Sunday, 27 June 2021

Swings and roundabouts

I was originally going to call this post "Triumph and disaster", but that did seem slightly overdramatic!

The tie-on pockets are completed; all I had to do was finish off the binding and then add the waist tie. This was simply a long piece of white cotton tape, folded in half lengthways and sewn together. The pockets were attached within the fold, which covered the raw edges at the top. I'm really pleased with the end result, and have used them several times already.

Front view of the pockets

And the back view, with a 'secret bird'

So that was the triumph, what about the disaster? Well, during the week I went to launder my favourite dress - and discovered that it had actually worn into holes in a couple of places! It's the dress on which I had replaced the zip last year, and it's had a lot of use in the six years since I made it, but I was still really sad to lose it.


I had actually managed to start a new project, trying to catch up on my sadly neglected UseNine2021 challenge. The plan was to make view C of New Look 6594 in this pale blue viscose, and I had got as far as cutting out a first toile.

All ready to go . . .

I suspect that the two-part bodice will need a couple of mock-ups to get right, and as things currently stand this feels like a lot of work. I just want an easy, drama-free, project right now so making up another New Look 6093, a real tried-and-trusted pattern, was an obvious choice. And I found a printed blue floral (!) cotton in the dress-weight remnants bin at my local fabric shop which was an idea replacement for my worn-out dress.

. . . but set aside for this

Obviously, the Stashometer has taken a hit as a result, but as the dress is cut out already, I hope it won't be long before there's a matching entry in the 'used' column.

Going in the wrong direction

Sunday, 20 June 2021

New problem, old solution

I don't feel as though I've done a lot of sewing in the first half of the year, and this is unlikely to change in the second half. I've been dealing with family illness on and off since before Christmas, and even when I haven't actually been busy with that, I've often not felt like sewing. However, this has now prompted me to start a new project.

While some people simply cannot be without their phones, I am the complete opposite. Most of the time it is not even in the same room as I am, and I rarely remember to check it more than a couple of times a day. Usually this isn't a problem - my friends are used to me replying to texts hours later - but now that I need to be contactable by carers, social workers, physiotherapists etc, I need to make sure that my phone is always with me. Not all my clothes have pockets (I dislike patch pockets, so it's in-seam or nothing, and not everything lends itself to in-seam pockets), so my solution is to make myself some tie-on pockets.

For readers not familiar with historical costume, tie-on pockets were an integral part of women's clothing in the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth. They could be worn over the skirt for ease of access, or underneath for greater security. In the latter case, they were reached through a slit in the side of the skirt. This book, co-written by Barbara Burman, is a fascinating and detailed look at the history of pockets and the important role they played in women's lives.

The woman on the right wears a (patched) external pocket

This is actually a project I've had in mind for some time, and I immediately knew what fabric I wanted to use. I bought this remnant years ago at an Adamley sale, but it is a furnishing-weight cotton twill, not silk. The design is not at all period accurate, it is far too large for a start, but is perfect for a set of anachronistic pockets!

The colours are almost right, but I suspect that is all

I decided to bind the outer edges rather than do French seams, as these would be bulky in such a sturdy fabric. The initial plan was to use some dark red cotton for the binding, but then I remembered that it had been banished to the 'toiles fabric' box because the colour bled relentlessly. I didn’t want to risk it rubbing off onto my clothes, so instead I used some leftover sashing scraps from the University Centre Shrewsbury banner.

The pattern is taken from the pocket in volume one of Patterns of Fashion. It is 16" long, and 10" wide at the bottom, tapering to 4" at the top.

My source material

I made the binding ¾" wide, and hand sewed it round the opening slit on the pocket front. Then the front and back were machine sewn together, for strength, with the wrong sides facing.

The bound opening, and machine sewing

The binding was then hand sewn over the raw edges. I had thought that this would be a quick project and that I would have finished pockets to show in this post, but I seriously underestimated the time and effort involved in sewing through four layers of binding fabric and two layers of furnishing cotton!

Outer binding complete on the other pocket

I think that the end result will be really useful, not just for my phone but for other things which I'm always mislaying, such as my glasses. Tie-on pockets are definitely long overdue a comeback!

Sunday, 13 June 2021

More blasts from the past

The skirt I was making is now on pause. The front looks fine, but the fit at the back is truly dreadful. As it's not the weather for a wool blend skirt, and I'm trying to lose some covid pounds anyway, which will affect the fit, it has been banished to the naughty corner in the back of the wardrobe for a couple of months. It's galling, and I must admit that I've put off starting a new project while I nurse my damaged pride for a bit. But at the same time, it's a useful reminder that - whatever stories of relentless success we may see or choose to portray on social media - we can all have sewing failures, even with years of experience to draw on.

