Sunday, December 29, 2013

1956 Green Satin Swing Dress | B5603

As a vintage enthusiast whose daily dress sense veers somewhere between the 1940s-1960s you'd think that I'd have more authentic 1950s frocks in my wardrobe, but alas I don't! So when my friend decided to host another murder mystery party, this time set during the 1950s, I just had to make another dress.

When my friend sent me the invite I was on the last leg of my trip to SE Asia. Around the block from where I was staying in Krabi in Thailand was a fabric shop selling plain satin material for 100 baht per metre (AU$3.50), so I couldn't resist! After getting the fabric I then set about finding a pattern. I wanted something simple, authentic and something that I wouldn't have to alter too much as I knew when I got home I wouldn't have much time to make it. After searching the internet and ebay I found this one from Butterick that is a reprint of their original from 1956:

I decided to make the dress depicted on the far right. To be completely honest I do think that this type of 1950s style, with the swing skirt, does not really suit me - I much prefer the wiggle dresses and pencil skirts of the 50s. I'm fairly small chested, with not much waist and normal hips - in other words I'm pretty straight up and down. These dresses are designed to emphasise that tiny waist of the 50s which I don't have (nor to I have the 50s style girdle to achieve it).

However as the event I was attending, a murder mystery, was set during the 50s I figured I'd go with the more iconic look of the decade, one of full skirts inspired by Dior's 'New Look' with many petticoats stuffed underneath, emphasizing small waists.

Detouring from the pattern I decided to line the whole dress, not just the bodice, with black cotton. As the satin isn't as structured as say taffeta, linen or cotton, I wanted the lining to add some omph to the skirt.

As I don't naturally have much of a waist and I don't own a 1950s waist cincher, I decided to also add some boning to the dress. To do this I took some modern boning from a dress making shop, made cases for them out of the black cotton and then sewed this into the seams of the dress - two are the side front, two on the side and two on the side back.

Instead of the front bodice being two separate pieces (as the back is) I also altered the pattern and made it one.

And here is the finished dress (complete with matching Christmas tree):

As you can see in my haste I forgot to make sure the seams aligned... Whoops!

Don't pay $30-50 for a petticoat from vintage or retro retailers. Get on eBay and buy one. I picked this one up from a retailer from Hong Kong for AU$12.50 including postage!

And here's the finished dress comeplete with hair and makeup (I ordered some cat eye glasses, as my character was quite intellectual, but they didn't arrive on time!):

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I'm Back! Backpacking, Fabric Shopping and Upcoming Projects

Well I'm finally back from from a backpacking trip around South East Asia, which is why this blog was not updated for almost two months!

SE Asia is beautiful, but for the seamstress it means one thing: cheap fabric! And more importantly, cheap silk! There is silk everywhere, and at a quarter of the price you would pay for it in Australia, Europe and even the US. When I was there I purchased four lots of fabric. I would have got more if I didn't have to carry by all around on my back!

In Hoi An, the tailoring capital of Vietnam, I bought a my first two lots of fabric. The tailor that I used was nice enough to take me to her fabric wholesalers. Firstly I bought 7 metres of silk/cotton sateen fabric US$5 p/m.

I was looking for duchess silk satin however this is the best they had. Although not totally historically accurate I am going to use this fabric to make a 1660s restoration gown, like these:

Portrait of Suzanna Doublet-Huygens by Caspar Netscher, c. 1667-6

Woman Playing a Viola de gamba

I also bought a lot of plain white linen fabric for US$6 p/m, as its so hard to find where I live:

I would have likes to have gone to the fabric markets in Hoi An but when I was there a typhoon hit and much of the town was damaged, so many businesses closed. Here's some before shots though, beautiful!


A month later when I was in Krabi in Thailand I found this awesome fabric shop near the hostel where I was staying. It was only a couple of weeks until I was going home and I knew I had a 1950s party to attend. So why not make a new dress?! I bought 4 metres of dark green satin fabric for 100 baht p/m (AU$3.50) - bargain!

I went back the next day and decided to buy 6 metres of black satin as well, as in the future I plain on remaking Ava Gardner's dress from the film 'The Killers'.

Here is my fabric haul altogether. Be sure to watch out for these fabrics in my upcoming blog posts!

