Things I Hoard: Modes & Travaux

If memory serves me, this French language publication began in the 1920s or slightly earlier, and is still in publication. It features fashion, knitting and embroidery, and many of the ones I have from the 30s still have an included iron on transfer sheet with embroidery designs. As part of my learning curve with digitization methods, I’ve been playing around with one from the 1930s with some gorgeous designs by Maggy-Rouff, Molyneux and Lelong in it. It’s gorgeous, as most illustrated fashion magazines of the era seem to be. (I think I like illustration better than photography in my fashion mags, even though the illustrations definitely seduce me into sewing things that aren’t going to flatter my body but look great in theory on a drawn person whose waist is roughly 12″ around and who stands at least 7′ tall.)


Another thing I love about these old publications is the window they provide into the day to day life of their era. We tend to think of the past as if it were so different, but all the advertising in these speaks to the same things we worry about today–wrinkles, our weight, our hair color, that ever elusive glamor we want for ourselves. Unlike some of my friends who tend to think that technology is revolutionizing our consciousness, etc etc, I tend to think that the human heart stays mostly the same. We all worry about the same things, we all need the same intangible things from each other, whether it’s 1700 or 2015. But outside of the context of one’s era, certain things do seem bizarre…like whatever this beauty treatment ad is offering (if radio-actifs means what I think it does, omg, way to redefine youthful glow):

You, too, can own your very own beauty ball gag.
You, too, can own your very own beauty ball gag.

Another thing I can’t get enough of is old lingerie advertisements and design.

bra ad corset ad

So pretty! So I managed to digitize it all and have it not be distorted, overly blurry or overly contrasted–if you’d like the entire pdf, I’m making it available for free download for a day or two 🙂 enjoy!

modes travaux – 1932 nov 1

Digitization Issues, or, Text or Image, that is the Question

Been working on the ol’ book hoard. I’m having major issues with image/text readability as I attempt to convert books to formats that are readable but remain  20MB or smaller…This is my best yet solution:

03t06tI’m just curious what other people think of this reproduction style. I think I’ve stared at it for too long. I’m not crazy about the look of the text, but to me I prefer a less pleasurable text block with a fine illustration. Alas, a full color copy of the scans won’t give me a manageable final filesize either…more experimenting to come I’m sure.

But also just for funspiration–some images from the Woman’s Institute Designing and Draping book, all by Alice Seipp:

aliceseippdraping1 aliceseippdraping3 aliceseippdraping4 aliceseippdraping5 aliceseippdraping6

I used this method on another really rough copy of a book and it worked out great, giving me images like this:


*swoon*, right? That is from a Weldon’s Modern Bride–it was full of all these grease spots and totally disintegrating, so I’m totally happy with this. It’s on Etsy, actually–here–along with some of my other recent stuff. Shameless plug, yes? It’s been a good channel to funnel my OCD into I guess.

Hoarding and Gloom. Or: I Need Some Chocolate, Stat.

Hoarding things makes me feel weird. Like existentially sad pondering my own mortality weird. I have all these great collections that are scribbled full of women’s names and these mother sized and daughter sized patterns that have scribbled notes about cancer fundraisers on the envelopes. I have things that I know someone tucked away because she deemed them worth keeping for the duration of her life, and then were passed on. It’s the same kind of discomfort that keeps me away from estate sales. To me that’s the saddest thought–of someone without family members willing to take her treasures and think of her now and then while enjoying them. Humans are these strange attention machines, meaning-making creatures filtering that take in all this influence and cultural symbolism that makes an individual taste and personality. Then that aesthetic (along with that individual’s neuroses and instinct) becomes this drive that curates and assemble these possessions, especially in the industrialized, advertising soaked West where we affirm these ideas about ourselves and our aspirations by purchasing. They become a kind of expression in themselves of the curatorial eye that gathered them. Seeing them dissipated and hawked on ebay by people who don’t know a thing about them is just…sad to me. I hope someday that my hoarded things aren’t shuffled through by strangers hoping to make a profit. I have a big family. I hope some distant cousin will get use out of my books and sewing machines, that maybe my kiddo will hang on to the handcrank I hope he’ll remember fondly one day being allowed to “sew with mommy” on.

My interest in home economics and domestic arts is fraught with sentiment, I guess. There’s a scene in True Blood after Sookie’s grandma dies where she’s sort of numb and disassociated from her grief until someone tries to eat the leftover pie in the fridge that her Gran had made. She screams at her to put it down, and later, almost ritualistically, she sits at the table alone, sobbing and finishing every last bite of the pecan pie. That scene was the most powerful for me in the whole gloriously costumed, pretty people laden Southern goth extravaganza that was True Blood. But then, I’m the kind of girl who still keeps a cigar box full of useless dried up pens that my dad used to write with. His handwriting was almost calligraphic, and he sat down to write like some people sit down to a tea ceremony; but he was just like that. Chopping wood, sharpening knives, too. Somewhere I have a bag of his old clothes that I couldn’t bear to throw away. I may be 80 before I ever end up making a quilt out of it, but I hope one day I do, and that someone I love enjoys it long after me, too.

There must be some kind of gene that sentimental hoarders share, because this doesn’t seem an odd sentiment among crafters. I wonder if there is some neurological idiosyncracy there that we share. I have this pipe dream of going all minimalist and paring my life down but the minute I start to think about cleaning out something I can conjure up all these memories of associated things and can’t discard it. And yet I don’t keep scrapbooks; why would I need to, when shuffling through a box and its smells and textures evoke more than a picture ever would.

tl;dr: Sorry, boyfriend, you trip over sewing machines when you go to do the laundry bc your girlfriend is a hopeless sentimentalist. The end.

Current Projects: Digitization and the Pictorial Patterns of 1925

These days I’ve been working on my digitization skills. I am a rabid collector of pattern booklets (among entirely too many other things). They are filled with gorgeous illustration and a wealth of inspiration–I love the unique details and trimmings of the 20s, the fluttery chiffons of the 30s. I thought I’d share some images from my May 1924 Pictorial Monthly Fashion Book, which I’ll be making into a pdf and putting on Etsy, if only for other completist/hoarders/rabid OCD fueled types who might want the reference material.

Etsy shops with vintage sewing materials are an interesting phenomenon; I’ve been sort of studying them. Reproduction patterns are a wonderful thing, but I can’t help feeling a bit irked when people charge $12 for a photocopy or scan of a *single* draft-it-yourself Ecoupe Clair pattern. I’m glad there are people who hoard these things and make them available, but my recent purchase of a 20s lingerie “booklet” was just photocopied instructions from a Woman’s Institute magazine, uncredited except as “original source material from 1928.” Not gonna name the particular person because I actually sort of like her, have bought vintage original booklets from her, and I know she’s just making a living and making rare materials available again–but something about it seems off to me somehow. The Amy Barickman books “Vintage Notions” and “Magic Patterns” are similar–just repackaging of Inspiration magazine from the Woman’s Institute and representing the patterns within it in a modern graphic design packaging. It bothers me somehow that someone would claim authorship in such a way of someone else’s incredible work. But at least Amy Barickman did digitize the patterns into a pdf and write her own instructions. I don’t know. When I start offering my own patterns drawn from vintage sources, I intend to be a bit more…forthcoming? less price inflated? about my work as a “pattern designer.” There’s a difference between being a pattern designer and a seamstress/collector with a scanner, in my mind. Is that snarky? Probably snarky. But also true.

But I digress.

These old pattern booklets are hard to find and most of mine wither to the touch with the chipping, brittle edges and cracks. I love to look at them but am afraid to handle them much, so the digitization is a tricky process. Compound that with these being oversized and too large for a single scan and it’s been a delicious little challenge. But these images are gorgeous. 1922-1927 is my favorite pattern illustration era, I think. The 30s might be my favorite in terms of silhouette, but these colors! These textures! These women looking at you with that Cheshire cat all-knowing look in their perfectly fitted ensembles. *swoon*



pictorialweb3 pictorialweb2

Sewing Machine Addiction: Improved Eldredge Rotary B

Amid the frustrations of work today, I decided to do a little sewing machine tinkering to get my zen mindfulness on. There’s something about brushing out the dust, oiling and waxing these old things that mellows me out. Industrial chemical fumes perhaps? I really should buy myself a facemask one of these days.

