The Ultimate Vintage Pattern Haul! (And Some Tips For Buying Vintage Patterns)

As you all know, one of my favourite things in the world is trawling antiques malls in the hopes of finding some vintage delights. I’m super fortunate that, in moving to the US, I’ve found so many amazing vintage and antiques shops – my vintage collection has obviously benefitted where my bank balance has suffered. So when my hubs offered take me out for another vintage hunt, I totally jumped at the chance. We went back to my favourite antiques mall in the world – one that has never let me down – and oh boy did it come through for me. I can only described my resulting purchase as the ULTIMATE vintage pattern haul. Because seriously these patterns are some of the most beautiful – not to mention reasonably priced – that I’ve seen in the wild…

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Yes, yes, yes! I am so much in love. And I got literally all of these patterns from just one seller (and I think I pretty much bought them out!). Not only was I super impressed with the collection but they’re also all in amazing condition. One issue I find in buying vintage patterns from antiques shops is that there’s rarely a guarantee that the patterns are totally intact. I’ve bought a couple in the past that have turned out to be missing several pattern pieces. This feels very much the equivalent of buying a jigsaw puzzle and finding pieces missing – it’s frustrating and you always feel a bit cheated. But I was fortunate to get all of these patterns from a seller who had actually made sure that the patterns were complete! If you’re on the lookout for vintage patterns but are similarly concerned about finding ones that are complete, I have a few tips that might help:

  1. Look online! If you want to guarantee that a pattern is complete, it is probably best to look on Etsy or eBay. Sellers will typically state whether or not a pattern is complete in the description (if they don’t, you can always send them a message to ask). There will usually also be a returns policy, so you know that you can return it if you aren’t happy with the condition! That said, you will pay considerably more for these patterns than you would buying from a shop in-person.
  2. If shopping in person (at an antiques mall, for example), check their returns policy first! My favourite antiques place – where I bought all of the patterns in this post – has a no returns, no exceptions policy. So I always assume a degree of risk whenever I buy something from there. However, the prices are also about 50% of the price of the same items on Etsy or eBay so, for the most part, I’m happy to trust the seller and take the chance.
  3. You can tell a lot from the external condition. Generally speaking, I find that the external condition of the pattern is pretty reflective of what you’ll find inside. In some cases, you’ll be able to have a look through the pattern itself – this is usually the case in charity shops. Often, however, sellers will put the pattern into a sealed plastic folder (as was the case with the ones I just bought). In these circumstances, I will typically just check over the external condition – if the packaging is all torn up and rough, there’s a good chance that some of the pieces will be missing. You can also gauge a lot from the thickness of the pattern envelope – a coat, for example, will typically have a lot of pattern pieces to it so, if the envelope is super flimsy and thin, it probably doesn’t have a lot of the pieces inside!

There’s often going to be an element of guesswork involved when buying vintage patterns but, the more purchasing you do, the easier it’ll become to tell the complete from the incomplete! And yes, I’m definitely giving you license to go out and buy lots of vintage patterns for yourself so that you can learn!

Anyway, back to my pattern haul! I wanted to give close-ups of some of my favourites because I’m just so obsessed with these gorgeous finds. First up:

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Most of the patterns are 1940s but I also found these stunning 1950s gowns! Just look at them! I’m absolutely in love with the bodice on Vogue S-4264 (on the right) – it makes me think of a prom dress! Plus the sleeves are just incredible! Simplicity  2442 is also beautiful. I’m not usually one for sleeveless or strapless dresses but this one is so adorable. It definitely gives me a summer in Havana vibe!

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Who wouldn’t want some vintage swimwear?! I won’t lie, when I first saw this pattern (Hollywood 1775) I thought it was for nighties and dressing gowns. But no. And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to venture into the ocean wearing something this chic? I’ve actually never owned (or seen firsthand) a Hollywood pattern. I’ve seen them pop up on eBay and was always intrigued – largely because most of their patterns feature a Hollywood starlet on whom the pattern is based. However they also produce generic patterns, as with Hollywood 1775. If you haven’t seen their patterns before, it’s definitely worth having a look online because they’re so gorgeous!

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Here we have some gorgeous 1940s dresses! Do I even really need to say much about these? They are both so unique – I mean just look at the bodice on both of these patterns! I think I’ve actually seen the McCall pattern on the left reproduced – at the very least, I’ve definitely seen something very similar as a reproduction.

And, finally, I didn’t neglect menswear. I found a couple of gems:

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I’m pretty well in love with the blazers on the left. They’re definitely screaming Mad Men to me. And, even though I have no infant children in my life, I just couldn’t resist the coats on the right. Every time I look at it, I think of the Famous Five. I clearly have so many amazing cultural influences at work in my life right now.

So there we have it! I honestly can’t believe my luck. Proving once and for all that spending your free time trawling around antiques shops is always a valuable use of your time!

