How To Find Your Personal Style

Today’s post was originally intended to be a pattern review and pics of my Sew Over It Lucia Top. The top itself has been finished for a while – in fact, I’ve already taken it on a couple of outings (when the crazy hot weather lets up a little and I’m not restricted to shorts and vest tops). Unfortunately, I’ve been struck down with a mega eye infection for the past week (super gross, I know) and, although I’m actually pretty much cured at this point, I’m still stuck in glasses. Despite my husband’s constant reassurances that I look “totally cute” in glasses, I really hate wearing them and basically avoid it as much as I can. And although my self-confidence has blossomed incredibly since starting Sew For Victory, glasses-wearing Laura is a very ‘unwilling to have her picture taken’ kind of girl. That said, I’m planning on getting the photos taken this weekend and should have a post about the Lucia Top coming up next week!

In the meantime, I wanted to post about something that’s been on my mind for the past few weeks (and a lot of this year, honestly) – the process of developing your own sense of personal style, whether vintage or otherwise. I’ve always admired people who have a very clear and concrete sense of personal style. As someone who spends far too much time trawling social media, I’m constantly confronted with pictures of people who obviously have a fully-realised idea of how they represent themselves through the clothes that they wear. As a member (albeit a casual one) of the vintage community, the need to have a very definite sense of personal style is particularly acute.

While I see nothing wrong whatsoever with having a clear-cut notion of your own identity through fashion, the image of ‘dressing vintage’ that we get online is very all-or-nothing. I generally come across few online personalities of the vintage persuasion who dress in anything but vintage outfits. Every photo, every #ootd, is very vintage specific. Don’t get me wrong, these images are incredibly inspiring and, ultimately, if what you wear makes you feel good, I say go for it! But in my own world, I’m constantly worried that what I present on this blog isn’t ‘sufficient’ because it is not exclusively vintage. I love vintage styles (and I’m aware that I’m using the term ‘vintage’ very loosely here) and I adore sewing vintage-inspired garments. They’re my favourite thing to make, without a doubt. However, they are not what I spend most of my life wearing, largely because it’s not totally practical given my lifestyle. However, vintage clothes also represent only a small fraction of the outfits that I actually enjoy wearing and in which I feel most myself.

When it comes to my own sense of personal style, I’m something of a split personality. On the one hand, I love vintage looks – circle skirts, petticoats, shoulder pads. It’s all beautiful to me! But another side of me is very much jeans, t-shirts, and generally pretty grungy (my hubs tells me I often look like I’ve rolled straight out of The Ramones). Where I used to dither about this – totally unable to reconcile both parts of the fashions I love – I’ve come to embrace it. Although Sew For Victory will always be largely vintage-focused, it’s also a personal sewing blog. And it makes no sense for me to narrow my own sewing projects to a niche that doesn’t represent what I wear most of the time. More than anything else, sewing my own clothes has helped my sense of personal style evolve dramatically. I pay far closer attention to things like colour and lines than I ever have before. And it’s so much fun. It also gives us the space to allow our own styles to change in parallel to other things in our life. This freedom is, I think, one of the major advantages of taking up garment-making as a hobby.

Vintage or otherwise, sewing has given me the tools to think about what I wear and how I want to portray myself. Although what we wear is a relatively superficial consideration compared to the most important things about us, it is still a form of communication with those around us. Playing with this is something that I enjoy massively. When I feel uninspired or am otherwise looking to plan out sewing projects that conform to the ways I like to dress, I have a few go-to methods for turning it out. These are techniques that apply whether you’re interested in vintage fashion or not, and they’ve all come in super handy for me over the past few months (especially in light of my 2018 goal to develop a better balance in sewing vintage versus everyday garments). So, here we go:

1. Find Inspiration

I’ve talked about this in other blog posts but I don’t think I would be half as productive in my sewing life if I wasn’t constantly searching out inspiration. Whether you do this online or through books, the world is a treasure trove of images and ideas! I’m generally not an advocate of spending too much time on social media – I definitely have to restrict my own time online because I tend to fall down a hole of self-comparison and general despair. But, used correctly and in moderation, social media can also be an incredible resource for finding outfit inspiration. I’m always saving screenshots of outfits I love and then searching out sewing patterns that would work to replicate the look. When you have a sewing machine, the world of fashion truly is at your finger tips!

