Sunday, 17 October 2021

Hat mending

The house reorganisation trundles slowly on. I must admit that I'm taking a bit of a scattergun approach - mainly because the job is so big that if I tried to plan it all out, I'd just give up altogether! Anyway, in the process of sorting out a shelf in my workroom, I found this.

It's a 1940s hat which I bought at a vintage fair some years ago. It was cheap, because it needed some (OK, quite a lot of) work.

The braid trim was coming loose . . .

Side view - the braid is attached loosely or not at all

. . . as was the stitching which had given it some shape.

There was once a stitched-down fold above the braid

In fact, there were odd bits of loose thread all over the place.

Some of the many loose threads

Inside was no better. The elastic was only attached at one side, and the petersham band was coming unstitched at the back . . .

The back of the petersham and the elastic, there is no label

. . . and the front . . .

The brim had stretched a bit where the petersham had come unstitched

. . . where there was also a hole in the felt.

It looks like a tear, rather than moths

I had thought about fixing the hat several times, but had given up because I couldn't work out what it should look like. Then today, the obvious finally dawned on me - it doesn't have to look exactly as it did when it was made, it just needs to look like a hat I want to wear. Duh!

It's an odd construction. The brim and the top of the crown are made from a heavy, quite coarse felt with a fair number of white hairs in it. However the lower part of the crown is made from a ring of a different, thinner, felt. This is joined to the brim with a narrow seam, but the two parts of the crown are butted together and joined with tiny stitches. I've no idea if this combination was used because the thinner felt was easier to manipulate, or if it was 1940s make-do-and-mend coming in to play. Or both.


I started with the obvious stuff; reattaching the petersham and the braid, and sewing up the hole. Then I had to think about the shaping. The remains of the stitching for the front pleat ended at the sides, but the markings in the felt showed that there had been some sort of fold all the way round.

Marks on the back, but absolutely no shaping left

I recreated the front pleat by following the remaining thread, and decided to sew a very narrow pleat round the rest of the crown. It doesn't show as a pleat, but just pulls the crown in a little.

Small but definite shaping at the back

Finally, I attached a new length of elastic, as the old one had perished. By the time I had done all this, it was too late to take photos of me wearing the end result, but I shall try to do so soon.

All neat inside, now

Sunday, 10 October 2021

New challenge

I really don't need another vintage sewing machine. But then, I don't 'need' more fabric (or a pattern for making a squirrel) either, and look where that got me.

I shouldn't have. But I did

I spotted this at the local auction last week, and fell in love with the colourful decals. Plus, I was intrigued by the unusual squared off shape of arm, and the layout around the feed dogs. But mostly, the decals.

Ooh, shiny!

Even the faceplate has decals

It took me a while to spot the serial number, as it is hidden round the back. Once I'd found it (R 887019), this site informed me that it was made in the first half of 1903, probably June. No wonder it looks a bit worn in places! I also discovered that it was a model 48K, which gave me access to lots more information, including the manual. It's a shuttle machine (unlike my 1917 Singer 99K, which takes the familiar round bobbins) and, unusually, the shuttle goes from side to side rather than front to back - see the picture above.

According to this site, the 48K was produced as a cheap machine, using technology which was even then out of date. Clydebank appears to be the sole Singer factory which made it, and then only in limited numbers. It was not heavily promoted by Singer, and didn't even appear in sales brochures. It cost four pounds (£498 today), or four pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence with the bentwood cover (£576). By comparison the 28K, which was the cheapest machine which Singer actually advertised, was five pounds and fifteen shillings (£716).

My machine has a bentwood case - clearly the original owner decided to splash out the extra twelve and six!

It needs some attention

The case fastens with a latch which drops over a knob on the base, which is then turned to secure it in place. There is even a key which locks the knob in the horizontal position. It seems a lot more secure than the little internal latch on the 99K, but I'm still not sure I would trust it for carrying long distances.

