Sunday, 30 August 2020

Slight delay

I'm cutting it very fine with my August dress for the Vintage Sew a Dress a Month challenge. It will be finished tomorrow (somehow), and I'll blog about it then. In the meantime, my all time favourite sewing-related film quote fits the bill perfectly - and the fact that the sewist in questions appears to be left-handed like me just adds to the fun!

From The Three Amigos

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Historical Sew Monthly - Go Green Glow-Up - part 2

Well, that took far longer than intended. Once I had completed the mock-up for my 1874 ensemble corset (you can read about that here) I ordered the fabric and other supplies - and then got completely distracted by scrubs, summer dresses, masks, and life in general. But it is now, finally, finished.

I had bought a metre of coutil, but because the supplier was running low on stock at the time, this consisted of a piece of spot broche and a piece of plain sateen coutil in the same colour. My initial plan was to use both, but I found that with careful positioning I could cut the entire thing from the sateen, so saved the broche for another project. The sateen piece was slightly on the diagonal, so I had to cut everything from a single layer, although given the need for accurate cutting I might have done this anyway. The trickiest party was making sure that I remembered to reverse all the pieces!

Everything squeezed in

I had kept the filleted shell of the purple corset to use as a reference. This turned out to be a good move because I found the pattern instructions a bit scant in places, especially as I was making a single-layer corset rather than a lined one.

I had forgotten just how long making a corset takes; the boning channels in particular seemed to go on forever. On the plus side, the eyelet-setting pliers I had bought some time ago but never used turned out to be a great improvement on the setting tool and hammer which I had used before.

Eventually I had a completed corset shell with boning channels, and tried it on.

Clearly, I am hopeless at corset-sizing. My 1911 corset came up too small, and I had to set in an extra strip of coutil down each side. This time I went the opposite way. Despite the fact that the mock-up fitted with a perfect lacing gap, the actual corset did not. Either I have lost a huge amount of weight since early April (highly improbable, given my enthusiastic 'support' of my favourite local café once it started doing cake takeaways!), or something went very wrong in the construction. Whatever the reason, I also discovered the hard way that it is really, really difficult to loosen off the laces of a fully-closed corset!

Spot the problem

Once I had finally extricated myself, I had to consider how best to remove an inch from either side of the corset. Taking the excess out of the back panels seemed like the best approach. They are large pieces and the widest unboned area of the corset, and I could reduce them without cutting and restitching the waist stay, which I didn't want to do. I unpicked the ends of the waist stay from the lacing strips, opened the seam between the back pieces and the rest of the corset, reduced the back panel, redid the seam and boning channel, and reattached the shortened waist stay.

I must say that the inside of the corset looks far neater than the inside of its predecessor.

Everything neatly finished in the right order this time

I bound the edges with purchased satin bias binding in silver grey. The original corset wasn't flossed at all; it relied on the bones being the same length as the channels and held in place by the binding. This time, in line with the instructions, the bones were shorter - and in the interim I had learned about the existence of flossing! I followed the basic instructions in Jill Salen's Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques, and used stashed cotton perlé thread as recommended by Julia Bremble of Sew Curvy. The bottom ends were done in cream thread to stand out, and the top ends in grey to blend in.

The corset bound and flossed

For the trim I used some vintage lace from my stash, positioned so that the grey binding just showed through the first row of the net ground. Then I finished off the top edge with a cream binding to match the lace.

Lace detail

The end result is quite a plain corset, but that is what I was aiming for. I wanted something that would look like a Victorian woman's 'everyday' corset, rather than something very ornate.

Worn over my chemise

Now with a proper lacing gap

I used the Laughing Moon pattern because I already owned it, and had some experience of making it up. However this review suggests that it is rather 'cylindrical', around the torso, and looking at the end result, I'm inclined to agree. Possibly the overbust shape gave an impression of greater fullness, but despite the fact that I have gone up a cup size since I made the purple corset, somehow my bust looks flatter in this one.

