This sewalong is a non-commercial enterprise that I'm just hosting on this blog!
So some background for this sewalong - I have always been captivated by the glamour of old movies, particularly that amazing golden age of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s. I adore eveningwear, but equally the extravagant and over the top bedroom (boudior) wear. The burlesque star Catherine D'Lish makes the most amazing dressing gowns, and at around $500 they are extraordinarily good value for money (honestly think of the fabric costs!) but UK customs are a headache and there's something special about making one's own. So I took inspiration from hers and from vintage sewing patterns.
Now this sewalong had to hit a few nails:
So taking all that into consideration, I looked long and hard for an appropriate pattern. And trust me, it wasn't easy! Eventually I decided that we could modify Simplicity 8013 which is a lovely 1970s faux wrap dress, with good reviews and is genuinely a nice dress pattern for later too (hey I like value for money!)
Now a heads up - I went seriously ROGUE on this pattern. Sure we are using it as a base, but it is only that. My instructions are going to differ substantially from this pattern.
I'd also highlight that although I am so happy with the outcome of mine, there are probably things I'd do differently and I want you to be aware of them before you embark on this, to ensure the overall result will work for you. To be honest, it's probably better to drape this. We aren't necessarily going about this the best way! The pattern is for a FAUX wrap dress, and there are limitations that come with that, it's perhaps not as full on the bodice as a standard dressing gown, and there's less coverage as a result. It probably looks better worn closed than open, due to the bodice construction. Tulle/net is a pain in the backside to sew with!! Seriously. Perfectly possible, but not pleasant. I had wanted this to be more beginner orientated, but fabric choice rather prevents that. We'll also be doing French seams (unless you choose to do otherwise) so heads up about that too! This is a show piece, rather than practical - duh! Polyester and nylon and highly flammable - PLEASE don't wear it to cook in or sleep in, as if there is a fire, it will melt on you and that will be horrific. Seriously, night time wear is treated to be flame retardant for a very good reason. Swan around in this, but don't wear it to sleep in, and don't hold me liable if you go up in flames wearing so much highly flammable fabric!!
Still game? Here are an outline of what you will need and the steps to this sewalong:
I bought my tulle locally from Edinburgh Fabrics and was very pleased with it. I'd highly recommend them. I’d also bought some from Minerva Crafts which although lovely, was the wrong colour! I also wasn’t very happy with their customer service so wouldn’t really recommend them. The key term when looking for fabric for this is “soft tulle”. BTW because I used tulle net which does not fray, I did no facing or lining, please be aware that my instructions will reflect this if you are choosing fabric which needs an edge treatment! I will talk you through the edge treatment I used on the tulle.
Some other tulle I found that looked good are:
But please note I have no experience or links to these companies.
Btw if anyone wants 10 metres of pale pink soft Italian tulle that I got from Minerva, I’m happy to sell you on all or some of it.
I used marabou trim, but this is not essential. You could use any sort of trim or even several rows of ruffled tulle. If you choose to us marabou, you will probably have to hand sew it (I did), other trims or ruffles have the advantage that you may be able to machine sew them! Another trim you may wish to consider is using feather boas instead of marabou. Several sewn together may give you a nice thick trim. This is something I considered using but I couldn’t find the right colour.
I'll be honest, the marabou was by far the most expensive element of the sew, here are some other ideas to keep the cost down:
The marabou I bought was from Minerva Crafts (same time as I bought the tulle). What you are looking for with the marabou is that it is fluffy and as thick as possible (trust me, not that easy!) I personally wanted thicker but couldn’t find it. I got around this by using two rows to make it thicker.
Here are some websites for marabou, again I have no experience or links to them.
I just used a poly satin for the sash and this is widely available. You could also use satin ribbon instead if you want a thinner sash, or even make the sash out of tulle to match the rest of the dressing gown.
Organise your materials and we'll get started soon! These will be the steps of the sewalong.
You'll note that I'm not giving timescales - we'll track everyone's process on our facebook group called 1940s Fashions Sewalong (we did a 40s dress previously) and decide when most folk are ready for the next step so we don't leave anyone behind.
I've written a wee article for In Retrospect magazine about some of the stories behind vintage items I have bought and sold. You can check it out here http://inretrospectmagazine.com/dispatches/life-vintage-shop/
You may have noticed that a few new (and very awesome!) photos appeared on our site recently - these are the results of our photoshoot with Perry Jonsson Photo and a crack team who really made my rambled thoughts come to life. Having worked in a bank as an HR Manager for the 2 1/2 years proceeding starting up Carnivàle, I didn't exactly have much exposure (ba dum tish) to photoshoots, not exactly the norm in the exciting and fascinating world of HR... But I was in good hands with a great team comprising of Perry on photography, Amy on make-up, Drew on lighting and fabulous models Elizabeth and Jack. Elizabeth even did her own vintage hairstyling.
