Category Archives: Sewing philosophy

Blog mission: Vintage for the real world

I was raised on old movies, fishing shows and country music. Thank goodness only one of them took.

Years of old movies and 1950s television fostered my love of vintage styles. One of my first purchases was a beautiful late-1940s tweed suit. At a reasonable $80, that glorious tweed was a better quality than anything I could have afforded new.

It was my only suit, and I wore it to the interview for what ended up being my first job out of college.

I was tall and painfully thin then. Five feet 9½ inches, to be precise, and probably less than 125 pounds. My waistline was maybe 27 inches at most. Make no mistake, I was technically underweight, thus I could actually find a lot of vintage pieces that fit.

So vintage fit my style, my body and my budget 20 years ago. But that’s no longer quite the case.

Vintage still fits my style, but prices have increased significantly for what are basically used clothes, and my waistline — well let’s just say it’s no longer 27 inches.

So where does that leave my affinity for vintage fashion?

I entered the mom years with more pressing things to think about than vintage. Like trying to find tall size maternity pants that were suitable to wear for my middle-management job. No easy task, let me assure you. Once the expando-pants were no longer necessary, practical clothes that were easy wash and wear became paramount.

But the kids are older now and quite a bit less likely to spit up on me as I head to work. And I have found my way back to vintage, but not the vintage of my slender youth. I’m not terribly interested in clothes that don’t fit well, and I’ve never been particularly interested in maintaining a full vintage look.

Fleur de Guerre of Diary of a Vintage Girl did a wonderful post on dressing against the flow that includes advice on how to start small with a vintage look. Starting small and ending medium is about the right mix for me. It plays out like this:

  1. Buy new clothing and shoes with a reference to vintage styles.
  2. Mix in modern pieces that play well with other eras.
  3. Wear hats as appropriate.
  4. Sew vintage styles from genuine or reproduction vintage patterns.

The first three are well in hand and have been for years, but the fourth is what will bring it all together. There’s a spot where vintage style, clothing that is practical for daily life, and garments that fit overlap. Sitting at the center of that Venn diagram of fashion is my sewing machine. And that’s where this blog comes in.

My mission is to use sewing to explore vintage styles are practical for the real world.

Right now I’m working on a couple of reproduction patterns. On the way to my house from What I Found Vintage Patterns are a couple of 1940s dress patterns that are not remotely my size. My plan for fall is to make my own tweed suit from a 1940s reproduction pattern.

Expanding my sewing skills in pursuit of styles from the movies and TV shows I was raised on is much more appealing to me at this point of my life than going through racks of clothes or tons of Etsy pages in a disheartening search for something that will fit and flatter my figure.

It’s not pure vintage, but it’s my vintage. And it’s fun to be back.

I submit to the Pressinatrix

During my recent Internet travels, I discovered this wonderful post by self-proclaimed Pressinatrix Ann Steeves on her Gorgeous Things’ Blog.

Yikes! I feel very fortunate that she has not stormed into my house to whip me into submission with her iron’s electrical cord. She would have been right to do so.

My attempts to properly iron my garments during construction fall woefully short of the Pressinatrix’s high standards. Turns out, I should not be ironing (back-and-forth motion, like with a wrinkled shirt out of the dryer) at all. I should be pressing (press down with steam, lift, repeat). And my clumsy attempts to use my pressing ham strike me as even more amateurish after having watched the Pressinatrix’s video on the Threads website.

Shame on me! Ann’s techniques for proper pressing have amazing results that speak for themselves. After one look at her case study garments — one pressed properly during construction and one not pressed at all — I can’t wait to try them on my current project. I resolve to learn all I can about proper pressing during garment construction.

(Though I do think I should get some points for knowing to iron press both sides of the seam flat before ironing pressing open, and for even owning a pressing ham!)

I’ll reform, Pressinatrix. I promise!

Why a muslin?

There’s been an interesting discussion going on in the online sewing community regarding doing muslins for sewing projects. For the those who don’t know, a muslin is a test drive of a pattern using an inexpensive fabric, typically muslin. The muslin isn’t sewn to completion. It’s sewn just enough to see what, if any, adjustments need to be made to the pattern so it fits better or is more flattering. I initially read about the “muslin backlash” a few days ago in a post at Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing.

Photo of muslin

Muslin for a previous project

So, tonight I was starting my next project, when I thought, “Do I really want to make a muslin for this relatively simple skirt?” And my answer was a definite “Yes,” and here’s why.
I read several years ago a recommendation in Threads magazine to do a muslin for every project. I thought it seemed like a lot of effort, but I tried it on my next garment. The muslin was coming together beautifully. I was very excited. And then I tried it on. Horrible. HORRIBLE! The ease was way too generous. The length was way too short. The sleeves were way too long. It looked just awful. I looked in the mirror and actually thought to myself: “This is the part where I usually cry.”

Instead, I started analyzing the muslin, figuring out what needed to be fixed, and altering the pattern accordingly. When I sewed the pattern up in the fashion fabric, it was a total success.

Now when I was a tall, underweight teenager (30 years ago!), all I needed to adjust was length and shoulder width. Today, my figure is far more complicated to fit. The bustline came in with the first pregnancy, and what little waist I had on my straight figure went away. Between a full bust adjustment, lowering the bust point and checking how the neckline falls, I’m too scared NOT to do a muslin. The neckline could be too low, the waistband too loose, the darts too deep, the hemline unflattering. I’ve often been surprised at the areas that need adjustment. When you consider that the pattern image is often a drawing, it’s a wonder the garments ever look like we expect. I want to be confident of what my end result will be.

Now, to be fair, some of the “backlash” regarding muslins has been about the waste of fabric and the waste of time when making a quick and easy garment. For me, I’d rather waste the cheap muslin than take the chance of wasting a more expensive fabric, and I sew because I want better fit and quality than ready-to-wear usually provides. Sewing is all about the opportunity for each of us to have complete creative control over the finished product and how we chose to make it. Making a muslin is my choice. If it’s not yours, I completely understand.

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