Talking French

The photograph above illustrates what is frustrating about the underwear widely available – it is just so unflattering! It distorts the model’s rather lovely shape her cheeks are poking out from the bottom, they cut across the widest part of her body in a band -these knickers sabotage your sexiness  no matter what your size. It does make me wonder just what manufacturers are thinking and why we put up with it. It is nigh on impossible to buy anything else, so fortunately being able to sew means I am not restricted to what is available in the shops. 

You can buy these from ‘What Katie did‘ 
French knickers on the other hand begin at the smallest part – the waist, and follow a woman’s curves gently to finish just at the top of the leg. This makes everyone look beautiful it works with the lines of the female form rather than against them. 

You can buy these from ‘What Katie did’
Of course what comes as a shock when you pick up a pair or make your own – is that they seem huge! 
Used to these mean strips of fabric, the volumes of lace or satin are a big difference but stick with it.  Once you have something around your natural waistline and not cutting across your hips, you will find your ‘muffin’ top becomes a distant memory. 
It feels wonderful to have knickers around the waist again, that you might find you never go back. Make them out of stain or silk, and you have a whole beautiful sensation as it flows round your hips. 
They are bliss to wear under a summer dress as they are cool and have no visible panty line. Of course your man will find it irresistible, all that wonderful accessibility will be on his mind! 

Available from ‘What Katie Did’
The French knickers here are from What Katie Did, they ship world wide, but they are very easy to make. 
You are simply making light, airy shorts which in the warmer weather make summer dresses a pleasure to wear. Especially if you are a little more generously proportioned as I am. Last year in Vienna the temperatures were very high, I had put on a little weight and was shocked at how my thighs rubbed together and became extremely sore. French knickers are perfect for solving this problem as the fabric takes the ‘rub’. In addition if you suffer from Thrush or cystitis they really do help prevent these occurring.  
I will be blogging next how you can make your own glorious pairs of your own – its quick and easy, I made two pairs in an afternoon! And the fabric requirements are not big at all. 

Downton Abbey

Sunday evening viewing is full of gorgeous inspiration for anyone who enjoys dressmaking – the costumes for Downton Abbey are sheer joy that brings out the little girl in me who loves to dress up! It is no wonder that the costume designer Susannah Buxton has won many awards, as well as praise from the editor of vogue and the Royals themselves. 
The picture above is from the first season, you can see that the Edwardian style has a defined waist, and I simply adore the accessories: the hats have been wonderful, right through to the lace gloves and pretty little white shoes. What I love about this style is that it is all about line – there are echos of Jane’ Austin with the way the fabric skims the body shape – but the accentuation is at the waist in the Edwardian era rather than under the bust line of the Regency period. 
Looking in more detail at Mary’s dress it is such a wonderful example of clever use of stripes, the framing of the bodice works so beautifully against the lines of the skirt and the bodice sides. I also love the small detail that the sleeves are curving, but the cuffs are completely straight. The stripe effect is then softened by the lace collar – exquisite. 
This dress makes stunning use of both drape and design, the placement of the stars work so beautifully down the body, and I love the way the top and bottom half are in symmetry with the diagonal lines. 
Lady Mary’s riding habit brings to mind some of the opulence of the Victorian era: the full skirt and emphasis on the waist. The photograph on the horse allows us to see it is very similar in scale to the crinolines of the late 19th Century. It is a pity that I was unable to find a close shot of the military style braiding that went over the jacket, it gave a beautiful elaborate detail that was so reminiscent of the victorian era. 

