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Merging Ahead

Merge Left

Image courtesy of Simon Greig (xrrr) on

If you follow my other blog, Modern Retro Woman, you know that I have started regularly posting again.  The original plan was to also start posting more frequently on Grandma’s Sewing Cabinet, as well.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t come to fruition.

After much thought and reflection, I have decided to merge the two blogs in the very near future.  For me, there is just so much overlap between my interest in vintage sewing and my interest in living a glamorous mid-century lifestyle, that it makes sense to streamline my blogging focus, too.

The url will not go away–after the merge it will redirect to the Modern Retro Woman blog where you will find the two sites merged into one, content intact.  The format of the merged blogs will be akin to the mid-century magazines–a little cooking, a little beauty, some short stories, design, and, of course, fashion and sewing.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your patience during my long absences and your kind words telling me that you miss me.  I think the merger will enable me to post about vintage sewing on a more regular basis.

A Created Life: Simplicity 4868

Some women daydream of other worlds.  As for me, I live vicariously through my vintage patterns…They certainly live a more glamorous and exciting life than I do…

Simplicity Pattern 4868

Simplicity Pattern 4868, Printed in 1943; From the personal collection of Julie-Ann McFann

“Who does he think he is?” I grumbled as I furiously opened pantry and refrigerator doors, grabbed food from them, and slammed them shut again.  I had listened to the voice mail message he left for me while I was in class over and over again in disbelief.  He really couldn’t be saying this, could he? “Honey, I ran into an old friend here in the city.  I invited him to come home with me for dinner.  You don’t mind, do you?  Oh, and can you make that pot roast that I love so much?”

“Mind?  Me?  No…not at all!” I thought sarcastically.  “I can put off writing that grant proposal and grading my students’ reflection papers so that I can entertain your old friend!”

After putting the roast in the oven, I sat down to work on the grant proposal.  But I was too annoyed to think.  I knew better than to try to grade papers when I was in such a foul mood.  So, I lost myself in Pinterest until it was time to prepare the rest of the meal.  Begrudgingly, I set a nice table and opened a nice bottle of bordeaux.  I was proud of myself for resisting the urge to down a couple of glasses of it before he got home with his old friend.  Although I was sure I could justify the medicinal purpose of it to calm my nerves.

Finally, I heard them walk in the door.  I put on my best smile and walked out of the kitchen, ready to play nice to this old friend for the sake of my marriage.  My bitterness melted away and turned to excitement as soon as I saw our guest.

It wasn’t his old friend!  Our guest was my graduate school advisor and very first mentor!

He was right…the grant proposal and paper grading could wait…

A Created Life: Butterick 2870

Some women daydream of other worlds.  As for me, I live vicariously through my vintage patterns…They certainly live a more glamorous and exciting life than I do…

Butterick 2870

Butterick 2870, circa 1960s; From the collection of Julie-Ann McFann

It had been twenty years since I’d last seen most of the people in the room.  I was a gawky, clumsy, and socially inept teenager.  I was miserable throughout high school and couldn’t wait to escape from my California hometown after graduation by going to college and then graduate school on the other side of the country.

It was during graduate school that a classmate took pity on me and introduced me to a world that I thought only existed in books and on television.  Under my friend’s guidance, I came out of my cocoon and became the woman I always wanted to be: Beautiful, gracious, and elegant.  With my new found confidence, I quickly rose through the academic ranks as a professor at a prestigious university.

I swore I’d never go to a class reunion, but here I was.  My high school BFF knew I would be in town for a family event and guilted me into attending since she was the chair of the reunion committee.

As I looked around the room, wondering how long I needed to stay before I could make my escape, he walked into the room.  My BFF gasped and swore to me that she had no idea he would be there.

“He” had been the star athlete.  The one that I had a crush on my entire time in high school.  The one I just knew I was going to marry.  The one who didn’t even know I existed.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  He knew I existed because I could still hear his teasing and mocking ringing in my ears.

