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. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Finishings & the placket

I have top-stitched the point at the bodice to draw attention to it, which I discovered in Blandford.

I then trimmed and layered the seam allowances at the bodice-skirt seam, and slip-stitched a piece of bias binding on top to cover this neatly, and re-enforce the seam.

I made a narrow placket for the CB closure out of a piece of straight-grain fabric, then started putting popper onto it. I chose poppers which I thought would be the right size and sewed most of them on, but when I tried to close the placket it was obvious that they were far too bulky for the delicate silk dress, and didn't provide a 'clean' closure. I had made a bad choice of fastening for I hadn't considered the depth/height of the popper, just the width. It looked terrible and nothing for it but to un-pick.

First I thought that more delicate poppers were needed, perhaps ones half the size. But upon  re-considering my original research I think that using small hooks and bars will be better as I can get the edge of the fastening right against the edge of the CB and keep it all as flat as possible.

Additionally I have to un-pick some of the dress to allow for dropping before I can set the hem and do the remaining finishing!

A frustrating week of "one step forward, two steps back" yet I continue undeterred....there is nothing for it but to put it in the consideration for future experience.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Visit to Fashion Museum, Bath

I took another research trip, this time to the Fashion Museum in Bath, where I had arranged to examine some more 1930s dresses. Although I had already seen two at Blandford, I wanted to get a broader overview of what 1930s dressmaking might be like (having already studied the cut) in order to better inform my practice.

I was unfortunately not able to bring a camera, but I took detailed and extensive notes and measurements. Although the dresses that I was shown were not of the same style (evening, and quite sexy) as the one I am making, being mostly chiffon, I managed to examine carefully how seams were finished and note the quality of the fabric after 80 years! I also examined hems and closures. I even examined one of the dresses in Patterns of Fashion 2! (Arnold, 1966) and discovered howJanet Arnold had transferred what she saw in the dress, to her sketches in the book. This allowed me to better understand how I could approach interpreting patterns from this series of books.

There were a lot of variations in styles, but certain things remained the same, such as having open seam allowances inside the dress - not French seams- and often neatening them by catching the raw edges with a whipstitch, by hand. This would allow the fabric to stay as light as possible, and so that the seam allowances don't show in a ridge on the right side.

This was a really helpful trip as it strengthened my understanding of 1930s dressmaking techniques

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dropping the skirt!

I raised the point and it was really incredible how much the fabric had dropped: I cut away more than 5cm at the top when I pulled the cloth taught!

After I put it together and came back to it over the next few days, however, the skirt had dropped even more! I didn't want to change the point again as I had it sitting quite nicely otherwise. I therefore decided to unpick the opposite portion of the skirt and push all the fabric down.

I machined this back up but over the course of the following week still a little more fabric dropped. I have therefore decided to leave it for another week to get the most out of it as possible, then put the seam back together. Then all that will remain is the hem, and the seam finishing.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Re-working the bodice

I made the changes to the bodice and put it back together on the stand. It looked good!

I felt that it did resemble the original illustration. The noticeable difference is that the bodice on the illustration was more drapey, had more fabric. However I had discovered from the fittings that when I added more fabric and drape to my dress, it was too much: it was unflattering and gaped open. The reason for this, I surmised, was simply that the model in the illustration has a larger bust than my model. This would require more drapery to fit around the body - whereas to get a good fit I have to match the pattern to the body itself. This is another considering to account for when interpreting a costume based simply off an illustration.

I made bias-binding from the top fabric and finished off the edges. I made the bias binding fairly wide, approx. 2cm. Although this is wider than the 1930s dresses I researched, I did this on purpose so that if an edge gaped a little, or came away from the body, the white backing fabric would not be immediately visible. It may look less delicate but has the desired function.

What I did discover however, after putting it all together, was that one of the back bodice panels was wider than the other! Extremely frustrating, but I measured many times to check and decided that the difference was noticeable: I would have to un-pick and trim some of the excess away so that they matched. I did this, and upon scrutinising the bodice once more, they still seemed slightly out! In fact once I re-measured the difference was extremely slight; and due to the fabric stretching in places. The bias drape was constantly changing the nature of the fabric itself! Nothing to be done; luckily the style of the dress really exploits the draped feel, and I don't think that it's overall very noticeable.

More lessons to be learnt here regarding handling bias drape projects.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Second fitting

I held the second fitting as soon as wel came back from the Easter holiday as I really wanted to get ahead with the project; overall I am trying to work as efficiently as possible to allow for extra time at the end of EMP as a safety net!


As suspected there were problems across the bodice. Strangely, even though I had had to add length to the bodice before, it was now too long and gaped open terribly. I took it up at the shoulders. The cross-over bodice needed to pleat down more sharply, in order to get the straight diagonal line which mimicked that of the point across the body. The point of the skirt needed to come even higher, and the pleat at the lower bodice needed to be moved more centrally so that the fullness lies at the apex of the busy - where it needs to!

The line of the bodice at the sides, though, lay nicely.

Despite my efforts at hanging the fabric, it had dropped quite noticeably across the centre of the skirt. This would have to be unpicked at one of the seams and smoothed across.

Alterations as expected, but nothing too terribly drastic. It has made me feel relatively positive about my making skills as I do have to put them into perspective - as with my tailoring skills! Normally bias-cut dressmaking is a really specialised skill in this wide field of making and cutting; it takes years of practice to learn just how to handle the fabric. It\s easy to overwork as the bias stretches so easily, so I have definitely noted to really hang the fabric for as long as possible, and even to tack the whole dress together and hang it on the stand for a week or so prior to machining everything together at all.