Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Today is a pretty momentous day in The House of Marmalade for a couple of reasons.  Both quite astounding really...

Firstly, it is my birthday!  I have been in business for a whole year today!  

 Sew Curvy Corsetry is One today!!

And what a year it's been!  I'm not rivalling Richard Branson's salary or lifestyle, infact, I haven't made any money at all because every single penny has been ploughed back into the business.  However, I have made lots of new friends, contacts, and business colleagues through the year. 

I have over 500 lovely Facebook fans (with some of the coolest names ever it has to be said!), 732 Twitter followers, and quite a few lovely lovely customers who I have been delighted to correspond with, and package up beautiful things for.

I have pushed my personal creative boundaries way beyond anything I would have thought possible,

... and in more ways than I could have thought possible! 

I have also, through all of the above, had so much inspiration coming from so many directions,  that it feels as if my head is permanently bursting with good ideas, and I hope to realise some of these over the coming year.  First up, I need to move out - but more on that in my next post.  

The other astounding thing that has happened this very day, is that this blog, The House of Marmalade, has been placed in a list compiled by an organisation called Cision, who work for media professionals (PR/Marketing/Journalists) to compile special lists for reference in specific topics.  And so today, in the 'Fashion' section, The House of Marmalade is listed at number 5 in the Top 10 UK Vintage Clothing Blogs category.  I know!  The Top FIVE!! I am just completely flabbergasted (there's been alot of that going on lately around here!)  Click HERE to check out the other lovely vintage blogs!

So.  Tonight, Mr Marmalade and I will be celebrating with some of this I think!  And here's to the year ahead, I have so many many plans!

Friday, 20 August 2010

The V&A free dress pattern

It's been very busy here at The House of Marmalade this summer.  Too much to do, and too little time as usual, but one of the things I have done, and enjoyed immensly, is visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see the Grace Kelly Wardrobe Collection.  Have you been?  Are you in London?  It finishes on 12 September, and I thoroughly recommend a veiwing or two if you can.  Unfortunately, camera's were not allowed, and so I can't give you a complete run down of the display beyond the image of my pre-tour cup of tea and Programme.

However, as the Museum have decorated their shop in a vintage style with patterns from their very famous "free couture" pattern which is downloadable from their website, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to re-post my workings on that very pattern - even though I still don't actually have a finished dress to show you.  (The V&A have plenty though all made up,  ready to go and complete with petticoat, if you don't fancy making one yourself). 

You can download the pattern  HERE.  It is adapted for modern sizes 10-14, was created especially for the V&A Golden Age of Couture Exhibition Website, and is based on the dress pictured here, a 1953 ready to wear dress by Horrockses Fashion. It has a close fitting lined bodice with waist seam and flared skirt with pockets.

Ready to wear couture styles in the 50's were relatively expensive and favoured by members of the Royal Family, 'working women' would save up to buy them for special occassions, like going away on honeymoon (perhaps this explains the ridiculously high price tag in the shop!).

I found that the pattern I printed, didn't fit, and so I re-drew it to my measurements from scratch as an excercise to explore the techniques used when it was originally designed and cut.  So here is the lowdown according to The House of Marmalade:

First step is to print out the pattern onto A4 sheets of paper, align the special corresponding marks, and secure with tape.

I then cut out each pattern peice and pinned them to  Madge the Material Girl who was adjusted to my measurments as closely as possible.

Looks good doesn't it?
Now Madge, give us a twirl!

.... Houston, we have a problem! .... can you see?

Not only is the armhole far too big, but the back sections of the pattern are a) back to front, b) too big by a long way (I mean a very very long way, not just the usual discrepancy between dress form and body) and c) the instructions don't make much sense...

So.. back to the drawing board - I find it easier to start from scratch so that I know what's what.  You will need to create your own block if you do it this way.

First thing to work out after drawing a new block, is where exactly the darts are? The front bodice is made up of only 3 sections with only 2 miniscule bust darts in the top middle section, under the bust. The rest - and there must be more to acheive the perfectly contoured shape, are hidden. I knew that there must be closed darts involved, but in order for darts to be closed, other darts must be made - and then either closed again or hidden in seams. Think of shuffling orange segments when one is missing - another always takes it's place. Where are they?