Side view, not a great shape

However in terms of what the challenge is meant to achieve, I'm very happy with it. The brief is to, "Be environmentally friendly and celebrate how your making skills have 'glowed-up' as you've used and practiced them by taking apart an early make of yours that no-longer represents your making skills, and re-making it so you’d be proud to use it.", and I certainly feel that it fits that bill. This is only the third corset I have made, and the first without any input from a tutor - either online or in person - and it terms of historical clothing it feels a world away from the purple satin corset. It is also something I will actually wear, which the purple corset was not, so that has to be an improvement.

Comparing the two

The small print:
The Challenge: November, Go Green Glow-Up
What the item is: 1874 corset
How it fits the challenge: Made by dismantling a non-HA overbust corset I made previously, and re-using as many elements as possible
Material: Sateen coutil
Pattern: Laughing Moon #100, Dore corset
Year: 1837-1899
Notions: Metal busk, bones and eyelets, cotton waist and bone tape, cotton corset lacing, purchased binding and vintage lace for trim, cotton perlé for flossing
How historically accurate is it? The pattern claims to be accurate for the period, but the binding includes synthetic fibres and the lace is vintage rather than antique, so I'd say 85%
Hours to complete: As they were spread out over more than four months, I lost count
First worn: Only for photographing
Total cost: Because of the nature of the challenge I have only included the items I bought/used from stash, not those salvaged from the original corset. These were: coutil £12, waist and bone tapes £3.13, new shorter bones for the front £1.72, eyelets and lacing £7.93 (the old lacing cord was usable but the wrong colour, so has gone to stash) binding and trimming £5.07. Total £29.85.

The effect on the stash

Next step, the bustle cage!

Sunday, 16 August 2020

All change

In dress patterns, a 36-inch bust has been a size 14 in all the time that I have been making clothes (40 years and counting), so it's easy to assume that this correlation is set in stone. However as these three patterns show, a size 14 has changed bust measurement twice over the last 70 years.

Simplicity patterns from 1952, 1963 and 1970, with 32, 34 and 36-inch busts

For Vogue patterns at least, the first change took place in August 1956. The announcement in the August-September Vogue Pattern Book states that "some of the pattern companies, including Vogue" are now using the 'revised' standard measurements. I had always thought that sizing was standarized across all of the pattern companies, but this suggests otherwise (click on the image for an enlarged version).

All about the new measurements

Although the announcement does not go into detail about the new measurements, it does mention that they have been made due to figure changes brought about by "modern foundation garments", and that these changes include a higher bustline (a blog post about this exact subject is on my 'to do' list). So clearly they were about more than just increasing making each size larger.

In the next Vogue Pattern Book, Mrs Scarsdale came to the rescue of anyone confused by the changes. The issue included a tear-out form on which the reader could enter their measurements, and then fold it up and send it to Vogue Patterns. It would be returned with their correct pattern size written in.

Front and back of the form

No such personal service appears to have existed for the next sizing change, in 1968. This time the announcement makes it clear that that changes are an industry standard, and apply to all the pattern companies. There is no suggestion of the reasoning behind the change, except that it ties in with ready-to-wear sizes.

More to the point than the previous announcement

A chart showing the previous and 'new' sizing is provided. I tend to think of underwear in 1968 as being less rigid than that of 1956, but despite that, waist measurements have been reduced in proportion to the bust and hips. Whereas a 36" bust in Misses' sizing previously had a 38" hip and a 28" waist, the 'new sizing' waist is now 27". Both Women's and Half-sizes have been extended to one extra size.

Adult female sizes, click on image to enlarge

I'm intrigued by the fact that standard pattern sizes were changed twice in 12 years, but have now remained unchanged for over 50 years. Clearly there have been changes to areas such as the amount of ease in patterns, and to the overall sloper design - larger armscyes for example - but no sizing revisions. I wonder, was this due to the falling popularity of dressmaking; did the industry decide that the market was no longer big enough to justify that sort of wholesale change?

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Mrs Exeter, television star

(Well, more of a supporting role really, but on television nonetheless.)