I also make a point to visit second hand bookshops whenever I get a chance to see if I can find anything particularly inspiring. This is particularly the case when it comes to my vintage makes. I’ve had good luck on a few trips and landed some books with wonderful pictures and information about style during eras that especially interest me. If you have your mind set on any particular era, see if there are any used books you can get that might inspire or help you to develop a more concrete sense of how you might adapt the style for yourself. Sewing gives us an incredible ability of interpretation – with a photo or idea as a starting point, you can piece together a Frankenstein’s monster of an outfit that works for you. But inspiration will always be the starting point!

Really it’s all about exploring and seeing what ticks the boxes for you. If you’re not exposed to it, then you won’t know that it’s a possibility. Look at anything and everything that you think might interest you and you will find yourself naturally clinging on to images or ideas that come together to form a more defined notion of what you want your ‘personal style’ to be (even if it’s a thousand different things).

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2. Research Sewing Patterns

I’m obsessed with googling different sewing patterns. I pass many an evening looking at pattern makers and their patterns, noting anything that looks interesting. Once you’ve found some sources of inspiration, the next step is looking for sewing patterns that conform to this image – or might otherwise be manipulated to look the way that you want them to.

More generally, looking through sewing patterns (in person or online) is just another great way to find that inspiration. Part of the reason that my vintage sewing pattern collection has grown so large is because I find the patterns themselves to be super inspiring. Even patterns that I have no intention of making come together to form a bigger picture in my mind. It’s become a mini-education – I’ve learnt what I like, what I don’t like, and what I find interesting but wouldn’t necessarily what to integrate into my wardrobe. Part of the reason I loved getting the sewing patterns from my aunt was precisely because they don’t represent what I would normally make. Whether or not I get round to making them myself, I love seeing the patterns and thinking about how they might be interpreted to fit my own sense of style. It’s amazing what you can do with a pattern by choosing the right fabric and making a few alterations – it can become pretty much whatever you want it to be.

So have fun and explore what’s out there. If you’re of the vintage persuasion, I definitely recommend digging through the Vintage Patterns Wikia – although be sure to leave yourself plenty of time because you will likely fall down a bit of a vintage pattern hole.

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3. Lists Are Everything

Is anyone surprised that lists are one of my favourite tools?! You all know that I love planning, especially when I get to involve my bullet journal!

When I set out my sewing goals at the start of the year, I put a lot of emphasis on my desire to create more of a balance in the types of things that I was sewing. Sewing is a big time investment, particularly when I’m already juggling multiple things, so it’s important to get a good return for that time! Although I will always love sewing vintage (and gravitating toward vintage patterns will always be my default), I also want to make sure that I’m spending some time sewing things that will get worn regularly. This has meant thinking about practical restrictions (like walking the dog multiple times per day, doing yoga, and the crazy summers/winters in Missouri), as well as the sorts of clothes that I most enjoy wearing.

As part of my 2018 objective, I started creating lists of patterns that I felt had a place in my wardrobe. These are typically not lists of vintage patterns – since I already have so many in my collection and will pretty much always end up making one of these patterns for every one ‘everyday’ garment that I sew. But it’s come in super handy as a way to plan my makes, whilst also giving some direction to my regular pattern/inspiration searches. I’ve started a list at the back of my bullet journal to accommodate all of this. It’s not necessarily a ‘to make’ list. More of a place to record patterns I like, particularly when I have multiple patterns that I think would work together to create a complete outfit.

There are so many different ways that you can do this – and having a bullet journal definitely isn’t a requirement! But I think that having some way of recording your pattern finds and inspiration (even in the form of a scrap book or a folder on your computer) is really key to developing a concrete sense of your own style and plans to execute it.

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So there we have it! Some of the different methods I use for developing my own sense of style. Although so much of this has evolved naturally for me – and I think most of us just gravitate towards the things we love – part of the joy of sewing is in the exploration. I have things I’ve sewn that I look at and think ‘WHY ON EARTH?!’ But it suited me at the time and worked into the sort of identity I gave to the clothes that I chose to wear.

