I love genealogy. I love to see how we connect to our past, and all the stories connected to it. This pattern is one example. It’s Pictorial Review 2712, and it’s from around 1927.
My grandmother worked for Pictorial Review in the 1920s. She was a fashion editor, and was something of a Manhattan socialite, having come from a family who came over on the Mayflower, then settled in New York. She went on to marry my grandfather, a West Point graduate, and to give birth to my dad and uncle. Grandma was born Helen, but changed her name to Helene because she thought it was more romantic. She continued to write under pseudonyms, including Camilla Kent — ironic, given the fact that the former Camilla Parker-Bowles is now the Dutchess of Kent. She did a lot in her life, and lived to be 95. I wish I could talk to her now and hear her stories.
So Pictorial Review patterns have meaning for me, especially the 1920s ones, because maybe she had her hand in choosing them for the magazine. This one, being from 1927, has special meaning, because that’s the year my dad was born. I imagine her wearing the 1920s styles Pictorial Review put out, and even though this one is a girls’ pattern, it might have fit Grandma because she was TINY.
Grandma went on to author a book with my grandfather, after collecting antique dolls and dollhouses for years. Grandpa wrote his autobiography, as did his dad, and then my dad. The stories are there. I hope that my kids appreciate them one day as much as I do.
Smocking has always fascinated me. I’ve done a fair share of needlework over the course of time, but I’ve never tried smocking. The detailed work of it all intimidates me, and I think it probably takes a special kind of patience to do it. I look at Edwardian smocking and think “how in the world did they do that?”, but people back then had needle skills that we don’t usually have ingrained in us anymore. Pity.
I came across this article in a 1915 Home Needlework Magazine and thought I’d share it. It’s all about the details of the different stitches, and how to do them. At this point, printed smocking patterns were just becoming available, so it talks about how to place the dots that serve as a guide. Originally they used cardboard and penciled every dot individually, always on the wrong side of the fabric. Can you imagine the time it took? They also had to have absolute accuracy as they moved the cardboard across to repeat the pattern the width of a garment. The preprinted smocking transfers made this much easier.
The next step was to do the gathering. One had to be sure to anchor the first stitch with a double stitch so that it didn’t all come apart as the thread was pulled to create the gathers. Nothing would be worse than to do the pulling and watch it all come apart as the knot pulled through, and you had to start all over. A thread would be run through each dot, pulling up a tiny bit of fabric with each stitch. The thread would be drawn up and knotted, creating all the gathers. The general rule was to use fabric four times the length of the smocked area, so if you needed to smock an area of 12 inches, you would use 48 inches of fabric. Who says sewing doesn’t teach math?
Stitches used are as follows:
Outline stitching. This one is used to begin the smocking pattern, and is the basis from which most smocking begins. You would work the stitch from left to right, using the gathering thread that you’ve already done as a guide to keep the work straight. Start the thread on the second plait on the wrong side, and bring the needle up on the first plait on the right side. One stitch is taken every other plait. You can keep the thread either above or below the needle, however you wish. Every stitch needs to be exactly on top of the gathering thread all along the line, or it will look crooke.
Cable stitch. Start the same as with outline stitch, taking one stitch in each plait, keeping the thread above the needle in the first stitch and below the needle in the next. Work it this way all the way across, again being sure to stay right on top of the gathering thread.
Double cable stitch is two rows of single cable, just worked very closely together.
Can you imagine doing this in the lighting available in 1915, and without benefit of the quality eye care that we have now? My eyes would hurt!
Vandyke stitch is one of the most important stitches. It is used in making points. The number of dots required for making points always needs to be divisible by four (again, math). Vandyke stitch is worked from right to left. The thread is started in outline, then take two plaits together and one stitch over, then come down to the second gathering thread, taking the second and third plaits together, one stitch over then up again, taking the third and fourth plaits together, another stitch over, and repeat to the end of the line.
Wave stitch is started on the first plait on the second gathering thread. Work four stitches gradually up, one in each plait with thread below the needle, making the fourth stitch on the first gathering thread, then work four stitches down with the thread above the needle, the fourth stitch up and the first stitch down, in order to make the stitches level. The following rows are worked in the same way, just beneath the first. Stitches with wave stitch may extend between two or mother gatherings.
Double wave stitch is made in the same way, working in the opposite direction.
Featherstitching and cross stitching are “simple” fancy stitches used a lot. The author of the article surmises that you can figure them out by looking at the diagrams. You see a lot of the cross stitch patterns in chicken scratch patterns, so popular for aprons and home decor today.
