Thursday 7 April 2011

Dress Patterns

Someone mentioned that they were making a dress from a pattern and put up a 'vintage' Style dress pattern.

That's not vintage. I remember making that!

As a teenager we lived in a village about a 20 minute bus ride outside Cambridge and sometimes my Mum would spend the afternoon in town and I would meet her after school in the local Gordon Thodays. Gordon Thodays was a material and pattern shop that had an area set aside with stools and slopey tables where you could peruse the patterns.

I would have walked along the rightly named Long Road from school to the bus stop carrying a huge bag of books/games kit. Catch the 106 into town and walk into the shop to see Mum already there looking at the patterns. Dump all the stuff under the table and join her to assess the latest 'ensembles'.

We made pretty much all my clothes. She let me cut out my first summer cotton dress when I was about 9. We had to make a blouse at school in the 1 1/2 terms that were given over to dressmaking - way too hard for beginners and the wrong season for any choice of cotton fabric. I'm sure it put off most of the class.

In the material shop we must have already had a plan because we would search each of the huge heavy books. When we had decided we would huddle over the 'notions' required and the widths and lengths of fabric and head off to the material racks. Couldn't wait to get home and get the material laid out on the sitting room floor and painstakingly lay out all the required paper pieces the right way up with the right edges to folds of material. Lots of checking before making the first cut.

I remember I made a dress for my first school disco. A very 60s BIBA number in purple. Only to find when I got to school that someone else had made the same dress in the same fabric but they'd done more of the optional twiddly bits so I felt very inferior. Even thinking 'well I look better in it than her' didn't really help....


  1. oh, this made me smile and feel all nostalgic, Rosie. My mother was a fine dressmaker and made most of the dresses for her four daughters. We used to love the buying procedure, as there were several shops and market stalls locally to choose from. She even made me a long dress when I went to Oxford, as I'd read I would need one. It was actually made from curtain material, but I loved it as it was patterned in beautiful shades of blue and turquoise, which suited me rather well.

  2. I remember being very proud of a long dress I made for my only May Ball. Carefully using where the blue faded into black to add to the length. We wore long dresses or skirts a lot then (a la Laura Ashley) - makes me sound positively Victorian!

  3. How right you are about school 'dressmaking' putting one off.
    I still remember that horrible blouse...and sewing the blasted thing to my skirt, as well.

    Luckily the school was keen on craft as well as things like making disgusting raspberry buns - I ask you, how to put you off cooking too - so we were taught to spin, weave and other stuff like making natural dyes, felting.....much more my thing!

    I know what you mean about vintage....I see stuff in the paper and think...'but I used to wear that!'

  4. Fly how interesting that you learnt all that craft - although I wouldn't have appreciated it at the time.

    At my all girls grammar school we did 1 1/2 terms of sewing and 1 1/2 terms of cooking. The first cooking lesson we learnt to wash socks much to my brothers' delight. And when we eventually learnt how to cook apple crumble the teacher said that mine looked like I had swept the floor and put the bits in because I had taken brown sugar as my mother always made it. Didn't stop my brothers eating it but I never make a crumble without thinking it :-)

    I now understand that we were all being groomed for better things than domesticity but it seemed bonkers at the time.

  5. I could never see why they bothered with the cooking and sewing since the head made a point of telling prospective parents that her girls were intended for university, not domesticity!

    We did do useful things...changing plugs...changing car wheels - we used to suspect she was making sure we didn't meet men by needing their assistance!

  6. Rosie,

    I would like very much to email you and notice that you do not have an email link associated with your blog. Would you mind emailing me at spitandbalingwire (at) gmail (dot) com? That way I could capture your email address. For some reason I thought that we had discussed the photo uploading in Blogger via email, but we must have done so in the Comment section of your blog...

    In any event, I have 2 items I would like to ask you about--your access to programs such as "The Killing" and, also, the fact that we are going to visit a friend in Neuvic s/l'Isle and would like to stop and say hello to you if it is remotely possible that you are situated in the general vicinity between l'Indre and le Dordogne.


  7. A bit of nostalgia for me too, although I was never madly keen on dress making I did do a few things in my teenage years. In those days Lymington has Rands in the High Street (where New Look is now), which was an old haberdasher's shop with heavy wooden counters and a million drawers full of buttons and other bits and pieces. Upstairs was the pattern and fabric department, and I remember looking through the books and racks of paper patterns and choosing cottons and zips and buttons or whatever was required.

    Thanks for the memory!


  8. Ah yes, Thodays...I used the one in Peterborough regularly in the 70s. Like the Friday night my 6 year old daughter reminded me there was a party next day...and NO party dress to wear. Off we went to Thodays, chose the pattern, and the material, rushed home, two hours on the machine and LO!! a dress ready for 2.30pm. All multi-coloured floral with blue contrast trim. In a retro way it would be highly fash now.

  9. I used to live in Royston, and that was my local fabric shop too! It's so hard to find a shop to browse in now - so much is online. But thank you for the reminder. LeilaMay.