Vintage Sewing 101: Lines Can Be Friendly!

IMG_5849

Welcome back to Vintage Sewing 101! First of all, a big thank you for all of the feedback on my Vintage Sewing 101: You and Your Figure post. I’m glad that so many of you enjoyed it and could laugh at the ridiculousness along with me! Obviously it was necessary to take a bit of a break from this series after such a keen appraisal of my body situation but now we move forwards into the rest of what our 1950s sewing course – Sew with Distinction – has to offer.

Fortunately, the next couple of posts will be moving us away from judging our own figure flaws and into the world of 1950s fashion. This week’s post will be looking at lines. I’d never thought too much about lines in home sewing – or in fashion generally. That said, I have always understood the conventional wisdom that horizontal lines broaden whilst vertical lines narrow. Sew with Distinction takes us far beyond this basic understanding of lines and their effect on clothing. So strap in and get ready for some learning…

IMG_6086

I do appreciate our introduction to this topic via cartoon (particularly after the heaviness of the previous post) – even if it does remind me a little of how I used to force quite irrelevant Clip Art into school projects. Yet Sew with Distinction manages to relate it all back. As the manual explains, “Just as a magician fools his public, so also (within limits) can the clever designer achieve illusion – by making discreet use of the camouflage afforded by line arrangement.” It’s nice that they manage our expectations from the get-go. There are, after all, limits to what camouflage can achieve to hide the terrible flaws that we spent an hour analysing in front of the mirror, as per the instructions of the course. I also enjoy that using clothing to flatter is compared to “a magician fool[ing] his public.” So deceptive of us.

This said, the course does offer some genuinely insightful ways for using lines in your garments in order to create particular silhouettes. As the introduction to the section notes, you can use various forms of lines – including through the placement of pleats, tucks, and the colour/pattern of the fabric itself – in order to achieve certain effects. As Sew with Distinction goes on to note, this works because of the way that the eye travels when it’s faced with particular scenes. Essentially, our eyes work over dominant lines and tend to breeze over blank (or “uninteresting”) spaces.

So how do we use this information when we’re designing our own garments? The course begins by considering how we can use lines to broaden certain proportions…

IMG_6279

As I mentioned earlier, it’s pretty conventional wisdom that horizontal lines increase width, whilst vertical lines increase length. The course also notes that horizontal lines shorten proportions. The diagram accompanying this offers three different ways in which lines are used to widen/broaden. Figure 1 shows “bands of trimming” that suggest a wider chest and hips, with a smaller waist. Essentially, the lines are used here to give an hourglass shape. Figure 2 apparently depicts “evenly spaced vertical lines which create a horizontal eye movement.” I’m not sure I quite agree on this one since it seems to fly in the face of what we were previously told about vertical versus horizontal lines – plus, I really do feel like these lines elongate the figure rather than broaden/shorten it. But that could just be the illustration and/or my eyes. Figure 3 shows the use of “a horizontal accessory” in the stole and hat. I really like the phrase ‘horizontal accessory’ and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to incorporate it regularly into conversation.

Alternatively, Sew with Distinction suggests that we might use lines to heighten out figure. Of course, there are accompanying illustrations…

IMG_6280

The course doesn’t go into any detail on these three figures, noting only that “height is added, and a slenderizing effect is given.” Of all of these, I love the third illustration most. I spent a good amount of time (definitely more than I should) trying to figure out what’s on her head. I’m guessing it’s supposed to be a feather. But it reminds me of the spades suit on a pack of cards. Or the hand on a clock. I think I’ve just stumbled upon the ultimate guessing game (suggestions and guesses welcome in the comments!). And while I agree that the accessory certainly adds height, I would probably suggest that the price paid in dignity is simply too great.

Moving on…

IMG_6087

Fortunately, all of this talk about lines only takes up two pages. So if you feel yourself getting sleepy, stay with me because we’re almost done – and who knows what we might learn along the way?

