Saturday, 30 July 2011

Working with Silk

Sample of stitched silk.  You can see how much it is fraying.
French seam.  You can see where I unpicked some stitching. 
It has been such a long time since I have written this page!  Argh!  Too much work.  Working two very demanding jobs and trying to do a PhD is hard (not to mention  3 children, 1 of which is a teenage girl!)  Actually, being a mother of a teenage girl is full time job in itself.  Man oh man, it's hard.  If I like it she hates it and the cost.  Grrrr.

My poor, lovely PhD has suffered,  of course.  However, in September all will change and I will only be working for Bella Freud, whose AW11 range (I'm getting all the lingo now), which is a small capsule collection of really lovely jumpers and knitted dresses will be in the shops very soon.

My PhD registered.  Great.  Did the final end of year presentation and felt pleased.  I am now on my first practise based project - a dress.  I am making it from printed silk, very gorgeous  (bought at Classic - that is my favourite fabric shop on the Goldhawk, incidentally bloody Hammersmith council are trying to knock that block down so support Classic's campaign to save it).  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Gorgeous Liberty print silk and wonderfully soft but it is so hard to work with.  Every machine stitch I do has to be sewn backed with tissue paper.  And of course, the tension on the machine has to absolutely right.

This is my first experimentation to really look at silk as being a viable fabric to work with as part of my design practise and one thing I have found out is that this particular silk frays and frays and frays.  Although, very beautiful, on a practical level unless one is a skilled seamstress, it is a fabric that I think for 'construction, unpick, re-fashion'  is a fabric to possibly avoid.  Well, as we know the silks unpicked in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries were of a much higher quality and the twists were much more densely woven on the loom.  It's to be thought about anyway.

My gorgeous dress is being lined in the loveliest cream silk so will be worn by me this winter as I know it will be very warm.  Silk is my favourite fabric ever.  I have been reading 'What Clothes Reveal' by Linda Baumgarten.  It is such a fabulous book.  Of course, out of print and extremely expensive.  I have had my copy on loan from the London College of Fashion for about a year.  There is a photograph (fig 49) of a British formal court gown from circa 1780-1790.  The beautiful silk, crisp silk is dotted with metallic silver threads woven from selvage to selvage and is known as silver tissue.  You just know how beautiful that textile must be and the quality of that silk (probably woven in Spitalfields) will be amazing.   But of course it was very expensive to make and the purchaser paid a lot for it.

I know it's at an angle but here is an engraving of 18th century draw loom.
Such loom would have woven all that wonderful silk.
Silk bill.  You can see how expensive silk tissue was.

How can we get people to value their textiles again?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

What's Going on...

Been very busy.  Have just started a new job which is brilliant but scary working for designer, BF.  I was so nervous on my first day.  I am still in my old job working in textile conservation too.  Gotta pay for the PhD which out of all my work is the most important to me. I will be stepping into the world of working in contemporary fashion design.  I think this will be good for me as it would be so comfortable for me to stay with researching the old stuff.  I love historic dress, it's my passion but as this PhD is about creating a link between historical refashioning techniques and contemporary sustainable design it will be very useful for me to have one foot in the 'now' too.

 I do feel behind but spent some time very useful time writing  'My Research Story'.  It was designed to help me clarify exactly where am going with the research and the literature I am reading.  Fortunately, it didn't have to be an academic piece of writing just an exercise to help me move forward.  Highly recommended to anyone who may be feeling is a little stuck at the beginning of their research.

For the last few weeks, I have been thinking a great deal about presentations and just how to refine my technique (I don't have one really) to be able to get across my research with going on for too long and boring people.  It's a fine line to tread.  As well, I have been trying to refine a style for design illustration.  A kind of signature look.  I can't quite get it.  I love the illustrations on 1970s commercial pattern covers/envelopes but it's a quite a precise way a drawing that doesn't come naturally to me.

Last night I went to Rebecca Earley (Textiles Environment Design, Chelsea School of Art and Design) and Kate Goldsworthy talk on their work.  It was interesting to hear about polyester and how it can be recycled over and over again without losing any of original texture and durability.  The both showed beautiful examples of made of recycled polyester.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Before Easter and After

It seems ages since I last posted and really I can't think how to begin.  Went to the archives of the Museum of London to look at some refashioned 18th century dresses.  Where to start?  Hilary Alexander, the assistant curator is so very helpful and nice.  She got me out numerous dresses to view but I just settled on the one, what with time being tight.  Luckily, my trustee friend Jen Ballie was with me to act as my assistant.

