Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Finished: inspired by Debi 1942 McCall blouse

I really owe Debi from My happy sewing place a big thank you for the inspiration for this blouse!

If you follow Debi's blog you'll already know she's embarked on a huge long-term project called the 1940 McCall project where she intends to make all the McCall patterns from 1940. What an exciting commitment! I've been very inspired by her posts about the early stages of the project so far and it led led me to think about my own sewing goals, which I'll talk about in a future post.

When I read about Debi's project, I went through my vintage sewing patterns to see if I had any McCall patterns from 1940 that she was missing that I could send her, but I discovered not only did I have very few McCall patterns period, none were from 1940. The closest I got was a blouse from 1942. I've been meaning to get over some reservations on sewing notched/convertible collar blouses, so inspired by Debi and her commitment to her McCall project, I decided there was no time like the present and this McCall pattern would be the one to try.

The pattern is McCall 4820. I sewed view B without pockets (though the pockets would be a great way to show off a vintage hankie). Isn't the envelope art great?

Now, I don't go in for "wearable muslins" usually. I either make a muslin or I don't. But this fabric begged to be a wearable muslin. I bought it over two years ago when I first toyed with garment sewing. I love novelty prints but no longer loved this one (though I still liked it okay), so I thought that would make it a good candidate to try out a notched collar blouse. It's a lightweight cotton voile from the Anna Maria Horner Little Folks line. As it happened I could not straighten the grain in this fabric to save my life, so I figured if it worked out great, and if it didn't, no big loss.

And more or less, it worked out! There's a few funny bits due to the grain issue, but nothing that makes it unwearable.

I think I conquered my fear of notched collars (with no back facing) with this one. They've been my theoretical nemesis in sewing for a long time, even though it's the style of blouse I wear the most! So that's really kind of plagued me.

I say "theoretical nemesis" as I've only sewn one blouse with a notched collar (two years ago) and it went together okay, but I never felt I full grasped how it's supposed to work, no matter how much I read about them. Which I did. A lot. Including this, this and this, along with several vintage resources. I still think it's hard to get the area where the shoulder line meets the edge of the front facing (and where you turn in the upper collar) to look nice, but now I'm over my worrying about it. Sometimes you just have to do it and get over it.

Question: are you supposed to press a collar open? The underlap side lays flat but the overlap side doesn't want to, and I was trying to decide if I could coax it flat by pressing. This is maybe a side effect of the aforementioned weird grain issue, but I wasn't sure since it's my first collar like this.

Now here's an awesome moment of sewing stupid: I didn't realize until I was taking photos of this blouse that I placed the back piece upside down. I KNOW. That after trying to match up the front pieces, even. If I didn't photograph it, I wonder how long it would have taken me to notice?

Even though I wasn't hugely keen on the westkit-style shaping at the bottom of the blouse (I prefer to tuck in my blouses), I went with it on the first pass at this pattern as I knew it would be easy to change the length and shape of the hem in the future. But trying to get a smooth hem up and around and back down the sides of the blouse was nearly impossible. Fortunately it lays more-or-less flat on my body even though it's a bit wobbly on the hanger.

The body is shaped with two long darts on the front and back and no bust darts. The front darts were new to me as they're cut out! It's kind of annoying to do them, actually, as the dart extends about two inches above the cut, so maneuvering that bit with my serger was kind of a guessing game.

The only thing I changed with the pattern is the sleeve head. The original pattern has a very classic 40s pleated/darted cap, but I've learned over time this style is just too severe for my narrow shoulders, be it fabric or knitted. Instead I went for a slightly puffed sleeve cap that's more flattering on me. Casey did a great post on demystifying sleeve ease if you'd like to learn how I did it. I think in the end this sleeve cap has about 2.5" more ease than the armhole. I might even add another inch in the future for slightly more puff.

When I was picking buttons from my stash I picked these blue-green ones, and thinking back 2+ years I believe I actually bought them to go with this fabric. I guess it was meant to be!