I also plan to do a review on the tailors I used in Hoi An, as well as a post on interesting dress exhibitions in the many museums I visited!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Document Focus: Anthony Hordern & Sons Catalogue, 1895

Anthony Hordern & Sons department store in Sydney Australia was the largest department store in the Southern Hemisphere after their 52 acres (21 hectares) department store called 'The Palace Emporium' was completed in 1905. Established in 1823 by English immigrant Anthony Hordern, the business quickly grew and famously sold everything from "anything from a needle to an anchor" - or so one of their advertising slogans went. (The famous 'Hordern Pavillion' which is now a music venue in Sydney was named after the family when it was built in the 1920s).

As a volunteer at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney I have access to their library and their archives. In the archives are various catalogues from the major department stores in Australia (such as Mark Foys, David Jones, Myer, etc) from the 1880s up to the 1980s and beyond.

While researching for a blog post that I was writing on some of the corsets in the museum's collection I started looking through these catalogues to get an idea of pricing and advertising that went into selling them.

This particular catalogue was from 1895 when the business worked out of two stores at different ends of George Street in Sydney's CBD.

I thought I'd take some photos from the catalogue to share with you all to enjoy!

Monday, September 23, 2013

A 1908 Poiret sketch: The inspiration for Rose's 'jump dress' in Titanic?

I was doing some research for a blog I'm writing for the Powerhouse Museum on corsets and fashion in the early 20th century when I came across this sketch by French fashion designer Poiret from 1908.

Les Robes de Paul by Poiret 1908

Is it just me or does the red dress on the right hand side look strikingly familiar to the red dress that the character Rose wears in the film 'Titanic' when she contemplates suicide?


Although the skirt detail is a little different (the beading at the bottom and the layering), the top of the dress looks an awful lot like the sketch, notably the beaded bodice with the sheer neckline and sleeves.


I'm sure that the film's costume designer Deborah Lee-Scott pulled inspiration from somewhere, I wonder if this was it? Although by 1912 you'd think Rose would have been a little out of fashion?

What do you think?

Monday, September 16, 2013

White Cotton Damask 1910-1914 Longline Corset

Ah, the corset. There's something about them that I just love, whether they are Edwardian, Victorian, or even seventeenth and eighteenth-century stays, they all fascinate me. However, I had never really attempted to make one myself as they always looked like rather complex garments to construct - after all stay-making and corset-making was completely separate profession from dressmaking and tailoring.

However after completing my 1912-1913 summer day dress I knew I needed the proper foundation garment to make the silhouette of that era really come to life; and my cheaply bought 'Victorian corset', which left a very obviously 'VCL' (visible corset line) where it finished just below my hips,  just wasn't going to cut it.

A corset advertisement from 1910 says it all, "If the corset is not correct, the gown cannot be."

Corsets during the teens era were under-bust, long bodied and more lightly boned their their Victorian and early Edwardian counterparts. This change in style was mostly on account of the fashions of the time, where a streamlined body shape was required for the empire waisted, sheath-like close fitting dresses and skirts.


Within only a decade the fashionable shape went from this:
An 'S-bend' corset from the early 1900s which created an exaggerated waist and forced the breasts forward and the bottom backwards (this style lasted from about 1900-1908)
To this:

French corset advertisement from 1911, notice how there is less emphasis on creating a waist and more on creating a slender, straight silhouette (this style lasted from about 1910-1919)

Unfortunately when it comes to things like corsets and stays there are very few commercial patterns that are any good, and ones for the Edwardian/teens era are pretty much non-existent. When looking around for a teens era corset pattern I came across one from Bridges on the Body.

This pattern was drawn from an extant example in her collection. Not only did she provide her blog readers with a pattern that would create a teen's era corset exactly, but she also provided a step by step tutorial!

The first thing I had to do was draw up the pattern to scale. At the time I didn't have access to a photocopier and I wanted to start that night, so I drew up the pattern up by hand on baking paper.

Lucky for me I'm around the same size as the original owner of the corset, so I didn't change any measurements. Therefore my corset is an exact replica (in terms of pattern and construction techniques) as the original.