My project for the day was this ebay find, which of course came with a beautiful wood base that was utterly demolished in transit because people seem to forget that antique wood is fragile and sewing machines are heavy and the postal service is not big on delicate handling of the bajillions of packages it throws around each day. However, it’s still an awesome machine.

The Improved Eldredge Rotary B. (This is before I cleaned it.)

eldredgerotarybbefore It takes unusual 20×1 needles, of course, being of the era (30s?) when every sewing machine company sold needles for their machines. The needle is similar to the modern 15×1 system, though, in that it’s flattened on one side. (If I *really* wanted to, I could probably put a standard needle in but not push it all the way up into place and make it work, though it wouldn’t be as stable as it should.)


It has a friction drive motor, which isn’t all that unusual (some other machines like Whites and mid-century Elnas have these too) but it’s actually built or snugly wedged into the body rather than mounted on it. So far I can’t see any way to remove it. It also has the unusual Chicago post electrical set up. The foot pedal and sketchy cord that go with it were also demolished during shipping, not that I’d have trusted them anyway. But that will be a scary rewiring job, if I try it at all, because I’m very newb at electrical systems and the Chicago ones aren’t polarized and I don’t yet know what that means for rewiring a machine. (And this machine wasn’t intended as a workhorse so I don’t have to have it running to enjoy it, exactly; I bought it because of the art deco styling and its idiosyncracies.)

It was so, so, so dirty.

bobbincasebobbin holymessbatman

But it cleans up nicely!

spoolpin needlethreadguide decal afterstitches

The threading is unique. I have another older Eldredge and both have more steps than most to thread them, but once threaded correctly the stitch was very nice and even, especially since I was turning the machine by hand. The stitches have an interesting antiqued look because of the dirty, probably 60+ year old thread in the bobbin and the tarnish on the presser foot. There’s something about that patina of age I like–I’m not as intrigued by machines that look new as I am by machines that have a history to them. (Same thing with faces, oddly enough–the older I get the more bored I become with straightforward beauty. It seems so blank, so simplistic; I enjoy looking at faces with more of a story told in them. Interesting how one’s ideals about beauty and aesthetic appeal change over time.)

This blog post (here) links to a complete manual (bless you, Anne Graham, for posting it because I’d have never threaded it otherwise.) And it also links to a source for needles, bobbins and bobbin cases (here), which is incredibly helpful for machines this old and scarce.

So for a clean and oil job, I’m pretty happy, but there is still some tightness I’d like to work out, and this plug/wiring system is a problem to puzzle over too…

Woman’s Institute: Inspiration and Fashion Service Periodicals. And Mary Brooks Picken on the Muslin!

inspirationflagHappy Memorial Day! Ours was spent battling a broken air conditioner, dealing with a barfing young’un and the compulsory roasting of requisite meats but all in all, a pretty good day. Had some time to play in my ephemera collection, so it was Read-Up-on-Fashion-Service-All-Day Day at our house, too. Well, for the significant other I think it was more Read-Up-on-Vampire-Fiction-Day, but to each his own.

The Woman’s Institute had (to my knowledge) two publications that came out regularly to supplement their educational materials. While the educational books are more general, universal stuff, the supplementary publications are more era-specific, individual fashion content. I’ve been on the lookout for these little marvels lately, and it’s been like a fun, stupidly expensive treasure hunt trying to figure out the print history. (The curse of being incredibly obsessive is tempered by the Indiana Jones-esque thrill of discovery I get from trying to put this all together.)

Bears a striking resemblance to making a credit card payment, yes?
Bears a striking resemblance to making a credit card payment, yes?

One publication they put out is called “Inspiration,” pictured above, illustrations by Alice Seipp as usual, which seems to have been published from the beginning of the Women’s Institute, though it is extremely rare and barely even referenced on the Interwebz. Evidently at one point, Bramcost (who publishes a lot of reproductions) had a few of them available for purchase on Amazon (see here, here and here), and occasionally they must pop up on ebay, but never when I am looking for them, alas. I found a few at Garrison House Books, and Tess, one of the owners was kind enough to send me one as an extra special surprise when I bought another publication from them (<3). While I could probably fall down a hole trying to track down more, one must choose ones white whales carefully. I guess. Sigh.

The other publication the Woman’s Institute regularly offered was the Fashion Service magazine. It seems to have been intended initially as a supplement for students exclusively, but then later offered for subscription to anyone who subscribed. I had been unable to figure out when the Fashion Service began being published, but recently found a horribly water damaged copy of an issue from Winter 1920-1921 with an insert, torn and cockled. (Google tells me that “cockled” means rippling of paper usually caused by water exposure; of course from now on my inner pervert will work that into conversation any way possible.) The magazine is *almost* beyond hope but according to the insert, it’s the first issue. YAY. The insert (and the magazine) are credited to Mary Brooks Picken, who writes in her usual charming, encouraging way. And it also represents one of the only references I think I’ve ever seen in a vintage sewing text to sewing a muslin–most seem to suggest tissue fitting, basting a garment together, or measuring at least 37x to make sure that pattern is going to fit your actual body before you cut. (Burda and Gertie’s Blog discuss here and here, respectively.) So here, transcribed from its cockled wobbly almost-entirety, the insert from the first ever Fashion Service. (Which, for any fashion history junkies/freakish OCD completists like myself out there, I’m in the process of laboring over and cleaning up in order to offer pdf and paper reproductions on etsy. It will take me a bit, as the warping of the pages plays hell on scanned output, but I’ll get it!)

My dear Friend:

One early autumn afternoon, four years ago, just after I had returned from a very elaborate fashion fete, my mind ablaze with the possibilities of developing beautiful garments, I promised myself that the Woman’s Institute should some day have a semi-annual Fashion Service–a service so comprehensive and instructive that every member might know the joy of seeing the new things and have an opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the lines, colors, and fabrics in reign for the season.

At that time the war was on, our student body was small, and there seemed to be a thousand and one reasons why we could not have a Fashion Service immediately. My realization of this meant great disappointment to me. So I have waited, but I never gave up the idea nor allowed anyone at the Institute to forget that some day we should have a really truly Fashion Service–one that we could all be proud of and that our students could be happy about.

In my messages to you through “Inspiration,” I have many times voiced my belief that earnest desire is prayer and that prayers are answered. My prayer for this Fashion Service has been answered. And, now–here it is with this letter.

I believe you will find on every page information and inspiration that will help you make for yourself the prettiest, most becoming clothes you have ever owned. Our Fashion Service differs from fashion descriptions in magazines because we have searched the fashion market and selected styles that we think will please you personally and at the same time are definitely representative of the fashions for this fall and winter.

The Institute desires you to use this book in connection with your studies. In preparing the text we have mentioned the kinds of seams and finishes and the plans of construction. If you are not thoroughly familiar with these from previous study, you will find them distributed throughout your lessons.

If you have any doubt about any part of the construction or the development of any garment in the Fashion Service, refer to your lessons. You will find them ready guides and advantageous helpers, for they teach definite sewing and construction principles applicable to any time or mode.

Before you start to make up any of these beautiful garments, I must […remind?] you of the advantages of muslin models, for they are the […essence of economy?], even with muslin at its present price. If they were not so valuable, it is very certain that the best custom shops would not show them with so much prominence and assurance.

You may want to make one, two, three, or possibly four dresses similar to those illustrated in our Fashion Service. But even if you make only one, it is essential that it be right in every detail. So, before you cut your material, develop in muslin a model guide pattern that will give you lines exactly in the right position for your individual measurements.

Experiment with the muslin model; have it just right. Then when you cut your material you can be certain that the garment will carry lines in a correct position for you. In making a second dress, you can recut the model and by adding a yard or two more, have enough muslin from the first model to develop the second one satisfactorily.

I have found that there are two things which lend to home-made effects in clothes: First, the position of the lines, and second, the hesitancy of thought that the dress sometimes evidences. How often we hear a woman say, “I know now, for my build and this material, that this tunic should have been longer, or the shoulder line should have been shorter, or the waist line a little longer or looser.”

Find these things out first from the muslin model and thus avoid errors in cutting. See from this just how the garment goes together and where trimming will be desirable for your, giving very special attention to the shoulder line, the waist line, the collar and the skirt length. Then sit down and make a dress. Your progress will be more rapid and the finished garment will reward you many times, for it will show skill and ripened though–points always evident in the product of a master hand.

