Sunday, 30 October 2022

It’s been a while

I've picked up Butterick 7598 again, after a long break. Far longer than intended: I got stuck on the trim placement, then the height of (a very hot) summer didn't seem like the time to be working on a black dress, then the longer I left it the more daunting the trim issue became.

I finally decided that I needed to at least have a go, and guess what? Once I actually started, it didn't seem that bad after all! If anything, taking such an extensive break has helped - it allowed me to look at the project with fresh eyes.

This is the state in which the dress has been languishing on a hanger since July.

It had practically become part of the furniture

I tried it on, and discovered that the trim on the front only needed minor adjustments to make it look level. I also discovered that the shoulder seam is actually slightly back from the shoulder. This went a long way to explaining why positioning the front and back trims an equal distance from the shoulder seam had produced such a messy effect!

Once I had marked the true shoulder position and pinned the front trim in place properly, I was able to put the dress back on the dressform, and get to work on the back. I only pinned trim onto one side of the back, I can measure it to do the other side.

Back trim

I did, however, go to great lengths to make sure that the back and front trims were level. Years ago, I got a tiny spirit level keyring in a Christmas cracker, and put it in my workbox on the basis that it might come in handy sometime. And finally, it did!

Obsessive? Me?!

Next, I completed basting the front and back trim into place.

All tacked on

It was impossible to pin the trim onto the sleeves while they were part of the dress (and shaping the top row round the sleeve head is going to be very tricky indeed), so instead I just thread marked where it should be at the sleeve seam.

Orange threads mark where the trim should go

Once all this was done, I could unpick the basting which has held the dress together for over three months. I was very grateful that I'd thought to use different coloured threads for the seam allowance markings and the actual seams - it made unpicking much easier!

The next jobs are to make some more trim strips, and then to sew the trim to the bodice front and back. Hopefully without the project stalling again.

Sunday, 23 October 2022

A pattern mini-haul

I've not had a lot of time for sewing this week, but it's not been as issue as I'm in a bit of a sewing slump at present. It hasn't stopped me from acquiring a few patterns, though. They are quite a mixed bag, so here they are, in date order.

Does three items count as a 'haul'?

I was killing some time browsing in an antique centre when I spotted this rather crumpled envelope.

Not very promising to the untrained eye

It was the word "patterns" which jumped out at me, along with the label. It was clearly a pattern ordering slip from a newspaper or magazine - you filled it in with your details and sent it off, and it was used as the address label for sending the pattern.

Clearly Mrs Smith ignored the request for block capitals

For anyone trying to decipher the details, the address is "Perry House, Ruyton-XI-Towns, Shrewsbury". The wonderfully named Ruyton-XI-Towns is a village beside the River Perry, in Shropshire.

And this is the pattern.

This is it, the back of the envelope is blank

It was advertised in 'Woman' magazine, 25th October issue. There is no year given, but the dress style, the drawing, and the coarse paper of the pattern all suggest wartime. There is no reminder anywhere that professional seamstresses must abide by the CC41 regulations - perhaps it was assumed that professional seamstresses wouldn't be using a magazine pattern?

Next, my love of Style patterns is well documented on this blog. Although 1979 remains 'peak Style' for me, my collection is expanding to include other eras. Most pattern envelopes (of all brands, not just Style) stick to the established display method of two or more women paying absolutely no attention to one another, against a blank background.

Style 1053 - the usual approach

For Style, there was a period in the 1950s when a few sketchy background details appeared. In this case, apparently no-one was going to work out for themselves that a full length, full-skirted dress, accessorised with gloves and a tiny bag, was an evening gown. So to make the point entirely clear, the artist added a chandelier!

Style 1170 - not beachwear, then

Concerning another regular topic on this blog, dressmaking and older women, the artwork is a masterclass in subtly suggesting how the different views were deemed suitable for different ages.

Strappy, with shoulders, and with sleeves

Leaving aside the fact that a pattern with a chandelier on it greatly appealed to me (yes, I am that shallow!), I was intrigued by the shaping of the bodice.

It's all in one piece (B)

The pattern suggests cutting the skirt pieces out in Vilene (interfacing), making the two skirts up separately, and then putting them together before making the pleats at the waist. That seems like a lot of bulk, and a very stiff skirt!

I can't help thinking a petticoat would be better

Although the instructions are more detailed than those on the Personality pattern, they are still scant by modern standards. Clearly Style didn't feel any need to make them longer and fill the entire sheet; instead a fair chunk of it is given over to advertising.

Advertising other Style patterns

While Style was definitely my preferred brand back in the 80s and 90s, I did use other patterns as well. One especial favourite was a McCall's pattern of a Laura Ashley design. I made it up twice, once in a cherry red baby needlecord and once in a Liberty poplin, and wore them both to death. In fact, I wore through the elbows of the poplin version! In an early version of 'remake, reuse, recycle' (or a late version of 'make do and mend') I simple cut off the bottom of the sleeves and converted it to a short sleeved dress. It's another of those patterns that I really regret getting rid of. I'd only seen it for sale a couple of times, and both times in a tiny size and in the U.S. with eye-watering shipping costs. So when I spotted it for sale in this country and in almost my size, I was unreasonably excited.

I am so happy to have this back

Back view

I must admit that I'm not sure if I would find back buttons as easy now as I did in the 1980s. Fortunately, the dress is loose and has a boat neck, so I’m hoping that I can get away with just one, or even no, buttons. Now to find some baby needlecord!

Sunday, 16 October 2022


As part of my patriotic duty to use less power over the winter, I have bought another vintage sewing machine. At least that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!

I am lucky enough to have a dedicated sewing room. It's a big room, with space for my books, machines etc, and a large table for cutting out and pattern drafting. I love it, but there's no denying that it takes some heating in the winter. The steep increase in energy costs, and the possibility of power shortages, has led me to plan a different way of working over the colder months: batch up jobs which do need the large space, but convert the smaller and cosier spare bedroom into a winter sewing room.

The original plan was to have my hand crank machine in there, on a table. But there was no getting round that fact that Tilda, my treadle, is now my favourite machine. (As an aside, I feel ridiculously guilty about this, it's like admitting to having a favourite child!) I like having both hands free to guide the fabric, and I especially like having such a large flat area flush with the machine bed.

Tilda - so much work space

Moving Tilda upstairs wasn't an option. My house is a mix of old and new, and the stairs are in the old part, and narrow. Tilda is large and heavy, and even if I could get her upstairs, she would take up too much space in her new home. I was resigned to the hand crank option, until I spotted this in a local auction. For a mere £10, she was mine.

Balanced on wood offcuts while I'm working on her

According to this excellent website, this is a New Enclosed Cabinet No. 46.

1933 Singer catalogue, image from

I don't know when Singer first started making enclosed cabinets, but I have a Singer catalogue from July 1932 which shows a slightly different version.

The 1932 version of the No. 46 cabinet

Clearly, Singer decided to remodel it along more 'moderne' lines. On a practical note, the door is now the full height of the cabinet, and when open it acts as a support for the extension flap.

The enclosed cabinet was more expensive than the five-drawer cabinet table (Tilda), costing £23 10s 0d in 1933 as opposed to £19 5s 0d.

The two versions of the No. 46 cabinet seem the same apart from the door design. Both have the "fitted tray and commodious drawer" inside. I don’t know what Singer thought their customers were sewing, but I doubt if it is big enough for, as the brochures suggest, "unfinished work".

For very small work, but you can lock it away

What it does have is this, stamped on the back of the drawer.

The manufacture date of the cabinet

Clearly the previous owner didn't think that the storage space was sufficient, either, as Joan has had a DIY upgrade.

An extra box, and a set of small drawers

The large box definitely needs some work. The inside is dirty and rough, and one of the wooden strips which holds the tray in place is missing.

Needs cleaning,re-lining, and a new support

The underside of the tray shows that originally it was something else entirely, and far older than 1934.

A box for an 1890 birthday present

The big advantage of this machine, for me, is its size. Whereas Tilda is 16" by 34" (41cm by 86½ cm) when closed up, this machine is only 16¾" by 22⅜" (42½ cm by 57cm), little more than the size of the treadle mechanism.

The treadle mechanism is much the same as Tilda's

The machine itself is Tilda's ever-so-slightly older sibling. Joan is number Y9067719, and Tilda is number Y9103427. According to this website, both are part of the 50,000 66K machines made between November 1933 and September 1934.