I have to say, it was such a pleasure to sew something that actually fit in the body and the shoulders right off the bat. I am definitely going to be looking for more vintage McCall patterns in my size! I also just discovered I'm a full dress size smaller than I was for years. I have no idea when that changed (I suspect prior to last summer, judging from the fit of things I sewed then) but it explains the feeling I've had for awhile that everything I own or have sewn is slightly too big. Kind of a weird feeling when you own a lot of vintage or one-of-a-kind clothes!

Anyway, here's a rare photo of me without my glasses, as they were glaring from this angle. You can almost tell I have blue eyes.

Other outfit details (that you can see)
catalin or other early plastic earrings: Practice in Time
1940s wool skirt: Retro Kitten Vintage

I'll definitely sew this blouse again. It's been a goal of mine for over a year to have a blouse pattern that I can turn to again and again, and this is it! In fact I've already traced off the pattern pieces and lengthened and straightened out the hem for future versions, and I'll be sewing another soon in vintage fabric. I can see many variations of this to fill lots of gaps in my wardrobe—what would you do to make it special?

Even though I'm still calling it a wearable muslin (hello crappy grain and upside down back), I'll definitely wear this cute lightweight blouse. I don't know why I had such a mental block on notched collar blouses. I think it was really holding back my sewing. No longer. I consider it a big triumph, since it led me to a pattern that I know will become a tried and true one for sure.

Thanks for the inspiration, Debi!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My guest post on Lucky Lucille (with those pockets!)

Hi everyone! I'm happy so many of you enjoyed my latest sewing projects. And as I promised, I have a little something special up my sleeves for you. Well, in my pockets, I guess!

If you'd like to learn more about how I did the pockets on my vintage skirt, then pop on over to Lucky Lucille for my guest post today. I adore Rochelle and was thrilled to contribute to her fabulous blog while she's doing a WWII reenactment. It's not exactly in a true tutorial form, but I talked about everything I did to create those fun pockets so many of you loved, so you can try it out if you'd like, too.

Go check out my guest post! (And thanks, Rochelle!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Finished: 1940s Simplicity diamonds skirt & Alma blouse

Last week I completed my first outfit of 2013!

And yes, I planned and sewed an outfit! Let's talk about the blouse first.

I used the Sewaholic Alma pattern and sewed the size down from my full bust size with only slight changes: I make the neckline a little higher, graded the hips down (since I don't have a pear shape like Tasia's line is designed for), and cut 1.75" off the length. The blouse went together like a dream!

The pattern calls for an invisible side zipper, which I wanted to convert to a normal zipper to be more in line with a vintage blouse. But on my muslin I basted the side seam shut just to see if I could get myself into it without a zipper and I could!

I used fabric I had in my stash for awhile. I know I originally bought it for a blouse and it finally became one. I remember it was described as "linen look" but that's about it. Whoops. I think it must be a cotton/poly blend.

Look how nice my darts look! They never look this nice.

The blouse isn't exactly my typical style, but I didn't want it to button-down or have a collar as I suspected it would look like a waitress uniform. It came out looking a bit 50s/early 60s to me, especially in the pink, though you could make a case that it looks a bit like view 4 of this Hollywood pattern below. (If nothing else, my hair sure does!)

{Source: for sale by Aunt Nonnie's Nest on Etsy}

I could see myself using the great basic shape of Alma to draft something slightly different. I'm thinking a version with sleeves that are part of the bodice. I'm not sure what they're called, but they're like cap sleeves but not set in. You know the type, like in this 40s McCall pattern on Etsy or Collette's Sencha. Does that have a name? One of my hopes this year is to tackle this type of sleeve as it's always too big on my narrow shoulders but I love the look when I see it on someone else!

As for the Alma sleeves, those were easy to set in. It's often the point in a sewing project when I'm ready to chuck the entire thing out the window, except I sew in the basement so really I'd have to toss it out the basement door, which loses a little something in the translation. Not this time.

The skirt used Simplicity 2211, a 6-gored skirt that Vintage Pattern Wiki says is from 1945 (why don't Simplicity patterns have dates on them?!). The envelope is in terrible condition but it's marked on the flap as a "Truly Teen" pattern. Ha, not quite!

