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 Journal

I’ve been a collector of vintage patterns for many years now and find that my collection is rapidly outgrowing my ability to store it properly. That doesn’t stop me from adding to it though – far from it. One of the biggest single contributors to my collection is the Australian Home Journal.


But that’s a magazine, I hear you say. And you’d be right, of course. The Home Journal was a magazine, but it was so much more than that. For one thing, each issue came with patterns to make the dresses (or hats, coats, toys – anything, really) that was shown on the cover. Which is how it came to be in my collection so frequently. For women who made their own – and their children’s – clothes and lived on a strict budget, the magazine was a god send. It gave them patterns, but it also provided them with reading material. Each issue was crammed with helpful hints for housewives: stories, knitting patterns, advice, recipes, you name it, it was there, in a breezy and topical fashion perfect for the woman who was likely to be interupted at any moment.

It’s all from a blissfully simple point of view, that everything a woman needs to know can be found in this one magazine. There is nothing about what’s happening in the wider world (although wartime issues did have handy hints for around the home, ways of making-do-and-mending). There is no hint that a woman could have a life outside of her family. My inner feminist ought to be shrieking in horror at some of the tips (one article from the magazine pushed the boundaries by demanding, “Why must we try to be slim?” The power of the headline was somewhat diminished by the sheer weight of slimming products that featured during the life of the Journal). Somehow, though, it all seems so completely foreign to my own lifestyle that it qualifies as a quaint reminder of both how far women have come and how far there is still to travel. The only areas retaining any relevance for me, other than as artefacts of a bygone era, are the sewing patterns.

I’m not sure what happened to the Australian Home Journal. I can’t find out much about it online. My mother tells stories about wearing dresses made from the patterns when she was a little girl, back in the hey day of the magazine in the 1950s. She seems familiar with it into the 1960s – enough that she when she came across some in her travels, she gave me a shoebox of them as a present one Christmas and then sat down and told me which outfits she’d made. The earliest mentions I can find date back to the 1920s, but it seems to peter out in the 1970s with nothing at all beyond 1982. Is it that the women of Australia had moved on? My own mother was still a housewife at that point, with 3 young children at home and a very tight budget. She was far from unusual among the mothers of my peers when I went to school, although perhaps more handy with a needle than most. Is it just that the magazine wars between New Idea and Woman’s Day killed off the rivals who did not stoop to scandal and celebrity – both notably absent from the issues of the AHJ that I’ve seen. There are certainly no magazines that I’m aware of today that covered the breadth of topics in this magazine without descending into sensationalism. Whatever happened to the magazine, it lives on with collectors. There’s many an ebay bidding battle over the treasured early issues. I’ve never managed to get my hands on an actual magazine pre-1945, although I do have a couple of closely guarded patterns from earlier issues, magnificently complicated affairs from the late 1930s, full of slash-and-gather detailing. And I mourn for the collection that my mother talks about, my grandmothers boxes of magazines and patterns that were just thrown away when she and my granfather moved out of the family home back about the time that the Journal seems to have disappeared. If only we could know in advance what the generations to come will find interesting.

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.

A Cinderella Story

The weather has been on a hot streak lately – apart from that bit where a cool change came through on Saturday and it dropped 15 degrees in 10 minutes. Seriously – so I’ve been plundering what summer wardrobe I have and plotting how to expand it. Because it has many holes. Sadly, far more holes than I have ability, time or energy to fix right now. But the biggest gaping hole is in the footwear department.

Sure, on the surface, it seems like I have plenty of shoes. But then you remove the black ones, and suddenly there’s not so many. Take away the winter warmers, and I’m left with 3 pairs of shoes, and only one them are flats. For those who don’t know, I have back issues. I can manage to wear heels occasionally without having to send a week lying flat afterwards, but more often than that and it gets tricky. Especially on days when I’m on my feet a lot. But when I was doing my check, I suddenly remembered a pair that I bought at the end of last summer. Fabric covered cream peep toes with navy leather accents, and a jaunty polka dot bow on the front. They were gorgeous, and I haven’t ever worn them because the weather turned the other way on me when I bought them. But I could find them. I remember seeing them when I was packing to move house in July, but they haven’t been seen since. And I desperately want to wear them.

Except soon after remembering them, I remembered something else. One of the last things I did before moving was to stuff a few – seemingly empty – shoe boxes in the bin, including the 0ne that these shoes came in. And I think there was a rattle in the box. It seems I may have thrown out my own pair of shoes. $90 gone in the blink of an eye. Not to mention some of the comfiest heels I’ve ever put on.

Undaunted, I’ve begun hunting for the elusive replacement. At the moment, I’m leaning towards American Duchess’s 23 Skidoo. Also divine, but more closed in that I would like…

And I’ve contemplated heading down to the local rubbish tip to see if I can find my shoes. That’s how much I loved these. So, lesson learnt from this? Probably not. It’s also occurred to me that I may have left some shopping behind on a recent shopping trip. Left it on the counter and walked away, with an entire bag of goodies left behind. Apparently, my early training as a blond is beginning to re-assert itself. Perhaps it’s the sun, bringing it all back.

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…

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.