designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Leona Rocha

Simplicity 6433, ©1984

I listed this pattern in the Etsy shop this week and thought who in the world is Leona Rocha. Well, first and foremost, she is apparently not related to Coco Rocha, who is the first person who came to mind. I went looking, and here is what I found.

Leona Rocha was a fit expert. Born in Hawaii, she originally enlisted in the Army’s dental technician course. She used her GI bill benefits to train as a designer at the FIT, she was a past president of the American Home Sewing Association, and even wrote a book about fitting with simplicity. She was a founder of a sewing notions company called Fashionetics, and was the inventor of The Fashion Ruler while still a student, and it is still sold today. In the early 80’s, she partnered with Simplicity to do seminars about fit. At that time, she also hosted a TV show called The Sewing Show on cable four days a week, twice a day. It was a thirteen week series about how to sew at home and properly fit home sewn clothing. She later became an executive at Vogue-Butterick patterns — and married one of their executives. She ran for office on Maui, where she still lives today.

Seems like with all of these accomplishments, I would have known something about her, so I’m glad that now I do. She has left a great legacy to the sewing community.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Kinda Surprised

Simplicity 9846, ©1980.

I just added this pattern to the Etsy shop, and I am surprised. It’s from 1980! When you think of the 80s, you probably think of huge shoulders and Dynasty-esque fashions. That is partially right, as those types of styles started showing up around 1984 or so, but the cusp of the 70s and 80s had some very soft, beautiful fashions. The most popular Gunne Sax patterns were from 1979-1981, so there was a lot of gorgeous stuff before it got all serious.

That being said, I would’ve put this one in the late sixties or early seventies. It has a Game of Thrones or Renaissance vibe to it because of that cape, and those weren’t seen commonly in the 80s. If you take the cape away, it’s a distinctly Victorian vibe as was common in that time period. That cape definitely IS the look. Make the dress in a deep color with metallic trim and it could be Mother of Dragons cosplay. Am I wrong? Maybe, but it’s a stunning combination nonetheless.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Easy-Mark Patterns by McCall’s

McCalls 6181, ©1961

I came across this pattern the other day and learned something new. I noticed the note at the bottom: NOTE: the may also be used as a regular pattern. What the heck? I’d never seen that before. I noticed that at the top it is labelled an “Easy-Mark Pattern.” Turns out that McCall’s put out Easy-Mark patterns starting in 1961, starting with 6004 (a dress), 6098 (blouse) and 6050 (skirt). I guess these three were a test balloon to see how well they did. They premiered the concept at the American Homemaker’s Association Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in July of 1961. The patterns hit stores shortly afterward.

The premise was that a transfer was included so that you could easily transfer the pattern markings to your fabric. As noted, you could use it as normal too. Using the transfer meant you could use your iron to press the markings onto the wrong side of the fabric, thus avoiding the use of tracing paper, carbon, or tailor’s tacks, and avoid damaging the patterns with pins. The transfers were blue, so they were made for use with lighter colored fabric, where the marks wouldn’t be lost. The transfers were able to be used twice, which meant that if you relied on them, you could only reuse the pattern one time. Of course, patterns could be used infinitely if you didn’t need to use the transfer.

These patterns were marketed at the same time as the “Instant” patterns by McCall’s. I suspect that the Instant line may have had more longevity, as I’ve seen tons of them over the years, and this is the first time I’ve seen an “Easy-Mark” pattern. The concept would never fly today because of the cost factor. I’m sure that this likely was the root cause of why we don’t see many of these: sewists don’t like redundancy, and once they have learnt how to sew by transferring markings, they likely didn’t feel the extra step was needed. Ads for the Easy-Mark patterns were few, and totally disappeared by 1965.

What do you think? Would you use these as a regular pattern, or would you like the transfer option?

designers, embroidery, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

France During World War II

I read the vintage book Fashion Fundamentals, by Bernice Chambers recently, and wow, is it fascinating. The setting is 1947, which puts it post World War II, but before the New Look dominated the scene, so the world was fresh out of not only a war, but fabric rationing and the huge impact of the war on the fashion industry. It includes everything from bios of designers to descriptions of different fabrics and fur. Cool stuff.

