VINTAGE INSPIRED: Duluth woman mixes the old with the new in fashion designs
Ava Battocchio likes old things: shuttered towns, abandoned buildings, faded signs, machines with replaceable parts rather than computerized innards. She's got an early-1990s Range Rover parked in her driveway. And, inside her apartment, there is the enamel tabletop from the 1930s that her mother gave her butting up against the matching one she found.
"I already collect weird (things), I can't start collecting enamel tables," Battocchio said, eyeing the focal point of her living room.
In the past year, Battocchio's interest in old this-and-thats has led to resurrecting a life skill from her childhood: sewing. Now, while antiquing, she seeks out classic patterns — by the likes of Butterick and Simplicity — which she uses to create vintage-style clothing that she sells via Etsy under the name Timely Attire Co.
"Do you, too, want to be mistaken for a time traveler, or are you just on the lookout for vintage accessories or sewing goods," she asks her website visitors.
She's not just a creator, she also wears her own wares.
During a recent visit to her home, she wore a black and white sleeveless boatneck dress that cinched below the bust with a skirt that went beyond her knees. Black tights, black shoes, red lips, browline glasses. Her long dark hair was twisted into matching victory rolls.
"I'm a weird combination," she said. "I feel like I'm 18, but I also feel like a 65-year-old trapped in a (31)-year-old's body."
'A play space of fabric and dolls'
Battocchio's return to sewing was sparking by a confluence of events: a friend passed along a mid-1940s White Rotary Electric sewing machine — a multigenerational hand-me-down — and a local fabric store had a huge sale before it closed.
It kicked her back to her childhood in Redding, Conn. Her mother spent 20 years creating clothing for collectible porcelain dolls made by a "well-known, nationwide retailer," Linda Battocchio said. She made hats, costumes, wigs for dolls bearing the likeness of, for instance, Shirley Temple or Princess Diana.
"Ava, when she was born, was born into this play space of fabric and dolls," Linda Battocchio said via phone. "She had exposure to a world of product design. She would see how products were developed, I delivered them, presented them, the prototypes were corrected and finally made. She had a chance to view the entire spectrum of the process."
She taught Ava the basics — hemming and buttons — then let her take the skill where she wanted.
One of Ava Battocchio's first pieces — a red and black a German folk dress with a tie front — is now on display on a dress form in the corner of her home. She made it when she was 12, she said. Next to it is a more recent piece of yesteryear: A green dress with a Peter Pan collar and Rickrack trim.
Battocchio was partly driven by an interest in wearing vintage clothing, but said she struggled to find plus-sized clothing in the vintage clothing stores and antique shops she visits while traveling. Then, she said, she realized that these shops sold old patterns.
Battocchio used her sewing skills and a combination of YouTube tutorials, Pinterest and phone calls to her mother to teach herself to make Peter Pan collars, puff sleeves and circle skirts.
Battocchio's first commission was for the daughter of a friend, Becky Scherf. She created matching reversible circle skirts with vintage postal stripes and baseball buttons. Then, she began making clothes for Scherf, too.
The two sometimes go fabric shopping together, Scherf said, and it's nice to have a role in the creative process.
"I usually dress in vintage-inspired stuff," Scherf said, adding that she started wearing 1950s fashions when she was a teenager. "It's nice being able to buy it locally instead of buying it online."
Battocchio has made Scherf a skirt and five dresses and, in turn, Scherf sometimes models pieces for her website.
Throwback aesthetic, modern convenience
Battocchio works out of the turret in the northwest corner of her apartment, a small circular-shaped space with a collection of vintage sewing machines, spools of thread displayed in the window and a flapper bust to the right of her immediate workspace.
She has labeled bins of material for upcoming projects.
Battocchio works mostly at night, sometimes staying awake until 2 a.m. while listening to Twin Cities-based retro band Davina & The Vagabonds to further the mood, she said.
During a recent visit, Battocchio had five orders to fill and the beginnings of a mid-century modern wiggle dress was laid out on her enamel tabletops. She had recently sent a 50s-style pink and white dress with a "Be Mine" heart to a bakery on the island of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean.
Though her aesthetic is a throwback, Battocchio said the pieces complement contemporary fashion.
Take a 1950s circle skirt and add a cute sweater, she said. "They transition well. It's about having simple silhouettes."
Plus, Battocchio has given each of her pieces a bit of modern convenience. Everything has pockets, she said, and "the external pocket is always big enough to hold an iPhone 6."
Ava Battocchio's fashions can be found at: