Sunday, 4 May 2014

Men's Pea Coat

I've yet to complete the 1957 dress,  as I'm having a little trouble with the side seams draping correctly-I can't seem to get the tension:stitch length ratio correct in order for them not to pucker, despite it being ok for the rest of the dress. I've been googling, and think I've found a solution, but I'm letting the dress hang for a few days, as that's what vintage patterns always suggest. We'll see how it goes!  It's a little frustrating, to be honest, as my previous unfinished project has also run into some fitting difficulties that I don't have the energy to face just yet. So 2 from 2 of my recent projects are on the back burner until I stop feeling so discouraged. Naturally, one would think the sensible thing to do to stop me feeling discouraged would be to start a simple project, maybe another version of a pattern I know works, or something like that, but no one has ever accused me of being sensible. So I've decided to make the Lovely Boyfriend a pea coat. Vogue v8940  to be specific. Just to make life more difficult, I've set myself the deadline of his birthday, 3rd of June... I have some gorgeous navy wool that I got in NZ, which I had intended to use for a coat for myself, but I saw the pattern and just couldn't resist. I've got some olive green coating that I'll use for myself.
Now, the pattern says advanced, but I've had a read through the instructions and it seems to me that's just through sheer number of steps. Having said that, I've decided I'm going to work bound buttonholes, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the neatness factor- I think they're a really crisp finish. Secondly, I'm going to need to break out my 1958 Pfaff machine for this, as the little Singer doesn't really cope well with heavy fabrics, and the Pfaff doesn't do buttonholes. Quite frankly, I've got used to the luxury of a machine that does buttonholes, which is silly, as until I got the Singer a couple of years ago I was using my mum's machines, a 1940s Singer and a 1970s Pfaff that she got new when she lived in Germany, neither of which do buttonholes, so I was working then by hand, which is quite time consuming. People in the blogosphere seem to shy away from bound buttonholes, but the only time I've used them I found it easier than working then by hand, it was for a dress that had about 12 so I figure that's plenty of practice. Since then, I've been a bit wary of making bound buttonholes because having read everybody's horror stories I wonder if it was just a fluke, but there's a great tutorial over at Colette's Anise sew along, so I think I'll be fine! (Ugh, want an Anise, incidentally.)
Anyway, so today I'm making a rough version of the coat out of calico for fitting purposes. Both the Lovely Boyfriend and I are quite tall (me 6', him 6'5), but I'm standard size from the waist up, and almost never need to lengthen things, and I suspect the same is the case for the Lovely Boyfriend, as he never has any difficulties with off the rack clothes, even in the sleeve length. I'm rather surprised that I can't find any finished measurements except garment width, as my mother swears by Vogue's thoroughness with that sort of thing, but these modern times etc etc. With this in mind, my rough is just going to be a straight up size 38, and I'll take it from there with adjustments if necessary.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Women and Literature

This semester I'm taking a final year course called "major texts," which features mostly dead white guys, and it's made me think a lot about the way we think about literature. Namely, what makes a text "major?" Because it seems to me that often what is considered major from a male writer is considered minor from a female writer, particularly when it comes to everyday life, social dramas, and emotions. I think the catalyst for this post is an introduction to one of the two works not by old white dudes we're studying, the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Virginia Woolf's Orlando (affiliate link), written by Susan Gilbert. Obviously I've come across Gilbert's work before, and generally speaking I'm quite a fan. For those of you unfamiliar with Orlando, it is a fictionalised and fantastical biography of Woolf's friend and lover Vita Sackville-West,  an acclaimed author in her own right. Much of Sackville-West's work does not stand the test of time, but a few of her novels are certainly not easily dismissed, notably All Passion Spent , which the incredible Virago Press publishes as a classic (affiliate links). What struck me about Gilbert's introduction then, is the way she dismisses Sackville-West's entire oeuvre as being insignificant in comparison with Woolf's. Now, I'm not claiming that Sackville-West is on par with Woolf, but to me, that seems a bit like dismissing Henry James because he's no James Joyce. Which brings me to the real issue, which is twofold. Firstly, there only seems to be room in the Canon for one woman at a time. Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, the two elder Bronte sisters, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf are really the only female authors considered "significant" (leaving aside the last fifty years or so, as things are improving), and there is little overlap between them. And then, that domestic dramas that deal with the finer points of emotion and relationships are considered epic and important from the pen of a man (Tolstoy, Dickens) but dismissed as trivial in the hands of a woman (Gaskell et al). Well, I won't have it! So I've decided that I'm going to join in the rising clamour of voices that are involved in #readwomen2014 with a series of posts on women in literature who deserve more recognition. Despite the inspiration, I'm not claiming that all of the books I'll post about will qualify as "major texts," but some certainly will, and others will simply be works that I think deserve more attention. It'll also give me the impetus to go back and re-read some of my favourites, which I always feel I need an excuse for as there are so many books I haven't read yet!
What are you reading at the moment? What are your favourite books by women, and are there any that you think I should include in this series?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Finally! The 1930s Repro Outfit.

