Tag Archives: vintage

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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Spelunking for treadles

Box

Pardon me while I continue my informal catalogue of All The Things. Where “The Things” are elderly and antique sewing machines belonging to, well, everyone I know. Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit my grandma, who is nearly ninety, on the old family farm. I fear I pestered her more or less continuously about sewing-related subjects… But she seemed fairly happy to tell me about sewing her own wedding dress and her mother making patterns from scratch. And then, of course, there are the machines.

The Machine

Exhibit A is the “new” machine. Meaning, the new electric machine my Grandma got for herself, probably in the very early sixties. It’s a lovely teal (!) straight-stitch Domestic, manufactured by White. Doesn’t it look like a rocket ship? It reminds me very much of the Piedmont, although it is a bit more futuristic, and probably (?) a year or five newer. The functionality is identical.

Buttonholers, attachments, and odds ‘n ends, oh my!

It took some digging around, but we eventually located the pedal and the attachments, including a nice set of hemmers and a Greist buttonholer (no eyelet template. /sigh). I gave it a bit of oil and changed the needle.

The needle that was in the machine.

Have you ever seen a needle that dull? I stitched a sample hem (to show my Grandma how the hemmer feet, which she never used, work) and a buttonhole just because. I would’ve liked to give it more of a workout, but the only “mending” lying around was some old coveralls that really, if I were to start patching, would end up more patch than original cloth. So I didn’t.

To infinity and beyond!

Cute machine, though. I would totally take it into space with me.

Stocking-mending kit. Not, actually, a matchbook.

My fave bit of paraphernalia was what I initially took to be a matchbook, tucked in the old sewing case (which belonged to my great, or possibly great great, grandma). Turns out it was for mending stockings—the stuff on the “matchheads” is some kind of water-soluble glue to stop runs, and then there is silk thread for darning the runs after, or something.

Then there is the treadle situation. There was, I was assured, a treadle on the farm. Granny (this would be my Grandma’s mother-in-law) had one, which Grandma used before she got the electric above. After Granny and her husband died, my Grandma and family moved into the “Big House” and the treadle was relegated to storage in the little house.

The Little House

The little house was built by my grandfather when he married my grandmother, and as far as I can tell was only occupied during the fifties. When my great-grandmother (Granny) and great grandfather died, in the early sixties, the younger generations moved into the big house, and the little house has been mostly abandoned ever since, although I do recall some half-hearted renovations now and then during my own childhood.

So, it took some considerable effort to get to view this mysterious treadle. First of all, it’s the middle of winter. There’s a foot and a half of snow on the ground. Just getting to the little house required some serious snow-slogging and a modest amount of shoveling. Then came the real spelunking, clambering through and around the array of… objects… which have come to occupy the little house, by the light of the flashlight plus the dim sunlight filtering through the ragged curtains.

Boxes and tins were moved, a mattress was dodged, and at last, just barely, we beheld the treadle.

Look familiar?

A Singer.

Actually, a Singer more or less identical to this one belonging to my Stylish sister-in-law.

Actually, a Singer completely¬†identical to my SIL’s. Right down to the JA serial number that marks it as being manufactured in 1924.

1924 Sphinx-decal Singer

I’m not sure whether to laugh or headdesk. I didn’t get to dig around to see if it had manuals or attachments or anything—we’ll give that a shot in the summer. It does still move, and will probably be just fine with a bit of oil, but again, not something I’m going to attempt at this time of year.

But at least it’s a known quantity.

Now I’m just wondering what happened to Grandma’s mother’s machine. It was an Eaton’s machine, Grandma assures me. Maybe her surviving sister has it…

You may now return to your regularly-schedules sewing blogs. Where, y’know, actual sewing is happening. I have so many plans and so little time… >_<

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Prezzies!!!

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Yaaaaay! I got home from the Farm to find this package from awesome commenter LinB—thanks so much, Lin! I am all squiggly with excitement. Ok, can’t type any more, must go play with patterns. ūüėÄ

*squeeeeseeee*

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Enablers Everywhere

Everywhere, I tell you. No sooner had I walked in to my mom’s this past weekend for our near-weekly dinner, then what did I espy, but a cream-and-teal, alligator-texture, sewing machine case. Oh, Mother.

What’s inside?

Well, it turns out the culprit this time is less my mother than my mother’s boyfriend. This does not actually make it any better, but the machine is going to continue to live at their house. With my Improved Seamstress treadle and the Army Machine and my mom’s Pfaff 360 and Featherweight. Which is not as pretty as my Featherweight, but has all its attachments. Yes, that’s five machines (only one of which isn’t a straight stitch), in the house of two people who “don’t sew.”

