Vintage McCall 5336: Things I have learned from sewing vintage

I am often asked about sewing vintage patterns.  I don’t use them as often as some bloggers, though I do have a collection!  I finished up a vintage dress today, and I thought it might be nice to blog about some of the difficulties found in sewing something from another era.  Here is my pattern, McCall’s 5336 from 1976.  I have a hard time calling the 70s vintage, but I suppose they are!

Lesson #1: The drawings can be more fanciful than modern envelope illustrations.

This dress looks to have a certain elegance.  I liked the full sleeves and tall neckline.  The skirt appears to skim the body nicely under the empire bust. The pattern is in my size, or at least the size recommended for my measurements.  When I cut and basted the pattern for fitting, here is what I actually got:

                               “Would you like to buy a nice caftan?”

I guess it looks like the drawing… if you squint… and if my legs were twice as long.  This is actually the shorter length of the pattern.   I hate to think how long the maxi would have been!   I am tall (5’8″) and generally do not have trouble with long hemlines.   Fashion illustrations tend to have disproportionately long legs, so if you aren’t paying attention it can be misleading.  Looking closer, I can see that the dress is illustrated hitting below her knees, and that her femur is approximately twice the length it would be on an actual, non-mutant human.  But length can be altered easily. What about the fit?

Lesson #2: Sizing can be wildly inconsistent.

Vintage patterns are sized for the era in which they were designed.  Women in the past wore different undergarments, which may have radically altered the shape of their torsos.  Different eras also called for differing amounts of ease.  I find that vintage (pre 1980) patterns and garments are considerably smaller in the shoulders than modern patterns.  Since I have wide shoulders for my size (and they aren’t getting smaller with all the weights I’ve been lifting!) I have to watch for that issue.

Other things I know to watch for: 1950s patterns tend to run very small in the waist, and very large in the bust.  As a smaller busted person, I have to both cut the waist larger and do a small bust adjustment for patterns of that era.  The bust darts can also be strangely shaped.  Patterns from the later parts of the 1960s are often illustrated considerably more fitted than they actually are.   Most companies use terminology like “close fitting” “fitted and flared” and “loose fitting.”  Pay attention to these terms, as they have actual meaning (going back to old sewing books will tell you how many inches of ease each term allowed, and it does vary by company.)  I can tell you that I don’t attempt any pattern that says it is “fitted and flared,” as they always turn out more flared and less fitted, but that’s a personal preference.

Lesson #3: Learn to fit as you go

Have you see this video?

Pattern for Smartness is a “how to sew with patterns” video by Simplicity in 1948.  Printed patterns were pretty new then, and it goes into some detail about them!  The interesting thing to me is the fitting – there is a little tissue fitting, but most fitting is done after basting the garment together to check for fit.  This is also the case for most of the vintage sewing manuals I own.  It seems that the idea of making a muslin or toile wasn’t really done.  Now, we all know that I recommend making muslins, especially when you are starting out, or if the fabric is very dear.  As you keep sewing, you will find you have certain alternations that you always make, and learn how to adjust without a muslin.  I make the most adjustments to length  and to the side seams, both of which I prefer to do at the end.  I try to always make my side seams last, so that I can check fit.  My enthusiasm for this method does not extend to basting in sleeves, as in the video, but if I’m really uncertain about something I will occasionally do so.

Luckily, in the case of my pattern I was not shocked.  It is basted together above, including the sleeves in this case.  The sleeves had a rather insane amount of ease (something like 4 inches) so I had to baste them in to see where I should take it out (I promise a tutorial on the sleevecap ease someday soon!)    Here are the problems I found after basting:

1. The length:  I marked 9.5 inches(!) to cut off the hem.

2. The sleeve length:  I reduced the length by 3 inches (I like shorter sleeves.)

3.  The bustline: Sits rather low.  However, I suspected that this was caused by the weight of the incredibly long skirt, so I did not make an adjustment.  Luckily I was right, and it fits now!

4.  The overall size: Too big by several inches above the hips, but it fits ok below.  I marked and then took it in by 4 inches total (2 on each side, so I sewed my seams 1 inch in from the original seams.)  This is more than I usually am willing to do at the sides, as more than 2-3 inches can look odd, but it’s not so bad here.  I only reduced the sleeve circumference   by an inch.

I also decided to leave out the neck facings, as my wool crepe fabric is heavy enough.  I chose to use decorative topstitching around the neck opening and all hems.  The results:

Rear view:

I apologize for not managing any front shots where I am not folding my arms.  I must have been feeling cranky!

