I arrived (some time ago now!) in London on a beautiful May day, the air was warm, the leaves were brilliant new season green and the air smelt familiarly English. A walk from Crouch End to Alexandra Palace gave my jet lagged legs a chance to stretch and provided a lovely glimpse of some wild life; squirrels and robin red breasts. I had to keep reminding myself ‘You’re in London!’
While in London I had only a couple of ‘exploring’ days, the London Swing Festival taking up most of my time, and what a good way to spend a long weekend! I danced for the first time on a proper sprung dance floor which was a brilliant experience. The floor was moving in time to music as hundreds danced; even standing on the edge of the floor the pulse was like a trampoline! Despite the remaining jet lag I had a wonderful time and quickly got over my initial shyness and was asking folks to dance with great enthusiasm. It is a strangely freeing sensation to dance with complete strangers and to have absolutely no preconceptions of their style, abilities or personality. The three days flew by in a series of late nights and sleep ins.
Even with all the dancing I did also do some proper exploring; one day was spent walking along the Thames towpath in Hammersmith. The river was framed by fresh oak leaves, cow parsley, stinging nettles (found out the ouchy way) and elderflowers, along with other unidentified blossoms.
Dragonflies with blue bottoms, squirrels, robins, river rats, herons, doves and geese rustled and darted through the Leg ‘O’ Mutton Reservoir Reserve.
Onwards to Chiswick House Gardens where turtles were basking in the midday sun!
One of the benefits of meandering through parks is the entertaining snippets of other people’s lives you become privy to:
Young Lady: “Can I ask you a question? If you are suffering dementia are you still able to vote?”
Very Elderly Man: “If you remember!”
The weather stayed lovely for the week, but on our last day London had a change of heart and spring turned back to a cold and drizzly reminder of winter, we packed our bags and dancing shoes, put on coats, hats and scarves, and ventured north.
Up here it was properly cold, it seemed York was oblivious to winters end. The wind bit through layers and the clouds threatened. It was quietly provincial and the average age seemed nearer retirement. We stayed with a curious old lady who told us off for being late to breakfast, clucked at my bare legs, talked incessantly and gave me her York Arts Card so I could get in free to museums, galleries and selected historical places – it was hard to tell where we stood with her.
In York we walked the city walls and ambled through the Shambles, ate piping hot Cornish pasties and generally tried to hide from the wind! There were fabulous bookshops, cosy pubs and NO free public bathrooms – so we visited many cafes and bars.
The morning we were to leave York dawned equally cold and the rain which had been threatening since we arrived had finally started. Arrived at York station only to find our train delayed and the previous one cancelled due to downed lines further south. We settled down to wait with a muffin and a hot drink, unhelpfully out of sight of the updates board. To our surprise the next time we checked the board our train was miraculously on time and waiting at a platform the opposite end of the station! York rail staff had given up on the train from London and found one in York as a replacement. As a result the train was virtually empty.
The overcast York skies quickly gave way to clear blue, and the patchwork of brightly coloured fields fell away to a rugged coastline as we traveled north towards the Scottish border.
Upon arrival in Edinburgh I changed from my coat, woolly bobble hat, scarf and jumper into a summer dress! Edinburgh was, in the words of a local, basking in Dubai’s weather. It was a sunny 25 degrees and the parks were full of shirtless Scots men!
I was dragged away from my favourite city – where we stopped just long enough for a long lunch in a pub in Grassmarket – then continued on to Glasgow for the Glasgow Get Down! This was another long weekend of swing dancing, sadly interrupted by a pesky head cold. By the final day I was sufficiently recovered to enjoy the Excursion – we were whisked away to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. What a contrast that area is to the littered, grey streets of Glasgow. The sun was out again and here was our first glimpse of lochs and mountains.
And with this taster of the scenery to come Part 1 is over – the following day we hired a car and headed into the wild Highlands! Our time on public transport and in cities was temporarily over, the next few weeks were to be spent travelling one lane roads, staying in small towns no ones heard of and working on a highland farm! In other words, the best was yet to come…
Clothing has the ability to alter our perception; of others and of ourselves. The outfit worn can change posture, confidence and mood. Wearing something light, flouncy and feminine will likely change a person’s behaviour when compared to that same person dressed in sturdy boots and tweed. It is generally men’s clothing which is seen as powerful, but surely a suit is no more innately authoritative than a dress? It must simply be our preconceptions which differentiate between power-dressing and ‘submissive’ clothing. In fact the divide between men’s and women’s clothing must be one of the greatest uniforms of all, it changes gradually every generation, but seems never to be lost completely.
I got thinking about all that recently when I did a photo shoot with Stuart Attwood. I had four different outfits which we photographed in one day. As a result I was changing persona’s with great speed. A full 1920’s/30’s three piece tailored wool suit (with a very definite menswear feel), followed by a floral silk ‘floofy’ dress really illustrated to me the power that clothes can have on my psyche. I assume of course that to varying degrees everyone feels this change, an assumption which appears to be backed up by recent studies.
In the past there were some very strong opinions on the importance of each sex wearing clothing appropriate to their sex and why the sexes must stay differentiated. In his book The Importance of Wearing Clothes (1959), Lawrence Langner writes:
…. the differentiation in clothing between men and women arose from the males desire to assert superiority over the female and to hold her to his service. This he accomplished through the ages by means of special clothing which hampered or handicapped the female in her movements... divided garments such as trousers… which permitted free movement for the male, while the female was forced to wear hampering skirts and dresses which impeded her movements. In this way the male covered her and hobbled her at the same time. Later on he handicapped her still further in other ways, such as by dresses with hampering trains, and by high-heeled shoes… (page 53).
Langner, writing in the 1950s would have observed massive changes in his lifetime, however even so, this sounds a very simplistic view of a complex subject. Despite the recent rise of sportswear and leisure wear women continue to wear full dresses and high heels. This is now by choice on the behalf of the wearer, proving that either female fashions of the past were not solely dictated by men, but must – at least for some women – have been worn consentingly and even joyfully, OR, the social interpretations of garments can change. This is a topic discussed at length by Valerie Steele in The corset a Cultural History (which I highly recommend as a cover to cover read), she writes:
Today the corset is almost universally condemned as having been an instrument of women’s oppression… I shall challenge the reductiveness of this picture, which frames the history of the corset in terms of oppression versus liberation, and fashion versus comfort and health. Corsetry was not one monolithic, unchanging experience that all unfortunate women experienced before being liberated by feminism. It was a situated practice that meant different things to different people at different times. Some women did experience the corset as an assault to the body. But the corset also had many positive connotations – of social status, self-discipline, artistry, respectability, beauty, youth, and erotic allure. (Page 1)
Although Valerie Steele has focussed her discussions on the corset, the ideas can be easily translated to other forms of clothing. She continues:
Men were not responsible for forcing women to wear corsets. On the contrary, a number of powerful male authority figures, including many doctors, opposed corsetry. (Page 35)
You will have to forgive me quoting large tracts of text, The Corset A Cultural History is one of my favourite books and I highly recommend it as a cover to cover read. The contrast between Steele’s view point and Langner’s is vast.
One last comment from Steele:
… within the world of fashion, cultural signs, like the corset, have no fixed meaning… Although some women remain ambivalent or hostile to (corsets), for others the look is strong and sexy. (Page 176)
However despite agreeing with Steele on a lot of points, Langner’s opinions are still intriguing; he continues:
…If any man reading this feels I have been unfair to his sex regarding the hampering purpose of women’s dresses, let him essay a little adventure by his own fireside which I tried myself… Experiment with wearing women’s clothes, and see if you do not experience a feeling of embarrassment and restraint. The embarrassment comes from a disdain for the finery, the laces and what not, which give us mere men a feeling of foolishness in wearing such useless fripperies. But try to walk freely in the skirt and you will find that each step forward requires you to move a load of the material with your knees…Your women friends will tell you that they become used to this, but… they will agree that long skirts are not the best garments for working in… A woman wearing male clothes suffers none of the above disadvantages. Male garments may not be ‘pretty’, but they do not hamper free movement… When a woman wears men’s clothes, she also wears that happy feeling of equality with men which gives her a sense of freedom that is bound to have a striking effect on the achievements of women in the future… (Pages 57-59)
And I have to say some of his observations are true! I had a wonderful sense of freedom in this outfit!
But I don’t believe it is quite as simple as all that. He clearly has very strong expectations of what he will experience, and as some modern studies have shown, the human brain is a complex creature and is capable of being tricked into false experiences and conclusions.
…According to a study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Norwestern University… published … in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, observed an interesting phenomenon: wear a white coat you believe belongs to a doctor, and you’ll be more focused. Wear a white coat you believe belongs to a painter, and you won’t see that improvement… (For further reading on that study click here for a summary or here to access the full article.)
Although I believe that there is a huge difference in the feel of wearing a men’s suit versus a ladies full skirted dress of the 1950s, this research suggests that Langner’s feeling of servitude/superiority has as much to do with his mind-set and the social norms of his era as it does the physical clothing.
There appear to have been multiple studies conducted along similar lines, some of which can be easily translated to gender and fashion and are discussed by Natasha Walter in Living Dolls, the Return of Sexism (2010):
… when people are aware of what they are being asked to do and can control their responses, they live up to the stereotypes about how men and women should behave. But when reactions are being observed that are less controllable or when the subjects are not sure what is being assessed, men and women are much more variable… we try, maybe without even consciously knowing we are doing so, to conform to social norms. (Page 172).