In my case those years of experience number over 40, and this latest debacle prompted me to think about some of the things I've made in that time. The very first one was, unsurprisingly, from a Style pattern. I made view 3. The pattern dates from 1975, when I was 11, but I think that I made it a couple of years later than that. I have a memory of hearing Baker Street on the radio for the first time while I was cutting it out, which would place it in 1978, which seems right. That said, I have no idea why I was making a short-sleeved top in Scotland in February!

Not the obvious choice for a Scottish winter

The pattern is long gone from my collection, but when I found it online recently, I couldn't resist buying it. I could remember the fabric I'd used (both Mum and I suffer from the affliction that we can't remember what we went upstairs for, but have an encyclopedic memory of every item of clothing we've ever made), but have no photos of me wearing the top. Then remembered that I might have some of the fabric. . .

Some time in the mid-1970s I saw an article about English (paper piecing) patchwork in a magazine, and promptly decided to make a quilt - starting with something small and working up from there has never been my strong point! At that time, in Britain at least, patchwork was still very much about using up scraps of old fabric rather than buying new specifically for a project. It was perfect for someone like me, who enjoyed sewing but didn't have much cash. Dad made me a template for the fabric and paper hexagons, out of very thick plastic. He also provided a steady supply of thin card, in the form of old punched cards from the I.T. department where he worked. If you look closely at the photo below, you can just see where some of the numbers have been punched out.

The card pieces are still in place round the edges

I decided on a colour scheme of browns and other earth tones - hello, 1970s! A lot of the fabric was from old dresses, and there are some atrocious colour combinations in there as I had to work with what I could get. I bought the cream and terracotta fabrics as and when required; unfortunately, this meant that overall size of the quilt was determined by John Lewis suddenly stopping selling the terracotta! I never actually got round to backing the quilt top, which makes this by some margin my longest ever unfinished project.

The 'completed' quilt top

Initially, I didn't realise that I should sew the hexagons together with the right sides innermost, so there are a couple of motifs with very visible stitching.

Oops! I also used cream thread throughout

As time went on, and I ran out of old dresses, I haunted my local fabric shop for small remnants such as this brown striped cotton.

Almost pattern matched all round

The leftovers from new dressmaking projects were added to the mix, too. This was the fabric I had used for Style 1144.

The centre is a scrap of curtain lining!

Style 2580 is from 1979. It used an absurd amount of fabric, and the leftovers made it into the quilt.

I made view 1. So. Much. Fabric.

And this (the green) is the fabric I used

The next year, I acquired Simplicity 9773. This was a favourite pattern, which I made up several times - possibly because the end result took far less ironing than the Style 2580 blouse! One version was in this green check.

A very 1980 illustration

Apparently I liked green blouses?

It's nice to have the memory of these clothes preserved in the quilt, as I have no pictures of me wearing either of these blouses - a reminder of how few photos we took in the pre-digital age*. I lost a lot of photo albums in a house move years ago, but given some of the hairstyles I sported in the past, I had concluded that this was probably a blessing in disguise. Then last week my mum unearthed some old photos of me (erm, thanks Mum), including this one.

The hair!!!?! June 1984

I have no recollection of this picture being taken, but I remembered that I'd made the top I'm wearing in it, so of course I had to look the pattern up. And, courtesy of the wonder that is CoPA, I found it.

Simplicity 6277, 1983

It's a total change from the fitted blouse of 3 years earlier. I made views 2 and 3, and the neckline was so wide that I was able to just sew the buttons through both fronts and save myself hassle of sewing buttonholes. For old times' sake, a copy of this pattern is now winging its way to me from Canada. I very much doubt if I'll make it again, but at least I wouldn't have any fit issues with it if I did!

* - Recently, I was discussing with a friend things from our childhood which would seem incomprehensible to Young Persons Today. Not being able to see a photograph until you had taken 23, or even 35, more and sent them off to be developed was high on our list!

Sunday, 6 June 2021

These rules are made for breaking

What is wrong with this picture?

It's been a while since I've had a chunter on here about fashion and age, but sadly that doesn't mean that the issue has gone away. Over the last week, there has been a fair bit of discussion in both the older-sewist and vintage-wearing online communities about (yet another) article which listed a whopping 55 things which women should avoid because they are 'ageing'.

What made this particular article stand out in a crowded field of such drivel was the illustrations it used. Rather than spend money on stock images, the author had simply lifted photographs from people's Instagram accounts, and without their knowledge or permission had used the images to demonstrate how allegedly poor their clothing/makeup/hair choices were. There has been some debate in various forums about the legality of this, but a quick glance at Instagram's small print would seem to suggest that by putting something in a public account you relinquish all rights over how it is used - it's the price you pay for using the platform.

One person whose photograph was included was the lovely Debra (@tooshorttopincurl), who wears beautiful true vintage outfits. A picture of her in a 1950s dress was used to illustrate the allegedly ageing properties of florals. Apparently, there is a danger of them making you look "gaudy", which the more cynical readers (including me, of course!) interpreted as "not totally invisible".

Some things seem to have made the list because the author or her friends associated them with 'old ladies'. And some, such as not immediately replacing your prescription glasses whenever frame styles change, suggest a failure to grasp the economic reality of many people's lives. Others just seem like common sense to me - clothes which don't fit and colours which make you look ill are unwise choices at any age, not 'ageing'. But apparently, looking older is the worst thing imaginable.

And this, I feel, is the crux of the matter. Ageism is increasingly feeling to me like the last acceptable prejudice, a view which this article supports. Time and again I see people on social media repeating, or even perpetrating, comments about age which I know they would (rightly) loudly condemn if someone else had made them about race, size, gender or disability.

A much cheerier note was struck by the responses to Debra's post about her experience. Lots of people donned their most floral clothing in support, and posted pictures with the hashtag #floralpatternsareout.

Spoiled for choice, but I went for this one

Many of the comments pointed out that ageing was vastly preferable to the alternative. There was also forthright support for the view that one of the joys of getting older is having the confidence to do, and wear, what you want. And a fair number of people (again, including me) wanted to know what the other rules were, in order to break as many as possible - preferably all in one outfit!

Some of them (head-to-toe pastels, head-to-toe black, jeggings) will never be an issue for me, so I narrowed the list down to the ones which could be applied to vintage dressing. Even in this subset, there are some which I can't imagine encountering. For the others, I am now a woman on a mission. To paraphrase slightly, Gotta Break 'Em All!

Florals - guilty as charged. The picture at the top of this post only shows my spring/summer dresses. My winter wardrobe (and my stash) are just as bad!

Big hairdos, or any hairstyle which requires hairspray - I don't wear many 1960s styles, so beehives aren't a big part of my look, but hairspray is a necessity for keeping 1940s rolls in place.

Large or gaudy jewellery - see the bangles I'm wearing with my floral dress above!

Matching jewellery - I don't have any (yet), but this may change.

Brooches - I do have lots of brooches, but rarely wear them - this could be just the prompt I need!

My brooch collection

Cardigans/Long sleeves - the website where the article appeared is based in San Diego, where such things may not be necessary. Other climates are available, and I live in one of them.

Cardigan-wearing and proud!

Tights - I'm including stockings in this one, beloved by many vintage wearers.

Small, stiff handbags - pretty much all vintage handbags, then.

Shoulder pads - essential for both 1940s and 1970s-does-1940s; two of my favourite looks.

Florals, stockings, shoulder pads and handbag - if only I'd worn a brooch!

Unbelted styles/Kitten heels/Short heels

Another multiple offender - needs more hairspray, though!

Tweed - it's a long-term project, but it's not going away.

On the distant 'to do' list

Out of date glasses frames - adding cat's-eye shades to my wish list.

Decorative scarves - not something I wear, because I never know how to tie them, but definitely one to investigate now.


And now, onto the rules I'm unlikely to rush to break. (Some because they're not my style, others because I did them the first time round!)

Jersey clothing - under no circumstances should you dress like this woman.

Coco Chanel - famous for jersey clothes (and tweed), sporting some 'gaudy' jewellery

Overplucked eyebrows/Sweater sets, aka twinsets/Capri pants - bad news for any 1950s fans.

Floor length skirts/Blue eyeshadow - and bad news for any 1970s fans.

Maybe not . . .

Too much blusher - been there, done that, already.

Party like it's 1979

Baggy clothing - see mid-to-late 1980s. I can't believe I ever wore stuff like this - it's not ageing, it's just ridiculous.

For those days when you just want to look like a rectangle

Actually, what started out as a rant has become quite entertaining. The whole thing is so ridiculous, and presents so many opportunites to 'misbehave', that I'm looking forward to working my way through some more allegedly inappropriate looks!