How to Tailor Vintage Clothing—and Teach Yourself to Sew in the Process
Didn’t have crafty mom who taught you how to work a bobbin winder? That’s cool, neither did Lindsey Reif—but that didn’t stop her from teaching herself how to get busy with a Singer. She got her start rejiggering vintage pieces and eventually got good enough to start patterning the cropped turtlenecks, strappy dresses, and high-waisted pants that make up her line, Reifhaus. Here’s how to follow her lead and get in the sew.
“Don't be afraid to make mistakes—you won't be a sewing whiz overnight. It takes time to get comfortable and confident, so don't give up if you feel like you're not good at it right away. You will learn a ton from your mistakes—I promise. At the end of the day, it's just fabric.”
GO EASY WITH THE EQUIPMENT
“Looking to buy a home sewing machine? I say keep it simple. The less functions a machine has, the better. Stay away from electronic machines or ones with seemingly hundreds of programmed stitches—all you need are straight-stitch, a zig-zag-stitch, and buttonhole features to get started. Brother makes good ones without too many bells and whistles.”
BUY A BLUEPRINT
“A great way to learn is from commercial patterns (like McCall) because their instructions will help you learn skills and the order of operations for constructing a garment. Once you've made a few things this way, you’ll know enough to start to modifying the designs to specifically fit your body.”
NIP AND TUCK
“A great way to learn about garment construction is by deconstructing and modifying vintage pieces. Body standards and fit standards have changed over time, and the trick to making vintage look timeless in your wardrobe is to make sure it fits you in a modern way. I recommend starting out with an item that is too big and taking it in. Anything that is loose and flowing will be easier to alter rather than something more structured with lining or shoulder pads. I’m a big fan of pieces with kimono or dolman-style sleeves. You can find them in many eras of vintage clothing, especially pieces from the forties and the eighties. I use these sleeve styles in my line a lot because they are flattering on a wide range of body types. They are good pieces to practice adding darts to or taking in waists because you can always let them out again and start over if you need to.
MAKE FOUND PIECES THE STARTING POINT
“When I first started sewing, I was given a lot of vintage aprons in an array of kitschy prints and colors. They were mostly from the fifties and sixties and had tons of ruffles. I saved the interesting parts and turned them into skirts by adding a back panel of contrasting fabric."