Idle moments

As the mercury soars towards 40 degrees today in an unseasonable show of summery baking, and the bells of redundancy toll for many workers across Melbourne, I figure it’s time to post a distraction. What is this distraction? A little while back I promised reviews of other people’s sewing-related blogs. And promptly failed to delivery after the first installment. Well, I feel the need to add to my catalogue. So here, for your viewing/reading pleasure, I present: The American Duchess.

The author is an amazing historical costumier, and references many periods that I adore. I’m a particular fan of her American Revolutionary War outfits, although she does a great line in Titanic-re-enactment wear as well. She provides regular updates on what she’s up to, how she’s doing it, and where she wears it. But I think the best part is that, if something doesn’t work, she posts about that too.


 Actually, that’s not really the best bit. The best bit that she also has a shop. I am yet to purchase anything, but I have added things to many shopping baskets before common sense overrode my wish to purchase (the process goes something like this: Look at items in online shop, thinking “oooh, pretty! I want it.” Click “Add to cart”. Repeat for several items. Click “Checkout Now”. Balk at total of shopping basket, even before shipping is included. Anxiously figure out which items are non-essential – or less pretty – and hover mouse pointer over “confirm” button, or equivalent. Then realise that I’m about to spend my food budget for the month on things that I can’t wear everyday. Swear, and close browser window quickly.) She sells my catnip – shoes. Period styled. I’m dying to get my hands on a few, but as my opportunities for wearing them are limited, I’ve had to hold off. For now. She also has a gorgeous selection of fabrics available on Spoonflower, for those who want authentic designs for their Robe a la Francaise, their attempts at being Lizzie Bennet, or their more toned down Marie Antoinette fancies.

In short, I love reading this blog. And when I get around to some proper period sewing, I’ll certainly be looking at the how-to section of this blog. Now, I’m back to camping in front of the office air conditioner, trying not to melt, and waiting – hoping – for a phone call that tells me I have to start sewing full time because my day job no longer exists. Uh, yeah. Back to doing actual work…


And now for something completely different

While I’m sitting at my day job desk, I have just had confirmation that something exciting has happened. The first of my Bettie Page stock has landed. Because I’m going to be selling things – at the moment, it’s a not terribly involved process of contacting me through my facebook page, or through email, or blog comments, until my website design is complete.

So Betties will be the first of, hopefully, many brands I will be talking about. Over the next couple of days I will post details of what exactly I have available right now. But for now, please join me in drooling over the potential of this outfit – which is available now!

I’ve worn Bettie Page before, and loved it. Now, I almost can’t wait to get out of the office and home to my lovely delivery of goodies…

Brace Yourself

I’v been distracted from sewing this week, as I stealthily colonise the downstairs store room with my sewing paraphernalia. For the first time in years, I have a sewing-free bedroom. Or mostly, at any rate. There will be photos of the final product in the downstairs room, but it’s not there yet. So in the mean time, here’s a work-in-progress pic that I took yesterday (sorry for the poor quality – taken with a phone and no flash, so amazed that it’s this good, really).


The work in progress. And yes, that large basket on the floor? That’s full of works in progress, in various stages of completion, venerability, and likelihood of ever being finished. But on the plus side, look how neat and pretty my stash is now!


The opportunities created by a bedroom that is just for bedroom related things proved too much for me, though. Rather than do the sensible thing and get everything in it’s place downstairs, I doubled my work load and decided to re-arrange the bedroom as well. I was shifting and turning my bed – still piled high with various bits and pieces, since the only way to turn/move a bed in a confined space is to get everything else out of the way, of course – when I suddenly noticed that things no longer seemed to be moving as they should.

At this point I should explain. I have a queen size bed with an black metal Ikea frame, complete with various curlicues and posts. It’s a nightmare to move it over carpet, because it sinks into the pile and becomes incredibly resistant to budging in any way that doesn’t inlve me either getting down low and applying my whole body weight to the frame, or lifting at one corner and shoving incrementally until it is where I want it to be. I got the bed halfway turned and in the middle of the room before the problem began. I got impatient and gave it a sharp tug backwards, when a corner sagged, there was a clanging sound, and a wood-on-wood noise. Yep, I broke my bed.

In my own defence, the corner in question was already weakened. Somewhere in my many moves the weld holding a crucial bracket in place had half popped. Of the two welds supposed to be holding the bedrail in place, only one was still functional. Turns out that tugging on the opposite end of the bed is a sure way to get this particular weld to give as well. Lucky for me, muscle arrived home at that point, so I have help to manouver things into a semblance of normal. With his help, I could prop the frame on carefully selected books (not for size or strength, rather for how unlikely it was that I would be fussed should they be damaged by supporting my bed. Thank god for university books on theory of literature and architecture). Catch was the rail kept moving to the side and collapsing again. The solution? The rail is now braced off the wall and seems to be holding. Of course, given that the buttressing involves a small carry-on sized suitcase and a large roll of yellow trace, it’s not perfect by any stretch, but it has to do for the moment. I debated taking a photo of this, but the room is still such chaos generally, thanks to having to stop re-arranging and get on with building my bed, so I wasn’t brave enough to immortalise my own messiness to that extent.

My sleep last night was rather careful, let me tell you.

