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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!
I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.
One of the mannequins was brought to my house.
I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.
Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.
I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).
I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).
I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).
My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.
Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)
There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:
My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.
My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.
Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.
My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!
The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.
I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.
If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)
Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.
Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!
I don’t know if anyone else has this tendency, but I have a habit of being generally curious and needing to know about random things. Because of this, I often find myself first asking my husband (because sometimes he knows) and then often turning to the universe (aka “Google search”) for answers.
There have been countless times that I have gone on casual internet searches about one topic, and then ended up following random link trails to learn all kinds of seemingly useless trivia (and yes, I do retain a lot of it – it’s just how my inquisitive mind works). Sometimes, my husband and I will waste hours randomly searching together and learning about new things.
And the harder it is to find information about something, the more I need to know. Periodically, some of those tiny bits of trivia will serendipitously* fit together to solve a mystery.
Well, just call me “Sherlock” because I think I’ve managed to piece together some really useful details in my search for information about my recently acquired vintage Wizard brand sewing machine!
So if you have a Wizard yourself or you’re just generally curious (like I am) about the history of old things and how things work, I’ve decided today’s post will share with you what I’ve learned, in hopes that others searching the web for the same information will not have to search quite as hard as I did.
(And if you have any further information to add about Wizard sewing machines, please leave a comment!)
You’ve met him before – this is my Wizard, Gandalf the Green:
He is an “Automatic Zigzag” sewing machine in teal & cream with shiny chrome accents, model number 3KC 8842 made in Japan (probably in the late ’50s or early ’60s). And he weighs a whoppin’ 37 lbs!
I managed to find the lady I believe owned Gandalf before me because my sewing machine came with an old maintenance receipt. The owner’s name was listed at the top, and I was aware that she had died right around the time I bought the machine. So a search for an obituary online produced one that seemed to line up with name, location, and date of death. I believe Gandalf the Green was previously owned by Linda Kay (Plant) Garrett of Abilene, TX. Thank you, Linda, for taking good care of your machine!
Wizard brand was a line of tools made by Western Auto which included sewing machines.
Apparently, lots of Western Auto files were shredded and disposed of at some point in history (mentioned in this old thread), so there isn’t much documentation left about Wizard Tools. But in my message board searching, I got the impression that the sewing machines made under the label “Wizard” were sold to Brother, a company that still makes sewing machines today. (Too bad Brother doesn’t provide good online records about their vintage machines like Singer and some other brands do!)
When I brought Gandalf home, I knew I wanted to find a manual so I could learn his wonderful vintage tricks. (Old sewing machines were not overly labeled like modern machines are, even though most operate with similar knobs and dials. I could probably make do without a manual, but I had a feeling I would miss out on some amazing & hidden features.) I also knew I wanted to replace the unmarked needle plate that did not appear to be original.
Eventually, I somehow coaxed the internet to give me the link to a website that sells old sewing machine manuals in both hard copy and instant download file form. On the site, I still had to convince a search to give me the actual results I wanted for anything Wizard brand. I finally achieved my goal of a being able to buy a manual with this pdf download for a Wizard 3KC 8841, which seemed to be nearly the same as my 8842 model (the “zig-zag width knob” is slightly different because it’s probably for the model just before mine).
Once I had the manual for the 8841, I learned there was a trick to turning the stitch selector (or “Automatic Pattern Selecting Knob”.) At first, I thought my machine’s knob was just stiff and difficult to turn from years of storage, but it turned very easily once I knew to hold the zig-zag width knob in the neutral position at the same time. This releases the tension on the cams, and it requires both hands – see photo example below.
With the 8841 manual in hand, I took Gandalf to my local service shop for a good cleaning and basic tune-up. Even the repair guy was unfamiliar with the unusual feature for turning the stitch dial, and after a little convincing, decided he would keep the manual with the machine just in case.
My next step in learning about my Wizard machine was a serious hunt for a new needle plate with measurement marks.
Part numbers and copyright dates seem to be impossible to find in old manuals, which are only about how to use a machine. So I just started looking at photos of any plates that websites bothered to post.
One service shop in Illinois posted a huge number of random needle plate photos. I was able to select about 3 by sight from the collage of photos that looked similar to the one on my machine. Then I discovered that selecting a photo for enlarging also gave me a unique file name. The picture labeled “B4139.jpg” appeared to be the best match.
