Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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So You Think You Can't Sew Vintage Knitwear....

Well I'm here to tell you you can! To sound a bit cheesy I'll say "if I can do it, you can too," but that is absolutely true - I lack patience, tend to jump into things without knowing all the rules, and am often disappointed with my projects. So yes, really and truly, if I can sew this...

...then you can too.

"This" is Hollywood 1895, a perforated pattern from the 1940s. One of the suggested fabrics on the back of the envelope was silk jersey, which piqued my curiosity. With all those gathers and shirring, I imagined the dress would look fantastic in a nice drapey, lightweight jersey knit.

The problem was that I had no idea how to sew with knits.

Knits are SCARY.

Right? Well, knits are certainly *different* but with the right tools, they're not scary. And the good news is that you don't really need very much specialist equipment to successfully sew a knit garment.

For instance, you DO NOT need a serger. Let me repeat that - YOU DO NOT NEED A SERGER.

But there are some things you DO need:
  • Wooly Nylon Thread - it's fluffy, comes on cones, stretches with the seams.
  • Cone Thread Holder - your regular sewing machine probably won't accommodate a big cone of thread. You need this thing:
You just set this up next to your machine and the thread feeds from it through your regular thread setup.
  • Knit interfacing (fusible) - this is different than regular woven interfacing. It stretches with the fabric, but also stabilizes it. The midriff section of my Hollywood dress is interfaced with this stuff.
  • Narrow elastic - clear elastic, fold-over elastic, whatever is thin and about 1/4" - 3/8" wide. This is used to stabilize shoulder seams and the like.
  • Ballpoint needles - these are designed specifically for knits, and separate the fibres rather than punching through them.
Things you will want:

  • The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits - start with this book and reference it henceforth. Get this book before you dive into your knit sewing project. It made all the difference to mine.
  • Double needle - used to finish hems. It's nice to have for sporty finishes.
  • Ultra Lightweight Stitch Witch tape - the really really light stuff. I used this to turn up all of my hems before stitching. It's flexibile but also stabilizes the area to create a nice crisp hem. You can also use wash-away tape, or the fusible knit interfacing.
Converting Patterns for Knits
When you're considering a vintage pattern to make in a knit fabric, chances are the pattern is originally intended for woven fabric. It will most likely have darts - you *can* sew darts in knits, but you can also remove them, converting them to shape the side seam - here's a thorough tutorial on how to do this.

The reason you convert the darts is because your knit stretches, and you don't need darts for shaping anymore. There are examples of vintage knits that do use darts, though, so it really is up to you if you want them in there or not.

The finished dress on the form. The entire dress is made from a lightweight t-shirt jersey knit. The hems are turned and stitched with one line of straight stitches in wooly nylon thread. Midriff is interfaced below gathers. Shoulder seams are reinforced with elastic. No closures - goes on over the head.

Considering Ease
You don't want ease when sewing with a knit fabric. In fact, if you want it to fit tightly, you want negative ease. Most vintage patterns are great about not having much ease added in, but vintage repro patterns, or any modern Big 4 patterns, tend to have HUGE amounts of ease.

If you're using a modern pattern, be sure to look on the tissue for the Finished Garment Measurements. For a nice close fit with the knit, you want the finished measurements to be exactly your own - you will almost certainly be cutting a size or two smaller than your usual arbitrary number, but you'll be happy you did when your knit fits like a glove.

A nice close fit through the waist, relaxed everywhere else, but not baggy.
My knit dress was a size 16 - 34" bust, 28" waist. My own waist is closer to 29/30" these days, so while the bust, shoulders, and hip fit in a relaxed way (like they would if the dress were rayon), the waist is nice and form-fitting, with no alterations made to sizing. If I'd wanted a tight-fitting, body-hugging style, I would have gone with one size smaller.

Stitch Mechanics
On the t-shirt you're wearing, you'll notice the edges of the seam allowances are all overcast with a serger, and the hems are sewn with two lines of stitching. Professional garment manufacture is different than what you need to be considering for home-sewing, and you don't need to reproduce it.

Jersey knit (t-shirt fabric) doesn't ravel on the edges, but it does curl. I turned up my hems with stitch witch and stitches with a long-ish single stitch with the wooly nylon thread. In testing the strength of my stitch, I stretched the fabric out a bit. None of my stitches broke, so I left the hems at that.

The body seams, on the other hand, are sewn with a very narrow zig zag, just barely zigging. The wooly nylon thread in combo with the barely-there zig zag creates and even stretchier stitch, which is good for seams that will be stressed, like side, waist, and shoulder seams. I ran a second line of wider zig zag stitches in the seam allowance next to the seam, then cut off the excess seam allowance. I did not overlock, overcast, or zig zag right on the edge of the fabric - my machine just ate it, stretches it all out, and made a mess. It's safer to stitch, making sure not to stretch the fabric as it goes through the machine, then trim. With 1/2" or 5/8" seam allowances, this is no problem at all.

