August 31, 2013

stitches of history

You may know that I'm not really into crafts. I've done little bits of simple knitting and crochet and that's about it. I don't mind doing extensive hand-sewing on the garments I make but decorative needlework...... I think I once embroidered a tiny flower under instruction from my grandmother, when I was about six...
Of course, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate examples of those kinds of work in textile.

Recently, I came across this embroidered eh... Scarf? Small narrow table cloth? Something else?

It was in a display case in Hohensalzburg castle, the large mediaeval castle in Salzburg, Austria. 
The item had been casually draped in a corner (which is why I couldn't take a picture of it as a whole) and at first glance, it might not seem very special. Picot-like borders, line embroidery of fanciful leaves framing a center section of a sort of square mesh made from the embroidery yarn. Yes, it's fine work but we've all seen more impressive examples of that. However, all the items in this room (mostly furniture and fancy crockery) were from the 16th century. And look at this, in the corner:

1567. I don't know which family the crest belonged to but despite that, this is not a show-piece, like a banner. This is a personal touch, a little thing to make one's own living space a bit prettier. Because the castles in and around Salzburg were built by Archbishops, we can be pretty sure this wasn't made by the lady of the house. But the use of such a time-consuming technique on an item that probably didn't have a display function does suggest a woman of some leisure. Not a servant certainly. Most likely the wife or daughter of a wealthy citizen of the city. That would be in line with the other objects in the room (many of which, like the large pieces of furniture, were not originally from the castle) and with the status of the city of Salzburg at the time.
I wonder if the colours mean anything. Purple on white. I know in catholic colour lore, purple is a colour of mourning, used during Lent. Maybe this was for a table display during that part of the year?

August 22, 2013

Bra considerations and cheap tricks

Hi everyone! Thanks for your response to my "breasts and bras" post.
I will definitely pursue the subject further. I'd like to try and post regularly about it, covering the matter from different angles (pun intended). And I want to create a bra link page, including all sorts of things from good fitting and/or information, sewing patterns, bra-making tutorials and suppliers of lingerie sewing notions. So, if you have any links like that, please mention them in the comments or email me. Of course, you can also use the email for any specific bra-related questions. 

Today, I thought I would keep it light. A simple "anatomy of the bra", so simple tricks to make RTW bras fit you better and maybe some bra history.
For the last subject, I looked up the entry on bras on Wikipedia. It's here and it's actually quite an interesting read. Of course, it's quite funny that both the title picture and the one in the "mechanical design" chapter show rather badly fitted and worn bras, but that's not my point. Neither is the great quote on the challenges of designing a bra:  "In many respects, the challenge of enclosing and supporting a semi-solid mass of variable volume and shape, plus its adjacent mirror image—together they equal the female bosom—involves a design effort comparable to that of building a bridge or a cantilevered skyscraper." (Wow, no wonder it took me so many tries and I still have to develop the thing further...).
The real issue of the article is this: We don't need bras. Apperently, research has shown that bras don't prevent sagging of the breasts (indeed they may even encourage it) and may, especially when badly fitted and especially with larger breasts cause back, shoulder, arm and breast pain.
It seems that, like the corset in its day, the bra is worn for reasons of vanity, fashion and conformation to social norms, whether those would be of modesty (not showing nipples) or of attraction (to the opposite sex).
If you are considering making your own bras because you find RTW ones uncomfortable or you are looking for a more natural look, read the article, especially the bits about sagging and health issues.

After getting rid of that elephant in the room, let's return to some of my intended post: In that previous post, I discussed bits of bras in terms normally used on blogs by those sewing bras. I don't think any of those were unclear to anyone, because no-one asked about them. However, just in case some people were just too shy to ask, I thought I'd explain anyway:

These are the parts of a bra as I named them. Of course, I such have drawn the shoulderstraps so that they were connected to the wings in the back as well. 
In the Wikipedia article, the "wings" are called "back wings", which is not such a great difference, and what I call the "bridge" is called "gore".
Obviously, there are many different styles of bras. As a result, every element in this drawing can look completely different for any given style, but I think you get the idea. (and I don't want to go into a discussion on styles here because that would be another long talk...)

And now, on to the tricks!

If you don't feel up to the challenge of making your bras, there are many things you can do to make RTW bras fit better.

The main thing to remember is that strange relationship between band size and cup size. And you can use this to your advantage.

Suppose you wear a 75F... This is the kind of size which would force you to go to specialist shops and pay quite a lot for a bra. But the underwire of a 75F is the same size as that of 80E and 85D... 
85D is a standard size in a lot of places. You can try the 85D, purely checking the fit of the cups themselves and whether or not the bridge width is right for you. At home, simply take a seam ripper, take off the hook-and-eye closure, cut away about 4 cm of the band at each side (there's negative ease in the band, so cutting out 10 cm in total would make it too small. Obviously it's best to check how much length to remove before you cut) and stitch the closure back on using a small zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. This will put the back connection of the shoulder straps closer to center back but that's usually not uncomfortable at all (if you think it will be, take out length of the band at each side of the strap)

And suppose you wear an 85A. This size can also be hard to find. But the wire should be the same as 80B which you can get everywhere. 
In this case, the solution is even simpler. Many lingerie stores and sewing supply stores sell bra band extension things: pieces of elastic with hooks on one end and eyes on the other. These come in one and two band size options and can simply be hooked onto the bra's normal closure.
Of course, here you also have to take care the front of the bra fits you properly.

My third tip has to do with shoulder straps, and it comes with an anecdote:
A few months ago, I was fitting a young lady for her wedding dress. She was petite and wore something like a 75B bra. Not a size which should cause anyone trouble. Of course, she had taken her bra off for the fitting of her strapless wedding dress. I pinned the hem, she tried on veils and her mother took some pictures. The whole operation took at least half an hour. When I helped her out of the dress, I noticed she still had red marks on her shoulders from the shoulder straps of her bra. Normally, I don't comment on customer's own clothes and lingerie, but in this case I thought I would. 
When I asked about those shoulder straps, she told me they were painfully tight but she had had issues with straps slipping off her shoulders and the lady at the lingerie store told her she should tighten the straps to deal with that... So, I recommended she'd try other bra styles, like halter or racerback.
Later I remembered there's an even simpler solution yet: the same places which sell the bra extensions often also sell a kind of "hook" for shoulder straps. With that thing, you can pull the straps of a normal bra together at center back which prevents slipping straps without them having to be very tight.

I suppose everyone knows a bra should "carry" the breasts on the band and cups, which distributes the weight of the breasts on the torso. If the shoulder straps are so tight they pull up the back of the band, that weight drags on the shoulders instead.

I think this is enough for today. Please weigh in with your opinion on the bra debate, your links and any other comments or questions.

August 18, 2013

90 years ago...

Today, I want to share some more vintage fashion pictures with you. These are  almost exactly 90 years old...
All the images in this post come from "De Gracieuse" no.16 1923. As this magazine was published twice each month, no. 16 is the second issue of the month August.

One of the things I love about 1920's Gracieuse is the used of photographs on the cover. In can be so difficult to get an idea of what these garments would really look like if all you have to go by are the often fanciful drawings.
 This particular dress is a "modern mourning gown". It shows the fashionable silhouette of 1923 quite well: a loose shape, belted well below the natural waist, the skirt which reaches the wearer's ankle decorated with dramatic draped points. I also rather like the dainty pointy toed, high heeled shoes worn with it.

When you turn the page, the mood changes immediately. Here, we see a wedding dress and outfits for the bridesmaid and flower girls.

It is only after that and a page of embroidery patterns, that we come to the actual title page. In the 1930's, this page would contain an editorial explaining the trends of the new season, here, we go straight to the describtion of the designs. Dresses and suits for late summer and autumn.
For ladies and children.

Some of these designs are included on the pattern sheet:

Like the blouse on the left: "An elegant blouse made from multi-coloured floral silk and crepe Georgette. Because it has been made from a combination of materials, it is very suitable for updating an old garment".
And the dress on the right: "Shirtdress made from two fabrics very suitable for plus-sized ladies" (the pattern on the supplement is in a large size but they are not helping matters by showing it on such a frail girl...)

Here, the suit-dress on the left and the suit on the right come with patterns as does the dress in the middle, with the bias plaid. All the shapes look quite simple and straight-up-and-down.

The final garment-with-pattern is the middle one in this picture. "A visiting outfit, suitable for mourning with a long blouse and an apron-skirt". 

This is what the pattern sheet looks like. A lot less dense than the 1930's one but of course, it does contain fewer patterns. The little drawings seem to suggest that most garments are indeed simple and, dare I say, a bit sack-like in shape.

Clothes had to last and be stylish at the same time (fast fashion really is a luxury of our days...) which is why this page was included, with collar and sleeve designs to update older dresses. It's interesting to see that all the sleeve variations are for sleeves which have been set into a fitted armscye, while most of the complete designs had either kimono sleeves or a dropped shoulder line. 
At the bottom of the page, you can see the back views of the designs on the previous pages.

