1950s fashion, Celebrity, designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Who was Hannah Troy?

McCall’s 5289, 1959, by Hannah Troy.

I came across this fantastic pattern the other day, and as I was listing it in the shop, noticed that it was designed by Hannah Troy. I’ve never seen a Hannah Troy pattern, and never heard of her, so I did some digging.

Hannah purportedly entered into the fashion industry in 1940 through a design she made herself, then sold for $3. She became a fashion model, and in a rather ballsy move for a model, suggested a different drape of fabric to the designer she was modelling for. I guess she didn’t believe in the (very wrong) belief that models are just clothes hangers and shouldn’t think. That suggestion led to her immediately becoming assistant to the designer, then head designer for another company, then to her branching off on her own to create Hannah Troy, Inc. Not bad for someone who started as a home sewist, yes?

Hannah revolutionized the clothing industry when she began designing for women with short waists. She was working as a model at May Company, and after spending days watching salespeople show short waisted women how to alter clothing to fit, decided there should be a petite line, made particularly for short waisted women. She enlisted help from the military, of all places, deciding that they would have the best database of women’s measurements. She got measurements of the WACs from the quartermaster, and found that the majority of women she studied were short waisted. She called the measurements she used in designing “Troyfigure,” and went to work.

One of Hannah’s most influential designs was one that Grace Kelly wore when she went to Europe early in her career. That also happened to be the trip where she met Prince Rainier. Hannah was also considered to be one of the most influential people in bringing attention to Italian fashion. In 1951, exports of Italian goods was $1 million, and by 1955, was $1 billion dollars, all in large part of the fact that she lauded the Italian goods. She was celebrated all over Italy for the help she gave their fashion industry, even being given the Star of Solidarity — the first American woman to be so honored.

Hannah designed with “complete wearability” as her foundation, and felt that the best designs were those that “lent themselves to the individual tastes of the greatest numbers of women.” She wanted to design for the masses, and bring the European styles to American women. Not unlike Coco Chanel, she felt that the best designs compliment, not overwhelm. Interestingly, she didn’t think women’s knees were pretty on anyone, even those with good legs. As the sixties marched on, she pronounced the pantsuit trend as “silly”, and thought the trend of women wearing teen styles was “ridiculous.” She did very well for herself, designing for a number of socialites and celebrities. Newspaper articles describe her apartment as elegant, and having decor that included rare antiquities from ancient Chinese dynasties.

She retired to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970s, after thirty years in the fashion industry, and died of a heart attack June 22, 1993, in a Miami hospital. She was 93.

sewing patterns

Fashion Wars

Spring, 1876 Butterick Pattern catalog

I added this 1876 Butterick catalog as a downloadable PDF in the shop. I found something interesting inside.

Butterick started selling sewing patterns in 1863. May Manton had already been selling patterns for three years, and other pattern companies developed soon afterward, but Butterick was generally at the top of the pile in the 1870s. There is a foreward written by Ebenezer Butterick in this catalog, stating unequivocally that they are not going out of business. From what he writes, the rumor mill had started spreading word that Butterick was “winding up our business and making arrangements to retire from trade.” He states emphatically that this is not the case by saying “these, with similar reports too numerous to mention, too contemptible to notice, have been spread with a persevering industry and an intense malignity that could only find their source in the hatred of interested parties or the envy of unsuccessful competitors.” Mr. Butterick is pissed.

He goes on to say “we have always endeavored to treat parties engaged in the same business as ours with all proper consideration and respect; we have encouraged, not thwarted, competition, and we have generally met with similar treatment at the hdns of others, but where the public prints have been made the medium of libelous slanders, and where agents have been specially instructed to spread them among business men, we feel it a duty both to the public and ourselves to expose their falsity and absurdity.”

I just love how people spoke back in the day. Our speech has gotten so lazy, and our vocabulary has shrunk so much from earlier years. But I digress, as usual.

