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Lavender O.

Well, I promised a report on my SIAB-night, the Sew-In-A-Bookshop-night 😉

To understand what will happen next, a short explanation: Normally this bookshop, as most shops in Berne, closes at 7pm, on thursdays the majority of the city is opened until 9pm, that thursday was Ladies Night, takes place only once a year, shops closed at 11pm.

We installed my table with sewing machine, a little decoration and the book I was presenting at around 6pm. And until 7.30 everything was fine, lots of people in the shop, many curious clients asking what I was doing and so on.

Then it became a little quiet, still some people were passing by, maybe because I sat right next to the doors through which you can leave directly into the railway station. Some stopped and looked interested, I chatted a little, about my sewing, about the book, about whatever they wanted. It was sad it was comparably quiet, I had really hoped for a roaring night.
Only few were interested in the sewing, even less in the book. Most only gazed at the sewing machine and noted that her grannies had machines like this or asked if it was already electric.

At 9pm we had to close the doors to the station (contract conditions) and the last two hours were very quiet, because I sat literally at a dead end. The sentence I had to repeat most often in the last two hours was “No, sorry, exit closed, please use the main exit on the ground floor”. Every now and then somebody spotted me from the far end of the shop and screamed something like “oh, mum, look there” *teenage daughter with mum approaching*staring*smiling*leaving*.

At least this left me plenty of time to sew and I really nearly finished, only the zipper and the hem were missing.

That's how it looked. You will recognize my Bette Davis Dress.
That’s how it looked. You will recognize my Bette Davis Dress I chose to wear that evening.

To conclude, I assume a couple of things went wrong,making it less successful than we all had hoped it to be.

First, the event itself wasn’t promoted enough, neither the presenter nor the bookshop succeeded in making people aware that this night was to be meant as an event. A friend who lives in the city of Bern told me she wouldn’t have known of this Ladies Night without me (and this true friend stayed with me the whole five hours and made the long hours past 9pm appear much shorter as they could have been). So I fear the whole event hasn’t grown big enough yet to attract large crowds of clients and ladies, strolling through the shops on high heels buying lace underwear whilst drinking prosecco (we wouldn’t discuss this cliché here, would we? 🙂 ) The few clients who came were not what I would call the target audience of Retro sewing, in contrast, most knew the sewing machine or the dresses in the book from their own childhood or youth (one middle ages woman was gleaming with joy when spotting Farrah Fawcett in the book. Not because she liked the dress, but “Charlies Angels”) and had no interest in buying such a book.

Second, I chose the wrong approach. Promoting a book that is all about how cool, modern and timeless vintage and retro sewing is, well, you can’t properly do this when sewing in full 30ies attire, looking as if you stepped right out of a time capsule. The group of people interested in the latter one is even smaller than the few people interested in retro sewing. So a more Gertie-like approach with a stunning bombshell dress or a cool modern looking 60ies style would have been more convincing.

On the far right you see the book I sewed from.
On the far right you see the book I sewed from.

Which leads me to this night’s project. Because I was a little scared this would all end up in a catastrophe I chose a really simple design from the book without too many tricky details to pay attention to (well, I had hoped to chat a lot more with clients than I had the chance. Did I mention I did not sell a single book?).

Lets talk about the book for a second (I bought this copy already when it was published in German some time ago, this review isn’t sponsored by anybody. I just think when talking about a pattern in it, I can as well give you a short summary and my opinion on the book itself). The book Famous frocks, in German Stilikonen, presents ten women of the 20th century which are connected to a special and distinct style of dress and became iconic for the fashion of their time (the Link to the German version allows you to have a look inside, just klick the “Im Buch blättern” button left of the cover). It starts in the 1930ies with Bette Davis (now you know why I bought it 😉 ), the 40ies are represented by Rita Hayworth. Marilyn Monroe’s iconic 7-year-itch dress is included as well as Audrey Hepburns little black one from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Jackie Kennedy and Twiggy complete this 50ies/60ies group. The younger dresses are inspired by Diana Ross, Farrah Fawcett and Stevie Nicks (the only pattern I had realized from the book until now, you saw it in my Sicily-Post). The last and most recent one is Madonna’s corsage-and-petticoat-style. Each woman is accompanied by one dress pattern, that was inspired by her style. So you won’t find an exact reproduction of an Audrey-Dress in this book, rather the authors took what they considered the distinct features and lines of a style and translated it into a pattern. This makes a total of 10 different patterns, all of them come in a closer-to-the-original-version and a more modern variation.

