Future plans and possibilities: 1940s-1950s Housedresses

In two weeks my custom sized dress form will arrive.  I am filled with anticipation because a new phase is beginning.  I will be able to start making dresses, skirts and blouses for myself now that my sewing and fitting skills have returned.

The first step will be taking measurements and then making the fitting shell.  Once this is taken care of the enjoyment begins.  My imagination is dancing around so many things but I have thought through what I need and want.  Need is more practical and means I will actually wear the result much more often.  So I will go for practical and make it a fun process.

I’m at a point in life where I’m very tired of jeans and jeggings.  In real time I’m on the move a lot with frequent travel by subway and commuter rail lines.  Anyone who has lived in or visited New York and New Jersey knows that this kind of travel is hard on clothing.  Jeans, t-shirts, Hollister and Aeropostale styled jackets and canvas messenger styled shoulder bags and flat shoes are more suited that pretty, feminine outfits.  Since travel is becoming more and more expensive in the area and between states I am cutting back on all outings and social meet-ups that require too much travel time and outlay.  I live in a lovely area and have so much to discover in my area.  With a pretty studio apartment I call home I want to find time to live a little more slowly and gracefully.

With this in mind I plan to change my style and enter into a kind of practical version of RetroGlam for weekends and days off.  I want to leave off the jeans, messenger bags and zip up jackets and connect to a more softer style that expresses who I really am.  I am considering making one or two housedresses.  One for Spring – Summer and the other for Autumn – Winter seasons.  In the past women wore these pretty dresses while cleaning their homes and going out shopping.  I think that the style can be adapted for modern use so that the house dress can move beyond cute and girly into a fun and flattering style suitable for any casual gathering or time at home.

Here are some newspaper clippings and pattern envelope illustrations of styles I’ll take some inspiration from.  I hope you will enjoy the beginnings of my new adventure which is slowly starting.

Housedresses Late 1940s-Early 1950s

day20dress20drop20shoulder20bklyn20dly20egl203-22-1950_zpsqlp0ndao

195420wrap20jumper201_zpserum4nxv

1956-house-dresses-500x412_zpsxs25sdhw

cottondaydress2_zps1bw129co

 

The Dressmaker’s Library: The Biba Years 1963-1975

The Biba Years

The Biba Years 1963-1975 by Barbara Hulanicki and Martin Pel
Published by V&A Publishing, London

As part of my ongoing education, I am seeking out female designers of the last 50-75 years who have embraced what I define as the “retro glam factor” and worked at bringing it to the everyday woman.  Such female designers are replacing the male couturieres  who were once the sole source of my inspiration and vision.  While I admire their techniques and the innovations created by such male designers as Christian Dior,  I no longer feel a need or desire to connect with what they represent.  The same goes for female designers of haute couture.  The world which they worked in and designed for is not the world I live in nor was it the world in which the women I personally took inspiration from lived in.  At the start of 2017 I promised myself that a major realignment of design vision was necessary.  I am happy to tell that it is successfully underway.  Mary Quant* was the first designer who initiated this process.  Now I am experiencing another reorientation by studying the work of Barbara Hulanicki, the design genius behind Biba.

Like Mary Quant, Barbara’s success was not only a result of her sharp design sense and hard work.  Barbara’s  husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, believed in her talent and became the force behind running the business side of Biba.  The same was true for Mary Quant and her husband, too.  Another similarity with Mary is that Barbara was deeply in love with her husband and also a mother who loved her son very much.  Both women loved being mothers and never felt it took away from their design work or career.  The difference between Barbara and Mary in terms of their business focus lie in the targeted customer.  Mary’s designs were geared towards the more upscale customers in London as her price range was always higher.  Barbara, on the other hand, wanted her clothing to be manufactured at the most reasonable price possible so that she could sell very affordable clothing to the shop girl and the young working woman.

