When Liz Holder wants a new dress she meticulously searches out a paper pattern and materials, then constructs it herself from supplies sourced at flea markets, antique shops and thrift stores. Unlike a majority of Americans who shop at department stores or retail chains, Liz creates both her everyday wear and special occasion dresses based on traditions and methods popular in the 1940s and 1950s, when it was common for entire families to be clothed in garments made at home. Author of a popular sewing and knitting blog, Zilredloh, Liz shared with me how she came to wearing only vintage and “me-made” clothing the past 2 years.
When did you first get interested in vintage and antiques? What did you initially purchase or collect and how has that evolved over time?
I’ve loved vintage (namely the ’40s and ’50s) as far back as I can remember; my mother has always told me that I was born in the wrong era. It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I started collecting knickknacks and pieces of furniture. With each new apartment I’ve live in I seem to collect more and more pieces of furniture, dishware sets, and odds and ends.
Most recently, my love of all-things-vintage has materialized itself through clothing and accessories. I remember attending the very first Vintage Bazaar in Lincoln Square’s Dank Haus back in 2010 and I felt like a kid in a candy store. Come to think of it, I feel that way at every Bazaar. During that same time period is when I started hoarding I mean…collecting vintage sewing and knitting patterns. Attending these events has and continues to be a great way to build up my personal stash of fabrics, patterns, and sewing notions. There’s nothing better than using vintage sewing notions to completely make a 100 percent vintage garment in 2012.
Sewing seems to be a lost art form in this era of fast fashion. How did you get into sewing your own clothing?
I continue to be surprised at how many people are beginning to learn how to sew and knit today. While I think the idea of ‘going green’ is beginning to take hold of the current garment industry with the recent emergence of “kind clothing”, for me personally, sewing and knitting is not only my creative outlet but a way for me to completely customize what I want to wear. I’m able to sew myself garments of such high quality and I tailored to fit my figure, which I wouldn’t be able to afford in a normal retail setting.
What was your first sewing project? What challenges did you initially face when constructing your garments?
My first sewing project was a simple, zippered pillow that I made in a Needleshop class. But the impetus for me to learn how to sew was so that I could make the Macaron dress, designed by Colette Patterns, an independent pattern designer from Portland. I came across the pattern in a blog somewhere and I had to make it for my very own. While the pillow was my first project, it was all to make this dress.
Once I finished my Macaron Dress, I couldn’t stop and have been sewing ever since.
I rarely find bolts of vintage fabric while thrifting, where do you find your supplies like fabric, notions and patterns? Do you recommend any reproduction fabric or pattern companies?
Since I started sewing 2 years ago, I have yet to come across a whole bolt of vintage fabric; that would be a magical find! Truth be told, vintage fabric is hard to come by, especially ’40s rayon print fabrics. Lately, I’ve had to be quite resourceful with vintage fabric. I found some ’60s cotton sheets, fresh out of their package, which I’m hoping to turn into a fun, ’50s sun dress before the summer comes to a close.
Not only is vintage fabric scarce, you have to watch out for quality issues. Often times fabric lies around unused in basements/attics, which can result in stains, mildew, and contributes to a fabric’s frailty. The worst would be to make a whole dress/blouse only to have holes after the first washing. As you may have guessed by now, I’m always on the hunt for fabrics, assorted notions like buttons, metal zippers, bias binding, along with patterns all of which I’ve found at the bazaar. I’ve also seen vintage sewing machines at every Bazaar, which is the type of sewing machine I prefer to use.
I frequently go to flea markets on Sunday mornings along with the occasional antique shop visit. Another place that eats my money is Etsy. There are tons of great vintage patterns on Etsy, but they’re generally a bit pricier than what you’d pay at brick & mortar shops or at bazaar/flea events.
What tips would you give to a beginning seamstress?
Have fun! Most beginning seamstresses are quite nervous about stitching and don’t want to make any mistakes. I know since I’ve been there! First of all, the best thing about sewing is that your seams can be unpicked with a seam-ripper and re-stitched. And secondly, the best lessons I’ve learnt along the way were from my own mistakes. You can learn a bunch of great tips or how to do things from books and blogs but it’s hard to get better at any craft without making some mistakes. So you might as well have fun in the process or else what’s the point?!
