Unleashing the nerd within

I have been open about my nerd status for a long time now. I’m comfortable with it, and feel no shame in admitting it. I am an enormous history nerd. It’s a trait  share with a brother. We’ve been known to get sidetracked when watching films because there is a historical inaccuracy, go into a discussion of what really happened, and miss half an hour of plot as a result. I’m not just a history nerd, though – I’m also a dress nerd. So it drives me absolutely insane when there are things that are just plain wrong about costume on the screen.

The thing most likely to send me into a fit of snide comments at the moment is an ad for genealogy website, ancestry.com.au. Specifically, this moment:

ancestry screenshot


Yep, that says that the woman climbing out the window was born in 1752. Except she’s wearing a dress that looks suspiciously Georgian style to me… and the actress looks nothing like a 50 year old woman. Which means that every time Mary Abbey appears on screen, I feel compelled to mutter something along the lines of, “Not in that dress you weren’t.” And that’s before my architectural training kicks in and I notice that it’s a gothic revival building, probably built after 1850. See? Nerd.

For those who know better – or, should I say, those who agree with me and are therefore in the right – her outfit should look more like what was once thought to be Marie Antoinette in her library. I know, it’s a fancy dress, yes. But so is the one in the video when you think she’s climbing out a window and, if you watch the rest of the clip, running off with her man (in which case surely she wouldn’t have been named Abbe yet, since presumably she’s a direct ancestor? See? Problems galore…).

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

Madame Sophie, 1770-1774, Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

The more I learn about historical clothing, the more it happens, too. It’s becoming a problem, getting in the way of all sorts of enjoyment on the small screen. Don’t get me started on the supposedly 17th century costumes in The Musketeers. Or pretty much any scene in The Tudors where a woman simply drops her dress and is naked for Henry VIII – no stays, no chemise, nothing, just an expensive gown crumpled at her feet…and then there’s the lack of head coverings, hair down and flowing.


It’s enough to make me give up watching it. Or to give up watching it in company, because I can never keep my complaints about the inaccuracies to myself. See? Told you I was a nerd…



Flies in the Ointment

The current climate means that the title of this blog has been slightly false of late. I haven’t been sewing. I’ve been eyeing off various unfinished items, but haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to pick them up and finish them. But that hasn’t stopped me plotting new projects and eyeing off larger spaces so I can spread my cutting wings.

I went to check out a place on Tuesday, thinking that redundancies are likely to kick in early next week at my day job. I backed that up with an interview for my own job on Wednesday and walked out of head office feeling very dispirited. It seems that, even after I complained, bitched, moaned, and told them I was looking for a job outside the organisation, there is every chance they are wanting to keep me. Why, I don’t know, but if I’m in the best candidates it’s a pretty damning indictment of the others. But if I am so unfortunate as to continue my employment, I won’t get a pay out. Which means I won’t be scaling up my sewing operation. I will instead be locked into my soul destroyer of a job for that bit longer, losing that much more heart with every day that goes by.

Of course, part of the reason that I’m not able to expand is my habit of shopping. This month’s binge was at Amazon, where I loaded up on a combination of gorgeous photographic records of historical clothing, to the more practical break downs of the patterns used to create them. My favourites are the two shown below, but it’s a close run thing.

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I’ve never really been much of a fan of the natural form period – I prefer the bustle periods that bookend it – but there are some stunning ensembles in the Fashions of the Gilded Age. I can see myself putting together at least one of them, once I narrow down a fabric selection and stop spending on other things long enough to by it! The only frustration is that there are often patterns without a corresponding image to show what the pattern is for – just a vague description of the garment along the lines of “double-breasted jacket”.

The V&A books, in contrast, are all images no patterns. In their way, this series of books (of which I now own a couple) is just as helpful, given that the details shown help to give life to the garments. There is more than construction detailing – there is information on finishes, fabrics, and possible uses, what the desired shape of the time was. At the end of the day, historical clothing is driven largely by the underpinnings and without them, it is generally agreed that it is impossible to understand how fashions were put together.

Thanks to my dithering and attempts to think up ways to self-sabotage my interview, I haven’t gone in-depth in these books yet (or the other 4 that also arrived recently). Fingers crossed for a pink slip next week…

The Proper Etiquette


I’ve been – ahem – pimping my sewing services out recently, putting ads up on Gumtree. There’s been a moderate level of interest expressed, with a few phone calls a week and the occasional email. That side of things is, well, pleasing to my budget. Or rather to my budget planning. Because for every person who turns up at the door of the bunker wanting new pants, or their hems taken up, or general repairs, there are several more responses that are not quite what I expected.

Just a quick word of warning here before I launch in properly. This post is not going to be a quiet little saunter through my sewing experiences. I have been sewing a lot lately, but this post has nothing to do with that. This post is an angry rant about the rudeness of people.

First there are those who leave a message on my voicemail, then screen my return call and aare never heard from again. There was the woman who left me a voicemail at 6pm that she wanted something, and when I called her back by 9 the next morning she rather abruptly told me that she had found someone else. Fine, but no need to be nasty about it. My favourites, though, are the ones who talk through what they want in great detail over the phone. They seem to agree to the price and the timeframe that I offer them and agree to stop by the bunker that night. And then they don’t show up. Last night was a prime case; she had three silk dresses that needed work – two zips and a hem. One of them was a rush job. She said she would be coming by at 6. By 7:30 I gave up and started on making my dinner. I don’t mind so much that they don’t show up, though. What I mind is that they don’t tell me they aren’t coming. The 2 hours between the phone call and the supposed arrival time might be long enough for drastic accidents to happen, but this has happened more than once so the chances of it being a coincidence, or some sort of karmic sabotage of my fledgling sideline are getting slimmer by the week.