Piedmont

When I opened the case, my eyes were greeted by this gorgeous teal “Piedmont” machine. So pretty, very clean, in lovely condition. Apparently it has been languishing at my mom’s boyfriend’s favourite pawnshop for some time now, and finally he couldn’t bear to leave it there any longer. Thank you, MBF. Except. No attachments. Boo. I like attachments. (Also, I realized when I wanted to hem something last weekend, all the hemmer attachments that are wider than a rolled hem are at my mom’s. That’s like, three different sets. All there. None at my MIL’s or Stylish’s house. Which are the ones close at hand.)

Wiring. Eek.

And, even worse than the lack of attachments, the belt is missing and the wiring needs some serious work. The belt is not hard to replace (Sew Classic, for example) but I’m a bit freaked about the wiring. The wiring to the wall and the pedal actually appears to have been replaced previously—it’s much newer, undamaged, and the plug types are more modern-looking. But the wiring running from the weird plug-thing in the case to both the motor and the light is totally shot. Beyond scary. On the up-side, my mom has re-wired stuff before, and my father-in-law knows his way around a motor, probably blindfolded, and has promised me he has my back.

Cleaning. Not that it needed much.

The machine is marked “Piedmont”, which internet scuttlebutt suggests was a badge of the Hudson’s Bay Company (another Great Canadian Department Store) for generic Japanese-made machines of the post-war period. (“Badge” is old-sewing-machine-collectorese for a brand name put on a machine for sale by a particular vendor. Like “Improved Seamstress” was the badge Eaton’s Department Store put on machines manufactured by the National Sewing Machine Company. OK, maybe that’s self evident, but it took me a bit to work it out.) It does look to be a clone of a Singer 15 something, though, not that I know anything about Singers.

I’m reasonably comfortable asserting that it was manufactured somewhere between 1945 and 1960 (the 60s machines start looking modern. Less firmly, I’m thinking probably towards the later part of the fifties, since the colour and plastic knob for the feed drop are a bit “newer” but the style of the overall machine is still very old school. The serial # is¬†C788793, although the consensus on the¬†Yahoo Japanese sewing machine group¬†and other places about these machines seems to be: “You’ll never find out who exactly made it, it’s somewhere in Japan and sometime after WWII. And NO, it wasn’t made by Singer.” There was a helpful generic manual, though, that should do the trick.

Bobbin case

Aside from the wiring (as if that’s not the hugest aside in the world), it’s in lovely shape. The decals are pretty much unworn, there’s scarcely a scratch in the finish. It moved very, very stiffly when I first touched it, but after oiling every spot I could think of, plus a couple of hours to sit while we ate dinner, it was moving nice and freely. It had one bobbin in the bobbin case and two more in the bottom, but on inspection the one in the case itself was not quite the right size. I wound one of the other ones on my mom’s Pfaff (also not the right size, but it worked for bobbin-winding, anyway) and by dint of laborious hand-wheeling got a perfectly lovely, balanced stitch. The only thing I wasn’t able to do (aside from wriggle my nose to make the wiring magically repair itself) was to get the needle plate off; one of the screws came out perfectly, but the other is stuck. I gooped a lot of oil on it and will try again next time. I brushed as much lint off from underneath as I could, and it doesn’t seem to have any problems moving, but I’d still like to be able to clean out under there. ¬†And the stitch-length lever has this little adjuster knob beside it that sets the maximum length you can move the lever to in either direction.

Which is to say, all in all it’s an adorable little machine, assuming the whole wiring thing can be remedied. Because, y’know, I needed another straight stitch vintage sewing machine.

But, I mean, c’mon. TEAL.

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Wired

In lieu of actual sewing (which has consisted of two zipper repairs and a lot of daydreaming), I bring you yet another post on old sewing-related junk.

Antique Dressform

Another of those home-town resources.

A long time ago, my mother bought a dressform.

Of course, being my mother, she didn’t buy it because she was sewing, and she certainly didn’t go down to Fanny’s Fabrics and pick up some wobbly new thingy.

No, she brought this lady home from an antique store.

John Hall Dressform (The other leg says John Hall but the photo wasn’t as good.)

Some googling turned up a patent from 1881 for a very much similar form. Although not a whole lot else other than some exorbitantly priced ebay listings.

Neck & shoulder adjustable

I’m fascinated by all the varieties of fitting you could get in this. Total height is adjustable (though short, at least at the moment.) Torso length is adjustable. The skirt could be umbrella’d in or out depending on the fashion. The shoulders are adjustable. The neck is a high, solid (but adjustable) piece, for aid in fitting high collars, I suppose. There are built-in measuring tapes at waist and hips.

Hip tape measure.

And, yes, she sits around in my mother’s upstairs hall, usually sporting a hat or something. I’d be too terrified to actually use her, that’s for sure.

If you dress it…

The patent has a further measuring tape at the bust, which makes me wonder if she might have lost one there, although there’s no obvious sign of one.

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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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