Here's a little insight into what I like. I make vintage inspired clothes, channelling the crafty can-do attitude of the ladies in years past. Let's discuss vintage sewing, social issues and swap recipes for coconut cake!
I needed a fabulous dress to wear to a few weddings, and decided to order this wonderful number from Xandra at Evadress http://www.evadress.com/7858.html. Gosh, she has some amazing patterns! I would love to have them all. This dress features some wonderful sweeping ruffles in the back cascading down from under the bow. I decided to forgo the long-sleeved version, although it is over the top and right up my alley! I made the sleeveless version, lean and mean from the front and interesting and glam from the back.
One of the reasons I'm endlessly intrigued by sewing from vintage patterns is the mystery of it all. Dealing with these old patterns is like looking at heiroglyphics--what do they mean by these cryptic directions, or lack thereof? It's like an IKEA instruction booklet times 10. And try to unfold the directions without ripping the 80 year old paper! I'm always interested in how these repro pattern ladies present their patterns. This was one size, which was a 36 bust. I am a 38, so I was hoping to not spend any extra time re-sizing it. I don't take a lot of time to sew for myself these days, so I needed a fab dress, super fast! My brother's wedding was just a week away, and I wanted something lovely and Spanish-style as it was a Mexican theme wedding. I purchased some sheer floral fabric on closeout downtown for the dress, and had a long black slip from Victoria's Secret to wear underneath, perfect. This was my first backless dress attempt so I picked up a stick-on bra from Target for $7, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to use. Thankfully my bust is teeny enough to use them. So I went to town on the construction.
The Evadress patterns are all printed on a CAD drafting manner on large pieces of sturdy bond white papper. This is a very professional take on repro patterns, as I've bought some that have wiggly marker for lines, drawn by hand. It takes a bit of time to cut everything out. She advised to make a muslin first, which would have helped me avoid some trouble. What fun is that? Takes away all the excitement. She had provided some advice on possibly needing to add some width at the hips, which I foolishly brushed off. I'm a pretty standard 38-30-38 so I thought I could go with it. Unfortunately there are no side seams on this dress, there are some lovely triangular godets at the side that fit together. It took me a LONG time to figure out how these pieces join. She provided some great notes on "join notches 2 together" and if you slow your brain down enough to pay attention, she had marked a skirt piece with notch 2 to a side panel piece with notch 2, for example. This is a definite boon above the original 1930s patterns, which pretty much assume that you are a mind reader and God's gift to sewing. I could have used a few visuals on how to piece the pieces together, but I'm sure she's a busy lady. It took forever to figure this out, and the fabric pieces are large, so I had a pile of floral confusion for a few days. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. It's nice to be able to make a bunch of mistakes on my own clothes before I offer anything like this to my customers. It makes me a better sewer. At least that's what I kept telling myself as I ripped out seams. I should have started over, but I'm pretty stubborn and attempted to fix the existing dress that I had so far.
One of the ways I make my clothing fit really well is I measure a billion times while I cut out--the biggies (bust, waist, torso, hips) to know that I'm on track. It is impossible to do this with this pattern as it is a geometric tangle of triangular pieces that fit together. I had to wing it and hope for the best. I had no idea how big the waist or the hips would be as I cut the fabric.
So I finally got the body of the dress sewn and wanted to throw it on my dress form for a little satisfaction (my dress form is about my size). Uh oh, ripping sounds. This dress was meant to slip over your head, and the sash pulls in the fullness of the waist to the back. Like all the 30s patterns I've used, they run small. Xandra had graciously provided a diagram on how to resize the pattern pieces, so the next time I make this I can utilize that. But it's great to know what the base pattern will make, and now I know!
There was no way I could even put this dress on. And I measured the hips and they were too small by 2". This fabric doesn't stretch and you have to have ease for sitting or you have a problem on your hands. I had to somehow create a closure to get into and out of this number and fast, and figure out a way to add a few inches to the butt. I took a chance on romance and started cutting a slit down the back below the fantastic keyhole cutout. I couldn't put in a zipper at the side because of the godets, so that was the only place I could do it. I didn't want a zipper because of the lightweight fabric, so I made a "butt flap" with snaps and a button and loop portion above the ties, with a placket to add a few inches. This fabric is really busy, so you don't notice the butt flap at all, thank God! So all in all, I got it together in time and received a lot of compliments. And I have practice if I ever make it again, it is a terrific style! I think I would have preferred it to be floor-length, but at least I could dance and walk without worrying about catching a heel on the hem. It was a lot of work, but worth it to have something special.
So I've been collecting vintage buttons for quite a while now. I pick them up on the internet, at flea markets, antique stores, you know, the usual. They are such a wonderful source of inspiration. My vintagey girlfriends and I sit for hours going through the boxes of them, dreaming up new things to make. There's bakelite of course, but also other celluloid plastics (just as cute), carved coconut, painted metal, glass, wood, bone, galalith. Whenever I'm feeling down about what I'm doing I just take a little dive through the stash and get a ton of ideas. But I always wonder about how to use them really WELL, respecting the history and the design of not only the button, but the composition of the entire garment as a whole.
I've started to understand that among all of the dear vintage collectors, button ladies are a special breed. There are soo many ladies who collect buttons, who never intend on making clothes. Why do people collect buttons? How do they even display them? You can't even put them into a coin slot to display, do they just sit in a drawer? Regardless, until recently, these little treasures have been passed around the antique universe pretty unmolested. Now we have the concept of epoxying them onto "brooches", dooming them to a crafty purgatory of bad taste.
I am always on the lookout for ways to approach reproduction clothing from the period mindset. The patterns, as well as the original vintage clothing, have been my key resource for proper application of these buttons. But I always wonder when I see a set or a button I like-- what kind of garment were they originally attached to? I am especially interested in the 1930s, but those original garments are very hard to find.
So my quandary about how to use these buttons in a respectful and beautiful manner is kind of a challenge, but it's a fun pasttime. I've contacted several button dealers on period usage of these lovelies, but I get a dumbfounded response every time. I think many collectors collect them just for their beauty. I know there are many gals out there trying to recreate these vintage looks. Has anyone found any good resources beyond those rare 1930s pattern catalogues that cost $150? I haven't been able to find a single website that specializes in vintage buttons still ATTACHED to clothing. This may be a tall order, but I'm a dreamer.
How about those adorable novelty buttons--the scotty dogs, sombreros, pineapples, clothespins? What kind of garments were these originally attached to? I don't really believe that they were all used for children's clothing like some button ladies have suggested. Ladies casual resort wear utilized a lot of novelty themes back in the day.
I would love to hear your thoughts on button application. Is there a book or site that I should know about? This is a call to arms! I've got a 1" wide coconut scotty dog that needs an outfit! I've got sombreros out the wazoo!! 40s painted wood! Amazing deco button/buckle sets dying for a new life...I want to make sure I'm doing it right!
Oh, if you're interested in checking out some inspiring sets, see my button collection at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nudeedudee/. You can pick out the ones you like, and away we go! Or I can use yours, your choice.