Tall and still handsome, he scanned the room and his eyes locked in on me. He grabbed an extra glass of champagne and walked toward me.  Even all of these years later, it was obvious that he was used to getting who and what he wanted.

He was extremely attentive and I flirted shamelessly with him all through the cocktail hour and dinner.  He couldn’t believe my transformation.  I couldn’t believe I was talking to him.  I was feeling grateful for listening to the perky workout instructor who encouraged me to “think of results I could see” every morning at 5:00.

As the evening came to a close, he walked me out to my car.  I was aware of him towering over me.  As he leaned in for a kiss, I could feel my skirt rip as I kneed him.  A direct blow right where it counts.  The rip was worth it as he folded over in pain.

“That was for all of the gawky, awkward teenage girls who suffer all through high school because of guys like you.”

I’m not sure, but I think I heard cheers from the other women as I drove away…


A Created Life: Simplicity 3076

Some women daydream of other worlds.  As for me, I live vicariously through my vintage patterns…

Simplicity pattern 3076

Simplicity 3076; From the personal collection of Julie-Ann McFann

It was one of those sultry nights tailor made for a Tennessee Williams play.  I could feel him watching me from the bed as I sat at my jewelry-strewn dressing table, brushing my long blonde hair.  He had smiled in anticipation when he saw me emerge from the powder room in the royal blue silk charmeuse gown.  It was exactly as I had envisioned it would be when I bought the silky smooth fabric as soon as I discovered it months ago in my favorite shop.

I had waited a very long time for this evening.  Twenty-five years, to be exact.

All evening long, he had kept his eyes on me, even as he made small talk with the gathered guests.  I knew he would remain after the last one had left.  We both knew that this was a special night.

I turned off the light on the dressing table and slid into bed next to him.

“Happy anniversary, Darling.  Thank you for still being my bride,” he whispered as he pulled me into his arms.

The $50ish Sewing Room Reorganization

After spending some time looking at other people’s sewing studios on Pinterest,  I decided that we were going to have to move into a mansion because, clearly, our adorable little cottage isn’t big enough to outfit a proper sewing room.  For some reason, The Mister wouldn’t agree to it (the grump).  However, he did agree to help me create a scaled down version of  The Perfect Sewing Studios.

Step 1: Build Shelves in the Closet

Closets in old houses (if they have one) are usually quite small by modern standards.  They are artifacts from the days when ready-to-wear was less common and so women either made their own clothes or had them made.  A wardrobe would consist of a Sunday best, some house dresses, an errand dress, and, perhaps, a party dress.  In its current form, the closet was basically lost space that needed a new job description so that it could be reclaimed.  Since I hadn’t been able to find a dresser or ready-made shelving that I liked, we decided that building shelves in the closet would enable me to have better access to my stuff.

The Mister found some scrap wood in the garage that he could use for shelves.  While I took all of the boxes and hangers out of the closet, he went off to the hardware store to buy 1 x 1’s to support the shelves.  Our total cost for the shelves: Approximately $13.00.



I would have to look through all of those boxes to find anything.


Finished shelves

Finished shelves

Finished shelves


All of the boxes back in the closet–but with easier access than before!

Step 2: Pattern Organization

My patterns were basically being stored in either an overpriced pattern file box (that I have to mail order since neither my local Hancocks nor JoAnns carries them) or in one of those banker’s boxes.  I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $4 a box for more pattern boxes.  It was this pattern organization issue that had started me down the Pinterest rabbit hole.  As I was looking at alternative pattern storage ideas, I realized that making my own boxes and covering them was going to be time consuming.


Tutorial by on how to make fabric boxes. This is a GREAT tutorial! Click on the image to get there.


Fortunately, I came across Korinne Zimmerman’s idea of using half-sized hanging folder file boxes   (here is a different view on her blog Crafterella). I had heard about these boxes but I wasn’t sure what they looked like.  I did a quick search and my local Office Max had them in stock!   They are sold in sets of six.  I picked up two sets. While The Mister was building the shelves, I was organizing my patterns by maker and whether they were vintage or modern.   Total cost: about $25.


Patterns stacked on top shelf–both old pattern file boxes and new ones.

Step 3: Fabric Organization

Last fall, I came across Fabric Organizers by DeNiece Designs.  I fell in love with the idea of creating bolts of fabric using corrugated plastic but, given the size of my fabric collection, it would become quite expensive rather rapidly.  Knowing that regular cardboard can cause damage to fabric over the long run (that’s why you don’t want to simply get the empty bolts from fabric stores), I was at a loss.

But, once again, Pinterest came to the rescue: Maggie from showed how she organized her fabric using…get this…comic book boards.  Ingenious!!

I placed an order from Amazon and had a 100-pack of 8 1/2″ x 11″ magazine-sized boards in my greedy hands two days later.  The boards are acid free and sturdy enough for wrapping fabric around.  For the heavier fabric, I simply am using two boards rolled from opposite directions and then I fold it together book-style. And, yes, it works fine with the wider fabrics.  I just double fold them.  Total cost: about $16.00.


Fabric bolts pretty much stand on their own.


Fabric “bolts” on a shelf in the closet. The black bolt is 10 yards of fine-wale cotton corduroy.

It will take me a while to wrap the fabric around the cardboard but I really like how my “closet fabric store” is shaping up.  And the organization of it cost me just over $50 instead of the hundreds of dollars I thought I was going to spend.

(Confession: I did buy a label maker that I didn’t include in this reorganization pricing.  I’ve been able to create a label of the fabric content and yardage and stick it to the end of the piece…no more unrolling the yardage to see if I have enough).

So…the moral of the story is that, yes, Pinterest can be a rabbit hole, but some great ideas can come as a result of venturing into it!

It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Looks at Pinterest…


I had no idea where anything was…other than it was probably in a box in the closet in my sewing room.

I haven’t done much sewing during the past year.  Part of the problem was the time it takes to settle into a new home and community (2,000 miles from my former home).  But the other reason was much more insidious:  All of my sewing stuff was still in boxes and the boxes were stacked in the closet of my sewing room.  To find anything, I’d invariably end up having to take all of the boxes out and open each one.  By the time I found what I was looking for, the time I had set aside for sewing was gone.

When House of Fabrics at the Quakerbridge Mall in New Jersey went out of business in the late 1980s, I scored a huge pattern cabinet for only $25.00.  That thing was perfect for storing a vast pattern collection, notions, and some of my fabric stash.  Alas, there wasn’t enough room for it on the moving truck two moves ago so I sent it to live on a farm where it was free to run around (okay, I gave it to a friend who was giddy with delight since she had been quite envious of my set-up).

So, it was with this frustration over not having time to sew in mind that I told The Mister that I was taking a “sewcation” last month. I was determined to find a dresser to get my sewing studio organized and I was going to make at least two basic sheaths and a skirt.

But then I “accidentally” looked at Pinterest for nontraditional ideas on how to organize a pattern collection.

And then I fell down the rabbit hole and didn’t get a stitch sewn during my sewcation…

The Adventures of Creating a Skirt Sloper, Part 2

In my last post, I described my misadventures in trying to create a sloper.  It is a bit annoying that I can’t seem to make one for me because I’ve helped so many others make one for themselves!

In the comments, Ami asked if I considered using a manufacturers fitting shell to make my sloper.  The truth is, I have considered it and have purchased the pattern in various sizes due to changes in my own size but I never got around to it.  However, she was on the right track with this.  You see, I decided that my best bet would be to use my tried and true Jalie 2560 skirt pattern that I’ve used many times and trace it off to make a sloper!