What I found most interesting though, was the stories it told of France’s couture industry during the war, and how they were able not only to keep it going, but keep it in France. The Germans wanted to move the couture industry to Berlin. Lucien Lelong, the president of the Haute Couture Chambre Syndical De La Haute Couture, and though he made a couple of trips to Berlin, he pulled off the absolute miracle of defying the Germans and refusing to move. Can you imagine the absolute bravery of going against the Germans, who wanted to take occupied France’s biggest industry away from them?

Think of the impact this could have had. Christian Dior had not shown a collection yet. The entire Berlin fashion scene — iconic in its own way — might not exist as we know it. Moving couture to Germany would have completely turned fashion history on its head. I am amazed.

Add to this that the German officers and their lives liked to shop in the couture industry, and what the designers did to sabotage it, and you will laugh. They purposely made horribly awful, huge hats for the Germans, refusing to offer them top designs. This shows that everyone can be a defiant cog in the wheel of the opposition if they think it through. I just love the visual on this — imagine godawful hats in the windows where the beautiful tiny sculptural hats of the 40s should be, and German women walking out thinking they look amazing whilst the French laugh at them behind their backs.

The other thing that they did was so united. The couture industry was rationed 2/1000 of the normal amount of cloth they normally were used to. A tiny amount. OK, so they can’t make as many clothes, and marketing would be hard if not impossible, but think of how many jobs this affected. This put an entire industry under threat of unemployment during the occupation. What did the designers do? They had limited fabric to work with, weren’t allowed or able to do fabric embellishments like ruffles or pockets, so they did embroidery and beading. LOTS of it. Doing huge intricate designs kept the embroiders employed and families from going hungry.

The pivots that the French couture industry accomplished during the war amaze me. American industry faced its own restrictions, but we were not occupied, and the restrictions weren’t as suffocating. We could still get good cotton, even if we couldn’t get Asian silks or Italian wools. The French had to completely think outside the box, and did it whilst making life difficult for their oppressors. I love it.

The book will be listed in the Etsy shop in the next day or two.

sewing

Bittersweet

McCalls 7817, ©1981

My brother died at age 59 from colon cancer. He has been gone for several years now, but there’s not a day goes by without me thinking of him. He was such a voice of wisdom. He just knew things, and knew when to listen and when to speak. To say that i miss him is a gross understatement.

He loved gardening. He studied landscaping, and he was good at it. His backyard in Seattle was a thing to behold, with blooms in every season and in every corner, arranged so beautifully it could’ve been in a magazine. His favorite flower was irises, especially purple.

After he died, I started noticing irises on days that I missed him particularly badly, or when I really, really wished I could talk to him about something. This was no fluke. It wasn’t that I just hadn’t noticed them before. They appeared. For example, the week of Thanksgiving, in the third week of November the year he died, I was having a really sad day. It had been a really hard day, and I was wishing that I could talk with him about it. Later, I opened Facebook, and one of my friends said “look what I saw at church today”, and lo and behold, there were purple irises blooming at my old church in Indiana in the third week of NOVEMBER. That just doesn’t happen here. They are a spring flower, and are gone by June. I smiled. Jeff was saying hello.

This continued to happen over the years, then one day I got a call. I had been having back problems that had gotten really severe, and they had finally done an MRI. The doctor called and said there was something there. They didn’t know what, because the MRI had only caught the bottom, but I needed to have another MRI done higher up, and immediately because it could be a bleed, or a tumor, or God knows what. I was driving home from work thinking about the impending MRI and wishing I could talk with my brother, because he would’ve calmed me down. I missed him so much at that moment.

I went to have the MRI done. They put me into a dressing room where I changed into the uber-stylish gown. They started walking me down the hall to the MRI room, when suddenly I realized that there was a painting of purple irises ahead of me. I looked around, and they were on each side of the hallway beside me too. It was like my brother was hugging me. I felt his presence so strongly, and I knew that no matter what, I was going to be ok. It still makes me cry to think about it.

I went on to be diagnosed with lymphoma, with a large tumor that was pressing on my spinal cord, as well as chest and abdominal tumors and one under one of my arms. I had surgery. I had radiation. I had two and a half years of immunotherapy to put my Stage III cancer into remission, but I never once wavered in knowing that everything would be fine. And it is. Though B-cell follicular lymphoma is never cured (it lurks), I rolled through all of my treatment with only a bit of fatigue, and now have zero evidence of disease. Thanks, Jeff. I couldn’t have done it without you.

