Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sheltland Lace Knitting heirloom Christening shawl

My mother has been knitting since she was a small child; she grew up during the second world war in a family that wasn't too well off, so learning to knit at an early age was extremely important, and so, as you can imagine, she is an extremely skilled knitter. I was expecting this would mean I would get lots of lovely traditional knitted baby clothes from her (knitted baby clothes being one of the easiest ways to get vintage looking baby clothes these days, in my view). Well, she did knit a couple of cardigans, but in fact she turned her hand to knitting an 'heirloom' shawl for baby of such complexity that it's taken her six months!

The finished shawl is however, extremely beautiful (so much so I'm a bit scared to let baby near it in case of puke etc!), and also, it turns out, an interesting little peice of textile and fashion history, because it is a Shetland lace knitting 'wedding ring shawl'. These shawls are openwork knitting with incredibly fine yarn that are supposed to be so fine they are able to pass through a wedding ring.

My mother told me that "they were usually made for a wedding present, and could be worn over a wedding dress, and was then ready for the first child! Imagine knitting it in a Shetland croft, in the winter, by candle light! They are supposed to be fine enough to pass through a wedding ring, but yours doesnt, I have tried it."

My mum is disabled and this slows down the rate at which she can knit, and she estimates it took her about 408 hours to do, but the pattern is so intricate even a proficient able bodied knitter would have taken a great amount of time to produce it. The wool is Jamiesons Ultra Cobweb (ie single ply)  50% Shetland wool and 50% lambswool.

Intrigued by the romantic story, I have done a bit of searching to find out more about the history of these shawls. It turns out they were a highly fashionable luxury product during the Victorian era, and I found an excellent article by Kate Davies on their history in 60 North, a Sheltland magazine, which can be read on pg 15 here:

To summarise, the Shetlands were actually commercially well connected by sea from the 17th century, and Shetland women supplemented their incomes by producing and selling wool products, particularly stockings, to merchants. By the 18th century, government trade restrictions and competition from mainland knitters meant that their income from this went down, so they had to change, innovate and specialise in order to still be profitable, specifically by carving out a niche of luxury fine openwork products. The fashion for lace in the Victorian era made handmade openwork products (as oposed to machine produced lace) highly desirable to show a woman's status as a wealthy individual. Several examples were shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, making it even more fashionable. Towards the end of the 19th century, the shawls started to fall out of fashion, but the producers continued to adapt, creating black versions aimed at the elderly and for mourning.  Kate Davies writes: "The fine openwork Shetland shawls and stoles that adorned the shoulders of wealthy Victorian ladies were profoundly innovative accessories, developed in response to the demands of a rapidly changing market, and prey, like any other nineteenth century grament, to the fickle fortunes of fashion".

There's a lot more detail in the article which is a really interesting insight into the drivers behind Victorian fashions from the perspective of a specific product, and I highly recommend it as an interesting read if you're interested in textile history or Victorian fashion. The writer also has a great blog here: 

Meanwhile I'm going to enjoy and appreciate the lovely shawl my mother has made me, but it is likely to be carefully displayed in the nursery and occasionally worn by myself rather than let near baby very often. But that's ok, as his other grandmother also a skilled knitter, also spent 6 months knitting a beautiful shawl for him, which is luckily a bit less delicate and so usable day to day! Here it is, and isn't it lovely?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Dressing for a pregnant weekend in the 1920s - part 2

The reason I've been away from blogging for a while this time is that I've been a bit busy having a baby! The last weeks of pregnancy i was too tired all the time to post, and then, well, I've been a bit busy with new baby. This means I never got around to posting about the second 1920s maternity dress I made for  a weekend away a couple of months ago, so here it is, finally:

This dress was based on Patterns of Fashion 2 pattern 29A, a Madeleine Vionnet dress from 1925. The dress has a natural A-line shape to it, cleverly designed with triangular insets and a pointed hem on each side, which could theoretically accommodate my bump without much adjustment.

I was very wary that this dress would not work out at all, so I made a toile from cheap lining fabric to check it would fit over made, and then made the final version from pretty cheap crushed velvet (I don't usually like crushed velvet but it actually worked quite well for this, I think), instead of the silk crepe romaine of the original.