Partway through cleaning

Although she looks in reasonable condition, she was very grubby in places, with a slightly sticky film of nicotine all over. Nice. I used the skills I learned on Maud to clean her up, but a few areas are so gummed up that they defeated me, for now. Despite this, she produces a really lovely stitch and I'm looking forward to finishing off the last little bits of restoration, getting her set up upstairs, and using her.

Sunday, 9 October 2022

The sunray bag - part 3, completed

My sunray clutch bag is complete at last.

Having made the bag lining and the semi-rigid bag former, the next job was to make up the outer. The bag front and back were joined together with a base strip of the patterned cotton. However, the lowest sun 'ray' had been designed to overlap the base a little, so that the orange continued right to the edge. Then one side of the bag, made from a strip of the plain orange cotton, was sewn in place. (All of the sewing for this week's post was done by hand, and I now have the slightly throbbing fingertips to prove it!)

Showing the base, and the orange side

Once the orange side was sewn in, the bag outer was arranged over the bag former, to see how well it fitted. The other side, made from the print fabric, had to be attached further out than I had expected. Fortunately I had left very generous seam allowances everywhere, just in case.

The yellow thread basting shows the original expected sewing line

The print side was completely sewn to the bag front, but only to the lower half of the bag back - this was so that the former could be slipped into position.

Attaching the print side

To hold everything in place, the seam allowances were stitched onto the cotton layer of the former. Adding the cotton turned out to have been an inspired move - not bad for someone who was making it up as she went along!

Interior shot showing the seam allowances whipped in place

I stitched the upper side edge of the bag back to the former, and then joined the side to the back using ladder stitch. Next, I folded over the top edges of the bag and sewed them to the former. Finally, I turned under the upper edge of the lining, and sewed that onto the outer with tiny overcast stitches.

Top view, closed and open

And here is the completed bag, front and back.

Front view

The back, with the design machine-sewn on

I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out, and I learned a lot in the process of making it. So I'm counting it as a win for both the 'details' and the 'self-drafted' goals that I set myself mid-year. Oh, and it used up some stash fabric as well.

I seem to be using stash rather than the listed fabrics

Sunday, 2 October 2022

The sunray bag - part 2, the structure

I'm back from my Scottish jaunt, and working on my sunray clutch bag again.

Having made the front and back panels, I then set about the element which will give the whole bag its shape. I want the front and back to be rigid, and also the base and the lower section of the sides - marked in red on the drawing below. The upper part of the sides, marked in blue, will just consist of the outer and lining fabric layers, to allow the bag to taper towards the zip at the top.

The bag design

After a browse round my local fabric shop, I settled on a pelmet stiffener which is sticky on both sides, with the glue covered with peel-off paper. I thought that this would be easier to use than iron-on buckram, which has glue on both sides activated by heat, as I could work on one side at a time.

First, I drew out the shape on the stiffener. It wasn't quite wide enough, so I had to add sections for the sides. Then, to made it easier to work with and to provide a way of joining it all together, I glued plain white cotton onto both sides.

I covered the inside first. I folded the stiffener to shape, and scored along the fold lines so that I could remove the paper one section at a time. I started with the base, then did the other four sections.

The inner cotton layer, from the outside . . .

. . . and from the inside

Next, I covered the outside, making sure that the cotton was arranged to go over the folds smoothly.

The outer layer, with excess allowed at the base folds

I used a rotary cutter to remove the excess fabric, except at the four corners. These I sewed up, to create the bag shape.

Starting to look slightly bag-shaped

Then I trimmed off the excess.

The seams trimmed down

The lining was made up with fabric panels up the sides, and two panels holding the zip were sewn along the top. To make sure that it stays in place, I secured it to the corners of the base and the top of the side panels of the stiffener (hence the blue threads in the photo above).

The lining, showing the zip

The lining, showing the side panels

I was concerned about the bulk of the seam allowances of the stiffened shape, so I stitched them down to the cotton layer. Even though it is glued in place, there was just enough give to pick up a few threads to sew into.

Seam allowances sewn down

Next, constructing the outer bag and bringing it all together!