Book Review: Vintage Details – A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka

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As a self-taught seamstress, I’ve relied heavily on a variety of different resources to help me learn and develop my skills. As much as I love a good Youtube video – and they’re pretty indispensable for seeing exactly how things are supposed to be done – books are definitely my go-to place for learning or refreshing my knowledge! As my sewing library has grown, I’ve developed a core group of reference books, all of which I continually return to when I need a little inspiration. But of all my books, none has been so vital to me as Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basnia Szkutnicka.* Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I talk about this book with incredible regularity because it is such a valuable resource for my sewing adventures. So I thought that it was high time that I write up a review on Sew for Victory for all those of you who might need a little bit of added vintage inspiration.

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Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook is exactly what it claims to be – a sourcebook. It’s an incredibly well categorised and curated set of photos of different garments, covering the years from 1913 to 1995. As you can see from the Contents page above, the garments are indexed and referenced, as appropriate, in the book’s various chapters. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of vintage detailing – from stunning necklines to gorgeous embellishments.

The Visual Index provides a full-length shot of all of the garments referenced in the book, organised by date, and providing a brief set of details. It’s important to note that more detailed close-up shots of the garments are given in the chapters where they are referenced (so, for example, if a dress is referenced under the ‘Collars’ section, you can expect close-up shots of the collar). The Visual Index is important, however, because it allows you to have a flip through to find particular periods of interest and then cross-reference with any sections of the book that you’re especially keen to look at. As you can see from the photo below, the information in the Visual Index also provides page numbers for where each garment is referenced, as well as abbreviations for the section (for example, EMB for embellishments or SLV for sleeves). This system makes the book incredibly simple to use. When I was making my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-Along, for example, I knew that I wanted to add some authentic 1930s flairs to the pattern. Looking for inspiration, I cycled through the Visual Index to the 1930s dresses and paid particular attention to those referenced in the EMB section of the book. Quick and easy.

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As I mentioned above, where the garments pop up in later sections, you will find more detailed shots of the garment. What you won’t find, however, is any great amount of information about the garment and the details on which the specific section focuses. The information provided in the book’s main sections is a simple reiteration of what you find in the Visual Index – so very basic info regarding the year, location, colour and fabric. This book is entirely a photo sourcebook. While that is incredibly valuable in its own right, it can be a little frustrating when you are looking to incorporate something of what you’re seeing into your own makes – particularly if you’re a relative beginner to vintage sewing and wouldn’t be able to replicate garments/details from sight. I tend to use this book for the first stages of gathering inspiration. I might be looking at colours, buttons, piping – things that are easily replicable without having to drastically alter whatever pattern I’m working with. If you’re at the pre-pattern selection phase, the book can be a useful resource simply for considering silhouettes. If, for example, you know you want to make a 1950s inspired dress but aren’t sure where you want to go with it, it can be useful to look at the various shapes of 1950s garments before settling on a pattern.

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Of course, this book is an incredible resource beyond the sewing world. For anyone simply interested in vintage fashion, it certainly satisfies curiosity. I find myself flipping through the pages with nothing particular in mind, continuously stumbling upon photos that pique my interest. The photos are so incredibly well-taken and the book is so well organised that it would make for a perfect coffee-table book, as well as an obvious addition to the library of any vintage sewist.

I don’t need to tell you all how massively I recommend this book. I’m clearly a fan! But especially for those of you who have an interest in vintage fashion or sewing, Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook will definitely serve as a fantastic resource that I have no doubt you’ll be returning to time and time again.


Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka is available pretty much everywhere. It is available on both US Amazon and UK Amazon.

* Sidenote: I’m not being paid to review this book. My husband bought it for me ages ago and I just happen to think it’s amazing!

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Meet My New Serger – Brother 1034D

Obviously the past few weeks have been replete with a whole host of different developments for me – most of which have made it to Sew For Victory in one form or another. There have been so many new experiences – moving country, getting married and, most dramatic of all, setting up a whole new sewing system in the US. I brought what I could with me in my transatlantic move but shipping is so expensive that all of the big stuff – my sewing machine, work table etc. – had to stay in the UK. So I’m faced with the task of rebuilding my sewing space and my supply of tools. At the moment, I’m in a temporary living situation. My husband (it’s still super weird typing that) and I are staying with my parents-in-law while we look for an apartment but we’ve now found one we love that would also give me my own perfect sewing space. So keep your fingers crossed for us and hopefully I’ll be giving you a tour before too long! I’ve also introduced you to my brand new sewing machine, Agatha. She and I are having a great time working hard on new projects and I can honestly say that the Janome DC5100 is the best machine I’ve ever used. Definitely check out my review (linked above) if you’re on the lookout for a new machine.

