Sunday, 26 June 2022

Butterick 7598-ish

I've reached the stage in this project where I'm no longer working from the pattern but making it up as I go along* and, as a consequence, progress has been slow.

After some thought, I decided to redraft the back with a centre back seam. The back could have had a slashed opening, like Simplicity 4463, but the trim treatment that I want to add to the dress would work better with a proper seam. Somehow, I forgot to take the back opening into account when I cut out the back facings and had to redo them, but at least I realised before I had sewn the facings together.

Duh! Original and correct facings

My plan for the trim is inspired by this dress from Carnivale Vintage in Edinburgh. It was posted on their Instagram account ages ago, and I loved it. Unfortunately, as well as the usual problem that ready-to-wear bodices are too long for me, there was also the minor issue that it was a size 8 and I, categorically, am not! As usual when I spot something I like, I had kept all the images in my (now rather full) inspiration/ideas folder for reference.

1930s dress, front and back, images from Carnivale Vintage

Because I wanted to recreate this trimming method, I chose a crepe-back satin for the dress. The dress itself is made crepe side out, the trim will be made satin side out. This saves the hassle of trying to find one matte and one shiny fabric in the same shade of black, which is harder than you might think.

I experimented with laying tape across the toile, and marked the rough centre positions with a Frixion pen. Unfortunately, it's not just a case of extending these marked points across the pattern pieces. I know from this dress that working out pleasing lines on a three-dimensional body can only be done when wearing the dress.

Rough positions marked on the toile

This gives me a chicken-and-egg problem. I can only position the trim, and match it across front, sleeves and back, when I have a complete dress. However, I can only sew the seams to complete the dress once the trim is in position! My plan is to sew the shoulder seams and partially attach the facing, then baste the other seams. By a combination of putting the dress on Nancy and wearing it myself, I can (hopefully) position and pin the trim.

This is going to involve lots of handling and taking on and off a dress made from a fabric which frays quite easily. I may even need to overlock all the raw edges it gets too bad. Therefore I decided to thread trace the seam allowances on the bodice and sleeve pieces before I start, so that I don't lose track of where the seams should be. I did this by marking the seam lines in chalk, and then going over them with tacking thread. I'll baste the dress together with a different colour of thread, so that I know what I'm unpicking if/when I need to do so.

Thread tracing on a sleeve

The trim on the Carnivale dress looks like some sort of braid, sewn on in rows of three.

Close up of the trim, image from Carnivale Vintage

For the sake of my sanity, I am planning to use a single wide strip of satin with the raw edges turned under, and machined twice to roughly replicate the three rows. I have made a sample piece from scraps, following the pocket treatment of multiple rows close together, and I'm happy with it.

Trim sample, I may need to sew down the edges

I will need to be very careful to keep the rows of stitching straight and evenly spaced - thank goodness for the speed contol of a non-electric machine. I'm planning to do the pockets and belt first, as they should be simpler, and then move onto the bodice. Partly to get some practice, and partly to put off the tricky bit!

* - As an aside, this dress was in the 'Passion for Fashion' auction held by Kerry Taylor Auctions this week. Although it has no label, it was thought to be by Pierre Balmain, circa 1955. There were lots of interior shots in the online catalogue, and I was delighted to discover that most of my guesswork on the construction of my Holly Dress had actually been correct. My current project is really making me wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew, so this was a welcome confidence boost.

Image © Kerry Taylor Auctions

(And no, I'm not thinking about recreating this. Not even a tiny bit. OK, so I may have saved all the images and details but oh no, definitely not....)

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Butterick 7598 - if the sleeve fits . . .

The 8th Lady Berwick, who I posted about last week, was herself a skilled needlewoman. When she and her husband took over Attingham Hall it was in need of restoration, and while she did some of the work herself, she also wrote books and articles on aspects of needlework to help fund the rest. On the subject of dressmaking, she wrote that, "patience, courage and a sense of humour" were essential requirements.

Never were truer words spoken. About this project, at least.

Having decided what changes I needed to make to the dress bodice, I drafted wider and shorter bodice pieces, leaving the armscye and sleeve unchanged. I then cut out the toile, with both back and front pieces cut on the fold (sharper minds than mine will immediately see where this is going). I stay-stitched round the neckline, sewed the shoulder seams, trimmed the neckline curves, and replicated the effect of a facing by pressing back and sewing down the seam allowance. Finally, I pinned one side seam together, and tried it on Nancy.

