Category: Vintage patterns

Nov 16

Support SecondhandFirst Week

 

 

SecondhandFirst Week

SecondhandFirst Week

 

Tomorrow (today if you’re reading this on the email feed) marks the first day of #SECONDHANDFIRST Week, 17-23 November 2014.

The week aims to encourage people to commit to sourcing more clothing and other resources second hand. It’s organised by TRAID, the charity doing tireless work to ensure sustainable and ethical practices in the clothing chain. It’s hoped that this will become an annual event.

Here in Bath, the Big Mend is delighted to be acting as a partner organisation, and we’ve arranged one of our Flash Mend events* in Bath Central Library on Monday 17th November. We’d love it if you’d join us any time from 1-4pm with some hand-held mending: darning would be ideal as we’ll be hoping to quietly impart mending skills to passing library users. If you’re in Bath and would like a quick darning lesson, come down and say hello, pick up a darning mushroom and try out some stitches with us.

Here are ways you can support the week:

 

Flash mend event

A Big Mend Flash Mend event

 

*Mass mending events in public places

 

 

 

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Mar 20

Would the real Mrs Beeton please stand up?

 

 

I’ve been reading a biography of Mrs Beeton, arguably the nation’s first domestic goddess. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes was published by Harper Perennial in 2006.

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Hughes’ biography of Mrs Beeton

 

As recent events have served to illustrate, the life lived behind the edifice of a lifestyle brand is rarely as it appears, and this book has been an eye-opener. Some interesting things I’ve discovered about Mrs B:

1. Isabella Beeton’s image was the first ever photographic portrait accepted by the National Portrait Gallery. Maull & Pollyblank’s 1857 plate, which the NPG accepted from her son Mayson in 1932, reveals a slim, striking 19-year-old Bella, not the stout, flour-dusted matriarch with a rolling pin that you might have imagined. Mrs Bridges from Upstairs, Downstairs she definitely was not.

2. Her first baby died a few months after birth, very likely of syphilis: a disease which she appears to have contracted from her husband in the early days of their marriage.

3. Bella’s husband, Sam, originally a printer by trade, made a killing publishing an unauthorised British edition of Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, exploiting a time when there was no copyright agreement between America and Britain. He and Bella together proved cunning publishing entrepreneurs, successfully exploring the new markets, trends and opportunities created by an expanding middle-class in Victorian England.

4. Bella Beeton was far from an experienced cook when she took on writing the Book of Household Management.

5. Which is why she plagiarised widely yet skilfully for the book; all this is documented in fascinating detail by Hughes.

6. Elizabeth David was particularly galled by Bella’s light-fingered borrowings from Eliza Acton.

7. Bella liked her red wine.

8. She had a great eye for fashion and pioneered the popularising of dress patterns  in the ‘Practical Dress Instructor’, a regular feature in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, capitalising on the boost to sewing created by the recent invention of the sewing machine.

9. She died very early, age 28. But that didn’t stop the ‘Mrs Beeton’ brand marching on. And on. And on.

10. Without her able management, and with the encroaching symptoms of tertiary syphilis, Sam went to rack and ruin after Bella’s untimely death.

She certainly packed a lot into her short life. I’d recommend this biography: snappy, witty, sensitively written, and especially riveting if you’re interested in publishing and journalism (particularly the history of lifestyle publishing, cookery writing and fashion journalism), and if you want an insight into the burgeoning Victorian middle classes and what made them tick.

 

 

 

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Feb 17

Art by the yard

 

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Lanz dress featuring Picasso fabric, 1955

 

I’m standing in front of a red dress by Lanz of California, 1955. Featuring nipped-in bodice, square neckline, half-length sleeves, gathered mid-length skirt and a dainty white lace trim, it has an approachable Sound-of-Music quality. On closer inspection, the white-scribble printed cotton carries the distinctive mark-making of Pablo Picasso.

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Lanz dress using Picasso ‘Notes’ fabric

 

A few yards away is another 1955 dress, this one with a bolder fish design, also by Picasso. The streamlined chic cut is signature Claire McCardle, the doyenne of modern American fashion.

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Claire McCardle dress for Townleys using Picasso ‘Fish’ fabric

 

Astonishingly, these special dresses aren’t behind glass. I could (but wouldn’t) touch. In the low light I lean in to examine the texture of the cotton fabrics. To think that these were designed by Picasso himself. Not a design interpreted by someone else from his painting, but actively intended by the maestro to be roller-printed onto cotton textile. And then worn by ordinary everyday people, everywhere.

I’m at Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol, a new exhibition tracing the history of 20th century art in textiles. The location is Zandra Rhodes‘ Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. Artist Textiles showcases over 200 rare items, a lot from the private collection of guest curators Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain. It’s a rare opportunity to see these works as many have not been on public display before. And the roll call is extraordinary: Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy, Barbara Hepworth, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Ben Nicholson and Andy Warhol.

