Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sewing in (my) history

The idea for this post, which will perhaps be the first of a series, is my husband's.  He found me wasting time on the www trolling for vintage patterns.  It's all Carolyn's fault... well, for today, that is.  I have several "vintage" pattern websites bookmarked which I look at compulsively.  I'm searching for the patterns from my past, you see.

I made my first garment (a dress, pattern lost) in grade 8 which was many decades ago.  Through high school, I sewed and sewed.  At the very beginning, I favored Simplicity patterns.  It was the late 60s and they were fresh and cute.  Later on into the early 70s I made Butterick patterns - the ones designed by Betsey Johnson and Kenzo were my favorites but I continued with Simplicity, especially the "Young Contemporary" ones.  Only later, in university and beyond, would I graduate to the occasional Vogue.  I can only remember ever making a couple of McCalls patterns and I don't know why they didn't grab me.  That was my entire world of possible sewing patterns, then.

I have many of my patterns from the university days but unfortunately, most of the ones I made before then were lost when my parents moved (sniff, Mom & Dad, maybe I'll forgive you someday...).  They would have been gone forever but the internet gave us all a way to reacquire the ephemera of our past lives.

Here's a little dip into my sewing memories and my collection.

I'm still looking for the very first dress pattern I ever made.  It was ca1968 and it was (natch) a mini dress.  I made it out of a lurid cotton print featuring hot pink flowers, which had a nice substantial weight and texture.  It was A line with puffed sleeves, a square faced neckline and big patch pockets.  But the most astonishing feature of the design (I can hardly credit that I chose, and successfully made this pattern for my FIRST EVER garment project) was the bust darts.  They originated in the side seams, charged out horizontally at a level just below the bust and then took a hard (square) turn upwards.  CUTE!  But DIFFICULT for a beginner, no?  My Home Ec teacher must have sighed deeply when she saw it, but kudos to her for not insisting that we all make the same boring and ugly navy blue cotton top with back zipper and V neck that would never be worn.  I wore that dress a lot, and the positive charge I got out of making it set me on my way as a lifelong sewer. 

While I can't show you the 1968 dress, I can show you another pattern which was perhaps the 2nd or 3rd one I made, and has the same kind of darting.

You can best see the darts on the pink dress but the great shape they gave to the dress is more evident on the white one.  Every time I look at this picture, I smile.  I remember those flippy hairstyles (which my hair would never ever do) and those little skinny knees (unlike mine at the time) and the cute girls in grade 9 (which I wasn't).  I remember that I made this dress twice.  I vaguely remember that there was a first pink version but my total favorite was another substantial cotton print with a warm mid-beige background and abstract print in yellow, a nice fresh green, white, black and perhaps other colours.  I think the coordinating scarf was green poly chiffon (way to go ME for tackling this difficult fabric, if I made it, which I can't remember).  I must have made that dress in 1970 since I think I was wearing it for my grade 10 photo.

My memory of the cute girls in grade 9 has had a serious boost recently as my mother found and returned to me my yearbook of that ancient day, only this Christmas.  She gave it to me along with my report card from grade 1 (where is the museum conservator for this ancient paper?).  I got a huge laugh from the report card when I read as follows:

Shows self-expression ... yes
Evidence of particular talent or unusual ability ... no

Enjoys musical activities ... yes
Evidence of particular talent ... no

Can you who are parents imagine reading this about your little darling, whose every accomplishment is a marvel and whose lives and futures stretch out, unblemished and full of promise?  Boy, they really knew how to throw cold water on creativity in those not-politically-correct days at the Mountainview Elementary School!  (To their credit, I don't think my parents put any stock in the artistic judgment of my grade 1 teacher, and I like to think she was a little bit wrong.)

Since I am reminiscing about grade 1, there I am, sitting nicely in the front row of my class picture in regulation navy box pleated tunic and white shirt, complete with skinned knee.  I didn't realize I was doomed to have no artistic or musical talent! 

Anyhow, Simplicity 8805 was lost to me until I acquired it from one of my favorite vintage pattern sites, Lantez Living.  I have considered making it again, though a bit longer.  What do you think?

One more for today, accompanied by a photo of yours truly wearing it at her high school graduation (with BF of the day). 


For your information, the dress was made from a soft and beefy but seriously synthetic knit fabric in shades of off-white and dusty rose.  One side was a check, and the other was a heathery solid.  I used the contrast for the collar and cuffs.  Looking at the photo, I believe I would have thought the dress a little on the long/modest side.  I used to measure the "right length" in those days by whether the tips of my fingers brushed the hem, and I have short arms(!).

I didn't like this pattern enough to buy it again (and it was the wrong size by a mile) but I saved the image. 

Tell me if you found this post (a) illuminating or inspiring, (b) amusing, or (c) embarrassing.  Based on your responses, I'll decide whether to share more of my ancient sewing history, or sulk and keep it all to myself.


  1. It made me think of a few equally embarrassing pics of myself in homemade garments during my high school years. I might post one in a sisterhood salute!

    Thanks for checking out Denise's site!

  2. This is wonderful trip down memory lane. My teenage memories include my first garment where I made a shapeless sack dress out of cardboard-color brown fabric. Bad choice. I looked like I was wearing a lunch bag. Another memory involved hacking a skirt to pieces and throwing pieces across the room. Left sewing for a long while after that. Thankfully things got better since then. And, it's clear to all that you most certainly have talent!! I haven't commented here before but always admired your work on PR.

