Monday, August 3, 2009

The Story of This Blog

Another blogger just did an interview with me about the conception of this blog (more on the interview to come!), and it made me realize how little of that I've shared here. Or anywhere, for that matter. It's a bit of a dramatic tale, filled with uncertainty, job loss, drinking - and an existential crisis at its core. (Hey, I told you it was dramatic!) If that sort of thing interests you, by all means, read on. I guess I'm in the mood for some soul-baring.

Last September, I came across a book called Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing on the internet. It's a guide from 1952, that, through the completion of 14 Vogue patterns, promised to make one an expert home seamstress. The projects were so fabulous--an evening gown, a silk shantung shirtdress, a fitted flannel suit, that sort of thing. The first copy I saw was a whopping $75. (It's still for sale here.) I knew I had to have the book, so through a bit of patience and Googling, I found a copy for $10.25 on It was a little worse for wear, but beautiful all the same.

When I received the book, reality set in. What was I going to do with this thing? Track down all the patterns from 1952 and make them? That seemed ridiculous. But when I picked up the book again after setting it aside for many months, that's exactly what I decided to do.

My life situation had changed at that point, to say the least. I lost my job in February of this year, and I was crushed about it. I was a children's book editor, and with the way jobs were disappearing in the publishing industry, I felt like that career was over for me. The way I dealt with this was to cry about it and drink too much. Productive, eh?

I did sew a lot during this time, but it was unfocused and a bit depressing. I was in my pjs for the majority of the day, and I didn't really know why I was doing the sewing anymore. Where was I going to wear all these dresses and skirts I was making, anyway?

Well, without going into too much detail, about a month and a half after being laid off, it became clear that drinking was doing nothing to solve my problems. I decided to quit, even though the thought of it made me feel like my life was over.

Well, I guess my life was just beginning, actually, as these tales often go. I suddenly had a lot more free time and a lot more focus. When I picked up Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing (or VoNBBS, as I now affectionately call it) again, the idea of completing the projects not only seemed doable, it seemed like exactly the thing I needed to get some direction in my new sober life. I still didn't have occasions at which to wear my new clothes, but who cared? It was for a bigger purpose.

I threw myself into the project as I had thrown myself into despair over my job loss. I started locating some of the patterns on the internet, and I wrote my first blog post on June 22nd. I guess I haven't really looked back since then, even though it's been more challenging than I could have anticipated. But it gave me something priceless: something creative and steady, when every thing else seemed a little scary.

Other things have turned around, too. I got a dream job offer, working for one of the best children's book publishers around. I have this new clarity that makes the VoNBBS project possible. I have the focus to (hopefully) excel at my job.

Of course, things aren't all coming up roses. Well, not every day. I sometimes forget how to hem, I can't make a handworked buttonhole, and I have trouble balancing work and sewing. But the problems are generally easier to handle than before.

So there's the story. At this point, I've completed three of the projects from VoNBBS, and am working on the fourth. I can't wait to keep going.

Thanks for reading.

Yours, as always,



  1. Thank you so much for sharing the background story of your blog and how you got started with the VoNBBS Project! :) I just want to say that I applaud you for how you've used your creativity and this project to push through some really tough times. As trite as it sounds, sometimes being creative and doing something is the only thing that keeps one sane and grounded during a crisis (believe me, I know!).

    Thank you for also sharing all your projects, discoveries and insights into vintage sewing! I'm such a sewing geek that I love all the nitty-gritty of these sorts of things to death. ;) I've become a huge fan of your blog since I started following it (which wasn't too long after your first post!)! Keep it up! :)

  2. But here's what I want to know -- how do you pronounce VoNBBS?


    Thanks for sharing that -- and so glad you landed a great new job!

  3. Thanks so much, Casey! I love reading your comments--you always have so much insight. And you have great taste in lipstick. I'm now a Russian Red devotee, thanks to you. :)

    Sarah, I pronounce it VON-biss. (The VON rhymes with OWN.) But you can pronounce it however you want! I do wish there were a catchier acronym, but ah well.

    Thanks to you both for reading!

  4. Ha! I think I'll go with "Vahn-biss", the "vohn" sounds ridiculous in my ridiculous accent. Even though it does make more sense.

    On another note, any idea where would be a good place to find people to pattern swap with? I purged my vintage pattern stash and I have a huge stack of patterns, mostly bust 30, 32 & 34...I'd rather trade for other patterns that would fit me or the kid than sell them, and I figure everyone must end up with patterns out of their size range when they buy lots. Any suggestions? The past few years of motherhood have me pretty out of the loop.

  5. Gertie-- thanks for sharing your story. It is funny where life takes us. I began sewing last year when my husband suffered an aorta dissection/aneurysm while working out at age 42. He was home for 4 mos. recuperating from open heart surgery and I was barely keeping it together. Sewing became my therapy to survive and almost organize myself and our family. Sounds crazy but hard to put in words. I totally can relate to your story.
    I swear, there is some kind of magic in sewing. I am happy that it helped you figure out where to go! Your new job does sound like a dream job...that along with sewing...sounds dream-y!

