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Sewing with the Vintage Techniques

Sewing 1947 Vintage Vogue 9346

Lisa is standing with her hand on her hip in a pale pink polka dot dress

For my first blog post for Lamazi Fabrics I wanted to share with you the joy that I get from sewing a vintage reproduction pattern using mostly vintage sewing techniques. These vintage techniques give a garment a beautiful finish, they often involve a bit of hand sewing and rarely crop up in contemporary patterns so they may be ones that you aren’t familiar with. I chose a 1947 reproduction pattern, Vintage Vogue 9346, as my project. This is a pattern I’ve wanted to sew for quite a while now, so I was excited to know I would be making it using fabric from Liana and James at Lamazi. I was also drawn to the fact that this pattern is dated 1947, the year Christian Dior launched his New Look Collection.  Dior’s collection gained its name from Carmel Snow, the former editor in chief of America’s Harper’s Bazaar. Snow declared, “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!’. The New Look highlights the move forwards in some ways from the wartime restrictions governing for instance how much cloth could be used, how many seams there were and the amount of buttons.  Dior used yards of fabric to create his full, longer length skirts with the addition of petticoats, hip padding & corsets. It wasn’t popular with everyone though, tightly corseting women and putting them in longer skirts was a nostalgic move back to pre WW1 days. Whilst it did signal the end of wartime restrictions, it also showed that women were no longer needed by the war effort, their role was to look decorative and return to the home. That all said, rationing continued in Britain until 1952 as did the Utility Clothing Scheme so whilst the urge was to move forward and embrace the new, the materials often weren't available. To me VV9346 embraces British Fashion of the time and the sleek silhouettes favoured by the American designers of the period. It has a classic 1940’s design, following many of the rules of the wartime Utility Clothing Scheme with its now iconic CC41 label which stands for Civilian Clothing.

Image of vintage vogue 9346 pattern cover

I’ve been wearing and sewing Vintage inspired and Original vintage clothes since I was a teenager. I’ve never felt particularly inspired by current fashions and trends. I prefer to give my vintage look a contemporary edge rather than dressing as a vintage purist by mixing and matching eras.  My favourite styles to wear are from the late 1940’s American Sportswear through to the joyful 1950’s. Then I like to add fishnets and chunky boots in the winter or converse in the summer along with my colourful accessories and red lipstick every time.

Whilst I absolutely love the designs of the 1930’s and 1940’s, they don’t really suit me as a rule. They’re designed to be looser fitting in the bodice and have broader shoulders. When I pop a 40’s dress on I feel a bit like a little girl who put on one of her mum’s dresses. My figure and height work best in a tightly fitted 1950’s shape which can be sassy or fun depending on the garment. That all said, I do like to break the rules. So there’s no harm in altering the design and fit of a 1940’s dress to achieve the shape that I want to feel good in and that’s what I’ve done with the dress I’m going to share with you here. 

Lisa standing with her hand on her hip in a pale pink polka dot dress

Vintage Vogue 9346 has a classic shape, with a jewel neckline and A-Line skirt. It’s the details that absolutely elevate it to wow level for me, especially the rows of pin tucks above and below the back skirt yoke, which are a simply divine detail. The pattern suggests using crepe, flannel or jersey. I did think at first I’d use a crepe which I love to sew with, however the Small Dots Blush Viscose Twill (which is also available in a green and white colourways) kept on winking at me as the perfect fabric for this dress. I knew I needed a fairly plain fabric to show off all the fabulous details, but wanted something to add a slightly more modern edge to the dress. I’ve also been obsessing over finding the right shade of blush to try out recently. 

Image of pale pink fabric with small black dots

Whilst I waited for my fabric, I made a Toile of the bodice with any fitting alterations, I needed to make, so I could start cutting and sewing straight away. I always make a toile of a pattern I’ve not used before so I can alter the pattern as necessary for my body shape. Once the fabric arrived, I knew I’d made the perfect choice for this dress, it drapes beautifully and feels wonderful to touch.  I had three black vintage buttons ready and waiting and they looked perfect when I laid them on my fabric to see how they’d look. 

