Sunday, 28 February 2016

Historical Sew Monthly - February challenge: Tucks & Pleats

Another Historical Sew Monthly challenge finished well ahead of schedule! It's just so much easier with fabric from the shop and a sewing machine. Unfortunately, writing a blog post takes just as long time as usual, but I did manage to get it up before the end of the month!

The February challenge is 'Tucks & Pleats', which equals another opportunity for me to venture into 20th century dress making. I thought I'd start with something simple: a mid-to-late 1920s drop-waist dress. As it happened, I was going to make one anyway – a couple of friends and I were going to the nightclub-party-event-thing Party like Gatsby when it came to Gothenburg on January 23. As usual, I was more interested in making the clothes, learning about finger waves, makeup and fancy powder compacts than actually going to the when it turned out I had to spend the entire weekend in front of the computer preparing two full-day lectures instead, I wasn't too upset. Well, I was, but it could have been worse. Anyway, here's the story of the outfit:

I felt that it was a good idea to start with the underwear. I have both a vintage (late) 1930s bra and a girdle with suspenders, but although similar styles do appear towards the end of the 20s I thought they were a bit too modern and decided to make new ones. I looked at pictures of original underwear, especially from mail order catalogues of the time, and opted for a simple bra with a few darts to give it some shape and an equally simple suspender belt (the knickers/underpants would have to wait). Truth be told, I probably aimed more for a 30s style with the bra in the end, since that would be more useful to me... I draped my mock-ups straight onto my dress form with a thin but sturdy cotton fabric, tried them on and made some adjustments and that was it. I had made my very own made-to-measure underwear and I even ended up using the mock-up as the real thing. The bra was just as comfortable as the ones I wear every day. I'm still a bit surprised at how well it went; I still need to work on my machine sewing and finishing techniques, but the patterns were pretty much perfect!

Underwear! Probably more 30s than 20s, but no one's going to see it anyway...

I spent a full day shopping for fabric for the rest of my outfit (interspersed with long discussions over coffee with a friend). Since it was going to be a party dress, I wanted silk, pure silk. Eventually I settled for a pale pink habotai for the underdress and a striking pink, slightly stiff Indian silk for the overdress. To top things off, I brought out a piece of vintage net with golden threads and glass beads from my stash for that extra touch of fanciness. 

Silk...glorious silk! I don't know how old the decorated net is, but it's definitely pre-1950s and in great shape. I've saved it for an occasion like this.

Spurred on by the success of my self-made bra and suspender belt, I went fully DIY for the dress pattern too. But first I Pinterested my way through lots and lots of pictures of original dresses and tried to recall all the lovely 20s outfits my colleague and I had spent months packing when the museum I work at moved two years ago. With this page from La Mode du Jour as inspiration for gathered sides and this helpful sewing tip for vertical pleats I set about draping my dress form again.

Draped mock-ups for the under- and overdress. My confidence grew and I didn't even make a full mock-up for the overdress!

Things were going so well, it was about time that something happened to halt my easy progress. And it did. My lovely bright pink silk decided to produce a veritable blood bath when I washed it (I always prewash; I want to know how the fabric behaves when it's off the shelf and introduced to the real world. And my real world includes washing). There was so much excess dye in it that the water was still strawberry red after 3 washes. I got worried the colour would continue to run just from getting damp... At least there was no discernible change in colour on the actual fabric, which was a good thing. But as it dried, I got another surprise. Apparently, it was one of those Indian silks of the handwoven type where high-twist threads are used seemingly at random throughout the fabric. They're invisible as long as the cloth is left well alone, but come alive if it's washed... I now had an uneven, scrunchy mess of a fabric and not the slick and shiny silk I wanted for my dress. I went over it with the iron, which made it look sort of alright, but it was clear this fabric would have to go into the stash pile and wait for a more suitable project.

