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Friday, 17 April 2015

Member of the Month April 2015 Jennifer Taillefer

Hello everyone!  I am really loving being part of this group so far, as none of my friends are really into sewing, and while they are very kind about listening to me talk about projects, I can tell they don’t have a clue what I am banging on about!   So it is lovely to read the posts here, and to have met some of you at an outing.

I have been sewing since I was five years old, when my mother bought me my first little hand crack machine and showed me how to make outfits for my dolls.  I love to upcycle items, play with different ways of putting patterns together (is it called pattern hacking these days?), and to clash fabrics and colours.  I am very inspired by the fashions of the 1920’s to the 1960’s.  I have a particular love of very finely finished garments, and I am always trying out new seam finishes, and ways of making the inside of my pieces as beautiful as the outside.  If you want to know more about me my new website is at www.jennstitches.comI also really enjoy taking old garments and remaking them into new ones, especially as I hate to see fabric wasted.   Therefore Make Do and Mend is right up my street, and that combined with my love of vintage fashion made me eager to see the exhibition I am writing about today.

Fashion on the Ration: 1940’s Street Style is currently on at the Imperial War Museum.  As a lover of all things from the first half of the 20th century, I was eager to see it, and hopefully get some inspiration for my own sewing.

During the Second World War, women showed great ingenuity in clothing their families despite the rations that were placed first on ready-made clothing, and then on dressmaking fabrics.  By re-using and adapting clothes that were already in their possession they created new garments, and I would say a very personal sense of style.  I was really taken with how unique the women looked in the photographs in the exhibition, much more so than in group photos from earlier decades.

There are a number of homemade garments on display in the exhibition as well as a series of uniforms for various branches of the services, although the actual garments are outnumbered by photos of what was worn.  There is however, an excellent section on Utility clothing. 

The Utility scheme was introduced in 1942 as an attempt to create more equality in the clothing available to those in different financial strata.  When rationing was first introduced an article of clothing required the same number of coupons regardless of the quality.  Therefore someone who could afford a high-quality, robust garment would have it last much longer, thereby freeing up future coupon allocations for other wardrobe pieces.   Those who had to purchase much cheaper versions would find themselves needing to replace the garment a great deal sooner.  By introducing the Utility scheme the government was trying to standardise the quality of clothing, and at the same time save even more fabric for the war effort by limiting the amount that could be used for any particular kind of garment.

The range of clothing on display in this part of the exhibition is a testament to how much you can do design-wise with very little material!

Seeing the exhibition inspired me to have a go at a vintage pattern I had bought last year.  This is a reproduction of a 1943 McCall’s dress pattern, and it uses surprisingly little fabric for the amount of style detail that is in it.

As you will see from the images, it is a lovely curved neckline, which is finished with a rather scanty facing - but why waste material on the inside!  I will say that the neckline was the hardest part of the dress, and I did have to baste it into place twice before I got it to sit nicely.  This is because the shoulder seam is sitting to the front of the shoulder and has a curve in it as well.  There are several large dots close together on the pattern at the shoulder, and it took some time to work out which ones were supposed to match up!  I did burst out laughing at my first attempt and I wish now I had taken a picture of it on the mannequin!

The fastening on this dress is a placket fastening.  Some of you might remember seeing the contestants on GBSB Series Two grappling with this on the vintage blouse they made.  Essentially the way it works is that the seam allowance on each side of the opening is faced with a small rectangle of fabric, one folding inside the garment and one extending past the edge.  These then overlap and have hooks and eyes or poppers attached to close the gap when the dress is done up.

The bright red button and the buckle on the belt were both vintage items I found at my great aunt’s home.  She was a seamstress as well, and I love adding little bits and pieces I found in her stash to my own garments.

The exhibition at the IWM is on until the 31st of August and is well worth a visit.  I particularly liked the recordings of real people sharing their experiences of Fashion on the Ration!  If you do go and get inspired to try a vintage make, then do post a picture of it so we can all admire.
 P.S. from Barbara- Do check out Jennifer's web site and all the fantastic things she has made in the photograph Gallery there.


  1. Brilliant post Jennifer, thank you so much for writing it all up! I love the idea of a hand cranking machine!

    Love your vintage style dress. The fabric is just perfect for this style. The shoulder seamline is amazing.

    I can't quite tell from the photos but the pattern envelope makes the centre front look curved, is that right? Kind of around the area where your red button is. That looks fantastic too. You wouldn't happen to have an up close photo of that? I would really love to see the detail of it. Or maybe I can admire it in person if you wear it to one of the meetings!

    The exhibition sounds great. I think Emma put on an outing for 31 May, I signed up for going with the group then.

    Thanks so much again for a great blog post!

  2. Hi Giselle
    Thanks for your comments!
    Yes the front of the dress is also curved, kind of mirroring the shoulder seam, although the front was much simpler to sew than the shoulder.
    I hope you enjoy the exhibition.

  3. Lovely dress! I really like the shoulder/neckline detail.


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