Monday, January 28, 2013

Creating My Downton Abbey Look

Finally, as promised here is a look at construction of my 1920s dress worn for VPT's Experience Inspired by Downton Abbey. I talked a bit about my inspiration for the dress in my post here. I went back and worth on a couple design ideas and what to use for trim. 

Ok, first up the pattern. Um, well I didn't really use one. That is to say I didn't use a ready made pattern. I spent a good amount of time looking at patterns available on the web and at several original gowns (some great examples at the MET) to get a feeling for the different shapes and designs of the 1920s. Season 3 of Downton Abbey takes place in the early 1920s but I opted for a more mid-decade design. 

My mom helping me measure and mark the skirt panels. The fabric wanted to shift and stretch all over the place which was really annoying! Quilters rulers are a must have!
I found the book Dress Cutting -- Instructions and Illustrations for Sewing 26 Vintage 1930s Fashions by Margaret Ralston very helpful in creating a block pattern. (I've written a brief review here.) Using the directions for making your personal block pattern and some basic body measurements, I was able to create a pattern for the bodice portion of my dress. My dress was constructed using a total of 5 pieces, 2 of which are the side sashes. All are roughly rectangular in shape. Taking the measurements of the two 20s gowns I own, I compared them with the measurements of those I found online. (at least the ones that had measurements listed.) I wanted to get an idea of how much fabric to buy but also how wide/full I should make the skirt. This didn't prove very helpful so in the end I used my best judgement when cutting my panels for the skirt.

Sewing gathering stitches on the skirt which I later had to remove. Got to use my mom's new Jernomie sewing machine. This thing is awesome!!
To start, I measured from my hip to a little below my knee get my skirt length. Then I used the full width of the fabric and cut two skirt panels, seamed them together, then gathered them to the dropped waist. This proved most unflattering and so I removed the gathers, cut the panels a touch narrower, and created a series of pleats with the excess fabric at the skirt side front. I got the idea from this Worth gown at the MET. It's a little hard to see but if you click on the zoom feature you can clearly see those side front pleats.

Close up showing the waist and side front pleats
The bodice front and back were made using the same pattern piece, I just cut the front neckline lower and added that little front panel. The bodice lining was cut about 2 inches shorter. The sashes are each a long rectangle of fabric carefully draped and slightly gathered to the drop waist. As you can see, I was strongly influenced by this dress. :)

The color is very washed out but here you can see the bodice and waist portions of the dress.
Originally the waist section was a straight rectangle as shown above, but after a couple fittings I adjusted the piece so it fit better around my hips. It ended up being more of a trapezoid then a rectangle - narrow at the top and wider at the bottom.

The buckles I used came from my stash of vintage and antique bits. I don't know their exact age but estimate somewhere between late Victorian (1880s/90s) and Edwardian (1900/10s). They look like silver and I believe the orange stones are just colored glass. They were very tarnish but cleaned up nicely.

Before cleaning - Bad lighting in this photo but you can get an idea of how dirty these were
After cleaning! I used a soft silver polishing cloth. I like this photo because it shows the slight texture of the silk fabric.
I styled the front portion of my hair using lots of setting lotion and traditional finger wave techniques. (I tried this the first time for Halloween and I think it looked much better that time.) I didn't use the crimping iron I experimented with here because I new it would take to long! The back portion of my hair was rolled and pinned in place with lots of bobby pins. :)

Nice back view of my hair and vintage hair comb
To complete the look I wore a pair of 1920s shoes (you can see them here), seamed stockings, (which are actually 1940s vintage) and my grandmothers pearls.
The finished look!

Downton Abbey Fashion Competition (Photo by Stephen Mease)
Pattern - Drafted by me
Fabric and thread - Delectable Mountain Cloth
Vintage buckles, hair comb, fan - My collection
Shoes - Greatestfriend on Etsy
Seamed Stockings - Mark Driscoll of vintageartsupplies
Beaded purse - vintagepursona
Pearls - Belonged to my grandmother

Friday, January 25, 2013

Great Hair Fridays - Grace Kelly

Loomis Dean—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Not originally published in LIFE. Grace Kelly, 1953.