I grew up loving skirts and dresses; but kiwi society had no issues if I ever chose to wear shorts, trousers, t-shirts and all other manner of items which only a couple of generations ago would have been respectable for men only, and even then perhaps only within the home as casual wear. The question of why some clothing is ‘men’s’ and why some is ‘women’s’ and how these rules came about and in some cases continue to be enforced is very hard to answer.
Quite how far back the differentiation goes may never truly be known, but one of the earliest examples appears to be ….the Spanish Levant rock paintings dating from about 10,000 BC reveal prehistoric male hunters wearing short trousers and women wearing long skirts … (Langner, Lawrence, The importance of wearing clothes (page 54)
This began to give me an understanding of the massive battle which feminists past have fought in order for me to be allowed morally and legally to prance around dressed in a three piece suit, an experience which I must admit to loving! I made this suit (of course) and am immensely pleased with the result. I had studied traditional tailoring while in England under the tutelage of a Saville Row tailor. While I cannot profess to have become a master tailor in those four months, I have definitely developed an understanding of the importance of working with wool, and delicately hand stitching layers of felt and horsehair canvas to create a sculptured garment. The fit is at the heart of a perfectly tailored suit, the simplicity of design belies the effort required to attain a perfect silhouette.
If I were to make another suit for myself there are definite tweaks I would make to the pattern, and through practice I am sure my hand stitching and tailoring techniques would also improve. However, that I completed the patternmaking and hand tailoring within one week (while also working 40 hours at my day job) I think is a testament to the wonderful teaching I received while abroad.
As with so many of my sewing stories so far, this one begins with Napier Art Deco… One week before heading to my first Winter Deco in 2015 I happened to be at Spotlight buying some things for my day job when I spotted a bolt of wool mix herringbone in the discount section for $8 a metre. Sometimes I have slightly over ambitious ideas, but I couldn’t resist the challenge of making a three piece suit in seven days. I started by redrafting my Peach Beach Pyjama trousers, adding pockets and slightly reducing the leg width.
I’ve made a few trousers, so these got thrown together pretty quickly, the only sticking point being figuring out how to sew a side button placket in conjunction with an angle pocket. Luckily I was able to borrow an existing pair of original ’20s breeches from Susie which had the same detail – so I was able to copy the construction.
Next came the Jacket, I started with a commercial pattern, Vogue 8333, which I had made up before and thus knew the basic fit was close to correct and should be simple enough to perfect. The pattern features a total of 10 separate panels (5 per side) which I reduced down to the more traditional 6 (3 per side). I also removed the seriously complicated pleated pockets and reduced the oversized lapels. One of my favourite details when tailoring is making the traditional pockets, so I added a breast pocket and two welt pockets with flaps.
By the end of my alterations, the only pattern pieces still original were the sleeves.
But that was to change after my first fitting! As soon as it was assembled I could tell that the back was not sitting quite right, of course it is impossible for me to fit it myself so I took it to work, where luckily one of my fellow students from Uni was also employed!
See the fit alterations were to the back of sleeves, mid back panel seams and removal of excess from back of neck.
The interior support at the front of the jacket is provided, not by fusible interfacing, but by hand herringbone stitched breastplates. These are made from one layer of horsehair canvas and one layer of felt.
The whole front panel is then also stitched by hand to another layer of horsehair canvas before the breast plates are attached. The lapels are sewn to the horsehair canvas with a curl in them, as you can see in this next photo – note the shape here is created by the herringbone stitch – no iron has been used!
The collar I made from a dark brown cotton velveteen which you may be familiar with if you’ve read my post on the Jodhpurs or Breeches (this was actually the old curtains from my lounge).
The jacket was eventually finished in Napier – I had to bring my sewing machine! Despite the last minute rush of it all, I’m pretty happy with the result. Perhaps if I were to make it again I would use slightly smaller shoulder pads, reshape the hem of the jacket a little in the front, and cut my breastplate and horsehair interfacing a little smaller (they seem wider than my chest). But these are mere details, and overall I think the effect is quite marvellous! I never did even get the waistcoat cut out in time for Deco – but finished it afterwards.
SO, here we are back to the original reason for this post – to show off the fabulous images taken by Stuart Attwood at the Glenbrook Vintage railway. This was my favourite outfit of the day, and as such has produced my favourite images. I felt incredible in this outfit; suave, confident and powerful – and that was despite wearing a wool suit in the summer heat!
I think (and I hope you agree) that these images capture how I was feeling at the time. There is certainly a difference in my stance when compared to the 1925 day dress which I posed in shortly afterwards.
