Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Cottage Applique Book Bag inspired by 1930's Country Houses

Once upon a time


Once upon a time there was a book bag, designed by me and stitched from a lovely piece of upcycled French provencale twill cotton ...

The Cottage Applique Book Bag by karen vallerius

The book bag was practical, just the right size, sat nicely on the shoulder, lined in lovely bright red, softly wadded to protect the contents but was, I have to admit, just a bit boring.

The book bag as art canvas


The size of the side of this bag was crying out for some decoration, just the right size for a picture canvas.  I had long been inspired by traditional cottage applique quilt projects as shown below in a 70s patchwork book from my sewing library.

vintage 70s patchwork book

vintage 70s patchwork book

1930s cottage motifs and Metroland homes


My inspiration for the design of this book bag is in fact even earlier than the 70s as it goes right back to the 1930s.  In the 30s, there was a vogue for using the country cottage as a design motif for all sorts of domestic needlework.  I have seen needlecrafted tea cosies, needle cases, string containers and blotters all decorated with country cottages replete with cottage gardens full of traditional English flowers.  Housing at the beginning of the 20th century was often cramped and of poor standard, with many people living in inner city flats with inadequate facilities.  The homes built in Metroland changed all that, and indeed many house designs of the 1930s incorporated elements of the "cottage" aesthetic in their architecture.  Below are some house designs taken from the Concise Household Encyclopedia by Hammerton of that time.

vintage 30s Household Encyclopedia by Hammertons

vintage 30s Household Encyclopedia by Hammertons

vintage 30s Household Encyclopedia by Hammertons

Even the title page of the Hammerton's Encyclopedia features a small illustration of a country cottage!

vintage 30s Household Encyclopedia by Hammertons

Designing the 1930s Cottage Applique Panel



The Cottage Applique Book Bag by karen vallerius

Back to my trusty cutting board.  I marked the dimensions of the side of the book bag onto the board using pieces of washi tape.  I then set to with pieces from my scrap stash designing the cottage.  I decided that I would cut the roof into the sky piece which would be represented by a panel of the navy provencal cotton showing through.  This early layout above shows a gate and hedges which I did not use in the final version.

Stitching the sky


The Cottage Applique Book Bag by karen vallerius

The sky background was the only piece of this design which I stitched on place with the sewing machine.  The ecru linen for the walls of the cottage was stitched with a running stitch to give a representation of painted brickwork.

Carefully stitching the applique picture by hand


The Cottage Applique Book Bag by karen vallerius

This was a lovely project to work on and I enjoyed the hand stitching.

It was a lovely project to incorporate some of my precious scraps of textile.  You will see fragments of gingham for the windowpanes; gold woven fabric for the door & dormer roof; 80s Laura Ashley dark red woven furnishing scraps for the flower pots, chimneys and door step; a 70s Laura Ashley bird motif on the roof; scraps of 60s Sanderson fabrics for the pathway and a William Morris for the potted trees; denim window boxes; antique French ticking window blinds, one of which has a tiny frayed hole; and blowsy roses cut from a 50s apron bloom at the windows.

1930s Needlecraft books


I often turn to my 1930s Good Needlework books for inspiration.  They were published during the 1930s until the outbreak of the second world war when their at times elaborate designs were overtaken by the practicalities of the Mend and Make Do approach to sewing.

A cushion design inspired my cottage on the book bag.

Vintage 30s Good Needlework Gift Book


The Cottage Applique Book Bag by karen vallerius






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Sunday, 4 June 2017

Embroidered Vintage Linens into Cute Camisole Top

Embroidered Vintage Linens stitched into a Cute Camisole Top


embroidered vintage linens into cute camisole top by karen vallerius

Antique linens in the sewing room


If you look at the photo of my workroom below, the embroidered vintage linens are in the second horizontal storage box just behind the little 1930s felt dog.  I love repurposing antique linens by upcycling them into fashion or home items which can be used today.

embroidered antique linens by karen vallerius

Repurposing embroidered vintage tablecloths, doileys and traycloths 


I wanted to stitch the linens into some little summer tops.  I used pieces of damask and linen cut from antique tablecloths for the main "body" of the garment for which I used self drafted patterns inspired by vintage 30s and 40s dressmaking books.

I then looked through my vast collection of vintage embroidered doileys, traycloths, tablecloths, chairbacks, pillowcases and selected little embroidered motifs, flowers and butterflies which I could then piece together, a bit like a patchwork, into a panel which would be inserted into the garment.  Read more about making the patchwork panels of vintage embroidered textiles in my earlier post here.