 

Sew Your Own Vintage Neck Scarf – Tutorial

Any avid sewists know that a growing stash of fabric remnants is an inevitable consequence of many sewing projects. I’ve been sewing for just over two years and the only thing that has helped to control my remnants is a trans-Atlantic move. Even then, I carted most of my fabric across the sea with me. Because remnants – as well as random measures of fabric that aren’t quite enough for a complete garment – are a relatively reliable part of sewing, I’m always on the lookout for ways to use up the bits and pieces that I’ve got lying around.

For a while now, I’ve had the most gorgeous piece of vintage silk in my stash. It was a present from my parents a couple of years ago, but there’s not quite enough of it to make anything big. Because of that, I basically just left it in my sewing cupboard to gather dust until I was struck by some sort of inspiration. Recently, I was on one of my trots through vintage fashion illustrations and photos online and it suddenly occurred to me that this fabric would work perfectly as a vintage scarf – the kind that you can tie in about fifty different ways around your neck, or even wear as a headscarf. So I set about making one and turned the process into an easy-to-follow sewing tutorial for anyone who has a stack of remnants searching for a purpose.

What You Need:

  • Fabric
    • A large scarf – of the size also workable as a headscarf – requires a square of fabric about 30″ x 30″. Alternatively you can make one much smaller than this – down to about 25″ x 25″, depending on the amount of fabric that you have available.
    • Choose a drapey fabric – silk, chiffon etc – so that you get that perfect flowing vintage-style scarf
  • Paper – pattern, tracing, or normal
  • Fabric scissors or a rotary cutter and cutting mat
  • Pins
  • Seam gauge, ruler, or tape measure
  • Thread to match your fabric
  • Sewing machine (unless you want to hand sew, which is also possible for the truly committed)
  • Iron and ironing board

Steps:

1. Make Your Pattern Square

While it would be possible to mark directly onto you fabric, it’s well worth the effort of putting together a paper pattern piece. Since you’re working with silky material, there’s always a risk that the shape will be warped by the fabric shifting when marking directly onto the fabric itself.

Pre-determine what size of scarf you want to make and mark a square of that size onto your paper (either pattern paper, tracing paper, or by sellotaping some regular pieces of paper together). As noted above, 30″ square will make a large scarf – but you can work with a much smaller square, depending on personal taste and the size of your remnant. Around the square that you draw, you’ll want to add 1″ for your seam allowance.

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2. Pin Your Pattern and Cut Your Fabric

Make sure that you use a good flat surface for pinning your fabric and ensure that the fabric isn’t moving or puckering underneath the pattern piece. Using a few weights (cans of beans will work just as well as traditional pattern weights) is a good way of making sure that the fabric doesn’t shift as you pin. Use plenty of pins to ensure that the fabric doesn’t shift around too much when you’re cutting it later.

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Once everything is pinned down, cut your fabric out. You can either use fabric scissors for the job or a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I really like the rotary cutter for this kind of fabric – it’s much less likely to pull the fabric out of shape.

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3. Press and Pin Your Edges

When you measured out the pattern piece, you left a 1″ seam allowance. To avoid any raw edges being visible, you’ll be using a double-fold hem to tidy the edges of the scarf. You also have the option of using some pinking shears to finish the edges before you start folding and pressing the hem, depending on your preference and how much your fabric has frayed. If you want to finish the edges, however, it’s best to avoid using a serger – this will bulk up the edges too substantially and make it much harder to get a neat, flat hem.

Start by turning the edges in 4/8″ and pressing – you’ll want to be sure to keep the corners nice and neat when you press them down.

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Once this is done, fold your edges over by another 4/8″ so that the raw edge is hidden. Press down – making sure that the corners are still nice and tidy. Pin the hem in place.

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4. Sew Your Scarf

Starting at one of the corners, sew around the edge of the scarf, using a 2/8″ – 3/8″ seam. 2/8″ is typically the best for keeping the corners well tucked but a wider 3/8″ seam can look great with a contrasting thread. It’s really a matter of personal preference! At each corner, be sure to raise your presser foot (with needle down) and pivot the fabric.

To reduce bulk, you may want to backstitch a few stitches by hand once your stitching is complete and you secure your thread. However, if the slightly bulkier machine backstitching doesn’t bother you, then go for it! I use a machine backstitch because I’m not the most patient when it comes to hand stitching.

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5. Give Your Edges a Final Press

Before wearing, its a good idea to give the edges of the scarf a final press to give them a nice crisp shape!

6. Wear and Enjoy!

The thing I love most about this scarf is its versatility. There are a number of different ways to style it around your neck and shoulders but it also makes for a great head scarf if you’re feeling that Jackie Onassis vibe! So go out and be your best vintage self!

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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!

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*).

1950s Stole (Decades of Style)

Sewing for other people has never been my strong suit. Mostly, this is because I’m an unrelenting perfectionist and am never truly satisfied with anything I make. While I can live with this feeling when it comes to things I make for myself, it’s much harder to let go when I sew garments or accessories for other people. Sometimes, however, I’m able to make myself take a step back and remember how far I’ve come with my sewing since I began. Over the past year, in particular, my skills have come on leaps and bounds. With this in mind, I’ve stopped avoiding making things for others and instead let this Christmas motivate me to give some super unique gifts!