I still have a great deal I want to discuss regarding gender differences in fashion history and how this related to female emancipation. But I feel this post is getting out of hand – so expect some more posts with a similar flavour sometime in the distant future. I must at this point give a shout out to the Emma-bear, she’s the one who first made me think about feminism and put up with my arguments and ignorance!
From now on though, the flavour of this blog is about to change – expect far less sewing and far more travel updates!
A year ago I helped renovate a house. The exact age of the house is uncertain, however it likely dates to the late 1910s or early ’20s with some later alterations and additions. As someone who has a love of history, and particularly an appreciation for items which have survived to the present day, I was perhaps not always the most helpful renovation assistant. There were constant discussions over which original features needed to be kept, what was old and interesting to me was just old and tired to others. But what I found most thrilling was discovering unexpected hidden gems.
The lounge and a couple of bedrooms were carpeted with a sad, faded, threadbare green carpet which was definitely not staying. What we weren’t aware of was the loose lay linoleum underneath, and the newspapers below that!
A straight forward removal of carpet became a careful enterprise – with me watching like a hawk and instructing ‘woah! Watch out for that paper! Ooooh look at that advert! Wow these are all from 1948!’ I rescued as many papers as I could, many have holes from carpet tacks, some were too dirty and watermarked to be useful and others are missing corners. But luckily my long suffering father knows of my love for old things and humoured me. So now here I am with a stack of newspaper pages from various different NZ publications all from March 1948. They are filled with beautiful fashion adverts, interesting post war articles, and hilarious snippets of local news.
I would like to share quite a bit from them – but it would be an incredibly long post – so here is:
Part 1: the best of the ladies fashion adverts.
These newspapers offer an interesting glimpse into the available fashion choices Kiwi women had in 1948, the post war years marked the beginning of New Zealand fashion design, but the department stores certainly seem to be the dominant force! There were still strong influences from overseas designers and fashion capitals (some things never change). The advert below is blatant in its references to Paris and Dior – describing the garment as ‘a coat with the New Look that is sure and simple in every line’. Dior’s famous collection named by fashion journalists as the ‘New Look’ had been shown for the first time a year earlier in Paris.
Although not a fashion capital in the same league as Paris, clearly Scottish Woven Wool also carried selling power. I love the colour names in the below Rendells department store advert: Loch Blue, Heather Pink, and Bracken Brown. Its making me doubly excited to be visiting Scotland again next month!
Another Department store, Milne and Choyce, this advert more subtly associating with Paris fashions and the ‘New Silhouette’.
And here is the only advert in the papers for a New Zealand designer! Bobby Angus was one of the ‘pioneering’ New Zealand fashion designers, the shop opened in 1948 – so this must be one of their very early adverts!
This next advert is in a bad state of repair, but with those sleeves and that hip detail I couldn’t resist sharing!
Another Rendells department store advert, this time for dresses in WX (womens extra) and OS (outsize) only, these dresses were designed for the larger sized lady (though how that compares to modern sizing I am unsure).
Has anyone heard of Allans before? They have some very cute blouses for Easter!
Rendells – with fur coats from £16!
Then there are all the adverts for accessories and make up:
Rayon hose – nylons had been invented before 1948, but no mention of them amongst these adverts…I wonder if they were slow to arrive in NZ stores?
Strapless bras! Even I want one of these – they sound amazing:
‘There’s a “take-me-dancing” glamour in this lovely strapless bra, especially right for all off the shoulder styles that are this season’s fashion highlight. Minuet is as lovely to wear as it is to look at! No straps – – – no bones – – – no wires, its the cordtex arch that supports gently and firmly from above! Cordtex, the amazing material used in all Gothic bras never loses its shape or support.’
Liquid Velvet Foundation.
Lipstick. (And excitement that Smith and Caugheys still exists!)
So there we have it, everything the well dressed Auckland lady of 1948 could want, from fur coats, gloves and hats, to lipstick, cigarettes and stockings. Some things are clearly of the era – I would struggle to find an advert for fur coats in a modern NZ Herald, but others are almost word for word with their modern equivalents. It seems lipstick, stockings and chocolate are all still marketed in much the same way!
Maybe next time I’ll share the adverts for Menswear – there are far fewer – I guess that’s one thing that really hasn’t changed.
Anzac day has always started with attending a dawn service, but up until this year I have been a spectator – usually somewhere towards the back because I struggled to get out of bed in time. This year though I had a role to play in official proceedings at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Dawn Parade. My day started with a 4am wake up call, I dressed in a bit of a daze as a WW1 nurse, had a bite to eat and drove off to the museum.
There were four of us dressed in WW1 uniforms representing the different services, army, navy, airforce and nursing.