Our next point of consideration is lines that divide. This definitely isn’t something that I’ve ever thought about. Before reading this section of the manual, I would honestly have thought that you were talking about crop tops (I do love a crop top). But apparently crops weren’t big in the 1950s, so let’s see what we’re dealing with instead:

IMG_6281

Sew with Distinction describes: “When lines divide an object into unequal parts, the eye is attracted to the larger parts rather than the lines.” This makes sense, of course. Figure 1, for example, demonstrates that “we notice the widths of the outer portions – and the lines result in making the figure look broader.” Alternatively, Figure 2 divides the body into equal sections meaning that the eye follows the lines and elongates the figure. Figure 3 (the one that definitely confuses me most because I don’t understand what this style is supposed to be at all) “shows how a horizontal line (ordinarily broadening in effect) can be shortened by being divided by a vertical line.” I don’t even understand the description. I guess the horizontal line is divided by the vertical, which is supposed to have the effect of lengthening the figure? I don’t even know if I paraphrased that correctly. But I’ll go with yes. Finally, reflecting my waning interest in this whole to-do, Figure 4 “is less interesting because the jacket line divides the figure exactly in half.” I feel you, Figure 4.

However, now we get to talk accessories!

IMG_6282

Here, Sew with Distinction is describing how accessories can be used to create lines that focus interest – as with the centre of the bullseye depicted in Figure 1 (it totally had a meaning!). Figure 2 shows the use of “radiating lines” (the ruffles from the belt to the neck) that focus out attention on the centre of the belt. Figure 3 draws the eye to the neckline through an “intricate design which seems to be framed,” while Figure 4 draws the eye vertically to the “diminishing repetition of dominant lines” through the use of tucks.

I think this advice is actually pretty useful. I’m generally not one for using accessories – I don’t wear a lot of jewellery or really any belts. But it’s certainly worth considering that accessories – or additional design elements placed onto the garment itself – can change the way that the silhouette is perceived. Although I definitely maintain that everyone should wear whatever they want regardless of their shape/size, this doesn’t mean that our insecurities should be dismissed or disregarded. Sometimes we want to accentuate certain features and hide others because it simply makes us feel most confident when we do so!

On that note, our penultimate stop on this tour of lines takes us to using them to detract attention from certain features…

IMG_6283

With everything I said above in mind, we’ll breeze over Sew for Distinction‘s use of the word “ungainly” to describe those bits of ourselves from which we might want to distract attention. Because we can want to make out bum look smaller (hello Laura’s insecurities!) without feeling “ungainly” or unattractive if we don’t. But this is just another reminder of why we should be so glad that we can choose to replicate 1950s style without having to actually live in the 1950s.

In terms of distracting attention, the course suggests that “since all things are comparative, we can make the less desirable portion appear larger or smaller (as we choose) by making the part to which we direct attention appear smaller or larger. In short, the only lines which detract attention are those which lead to, or are located, somewhere else.” So basically, direct your detail or lines away from the thing you don’t want people to focus on. With Figure 1, the illustration shows the use of lines to broaden the shoulders and therefore detract from the width of the hips (I think her hips look pretty amazing, honestly). Figure 2 depicts an effort to distract attention from “a too large bosom” by emphasising the waist and hips. And, finally, Figure 3 shows a way to minimise one high shoulder by drawing attention to the other shoulder. Wonderful.

At last, we arrive at the final point, with a few last minute words on our use of lines:

IMG_6284

Looking at these illustrations, it’s highly unlikely that you would accompany them with the purpose intended by Sew with Distinction. The first figure shows us how we might use “Youthful Lines.” That’s right, everyone! No need to look any further because the secret to youth is in the fact that “curved lines appear soft, graceful, and youthful.” Don’t get too excited though because curved lines also “add roundness to the figure which must be avoided, unless your figure is slight.” Bad news if you’re young but don’t have a figure that can be defined as ‘slight’. You’re destined to look old from birth, according to Sears et al.

Have you abandoned the idea of using lines to look 20 years younger? Well, fortunately, you can also use them to look sophisticated, as per Figure 2. Here, “a simple silhouette and straight lines create the impression of sophistication by being direct, obvious, and  – in extreme cases – austere.” I don’t know what would be defined as an “extreme case” but it definitely doesn’t lend itself to me wanting to give this a go. Sew with Distinction does a consistently excellent job of undermining its own suggestions.

Finally, Figure 3 offers use an “extreme case” of what not to do. I so hope that these illustrations aren’t based off of real people because the accompanying description would definitely constitute a direct lecture – “To be effective, lines must be seen. When there are too many lines, or the lines run in all directions without plan, the eye cannot ‘see’ any one line. It just wanders over the whole figure in confusion!” Oh dear. Poor Maude had better give it another go.

So there we have it. More information than you ever knew you wanted about lines! Just the word ‘line’ is starting to annoy me at this point, so I think I had best leave off there. Hopefully you will actually return to join me for the next Vintage Sewing 101 post. Next time, we’ll be looking at basic facts about 1950s fashion and how we might incorporate them into our sewing projects!

