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AROUND HOME : Vintage Clothing

September 03, 1989|JUDITH SIMS

CLOTHES FROM BYGONE days aren't only antique items to hang in a closet; they are pieces of history that can continue to adorn the wearer. They're well made, and their very age imparts style. Longevity counts.

But old clothes in good condition can cost big bucks, especially the popular Victorian and Edwardian white cottons and slinky, bias-cut '30s gowns. And it would seem that only the very tiniest of our ancestors bequeathed their clothes to a future generation; finding a bejeweled '20s cocktail dress that fits a healthy '80s body is a Grail-level quest.

It is a fairly simple task for a dressmaker of average skill to stitch up some neo-vintage clothes. The only problem is that old-fashioned patterns are not widely available (the patterns, like the clothes, are now collectible). Folkwear, a company that had printed some wonderful vintage and ethnic styles, is now out of business. Many current Vogue, Butterick, McCall's and Simplicity patterns can be altered--if one is adept at that sort of thing--and old clothes can be copied, traced line for line using lightweight interfacing material as the pattern fabric. This sounds more difficult than it is, but for the novice clothes copier, I strongly advise first making that most dreaded of all sewing chores, a muslin "trial" garment; this gives the sewer a preview, one that can be inexpensively altered until it's right. The alterations on the muslin garment are transferred to the interfacing-fabric pattern pieces, which are then ready for the fabric.

Past Patterns--patterns based on vintage clothes from 1830 to 1949 (most are from the late 19th Century)--are available at Upstairs Antiques in Vista and Uniforms of Antiquity in San Diego; they can also be purchased from the company at P.O. Box 7587, Grand Rapids, Mich. 49510 (catalogue is $5).

Beverly Hills Adult School, at Beverly Hills High, regularly offers classes in dressmaking; Sew Special in Vista teaches French machine sewing--the technique of applying lace to fine fabrics, as in Victorian and Edwardian clothing. The American College for the Applied Arts in Westwood schedules classes in basic sewing, fundamentals of fashion design (pattern drafting and draping) and more advanced specialty courses.

"A Consumer's Guide to Vintage Clothing," by Terry McCormick (Dembner Books) lists many sources for fabrics, supplies and clothing. "Making Patterns From Finished Clothes," by Rusty Bensussen (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.) gives detailed instructions for copying garments without dismantling them. "How to Make Sewing Patterns," by Donald H. McCunn (Design Enterprises of San Francisco), although contemporary in focus, details the basics of pattern construction.

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