All in all, I think I could probably figure out how to do it, but can you imagine the time involved here? Think of 1915, when there were no automatic washers or dryers, microwaves or conveniences like we have today. When did women get time to do this? This was my grandmother’s time period, but she was rather wealthy so her parents probably went to a dressmaker for her things. I think that it’s likely that for most women these would be considered special garments and not for every day use, or would be children’s Sunday best. I’m glad that so many have survived though, because they are just lovely, and by what I can tell, the art continues, because smocking patterns generally fly out of my shop as soon as I list them.
Do you do smocking? I’d love to see your work if you do.
Every year my mom asks what I want for Christmas. She seems to think I’m hard to buy for, despite the fact that I tell her to get what she’s gotten me the past several years: a good coffee table fashion book. Of course, I like weird things like sewing patterns that she’d never know how to buy, but you can’t go wrong with a good book, right?
So here is a list of things that I like, and maybe you will. Some fashion, some not, but tell me what you think, or maybe buy one or two (I may get a small fee for some that are affiliate links):
The Bombshell Manual of Style. I love books that tell how to dress or act. Etiquette books are among my top favorites, but ones like this that tell you how to depict a character are great fun. This one tells you everything from makeup to wardrobe to perfume, with references as to where the ideas came from. Everything you need to get in touch with your inner Jane Mansfield.
Vogue UK . Don’t mess with American Vogue. It’s trash, and Anna Wintour needs to retire (I feel a rant coming on). Edward Enniful has done some glorious things with British Vogue. This one is the Kindle edition, but you really need to see it. It’s incomparable to American Vogue (which sucks).
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. This one has been on my list forever, and somehow no one gets it for me. I think maybe my mom is scared by the holographic cover, which switches from Alexander McQueen’s face to a skull (sadly prophetic, yes?). Alexander McQueen was a modern genius who left us too soon, and I’d love to have this one in my collection. And if you haven’t seen the Amazon Prime documentary about him, why not? It’s SO good.
You should get this and this for the sewing pattern enthusiast in your life. Books on sewing patterns are few and far between, so if your person doesn’t have these, get them. They’re wonderful.
Evelyn Wood is my favorite sewing You-Tuber. She breaks down things so even I understand them, and she’s adorable. Get your person a subscription to her Vintage Sewing School and it’ll give them fun all year long, even during quarantine.
If your person wants to learn how to sew or is just learning, they need the Vogue Sewing Book. Spend the money to get this first edition or find a used copy, but this is the all-encompassing sewing book that they need. Don’t worry about the age — trust me on this. It’s the perfect resource for sewing helps.
I listed this cool 40s zipper repair kit in the shop the other day. It is made by Freed’m Slide Fastener Corporation, and is a replacement zipper pull kit. The advertising they packed into this baby is amazing.
For your consideration, I give you the following hyperbolic advertising:
“Miracle adjustable zipper closure.”
It insures against future zipper trouble. (Yes, the use of insure vs. ensure makes me twitchy too, but I think the use has changed since the forties, so I’ll give it to them.)
“Freed’m Frees ‘Em.”
The “Jaws of Freed’m”
The Five Freedoms: freedom from catching, freedom from snagging, freedom from jamming, freedom from slipping, and freedom from failing. Interestingly, this may be a little play on Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, painted in 1943.
The “Magic Dial”
There’s no question that the ad guys earned their keep here, what with this all jammed into one little foldout. Add the bright red and green background and bingo! I hope they made a lot of money.
I may have mentioned some time back that I’ve sold online for years. I started out when eBay was text only — no pictures — so I’ve been around the block a time or two. I started out buying homeschool books, then started selling them, and it morphed from there. I started selling sewing patterns around 1999 or so, and have been hard at it ever since. I love what I do. I’ve been on eBay, another online mall (that now appears to be a porn site – WOW), my own website, and have been happily settled on Etsy for several years. I go back and forth about going back to my own website, but haven’t decided, so there I stay.
Once in a while, I get a message from someone on Etsy, asking if I will take (insert number) dollars for the pattern(s) they want to purchase. My standard response, thanks to one of my friends’ brilliance is “I’m sorry, but I post my best price.” Because I do. I’m not running a garage sale. This is my primary income. I take pride in what I do, and it’s WORK. Let me tell you how it works when one is selling patterns.
First, you have to find the patterns. I’ve been blessed. I’ve been featured in the Indianapolis Star, as well as Threads Magazine. I don’t have a shortage of people contacting me to buy patterns from them. I have to set up a time to look at them, and then travel to the location. I have to look through them and decide if they are something I really need, because patterns accumulate rather quickly. I’m choosy. Then I take them home and the work begins.