Ultimately, sense of style or not, you need to feel good, happy, and confident in what you wear. Taking some time to search for what’s out there in terms of patterns and fashions is just one way of figuring out what makes you feel your best and brightest. But we’re all constantly changing and learning, so it only makes sense that our style would evolve and adapt alongside us. Have you worked consciously to create your own personal style? Do you have any particular things you do (or have done) that have helped you to figure out what you most love to wear?

Another Vintage Pattern Haul!

Happy mid-week, everyone! I’m back after a short break. Life got a bit chaotic last week so I decided to take some time off from the blog to get my schedule in order. Although there are definitely no prospects of things calming down any time soon (I’ve taken on new work commitments, plus I’m prepping for my Yoga Teacher Training course – yes, I got accepted!!!), I’m at least starting to work out where everything will fit. When I was studying for my PhD and working towards a career in academia, it never occurred to me that I might end up having a life made up of so many different components. But I’m in the fortunate position to be able to pursue most of my passions alongside one another! The challenge is in finding enough time to get everything done – something that I’m working on, whilst also bearing in mind the many lessons on self-care that I’ve picked up over the years. But any extra detail on this will be saved for another day and another post.

Today’s post is devoted to more vintage patterns! I’ve really been lucking out in regards to growing my vintage pattern collection. Fortunately, this time around I didn’t even have to visit any shops. My mum recently made a trip back to the UK (for those who don’t know, my parents are also British expats living in the US) to see family. And my aunt took the opportunity to pass on some vintage patterns to help boost my collection! Interestingly, these patterns lie a bit outside of my typical vintage ‘comfort zone’. I’m very much about the 1940s and 1950s, although I do enjoy the more ’50s-inspired silhouettes in 1960s patterns. However, looking at the patterns gifted to me by my aunt, I’m so encouraged to step away from my traditional makes. They’re such lovely patterns!

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I actually think that these patterns offer more ‘everyday’ looks than my typical vintage pattern finds. Since I’m working hard to expand my everyday wardrobe, I’m definitely seeing a lot of potential for new sewing projects!

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I do love a playsuit! In fact, one of my upcoming projects is the Sew Over It playsuit. But I really like the versions in this Vogue pattern. I’m particularly happy that V9464 offers multiple leg length variations – especially the knee length version. This seems to be a rarity in most modern playsuit patterns, which typically opt for long leg or short leg alternatives with nothing in between. Plus the waist tie is just so sweet!

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Simplicity 5471 is adorable! I’ve yet to make any halterneck dresses or tops, although I recently bought one of Simplicity’s reproduction vintage patterns that offers multiple halterneck tops. I think this is the perfect look for the summer – particularly with temperatures currently as high as they are in St. Louis. S5471 looks like a wonderful addition to any summer wardrobe. I’m thinking that this might be a great pattern to put on my short-term list of makes so that it can get some outings during the height of summer!

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If you’ve seen any of my previous vintage pattern hauls, you’ll know that I have a real love for patterns that feel slightly unconventional. My 1940s bathing suit pattern is probably one of my all-time favourites! So it’s unsurprising that I love V6644. When I first saw it, my immediate question was whether the shower cap is included in the pattern – imagine my joy to discover that it is! Adorable!

I genuinely am quite enamoured with the dressing gown on the left. I think it is so cute – especially the little bow ties on the front! Thinking ahead, I’m definitely in need of a dressing gown for the autumn. I’m one of those people that is obsessed with layers and just generally being covered up. Even at 35C outside, I’ll sit with the fan on so that I can justify having a blanket over me. I love thick socks, comfy pjs, and just generally being snug. As you can probably guess, summer isn’t a time of year that I inhabit with much success. But the nice thing with sewing is that I can plan ahead and feel autumnal in my makes. So perhaps indulging in a bit of dressing gown making will help me feel like October is already here!

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Saving the best for last! This pattern is actually super special because it’s the pattern that my aunt used to make her wedding dress – specifically version C. Isn’t it wonderful? I’ve been trying to find a photo of said dress but my laptop is being uncooperative. I’ll ask my aunt to send me a picture so that I can share in a future post. Although I’m not planning any future marriages (I’m sure my husband will be relieved), I’m so happy to have such an important pattern in my collection.

Although I have family members that have sewn or do sew, I didn’t grow up being exposed to these skills. I don’t remember ever seeing any family members sewing – but I always heard from my aunt how she used to sew her own clothes and had made her wedding dress. Having been traumatised by a sewing machine experience early in secondary school, these stories obviously failed to resonate with me. However, now that sewing is such a big part of my life, I think about this sewing legacy very often. The thing that I love most about sewing vintage and vintage-inspired patterns is the feeling of touching history. It’s not usually about actually wearing the garments I make – although obviously this is a bonus. Rather, I love the feeling of somehow connecting to the past through sewing such vivid examples of vintage patterns. Getting these patterns from my aunt gives me an especially strong sense of that connection!

So another vintage pattern haul done and dusted! I’m excited to try stepping out of my vintage niche with some patterns from other decades. Do you typically stick to a certain decade when you sew vintage? Or do you have no preference?

1960s Dress (Simplicity 8591)

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I’m so excited to be kicking off June with a brand new vintage-inspired make. It’s been a little while since I last turned my hand to a reproduction vintage pattern (despite an ever increasing stash of these patterns in my sewing cupboard), so this make feels particularly overdue. I’ve had my mind on a version of Simplicity’s 8591 pattern for a while – it’s super fun and flirty, perfect for a floraly summer dress – but couldn’t settle on a fabric. Fortunately, a trip to Joann’s set me in good stead with a beautiful mint green cotton and I was determined to finish May with a new dress under my belt (so to speak). And here she is…

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Sweet and simple. I love this dress so much! I so rarely have any issue with Simplicity patterns and S8591 was no exception. Despite the incident with my serger (we’re only just on speaking terms again), there were really no hiccups with any part of the construction process. Everything came together a treat due Simplicity’s super clear instructions. For some reason, I always panic when I use patterns from major pattern companies (Vogue, McCalls etc.). I’m not sure why – perhaps its the massive instructions sheets that typically come with their patterns. Either way, I’m always incredible intimidated by them. But this fear is usually unwarranted, particularly when I’m working with anything from Simplicity. I really enjoyed the construction of this dress and was able to reinforce a few skills – gathering, making ruffles – along the way!

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Definitely feeling my oats here

Size-wise, I obviously didn’t make a muslin (regular readers of Sew For Victory know that I avoid muslins with a tenacity that would honestly be impressive were it applied constructively elsewhere). As usual, I simply followed the sizing as per my measurements and hoped for the best. In the end, I had to take the bodice in quite a bit. I think I probably could have left it as it was, in which case it would’ve had a pretty generous amount of ease and just looked a little baggy around the waist/bust. But, since I decided to use an invisible zip rather than the standard zipper required by the pattern, it was super easy to take in. I simply basted the zip in and then worked with it until I got the fit just right. Obviously having my mannequin helped a lot with this!

Honestly, though, this fit adjustment wasn’t even slightly challenging. I would probably suggest that anyone trying this pattern might want to make a muslin first (if that floats your boat and, if it doesn’t, welcome to the club!) or perhaps opt for an invisible zip. Working with an invisible zip isn’t problematic at all in this case – there’s a generous amount of allowance of either side of the back bodice, so it’s simply a matter of finding a good fit and inserting the zip as you would normally sew in an invisible zipper (basically, I just ignored the pattern instructions and did my own thing).

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Let’s talk about the sleeve (and ignore my super pink arm – English people shouldn’t be outside in St Louis summer weather). Oh my goodness, is it the cutest feature! When I first started putting the dress together, I was slightly worried that it was looking a bit Victorian. Paired with the very gathered skirt, it definitely has that sort of feel to it. But the length of the sleeves work perfectly with the ruffles and, once the belt is added and the dress is hemmed, the dress instantly takes itself out of the 1800s and into the 1960s.

I’m in love with these ruffles. They’re really easy to add on and, if you work with a medium-weight cotton, they stand out beautifully. I’m obsessed on so many levels and seriously considering adding ruffles to literally every sleeve that I make from now on.

