Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Home Front – Blackout Accessories

The clocks went back by an hour this weekend here in Blighty, which meant a lovely extra hour snuggled up in bed, sadly it also means as much as I hate to concede to it, the gloaming wintery nights and dreary early mornings will gradually be drawing themselves tighter around us over coming weeks, so I thought it would be the perfect time for  another Picture Post from the Imperial War Museums archive collection. This time, we are going to take a glimpse at what life was like during the wartime blackouts and see what precautions people could take to keep them safe and sound in the blackness.

Preparations for war had begun as far back as 1937 the Air Ministry predicted that if war was declared, Britain would be subjected to sudden night air attacks from Luftwaffe bombers, which would lead to high levels of civilian casualties and mass destruction to towns and cities. To counter this threat the government decided that if all man-made lights were extinguished, this would mean that the enemy who was identifying their targets using pre-war maps and up to date reconnaissance photographs would find it much more difficult to hit their intended targets as any identifying landmarks would be shrouded in the blackness. Blackout rehearsals became routine from early 1938, householders were told to check their homes for chinks of light while the RAF monitored the areas from above, these test showed that vehicle traffic was the main problem, even vehicles driven with just sidelights were still clearly visible from above and highlighted the road pattern below.
(Image Source)
To achieve this nationwide blackout it was necessary and a patriotic duty for every citizen to play their part. Ensuring that the rules were strictly followed was vital, so the home office appealed for 300,00 ‘citizen volunteers’ to be trained as A.R.P wardens to enforce the rules and impose fines to those who did not comply. So at sunset on the 1st of September 1939 two days before the official outbreak of WW2  the UK was plunged into complete utter darkness.

(Image Source)
Street lamps were extinguished, homes were fitted with blackout curtains and paint to ensure that no ambient light escaped from chinks in their windows, trains were fitted with dingy blue lights which made it barely possible to see your fellow passengers and because the stations were also blacked out it became increasingly difficult for passengers to determine firstly what station they were at, and secondly, which side of the train they need to alight to actually step on the platform. On the roads, vehicles were permitted to use lights as long as they were properly  covered with a metal hood, which only allowed thin slits of light to shine upon the approaching road and even the amber glow from a cheeky night time cigarette was banned. The people did what they were told and ‘put that light out’!

(Image Source)
A consequence of the new blackout regime was that road traffic incidents increased dramatically, so the government decreed that thick white lines must be painted on kerbs and lamp posts, but this proved to make little difference to the number of collisions. It's interesting to note that by the end of 1939 a mere three months into the war, a reported 4000 civilians had been killed in blackout related accidents, a sobering thought when during the same period in combat only 3 of the British Expeditionary force had been killed in action. In the Jan of 1940 the government relaxed the laws and allowed low powered torches -as long as the were covered with 3 layers of brown paper with a hole the size of a half-penny cut in the middle allowing only a tiny beam of light – to be used to hail buses by shining the torch on to you palm or feet, however, batteries supplies soon became scarce so eventually even this was no longer an option.

To make people feel a little safer during the blackouts the government urged pedestrians to ‘wear something white at night. Policemen were issued with white capes and shops had a run on white coats and macs as well as other accessories and it is at one such shop that we pick up today's Ministry of Information story at the ever so stylish blackout counter in Oxford Streets Selfridges.
A sales assistant, using a stuffed toy, demonstrates a blackout coat for dogs to a customer at Selfridge's department store in London. The coat would make sure that the dog was visible to car drivers and pedestrians during the dark nights of the blackout.
A female sales assistant helps a customer to choose a blackout collar at Selfridge's department store in London.The various styles available were an attempt to make the functional collars a bit more fashionable. The collars would help to ensure that the wearer was a bit more visible to cars and other pedestrians in the blackout.
A blackout walking stick on sale at Selfridge's in London's Oxford Street.
The light in the tip of the walking stick would illuminate the ground sufficiently for the user to see more clearly in the blackout, and to make the user more visible to pedestrians and vehicles. These walking sticks sold for 14/6.
A woman pins a luminous disc to her jacket lapel at Selfridge's department store in London.
These badges were to be worn in the blackout, as a way to make the wearer more visible to fellow pedestrians and motorists on the dark streets of the blackout. These discs were on sale for 2d per dozen.
A female shop assistant displays a white raincoat for use in the blackout. The colour of the fabric of the coat would mean that the wearer would be clearly visible to other pedestrians and to motorists in the dark streets of the blackout.
A display at Selfridge's department store in London advertises the various accessories available for use in the blackout.  Included here are two types of luminous armband, luminous discs and button badges, and luminous adhesive tape which could be added to the edges of clothing. The aim was to make the wearer more visible to pedestrians and vehicles in the blackout
A stand at in the umbrella department of Selfridge's department store in London displays a selection of blackout walking sticks.  These sticks were painted with luminous paint to make the user more visible to pedestrians and motorists on the darks streets of the blackout. These sticks sold for 2/6 each.
A luminous gas mask case on sale at Selfridge's department store in London. These gas mask covers were on sale for 2/11.
A woman pins a luminous flower onto her jacket lapel and consults her reflection at Selfridge's department store in London. These flowers were prettier than the plain button badges and luminous discs that were also available but did the same job: making the wearer more visible to other pedestrians and motorists on the dark streets of the blackout.
A woman looks at her reflection in a mirror as she examines a selection of blackout collars at Selfridge's department store in London. The various styles available were an attempt to make the functional collars a bit more fashionable. The collars would help to ensure that the wearer was a bit more visible to cars and other pedestrians in the blackout.
A shop assistant shows a customer a luminous flower in Selfridge's department store, London.
These flowers were one of numerous blackout accessories available in 1940 to make pedestrians more visible on the dark streets of the capital.
At first people avoided going out at night, but once the winter drew in and the days became shorter it was harder for people to avoid, life must have been extremely difficult for those who had to navigate the streets at night, even with your snazzy new collar or illuminated cane, I don’t think that I would have felt much more at ease at all, it must have been quite an eerie let alone dangerous time, not only did you have the dangers in the dark to contend with there was also the little matter of the bombs!
In case you fancy your very own blackout accessories, I have the perfect pattern for you taken from Home Notes November 1942, are these 'Safety First Gloves'. Knitted in a striking navy blue and white  combination, these snazzy gloves will ensure that you are not overlooked in a blackout!

Be safe, be seen!
Wendy x

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Business of Fast Fashion

Recently I was contacted by Zoe Gray a researcher for Online MBA who wanted to share a very interesting short video on the Business of Fast Fashion.

Created by

I will be honest until I started blogging fast fashion was something I had not ever considered. I knew that fashions changed seasonally and that prices for clothes were seemingly getting cheaper, and in turn, the quality of the garments was poorer but I never stopped to consider the impact this 'throw away' fashion was having on the world. Most of the clothes I currently own, are either second hand or home made (apart from underwear, which if I could make my own I would) and so I am well aware that I am out of the loop in terms of what is considered 'on trend'. I would like to say that this is purely for ethical reasons, but it is actually more a case of knowing what I like, wanting something that fits properly, and then wanting to wear it till it falls apart. There is also something wonderfully reassuring in giving new life something that has already lasted many years, or in making something new that will hopefully do the same.

Obviously sourcing second hand and making your own it's a much more time-consuming way of creating a wardrobe, than hitting the high street in your lunch break, so I can totally see that for those who are tight on time or on budget, that this fast pace fashion at cheap prices must be a great way to always look 'current', whilst only costing a few pounds. The fact that the clothes are poorly made and will only last a few wears is immaterial as fashion has moved on before that happens, but even without thinking of the environmental and ethical impact these garments have, it does make me wonder, say in 70 years time, when women like us want to dress in a vintage (albeit the 2000s) style way, with the mass production of poor quality clothes, will there be any in good enough shape to be wearable? And for that matter, with fashion styles changing at such a rapid pace, what would be classified as an 'iconic' 2000's style anyway?

Wendy x

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Sew It - Fall For Cotton Butterick 5880

Goodness I had no idea I had left it so long since my last post and I can't believe we are in October, where has all the time gone! I would love to tell you my absence was caused by some glamorous holidaying in the south of France or drinking myself silly at Oktoberfest, but it's actually as simple as I have been completely overwhelmed with things to do!

Anyway, all this bloggy absence means I am supremely overdue at showing you my Fall for Cotton projects. I actually managed to finish everything on time and I am really happy with how everything turned out. First up is my tiki style Butterick 5880 wrap dress.

~ Florence ~

Butterick 5880 was designed to be my fall back (haha Fall back) pattern, if I lost my temper with the other two (which both need some pattern adjustment which scared me a little if I am honest) then I would have this pattern waiting in the wings. As it turned out I decided to start this one first while I waited for my corduroy fabric to arrive and plucked up the courage to cut the blouse so here is Florence.