A lack of consideration is not confined to phone calls and no shows, either. It turns out you can also be lacking in the manners department via email. One of the first contacts I had was through email, someone wanting to know if I would be able to make alterations to about 200 garments, rehemming lining on skirts and relocating should pads on lined jackets. Both are potentially somewhat finicky and I hadn’t seen the articles in question. I was more than a little daunted by the prospect and told them so, but they still wanted a quote and time estimate. After 24 hours or so of calculations I got back to them. It was roughly half my usual rate per piece for that sort of alteration, so it probably wasn’t what they were expecting if they are as used to sweatshop practices as I suspect. It shouldn’t have surprised me that they got back to me with a no, but the wording of the refusal had steam coming from my ears. Something along the lines of, “We already got somebody who can do it quicker. Oh, and by the way, they are MUCH cheaper than you.” That’s probably somewhat softer than their response. At the time, it was along the lines of nose thumbing via email. And rude, when they had all but insisted that I provide them with the quote.

Today has managed to top it all off though. I got this email: “Our landromat is looking for someone to rent our kiosk and provide services in relation to alterations, ironing and folding or other services you can do at my shop.” So far, nothing out of the ordinary. I never say I do ironing and folding, but hey, I can see how they might have been confused. It’s the assumption that this will be appealing to me in the conclusion that gets to me – “The rental can be discussed later and negotiable when we meet together.” Because the rental – not to mention the location – wouldn’t be important if I was considering their offer seriously. And the fact that I’m advertising online already as offering a service would suggest that I am quite happy where I am (I’m not entirely thrilled with the bunker at times, but that’s beside the point). So what on earth makes them think we can talk about this “when we meet together”?

It’s not hard to engage in polite communication. It just takes some thought. I’d encourage everyone to make the effort. It makes the life of those providing a service so much more pleasant…

Two for one

And for those interested, you can buy it! Or my reproduction of it, anyway...

And for those interested, you can buy it! Or my reproduction of it, anyway…

I know. Two posts in one day. Unheard of. But I had to blog about this.

Killing time at the end of the day checking out Etsy vintage clothes that might – might – just fit me. I’m not built on lines of economy, and my measurements rarely coincide with those of actual vintage clothes. Occasionally I’ll stumble across something that can be made to wrok, but generally it’s a drool-only activity for me. Same thing today, with no joy at the bigger end of the shopping spectrum. And it’s not that there weren’t many items listed. But this goes on with my earlier post about people not being able to identify periods of clothing; some listers just have no clue about sizing.

So here it is – a few quick tips for the size-unaware.

First – if the waist of a dress is 28″, it’s not an XXL size. In fact, it’s barely even an L, as far as I can tell. But hey, let’s just consult Bettie Page and see, shall we?

The Bettie Page size chart - I figure it's vintage accurate!

The Bettie Page size chart – I figure it’s vintage accurate!

Now I know that’s a little blurry (sorry, it’s from a print screen…) so I’ll translate. 28″ waists don’t even rate an L. That’s them there in the M column. OK, so maybe the original listing was actually “Plus Size” rather than XXL, but you get the point. Since when was an M any kind of plus size? By its very definition it’s medium sized.

Column B of the same problem? It’s from the lovely shop offering vanity sizing: 50″ bust listed as an XL.

How these people xpect to sell their items is beyond me. And it’s a shame for them, because both examples here were lovely dresses, which was why I clicked on them. But I don’t like their chances of someone stumbling across them and deciding to purchase.

Rant over. Back to looking at pretty pictures.

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.


Irritation and Inspiration

I’ve been held up by technical glitches lately. First, I was planning to upload some photos of actual items completed by me – shocking, I know, since I haven’t managed to put any up yet and I’ve finished a few things off lately – only to find the batteries on my camera were dead and I couldn’t find the lead for the charger (yes, it was a few months ago that I moved, but I’m still familiarising myself with where I’ve stashed everything). Next, camera fully charged and all ready for photography, and my trusty, well travelled brick of a laptop decided to do what it has been threatening to do for about a year now, and died. Not in a dramatic rain of sparks, or even a blue-screen-of-death way, which I could understand, but rather in a failure-to-launch way, which doesn’t allow it to get much past the windows screen. I have tried re-booting, re-loading, and everything my inner nerd suggests, but nothing has worked.

So I’ve been forced to splash out on a new toy. Forced. I had no choice. Well, alright, I did have a choice. It didn’t have to be an excessively pretty Apple, but that’s what I went with. I figured it would be quicker and easier to order it online. You know, go onto the website (not so mch – turns out my work runs the oldest version of Explorer known to computer-kind, and Apple refuse to deal with it anymore), place your order (on the phone), and it comes out to you within a couple of days. Or it should, if you’re not me. Because I’ve just gotten off the phone and found out that my shiny new laptop will not actually be MY shiny new laptop until, as the helper-man put it, “early or late next week.” So about the only thing I can be sure of out of that is that it shouldn’t come on Wednesday.

But in the meantime, here are some pretty pictures of things I would like to have made, but didn’t. Excellent tools for distraction from irritation, until I remember that I am unlikely to ever attain the skill level of the people who made these. But enough of my irriation, what do you think of this tiny sample of the works from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York?



Beautiful, yes, but not so practical with this early 20th century evening dress. Love the beading and the layering.


The work of Madeleine Vionnet, revolutionising the world of fashion by creating the bias cut, the halter neck, and any number of other innovations in the 1920s and 30s. A woman so influential that it was almost impossible for me to narrow it down to just one dress.