The Final Products


I suppose it’s only fitting that I got around to writing this post after (finally) adding those last two snaps onto my 40s dress and extracting the two pins I had unknowingly sewn into the cuff of Ben’s jacket. It’s about time as well – just about a month since the exhibition!

So without any further ado, here are the photos of my finished costumes from the shoot:

I’m a little disappointed with how the Liberty silk looks on camera – a bit washed out and murky. But hey ho – that’s something to consider for future projects.

And then, the exhibition! This is what my space looked like:

You can just about see my (nearly) finished tutu at the back.

The exhibition was a success – I had 50 business cards at the start and 25 at the end, which I think is a good sign. Had a few CVs picked up as well, so we’ll see what happens next.

So, what exactly have I been doing for the last four weeks, you wonder? Dressing at the opera, of course! Also sending a lot of emails, working at Eureka!, and catching up on sleep. Though it’s going to get busy again soon – in November I start a three-week work placement at the Library Theatre in Manchester, working on the Wind in the Willows. Stay tuned!

Liberty Silk


Right then, picking up where we left off! Here’s the dress, in progress:

The entire thing is only five seams (bodice front and back, skirt front and back, bodice to skirt, oh and the facing so I guess that’s two more), but the silk was pretty slippery and tricky to work with. A week was just the right amount of time to make it, because even though the construction was quite straightforward, there was a lot of hand-finishing to do.

The hardest part, would you believe, was sewing the armholes! I mean sure, draping the skirt onto the petersham waistband so the folds fell exactly right wasn’t exactly easy, but the armholes were another matter entirely. I ended up doing them three times each, sinking about six hours into the damn things. As the bodice was cut on the bias, I didn’t need to sew on separate bias binding for the armholes and could fold and roll over the raw edges of the armholes to bind them instead. I thought this would be simple. It wasn’t. The first time I did it (which took AAAAGES), they ended up too bubbly and warped because I’d rolled back too much fabric (about 1/2″ in total). So then I had to go back and do them again turning them back even less, ultimately dealing with 1/16″ at a time!! Arrgh.

But I got there in the end.

After the armholes I had to delicately hand-sew tiny little stitches all along the facing to keep it from flapping around unpleasantly, and to give the neck and back a nice, clean edge. That took a while, but not as long as the armholes and not as long as the hem. I hemmed it with a flat-catch stitch (or herringbone stitch, as they call it over here), but it was sewn just onto the seam allowance of the hem and not the outer fabric of the dress which was a bit awkward at first, because I had to work out the best way to hold it. It didn’t occur to me at the time to take photos of all these little details, but if anyone desperately wants to see them do let me know and I’ll whip the dress out and post some snaps.

The placket took a while as well, mostly due to sewing on all the snaps (or “press studs” to the Anglican folk) as sturdily and at the same time as delicately as possible. No one wants unsightly stab-stitches on the side of a lovely gown, do they?

The last step was… the belt! Just a nice little feature to finish it off. Pretty quick and easy to do; sew a rectangle, turn it inside out, attach a nice buckle, ta-dah!!

And here’s the finished, belted product:

It’s not a great photo, but sadly the best one I have that shows the back as well because the ones from the photo shoot just didn’t do anything for me or the dress. This one, though, isn’t bad for detail:

Can you tell it fits me a bit differently than the form? My natural waist is a higher, so the bodice blouses out a bit more when I wear it while it hangs down straighter on the form. Although, we were lucky to have gotten it on the form at ALL! We just about squeezed it over the shoulders of the mannequin, and that was after I’d extended the placket by a good four inches. Nightmare.

But, if we’re giving out awards to the most fraught moment of the final project, then the accolade definitely goes to my Being an Idiot When Trimming Down Seam Allowance Around the Petersham and Cutting a Hole in the Back of the Dress moment.

Oh my god, I very nearly had a breakdown when I realized what I’d done. I swear by all the Liberty silk in the world that I’ll never make that mistake again. I almost started crying. I panicked, knowing that while I had enough fabric to make another bodice, I most certainly didn’t have the time.

BUT! Level-headedness and problem-solving prevailed. There were a few things that were in my favor when solving this problem:

1. The hole was in the back of the dress, not the front
2. It’s very nearly hidden by the cowl back
3. It wasn’t really a hole, rather a V-shaped cut about an inch deep (so not as massive as it could have been)

And, my saving grace…
4. The print of the fabric is relatively small-scale and complex, so it disguises mistakes well

So, what’s a girl to do? Match that flappy V back up to the surrounding pattern and whack a bit of interfacing on, of course!

