These are a few of my favorite things.

As 2018 comes to a close- I found myself reflecting on some of my favorite vintage purchases this year.  In an effort to encourage my own gratitude- I decided to compile my “top 10”. As an unexpected surprise- choosing the items that were my favorite items of the year gave me insight into my buying patterns. Overall I have learned that I love an object with a story- a bargain, a rare find or (most special) the generous share from an antique loving friend.    Strangely none of the wearable antique clothing made the list- perhaps a good reminder in future to put my money where my heart is. 

I’d love to hear about your favorite buys and finds of the year-  comment below!

 

Daring Lady

Daring Lady

#10 Antique Victorian hot pink and black silk corset

Without a doubt this corset is absolutely incredible. Made of pink and black silk- it is the perfect shape and in fairly good condition for its 120+ year age. It even maintains the original label and name (“Lillian”) from John Wanamaker department store. The wear to the silk and slight tearing to the machine made lace doesn’t take away from it at all.  I like to imagine a tightly buttoned up Victorian lady was subversively wearing this incredibly sexy number.

A dream piece- the only reason it is ranked “so low” in my top 10 is that its cost reflected its rarity- (and I prefer a bargain most of all).

 

#9 1860s handmade chantilly lace shawl 

Nearly 9ft wide this handmade Chantilly lace shawl is by far the nicest I’ve ever seen.  The shading and design are so intricate it makes  my other lace shawls look positively amateur by comparison.  

Found at a vintage sale- the shawl was folded neatly into a plastic zip bag.  In my rush to shop-  I never even opened the bag before buying.  It was priced at only a few dollars- and I knew it was antique lace so I took the gamble.  No one could have been happier than me when I opened the bag.  Instantly it has become one of my most prized possessions.  

#8. Flea market find

Shopping at a flea market in France- I approached a booth overflowing with antique ribbons - and run by a woman who, by her demeanor, clearly didn’t want to sell any of it. (Not that I blame her!!) The booth was stacked to the gills with closed bins and after some effort I convinced her to let me look through them.  Among the many wonders that grabbed at me- this one was an instant win.  Folded up completely I didn’t realize how big or amazing it was until I opened it.  I refused to even put it down to look in other bins- lest some other antique aficionado wanted it.

This is deadstock Victorian beaded skirt trim.  Each bead is meticulously sewn by hand to gimp. It has the original price tag (illegible) and of course the bow motif just about kills me .

#7 1840’s hand stitched corset

It was a strange summer. In the period of just under 6 weeks- I found 3 very early (1820-1840s) corsets at bargain prices. I’m confident that the universe knows I have met my quota and will never send me another.

There are a few special things about this piece- first I absolutely love the intricate detail of the cording. It absolutely is the finest in my collection. The corset also came with the original (plain) busk. Though damaged- its rare to find these pieces with the busk still included. Perhaps its simplicity is what kept anyone from removing it for 180 years. Finally- I love the size of this piece. It is proof that not everyone was extremely svelte. Its original wearer clearly was petite but her measurements are in line with what we would expect in modern proportions. (as a bonus this will make an excellent study/copy piece)

 #6   1920s ribbonwork supplies 

I’m drooling.

I’m drooling.

There is a vintage dealer in a Parisian flea market whose booth I always love.   My trip this June was no exception.   In it I found the mother-load of 1920s metal edged ribbon.  Perfect for 1920s ribbonwork.  I’ve dreamed of finding these once very common ribbons in large enough quantity for my work. Of course I bought all of it.   Now I have hundreds of meters-  and am still and wishing for more- in different colors and patterns of course.  






#5  19th century does 18th century

It is obvious in my own work how much I love anachronistic fashion.  While I would never suggest reusing 240 year old fabric today- I won’t complain if it was done over a century ago.  This skirt hits all of the marks.  I believe it is a late 19th century skirt made of original 18th century silk.  The metal woven into the fabric is just incredible-  as is the silk floral motif.  Hello skirt.  Welcome to your new home.   