Mr. Butterick gives a “most distinct, emphatic, unqualified denial” of the rumor, stating they never have considered retiring from business, are in a great position business-wise, and never expressed an intent to leave. He states they never spoke detrimentally about the competition and welcome them openly.

This must have been a whisper campaign, as I can find nothing in the archives to indicate that Butterick planned to retire, but it also must have been whispered loudly enough that he felt he needed to address it for posterity, and in writing. Corporate business was ugly, even before the turn of the century.

If you want to learn more about the history of sewing patterns, check out Blueprints of Fashion, by costume designer Wade Laboisseniere. He wrote two volumes, one about the 40s, and one about the 50s, and they are full of photos and text of the history of patterns of the eras. (This is an affiliate link, meaning I may make a tiny bit of money from your purchase.) They are two of the best books written on the subject of sewing patterns, and even include information in the back about what pattern numbers correlate with which years of printing. Just don’t reprint and sell that information. It’s copyrighted, and I’ve spoken with Mr Laboisseniere about people who profit from his research. He is not amused, and rightfully so.

If you want to purchase the downloadable 1876 catalog from the shop, click here.

Until next time.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Palazzo pants

McCall’s 3541, 1973.

Palazzo pants were a thing in the 1930’s, and were glamorous as heck. You saw them in beach pyjamas and loungewear especially. But as is the habit, fashion repeats itself, reinventing itself along the way. Palazzo pants were reinvented in the early 70s as “elephant pants.” I remember seeing a jeans version of these on the playground as a kid. An older girl, probably middle school age, had them, and I thought they were amazing. I couldn’t wait to grow up to wear them. They were made from worn denim and weren’t hemmed, dragging on the cement playground. I’d never seen anything like them.

Looking back, that image is heinous to me. I don’t remember if my older high school sisters wore them. I feel like my mom wouldn’t have approved, and my tiny sisters (5 feet 1 inch and 5 feet 1 1/4 inches – and you’d better believe that 1/4 inch was fought for) wouldn’t have been able to pull them off. A denim version of palazzo pants just didn’t really work. The look was revisited in the 90s with the skate culture, where it worked better as an aesthetic. How that girl pulled them off on the playground is beyond me.

This McCall’s pattern is a much better version of the elephant pants of the time. It’s disco ready, and would work great as cocktail or loungewear too. Make it in silk if you’re not clumsy like me. Add the front wrap top and you have a really chic look, yes?

Click here to purchase from the shop.

sewing, sewing patterns

The Learning Curve

Note the wonky stitching. LOL

I think I’ve said in the past that I’m kind of a fraud. I’ve been selling sewing patterns online for 20+ years. As in, I was selling on eBay when it listings were only text — no photos. I didn’t even own a digital camera. True fact: I got my first digital camera by trading my middle school son’s best friend for it. So yeah, I’m an online seller dinosaur.

The sewing pattern thing started when eBay came up with the stores concept. I opened a store in 2001, and was selling different things, with no real focus. I was doing some selling for other people as well, but it was a pain because of trying to get shipping materials, peanuts, bubble wrap, and worrying that things would get broken. I wanted to focus on one thing, but couldn’t figure out what. I really don’t know how I came up with sewing patterns, but I do know I got my first ones in the thrift store, and can still remember the particular one I first listed. And hence my store’s focus was developed.

My now-ex was on a mission trip to Mexico. I was home alone with the kids for a week, and I, being a night owl, was in heaven. No husband to answer to and I could stay up as long as I wanted. I finally had that digital camera, so I turned on The Two Towers and started listing patterns. I had the movie on primarily to listen to the music as I worked, and I think I heard it at least a dozen times that week. (Honestly, in that time period, I listened to a lot of movies, because the kids would watch them in the van while I drove. I think I heard The Others twenty times before I actually saw it. But I digress.) I was off to the races in selling, eventually becoming the second or third highest seller of patterns on eBay, depending upon the week.

