Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Things We Wear

I wasn't sure whether to post this on my own archives blog, on the University archives blog, or here, but I decided to plump for here as the main reason this publication jumped out at me was the 'Things We Wear' section.  I really love how my life and my work are so intertwined, in the sense that I love what I do (for an introduction to where I currently work see here) and can always find something interesting in it, though I do need to watch and not bore people with 'archives chat'.  Anyway, I hope (!) this won't bore anyone!

I've just been cataloguing an intriguingly named box called 'unattached and individual' which has been an absolute treasure trove of unusual and interesting letters from individual members of the National Union of Women Teachers.  I've got loads more letters from the box to write about but I'll be doing that on over at the Newsam News blog
Image from the NUWT Collection, © Institute of Education
My goodness, I really know how to drag out a story don't I!?  Sooo, this letter I'm writing about was from a member of the NUWT, Amy Waite, writing to the General Secretary of the Union, Muriel Pierotti in 1942.  She writes
"Enclosed is a specimen of my book.  I have myself financed the publishing, partly because it is difficult to get a book taken up during these times unless one has a name such as Enid Blyton". 
She goes on to explain that her book is for young children, to help them learn basic vocabulary and that it has so far been successful, being taken up by schools in the area where she lives, and now in its third print edition.  The letter is enquiring if she can sell her booklet at NUWT conference.

I loved the cover of the booklet, with the basic line drawings of various objects.  Then when I opened it up this page in particular caught my eye. 

Image from the NUWT Collection, © Institute of Education

I do like the word 'frock' though I'd feel a bit strange using it to describe my own dresses, is it just me or does 'frock' now have a connotation of being used to criticise a dress, or used a bit sarcastically? I love that 'kilt' is in there as an item of everyday clothing as now kilts are things worn by men and only at weddings.  However I remember seeing photographs of my mum, and my grandmother, as young girls wearing kilts and I know that for a long time a kilt was part of most young Scottish girls wardrobe.  Can anyone tell me what a comb is?  Is it a shortened version of combination? And coming to that, what are combinations?  A pixie hood sounds wonderfully romantic.  I know I could just google it but I'd rather build my own picture in my head of what a pixie hood is!  Everything isle there is pretty self explanatory though I wonder if words like Mackintosh and Wellington are the same in other English speaking countries as in the UK? as in, our 'trousers' = American 'pants'

Sunday, 29 May 2011

My one-hour (2 week) top!

Well, that was some learning curve! I was under no illusions about my sewing skills so I knew that making a supposed 'one-hour' top would take longer than that, and that I'd have a lot to learn but wow, it's like learning a whole new language!   That's not to say I've not enjoyed it, far from it, I've had many a happy hour in my first steps in sewing and am looking forward to learning more.  When I first started reading the pattern I had to get my library copy of the Reader's Digest guide to sewing out and look up all the terms I've listed below.

Edge finish
Layer seam

Once I felt I understood the instructions a bit better I started.  The first cut into the fabric was a bit scary, is it always that way?!  Even though I'd bought cheap (£1.99 a metre) fabric I was still worried as I really liked the fabric and didn't want to make a mistake.  I had a few problems which I think all started with using blunt scissors to begin cutting out the fabric - I don't think my cutting was all that accurate.  Once I'd got the sides sewed up I realised that the front and back shoulders were different widths! Instead of taking it apart though I was very lazy and just folded the fabric in at the seam and did a slip stitch (woo hoo! - learnt this when making the cushion cover).

Overall I'm really pleased with the top. it's slightly less fitting than I would have wanted but then I don't think it could have been any more fitted without putting in a side zip.  I know I'll get wear out of it, particularly for work with navy skirts and navy cropped trousers.  The only problem with it is... it's a bit see-through! I didn't think about lining it until it was too late.  It's not a major problem though, I'll just need to buy a white or cream vest top to wear underneath it.  Hence the reason I'm not wearing it in the photo though, I still need to buy a vest top! Looking at it hanging as well I can see that the hem is pretty uneven, methinks I got a bit impatient and hasty towards the end and just wanted it finished - I really need to try and reign in the impatience somewhat.

