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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#SummerOfBasics – Black Skinny Jeans and a Feline Friend

Well, time has marched on and we are nearly at the end of August. I tried to get on top of my sewing and knitting this weekend, but despite quite a reasonable amount of time at my disposal (unusual for me) I am admitting defeat. I know that I will not make the Summer of Basics deadline. But all is not lost. I already have a new top. My skinny jeans are finished (see below) and I have started my hat. I had to rip back to a lifeline last night and I know that the hat won’t be finished by the end of the month. However, I am confident that it will fit me – I tried on the ribbed cuff and it was perfect!

Both the grey top and the skinny jeans I’m making for the Summer of Basics use Burda patterns. I’m not exactly sure why I decided to sew two Burda patterns so quickly in succession – bad planning on my part or perhaps once I had the outfit formulated in my mind I couldn’t step away from it. I have a feeling of trepidation at the start of every Burda project. The instructions are generally minimal and often lacking in linguistic clarity. Fortunately, I had shared this pattern with my Mum and she was first off the starting blocks her pair of jeans. This was very handy as when I got to the usual head-scratching stages, I knew we could compare notes. I was in despair over the instructions describing the fly zip insertion and decided to go my own way with some good pointers from my Mum.

Skinny Jeans

I am extremely pleased with the fabric I bought for my jeans from Fabric Godmother. The fabric seems to have gone from their website, but this is similar. It is described as cotton/ spandex mix, with 40% stretch. I’ve found it hard to find stretch woven jeans fabric and certainly nothing with this amount of stretch. I suspect these jeans will replace my current pair of jeggings, which were bought many years ago and are a cotton / polyester / elastane blend. They have stretched out of shape badly at the knees. I’m hoping that the lack of reliance on polyester in the fabric I’ve chosen for my black skinny jeans will circumvent this problem. I’m actually rather disappointed I didn’t decide to make a pair of jeggings out of this fabric – jeggings are so handy for travelling since a belt isn’t a necessity!

In terms of the fit, I made the size 42 straight from the pattern, but I did trim down the leg seams at the hips a little to make a tighter fit across the hips. I also needed to adjust the length as they were somewhat long in the leg.

I did use my jersey interfacing rather than conventional interfacing in the waistband. I wanted to keep some of the stretch in the waistband. Time will tell if this was a wise decision. I’m a little concerned about the amount of wrinkling, but I wonder if this is partly due to rushing out and taking photos without wearing a belt. I think they need more of a road test – I may take in the side seams a smidge more.

All in all, these jeans are a great addition to my wardrobe. They can be worn with almost anything and I wear jeans all year round – a perfect basic!

Skinny jeans

Photo-bomb by all means, but please can you do that bottom-licking thing somewhere else?

I’m off, you’re just not interesting any more!

I almost forgot about the photo-bombing cat. It’s my neighbour’s cat, who has typical feline pretensions around ownership. I often find him lounging on the bench in my back garden and giving me accusing stares when he’s asked to give up an inch or two for me to sit down. Looks like he’s owning my photo shoot now too!