Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing: A Modern Guide to Couture-style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques

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I have read some old books on sewing techniques, and some new books on sewing with current methods.  The problem with old books is that they do not always translate into modern fabrics, haberdashery and obviously don’t take advantage of modern advances.  The lovely thing about old techniques is that they aimed to give a lovely finish, what I would consider to be couture in modern day terms.  I think we have become so used to ready to wear clothes, and everything being manufactured rather than sewn that we have lost some of the beautiful finishes and details that can be achieved. I know what I know, but I also know that there are so many other ways of doing nearly everything, and it is a case of finding the best method for you that achieves the results you want.

I have followed Gertie’s blog for some time now.  I think Gertie works for me a she is a new sewer, with modern perspectives who enjoys using vintage techniques and designs.  Also, the book has full sized, traceable patterns in it and she models the clothes herself.  She is a curvy woman, not big, but a normal, human woman with good curves, so it is lovely to see what a real person may look like in a garment.

The book discusses general things like sourcing and tracing vintage patterns (now I feel bad as I usually just use the pattern rather than tracing it), and fabric selection.  It then discusses vintage techniques, stabilising and tailoring.  It concludes with sections on patternmaking and fitting, including a section on good foundation garments) before moving on to the pattern section.  I feel that the book talks at a fairly easy yet comprehensive level.  It doesn’t get bogged down in heavy, technical details, but does give plenty of information.  It has a friendly, encouraging, almost chatty tone making it more readable than many sewing books.  It is quite dip-in-and-out-able.

Finally there is the pattern section.  There are ten patterns; one jacket, five dresses, two blouses and two skirts, each coming with ideas for variations and discussions on how these variations might be achieved.  Gertie has her own sizes, so be sure to check your measurements against the chart provided – it is US size based (

I have only used one pattern so far, the wiggle dress – move over Joan Holloway.  I have made two dresses from this pattern as I loved the first so much and then found some fabulous plain green cotton with a slight stretch in it and could’t resist running another  up.  The other reason I wanted to do it again was to have a second attempt at underarm gussets, as I had bought some sheer organza so could follow Gertie’s instructions more precisely in the second dress.

I am so pleased with this book that I have already pre-ordered Gertie’s next book,  Gerie Sews Vintage Casual: A Modern Guide to Sportswear Styles of the 1940s and 1950s, and I never buy these types of books without first checking that there is something I want to make (and don’t already have a pattern for) in it.  Fingers crossed for some high waisted capri trousers, and possibly Katherine Hepburn wide legged trousers too……..

My first Lutterloh dress

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I came across the Lutterloh dressmaking system by finding vintage patterns on Etsy that needed enlarging.  I looked into it further and found a lovely site dedicated to using these patterns, and then I managed to buy some on e-bay.

The pattern system started in the 30’s and they are still producing books using the same system today.  You start off with pattern pieces that look like this:

Lutterloh pattern example copy

You enlarge them using your bust and hip measurements and a special piece tape measure.  You do need prior sewing knowledge, or excellent instincts, as there are no construction details and many of the patterns have darts without details of their depth and sometimes width. There is a whole section on sewing techniques and skills, although mine was in German , which I don’t speak.   I believe that the average woman would have a greater sewing knowledge and be used to adding or adjusting darts at the time when these patterns were published.

I chose this dress as my first Lutterloh project because it is gorgeous, and not too precision based as it has the gathered sections.  Lutterloh pattern example copy I decided against the central front seam, but with hindsight think it would have been a point of interest.  I intended to do buttons down the back of the dress as in the original pattern but had issues finding buttons that were interesting enough for the straps on the front and not too fussy, overbearing or lumpy to use on the back.

Whilst I am pleased with the dress, I find it a little plain, and don’t think it suits my body as much as some other frocks I have made.  I think my choice of fabric was poor, but I just loved the colour so very much. The fabric has a light cotton feel, but also has a slight stretch, which I thought would be a good idea as it would be a little more forgiving on the fit if needed.  The straps across the front are functioning as they need to be opened to get the dress on and off – the zip (button opening) in the back only goes to the waist, so you need to be able to open the gathering on the front panel.  2014-05-04 014

I didn’t think I would like the neckline as it extremely high, but I stuck with the original draft and am glad I did as I think it is one of the nicest necklines I have, and it feels sophisticated.  The fit has absolutely delighted me.  I had read that these patterns do fit very well, but given that we are all different shapes and that the enlargement is drafted using bust and hip measurements, I had reservations.  In addition, scanning and printing the pattern and then enlarging it myself does leave plenty of room for human error.  But I am delighted – it fits beautifully around the back.

One problem is that with natural movement, the front seam joining the top to the bottom can become visibly from behind the lower tab.  I have countered this by putting a small press stud between them, just to stop it riding up and down.

It isn’t perfect, but as my first attempt at a Lutterloh pattern I am delighted and hope to try it again in a more interesting fabric.  I hope to do it in a textured fabric, maybe a tweed or wool mix for the autumn.  I would also loved to do the top with the buttons down the back – I know that would be awkward to do up/undo, but that opening is not essential as long as the front tabs are real.

Even more excitingly, I shall be enthusiastically trying more of them!  Watch this space!

Play Clothes Captain!

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Yes, I’ve gone all ‘Sound of Music’, and made a frock from some old curtains bought from a charity shop I  – and I LOVE it! 2014-03-15 001 The linings did not come up very bright when washed so they have been used for toiles (nothing gets wasted), and the curtains themselves had one faded area, but I have managed to cut around that so its all good. I started with the bodice from Butterick 5603 as I know it is (now) an excellent fit.  I have already adjusted it slightly to reduce width of the front slightly at the neckline.  This is now my ‘go to’ fitted bodice pattern. I wanted a circled skirt rather than fitted or gathered – I just find that gathering can add bulk to my waistline.  The fabric does have a checked pattern to it which will slope off because of the circular skirt, but I am happy with this – it looks quite effective. I know I can draft my own circle skirt pattern, but looked at my little collection and decided to add the skirt from Butterick B5813, which has 2 deep pleats on each side at the front. As the fabric is fairly heavy and a loose weave, I have interlining it with a light, white cotton fabric.  This has helped to strengthen the dress structurally without adding weight, and stops the pieces from skewing out of shape before stitching.  I had tried washing the fabric at a high temperature to see if it tightened the weave at all, but it didn’t seem to help. I have altered the neckline as I fancied a scooped out neckline with a  fairly low back.  This was my first attempt and I used a french curve.  It took two attempts to get the scoop right as it was more of a curved v-neck at first.  The tip is that the neckline needs to be horizontal at the centre front.  This is before the neckline is scooped out further: 2014-05-22 00.54.24 - Copy When the basic dress was put together I was really pleased.  Need to decide about the length (I am thinking about knee length?) and also whether to face or line the bodice.  Given the weight/bulk of the fabric, I decided to line it with a plain cotton and am absolutely delighted with it now that it is finished:   2014-05-27 03.13.51 2014-05-27 17.32.33 I really love this but do feel that it is probably more of an autumn/winter weight dress as it is very heavy, but this gives the skirt a lovely fullness and swish factor.  It is perfect on those not so warm summer days.  I should be able to add small sleeves in the autumn if I want to then.  I haven’t drafted sleeves to fit into a pre-existing arm hole before so that would be interesting.