I’m presenting a couple of workshops on up-cycling fashion, as part of the “Across the Arts Festival”.
This year’s festival theme is “Conserve, Recycle and Reinvent” and what better things to conserve, recycle and reinvent than your old damaged, unflattering, out of date or stained clothes?
The workshops are all day events and you have your choice of the Friday or the Saturday. Included will be some information about determining fabric types, repairs and basic restorations too, as well as talking about how garments can be changed to fit better or reflect current trends.
If you’ve ever wanted advice on all manner of things you can do to fashion, here’s your chance for demonstrations and practical assistance!
Here’s the blurb: Nicole Jenkins, costume designer, fashion historian, blogger, Melbourne retailer with her shop “Circa Vintage” and author of the award winning book “Love Vintage”, has over thirty years experience of repairing and restoring vintage and antique fashions – she’s developed a series of techniques that can be used to save or modernise a garment.
Join her as she shares her secrets on how to restyle and recycle fashions by altering sleeves, hems, necklines, shaping and adding detailing. Bring one or more garments to work on: perhaps it’s already damaged or stained and you’d like ideas on how to save it, or perhaps something that you’d like to update or redesign
Here are some details:
What: Upcycling workshops, as part of the Across the Arts Festival When: Friday May 3rd 10am to 3.30pm or Sunday May 5th 10am to 3.30pm. Where: GOTAFE Auditorium, Docker Street, Wangaratta Cost: $70 or $50 concession (lunch included). A subsidised Youth fee of $5 is available for the Friday session, for people aged between 12 and 25. Bargain! More information and bookings at the website: Across the Arts Festival
Bring some projects to work on and your sewing kit.
Many vintage lovers appreciate wonderful hats or would like to learn more about the art of millinery – local master milliner, Paris Kyne is based in the Melbourne CBD and offers repair and restoration services as well as a series of short courses at the William Beale school of Millinery.
Some of Paris’s hats and gorgeous vintage busts (I’d like one of each, please).
Named after William Beale, one of Melbourne’s most loved and successful milliners who produced beautiful hats under the label “Mr Individual”. Paris was fortunate to train under him and receive his amazing collection of hat blocks.
The National Trust sale only happens once a year and it gets better and better – the ladies are now accepting donations for next year’s sale, items should be good quality and in good, clean condition – please email Nance. All funds raise support the National Trust’s wonderful historical costume collection.
Here is one of the ’50s frocks that I snaffled from this year’s sale – I love the rosebud print and that good, sturdy cotton fabric. It was made by Melbourne label “La Rhonde Fashions” – I love how they’ve matched the print up on the left side of the neckline.
The costumes were designed by Orry-Kelly, the Australian who had previously won three Academy Awards including one for Marilyn Monroe’s beaded dresses in “Some Like it Hot”.
Any excuse for a MM pic.
I wish I’d known about Orry-Kelly when I was a costume student: he would have been my idol. Plus he lived with Cary Grant for a decade! He received a fourth Academy Award nomination for “Gypsy” and according to Wikipedia, when he died two years later “His pallbearers included Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder and George Cukor and his eulogy was read by Jack Warner.” That’s one heck of a supporting cast to see you into the next world.
Back to Miss Wood – I can tell you that there are four pieces to the Gypsy costume: essential for a strip tease… to undress in stages – and here is the order that Miss Wood removed them – the skirt, the jacket, the high waisted knicker and the strapless bra. The set was split – the undergarments were sold last year.
An example of what they would have looked like on, if you weren’t as petite as Miss Wood: the bra and knicker should meet, so that it looks like a one piece garment. It’s a pity the set was split up but so it goes. The best pieces are still the jacket and skirt.
The jacket is tiny: it has a hook and eye at the dazzling rhinestone encrusted collar and a pair of big press studs to secure at the base – Natalie wore it crossed over about three inches, but the modern size 8 mannequin is too enormous for her costume. There are half-sleeves, and a big train that hangs down almost to the floor, with a beaded tassle and more rhinestones.
Then the skirt – it wraps around, secured with a large hook and eye, producing a draped effect over her hips. There are more hooks that perhaps attached to her undergarments – she must have been quite curvy for her tiny frame, because the skirt fell down when I put it on my vintage mannequins.
The skirt also has a tail, capped with a beaded tassle and rhinestones – plus several weights to keep it down, and a loop so she could pick it up and play with it. She must have done this a bit, because the skirt “tail” had the most damage.