Oh, and I don't usually name my clothes, well unless the pattern has an exotic name like Sorbetto or Mathilde, but I noticed on the selvedge that this fabric is called Florence so it seemed only right that I named her accordingly and the fact that my parents bought me a new sewing machine as a very early Christmas & Birthday present, just so that I could finish her as my old one died, I could even say it's 'Florence and the New Machine' dress. I know, hilarious!

Butterfly Balcony- Fall For Cotton - Butterick 5880 - Front & Back Views
Front & Back Views
Pattern: Butterick 5880
Fabric: 2m of Curtain weight printed brushed cotton
            2m of lining fabric
            Lightweight interfacing (I used iron on)
            12" Zipper

Butterfly Balcony- Fall For Cotton - Butterick 5880 - Fabric
The fabric was from a 50's homemade bedspread which had a large center panel with narrower shaped panels either side. I didn't measure the fabric before hand in my usual gung-ho attitude and just I assumed there would be enough, well we all know what assumption spawns. Somehow thankfully I managed to wrangle it and squeeze all the important pieces out!
Butterfly Balcony- Fall For Cotton - Butterick 5880 - Front skirt panel
Center seam in front of skirt and Satin lining to underside of wrap
Obviously, there were a few areas of compromise. I had to join the two side panels, to be able to create the front skirt panel, this means that rather than being cut on the fold it has a dirty great seam line up the front of it, but as it's hidden under the wrap so it hardly shows.

The other consideration was the wrap itself, it should have been fashion fabric on the underside as well as the top, but due to having no more fabric (unless I went in for some patchwork) I opted to use some dark blue lining fabric from my stash which was a slippery nightmare to work with but does the job. It's actually worked out quite well as the fashion fabric is quite a heavy woven cotton it adds an element of lightness that would have been lost if it had been on both sides.

Butterfly Balcony- Fall For Cotton - Butterick 5880 - Wrap on skirt
I thank the heavens above for the wonder that is Professor Pincushion, if it were not for her I would still be sitting in front on my machine baffled by the pleats in that wrap!
This pattern is not for the feint hearted. It's not difficult per say, there is just a lot of bits to construct. As it's fully lined you're essentially making two dresses and the instructions are a bit vague in places. I will admit I am easily confused and generally have to read instructions at least ten times before I feel confident to actually follow them, but these really were exceptionally vague. I mentioned almost as a joking aside that there was a Youtube tutorial if I got stuck and honestly it wasn't long before I did!

I love nearly everything about this dress, especially the wrap even with all its brain boggling instructions, but the one thing I really don't love how the bodice looks on me. I like the idea of it and on the other versions I have seen made up it looks great, but on me, it just feels meh! It's supposed to be loose fitting but it just feels baggy, I've taken the shoulder seams in by tapering the seam to the shoulder, which has helped a little am hoping that I will eventually grow to love it (probably needs to be worn out for the first time and then I'll warm to it) but if not I will have to make some further adjustments, perhaps some darts or maybe a padded bra!

Butterfly Balcony- Fall For Cotton - Butterick 5880 - Bodice

The only other alterations I made to the size 18 was to add a teeny bit of length to the skirt. Rather unhelpfully the pattern does not show you where to lengthen the wrap so I added my length by reducing the 5/8" seam allowance on the wrap (by serging as close to the edge as I could get away with) and reducing the very generous 2" hem to match.

Initially it fitted perfectly, but having a month free from cooking hearty meals (I've eaten a whole lot of marmite on toast, it's been lovely!) has left me a little slimmer in the waist (sadly though my behind has remained the same size, unfair!) than I was when I first fitted the dress, I'm not complaining at all, but as the dress is fully lined with the same blue satin as the wrap, the thought of adjusting all the seams makes me feel faint, so a good sturdy belt will have to do for now and lets face it, as I said before, it's always nice to know there is room to breath and more importantly eat!

Butterfly Balcony- Fall For Cotton - Butterick 5880 - Full shot
Cheers me dears!
So that's my first outfit for Fall for Cotton, next up is my 'Lightfields ensemble' I just need to get some better, more detailed photos first. I'm off now to finish my Babycham and listen to some Santo and Jonny and pretend it's not as chilly outside as it feels!

Wendy x