#4 Box of metal trim

I’m not sure if this one is really cheating because it is many objects instead of just one.  I’m saying it counts.  I have a penchant for old trim made with real metal.  I cannot explain but it is what it is.  I was walking (ok racing)  up the stairs to the attic of this insane estate sale of a former vintage dealer  and there was this box sitting there with a truncated label “Metal trims”.  At the bottom of a huge stack- I grabbed it as quickly as I could- peeked inside- and slammed it shut.  Yep.  The real deal.  Happy Dance.

#3 1850s evening cap 

I was boarding a plane from a long and stressful business trip when a vintage dealer sent me a photo of this cap.  She said she didn’t know much about it- but it made her think of me.    

Exhausted and not thinking straight- (and worried my bank account might have a seizure)  I initially told her I would think about it.  Luckily- just before take off -I changed my mind and told her I’d take it (even though at that time I wasn’t quite sure what it was). From her images I thought it might be a 20s burlesque cap.  The entire flight I thought about it and just before landing realized it was 1850s evening wear made of bullion and blown glass.   Many of the seemingly impossibly thin glass beads are broken but what remains is still an amazing part of mid 19th century fashion.

#2  18th century Red stays 

I am 100% convinced that my dear friend Abby of SwampYankeeVintage has a time machine. She calls me up one day and casually asks what I’m doing before telling me ‘oh I have a red pair of stays you might like ’. Whhhhhaaaattttt.   The rest is history. 

The stays are that of a working class woman- and a very wearable size (my mannequin will be the only person to wear them). I love love love the paneled red fabric that is only center front.  I suspect these may have been worn in a way that the red showed under the gown.   Perhaps by an aspiring virtuous courtesan :) 

#1 Bow corset   

This corset is number 1 because it combines some of my favorite things = bows, corsets, bargains and good friends 

A friend found the piece at an estate sale and sent me a photo asking if it was even old. It is - and of course nearly fell out of my chair. Entirely across the country- she drove hours and waited two more for the opportunity to snag it for me. Fortunately the estate sale itself didnt recognize the piece and it was priced “to move”.  I’m floored by her generosity-  and hope only to be able to return it with antique objects of her own desire.    

So tell me= What have been your favorite found finds of the year?

Don't Ask me that .... (ask me this instead)

We have all been there. Flipping through post after post on Instagram or page and page of Pinterest and seen artists and wondered “ How did they do that? How did they get to that.” Sometimes I see a dress- modern or antique- that is so jaw dropping amazing that I want to reach through my screen and peek at its insides. What do its seams look like? How is the bodice cut? Who made it and how did they ever dream it up? The beauty of social media is now I can reach out to my most loved artists and ask about what inspires them or how they face obstacles. I’m always amazed by the willingness of the sewing community to share their deepest loves and passion.

In kind- it is so rewarding to receive all the positive feedback on my work and questions I get through Facebook and Instagram. I do try my best to answer as many as possible! I love that as artists and collectors we can learn so much from one another and encourage you to reach out.

I have found that there are few questions that I deflect answering - and others that I WISH people would ask. Read below for some questions to skip - and others that you may find just a bit more helpful!

Don’t Ask me:

How do I make an 18th century dress? Can you make a YouTube video on how to make a dress?

You would never walk into a tech company and ask them for their code- it is equally as inappropriate to ask an artist how to recreate their work.  (yes I have literally be asked this) Not only does this question belittle in the intricacies in the art- it invalidates the decades of learning (failure, tears, triumphs) that took to get them to this point.  There is no 10 minute YouTube video that can summarize and teach you an entire body of work.  Even if there was- I would not make it. Which leads me to my next point

I believe that teachers should be compensated for their skills and knowledge.  This encourages those with skills to pass them on to others.  Last summer I wanted to learn tambour beading.  I paid and took a class so I could learn.  The class did not make me a tambour bead-er.  The class taught me skills and technique.   Following the class I spent nearly 6 months practicing tambour beading on a 1920s dress so I could refine the skills I was shown in class. At first it was very slow go.  I would put in a few rows of beads a night. I would remove almost as many as I put in. I messed up A LOT. I even held the hook in the wrong hand for the better part of 4 days.  But that practice- combined with a formalized class setting made me quite proficient at it today.   (professional beaders: don’t worry I know I still have many more years of work to go!)   

