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Somerset’s custom-made cover

2 May

Three things I love : sewing, sidesaddles and history. How excited was I when I saw that the Historical Sew Fortnightly had a challenge that I could do something for?

The theme was Flora and Fauna, which I have loosely interpreted as being appropriate for a horsey-print canvas sidesaddle cover for Somerset. Because she was looking rather sad, dusty and messy in the corner of my room.

So, to find a pattern.
Hmm.
There are none.

So I browsed the interwebs, and had very helpful people like Leila Marvin, Sarah Parry and Suzy VanderPeer  send me photos and info about genuine, turn of the century covers.

Basically, in the days before elastic, covers were made-to-measure for each saddle.

A very nice, fitted vintage sidesaddle cover.

A very nice, fitted vintage sidesaddle cover.

Erk. Look at all those tricky angles! The cover was slashed under the leaping head so you could get it on and off the heads. Many were piped around all the edges, and had split pigskin keepers, reinforcing and/or accents.

I’d never drafted something myself before, and to be honest, a sidesaddle cover was a hard thing to start with. But that’s never stopped me before….

I pinned paper over the saddle, using photos to guide how it was pieced together

I pinned paper over the saddle, using photos to guide how it was pieced together

Unfortunately I didn't have butchers paper to hand. I did have tissue paper, which was a PAIN to work with around a very playful kitty

Unfortunately I didn’t have butchers paper to hand. I did have tissue paper, which was a PAIN to work with around a very playful kitty

Luckily Nibbles can be distracted with her new favourite thing - the washing basket!

Luckily Nibbles can be distracted with her new favourite thing – the washing basket!

This gave me a whole bunch of pattern pieces. The rectangular piece is upside down, I had to recut it

This gave me a whole bunch of pattern pieces. The rectangular piece is upside down, I had to recut it

Nibbles decided the fabric needed to be killed. She is  the left upper lump, and whenever I tried shifting the fabric she'd go crazy

Nibbles decided the fabric needed to be killed. She is the left upper lump, and whenever I tried shifting the fabric she’d go crazy

Pinned the fabric back to the saddle

Pinned the fabric back to the saddle

I had to adjust it quite a bit. Turns out tissue paper falls differently from canvas

I had to adjust it quite a bit. Turns out tissue paper falls differently from canvas

I fussed a lot with the pins, then realised I had to make all these outside-facing seams become inside-facing. I pricked my fingers HEAPS

I fussed a lot with the pins, then realised I had to make all these outside-facing seams become inside-facing. I pricked my fingers HEAPS

Then I started sewing. So far all was going well, but for some reason (it seemed logical at the time) I put the heads pieces together first, then tried attaching all the bigger pieces to that. It didn’t work. Everything pulled out of shape and it was awful.
I guess it was like trying to make a sleeve, then sew the rest of the dress around it.

I ended up unpicking almost everything, attaching the sides to the seat, then last of all the heads. It worked better.

It makes Somerset look so much tidier

It makes Somerset look so much tidier

I used two ribbons i cut off a shirt - you know those annoying 'hanger' straps sewn to the shoulders that always peep out of your neckline? I found a use for them!

I used two ribbons i cut off a shirt – you know those annoying ‘hanger’ straps sewn to the shoulders that always peep out of your neckline? I found a use for them!

I did some shaping to this side but it's hard to spot

I did some shaping to this side but it’s hard to spot

The fit of the heads isn't perfect, but I'm still pleased with my effort

The fit of the heads isn’t perfect, but I’m still pleased with my effort

I'm really pleased!!!!!

I’m really pleased!!!!!

Obviously it isn’t finished. That’s because Somerset isn’t finished. When she has flaps, flocked panels and girthing her underside will be a completely different shape to what it is now. So I can’t exactly ‘fit’ the cover to something that has yet to exist.

I’ve left heaps of extra material on the edges, and have about 2m of the canvas left. So when Somerset is finished (sometime in the never-never) I can finish the cover to match her.

Madame Vionnet’s jabot dress

15 Feb

I have a wedding to go to, and all weddings require a new frock.

The wedding is Art Deco themed, which is wonderful (I love dressing up) and awful (I look terrible in shapeless dresses).

I far prefer 1940s or 50s fashion, it suits me so much more. But oh well.

Also, finding patterns for 1920s dresses is much harder. In the end I decided upon this dress, which afterwards I found was from 1919 so Edwardian/Art Deco. But it looked easy to sew and I could make it flattering on me.

It's a very simple design

It’s a very simple design

There’s no real pattern, but I found an online tutorial on how to make it, at We Sew Retro – http://wesewretro.com/2012/05/20-minute-1920s-dress/ 

It took me a while to understand the instructions, but eventually I got it.

1) Basically, you get four square pieces of fabric, with a length of 1m on the diagonal. Took me FOREVER to work out that I needed around 0.70m along each side to achieve the 1m diagonal. It seems I have forever forgotten high school calculus.

2) You hem all sides of the square.

3) Lay one square on top of another, wrong sides together. Stitch across one corner asymetrically. This will leave a triangle flap on the right sides of the fabric.

4) Unfold, and on one square lay another square, wrong sides together again. Stitch across the far corner asymetrically again. You will have a chain of three squares joined together, with triangle flaps on the right sides.

5) Unfold again, and lay the last square on the chain of squares you have made. Stitch again.

6) You have made a chain of four squares, attached at their pointy corners. Bring the leftmost unattached pointy corner across to the rightmost one, to turn the chain into a tube of squares. Stitch as before.

7) Now flatten the tube of squares, and stitch two top points together. These will be the shoulders.

8) Make a sash.

On the coathanger

On the coathanger

Of course I didn’t make it as easy as that.

Firstly, the cheap satin material I brought was a complete bitch to sew. It was slippery and the weave constantly shifted. Trying to get a perfect square drove me nuts. Hemming it was hideous. I purchased a rolled hem foot for my machine but it just didn’t work. In the end I just folded the material over, straight stitched and then trimmed super-close to the edge. It looks OK but is already fraying madly.

Trying to cut straight lines of the awful material. I only snipped my duvet cover once.

Trying to cut straight lines of the awful material. I only snipped my duvet cover once.

I also got my sides mixed up and sewed the triangle drapey flaps to the inside. More than once. Le sigh.

I’ve also made it too big for me. I probably only needed a 0.7m diagonal. As a result it is unflatteringly long, especially combined with the dropped waistband.