Somehow we arrived just in time, the boys got uniformed up in the car park, and we were guided through the museum by security to reach our starting position at the top of the stairs. There we stood waiting for the ceremonies to start. It was an amazing sight – standing between the two columns at the entrance to the museum, looking out over a sea of people. The sky was black, the air was still, the rain from Sunday vanished. Barely a breath of wind stirred the flags on the cenotaph, and five soldiers stood like statues, motionless, each with their back to the cenotaph. The faces in the crowd nearest us looked our way, camera phones pointed at us. But most of the crowd was watching the cenotaph, the podium and the procession of veterans marching in.
From our vantage point we could see all the little behind the scenes actions going on. An elderly lady standing halfway down the terrace near the stairs was brought a chair to sit on by a kindly event worker – medics were called softly in to attend an elderly man who had fainted, and everything was done so quietly and efficiently that it made no disturbance on the solemnity of the event.
Soon we heard the words ‘Germans, New Zealanders and Pommies’ our cue to march. Bruce was on my left and whispered ‘weight on right, step on left’ and we were off. The eyes of how many thousand now trained on us as we set off down stairs, in the dark, and I in a long dress… but we didn’t stumble! Later I found out that we were being televised not just within NZ but had been seen on TV in Adelaide as well!
Safely in position down by the cenotaph we provided a backdrop for the Karakia and were then stood facing the cenotaph for an hour, no fidgeting allowed! No looking into the numerous cameras! Essentially trying to behave like a good little nurse – and I think I did OK – I didn’t faint!
Afterwards we were surrounded by a crowd of curious folks – interested to talk and to find out who we were and why we were there – as well as have their photos taken with us. One lady approached me and voiced her thanks for being there representing nurses, she herself was a registered nurse and felt Anzac Day should do more to commemorate the role nurses had played; hospital ships at Gallipoli had been terrifyingly close to the action, sometimes even within machine gun fire.
It was a thoroughly amazing experience to be involved in the dawn service, with any luck I will be taking part next year as well. Next year I hope to be a little better prepared. No last minute panic about a missing headscarf thing (maybe I’ll even know its proper name!), I would also like to know more about the nurses I am representing, in order to be able to answer questions. Plus (you guessed it) I’d like to have made my own uniform. This one was hired from First Scene.
To view the full service click here and watch it on demand from Maori TV.
Many thanks to my good friend Bruce for asking me to take part, it was a pleasure and a privilege.
Sometimes I get approached for some very unusual commissions, and they are often the most fun. This was one of the more unusual ones to date… I was asked to make a jacket out of bus seat fabric. It was perhaps asked in jest, perhaps thinking ‘she wont be silly enough to accept’. But I was silly enough to accept, in fact I thought just making the jacket out of bus seat fabric wasn’t enough. It needed MORE silliness!
This Jacket was intended to star in an advertising campaign for Starfish Interiors, so it needed to be eye catching and over the top.
I sketched up some design ideas:
The sketches were sent to Steven with the following message:
This sounds like great fun! Some initial sketches attached… how out there do we want to go? We could do full on Ziggy StarBUS outfits or something more restrained, ie Saville row style tailoring but in moquette fabric.
Well he jumped at the ‘out there’ option, and the design selected was the third one featuring seatbelt buckles instead of buttons and grabhandles in place of epaulettes.
I had a pretty tight time frame for completing this garment – so I started with a base pattern I had drafted a few years ago for this Tailcoat (its far easier to alter an existing pattern than start a new one from scratch):
Although the designs are very different to each other, the sizing was spot on. I copied the torso pieces, extending their length well past the waist and adding vents at the centre back. I then sewed a quick mock up to check if I was on the right track:
On the right track – but not quite there yet. I realised that the shoulders were not large enough to accommodate the grab handles and the shoulder seams were currently in a dropped position appropriate for Edwardian tailoring (but not for attaching grab handles). I also tweaked the roll line for the lapels. The hip area was a little tight – more flare was required in the vents at the back to prevent them from opening right up when worn. I also planned to shift the back panel seams closer to the side seams as the vents were sitting too close together.
Alterations to the pattern complete, the next mock-up was duly cut out; this time in a much heavier fabric which would better test the pattern for its intended purpose. This time I added sleeves, collar and grabhandles. The overall effect was rather good!
I tested this mock up on Steven, there were a couple more tweaks – reducing the size of the collar to allow it to sit next to (rather than on top of) the grab handles and further alterations to the back vents. But that was about it!
Next we had to select a fabric! Bus seat moquette is singularly hideous, it is designed to be as gaudy as possible so it can hide a multitude of sins and is as tough as old boots. Lets face it, a tasteful bus seat fabric would NOT last long in service. So we picked the nicest we had in stock and found a matching leather to use as accents.