Barbara’s earliest influences were her Mom and her maternal Aunt.  The Hulanicki family was Polish and moved to Jerusalem in the late 1930s because that is where Barbara’s father first worked for the Polish government and then the British Mandate for Palestine.  He was murdered in 1948 an event that was to leave a deep impression on Barbara’s creative vision.  This is because in her retreat into the past Barbara found a sense of comfort and reassurance.  Barbara, her mother, and younger sister Biruta moved to England where Barbara’s maternal Aunt Sophie took the family into her care.

Aunt Sophie was a throwback to an earlier time when women dressed for dinner, wore gloves, sported ladylike dresses and reveled in all the baubles, accessories and expressions of femininity.  She had very definite ideas of what was lady-like and what was not.  In her presence Barbara was able to pick up a connection to the fashions of the past.  As she reached adolescence Barbara also looked back on her time in Jersualem with a sense of nostalgia and a vision of the exotic which life there had.  She also immersed her self in the world of movie stars and the cinema.  All this led to a fusion of the elements that exploded into the creative vision of Biba.

Biba started out as a mail order boutique but quickly grew into a popular location for the young once the first shop was opened on Abingdon Road in London in 1965.  The name Biba was a nickname for Barbara’s younger sister.  She liked the appeal it had and also the fact that the targeted customer was about the age of her younger sister.  At first Barbara’s styles followed the unfitted chemise which was very popular around 1963-1966.  Then something happened.  More success brought more financial means to expand the scope of Barbara’s design vision.  Soon she was creating styles that had a very fresh appeal yet harkened back to the past through such details as 1940s puffed and tucked sleeves, 1930s slinky cuts and 1920s tubular knits and cloche hats.  Barbara worked on creating unique design features like the Biba Dart, shorter shoulder lines and higher armholes.  This created the appearance of an almost doll like body on the wearer but also lent a degree of discomfort since the sleeves were too tight, a feature that Barbara said was essential to her look.

Biba continued to grow and expand into a full-fledged department store complete with roof-top garden in the 1970s.  The Recession of the 1970s caused financial difficulties which resulted in the store closing in 1975.  The legacy that Barbara left is one of bringing an element of elegance to the masses and proving that it can be done at an affordable price.  Some sources online say that there were sometimes problems not only with the fit but some of the textiles used.  Still the long success which Biba enjoyed proves that there is a need for affordable clothing for the everyday woman which does more than just clothe the body but links the woman to a spirit of femininity which combines the best of both the past and the present.  Some photos from the book which show Barbara’s development through the years follow.

*For my previous reflections on Mary Quant please visit:

The Dressmaker’s Library: “Mary Quant * Autobiography”

The Pink Gingham Dress by Biba, 1964

biba10_zps3zpq4tu9       biba9_zpsmaptxqks

Biba designs made into sewing patterns, mid-1960s

biba5_zpsdimlmenc

biba8_zpsk0l2ie5p

Biba Designs, early to mid-1970s

biba3_zpsmtb4twtn

biba1_zpsydgklztr

1930s Dress Completed! Meet Miss Norma N. Carol

Hello to all my WordPress friends and blog subscribers.  I am very happy to introduce you to Miss Norma Naomi Carol, the name I selected for the dress I’ve finally completed for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I love selecting a name for an outfit I have completed.  I chose this name as a way to say thank you to the three WordPress bloggers who have seen me through this year long learning experience.  Norma started it with the challenge to sew a 1930s style using techniques appropriate to the period.   Carol generously provided material from her research which she posted at her blog and some which she emailed me during the early stages of the sew-along.  Naomi gave me ongoing support and encouragement as I worked my way through the stumbling blocks and challenges that come with going outside one’s usual repertoire of sewing techniques.  I hope you will accept this homage as my way of saying “Thank You Very Much!”

I will let the photos do the rest.  .  .

