Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Vintage Fashion

Well readers, it's been an unexpectedly long time between posts. Only having my inadequate old camera (still) puts me off a bit I must confess, as I am not pleased with the blurry photos! Our weekend plans changed beyond recognition due to family illness so there was nothing exciting to report there but hey ho, I got my thinking cap on and here I am for a little post before we take time out to enjoy the rest of half term.

Talking of photos, here is a pretty decent one which was taken at last week's photo shoot. Many people have asked me how much "staging" went on during the shoot and to be honest, very little. You may have noticed that I am fond of setting the scene and surrounding myself with pretty things so the odd thing was shifted into/out of shot, the odd vase of flowers or piece of sponge cake positioned but that is pretty much it. I did take a few bits and pieces down to the cottage especially, which normally reside at home. Some of my vintage frocks for example.

We don't have a wardrobe at the cottage, for one thing it would never fit up the stairs (the bedstead came in through the window, the frame having been removed to facilitate it!) and we never need a lot of clothes as we are only there for short periods, so we have our folded clothing in a chest of drawers and some hooks for hanging.

You may recall that a few weeks back we took a day trip to Royal Tunbridge Wells and happened upon a little vintage market where I bought a couple of dresses. Some of you enquired what they were like and now you can see them in the photo above, the one on the far right and the one second from the left.

This all got me thinking about vintage clothes and what I have been up to recently. Below you can see a book I've had for ages. It is a great book for helping you to make your own skirts and I've used it many times to make simple A-line numbers. It guides you through drafting your own pattern pieces based on your measurements and then holds your hand through the sewing. I need about one and a half metres for an a-line skirt plus a zip, thread, a bit of interfacing for the waistband and a hook and eye, so they are very cheap to make and I usually run a few up each season for knocking about in every day.

And then there's this. I love this fabric. It has that fantastic cool, heavy feel that only vintage cotton does and of course, it has that gorgeous print of purpley-pink flowers and bows. Tres chic!

I actually bought this skirt at the Bridport street market a couple of weeks ago. I could see it was far too small for me; not only am I no longer slim but vintage clothes are generally on the tiny size which does not a happy marriage make! Looking at it (having fallen already for the fabric), I decided that maybe I could alter it. I set to with the scissors and only then thought to take a few snaps to share in case you might be interested.

These vintage clothes, especially skirts and dresses of the '50s, post-war when everyone was keen to show off and leave the days of rationing behind, were often very full and used yards of fabric. I laid this one out and even put my measure down so you could see just how much! At first, I had thought the skirt was cut on the bias as it had a very swingy feel but in fact, it is a circle skirt and as you can see, uses over 5 feet of fabric, both back and front.

I unpicked and removed the waistband and also the zip. I cut about off about one and a half inches round the waist, then re-sewed the side seams for strength and re-used the original metal zip just siting it a little lower down. There was not enough of the original material to re-make the waistband so I made one using a plain white cotton to my exact waist measurement. I re-used the original button. I wear this with a little black Hobbs' '50's style knitted top which sits just over the waistline so it hides the waistband anyway. (The instructions for doing all of this are contained in the book.)

I'm thrilled with the result, what a skirt for £10! And I'm happy to tell you that it has a friend. In fact, the bow skirt is the second I have altered in recent times (I have the bug!)

What do you think of this 1950's beauty?

This divine cotton is a border print, you may just make out from the photo that the bottom doesn't need to be hemmed because it is a selvedge.

I bought this gorgeous skirt from Lizzie when we visited her fabulous stall at Shepton Mallett Antiques Fair a few months back. I fell in love with the fabric (so reminiscent of Horrockses) but the waist was only 20". I must credit Mr HenHouse with coming up with the idea of altering the waist. I could see it was very full skirted so a deal was done and home came the skirt.

This one was a lot more work because it was not as skillfully made originally but also because the waist was gathered rather than flat like the bow skirt. I unpicked the whole thing and found I had over 10 feet of fabric (imagine how much that would cost today!) I re-sewed the side seam and inserted a zip as the skirt did not have a zip when I bought it, not so good for the modesty! Again, I made a new waistband from a period coloured green cotton. I gathered the waist by hand until it was the right size, then attached the waistband. A labour of love. I realise there could be "anons" out there who might not approve of my remakes but I think it sits perfectly with the spirit of make do and mend and have no qualms about making vintage items useable for the modern day.

