The urge to procrastinate

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I’m back studying 3 days a week at the moment, which means that I am feeling the urge to procrastinate. I’m not sure why the two go together – I’m enjoying the study so far – but whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing, you can guarantee that I’m doing something else. And the something else very rarely involves work, either. You’d think by now I would have managed to play off my two main causes of procrastinating against each other. But no. So, instead of reading about cultural material conservation, like a good little masters candidate, I’m wondering how to start a museum of fashion in Australia. As far as I know, there is nothing of the kind already.

It might be that I was inspired from my travels through the UK last year during the lost months of blogging, and just how many places there are for a costume nerd to visit. Everywhere from Killerton House, in the wilds of Devon, to the V & A in London, or the civilised Museum of Costume in Bath. And that’s without moving off a single train line. After I dragged an uncomplaining friend through 2 weeks of clothing historicism – complete with dress ups, which were photographed but will never, ever be shared with anyone who wasn’t there – I was very upset at the lack of similar enjoyment opportunities at this end of my flight. That was after I got over, or at least accepted, the terrible quality of almost every photo I took on the trip. Camera shaking in excited hands, where you can’t use a flash? Leads to blur, reflection, and frustration. Guess which picture from this post was taken by me. A quick google search both before and after my trip led to disappointment on all sides. There are a couple of private collections which are occasionally open for viewing; there are touring exhibitions, like the Edward Steichen exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – worth a trip for anyone in Melbourne, just to marvel at the beading on the exquisite 1920s evening wear if nothing else – but there is nothing more permanent. And this made me sad. Australian fashion history is neither long nor, according to some, terribly illustrious. But it is being lost. The online Australian Dress Register is probably the closest we have to a permanent display. It suggests that there are collectors out there, and that there is enough interest for people to have begun a digital record of what is held in private hands. It is a missed opportunity to let it slide.

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So, while I put off finishing a reading about the need for uncertainty in conservation, I’ve been daydreaming and finding ways to spend millions of dollars. And that was before it occurred to me to check fashion and costume auction listings… As a semi-employed student, there’s no hope of me ever realising this particular day dream. But a girl can dream. And in the mean time, she can procrastinate some more looking into funding and finding the perfect building to house it…and making lists of potential acquisitions…and drooling over photos… and, in short, anything that isn’t what she is supposed to be doing.

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Unleashing the nerd within

I have been open about my nerd status for a long time now. I’m comfortable with it, and feel no shame in admitting it. I am an enormous history nerd. It’s a trait  share with a brother. We’ve been known to get sidetracked when watching films because there is a historical inaccuracy, go into a discussion of what really happened, and miss half an hour of plot as a result. I’m not just a history nerd, though – I’m also a dress nerd. So it drives me absolutely insane when there are things that are just plain wrong about costume on the screen.

The thing most likely to send me into a fit of snide comments at the moment is an ad for genealogy website, ancestry.com.au. Specifically, this moment:

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Yep, that says that the woman climbing out the window was born in 1752. Except she’s wearing a dress that looks suspiciously Georgian style to me… and the actress looks nothing like a 50 year old woman. Which means that every time Mary Abbey appears on screen, I feel compelled to mutter something along the lines of, “Not in that dress you weren’t.” And that’s before my architectural training kicks in and I notice that it’s a gothic revival building, probably built after 1850. See? Nerd.

For those who know better – or, should I say, those who agree with me and are therefore in the right – her outfit should look more like what was once thought to be Marie Antoinette in her library. I know, it’s a fancy dress, yes. But so is the one in the video when you think she’s climbing out a window and, if you watch the rest of the clip, running off with her man (in which case surely she wouldn’t have been named Abbe yet, since presumably she’s a direct ancestor? See? Problems galore…).

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

The more I learn about historical clothing, the more it happens, too. It’s becoming a problem, getting in the way of all sorts of enjoyment on the small screen. Don’t get me started on the supposedly 17th century costumes in The Musketeers. Or pretty much any scene in The Tudors where a woman simply drops her dress and is naked for Henry VIII – no stays, no chemise, nothing, just an expensive gown crumpled at her feet…and then there’s the lack of head coverings, hair down and flowing.