I won't bore you with the details of the very circuitous cutting and pasting (think Blue Peter) route which led me to the conclusion that what we have here, is infact, a French Dart.

A French dart combines shoulder and waist darts and I could have avoided hours of snipping and sellotaping by following three simple steps

1) Close the shoulder dart of the block forming a wide dart under the bust
2) cut the sleeve, neck and waist portions along the chosen lines of the pattern
3) close the waist dart and trace each piece with the darts closed (except the two bust darts which must be left). The darts then become integrated within the cut, and all you will see in the finished dress, are beautiful smooth pieces of fabric.

Having taken the long route round, I understand the shortcuts much better than I would have done, but to finish off, these experimental pattern peices now have to be traced back onto paper, in order to be traced again as pattern peices.  The top arm is traced as is with the dart folded out (closed).  The bust section is traced with the dart intact, and the bottom middriff section is traced while the dart is folded out (closed).  You wont see the traced closed darts in the final cut.

Next step is then to trace those peices off, add seam allowances, transfer to fabric and sew together!

The only reason I haven't sewn this myself is because as yet, I haven't been able to find some suitable fabric, however, since my recent shopping trip to London, I may well use the lovely black polyester with white flower pattern for this dress.  I think it would suit.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Inspirations for costumes

If you have the slightest fascination or interest in costume, particularly Movie Costumes and how they were made, then whatever you do .. 

I am particularly fascinated by this one

 this one

 and this one

... and that's just to start !

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Wench Costume - Part II

It is done! - well, actually, it was done last week.... and here it is!

A dress, a cape, an apron, a corsetty bodice, a hat, and a scarf ...

The apron took longer than expected because I decided to hem it invisibly ... well in 1460, they wouldn't have perfectly machined top stitching and I guess in those days, your everyday wench didn't have time to sit around perfecting her stitches by hand ... so a new technique (for me) was learned from here.

Then there was the bodice .. It was just as easy to make it reversible.  I am quite pleased with the result.   It is bound with machine from one side, but slip stitched by hand the other side.

The lacing is made from the same fabric as the dress - dyed calico.  The bodice took the most amount of time.  It is very lightly boned with straight metal bones. 

The cloak is made from 100% wool.  It's very heavy but very simple.  I didn't have too much time to spend on it, so it was made - from blank paper to finish - in a day.  Again, I thought that visible stitching would make it look too tailored for a 1460 wench, so there was more handstitching.  I neatend the edges with twill tape and bias binding to avoid bulk at the hems.  However, tailored or not, this is a very posh wench cloak - the fabric comes from a  Jaeger end of roll apparently! (I know!).


The actress is very pleased.  It fits her like a glove!  She particularly likes the new improved hat (see the last wench post for the RSC version - I mean! They really didn't have elastic in 1460, that much I know).  Anyway .. here she is in my very messy (under reconstruction) garden - by next year, I am hoping it will look more like Mrs Silverpebble's garden... Well I can dream!

And if you happen to be in Edinburgh over the next few weeks, you can see this all in action at The Vault, from 7-30 August.  The play is a 50 minute one woman show entitled "Now is the Winter" which is described as follows:

Shakespeare dramatized the only Richard III he could at the time. Elizabeth I, whose grandfather Henry VII had defeated Richard at Bosworth, was on the throne and every contemporary account of Richard presented an ambitious, usurping and deformed fiend who murdered his own nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Many have since challenged this view, suggesting a man who, amongst other traits, inspired great loyalty. This striking new one-woman show tells the story of a devoted servant in Richard's household and uses Shakespeare's own text to take a very different look at this enigmatic historical figure.

I am quite amazed that I managed to do this job in the small amount of time given - I mean - I am quite amazed that I managed to do the job at all nevermind the small amount of time given !!  But I am pleased with the result and my confidence is bolstered by the fact that it was all perfect beyond my own expectation, and the clients were pleased enough to mention "working together again".  The experience has made me realise that we really can achieve amazing things, and the only way to do this is to continually challenge and push ourselves to do things we don't imagine that we might be able to do or perhaps cant be bothered, through lack of confidence, to try.  This job was way beyond my comfort zone, but I didn't want to let my teacher down because she thought I could do it .. and so I tried, and I did it!  More on this lesson later ...