A rainbow of Tailcoats!

These last few weeks Midnight Costume Services have been creating 8 matching Tailored Tail Coats for a new Cameron Mackintosh revival production of 5 Guys Named Moe!

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We were sent the designs, measurements and a huuuge box of fabrics and I got started individually Pattern Drafting each Tail Coat to each performer. I drafted sizes 36” chest to a 54” chest! Wowzer!!

There wasn’t time for Toiles so my wonderful assistant Maya got to cutting the fabric- she was also on Waistcoat duty, as I had my hands full Tailoring!- and got stuck in.

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Enormous stack of fabrics… and each Tail Coat cut, interfaces and Pad Stitched.

To be honest, this might fill some Costumers with horror, but I do love a ‘run’ of Costumes. You can really get obsessively ocd and I very much enjoyed creating the Tail Coats, so different individually because of each performers size, shape, shoulder slope or hollow back, to look sharp and exactly the same.

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The Tail Coats cut, interfaced and Pad Stitched awaiting Collars.

There was an additional challenge as some of the fabrics sent were thinner than others, and yet more had a pronounced stretch which needed to be stabilized with interfacing.

Once interfaced, all were pad stitched with horse hair and cotton tape and- with a sigh of relief if I’m honest!- they started to look sharp and lovely.

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Lined up and ready for sleeves… inserting sleeves… checking the drape… arm gussets looking swish.

Inserting the collars was a little tricky as the fabric supplied was slippery however; once tamed with yet more- you guessed it!- interfacing we managed beautifully.

There was an increased amount of ease to inserting the sleeves because I wanted to create a delicious roll to the sleeve head. I think we created a beautiful, clean line, despite having gussets inserted (which are imperative for dance performers).

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Sharp, sharp, sharp! Collars in, welt pockets done, covered buttons covered and sew on.

To finish the client had requested Welt Pockets and the designs showed Black buttons. Because of the fabrics supplied we had to create faux welt pockets. We covered Buttons in the correct sizes for the Sleeve and Centre Front and, all together, I was super happy with how sharp it all looked!

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Matching waistcoats with shawl collars and matching, covered buttons.

Matching waistcoats were also made in house. Again, they were patterned individually with shawl collars and matching, covered buttons.

I can’t wait to see pictures of these bad boys in production. From what I saw of rehearsals whilst fitting, this show looks amazing!

Happy stitching!!

You can see pictures of these wonderful Costumes in their stage show here.

Wordless Wednesday

1930s Informal Style; High waisted trousers and rounded shades

In honor of my Trouser Class right now, who’re sweating their Trouser Pattern as they fit, adjust and fit again (poor loves, but it’ll all be worth it in the end, I promise!), here’s this gorgeous 1930’s pic full of informal style, high waisted trousers and rounded shades… le sigh!

Happy stitching!

Wordless Wednesday

The most sought after portraitist of the 1920s and 1930s. Edward's use of dramatic lighting and spare backdrops revolutionized celebrity photography. Here, Edward Steichen's elegant black and white composition captures actress Mary Heberden from the back, wearing an off-the-shoulder black satin dress and orchids in her hair.   The portrait appeared in Vogue March 1935

The most sought after portraitist of the 1920s and 1930s. Edward’s use of dramatic lighting and spare backdrops revolutionized celebrity photography. Here, Edward Steichen’s elegant black and white composition captures actress Mary Heberden from the back, wearing an off-the-shoulder black satin dress and orchids in her hair. The portrait appeared in Vogue March 1935

From Pinterest.

Happy stitching!

Snippets from Pattern History

So, I thought I’d talk a little about the early history of the Dressmaking Pattern this week because, even through we are learning to make our own this month it is interesting and leads nicely in to tomorrows Tutorial all about scaling Historical and Vintage Patterns up.

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Facsimile of the pattern pieces, Front instructions and Back instructions for Butterick pattern No.5688 (a skirt for an evening dress), circa 1919. Darts, stitching lines, etc. are indicated by perforations of different sizes and patterns (here represented as dots). From Wikipedia here.  Click on the images to enlarge. 

Ebenezer Butterick’s Wife is widely credited as inspiring the first commercially graded- and therefore much more usable- Pattern. Until 1863 we had essentially been using Blocks which only came in one size and it was down to the skill and ‘eye’ of the home Dressmaker herself to scale up the pattern, then make any and all adjustments to fit necessary however; looking a little closer in to the history one stumbles upon Ellen Curtis Demorest who appears to have been a most remarkable woman!

