sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion, Vintage Kids

Frugality at Its Best

Advance 4442, ©1947.

I love this pattern. Vintage boys’ patterns often go overlooked, in part because, like mens’ patterns, there just doesn’t seem to have been as many printed. The looks are a bit more dated that in little girls’ styles, but they are so cute. What makes this one special though, is that the coat is constructed from a man’s suit. It’s upcycling, before it was cool.

It’s from 1947, so it’s post World War II, where the US was beyond fabric rationing (which didn’t apply to home sewing anyway). Businesses were starting to thrive after the war, so many families could afford a new coat, but apparently the frugality of the war extended to the years afterward. Remember, these moms were raised in the Depression era, and many remained frugal their entire lives, so it’s not surprising that they were using fabric they had on hand to construct new garments.

These days, a lot of sewists get their fabric from thrift stores, especially using vintage sheets in all sorts of patterns. Have you ever thought of repurposing a man’s suit into something new? I have this ebook in the store on how to mend mens’ suits, and of course you can buy this particular pattern in the webstore. I’ll have to do a bit of digging but I think I have a woman’s suit pattern made from a man’s suit as well, though I think it is included in one of my books. Have you ever upcycled a man’s suit? What did you make? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Echoes of the New Look

Christian Dior rocked the fashion scene with his 1947, which was ultimately called “The New Look.” Gone was the fabric rationing of the era. The pronouncement that Paris fashion had not only survived the war, but that it was back in new and exciting ways was obvious, as Dior showed his “Corolle” and “Figure 8” styles. These styles were minimalist while over the top, with voluminous skirts, requiring yards of fabric never seen before. He stripped down to the details when showing them, keeping colors deliberately muted and hats very simple. The Bar Jacket is iconic, and seen in museums all overthe world.

Bar Suit, 1947. Photo: Vogue.

Echoes of the Bar Suit are seen throughout the late forties, fifties, and early sixties. It returns in the 80s, and is seen even today. Sewing patterns are reflective of its popularity. Remember, this is a time when sewing pattern companies and fashion designers sent representatives to Paris with their only assignment being to replicate the styles seen in the fashion shows. This brought Paris fashion to housewives in America, making real style attainable. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, designers were not always given attribution, so it would take some deep diving to find which designer matched with which “Paris Fashion” pattern, but they definitely exist.

When I saw this pattern the other day, I saw the echoes, with it’s tiny “flap” (they don’t call it a peplum). It’s a one piece dress, as opposed to the Bar Suit, which is two pieces, but wouldn’t you agree that there is a definite influence here?

Marian Martin 9133, ©1950.

It’s not exact, of course, but it’s like hearing echoes of one musician in another’s music. The influence is definitely there.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

The Ultimate UFO

You, like me, may have some UFOs around your house. UFO, in our world, means “unfinished object”, and I have several. I have a crewel embroidery pillow that I’ve been working on. I don’t even like crewel embroidery, but I found this vintage crewel kit that features a bunch of different flowers. Since my mom loved flowers, and my dad did crewel embroidery until shortly before his death at age 92, I decided it might be a nice tribute, so I started it. But again, I hate crewel embroidery. Hate doing it, hate how it looks, so I don’t know if I will ever finish it. I also have not one but two embroidered baby quilts that I started but haven’t finished, because it flares my tendonitis and I decided that my daughter likely wouldn’t like them anyway. I guess unless my boys have kids one day, I will likely never revisit them, and even if they do, I still will probably leave them as UFOs.

A lot, if not most, of crafters/sewists have at least one UFO in their space. So imagine when I came across this. This is truly the ultimate in UFOs — 1740s silk that was cut into a dress. It was a mystery, and these women unravelled it. Here’s the short version:

Fascinating, yes? Well let me tell you, it’s even more so when you read the long version. Amazing, yes? That those pieces survived in a bag for almost three hundred years, all while being made into three different garments along the way. Perhaps in the year 2300, someone will find my baby quilts and finish them. It’ll stil be earlier than I’d get them done.

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

Vogue French Boutique

I listed this pattern in the Etsy shop today. I’d never seen a Vogue French Boutique pattern before.

The French Boutique series seems to have been a shorter lived series that was distributed between about 1976 and 1981. Most of them are designed by Christian Aujard, though Renata has a couple as well. These were lesser well known boutique designers in Paris at the time. Renata, the designer of this one, was known for creating loose, comfortable styles.

I love this one. I’d wear the blue version with boots. It looks unbelievably comfortable, doesn’t it? I think you could get through Thanksgiving with this style and never feel the need to loosen anything after the feast. The top would be great with jeans, but would work with loungewear pants as well. I do prefer the belted version though — unbelted, it reads maternity.

I’m going to be keeping my eye out for not only more French Boutique patterns, but also Renata. Her aesthetic reads as contemporary even today.

1920s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

Excella and Pictorial Review

I found out a few months ago that there was a connection between Pictorial Review patterns and Excella patterns. I verified this over the weekend when I realized that I had a men’s pattern from Pictorial Review that I’d also had in the past as Excella.

I don’t know the year on these, and would love to know if they were published at the same time. Look closely at the Pictorial Review, and “last pattern 1928” is written on it. I don’t know if that pertains to this pattern, and it would be hard to say. Though sewing pattern catalogs included some men’s patterns, they didn’t include many, so finding a reference to them from now-defunct companies would be a difficult task.

I saw an article at some point that mentioned the connection they had, but darned if I can find it now. I went searching, and here is what I found. This first mention of Excella in ads was in 1922. Excella patterns were touted as being simple, and that completed projects would exactly match the illustrations. They even had ads saying that if you incurred any loss in creating a garment with Excella patterns, they would reimburse the customer for every penny of loss. Imagine that today!

In1924, Excella began advertising their “Pictograf” which was similar to Butterick’s Deltor, in that it was the name they gave to the instruction sheets. Pictograf later became associated with Pictorial Review. In fact, in 1927, ads are seen for “Excella Pictorial Review” patterns.

In 1934, ads are seen saying that some stores contracts had ended with Pictorial Review, and that they were selling Excella patterns in their place. Pictorial Review patterns were still being sold however, as ads were seen for them up until

Excella ads were seen up until early 1938, though not as frequently as in the earlier years. In contrast, Pictorial Review liquidation sales were seen as early as 1939 and Pictorial Review Magazine isn’t seen after 1940.Any mention of the pattern line disappeared in late 1942. My grandmother worked for Pictorial Review as a fashion editor in the early to mid 1920s, and I believe, from family history, that they were absorbed into McCall’s when they closed.

I would consider this parallel selling of patterns to what Butterick and Vogue did. Vogue would issue patterns, and when sales cooled, they were changed to Butterick and sold with different pattern numbers. I haven’t dived into this practice far enough to show an example, but I know it happened. I’m not sure if it still happens today. Interesting, huh?

1970s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

Authentic Western Patterns

I have a great deal of western and square dance patterns from Authentic Patterns, but I don’t know much about them. They have 70s style illustrations and photos, and are pretty cool styles. All I knew was that they were out of Fort Worth, Texas. Then I went looking.

I found that Authentic Western Fashions, Inc. was established in 1970, after Bob McClelland, Sr, a fabric salesman, found a gap in the market. He was the inventor of the infamous (in vintage sewing circles) three armhole dress. I’ve sold a lot of three armhole dress patterns over the course of time. It’s exactly what it says it is: a wrap dress with three armholes. Still very popular, so if you have one, you’re a lucky camper. But apparently, Mr McClelland spoke with fabric salespeople in the course of his work and found that there weren’t a lot of true western style patterns on the market. That’s how Authentic Western Fashions came to be.

McClelland hired Marlene Syms, from Oklahoma, as his designer, and off they were to the races. Specific fabrics were sold as well: stretch lame and iridescent eyelash fabric. Imagine how eye catching these were! Of course, it goes right alone with the country stars of the era with their spangles and sequins, so I guess it’s not really a surprise, though I’d love to see the actual fabrics they were intended for.

Within four months of creation, the company had patterns in several hundred stored nationwide. Plans were made to expand to English riding costumes, as well as cheer and twirling outfits. Though I’ve never seen those, a 1976 article mentions body suits, pantsuits, square dance dresses, and even bush jackets for men. I have a number of western wear patterns for men, women and kids, including a lot of square dance outfits.

It appears that Ms. Syms unfortunately died in 1976 as a result of a car accident in Oklahoma. Though a classified ad is seen looking for a printerman in 1977, the last mention of Authentic Patterns is in a store ad in 1979. It may be that they hired another designer, or perhaps they were still selling Ms. Syms’ designs, as westernwear is fairly classic in style, so it could withstand a certain amount of time without looking dated. No mention is seen of the company in ads after that point.

sewing, sewing patterns

Home Ec

I took Home Economics in eighth grade. There were two semesters: cooking, followed by sewing. I only took the cooking semester, because there were boys in shop class, which meant I went off to wood shop for second semester. What a waste of my time.