Antique embroidered linens motifs


embroidered vintage tablecloths into camisole top by karen vallerius


I love the way that the pretty embroidered textiles can complement each other, even though they are stitched by different embroiderers and in different coloured silks.  In the close up of the linen camisole above you can see that I have used pieces cut from five different vintage tablecloths and tray cloths.  In particular I love the butterfly which is incorporated near to the tie front.

embroidered vintage butterfly motif into camisole top by karen vallerius

How to make a patchwork from vintage linens


embroidered vintage linen patchwork by karen vallerius

I marked the size of the panel I would be inserting into the garment on my cutting board with washi tape.  I then cut pieces from the vintage tablecloths and doileys and arranged them to roughly cover this area.  I then neatened edges of the patchwork pieces with my overlocker or by turning and hemming the edges before joining them together, piece by piece, into the panel.  Finally I set the panel into the garment piece before making up the camisole.

Repurposing antique embroidered tablecloths


This is a lovely way of using up precious fragments saved from antique linens which may have small areas of damage or wear.  You can cut around the damage and use the patches to make new garments as I have done here, or you can applique them to other garments or home textiles.  And don't forget that scraps of linen can be used for cleaning cloths which are amazing at cleaning glass or crystal.  Never waste a scrap!

Happy stitching everyone


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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The London Kimono Vintage Tourist Scarf Refashion Project


The London Kimono jacket by Karen Vallerius


The London Kimono - A Vintage Tourist Scarf Refashion Sewing Project


Once I had worked on my pattern drafting for the upcycled scarf kimono jacket (more about designing the jacket here), I set to making up some more designs and repurposing some more of my vintage scarf collection.

I always LOVE vintage tourist scarves and keep an eye out for them on my vintage shopping trips.

I have several in my collection - from London, the Loire Valley, the Netherlands to name just a few - and I think that using them in garments is a great way to display their wonderful colours and artwork.

The London Kimono jacket by Karen Vallerius

Many vintage souvenir scarves date from the 1950s when scarf wearing was at its peak and overseas travel was booming for tourists for the first time.

More vintage scarves


The London Kimono jacket by Karen Vallerius

I love picking out toning scarves in colourways and designs to complement the "showcase" scarf which I select to use on the back of the kimono jacket, the canvas I guess.  Here I chose a 60s mod inspired floral in soft shades of pewter, rust, taupe and silver grey for the front.  The sleeves were cut from a slubby abstract floral in rust, grey and buttermilk on the front and rust toned paisley on the reverse.  The neckline was finished with a chocolate colour satin bias binding.

Tricks and tips for sewing vintage scarves


I have to admit that it is very difficult to sew vintage scarves.  They slip and slide at all stages of the sewing project, from cutting out right through to stitching together.  It is tempting to think, "Oh, that would be so easy to make!", but the reality is that you need a lot of patience when putting these together.

Cutting out


When cutting out I use weights (improvised!) to hold the scarves in place.  It is important to consider pattern placement before cutting and I take some time to decide where to cut the pieces.  If the scarf edges are in good condition particularly if they are hand rolled, I try to incorporate them into the edges of the garment as I like to make use of the manufacturing history of the scarf.  Also, you will often find that vintage scarves have small areas of damage, maybe small holes, as they were frequently worn with a brooch or scarf clip.  Fortunately these flaws are usually on the edges or corners so you can avoid them by careful placement of your pattern pieces.

Making up


Now that I have an overlocker this helps enormously when making upcycled scarf garments.  There is simply no way to achieve a good seam finish with an ordinary domestic sewing machine.

My construction process is:

1. Stitch sleeve fronts to front pieces and sleeve backs to back piece.
2. Stitch shoulder seams.
3. Stitch side seams.
4. Stitch hem.
5. Overlock neckline and front jacket edges if necessary before attaching satin bias binding.

Even though I have made several jackets now, not to mention numerous other scarf fashion garments, it is so easy for the scarves to slip while sewing together so always double check your seams are secure and that none of the scarves have slipped and therefore not been caught into the stitches before you proceed to the next stage of the garment.  It is easier to rectify problems before you start on the next part of the sewing process.

Press seams open as you stitch them to improve the final drape of the garment.

The London Kimono jacket by Karen Vallerius

Future kimono projects


As much as I love these kimono jackets and am really pleased with how the design has turned out, I want to try a kimono with a peplum next.  Watch this space!




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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Back in the days when all frocks were handmade

vintage dress by karen vallerius

OK, maybe I don't remember the days when the above pink & ivory dress was stitched (I think this one dates from the 40s!) BUT the next green summer frock in a funky green toned floral was probably made in the 1960s.

vintage dress by karen vallerius

During the 60s I stitched mainly toys and dolls' clothes, starting garment making when I went to grammar school at age 11.  I always chuckle when I see sewing patterns I used at school in the 70s under the vintage sewing pattern listings.

Huge destash currently underway in the sewing room as I am preparing stock for the vintage fair at Stamford Arts Centre next Saturday 27th May 2017.

