4 April 2010

First foray into sewing vintage patterns

Praise be, I have FINALLY finished my first vintage sewing project!

 

I used Simplicity pattern 4255, from 1953, with some £4/m poly-cotton lawn from John Lewis. My parcel tape dress form came in handy for checking the bust and waist size on my Swedish tracing paper muslin, which I had to take out by 2cm. Using the tracing paper as a middleman did lead to Chinese whispers between the original pattern and the cut out fabric, particularly as I'm not a very accurate cutter. Is there a secret method to cutting out fabric? When wielding scissors is it better to be bold or careful? Don't worry about your responses sounding too obvious (I realised for the first time that I was holding the scissors upside down - oops)!

 
The main stumbling block I discovered with working from vintage patterns is the language that they use. I wasted a whole precious free evening after work staring at one particular sentence in the instructions, reading it out with different intonations and in different accents to try to make it make sense. In the end I just ignored the instruction, carried on and worked out what it meant by which bit of the blouse was left flapping about (turned out to be the bit where the top of the front facing met the shoulder seam).

Another thing that took three million years was finishing the edges. The brevity and flippancy of the instruction "slip-stitch bias facing in place" belies the toil that such work involves. First I had to figure out how to make bias tape binding (my first attempt wasn't cut on the bias - doh! The clue is in the name!); then baste it to the edge (which I read as "sew", hence the tiny stitches - no biggie); then slip-stitch - by hand, it turns out - the other edge of the binding to the inside, which took forever - one sitting of Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities and a couple of episodes of Seinfeld, to be exact. But I admit that it does look rather neat. Are there rules for when to cut corners and forego the bias binding for a quicker method?


And here's the finished blouse! The problem with the early 1950s V-shape is that - unless I walk around with my arms sticking out like the good ladies on the front of the pattern, it bunches up at the sides. I don't really want to take it in though as it'll diminish the drama of the shape. If you look at the pattern you may also notice that the collar is supposed to be more Elvis and the cuffs were originally twice as big. But when I styled it like that my loving boyfriend said I looked like "an alien queen ... in a good way", yet as that wasn't quite the look I was going for I toned it down with the help of my trusty iron.


I also baked this weekend - a sewing enthusiast cliche, perhaps, but not something I do very often, honest! Mmm... cakes...

[Soundtrack: 'Devil's Spoke' by Laura Marling / smelltrack: daffs]

29 comments:

  1. Tilly that looks great particularly for a first try. I think you are very brave working with original vintage patterns as I've only ever had the nerve to work with vintage vogue which appear to have more modern instructions. Well done - you look fab!

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  2. Great vintage shirt with nice 50s details, I love the colour you chose! For the bias finishing here's a how-to: http://www.filhelenepointcomme.com/index.php?post/2008/06/22/60-tuto-pour-les-biais
    It's in French but it's fully illustrated and therefore very easy to understand :)

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  3. What a great job! I have that pattern but it's too small for me.. I love looking at it though. Now I can live vicariously through you! And I agree, the color is perfect!

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  4. wow i love that shirt and the colour is perfect for it, i have lots of 50's patterns unfortunately i'm not a 50's sized or shaped girl!!!!

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  5. the secret to accurate cutting is a rotary cutter/cutting mat. i have a medium sized one which is great for straightish bits but i've found i could do with a small one to get into tight curves too. you don't have to pin with rotary cutting either, most people jut weight the pattern down (i pin cos i only have a teeny cutting mat so i have to shift it underneath the pieces as i cut).

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  6. Oh I looove it! The colour really suits you, and the shape is marvellous! The cuffs are perfect size and so much fun! As for scissors, I've learnt that you should keep excess cloth to the left when cutting fabric, and to the right when cutting paper pattern pieces. And bold? I dunno, do what you dare as long as the scissors are sharp...

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  7. It's FABULOUS! I LOVE IT! The blouse looks absolutely fantastic on you! the color is great and I love the details! It's funny because I have the exact same problem when reading vintage patterns--but for some reason especially those from the 1950's. It usually involves me grabbing David to have him somehow 'decipher' the pattern...giggle. Then we twist and turn the fabric and somehow figure out what they are talking about (I think?)...but I've only encountered that in the 50's ones...I've found the 40's patterns to be much clearer (or less ambiguous) about directions. The blouse looks great--can't wait to see what you make next!

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  8. I've just found your blog and love it! Afraid I don't have answers to any of your questions but I just wanted to say how fab I think your shirt is. And I am loving the colour! Looking forward to seeing what you make next (I'm yet to make my first vintage item of clothing so you're way braver than me!)

    Toria

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  9. Wow! What a fantastic shirt, especially for your first go. Love the colour on you.

    When I cut out my fabric, I always use a rotary cutter. I find scissors can be a hindrance and the rotary cutter gives me nice, clean, and accurate cuts.

    Looking forward to seeing your next project.

    Sarah :)

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  10. Amazing!!! Brilliant work. Love the colour, love the collar, love the sleeves and love love love the tie at the waist.

    Cutting out: if you're right handed, it's much easier to cut on the left hand side of the pattern than the right hand side. (ie when you're holding the scissors the back of your hand should be over the pattern). Don't use any of those rotary cutters or anything, they are a right kerfuffle. Don't be too hesitant about the accuracy of your cutting. It won't make ANY difference to the final product if you've slightly gone out the line. I hate cutting, so I just do it as quickly as possible!

    Bias binding: Don't worry about any of that slipstitch nonsense, just sew it down with the machine!

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  11. Hi Tilly, it looks excellent! The cuffs are great, and the colour suits you wonderfully. It looks like you've done a fantastic job - makes me want one!

    For bias binding - I sew it down with the machine. It still looks professional (I think so anyway), but would take about 1/8 of the time that hand sewing it down would.

    I don't have any particular method for cutting, but have noticed that if I use weights to hold down the pieces, I get a much more accurate fit than using pins. I don't have fancy pattern weights, I just use books, cans or whatever is handy.

    Enjoy wearing your lovely new blouse!

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  12. It looks lovely, definitely worth all the time you spent on it. The collar and cuffs are awesome.

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  13. That's a great blouse. Love the color!

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  14. That is a beautiful top! I often look at patterns with those armholes and wonder how it will look on me, so I can understand why you pressed it differently.

    As for the bias binding, I agree with Lily. Use your machine to stitch in the ditch of the other side if you don't want the stitching to show. Otherwise, just stitch it down as though it were a line of topstitching (it appears to be on the inside?)

    And for cutting, I do believe the only good scissors are Ginghers and it is extremely important to keep them sharpened regularly. Don't use them on regular paper (pattern tissue is ok) at all. I pin or use weights, whatever works at the moment.

    If you remember that an 1/8" adjustment can make all the difference in fit, you want to try to keep your cutting as close to accurate as possible. Cutting on a waist-high surface like a higher table or a kitchen counter works really well sometimes.

    Hope this helps!

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  15. Oh, now I wish I'd bought that pattern! And you've made it up in my new favorite color to boot.
    It looks fabulous, much better than my first sewing project. There are a bunch of ways to finish edges, if you read about other people's projects you'll start picking up on them. Make sure the bottom edge of your scissors stays on the cutting surface. If you hold it up in the air, things come out too short or too long :( If you cut on the carpeted floor, though, like I do, it is inevitable.

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  16. It's lovely! Great color, too.

    I totally know what you mean about things taking forever. As a novice apparel sewer, I'm pretty clueless and I recently tried to tackle a men's shirt pattern from the early 60s and the instructions might as well be in alien-speak. But that's the learning curve, I suppose ;) Nicely done!

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  17. Ah this looks awesome! The colour is so good on you too. I've become a little obsessed with that colour recently, and as soon as I've busted enough of my stash to allow re-entry into the fabric shops, I've gots to get me something similar. I know what you mean about mental and over-simplified instructions, both vintage and modern. I think you should feel free to go a bit off-piste as and when you deem it appropriate. For example, I HATE patterns that tell you to pin a sleeve in the armhole, THEN hand baste it (tacking it in), THEN machine baste and THEN finally stitch it. Pin and stitch, that's me, job done. Anyways, back to your pattern, yep I also feel you when it comes to that type of sleeve which is all part of the main body rather than separate pieces (AKA grown-on sleeves). I LOVE them, they are so 50's, but they do do strange things unless you are walking about with your hands permanantly on your hips, eh?! x

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  18. Beautiful blouse! I would say that your hard work paid off, as both the color and fit look smashing on you. I love the dramatic structure of the pattern-- it looks so crisp and fresh with high-waist jeans. Can't wait to see your next sewing project :)

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  19. Wonderful work Tilly :)

    I hope it hasn't put you off sewing vintage! I have to admit that i too am guilty of staring at a singular line of instructions and reading it with different intonations in an attempt to foce them to make sense- somehow it usually works!

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  20. Love love LOVE the green blouse. I wish I could find that pattern in a plus size.

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  21. That is so fantastically cute! Love the colour, love the sleeve detail and love the fit.

    I think I've given up on instructions. With vintage ones I've accepted that sometimes I'm going to have to ponder, do and undo until finally that little light bulb goes off and I understand what they mean, but I did a new pattern the other day (a good ol' Simplicity that others had rated 'easy'), and it took me just as long to work out certain parts of the instructions. It all came together in the end, but thanks to intuition and no thanks to the instructions...

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  22. This is a really cool blouse! The design is very interesting and your version is beautiful!

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  23. I love your blouse, and the 'trying it in different accents' had me howling!
    Cutting out: I only use the rotary on small items, weight not pin; and have now treated myself to cutting shears instead of scissors, so it all feels a lot easier.

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  24. I like the blouse, especially the biaised edge. It looks very professionnal. Other topic -- I am looking for Swedish tracing paper. Where can one buy it in Canada? Do you order yours online? Keep up the sewing!

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  25. For accurate cutting (especially on slippery fabrics!) I trace all patterns onto freezer paper. You can then iron it on to the fabric, it stays in place while you cut and peels off without damaging the material. Use a spiked tracing wheel to transfer the pattern with all markings. (I use a hole punch and a pattern notcher to indicate marks on the paper)

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  26. Omg, I was just reading you current blog post and this one came up as a "suggested" reading; I have been waiting for someone to make this forever! I have this blouse partially constructed but it didnt seem to be turning out like I had envisioned. I set it aside as a UFO. I'm going to dig that baby out today! I was thinking of making the capris too, maybe I'll just the whole pattern another go-round.

    On a side notes, there are many other easy alternatives to self bias tape in the vintage patterns. Usually no one ever sees it (as it turns out to be at the back neck or some such). I just use flex lace hem tape or snug hug seam binging. Sometimes if I'm really lazy I just turn the raw edges into each other to sandwich them and stitch.

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  27. I'm not a very accurate cutter. Is there a secret method to cutting out fabric? When wielding scissors is it better to be bold or careful? Don't worry about your responses sounding too obvious (I realised for the first time that I was holding the scissors upside down - oops)! Lisa W. Degregorio

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  28. Wow this vintage top looks absolutely great. I am also looking through some vintage patterns online nd wasn't decide what to try. But this one looks great and i might give it a go. Thank you for the info!
    Barbara Davis

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