Vintage dress parade!

One of the loveliest things to come out of writing a blog about sewing, (apart from the community, the inspiration, the camaraderie etc etc I could go on etc) is that occasionally your friends and family read it. And then they do something utterly lovely and give you free stuff because they realise you might appreciate it, or can so something with it! I have been the lucky recipient of no less than EIGHT vintage or vintage-style dresses in the last month. One from a chum and a whole bagful from my mother-in-law, who used to collect vintage dresses from boutiques in and around Norwich. Thanks Ann and Mel!

I’m just completely head over heels in love with all of them, whether I can wear them or not. This weekend I decided to have a bit of a sort through them and figure out whether I can wear them straight away or whether I have to fix them up a bit, whether I should harvest them for fabric and notions,  or simply marvel at them and stroke them lovingly once in a while.  And here they all are, modelled so perfectly by my dress form (well, I’m sick of seeing my ugly mug all the time) ;-)

Ready to wear… or almost

Floral sixties shift

This is a gorgeous slippery little silk shift from Blanes, which according to the Vintage Fashion Guild website was ‘a very middle-range British company, active in the 1950s and 1960s – making good quality day and evening wear’. It fits like a glove. The background is much more golden than the image suggests. This will be beautiful with a little cardy and wedges come summer.

Fifties-style handmade dress

This was donated by my friend Mel. I think she said her friend made it but I might have to check that out with her. In any case it’s very well made with full lining and matching covered buttons. I love the little embroidered polka dots on it and the colours are so cheery. There’s a little tightness at the bust but nothing a safety pin won’t fix.

Embroidered forties dress

This is my absolute favourite from the whole collection. It’s one of the most elegant dresses I’ve ever laid eyes on. Just look at those little heart buttons and pretend bolero detail. The fabric has give, so although this dress is a little small for me (did people in olden times just not eat very much, like ever?) I can squeeze into it. I’ll need some serious foundation underwear though! Sadly there are a few holes in the dress but I’m hoping they’re fixable.

Crushed velvet dress

Look at this little knockout! Complete with padded and underwired bosom. This is from a label called ‘Images’. I haven’t been able to find out much about it yet. Anyone recognise the name? I’m finding this dress quite difficult to date but I love the crushed velvet – and that bust. Instant chest – yay!

Ready for upcycling

Scarlet fifties dress

I love love love this dress so much, it kills me that I can’t get into it. But the fabric is absolutely gorgeous and I’m pretty positive there is enough to make a half circle skirt. It’s from Richard Shops, which was a British high street chain started in 1927 and enjoying its heyday in the 60s apparently. This has a fifties feel to it, with the neat collar and cut off sleeves. Ooh I don’t know if I can cut it. It may have to be a wardrobe lurker for a while. Further inspection shows a rather large seam allowance so maybe… watch this space…

St Michael dress

Recognise that label? Those of you old enough to remember being forced by your mother to try on clothes in the middle of high street department stores will – it’s Marks and Spencers!  (How did mums ever get away with that? I never see that happening these days.) Love the pattern on the fabric – very whimsical. Not sure what kind of fabric it is though – maybe viscose rayon? Whilst the neckline and shaping around the bust is really flattering my torso is too short for the extra band around the middle so I’m going to see if I can remove or shorten that in some way.

Ready for harvesting

Eighties squiggle dress

Look at this cheeky little number! It’s so jaunty and so wonderfully eighties! The fabric is awesome although I have no idea what it is – it feels like a stretchy cheesecloth – maybe crepe? As you can see from the label it’s by Carla Bower for Radley who designed for the company through the 70s, so perhaps it’s a little earlier than I first thought. The buttons are fantastic. Sadly the dress is a little tight for me – I’d be worried about the buttons at the back popping open all the time. So it’s going into the fabric stash. Hopefully I’ll find something suitable so I can use both the fabric and the buttons as they work beautifully together.

And finally… a wardrobe lurker

Pleated forties dress

God I love this dress, but it doesn’t love me. It looks stunning on the dummy but I look like a sack of spuds in it :( It’s much too beautiful to cut into – look at all those pleats! Sigh. Maybe I need to think about this one a bit more. There’s no label on it, and every pleat has been hand sewn. Can you imagine? Love the neckline too. This one will sit like a gorgeous but untouchable goddess in the wardrobe while I figure out where to go with it.

