29 April 2010

The Concise Dictionary of Dress

Last night I went to The Concise Dictionary of Dress, an Art Angel commission at Blythe House, the V&A's archive. The building also houses collections belonging to the British Museum and the Science Museum, so just getting past security was an experience in itself. We (that's my friend Helen in the picture) had to leave our bags after this gate and there were no photos permitted so I can't show you any more. But I wouldn't want to give too much away anyway, as being taken around the building makes you feel like you have privileged access (tours are limited to groups of seven) to a secret treasure trove, and there are various surprises along the way.

What I can tell you is that it's a collaboration between a fashion curator, Judith Clark, and a psychotherapist, Adam Phillips, and that the work takes you on a meandering journey around the corridors, store rooms, courtyard and roof of the building, pausing at a number of installations which muse on the concept of fashion and turn the notion of a "fashion exhibition" on its head. 

What was more exciting to me, though, was the experience of getting up close and personal with the stuff around the installations, centuries old objects - fabrics, shoes, ornamental boxes, tiles, swords... - that hadn't been curated for public display but were peeping out enticingly from storage shelves, crates, cabinets and bubble wrap. We visited after hours when the silence was tangible and the atmosphere ghostly. I'm tempted to revisit during the day when the curators are working around the pieces, as I imagine the experience is totally different.

This was the first of what will be four V&A events in five days (if my sore throat doesn't get the better of me) - watch this space for more culture reports!

27 April 2010

Odeon chic

A couple of weeks ago I spent a very happy Saturday morning with a bunch of other film nerds on a bus tour of 1930s Odeon cinemas of Birmingham, organised by Flatpack Festival (Oscar Deutsch, who started up the Odeon chain of picture palaces, lived in Birmingham, and some of the earliest venues were built here). I found some wonderful images of Odeon staff fashion, architecture and interiors on the English Heritage photo archive website and thought you enjoy these examples of fantastic 1930s design.

Not unlike this gorgeous dress on Burda Style. 
Extra fashion points for pulling off the bow tie.
[Ushers, Leicester Square, 1937]

Loving the style of the lady seated on the right of the sofa.
The men in white coats are the projectionists.
[Staff, Colindale, 1935]

Fab white collar and buttons on the blonde lady.
Also check out the carpet - the fan motif was used in lots of Odeon sites, apparently.
[Staff, Isleworth, 1935]

Most of the Odeon buildings were designed by architect Harry Weedon, who created a distinctive house style. Odeon Kingstanding is a good example, with its deco curves and prominent fin leading eyes down to the advertising.
[Kingstanding, 1935]

The interiors, overseen by Oscar's wife Lili, were no less impressive. 
The walls and ceilings often lead the eye towards the screen.
[Leicester Square, 1937]

The seats at the flagship Leicester Square site were upholstered in synthetic leopard print. Snazzy! The plush furnishings distinguished Odeons from cinemas that came before, providing a sense of respectability for middle class audiences and offering a place of fantasy and escape for the working class or unemployed.
[Leicester Square, 1937]

[Barnet, 1935]

This looks like the foyer of a posh hotel.
[Barnet, 1935]

I love this pic in so many ways.
[Organist, cinema unknown]

While a few of these cinemas are still standing (albeit with new facades), many are now used for other purposes. For example, the tour took us to the Kingstanding site, which is now a bingo hall. This didn't prevent the group from marching in to admire the ceilings, much to the bemusement of the grandmas trying their luck on the early bird game (I've never felt more middle class in my life). Having been round Birmingham sites, I must take myself on a tour of the London suburbs to see how much of the original architecture has survived. And I may just have to stitch an usher homage outfit...

[Images reproduced by permission of English Heritage.NMR]

18 April 2010

Hollywood starlet dress

Hoo-rah! Ceylon is finished! Just in time for my friend's wedding - I was up until after bedtime the night before (hardcore, I know) blind stitching the hem, was taking out pins on the tube on the way, and didn't have time to wash it so the pen markings were in full view. I made it in red gabardine - I initially hesitated about wearing red to a wedding but the bride encouraged me to go for it (she wore green). I love how it turned out - thanks so much for your help and encouragement with this project!

The wedding was gorgeous and had many a crafting element. The bunting in the top picture was made by the bride's sister, as were the napkins with each guest's name on them. All the food was made by family and friends.

Yum yum yum!

14 April 2010

Brussels, buttons and beer

Thanks so much for your supportive comments about my sewing blunder - good to know it happens to us all! With time running out, I made the most of a train journey back from yesterday's work trip to Brussels to make my fabric-covered buttons. I got a few funny looks but it made the journey speed by, especially paired with the cherry beer I treated myself to...

While in Brussels, I made sure I had time after my meeting to visit the Museum of Costume and Lace, which was holding an exhibition on sixties fashion. Unfortunately les photos ├ętaient interdit so I have nothing to show from the visit, but I did buy a lace collar which I think will look fantastic with a jet black, short-sleeved knit come Autumn. Some of them cost 1,000 euros, but luckily I have inexpensive taste and the one I liked best was only 7 euros.

11 April 2010


Rats! I put the ruddy back bodice bit in upside down! Grrrr... I'm such an idiot. I've been spending every spare few minutes on this dress, in between work, best friend's hen weekend, eating, sleeping... and now I've just wasted two hours which could've been spent either a) getting closer to my goal of finishing the dress for the wedding next weekend or b) catching up on missed sleep. Instead I had to spend the evening ripping out stitches and re-basting gathers.