My first ever beaded project.

My first ever beaded project.

 

What to ask instead:

Ask me about very specific techniques or where you can go to learn more about something (besides, most obviously, google).  Ask me how to best refine your skills (Answer: Practice).  Ask me ‘what is the most important part in building a gown’  (Hint:  it’s not the fabric).  If you ask me how to do a specific stitch (and I know the answer) I almost certainly will explain it to you.  If you are struggling with making a pattern fit and want my second opinion on how to adjust it- I may be able to help.  These sorts of questions are all about sharing the love of an art and so I am always very happy when I receive them.

I want to see everyone sew. I think it is such a wonderful skill to have and meditative process.  There is nothing wrong with being NEW to sewing.  It just means you have more left to learn.




Don’t Ask me:

How much did this dress cost to make?

 I find there are two reasons behind asking this question- either you a trying to place a value on my work or you are trying to budget for making your own dress.  In regards to the former- one would never ask a sculptor the cost of his clay or a painter the price of his oils.  The raw materials that are used by the artist have no bearing on its final value. For this reason I do not reveal the cost of my materials. 

If you are asking this question to budget for your own project- my answer will not help you because I may have gotten my fabric on sale or purchased (expensive) specialty trims.  Your dress will not be my dress and so the money I spent is irrelevant.

Shopping for Inspiration.

Shopping for Inspiration.

What to ask instead:

Ask me about the cost of materials in general.  If you are new to learning about fabrics- ask me what a good price point is for a silk taffeta or how to budget for trimming (HINT: I budget premade trims at TWICE what the overall fabric costs)  Ask me about how to find good sales for fabric or how to negotiate in the NYC garment district (my favorite thing to do)

It would behoove anyone who is interested in sewing to start learning what material costs are- it will allow you to make better decisions when choosing textiles.  A budget is a personal thing and there is no wrong amount to spend on a gown.  What is wrong, however, is to be ignorant of what materials cost and what makes them cost as much or as little as they do.  When you are able to understand the reasoning behind the pricing- you will be able to get the most value from your purchases regardless if you spend 10$ or 10,000.

 

Don’t Ask me:

Where did you get that {insert vintage/antique item}

I always think this is a bit of a silly question.  After all – there is only ONE of the item I bought and I already have it.  When I do by from a vintage dealer that I love – I often will share who they are simply because they may have other items that aren’t right for me but may be right for you.

Few vintage dealers or collectors will share the private ways they find things.  These are the things you hear whispers about.   A secret thrift store with magic pricing or that one friend who more likely than not has a time machine.  There is no shortcut to knowing these things- and certainly asking won’t get you an answer. After all- if secrets are shared they are no longer secrets and those places would cease to exist.  That does not mean you cannot establish you own hidden pots of gold- it just means you will have to find your own way to do so (and then keep it a secret!!)  

Somewhere in Paris….my happy place.

Somewhere in Paris….my happy place.

 

What to ask instead:

Ask me how to curate a collection.  Ask me about what to look for in quality antique clothing.  Ask me how to choose a good and trustworthy vintage dealer. Ask me how to date an item (but don’t ask me to price your item).   Antiquing is more than knowing where to buy- a big part of it is knowing when.  We all have those things we are willing to pay a premium for and other things that are purchased “if the price is right” or “was too good to pass up”

A collection is a personal thing.  We each have our own goals in buying.  Rarely is it about having the MOST of something but rather a good collection is most often one that is selected with care. Items that no longer fit can be sold off to pay for items that are a better match.  In this way the collection can always evolve and you can keep shopping without being (much of) a hoarder! Remember your collection is YOURS. Meaning buy what makes your heart flutter- not what someone else thinks should be a part of it.

 So what questions can I answer for you?!?!?!

<3 <3 <3

VirtuousCourtesan

photo credit : Phillip van Nostrand (photos 1 and 2) Melody Cohen- photo 3