But here’s the fraud part: I didn’t sew. I loved patterns, and had a very, very general idea of how to sew, but didn’t even own a machine. I bought one several years ago, and used it to make some Tshirt quilts for my stepsons from their mom’s Race for the Cure shirts. But then nothing. So in the past year, I’ve decided it’s time. I’ve made a few things and I’m still learning. I’m definitely a rookie, as you can see in past posts, but I’m learning.

I’ve found that sewing is pretty addictive, and it’s definitely fun. I pull up Spotify and listen to a music or podcasts while I’m working. Sometimes I rip out more than I sew, but that ratio is improving. I don’t always pay attention to directions. The project I’m working on now, from Rebecca Page, is a Christmas gift, and I didn’t really even read the directions. I’m kind of winging it, but it’s a project that is designed for that. My seams are wonky, and my colors aren’t always right, but when you’re sewing for grandkids, they don’t notice. I haven’t ventured beyond cotton (though the plaid part of this is wool) but it’ll come. It’s all a learning curve.

So if you’re learning to sew, just keep doing it. Be prepared to rip out a lot. Even experienced sewists do, from what I’ve seen. You may not like the end result. It’s not going to look professional, but that’s ok. Every project you do, you will learn more. You can add to your skill set. Just keep doing it. Start with small cotton projects till you get the basics down, and then move up from there. Of course, I started with Tshirt quilts, without using a walking foot, and without knowing a darned thing about what I was doing. Those quilts are definitely wonky, but my (adult) stepsons understood it’s the thought that matters and they like them. People are willing to overlook some flaws because most people are in awe that you tried. (Thank God for that!).

If you want to find some learn to sew patterns in my shop, click here. And check out this link for books to help you along the way.

family stories, Non-Hogkin's Lymphoma, self help, self love, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

All the Love

Butterick 3120 , 1944.

There’s a commercial on TV right now that I believe is for a cancer facility. It says that a person never forgets the moment they were told that they had cancer. Let me tell you about that moment for me.

I had had surgery for a large mass in my back that had been causing an incredible amount of pain. Doctors varied on what they thought it was – infectious disease thought an infection, orthopedics thought perhaps it was a hemorrhage (I’d been the chiropractor in search of pain relief), and oncology thought it was a tumor. So I spent the night in the hospital the night before to manage the pain, and they rolled me off to surgery not knowing what was in store.

It was cancer. I woke up from anesthesia surround by my boys and my husband (I can’t remember why my daughter wasn’t there but I think the baby was sick). My husband took my hand and looked very serious, which in itself is a big deal, because he’s a sarcastic nutjob like me. Everyone stared at me very intently as he told me what they’d found. A huge tumor, wrapped around the spinal cord, that they couldn’t remove without a tremendously complicated surgery. They didn’t know what kind of tumor, but they biopsies and closed me up. If they had to, they’d go back in, but we needed more information.

I will tell you that I have never felt more love in my entire life. The looks of concern in those three men’s eyes was something I will never forget. And you know what? I didn’t get upset. I didn’t get worried. I knew we had this, because with love like that, how can anything go wrong?

They didn’t know till later that day exactly what kind of cancer. It turned out to be lymphoma, and there were other tumors. We came up with a plan, starting with radiation to, as my orthopedist said, “melt” the spinal tumor. Three radiation sessions and it was completely gone. Immunotherapy, to kill the rest. A year later, there is no sign of the other tumors, though I have another year and a half of maintenance treatment to keep it gone. I have gone from Stage IIIB to “no evidence of disease.” Yes, it may come back, because with my type of cancer there is no cure, just remissions of varying length. But till then, I live my life and have a lot of fun.

So yes, you really do remember the moment you were told you have cancer. But that’s just the beginning, not an end. And in the middle, have a lot of fun.