For a while now, I’ve been desperate to try out Decades of Style’s 1950s Stole pattern. As you all know, I’m a diehard Decades of Style fan. Their patterns are consistently the easiest to construct because, even when requiring techniques that are more complex (see my version of the Belle Curve dress, for example), the instructions are always crystal clear. So, when it came to picking out a potential gift for my mum, I jumped at the opportunity to have a go at another one of their patterns.

*I promise that all of the pictures in this post are after I gave the stole to my mum on Christmas Day. She opted out of having photos on the blog because she was super harassed making Christmas dinner so, instead, you get more photos of me!*

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Because this gift was for my mum – a woman who loves all things sparkly – I knew that I needed to find a super unique and fabulous fabric. Luckily, I found the perfect thing on a trip to Joann’s. The fabric is a gold sparkly synthetic with a red (really maroon) net overlay. The effect is truly stunning. The fabric is constantly catching the light and sparkling! I lined the stole with a pale gold lining fabric. The fabrics worked wonderfully together and helped to create a stole that will be perfect to throw on over a black dress for an event or party. Ultimately, I wanted the stole to serve as a bit of a signature piece that could elevate a relatively simple outfit (think lots of black) to something more night-time ready. The fabric picks definitely helped me deliver that.

As I expected, the pattern itself was absolutely divine. I had selected the stole in part because I didn’t want to choose anything too complicated. I knew that I had other makes to get done, as well as the pressure of a Christmas Day deadline, so I wasn’t looking for anything overwhelmingly ambitious. As it turned out, the most time-consuming and complicated part of the process was cutting out the shell fabric and lining. The stole comes in four pattern pieces, two of which are essentially the length of the stole itself. When it came to cutting, I was working with the longest pattern pieces that I’ve used to-date. Finding the space to do this (and stopping my dog from climbing all over the fabric) was a challenge. But I’m fortunate enough to have a large space of wooden floor in my lounge, so I managed to find a way forward.

I will also add that, as always, the Decades of Style PDF really came through for me. I absolutely despise PDF patterns. They are consistently a nightmare to put together and, somehow, I’m never able to get the pages to stick together quite how they should. While I’m still not a PDF convert, I’ve used quite a few PDF patterns from Decades of Style and they are always the most problem free. The 1950s Stole pattern fixed together perfectly!

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The stole itself was done in about three hours. It would have been shorter except that I accidentally attached the wrong pieces together and had to do quite a bit of unpicking in order to rectify the situation. That minor problem aside, I had absolutely no issues constructing the garment.

The shape of the finished is total perfection. I adore the drape of it! Although I would probably use a brooch to pin the stole at the shoulder when wearing outside (the lining makes it a bit difficult to get the stole to stay on the shoulder without sliding down), it is incredibly easy to wear. The pattern comes with illustrations that show a couple of different ways of wearing the piece, offering options to work with whatever else you’re wearing. The stole itself has a sleeve on one side and a flap on the other (you can see this in the photo above). I absolutely love the shape of the sleeve, which has an almost kimono sleeve feel to it:

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Of all the features of the stole, however, I’m most obsessed with the hand flap. Last year, I bought a vintage cape with the same option – you can either keep your arms and hands inside the cape or stick them out through small flaps on either side. To me, this feature on the stole truly brings home its 1950s feel, while also offering another great way of wearing the accessory.

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Although fit is obviously not much of an issue when it comes to this stole, the pattern offers three separate bust options from 30″ – 46″, to accommodate nearly everyone. Paying attention to the bust size is vital for ensuring that you get the right amount of drape across the chest. I made the stole in Size B (36″ – 40″). While you’re seeing it on me in these pictures (36″ bust), my mum is on the other end of the Size B spectrum  – the fit and drape worked perfectly on both of us. The length of the sleeve was also perfect on us both!

So if you’re looking for a pattern that offers a super vintage feel whilst taking only a handful of hours out of your day, this is definitely a pattern for you! It’s a perfect gift and a wonderfully wearable accessory, not to mention the perfect way to class-up any outfit.

The Sweetheart Dress – My Wedding Dress Muslin!

This much anticipated (by me) post is finally here! I’ve been busying myself with my wedding dress muslin for a while now, trying to tweak the fit to exactly what I want. And it’s finally done! Now that I’m underway with the real thing (and my move to the US is fast approaching), I thought it was about time to share some photos of the muslin and my thoughts on the Sweetheart Dress pattern from Sew La Di Da Vintage!

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My strategy with the muslin was very much to alter that pattern as I went along. And there was quite a lot of modifying to be done in order to get the fit that I wanted. From the beginning, I was keen to achieve a well tailored shape to the bodice – particularly important as a complement to the fullness of the skirt and the big ol’ petticoat that I’ll be wearing underneath it.

