Saturday, October 1, 2011

Color Me Vintage!

Saturday, October 1, 2011
When I am digging through a pile of linens in a thrift shop or antique store, it's often the color of a piece that attracts me first. Do you find that there are particular colors that you are drawn to immediately? Can you date a vintage textile by its colors?

We certainly associate certain colors with the eras in which they were popular. In fact, there are those whose profession it is to predict and shape the colors that will be popular in the consumer world. That's why "avocado" will always remind us of the 1970s, and why you will NEVER be able to match that three year old sweater you bought at the GAP by looking at this year's fashions. The subtle shades of color affect us almost subliminally, but affect us they do!

I got to thinking about vintage colors this week. First, right in the middle of baking a pan of chocolate pecan brownies, David discovered that our circa-1967 Harvest Gold wall oven had finally gone to appliance heaven after 44 years. When I bought my 1961 split level house about 12 years ago, it was a veritable treasurer trove of bad 1960s and 1970s decorator kitsch. Shag carpeting, flocked wallpaper, astroturf on the back patio, gold-flecked mirror tiles and faux barnboard paneling... But the absolute apex of the horror was the Harvest Gold kitchen. There were gold Formica countertops. Harvest Gold appliances. Brown, gold and avocado carpeting.

And the wallpaper!

Over the years, I have taken down the wallpaper, replaced the Harvest Gold dishwasher, replaced the countertops, and now... the last vestige of Harvest Gold--the wall oven--is waiting to be picked up by a local Freecycler who wants to give it a good home! Hooray.

Never fear! I still have my classic grey and pink bathrooms (yes... that's pink boomerang Formica), so the 60s have not been vanquished completely...

So while I am not a huge fan of these vintage colors as part of my home decorating scheme, I am drawn to vintage colors in fabrics.

For example, I picked up these amazing mid-century kitchen curtains recently. Aqua was trendy for kitchens in the early 1950s.

I combined the fabric with an aqua linen hand towel and made this tote.

And the other experience that got me thinking about vintage color this week? Two amazing finds. First, some new fabric in wonderful colors reminiscent of feed sack material that I found on sale for 99 cents a yard at my local fabric outlet (and yes... there's the aqua, the avocado and the harvest gold in there...):

and a pile (16 of them!) of vintage pillow cases with great printed borders that I got for $5 at a thrift store. And yes... $5 for the pile! The white portion of many of them is yellowed beyond use, but the borders are in fantastic shape, and will be perfect for trim or accents, and will coordinate with some of my vintage tablecloths.

Are there vintage linens in your closet with colors that evoke memories from the past? Why not let me transform them into something that you can use again!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

If this makes me a shoemaker, where are the elves?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I've been doing baby booties for awhile, and love their tiny adorableness, but recently, someone asked, "Could you do adult-sized house slippers?"

Never ask me if I can do something... Now it's a challenge, not just a question!

I started out with a baby shoe pattern I already had (thank you,, and then I looked at several pairs of slippers and simple shoes I owned and thought about how they were constructed.
Upcycled from a vintage embroidered dresser scarf
I had some scraps of tapestry-style upholstery fabric (got it FREE from my local "Freecyle" on-line group. If you don't Freecyle, you're missing out on a Wonderful Thing.), and I bought some remnants of soft vinyl at the fabric store for the soles.

Here's my first attempt:

Tapestry slippers with vintage buttons as trim.

Encouraged -- I tried them on and they were comfortable! -- I pulled out some pieces of an old "cutter" quilt and tried again. I also added some fusible fleece to the sole lining so they'd be a little softer. This time, I got more of a shabby chic look, I think:

An old cutter quilt with some cotton tatting lace trim.

So I finished off with a little more of the quilt scraps and pulled together another pair of baby booties:

So now that I'm a shoemaker, I want to know:  Where are the elves who come in the night and finish all my work?

Can I make some slippers for you?

Monday, September 5, 2011

That Retro Look--Using Vintage Patterns

Monday, September 5, 2011

Our "fore-mothers" sewed regularly. Ready-made clothing was more expensive (relative to family income), and making clothing was part of what most women saw as their "job."

Note: We'll save the rant about what constitutes "women's work" and what it means to be a "working mom" for another day...

Many of us are discovering sewing again, and our love for vintage styles may lead us to making clothing using vintage patterns.

On my latest dig through antique stores (this time in Somerset, Pennsylvania), I found some wonderful vintage patterns... hence, some thoughts about retro and vintage clothing patterns.

First, many pattern companies (major companies like Vogue, Butterick, McCalls and Simplicity, as well as independent ones) are issuing new "Retro" patterns based on fabulous clothing from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. I've used several of these myself.

You can find them in fabric shops and through the companies' websites. They come with updated instructions and updated sizing (more on that little issue in a moment)...

However, you can also find vintage patterns in antique shops, at flea markets and yard sales, and on a number of websites like Etsy, Ebay and specialty sites.