Accessories

I decided that since this is an interpretation of a Depression Era style, accessorization should be very simple and kept at a minimum.  For that reason I chose a simple pair of pearl earrings with a bow made of rhinestones that works with the orange-yellow buds in the print of the fabric.  The other accessory is a reinforced belt with fabric covered buckle and snap closure.  Thread loops were created in the color of the belt to downplay their presence on the dress.

miss20norma20n-20carol2014_zpsv5trmhtk

miss20norma20n-20carol206_zpsdkxa6mgl

Here she is, Miss Norma Naomi Carol

miss20norma20n-20carol202_zpsexzndenw

 

miss20norma20n-20carol203_zpsgfrrl6wc

 

miss20norma20n-20carol204_zpsiksu6pl5

 

miss20norma20n-20carol208_zpsg3xhxcyt

 

miss20norma20n-20carol207_zpsfei1rmsv

 

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Reinforced Belt

Introduction

Since I put so much hand sewing into my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma, I decided that the belt would be completely handmade.  It offered the opportunity for me to try fell stitching as well as get creative with the belt making process

Challenges

The fashion fabric is a very busy print consisting of tiny orange, red and yellow flowers and buds with spring green leaves and stems against a slightly cream colored background.  All details such as the darts, hand sewn bias bound neckline and sleeve finishings are not discernible.  It was important that the belt work with the print and provide a striking contrast.

With the help of RetroGlam readers I chose a lightweight silky fabric in a green that pulled the total look together.  The thin fabric needed some extra weight to support the belting material and the buckle.  This was challenge number 1:  selecting the kind of belting I wanted and the underlining for the silky fabric.

Traditional belting is too stiff to permit sewing snaps onto.  I decided to forego eyelets and a buckle with a prong because these would look too harsh with the dress whether they were in gold or silver.  I needed a buckle without a prong and a backing that was supple enough and lightweight enough to encircle the waist and permit sewing on of snaps.   So here was challenge number 2.

Challenge number 3 knocked all my plans into disarray when I found that the green fabric had numerous little spots that would not go away when I washed the fabric for a second time.  I can only think that these spots were caused by perfume I’d spritzed over myself while the fabric was air drying on a rack in the bath tub.  Lesson learned:  once fashion fabrics are no longer dripping move the drying rack out of the tub and into the entrance way.  Never spray perfume, hair spray, air freshener, etc. if clothing or fabric is hanging or drying nearby.  Since I live in a small apartment in a crowded urban setting there’s no way to air dry clothes outdoors or in a separate laundry room.

I’d only bought 1 yard of the green fabric and to my dismay it got spotted along both sides of the selvedges which was important since the selvedge would provide the finish for the underside of the belt.  I found a part of the fabric without any spots at all but it was all on the cross grain for about 12 inches in length.  This meant I’d be working against the instructions for making the belt and also have a less than satisfactory result.  I decided to accept what I had available and improvise the rest.  What you see in this tutorial is an example of making do.  Since this is a 1930s sew-along I like to think this is in the spirit of resourcefulness sewistas had to cultivate during the economic difficulties of The Great Depression.

Source of Instructions

I adapted the reinforced belt making instructions from page 250 of  Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, Seventh Printing, July 1980.

Source for Belt Buckle

Another difficulty of working with the green fabric was that it did not take kindly to the fabric glue used in belt making kits for adhering the fabric to the buckle.  I was able to find an artisan on Etsy who makes various kinds of fabric covered belts and buckles.  Michelle Tan uses a special pressing machine that folds the fabric around the buckle in a way so that it is much stronger and well finished than buckles made from kits that use glue.  Please take a look at her cute buttons and other notions.

Non-traditional belting considerations

I wasn’t sure of which fabric to use.  I first bought a length of crinoline which provided body but not enough to be flexible around the waist.  I then tried a heavy linen type fabric but that was too soft.  I got the bright idea of using Ban-Roll waistbanding since it does not crush and hugs the waist just right–when used in a skirt.

I now had the makings of challenge number 4:  I learned why the product is called Ban-Roll.  It likes to roll and encircle the waist.  It requires a gentle steaming with a press cloth and iron after staying on the dress form for longer than a few minutes.

All these shortcomings aside–I love the new belt.  I have hopes that when I make the next one correctly it will far exceed what turned out this time.

Making a Reinforced Belt When Forced to Cut on the Crosswise Grain

The crosswise grain is weaker and does not favor waistbands with backing.  I think for a self-tie belt it will work ok.  I also learned that for Pussycat Bows you can use it as well, just so long as you don’t mind a bow that lacks the loft of a bias cut bow.

Basic measurements of the piece you will cut for belt fabric:

Width-2 times the width of the belt + 1/2″

Length-waist circumference + 8″

The extra 1/2″ should be measured up from the selvedge

For belting material:

Length of belting=Waist circumference + 7″

Pattern and belt making instructions I used as a starting point.

1a.  Supplies I used:  Banroll cut with a point at one end, hand sewing needles/#6 Betweens, micro tweezers to remove basting threads, mini scissor, dryer sheet as thread conditioner, cotton basting thread, poly/cotton sewing thread, glass head straight pins, artisan made fabric covered buckle; belt fabric and cotton/poly underlining.

1a.  The green fabric shredded which necessitated me pinking the edges.  As a result I had less than the 1/2″ extra that was needed for the belt.  I compensated by using lace hem tape to cover up the edge that would finish the belt on the inside.  This function is fulfilled when the fabric is cut on the lengthwise grain along the selvedge.

The underlining was pinned in place and secured to the fabric using small running stitches with a double strand of thread.  I had to do this to provide strength for the construction.

The lace was sewn over the edge using a double strand of sewing thread  I used tiny running stitches for the flexibility they offer.

The fabric was folded right sides together and stitched along the short side 1/2″ in from the edge.

I folded it to create the arrowhead shape shown in the photo.  Then this was turned right side out.  A press cloth was placed over the fabric before it was steam pressed.

2.  View of the wrong side of the belt before turning the point right side out.

3.   Belting or substitute is inserted into the fabric point matching the point of the belting to the point of the fabric.  The unfinished side (or side without selvedge) is pinned in place.  I then basted it in place since I do not like sewing with pins in the fabric.

4. After this the finished edge of the belt (or selvedge) is turned up and pinned over the unfinished edge.  The fabric proved slippery and I had to tweak the position of the seam and the folds before pinning.  Then this was basted into place.

To secure the edge into place I used a fell stitch which I ended up disliking but left in place.  I plan to use tiny catch stitches the next time.

5.  After the hand sewing is finished, the raw edge is wrapped around the buckle, folded once and slip stitched into place.

Then the upper part of the snap was sewn onto the belt near the point.

With the garment on the dress form, I next placed the belt on to find where I needed to place the snaps.  I rubbed some Tailor’s Chalk onto the snap and then pressed against the belt.  The white dot is a chalk mark that tells me where to sew the lower part of the snap.

6.  The lower part of the snap is pinned and sewn into place.

7.  My label and the size of the belt are sewn in near the buckle.  I like the way the catch stitch looks here.  Since a belt made from Ban-Roll loves to curl I found that the fabric had a tendency to look a little rippled afterwards.  I attribute this to the cross grain.

I made a thread loop to use so that the belt can be stored on a hanger when not in use.

The finished belt was pressed using a press cloth over it.  The iron was held above the press cloth and never placed directly on it.

8.  Belt was then hung up to dry after all that steam pressing.

 

9.  Close-ups of completed belt.

The dress and belt will be photographed next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Break 2017

Happy Springtime to all!  I will be taking a break until mid-May.  It’s the time of year I love to go on long walks, take photos and catch-up on my projects.  By spending less time on-line it is possible to really sharpen awareness of the seasons, their changes and the subtle differences in how we perceive the world around us.

