McCall 4065, “Misses’ Mannish Jacket,” 1941

Readers,

A few days ago I had the jacket I’ve been making using Kenneth King’s Smart Tailoring DVDs properly lighted and photographed in my sister’s studio.IMG_6680 (460x386)

As you can see, I haven’t sewn the buttonholes or attached buttons yet.

What's left to do? Buttonholes, buttons, and a final press.

What’s left to do? Buttonholes, buttons, and a final press.

I’m pretty sure this fabric is old–possibly from the 1950s–judging from the shades of blues and greens that strike me as different from today’s.

What's going on here? The back vent is not hanging straight. Could pressing remedy this?

What’s going on here? The back vent is not hanging straight. Could pressing remedy this?

New buttons might look fine with this jacket, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to find vintage buttons with subtle shades that complement the coloring of this tweed and the style of this 1941 pattern?

A side view shows the upper and one of the lower patch pockets.

A side view shows the upper and one of the lower patch pockets.

And where better to conduct my search than London, home of mannish jackets and every sort of mannish jacket supplies? So when Jack and I get to London May 31, my quest will be uppermost in my mind.

The felt undercollar, fell stitched to the jacket body, looks nice.

The felt undercollar, fell stitched to the jacket body, looks nice.

The last time I was in London, for the Savile Row tailoring course at the Fashion and Textile Museum, I caught a cold and spent two days lying prostrate instead of dashing around checking out some new sewing and fashion sources, which was frustrating.

I like the way the upper collar wraps to the undercollar. I am wondering whether my sleeve cap is a little too filled out. I will ask Kenneth King when I take his class in July.

I like the way the upper collar wraps to the undercollar. I am wondering whether my sleeve cap is a little too filled out. I will ask Kenneth King when I take his class in July.

Fell stitching, close up. Here again I wonder whether I have put too much padding into the shoulder or sleeve cap.

Rookie fell stitching, close up. Here again I wonder whether I have put too much padding into the shoulder or sleeve cap.

I hope to visit those places this time, but as my sewing teacher Edith says, “You never know.” I may miss places I’d hoped to go to, yet discover other delightful places by sheer chance.

Here's the hidden pocket I learned to make. I think I'll put a hidden pocket into every lined jacket I make from now on.

Here’s the hidden pocket I learned to make. I think I’ll put a hidden pocket into every lined jacket I make from now on.

In a couple of hours Jack and I will leave for the airport. Our three-week trip will take us to a little town in Bavaria, Berlin (my first visit), Cambridge, and London.

The vent is...passable.

The vent is…passable. I was surprised to see how I made the underlap a little too long. I thought I had nailed this.

But the sleeve vent is not my finest work. I'll ask Kenneth how I can improve.

But the sleeve vent is not my finest work. I’ll ask Kenneth how I can improve.

We’re bringing the laptop, and barring technical difficulties, I plan to post during our travels.

Ready for takeoff!

Ready for takeoff!

Field Trip: The Fashion Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Readers,

One Sunday during my recent trip to London I went to my favorite museum ever: the Victoria & Albert Museum. It calls itself “the world’s greatest museum of art and design.” I call it a gigantic, creative playground. Striding through the tunnel from the South Kensington Underground station I always feel a surge of curiosity and happiness as I approach the V&A through the back entrance.

In February and March 2011, when I was researching “Sewing Destination: London, England” for Threads magazine, Room 40, the Fashion Gallery, was closed for a major remodeling. It reopened in spring 2012, and I got to see it that June. The reopened gallery is a wonderful showcase for temporary exhibitions and for choice pieces from the permanent fashion collection.

What a trio: a tweed suit by Balenciaga, a miniature dress by Jacques Fath, and

What a trio: a tweed suit by Balenciaga, a miniature dress by Jacques Fath, and behind it, a skirt, jacket and belt by Dior.

For a couple of hours on that recent Sunday afternoon I wandered from one glass case to the next, admiring the beauty and ingenuity of many garments. Sometimes the designers and makers’ names are known sometimes, they have been lost, but their work lives on to inspire us.

I switched off my camera flash and was able to take pictures, but the low lighting and reflective glass were problems. However, many of these garments can be seen in the V&A’s database. If you click on the links below, you can see the V&A’s professional photos with descriptions of the garments and historical contexts.

I love the black gloves paired with the bracelet sleeves--and the Schiaparelli bracelet.

I love the black gloves paired with the bracelet sleeves–and the Schiaparelli bracelet.

The first piece I admired was a black and white tweed suit by Balenciaga dated 1954-1955. I could happily wear this today. I love the big collar, the bracelet-length sleeves, and the texture of the tweed. I loved seeing the black gloves, the pumps and the handbag exhibited with the suit to make an outfit. I was reminded of my own chunky tweed vintage jacket from the ’50s, which is just begging for long gloves to complete the look.

The shoes date from 1960; the lizard handbag from 1950.

The shoes date from 1960; the lizard handbag from 1950.

In the same case was this amazing miniature dress by Jacques Fath from about 1950, donated by the designer David Sassoon. The description in the V&A’s database says this was a sample to show what the finished dress would look like. Don’t you wonder if any full-size dresses like this have survived?

I can't imagine the work that went into this little masterpiece.

I can’t imagine the work that went into this little masterpiece.

Completing the trio is Batignolles, a three-piece afternoon dress by Christian Dior from 1952. The V&A description says

Despite its simple appearance, it is assembled with a multiplicity of buttons and tiny snap fasteners, which required the help of a lady’s maid to secure.

The couturier Christóbal Balenciaga was said to have disapproved of the complexity of Dior’s fastenings.

Don’t you wish, as I do, that you could see for yourself how complicated it was to put on this ensemble? I wonder whom I’d side with. Probably Balenciaga. But the dress is gorgeous nonetheless.

As is this coral red beauty, also by Dior, from 1954-’55.

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This dress design, called Zemire,  was commissioned by the wife of a textile company executive; the fabric is a synthetic manufactured by that company. Nice advertisement!

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

In a neighboring case, within sight of this sumptuous dress that used extravagant amounts of yardage, are a woman’s utility suit from 1942 and a man’s utility suit from 1941, when fabric use was restricted.

A woman's utility suit designed in accordance with fabric and button restrictions during World War II

A woman’s utility suit designed in accordance with fabric and button restrictions during World War II

I am so struck by how attractive these suits are while working within the limitations. They make me want to learn more about what the design problems were and how many ways designers solved those problems.

I like the contrasting buttons on the woman’s suit. They make me want to comb through my recent button purchases looking to brighten up some staid tweed.

From 1941, a man's utility suit.

From 1941, a man’s utility suit.

After the years of fabric restriction isn’t it easy to imagine how exhilarating it had to be to use yards and yards of fabric as you pleased?

In another case near the Zemire dress is this Foale and Tuffin suit from 1964, and it provides another kind of contrast.

I love the high contrast and the pattern mix.

I love the graphic black and white and the pattern mix.

If the Zemire dress expresses the freedom to use lots of fabric, it also constricts the wearer with a corset and girdle. And the Batignolles dress required a helper! This brash, young, graphic black and white suit feels really free to me–you put it on and you’re done. No cinched waist here.

In trying to describe the feeling of this suit a word came to me that I hadn’t thought of in decades: “kicky.” This is a kicky suit. The Balenciaga suit is not kicky. The utility suits are definitely not kicky. Neither are the red Zemire dress or the deep blue Batignolle dress. But the Foale and Tuffin has a youthful, devil-may-care feel about it. In the Vogue magazine photo the model is striding along outdoors, enjoying the breeze, independent and unstyled.

I admire all the garments here, but the one I can really imagine buying, wearing, and enjoying is this Foale and Tuffin suit. How about you?

Field Trip: “The Anatomy of a Suit,” Museum of London

Readers,

The letter-writing mood has struck again.

The entire exhibit is visible in this photo.

The entire exhibit is visible in this photo.

To the Director of Collections and Learning, Museum of London

Dear Director:

The Museum of London website says that Timothy Long is the curator of your show “The Anatomy of a Suit,” but I’m writing because there  has to be a mistake. I wanted you to know so you could correct it straightaway.

You see, I saw that stunning show that he worked on, “Chic Chicago,” at the Chicago History Museum in 2009, and even bought the companion book. I clearly remember raving to the woman in the museum shop who rang up my purchase. It wasn’t just that the clothes were beautiful, I said, it was that they were displayed so well for us curious viewers who wanted to get the closest look we could. I asked her to pass my appreciation on to the museum staff.

The companion book for an outstanding show that curator Timothy Long helped to create.

The companion book for an outstanding show that curator Timothy Long helped to create.

But “The Anatomy of a Suit” was nothing like “Chic Chicago.” It was more like “Dim Duds.”

Taking a dim view: lighting for the exhibit certainly created a mood.

Taking a dim view: lighting for the exhibit certainly created a mood but not the one intended.

