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Packing… is insane.  Going through years of accumulated crap is on one hand frustrating (it never ends!) and on the other hand entertaining. I packed up my stash yesterday and finally cut off all of those little hangy bits from my remnants that would only be good for making a single spaghetti strap for a kid’s dress. (You’d be surprised how quickly those little hangy bits pile up.) There were a couple of secret thrills (Hey! I didn’t know I had more of this blue-gray plaid wool! There’s enough here for a skirt!) and a whole lot of “Ugh, what was I thinking??” But more on that in a sec.

Trena recently wrote an interesting post about the emotionally difficult task of parting with your own hand-sewn garments. Well, let’s just say that my past is a lot more embarrassing than Trena’s and a LOT easier to part with. Like many sewers, my sewing history has two main chapters.  The part where I start sewing as a kid and continue doing crafty projects and occasional kludgy garments, and then the part during which I decide I’m going to learn to sew properly and make things that I would actually wear as Real Clothes. What I’m about to show you all comes from the first chapter, circa 2003.

I call this collection “Misguided Attempts at Vintage Patterns and DIY Tango Outfits.” Please excuse my just-out-of-the-shower hair and the fact that I didn’t feel like pressing these clothes for their pre-Goodwill trip photo shoot.

First up- partial circle skirt in dark navy with white print.  Actually nothing horrible about this except that it’s really not the sort of thing I’d wear.

Another 1950s pattern frumpified. this one in periwinkle.  This one actually has boning and a side zip which makes me think that maybe I knew more than I think I did. I put this one on and Dan exclaimed, “Ooh! Pretty!” Sometimes I don’t get that guy.

A 1950’s slip pattern done in Swiss dot. Check out the amazing fit on that upper bodice. Yuck!

And another 1950s dress pattern in white cotton with sky blue flowers.  I have to say, by complete coincidence this one actually fits well and it has pretty shoulder ties and a cute ruching detail at the bust. And it’s rather delightfully twirly.  I may keep this one.

Moving onto the more “contemporary” portion of the collection, we have a one shouldered cherry print top (to be fair, I made this as the top half of a tankini *shudder*. I didn’t actually wear it out as a normal top. By coincidence I had a purchased bikini in this exact same print.) The Britney-esque stretch velvet bootleg hipster pants are also a relic of the same era, albeit a purchased one.

And finally, to be completely honest, I did make a one-shoulder top that I did wear out. This one for going tango dancing.  It’s so awesome that I think you need to see it from two angles:

The fabric on this top is an atrocity. It’s practically skin-toned and the red rose print looks like veins.  But I will confess that I sometimes think about pulling this pattern out again and doing a two-sleeved version in all black for my ever increasingly infrequent tango outings.  That crazy slit sleeve was sort of awesomely dramatic for gliding around the dance floor.

And now back to the subject of culling the stash. Yesterday I met Tanit-Isis for an all-too-brief hot chocolate once again.  As you know, The Selfish Seamstress is incapable of affection towards other human beings.  But if she could like people, she would certainly like Tanit-Isis. Not only is she incredibly fun to talk to, but she is the universal accepter of fabric.  There was no fabric too horrible or ugly in the Selfish Seamstress’s collection that Tanit-Isis wouldn’t take it! Acid green and violet iridescent slinky something?  Yep! Mint green polyester georgette?  Tanit-Isis is all over that. A partially cut up fake fur coat? She’ll take it! Vera Wang navy jacquard taffeta? Wait a sec, how’d that get in there?  Dammit.

So readers, if you’ve got fabric to get rid of, send it over to Tanit-Isis. That lady will take anything.  And the Selfish Seamstress has a soft spot for people who like to take things.

Well, despite the fact that Peter mercilessly mocked my poor 1950s rayon cocktail dress (and further questioned my impeccable taste- ridiculous!!), I pushed on with my vintage dress rehab last night, and it’s just about done. There are a couple more small tweaks I need to make here and there, but the big edits are finished. First, here is the “Before” shot:

And now, after fixing the ruching, shoulder straps, sash attachment, lining, and raising the hem (wow, the hem was kind of crazy because it is a really really weird shape on account of the asymmetrical drape thing which was cut as part of the skirt), here is the current state of things:

The color of the dress in the “After” photos is more accurate. I’ll give it a good pressing before the wedding. Tonight it has to get stuffed into a suitcase.

Oh, by the way, a couple of people have asked how I’m able to take pictures with Dan out of town.  The answer is simple: I have a backup fiancé. No, no, kidding. I use a tripod and the timer on my camera.