Are you wondering why the mannequin is standing on a yellow sheet? This was so I could pick up all the beads and rhinestones as they fell off. It was my task to secure the beadwork, mend the holes and generally restore the costume so it could be displayed without endangering the condition. Everything I did was on the sheet, to capture all of the beads.
Tell me more?
The ensemble is made of silver bugle beads machine sewn onto silk jersey in feathered lines and partially lined in fine nylon. Then additional bugle beads were hand sewn in areas that needed to be more heavily ornamented (like the bust), or perhaps they were repairs? Then thousands of rhinestones of various sizes were glued onto the fabric. Additional glass crystals set in prongs were hand stitched on too.
I was thrilled to see pencil marks under the bugle beads indicating that they had a beading machine to apply a specific design but then realised – this is Hollywood! Of course they had a beading machine, they wouldn’t just pop down to Clegs and buy it by the metre like us plebs.
Working with two sizes of needles (a sharps and a thin beading needle) I moved my hands gently over a section at a time, searching for loose beads, loose threads and loose rhinestones – the latter fell off and were collected. The first two were secured with the required needle on the underside. I used pure cotton thread, like the one that was used on the original costume (even though polyester thread is stronger, I prefer authenticity if I can get it).
It was a painstaking process and I limited myself to 45 minutes at a time, because my eyes would start to go funny after a while. I’m surprised I wasn’t dreaming of rhinestones!
Here’s a close up of the fabulousness – you can see the different types of beads and rhinestones, the prong set ones sit up higher than the glued ones, which sit flat. The dark misshapen bits are the remnants of silvered backing from absent rhinestones.
I tried gluing the dropped rhinestones back on but it didn’t work of course, they needed their intact backing and it had crumbled away. This is why sewing will always last better than glue, but back when Orry-Kelly inspected the finished costume, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking of the people who would still be admiring his work more than fifty years later.
The costume will be going on display in a couple of weeks in Brisbane – you can see it (if you’re over 18) at Club X, 160 Brisbane Road, Booval, Queensland.
Today I’d like to talk about the clothes moth: perhaps the greatest peril of vintage textiles. These nasty little critters are a great destroyer of our precious fashion history.
Recently I received a lot of clothing from the ’60s and ’70s including a lot of wool, cashmere and silk. Sadly they had been exposed to moths and so I’m currently treating everything, even the belts and handbags, for moth eradication and cleaning. I can’t risk further damage to the textiles, and I can’t expose them to my stock or shop. It breaks my heart but it’s a reminder that most vintage lovers learn the hard way about how to recognise moths and how to get rid of them.
Firstly – please know that moths are a big threat to fabrics in warm countries like Australia. The moths themselves are small, about a centimetre long and shades of brown or grey. Sometimes they look like small bits of wood or leaves – and they don’t fly much or far distances, preferring to hop. Please google if you’d like a photo (excuse me for not putting one up here). The moths mate and lay eggs; it’s the larvae which eat the textile.
The eggs are small and cling to the fabric in a fine and sticky cotton wool like material – if you can see them at all. The moth will lay them next to a food source, preferably dirty fabric where there might be a food spill or perspiration (this is why moth damage tends to be in particular parts of a garment) so that as soon as they hatch, they can start eating. This is why you should always clean your clothes before storing them.
The most common one in Australia is the casemaking clothes moth – it creates a cocoon around itself while it eats, and the cocoon takes on the colour of the fabric it’s eating. This can make them harder to see but they start off white, and generally look like small rolls of cotton wool (again, please google for images, they squick me and so I’d prefer not to include an image although I’m sad to say that I’ve seen many). Underneath the cocoon, you will see where the textile has been eaten away. Sometimes you get lots of these larvae huddled together, and they can chew through a very large piece, but mostly they create a small long hole, about a centimetre long, and if they keep eating, the hole will get larger.
They’re fussy and prefer some fabrics over others: cashmere seems to be top of the moth hit parade. Soft wools, other wools, furs, silks, cottons, linens, rayons, leathers and suedes; like us, they like natural fibres, the softer the better. If they have no other choice, they’ll eat synthetics too.
I recommend that you protect your cashmeres by storing in cotton pillowcases or cotton bags (never plastic, textiles should never be stored in plastic bags or containers as they can’t breathe). I always assume that newly acquired cashmeres and wools will contain either moths or their eggs, so I routinely treat them for infestations, as it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What to do?
How to prevent –
Clean textiles before storing and check on them every six months. Moths like dark and quiet places, to be left alone. They take a little while to do their damage so regular inspections should identify problems quickly. Vacuum the inside of cupboards and wardrobes to remove eggs and moths. Mothballs are not recommended as they’re a poison but herbal treatments are available. Cedar balls and cedar chests have an effect but are not reliable enough when used alone.