I’m coming into the home stretch–at last–of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  Completion has been stalled due to work obligations and a family history project but nonetheless, it has been a rich learning experience.  Another thing I have learned is that half-ball buttons with a shank, like the ones I just covered with fabric, need buttonholes or button loops to remain in a standing position.  I had thought I could just sew them onto the vertical dart and create the look of a mock closure but that did not work out.  I now have 10 pretty buttons for a future project and learned how to deal with shiny fabrics in this process.

I will work on the belt during Spring Break using instructions from Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing.  I plan to take step-by-step photos to share when I return.  I think actually seeing how the instructions from a book work out is always a good way to share what I learn.  Photos show more than line drawings from a book.

I leave you with these pretty photos and a poem about Spring. …

“First Signs Of Spring”
by Emile Pinet

I woke to the tinkling of melting snow,
flowing from my roof to the ground below.

And a robin’s chirp, in a near by tree,
sounded like he was serenading me.

The rising sun was wearing a warm smile,
that made my getting up seem all worthwhile.

I opened my window to sniff the air,
and sure enough it smelled like spring out there.

My yard was dabbled with patches of green,
and my snowman had all but fled the scene.

Tulips and daffodils poked through the ground,
and soon there floral beauty will abound.

A tepid, gentle wind, caressed my skin,
and I felt the shift in seasons begin.

 

———–

Public Domain Photos

Lambs in a meadow
http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=85160&picture=animal

Lilacs and Peruvian Lillies
http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=2744&picture=lilacs-and-peruvian-lilies

Poem

“First Signs of Spring”
by Emile Pinet
PoetrySoup
https://www.poetrysoup.com/poem/first_signs_of_spring_890290

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Covered and Underlined Buttons

Introduction

I’m now at the part I love about dressmaking–considering and making the finishing touches.  For my dress created during the 1930s Sew-along with Norma those finishing touches will be a belt and fabric covered buttons.  The green fabric I chose works well with the floral print of the dress and provides just the right contrast.  I started with the buttons first and will share what I learned in the form of a tutorial.

Planning for the buttons

Fabric covered buttons are made using a brass top and bottom designed to grip, hold and cover the fabric that is shaped around the top of the button.  On the inside of the top portion of the button are little teeth against which you mold and press the fabric so that the teeth grip and hold it securely.  When that is finished the bottom portion is snapped into place.

The fabric I am using is very lightweight and has a slight sheen.  As a result, the metallic gleam of the button shows through the fabric making it even more shiny.  I needed to underline the button fabric, so to speak, to prevent the shine from happening.  It is very important that the buttons have a matte look about them so that they stay in keeping with the dress fabric.

At first I thought a poly-china silk would work but it proved of no use in hiding the shine from the brass of the button top.  So I next tried a very lightweight cotton interfacing.  This solved the problem very well.  I was now ready to cover the buttons.

Fabric Covered Buttons with Underlining

1.  The underlining and button cover fabric is trued and steam pressed.  To keep things simple I pinned the fabric together at regular intervals so that it would not move when marked and cut.

2.   Here is a close-up of the button tops and bottoms.

3.   On the back of the package is a round button pattern.  This is to be cut out for use in marking the fabric that will cover your buttons.

4.   Another close-up of the buttons.  On the top at the left is the inside of the button top and to the upper right is the inside view of the cover.  In the front to the left is the right side of the top of the button and to the right is the outer part of the bottom of the button.

5.   I was interrupted when tracing the pattern onto the fabric so I will explain how I obtained what you see in the photo above.

a.   The fabric was pinned as shown in Step 1.

b.   I used a very sharp piece of new Tailor’s Chalk that I broke in half so that it would be very easy to handle.

c.   The cardboard circle (Button Pattern) was carefully held in place while I used the piece of chalk to trace the shape.

d.   A very sharp straight pin was used to hold the underlining and cover fabric together.  I continued in this manner until I had 10 pinned circles ready to cut.

e.   I used a small Fiskars Craft Scissors to cut out the circles.

