Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum

Last week I finally visited an exhibition that I had been planning to for quite a while, Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum. Despite living less than two miles from this impressive building for the last 5 years, I'm ashamed to say I've not visited the museum before. As a pretty massive history nut, particularly when it comes to European and World War history, I found all the museum exhibitions fascinating, particularly the brilliantly presented World War I exhibition. An afternoon is just not enough time to cover the whole museum, so I will definitely be returning anther time.
The Fashion on the Ration exhibition itself is again, right up my street. Something that combines both history and sewing/fashion??! I'm there. The exhibition is reasonably small but full of interesting artefacts and information. At the start there are several outfits of war time occupations, such as the Wrens and the Land Army, something I was very interested in as my Granny was a land girl. What I hadn't realised is that about a third of the population of Britain were entitled to wear uniform during the Second World War. That’s not just the armed forces, but also factory workers, dockworkers, policemen and women and such, meaning it became entirely normal to see uniforms on the street. This was also one of the first times women had been mobilized in a uniformed workforce to quite such an extent.
Even for women not in uniform, war-time conditions meant they had to adapt their usual dress standards. Siren suits were invented for quick dressing on night-time air raid visits. 'Make do and Mend' became even more of a way of life than before as outfits were required to last years rather than months. Even material was compromised, silk became wildly unaffordable so children clothes and underwear were made from parachute silk. One of my favourite items in the exhibition was a dressing gown made from silk escape maps.
In 1942, the Utility range of clothing was introduced, aiming to produce items of affordable good quality with minimal wastage. Never before had the government exerted so much authority over its citizen’s wardrobes. Everything from men’s trouser turn-ups to skirt pleats were tightly controlled. The Utility items on display in the exhibition, remain very stylish today mostly because of their lovely use of colour and pattern. Fabric with smaller repeated patterns was often used so less fabric is wasted in the cutting.

Another section I found particularly interesting was 'Beauty is Duty'. Having a well-dressed population was seen as being essential, as there was genuine concern that a lack of interest in personal appearance was a sign of low morale, hugely detrimental to the war effort. My favourite quote was:
"To work for victory is not to say goodbye to charm. For good looks and good morale are the closest of allies."
War-time fashion has had a lasting effect on today's fashion. developments in manufacturing helped led to the mass market of fast fashion we have today, and it was also when people began to move towards a more relaxed and informal style of everyday dress. Whilst I disagree with the exhibition that the effects of rationing in 1940 and today's austerity both led to a make do and mend culture, I believe we are now going full circle. After the last few decades of fast fashion and cheap labour, people are starting to want a more concise, personal and sustainable wardrobe.
If you have not yet managed to see the exhibition, I would definitely recommend it for a lovely insight into the everyday life of women during World War Two. It runs until the 31st August at the Imperial War Museum near Lambeth, in itself a wonderful museum to explore.
Emily Kate.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Birthday Presents

A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday, and as I always do, I asked for books. One I requested in particular was Lisa Comfort's new book Sew Over It Vintage, and I also received an actual vintage book called Practical Knitting Illustrated, that my mum picked up in someone's garage sale for 50p.
If there's one thing I love, its old books. I love the musty smell, the yellowing pages, and the feel of the old paper. I'm not sure how old this book is, as there's no publishers date I can find anywhere. I'd guess at 1950's from the style of the patterns, and it's still in pretty good condition. The 50's is probably my favourite era of fashion, or at least the one that suits me best, so there's lots of patterns in here I'd love to try out. I like the look of the Striped Jumper, and also the Classic Jersey.
A great style that would pair well with a Hollyburn skirt, or maybe a 50's skirt from Sew Over It Vintage?! I'm planning to make one of these my first autumn project after all my summer holidays are over, and hopefully it will be the first knitted item of clothing I actually finish!
I read the reviews of Sew Over It Vintage over at Did You Make That? Handmade Jane, House of Pinheiro etc, and decided it was worth asking for, as it has a range of vintage styles included. I like the fact it asks you to draft your own pattern, as this is something I'd like to do more of. There are quite a few 1920's and 1950's patterns which is great for me, both era's of fashion I love (can you tell my two box sets on the go are Mad Men and Downton?!) but fans of later era vintage such as the 70's and 80's might be disappointed.
I think I will get quite a lot of use out of this book as there are at least 4 or 5 things I wanted to make straight away. My favourites are the 1920's Anita Tie Top, 1950's capelet and pleated skirt.
And here's some other books I was given... looking forward to my holiday reading.
Do you have a vintage sewing or knitting book you've used for authentic patterns?
Emily Kate.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Vintage Shirt Dress Pattern from Sew Over It

