A Victorian costume drama for The Just Cause

Victorian costume for Worthing Community Play

Making this outfit has taken up most of my evenings for the past three weeks. It's my costume for Worthing's Community Play, The Just Cause. The play is a Victorian romance in which the town's famous large-scale Skeleton Army riot of the 1880s is re-enacted. Exciting stuff! The Just Cause has been two years in development with a team of historians and genealogists researching lives of people who lived in 1880s Worthing. The cast comprises over 100 locals of all ages and from all walks of life and most of us are making or adapting and customising shop-bought clothing into our Victorian costumes.

Simplicity ESP 6073: Victorian jacket and skirt, 1980s
I have the part of a Temperance Woman – these were usually 'upper' working class people motivated to improve the welfare of ordinary working women, many of whom were victims of domestic violence fuelled by drink. As a working class woman my clothes should be plain, in dull, natural looking fabrics and worn without jewellery or fancy embellishments. With this in mind I bought ten metres of seersucker beige fabric with a narrow blue and grey stripe from Worthing market's fabric stall and 7 meters of lining material. The fabric was cheap at £2 a metre and seemed the right weight and colour for a Victorian summer outfit (the play takes place in June). Searching for sewing patterns on Etsy, I found Simplicity E.S.P. 6073 – a 1980s Victorian style skirt and jacket. The jacket looked about the right cut and I've added an extension panel to the lower back so that it fits over a bustle. I made the skirt longer than the sewing pattern with more gathering in the back. 

Victorian bustle, homemade!The weirdest part of making the costume was constructing the bustle. Using Kristina Meister's guide as a starting point, I made mine from a cushion insert attached to a piece of elastic. I've added a sliding fastener to the front for a bit of extendable comfort! It's surprisingly light to wear but does feel like a strange appendage. I then made an over-skirt to cover the bustle by draping fabric around my tailor's mannequin and tacking it in place by hand. Both skirt and overskirt have a simple elasticated waist – hoping all that elastic won't get too itchy on a summer's day.
 
I'm not sure that the jacket's sleeve is 100% accurate for 1880s England as I think the puff-effect sleeve came in a decade later (before becoming a full-blown leg-of-mutton affair) but am hoping the play's costume designer allows me to get away with this! Don't think I can face unpicking and redoing the sleeve - too many hours spent sewing beige already.
 
Victorian Costume: The Just Cause, Worthing Community Play 2014

Historically accurate or not, I'm amazed by how well it's turned out. Next I have to finish my daughter's costume (she plays the part of a thief) and work out how to make a Victorian hat for myself. However, may just have to run up another colourful summer dress for light relief first...

The Just Cause: costume for Worthing Community Play

Performances of The Just Cause take place at Christ Church, Worthing on 14th, 21st and 28th June 2014. Visit Worthing Community Play for more information and follow us on twitter.

Foliate Heads and Art in Ruins: John Piper's textiles

Foliate Head printed textile by John Piper

Artist Textiles at London's Fashion and Textile Museum is an essential exhibition for any vintage fabric addict. Over 200 textile designs for fashion and home furnishings are on display, including pieces by Salvador Dali, Joan MirĂ³, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. There are exquisite illustrated fabrics by Saul Steinberg, colour pop prints by Zandra Rhodes, an angular line doodled fabric by Henry Moore and some stunning fabrics and furnishings by Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson.
     There is so much to see that one visit really isn't enough to take it all in, and there's much too much to cover in a single blog post, so I'm sharing with you the work that excited me the most: John Piper's painterly screenprints.

John Piper's Foliate Head fabric

Foliate Head fabric by John Piper, produced by David Whitehead Ltd in 1954.  
This is based on Piper's stained glass window design of the folkloric figure The Green Man

John Egerton Christmas Piper was a 20th century painter of architecture, landscape and abstract compositions. He is famous for his work as war artist (for his paintings of bombed buildings and ruins). He was also a writer, prolific photographer, etcher, printmaker, a designer for theatre and of stained-glass windows and in later years began making ceramics. 
     In the mid 1950s Piper designed a series of screen-printed textiles for David Whitehead & Sons Ltd, a company renowned for producing contemporary printed fabrics for the mass-market. In 1960 British fabric and wallpaper manufacturer Arthur Sanderson & Sons commissioned Piper to produce five textile designs as part of their 1960 centenary celebrations.
     Piper's fabrics have all the detail and tone of his paintings and really glow with life. To see so many great examples of his textiles at this show was simply thrilling! 

Chiesa De La Salute by John Piper
Chiesa De La Salute - screen printed fabric panel by John Piper, 1960
Northern Cathedral screenprint by John Piper
Northern Cathedral by John Piper - screen print circa 1960


Fawley screenprinted fabric, John Piper
Fawley by John Piper

ARTIST TEXTILES: Picasso to Warhol is at The Fashion and Textile Museum until 17th May 2014. Following record demand for tickets the museum will open on Sundays from 6 April. Visit their website for information.

Cobbler Controversy: Straight Stitch Apron Dress Book

Yoshiko Tsukiori Straight Stitch Apron Dress

For some time I've been searching for the perfect apron dress sewing pattern, so when I saw that fellow Etsyan Pomadour24 was selling copies of a Yoshiko Tsukiori sewing book full of apron dresses the fact that it's only available in Japanese didn't put me off. 


Straight Stitch Apron Dresses by Yoshiko Tsukiori

The book includes 28 designs to sew. There are bib aprons, pinafores dresses, cobbler aprons and tabards, some bungalow aprons (these have sleeves cut in one piece with the body of the dress, a bit like a t-shirt). There's even a design for a loose cropped 'smock' blouse. 

Jumper Skirt Apron dress

I would wear every garment in this book but the standout design was No. 5: Jumper Skirt Apron. That's 'jumper' as in the American word for pinafore not a sweater dress (Wikipedia explain all here). However, I'd describe this dress as a cobbler because it fastens with ties – I challenge you to correct me!

Apron dress pattern No. 5

The book has no actual sewing patterns enclosed, you have to draft up your own pattern from diagrams, just like in Tsukiori's Easy Cute Straight Stitch Sewing. It's so liberating to work in this way and the diagrams are super easy to follow with numbers indicating which seam to sew next. 

Tie at the front or back?

As it was my first attempt with this sewing pattern I used a budget black and white checked material bought for a song from the fabric stall at Worthing market. It's very light and drapey so this is definitely going to be a summer apron dress. 

Yoshiko Tsukiori: Straight Stitch Apron Dress No. 5

I really love the rectangular shape of the garment and the way it drapes when tied – it feels like wearing origami. I've bought some heavier weight fabric to make another one of these, though I also have designs on No. 24: Wrapping One-Piece Dress...
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