The main strength of the Sweetheart Dress is, I think, the neckline. It’s so wonderfully shaped and I especially appreciate the way that the straight neckline is complemented by the way that it curves around the back of the neck. Something about the shape elevates the dress from a standard day dress to a garment that really does work in more formal settings. This is obviously vital to any wedding dress that is made using less traditionally formal patterns, since you’ll still want to make sure that you look bridal. Adding a level of formality that works for a wedding dress was also the main reason that I decided to go with the straight neckline, rather than the sweetheart option (I was a bit worried about a potential cleavage situation).

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The main modifications I made to the pattern were around the bodice. I took the bodice in quite a lot to achieve a more tailored look. Initially, there was a LOT of ease. I ended up taking the dress in when I attached the back zip, basically working with pins until I felt that I had enough ease to be comfortable but not so much that I felt baggy. I had a similar issue with the neckline (obviously I’m talking only about the straight neckline option here) – there was quite a lot of gape when I first put the bodice together. Judging from photos of other people’s makes that I’ve studied, I think this is a relatively common issue. But it was easily fixed. I just took in the seams attaching the front and side front panels, essentially adjacent to the neckline. I probably ended up taking these seams in by about 1 inch on either side to get the neckline to lie flat.

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Apart from that, the only other modification I made was with the hem. Mine ended up being quite narrow, simply to ensure that I was achieving a length that worked with my petticoat (the one that I’ll be wearing for the wedding, rather than the one pictured here).  The length of my muslin is really the maximum I could have achieved without actually adding more fabric when I cut out the pattern pieces – so bear that in mind if you’re after something longer, although honestly I think this length works perfectly for the ’50s style.

I think the skirt on the pattern is spectacular. It’s got the classic circle skirt silhouette but has two front pleats that offer a unique take on the traditional ’50s dress patterns. I think this is another detail that tailors the Sweetheart Dress for more formal occasions. Since I’ll be making my wedding dress in a heavier brocade fabric, I think the fall of the pleats and the hang of the skirt will look especially great! Obviously with a skirt so fabulous (and no fiancé here to tell me I’ll make myself sick), I decided that I needed to do some serious spinning.

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And, yes, I did make myself sick. There are a lot more than two of these photos on my computer.

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As you can see from the back shot of the dress, the invisible zip is very much un-invisible. This was kind of a sacrifice on the path to getting the bodice to fit right. I might let the bodice of the wedding dress out a bit to better accommodate the zip (when the dress isn’t on my body, the zip is actually invisible), but I’m not too worried – mostly because a white zip on a white wedding dress isn’t much of a problem. Obviously I won’t be diving in to sewing up the wedding dress with the exact same measurements and dimensions of the muslin – partly because the fabric is totally different, and partly because I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate since the muslin was made! But it’s good to have some idea of the issues I had with the base pattern so that I can go in a bit more aware of potential problems.

The final thing I’ll mention is the heart patches. I’d like to claim that this was a work of creative genius conceived before I started sewing. Unfortunately, that would be a massive lie. The dress was finished and ready to go. I was trimming down the seams on the zip and accidentally cut a massive hole through the back of my dress. Oops! Obviously my first thought was my usual when I run into any kind of issue, large or small – throw the whole thing in the bin. Fortunately, I resisted and decided the best thing to do would be to patch it in a way that worked. So I bought some red cotton, fashioned some heart templates, cut them out of the fabric, attached some interfacing, and top-stitched them to the dress. I think it actually worked pretty well in the end, proving that you can salvage even the most desperate mistakes!

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I was honestly so stressed out about making this muslin. There’s a definite level of pressure to sewing your own wedding dress that I didn’t quite appreciate before I started making. Fortunately, the Sweetheart Dress pattern is incredibly easy to work with. Modifications aside, the pattern is the clearest that I’ve ever used, with detailed instructions and photos at every step. The structure of the dress is also such that it would be a great dress for beginner sewists who are feeling a bit more ambitious!

From here, it’s on with the wedding dress. Just a few weeks to go!

My Vintage Life: Lux Radio Theatre

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Thank you all so much for the response to last week’s post on Norma Shearer and pre-Code Hollywood, as well as the introduction of My Vintage Life. It’s been a big week on Sew for Victory with this, plus the launch of the Sew for Victory Book Club. Your comments and support has been fantastic and I’m happy to know that you’re enjoying these new features!

