Monday, 7 October 2013

The search for vintage curls: part 2

AKA where I post lots of photographs on the internet of myself with realy bad hair, often with expressions to match.

So, after my last attempt to get vintage style curls, which went reasonably well (see ), I then went and got my hair cut. Slightly too short. Ooops. This meant I wasn't sure that my previous method of using big foam rollers would work, so I decided to try out another couple of methods.

My hair is now, theoretically, the perfect length for vintage styles of this era - or it would be if it would hold a curl at all, wherein lies the problem.

With shorter hair I thought I would need tighter, more defined curls than the big foam rollers gave me. I had at least had the sense to make sure my hairdresser didn't cut any modern style layers into my hair, which look great with modern straight styles but don't leave enough to curl.

My first test was a proper 1930s finger waves and pin curls style, following the instructions in the wonderful Style Me Vintage Look Book

First I washed my hair, towel dried it, and sprayed it with lots of setting lotion until it felt pretty damp again:

Towel dried hair

A liberal spraying of setting lotion

I have never been good at manipulating my hair, for which I usually blame my uncooperative hair but is probably a lot due to my own incompetence too. I started trying to put the finger waves into the top of my hair, but it took quite a lot of goes to get it right. I found that with my hair, they seemed to work better with hair pins than with hair dressing clips:

Trying to get the clips in straight. Yes, this is harder when you're trying to take a photo f yourself at the same time!

Firstattempt with hair dressing clips - a real mess!

Second attempt with hair slides - better but not ideal

I then added the pin curls to the bottom layers. I just could not get these to go in as neatly as shown in the book, as you can see - frankly it looks a bit of a mess. It would have been very handy to have my own french maid - or at least a willing friend - around to help with this!

Pin curls - hard to tell though, they're so messy

I then used my hair dryer on a very gentle, warm setting to give my hair a head start in drying and setting, giving it a quick run over every so often during the evening, and then I slept on it over night. Personally I don't find sleeping with lost of pins in my hair a problem; but then, I've fallen asleep in a 1920s style bob wig before (don't ask!!), so this pales in significance!

All up!
The next morning I added a bit of hairspray then took the pins out. It had had a good 12 hours to fully dry and set:

12 hours later - how it looked when I first took it out

After brushing - most of the curl falls out

A bit of a wave, but nothing much to write home about

It's not too bad, really. There's certainly a wave in there. It's just not very distinct - not the sculpted 1930s waves I dreamed of. It's exactly what I'd expect of my hair, really.

So, onto my next experiement. I post these mainly for humour value and as an object lesson, as this really DIDN'T work.

To get a tighter and more distinct curl, I tried perm rods. They are certainly much smaller then the big rollers, and are easier and neater to get my hair into than finger waves and pin curls.

perm rods

However, the result can be described with only one word: poodle.

Here's how they looked straight out of the rods (note the extreme curl at the front where the lotion had fully dried and the entire lack of curl at the back where it was still a little damp):


And this is after a LOT of brushing with a traditional bristle brush: a big huge frizz! Urgh!


So, yes, I can't say I would recommend perm rods. I may well have been using them wrong. But they gave me flashbacks to the worst 1990's poodle perms. Just don't go there unless you know what you're doing!!

In the end, I used the big foam rollers, wearing them all day, for the Friday night dinner, then re-curled them with extra setting lotion into pin curls all over my head (leaving out the lack lustre finger waves) overnight to give the curls an extra boost for this next day. This didn't work out too badly - frankly the results were as good as they get. I'll post some pictures of the end result when I blog about my outfits for the weekend.

Pattern Review: Mrs Depew 1930s Tap Pants

Last weekend I went off with a bunch of female friends for a 1930s themed weekend away. There was a full programme of 1930s themed activities, so I needed a wardrobe to match! Most of what I needed I already have in my vintage collection plus my own wardrobe of vintage style modern clothes, but of course I couldn't resist using the excuse to make a whole new outfit for myself.