The original corset
Bridges on the Body's reconstruction

Halfway through making the corset I came across this antique teens era corset for sale on ebay. It looks nearly exactly the same as the original owned by Bridges on the Body and as my recreation.


The first thing I had to do was to create a mock up, to test the fit and to see if my sketching skills were any good. Turns out they were because besides one minor adjustment to the bottom of one of the back pieces, everything fitted together great. I find that with anything that is worn over a corset, or in this case a corset itself, it is so hard to judge just how it will fit until it is complete. After all something you thought would never fit you actually can once you loose a couple of inches after lacing yourself up. With this in mind I proceeded ahead with the corset pieces exactly as they were.


While the original corset is made from cotton coutil and the example I found on Ebay from cotton drill, I decided to make mine with cotton damask for the outside and plain white cotton on the inside. This is just as historically accurate to use and during construction I treated the pieces of fabric as one, as was done with this historical example where the black satin and cotton lining are used as one (click picture to link off to this corset's page):

I stay stitched the inside seams (as the tutorial specified) and the raw edges were covered by the bias tape boning channels.

Stay stitch seams on the side
What stay stiched seams look like on the outside

After putting together all the corset pieces I then sewed on the boning channels which are made from bias tape.

Not quite sure what happened here. Needless to say I had to go back and unpick it. Doh!
Always check that your boning fits into the channels you've created!
I then sewed two extra pieces of cotton drill onto the centre back pieces which I then folded over so that they were on the inside of the corset, then I sewed them down. This was done to add extra strength to these back seams for the eyelets and lacing.


To sew in the busk I simply folded over the extra seam allowance that I had given to the centre front pieces, made the appropriate holes for both sides of the busk and then sewed them in place using a zipper foot. I decided to hand sew around the open seams where the busk latches together (even though leaving them raw is perfectly historically accurate) as the damask material is prone to fraying.

Unfortunately I was having a little bit of trouble with my sewing machine and the thread tension at the time, so in some places the stitching isn't great. After taking the time to clean out the inside of the machine I also found that it was super dirty and full of fluff, which is why it kept jamming when I was attempting to do these seams.

Nearly Finished!
For the boning I used cable ties and plastic dressmakers boning from a fabric store. I tried to avoid the latter as much as possible because they really aren't firm enough to add much structure, however I had to use them in the centre back boning channels and the side-back seam as the cable ties just weren't long enough.

All that was left to do was to finish off the exposed hem on the top and bottom. For the bottom I used some white cotton sateen fabic (left over from the collar of my 1912-1913 dress) which I made into a bias tape and sewed onto the bottom.


I decided not to add too many frills and lacy things to the top of the corset as the Edwardian combination undergarment that I made to wear underneath it already has pink satin ribbon, etc. So I added broderie anglaise (which the original also had) and white satin bias to the top to finish off the hem. I used white satin ribbon for the lacing and I didn't bother putting covers over the suspenders.

So here is the finished product, my 1910-1914 longline corset. Overall I'm really happy with it and it wasn't nearly as hard to make as I thought it would be! In fact its probably been the most enjoyable construction process out of all the historical garment I've made so far!



Top of the Corset

Corset Garters

Side Garter

Inside the corset

The Challenge: #19: Wood, Metal, Bone
Fabric:  0.5 metres of white cotton damask, 0.5 metre of plain white cotton for lining, scraps of white cotton sateen for hemming, scraps of cotton drill for centre back seam support
Pattern: I drew to scale this Longline Corset ca. 1910-1914 from a pattern provided by Bridges on the Body here and I constructed it using this tutorial.
Year: 1910-1914
Notions: Lots! Thread, Busk, cable ties for boning, bias tape for bone casing, 36 metal eyelets, 6.5 metres of satin ribbon, 1 metre broderie anglaise, 0.5 metre of white satin bias trim, garters
How historically accurate is it? 95%
Hours to complete: 10-15
First worn: Without garters (so incomplete) underneath 912-1914 summer day dress for photo shoot.
Total cost: $8 for damask, $4 cotton, $6 bias tape, $8 metal grommets, $3 satin ribbon, $2 satin bias trim, $2 broderie anglaise, $12 garters. The cable ties I owned already and the busk I took from an old, cheaply bought corset.