The only photos in this book show the icons that inspired the patterns, the patterns themselves are only shown in drawings, a technical and a fashion illustration for each version.

All patterns are included in their original size, but because the sheets are printed from both sides, you have to copy the cut pieces. Sizes go from XS (79cm-62cm-88cm) to L (94cm-77cm-103cm) (so really not a wide range, in my opinion, you will see later that XS is already too small for me).
The instructions are very detailed with many drawings, so even beginners could cope with the simpler ones, as long as they know the basic sewing vocabulary.

To conclude: patterns are easy to work with, good instructions, nice layout. Unfortunately size range is very limited and the dresses are only inspired by historical patterns, some stay pretty close but some don’t (don’t expect to sew a 30ies gown with this book, what you get is a knee-length bias-cut dress, for example). The patterns are modern, not based on historical ones, at least that is my impression and I didn’t find a hint that they used actual contemporary patterns for this book.

So much about the book. The pattern I chose was the, who would have guessed after the title 😉 , Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The classic variant comes with a very high and stiff neckline I don’t like that much, so I chose to sew the modern version with a slightly lower neckline and pockets. Pockets not because I needed them (well, I do need pockets, but I try to avoid dresses with them because I tend to bury my hands in them and stand quite crooked), but because I feared to finish early without them.

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As already mentioned, I chose to cut size XS, stupidly enough looking only at the waist- but not at the bust-circumference. Because I had no chance to try it on in the shop I only realized it was too small when I had inserted the zipper the next day and wore it for the first time.

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Fortunately, the pattern included 1.6cm seam allowance, so I shifted the side seams of the bodice as far as I could, approximately 1cm. These additional 4cm were what it took to fit, thankfully. It still fits quite snug, you see the pockets are slightly gaping, but it is ok, considering that I already had given up hope because it seemed to be so very much too small.

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I don’t like  the fit in the back, but I don’t quite know how to get rid of these wrinkles. I tried to pin in different ways (normally I would remove some fabric from the waist seam in such a case), but still more wrinkles show each time. Now I will leave it like that, it is not that bad when standing upright, at least I’am trying to convince myself about this.

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As a fabric I chose a lavender-coloured cotton (or viscose, I am not sure) from my stash. Facings and pockets I made from a gingham of the same colour, printed with little flowers. A leftover I had bought years ago, I used it to make headbands from it and sold them via Internet. It wasn’t that successful, so I quit and went back to work as a shop assistant to finance my studies^^

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The matching bias binding was an old unfolded one that had lurked in my stash for a very long time, I must have bought it once with a sewing basket or something similar. It was quite narrow and, as I said, unfolded and I always considered it being too narrow to work with it properly. But then I saw the bias binding foot in The Sewing Machine Attachment Book, asking for 24mm wide, unfolded bias binding. That was exactly the size I had. It worked really well, only the very sharp curves around the armholes caused some difficulties.
But this explains a lot: When sewing machines do not come with these feet anymore, no-one will buy unfolded, 24mm-width bias binding in consequence. Or, vice versa, if you can only buy pre-folded bias binding, why should a machine include a bias binding foot? I don’t know what happened, I only know that such a foot is not to be found with modern machines anymore and that unfolded bias binding has become quite rare, I assume a connection 🙂

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Rhinestone-Pendant: a gift – shoes: antique/Amuse Brocante, Berne – fragrance: 4711 Acqua Colonia Lavender & Thyme

The upper bust darts end a little too high, maybe this was meant to be a really historic pattern after all and I should have worn it with period appropriate undergarments? Or maybe they just don’t fit my bust and I should adjust them ;-).