On the subject of vintage clothes, for a few years now, I have been hunting for and falling in love with frocks from the '40s and '50s. I find them mainly at the '40s "dos" we attend at the steam railways. Below is the dress I wore for the shoot last week, this is a detail of the pocket, with all those gorgeous little buttons. I bought this last year at the railway event in Pickering from a brilliant vintage clothes dealer. This dress was like new really and it even fitted me so I confess it was a bit of a splurge but when your average Boden/Laura Ashley/Hobbs or similar dress gives you little change from £100, I still consider it a great buy.

This one I wore to the last Vintage and Handmade Fair. It needed a little mending but nothing too difficult.

This one is a '30s style drapey rayon which has a gorgeous poppy print. The seams are a little frayed in places so it's one to be worn sparingly to dances (which indeed I have done).

This dress below is made from the most beautiful 1950's rayon fabric. I fell in love with it on eBay and bid hard until it was mine! It has been (badly) altered so when I am in the mood, I will unpick the alterations and restore it to its original size which luckily, will be more like my own.

When we attend the 1940's events, I get very excited at the thought of finding some more original vintage fashion. Even if I find nothing for me (though I usually do!) I love seeing all the designs and patterns. They don't make frocks like these anymore.

I also have quite a collection of vintage housecoats and pinnies, attracted by the divine flowery cottons. More of those another day, perhaps.

Enjoy the weekend... xxx

Edit: The shoes are from good ole' M&S!


  1. Wowsers Hen
    The skirts are gorgeous


  2. Hi Hen
    Love the dresses and the fabrics...gorgeous, can I come for some sewing lessons please? As I am one of the larger members of society I very seldom find anything vintage to fit me, but recently purchased a black 19th century linen chemise...couldn't believe my luck! Love the skirt in the last picture and the basket.
    Jo xx

  3. They're not just shoes, they're a pair of gorgeous M&S shoes.!! (I have them in black and cream). Love all your dresses and I think it's good that you can alter them and re use otherwise they'd probrably be wasted. As you say there's loads of fabric in them and the colours are wonderful, Lucey x

  4. PS Miss Hope of "Hope and Greenwood" has some lovely clothes too, do take a peek, x

  5. Skirt LOVE!!!!!!!! OMG!! I love the green and red one - STUNNING.

    Pish to people who don't like things being altered - not when it is like this anywhos. You have used the fabric to make a wearable garment - in fact - you have used it for its original purpose. You have not butchered anything to make a monstrosity.

    LOVE IT!!!! (and that book - she says - pottering off to the internet to find one for herself)

  6. Beautiful work, you have inspired me to look more at vintage clothes...........Have a great week. Hugs Mary

  7. You did a brilliant job there Helen!You matched the green perfectly and I love the button you chose.Such beautifully designed fabrics!
    I must start making my own skirts again! I haven't done any for years!
    Love your pretty shoes in the last image too!
    Rachel x

  8. looks alot of work- but very worth it, the fabric is beautiful- love the green colours ;0)
    it has inspired me to use some of my lovely vintage fabric and make a simple dress...i will keep you your vintage style hen ;0)x

  9. Gorgeous just gorgeous.
    Now my dear how much would you charged to make me some vintage skirts...........?
    Julie xxxxxxxx

  10. could do your own 'horrocks 'event at the ftm....gorgeous textiles especially the revamped green skirt, love that

  11. Gorgeous clothes and prints, I really love the green skirt.
    Ann x

  12. Your Blog is so lovely! You are so of great talent! I will be back to your Blog mor often. Nicole from Germany

  13. These vintage fabrics are all so pretty...beautiful work....
    Susan x

  14. Hi Hen , just seen your day to remember post exciting , your little cottage looked perfect.
    I love your vintage frocks too , the fabric is gorgeous and what a great idea to alter those skirts .
    Jacquie x

  15. I really enjoyed reading through this post and looking at all the wonderful photographs of your frocks. That book looks like it would be very useful!

  16. Clever you, our 1940's and 1950's sisters would be into changing and adapting, saving and recycling. I love the fabrics, so fresh and colourful and the skirts look great, perfect for summer.

  17. Awesome dresses!!! I love the colors!
    The last picture is so sweet with the red shoes!! Loved it!!!
    Have a great week!
    Chris :o)

  18. Such pretty dresses, reminds me of the lovely ones my granny used to wear. Great blog! Ros

  19. Great remakes - I especially love the green and rosy print and oh how lovely with those shoes! I have to admit to being a tad envious of your vintage dress collection - one day maybe I'll develop a bit more patience to find some of my own!

