Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


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Sewing The Seventies: 1979

It’s my final year of the 1970s and today is the final year of my tour through the decade. The start of 1979 was the coldest winter for sixteen years, and during a freezing January, the widespread industrial action spread to the public sector as the “winter of discontent” continued. With many workers in the private sector having secured substantial pay rises, public sector workers became concerned that their salaries were not keeping pace with those in the private sector.

Winter Of Discontent Cartoon

Winter Of Discontent Cartoon

Rail workers began a series of 24-hour strikes. Ambulance drivers took strike action in mid-January. Piles of rubbish, due to a refuge collectors strike, built up with local authorities running out of space and using local parks to store the rubbish. Leicester Square, in London became one of these storage points and was unofficially renamed “Fester Square”. Even more notorious was the industrial action by gravediggers. Eighty gravediggers went on strike in Liverpool and the council had to hire a factory to store the unburied bodies. The gravediggers settled for a 14% rise after a fortnight’s strike.

Fester Square

Rubbish uncollected in “Fester Square”

On 28th March, James Callaghan’s government lost a motion of confidence by one vote, forcing a General Election. The famous “Labour Isn’t Working” advertising campaign was run by the Conservatives in the lead-up to the election. It featured a queue of people outside an unemployment office, snaking back into the distance. It remains one of the most iconic political posters to this day.

Labour isn't working poster

Labour isn’t working poster

On 4th May the Conservatives win a land-slide victory in the General Election and Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister of the the United Kingdom. On winning the election, on the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street, she remarked:
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony;
Where there is error, may we bring truth;
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith;
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
She later won two successive general elections and has become one of the dominant political figures of the twentieth century
Margaret Thatcher1979 Election

Margaret Thatcher 1979 Election

Today I’ve opted for some warmer clothing as it is snowing again. I’m wearing my new late seventies popover Liberty shirt and my jeans.

This evening I decided to try a recipe that I remember from my childhood – meatloaf I’m also making a recipe that I’m simply dreading. It is an atrocity of the seventies that completely offends my Italian heritage. It’s “Macaroni Fritters with tomato sauce”. Essentially, cooked pasta is cut up into smaller pieces, covered in egg and cheese and fried. If I had to come up with a recipe for left-over pasta, this would not be it, but actually it was harmless, if slightly weird. The meatloaf which featured layers of meat and egg was deemed rather bland by all, but again edible.

Macaroni Fritters

Macaroni Fritters

Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf

I apologise for the photos which seem for some reason to be blurred. You can’t go back and take more photos when you’ve already eaten the food! Incidentally I decided to check to see if Italians do make anything like fried pasta and I did find this recipe, which seems to be a frittata, therefore more like an omelette. Somehow that looks so much more appetising.

Finally, we’re about to settle down to watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall and just a little word on my reading from this week. I’m still reading Joan Aikin’s “Voices in an Empty House”. I’m been really enjoying this book. Rather than appearing dated, it actually seems to read as a book that is just set in that period. The story revolves around a kidnapping of the son of a famous scientist and author, but it isn’t a straightforward plot. The story jumps around and is told in chapters, by the boy, his mother, his uncle and his step-father. The characters are richly drawn and interesting. I read the many books in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series by this author as a child, I’m just left wondering why her adult fiction is not well known.

 

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Sewing The Seventies: 1978

“Now is the winter of our discontent” is the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III, but it’s also the phrase applied to the events of the winter of 1978 – 79. In September, the Prime Minister, James Callaghan announced that he would not call a general election despite being ahead in the opinion polls – “I am not proposing to seek your votes because there is a blue sky ahead today.” It was a stance he would regret in the coming months.

Later that month, 23 Ford car plants closed across Britain due to strikes. The Government had introduced pay policies throughout the 1970s in order to combat rampant inflation. Part of this policy was a guideline for pay rises to be capped at 5%. Sanctions would be imposed on companies that chose to breach the pay policy. To bring an end to the strike, Ford offered their workers a 17% pay rise and decided to accept the sanctions. The Ford workers accepted the deal.

This outcome though, seemed to signal that the government had no way of enforcing its pay policy and other industrial disputes quickly followed. Bakers went on strike and bread rationing was brought in as a bread-buying rush got underway in Bristol. The city’s smaller bakers step up their production to meet the demand.

Main brand bakery workers strike

Main brand bakery workers strike

The Times newspaper closed for nearly a year. A smaller 3p edition of the Bristol Post appears towards the end of 1978.

3p edition of the Bristol Post

Large numbers of the lorry drivers working for oil producers, BP and Esso began an overtime ban in support of rises of up to 40% and the army were put on standby to take over from the tanker drivers if the disruption of oil supplies developed into a crisis.

I decided to try to make a cheesecake from the Farmhouse Kitchen book. Now, I must admit that I am renowned for my inability to make a decent cheesecake. I try all sorts of recipes, but it’s usually unsatisfactory. This cheesecake was an Orange Chocolate Cheesecake and on paper had the approval of all the family. It seemed quite easy to make as it was a no-cook type of cheesecake and here it is in the tin:

Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Well, sadly it didn’t really set very well, but it was actually rather yummy. The cheese layer had a great citrus flavour and wasn’t too sweet. The chocolate biscuit base was particularly good. I think I can take the blame for the cheese layer not setting properly. I used vegetarian setting agent rather than gelatine. Perhaps with more of this added to the cheese mix it would set, I must have just got the quantity required wrong.

Today has been a little warmer and I chose an outfit that included my Butterick 3065 jeans and a shirred sun top made from a Burda pattern. I think that shirring was quite popular for sun dresses in the seventies. It wasn’t the warmest of outfits to wear even with the cardigan. Apparently the snow is due to arrive again tomorrow, so I’ll be reverting to something warmer.

Hippy Jeans and Shirred Top

Hippy Jeans and Shirred Sun Top

 


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Sewing The Seventies: 1975

I’m at work again today and it turns out that 1975 was a particular important year for working women. Two new laws, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970, come into force aiming to end discrimination and the unequal pay of men and women in the workplace.

The gender pay gap for full-time employees was about 45% in 1970. [1] This has narrowed considerably over the years, with the average pay for full-time female employees 27.5% lower than full-time male employees in 1997 and 9.4% in 2016. [2]

Of course, this isn’t the full story, there are many other factors at play here. Women tend to work in occupations which offer lower salaries or they may take time out of the labour market to have children. Many women, including myself work part-time. When these factors are taken into account the statistics are less impressive.

The gap for all employees (full-time and part-time) has reduced from 27.5 % in 1997 (before this point, data was not collected) to 18.1% in 2016. 

Ford Machinists

Dagenham Ford Machinists’ protest about unequal pay paves the way for the Equal Pay Act.

 

At the same time though, unemployment in 1975 was regarded as high. The jobless total in this year rapidly rises to the 1,250,000 mark. This figure was shocking at the time and set to get worse. It’s a little hard to place this in context with today’s statistics as successive governments were committed to the principle of full employment during the 1970s and obviously the working age population is larger now. Unemployment today stands at 1,439,000 based on the latest figures. [3]

A more appropriate comparison could be to look at the employment rate (the number of unemployed people over 16 divided by the sum of employed people over 16 plus unemployed people aged 16 and over). In 1976 this was between 4.0 – 5.1%, today it is within the same range at 4.4 %.

This look at the working world in the 1970s got me thinking about what sort of wardrobe a working woman would have worn during the 1970s

The term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the seventies by London boutique owner Susie Faux. She set out to help her customers define a wardrobe that was versatile and confidence-boosting.

According to Susie, the elements of a capsule wardrobe are:

  • a jacket
  • a skirt,
  • trousers, which could be part of a suit,
  • a blouse,
  • a sweater,
  • shoes,
  • tights,
  • a coat or raincoat,
  • a dress,
  • a bag,
  • a belt,
  • jewellery,
  • gloves and
  • evening wear

She states getting a wardrobe right “will make you look and feel confident and successful”. It’s all sensible advice. Susie continues to dispense her wardrobe advice today on her website I was hoping to include a few links to her old website, which had numerous detailed articles on the capsule wardrobe, but it seems to have disappeared since I wrote my draft for this post. I did copy out this snippet from the blog about jackets and cardigans, which I thought was aimed just at me:

To my mind, the jacket has to be the basis of every busy woman’s wardrobe. Research has shown that women are taken far more seriously when they’re working if they wear jackets.  Cardigans are all very well, but you may be asked to make the tea.”

Well, that’s told me! When I meet customers, I often wear a smart pair of trousers or a skirt teamed with shock, horror, a cardigan! Clearly, this is where I am going wrong as I surely can’t be taken seriously while I’m wearing a cardigan!

I think working in IT does give me quite a bit of licence to dress-down. Often face-to-face with customers and colleagues is limited, communing as I do, with my computer all day. I am wondering though how I would have dressed in the work environment in the 1970s. I work in an office after all. I wore my flared jeans and the Butterick 5024 shirt today. I’m sure such a casual outfit would not have been worn to the office in the seventies. Oh, and a wore a cardigan to work today too…..

1975_JeansAndShirt

[1] The gender pay gap (BBC website)

[2] Recent pay gap statistics (Office of National Statistics)

[3] Employment statistics (Office of National Statistics)

[4] Employment rates (Office of National Statistics)


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Sewing The Seventies: Make 1 – Popover Shirt in Liberty Tana Lawn

Liberty Shirt

The first seventies make I’ve made this year is this shirt. It is a classic popover shirt. I suppose at first glance it doesn’t look very much like a seventies pattern. It is from the later half of the decade and I can see that its boxy shape is a nod to the eighties. However, it does have a large collar which is definitely a seventies detail. I suppose it shows that fashion changes in a gradual manner and the styles at the beginning and end of any decade could easier be taken for fashions of the adjacent decades.

Butterick 5024

Butterick 5024

I selected this particular pattern simply because I’d never made a popover shirt before. In fact, I’ve actually never had a popover shirt in my wardrobe, so breaking new ground both for sewing and my wardrobe. I also liked the checked shirt modeled on the pattern envelope. Can’t we can all be swayed so easily by pattern envelopes? Although I love the checked shirt, I decided that I had better choose some fabric from the stash, which definitely needs reducing. I had purchased some Liberty Tana Lawn at Birmingham market at the Sew Brum event. Obviously, Liberty have been around since the nineteenth century, so someone sewing in the seventies would definitely have been familiar with their fabric and designs.

I’m feeling very relieved that I’ve finished this make. It was actually quite an involved sew; there were many details such as the pockets, epaulettes, the front band to be sewn. Perhaps this is something that needs to be considered with vintage patterns – the assumption being that women (and after all it would be women) had lots of time to sew and could spend time on intricate detailing.

Cuff

I wanted to pattern match the pockets. This was tricky as there were pocket flaps to consider as well, but the effect is largely that the pockets are almost invisible except for the buttons!

Spot the pockets!

Spot the pockets!

I was somewhat perplexed by the order in which the shirt instructions were put together. The front button bands are sewn on, but the bottoms of the two front bands are left flapping without being sewn to the front of the shirt. Meanwhile, the rest of the shirt including the addition of the back and sleeves follows and then as the last stage the front band is completed. I found this order was a bit tricky and would probably have completed the sewing of the front bands before adding the back of the garment; it would certainly have made managing the garment on the sewing machine easier. What purpose is there to sewing the shirt in this order? It seems odd to me.

The last step of the instructions

The last step of the instructions

Anyhow, I thought I’d also mention why this shirt has taken me so long to construct. Fairly early on when I was ironing the fabric and before cutting out, I noticed a small nick in the fabric. It wasn’t a problem as I realized I could easily place my pattern pieces around it. However, once I had cut out the fabric, I discovered two other small nicks in the fabric, which I hadn’t noticed earlier. (Possibly, the fabric design is so busy that it’s hard to notice these problems).  I also realized that I didn’t have enough fabric to re-cut that pattern piece. (Of course the problem would have to be on the largest pattern piece, wouldn’t it?)

Fortunately, the nicks are at the bottom of the back piece and I thought I could just “get away” with slightly shorter length. Certainly, it would only make the shirt as short as some of my other tops so I wasn’t horrendously bothered. But when I was finishing the shirt and deciding on the length, the shirt proportions didn’t look right when un-tucked. So, I set about repairing the two holes. I used some of the left-over fabric and sewed on two small patches. Now I was thankful for the busy pattern on the fabric as the repairs are scarcely visible! (see below) They are also right at the bottom of the shirt and are half included in the seam allowance. I’m hoping my repairs will stand up fine in the wash. The whole experience though, made me feel less inclined to finishing the shirt and a bit dispirited.

My repair

My repair

I didn’t deviate much from the instructions, but I did make a curved hem on my shirt, partly to cover up the repair.

I’ve now been able to wear my shirt and I’m feeling far more positive about it now. I love the fabric – it’s a really mad busy design. I’m proud of the patterned-matched pockets. And that shoulder-warmer of a collar is a real statement!

Liberty Shirt

Liberty Shirt

I’m wearing it in the photos with my skinny black jeans and an old RTW cardigan. I think wearing the shirt with a cardigan tones it down a smidge!

Liberty Shirt