The later riding outfit is toned down more it is a simpler cut with less dramatic line – the skirt does not appear so full yet the quirkiness of these outfits are revealed in the ‘mannish accents’ the top hat, the cravat and the the depth of the collar. I think this is a little glimpse into Mary’s playfulness, what comes across is that while she appears to be well mannered, her style reflects an understated humour. 
Of course what really stole the first series was Sybil’s trouser suit, the colour and the richness of the embroidery were breathtaking, enhancing Sybil’s skin tones. You can see further detail on the daily mail website

I also love the way that the older characters have remained within their own sense of style, the middle white suit is beautiful as is the hat. Her ladyship wears the most exquisite outfits that are more traditional and refined version of the girls and suits her Ladyship very well. While the dowager’s outfit has reminiscence of an earlier style – which reflects her character. You can see how talented the costume designer is – she has created outfits which work with the characters to give us a more rounded opinion – the outfits support the acting rather than working against it. You can see more details of the dresses in the second series on the Downton Abbey Addicts website. 
As we move through the era we see the development of the twenties styling coming through, this is a period of drape. 

I love this outfit and the use of the buttons, especially the contrasting ones across the waistline. I think this would work beautifully on a pencil skirt that you could wear today. 
The elegance of this outfit shows how beautifully the fabrics are combined, chiffon and velvet. This takes us beyond our notion of twenties ‘flapper style’ with fringing – the costumes are elegant and well beyond the simplistic – it is the details once again that fill my heart with joy. 
What epitomised the development were the wedding dresses. Mary’s dress gives very little emphasis, giving an elegance line, where the beauty would have been in the movement, the way the fabric flowed. 

I believe that Edith’s dress just has the edge, the beautiful detail on the hip and the elegance of the satin and chiffon allows Edith to shine out for once. I hope we see Edith get a better deal on costumes, I think she deserves a break poor girl. 
One plea I would like is that Susannah writes a book so we can pour over these details without hogging the TV. Thank you Susannah you really do bring me joy! 
I have written a piece of revamping a hat, Downton style – later in the blog! 

Changing shape

It occurred to me when I was looking at the designs at the V&A that the desirable women’s shape has altered a lot since the fifties for a more androgynous masculine shape, it was clarified when reading slip of a girl’s blog, where she discussed Vanity Fair’s double page spread on lingerie advertising.

What strikes me the most is that modern lingerie has none of the glamour of previous decades, mostly because the models have very small hips, the style does nothing to enhance the body of anyone who is less than ‘ideal’

 

Compare the two shapes and you will see that the vintage model is more curvaceous. The modern model has a bottom half that cuts across the widest part of her body, which is not very flattering when you are more than a size zero.

You can see this even more in this version there is a small dip in the waist but it is very small compared with the vintage model – you can tell more by the inside curve, the modern model’s body is almost a straight line. The vintage lingerie enhances the shape, finishing at a narrower part of the body, where as the modern version, while the panty line is slightly higher, still does not emphasise the waist. Also the bust is pushed out in the vintage model where as the modern bra pushes the bust upwards.

It is almost as if the female figure has lost its curves and become almost masculine in its shape. This drive for size zero causes a lot of anxiety for women and I am not at all sure that men find it equally appealing. What was noticeable mostly when people watching is that clothing has become androgynous too, jeans and tee shirts are the norm and it seems we have lost our differences between the sexes.

Become sexier than this?
I am not for one minute suggesting that one shape is superior to another, but I think each shape had its decade in the last century. When you consider the first line of women in the picture above they would suit the flapper style perfectly – it was a decade where women minimised their busts, and emphasised the hips, leaving the waist hidden. However, fabrics such as silk and chiffon softened the effects – together with rich embroidery – it was all about drape and flow. 
The next three decades from the 30’s to the 50’s returned to enhancing the waist once again. 
Then the sixties were about showing legs hemlines were high and A line skirts and dresses skimmed the upper body rather than drawing attention to it. It was also when we began to see thinner models such as twiggy becoming the desirable shape. 
The seventies and eighties seemed to nod back to romantic periods, the seventies in particular was looking for a folksy style of dress, with gypsy skirts and smocking. The marriage of Diana and Charles heralded a whole retro victorian/romantic style for the eighties and Laura Ashley with her reinvention of victorian style was extremely popular.  
What is interesting about today’s fashion is that women are free to decide how they want to dress choosing self expression over the high street. Most women want their own individual look, and are having the confidence to put an outfit together themselves. In fact it is all about creating your own style and if necessary making things, or re-inventing the old, to reflect your own sense of style. 
beauty is in the eye of the beholder
While advertising may present an image of the ‘ideal’ woman it delights me that women are now having the option to accept they differ from the norm and love themselves as they are without fighting their natural shape with dieting or exercise. Beauty does begin from within and knowing your body shape and working with it, rather  than trying to fit into a style that just isn’t you, is a whole lot less stressful. 
I believe that glamour is all about emphasising your best features, and we all have them. 
“Why change? Everyone has his own style. When you have found it, you should stick to it.” Audrey Hepburn. 

