Revisiting a ‘vintage’ blouse pattern

I know many of us often sew patterns multiple times because we like them but I’ve taken this to a new extreme recently. I last sewed this blouse pattern Simplicity 8704 when I was around 16 or 17 years old, the date on the back is 1978 so I must have made it while I was still at school! I remember I used a burgundy-coloured viscose (or similar) with a floral print on it and it was definitely one of my favourites as I wore it a lot, probably swanning about in the Sixth Form common room!

There have been several times when I’ve been tempted to revisit it but for one reason or another I’ve put it back in the box for another day but this time I kept it out and went in search of fabric in the stash. Initially I was going to use a really pretty pastel pink lightweight checked cotton I got from Sew Me Sunshine (I can’t see it on the website now though) but when I realised I was going to have to pattern match the deceptively tricky check I thought better of it. I wasn’t in the mood for taking an age over that so I continued to rummage until my eyes fell upon the (also) pale pink linen I acquired from the local Scraps Store last year. I found it in a container full of various unwanted fabrics and there was nearly 5 metres of it so, for a donation, it came home with me! I laundered it at the time but put it away. I thought I might make a dress with it originally but, because it’s such a pale pink, I didn’t want to end up looking like a blob so I left it for another time.

A plain linen blouse appealed to me though and I didn’t have to fiddle about pattern matching so away I went and it was cut out in no time. Even though the pattern was a single size-this is how most patterns were sold until multi-size patterns were introduced-and my size has fluctuated to say the least over the years, amazingly it was still going to be the right size with no alterations.

There’s not much else to say about making it up except I remembered that an @SewOver50 stalwart, Lisa, had shared on her grid the day before that she had used a wing needle to decorate a plain linen tunic she was making which reminded me that I’d intended to find a use for the same effect at some point but forgotten all about it-Thank You Lisa!

The wing needle (I’ve also seen it called an ‘heirloom’ needle recently too) is like a regular needle except it has fine metal ‘fins’ to each side of the shaft which creates a little hole like a tiny eyelet in the centre of the stitch as it forms. A stitch which looks like a little star works best for this effect but you could try experimenting to see if any others look nice

I made a little video of my machine in action.

It’s worth bearing in mind a couple of important points if you’re going to use this decoration. Firstly, you can’t easily pivot at a corner with the needle down in the work-I sewed the collar in three separate moves, secondly you won’t be able to use the automatic threader if your machine has one and thirdly (thank you Lisa for telling me this because I don’t have this feature) you can’t use your automatic thread cutter if you have one.

As well as the collar I embroidered the cuffs, the front raglan seams and down the button placket, although I did this last one after I’d hemmed the bottom and sewn the buttonholes so that it was the exact distance from the edge and the buttonholes.

I love the way the blouse gathers into the collar, which is a two part construction incidentally, the raglan sleeves are straightforward but the gathered cuffs add a nice touch. I found a selection of Mother of Pearl buttons amongst my tidied-up button boxes to add another of my usual quirky details but otherwise that’s it. It’s a reasonably quick make but it was lovely to sew the details of collar construction and the cuffs, there’s an elegant simplicity to it I think. I will either wear it loose over the top of trousers or tucked in, or underneath a pinafore dress maybe?

It might sound strange but it feels a bit like an old friend has come back to visit, and I might even make the placket front version now too!

Until next time, keep sewing!

Sue

Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum

This is one of the most recent exhibitions to open at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and it’s a very thought-provoking one exploring the relationship between man, fashion and the natural world. It’s divided into the now familiar format of the historic element downstairs with the larger more modern and forward-looking section upstairs.

This works well because there are displays containing beautifully conserved clothing and accessories dating as far back as the 1600s alongside helpful and fascinating short films and information about the origins and manufacture of textiles using both traditional sources such as cotton, flax, silk and wool but also the more unusual such as pineapple fibre.

The items chosen for display demonstrate both the influence of natural subjects in the design-primarily plants and animals, and the effects of textile production on society as a whole. Cotton and wool for example were a huge part of the success of the UK for hundreds of years and made fortunes for a relatively few people but at vast human suffering for many in the form of slavery, overwork, terrible working conditions and resultant illness. Added to this was the decimation of animal and bird populations to supply the demands of the burgeoning fashion industry with feathers, fur, tortoiseshell, whalebone etc and you have a some uncomfortable viewing.

