Tuesday, 29 May 2012

museum treasure

Anyone exploring Dorset with small children will know about the dinosaurs.  Known as the Jurassic coast, in the 19th century it was not unknown for fossil hunters to find (and plunder) entire dinosaur bones poking out of the cliff after a land fall.  In the county town Dorset there is a great little dinosaur museum, but there is also a gem of a county museum

Victorian Hall

Now I'm not expanding into museum promotion, although the eagle eyed of you will have noticed I have changed my by-line a little by adding (and other stuff) I am not extending my repertoire  that far.  Rather in the town museum I came across treasure that linked to my current enthusiasm, the great Titanic sew-a-long led by the wonderful vpll1912  The collection is small but contains four or five century's worth of clothing cast offs from the citizens of the county.  Because old cloth is so fragile and light sensitive the collection is rotated and how lucky was I to find on the day I went that they were showing off their Edwardian collection?  Titanic gold!

Black Ascot 1910

In 1910 the King had died just before Ascot, all the occupants in The Royal Enclosure wore full mourning, the meeting was known as The Black Ascot.  It is not inconceivable that one or two of those strolling the Royal Enclosure would be travelling first class on the Titanic two years later.

In the passenger list were agricultural workers from Dorset and the surrounding counties of Somerset and Hampshire.  I could imagine they may have gazed into this shop window on the High Street or one very similar in their local town.

Evans hatters in Dorchester High Street

Any agricultural worker travelling third class to a new world with new opportunities would most certainly have worn a sun bonnet, like one of these, when working in the fields or walking into town on market day.


Would they have packed them in hopeful anticipation of walking in their own corn fields in the mid-west?

Gloves and...

(No lady would have been seen without them on a sunny day)

Loved the...


evening bags
and the...
I have just bought some pleated fabric like the cream on the left to trim my ladies' mantle (coming up soon)

I found it so poignant reading all the small details  in Titanic Lives by Richard Davenport-Hines, the possessions they took with them on that fated journey, their back grounds and their family relationships.  If anyone took a sewing machine with them, as some women surely did, it will still be at the bottom of the ocean together with so many other private possessions, known to be useful of believed to be beautiful. 

like one of these (possibly)

No 1st class gentleman would travel without it

Hats certainly wanted on voyage

I could have stayed longer but my companions had finished looking at the geological exhibits (and the Romans) and Thomas Hardy's study and were ready for tea.



hand sewing inspiration

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Titanic #6 A dress for a ittle girl

The fascination for vintage children's clothes is a little like the interest in vintage underwear.  While there is so much information about what the grander people in society wore less is known about what they wore underneath, much less what the children wore.  Although you can see from portraits that for much of history children wore a cut down version of what was worn by their parents, I often wonder how the little infanta could play when wearing all that stuff, very beautiful but oh so restricting.

But by the beginning of the 20th century still the clothing was nothing like as free and comfortable as it is today it was certainly more relaxed.

So this dress from the Vintage Pattern Library 1912 project was a perfect chance for me to learn a little about how children's clothes were made a hundred years ago.  I chose a soft cotton gingham with plain lawn for the contrast and, as an extra, some multicoloured polka dot from my quilting stash for the piping (I found some spotty buttons too!).

Making it to fit my Little Model I needed to reduce the chest size from 24" to 20".

So many pattern pieces! Slashed and lapped at two points on each piece to avoid the bodice becoming disproportionate.  When I made pretty much all my children's clothes quite a few years ago, I wanted to make them smart and attractive but also FAST - after all no point spending weeks making something if the child grew faster than I could sew.  This pattern is not a fast make, there are so many small details.  I decided to bind as many of the edges as possible.

The yoke with a bias trim and a second piece called a chemisette set above the main bodice up to the bias bound neck did not work out right first time around.

No matter how much I steamed and pulled and pressed it would not lie down flat. I cut it apart, remade the chemisette and this time stretched the lower seam as I sewed and things went a little smoother.  I chose not to use lace for the chemisette and under sleeve.