I’ve had an incredibly busy week sewing-wise. On top of finishing the muslin for my wedding dress, I’ve now completed my version of the Baltimore Dress from Decades of Style – I’m planning on posting pictures of the muslin next week and a post about the Baltimore Dress should follow relatively soon after that! One of my secrets to productive sewing is having something great to listen to. An interesting podcast will usually motivate me to get to the sewing table, even when I’m really feeling a loss of motivation. It was on a hunt for something new to enjoy that I came across recordings of the Lux Radio Theatre. I had never heard of this grand radio production that ran from the mid-1930s through to the mid-1950s – this is particularly surprising given that recordings of the programmes are easily accessible online. I started working my way through the recordings and could not escape the feeling that such an incredible treasure trove needed to be talked about! So it’s to the story of the Lux Radio Theatre that we now turn…


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For those living in the 1930s and 1940s, radio provided an essential source of entertainment and information. It’s difficult to imagine, in our era of unprecedented technology, that there was a time when even radio was a luxury. In 1921, there were just five licensed broadcasting stations across the entire US. By 1924, this had increased massively to 500. A similar pattern shows the dramatic growth of radio ownership among American households, increasing from 40 percent in 1930 to 83 percent in 1940. Other than trips to the cinema, radio was everything in the way of entertainment. Comedies, dramas, musical performances – all were broadcast via radio to households across the US. Given these figures, it was perhaps natural that someone would seek to exploit the opportunity to bring together America’s two primary forms of entertainment – radio and film.

The Lux Radio Theatre began broadcasting on 14 October 1934, as one of the most ambitious radio productions in history. The project was a conceptualisation of the Lever Brothers, makers of Lux Soap, who sponsored the programmes for the duration of its production through to 1955 (if you listen to the productions, trust me when I say that you will hear more than you ever could have hoped to about soap and complexions). The show was a weekly hour-long radio broadcast, initially created with the purpose of adapting successful Broadway plays for radio. Each week, actors and actresses would perform these adaptations live in New York before a studio audience, broadcast via radio to – at the show’s peak – an estimated 40 million listeners. During the first two seasons of the show, a number of great Broadway plays were adapted – including Smilin’ Through Berkeley Square and Way Down East.

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The first two year’s of Lux Radio Theatre productions proved a remarkable success – a success upon which the show’s producers and sponsors were determined to capitalise. They decided to broaden the scope of the programme – and widen its audience – by relocating the entire production to Hollywood and, rather than adapt Broadway plays, produce adaptations of successful Hollywood films. From here, incredible success was almost inevitable. On 25 May 1936, the Lux Radio Theatre presented its first programme from its new base in Hollywood, with an adaptation of The Legionnaire and the Lady (based on the film Morocco), starring Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable. Listening to this first adaptation, it is easy to feel why the production was a remarkable coup for all involved. The listener is given the opportunity to hear the most famous Hollywood stars acting live in a condensed and radio-appropriate version of an incredibly successful film. There’s the odd fumbling of words from the actors but this just adds to the sense of being right there, watching these performers do what they do best. Nothing like this had been done before and, in my opinion, modern radio productions would struggle to evoke the same effect on their listeners.

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Cecil B. DeMille

A large part of the Lux Radio Theatre’s success is undoubtedly owed to its long-time host – Cecil B. DeMille. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s worth going and doing a little digging. DeMille was perhaps one of the most interesting figures to work during the period we term ‘classic Hollywood’. He was an incredibly prestigious film maker and is often created as being the founder of American cinema. Lux Radio Theatre brought him on as host when they moved to Hollywood and he stayed with the production for almost a decade. As a man who would’ve been known to almost every movie-going American in the 1930s, DeMille added a definite level of authenticity to the production. When you listen to the episodes that he hosts, he often drops in anecdotes or converses with individuals with whom he has previously worked. At the end of The Legionnaire and The Lady, for example, DeMille introduces Clark Gable with this story:

Host: And now– And now a word about a certain young actor before he steps out on the stage. I want to tell you a little story of him. When I was casting “Madam Satan” six or seven years ago, I was looking for a villain. Somebody had given my script girl a screen test of a young man and she kept dinging the life out of me to see it. I asked her if he was a villain, and she said she thought he could do anything. Eh, so I looked at it and decided he was not a villain, but that he had definite possibilities. So I showed it to the other executives at the studio. When I asked them about the young man a day or so later, they said he never could succeed in pictures. I asked why not. They said, “His ears are too big.” … But evidently– Evidently, those ears were no obstacle to the triumph of Clark Gable.

These types of stories – with which every production is dotted – fantastically heighten the sense that you are listening to the ‘real’ Hollywood – hearing from those figures that stand at the very heart of this flashy, gaudy, and impenetrable metropolis of fame and fortune.

Over the course of its production, the Lux Radio Theatre adapted some of the best known Hollywood films and employed the most famous personalities in starring roles. Mostly, productions attempted to retain the original cast unless the stars were totally unavailable. In many instances, the production of films would be halted temporarily by the studios in order for the stars to be available for recordings of Lux Radio Theatre. Stars such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Kelly, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant, all starred at various points in Lux Radio Theatre productions. This list is only the tip of the iceberg. For many of these stars, however, appearing in the radio adaptations was no simple matter. To actors used to multiple takes for any one scene, the idea of acting live with no second chances was incredibly intimidating. However, the offer of $5000 for an appearance often quelled the fears. In addition, these radio productions offered an opportunity to promote any upcoming projects.

