Using vintage patterns and upcycled vintage fabrics

I have sewn and made things all my life. I have also always been a terrible hoarder. Along with vintage clothing, I have been collecting pieces of vintage fabric since my teens, mostly attracted by the prints and colours of the early 1960s.

A few years ago, I started making children’s clothes from pieces too small for anything else. I found two vintage children’s patterns that would just squeeze a dress out of a piece of fabric barely bigger than a cushion cover. My favourite arty, abstract prints of the late ‘50s and very early ‘60s made for something quite different from the small, cute prints usually associated with childrenswear.

Infant dress made from upcycled vintage curtain fabric.

Infant dress made from upcycled vintage curtain fabric.

Having used up most of my stock of just-about-big-enough pieces of fabric, I allowed myself to start buying fabric again. I have a real fondness for the large scale prints of mid-century furnishing fabrics and if I can find a curtain (I never cut up a pair) with enough usable fabric left after the sun damage to the edges and any paint has been cut off (old curtains were often used as dust sheets for decorating), this can make an adult-sized dress.

For the winter trees print dress shown below, I particularly enjoyed playing with the contrast of skeletal winter trees with a sleeveless summer dress. But there was also the fact that there was so much damaged fabric there was not enough left for the sleeves!

Dress made from an upcycled curtain.

Dress made from an upcycled curtain.

I started collecting vintage patterns purely for the illustrations on the envelopes. I used to display these in frames, but luckily I saved all the pattern pieces. It’s not only patterns – I sew on my Nanna’s old sewing machine, a “Diplomat“ from 1963 (even though I have a brand new machine, still in its box, unopened, under my bed…)

Jersey Dress Pattern

I am finding that as my friends’ parents get older, boxes of fabric from hoarding mothers and grandmothers are coming my way. One of my friends has given me several large boxes of clothes her mother never got around to mending and garments she cut out and never made. In one box alone there were five red and white gingham school dresses to fit a girl of approximately 7 years old – and my friend is now 50!

The huge advantage of using deadstock (old but unused) fabric over salvaged fabric is that it will almost always have been stored away from the light, so there is no fading or wastage. Lots of these fabrics are of much better quality than you would easily find nowadays, particularly the linens and wools. The downside is that, if you make to order, you can’t always have exactly what you’re looking for – you have to wait until the right thing comes along and some colours are not as common as they are nowadays. However, if you like the typical colours of a particular period, dyes are different now and the shades are quite unlike the ones in modern fabrics.

 

It’s not only the patterns and fabric I’m giving a new lease of life to – as well as using my Diplomat when I secretly have a modern sewing machine stored under the bed, never having taken it out of its box – I also use vintage threads, zips and buttons. I often see free-standing wooden sewing boxes at fleamarkets and boot fairs. Nine times out of ten these are still full of threads, notions and equipment. I started buying bagfuls of this stuff when I was making the children’s dresses and getting through a very large amount of bias binding and I’m still working my way though all the threads, hooks and eyes and zips.

My nanna's sewing machin – a pleasure to use.

My nanna’s sewing machine – a pleasure to use.

My real weakness is buttons: I have jar after jar of sorted, colour-coded vintage buttons and have to try and stop myself buying more whenever I see them. Recently I bought a very large tin with an enamelled design of a Chinese dragon and when I got it home found that it was full to the brim with sets of beautiful buttons already sorted and bundled.

Seven carrier bags of fabric arrived from somebody’s mother’s hoard a couple of weeks ago, so I had plenty of fabric to choose from! This wool jersey was great for an early 1960s column dress, but the fabric was too bulky for the bow that trims the “empire band” across the bust in the pattern.

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I was very lucky to find a deadstock bolt of this leaf print crisp linen in a junk shop – I just have to remember not to sit on the chair (salvaged, naturally!) I upholstered with the same fabric when I wear it!

Dress made using a late 1960s patterns and leftover deadstock curtain fabric.

Dress made using a late 1960s patterns and leftover deadstock curtain fabric.

 

A Kitschy Kimono Blouse

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I recently finished a mid-century style kimono top with Pictorial Review 5929. I’ts a simple kimono sleeve tunic from the early 1930′s.  I found a fantastic southwest themed novelty rayon at Stone Mountain and Daughter and wanted to choose a simple design to let the great print stand out.  I’ve sewn it twice already in silk and have also made the lounge pants out of a wool twill.