I selected a beautiful cream silk dress from the late 18th century embroidered with tiny silk flowers.  The selvedge was yellow and somewhere deep in the back part of my brain, I think that 18th century imported silk from China always had a yellow selvedge.  The embroidery consists of small floral sprigs sewn in pink, green and blue satin stitch (they cover the entire garment).

The dress has been re-fashioned many times and all that remains intact is the bodice which has a boned back with a closed front.  The sleeves would have been elbow length and very tight fitting.  The dress has now rather ugly faded silk velvet sleeves and a sash which were probably added late 19th century.  It was altered before that in around 1830 with the application of a lace bertha.  (The definition of a 'bertha' as per the reprint of The Dictionary of Fashion History is this, 'a deep fall of lace or silk encircling the neck and shoulders, or merely the shoulders, in a low decolletage; a Victorian revival of the mid - 17th century fashion").  The dress was a gift to the museum by Lady Thompson in June, 1937.

For study purposes, the dress was a beauty.  The hand embroidered silk was stunning and the dress quite fascinating in the way it had been altered and refashioned.  I literately could have spent hours examining it.

The dress would have looked far more beautiful had it been placed on a mannequin!
This is the original bodice and this too has been altered, it has been made smaller.

The wrong side of the bodice.  Note how it was unpicked from the dress.  See the baleen  poking out.
I have many more photos going into significant detail to how the dress has been refashioned.  If anyone would like to discuss this further I would be more than happy to oblige!

Finally one last thing to add, I went to see the Hoppe exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery.  Brilliant.  The Cult of Beauty at the V & A, so worth a visit but was very underwhelmed by Yohji.   I didn't like the way it was curated.  The best bit of the exhibition were the garments placed elsewhere in the museum.  Upstairs in the British Galleries is where the clothing looks quite beautiful.  Maybe the whole exhibition should have been dotted around the museum like some fantastic treasure hunt!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Scarf Project and Multiple Authors & Previous Owners

This Saturday,  I spent the day at a co-design workshop run by my mate and fellow PhD student, Jennifer Ballie.  'The Scarf Project' as it is called in facilited by Jen and a group of us sat together designing and chatting. The idea is to design and then create our own silk scarves.   I am particularly fond of collage so out of various photos I cut, stuck and made what in my mind's eye was a kind of petal.  I knew that I wanted to upload it on to Photoshop and duplicate my petal to create a big cirucular flower which would be the central design on my silk scarf.

At around about lunch time, my dear, sweet, 14 year old son joined us.  He's very creative and he was my Photoshop expert for the day.  As the design morphed, I decided to change my intention and the petals became wings which we distorted and re-sized.  On the computer the design looked really good and went with the general theme of the workshop as it was entitled 'fashoin personfied' (well, I think that was it) and my initial design was a series up figuers layered on top of each other.

I am absolutely thrilled with my scarf design and will definetly have it made up into my own personalised silk scarf.  What's more it has given me even more confidence in my ability to design fabric for my own creations.  Now that I have met Kenny Taylor (the digital print guy) at Chelsea I feel that I am away.

Magnified detail of the Edwardian Embellishment

So tonight's the night.  'Multiple Authors & Previous Owners' is the name of the exhibition to which some photos of my research work is being exhibited.  Yes, us PhD students at CCW has a an exhbition up and running in the Triangle Space.  Initially, I didn't think I would exhibit for the reason that I am not a 'fine art' student so I didn't feel that I should.  However, once I was informed by Charlotte Webb, who deserves a massive amount of credit for organising the exhbitbtion, that it was to be on archives, well I just had to put something in.  For the last 3 years I have been working in an archive not to mention the numerous collections that I have visited (last year I saw one of Charles I's shirts literately stuffed in the drawer in the attic of a famous stately home!  The lace on it was beautiful. ).  Knowing that I have load of research photos stored on my trusty hard drive, I decided to exhibit.

