Tag Archives: oldies

Somebody Else’s Handmade Dress (II)

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I bought an old dress.

Apparently, my Value Village now has a “Vintage” section. Apparently I am a sucker, and bought a dress, which I may well not wear. Because it was nifty, and handmade. And it makes me think about the kind of blog post whoever it was sewed it, might have written, had there been sewing blogs back in the 60s. Finds like this always make me want to trot over to the Vintage Pattern Wiki and hunt down the pattern. Unfortunately for you guys, all the photos were taken by Syo on the iPhone, so are pretty much terrible (more to do with lighting and iPhone than Syo). I miss the days when I had time and space to take actual good photos (and then edit them properly), but at this point it’s largely iPhone photos or no photos.

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Woo crazy hair

I assume it’s 60s. The construction is straight out of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. It’s a green lace underlined with what is currently a rather beige lining (either rayon or a much nicer species of polyester than I’m used to.) I love the hem detail with the buttons (is that a flounce at the bottom or an extra-extra dropped waist?), not so much the high neck with the placket-yoke-thing.

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Problems with the facing rolling out.

Despite her careful understitching, the facings have a tendency to roll out. Obviously they’ve been doing this a long time—she hand-stitched around below the understitching to try and keep everything in place. She even went as far as to handstitch much of the facing down to the underlining.

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Side-ish view

It’s a classic 60s sheath, high cut neckline, straight profile, with steep, curving French darts that reach the side seam somewhere around my hips. The dart placement is pretty good on me, but the tips are a little high. Presumably whoever made it was a shorty. Or very perky.

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French darts

It’s a touch roomy in the bust, and a touch tight through the hips. Although possibly that’s just from all the chocolate I ate over Christmas.

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Back view

The yoke wraps around to the back of the neck. I bet there was a version on the pattern image with big buttons on the front.

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Front placket

It’s trimmed in lace, which just barely stands out from the rest of the lace texture. I guess she was going for subtle. I do wonder how the colours have faded over time. Did it originally match better? Was the lining always a pale, nude under-layer, or did it used to be a brighter, seafoamy colour?

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Lapped zipper

Our unknown seamstress did a killer lapped zipper. Teeny and neat!

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“Design feature”

Maybe the coolest feature is this little wedge pieced in at the side of the skirt. My first thought was that she needed a little extra room in the booty, but the piece is only on one side and doesn’t extend into the flounce, so my next thought is that she either was trying to squeeze the pattern out of too little fabric or, had it folded to cut and didn’t notice that a little wedge was missing on the under-side. C’mon, I know you’ve done that too. Can you imagine how much she swore when she figured that out? Or maybe she was an old hand, and just sighed and pieced it in and trusted the texture of the lace to keep anyone from noticing. Although I notice the lace is running in the other direction—which makes me think she was probably short of fabric.

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Bottom “flounce”

Look at that bright green hem-tape! Did the dress really fade that much? Or was it always meant to be a fun flash of colour?

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Hemming with seam binding (and handstitching)

The edges are tucked under and hand-stitched to the underlining, so the finishing is invisible on the right side. Also those buttons are great.

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Running out of hem tape.

But look at the other side of the hem—d’oh! More swearing, echoing down the decades. Running out of that perfect colour of hem-tape just a few inches from the end! Obviously, she made do. One does.

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Happy. Grainy, but happy.

I love examining vintage construction (when I run across it, which admittedly isn’t often). There’s one more weird feature, that I didn’t get a good picture of—the inside of the front, under the yoke, has a big slash cut in it. At first I thought the lining had just given out from age, but the cut goes right through the lace, which is quite sturdy, and is very straight in the lace (more frayed in the lining). So maybe the yoke is a cover-up for some earlier mistake? Or maybe there was the option of an opening in the placket, and our seamstress decided against it mid-construction? (There’s a centre seam down the middle of the yoke that makes me think an opening option would be likely. Unless she really was just that short of fabric.) Or maybe it was cut into at some later date… the neatness with which she hand-finished all the other mods makes me surprised she didn’t at least overcast or otherwise neaten those raw edges.

I love these little mysteries. Problem solving, or design feature? We’ll never know…

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Half-forgotten, long unfinished

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Have you ever noticed how we create stories, even about our own lives? There’s a couple of different stories I tell about how I started “really” sewing. Often, I talk about my desire for a winter coat with sleeves that were long enough, and how I decided, after hunting in vain for years, to make my own. And that’s a true story. But there’s another story about how I started “really” sewing, that is equally true. Or equally fictitious.