Locking mechanism and key

I must admit, my original intention was just to clean it up a bit, and have it as an ornament. I'm in the (long) process of reorganising my house, and have an empty shelf on which it would fit nicely. But . . . The shuttle mechanism contains a threaded spool (which I'm leaving in place until I'm confident I know how to replace it!), the handwheel turns smoothly, and the feed dogs work. Oh, and despite being 118 years old, it uses 'modern' machine needles. There seemed no harm in threading the machine up and seeing if it worked. You can see where all this is going, can't you?!

Not going to lie - this bit is scary!

The first thing I noticed is that the base is much lower than that of my bobbin machines - 45mm/1¾" instead of 75mm/3". I’m short-waisted, so I have to sit on a princess-and-the-pea style arrangement of cushions to feel that I'm at a reasonable position relative to the 99K. That 30mm difference makes it a far more comfortable height. And, it does work. The tension needs some attention, but that's hardly surprising. Even the spool winder works with a bit of coaxing - which is just as well really. I can fill round bobbins on my modern electric machine, but winding spools is another matter.

The winder, with an empty spool in place

So now, it's gone from being an ornament which just needed dusting and a wipe down to a something which I want to restore to fully usable order. I've seen some beautifully shiny 48Ks online, but even if I had the skills for that level of restoration, it's not for me. This is a working machine, and I want its appearance to reflect its long, useful, life. For example I love the way that thread has worn a tiny groove in the lacquer at the bottom of the faceplate.

Worn away by years of slight pressure

It does need a very good clean, though. There is a faint, but unmistakable, whiff of years of caked-on oil, and the metal parts are all very brown. Initially I assumed that it was rust, but following a suggestion I found online (and there is a wealth of information out there on restoring old machines), I wondered if it might just be dirt and tarnish.

And it was. To illustrate just how much dirt and tarnish is involved, here is a cotton bud after I'd wiped off the seventh application of cleaner/polish.


Cleaning this one piece took me all morning, and a lot of elbow grease, but you can see the difference.

Guess which side I'd cleaned

It's going to be a long job, and it's something far more mechanical than I'd usually do, and out of my comfort zone. But, I was looking for a winter project other than sewing, and this also works as a tribute to my dad. He was handy at DIY and also an accomplished model-maker, and would have had this fixed in no time. I shall be feeling my way far more than he would have been, but hopefully I have picked up a few of his skills along the way.

Sunday, 3 October 2021


No sewing this week (apart from the proper shoulder pads for my latest Vogue 2787, which is hardly exciting). My excuse is that I've been busy with other things but really, I'm putting off starting a project which I've wanted to do for a while, but which I know will be very challenging - possibly to the point of failure.

Probably a bad idea, for many reasons

So instead, here's a post about a few things which have arrived in the workroom recently.

I had a day out to Liverpool last week. Other than various hospitals, it's the furthest I've been for months - and a great deal more fun. It was the perfect combination of somewhere different, but also somewhere familiar. Although I was going to a museum, I just happened to pop into John Lewis en route. The fabric/knitting/haberdashery section has been banished to the top floor and is tiny, but somehow I still came out with a whopping seven metres of fabric!

How did this happen? Well, a couple of weeks ago, I fell in love with this dress in Fantouche Vintage.

You can take the girl out of the 80s, but . . . Images © Fantouche Vintage

I would prefer just below knee-length, but I really liked the clean lines and the way that the beading is in toning colours and just on the tops of the sleeves. Plus, the gunmetal colour is perfect for someone who Doesn't Wear Black. Unfortunately, it was a UK size 10, and I am not. However, I reasoned that I could frankenpattern the design, and I still have an extensive stash of beads from my days of making dance costumes. All I needed was fabric. (Oh, and a reason to wear the end result. All this rather overlooks the minor detail that I never go 'out' out these days, but never mind!) Amazingly, John Lewis's less-than-extensive collection of fabrics included a grey peachskin which looked like a possibility.

It turned out to be perfect. Shown with beads from my stash.

The lighting in the store was atrocious for checking colours, so I had to lug the bolt over to the prams section, which was the only part of the entire floor with a window. On the way back, I spotted the 'reduced' stand, and this fabric caught my eye.

