Welcome to my new blog series, That’s Sew Vintage. In this series, I’ll walk you through steps, tips, and information on how to fix true vintage items and anything to do with vintage sewing and fabrics. I’ll be discussing everything from how to fix hems, what to know when choosing a dry cleaner and how to wash certain fabrics. I’ll be drawing a lot of information from my own research as well as friends who are experts. This series will be a work in progress so anything you’d like to see or know about, please let me know in the comment section!
Last year whilst I was in Toronto, I was doing a bit of vintage shopping in the Kensington Market area, no real surprise there (full shopping guide here). I was in a small shop which sold mainly wooden trinkets from Indonesia but the sign also said they had a small selection of vintage so that’s the section in to browse. When I entered the store, my eyes were drawn to the ceiling where I saw a blue vintage dress hanging from a coat hanger off one of the rafters. There wasn’t much on the racks at all unless you’re into more of an op shop eclectic selection but I just kept looking back at the dress dangling from the ceiling and I couldn’t help but feel drawn towards it. I waited for the store owner to be free (it was a little busy at this stage) but she took it down for me and told me I was welcome to try it on. I held the dress up, inspected the front and noticed how pretty it was, and then I turned it around and my heart sunk into my feet. “What did they do to you darling?!” was the only thing I could say to the poor dress.
I took her into the change room where I had a chance to fully inspect her. The front and back of the bodice were fine and the dress had a gorgeous blue cummerbund with a bow around the torso. The band had black marks on the ends of the ribbons and the bow needed to be fixed up and resewn into her original position. The worse part of the dress was the back of the skirt; she was ripped from the top of the skirt along the zip all the way down to the horsehair braid ends of the skirt. She was also ripped along the bottom of the skirt and she was covered in black marks. The inside of the dress was a similar story with the lining coming away from the dress and the bodice and skirt also having quite some separation. I don’t know for certain what happened to her but I think perhaps she got caught in a car door; the rips were very extensive and the black marks could have come from being closed inside the car door, but I don’t think I’ll ever know.
I very carefully tried the dress on and low and behold, she fit perfectly and when I came out of the change room people really seemed to like it but were really shocked when I turned around to show them the back of the dress. So many people commented, “oh what a shame” or “what a waste” which I thought was really upsetting for the dress. How long has she been hanging on the ceiling for? She was so beautiful which means that she must have grabbed people’s attention but after seeing the damaged she was deemed too much work. For some reason, I couldn’t help but feel a connection to this dress so I abandoned my own rules of vintage shopping and bought her for about $12 in an ‘as is’ condition. She was going to come home with me and get fixed up.
Side story: as soon as I purchased this dress, I felt so close to her. I crossed the street to the store directly opposite and guess what I found; her sister. Yes, the same dress, same brand but in a different colourway also in my size. It was a no brainer, I had to reunite the dresses together; they must have been staring at each other from across the street for ages and now they were finally together and going to both be fixed up. Hurray!
It’s been a year since she’s been home with me and although I’ve worn her sister, she is still yet to be fixed and I’ve finally gotten around to doing it! After reassessing the damage, I created a list of things that had to be done:
-fix the rip from waist to bottom of the skirt along the zip
-fix the rip along the hem of the skirt
-tidy up the lining
-fix up the bow and cummerbund
-spot stain all the black marks
-full bath soak (perhaps twice)
Looking at the extent of the damage, even though I can sew, I wanted to give the dress the respect and justice it deserved. So I took it to my amazingly talented friend, Beata Ridley from Chen Noir Designs, who is a bridal designer and creates custom bespoke gowns. I couldn’t think of anyone better to help. Beata was not phased by the state of the dress and expertly sewed the rips close and trimmed up any excess. Although the skirt is sheer and the resewn sections will be visible, it’s safe to say that the skirt was completed very smoothly. A french seam was unachievable due to the size of the rip and how much space we had to work with, but fixing up the lining went very smoothly.
In one fell swoop, the dress was whole again, now to clean it. Using my favourite vintage clothing cleaning, Retro Clean, I drew a bath for my dress and let it soak for several hours. The smell was disgusting! There must have been so much dirt, dust and smoke inside the dress that it took me two soakings to get her to a state where I felt she was sparkling and I was very happy to watch the dirty water go down the drain. I decided to fix up the dress before I gave her a wash as I wanted to be sure she was salvageable and although normally I would remove a zip before such a soaking, I felt that she would be ok and she was.
As for the black stains along the skirt, they didn’t fully soak out so I had to patch test a stain removal spray on them. This was the most stressful part of the whole process because this stain remover is so strong that if it gets on your skin, it feels like it’s burning you for several hours. After a small patch test of the spray, I noticed that the stains would only disappear if they were on the flocking and not on the main part of the fabric. Bummer. I’m tempted to try a special de-greasing stain remover but I am worried about the strength of such removers on the old fabric. For now, she has the stains only slightly lightened but not gone. To be honest, I’d still wear her and not mind the stains but I might need to do more research.
Fixing vintage is always a stressful process but it’s always worth it when the garment comes out looking as stunning as the day it was bought. As I slowly document my process in fixing some of my vintage items, I’m keen to remind you that I’m not a professionally trained seamstress and if you want to fix your own vintage, I recommend you do as much research as you can.
I am really happy at how this vintage fix up turned out but I was nervous the whole time I was doing it. I am very thankful to Beata for helping me sew the majority of the rips back together as, without her, I don’t think I would have done such a clean job. Now I understand that if you’re here to see a step by step guide on how to fix your own ripped garments you may be disappointed. Vintage is very special so when push came to shove, I had to take it to a professional which I do not regret. As this was done with a very strict time limit, I plan to next time film the fixing process including how Beata fixed the rips and seams.
The final results:
Coming Soon: I will be doing a full review of Retro Clean to continue the series as well as some other vintage fixing tips.