Testing Times

Anna

Now that I’ve developed my Princess Anna cape, I need to work on the dress that goes under it. Anna’s dress has some fancy stuff going on though, so I’ve been forced to do some product testing to avoid attempting fancy stitching. Not sure if you can see the design clearly in the picture above, but, doing a little photoshop work, it looks a little like this:

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After a little research, I decided that I wanted to do something with paint. The catch there, of course, is that the bodice of Anna’s dress is black. There is no end of difficulty finding a simple, affordable paint that will show on black fabric. And then I stumbled across Derivan FabricArt Markers. They seemed to meet all of the requirements. Easy to use, not hugely expensive, and, in the kicker, available in a white that seems to allow colours to show on black. The video on the website shows them producing some fairly crisp images on black fabric. I got excited and ordered a few. I got even more excited today when I heard the postman quite literally throw them at my front door. (Side note: How hard would it have been for him to take the extra 12 steps and put them at the front door, instead of standing at the bottom step and throwing? Thank god they were well wrapped within the package, or I think I might now be reviewing shards of marker.)

In my excitement, I didn’t wait to test them. I had a bodice cut out from an earlier failed experiment, and decided that it would do for testing. I carefully stencilled on my design – which was the purpose of the Photoshop exercise, creating a working stencil – and waited for the white paint to reveal itself. I have to admit, I probably had unrealistic expectations. It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break. But I was not wholly disappointed with the first attempt. After all, I’d been aware that I might have to do multiple applications. So, rather than throwing the pens away in disgust when I didn’t get a clear image after the first application, I patiently did another round, and then a third. Before heat setting the third application, I was excited again. It looked great.

IMG_1226And then I ironed it. I followed directions. I’d waited for it to dry. I used the right heat setting, on the reverse of the fabric. I moved the iron evenly over the design, and hopefully turned it back right side up. And this is what I saw.

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Yeah. It was gone. It looks a little like the design had been flocked. But not really. Looking closer, it was embossed onto the satin of the bodice. It was visible in the right light, and kind of cool, but not at all what I wanted. Not entirely daunted, I moved on and thought that perhaps another application of white, followed by some colour may have the desired effect. I bet you’re waiting on the edge of your seat to know how this turns out, yes? So I’ll cut to the chase. Another white, and two layers of colour, and this is where I stand:

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Look closely, and you can just make out some colour there. Some. Again, I show that my skills with a camera are a little lacking, but even allowing for that, it’s not great. All in all, not impressed. It may warn on the packaging that there are no guarantees with dark fabric, but if that’s the case, don’t use it in your video promo, Derivan.

In no way could I give this to a kid and have them think it was a real Anna dress. I’d already written off my chances of doing the design on the skirt. But now I’m really back to the drawing board. I have no skill with a paint brush, and no desire to spend the $12-15 per colour that would let me test them, since there’s every chance that this would also fail. And I don’t really want to give up the time to embroider them all – that’s a whole lot of time to invest in a kids costume. So I’m back at the drawing board and researching alternatives. If anybody has any ideas, short of buying a sewing machine that will embroider, I’d love to hear from you!

Historical Fashion Fiction

 

In brief lulls between sewing (cash-generating alterations only, folks, so no new work photos at the moment. Nothing exciting being finished right now!) and studying, I’ve been carving out some relaxation time with a novelist that I’ve been meaning to get into for a while but never, for some reason, made it past the first couple of pages on previous attempts. Georgette Heyer has been credited with creating the historical romance as we know it today. She was a prolific author from the 1930s until her death in the 1970s, setting many of her novels in the world of Regency England. Romance is the key word in that description. If you you do not like your plots predictable, your heroines atypical of their time – but still beautiful and genteel – and your heroes, well, heroic, then I doubt very much you’ll enjoy any of the four works I’ve read so far (so maybe there was more reading than there should have been. But in my defence, I was in serious need of something to keep my mental attention while I hand hemmed four dresses, reconstructed a fully lined jacket, and took up 8 pairs of trousers…).

 

Authentic Regency fashions

Authentic Regency fashion

The stories are light enough to fly away, but enjoyable all the same, once you get past the fact that you know exactly how they are going to end. I think it was this that held me back from them for so long. As someone who has long scoffed at romance, I find it hard to admit that I now have a sneaky liking for it, arrived at by way of chick lit. But it’s true. I do enjoy something light, fluffy and easy to get through in a single sitting (provided that sitting is something like 7 hours long, that is). What I don’t like is the apparent lack of awareness of fashion int he regency period displayed in the books so far. Sure, there are passing mentions of muslin, an awareness that the fast set would damped their skirts to make them cling to the body, but the remaining descriptions sound like they are much later in the nineteenth century. And it bugs me, even when my brain is switched off by the rest of the book. It seems that they hoped to get by with references to muslin and the occasional pelisse – seemingly the only phrases really known by the author. But the lack of detail about dress sets the novels apart from the genuine regency article. And it is disappointing.

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Georgette Heyer, looking all soft and romantic, just like her novels.