So here it is, the outfit that was perfectly timed to coincide with my review of The Makioka Sisters, but the photographs that were not. I've been trying to learn how to improve my photography skills, but as yet that is still far off. However, the point of this post is the outfit itself, so without further ado:

I'm totally shelving this book in the wrong spot. 

Demure '30s miss.


The finished outfit, in all its glory. 

The pattern was this one from Eva Dress, and the fabric and notions are just from Spotlight. I realise I should have taken some shots of the detail, particularly the buttons on the pinafore (jumper for you American folks), as they are made of wood with a gorgeous engraved floral pattern on them. But I didn't, so you can't see them. Sorry! The hat is from Rubi Shoes I think, it was a couple of years back - I'm really only wearing it because I was too lazy to do my hair.
The shoes are from ModCloth (affiliate link), and I love them, but... they're so ridiculously painful! I don't usually buy synthetic shoes for this exact reason, but I thought that since they have a leather lining they'd be ok. It's possible that once I've worn them in, they will be better, and I think once winter rolls around I'll be able to wear them with tights. They're so cute though, they'd be perfect if they were all leather. Sigh...
Lippie is In Love With Ginger by Rimmel, which I bought partly for the colour, and partly because the Lovely Boyfriend is ginger, so it amused me. It's a great colour, but not at all long wearing, so I'm currently on the lookout for a longer lasting dupe, perhaps something matte. Anyway, this post hopefully marks the resumption of our regularly scheduled updates!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Technical Difficulties

Namely, that I lost the connecting cable for the Lovely Boyfriend's camera, which I have been using to take all my blog pictures. I found it on Friday, but obviously chocolate and eating copious amounts thereof have taken precedence over the long weekend. I did make quite a bit of progress on the good version of the 1957 Claire McCardell reproduction though, hopefully I'll have it done by the end of the week. In the meantime, check out the patterns I'm coveting on Etsy here. I'm quite desperate to add to my stash, so I've put my credit card in a glass of water in the freezer to help with my self control...
What's on your list of to-be-acquired patterns?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Busy, busy, busy, like a very tall bee!

Well, so much for "pictures tomorrow!" I took a bit of an unscheduled break from blogging there, as I've been absolutely flat out with job applications and interviews, but now I can sit back and breathe for a bit, as I'm working again.
I've been playing around with the Lovely Boyfriend's camera, and by playing around I mean experimenting with the "automatic" setting as that is all I feel capable of at the moment. Please excuse the quality of the pictures, I definitely want to improve on my photography this year.
I've not yet managed to take and suitable pictures of the previously mentioned 1930s outfit, but I have been watching far too much of the amazing series Land Girls on a technically-unavailable-in-Australia streaming service that shall remain nameless. I can't help it, the weather is horrible, and I've felt the need to stay curled up in bed with Charlie in the mornings. Charlie is a bit over it, because she looooves walks in the rain (not so much PiƱa Coladas though) but I don't because, well, glasses. Poor old Charlie is currently sitting on the back of the couch, curled against my shoulder and moping.
Anyway, today I headed into uni in this Land Girls inspired outfit. My hair goes mad in the rain, so I felt the need for a hat, and any excuse will do to wear the boots and skirt. It's really nothing like the costumes on the show, except that it's 1940s inspired and features that delicious olive-green, which is one of my favourite colours to wear.