Stamford Vintage Fair 27 May 2017

I don't know why (I have been "doing" vintage for many years now!) but I am always surprised when I find all the treasures and textiles in my stockpile.

Hope to see you there, starts at 11am until 4pm.


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Monday, 8 May 2017

Vintage Scarf Refashion #2 - Traditional Kimono Jacket

vintage scarf kimono jacket by karen vallerius

Ta da!, another vintage scarf refashion project completed!  So pleased with my traditional Japanese inspired kimono jacket.  Of course, vintage scarves are one of my passions - I love their colours and designs, fascinated by how each one can epitomise a specific vintage era, like a fashion timecapsule.  I have a huge stash of them (no surprise there then!), some in pristine condition - saved for best and never worn? - and some worn and loved with maybe small areas of damage or pinholes on the edges.

Vintage Scarves and link to the Bias Cut Vintage Scarf Top Tutorial


Today we mainly wear longer scarves, even infinity scarves, so I am always thinking of ways to refashion beautiful scarves from my hoard.  I drape and pin them on my mannequin and work out how to cut them so I can stitch them into upcycled garments.  Indeed, one of my most popular blog posts is my Bias Cut Vintage Scarf Top tutorial here.

vintage scarf bias top tutorial by karen vallerius

The Great British Vintage Scarf Kimono


Now, I have made a kimono in the past as part of my entry to a sewing competition.  I stitched several scarves together and cut out the neckline from one of them.  The sleeves were made from half of a square scarf attached to the main body of the garment.  The obi sash had rouleau loops cut from a long bias scarf to wrap round and fasten in front.  More on this project here.

vintage scarf full length kimono and obi sash by karen vallerius


New Design Detail for the Vintage Scarf Kimono Jacket


vintage scarf kimono jacket by karen vallerius

I changed the design of this kimono jacket by cutting a dropped shoulder line into the front and back pieces rather than simply attaching the sleeves onto the straight scarf edge.  I used a beautiful vintage 50s pictorial heavy satin scarf with a still life design of a bowl of richly coloured fruit on the back; I cut the sleeve pieces from two toning long 1970s scarves; and the front was made from a vintage 50s satin paisley scarf.

To complete the kimono I finished the front edges and neckline with a satin bias binding in deep blue. I love the way that the different designs and colours complement each other and give an eclectic feel to the kimono jacket.  This would be great worn with jeans or shorts to a festival; for the oldies amongst us would also look fab with wide velvet trousers for evening wear.


vintage scarf kimono jacket by karen vallerius

satin bound edges vintage scarf kimono jacket by karen vallerius



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Friday, 7 April 2017

Vintage Scarf Kimonos

vintage scarf projects by karen vallerius

The last couple of weeks I have been working on vintage scarf kimonos - I have made these before by simply joining scarves together and cutting out the neckline - but this time I have shaped the shoulder seam to give a dropped shoulder style and a more draped fitting effect.  After several days of tweaking and stitching several kimonos I am happy with my pattern.  Just finishing a few off and then I will post some photos.
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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

More Summer Blues - Upcycled Patchwork Peplum Top



upcycled patchwork top by karen vallerius


The Needlework Development Scheme in Glasgow from the 1950s


I have a batch of 1950s "And So to Sew" leaflets produced by the Needlework Development Scheme in Glasgow.  These were designed for school use and give pattern drafting instructions for simple clothing.  I used this "Making and Sewing your own Party Dresses" leaflet to draft a simple button front top and instead of making it into a dress with a skirt, I cut it off to make a peplum section.  (I have used these booklets before when I made an upcycled 50s style summer frock).


The Needlework Development Scheme in Glasgow from karen vallerius

The Needlework Development Scheme in Glasgow from karen vallerius

Upcycled Pieced Patchwork


upcycled patchwork top by karen vallerius

upcycled patchwork top by karen vallerius

I constructed the fabric sections from pieces of vintage textiles upcycled from other garments and unused original vintage fabric before cutting out.  Plus I still had the blue thread in my sewing machine and overlocker so wanted to stitch another garment before changing threads!

Mismatched Vintage Buttons


upcycled patchwork top by karen vallerius

To complete the top I used some mismatched vintage buttons to complement the pieced patchwork.

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Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Costume Archives #2 - Victoriana Tiered Skirts

Blue & Grey Victoriana Tiered Skirt by Karen Vallerius

Victoriana Inspired Maxi Skirts


Now I must admit I have always been partial to a ruffled, tiered skirt.  Blame it on the 70s.  I stitched loads of tiered skirts back in the day, indeed I always remember one particular frock (made from Laura Ashley fabric of course) with a ruffled skirt whose bottom tier would have circumnavigated the Royal Albert Hall!

