Sunday, 25 April 2021

Slow going

This pretty much sums it up

Take a more-complex-than-anticipated project, add a sewjo which has apparently decided to go on holiday without me, and top off with still not entirely fixed dominant hand and you get - not much, really.

Last week I had a top part of a dress and a skirt part of a dress, and 'all' I needed to do was join them. Doing so has left me with a new admiration of the people who design sewing patterns, and in particular the ones who work out the order of construction and write the instruction sheets so that it all makes sense. Time and again I found myself hitting the following problem:
--I couldn't do A until B was completed,
----I couldn't do B until C was completed, and
------I couldn't do C until A was completed.

For example, I can't decide on the waist tie lengths until I see how they look on the completed dress, and I can't complete the dress without including the waist ties.

Waist tie options - long or short?

There was also the problem that I had decided to omit the bound buttonhole which the tie comes through, and replace it with an opening in the side seam. Then I realised that this left the bodice back unattached to anything. I didn't think that a couple of stitches to secure it would be strong enough, so ended up joining the two sides with a short length of narrow tape, attached to the seam allowances to make it invisible.

The new opening for the waist tie

I am at least pleased that the way the skirt fastens worked out as planned.

The dress unfastened

Step 1 - fasten the waist stay

Step 2 - pull the tie through the opening

Step 3 - do up the zip

Part of the reason why this dress has taken so long is that early on I formed the suspicion that it wouldn't work, so eagerly grabbed any excuse to work on something else. When I tried it on, I was pleasantly surprised by the fit and general appearance, but somehow I'm still struggling to get myself into my workroom and crack on with it. I just keep telling myself that the end is now in sight!

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Current progress and future plans

My hand is taking an annoyingly long time to recover. I can sew a little, but only for short periods. (One thing I've noticed in the last couple of years is that any sort of injury takes far longer to mend than it used to - the joys of ageing!) So not a lot of progress has been made with my dress. I do at least have a completed (albeit unhemmed) skirt, and an almost completed bodice now.

The unusual shape and construction of the 1935 blouse which I'm using for the bodice meant that I seemed to spend a lot of time sewing apparently random raw edges together, before a blouse-shaped article eventually appeared. It was also difficult to neaten the edges as I went along, because I couldn't work out what was going to become of that edge later on. Having my previous version to hand, to use as reference, was very helpful.

Seams everywhere

The blouse front is shaped with three vertical tucks from the waistline on each side. I wanted the middle tuck to line up with the seams of the central skirt panel, and realised early on that I had calculated its position wrongly. The easiest solution was to leave the tucks until both skirt and bodice were made up but, even then, the correct placement eluded me. Eventually, I decided that the best thing to do was write it up in my new sewing notebook and - it worked! There was just something about showing my workings out (complete with diagram) in my best writing, which seemed to move my brain up a gear.

Success! All this . . .

. . . led to this - matching seams!

There has been one advantage to my slow progress. The skirt has a side opening and as I didn't have a suitable zip, I was resigned to making a side placket with press studs. However, by the time I actually got round to this part, non-essential retail had reopened in England, including fabric shops.

I only popped in for a zip and some more curved petersham, honest. Well, you don't need me to tell you how that ended! During lockdown, I'd treated myself to a pair of American Duchess Harriets in blue, and decided that I quite fancied a blouse and skirt to go with them (yes, my foray into the world of separates continues). A 'quick look' through the "suiting" remnants bin turned up a perfect mid-blue fabric with a narrow red check.

The fabric, with the shoes

I'm actually going to cheat a bit with the skirt. View 2 of this 1970s Style pattern has a very similar look, and is in my size (unlike the Simplicity pattern, which is actually two sizes smaller). So, rather than redraft the Simplicity pattern, I’m going to alter the Style one to use period construction techniques. I'm hoping that with careful cutting out, I might be able to eke a waistcoat front out of the remaining fabric as well.

Simplicity 2480 from 1937 and Style 2025 from 1977

Part of the reason for choosing this particular remnant was that I knew it would go well with this length of Liberty lawn which has lurked in my stash for years, and which I want to use for a 1940s blouse.

Stashed blouse fabric with the skirt length

The Stashometer has been pushed further into the red by this, but hopefully not for long. However, I really do want to finish the dress before I start anything else, as otherwise it will definitely get pushed to the back of the queue and become a PHD*.


* - Project Half Done. It sounds so much more impressive than UFO (UnFinished Object!)

Sunday, 11 April 2021

The fashion stakes - 1934 edition

Today's post should have been about my (finally) completed hack-it-or-draft-it dress. Unfortunately, I had an accident earlier in the week and bruised my left hand (my dominant hand) so badly that I can't grip a needle - so the dress remains unfinished.

There is a certain irony to this. Because I haven't been exactly confident that my plan for the dress would work, it has progressed very slowly: any excuse to do something else instead was eagerly snapped up. But of course, now I can't sew, I'm desperate to get on with it.

So in the absence of any sewing, here's something rather different, a 'board game' which appeared in a March 1934 issue of Vogue. Various of the places on the board contain either fashion-forward items which give the players benefits, or fashion faux-pas which lead to forfeits, or even (horrors!) disqualification.

The complete game

Choosing clothing in 1934 was a complex business, with different outfits required for myriad subtly different occasions. Getting it wrong was a source of severe social anxiety, for the middle classes at least. The same issue of Vogue plays upon this concern with an advertisement for the upcoming three issues, headed "One shilling invested in Vogue can save you many guineas"*. It continues "During the next few weeks you will be buying your entire wardrobe for the coming season". Rather than looking forward to a shopping spree on suits, hats, dresses, and accessories (and fabrics), it describes this as a "trying period", with the risk of "costly failures".

Vogue emphasising the perils of shopping

Obviously, Vogue is stressing the difficulties in order to sell its expertise, but the problem was a real one: Catherine Horwood's Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class Between the Wars provides a detailed and entertaining account of the complexities involved. In this context, Vogue's 'Race Game of Fashion' can be seen as a light-hearted way to advise readers what was in, and what was most definitely out.

Small drawings appear on 24 of the 95 places, with the key given at the centre of the 'board' - I have quoted these above each illustration. The rules of the game are as follows:

I particularly like rule three

Now all that is clear, let the game commence!

An elegantly manicured hand throws a dice to begin

Place 2 - Coat with wind-blown silhouette. Player blown forward, three places.

Fashion yay

Place 6 - Too much fur-trimming for spring. Player is exhausted, and misses two throws.

Fashion nay

Place 11 - Military effect with epaulettes. Player confined to barracks. Return to No. 1.

Another fashion fail, but no reason given

Place 15 - Player revives wardrobe with jabot. Receives extra throw.

Jabots were quite the thing at the time

Place 19 - Chinese coolie coat [sic]. Very new. Travel to No. 25.

I feel this image has not aged well

Place 24 - Feather boa. Over-elaboration. Player loses throw.

Also, very strange gloves!

Place 28 - Redingote and redingote stocks. Other players sent back three places.

A redingote is always elegant

Place 31 - Player goes out in stocking cap. Hides head until passed by all her rivals.

Surely no-one actually did this?

Place 37 - Three-quarter length coat. Player moves forward six places.

Obviously highly fashionable

Place 41 - Draw-string neckline. Hangs player up for one turn.

Not quite the thing

Place 42 - Player wears new sailor hat and obliterates rivals. Her next throw is doubled.

Old-fashioned hat styles in the background

Place 46 - Flower garden print frock. Player dances forward three places.

Just the thing for spring

Place 51 - Bare arms and shoulders. Player is cold-shouldered. Waits until she throws a six.

Whereas this is not

Place 56 - Ruched tulle cape. Player is excused next forfeit.

Elegant evening dress

Place 57 - Dropped waistline at back. Rival players drop back two places.

Rivals are blown away

Place 59 - Wind-blown hair. Blows player back to number 52.

Wind-blown is good for coats, but not for hair

Place 64 - Tunic dress. Go forward three places.

Tunic over a full-length skirt

Place 68 - Lots of long monkey fur trimming. Bad taste. Out of race.

The ultimate no-no, but is it the fur itself or the excess that's the problem?

Place 70 - Front coat fullness. Very advanced. Player is excused all future forfeits.

Bonus points for the cute dog, surely?

Place 75 - Tyrolean hat. Player waits for next turn until passed by an adversary.

Presumably such hats were passé?

Place 79 - Crisp blouses. Player moves forward to number 94.

They may be crisp, but they look rather fussy as well

Place 85 - Fan train. Player moves forward with dignity five places.

A fan train, and a footman

Place 89 - Unexpected cheque. Player buys winged ear clips and moves to finish.

