Warning: Vintage patterns are habit forming

Vintage pattern addiction.... they are kind of like chocolate smarties... can you really stop at one????

I am going to plead insanity and say that waiting for the baby requires some serious distraction. My distraction of choice at present has been sewing, learning about sewing and vintage patterns. I love them. I really do. And sometimes they make me laugh, like when I notice the little text down the side on a boys pattern “not suitable for chubby boys”. What a hoot! Not sure I have seen that on any more politically correct modern patterns which would probably read instead something like “Please check the pattern sizing carefully to ensure best fit.”

Recently I came by a copy of a 1955 copy of the Simplicity Sewing Book. Again the opening sentence of the Foreward made me smile: “This book is a magic key to bring you the pleasure of looking your prettiest”. A sign of the times when a woman’s life accomplishment was looking pretty (and snagging a husband). To me it is quaint, historical and amusing, but those decades were not so long ago, really. I always find it interesting to see how art, art and design… and vintage patterns, track alongside history. They reflect a market, an attitude and a series of cultural perceptions.

A page from the past...

This week I have been very, very naughty. I mean, I really could not resist the temptation of a few sought after patterns. The excuses are easy to come by. Post baby wardrobe (come on, essential) – sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding (well I DO need something to wear….), return to work outfit for next year (I am sure it would take the sting out of the first day…). Naughtiness comes in the form of:

(1) a 1960’s Butterick suit pattern to make up in black linen, very classic;

(2) a stunning, understated Belinda Bellville 1960’s evening gown to make up in black satin; and

(3) a pretty Summer Gunne Sax style dress pattern circa 1981 to make up in emerald eyelet lace (…for Christmas of course…)!!!

Well the postie has just motored up the driveway, my heart beats and my lips curve. Just might what he have brought today in a teeny little packet…? Just maybe…?

Yes… habit forming I tell you.

Oh Miss Bellville!!!!

New Look 6081 Wrap Blouse… the finishing touches to come

I know I should be patient and wait until its finished, but I am 80% there, just decoding the last couple of steps of the pattern for the internal buttons and then some finishing.

Turned out much prettier than I anticipated, very demure and the fabric gives it an almost Japanese style? Looking forward to finishing it and wearing it!

Summer post-pregnancy blouse... pinned for effect prior to completion (and untied)

A start on a post-baby blouse

Three metres of heaven.... the most beautiful, glamorous silk ever?

The above fabric is one that I bought 11 years ago in Langkawi in Malaysia- a vivid red Versace silk that I cherish and adore and have not yet been game enough to chop up until my skills are better (I originally bought it with the intention of having someone else make it up)! I still dream about the little shop I bought it in, in the “town” area we visited, venturing from our luxury digs (then the Sheraton Langkawi). It was such a great holiday in many ways and I miss my Dad thinking about how we island hopped and saw monkeys in the jungle, he regaled me with stories of his time in the army in what could only be described as a swamp, and many hot, hot, humid afternoons in the pool. Would love to take hubbie and the baby there one of these days though I am sure it has changed greatly.

Whilst I considered it, today is not the day for the red Versace silk. I picked a pattern (NEW LOOK wrap blouse), pinned it and started cutting. I eventually decided on some vintage cotton voile, I found last week instead, which I thought would look very pretty with a cami underneath and a simple skirt. Pretty as the voile is, I would be somewhat less devastated if the blouse endeavour took a left turn and failed. Additionally, the pattern appears simple enough that as I return to a more normal shape I can bring it in and tailor it with some darts. Thats the theory anyway.

Vintage cotton voile... sweet for the everyday?

Pattern cut. Now time to further study the instructions. I figure if the baby comes tonight or tomorrow, I have at least made a start on a relatively simple project! Cutting would be most difficult when sleep deprived… this of course assumes that sewing in a straight line would be a little easier!

NEW LOOK 6081... an uncut vintage pattern from the late 1980s methinks? Classic enough sans shoulder pads....