I got into bellydance when I was sixteen, and it was a hobby-verging-on-obsession for years. In fact, from the age of eighteen to, oh, around when I started blogging, the vast majority of my sewing (such as it was) was for bellydance costuming. The patterns were simple and often improvised; there was a lot of hand-work and not a lot of technique, if you will.

When we first moved away from my hometown, though, all of a sudden I was no longer part of a performing troupe. For a while I carried on, making costumes just because I wanted to, contenting myself with student classes and the occasional year-end recital. But at a certain point I found myself frustrated. I had nowhere to wear the things I was making, and it was hard to motivate myself to finish them as a result. This was a major motivation for wanting to “really learn to sew.”

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This costume comes from around that time. It’s half finished, the main pieces mostly together but lacking the fine details that would make it really stunning. I stumbled upon it today in a box that hasn’t really been opened through my last two moves. The vest comes from the Folkwear “Turkish Dancer” pattern, while the bra is a recovered, storebought one. The blue fabric is a slippery poly velvet I bought at the thrift store yonks ago, and is the single most evil fabric I’ve ever sewn with. Everything you see here was hand-basted before being machine stitched, if the machine was involved at all. Most of the trim was applied by hand. I had visions of seed pearls scattered through the folds of the ruching. We’ll see.

For the moment, it’s getting carefully folded back in its box. I have twenty three other patterns vying for my headspace, after all. ūüėČ And while we’re (slowly) getting settled in, my sewing stuff is mostly still in my mother-in-law’s basement. I found my dish-drainer today, though. That’s a victory.

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(Oh, and these livingroom shots were taken back when I first made it—as much action as this costume has ever seen.)

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Archiving

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Dear Internet,

Round about 1986 (or was it ’87?) my grade 1 class did art projects making illustrations with plasticine. I think we were reading a book illustrated this way. And learning about les oiseaux. Well, plasticine is not noted for its archival qualities, and a quarter of a century later the piece is showing its age. Not to mention taking up space in my mom’s basement. So this post is to document it, in all its childish, bedraggled glory, so that my mom can let it go to its eternal reward.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled sewing. I promise if I feel the need to archive more childhood relics, I’ll give them their own blog (maybe a tumblr) and not subject all of you to it.

Man, I was proud of that bird, though. I

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The Black Leather Dress

Black leather dress.

Once upon a time, in the dying days of the 20th century, I bought, at the local vintage clothing store, a dress that was not vintage, nor really classic any way at all, but that was homemade.

Far more important to me at the time, of course, was that it was black and it was leather. Looking back on it, I have the sinking feeling that it was someone’s idea of a costume for Xena, Warrior Princess. Either that or it’s fetish-wear escaped from someone’s personal dungeon. Regardless, it was an absolute delight to my teenage sensibilities, and has never lost its place in my closet since, despite the situations calling for it being about as common as hen’s teeth in my life these days.

C’mon, you can’t model a Xena dress without a sword.*

I keep trying to come up with a quick description, you know, such as might be printed on the pattern for such a dress. Halter-type, open backed dress has princess seams, boning, and Roman Legionary skirt?

Like so many of our home-stitched garments, it has a few quirks. Although, it’s hard to say where design ends and quirk begins, and then there’s the issue that it was probably perfectly-tailored to the original wearer. Or maybe not.

Repurposed?

So, the obvious: plenty of interesting seaming, perfect for using small scraps of (possibly reclaimed) leather. At least one of the gladiator-strips at the bottom has a previous stitching line crossing it, suggesting it has been repurposed. I do wish these bottom strips were a bit more substantial—double-layered or at least topstitched. They look kind of unfinished and cheap.

Unzipped

The straps are an odd combination-halter-type I’ve never seen elsewhere: the main strap is a simple halter, snapping behind the neck, but then there’s this accessory strap that rungs from under the arm up the back of the shoulder, and attaches to the halter just on either side of the snap.

Back view

This strap sits at a bit of an odd angle, and has always folded a little awkwardly on me at the back of the arm, unless I slouch significantly. Does this mean that the original owner had a more rounded, stooped, or slant-shouldered posture than I? Or was it just some quirk of imperfect or inexperienced drafting?