Hospital gown pattern from World War II era, likely made for new moms who were in the hospital. Why can’t bed jackets make a comeback? They’re so pretty.

Have a great weekend.

1920s fashion, vintage fashion

Hair Pillows

I found this letter inside a 1920’s children’s pattern and my curiosity was piqued, never having heard of a hair pillow. I went on a researching quest, and found that they are just as you might think — pillows full of hair.

A 1917 newspaper touts the better choice of a hair pillow versus a feather pillow. Reasons: feathers get hot and sticky, the smell, and who knows how many generations of your family have slept using that very same feather pillow. Hair pillows were considered cooler, causing less sweat on the back of the head and neck (remember, there was no air conditioning during this time). The article states that they are quite comfortable, once you get used to them, and they are softer as well.

A 1962 article to a home advice column questioned what to do with a hair pillow that became matted after it was run through a washing machine. The answer? Take the hair out, wash and detangle, and stuff it back in.

Seems like we’ve used just about everything to lay our heads on, but this is one I’d never heard of. The cost in 1917 for a 12X14″ pillow was about $1.25 according to the letter. The newspaper mentions that they were similar or only slightly higher in cost than feathers. So if you have some hair lying around that you can’t donate to Locks of Love, consider making a hair pillow and letting me know how it works for you. I’m curious, but not that curious.


RIP Kenzo Takada

Butterick 3027. 1973.

Kenzo Takada died this weekend as a results of COVID-19. He was 81. Though perhaps not as familiar a name as Dior and Balmain, Kenzo held his own place in fashion, and definitely still has lovers of his line today.

Kenzo worked in a Japenese department store until he decided to head to Paris in 1965. He struggled as most designers do for several years before he enlisted a partner and started his “Jungle Jap” label with an investment of $4000. He came up with the name after painting murals of trees and exotic animals on his salon walls in Galerie Vivienne. He wanted a jungle themed name and decided “Jungle Jap” was the right sound and was funny. All went well until he tried to expand into the US and he was sued by the Japanese-Amerian Citizens’ League, who called the name “derogatory”, because of the visions it evoked of Pearl Harbor and World War II. He agreed to change it to Kenzo, as the League would not accept his idea of changing it to J.A.P. He was a bit mystified, as it hadn’t been problematic in Paris. The next year, he was sued again after Lord & Taylor continued to sell clothing with the J.A.P label. He sold the label in 1973 for a cool $20 million. His label after all of the controversy was simply KENZO.

Kenzo’s popularity in Japan didn’t happen until after he became a big name at Paris Fashion Week. He became so popular that by the early 80s, it had become customary to close Fashion Week with his collections. His shows were fresh and upbeat, much like he was. One critic pointed out his smiling face, reminding people that France had once offered cash to locals who would smile at touriests. They never had to paid out, as the French reportedly just did not smile. (Trying to remember if this was the case when I was in Paris, but I can’t remember.)

Kenzo’s collections had a multitude of looks. His 1970 show included toreador pants, riding breeches and sheer clown-type pants, as well as a whole selection of 1920s inspired looks, including pleated skirts. He was responsible for many of the mid 70s looks such as bat wing tops, narrow straight leg pants, big sweaters and the revival of trapeze coats. His weskit (waistcoat) looks were seen in Paris a year after he featured them in his collections. I wonder how much of the Annie Hall look so popular from the time was actually inspired by him. He rode a wave of popularity for years. He was the only designer who steadfastly refused to use man-made fibers, saying he “can’t stand the feel of them.” His collections were pure cotton, linen, silks and the like. His 1970’s line of sewing patterns by Butterick are still immensely popular.

It took Kenzo quite a while to build his business in the US, citing the high costs of French materials as well as the import fees in the US. He found it difficult to create garments that could be kept at an affordable price point for Americans due to the overhead. He eventually expanded here, and even created a line for The Limited in 1984, with garments priced from $75-100 (still pretty pricey for the time). For all of the success he had however, he lived a fairly low key lifestyle, riding the Metro in Paris and not having a maid. He retired in 1999 to travel and do art projects.