Loomis Dean—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Not originally published in LIFE. Grace Kelly, 1953.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dressed for the Inauguration Ball

Hello everyone. President Obama's inauguration was Monday so I know I'm a bit late with this post. The inaugural balls are over now and its time for everyone to get back to work. However, there is still plenty of talk on the Internet about First Lady Michelle Obama's red dress and those worn by other first ladies. Also my camera graciously decided it would allow pictures to be downloaded so now I must share :)

I first saw this dress at a local antique shop a few days before New Years. I fell in love at once! A gold sparkly 1950s party dress? What's not to love!?! What really intrigued me though was the tag which said the dress had been worn to Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural ball. Hmmm, could that be true?

But alas, sadness... Having spent more than I should have over Christmas break, I couldn't bring myself to spend any more at that moment. (Even though the dress was very reasonably priced, much lower in fact then similar dresses sold online.) I spent several minutes admiring then forced myself to walk away. A few days went by but I couldn't stop thinking about the dress. (Does that ever happen to anyone else?) So needless to say I went back to the antique shop last week. Amazingly, the dress was still there so bought it. I guess it was meant to be. :)

Luckily for me the seller was also there up dating her booth. We got to talking about the dress, it's history, and a number of other things. Turns out I used to work with her husband, small world! I told her about my interest in living history and collecting vintage. She said she had a few other pieces I might be interested in. Oh and the best part, she gave me a discount on the dress! :) How could I say no to that?

So what's the history of this lovely dress you ask? Well, to start, it is from the 1950s. There's no doubt about that. And it was worn at an inaugural ball for President Dwight Eisenhower! I just don't know which one. Eisenhower was first elected in 1952 and re-elected in 1956. The inaugural balls would have taken place in January of 1953 and January of 1957. (You can see Mamie Eisenhower’s 1953 inaugural gown and shoes here.) The seller acquired the dress from the niece of the woman it was made for. I'm hoping I can get in contact with the niece to find out more. A picture of her aunt wearing the dress would be awesome.

There is no marker's label so my guess is that it was home made using a pattern similar the this one. The fabric is shear and embroidered all over with ivory cotton and gold matalic threads. The skirt is very full with its own crinoline sewn underneath. This dress has some very lovely details including the gold bow at the waist and the large gold roses on the skirt. The cutest detail I didn't notice until I got the dress home. Sewn to the bottom front edge of the crinoline are little gold bows and leaves. So sweet!

 The dress fits nicely, just a touch big in the shoulders. I'm hoping for a sunny day so I can get some better pictures outside.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Great Hair Fridays - Crimping Tool Experiment

Finger waves and marcel waves were all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s. The marcel wave was named for the 19th century French hairdresser, Francois Marcel, who invented the waving process in 1872. Marcel went on to develop a permanent waving machine. He also developed other specialized hair waving equipment. There is a very informative article here.

3 Vintage Metal Curling Irons - Etsy
Before the electric versions appeared, hair irons could be heated one of two ways. The earliest ones were heated on a wood burning stove. Not directly in the fire mind you. They would have had some kind of stand or base to rest on while being heated.

With the introduction of gas stoves, a rather devilish contraption was manufactured. This thing was hooked up to your gas stove and, um, safely heated your iron. (You can see a fancy one here.) I don't know which method scares me more!
Rare Antique Gas Hair Curling Iron Holder - Swan Creek Cottage on Etsy
Antique electric curling iron heater 1920s
These kinds of things have always fascinated me. I love learning about the different tools of the trade. I bought this crimping tool on Etsy and thought it would be fun to use. Yes, I'm just that crazy. :)

I should state for the record that in no way was I going to try this thing by heating it with "traditional" methods. Instead I tried a little experiment. On chilly winter days I like to used my wood stove. When I do I always keep a pot of water on it to help keep moisture in the room. The wood stove doesn't get hot enough to boil the water, but pretty close. You could easily make a cup of tea with it, which I often do. :) Anyway, a few days before Christmas, as I sat beside said cozy stove with my "new" crimping iron, I began to wonder. Was there a way to safely use this thing? Then it came to me. Why not try heating the crimping tool with hot water!

