This week Natasha goes behind the seams with “the Singer Sewing Machine” Frances Gore from Mintage.
Auckland-based Frances Gore comes from a long line of crafters, makers and artists.
Having collected vintage fabrics since the age of 14, the talented seamstress and singing teacher has always had a passion for making and exploring the tradition, stories and skills behind antiques, collectables and vintage.
Her label Mintage specialises in one-off bespoke garments crafted from authentic vintage fabrics so you can be confident you’ll never find someone swanning around in the exact same dress!
You name it, she makes it; whether it’s a set of Art Deco-inspired beach pajamas, a Dior style style gown, a sixties mini dress or a piece of 1940s-style knitwear.
“Often, all the customer provides is an image, so its off to our extensive vintage pattern library to investigate. Or it may involve grading a pattern off an existing favourite vintage garment,” she says.
Frances loves the understated but powerful glamour of the 1930s and 40s styles and says that although the patterns may be more complex, there’s no substitute for good tailoring.
Read on to find out more!
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Personally, I feel “less is more.” The understated but powerful glamour of the 30s and 40s resounds with me most. However, each customer has their own aesthetic and it’s important to respect that and work with it in their choice of fashion decade, whether its 1920s, 1970s or anything in between.
Do you mainly make dresses or do you make other pieces as well?
We do everything ! Beach pyjamas, dresses, coats – often, all the customer provides is an image, so its off to our extensive vintage pattern library to investigate. Or it may involve grading a pattern off an existing favourite vintage garment.
How long have you been making things? Were you always creative/ crafty as a youngster?
I was very fortunate to have grown up in a family of crafters, makers and artists. We have a long tradition of “makers” going back generations.
My grandmother’s sister was a tailor at Milne and Choyce in the mid 1800s in Auckland , and my grandmother and Mother taught all her daughters to knit, sew and embroider. I drew almost non-stop as a child, in between crafting, calligraphy, and tagging along with my older siblings to art galleries, rock concerts and plays.
How did you learn to sew? Did you study fashion design or are you self-taught?
I originally trained as a graphic artist, working in the printing industry for 15 years, but always sewed. Much later, creating around the Playcentre table with my offspring, I rediscovered the ever-tempting question… “I wonder if I could make that ?”
With the children at school, I did my time contracting and outworking. Then I was lucky enough to work for Gill Ward, mending and altering her amazing garments at Victorian Gilt and producing dresses for her, in her favourite fabrics.
You learn so very much from studying vintage garment construction. My skills experienced a major up-grade, compliments of the amazing Hillary Hines.
Hillary had worked for Anne Barlow, Anne McKay and Phil Brady in the 80’s in NZ and then for Margaret Howell, Nick Coleman and the Katherine Hamnett label in the UK. She patiently showed me the many errors of my ways, and shared her extensive knowledge and skill level.
It was then that friends, neighbours and strangers inquired as to where I had purchased what I was wearing and the orders have been coming in steadily since 2008. Exposure/sales jumped forward after presenting on Facebook from 2013.
How did the idea for your label come about?
I wanted a name that would reflect our predominant use of vintage fabrics, and the fact that we’re creating a new garment from them.
One of my daughter’s friends commented on a dress, “oh ! that’s very MINTAGE “- and thus the name was born, along with our by-line ‘ Breathing new life into vintage treasures”
It’s not until care, attention and love are shown to these wonderful fabrics, that they can start a new story with our customers.
What are your creative inspirations?
Schiaparelli, Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior, Claire McCardell, Miuccia Prada, Madeleine Vionnet, the Bauhaus Movement, 30s Hollywood glamour, my mother’s style in 1940s New Zealand. The Art History studied during Design School stands me in very good stead.
How has your taste and work evolved over time?
I look back at garments I made even five years ago and can see all the things I could have done better. I’m always making notes and reflecting on how to improve the quality and method, researching and referencing vintage originals for this.
The “holy grail” of a perfect fit for customers has been 20 years in the making. A series of measurements is just the start; there has to be ‘ease”, ‘negative ease’, the weight and content of the fabric and so many other factors to consider. I want my customers to celebrate their own individual size as perfect, and not to be confined to a mythical construct of size 6- 22.
What’s the first piece you remember making?
An outfit for the favourite teddy bear. (This then had to be surgically rescued by my mother ! )
What are your top sellers?
Probably the 30s and 40s style dresses, the patterns for these are more complex but often more flattering. Having said that, our bespoke hand-knits that we started offering two years ago have been extremely popular. And then there’s the new brooches ….
Are the majority of orders custom made/ one offs?
Yes. Our customers do NOT want to turn up to events in cookie-cutter vintage. If ever we have enough fabric for two outfits, I check with the initial customer for clearance.
Usually, there is only enough of the vintage fabric for one unique garment. Finish and quality is paramount. The inside-out should be just as beautiful as the exterior. Often this quality is sacrificed in industry, when a greater number of products is being made at a time.
Tell me about the process involved in making Mintage pieces. What materials do you use? And how long does each piece take to make?
We work mostly with vintage fabrics that customers choose from our stock. They are also welcome to bring their own chosen fabric. Pattern and fabric choices are discussed and an initial toile is made up in each customer’s size. This helps with future orders.
Completion time is dependent on the complexity of the pattern. Our busy order schedule is also a factor. Some pieces might be two – three hours work, but the Palm Springs tiki competition outfits for a lovely couple took a lot longer ! It really depends on the type of commission.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Seeing the surprise and joy of customers who never realized what bona-fide tailoring could do for them. There’s also an intense satisfaction in nailing a particularly difficult make. The standard benchmark question in the workroom is: “does this garment say “HELLO ! “ to you ?”
I believe that focused attention generates a “sound,” as does the amazing Vintage fabrics we work with. It’s that, that speaks to you when you look at a well-made garment.
What do you do when you’re not making things?
Standard family joke – I am the “Singer Sewing Machine”, I also teach singing. I’m a huge fan of art song, musical theatre, jazz and contemporary.
Finish this sentence: Handmade is best because………..
the agency of touch, fine attention and love is communicated through this skill. “Where the hand goes, the eye follows, where the eye goes, the mind follows, where the mind follows, the heart follows, and thus is born expression”
Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces?
Visit us on the MINTAGE Facebook page or contact us on 021 255 0241.
We run on an appointment basis to provide customers an individual and optimum personal service.