I haven’t read all of the novels written by Heyer – although I have a goodly number of them queued up on my kindle for perusal at a later date – but so far I find her novel entertaining enough, if formulaic. I will no doubt read many more them. But for all that, I prefer Phillipa Gregory for my history. Sure, she is also capable of playing fast and loose with historical fact and the film adaptations of her novels are guaranteed to send me into paroxysms when the female leads drop their dress to be completely naked underneath, but for all that there is at least an outward appearance of research. Gregory knows the facts before she meddles with them. Heyer, I’m convinced, just made them up to suit her. I’ll still be reading her though. It’s like car crash fiction – terrible, but at the same time, you have to look.

 

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?

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.

Idle moments

As the mercury soars towards 40 degrees today in an unseasonable show of summery baking, and the bells of redundancy toll for many workers across Melbourne, I figure it’s time to post a distraction. What is this distraction? A little while back I promised reviews of other people’s sewing-related blogs. And promptly failed to delivery after the first installment. Well, I feel the need to add to my catalogue. So here, for your viewing/reading pleasure, I present: The American Duchess.

The author is an amazing historical costumier, and references many periods that I adore. I’m a particular fan of her American Revolutionary War outfits, although she does a great line in Titanic-re-enactment wear as well. She provides regular updates on what she’s up to, how she’s doing it, and where she wears it. But I think the best part is that, if something doesn’t work, she posts about that too.

 

 Actually, that’s not really the best bit. The best bit that she also has a shop. I am yet to purchase anything, but I have added things to many shopping baskets before common sense overrode my wish to purchase (the process goes something like this: Look at items in online shop, thinking “oooh, pretty! I want it.” Click “Add to cart”. Repeat for several items. Click “Checkout Now”. Balk at total of shopping basket, even before shipping is included. Anxiously figure out which items are non-essential – or less pretty – and hover mouse pointer over “confirm” button, or equivalent. Then realise that I’m about to spend my food budget for the month on things that I can’t wear everyday. Swear, and close browser window quickly.) She sells my catnip – shoes. Period styled. I’m dying to get my hands on a few, but as my opportunities for wearing them are limited, I’ve had to hold off. For now. She also has a gorgeous selection of fabrics available on Spoonflower, for those who want authentic designs for their Robe a la Francaise, their attempts at being Lizzie Bennet, or their more toned down Marie Antoinette fancies.

In short, I love reading this blog. And when I get around to some proper period sewing, I’ll certainly be looking at the how-to section of this blog. Now, I’m back to camping in front of the office air conditioner, trying not to melt, and waiting – hoping – for a phone call that tells me I have to start sewing full time because my day job no longer exists. Uh, yeah. Back to doing actual work…

Lady About Town

I was out and about in Melbourne Town on Saturday night, catching up with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in what turned out to be a couple of months. We know, we sat down to work it out. Horrified at the thought, we decided to cram a few nights out into one so, from our Gin Palace beginnings – Singapore Slings and Pink Ladies all round – we headed to dinner at Alexanders (turns out the Sensational Steak Sandwich is, in fact, sensational. Even if only half of the sandwich is steak and the other half is pork. But I digress) before finishing up at a venue I’ve been meaning to try for an eternity but never seem to get to. Seamstress.

You can see why I’m bringing it up here. A former textile warehouse, it shows its history in at least a superficial way that I found both intriguing and depressing. It is essentially just another one of Melbourne’s many bars, hidden upstairs for cocktails or downstairs for Sweatshop – the place of beers and DJs – or food in between. The twist is that they have festooned the roof of the upstairs area with child-size cheong sams, and a couple of the tables are in fact old industrial sewing machines. As much as I loved the art on the walls (excellent use of industrial sized reels of many-coloured sewing thread), I was appalled to find that the machines appeared to be in working order.

Or they would have been if needles and belts hadn’t been removed to make them safe for drunk people to be around. Turning the wheels by hand, however, the feed dogs still moved, much to the delight of one girl seated at a mid-twentieth century Singer. I couldn’t get close to the Jones machine to check it out as well, but if it also worked, I couldn’t help but think what a waste it was. These machines have done the hard yards. They are the work horses of the clothing industry, and they are often still cited as machines used by current professionals. They don’t die. Ever. And as someone with a yen for machines, I feel that they deserve better than to be put through the indignities of drunken people sprawling on them. In short, I believe that they deserve to be taken home by a loving wanna-be seamstress and put to the use that they were intended for. Architect Louis Kahn may have advocated a design approach of “Ask a brick what it wants to be”, but I prefer “ask a machine what it wants to sew”. To be blunt, these machines deserve to be owned by someone who can appreciate them for what they do, not for tenuous links to a history open for exploitation.

That said, the moderately over-priced cocktails at the bar were tasty (silver fizz, anyone?). The ambiance was cosy, the early-mid twentieth century jazz soundtrack just right. The bartenders were aloof rather than friendly, but the – not sure what to call him really, maitre’d? concierge? seating arranger? anyhoo – boy buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly was exceedingly friendly and almost made up for them. I will probably be back to this bar. But I refuse to be as enthralled by it as others have been. It’s the principle of the thing. Wasting good sewing machines on a bar. Hmph.