So when I came across this pattern of a quilt of irises, I did what I do whenever I see his favorite flower and say “hi Jeff.” If it wasn’t uncut, I would probably try to make it, and Jeff would watch me from above and laugh at how hilariously bad my quilting skills are. But I’d also sleep under it every night so he could give me those hugs I miss so much.

1970s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

For You Apron Lovers Out There

I used to read Seventeen Magazine back in the day. It was aimed at mid-to-late teens, hence the name. Generally 15-17 year olds. I bought a stack of 1974-75 ones a few weeks back, and was looking at them the other day. Who knew that they had a bridal section occasionally? Not me. I had no idea that they would aim wedding stuff at that age group. The more you read, the more you learn.

Photo: Seventeen Magazine

I was looking through a Christmas gift section and came across this little gem. It’s an apron made from Handi-Wipes! Here are the instructions:

Take four Handi-Wipes. Make a waistband by cutting two strips the length of a cloth and two and a half inches wide. Stitch the ends together to make one long strip. Make the apron’s skirt from one cloth, stitching a 1/4 inch hem on three sides. Center it on the waistband face to face, raw edge up. Stitch together 1/4 inch from the edge. To add the pinafore, hold a cloth against you lengthwise, measuring from collarbone to waist. Cut off the excess (there may not be any — this is aimed for teenagers, remember). Fold right and left sides in at a slant; hem top and sides 1/4″ from edge; trim sides. With right sides together, stitch top to waistband. Hem raw edges of waistban ties. Make a halter strap by cutting one long strip. Hem edges. Adjust to fit around your neck and sew ends to apron top. For pockets, stitch a four by five inch rectangle (edges turned in 1/4 inch) to apron front.

This is a super inexpensive way to make an apron that is washable, if not totally durable over the years. Let’s get to the dollar store now!

PS Speaking of aprons, I listed this one in the Etsy store today — a hard to find XL apron pattern. I think I’ve only seen two XLs over the years.

1970s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

The McCall’s Sew For Fun Series

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McCall’s 4376, ©1974

I listed this pattern the other day in the Etsy shop. I’d never seen this series before. It’s called the Sew for Fun series, and the patterns came out in 1974 and early 1975. The styles are the cute boho/cottagecore patterns so popular in the time. This one features a maxi dress with Gunne Sax vibes. It can be made in the shorter mini length as well.

Note: I had a pair of clogs exactly like the ones in the photo.

The patterns featured mainly dresses and tops, are were made in both Miss and Misses’ sizes, with different pattern numbers for each. There are at least two that are unisex: one is a top and the other is for a swimsuit/swim trunks. But the funny thing is those little extra patterns.

This particular one features a stuffed mouse, because every cottagecore girl of the seventies wanted a stuffed mouse, right? I thought at first that it was a pincushion, which obviously any sewist could use. And a young beginning sewist might be pleased to create her own personalized mouse pincushion, right? Only it’s not. It’s a stuffed animal, which seems a little odd paired with the cute dress. But it gets weirder.

McCalls 4416, ©1975. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki

Some of these patterns are paired with hats or purses, which makes sense to me. Hats were big in this era, and everyone can use a sun hat. Purses are also a no-brainer. But there are also odd items like garment bags, a wind breaker (for sitting on at the beach, not the jacket), and even a tent. Each of them has a little sewing lesson with it, which is great, but the projects they include are so weird. Like the wind breaker one. If you want to teach someone to make a casing, have them make a pair of elastic waist shorts. But I don’t make those decisions.

McCalls 4429, ©1975. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki

I wonder who came up with these little extras, cause they just seem so odd. I get that they were trying to make sewing fun, especially for the Miss crowd, but somehow I am not sure that they thought it all the way thru. It’s one of the more random ideas put out by the sewing pattern companies.

McCalls 4428, ©1975. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki
1900s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

We Must, We Must….Support Our Bust

New Idea 4155, ©1906

I came across this pattern in a 1906 issue of New Idea Woman’s Magazine. “For stout figures the bust supporter is almost indispensable, as it gives a trim, firm effect to the figure. It is worn over a corset, and may take the place of a corset cover, though many women prefer to wear a chemise or corset cover with it.”

The front is two sections, a top yoke and a lower boned portion. There are five bones which are eight inches long each. The back buttons at the top of the back, and the tape wraps around from the back to tie in front. I’m not sure the purpose of that tape? It is shown plain but some would also embroider it to make it more dainty, as per the dainty fashions of the era. These were made from coutil (corset fabric) but could also be made from heavy linen or heavy muslin.

