Sneaky peeks….jackets and skirts and shawls oh joy!

Today is rainy and miserable so I thought I’d cheer myself up with some crafting updates.

First up – progress on my Victorian walking jacket.

It’s slow going – I’m finding it hard to get the back of the neck to sit right and the problem with pinning something on myself is that every time I reach up to put in a pin I either stab myself or the whole thing moves around and I’m left taking random tucks. My method has been:  *try it on, squint critically, take it off, baste like my life depends on it, try it back on, wince, take it back off, unpick. Repeat from *.

I’m happy with bits of it. My embroidery has improved no end (considering I had zero embroidery skills at the start of the project, that’s not really very hard).  And the sleeves bring me joy. This may not look like very much to you but to me it is the pouffy sleeve of dreams (and of the late 1880s).

Authentic 1880s style

Authentic 1880s style – with a hint of my Mimi blouse by Tilly and the Buttons underneath

If I can persuade someone to take better pictures I’ll post better pictures soon. Once I’ve finished wrestling with the lining anyhow. At the moment, the lining looks like it’s making a mad dash for freedom. I had a mad idea of wearing it to the Roehampton graduation ceremony next week but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen…maybe the elves will finish it if I leave it out overnight?

Next Up: Vintage find of the week is this skirt kit.

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Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds Skirt Kit

That’s right, a skirt kit, complete with lining and a zip and its own little sew-in label.

It cost me the princely sum of eight English pounds in a charity shop in Putney.  It’s a thing of wonder – mostly wondering where the hell it came from.  I haven’t been able to find out when Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds were producing these sort of kits or if there was a wide range of them.  There’s no company trading under that name now so I’ll have to do a but more investigating.  If anyone has any leads on skirt kits, please let me know!

This is definitely going to become a skirt though – I’m thinking a sort of Miss Jean Brodie style thing. The kind of skirt you can wear on a sit-up-and-beg bicycle with a basket of fresh bread and terriers on the front. Or the kind of skirt that you wear with thick boots and a scowl.

This past month, I’ve been taking part in a Terry Pratchett themed swap organised by Louise Hunt of Caithness Craft Collective and I’ve been busy getting a little package together for my swap partner.  I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks but I find I can’t use the sewing machine if I want to listen at the same time.[1] So over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a fair bit of knitting too – well, designing really. I’ve designed my first ever lace shawl.

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Blocking the shawl…

I’m ridiculously pleased with myself about this – it brings elements of Estonian lace and English mesh lace together and it’s inspired by…well, I can’t reveal that just yet.  This is just a sneaky peek after all. I’m in the process of writing up my scrawls into an actual pattern that I will publish on this blog soon.

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[1] My friend Jess once said my sewing machine makes a sound like a drunk person rearranging furniture – there might be something wrong with it but then again it’s ALWAYS made that noise so it might be OK.

Me Made May – the halfway line & the fabric dreams are made on…

So, I’ve passed the halfway mark of my very first Me Made May.  I know this veers away slightly from the old books and vintage crafts remit of the blog but, trust me, by the end of the post we’ll be back in familiar territory.

I’m not one for instagram or millions of photos of myself so I haven’t been recording the day-by-day stuff online.  I’ve made some discoveries though:

  • I have only two pairs of hand-made socks. I make a lot of socks. All the socks I make are for Karl. This is probably an injustice.
  • Me Made November would be kinder for knitters. Many of the sewn items I’ve made are very summery and I haven’t been able to wear any of the tops because the weather is stupid.
  • I have made a lot of things that don’t suit me. Why did I make them? What was I thinking? Some genius put me on to Wardrobe Architect which might actually lead to me sorting out what I actually want to wear and planning projects properly.
  • I buy a lot of fat quarters.
  • Fat quarters are not as useful as I often believe them to be.
  • I have a lot of buttons.

But so far it’s been an interesting and oddly productive month.

First off – I won something! East London Knits were holding a May Day giveaway.  And I made out like a bandit.  Look at all this!

There are seven skeins of yarn – two laceweight in pale yellow, two laceweight in blue, and three DK-weight skeins of undyed silky lovely stuff. I’m not sure what it will become yet but I am thinking about lace projects and I’m toying around with a new design…

And on May 1st I started working on the Ginny cardigan which has been in my Ravelry queue since the dawn of time. Or at least since it was published. Same thing.

And so…to vintage crafts….

Yesterday I went on a lardy-cake eating, fabric-buying adventure to Witney where I found this:

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I know it doesn’t look like much but it is the fabric for my Victorian Walking Jacket.  I first blogged about the jacket months and months ago and since then I’ve been looking for the right fabric. This purpley-auberginey stripey fabric is the stuff dreams, or at least Victorian jackets, are made of. I was restrained through. I even made myself soak it first.  Which was a good thing because huge amounts of dye came out of it.