I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite dress ever, but it is wearable and warm (made of wool you know, which the video says is very smart in a cold climate!)  The color is not so much my thing, and I really don’t know why I decided to make a pattern from the 70s out of orange fabric, when the primary thing I disliked about the era was all the orange.  I will say that the shoulders are not too tight, probably because it was originally so big!  There is a little wrinkling at the top of the sleeve in the photo, but I think that’s because I stand with unnatural posture for pictures (or because the sleeves were so hard to set in… after removing 2 inches of ease I discovered 2 more, and had to sew them in where they wanted, so they may be a little off grain… that’s what I get for lazy measuring!)

My methods of fitting are my own, and they certainly aren’t the last word on fit!  Some adjustments must be made before cutting, but luckily I am a pretty standard size so I rarely have to do them.  It all comes down to what works for you – I’m still a big fan of muslins, but lately I have no time for them (which is unlikely to get better) so I will always choose finishing a garment!

Patterns I have loved (image intensive!)

I am so close to finishing the 80s pullover… I only have 4 inches (or so) to go before I can start the finishing process.  I could have been finished days ago, but for some reason the back of this sweater is boring me to death.  Possibly because it’s a giant rectangle of stockinette with no shaping.  Don’t get me wrong, I love stockinette, but I like some shaping or something to keep it interesting.  But I’m almost there – I should finish today!

Instead of working on the sweater I’ve been going through my patterns.  I’ve finally scanned in the vintage patterns I want to make (I don’t like to use the books, they are too fragile!) and I’ve rediscovered some lovely patterns I already own.  I like to make something out of every book I keep, otherwise what is the point of keeping them?  I’ve been in the mood to make a few shawls and scarves, and I also found some nice new patterns.  So here are some newly planned projects…

Perfect Pie Shawl from “Weekend Knitting” in some Elann alpaca I’ve had stashed for ages.

Veronica from Rowan 36.  This pattern calls for 4-ply soft doubled, but I’m going to give it a go with DK weight yarn that gives the same gauge, in an indigo color.

Lisette, also from Rowan 36 (4-ply soft), and Brooke(chunky cotton chenille), from the same.  Brooke is crocheted and is a Kim Hargreaves design.  I love Rowan 36, which is the only Rowan mag I own.

 

I’m going to make the Montego bay Sea silk scarf from the current Interweave mag, and I’ve bought a skein of Sea Silk in Glacier to go along with it.  Isn’t the color lovely?  I will soon be selling some sock yarn to get rid of the guilt of how much this skein cost.

 

I want to make Melody’s Shawl from Morehouse farms in the KP laceweight I bought a bit ago.  It has an interesting construction – it’s knit in the round and then cut(!) to make the fringe and open up the shawl.

I love this crocheted sweater from a Phildar book (I must make something from these books!)

And then there are my beloved vintage patterns.  Making the 80s sweater has given me the idea that I would like to make a sweater from lots of different decades… although, I confess, the 70s will be tough.  The only books I own from the 70s are overrun with the granny squares.  Here are a few I like from my collection:

1930s

1940s

 

1950s

 

1960s

As a side note, isn’t the outfit the guy is wearing in the 2nd 50s picture hilarious?  The 40s are possibly my favorite era.  Both of those sweaters have just such lovely details.  The vest (called a jerkin in the book) has two pockets and smaller ribbing to shape the waist area.  It uses fingering weight yarn (do-able in a vest) while all the other patterns show above use somewhere between sport and worsted weight.  These patterns are the exception – I have a number of patterns that call for yarn that gets 8 st/in which would have to be reworked, and a few books from the 1930s trying to convince me that I want to knit with crochet thread at 11 st/in.  No, thanks.

So many patterns… I must get to knitting!

Day of randomness

I’m trapped on the other side of a door from my knitting – There’s a wasp in that room, and I’m leaving it until Marc gets home.  Possibly I have a phobia.  So… it seems like a good day to post about my progress on some random progress.  First up is the Boteh scarf.  I’ve been using it as my carrying project.  It’s perfect because it takes me about 30 minutes to finished one motif, and that’s exactly the length of any breaks I have at work.  I’ve finished eight so far.

I’ve also started a new project, the Victorian Shoulderette by Sivia Harding.  The yarn I’m using is Fleece Artist merino in Moss.  I’m not in general a huge fan of variegated yarns for lace, so I’m not sure about it yet.  This pattern is mostly garter stitch though, so I’m thinking it may work out.  I already like it better in this photo than I thought I would.  I was looking for a quick lacy project, and this fit the bill nicely.

I swatch for an Orangina, but I don’t think I’m ready to start that yet.  I’m worried that I might be short on yardage a bit, and I don’t want to get started only to run out of yarn.  The stitch pattern is fun!

And finally, today in the mail I received the yarn for what I’m calling the “80s Sweater project.”  The yarn is Berroco Glace, 100% rayon that I got for a song on clearance.  It’s also the same yarn called for in the 1985 pattern.  I can’t wait to get started – I think this will be my next sweater.  I may leave off the bobbles… or maybe not.