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!

Coming Soon


So that’s it folks, it’s all over! My sewing, as it turns out, was a far more successful enterprise than keeping up the blog.

BUT I’m determined to carry on what I started, and so my goal for this week (now that the course is over) is to write a post a day chronicling my efforts in making the 1940s dress, finishing my bustle dress bodice, and preparing for the exhibition. And oh, a post all about the photo shoot of course!!

So my time at the Northern College of Costume may have come to an end, but the writing certainly hasn’t. Stick with me guys, cuz there’s more to come!

Belated Bodice Update


So this post is all about not what I was working on last week, but the week before: the bodice!

The next step after zig-zagging all the seam allowances was piping and facing the bottom edge, like so:

Kind of a fiddly job because you have to pin the piping and the facing all at once, and then make sure it doesn’t shift about when you sew it without actually being able to see the piping (as it’s sandwiched between the layers), but the end result is pretty neat:

And then it came time to face the pleats at the back, and what a headache that was. I spent half a day on those damn pleats, and that was with Pauline’s help. If I never pleat anything again it’ll be too soon.

Although to be fair, working out the pleats probably wasn’t as bad as the four hours I spent pin-tucking the center front panel, which I wasn’t even sure I liked the look of after I’d finished. But that was a moment of madness, I think, because now that it’s all coming together I quite like it:

This was the stage I’d got to by the end of the day on Friday September 2nd, when it was all meant to be finished. To be fair I did get all the major construction elements finished (sleeves set, collar on, center front panel more or less finished off thanks to Pauline), but there was still a lot left to do.

I say “was” because, a week later, after two straight days of hand-sewing and very little else, I have finally made a dent in the finishing. I’ll write it out in list form so I feel more accomplished:

1. slip-stitch bias binding around armholes
2. slip-stitch piping bias around cuffs
3. slip-stitch bias binding of front panel
4. slip-stitch collar of front panel
5. hand sew 36 hooks to bodice
6. hand sew 36 14 bars to front panel
7. cover 42 buttons
8. sew on 42 buttons

Ok, just as I was starting to feel like I’d gotten somewhere, this list exercise has brought me back to reality. The buttons are scaring me a little. This is the first project I’ve decided to cover my own buttons, and the ones I’m using are small and fiddly. The few half-hearted attempts I’ve made to cover them so far have ended in failure.

And surely you’re wondering, why 42 buttons!? Well, there are 18 down either side of the front panel (originally just for decoration, but conveniently also to hide the stitching from the hooks) which makes 36, two on each cuff, and two on the back (the last four will be the slightly larger buttons). I may be crazy, but the thought of sewing them all on doesn’t actually bother me – they’re not functional so only have to be secure enough to not fall off, and the stitching from the hooks marks exactly where they need to go so there won’t be any double- and triple-checking that they’re all in the right place.

Let’s see if that’s still how I feel after I’ve made a start sewing them all on.

And now for the fun stuff: more fitting photos!

I reckon I’ll need some slightly higher heels – those pleats just aren’t falling right. Although Pauline did say that was probably because the skirt closures aren’t finished and once the proper closures are on, the cage, petticoat, and skirt will stay hitched up and won’t sag so much. Yes, skirt closures, that’s another one for the to-d0 list…

We’ll end with one more photo, because I think this one best shows off the back pleats (note the piped edges!):

Phew! That was only a week overdue.

Coming soon (hopefully): 1940s evening wear!

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!

General Update


10-hour days, naps on the train, issues with pleats, calloused and flaking fingertips… these are just a few of the defining features of my life on the course at the moment. And now added to that is a new and interesting frustration: tutu-making!

This weekend we had a lovely girl called Liz come in to teach us how to make tutus. This was all very well and good, except it means that we’ve now gotten to the end of our seventh day without a day off and we’ve got all of next week, which includes kicking off a new project, to face up to. I should also point out that this tutu workshop came at the end of bodice week, which meant lots of late nights and early starts (and still endless amounts of hand-sewing that have yet to be completed).

At this point, I’m spent. I can feel a sore throat coming on and I’m barely convinced I’ll finish my bodice on time, let alone a tutu or another dress.

But I think that’s just the exhaustion talking. Photos of last week’s progress coming up, as soon as I find myself at home before 7.30 pm (i.e., not very soon). Til then, thanks for reading!