Above is a lovely skirt stitched in blue and grey tones with a chambray overskirt decorated with a ruffle trim.

Romantic Inspiration from 70s designers - Marion Donaldson


Vintage Marion Donaldson Liberty Tana Lawn dress

The dress shown here is by one of my favourite 70s designers, Marion Donaldson.  I loved her take on the 70s romantic look and many of her clothes were made from Liberty of London fabrics, as in this gorgeous Tana Lawn dress shown above.

Bustle Effect Ruffled Skirt Ensemble


Peach and White Victoriana Tiered Skirt & Bolero by Karen Vallerius

This peach toned floral linen skirt was quite plain and so I decided to add a tiered cotton panel to the back and then I added some loops and ties so that it could be ruffled up into a bustle effect.  I also added more ruffles and a big bow tie fastening to the bolero jacket to complete the look.

Pretty in Pink Victoriana Ruffle Skirt


Pretty in Pink Victoriana Tiered Skirt by Karen Vallerius

The underskirt of this Victoriana pink toned ruffle skirt was a crinkle cotton skirt in plum - you can just see this layer at the bottom of the skirt.  I stitched some beautiful pink toned fabrics into four more layers, these included a 1970s paisley stripe cotton, a 70s fine floral and a sheer voile in a soft raspberry floral.  I added a secret pocket under the top layer.

Swags and Applique Flowers


Flower Applique Victoriana Tiered Skirt by Karen Vallerius

Detail of Flower Applique Victoriana Tiered Skirt by Karen Vallerius


I decorated the top satin layer of this skirt with pink swag applique and large pouffy flowers which I made from raw cut strips of fabric woven through a spider's web embroidered onto the skirt.

Grey and Red Victorian Walking Outfit


Victoriana Walking Suit by Karen Vallerius


Here is a close up of the ruffle skirt of the Victorian walking outfit shown in my post on Victoriana peplum jackets (Costume Archives #1 here).

Applique Flowers and Adjustable Ruffle Ribbon Ties


Victoriana Skirt with Hitch Bustle by Karen Vallerius

This skirt was stitched in a variety of subtle grey, brown and mauve tones.  I loved stitching the floral applique detail on the grey layer.  I had some vintage ribbons in toning colours in the housemaid's cupboard so this time used them with a couple of suspender type clips to make a belt which can be used to ruffle the skirt up, either hitched up to the side or into a bustle at the back.

Velvet Lucy Locket Pocket Detail on a Brown Plaid Victorian Skirt


Victoriana Skirt with Lucy Locket pockets by Karen Vallerius


I wanted to create some Victorian purse inspired pockets on this skirt made from layers of brown toned tartan textiles as well as brown satin.  I used some brown velvet from the stash to make rounded bottom pockets.  Then I stitched elastic into a casing across the back of the lining to the pocket.  I then allowed the pocket to ruffle into shape before stitching it onto the skirt.  I love this effect and will be using this pocket design again.

Wow!  I never realised I had stitched so many skirts! And this is just a small selection ...  

More Costume Archives coming soon.

Happy stitching everyone.
Karen x
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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Costume Archives #1 - Victoriana Peplum Jackets

Victorian peplum jackets by karen vallerius



Linen peplum jacket upcycled by Karen Vallerius

The Costume Archives


Any fellow stitch bloggers will no doubt find themselves with literally thousands of photos of their projects on laptops and tablets, saved on various drives and cloud storage facilities.  I have been having a major clear up of all my photos and decided to create a series of archives focusing on various garments to showcase some of my upcycling pedigree!

Victorian Inspired Peplum Jackets


Denim peplum jacket upcycled by Karen Vallerius

Et voila!  About 18 months ago I created several Victorian inspired peplum jackets.  At first I tried to inset the peplum panels into cuts into the jacket but found that was very tricky to do.  So I proceeded to cut the jackets at the waistline - maybe adding an insert of fabric as in the black denim jacket above - then constructing the peplum before stitching it back onto the jacket.

Half Belts to Improve Fit & Flare


Linen peplum jacket upcycled by Karen Vallerius

As I was aiming for a Victorian inspired silhouette, I stitched half belts onto the back so that the jacket could be tied to adjust the fit.  Also these give a more Victorian / Steampunk vibe to the garment and add some colour.

Skirt into Peplum Refashion


Victoriana peplum jacket upcycled by Karen Vallerius

For the most part, I used pieces cut from skirts to create the peplum panels.  Either plain when inserting the panels into a patterned jacket (as for this striped jacket above), or patterned when I was refashioning a plain jacket.

Victoriana two piece upcycled by Karen Vallerius

This grey and red striped jacket and matching Victorian style skirt was made from a 1980s two piece.  I added faux braiding details to the front to give the jacket some extra style.  Below a fashion illustration from a Victorian fashion journal which provided inspiration.




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