There is a trend today for making your own clothes, with programmes such as “The Great British Sewing Bee” encouraging would be sewers to throw caution to the wind and have a go! However this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon as sewing patterns have been in existence since the 1860’s.
In wartime Britain, women could save hard earned family money by making their own clothes. Trims were relatively inexpensive and could be used time and time again on different outfits and updated as and when required.
The main dressmaking pattern manufacturers included Butterick, Simplicity, McCalls and of course Vogue. These American companies are still in existence today. Women’s weekly magazines such as Woman’s Own all published patterns too, so pattern availability wasn’t a problem.
In the 1950’s a wide range of skirt styles were on offer to make, however tops were always nipped in and fitted to optimised the desired for narrow waist.
There was also the introduction of “Easy to Make” sewing patterns and with the arrival of shift dresses towards the end of the 1950s many women ran up these patterns in no time at all as the pattern was so simple. Many different versions could be made and adapted to both winter and summer needs. Furthermore as the decade went on, new fabric and became available and better quality zips and trimmings came into existence.
In the 1950’s one of the most coveted items for women was the Singer sewing machine. Singer began to recover from the effects of the war in which production was ceased and in 1952 introduced model 206, its first zigzag machine. These machines are quite sought after and occasionally you spot them in antique shops now for a small fortune!
Vintage patterns are particularly in demand today and there are a good choice online. Some manufacturers also now provide modern sewing patterns based on the vintage 1950’s feel. I have tried Vintage Vogue patterns and have successfully produced a lovely dress from using their V8789 1957 original dress design pattern. At present I love the American sewing manufacturer Colette who produces some lovely retro/vintage designs, including the Ginger skirt and the Sencha blouse. I have also made several tops from the Sorbretto 1950’s style sleeveless top pattern.
If anyone has tried any of these modern “vintage” patterns that has successfully worked out for them, then please let me know!
I think sometimes that I was born in the wrong era. I feel much happier in a dress with a fitted waist and a full skirt. Not necessarily over the top with a petticoat underneath (I do the school run!) but something that makes me feel feminine at least. Jeans are comfortable and practical but they don’t make me feel good about myself.
I adore the 1950’s. Everything I like and am drawn to is mainly from this era. I love the clothes, the kitsch and the home styling!
My favourite 1950s icons include Audrey Hepburn (she will be covered in a future blog), Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. Hollywood glamour became popular in Europe with these icons. To me they look feminine, dress fashionably and smartly and actually have a womanly figure rather than looking like a stick insect!
The 1950’s were all about the waistline with an emphasis on a thin waist, defined hips and a larger more defined bust. In short a more feminine silhouette than had been seen for many years. Dior’s “New Look” defined women’s wardrobes and women’s figures were given the illusion of an hourglass shape with a nipped in waist and a full skirt, adding definition to the body.
With the end of World War II, came a feeling of freedom, especially in terms of fashion for women. No more fabric rationing and a new choice of material and patterns from which to have fun making clothes with. There was now an availability of different fabrics, especially in the USA. Excess fabric was used to create full skirts, pleats and petticoats etc. Cottons, linens and silks were still used but were expensive and difficult to find, hence the rise of the synthetic materials market, most notably nylon, polyester and acrylic. These new fabrics revolutionised fabric care, with even a quick wash and possibly no ironing required!
I like the 1950s because even today it appears timeless. The return of full skirts, capri pants and flat ballet shoes all feature heavily in my wardrobe. Okay, I do admit that I tend to stand out in the school playground, amidst the jeans and parkers but then again I get compliments on how I look and so many people comment on my dresses and how they wish they could wear them! Well, why not? It’s the easiest thing in the world in the rush of a morning when you can’t decide what to wear to put on a dress in the summer and a dress with leggings and boots in the winter. I always remember one of Gok Wan’s fashion programmes in which he said that he never understood why so little women wore dresses as they were so easy and versatile to wear. So try wearing the 1950’s style dresses for yourself and see if you are convinced!
I started dress making when my son went to school and I was at a loose end. I had always been creative, making curtains, cushions etc. but I decided I wanted to have a go at making my own clothes. I enrolled on a sewing class and have never looked back.
Not everything has been successful, there has been quite a lot of learning on the job. I now know that its best to make a “mock up” of something you fancy trying, rather than wasting precious fabric. However, I haven’t made any clothes for a few months now (summer hols etc) and I completely forgot my “mock up” rule!
I purchased the Bettine dress pattern from Tilly and the Buttons. I’ve made a couple of Tilly’s things before which have always turned out well. However, not so this pattern. I am a size 10 but curvy which fitted in with size 2 of the pattern. I was going ahead really well and the dress was mostly made, when I suddenly thought, I’d better try this on to see if it fits. I couldn’t even get the dress over my head! I had picked a cotton gingham material and there was no give in it at all. I altered the seams, but still nothing. So frustrating. I measured the dress compared to the final measurements as given in the pattern and they were correct, but not for my size! I simply can’t do anything with it at all and my lovely gingham dress is looking at me, all forlorn!
I googled reviews of the pattern and quite a few did say that it was only made for those women who weren’t curvy or busty. Wish I had read this before and saved my time and my fabric!
One of the reviews pointed me to a website tailored especially for those women like me, the Curvy Sewing Collective.: http://curvysewingcollective.com/
They are a group of women with ideas and advice on sewing and patterns for curvy women. Their review page is quite good and gives pictures of how they have altered patterns to suit different figures. Following on from this, I’m now going to give the Dahlia dress pattern from a Colette a go! Remembering to do a “mock up” first!
I had an interesting email from my local fabric store, Guthrie & Ghani in Moseley (you may remember, Lauren Guthrie was a finalist in the Sewing Bee in 2013) about Sew Brum, coming up in October. http://www.guthrie-ghani.co.uk/events
Sew Brum is organised by the sewing blogger Englishgirlathome http://englishgirlathome.com/sewbrum/ and promises to be a lovely day of visiting fabric shops in Birmingham such as the Fancy Silk Store and my absolute favourite, Barrys. Lunch will be provided from the street food stalls at the Moseley Farmers Market and finally we all reconvene at Guthrie Ghani for tea and cake. What more can you wish for on a Saturday! Visit englishgirlathome’s blog to sign up for an exciting day!
I love these fabric designs, courtesy of fabric rehab. The London buses is my particular favourite. I’m currently making yet another kit bag for my transport obsessed son with it. The London underground fabric will probably be used as the background for a wall tidy and the car fabric can always be turned into little bags or cushions.
A cute telephone fabric pinboard, with a red ribbon crossover for effect. Just add pins and off you go.