Pink! And Historical! And…

Well, everything, really. See, after a hiatus of posting – because writing essays has been more than enough time at the computer for the past few months – I’ve decided to see how many Historical Sew Fortnightly tasks I can tick off with just the one item.

I’m sewing like a mad thing at the moment, trying to get together items for a market stall in a bit less than a month. Items of children’s costume, since I’ve decided that I love sewing for kids. You can do the most over the top, outlandish things, and kids will love it. So, with that in mind, before the big reveal, let me tease a little and tick off a few challenges, however late I’m completing them.

1. Challenge #6 – Fairytale.

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In 1844, the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, The Snow Queen was first published. Earlier this year, a film was released with Disney’s take on the tale. Frozen has since become the favourite movie of every little girl on the planet – or at least it seems that way to anyone who wanders through a kindergarten and hears the spectacular versions of the hit song, Let It Go. I’ve had previous run-ins with Queen Elsa costuming, and with the frantic mothers who have been desperately trying to find a costume for their birthday girl. But this time, I’m attempting Princess Anna instead.

2. Challenge #3 – Pink

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Anna’s cloak is pink. Or at least magenta. I’m choosing to interpret this as pink. Which leads me to…

3. Challenge #2 – Innovation

Early fabric dyes were created using natural substances. There was a limited range of colours available, and many tended to fade. Science accidentally delivered an alternative when William Henry Perkins was attempting to synthesise quinine, but instead created mauveine, a synthetic dye. This was closely followed by Fuchsine in 1858 or 1859 (sources vary on the date), discovered by Frenchman Francois-Emmanuel Verguin, and, in 1860, Magenta, discovered by Brits Chambers Nicolson and Georges Maule. The colours were a great success, and many variations on the shades have been produced since. I’m using two of these in my cloak.

 

Bouguereau's Psyche, 1892, using magenta for the goddess's cloak.

Bouguereau’s Psyche, 1892, using magenta for the goddess’s cloak.

4. Challenge #10 – Art.

Okay, I know this one’s a stretch, but technically, the creators of the Disney movies are artists. These days they’re digital artists, but the skills are still the same. And given that I’m working off a single image, I figure this will fit. Give me some leeway, here, folks!

And finally…

5. Challenge #15 – The Great Outdoors.

This one is less of a stretch. I’m making a cloak – it’s made for wearing in the great outdoors. And anyone who’s seen the movie knows that Anna acquires the cloak in order to survive the blast of icy weather triggered by her Snow-Queen-sister, Elsa, as she treks to an ice palace to try and talk her down.

 

Wow, 5 challenges in one – better than I thought. So now I’ve covered that off, how am I making a Disney costume that is also historical? Well, keep reading and you’ll find out!

I know the inspiration image is a cloak, with a cape over the top. I’m simplifying things and just making the cape. The design for this is drawn from a pinterest page that shows a pattern book from what looks to me like the early 1940s. Again, I’m choosing to interpret it that way so that it fits the challenge!

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Not being blessed with the ability to read Spanish, I’ve had to guess on a few things and just take the image as my inspiration. But I managed. So, for the great unveiling of the finished product…

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The Challenge: I don’t really need to list them all again, do I?

Fabric: About 70cm of velveteen, and about 50cm of satin lining.

Pattern: My own, but based on the Spanish pattern book above.

Year: 1940-ish

Notions: polyester thread, 1m of satin ribbon

How historically accurate is it?: Reasonably accurate. I left the darts out of the original pattern and played with the length, but on the whole it’s pretty close. The fabrics are synthetic versions of things that were available at the time.

Hours to complete: Including drafting the pattern, and faffing about figuring the best way to iron velveteen (Answer? Dont! Use steam instead!), it probably took about 4 hours total.

First worn: Never worn – but going to be for sale on Etsy, and at the Essendon North Kindergarten Fete, so some time after the first sale!

Total cost: The fabrics were all bought wholesale, so providing a price to make is a little inaccurate based on what I would pay buying retail. I can say that I’m selling them for AU$30 though!

Moving On – and back

Well, now that the great tulleaggedon of 2014 has left the building, I can actually move once more and I’ve started to contemplate next steps for my own sewing. Yep, it’s another inspiration post. Because I’ve decided that, with one Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge under my belt, I should gear up for another one. It doesn’t matter that I have plenty of other things going on, both sewing-related and not – such as the post graduate studies I’m about to commence, or the tutoring jobs I’ve taken on, to pay the bills. Nope. None of that is important. All that matters is that I have a sudden yen to make use of some of the lovely pieces of woollen fabric I have in my stash to make myself a Victorian-ish jacket for the bodice challenge. Height of summer be damned; I survived tulle, I think I can manage wool. Although now that I think of it, perhaps something else. Perhaps something linen-ish, if I can find enough stash for it. Or maybe – but I should probably not get into that here and now.