I closed the back with press studs and a hook at the waist sewn to a placket made with more of the bias trim

I loved making the little button and loop trim (bias strips again, folded into a mitre and fixed on with the button)  despite there being so many of them!

Of all the pieces that I had to fit together, the sleeves were the most tricky.  If I found the crown of the sleeve and matched it to the shoulder seam I was left with just too much fullness on one side of the shoulder seam and nothing on the other.  And were the underarm seams on the sleeves supposed to match the side seams on the bodice?  I  needed a balance point on the sleeve pattern to correspond with the shoulder seam and another to indicate where to match the underarms.  What I should really have done is make a muslin!

On reflection I should have done this *
  • Calculate the balance point on the crown of the sleeve as exactly half way between the small circles which denoted the limits of the sleeve head gathering. 
  • Taken a long look at the bodice and decide where to put the under arm sleeve seam (point #96) I now think it should be somewhere towards the front about 1" up the curve of the arm hole on the front yoke match point 89.
 The instructions were clear but I would suggest the following modifications**
  • Cuff Bands - the instructions are to cut 2 pieces 10" x 2" this is just too short I cut mine 11" but you would get away with 10 1/2
  • At Point 4 I would suggest the bias trim needs to be stretched and eased in to prevent little pleats forming at the neck
If anyone is redrafting the pattern I would suggest numbering a sleeve crown balance point 81 to correspond with the same numbers on the shoulder seams of the yoke and marking a new balance point about 1" up from point 89 on the curve of  armhole on the front yoke

I also felt that the upper bodice was too long, it had to be  gathered on to the lower edge of the bodice lining, together with the skirt.  But this achieved too flouncy an overhang, not like the illustration at all.  I realised (too late!) that I had not reduced the width of the skirt to match the reduction in the bodice which accounted for the extra flounciness but that still did not explain how instead of gently falling to the belt it covered the belt completely. ***I suggest that if the lower bodice is cut 1 1/2" only longer than the bodice lining it will look more like the illustration.

But the Little Model loved it and posed very cutely on a rocking horse to show it off

Then I had an idea how I might make a modern version for wearing today.  I dispensed with the bodice lining and the skirt section.  I cut two each of the front and back yoke to sandwich and cover the gathers from the lower bodice and fixed the skirt flounce with the contrast band trim directly to the lower bodice.  I made little cap sleeves from an ellipse shaped piece of fabric folded in two sandwiching the raw edges around the arm holes and between the two layers of the front yoke.

It looks so different but apart from the sleeves the only difference is the loss of one tier in the skirt (no need for a belt either).  In fact I think the original will be very wearable if I just remove that layer in it too.

And here's the science bit

VPLL Checklist
  1. Pattern Name - #0501 Girls Dress March 10, 1912
  2. Sewer’s Skill Level: Advance
  3. Pattern Rating:  3 – Good/Average, to score a 4 it needed the balance points mentioned at * above and for a 5 the lower bodice length needs sorting out
  4. What skill level would someone need to sew this pattern and why? Advance - the sleeves were tricky and the neckline only for the brave
  5. Were the instructions easy to follow? yes  but see ** above for my suggestions for some small improvements
  6. How was the fit/sizing? Did it correspond to what you thought? Yes - my model is very slim and not yet 3, but this size would be fine for an average 3-4 year old.  The big problem on fit/sizing is the excessive overhang on teh lower bodice, I suggest a modification at *** above
  7. Did you make any pattern alterations? If so, what alterations did you make? Where they fit or design alterations? - I made fit alterations as mentioned above
  8. Other notes: I was very pleased with the modern take on the pattern



only two button loop trims on the modern version

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A sweater is not just for Christmas...