Winged ear clips for the (literal) win

Place 92 - Riot of lace and velvet. Player goes backward instead of forward for next two throws.

Fallen at the last fence

Goal - Winner crowned with laurel (while wearing something which looks very like the ruched tulle cape on place 56).

Crowned the victor

* - A guinea was one pound and one shilling, £1.05 in today's money. Guinea coins ceased to be minted in 1813, but the sum continued to be used for high-end goods. By using the word 'guineas' rather than 'pounds', Vogue implies that its readers will be purchasing good quality as a matter of course. (In terms of selling the magazine, though, Georgina Howell's later slogan 'Buy nothing until you buy Vogue' arguably did the same job far more elegantly.)

Sunday, 4 April 2021

In Vogue, 1940-style

I've had this for a while, but never got round to blogging about it. Having finally done some research, this weekend seemed a good time to write it up – there's a little Easter surprise at the end.

It's a four-page sales leaflet, i.e. one sheet of paper folded in half, for Vogue patterns.

Such a stylish image

Clearly this was a marketing tool regularly issued by Condé Nast, as it is listed as number 183. Although the date on the striking cover illustration (I love how it is achieved with just black and one other colour, and no shading) is 1940, the copyright is 1939.

It is split into three sections: Chic and comfortable, Dinner and daytime designs, and City-bred and country-wise. (Click on any of the images to enlarge them.)

Chic and comfortable

Dinner and daytime designs

City-bred and country-wise

Of the 16 patterns featured, all were available in Misses' sizes of 12 to 20 (30" to 38" bust). All but three were also available in at least one Woman's size: three were available in 40" bust, seven in 40" and 42", and three (all in the 'City-bred and country-wise' section) in 40" to 44".

Designs available in 44" bust, not shown on obviously older women

Curiously, although pattern 8610 is described on the cover as "slimming", and on page three as "Wise lines that give you a slender silhouette", it was not available in the largest size.

Designs in Misses' sizes only

Seven of the patterns are described as "Easy-to-make", although to me they don't look obviously easier than any of the others. Prices ranged from 1s 6d to 2s 6d, with most of the 'easy' patterns at the cheaper end of the range. Two of the cheaper patterns were from 1939, so clearly this was not just a tool for highlighting new patterns.

1939 designs

I'm intrigued by the artwork used in the leaflet. All of the designs are of course hand-drawn, so initially I assumed that they were just taken directly from the pattern envelope art/counter catalogue, to save on expense. However, this wasn't the case.

Some were very similar, although not exactly the same, for example a leg might be drawn differently.

Vogue 8653, catalogue image and leaflet

Some possibly had to be simplified because of limitations in the printing process.

Vogue 8666, catalogue image and leaflet

This one was particularly odd. The two are almost identical, apart from the completely different skirt construction. I wonder, which is the correct one? (My guess is, the one on the leaflet, with the panelled skirt.)

Vogue 8705, with and without skirt seams

This looks like a dress for a grand occasion. However for the version on the leaflet, the fur has been removed - possibly it wasn't appropriate for a 'dinner and daytime' outfit.

Vogue 8632, with and without fur

Although the leaflet was a standard one, produced by Vogue Patterns in Britain, there was a blank space at the bottom on which could be printed the name of the shop which was distributing it.

The bottom of the leaflet's front page

(For non-UK readers, Torquay is a seaside town in Devon, in the south-west of England. Because of its mild climate, its beaches are known as the 'English Riviera'.)

Obviously, the first thing which caught my eye was "Garments cut out free of charge"! Oh, for a service like that nowadays. Then I started wondering if Williams and Cox still exists.

Sadly, it doesn't. It closed in 1981, but there is a wonderful Facebook page devoted to its history, and the following photographs are taken from there

Williams and Cox was a family firm, founded in 1837. Over time, it expanded to fill three adjacent shops on the seafront - numbers 4a, 5 and 6 Strand.

The original frontage, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

In the 1930s it was remodelled to have a unified, and very modern, façade. This is what it would have looked like at the time the leaflet was produced.

The new facade, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Drawing by Gilbert Rumbold from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Clearly it included an extensive fabric and haberdashery department, and sometimes had fabric-related window displays to tempt dressmakers in.

The glory days of proper dress fabric departments, from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Window display for rayon, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Appropriately for this weekend, this display was encouraging customers to make 'Something New for Easter', possibly from a Butterick pattern.

Easter display, 1949, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Happy Easter!