Here are some of my recent finds:

Late 40s 





And how about these adorable kids' patterns?

When looking for vintage patterns, it's important to know if the paper pattern has been cut by the original owner and whether all the pieces are still there. Standing in an antique shop, it's difficult to open the pattern out, spread out all the paper and count the pieces, but you can get a rough idea of the general condition of the paper pattern and instructions with a quick peek. One of my "finds" is missing a piece from the bodice; I'm guessing I can draft a replacement using other patterns and the remaining pieces, but that's a decision you'll have to make for yourself.

When I'm ready to use any of these patterns, I will copy the pieces to grid fabric (find it at your fabric store), so I'm not using the original pieces themselves... after all, some of them are older than I am! I'll also make a photocopy of the instructions, as the paper can be brittle.

Note also that the instructions on vintage patterns usually have less detail than current patterns. Our foremothers were more accomplished sewists than the average person today and didn't need quite as much instruction.

Finally, a word about measurements. Clothing manufacturers have caved to our vanity, and have slowly changed the sizing of women's clothing over the last 50 years or so. Women also wore more "foundation garments"; no nice girl went out without a girdle in those days! What is considered a fashionable shape has changed too. Today, we're not used to wearing our clothing at the waist, but rather a little further down. Therefore, you must NEVER rely on what you consider to be your dress size when using sewing patterns.

For example, here's the sizing on my late 1940s pattern:

And here's the sizing on my "Retro" modern pattern:

and here's the sizing for a well-known women's clothing line today:

Misses Sizes
XS (4)
S (6-8)
M (10-12)
L (14-16)
XL (18)
XXL (20)
High Hip
Low Hip

So, if we look across these three charts, we see that in 1949, a 34-inch bust makes you a size 16. In the modern, retro pattern, a 34-inch bust makes you size 12. But in ready-to-wear, the 34-inch bust makes you a size 4!

The motto of this story is: Know your measurements, and use them to adapt or purchase patterns or vintage clothing accordingly. I always cringe when I have to pick a modern pattern... the size seems outrageous. But what matters is the fit. My vanity is not served by what size I pick, but how great I look in a well-fitting outfit!

I'd love to make YOU look great in something special!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's Back to School Time

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Don't you love "Back-to-School" days? As a full-time teacher, I have mixed feelings about my summer ending, but it always gives me new energy!

When I came across this vintage image, it also reminded me of the days when children had three sets of clothes: "church" clothes, "play" clothes and "school" clothes. Today, all that seems to have morphed together into a uniform of jeans and t-shirts.

Well, I still think a little girl should have a few special outfits, and enjoy using vintage linens to create them.

This dress was made from an appliqued card table cloth, using the napkins as the sleeves.

And this very special dress is made from a silk embroidered tablecloth and uses an antique hankie for the sleeves. The remainder is of brown taffeta.

And this last dress uses two different vintage tablecloths and some left-over drapery lining.

If you'd like to look at more of the dresses I've made from upcycled materials, please go to my website:
Gramma's Linen Closet
You might find a dress or a purse that would help ease you into another school year!

Happy School Days!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hunting Vintage Fabrics in the South

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I've just returned from a week in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia! While the purpose of the trip was spending some time with my parents, David and I took some extra time to visit antique shops from Asheville, NC and northward on our trip home, with stops in Erwin, Tennessee, and Bristol, Wytheville, Lexington and Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Although the Internet has certainly made hunting for vintage items more convenient, I think it has also made it more difficult to find bargains. It seemed wherever we went, the prices were pretty uniform. We found one shop with the most amazing collection of feedsack material I have ever seen; sadly each piece of fabric was either $12.50 or $14.00 (for about a yard of material)! Vintage printed tablecloths run between $18 and $30 pretty much everywhere too. And that's just too much money when I know I'm going to be cutting it up and using it for projects!

But, I did make some discoveries! A great shop in Asheville with piles and piles of stuff to dig through (my favorite!), and the owner just said, "Make me an offer!" I got a wonderful lap quilt in great shape:

 a cute apron (which I think had been made from an old tablecloth originally),

some feedsack fabric,

and the sweetest little baby pillowcase.

A tiny little shop in Erwin, Tennessee had an entire 6-drawer cabinet of vintage sewing patterns... for 50 cents each! To be honest, many of them were from the 1980s... not my favorite time period for clothing... but I snagged a bunch from the 1960s that I think will be fun to experiment with!

David and I were amazed by the number of advertising signs that we saw--reminded us of one of our favorite shows, American Pickers. We couldn't resist this little coffee sign for the kitchen:

So the lesson for us: Head for some of the little tucked away places where you can dig through the dirt and find some treasures!

Back to the sewing machine for me! Let me know if I can make something special for you!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

From the ordinary to the treasured...

