Friday, October 18, 2013

Australian Home Journal mystery from the 1930s

Dear readers,

Today I have an exciting project to announce. A wonderful museum here in my city has a small collection of Australian Home Journal magazines. For those not acquainted, the AHJ was a women's magazine and sewing pattern service.

Each issue contained 3 or 4 free patterns, and also illustrations of many other designs that you could write away and buy the pattern for. I have a few AHJ patterns in original postal envelopes and sometimes I get a kick out of tracking down the issue it came from and the original illustration. It's fun to imagine a lady of the past flicking through the magazine and deciding that this is the one - the very dress that she just needs to have this season!

So now to the mystery. My dear friends at the museum's library have a mystery pack of free patterns from an issue of the AHJ from 1931, but they don't have the magazine. The patterns were unprinted, just folded tissue with some perforated holes. It says it contains 4 frocks including a child's dress. I know from experience that often they made three different designs from just one or two pieces, and the instructions in the magazine would tell you how to alter the piece for each design, or to draft certain pieces yourself, like facings etc. They were certainly assuming a level of dressmaking knowledge that not many people have anymore! Without any illustrations or instructions, I couldn't help wondering what these pieces were meant to become.

So I suggested to my friends that if they would be kind enough to lend me the pieces, I would document my process of discovering what the dresses look like. I have already tried to find an issue of the magazine, but no major Australian library holds it. I hope that through publicising my project, someone may produce a copy from their grandmother's attic. But in the meantime, using just what images I can find of designs of that era (and my own knowledge of how patterns work), I'm going to attempt to put together at least one dress from the pieces I have.

Could it be something like this perhaps?

Hope you can join along and see where this takes me!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

1940s blouses rock!

I want to just take a moment to give some love to the blouses of the 1940s.

Why do I love them? Let me count the ways!

  • Rayon and silk, so luxurious and flattering though not clingy (look at the drape of those sleeves!)

  • Back yokes and gathers, such an elegant way to add a little room in the back

  • Super feminine details like ruffles, pintucks nifty pockets and the like take on the masculine shirt

  • Fabulous ruching, gathering, shoulder yokes and all kinds of details that say: 'Darts? How pedestrian!'

  • Side zippers, ok not exclusive to the 1940s, but still great - no chance of popping a button or pulling across the chest


The number one reason I love 1940s blouse is - the waist tucks!

Like upside down pleats that come up from the hem to the waistline, they shape the bottom of the shirt to your hips and release that fabric at the waist, so that it 'blouses' out by itself. When you tuck it in, there's no messing with getting even gathers around your waist. And no re-tucking required every time you go to the bathroom. It's just so neat and makes so much sense - why did we ever give up the tucks?

I'm currently sewing Simplicity's repro 40s blouse pattern 1692. The model on the front is wearing hers untucked, poor darling is unaware of the radical benefits of tucking in a 'tucked' blouse!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mint Condition and Mai Tais

I recently bought a lovely big swathe of patterns from the United States. The postage cost a bomb, but it was such a wonderful collection - all in largish sizes (equivalent to size 14-18 in today's ready-to-wear) which is very rare in vintage patterns. All were in excellent condition too, especially this one.

Courtesy of Vintage Pattern Wikia

Isn't it a lovely design? My copy is pristine - appears to have never been opened and the tissue was never unfolded. I am very proud to be making this up for a client of mine. Seems like it's been waiting all these decades to be unveiled and has travelled to other side of the earth to meet its destiny. Ok, maybe that's stretching it, but I can't wait to see how it turns out. The skirt with side yokes and gathering will be very flattering I think. Love the hand written notes on this copy from the Vintage Pattern Wiki - will take note of her tips!

And then....look what I just picked up on eBay! I am a sucker for a good hostess gown, and this one ticks all the right late 1940's boxes - a divine tropical print, side drape and surplice wrapped front. Mai Tai's on the terrace anyone?

