March 3, 2013

Real vintage

This is something I should have shown you already but, until today, I didn't have a chance to take pictures.
Two weeks ago, when browsing through the racks of the second hand stall at the market, an unusually decorated bit of fabric caught my eye. When I pulled the garment out, I saw it was a circle skirt. The seller's tag just read "vintage, wool, size S" and I guessed (just from holding the waistband up to my waist) that it would fit me. Oh, and it was just 5 euros.
Because it was wool, of course I put it in the freezer first, to kill any creepy crawlies which might be hiding in its plush folds. 

Now, I can show it. First of all, it does, in fact, fit me very well. Of course circle skirts are about the easiest thing to find in the right size, but still, I really like it. I would guess the skirt is from the 1950's. 

According to the label it was made or retailed (retailers sometimes put their own tags in, depending on their deal with the manufacturer) by H. Both, in Rotterdam and Arnhem. Neither Google nor Wikipedia came up with any useful information when I tried researching the name. So, all the label tells me is that this skirt was a real Dutch product. 

It has a metal zipper at the side, with both hooks and thread loops and a metal snap closing the waistband above it. It looks like the zipper was inserted sort of half-blind. By this I mean that it's a normal zipper but it wasn't just machine-stitched in on both sides. The stitches on the zipper look like a very regular running stitch, with each stitch just anchoring the fabric on the outside of the skirt, but without really showing thread there. I could only imagine how to do this by hand. At one side, the top of the zipper has come loose a bit so I will have to try and replicate the effect. 
Zipper insertion must have been made more complicated by the fact that this skirt also has in-seam pockets. 

The main attraction however, is the surface decoration. My vintage magazines would call this "soutache". It's a very thin braid stitched all over the skirt, from seam to seam and from the waistband to about 10 cm above the hemline, in swirling lines like abstract flowers and leaves. The braid has been machine stitched, I'd say after the skirt pieces were cut but before they were sewn. Regardles of the work order, creating this lovely dense design must have taken ages. 

The finishing of the skirt is interesting as well: the seam allowances all show the selvedge of the fabric (which makes sense, when cutting a long circle skirt). The hem has been made by stitching black cotton biais tape to the cut edge and stitching that down by hand so it is invisible on the outside. I like this because it is how I hem full skirts. It also makes me wonder. All the other work on the skirt has been done to a very high standard. The stitching here is different: although none of the stitches shows on the right side of the fabric, on wrong side you can see they are irregular, both in size and in distance. In fact, I could do a hemline neater than that. It makes me think this hem may not be the work of a highly experienced professional seamstress. And then there's the tape itself: I've been told that the 'old-fashioned rule' (so, in the 1950's probably 'the rule) is to use cotton biais tape on cotton fabrics and satin on wool fabrics.
Maybe the previous owner changed the hemline to make the skirt suit either her height or the new fashion better. Whatever the truth of this matter, I don't think the skirt length was changed a lot because the soutache design would have been a bit weird if the undecorated bit was significantly longer. 

About the length... You may have noticed that it's a rather long skirt. Based on my experience with vintage Marion patterns, I'd say I'm a little bit taller than the average Dutch woman in the 1950's. And in the picture, I'm wearing high heels. This skirt is 82 cm from waistband to hem. 
1950's fashionable skirt lengths were measured in cm off the ground (with the lady wearing 'correct' shoes for the style). Fashionable lengths for daytime skirts tended to fluctuate between 30 and 40 cm (at least, in the early 50's, in later years the dictates are less strict). Dressy styles for late afternoon, cocktail skirts and short evening skirts were usually longer. 
Judging by its length and decoration I think this was one of those festive skirts. Dutch magazines really promoted separates for dress-up occasions. A skirt like this could have been teamed with a black jacket for a formal afternoon visit, with a feminine sweater for the cocktail hour and with an organdy blouse for a party which required 'small' evening attire (which means shorter-than-floorlength skirts are allowed).  
Now, I'm happy to have it and I will have to see what to wear it with. 


  1. What a find! and a bit of a mystery, as you say, to find the combination of fine soutache and sloppy hemming. I'm sure you will do it justice and wear it well.

  2. What a lovely skirt. It makes you wish garments could talk..

  3. What an amazing find! Your description of the zip insertion sounds somewhat like a picked zip, but that is a back-stitch, not a running stitch.

    I think it would look lovely with a ballerina style wrap-around top.

  4. Now THAT is a vintage "score"! I LOVE the soutache decoration., and best of all, IT FITS. I don't bother with vintage clothing, myself; I'm fairly big-boned and hardly anything fits me; it's just too frustrating to see all those lovely clothes that NEVER FIT.

    Here's a good rule of thumb for figuring out if a waistband fits without a try-on: hold it at both sides up to your waist, and if those waistband side edges go slightly PAST the place where your side seams should be, the waist, at least, will fit!

  5. Gorgeous! Maybe when you do wear it you could do another of those outdoor photoshoots so we can see it a little more fully.

  6. That skirt is amazing. I just love soutache touches. It's one of my have embellishments ( to look at, not to actually sew myself). ;)