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).


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.


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.


My recently acquired crayon-colored assortment of 40s pattern gorgeousness


OK, I think I have a problem. Perhaps stemming from a frustrating deficit of actual sewing progress lately? (I do have my machine working again, though and hope to have several new finished objects by this weekend!).

But when I spied the above lot of eight early 1940s DuBarry patterns on eBay, I couldn’t resist putting in an eensy little bid, even though they will all require grading up a size or two. And to my surprise, I “won.” (If you can really call adding to my over-squeezed pattern drawer “winning”).

Really, could YOU say no to a princess-seamed button-backed peplum two-piece dress like DuBarry 5505?

Note how the lines of the bodice seams continue in the gored skirt. And I love the gathering coming from the yoked neckline (though I’d probably make it a very narrow band–it’s too high for me as is). Yellow isn’t my color, but I love the red.

And how about DuBarry 5525? Isn’t it wonderful how the sweetheart neckline is mirrored in the hip yoke?

On the more nursing-friendly front, there’s DuBarry 5613–it’s technically a “beach/brunch coat”, but it looks like a wrap dress to me:

And button fronts provide far better access than button backs:

Is it just me, or are these 1940s DuBarry illustrations particularly lovely? I’m just crazy about the style and styling of these envelopes… well, aside from the fact that they exclusively feature tall skinny white ladies–but that’s a blog post for another time.

So yes, I am a bad, bad girl.


HOWEVER! As promised in my previous pattern stashing/destashing post, I have made excellent progress towards destashing any and all patterns that I am 75% certain I will never sew, either for style or size reasons. No matter HOW enticing their seductive little illustrations!

The first step was donating a box of 24 patterns to Pattern Rescue (which I discovered via Color Kitten). They were mostly 70s and 80s patterns that while fun, would be too much trouble to sell, but I tried to put in a few nicer ones as well.

These are patterns I will be getting rid of.

Simplicity 2876. It’s a glamourous 1949 V-Neck gown… but despite my grading ambitions, there is no way I’m doing the work to get a 30″ bust pattern over my 41″ bust — that would involve going up three sizes to my 36″ high bust, and THEN doing a major FBA.

Simplicity 2309. Lovely 1948 pleated bias-cut skirt with side pockets. But even before my waist vanished under my uterus, it was nowhere near 26 inches.

Mail Order 1447. This 1960s shirtwaist was featured in my “A Life in (Mail-Order) Patterns” post–the tabs and pockets are SO cute, and it’s in a 35-inch bust… but it’s a half-size, I have MANY other shirtwaist patterns, and I’m a relatively tall girl.

Style 2876, 1970. This was HARD–it’s a 38-inch bust and I LOVE the seaming (and these hairstyles–almost a Princess Leia look, no?)… on someone else. Repeated dressing-room experimentation in vintage stores has proven that these clean-lined high-necked mod dresses just Do Not Work on my curvy figure.

Photographing the envelopes is quick… but assessing the condition, determining whether all pieces are present and cut/uncut, setting a fair price, writing descriptions and adding tags? Not so quick. Now I know why so many vintage patterns seem to be so pricy! That’s real work!

But I figure if I can list them all now, it’ll be relatively quick to ship them if they sell while I’m on maternity leave. And any extra cash will certainly come in handy for laundry money to wash all those cloth diapers

(Crossposted to my blog!)