I’ve always been interested in home economics classes as they pertain to sewing. I’ve come across a lot of home ec books over the course of time and have read the fascinating book The Lost Art of the Dress, which recounts the history of home ec classes and how the women involved influenced fashion. It’s interesting stuff, if that is the kind of thing that you, like me, nerd out over.

I came across a couple of books that talked about teaching sewing in schools and found the details interesting. They correlate quite a book with the aforementioned book’s timeline, in that sewing at home ebbed and flowed. The late forties were more of an ebb in home sewing, and the 1948 book I found said that in a study of a tenth-grade high school class, only one student had ever used a sewing pattern, only a third of the girls’ mothers sewed, and less than half of the classes’ homes had a sewing machine. That’s a lot of idle machines. Students started by learning to sew a simple gingham sewing bag which was used to hold supplies, and then gradually advanced to sewing garments.

An 1894 book by the Superintendent of the Philadelphia schools, it is noted that sewing began being taught in schools in 1880 and began to be a part of the regular curriculum five years later. Instruction began in third grade. The city provided supplies like pins, thread, thimbles, needles, scissors (regular and buttonhole), cotton for sewing and darning, dressmakers’ scales, emery bags, and paper for drafting patterns. One square foot of muslin was given to each student and was replenished as necessary. The city allotted six cents per student for these supplies.

Classes started in third grade with the most basic of principles: posture while sewing, and how to correctly position one’s hands. Right- and left-hand position were taught separately. Drills were in threading needles, taking a stitch and drawing through fabric, and how to hold scissors. Sewing instruction began with turning the hem, basting and then sewing the hem. Frequently these skills were taught using paper first, instead of fabric. They then learning how to overseam on turned edges, and how to cut a straight line. If students were successful in straight cutting, they were allowed to bring towels and washrags from home to practice hemming.

Second semester of third grade taught back stitch, running seam, half back stitch seam, raw edges of seams to be overcast, hemming of towels, napkins and desk covers. Actual sewing began this semester, with creation of sewing bags, pillowcases, oversleeves, iron holders and bibs. The most amazing thing to me is that in this semester, third grade, with a bunch of eight and nine year olds, they began teaching pattern drafting, by creating patterns for bibs and simple waists (blouses) with straps over the armholes. Most home sewists today don’t know how to draft patterns, and they were teaching babies! Amazing.

In fourth grade, reversible seams were taught, as well as square patches. Hemming of tablecloths and sheets were done, and pillowcases, dust caps, pen wipes and other little projects were sewn. At this point, students were taught how to sew on a four holed button. Drafting projects included yokes, under waists with seam over the arm, and book covers. Second semester, students learned gathering and darning, made plain aprons and book covers, and learned to sew buttons on shoes and basic mending. Drafting projects included under waists with under arm and shoulder seams, aprons, children’s and baby dresses.

Fifth grade lessons were done in narrow hems and fells (flatting the seam, turning it and then sewing it down), tucks and fine gathering, darning, French fells, angular patches, and buttonholes. Sewing projects were drawers, combing capes, shoe and stocking bags, aprons, under waists and plain skirts. Drafting of drawers and under waists with one dart and with spring (curve) to fit the hip were taught.

Sixth grade paid attention to buttonholes, and also taught round patches, herringbone and feather stitches, gusset and bias seams. By this time, girls learned to make chemises, blouse waists, night shirts and flannel skirts. They drafted chemises, gored skirts, dress sleeves, night shirts and blouse waists. Seventh grade taught French gathering, tailored buttonholes, cutting and fitting of plain garments like night dresses, corset covers, and men’s shirts. Patterns were drafted for these garments.

Eighth grade found students cutting, fitting and sewing garments of all kinds, with special attention to men’s shirts and garments that fit the students. Drafting was done for dress waists, sleeves and skirts.

The Philadelphia school system employed 41 sewing teachers to instruct 58,000 students in these skills. They really invested in the program, and the girls, by the time they graduated eighth grade, would have learned all the basic skills to draft patterns and sew their own wardrobe, as well as for family members. Keep in mind that this was also all hand sewing! Amazing, isn’t it?

1920s fashion, designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

When a Designer Pattern isn’t a Designer Pattern

I’ve been uploading some patterns to the Vintage Sewing Patterns Wiki. They are from an August, 1926 issue of Pictorial Review magazine, and wow are the styles beautiful. I’ve come across this lately more than once, and figured it deserved a bit of a spotlight: sometimes designer patterns aren’t designer patterns.