Soft, thin knits love being gathered, shirred, and ruched.
A few more tips:
  • The stretchiest direction of your fabric should go around the body.
  • No closures! YEEHAW!
  • Don't pull the fabric through the machine. Just let it be taken by the feed dogs.
  • Sew your sleeves flat - attach the front and back of the bodice at the shoulder seams and lay it out flat. With the sleeve still completely flat, pin it to the bodice, matching shoulder seam, all the marks, and underarm seam on each side. Stitch. Now when you do your last fitting, you can take up the side seams and the underarm sleeve seam as needed, and stitch all together. I've used this method on wovens lots of times, and it makes setting the sleeves on knits a gazillion times easier.
Feeling better about sewing with knit yardage now? I hope so! Knits are totally period (even for evening wear!) and so comfortable to wear. We're a t-shirt society these days, but how awesome would it be to roll out of bed and put on a fabulous 1930s or 1940s dress that's just as comfy but looks fantastic?

So I encourage you to try it! It takes a little collecting of those proper tools, but once you're up and running you'll be genuinely amazed at how easy it is, and then you'll wonder why you were so afraid.

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments below!

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Monday, October 26, 2015

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My New Victorian Corset by Anachronism in Action

Over my years of historical costuming, I've learned enough about corsetry to know I know nothing.

This is engineering to a T, with bust-to-waist ratios, shaping, materials knowledge and use, construction techniques, and fitting methods that I am not very well versed in. CAN I make my own corsets? Yes, and I have, but none of them have ever really been fitted well to me, or very comfortable.

So I've taken the plunge and had a Victorian corset custom-made for me.

The maker is Anachronism in Action, who produces stunningly beautiful corsets for all sorts of applications. One of her most famous (and my favorite) is her Lady Loki.

Kelly is a professional entertainment industry costumer with loads of experience, so I felt confident that I would be getting a properly made, properly fitted, properly historical piece.

I initially provided Kelly with a whole mess of measurements, from which she did the mock up corset. At Costume College, we met in person for a fitting and discussion about materials, trims, boning materials, and boning channel placement.

My corset arrived shortly thereafter and I've begun to season it, or break it in - wearing the corset lightly laced each day, to allow the fabric and boning to shape to my body and form its "memory."

Yup, those are my ribs - the benefits of a custom-made corset is that all your measurements are accounted for. I have always had trouble fitting my ribcage, and usually I have pinching there, but not with this corset!
I so happy with this piece! It's so nice to finally have just the right corset that I can reliably build my Victorian costumes over and wear for a full day without pinching, chaffing, or pain.

As I season the corset, I will be able to lace the waist tighter, but leave plenty of room in the bust and waist (you can see I have the bust too tight here - my back fat is spilling over!
If you're interested in a custom-made corset by Anachronism in Action, check out her Etsy shop and consider requesting a custom order.
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Friday, October 23, 2015

Oxblood Stratford Elizabethan Shoes ON SALE

I know many of you have been patiently waiting, so here's the official announcement:

Oxblood Stratford Elizabethan Shoes are on SALE at

We have a new shipment of oxblood Stratfords arriving next month. The first run ran a half size small, and we've corrected the sizing issue in this next lot. We can't mix the two batches, so we're clearing out the oldies to make room for the new.

Click through to go to the Sale

The Stratfords are some of the most beautiful and accurate shoes we've ever produced. Designed in collaboration with artisan historic cordwainer Francis C. Classe, the all-leather Stratfords feature a continuous leather sole, historic slashing pattern, and welt stitching details.

A portion of every sale goes to support Francis in his research and recreation of 16th and 17th century shoemaking practices and techniques. Without independent scholars like Francis, we would have precious little information on early footwear and how it was made.

The sale runs until we're sold out. We have about 30 pairs left in a selection of sizes. Remember that this original run of Stratford runs a half size small - be sure to size up when ordering!*

*Stratfords are B width (average). If you are B width, order a half size up. If you are C width, order a full size up and add shoe stretch spray to your order. With all-leather construction and no vamp seaming, Stratfords can be stretched for width.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How to Add Shaped Pockets to Pants and Skirts

Pockets. We need them.

We put things in them. They keep our hands warm. They're conspicuous in their absence on pants, and a pleasure when included in skirts.

Quite a lot of women's pants patterns, and most skirt patterns, do not include pockets. What a shame, and how annoying, we say, but luckily, pockets are easy to add!

There are many different kinds of pockets, so it's important to choose the right kind for your project. For example, on pants that fit slim or tight through the hips, you want to avoid an in-seam pocket, which will pull open, and go for a shaped pocket, which will stay flat across the front.

