Stories Behind The Frocks

Author: Rachel Healy, Communications Manager
For our exhibition Home Sewn, we threw a bit of party at The Dowse on Saturday 10 August.

Guests were invited to come wearing their own home sewn garment, made by themselves, a relative or friend. Our special judges on the night were curator Doris de Pont and designers Rachel and Anjali from fashion label Twenty Seven Names . The images of many of the people who modeled their outfits on the night have been on our Facebook page for a couple of weeks now – and have generated a lot of interest. The Peoples Choice Award is still open but voting closes midnight this Sunday, with the winner announced on Monday.

We have really enjoyed hearing the wonderful stories behind the garments so I wanted to share some with you here:

I made this dress myself, from Simplicity 3407, a vintage pattern from 1940. A friend of mine in Scotland (who also sews) sent me the pattern as a gift. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but there are diamond inset details at the waist front and back, and a sash tie at the back. The buttons down the front are self-covered ones – the first time I’d ever used self-covered buttons, and they’re also vintage ones from an op shop. I’m a big fan of 1940s style – great cuts, interesting details, and very wearable.

This is my wedding dress. It is too big for me now but I still love it and it is my tenth wedding anniversary this year! The purple silk velvet was from Global Fabrics and the shot dupion silk was in my stash since 1983. I used a range of techniques -applique, cording, fabric paint, beading and fabric sculpture to decorate it. It shares a lot of elements with my sister Jo’s dress from eight years earlier – the sculptured flowers on the neckline for example, because we are sisters so our dresses had to be sisters as well! The hair flowers aren’t original but my Mum did them for me so they’re home made too.

I made this dress for my awesome friend Kirra’s wedding, where I was her bridesmaid. It is not from a pattern and was self drafted based on the description of the other bridesmaid Miriam’s dress – which was in Melbourne where the wedding was. A couple of months before the wedding, a bundle of the amazing silk fabric arrived from Australia, complete with matching thread, and I then drafted and made this dress, which is self lined. Working with the silk was a new challenge for me – but I loved it and it was a pleasure to make this for a life long friend. The shawl in the picture is from my own wedding – a beautiful piece of fabric from Brian Gaskins with a simple hem…. I had some left over dress fabric which I’ve used in another skirt – which when I wear it reminds me of their special day .

Sickan’s mother made this traditional Finnish folk costume 60 years ago in 1953. You’ll see dresses like this all over Scandinavia but they are worn on very special occasions only, like christenings and weddings, and are handed down from mother to daughter. The different colours signify the particular region that the wearer is from, and for Sickan, who came to NZ many years ago, this dress is intrinsically part of her identity. Sadly not many people still have the skills to make these, and so a visit to a special dressmaker is usually required. Luckily Sickan has this beautifully made dress to always remind her of her mother and where she came from.

I decided recently that I don’t get enough time to sew for me. I often end up at home alone on Friday nights, so I decided that I may as well choose that to be my sewing time. When my friend suggested we head along to the opening of the exhibition, I knew what I’d be doing the night before – yep, I starting cutting this out at around 9.40 pm, and finished it at 1.30 on Saturday morning. Just enough time to get some sleep before work the next morning! It’s a vintage Simplicity pattern that I had picked up a few weeks earlier on a fabric-buying road trip, and my friend Joy Wintour (she’s the one in the flame dress) forced me to buy the fabric about two years ago. You can’t see the detail here, but it’s a tiny hounds-tooth in hot pink and black.

My dress is the Cybele Crystalline dress from the Home Sewn Book. My partner’s parents bought me the book when they were visiting from Ireland for Christmas. It was the first undertaking of its size that I had done in over 10 years. I am so proud of how it turned out and have worn it a few times at this stage – any excuse. I’m only sorry that I didn’t have a back shot taken. I hope I have done the designer justice.

I made my dress to wear to my partner’s daughter’s wedding last year. My outfit started with the shoes (like soooo many of my outfits seem to) which I bought at the Kirks sale, then I had to find the perfect fabric, which is a peacock dupioni silk from Sherazad. The pattern is Vogue 1102. It was very tricky to fit it perfectly so that the open back wouldn’t gape. I used couture techniques in the construction so it’s underlined with silk organza and there was a lot of hand-stitching in the construction. I completely underestimated the amount of time this would take to make so the night before the wedding I had two hours sleep and finished the dress an hour before I had to leave for the ceremony. Unfortunately my shoes are so OTT people usually look at them and don’t notice the dress so much!

I sewed this dress for the party we held to celebrate our wedding with my husband’s family in the village he is from in the Schwartzwald, Germany after we got married in Martinborough, NZ. This was a lovely way to celebrate with family and friends who were not able to make the trip to NZ, including family of mine as well and our very special friend and matchmaker who lives in Spain). The fabric I used was my grandmother’s (actually a Sanderson upholstery fabric) but I had always dreamed of turning it into a dress. The shoes I am wearing are my Camper wedding shoes which I just ADORE (my wedding dress was off white but it was lovely having a little green poking out from underneath and just perfect for spring, the season we were married in)!

I made this dress for rock and roll dancing, and made the petticoat with a friend. The bodice is from Sewaholic’s Cambie pattern but I subbed in a full circle skirt for the gathered skirt of the patter. I didn’t realise you were taking pictures of the back, I would have shown you my flame “wings” on the back!

You can read about teh research and process of making this dress here:

I made this dress after seeing the fabric five days before the event I just new what it should be. I am about to launch my fashion label so this is going to be part of the collection. It is sweet with athletic undertones. I made the shirt sleeves myself they simulate the idea of tying your sweater/shirt around your waist.

Hoodie made with fabric from the Starfish Fabric sale, hood lining a retro fabric found in Nannys house.

This is a wonderful dress my grandmother made at the end of the 1940s, just after the war. She made it during the time before zips were available, so she has used domes/press studs as a fastener down one side. Even after more than 60 years the dress is still in fantastic condition, and I love looking at all the details she has included in the dress. For example to fasten the belt I put one end of it through the belt buckle then bend it back on itself and fasten it on the inside of the belt. This is so you can see all of the buckle. I’m so proud to be able to wear it. Thinking of you Nan, with love.

I made this dress just under a year ago. It’s easy Vogue 8020. I love the vintage look of this pattern. The fabric is silk dupion from Global Fabrics in Wellington. The dress was made for our after wedding party. It still wasn’t hemmed the night before we got married, so I enlisted the help of my mother and new step-daughter to help me sew the hem, this even involved teaching my step-daughter how to hem stitch! For this evening, I made a crinoline to help the skirt stand out more.

I made my dress from a Butterick See and Sewing pattern that I got from the op shop. Fabric is from Fabric Warehouse. I made this one Saturday morning to wear to a fashion show in the afternoon. The bodice is self lined with a cross over back and it is a side zip.

I made this to wear to WOW in 2010 when my bizarre bra, Bra bra white sheep made the show. The top is crocheted and the skirt is material.

The pattern is from a dress from 1953. I graded it up (a feat for my pea like brain) and muddled my way through the rest. It almost led to divorce when I roped Richard into pinning it for me, thank goodness he is tolerant.

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