It hasn't actually taken me all this time to make the top, I had the mistake the night before I went on holiday (when I stopped mid-sewing for a tea break, then came back to it and started following the pattern for a different version of the top).  Since I've been back from holiday I've had a sore throat and cold that's come and gone so it's taken me a while to get the energy to get it finished.  All raring to go on the next project though.  What to make though!? Has to be something simple again, as this project proved I've got serious amount to learn.  I'm thinking either this top or this laptop case - both thanks to Grosgrain's free pattern month. ooh, decisions, decisions..

I'm also going to look at my finances to see if I can afford to go to a sewing class as I think I'm far too lazy and will cut corners - maybe this is something you can do when you're experienced but I don't have that experience yet and feel I should learn the proper way to do things first.  I've read a bit about the courses at Oh Sew Brixton which sound fantastic.  Anyone have any other recommendations? Jessica recommended evening classes at college, a great idea, but they don't start till after the summer, and I'm waay to impatient to get sewing to wait till the autumn!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Future Fridays

I'm away on holiday this week so hopefully right now I'm lying on a beach somewhere on the Amalfi coast the day after two friends got married.  Actually you could say I'm hiding whilst I'm writing this, like I'm speaking but with my head hid behind a cushion to hide my red face...

This is a definite future Friday project, waaay in the future! It all started on a Friday morning. Feeling inspired by all the style and sewing blogs I've been readings recently I have been pulling all the stuff out the back of my wardrobe to see what I can fix or alter to wear.  I thought I'd hit gold when I found a lovely creamy/beige linen dress from ASOS. I bought it last summer but completely forgot about it because I'd packed it away for the wintertime move to London.  I got it out, put it on, accessorised nicely, and put on my bright pink coat over it. 

Well, I can't tell you how lucky I am I wore that coat - it's got ripped lining, it really needs a good wash, but in spite of all that it saved me from huge embarrassment - which I will now share as these types of embarrassing/clumsy things do tend to happen to me on a fairly regular basis so there's no point in trying to pretend otherwise.  To get to the point, I got into work, went into the office, took my coat off, only for colleague to exclaim, Kathryn, your zip is undone! Turns out the zip right down the back of my dress was not only undone, but had broken!  If I hadn't had a long coat on I'd have been done for public indecency (I exaggerate slightly but it would have been terribly embarrassing!).  Luckily my colleague managed to get the zip fixed but I kept my cardy on till lunch & was so worried it was going to come apart again.  At lunchtime I popped out to Oasis & got a lovely lace skirt, a few sizes too big but a bargain at £10 (another future project to resize it.)  I matched it with a bluebell coloured vest top for £12 - both things that I will wear lots, and it didn't cost me much.  So the day turned out ok, but if it hadn't been for the coat it could have been another story.

I have never inserted a zip so I guess a dress that's unwearable as it is is a good place to start - I sure can't make it any worse!

Do these kind of embarrassing things happen to everyone?  I have so many stories like this, for example getting on the tube last month with dirt marks on my face (which must have come off the escalator on the tube - eeww!), quite a few folk looked at me very strangely before one kind lady informed me I had dirt on my face and offered me a tissue.  I thanked her profusely whilst turning a deep shade of scarlet.  I've never done the pants tucked into the skirt thing yet so I guess that's something to be thankful for.  What are other people's embarrassing stories? care to share?!

Amalfi Coast

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Time is (not) on my side

I'm writing this quickly as I prepare to go on holiday - without my new top sadly! I was up till 1am trying to make it last night and I've learned so much in the process - like make sure that I am following the correct pattern instructions. yes, I started out so well and thought I was going to get it done in time, took a break, then started again but followed the wrong pattern (for a top with sleeves rather than the basic shell top) so I unpicked the side seams and the shoulders and I'll continue it when I get back rather than rushing it.

