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.

***

[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.

All Things Alice: Adventures first!

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

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I’ll take the Gryphon’s advice and do the adventures first….

I’ve been on research leave for a term. It’s been great. And terrible.  There have been days of mighty exploration in archives (including The Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition, The Pollard Collection at TCD, and the newly-opened and gorgeous Weston Library at the Bodleian).  There have been days of frenzied writing.  And days of frenzied reading. And days of gnawing my knuckles and staring at a pile of notes like a demented Jonathan Strange.

It’s been a process of discovery.[1] And tea. Crates of the stuff. [2]

But all work and no play makes for a Jane a dull girl and so I arranged a day-trip went with fellow children’s literature scholar and wild Irish girl Beth Rodgers to the V&A Museum of childhood.  We are nerds – even on our days off we can think of nothing nicer than visiting a museum.

Adventures!  Vitamin D! The swealterish air of the London Underground system! And the glory of the V&A Museum of Childhood!  Look how happy we are to be outside!

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Jane and Beth take a busman’s holiday…

There were two exhibition on – Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House about *shudder* doll’s houses and The Alice Look all about the ways Alice has been costumed over the years.  While I was very sad to see that nobody had linked up the two exhibitions by making a giant doll’s house that I could sit inside while pretending to BE Alice, I was quite impressed.

Although I am creeped out by doll’s and doll’s houses (miniature things make me feel dizzy) I have to admit that Small Stories is an excellent exhibition. The V&A have and enormous collection of doll’s houses and a collection of enormous doll’s houses…the image below gives you a sense of a scale of some of the pieces:

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The exhibit is arranged in roughly chronological order, showing the development of fashions in doll’s houses and fashions in interior decoration from the 18th century to the 21st century.

Each case is accompanied by audio pieces (which you can hear here) telling stories about the dolls and the houses.  Some of the dolls were a bit scary though and we didn’t much want to imagine that they were real people with voices…

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Phineas has murder in his little heart

We were especially thrilled to discover that by positioning ourselves just so we could see our giddy faces reflected in the mirrors of the doll’s houses.

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It’s me! And some creepy dolls…

This lead to falling around laughing like idiots. Thankfully, the staff at the V&A were patient, no doubt being used to seeing escaped academics on a semi-regular basis.

After refreshing ourselves with tea, it was on to The Alice Look.

This exhibit, curated by Kiera Vaclavik of Queen Mary University of London explores the different ways Alice has been costumed in print and media versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland since it was first published 150 years ago.

Perhaps the version of Alice we’e most familiar with is the one popularised by the 1951 Walt Disney film.  Alice’s blue dress and hairband (growing up in Ireland we always called these kinds of hairbands ‘Alice bands’) seem absolutely iconic.

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But, as The Alice Look shows, Alice has had many ‘iconic’ looks and she continually adapts to new styles and trends. Even between her first public appearance in 1865 and 1871 her costume has changed to reflect changing fashions:

If you look closely, you can see that Alice’s stockings and apron have changed. Alice doesn’t have a hairband in the 1865 image but has acquired one by 1871. There are small changes to the sleeves of her dress, the width of the skirt and the way the apron is tied too.

It’s a real delight to see the changes in her costume through the years and in different translations of the text – the blond, blue-eyed Alice might be the most common in English-language versions of the text but she is by no means the only Alice available to readers today.

For me, the best part of the exhibit was looking at the dresses on display:

More than anything, these show how the “Alice look”, like Carroll’s book, is malleable and adaptable and open to our own interpretation.

You could even design your own Alice look and add it to the display.  Though some visitors had an incredibly avant-garde approach to fashion:

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If you’re keen to have your only little adventure to London, I can’t recommend the V&A Museum of Childhood enough. It’s free, there’s tons to see, and it’s very easy to get to.

The Small Stories exhibition is on until September 6th 2015 and The Alice Look runs until November 1st 2015.

More from me about Alice tomorrow…

~

[1] Discovering how stupid Past-Jane can be is a major part of the process. I once wasted about two hours frantically searching for the source of a particularly brilliant quote only to realise that it was, in fact, my own writing.

[2] More about tea in tomorrow’s post

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)

Sewing, or, a farce in three acts

So far, this blog has mostly been about knitting.  I knit a lot and I’m good at it which means I knit a lot and so I get better at it.  But there’s loads of crafts I’m not very good at and I know I should practice more and get better.

Take sewing.

I have a complicated relationship with sewing.  I’m happy to put on buttons, take up hems, make little bags and easy patchwork blankets and whatever.  But I really want to be able to make my own clothes.  I have high ambitions.  I blame my mammy.  She’s great a making clothes and so I have a skewed opinion on what ‘homemade’ clothes should look like.  She’s keen for me to learn too – she bought me a sewing machine for Christmas a couple of years ago.  And for ages I told myself that the reason I didn’t do much sewing was because I didn’t have enough space or time or space/time or whatever.

So, I bought myself a craft table earlier this year.

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There it is.  As idle as a painted ship or something.

I shouldn’t have done that.  Now I have to accept my own role in this farce.

And it is a farce.  It starts with noble ideals and descends, first into comedy and then into buffoonery.   The whole thing is bathetic.

Act One: I trip down to the haberdashery.  I select fancy fabric.  I watch in awe as the haberdasher snips a tiny bit of the cloth and then just RIPS the rest of it down.  And in a perfect straight line too. I can’t do this so I am jealous and impressed.  And then I get the stuff home and it sits around in a bag for months making me feel guilty. I ignore it and knit instead.

Act Two: I get a sudden urge to sew ALL THE THINGS.

Which isn’t practical because craft should be a slow delight rather than a sudden act of violence.

My sewing is a bit like a one-woman riot.  I fight with the fabric and fight with the patterns and stab myself with pins and have to put band-aids everywhere and then I’m even clumsier and then instead of practicing sewing, I just practice swearing.  My sewing skills are not nearly as good as my swearing skills.

Act Three: And in the end I hate the things I’ve made because all I can think of is the hot hours of stabbing, swearing frustration and I can’t wear them.   And then they sit in the press and glare at me and make me feel guilty.

Cue hysterical laughter and curtains.

I tried sewing at the weekend.  I had great intentions. I picked out a pattern and traced it out on nice tracing paper and got the iron out and everything.

And then there wasn’t enough fabric.

And then I was miserable.

And then Charlotte (crafter and clever person) sent me this.

 

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And it’s all clicked into place.  Obviously, the problem with my sewing is that I’m secretly afraid that a visitor will call and interrupt my fabric raptures.  And there is, clearly, a direct correlation between my sewing skills and the general untidiness of my hair.  Bald people are probably brilliant sewers sewists dressmakers.

So, next weekend I’m going to try to look neatly put together and see if that makes me any better at sewing.  I’ll keep you posted.