Sunday, August 7, 2011
Wouldn't our grandmothers and great-grandmothers be surprised at how the things they saw as the most ordinary now fetch high prices in antique stores and are treasured by collectors?

Feedsack fabric is a great example. Beginning in the late twenties, through the depression years, and even up into the 1950s, flour, sugar, and other staples were sold in cotton feedsacks. When manufacturers realized that frugal housewives were saving those cotton sacks and making quilts and clothing out of them, they began to create more attractive patterns and colors to entice buyers to select their brands.

Today, feedsack fabric, and old quilts and aprons made of feedsacks are highly prized by collectors, and bring big money online and at antique stores. For fabric in good condition, a half yard can cost $20!

But, as you can see by the picture of my small "stash" of feedsack fabric, the colors, motifs and general look is hard to resist. Because I know that I will be cutting whatever fabric I buy into pieces to use it in my clothing or accessories, I look for pieces that have holes or stains I can work around. That makes the piece more affordable! Most of what I find is no longer strong enough to use for clothing, but if I combine it with a lightweight fusible interfacing, it works very well for lining or trim.

This skirt is an exception; the turquoise feedsack fabric was strong enough to use. 

This purse (shown under construction), which also incorporates portions of an embroidered dresser scarf and an upholstery sample square, uses feedsack fabric as a lining, as does the purse below.

I wonder what ordinary items in our lives will be treasures to our grandchildren? Maybe we should hang onto a few old cereal boxes, soda cans, and magazines; they might fund our kids' retirement!

Contact me if I can make something for you from my stash or yours!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh! How cute!

Friday, August 5, 2011
What is it about baby things that seem to make us all turn to mush? My two wonderful children are adults now, and although I have three charming grand-dogs, their clothing needs are minimal. But I can't seem to stop drooling over adorable baby things (NO pressure, kids!).

So while I wait (so patiently...) I've been making some baby booties out of upcycled fabric and scraps. The back two pairs are made from vintage table runners and doilies. Front right came from a wonderful old wool blanket I found at an antique store, and front left from the scraps left over from a dress I made for my daughter-in-law's new niece.

To give credit where it is due, the booties on the right are from Simplicity pattern 2397 and the booties on the left are from

More of my children's clothing can be seen at

So, doting grammas and aunties... can I make something for your most precious one?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Creating a Keepsake

Wednesday, August 3, 2011
My task? Take David's mother's mink stole and create two keepsake teddy bears from it for his sisters.

I have to admit this was a daunting request. First, there would be no replacing the materials if I made a serious mistake. And second, I wanted to honor David's mother by doing a good job on this project. Finally, the fur was beginning to deteriorate and I was worried it just wouldn't stay sewn together!

But, I launched into the project. First, I "deconstructed" the entire piece, which was actually pretty interesting. Seeing how it had been tailored to begin with taught me some things. Once I had exposed the fur itself, I realized that there wasn't enough fur with a stable skin under it to make two full bears, so I decided to use the fur for the back of the bear, and the satin lining for the front. There was also some brown velvet under the collar I could harvest and use. Finally, we decided to use the May Department Store tag in the stole for one of the bears (Mrs. Calhoun had worked at the store herself), and use the monogram sewn in the lining for the other.

I had to do most of the sewing by hand... the pelts just would not have withstood the sewing machine. I ended up with bits of mink EVERYWHERE! I used the velvet on the nose, a couple of vintage buttons for the eyes and added a bow around the bear's neck.

I think it came out quite nicely, and I know David's sisters are pleased with the keepsake. I think I'll use the rest of the satin and velvet to make some smaller bears for some of the sisters-in-law.

Next up? David's mother's chenille bathrobe.... I wonder what I can make out of that?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Let's Get Started!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011
It's a real struggle I have: everywhere I turn, there are fabulous vintage tablecloths and textiles, and I want to buy them all! The closet is full, and I could work 24 hours a day making things, and still have fabric left. I am a firm believer in that saying, "She who dies with the most fabric, WINS!"

But I've been trying to restrain myself. However, every now and then, the little "Ebay" app on my iPhone calls to me, and I do a quick search on "vintage tablecloths." This last time, I searched for "cutters." Cutters are tablecloths, quilts, or other linens that have stains, or tears, or holes, and can't really be used for their original purpose. They are suitable for cutting, hence their name. Yesterday I received the awaited box in the mail--a group of seven "cutters" that I got cheap. I opened up the box, and was immediately assaulted with the smell of cigarette smoke. Yuck! Fortunately, after taking them directly to the laundry room, a soak in some Oxyclean, and then a trip through a hot water wash, left them smelling just fine. To be extra safe (and because I just really love to do it), I hung them outside in the hot sunshine to dry. Overall, I'm pleased. Some holes, some stains, but some very usable tablecloths. My favorite is the bright Mexican theme one second from the back.

See anything you'd like me to make a purse or a skirt out of for YOU?
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