Sunday, 13 May 2012

Extended Major Project - Workbook Blog - Contents

N.B. see also my hard-copy Research File for annotated research images, a fabric sampling sheet and pocket sample. A copy of the Learning Agreement and Initial Work Plan is also included in the file.

This Contents list presents a chronological sequence of my progress in working on Extended Major Project for ease of reading. Click on the title to go to the relevant post, or simply scroll down this page to read the blog in reverse-chronological order.

   Starting EMP

EMP 1 - 1935 Joan Crawford Suit:
   Pad stitching
   Finishing up

EMP 2 - 1930s Evening Dress:
   First fitting


Saturday, 12 May 2012


Aldrich, W. (1997). Metric pattern cutting. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science Ltd.

Aldrich, W. (2002). Pattern cutting for women's tailored jackets: classic and contemporary. Oxford: Blackwell Science Ltd.

Arnold, J. (1966). Patterns of fashion 2. Englishwomen's dresses and their construction c. 1869 - 1940. Oxford: Macmillan.

Blum, S. (1986). Everyday fashions of the 30s - as pictured in Sears catalogs. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Constantino, M. (1991). The 1930s. UK: BT Batsford Limited.

Countryman, R. S. and Weiss Hopper, E. (2001). Women's wear of the 1930's: with complete patterns. USA: Player's Press.

Cunnington, C. W. and Cunnington, P. (1951). The history of underclothes. London: Faber and Faber.

Engelmeier, R and Engelmeier, P.W. (1990) Fashion in film. London: Prestel.

Griffith, H. (1935). No more ladies. [Film] USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers.

Grafton, C. (1993). Fashions of the thirties: 476 copyright-free illustrations. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Jorgensen, J. (2010). Edith Head : the treasury of the fifty-year career of Hollywood's greatest costume designer. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Joseph-Armstrong, H. (2008). Draping for apparel design. 2nd edition. New York: Fairchild Publications Inc.

Landis, D. (2007) Dressed: a century of Hollywood costume design. New York: Collins Design.

Laubner, E. (2000). Collectible fashions of the turbulent 1930s. USA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Robinson, J. (1978). Fashion in the '30s. London: Oresko.

Schaeffer, C. B. (2001). Couture sewing techniques. Newtown: The Taunton Press

Schaeffer, C. B. (2011). Couture sewing techniques. 2nd edition. Newtown: The Taunton Press.

Vionnet, M. (2002). Vionnet pattern book. Tokyo: Bunka Fashion College

Friday, 11 May 2012

Thoughts on EMP

As I write, EMP is nearly finished and uni is coming to a close - all I'll do next is mount my exhibition!

I am happy with EMP. Truly, I am. I have taken this opportunity to really push myself to become a better cutter and maker, and I think that this can be seen in the results: two pieces which are full of imperfections, but which really reflect how far I have come during my time studying costume making at AUCB.

I can be highly self-critical at times, and channel this quality via my desire to keep improving in my work. I will have to do a lot more tailoring, and even more bias-cut work, in order to improve; and I hope to do this by joining a making workroom in the near future. (I have been advised to go for tailoring.) I purposely avoided choosing the easy option with this project (which would have been to make more tailored lounge suits) because I wanted to push myself to become more experienced, and thus more flexible; qualities which I hoped will make me seem desirable to employers. I have researched all areas of the project thoroughly, looking at original artefacts from the period as well as studying books and quizzing the tutors of all their knowledge. I have then taken all that I discovered to heart, really considered my research, then made informed decisions regarding how to proceed with my project. Some areas were especially difficult, and I made an awful lot of new discoveries; but I am happy with the way that I worked. It has felt difficult at times, working in an independent manner, but it has really helped me learn and understand how materials and processes worked. I also consistently worked very hard throughout the project, and put a lot of hours in at the beginning, which reflects in my finishing the garments on time. I am thus pleased with my ability to manage my time, which will also be a helpful quality in the industry. 

I am pleased with what I produced, as I worked so hard and don't feel that I could have made anything better. I am happy with how my pattern-cutting turned out. If I had had more time and materials I might have done things such as re-cut the jacket sleeves (which I was unhappy with), but I didn't have enough cloth to do so. Additionally, though they are not perfect, I feel I managed to make the 'best of a bad job' and create something which doesn't look too bad from a distance (i.e when not scrutinised as closely as I obviously do!). Again I feel that this is a good approach regarding industry practice, where there really might not be enough fabric to re-cut; it is about accepting mistakes, then dealing with them and learning from them, gaining enough experience not to have to repeat them.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Thoughts on the finished dress

The dress is finished!

I am quite happy with it overall. There are certainly things which I would change about it if I were to make it again, tweaking the patterns a little more (for instance: it was suggested to me that I put bust tucks in the bodice on both sides, but I think that on the section of the bodice where it sweeps down beneath the breast, the tuck spoils the line slightly; I would therefore omit this, despite advice from the tutors...) and definitely using heavier fabric so that I only work with one layer of cloth. But ultimately this has been a real learning curve. Making this dress has really put myself, and my skills, into perspective.

This was my very first attempt at bias-cutting, and as such I feel it looks quite good...but it is very imperfect! Certain dressmakers choose to specialise only in bias-cut dresses - such is the speciality of the skill. There was so very much to discover and learn about this technique which was so revolutionary to dressmakers when it was first developed. What I found the most surprising was how the fabric itself changed in quality; despite my hanging it on the bias for a week prior to cutting it, it continued to drape at certain points, according to how the bias was placed. Therefore, a lot of time had to be accounted for, simply to let the fabric change as much as possible before continuing to work on it. I had to manage my time carefully, making sure to do other things when I couldn't work on the top fabric, for instance.

