Vintage Sewing 101: Care And Use Of Your Sewing Machine

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Welcome back to Vintage Sewing 101! Last week we got acquainted with the well-equipped 1950s seamstress and found out that, in comparison, my tools come up a little short (quite literally, since my main problem seemed to be insufficiently lengthy rulers). This week, I’m continuing to build my foundational 1950s sewing knowledge with a look at how to care for and use my sewing machine. Although a lot of this information feels somewhat self-explanatory (particularly to anyone with basic sewing knowledge), I’ve decided that my mantra for this series of posts is ‘Take nothing for granted’. In that spirit, we move forward!

Before we delve into the content, however, I thought it would be a good idea to check out what the typical 1950s seamstress would be using to sew. Since the sewing course specifically mentions the Kenmore machine (made by the producers of the course – Sears, Roebuck and Company), I thought I would have a look at those. Kenmore machines were run on electricity (rather than with a foot peddle). The most popular model in the 1950s was the Kenmore Model 117-169, made out of aluminium and relatively lightweight in comparison to other models. However, the Kenmore Zig-Zag Automatic 117-740 – released in 1956 – was the most up-to-date in its technology, offering the ability to zig-zag stitch (and so sew stretch fabric). Pretty revolutionary at the time! If you’re interested, there’s a great Youtube video showing how a 1950s Kenmore is threaded and used – plus it will give you a good idea of what the machines actually look like.

In comparison, I have a Janome New Home Machine with at least a thousand stitches and just about every bit of technology available to modern sewing machines. It comes with a digital screen and stitch selection and all of the standard operations. Suffice to say, my experience of getting to know my sewing machine will not be quite the same as for someone sewing with a 1950s machine. But no doubt I still have much to learn! So onto the course instructions…

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The sewing course places a LOT of emphasis on the sewing machine instruction book. Now, I’m not the best when it comes to reading manuals. I’m much more of a ‘throw myself in head first, whatever the consequences’ kind of girl. Since I’m a big believer in learning from my mistakes, this philosophy tends to really help me learn. But, true to my pledge of following this 1950s sewing course through from beginning to end, I dusted off my sewing machine manual and sat down for a read.

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In all honesty, I can’t quite meet the standards of Sears, Roebuck and Company who insist that I must “Keep this book in your sewing cabinet – and refer to it frequently until you know its contents by heart.” The Instruction book is 54 pages and, quite frankly, who has the time. That said, I did read it through and discovered a whole lot of stitches that I didn’t really know existed on the machine. So I must grant Sears et al a victory on this front since there are clearly some benefits to reading the manual before jumping in.

After getting to know the truly insightful Instruction book from beginning to end, it’s time to learn about cleaning our machines. I feel as though this sewing course is already beating it into me that I’m not the best or most attentive sewist. I very rarely (*read never*) clean my machine. I know. It’s not good. But, thanks to a forced perusal of my machine’s Instruction book, I am now armed with the knowledge on how to go about giving my machine a good clean. Trying to bring myself up to the rigorous standards laid out for the 1950s seamstress by the (now, in my mind) dictatorial Sears, I took to giving my machine a thorough cleaning – hook race, feed dog, and all…

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A clean machine is a good machine (Big Brother is watching)

With a clean machine ready to go, now it’s time to actually get to grips with using it. Since I don’t want to test your patience too incredibly, we’ll skip over learning to thread the machine – after two years of sewing, I’m pretty sure I’m doing this right. So we’ll hop straight on to learning to control and stitch. The manual first instructs that “Smooth (not jerky) machine operation is one of the ‘secrets’ of even, flat stitching.” I’m not quite sure why this is such a secret since it feels pretty self-explanatory. I will confess, however, that I had the biggest trouble with not jerking a sewing machine around the first time I sat down at one. I think I was about 12 and learning to use a sewing machine at school. I was so terrified of sewing over my fingers that I went at snail’s pace the entire time and, even then, took my foot off of the pedal every five seconds. Apparently I’ve grown out of this fear, although it’s pretty miraculous that I ever decided to sit at a machine again. Therefore, I can definitely verify the truth of what the manual is telling us – indeed, as the course promises, controlling speed on my sewing machine is now “as automatic as striking the right key is to a typist.” So I guess there’s hope for everyone.

Now onto stitches…

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We begin with a bit of straight line stitching. According to the sewing course, it is incredibly important that we first learn to position our hands correctly on the machine. I demonstrate:

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DON’T [emphasis mine because I feel this is how Sears et al would desire it to be read] place the hand that is guiding the material directly in front of the needle. You might get careless and run it under the needle! Keep it off to one side where it can’t be hurt.”

It’s strange to me that the course is referring to your hand as something of a separate entity. But I do agree with this very common-sense approach to sewing with your machine. It is, after all, a really bad idea to run your hand under the needle – as my 12 year old self would agree.

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DON’T reach around and pull the material from in back of the needle. This can bend the needle so that it doesn’t go down into the hole meant for it, and it may snap in two.”

I’m not even going to try to be facetious about this advice because, for quite a while when I first started sewing, I did have a habit of pulling the material through. I guess I thought that it would speed everything up. It didn’t.

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So, what’s the right way to do things? The sewing course informs “When the machine is running, material travels through without help from you, but your hand is needed to hold it straight. Preferably use your left hand, keeping your right hand free to straighten folds of the material in front of the machine, to hold the wheel for stopping at a point…and for similar tasks.”

My first thought reading this is that the end of the sentence feels incredibly ominous. Why the ellipsis? What other tasks is it referring to?! Am I right to slightly afraid of what Sears has planned? Otherwise, all good advice.

Now that we know how to position our hands, it’s time to stitch. The manual recommends that we start out with the very basics – learning to stitch in a straight line. As instructed, I didn’t draw lines on my piece of fabric and instead followed the seam guides on my machine. I was concerned that, after basically mocking the course for the entirety of this post, it would turn out that I actually couldn’t sew in a straight line. But I actually did ok.

