Thursday, 19 April 2018

Sewing and Pattern Hacking with Vintage cloth

I have a hazy memory of being six years old, standing in a neighbours sitting room and loving the chintzy big florals covering all of the chairs and the curtains. How different it was to our modern 1970's home with it's green and browns. I didn't know it then, but I'm sure looking back that this was the exact moment my love of floral vintage cloth was born.

I get utterly giddy at the thought of a vintage market where who knows what hidden cloth treasures I might find. To be honest I love a rootle about looking for anything that catches my eye, but finding the cloth that makes me go ooohhh is my first thought. 

As I make a lot of my frocks and tops from vintage cloth I thought you might be interested to hear my thoughts on using it in dressmaking as it's very different to buying the exact amount you need in modern cloth. 

I've also got my latest frock to show you that I made from the most delicious green and red vintage cotton from a strip off the edge of a French bedspread.

When I find a piece of vintage cloth that I utterly love I weigh up what I can make from it. Each piece I buy is most often a one off and pre-cut, it might have had a life as something else such as curtains or a bedspread, if so that's great because that means a lot of cloth. Very occasionally the dealer has found a bolt of cloth and then it's like being utterly spoilt because I can buy exact amount I need. All the same you'll generally find you need more cloth you do with wider modern cloth though as vintage  is narrower. Finding the cloth type and print that makes you go giddy is one thing, but then you have to cast aside what you might want to make from it and consider what you can make from the amount you have.  

I was lucky enough with this fabulous cloth to find two pieces almost two years apart. I bought the first piece online from Tanya who sells as Pommedejour.  The first piece was incredibly narrow and I only had a very small amount. All the same I loved it so much and was determined I'd be able squeeze a top out of it which I made a couple of summers ago now.
I had a good think and did a bit of problem solving before I cut anything. I decided I could just about get a Sleeveless Simplicity 1467 Top from it if I did a bit of careful pattern matching at the front. The fabric was too narrow to cut the front on the fold, but by cutting two pieces and adding in a seam allowance, plus pattern matching, I managed to make a front piece.. With not much cloth left I decided to make the neck band from the main cloth and then chose a modern green cotton to make the back of the top. After checking this would work out before I cut into the cloth, because I seriously didn't want that bloody hell moment when there's not enough to make the top, but it was already hacked up and no good for much other than patchwork, I got cutting.

I was totally thrilled with the end result, this top has been a great one to wear with shorts in the summer.

All the same I kept thinking how much I wished it had been a bigger piece as I'd have loved a frock made in this fabric.

Fast forward to the Festival of Fabric in October 2017 and can you believe it, I found enough of the same cloth to make a frock. This one actually, which I made this week. Yup, I sat on the cloth for months, well other cloth sat on it in the cupboard if we're going to be precise here. I couldn't decide what shape frock I wanted to make it up into so I left it there while I ruminated.

Last Summer I fell head over heels in love with the Rita Blouse from Gretchen Hirst's Charm Patterns. So much so, that I've made five already.  I've talked about making these tops before and then the pattern hack I did to turn the blouse into a wiggle dress in a previous post so I know you've seen them before. Well, I finally decided this cloth would look great as a girly fuller skirted summer frock with a Rita bodice. I love to pattern hack frocks as much as I love vintage cloth to be honest. I know what shape I want so I much prefer to mix up patterns to create the style I dream of.
That said, I was back to the issue of narrower cloth and having to make a shape that worked with the amount of cloth I had.  I wanted a fuller skirt, but as there wasn't enough width or length to cut on the bias, I chose to make a gathered skirt from the Emery Dress pattern by Christine Haynes. 

I've made three Emery's for my Millie now. Two with collars and sleeves and this most recent sleeveless version. It has pockets too, which is always a big plus for us collectors of feather, shells and stones.

If there was a bit more width I could have made a box pleated skirt. It's about working with what you have and getting the best match. I really enjoy this part though, starting off with a plan and then having to adapt and come up with solutions depending on what I can get from the cloth. 

Before I cut the pattern out, I checked that I could get all the pieces from the amount I had. 

With a bit of careful folding and adjusting I knew I could fit all of the pieces on the cloth except all of the sleeves. Well the sleeves mainly fitted, but the pattern hung over the side of the cloth on both sides. Problem solved by cutting them shorter where they landed on the cloth and then sewing strips in to to each underarm side to lengthen them. No one's going to see these unless I take to walking about doing a permanent Mexican Wave, but they don't look dreadful either so all good and problem solved. 

As with most vintage cloth there wasn't enough to have the luxury of pattern matching, I find I'm just grateful if I can get a garment from it. Sometimes of course you might score well and can make the most perfectly pattern matched frock of your dreams, but it really doesn't matter so much to me.

Now having run out of cloth I had to make the pockets from a contrasting cloth. By using the vintage cloth you do have to make the main pieces of a garment, you can then make a feature of other areas that in the main are hidden by using a contrasting cloth. I tend to use polk dot cotton every time as I think this works perfectly with florals. Facings, pockets, sleeves or even contrasting the bodice and skirt in another cloth really makes the garment even more individual and gives it a lovely finishing touch.

The Emery Dress has a back zip, but the Rita Blouse has a side zip. I personally prefer using a side zip because I don't have to make any sway back alterations which I have to do with a back zip. Side zip option chosen I then had to think around the pocket feature. I machine stitched the zip in a bit of the way down top and bottom joining all layers to the zip and then handstitched the pocket layer to the zip so it was still a working pocket. These are my basting stitches just in case you're wondering.

Now with all issues sorted, or so I thought, I tried the dress on with the basted zip. The bodice had fitted perfectly on it's own but attached to the skirt it was now four inches too wide at the waist and looked saggy and baggy. Some serious seam ripping then occurred so I could make the alterations. Some time later, which was early the next morning, I finished my Rita/Emery pattern hack frock and was absolutely thrilled with my new ready for the summer frock.

Totally thrilled to be honest. 

All the same I'm already cutting out my next project because my fingers always itch to sew.


  1. I love that dress.Lovely material and a perfect fit.

  2. Wow! I too am a fabric lover and a dress sewer...lucky we don’t live and shop nearby because it would be an unseemly scramble at the fabric counter
    Your creations are wonderful, I wish I was confident enough to pattern hack, but now you have shown the way....hmmm maybe I could give it a try in the future.

  3. Love,love,love! I've looked at the Rita blouse a few times and I think I might have a go now seeing all your fabulous makes with it. Love the new dress and the fabric, you were lucky to find some more and gave really done it justice. X

  4. That fabric is divine and the dress you made quite beautiful. The Rita blouse looks like something I might be able to make, not sure if I'm up to making beautiful dresses though.

  5. Great article..I am looking so forward to your blogcomment and
    I love your page on your post.. That is so pretty..

  6. Very nice stylizations. Congratulations on the idea. Wonderful colors! Another very clever post. It's nice that you share with us, such posts give a lot of inspiration.

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