How to remove from clothes
Eggs are hard to kill and moths feed on the moisture in the fabric (perhaps this is why they don’t like synthetics?). Here are some recommended methods:
- Remove the eggs and cocoons as much as possible: I use a hot damp cloth or my hands (wash thoroughly afterwards).
- Freeze the garment for at least a week, some recommend defrosting and freezing for another week – this will kill the eggs.
- Dry clean, this removes the moisture on which they feed and kills the eggs.
- Expose the garment to full sun or high temperatures. Not recommended for vintage garments as the colours can fade but one way to do this is to wrap them in black plastic, which will both protect them and keep the fading at bay.
I hope that my words will help you in your fight against one of the scurges of our vintage world.
As a balm, please let me show you a beautiful cashmere coat, available at Denise Brain vintage – and sure to be free of the nasties. Cashmere is such a beautiful fabric to wear, warm and light too. Thanks Maggie of Denise Brain!
On Sunday I made a snap decision and flew to Sydney for the day, to bid on an amazing collection of ’20s and ’30s from the archives of fashion designer Lisa Ho.
It was a hard decision to make because right now, having just moved and still sorting out my enormous quantities of stock, I need more like a hole in the head – but this was an incredible collection, the like of which I’ve never seen in my 32 years of collecting. Pieces of this quality are rare in Australia and the auction hadn’t been widely promoted so I felt that there might be an opportunity to pick up some items for good prices. I was right.
There are good and bad things about buying vintage at auction: firstly, there are only a small number of auctions held each year by a few specialist auction houses. You can sometimes find older pieces included in general antique auctions or sometimes a collection will be sold, as was the case with the collection of Chris Jacovides in 1989 (one of the best weekends of my life, so much fun!) or the Banana Room in 2005. Auctions can be exhilarating and exciting – but you need to keep a rein on your budget.
Personally, I find the combination of being in a room with like-minded people, and possibly friends, sharing a passion and bidding against each other to be a wonderful experience. Auction houses are generally very professional and restrained and you’ll need your best poker face to get the best buys: show too much enthusiasm and others will wonder what makes it special too. Dealers in particular, are prone to buying out of their comfort zone if you give them cause to think that something is worth more than they do.
If you have friends in the room, you probably won’t want to bid against each other – and that can be tricky, although I once made a good friend after winning one lot of shoes and afterwards we discovered that I wanted the ’30s heels and she wanted the ’70s platforms: splitting the lot enabled us both to get what we wanted and reduced the costs.
It’s a good idea to inspect the lots carefully beforehand – especially with clothing, condition is a big part of their value, and catalogues are often light on detail. For example, on Sunday, I found an ’80s Thierry Mugler dress mixed in with a lot of ’30s dresses. Often catalogues won’t even give you eras or labels so investigation is required. Two of the best pieces in the Lisa Ho auction had major condition issues that weren’t evident in the photos, so it’s no surprise that in both cases they went to absentee bidders, who perhaps weren’t aware of the damage.
Another thing is that you should read the terms and conditions carefully – in this case I was dismayed to find that I had to wait until the next day for the invoice, and I was back home in Melbourne by then – and they had to post my winning bids, which was going to take two weeks or more (!) so I ended up hounding the auctioneer so that I could pick them up. Had I known, I would have stayed in Sydney an extra day.
On Sunday I was so excited to be in the room that I took a series of walks, firstly past the room, doing a big circle – then into the room but just sweeping past the racks so I could work out where to start. Then I took a third walk by, looking in a little more depth – it was the fourth walk where I started to look at individual garments – that’s how excited I was, I needed to relax and take it in gently, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do my job properly!
In the end, I ran out of time and just gave the racks of ’30s petticoats and nightgowns and wedding gowns a cursory look – my time with the 200 plus lots took almost two hours. My loss, as it meant that I couldn’t effectively bid on those lots.
Vintage wedding gowns.
1930s lingerie: petticoats and nightgowns.
For this auction, I expected the usual suspects to attract the highest bids: beaded ’20s dresses frequently go for $1,000 plus – and there were lots of them. Other expected big ticket items were the incredible ’20s lame’ coats, cloaks and jackets. These are popular because the fabrics are incredible and they’re usually sized generously.
Beaded ’20s silk dresses – so pleased to see them lying flat on tables, rather than hanging although there were other ones on hangers.