Here's how to add a shaped pocket:

(click for a larger image)
Now in practice:

Left to right - the pants leg with the pocket shape cut out; the pocket facing; the pocket bag "fill in"

Here's the back (inside) of the pants leg - the pocket facing and pocket bag are stitched together around the bottom.

From the front - the pocket opening is finished cleanly with a top stitch. The completed pocket bag is secured to the side seam and waist seam in the seam allowances. This piece is now treated as one and  sewn together with the rest of the pants, according to the pattern instructions.
The great thing about this method is that you can make the pocket bags as big and deep or narrow and shallow as you want. You can create interesting shapes with the cutout edge, too. This method creates a pocket that stays flat at the front rather than pulls open under stress.

Once you get the hang of it, you'll be cutting pockets into everything!
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Monday, October 19, 2015

An Easy Thrifted and Me-Made 1930s Fall Outfit

With so many fanciful gowns from various centuries lingering in my closet, 20th century items just feel like normal clothes now.

Which is great!

Sure, I wear my share of skinny jeans, Target t-shirts, and hoodies, but when I want to look "put together," I always go for something vintage inspired, and usually separates at that.

It's so easy to throw a quick outfit together with those few key pieces. One of my key pieces is a 1930s navy blue wool gabardine skirt. It transitions between seasons perfectly, and despite people thinking I look like a granny, I feel elegant wearing it.

This past weekend it rained and was chilly, so I paired the 1930s skirt with knit tights, leather oxfords, wool beret, and a new '30s style sweater, belted at the waist. The sweater is actually from the '70s, another time when an interest in early 20th century fashion was popular. Despite the sweater being 100% "PolyAcryl" (we don't even use that term today!), it's comfortable to wear, easy to care for, and definitely looks the part.

1970s-does-30s sweater detail. That collar! Sweater was from KatadrianVintage on Etsy.
I call this my "Bonnie" outfit. I just need the pistol to complete the look. :-)
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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

8 Easy Historical Halloween Costume Ideas

It's nearly Halloween time, and I'm sure you're all thinking about (or working feverishly on) your costumes!

Halloween can be a weird time for historical costumers. We costume all year long, and have closets full of outfits already, so why make something totally new? Here are eight ways to Halloween-ize historical and vintage pieces that you may already have lurking...

The Shade of Marie Antoinette

If you're an 18th c. costumer, this one's easy! The last quarter of the 18th century saw plenty of bloodshed in Europe and America. With a bit of makeup, easily use your 1770s, 80s, or 90s gown to become a victim of the guillotine or casualty of the Revolutionary War.

Dress: Made by me
Hat: Trimmed by me
Shoes: "Kensington" 18th Century Shoes in Oxblood with "Cavendish" 18th c. shoe buckles

Here I'm wearing my Chemise a la Reine with black accessories, but I've done my makeup in green and brown tones, and used a red lip liner pencil to draw the guillotine cut on my neck. Creepy!

The Victorian Witch

If you have a bustle gown in your closet, convert it to witchery with some simple accessories - a spidery scarf, a primitive broom, and of course the classic pointed hat. Some dark makeup and long black gloves take your otherwise perfectly historical gown to Hallow's Eve spec.

Dress: Made by me
Broom: Made by Debbie
Scarf: Bohomonde
The great thing about witch costumes is that they can be from any period. Fear of witches goes back thousands of years,so convert any of your Medieval, Renaissance, 17th century, Georgian, Regency, or Victorian outfits with just accessories and makeup.

A Ghost of Titanic

With your 1912 Titanic or Downton Abbey outfit, it's easy to create an unlucky ghost. Get creative with frosty makeup - white and blue tones, particularly around the eyes and lips.

Dress: Vintage Dancer
Coat: Thrifted
Hat: Thrifted
The Mummy Flapper

In the 1920s, Halloween became all the rage, with magazines and pattern companies offering hundreds of costume ideas and options. Popular among them were clowns, cats, harlequins, and mummies.

Interest in Egypt was at an all time high, with the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Egyptian motifs were worked into art, design, and architecture, so it's not surprising that the spookier aspects of the ancient culture were appropriated for All Hallow's Eve.

Dress: Vintage Dancer
Scarves: Bohomonde
Shoes: "Gatsby" T-Straps in Bronze/Gold from Royal Vintage
To create an easy 1920s mummy, use a flapper dress as the starting point, then wrap your limbs in white gauze strips or scarves.

Art Deco Spider or Bat Woman

Here's a simple costume with a big impact. With any slinky black evening gown, attach a broad drape of sheer "spidery" fabric on the back. Attach the ends of the sheer to your wrists or fingers.