But I’ve been keeping from you one of the greatest sewing developments that has occurred since I arrived in the US – I have a serger!! Meet my Brother 1034D

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Please excuse the table mess. I’m set up on the dining room table right now and working out of boxes and bags!

I’d never really thought all that much about getting a serger. I know a lot of people rave about them but I’d always felt pretty content using the overlock stitch on my old sewing machine. It did the job and, honestly, I was intimidated by what I thought would be an intense threading learning curve. But, after the move and seeing the extent to which my half-finished wedding dress had frayed, I thought that a serger might be a necessary investment. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you’ll already know that the wedding dress project went bust but I’ve been using my serger on my on-going projects and it has honestly been pretty revolutionary to the way I finish my garments.

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Getting a strong finish on my makes has always been a bit of a problem. I’ve never been totally happy with the way the inside would look a little jerry-rigged in comparison with the outside. The edges were usually a bit ragged or, at least, sufficiently insecure that washing machines had become my nemesis. Using my sewing machine to overlock was a good interim measure but still didn’t give a totally neat, clean finish. Enter the serger! The Brother 1034D defied my expectations in that it actually wasn’t too tough to get to grips with. I used a number of resources to help guide me in learning how to thread and use the machine (listed at the bottom of this post for anyone interested) and, after a few test runs, I felt confident in my abilities! If you decide to invest in a serger, definitely don’t let yourself be intimidated by the potential learning curve. As scary as the machine looks, it’s really not much trouble.

I will add that the Brother 1034D comes with an excellent guide on the various components of the serger, how to thread, and how to operate. There was also a separate booklet demonstrating the different kinds of problems you could potentially encounter and how to determine threading issues by the way the stitch looks. I trawled through this and it has been incredibly helpful already. Since you’re working with four separate threads that all do different things, it’s important to know what does what. Of course, there are endless video and blogger tutorials to help with this too.

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Threading the left and right needle is pretty similar to threading a regular sewing machine. Pulling the cover back shows the threading system for the upper and lower looper.

One thing I will mention is the tension wheels at the top of the machine. As with a sewing machine, you use these to dictate thread tensions. Since you’re juggling four threads with a serger, it can obviously get a little more tricky determining appropriate tensions. But using a good guide (check the list at the end of the post) can help solve any issues on this front. That said, I spent a good couple of hours re-threading because I couldn’t get the stitches to come through correctly, only to realise that I had jogged one of the tension wheels. The tensions wheels aren’t like those on a sewing machine in that they don’t click in place. They move very easily and, when you’re threading or manipulating your spools at the back of the machine, it’s incredibly likely that you’ll accidentally move the wheels. So just be sure to bear that in mind and, if there are any problems with your stitch, those wheels are a likely culprit. Because of these issues with tension – and the fact that the necessary tensions will vary pretty dramatically depending upon the type of fabric you’re using – it is always worth doing a test run on a spare square of your fabric. Keep testing until you get the tensions right and the threads are sitting where they should on the stitch.

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This is a pretty good representation of how the stitch should look and what each thread does. The threads consist of left needle (yellow), right needle (red), upper looper (green), and lower looper (blue).

I’ve also found that judging where to place the edge of the fabric can be a bit of a challenge. For those not familiar with sergers, they come with an attached upper and lower knife on the right-hand side of the foot. As you serge your fabric, these knives operate to trim off any excess fabric. The knives made me incredibly nervous when serging seams because I was perpetually paranoid that I’d end up taking off too much excess and then stitching over my seam. The stitch itself is pretty wide so, where the seam is already sewn in, it can be a bit tough to judge how far in the stitch is going to reach. However, this is entirely a confidence and experience issue. The more I’ve worked with the serger, the easier it has become to make those judgements. And with typical seam measurements (I’ve serged both 5/8″ and 3/8″ seams), there are not problems with stitching over the allowance.

Even though learning to use a serger is undoubtedly a case of sitting down, watching videos, and troubleshooting a host of inevitable problems, it’s totally worth it. I’m currently working on my first pair of trousers (SO excited to share these with you!) and it’s made such an incredible difference to the way that the inside of the garment looks. Not only does it give a wonderfully neat finish, it also gives the edges enough security that I can finally pop my me-made clothes in the washing machine without being scared that they’ll fall apart. It’s honestly been such a worthy investment!

For those of you interested in learning to serge or looking for help with your serger, here are a few great resources that I’ve been using:


A side note – the Sew For Victory Book Club is making a return this month. I’ll be posting about the book at the end of July. For anyone who wants to read ahead, July’s pick is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

For those who have doubts about the relevance of this choice to the content of the site, I actually got half way through before deciding to make it the July selection. Not only is it an incredibly important feminist tract (which alone makes it SO worthy of reading), it is hugely insightful in terms of women’s lifestyles during the 1950s and 1960s. So for anyone with a particularly keen interest in reading about the female experience (disclaimer: this book does not do a great job of being intersectional, so I use the term ‘female’ to refer to an incredibly specific type of female experience), The Feminine Mystique is a must-read. I hope you’ll join me!

Meet My New Sewing Machine – The Janome DC5100

Happy June, lovelies! I’m back after a bit of radio silence. For those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that I am now nearly at the end of four years of working to be permanently with my fiancé. I am finally in the US and in the process of putting together a wedding that will be happening in exactly one month. It’s been a hectic few weeks of paperwork, immigration interviews, and travel! Needless to say, Sew for Victory has fallen ever so slightly to the side – but never far from my mind. Now that I’m starting to find my feet, sewing has returned to its usual front-and-centre position in my life. I’m still working on finishing my wedding dress but am also just beginning a new project that I’ll be previewing on the site soon! Most importantly, though, a new country means a new sewing machine! Introducing Agatha (obviously named after one of my favourite authors):

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When I realised that it really wasn’t feasible to ship my UK machine over (not only because of the shipping cost – which was more than the cost of a new machine – but also the need for a voltage converter in order to make it run), I started a search to find a machine that was roughly equivalent to my trusty Constance. I knew that I wouldn’t find the same machine in the US since the Britannia brand is limited to the UK and, even there, is not a common make to come across. I wanted to find a machine that could work with a wide range of fabrics, offer a variety of stitches, and – I’d say most importantly – run incredibly smoothly. There are so many well reviewed machines out there that these requirements obviously didn’t narrow my search down too tremendously. But after searching for lists of ‘intermediate’ sewing machines, the Janome DC5100 caught my eye.

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The machine ticks all of my boxes. It’s got 167 stitches (all of the essentials, plus a lot of decorative stitches that the realistic part of me tells me I won’t use) and five button-hole options. The LCD screen and touchpad also make it incredibly easy to use. For those who need the facility, the DC5100 also has a memory function. I haven’t yet sewn up a complete garment but I’ve tested the machine out and used it to make a bit of progress on my wedding dress. Although I had taken time to read through the manual, there was no real learning curve with the machine. Threading is simple, stitching is simple. Admittedly, I haven’t used a whole lot of the machine’s functions yet but first impressions certainly speak to an incredibly well made and well running machine.

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The other big plus side of the DC5100 is obviously the look. I love the pink accents, although pink is pretty far from my favourite colour. It’s undeniably a sleek and well designed machine. Does it justify the cost though? The machine certainly comes in relatively steep – I found it for $649 (on Amazon, with a bundle of extra goodies), which is a roughly equivalent cost to the ££ of the Britannia. But for a mid-range machine with this many functions, the cost is actually very reasonable and certainly on the lower end of what I was finding for alternative models. Although the machine is one that I think would be easily useable for those new to sewing, as well as the more advanced, the cost may very well be prohibitive to beginners. Unless you have the money to spare, I would recommend starting out with a machine both cheaper and with fewer functions. I’ve only been sewing for 18 months or so and, were I presented with this type of machine so early on, I likely would’ve been incredibly overwhelmed – not to mention I would never have used half of the DC5100’s capabilities. But for those who consider themselves advanced beginners or beyond, the model is utterly perfect!

The final word of this post should, however, go to Constance. My beloved Britannia Instyle 65. All boxed up in her prime. Hopefully she will go on to bigger and brighter things, once I finally get round to putting her on eBay! Thank you, beautiful Constance, for being such a trusty sewing companion over the past year. I’ll miss you!

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Review: The S-Box

Happy New Year, guys and gals!

I’m sure you’ve noticed my absence from the blogosphere for the past couple of months. The end of 2016 brought a lot of changes to my life. After a long and hard debate with myself, I decided to leave the PhD process. There were MANY reasons for this, both external and internal. But mostly I realised (albeit three years in) that the PhD wasn’t making me happy and was no longer in line with what I envisioned for my future. BIG change but for all good reasons! The only downside is that me and my fiancé are having to go back to long distance for a few months while I wait for my marriage visa to come through. In the meantime, I’m moving in with family. Sorting all of the bureaucratic stuff and shutting down our house in the UK has occupied most of my time since November. So hopefully this adequately explains my absence and you aren’t too mad with me! 🙂 On the plus side, I’ve finally gotten back to sewing and have almost finished the dress I’ve had on hold since October! Pictures and a pattern review should be coming your way this week and, oh my goodness, this dress is so worth the wait. It’s a zinger!

Anyway, that’s enough of my life update. Back to business! I’m actually here to review the amazing S-Box – a monthly craft subscription box from The Stitchery (Lewes).* I know subscription boxes are all the rage right now. You can find one to suit practically any hobby or interest. The S-Box is the first one I’ve seen that is tailored (haha) specifically to those of us with a love for all things crafty. I received the January Valentine-themed box and it’s seriously a delight to my flowery, romantic side!

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Just let your eyes soak up all of the pink fabulousness! One of my favourite things about the S-Box is just how varied the contents are. As a seamstress, I can use pretty much everything here for a sewing-related project. The same could be said if you’re an embroiderer, a scrapbooker, or just someone who loves to get crafty in general. Included in this month’s S-Box are:

  • 30cm ‘girly’ printed cotton fabric
  • 30cm cerise spot fabric
  • 30cm pink gingham fabric
  • 1m floral bias binding
  • 1m white cotton lace
  • 1m cerise cotton lace
  • 1m beige cotton lace
  • 3 wooden hearts
  • 5 diamante paper fasteners
  • 1 white heart button
  • 1 pink heart button
  • 1 lime flower button
  • 2 small lime buttons
  • 1 reel pink metallic machine embroidery thread
  • 1 pink floral padded heart motif
  • 1 pink floral padded flower motif

Wowzers, am I right?! I’m already planning out a few different projects that would take advantage of these fabulous bits and pieces. I’m thinking a couple of cute make-up bags and a gorgeous gingham headscarf for starters! Just look at how well suited this fabric would be for those kind of makes:

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One of the great things about a subscription box like this is that it inspires you to step outside of your crafty comfort zone a bit or, at least, gets you to think about makes that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. It also provides lots of great little accents for those projects that could use some extra va-va-voom.

Now, as with any subscription box, there is a cost attached. It’s the idea of such a monthly cost commitment that has always made me steer clear of subscription boxes in the past. It’s especially tough to consider spending the money when you have no control over what you receive. The thought that I might end up getting stuff I don’t want or have any use for has always been especially problematic. However, I can honestly say that the S-Box has defeated my preconceptions about subscriptions boxes in general. Perhaps because it’s a box focused on crafting, I can see a use for everything it contains. Although the costs may feel prohibitive (inc. postage and packaging: £17.90 for one box, £48.70 for a three month subscription, £97.40 for a six month subscription), I think the S-Box is great value for money. The value of the contents outweighs the price of the box and offers you the opportunity to craft with items you might not otherwise have considered using. While the fact that I’ll be moving to the US in an indeterminate amount of months means that I won’t be committing to a subscription, I’m definitely thinking of purchasing a couple of boxes while I’m still here.

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I think the S-Box is a super cute initiative. It’s a beautifully packaged and selected variety of goods to meet your crafty desires. The joy of opening this up and discovering what’s inside is a highlight, particularly in these dark post-Christmas months. Pop over to  The Stitchery’s website for more information and a breakdown of the various subscription options. Your creative self won’t regret it. Stay tuned for upcoming makes that feature this lovely stuff!

*I was sent the January S-Box by The Stitchery in exchange for an honest review of the product. The opinions in this post are totally my own.

If You Like It, Put A Label On It

Hello, my darlings!

A little while ago, I got a lovely email from Anka, who works with the label-making company, Nominette.* She offered me a chance to design my own clothing labels, as a way to get a bit of an insight into the process. Now, I am by no means computer-literate. Simply seeing the effort that goes in to creating and posting on Sew for Victory would show you that it’s rarely without incident. But thankfully, this was wonderfully simple!

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And here’s how the final product came out. I am super happy! The logo was made with a little help from my lovely fiance, but really was as simple as deciding what I wanted it to say and choosing the font. Once uploaded to Nominette, I got the chance to play around with the colours – both those of the taffeta label and the logo itself. I wanted to go for a vintage feel, since vintage is typically the direction of my makes – so I ended up choosing a beige label, with dark brown thread for the logo. It came out exactly how I wanted.

The labels came this morning, so needless to say I have spent most of the evening sewing them on to my handmade clothes. Every one that I put on feels like a little affirmation of the effort that went into making the garment. And it gives it that professional touch.

So, if you’re looking to add a little something to your clothes – either for yourself or as a reminder to those lucky recipients of your homemade gifts – definitely head on over to Nominette!

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*I was provided with a set of self-designed labels in exchange for an honest review of the product.