It was a month ago, when I was checking London museum events online and planning what I’d do on my days off from “Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors,” that I came across the description and video of “The Anatomy of a Suit.” “What perfect timing!” I thought. “Maybe one of my classmates would want to come with me. I’ll want to write this up for my readers. Maybe a few more people will go and enjoy the show because they learned about it from my post.”IMG_4601 (345x460)

A couple of weeks ago, after browsing the pop-up vintage fair at Old Spitalfields Market, I walked over to the Museum of London. I always have a devil of a time finding the entrance, but once inside I’m always glad I came. What a remarkable institution the Museum of London is! And I had no idea you had a dress and fashion collection of 24,000 items! I would love to see it all.IMG_4599 (345x460)

Just beyond the Sackler Hall Café downstairs I happened upon “The Anatomy of a Suit.” From a distance I could see four mannequins dressed in jackets that had been partially taken apart.

Walking over to the exhibit and standing right in front of it, I was still at a distance from the mannequins. This was very curious.IMG_4596 (345x460)

I have been to fashion exhibits at

  • the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York
  • the Chicago History Museum
  • the Goldstein Museum of Design in St. Paul, Minnesota
  • the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid
  • the Victoria & Albert Museum  and Somerset House in London, and
  • the Fashion Museum in Bath

but this was the first where I wished I’d brought sports binoculars.IMG_4597 (269x460)

Director, I’ll say this much: I left wanting more.

If you’ve been around avid sewers, you know how they like to look at garments closely: inside and out, front, back–nothing escapes their notice. They may reach right out and pinch a bit of your sleeve or turn back a jacket opening to look at the lining. It’s almost always meant as a compliment. They understand and appreciate the care it takes to produce good work.IMG_4603 (460x236)

Anyone designing a show like “The Anatomy of a Suit” would do well to cater to this desire to learn through touch as well as sight. If, however, allowing visitors to touch garments is out of the question, then it is that much more important that the visuals–text, video, and garments–work together to help them understand what they’re seeing.IMG_4604 (460x264)

Sewers tend to be curious and eager to learn, generous and supportive. They understand that in any worthy endeavor there may be frustrating moments calling for patience.

IMG_4605 (460x244)

I sure didn’t know about padding in the hips. I am supposing it might be used on one side to create balance. I am not seeing an example of this in the four jackets.

So I’m not discouraged. I just want you to know that visitors like us sewers will want to see the 24,000 objects in your fashion collection as close-up and from as many angles as possible.  Sewers, like all makers, have a natural interest in seeing how other makers have defined and solved the problems in their craft.

If you give us this, we will leave your exhibits wanting more–and I mean that in the best possible way.

From Chic Chicago, a suit by Mainbocher from 1958.

From Chic Chicago, a suit by Mainbocher from 1958. What delightful details!

Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors: The Hardy Amies Archive

Readers,

Perhaps there’s an extra bedroom in your home stuffed with the paraphernalia of your sewing career: bolts of fabric, an old dress form, a sewing machine you no longer use but would never part with, garments you made that represent old sewing dreams (or nightmares), samples of fancy embroidery designs for  special outfits, boxes of swatches for the important client you used to sew for, those fashion sketches you used to do, a scrapbook…

Hardy Amies Ltd., 14 Savile Row

Hardy Amies Ltd., 14 Savile Row

There’s hardly a square foot of clear floor space to get around, and you keep promising yourself you’ll put all of this in good order someday. But  whenever you do need something, you can put your hand on it. And besides, you’re too busy getting things sewn to play curator, anyway.

What sewer can't relate to the challenges of storing fabric?

What sewer can’t relate to the challenges of storing fabric?

My advice would be to follow the example of Hardy Amies Ltd., call this agglomeration your archive, and consider the job done.

After touring four leading tailoring companies two days earlier, I felt like I’d had a prime rib dinner: traditional, substantial, and long to digest . Our class’s late-morning visit to the Hardy Amies archive felt to me, by contrast, like the Victoria sponge cake we would share at our last lunch together as a class: traditional, too, but lighter, prettier, and prompting smiles.

A Hardy Amies fashion sketch

A Hardy Amies fashion sketch

Playing docent was Antonia, a cutter (if I recall correctly) for the fashion house; she advises and measures customers for men’s bespoke tailoring.  Hardy Amies Ltd. no longer produces women’s wear, which I think a pity. If you don’t know Hardy Amies’ fantastic work of the 1940s and ’50s, check out some boards on Pinterest. But come back here; you’ll want to see this.

As the eight of us distributed ourselves the best we could in the tiny space, Antonia quickly recounted the career of Hardy Amies (1909-2003), which included facts about his famously tailoring his military uniforms in World War II and having financial backing to launch his own business from Cary Grant’s first (ex-) wife, Virginia Cherrill.

Antonia showed us Amies’ treadle sewing machine and motioned toward the rolls of fabric stacked on shelves making a fabulous sewing stash, but moved on quickly to the atlas-sized book with “THE QUEEN” stamped in gold on the cover.