Spot the problem

It looked reasonable, so I then attempted to try it on me. This was when it finally dawned on me that I have got a head and Nancy has not! What made it even worse was that I have got form with this.

When I actually read the instructions properly, I discovered that there should be a zip ("slide fastener") at the back. The pattern includes instructions for inserting one of these new-fangled things, but the method is very different from what I'm used to. The zip is set in with no attempt at concealment. Given that in 1937 it would have been plain metal, it would have looked very visible indeed.

The instructions, and my version

I'm not sure if in 1937 you wanted to show off your zip as a feature, or if the notion of hiding it in a seam just hadn't been developed by then. Certainly the pattern envelope suggests that zips were very new, so making it deliberately visible may have been A Thing.

Zip references on the pattern envelope

This raised the interesting question of just how historically accurate I want to be. Do I go for a visible zip (which will be black, and plastic), even though it will look very odd to modern eyes? Other options are adding a centre back seam, or doing away with the zip altogether and having a slit with a facing and buttons and loops instead - like Simplicity 4463 from five years later. I've put off making a decision for now.

In the meantime, I sewed a visible zip in to toile, and tried it on. I liked the collar, and the bodice fit seemed reasonable, but the armscye seemed very high and the shoulder very wide.

Fitting the bodice without sleeves (or attached skirt)

I then realised that none of the views in the pattern combined the gathered sleeve with the bodice I was using, but looking at the pattern pieces the armscyes seemed the same, so I carried on.

I'm making bodice A, B or F

And started off with sleeve D or E

The sleeve head had to be very tightly gathered, and end result was alarmingly full. The attached sleeve was also partway down my arm! Plus there was some pulling on the bodice, and the collar now seemed rather tight. On top of all this, the armscye still didn't feel right. At this point I assumed that I would need to make a second toile, as so many alterations would be needed to fix everything.

The arrow shows roughly where my shoulder is

The first thing I needed to do however was make a second sleeve, as trying to fix the narrow shoulder issue with only one sleeve was likely to skew the whole thing. I made up the other sleeve design, the one with the pleated head, and then let out the sleeve seams on both sleeves as they were slightly snug, even for the 1930s (when will I learn that I do need to regrade sleeves?!). This time I only sewed in the sleeves at the bottom of the armscye, and pinned them on at the correct point for my shoulders. I much preferred the smoother look of the pleated sleeve head and, as if by magic, all the fit issues had vanished! I was amazed that simply bringing the sleeves into the correct position could fix so many non-sleeve problems.

Much better

This meant that I didn't have to make second toile (yay!), just redraft the pattern pieces with the various tweaks I'd made. Fortunately I had kept notes of everything I did along the way - well over a year later, I'm still mildly stunned by just how useful a proper project notebook actually is!

Pattern redrafted, in theory I could now cut the bodice out and finally start sewing. However, there's an idea I want to try for the dress trim, and this really needs to be hammered out before I begin the construction. What was going to be a 'quick dress' (a phrase which I should ban from my vocabulary) to go with my new hat is turning into a very long project indeed.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

A day out at Attingham Park

Way back in spring 2020, one of the last things I attended before the world closed down was a costume event at Wrexham Museum organised by Professor Deborah Wynne. When I looked back at the photographs I took that day - lots of people, unmasked, gathered tightly around a mannequin, it sometimes seemed impossible to imagine that such an event could ever occur again.

But yesterday it did, again organised by Deborah. This time we were at Attingham Park, a National Trust property in Shropshire and formerly home to the Berwick family. Assistant curator Holly Kirby gave a fascinating talk on some of the items in the property's costume collection, specifically those relating to Teresa, the 8th Lady Berwick. She and other members of staff had very kindly brought out several pieces for us to see at close quarters. This was no minor undertaking, as the stores are right at the top of the building and the Steward's Room, where the talk was held, is in the basement!

Attingham Park - it's a long way from top to bottom!

As ever, I took lots of photographs. I have whittled them down to just a few.

The second-oldest piece we looked at was this 1880s dress which belonged to Constanza Hulton, Teresa's mother. The fabric is woven in an unusual pattern of black and grey stripes in varying widths, and it is trimmed at the neck, sleeves, shoulders and hem with folded ribbon.