  6. Gertie, thanks for sharing & big props on the sobriety. I know what you mean in saying how it felt like your life was over, but, trite as it sounds, it really does get easier and so, so much better. It's been 8 years for me, and so worth it.

    I hadn't thought of it til reading this, but sewing has been therapeutic for me as well. I haven't actually done much at all in the last 7 years, but that first year I did a lot. I have actually been using some vintage patterns now that I got at that time. But I hadn't really put it together, that this year has been a time of tremendous personal upheaval, loss, and just CHANGE, and again without thinking of it I really threw myself into sewing, like head first and deep end. It's really kept me going. But I hadn't thought of it til today, that this really is the most unsettled, bewildering, navel-gazing, crazymaking, personal growth, howl at the moon time since I first got sober, and how I ran to sewing both times to get through it. Interesting.

    I think the VoNBBS project is absolutely genius for this time in your life-- channeled creativity plus community. There are so many of us that really enjoy and get support & motivation for our endeavors from your blog, and I hope that creating this kind of community has helped to support you as well. You've got great creativity, intelligence, wit, resilience- and pluck! I'm glad things are going so much better already, and I wish you all the best.

  7. Thanks for sharing your tale Gertie. My mom is a recovering alcoholic of about 20 years. She was going through her toughest times when I was a teenager. Your post is touching for me.

    I'm glad you are using sewing/crafting as your outlet. Keep it up girl!

  8. Wow, thanks everyone. I so, so loved hearing your stories too. I think sewing is so therapeutic because not only is it creative, but it gives you a very structured way to spend your time. Instead of panicking about what to do with your whole life, you slow down and take it step by step. Baste. Stitch. Hem. And so on. Plus having pretty new clothes is its own kind of therapy!

    Sarah, have you tried the classifieds at Pattern Review?

  9. I am glad you are doing better!! Very happy to hear your new job is going well. See you soon!

  10. Thanks for the tip, Gertie! I'm actually a member of pattern review but I haven't logged on in...a couple years, probably. I'll go and check it out!

    Also, my friend Viv has just put out a short petticoat (17" long) at her shop for above the knee big skirts, nylon not tulle. Thought you might want to check it out for when you make up that full skirt!

  11. Gertie,

    Thanks so much for sharing your blog. I'm at a hard time in life right now, finishing up a long drawn out soul-deadening part and looking forward to when I'll actually have time to do other creative things like sew lovely outfits. I love your blog, it's become a must-read for me.

    I think the pronunciation question is funny. I realized I've been pronouncing VoNBBS "Vonobis" in my head to rhyme with pro nobis, as in ora pro nobis which means "pray for us" in latin. So whenever I read VoNBBS on your blog it reminds me of one of the many choral renditions of that latin phrase I've sung in choirs and the tune for 'ora pro nobis" gets stuck in my head. I hadn't quite figured out why until your commenter sarah asked about pronunciation. Ha! Mystery solved.

    Okay, that was long and pointless.

  12. Gertie,
    Thanks so much for your sharing your personal struggle. I have been enjoying your posts and you have inspired me to tackle some projects I was putting off because I thought the were "too hard".
    I went through a time when I was laid off and that is how I ended up teaching myself to knit, and sew, and I am much happier for it.
    Looking forward to following your sewing adventures.

  13. Thanks for sharing the story. Your blog has been a constant source of inspiration / motivation for me.

  14. I just feel compelled to share how brave a post this is, and how happy I am for you, your new job, your family, and your hobby.

  15. Dear Gertie -

    Thanks for sharing all of this with us. I have found that entrusting my "truth" to others can be a great step towards healing, and I KNOW that sewing is part of that process for me as well.

    When I first heard about your quest to sew everything in this book, I thought, "Wow, that's so cool. I'll never be that ambitious." But hearing about the projects you and others have tackled, I'm getting more courage to try things that are outside of my comfort zone.

    So thanks for being brave, and for sharing the story and the love of vintage clothing! I'm going to enjoy each and every post!

    And congrats on the publishing job. My mother used to say, "When the good Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window." I'm glad you didn't have to spend too much time in the hallway between the two!

    Keep on sewing!

  16. I love your blog and recently got a copy of this book. Where were you able to purchase the patterns?

  17. Amazing how therapeutic sewing can be, huh?! It is great that you share your experience with us.
    Sewing (or textiles) keep me away from food, because 1) my hands are busy 2) I want to wear what I sew.
    It is also an excellent way to relax after some stress at work.

    Keep on sharing your experiments with us!

  18. hi Gertie,

    i love looking at blogs, but really don't have the attention span to read most. but you provided rescuing advice on adjusting one of the collete patterns and here i am. i loved reading your story. it can be a hard thing finding a sense of direction when everything seems to be going hay-wire. but it is very motivating! i have been mucking around with sewing and find it the best escape, but getting centred with it all can be a bit trickey at times. thankyou- and i look forward to following your progress on this project!

  19. I'm new to your blog as of June 2010, but I'm loving how far it's brought you! It's clear you have a sense of focus and purpose in your 'work' here that was obviously lacking pre-blog and pre-vogue book. It's great to see your growth.

  20. Been browsing your blog all day! I'm searching for this book now!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake