Friday, December 14, 2012

McCalls M5591 - summer skirt

So, I fell in love with this white broderie anglais skirt by Jigsaw. I have some similar fabric in my stash and I am currently obssessed with piping. It's hard to see in the picture, but the yoke and pockets are piped in white satin.

I found a pattern that was pretty close to the Jigsaw skirt - McCalls 5591. By this time I was distracted by another similar skirt I saw on Pinterest with box pleats and horizontal stripes, which seem to be everywhere on the web lately.

The Awning Skirt :: Navy
The awning skirt

Wouldn't you know it - I have some vintage fabric just like this in my stash too! It's more of a cornflower blue, in a one inch stripe, in a beautifully stiff cotton with a touch of sheen to the surface. (I keep calling them stripes but my husband corrects me that officially (in sporting uniform terms) horizontal stripes are really 'hoops'!)

Now the dilemma, which one to make? I decided to do both of course, but started with the hoops first as a test version. Not that I don't love it just as much, but I want my white embroidered version to be perfect and a lot can go wrong with piping (though not if you concentrate).

So here's version one - it's view one of the pattern, with soft released pleats. I just piped the pockets and am really happy with how they turned out.

My version of the awning skirt - McCalls M5591
 Working with stripes can be finicky, even big ones like these. You just have to pay more attention at all steps - cutting, pinning, seam stitching, zipper insertion. I'm not sure I made the right choice with the stripe placement on the yoke, but I can live with it. That was a tricky element because the yoke is curved and it's hard to picture where the stripe will end up near the side seam once its all sewn together.

Now I feel ready to take on the broderie anglaise version - guess who's spending this weekend making white satin piping?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Custom-made mid-century fashion - is it cheating?

I had a real moment of clarity this year - about vintage fashion and how I wished I could wear it more often. I have to admit that for everyday wear, vintage just isn't that comfortable compared to modern clothing, not when you sit in an office most of the day. Finding quality vintage professional-looking items in good enough condition that would fit well and stand up to being worn at least once a week just is not that easy.

Pre-loved clothing is, well, wearing out, and wearing it regularly isn't going to help its longevity either. I learned that the hard way in a lovely black eyelet wiggle dress that was just perfect for the office. After about 5 outings, the fabric just gave way. It had been so weakened by its age and previous wear.

So discovering the world of vintage sewing was a real moment for me. I could make things in my size, in my choice of fabric and make little tweaks for comfort too. And what's not authentic about that? That's what our grandmothers were doing - making their own, from the very same patterns I'm now collecting! As long as I make good fabric choices its as good as the real thing - heck it IS the real thing!

I hunt down good quality fabrics, even vintage ones when I can. I buy up vintage notions when I come across them (zippers, buttons, deam binding, piped cording) and I take my time to make a good quality handmade garment with proper vintage techniques. To me, that's just as authentic as a garment made in the actual 1950s. While it's true we don't always have the same fabric choices, there are some amazing retro prints around and some great online vintage fabric stores to explore.

I'll still buy actual vintage when I see something I can't live without (usually something I'd never have the patience to sew myself!). Sewing my own helps the skill to stay alive, while I create an authentic wardrobe of wearable items that suit my lifestyle.

How do you see vintage sewing? Is it 'cheating' to a vintage enthusiast? Do you consider it an authentic way to express a love for vintage style?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A dress made of dresses?

If you were a fan of Seinfeld, you'll remember Kramer's coffee table book about coffee tables, that turns into a coffee table. And I had a similar thought when I saw this adorable fabric on

Would it be too crazy to make a 50s shirtwaist dress out of this?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Having summer thoughts

Daylight saving has arrived, going home from work in the sunlight is just so much more pleasant! And I'm dreaming of swimsuits again.

Currently, I'm working on a Butterick retro resissue pattern. I'm using a balinese print fabric I bought in Bali earlier this year. I was a little intimidated by the bold dark pattern when I got it home, but I'm actually really happy with how it's working out.

I also have a playsuit pattern on the way, which I'm planning to make up in a fabulous 1950's vintage fabric I bought recently. It was expensive so I've really thought hard about what it needs to become. And the playfulness of the design just screamed 'playsuit with wrapskirt'. I love this v-neck version.

I'm kicking myself that I missed out on this pattern on E-Bay recently because I can't stop dreaming about this swimsuit and the divine cover-up - how great is that neckline? I reminds me of Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse.

Gertie just asked her readers what we thought of her doing a swimsuit pattern? I say Yes, Yes, Yes! And please make it one like this one!

Enjoy your day, and I hope its warm wherever you are.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clothes, sewing and value

For a blog about vintage sewing I realise there hasn't been much sewing on here...ahem.  I have to admit, that instead I've been, well, SEWING! Obsessively and to the exclusion of many other things in my life (such as housework and eating).