So sew about Fabiani and the art of tailoring

A dress to dream of... a coveted design to make by Fabiani

I had fabulous shopping karma at Canberra’s Lifeline Bookfair this weekend; this translates as I spent a small fortune and will not be spending much on myself in the coming months! But the blow out was definitely worthwhile with some major expansion to my knitting pattern collection.

Sewing projects have been a wonderful way of distracting myself from the imminent journey of labour!

I arrived early on the first day of the fair, the early morning queue being full of eager booklovers, collectors and book buyers from several different states, many of whom were plotting their “plan of attack” with maps of the different subject areas. I went straight to craft of course with a specific goal in mind- to find a decent book on sewing pattern analysis and alteration. I started a new project late in the week, a pair of culottes for Summer that I thought would be cool and figure-forgiving, albeit somewhat eighties.  I discovered, as I faithfully followed the pattern, that I was not satisfied with the overall design.

Lesson no 1: not all patterns are equal.

Lesson no 2: be prepared to innovate.

Mission accomplished. I lucked out with two books by Natalie Bray which I snapped up as they looked exactly like what I was looking for. A little research later on revealed she is a Parisian trained expert and her books are dressmaking classics. I love them, lots of information about methods appropriate to different styles, problem solving and techniques. All of this research is necessary as I eventually work up to some serious dresses- some vintage patterns I have by Simonetta, Fabiani and Belville. And honestly I am enjoying the process of learning. The theory makes sense- though I have yet to apply what I have read in practical terms. I have found myself looking at patterns a little bit differently, considering garment construction and not just the overall “impression”.

This has all lead me to a new conclusion- that tailoring garments for myself is going to be difficult without a dressmaker’s mannequin.  In fact, it may well be impossible to do properly without one? (sigh). Something else to keep on the look out for. Assuming I have time for myself again one day, after le bubba is here!

Ah, Fabiani…! What a wonderful dress to aspire to.

Its a wrap

Something I dream about it discovering an uncut Diane Von Furstenberg 70s wrap dress pattern …at a market… for a pittance. It is the holy grail! I love wrap dresses for Summer because of their ease and versatility and of course because they are flattering. Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress, which came out as a Vogue design, made her famous. Even today, one of those patterns can go for $50-100 on eBay dependent on a range of factors. Not bad for a few pieces of paper that are at least 40 years old!

Oscar De La Renta has some nice designs floating around on the web and I have ordered a few wrap dress patterns to make for the coming Summer. However, in the short term, I  thought I’d post a picture of one of my favourite pattern covers from the sixties or seventies, for a teen girl. Not sure what it is, just something so refreshing and Summery in the drawings. I often wonder who these unknown cover artists were- what a wonderful profession!

So sweet.

The Cutting Edge: A Summer with Donna Karan!

With the pleasure of a bit of time on my hands and limited activities that I can engage in because of the carpal tunnel, (knitting is out), I have turned my hand to a bit of sewing. This is completely practical given that I am inevitably going to be a little bit bigger than my regular wardrobe for at least a few months after our little one is born but I also don’t want to go through the ongoing drama of truly, truly having nothing to wear. Seriously, right now I am down to four outfits!

So early this week I began “the hunt”. I was somewhat mortified that Ganters in Kingston had closed down. It was a beautiful shop with bolts of luxurious and fabulously expensive fabrics displayed in the windows. Many of my vintage patterns acquired over the years have the Ganters stamp. The shop name remained printed in gold and beyond the glass panes remained the shell of what the shop had been. Stripped! I thought this was very sad given that it had been around for two generations (at least) but it was also one of the few family stores to sell that kind of merchandise. The only options left now for anyone that sews are the warehouse-like Spotlight or Lincraft that are less specialist, less personal and at times of questionable quality.

In the spirit of my love of “vintage” I decided to use two metres of luxurious Malay batik that I was lucky enough to chance upon in an op shop one afternoon. I holidayed in that part of Malaysia with my Dad a decade ago and immediately recognised the style and the quality. The fabric was in immaculate condition, simply unrecognised and under-appreciated beneath a pile of poly-something-a-rather and I snapped it up for a few humble dollars- I had an absolute gem!

