Clothes I Made in 2019
A while back, I challenged myself to improve my garment-making skills. But, because I can't do anything the easy way, I challenged myself to sew and knit from vintage patterns.
I particularly wanted to improve my sewing. I had the idea that vintage dressmakers had a higher level of skill than folks today, and that by working with vintage patterns, I'd be exposed to a great range of techniques.
Also, it seemed a way of ending up with a wardrobe of clothes that I could wear to vintage events.
Or maybe I just wanted to torture myself. Knitting a garment using teeny-tiny knitting needles, and then cutting it up on purpose tends to support the "torture myself" theory.
But rather than delving into the reasons for why I did any of the absurd things I did in the past year, let's look at what I did. As it turns out, I made quite a few things.
I knit a waistcoat for Robb, based on a pattern from the 1930s. I used wool that I'd dyed, using either invasive plants or trimmings from my own garden. (I wrote about this project, here.) Robb wore this to a Tweed Ride in Sacramento.
I learned a lot on this project, but there were times where I thought hitting my fingers with a hammer might be more fun than continuing with the knitting. So, educational or torture? Maybe, a bit of both.
The next project was the direct result of some fortuitous dumpster diving. Someone at work was throwing out old party decorations, including hundreds of ostrich feathers. I grabbed the lot of them, chucked them into a five gallon bucket of custom mixed dye, and made myself an absurd Edwardian-esque hat.
I sewed these feathers into batches of threes, and stitched them onto some tulle that I'd already dyed.
The cats did not know what to make of this. Oh Cardigan... I miss that cat so damn much.
I happen to live in a place that boasts several stores that sell vintage hat-making supplies. So, in addition to fully 99 feathers, my hat was adorned with a mixed bouquet of antique floral ornaments.
I wore this to an Edwardian picnic in Los Gatos. The blouse I wore is an actual antique, and I made the skirt. I also taught myself re-weaving, so that I could strengthen Robb's somewhat threadbare plus-fours. (Check out Robb's antique leather puttees. How often does one get to use that word?)
I actually started this project in 2018, but life got in the way, and it was put on hold.
I sewed two versions of this dress. I made a test version out of green cotton shirting material.
I wore this dress all summer, and while I don't think anyone paid any notice to it at all, I really like it. This is the sort of garment that doesn't draw attention to itself, which is just fine with me.
I also made a version for the Seersucker Ride in Chico.
I can't decide if this dress is a success or not. While I'm very proud of how I constructed the dress (bound buttonholes! fully lined bodice! exquisite pattern matching! beautifully bound seams!), I don't have a clear idea if this garment is even remotely attractive on me.
I certainly don't have the same figure as the illustrated women on the pattern have. Most notably, my rib cage isn't conical.
I fear the bulky fabric overwhelms me. I think it makes me look a whole lot bigger than I am. I can't shake the feeling that I'm wearing a bathrobe. In public. With high heels.
But maybe I'm torturing myself.
On the other hand, my absurd kitty skirt is something I'm really proud of. It's a totally simple construction, because I was trying to use every inch of this vintage fabric. And I love it.
I haven't actually worn this, outside of our house. If you're hosting an event where an absurd kitty skirt would fit the dress code, please let me know. I promise to iron my skirt.
The week that my beloved kitty Cardigan died, when I was recovering from some pretty intense surgery, I sewed this dress from a 1940s mail-order pattern. I typically agonize over ever step of my sewing projects, but somehow this project went together with lightning speed. I really needed something to go right that week.
I wore this to a play-reading event, and somehow allowed myself to participate in a vintage fashion contest. It was all very awkward. I hate these sorts of competitions, but couldn't figure a way of not playing along. So, even though the dress was a joy to make, I was still tortured by it. Sheesh.
The next project was a couple of dresses that I made from this original 1920s pattern. A bunch of people online were laughing at the fact that the person selling this on ebay was calling it a "thunder thigh dress" and generally missing the point of this styling. While they were having a laugh at the seller's expense, I bought the pattern lickety-split.
I made my first version of this dress to wear to the Lake Tahoe Gatsby Festival. I also restored the original 1920s hat that I'm wearing, and made the flowers on my hat from vintage materials.
I originally intended to make a second version of this dress in a lovely celadon silk crepe de chine, but every time I touched the fabric with my construction-worker's hands, I snagged the material. I ended up using a very fine cotton -- actually the same fabric as the first version, only in a different color.
At one point, I splashed a bit of dirty water on the unfinished dress. I hand washed the soiled area, and hung it up to dry in the bathroom. Robb, aware of the fact that I was sewing with a deadline, stuck a fan under the dress, which inflated like some kind of insane sculpture or blimp. This photo makes me laugh every time I look at it.
I wore it to the Gatsby Summer Afternoon in Oakland. It was a magical day.
An online friend sent me a bag of vintage yarn. And so I made a cropped cardigan, using a 1950s pattern.
I suspect that dolman sleeved garments probably are intended to be worn on a bustier figure than mine, but I don't care. I love this little knit jacket, and have worn it frequently.
The final outfit I made in 2019 was a skirt and jerkin (another underused word), which I sewed from a 1940s pattern. (I also knit my lace scarf, over a decade ago. I still want to back it with silk, because it tends to curl in on itself.) I wore this to the Tweed Ride in Chico. If you can't tell, I'm wearing one of my favorite hats. It's a bonkers little hat from the 1940s, decorated with a completely goofy-looking sculptural turkey. I'm also wearing an Essex crystal tie pin, that looks weirdly like my chubby kitty Sleeves, right down to its triple-chin. Both of these were gifts from friends. I swear, I'm the most fortunate person in the world. I have friends who think, "This antique object is totally demented," and then think of me.
While I'm very happy with the fit of the skirt, I think I need to totally rework the jerkin. I got a little carried away with seam binding, but failed to get a good fit. Admittedly, fitting the back of a garment is a bit challenging, when one had neither a dress form, a sewing assistant, or (honestly) a clue what one is doing.
So, looking back, I'm very pleased with the entirety of my year's garment-making. There are certainly things I'd like to have done better. And that's okay. Knowing where one went wrong is a hugely valuable part of learning to do anything properly.