Your blog is a wealth of information and I enjoy your extensive photos and text on how you created a dress or other article of clothing. When and why did you start documenting your sewing process?
Thanks so much for saying so! I started my blog, Zilredloh, in January of 2011 primarily as a place where I could document my own work and finished projects. I started it as a place for me but over the past year and a half I find that I really enjoy helping other seamstresses and knitters more than posting images of myself. I try and share construction tips while also helping others avoid mistakes I’ve made, by showing my own mistakes when I make them.
What percentage of your wardrobe is handmade? When you decide to switch to only wearing handmade and vintage clothing?
How funny is it that I need to run to my closet to check?! I’d say somewhere over 50 percent of the garments I own are handmade. I’ve been steadily making more and more clothes for myself since last fall (2011) and found myself participating in an event called Me-Made-May in 2012. It’s a personal challenge to wear your handmade garments the whole month and document each day. I thought it was going to be rough but I found myself wearing an item every day in May and still having clothes unworn at the close of the challenge.
I’m proud to say I haven’t bought any non-me-made clothing this year besides a bathing suit & shoes, along with the occasional accessory or vintage clothing purchase at TVB. I never thought that after sewing for 2 years that I’d have the mindset that if I want something I make it, instead of running out to the store. But I do love it! I’d much rather make an item and have it be completely tailored to me and my personal style than have 3 mass-produced items that are so-so.
How do people react to your creations? Are you the only one of your friends who creates their own clothing?
I think most people are positive about my creations, although most people have stopped asking me if I’ve made something. In the blog-world I have tons of friends who all make their own clothing, but in real life only a few of them do. I have 2 work-friends who are knitters/sewers but that’s about it.Part of the reason why I love having a blog is that so I can interact more with other people who have similar interests as I do. The online world is continuously growing with new seamstresses and they’re all so lovely and supportive.
What websites, blogs or forums do you read regularly for sewing and knitting tips?
Ravelry is my number one place to go for all things knitting/crochet. It’s THE place if you’re going to start knitting or if you’re in need of any advice or patterns. After Ravelry, I generally turn to one of my fav Chicago knitting bloggers Tasha of By gum, by golly for her vintage knitting expertise.
For sewing, my first resource is my vintage sewing book collection. With working on vintage patterns, I wanted to make them more authentic by creating them the same way a seamstress would have back in the 40’s or 50’s. But let me be the first to say, old sewing directions aren’t the best and in the past 50+ years, we’ve come up with some better ways to do certain things in garment making. For times where old isn’t necessarily better, I turn to my fellow seamstress’ blogs: Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing, A Fashionable Seamstress, Sewaholic, Pattern Scissors Cloth, Miss P, Sallieoh, and Male Pattern Boldness, to just name a few.
What are you currently working on? How do you decide on your next project (ie does a certain fabric/pattern speak to you or do you decide you need another blouse)?
I’m a multi-tasker and generally have a few projects going at the same time, but the project that I’ve dedicated this past week to is a simple 50’s shirt-dress using McCalls 4003. What’s special about this dress is the fabric.
I’m generally stingy about using my vintage fabric, but this dress seemed perfect to use one of my border-print fabrics on. I encountered a major challenge with this fabric since it was quite stained, but I improved upon an non-chemical based stain remover and am thrilled with the results.It’s difficult to pin-point exactly how I choose what my next project is going to be.
Sometimes I feel that a certain gap exists in my wardrobe, other times a particular pattern *screams* at me that it needs to be made or I pick my project because I want to try out a particular technique like embroidery. My project selection ‘method’ varies a lot (often times weekly) which attests to how much fun sewing and garment making can be.
Thank you Liz for sharing your knowledge of sewing and knitting, I’m happy to know that a new generation is carrying forth a decades-old tradition. If Liz’s handmade vintage style outfits inspired you, be sure to check out this Sunday’s Vintage Bazaar at The Aragon to search for supplies like bakelite buttons, sewing patterns or 1950s fabric for your next project.