What should I choose?  Well, of course Worthing Museum springs to mind and the gorgeous 1930s dress created from the skirt of the Ewardian bodice and skirt ensemble.   So on display are four large photos.  It's work in progress and part of my research.  It's funny to think that this beautiful gown was once worn out over a century ago.  In the 1930s it was on display again but this a dress and now over eighty years letter it having another outing but here at Chelsea in an exhibition - that is a sustainable clothing.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Hampton Court Palace

Last Monday and Thursday I was lucky enough to be at Hampton Court Palace learning silk work embroidery.  Nicola Jarvis, the head of the Royal School of Needlework was very generous and allowed me to attend (for the second time) one of the courses within the school.  Just before Christmas, I sat in with the second year BA students and attempted to learn white work.  This week just gone I was with the first years leaning silk work.   My oh my, was it tricky!

The Royal School of Needlework is set in a small apartment in Hampton Court Palace.  Just to spend the day there is evocative and memorable.  Last November, it was absolutely freezing and not that much better this week.  As I walked to the School, through the grounds and past the huge Tudor kitchens, I could not help but think of how cold our historical sisters must have been whilst living there.  No wonder Catherine of Aragon wore a hair shirt for most of the time she spent there!

Silk work was not so much hard but slow.  Mine, I am embarrassed to say didn't look great.  At the RSN one learns to embroider properly.  First, using a figure of eight stitch, I stitched the silk on to piece calico.  The grain lines of both fabrics in line.  I mounted the calico on a frame.  Using a piece of thick tracing paper I drew a rectangle shape in pencil.  The paper then got pinned on to the silk and using a sharp needle I pricked the shape through to the silk.  The next stage involved a dabber (not sure if that is the word), which meant dabbing a black powder which consisted of charcoal and cuttle fish, over the paper.  The fine powder goes through the needle prick holes and marks the silk underneath.  The tracing paper comes off and using a stab stitch the outline of the of the rectangle is sewn on to the silk.  Next stage was to sew, using a split stitch (maybe 2mm) over the stab stitch out line of the rectangle.  This whole process took me a day!  Yes, a day and mine did not even look neat or straight.

On the Thursday I attempted to fill my rectangle with the silk work stitching.  Before that, I forgot to mention that one needs to draw a several parallel lines down the rectangle so one can sew straight the long and short stitches which fill the shape.  To keep the stitches looking even, one starts in the centre of the rectangle.  The needle is always brought slightly above the top split stitch and when one gets to the side of the shape the needle is brought down through the split stitch.  Hard to look neat.  Of course the BA embroidery students work looked fabulous but as, I told myself, they are doing it every day!  I was made to feel very welcome and had a lovely day.  Depending on my work schedule, I might go back to learn gold work.  This photo shows my amateur attempt and believe it or not this is all I did in two days.  It has given me a real insight into how skilled both the professional and home embroiderers of the 18th century were.  My God, is it hard on the eyes too.  How any one could have done that work by candle light is a mystery.

Just to change the subject entirely, I found this Lee Miller photo in the paper last Saturday.  Lee Miller was one of the first photographer to enter Germany with the Allied troops at the end of the WWII.
The subject matter is very grim but what fascinated most about this photograph is not the fact that the woman is dead (suicide on the announcement of Hitler's death) but Miller's focus on the woman's coat.
It is made of a very good thick quality wool.  By the end of the war, the Third Reich defeated, most German women found themselves wearing rags, sitting in the rubble of their burnt homes and cities amongst starvation and disease.

At the beginning of the war, in Germany in  September 1939, textiles and shoes were obtainable only with Government issued vouchers.  By November that year they could only get work clothes, shoes and winter coats with the vouchers and these had to be approved.  All the leather and wool was, of course being diverted to the front.  And here is where the wool went, to clothe the German troops.  In this gruesome photo one can almost touch the quality of all that wool cloth.

If any of you are interested there is a fascinating book called Nazi Chic written by Irene Guenther published by Berg.  Not nasty or sinister just very interesting.  A few very interesting chapters on Ersatz fibres.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Weaving in the Medieval Times

Last Saturday, courtesy of Chelsea College of Art and Design, I found my way to that brilliant museum, the Museum of London.  As a child, I used to visit the museum when in was housed in Kensington Palace and I can honestly say seeing Queen Victoria's wedding dress was an inspiring moment for me.  It was so beautiful.  The historic dress collections in the Museum of London and the V & A have had a profound affect on me.  I wouldn't be doing what I do today if it hadn't been for my regular FREE visits to those institutions.

