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.

1910s, embroidery, sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion, Vintage Kids

Trainer Corsets, 1913

Ferris Corsets, 1913.

I came across this ad for Ferris Corsets in a 1913 newspaper, and it stopped me in my tracks. It reminds me of this scene in Titanic, where Rose realizes how trapped she is in a proper life (the sound is terrible, but it’s the visual that matters).

I’ve never forgotten that scene, in part because the costumes are so beautiful, and also because you don’t generally see children’s costumes in period dramas like you do adults. The biggest reason it stuck with me, however, is because it shows just how young girls were when this staunch, rigid training started. And yes, training corsets were a part of it. Women didn’t just start wearing corsets one day — they wore training ones to get them used to them as children.

I can imagine it would’ve helped me tremendously to wear a corset as a child, because my posture is absolutely abysmal — likely the worst you might ever encounter. I slouch like no other. But I can’t imagine playing as a child while wearing a corset. Granted, these are training corsets, so they aren’t tight laced, but still. And boys had no equivalent. They likely didn’t have the same level of training either, for what is proper, because girls had to learn stitchery and the like from an early age as well. Look at this beautiful sampler in redwork, done by a child at an “orphan house” in 1886. It’s lovely, but the fact that she was an orphan makes me so sad. What did her future become?

Photo: Kate Strasdin, Instagram.

It’s simply lovely. Girls learned such intricate skills at such an early age. I hope that we never lose these artists, but I fear that we are, especially since Home Ec doesn’t really exist much anymore. That’s why I love sewing patterns so much. I love being a part of keeping the needle arts alive.

I’m rambling, I know, but we’re having a huge snowstorm and perhaps it is making me think harder — I love winter so much. The snow makes me feel alive in a way nothing else does. But I’ll say this: I won’t be shovelling snow in a corset!

embroidery, sewing, vintage fashion

Fabulous Friday: Hieroglyphics

McCall Kaumagraph 1590, undated.

For our viewing pleasure, this Friday I’d like to show you this fantastic Kaumagraph from McCall. There’s no date, but also little doubt that it’s somewhere in the 20s or early 30s. Interestingly, it is stated to be monograms, and if you look at the illustration, each part of the transfer is for a different letter. Is it Chinese, or another Asian language? Is it artistic license? I don’t know, but I love it.

I’ve thought about getting the classic “tattoo of an Asian character,” but decided against it after a friend of mine said her friend got one. She chose the character for “friend,” and then when she met someone Chinese, she was asked why she had a tattoo that said “cow” on her neck. So I guess unless I go to a Chinese tattoo artist, I will hold off. And even if I did, I’d better make sure they like me, lest I end up with “vaccuum cleaner” on my ankle.

If you are interested in this amazing transfer, you can buy it in the shop.

embroidery

Kaumagraph Transfers

I’ve come across a lot of McCall Kaumagraph Transfers in my time. They can be anything from actual embroidery transfers, to wall decor that you cut out and past to a wall. They’re interesting in the vast difference of what they involved: delicate florals, to quilting transfers to Peter Rabbit to Chinese art. They covered the gamut of pop culture of the time.

When I went looking into Kauamagraphs, I found a single ad listing in a newspaper in 1912. It only mentioned they were quick to use — no history or technique, just a quick ad. Searching another archive found that McCall sent out representatives to teach how to use the new transfers. There was nothing in 1913, though they must’ve continued to make them, because ads showed up again in 1914 for an embroidery supply store in Corvallis, Oregon, stating that there were over 500 different Kaumagraph transfgers in stock. Apparently they were popular, which isn’t surprising given the delicate embroidery done on clothing of the time period.

McCall put out an Embroidery Book catalog that listed the transfers available. This was separate from their pattern catalog, although pattern catalogs of the time referenced the associated embroidery patterns, as did pattern envelopes. McCall had figured out that there was money to be made by selling transfers separately. Ads did not begin to be seen frequently until the 1920s, and it was at this time that the transfers began to be seen for home furnishings. Again, this is from advertising — the home decor transfers may have been seen in the Embroidery Books, but I haven’t researched that genre.

A December, 1921 ad mentions that “the newest thing is applique work which can be done quickly and requires an experienced hand,” suggesting Kaumagraph transfers can help with that process. Art medallions such as this and this were seen in 1927, to be cut out and applied to furniture, then varnished over for a decorative look — probably similar to the decoupage commonly seen in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1928, ads for Kaumagraphs had disappeared from newspapers, suggesting that they either fell out of favor or, more likely, were renamed to simply embroidery transfer, as McCalls continued to market transfers in one shape or form for years. It could be that the renaming is because other companies used the term Kaumagraph for their transfers, as it is a generic term for a hot iron transfer, and is not exclusively used by McCall at the time. It is technically still used today, though most people wouldn’t recognize the term kaumographer as someone who does heat transfers.

In either event, McCall seemed to be a forerunner in embroidery transfers, especially with their foray into the decorative medallions. Have you seen any Kaumagraphs? I know there are some collectors out there. Share your favorites. I’d love to see them.