The dress fits together with triangular inserts at neck and hips, which are then covered with a tear drop shaped decoration. This is how the dress looked pre-decoration:

Not having the skill or the time to embroider decoration straight onto the fabric, I used three applique's of gold lace sewn over black satin. I rather like the side panels, but I'm not keen on the front panel - it feels rather large and obvious, but perhaps that's because it's not a great look over a large stomach. I also found that the armholes came out rather strangely - I suspect this is due to my own clumsy attempts at adjusting the dress to my bust size, but is something worth keeping in mind for using the pattern in the future. Here's how the final dress looked on me;

It came together fairly easily when sewing, and apart from getting the cut right when scaling it up, is a fairly simple project. It did alright as a maternity dress, but quite clearly did not hang as originally intended. If I had the pattern cutting skills, making it somewhat more voluminous may have made it hang and work better - however the truth is that 1920s styles are very hard to make look good on a maternal figure. This is a reasonable pattern to use for a twenties maternity dress, and probably more flattering than many of the straight up and down styles or dresses with waistlines at the hip, which make a pregnant belly look rather like a beer belly...

I also dyed an old pair of satin shoes that started out cream but had become rather soiled and battered to match the dress. At some point I will try to post something about my experiments with shoe dyeing!

And here's how the dress looked on a dressmakers dummy with no bump; once I've lost the baby weight a bit more I'll try to post up some photos of how it looks on a non-pregnant figure;

 Another dress I wore over the weekend was made and leant to me by a friend who had worn  it during prgnancy herself (to my twenties themed hen do, as it goes). This one is from the Folkwear 256 Monte Carlo pattern (it also includes a matching wrap to go over the dress). No adaption had been made to the pattern to allow for prgnancy, but it worked pretty well. I have no personal experience of how easy the pattern is to use and make up, but it's definitely one to consider if looking for twenties dresses that will work for pregnancy:

Monte Carlo dress from the side, showing off the bump as much as possible!

Monte Carlo dress from the back, with added diamante for the ocassion

Monte Carlo dress with wrap

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Tutorial: posh bunting

As the long Jubilee weekend draws to an end, this is rather belated, but pretty bunting is still a nice way to decorate gardens and indeed inside for garden and tea parties. I recently made a whole load of what I call ‘posh’ bunting for my parents 40th wedding anniversary party, and thought it might be nice to share how I made it (although I did make it up as I went along, so there may be better ways of doing this). I call it ‘posh’ bunting because it’s properly put together and finished, so it looks a bit nicer and will last a bit better than doing it the easy, simple way. If you’re making bunting for street parties, you need a lot of it, so it’s probably best to make simple bunting, which essentially just involves cutting out lots of fabric triangles (I’d recommend using pinking shears to avoid the fabric fraying) and roughly sewing it to lengths of ribbon. But if you want to make something more finished and hard wearing, here’s how I go about it:

You will need:

A selection of fabrics of your choice, appropriate for the look you’re going for; I bought a selection of metre long strips of cotton gingham and ditzy floral patterns in a range of colours. If you do a lot of sewing and have a store of fabric off-cuts, its worth raiding your stash to see if there’s anything appropriate.
2cm wide bias binding slightly longer than the length of bunting you want to make.
Sewing machine
Thread matching the bias binding
Fabric chalk

1) lay out you fabric folded in half (you may want to pre cut the fabric if you want to make smaller bunting). Use a ruler and chalk to draw out triangles dividing up the fabric, like this:

Pin the fabric in place at the corner of each triangle so it doesn’t slip around when you’re sewing it.

2) The chalk lines are where you’re going to cut, so sew about ½ to 1cm on each side of the chalk line (depending on the size of bunting you’re making, to leave enough seam allowance). Cut along the chalk lines to make a nice pile of triangle shaped fabric pieces. The top side of each (that will be attached to the bias binding) needs to be open, so you will need to cut the closed side on half of them.

3) trim off the pointy end of the triangle, after the point of the sewing, so that you can now turn each triangle inside out without that tip creating a lunp at the end of the triange. It’s probably worth here sitting with a knitting needle or something else pointy to push the point of the triangle out nice and sharply.

4) Iron the triangles nice and flat:

 Arrange your triangle sinto nice neat piles so you can keep track of the order of colours OR if you prefer a more random look, just shuffle them all up together into one pile.

 5) fold your bias binding in half and start sewing it together so that it is a nice neat string about 1cm wide. About 20am along, stop and pin your first triangle in place so that the bias binding encases the open side of the triangle neatly. Continue sewing along the binding to fix in place:

Then continue sewing, leaving an appropriate gap to your taste between that triangle and the next. Attach each triangle in the same way until you have sewn right the way along the bias binding, leaving at least 20cm at the end after the last triangle.

6) create a neat loop by folding over the end of the bias binding and sewing together:

And that’s it; you should get something looking like this:

It’s pretty easy to do, but it is more time consuming and costly than the simple way of making bunting. It’s still cheaper than nicely made shop bought bunting – I made about 25 meters for just over £10, whereas 5 meters of similar bunting from Paperchase set me back about £15 last year. I also plan to get lots of use out of it, so for me it was worth the effort, and I’m pretty pleased with the result.