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!