I used a vintage cotton from my stash. I don't wear a lot of pink but I really loved this diamond-shaped print. I was a bit nervous to use it as I think it was my first time cutting into nice vintage yardage, but I'm glad I did as the skirt is quite the showpiece for it, don't you think?

I went back and forth about whether to just make the waistband straight or go ahead with the scallop since it's such a busy pattern, but I went for it. In the end it would benefit from being worn with a more fitted blouse as when my shirt shifts around, it hides the scallop.

What a pain the scallop was, though. The waistband is one piece and you have to fold it in half lengthwise and very carefully sew the shape into just the middle, then clip and turn it, which is all nerve-wracking when you don't think you're that precise (like me).

By the way, I learned I'm anal enough to line up the placement of the scallop and the waistband with the pattern, and anal enough to match up the pattern on the patch pockets (which only 95% worked), but I'm not anal enough to match patterns on the seams. I barely squeaked it out of the 2 yards I had, so that's the excuse I'm sticking to. (I'll come up with something else next time I don't do it.)

Speaking of the pockets, those were my own creation... and you'll just have to wait for a special post in the near future to learn more about them! :)

@#$%$& I can see a bit of the blue tailor's chalk still!

Overall I'm pleased with the final skirt except for a minor issue. I ended up with a ripple at the top of my lapped zipper, but didn't realize it until after I'd completed the waistband so I wasn't going to rip it all back. For me the the underlap side (back) sometimes sucks up more fabric when being stitched to the zipper tape and makes it then not quite exactly the same length as the overlap (front) piece.

Fortunately it's a busy print. My lapped zippers still need a little work but it's such a great vintage technique. And who has ever said, "zippers, mine always look perfect!" Um, no one, I'm pretty sure. This one is hand picked, not that you could ever tell!

In the end, even though I made exactly what I set out to make, a matching outfit, I don't actually like that it's a matching outfit. But I tried out an idea and I'm glad I did. You never know until you try! And both pieces are a success on their own, so now I have two new separates to mix and match.

I'm already almost finished with another vintage blouse and have tons of ideas swirling about in my head, so I think I'm off to a good sewing start in 2013!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Window treatment follow-up: I found pinch pleat panels!

Lots of you chimed in with some good suggestions on my mid-century window treatment dilemma post. Thank you! By the weekend, we had pretty much decided on stationary pinch pleat panels off to the sides of the windows, with 2" blinds set into each window. (A big thanks to Ginny and Barbara for their comments about the weight implications of one big long set of blinds, which isn't something I would have considered.)

Then this weekend we went to an antique mall in the suburbs and I walked out with two matching vintage pinch pleat barkcloth panels for $12 each. That sealed the deal. Considering eBay and Etsy often turn up panels for over a hundred dollars, and later the same day I saw a set for $300 (granted in much better condition and cowboys, swoon), I thought $12 a panel was a steal!

Other than the green, the colors are perfect for our living room. A dark charcoal grey, a blue-gray that's literally almost the same color as our walls, and a light pink.

They are definitely not in perfect condition. There's some yellowing on a few crease lines, and a fairly big yellow spot on one of them. But considered they're on a white background it's surprising they don't look worse. And when I held them up to the window I honestly could barely tell. I guess I found a way I can actually be thankful we don't get too much natural light in that room. Ha!

The panels are 24" wide at the top and the pleats are sewn into position, so there's no tape across the back. I'm not sure exactly where I'd put drapery hooks, so I'll have to investigate a bit. The length is 75" which isn't super long, but long enough to cover the entire window and a bit more. And with just two small stationary panels to worry about, I can always switch them out easily in the future if we want something more formal length or just want something a bit different.

Here's the bonus: a third panel that almost matches! It was in worse condition (including 3 holes), but there's still tons of salvageable fabric. What's charcoal gray on the other panels is actually brown on this one, and you can see the pink is brighter. I see matching pillows in our future!