See you soon, love

ette

what to blog for…

This is going to be a very text-heavy post, sorry in advance 😉

When starting this blog back in 2011, I blogged about everything that came to my mind. Predominantly sewing and crafting, because that’s what was and still is one of my favourite things to do. But I also posted photos of my walks around our village, things I did during the day, I wrote texts about climate change and politics. I wanted to blog about myself, my life.

Soon I realized that this wasn’t possible. I am no important person, I do not travel the world, I have no extraordinary hobbies. These blogs do exist, but they do need a good working online-network of friends and followers and they need something that makes them better than others. A good writing style, an extraordinary sense for fashion, home decoration and the like, photos worth looking at…

I had nothing of these. I am a member of some sewing boards, but I was never kind of a chatty person (at least not digitally). I help, I answer questions, I utter my opinion, but I hardly participate in neither board games and questionaires nor in serious discussions online. So I had no peer-group that was to read my blog, only some friends I met in real life or very few I got to know online.
My writing style wasn’t very distinct and appealing, I fear in english it is even more sober. My photos were embarassingly bad, I had no clue how to edit my pictures, I had no photoshop and a bad camera.
The projects I showed were unfiltered. I just wrote about everything I created, no matter how simple it was, no matter how boring it would be for my readers.

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pile of garments to be repaired, originally posted in july 2012

After some time I made a decision: I will strictly limit my blog to certain topics. If I want my blog to be appealing to a larger group of people who follow my blog because I write interesting things and not because they are my friends, I had to focus on at least something, I needed a thread to follow myself.

My decision was clear: I would limit my blog to a historical complex of topics. Still, sewing was to stay the main focus, but I also included things like antiques shopping and cooking, as long as it was dating from a time you could at least call “retro” (and I am still arguing with myself if a 1980ies pattern would be too young to fit into). And I would force myself to use the large, the better camera and edit the photos before publishing them.

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detail of my 1904 velvet cape, originally posted in june 2012

I had searched for an advantage, something I can give to you, because for me, a blog isn’t a diary (I know for some it is and that is perfectly ok), it is a place to share things with others, things I want to share and things that you hopefully want to read.

I know (and read the blogs of) people who sew better than me, who can create magnificent robes in the blink of an eye, who can do magic with their fingertips, who can name a 17th-century garment and date it to a decade without any hesitation.
Well, I can’t

But I can sew, I can do research, I know about technical background like weaving and pattern design. I do have direct access to a lot of antique robes and other stuff due to my job, and though I can’t share photos with you due to copyright reasons, I am so very happy to share my knowledge with you.

1950ies silk, pattern "imprinà sur chaîne", originally posted in january 2013
1950ies silk, pattern “imprimé sur chaîne”, originally posted in january 2013

Unfortunately, to blog about this background isn’t as easy as it seems. First, because it can be kind of dry to read, additionally many things can be found in the internet already and I am very cautious when it comes to pictures that weren’t made by myself. So the only theoretical excursions I do at the moment are included in project-posts, where I can illustrate the information I want to give with my own photos (a good example for what I mean is my sewing-machine-supply-box-post).

Another thing that annoys me a little is my lazyness when it comes to time periods. I announced this blog as one filled with historical topics. Last year the earliest project dated from 1942, this year I even managed togo as far as the 19th century, but not with something to wear. So though I am holding my “all centuries, no limits”-sign up, in fact nearly all my projects gather around something you would call “vintage sewing”. Now, this is what I do at the moment, so it is ok for me. But still I fear it gives a wrong impression of my goals, of what I want to do with this blog.