Then, there are several pages with craft projects. Delicate embroidery and lace-like crochet.
Oh, and recipes and a feuilleton. None of which have interesting pictures.

The inside of the back cover shows the final designs:

All decorated with embroidered flowers.
I don't know why but Gracieuse always has distinctly different drawings on the front and back cover even though those also illustrate their designs.

A couple of these patterns are roughly in my size. Some day, when I have the time, I'd love to try one out and see what the 1920's look is like to wear...

August 13, 2013

Another crazy jumpsuit

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with my fondness of "just-because" projects. And my liking for jumpsuits.
Here, I've combined those preferences.

I've finished the jumpsuit I was musing about last month (you can see the sketch/tech drawing there, as well as some earlier versions of the idea).
The jumpsuit legs have a "cowl" shape along the same lines as my dress from earlier this summer. And I put in slanted pockets.

In the bodice, I've used Pattern Magic's "Tying a bow 1" at the waist. The back is fitted with darts and the short sleeves and collar are cut on. The front edges meet at center front and close with buttons and loops (there's an underlap behind the closure, of course).  

The fabric is a blue/grey crepe. I "made" this stuff myself: A while ago, M gave me a roll of fabric she didn't need anymore. This stuff was meant for the "garment dye" process. On the roll, it's off-white, thin and rather stiff. When put through a high temperature laundry cycle, all the fibres seem to get a bit twisted. The fabric shrinks a bit and becomes soft and drapey. Obviously, during the washing, you can also dye the fabric. In case, I used Dylon dye in "antique grey". 
When M used this stuff, she would test the fabric to calculate the shrinkage, enlarge the pattern pieces to compensate for it, sew the garments from the un-washed fabric and then wash and dye them. Obviously, that's only worth the trouble if you're going to make a larger number of the same thing. I just dyed the yardage.
The end-result is a really soft and float-y jumpsuit. It's a very different look but really comfortable. I think, style-wise, this is as close to early 1930's lounge-pyjamas as I ever got. But I'm no expert on that.  

August 11, 2013

Around the globe or "what the nice saleslady won't tell you"

Hi everyone. Today, I'd like to discuss breasts.
Dear male readers, my apologies but this post is really for those who have breasts, wear bras and may considers making those. Regular posting about sewing, clothes and the like will resume with the next post.

In her comment to my previous post, The Perfect Nose (about whose own explorations into bra pattern making I told you in that post) asked if it's wouldn't be worth it to make a bust form to test my bra patterns. I have to admit it sound like a great idea but I happen to know it is not as easy as it sounds.
When I made Mary, my ductape body double, I had trouble with her curves straight away. Once I had been cut out of it, all the stick-out bits just lost their real size shape very easily. The breast were an even bigger issue. I don't remember whether or not I was wearing a bra when I was being wrapped in tape to create Mary. I think I wasn't. I should have worn one though. A fitted t-shirt (the appropriate underlayer for a ductape dummy) will make the breasts a bit flatter anyway. Add some tightly wrapped layers of tape and there will be preciously little curve left. 
As a result, the top I draped on Mary was always a bit snug around the chest...

Of course, I have learned from the Mary experience but nevertheless, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to create a bust form which would actually work for the purpose of helping me draft bra patterns. Not even with professional dummy maker help.
The pattern maker's study of breast has something in common with sub-atomic partical physics: it's just not possible to measure the damn things without influencing them. And if you could accurately measure one property, you'd still be completely in the dark about other important properties. 
In the case of breasts, one might succeed in making a bust form which shows the breast in its proper size and shape, but real breast are soft tissue...

As a start, what is a breast's "proper shape" anyway? It's natural, unsupported shape? The natural shape it had when it first reached its full size? The shape it has when supported by a favorite bra?
Vintage fashion lovers will be well aware of the changing ideas about this over time: from the pigeon chested monoboob of the Edwardian era to the flat-chested "garconne" of the 1920's and from the conical shapes of the 1950's to the natural look of the 1970's... And if you think we're all about "supporting our natural assets" today, take a good look at the contents of any lingerie store: Most are filled back to front and top to bottom with foam globes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against foam cups per se, but I think it's not correct to think of that as a natural shape. And don't get me started on those push-ups which are ever increasing in size (personally, I am against those)

Just stand in front of a mirror without a bra on: breasts tend to be more or less drop shaped, round at the bottom and hanging in a straight line from the upper rib cage at the top, and pointy towards the nipple. 
In my work, I've fitted a lot women for bridal lingerie. In the process, I've learned about all those fitting issues which are not captured in bra sizes. 
Women's breasts vary in size, shape and in what I would here, for the sake of the discussion, like to call "texture": the degree of softness or firmness of the tissue. All these vary over the course of one's life depending on influences such as age, weight fluctuations, pregnancy and nursing, exercise and the degree of support the breasts received during those changes. 