I thought initially that maybe someone tried to clean the other two panels too many times and the colors faded, but they didn't bother with this one since it had holes. But when you look at the selvage on the inside, the writing is darker on the two matching panels and much more faded on the panel with the brown and brighter pink. Also, the sort of twig-like part of the pattern is more faded on the one with brown, too. That panel is also 2" shorter than the other two. So I wonder if someone really loved the print and had two slightly different versions featured in two different rooms or areas of the same room. Forever a mystery, I suppose.

It took awhile to make out the wording on the selvage, but it says Gold Tublables (Tullables?) Everglaze / Mayan Pattern / Guaranteed to be Vat Prints. "Gold Everglaze" made me think there was originally some gold on these panels. And a bit of sleuthing turned up what our Mayan Pattern drapes (or at least the one with brown and brighter pink) probably looked like in all their original glory!

{source: sold listing on Etsy}

I almost wish I hadn't looked that up, it's so amazing! Oh, for that gold "everglaze" now...

But I'm still thrilled with our find! Even though our panels aren't as bright as they were once upon a time, it makes me happy to know that some woman before me had these drapes hanging in her home and lovingly washed and cared for them over the years.

And now, it's my turn!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Help picking mid-century living room window treatments

Oh dear, can I tell you what visions have been floating around in my head lately as I try and drift off to sleep? Window treatments. I hope you have a cup of tea as this is a long one. If you care not about mid-century window treatments then I won't be offended in the slightest if you click away now. Get out while you still can.

I realized recently with a nudge from Pam at Retro Renovation that I never followed up on the progress of our living room after last summer's retro living room fail post. Whoops! Well the short answer is you could say it's coming along. If by 'coming along' you meant we did a bunch of work in September including painting and swapping sofas, then didn't think about it for several months. And now once again are inspired to finish up the room. If that's what you meant then like I said, it's coming along.

I want to get a few more ideas nailed down before I share more, since we literally just changed part of the color palette yesterday! I promise I'll share some of the details of how we're mixing modern and mid-century in our casual living room to maximize comfort and storage. Plus you'll get to hear the great story of a piece of vintage furniture we'll be getting in the room later this year.

But today I want to talk about the biggest remaining source of headaches in that room. Window treatments. Oh good grief. Right now, we have the vertical vinyl blinds that came with the house. They're not horrifying, and I've seen some in 50s decorating books, but they aren't my cup of tea. I swear a good salesman must have driven through our area and sold them to everyone who has a ranch, because I see them all over the place.

Oh hey, you can see the color we painted the walls! It's a light blue-gray. I never dreamed I'd pick a gray for walls but 5 months later and we have no regrets. Plus it works nicely with all the colors we want to include in this room (hint: those greens you see won't be included) and the art we'll be featuring.

Anyway, from the start I wanted pinch pleat drapes that could draw shut but primarily be open most of the time, with something behind them for privacy from our city street: sheers or 2" vertical blinds, probably. Pleated shades and roller shades are both nice, but I want something that allows light but a little visibility at the same time. Something that lets me look out like a nosy old lady without having to draw them up and let everyone know I'm being a nosy old lady.

Both sheers or blinds and pinch pleat drapes would be appropriate for our 1955 home. Mel wasn't a huge fan of sheers and we both decided that in our less-than-formal living room, drapes and sheers may be a bit much anyway. But I've also seen some examples of drapes and blinds that I like, and now we're pretty much settled on this combo. Although white, off-white or light gray, not like these 50s red ones, though they're pretty brilliant!

{Source: The Harp Lounge, 1950s Australian Interiors}

I really intended to use the window to showcase some great retro fabric, but when I calculated out the yardage required for pinch pleat drapes... WHOA. Cost prohibitive for hiring it out or even doing it myself. So that's scratched off the list.

I can buy something off the shelf like the J.C. Penney ones I keep hearing about on Retro Renovation, but that would mean picking a light-colored neutral. I was really kind of bummed about this at first since there's not yet a whole lot of color in the room yet, but then I realized something: you know that green patterned chair? We've planned all along to get it recovered in a solid color. Yesterday I realized I can pick a fun pattern for it instead!

