I was given a chance to do a few designs. The head designer vetted the first one. She said it was too simple for their customers and suggested an added embroidered pocket on the bodice. Machine embroidery in shiny silks, often with applique work, plus Cornelly and quilting were often used on garments. As was pin-tucking. Quite a few styles would be two-toned. The knitted fabric gave scope for both draping and figure-hugging. The various means of decorating provided an unlimited means of supplying fashion needs.
Most of the fabric was woollen and circular-knitted in a department of the same building. Sometimes patterns were knitted into the fabric but mostly it was plain. The fabric would be sent away for dyeing and finishing. Occasionally, the fabric was still warm when it arrived on the cutting benches.
The customers were mainly wholesale merchants supplying ‘Madam’ shops all over the UK. The largest customers insisted on exclusive designs. Sometimes the customer made them exclusive by adding their own touches. If not, the firm would make alterations to the original and sell them again. The management made sure the dress rails were always full of attractive garments that suited their regular customers.
Imagine the thrill that ran through me when my designs were added to the rail. Imagine the ecstasy when some were chosen. Plus the joy of seeing someone walking towards me in the street wearing one of my designs! How did I know it was mine? It was unique — applique flowers tumbling out of pockets. Exactly like the sample sold at the factory. Seeing my designs in shop windows became ‘normal’ when, later on, I worked in a factory that sold direct to retail.
During those early years I worked in a few more places, gaining experience of different ways of manufacture, working with different fabrics and trimmings. At twenty-one I was the sole designer in a small firm selling to wholesalers but mainly to big retailers. My earnings had increased to a ‘man’s’ wage — remarkable as far as I was concerned! (£8 a week. Four years earlier I had started work as a trainee designer at Thirty-five shillings — £1.75 in today’s money.) Unfortunately, the business was sold out to a lingerie manufacturer (who had the top floor) when one of the partner’s gave up because of ill health. He died soon after. (I did freelance work for that lingerie firm after I turned freelance.)
So where did I go when my great new job ceased to be? Back to the factory where I started with an increase in salary! A number of the workgirls also went there, including my sample-hand.
Well, It had been a difficult time in between the years. Certainly not as straight forward as it sounds. It turned out one firm only really wanted a pattern-cutter — more later. Another only really wanted a cutter — that too is another story.
One really wanted an overlooker/designer and that job lasted a week! (I was told by the sample-hand that is was just a ruse to get rid of me because I was too good — the leaving designer did not want ‘showing up’. Her pattern cutting was dreadful and her designs all copies) But what a place! One dark room in a dark Dickensian building. One toilet off the stairs where tea cups were washed in the single washbasin.
More to come.