Recycled Book Clutches

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I’d been eyeing this zipped clutch tutorial from See Kate Sew for months. Then when I made brunch plans with a few friends for last Saturday (which happened to be February 13th), my inner Leslie Knope kicked in, and I decided to DIY some Galentine’s Day gifts.

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Source: Giphy


I stopped by Salvation Army to pick up some old hardback books. Playing off the Valentine’s Day theme, my initial hope was that there would be some comically cheesy oldtimey erotica, with like, a shirtless Fabio type on the cover. That would be funny, no? Sadly, there was no such thing.

Amongst the books I did find, however, was a cloying novel entitled How to Meet Cute Boys. Usually the idea of destroying books hurts me a little bit, but I rather enjoyed ripping this one apart. If I hadn’t already recycled the pages, I would read a bit to you now. You would laugh and cringe and then cry, probably.

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Then I had a crisis of self-doubt—I thought it was hi-larious, but would a recipient find the book title insulting? I saw it as subversion—a repurposing of chick lit for more practical and stylish ends… but that didn’t necessarily mean said friend would feel that way.

So I chickened out… and decided to keep this one for myself. Everyone wins!

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I basically followed the See Kate Sew instructions to the letter. I did use hot glue instead of the specified glue, because it was what I had on hand, and it seemed to work ok.

I am also now OBSESSED with Heat ‘n Bond. It has made me realize that there are a lot of things around me that probably need to have fabric stuck to them.

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Anyway, the nice thing about this project is that it can make a strong visual impact without requiring much fabric—it’s a good stash buster. The fabric for Cute Boys is a bright, mod floral—I found it in a bargain bin in a vintage clothing store in Lugano, Switzerland.

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For Novel Destinations, I used these complementary bold botanical prints—canvas-type fabrics—that I found at my Salvation Army here in Chicago a while back.

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For Left Bank, I chose not to add fabric to the front and back covers; the Parisian street scenes are charming as they are. For the lining and zippered portions, I used complementary floral oilcloths that I coincidentally also picked up in Switzerland, though these were purchased in a little boutique in Bern.

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(Side note: the oilcloth holds its shape really well, doesn’t fray, and doesn’t require the Heat ‘n Bond—but the shiny/slick side also does not stick to hot glue very well. I ended up using bias tape to bind the edges, then gluing the bias tape).

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I also lined each book with a single piece of fabric across both inside covers and the inside spine—it looked a little neater than in the tutorial. And I added an extra piece of fabric to create a couple of pockets: one to fit standard IDs/credit cards, and one for cash.

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To complete the gifts, I added these Galentine’s-Day-appropriate pocket mirrors from Paper Source. And I couldn’t resist—and totally splurged on—these adorable mini notebooks from Ted Baker. I am such a sucker for anything that comes with a teeny, tiny pen attached—possibly because it reminds me of a dance card (I say that like I totally remember dance cards from real life and not just movies).

Source: First Impressions


Happy belated Galentine’s Day!

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Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

This super awesome 80s 2-piece dress was $2 at a garage sale. 2 legit 2 quit. Although I guess it’s actually three pieces if you count that magnificent belt.

Before: Those are serious shoulder pads.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Even with my hipster glasses on (yes, they are prescription lenses), I can’t really pull this off. It feels like I’m jumping the gun on my Wacky Old Broad persona, into which I fully hope to evolve over the next 30 years, but which sadly is premature at this moment.

The first thing I did was rip out the shoulder pads. It felt great, let me tell you. Then I cut out the weird black choker of a collar and widened the neckline. Lastly, I cropped the top.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Definitely better.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

The collar-to-calf black-and-white print is still kind of overwhelming though. Like… it’s a bit much. I’m trying to resist my natural instinct to cut several inches off the bottom of the skirt, because I really like its length when it’s worn without the matching top.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

A crop top is a tricky garment to pull off in real time—as a general rule, I believe that 30-year-old belly buttons should retire from public life. So, apart from the matching skirt, I was skeptical that this top could be mixed/matched into my wardrobe as a garment in its own right. Luckily, it goes just fine with my high-waisted, pleated MOM PANTS.