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It’s enough to make me give up watching it. Or to give up watching it in company, because I can never keep my complaints about the inaccuracies to myself. See? Told you I was a nerd…

 

The Garden of Good and Evil Hat

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I never intended to complete the pink challenge. I was all lined up for the under it all challenge as my first attempt of the year. That’s the first disclaimer. The second is please excuse my terrible photography. And finally that, in spite of this, it is somehow done a wearable long before the due date. In fact, a quick glance over the Facebook page for this challenge seems to suggest that I’m the first one done. Given my rate of finishing things last year, this is beyond unexpected.

I’ve set myself the challenge this year of using HSF to make things that are actually wearable in a modern context. Or at least adaptable. Much as I love historical clothing, I can’t justify making things that will never get worn. And since I don’t do re-enacting, or work in a field that would let me wear a robe a l’anglais or bustles on a day to day basis (is there anywhere in Australia that would let this happen), this means that challenges I choose to complete will take some thought. Yet this challenge required almost none, and it’s use as a challenge item is something of an after thought.

But, with the summer giving me such a rosy glow I decided I needed a hat before stepping out into the garden to do some weeding. Only I couldn’t find any of the hats I own. I know there are 3 or so somewhere in the house, but their exact location is a mystery. So I headed to Etsy where, in another one of those coincidences that makes me thing this challenge was pre-destined for completion, I had bookmarked a cloche hat pattern on Friday while I was bored on the train. A quick trip into the stash, and I was ready to go.

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So why is this the Garden of Good and Evil hat? Well let’s just say that it has a contrary nature to it. The pattern only has 4 pieces, so it should be extremely easy to put together. But the instructions of the pattern – which I was attempting to follow, given that this is my first ever attempt at a hat – were, in some cases, none too clear. Or at least none too clear to me. In the end, I went my own way and was kind of glad I did. Although I cut things carefully, the band somehow ended up a slightly different size to the body of the hat, so there was some easing required. and I added some topstitching to the lining of the brim, just to make things a little smoother. The evilness also came from the fabric. The insides of the hat ended up a mass of threads where the edges pulled as I was working the seams, but the curves didn’t let me do much to tidy up other than snip threads where I found them. I had to go round several times for the finished item to make sure I had caught everything.

Hats are always tricky for my to wear anyway, thanks to a combination of a head circumference at the upper end of the scale (well it has to fit all my brains in, no?) and a seriously ludicrous amount of hair, which both make it difficult to find something that will fit. This combined with my round face makes finding something to suit tricky. I’m not entirely convinced by the outcome with this hat either. It’s a half decent fit, which is novel for me, not having to cram it on and hope for the best, but it’s a style that I have my reservations about how well it suits me. But, it will let me get into the garden to deal with the summer weed infestation that is taking over, without getting too excessively pink (so basically, I’ve completed the pink challenge, to avoid getting pink) and didn’t cost me anything other than the pattern. Good, evil, it’s all here in one handy stash-busting hat.

 

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The Challenge: Pink. Although it doesn’t photograph like it, it really is pink, trust me! Just at the brown end of the spectrum is all!

Fabric: Canvas and craft cotton

Pattern:  Stitchwerx Designs, Darling Dahlia Cloche Hat S106

Year: Pattern is new, styling is 1920s

Notions: The pattern is designed to have a flower on the side. I’m not a fan of that for this hat, which is all about the practicality…

How historically accurate is it? The style is reasonably accurate. It’s all made out of fabrics that would have been around in the 20s, and I only used the straight stitch on the machine – if I’d made it on my 1920s treadle the outcome would have been exactly the same, just slightly slower. The colours I’m not too sure about, but the stripe is not unrealistic, I think. So all in all, not a bad take for a first attempt at a hat.

Hours to complete: 2 and a smidge. I wasn’t clock watching, but feel like writing this post has taken me longer than the hat did.

First worn: Today. Likely to get a few more putting given the weather at the moment. And the pattern may get remade for winter as well, depending on how I feel about this one after a couple of wears.

Total cost: $7 for the pattern. All fabrics are from the stash.

 

It’s the Little Things…

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It seems somewhat petty to post what I was doing the day after Anzac Day, Australia’s national day for commemorating war dead. After spending the day contemplating the effects of various battles, of hearing about what happened in Tobruk, at Messines Ridge, Beersheba, Long Tan, Kokoda, Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan and, of course, Gallipoli, I found myself contemplating Gumtree instead. Specifically, contemplating the effects of my Gumtree perusal and bullying of my father. Ethel now has new wheels (which I haven’t yet photographed as Ethel and her wheels are still in two different suburbs. Whole other story). It was while I was doing this that I came to certain conclusions about an article I’d read the day before.