I always feel a little bit guilty about altering vintage dresses in irreversible ways. But there was no way to get around it for this one, and I also discovered some sort of burn near the hem when it was at its original length, so it really needed to be cut off. It’s clear that this dress was handmade, with no label and lots of handstitching. And in a way it was kind of nice to add my generation of hand stitches to it.

Thank you all for the lively shoe debate! I’m still undecided but I’m leaning towards the silver, even though I like the other shoes better in the absolute sense. Something about a silver dress with gold shoes just isn’t sitting well with me, even if lots of people think I look like a *shudder* prom attendee or *shudder* bridesmaid in this pairing. There’s going to be a traditional Indian ceremony (though guests have been told to wear whatever style of clothing they want), so I think the chances of me actually being mistaken for a bridesmaid are slim :)

Anyway, bridesmaidy or not, I think this is one hot vintage dress. So put that in the pipe that you found in the dumpster and smoke it, Peter!

In typical Selfish Seamstress fashion, I finds myself days before a wedding (not my own) with no outfit planned. My recent Pants-with-a-bow project reminded me of a vintage dress from the 1950s I purchased some months ago with a side embellishment thing, and I thought it might be a good choice for the wedding. However, it needs a fair bit of rehab. (The color in real life is much more of a grayish blue than a sky blue):

I think I’m am going to shorten the length by about 3″ all the way around, including the side drape (not the sash though). I also need to shorten the straps a bit, and there’s so loose ruching across the bust that needs to be tightened up. Other than that, the fit in the bodice is great (surprising since 1950s dresses in small sizes are usually either too small in the waist or too large in the bust for my very not-1950s figure). There’s also a lot of small re-tacking of stuff here and there that needs to happen. I’ll come back with the after pictures if I’m successful!

Oh, and you’ll see I’m wearing two different shoes.  This is where I need your help.  From a style standpoint, I like the taupe satin T-straps better. From a color standpoint, the silver leather ankle strap shoes are a better match. They just look so not vintage though. The taupe ones are more comfortable, but I’m not too concerned about that, as I’m an expert high heel wearer. What do you think?  (This is the full extent of my non-black evening shoe collection, I’m afraid, and with a size 5 foot, there’s no chance of just running out and picking something out at a department store on the quick.)

UPDATE: Here are better photos of the shoes- I suspect they’re not reading properly in the outdoor photos. Taupe satin T-strap with rhinestone buckle:

Silver leather ankle strap with bow:

After yesterday’s eye-opening realization of the uncanny similarities between some of the items in the forthcoming 5.2010 issue of Burda and those from 3.1981 and 4.1981 issues, I do have to confess today that I was cherry-picking for your entertainment. In actuality, the new issue has some adorable stuff in it (I’m sure similar designs were produced in the 80’s as well, but they’re not showing up in my two vintage Burdas). And 1981 had some absolute horrors to which the 5.2010 issue cannot hold a candle. Well, I say that for now.  Who knows what we (or our kids, or our grandkids) will laugh over in 2039 when they flip through our old 5.2010 issue.  Or more likely when they access it through the global digital archive using the ports embedded in their brains. Anyway. 

You want the good or the bad first?  I’ll start with the good so you can end on a chuckle or shudder.

Burda 5.2010 has a lot of very cute and feminine garments. Most of them are probably not things I would sew for myself because empire waists generally make me look shorter and stockier, and I also have be careful of precious details, which tend to look childish rather than pretty on me. But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t look great on you. But most importantly, here’s what I want from this issue:

Love it- love the neckline, the wide set straps.  Hard to say without context, but I’d probably chop it off to high knee length. The print they picked is great too. There’s a plus size counterpart which is hot hot hot:

I love that cherry red. Kudos to Burda for once again leading the way for figure flattering plus size patterns.

This could get a little precious for me, but I love the pintucks and silhouette of this puritan-styled dress. I’m picturing it in black voile with white decorative stitching on those pintucks, with a pair of black mid-heeled Mary Janes and huge black sunglasses:

I think these two are terrific, though not for my figure.  But great styles, great fabric. (For some reason, I’m seeing that blue fluttery sleeved one being a stunner on the statuesque Allison C or Cidell. You ladies listening?)

Also lovely but most definitely too precious too look good on me are this flounced and flutter sleeved doll-style dress (wouldn’t this look great on The Cupcake Goddess?), and the puffed sleeve blouse (I’m seeing this one on Katie with her hot jeans):

I think I might be able to swing the blouse minus the peplum and in a less calico-y print. 

