How To Sew The Perfect Winter Holiday Outfit: Finding A Pattern

Now that I’ve rediscovered my sewing motivation, I’m in full swing planning out a dress for the holiday season. I rarely sew with an event in mind (in fact, I think the last time was for Valentine’s Day about three years ago). I tend not to respond well to deadlines in sewing, even though I’m great with deadlines in just about every other area of my life. Since sewing plays such a vital and necessary role in my mental health maintenance, I suppose I resist anything that might add stress or pressure into the mix. However, this year, I have found the most perfect pattern for the holidays and am feeling the inspiration coursing through my veins. So trying to get it sewn in time for Christmas (or, if there are delays, New Year’s Eve) doesn’t feel like too much of a burden.

In recognition of the fact that we can now permissibly begin talking about Christmas (yes, my Christmas tree is already up!), I thought that I would write up a post to provide some Winter Holiday sewing inspiration. I’ve been doing quite a bit of searching about in order to settle on my own festive project, as well as looking back over patterns I’ve already made myself, and I have some real gems for you!

V8999 – 1954 Dress Pattern

This is my chosen one. I actually found it on a hunt in a pattern sale at Joann’s (probably the best pattern bargains that I’ve found anywhere to date) for about $3 and fell instantly in love. The shape is so unique and I just adore the panelling. I’ve decided to sew this up in a cranberry crepe to really hammer home the Christmas vibe. I was actually on the hunt for an emerald green because deep greens are probably my favourite colours for clothing. However, I was VERY budget limited. Because this dress requires an astonishing 8.5 yards of fabric (that’s about 8 metres). I’ve never sewn with that much fabric before, since even the most poofy of vintage dresses typically only require about 4 yards. Have you ever made a pattern that required so much fabric? I don’t think I’ve even seen one before this! The amount of fabric made me genuinely debate whether this pattern is the one for me, largely because I just couldn’t justify spending $100 on fabric for one dress that – let’s face it – might not turn out how I envision it (especially since I never make muslins). But I’ve recently discovered fabric.com (not sponsored in any way, they just have incredible fabric deals!) and managed to get all of my fabric and notions for about $45, which I consider quite the success.

So putting aside how frustrated I will inevitably be when having to cut out 8.5 yards worth of pattern pieces, I’m excited for this make. It’s been a while since I made something truly vintage since this year has been mostly focussed on sewing up some everyday wearable clothing. So it’s high time that I got back on the vintage horse and, with a goal in mind, I’m sure I’ll make it!V8999V8997 – Misses’ Princess Seam Dress

This is a pattern that I made for last year’s Cocktail Hour Sew-Along and I’m still pretty obsessed with it. Although the pattern itself is quite casual, this is definitely a dress where the fabric can transform the garment into something super glamourous. I used a black satin with silver stars and am still so in love with the way that it turned out. I decided to go with the version that has floaty sleeves (version A), since it feels most occasion-appropriate to me. However, this pattern comes with four very different versions, including two that are far more form-fitting. So, if that’s your style, I think that it would look perfect for a work Christmas party or New Year’s Eve shenanigans.

Also, this dress has pockets! Need I say more?

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The Belle Curve Dress – Decades of Style

If you’ve been visiting Sew for Victory for long enough, you’ll know that the Decades of Style Belle Curve dress is just about my favourite pattern of all time. It’s just stunning. I made it very early on in my sewing career (ambitious much?!) and was amazed to find that it turned out really beautifully. Until I cut through it a couple of months ago when attempting to stop some fraying, that is. Disregarding my thoughtlessness, this remains a beautiful pattern. The sunburst dart detailing on the sides gives the dress an incredibly flattering shape and is probably the most effective design detail that I’ve seen on any pattern.

Don’t be intimidated by the number of darts. If I could make this as my third ever sewing project, I have faith in your abilities. It’s also a relatively quick sew! I actually wore this dress for Christmas back in 2015, the same year that I started sewing and launched Sew for Victory. I highly recommend this make if you’re looking for a holiday pattern with a distinctly vintage edge!

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Sierra Jumpsuit – Papercut Patterns

If you’re looking for something a little more modern and less conventional, the new Sierra Jumpsuit from Papercut Patterns might be exactly what you want. Full disclosure: I haven’t actually made any of their patterns before. But their newest collection popped up on my Instagram feed and I was instantly in love with this particular pattern. I can just imagine it in an emerald green corduroy (even though, technically, the pattern recommends light to medium weight fabrics, but I do love to run counter to advice when it comes to my sewing). With a turtleneck underneath, this would be a stunning winter outfit. The waist-tie of the jumpsuit gives it that glamourous edge, without feeling too fancy. So if comfort and utility are important to you (or if you’re going to be chasing a herd of children around for most of Christmas day), this pattern would be an excellent choice!

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So those are my favourite patterns for all of your winter holiday needs. I will obviously be keeping you appraised of the dress making process, as I tackle monster amounts of fabric. If you don’t already follow me over on Instagram, you can catch me there – I usually post copious amounts of photos to my Instagram stories to document my making process. Otherwise, let me know in the comments if you have any favourite holiday patterns. What are you making this year?

