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Tips for achieving a vintage finish…

…on your handmade garments – part one

As a professionally trained seamstress, and someone with a huge passion for fashion history, one thing that really interests me is the way that original vintage garments were sewn and the techniques that were used. When I make my own vintage garments I do my best to achieve an authentic vintage finish by using as many of these techniques as I can.

Over the next few posts I will explore things like different ways of creating closures, how seams allowances should be cut and how to finish the hems. This will help you understand the best way to achieve a finish on your own garments that will make any vintage enthusiast question whether it is a genuine vintage garment or not.

But first fabrics!

The type of fabric you’ll want to use will depend not only on the type of garment you’re making, but also on the era of the design because, just like today, certain fabrics became popular during different fashion trends. It’s always best to follow the suggested fabrics on each pattern, whether it is a new pattern or a vintage one, but at the same time keeping in mind what will look authentic.


At the end of the Edwardian era fabrics like voile, muslin and cotton were used to create crisp white ankle length dresses and pretty blouses, often adorned with intricate white lace. Linen, wool and wool suiting were preferred in the colder months for suits and layered dresses, whilst evenings gowns were extravagantly made in silks, satins and embellished with lavish amounts of beading, embroidery and lace.


Jersey was the must have fabric thanks to Coco Chanel who used it for the first time in outerwear and it was perfect for making everyday suits and skirts that would hold their shape and remain comfortable all day. Cotton was often used for everyday dresses, unless of course you could afford more luxurious fabrics such as chiffon, silk and satin.


Crepe became one of the huge hits of the 1930s with it being used to create beautifully draped, lightweight garments or mixed with other fibers such as wool for easy to wear winter dresses and suits. For the general public, rayon was a great alternative to silk due to the fact that it was much cheaper so was often used to create beautiful lingerie. Feedsack, literally the decorated fabric used to make sacks that contained foodstuff, was a godsend for many women during the Depression as it could be used for all sorts of garments and patchwork.


As WWII hit many fabrics became scarce and fabric rationing effected what clothes were made from. Many women got creative and used furnishings fabrics to make garments as this wasn’t rationed until the later years of the conflict. Gabardine and flannel were used for suiting, whereas rayon and cotton were used for blouses and dresses. Netting was great for adding softness to a look and was often used in bridal wear.


As rationing was lifted fabric became much more widely available and people used it in abundance to create dresses and skirts with metres and metres of fabric. Cotton in a wide range of bright colours and patterns to celebrate the new, freer era was a perfect choice for summer dresses, whereas sumptuous satin, brocade and taffeta were used for evening gowns. All, of course, were finished with huge petticoats full of a multitude of layers of netting.


As the 20th century progressed, and technology began to play a bigger part of our lives, manufacturers began exploring new ways of making man-made fabrics such as PVC, crimplene, nylon and, of course, the revolutionary Lycra. All of these allowed designers to create silhouettes that had never been seen before.


Denim became hugely popular during the 1970s thanks to jeans being the uniform of most teenagers and young adults. Man-made fabrics continued to be used for all mass produced garments but more natural ones such as cheesecloth, corduroy and suede became more mainstream too, thanks to the hippie movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Where to buy vintage and vintage style fabrics

‘Til The Sun Goes Down (www.tilthesungoesdown.com) offer their own design vintage style fabrics, genuine vintage fabrics and a selection of vintage inspired fabrics from other designers. They’re very good for 1920s–1950s fabrics with a particular nod to the earlier decades.

Donna Flower (www.donnaflower.com) sells genuine vintage fabric from the 19th Century through to the 1980s. Many pieces are less than a metre, so always check the sizes of each one before purchasing.

Anne8865 (www.etsy.com/uk/shop/anne8865?section_id=6391228) sells the most amazing range of feedsacks I’ve ever seen! For those interested in these fabrics, this is the place to find genuine, original, and uncut feedsacks.

ClothSpot (www.clothspot.co.uk) has a genuine interest in vintage style fabrics such as wool, crepe and cotton prints. Use the search box to search by era, such as 1950s, as each fabric is tagged accordingly.

Liberty (www.liberty.co.uk) has many vintage inspired fabrics as well as archive designs. They’re particularly good for 1930s–1950s ditsy floral cotton lawn.

Sew Over It (shop.sewoverit.co.uk) sell lots of vintage style fabrics, especially cottons and lightweight fabrics with a good drape and have a good range of rayon.

Joel and Son (www.joelandsonfabrics.com) has the most amazing luxury fabrics for when you want something really special and have a vintage inspired section full of unusual prints and knits. Prices obviously are much higher but remnants and sale fabrics are always available online.

Ditto Fabrics (www.dittofabrics.co.uk) have a wide range of fabrics, but are great for suiting and wools, as well as corduroys, denims and jersey in a huge range of colours.

Cate Coles is a vintage blogger with a penchant for the early decades of the 20th Century, particularly the 1930s. A life long history buff and a professionally trained seamstress, she merges her two passions to make authentic vintage outfits for herself which can be seen at vintagegal.co.uk.