Picasso cotton scarf, 1951

Picasso cotton scarf designed for the Berlin Peace Festival, 1951

 

Art by the yard was what Dan Fuller of New York-based Fuller Fabrics had in mind when he launched his Modern Masters project. His vision: to sell fashion yardage by famous artists on a mass scale for just $1.50 to $2 a yard. He managed to secure an extraordinary group of modern painters including Picasso (who jumped on board, it seems, because the project dovetailed with his own political belief that art should be accessible to the masses), Joan Miró, Fernand Leger, Marc Chagall and Raoul DufyHere’s a 1955 print designed by Joan Miró, entitled ‘Farmer’s Dinner’. The maker of the dress isn’t specified.

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Dress from Miro fabric, Fuller Fabrics, 1955

 

Again, it’s good to be able to get close to these textiles.

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Joan Miro textile design ‘Farmer’s Dinner’

 

You can’t cover the subject of fine artists and textile design without mentioning nineteenth century English artist, political theorist and textile designer William Morris. Morris saw the production and mass marketing of textiles as a way to combat the elitist tendency of art: “I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.” Into the early 20th century, the Fauvists, Futurists and Constructivists took up textile design, graphic design and book illustration as legitimate – in fact, important – areas for their artistic endeavour.

 

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But the story told by this exhibition effectively starts in the 1940s when the relationship between artists and textiles became particularly close and fruitful, paving the way for Fuller and others.

With post-war Britain on its knees, textiles were central to national recovery efforts. An export drive was directed with the American market very much in mind. Zika Ascher, the London manufacturer of luxury textiles, cajoled Henri Matisse and Henry Moore into designing scarves and fashion yardage to aid the recovering couture industry. It wasn’t necessarily an easy sell; Picasso turned him down, and Matisse didn’t say yes straight away. This little film, Fame in Fabric, made by Pathé in 1945, shows Ascher searching galleries for suitable artwork, gives a glimpse of the screen-printing process, and shows some of the finished textiles and scarves being modelled. 

 

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Henry Moore scarf featuring standing figures, Ascher Ltd, 1940s

 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, New York textile converter Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics captured the zeitgeist in a confident, post-war, modernist America, engaging several prominent Surrealists including Dalí and the Franco-Hungarian painter and graphic designer, Marcel Vertes to create a range of headscarves. Dalí’s c.1947 design, ‘Number Please?’, used artwork originally created for a 1946 Disney cartoon, Destino. The film was never released.

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Dali design produced by Wesley Simpson, c. 1946-7

 

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‘Flower Heads’ design by Marcel Vertes

 

Back in Britain, long-established Lancashire cotton goods manufacture Horrockses Crewdson & Company Ltd  set up fashion subsidiary Horrockses Fashions in 1946. It snapped up British artists’ offerings, including designs by Alastair Morton and Graham Sutherland. In the 1950s, the Horrockses dress came to epitomise the English cotton summer frock, worn by everyone including the Queen, Princess Margaret, and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. 

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Horrockses Fashions’ frocks

 

I was taken by the snowdrop print. Interesting that it was used horizontally.

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Horrockses’ snowdrops print

 

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Horrockses dress

 

Perhaps my favourite design of all featured was this 1951 fashion border print designed by Ken Scott. Entitled ‘A Fish is A Fish is A Fish’, it looks remarkably fresh and modern.

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‘A Fish is a Fish is a Fish’ by Ken Scott, c. 1951

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‘A Fish is a FIsh is a Fish’ by Ken Scott

 

Upstairs at the exhibition, the story continues into the 1960s. In 1963, two major Picasso projects launched; one for White Stag après-skiwear, one for Bloomcraft Fabrics, producers of furnishing textiles. A Look magazine feature (December 1963) about the Bloomcraft project  claimed, slightly mischievously, that the maestro’s designs were suitable for every form of interior decoration except upholstery: “Picassos may be leant against, but not sat on.”

 

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Bold Picasso designs for Bloomcraft Fabrics, 1963

There was so much more upstairs, but I had Sarah Campbell’s talk to get to – which will fill another post – so I whizzed past the Andy Warhols.

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Andy Warhol print, ‘Bright Butterflies’

 

And zipped past an appealing section of whimsical New York book illustrations. On a day of transport disruption  (I’d walked from Paddington to Charing Cross to catch the overland train to Bermondsey – greater love hath not textile-phile), I was drawn to this 1952 border print, ‘Paddington Station’ by Saul Steinberg. Not so far off the real thing, though the trains have changed. This would make a cracking skirt for the First Great Western corporate summer uniform, don’t you think?

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‘Paddington Station’ border print by Saul Steinberg

 

'Paddington Station'

‘Paddington Station’ – a 1952 design by Saul Steinberg

 

Back soon with a write-up of the Sarah Campbell‘s talk. It will feature work From Start to Finish, an exhibition of the prolific textile designer’s recent work (post 2011) which will be also be on display at the Fashion and Textiles Museum for the duration of  Artist Textiles.