This was the first time I had ever sewn using a bus moquette fabric, my poor machine coped fairly well – for the whole project only 3 needles broke. This fabric is seriously thick! But silly me still decided that as I was making a tailored jacket, it needed proper tailored pockets. And wouldn’t they look good in a contrast fabric – like the leather? So my first time sewing a bus moquette was also the first time I have sewn welt pockets in leather. A harrowing experience – but fortunately worth it! In the end I did not add a pocket bag as there were just too many layers accumulating and needles kept breaking as a consequence. So these are in fact decorative – but for an advertising campaign that is fine!
The main body and sleeves assembled pretty quickly once (the pockets were in place), the next hurdle was finding a way of attaching the grabhandles, the mock up’s handles had been very wobbly! On a seat these would be bolted in place, but that wasn’t an option for this ‘epaulette’ use. I ended up using button twine and buttons to hold them in position, on the inside of the jacket I added a strip of plastic with holes in it, threaded the twine through the holes and tied it off tightly. The plastic gave the grabhandles a firm base which made them much more secure than just attaching them to the fabric.
The shoulder shape I envisaged was full on ‘80s to really showcase the grabhandles, so for this I found two pairs of original ‘80s shoulder pads, I sewed each pair together (as pictured below) creating a pair of shoulder pads twice as thick! These were then stitched in position and filled out the sleeve head nicely.
The collar and cuffs were cut from leather, the whole thing was bagged out, the rear vents and hem were finished off by hand. The last detail was the addition of the seatbelts to close the front. At this point my machine stubbornly refused to sew through such bulk (two layers of bus moquette and two layers of seatbelt webbing). So I left those for the machines at Starfish Interiors to deal with. My 14 hour ordeal with uncooperative fabric was complete!
The result was rather satisfying, I had top stitched all seams open – so despite the bulky fabric the jacket actually sat nice and close to the body. It was fully lined in bus drape fabric, and ready to star in Starfish Interiors latest advertising campaign.
We had great fun taking photos – aiming for angry customer receives suit instead of seat – with me looking scared/guilty for my mistake…
Eventually we got the shot, and the final advert turned out marvellously!
Starfish Interiors is a brilliant place to work (if you couldnt tell already!) specialising in motor-home and bus interiors, have look at their website here.
As a dressmaker there are three words you should never say to me, and they are ‘there’s no rush’, closely followed by the phrase ‘when you have time’. I’m pleased to say that I have never missed a firm deadline for a project, but three years ago a lovely lady told me ‘there’s no rush’ when I asked her when she needed this dress…. and here we are, finally it is finished. But its been so long I’ve lost her phone number. So she may never know that I did eventually ‘get around to it’.
For three years Manny (my male dress-form) has been padded out as a lady and modelling the first mock up of an 1860s dress bodice intended to be worn at Howick Historical Village Live Days. I had taken on this project while unemployed, but a week later landed the job I am still in, suddenly I didn’t have so much free time as I expected. Added to that the mock up was not particularly successful, so I quickly lost motivation for this volunteer work (it was an unpaid commission) and over three years had not regained any enthusiasm for it.
However two things were about to change that.
Firstly, I am part of a group called the Historical Sew Monthly which each month sets a theme and everyone participates by researching and sewing a garment to fit the theme. It has become a rather lovely community – and while I have participated in very few challenges due to time constraints, one earlier this year caught my eye… The challenge was PROCRASTINATION, of which I am a master.
Secondly, I had a paying commission to make a rather exciting jacket (hopefully I will be allowed to post about that shortly – but for now its a secret) and for the first time in three years I really needed Manny to be a man. And I did NOT want to unpad the mannequin because I was sure I would then NEVER complete the dress.
This meant that suddenly I had not one, but two reasons for completing the dress!
I was happy with the fit of the mock up from 2013, just not the styling, so I removed the draped piece from the neckline and spent some time staring at the mock up trying to figure out what was wrong with it…
The darts didn’t seem to be in quite the right place and were going too far up the torso, the armholes were a funny shape and the shoulder seams were sitting too far forward.
To help identify how to make the dress more accurate I flicked through some fashion history books and images from Howick Village. The goal here was not to create some fancy frippery, but something a hard working colonial woman would have comfortably worn on a day to day basis, it would be worn by a ‘Historical Interpreter’ who would need to be able to demonstrate historical activities, maybe bake bread, churn butter, fetch water from the well, climb steep staircases, tend an open fire etc. It was also requested that it open at the back with a zip (hidden by a large placket). Emphasis here was on an appropriate look for the period – but not necessarily accurate construction etc.
Carl Kohlers book A History of Costume is one of my favourites for detailing garments pre 1865, many of the photos of original garments are accompanied by patterns which are easy to scale up, I’ve used some of the men’s ones successfully before. Below was a dress which caught my eye and included a pattern – however I decided it was a little too tailored and stylish for what I needed.
