Personal · Pugsley

In which I return after a month with a cat

Dubrovnik
In Dubrovnik!

Oh, hello there! Remember me, that quirky, vintage-loving seamstress lady that blogs like once a month? Well, I’m back! I’ve actually been doing a crazy amount of sewing this past month, but have been too busy to blog about it. British Boyfriend (TM) and I went to Croatia in the middle of September for a week for his sister’s wedding and a much-needed vacation, which was lovely and fabulous, but involved a lot of sewing prep and packing. Oh, and then I got sick while I was there, and brought my cold home with me. So, last week I was recovering from icky cold and jet lag, and then this week, we adopted a cat. Yes, a cat. After years of sewing, I’m finally a real seamstress!

Pugsley

Anyways, his name is Pugsley, and he’s the sweetest orange and white kitty I’ve ever met. I’ve been wanting a furry creature for a while, and our trip to Croatia really cemented the need for a cat. They have so many felines crawling about (it’s right along the sea, so there are a ton of seafood restaurants), but they’re all feral, so petting was not allowed. When we got back to Portland, I decided to take a look at the humane society, and see what cats were available, and we ended up adopting Pugsley from the Multnomah County Animal Shelter (I fell in love after I saw his photo). If you’re in the Portland area and able to adopt a pet, I would highly recommend checking out them or the Oregon Humane Society, which currently has a plethora of kittens available. They do amazing work.

Besides cat-rearing, I have a couple trip-related posts having to do with sewing and vintage I’m hoping to get up over next couple of days, as well as some autumnal sewing and home dec projects in the works (we’re throwing our first Halloween party at the end of the month!). I’m also (slowly) getting caught up on all the lovely blogs I follow, and it’s so neat to see everyone’s fall projects. I have to say that winter is normally my favorite season, but for some reason, I’ve been really looking forward to autumn this year.

Finished! · Home Dec · Modern Sewing

Home Dec Sewing!

First off, thank you so much everyone for your lovely comments on my last post about our new place! As promised, here’s a look at some of the home decorating projects I’ve been working on. Since all of them involve square or rectangular pieces of fabric and were fairly straightforward to construct, I decided to combine them all into one post.

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The first thing I made for our new place (and on the day of the housewarming party, no less!) were pillows for the couch. The two tan ones came with the couch, but I wanted some other pillows, as well. I didn’t use a pattern at all for these, just cut out squares of fabric based on the dimensions of the pillow form.

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I also made a quilted wall hanging for the kitchen using a neat fabric panel I found on Etsy.

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Next up were Union Jack quilted coasters! I used this fabric from Riley Blake’s British Invasion collection. Interested in making your own quilted coasters? I have a tutorial here!

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Finally, though not a sewing project per se (more like a stapling project), I tried my hand at upholstery and reupholstered my old vintage vanity bench. I really wished I had taken a before picture, but alas, I was too staple-happy to remember to do so, and I did this project on the day of our housewarming party, as well (nothing like procrastination!). I’m really glad I got it done that day, though, as it was a really big hit at the party and people loved sitting on it.

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I want to make some new pillows for the bedroom, as well and maybe reupholster my sewing chair, but those will be future projects. 😉

 

Personal · Vintage

Home Sweet Home

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Sorry for my absence from these here webparts, readers, but I have a good reason for that – Peter and I moved!

We now live in an adorable 6-plex that was built in 1941, and it has some great features, including a fireplace and built-in vanity in the bathroom. The best part is that our landlady kept all of the walls painted (I so hate renting places where the walls are just plain white), which means that we have a blue living room, yellow kitchen, and pink bathroom (yes, pink bathroom!).

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All of the furniture was either stuff we already had or recently acquired off Craigslist (we didn’t get murdered and got some great pieces at really low prices, so win-win). I’ve also caught the home dec bug, and have been sewing like a mad woman for the apartment (we had a small housewarming for close friends and family last weekend). There are a couple more pieces I want to make, and then I plan on doing a blog post about those, ok? Ok.

New sewing corner

The one downside is that I don’t really have room to sew anywhere but the bedroom, so I’ve set aside a corner in the bedroom for my sewing machine. Luckily, we can poke holes in the wall, so I’ve decorated with some of my favorite vintage hats.