Clearly things cannot go on like this. And perhaps they won't. But for now, the creative buzz I get and the amount I learn from every piece is just so valuable to me. I was reading over some of Gertie's old posts recently when I came across one she titled 'Why I sew', including how dreaming of sewing projects keeps her awake at, I know how that feels. I am an olympic sleeper but when I'm in the middle of a project I can slap that alarm on and leap out of bed an hour early just to get some stitching in before work.

It appears that I am not crazy and also I am not the only one. Many of Gertie's readers cited the ability to self-determine their wardrobe as a key factor in why they sew, and how disappointed they are with much of what's available RTW. I would have to agree that it's very liberating to be free from needing to buy whatever is offered by chain stores and the like. However I also think it has given me a great appreciation for what some RTW collections CAN achieve for the price they ask, now that I know how hard it is to create certain finishes and pieces.

Take this morning, I saw a girl in a cute black and tan striped T-shirt with a large black sequinned love heart in the middle. It looked adorable. I don't know what she paid for it, but I do know that I couldn't replicate that sequinned love heart in a month of sundays! Maybe I'm exaggerating, but what I mean is, if someone's charging $50-60 for that T-shirt, I think that's pretty reasonable given how long it would take to sew on those sequins. Now, whoever did sew on those sequins probably didn't do it by hand and almost certainly didn't get paid enough for their skill, but that's another issue.

I just want to say, some clothes should probably cost more than they do.We can thank mass manufacturing for making clothes more affordable. Sewing has given me a lot more respect for the clothes I see in stores, but I'm glad I can now make my own too.

One label that I definitely think is worth its price is Melbourne designer Anna Thomas, check out her SS12 campaign. I love her ladylike styling and luxe finishes. I was especially chuffed to see a stunning black linen sheath dress with green bias there anything bias binding can't improve?

I would also love to own the entire Jigsaw Australia Spring 2012 collection (except the hems are too short for me!). Love the linen dress with scallop trim, and the liberty-print dress with triangle back cut-out. I used to find their items a little expensive, but now when I look at their finishes and fabrics sometimes I wonder how they manage to make it for that price.

Oh, and I promise to get some actual photos of sewing up here soon!

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to shop for vintage clothing, continued...

So let's re-cap, what do we need for a successful vinage shopping trip? Take a look back at the first post I made on this topic. Ready for more? Ok, let's go...

5. Inspect carefully for marks and stains. Don’t expect perfection, as these clothes are 60+ years old now. You will pay more for ‘dead stock’ (items with the tags still on and never worn, sometimes called ‘NOS’ - new old stock). Finding a mark isn’t the end of the world, but consider if the item can be hand-washed, dry-cleaned or covered up with an accessory.

6. Check carefully for wear and tear. Think of your own wardrobe – your evening wear probably gets worn once a year for only a few hours; your daywear on the other hand may get worn and laundered multiple times in a fortnight. The only way to preserve a worn-out dress is not to wear it much, so weigh that up against how much is being asked for it.

7. Talk to your vintage seller and get to know her. Good vintage sellers will be honest with you and they care about the homes their pieces go to. If something doesn’t fit well, and alteration is not an option, they’ll usually be honest rather than just try to make a sale. And a conversation about your mutual passions and particular sartorial desires can often result in a special something being brought out from a cabinet or back room.

8. Footwear is important too. When vintage shopping you’ll need something you can walk all day in, but to really get the most out of trying on vintage styles you must have heels. Carry a pair of neutral-coloured heels with you. Black or beige will go with most outfits and give you a more accurate reading of the look you’ll achieve.

9. Price. What is vintage fashion worth, and how do you evaluate a piece? The answer is as varied as a piece’s age, rarity, source, profit-margin, uniqueness, market value – I could go on. Knowledge is your best tool, and studying the market online on sites like Etsy is a helpful indicator. Some sellers are willing to bargain, especially if you buy more than one piece. Just remember that every piece is unique. When you compare vintage items to similar high quality pieces made today, they are still exceptionally good value.

Is there anything you'd add to this list?

The Love Vintage summer vintage fair was on in Sydney last weekend, and Melbourne is coming up in October. Arm yourself with a tape measure, some high heels and an eye for a bargain, then get out there and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to shop for vintage clothing

I wanted to share with you some tips on vintage shopping that I have gathered over the years, I confess this post got so long that I’ll be posting it in two parts!

First, the incomparable Joan Holloway. Just because my blog needs a picture of her. She's a woman who knows how to show off her advantages and dress for her figure - a great role model to think of when shopping for vintage clothing.

Before stretch fabrics existed it was even more important to dress to suit your figure than it is now – nothing would fit otherwise! And you may have found the same frustrations when shopping for vintage clothing today.

Studying vintage sewing patterns and sizing has helped me to understand better the change in proportion over the decades and how it's really the ratio between bust-waist-hip that dictates the look of that time. 1950s dresses typically have a 10” difference between bust and waist. The 1920s silhouette was flat-chested and boyish. The good part is that with the benefit of hindsight and a love of vintage, you now get to pick and choose what suits you best. 
Here’s my advice to ensure a pleasant and fruitful vintage shopping trip.

The Elevator Girl’s Top Tips for Shopping Vintage

1. Measure your bust, waist and hip (while wearing the correct underwear, see point 4 below). Take these measurements with you when you shop.
2. Take a tape measure with you on your shopping trip. Not all vintage sellers provide sizes or waist measurements on their sale tags, and even if they do it may not be exactly accurate.
3. A 1-2” difference in any of those measurements is not a disaster. Sometimes alterations are possible, and while I don’t condone upcycling such as hacking off deep hems, small alterations can be done and indeed were often planned for in the construction of the garment.
4. I can’t stress enough how important period-specific undergarments are to the overall fit. Wearing vintage style underwear on your shopping trip will give a much more positive result when you try on your dream dress.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pattern loot - Vogue S-4217 & Home Journal 8912

I wanted to share with you a couple of patterns I picked up at the Fifties Fair last weekend.

I'm sure you also know the glazed-over feeling you get once you reach pattern-saturation point - that's when you start looking for specific details, things you haven't seen before that will add an element of surprise to your wardrobe.

The unique details are what drew me to these two lovelies.

First up, 8912 is an Australian Home Journal Pattern (mail-order I think), and I was struck by the cute waist detail with the buttons down the skirt front, and the tucks in the bust area.

I also love that the instructions assume that you are a home sewist without fancy gadgets - it says things like  'lay out the fabric on your table' and even suggests using a padded broom handle as a sleeve press!

Then there's Vogue S-4217 from 1951. I love the dropped waist, the slightly gathered neckline and the gathers repeated on top of the sleeves.

I'm a little wary of gathered skirts on my figure,  the flared style tends to suit me better. But I feel the dropped waist will create the illusion of more length in the torso which will balance the silhouette better.

What am I talking about - I just loved the illustration and who can pass up a Vogue Special?

With everything on my project list, it's going to be a while until I get to sewing these. I'll be posting these beauties over on the Vintage Pattern Wiki just as soon as I can figure out how to do that!

What kind of details have led you into buying a pattern when you really didn't need it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

More pictures of the Fifties Fair

I couldn't resist sharing a few more images of such a lovely day - cute couples jitterbugging and fashion parades and just downright gorgeous people who'd made a lot of effort to look good. And it was worth it!

Take a look at my Flikr Photostream for more pictures (you'll find them in the Fifties Fair Group too).

If you see yourself there, thankyou for indulging me and allowing me to capture you! And if you'd like a high res copy of that picture, please just get in touch.

Already mentally assembling my outfit for next year...

Fifties Fair 2012

On a glorious early spring day in late-August, Sydney's vintage enthusiasts came out in force to celebrate mid-century glamour at Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga.

This was my first visit to the 50s Fair. Somehow in the past I always seemed to be away or otherwise engaged, but this year I was determined not to miss it. And with my friends K & M in tow, we did it in style!

Here's K and I with a stunning Corvette.
There were a lot of beautiful cars just ripe for photo opps (that's me in the silver frock).

I bought this dress from the lovely dealer of Coutura Vintage, and with those shoulder pads I suspect its actually from the late 1940s. But my feeling is who could afford a new frock every year in those days? I'm sure a flattering number like this lasted many seasons. It appears to be homemade, by a clearly talented seamstress. The stripes meet down the centre in a perfect chevron effect and the shoulder pleats are sharp and clean. Inside the seams are lovingly hand-cast and ribbon binding reinforces the waist and hem. I just love these internal construction details!

I paired it with a red velvet hat that I picked up recently (with a David Jones label still inside), and black suede pumps that I bought at Love Vintage a few weeks ago.

Imagine my surprise to find an almost-twin, in a very similar dress, with velvet batwing sleeves and a slightly wider stripe, but the same rolled neckline and zippered front opening. Another fabulous sign of the popularity of certain styles and fabrics, that must have inspired many a home sewer to add their own flare. In the excitement of everything I didn't catch this girl's name - so if this is you, please get in touch!

The rest of the day was so much fun. As K's hubby said on the way home 'I feel like I've been to another country where things are done differently'. Stay tuned for more pics from the Fair over the next few days.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What am I working on? Advance 9898

Well here in the southern hemisphere, spring is in the air! And I have any number of cute spring frocks in my head for warm days ahead.

But right now I'm working on a sensible, work friendly, but still awesome wool sheath dress.
The pattern is Advance 9898.