The origins of the RSPB in the UK started towards the end of the 19th Century when Governments around Europe became concerned for the welfare of bird populations brought to the point of extinction in places.

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This albatross was destined to become a muff to keep a fashionable lady’s hands warm.

Ostrich feathers were extremely popular on evening gowns and fans, this little hat is labelled as being the ‘improved starling’ hat with it’s printed feather decoration, the natural beauty of the feathers not being quite good enough presumably?

Seal populations were hugely reduced by the desire for seal fur to make or line coats, muffs and hats, as were whales for their flexible bones which were used in corsets, amongst other things. And then there’s ivory for buttons, umbrella handles and hair decorations, the list goes on…

New resources such as rubber found uses for footwear and to give elasticity to things like stockings and mens braces.

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These natty rubber-soled boots are actually for a man (Oscar Wilde I’m thinking…)

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Mother of pearl and seashells have long been popular for decorating objects as well as practical items like buttons.

Not everything is doom and gloom in the exhibition, there are some stunning pieces of embroidery and garments which are a visual delight. One of my favourites was an Eighteenth century man’s waistcoat embroidered with Macaque monkeys.

Floral motifs are a perennial favourite both as woven cloth and as embroidered fabric.

I was surprised to discover that using pineapple fibre to make fabric has been around for a couple of hundred years, especially given they were such expensive fruit in their own right.

This evening gown uses pineapple fibre fabric, and the handkerchief is cotton embroidered with pineapple-fibre thread.

Moving upstairs you will discover garments by designers keen to explore and embrace new textiles and technology. Stella McCartney is a well-known exponent of these with her refusal to use any animal-based product and there are some interesting examples of faux leather being made from the waste by-products of the winemaking industry, and ‘leather’ made from a type of mushroom protein! [Incidentally the episode of Desert Island Discs featuring Stella McCartney is very enjoyable and she talks about her use of ethical fabrics and textiles during it] Extraordinary stuff and virtually indistinguishable from real leather. These are ‘designer’ products though so I have no idea of the cost but like any new technology it has to start somewhere and will hopefully filter down eventually to be more affordable.

There were other examples of flora and fauna in the textile design including my favourite Alexander McQueen with a reptile-inspired dress from his Plato’s Atlantis collection.fullsizeoutput_258bfullsizeoutput_258a

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An ‘under the sea’ evening gown by Zac Posen

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Not fur but bugle beads!

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This ‘leopard’ is made entirely from beads by Jean-Paul Gaultier

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Another beautiful evening gown, this time by Giles Deacon, this one features a gorgeous fabric printed with birds eggs

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A heavily embroidered skirt by Christopher Kane with the reproductive parts of plants!

There is plenty of information and several films which go into greater depth about the effects not only of over-consumption of textiles but also the damage it’s production does to the planet and the workers. Denim, and therefore jeans, for example if the most water-wasteful and polluting of any fabric being produced, we have to address this fact and soon. I’ll be honest and say that I was flagging a little by this time, absolutely not through boredom, far from it, but from information overload. If this is your primary interest in visiting this exhibition then go straight upstairs because there’s so much fascinating, often shocking, but ultimately encouraging information to explore.

Also, did you know that Velcro got invented because a Swiss scientist Georges de Mestral noticed while walking in the Jura during the 1940’s that burrs from plants were clinging to his clothes and his dog’s fur so he investigated further and found they were tiny little hooks. Eventually this discovery became the basis for the product we know today!

Up-cycling is another area that’s looked into, reusing textiles be it unwanted clothes or end-of-line products like ribbon to make new products. Refashioning is not new but it fell out of favour, now it’s making a return.

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This outfit is made from maps printed on silk for wartime use but was actually only made in 2017.

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This collar is made from leftover rolls of ribbon.

I could go on, adding more photos of everything but I urge you, if you get the opportunity, to go for yourself and see this exhibition. If you’re interested in fashion and clothing it will really open your eyes to some of the facts about it’s production which you might not be aware of and make you think about how we can improve the situation by our own consumption of goods.

Vivienne Westwood is a leading advocate of choosing fashion wisely, her motto being Buy Less and Buy Well, in other words buy the best you can afford because it’s more likely to have been ethically made from better materials and will last you longer. I know personally I can’t always manage this but by making my own clothes most of the time and wearing them frequently is making a start.

Fashioned from Nature is on at the V&A until next January 27th 2019. I’ve not been sponsored to write this piece, I have my own membership which I use frequently!

Happy sewing, and visiting!

Sue