But I was after the ’30s floral dresses and the ’30s evening wear and the ’30s jackets and coats – can you sense a theme? I’m currently loving this decade, especially the wild florals. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one – and so missed all these lots despite bidding often, my budget just wouldn’t get me where it needed to be.
I can hardly complain though, as the ’20s went for lower prices than I expected. My final haul was six dresses from the ’30s, two pairs of shoes, three beaded ’20s dresses and a ’20s lame’ jacket. The lovely auction people are posting them to me and I can’t wait for my new treasures to arrive.
1930s floral dresses.
I didn’t want the viewing to end and the beauties to be split up. Lisa Ho is a lady with superb taste and I hope she’s not too sad for her collection to be dispersed like this, at least she can be reassured that the pieces I bought will be treasured and restored.
Thank you, Lisa – I’ll be using some in my talks and so can share them with other vintage lovers! Here are some links for auction houses that sell vintage clothing on occasion:
UPDATE: I’ve received notice that this course has been cancelled. Hopefully it will be rescheduled at some point in the future.
Lynn Savery is one of the best dressed ladies in Melbourne, with a particular fondness for the knitwear styles of the ’30s to the ’50s. Using vintage patterns, she started knitting her own and found there was demand so now hand-knits to order for some fashionable local boutiques.
She’s starting a new class at the CAE on the history of fashion knitwear, and will cover progress from domestic handcraft to commercial product. Many designers will be covered including the revolutionary styles of Chanel and Schiaparelli in the ’20s up to Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood in more modern times.
What: History of Fashion Knitwear classes When: 6 sessions on Tuesdays 11am to 12.30pm, 22nd May to 26th June 2012 Where: CAE Building B – 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Cost: $169 Adult or $164 Concession. Additional costs may be required for materials or textbooks. Bookings:See the website or phone 9652 0611
Many of the emails I receive are about the care of vintage clothing – topics I’ve posted about at various times. You can find the posts by selecting “How To” in the drop down Category menu on the right hand side, but now I’ve made it easier by adding a page called “Vintage 101″ which will grow to be a place where you can find the answers to many of your questions – plus it helps me see the topics that I need to cover.
Of course much of this information can also be found in my beautiful and award-winning book “Love Vintage” – speaking of which, there aren’t many copies left now before it goes out of print. You can pick up yours at Circa or the webshop, for the bargain price of $50 plus postage if applicable.
You can see the link in the menu below the banner and also by clicking on this pretty ’40s floral housedress. You can also see her over on the right if you scroll down a bit.
This dress is by “Wrapsody” for the Myer Emporium – love the pun – and was worn by a glamourous local lady who took it with her on cruises, where I like to imagine she slipped it on for visits to the bathroom down the hall, in case she bumped into that nice young steward from the Dining Room.
A house dress is one of those garments that has been lost to time: it’s basically a glamourous dressing gown or informal dress she would wear around the house to cook breakfast for the family and flirt with the milkman. They were presentable but practical garments that were comfortable to wear and machine washable.
I love house dresses and many of the frocks in my personal vintage wardrobe are house dresses – you can see another here, a ’30s one I wore at the Miss PinUp Tasmania finals (that’s the fabulous Miss Pixie on the left). Photo courtesy CezB Photography.
This morning I received a package from the Blue Mountains – Marg sent me her Grandmother’s wedding gown that was “falling apart”, so that I could reuse the beads and sequins.
As someone who restores antique and vintage, I find that there is “falling apart” and then there is “an easy fix”, so I hoped that this gown might be restorable – however, I soon discovered that Marg was absolutely correct – this once fabulous, beautiful and expensive 1920s silk dress was no more.
Beaded silk ’20s gowns are amongst the most popular and collectable fashions out there: during the ’80s I would find them occasionally at antique auctions where they would go for $1000 at a minimum. Once an auctioneer taunted me with a tale of a leather suitcase full of them that sold “at last week’s auction” for a few dollars. I was collecting vintage for over twenty years before I bought my first one, an ebay bargain that I wore to Circa’s opening in 2004 and sometimes bring to talks on ladies fashions. I now have several, perhaps even ten, but they all need restoration and sometimes major restoration. Marg’s Grandmother’s dress takes the cake though: never have I met such a lost cause!
Firstly, let me show you a beaded ’20s dress in very good condition: these were worn over petticoats and the weight of the beads damages the delicate silk if they’re hung so not many have survived in good condition. The usual damage is around the shoulders due to the hanger. This one is from Viva Vintage Clothing’s webshop and is very well priced.