And now with added sewing! (sort of)

I made a skirt over the weekend. I was going to make something much more complicated, but when I sat down with my fabric and pattern, I discovered that I wasn’t in the mood for fiddling. So I pulled out a piece of navy ponti that I’d had lying around for years, left over from not just one just 2 other projects, and figured out that, with some ingenuity, I had more than enough fabric to make a short-ish yoked skirt, with some pleats front and back for interest. Something like this, but with a yoke instead of a waistband, and no tabs.

I love the look of pleats. But I’m terrible at making them. I just get so frustrated with the whole process. Plus I hate ironing, and it’s essential to good pleats. So why I thought I would be in the mood to form 4 separate locations with pleats I do not know, but I was kind of making this skirt up as I went along and it seemed like it would be fine. After half an hour of cutting, half an hour on the yoke, fifteen minutes on the zip, and 3 hours on the pleats, it was ready to try on.

And now you learn the reason(s) why there are no photos to go with this post. I was a diligent blogger, and I documented the process throughout – or the bits that didn’t involve me gritting my teeth, swearing, or throwing parts of the skirt across the room. I’d topstitched the pleats to keep them flat over my butt – the perils of hips and pleats – and had also decided that, if my legs were better, I wouldn’t have bothered with the yoke at all, and would have just gone with a pleated mini (although that did run the risk of looking a little too much like a netball skirt, triggering traumatic memories of primary school sports days). I’d worked it all by eye and measuring and chalking the fabric, rather than crafting a pattern and I thought it looked pretty darn good, let me tell you. Slightly off with the pleat alignement, but matching off-ness in all locations to therefore potentially passing as deliberate. So far so awesome, yes?

Or at least I thought so until I stopped focussing on the details and had a look at the overall product. It looked a little…big. I tried to ignore it when I was pinning the yoke to the pleated section. I told myself it was just the I usually work with skirts that are much longer. But when I finished the zip and tried it on at last, I discovered that I was right to doubt the sizing. Somewhere between me measuring and cutting the fabric, it had grown four inches. As in I could easily put another 4 pleats in the skirt. I know, I pinned them to see. And I know ponti is a knit, so the laws of cutting and fitting are different, but – FOUR WHOLE INCHES!!! That’s 10cm for the meterically minded. That’s a whole lot to be off by. So now I’m faced with a decision. Do I bother with sitting down and unpicking the whole thing, adding pleats, adjusting the yoke, and remaking it all, or do I just write it off?

The only consolation here is that at least I thought to try it on before hemming. Because then I really would have thrown my toys out of the cot, let me tell you. And as the toys in question are sewing machines and scissors, it’s probably just as well that I didn’t… And what is the lesson I’m taking away from all of this? Fit earlier in the process? Measure twice, cut once? Follow a pattern properly? Well yes, I guess, but not really, no. More along the lines of “if you can’t front up to a Burda pattern because you don’t feel like cutting out 10 pieces plus interfacing, you probably shouldn’t be sewing that day.”

The Necessary Education

In a moment of weakness last week, I ignored my current austerity drive and purchased a vintage pattern off Gumtree, of all places. I think it was the surprise of finding one there. There was no picture with the listing, but the seller described it as a late 1940s dress, with pleating across the bodice. I should have known from that wording that something would go wrong, but I figured that the price was so low, what the hell. I stretched a little further and also agreed to purchase the two other patterns that she mentioned, all for one low bargain price probably similar to what I’d pay for one decent 40s pattern on Etsy.

I sat back and watched the mail, and my patterns finally arrived in a neat little package. I opened them up and discovered that the patterns were in almost mint condition, perfectly in line with the seller’s description, apart from one thing; while the blouse was an unusual waisted 40s find, the dresses weren’t from the 40s. In fact, I’d guess they’re not even 50s. The hair styles make me think early 60s, but it might go as far as the middle of the decade. I love the dresses, and at $3 each they’re hardly over priced, but that’s beside the point. The woman clearly didn’t know what she was talking about in terms of style.

I’ve noticed this problem when looking at Etsy vintage sellers as well. There are so many on there who have a tonne of stock, but no clue about dating any of it. The result is usually wildly over estimating the age of a garment, and jacking the price accordingly. Quick tip for beginners, based on the most common mistake I’ve noticed: if it’s a pencil skirt, a wiggle dress, a mini, or looks like it should be worn with either a bouffant hair-do or a crinoline petticoat, it’s unlikely to be from the 1930s. If it’s nylon, it’s not from the 1920s. Plastic zip? Probably not from the early part of the twentieth century. Overlocked seams? See above. I’m not going to name and shame any stores though, because I’m still holding out hope that one day I’ll spot something where the mistake goes the other way – a House of Worth dress identified as 1980s and being sold for $20, a Vionnet  labelled as 1960s and going for a song. My inner optimist tells me that it has to happen sometime, but meanwhile I’m stuck fuming about psychadelic mini dresses labelled as “flapper” – itself an annoying misinterpretation of what was going on in the 1920s world of fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many sellers who know their stuff and I have learned a lot from looking through their websites. But the sheer weight of numbers of people without a basic understanding of fashion history blows my mind. How do you end up selling this stuff – and enough of it to justify getting an Etsy store – without bothering to do the research into the subject so you can identify things properly? It gets me so annoyed that these people own and trade in these beautiful things, but clearly don’t appreciate them fully. Or that’s my take on it. Of course, I also think that anybody who can’t correctly date a garment plus or minus five years should not be allowed to own it, and it should be passed along to someone who can. Someone like me. Sadly, I don’t think they’d agree to such a plan. Or worse, they may not realise that they need the education required.