Snap and straps

The snap is not exactly perfectly-applied, but is less mangled than mine usually are, and let’s face it, anyone who sets snaps through that many layers of leather by hand has my kudos.

Back zipper.

The entire dress zips open at the back with a separating zipper that, oddly, opens from the bottom. Was this planned, or did our seamstress mess up and then decide to keep it since, well, unpicking leather? I can’t say it makes the dress any easier to get into, although it’s certainly quick to get out of. Hmm. Is that another point for the fetish-gear argument?

Lining

The inside is lined with a thin stretch lining of some kind, with all the same piecing as the outside. I think I would’ve wanted to simplify for the lining, personally. It is very short. In fact, I hadn’t quite appreciated just how short the whole thing is from the back until taking photos this time. Which is why the back view photo is only from the hips up. Hmm. And this is not the dress that caused my mother to declare I looked like a hooker when she first saw me wear it.

Lining attachment

The lining appears to have been hand-stitched in place all along the top edge, where there is a narrow leather facing; the hand-stitching continues up the insides of the narrow straps, which also kind of makes sense—I think turning straps in leather would be a pain in the butt.

Boning in front.

Something I only noticed just now (now that I’m finally looking at it with a stitcher’s eye is the presence of two pieces of flexible plastic boning stitched to the seam-allowances in the front. Along only one edge of the boning, since the seam allowance isn’t wide enough for both. They took the time to tip the bones with leather, though, so they wouldn’t poke through.

There’s no internal seam finishing on the leather or the lining, not that anything’s in danger of ravelling, and the hem on the lining is made with a simple zig-zag.

Luv

/sigh. For all its weirdness (and impracticality), I still love this dress.

Back in the day.

And, just to prove its antiquity, here’s a shot of it in actual use, from New Years Y2K itself. With Osiris, and though you can’t really tell, an itty-bitty Tyo bump.

*What, you mean you don’t have swords lying around the house? C’mon. I mean, some of you probably have guns in the house—now that’s whack.

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Promaballoona, Vintage Edition

Vintage Grad Dress

Now, it is a sad truth that there was no way in hell I was going to have time to make a whole prom dress for Promaballoona, Oona’s fantabulous birthday bash this year. And, well, I hate to say it, but it’s not as if I really need another prom dress.

But, it is equally true (and considerably less sad) that there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to be left out. Especially not when I just happen to have a vintage handmade prom dress handy. You saw the pre-digital-camera shots from my original grad ¬†here—now you get the full expose.

Confession: I have written about this dress before.¬†But. a) I didn’t have it on hand to take closeup and detail photos, and two) many¬†of you weren’t reading back then and, inexplicably, may not have obsessively gone over every single post in my archive. So I’m going to indulge my inner brat Oona and write about it again. This time with brand-new, modeled shots courtesy of my glamorous back deck, and even some detail bits.

Full view. Yes, I should’ve ironed. I did not. Hush.

Now, as you have no doubt seen (and if you haven’t, go! I’ll wait.), I wore this dress, which my mother made, back in 1998, to my grade twelve graduation ceremony and subsequent dance and dinner. 1998 may not seem old enough to some of you to qualify as vintage, and indeed, you are probably right (except possibly by my daughters’ standards.) But this dress wasn’t made in 1998. My mother made it in 1970, for her Grade 12 graduation. (And while that still may not count as vintage for some of you, well, this is my blog and I’m counting it.) In particular, she received some kind of 4H credit for completing it. (Sadly, my efforts to acquire photographic evidence of my mother wearing it were in vain. Neither she nor my grandmother were able to lay hands on my mom’s grad photos in the time-frame I gave them. When I have the leisure to dig through their houses myself I will try and hunt one up and force you all to read about this dress yet another time. ūüėČ )

Inside

The fabric is a peach polyester brocade. My mother is no more of a peach fan than anyone else, but the fabric was on sale, and this was a Factor in its selection. Unlike the Teal Bombshell dress (which is a similar vintage), this one is fully lined, but, I must say, from the construction I suspect that the lining was my mother’s addition rather than an integral part of the instructions. She constructed the lining exactly as the pattern, and attached the facings overtop of that, with the inner edges (very nicely finished, I will add) free. The neck and armhole facings are separate and overlap at the shoulders, which I think we all agree is unfortunate, although probably easier to sew.

Trims

She went the extra mile for the trim—lace and ribbon—along the bottom of the bodice, which I think really finishes off the dress.