The prominent commercial pattern companies were very kind in cooperating with us in developing this book, allowing us to select from their advanced styles types of patterns that will be helpful to you in developing some of the garments illustrated. The name and number in such instances are given, so that you can purchase the patterns if you desire.

To send this book to you is just like sending a cherished handmade gift to a friend who I feel sure will appreciate it. It has been a great task to prepare so that it would be wholly helpful and entirely reliable, but the hours spent on it have been constantly filled with the belief that it would make you happy and help you–and it is sent with that thought, together with all the good wishes at my command.

Very sincerely yours,

Mary Brooks Picken
Director of Instruction

This makes me ridiculously happy.


Woman’s Institute Sewing Books Editions and More Vintage Library: Designing by Draping, 1936

I feel this maniacal compulsion to make myself expert on all things Woman’s Institute. To shout its wonders to the world. To missionize. Because holy freakin crap do I love these books. And today, discovering minor differences between editions, I was positively mad with book lust. (See: The 9th Gate. It’s what my life would be if I were glamorous, rich, important and in accidental league/sex thrall with the devil. So not like my life at all except for salivating over old books and caressing them lovingly, creepily, way too much for normal people to find comfortable.) There’s a scene where Johnny Depp starts examining illustrations for tiny differences all wide eyed behind his big glasses–that is me, today.


The most fascinating example of this was the lingerie and underwear instruction books and booklets. I have three different versions–a two part paperback booklet set, and two hardback volumes printed in Britain. I assumed they’d have the same content, but it turns out they are all different! One features Edwardian type lingerie (corset covers, brassieres, knickers), one of the undated booklets features 20s era lingerie, and the final one contains 1930s more contemporary styles. It’s a fascinating transformation and I find it so interesting that around the era of suffrage, the silhouette was loose, unrestricted and free.

At least one other book has multiple versions with completely different designs–“Draping and Designing with Scissors and Cloth” (1920s version, later renamed “Designing by Draping”), “Designing by Draping” (1928) and Designing by Draping” (1936). This one is extremely rare, though reproductions are available. (Which I refuse, utterly, to buy. I know that the sellers of these are probably just hoarders like myself trying to fund their addictions, which I respect, but I require a facsimile reproduction or nothing. My compulsions demand the satisfaction of vintage page design, typeface, the exquisite yellowing of pages. And if the cover features any kind of crappily rendered, computer-drafting looking piece of crap line drawing for a book FULL of exquisite period illustrations then, um, NO.) And the Woman’s Institute books are all exquisitely designed–except, it seems, the 1936 version, which is available in PDF, for free, courtesy of the lacouturieredimanche blog (here). The illustrations have a different feel, and the text is typewritten…??? The book is genuinely a production of the Woman’s Institute, as the logo/name printing on the cover looks right, and the subject matter and instruction is definitely their kind of book, but maybe it was a very limited run not meant for wide dissemination or it was produced during the era when they were winding down their correspondence lessons. Not sure. But it’s fascinating. (Did I mention the designs are frickin’ amazing? This is my favorite era to date–the collision of art deco and the coming 40s power suit trend. Love love love.)

designingbydraping1 designingbydraping2 designingbydraping3 designingbydraping4So where was I? Oh, yes. I want to devote vast amounts of time, energy and money toward becoming an expert about something that no one else but me is really that interested in. So kind of like being a philosophy major all over again. Except more people seem to care about vintage sewing and if I want to sew for customers I could, maybe, perhaps, make a decent living at it without suicidiality and/or having to confront daily the silences of the vast empty spaces. Even writing, which I also wasted years of my life and thousands of dollars in formal education for, isn’t a pleasureable existence for me, mining one’s own psyche for arbitrary meaning and all that. My happiness moments have been working with my hands at a craft, baking pies at 7am in a restaurant, staining houses in the middle of the woods, etc. There is such a pleasure in craft work–tangible, puzzle like problems and cultivating a specific skill set seeking mastery even though you know you will never fully get it. (If you’ve never seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Netflix that shit STAT.) *lost in swoony reverie*

My hoard of books is amassing at a ridiculous rate. I’ve happily sort of stalled on amassing sewing machines, though my recent trip to the backwoods of cell-service-black-hole-of-despair Missouri to take Ray White’s AMAZING sewing machine repair course has me dangerously close to backsliding on that. Over the course of his class, somehow I went from being a girl with a hobby to a girl with a dream of her own sewing machine/historical fashions business. That’s some heavy shit, that is.