For sometime I have been salivating over Mrs Depew patterns on Etsy:
She has a range of different vintage patterns, up there, including a number of 'draft yourself' patterns taken from books used for home sewers at at the time. It provides the opportunity to get authentic vintage patterns in your exact size reasonably cheaply and instantly because they come as downloads! The bonus is that once you have the patterns, you can redraft them in other sizes if you're making for other people or just happen to change sizes yourself.

There are two downsides however: firstly having to actually draft the patterns yourself - initially it looked initimidating, and is additional effort and cost of the paper of course. Secondly, the pattern books of the era assumed you were good at sewing, and so there are no directions for actually making up the piece!

I wanted to make a day dress, but I decided to test out the pattern drafting process with a cheaper and (so I thought) simpler pattern: a pair of Tap Pants (which are generally known as french knickers over here in the UK). This is the pattern I chose to use, as it is just one piece and is from the 1930s, but there are other variations avalable too:

I chose to make these from a black satin remnant left over from a previous project, but the satin is rather poor quality and I think this affected how well the pattern worked greatly, so should be bourne in mind when looking at the finished product! A higher quality, softer fabric would work much better, I think.

The drafting process

On buying the pattern, this seemed the most intimidating part of the process - but in fact it was very simple and easy to do, and a satisfyingly neat method as well! The instructions that come with the pattern don't necessarily explain it all that well, but the tutorial on Mrs Depew's blog explains it very clearly indeed (to the pont that I think she should include a copy of it with the download rather than the original instructions): . It's one of those things where, once you understand it, it is incredibly simple. You take your measurement (check you have the right one for your pattern - for dresses it tends to be based on bust, for these tap pants it was based on waist measurement), print out the relevant size 'tape measure' at 100%, cut it out and stick together. Then using a pin you attach it to the X on the pattern, then move round the pattern in a circle, marking in your paper at the relevant number shown on the pattern for each point. Then simply play join the dots, and if relevant add required curves instead of straight lines. One thing to check carefully is whether the pattern you have includes seam allowance and make sure you add those if they don't!

Attach your 'measuring tape' to the pattern at the X with a drawing pin
Rotate the measuring tape round the lines on the pattern, marking on your paper at the measuring tape numbers indicated

This should leave you with lots of dots marking out an enlarged version of the pattern
Join the dots with a ruler, add some curves where needed, and hey presto! you have a pattern in your size


This was where things got a little more complex. This pattern was only one piece, but if anything that made it harder to work out how it went together. With no instructions, I wasn't even sure how many pieces of fabric to cut out, or which ends were top or bottom! I fiddled around with pinning together just two pieces, and oddly I think it might have worked out well as a pattern for cycling shorts in stretch lycra!

1930s cycling shorts? OK, maybe not...

 But it was definitely not french knickers, so clearly four pieces were needed. After fiddling about a bit, I was certain of which bits to sew to what:

Four pattern pieces, pinned together: much better!

Sewing the bottom hems

I sewed these together and hemmed the bottom seams, but this left me with a huge waistband, and from the image of the tap pants I could see they were supposed to have darts in the front. This took some guess work and experimentation to get right, as there are no markings on the pattern to indicate how big they should be or where they should be positioned. I experimented with just having a pleat in the waistband - with the stiffness of the cheap satin, this made them far too voluminous - until I ended up sewing the pleats down flat to four inches down from the waist band. Even this left a lot of volume in the knickers, but I think this was greatly to do with the fabric rather than the pattern.

experiments with pleats

I then added a waistband. I'm not certain the method I used was the one intended by the pattern. You have to measure and cut the waistband yourself, one is not included with the pattern, but the two inch wide piece of fabric it tells you to cut seems rather stingy and thin with the fold over method I used. If doing it again I would use a four inch wide band of fabric, which after sewing would leave me with a waistband about 1.5" wide.

Ideally you should add placketts to the side open, but as this was effectively a toile I didn't bother and just hand sewed close the ends of the waistband and added a hook and eye.

The final tap pants looked like this:

The finished product


I was very pleased with how easy this was to draft, however as a self taught sewer with a fair amount of experience, I still found that the lack of instructions for how to make up the garment quite challenging! We are rather spoiled by the age of Simplicity patterns, I suppose.... As an experiment, I was fairly happy with the result, but the fabric means the knickers are too voluminous to be worn with many of my 1930s outfits. The longer knickers that also come with the pattern might work better, but using better quality lingerie fabric would certainly make this work a great deal better. I also wasn't using 'proper' lingerie making techniques, which you really should for really good result - this project was 'quick and dirty', as my Mum would call it, to test out the method. Mrs Depew has lots of useful information, tutorials and sew-alongs on her blog that explain a lot of these techniques, as well as a downloadable copy of an original period manual of lingerie making techniques, which I shall invest in if I ever decide to make some really nice versions of this underwear! However, if I were to make french knicker again, I think I will try one of the more fitted 1940s patterns for a sleeker look.

Would I recommend Mrs Depew patterns? Well... yeeees, in that having done thiese, I did choose to buy and make up one of her day dresses (of which I shall post about at a later date). You shouldn't be put off by the drafting process - that's ridiculously easy to do - but whether these patterns are for you probably comes down to how confident you feel about sewing without instructions and just working it out yourself. Mrs Depew is providing an amazing resource for vintage sewers, if you have the skills to make use of it!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The eternal quest for curls: product review 'Stay Set' setting lotion

I've just launched my etsy shop (blatant plug: look here! ), so really I should be promoting all the lovely things on there, but instead I'm going to complain about my hair.

My perfectly-in-fashion-in-2013 poker straight hair. Because, of course, I want anything BUT straight hair.

Ever since I was a child it's been a pain - fine, thin, tangles easily, won't take a curl (my Mum was desperate for me to have curls!), resists any styling and naturally a little unruly.

Modern styles, including layering, which it seems impossible NOT to get a hairdresser to do to it, plus the wonder of straightening mean I can get a pretty good modern straight, sleek look when I want. However, that is of course not what I want. I want vintage hair. And, in most eras, vintage hair means curls.

My hair won't take a curl - it drops out after about an hour, if it takes at all. My Mum even home permed my hair once, when I was due to be a bridesmaid, and it didn't take at all. I did have curly hair at one point in my teens, from a professional perm, but it was one of those horrific nineties corkscrew perms. Lets try not to dwell on that one too much...

So for years I've been searching for an effective way to curl my hair, and I've tried almost everything in the book - ceramic curlers, a wide variety of different products and rollers and so forth. Results have been hit and miss, sometimes it's worked out (with a ton of hairspray!) but if atmospheric conditions are even slightly moist, it all disappears in the blink of an eye.

The one thing I hadn't tried was old fashioned setting lotion. I had of course read about it when reading up on vintage hair styles, and from tips from other vintage fanatics (this post by Retrochick is particularly helpful: ). Now I'm prepping for a 1930s themed event (of which more lately), and so I decided to finally take the plunge and try out setting lotion - well it was either that or get my hair all cut off into a shingle!

I used Stay Set Extra Firm Hold setting lotion, available at Boots and Superdrug ( Weirdly Boots sell it in their stores but don't list it online), and at £2.19 a bottle, it's fairly cheap compared to other hair styling products - however I did get through a lot of it in just one use!

I didn't do anything sophisticated with this as I just wanted to see whether it worked. I used Boots sleep in rollers as I knew a good 12 hours setting time would increase the chances of it working. The hubby had been out with his mates that evening and had a bit of a shock when he came home to fid me in rollers 'like a fifties housewife' as he put it!I just wetted by hair, towel dried, applied lots of lotion, and rolled it up in a pretty basic set. I did buzz it with the hairdryer on a gentle worm setting a few times to make sure it wasn't overly damp before bed.

The rollers, whilst soft, were a bit weird to sleep in, but I did still get a good night's sleep.

The next morning, I applied some hairspray for good luck then took the rollers out.

My first comment would be that the combination of lotion and sleep in velcro rollers isn't great. Most of the curls rolled out OK, but some got hopelessly tangled, causing me pain taking them out and leaving very little curl after struggling with them. I think this is mainly the fault of the velcro, and could be avoided by doing more traditional pin curls, which I will try next time.