I wasn’t hyperventilating by the time I got to the ironing board, but I was shaking and had to give myself a serious pep talk before working up the courage to gently, s-l-o-w-l-y, c–a–r–e–f–u–l–l–y press the interfacing on to patch it up.

And it worked! I showed the patch job to all the girls, holding it right under their noses, and they had to properly search the fabric before they found anything untoward. Even Pauline didn’t see it right away, and when I did point it out to her she congratulated me on a brilliant piece of engineering. Aaaand letting out a massive sigh of relief in three, two, one…


Coming up! The Moment In Which Rebecca Is Very Nearly Defeated By Cover Buttons. Stay tuned!

1940s Toile


Right, so now we’re going back a bit to the beginning of our 1940s project. I had already found a brilliant Liberty silk that I knew I wanted to use for this project, so I chose my design with the fabric in mind. Not to mention the fact that by this point I was exhausted and wanted something I knew I could achieve in a week, e.g. no sleeves, no collar, no darts, no boning. I’d also never made anything really drape-y and flow-y before, so I wanted to try something new while I had the luxury of Pauline’s expert guidance.

This is what I arrived at:

The first step was to draft a pattern for the skirt, and then make that up into a toile to drape on the stand. I adapted the pattern from a similar skirt that I got out of an original 1940s pattern drafting book:

Instead of putting the funny bulge at the side front seams, we moved them to the side seams to create a drape over the hip. There wasn’t loads of fabric going spare, so I made a mini-skirt version to start with:

It took some trial and error, but eventually we arrived at a pattern that would do the job:

After the skirt pattern was sorted I moved onto the bodice. I decided I want a cowl back and again adapted a pattern from the magic 1940s book:

Again it took some trial and error, but we cracked it in the end. The front was essentially a basic bodice block that we allowed to hang loosely rather than put any darts in, and with most of the neckline cut down to create a sweetheart shape.

Once the patterns were finished, it was time to make a proper toile in a fabric similar to the silk. I had to make two toiles of the skirt: one cut on the bias and one cut on the straight, to see which would drape better. Initially we thought on the bias would be best, but then the drapes turned out a bit too floppy and saggy, so we decided to cut it on the straight.

To be fair, the fact that I put the bias-cut toile on the form without a bum probably didn’t do it any favors (right). Even so, cutting it on the straight was best because the real silk was a lot drapier than the toile fabric.

Here’s me in the toile for the fitting:

You’ll have to forgive the Christmas colors; there wasn’t enough of any one fabric to make it all one color. That also explains why the back of the skirt is longer than the front.

There was still a bit of tweaking to do on the front neckline, but eventually I arrived at this:

And that’s where I was by the end of our first 1940s week.

Next post, I’ll have pictures up of the dress in the proper fabric. Stay tuned!

The History Wardrobe


Today a lovely woman called Lucy Adlington came in to talk to us about 1940s fashion. She runs a company called The History Wardrobe, which puts on presentations that teach history through costume. It was only an informal talk she gave us today, but it offered some brilliant insight into the period. For example, we learned that on average women only had about 44 clothing ration coupons per year, which didn’t go very far seeing as a dress cost about 11 coupons. I was surprised that pyjamas cost 8 coupons and corsets cost only 3, until Lucy pointed out that you couldn’t just wear an old tee shirt to bed because you wouldn’t have had any central heating to keep you warm at night, or a tee shirt for that matter, and you’d want to be adequately dressed in case the air-raid sirens went off in the middle of the night. So there you go – the realities of rationing made evident through clothes.

After the presentation we had time to do research for our dresses, and as I had more or less decided what I wanted to make I had the rest of the afternoon to work on…

the TUTU.

I know the bodice is more important, but I was determined to sew the rest of those net layers on come hell or high water. And I DID!!

But it wasn’t easy.

By layer ten, you really do have to wrangle the net and force it under the machine, because it just does not want to go anywhere.

I’m sure the lat muscles on my left side are going to be sore tomorrow. But it was totally worth it.


There’s still a fair bit to do on it (french seam the knickers, sew on the basque, stitch up the center backs of the layers, stab stitch the waistband, let it settle, string it), but now I’m caught up with everyone else and can sleep easy knowing it at least looks like a tutu.

Bodice update from last week coming soon. Tomorrow it’s drafting patterns and making toiles of our 40s dress, which will hopefully all be done on time to go fabric shopping on Wednesday (meaning we’d be a day ahead!). Here’s hoping!