Evokes an exotic Summer garden- perfect for an Aussie Summer!

Terengganu is an area of Northern Malaysia famed for its batik artisans

The pattern I settled on was fairly simple- a wrap skirt from a 1992 Vogue American Designer pattern by Donna Karan New York. The pattern  has held its own in almost twenty years- classic and simple. It is also versatile, offering little difficulty to alter for the following Summer when hopefully my figure has returned to some semblance of what it was! It was easy enough having read the instructions with a few teeny little new challenges… The pattern was also pre-cut by a various owner (I buy lots of patterns I admire on Etsy and eBay), so I didn’t have any qualms that I was somehow depreciating the value of an item in my collection!

I love this line of patterns... very addictive.

The skirt is nearly done, though I cannot tailor it properly yet. I made it longer to show off the fabric design Not bad for an afternoon. Here are a few snaps of the sewing process.

Now…. What to wear with it… It feels almost as good as shopping! Actually, it feels better!


The cutting edge...

Pretty vintage, ‘old worlde’ glamour

Celeste. Gretchen. Delores. Laurinda.

They are the names that evoke not just a bevy of young women but an era of grace and elegance, glamour and seduction. They are also the names of pattern designs created whilst a world war raged in the background, when home economics was an art form and the state of world trade meant you couldn’t buy something relatively cheaply and easily disposed of at the local Department store.

In those days, Australia still “rode the sheeps back” and yarn companies like Patons and Baldwin, Sun-glo, Lincoln Mills and the like did a steady trade in pretty skeins and remained at the forefront of women’s fashion. Women did not work in the same way that men did, there was no notion of fair pay if they did work and its fair to say an assumption existed that when most women married and became a “matron”, her domain was the home and pride was fostered in domesticity and family life. This was the age of my grandparents- a time when I am told, a social perception existed that a man who had to send his wife out to work had something to be ashamed of.

The yarns have long since failed to be produced, many of the mills were bought out or died as consumers became more affluent and Australia banked on cheap labour elsewhere and women ceased to have the time to knit as they became a more acceptable and ready workforce.

Times may have changed in many ways, but the beautiful images of young beaming women from the pages of once glossy pattern books remain as glamorous as ever.

I confess that I collect both sewing and knitting patterns, most of which I will never have the time to indulge in any serious endeavour of actually making something from each. But still I find their allure, particularly of knitting patterns irresistible. I also find some of the fashions both classic and historically fascinating when one considers the world when they had emerged.

When these patterns were printed, the internet did not exist and yet their circulation and life has been extended through a global second hand and collectors trade, made possible by websites like eBay.

I don’t know any woman today who would jump for joy at the prospect of knitting a full suit or dress in fine 2 ply yarn, even if they possessed the same level of skill required to produce the finer details. The time required would possibly extend over months. Even at the time of their creation, these designs were an investment.

Over the coming year,  when I can  knit again, I have decided to pick a couple of items from my ever growing collection, to make in modern yarns. I love wearing and creating the handmade. Nothing like a little vintage glamour for the modern mumma. And nothing like a challenge!

But on the upside, I can also think up somewhere fun to wear it.

No, that's not an 80s scrunchie she's wearing! I believe they are flowers...

A watched kettle

Ranaculus... a favourite flower

They say a watched kettle never boils…. and I have definitely started watching and waiting for baby! The house isn’t perfect but I’m satisfied that short of a few little things and a day to day tidy, its good enough. I’ve had some of the best sleep I have had in absolute years (and I have been told to relish it)! I have some relatively important errands to run today like renewing my driver’s licence…but Houston, I think its all systems go.

The ranaculus in our living room is incredibly beautiful- makes for a cheerful waiting room! And lots of opportunity for reflection.

One of the things I didn’t know prior to getting pregnant was the enormity of the physical change. Somewhat naievely I thought you’d be your normal self, just big and then bigger. I didn’t factor in the effects of hormones on ligaments, the impacts of fluid retention or the stresses of additional weight on the body. I also was initially ignorant of how different kinds of exercise and intensity can have a bearing on the oxygen and nutrient needs of the baby. This was all news!

