Interview: Gretchen Hirsch Is Sewing Seeds For Sustainably Stylish Skills

Gretchen Hirsch recreates Vogue staples with a new book.

Gretchen Hirsch, owner of the wildly popular Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing  has recently authored a fantastic guide for the most essential  garment sewing techniques. Hailing from Beacon, New York, Gertie calls herself a sewing enthusiast and pens a bevy of tips, inspiration, tutorials and discussions on sewing and all the cultural facets related to stitching your own. Having compiled her knowledge into a nifty vessel, Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing is the culmination of her  commendable journey through Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing.  The featured wealth of skills in a range of garment sewing techniques are perfect for the home sewer with a thirst to learn how to create pieces for her own wardrobe. Showcasing some of the most iconic fifties outfits, readers are provided with paper patterns and detailed instruction for re-creating the original Vogue sheaths, skirts and blouses. Gertie’s book launch tomorrow evening at the Sewing Studio in New York will be a refreshing retro affair, so don’t miss your chance to make a stitch in time.

Your book is FULL of technique – how long did it take for you to learn everything you’ve written about?

I had a really good foundation for sewing because my mother’s a sewer and I knew how to use a machine so it wasn’t like I was starting from scratch. When I decided I wanted to learn garment sewing, it took about 3 or 4 years to get to where I am now. But I had to completely immerse myself in it to the point where I was reading sewing magazines in bed.


What kind of readership is the book meant for?

For people that have gotten into sewing and feel like they have moved beyond beginner level and are hungry for more in depth knowledge about garment sewing. I feel like there are a lot of resources out there for people that are just starting out, but if you want to go further you have to pull resources from a lot of different places. So I wanted to collect all of these garment sewing techniques in one place.

What is you favorite project from the book?

The strapless party dress – it’s made from this amazing cotton organdy that’s embroidered with little flowers, which is the kind of fabric that you just don’t find anymore. The whole idea of the dress is such a throwback to the fifties with the fabric, the silk taffeta lining that makes it look really crisp, and the boned bodice.


Why do you think vintage silhouettes featured in your book are considered so fabulous?

I think its sort of a backlash to today’s fashion that’s pretty drab and anemic. I think women are looking for colorful clothes that make them feel happy and girlie. The silhouettes that are on the runways right now don’t really speak to the average woman, whereas vintage silhouettes do because they have a more feminine shape. The current trend in the fashion industry is towards models that basically provide a clothes-hanger effect. Several of these models are 12 or 13 and to hear a designer say that a pre-pubescent girl is their muse is rather off-putting for a woman in her 30’s that has curves and is interested in fashion.

Why do you think there has been a revival in crafting and home-sewing?

I think that it kind of started with knitting with the whole Stitch n’ Bitch movement. For some reason it spoke to people like me through the whole tactile experience of working with different fibers and knitting needles as something that we don’t really experience in the modern world when spending all day at our computers.

Once knitting blew up, people were hooked on crafting and they wanted to see what else they could do. Sewing is related to knitting – you’re working with textiles and fabric so the roots are in the same desire to put down the iPhones and do something tactile and satisfying with our hands. It has become an addiction that lets us escape from our careers and technology.


Do you think the revival in crafting will expand so that home-sewing and other craft activities will become the norm?

Once people realize they can make a dress exactly the way they want in the fabric they want and see how satisfying it is, hopefully they’ll start making more of their wardrobes. It’s a really interesting counterpoint to the fast fashion world because you might just go to H&M to get a party dress, but there’s a lot of concern around where that dress came from and under what conditions it was made. If you can make that dress yourself you can bypass some of those concerns and feel really good about what you’re doing. Shopping only has a certain amount of enjoyment to it, where as you can really enjoy time spent making something with your own hands.

Do you like to use any modern technology or do you prefer hand-stitching and vintage sewing machines?

There are definitely things I like about modern technology and its funny to have gained recognition as a vintage seamstress through the Internet, because that’s a contradiction in itself. With current technology we have the opportunity to make all of the things we want to make and the research I’m doing now is looking at how to use easier, modern techniques to achieve vintage finishes. While I really appreciate couture sewing, I think it’s also important to think about what’s currently accessible.

What does sustainability mean to you?

To me it’s about educating yourself as much as it is about doing it yourself. I think when we get to the point that everyone has more knowledge on how to make your own clothes or how to source your own fabrics, that we will have a much more sustainable fashion industry.

Do you think sewing with vintage patterns is more sustainable than sewing with modern patterns?

To a certain extent, yes, because they are existing resources, but vintage patterns can also use a lot of fabric. It’s very hard to get some of the full silhouettes of the 50’s otherwise. I just designed a line of patterns for Butterick and the coat design I made has a full circle skirt and it uses like 7 yards of fabric. If you want to make these types of garments it’s about figuring out alternative uses for the scraps like filler for pet beds. While we wont be able to get to a point where we can cut a circle skirt with no waste because we just don’t make fabric that wide, I think we can use the waste responsibly and come up with creative ways to use it.

What inspires you?

The majority of my inspiration for the blog comes from vintage patterns and research on home sewing. I think home sewing patterns are such an interesting glimpse into the lives of women in the 20th century because they can show their fantasies and bits of their daily lives. It’s so cool to buy a vintage pattern and find a swatch of fabric or a recipe tucked into it – these tokens show much more than couture fashion.