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I also really like the belt. I wasn’t sure if I could be bothered making it – particularly because I knew that I would have to trawl the internet for an appropriate belt buckle. It was definitely a quest trying to find one without a prong that was also the right size and colour. Fortunately, I now know that Etsy is the place to be when it comes to vintage belt buckles. After a bit of searching, I struck gold with this 1930s buckle – perfectly sized and only $8.00. I’m so glad that I decided to make the effort – not least because the belt only took about 30 mins to construct and it really does add to the 1960s vibe of the whole ensemble.

It’s also worth mentioning that this dress works perfectly well without a petticoat. I do have a bit of a problem when it comes to 1950s/1960s silhouettes. I love a circle skirt but I find that, without a petticoat, they can end up making my hips look enormous. The whole thing ends up looking a bit like a deflating balloon. Fortunately, the gathering on this skirt – balanced out by the high neckline and ruffles on the sleeves – helps the dress look amazing, even without a petticoat. This definitely makes me much more likely to wear it out and about!

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What more can I say? This dress is a vintage lover’s dream. I think it may be one of favourite makes to date (I know, I say this every time – but seriously, it’s amazing). I’m thinking it would be perfect for special occasions but could totally see it working for a  summer picnic or a desire to pretend you’re starring opposite Gene Kelly in a Hollywood musical (not that I ever think about this).

Now I’m off to twirl around for a while and practice some seriously sub-par dance moves!

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Vintage Sewing 101: Lines Can Be Friendly!

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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:

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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!

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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…

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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:

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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!

Book Review: Everyday Fashions Of The Forties By JoAnne Olian

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When I first picked up sewing as a hobby, it was almost an accident. I’d been on the lookout for an activity that would help me to channel the relative chaos of my life and had already cycled through a pretty impressive number of potential outlets – drawing and photography among them. I’d never had any previous inclination to take up sewing. In fact, my only encounter with a sewing machine when I was very young had left me terrified and certain that I would never touch one again. When I eventually decided to give sewing a go, it wasn’t due to a desire to overcome this long-established fear or a real passion for the idea of making my own clothes. Rather, it was a love of history – and vintage fashion, in particular – that first sparked my interest in getting reacquainted with the sewing machine.

I had always had a fascination with vintage styles. I’d taken up swing dancing while at university as an excuse to dress myself as authentically as possible. At the time, however, it never occurred to me that I might have greater success finding the outfits I was looking for were I to make them myself. Instead, I spent countless hours trawling eBay and a number of other sites for any authentic or replication 1920s-40s dresses and accessories. I didn’t have a whole lot of luck and, eventually, my passion for the jitterbug died out. But the fascination with vintage styles never disappeared.

Although my sewing skills have developed substantially over the past couple of years and I therefore depart every so often from sewing exclusively vintage-looking garments, I’m still constantly looking to bring sewing and vintage style together. When I’m not sewing vintage, I’m typically researching it. And my growing library has played a key part in delivering me great inspiration when it comes to my sewing.

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Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnne Olian is one of my favourite sources of vintage fashion inspiration. Alongside Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook (which I’ve previously reviewed), it is my go-to resource when I’m searching for that spark of creative instinct in designing or planning a make. The book contains a truly wonderful collection of advertisements used by Sears during the 1940s – ranging from women’s wear, to men’s wear and children’s wear. It is a truly thorough accounting of the styles that dominated the period.

The book opens with a detailed and incredibly interesting introduction, contextualising the whole collection with information on fashion in 1940s America. The manner in which the war impacted fashion choices is especially interesting:

“In spite of war-imposed shortages and hardships, and ‘sorry, not available’, stamped with increasing frequency over items in Sears wartime catalogs, the smiles of the clean-cut American women modeling in its pages never faltered. Wearing cotton stockings or leg makeup and rationed leather shoes, they took Sears’s advice and saved their treasured service-weight rayon stockings for ‘furlough dates’, conserving gasoline by walking in comfortable low heels or wedgies. They wore slacks for comfort and warmth even when pregnant.”

However, you truly come to this book not for the introduction (however interesting it may be) but rather for the amazing advertisements. The whole collection is an incredible historical snapshot. I mean just look at the hats:

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As with the hats pictured, the collection of advertisements gives a great amount of insight into 1940s accessories – as well as clothes. We get to see beautiful shoes, pins, and belts, in all of their authentic glory. There’s even an amazing ad for ‘leg make-up’ designed to offer “that silk stocking glamour”! I mean you really can’t more authentic in terms of understanding the 1940s war-time style environment than that!

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The layout of the book is impressively. Although obviously the ads are presented in black and white, they are all incredibly visually clear. You’ll also notice that the year of the ad’s publication is in brackets at the top of the page, meaning that you can track the advertisements and the styles they present with a mind to the social and historical context!

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to those with a real interest in 1940s fashion. Whether you are looking for personal style inspiration or simply a wonderful historical snapshot, you really can’t do better do better than this amazing collection.


Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnn Olian is available in both the US and UK. You can find it on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

New Projects: What’s Next?

With February now well under way, I’m attempting to get together some coherent sewing plans for my next few projects. The down side of not planning out a series of makes for the year (along the lines of #makenine on Instagram) is that I do spend a lot of time dithering when I find myself between projects. Since my sewing productivity has increased massively this past month, my lack of planning is becoming even more of an issue. On the other hand, my makes tend to be responsive to whatever I’m feeling at the time so planning out patterns for the year doesn’t really work well. To navigate these two perspectives, I’m trying to develop a planning method that falls somewhere in between by having the next few makes lined up – hopefully sufficient to get me through a month or two. With that, I thought that I would write up a post on my more immediate sewing plans – at the very least it gets my plans out of my brain (where they will inevitably slosh around and eventually disappear into the ether of my other thoughts) and written down in a concrete way!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently working from Tilly and the Button’s Love at First Stitch book.

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I’ve owned this book for ages but had yet to actually make anything from it. Having just finished up the Clemence skirt (photos to come soon!), I’m now working on a version of the Mimi blouse. I’m actually super excited about this make. I’ve never been big into making separates – I always seem to default to dresses because they’re just so pretty! But I’m determined to diversify my me-made wardrobe this year and separates are going to be a big part of that. I fell in love with the 60s style of the Mimi blouse and thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to use the beautiful fabric that I won during #vpjuly last year.

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I was going to hang on and make a dress from this fabric (as per my traditional dress obsession) but I can’t help thinking that it will make a super cute vintage blouse. Plus there will be some extra fabric left over for other things, which is always a bonus!

After I get done with the blouse, I’m thinking of working on another version of the Decades of Style Belle Curve dress. This was one of my earliest makes and remains one of my favourite patterns. It’s just so beautiful! Unfortunately, my early version of the pattern is both much too big for me now and not amazingly made. I definitely applaud myself for managing to make the pattern at all and, given my complete lack of sewing knowledge at the time, am still very happy with what I achieved. But I think the Belle Curve dress is definitely a pattern that will benefit from my much improved sewing abilities.

Pattern

I don’t yet have any fabric for this dress. I think it’s going to be a matter of rooting around at some fabric stores in order to find the perfect material. I think I’m still going to go for something plain (not patterned) and relatively light in colour, since this allows for the darts to show up especially well. I was actually really pleased with the fabric choice on my first version, so I think I’m going to try and use something relatively close to that – because why change what works?

The last project on my current list is the Closet Case Patterns Ginger Jeans. I’ve seen these jeans circulating in the blogosphere for a while and with consistently incredible reviews. I always struggle to find good jeans in stores because they’ll inevitably be baggy on my waist and thighs or too tight on my hips. The idea of making my own jeans is massively appealing and, with my recent Ultimate Trousers success, I’m feeling really motivated to make even more trousers! Not to mention, Closet Case’s jeans patterns are all 30% off for the month of February, as is their online Jean Making course! So I think I’m going to capitalise on that discount and give these jeans a go.

So that’s everything I have planned for the next month or so. If I continue on my current trend, my self-made wardrobe will definitely be growing exponentially through 2018! What do you have lined up for February? Dark, cold winters are definitely optimal sewing time. Maybe this -10 Celsius weather will clear up in St. Louis soon so that I can actually go out wearing some of what I’ve made this year.

 

Vintage Sewing 101: You And Your Figure

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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…

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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…

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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:

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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?

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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?!

 

 

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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My Vintage Life: Christmas in Hollywood

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

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


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

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Actress Mary Pickford putting up the Santa Claus Lane sign

As historian Nathan Masters describes Santa Claus Lane:

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

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

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

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

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner

Loretta Young

Loretta Young

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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