And now I've run out of thread.

I'm going to bed.

6 April 2010

Brain wave

Thanks so much for your advice on fixing this baggy boob issue. I will certainly be doing some pinching and smooshing where the bodice meets the yoke. It perplexed me somewhat that the bodice didn't fit as I'm the right cup size for Colette Patterns, but then I remembered that I've had to shorten the waist on shift dresses as my main sizing issue is height. So I've shortened the bodice pieces and that looks soooo much better, in the back as well as the front. I've also taken an inch off each side seam down to the waist.

Before (left) and after (right)

Before (left) and after (right)

Before (left) and after (right)

What do you think?

5 April 2010

Challenge Anneka

Fear not, I'm not making a turquoise jumpsuit (that's the next project), but I am racing against the clock, Challenge Anneka stylee, to make a dress to wear to my friend's wedding in 11 days' time. This wouldn't be such a problem if I weren't so busy over the next few days, including organising a hen party (for a different bride) next weekend. Also, the pattern I've chosen is Ceylon from Colette Patterns, which although being intermediate (ie. above my level), is too tempting to resist.

Nevertheless, this afternoon I threw caution to the wind and made up a muslin of the bodice, smiling complacently as I whizzed through the extremely detailed and intuitive instructions (a dream after the nightmare of trying to interpret a 1950s pattern where every sentence involves five steps and three nights' work). But now I've hit the one stumbling block anyone has mentioned when working with Colette Patterns: the baggy bust.

Original version

Does that back look baggy too you?

I've taken an inch off the side seams above the waistline and pulled in the part where the bodice meets the yoke

Side view doesn't look too bad

I'm not sure if I'm being overly cautious after reading other people's posts on adjusting the bust. What do you think? Does this look like it needs drastic action? I had a look at Gertie's bust adjustment tutorial but know I'll never get it done in time if I start measuring and smooshing. Can I just exaggerate the gathering or will that not work? Help!!!!

4 April 2010

First foray into sewing vintage patterns

Praise be, I have FINALLY finished my first vintage sewing project!


I used Simplicity pattern 4255, from 1953, with some £4/m poly-cotton lawn from John Lewis. My parcel tape dress form came in handy for checking the bust and waist size on my Swedish tracing paper muslin, which I had to take out by 2cm. Using the tracing paper as a middleman did lead to Chinese whispers between the original pattern and the cut out fabric, particularly as I'm not a very accurate cutter. Is there a secret method to cutting out fabric? When wielding scissors is it better to be bold or careful? Don't worry about your responses sounding too obvious (I realised for the first time that I was holding the scissors upside down - oops)!

The main stumbling block I discovered with working from vintage patterns is the language that they use. I wasted a whole precious free evening after work staring at one particular sentence in the instructions, reading it out with different intonations and in different accents to try to make it make sense. In the end I just ignored the instruction, carried on and worked out what it meant by which bit of the blouse was left flapping about (turned out to be the bit where the top of the front facing met the shoulder seam).

Another thing that took three million years was finishing the edges. The brevity and flippancy of the instruction "slip-stitch bias facing in place" belies the toil that such work involves. First I had to figure out how to make bias tape binding (my first attempt wasn't cut on the bias - doh! The clue is in the name!); then baste it to the edge (which I read as "sew", hence the tiny stitches - no biggie); then slip-stitch - by hand, it turns out - the other edge of the binding to the inside, which took forever - one sitting of Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities and a couple of episodes of Seinfeld, to be exact. But I admit that it does look rather neat. Are there rules for when to cut corners and forego the bias binding for a quicker method?

And here's the finished blouse! The problem with the early 1950s V-shape is that - unless I walk around with my arms sticking out like the good ladies on the front of the pattern, it bunches up at the sides. I don't really want to take it in though as it'll diminish the drama of the shape. If you look at the pattern you may also notice that the collar is supposed to be more Elvis and the cuffs were originally twice as big. But when I styled it like that my loving boyfriend said I looked like "an alien queen ... in a good way", yet as that wasn't quite the look I was going for I toned it down with the help of my trusty iron.

I also baked this weekend - a sewing enthusiast cliche, perhaps, but not something I do very often, honest! Mmm... cakes...

[Soundtrack: 'Devil's Spoke' by Laura Marling / smelltrack: daffs]

2 April 2010

Pattern binge

Vintage Vogue 1044 (ok, I know it's a bit advanced for me, but it's something to aspire to)

Vogue 8280 (more like it - v. easy, apparently)
McCalls 5631 (endlessly useful!)

Snapped up three patterns in the Vogue / McCalls sale for the bargain price of £2.50 each! Spent double the total for the three patterns on shipping from the United States, but still a lot cheaper than any UK sites I could find. They're an investment, okay? In the same 24 hours I also bought four lengths of fabric - I'm particularly excited about this Rose and Hubble beauty for only £3/m. I thought taking the Wardrobe Refashion pledge would save me money, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. Sewing brings me more satisfaction than shopping, though!

This morning's soundtrack is 'Got My Mind Set on You' by the lovely George, which filled the floor at How Does It Feel To Be Loved last night. I'd never seen the video before - check out how charmingly naff it is!