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I even did two lines – one at 3/8″ and one at 5/8″ – just to show off.

That’s all very well and good, of course, but are curves such an easy go? The course says that I should follow the same technique as before.

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Granted, this is a pretty steep curve. I wanted to get more ambitious just to check my skills but the sewing course warns against this. It suggests that, when I become more advanced, I might “practice following wavy lines, then tight curves and lines like those used in an embroidery pattern.” But “don’t draw lines for the first stages of practice.” To avoid getting too big for my britches, I thought I should calm down and stick with some nice, calm curves.

Having mastered most of the basics, we now have just a couple more skills to learn (thankfully) – the joys of turning corners and learning tacking!

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Learning to turn corners was one of my favourite skills when I first came to sewing. I still get a strange instinctual satisfaction from pivoting my fabric and sewing a right-angle. It’s just so neat! I particularly enjoyed how emphatic the course gets when talking about turning the corner – “Again stitch a straight line; but this time, stop exactly at a desired point (right hand on wheel) with the needle down.” I choose to read this as the course instructor being incredibly excited by the upcoming pivot because, if you haven’t felt the joy of a needle pivot, you just haven’t truly lived.

To stop myself getting too overly excited about right angles, I only sewed one…

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And, for the first time, I was also able to backstitch at the end of my line. I’ve avoided doing so thus far since the course is very clear about skill-building in the appropriate way (and apparently tacking is the pinnacle of basic sewing techniques). Despite leaving it until the very end, the course is detailed on the importance of learning to tack. I will say that, on this point, I truly understand how much easier we have it with contemporary machines. Where the sewing course presents a few different options for tacking at the end of your stitches, for most of us it’s simply a manner of using our reverse stitch button. What a miracle this button is! I won’t take it for granted again.

Thankfully, Sew with Distinction has now talked us through all the basics of caring for and using our sewing machine. It closes out with an emphasis on learning to use machine attachments (I’m skipping over the diatribe on not wasting thread. To paraphrase – “save thread”) and, since I’m now so well acquainted with my sewing machine’s Instruction book, I’m off to get to know each of my attachments and what they actually do (since I only use about three of them on rotation). The next Vintage Sewing 101 post will take us away from learning the sewing basics (hallelujah!) and onto assessing our bodies for pattern making – a quick spoiler, “Are you tall?” and “Are you short?” are key phrases. I feel that this is where the course really comes into its own. So join me next week as I continue my 1950s sewing adventures!

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New Projects and Updates!

Now that I’m all finished with B6242, it’s on to even better and brighter things! I’ve definitely been keeping to my pledges for 2018 and spending a lot more time both sewing and blogging. This is largely owing to some new bullet journal spreads that have really helped me to get my sewing schedule and plans under control. I hate having these sorts of plans just in the ether of my mind – it can get so overwhelming trying to mentally keep track of my various projects and objectives. Having a concrete method for scheduling out everything related to my sewing and blogging has been a massive help this January. I’ll be sharing some more insight into my current means of organising myself at some point over the next couple of weeks!

In an effort to stay on track with my other sewing goals, I’ve been thinking a lot harder about the types of makes that I want to get completed over this coming year. Although I’m not one for planning patterns too far in advance (mostly because my moods change frequently when it comes to what I want to make), one of my goals for sewing in 2018 was to find some sort of balance between vintage and everyday wear. In order to make sure that I’m working towards this, there’s obviously an amount of forethought required. Since I’ve just got finished with a very vintage-inspired make, I thought I would take a step back and try to use up some of my fabric stash on a more contemporary garment!

For a while now, I’ve had my eye on Sew Over It’s Ultimate Trousers pattern. Only once in the past have I had a go at making a pair of trousers and they were a roaring success so I’ve been super keen to try out a new pattern. I’ve always had great experiences with Sew Over It patterns and the photos of various versions of the Ultimate Trousers look so impressive. The photos also inspired my fabric choice. As you might remember, I bought the best fabric ever a few months ago on a trip to the independent fabric retailer, The Quilted Fox, here in St. Louis. The Australian print is so incredibly bold and intricate that I’ve been determined to find the perfect pattern for it! I had initially assumed that I’d go the way of making a dress or skirt but this wasn’t sitting totally right with me. So, when I started looking through the galleries for the Ultimate Trousers and seeing lots of amazing bold prints, I was seriously struck by the determination to put my fabric to work! After some consultation on Instagram, I was totally set.

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So look out for these trousers over the next couple of weeks.

In other, somewhat related, news, I’ve joined the Sew Over It PDF club! If you haven’t heard of the Club, it’s well worth a look. Membership costs just £5 and gets you a free PDF pattern, as well as exclusive first-look access at new Sew Over It PDFs and 10% off these patterns. Since PDF patterns from Sew Over It typically cost £7.50, membership to the Club actually costs quite a bit less than the price of the free PDF that you can select as a new member. Plus you get all of the added bonuses. So, if you have your eye on any Sew Over It PDF patterns, definitely consider membership. I’ve always loved their patterns and consider this a really worthy investment!

Anyway, that’s all for now! I’ll be back on Friday with more content for you. Time to get back to some shivering temperatures (I’m most definitely not adapted to Missouri winters yet) and a bit more sewing. Enjoy the rest of your week!