I have to count each pattern, making sure that not only all of the pieces are there, but that the pieces in the envelope match the pattern number and size on the envelope. A lot of sewists do mash ups, so I’ve found three or four patterns all in one envelope. This sorting takes time. I watch Netflix while I’m doing it sometimes. The other day, it took me two hours to get through about ten patterns because they were complicated and mashed up. It’s a process.
Once I’ve got the patterns counted and have noted any missing pieces, I take photos. I have a little space set up for this, but also have to have the right lighting. Then I have to edit the photos so they look nice. Old patterns aren’t always the easiest to make pretty, and though I don’t go to the Photoshop extremes that some people do, again, it takes time. Then I post photos to Instagram and Facebook, and try to remember to add them to Pinterest. This requires captioning and hashtags, so again, time.
Then I make the listing, again adding description, title, tags, and the like. I research prices to see what I want to list it at. Then, for history’s sake, I add the pattern to the Vintage Pattern Wiki, because that’s where the archive of patterns is located. I add a link to my shop’s listing there, too, so people can find it. When the pattern sells, I have to go back to the wiki and delete that link. Once I’m done with all of this, I file the pattern away numerically, in one of the pattern cabinets I own. It’s tedious. Filing is not my favorite thing, but it’s better than the old days when I would make the kids do it, and my daughter purposefully misfiled things because she didn’t want to do it.
Of course, when the pattern sells, there are shipping procedures, and a daily run to the post office, but you get my drift: this is work. I love love love what I do, and I’m glad that my customers find me and purchase from me. But it’s work. Are some pattern prices really high? YES. Are some patterns available less expensively somewhere else? Sometimes, but those sellers don’t make any money when you compare to the time they’ve spent.
I’m a professional seller who takes pride in her work, and has to pay her bills. So please people, before you go asking an Etsy seller if they will take less money for their hard work, think it through, because we’re not running a garage sale. We’re conducting business, and business doesn’t work like that. If it does, it won’t be doing it for long.
::end mini rant wrapped up in an informational post::
This is completely unrelated to vintage fashion or sewing or anything I normally talk about, but as the author of this space, I get to choose, right?
So today, I want to talk to you about My Octopus Teacher, on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it yet, why not? I will admit that I saw it pop up in my suggested viewing and wondered what the heck? A movie about an octopus? Seriously? Well, as you may or may not know, I usually watch something on Prime or Netflix while I’m counting pattern pieces, and I love me a good documentary, so I decided what the heck, I’ll watch it.
This movie is SO good. The story is amazing. It’s about healing and our relationship with nature, conservation and yes, an octopus. It’s so moving. Every time you think it’s going to go one way, it surprises you and goes another. It’s simply brilliant, and gorgeously shot. You will probably never look at the ocean the same way, and I’ve always loved the ocean, so that’s really saying something.
And the music. It’s worth it just for the music alone. Kevin Smuts is the composer, and he truly made a gorgeous score. It’s very visual music — you can literally see the water moving when you’re listening, but maybe that’s just me. More on that later, but in the meantime, go watch this movie, then listen to the soundtrack on Spotify. It’s my new go-to work music.
I listed this pattern the other day. It calls these (very cute) tops “poor boy tops.” I’ve never heard that term before. Apparently it was something that was seen in the 60s and 70s, and was a real thing at the time. Poor boy styles started to be seen at the end of 1961, but didn’t really start taking hold for a few years later. 1961 saw them being sold in combination with “hot dog pants”, which cracked me up. In 1964, they were described as “ribbed, gently shaped pullovers.” The name reported had nothing to do with poverty, but I can’t find a reference to where the term actually originated. The original poor boy tops looked more like a sweatshirt style: looser and very casual, with ribbed cuffs and collar. Keep in mind that the early 60s were a time where it became more acceptable to be seen in public wearing pants, so the style morphed over time to something more fitted and stylish, designed to be tucked in. When they were worn with hip huggers (or low-rise, for the younger set who may not know the hip hugger term), it showed off the detail of the pants, gave a longer look and accented the waist.
Poor boy tops were often knit, but were also seen in cotton, with embellishments like lace. I even found one that was made of wool. Collars could be plain or rolled. They were occasionally cropped length. I found at least one reference to poor boy dresses with dropped waistlines, but have never seen a pattern for one.
. They continued to be seen in fashion over the next few years, and dominated the Fall, 1966 season, and continued to be seen well into the 70s, though not on the top of the fashion heap. By 1976, the style had disappeared — or at least the term had.