Although the fabric I chose to work with was not ideal as it was quite thin, it forced me to come up with solutions for how to exploit the cloth chosen to make it suitable; in this case, by backing it on a glossy silk habutai. This is definitely relevant experience for my future work as a costume maker, for I am sure that I will often have to work with fabric that is not entirely suitable for a costume, and find solutions to make it work.

Interpreting the costume design was also interesting, for the fashion illustration was not a schematic diagram, and the lines described within it did not all match up! I therefore had to find a solution which was a good compromise, in order to get the right feel of the design.

Doing this project has forced me to be a more flexible and open-minded maker. I have also developed a more mature approach to making, in understanding and accepting my failures; instead using them as experiences to avoid for future projects. Overall I have worked quite independently throughout this project, trying my best to find solutions for making and for the problems I encountered, before checking with the tutors. The tutors lent me support, but mostly advised me to just 'go for it' and try it out. This advice I embraced wholeheartedly; and though as I mentioned I made mistakes, they make me a more experienced maker. I now feel more confident to approach projects with a positive, 'can-do' attitude - this will definitely benefit me in industry.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Hemming the dress

I had been told by the tutors of the difficulty of hemming a bias-cut dress. I was not sure exactly why it should be difficult, but on that note I made sure to work with caution and care. This is the method I devised for marking and putting up the bias hem:

First I hung the dress (by putting on a mannequin and raising it on its stand) for over a week, for I didn't want the cloth to drop more even more dramatically, distorting the shape of the hem.

I then marked the hem by putting it on my model and placing pins as markers at floor length. As mentioned before, i decided not to make the dramatic train as featured in the design of the dress, for purely practical reasons. I was very careful to work delicately with the fabric, so as not to stretch it, as obviously the hem is on the bias.

I then put the dress back on the mannequin and spread the hem across the floor, so that I could measure and check for even-ness and accuracy, and made more marks for the hem. I tacked with long stitches the position of the hem, then I trimmed the excess seam allowances to be even.

After this I took the dress to the iron and carefully pressed up the hem, giving it a very gentle steam (holding the iron up to steam above the cloth) so that the excess fullness in the seam allowance (there is excess as the pieces taper outwards) can be eased upwards to lie nicely against the body of the skirt.

I decided to give the hem a relatively wide turn-up (just over an inch) for the same reason that I used fairly wide bias-binding across the bodice: in case it rises up a little, so that the top fabric and not the backing fabric can be seen.

I then slip-stitched the hem in place. I had no real problems with the hem, hopefully due to my careful approach to it, as I was always cautious not to over-handle and stretch the fabric.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Neatening the seams

I was interested to see how the dress is finished on the insides. The period is too early for overlocking, and besides the overlocking stitch is quite heavy with the threads, and I believe that it might be seen as a ridge from outside of the dress; the same issue would be present with French seams.

My research, both in books (See Arnold, 1966, p.83) and at the museums at Bath and Blandford gave me two options: to leave the edges raw, or to overcast the raw edges of the seam allowances by hand.

I was surprised to see so many of the 1930s dresses left unfinished on the insides, with raw edges; however, larger seam allowances were often given (around half an inch) and additionally, the fabric of that period was definitely of better quality, with a higher thread count, when compared with similar fabrics available in today's market. Therefore, the fabric had actually survived intact, and the dress was neither damaged nor any worse for wear, by leaving the edges raw. On a chiffon dress, the seam allowances were trimmed (or perhaps had frayed?) to as little as 1/4"; but the seam had still not deteriorated.

On other dresses, the seams had been overcast by a whip stitch done by hand, which was quite inconspicuous and a little more protective of the seam allowances.

An option for me would be to carefully zig-zag machine stitch down the raw edges, placing the stitch over the raw edge so that the thread draws the edge in close - as I would finish raw edges of the cloth on a pair of tailored trousers. This would be much quicker, however I didn't want to risk the machine catching or pulling on the fine crepe cloth, or there being a discrepancy with the top- and backing fabric (i.e. if one of them slipped under the foot).

Although I am not aiming to accurately reproduce a 1930s dress (as my classmates are for the Patterns of Fashion competition), I do want the dress to have a feel of authenticity which reflects my research into this period. I therefore decided to do the historically-accurate finishing by whipstitching by hand.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Choosing the trimmings

The trimmings are not a major part of this dress but are nonetheless important. I found it surprisingly difficult to find a square diamonte buckle, they were nearly all rectangular! I did find these shell buckle ornaments (see far right) which I felt I could change into dress clips for the shoulders.

I couldn't find any belt buckles in haberdashery shops so decided to look in some antique and second-hand shops. I found this lovely belt buckle (far left) which I believe may well date to the 1930s due to the art deco-esque shapes. Whilst it was a different shape from the buckle in the design, it felt more elegant than the squarer buckles I'd found and suited the dress a lot. There was one problem: the vintage buckle was startlingly different in tone from the new shell ones I'd bought previously! I was first a little concerned as all the dealers told me that there was no way of polishing up the vintage buckle, and I didn't really want to break down the new ones too much with French Enamel Varnish as I didn't want to spoil them.

Further searching however led me to find some real dress clips, also seeming to be possibly from the 1930s or 1940s. The trimmings are slightly tarnished and missing a few stones but overall I feel that they add to the period look and feel of the dress, and the age of the buckles, and quality and colour of their metals, look very nice with the colour of the dress.

In industry this method of sourcing, of course, might not always be suitable. Trimmings from an established supplier might be requisite so that they can easily be re-ordered and/or replaced in the future.