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The next step is to get hold of lining, piping, nerves of steel and huge amounts of tea and start making. That might be next weekend’s project…

And so to old books….

Tomorrow, I’m taking part in a short film about the University of Roehampton’s brand new collection of very old children’s books. The film will be part of our big announcement about the collection and I’ve a blog piece all about it ready to post as soon as I get the go-ahead!

In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peek of the collection:

Some day I will sit in the archive wearing my Victorian jacket and telling everyone who strays within earshot about my research. And because of my mighty sleeves and exquisite piping details, they won’t be able to get away.  It will happen. Soon.

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Making a Victorian Jacket: a full size toile and a lesson in sleeves…

So…I promised to show you how I got on with the full-sized toile for the Ladies’ Street Jacket from the National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams.

Ladies' Street Jacket from the National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams

Ladies’ Street Jacket from the National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams

In January I made a tiny toile as a test-run which was really helpful but I’m really glad I made a full-sized toile to get a sense of how the garment fits and hangs.

I learned a lot from making this.

THE FIRST THING I learned is that the pattern wasn’t as hard to draft as I expected.  Once you started with a right-angle at the ‘A’ point on each pattern piece – usually found in the top right corner – all you have to do is follow the measurements down the sides of the pattern and measure everything in relation to the A point.

'A' point on each pattern piece

‘A’ point on the front pattern piece

Once you have the basic pattern drawn out, it’s time to start adjusting.

I have a long torso.  Like a dog, I am taller when sitting down, so I added 3 inches to the waist length all around (so on the front pattern piece above, the 16 ½ measurement is moved to 19½ and then the shaping is put in as usual.  I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do but it seemed to work).

Width-wise, I was lucky in that the pattern seemed to be made for a 34”(ish) chest so I planned to take slightly deeper tucks in the back panel than the pattern suggested to bring it a little closer to my size.

So I cut everything out.

All the pattern pieces (except the collar.  Because there was no pattern for that.  Scunners.)

All the pattern pieces (except the collar. Because there was no pattern for that. Scunners.)

And then cut the pieces out of scrap canvas.  And then I basted.  And basted.

And tried it on.

That’s when I learned THE SECOND THING.

The second thing I learned is that Victorian ladies had tiny arms.  Like T-Rex tiny.

Either that or I have arms like a spider-monkey.

Maybe it’s a bit of both.

So the sleeves had to be adjusted.

And the armscyes.

And the shoulders.

The shoulder was a joke…it just slumped off the sides like a bad cat.

So back to the drawing board and the cutting table.

And I consulted with the hallowed oracle….Vogue’s book of Smart Dressmaking from 1936.

Vogue's Book of Smart Dressmaking (1936)

Vogue’s Book of Smart Dressmaking (1936)

The book is brilliant – it has everything an amateur like me needs, including very prim advice about ‘developed’ figures.

I’m sure the author didn’t mean ‘developed’ in the sense of ‘more highly evolved’ but that’s what I’m taking it as.  I have much more developed arms than the Victorian lady who wore this jacket.

Using their handy guide to fixing dodgy sleeves

I did a combination of 1 and 5…

Cut the sleeves horizontally to add length

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And cut the sleeves vertically to add width.

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I re-cut, re-basted and did a second fit on the left-hand side of the jacket.  I wanted to leave the right side as it was at the first fit so I could compare and if worse came to worst, go back a few steps.

I shortened the shoulder line and deepened the armscye by taking an inch off the arm-hole edge on the front and back pieces.  I also shorted the top of the side-back piece by an inch but kept the original shape as much as possible.

Here’s the second fit.

The shorter shoulder sits much more naturally and the extra width in the sleeve makes a huge difference to the way the sleeve sits overall.

However, because the shoulder is shorter, the sleeves sit higher and they are even shorter than I thought they were.  Even after I added 3 inches to the sleeve length they are still ridiculously short so the next version (the final version) will have to add at least another 4 inches to the lower part of the sleeve and the wrist section.  I won’t do another series of horizontal cuts because I think the elbow is sitting pretty close to where I want it.

I also added the rever on the left side and made a collar (the pattern somehow neglected to include a collar so I had to draft one…basically a long rectangle) to see how they sat.

I’ve shaped the bottom hem of the jacket a little more than the original pattern so that it follows the line of the rever and curves up and around to meet the flare at the back.  It’s a strange shape but I like it.

The next stage is to get some fabric for the finished thing.[1]  And make hard decisions about colour and trimmings.  I think this jacket could very easily go too pirate.  Much as I love the weird medallions in the original pattern I’m not sure I want to stick eighteen doubloons to myself.   Does it need piping?  Maybe some embroidery?  Contrasting or complimentary lining? Do I want to go full-on steampunk?  These decisions are harder than basting.  I’ll be going back to Ripper Street and the V&A catalogue for some inspiration.