Okay, now that I’ve gone through my top picks and unsolicited targeted fashion suggestions, let me show you a couple of trends from 1981 that have yet to rear their ugly heads again this year.  (I’m kind of hoping that they don’t, but I get the feeling that they might.)  First up, the ruffled blouse.  Wait, you say, ruffled blouses are everywhere these days! Ah yes, they are, but the ruffles themselves are not everywhere. Notably, they are generally not all over the back and running lengthwise down the sleeves, as they were in 1981:

And the front’s not much better. Mmmm… knickerbockers….

In case you were wondering, lengthwise sleeve ruffles don’t get any better when you render them in plaid:

Something else I don’t want to see come back?  I can’t even think of a name for this. But don’t let me catch you wearing or sewing this unless you are a professional clown whose livelihood depends on this:

And I don’t know what that gold-spangled fabric is, but doesn’t it look like a treat to wear? I bet those elasticized cuffs on the pants and sleeves keep all the warmth trapped nicely between the synthetic fabric and your skin.

Also to avoid?  Extensive cross-stitch on your garments. If you absolutely must, a little on the trim of your peasant blouse, perhaps.  But not:


I’m all for repurposing and recycling fabric, but that doesn’t mean you actually want to look like grammy’s tablecloth.

And finally, horror of horrors, I just don’t ever want to see this bikini again:

This bikini top is so awful that I can almost overlook the fact that it’s being worn with coordinating high waisted parrot-print jams with a belt. I mean, let’s ignore the fact that women have a shape and require a little support, and just tie a strip of quilting fabric in such a way that the nipples are concealed and call it a swimsuit, okay? Yuck, yuck, yuck! And those who bemoan the revealing-ness of current swimwear may want to have a good think about this one :)

So after all that, aren’t you (at least sartorially) glad that it’s 2010 and not 1981? :D

Last night was a good night for sewing.  No, it was a great night. I didn’t actually have time to do much sewing, but I did manage to put the buttons onto my McCall 5525, which I am now calling ‘Key Lime Trench,” so that project is now done, photos forthcoming. But beyond that, I just happened to be at a German restaurant and someone had left behind a big stack of Burda back issues that they were trying to unload. And not just any Burdas but early 1980s German Burdas. I thought about grabbing the whole stack and running, but then I thought the better of it considering how many unused back issues I already have.  The likelihood of me suddenly wanting to sew lots of garments from the July 1984 vintage seemed pretty low, considering I haven’t even touched July 2009 and 2008 yet. But I did grab three of them (because I knew you’d want to see too!), most notably March and April 1981:

I didn’t really have any particular plan for these 29-year old treasures other than to flip through them, see if it would be worthwhile to make anything from them, and maybe have a chuckle or two with you. But then eagle-eyed reader Inkstain cued me in on the fact that the Burda 5.2010 preview is now available online on the Russian Burda site (again, how are those guys so on top of things??)

Inkstain asked if I had any “acid and grouchy” commentary regarding the new issue.  What?  Me?  Acid?  Believe me, after flipping through those awesome 1981 issues of Burda, I have nothing but good things to say about the new issue because it is a treasure trove of current looks that are destined to be classics. Girls, they’re not joking when they say the ’80s are back. And you’d better pick up your May issue of Burda because these are the styles you’re still going to be wanting to wear almost thirty years from now. In the year 2039. Check it out!

Hot in spring 2010?  Big ol’ shapeless shirt dress with band collar and bib detailing!

Guess who else loved this style? 1981! And ruffles are so au courant right now, so 1981 may even have the leg up on the hot new trends

The matronly chambray shirtdress is surely the Next Big Thing in 2010:

But it’s also a timeless classic from the dawn of the MTV era!

Khaki carrot pants with cargo pockets?

If you didn’t hang on to the ones you made in 1981, you’re just going to have to sew them again.

And while we’re at it, you may need a matching belted safari jacket:

Of course, savvy Burda Mädels know that the safari jacket is a wardrobe staple, and have decades’ worth of them in their closets:

How about this flattering ruffled silhouette for May of 2010?

Your mom might know a thing or two about that from her fashion plate days:

Or this dainty frock?

1981 offers up a couple of predecessors:

[Okay, all joking aside.  Is it just me, or is that second 1981 version actually starting to look pretty good? You know, take up the hem about five inches and make it up in deep plum?  Also, does anyone else also covet her shoes?]

Roomy blouse with a band collar for summer:

Burda 1981’s all over that!

Shorty shorts with contour hem?

You know it!