Zipper and facings

The zipper is a simple, centred application. The lining and facings have been stitched to the zipper tape by hand along the CB on the inside. There is interfacing in the facings, but it doesn’t seem to have been caught in the fold-over finishing of the facings. Not sure if that was intentional or not; it might also have originally been caught but frayed itself loose over the years.

Hems

Aren’t those pretty hems? Seam binding, hand-hemmed on the fashion fabric, a machine stitch on the lining.

Original 1970 accessories

These are my mom’s original accessories—long evening gloves, sequinned handbag, pearls, and wrist corsage, although the corsage, I fear, has not really enjoyed its time in the box. My corsage was real flowers—it didn’t even survive the first night, although it was very pretty while it lasted.

My accessories (then)

I wore the evening gloves and carried the handbag, but for whatever reason supplied my own pearls (although I do think my mom’s are nicer). And my own shoes, not that you can see them. And my own Big Meaningless Trophy. ūüėČ

My accessories (now)

(It was the Art Award, if I recall correctly…)

Back view

A few more pics, just because.

Vanity

There are not many things more enjoyable than a good prom dress.

And further vanity

Happy Birthday, Oona!

Oh, rats. I forgot the booze.

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Somebody Else’s Handmade Dress

A dress of semi-mysterious origin.

Ok, how to explain the provenance of this dress? My crafty sister-in-law (techically my brother-in-law’s wife), has, astonishingly, both a mother and a daughter. Long and long ago, her mother was a seamstress, and at some point ended up with a store of (now) vintage dresses. A year or two back, she offered one of these to my crafty sister-in-law’s daughter for her grade 8 graduation. She altered the dress quite a bit, in particular removing the sleeves and shortening it, but in the end, said ungrateful child didn’t like it (at least partly because it’s quite tight in the bust on her,* but also because her grandmother wouldn’t shorten the hem any further) and wore a modern, storebought dress instead. On my most recent visit Home, said ungrateful child offered the dress to me. And then, when I tried it on, declared how great it looked on me.

I, also, think it looks great on me.

I’m not entirely sure how to take that, frankly, but anyway. Here’s the dress. Questionable taste of fourteen-year-olds aside, I like it quite a bit.

The vintage is late sixties or early 70s (I was told 70s but the style feels more 60s to me… maybe that’s just the length, though, which has been altered). It’s an empire-line cut with a darted bodice and long darts to fit the skirt over the hips. In fact, it’s very similar in style to the grad dress my mother made herself in 1970. And it was entirely home-made, by someone whose skill, while adequate, certainly wasn’t any greater than most of us bloggy types.

The interior.

The dress is unlined, but entirely underlined. It’s made out of a satiny teal twill, undoubtedly polyester, with an overlay of white lace in the bodice area.

“ribbon” waistband

The matching ribbon “waistband” and bow at the front are made of tubes of the fashion fabric, finished by hand at the ends.

Seam finish and darts

The raw edges on the inside are finished with a zig-zag (with considerably less rolling than I’ve ever encountered when zig-zagging). The long, double-ended waist darts have a snip in the middle, to allow them to curve more smoothly. Possibly I should be doing something similar for my Project Drop Waist efforts, but I’m not a big fan of the raw edges. I suppose that’s what lining is for.

Shoulder seam

The shoulder-seam is finished by hand. Given that the dress originally had sleeves, and how freakin’ snug it is under the armpits, I suspect my sister-in-law’s mother took the shoulders up to shorten the whole bodice for my niece, who may be busty but is definitely not tall. The bust darts are distinctly high on me, too, although where the empire waist falls is perfect. (That being said, before I read the Slapdash Sewist’s trick, I used to sometimes finish sleeveless shoulders this way, too, so I didn’t have to hand-stitch in the lining (in this case, facing). But like I said, the dress originally had sleeves, so I can’t imagine why it would’ve had this kind of finish on the shoulder if it’s not from alteration.)

Lapped zipper

The back zipper is lapped, and the top has some of the same kind of funkiness that I tend to run into when I attempt such things, making me think that either that’s intentional or that the dress’s original stitcher was as inept as I generally am. Other than that it’s reasonably well executed, but not hand-picked.

Back view

The bodice fits well enough but the rib zone is, ah, snug. Cute, but not quite fit perfection (not recommended if deep breathing is going to be required, either). ¬†As per usual, the portion above the waist is a smidge long (but less than I might have expected, which also makes me think the shoulders were taken up). Fortunately, there’s lots of room in the hips. The horizontal fold deepens a bit at centre back—swayback joy.