I then did a search on ebay including “B4139” hoping it was a part number because I suspected the “B” stood for “Brother”.
Eureka! I got a handful of exact hits!
I chose to pay a dollar more for the needle plate from a seller who took very clear photos and included one of the underside of the plate – which made it unmistakable that it matched the unmarked plate currently on my Wizard. (I also discovered that part B4139 is the same as part number NZ3LG.)
Evidently, there are at least four Brother sewing machine models that use the same needle plate because the ebay listing titles included 4 different model numbers. Out of curiosity, I did a search to find out what the various models looked like.
Three were pretty generic looking vintage machines.
But then I saw the Brother 210 and *may* have squealed with joy. It was exactly like Gandalf down to every last knob and dial – only in pale pink!
And I now had another lead!
I began to wonder if my Wizard 3KC 8842 was the very last model to be called a “Wizard” before being sold to Brother and renamed the Brother 210 – even the brand’s name-plaque was the same shape on both machines despite a different inscription.
I decided to purchase a CD copy of the Brother 210 user manual (another “buy it now” on ebay) to continue my quest for more information. (I have since found a Brother 210 manual available for purchase in both physical and digital form on this webpage – scroll down to number 9 on the list.)
I received my two ebay items a day apart.
The needle plate was perfect. The B4139 (or NZ3LG) plate fits the Wizard 3KC 8842.
And the Brother model 210 manual revealed yet another surprise – “Knob B”. Knob B (aka “The Switch-Over Knob”) is what the Brother manual calls the zig-zag width knob that you have to hold in neutral to turn the stitch selector.
Knob B has a magical secret befitting a Wizard – it pulls out! According to page 15 of the Brother manual:
“This is the knob which allows you to switch the operation of your machine from straight to fully automatic zigzag sewing and vice versa. It also allows you to set you machine for semi-automatic operation. For fully automatic zigzag sewing or semi-automatic sewing – pull out Knob B. For manual sewing – push Knob B in.”
And I had to chuckle to myself when I first read the “Introduction” in the Brother 210 manual because they just don’t write manuals like this anymore (nowadays the first page of a manual is usually called “Safety Information”):
“You are about to make an exciting discovery! Sewing machines need not be out-of-date, but can be as modern, as efficient and well-designed as the cars we drive and the homes we live in.
“With experienced know-how and world-famous precision engineering, the Automatic Zigzag Sewing Machine has been created for you – today’s fashion-wise woman…
“…As you become acquainted with your new Automatic Zigzag machine, you will find the expert’s touch in its many exclusive features. It will often seem to do your thinking for you. Even the beginner enjoys the AUTOMATIC ZIGZAG sewing, and even the expert is amazed at its ease.”
I am going to have a blast experimenting with stitches on this machine! My first impression was correct – it truly is a Cadillac of a sewing machine! And all without a computer brain! I love vintage machines. =)
Please let me know if you have a similar Wizard or Brother sewing machine and have anything to add or would like more information about a specific feature. And if you have the Wizard 3KC 8842 model and are searching for a manual of your own, I would recommend the manual for the Brother 210 over the Wizard 8841, although both manuals are helpful.
UPDATE: Ryan sent me some photos to share of his recently inherited green Brother 210, complete with original sewing cabinet! He said the previous owner married a WWII vet after the war, and he’s pretty sure the machine was purchased in Japan and shipped over to the states shortly after. His wife is looking forward to using it. =)
(click to enlarge and view as slide-show)
Mary also has a Wizard 3KC 8842, but her’s is missing the push-reverse button in the middle of the stitch selection dial.
If you have the part or know where she can get a replacement, please email me so I can pass any information on to her. Thanks!
* Upon hearing about my discovery of sewing machine information, my husband said my middle name should be “serendipity”, which in turn, spawned another of my searches – this time for the origins of the word serendipity. It’s actually really interesting – check it out here and here.
It’s time to take a short break from whatever you were doing and enjoy a laugh!
Below are two amusing videos from the 1950s that I came across today. First up is an umbrella fashion show. (Do fashion designers still do accessory runway shows today? I can’t say I’ve ever seen a modern show featuring them.)
While most of the umbrellas they are showcasing look like they should be props in comedic musicals, the dresses and hats worn by the models are beautiful! I especially like the red & white hat that was paired with the red & grey umbrella.
And here’s another video with horribly kitschy hats, complete with cheesy narration and acting:
It starts out rather costumey and then just becomes absurd by the end! (The “funnel” hat made the laugh most.)
“It just goes to show what can be done with a little imagination – if you know how.” LOL
Now don’t you feel inspired to go looking through your kitchen cabinets instead of in your closet? Hope you enjoyed the quick break! =oD
Continuing the chronological show-and-tell of my vintage pattern collection… (here’s the 1940s post in case you missed it.)
Ahhh, the Fifties. It’s probably my most favorite fashion decade because of the bright happy colors and the girly dresses.
First up are two Advance brand patterns that I can only date as “early 1950s”:
1952 gives us this dance & skating outfits pattern:
A dress with an interesting scalloped inset gored skirt from 1953:
Two from 1954:
Three dress patterns from 1955:
Moving on to 1957:
My one pattern from 1958 is a wonderful pencil skirt:
A casual dress from 1959:
I have another girls’ dress without a specific year – I could only find that it was from the ’50s when I researched it:
Then there’s this one I can’t definitively date but I believe it is from sometime in the 1950s:
I love the little blurb about it on the envelope:
“Coat-dress with many lives: scarf it – jewel it! Soft gathers blouse from the curved yoke; bodice is taut, leads into a beautiful flow of skirt. Fashion focus: splurge on glitter buttons or make your own self-covered ones.”
I think I might need to find some glitter buttons!
My Sixties patterns
My tiny laundry room has been painted a bright shade of yellow-orange for 9 years, and I’ve never been able to find any wall art I liked with my paint color… until now!
Yesterday during a leisurely shopping trip at Hobby Lobby, I found the perfect art print for my laundry room. It’s a magazine cover from July 1956, and the colors are mostly bright shades of orange and yellow.
I love the strapless, ruffled, and striped swimsuit the model is wearing! The fact that it’s a not-so-perfect fit (spandex wasn’t invented until 1959) and that some of the stripe placement is odd makes it all the more charming (no photoshopped perfection) and ironic that it is on the cover of something labeled “couture”.
I was curious if there were other vintage covers of Couture or perhaps a collection that had been published together in a book (sort of like the books of Fortune Magazine and Vogue cover art), so I asked the search engines of Google, Wikipedia, and Amazon.
Search results were inconclusive.
Aside from a few other art prints, the only real lead I could get by doing an internet search seems to be linked to a fictional character on the television soap opera General Hospital whose made up “profile” includes “Former Fashion Editor for Couture Magazine”.
I’ve never really watched soap operas, but considering that General Hospital is the oldest running American soap opera (it started in 1963), it makes me wonder if Couture Magazine was created for the show and the “covers” could be old art department props.
Or maybe the Couture covers are simply old photos someone has used to create art that looks like vintage magazine covers.
Anyone know if Couture Magazine ever really existed? Or do you think it might be a really elaborate film prop? Could it be that it was just created for generic wall art?
I’m not really sure, but I like my new picture in my laundry room.
UPDATE: Thanks so much to those in the comments who helped solve the mystery of my artwork! It’s definitely not vintage (I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t quite sure why!) and it’s all about the sun being on the model as explained by Lizzie on her blog. Very interesting!
I know I’ve stated that I do not do alterations or repairs, however, every once in a while I am given the opportunity to restore something vintage – the type of project that usually offers me a fun challenge.
Julie, a friend of a friend, enjoys collecting and wearing hats (I really wish everyone still wore hats!) and she found an old olive-green velvet ring hat at an estate sale. It was in surprisingly good condition, but it had a sad feather placed oddly across the front. The feather needed to be replaced – the shaft was broken and the end was bent.
When the hat arrived for repairs, I was a little confused by the Robin Hood-like feather – it just didn’t match the hat!
I had a feeling the feather was not original, so I did a little research and confirmed my suspicions. I discovered that ring hats were popular in the 1950s and into the 1960s. They came in a variety of colors but all the trimmings (including face veil) invariably matched the color of the hat itself. I found a couple of good examples in my friend Ken’s vintage shop at VintageMartini.com:
I suspected that Julie’s hat once had a veil of matching olive-green millinery net that had probably torn, and whoever removed it had decided to add the feather instead of replacing the veil. I started the restoration by taking off the feather, and sure enough, there were pieces of matching net underneath!