CropTop

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

I think the belt, sadly, is beyond salvaging. RIP belt.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Blooming Champagne Shift Dress

I am hooked on making simple, easy dresses right now. I would like to think that this is because I actually really want to wear simple, easy dresses and not because I’m lazy, but in reality, it’s probably a combo meal.

This shift dress was a cinch to make, and it feels surprisingly lovely and sophisticated, if I do say so myself.

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That lovely-and-sophisticated impression is owed in large part to the fabric, I think—my mom picked up 1.5 yards secondhand at a quilt fair for $4. Given the limited yardage and the scale of the print, I had to be pretty strategic about flower placement. I really didn’t want to have an Adam and Eve moment.

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FloralDressBack

The pattern is from Simple Modern Sewing by Shufu To Seikatsu Sha, a great resource for creating your own wardrobe basics. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, and I also appreciate that the accompanying diagrams are big-picture oriented.

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SimpleModernSewingDresses

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Detail of the lapped shoulder—a new design element for me. I’m a fan.

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Yeah, I don’t know. A dress can only do so much for one’s loveliness and sophistication.

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The Yes-I’d-Like-to-Sample-All-the-Flavors Dress

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When I first saw this fabric on the clearance table at JoAnn, it weirdly reminded me of Henry van de Velde’s Tropon ad from 1898. Only instead of using Cadbury-esque swirls to sell a processed egg product, these pretty pastels could be pushing saltwater taffy. Or macarons. Or gelato. I might have been very hungry while I was shopping. Regardless, I ended up buying the limited yardage that was left.

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It’s definitely a wacky—or shall we say unique?—abstract cotton print. And I struggled a bit with what to do with it. After sitting in my stash for a couple of years (yes, years), a project started to take shape in my head. I wanted it to be an easy, breezy throw-on dress for summer—sort of oversized and shapeless to (hopefully) balance the saccharine print. Hurrah for this summer’s Return of The Caftan!

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(This is more of a drop-waist dress than a true caftan I guess—but it’s still flowy and effortless.)

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Anyway, with a half-formed direction in mind, I pored through my terrifyingly vast collection of patterns—but I couldn’t find quite what I was looking for. So I decided to wing it.

A gentle reminder to my future self: you always say you will wing it. The process that inevitably follows can be described as “winging it” inasmuch as a 5oz European swallow tied to a 1lb coconut “wings it.” Or, if you’re more of a visual person, it’s akin to this.

Cut first, ask questions later, amiright? Nervous laughter. Just kidding, guys! (Kind of.)

As you are probably imagining, I took several wrong turns, with lots of seam-picking and re-stitching. There was some dallying with facings, which were eventually discarded in favor of bias tape binding. But I found this tutorial on faking plackets invaluable—perhaps you will too.

Eventually I got there—I was actually pleasantly surprised by the final result. Hence the abundance of photos of this one.

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One change I would make, however: I’d address the back neckline differently, probably using a more shallow curve. From this angle, it looks a little like I’m wearing the dress backwards. Meh.

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I can throw it on to run errands, but I can also dress it up and hit the town. And by town, I mean the local fro-yo place, obvi. See you there!

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Table Runner T-shirt

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

I found these pretty linens at a grade school yard sale a few weeks ago. Some are embroidered, some are crocheted, and I got the entire assortment of table runners, tea towels, napkins and doilies for less than $10.

Vintage linens

They aren’t in the best condition—there are holes, tears or stains on most of the pieces—but they all have salvageable sections. Perfect for a little upcycling.

Vintage linens

Inspired by a top that I saw at Anthropologie, I made my mom an embellished t-shirt for Mother’s Day.

I started with a blue and white lace table runner and a generic, basic white t:

T-shirt: before

First thing’s first: I cut off the uncomfortable crew neck, creating a wider, boatneck shape. Then I cut a panel out of the top back section of the tee and replaced it with a segment of the table runner. I placed the finished edge of the table runner along the neckline—the scallops look lovely, and it was nice and easy not to have to worry about additional finishing!

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

And I used blue single-fold bias tape to finish the front of the neckline.

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

That’s all there was to it! Easy peasy!