This is my third apartment since I’ve moved to Portland, and you would think that I’d be totally adept at moving, but I’m so not. Moving is just so disruptive to my usual routine and takes so much out of me. Plus, I always forget where I’ve put stuff, and end up creating lots of “I’ll deal with those later” boxes. Anyways, I’m absolutely smitten with the new place. It truly feels like home, and I don’t plan on moving again anytime soon.

1930s · Finished! · Vintage

1930s Beach Pajamas!

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I hosted a little vintage beach gathering here in Portland yesterday, and finished a pair of reproduction 1930s beach pajamas to wear just in the nick of time! For those not aware, beach pajamas were the original version of resort wear, worn by the fashionable set on the beach during the day and to a cocktail party in the evening. They became more widespread in the 1930s with their popularization among the Hollywood elite, and home seamstresses could make their own versions with the patterns that were released. Beach pajamas were either one or two pieces (sometimes with matching jacket) and featured  characteristically wide pants legs.

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My beach pajamas are made from a border print 1950s red and white rayon that I got from this awesome Etsy shop (I seriously can’t recommend her enough, she even threw in free button cards with my order!). I ended up combining 2 modern patterns for my beach pajamas, as a) original beach pajama patterns are notoriously expensive (seriously, the cheapest ones I could find started at $125 and even then, I would need to significantly grade them up) and b) I wasn’t too fond of any of the reproduction ones out there. After looking at dozens upon dozens of images of original beach pajamas, I settled upon the pants from New Look 6291 and Bodice D from New Look 6966, which when combined, were eerily reminiscent of this original beach pajamas pattern. Luckily, I made a muslin (I was too scared to just cut into vintage rayon fabric without doing so first!) and there weren’t too many changes to be made – the back piece wasn’t quite wide enough, and the waistline wasn’t high enough. I also fully lined these in a a linen-rayon blend, and despite the extra work that was, it was the right decision, as the vintage fabric was a bit sheer.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t have an original pair of beach pajamas to examine (those are also notoriously expensive, averaging around $300 a pair), so I’m not quite sure if what I did construction-wise was totally period-correct. I did what I thought made sense, although I ended up having to make 4 darts (2 in front and 2 in back) to get the bodice to match the pants along the waistline seam. Luckily, I don’t think anybody will be examining the innards of these, although I did come home with an odd orange stain on the midriff lining (no idea how that got there!).

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Readers, these are so insanely comfortable to wear! Seriously, I can see why these were so popular back in the day. I also got so many lovely compliments from fellow beach-goers  once person even told me that I looked like “one of those sexy pin-up models from the 50s!” Not quite the era I was going for, but a compliment I’ll take, nonetheless. And, despite the challenges I had during construction, I am so tickled that I finally made a pair of these. I’m looking forward to many lazy summer days lounging about in them while reading a good novel.

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I also had some leftover striped fabric from the fabric’s border, so I used that to make a matching headband. Yeah, I know, I’m an overachiever.

Hope everyone else had a lovely weekend!

Finished! · Modern Sewing

The Cute as a Button Skirt

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We’ve been experiencing a bit of a heat wave in Portland this week, and so I’m frantically whipping up summer-appropriate clothes (almost all of the summer dresses I brought with me last year when I moved down here no longer fit. Silly weight gain!).

Pardon my squinting, it was like a million (okay 90) degrees outside.
Pardon my squinting, it was like a million (okay 90) degrees

This skirt was not a planned project at all, but a result of wandering into the Joann Fabrics clearance aisle (always dangerous for me!). Now, I do try to shop local as much as I can, but when doing commissions (which was the reason for this Joann’s trip), I find it more cost-effective for both me and the customer to use Joann’s since they have amazing coupons. Anyways, I happened upon this fabric on a bolt in the clearance aisle for $5 a yard. There was about 2 yards left on the bolt, perfect for a skirt. Best part? The skirt has a button print motif AND is blue and orange, which reminds me of my bestie as those are her favorite colors.

You have to look closely, but those circles are totes printed buttons.
You have to look closely, but those circles are totes printed buttons.