 

Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol runs until 17th May 2014 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, Bermondsey, London, SE1 3XF. Nearest overland train station: London Bridge. The museum has a pleasant cafe, Teapod@FTM, offering a selection of hand-made cakes, salads, soups and stews. FTM also has a shop selling products by up-and-coming design talent, plus vintage and new fashion-related books.

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Oct 16

Red Dress – 1946

 

 

1940s jumper dress pattern c/o seller BessyAndMaive on Etsy

 

My mother was making me a dress. All through the month of November I would come home from school and find her in the kitchen, surrounded by cut-up velvet and scraps of tissue-paper pattern. She worked at an old treadle machine pushed up against the window to get the light, and also to let her look out, past the stubble fields and bare vegetable garden, to see who went by on the road. There was seldom anybody to see.

The red velvet material was hard to work with, it pulled and the style my mother had chosen was not easy either. She was not really a good sewer. She liked to make things; that is different. Whenever she could she tried to skip basting and pressing and she took no pride in the finer points of tailoring, the finishing of buttonholes and the overcasting of seams as, for instance, my aunt and grandmother did. Unlike them she started off with an inspiration, a brave and dazzling idea; from that moment on, her pleasure ran downhill.

 from Red Dress–1946 by Alice Munro

 

Red Dress–1946 comes from Alice Munro‘s first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades published in 1968. By chance, I was already reading this before the announcement last week that Munro had won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature; I had no idea that she was even tipped, but she’s a delightful choice.

Munro was an author my mother enjoyed; they were contemporaries, growing up in very similar North American cultural spaces, and some of the stories in this collection centre on girls in small towns during the first half of the twentieth century. Reading Munro seems to bring my mother (rather long gone now) back into reassuring proximity.

This story is one of my favourites, not just because it features sewing (informed by some understanding of the process) but for the way it reveals character so economically through it. It also nails how mortification and extreme fear of social embarrassment are the air an adolescent breathes. If you want to read some Munro – and like sewing – I’d recommend that you head straight for this delicious little volume.

The 1940s jumper pattern from which the image comes is available to buy over to BessyAndMaive‘s Etsy shop.

 

 

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Oct 01

Jacqmar calling

 

 

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The distinctive Jacqmar mark

 

When this vibrant blouse was brought to the M Shed’s World War 2 day last Saturday, it created a frisson of excitement. Apparently upcycled from a Jacqmar propaganda scarf by the owner’s mother (a primary school teacher in London during the war), the blouse is an eye-popping reminder for us too young to have experienced the war IRL that it wasn’t lived in black-and-white.

 

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Economic cutting

 

The 1942 line drawing by Jacqmar’s company designer Arnold Lever contains a selection of  topical references. Here’s much more about it and them c/o Meg Andrews, a specialist in antique costume and textiles.

 

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Back view

 

The blouse is threadbare here and there, but still very bright and beautiful. It’s noticeable that the green binding is much finer and more flexible than the run-of-the-mill stiff stuff on offer to us nowadays. And it’s still doing the job, though a little worn here and there. The red buttons are not original to the WW2 item.

 

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Binding finish

 

I’m a little puzzled by this piece. Jacqmar propaganda scarves were expensive items when new, so turning one into a blouse would have been a very bold project, in more ways than one. Admittedly, in this form it would have been wearable for a young teacher during her working day, whereas a head-scarf would not. But have I made a false assumption that this was made from a headscarf? It looked to me as if the pieces could just come (if carefully cut) from the square yard of fabric provided by a scarf. But did Jacqmar produce garments too? Or was the fabric ever sold by the metre? My hunch is that this was a homemade item; look at the stitching visible beyond the binding – not a professional finish. And the fact that contrast binding was used, not self, would indicate a paucity of fabric which as being negotiated with the greatest care, so the upcycled scarf theory still holds water. 

 

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The odd hole here and there…

 

I bet this made a real impact on pupils when the young teacher wore it. Do you know of someone who made items from bright scarves during the war? Maybe you’ve inherited a Jacqmar propaganda scarf? Or another item of clothing made by Jacqmar? Perhaps you recognise the vintage blouse pattern this was cut from? If you have any insight at all to offer, I’d be delighted if you’d share it with me below. And if you happen to be in Bristol and have a story about World War 2, or an artefact you’d be willing to loan for an exhibition next year, do get in touch with the M Shed. Thanks.

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered that famed scarf producer Jacqmar did indeed turn out fabrics. In fact, they were doing this before they began to make scarves: the scarves being, ironically, a thrifty way to use up precious silk scraps. There’s a nice story about Arnold Lever’s patriotic fabric over here, used to create a VE party dress.

 

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