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

Fabulous Find: Jean Louis 1960s Chevron Day Dress

The Mad Men series finale was Sunday night—I loved it, but I’m also in mourning for the show’s passing. My brilliant plan (as of about two weeks ago) was to create a 60s or 70s-style garment from scratch, using a vintage pattern and vintage fabric, by the time the finale aired. Not only did I not finish, I did not even begin. Not only did I not even begin, I picked out neither pattern nor fabric. I will get it done! Later this summer I will get it done. I hope.

I did, however, hit up the Vintage Garage flea market here in Chicago on Sunday, where the theme of the day was Midcentury Modern. Very fitting!

My sister snagged this amazing dress from the 60s:

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Even pulled on over her clothes, it looks both chic and cheery.

Can’t you picture sassy 1970s Peggy Olson wearing this?

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We did a little bit of research once we got home and discovered that the name on the label—Jean Louis—is that of a renowned and prolific twentieth-century costume designer. A thirteen-time Academy Award nominee, Jean Louis Berthault dressed dozens of starlets, from Katharine Hepburn to Judy Garland. Perhaps his most famous (or infamous) designs are the barely-there gowns of Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, including Monroe’s slinky “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” number. The Naked-Except-For-Strategically-Placed-Sparkes Look continues to be relevant today. Unfortunately. Looking at you, Beyonce, Kardashian and Lopez.

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Sources—left to right: Pretty Clever Films | alwaysmarilynmonroe.co.uk

On a less dramatic note, Jean Louis started his own ready-to-wear label in 1961. We are guessing that my sister’s dress is from one of those collections. Most of what we could find online was evening and cocktail wear, so this day dress seems like kind of an anomaly. Read more about Jean Louis here.

Dresses from Jean Louis’s Label
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Also worth noting—the geometric color-blocking of this dress is in line with recent trends too.

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Well done, sis!! What a find!!

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Valentine’s Day Dress

Valentine’s Day was practically made for me. Well, me and Saint Valentine. I mean, it’s a holiday involving paper doilies, heart-shaped cookies that turn your teeth pink, teeny tiny envelopes, and the worst (best) poetry and puns imaginable. Get out.

But alas, as I get older, Valentine’s Day seems to fall into the same category as Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Adulthood and his buddy, Expectations, typically crash the party, draining the Awesomeness dry but leaving behind a big puddle of Disappointment for me to mop up in the morning.

Not so this year. I am taking control of Valentine’s Day and indulging in my most decadent fantasy.

Yes, that’s right: Being Warm.

I am ignoring the brutal winds and mountains of dirty ice crust. Instead of snow as dry as sand, why not imagine actual sun-baked sand? What is bliss if not the commingling of sunscreen and sweat?

Ergo, this week I made the sweetest summer dress in the sweetest floral print.

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McCall’s Pattern M6739—I chose Option A, with the ruffled hem on the side panels. The more flounces the better, obviously.

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What? Oh, I’m sorry—I must have dozed off.

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I’m back now.

While the final result is great for the Valentine’s Day of my mind and heart, in real life I think that this dress in a modern, geometric print—perhaps even two contrasting geometric prints—would be perfection. OR I could see making it up in a special occasion fabric, and it would be very Lady Rose MacClare.

Anyway, the moral of the story is Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you do something special for yourself to celebrate.

Faux Fur Shrug

Back in November, I resolved to make a shrug from this vintage pattern (Advance 6184).

VintagePattern Advance 6184

Now, the finished garment!

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I did not originally intend to make this jacket so… fluffy. But then I found this fabric, and I couldn’t resist.

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It’s an exceptionally soft and cozy faux fur, and it makes me feel over-the-top ridiculous in the best possible way. If you squint really hard, maybe you can imagine Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe in something similar (only real, obviously), accessorized with long white gloves and some sass.

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Grace Kelly, Hola Magazine | Source
Marilyn Monroe | Source

Production Notes:

  • Working with vintage patterns is sometimes tricky on account of what the heck are they even talking about. So I did what I usually do in such cases: I cut out the pattern pieces and put them together in the way that made the most sense to me.
  • The fabric was mildly inconvenient to work with—it disintegrated a bit with every cut. I still might be inhaling fabric shreds.
  • In this case, using a traditional lining fabric seemed completely counterproductive to me. Why turn the soft, warm, faux-furry goodness outwards towards the elements, only to place a shiny, cool-to-the-touch shell next to my skin? Crazy. Instead, I used the faux fur to line the shrug too. So much cozier this way!

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I’m quite pleased with how this turned out, and I wore it—happy and snuggily—to a couple of black tie affairs that I attended in December (I know—la-dee-dah).

But it is also the kind of thing you can really only get away with around the holidays, when everyone goes about in a spiced-wine-induced haze of Good Will Toward Men, and velvet and lamé suddenly become acceptable life choices.

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Glamour personified. If you squint really hard, maybe you can imagine that I’m not such a goober.

The Lost Art of Dress

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Art-Dress-America-Stylish/dp/0465036716/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416362700&sr=1-1&keywords=the+lost+art+of+dress&pebp=1416362704565

 

Last week I was privileged to attend a small dinner at which Linda Przybyszewski briefly spoke about her new book The Lost Art of Dress. In preparation, I’d already devoured said book from cover to cover the week prior. I’m not a big history/non-fiction reader, but I read it in about four days, pulling it out at my desk over lunch breaks, and re-reading my favorite parts once I had finished.

Nerd.

From the inside front flap: “In the first half of the twentieth century, a remarkable group of women—the so-called Dress Doctors—taught American women how to stretch each yard of fabric and dress well on a budget.” Part American History, part Women’s Studies, part Art Foundations, and part History of Fashion, The Lost Art of Dress is just that—an in-depth overview of the rules by which people—particularly women—dressed themselves in the 20th Century. Rules which, post 1970s feminism, largely were deemed irrelevant and so were forgotten.

At first, I was a bit skeptical of the book’s message—The Dress Doctors (and Przybyszewski, seemingly) found fault with everything from the sheath dress (it’s confining) to the mixing of prints (it’s disorienting) to the shapeless silhouette of the 60s and 70s (it’s juvenile and unflattering). Other people have to look at you, so dress courteously, missy. Whereas my approach tends to be no judgement, dude. Dress for yourself.

But the more I read—and especially after listening to Przybyszewski speak (she’s very funny!)—the more I became persuaded that maybe I’ve been doing this whole Getting Dressed thing wrong all along.

So here are my key takeaways, thoughts that I’ve been mulling over this week:

  • Women used to shop for (and make!) a cohesive wardrobe with an emphasis on beauty, practicality, appropriateness, economy, and quality over quantity (cough-Forever 21-cough). How many garments do I own that fit comfortably into all of those categories? Pitifully few, and most of those that do are vintage.
  • As a former art/architecture student, I recognize that there are historically-established principles of beauty. As an individual born into postmodernism, I take it for granted that these principles can be ignored. But it’s not necessarily true that they should be ignored.
  • I suppose this is very obvious, but it’s something I never really thought to question: there’s a serious double-standard of dress for men and women. This week Australian TV presenter Karl Stefanovic proved it—women’s appearances are under much more scrutiny than men’s. Additionally, men aren’t compelled to sex it up in order to feel and/or be perceived as attractive. Women are. For formal occasions, men don more articles of clothing—women get nakeder. Przybyszewski writes at the end of her book: “Dress for the people you love… Flesh exposed all the time has far less effect than flesh revealed for a privileged few. People who receive privileges should be appropriately grateful.” Isn’t that wise? I am resolved to bear this in mind from now on.
  • The Dress Doctors embraced aging, recognizing that wisdom comes with experience, and reserving more elaborate styles for older, more sophisticated women. Again, how lovely.
  • I bought copies of the book for both my mom and my grandma for Christmas—and I can’t wait to hear their personal takes on how dressing has evolved during their lifetimes. Mandatory Family Book Club! Yay!

As a (VERY) amateur seamstress, lover of all most things vintage, and a frequent patron of used bookstores, I’ve started accumulating quite a collection of old sewing books, patterns and magazines. I enjoy looking at the retro pictures—there are some hilariously terrible diy ideas and groovy decorating tips. I also actually use them for reference if I run into any technical problems while working on a project: What’s a French seam again? How do you make a buttonhole?

But The Lost Art of Dress has given me insight into the historical context of these books—and to what these books likely meant to their former owners.

This Singer Sewing Book from 1951 was written by Mary Brooks Picken, who Przybyszewski cites as being the first of the Dress Doctors. In addition to introducing hand and machine sewing vocabulary and techniques, this volume includes a range of practical advice from color theory to how best to decorate a studio apartment.

SingerSewingBook

My mom found this collection of pamphlets from the 1930s and 40s at an estate sale (I think)—some of them were produced by the US Department of Agriculture | Bureau of Home Economics (The Dress Doctors strike again!) The subject: how to buy things. Something I’ve never had a problem with, har har har,

BetterBuymanship

I was amused by the idea of these pamphlets at first—how hard is it to buy hosiery?—but I hadn’t given them much of a second look due to a serious lack of pretty pictures combined with a serious lack of attention span.

But the thought that very evidently went into shopping at this time (post-depression/early WWII) is truly impressive. Clothes were an investment, something special and cherished.

For example, Better Buymanship No. 23: Fabrics, a 40-page pamphlet of goodness brought to you in 1940 by the Household Finance Corporation and Subsidiaries, takes great pains to differentiate between “worsted” and “woolen,” to detail the different qualities of cotton, to explain silk dye regulations, to talk about how different fabrics are made, how they will age and how to care for them. It’s a vocabulary that’s been all but eradicated from the life of the average consumer today.
BuyingGuide

The below spread from Farmers’ Bulletin No. 1851: Women’s Dresses and Slips, A Buying Guide, written in 1940 by Clarice Louisa Scott from the Bureau of Home Economics, illustrates the many activities you must anticipate when trying on a dress (sitting is hard sometimes, y’all). Scott also warns of sizing discrepancies: there is “no assurance that any two dresses marked the same will fit the same.” Sound familiar?

Fun fact: this particular pamphlet also at one point belonged to someone named Norma.

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This article in the January 1955 issue of Ladies Home Journal details how to take a single dress (that you’ve made yourself, obvi) and style it seven different ways simply by switching out the accessories (that you’ve also made yourself, obvi).

Add a “bias fold of white pique” and a few carnations. How about a “crisp white dickey” and red cummerbund? Or “an amusing overskirt of navy organdy embroidered with white dots”? All the necessary patterns are listed for easy reference. Pinterest Shminterest.

Can you imagine any magazine—any magazine that isn’t strictly a sewing magazine, that is—including a feature like this today?

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Similarly, “The Casual Look for Spring” cover photo and story from this March 1964 issue of Woman’s Day is actually a sewing lesson—”More clothes for less money: A Spring Wardrobe for Less than $70.00.” That’s right, the cover photo of a major magazine features garments “homemade” from Simplicity patterns.

Woman'sDayCombo

Moving forward in time, Przybyszewski references—with disdain, of course—The Illustrated Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book by Sharon Rosenberg and Joan Wiener. This is pretty much exactly the opposite of the teachings of the Dress Doctors, in every way imaginable. I gleefully uncovered this in a used bookstore last summer, but at around $12, even I thought it was way overpriced. So I snapped a photo, and made a note of my favorite quote: “What this book won’t help you do is make clothing that has stuff like darts… We don’t use darts because we don’t use bras.”

Classic.

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Anyway, the final feeling I took from both The Lost Art of Dress and the lecture was incredibly empowering. Przybyszewski writes in her last chapter: “Dressmaking offers worlds of creation and imagination… Dressmaking is a form of engineering. And in order to make the final product look good from the outside, a dress is put together inside out. Show me a bridge builder who’s been asked to that.” Buoyed up by a message like that, I can’t wait to dig into my stockpile of vintage patterns and tackle my next sewing project, paltry skills be damned.

I have a few formal occasions coming up around the holidays, to which I was planning to wear a long, backless dress. For the sake of modesty—and warmth!—wouldn’t this jacket (Advance 6184) be a lovely addition? I think the Dress Doctors would approve.

VintagePattern