Style with a smile?

I was reading Afua Hirsch’s article in the newspaper this weekend and I was completely in agreement with her, in this country we all try and alter our body shapes to fit clothes that often don’t flatter or simply distort our shapes and accentuate our least loved features. What madness is this?

Where did we get to this position where women really struggle to accept their bodies and love who they are? I have to admit I often visit clothing stores when the season’s change, just to keep up with what is on trend and often I leave without spending a penny. I look around and see women wearing ‘this season’s colour’ or ‘this seasons’ look’ without giving it any regard to whether it enhances her or not.

I am not bashing women and what they wear, I feel saddened that we all have pressure to fit in, I remember my svelte daughter wearing low slung jeans and a teeshirt that exposed a middle that did absolutely nothing to enhance her beautiful shape, it just made her look like her body was spilling over.

Thankfully the current trend for retro styling has allowed women to express their own sense of style – even if it is the vintage forties with victory rolls, rockabilly chic or fifties flair. There never is a better time to sew because not only can you chose your clothes and fabric that reflects who you are, but you can make clothes that don’t make you feel like you are ‘too big on the hips’ or ‘too busty!’ which is often why I have to return lovely summer dresses, they simply make me look trashy!

The great thing about making your own clothes is that you can choose everything right down to the cut or the weight of the fabric. It takes me back to the dressing up box and the most favourite item of all, a circular elasticated waistband skirt – the waistband moved with me, and it was simply glorious to spin and feel the fabric flow around my legs. That is how clothes should make us feel.

I am just back from Austria and came across shops full of dirndl dresses when I put one on it was like a childhood dream come true! I finally had a dress that I spent my childhood drawing after reading Heidi!  Not only that the blouses can solve my summer dress difficulties, they look gorgeous and feminine without exposing more than I am comfortable with.

My daughter got married and had a ‘steam punk’ wedding it was terrific fun, everyone dressed up in what they wanted to wear and I have never seen so many broadly smiling faces! We all went to the park after the ceremony for the pictures and many people thought we had come from a film set. Dressing up is fun!

If there is one thing I am passionate about it is the desire for every woman to dress to please herself and we can all take part. Next time someone is dressing ‘outside the norm’ encourage her confidence! it might just be me.

Apron love

I love all things domestic, I also enjoy wearing clothes that feel good. I was inspired by the fabric when I was sent on a course to London. Near our HQ is a wonderful fabric shop and there was a whole range of lovely heart fabrics in all different sizes. I could imagine it would be the best thing for a fifties inspired apron and bought enough for a project. I don’t go that often and I have always regretted the times I have seen something and not bought it! (That is my excuse and I am sticking to it!)

I admit it is hearty! I researched several vintage designs of aprons and there were many fifties aprons that had heart shaped bib sections.

The problem is that sometimes the bib sections don’t keep their shape so I re-enforced this with some interfacing, in addition I also re-enforced the front of the tie section so it keeps its width and does not fold over as some tend to do.

I wanted some form rosette on the apron and found this lovely pin from the British heart foundation, very apt in our year of the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics! 
I love suffolk puffs, (now called yo yo’s thanks to our American cousins) I remember making a child’s toy at school it was a long caterpillar made from these puffs. My mother would not buy new material for it, so I had to cut up an old dress. I don’t think it was finished because it was a very lengthy process, but I am so pleased to see things re-invented and renewed. 

