The Creative Corner · Vintage Sewing

A Twenties Kimono Robe

A sketch of a 1920s woman admiring her reflection in a hand mirror. She wears a long patterned kimono robe. A large mirror is placed on the wall behind her, along with a table and a bonsai tree in a bowl.
Make this Twenties robe without a pattern.

This week I finally finished a long-awaited project. For many years I wanted a Twenties kimono robe for summer wear. It’s called a kimono robe because it uses kimono sleeves, which means the sleeves are cut as part of the garment’s front and back. This robe is in no way an actual Japanese kimono. It is a Twenties kimono robe creation through and through.

As I paged through a 1924 magazine the other day, I saw an article I’d seen many times before. Every time, I admit, I longed to make one of these for myself. The article itself said “The instructions require no pattern, and the time for making is of no consequence, two hours proving ample.”

“The instructions require no pattern, and the time for making is of no consequence, two hours proving ample.”

Inspiration, 1924

Whether you call it a negligee, a peignoir, a kimono, or a robe, this creation ended up quite satisfactory. It definitely took more than two hours to put together, so set aside at least four hours if you want to wear it tonight. 

One of the nicest additions to this simple piece of clothing is the deep tuck that goes over the shoulders and down to the hip in back. It helps to shape the negligee a bit. Darts over the front hips help with that as well. 

This is how the finished Twenties kimono robe looks in my size.

Completed robe in a light, gauzy fabric.

What you will need

To make your own, you will need:

  • Two lengths of 45″ or 60″ fabric. A length here equals the distance from the base of your neck to your ankles or the base of your neck to the floor. Three yards total should be about right.
  • 4-5 yards of 1 – 1.5 inch satin ribbon for belt tie
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine or needle
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or chalk to mark your fabric (without a pattern, you need a way to mark cutting lines)
  • Ruler/ dressmaking ruler/ tape measure and straight edge — something to measure with. I use my trusty Picken Square for pattern drafting. (Link goes to Lacis, who reproduced the Picken Square in the late 1990s and still has some.) Anything that will help you draw straight lines will work.

If you wear a size small, medium, or large, 45 inch fabric should work fine. If you wear an XL, XXL or larger size, you will probably need 60-inch fabric. Basically, whatever your hip measure is (36”, 56”, etc.), that measure needs to be about 4-7 inches less than the width of your fabric in order to get a nice loose fitting robe. So if your hip measures 36 inches, 45 – 36 = 9 inches. 45 inches is plenty in width. If your hip measures 56 inches, 60 – 56 = 4. That will work too.

Fabric type: You want a cotton or rayon or polyester that drapes nicely. Too stiff and it won’t hang like a kimono. Prewash your fabric to see how it will actually hang. I made mine from 60-inch wide mystery fabric. When I began I thought it was a cotton, but by the time the project was complete I am pretty sure it is a polyester. And I love it. It’s loose, comfortable, and was completely made from my stash. 

Creating your kimono

Even though this robe uses no pattern, that doesn’t mean it uses no measurements. You will mark your lines right onto the fabric with your pencil or chalk (dressmaker’s chalk works great) and then cut along those lines. 

First, fold your material lengthwise so you have the long selvedges together. It should be half the width of your fabric and the full three yards long.

Then fold that piece in half crosswise so that all the selvedges are together and it is half the length it was. Your fabric should now measure 1.5 yards in length on the table, and half the fabric width. It should look like this:

This is how your fabric looks folded on the table.

Place the fabric on the table with the long folds away from you, the selvedges closest to you, and the crosswise fold to your left. Now you are ready to measure and cut.

(If your fabric is slippery, pin the layers together here and there so that the fabric doesn’t move while you cut it.)

Ready to cut

Refer to the illustration above as you make the marks and cuts on your own fabric. The layout illustration shows all the letters for marking placement.

First read through all the instructions so you know what you are about to do, and then take it one step at a time.

  • Slash the upper one of the two lengthwise folds from a to b for the full length front opening.
  • Measure and cut down the crosswise fold at the left 2.5 inches from b to c.
  • From your own shoulder, measure down the front to the low waist you want to emphasize. Starting at b, measure that same distance to the right along the fold, and mark d.
  • Cut a straight line diagonally from d to c, cutting only the top two layers of fabric that were slashed down the fold. Leave the bottom fold as it is.
  • After you remove the triangles cut from the top two layers of fabric, then cut a curve in the lower two layers from c to b. This forms the back neckline.

This competes the front/back centers of your robe.

Cutting the shoulders and sleeves

Now we move around to the left of the diagram, and down the side closest to you to finish the cutting instructions.

  • To shape the shoulder, measure 3.5 inches from e at the fold and place a mark for f. Draw a straight line from f to c.
  • Cut through all four layers of fabric from f to c to form the shoulder.
  • To the right of f, measure 10 inches and place mark g. Note: This is the sleeve width. If your upper arms measure more than 16 inches in diameter, this will not fit. To determine my sleeve width, I took a measuring tape and looped it very loosely around my arm how I wanted the sleeve to hang. If I made a loop of 24 inches around my arm, then I measured down half that, or 12 inches, instead of 10.
  • Once you determine where to place g, measure up 4.5 inches or more and place h. This is the length of your sleeve. If you are slender compared to your fabric width, you can make this measurement larger. Make sure you have enough fabric left after you cut away the sleeves that the robe body measures 1.5 to 2 times your hip measure.
  • Measure up from the corner i the same length from g to h, so 4.5 inches or more, and place j. Draw a straight line from j to h.
  • Cutting through all four layers, start at j and cut toward h. When you reach 3 inches from h, begin to curve and cut to g.

Congratulations! You just drafted and cut out a pattern of your own making. If this is the first time you’ve done anything like this, you deserve a hearty Well Done. This is how patterns are drafted. If you can do this, you can learn to draft your own patterns from your measurements.

Putting it all together

Don’t throw away any of the fabric you cut away. You’ll use most of it, if not all of it, later.

Here’s how to assemble the robe:

  1. Join the shoulders with a 1/2 inch seam.
  2. Make a 1 inch dart over each hip on the front layers only. This is an optional step; it makes the robe just a little more full in the front if you do. 
  3. Take three of the four pieces that you cut from under the arms and join them to form a long strip. You may need all four of them if you increased the depth of the sleeve at all.
  4. Use a 1/4 inch seam to join them together. You will use the entire 4.5 inch width of the fabric to create the wide band that edges the front of the robe. Trim as little of the curved portion from the strips as you can; you will need all the fabric. 
  5. To attach the binding, lay it on the front of the robe, right sides of the fabric together and long edges even. Using a 1/4 inch seam, sew up the front, around the neckline, and back down the other side of the front.
  6. Press the seam, and turn under 1/4 inch on the long free edge of the band and press it as well. 
  7. Fold the band to the inside of the robe so that the turned edge just covers the stitching.
  8. Sew in place by hand, or sew with a machine stitch close to the folded edge. 