The overall result was pretty nice and curly though. A bit crispy initially, but they softened up with a bit of brushing with a bristle brush:

After brushing

I tried the look out with a few of the hats I'm planning on wearing:

It had turned out to be a pretty damp day - the ultimate test for curls in my hair! So I took some images on my phone through the day (with apologies for the poor phone quality selfies!):

after two hours

All in all I was pretty pleased. By the end of the day, they were unsurprisingly falling out, and I didn't get the several days of curls others manage with setting lotion. But on my hair, for curls to last that long is probably the best I've managed so far!

After about five hours: still a hint of curl left!
However, there are down sides. Most obviously the smell - it's not a great smell, very chemically, and it stays with you. The feel of it on your hair isn't great either. I came to the conclusion it's really good for those occasions when I really need that curly hair, but I wouldn't use it regularly. There are now a range of setting lotions by more expensive brands, and these might be worth trying out just to see if they've found a way round the smell problem!

But, if you have trouble getting a curl, and want an authentic vintage style, it turns out the old school way, using setting lotion, really is the best!

Next, I shall be trying out finger curls using the lotion. These have never worked for me, ever. Wish me luck!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Shop preview: late 1950s Cream Evening Dress

I am about to launch my Etsy shop, VintageSallyBoutique, where I will be selling handmade jewellery and, of course, vintage clothing. In the run up to opening the shop, I will be blogging about a few of my favourite items up for sale, providing some more detail about each item and some of the background to each item. As well as being useful for prospective buyers, blogging about each item gives me the chance to record the details of each piece, which hopefully shall make it easier to let go of each piece! Because it turns out, when you love vintage clothes, it's actually quite hard to let go of the ones that you love, even when you've bought them specifically for sale and they don't even fit yourself!

The first item I want to share with you is a stunning example of an evening dress from the late fifties/early sixties - 'very Mad Men', as people are wont to say these days. It's a beautiful column dress designed to give a lovely, statueque, house glass figure. From the front, it appears quite a simple, elegant dress, a long silouette allowing the focus to stay on the wearers gorgeous hour-glass figure and on the beautiful cream satin embroidered with beige and gold fabric.

The really  striking feature of the dress is it's back, with a dramatic V shaped plunging back that meets with a large square bow at the waist, which then leads into a double train that drops to the floor. The train gives the impression of the tails of an over-exaggerated bow, but in an elegant way! The bow cleverly disguises the zip closure down the centre back. Behind the bottom of the train ends is a slit to allow enough room to walk. However, from wearing it I can say that the skirt is slinky and tight enough that it does put a certain Marilyn wiggle into the way you walk!

Speaking of Marilyn, I've always associated this kind of statuesque column dress with her 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which is one of my all time favourites. Here's a few images of Monroe sporting the style:

However, I think this dress is somewhat later - late fifties to early sixties, and I would place it as such primarily because of the square neckline and the V back and feature train, which are quite distinctive. It really does put the dress smack bang in the middle of that Mad Men transition era from the 1950s to 60's.

1960s McCalls pattern

In terms of construction and condition, the dress appears to be well and solidly made, but there is no sign of a brand label, which suggests that this was originally dressmaker made, as would many evening dresses of this era. The dress is fully lined, and has an interesting way of doing up, just to make sure that you're fully enclosed! On the inside waist is a band which you do up first _ think the purpose of this is to make the dress hug even tighter to your waist. You don't need to have this one done up to wear the dress, it just improves the line and fit. Then the zip goes over the top up the centre back. Then the Bow closes over the top with several poppers, to hide the top of the zip. It makes for a pretty and very finished effect.

The exterior of the garment is in good condition with no visible marks or flaws, but the inside lining does show it's age upon closer inspection, with some light staining on the inside of the bodice and armholes - about what you would expect for a dress of this age that has been worn a few times. The split at the bottom has pulled apart slightly, although this is not visible on the outside. There are also some slight pulls on the satin of the inside lining at the very bottom of the trains.

I think this dress would have originally been intended to be an evening dress rather than a bridal dress, but it would work very well as a chic, stylish wedding dress for a more modern bride looking for something different, or with a Mad Men themed wedding!