1942-culottes, originally posted in august 2013, still with my old blog-adress
1942-culottes, originally posted in august 2013, still with my old blog-adress

These two things, false impression and my blog’s goal, lead me to my conclusion of this post:

Blogging about fashion, textiles, clothing, sometimes make me fear to appear superficial. As if I cared for nothing but beautiful dresses.
This is not the case. In fact, I am absolutely aware of the world we live in and, in large part, it repels me. I hate the willful ignorance, the mindlessness, the addiction to capitalism and consumption.
I am not as naive as to join in the “everything used to be better in the past”- chorus. But cooking with old recipes, reading old newspapers and sewing with old patterns shows me, how simple everyday-life can be. That we do not need fusible interfacing and invisible nylon zippers to sew something beautiful, that leftovers and dry bread can make an exquisite meal, that there was a world before our plastic planet, and this world wasn’t glorious or romantic, but it was aware of the resources given and needed, it was possible to live without take-away-sandwiches from the supermarket, disposable plastic bags and aluminium cans. I don’t want to say that the standard as it was, eg. in the 19th century, ist something to wish for today, I really don’t believe pollution in the early industrial age is something to revive, but there is inspiration we can draw from these times, for me it is the constant search for alternatives, not to be controlled by the systems that keep all this living as we know it alive.

I really am a greenie. I shout at the woman in the shop, when putting my goods in a plastic bag without asking, I refuse to use liquid detergent and I try to avoid buying from large world dominating companies, I hate the system of trade as it is today (nothing against globalisation up to a certain point, but do we really have to ship the shrimps from the north sea to asia to have them processed there and then sent back?). At the same time I request myself to act not too short sighted. If possible I go for local fruits and vegetables, despite an organic alternative, I hardly ever buy tropical fruits. I do not eat meat, because this factory farming makes me sick, but I do wear leather and buy old fur because the alternative would be made of plastic.

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tea made from apple peel as read in a 40ies magazine. not yet published

The occupation with old patterns and styles somehow links to this. Of course I am simply smitten with the elegant lines or styles of bygone eras, no doubt about it.
But for me, it is another way of escaping this system. Establishing my own style means to become independent from ever so quick changing fashion. Shopping patterns, fabrics and haberdashery at flea-markets and in charity shops is pure re-use and recycling.

This leads to my second point: What do I want to do in this blog, with this blog, what is my goal?

When scrolling through the feed of my read blogs there are namely three types of bloggers:
Those who want to recreate a bygone era, trying to be as authentic as possible, maybe even to participate at reenactments.
I don’t belong to these.
Those who just like the styles and recreate something from here, something from there, change some details, play around with history, stereotypes, fabrics, styles etc. to wear their creation to a photoshoot, to an event, to carnival, at home for fun.
I don’t belong to these, either (though this is certainly how it started).
Those who try to recreate a classic look (talking about 20th century and vintage styles now) with modern means. Who shop at the large clothing companies and combine their bargains to something resembling a historic style. Or who buy modern reproductions and interpretations of classic silhouettes.
I definitely don’t belong to these, though of course every now and then I do buy a new dress and still the majority of my wardrobe is store-bought. But that isn’t because I want it, but because I don’t have enough time and motivation to make everything myself and because there are things I need but don’t want to sew (jeans, eg.).

the last (new) h&m-dress I ever bought, outfit originally published in may 2012
the last (new) h&m-dress I ever bought, outfit originally published in may 2012

This blog wants to turn the last idea the other way round. I want to create a wardrobe that is wearable, beautiful, based on historical patterns and styles, a wardrobe that is independent from Highstreet-fashion, that looks modern and elegant at the same time. That mixes different periods to create a unique style.
A wardrobe without spending much money, without buying Bangladesh-made fashion and without wasting our resources.
A personal wardrobe, a wardrobe representing me, using 2nd-hand-items and selfmade ones, a wardrobe that suits me, that maybe seems a little out of time every now and then, but that is never inappropriate.
A timeless and sustainable wardrobe.

simply the fact that I didn’t manage to find a photo me wearing only self-made and 2nd-hand-clothing that would match the “wearable and timeless”-guidelines shows, how far I still have to go to reach this goal.

These are big words and high demands to myself and I am not sure if I will be able to meet them ever. But still I would like to keep them as a goal behind all the other stuff, behind showing how beautiful the past is and what it still can bring to us, behind chatting about my sewing capers, flea market finds and cooking.

Now, this was a “brief” look into my inside and what kept rumbling in my bowels for quite some time.

See you soon, love

ette