Typically, bra sizing is based on the difference between bust measurement (measured at the fullest point, often when wearing a bra. this is because larger or softer breasts will hang significantly lower when unsupported) and underbust measurement. However, the same measurements won't even put you in the same size of different brands. Some use stronger or less strong elastic for the band, which influences the circumference size needed for each wearer. Similarly, each brand's definition of cup size may be different. 
I suppose I don't have to tell you (although I've come across a lot of women who don't know this) how bra sizing works: cup sizes are defined in relation to band sizes. As a result the size of the underwire itself for a 70E is the same as that for a 75D, 80C, 85B and 90A. The size of the underwire and the content of the cup. So, in fact, a statement like "I always wear a B cup" is meaningless....
The letters don't mean anything on their own. The sizes I mentioned are the ones we use in the Netherlands: band sizes in centimeters. In other countries, other systems are used but there is always this relationship between circumference and cup size.

At a fitting, your size will be determined based on the difference between those two measurements. However, that opens up a minefield of issues. For example, sporty ladies may be put into too large a cup size because strong, and therefore a bit bulky, back muscles are measured into that all-important bust measurement. Much more common, especially in smaller sizes, is another issue: there is now fixed relationship between breast surface on the ribcabe and breast volume. Most bra brands shape their cups in the same way for all sizes (maybe with some extra support for for larger sizes), just making them larger or smaller on a linear scale. Women with breasts tend to have a flat chest, rather than small round breasts with more space around them. In a lot of cases  , women with A cup measurements (for any circumference) have breasts with a surface on the ribcage which is wider than an A cup underwire. 
Underwires have to fit around each breast. If they don't, the bra will, in effect, push the breast tissue that sits under and outside the wire towards the armpit and, over time, damage the shape of the breast. 
As a seamstress making a bra, you have the option of going with the wire size you need and adapting the volume of the cup. If you know you may need to do this, pick a pattern with a seam which runs over the middle of the breast. Make a muslin, with a the underwires in place, try it on and pin out excess fabric along that seam. 

So far, we've actually only discussed general sizing, the problems with that and one issue when fitting breasts singly. Most of us (and all of us who shop in regular lingerie stores and/or buy commercial bra sewing patterns) have two breasts. Fitting both of them well presents even more problems. These issues are more often felt by those with larger sizes. It has to do with breast placement on the ribcage. In each bra, the breast is assumed to be in a certain place. Of course, all commercial brands have fitting models and good ones may have large files about women's shapes and sizes, so that placement will largely be in line with that of the breasts of the average woman. But who is to say you are average? 
Add to that the fact that no brand ever fits for all sizes separately, and you will begin to see the problem. By the way, this is also why, above a D cup, bras from from brands which specialize in larger cup sizes will often fit better. "Normal" brands assume 75 or 80B is the standard size (although now, many have moved on to 75 or 80C), fit their designs for that size and grade up and down from there. Specialist brands will fit their designs on a fit models who have a size which is average in their size range.
No matter what size you have, you should always pay attention to how the underwires sit on your body. They should lie flat on the ribcage around your breasts. If they are pushed forward in the middle, the bridge of that particular bra is too wide for you. I don't have a large cup size and I had to adjust my self-drafted pattern a little bit for this. At work, I see this issue often in the D+ sizes (probably because corselette brands use a B or C cup as a standard). When buying bras, women with small cup sizes rarely come across this problem because most of the styles available to them are half-cup bras. This means the cups are partially cut away at the center front, eliminating a significant part of that potentially troubling bridge. Because larger breasts need more support, a lot of styles for larger cup sizes will have a full height bridge.

Wow, this is already a very information-heavy post. It's probably enough for now. I have a lot more to say about breasts and bras but I think I'll leave that for some other time.
Please let me know if you're interested in that sort of thing.

August 7, 2013

Lady in red

So, I finally got around to re-trying that red bra last weekend. I'm grateful for all the good advice about cutting and re-tipping underwires but I didn't use it for this bra. Close-up and as a result of all the tweaking I had already done to try and make it work, it had several other little issues.
So, I got another meter of red lace and tried again.

I changed the pattern, to give it most space for the wire and made the various joining points easier to indentify so I would struggle less with "what goes exactly where" (millimeter-wise).

Before I got started on the bra, I made a lacey thong in red. I like have two pairs of matching panties with a bra. I have already blogged about the first pair here.