A title that speaks volumes

A title that speaks volumes

When I asked three of my classmates, all British subjects, “When you think of Hardy Amies, what comes to mind?” their answers were

  • the Queen
  • the Queen, and
  • the Queen

    Not just anyone's dress form

    Not just anyone’s dress form

The Queen was Hardy Amies’ most famous client. Those bright-colored outfits (the better to be seen by crowds), with the coordinating hats and handbags–those were his.

Her Majesty the Queen--HMQ for short.

Her Majesty the Queen–HMQ for short.

Now our little group crowded around a scrapbook of photos and sometimes swatches of dresses and suits Amies designed for the Queen for public appearances at home and abroad.

Antonia, our informative and entertaining guide.

Antonia, our informative and entertaining guide.

I'm wondering about the man on the ladder in the background.

Are you wondering, as I am, about the man in the background on the ladder?

IMG_4850 (460x345)

So many occasions to dress for.

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Beautiful, comfortable, and elegant.

The sketch and a swatch

It starts with a sketch and a swatch.

Center: the Queen in the finished dress

I think the sketch at top shows the dress in the center photo.

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Maintaining dignity and elegance in spite of the elements.

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The press was often wowed.

It was especially fun to see swatches with the photo of the garment.

It was especially fun to see swatches with the photo of the garment to see colors and textures accurately.

Sometimes the photos misrepresented the colors. This blue is so vivid.

Sometimes the photos misrepresented the colors. This blue is so vivid.

From the Queen's USA trip in 1983, a departure from clean, simple lines. The press was not kind.

From the Queen’s USA trip in 1983, a departure from clean, simple lines. The press was not wowed this time. Under the bow are the words “The offending bow.”

IMG_4866 (345x460)

When my classmates said Amies designed for the Queen, this kind of outfit came to mind.

I didn’t grow up in the British Commonwealth and was never a royals watcher–well, with one exception. When I was a college student in London in 1978 I got to see the Queen riding in an open carriage through the streets with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu on his state visit.

A very uncomfortable moment for the Queen. Was the color of her jacket a neutral?

A very uncomfortable moment for the Queen. Was the color of her jacket a neutral?

I can’t say I remember what she wore. But in this photo from the Daily Mail the cut of the jacket certainly resembles the purple one in the album. Could it have been a Hardy Amies? Dependably elegant and dignified regardless of the circumstances?

This jacket has a wealth of design details.

This jacket has a wealth of design details.

But back to the archive. Antonia showed us some other womenswear pieces, and I realize now I assumed these were in production, but maybe they were individual commissions.

I love this pocket.

I love this pocket.

In either case, I admired the work in this jacket, which, unfortunately, my photographs don’t adequately convey. The main fabric is a tiny check or houndstooth, but part of the side panel is in a glen plaid. It’s a subtle pattern mix with the confidence to wait for you to discover it. We liked the pocket design, and the box pleating at the cuffs and at the hem of the coordinating skirt that reminded me of the box pleating I’ve done in soft furnishings.

Box pleating distinguishes this skirt.

Box pleating distinguishes this skirt.

We enjoyed the bold burnt-orange of a crisp silk blouse

I think this is from the '80s.

I think this is from the ’80s.

and seeing elegant construction solutions to make a lace evening dress as functional as it is beautiful.

Providing support while maintaining elegance-that's the challenge of constructing evening wear.

Providing support while maintaining elegance-that’s the challenge of constructing evening wear.

And Antonia showed us how comfortable and flattering a Hardy Amies dress is to wear.IMG_4887 (460x345)

Listening to Antonia’s stories of working in the village that is Savile Row, we wondered whether the archive provided a welcome retreat some days from high doses of masculinity. She agreed it did, and although she didn’t admit playing dress-up, she didn’t deny it, either. If she does, who could blame her?

Don't you just want to look into those boxes?

Don’t you just want to look into those boxes?

Field Trip: Wayward, St. Leonards On Sea, East Sussex, England

Readers,

Ever since I met Andrew Hirst a year and a half ago at his Portobello Road Market stall, I’ve wanted to take a train down from London to the town of St. Leonards On Sea to see his shop, Wayward, which he describes as “an emporium of vintage haberdashery and treasures.”IMG_4963 (460x345)

I had been entranced by his buttons and trims at his stall at the Sunbury Antiques Market and again on Portobello Road, where I struck up a conversation with him. When I showed him my article in Threads magazine, “Sewing Destination: London, England” he pointed out the photos of the vintage buttons and trims he’d found and sold to the fabric shops I included. Wow, I said.