Although I've known about Sew Over It for quite some time, I hadn't got round to trying out any of their patterns, or visiting either shop. Pretty shocking since it must be my local pattern company, at just a mile or so away!
I've had my eye on a couple of their patterns for a while now, but when I saw the Vintage Shirt Dress, I just had to get it straightaway. I've recently discovered Mad Men, and I have to say I watch it more for the outfits, than the storylines. Although Sew Over It also have a pattern called the Betty Dress, this one is also very reminiscent of her earlier outfits. Betty Draper is certainly my new style icon...
The original plan was to make it up in time for the competition to win an overlocker, but unfortunately my forced two week sewing hiatus due to no electricity (Grrrr!) meant that it was only finished this week.
I spent so long in Fabrics Galore debating what fabric to get for this make. First I thought something plain, then polka dots, then I found this lovely floral cotton print and that was it. I always find it difficult to decide on fabric for dresses. I worry that if a print is a bit loud or busy, that its a whole outfit you have to live with, rather than just a top or bottom. I had also rather gone off flowery prints recently, I find its a fine line between being summery and a little frumpy and twee.
The pattern I found to be really clear to sew up, with helpful pictures and clear instructions. I slip stitched the hem and armholes, which took a little while but otherwise the rest was done in mostly one evening. After much debate on buttons, I decided to go for red to pick out the accents in the fabric, rather than a cream to blend in.
I  cut a size 12, grading down to between a 10 and 12 for the bodice, and its a really good fit. It is a little gappy around the lapels, but I think that's really down to the style. I like that there's not too much ease in the dress, I often find some pattern companies allow too much around the waist. I think I may add another button to the bottom also, there's quite a bit of fabric left free and in the windy weather we had today I was in danger of flashing my knickers to all and sundry.
All in all I'm extremely happy with this dress, its definitely one of my favourite summer outfits. Its a great wardrobe staple pattern and I'd love to make one with sleeves too, possibly in a solid colour. Although its typical now I'm churning out the summer clothes that it appears summer may have come and gone in the UK!
Emily Kate.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Burda 7062- My First (wearable) Trousers!

You might have noticed I've been a bit slack on the blog post recently... that's because I've unfortunately had no electric in my flat for two whole weeks. It's been terribly frustrating and the sewing machine has had to sit idle for weeks rather than churning out the items on my ever growing summer list.

I first attempted a pair of trousers a few months ago, the Clover pants in a stretch denim from Colette. I found them a dead easy sew, but learnt the hard way that its always better to cut a size too big, than a size too small. They actually weren't a terrible fit, there just wasn't much any room to move, or breathe. No knickers in the world could hide from that close a fit, and I didn't fancy showing my VPL to half of London. 
So I put the clover pattern to the side and forgot all about trousers for a while. Then as the weather started hotting up and it was uncomfortable to wear jeans, I decided to have a go at another pair of trousers. This time I went for a looser fitting, but still tapered pair of trousers, Burda 7062.
Looking at my measurements I cut a size 16 as that's where they fit, however I now wish I had taken the advice of someone on Sewing Pattern Review and cut according to finished garment measurements. On first trying them on they were the complete opposite of the clovers and had a lot of room, particularly in the crotch. The legs also weren't as tapered as they looked in the photo. So after a bit of googling and help from Colette's pants fitting cheat sheet, I decided to scoop out the front crotch curve, and then take in the side seams. I also tapered them much more, going well within the smallest size. The result made them a much more elegant shape, and distinctly more wearable.
I did think they would still be mostly something I wore inside, rather than inflicting upon the public, but they actually don't look too bad at all. I've worn and washed them a couple of times now, and they are starting to get a bit looser, so I may take in the side seams again if I can face redoing the zip once more.
I do really like the pattern though, so I've decided I will be making a couple more pairs, in more exciting cotton prints. I've also decided I may need a small sway back adjustment, so I've already factored one into the pattern, but not yet had a chance to try it out.
The pictures don't show them in the best light I think... there's not normally half as many creases!

Emily Kate