I waited until the pot of water was nice and steamy then put the metal end of the crimping tool in the water to heat. I waited about 20 to 30 minutes then tested the crimping iron on a very small section of hair. It worked! No sizzling and no burned hair. :) The crimping tool never got that hot.

Pardon the crummy cell photo pictures, still working on camera issues. This is not the best picture but you can kind of see the waves. I started with damp hair and applied a small amount of setting lotion.

I only crimped a small section of hair but I think you see the desired affect. This style of crimping iron produces smallish, soft waves. 

I found that the iron only held its heat for a few short minutes. Enough it get one crimp before needing to return it to the hot water. If I started with hotter water, and gave the iron more time to heat at the start, this process could go a little bit quicker.

So would I try this again? Even though it took forever to crimp just the very front sections of my hair, I liked the finished look. I think I might.

Also see finger waves for Halloween and Downton Abby event.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What's on Your Sewing Table?

Having some camera issues. Ugh! My apologies to those of you waiting patiently for my Downton dress tutorial. I'll hopefully have that posted sometime next week.

I'm taking a break from the 1920s and jumping back into the 1940s. My current project is a pair of slacks using the reproduction 1940s Rosie the Riveter overalls pattern from the Vintage Fashion Library. I'm tired of wearing jeans to work but only have one pair of dress pants that I really like. Yes, I suppose I could wear skirts more often but I find it's too chilly in the office. It doesn't seem to matter if it's 80 degrees or 20 degrees outside, the air conditioning is always running.
Vintage 1940s Rosie the Riveter Overalls REPRO Sewing Pattern 3322

I'm using a dark gray suit weight wool I bought last summer for $2.50 a yard! I cut all the pieces out last night and started pinning them together. Tonight's goal is to baste the pieces, test the fit (and hopefully not need to make too many changes), and being sewing.

So what's on your sewing table this month?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

First Blog Anniversary!

Hello everyone. Today is the one year anniversary of my blog! I can't believe it's been that long. I feel like I've come a long way with thing little blog. Here's hoping for many more happy years of blogging! Hooray!

I would like to take a moment to say thank you to all of you. I have to admit, it took a lot of thought and courage on my part to begin this writing this blog. At first I felt like my work wasn't good enough to show, or that no one would care enough about what I was working on to follow my blog. Happily I have been proven wrong. Your feedback has been greatly appreciated. I've been reading the comments left on my post about getting focused, as well as on Facebook. There are some great suggestions!

Through blogging, I feel that I have made several new friends. Jessica at Chronically Vintage (who was one of my first followers!), Lauren at American Duchess, Isabella at All The Pretty Dresses, Brittany at Va-Voom Vintage, Cassidy at A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, and Debi at My Happy Sewing Place just to name a few of you!

So, to each and every one of my followers, thank you. Thank you for reading, for your kind comments, encouragement, and inspiration.

Black feather fan that I will be using for the Downton Abbey event, not sure exact date. Possibly as early as 1890s and late as 1920s.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Downton Abbey Gown Sneak Peak and Vidoes

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. We finally have snow here in New England allowing me some much needed time out on the snowshoes. (I hardly went at all last winter. ) Cori and I went for a midnight snowshoe New Year's Eve. We tramped up the hillside behind the house and toasted the New Year with champagne and homemade ice cream.

I've been working hard this week trying to finish my dress for the Downton Abbey Experience event this Saturday. Cori will be wearing vintage tuxedo which I can't wait to share! He ordered a white waistcoat and collar which arrived before Christmas. After a bit of soaking the collar looks good as new. Now we are both hoping that his shirt and tie get here in time. Yikes it's getting close!

Here's a sneak peek at some of my accessories.
Up first, the shoes. The are late 1920s or early 1930s, made of black leather with a 2 1/2" heel. They need a bit of touching up here and there. Must remember to put black shoe polish on my shopping list. :)

 Next an Art Deco beaded purse that I found on Etsy, a black feather fan, compact, and other bits of bling! The green fabric you see in the background is from my dress. :)

And for your viewing pleasure, two videos showing evening wear from 1922 and 1928. Enjoy!

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