Actually you can’t see it in this picture, but the 1981 version does not have a drawstring like the current one does. In fact, it has a belt. That’s right- belted tennis shorts. Surely that means that belts for sporting attire are the next big thing on the style horizon. We’ll probably see it pop up in July 2010’s Burda, so you might want to go ahead and make this month’s version with a belt to keep ahead of the trends.  And you can tell people that you heard it here first- the Selfish Seamstress is nothing if not a style icon.

Shorty shorts too short for you?  Maybe you haven’t got the tight derriere you flaunted back in 1981 anymore?  Don’t worry, shorts lovers, because the versatile pleated-waist cuffed Bermuda is also here for 2010, ready to flatter any figure and cut the lines of your legs right at the knee!

Pair it with a matching jacket for the perfect sophisticated office ensemble:

Or try it in a fun print with a coordinating blouse for a weekend getaway!


Finally, let’s not forget a key piece to any classic wardrobe, the safari-themed jumpsuit:

Please note, however, that this look is updated for 2010 with the addition of elastic cuffing at the ankles to give it a sleek and modern twist. As opposed to the oh-so-tired, ho-hum, non-elastic pant hems we’ve been seeing for too many years – finally, a little fashion innovation to take us into the 21st century!

There you have it- I’ve got two data points in three decades of fashion, and from them I extrapolate that May 2010’s looks have got some real staying power. And that’s my Burda forecast. [Ok, for serious now, there are some really covetable dresses in the May 2010 issue that have nothing to do with 1981. Go have a look.  I’ll post my top picks later.]

Oh, and don’t worry- there’s lots more fun stuff from 1981 that I didn’t show here.  I’ll get around to it- you won’t miss out on a a thing from that classic fashion year.


The Selfish Seamstress was shuffling through some of her vintage sewing books last night and stumbled upon a nice old issue of “Vogue Sewing Book” from 1958, a great year for clothes.  It’s not the great big reference book (I have that one too though), but a slim paperback volume that has some neat tricks and tips, a fabric glossary, and some other handy articles.  Perhaps it is the predecessor to Vogue Patterns magazine? It does feature a lot of Vogue patterns. I’m not quite sure:

As I was flipping through it, I stumbled upon a photo story of a lovely young lady who spends a peaceful and serene weekend sewing a pretty dress for herself. Of course, everything goes off without a hitch for Mrs. Vogue, much like when the Selfish Seamstress sews. Or not! 

So finish up your juice and cookies and pull up your play mats, kiddies, because it’s story time! (Which I hope is not a violation of copyright.)  Naturally, I will insert my own occasionally snide commentary, namely in regards to how Mrs. Vogue and Ms. Selfish are so very truly not the same at all.

Once upon a time…

Note to self: “being completely feminine” = “no sense of restraint.” Got it.

This is ever so slightly different from modern practices of stalking patterns on the Vogue website, noting the numbers of the dozen patterns with which you are obsessed, making note of the $2.99 sale days at Jo-ann, showing up early on the first day of the sale and then ravaging the pattern drawers like a rabid dog. But similar right?

She decided to buy “it.” As in one pattern.  She went to the store to buy one pattern and she bought one pattern. In contrast, Ms. Selfish, being “completely feminine,” can always find room in her shopping bag for one more pretty pattern. And perhaps another after that.

Okay, another way in which Mrs. Vogue and Ms. Selfish differ?  When Ms. Selfish wants to shop for a versatile fabric that she can wear year round, the first words that come to mind are not “lightweight silk brocade”!

Another difference?  Ms. Selfish does not often leave the fabric store with a tiny little bag like that under her arm. I have a hard time imaging Mrs. Vogue lumbering out of Mood with two enormous shopping bags dragging along the ground, trying to wrestle herself and her packages through the subway turnstile.

 Nope.  Ms. Selfish does not change into business casual to sew. Usually I start off in sweats which can be easily tugged off if I need to try on my masterpiece in progress, and eventually this just turns into me sewing in my underwear.

Hey cool!  Ms. Selfish also uses her dining room table for sewing! Of course, Ms. Selfish does NOT use her dining room table for dining.  It’s always too covered with sewing crap, duh.

Oh my goodness!  I’m sure this is a best practice, but I have to say, I don’t know if I’ve ever done this.  Once or twice at most maybe. I have perhaps torn a straight edge in the past, but this seems like a step for a real stickler. Does anyone else still do this regularly? If so, my hat is off to you.

Of course it was perfect. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Vogue does not ever encounter imperfection in any aspect of her sewing. Not to ruin the suspense but guess whether her dress is going to fit on the first try or not. Guess.