The idea came to me while I was wearing a skirt I had made using that pattern and it fits me quite well and I get lots of compliments when I wear skirts made from this pattern.


Exhibits A and B:


(I seem to like making it in black…I have two more that I don’t have photos for that are also in black but different fabrics)


I know it fits, it is a basic pattern design and I can use it as a building block for all sorts of skirt patterns.

First up using my tried and true skirt pattern turned sloper:

Recreating McCall’s 4312 “Instant Skirt” in my size using a heavy wool (it was December/January when I started this adventure…I’m a bit late in sharing the details!)

McCall's #4312 "Instant Skirt" from 1957; Personal collection.

McCall’s #4312 “Instant Skirt” from 1957; Personal collection.

Do you have a “tried and true” basic skirt that you can use as a sloper?

Misadventures in Making a Sloper, Part 1

So…way back in January, I said that one of my goals for the year is to make a basic skirt sloper.  I can then  use the sloper as the foundation for drafting patterns.

Using a chapter out of my Do As I Say, Not As I Do book, I measured myself and proceeded to draft a pattern using the same steps from my video tutorials (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4).

As you can see from the resulting pattern, I was going to have trouble with the fit:


The front side seam is quite curvy while the back side seam is virtually straight.


Also, the back curved up in weird way.  But I have a sway back so I went with it and added seam allowances anyway.

As you can see…it didn’t fit…

Not even close…

Do  you like the designer socks?




The waist was 4-5 inches too big. I primarily miscalculated the intakes for the darts because of my poochy stomach and swayback.



You should have a “pinch” not a full-on “grip” on the side seams.

So…back to the drawing board for me!

Back To Basics

When I was in design school working on my custom clothing certificate, I learned that I should think holistically–I shouldn’t just create one garment, I should think in terms of a collection and how they go together.  And I understand that rationale. Completely.

Crafty Gal

Matchbook cover; Image courtesy of WackyStuff on

But my vision for what I want that collection to become is hampered by my lack of pattern drafting skills.  Oh sure, I can create a garment using couture techniques now.  But I’m having a heck of a time drafting or adapting patterns for my figure.  Give me a Size 8 dress form or my dancer sister and I’m golden.  Give me my own figure and I just run into problems.  Therefore, I’ve decided that 2013’s primary learning and sewing goals are to

  • (Re)learn how to draft patterns and learn how to use the professional-grade pattern drafting software I bought when I was in design school
  • Draft basic patterns (slopers) that can then be adapted into something fashionable
    • Skirt
    • Bodice
    • Pant
    • Dress (this is actually the skirt and bodice sloper attached at the waist)
  • Source from my fabric stash when feasible

I am fortunate in that my university has a Family and Consumer Sciences program so the library has lots of resources that I can use in this quest to develop my pattern drafting skills.  Alas, we’re severely understaffed in my office right now so I won’t be able to take any classes from my F&CS colleagues this year.

My ultimate goal is to be able to create patterns inspired by my vintage pattern collection.  Then I can finally make my “Ladies Who Lunch” wardrobe!

What is your sewing-related learning intention for the year?

Why I Trusted The Mister To Pack My Stuff

People were incredulous when they found out that The Mister had stayed behind in Los Angeles to pack up our belongings while I started my new job at the university halfway across the country.  They wondered if he would carefully pack my stuff.  I told them that I trusted him…in fact, I think he does a much better job of packing than I do.  And, certainly, after moving from California to New Jersey and then to Indiana and then back to California gave him a lot of experience packing all of our worldly goods.

The box with the sewing machine in it was well padded.  But, when I pulled the machine out and opened it up, I discovered…

He had also padded the machine inside of its case with fabric to keep it from jostling around.

We nervously set it in Grandma’s sewing cabinet….

And, after oiling it, I took it on a test run on a scrap of fabric.

It worked beautifully and sounded heavenly!

And that is why I trusted him to pack all of our worldly goods while I started my new job halfway across the country!