The amazing wall of buttons.

The amazing wall of buttons.

If I liked his stall I should really come down to the shop, he said. There is much, much more to see.  It’s a train ride from London. I was tempted. I hesitated.

Vintage trims

Vintage trims

I didn’t get to Wayward in 2012 after all, but I kept going back to the website to look at the photos, especially of the buttons, which haunted my sewing dreams. So when I planned my trip to take the Tailoring With Savile Row Tailors course in London I budgeted a day to see the shop at last.

Drawer upon drawer of buttons on cards

Drawer upon drawer of buttons on cards

IMG_5025 (460x345)

The outside of the top box of buttons…

Readers, I’m sure going to Wayward is always special. But having just finished an intensive two-week class about bespoke tailoring, going to Wayward was even more interesting for the extreme contrast it provided.

...and the inside.

…and the inside.

I’ve read various vague definitions of “bespoke” that include the idea that a length of cloth was spoken for–bespoke, or set aside–to be tailored for a particular customer.

"Riddiculously Pretty Ribbons"

“Riddiculously Pretty Ribbons”

Wayward is a collection of things that for the most part have been unspoken-for for generations. They have lain intact in shop storerooms, warehouses and old factories in France and the UK, unclaimed and obscure, until Andrew Hirst has gotten wind of them through his contacts. Lucy, his welcoming and cheerful shop assistant, compares him to a pirate hauling treasures back from his adventures, but I wonder if he’s just as much a latter-day Howard Carter reopening a King Tut’s tomb of gold and silver–metallic thread, that is.IMG_5030 (460x345)

After two weeks of seeing suitings in navy, gray, and black (with the rare brown thrown in for reckless types); debating the merits and meanings of one-, two- and three-button closures, slanted versus horizontal pocket welts and the amount of shoulder padding in the “house style,” and counting more animal heads on the walls than women customers on the books of Savile Row’s most historic tailoring firms, I waded into Wayward’s joyously uncurated, lovable, glorious messiness. I was a child at play among thousands of extravagantly colorful, whimsical vintage buttons, many on their original cards from…when? The 1940s? 1950s?

I don't know what I would do with this, but I want it anyway.

I don’t know what I would do with this, but I want it anyway.

When I introduced myself to Lucy as the sewing blogger who had e-mailed to ask if the store would be open and if I could take pictures, she gave me free rein of the place, encouraging me to pull out drawers and set them on counters, the better to see the hundreds of button cards. I spent my first hour going through several drawers, starting a pile of purchases; broke for lunch; and returned to investigate most of the shop’s nooks and crannies. In my three and a half hours at Wayward I kept smiling and shaking my head in awe and astonishment at the ingenuity of everyday design.

Linens and jutes (new)

Linens and jutes (new)

I’m afraid that however many pictures I took they can’t do justice to the breadth and depth of Wayward’s offerings, which change as Andrew discovers new old caches, such as the 100,000 old greeting cards he bought up. If ever Wayward advertises for a blogger in residence to update customers on the latest finds, I’ll gladly apply. My cover letter will say, “Will work for buttons.”

What's the story behind this tag?

What’s the story behind this tag?

Hundreds and hundreds of trims

Hundreds and hundreds of trims

Buttons on their original cards, in their original box, separated by the original tissue paper.

Buttons on their original cards, in their original box, separated by the original tissue paper.

IMG_5008 (314x460)

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German shepherds? I looked for Scotties, corgis, but no--only German shepherds.

Horse and rider. Leather?

Horse and rider. Leather?

From the wall of buttons

From the wall of buttons

Dewhurst thread in a beautiful set of drawers.

Dewhurst thread in a beautiful set of drawers.

...and the gorgeous box, with the engraving of the factory

…and the gorgeous box, with the engraving of the factory

A glorious gallimaufry

A glorious gallimaufry

"Splendid Socks from the 1930's"

“Splendid Socks from the 1930’s”

Hairpins--who knew there were so many kinds?

Hairpins–who knew there were so many kinds?

Even hairpins for the coronation

Even hairpins for the coronation

Taking care of Madamoiselle from top...

Taking care of Mademoiselle from top…

...to bottom.

…to bottom.

"By appointment to H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Hook & Eye Makers"

“By appointment to H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Hook & Eye Makers”

Rickrack. I've never seen any as fine as this.

Rickrack. I’ve never seen any as fine as this.

Back when New York's garment district was booming

Back when New York’s garment district was booming

One of the 100,000 cards Andrew Hirst bought.

One of the 100,000 cards Andrew Hirst bought.

So long, Wayward. I'll be back.

So long, Wayward. I’ll be back.