Making something Victorian breaks many of my rules about only making things for HSF that I can actually use in my everyday life. Especially given that I’m wanting to make something with a false vest and a decidedly equestrian feel to it. But I can’t help it, I want one. So rather than doing the pre-readings for my studies, or getting on with finishing the Pink dress (which I have decided is likely to stay unfinished until the UFO challenge), I spent a fair sized chunk of today looking at inspiration.

There was the whole wardrobe of Samantha Mathis as Amy March in Little Women. I especially loved this outfit, with it’s silvery embroidery detailing. Because I have a thing for embroidery of all sorts right now. And bustles. But that’s a whole other story. I just wish there were better photos available online for this – I almost resorted to pausing my DVD and taking a photo to capture the moment. Which would have provided the perfect excuse to watch the film again. Not that I need one, really.

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Then there was the whole Pinterest board that I created for this, dedicated to the bustle period since looking for Victorian era jackets inevitably leads to bustle drooling.

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I cannot find the original location of this picture anywhere…If anyone knows, please let me know too!

I kind of fell in love with this one – enough that I had to create a whole gallery for it!

And, of course, there is the Dreamstress, who has inevitably been through every source known to man on all things historical clothing, and culled the pick of the crop for me already! Her Polly Oliver jacket may have been what originally put this in my head, actually, so I should be giving her extra cudos for this one!

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Plus, I’m not sure if you noticed it, but… Bustle! Hmm, I can see some more rule breaking in future…

The problem with making one thing…

…is that you need something to go with it.

Now that I have my snazzy cloche hat all ready to wear on the disgustingly hot days we’ve been having here in Melbourne this summer, I find myself wanting a full outfit to go with it. So i’m looking into making myself a 1920s-ish day dress, using one of the many retro cotton prints I have in my stash. There are, once again, a couple of problems with this idea.

The first is styling. I love 1920, but finding images of something to be made in cotton is a nightmare. For some reason,t he early twentieth century is a period that I’ve glossed over in my own library. I just straight from bustles into the late 1930s. Hitting the inter webs for inspiration turns up a whole lot of party-appropriate outfits and some gorgeous suits, but limited supplies of summer-y everyday-wear. I did, however, find this piece of loveliness.

1920s Arts & Crafts DressIt seems to do just what I want, but the simplicity of the style means that it needs the embroidery. I’m far too impatient to be able to sit down and accomplish that, even if I wasn’t using the search for a unicorn like this to avoid doing things like what I’m being paid to do. Anyone for altering the hem on a meringue wedding dress by hand? No? Yeah, unicorns it is…

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Something  like this is also quite sweet and, apart from the cutwork, which I figure can be achieved by other means, probably quite do-able. But here we start to run into the second major problem with me making myself a 1920s dress. As deceptively simple as the designs are, they are made to flatter a particular figure type. Boyish, athletic, slim. A figure type which is decidedly not me. I’m more…well, I’ll flatter myself and say Christina Hendricks. Which all means that these little dresses would hang on me like a sack. Comfortable? Probably. Attractive? Well, it all depends on hoe you like the side of your barn to look.

The problem just kept coming…and coming…and coming.

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Sure, there were a couple of things that I could use. Like the hemlines of the 1925 school girls in this photo – especially the one second from the left.

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But I was still at a loss as to how to make something  vaguely authentic that wouldn’t make me look like a dreadnought. And I’m still at a loss. I’ve found an excellent chemise instruction page as well as many sites with guides for underwear (although again, noticeably lacking in what to do if you are constructed on more generous lines at the hip and bust), so now I just need to figure out what to put on over it. And, as I glance over at the wedding dress hanging, waiting for me to adjust it, or my job list, with about 4 other things that I should be working on right now, I’m tempted to go back to the start, dig out some of the white cotton that I’ve got in my stash, and see if I can’t resurrect my embroidery skills for an attempt on that first dress. Who says procrastination can’t be productive, after all?

Flies in the Ointment

The current climate means that the title of this blog has been slightly false of late. I haven’t been sewing. I’ve been eyeing off various unfinished items, but haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to pick them up and finish them. But that hasn’t stopped me plotting new projects and eyeing off larger spaces so I can spread my cutting wings.

I went to check out a place on Tuesday, thinking that redundancies are likely to kick in early next week at my day job. I backed that up with an interview for my own job on Wednesday and walked out of head office feeling very dispirited. It seems that, even after I complained, bitched, moaned, and told them I was looking for a job outside the organisation, there is every chance they are wanting to keep me. Why, I don’t know, but if I’m in the best candidates it’s a pretty damning indictment of the others. But if I am so unfortunate as to continue my employment, I won’t get a pay out. Which means I won’t be scaling up my sewing operation. I will instead be locked into my soul destroyer of a job for that bit longer, losing that much more heart with every day that goes by.