Still debating on fabric, but it'll be something like the below. I love the teal bottom one but I'm leaning towards the top one (top is from Melinamade, bottom from Tonic Living). The blue would pull in the teal from our rug (without being almost the same color, like the bottom one would be). The grayish goes with the walls and our sofa. And the pink could then be used as an accent in the room, which is totally different than our original color palette but is secretly exciting me. But we'll see what the sample I ordered actually looks like.

We still have some kinks to work out with the windows, so I'm curious about your opinions. It's a big wall of windows if you take a look at the measurements. With the vertical blinds open you can see that it's a big picture window and two small double-hung windows totaling about 112".

 (It's worth noting while that looks like stained wood, it's actually painted and the paint is chipping badly, so eventually we'll sand and paint it white to match the crown molding.)

Now we have two main decisions to make...

(1) Where should we put drapery panels?

You can see right away there's not enough room between the edges of the windows and the wall for the drapery stackback to not obscure a large portion of the small side windows. Only getting indirect northern light in this room, we need all the access to the light we can get! So I was thinking two sets of drapes. A panel to hang on either side of the small windows (going as close to the edge of the wall as we can), and then a panel to hang just inside the edges of the picture window. I think they wouldn't be too heavy as to obscure too much of the window.

Something like this mockup (but obviously without our vertical blinds in the background)...

I guess what I would do is order two sets of drapes that each could cover half the width, so in total all 4 would draw shut on a traverse rod. (I'd have to wrap my brain around traverse rods, too.) The drapes could either be cream or a darker gray.

The other option would be to ditch drawing drapes entirely, and get one pinch pleat stationary panel to put on either side of the outside of the windows, maybe even starting at just under the crown molding. If we did that, I'd feel comfortable with picking a great retro fabric since it wouldn't be umpteen million yards to buy, or I might even be able to find 2 vintage panels that matched.

It would look something like this (again minus our vertical blinds)...

How the heck do people even hang stationary panels though, especially pinch pleats? Would you really put up a 112"+ rod just for two 22"-ish wide panels on the edges? Do you just mount them to the wall somehow? I can't seem to find any info online about that.

2) How should we hang the blinds?

I've investigated and companies make blinds as wide as our entire window area, but does that seem kind of crazy big? How would they have done it in a mid-century home?

Option A. Get one big honkin' huge set of blinds that spans the entire width of all windows. All 112" of it. I would go for the kind with the cloth tape which is reminiscent of mid-century blinds and would have the added bonus of breaking up the big long horizontal lines. I could possibly even go for a contrasting color tape like they sometimes did in the 50s (depending on where we order the blinds... I'm not a big fan of the color options I've seen on for the tape, I wish they had gray if I was going to go for a contrast).
Option B. Get three blinds, mounting inside the trim. One for each side window and one for the middle picture window, mounting inside the trim. (Even though the side blinds would only be 21" wide.)
Option C. Get three blinds, but mount them outside the trim. That would have each set of blinds line up next to each other in front of the trim, so I'm not sure if there's any advantage over Option A.

Truthfully none of these would really look any different to the eye if we do 4 drapery panels, as the drapes would be covering the trim between each window. But they would look different if we do stationary panels, which would not cover any of the windows. I'm kind of leaning towards A, since I've seen some photos of 50s rooms with mighty big windows, and they appear to be using one long set of blinds. And since the side windows are so small, I feel like individual blinds might look kind of silly.

I swear, I have contemplated every combination of mid-century appropriate window treatments known to man. Cornices, pinch pleat drapes, sheers, roller shades, pleated shades, 2" aluminum blinds, you name it, I've thought about it. Endlessly. Until my brain hurt. I feel like I've thought about this topic to death. I'm ready to commit to a decision already. So if you have any words of encouragement or suggestions, I'm all ears!

{Source: Good Housekeeping 1953, via Flickr}

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vintage knitting patterns: 1947 sport socks

On Monday I shared my new socks to secretly tuck inside my ankle boots.

And I promised I'd share a free vintage sock pattern with you. Actually, I'm sharing two! A plain and a cabled pair.