Dress: Vintage Dancer
This costume is based on this image, and the idea can be used for any kind of wing-like effect.

The idea is an old one, as seen on these earlier bat costumes:

The Pinup Black Cat

An easy and adorable classic, create a 1930s/40s pinup black cat costume simply by adding ears or a mask and a tail to a 'retro playsuit.

The 1940s saw the rise of the themed pinup, and there are tons of examples of pinup witches, pinup scarecrows, pinup bats, and pinup cats.

Playsuit - Vintage Dancer (lots of options)
Shoes: "Lola" 1940s Ankle Straps from Royal Vintage
For this cute costume, we paired a black playsuit with '40s style shoes, hair, and makeup, then just added the cat mask, tail, and fuzzy gloves. Simples!

1950s Black Widow

To convert a black '50s dress to a great Halloween party frock, just break out the sparkle. With rhinestone chain, strung sequins, or even narrow silver tape, create an off-center spiderweb on your skirt.
Dress: Vintage Dancer (lots of options)
Scarf: Bohomonde
Shoes: "Tyra" retro Oxfords from Royal Vintage

Think of it like the creepy version of the poodle skirt!

1960s Jack-o-Lantern Mini

Our last historical costume is another super-simple idea. Tack a jack-o-lantern face onto an orange mini dress, top with a green scarf for the "stem," and big hair, and you're ready for a swingin' Halloween party.

Dress: Forever 21
Scarf: Bohomonde

Remember, nearly all of these ideas can be used for lots of other time periods. The bat wings, rhinestone spiderweb, jack-o-lantern face, and black cat accessories are classic themes that can be used to dress up vintage or historical costume pieces.

So be creative! If you don't fancy making something new for Halloween, a little effort can have a lot of impact with something already in your closet. Most importantly, too - HAVE FUN!

For lots more historical and vintage Halloween ideas, check out my Pinterest board.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015


Enter the Royal Vintage Halloween Photo Contest!

It's October! Enter all things pumpkin, the spreading of polyester spider web on *everything*, and the sudden sprouting of Spirit Halloween Stores all over the country. In 31 days it shall be Halloween, which means costumes!

This year, my new company Royal Vintage Shoes is hosting a Halloween-themed photo contest! It's easy to play, with lots of categories, and many chances to win. Here we go...

Vintage, Retro, Historical! Photos should exhibit old-fashioned subject matter such as clothing, costumes, activities, places, or situations. Don't be afraid to interpret the categories in creative ways.

  • Must hashtag and tag (@royalvintageshoes photograph to enter
  • Submit as many photos as you like
  • You may submit the same photo to multiple categories
  • Photos may be old, but must be posted on your Instragram feed anew. We will not be able to find hashtagged photos from way back.
  • Photos must be your own photography work, or posted with permission from the photographer.
  • Photos do not have to be of you. Feel free to interpret the categories however you like - take photos of people, objects, places, pets, etc
  • No racist, sexist, hate-oriented photos, please.
  • ZombieLife - Rise from the grave and show us your best vintage zombie inspiration #zombielife15
  •  The Great Pumpkin - Pumpkin patch, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice latte. Take a pumpkin-themed Fall photo #thegreatpumpkin15
  • Frankenvintage - Stitch it together and bring it back to life! #frankenvintage15
  • Monster Mash - Party like it's sixteen-, seventeen-, or eighteen ninety-nine.#monstermash15
  • The Lady in Black - mourning, magic, mystery... #theladyinblack15
  • The Devil Wears - Fill in the blank! #thedevilwears15
  • Witches and Warlocks - From Eastwick to Hogwarts... #witchesandwarlocks15
  • Hellboy - Take a Halloween-themed photo of yourself! (Boy's category) #hellboy15
  • Hellgirl - Take a Halloween-themed photo of yourself! (Girl's category) #hellgirl15
  • Rosemary's Baby - Capture your spooky spawn in their Halloween best #rosemarysbaby15
How to Enter

Post your photo on the Royal Vintage Shoes Facebook wall. Hashtag the submission category you choose (can choose multiple categories). Tag Royal Vintage Shoes in your photo.

Public Instagram accounts only, please. Tag @royalvintageshoes in your photo, using the tag people option. Hashtag the submission category (can choose multiple categories)

Example: Marie Antoinette's lost her head. Eek! Happy Halloween! My entry to the @royalvintageshoes Halloween Photo Contest! #zombielife15
One winner per category will receive a $20 gift certificate to

Winners will be announced here, on Facebook, and on Instagram November 1st, 2015!

*We must be able to contact you - if we cannot contact the winner of a category, we will pass the prize on to the second place submission.

Email [email protected] with any questions.
 *Royal Vintage Shoes reserves the right to share, re-gram, and re-post submitted photos (with credit to the photographer).
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