Monday, 15 July 2013

Sewing for a 1950's Tea Party

Our WI had its annual 'fayre' yesterday and the organising committee chose the theme of a 1950's tea party.  For most of them, of course, this is quaint vintage stuff, vaguely reminiscent of their grandmothers, the Queen's coronation and, of course, cute vintage clothing which seems to be making a comeback. At least I assume so, I can't remember the last time I shopped in an actual clothing store instead of a charity shop.

Preparations begin

Anyhow, this meant that we were asked to dress in '50's inspired clothing.  In desperation I bought a vintage French dress pattern on eBay, though I wasn't certain it was actually the right size and I don't speak French. Bill remarked I don't half like to set myself a challenge.  I since learned that my friend, Meriel, from the craft group is a former French teacher AND she sews the costumes for a local theatre group; she offered to help me, but I dithered.  I'd convinced myself it was more of a 1940's look, something I prefer to the 50s, but not appropriate for the fayre.

Lovely Helen shows off her £5 outfit from a thrift shop - great buy!

I found instructions for a circle skirt in a 1961 text book for a home ec class here in Britain. Apparently this sewing book was one of two for the class, the other being about cooking and food hygiene. A person can get by in the world without sewing their clothes, but without cooking at home?  Never mind, that's a rant for another day. Turns out the instructions weren't that detailed, so I gave that a miss.

Adorable vintage car...

Has anyone seen The Great British Sewing Bee? It was a short series that ran a few months ago and I was glued to the TV for it.  We even managed to see it on YouTube in France when we were on holiday.  YouTube sometimes lets me watch things and sometimes not, but I'm guessing that you might be able to watch this series there if you haven't seen it already.  There will be another series sometime and I know I will again be glued.

More bunting...and balloons!

I have longed to sew my own clothes for years now, but just have never sat down to do it. The patterns that were within my skills didn't interest me and the ones I wanted to make were well beyond hope of a good outcome.  I procrastinated... 

Old-fashioned sweeties - in the jam jars I mean!

This fayre was the trigger for me to DO something. I went to the library and found the sewing book that followed the TV show.  Most of the patterns can be down loaded from the publisher's website. I'm not sure how great these patterns are, but my circle skirt turned out OK.   My main rule for myself was that I was not going to go out and spend a lot of money.  Sewing can cost a lot if you're not careful, so I decided I had to make do with what I already had.   My outfit was mainly made from a 100% cotton curtain I'd bought years ago at a charity shop and squirreled away in the attic.  I loved the print, I just didn't know what to do with it...yet.

Love the polka dots and flowers!

In addition to the circle skirt, I took an old long-sleeved white t-shirt.  I'd already cut off the neck band and hemmed it.  No matter how hard I try not to get make up on the neckline of my white t-shirts, it just happens.  The crew neck line was now a slightly wider circle, without ribbing.  I'd recently worn the cut-down tee with a 3/4-length jacket and found it irritating to have the sleeves too long.  The weather here has been incredibly warm the last couple of weeks; I keep thinking I've immigrated to the southern Europe and taken my house with me.  It's just so unlike the North of England I'd not be at all surprised to see a white rabbit with a pocket watch.  Anyhow, I'd chopped the sleeves to 3/4 length and now I chopped them a bit more.  I made some bias strips - another first - from the curtain fabric scraps and sewed them to the neckline and the sleeves.  It turned a wide circle into a sort of stand-up bateau neck line, very 1950s.

My neighbour, lovely inside and out.

Vivien and I had been cruising charity shops in Whitley Bay a few weeks ago - just an excuse to walk around and chat between lunch and tea - and she found a black hat for £5.  It looked great on her and would go with her outfit so I convinced her to buy it, promising I would also wear a hat. I'd planned to make a simple bow, but it didn't work.  A 57-year-old woman in a floral circle skirt with a bow on her head just seemed a bit creepy to me.  So I looked at vintage hats on the internet for a while and came up with an idea.  Just about anything perched on my head would keep my promise to Vivien.  

Jules brought flowers to decorate her stall...which turned out to be outside!

I cut some more strips (not bias) and braided them for the base of a round hat, then cut a circle and stitched it to the braid.  It was sort of an unstructured pillbox shape, from the same curtain fabric. Other accessories included (real) pearl earrings that Mom gave me years ago, a (fake) pearl necklace that belonged to my aunt Rita (her sewing stash also provided the thread and zipper for this project).  A pair of cream coloured leather gloves that belonged to Bill's mom.  I wore them tucked into my skirt waist band, it was far too hot to wear them and I'd have felt stupid anyhow.  I had a pair of taupe ballet slippers with bows on them and some sheer tights, also a long-owned white half-slip just in case the cotton curtain wasn't thick enough.

Our table rated with Danielle, our President (nicked this photo from Facebook)

Of course, I made some mistakes:

--> If the pattern calls for a 9" zipper, don't cut the 22" zip down to 12" - longer is not necessarily better).

--> Finish the seam edges before you put in the zip; that way you won't accidentally let the serger cut into the fabric next to the zipper, causing you to have to applique (another new experience) a flower on top of the 'owwie'.   

--> Nicking the knit of a cheap white t-shirt also involves applique to cover the hole.  Turns out I really liked the 'band-aids' a lot!  Just as well, since I seem to need a lot of them.  

Competition for garden arrangements in trays or tea cups.

On the morning I was rushing around to get myself ready and things in place to load up Vivien's car when she came.  Naturally, I managed to get something, make up I think, on the white top, just below the left boob. Not a place for yet another appliqued flower even had I time.  So I grabbed an old pink cardi out of the crafting box and pressed it.  I managed to wear it about an hour before it came off in the heat.  By then the bleach I'd applied had dried and lessened the stain.  I held up my gloves for photos...  I don't do perfect, it's just not in my repertoire of behaviours. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I've never fancied the 1950s, everyone was under such pressure to conform to some idea of perfection.