This is one of those patterns I dream about but it is a little impractical for modern day life...but then again, maybe practicality is overrated too. Bring back the hostess gown! I love the idea that as you are already in your own home, you get wear something kinda comfy, but the floor length-ness makes it formal enough to say, this is my party and I'm the star here (and if you need more crackers, that's me too).

So maybe this NYE (traditionally a very hot evening here in Sydney) I'll be the hostess swanning around the backyard with my Mai Tai in a proper hostess gown....I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Feel the fear, and sew it anyway

Sewing vintage takes up a lot of my spare time, but I gladly give it away because I love seeing these pieces of history come together out of the labour of my own two hands!

I've been teaching vintage sewing for a while now, and observing my students has been an interesting part of the process. It's fun to be a part of their light-bulb-moments, and also intriguing to see what scares them or has held them back from sewing in the past.

Funnily enough, some of those road-blocks are some of the very reasons why I LOVE vintage sewing so much.

First is the fear of blank, unprinted patterns which were common in the 30s and 40s (and which I've seen in Australian versions of Big 4 patterns right up to the late 50s). But isn't it so true that with every innovation that improves something, something good is also lost? I've definitely noticed this with the advance of computer technology. Every time they release a new version of Microsoft Word it seems they hide or take away a feature I loved.

So it is with unprinted patterns. The best feature is you don't have to cut them out, they are already in pieces! The descriptor 'uncut' is often used to describe the condition of patterns but it's a moot point with unprinted ones. And those perforations aren't scary at all. If you've ever made a garment or two they'll make sense right away, and there's always a key to them on the instruction sheet. The best part about perforations is they make it so easy to mark your fabric - tailor's tacks or chalk are a breeze when the holes are already there.

So yes, printed patterns have a lot of good information on them (I especially love the 50s and 60s ones with the seam allowances marked), but they made some things harder too. Ever tried struggling with those huge tissue sheets, folding and unfolding to find the piece you need?

The other thing that has been a big issue for my students is their bust. Choosing a pattern by bust size doesn't work if you are greater than a C cup. Why don't pattern companies make that more clear? Bust adjustments are really quite simple and are often a revelation to my class. They finally understand why patterns never fit them right, and they discover how easy it is to rectify that.

So I guess my point is, going somewhere foreign isn't really all that scary, you just have to spend some time learning the language and doors will open for you. That's what I love about sewing - you can rip out your stitches and just try again. The worst that can happen is you spoil a piece of fabric, but even that's recyclable and there are so many lovely sewing bloggers posting tips and tricks to help you along. So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sewing blogs, I've read a few...

Yes I'm very grateful for what sewing blogs have taught me. And I don't begrudge anyone the success they've made out of their blog and their sewing...but it seems to me that nearly all the sewing blogs I loved are no longer about sewing. I know everyone has to evolve or we'd still be in caves, right? But I can't help but be a little sad about this (is Gertie ever going to finish those 14 Vogue patterns?).

I recently read a hilarious but poignant article about how over-sharing parents have ruined Facebook. I was chuckling and thinking thank god my friends aren't like that, only to login and find two proud-as-poop posts from new-ish-parent friends that made me realise no one is immune. I'm not going to 'Like' your posts about your darling's nappy deposits. But that doesn't mean I don't love you. I just don't understand your need to tell the whole world about what is a pretty intimate thing. As the article pointed out, let's hope junior doesn't try to run for office one day.

But back to sewing - to all the successful bloggers: enough with the babies, the outfits, the me-me photo-shoots and the promotional material. I'm not saying we don't care, I'm just saying we care more about SEWING. That's why we read you in the first place, and I'm pretty sure that's what advertisers are paying for space on your site for too.

Of course, this is all pretty rich coming from me - but hey it's my blog, right? And no one's reading it anyway :-)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Does any man really understand you?

Can you even imagine modern day advertising being this overtly seductive?

And seductive to women, not just holding up an ideal most of us can't attain. Like a woman-to-woman chat, Revlon touches those unspoken desires that everybody has, and they're saying this colour is going to rock. your. world. And I believe them.

'Black lace thoughts', 'the secret siren side of you', 'female as a silken cat' - get out!

Love it.

