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Using Embroidery to get the Vintage Look

For the past few years, the craze has been for the vintage look. Everything from pre World War 1, to the mid-60’s of the “Mad Men” era, fashion has been pulling its looks from the past.

As embroiderers, we can leverage our skill to achieve this vintage look, as many details of the look depend on embroidery as decoration.

The type of embroidery ranges from delicate ladylike floral sprays and whitework, to bold art-deco colours and exquisite cutwork.

Collars and Cuffs
Collars and cuffs on blouses in the early part of the 20th century were usually detatchable, and were fastened to the neck and sleeves either using small buttons, hooks and eyes or snap fastenings.

The most popular cut of collar was the round “peter pan” collar, though there were variations with more pointed ends, or deeper ends. Collars were often made of highly starched linen, but fine swiss voile was also popular and gave a softer look.

Shown below are some embroidered collars, which show different styles of embroidery. In addition, you could also put eyelets along the edge of the collar and thread a contrasting ribbon through. This was a very popular thing to do, as you could match the colour of the ribbon to your outfit.

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Patterns were readily available for these collars, both as traceable and iron on transfers. This was a way that those who could not afford pre-made items could recycle their clothes into a more fashionable look.

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This pretty embroidered shirt is from the 1940’s. Sheer fabrics with some embroidery on them were extremely popular for most of the early part of the 20th century. They ranged from sheer organzas and voile’s, to man made fabrics as they became more readily available. Some fabrics were purchased pre-embroidered, but many women liked to purchase the fabric and embroider their own designs onto it. This shirt is finished with a matching embroidered collar on it.

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Embroidered Gloves

Until the late 1960’s, no lady left the house without wearing a pair of pristine gloves. During the day these were usually wrist length or, if you were wearing short sleeves (sleeves above the elbow), they reached to mid-forearm. Cotton or kid were the preferred fabrics, with leather used for driving or “sporting” wear.

As gloves were difficult to make, embroidered gloves were rarer, and often you would purchase them pre-stitched. However, this was not always the case.
With sewing machines becoming common, and paper patterns for home dressmaking becoming popular, women were making their own gloves and mittens.

Crafty ladies became to copy embroider their gloves to personalise them.
Popular styles included a spray of flowers or, even more popular and easier to do on purchased gloves, was a scalloped edge, embroidered with blanket or buttonhole stitch and little eyelets in the scallops.

Gloves are not often worn now, but in your home, a pretty pair of embroidered gloves, draped over a carnival glass bowl (as if you had just taken them off and dropped them there) can add a vintage touch to your bedroom or hallway.

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Embroidered Bags

Who doesn’t love a handbag! Since ladies started carrying a reticule, they have been making their own handbags, using cardboard, paper, fabric and methods from netting, crochet, knitting and sewing to put them together. Embroidery has always been a favourite method of decoration of these bags. These bags were usually very small, a lady carrying only a handkerchief, pencil, small notebook, perfume and a coin purse in them.

Although we now carry considerably more in our bags, these can be adapted to be a little bag for a phone, coins, and bank cards – perfect for evening wear!

I have included pictures below of some very popular styles of bags. Many of these are made of velvet or linen and beaded fringes were always popular.

Bag or purse clasps are readily available at craft stores, and you can also obtain bamboo handles from the same place. Alternatively, you could close them using a zipper, drawstring, buttons or snap fasteners.

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Always remember that you want to get the look and feel, and so keep these vintage touches to a minimum, and make sure that you tone them together. Embroidered shirt, gloves and bag are probably far too much together – leave it to just one of the items to evoke that feeling.

You will be the envy of your friends and be able to show off your embroidery skills in a practical and pretty way.

Recommended Reading

Making Vintage Accessories: 25 Original Sewing Projects Inspired by the 1920s-60s

Embroidered Bags & Purses

400 Floral Motifs for Designers, Needleworkers and Craftspeople (Dover Pictorial Archive)

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.


© 2013 Megan McConnell



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