Thanks to, among others, Lynn of American Age Fashion, I'm familiar with Mrs Exeter. Between 1948 and the early 1960s, Vogue's fictional older reader appeared semi-regularly in both Vogue Pattern Book and Vogue itself; even appearing on the cover of the latter, shot by Cecil Beaton. But her television career is an entirely new discovery to me.

Mrs Exeter (centre) on the small screen

First of all, a bit of history to explain the context. The Independent Television Authority began broadcasting commercial television in Britain on 22 September 1955. Initially it was only available in London and the surrounding area, which was served by the broadcasting company Associated-Rediffusion. The service in the Midlands began five months later, with other regions following over the next six years. The advent of a rival to the BBC was big enough news, even before the service was available beyond the south-east, for it to feature in entirely unrelated advertisements such as this one.

Advertisement for Calpreta cottons in Vogue Pattern Book, published in January 1956

The October/November 1955 issue of Vogue Pattern Book went on sale on 14 September, and the editorial and contents page included a less-than-subtle reference to television.

Can you spot it?

Here it is

As the national state broadcaster, the BBC has always had to avoid commercial associations with any specific companies. This is why a programme such as Clothes That Count, although featuring dress patterns which could be bought in shops, was careful to cover a wide range of pattern brands. Commercial television did not have such restrictions. The information about this new dressmaking programme makes no secret of the companies involved: Vogue Patterns; Moygashel; Tootal; Singer; Dewhurst's Threads; Lightning Fastenings and Kenwood Irons.

Information about the programme

The copy states that the programme contains, "good ideas for beginner and experienced alike, covering all aspects of dressmaking, presented monthly in an entertaining and instructive manner", and that it will enable viewers to see Vogue patterns "brought to life, individually explained, and worn by someone of your own age group, whether you are fifteen or fifty".

Just in case you missed the sponsors' details on the previous page

All of the associated firms also had full page advertisements in this issue of Vogue Pattern Book, each with the 'Fashion in the Making' logo. Many of the illustrations featured Vogue patterns.

Moygashel and Vogue 8666

Tootal and Vogue 8642

Singer Sewing Machines

Dewhurst's Sylko and Vogue Couturier Design 859

Lightning fasteners and Vogue 1257

Kenwood irons and Vogue 8657

I'm intrigued that the programme was only on once every four weeks - I wonder what was shown for the other three?

By the time that the December/January issue of Vogue Pattern Book came out on 9 November, the first two 15-minute programmes had already been broadcast. Only Tootal, Dewhurst's, Singer and Lightning advertised in this issue, and Lightning used the same advertisement as previously, with only the broadcast dates and channel number changed.

New adverts from half of the sponsors

What the magazine did include was a two-page article about the series.

All about Fashion in the Making

Unlike later dressmaking programmes such as Clothes That Count and Dressmaker, which were purely instructional, Fashion in the Making seems to have been structured more like a soap opera; with characters and a storyline of sorts. The main character was Mrs Scarsdale, aged 36 and a skilled home dressmaker. She had a 13-year-old daughter called Ginny, and an 18-year-old niece called Barbara. Barbara was keen to learn dressmaking, in order to both save money and impress a young man she had recently met with her new clothes. The final character was a "very elegant" old friend of the family, who was in her fifties and also wanted to economize by making her own clothes - Mrs Exeter! (Given that Mrs Exeter was 'approaching 60' when she was introduced by Vogue in 1948, she had clearly mastered the art of stopping time.) The characters were obviously chosen to tie in with the idea of showing patterns for different age groups.

Mrs Scarsdale with Ginny, Barbara and Mrs Exeter

The 'plot', such as it was, was clearly designed to revolve around the products of the various sponsors. In episode one Mrs Scarsdale admired the Moygashel fabric and Vogue patterns which Barbara had brought along (all four characters wore clothes made from Vogue patterns), and advised her how to press the hem of a circular skirt - presumably with a Kenwood iron. Then Mrs Exeter arrived with some Tootal fabric, "having left her antique shop in charge of her assistant". Leaving aside the questionable grammar, I love the idea that Mrs Exeter owns a business. Mrs Scarsdale took her friend's measurements (over her clothes - a complete no-no) to check what pattern size she needed, and recommended that she used Sylko thread and a Lightning zip when making her garment.

Mrs Scarsdale, Barbara and Mrs Exeter

In episode two Mrs Scarsdale fitted Barbara's new dress, they both admired Mrs Exeter's new sewing machine, and Mrs Scarsdale offered various dressmaking tips - some of which were illustrated in the article.

This, and all of the advertisements, seemed like a lot of publicity for something which was only available to readers within the Associated-Rediffusion broadcasting area, but there was another reason for the article. It served to introduce readers to 'Mrs Scarsdale'; a dressmaking agony aunt. Readers were invited to write to her for advice on dressmaking.

The February/March 1956 issue of Vogue Pattern Book included the first Mrs Scarsdale advice column, all about choosing the right size of pattern. (It all depends on your measurement, which apparently should be taken over your foundation garments - clearly a case of 'Don't do as I do, do as I say'!).

Mrs Scarsdale on pattern sizes and alterations

Of the Fashion in the Making sponsors, only Tootal, Dewhurst's and Lightning had advertisements. These show that the next two episodes were to be broadcast at 4:15pm instead of 11am.

There is no reference to Fashion in the Making in the April/May issue of the pattern book, nor could I find any suggestion that it came back for a second series. By today's standards it sounds rather odd; more like an extended advertisement than a television programme - perhaps this is why it only ran to six episodes. I can find no reference to in online, so will never know if Barbara impressed her young man with her new clothes, or how Mrs Exeter's dressmaking skills developed. Mrs Scarsdale's column in the pattern book became a regular feature however. In 1961, in keeping with the more casual mood of the time, she became 'Helen Scarsdale'. Then in autumn 1965 Vogue Pattern Book was redesigned, moving to a larger format with four issues a year and introducing colour photography. Mrs Scarsdale, like Mrs Exeter before her, was quietly dropped.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Style '79

Sometimes, life and my sewing time just don't co-operate with producing blog content in neat weekly chunks. My current project is a case in point. It isn't finished, but equally it isn't big enough to generate both a 'work in progress' post and a 'finished article' post. So instead, here is a picture-heavy post about what happens when you get bored during lockdown.

I've written before about my love of Style patterns, and how 1979 appears to be 'peak Style' for me. I already owned a few patterns from that year, and one evening found myself idly wondering if there were any more out there. . .

Indeed yes, there are

Obviously, trying to do a search on the word 'Style' produces far more erroneous results than does a search on the word 'Butterick', but it's amazing how persistent you can become you're stuck indoors for weeks. It also has the advantage of being a cheap pastime – late 1970s Style patterns just don't command the same prices online as, say, 1950s Vogue Paris Original patterns (I know, I know, I was astonished too!).

For the most part, patterns for dresses have a blue background to the logo and separates have a brown background, but there are some entirely random mauve backgrounds as well.

Three-piece suit

Dress/top and trousers

I'm entirely distracted by the spotty tights and strappy sandals combo!

Multi-option pattern with interesting front darts

Another half size pattern for my collection

Easier patterns were marked with the black outline and 'sew simple'

Faux wrap front and a hint of the 1940s

I owned (and disposed of, sigh) this pattern, and made view 2

More 1940s influence

Random mauve masthead

This reminds me of Simplicity 4896

I had forgotten how much shoulder yokes were a feature of the time

Another pattern I owned

I made this one, too - the sleeves were a nuisance!

Yet another nod to the 1940s

I did stray from my 1979 remit to buy one pattern from 1983. View 2, with a tie belt, was one of my favourite dresses ever (even though ironing the front pleats was a nightmare!), so when I saw it for sale I had to buy it. I even still have a little bit of the fabric; the stripes are about 1cm wide.


Style’s numbering process seems to have been a bit messy; for example both 2581 and 2604 have a copyright date of 1979 on the pattern envelope, but 2594 has a date of 1978. However, the earliest pattern number I have for 1979 is 2564, and the latest is 2950, so there are potentially almost 400 patterns out there. The search continues!