Take a designer shoulder tuck

About halfway between your neck and shoulder, like at k, fold a tuck one inch deep, letting it extend to the bust line in front and to the low waistline point in back.

Cut your length of satin ribbon in half, and slip one end of each ribbon into the tuck on the back, near the low waist point.

Then stitch the tuck down along the outside folded edge, from the front bust point to the back hip/low waist point. Catch the end of the ribbon in the stitching to hold it in place like the top illustration. Make sure to finish off the threads securely so the belt doesn’t pull out.

The last thing to do is turn up an even hem all the way around, wherever you want it. Turn 1/4 inch down on the top of the hem and sew it into place. Then slip into your new negligee and admire your afternoon’s work. 

If you want inspiration on building the rest of a Twenties wardrobe, check out the post I wrote on Creating a 1920s Capsule Wardrobe.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework · Vintage Sewing

Embroider a Baby Bib

Illustration of two white baby bibs on a blue and yellow background. Each is decorated with flower embroidery. Image dates from 1940s-50s.
Baby bib designs for embroidery

Bibs keep babies tidy. They go in and out of fashion, but a stack of baby bibs was a must-have to any vintage household with a baby in it. Some were for utilitarian use, and they got thrown into the laundry hamper after one messy meal. Others were designed for decoration, and matched or complemented the baby’s wardrobe. You can embroider a baby bib that falls in between these extremes. Make one to match a special outfit. Or create a couple special warm weather bibs for that baby in your life.

Lots of vintage bib patterns exist, because the bib became a staple of the layette. While looking through a stack of old patterns, I came across these two that I just had to share. They’re from an undated layette pattern set, probably from the 1940s or at the latest, early 1950s. I thought they were darling and I wanted to pass them along in case anyone could use them.

To Embroider the Baby Bibs

These patterns measure about 8 1/8 to 8 1/4 inches from side to side, and 8 to 8 1/4 inches from back to belly. They should print well on US size letter paper.

To embroider the bibs:

  • Two 10 x 10 inch pieces of white or pastel fabric, light to medium weight like quilting cotton, batiste, or muslin. You can also use 1/4 yard of any of the fabrics.
  • 1 yard of bias tape to coordinate or match your base fabric. This will edge the neck and form the ties.
  • Embroidery floss in your choice of colors.
  • Embroidery hoop to hold your fabric taut.
  • Sharp embroidery needle – not a cross stitch tapestry needle. This one needs to have a sharp point to go through the fabric.

Use these stitches:

  • French knots or satin stitch for the dots.
  • Satin stitch or lazy daisy stitch for the flowers.
  • Outline or stem stitch for the lines.
  • Buttonhole stitch for the edges.
  • Rambler Rose stitch for the roses. (See below for illustration).
Illustrat8ion for completing a Rambler Rose stitch in embroidery.
This is a rose stitch.

Colors You Will Need

Really, you can use any colors you want. Traditionally these were embroidered in light, wispy, pastel colors. But as you can see from the first picture, the original artist colored them with bright reds, yellows, and blues. Is this because it matched their pattern envelope brand colors? We will never know.

The pattern itself does suggest some colors:

  • Work entirely in one color. This is great for a more formal bib, or one where you want it to match a particular outfit without question.
  • Flowers: pink or blue, or any pastel color on white. Or white on any pastel fabric color.
  • Centers: light yellow or white.
  • Leaves and stems: light green.
  • Ribbons and dots: pink, white, or blue, depending on colors used for flowers. You can match them or contrast.

If you need ideas for embroidery stitches, or instructions on how to do the stitches suggested, I created a whole set of blog posts with vintage embroidery lessons. It’s called Lessons In Embroidery.

Creating the Bibs

Here are the steps to putting one of these bibs together.

  1. Print out the design you want to use. The original bib measures about 8 x 8 inches or 8 1/4 by 8 1/4 inches. Either is fine. I printed the image at 45% to 46% to match the size.
  2. Transfer the design to your fabric. You can trace it, use fabric carbon paper, prick the lines with pins and rub powder over them, whatever you like.
  3. Embroider the main design.
  4. Use a buttonhole stitch to go around the scalloped outside edge of the bib. This finishes it off.
  5. Cut out the bib carefully. Be sure not to catch your buttonhole stitches. Cut along the cutting line at the neck. You’ll have about a 3/8 inch seam line.
  6. Fold your bias tape in half. Attach the middle point to the middle front of the bib neckline and pin it around. Sew the bias tape onto the bib, either by hand or machine. Fold it over and hem the tape to the back of the bib. Sew the long edges of the bias tape straps together so they don’t unfold. You can sew the ends of the tape, or not. It’s cut on the bias. It won’t unravel.

The Patterns

Here are the patterns you will need to create the bibs.

Photo of a bib pattern for download.
Baby bib number 1 with a sweet bow and bunches of flowers.

And here is the second design.

Photo of a bib pattern to download.
Baby bib number 2, with roses and scrolls.

The thin line around the outside of the bib shows where to place the buttonhole edging.

Where to Go from Here

If you enjoyed this project, you might also like some of the projects in Lessons in Embroidery. Here’s Lesson 2, all about various straight line stitches. This is the information that hooked me on vintage embroidery stitches, many years ago. Check it out. Lessons in Embroidery: Outline Stitches

Household Sewing · Vintage Sewing

Sew a Storage Solution

Long, slim fabric organizer hangs on the back of a door. Made of a beige cloth printed with red flowers and green leaves, it's a busy pattern, but functional.
Make a pocket for door storage.

Last winter I had a problem. I needed to sew a storage solution for cloth dinner napkins and other kitchen linens on their way to the washing machine.  

My washer and dryer are in the kitchen. This is exactly what I wanted when we moved to our house a few years ago, and it took a few houses to locate one with very accessible laundry. Unfortunately, that means that I have nowhere to store the normal soiled linens waiting to be laundered, like dish towels and dust cloths. 

I also needed a place to store a set of reusable “paper” towels. I love them. They are wonderful, easy to clean, and they work great for small projects like “oops! I just overwatered the cactus again. Grab me a paper towel, will you?” However, they are not easy to store. I solved that problem by sewing a storage solution called a door pocket. You can see the happy perpetual paper towels peeking from their pocket in the picture below.

Closeup of fabric door organizer showing wipe up cloths sticking out of the top pocket. A bottom set of two pockets is empty.
My cloth paper towel stash peeps at you from the top pocket.

Door Pockets in History

Door pockets have been around for a long time, well over 100 years. They became popular in the 1920s in small bungalows and apartments that afforded very little storage space. These homes usually provided a small pantry or cabinet door, and these became prime real estate for the door pocket storage rack.

