Who We Are: Why We Sew Vintage

The wonderful world of sewing is filled with many different niches. From quilting to costuming to RTW dupes, there really is something for everyone. I have become very interested in (as an outsider looking in) the world of vintage sewing. I asked you, dear readers, to share your experiences sewing vintage and here they are! Without further ado, I present you with a tiny sliver of the richness of vintage sewing.


Anissa

Anissa is standing in a room with wooden panelling.  She is wearing a mint green headband and a blue vintage style jacket.  She is looking at the camera and smiling.
Anissa shows us how to create an everyday vintage look

Hello my name is Anissa AKA Lipstickonyourcollar on Instagram.

Sewing opens your eyes to different fashion trends; for me it was vintage. I’ve always coveted old things, I may even say I’m an old soul. With this sentiment in mind I always say that true vintage clothing has had another life and we become the custodians of these wearable pieces of history.

As much as I would love to wear true vintage everyday, it’s not feasible. I have had to sew and curate my own vintage capsule wardrobe the emulates true 1940s fashion all with a little help from my trusted sewing machine, some classic sewing patterns and a whole lot of Pinterest.

My main work wardrobe for everyday consist of 4 skirts, 2 dresses, 8 blouses, and 2 suits. In that combination you have 20-plus outfits. I would recommend to anyone looking for vintage sewing patterns to curate their wardrobe. Look at Butterrick Retro, Simplicity Vintage: these companies have delved into their archives of the best selling patterns so you can guarantee they are authentic and the plus side is you can guarantee the instructions will be easy to follow. There are also some amazing individuals who reproduce original patterns on Etsy and eBay who have preserved rare patterns. Some of my favourites are vintagepatternsewBI, tvpstore, and myvintagewish.

Anissa is a Proud Northerner and a lover of all things 30s, 40s and 50s. She sews her way through life as @lipstickonyourcollar on Instagram.


Vanessa

An image from the TV show Boardwalk Empire, showing a carnival scene with several people on stage and others watching, all wearing period clothing.
Costumes made by Vanessa for Boardwalk Empire

I’ve been a tailor and pattern maker for film and television for a little over 30 years now. I’ve worked on a lot of period shows including running the tailor shop for Boardwalk Empire. Drafting patterns from vintage garments and/or pictures/drawings is what I do. I’m a big fan of strategic neckline and shoulder darts – well, of darts in general. I am especially keen on designs from the 20s, 30s, and 40s.

When I’m on a show, I’m often given a couple or three vintage garments that are in such bad shape they could never be worn and asked to create a pattern that incorporates some elements from each. The designer from Boardwalk would bring me things and say, “I like this collar and neckline, the sleeve on this one, and the overall shape of this one.” And I’d draft a pattern to include those details.

For film and television it is not usually possible to use vintage fabrics to make garments, mainly because it’s difficult to find enough of a particular fabric. The designers for Boardwalk Empire, though, bought an entire warehouse of vintage fabrics and notions and we did use a lot of that stuff for the show – the stuff that wasn’t dry rotted, that is. One of the most frustrating things is sewing on a ribbon that disintegrates as your needle pierces it. Closures are a big deal when it comes to keeping clothing period accurate, especially in the entertainment business as sewing on a whole slew of hooks and eyes is much more time consuming than a zipper. I confess, there may be a zipper or two in some of the Boardwalk clothing.

Alas, I rarely sew for myself. When I’m on a show, I work 10-12 hour days, 5 days a week. I do occasionally end up with un-used clothing from a show though and I do have a sizable vintage collection.

Vanessa is sitting looking at the camera and smiling.  She is wearing a checked beanie, glasses and a dark coloured sweatshirt.
Vanessa on the set of Boardwalk Empire

I recently started a vintage inspired pattern business. I digitize and grade my patterns in Adobe Illustrator and sell them as PDF downloads.

Vanessa is a NYC based writer, tailor, and pattern maker. Her pattern designs can be found at www.setgirlz.com. IG @setgirlz.


Karina

Karina is standing on a set of brick steps with green leafy plants either side of the stairs.  She is wearing a short green floral dress and dark coloured shoes. She is looking at the camera and smiling.
Karina wears a green 60s shift dress which matches her background perfectly

That hand-tailored garments are extra special is something that I understood early in life, since my grandmother was a trained seamstress. My grandfather passed away early, which left my grandmother alone with their eight children, but despite having to raise them by herself she managed to sew all of her children’s clothing as well as her own.

When my grandmother turned 80, she decided to treat herself to a factory-tailored dress, but in the end she sewed one herself, since all of the dresses in the stores “were so poorly made”. Although it was not my grandma who taught me sewing, she might have been the reason that I started to collect vintage dresses and eventually started to make dresses as well.

My very first vintage dress was sewn by my grandmother, worn by my aunt, and it was handed down to me when I was 15. I still have it, and it’s one of my most beloved dresses. The first dress I made was an attempt to create something similar. 