We all know about designer patterns by Vogue, which include everyone from Schiaparelli to Oscar de la Renta. Many of you know about the designer series by Advance, which included designers like Jo Copeland and even Adrian (I have two. See them here.). Spadea, of course, did tons of designer patterns by Ceil Chapman, the Dutchess of Windsor, and many, many more. McCalls had patterns by designers like Givenchy and Geoffrey Beene. There are even some mail order designer patterns — Charles James did two. I’ve been lucky enough to have one. But did you know that some designer patterns are not labelled as such?

The pattern above, for example, was “designed after Lanvin.” It is Pictorial Review 3405. It was not labelled as a designer pattern, and most likely was not approved by the couture house, but back in the day, it was regular practice to send people to the couture fashion shows in Paris, with their only purpose to be making copies of the designs. They would sketch out the designs, then come back to America and have patterns made from the sketches. This Pictorial Review has four pages of “designed after” patterns from Lanvin, Worth, Molyneux and more. They’re gorgeous.

In the more modern era, you can find patterns attributed to Alexander McQueen by looking at Givenchy patterns from the era when he was their designer. Here’s one:

I recently sold a Chloe that was most likely Karl Lagerfeld as well. These are the things you find when you do a deep dive into sewing patterns. I find it fascinating, and maybe others do too. I just really love nerding out over the history involved in sewing and the patterns women used. Perhaps they knew what they had. Perhaps they didn’t care. But the details in it are so interesting to me. You never know what you have till you know what you have.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Where I’ve Been and Other Stuff

Well, I’ve been gone for a while and it’s not been fun. I’ve been fighting a terrible case of tendonitis that has just left me miserable. I did something stupid that I knew would cause problems, and now I’m paying the price. I decided to start doing some gentle workouts but historically, I cannot do any type of upper body exercise at all, or it flares things up. This is the worst it’s ever been. Stupid is as stupid does. I’m trying to figure out the name of the chiropractor I went to several years ago. She adjusted my elbow, which I didn’t even know what possible, and it was the first time in my adult life that I went six months without elbow pain. I need to find her again, but I’m having problems.

I’ve also been to rheumatology and she is going to start me back on infusions for my rheumatoid arthritis, because I’ve developed a nodule. It makes my right index finger go numb, as if pain in every joint of my body isn’t enough. Sheesh. I’m getting a lot of relief from my paraffin bath (scored for $5 at Goodwill!), and recently bought these mittens and these compression gloves, so I can settle in with my mittens and my lavender neck roll and look like the mess that I am. At least it smells nice.

So I haven’t been listing much for almost two weeks because yeah, pain. Severe pain. I did power thru and have the horror quilt almost done. I do the final class today and whilst it looks kind of wonky and she will have to help me straighten it out, I’m going to tell my son that the chaos is just part of the theme. The quilting teacher is looking for help, so I may finagle some lessons from her in exchange for some social media love. Either way, I’ve learned a lot (you learn more from your mistakes, right?) and am going to probably try this again in the future. I’m going to use some of the leftover fabric to make my son’s girlfriend a horror-themed floppy hat that she can wear when they go to horror marathons at the drive in. I’ve never made a hat before, other than knitting, so I’ll probably use McCall’s 8254 and use View B.

I have plans to do a jumper dress for the grandgirls after this, but I think I have to learn to do buttonholes. That’s where either the quilting teacher or YouTube comes in. It’s insane to think that I have sold sewing patterns for nigh on 25 years but have never learned to sew other than basic seams. I’m going to keep plugging away though.

There’s a 25% off sale on all of my venues. Click here to access all of my shops. Sale ends at midnight tonight.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Van Martin and Being a Creator

McCalls 7575, ©1981,

A new listing in the Etsy shop: this track suit style jacket by McCall’s, labelled Van Martin. It’s from 1981, when track suits were starting to become a bit more stylish. The pattern is only for the jacket though. It looks comfortable, because it has an inverted pleat down the back, to give you room to move, and you can make it with anything from poplin and linen to double knits and velour. It’s pretty versatile (and this one is a bust 40, which is nice for today’s ladies).

Van Martin was a sportswear designer. I like what he had to say in this article from the White Plains Journal-News. He said [sewing] “is a means of expressing my creativity. When you cook a meal, you create something that’s never before existed, and that’s what you do with sewing.” Isn’t that cool? You may buy a pattern, even a pattern that’s existed and been owned by various people for a hundred years, but you still are creating something that’s never existed before, because you are choosing the fabric, buttons, zippers, trims all yourself and making it your own. You are a creator. I love the existentialistic idea of that.

Deep thought for a Monday, isn’t it?