Don't I look the tragic 1940s heroine to a T? 

The skirt was made from this pattern, from a 60/40 poly-wool blend I bought at Spotlight. I loved it so much I went back and bought some more fabric with ambitions of making a suit jacket or a coat, but I am yet to realise that ambition, despite having made the skirt at least three years ago...

Charlie was not impressed with my photography skills either. 

The boots are pretty much my favourite thing in the world. I bought them in Florence for about 200 Euros, which luckily wasn't too bad with the exchange rate at the time. The shop I bought them from was somewhere between the Pitti Palace and the Ponte Vecchio, and I had passed them on my first trip to Italy, backpacking while I was based in the UK on my working holiday. I didn't buy them then, because they were so expensive, but I regretted it so much that when a friend and I went on a final backpacking trip before we headed home the best part of a year later, I insisted we go back to Florence. I bought the boots, and have not regretted it, although they really do need to be re-heeled. Some Google Earth sleuthing has revealed the store as Rive Gauche - oooh, you can still buy the boots here! Seriously tempted to buy a different style now.
The lipstick is my beloved Revlon Really Red, which I think is a pretty good match for a classic '40s red.

Do any of your favourite (vintage or otherwise) clothes have stories behind them? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Makioka Sisters - Book Review.

If you follow my instagram, you'll have seen I've been reading The Makioka Sisters by Juni'chiro Tanizaki. I'm not hugely familiar with Japanese fiction, with the exception of Huruki Murakami, who holds a special place in my heart. But that's another story...

Coincidentally, last week I came across a nearly-finished sewing project that I'd forgotten about (my sewing is not anywhere near as organised as I'd like!), which was not only a reproduction of a pattern from around the same period as the book was set, but for which I'd used a lovely cherry-blossom print, so I'm going to finish it off this afternoon and hopefully get some pictures up some time tomorrow.

On to The Makioka Sisters. As I was saying, my point of reference with Japanese fiction is limited, but it certainly seems as though I've stumbled across a classic here (bless your little cotton socks, Lifeline Bookfest). The Makioka Sisters is a beautiful portrait of a Japanese family and their crumbling fortunes in the late 1930s, seen through the eyes of the four eponymous sisters. 
Tsuroku, Sachiko, Yukiko, and Taeko were born to an upper-middle class Osaka family, the sort of family where tradition and honour are the most important things for a daughter to uphold. The story begins slowly, and I admit to almost giving up on the Sisters, but just as Tanizaki has spent a smidgen too much time introducing the four, it suddenly gains momentum. In an era when, as in the West, Japanese traditions were slowly becoming outmoded, most of the tension in the novel comes from the different attitudes each sister has in adapting to the new ways.
Traditionally in Japan, sisters must marry in order of age, as a girl marrying before her elder sister implies the elder cannot attract a suitable match. While marriage for love is not frowned upon, arranged marriages seem more commonplace, and the two eldest Makiokas are respectably married before the story begins. Perhaps predictably, the plot centres around the difficulty of marrying off the two youngest Makiokas - the youngest, Taeko, wishes to marry, but is unable to until Yukiko has done so. And here we find the crux of the matter: Yukiko is unmarried at thirty, bringing shame to her sisters as it is the responsibility of her family to arrange a suitable match. Their inability to do so is in a large part due to their fallen social standing - since their father died, the Makiokas have come down in the world, but to Yukiko, marriage is unthinkable to a man who is not her social equal. Taeko meanwhile, frustrated that she may not marry, yet traditional enough to wait anyway, courts scandal not only by taking lovers, but worse, by attempting to support herself financially. Taeko is a typical youngest child with rebellious inclinations, but paradoxically with a great respect for Japanese traditions, which make for a heartbreakingly tormented character. 
The plot is fairly conventional, the sort of thing you'd expect perhaps from a nineteenth century lady-novelist (some of my favourites!), which although it seems to follow a predictable trajectory, provides the most beautiful framework for Tanizaki to explore the relationships between the sisters, and their fraught relationship with their changing culture. Sachiko in particular is a fascinating character, torn between her traditional values and her sympathetic nature. Although written in third person, much of the narration makes use of free indirect style, and through this the reader sympathises largely with Sachiko. It is interesting that Tanizaki chose to use four women as his central characters, when the society he depicts seems largely patriarchal, and I'm at a loss to think of a Western male novelist from the same time period who has done so.

One of the aspects that both disappointed and interested me about the novel was the time period the narrative covers. Set from 1936 until 1941, it was written during the early 1940s, and published as a serial from 1943, to some controversy. I can only assume that this censorship contributed to the carefully guarded way the political tensions of the time are discussed. The ongoing conflict with China in particular is referred to simply as "the China Incident," and is only mentioned in reference to a continued need not to be extravagant or ostentatious.
The novel's somewhat abrupt ending in 1941 left me with a certain curiosity about the characters experiences in World War Two, which Japan joined after Pearl Harbour in 1942. I came away with the impression I'd read the first volume in one of those sprawling, multi-generational works like The Forsyte Saga. Perhaps that is simply the Western tradition however, as it in no sense seems an unfinished novel, more that the characters are so fascinating that the reader wants to know more.

Rating: 4 out of 5. A touching, nuanced portrait of the relationships been women in a tumultuous time.

Do you have any recommendations for Japanese fiction? Or any underrated classics I should check out? 

If you'd like to check it out, you can purchase The Makioka Sisters through my affiliate link here.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Progress: Claire McCardell 1957 Dress

You might remember I posted about the projects I've got planned for this year - I still haven't finished one of the items in my too-hard basket, but I've started on a new dress!
As I mentioned, I've been hoarding both pattern and fabric for years, and nothing was ever good enough for either of them, until I finally hit on the obvious idea for using them together as I was writing the previous post.
I've been holding onto that gorgeous silk satin for so long that I knew I'd have to make a rough copy for this dress - this isn't something I've ever done before, as I'm incredibly lazy and also usually sew with relatively cheap cotton. But I'd have been heartbroken to have wasted the fabric. The pattern, from Eva Dress, is a multi-sized reproduction, and as always with post-1940s patterns, I'm a different size at the bust to the size I am from the waist down, so I thought I might have a bit of trouble with the fitting.
In this sense, the rough was both a good idea, and a waste of time, as it fit almost perfectly first go!

Without the sashes tightening the waist.

Sashes tied and tightened.

Sashes tied. Excuse my spare room mess. 
The waist, which is the larger of the two sizes, is pretty much a perfect fit. It's perhaps a little bit loose at the bust when I look at the pictures, but I think any tighter would be uncomfortable, and also that a slight blousiness is more appropriate to the time period when it's paired with those raglan sleeves. You can see in the original drawings (the Vintage Patterns Wiki has slightly clearer scans I think), that the bust area is intended to be a little looser, so I think it's perhaps just me not being careful enough wrapping the sashes.
I'll perhaps take in the hips a little at the sides, too, as they are a little full, which sits fine in the cheap cotton blend I made this rough from, but I think the silk satin will drape a bit more, and therefore need that fullness taken out of the side seams. 
Obviously I haven't done any of the finishes, so there will be some differences in the final product! I'm also using my phone camera fairly blatantly here -shocking confession time! I don't actually have a proper camera yet. The Lovely Boyfriend has one, which he is teaching me to use and I intend to commandeer, but I haven't got around to taking blog photos with. I decided to start blogging anyway, and I'll improve as I go - I'm sure you'll forgive me!

What's sat the longest unused in your stash? Have you got something waiting for the perfect project?