Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anatomy of a DRESS: Flat Lining in a 1960's Dress

1960's Print Dress in a cotton screen print, I.Magnin label

Sewing vintage styles can be a new experience if you have been sewing crafts and modern fashions. One of the best ways to learn how-to sew dresses, especially vintage dresses, is to study examples. Trying to get the right effect usually means following the same, or similar sewing techniques along the way.

I am going to take you through a close look at this cute Mad Men era dress, to see what makes it 'tick' and how you can get the same professional results when you sew vintage.

This dress has two personalities, the fashion fabric exterior, and the technical interior. What makes this dress seem smooth and well fit is a simple process termed flat lining.

Flat lining
This technique is used for many (most?) dresses made before knits came into fashion during the late 1960's. Simply, it is a method where the fashion fabric is backed by a lining. Both are cut at the same time, stabilized by sewing around all edges to make them handle like one fabric, then sewn into the garment.

Darts and seams are sewn after the fashion fabric has been flat lined.
In this example, white cotton broadcloth has been used to flat line the cotton fashion fabric.

Why cotton broadcloth?
Since the fashion shell is cotton, using cotton in the lining will retain the cool property of the original fashion fabric. Cotton is also strong, and will prevent the seams from pulling out or the skirt from stretching while seated. It can also be washable, although this garment was not designed to be laundered.

This inside view shows the details of a bodice.

Flat lining: the white cotton can be seen as the inner layer that is sewn to the fashion fabric around all edges about 1/4" from those edges. It was trimmed with pinking shears.

Dart: the dart has been slashed and spread open to minimize bulk. In the preparation process both fabric layers were sewn 1/4" from the edge as shown

Waistline: to keep the waistline from ripping out or popping stitches, wide twill tape was sewn over the seamline where bodice meets skirt. Also notice that the skirt is flat lined. Sometimes the skirt is not flat lined if it is very full or gathered.

Hem tape: This close look at the hem shows how hem tape is sewn to the edge of the hem, then it is turned up and stitched to the flat lining. If done this way, the hem stitches will not show. Hem tape does two things: it keeps the hem edge from unraveling while it provides a non-bulky method of sewing it up. A hem that has been turned back and machine sewn before hemming has two layers, and will often leave a shadow or thickness. This way the hem is not 'pressed' forward into the skirt fabric where it will leave a mark when pressing.

Facing: Facing will clean finish the neckline and armholes. The edge here has been turned and stitched to prevent unraveling.

Under-stitching: Stitching around the curved edges of the arm hole and neckline will prevent the lining from pulling and showing when worn. These stitches are around the seamline, but sewn only on the facing. This is different from top stitching.


Getting started: Start with a big, smooth cutting surface (probably your floor).

#1--Lay out the flat lining fabric, be sure it is straight and on grain (not crooked).

#2--Spread the fashion fabric 'face' up over the lining, smooth it out to remove bubbles and wrinkles, be sure the grain lines match by aligning the selvage edges. If possible, press both layers. This will help to smooth them out and creates a 'bond' between them.

#3--Pin selvage edges together so they won't shift as you work.

#4--Layout pattern as usual. Because this method uses the fabric in an open layout, with out a center fold, you may need to flip some patterns to get both right and left sides. For the bodice front, tape tissue to the center front line of your pattern, fold down center front and cut around the cutting lines. When cut, open tissue and you should have a full front pattern with both left and right sides. While laying out the pattern, consider the print of your fabric as well, since you can see both left and right sides clearly during layout process.

#5--Pin pattern pieces to the fabric and cut through both layers. Keep shears perpendicular to the cutting surface. Cutting at an angle will make the layers different.

#6--Transfer pins when removing the paper pattern to pin only the fabric 'sandwich' piece. Pin away from edges to keep fabric from shifting.

#7--Machine sew around each fabric 'sandwich' piece using 1/4" seam lines and a medium length stitch. MODERN: use an overlock to clean finish all edges instead, but don't trim off fabric or you will reduce the pattern size (!!!)

#8--Your flat lining process is complete. Now proceed with marking your pattern and preparing to sew.

Sew your dress as usual, following pattern instructions and refering to your sewing books for more details. Remember to press the seams open because the extra layers will add up to more bulk.

I think you will be happy with the results. Let me know if you have further questions about this technique.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vintage Shopping: Tacoma, Washington

I have returned from a week enjoying the great Pacific North/West.
One thing that I love to do when traveling is vintage shopping--and I don't mean in Seattle where prices are equal to New York's vintage shops.

Instead I cruise the wonderful vintage stores in TACOMA. This sleepy Victorian and Bungalow era city is loaded with more antique and vintage shopping than one can see in a day. I have sorted it all out here, and give you my top three. The drive is easy--these are freeway close, in districts with other things to see and do (for your fellow travelers who may not drool over vintage the way you do).