Back to last Saturday and my attendance of the The Medieval Dress Society Conference.  As per usual  I had to rush to get there as the bloody Jubilee line wasn't working however, I did arrive in enough time to hear Professor Gale Owen Crocker from the University of Manchester talking about continuity and change of Medieval textile production.  Fascinating and it really did fill in some very necessary gaps about weaving and spinning.  By the 15th century the English textile manufacturing industry (run by men) was making a lot of money and we all know what money buys .....power.   The wool industry was highly profitable .   There was a huge army of spinners but good cloth cannot be made without good yarn.  Fibre selection and preparation influences the character of the yarn.  The way the wool is stored can also affect the yarn.   Processing such as plying or washing affects the appearance of the yarn.

In the coffee break there were several live demonstrations and this photo shows the wool being pulled before it would be spun.

There are two type of woollen cloth.  There is worsted and broad cloth.  For worsted the the cloth is combed so the fibres are running in a straight line.  Worsted is a tough strong wool cloth and with broad cloth the fibres and carded to go in different directions producing yarn which then will make a soft light fluffy cloth.  Flax, which makes linen, of course, is best spun when wet (traditionally with spit).  The spinning wheel demonstration was fascinating.  It was a new experience for me as many of the demonstrators were Medieval re-enactors!

Here wool is being combed to then be spun to make worsted.  Additionally, all the lanolin from the has to be washed off before the wool is combed.  Oil is then reintroduced back into the wool before it is spun

Just a lovely picture of an late Medieval woman at her spinning wheel. Sorry no idea what her name is I just snapped the pic 
on my phone before we were ushered back in for the next 
round of lectures.

What other interesting news for this week? Well, on my way
home from the lecture I was given a free book. On Willesden 
High Road, I was handed a lovely new book as part of World 
Book Night. I can't tell you how delighted I was. Funny how good it made me feel, being handed a crisp new book. So all 
my academic reading is on hold while I read "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Day in Worthing

Last Friday, I spent a day in the archives of Worthing Museum.  It is a very small museum but houses the most interesting collections.  I spent the day in the dress archives.  I have been to the the museum so I knew what I was looking.  I specifically wanted to inspect an Edwardian dress that had been refashioned in the 1930s to evening dress.

I arrived at around 10.30 and didn't leave until the museum closed at 5pm.  I had the most wonderful day.  The dress collection curator, Kate Loubser is welcoming and very helpful.  I spent all day chatting to her and a volunteer, Ciara (one of Lou Taylor's ex students).  Not only did I get to examine my dress but I saw so much more.

Worthing Museum has the most extensive dress collection.  On display right now, in the 'Blooming Marvellous' exhibition is an incredibly rare 17th century black work embroidered bodice.  It is quite stunning.  None of the garments are behind glass (God knows, I hope the moths don't get in) so you can have a good look and get really close. up

Display mannequin from 'The Corset Station"

Girdle from "The Corset Station" 30cm in length
That day,  Kate showed me the most incredible collection of lingerie.  They had been donated by a shop that had recently closed down.  ' The Corset Station' had been located in the nearby town of Burgess Hill.  The lingerie was used for display purposes and was fitted to a small mannequin.  If you can imagine, the above girdle was no more than 30cm in length.  The detail was incredible.  The mere fact that they came from a shop called the 'Corset Station' is evocative of times past.  The two photos (above) are  from a collection of about ten pieces.  It is shame about the foxing stains and the rubber on the suspender straps are beginning go but thankfully they are now in acid free and being conserved for the likes of me to marvel at.  To think that this sort of attire was the every day underwear for the majority of women and not that long ago either.

Mary Quant

On the subject of lingerie, a pair of knickers from the early 60's had just been brought in. They also had suspender straps on.  The label was very faded but under magnification we were able to see that they were made by  'Mary Quant' for her 'youth range'.   What is really interesting is that the flower on the front is typical of her 'flower' signature yet it has an extra petal.  Maybe this was the beginning of the evolvment  of the symbolic Mary Quant 'flower'.  Worth thinking about.