The following day, I ran off to the fabric shop to get a substitute, but couldn't find a single bolt of silk that would work. Eventually I found a red wool/viscose crepe. It was a great fabric with beautiful drape, but not the fancy silk I had envisioned for my party dress... However, I was low on time and money by now and it would just have to do. I'm not sure how common a wool/viscose blend would have been in the mid-20s. Viscose was certainly around in the twenties, but as far as I know, in the early days it was almost exclusively used in the form of filaments, mimicking the look and feel of silk. Using it as a staple fibre (i.e. cut to look like cotton or wool) came later (but I will really have to look into this more thoroughly to get my materials right now that I've moved into modern times!). Anyway, since the viscose in my fabric actually appeared to be used to add a subtle silk-like sparkle to the wool, and not as a wool substitute, I figured it was kind of alright.

Nice fabric! But where did the party go?
Challenging pleats!
Back on track with the new fabric, I quickly finished the under- and overdress, adding a vintage velvet ribbon as a fake belt to the overdress. At the time, I still thought I was going to the party and as a last minute attempt to make it a little less like a daydress I decided to do a bit of embroidery. I copied the design from a very fancy vintage 20s dress I stumbled upon online, toned it down a little and stitched like mad to finish it in time. 
My version of a 1920s embroidery.

Embroidery progression.
On the morning of January 23, the day of the party, I had a very presentable dress with 1/3 of the embroidery in place, but realised I would have to spend the weekend preparing lectures rather than dancing the Charleston. I consoled myself with posing for a couple of pictures in the dress, wearing my vintage spectacles and reproduction shoes from American Duchess.
Pleats, gathers, a vintage ribbon and a half-finished embroidery.

And the underdress.
I then spent the whole of the challenge month of February finishing the embroidery at a very leisurely pace. All I have left to do now is attaching it to the dress...

The last part of the embroidery.

The Challenge Details:
Tucks & Pleats - a mid-1920s dress

Material: Wool/viscose crepe, habotai silk

Pattern: Self-made

Year: Mid-1920s, moving towards the end of the decade.

Notions: Vintage velvet ribbon, embroidery

How historically accurate is it? Pretty accurate, although my French seams (on the underdress in particular) are a lot wider than those on original pieces (I'm still learning to handle a sewing machine...). I'm a little uncertain about the wool/viscose blend.

Hours to complete: I never manage to keep track of time when it's not work...

First worn: For the pictures

Total cost: Approximately $77 / €70 for the fabrics; everything else came from my stash.'

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Historical Sew Monthly - January Challenge: Procrastination

When you live and love all things history, textile and crafts as I do, it's almost impossible to stick to one period of interest when it comes to reenactment or similar activities. There's simply too much fascinating stuff out there to find out about, but over the years, I've been exceptionally good at staying with my chosen period. After a false start in the Viking Age and a short detour into the late 13th/early 14th century, I've been firmly lodged in the late 1300s. It's got everything I want, and just enough of it to make interesting. The sources are more varied and detailed than for the Viking Age, but a lot of detective work and interpretations are still needed to create a reasonably accurate material impression of the time (not to mention what it takes to achieve even a tiny bit of the non-material aspects!). For me, half the fun is figuring things out, reading up on this and that and looking for sources and references. And making stuff, of course; most late 14th century clothing and the (reconstructed) methods of their construction are still simple enough for someone like me without formal training in dress-making to manage.

But then I started working at the Textile Museum. It's the only museum in Sweden solely dedicated to textiles, but it's main focus is the industrial era. Our collections are pretty much the result of the textile industry in western Sweden, which took off in the early 19th century. We have older stuff as well, of course, and lots of handmade textiles too, but the things that stand out in our collections are nevertheless the clothing of ordinary people from the early 1900s through to the 1960s, a lot of it factory-produced. And the more I worked with these 'modern' clothes (they're not 14th century and therefore modern), the more interested I got. What would it feel like to wear a 1920s dress with a bandeau bra and a suspender belt to hold up the seamed stockings? How would I feel in a 1930s evening gown of bias cut rayon? And the wonderfully weird 1940s hats...hey! I would look great in one of those! Being allowed to handle all these amazing clothes was, and still is, a great privilege and the curator in me would never ever dream of putting on something with an inventory number. But the ever-curious reenactor in me still wanted to know what wearing them felt like, so I began looking for vintage clothing to buy for myself. Luckily for me, the Textile Museum doesn't buy things for the collections at the moment (except for textile art), so me raiding second hand shops and online auctions for old clothes doesn't create a conflict of interest.

Little by little, I got myself a small vintage wardrobe, focused mainly on the 1930s to early 40s. My work has certainly benefitted from this hobby, and vice versa. I've developed a rather accurate feel for dating (female) pre-1950s clothing and for telling the difference between later styles that look like earlier ones and 'the real deal'. That many of my reenactment friends like the style of the interwar - WW2 period has naturally helped fuel my interest too.

Anyway. All this is just background for what this post is actually about: my re-newed attempt to join the Historical Sew Monthly. Last time, I failed miserably, but then my sewing was all 14th century. Since my goal with my medieval clothing these days is to use handwoven and naturally dyed fabrics as much as possible, one challenge a month is just a little too much... But now I've finally dragged out the old sewing machine and started learning how to make clothes the 20th century way, which means I might just stand a chance this time around. We'll see. Unfortunately (for me), the HSM has pushed back the date for 'historical' from 1945 to 1938 this time around, but I think I'll be able to stay away from the 40s for the challenges at least. If nothing else, it'll help my wardrobe to become more...temporally focused.
The theme for the first challenge of the year is Procrastination and I have the perfect item for that: A knitted jumper that I started in 2012:

Smart jumper - Australian Women's Weekly, 1936.

I found the pattern through Ravelry; it's in the Australian Women's Weekly magazine from March 14, 1936. I only had parts of the sleeves left to finish along with the jabot and collar. The reason I put it to the side three years ago is that I discovered that the alterations I had made to the pattern - adding two pattern repeats to the body part because I thought it wouldn't fit me otherwise - were completely unnecessary. The jumper had become too big instead and I got annoyed with myself for not measuring more carefully and put it away. Over the years I thought about finishing it several times, but put it off every time because I dreaded assembling it and having to deal with those irritating extra inches (which shouldn't have been there in the first place if I had just stuck to the original pattern, dammit!).

However, just before Christmas, a couple of friends and I went to play boule in 1930s getup and finished the evening off with a dignified pub crawl. I had such a great time, and although my brown woollen dress and matching hat worked very well, I kept thinking how perfect my unfinished jumper would be for a casual sporting activity like boule...and that I should really get over myself and just finish it. After Christmas, I finally did.

Gingerbread girl ready for boule and a pint down the pub. With a hat like that even the most mundane (or sordid...) activities become dignified!

I had a really, really bad cold over the holidays and no spare energy whatsoever. Sitting in the sofa knitting was just the perfect level of activity for me, and I picked up the Smart jumper again. The sleeves were done in no time (I knit them both at the same time) and the cause of my procrastination - those annoying extra inches - disappeared into the side seams without leaving too much bulk. Putting the rest of the pieces together went smoothly - handknitted wool is a really forgiving material. With a little dampness and heat it moulds to fit just about anything!

So here it is - my 1936 "Smart Jumper", just over three years in the making:

Australian Women's Weekly: "We feel sure that the woman who prefers smart simplicity, whose one desire is to present a well-groomed, tailored look to the world, will hasten to make this jumper, for it will be a permanently smart acquisition to the autumn and winter wardrobe."

Looking at the notes I made when I first started on the jumper, it seems I made it one repeat longer than the pattern said. I'm quite happy with it the way it is, but if I made another one (I won't!), I might add even more to the length, especially if I was going to wear it with a belt like in the drawing above.

With and without jabot. Australian Women's Weekly: "This long-sleeved jumper, with its charming fluted double jabot, is very becoming to those who cannot wear a perfectly plain jumper."

And here are the Historical Sew Monthly details for the Smart Jumper:

The Challenge: January 2016 - Procrastination 
Material: Wool 
Pattern: Smart Jumper, from Australian Women's Weekly March 14, 1936 [] 
Year: 1936 
Notions: None 
How historically accurate is it: Pretty much 100%. The pattern is vintage, I followed it to the letter (except for the alterations made to the size), and the material is correct. 
Hours to complete: No idea. Exactly three years and 2 months from start to finish because of that procrastination thing! 
First worn: For the photo. 
Total cost: Can't remember what I actually paid for the wool, but perhaps about €30/$33.