 Published in 1872 to promote the inventor of the paper pattern - Mrs. W. Jennings Demorest

Left: 1865 Demorest Publication found here. Right: 1872 Demorest Publication found here

Demorest had the same flash of inspiration Butterick did over ten years later: on witnessing her Maid cutting out a dress from wrapping paper she realised that she could mass-produce the idea of copied paper Patterns of fashionable garments for the home sewer. In 1860 Madam Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions, a Pattern Catalogue, was introduced and Demorest established what sounds like a wonderful company- employing both Black and White women workers as she was an ardent abolitionist (those offended by her politics were asked to ‘shop elsewhere’!!). Having devised a ‘mathematical system’ to print Patterns in various sizes, this was understandably popular and by 1865 Demorest had a small empire which ten years later was distributing over 3m Paper Patterns!

I was stunned to discover this and really wondered why the name Demerest was not well know today. It would appear that the Demorests’ did not Patent their idea but tailor Ebenezer Butterick- who started producing Mens and Childrens Paper Patterns in the mid-1860s but who had expanded into Womens Wear by 1867 and whose empire by 1974 was larger that the Demerests’- did, and Buttericks’ Patterns billed as “guaranteed to make a perfectly formed garment” remain one of the leaders in Paper Patterns today.

Don’t feel too sad for the Demerests’ though as it would appear that Butterick advanced the technology needed to truly mass produse Patterns. Initially folded by his wife and family and packed in boxes of 10 each, Butterick sold his patterns throughout New England. These patterns proved to be hugely popular, and Butterick could barely keep up. Finally Butterick invented a process, and a machine, that allowed him to cut stacks of paper patterns, which enabled him to produce his patterns in quantity and Butterick’s business grew to epic proportions. It’s reported that in less than a year he went from his humble tailor shop in Fitchburg, MA to opening the NYC office with The Butterick Publishing company producing nearly 6 million patterns a year.

James McCall, another tailor, started his company McCall’s patterns in 1870, with Vogue also in the picture by the 1890s and Pattern Companies had by this point started to sell Patterns in envelopes with directions. McCalls started printing cutting, marking and sewing lines on their patterns in 1921, which brings us slightly closer to the Paper Patterns we use today. Previous to this a Pattern included pre-cut but blank pieces of Pattern Tissue with numbers or letters punched in to them. A cutting diagram was included and from this one could ascertain which piece went where so I for one will always be forever greatrful to McCalls for starting the trend of printing information- such as the Grainline, number, quantity to cut etc- on the pieces!

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McCalls c.1880s Sewing Pattern found on Ebay for a Ladies’ Sack Nightgown Pattern No.8193

During the 1910’s and 1920’s we start to see the rise of Ready to Wear Clothing which means home sewing starts to wane a little however; in America The Women’s Domestic Institute, is founded and soon led by Mary Brooks Picken, whose books are still an excellent resource today and can only have aided the production of Sewing Books from all the major Pattern Companies amongst others. I have the Womens Institute Underwear and Lingerie Book and it is just gorgeous!

In the 30’s The Depression hit America which gave rise to one of my favorite little snippets in Pattern History: the humble Grain Sack. Sewing doesn’t seem to have made the resurgence you would have expected during a time like this- unlike our most recent ‘Depression’- and it would appear that people simply made do with less however; Women did began to sew with feed or grain sacks- the colourful cloth sacks that held staples like Sugar, Grain and Flour. By 1939 this form of sewing was being promoted and companies start to print designs and projects on the sacks to be made at home.


Left: A Flour Sack printed with an Embroidery Pattern. Middle: and example of the beautiful patterns Flour Sack companies started to print. Right: Two women wearing Flour Sack Dresses from a wonderful article on Etsy

There are various, wonderful Blogs on-line which talk about all of this at much greater length, and more detail than I have done here however; I really love the feeling of rivalry and excitement which must have been palpable as these companies were being formed and discovering new ways of producing such a useful commodity  It’s not something you hear about too much these days but I think it is just as exciting as other moments in the Industrial Revolution!

You can read more about why it took so long to get around to designing Paper Patterns here, and there’s a great article over at Burda which talks a little more about the social history here. I also liked Sew Retro’s take on it all which can be read here. Delving through Wikipedia can also be rather interesting and their article on Demerest was a great read.

As I said, I shall be posting a tutorial on how to scale up Historical and Vintage Patterns from articles, magazines and books hopefully tomorrow. I am still a little wobbly from my tussle with the ‘flu! Please also watch out for the 2nd part of my Toile Tutorial where I shall be discussing fit and further Pattern adjustments to the Basic Block.

Finally, have you read last Fridays Pattern Making Musings yet? Head on over there now and comment to get your name in the hat to win an IN-HOUSE Pattern and get ready for this Fridays Musings with Sarai of Colette Patterns.

Happy patterning!

Midnight Makes on a rainy Monday.

Well, hasn’t the weather changed here in Blighty? Heaven’s to Betsy, but the rain is a welcome sight!!