Of course, part of the reason that I’m not able to expand is my habit of shopping. This month’s binge was at Amazon, where I loaded up on a combination of gorgeous photographic records of historical clothing, to the more practical break downs of the patterns used to create them. My favourites are the two shown below, but it’s a close run thing.

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I’ve never really been much of a fan of the natural form period – I prefer the bustle periods that bookend it – but there are some stunning ensembles in the Fashions of the Gilded Age. I can see myself putting together at least one of them, once I narrow down a fabric selection and stop spending on other things long enough to by it! The only frustration is that there are often patterns without a corresponding image to show what the pattern is for – just a vague description of the garment along the lines of “double-breasted jacket”.

The V&A books, in contrast, are all images no patterns. In their way, this series of books (of which I now own a couple) is just as helpful, given that the details shown help to give life to the garments. There is more than construction detailing – there is information on finishes, fabrics, and possible uses, what the desired shape of the time was. At the end of the day, historical clothing is driven largely by the underpinnings and without them, it is generally agreed that it is impossible to understand how fashions were put together.

Thanks to my dithering and attempts to think up ways to self-sabotage my interview, I haven’t gone in-depth in these books yet (or the other 4 that also arrived recently). Fingers crossed for a pink slip next week…

A Shameless Plug

Yep. This post is completely a shameless plug of another persons’s blog. But it’s an extremely well written and very entertaining blog, so i figure it’s alright. Plus, I haven’t reviewed another blog for a little while now, so I was due to venture forth into the blogosphere. The fact that doing so earns me an entry in a competition to win stuff – free shoes!!! who could say no? – is entirely beside the point.

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The Duchess herself, in full regalia

For those who aren’t aware, American Duchess is home to many things relating to historical sewing, re-enacting, and general interest. The lovely Lauren has created some truly spectacular outfits and blogged about them, to share her knowledge with the world. In an even greater triumph, she has also created a line of shoes to match historical periods. Her 1920s shoes are enough to make me squee, and I’m just waiting to see what she comes up with when she hits the 30s and 40s. Her contribution to accurate historical outfits hasn’t ended with footwear, though. She is also responsible for designing several prints on Spoonflower (a website worthy of a post all its own). With all that, it’s amazing that she has time to blog at all, but she does, regularly updating on her current projects, inspirations, and outfits. It’s an entertaining read and well worth a look if your sewing bent leans to the historical.

Plus, she gives stuff away. What’s not to love?

Lost Arts

I was walking to the gym the other morning before work and saw something that made me think of some of Mum’s old tales of her early working life. Admittedly, it was quite early so I might have been mistaken. But I don’t think so.

A woman was walking down the street towards me. She was a bit older, I guess, and one of the regulars that I see in my made dash to get to the gym in time for my session. It’s a busy road, so there’s always lots of people, but some, like this lady, I see most mornings. Her and the workmen on the massive building site who are always incongruously well behaved and polite. But I digress. This particular woman was walking along, bag slung over her arm with the strap nestled in the bend of her elbow, looking quite intently at things other than the footpath. She was knitting. And I’m not talking about a scarf. This was something that required concentration to follow the pattern. Something needing skill, and tension control. Something I would struggle with if I was sitting down in the most comfortable chair in the world.

Very few people knit their own things these days – far fewer than those who sew, I think. Wool is just so expensive, and it takes so much time to either complete something, or get good enough to do it quickly. It wasn’t always the case. Knitting was once one of the essential skills of womanhood. Or, for the more upmarket, crochet to trim lace borders. It’s so much easier to just go to the shop and buy the things, knitted by people paid a pittance in other countries, or by machines. But here was this woman, so enthusiastic about her knitting – or on such a tight deadline – that even the walk to the station was used for it.

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Mum used to tell stories about her working life back in the late ’60s and early 70s when it was not uncommon for women to knit on the train on their way to work. This was obviously in a time before the peak hour rush on trains meant travellers barely had enough space to put a book in front of their face, let alone manage needles, wool and pattern book, but it still can’t have been easy. My own abortive attempts at knitting ended up with tangles, dropped stitches, and mis-matched sleeves. Hate to think what it would have turned out like if I was on a train when doing it. Also hate to think about what my fellow passengers would think if I pulled it out. But apparently it’s not so long ago that you’d keep your ball of wool in your handbag and knit away happily for the duration of your trip. It’s not that much further back in time that it was not considered strange to buy a pattern to knit not just a jumper or a cardigan, but an entire dress or coat.

What has happened to the art of knitting? There was a bit of a revival a few years back, famous people taking up needles and making themselves wonky scarves that were never worn, but it never seems to have developed into anything. As the weather cools, I’m tempted to pull out last year’s shot at a cardigan and see if it can be salvaged. Because I need another distraction in my life – something to keep my mind off the looming lack of income if threatened redundancies at work mean I am no longer seeing the knitting woman of a morning.

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.