A close up image of pale pink polka dot fabric with small black buttons

VV9346 has a host of vintage sewing techniques which I’d used before in other makes, some can be swapped out for modern techniques if you want to go for a speedier sew of course, so don’t let that put you off this pattern. I get a huge amount of joy using vintage sewing techniques, knowing these are the same methods seamstresses would have used when these patterns were designed so they’re appropriate to the garment. They also slow down the process which is no bad thing at all as it’s quite relaxing taking time over a detail. The pattern suggests sewing the seams right sides together and finishing them as you prefer. In the 1940’s the options would have been to pink the seams, turn under 1’4” or to use French Seams (this is the only seam finish the pattern doesn't suggest though). I chose to use French Seams as this is my preferred method for lighter weight fabric that I want to make as beautiful inside as well as out. It also ensures the seams are far more secure. For speed I could have sewn my seams RS together and overlocked them (which I did do on the waistline seam and armscye as French Seams don’t work on these seams).  

A close up image of a seam inside a pale pink garment

I made the bodice first as most of the bells and whistles of this dress go on here. The three buttonholes on the Yoke are worked as bound buttonholes, which I think always look utterly wonderful (not that I’m claiming mine are, I still need to work on perfecting the finish of the ones I sew). Bound Buttonholes do make for quite a lot of extra work, so if you prefer a speedier less vintage authentic finish then you can machine your buttonholes. 

Pattern instructions and pale pink polka dot fabric

Rectangles drawn on the back of pale pink polka dot fabric

Image of rectangles drawn onto pale pink polka dot fabric with small snips in the middle

The Yoke and lower front bodice, as well as the skirt yoke and dress waistline are sewn together by pressing under the seam allowance, pinning in place and then Topstitching. This is a detail I love as I think it gives a far neater finish and I am partial to a bit of topstitching. I did try topstitching in black as I fancied that as an accent, but it just looked like a pen line to me so I unpicked my stitches and sewed again in matching thread. I also basted the pieces together by hand before topstitching so the pins wouldn’t throw the stitching line off. A couple of years ago I met a lady of 100 who had been a professional seamstress during the 1940’s and 1950’s. She was really quite cross that modern dressmakers simply pin then sew as in her day everything was basted by hand first. It seems such a faff to us today to do all this extra work doesn't it, but it really does pay off when you’re working with lighter weight fabrics that can have a tendency to slip and move as you sew. 

Back view of Lisa in pale pink dress with small black spots, with her hand on her hip

With the main part of the bodice sewn, it was time to pin and sew all the pin tucks. I’ll not lie here, it is time consuming pinning them all out and making sure the lines match from bodice to skirt, but it’s absolutely worth it for the finished effect they give. I also discovered Pin Tucks get their name because they’re the width of a pin head. 

Close up image of pin tucks pinned in fabric and instructions in a book

Image of pintucks being sewn

Image of pin tucks pinned in fabric

The Sleeves have some interesting details which we don’t see in modern sewing patterns. Both sleeves, A and B, are gathered at the back just where the elbow will be. Some vintage patterns put a dart at the elbow or construct the sleeve in two pieces with a front and back. This feature gives greater movement in a fitted sleeve which would otherwise constrict our movement. I chose to use the 3/4 sleeve A, Sleeve B is wrist length and is done up with a row of press studs rather than buttons. Once the sleeves are set in the pattern tells you to add in shoulder pads, which is consistent with the 1940’s broad shouldered style. Rather than make shoulder pads as I would usually do, I wanted to try out a new technique which a Costumier friend suggested to me, Shoulder Frills. Making Vintage 1940’s Clothes for Women showed me how to make these, luckily I had enough Petersham Ribbon in the stash.

Image of Petersham ribbon attached inside a sleeve head

The final detail is the hook and press stud closure instead of using a zip, which is a 1940’s detail I love. The pattern also gives the option of using a zip which would have been back in use again by the late 1940’s. During the war, the use of zips were prohibited as the metal was needed for the war effort. 

Image of Lisa standing to the side in pale pink dress with small black spots

I’m utterly thrilled to have finally made Vintage Vogue 9346 and feel very dandy and smart in it. It’s a dress that I know I can wear to one of the vintage events we love to go to, or dress it down with a denim jacket. Although it was most definitely not a quick sew, there’s quite a few hours of work involved in this make, it’s hugely satisfying to know I made it using techniques that give my dress the best possible finish I could hope for just as a woman would have done who made this dress in 1947.  

Image of Lisa in pale pink dress with black spots

Maybe you already sew using some or all of these techniques. or even fancy giving them a go in the future in one of your makes. You won’t regret it believe me. 

Image of Lisa sitting

You can find Lisa on Instagram @bobo_bun

1 comment

  • stunning – just stunning

    juliet brown

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