With a well-disguised 6" ruler for scale

I've no idea what I'll use it for, and it's satin, which I'll doubtless live to regret, but I decided that I would regret not buying it even more.

I doubt if this is going to turn positive by 31 December

Thankfully for the state of The Stash, my other purchases have been patterns, not fabric.

It's been a while since my slip-making adventures at the start of the year, but I want to make more, especially from different periods. Which is how I came to buy this.

1930s slip pattern from Simplicity

The seller's description just said "1930s", so I looked it up on the Commercial Pattern Archive. It's from 1934 but oddly, there were two versions of it (image taken from Etsy).

Same pattern, same number, different illustration

The figures differ, but the slips remain pretty much the same. A second view has been added on my version, along with two extra pattern pieces.

The pattern pieces in my version

However, it looks as though this view could have been made from the original pattern, by following one of the sets of perforations on the pattern pieces.

The slip can be "cut straight across" - image from Etsy

Finally, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Two long-running themes on this blog are 1979 Style patterns, and "squirrel" projects. Which are perfectly combined in this.

Meta squirrel! Style 2778, from 1979

Yes, my workroom is going to look faintly bizarre with a furry squirrel in it, but I fear that at some point it has to be done!

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Vogue 2787 completed

I don't know why I'm still surprised when something takes longer than expected, given that it's the story of my sewing (and indeed, entire) life. But I'm certainly not going to be even starting my second planned project for #SewVintageSeptember (i.e. the one which was planned, using a UseNine2021 fabric). My impulse two-tone version of Vogue 2787 is, however, done.

Last week I had a back in two colours and a front in two colours, and was ready to join them and hope that they matched. Happily for me, they did. I sewed the left side seam and then, while the dress was still one relatively flat piece, top-stitched round the edge of the blue section, from centre back to the front.

The topstitching crossed the seam line . . .

. . . and ended 'under' the curve of the brown fabric

Next, I sewed the right side seam and set in the zip, before sewing the shoulder seams. This meant that I was hand-picking a zip into a tube rather than a completed dress, so had more access from the top.

Reinforcing the bottom of the sleeves with tape had worked really well on my second version of this dress, so I took the idea a step further. This time, the strip of tape is machined into place, following the lines of the sleeve hem.

Inside and outside views of the sleeve reinforcement

As an aside, one thing which I hadn't considered was just how frequently I would have to keep swapping between blue and brown thread on my sewing machine - hardly onerous, but faintly annoying!

Anyone who reads this blog regularly (thank you!) will know the agonies of choice which I usually face over buttons. This time, it was pleasingly straightforward. Even though the buttons at the back are almost entirely on the brown fabric, I had found some vintage buttons in my stash which were a perfect match for the blue, and I liked the idea of the contrast.

An easy button choice for once!

The shoulder pads are bought ones, because I wanted to get the dress photographed today, but I will probably replace them with a set made from the pattern.

I must admit that I'm not totally sold on the end result. I hadn't taken into account the fact that the 'curve' of the front contrast piece is very flat at the bottom, and a prominent horizontal line at my widest point is not a feature that my figure is calling out for.

Not the best look

But, the idea of changing the pattern by extending an element round the dress was definitely worth pursuing. I recently read this obituary of Janet Kennedy, the main designer for Clothkits in the 1970s and 1980s, in which the writer mentioned that Kennedy's training in sculpture informed her ideas for patterns which flowed round a garment. This reminded me of something I wrote about my Big Stitch piece back in 2017 - that for home dressmakers the choices are all-over pattern or plain fabric; cloth printed specifically for a garment is nowadays limited to ready-to-wear. So I'm looking on this as a learning experience, and hope to create more pieces with a look that's 'in the round' in the future.

In the meantime, here's some more pictures of the finished dress, including some seated shots.

Dressing it up with gloves, handbag and my Vogue 7464 hat

The handbag disguises the horizontal line

Front view, standing

Front view, seated

Side view, seated

Back view

The gathers in the blue section at the neck make it hard to display a brooch properly, but eventually I managed to get this vintage bakelite number at an angle where it didn't vanish into the folds.