This vintage shop is adorable! Pink décor with vintage furnishings makes this feel like your very hip best friend’s cool bedroom. When we were there, the shop was buzzing with happy shoppers (and it was only a Tuesday afternoon!)
The selection tends towards 1950’s and later. There is a ‘wall of shoes’ down their rear hallway that you won’t want to miss. Styles are arranged by type and color, so you can cruise what you are looking for and avoid that overwhelming mish-mash of stuff like some other vintage shops. We found both true vintage and recent retro styles on the racks.

Prices: amazingly low, I’m guessing this is 30% to 50% less than big city prices.
3903 6th Ave (6th at Proctor)
Off the 16 freeway at Union (n. to 6th, left to Proctor)
Or at 6th (rt. To Proctor)
Parking in back
253 761 7801
Hours: 12-6, Tuesday-Sunday

Also nearby:
University of Puget Sound campus
Point Defiance Park, Zoo and Aquarium
Vashon Island Ferry
Tacoma Narrows Bridge (and Gig Harbor)



Glenna’s is one of the best west coast vintage shops. It would be difficult to find a finer collection in any other west coast city (or NYC for that matter).
The overall tone is sophisticated and luxurious. Fashions are hung by color and type. But what makes this shop a stand-out is the quality of the pieces and the diversity of styles. It’s as good as any museum (I covet the Lilli Ann suit now on display!). In addition, this shop also showcases vintage accessories, especially handbags, hats and jewelry.

Prices: moderate and fair for the quality of the pieces. Don’t expect bargain hunting here.
783 Broadway, 98402-3709
Freeway: take 5 into Tacoma, then #705 into downtown district (Pacific)
Take Pacific north (right) up to S. 9th street, turn left 2 blocks to Broadway.
Located at Broadway and S. 9th St.

New to the Broadway antiques district is this sweet vintage fashion shop. Located hidden away in the back of a cool antiques store (check out the mid-century mod!). The shop owner, Nanette, has created a fanciful environment with painted walls, hanging chandeliers and lots of vintage furnishings. Her vintage stock spans from the 50’s to current retro styles. It all works together well, making this shop a real find, and a fun place to shop.

Prices: very low to moderate
742 Broadway (behind Best Antiques)

NOTE: These two shops sit in a small antiques district located along Broadway in downtown Tacoma. Plan to cruise the other shops between S. 7th street and S. 9th street. Then recover at the Tully’s café located in an amazing flat iron building on the corner.

CAFÉ: Tulleys at Broadway and 9th
VINTAGE DIST: on Broadway between S. 9th St and S. 7th St.
STREET PARKING: approach district from S. 7th St. to approach street parking.

Also nearby: The downtown area of Tacoma is minutes from the #5 freeway
Children’s Museum of Tacoma
Museum of Glass
Washington State History Museum

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Vintage: Blue Prints and Florals

above, from top left: blue rose cotton textile, blue and green silk on 1960's dress, batik sun on tie dye blue rayon on 1980's dress.

Florals and bold patterns are coloring new and vintage fashion right now in eye catching color combinations. Retro blue, aqua, and blue/greens seem to look fresh and really great. When I look for fashion this summer and into fall, it's hard not to miss some of the beautiful vintage and more recent patterns currently shown in fashion and textiles.

The beautiful silk fabric on the right is close to the very mod, mid-century textile designs produced by the Finnish company, Marimekko, during the 1960's and 70's. It is the dominate feature on a floor length sheath dress. The batik sun on blue/green background is scattered all over a soft rayon textile, made up in a loose over sized 1980's sun dress.

from upper left: screen print floral on cotton, on 1960's dress, Persian print panel, on 1960's dress, blue pansy print, cotton fabric.

Cotton prints on vintage fashion were often produced by screen printing, a process that produced limited quantities. This gorgeous panel of a mythical Persian scene is one example of how elaborate some screen printing designs were. This is from "Florida Handprints, Miami". The floral at upper left is on a cotton sateen fabric. Its bold pattern is subdued by the very simple dress design, accented only by cording and a tiny bow a the waistline.

from upper left: 1960's geometric floral on cotton voile yardage, field flowers, on cotton yardage, blue brush stoke on white rayon, 1980's dress.
Summer fabrics seem best when soft and sheer. Uncommon 1960's cotton voile is always a wonderful fabric to find. I love the way it carries a visual weight, while being nearly airless. Another popular warm weather stand by are the soft rayons. This version in white has 1980's designs in sky blue brush strokes, a reflection of a summer sky.

It's going to be a long summer ahead and I know that I don't want to be caught without a few great patterns to choose from. That is all anyone needs to wear with flip flops and still make a great fashion statement.