Monday, 10 November 2014

The hidden world of haberdashery packaging

After a recent (and long overdue!) tidy-up of our living room, I unearthed various pieces of sewing paraphernalia. Like most makers I have a huge amount of sewing-related things. Some of these have been bought for projects and are leftovers; some have been bought with good intentions and were never used; and still more have merely been accumulated - picked up from friends and family, by people clearing out and thinking of you.

Whatever way it entered my life (and my living room), I found two packets of dressmaker's carbon paper. I think that one pack was from my grandmother, and another I got in a charity shop. This is vintage haberdashery, and as always, the packaging is really interesting. What intrigues me especially is the product photography. It's not just all the episodes of Mad Men that I've been watching - the way in which an innocuous item like carbon paper has been sold speaks volumes about how and by whom the product was assumed to be used.  This in terms says a lot about the era, and how sewing was viewed.

On the first packet, we see a pair of hands confidently tracing out marking from a commercial dress pattern. The image is a printed engraving, reminiscent of textbooks and formal learning. What I found most interesting was the wedding ring and long painted nails. These seem to be a mature pair of hands, a married woman making clothes; a home dressmaker or hobbyist. Though I'm not one of them, I have met professional seamstresses who manage to keep long nails. But it's pretty hard not to scratch or chip your nail polish. She is tracing out the placement for a pocket, the breast pocket for a blouse.

The second packet features a very similar design. The colours are again the same as the carbon paper within, but the image this time is a photograph. This packet is dated with a copyright for 1971. The image is quite flat, and the hands look slender and youthful. It's definitely a woman's hand, again with long fingernails, but no nail polish. And no wedding band. What's more, the hands are much smaller in proportion to the pattern piece that's displayed, which makes it much more obvious what she's doing in the picture: tracing the dart of a bodice. And we can see that it's a bodice, so she's making something for herself.

A pack of carbon paper that I recently bought is extremely boring. Just four sheets wrapped in cellphone, no pictures, no colours. And no hint of who's to use it.

Has anything intrigued you about packaging recently?

Friday, 7 November 2014

Cold snap coat plans

It's cold this week!
In a typically British fashion, all London bloggers are writing on this theme. Really it's to be expected - it's November, after all! - but we had a mild week or two recently.  The sudden onslaught of frosty air and hazy outside breath comes as a harsher, crueller shock - especially to us city-dwellers. Now it's well and truly coat weather.

I've mulled over the thought of making a coat for several years. This winter, I've decided to bite the bullet and go for it!  I've never owned a true winter coat before: one that's buttoned and belted, heavy on the shoulders; lined, pocketed, and 100% wool. I've had a 1930s coat silhouette in my head for a while, with the crazy fur collar and shoulder emphasis married with slim legged silhouette; but want to mix this with a more 1940s, full skirted look. As usual I look for inspiration in various sources; here are some ideas I've had kicking around. All photos are from my Pinterest board

Start at the top, look to Hollywood

When in doubt, make a reference to Marlene Dietrich. The full sleeve and high collar framing the face is so typical of the 1930s; but though I love the collar, I'm aiming for a straight sleeve coat for practicality. 

Love the collar, and the simplicity of her cap!

Such a perfectly tailored coat. I'll probably use this silhouette but lose the rushing details. The fur trim on the hem could be an option.

It has to be Fur
Perfection. Maybe I'll make this as a two-piece in the future as well.

More perfection, and oh so drag!

This 40s coat is a great demonstration of how an A line coat could look with a full collar and trims on the sleeves and skirt.

Just dreamy. I'm not making this silhouette though as I want something more obviously waisted. I'm also staying away from silk velvet!

Strong Shoulders, Full Skirts

Gorgeous image. I do want to make the coat from an exciting fabric - not black or navy! Fur + checks might be a bit too much though.

I imagine that this is a fur stole worn over the top. I love the belt detail but would probably go for a removable belt.

Just gorgeous lapels and use of trim.

I'd like a collar that stands before falling to the lapels, but this is another great example of what I might end up with. Gorgeous belt, though I'd have buttons too.

Super cute! Clean and neat; love the felled seams. Double breasted is great too. 