I have always taken an interest in clothing, and especially dresses; however, following current fashion trends has never felt important to me. Instead, I see many benefits of making my own clothes: they are unique, hand-tailored for my body, and you care for them better if you dedicated time and effort in to making them. Another important aspect is the environment, since the textile and fashion industry put such a strain on it. With this in mind, I try to buy my materials, such as fabrics, patterns and notions, in thrift shops. I also like reusing fabrics, and several old curtains and tablecloths have been transformed into dresses. 

I find it exciting to thrift fabrics since you never know what you will stumble upon. When I lay my eyes on a fabric, I often find that I immediately know what I want to make. Most of the time, I sew after patterns from the 50’s to 70’s. I sew on a simple and ordinary sewing machine, as well as some details by hand, and I like the thought that garments being sewn after old patterns also use the same methods as at the time the patterns were made. 

My name is Karina, I’m 49 years old and live in Gothenburg, Sweden. I’m married and have two grown up children with my husband. I work as a speech and language therapist and sewing is a hobby of mine. I started sewing six years ago and I am self taught.


Marijke

Marijke is standing in front of a wooden fence. She is wearing a light blue ankle-length coat with darker blue collar facing.  She has her hands on her hips and is looking at the camera and smiling.
The coat that started Marijke’s love for vintage

My spark for vintage sewing lit up when I got my hands on Vogue 1669, a reissue of a 1949 pattern for a coat. I loved it so much I sewed one for my mom in law and am planning one for my sister as well. It started my journey for original patterns as well. Since it is a reissue the pattern is multisized and probably adjusted to ‘modern’ sizes. 

Because most vintage envelope patterns are offered in one size (and mostly not my size) I took to vintage magazines like Burda. I’ve found one from my birth month (1985) and one from my mom’s birth month (1955) and it led to me challenging myself by making one from each issue. 

I also found a Dutch yearly sewing course given on the radio from 1926 to 1963. You could order the accompanying booklets before the start of the year and you could sew along the different projects during the shows. Kind of the equivalent of modern day online sewing courses! I got my hands on some of these booklets and am planning to master these. 

Marijke offers us some more information on the Dutch sewing courses and booklets she is exploring:

A photo of a spread in one of the booklets, showing wedding gown designs.
A wedding edition of Met Naald en Schwaar

“Met Naald en Schaar” (“With a needle and scissors”) was a Dutch radio program in which ladies registered to receive a sewing package containing sewing materials and booklets. From September through April or May, the listeners were instructed how to make the garments featured in the booklets. As buying clothes before and right after the Second World War was a luxury many women didn’t have, making clothes was still the norm. Fashion schools were not accessible to every woman, so this radio show offered a solution that became very popular. 

The course leader, Ms. Ida de Leeuw van Rees, taught at a fashion school in Amsterdam and later married the director’s son. She expanded the school in several cities and visited them regularly to teach there, and therefore was the first Dutch woman with a driver’s license. Her brother worked at the radio and so both of them came up with the idea of teaching a sewing course by radio. In October 1926, this series started with 600 registrations and reached the top of its popularity with 32,000 registrations in 1932. During the war, the broadcasts were stopped, probably because her husband was Jewish, but after the war the broadcasts started again with the same popularity as before the war. After the war, general wealth increased rapidly, ready-made clothes became cheaper and the popularity of the program disappeared. The last broadcast was made in 1963.

The booklets

I only have a few booklets. But it seems that every course year starts in September with determining and measuring your “basic model”. These will be the basic models A, B (for what we would now call plus sizess) and C (young girls). The further models are then made on the basis of these basic models. The course years ended in April or May. Each month has a booklet that lists different models (patterns) and it seems that the models become more difficult as the course year progresses. 

In this blogpost on my own site, I have made a browse through of the four magazines I have of the year 1950/1951: link to naald en schaar.

A photo of a spread from one of the booklets. On the left are fancier dresses with very full skirts and puffed short sleeves; on the right is a more utilitarian dress, with pleats in the skirt to allow movement but without the full crinoline look.
These look easy and will be Marijke’s first attempt.

I am Marijke and I’m the third in line of seamstresses after my mom and grandmom. I sew mostly for my 2yo daughter (who might or might not be pressured in becoming the fourth in line), my sister (who runs away from any kind of needle) and myself. My blog is called https://sewingforgenerations.blogspot.com/


There are so many reasons to start sewing vintage, and so many eras to choose from. I’m definitely feeling inspired to create some vintage style looks, if I ever get enough spare time! Are you feeling inspired to incorporate some vintage into your life? Let me know in the comments below! 

Sophy is a sewist based in Hong Kong but originally from the United Kingdom. She occasionally manages to finish sewing projects when not caught in transcontinental lockdown or running after her two children. Check out her sporadic makes on Instagram @sophy_sews_hk.


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