The dress in its storage box

The striped fabric and folded trim

Lace frill on the bodice

This dress dates from around 1905 and belonged to Gioconda, Teresa's older sister.

Gioconda's dress

Close-up of the bodice

Next (chronologically) comes the first item which belonged to Teresa herself. It is a circa 1913 embroidered velvet evening coat, with collar and cuffs of rabbit fur, and was given to her by Lady Vincent, a family friend.

I wouldn't say no to a present like this

The embroidery and beading round the hem

In 1919 Teresa married Thomas, the 8th Lord Berwick, and moved to Attingham. The next item we looked at was her robe for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.

Portrait by William Reid, 1937 (apologies for the reflections)

Although this looks like a velvet robe worn over an elaborate dress, the reality was slightly different. The front of the dress is indeed covered in exquisite metal thread embroidery, which includes elements of the Berwick coat of arms. But the rest of the dress is very plain, with short sleeves of net, and the velvet and ermine robe is attached to it by press studs and hooks and eyes. There is also a matching drawstring bag - we debated whether this originally contained something to snack on during the long coronation ceremony!

The robe, and the bag by the right sleeve

The embroidered panel sewn onto the rest of the dress, and the press stud fastenings

Embroidery detail

The name of the embroiderer at the hem, hidden by the robe

The coronet which was worn with the robes was so tiny as to be almost comical. Holly turned it over so that we could see how it was held in place - by two long prongs which acted like hatpins. It looked rather uncomfortable; I'm not surprised that in the portrait above Lady Berwick chose to have it on the table beside her rather than on her head.

Tiny headwear

Big pins

The final dress we looked at was the oldest one of all, older than Attingham Park itself. Lord and Lady Berwick were clearly fond of fancy dress, and this 1760 sack-back dress was worn by Lady Berwick for a party in the 1920s. Unusually for a dress of that period, much of the metal embroidery hasn't turned black with tarnish, and it was possible to imagine how it would have glittered when it was new.

The sack-back dress

The stomacher is not original

Showing the back pleats and the shiny metal threads

Close-up of the robings

More metal thread embroidery

As well as the costumes, we were also able to look at a recently discovered collection of fashion sketches made by Teresa when she was in her teens. My photographs of these didn't come out well, but you can read about them and see some examples here.

After the talk I had a stroll round the house, upstairs and downstairs, and the surrounding parkland.

The Drawing Room

Portrait of Lady Berwick in her Fortuny coat by Sir Gerald Kelly, 1923

The servants' hall

The rear of the house is rather different from the front

The deer park

It was great to be back at something costume-related, and I had a wonderful day. Thanks to Deborah and Holly for organising it.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Butterick 7598 progress

After a long break, I'm finally back working on Butterick 7598. Yay!

Unfortunately, I've got rather less done over the weekend than I had hoped. My laptop decided to die yesterday, and it took me the entire afternoon to coax it back to life. Things weren't helped by going on to the manufacturer's website and basically being told that it was my own fault for persisting in using it for so long instead of replacing it - grrr! After all this, it was a great relief to go back to working with a 90-year-old lump of cast iron which is still going strong.

Back in my happy place!

When I last posted about this project, I had given up trying to redraft the pattern with four different adjustments simultaneously, and had just redrawn the bodice pieces without the variable seam allowances.

The seam-free versions laid over the originals

I could then pin the pieces onto Nancy, to see where alterations are needed. Because I knew that I needed to grade up a size, I pinned the pieces ½" out from the centre line.

The back . . .

. . . and the front

The result was 1½" too long at the back, and 2½" too long at the front, so I am going to assume that I've positioned the shoulder seam wrongly, and just take 2" out all round for the first toile.

When I make mock-ups, I usually only do the bodice, as that is where the fitting issues occur. However, I've come unstuck with this approach a few times recently. What appears to fit when it's just a bodice can behave very differently once there is a skirt attached to it. So this time, I'm trying something a bit different. I've made the skirt part of the dress already, and will pin it to the mocked up bodice once it is done.

I felt that the skirt of 7598 was a bit too slim to work on me, so I used the skirt of Butterick 6866 instead, as both are six-panel skirts with a side fastening. The result is more mid-1930s than late-1930s in length, and rather full for 1937, but both of these can be adjusted if necessary. Please excuse the terrible pictures, the lighting in this part of my workroom is not ideal for photography.

The skirt

The next step is to draft new bodice pieces and make the first toile.