One of my favourite parts of the episode is right at the end, when the main stars of the adaptation come out to speak with the host. There’s typically a bit of back and forth conversation, sometimes a song if one of the stars is a singer, and a promotion of future films. Although these interactions are always scripted – and typically feel so – there’s something truly endearing about them. At the end of the adaptation of Burlesque, for instance, stars Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler talk with Cecil B. DeMille. Although this takes up perhaps just five minutes of the whole episode, it’s incredibly heartwarming listening to this husband and wife acting partnership interact with one another. This, more than anything, truly does give the sense that the listener is somehow penetrating those barriers traditional perceived to stand around Hollywood and its best and brightest.

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That fact that we have access to the recordings of every production of Lux Radio Theatre is incredibly fortunate. The archive of episodes provides potentially days of entertainment for those interested in classic Hollywood or classic radio productions. I can’t quite put across how impactful it is, for someone who is fascinated by the 1930s-1940s Hollywood era, to listen to these live recordings of radio adaptations based on Hollywood’s greatest triumphs. One of the biggest difficulties when researching those periods that we associate with the word ‘vintage’ is, I think, attempting to humanise and bring life to the people and events that we read about. Even watching classic films fails to bring this humanity – as with any actor who does a half decent job, the portrayal of a character on screen will always serve as a kind of wall between the audience and the person behind the actions and words. I read a lot of biographies with the explicit purpose of attempting to understand more of the ‘real’ Hollywood or the ‘real’ actors. The Lux Radio Theatre productions offer a different way of bringing some humanity to these people whose names we all know. The fumbling of words, the demonstrable nerves, and the genuine real-life moments that pervade almost all of the productions shine a new kind of light on the Hollywood of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.


If you want to listen to the Lux Radio Theatre broadcasts for yourself (which you absolutely should!), they are available via public domain from a number of sources. I have been listening via this archive.

 

 

 

How To Sew Your Wedding Dress (Part 2): Choosing Your Fabric

Here we are, with the second post about sewing your own wedding dress! The project is definitely moving in the right direction. I finished my wearable muslin last week and am very excited to show it to you. I’ve definitely refined a number of my sewing skills trying to achieve the perfect fit for this dress. Normally I’m pretty lazy about this. Confession time – I basically trust the pattern sizing and, unless there’s something pretty noticeably off about the fit, I go with whatever the final product happens to be. With my wedding dress, this attitude has definitely shifted and I’ve been working overtime to get the muslin looking perfect.

Since my main fabric is now washed and ready to be cut, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk you through my process of choosing the fabric and offer some general advice for you when doing the same, whether for a wedding dress or other event garment! Obviously this is totally based on my personal experience. If you have anything to add by way of suggestions from your own experience of making event garments (even if not wedding dresses), please add a comment to the post!

1. Consider the pattern

This part is elementary but also something that might involve a little creativity on your part. As I’m sure you know, patterns typically come with a list of recommended fabrics. These fabrics are ones that best guarantee the desired fit (for example, stretch fabrics versus woven fabrics) and shape or drape of the garment. When making something as important as a wedding dress, it’s obviously vital to make sure that you aren’t going against the grain (PUN!) by choosing a fabric that will totally warp the look of the pattern. If you decide that you want to go with a fabric that is not recommended by the pattern – particularly if it means working with something tougher to sew, like a silk or satin – definitely make a muslin using the same material! Make sure that it works with the pattern!

As a reminder, this is the pattern that I’m using:

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The Sweetheart Dress from Sew La Di Da Vintage

With such a flirty ’50s-style dress, there are obviously a plethora of fabrics that could be used. The key is to consider what best accentuates the shape of the garment and any cute details built into the pattern – perhaps the sit of pleats, the volume of a skirt, or the shape of the bodice. In answering these questions, you’ll also need to ask yourself about whether it’s appropriate to use more than one fabric. For example, would you prefer to use satin overlaid with lace? Would you like to make the sleeves or neckline out of lace? Or perhaps use a sheer, embroidered fabric for an interesting back panel? Obviously the answers to all of these questions will depend upon your personal preference but will also be largely dictated by what’s achievable through the pattern that you’re using.

2. Consider the event

Again, this piece of advice seems obvious, but it is so easy to get lost in fantasies about the perfect dress and forget about the event itself. My choice of pattern is a reflection of the sort of day that me and my fiancé are shooting for. It’s going to be pretty informal and put together in a relatively short space of time (we’re talking about a month). I wanted a short, fun, ’50s dress to mirror the spontaneity that will characterise our wedding, but also just the general joy that after many months apart we’re finally back together and getting married. To me, all of these factors didn’t add up to the formality that I usually associate with silk or satin fabrics. Bearing in mind that I will also be getting married in the height of Missourian summer where temperatures can get up over 100 Fahrenheit, something that clings to the body is not a good idea. Temperature is key!

The most important thing is that you’re comfortable in whatever you’re wearing. Will there be lots of dancing? A fabric that doesn’t move so easily with your body might be a problem and getting sweaty while you dance isn’t a good look if you’re wearing pure silk.  Just be sure to reflect on what the event itself speaks to fabric-wise and don’t consign yourself to wearing something that prevents you from really enjoying the day.

3. Consider your colour palette

This will be a relatively brief consideration for most people. However, when choosing your fabric, it’s important to think about any other colours that you’re integrating into your day – bouquets, table arrangements, dress accessories etc. Since wedding dresses are traditionally white, for most people fabric colour won’t even be a question. But if you’re torn between, white, ivory, cream, or any unconventional colours for your dress, it’s super important to think about the rest of your colour palette.

Since I’m going for a ’50s style dress, I had already decided that I wanted a big ruffled petticoat. With regards to colours, there’s a couple that I needed to consider when picking out the fabric for my main dress. The petticoat that I ended up going with is the aquamarine petticoat from Doris Designs (these petticoats are seriously GORGEOUS and you must check them out right now!). This will be paired with some lemon yellow shoes (hopefully, since I haven’t yet found any that I want).

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When thinking about the colour of my dress fabric, it was obvious to me that white would end up being the best option. Since the dress is shorter, the whiteness will be broken up with the pop of the petticoat and the shoes (as well as any other accessories), stopping it from feeling like it’s just too much white.

So, if you’re using other colours, make sure to give them some thought before committing to your fabric.

4. The final fabric choice

When I was choosing my fabric, I was thinking mostly about the fact that I wanted to make sure the dress looked bridal. While a ’50s style dress is absolutely what I want, I was concerned that it could easily slip into a summer dress – rather than wedding dress – look. The fabric is totally key to getting that bridal feel. I spent a long time searching around and came across a lot of gorgeous fabrics. For those of you reading this because you’re in the process of making your own wedding dress, I highly recommend taking a look at the following websites for inspiration:

  • Bridal Fabrics  – This site caters exclusively to fabric for wedding dresses. A lot of the fabrics are on the more expensive side but they have an excellent range.
  • Fabric Land – Not as wide a range here, but they have some nice lace fabrics. They also have a lot of traditionally bridal fabrics in non-traditional colours (i.e. not white). A lot of their fabrics are also incredibly reasonably priced.
  • CheapFabrics – If you’re on a budget, this is a great place to look. Lots of choice and all so well priced.
  • Truro Fabrics – Some of these fabrics are crazy expensive and most are not friendly if you are on a budget. But they are super gorgeous, particularly the laces. Definitely worth a look!

But the winner for me was White Lodge Fabric. The more I browsed around, the more I settled on using a brocade fabric. Since the dress is on the short and summery side, I didn’t want to overwhelm it by using multiple fabrics (although I did dither for a while on whether to make the sleeves out of lace). So it was super important that I choose a fabric that looks inherently very bridal without any extra additions. The White Lodge Fabric bridal range is impressively large and reasonably priced. When I came across their Bridal Brocade fabric, I was sold. I ordered samples in both ivory and white but, given that I’m matching to the beautiful aquamarine petticoat from Doris Designs, I decided that white would be the best option for me. It’s a beautiful fabric and I’m SO excited to get cutting!

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I just love it. The pattern, in particular, really adds to that vintage vibe. I’m beyond thrilled! As an extra shout out to White Lodge Fabrics, there was a small mark on one of the selvedges (just running over onto the body of the fabric). They pre-empted any issue by including an extra half metre in my order. Paired with the fact that I paid second class postage and got the fabric in about two days, I think their customer service is incredible. Big thanks to them!

Finally, a little sneak peak of my muslin for you. Since I’ve worked with it simply to ensure that I get the right fit, I decided to make a muslin that I could wear as a day dress. In keeping with the ’50s pin-up style, I decided to go for a navy blue cotton with white polka dots.

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It looks amazing and I’ll be sharing it with you really soon. Plus check back in on Friday for a new weekly series – My Vintage Life! In these posts, I’ll be talking about various aspects of vintage lifestyle and fashion, pointing you towards some great classic films, books, icons, and just generally fabulous bits of information. I hope I’ll see you then!

How To Sew Your Wedding Dress (Part 1): Choosing A Pattern

The time has finally come! After lots of fretting, faffing, and decision making, I’ve actually begun the process of getting my wedding dress made. I had never anticipated being in a position where I would feel even close to confident enough for such a commitment. I started sewing 18 months ago – about a year and half after I got engaged. But it really wasn’t until recently that I started entertaining to possibility of using my (relatively) new found skills on my wedding dress. I won’t lie, I’m still pretty terrified! I’m so critical of everything I sew and when all eyes are inevitably going to be on you and what you’ve made, it’s bound to invite an extra level of self-scrutiny. However, I thought I could channel all of these anxieties and concerns in the most productive way by writing about the whole process on Sew for Victory.

Now, I’m more than aware that a series of posts about wedding dress making might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very niche project. But I’m hoping it will provide insights that will extend beyond just a wedding environment. I think the same sorts of decisions and challenges that come with making a wedding dress are ones that accompany making garments for any kind of special occasion. The questions of ‘what pattern?’, ‘what fabric?’, and ‘oh my goodness, why do I hate everything I’ve done?’ are ones that pop up all over the place. So I hope that you’ll find something to gain from these posts. For my part, I’m so delighted that you’re here because it makes you a part of this really exciting time in my life!