I used my typical “this is a gathered skirt so I’m just going to rip rectangles out of the fabric” pattern, which isn’t really a pattern at all. I love these skirts, as they go together with hardly any effort. That being said, I did do a slipstitch for the hem, as I didn’t quite have the correct shade of orange thread to match the fabric (this was definitely a stashbuster project when it came to notions).

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Anyone else doing fun summer sewing?

1930s · Holidays · Outfit

Happy Independence Day!

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For my US readers, Happy Independence Day! I whipped up some patriotic dessert (blueberry pound cake with strawberries, yum!) and introduced British Boyfriend (TM) to Pop-Its, something he’d never heard of nor used before (he also referred to America as “The Colonies” throughout the day, which was quite amusing).

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I always try to dress vintage on 4th of July, and this year, decided to go for a 1930s casual vibe, as I’m working on a pair of reproduction beach pajamas for a vintage beach party I’m having next weekend (gah, so excited!!!). All of the clothing in this ensemble is modern, including the new red wedges I got from Modcloth (which, sadly, are no longer on their website).

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I did a faux 1930s bob for my hair, which took a bit of time (it’s the same style I did for the 1930s murder mystery party I attended. Tutorial coming soon, I promise!), although the head scarf really helped with keeping it in place.

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Hope everyone else had a fabulous 4th!

Book Review

{Book Review} Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War

I’ve been covering the reception desk at work this week, which means lots of time for reading and another book review!

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Let me preface this review by saying that I really wanted to like this book. I mean, a book where Coco Chanel’s secret Nazi past is finally revealed!? I wanna read that! The problem? Hal Vaughan’s writing style is so dry and he includes lots of background WWII history that is not entirely relevant to Chanel’s particular story. That being said, Vaughan’s research is groundbreaking, as he had access to a number of newly declassified French and German intelligence documents. After reading this book, your view of Chanel will never be the same. Mine certainly is not.

Vaughan begins his narrative with a very brief summary of Chanel’s orphanage childhood, her early love affairs, and start of the House of Chanel before launching into her life in the early 1920s and friendship with Vera Lombardi, an English socialite that was married to an Italian fascist. Lombardi introduced Chanel to a number of English aristocrats, including the Duke of Westminster (an anti-Semite who Chanel would have an extravagant affair with) and  future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who would play a pivotal role in keeping her from being tried as a traitor to the French in the 1940s (there’s a great photo in the book that shows Chanel and Churchill dressed in hunting garb in the English countryside in 1924).

Chanel’s love affair with The Duke didn’t last (he wanted to get married and have children, but Chanel was not interested in that, nor young enough to bear children). Sometime in the late 1930s, Chanel met Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage (nicknamed “Spatz”), a German spy for the Abwehr (Nazi equivalent of the CIA) and moved into the Hotel Ritz in (the residence for many leading Nazi officials in Paris). Vaughan does not quite explain where or how these two first met, although he states that this was her “last great love affair.” The fact that Dincklage was a Nazi spy and Chanel a Frechwoman in occupied Paris meant that she was now a so-called “horizontal collaborator” (Vaughan describes the horrible treatment horizontal collaborators endured after the war. Viewed as traitors by their fellow French, many were spat upon and had their heads shaved in public).

Chanel used her liaison with Dincklage and his connections to her advantage in 1941 when her nephew, Andre Palasse, a French soldier, was imprisoned in a German POW camp. Dicnklage introduced Chanel to Baron Louis Vaufreland, a former member of the Gestapo and current (1941 current) agent of the Abwehr. Vaufreland agreed to secure the release of Chanel’s nephew on the condition that she agree to become an agent in the Abwehr and help “Germany obtain ‘political’ information in Madrid.” Chanel agreed and in 1941, Vaufreland enrolled her in the Berlin registry as Agent F-7124, codename Westminster (an homage to her English lover of the 1920s). Chanel and Vaufreland traveled to Madrid together, and upon their return to Paris, Andre had been freed.