Then the Great Depression hit and many people barely managed to eat, much less afford supplies for decorating. But they did have access to outgrown clothing and flour sacks. And flour sacks make wonderful door pocket organizers. They’re colorful, wash easily, and the happy prints brought a smile in the kitchen or wherever else they appeared. 

Plus, sometimes a shopper ended up with one or two mismatched flour sacks. Each sack when opened created one yard of fabric. What could you do with one yard of fabric? You can cut it up and create quilt blocks. Another alternative is to make an organizational or household helper like one of these door pockets.

Making Your Own

Illustration from the Thirties showing how to assemble a door pocket organizer.
Visual instructions for your door pocket

You can sew a storage solution like a door pocket to fit your own needs. Sure, you can purchase a fabric over the door shoe rack (where do you think that idea came from?) but everything doesn’t fit into a shoe-sized hole. The benefit to making your own is that the pockets fit the objects you need them to. 

Originally, the instructions for these items told you to sew bone rings at the top and bottom of the completed pocket set and then hook them onto the inside of your door. That assumes that we all have hardwood pantry doors, which since the 1960s at least, most of us do not. In the United States at least, room doors are often made from a wooden framing and wood veneer. Hooks will not hold in the very thin wood layer that forms the large flat part of the door. If anyone or anything poked a hole in one of your plywood veneer doors, you know exactly what I mean.

Modernizing the Instructions

Instead of the rings and hooks, I purchased some over the door hooks from Amazon. Something like this may be available from your local hardware store as well. I sewed thin strips of fabric into sturdy straps. I folded them and cut them into lengths suitable for over the door hooks. If I were to make another one I would make the top loops much longer. Over the door hooks only hang a couple inches below the top of the door, and I am quite short. Reaching the perpetual paper towels proves to be a challenge.

To make your own door pocket organizer, you will need a medium weight cotton fabric. The original diagram suggested chintz, which you can find in the drapery department of your local fabric store. It’s a shiny cotton, usually with flowers on it. 

When this design was originally published in the Thirties, fabric was sold in lengths that measured only 36 inches wide. Some fabrics, like woolens, were wider, but the majority of cottons appeared in the local store sewing departments at 36 inches. So a door organizer that measures 24 inches wide by 36 inches high would need 2 1/2 yards of fabric. If your fabric measures 41-43 inches wide, you will still probably need about 2 1/4 yards fabric. You may as well purchase the entire 2 1/2 yards and make a matching potholder from the leftovers. If your pocket will be less than 24 inches, you will end up with extra fabric. Or you can use it to make matching binding instead of buying prepackaged bias tape. Everything is cut as one layer; nothing is lined in this organizer.

You will need

To make your own door organizer, you will need:

  • about 2 1/2 yards of fabric. This is a great project for leftovers. All the pieces don’t have to match.
  • 8 – 9 yards bias tape binding. You can make your own from spare fabric, see below.
  • over the door hangers. Here’s a set I found on Amazon. You may be able to find some closer to home. You will want to make sure that the door hanger width matches the width of your door.

First, you calculate

The only one who knows exactly how to make your door storage pocket is you. You know how wide your doors are, how long a space you have for hanging something, and what you need to store. If you look at the illustration of the construction, and then at mine at the top, you’ll see that they don’t look much alike. My pantry door was only eighteen inches wide. There was no way I could fit a 24-inch organizer on the back of it. 

Once you figure out how wide your pocket can be, grab a spare sheet of paper and sketch what you want the pockets to look like. My whole reason for making a door pocket was so that I could have a large bottom pocket like the illustration. I needed that to hold my cloth napkins. I also made a large pocket in the top to hold my reusable paper towels. 

Your upper pockets will be eight inches deep. A large pocket might be 12 inches to 18 inches deep. 

Each pocket will have a box pleat in the middle to give you room to actually store something in it. If you don’t know how to make box pleats, here’s a tutorial: How to Make Box Pleats.

When you measure for the pockets, take the width of your finished item (24) plus 1 inch for each 1-inch pleat per pocket: 24 + 4 (1-inch pocket pleats for four pockets) = 28 inches for each strip. (It’s much easier if you cut them a couple inches longer so you have some material to play with. You can always trim it even later.)

For a 2-inch pleat in a larger pocket, add 2 extra inches to your width (24 width + 2 inch pleat = 26 inches long). 

Assemble the organizer

Trim each pocket top with bias tape. It will act as a top hem and strengthen it at the same time.

Then attach your pockets one layer at a time. Since you will have two to three inches between pocket layers you can start at the bottom. Attach the bottom pocket by basting along the sides and bottom. Remember to pin your pleat into place before you stitch the bottom edge.

Take your next pocket strip. Fold in your box pleats and pin them into place. Determine where you want the pocket to sit. Mark the bottom edge of the pocket by pinning the two sides of your backing piece. Turn the pocket upside down, with the bias tape towards the bottom and the wrong side of the fabric facing you. Move the pocket up so that the edge is 1/2 inch over the marked pins. Sew along that line, and fold up. You now have a 1/2-inch seam on the bottom and your pocket base sits exactly where you wanted it to sit. Your pocket will be about 7 1/2- 7 3/4 inches tall.

Reinforce the seam you just sewed by sewing again 1/8 inch above the seam line to hold everything in place.

Then sew two seams close together between each pocket, as you see in the illustration. Baste or sew the sides of the pocket to the backing.

Repeat with your other pockets, all the way up. Leave a space between the new pocket and the one below it so that you can insert and remove items easily.

When you are finished, baste the sides of your pockets to the backing and then apply bias tape all the way around. At the top, cut a 9-inch strip of bias tape, and sew it along the open long side to create a strap. Cut your strap into three 3-inch pieces and fold them in half. 

Pin each folded strap upside down to the front of the top edge of your organizer. The raw edges of the strap should meet the top raw edges of your backing. 

Then apply the bias tape across the top, catching the loop ends as you go. After you’re finished, fold the loops up and sew over them a couple times to strengthen them so they won’t pull out.

Make your own binding

You don’t have to purchase pre-made bias tape. You can make your own. Or you can use straight strips as binding.

Here’s a YouTube video on How to Create Your Own Bias Tape.

To use straight binding strips, cut long strips of fabric straight on the grain that measure about 1 1/2 inches wide. Two of them should be a bit longer than your backing sides, two a couple inches longer than your top and bottom, and several long enough to sew along the top of your pockets before you attach them.

You sew straight binding onto a piece of fabric just like you would bias tape. Sew 1/4 inch seam on the back and press or fold 1/4 inch hem down the long loose edge. Then fold the fabric from the back to the front and sew down along the folded edge, covering all the loose edges. When you attach the last two pieces, usually the top and bottom because they are shorter, fold the two ends in to match the width of your fabric before attaching the binding to your project. This will create a smooth hem on both ends.

Show Off Your Work

Drop a comment and show how it came out. If you made this project, are you interested in making it again? Once you make one, any others will go much faster. Like lots of home decorating projects, the most difficult project is the first one.

If you enjoyed this project and you have some fabric left over, you might also like making a Patchwork Fan Potholder from leftover scraps.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Fashion · Vintage Sewing

1920s Wardrobe Accessories

Large purple hat from 1924. It is decorated with big purple embroidered flowers and large green leaves.
Make a statement with a large decorated hat.

Once you create a Twenties wardrobe, capsule or not, what are the 1920s wardrobe accessories that pull it together? Last time I talked about creating a Twenties capsule wardrobe. In this post I’ll suggest some add-ons that will make a Twenties outfit stand out. Incorporate a few of these ideas, or use them all to really expand your wardrobe and its capabilities.

Keep in mind that the traditional Twenties wardrobe contained few pieces. Most people didn’t have a closet filled with clothing. Clothes were expensive. The Twenties saw a time of inflation before the Great Depression that had everyone complaining about prices of everything from meat to the clothing budget. Generally, your typical Twenties woman had two to three dresses she wore at home, a visiting dress, perhaps a travel outfit, an evening gown if she moved in those circles, and a few other pieces. Separates such as those found in a capsule wardrobe would be a godsend to someone like this.

So if you begin with six pieces consisting of a travel or business suit, one extra skirt, and three blouses or tops, what will finish your wardrobe? Add one piece at a time, with thought, and you will soon have a beautiful selection of period reproduction garments from which to choose. One of the great benefits is that you can choose what you like from the decade, without the pressure to update your dresses each time the calendar turns.

Hats, Hats, Hats

The most obvious 1920s wardrobe accessories are the small items that finish an outfit. The hat at the top of this post, for instance, would make anyone look twice. Or choose a hat like this one, that gives you more flexibility. This one could top a suit just as easily as an afternoon outfit.

Twenties millinery can be as challenging as learning to work with blocks and wires, or it can be as simple as using a Twenties crochet hat pattern and decorating it to match various outfits. Some fabric hats, such as turbans, used no infrastructure at all.

Charming Twenties spring hat from printed or embroidered fabric.

Bags and Bling

Once you have something to top off the outfit, so to speak, you need a portable container for your things. Here are some options.

Crocheted pouch handbag made in two colors of lavender. The main body is in a dark lavender mesh, while the bottom of the bag has a light lavender  triangle lace with solid diamonds between.
A visiting handbag or small workbag for on the go

One of my favorites, I have this bag almost completed. When made with the size thread suggested, it comes out quite small, about eight inches in length. It would be enough to hold necessities for a day out, but little more. This is a general everyday bag or small workbag if you tat. Nothing much larger than a tatting shuttle, ball of thread, and current project will fit.

Twenties handbag made from knitted beads and deep beaded fringe.
Carry all the bling in your handbag!

This type of handbag was knitted with seed beads. It sparkled every time its owner moved, and these were very popular. Interesting to note, these were not touted as evening bags. This was another type of everyday handbag.

Twenties handbag with intricate beaded embroidery and a beaded fringe hanging from the bottom.
Bag with bead embroidery and netted fringe.

Here’s another example of a beaded handbag. This time, the beads are embroidered onto a satin foundation, and then beads are attached in a netted fringe pattern along the bottom.

…And the bling

Twenties woman with short curly hair wears a beaded or ribbon band across her forehead that looks somewhat like a falling star.
Hair band adds bling to this woman’s hairstyle

Hairstyle accents like this one added pizzazz to an outfit without requiring much storage space. 1920s wardrobe accessories like this dress up the outfits you have.

A dress belt made from ribbon circles and ovals.
Dressy belt made from ribbons.

Belts, sashes, and corsages made from ribbon helped to heighten the dressiness and flash of an ensemble without replacing the dress underneath it. The belt above is made completely from pieces of ribbon, and hand sewn. The dress ornament below is also made from pieces of ribbon.

Ribbon corsage from the Twenties. A large fluffy flower made from ribbon heads six long streamers.
This ribbon corsage leads the eye below the waist.

Ribbon corsages of all shapes and sizes attached to dresses, coats, capes, and hats to change the appearance to suit the wearer and the occasion. Often they were attached to long streamers or strips of lace and suspended from the low waistline of the dress, like this one. These additions pinned to the dress so they could be removed after the event, and they drew the eye away from a plain neckline.

Coats and Wraps

1920s winter coat with a high collar buttoned around the neck and the sleeves making part of a cape that falls down behind. The coat has a belt at the waist and is of a plaid material.
A coat makes your period outfit complete

If you plan to go outdoors at all, and you live in an area that produces cold air and snow, you are going to need a cover. This might be something like the spectacular cape coat illustrated above. Or you may prefer an article like a full cape. Long capes were often utilized for evening wear. They gave warmth without crushing delicate lace or ruffles.

You can’t get much more classic than this 1925 spring raincoat.

If classic is your goal, you might like this 1925 raincoat. With few alterations, these coats still appear in shops and online every year.

Sweaters and Overblouses

Knit dress from 1922. Image from Antique Pattern Library; link to free download below.

An easy way to add mileage to your wardrobe is to add sweaters and other knitted or crocheted items. Sweaters, tops, knitted dresses, shawls, and so on add versatility with just a few items. This knit dress with its matching hat is an example. You can find the entire book, with many sweater and knitted blouse options, from the Antique Pattern Library. View the images and download it here.

1920s photo of a woman in a knitted Twenties cardigan. It buttons down the front with large patch pockets on each side below the waist.
A longline sweater for cool days

A simple cardigan can alter your look at the same time that it provides warmth. You only need one, if you want any at all. A sweater like this makes a great 1920s wardrobe accessory.

A woman from the 1920s wears a
Simple Twenties top in filet crochet

Another option is a filet crochet blouse that can go over a Twenties chemise or underskirt you already have. Relatively simple to make and memorable, these little overblouses were quite fashionable in the Twenties.

Shawls and Wraps

Woman wearing an embroidered cashmere shawl. 1924.
Twenties embroidered shawl made from cashmere.

Add a shawl to your 1920s wardrobe accessories kit. A nice shawl dresses up an outfit and provides an extra layer if necessary. A shawl can be made from wool and fringed, like the one above, or it can be crocheted, like the one below.

Crocheted shawl for dressy occasions.

This shawl can be used for dressy or not-so-dressy occasions. In fact, a large square shawl like this could see a lot of use in a Twenties wardrobe.

Making It Your Own

The best way to accessorize a wardrobe is to have a plan. My everyday modern wardrobe looks like it was assembled by a gerbil with ADHD. Don’t do that. Don’t be like me. Spend some time and determine what you want for the basics, and then build from there once you have it.

Looking at the cape coat above, for instance, makes me want to grab my pattern drafting paper and create one as the basis of my wardrobe. Perhaps that’s because I live in the Frozen North, and am looking out at a 12-degree Fahrenheit (-11 Celsius) morning as I write.

Weather aside, perhaps you have a dream and desire of holding historical tea parties. Then build your wardrobe around nice separates. Throw in a one piece dress if you like. Make sure you spend some time researching and making the most darling little tea apron you ever saw. It can be made from sheer organdy, or handkerchief linen, or a fabric you fall in love with. If that apron makes your heart sing every time you see it, you will enjoy every tea party you throw.

More suggestions

To see some options of other accessories for the Twenties wardrobe, take a look at A Gift of Handkerchiefs and Crochet a Twenties Wrist Bag.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Fashion · Vintage Sewing

Creating a 1920s Capsule Wardrobe

1920s woman in a skirt and matching suit jacket. The jacket has flared sleeves and hangs below her hipline. It is open in front. She wears a large hat with a large feather in the front.
Use a nice simple suit as the basis for your Twenties wardrobe.

If the fit and flare of the Twenties makes your heart flutter, look here for suggestions on creating a 1920s capsule wardrobe. As I’ve stated in an earlier article, the concept of the capsule wardrobe didn’t really appear until the late Thirties. Even though we’re still more than ten years ahead of the times, we can still use Twenties clothing to create a great versatile wardrobe.

You might think, after looking at various photos of 1920s clothing, that women wore nothing other than one-piece dresses. This is simply not true, which is a good thing for those who want to incorporate a 1920s capsule wardrobe into their costuming. Suits appeared at the business office, for various sporting events, and at the train station. They came into use quite often during travel because they made it possible to pack few clothes for many different days and occasion. Surprise! The 1920s capsule wardrobe at work during vacation and travel.

First, choose a suit as a foundation. It can be classic or faddish in styling, whichever you prefer. Either the suit above or the one below would prove a great starting point for a beginning 1920s wardrobe. All these photos date from 1922-1924, so they fit well together without trying to emulate the teenager “flapper” look. These are the clothes that real women wore in the Twenties before 1925.

Woman in a double breasted business suit with long skirt. 1922-23. She wears a close fitting hat on her head that matches the suit color.
This suit gives you a completely different look.

For a 1920s capsule wardrobe you only need one suit jacket to start with. The top example is more flirty and fun, while the bottom suit is more businesslike. Its jacket would work with a variety of skirts. Choose one that fits its intended wear. The best reconstruction in the world won’t work if you choose an after-five dress and all you attend are afternoon tea parties! You will look just a bit out of place wherever you go.

So, assuming that you plan to live during the daylight hours, a simple suit gives you a matching jacket and skirt. You could choose any color, from peach to dark brown, or from dark green to blue. Make it a color you like, and that you can build a wardrobe around. Remember, it’s hard to match pinks and reds with like colors unless the fabrics were designed to go together. It can be done, but it takes time, patience, and fabric swatches.

1920s striped skirt, almost ankle length, with a side front button and a small pocket placket at the right hip.
This skirt would look well made in either stripes as shown, or in a solid fabric.

This skirt blends well with the double breasted jacket. Or, if you prefer, here’s another, more dressy option.

1920s skirt illustration. The skirt hangs about six inches above the ankle, with drapes at both side seams that hang almost to the floor.
A slightly more dressy option to round out your wardrobe.

The skirt with side draperies on the bottom is actually much easier to construct than the tailored skirt above it. Either one would look nice as part of a small 1920s capsule wardrobe.

Of course, once you have your skirts all determined, you need blouses to finish the outfit. A 1920s capsule wardrobe shines here. Blouses and tops were popular, with distinctive designs and folksy embroidery. Here are some examples:

1920s illustration of long sleeve blouse with embroidered yoke. The sleeves tie at the wrist.
Blouse with embroidered yoke
1920s white long sleeve blouse with a long ruffly jabot that reaches almost to the waistline. The shirt has a soft turnover collar.
Make the jabot detachable and you have a blouse for a suit and one for an afternoon party.
Two 1920s blouses. One is a scoop
The scoop neck blouse works well with the flirty suit at the top, with or without the extra embroidery. Wear the blouse under the skirt.

With one suit, one extra skirt, and three blouses you have a total of six outfits, worn with or without the jacket. Because the jacket likely won’t work with all the tops you select, you can count on six ensembles instead of nine. Add a simple white silky top without too much decoration and the draped skirt above, and you have a nice dressy combination as well.

Once you have six workable pieces, enough to take up a few inches in your closet but no more, you can evaluate your new wardrobe and decide what additional pieces you need. In the next article I’ll give examples of add-ons that will take your small 1920s capsule wardrobe to the next level. Plus, it will become even more versatile.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Fashion · Vintage Sewing

Create a 1910s Capsule Wardrobe

Three women stand in a 1912 fashion illustration. The background is shades of light orange and black. The one on the left stands in a long skirt and suit coat. In the middle the woman stands with her purse hanging in front of her, also in a suit and skirt. The third soman wears a long coat theat looks like a coverall. All of them are drawn in black and white.
Either of the suits pictured here, left and center, would form a great foundation for a 1910s capsule wardrobe

Last time, we talked about the concept of the original capsule wardrobe. You can find that post here. If you love the time of the Titanic through the First World War, you can create a stunning 1910s capsule wardrobe. Your collection can be as authentic or as inauthentic as you like. 

Fashion changed quite a bit in the middle of the Teens. Before 1915 your 1910s capsule wardrobe will look like the fashions of the Titanic or Downton Abbey. After 1915, however, your wardrobe will look more like a World War I recruitment poster. Make a skirt and blouse from white, with simple lines, and you have a Suffragette costume using either half of the decade. 

Suppose you want a wardrobe that emphasizes the first half of the decade. All the photos in this post come from 1912 and 1913 Good Housekeeping fashion pages. Unless you have access to a fashion historian on a regular basis, anything you create in the 1912-13 two-year span will work well together. 

First The Foundation

For these outfits you will probably need a foundation garment like a 1910s corset. If you don’t, your shape is amazing and I wish I was still built like that. I need a corset. 

You can find illustrations of corset patterns and draft them up to your size. I don’t have that kind of patience for fitting a corset, so I bought the 1913-1921 corset from Scroop Patterns. It’s close enough to 1912 for what I need, and it goes through 1920, which is one of my greatest loves in fashion history. So it matches almost everything I’d need in a corset.

Creating Your Capsule

Let’s start with a suit. That was a very 1912 thing to wear, and it provides a great foundation for the rest of your wardrobe. So you select one of the two suits in the top illustration. They are both attractive, flattering, and they have great skirts with them. 

Now you have your suit. Skirt and Jacket. Choose a color. Let’s say dark blue. You, of course, can choose any color you like. Depending on the season, black, green, brown, maroon, unbleached linen, and yellow were all popular colors. But we are going to start with a dark conservative blue. For one reason, it’s easy to find fabrics to match or blend with it. We have one jacket, and one skirt. 

Next we need to add another skirt to add some variety. It should be in a color to harmonize with the jacket, either another shade of blue or the same shade as before. It can be the same or a different fabric. 

Fashion drawing from 1912. Four women sit in a room drinking tea. One of them sits behind a tea cart. Another stands next to her. Seated on the other side of the standing woman, someone holds her tea cup at a precarious angle. The fourth woman sits on the end, engaged in embroidery with her teacup and saucer balanced on her knee.
The dark skirt pictured here would make a great second skirt. And look at those blouses!

The dark skirt pictured here would be perfect. It has an easy construction but looks very different from either of the suit skirts above.

Blousing around

Now that we have two bottoms we need some tops. Any of the blouses pictured in the illustration above would work, but the two white blouses offer more versatility. Both of them would fit under one of the suit jackets. Let’s keep looking.

Four blouses illustrated. Each one is in white with embroidered trim. 1912.
Any of these could finish off a wardrobe quite nicely.

This illustration offers five different blouses, and four of them would work. You could include the embroidery, or not. The needlework does finish the blouses nicely, but it might make them a bit too memorable for a classic interchangeable wardrobe. The fifth blouse, with the apron held in place by the belt, won’t work with the suit unless the apron detaches from the shoulders somehow. Then you would get two blouses for the work of making one. 

Choose three of the six possible tops. Now you have two bottoms, three tops, and a jacket.

With the skirts and blouses alone you have six possible outfits. Add the jacket to each one and that makes twelve. You will have a very respectable Titanic-era wardrobe with just a few pieces.

Finding Your Look

Paging through magazines like Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, the Delineator and the like can lead you to all kinds of design ideas for your chosen era. Examples of these magazines live on Google Books and the Internet Archive.

Once you have an idea what you like, put it together with a six piece wardrobe like the one discussed above. You can always add to it later. In fact, that’s the subject of the next post. Stay tuned for 1910s Wardrobe Accessories.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Fashion · Vintage Sewing

Capsule Wardrobe Concept

For quite awhile I’ve been intrigued by the capsule wardrobe concept. Not because it’s such a new idea, but because it isn’t. The capsule wardrobe arose from necessity rather than fashion.

The term Capsule Wardrobe first appeared in the late 1930s and resurfaced in London during the 70s. A London boutique owner hit on it as a marketing term, and it took off for a second time. Here’s the Wikipedia article about it, in case you’re interested.

Original Capsule Wardrobe

The concept behind the original capsule wardrobe was simple. Two skirts, three blouses, one jacket, perhaps a pair of shorts for summertime, and you’re ready for a season of clothing. It reduced clothing planning to the bare minimum. It saved closet space. And most important of all, it saved money over purchasing readymade clothing that did not match.

Pattern envelope from the 1960s showing a possible coordinated capsule wardrobe. Six women pose in a variation of dresses, tops and skirts, with and without coats or jackets.
Although it’s not in the greatest condition, this 1965 pattern envelope shows the 1940s idea of the capsule wardrobe.

The Great Depression was in full swing in 1938 and finding the money for new seasonal clothes proved difficult if not impossible. Fabric was expensive, and in the Forties due to the war effort, somewhat scarce. Clothing costs soared after WWI, and had dropped again by 1923, but not to the prices consumers had seen in the 1910s. Families could see that clothing was becoming more and more expensive. And once the Depression hit, money to buy that clothing might be nearly nonexistent. What was a family to do?

The answer was to plan a seasonal capsule wardrobe. Several pieces of clothing made from one long piece of fabric saved on fabric usage, for one thing. Any leftover scraps of the material could be fashioned into a matching hat or purse, a definite plus. Leftover blouse material could line the hat, the purse, or be fashioned into matching handkerchiefs if enough existed. 

Using It Today

Why does the original concept interest us today? For one thing, it’s much smaller than the set of clothing used for the term now. A sample 2020s capsule wardrobe might list three pair of shoes, two skirts, two pair of trousers/pants, one pair of blue jeans, several tops, a dressy blouse or two, one to two dresses, a dressy dress, and one to two purses. That’s not a capsule wardrobe. It’s a full wardrobe created with some planning, what we used to call Wardrobe Planning or a Trousseau.

If you enjoy a specific time in the historic past, you might want a small wardrobe you can wear. A small capsule wardrobe fills that need without breaking the bank or your storage space. But only if you keep it to the bare minimum. 

Take Six Pieces

Of course, if you create a five or six piece capsule wardrobe and decide you want to wear these clothes all the time, you can always increase your pieces. Add a vintage winter coat and perhaps a vintage pair of slacks or bloomers. Pedal pushers were the knee-length capris of the Fifties and Sixties and they’re darling. I remember wearing a pedal pusher outfit of my grandmother’s as a preteen, and feeling beautiful in it.

Pick a time you like, and begin to build an ideal small wardrobe. Take two bottoms, three tops, and something that pulls it all together like a sweater or a jacket. Perhaps a white knitted shawl will work, depending on your time period. If you live in a warm climate your extra piece might be made of sheer fabric. Or it might be physically small, like a bolero vest.

Back to the Sixties

In the photo above, the 1965 home dressmaker could create an entire wardrobe from this one pattern. Let’s say she purchases this pattern and a ton of fabric in four coordinating colors. She buys a blue print, blue solid, yellow print, and a yellow solid. From the blue solid she makes a full dress and a long coat. From the blue print she makes a blouse and skirt. The yellow print gives her a blouse. From the yellow solid she makes a jacket, skirt, and blouse. Now she has three blouses, two skirts, a full dress, and a long blue coat that she can wear with anything. For a bit of extra glamour you could add an extra long coat in yellow, but it’s not necessary. One coat is plenty for a season, especially with a suit jacket that goes over a skirt and blouse.

Whatever you do, pick classic, timeless pieces that you love. If you don’t love it you won’t wear it. The whole point of the vintage capsule wardrobe concept is to allow you to dip into time-period fashion as much or as little as you like. 

Next time, we’ll talk about creating a simple 1910s Capsule Wardrobe.

Household Sewing · Vintage Ways

Bags for Every Use

Simple drawstring bag with a small cross stitch design on the front and a fringed bottom.
This bag could be used for a day out, sewing, or lace.

How many bags can one person use? Well, in a vintage world without pockets –– unless you happen to be wearing an apron –– quite a few bags, actually. You need a knitting bag, a travel workbag, a sewing bag, an evening purse (for those nights you go out), and a day purse. Most of these need to be updated every year or two as the fashions change. Oh! Don’t forget the storage bags, the travel bags, the organization bags…

For someone who enjoys making bags, the 1910s through the 1950s is a world of creativity waiting to happen. Every needlework magazine offered the latest in bags for this use or that one. Individual crochet booklets offered bags. Once in a while, a company published a booklet containing instructions for bags for nearly every use imaginable.

Vintage bags organized life

In a vintage household, a bag was a sign of organization. Items that needed their own places found themselves nestled into bags or containers specifically made for them. The most obvious example of this in the vintage home was the string holder which hung in the kitchen or pantry.

Have you ever tried to keep a ball of string from unraveling until you used the last of it? Regardless whether it’s thin or thick, slick or rough, string tends to unwind. And it often unwinds in large bunches, a layer at a time. Let’s say you’re in a hurry, you need some string, you open that kitchen drawer and… it’s everywhere. Somehow the string got caught in the ice pick and several layers lie strewn about the top of the drawer. You can’t even see the cut end to pull it. And you are in a hurry. You were on your way out the door to a meeting, and planned to take this package with you….

Keep the string handy

You can see the problem. Thus, one of the most oft-used bags in a kitchen was the string bag. Sometimes it looked like a tomato hanging from a hook. Other times it looked like a puffy round ball of fabric. At all times, though, a thin string of some kind hung from an opening in the bottom of the bag. You pulled the string, it unwound inside the bag, and you cut off whatever you needed to use. The rest of it waited in the bag until next time.

And why did everyone need a ball of string or twine in the kitchen? Because before 1930, Scotch/cellophane tape did not exist. There was no tape. The only tape that existed was for medical use. Everyone else used string. Need to truss a chicken? Cut some string. Tying a roast for dinner? Use the string. Need to get that package ready for the mail? Grab the string. (This, by the way, is why the U.S. Postal Service still states that they cannot accept packages tied with string for mailing. Because for many years, they did! You can find that in this list of packaging suggestions from the USPS.)

Keeping a ball of general purpose string handy is still a good idea. Several times a year I find myself poking through my yarn stash, in search of some inexpensive cotton string or yarn that I can use to tie or measure something. And to keep it neat, I can make a string holder for the pantry.

Organize that linen closet!

If you really had your act together in 1925-1945, your linen closet held a selection of specially made bags. Some held sheets and pillow cases. Others held your best tablecloths. Opening your linen closet door, you could take immediate stock of what was available and what you needed. Your linen closet might even hold a closed bag for soiled laundry of some kind.

Keep your crafting separate

Do you tat lace? Then you need a small bag that hangs from your wrist so that your lacemaking thread remains untangled –– and stays with you instead of rolling across the floor. You also need a small bag to keep your tatting shuttles and other implements safe. In that bag goes your current project.

If you knit, you need a knitting bag. Or two. Or more. Some knitters are One Project At A Time knitters, but most knitters I know have two to three projects going on a time. Often they are a quickly made project, an intermediate length project and something large like an afghan or a detailed cardigan that takes many hours of work. Mixing these together in one knitting bag is not wise. All those knitting needles start talking together while you aren’t looking, and before you know it you have a knitting mutiny on your hands.

Seriously, though, keeping projects separate means that they remain clean. They also survive with fewer poked holes in them. I don’t know what those knitting needles do in there, but I inevitably find a stray needle poking through my current project if I have more than one per knitting bag.

Crocheters need bags too. Even though it uses yarn just like knitting, a crochet project works best by itself in its own organization bag. For one thing, crochet can get bulky as the project grows.

Today many crafters grab a large ziplock bag to create a “project bag” with yarn or thread, needles or shuttle. Then they are ready to go. These individual crafting bags predated the plastic ziplock bag and fulfill the same function. Truly, they were bags for every use.

Sewing on the go

Although makers use their sewing machines a lot, keeping a sewing bag close at hand can be quite useful. A few vintage lovers find themselves making garments and items completely by hand. Others (myself included) prefer handworked buttonholes to machine buttonholes. (The fact that I can’t seem to get a buttonholer attachment to work with any of my vintage machines doesn’t help either, but I digress…)

Mending used to be never-ending in the vintage household. Someone always needed a replaced button, lengthened dresses or pants, darned socks. The clever worker kept a mending bag just for these items, with a darning egg, matching threads, strong threads for attaching buttons, and other such necessities. That way, when ten spare minutes presented themselves, they could grab the bag, open it up, and complete a quick project.

Other people kept a sewing bag specifically for pickup work. This included small handmade gifts, embroidery projects for spare moments, and that placemat project you wanted to start last year. Items you can pick up, spend half an hour on, and put back down until next time.

So when you see those lists of bag projects from vintage years, keep in mind that the vintage worker kept bags for every use under the sun. If you’re looking for an easy project to carry in a bag, these Outline Stitch squares go together to make up a small quilt.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Sewing

Make a Simple Vintage Sunbonnet

Mannequin head wearing a purple sunbonnet. Sits on a wooden table.
Keep those rays out of your face and the insects out of your hair.

This project started out so easy. I wanted a simple vintage sunbonnet or sun hat to wear outside while I do needlework. I often sit outside under a tree on nice days and tat. Sometimes I knit. Other times I sew by hand. It gets me out into the air and into the sunshine.

However, I sit under a tree outdoors. And I might be there for a few hours. Trees have birds in them. And insects. I found the idea of things falling into my hair while I bent over a needle and thread less than thrilling. Better to fall onto a washable hat. That’s what I need! A simple sunhat of vintage or antique history, but modern materials, would do nicely.

Simple, right? Not so fast. I found my fabric, that great purple that you see above, followed the 1940s instructions, put it together, and it Did. Not. Fit. Nope. That hat you see there would fit a ten year old, which I am not. The back curve needed three more inches to go over a modern medium-sized head.

This is why I test almost all the patterns that I present. Even taking into account the change in fashion and how things fit differently now than they did, this hat was far too small. It was uncomfortable. The ties wouldn’t tie under my chin. They were too short. If you try a craft for the first time, I want it to work. This should be a pleasant experience. Thankfully, this is a very simple pattern so when I realized this didn’t work I removed almost all the stitching and returned the large, now completely hemmed rectangle to my scrap bag for another project. You may see it later as part of a small quilting project.

Although I show putting this together on the sewing machine for speed’s sake, you can absolutely do this completely by hand. In fact, it’s a good handwork project because the seams are simple and all straight.

You will need

In order to make your simple vintage sunbonnet, you will need:

  • Piece of fabric measuring 21 x 36 inches. The original pattern squeezed it out of half a yard of fabric and that’s where this doesn’t work. For comfort it really needs to be about 21 inches wide. I made my samples from cotton, but you can use anything that will gather well. Lace yardage might be really cute if you have some left from another project.
  • Ribbon, 1.5 inches wide, 2 yard to 2 1/4 yards. Cut one piece 28 inches long and use the rest in one long piece of 44 – 48 inches. The longer you cut this, the longer and more luxurious your hat ties will be. If you don’t have ribbon, but you have fabric, you can make two long hemmed pieces measuring about 1.5 inches wide and use those instead.
  • Thread and needle or sewing machine for assembly
  • Large safety pin or bodkin to pull ribbon or ties through completed hat channels.
  • Iron to press your seams. This does make the whole process a lot easier.

Putting it together

  1. First, hem the two short ends with 1/4-inch hems. Turn the fabric edges up 1/2 inch and press.
  2. Then turn half that 1/2 inch allowance under and hem, like the photo below.

3. Now you have both short sides hemmed. Great! Turn the fabric so the long side is facing you, and turn up 1/2 inch like you did before. Press. Do this with both sides.

4. On one end, bring up a 1-inch hem. Press.

This hem forms the back of the hat.

5. Sew this into place close to the top of the hem, using a 1/8 inch seam or less. Do not close the ends, because you will be threading a ribbon through there.

6. On the other long end, fold the edge up 5 1/4 inches and press. This makes the brim of your hat.

This hem forms the front of the hat.

7. Sew this in place, sewing close to the edge of the hem. Use a 1/8 inch seam or less.

8. Sew again, one inch below the first seam. You should be sewing through the outside fabric and the hem at the same time. This makes the channel for the under the chin tie.

9. This is what it should look like after all your seams are finished. This image is folded to show you both the top side and the lower side. Your simple vintage sunbonnet is almost complete!

All sewn and ready to assemble

10. Next we’re going to insert the short ribbon or tie, your 28-inch length. Using a large safety pin or bodkin attached to one end of the ribbon or tie, work it through the smaller of the two hems. Once you get it through, pull tight and tie it in a bow. If you don’t want to remove the tie for cleaning, you can use your needle and thread to tack the bow in a couple places so it doesn’t come apart.

Back all finished, with bow in place.

11. Now, taking your longer piece of ribbon or tie, thread it through the 1-inch channel at the top of the larger hem. Pull it up a bit, adjust the gathers so they will fall softly around your face, and try it on.

This is the one that actually fits, and more like what yours will look like.

12. The strings should tie comfortably under your chin, and the brim should fall far enough in front of your face that it gives you some shade.

You did it!

Congratulations on your new simple vintage sunbonnet. This pattern appeared during the 1940s as a simple hat to make with very few supplies.

Most sunbonnets also offer a neck guard to keep the sun off the back of your neck, which this simple vintage sunbonnet does not. This is more of a sun hat or a costume hat than it is a traditional sunbonnet.

If you want to decorate your sunbonnet brim, here are some Outline Stitches that would look lovely.

Decorations and Decor · The Creative Corner · Vintage Sewing

5 Vintage Craft Hacks

Some hints from yesterday age like old milk. Others stand the test of time. Even if a few details need to change to fit into our lifestyles today, the basic information in these hints remains useful. Use these 5 vintage craft hacks to make your life easier. All these hints are curated from my vintage collection.

1. Suitcase Sewing Room or Hobby Holder

For somone living in a small apartment or living space, an inexpensive Japanese suitcase makes an excellent substitute for a sewing room. The bag (or elasticised pocket) inside the cover provides a splendid place to keep patterns, scraps of cloth, and so on. The case itself holds the sewing. A pincushion can be attached to the side. A box holds thread, scissors, thimble, chalk, tape measure and pencil. Such a suitcase looks neater than a cardboard box or open bin, is more durable, and easily carried about or kept beside the machine.

Old suitcase that dates from circa 1920 and was made in Japan. Image for 5 Vintage Craft Hacks blog post.
Japanese suitcase from 1920s. Photo by unknown photographer from shuttered etsy store. Retrieved from Pinterest.

The Japanese suitcase was simple, inexpensive, and extremely useful for short trips or household organization. Of course, this will work for any portable hobby. Do you like quilling, a form of paper craft? Interested in Chinese brush painting? A case like this keeps your supplies together. Many hobby stores sell comparable containers that add both organization and atmosphere to a small home space. If your interior decoration tends more towards the Forties, Fifties, or Sixties, a vintage suitcase works well there, too.

2. Counting While Knitting or Crocheting

Many needleworkers knit, crochet, or tat lace while talking with family or visitors. Or they watch a movie or television series while making progress on that new afghan or sweater. If the worker pays too close attention to the conversation or the show, mistakes work their way into the design.

Here’s a trick which helps with mistakes due to conversation or an engrossing movie. If you are knitting, say, eight stitches, count them backward. Eight, seven, six, five, and so on. When you reach one you know you knitted to the end of that count without needing to keep any particular number in mind. So if making shells in crochet, count: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 double crochet stitches, and that shell is done.

3. Store That Afghan or Blanket Away

Some things are better when they are hidden in this 1920s vintage craft hack. Perhaps you keep a fleece blanket or light afghan on your sofa or comfy chair. It’s not a current color, the thing doesn’t match your decorating scheme, but you love it. Its warmness, snuggly factor, and comfortableness brings a smile to your face every time you pick it up.

Make a simple square sofa pillow cover. It can zip, button on the back, or fold over. Look here to find instructions for a simple folding envelope pillow cover. If you want to be fancy, add buttons to the back to keep it more secure.

Then fold up your beloved blankie and slip it into the cover until you need it the next time. Voilá! Now you have a new decorator item and the blanket remains well within reach for those days when you find the air a little chilly.

4. Do You Carry a Handkerchief?

…and wear woven fabric blouses? Whether cotton or silk or linen, old clothing can be put to good use. When their time is over as tops, cut them down into individual handkerchiefs. From a button-down blouse with no darts you can get one from each front side, and two or more from the back, depending upon the cut of the material. You may even be able to cut one from each sleeve. You just scored half a dozen handkerchiefs for the time it takes to cut and hem them.

Roll the hems and sew them by hand. Make a pretty finish by overcasting the rolled hems in two directions to give the appearance of cross stitch. Then embroider a flower or emblem in the corner. If you prefer, use a sewing machine for a 1/8-inch hem. The corner embroidery really livens up the handkerchief and makes it a joy to use.

If you crochet or tat, you can always add a lacy border to the hems and for the price of your decorations you have a one of a kind, artisan vintage handkerchief. This is one of the vintage craft hacks I’ve used for years and it gives new life to old fabric.

5. Paper Reed for Basketwork

After World War I, basket making reed became expensive for home basket makers. One basket maker began using the brown paper that was used for wrapping packages. Brown paper grocery bags would work as well. Cut the brown paper into 2-inch strips for a large basket. For a small basket made with finer reed, cut the paper into 1-inch strips. Dip the strips into water and then twist them. When dry and stained with a coat of shellac, it’s strong enough to weave with and more artistic than imported basket reed.

This technique continues to be used today. Not too long ago, in 2019, one of the shops sold baskets made from twisted newspaper strips. Periodically you can also find baskets in the stores made from twisted paper strips, which is what this describes.

While all of these vintage craft hacks might not appeal to you, I hope that one or more sparks your creativity today.