The final version of the Bygrave convertible skirt – or Skirtain – is made from a Dashing Tweeds Vertical Stripe material. It is the only garment in the collection not woven with Lumatwill. But it is a fantastic stripe and we felt it would really exaggerate the pulley systems built into the front and back of the skirt.
We spent time with Alice (who was illustrating the life and influences of the inventor on the linings) to decide on a colour palette for the interior of the skirt to match the stripes
Side and front seams were sewn and pin stitch finished. I took care to match the stripes which turned out to be interesting for a little while.
I then stitched two channels front and back of the skirt through which the cords would run. I initially started to make these from lining as per the mock-up. However, I realised that wide bias tape worked (and looked) much better. Bygrave writes in her patent about the use of ‘tape’ or the use of ‘suitable guides’. She is quite flexible in the interpretation of her invention. She suggests it is possible not to use guides but recommends it and that they don’t necessarily even have to be inside the skirt. She was more concerned that the mechanism worked.
She writes: ‘Both guide and cord are preferably inside the skirt for the sake of appearance; but whether they are inside or outside the skirt does not matter as far as the action of the invention is concerned. It is however, of importance that the cord should run and work centrally up and down the front’.
Dashing Tweeds material is thoroughly lovely to work with
It was time to thread a cord through the channels to test them out.
It worked well. Like Bygrave, we preferred to use stitched channels as it made the system work smoothly. She writes: ‘This guide may be dispensed with altogether, but I prefer to make use of it, because it is likely to prevent the cord catching on an under garment’.
We used curtain weights in the hem. Bygrave doesn’t provide much detail about the weights. She writes ‘suitable weights made fast to the bottom edge of it’
Cords were looped through the weights
Given the fact we have already made a mock-up we thought the final garment would be a breeze. It turns out this was not as simple as expected. As close as the material weights of the two garments were, the weight-pulley-system system could not be directly replicated. The system was sensitive. Everything had to work together. So, we had to do some adjusting to make sure that the skirt would gather up and also drop to the floor when released. It was another example of having to work with these systems on and with the body.
Once we decided this system worked, we made small bags for the weights to secure them into the hem. Quite a lot of force is required to draw the weighted hem up through the skirt. We felt this was necessary to reduce the potential for mechanicals later.
The weight bags were firmly attached to the channels and the cords (note also some of the sewing injuries on my hands – I stabbed myself a lot)
The weights were then hidden in the hem. Note also how in this photo you can see lining around the channels. After more consideration, I decided to add this slippery interior to help the garment gather better over the woollen bloomers. Without it, we found that the underside of the skirt was catching and this interfered with the smooth convertibility of the garment. Adding the lining however mean the skirt was heavier than Bygrave would have intended
The astute readers will notice quite a few floor photos. We had to get creative with space with the increasing volume of work/people/materials in the office
…. the poor womannequin who was moved out to make space and was relegated to a handy door stop
Some final hem hand stitching and the mechanism is even hidden on the inside of the skirt. It is no wonder that these skirts did not make it into today’s museums and galleries. The inventors did their jobs too well. They designed these convertible garments to be imperceptable when not in use. This is a great example of design hidden in plain sight
The waistband is added – in opposite stripe for effect.
Bygrave’s illustration shows a pointed placket on the front. This effectively covers the two concealed button holes underneath, which connect to the channels and cord pulley system. However she does not say much about it in the patent
Two other button holes on the front cleverly enable the wearer to not have to reach around to the back of the skirt to operate the rear pulley
It is so interesting how remarkably ‘ordinary’ the skirt looks from the outside. You would never know the deliberately concealed technologies inside.
See the skirt in action here