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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Tree generations made One Dress

Hey there.

"We live in a throwaway society. When our clothes get threadbare, stained or the seams of our trousers show wear, most of us simply dispose of them by throwing them in the bin or donating them to charity before going on the next shopping trip down the high-street."
(quote taken from Make Do and Mend )

The war caused a shortage of clothes due to the change of the Nation's needs: „clothing manufacturers were commissioned to manufacture uniforms as a priority instead of civilian fashion...“. All over the world, the industries stopped making fashionable garments and switched their production to uniforms.
All the clothing became scarce and strictly rationed.

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To overcome the clothing ration people made their own clothes by re-using material from old clothes, curtains, blankets and furnishing fabrics which were sometimes available. Knitting was very popular, and people were encouraged to knit gloves, socks and scarves to send to the men in the armed forces. Old jumpers were unraveled and re-knitted to create new garments. Resources were scarce and everything was reused and recycled: “We used to take our old jam jars to the Rag and Bone man who would pay a small amount for them, that way we would have extra money for the necessities.”
In direct response to the shortages, Vogue’s ‘Make Do & Mend’ campaign led women to become accustomed to adapting their existing clothes.  Clothes were patched and shoes repaired and clothes which children had grown out of were “handed down” to brothers and sisters or neighbors'  children. 
Clothing was handed down through family and friends. Everything was useful to someone so very little was thrown away. 

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This is my "Make, do & mend" story.. in a way.
My late grandma started drafting up a dress back when she was young mother of two little girls. Those were the early 1960's.

Gorgeous day-wear from October 1962. BURDA magazine

Grandma made the pieces from her trusty BURDA pattern. She had put them together and formed the dress. Where the changes and alternations had to be made, she added chalk-marks and placed the pins.
Then, something happened.
It could be that the alternations became too much of a fuss; or it may be that she had more important issues on her shoulders (with two young girls about to start school, she needed to make their Uniforms?). Maybe she given up the dress making due to the fact that her crafty-hand earned more money with fine embroidery (table runners done by hand and sold could feed a household for months on).
Whatever the reason, the Dress was neatly packed up, placed in a paper package and placed in the back of the Wardrobe. 

Time passed.
Fashions changed like seasons.
The '80 came.

Same magazine: BURDA - dating from February 1985.

Mom found the dress.
She must have taken a good look at it and decided the material was good, the lines were already made, the biggest part of the structure is there.. why not finish it?!
First thing's first: Fashion-aware women watched shows like "Dynasty" and admired gracious ladies like Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales. Their common feature were (yes!) the shoulder-pads. Naturally, they had to give the support to the new-found dress.

'twas the era of shoulder-pads

Mom's garment-reconstruction gave the dress the new look. She added the pads, gave a waist more narrow look, marked where the collar should be cut off and.. stopped there.
There's a question to which I have an answer: she found out she was carrying a second child. A girl, indeed (that was me!).
Needles to say her priorities changed from "Dynasty"-friendly padded dress to the ever so popular Pregnant-overalls. The dressed was wrapped up, placed in a moist-proof plastic bag and placed in the old wardrobe in the storage room. The idea was - maybe one day, when she's got more time..
She forgot it.

Mom's kids grew up.
Grandma died. 
Rooms in the house changed. Few years ago the time came to change the purpose of the storage room into something else. It meant "big clean-up".
Everything that was not to be used had it's path - to the garbage bag!
I was taking out yet another bag to the bin when I heard mom calling me, yelling "Come over here a sec!"; that meant she has found something I might find a purpose for (since I was always one of those Salvage It You May Need It people). In her hands there was a plastic bag. On her face there was a look of remembrance as she told me "Hm! This old thing.. I tried to re-do grandma's old dress"
Grandma's dress? (granny was a plus size, you see)

Something old and forgotten?! Of course I wanted it. I tried it on instantly. I took a look at myself in the mirror. My figure looked strange: there was a girl staring at me from the mirror, and she looked quite ridiculous, to tell the truth. Her shoulders were huge, her waist was nowhere to be found and there were all the chalk-work plus the pin-work done by the two previous generations of women in my family. "OK" I said to mom "I'll keep it.. maybe, one day"... (note the similarity in our way of thinking). After all, I am a Salvager of all things odd. I've removed the pins, and put the dress in the washing machine. After drying, I gently wrapped it up thinking "C'mon, there's no way I'd spend my time on this.. too much work to be done." My sewing skills were underneath such a task.
So, the Old Dress went back into hibernation.

Oh, sweet ladies, how I like your frocks!

Now, my time came to make changes inside my room. Removing boxes before this years paint-job, I raised my brow at a garment wrapped up neatly.
I tried it on.
Same look - the shoulder pads were just.. not working. However, instead of throwing myself in despair, I took the scissors and liberated the dress from the dreadful "bodybuilder shoulder" look it gave me.

The Dress

With no shoulder pads, I started to realize it's true potential - and the reason it survived all those years of being forgotten. 
Looking at myself in the mirror, I got it:

With some love & care THIS is it's future!

The long sleeve version

While I worked on the dress, it got me thinking. Why am I doing all this work? Is it because I constantly get disappointing results whenever I search for a dress? Or is it because, when I find a dress, it never (ever) suits me?
That made me realize the issue: it's all about the fact that I'm a yesterday-girl. I dwell in the past, and the past was quite different. Women of the past didn't have:
  • elastic waistbands that made their tummies comfortable in the dresses
  • stretchy material that fails to "hug the curves" but puts emphasis on the flaws.
Ladies didn't own the stretching garments that allow "Just one more piece of pie". 
No, the dresses had to fit it's owner, and they were sewn to fit .. to perfection. It took serious attention to details, as I was soon to find out. Taking the dress off, re-touching the details and then putting it back on to see did I achieve the "fit like a glove" effect. Time-consuming process of patient darting gave the dress a metamorphosis to something quite close to it's ideal pictured above.

Here it is:


(pardon my office-before-hours face, this was taken before we opened, at 6:58 AM)

I made the waist look more slender by the usage of the belt, and I turned the pointed collar into a small 1930's appropriate. I chose to wear the yellow necklace just to contradict all the redness (dress, hair, nails and lips - all are red). The booties are not quite vintage-looking, but they do fit the vintage combo: my bag and watch and leather gloves all match in color and form. 

My colleagues told me they like the dress.
What do you think?

♥♥ Pinky Honey


  1. More than merely like this dress, I absolutely love both it and the rich, wonderfully illuminated history behind. This post strikes a chord not only with the vintage fan in me, but with the family genealogist as well (oh, and I must tell you, we have to be on the same wavelength, you and I, because I recently did a shoot in Kelowna, the photos from which will be going up on my blog later this month, in which I'm wearing a dress that has been in my family for decades now, too). You look wonderful and so very, very happy.

    Tons of hugs,
    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you ever so much, dear Jessica.
      I can't wait to hear your story.. since I'm an avid fan of item that have a life story behind them. Maybe that's why I'm so attracted to vintage clothes, accessoirs and decorations - they have already lived once, they accumulated a history of their own (and I love to find it out)
      You are true: I was (still am) happy, trully happy to be able to wear something that connected me even more to the women of my home.