This week has been very work filled, from playing Shop at Flo-Jo Boutique, teaching, to having meetings about exciting future projects so I haven’t really been able to squeeze many hours of sewing in. When I have managed to sit at my Sewing Machine I have been working on a couple of lovely commissions, one of which is a Wedding Dress which is going to be stunning! Unfortunately I can’t show pictures yet for obvious reasons however; I’m really excited about it because it’s a little Steampunk inspired and incorporates Silk overlaid with Lace. Yum!

I have been concentrating on putting together the illustrations and copy for three more Zines which are to be about Zips, Buttons and Button Holes and Sleeves. The Zines have continued to receive a great response, and have proved enormously helpful when teaching. I have tentatively started a much larger volume based around some Vintage inspired projects such as a Tie Dyed Maxi Skirt, Victorian Lace and Tap Pants. I’d really like to create a DIY book full of projects which are useful, and that I would really like to make myself so it wont be specifically targeted at the beginner. This all is in response to my Etsy and Christmas Market plans. Talk about organized!!

I have also listed all four of the Zines I have developed thus far on Etsy, so you may buy a copy for yourself!

Pic 6Seams: the Simple Stitches and Techniques needed to Sew, available now on Etsy for just £2.50 + P&P

Pic 9Books We Like, available now on Etsy for just 75p + P&P

new6Darts, Tucks, Pleats and Gathers: How to Elegantly Consider and Place Shaping, available now on Etsy for just £2.50 + P&P

Pic 3Understanding Vintage and Modern Patterns, available now on Etsy for just £2.50 + P&P

I have been stitching for fun a little bit too! I am half way through creating a cheerful Hexagon Quilt for my future Nephew, which is coming along nicely…


I have sewn about half of it together however; I’m not going to post too many pictures as I still want it to be a surprise! The Hexagons are almost 20cm across, and look really cheerful made up! It’s not at all my usual colour scheme but I am enjoying making it. My favourite fabric is the little houses. I can’t wait to see it finished, I’m going to incorporate Red Zig-Zag’s along the sides so it should be nice and bright!!

Today I am drafting a 1920s Tap Pants pattern, for Sewing Club tonight. Can’t wait to make a pair up, and see what fabrics Sewing Club make up their Taop Pants in!!

Happy stitching!

Some interesting things to peruse. . .

Some of the following blogs I have only recently discovered, others I have been following for years. All of them do what they do incredibly well & I have come to use them as reliable resources when designing for film & theatre over the past few years.

Bridges on the Body

Bridges on the Body

This is a wonderful blog full or humour and insight. Challenged to make every pattern in Norah Waughs Corsets &  Crinolines, & no stranger to these patterns myself having made most in the book,  I’d say she is doing a good job so far. There are construction notes, cleaning notes, tutorials from a range of sources & some very good close up images of these corsets being put together.Well worth a look if you are attempting any of these patterns yourself as the book itself gives little or no guidance in to construction techniques.

 The Ornamented Being

A great resource for all things fashion history in the world. Using museum, personal, film & book resources Ornamented Being posts relentlessly about fashion, fabric, jewellery & her passion leaps from the screen. If I am seeking inspiration, this is where I head! Find her also at The Mended Soul her ‘virtual atelier’.

Past A La Mode: A Historical Fashion Site

A recent discovery in my never ending hunt for good fashion plates, this blog has many. Past A La Mode posts on any period in history with an emphasis on Victorian to 1940s & there really are some gorgeous illustrations and fashion plates/photographic plates included.


Maeder Made

Documenting an exhibition from Edward Maeder in residence as a ‘pop up phenomenon’ in Mt. Airy, USA. I would encourage a look as most of his work re-creating historical costumes, is constructed from paper using his vast knowledge as museum curator, artist and ‘needleman’.

Please click on the pictures, or site names, for links to the original sites. I think you will agree they are a treasure trove of delights!

Happy stitching!

Look what I’ve just bought!

I’m so excited!!

Vintage Sewing Book 1930's Underwear and Lingerie Ebook Parts 1 and 2 Huge How To

I’m planning some new courses & one of the ones I am desperate to run is a Vintage Lingerie course however; a lot of what I have learnt, & indeed a lot of my techniques, have been built up over so many years I have been worried that my teaching style for this would be a little chaotic & not very informative. In trawling Etsy this morning looking for pattern inspiration for this and a couple Vintage 40’s & 50’s Dress courses I found the above which is from a 1930’s book entitled Underwear & Lingerie. 

Apparently it is a huge how to of the time, & I am almost swooning with excitement! Don’t you just adore ‘a’?

I have also purchased a pattern for a 1950’s Pin-Up Bra (which is very similar to ‘a’ above), because I simply couldn’t resist!

I am also in the process off a rethink of my Corsetry course & just might whip up a 1950’s Satin Waspie & a cheeky little Ribbon Corset, for the students who don’t want the challenge of a complete corset, or maybe want to make something slightly more unusual…

Happy stitching!