Two necklines, two sleeve lengths - perfect fit!
I have found the construction process of this dress quite simple so far and the darts create a stellar silhouette. It's such a classic pattern, I can imagine it made up in any number of fabrics. A cotton sateen might be nice for summer workdays, even a floral pattern in the scoop-neck version perhaps? The solid colour and very plain design is indeed a fabulous showcase for a) YOU and b) your accessories.

The idea of fur, like Madame in the artwork,  is divine and I can imagine trimming the sleeves with fur for winter (fake of course, strange to think that dangling paws was ever considered an appropriate thing to wear in polite society?).

I'll post pictures soon. For now, here are the stats:

Pattern: Advance 9898, mid 1960s
Size: 16.5
Alterations: lengthened the bodice by 3/4inch, that eased up some tightness across the shoulder blades. Everywhere else fits perfectly.
Fabric: Worsted wool in a black/grey grain weave. $60/metre. Purchased from Tessuti in Surrey Hills. Black silk lining with woven pattern.
Notions: two black zippers (side and neck). Red seam binding. Black thread.

Let me know if there's anything else you'd like to know about it!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swimsuits in the pre-lycra age?

A little digression today, as I found a divine swimsuit pattern over at Out of the Ashes Collectibles.

It is indeed Bardot-esque, and the smock top is not only cute for the beach, but would make an awesome sundress, if you added some length. You could belt it, or not. I'm thinking white cotton eyelet embroidery, but I see everything in eyelet embroidery lately since I found a feast of it in a store in Bali recently (more on that for another post).

Looking at this pattern I started wondering, what did they make swimsuits out of before lycra and spandex? The fabrics suggested don't mention synthetics at all - it's all denim, gingham, broadcloth, pique etc. so it must be pre-1960s.

If you made this suit in cotton (lined of course, no see-through-ness allowed) would it be for swanning around in only, or would it still be appropriate to bathe in it? And if you bathe in it, how might the fabric behave? I can't imagine bathing in denim - cotton or linen maybe, but the lack of stretchiness or ability to re-shape after being wet bothers me. I know early swimsuits were often made of woollen knits but I feel that wool would have had more capacity to spring back into shape (though it must have been scratchy).

Clearly I'm no expert in vintage swimsuits. Does anyone else know?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wearing Miss Kubelik

One of my favourite films is Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). I adore Shirley McLaine’s character, Fran Kubelik, the elevator-girl-next-door (yes, she's the inspiration for this blog's name). I can just still remember when department stores had elevator operators. By the 1980s, they were mostly very old ladies, who had probably once been perky little Miss Kubeliks.

Since I have started sewing myself a wardrobe of homemade-vintage, I got to thinking about Fran Kubelik, and how adorable her wardrobe is – and how perfectly suited to the modern working girl! And how often I came a cross a pattern very similar to a movie costume... just like today, everyday wear both inspires costume designers (think of Edith Head’s wardrobe for Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, inspired by teenage streetwear) and leads to trends on the street. That's certainly evident with the popularity of Mad Men and the explosion of vintage in the mainstream.

The textured coat with the cross-over collar and leather gloves

The chiffon party dress, with a beautifully draped shawl collar

So I have decided to add a little inspiration to my sewing. My plan is to try to hunt down patterns similar to Miss Kubelik’s wardrobe and make them myself. Just like a real life Miss Kubelik probably did in the late 1950s. Her beautifully textured coat with a distinctive collar (anyone know what that style's called?), her lovely black wool frock, her smart grey uniform suit, and her cute chiffon party dress (sheer fabric terrifies me!).

The Elevator Suit, loving the little white gloves!

In the process I'll improve my sewing skills and end up with a pretty fabulous wardrobe! 

If you could replicate a character's wardrobe, one that you could really wear, who would it be?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Origins of a sewing obsession

Where did it come from? This obsession to sew, and sew vintage?

Its never just one thing that sets you off on a creative journey, right?

I've been drawn to vintage style all my life, from way before it was called that. I've always devoured old movies, especially from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I adored old photographs. I love equally the dramatic cut of a Dior ballgown and the sensible style of a wartime frock.

When women didn't have much choice, sewing your own clothes must have been a source of pride if you were adept at it; or a nightmare if you weren't.  I understand why those women eagerly embraced store-bought clothing and cheaper synthetic fabrics that promised freedom from ironing. But I do think something was lost too.

So now we have a choice - we can sew or buy, whenever the mood takes us. And just like the slow food movement that emphasises tradition and provenance and rejects fast food, I'm starting a slow clothing wardrobe that will do the same.  I want my wardrobe to be filled with pieces that reflect their provenance and purpose.

This is my journey to become an excellent seamstress. I'll share my progress and my projects, my mistakes, my successes and my latest obsessions. I hope you will stop by and say hello.