Friday, May 2, 2014

Sewing Vintage
~on a tight budget~

How can it be possible to sew vintage style clothes on a budget? You may be thinking that I have lost my mind. However, if sewing is not your first rodeo, it is completely possible to make your dreams practical and attainable.

What do I mean by "on a tight budget"? Well, I make minimum wage working full time, and pay my own bills. There is hardly pocket lint left over for buying groceries.

Note: I am a sewing expert. I have been sewing since the age of 3 and made my first dress at age 7. Therefore, I have 17 years of valuable experience to offer. In addition, I have taught professional level garment construction for 3 years. I design all my own patterns and enjoy wearing my well-fitting clothes.

First, plan out what you want to wear. This depends on your personal style.

Don't get caught up in the body type battle that you have probably been tangled with in the past. There are styles that will work for everyone, and the stick thin figure on the front of that pattern is not a real woman, it is just a drawing. In all honesty, pattern croquis were drawn to make a pattern seem attractive yet inside the paper, the printed pattern included the size for the average woman: 5'4", 140 lbs. Guess what? That's me. I'm curvy and I love it.

My method for sewing spot-on, true-to-form vintage clothing which is not distinguishable from age-old vintage pieces that can cost you upwards of $300:

1) Get to know your body. Write down your measurements once a week for a month and then average those numbers. If you don't use your own measurements, your clothes won't fit. It's common sense. By the way, don't step on the scale because your weight is irrelevant to your sewing process. All you need is a measuring tape and a notebook. :)

2) Find fabric that you like.
I despise the feeling of taffeta, so I don't sew with it. I like fabrics that are heavy enough to drape but light enough to flow over my curves and swirl around on the dance floor. My favourites are chiffon, broadcloth, challis, and voile.

I usually find my fabrics in the thrift shops around my town. I have been able to find $1 per yard fabrics of excellent quality. Steer clear of people trying to sell old draperies for $25 unless you have a serious die-hard crush on the print and the hand of the fabric.

Lesson Learned: Don't shy away from heavy suiting fabrics or thin lining fabrics. You will find a use for them in business skirts, slacks, and blazers as well as my favourite: coat dresses.

Know what a grainline is, how to find it, and which way to cut your pieces based on the way you want the design to fit. If you want fluid drape, cut on the bias. If you want a conforming structured fit, cut on the grainline.

3) Don't be afraid to use curtains, bedsheets, and dust ruffles to sew with.

This is how I started out. My prom dress was made from a curtain and cost me only $5- for the purchased ribbon. 
You probably have a few old sheets that you could stand to part with. Use them for muslins and don't you dare go out and buy new fabric to use for a muslin. You'll be selling yourself short.

4) Get a sewing book and get familiar with the techniques therein.
I have been able to find 1960's sewing books at thrift shops.
My personal sewing book is Edith Bishop's "The Bishop Method of Sewing" from the 1950's. It will save you the trouble of sewing your skirt onto the bodice upside down.

5) Get thyself the correct tools.

Some shops have sewing boxes with all the necessary doodads to sew with. Honestly, here's what you need:

-DOODADS TO USE AS PATTERN WEIGHTS (kids wooden blocks, toy cars, etc.)

Notice I didn't include an invisible zipper foot, point turner, buttonhole maker, pattern weights etc. etc.

The above list is all that I use when I sew.

6) Practice new techniques with one-offs.
One-offs, in my mind, are scraps of fabric that you can't use for anything else. You can cut a chunk of fabric in 1/2 and practice inserting a zipper until you get it right.

This is also useful for darts and testing out new tension and stitch length combinations on your machine with different kinds of fabric.

This is perhaps the most important skill for you to learn.
You will never really need a purchased pattern again if you know how to make your own.

Learn what a bodice looks like and get what is called a sloper. You can find one that works for your measurements and use it for every project that you sew.
Transfer your patterns onto cardstock so that you can use them over and over again.
Find books at your library about drafting patterns and red them carefully, especially the sections about seam allowance and grading.

Then, practice making patterns on paper, cutting them out, and sewing practice garments. Assess where you need to improve and make adjustments to your patterns. It's all cut and paste.

8) Sketch designs that you want to wear. Figure out what your flat pattern will look like and draft out the bodice, waist, and hip or skirt.

9) Fabric needs
Decide what fabric type and weight would work best for your particular design.

Decide how much ease you want and adjust the amount of fabric that you will need accordingly.

Generally, a dress with a slimline skirt takes 2.5 yards of fabric whereas a full skirted dress capable of a petticoat requires 3.5 to 4 yards.

10) Adjust your machine stitches to suit the fabric. Thin fabrics require small, sharp needles, less tension, and shorter stitches. Thick fabrics require thicker needles, more tension, and longer stitches.
Use common sense and make sure to pull bobbin thread out of the way so it doesn't get caught when stitching.

11) Press all your pieces with a dependable steam iron as you sew. This will give you a better fit and more professional finished product.
I use an ironing board from Walmart that folds up and hangs in my closet. My Mother-In-Law has a fancy no-holds-barred ironing board complete with sleeve board and pressing ham. I loved it when I got a chance to use it, but the amount of space it takes up is appalling.

So now, think about where you want to start. Learning how to sew collars is a good beginning point.

You can definitely purchase vintage patterns anywhere you like. Be forewarned that they may be expensive. However, if a pattern is not in your size but you absolutely love it, buy it and draft yourself a copy that is just your size and fit.

I have learned that I can take a feature from one pattern that I like and paste that idea onto my own pattern. My finished flat pattern ends up looking professional, but in the process of tracing, cutting, and taping, it looks like a Frankenstein creation. Don't be afraid to experiment with new shapes on different patterns. Just trace and tape pieces together to figure out how they'll work.

Remember that giving yourself more fabric to work with is easier than trying to add fabric to a too-small area. Always overestimate seam allowance when drafting your own patterns and pare down from there.

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