 

1960s Dress (Butterick – B6242)

After a short Christmas-inspired lull in my personal sewing time, I’ve been back to sewing for myself over the past couple of weeks. My mind has been in another world for the past month while I’ve worked my way through sewing gifts for family but, with my new dressform in tow, I was super ready to get back to finishing off my version of B6242. This is a pattern that I got a while ago – free with an issue of Make It Today! Dressmaker magazine – and have been hanging onto it every since while waiting for the perfect fabric to come along. I finally found the right fabric on a trip to Joann’s and a good look at Gertie’s fabric collection! So finally, many months – possibly years – after the fact, I actually have a version of B6242 ready to share…

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I had a number of concerns going into making this pattern. Mostly, I was incredibly worried by the shape of the bodice. I’m very much one for structured and fitted bodices – these tend to accentuate an hourglass figure and, to my eye, help balance out the fullness of a circle skirt. This is the first 1950s/1960s inspired garment I’ve made that doesn’t come with a very fitted top. That said, I decided to place my confidence in the pattern and the fact that the cumberbund/cummerbund (I’m going to go with cumberbund!) would cinch the waist sufficiently to stop the dress looking shapeless.

I’m really pleased that I put my faith in the pattern! As it turned out, the cumberbund did manage to balance the whole dress and give a sort of symmetry to the top and bottom of the garment. The fact that the top isn’t super fitted also means that the pattern is an incredibly simple construction. The cumberbund relies on gathers to give it a wonderful ruched effect. Gathers are also used on the front of the bodice where attached to the cumberbund, while the back of the bodice is tailored with darts. Assuming that you are able to get to grips with these techniques, there is nothing about the pattern that poses any significant challenge.

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The sleeves on B6242 are probably the simplest that I have ever constructed. They come as part of the bodice, so there is no insertion necessary (inserting sleeves is always one of the most annoying parts for me). Once the bodice is attached to the cumberbund, it’s simply a matter of sewing seams up the side of the dress to the end of the sleeve. The only downside of the sleeve design is the way in which they attach to the side zip. Because this kimono sleeve-style curves so dramatically under the arm, the side zip runs quite far up the length of the sleeve – essentially ending parallel to your armpit. This means that the zipper-pull flaps down very obviously when you move your arm up (you can’t see it in this photo since I made sure to photograph the non-zippered sleeve!). Although this genuinely isn’t much of an issue in terms of comfort, it does look a little odd when you see it. The only real solution here would be to move the zipper further down the side of the bodice which I think would be totally doable without impacting the fit.

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This pattern is definitely full of really interesting and unique design choices. Aside from the cumberbund and sleeves, the boatneck structure of the neckline is a perfect fit for the dress. It nicely complements the width and curve of the sleeves and, once again, poses little challenge for someone with basic sewing skills. The pattern includes information on making bias fabric strips to attach to both the neckline and the sleeves (admittedly, I didn’t use them on the sleeves). I was way too lazy to slip-stitch a bias strip to the neckline and instead decided to attach it with my machine. I don’t think the visible stitching detracts from the overall look and, honestly, it saved too much time for me to feel particularly bad about taking the shortcut!

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Size-wise, I can’t say much about the pattern as it came. Since I got the pattern free with a magazine, I was given a pre-selected set of sizes. Although my bust size was included in the pattern (and just on the size cut-off), I had to grade out for both waist and hips by making my own pattern lines. This wasn’t too much of a bother and the final fit of the garment came out perfectly. However, I would suggest making up a muslin of the bodice if you feel concerned by the relative lack of shape. There is plenty of ease to work with if you want to achieve a slightly more tailored fit.

One final word of warning – be careful when you’re cutting this pattern. Almost the entire garment is cut on the cross-wise grain and I ended up needing considerably more fabric than was suggested by the pattern. Partly this was because the fabric I used came in at 43″ wide which seemed to make a big difference to the pattern layout. If you aren’t used to cutting on the cross-wise grain, just be sure to plan your cutting layout beforehand to avoid a last minute run to get extra fabric (totally my experience).

B6242 is an excellent pattern for anyone looking to branch out their vintage style. While the silhouette is relatively conventional for a 50s/60s look, it has a number of design features that really forced me out of my comfort zone. I was so worried that the bodice would look shapeless and unflattering but totally needn’t have been concerned. Ultimately, I really love how the dress turned out and would definitely make it again!

I’ll leave you with some outtakes from this mini-photo shoot when I encountered the real difficulties of attempting to do blog photos with a nosey dog running around…

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It turns out a dog is the must-have accessory for this look! Someone alert the fashion designers!

Vintage Sewing 101: Sewing Tools And Their Uses

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Welcome back to Vintage Sewing 101. Hopefully you’ve already read my Introduction to the series and know what to expect from these posts (if not, be sure to have a quick read!). As per my pledge to follow the 1950s sewing course through from beginning to end, I’m starting where the manuals tell me that I should – by determining whether or not I’m well equipped to begin.

Since I’ve already been sewing for two years, I obviously have an advantage over the amateur vintage seamstress – not to mention that my tools are likely a little more advanced than hers would have been (I assume). From a historical standpoint, however, it’s interesting to think about what would have been considered ‘well-equipped’ from the perspective of 1950s sewing companies. Since this sewing course was produced by Sears, Roebuck and Company, we’re obviously working with one of the major sewing retailers. So let’s see what they have to say…

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Starting off with the absolute basics of the basics. The course promises that having the right tools to measure with “will save hours of work that can be lost by careless, half-guess calculations.” I already feel that I’m not quite a Sears-standard seamstress since – although I assume that I’m doing pretty well in the realm of sewing tools – careless, half-guess calculations are honestly just part of the process for me. Perhaps this course will help me mend my ways.

With regards to measuring tools, the course recommends that we be equipped with:

  • A stout (non-stretching) cloth tape 60 inches long
  • A short, 6-12″ ruler (preferably steel)
  • A yardstick
  • Wax chalk and/or tailor’s chalk (for marking)
  • A full length mirror

As well equipped as I thought myself to be, I’m surprisingly under-equipped by 1950s standards. I gathered all of my measuring tools together and realised that this journey is going to be a definite uphill battle.