Sam Brito blogs for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. His blog is usually on subjects relating to men’s view of the world and is an often entertaining read. On Anzac Day, he blogged instead about the perceived differences between my generation and that of my grandparents – the ones dubbed the “Great Generation” for having lived through such momentous events. After my initial read, I was quite happy to concede his point. I very much doubt that I would have been comfortable picking up a rifle and trotting along to the western front. It was only later – after starting to fume at the assumption that it was a good thing to blithely accept the declaration of a war on my behalf, and deciding that war would be a very different thing today – that I really gave serious thought to his basic premise, that the current generation are useless and soft. That was when I started the comparisons.

Let’s leave my grandfathers out of the equation for the moment. They played their own part in proceedings, but back in WW2, I would not have been on the same playing field with them (whatever I may think about that today). The only fair comparison I can make is with my female forebears. My grandmothers are very different women. One of them was a seamstress by trade, raised in a large working class family and growing up sharing a bed – not a bedroom folks, that’s a bed – with 2 of her 5 sisters. She was very much what Brito was talking about, able to get down to it and make do with whatever came to hand. The other grandmother is a spoiled only child used to having everything delivered to her on a plate – much like what the current generation are accused of being. Yet she survived the war, and often casts up the hardships of being away from her husband and the general privations suffered as an excuse for her poor behaviour and sense of entitlement today. The other grandmother never mentioned any of it.

You might guess from the descriptions which one I’m most like. So yes, I like to think I would have coped admirably with life as a woman in WW2 Australia. I get by with what I have, make do, and I mend surprisingly well. I can bake – and improvise to get around rationing. I can handle the stress of parting, and I can put up with terrible conditions when I know there is no alternative. I’m more realist than princess, so I think I’d cope just fine. And, as the assembly of Ethel’s new wheels shows, I can turn my hand to many different fields. Sure, i couldn’t pull a Nancy Wake and become a hero of the Resistance – but neither could most people, which is what makes those who can do it much more notable. I like to think I’d at least manage to be a Jessica Mitford, but the truth is that I’m more likely to be her sister, Nancy.

So what is the outcome of all this linking and thought? Well, even my princcess-ish grandmother made it through the war years intact. As did her aircraft mechanic husband. And given that at least part of the “Great” generation was roundly criticised throughout the 20s for their wayward and fast lifestyle (flappers, anybody? Bright young things?), what nobody has looked at is the possibility that the times made the generation great, not necessarily the people. Cometh the hour, and all that. It’s a terrible way to find out what your generation is made of, and not one that should be wished for in any sense.Wishing for a lasting global peace is probably the only thing the critics and I have in common. Huh, who knew that was possible? Meanwhile, I’ll take the best of Rosie, and be on my peaceful way – continuing to refuse to take weapons against enemies and disputing anyone who says there is a need for any conflict.

The Journal

I’ve been a collector of vintage patterns for many years now and find that my collection is rapidly outgrowing my ability to store it properly. That doesn’t stop me from adding to it though – far from it. One of the biggest single contributors to my collection is the Australian Home Journal.

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But that’s a magazine, I hear you say. And you’d be right, of course. The Home Journal was a magazine, but it was so much more than that. For one thing, each issue came with patterns to make the dresses (or hats, coats, toys – anything, really) that was shown on the cover. Which is how it came to be in my collection so frequently. For women who made their own – and their children’s – clothes and lived on a strict budget, the magazine was a god send. It gave them patterns, but it also provided them with reading material. Each issue was crammed with helpful hints for housewives: stories, knitting patterns, advice, recipes, you name it, it was there, in a breezy and topical fashion perfect for the woman who was likely to be interupted at any moment.

It’s all from a blissfully simple point of view, that everything a woman needs to know can be found in this one magazine. There is nothing about what’s happening in the wider world (although wartime issues did have handy hints for around the home, ways of making-do-and-mending). There is no hint that a woman could have a life outside of her family. My inner feminist ought to be shrieking in horror at some of the tips (one article from the magazine pushed the boundaries by demanding, “Why must we try to be slim?” The power of the headline was somewhat diminished by the sheer weight of slimming products that featured during the life of the Journal). Somehow, though, it all seems so completely foreign to my own lifestyle that it qualifies as a quaint reminder of both how far women have come and how far there is still to travel. The only areas retaining any relevance for me, other than as artefacts of a bygone era, are the sewing patterns.