[1] Woo!  Best bit of sewing.

Resolutions, Ripper Street and Tiny Toiles

This year’s new year’s resolution is to learn how to sew better.  I want to get to grips with hand-quilting, embroidery and dress-making.  In particular, I want to make some vintage clothes from old patterns.

This year sees the start of a new research project on material culture in children’s literature.  I’m taking a semester’s research leave to get started on a monograph and I’m surrounded by all things Victorian at the moment…books, catalogues, advertisements, cartoons…and so I decided that my first project of the new year should be something Victorian that ties in with my research.

Outside of the library,  I’ve been getting a regular fix of rollicking, romping, ripping Victorian entertainment through Ripper Street.  I know people complain because it’s not historically accurate.  I know that while it’s theoretically set in the late 1880s, there are all sorts of anachronisms and some things (like Jackson’s gun) appear WAY ahead of their time whereas other things (like some of the slang words used) are more than a little archaic.[1]

But I don’t care.

I don’t care because the whole thing is filmed in Dublin and I love watching to see if I can spot bits of the sets – Trinity College[2], the Dead Zoo[3], Dublin Castle[4]

I don’t care because the dialogue has a rhythm and a register all of its own that makes the world of the story unique.

I don’t care because even the small characters are brilliant and have their own little lives to get on with.

And mostly I don’t care because I adore the clothes.

The sleeves! The standy-up collars!  The skirts! The mad turquoise and orange palette that the third season rocked!  Everything Long Susan wears!

Behold her mighty sleeves. And those hats.

Hats!

Hats!

How I want to get a hat like that and stick it to the front of my head like a mad Victorian unicorn…I want to sit in a room wallpapered with gold and teal peacocks and snark at anyone that comes near me in an inferior get-up…

And so when the latest (and maybe last?) season of Ripper Street came to an end I decided that what my little heart desired most was a jacket like Long Susan’s.  Preferably one that I could actually get away with wearing in real life without small children pointing at me on the street.

So – to research!

My recent searches of late 19th century periodicals turned up some beautiful pictures but sadly no practical patterns.  I found some nice modern patterns that are based on old designs but that felt a little bit like cheating (bear in mind that I will cheat heavily when it comes to actually making this this…there’s no way I’m going without interfacing or my sewing machine so cheating at the pattern stage too makes the whole thing dishonest).

Then I found The National garment Cutting Book of Diagrams from 1888.  It’s from exactly the right period and it is a many-splendored thing.  It’s full of wonderful, strange, outfits with big bustles and enormous sleeves.  I love sleeves.

I was tempted by some of the coats and the dresses – even the aprons looked like fun.

But I loved this jacket the best.

Ladies’ Street Jacket, The National Garment Cutter Book of Diagrams 1888

The pattern is…not what I’m used to.

Here it is in its entirety.

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That’s it.  One page.  There’s no indication of how any of these bits fit together and the only advice for sizing is “use scale corresponding with bust measure”.  The description says ‘in ten pieces’ but only nine are drafted here.  Thanks Anonymous.  That’s so helpful.

After some serious moping, Karl suggested that I make a miniature version as a sort of tiny mock-up toile.  And so I did.

I traced over the pattern pieces as they are printed and cut the pieces out of some left-over quilting cotton (bad choice in retrospect because it frayed so much). It was a bit strange to sew sleeves that only had space for one or two pins.

Here it is.

Apart from the woejeous[5] stitching and the gammy[6] bits under the armscye I’m rather pleased with it. I did eventually (after some swearing) figure out where all the bits went and how the pieces fit together.

So, this weekend’s project is to make a full-size toile.  I have some canvas, a lot of pins and a heap of enthusiasm. And I’ll be following the (anachronistic) advice from Singer the whole time.

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I’ll let you know where it gets me.

[1] Vanessa Heggie has an excellent blog post that points out that it’s not as far-fetched as it seems initially http://www.theguardian.com/global/the-h-word/2013/feb/03/victorian-science-of-ripper-street?CMP=twt_gu

[2] My alma mater…it doubles as a surprising number of buildings.

[3] For non-Dubliners, the Dead Zoo is like the normal Zoo but it’s full of taxidermied animals rather than living ones. It’s a fantastic place and there are many wondrous things to see, including a lion who obviously died of natural causes.  Probably the mange.  It’s the saddest looking lion in the whole world. He’s gone all baldy and sideways in his case and the moths have been at him but he’s kind of brilliant because you won’t see a manky old dead lion so proudly displayed anywhere else.

[4] Also where they filmed The Tudors.  That’s less exciting to watch because history has already given out the spoilers.

[5] A word I learned from my mother which means very bad, worthy of woe, grief-inducing

[6] Unable to function normally due to chronic injury or pain (in this case, pain caused to my fingers)