So for now I’ll have to wait (the old day job beckons) to scribble some annotated bibliographies, which is sort of one of the greatest pleasures of human existence. And to sit waiting by my front door eagerly awaiting the arrival of the mailman (who knows me and my obsessions so well that he actually gave me an old Kenmore–thank god he’s a patient sweetheart, because a lesser person might resent all the things he has had to lug to my house. When I joked about being a hoarder, I think he believed me.) ALSO: in bouncy bouncy news, I just won what looks to be the abbreviated version (shorter books) of the 12 vol. Isabel Conover dressmaking set circa 1921! More on that very soon!

Vintage Sewing Library: Free Isabel Conover Books Online

Old sewing books are a weakness for me; when the original is not available or is too expensive, I can usually content myself with an ebook. When this ebook is sold by a seller who scanned the material him/herself, I am perfectly okay with paying them their asking price for the time and effort put into digitizing the info. I also sympathize with their obsessive, hoardy nature and their love of the vintage; we are probably similar creatures. But I am decidedly NOT okay with shifty, shitty booksellers who find material on sites that offer it for free (University of Wisconsin has a great archive,, etc) and then present it as their own “item they have seen value in and brought back for our customers.” What really, really pisses me off is when I spend $8 on an ebook of a super rare book from a bookseller overseas which turns out to be taken from the University of Wisconsin site. So I could have downloaded it for free, but instead I paid someone $8 to be a shady shit. The seller even offered me a discounted rate, still upward of $40, to buy a hard copy reprint of the same book. Jerks.

So today I find myself hunting for Isabel Conover books and see that the same shady shit bookseller is offering ebook versions of her stuff (let’s just say they’re based in Delhi, India). So I KNOW it’s on the internet somewhere, because said shady bookseller isn’t actually going to bother with scanning something themselves to offer valuable information back to the world, they’re just going to steal someone else’s contribution to humanity. GAH.

So because screw them here are all the links I have found while looking for Isabel Conover materials. She had a dressmaking course in two versions (a longer, 12 volume, 1200+ page version which I did not win a heated bidding war for on ebay, and an abbreviated multivolume version) and a Dressmaking Made Easy book out during the 1910s-20s, so the designs are very lovely Edwardian and art deco designs. Which I’ve been crazy about in the last few weeks. (My sewing obsessions flit wildly from decade to decade as I get a broader sense of my own style, the lines I like, the detailing that appeals to me, what flatters and what does not. See: HBO’s Mildred Pierce as case study in what to sew and what not to sew. Kate Winslet’s costuming=vintage but dowdy and unflattering, as befitting her character. Rachel Evan Wood=sizzling, flattering vintage that makes me want to lose 10lbs and wear a epic shit ton of satin. More on this later, I’m sure, as that movie has me in a style swoon marveling at the perfect clothes of one of the coldest women I’ve ever seen on film.) Anyway, links: has one volume (Lesson 12) (Men’s Clothes and Index) of the complete dressmaking course available for free (here).

Antique Pattern Library (a fabulous free resource for lots of arts and crafts; I love their calligraphy books too) has six volumes of the abbreviated booklet version:

Lesson 1: Introduction (here)

Lesson 2: How to Make Aprons and House Dresses (here)

Lesson 3: How to Make Underwear (here)

Lesson 4: How to Make Infants Clothes (here)

Lesson 5: How to Make Blouses (here)

Lesson 11: How to Make Coats (here) also has her entire 160pg book, Dressmaking Made Easy, available (here) for free.  Incidentally, it was part of a “Made Easy” series which also included Entertaining, Dancing, Etiquette, Grammar, Spelling, and Tricks and Magic Made Easy, all available on the site for anyone interested in the cultural atmosphere of the era. 🙂

Happy reading!