The book which I ended up using a pattern from was of course Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2, page 24 and 25:
So I drew out the accompanying pattern and discovered it was incredibly tiny! It looked like a child’s bodice! I laid the tiny pattern on top of the pattern used for the mock up and the size difference was massive (see photo below). I drew out a hybrid of the two – using the proportions and panel style from Janet Arnold’s pattern, but the sizing of my mock up.
The result of these pattern alterations was actually rather good! Despite the mannequin being unchanged in terms of shape, the panel seaming on the second mock up was much more flattering and did create a more era appropriate silhouette.
I played around with fringing as per the dress in Patterns for Fashion 2 – but it didn’t look good. Whether it was the larger dress size or simply the proportions of the lady I was making this for, it was not a flattering line to emphasise.
Next I made the sleeve pattern.
I drafted Janet Arnold’s and then slashed and spread the patterns to size them up enormously. See below the process and result (image on the right shows Janet’s sleeve versus the size I scaled it up to).
I had so much fabric that I didn’t bother mocking up the sleeves. I was happy with the bodice fit and style so I cut it out of the real fabric for use as lining. The sleeves set into the armhole nicely and hang angled forward correctly. This was something of a relief as they are cut very differently to modern sleeves and featured some unusual details. The first thing I noticed was the pleat on the under sleeve in the armpit; there is no ease in the sleeve head – just this pleat in the underarm. The sleeve head itself is very shallow – I imagine this is due to the dropped shoulder position which it connects to – but it also probably allows extra arm movement (I can’t be sure of that as no one has yet worn this dress).
I redesigned the bodice for the outer layer, wanting to emphasise a more flattering shape I went for a large V style line emphasised with piping and cut the plaid on the cross so that the lines followed the seaming.
Although bulky, the dress was not hard to sew and went together pretty quickly. The neck, cuffs and back seams were piped, 4 widths of fabric were stitched together for the skirt, pockets hidden in the side seams and voila!
I am very pleased to have this dress finally complete and no longer looking at me accusingly every time I enter the sewing room, but I’m still a little embarrassed to contact the Village and admit I took this long! I don’t know if the lady it is for still volunteers at the village or if she is still the same dress size, but on the chance that she does and she is, this dress will be dropped at the Village and hopefully will one day be worn by the intended recipient.
Maybe soon I will be able to share images of this dress being worn at the Village – but don’t hold your breath!
Its hard to know where to start; I had a full week of Art Deco Festival and every day was amazing. I find the best bits are usually those which were entirely unplanned; sitting on the beach in the small hours drinking rum (well I had wine), dancing in the Soundshell under the nearly full moon after the festival was over, participating in hopping races and other moments of spontaneous frivolity.
But perhaps the best way to write this is day by day, so here goes!
After my exploits in the morning visiting the gannet colony (read about it here) I was pretty worn out so I skipped lunch in favour of a nap and just managed to get myself presentable in time for a group photo for the Dominion Post – definitely a promising start to Deco! Read the full article here.
I wore my reworked 1925 dress, and as you can see we had great fun – although organising us was compared to herding cats.
With the photo shoot over I met one of my room mates for the week at the bus station and we then prepared for the evening soiree. I wore a kimono and an original 1930s nightdress, it was a first for me at Deco – nothing I wore that night was made by me!
A slow start after a late night.
I was joined by my partner in crime (Emma) mid morning; and success – the two dresses I made her fit perfectly!
We spent the day wandering around Napier, at that point it was still fairly empty – just another small NZ town on a sunny day. We were already in full Deco dress, but we were still in the minority.
Some op shopping and a walk out to the new pier were in order before getting ready for the evenings event – Leisurely Lounging at the Hawkes Bay Club. I wore another original nightgown – this time with the Oriental Kimono I made last year. Well I always think its a mark of a good night if the photos are few – means we were too busy having fun to stop and pose… And we sure did have great fun!
Breakfast at Cafe Devine followed by a beach picnic!
Despite its long beach sweeping all the way around to Cape Kidnappers, Napier’s marine parade is actually no good for swimming. The combination of sharp drop off and unpredictable waves makes for a lethal dip. Luckily around by the port is a sheltered bay, so I got my first ever swim over Art Deco – 4th year lucky!
Emma and I took a moment to snap some photos of her new dress, as my first ever garment made entirely without fitting and with measurements taken over Skype I’m rather thrilled with the fit!
Just in case swimming and eating and posing wasn’t enough for one beach picnic, races were organised as well! Nothing like spontaneous piggy back racing to get everyone laughing.
Friday night there is always dancing at the Soundshell, and this year was no exception, we spent the night flitting between that and a very special birthday party.