The finishing touch

And finally, the all-important Stashometer. The blue was a far bigger remnant than I needed, so the stash had a net gain from this project.

0.8m added

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Vogue 2787 with a difference

I know I said last week that I needed to crack on with using up some more of my UseNine2021 fabrics but unfortunately, 'it' happened again. (Hint: small, tree-dwelling mammal, UK native species red, imported species grey, rhymes with "Wirral".)

It's safe to say that inspiration rarely strikes me while I'm ironing, but I was pressing my previous version of 2787 and it struck me that the design would lend itself to being made up in two colours, in true 1940s style.

The line drawing shows the dress pieces clearly

I must admit that when I first came across the 1943 Make Do and Mend booklet, I was very doubtful that anyone would have actually taken up the suggestion of making a new dress from two old ones.


But since then I've come to realise that in fact, the look predated clothes rationing. Several Vogue patterns from 1940 are shown with the option to be made up in two fabrics. Some just have a contrast at the front.

Vogue 8853

On some it extends to the back.

Vogue 8864 and 8882

And others have contrasting sleeves.

Vogue 8862 and 8849

And then, of course, I made up Vogue 9546 (from 1942) in two fabrics. So the idea isn't without precedent. Admittedly Vogue 2787 dates from 1948, by which time contrast sections were probably entirely out of fashion, but I wasn't going to let that stop me!

My initial idea was just to use a different fabric on the left front bodice, but I decided that this would look clumsy, and that it would be better if the contrast extended to the back as well. Once I'd got an idea of the yardages required, I headed out to Abakhan for fabric. On a previous visit I had spotted some brown patterned fabric with a slight ribbed weave that I liked, but wasn't sure what I wanted for the second fabric. Initially I looked for something in one of the colours of the print, but nothing seemed quite right. Then I found a remnant which was more a duck-egg blue than the pale blue in the print, but a similar tone.

My over-optimistic plans for #SewVintageSeptember

Plunging the Stashometer further into the red

Armed with the fabric colours, I then created a sheet of the front and back pattern drawings, so that I could experiment with different curves. Because I'm left-handed, I tend to put side zips in the right seam of dresses rather than the left, which made things easier. My first attempt was based on the dart placements, but I quickly realised that this was too thin and that the design needed more pronounced curves.

Trying out ideas

Once I had the basic idea, I put the previous version of the dress on Nancy, and used pattern design tape to create the shape I wanted. I needed to avoid crossing any of the darts, and of course the bottom of the curve had to join the front bodice piece. The overall shape just looked better if it slightly crossed over the centre back seam, and because I was planning to apply it to the completed back section anyway, this wasn't a problem.

The back shape, compared to the front

I had already copied the upper section of the dress back pattern piece onto tissue paper, so then it was a case of very carefully getting the dress off Nancy and laying it flat without dislodging the tape, laying the tissue sheet on top, and tracing off the line of the tape. Finally, I smoothed out the curve, and added a seam allowance.

Very bad photo of the pattern piece in progress

The front of the dress was constructed as normal, just using two fabrics instead of one. The remnant is not a full satin/crepe, but the right side is definitely smoother than the wrong. I decided to use it wrong side out, which involved checking, double-checking, and triple-checking that I had my pattern placement correct!

The two backs were sewn together, the seam pressed open, and the edges neatened. I cut out the contrast piece (nearly getting it the wrong way round, despite everything), turned under the seam allowance on the curve, snipping where necessary, and basted it down. Then I pinned it to the dress back along the raw edges, and placed pins vertically through the tailor-tack marks which were on both the back and the contrast. Finally, I pinned along the curve.

Not sure if I've used quite enough pins here!

The contrast section was top-stitched to the back, and once I was sure that everything was hanging together properly, I cut away the excess brown back fabric and neatened the seam allowance on the curve. Next step - joining the sides together, and hoping that they match!