Pictorial Review 5929

Pictorial Review 5929

 

I changed the square neck to a scoop neck and added rows of kelly green, pink and red ric rac.  I really enjoyed the process of combining the different ric rac colors and sizes and I can see myself doing another neckline like this, maybe a 50′s style peasant top with a fun metallic ric rac yoke.  Here I am wearing the blouse at the farmer’s market.

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I’ve just launched my vintage sewing blog,  She Dreams In Deco , come and check it out!

Cherries and trouble

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Hello again! I’m here to show you another dress that I’ve recently finished. It’s actually my fourth dress ever and I love it to bits. It’s my best sew up until now. It’s lined, the seams are straight, the side zipper is hand picked beautifully, the hem is even and the shape of the skirt is lovely –and I’m really proud of that last effort because it was of my own design.

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Buuut, of course there were trouble along the way and even though I sized down the pattern to better fit my bust, it is still too big. I have no idea how that happened because I’ve been fitting it and checking if everything works well on my manneqin all the time and I was pleased with the result but when everything was finished, well… the bodice is too large on me in the bust area! In the second photo you can see the ugly tucks that I made to help it just a little.

Does anyone here have experience with old German patterns? Is there a lot of ease given in them? I keep having the same problem time and time again with these patterns and they are what I mainly use so… well, I’d really appreciate any suggestions.

You can see more photos of this dress on my blog, come take a look!

Sporty Separates

I’m not one for actual sports or sporting events but I do love the sporty look popular in the 1930s. In need of some separates, I sewed up this outfit.

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The pants are a refashion of some 1930s trousers that I made ages ago. They were way to big and just not flattering! So I deconstructed them and reused the blue linen for a new pair of pants.

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The blouse I made from Simplicity 3173 from the 1930s. I also snagged some cute repro 1930s printed cotton that was just perfect for this blouse! You can’t tell from here but it also has small navy bits in the print which makes my inner matchy-matchy sense happy!

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I’m quite happy with how both of these pieces turned out. I even have some khaki cotton twill that would be just perfect for another pair of pants! I’m so ready for fall!

More photos and construction details are over on my blog.

1940′s blouse and skirt in silk

Despite the dearth of posts I have not abandoned my 40′s wardrobe bulding project. In fact, I have several things finished, I just haven’t got around taking any pictures of it. Bad me. Anyway, in early August we went for a picknic at Skokloster Castle,  an absolutely wonderful 17th century caste a little bit north of Stockholm, and a few photos were taken: a shirt and skirt in brown silk noil for the spring/summer year 1 wardrobe. There is supposed to be a jacket in the same material but that isn’t finished yet and it would have been too hot to wear it even if it was.

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It is very hard to take pictures in our family without at least one animal. Here is Lipton, our Shetland Sheepdog.

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With the castle in the background.

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The straw hat is from the late 40′s/early 50′s and I found it at Pretty Bones Jefferson.

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It is a bit of a frankenpatten. The top is taken from this Vintage Vogue  pattern and I plan to make the jacket to match, the skirt is the bottom  part from a vintage 40′s dress pattern. I’m quite pleased with it and silk noil is lovely to work with and drape well. It is also cool and nice to wear in summer.

 

Vogue 5671 – my first #vintagepledge of five

Well hello there, it’s been nearly six months since I last posted here! Why do I remember this so precisely? Because back in February is when I shared my Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge with you all. Heartwarmingly, well over 100 people have joined me and their inspiring progress is well-documented on my dedicated #vintagepledge Pinterest board!

Vogue 5671

As for me, I’m somewhat lagging behind on my five pledged makes, but at least I’m finally one down! I chose the rather stunning Vogue 5671 from my stash, but replaced the skirt with a fuller one from a modern pattern. I love the wiggle silhouette, but I definitely don’t feel confident enough in my shape to pull it off. I’m pretty smitten with the result though…despite the accidental 90s vibe attributed by my fabric choice!

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Vogue 5671

You can see much more of my Vogue 5671 here and you can read about the pattern and its construction here. If you too need some motivation to sew up some of your vintage patterns, you have until the end of the year to join and complete the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge. If you’re on Twitter, make sure you stay up to date using #vintagepledge!