Jam, herbs, vintage patterns and elderflower cordial for sale!

As to our table, we were asked to run a 'tombola' (a raffle of sorts) for jars of old-fashioned boiled sweets.  Now, my parents both had false teeth at a fairly young age and when I came along I wasn't allowed candy.  My grand parents were threatened with not seeing me if they offered me candy.  I grew up thinking the stuff was evil.  I have eaten candy, of course, like the occasional bit of caramel or white chocolate, but it's not part of my lifestyle and I wouldn't ever offer it to a child as a treat.  I thought I was going to feel a bit like a drug dealer:  
"Step right up and get your sugar rush, kiddies, right here!  Let's top up your taste for gambling, that's great!  Get your empty calories, your extra-extra energy!  Get those little teeth rotten and ready for the N. H. S. dentist, yessir!  Get your fix right here, right now, only 50 pence a hit! Yeah!"

Anyhow, we had a preparatory gathering with neighbour and fellow-WI member, Julia (and with snacks and wine), to dress up and stuff our jam jars.  Jules was doing a 'chocolate bran tub' and decided to gift wrap her chocolates.  I never heard of a bran tub til coming to Britain - apparently you bury nice things in some sort of filler and people dig around to find the prizes, in this case chocolate bars buried in styrofoam packaging material.

I bought a striped sheet from a charity shop for £2 which we used as a table cloth.  I had made some bunting and contributed to the bunting effort for other tables.  My friend Meriel runs the Age UK knitting group and she loaned me their knitted bunting - miles of it - that went around the entire parish hall.  Someone contributed boiled sweets in a large plastic jar with a lid and we used that jar to hold the raffle tickets for people to draw.  I dressed it with extra-wide ribbon that the Tuesday sewing ladies had thrown out - miles of 6" wide turquoise ribbon in the trash, imagine!  

On the day, it turned out that kids don't have much spending money and most of our customers were adults, grandparent age, and so my conscience was clear.  There was one very large lady who cruised past our table on a mobility scooter and I noticed neither Vivien nor I touted to her.  We did both work in public health, after all.   I was pleased when Vivien told me that several grandmas told her their grandchildren weren't allowed candy, either.

We made about £19, which the fayre organisers seemed quite happy with.  I calculate that's about how much we spent on candy, etc., not counting what we spent at the fayre on second hand books, scones and cakes, raffle tickets and elderflower cordial (delicious stuff).  So we could have saved ourselves the bother and just forked over the cash to the WI.  Then again, I wouldn't have re-discovered the joy of sewing clothes and Vivien wouldn't have worn that excellent hat...which Jules will be wearing to a wedding with her lovely black and white polka dot dress.  

Have I mentioned that my friend Vivien is very lucky?  I don't mean to have me for a friend (ha!), but that she won a jar of jam, I think it was, at the very first WI meeting she came to. At the Christmas party a couple of years ago, she won the big prize of dinner and wine at a posh local restaurant.  Last Christmas she won the champagne being raffled.  She won - and rightly so - the Victoria sponge bake-off, for which she was awarded more champagne.  Four of us, including Lucy and Julia, formed what Jules dubbed 'the Champagne Sub-group' to help her with her winnings.   Yesterday she won the big raffle prize again:  bed and breakfast at Matfen Hall.  I keep telling her she needs to buy a lottery ticket...


Beryl said...

Was there a picture of your skirt or hat and I missed it? Looks like a lovely way to raise money, with all the different booths. Fun!
I know what you mean about Vivien being lucky - some people just seem to be.

Shelley said...

Beryl - You're right - I didn't do a great display of my outfit. I'm in the 5th photo down, in pink. The hat doesn't show much and I'm standing behind a table... Promised I would wear my outfit to the crafting group, so will have more photos taken then and add them here.

Sandra said...

Writes up like a lovely event...I love your hair it now blond...very becoming on you and the dress is darling. Fun to read about your event.

Shelley said...

Hi Sandra! It was a fun day, in a strange way. I felt out of my element and I'm sure that as a foreigner I missed a lot of little subtleties. I chalked it up as yet another 'cultural experience'. Lovely to hear from you, cuz!

D A Wolf said...

This sounds like so much fun, and I'm impressed at your perseverance (and sewing skill).

Love the polka dots - so mid-century (and I admit I still love them).

I wish more of us on this side of the ocean could make time to have events in this way. I suppose that some do, but no one I know, sadly. (Nor I, for that matter.)

Looking forward to more pics when you can. It's fun to see what everyone came up with.

Carolyn said...

Congratulations on making a gorgeous new outfit, and it sounds like a perfectly wonderful day. My parents have just returned form the UK and said it was quite warm ... for England! ;)

vintagefrenchchic said...

Bravo to you for taking on the sewing challenge. I have been wanting to do the same thing but just seriously lack in confidence...and skill.

This tea party would be right up my alley!! What a fun event.

Shelley said...

D.A. - I do love the 'village-y' feel of the WI. Though I've had to take along my own friends to fully enjoy it, we have met others who are lovely and who happen to know other people we know. Living in a 'small world' is very pleasant sometimes.

Carolyn - I'm please to have been finally 'bitten' by the bug that is obviously a major part of your lifestyle. Yes, it has been incredibly warm for a change. People are v. happy about that!

Heather - That lack of confidence has been the very thing that has stopped me. I have had to accept that I will be learning for a long time, but actually that's what is fun about it. And because I love making stuff from scraps even the 'failures' will be put to good use.