Photo courtesy Viva Vintage Clothing.
Now let me show you Marg’s Grandmother’s dress…or rather, bits of it, because it’s no longer intact and can’t be displayed as a dress.
I almost cried: once upon a time it would have been amazing.
No doubt you’ve already guessed that this beautiful ex-dress is suffering from dry rot.
Dry rot is a kind of funghi that eats away at the part of the textile that makes it strong and is a result of poor temperature and moisture control.
Fabrics are very prone to extremes of temperature, humidity, damp, mold and mildew – as natural materials they like to breathe and be dry and in a stable temperature, but many antique and vintage fabrics have suffered over the years from neglect. This is a big part of why you’ll find more vintage in Tasmania than Queensland: despite the bigger population, humidity is the enemy of fabric.
Museums control the temperature and humidity to create a stable environment but it’s not something many of us would consider for our homes. Dry rot happens when a textile is exposed to moisture over a period of time and is unable to dry out effectively – and this is why plastic like dry cleaning bags aren’t a good thing to store your fashions in. Eventually the textile becomes so weak that it becomes brittle and just crumbles into dust.
What to do? Hopefully, don’t buy it in the first place because once this process has begun, your beautiful piece is on a road to tragedy and will break your heart – am I being too dramatic? I love old silks. So yes, this seems to affect mostly old silks, especially pre-World War 2 silks. Delicate fabrics especially. The good news is that we don’t get much of it Australia.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a beaded ’20s dress of your own, I recommend that you roll it up with acid free tissue paper and store in a pure cotton pillow case and pop in a cupboard or cardboard box so the fabric can breathe and be protected from insects and sun damage.
Marg, thank you for sending me your Grandmother’s beautiful gown, we shall remove the beads and use them to restore the beadwork on other 1920s gowns.
I was wondering if I could ask for your expert advice regarding professionally dying a Guipure lace vintage dress? As a bridesmaid I have to match my dress for an upcoming wedding and wasn’t sure who to trust for the task. I would appreciate any information you might have as I know restoration is a specialty at Circa.
Tessie, how well the fabric will dye depends on it’s composition. If the lace is a natural fibre (eg cotton, silk, wool) you will get a good result. If it’s rayon, you will get a close result and if it’s a synthetic (polyester), it won’t dye well at all.
You don’t say how old your dress is, but if it’s a ’50s or ’60s dress, it’s probably rayon lace which should dye fairly well – but if it’s been sewn with polyester or a cotton/poly blend, the stitching will come up a different colour. Also, the existing colour will limit the range of colours you can dye it – the stronger or darker the colour, the less colours that will cover it.
You don’t say where you are, but I recommend that you talk to a professional dyer for advice. Also (very important) clean the dress before you get it dyed. If you don’t have anyone in mind, try the yellow pages.
There’s another issue that you might like to consider: if your dress is lined, and the lining is a different textile, either the lace or the lining might shrink and you end up with different hem lengths. A professional dyer should take into account the needs of the fabric and use the right dye and water temperature: some old fabrics shrink.
I don’t generally recommend dyeing old garments unless they are a lost cause – the risks of damaging the garment are high. If you’re not sure if it will work for you, you might like to consider incorporating the chosen colour through an overlay or accessories or detailing or something like that. If you like, you could bring it to me to see in the shop and I can give you my opinion.
Now, here is a dress that has been dyed and is currently available from Circa’s webshop.
This dress is nylon with an acetate lining – I didn’t realise that it had been dyed when I bought it, or when I hand washed it (because it didn’t run in the cold water) but it became apparent when we ironed it because the colour on the lining fabric is slightly uneven. The acetate has also lost it’s crispness, indicating it’s been washed rather than always dry cleaned.
I suspect it was pink originally.
Here are some giveaways that a vintage garment might have been dyed:
- Uneven colour.
- Different coloured thread or detailing (appliques, lace, buttons etc).
- Label will be similar colour to the garment (if you do dye a garment, I recommend that you remove the label and sew it in again afterwards).
- Loss of crispness from being washed in hot water.
It’s a common misconception that dyeing a garment will remove marks and stains, but usually unless you go for a very dark colour, the marks will still be there, just a different colour. With a dark colour, it will still be there too, but not as noticeable as with a lighter colour.
Dyeing used to be big business but it’s a dying (so to speak) industry – if you’re of the crafty persuasion, you might like to do your own dyeing. You can buy Rit and Dylon dyes from supermarkets and fabric shops, but for the best range and also advice, try Kraft Kolour in Thomastown. They also have some great workshops.