I think they're still making this colour, such was the success of this campaign.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Zipper insertion, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the fastener

Zippers are hard to insert. Yes it's true. So if you fear them or avoid them altogether you are not alone. But you can learn to love them, or at least live with them.

There are a million blog posts and Youtube videos out there telling or showing you how to insert a zipper. You can read and watch them all, but really one or two will do because the best way to learn is to just do it. Lots. And in a garment too, preferably one that's sturdy enough to take a lot of unpicking. Practising on scraps is fine too, but you won't really be replicating the terror that is an almost finished dress (all that fabric! all those seams that need to line up! and yards of fabric to keep out of the way!). Suddenly what seemed easy in calico/muslin just ratchetted up a factor of 10.

So, my advice is don't avoid zippers, and don't beat yourself up about them - they will get easier with practice.

What else can help? Having just taught some lovely students (who were sewing up a storm until we hit the zippers) I realised part of it is just the associated fear, but these tips may help:

1. Get really good at sewing straight first. If you are having trouble sewing a straight line on a normal seam, you're in trouble.
2. Try a lapped insertion - I find it much easier than the standard centre seam style, and it's a beautiful retro finish. In fact, I think I'll post some instructions on this soon....
3. Go slow and hand-baste at every step! We all love to get it done fast, but I find that as soon as I start thinking "this is going swimmingly well! I should be done in no time!" - as soon as I think that I make a stupid mistake that sees me spend the next half hour unpicking...

Vintage patterns often just say 'insert zipper according to instructions on the packet'...ummm what packet? They don't come in packets anymore and definitely not with instructions! Modern vintage repro patterns aren't much help either as they generally instruct you to do a centre seam insertion - which is not terribly vintage nor easy in my book. The best instructions I've found are in vintage sewing books, so try and find one published around the time of the patterns you like to make.

Zippers can be beautiful and because they are difficult, you'll be so proud of the ones that work well. So don't give up!

What's your zipper tip?

To blog or not to blog?

I wonder if blogging is really for me? I see a lot of sewing bloggers have made an enormous success of their craft through making it public, but I'm not sure if being public is really for me. At least not the personal/public of blogging.

First, I get too engrossed in my sewing to be able to take photos as I go along - hmmm, that's something I might need to work on!

Second, I don't like posting pictures of myself online.

I do love sewing, and I do love sharing that passion with others! So I'll keep teaching, and sewing and thinking about whether to blog or not.

Meantime, here are some pics of things I've sewn, that I could've written soulful posts about, but I'll just let the clothes speak for themselves...

Just look at that pattern matching! This is Butterick 5209, in a Balinese cotton.

This is gorgeous vintage fabric, reminds me of a Raoul Dufy painting. The skirt is Simplicity 4303.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Simply stylish - with huge pockets to boot!

See, this is what I'm talking about you guys. No one in a tracksuit ever looked this good.

Today over at Out of the Ashes Collectibles, you can buy this two-piece house dress ensemble. It's like an apron and an outfit all in one. Its cute, its comfy and flattering. When did we stop caring what we looked like inside our own home? Well, dumb question I guess - right about the time we discovered the comforts of polyester and elastic waistbands. But it wasn't all bad, see?

Bring back the house dress. I'm sure housework is a breeze in one of these, right?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dream dress - "for dinner and dancing"

That's what the label said, and this dress did plenty of that! 

I was lucky enough to meet the original owner who told me it was part of her trousseau when she was married, and she loved it so much she could never part with it. The skirt was voluminous by itself, and she wore it with a 40 yard petticoat - 40 yards! She had worn it when she was 21 in 1956, and now her daughter will wear it, and then pass it on to her own daughter.


This gown was made from shot taffeta, with a blue, pink and magenta colour through it. Then covered in organza pleats and overskirt. The dropped waist created a killer waist shaping. Luckily the inside lining needed repair too, meaning I could get a good look at the insides - it was interlined with a heavy calico, almost canvas-like. That's some serious structure, without much boning.

It was a privilege to send this beautiful gown back into the world again with a little TLC (and a replaced zipper).