Sunday, April 5, 2020

Weekend Review: Vivienne Colle's Make It Yourself Boutique

Vivienne Colle's Make It Yourself Boutique / Vivienne Colle
NY: Evans, c1967
255 p.
Open Library is an online resource that has many out of print and out of copyright books available to read. If you create a free account, you can also check out books that are older but not out of copyright, like this very 60s sewing book!

I checked out the Make It Yourself Boutique last week when Open Library had announced that they were forming an Emergency Library with many books available that are still in copyright -- this has caused quite a bit of upset as authors consider it pirating, as they don't get anything out of it. However, I've been using Open Library as an account holder for quite a long time in the regular manner, and still do. 

So I found this book and thought it sounded (and looked) fun -- that mod cover! It's a rather laissez-faire kind of sewing book by the owner of a fashionable boutique (and apparently in 1967 the word boutique was still new enough to need some explaining, as Colle does in the intro). She isn't a trained designer, just someone who sewed and worked as a seamstress for designers before leaving to start her own shop. And as she mentions frequently, she dressed Washington celebrities; I can only imagine these were their more casual wear. 

A reversible dolman top
The patterns are made only by measurements on flat fabric -- they are simple lines, like an a-line top or a popover, as a poncho would be made. Loose fitting, generic clothes are the theme here. The cover shows a very simple tabard style top that ties at the sides. 

And in one spot, she shows how to add bust darts; put the popover top on and pinch out appropriate darts, mark them and then sew them. It is pretty free wheeling! Tailoring and fit is definitely not a concern.

But it was a fun read, and really interesting to see the state of sewing books in this era. Clearly this is aimed at young women, both for the styles and for the addition of chapters on "bazaar items" -- things to make and sell, like piggy banks from bleach bottles, and adds some strange accessory patterns too. Take a look at this flower hat:

As sewists we are also encouraged to make a tape measure into a trendy belt:

Something intriguing about this book is that there is a section on upcycling -- from using men's shirts to make sleep wear for ladies, or using piano shawls and/or other household textiles to make long hostess gowns or tent dresses, Colle goes over the ways that she finds unusual fabrics and remakes them into stylish 60s outfits. (including sewing lace panels to pantalettes to make lace trousers to wear under tunics - hopefully that will stay in the 60s). I do like her practical advice on how to make the most of oddly shaped scavenged textiles though, and tips on evaluating their suitability and how to wash and prepare them. 

This was definitely worth looking through for its period flavour and entertaining voice -- the author is very confident of herself and her style. The inclusion of odd crafts seems funny, but so many of the craft books in this era did include things to sell -- lots of craft magazines did the same. 

If you're interested in checking out some of the retro sewing books on Open Library, it's easy to create an account and see what's there. Just search by dressmaking or fashion, and you'll get quite a return!


  1. Marvelous!
    This morning I stumbled n a clip of Edith Head from 1978 talking about her tabard pattern
    I have been thinking about them since
    Thank you

    1. I will have to look up some Edith Head tabards! This one is a pretty easy one to make up via measurements if you take a look at the ebook.


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