Vintage Sewing 101: You And Your Figure

IMG_5849

Welcome back to Vintage Sewing 101! Thank you to everyone who stuck with me last week as we traipsed our way through the basics of learning to use a sewing machine. What a rollercoaster it was! I was forced to finally get acquainted with my sewing machine manual but, as a reward, got to get excited about sewing corners (my absolute favourite thing!). Fortunately, this week we’re out of the sewing basics and into the real nitty-gritty of vintage sewing. It’s the week that I have absolutely not been waiting for – time to appraise my body to work out what sort of clothes I should be sewing for myself. So buckle in for some serious old-school body assessments and a whole lot of up close and personal pictures of my figure (that only my husband enjoyed the process of taking).

*Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: I want to emphasise that this post is a pretty detailed appraisal of my body and its size. This is all done as part of following a vintage sewing manual that we must remember was written in the 1950s. Attitudes have certainly evolved since then (although not dramatically enough, in my view) and I am resolutely of the opinion that everyone should just wear whatever they want and whatever makes them feel good. If, however, you are triggered by photos or details about body size, this might be a post to save for another time. That said, please remember that this internet stranger thinks you’re perfect exactly as you are.*

Deep breath, everyone. Here we go…

IMG_5983

Our Sew with Distinction manual does not disappoint by immediately proving its sensitivity towards women’s bodies. Although “there are limits to what padding, lifting or lacing can do towards achieving a perfect figure” (oh the possibilities that “lifting” provides for our insecurities!), wearing the right clothes promises us the opportunity to fix our flaws. In fact, Sears et al claim that wearing the correct clothing “can make almost any woman attractive in the accepted traditions.” I’m pretty sure the sound I made after reading this sentence was one that’s never left my mouth before – a mixture of total incredulity and astonishment. Besides which, I’m still trying to work out what “the accepted traditions” are. Nevertheless, it’s reassuring to know that however horribly disfigured we are – even if in the nature of some sort of troll – there is hope for us. And Sew with Distinction clearly intends to show us the light.

The manual goes on to describe how both line and colour are central to whether clothing will work for you (this is something that we’ll go into far more detail on in next week’s post – hurrah!). In order to decide what sorts of colours and lines will work best for my body, however, I must first make a thorough assessment of my body. Oh the joys of following a 1950s sewing manual. To spare your eyes and minds, I decided to avoid the suggestion that I conduct this figure analysis in “your foundation garments since these help to create the figure you will dress” (I’m not sure anyone needs to see my granny pants and sports bras here) and instead work with some form-fitting black clothes. This look is actually very close to my everyday wear – which I like to call “mime chic.” With that, let’s get going…

IMG_6005

IMG_6013

Someone or something upstairs must have anticipated this post because, thankfully, I’m taking these photos off of the back of two months of daily yoga activity. As uncomfortable as these photos make me feel (I mean, for a start I clearly have no idea what to do with my hands and arms), the full body shots aren’t that bad. That said, this is only the beginning. The first step in the figure appraisal comes with an assessment of height:

IMG_5984

As the manual keenly perceives, “your height is one unchangeable part of your figure. Other dimensions can be modified by diet, exercise or foundation garments; but you are tall, medium, or short for life.” How dispiriting. Fortunately, we are about to be provided with all the information needed to make the most of this unchangeable asset. First, we have to note whether we are classed as tall (above 5’6″), medium (5’3″ to 5’6″) or short (below 5’3″). Since I’m 5’8″, I come very much within the ‘tall’ category. but this isn’t really a surprise to me. So what advice does Sears et al offer for someone of my stature?

Firstly, I am reassured by the fact that “fashion figures are drawn tall” which should apparently give me a clearer appreciation for how clothes will look on me. I would debate this point. Fashion figures are drawn thin and tall. It’s like suggesting that any woman over 5’8″ could look at a runway model and know how their clothes will look on her. Not to mention that an illustration isn’t always the most helpful. Fortunately, the sewing course doesn’t leave it there in the advice department. I’m told that I “may wear large collars, wide lapels, wide belts, and big bold designs without being overwhelmed by them.” I do appreciate the possibilities I’m being presented. As much as none of the above feature regularly (or at all) in my wardrobe, it’s really nice to know that I have options. Even better “you will find cartwheel hats, big ornaments and oversized handbags effective.”

Now, I must take issue with all of this. It seems to me that the suggestion is simply that tall women should wear everything oversized and large. Take these suggestions in their entirety and it sounds more like a clown’s wardrobe that one suitable for a “woman attractive in the accepted traditions.” Add to this that I’m told “I must avoid high waistlines” because “they add length below your waist and throw your figure out of proportion” and I’m becoming even less happy. Plus, no vertical stripes for me! Sears et al is already grinding my gears with these suggestions. And, now that I’m fully informed what my height permits me to wear, I get to move on to an appraisal of the specific parts of my body that might cause problems. I sense things are moving downhill very quickly.

IMG_5987

At least this page is titled “usual figure problems.” There’s nothing better than resting in the knowledge of our communal body flaws. I will caution that I’m making these assessments of myself – I could certainly be too generous or too harsh, but I’ll do my best to be objective and work in accordance with what Sears et al are instructing.

So let’s start with my waist…

IMG_6022

For the waist, the sewing course presents us only two possibilities – that a waist might be “thick” or “wide.” I’m genuinely not too sure that either of these apply to me. My waist is pretty narrow in comparison to my hips and shoulders (I’m pretty hour-glass shaped) so I don’t think I need to worry too much about either “avoid[ing] fullness in front or back” – as per the instructions for a “thick” waist – or avoiding “any fullness at the sides” – the advice for a “wide” waist. I’m really interested in the fact that the manual interchanges the word “wide” with “elliptical” here. I’ve never heard of an elliptical waist – apparently this is where your waist is “wide in front, but narrow when viewed from the side.” I’m still have a hard time picturing what exactly this would like in practice.

Anyway, it seems that Sears doesn’t have a whole lot of advice for me regarding my waist. I’m relieved that I can continue to have fullness on all sides of my body. However, the reprieve is, I fear, short-lived since we’re now moving onto the hips – and I KNOW there will be advice for me on this…

IMG_6030

IMG_6031

Excuse dirty dog paw prints on the bottom of my trousers. Apparently someone had some fun with these before I put them on.

I’m genuinely not very insecure when it comes to my body. It does what I need it to do and I’ve worked hard to respect that, ignoring all of the expectations that society tends to project onto women’s bodies. That said, I’ve had to work incredibly hard to overcome insecurities to do with my hips/bum/thighs. I have wide hips and a definite butt – although I actually super appreciate these features now, it’s taken a lot of time to get to that place (and a lot of yoga), and I was genuinely a bit concerned that I would see these photos and have a bit of an internal freak out. Fortunately, I feel pretty good and ready to offer Sears et al a figurative punch on the nose for the advice they’re apart to force upon me.

On hips, Sew with Distinction offers three kinds of common figure problems: hips that “bustle” (?!), hips that widen at the sides, or hips that don’t exist at all. I definitely don’t have the latter problem. Initially, I thought I might fall into the “hips that widen at the sides” category – but according to the description, this is associated with an “elliptical waist” (still no idea) and a flat bum – “if you can back flat against a wall,” as the manual describes. I absolutely don’t suffer from this. I have a good rear cushion. So that means that I’m of the “hips that bustle” variety. As soon as I read that description, my first thought was genuinely of Victorian ladies in their gowns. I think I’m actually not too far off. According to the sewing course, “If you protrude too much in back, you may want to minimize the bulge.” BULGE! Definitely a novel name for your butt. Accordingly, I must avoid “tight skirts that show the exact line.” I totally disagree with this. I think tight pencil skirts with a kick pleat at the bottom are one of the most flattering looks on those of us blessed with some booty and a sizable set of hips. So, sorry Sears but you definitely called it wrong on this one.

Next, it’s my shoulders that are up for judgement. Definitely an under-appreciated part of the human body. Let’s see what Sew for Distinction has to say on this.

IMG_6034

Luckily, I pretty much avoid the critiques on this count. The sewing manual offers suggestions only where your shoulders are “too wide for your hips” – in which case, you apparently “have a masculine appearance” that necessitates extra volume in the skirt – or “too narrow for your hips” – which should be “disguised by shoulder pads.” My shape is such that my shoulders are pretty much equal to the size of my hips, so it’s all quite well balanced out. I win this time Sears.

Time for the bust, abdomen and neck…

IMG_5988

My bust is well documented in the shoulder picture above. At 36″, I’ve always considered it pretty average in terms of size (although feel free to disagree with me on this, since I’m only guessing based on pattern/clothing size ranges). However, if I were forced to go one way or the other, I would probably view myself as being on the larger side of the spectrum. According to Sears et al, those of larger bust should “never wear a tight fitting waist,” which is a shame for Sears since that’s pretty much all I wear. We should also avoid any type of clothing addition with the word ‘breast’ in the name (not what they specifically suggest, but I’m guessing this is the real reason) such as “breast pockets” or “double-breasted effects” (because we already have two, so why double it?). Alternatively, if you’re small of bust, it is suggested that you opt for high waistlines. This begs the question – what on earth will you do if you are both tall and small busted? You must simultaneously avoid and only wear high waistlines. Wishing you all the luck in the world with this conundrum.

IMG_6037

Onto my abdomen. Much yoga (because I can’t talk about it enough) has left me pretty flat in the belly. I’m not sure if it’s sufficiently flat to be classed as “flat” for Sears’ purposes but we’ll work with it and see what they advise. For those with flat tummies, ” a princess style” is recommended. After looking this up (because I honestly didn’t know what it was), I found out that a princess style dress is essentially one cut without a waist seam. So it’s constructed out of long panels, joined vertically, rather than having a horizontal join at the waist. Sew with Distinction also suggests that a flat belly can get away with a large buckle and V-waistline.

Our final stop on this tour of the female figure is – you guessed it – the neck! Because who can possibly think about sewing something without checking that it’s flattering to their neck first?

IMG_6040

Sears suggests that there are four types of neck: short and thin; short and thick; long and thin; or, long and thick. I honestly have no idea whatsoever where my neck falls on this spectrum. I’ve never given it a whole lot of thought. I feel like it’s a pretty normal sized neck but maybe long and thick? In which case, I can “wear a square neckline, but it must be deep rather than broad, and the shoulder lines must come up as closely as possible to the neck.” This feels like a lot of requirements. Perhaps easiest to just not wear square necklines. Or maybe just wrap your neck up in a lot of scarves?

So, there we have it. I’ve worked my way up, down, and all around my body conducting a thorough analysis of its various features. In summary, I’ve learnt:

To Avoid:

  • High waistlines
  • Vertical stripes
  • Tight skirts
  • Peplums (unless they end in a straight line and aren’t too closely fitted)
  • Tight fitting waists
  • Breast pockets
  • Double-breasted effects
  • Broad square necklines
  • Wide V’s
  • Boat necks

To Wear:

  • Large collars
  • Wide lapels
  • Wide belts
  • Oversized handbags
  • Horizontal lines
  • Slashed front
  • Princess style dresses
  • Large front buckles
  • V waistlines
  • Deep square necklines
  • Narrow V-necks

All things considered, this is a whole lot of unnecessary shoulds and shouldn’ts. Historically speaking, it’s fascinating to consider the way that garments were designed and what they were intended to flatter or disguise. The wide variety of stylistic choices discussed in the sewing manual as things to avoid or embrace shows just how vast the fashion options really were and how much control home-sewing gave to women looking to style themselves. That said, I can’t help feeling that much of the advice offered is a lot of nonsense that just reinforces the idea that bodies should fit some sort of specific – and yet abstract – mould. All the shouldn’ts listed above are honestly just shoulds in disguise. My suggestion, in light of everything I’ve learnt from this section of Sew for Distinction? Wear what makes you feel amazing – whether traditionally ‘flattering’ or not. Life is way to short to worry about bustling hips or short, thick necks.

On that note, I leave you. The next Vintage Sewing 101 post will be taking what was learnt today and considering how lines can be used to create emphasis and shape when making garments. Another spoiler for you, apparently there is a such a thing as “youthful lines” versus “sophisticated lines.” Who knew?!

 

 

Vintage Sewing 101: Care And Use Of Your Sewing Machine

IMG_5849

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…

IMG_5931

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.

IMG_5934

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…

IMG_5947

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…

IMG_5932

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:

IMG_5939

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.

IMG_5938

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.

IMG_5937

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.

IMG_5940

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.

IMG_5942

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!

IMG_5933

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…

IMG_5944

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!

Vintage Sewing 101: Sewing Tools And Their Uses

IMG_5849

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…

IMG_5851

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.

IMG_5858

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:

IMG_5860

  • 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:

IMG_5852

“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:

IMG_5861

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?

IMG_5862

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!

Vintage Sewing 101: An Introduction

IMG_5849

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:

IMG_5847

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:

IMG_5850

“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*).