6.   Since I could not cover the buttons at this point I put all the cut circles into a little box along with the button tops and bottoms.  I removed the pins so as not to have marks left in the fabric.

 

7.  When I was ready to start covering the buttons I stitched the fabric and underlining together at the outer edges using a conditioned, double strand of cotton thread passed through a #6 hand sewing sharp needle.  Cotton is much stronger and less likely to knot the way a polyester thread would.  The thread should have a 1/2″ tail after a double knot.  Use tiny running stitches all around.  At the end cut another tail about 1″ long but do not knot.

 

8.   Gather up the circle by pulling on both tails of the thread.  Put the top of the button inside and then gently draw the thread around the button top until it is covered.

9.   Coax the fabric onto the teeth on the inside of the button top.  The instructions on the package recommended using an eraser but I do not think that is wise.  A micro tweezer or crochet hook is a better choice since you cannot mark up your fabric with it.  Once the fabric is securely in place, gather the fabric as much as possible, then trim the tail.  It is not necessary to make a knot.

 

10.  Top of the button after the fabric has been smoothed out an before the tail of the thread was cut.

11.   Now it is time to snap the back of the button into place.

12.  To ensure the back is securely in place I press own with the top of a spool of thread that fits over the back of the button.

13.  The process is now completed.  The top of the button will look like this.

14.  And the bottom will look like this.  (Sorry for the blurry photo.)

15.  I now have to determine how much space is needed between each button and then they will be sewn onto each sleeve.

 

The Front View Croquis

The 10-heads front view croquis

The front view croquis is not very exciting.  She has little attitude and no pose to speak of.  But this 10-heads croquis is the easiest one to trace over and use for quick sketches of your ideas.  Since you do not have to deal with a pose and attitude, you can concentrate on the details of the garment.  The 10-head croquis is the popular size used today.  The 10 1/2, 11 or 12 head croquis is very elongated and better suited to someone who likes to handle a larger sketch.  I hope you enjoy using this croquis.  She may be reused and circulated freely.  Please provide a link back to this posting.

I show a resulting sketch in the next section.

I uploaded the full size scan so the detail lines are visible. 

Sketching over a croquis

You do not need expensive art supplies to start fashion sketching your ideas with a croquis.  The most important things to have are a good light and, if possible, a drawing table.  If you do not have a drawing table, you can improvise by using a smooth wooden board which you can place over a book so that it tilts towards you.

I buy my tracing paper, #6, #2, #HB2 pencils, erasers, paper clips and other supplies at my local 99 cent store.  Graph paper is also very helpful if you can handle looking at all the little squares.  It is a great aid in keeping lines straight and ensuring accuracy of details like darts and pockets.

As soon as you remove the sketch from the croquis you get a good idea of the combination of elements will work or not.  Here you can see the hairstyle I sketched is not appropriate for the Chinese style dress in the sketch.  I also thought that the drop shoulder short sleeves might look nice but would impede movement of the arm.  I wanted to find something else so I kept sketching…

I ended up with something different than what I started with but am happy with the development.  The short kimono sleeves are comfortable and balance out the sheath skirt of this two piece dress.  Or it could be a couture blouse with skirt designed to look like a one piece dress.

To add interest you can add a sense of texture to the sketch and create the look of a rendering of a fabric.  This is a shortcut that helps further the idea.  Here I used a paper doily put under the tracing paper.  I used a crayon to color over the sketch.  Only a little of the surface impression was made so I’d have to find something better.  From experience I’ve learned that sandpaper, wickerware chairs, thick netting and other bumpy surfaces have the potential to create an interesting look when colored over.  The key is to keep the pattern small so that the pattern doesn’t overwhelm the small scale of the whole sketch.