Vaufreland was also aware of Chanel’s struggle with the Jewish Wertheimer brothers over her perfume business, and agreed to assist her with this by introducing her to an Aryan property lawyer.  Chanel abhorred running the business side of her empire, preferring the design aspects instead, and so in 1924, she signed an agreement with the Wertheimer brothers, turning over her perfume business to them in exchange for part of the profits. Disappointed in her “measly” percentage of the profits, Chanel would use the Aryanization of property laws in the 1930s to petition for sole ownership of her perfume company in 1941. Having anticipated this outcome, the Jewish Wertheimer brothers transferred ownership of Parfums Chanel to a French businessman (and Aryan), Felix Amiot during the war. Needless to say, Chanel was not pleased by this.

The release of her nephew from a POW camp and use of the Aryanization of property laws shows how Chanel collaborated with the Nazis for personal gain, yet in 1943, Chanel was working on a secret mission to try to broker a peace with England through her high-level contacts. Yep, Coco Chanel tried to end WWII. As Vaughan shows, by 1943, it was becoming apparent to many high-level Nazis that a defeat of the Third Reich was inevitable. Operation Valkyrie (the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler by his fellow Nazis and the subject of a Tom Cruise film) had failed, and many high-ranking Nazis feared Hitler’s increasing instability. Aware of Chanel’s connections to the British aristocracy, including Winston Churchill, Chanel was recruited for Operation Moddelhut (“model hat”) after accompanying Dincklage to Germany in 1943 and meeting Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. Under the guise of sourcing materials for her perfume, Chanel was to travel to Spain once again and get word to the English through one of their diplomats stationed there that a number of high-level Nazi officials wanted to break with Hitler and negotiate a separate peace with England. The mission failed, however, as upon their arrival in Spain, Vera Lombardi (who was accompanying them) was accused of being an English spy. Lombardi responded by outing Chanel as a German spy (although there were no repercussions for this at the time). Despite her betrayal, Chanel sent a letter to Churchill asking him to exonerate their mutual friend of these false charges (Churchill obliged).

With the D-Day landing in June 1944, Paris was liberated from Nazi control and tribunals were set up by the French to convict those that had collaborated with the Germans. Chanel was one of the French to be investigated, although Winston Churchill intervened to prevent her from being prosecuted. A free woman, Chanel fled to neutral Switzerland after the war, and Dincklage tried to join here, although the Swiss blocked his immigration due to his espionage past (Spatz was very active in spying on French ports in the 1930s). Chanel was called again to testify in 1949, this time during Vaufreland’s war crimes trial. Chanel adamantly denied any association with him (despite the fact that there were records linking the two together) and the French decided not to pursue her any further. Chanel would then go on to rebuild her business (the House of Chanel closed its doors in 1939), staging a grand comeback in the 1950s before her death in 1971.

Upon completion of the book, I decided to research a bit about its publication and discovered that Vaughan (who died in 2013) was heavily criticized when this book was published in 2010, especially by the House of Chanel, famous for guarding their 1940s records (Caroline Weber, who wrote the Marie Antoinette book I reviewed, has been trying to write a book about Chanel’s Nazi past, as well). My criticism of his work is not necessarily about his source material, but rather, his dry writing style, which I felt was not the most conducive to telling this story about Chanel’s Nazi years. He presents the facts and primary source documents very dryly (sometimes reproducing them verbatim), with no real analysis of them nor explanation of the greater implications (like the fact that Coco Chanel tried to end WWII!). Though I often felt like I was reading a textbook at times, I have to say that I’ve become a bit disillusioned with Chanel since reading this book. She was a fabulous designer and revolutionized women’s fashion in the 20th century, but as Vaughan clearly shows, she was incredibly anti-Semitic, homophobic, snobbish, and self-centered. She used men to her advantage and was also a morphine addict. She collaborated with Nazis during the war, and then vehemently denied these collaborations upon its conclusion, even going so far as to pay off Gen. Walter Schellenberg (the former chief of SS intelligence), who’s postwar memoir would have implicated her. Yet, when one thinks about Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, these associations don’t come to mind at first. Instead, we think about the little black dress, the saying that a girl should always be “classy & fabulous” and the pearls and costume jewelry Chanel popularized. Chanel’s life is definitely a study in the importance of image control and just goes to show that history is, indeed, written by the winners.