Sadly, the feather enthusiast had just slapped it on with hot-glue. No matter how carefully I tried to steam and re-melt the glue off, I couldn’t remove it all from the hat without damaging the velvet. So I picked off what I could and planned my design in order to cover up what I could not remove of the awful glue-job.
I decided that flowers of a matching olive-green would be the most authentic. I already happened to have some wool felt in the perfect shade of green, which led me to experiment with making felt roses like I talked about in this previous post.
After a failed attempt to dye some store-bought net the correct color, I ordered some out-of-production millinery veiling in the right shade of olive-green and made a classic birdcage veil. Then I discreetly tacked the veil to the hat with a few tiny stitches and placed my handmade felt roses where they covered the old glue spots. Once everything was hand-sewn onto the hat (no more icky glue added to this vintage hat!), I had a drastically different hat:
Each felt rose was made using individually shaped petals that were then stitched together by hand. The rolled felt stem that I made for one of the rosebuds was perfect for hiding the old line of glue across the top.
The back of the hat had a little circle of velvet that was probably part of original trim decoration and might have been the point of origin for the face veil. The little circle was a slightly frayed, so I hand-stitched around it to make its presence look intentional.
And here I am modeling the hat so that you can see the effect of the veil on a real person. The veil ends just below the nose.
I think my favorite thing about this project was how much my husband wrinkled his nose at the hat when he first saw it with the feather, and then once I was finished, he wanted me to keep it he loved it so much! I may have to be on the lookout for another vintage olive-green ring hat – or at least make myself a hat with millinery veiling someday.
It’s December, so my husband and I have been pulling out all the Christmas decorations. I have a retro 1950s style kitchen and I try to keep my kitchen decorations in line with the theme.
When I was born, my grandmother made me a felt Christmas stocking. I’m sure it was one of those stocking kits similar to what they still sell today, but she made it over 30 years ago – so it has a simplicity that the more modern patterns lack. Just felt pieces, sequins, and beads. I hang it on one of the upper cabinet doors in my kitchen.
On the long row of cabinets, I hang one felt ornament from each upper cabinet handle.
I designed & crafted the six ornaments in various shapes that I found in retro graphics or wrapping paper patterns. In order to attach them to my cabinet handles, I attached two pieces of ribbon on the top of each instead of a loop. That way I can just tie them on with a bow.
Making the ornaments is quite simple – I just started with a basic shape and then cut tiny pieces free-hand and hand-stitched them on, adding sequins here and there. Once the front design was finished, I cut a plain piece of felt for the back and stitched around the outer edge of the entire thing (remembering to insert the ends of my ribbon at the top edge).
A little project like this is great for scraps and it is good hand-sewing practice. (I would have loved to do something like this as a kid!) Sometimes it is just nice to do a craft that doesn’t really involve much planning or patterning – you can just cut and start sewing, making it up as you go. And if you don’t like how it is turning out, you can start over without wasting much material. =)
The reason I thought to make my retro kitchen ornaments is kind of a long story.
A number of years ago, I was working as a costumer on a low-budget TV movie/webisode series and we had a large pile of felt fabric scraps leftover from one of the webisodes that required some costumes made from felt (in the script, the mother character was making costumes for her daughter’s school play).
Since it was just before Christmas and the workdays on set were long (and often boring), I kept myself busy by creating some hand-sewn ornaments out of the felt scraps and a few sequins that I had in my personal stash.
I created 15 unique ornaments for some of my fellow crew members and a few of the actors – it was a completely free way to give personal Christmas gifts and I had a lot of fun making them. A couple of my closest crew friends even joined me in the craft and made some gifts for their own friends & families.
Some of the ornaments are inside jokes and others just represented an interest/job of the recipient. I sketched the more detailed ones and then traced the shapes I drew onto the felt before cutting & sewing.
I gave each ornament inside a hand-delivered Christmas card, and something like this would be perfect for mailing inside a card because they are flat and light – they might not even cost extra postage (you’d have to weigh it to be sure though).
Everybody who got an ornament was thrilled – especially since each one was so personal.
The most detailed ornament was of the Yellow Submarine from the Beatles’ Album cover:
I made this for a guy who is a major Beatles fan, and his reaction to the gift was probably the most amusing – he was so astounded that I made him something so in line with one of his favorite things, he was worried that his girlfriend would be upset that it was his “favorite gift ever!”
And the Hippo was my favorite:
Because who wouldn’t want a Hippopotamus for Christmas?