Here's something else to think about and it has nothing to do with historic clothing but has a lot to do with waste which is really what this PhD is all about - preventing waste.   This information came via my sister who has a friend whose husband is serving out in Afghanistan.  He is working on an American and English base.  There is no water on this base so it is all brought in.  As there is no water to waste they can't wash up so all their plates and cutlery are disposable.  Apparently, it costs $30 a day to supply each person on the base with disposoble eating utensils.  There are 9000 people on that base.  All the disposable cutlery and plates then get burnt after use.  Think about it.  I want to cry.  The world has gone mad.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Smocking and the Exquisite English Agricultural Smock

Last night, I taught a workshop on smocking.  Clara, one of the members of Bricolage asked me to join them in their pop up to teach smocking.  Practically, I can't say that I am an expert but I can smock and it is a form of embroidery that sadly is now associated with more with twee children's wear than with English agricultural smock.

The English agriculture smock is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of historic dress.  Traditionally worn by 19th century agricultural workers, one could almost say it is an expression of English folk art.  Unfortunately, historians until comparatively recently, haven't really been concerned with working class way of life so many of these exquisite garments have been lost.

The smock was worn for both labour and leisure and the design embroidered on the labour's smocks were and expression of a living art connected inextricably linked with a past tradition.  As well as being 'smocked' they are embroidered with decorative patterns, including circles, triangles, ovals and lozenge shapes.  Amazing that these highly functional garments were ornamented with such care, dexterity and one hopes enjoyment.

Since, I was in my teens I have been fascinated by these garments and smocking is a beautiful way of gathering cloth together.  Yes, it is time consuming and does use a lot of fabric but done well the result is gorgeous.  Reclaim smocking - bring it back and make it modern.

These two photos are from an old book entitled 'English Folk Embroidery' (1963) written by Oenone Cave and published by non other than Mills & Boon.  Obviously, at that point there was another string to their bow other than romance.  Great book and with really excellent photos (black and white).

This photo is entitled 'Eventide of Life' by W H. Cox and is to be found in Luton Museum

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Beautiful Clothing, Beautiful Historic Clothing.......

Finally, I have got down to it and figured out how to use/write my blog.  First time user, that's me.  This space is all about my adventures on researching for my PhD and all that that entails.  Busy, busy, busy.  The RF3, for all who know about the trials of the dreaded RF3,  has been approved, with a few minor changes (they don't seem that minor to me but I am assured that they are) so hallelujah!  More will be revealed it is just too long to start now.  

So what has happened since October?  Lots and lots of inspiration.  I visited the 'The Threads of Feeling' exhibition at the Foundling Museum and having read the curator, John Styles work, was very excited.  The exhibition, for which I wrote a review, (will post) was both haunting and delightful at the same time.  The one single baby sleeve created from hand blocked linen set the sparks of my creative chain of thought and has well and truly launched me into my first project.

Additionally, I taught a workshop on smocking for the BA and MA students at Chelsea.  Terrifying and fabulous.  Me and a group of brilliant  women sat around a table talking and sewing at the same time.    I learnt so much myself.  Smocking, a wonderful and beautiful way to embellish fabric.  The agricultural smocks of the 19th century are truly exquisite and a far cry from the twee image we have of smocking today.  So skilled.

In fact, I am teaching my workshop two more times.  Viva La Smocking!  My next project, (other than learning French) is to be able be able to monogram.  I just love those tiny little initials that have been so delicately embroidered on the linen and cotton under garments of the 18th and 19th centuries.  They were put there so that people could identify them when they were being laundered.  I know of some out workers (via my Savile Row connection) who still do it, maybe I'll see if I can get a lesson.  Being my first post I could go on and on........ 

Before I go, will tell you what I have been reading this week.  'Foucault For Beginners' (embarrassing, I know that I have to go for the graphic, beginners version) however, now I've got the basics, I am ready for the real thing.  I also did Baudrillard (for beginners) equally brilliant.  'Emotionally Durable Design' by Jonathan Chapman - very, very interesting.  Fits in with Baudrillard.   Also, if you are interested in 18th century clothing read 'Pamela' by Samuel Richardson. It's very witty and gives very detailed accounts of her wardrobe and the cloth she hand stitched to make it.  Good stuff.

Will update soon.