In a magazine spread, vintage clothing almost always looks cool. Dresses have a distinctive shape and the shirts are made out of almost impossible to find material. In reality, vintage duds can be overpriced and fit awkwardly. Worst of all, the material may just disintegrate.
Lisa Comfort has built a shrine to vintage style at her London store "Sew Over It," where she sells updated patterns and offers classes in mid-century sewing techniques. Her new book "Sew Over It Vintage: Stylish Projects for the Modern Wardrobe & Home" is filled with patterns like the 1950s-Style Button Up Skirt we're featuring on CraftFoxes pillows and other projects.
We asked Lisa a handful of questions that vex almost every vintage-inspired DIYer. For more about her book, watch the video below.
When you're interested in a piece of vintage clothing, is it obvious how you should update it?
Most of the time when I'm shopping for vintage, I'm not looking to create something new. I love pairing vintage pieces with my own handmade wardrobe. I think vintage adds that extra touch of glamour to an outfit - real glamour that can be hard to find these days. One thing I have to get right is the fit across the shoulders. I've bought lots of things because I loved them on the hanger, only to discover that once I get them home big '80s shoulders are not my thing. Depending on the garment sometimes it's something I can adjust, but if not it stays on the shelf.
What are some thrift store pieces that DIYers may not realize can be turned into great makeovers?
Big boxy blouses had their time in the '80s and are now everywhere in vintage shops near me. With a few quick changes they can be easily updated for now. If you remove any shoulder pads, cut the sleeves shorter and crop the bodice to a couple of inches below the waist, you've got yourself a one-of-a-kind trendy shirt to wear with high-waisted jeans or pencil skirt.
How do you find vintage (deadstock) fabrics or new fabrics with a classic look?
Etsy is a great resource for vintage fabrics. I like to have a look every couple of months and I find there are always gems to be had. Charity shops in London can be treasure troves as well, and because I am "the one who sews" in my family, I have been very lucky to inherit fabric and pattern stashes from relatives and family friends.
What are some low-cost ways to recreate vintage pieces?
Vintage clothing can be expensive, so a much cheaper way you can give your wardrobe a vintage twist is by making the clothes yourself! Vintage patterns are very inexpensive to pick up in charity shops or on eBay, and depending on the fabrics you choose you can recreate beautiful vintage-inspired pieces that are as good as the real thing. Sew Over It's pattern range is vintage-inspired but with contemporary sizing, making fitting for modern bodies much easier. Our Betty Dress is your go-to 1950's party dress, the Eve Dress is your girl for 20's glamour and the Ultimate Shift Dress is quintessentially 1960s.
What do you look for to check if a piece is worth updating or if it's too far gone?
I don't buy anything that is looking too threadbare or has rips in the fabric because these problems are much harder to fix than fitting issues, which I'm much more likely to tackle.
Which 20th-century design techniques do you think are unfortunately missing from modern clothing?
I love looking through the rails in vintage shops, inspecting the insides of garments. With the rise of fast fashion, seam allowances these days tend to always be finished with an overlocker for speed, but with vintage it's common to find french seams, Hong Kong finishing or even edges cut with pinking shears. When I have the time I like to incorporate these techniques into my own sewing for that extra special feel.
Which classic (and often forgotten) sewing techniques do you think should be learned by every modern sewist?
Simple hand stitches are often overlooked today but I think they are invaluable as they allow you to finish a garment more professionally. Whether it's stitching a blind hem, anchoring facings to the inside of a garment or even sewing on buttons, everyone should know their way around a needle and thread.