This first post starts at the beginning, with the process of choosing a pattern.

1. Making an event-appropriate garment

When I started out looking at patterns, I had so many different ideas. I was looking at an incredibly diverse range of dresses: short; long; formal gowns; flirty and simple dresses. I was totally all over the place and desperately needed to narrow things down. I found that the best way to do this was to keep my mind totally on the nature of the event itself. Every wedding is different and your pattern choice should reflect that nature of the occasion, as well as your personal tastes. In my case, this meant making some compromises. Part of me was so inclined towards a full-length vintage gown. You all know that I have such a love for ’30s and ’40s Hollywood glamour. I came across some divine patterns, particularly the gorgeous Decades of Style 1930s Evening Gown.

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Picture from Decades of Style

But a wedding in Missouri, in the height of summer (it’s usually very well over 30 degrees Celsius), doesn’t lend itself so well to silk fabrics (hello sweat) or fitted, full-length gowns. The formality of this kind of dress would also run a little counter to the type of occasion we’ll be having. The visa process is (as with all bureaucracy) a complicated one and means that there is a huge amount of unpredictability about when the wedding will be. We don’t know when I’ll be in the US but, once I am, we have an incredibly short window to actually get married. Most people do a quick paper-work marriage and arrange a bigger, more formal event later. But we decided that we’d rather do it in one go. So to fit with the tone of this, we’re shooting for a fun ’50s vibe – small, simple, and with a lot of cute vintage detail.

Once I thought a little more about the sort of day we’d be going for, it was actually very easy to narrow down my pattern choices. I started looking at shorter dresses with a gorgeous ’50s silhouette – fitted bodices and full circle skirts. Not only does this sort of dress really suit the spontaneity that’s pretty inherent in our situation, as well as the time of year in which the wedding will be held (vital), but it also reflects my love for ’50s fashion. Any excuse to wear a petticoat really.

2. Finding Inspiration

Even after settling on the style of the dress, there are still SO many details to be decided upon. Think about ’50s dresses – while there are certain key features that we might identify as central to the fashion of the decade, there is a huge amount of variability. Remember that Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn were all key fashion icons in the ’50s, but all with incredibly different styles. The pattern choice will be impacted by the sorts of key details that you want to have be a part of your final design. For example, do you want a square, sweetheart, or plunging neckline? A full circle skirt or a more fitted skirt style? Sleeveless or sleeved? Even something like wanting buttons over a zipper might impact the sorts of patterns that you can work with. So even though I settled on a ’50s style, short dress, I still had to look around for inspiration in order to figure out the key details that I would need to have be a part of my final pattern choice.

The most valuable source of inspiration for me (aside from Google, of course) is ‘Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook’ by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka. My fiancé bought this for my birthday last year and it is such an amazing resource. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in vintage fashion. I delved into the photos of the various ’50s fashions and, although it doesn’t feature any wedding dresses, it gave me a much more solid idea of what I was looking for.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this book enough. The chapters beyond the Visual Index (which the photos below are taken from) provide close-up shots of the various details of the garments. This is incredibly useful when you’re trying to settle on things like necklines, sleeves, or embellishments.

By the time I was done with my research and inspiration search, I settled on some key things. I needed a pattern with a square neckline, fitted bodice, and circle skirt. I also wanted something that would work well with longer sleeves. After I’d figured these details out, it was surprisingly easy to make a decision about the pattern I wanted!

3. The final pattern choice

Here we are. A relatively short post but a decision process that took me SO long. And the pattern I finally settled on…

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The Sweetheart Dress from Sew La Di Da Vintage! I’ve been lurking on their website for months – they have some incredibly gorgeous patterns. But this is the first pattern of their’s that I’ll be making. I was definitely nervous using a pattern from a company that I’d never sewn with before. But I was reassured by their great customer service and the fact that they run a sewing school (so I figured that with any desperate emergencies, I could just email or phone for advice).

Pictures from Sew La Di Da Vintage

As you can see from the photo, the dress comes with a sweetheart neckline option, in addition to a square neckline. Plus a gorgeous skirt and perfectly tailored bodice. It ticks all of my boxes!

So, to summarise, my key pieces of advice on picking that vital pattern…

  1. Always keep your event in mind (time of year, location, will there be DANCING?!).
  2. But don’t let your personality get lost!
  3. Look for inspiration wherever you can.
  4. Make a list of those key garment details that are important to you. What has to be there? Use this as a reference point while searching through patterns.
  5. Most importantly, really try to enjoy this part of the process. Look at some gorgeous patterns. Dream about yourself in beautiful dresses. And make some tea because I promise that will help when the stress sets in!

The next wedding dress post will be about choosing the right fabric. Mine arrived today and I am SO excited to share it with you. After a lot of searching around, I also have a tonne of resources to throw your way. Stay tuned for that and some other (non-wedding related) posts that I’ve got lined up!!