Both patterns are from the same knitting booklet from 1947. The plain socks are knit to 8.5 stitches per inch, casting on 52 stitches for the ribbed cuff, with the rest of the sock knit on 60 stitches. The cabled socks don't specify gauge (only row gauge, which is rather silly for socks since you're mostly knitting to desired length for the cuff and foot anyway), but the cuff is knit on 62 stitches and the rest of the foot on 72 stitches. Keep in mind cables and ribbing pull your knitting in, hence more stitches for these socks.

Both are knit using vintage size 12 sock needles (AKA double-pointed needles). That size corresponds to our modern size 1, which is 2.25mm. That's the size I usually knit socks on unless I'm using heavier yarn. If you'd like to knit socks as short as mine, simply knit a shorter ribbed cuff and then launch straight into the instructions for the heel. If you have wider feet or ankles, you can always cast on an even number of extra stitches, or go up a needle size.

Download 1947 sport socks patterns (pdf) 

I love the name of some vintage yarns. These socks were knit using Fleisher's Wonderized De Luxe Sock and Sport Yarn.

I wish more things were "wonderized" these days, don't you?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Why it's warm inside my boots

I love living in a four-season climate, but I don't love being cold. This winter I've been working on making myself warm in ways that don't make me look like a marshmallow. Don't get me wrong, I know there will still be some days I can't avoid looking like this. But I'm determined to look like the Michelin man as few days as possible this winter. As it gets colder I hope to do a post on how I'm layering to keep warm.

One trick I've learned to help keep the cold away from stocking- or tights-clad legs is socks hidden inside boots.

And now, my boots (this pair are Miss L Fire Havanas) hold a warm little secret tucked inside.

Because I knit wool ankle socks. Store bought cotton socks don't cut it when it's cold. Wool wicks moisture and retains heat at the same time.

Since no one can see them, why shouldn't they be pink and black stripes with silver sparkles?

Of course the answer is naturally, they should be.

(the silver sparkles kind of read as white bits in the photos, sorry)

Knitting socks is very satisfying. They're a great project to take on the go (even small enough to stuff in some vintage purses), they work up relatively quick even on tiny needles, and are good projects for confident beginners. There are tons of free basic sock patterns out there for every weight of yarn, and you'll even find sock patterns in many vintage knitting booklets.

The yarn I used was self-striping, so no extra ends to weave in to make all those stripes! Look online and you'll find tons of dyers creating self-striping yarn. For the ribbing, heels and toes I just used plain black, in a nylon/merino/cashmere blend because a) it adds a bit more warmth but mostly because b) that's what I had in my stash.

Remember if you plan to wear socks inside your boots, look for boots a half or full size larger than you'd normally wear so your feet aren't cramped. Maybe even bigger if you want extra thick socks.

Don't knit? Buy washable wool socks. It's hard to find ones that don't have a longer cuff, but they do exist, like these by SmartWool. Or simply fold the cuff down. If they tend to sneak back up, use tiny safety pins. If you can't quite hide them in your boots and are wearing dark opaque tights, try putting them on underneath, it may not be noticeable that way.

Don't suffer cold toes for the sake of vintage fashion! Frostbite isn't attractive in any era.

Stay tuned later this week for a free vintage sock pattern so you can quickly knit up your own!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trying things that don't always work out

Hello my friends! And a very happy 2013 to you. I'm marching right into this year, full steam ahead.  I have two new knitting projects on the needles, and a stack of sewing projects I'd like to start.

In fact, I've already learned something about sewing this year: ideas that sounds brilliant in your head don't always translate to a project the way you expect them to. And I'm having to remind myself that's okay. I'll share more soon but in the meantime I'll give you a little taste. It involves that pretty fabric on the top of the stack below. It'll be fine, just not exactly what I was picturing in my head.

I think the moral of the story is sometimes you just have to try something to know if it'll work out. The best laid plans and all, right? This was an idea I had kicking around in my head for months, but now that I finally sat down to start it, it's turning out to be more trouble than I think it's worth. But I'm glad I tried it, and in the end I'll have at least one coordinated outfit in my closet. Plus, if I'd never tried it I would have kept on planning and wasting brain space that can now be spent planning something else. Yahoo, right?

Have you learned any lessons when you tried something new in a project that didn't quite work out?
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