I have read that all women go through a process of at least some physical deconditioning and although I have kept up with swimming, walking and some pilates when I have been able (to maintain a basic level of fitness), I am looking forward to the recovery. I actually miss being able to run intervals of 3km at the gym and do mat work on my back.

Erin O’Brien (American Personal Trainer) urges women to think about the initial period of exercise AFTER the first six weeks as “rehabilitation” and a time in which to retrain ones muscles to fire way they used to. At eight months plus, this sounds about right to me.

I appreciate some woman are genetically blessed and lucky enough to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight within a week or two of delivery. Wonderful.  But from everything I have read, and friends I have talked to, this is the exception rather than the norm. The average woman has nine months to put on the weight that includes the support system for the baby, including fat stores for breast feeding, it can take nine months to lose it. Further, my hospital recommends that expectant mothers pack a going home outfit that would have fit at 6 months of pregnancy, this tells me my expectations are somewhere in the ball park of “reasonable”.

The real challenge I think, after the birth, is finding time to exercise after the initial six weeks once the baby is born and for a significant period, the primary care giver (more often the woman) is home alone with their little one, feeding the baby every three to four hours and sleep deprived. Additionally, intense exercise and lactic acid can influence breast milk so there are all sorts of recommendations about how to manage that.

Does society allow time for mothers to be mothers? What fuels the irrational expectation that what is the case for one woman, will be the same for another?

My own enthusiasm is fuelled by my desire to get back into my regular wardrobe and to be without the discomforts that have come with being “bigger”. When my hands aren’t so swollen, it will be wonderful to wear my wedding ring again! The bottom line is, I am prepared to be patient and do whatever is required to ensure we have a healthy, happy baby. We are so excited to have him coming into in our lives, everything else really less significant and a lower priority.

It has be an interesting journey for many reasons…and at the end of the day, it will be well worth it.

Another piece in the puzzle

My appreciation of the new sideboard is increasing daily, it seems. In part I think its because I am enjoying the research which has included a trip to the National Library and a couple of hours leafing through dusty tomes for clues . Years of art history education, of which I did a little bit of decorative and furniture design, are starting to be teased from my brain. I remember some of the names and the more I learn, little tidbits come back to me.

The one thing I wish some of my art history lecturers had done was drag us out of the lecture hall and into the “live” environment. This did happen a little bit in Santa Barbara, we would occasionally do field trips to such institutions as the Getty (stop my fluttering heart), but we never- in my recollection- looked at how some of the designs and styles were integrated into modern life or modern culture.  I think it would have been very interesting to have looked at film sets in movies for examples of A, B and C. But even an art history major has an element of the homogenous- art has been coupled to the entire history of man and admittedly twentieth century design was one building block often shadowed by the fine art of painting.

I am currently reading a book called Classic Modern: Midcentury Modern at Home written by Deborah K. Dietsch. The photographs are gorgeous, showcasing the idealized environments in a number of American homes from Monticello to Conneticut. They are all grand examples.

Back to the mystery sideboard there was a little breakthrough last night, a new piece in the puzzle. Whilst I had inspected the piece from many different angles, it occurred to me last night to look underneath the drawers and to check the joints. I was thrilled on two counts- the dovetail joints indicated superior craftsmanship (and confirmed the cabinet was as high quality as I thought) and beneath the silverware drawer I found an elegantly scrawled date- February 1967. Whilst it was made a decade later than I thought, it confirmed the sideboard (or “credenza”) is definitely Midcentury Danish Modern. It was like playing my own little game of Antiques Roadshow.

Moreover, I have learnt so much about the houses in our area which were built in the 1970s. I have come to appreciate that some of the Japanese styles light fixtures in our own home- which were very popular during the time- probably haven’t been replaced in 40 odd years. The sideboard has definitely found the right home.

Now, I just have to figure out how to childproof it!

For anyone interested in this era of furniture design, I have found some great websites: