The golden eras of fashion for me are definitely all long in the past. When you look back at the fashions that represent each of the decades – the 20’s all the way through to the 90’s – there are defining styles for each one. Flapper dresses, Mondrian dresses, flares and power suits with shoulder pads are the instantly recognizable styles that spring to mind for me.
I feel that now, since the turn of the year 2000, we’ve ‘run out’ of fashion styles. We’re recycling. We wear 60’s and 70’s fashions to festivals. We have 1920’s flapper/gangster themed parties. Double denim is back again. We have such a mish-mash of all the decades that came before us that it doesn’t seem like there’s one thing that ‘defines’ this time period, fashion-wise. I can’t think of a fashion image that makes you go, ‘ohhh that’s so 2000’s’.
I would love to recreate these classic fashions, from the designs that were originally used back then. I know that now we have ‘modern vintage’ but it’s also nice to be able to have ‘true vintage’ if we want it. And if you look in the right place (eBay in this case), you can have it.
The pattern I have used is Vogue 6576, which was printed in 1950! This pattern is a whole 67 years old. When it arrived, I spent a few minutes wondering how many people might have used this pattern before me, who was the first owner all those years ago and how many garments have been made from this very same template over the last 67 years. It’s kind of nice that all these years later, it’s still in use. I wonder, in 70 years time, how many of the things we have now will have survived (answer: probably not many).
In those days, patterns were single-sized (meaning you only got one size in the envelope) and did not include any printed markings on the tissue like we are used to seeing today with modern patterns. Instead, the tissue is completely plain, but pre-cut to shape (yay no cutting!) and darts and other features are marked with holes of various shapes and sizes which you just transfer to the wrong side of the fabric in the usual way.
With such an old pattern, it’s inevitable that it will wear down, and holes in addition to the ‘proper’ holes appear and you’re not completely sure what’s a marking and what’s just wear and tear. That’s where this handy little diagram comes in, it shows you the pattern pieces and identifies for you which holes are meant to be there and what they represent, which should hopefully help you to identify any rogue holes that have appeared along the way!
I actually prefer this, because on modern patterns there are no pre-cut holes for you to mark things like darts and pleats, and I end up spending time making holes in the pattern pieces so that I can transfer everything to the fabric. I would much rather that patterns came with pre-made holes, but then I guess this is a downfall of modern multi-sized patterns – some sizes are so close together that you just wouldn’t be able to cut all the holes for all sizes because they would all just smush into one giant hole.
This skirt is constructed of three pieces – the front, back and the waistband – and the skirt body is cut on the bias to give it that nice drape you see. The pattern is a size 26 waist, which I thought would be ok, but when I tested out the pieces on my dummy they seemed a little bit on the small side… oops. To fix this, I simply added 1cm on to each side of the waistband and also to the skirt pieces to get a little extra room. It seems I calculated correctly as it’s a good fit. Yay!
I ended up putting an invisible zip in to close the skirt, but the instructions called for a ‘slide fastener’ (is this another phrase for a zip?!) or regulation placket, neither of which I really understood the meaning of… so I proceeded to abandon all instructions and stick with what I know – and put a zip in. Perhaps one day I’ll look in to what all these vintage terms mean – I’m sure there must be a sewing encyclopedia from back then somewhere on the internet!
The zip I had to hand was just a little bit longer than I wanted it to be, so I simply fastened off the teeth at the length I wanted with cotton (in effect making my own zipper stop) and then cut the excess off. Simples! Will definitely remember this for future, but usually my problem is that the zips I have aren’t long ENOUGH (which obvs this technique won’t help with).
The fabric I have used is metallic print cotton lawn from Minerva Crafts. You can have it in either black or silver, and it’s a bit of a bargain at only £5.99 per metre. It’s lovely and light, as you would expect cotton lawn to be, it’s very fluid and swishes about nicely. OK so it’s not Liberty lawn at £22 per metre but it’s definitely more than adequate! It looks a bit see-through in the pictures but up against your body it’s not, you could make a shirt or blouse from it and it would be fine (in fact, I may do this).
As the fabric is gold on one side but black on the other side, I did debate making the waistband with the black side on the outside just for a little interesting detail, but I figured that I would always wear it with a black top and therefore you wouldn’t even notice that I had made a black waistband as it would kind of blend into the top I was wearing. I am planning on making more things from this fabric though (it would be great for a posh dress) so might think about how I could incorporate that idea into another garment.
Hemming this bad boy took absolutely aaaages. It just kept going on, and on, and on and I didn’t think I would ever reach the end. I felt like I was stuck in an endless time loop destined to be feeding this golden material through the machine forever. I haven’t yet got the hang of the narrow hem foot yet (and may never do) so I pressed it and basted it by hand and then hemmed it on the machine with a normal foot. It turned out pretty level, and actually fairly neat for me so I’m happy.
I really like how this has turned out, and will probably make a couple more from this pattern. It’s highlighted for me the ways in which vintage patterns differ from modern patterns and the challenges you may face when attempting to use them. For a start, they use sewing terms that are not used any more, so you may need to do some research if you’re not too experienced. The instructions are also a lot more vague – I’m guessing that this is because back then most women already knew how to sew, as this would have been how their family got clothed. It was a skill that women were expected to possess, and it was most likely taught in schools to a much higher degree than it is now (if it’s even taught at all anywhere anymore). Despite this skirt being made from a vintage pattern, I don’t think the skirt looks particularly vintage – which shows that classic pieces really do not date. If you can get your hands on a good set of patterns for timeless pieces that you can wear year on year, you’ve got your wardrobe sorted.
It’s just a shame that the classic vintage patterns are hard to come by (especially as you’ve got to find one that’s in the specific size you want, due to them being single sized) and some of them are painfully expensive. Check out this pattern below for a Yves Saint Laurent coat currently on the Oxfam store – undoubtedly something that would see you through years and years were you to make it, and it’s definitely to be seen as an ‘investment piece’, but SEVENTY POUNDS FOR THE PATTERN. Ouchies.
For now I’ll just stick to the (much cheaper) vintage patterns I come across on eBay and Etsy. I’ve had success with this one so I’m encouraged to try a few more, and at least I’m now going in to it with some idea of what to expect in terms of instructions (or lack of). I’m sure that the perfect vintage coat pattern, in my size, at a bargain price, is out there just waiting to be found.
Photos by Hmexus