I have a lovely friend who is sometimes referred to as Dirk Gently.  He was not so much named after DG as he inspired the creation of DG (but that is a story for another time and is his story not mine).  It all started with a predilection for hats.  But my friend goes further he loves all fine clothes - not finery, that is altogether different, but clothes that are cut well and made of the best schmutter.  He has jackets of the softest woollen cloth, creamy linen shirts, loakes and beautiful hats.  And on the whole he cherishes his clothes.  On one occasion I arrived at his house for Saturday lunch to find the kitchen table set with hats.  There were fedoras, homburgs, panamas and the odd Australian bush hat.  He was brushing them all in a strange Saturday morning ritual - he said it helped preserve them.  Fine clothes are not about fashion they are about style and with care they improve with age.  Unless, that is, they are made of the softest cashmere and you don't pay attention to them.  DG has recently had a woolly, cashmere tragedy.

A moth had taken more than a small snack from DG's beautiful Bamford gilet.  It is very easy if you spill a tiny speck of your supper on your black sweater, the one that must either be dry-cleaned or labouriously hand washed and dried flat,  to sponge it carefully till no sign of supper is left and think, job well done.  But it may not be.  Microscopic food particles on wool are like ketchup on chips for clothes moths.  Paying attention to cashmere means actually washing or dry cleaning often, whether you think it needs it or not. 

This sort of damage is tricky to repair.  You can't sew up the hole and old fashioned darning will leave a patch, like an ugly yarn raft sitting over the hole.  You also need to match the yarn for weight, fibre content and colour.  It took quite some googling to find black 100% cashmere in single ply but I found these 'cone ends' left over from some commercial production

Any knitter will know that you can never have too much yarn and although I only actually needed about five metres of the black (second from the left) I already have 101 ideas for using up the rest.  Top of the list is this.

So turning on the radio and a strong light I settled myself on the sofa  to knit a small patch and sew it in as invisibly as possible. I picked up about 20 stitches from below the hole and knitted until the patch was big enough to cover the damage. It curled into a tube as I knitted, as stocking stitch will do

The radio programme I was listening to was oddly appropriate, about a charismatic plastic surgeon Archie McIndoe who during World War 2 treated the terribly burned airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain .  One of his pioneering surgical procedures was the pedicle graft, (don't click on the link if you are not prepared to see some pretty serious stuff about some very brave men) . It occurred to me that what I was knittting was not so very different from a pedicle, grafted top and bottom and temporarily curly in the middle.  I fixed the top end of my graft using something similar to the method for weaving together sock toes (sometimes called Kitchener Stitch).  The sides were just stitched parallel to the stitches in the sweater

After this the sweater had a long soak in Eucalan and when dry and the patch brushed it is almost invisible

I chose the title for today's blog because DG knows a lot about dogs, well one dog in particular upon whom he lavishes quantities of love, attention and home cooked meals.  A cashmere sweater is not as demanding as a dog but... well... nearly



Tuesday, 8 May 2012

silky dilemma - frogs and mods

Although I did talk about finishing my silky vintage cardigan a week or so ago there have been a few problems.

Firstly the button band was floppy.  Well of course silk is floppy but the pattern called for knitting the button band at the same time as the main body of the work.  This meant that although the ribbing was mainly knitted in 3mm needles and the body in 3.75mm the button band had also to be knitted with 3.75mm.  So it flopped and the button holes sagged.  I solved that one with backing the band with grosgrain ribbon. But there is a bigger problem.  I just can't get the neck to sit elegantly.

Either it shows too much of the workings

Or it is too high for comfort (and style)

And while I like it sitting just like this...

it quickly flops back to version 1.  It's not that I  dislike the contrast, although I am willing to admit to there being other opinions on contrasting colours for linings, I quite like it.  No its the way the neck sits and the way it shows a not-very-elegant-inside.

So what should I do?  As I see it there are four options

1. Wear it as it is, never button it up and readjust constantly (I think that is a bit of a shame after dressing and a quick check in the mirror, I like to forget about my clothes and it is so silky soft it is one of the few cardigans I actually could wear without a shell top underneath)

2. Frog the fronts to midway between the second and third buttons and knit a new lower neck line (too sad, could I bear it?)