The brief I'd given to the team was to capture the romanticism of vintage - we took liberties with the styling to bring in a little contemporary edge by mixing up eras. My original thoughts were based on the feeling in this 90s commercial which has stuck with me since childhood, yes I am very old and clearly more than a little sappy too! As I like to give everyone a good challenge, I wanted an outside shoot in the dark and in January, which in Scotland would be lovely for my poor models. They all rallied to the challenge and we were blessed with a very mild January night, although I'm sure Elizabeth didn't feel this when dressed in a 60s summer mini dress!
For me the main reason I wanted to use the theme of romanticism for the images in that lovely floaty froufrou pink dress under the castle is twofold, firstly my love of the historic city of Edinburgh is obvious, this city oozes history from every corner and has been my home for 17 years. What more iconic image of the city is there than Edinburgh castle? Deeper than that however, I think part of the reason many people are drawn to vintage clothing (well vintage and antique anything actually), as well as the quality and environmental benefits of re-using, is that we romanticize a link to the past. We wonder who wore these garments, how they felt in them and what they meant to them. If there's one thing I have learnt in dealing vintage clothing, it's that we attach a lot of meaning and memories to clothing. I can't tell you the number of times I have been chosen to buy items from people, because they know I will cherish them in the same way they have for so many years. They seem to know I'm a safe custodian of the dress their mum made for them and which they have kept safe for so long. I promise to find that dress a good new home where it will be cherished by the owner. Fast fashion this is not; few people buy vintage clothing without some idea as to the history of the garment, and it has a little bit more respect over high street clothing because of that history.
One of the best examples I can give of others feeling the same way is a long remembered instagram post where the new owner on receiving vintage wedding shoes from the 1940s with the date and significance written on the soles, commented "This is what I live for". I actually originally mistakenly wrote souls there rather than soles; that really was a Freudian slip - there's something very soulful about vintage clothing.
I thought I would start off this year (and this blog) with a recap of the new galleries which opened summer 2016 at the National Museum of Scotland on Chamber Street, not all that far away from our shop. For the first time since I lived in Melbourne, Australia, it was wonderful to be able to see in person and locally a beautifully curated museum show on fashion history. I was rather spoilt in Melbourne that V&A shows such as Hollywood Costumes appeared regularly as well as features such as on the work of Edward Steichen (perhaps most famous for the photo of Gloria Swanson with lace over her face) which also showed a huge variety of 1920s & 1930s clothing. It is wonderful to see Edinburgh catching up with a focus on the history of clothing. Something I feel which has not had the attention it deserves; after all, clothing both reflects and influences the social mores and social change of its time. Do you think of the 1960s without thinking of the mini-skirt? Or how about WWII rationing and Dior's 1947 New Look response to it after the end of the war? Clothing is very much woven into our social history.
It is therefore with much anticipation that I had been awaiting the opening of these new galleries and I'm pleased to say I was not disappointed. The galleries cover a wide range of history from 18th century court dresses such as the one below right up to the current day and use of innovative new materials.
What do you think of these amazing novelty print blouse and headscarf by Bianca Mosca for Jacqmar? They look so contemporary don't they? But they actually date from 1942 and depict wartime slogans in Britain, printed on rayon which was one of the first man-made fibres, designed as a substitute for silk and made from cellulose derived from wood pulp.
But my favourite pieces?
Well I will revert to type and those are the glamorous couture pieces of the late 1940s into the 1950s - heavily influenced by Dior's New Look of 1947.
On the left is 1950s silk dress by Ceil Chapman and on the right a 1948 silk satin and sequin gown by Jacques Fath.
Chapman was an American fashion designer based in New York who dressed Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Despite these credentials, her dresses were mass produced and are therefore still relatively accessible for vintage fans (for a price!)
Fath was a French fashion designer, who along with Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain, was credited with the resurgence of haute couture following WWII. Unfortunately, Fath's fashion house closed in 1957 following his early death in 1954 from leukaemia and is generally less well known these days which is really criminal!
To have such dresses so readily accessible to view and admire is such a treat and I would urge you to visit the galleries and support the work of the museum. I've focused on the older pieces but which were your favourites?