I wasn’t allowed to watch Three’s Company when I was a kid. My mother said I was “too young.” Basically, she was appalled by all that jiggling, but then again, she said I was “too young” to watch Gone With the Wind until I was in high school too, so I’m not sure where the bar was for her. I’ve seen a few shows of Three’s Company over the years, and was always amused by the always-clad-in-a-caftan Mrs Roper. Looking back, I think she most likely was an ancestor of the beloved Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek, but it would take a month of blog posts to discuss Moira’s fashion (which is AMAZING!).
Mrs Roper probably wore the most comfortable wardrobe in television history. Can you imagine how comfortable it was to never have a waistline, never have to worry about weight, and to have fabric fluttering around you under the lights? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important it is to be comfortable, especially over the past few months. But you know, I got thinking about it and realized that Mrs Roper was really preparing us for a prophet.
Think about it — caftans are perfect for Netflix and chill evenings (or days). They’re perfect for quarantine when, if you are like me, some extra pounds accumulate from baking banana bread and eating a lot of carbs. They hide all the figure flaws. You can even hide the fact that you’ve not been to the gym. Alternately, many of them can be belted, to change the look up. So when I came across this pattern in my stash, I squealed. It’s not only a long caftan, but you can make it in a pullover caftan top AND elastic waistband palazzo pants! I think this is the perfect 2020 outfit. Click here to purchase in my shop.
I was prepping a new crochet pattern for the website (keep an eye out — it’s an Edwardian sleeping cap!), and came across the term Silkateen. When one is prepping vintage patterns, one has to be sure that the materials required are still available, or figure out what the comparable modern item might be. This one’s been tough.
Silkateen first was seen in 1897. It was shown at textile shows, and reportedly buyers were surprised at how similar to silk it appeared. The company manufacturing it (Kerr Thread Company) said that they were using techniques to create it that were over 50 years old, but had been lost over the course of time. Those techniques became a trade secret. The company ran night and day, trying to keep up with orders.
Ads are seen for Silkateen into the late 1900s, where it was advertised as both a fabric as well as a crochet thread. It is compared in one article as being comparable to DMC, thought I think they perhaps mean in weight rather than appearance. Silkateen was used for clothing, umbrellas and there were experiments in using it with lawn linen (with mixed results). It is described as a lustrous cotton for crochet, knit and embroidery.
Silkateen obviously had some lasting power in the industry, and though the name changed several times, it was around in different forms for years. Problem is, I still haven’t found what an actual modern substitute might be!
While researching Donald Brooks for the previous post, I found that he was part of “the couture group.” Although I had heard of FOGA before, I hadn’t heard of this specific group, so I went looking.
The New York Dress Institute was a group of designers which numbered 1300 New York designers, and the Couture Group was a subset of top designers. The Dress Institute was the sponsor of the twice yearly Fashion Week, and dozens of designers showed there. First mention of the group is in 1945, but the Dress Institute was created in 1941, with the encouragement of the Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, in order to encourage people to buy American Fashion. It was much better known starting in 1946. This likely was due to the devastation of Paris’ fashion industry during the war years, and Americans attempting to establish themselves at the forefront of fashion.
In 1946, the designers numbered 19, but it grew over the course of time. The original 19 were: Hansen Bang, Anthony Blotta, Hattie Carnegie, Fox-Brownie, David M. Goldstein, Joseph Halpert, Anna Miller, Clare Potter, Jo Copeland, Ben Reig, Ren-Eta, Nettie Rosenstein, Herbert Sondheim, Spectator Sports, Claire McCardell, Pauline Trigere, Samuel Kass, Adele Simpson and Joseph Whitehead. By 1948, there were 30 members, all “high style, high price ready to wear manufacturers.” The group grew over the years to include Ceil Chapman, Mollie Parnis, Tina Reser, Ben and many more. Some of the members were also creators of French Haute Couture, such as Christian Dior.
Though the Couture Group definitely set the trends for fashion, they also seemed to be involved with the price of fashion as well, especially in the early 50s. They released statements seasonally in 1950-51 stating that the prices of their clothing would not rise, even if the government changed or even froze the prices of fabrics. Members of the Couture Group also contributed to underwriting the cost of Fashion Week (then known as Press Week) in New York, to the tune of $3000 each in 1952. That would be about $49,000 now, meaning the show cost about $1.5 to put on. That was a LOT of money, and though the couture designers showed collections, there were over 100 shows total to be seen during the week.
In 1966, the New York Dress Institute merged with the American Designers’ Group, which had been started in 1962 by a former chairman of the Couture Group. It was renamed the New York Couture Business Council, and in 1976 was again renamed New Directions.