Thursday, 2 July 2015

And Sew it Was

I've always LOVED to sew. It's so good to find that women all over the world, especially young women, love to sew too. Reading many inspiring blogs, I can't help wondering if I can add anything at all to the conversation. But, I'll give it a go.

Because I need to give my blog a new twist, something not specifically covered in all the other excellent dissertations on the subject of sewing, I've decided my niche is to be a challenge to use only recycled, reused and already in stock materials and other requirements. I have my own stash of fabrics dating back to prehistoric times, and I'm an incurable opportunity shopper (that's Australian for thrift or charity shopper). I don't buy clothes at the op shop, I buy material. People throw away the most amazing stuff: all new fabric that was bought but never used (sound familiar?), or some of it was used but somehow there was two metres leftover. People who lack the hoarding gene send these treasures to the op shop where people like me buy them (thus adding to the coffers of some worthy charity) and create something wonderful out of it. (I reupholstered my set of eight dining chairs a couple of years ago and covered them with this gorgeous tapestry I bought at the op shop for $10! That's $1.25 a chair!)

Tapestry cover on drop in seat

I hope you'll join me here and be inspired to follow suit.

And so to my sewing adventures. Because I'm err … not young, the start of my sewing adventure reaches so far into the past it even predates the mini skirt! My first machine was a secondhand tabletop model with a hand-wind sewing mechanism. On this dinosaur I made my first outfit at age fourteen in 1960.

Hand winding machine

The outfit was a trendy jerkin and straight skirt in a large houndstooth patterned, cream and chocolate coloured woollen fabric. My mother had made all my clothes up to this point on her Singer treadle machine, which she treated with great reverence and threatened dire consequences if my brother or I touched the tension, or indeed any other part of the machine. That Singer sewed a more perfect straight stitch than any machine I've ever since encountered.

Singer treadle machine

When I began to get picky about the styles Mum wanted to sew for me she solved the problem by suggesting I (jolly well) make my own clothes. As I was deemed too untrustworthy to be let loose on the 'Sacred Singer', Mum purchased the above mentioned machine and, in spite of that unpromising start, I fell in love with sewing.

At age sixteen I graduated to a new electric Singer with a foot-operated button, not a great design, nor a great machine in general but an improvement on the hand operated job. I sewed myself silly. The house was awash with dropped pins and cotton threads, fabric scraps and pattern pieces. When my long-suffering family tired of this chaos, my sewing activities (and associated mess) were banished to my bedroom.

I made an outfit for every occasion: skirts and dresses for work, outfits for weddings, outfits for boat race day, outfits for the beach, party dresses, ball gowns, summer shifts and winter suits.

Shirtwaist dress green and white stripe cotton

Wool suit in cream and green houndstooth

Every month I would rush to the newsagent to snap up my copy of Seventeen magazine to see the latest teenage fashions in the United States. If I couldn't find a pattern I adapted one to make the styles I wanted. One particularly outrageous outfit, which caused my family to disown me whilst we were on holiday, was a pair of knickerbockers I made in Black Watch tartan and wore with bottle green tights and a canary-yellow jumper. It was perfectly tame when compared with the fashions that future decades would produce.

At age twenty-one in 1967 I made the big one: my wedding dress.

My later sewing adventures will be the subject of further blogs, no doubt, but for now let's fast forward to 2015 and check out a sample of one of my recent low-cost projects.

Evening bags in black velvet

These evening bags I made for a special event to celebrate the new series of Australia's fabulous TV show, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Phryne Fisher is the heroine of the 20 books created by Australian writer, Kerry Greenwood. She is a 1920's style icon as well as being a jolly good amateur detective. The clothes created by Marion Boyce for the TV adaption are exquisite.

Visiting the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition at Rippon  Lea

My daughter and I went to the exhibition of costumes from the show (above photo) and while there we admired the evening bag. As we had booked tickets for the pop-up speakeasy that was part of the on-going 'Miss Fisher' events hosted by the National Trust of Australia, I volunteered to make one of the bags to go with my daughter's outfit. It was such a success and so easy to make (from a pattern drafted by me from memory and rough visual measurements estimated on the day) that I made one for me too! The event was a great success. Around 500 people dressed for the 1920s (men too, in felt hats, overcoats, cravats, and I even spotted one in a 1920's policeman's uniform!) sipped bubbly and enjoyed the jazz band while solving a murder mystery at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

The bags are made from black velvet found in my material box and left over from a dress I made for my second daughter in 1989. They are a good size allowing space for wallet, makeup purse and phone. The red and black one has a panel of red velvet, once again a small piece left from some long ago project, which I quilted on the machine, edged with black grosgrain ribbon and decorated with a bead bracelet (catches removed) that I bought for $2 at the op shop. The green and black bag has a panel of satin left over after I'd made the top shown in the photo. This piece of green satin came from the op shop and cost $3, so fabric for both top and bag for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. The panel is edged with stiff black lace which came from my mother's lace collection (making it a good eighty years old). The cultured pearls studding the green satin were from a three string bracelet, broken, that was in my jewellery box, origin long forgotten. Both bags are lined with black satin saved from presentation boxes of Royal Doulton crystal glasses. Wide legged trouser in a beautiful cream crepe (op-shop find, $5), the pattern for which was adapted from Butterick pattern number 3389.

Happy stitching everyone.


  1. beautiful post & wow on making your own wedding gown!


    1. Thanks for visiting, Helen. Want a free pattern for the bag?