This one is pretty and clean, a great flow to the tailored silhouette.

And back to the 1930s. I want a fuller flare after the hips, but lovely lapel/collar action here. And amazing seam lines!

Well, time to go fabric shopping methinks!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Sewing Spaces of my Life

Where do you sew? In the past, I've been really fortunate to have had my own desk to work at. A big bedroom and a big surface to really spread everything out on: sewing machine, sketchbooks, laptop, and endless cups of tea! As I progressed with sewing, I decided to study costume making at art college. My sewing space at uni was amazing: huge tables in large studios with amazing equipment; and in my final year, we were allowed to colonise a space for ourselves. When I entered the workplace, though, things were vastly different! You have to make do with whatever space you're given, whether it's a proper worktable in a studio - or setting up a sewing machine on top of a washing machine and sitting on a box to do last-minute repairs on tour.

Since moving in with my boy-friend, I've had to make-do with sharing the kitchen table - which means that we eat off our laps a lot of the time! Not (currently) having my own special place to sew has made me feel nostalgic for my past work spaces. As I've been in the habit of photographing my desks, here's a line-up of my personal sewing places of the past 8 years. I haven't included workplace studios however!

Aged 15-18: sewing beginnings

I had a lovely bedroom at my mum's house, with this great desk that I practically lived at. It was a really creative time of my life, and I drew a lot as well as learnt to sew and knit here. I first sewed on my mum's 1970s sewing machine (top left corner of the first photo). Later my grandmother gave me her amazing Bernina Sport sewing machine for my 17th birthday (spy it in the bottom right corner of the second photo).

I loved to work with paper and ink for my A level art, and spread out onto the floor when I ran out of space on my desk (a habit that continued for quite some years.)

Moving to uni..

I took this photo just after I'd moved into my first student house. It was a terrible house (the truly awful furniture and ugly curtains were not even the half of it!) - but I had a massive room. My desk was in the bay window and overlooked a football pitch, which wasn't too bad.

Settling into second year

I moved house every year at uni, and my room in 2nd year was truly enormous with loads of storage and great light. I worked at a paint-splattered artist's table, and did a lot of tailoring and millinery.

In second year I specialised in tailoring at uni, and for a few weeks the two other tailors and I had the privilege of colonising a studio space in an amazing light-filled part of the costume department. (As you can see, they really didn't want me taking their photo though!)

Temporary summer studio

That summer, I did a lot of freelance work in London and temporarily had an a whole room (!) to use as my studio. I got my artist's table back to the city and decked it out with all kinds of cacti and roses from the garden. It was seriously amazing, and not always this tidy. (Check out my kitschy sewing machine and overlocker covers!)

3rd year: serious studying, good friends

My final year at uni was definitely my best one. I moved house again, but though the curtains were still hideous, it had insulation! I also made my best friends in the last months before moving back to London. I had studio space at uni during this time, so mostly used the desk to write my dissertation and do sewing homework, rather than being based there permanently.

I also had quite a comfy bed, which Nelly decided to transform to my studio for a photography project.

At uni, Dorte and I laid claim to a great table to work at. We were very cosy there, working on 20th century dressmaking projects and drinking cups of tea (PG Tips).

We were pretty static here and guarded it jealously. I did however still prance around the rest of the department in my costume. (I think that here I was trying to see what my sleeve looked like when I raised my arms…)

Life as a new grad

I lived with my grandparents for a few months after graduating. I was a bit burnt out with sewing, plus was sewing every day at work, so I didn't make that many things freelance or for myself. But it was great to be surrounded by all my things, and my huge haberdashery stash! I then went on tour for a year so the bedroom - and my life - was just a permanent state of mess and transience.

The here and now

That brings me up to now! I live with my boyfriend in North West London, and we're very lucky to have a flat to ourselves. But it's a rental, with limited space - and we both own a lot of things! So I sew on the kitchen table, and set up the ironing board between the fridge and the cooker. It's a shame that I don't yet have a cutting table at home to work on - but it's also really nice not to have a studio and bedroom be the same room.

Where do you sew? Do you have a space set up in your bedroom, work sociably in your living room - or are you lucky enough to have your own stand-alone studio?