Monthly Archives: April 2012

Birds and Thistles flying high

Being away for multiple days over the past week and a half has seriously cut into my sewing and writing time, but snatching a few final hours here and there has finally resulted in the completion of one of my resolutions for 2012.  The bed hangings about which I wrote in January are finally complete.  I can’t begin to calculate the hours of planning and hand sewing which went into them, but I also can’t begin to explain the pure sense of coziness and security which they provide to anyone sleeping beneath them (that would be my husband and me!  Not sure what the cats think about them…)

So – how did I come to make hangings for a bed which is a “low-post” bed, not a tester (or four-poster) bed?  The story begins 15 years ago when I made the swag and jabot curtains for our bedroom out of Brunschwig & Fils Bird and Thistle patterned fabric.  I ordered lots of fabric to compensate for matching the pattern and for all the funny angles that swag and jabot curtains produce.  I ended up with quite a lot of fabric left over, some of which I used to make a dust ruffle.  The rest went into my fabric closet.

About three years later, our bed was borrowed by a local museum for an exhibit (we slept on a mattress on the floor during that time!), and it was displayed with a “flying tester” which they had made just for the bed.  A flying tester is a wooden frame on which hangings can be affixed; the wooden frame is suspended by ropes from iron hooks in the ceiling.

Here are the two wrought-iron hooks which we affixed into our ceiling. You can also see just a bit of one of the windows with the swag and jabot curtains.

This photo shows the roping which suspends the frame from the ceiling.

Although not common, in the 18th century flying testers were an ingenious way to dress a low-post bed for the winter – with heavy wool or linen  hangings – or in the hot summers – with airy curtains to keep the flying bugs out.  There is an example of a ceiling hook for a flying tester at Stenton in Philadelphia. (Stenton is the historic home of James Logan, 1674-1751, who was Secretary to William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania.)  And imagine my surprise when just recently I saw an ad in House Beautiful Magazine which showed a modern bed with a flying tester!

This ad for the Apple version of House Beautiful features a modern "flying tester".

After the exhibit was dismantled, we were generously offered the tester frame, which we wrapped in plastic and put in storage.  I started thinking how neat it would be to make hangings some day, but somehow the years passed by.  Perhaps I needed some inspiration to tackle what I knew was going to be a big, somewhat intimidating project.  Well – the inspiration came in two parts.  First I came across a pair of pieced pillowcases, which date to about 1800-1820.  One of the fabrics in them is – you guessed it – some 18th-century Bird and Thistle fabric (which was imported to America from England).  These pieces were in blue, not red like my curtains, which is one of several colorways in which the fabric is available now.

Can you see the blue bird and the vines and thistles nestled among the variable star pieced blocks?

Here is another view of the same pillow case. A hand-written note was attached to each one, which I left intact.

Because of the age of the pillowcases, and the visual quality of them, I had them framed so I could hang them as artwork in our bedroom.

Here is one framed case...

... and here is the other one.

Hmmmm – now wouldn’t Bird and Thistle-patterned bed hangings look so good with those framed cases flanking the bed?  The wheels in my brain were turning.

Inspiration number 2 came when the air-conditioning in our bedroom had to be replaced during a very hot summer.  Until the work could be completed, we moved into our grown son’s old room, where the AC was still going strong.  I had already made simple hangings for his tester bed  – and the pleasure of sleeping under that canopy convinced me that it was time to turn my thoughts into reality!

Here are some of the challenges I faced and how I made the hangings:

1)   After measuring and thinking and measuring some more, I knew I didn’t have enough fabric left over from the curtains to complete the hangings, although I was close!  I knew I could do some careful piecing and re-sectioning to match and cut out everything (three valences and the back curtain) except for the side curtains.  I went on eBay and found a length of the same fabric which would suffice for the side curtains, if I lined them in another fabric.  (The piece I found on eBay was of another dye lot, of course, but the difference was slight so I decided it would work.) I found a linen blend in solid red which I determined would be perfect for the taping (which would finish every exposed edge) and for lining the side curtains.

2)   I based my valence pattern on the shape of the headboard in reverse.  To compensate for the longer side valences, I added two more “scallops”, which fit perfectly mathematically!  That was the easiest part of the entire project.

Here is the end valence hung on the frame. Hopefully you can see the design of the headboard mirrored in reverse in the valence.

3)   I proceeded to apply the red taping (which I cut on the bias) to all the edges.  This was all handwork and every edge had to be sewn twice, once on the front and once on the back.

4)   I applied Velcro tape on the hanging edge of each piece. It doesn’t show if you apply it on the front side and flip it over from the top. I had already applied the rough Velcro side to the wooden frame by first gluing it and then stapling it.

Here is one of the side valences pulled away so that you can see how I applied the velcro.

5)   After I lined the side curtains and applied the bias tape to them, I attached brass rings, as one would do with an 18th-century-style “drapery” curtain.  Simple cotton kitchen string is attached to the ring at the front edge and threaded through the rest of the rings. That way the curtains can be drawn up and attached to the hooks on the top of the frame.

The brass rings, attached to the lining side of the side curtains are strung with cotton string.

Here you can see the placement of the brass rings, which determines the drape of the curtain when it is pulled up.

And here is one of the side curtains, shown pulled up and attached to hold the desired drape of the fabric.

6)   Voila – Project complete.  It only took about 12 years…!

All dressed up and nowhere to go!

One more photo to show the framed pillowcases on either side of the bed.

I’m very glad our 18th-century bed is finally dressed – and I’m pleased with the way it looks.  NOW I can get back to sewing mid-century styles instead of 18th-century ones!

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What would Christian Dior do?

Without a doubt, the two dresses featured above left in my blog heading were inspired by the designs of Christian Dior.  This return to the feminine silhouette was led by Mr. Dior, starting in 1947, and it continues to influence fashion to this day.   In 1954, he published a small book entitled The Little Dictionary of Fashion, which was reprinted in 2007 by Abrams (and available at Amazon.).

Some of the language and expressions in this little book seem a bit old-fashioned, but it contains a wealth of information and advice.

It is really a combination of fashion and sewing terms, accompanied by his philosophy of life.   Here is a sampling of topics:

Bodices:  “… the most important part of any garment….”

Cosmetics:  “… play a very big part in the secret of beauty, but they mustn’t show…”

Emphasis:  “If you have a particularly outstanding feature it is always a good thing to emphasize it….  The whole of fashion is emphasis – emphasis on woman’s loveliness.”  [I think this is very sweet!]

Handbags:  “ A very important accessory and used with not enough care by too many women.”

Jackets:  “…must always be worn with a slim skirt…”

J is for Jacket!

J is for Jacket!

Key to Good Dressing:  “There is no key…  but simplicity, grooming and good taste – [are] the three fundamentals of fashion…”

This Dior outfit is described this way: "simple black suit, matching gloves and muff, and hat and scarf, in vivid cerise." Dressing beautifully, indeed!

Materials:  “You can never take too much care of the materials you choose to make a dress…”  [In this entry, he seems to be addressing the home sewer!]

Pockets:  “… pockets are very useful to help you to do something with your hands if you are embarrassed and don’t know what to do with them.”

The Way You Walk:  “… can make or mar your clothes – cultivate gracefulness.”

And my favorite:

Zest:  “…You have to live with zest — and that is the secret of beauty and fashion, too.”

Although Mr. Dior died in 1957 at the height of his career, his eponymous couture house has, as everyone knows, continued over the years under the direction of many different artistic directors.  Just this week the newest Creative Director for the House of Dior was announced.  Although I am a casual follower of current fashion (mostly to see how the vintage looks influence today’s looks), I was pleased to see that Mr. Raf Simons has been selected to head Dior.  I thought the designs he did for Jil Sander  over the past few years were among the most flattering that have appeared on the runway.  His selection is detailed in a fascinating article by Christina Passariello, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, April 10, page B4.  (By the way, The Wall Street Journal has terrific fashion coverage and advice, specifically in the Thursday and Weekend editions, as well as other times.)

Here is what the cover of Vogue Pattern Book magazine looked like in October, 1957, the month and year of Christian Dior's death.

Mr. Simons’ first designs for Dior will debut in July.   I wonder if he is now asking himself “What would Christian Dior do?”

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Quiz #2: Match the fabric to the pattern

Of all my sewing projects, which are either in the works or in the planning stages, two of them will be completed shortly. (At least I hope they will be.  Everything always seems to take longer than I anticipate…  Does anyone else find that to be true?)   However, I’m just not ready to report on either of these “almost-finished” endeavors yet.  . . . So I thought I would take this opportunity to expand a bit on my infatuation with Moygashel linen – and give you, my readers, some more beautiful vintage fabrics to see – and to allow you to imagine them all dressed up and ready to wear.

In the Vogue Pattern Book from Summer of 1957, one of the articles implores the reader to “consider the crispness of LINEN”.

This June/July issue is perfect to feature linen - it is a great fabric for Summer - cool, crisp, washable, and the perfect weight for dresses and suits.

Articles like this, and ads for linen fabrics, showcase the popularity of sewing with linen in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.  I shared a few Moygashel linen ads with you recently, and here are three more, which illustrate the range of designs and colors available to the mid-century home sewer.

This almost whimsical illustration depicts four designs of Moygashel linen. It appeared in the February/March 1958 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

This ad states: "Your precious handiwork can convert this Vogue Pattern into an heirloom, because you know that Moygashel Linen defies wear." Those words were certainly presentient! It appeared in the April/May 1953 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

Here are four more Moygashel linens, featured in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

I certainly decided to “consider” linen when I purchased this 1965 Vogue pattern a few months ago:

This pattern is for a paring of coat and dress, but the dress stands alone beautifully.

My intention was to make the dress only – a lovely sheath with some distinctive seaming and top-stitching.  So I went to my fabric closet to see what linens I could “consider” for a crisp Spring/Summer dress.  Here are the four that I decided to choose from:

#1 - Bright and sunny, this design is a subtle play on the polka dot theme.

#2 - The colors in this design are very 2012-current-and- fashionable!

#3 - Decorative topstitching on this solid pink linen would be quite attractive.

#4 - This geometric print is probably from the late '60s, so it would make up beautifully in a pattern from the '60s!

Which fabric would you choose for this dress pattern?  Which one do you think I chose to make into this dress?

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