Egad!  I just skipped a whole bunch of boring stuff about her pressing tissue paper and laying out the pattern pieces EXACTLY the way that pattern tells her to (she’s pretty much a slave to whatever the pattern says.) But look at Mrs. Vogue going right for her fashion fabric! For all of her thread pulling, edge straightening compulsiveness, Mrs. Vogue is one daredevil of a hobby seamstress! Brand new pattern, but no muslin, no tissue fitting, no measuring… yikes! Woman, that is SILK FRIGGIN’ BROCADE you’re about to cut into! Are you crazy?  What if it doesn’t fit?? I guess they don’t feature you in the Vogue Sewing Book if you aren’t a perfect Vogue size. Also, nothing ever goes wrong in Mrs. Vogue’s sewing world so I guess she can hack recklessly into pricey fabric like it’s newsprint!

Phew.  At least she’s got a little bit of sense here. Some nice safe basting.  Good choice. Of course, as it turns out…

… yep, she could have gotten by without the basting because (I’m sure you’ve all been on the edges of your seats in suspense), the dress fit perfectly on the first try!  Wow, Mrs. Vogue loves the word “perfect.”  She sure does use it a lot. Lucky lucky Mrs. Vogue and her industry standard figure.  [Or perhaps the takeaway message here is that Vogue patterns give you a great fit on the first try?  Why alter when you can buy a Vogue?]

Yes, Mrs. Vogue, I have to agree with you on that one.

Ah, what a gracious world, and what a luxury to have your helpful sister come and mark your hem while you stand straight and still.  No, the closest Ms. Selfish comes is standing in front of the bathroom mirror while barking instructions to Dan to pin various bits of half-finished garment together around her body or to her bra straps because she can’t reach her back without sticking her own fingers with pins.

Oh, no no no. Ms. Selfish does not put her pretty dress in a pretty basket and take her pretty dog to sit under a pretty tree full of cherry blossoms to finish her hems. First of all, by this point in the sewing process, her hair is crazy and unfit for the public to see. Moreover she’s probably still in her underwear, and it’s like 2:30AM or something.

Ms. Selfish does this too. It is often met with responses such as, “Haven’t I already seen that one?” and “Didn’t you make one just like that already?”

In the end, hubby is so pleased with the dress that he buys her some pearls and takes her dancing. Fair enough, Mrs. Vogue.  It all worked out for you in the end…. this time.

The end!

How about you? Do you sew like Mrs. Vogue?  Does anyone sew like Mrs. Vogue?

Coming home to New York keeps me from getting any sewing done, but allows me to sit down with my mom and flip through old photos. This activity usually starts out very sweet and loving and nostalgic, but rapidly degenerates into me pointing at old photos of my mother and whining, “Ma! Why didn’t you save me this dress! And how come you don’t have that handbag anymore?” My mother will look at them placidly and say, “Oh, I got rid of all those a long time ago. That was before you were even born. How was I supposed to know you would want them?” And then to rub it in, she’ll sigh and say, “I had so many beautiful dresses.” Grrrr.

My mother did not grow up wealthy (very much the contrary, in fact), but she did have most of her clothes made by a dressmaker, as was quite common at the time in the Philippines, where she grew up. My mother was no ordinary girl- she was a high school beauty queen and developed an amazing sense of style. Have a look at some of her outfits, most of them from 1965-1970, when she was in her early 20s:

I know, right?  And not one of those dresses did she pack away in case she’d one day have a daughter almost the exact same size as she is. I guess it’s going to be up to me to recreate the outfits that I really want. Probably the plaid dress with the ruffles. Or that pink one with the tie at the neck. Or the red coat. Or the ruffled sleeveless blouse. Or the turquoise suit. Or all of them. Or some of the other great outfits from the photos I didn’t include here because there were just too many from which to choose. As weird as it is to say, I WANT TO DRESS LIKE MY MOM.

My mom also graciously modeled the Burda taffeta bolero jacket that I made her for Christmas (a S.W.A.G. triumph!) with a green satin sheath dress that she just happened to have tucked away, which just happens to match the sequins on the jacket exactly (Selfish Seamstress pats self on back for having anticipated mother’s taste in colors): 

As you can see, she’s still a stunner, and has miraculously stayed the same size in the intervening decades. And she still knows exactly where to place her feet when posing for a photo to show off her legs. You go, mommy!

About this blog

The Selfish Seamstress loves to design and sew garments, but only if she gets to keep them. I'm Elaine, known in the online sewing world as elainemay, and welcome to my selfish sewing blog.

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