Then, it was time to try that bra again. I stuck with the unusual design I had originally made: A strong, low band made from 3,5 cm wide elastic covered in the red lycra, half fabric, half lace underwired cups and no bridge. 
This time, all my precise marking made sure the hole in the middle turned out perfectly. 

 Unfortunately, all the elastic from this set was bought in the same lingerie supply shopping spree (with Melissa at Kantje Boord) as that for the sage green set. And I had made the same mistake of not buying anything for the shoulder straps. For now, I've used a bit of the satin edge elastic as a temporary halter strap. 
I make stick with a halter strap. In this cup design, the straps are attached pretty near to the center of the top of the cup. This means it's not pulled out of shape by a strap going to the neck instead of  straight over the shoulder. And I like the completely open back the bra has this way.

Photographed like this, the bra looks absolutely fine. Unfortunately, it's less good when worn. The are still some weird lines in the lower cup which I don't want. I'm pretty sure I know what's causing them though. It's not my pattern, it's not my sewing, it's my choice of materials. The red lycra is fairly thin, quite stretchy and very drapey. In that lower cups, I've used non-stretch net to stabilize them. I made sure to cut the lycra a bit smaller and to stretch it over the netting stuff (a bit more so than with the first try) but apperently not enough. When the cups get filled, i.e. in wearing, it shows. I'm annoyed by it but I don't think I could have prevented this, other than by simply not trying to use two materials with such different behaviour in the same piece. It's not so bad that it makes the bra unwearable.
Maybe I'll just use padding again in the next bra. The stability of the stuff prevents issues like this.

P.S. I know a lot of us occasionally make lingerie, and even more would like to try. I have this link for all of those. 
Fellow blogger The Perfect Nose is unhappy with commercial bra patterns and wants to draft her own. Unlike me, she has the ambition to do this not only for herself, but for everyone. Oh yes, she wants to put a new, independent, bra sewing pattern into the market. And to do this properly, she has put together a survey to try and get a benchmark of the sewing community's sizes and wishes for a bra pattern. Of course, the more people enter this, the more useful the information. And she's offering a nice "thank you" for it as well.

August 4, 2013

Serious summer sewing

Last Friday was the hottest day of the year so far. Un-Dutch weather, to be honest.
I don't have a lot of clothes for seriously hot weather. In fact, the only thing which I really like to wear in a heat wave is the loose fitting viscose playsuit I made last year. I have lots of charming dresses which work great for normal Dutch summer weather but for 30 degrees Celsius, they're just too fitted and the skirt are too long.

So, I made this. It was also a great opportunity to use up some pretty small scraps of fabric. The fitted tube top bodice is in nice quality (obviously, recovery is very important for a garment like this) cotton jersey, its top edge is finished with picot elastic. The bottom, a very short version of these culottes (flared, without center pleats) is made from linen left over from E's plain black shorts. There are pockets but closures, I pull it on over my hips. I wasn't sure that would work but it did.

We are in for a some more warm days and I have my summer holiday yet to come, so I think I will still get some use out of this playsuit this year.

August 2, 2013

The day job

Sometimes, I mention being busy at work, but normally, I don't go into details about said work. Today is a bit different.
To make a long story short, "work", for me, has for the past two and a half years meant doing alterations for a bridal store (in fact, this is the second store I've worked for). This involves identifying and solving fitting issues but also fittin customers for corselettes and hoop skirts and discussing and creating style alterations. I should mention it does not mean making wedding dresses to order. I think I could do that but I could never sell such dresses at the price most customers want to pay.
I'm mentioning this now because I came across some pictures on my phone. Being phone pictures, taken by nasty artificial light, they are not of quality but I hope you can see what I'm trying to show you anyway.

I took these a month or so ago, after completing particularly involved project.

The customer was a very nice lady who was getting married while being six months pregnant. She chose a combination of a white skirt and a black top. I took the waistband and some of the top of the skirt off and put on a wide jersey band. Functional, but not a very impressive job.
The top was a different matter.

Her black top started out exactly the same as this white one.

It was too small, so I made a lacing panel at the back (which I do fairly often). She preferred a halter over shoulder straps so I took the straps out, turned them around and made a back closure with buttons and elastic loops. And I filled in the side next to the straps to avoid both gaping and showing the bra. To extend the top over her belly, I knew I would need to make some kind of pattern. To do this, I pinned muslin to the bottom of the top and drew on lines for the bottom and side seams. I used those as a pattern for the extension-bit. On the outside, I mimicked the pleated design of the rest of the top.

In the end, it fitted her very well. 
I thought this might be nice to share with you, or, in fact, I guess I just wanted to show off my hard work.