On the plus side I did get the lace insert for my denim dress finished and attached so I now have a 'new' dress to take with me, plus the other dress I fixed the straps on, and my re-hemmed jeans - so pretty good going for a novice in her first month of sewing.


Image from pamphlet in the IOE Archive (I wrote about it here)

something I am really terrible at! I have really been going a bit overboard recently - meals out, concert tickets, clothes - I need to learn to limit myself to what I can actually afford, and to add monthly savings into my outgoings before I spend on other things.

So, on this note I made another purchase... don't worry it was only ceramic/glass glue.  I had this lovely coaster I got in a thrift store in San Francisco last year. Sadly the coaster broke in my suitcase on the way home and I'd left it like this for the past year. So I fixed this with my new glue and while I was at it I fixed my favourite tea caddy, a great find from the Salvation Army shop on Dumbarton Road in Glasgow (I'd recommend a visit to anyone in the area, it's usually guaranteed to turn up some good finds). I broke the tea caddy on one of my clumsy mornings, obviously before I'd had the caffeine needed to get me started, and I was so sad, but determined to fix it.

my newly fixed coaster and tea caddy (sorry for bad lighting)
So, two fixes, not exactly things I'd have rushed out to replace, so I guess not really helping with the budgeting, but it makes me feel more 'thriftful' and hey, it's a start!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

First steps on my me-made top

Walking down to John Lewis today (on my way to buy iron-on interfacing) I was imagining coming home, making dinner, then getting my top made tonight. Well, I did make dinner - a tomato & mozzarella salad followed by pasta peperonata (a Jamie Oliver special which works every time) - a very successful Sunday meal with minimal time required - perfect!

My tasty tomato and mozzarella salad

Then I decided to get started on the top.  I had cut out the fabric pieces on Thursday night with very blunt fabric scissors - I'm sure that's a big no-no but I just couldn't wait to get started!  So when I was at John Lewis I treated myself to a new pair and it's a revelation as I bought left-handed scissors.  I had never realised what a difference it would make, especially when cutting fabric. 

The pattern says to use tailor tacks for all the markings.  The Reader's Digest 'new Complete Guide to Sewing' (thank you Camden library) has been pretty useful but I couldn't make sense of the instructions for doing tailor tacks no matter how many times I read them. So I turned to YouTube instead and found this very helpful tutorial and it all became clear. I started doing the tailor tacks, very happy with myself, until 2nd piece in, I realised that I hadn't ironed the pattern properly flat and it was folded under so my fabric was the wrong shape - aah! So I have now cut out another piece (luckily I had spare) and I've now done all the tailor tacks. I've just made myself a pot of peppermint tea and am going to cut out the interfacing then stop at that. The sewing it together will start tomorrow!

I'm assuming I should use tailor tacks on the interfacing as well?  Is that right?  

the bit without fabric behind it was folded under when I cut - oops!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Future Fridays?

I think people tend to fall into two camps - those who like going out on a Friday night after work, and those who like to go home and relax.  I tend to fall increasingly into the latter camp - I like to get home, pour a nice glass of wine, cook some food, and then maybe watch some CSI, a film, or listen to music... or now, sew!!

I've got so many things I'd like to make - pieces of fabric I've got that I'd like to use, jewellery I'd like to make, clothes I'd like to alter or need to fix - that I thought that would be a good thing for a Friday night.  Maybe more the small things like fixing, altering, and making jewellery than actually making clothes as I'm not sure I trust myself with scissors and a sewing machine after a glass of wine.  This is not because I'm a lush, although maybe one glass does tend to lead to two, or three..  It's because I'm incredibly clumsy and have had a few accidents with both scissors, and sewing, in the past.  Most memorably cutting the top of one of my fingers as a child when doing craft work - this was on the Island of Iona (a beautiful, but tiny, island in the north of Scotland, luckily with a doctor in residence).  It turned out fine, it was only a wee slice of finger, and it got re-attached - pretty gross though, and not something I want to repeat!

So, my first Friday project - I have this Mango denim dress I bought last year.  I love it but I find the front of it a bit too revealing and feel self conscious when I'm wearing it.  On one of my daydreams about what I can make/alter I remembered about a box of old handkerchiefs that belonged to a Great Aunt.  I got the box out and had a look through to see if there were any with lace on them that would work as an insert for the v-neck on the dress.  I think this one (pictured below) will do the job quite nicely.  Though I'm thinking it might be a time for hand sewing over the machine? It's quite delicate material and I'm not sure what will happen when I cut it? Any advice on what type of stitch I should do when I cut horizontal to the top of the triangle?  I was wondering about using one of the other sides of the lovely triangular edging to put above the cut out flower part but I'm not sure my hand stitching in neat enough, maybe the machine would be better? 

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Dress repairs and discoveries

I got up early this morning as the sun was shining brightly, but instead of heading straight out to enjoy it I thought I'd make a real start on fixing the straps of a dress I bought in a vintage shop in Los Angeles.  The dress was a wee bit tight round the neck and this seemed to have put enough stress on the straps that they looked like they might come apart at any moment - not a good look! So, once again the dress had been consigned to the back of the wardrobe until such time as I got round to fixing it.

The first step was to seek advice on what to do! I already knew that just sewing it back up was probably not the most sensible option as if it was too tight in the first place it was still going to be too tight.  So I knew I wanted to add a piece of fabric in.  When fabric shopping with Jessica on Goldhawk Road I asked her advice on what type of fabric to buy.  With her help I found a fabric and the guy in the shop very kindly gave me a wee piece as a sample (I didn't lie, I did say I was only after a tiny piece).

The scraps of fabric to be inserted on the straps, with edge stitching.

I was a bit worried about it fraying so I decided to do a stitch round the edges of the pieces to be inserted.  This involved some new things for me - changing the foot on the sewing machine! I thought this would be tricky but it's easypeasy, yay!  I changed it from the 1 (which I've checked now and is the 'reverse pattern foot') to the 5, the blindstitch foot.  Do the numbers of the feet differ for different makes of sewing machine? With that hurdle over I started sewing.  I did some edge stitching (I love getting the terms from my Bernina instruction book and bandying them around like I have a clue what I'm talking about!)  round the edges of the inserts for both straps and then pinned them in place to ensure they matched - now I know they don't look like they match up exactly but it was really hard, the dress seemed a bit lopsided!  I tried the dress on to make sure it looks reasonably straight - it looks fine on so I'm happy with it.  After that I sewed them in place, using the same foot and stitch as for the hemming - was this right? I thought afterwards that maybe I should have done a different stitch or changed the foot back from the 5 to the 1?

I had always assumed the dress was handmade but as I was fixing it I noticed the label for the first time 'ILGWU Int. Ladies Garment, Workers Union - Union Made'.  It is really such a weird co-incidence to just notice this now as, for anyone who hasn't read my posts at Archives and Auteurs, I've just started a new job cataloguing the Archive of the National Union of Women Teachers.  I've written more about the excitement of discovering more about the Union behind the label on my other blog - When work and hobbies collide.  I also found this great guide on EBay for dating vintage labels with a whole page about the ILGWU.  The label I have dates from after 1964.  It was so exciting to discover all this, on top of actually fixing a dress and having it done in time for a hen do in Saturday! I just can't get over that I didn't notice this before, and that it all ties in with what I do in my work life. 

I don't have any photos of me in it - maybe after the hen do next weekend!

All that work for a tiny area of fabric like this!       

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Style envy

I just wrote a post over at Archives and Auteurs about Meek's Cutoff and the use of diaries as source material. Thought it would be a good excuse to post a few photos of one of my favourite current style icons  - Michelle Williams.  Not only does she always seem to choose offbeat and excellent films to star in, but every photo I see of her she looks so effortlessly stylish - at awards ceremonies or everyday.  What I wouldn't give to have even a fraction of that style!