1970s | Dresses

1970s impulse sewing: knit dress with underbust belt (Simplicity 7575)

By on May 7, 2014

So a few nights ago I was on Instagram scrolling through Me-Made-May photos and I saw this really awesome feather-print 70s vintage dress by Cation Designs and then she was saying that Tanit-Isis got her hooked on 1970s dresses and then I was thinking “hey, I have a kinda similar 1970s vintage dress pattern in my stash” and so then I found it and I grabbed some stash fabric and I cut it and I made it and… here it is.


The basics

Pattern: Vintage Simplicity 7575, from 1976, a topstitched raglan-sleeved V-neck knit dress with slightly gathered skirt and attached belt to create underbust shaping. (I actually got my copy from We Sew Retro—but you should be able to find one on eBay or Etsy fairly easily).

Fabric: Two yards of a wonderful soft medium-weight purple rayon or cotton spandex blend knit with amazing stretch, drape and recovery (and maybe a BIT too much cling). It’s been in my stash since before 2010 and my notes say I bought it at “NY Fabrics” but I can’t remember where or what that store is in the Garment District.

Notions: Just thread and some fusible webbing tape for taming the belt and facings.

Size: 12 (it’s a one-size pattern). The body measurements for this size were about 3-4 inches smaller than mine, but I trusted the power of spandex and negative ease, and made no adjustments except a 1″ FBA. The dress actually has quite a bit of ease, as it’s the belt that gives it a fitted look.

Inspiration: This dress totally makes me think of my amazing mom Beryl, who was a total 70s girl and loves to sew knit dresses. Here she is with my dad and her parents (both in ensembles sewn by my grandmother) at her wedding in 1973:

It also reminded me of the last vintage 1970s pattern I sewed back when I was super pregnant, which also had a similar attached belt thing going on.

Full details and lots more photos on my blog post.

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1940s | 1980s | Blouses

A polka dot peplum top

By on May 27, 2013

Hummingbird knit top by Cake Patterns in polka dots by Polka Dot Overload

Hello, We Sew Retro! It’s been some time since I posted here (I’ve been ill and out of the sewing game for months but am finally recovered!) but you may remember me as the artist who created the art you see on the header above.

A properly fitting peplum (seam snug at the waist, skirt at the right length and proportion) is a thing of wonder. It can suggest an hourglass figure, or accentuate one that already exists. Peplums seem to be most associated with the 1940s and 1980s, though they seem to pop up a bit in the 1950s and 1970s as well.

Me Made May 19: A Little Hummingbird Told Me

My mother has actual live hummingbirds in her yard, but try as I might I could not get one to land on me for my photos!

The top pictured here (full project details on my blog, Polka Dot Overload) is a modern sewing pattern with vintage roots—the Cake Patterns Hummingbird Peplum Knit top. The skirt here is just a RTW pencil skirt, but I’m working on the skirt from the pattern next. (Full disclosure—I am the pattern envelope illustrator for Cake, but I was not paid to sew this pattern and tested it out on my own time for my own peplum-loving ends).

Here was my initial spring sewing planning sketch (Hummingbird in center):

Spring Sewing Sketch 2013 — Cake Patterns Edition

I’ve also made a more colorful version, but it’s not quite as vintage-inspired of an effect. The fabric print is almost 1970s-looking to me:

Cake Patterns Hummingbird Peplum Top—in hummingbird colors

Again, full project details (for the polka dot version) and lots more photos on my blog, Polka Dot Overload.

P.S. I hope to have more projects to show soon, including this half-peplum asymmetrical dress from a vintage mail-order pattern (acquired from the ZipZapKap store):

Vintage Mail Order 1640 Sewing Pattern

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1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | Katherine's picks | Pants / Trousers

In Defense of: “Mom” Jeans, “Granny” Panties + “High” Waists

By on April 23, 2012
High Waisted Denim Love

“But you don’t want to wear MOM jeans, do you?”

Said my mom, to me, after a frustrating hour-long jeans try-on-a-thon at our local Old Navy. I had just rejected yet another pair of “classic-rise” jeans that weren’t even making a serious attempt at approaching my belly button (or covering the stretch marks), and I was about to cry.

My sole pair of halfway-decently-fitting jeans are falling down and falling apart, and I had searched high and low for a pair–just ONE pair–of jeans that might replace them, even if that meant trying out the skinny jeans trend.

Well, maybe I do want “Mom jeans” (minus the stonewashing and pleating, anyway). Because I’m sick of jeans labeled “high rise” resting five inches below my natural waist. What conspiracy decided that “modern” jeans should sit barely above the hips, requiring tunic-length shirts to awkwardly hide exposed bellies, and belted tops to emphasize a natural waist that could just as easily be emphasized by a well, waistband?

I am perfectly fine with my post-baby belly–stretch-marks and squish and all–because I couldn’t begrudge anything having to do with the birth of my amazing wonderful little girl. But that doesn’t mean I covet the muffin-top look, and I would much rather the emphasis be on my waist than my belly, thank you very much.

And as a vintage lover, I reject the idea that a low-waisted jean is inherently superior (though it certainly works awesomely for many, of course). Seriously, when and how DID this happen? If you look at any pants or skirt sewing patterns from the WHENEVER up to the 1980s, they pretty much rest on the so-called “natural” waist:



Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

Oh wait!

Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

Yeah, there you have it–the hip-hugger jean (and that pattern envelope girl is even striking a pose worthy of Tant-Isis, queen of the low-rise jean!). Perhaps we can blame the 1970s? The natural waisted jean had a brief revival in the 1980s:

Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

And then somehow, somewhen–in the 90s?–someone permanently decided that it was more modern to ignore the laws of logic and gravity and figure flattery and decree that natural waists were not only outdated, but UGLY, PASSE, and FRUMPY, retraining the eyes of millions over time until we could not but be horrified and terrified by so-called “Mom jeans.” This (admittedly hilarious, thank you Tina Fey) Saturday Night Live video didn’t help.

So where does this leave me? Frustrated and jeansless, pretty much. That Craftsy copy-your-favorite-jeans Jean-ius class wouldn’t work for me, as I have no jeans I’d even want to copy, so I think this means I need to do a little vintage-inspired jeans sewing (pattern TBD–I think I have some good ones in my stash).

And speaking of natural waists–what’s a girl supposed to wear with her high-waisted jeans, pencil skirts and so on? It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to find cute, reasonably priced high-waisted underthings… in fact, most of these are actually retro swimwear bottoms from Modcloth:

Not Your Granny's High-Waisted Panties

So I think a little sewing might be in order here, too!

Finally, some questions for you:

  • How do you feel about natural-waisted women’s jeans and panties? Do you think they can be sexy, or do they automatically scream “FRUMP-VILLE” or “80s” to you?
  • Do you have any favorite sources or sewing patterns for high-er waisted jeans and panties?
  • Have you ever been accused of wearing “Mom jeans”?

Cross-posted in slighty modified form on my blog, Polka Dot Overload.

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1960s | Dresses | Lingerie

Mad Men Challenge: Joan Bow Dress Plans

By on February 27, 2012

Mad Men Sewing Challenge Sketch: Joan Dress

A royal blue figure-hugging V-neck Joan dress with cuffs? And a bow? Oh, yes, please.

Are you as excited by Julia Bobbin’s Mad Men Challenge as I am? A Joanie dress has been on my epic to-sew list for EONS now. I actually missed the entire last season of the show (I blame my awesome toddler for being way more fun than watching even a really excellent show) but no matter. Also: I used to work on Madison Avenue! (In marketing, not advertising, but still).

I’m not sure what I think–I’m not as in love with the drawing as I expected to be, but I think it’s the hair and the fact that I couldn’t figure out how the dress would work on my narrow shoulders–which is why I didn’t draw in the brooch. Maybe I need to convert it from the set-in sleeve of the pattern to the kimono sleeve of the real Joan dress?

I have the main dress fabric (and some boring gray doubleknit from the stash for a muslin) but I’ve been frustrated in my dickey fabric search. As you can see above, I got some random cheap poly chiffon that sorta works–but Joan just strikes me as a genuine silk charmeuse kind of woman. I’m struggling to find a silk charmeuse with an even vaguely similar or 60s-appropriate print. This awesome printed silk remnant on the Denver Fabrics site is perfect, but I emailed them and they’re only selling it as one big 8 1/2 yard piece… I need like, 1/2 a yard:

I’m also working on a modified Ruby Slip to wear underneath (I considered a half slip since I have one cut already, but I know I’ve seen Joan wearing a blue silk full slip in several scenes).

Mad Men Sewing Challenge Sketch 2: Under Options

So are you in? Have you picked a dress? I DID consider a non-Joan dress… briefly. But really, my figure type is closest to Joan’s, and I’ve never drooled over the other character’s clothes the way I have hers.

More details on my dress/plans over on my blog, Polka Dot Overload.

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1960s | 1980s | Children

Sew Grateful Reflection: “Surrounded by Sewing”

By on February 13, 2012

Above: A lovely doll my mother made when she was learning to sew in the early 1960s. “She’s lost her face and is a little sad-looking but notice the fancy hairstyle and the gathers on the sleeves and bodice. She used to have a petticoat and pantaloons but they are gone now.”

How much did you love Debi’s Sew Grateful week challenge?

I’m running a bit late on all my posts–soon I’ll be sharing the story of how my beloved grandmother Melba taught me how to sew in a bittersweet week book-ended by a road trip to a Mississippi funeral and a scary ambulance ride to a small Georgia hospital–with some photos of her clothing from the 1930s to 2000s.

In the meantime, here is a guest post from my amazing mom Beryl Reid about how HER grandmother taught HER how to sew. (Along the lines of this family tradition, I think my mom will have to teach my daughter how to sew!)

“I grew up surrounded by women who sewed. My grandmother Drue was my first sewing teacher. I was living with her in Corinth, Mississippi in the summer of 1960 (I was about eight years old). There was, of course, a sewing room in the house, with an amazing pedal driven sewing machine.

“Me (in school photo) the year I learned to sew… in Corinth, Mississippi.”

I had been sewing “by hand” for a long time, for as long as my memory goes back. I had just finished making a doll that wasn’t really for playing with… it was a Civil War era doll that reflected my obsession with history. I wanted to make a really detailed and authentic period costume for the doll.

“This is a photo of us kids, sitting on one of the rag rugs my grandmother made at the house in Corinth. I’m on the far left.”

My grandmother decided I should learn to use the sewing machine for the doll’s costume. She sat with me for days, making sure I knew how to thread the machine and run it. Her method of teaching was gentle, but “hands off”. She let me make all my own mistakes and knew that getting me started was all that was needed. There was no “hovering” or nagging or recriminations… at all!

“This is a picture of my sister Melinda, my cousin Pam and my brother Michael… my grandmother Drue made all these clothes.”

Most of the time I was left alone with the machine, my imagination and time to figure out what to do on my own. She might suggest some techniques… especially the gathering of the skirts and pantaloons. She would show me, then leave the room. Often, she would be in the next room, working on one of her own projects.

Every woman I knew in my family and extended family did some kind of home sewing or “making.” Drue had grown up in the rural South, the wife of a sharecropper—and in that culture, you often couldn’t buy something nice to wear, but you could make it yourself. She loved to make clothes, quilts and rag rugs… it was a legitimate creative pleasure for her and the women of my family. Both of her daughters (including my mother) had learned the same outlook and were both skilled at sewing, knitting and the art of “making it yourself.”

“Drue (center, between my sister Becky and grandfather Garland) sets up a quilting frame in preparation for a quilting bee.”

By the time I returned to my mother and father after that summer, I knew how to sew. I had to re-learn it a bit when I started using my mother’s electric Singer, but that didn’t take too long. My mother Melba didn’t have to teach me. She added a few practical tips to my outlook on sewing, mostly of the time-saving sort:

  • She scorned the use of pins… a few upside coffee cups on the pattern were enough.
  • She also didn’t really believe in chalk or marking… a dart should be memorized and just done.

Speed was important to my mother. She worked full time as a book-keeper when I was growing up, so sewing was done after a long day and was often because she wanted a new outfit for herself or me and my siblings—it was a practical activity. She did love to dress up (she inherited this from her mother!). They looked like models from a magazine to me and I admired them as gorgeous, stylish and capable women.

By the time I was eleven, I had progressed to making my own dresses for school. I remember one dress, it was a turquoise blue “mini” dress (remember this was the time of the “British Invasion” and skirts were inching up!) it was sleeveless and had a large double ruffle around a scoop neck, almost like a big necklace or flower lei. I can’t tell you how proud I was to wear it to school!”

——Beryl Reid (aka Mikhaela’s mom)

Four (sewing) generations:Beryl, Melba (holding Mikhaela) and Drue in the early 1980s.

I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures of my mom’s ruffled blue mini dress, or of any of Drue’s beautiful quilts (my mom thinks there might be one in her attic but she couldn’t find it)… but here’s a bonus photo of me in 1980 as a newborn in an outfit my mom sewed for me–I love the sweet purple rick rack!

So tell me–do you have any family sewing traditions?

(Cross-posted in slightly modified form from my blog Polka Dot Overload).

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1940s | Dresses | Vintage Sewing

1940s Red Dress Showdown (Du Barry Edition): Sweetheart vs. Peplum

By on January 26, 2012

1940s Du Barry Dress Showdown Enevelope Illustration with my croquis

I totally went back in time to 1942 and posed for some Du Barry pattern envelope illustrations!

Vintage lovers, I have the most exciting news for you! I HAVE BENT THE FABRIC OF THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM… all in the name of sewing, of course.

The idea came to me when I showed my husband the below two vintage pattern envelopes and asked him which dress would be more sexy and adorable for our upcoming Valentine’s Day date.

“Sorry babe,” he said, “It’s really hard to tell—those illustration models are way too bony!” (Apologies to the more slender among you–this is his husbandly way of saying “honey, you look great the way you are”, and I won’t pretend I don’t love it.)

So I tinkered around with some presser feet, rick rack and stretch lace for a bit, cobbled together a workable time-travel device, and paid a visit to the Du Barry pattern studios. I was like “Guys, all your super-stylized illustrations make it hard for the not-totally-waspwaisted among us way-in-the-future seamsters/seamstresses to picture how a dress will look on our actual bodies” and they were like “Wow, that’s an excellent point.”

Sadly I lost the device on my journey home, but c’est la vie! Anyway, the dress pros and cons:

Du Barry 5525 (early 1940s?):

  • Pros: Sweetheart neckline, reverse sweetheart fitted hip yoke, beautiful drapey skirt.
  • Cons:Will require grading up a size, something I’ve never attempted. And the sweetheart isn’t as low-cut as I’d like. Also, I’m totally nervous about attempting 40s shoulder pads for the first time–I have really narrow shoulders!

Du Barry 5505 (1942):

  • Pros: Love the princess seams, love the skirt gores, LOVE THE PEPLUM. Also, no grading–just a little tweaking of fit and my usual major FBA.
  • Cons: Neckline super high, not very sexy. I tried to mitigate this in my croquis sketch by colorblocking and making the sleeves into cap sleeves, but not sure if it worked.

I did play with some other color options, but red clearly won the day:

1940s Du 1940s Du Barry Dress ShBarry Dress Showdown Alternative Color Options

For fabric, I went a-swatching at my favorite Garment District store, Paron’s:

Fabric swatches for vintage 40s dress

They were having a store-wide 30-60% off sale, so I didn’t limit myself to the half-off annex this time. My options were (clockwise starting with the purple):

  1. Purple rayon crepe. (Not red, but it was the only rayon crepe in the annex).
  2. Christian Dior red rayon/silk blend. Really nice but a bit orange-y in real life (and this is the rare case where I didn’t want orange.
  3. Deep red silk crepe with a hint of stretch.
  4. Lovely soft thin 100% wool crepe.
  5. Lovely soft thick wool/nylon/stretch blend crepe.

The wool/nylon/stretch was my initial favorite—I just love working with wool, whether sewing or knitting—and would have been perfect for the bodice… but it was too thick and didn’t have enough drape for the skirt. I went back the next day to get the red silk crepe stretch mainly because it looked so awesome when I stood in front of a mirror trying to pretend the bolt was a real dress.

And there you have it. So: who wins the showdown? Which dress would YOU make? I’ve already chosen, but I’m not telling—yet.

P.S. This is a case where a croquis really comes in handy, as I demonstrated recently in my little “How to Dress Your Digital Dress Form” demo/tutorial video (see related blog post for references, tips and details):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfvgPBQWWic&w=420&h=315]

Cross-posted to my blog.

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1950s | 1970s | Dresses

Retro Style Icon: Amy Adams as Mary in “The Muppets” (with a sewing twist)

By on December 24, 2011

Forget that new Muppet or the green felt frog–how cute is Amy Adams in that beautiful green dress with tulip sleeves?!

So I went to the new Muppet movie and it was fun and all, but I had a little trouble paying attention to Fozzie’s bad jokes or Kermit’s attempts to make up with Miss Piggy because OH MY GOODNESS I WANTED TO MAKE ALL OF AMY ADAMS’s clothes.

Ms. Adams plays Mary, a Shop teacher who fixes cars and does electrical work, all whilst wearing a parade of lovely retro-styled dresses and blouse/skirt combos. She’s all about bright-colored belts, fitted bodices and flared skirts…

Also: pintucks.

And stripes!

Polka dots (or polka-dot-like hearts, I think), too…

Not to mention sweetheart necklines:

But the part of the movie where I got really distracted was the finale. Mary was wearing an adorable little jacket, but the fabric of the blouse peeking out from underneath looked oddly familiar… and then she took off her jacket.

I practically fell out of my seat with sewing-related excitement! Because it was the same orange floral silk twill I used for my vintage 1970s “Carefree” orange floral maternity dress ages ago:

Vintage 1970s McCall's 5921 Orange Silk Floral Maternity Dress

Apparently Muppets shop at Fabric Mart too!

Oh, and I’m not the only one who noticed this or made a dress or a jacket from this popular fabric.

Crossposted to my blog, Polka Dot Overload.

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