I made the tie nice and big, to create a lovely bow on my bottom! It adds to the appeal of femininity, which is what the fifties era personifies.

It is a period where women were able to wear very feminine clothes, together with new materials becoming available so much happened to change the lives of the Brits from the deprivation of war to the optimistic 60’s. I am going on a fashion lecture about this era as it is a particular interest of mine.

The skirt section is a half circle and it feels lovely as it sways around, it reminds me of a gypsy skirt I had in my dressing up box as a child. I think we should all dress up still! 

It is one of those things that I can simply slip on and indulge in a little baking imagining I am Doris Day! it makes me feel wonderful, just like a little girl again! Now that can’t be bad can it?

Playing dress up

Remember the dressing up box you had as a child, the sheer pleasure of wearing something that felt wonderful, like a big circular skirt? or the dress that made you feel like a fairy princess? It is a sad thing that as adults we rarely get the chance to dress up! Goodwood revival is one of those great opportunities to dress up and have fun!

What delighted me is that there are so many people dressed up, and smiling! Clothes were from all periods from sequinned from the twenties, the grace of the thirties, with satin and fur, and the utilitarian 40’s. I personally love the fifties, mostly because I have an hourglass figure and it suits my frame.

What I noticed was that everyone was having fun, most people had dressed up and there were not just beautiful dresses but hats and gloves too. I never miss a chance to wear a hat, but the weather was very draughty, I nearly lost it a couple of times!

There is so much to see, not just fantastic cars but lots of vintage clothing stores and motorbikes. There was even a vintage tesco with all the goods packaged in vintage labels!

The racing was exciting, if noisy and we also spent some time looking at the cars in the pits! There was even a whole group dressed like the guys from Dad’s Army and very good they looked too.

These are my fellow Belle’s, we all met up for a spot of lunch. Three of the girls had made their own dresses, and it was so lovely to see them! The sun came out in the afternoon and it became Glorious Goodwood. I put my head in the dancing tent, and watched a little of the lindy hop, it is so good to see it this setting, it felt so authentic, especially as the big band was live music. It was a shame that I did not see any familiar faces otherwise I might have have been tempted to have a dance or two. 
We spent a little time in the Kenwood Kitchen seeing demonstrations, I love my kenwood, Andy brought it along with him when he moved in. I really do think he looks like a farmer, but an adorable one! 
After 6 hours we were both feeling a little footsore but happy, there was still much more to see, but we were too tired! Will definitely have to go again next year… just enough time to plan my next outfit! 

Steam Punk

In case you haven’t read it several times in this blog, one of the things I really enjoy is dressing up.
I was going to a Steam Punk Party, and my dear friend found this wedding dress for me. The bodice was red velvet but the skirt was cream silk.
I managed to dye the silk and it came out a lovely red, but it took quite a few boxes of dye!

I added the lace overskirt, which had a bustle on the back, and the jacket was already mine and has seen a number of different lives!

It was an absolute dream to wear, especially with my red rock boots!

I bought the top hat from a fancy dress shop and it was completely plain. Having researched a little about Steam Punk I was wondering how to create some of the cogs and wheels of the gadetry that goes with the Victoriana, then I happened across an old spyrograph box, the wheels were perfect, once I had sprayed them silver.

A good hour or so with my trusty glue gun and a box of metal beads, and I had created a few items for the hat and a brooch. The feathers were a lovely touch and I had some silver ribbon in my stash. (I love it when you find just the right thing in your stash, its like all the hoarding is finally justified!)

I had an old watch that wasn’t working and a broken necklace, it all looked great on the dress and was fantastic fun to make.

My daughter is very into steam punk and since she is getting married next July has decided to have a steam punk wedding!

I will have to think some more about what I am going to wear, dressing up is such fun!