Featured Members

Featured Member: Alana of LazyStitching

By on February 6, 2012

Next in our featured member series is the lovely Alana of Lazy Stitching. I am completely obsessed with the way she presents her pictures so if you’re not already following her blog, the images below will give you an idea of all the gorgeousity you’re missing…

Hey Alana! How long have you been sewing and what machine do you use?

My Nana actually taught me to sew growing up and all the sewing machines I’ve had until now have been hand-me-downs from her. Sadly she passed away in 2005 but I have so many lovely memories of sharing the dressmaking process together.

In New Zealand I have a 1970s overlocker, named the green-machine, and a solidly built Elna. When I got to London, I purchased a cheap and simple Elna which isn’t so sturdy but does the job fine.

You’ve just moved to London, England from New Zealand. I know we’ve got a ton of vintage enthusiasts in London, but what’s the scene like in New Zealand?

The vintage scene is pretty good in New Zealand. I remember in high-school Op-shopping (shopping at opportunity/charity shops) was a keen pastime, in particular there are some phenomenal vintage stores on Karangahape Road in Auckland, like Fast & Loose, and the Paper Bag Princess.

On the blogging scene there are awesome vintage stitchers and re-fashioners like Brumby from UtBwB, Brodie from Camelias & Crinolines and of course Sherry from Paper~Scissors~Cloth.

I’m pretty new to vintage sewing so I find what everyone else makes incredibly inspiring.

Now that I’m in London the availability and proximity of so many vintage shops is a real delight. I like reading a blog called thevintageguidetolondon.com which put me on to Brick Lane and my favourite vintage fabric stash at ‘the shop’.

What is it that appeals to you about sewing vintage?

From a practical level, I adore the attention to little details in vintage patterns. When I wear a complete vintage look, I feel a little costume-y which is fun but isn’t always practical, so I love utilising the vintage details in more modern patterns and in that way sewing vintage is really versatile.

And from an emotional level I love the way it ties to the past – like I can imagine my nana sewing the exact same pattern when she was my age.

Being plus-sized, vintage patterns are sometimes rarer to come across in my size so I’m often making it up as I go using a franken-pattern but after sewing my first vintage pattern a few months ago I’m challenging myself to sew vintage more often.

The images and the vintage pattern illustrations remind me of paper dolls I played with as a kid, which motivated me to start a little side-project, paperidollatry, where I’ll sew a monthly garment inspired by a vintage paper doll.

How was Crafter’s Ceilidh?

Amazing! I almost missed it though – I realised at 6am that I’d read the time wrong for the airport bus so I had to make a last minute dash for the train instead!

All was forgotten, though, as soon as I met all the engaging Edinburgh crafters and the hosts Kristen, Kerry, and Debi. I was on zero budget as I was still un-employed at that stage (update: I started a new job last week!) but I’m so glad I went.

And let’s face it, if we are talking vintage sewing, then meeting Debi of My Happy Sewing Place is like meeting the queen (you know if the queen is an amazingly talented and warm new friend).

What’s your favorite outfit that you’ve made? (more than one is fine too)

It’s like Sophie’s Choice! In terms of basics I love BurdaStyles high-waisted 50’s style pencil skirt (Jenny) and I’ve made it many times but, in the end, my all time favourite is this one shouldered dress I made for a work industry event.

I’ll probably never wear it more than once but the colours, the print and the full length just make me happy, and in the end – practicality be damned – happiness is all that matters.


Thanks Alana! Isn’t she a treat? Be sure to appreciate her in the comments!


The featured member series was born out of a desire to mine the incredible diversity of our community here at We Sew Retro.  Invitations are issued to contributors who create great work and great posts. You can catch up with previous featured members here:

BoPeep of the Willow Homestead

Sarah of PatternVault

Erika of SwinginVintage


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Featured Members

Featured Member: Erika from SwinginVintage

By on January 6, 2012
Bernina Sewing Machine

If you’ve only just joined us, you might have missed our first couple of features, on BoPeep and PatternVault.

This month’s lovely lady has been with us as a reader for years, but only recently took the plunge to post one of her creations. And what a creation it was! I think I heard us all simultaneously say “ooooohhh” when Erika made her first post. Despite the hectic Christmas season, she graciously agreed to give us access to the creator behind the coat…

Hi Erika! So, how long have you been sewing and why do you do it?

I’ve known the basics since I was a child, and got my sewing machine when I was 7. It’s a machine my grandmother bought in the 50s, and I’m still using it. It weighs a ton, doesn’t do buttonholes, but it can sew through anything and the stitches are straight and even.

However, while I’ve always known the basics, it wasn’t until I joined the medieval society SCA that I began sewing in earnest. I then sewed for the simple reason of having anything at all to wear to the events, an excellent motivator that effectivly silenced the perfectionist in me and let me just get all those hours of setting the theoretical knowlegde in my backbones.