3.  Steek it, machine the neckline profile I want, cut and knit a new neck band (too risky)

4. Unpick the i-cord bind off on the neck, knit on a double thickness neck band and rever facings.  This would cover the back-stage elements and have it as a collarless rever opening (may be too bulky)

I'd love to know what you think.

When I have solved the problem I will write up a modern set of instructions and post a pdf on ravelry



Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Perfect Blouse For Showing Off #0335

When I came across this antique lace in my late mother's sewing box I knew I wanted to make one of those high necked, tucked fronted, blouses as soon as a pattern became available for the VPLL1912 project .  The lace is machine made in the Honiton style from sometime in the early part of the last century.

From my Mother's lace stash

And the #0335 blouse is perfect to carry off the lace

#0335 Ladies Blouse March 31 1912 

*The pattern comes in a size 34" bust and as I want to wear  it myself over the correct underpinnings I needed to 
  • add 10 inches  to the bust measurement, 
  • enlarge the armhole to make it 2 inches deeper
  • increase the collar size to 15 inches 
  • add 2 inches to the length of the body.  

I like to use the large format pattern.  I know some people find printing is very costly but my local print shop charges me £10 per pattern which seems a good deal to me when compared to all that printing off on A4 and getting tied up in sticky tape.  This means I need to use the slash and spread method for enlarging patterns (I will try the pattern maker soft ware one day!)

front pattern piece with extra width at neck and shoulder and extra length

I enlarged the body in two places, 1/2" at the neck line to increase the collar size, giving me 2" all round and 2" at the shoulder, another 8" making 10" in all.  I would have liked to keep the original look of the blouse with tucks right across the front.  But that would have required adding 3 times as much to the cut width (i.e. 6" each side to increase the finished width by 2).  Unfortunately I just didn't have enough fabric so I added just 2 inches and spaced the large tucks out a little more to keep some symmetry  I made similar adjustments to the back. By adding 2inches to the depth of the armhole I also got the additional length to the body.   

I enlarged the collar by the same amount as the blouse neckline.  

Collar enlarged to 15"

The main fabric is cream cotton percale (a bargain-bin valence for a single bed!) it's soft and drapey with a gentle sheen.  As the flat part of the sheet was equivalent to 2 yards of 36inch fabric (narrower than the yardage in the pattern instructions) and the valence itself a 6 yard piece 18inches wide I cut the large sections out of the flat sections and the smaller pieces from the valence.  Enough for the enlarged blouse but little left over.  The lace was just enough for the two cuffs, the collar and doubled up for the front panel.   Because I was going to apply the lace at the end (so that I could remove it for washing) I cut four cuff and two collar pieces from the cotton percale.  I did not cut lace or cotton for the Centre Front Lace (more of that later).

I read the pattern instructions and studied the picture before cutting out.  One thing I would say about the cutting instructions, in the list of pattern pieces I think it would help modern sewists to have a sub heading for those pieces that are cut by measurement only (i.e. no paper pattern pieces).  I was puzzled for a while as to where the piece for the cuff was and missed the Centre Front Lace altogether till I got to the part in the instructions explaining how to fix it  (then I left it out!).

Making up begins with the tucks - the main difficulty here is keeping them straight.  AFTER making the blouse I bought a pin tuck foot for my machine.  Had I had that when making the tucks I would have used it for the narrow ones.


The pattern instructions called for lapped seams.  In many UK sewing manuals they are called run-and-fell seams.  When googling this to make sure I was right about the two names for this technique I was amused to see that this is also a method for joining sheet steel!

Run-&-fell (or lapped) seam

As the instructions suggested one could edge the blouse armhole with narrow ribbon or piping, I took this as permission to pipe every seam.  In my bits and pieces bag I had an old silk nightdress, already made on the cross, I cut strips and strips of the silk and used piping liberally.

Piped seams

The instructions are fairly straight forward except where they described fitting the collar.  I could see from the picture that the collar fastened to the left, close to the shoulder seam and the instructions referred to the neck seam being left open from the shoulder seam to the front opening, but I couldn't quite see how that would work and I was not sure how I would work the Centre Front Lace

I was hoping that the instructions would become clearer as I went on but when I got to it I was still confused.  The main collar clearly opened at the front and then there was an overlapping Centre Front Lace piece applied to one side of the collar to fasten at the other side.  And logically that side would be on the wearers left to follow the way the front placket fastened.