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!

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!

 

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.

January Goals: How Did I Do?

At the start of 2018, I set out a few goals for myself. This was in an effort to (1) avoid the inevitable pitfalls and discouragement that come with the idea of resolutions (I feel like ‘goals’ are much more fluid and less associated with berating yourself for failure), and (2) help to give me some direction on the things I’d like to accomplish this year. Although I’m totally open to the fact that these objectives will change as 2018 progresses and circumstances shift, it’s always nice to have some goals that keep you moving forward. In an effort to keep checking in with myself – and to also give you some idea of my current sewing status – I thought that it would be a good idea to do a short monthly rehash of my progress and projects.

January has actually be a super productive month for me. My first goal for 2018 was to do more sewing – and this is something that I definitely succeeded in fulfilling so far! I’ve completed three projects in all, which is pretty amazing compared to my rather paltry showing last year. My first make was a version of B6242 – a reproduction of a 1960s pattern. This was definitely one of my more ambitious projects but ended up being one of my favourites! I especially loved the fabric choice because cherries always have a vintage feel to them (how did this come about, I wonder?).

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After finishing up this dress, I decided that it was high time to use one of my favourite fabric finds – an Australian aboriginal cotton that I’ve been too scared to cut in to. After consulting with lots of wise sewists on Instagram, I decided that a pair of simple trousers was the way to go and found my perfect pattern in the Ultimate Trousers from Sew Over It. The finished project is honestly one of my favourite makes of all time. I love absolutely everything about the finished product and the whole construction process was such a joy. Nothing crazy or complicated. And the resulting fit was something I didn’t think could be achieved without some serious alterations – instead, I just followed the pattern sizes, made the trousers, and found that they fit like a glove all over.

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Once the trousers were all done, I decided to continue working my way through my fabric stash and, shortly before the end of January, had whipped up a version of the Clemence skirt from Tilly and the Button’s Love at First Stitch book. I’ve had this book for a while and had yet to dip into any of the patterns (or, honestly, even look through it). But I’ve had the most darling sparkly bicycle fabric in my sewing cupboard for the past six months and knew that it would make a perfect skirt. I’ve yet to review the pattern – or show any pics – on Sew for Victory, but this will be coming up in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek…

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My second 2018 goal was to find more of a balance with vintage versus everyday wear. I definitely feel like I accomplished that in January. The Ultimate Trousers are absolutely something that I will be wearing on an everyday basis – as is the Clemence skirt (albeit only once spring/summer rolls around because it’s currently sleeting in St. Louis). That said, it’s a continued priority to sew vintage and vintage reproduction patterns when I can because, even though they are perhaps less versatile in terms of daily wear, they are absolutely my passion. A balanced approach to vintage versus everyday sewing is going to be key, and I think January reflects the development of a much better balance between the two.

My final goal for 2018 was to blog more. Without a doubt, January has been my most productive blogging month since I launched Sew for Victory a couple of years ago. I’m now in a position where I can dedicate much more time to the blog – in the past, Sew for Victory has always coexisted alongside PhD programmes and international moves. January has definitely been an amazing month for engagement with you all and with the broader sewing community. I’ve learnt SO much. I launched my Vintage Sewing 101 series at the start of the month and it has been an incredible learning curve. I’ve been baffled by a lot of what I’ve read but always leave more informed than when I came in. Since we’re not even at the end of the first of the eight sewing manuals, I’m sure there will be a lot more learning (and bafflement) coming my way.

Of all the posts I’ve written this month, however, I’m hands down happiest with Sewing for Self-Care: Your StoryI’ve been so overwhelmed by the response to this initiative and so excited by how supportive the community has been. The post appeared on The Fold Line and is currently featured on their Sewing Challenges and Hashtags page for 2018. As a result of this post, I’ve been contacted by some amazing and seriously courageous people. Some will be writing posts, others simply reached out to share their own experiences of sewing and self-care. Universally, these stories demonstrate that sewing is an incredible tool for people facing all kinds of battles. I feel so genuinely honoured to have been able to hear these stories. Never, when I was at my worst, would I have anticipated being in a position to share my experiences and have people prepared to volunteer information about their own to me. I can’t express how much respect I have for all of you who have faced, or are still facing, challenges with your mental health and attention to self-care. As much as self-care has become something of an overused phrase within the past couple of years, there is no catch-all term that better encompasses how we must all work to treat ourselves. I’m so excited to write more on this topic and introduce some other fantastic crafters to the conversation!

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So there we have it! What a whirlwind of a month! It’s been a fantastic way to kick off 2018 and, even though I’m still figuring some things out (and there are definitely places for improvement outside of these three goals), I’m excited to continue to move forward in February. Given that January and February are typically my personal annual low points (I don’t enjoy extra hours of darkness), 2018 is definitely bucking the trend! Thanks for following and supporting me through the first few weeks of 2018. I can’t wait to see what the next month has to bring!

 

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?!

 

 

Vintage Sewing 101: Care And Use Of Your Sewing Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now onto stitches…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*).