Bernina Sewing Machine
Today I sew clothes for everyday wear, but with the same eye to historical inspiration, I’ve just switched the 14th century for the 40s =)

Sewing vintage/retro really did start as costume sewing for me. I wanted something to wear to the lindy hop dances, something that would feel “authentic”, so I searched for information on the fashion from the 30s/40s, and slowly it’s gone from dance outfits to my everyday style. In the process I stumbled over the amazing vintage- and/or sewing community online, and what started as a hobby is now a lifestyle.

During this process I’ve discovered not only what styles I like to wear, but also how clothes should fit. It’s become so very easy not to buy RTW, as nothing ever fits as I now want it to.

1570s Flemish gown

I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Sweden. How would you describe the area where you live? Is there a thriving vintage scene?

I guess Sweden isn’t first on most people’s travelling agenda =) I live in northern Sweden, a beautiful landscape that’s light in the summer (literally it doesn’t get 100% dark, although the sun does set, just below the horizon) and dark in the winter.

As winter tends to cover almost 6 months, it’s a good thing I love snow, cold and sewing wool!

Winter in Umeå
Seriously, who would not love winter when it looks like this?

Sweden’s a fairly small nation, with only 9 million inhabitans, but it does have a great vintage scene. Not that many vintage superbargains to be found, but a lot of people dressing vintage. Vintage here is for many closely linked to sustainable living, as a part of making an effort to lessen our impact on nature by consuming less factory-new things.

What is it that appeals to you about vintage sewing?

I love the styles! The 30s with all the interesting cuts, ruffles, pockets, shirrings and overall details is my favorite to look at, the 50s feminine elegance always seems right when dressing up, but for everyday wear it’s the 40s practical, comfortable, downtoned classy-ness I turn to.

I adore all the fun details and techniques that comes with vintage patterns! I’m also partial to the types of fabrics suited for vintage sewing, as sewing medieval taught me that natural fabrics (linen, wool, cotton, silk) are the best to wear and the best to work with.

30s Loveliness

I’ve hesitantly and with great caution recently started playing around with synthetic fabrics – it’s a whole new world! Not totally convinced yet that it’s a better world…

I know you love to Lindy Hop and teach medieval dance…how did you get involved in those two very different styles? Which one do you prefer?

They are indeed very different! But then I really love all types of dancing… When joining the medieval society, it was a given for me to take to the historical dancing being taught. It’s very special, with many choerographies, geometrical patterns done by sets of dancers etc.

I’ve flirted with a lot of modern dances, but when I tried lindy hop it was love at first step. Six years later it’s still the most joy-bringing hobby I know. The jazz, the playfulness of the moves and rythms, the finetuned lead/following, it’s impossible to not smile while dancing lindy!


I have to admit, all my other hobbies tends to come second to lindy, one of the reasons why my sewing takes a halt when the dance scene is very intense. I’ve barely even been to a medieval event since the lindy hop caught me… (I have still been teaching medieval dance though)

What’s your favorite outfit that you’ve made?

Erhm… I know I’ve already posted about it, but I have to confess: everyday when I slip it on, I fall in love again with my coat. I love the quality of the materials, the cut of the bodice, the fit and how very comfortable these things makes a coat that weighs a lot when you just hold it.

Another favorite is a red dress I made in 40s style. I made the pattern myself and the fabric is an organic interlocked cotton jersey. Again, comfort is important, and this dress is the easiest I’ve ever worn. I like the cut on the bodice and I also like the colour. This was my first attempt at working with knits, but I’m certain there will be more knits in my future as this make is my go-to dress for all semi-formal events. Comfort and style in harmony!

Red swing dress

Finally, you’ve got to teach us how to say “Wow Erika, your coat is amazing!” in Swedish 😉

Lol! Absolutley: “Wow, Erika, din kappa är fantastisk!”


Ok everyone, altogether now “Wow, Erika, din kappa är fantastisk!” Let us know what you thought of the feature in the comments below. You can get to know Erika better over at her blog.

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1920s | 1960s | Featured Members

Featured Member: Sarah of PatternVault

By on December 18, 2011
My mother’s Singer 411G. I learned to sew on this machine.

I don’t know about you guys, but I love finding out a little bit more about the people behind the patterns. In this second installment of our Featured Member series (see here for the first on BoPeep), we meet Sarah of PatternVault who caught my eye recently when she posted some amazing 1920s fashions….

So, Sarah, how long have you been sewing and why do you do it?

I’ve been sewing since I was a teenager. Not steadily, though. I brought my mother’s 1960s Singer with me when I moved to Toronto for school, but the tension is finicky and I seldom used it. I only got back to sewing a couple years ago when a friend of my wife’s was moving to B.C. and getting rid of her old machine.

My mother’s Singer 411G. I learned to sew on this machine.
My mother’s Singer 411G. I learned to sew on this machine.

When I was starting out, I sewed for the usual reasons: to have garments that were exactly what I wanted, with better quality fabrics, and that fit. Off-the-rack clothing, including vintage, seldom fits me because I’m not a standard size.