Current Projects: Sewing Dickeys and Tinkering on the Necchi Esperia

So far I’ve sewn up one dickey that I really like. It needs buttons and buttonholes and some pressing, but here’s the work in progress:

photo 1It’s draped on the newly re-stuffed and covered-in-pinnable-jersey dressform my grandma and I made out of duct tape. Not perfect, but a good start. I wanted a high, cut on funnel-neck style collar so that I can press the edges down for that tuxedo look. Like this:

photo 2I love, love, love the color. I was surprised that it wasn’t pure hell to sew, either–it’s a cheap-ish stretch satin and the only ones I’ve worked with seemed to fray quite a bit, but this is holding up pretty well in the time between cutting and edge finishing.

photo 3Next time I sew this I’ll use lighter interfacing, because with a facing and the interfacing, it ends up a bit wonky around the neck when it’s worn beneath something. Behind it is the machine I’ve been using–it’s a Necchi Esperia from 1957 or so. I love the minimal design and the pastel. It was a Goodwill purchase–the motor was shooting sparks, so I got it for a song. I’ve seen that before, actually; if you’re lucky, it’s one of two simple things: carbon brushes that need replaced, or just dirt. these old machines are just a bit dusty in the motor and if you disengage the handwheel and run it at high speed for a few minutes and maybe add a bit of lubricant to the designated holes in the motor, it fixes it right up and runs much better. That was the case here, but it still isn’t quite right. I’m not sure if the timing is a bit off, but even after about 20 solid hours of sewing it still isn’t quite as smooth as it should be for a Necchi. (I haven’t learned how to work on timing yet, but I will soon thanks to the Ray White sewing machine repair class! :D)

photo 4There’s something I love about the simplicity of a straight stitch sewing machine. So much less to go haywire in the mechanics. And it seems like working with wovens about 90% of the stitching I have to do is a plain old straight stitch. This one is extremely crotchity about backstitching, though, and I haven’t ever noticed the same thing in another straight stitch only machine–if I switch to a reverse stitch from any position other than the lowest needle position, it’s pretty much guaranteed that my bottom thread is going to bind up and turn into a thread nest I have to pull out. It may be that all sewing machines do this and I’ve just been oblivious about the reason for the bind ups, but I don’t think so. Maybe a timing thing? We’ll see.

In my usual trying-to-do-five-million-things-at-once way, I’ve been at work on a black taffeta blazer, binding with chiffon seam binding as I go (my usual raggedy overcast inner seams are a pet peeve at the moment), doing the Burda University digital pattern drafting course, AND living out some of my early childhood library career fantasies by digitizing some of my old sewing books. So many things I want to do and make and try and read and, alas, so little time. #digitalageproblems

Obsessions: Sewing for Victory + Wardrobe Revamp

I’m an incredibly obsessive person. There are big obsessive interest cycles (ex: sewing, fashion theory) and then there are minor little hot burning obsession cycles. Currently I’m in the grips of two minor obsessions: figuring out and collecting the full series of the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences books and pamphlets, and WW2 sewing trends related to rationing, mending and “remodeling” old clothing.


Is it really best fix his pants while they are on his body? Ummm, is he bent over a lawnmower? And what madness would drive someone to mow the yard in those shoes?? That poor woman is going to have to work at them for days to get the grass staining out after having to patch a man’s ass in full view of the neighbors. Nice.

It was such a different time and different mindset, both for good (yay community, yay sense of shared purpose) and bad reasons (stricter us/them dichotomies about different ethnicities, orientations, social status and horrible ways those were expressed). I’m fascinated by the way that “tightening our belts” and conserving was seen as patriotism during this era, but these days our priorities and propaganda seem more concerned with keeping those economic gears moving. We seem a much faster, more self centered, more acquisitive bunch and although I hesitate to oversimplify and judge one as inherently better than the other, I think that there’s a lot to be learned from the attitudes of the era. (And calling my pathetic rabbit ravaged failed psuedo-garden a Victory Garden is just the sort of irony of our time.)

Which is all a long winded way of saying my dumbass just hoarded an original Make Do and Mend pamphlet and is now hell bent on reworking my old wardrobe. I’ve been wanting to clean it out and reconsider my style in general. But reworking old clothing seems like killing two birds with one stone: wardrobe clean out + working on my craptastic sewing abilities. The fabric I love cut in a style I hate? Let’s not just dump it on Goodwill (especially with the questionable labor practices of theirs coming to light these days), let’s deconstruct that bitch and applique some Alexander McQueen style birdies on something. And if I fail, it’s not like I have to feel guilty for wasting the fabric.