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Laura’s Measuring Tools:

  • A 60″ measuring tape (giving myself a mental checkmark here)
  • A 6″ plastic ruler (probably half a check mark since the sewing course recommends a 6-12″ steel ruler and mine is plastic)
  • A curved ruler (not recommended but I think invaluable. This is the nearest I come to having a yardstick. Since a yard is 36″, I’m definitely no way near where I should be)
  • Some tailor’s chalk (another check mark!)
  • Mirror (unpictured)

Ok so I didn’t do too badly on this front, although I’m missing a whole load of steel and about half a yard on my rulers. I’m also not entirely sold on the need for a mirror as a measuring tool – I guess maybe required to check even hem length – but who am I to question the wisdom of Sears?

On to Tools to Cut With. I think we can all agree that these are amongst the most important pieces of equipment for any sewist. A good pair of scissors can see you through practically anything. As the course indicates “Nothing slows work more than poor cutting tools.” For cutting, the well-equipped 1950s seamstress requires:

  • A large pair of shears with raised handles
  • A pair of 3-5″ scissors for close work
  • A pair of 7-8″ pinking shears
  • A razor blade for ripping seams
  • A cutting surface

Admittedly, I had to do an internet search to determine what raised handles are. As it turns out, they’re pretty standard to fabric scissors (where the handles are tilted, rather than straight like most regular scissors – see my picture below for a better idea). On to my cutting equipment:

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  • Large fabric scissors (2 pairs) with raised handles
  • Pinking shears
  • Seam ripper

Confession time – I own no small pairs of scissors. This sounds almost catastrophic for anyone who considers themselves an avid sewist. I’m very aware that I need to get a pair but I just never seem to get round to it (*update: since writing this post, I was motivated to go out and buy myself a pair of 3″ scissors. Thank you Sears for pushing me to do the right thing.*). So, on that score, I’m not so well equipped by 1950s standards. I also traded in a razor blade for a seam ripper, but I figure that it’s a permissible exchange. In terms of a cutting surface, I use both my sewing table (which is super long) or our big wooden floor – since the course informs us that “it’s better to use the floor than try it on the bed!” I think I’m doing pretty well.

So measuring and cutting-wise, I’m not quite up to par.  Although I’m only deficient on a couple of fronts, writing this post almost 70 years after the fact means I had pretty much assumed I’d be surpassing the manual on every front. Instead, my performance is just a little lacklustre. The 1950s obviously had pretty high standards. Perhaps I will fair better when it comes to pressing and sewing:

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“Press as you sew!” exclaims the course. This is a point that I wouldn’t contradict. I used to be terrible when it came to pressing my seams but I’ve definitely learnt the error of my ways. Pressing, by 1950s standards, requires a few different tools:

  • A light-weight, easy to handle iron (2-3lb in size)
  • An ironing board
  • A good pressing cloth
  • A sponge and dish of water (unless you have a steam iron)

Now, I haven’t actually weighed my iron so I can’t verify whether it falls within the bounds of the appropriate 1950s weight. I imagine conventional modern irons are lighter than their 1950s counterparts since they’re predominantly plastic (don’t quote me on this because I genuinely don’t know – if you have any insight on the subject, please share!). Anyway, my pressing equipment:

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Pictured are:

  • A Singer Steam Iron
  • An ironing board (very sturdy)
  • A pressing cloth (ok, truly I’ve never used a pressing cloth. But I imagine this would suffice, so we’ll just imagine that it’s used for that purpose)

I finally checked all of the boxes! Since I have a steam iron, the course permits me to forgo the bowl of water and sponge. I can’t imagine how using water and a sponge would turn out – I guess that it would be pretty slow going and a bit messier than using the iron. I may give it a go just to see how well it would work in comparison to a steam iron. For now, however, I consider myself very ready for all the pressing that must be done. And, apparently, the 1950s would agree.

Finally, on to arguably the most important set of tools in a sewists arsenal, those required for sewing. The course doesn’t beat about the bush on this, telling us simply that “good sewing tools are a must.” In the 1950s, a good seamstress would require:

  • A generous supply of needles
  • A thimble
  • Plenty of pins
  • A pincushion
  • Mercerised thread
  • A sewing machine

So, where do I fall on this count?

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In my kit:

  • Needles (pictured are embroidery needles and ones for my sewing machine, so I’m actually exceeding 1950s standards)
  • Pins, stuck in…
  • A pincushion
  • Thread
  • A sewing machine

Here I fail on just one count – no thimble. I actually had one when I was still living in the UK but found it incredibly difficult to use. Although, admittedly, a thimble would in theory save me a lot of finger pain, I couldn’t get to grips with it. I also had to do an internet search to find out what, exactly, ‘mercerised’ thread is meant to be. According to the source of all wisdom, Wikipedia, “Mercerisation is a treatment for cellulosic material, typically cotton threads, that strengthens them and gives them a lustrous appearance.” In modern production, cotton is bathed in sodium hydroxide and neutralised in acid. According to Wiki, “this treatment increases lustre, strength, affinity to dye, and resistance to mildew.” I have no idea whether or not my threads are mercerised, but I’m going to assume so. Most sewing threads have a definite sheen to them that would suggest mercerisation. So I’m going to give myself a check and say that the only piece of 1950s sewing equipment I’m lacking is a thimble.

It would seem, then, that the 1950s had pretty high standards when it came to being adequately equipped for sewing. Although we should bear in mind that this sewing course has been put together by a seller of sewing goods, I’m still surprised by the number of contemporary tools that were in use back in the 50s. Although we’re only 60 years on, technology has clearly developed by leaps and bounds. Other than the sewing machine itself – which is undoubtedly a totally different experience from those in use in the 50s – we’re still relying on much the same equipment. Hopefully, I have the appropriate foundations for moving forward on my 1950s sewing journey.

Make sure to join me for the next Vintage Sewing 101 post when I’ll be following instructions on how to care for and use my sewing machine!