Since getting into vintage patterns and ephemera, I’ve found I also sew out of curiosity—as a kind of experiment, to see what something looks like made up. Halloween definitely provides a good excuse for more experimental sewing projects.

In the case of really early patterns: I have a doctorate in an unrelated subject, so I enjoy both the opportunity to research something fairly obscure and the practical, tactile, and finite nature of a sewing project.

Toronto strikes me as a pretty fun city to live in. What’s the vintage scene like there?

Toronto has a fantastic vintage scene. I don’t do a lot of vintage shopping, but when I do I tend to hit the more established stores like Cabaret on Queen West, or Exile and Courage My Love in Kensington Market.

For designer vintage there’s I Miss You on Ossington, which is owned by a friend from university. I’ve heard good things about Gadabout on Queen Street East, but haven’t had the chance to visit yet.

Newer stores can be found in Parkdale and the Junction, which also has interesting reclamation and vintage design shops like Smash and Metropolis Living.

In terms of events, I’m no expert, but the speakeasy-style bar Unit, just down the street from me, has a great vintage vibe; apparently it used to be a railroad workers’ saloon. And just visiting the Distillery District is like walking into a Victorian film set.

When my wife and I were in New York City recently, we saw two young men and a young woman in Greenwich Village dressed in full 1940s outfits—hair, makeup, everything. I don’t know whether this subculture has reached Toronto yet, but I hope it does soon!

P.S. The Telegraph recently ran a very positive story about vintage in Toronto

Anyone who has been to your blog can see you’re a huge fan of vintage fashion ephemera. What do you consider to be the highlights of your collection?

Yes, I have a real passion for vintage fashion ephemera. My collection focuses on a few different periods; the earlier ones are probably most interesting to readers of We Sew Retro. I love the fashions of the earlier 1930s, especially between 1932 and 1935.

Two McCall catalogues I have from this period, the Fashion Bi-Monthly for September-October 1932 and the Spring 1933 Fashion Book, are definite highlights of my collection.

McCall Fashion Bi-Monthly, September-October 1932
McCall Fashion Bi-Monthly, September-October 1932

The company had some really strong illustrators in the Thirties. It kind of blows my mind that, during this period, the average woman would have picked up one of these to plan her next pattern purchase.

McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1933
McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1933

These two mid-Thirties patterns for formal wear are my current favourites. The pleated cuffs on the evening gown are so crazy and wonderful, and I just love the beautiful draping on the dinner dress.

McCall 7714, a bias evening gown from 1934, and McCall 8524, a dinner dress from 1935
McCall 7714, a bias evening gown from 1934, and McCall 8524, a dinner dress from 1935

I’ve loved seeing the garments from the 1920s you’ve been making recently, especially because the 20s have never really appealed to me before. Tell us a little more about sewing with such old patterns…

Thanks, Katherine! I became interested in 1920s patterns when I found out that I McCall had Paris designer patterns back then, well before their ’50s designer line. I keep my eyes peeled for these McCall patterns, and yes, they can be hard to find!

1920s patterns
1920s patterns

Despite the fact that these McCall patterns are printed patterns, sewing with them does present some challenges. The markings are more minimal than on modern patterns.

Although the Printo Gravure instructions give a basic construction diagram and numbered steps, they omit everything not involving joining notches, so there can be a fair bit of guesswork in terms of when to do what; it also helps to know where you’ll need to add your own markings. I often consult sewing books to supplement the instructions.

Another difficulty is that the patterns don’t give any fabric recommendations. I don’t try to be absolutely accurate in re-creating Twenties fashions—I think it may be a while before I try any printed chiffons! But I’ve found studying contemporary illustrations can help give me an idea of the weight and type of fabric that would work for a particular design.

One lesson I’ve learned is that ornamentation can be more essential to earlier fashions. My instinct is to strip away old-fashioned details like rosettes or shirring, but after completing a garment where I’ve left off these details, I see how they could actually add to the design. And of course, the little surprises that come from puzzling out the patterns are teaching me a lot.

What’s your favourite outfit that you’ve made?

I’m still just starting out with vintage sewing. So far, my favourite outfit that I’ve made is Vogue 1556, an Yves Saint Laurent shift dress from 1966.

Yves Saint Laurent shift dress from 1966
Yves Saint Laurent shift dress from 1966

I made it up in black wool crepe with Bemberg underlining, with the contrast yoke and bands in black sequins. I found the sequin fabric on sale at Fabricland—the sequins are open, rounded squares, which seems very Sixties to me. The design’s proportions really are perfect. I love the bracelet-length sleeves and how well the dress moves.

Yves Saint Laurent shift dress
Yves Saint Laurent shift dress

Thanks for the invitation, Katherine! It was a great chance to reflect on collecting and vintage sewing.

I hope you enjoyed digging through Sarah’s head and pattern collection as much as I did. Let us know what you think of the feature in the comments below, and pop over to the PatternVault blog for more.
(As a sidenote, ‘Courage My Love’ might be the best name for any business I have ever heard. Roadtrip to Toronto, anyone?)


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