials.

7415, a half-size pattern, in velvet and organza

The very structural shape of dresses at the time called for cloth without much drape, and the required stiffness seems to have been achived largely by the thickness of the fabrics.

2030 by Yves Saint Laurent, in matelassé

2052 by Givenchy, in brocade

It was also an era of synthetic metallic fabrics, such as the one used on the cover, and this.

2038 by Oscar de la Renta, in metallic brocade

Naturally with this being a winter issue of Vogue Pattern Book there are a lot of evening clothes. But daywear uses unusually (to modern eyes) heavy fabrics, too. The wool tweed chosen for this jumper dress looks more like what would now be considered a jacket weight.

Vogue 7419

Even the wool gaberdine of this waistcoat appears quite thick.

Vogue 7429

No fabric details are given for this dress, but it gives the impression of being something substantial.

2027 by Jean Lanvin

Similarly, the hems on this wool crepe suggest that it is thicker than the wool crepes I'm used to.

2026 by Guy Laroche

Of course, these are winter clothes, so for daywear at least you would want something warm. But these two dresses combine wintery fabrics with distinctly non-wintery styles.

2045 by Pucci, in wool flannel

2046 by Jean Patou, in faconné

The back cover of the magazine is an advert for Lightning zips, which by 1968 were available in both nylon and metal. In amongst a box of sewing materials which I bought at auction was a large quantity of old zips still in their packaging, both Lightning and other brands. I must admit that I haven't used any of them yet: even though I frequently use vintage buttons for a period-appropriate look, vintage zips just seem too heavy.

The advert, and some of my vintage zips

All of this reminded me of some of the reading I did for my dissertation. Heike Jenss, who is a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, has carried out extensive research on people who wear 1960s style clothing; both reproduction and genuine vintage. Her work has explored the selective nature of recreations of the past and the extent to which the authenticity of such recreations is a cultural construct.* While some of the 'sixties stylers' whom she interviewed appreciated the stiffness and heaviness of period fabrics, and understood that these qualities contributed to the garment’s shape, others found them uncomfortable to the point of being 'unwearable'. Looking at these patterns, I wondered whether anyone making them up now would actively seek out thick, period-appropriate fabric - even if it is available. Or would it be like my zips, a level of bulk too far?

* - Jenss, H. (2005). Sixties Dress Only! The Consumption of the Past in a Retro Scene. In Palmer, A. & Clark, H. (Eds.), Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion
Jenss, H. (2015). Fashioning Memory: Vintage Style and Youth Culture

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Simplicity 2683 again

Before lockdown, I tended to do my shopping on a pretty much daily basis. The walk into town gave me exercise, fresh air, and a break from whatever I was working on. Then this changed to a single big weekly shop for both myself and my parents, done by car. I'm in the privileged position that I could spend the rest of the time indoors at home.

One result of this change was that I found I was wearing my 1948 housecoat a lot. It's comfortable, easy to put on, and smart enough that I could answer the door in it looking as though I wasn't wearing a dressing gown! I decided that I needed to make a second version, and this was my June dress for the Vintage Sew A Dress A Month challenge.

Even though I don't make it full length, the long, full skirt still takes quite a lot of fabric. Fortunately I had a suitable printed cotton remnant in my stash, and it was one of my #UseNine2020 fabrics as well. And at 132cm/52", it was wide enough for me to cut out the skirt back without piecing it. I also had some large vintage buttons which were the perfect colour. This time I decided to make the long-sleeved version, but omitting the large cuffs.

The raw materials

I remembered that there had been all sorts of problems with the bodice length the last time I made this, and clearly I hadn't altered the pattern to reflect the shortening alterations that Mum and I made to fit it properly. Thanks to my recent changes in shape, the bodice of the 2015 version is now the perfect length at the back but slightly too short at the front. I cut the bodice pieces out to the original length, and marked where I thought that the waist seam should go.

The skirt was easy to make, and the bodice was fairly straightforward: I just had to taper the sleeves slightly from the elbow to the cuff. Then I basted on the skirt following the line I had marked - and to my amazement, it fitted! (And yes, I have marked the relevant lines on the pattern pieces this time, in case I want to make a fourth version at some point.)

Once the bodice and skirt were joined, except for the right front, it was time for the buttonholes. Oh, the buttonholes! The pattern instructions state that the bottonholes should be positioned so that the buttons are at the outer edges on both sides.

Illustration in the pattern instructions

Unfortunately this doesn't work: the buttons on the left of the diagram just slide to the other end of the buttonhole. The last time I made this, I had to add a row of press studs along the dart line to keep the under layer of the crossover front in place. The buttonholes all need to be positioned the same, relative to the buttons.

How the buttonholes should be placed

The lower buttonholes are made by leaving gaps in the waist seam, and the upper buttonholes are bound. Bound buttonholes should normally be done early in the construction, before the facing is added, but I had to leave them until I had got the fit of the bodice right. This made constucting them without accidentally catching part of the facing quite tricky.

Ensuring that the buttons, rather than the buttonholes, would look symmetrical when the dress is done up was also awkward. I had to check, double-check, and check again, because the buttonhole positions relative to the darts just looked so wrong.

Hard to believe that this will work

I used the organza patch method, to add some stability to the fabric.

Even completed, they still don't look right

It was all worth it, though, as I love the end result - in fact I'm wearing it as I type. Although the pattern was designed to be an informal garment, nowadays it looks like quite a formal 1950s dress.

1950s - with a net petticoat

I first made this pattern up in 1984, and clearly I was being unusually fashion-forward at the time, as it shares certain characteristics with these 1987 Vogue patterns.

l-r, Vogue 9874, 9875, 1855

1980s - flat shoes, big hair, and a miles-o'-ironing skirt!

The vital statistics:

The Stashometer - over 20 metres in credit

A completed column in my #UseNine2020 challenge

Finally (and well done for making it this far!) here's a slightly shaky picture of me with the original owner of the pattern, and the person who taught me to sew. Mum and Dad clocked up 65 years of marriage on 2 July, and happily lockdown in the UK is now sufficiently relaxed that I could spend the day with them.

With Mum