Edwardian women wore so many layers, I really don’t know how they could survive in the heat. I am NOT a summer person at all, and never have been, and I think I would’ve been in a swoon all the time. I would like this as a stand alone undergarment if I were not a stout woman though. I think it looks super comfortable if it were made without the boning. God knows it looks more comfy than a bra, yes?

1900s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Weekly Patterns from Vogue

I’m still reading my 1940s book about the fashion industry. It’s been very interesting in reading how mass manufacturing happened, the differences between US and French fashion industries, and how different styles came into fruition. For some reason, this little gem of knowledge was tucked into it. Read the fine print and then say WOW.

Vogue Magazine (US) started in 1892. When it first began, it was a weekly magazine, which I did not realize. These snippets from 1901 advertise weekly patterns that were put out in each issue, so that in the end, you had 52 different outfits, all curated to work together. That’s some fascinating stuff, and boy, do I wish I could see all 52 together. Can you even imagine?

Vogue 100, 1901. Photo: Vogue Magazine.

I wonder if this was the only year that they did this, or if it was a one-off. Sadly, I ordered a 1903 Vogue Magazine — the earliest I’ve ever seen — from Facebook Marketplace, and it never arrived. That might have given me some idea, but alas, it was not to be. I’m still mourning that loss, but it may still arrive, since I only just got a birthday card mailed to me from the next town over in early July. If it arrives, you know I will post pictures here.

Vogue 132, 1901. Photo: Vogue Magazine.

It’s interesting that the pattern numbers are three digit, not four. It’s also amazing to me that they cost $1, which was really pricey at a time that most patterns were five to ten cents. I’d love to see the entire grouping, but Anna Wintour and I aren’t on speaking terms right now (she needs to retire and refuses), so I guess there’s no hope.

It’s these little details about sewing pattern history that intrigue me, as well as the fashion itself. I hope that you enjoy it too.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Geeking Out

Standard Fashion Company 1818, 1890s.

This is one of those moments when you know you have gone full on sewing pattern geek. I came across this pattern in my stash. Pretty amazing, yes? It’s got those classically huge leg o mutton sleeves from the 1890s where you could carry a ham home on one bicep and a rump roast in the other. I was perplexed though, because the pattern front is stuck to one of the pattern pieces. I didn’t want to damage it but couldn’t figure out how — or if — to remove it, because it’s fixed in such a way that you could still use the piece perfectly fine whilst it is still attached. That being said, I didn’t even know if it was complete (though I thought it was) because there were no instructions.

But then it happened.

See that patent number down there on the bottom? I did a pattern search and voila! I realized what I had. The patent isn’t for the pattern. Patterns are not patentable, as they are considered “useful items”. When you see patents on patterns, it is for the art and the directions, not the pattern pieces. But I digress. Like I said, I’m geeking out. The patent is from 1897 and is for how the label is stuck to the pattern! It is titled “Fastening Together Paper Dress Patterns,” and shows the pattern cover attached to a pattern piece, with a perforated part at the bottom which, when you cut thru it and lift up, the instructions are underneath! I hadn’t lifted up the cover I have, so I didn’t realize that the instructions were underneath. Now I know that my pattern is complete, and I have the instructions!

Patent 371144, dated 1887. Submitted by Frank Koewing.

Frank Koewing submitted the patent. He was a “pattern manufacturer” and “style publisher who founded the Standard Fashion Company for a number of years. His reason for submitting the patent was that this invention avoided the cost of a pattern envelope to the manufacturer, but also avoided people being able to open and damage or copy a pattern without purchasing it. The full patent information is here. It talks about the inability to open it or see the directions without it being obvious that it was done. It’s really pretty ingenious in protecting their sales. I can’t see if Mr Koewing submitted any other patents because of the way that the archive works. I’d be interested to see if he did. He died in 1933, at the age of 79.

Of course, the patent date isn’t necessarily compatible with when the pattern itself was printed, but now I know that it is no earlier than 1897, and since these “carry a ham from the grocery” sleeves were classic 1890s, I can be pretty sure that that they are early 1890s. Pretty awesome, yes? Or am I the only one who geeks out on stuff like this?

Pattern available in my Etsy shop here.