So why suggest leaving the right side of the collar seam open from shoulder to centre front (instruction point 21) ?

I would be really interested to read what other makers think of this, I may simply have got the wrong end of the stick.  But my feeling is that at point 19 the instructions should advise attaching the  Centre Front Lace  to the right (wearer's right) side of the front collar and 

Point 21 should read;-

Join the collar to the blouse (right side of blouse to right side of collar), matching corresponding numbers, taking care not to catch the Centre Front Lace in the seam.  On inside turn under raw edges and hem to the neckline seam

Then point 22

Attach hooks and eyes (or cotton loops ) to the centre front opening and a further set to the free end of the  Centre Front Lace  and the blouse shoulder.

I think that would do it!  On the other hand I did not make a  Centre Front Lace  at all and instead added a cameo brooch. (I could always add the Centre Front Lace later)

collar fastening at centre front with hooks, eyes, and a cameo

Because I wanted to be able to remove the lace I didn't make button holes on the cuffs.   Instead I made button loops with the same up-cycled cream silk as the bias strips for the piping and again piped the edges of the collar and cuffs and wrist openings.    The instructions (point 14 ) suggest creating an optional sleeve reveal.  But I don't know what that is and google is no help.

collar and cuffs before application of lace to show silk piping and button loops

The buttons are vintage black glass with gold decoration from The Button Queen. they too must be removed for washing.

Glass buttons from 1910

For the front placket, under the lace band, I have used little mother-of-pearl buttons and (my one compromise to using 1912 materials and techniques) machine made button holes.  

Front placket fastening under lace centre front band

I attached the lace with tiny stab stitches.  The instructions for the cuff called for tucks in the lace, on my blouse I made what tucks were necessary to make the pieces of lace fit.  For the front I had to craft an invisible centre seam as the lace was not wide enough, nor did it have a finished scallop edge on two sides.  I overlapped the lace matching the tendrils

I did not gather up the fullness at the back and when I gathered the lower edge I bound the edge with more of the silk


I am thrilled with the result, the blouse looks very fine with the scallop edge skirt and gradually dummy/model is getting dressed

Nameless dummy fully dressed
VPLL Checklist
  1.  Pattern Name Ladies blouse #0335
  2. Sewer’s Skill Level: Advance, 
  3. Pattern Rating:  5-I LOVED IT! I forgave it its collar problems, it's such an emblematic style - the high collar, lace and tucks all say this is 1912 to me
  4. What skill level would someone need to sew this pattern and why? At least intermediate, probably advanced.  I'm ignoring the collar problem as I assume it will be sorted out but still the work on the tucks, collar, cuffs and sleeve is not for beginners.  I would suggest practising these skills on a modern pattern first
  5. Were the instructions easy to follow? Mostly but the collar attachment and fastening (assuming it is to be fastened on the side and the pattern re-drawn) needs to be re written once the technique has been perfected
  6. How was the fit/sizing?  the fit was fine once I enlarged it as described above
  7. Did you make any pattern alterations? yes, 
    1. I made the pattern bigger* as described above 
    2. piped all the seams (no run-&-fell)
    3. made the collar** without the Centre Front Lace
  8. Other notes
  • I suggest above how I might revise the instructions for attaching the collar
  • I would add a sub heading in the cutting list to make it clear where a piece is cut by measurements only
  • what is a sleeve reveal? and are there any instructions?



lacy shadows

P.S. If you have been following my posts about the Titanic Project being run by the Vintage Pattern Lending Library you will know all about what I'm up to.  But even if you have, you might like to visit the website again as they have made all sorts of helpful changes.  The project has grown to close to 500 participants and Janyce and Kim at the VPLL have worked so hard to make the sharing of patterns with participants so much easier and gained a lot of new helpers.  There's a facebook page too