Meet My New Dressform: Sew You Dressform by Dritz

For the longest time, I’ve been desperate to get my hands on a proper dressform. Fitting clothes on and off of my own body has always been a bit of a pain – not least for my poor husband who is inevitably brought in to help pin the back of my body, but is never quite sure what he’s supposed to be doing. Way back when I was still living in Colchester, I bought myself a standardised dressform, albeit knowing very little about the purpose of it (I just thought all sewists should have one). Trying to match one as close as possible to my body measurements, I ended up with a mannequin that was too big in the bust and waist but too small in the hips. So this dressform ended up good for nothing more than serving as a very stylistic feature of my sewing space.

As my sewing skills have evolved, I’ve been feeling more and more that I could benefit from a proper adjustable dressform. Since I now do the majority of my sewing during the day while my husband’s at work, I’m also operating solo when it comes to fitting my garments. Thankfully, my incredibly thoughtful husband decided to help rectify the situation with the absolute greatest Christmas present – a Sew You Dressform by Dritz.

*Just a heads up, I’m not going to be linking to the product in this post. Since this was a Christmas present, I have absolutely no idea how much it cost and I’d rather remain in the dark on that score. That said, the dressform is – I’m told by my hubs – available on Amazon, so just give it a search if you’re interested in the cost!*

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I’m honestly still a bit astounded at the thoughtfulness of this present. I had to wait a day to put it together (I was visiting my parents for Christmas so I had to wait until we got back home) and I was absolutely bursting at the seams (*seamstress joke*) by the time I got it back to my sewing room. The form itself was incredibly easy to put together – it came as the mannequin itself, the pole, and the base. So constructing it was simply a matter of slotting these pieces together.

As you can tell from the photo, the dressform comes with a number of adjustable dials – both on the front/back and the sides. Since I’m already well acquainted with my measurements, it was simply a matter of using a measuring tape and adjusting the dials to match my body. When I was researching dressforms a while back, I had read a number of reviews citing issues with the dials – they would get stuck, buckle, or even break. I had no problems at all with making adjustments to the Sew You Dressform or using the dials. I was also guided by a really helpful instructional booklet that details both how to take your measurements – just in case you aren’t certain about your own – and how to make the appropriate adjustments to the dressform.

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As well as the standard bust/waist/hips adjustments, the neck of the mannequin can also be adjusted to match your own. This was similarly simple to do but is well detailed in the booklet for anyone who isn’t sure. Additional adjustments include the length of the torso – as you can see in the first photo, the dressform is essentially divided at the waist meaning that length can be easily added or taken away at the waist to increase or decrease the length of the torso as required – and the height of the mannequin. None of these adjustments posed any issue whatsoever and, with a bit of help from my husband, I had the whole thing together and adjusted within about 15 minutes. As you can see from the photo above, the dressform is already in use!

I was also super impressed by the range of measurements to which this particular mannequin is adjustable. My dressform is a Small (Medium and Large are also available, I think) but is adjustable to the following measurements:

Bust: 33″ – 40″

Waist: 26″ – 33″

Hips: 36″ – 42″

Back Waist Length: 15″ – 17″

Neck: 14″ – 17″

Part of the issue I had when initially looking at the dressforms available was my hip measurement relative to my waist/bust. I’m lucky enough to have an hourglass shape but my hips are always classed a size above my waist. Although this really isn’t a problem when it comes to patterns since I just grade out a size, it meant that I was on the border of two sizes when looking at dressforms. Somehow, my husband hunted out the Sew You Dressform and I’m well within the range for each measurement. I love how large the measurement ranges are for this particular dressform – especially useful if you make a lot of gifts for others!

On to additional features, all of which genuinely surprised me. The form comes with a hem gauge and lock, both of which I love.

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The stand itself has measurements listed, allowing you to gauge the length of the hem as needed. Attached to this is a clamp (pictured above) with nifty holes for pinning while your fabric is in the clamp. I had honestly never even entertained the thought that this might be a nifty addition to any dressform but I’m beyond excited to use it. I always have big problems when I’m hemming since attempting to pin a standard hem all the way around never seems to produce a symmetrical or level skirt. I anticipate this additional feature on the dressform being a great solution to my hemming problems and I’ll definitely be using it to finish off my cherry dress once the skirt is finally attached!

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I also want to give a shout-out to whoever thought of popping a pin cushion on the top of the dressform. I don’t have one of those fab wrist pin cushions (although that will undoubtedly be an investment I make at some point), so this is saving me a lot of trouble. It’s perfect!

So, all in all, this is definitely a dressform that I would recommend to anyone on the hunt. It is incredibly easy to put together, has some great additional features, and is very inclusive in terms of the measurement ranges. I think the Sew You Dressform by Dritz is definitely going to transform my sewing and make it a whole lot easier to get a great fit with everything I make!

Book Review: Sewing Basics by Sandra Bardwell

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write a review of one of the first sewing books I ever bought – Sewing Basics: All You Need To Know About Machine And Hand Sewing by Sandra Bardwell. As a self-taught sewist, I have relied completely on books and internet resources in order to teach myself the most basic sewing skills. Since the Sewing Basics book was foundational in terms of my sewing knowledge, I thought that it would be a worthy book to offer up for review on Sew for Victory – particularly for those of you who, like me, are entirely self-taught.

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When I initially set out to learn to sew, I knew that it was going to be an uphill battle. I armed myself with a couple of very basic patterns – hoping that they would teach me as I went – and the cheapest sewing machine that I could find on Amazon. From here, it was really a matter of learning on the job. But I knew that I needed to work simultaneously to  build my basic knowledge of garment construction. The problem with learning as I went along was that – even though I might produce a wearable garment at the end of the process – everything felt a little bit jerry-rigged. Although I always knew that this would be a natural part of learning a new skill from scratch, I did want to make sure that I was learning the right way to do things. Without a teacher, this was quite a challenge.

It’s for this reason that I picked out the Sewing Basics book. I was most impressed by how comprehensive the contents of the volume seemed and I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the detail of the chapters themselves.

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The book really builds you from the ground up in learning to sew. From working out what tools you will need to figuring out how to sew different kinds of seams, Sewing Basics really does what it says in the title – it teaches you the very basics. But, since the book is so comprehensive, I still use it as a reference point on different techniques about which I’m unsure. This is definitely a book that will take you further than simply learning the basics of sewing into building skills that I would consider more advanced.

One of the best things about Sewing Basics is that it goes beyond just reciting facts by also offering a number of helpful tutorials. There is, for example, information on how to produce piping and how to use various methods of hand embroidery.

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It’s a tiny croissant!

That said, the book is incredibly instructional when it comes to the basics. Each part comes with very clear pictures, as well as detailed information that is easy to comprehend. I was able to understand and use this book with absolutely no previous sewing knowledge and, at no point, did I feel out of my depth or unable to grasp the meanings of the various sections. The layout of each chapter and section of the book varies depending on the information being presented. There are paragraphs of text, plenty of pictures, and – where necessary – tables of information. I really appreciated the layout of the information presented in the chapter ‘Fabrics and Interfacings’.

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For someone with no knowledge, this ‘school textbook’ approach is really useful and illuminating. It also ensures that the book continues to serve as an excellent and easy-to-use reference guide where you aren’t having to search around for ages to find the appropriate information.

I particularly love the pictures in the book. They are so well laid out and help to ensure that, at no point, is the reader having to look up additional visual information online. I’ve found this to be a big problem with a lot of the ‘foundational’ sewing guides – there’s always plenty of information presented textually but, without good accompanying pictures, it’s very difficult for a beginner to understand how this information would apply visually. Sewing Basics really doesn’t suffer from this issue.

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All in all, I think that Sewing Basics by Sandra Bardwell is a worthy place to start for anyone interested in learning to sew – or anyone simply looking to fill the gaps in their sewing knowledge. I know that there are a huge number of basic techniques that I still don’t have down quite as well as I could, so having a guide to the foundations of sewing is always useful. This book is definitely an excellent companion!


Sewing Basics: All You Need To Know About Machine And Hand Sewing by Sandra Bardwell is a UK book but seems to be readily available in the US. You can find it here on Amazon US or, alternatively, on Amazon UK here.

Vintage Sewing 101: An Introduction

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Welcome to a new post series – Vintage Sewing 101 – here at Sew for Victory! I’ve been planning this out for a while and am super excited that it’s coming to fruition in 2018. As long-time followers of the blog may remember, a while ago I came across one of my best vintage finds to-date:

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This eight book set, published in 1953, is a complete sewing course intended to take you from clueless to crafty. The series is the most informative instruction guide I’ve seen when it comes to vintage sewing techniques and I’m still surprised by its comprehensiveness. For a while now, I’ve been using the book series as a curiosity. It became something that I would refer to for inspiration or simply to get back in touch with the vintage side of things. But I’ve barely scratched the surface of what these books have to offer.

In order to better understand the world of the vintage seamstress, I’ve decided to work my way through these books one-by-one and get to know every aspect of sewing in the 1950s. I’ll be teaching myself the techniques, applying them to my projects, and getting acquainted with a whole host of skills that have been lost to modernity. Aside from getting a better understanding of vintage garment making, I’m really hoping that this challenge will help me develop my own approach to sewing.

It’s always struck me how (relatively) simple sewing can be in today’s world. There’s virtually no need to learn to sew by hand – I’m living proof of that fact because I’m still absolutely terrible at hand stitching anything – or understand the hows-and-whys of the process of making clothes. I’m incredibly guilty of following pattern instructions without really considering the details behind what I’m doing or how everything comes together. While part of me would be perfectly happy to go on this way, I’m ambitious in my sewing and I want to expand my knowledge as much as possible.

I’m also hoping that this series of posts will help all of you reading them to learn alongside me. Having read through these manuals, there are a whole host of skills and techniques that I’ve not encountered before and certainly never considered integrating into my sewing. I want to see where our modern approach to sewing might benefit from a return to old methods. At the very least, I might finally learn how to do some hand stitching!

So, what better way to begin that at the beginning, with the promises made by the course itself:

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“Every woman – and man – admires the woman whose clothes are a perfect blend of individuality, good taste, and current fashion. Whether she wears expensive dresses with  famous couturiers’ labels, or is, herself, a clever stylist – the effect is the same. But it is all the more to her credit if her own nimble fingers and ingenious contrivings have stretched a small budget and touched with magic her own home fashioned ensembles.

You can be this woman. Your hands can create detail-perfect garments, accessories and home decorations which will add dollars to your savings. Besides, it’s fun! All that is required is willingness to learn – and determination to do.

This is the first of a series of eight books designed especially for the woman who wants to ‘sew with distinction’ – quickly and easily. The key to all of the ‘magic’ is here – in simple, completely illustrated, short and to-the-point instructions. Each book is a successive step towards your goal – and each is arranged for quick reference back to any forgotten topic, in years to come.”

Already this sewing course appeals to me. It promises the ability to “sew with distinction” (although whether this means I’ll sew well or distinctively, I’m not sure) in a way that is both quick and easy. Since I have both willingness and determination – which are apparently all that I need – I feel very prepared for everything that this vintage sewing journey will ask of me.

I hope that you’re all excited to join me. The first proper post is going to be a trip into the world of vintage sewing tools and I’ll be seeing whether I’m properly equipped by 1950s standards (*spoiler alert: I’m not*).

Bow Ties (Self-Drafted)

Continuing the Christmas theme, I wanted to do another post about the gifts I made (largely because I’m super proud of myself for making something for someone else!). This post is dedicated to the bow ties that I made for my little brother. This isn’t the first round of bow ties that I’ve made for him – I posted about the others way back in 2016. Since then, I’ve refined my process considerably and drafted my own bow tie pattern to correct some of the issues that I had when I made my previous batch.

*My lovely parents got me a portable photo studio for Christmas, which I’ll be posting about soon. The photos in this post were all taken in my photo studio – partly because I was testing it out and partly because I didn’t want to corral my brother into modelling the bow ties for me.*

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I’m super obsessed with these bow ties. The fabrics are absolutely beautiful and both 100% cotton. I got them from The Quilted Fox, which is an independent fabric seller here in St. Louis. I’ve been working with a few of their fabrics recently and I’ve honestly never come across a better or more unique selection. I picked these fabrics out for my brother because I wanted to give the bow ties a distinctly vintage feel whilst also ensuring that they would be unique, statement accessories. The photos below offer close-ups of both fabrics:

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I’m so happy with how these came out. Given that the previous bow ties were made a year and a half ago, this project has really allowed me to track my sewing progress. Even down to planning out the appropriate seam finishes and figuring out how to achieve the perfect shape, it was very obvious to me that my sewing skills have evolved dramatically. This was only reinforced by my brother’s reaction when he opened his gift, which was along the lines of: “Your last bowties were good, but these are on another level.”

If you’re interested in making your own bow ties, there are a tonne of resources online. It’s such a quick and easy thing to put together but makes for a wonderful gift. My previous bow tie post includes links to some resources and a tutorial. Although I’ve now created my own pattern to avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered before, I’m still using many of the same techniques for construction that were detailed in that post. I plan on sharing my bow tie pattern soon (once I can figure out how to digitalise it) so watch out for that and other related news coming soon!

Hello to 2018!

Happy New Year, lovelies! I want to say a massive thank you to all my readers for walking with me through the peaks and troughs of 2017. I know that it was a tough year for lots of us – and, in many respects, for the world at large – but we’ve made it out of the other side and have welcomed in a new year. I truly appreciate every one of you for helping to make Sew for Victory happen, keeping me inspired, and offering so much help and encouragement when it’s most needed. As cliche as it sounds, there is no way that I would still be blogging and sewing with any regularity if it weren’t for all of you. I think the best way to start out any new year is with a whole lot of gratitude for what’s been and what’s still to come – I’m definitely grateful for this blog, being able to sew, and for this little community. So THANK YOU!

On to looking forward into 2018. I’m not much of a believer in resolutions. The idea of a ‘fresh slate’ is hugely appealing and this, I think, is why so many people love the opportunity to resolve on new habits for the year ahead. My problem was that every resolution offered an opportunity for self-flagellation when I eventually failed to keep my promise. To turn this on its head and still take advantage of the fresh start that the new year offers, I decided to turn resolutions into goals. Although, in many ways, this is just a language switch, the idea of a ‘goal’ instead of a ‘resolution’ feels more achievable and less intimidating. Goals change and adjust with circumstances – resolutions do not. This approach has worked for me over the past couple of years, particularly with the huge number of unexpected and dramatic changes that have come my way.

Along these lines, I thought there would be no better way of starting off 2018 on Sew for Victory than sharing my sewing goals for the New Year. It’ll be interesting to check back in as we move to 2019 and see what I managed to achieve – although, as I emphasised before, these goals are totally fluid and will probably change as the year progresses. So, here we go…

1.  Sew More!

2017 brought a huge amount of instability. I started off the year by leaving my house, moving in with my Nan, and saying goodbye to my (then) fiancé for an indeterminate amount of time. Although I set up a sewing base at my Nan’s house, the four months apart from my husband were mostly focussed on immigration and trying to get through the whole process. Fortunately, we were reunited at the end of May and got married in July! Shortly after that, there was more immigration stuff, moving to a new apartment, adopting a dog, and then the Christmas holidays. To say that it’s been a whirlwind would be an understatement. But I’m a big believer in viewing challenges and difficulties as opportunities to learn. In that light, 2017 was a very opportunity-filled year!

Unfortunately, with all those happenings, my sewing and blogging fell by the wayside for large chunks of the year. Although November and December have allowed for some stability and a chance to refocus myself on these things, I’m going into 2018 feeling that I need to make a concerted effort to do more sewing. Since I’ll be balancing this with my professional goals (more of that to come soon), I’m taking a carefully planned approach to ensure that I am able to give attention across the board. As such, I’m setting aside a couple of days a week to focus on my sewing projects – making sure that I have a good turnover of new makes and plenty of opportunity to build and consolidate my skills!

To help me along, I’ve been thinking about the different patterns that I’d like to try and get made in 2018. Here’s a few of them:

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2.  Find A Vintage/Everyday Wear Balance

This definitely relates to my first goal. One of the things I started thinking about more in 2017 was the nature of my makes. Since I was sewing a lot less, I wanted to ensure that I was using my time to make garments that I would actually wear regularly. I wear all of my vintage makes but tend to keep them for special occasions, parties etc. Going into 2018, I’m hoping to focus on making more patterns that are vintage-inspired but wearable on an everyday basis. Since I’m not working in an office, this means garments that will work when I’m walking the dog, at my sewing table, or just generally pottering around the house. That said, I will never move away from my love of circle skirts and gorgeous frocks, so there will certainly be more of those on the way too.

On my list of patterns to make for everyday wear:

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3.  Blog More

Grappling with all of 2017’s changes, my blogging schedule had fallen victim to procrastination. My goal moving forward is to return to a three times weekly posting schedule (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). I’m hoping that this will add some level of predictability for all of you but also that it will help spur me on with my general sewing activities. I started this blog as a way to record my sewing journey, warts and all. To me, sewing and blogging are basically intertwined. They run parallel to one another and help to move me forward. So 2018 will definitely be a year of more reliable blogging and attention to Sew for Victory!

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My as-yet empty January sewing Bullet Journal spread. Filling blank pages is one of life’s under-rated joys!