What about you? Any vintage treasures that you can’t wear but can’t bear to part with? Maybe I should keep some of these dresses as a piece of history to hand onto my own daughters? Actually that hadn’t even occurred to me until I wrote it! Probably because my only female baby is a cat and she never shows much interest in clothes unless she’s trying to destroy them…

Getting down with upcycling

Well sewing peeps, I’m afraid there is little to report from the sewing room this week. Mostly because I spent the weekend at ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror at Alexandra Palace, and spent the following two days recovering… I’m too old for this palaver you know.

Highlights from the festival (ooh too many to mention but I’ll give it a go) included a storming performance from PJ Harvey who looked like some fabulous medieval folk witch, an extremely noisy set from Liars (have you ever felt a drum beat reverberate in your belly? I can safely say I have now…) plus dreamy schwoozy indie pop from Beachhouse.

But I digress. Back to sewing. I did manage to get some more work in on my cloned polka-dot dress on Sunday morning but found that whilst I’d traced my darts correctly (bravo) I’d failed to add the necessary extra four cms to the width (for shame). And I’d already cut out my bodice material and lining. Oh the waste. But I have plenty of spare fabric left so will just have to do it again. Or lose a rib or two. And maybe a lung.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is going to be a sloooow project as I’m so nervous of making clothes. I don’t know why. I can approach a cushion or a tote bag fairly confidently now but I’ve still got the ‘dress stress’. Anyone else get that feeling? Excitement, apprehension, quaking fingers, a sense of impending doom and failure? Or is it just me?

So in the absence of a completed made-from-scratch project to show you, I just thought I’d share some ‘easy’ upcycling jobbies I’ve been doing on my wardrobe. Much less stressful than creating something from scratch and so nice being able to get more use out of things you never thought you’d wear again.

Monsoon dress

This was a very fine dress from Monsoon, bought for the ballet a few years ago and never worn since. It was just that wee bit too long and formal for work or play. All I did was raise the hemline by about, ooh, seven inches or so and added a bit of rick rack to the bottom. Now it’s just a pretty little dress I can wear anytime.

Upcycled cardigan

This is one of my favourite upcycling projects. I bought the cardy from a charity shop in Muswell Hill for £6 (I know – steep for a charideee shop but hey it’s Muswell Hill dahling) as I wanted to do some serious cutting. Inspired by Casey’s tutorial on reshaping knitwear I made the long sleeves ¾ length and added a vintage lace trim round the cuffs and edges. I love this cardy so much I’m in danger of over-wearing it. So sorry I haven’t got the before pic for you but I’m sure I’ll be tempted to do it again, perhaps to a scarlet version. I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you have some old knitwear lurking in the back of your wardrobe.

Upcycled dress/jumper

Finally, this dress was worn just twice and never again – the frill felt a tad too girly for me. So I chopped off the bottom and did a rolled hem. Now it’s a cute and perky jumper – perfect for autumn (or July, considering the London weather recently). I had to forcibly restrain myself from adding more rick rack though. That stuff is addictive. Word.

What about you? Any upcycling gems you want to share? Or do you have any tips for the dreaded ‘dress stress’? I could do with some reassurance that it’s not just me.

A tale of two chairs… plus YOU get to pick the cushion

Fact: I can’t pass a skip without having a quick peek just in case there’s anything good in it. And I know quite a few people who feel the same way. So when I’m walking along the street and I happen to see a chair that’s obviously seen better days but is essentially structurally sound, I pick it up and I bring it home.

Chair that's seen better days

Last week I spotted this chair outside someone’s house, ready for the bin men. Unable to resist but a bit wary of just taking something from someone’s front yard, I knocked on the door and a lovely old lady answered and said of course I could have it. New project and meeting a neighbour = double win.

Last summer's chair

I’ve also got this old chair which I picked up off the street last summer but have done nothing with. So this weekend, I decided to give them both a makeover. I sanded them down with coarse and then medium grain sandpaper, applied a white primer and undercoat and then gave them a lick of paint.

Good time chairs!

And here they are! The paint was called Pigeon by Farrow & Ball, which has got to be one of the silliest paint shades I’ve ever heard of. I do like the colour but now I’m faced with a new quandary – what fabric should I use for my cushion?

Which fabric goes best?

Here are four different options. I think they’re all nice but the one that stands out for me is the pink retro squares. That’s from an old vintage pair of curtains I found in Bethnal Green.  That’s one chair sorted – but what about the other one? Drop me a comment and tell me if you think I should go for the blue, the green or the orange flowers because I just can’t decide, and I haven’t got enough pink fabric to do two matching pads anyway.

To thank you for helping me make my mind up, I’ll be doing a brand new tutorial very soon on making a seat cushion with piping (and little ties so you can attach it to the chair back). Watch this space!