I’m not sure what happened to the Australian Home Journal. I can’t find out much about it online. My mother tells stories about wearing dresses made from the patterns when she was a little girl, back in the hey day of the magazine in the 1950s. She seems familiar with it into the 1960s – enough that she when she came across some in her travels, she gave me a shoebox of them as a present one Christmas and then sat down and told me which outfits she’d made. The earliest mentions I can find date back to the 1920s, but it seems to peter out in the 1970s with nothing at all beyond 1982. Is it that the women of Australia had moved on? My own mother was still a housewife at that point, with 3 young children at home and a very tight budget. She was far from unusual among the mothers of my peers when I went to school, although perhaps more handy with a needle than most. Is it just that the magazine wars between New Idea and Woman’s Day killed off the rivals who did not stoop to scandal and celebrity – both notably absent from the issues of the AHJ that I’ve seen. There are certainly no magazines that I’m aware of today that covered the breadth of topics in this magazine without descending into sensationalism. Whatever happened to the magazine, it lives on with collectors. There’s many an ebay bidding battle over the treasured early issues. I’ve never managed to get my hands on an actual magazine pre-1945, although I do have a couple of closely guarded patterns from earlier issues, magnificently complicated affairs from the late 1930s, full of slash-and-gather detailing. And I mourn for the collection that my mother talks about, my grandmothers boxes of magazines and patterns that were just thrown away when she and my granfather moved out of the family home back about the time that the Journal seems to have disappeared. If only we could know in advance what the generations to come will find interesting.

Busy little bee

I know, I know. There has been a severe lack of posting going on with this blog of late. That’s because I’ve been busy actually sewing things. And finding other ways to procrastinate. But now, as soon as my terribly, painfully slow internet connection decides to let me access them, I have photos for updating what has been going on. I know – novel.

First there was the dress I made as a Christmas present for my niece.Last year she got a version of a ballet outfit – I say a version, because all of her dress ups are things that can be worn over other clothes – and she loved it. This year, I decided to go for a princess theme, based on Simplicity 2817.

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Her mother and I both try and avoid branding her too much, so she was never going to be Snow White or Cinderella. Plus, her favourite colour is purple, so that had to be in there somewhere. Add to that the fun of making something for a 3 year old who is the size of the average 6 year old, and you see where things might go wrong. Except it turns out that the only major problem was the length of the dress. I’m not sure if it was down to the lack of pouffy underskirts, but this dress was looong. As in I ended up having to take up about 15cm (6 inches for those who are still imperial), even after a deep hem. But she was thrilled with it, and refused to take it off – insisting that she must be called Princess A–. Incidentally, the pose is all her own doing. I told to stand still so I could take a photo and this is what she came up with.

Apologies for the terrible photo - that's what you get using a camera phone on a sunny day.

Apologies for the terrible photo – that’s what you get using a camera phone on a sunny day.

My other major tasks have all related to the Historial Sew Fortnightly (aka HSF). I’ve already mentioned the spencer that I planned. Turns out, I may have overestimated my pattern drafting abilities. Even working off the Janet Arnold original – which looks to be child sized to me, and may just fit Niece – I struggled to get something workable. So I ended up making my first attempt at draping.

On the whole, it came out pretty well, I think, even if the jacket is not, technically, finished. OK, it’s not finished at all, but you get the idea. The eagle eyed may notice one of the reasons why it’s not finished. I got a little distracted during the process and decided to makeover Esmeralda, my trusty dress form, so that she resembles me a little more closely. There will be more written about this at some stage, but suffice to say that hours with iron-on wadding, pins, and poplin caused me to evaluate my own natural shape in a fairly confronting manner. But they did also produce an increased likelihood that things will fit me better in future (except the hips, where I ran out of wadding…nothing seems to be getting finished at the moment).

Which of course leaves the question of what else I have been doing. Well, here it is. There was the bonus challenge for HSF, which I finished but never got around to photographing and posting. It’s a slip, planned for wearing under many a dress that I have daydreamed about, using up some gorgeous stretchy silk from the stash.

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I’m not entirely certain if this is late 1920s or early 1930s. I think I lean towards 1930s. Either way, it’s an entirely practical garment that is so unflattering I refuse to wear it in front of a camera. Esmeralda is otherwise occupied at the moment as well, so she has also refused to wear it.

I have been planning ahead with my HSF challenges. Or attempting to. There’s the UFO challenge up next. Of course, I have many UFOs. So I’ll not only be finishing the spencer jacket, I’ll be selecting something from the pile of period appropriate items that have been languishing in my UFO basket for years, in some cases. This is my task list for the next week or so –

UFO pile

Yep. I’m going to be busy again.

New Year, New Resolutions

I’ve had some productive time away from blogging – and away from work in general – which has let me do plenty of actual sewing. The only thing that held me back over the break was the weather. I’ve discovered that my little sewing cave turns into a little oven at about 3 o’clock on sunny days, thanks to a trick of orientation that lets the hot summer sun bake the brick walls, even though there’s a two storey building about 3 m away to the north. I will actually post pictures of the finished items – all 3 of them! – when I find where my camera is hiding.

But now that I’m back at work, sewing has ground to a halt. It doesn’t help that it’s about 40 degrees outside – that’s 105 for those who calculate such things in fahrenheit – so the thought of moving away from the air conditioner is decidedly unappealing. So I’m killing time thinking up new year resolutions other than my usual “don’t make new year resolutions”. The first I’ve come up with is to keep on top of my filing here at work. Take a peek at how my desk looks after a day and a half of tidying to get a sense of how this resolution came into existence…

Yep. Exciting, isn’t it. Those mountains of paper are things that I still have to figure out what to do with. It’s not filing, but the same problem flows through into my sewing. So even though I have these things going on, I’m thinking about one of my other resolutions – to take part in the Dreamstress’s Historical Sew-Fortnightly challenge.

I completed the bonus challenge during my time off – photos will follow, I promise, but they haven’t even made it to the proper album for the challenge yet, either. A 1930s silk slip in a creamy colour that actually makes me look almost tanned. Almost. And now I’m moving onto the next one, to make something appropriate for a year ending in 13. To truly stretch my sewing boundaries, I’m going with 1813. I’ve never made anything earlier than the 20th century before, so its taking some research. The original plan was to make Janet Arnold’s 1808 riding habit, but I’ve scaled back my ambitions and am now looking at using that as inspiration for a spencer. I know, 1808 is not 1813 – but I figure a riding habit is something that you might not have replaced every year unless you were extremely wealthy (although how many poorer women would have been riding in the first place?), and also that styles moved slowly then, so the fashions are likely to have been fairly similar. Just to make sure, I’ve been doing some research.

The spencer is an odd little garment, really. It’s cropped, so it’s not exactly practical to adapt for current fashions (although that said I do have a couple of cropped cardigans that I wear with empire line dresses – so perhaps I’ll find a use for it afterall), but it was an essential element of the regency wardrobe. Most sources seem to suggest that it was an adaptation of a gentleman’s fashion. They seem to have been made to suit all seasons – having experienced the joys of a British climate, I can certainly understand the need for some sort of cover-up – and in fabrics from the most practical every day to the most sumptuous evening dress. I’m aiming a little lower, planning to use a simple cotton broadcloth which is not exactly historically accurate (the more common fabrics used seem to have been silks and wools, with the occasional foray into velvet, which I did contemplate), but as this is in my stash it is a winner. The biggest problem for me, other than trying to re-size the teeny pattern provided by Janet Arnold to fit my comparably gargantuan frame, is to narrow down the finishing details. There are so many options. Frills, braid, puffs, gatherings, pleats, double or single breasted? So, in an effort to find my way out of the wilderness, I’ve narrowed my thoughts down to these:

I love the pleats at the back of this, and will probably replicate if I can

I love the pleats at the back of this, and will probably replicate if I can

Love the idea of military frogging on the front, but have a feeling that is will be somewhere beyond my combination of time and skill at the moment

Love the idea of military frogging on the front, but have a feeling that is will be somewhere beyond my combination of time and skill at the moment

More pretty decoration that is unlikely to happen on my frist attempt...

More pretty decoration that is unlikely to happen on my first attempt…

Something more like what I think I will end up with. Although not in pink. I wouldn't want to look dead if ever I should wear it...

Something more like what I think I will end up with. Although not in pink. I wouldn’t want to look dead if ever I should wear it…

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So now I’ve just got to get on with sewing the thing…

And that leads me to my second, and final, new years resolution – to cut back on the procrastination. You can see how well I’m doing so far!