4.  Worry Less And Pay Attention To Self-Care

If you’ve been reading Sew for Victory over the past couple of months, you’ll know that I’ve been emphasising a ‘sewing for self-care’ angle. I started sewing as a way to combat my anxiety and panic disorders and, even though these thing are now only shadows in my life, I still maintain that sewing is an incredible self-care opportunity. My first Sewing for Self-Care post – and my Holiday Survival post – both detail the ways in which I use sewing to remain attentive to my own needs. That said, I still fall into old thought patterns and behaviours that absolutely don’t serve me.

Moving forward into 2018, I want to stay super on top of my self-care and continue to use sewing as a central feature of my self-care regime. In doing this, it’s incredibly important to ensure that the self-care tools themselves don’t become sources of anxiety. This requires a lot of introspection and honesty. For example, I use yoga to keep me on track. For a while I was practicing daily but found that I would get incredibly anxious and down on myself if I failed to practice or missed a day. The whole process then became self-defeating. To manage this, I decided to reduce my practicing to four times a week – meaning that I could switch days around as needed. Voluntarily opting out of some days also allowed me see my yoga practices as less of a concrete thing and meant that I could start paying attention to what I actually needed on a daily basis. Some days I need it, some days I don’t. The same can be said of sewing. Particularly when we’re putting our efforts out into the world via blogging or social media, it’s vital to ensure that we don’t allow these activities to slip into something anxiety-inducing or stressful.

2018 will be a year of super self-care!

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As per my Sewing for Self-Care posts, I love having a list of reliable activities that will always serve as a pick-me-up.

So those are my four goals for 2018. Plenty to be going on with and to think about over the coming months. I feel confident that they are all achievable but they’re also subjective enough to accommodate changes and the inevitable challenges that life brings. If you have your own sewing goals set for 2018, be sure to share in the comments. I’m wishing you all the most incredible and peace-filled New Year. I hope 2018 will bring you all that you’re looking for.

 

 

My Vintage Life: Christmas in Hollywood

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With Christmas just gone and New Year’s fast approaching, now is the time for thick blankets, hot chocolate, and a favourite black-and-white film on the TV. I – like so many others – absolutely love December and everything that comes with it. But there is truly nothing better about the season than the opportunity to pull out some of the best festive movies for a viewing. Would it, after all, truly be Christmas without an opportunity to let Bing Crosby make us feel all the feels in White Christmas? We owe a lot to classic Hollywood for helping us usher in some festive spirit and feel the joy that the holidays bring (troubling family members and potential catastrophes aside).

While I’m well acquainted with the best seasonal films to emerge out of early Hollywood, I’ve been wondering about how exactly Hollywood recognised the Christmas period outside of creating some really great movies. So join me for this week’s My Vintage Life and an exploration of Christmas in Hollywood.


Since the 1920s, Hollywood has rung in the festive season with incredible extravagance. Following a campaign by retail merchants to increase Christmas business, businessman Harry Blaine and the Hollywood Boulevard Association reached an agreement on the annual transformation of Hollywood Boulevard into Santa Claus Lane. Beginning in 1928, the Boulevard became a wonderland for prospective shoppers and tourists coming to view the elaborate lights display and daily parade. The parade – at the time known as the Hollywood Santa Parade or the Santa Claus Lane Parade) – still takes place as an annual event.

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Actress Mary Pickford putting up the Santa Claus Lane sign

As historian Nathan Masters describes Santa Claus Lane:

“The first year, 100 living firs were dug up from the forest near Big Bear and placed along Hollywood Blvd. in wooden planters. Once fully dressed in nearly 10,000 incandescent light bulbs, the trees lit the path for a nightly parade. Joined on his sleigh by a silver screen star, Santa Claus greeted passerby as a team of six live reindeer pulled him down the boulevard. After New Year’s Day, the trees were replanted on the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl. 

In later years, metallic decorations replaced the living trees. Drawings of film stars’ faces smiled at shoppers from the center of tin wreaths hung from lampposts. Whimsical, shiny toy Christmas trees blinked with colorful lights. At the annual promotion’s peak, organizers boasted that Hollywood Blvd. was the most brightly lit street in the nation.”

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Other notable features of Santa Claus Lane included imitation fireplaces and 4-feet high papier-mache Santa Claus heads (not at all terrifying, I’m sure). As an interesting side note, the song ‘Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)’ was inspired by Hollywood Boulevard’s transformation into Santa Claus Lane and the daily procession of Santa and his reindeer.

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Beyond Hollywood’s physical transformation, the studios also picked up on the publicity potential afforded by the Christmas season. Filmmakers capitalised on moviegoers’ festive spirit through the production of great films – White Christmas (1954), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) remain some of the best known – but also through the marketing of their greatest stars. The late 1920s onwards marked a dramatic transformation in the way that studios presented their stars – starting to sell films to the general public through the reputation of their performers. A studio’s contracted stars became integrally tied to the success of its films and, as such, Christmas became an opportunity for studios to thrust their actors even more forcefully into the public eye. Alongside the production of holiday films featuring prominent names, studios also worked with their actors to release carefully staged publicity shots. Here are a couple of my favourite examples:

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Ava Gardner

Loretta Young

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The history of Hollywood at Christmas is a reminder that they had more to offer than some, admittedly amazing, films. The nature of ‘Tinseltown’ is one that was firmly established in the 1920s, with a desire to drag business away from surrounding retail areas and towards Hollywood’s main strip. And these are traditions that are continuing – albeit in slightly adjusted forms – over 80 years later.

So with Christmas just gone and New Year’s around the corner, pull out your favourite old films, look up some seasonal Hollywood photos (there are some real *crackers*) and enjoy the best of what December has left for us. However – and whether or not – you’ve celebrated, I’m sending you all the best wishes for the rest of the holiday period and hoping that you have a wonderful long New Year’s weekend!