  3. I vote amusing and illuminating. Being a little older than you, I'm not surprised at what you tackled early on, because I recall the clothes. I have seen the horizontal with vertical tip dart called an "English dart" and I don't think anyone would categorize it as a good beginner project. :) It doesn't surprise me that you handled it though.
    Over the past few years I've enjoyed seeing the sewing that you share online and I think you are onto some fine blog material, should you continue with this topic.
    I think our reasons & motivation for sewing change as time goes by. Your perspective may be useful for all of us - wherever we are on the sewing journey.

  4. More, more!! This is so fun! I love the 8805 dress. You could go longer for a dress or shorter for a cute tunic top. What a fun pattern! That dart is seriously wicked, though. I don't know if I'd tackle that even now.

  5. That was Great Kay! I can relate to many of the pattern styles that you made. You have me trying to dig up some of them now!

  6. Your post and photos are illuminating, inspiring, and amusing. I still have my first Betsey Johnson dress pattern and my school picture to prove I made it :o)

  7. brought me back, too! AND reminded me not to take too much stock in what my son's 1st grade teacher says!

  8. First time poster and new reader. I loved everything about this post. More, please :)

  9. Evidence of particular talent or unusual ability ... YES!!
    Fun to read!! LUCKY you that you can remember and re-create these memories!!
    I, too, measured the length of my skirts/dresses with the short length of my fingertips!! What's really COOL to me is that we weren't a bunch of "bad girls" (you WEREN'T, were you :( ;)...
    Keep 'em comin', Kay!!
    Soft hug,
    Rhonda in Montreal (PR)

  10. I loved it! We are in the vicinity of the same age, although I think I sewed more McCalls than you did. I remember sewing a shift, with a peter pan collar multiple times. I started just a little earlier (in age) than you did (age 10) with a skirt and zipper of course. I more or less skipped Home Ec entirely due to scheduling problems at school (and the fact that my wardrobe was already made by me, and the school projects consisted of sewing lines and curves on paper-ugh!)

    It is startling to see old patterns (of which I have none) show up on vintage sites. Sheesh! Feelin' a little creaky!

  11. I think we are of a similar vintage. I tell my daughters how lucky they are growing up in such a wonderful fashion era. I had the 70s and the 80s to be young and glamourous in (almost an oxymoron!)

  12. Love your post --- can't wait to read more! I love how fashion details from the past come back in fresh new ways. It is a treat to see your photos. I just finished organizing my patterns and came across one from the 80s, which was when I started sewing --- big and boxy jacket teamed with cuffed walking shorts!

  13. I love this post! I believe we are of similar age and although I didn't sew back then, my mom did and I wore everything she made me with pride.

  14. I like the fashion photos very much, glad to know your history of courting sewing skills..
    Good luck on new year of 2010.

    smart blog!
    in case you want a ride somewhere else, welcome!

  15. Your post brings back many zany memories of my sewing days in high school. My first official Home Ec dress was a peach color cotton a-line sleeveless number with a detachable round collar. What was I thinking?? I do still have all my patterns and will look through them for anything that looks like your description. I remember those darts and sewed several of them myself. I probably will find good old 8805 in my pattern stash, too! Please keep on truckin' - I mean - writing! It's such fun to remember what we sewed and wore. I am shameless when it comes to hanging on to things, so you are not alone in your quest.

  16. lol..that last picture is priceless! So '70's. Your dress is pretty swish - very chic. I can't remember much of my early sewing but I do still have the top of a 2 piece outfit I made back in the '70's.

  17. Very cute! Thanks for showing us a bit of your past.

  18. Loved this post....brought back so many fond memories of my sewing days past. I've been sewing for probably, 45 years. I took sewing in home ec in high school and learned some wonderful sewing habits that never left me. I loved my teacher, even though she made me rip it out until I got it right. Now I want to go through my old pics and find some to post. I gave away alot of my old 1960 patterns and could give myself a strong boot for your blog.

  19. I too, have been attempting to acquire patterns from my youth. In high school I made mostly wool skirts, cotton skirts and plenty of shifts on the 1910 Singer treadle in my room. New England still had woolen mills and the shops sold piece goods which were just barely enough yardage for a mini skirt. The piece good prices were so cheap that I had a several new things every month, if not weekly. I have always snoop shopped and copied the techniques of RTW; Ladybug and Villager were my go to brands to copy. By college I was obsessed with Kenzo, John Kloss and Carol Horn. I made so many of those sexy John Kloss dresses for dances. When I moved to NYC I sold the whole Kloss lot to a classical musician who needed long dresses. I have quite a good Kloss pattern collection now and have made several of the dresses for my daughters. Those Kloss dresses still look good!

  20. I am reading your entire blog, I made this pattern, Twice! I actually loved that dress. The shawl collar laid well and the skirt wasn flattering. Had it in pink linen and a knit print with a border. I will try and send a picture. Love your posts!

  21. I have just discovered your blog and it would seem I have some catch-up reading to do. This post particularly caught my eye because I too have been wasting hours surfing for vintage patterns. Every one I find that I can clearly remember is saved to a board in my pinterest thingy. It's such a wonderful feeling when I come across one; my mind is flooded with memories of the time spent with the found pattern. One favourite found on Etsy had to be mine again and I foolishly spent $50 to get into my quivering hands.

    Your sewing history sounds a little similar to mine - using Simplicity first then moving on to Butterick. But I was quite vain when I hit 18 - 19 and simply had to have the Vogue designer patterns! Alas most of my old patterns were discarded when I thought I was moving across the county - hmm I DO seem to be rather foolish! Well now I have age as my defense.

    Thanks for sharing and I look forward to enjoying more up to date posts!

  22. I just started reading your blog. I think what you are looking for is the Biba dart. Find McCalls 2725.