Inside view of bodice darts

The bodice darts are sliced, zig-zagged, and pressed open to reduce bulk. I have heard of this, but haven’t tried it yet myself. I think that about covers the construction details, however. Oh, bodice is finished with a one-piece facing, which you’d be able to see in the first interior picture if you clicked to embiggen it.

Still cute. Fit quibbles aside, I feel like a curvy bombshell in this dress. Which is unusual for me.

Also, I GOT A HAIRCUT! It’s been, um, six months. Aiee. I feel human again! Although I tried to use a hair wax to style it this time, like my stylist does. When she does it it looks smooth and soft and fluffy. Somehow, whenever I try to use a wax, it ends up stringy and greasy-looking. But I won’t complain, because I love my haircut. And this dress. I totally don’t think it’s over the top to wear a vintage 60s prom dress for running errands. Do you?

*yes, my fourteen-year-old niece gives me hand-me-downs…

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I am tired (and other reminiscences)

Still breathing! (MMJ 26)

But victorious. Children arrived, milled around, played, ran, jumped on the trampoline, scraped elbows and knees, bumped each other jumping, got splinters, roasted hot-dogs, opened presents, lined up (!) for ice-cream cake, and  eventually were reclaimed by their parents (even the ones who slept over and were claimed this morning). I am SO thankful for the two friends who stuck by me through it all, and as a bonus the hubbykins was able to get off work a bit early so arrived in time to oversee the present-opening and cake-eating. The sun was warm although the air was cooler (high of 18C); water-balloons were tossed around but I managed to fend off the suggestion that the sprinkler should be put on under the trampoline.  Oh, and Tyo got a hedgehog.

Forgive the poor scan and indifferent photoshopping.

Tomorrow is Syo’s actual birthday. Which means that the photo above was taken eight years ago today. I was having teeny-tiny contractions at ten-minute intervals all through the photo-shoot, and remember wondering if that meant real labour was imminent or if it would just go away on its own. It was still a good ten days before my due-date, but that’s longer than I was pregnant with Tyo. I made the purple choli (cropped shirt) I am wearing and the belt, although you can’t see much of that but the tassles. One very artistic friend drew the designs on my belly in eyeliner and lip pencil.

Purple choli (back view)

My sewing back then was what I’d call “costume grade”—functional, occasionally fancy, but largely devoid of seam-finishes and other fine-touches.

Unfinished seams, showing sideseam including underarm gusset. I did a decent job on the bottom ties/binding, though.

The pattern I used for this was essentially an early version of the one now available from Folkwear, although my A/B cup version lacks the bottom triangles, relying on the magic of bias stretch to fit around the bust. In more recent iterations I adapted it into a full princess-seam in the front, but this version has a straight ¬†over-bust seam. This wasn’t the first choli I made, but it might be the second or third; I had learned (the hard way) to be careful of the bias-stretch on the front neckline and to double-fold my hems at neck and sleeve. I think the fabric was left over from a project I helped my cousin make; the rest of the remnants had become a self-drafted jumper-dress for Tyo, which included a facing (I had never done a facing before).

Earrings

I thought I’d show you a better photo of the earrings I wore the last couple of days, as they’re hand- made (by my mother, granted, not me). The little man is an antique ivory figurine my mother had kicking around forever (I wonder if he originally had something decorative in his navel… the hole in his belly-button is quite deep, but doesn’t go all the way through.) Then in the late eighties or early nineties some family friends returned from Zaire and gave my mom the malachite elephant. This was around the time when everyone was making beaded jewelry (I’ve commented on my mom’s serial crafting before), ¬†so it seemed only natural to hunt down a couple of other beads and create our African earrings. I remember discussing with my mother how the long bone and the round malachite bead echoed the ¬†respective shapes of the two pendants. I miss bouncing design ideas around with her—we used to do it about everything, from clothing to jewelry to the arrangement of furniture in the house. I hope I can have those kinds of conversations with my own daughters soon enough.

Anyway, I should now return to cleaning my house, so that Syo and I can make biscuits (scones for the British readers) and maybe even get started on the teachers’ presents. My kids have between them five teachers who need presents. They’re all wonderful ladies, but it still seems a bit excessive to me. It’s not like they’re middle-schoolers with a teacher for every subject.

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