Emma wore one of my dresses and it looks better on her than it ever did on me. I had a play with exposures on the camera at night while she twirled and the results are a little bit magic!
This dress was actually a mock up, but it went so well I ended up finishing it properly with piping and fringing.
I was up bright and early and dressed in breeches ready for the Bicycle Belles event, a leisurely ride around the bay from the Soundshell to Ahuriri and back. To add to the novelty I was riding on the back of an unrestored tandem bike! It was wonderful! I couldn’t touch the ground, the handlebars wobbled in directions unrelated to the way the bike was heading and occasionally the chain made a scary graunchy noise. But that was just added fun! The ride is flat, but when no gears are used even flat can seem deceptively hard work. My leg muscles were aching by the end – but it was well worth it. I’m not the worlds most confident cyclist – but on the tandem I was happily cycling along with no hands while Dave worried about navigating! If you ever get the chance to play on the back of a tandem – take it!
From cycling I had another rush change (this seems to be a theme of this years Deco – I was always rushing to change; rushing to the next engagement) this time I needed to be dressed for the car parade and costume comp. I was ever so lucky to be invited to ride in a open top 1929 Ford Model A Phaeton and it was such a thrill to be in the parade for the first time. The massive grin on my face in the photo below was impossible to remove the whole length of the parade!
Gosh, Saturday really was busy! And ever so HOT!
Next was the costume competition, for the first year ever I had two dresses entered, and also for the first time they didn’t place – but who cares? we got to walk the catwalk! Glory Days Magazine were organising the event this year and they did a brilliant job. The catwalk was a wonderful addition – giving the crowd a chance to see the outfits up close and making us ‘models’ feel like the real thing!
This was the day that I snuck back to the room for a nap before dressing for the evening. I wore my hand beaded dress and danced away the night at the sound shell. The music wasn’t as swing-y as most years, but we still got some Charleston, Lindy and Balboa in. I also learnt to cossack dance! (The benefits of spending time with Russian re-enactors.) Well by 11ish the band had packed up, the Soundshell had emptied, and wobbly, worn out folks were meandering bed-wards. But a handful of us weren’t ready for the night to end and instead headed down to the pebbly beach with the end of a bottle of wine and a hipflask of rum.
These are the moments which I really treasure at Deco, the unplanned, unstressed moments of absolute peace and happiness. How can you not be happy sitting on a beach till 2am having interesting discussions with brand new friends?
Sunday dawned earlier than I would have liked, the combination of late night drinkies and cycling left me a wee bit achey! But we had a Hydrangea Palace to help set up! I was eager to be of assistance, but in truth hadn’t had time to help much with the planning. The Palace was made of Gazebos hung with chiffon drapes which billowed in the breeze, and were surrounded by pots of hydrangea blooms. Everyone in this tent for the Gatsby Picnic was dressed in shades of hydrangea silks. I didn’t have anything quite exactly fitting that description (there’s only so many outfits I can make!) so I made do with my old favourites the beach pyjamas.
It was a long day hiding from the harsh sun, but filled with so many lovely people! There was more dancing, more gin, and more photos, all the things you expect of the Gatsby picnic day! But I always find the Sunday a little sad, by mid afternoon the numbers are thinning, as the tents and gazebos are packed down Napier seems to sigh and return to being a little town – worn out by hosting a nearly week long party. The central streets open back up to cars after days of being pedestrianised, and where once there were bustling crowds of dapper gents and bright young things, now the streets are empty.
But for those of us who have the time, and who don’t want Deco to end, wait! There’s more!
Sunday evening we were booked into a brand new event Deco Farewell BBQ. While it turned out to be a poorly organised fiasco, it was still better than heading home! We were dressed up and with friends, so really what more do you need?
This was the night I finally got to wear my Bias Cut 1931 Dress and good lord am I happy with how it turned out! These photos are just taken on a phone, by this time I had grown tired of dragging around the fancy camera, but even so Napier and this dress both look fantastic!
The BBQ finished with tears and arguments but it was lovely how everyone banded together in support of each other against a common enemy – a closed bar (closed early) and a lack of food! You know you’ve met the right people when they stand up for each other!
There was no band playing at the Soundshell that night, for almost everyone Deco was over. But the handful of swing dancers remaining knew how to make their own fun. We wandered over to the Soundshell where they were set up with a portable speaker, dancing on the stage as the moon rose. In bare feet I joined in – the dress swirled around my feet delightfully and it felt as though I were gliding through the steps. There were small groups of people wandering past who stopped for a while to watch before continuing on – some still in Deco dress, some in the more typical kiwi attire of jandals and shorts. I felt I could have danced all night, but these things can never last forever.
A final bike ride (on the crossbar of course!), a final cider, and bed (except I was locked out).