  20. I could not leave a comment on your last post, but your cottage looks fantastic. My Aunt's partner would love the bathroom tile as he restores carriages at Foxfield railway, Staffs.

    Love the fabrics, great idea to recycle.

  21. the alterations to the skirts are simply perfect, hen.

    love the fabric, styling, and your sewing prowess.

    well done!


  22. Wow, you've done it again. Every time I'm bored or depressed I read your posts and find joy.

    You, your floral skirts and fabulous red shoes have made me smile today!

    Bless you, Hen!

  23. Hello to you, Hen. First of all, let me send good wishes for a good recovery to your family.

    If I've not conveyed this before, let me now tell you how much fun it is to read your posts. You have found a way to convey a particular, stylish, thoughtful point of view, that somehow, as a New Yorker, I connect with the UK.


    I so admire your eye, and love the way that you've recycled the marvelous vintage fabric skirts into very wearable and ...very fashionable skirts for 2011.

    I arrived in New York in the mid 1960s, and loved all that era's freshness of styles. And, remember that by the 70's many of us were devotees of what was vintage fashion to us. The '20s, '3os, lots of beaded charleston dresses, and lovely printed bias cut dresses.

    We do cling to magical times of our own youth, and I am now amazed to see styles from my very own young adulthood now considered vintage. See...I refuse to admit I am a senior citizen! Perhaps it is this affinity for fashion history that makes me so love your posts.

    Add to that your generous personality and great matter what camera, and let me say I am a fan.


  24. What a brilliant idea - altering the skirts, they do look lovely, as do your vintage dresses.
    Carol xx

  25. Wow, I am so impressed with your dressmaking skills! Such gorgeous unique fabrics. I've got some thrifted Liberty print skirts which are too small, but you've inspired me to have a go at adapting them!
    Sally x

  26. I too find it hard to find vintage clothes to fit... this is a great idea, thanks for sharing. I've been looking for a 40's wrap around pinny for months.... do you have one in your collection? :) x

  27. Wow what Gorgeous fabric's, and If I'd of seen that lovely little 1950's number on Lizzie's stall I would of bought it too! xx
    P.s your hand made skirts are lovely x

  28. You've done a great job with your alterations. These dresses and skirts remind me of my childhood. I was looking forward to being able to dress like they did in the fifties when I grew up but by the time I was old enough it was the sixties!!! But this year I have managed to buy a dress in a similar style.

  29. Oooh I own that book-It is great! Lovely dresses too :)

  30. Oh Hen you are very clever!I love the skirts that you ve found and would love,love ,love to hear,see more on the housecoats and pinnys....
    Could I posibbly ask you where you bought your gorgeous patent red shoes on the last photograph?many thanks,

  31. Beautiful, original clothes ... very you!

  32. Beautiful dresses and well done with the skirt 're-fashioning' I really must go vintage shopping myself!

  33. What a fabulous post I love the housey pics but what a change to have a mouth watering session of gorgeous dresses when women were women and not afraid to be girly. Wonderful Hen

  34. Hi,

    Just found your blog through Carol from At Home in the Country.

    What a lovely blog you have! Love your dresses and skirts!!

    Happy long weekend.

    Lieve groet, Madelief

  35. You know what Hen ? I've never thought of altering waistbands of vintage skirts. I often admire the fabric, sigh that I'll never have the waistline of my 20s again and shuffle on! Now thanks to you, I don't have to!

    P.S. You have a beautiful vintage dress collection; I love that grey fabric - so beautiful.

  36. A veritable feast for the eyes! I have the spotty fabric myself but I am coveting the rest oh yes. :)xx

  37. I think I might have been inspired to try some dress making you make the skirt making sound so easy. I have been wanting to make clothes for a while now :)

  38. Love the floral frocks! Do you have the book? It's worth buying for the pictures alone. I found a very pretty one in a charity shop recently which I wrote about on my blog, but only vintage style, rather than the real McCoy like yours!

    Pomona x

  39. Gosh, I love all of those. I wish I was thin enough to wear them. More than anything, though, I LOVE those red shoes! Fabulous.


You are warmly encouraged to leave a comment here. Your comments are emailed directly to me so rest assured I read and treasure every one. Thank you for supporting my blog with your comment. X