Check out a history of Kenzo Fashion by clicking here. I don’t currently have any Kenzo patterns listed (they sell like crazy), but see the selection of Kenzo patterns on Etsy by clicking here.

sewing patterns

Mother-Daughter Fashions

Simplicity 3233 (mother) and 3247 (daughter). 1950.

I’m not sure when the idea of matching mothers and daughters started, but there are still such patterns being made today. Personally it would’ve never worked for my daughter and me, because she would’ve rather died than dress like me. I remember the day she said “I don’t know how you can have such great taste in clothing and then dress like that.”

Keep in mind that I am a nurse, and have spent by far the majority of my adult life in scrubs, and you can imagine what a lazy dresser I am. I’ve either been in scrubs or changing into scrubs as soon as I get to work, so I bring dressing down to a whole new level. I’m still waiting for the Project Runway challenge to dress front line workers in something cuter than scrubs. Add to it that now we not only have to wear scrubs, but although they make such cute ones now, very few nurses are allowed to choose their own. We’re told which (ugly) ones we can wear and in what (ugly) colors. But I digress.

Isn’t this set cute? The mom’s dress can be made strapless or with spaghetti straps, as shown. Both versions of the dress have adorable huge pockets. It’s circa 1950. The little brochure that I found inside a pattern doesn’t have a date on it. I don’t have either one in my shop, but you can find the mother’s version here and here. If you know of a copy of the girls’ dress, please let me know.


Sewing Birds

1911 Daniel Low & Co catalog

I came across this ad in a catalog called “One Hundred Birthday Gifts,” published in 1911 by Daniel Low & Company. I was fascinated by this “sewing bird.” They were used as a third hand, to help hold one’s sewing project taut. The bird clamps to the table, then you insert the end of the fabric into the bird’s mouth, so you have your hands free to do the sewing. Some, like this one, have one or two pincushions on them, and though some are quite plain, others are very ornate. This one sold for 85 cents, which in today’s currency would be roughly $25.

Sewing birds were invented by one Thaddeus Fowler, who had other inventions like a machine to stick pins into paper, one to sort pins, and ones to make needles and horseshoes. Ads for sewing birds were first seen around 1852. There were birds also that could be used to wind skeins of thread or yarn, and were quite popular. The price then was from 20 to 88 cents, and they seemed to be most commonly sold by jewelers. Mr. Fowler, unfortunately, died destitute in 1887,

I’m fascinated by things like this. I’ve never seen one in use. Have you? Click here to see the sewing bird listings on ebay. I believe that this one is a twin to this ad.


Ceil Chapman and the Queen

Spadea American Designers 1150.

This dress pattern was designed specifically for Queen Elizabeth II by Ceil Chapman, and was called the “Coronation” Dress. It was inspired by a button marketed by B.G.E. Originals that was a reproduction of an original Elizabethan button. The reproduction button was sold in stores. I’ve been looking for it for years. The original was an enamel flower, surrounded by diamonds and rubies. Ms. Chapman designed the dress in “Windsor blue” peau de soie, with the understated bodice that the queen favored. The back of the top is bloused, and the collar is a simple stand up one. The skirt is full. This is reminiscent of the queen’s simple taste that echoes through to today.

The pattern is a part of the American Designer’s series that was printed by Spadea, using all of the top designers of the day. Ironically, in the 60s and 70s, the Dutchess of Windsor would create patterns for this line. One has to wonder what the queen would have thought of being an inspiration for the line that later included an outcast of the family.

Though this pattern doesn’t include the highly desired draped necklines that Ceil Chapman is later known for, it’s beautiful in its own right, and her patterns are difficult to find. I have two in my shop. Click here to see an original, and here to see a reproduction of her Skylark dress, an iconic design of the time.