Sunday, 27 September 2020

'New' sewing techniques

I've been working on Style 2630 this week, and finding parts of it quite challenging. It's a fairly simple dress, but like Style 2912 (also from 1979), there are some construction techniques which are entirely unfamiliar.

I'm making view 1

The first thing which I found odd was the complete lack of interfacing. Not even the cuffs or the collar have any. Suggested fabric include soft cottons, rayon, crepe, wool/cotton blends and fine jersey, so clearly the design is intended to be entirely unstructured. I did consider using a very fine iron-on interfacing for the collar and cuffs, but decided to stick to the recommended method - time will tell whether or not this was a good idea!

The method used for the front opening made no sense at all when I read the instructions; but I followed them to the letter, and they did work. The two pieces are sewn together along the stitching line ('1' in the picture below), then one side is snipped to the top of the sewing (the green circle), and the other to the small dot ('2'). The top sections are folded back along line '3' to form the facings, and then overlapped and sewn across the bottom.

Dress front pattern piece

This means that there is a pleat running down the front of the dress, with the front seam hidden inside it.

The completed front - lying flat, and turned back to show the seam

The dress front and back are sewn together at the sides, with the all-important in-seam pockets. Then the sleeves are made up and the cuffs added, and sewn to the dress. At this point I realised that I had an incredibly wide dress, which had to be gathered onto quite a small yoke!

Small yoke . . .

. . . big dress!

Joing the two was a long job, not helped by my rash choice to do all the gathering on a single thread rather than in sections. Although the illustration shows the dress gathered all round the yoke, it actually turned out with most of the gathers on the sleeves and back, with relatively little on the front. This seems rather odd, but all the marks and notches definitely matched up.

The completed back

The front, with facings turned back

The pattern just has a single layer for the yoke, but this was one thing which I did change. Even if I overlocked the seam allowance, it just seemed terribly untidy, and a lot of weight of dress hanging off a thin yoke. I used some of the soft cotton left over from my Victorian drawers and chemise to make a facing, which I will slip stitch into place round the bottom. The top edge will be inside the collar.

The facing pinned in place

I'm really not sure how this dress is going to turn out. I tried it on, and without collar, buttons or belt it looked very. . . baggy. Hopefully these additions will improve it. On the plus side, it is quite warm. I did a burn test on a scrap of fabric, and that confirmed my suspicion that it's a wool-cotton blend. Using a fabric recommended on the pattern envelope - this may be a first for me!

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Reusing vintage storage

I haven't been doing any sewing this week, but I have been busy with a sewing-related project. I decided to take advantage of the late summer weather we've been enjoying, and work outside on something which I recently bought at an auction. It was described in the catalogue as a 'haberdashery cabinet', and it certainly looked like something for holding cotton reels in a shop.

Then, when I was cleaning out the drawers, I found this wedged under one of the dividers.

Proof! Shade label from a spool of thread

When I bought the cabinet, it was in a sorry state. It had clearly been used for storage in a workshop, and was very grubby and full of dust. There were sticky labels on the grimy glass fronts and on the drawers themselves, and the whole thing had been thicky painted with a plastic-like grey paint. However, when I pulled the labels off the drawers I discovered that they brought quite a lot of the paint with them, and underneath was attractive varnished wood. This photo shows the cabinet partway through the job of removing the paint from the drawers.

Originally, all the drawers looked like the bottom two

Most of the paint came off the drawers quite easily, because the surface underneath was varnished. I must admit that peeling it off was actually quite good fun! For the main body of the cabinet however, there was no alternative but to sand it down. This was why I took advantage of warm, dry days - this photo shows the state of my yard after a sanding session.

Guess where the cabinet was standing!

Buried under the paint at the bottom of the back panel was a small metal plaque. Unfortunately, I managed to sand off part of the writing before I realised that it was printed, but just enough was left for me to make out "J & P Coats" and "Paisley".

More proof!

Unlike the drawers, the cabinet is made from a wood with an open grain, and it proved impossible to remove all of the paint. So I decided that I would have to repaint these parts, albeit less heavy-handedly. I left the drawers and the plinth as plain wood, and just lightly sanded and revarnished them. I also removed the remains of the labels from the glass fronts, and gave them a good wash. Finally, the drawers were thoroughly brushed out.

The completed cabinet

Some of the drawers have wooden dividers which can be slotted into place wherever they are wanted.

One of the dividers

Nearly all of the wooden cotton reels which I have are for Dewhurst's 'Sylko' brand, but I did manage to find a few from Coats. Oddly, the Sylko reels fit much better! They are just the right size for the channels, whereas the Coats reels are shorter, so waste space. The 'Drima' reels, which came later (1970s?) and are plastic, are far too long, so I think the cabinet must predate these.

L to r: Sylko, Coats standard, Coats Super Sheen, Coats Drima

I don't have enough threads to fill an entire cabinet, so I am going to use it for something else. The previous owner had written lengths inside some of the drawers, and this gave me the idea.

Lengths written in the channels

My enormous collection of zips lives in a box, and I have to go through the entire lot to find anything. By storing them in here, I will be able to tell at a glance that whatever colour/length combination I need, I almost certainly don't have it!

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Sustainable sewing

This is a first - I've never posted a five-year-old dress on this blog before! There have been lots of posts about things made from fabric which has been lurking in my stash for that long (especially this year), but not a finished article.

Old dress, new repair

Because it slipped under the blogging radar, I can't remember exactly when I made this dress. But I do recall wearing it for a friend's birthday party in July 2015, so I'm going to guess that it was fairly new then. It's my second version of New Look 6093, and my favourite of the three I've made. As a result, it's had a lot of wear, and a couple of weeks ago the zip broke. Even though the fabric is now a bit faded compared to its covered hanger, I wasn't prepared to let the dress go.

Dress and hanger comparison

Fortunately, it was an easy fix. The broken zip was an invisible one, which made it a little harder to unpick but not impossible. Then it was just a case of basting the seam together, hand picking in a new zip, and stitching the back facing back in position.

It's always fun to make something new, but increasingly I'm finding that I get a different, but equal, sense of satisfaction from mending something I already have. As the harmful effects of throwaway culture become ever more apparent, knowing that I can care for and maintain the clothing I have made becomes as important to me as having the ability to make it in the first place.

Much as I'm enjoying the Vintage Sew A Dress A Month challenge, I did worry when I started it that I might just be 'churning out' a dress a month which I didn't actually need. But this repair has reminded me that by choosing my fabrics and construction techniques wisely, and making clothes which fit me properly so don't suffer from stress points, I am creating clothes which will remain in my wardrobe for a long time. And because I favour vintage over up-to-the-minute styles, they will never look more 'dated' than they did when I first made them!

Which brings me on to this month's dress. A couple of weeks ago I bought a 1930s dress at auction. It is beautiful, but currently in rather a sad state - I will post about it when it is restored. Also in the lot were 'assorted textiles'. I hadn't paid much attention to these, but when I got them home I found various goodies in there - a couple of skirt lengths, a coat length, some lining, and a dress length.

The dress fabric is only 90cm / 36" wide, and a print which just screams mid-to-late 1970s. It's also in a twill weave which I just couldn't imagine coming across now in such a soft material.

Showing the weave, and the pattern

Eventually it dawned on me that the fabric is probably Viyella, a wool/cotton blend with a twill weave. It was common when I was a child (growing up in Scotland, it was a popular choice for winter dresses) but is no longer made. Naturally such vintage fabric requires a vintage pattern, and I'm indulging in my love of 1979 Style patterns to make up this one.

Style 2630

Even though the fabric is narrow, there are five metres of it, so I'm planning to make the long-sleeved version. There's no cutting layout given for it on 90cm wide fabric, but when have I ever let that stop me?! So after 40 years, this fabric will finally be used.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Vogue 5215

Well, that didn't go as planned. Mr Tulip would have been 70 on Thursday and, while obviously there have been a number of 'birthdays' since 2014, something about the roundness of this particular number combined with the general strangeness of life at present meant that the week ended up being pretty much a write-off. But I finally have a finished dress to show.

My August dress for the Vintage Sew A Dress A Month was this. However I managed to turn what should have been simple project into a long and complicated one.

Vogue 5215, from 1961

I bought the fabric some years ago from Til The Sun Goes Down. The simple shape of the dress and the strong directional element of the print make the pattern and the fabric ideal for one another, but a couple of things put me off actually making it up, until now.

First of all, I thought that resizing the pattern would be a major undertaking. In fact, it turned out to be easier than expected.

The dress has a side zip and a waist stay, and the stay is marked with the position of the side seams and the centre front and back. The skirt has darts at the back and gathers at the front, and the bodice is slightly gathered front and back. Like Butterick 6582, the gathering is only at the sides. The stay also has marks for where the gathered sections should end, and the position of the darts. By increasing the length of the stay proportionally, I could then work out where the gathers and darts should be on the main pattern pieces. (It's also worth mentioning that the stay has a mere ½" ease added to the waist measurement for the size, not the ridiculous amounts which are added to modern patterns.)

The pattern pieces, with the waist stay in the centre

I made a toile to check my alterations, and to see if horizontal join on bodice needed moving or the sleeves needed widening. Either would have been tricky, as the yoke and sleeves are a single piece, but fortunately the only change required was shortening the bodice by 2".

The other thing which had put me off this project was that the fabric is very thin, so the dress would have to be fully lined. On one of our trips to Watson and Thornton in Shrewsbury Mum spotted a lightweight but firm black cotton which was ideal for the job. I also found the perfect buttons - yellow, with a horizontal black stripe which is created by cutting through a series of yellow and black layers at an angle.

Front and side views of the buttons

The buttons and lining were bought a couple of years ago, and when I took them out to start this project I discovered that in the meantime one of the buttons had got chipped. I contacted Watson and Thornton, and not only did they still have the buttons in stock, but they very kindly arranged to post one out to me! Note to self - always buy a spare button in future!

The picture I emailed to Watson and Thornton explaining the problem

The sensible approach to lining would have been to flat line each piece, and the pattern instructions state to do this if a skirt lining is required. But I decided to make life far more complicated by lining the dress is a way which left no seam allowances visible. This is why an "Easy to Make" dress took me so long to complete.

The toile, as well as being a fitting tool, enabled me to understand the construction of the dress and how to adapt it for lining. I omitted the facings, and instead attached interfacing the size of the facing pieces onto the inside of the lining. I made up the yoke/sleeve section in both fabric and lining, then sewed them together round the neck and opening. The pieces were positioned so that the edge of the fabric would roll slightly to the inside, and I then understitched round the join by hand.

The completed neckline and opening

Next I sandwiched the bottom edge of the yoke back between the bodice back and lining, and sewed the yoke and bodice together. This had to be done in two stages as the seam on the lining could not go all the way to the end. I repeated this step on the front, then machine sewed the side seams of the fabric. The side seams of the lining were turned in and sewn by hand - this was why the lining could not be fully sewn down in the previous step. Finally, I trimmed the lining on the sleeves, folded over the fabric, and slip-stitched it in place.

The completed bodice was then gathered and attached to the waist stay. The skirts were made up and gathered, the bodice sandwiched between them, and the waist seam machine stitched.

The completed bodice attached to the skirt and skirt lining

This, of course, had the effect of burying half of the waist stay inside the skirt. I had planned for this, and once the zip had been sewn in place I carefully cut out the tape I had used for the temporary stay (I had purposely chosen white tape, to make it easy to see) and replaced it with a black grosgrain ribbon, with a skirt hook and bar on the ends.

With the permanent waist stay in place

The lining was machine hemmed, and the main skirt hemmed by hand. Attaching the buttons was the last job, as I wanted to minimize the chances of them knocking against one another. There is also a tiny press stud (snap), sourced from my stash of vintage haberdashery, holding the point above the top right button closed. When I cut the dress out I had carefully placed the front yoke sections to avoid any yellow elements on the area around the buttons.

Allowing the yellow buttons to stand out

All in all it was a lot of work, most of which is invisible, for a simple dress. But oddly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a real challenge to work out the construction, and there was a lot of hand sewing involved, but it was immensely satisfying to take the time and make the effort to produce something so neatly finished. It also fits perfectly. The skirt back has four darts rather than two and, as I discovered on my first version of Simplicity 1777, this really makes a difference to the way it hangs.

Front view, with purchased belt

Side and back views, showing off the skirt fit

The fabric was one of my choices for my UseNine challenge, which brings me up to four out of nine.

Almost halfway

Unfortunately, I have realized that I made a basic error when I was making my selection back in February. At that point I was thinking about spring and summer dressmaking, and almost all of my choices reflect that. Even though the idea was to select fabrics for projects for March to December, I somehow overlooked the fact that lightweight cottons are not ideal wear for the British winter! I suspect that UseFive may end up being a more accurate description, but I will know for next year.

On a cheerier note, a fully lined dress means twice the fabric use on the Stashometer - although a combination of wide fabric and frugal cutting out meant that I only used 1.8m of each.

Another 3.6m out of the stash