1910s, sewing, sewing patterns

Fashion Intersections with History

McCall 3921, Ladies Waist. ©1911

I was adding pictures to the Vintage Patterns Wiki this morning. I got them from an April, 1911 McCall Magazine. I added this one and then realized — this is the same month that the Titanic went down. These are the subtle kinds of connections that fashion has with history, when we look at a garment and think “wow, someone who died in the Titanic may have been wearing this,” or when we see a pink suit and think of Jacqueline Kennedy on that fateful day in November, or a 1940’s nurse’s uniform and think of Times Square at the end of the war. This is why fashion is so important. It’s an entire sector of understanding culture.

We shall not talk about that celebrity wearing Marilyn’s dress on the red carpet though. That was a desecration beyond desecrations, IF indeed she wore the real thing, which many people are questions.

I leave you with Miranda Priestley’s take on the connections fashion has with our culture.

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

1926 Laws of Decoration

I listed a series of sewing books from 1926 on Etsy over the past few months, called A Modern Course in Home Sewing and Dressmaking. They are available as downloads, and are a fascinating look into the mid 1920s era of sewing and styling techniques. They incorporate hand and machine sewing, and cover everything from seams, to fabric choices, to trims, to construction. I posted the last one today, and it covers silhouettes and style. I thought I’d share some of the ideas found.

They call them Leonardo’s Five Laws of Decoration.

  1. Decoration exists to make more beautiful the object decorated, and not to exploit itself. (I think Coco Chanel took this concept when she said to look in the mirror before going out the door and remove one thing, so as not to overdo it.)
  2. The first premise of decorative treatment is a crying need for decoration on the part of the thing to be decorated. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)
  3. Decoration should follow the structural lines of the thing decorated and add an appearance of strength. (Don’t weaken the design by trying to go outside the lines.)
  4. Decoration should not interfere with the proper function of the object decorated. (This is especially important in sewing. Don’t try to use chiffon when the pattern calls for cotton, or the garment won’t function as designed.)
  5. Decorations should be consistent in technique, material, scale, color and texture with the object decorated and with each other. (Don’t mix apples and oranges.)

Keep in mind that these principles work just as well for home decor as they do for sewing. I think it’s a great little short course in taste. What would you add to the list?

sewing, sewing patterns

1935 Spring Wardrobe

I found an article from 1935 that mentioned what a woman’s spring wardrobe should be, so I went looking for the patterns. I couldn’t find a lot of them, so if you see any of them, please share and I will update the post. Listed are the patterns, the fabric recommended, and the final price to make it.

Swagger Coat Advance 1275 – El Chico Waffle Cloth – $1.23

Sports Ensemble Advance 1160-2 – Hollywood Yarn Dyed Seersucker – $2.82

Shirtwaist Dress McCall 8327 – Penney’s Printed Cord Fabric Pic-Pon – $1.71

Lace Knit Frock – Advance 1232 – Lace Voile $1.40

Afternoon Dress – Advance 1047 – Hollywood Printed Voile- $1.40

All Purpose Frock – Advance 1128 – Lace Voile – $1.35

Evening Dress – Advance 1138 or 1162 – Novelty Silk Crepe $4.27

All Day Frock Advance 1201- Cotton Sheers – $1.19

Eton Ensemble – Hollywood Polo Check – McCall 8328 $1.74

Daytime Frock – Advance 1286 – Rondo Fabrics – $0.87

An entire wardrobe from JC Penney’s for $17.98! That’s just amazing to me.

sewing, sewing patterns

Something I’ve Never Seen Before

McCalls 6257, ©1962

I was listing smocking patterns the other day, and I got totally confused. Two patterns, same pattern number, same year. It took me a while to see that they actually are the same pattern, just with totally different covers. If you read closely, they are exactly the same but with different illustrations.

McCalls 6257, ©1962

There are plenty of examples of patterns that were reissued with different illustrations, or in different colorways. There are also plenty of patterns that were issued with illustrations of garments in different colors for different sizes. Though Butterick 4699 has two different colors, I’m not sure that they were issued in the same year. However, I don’t think I have ever seen the exact same pattern issued in the same year with two separate covers. I have so many questions.

Were they in the pattern catalog with two separate covers? Were they found in the pattern cabinet with both covers, or was one a first issue and the other a second printing? Did they do this to market to the smocked pillow lovers? Did one sell better than the other? I. Need. To Know!

PS I love the first cover and don’t know why anyone would buy based on the second cover.

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

Corsage Skirt

I came across the term “corsage skirt” in my readings. It’s shown here in this 1906 pattern.

3015, 1906.

They were designed to show off the figure. I’m thinking perhaps the corsage term came because they tucked flowers into it, but I could be quite wrong. They were very detailed skirts, embellished with lace, embroidery or both. Here’s an explanation of the skirt that I found: “whether built upon princess or modified Empire lines, corsage skirts require soft separate blouses to wear under the dainty framework waists which are so cool and pretty for the summer. Such blouses are never trimmed with cross-wise lines, but observe the long lines of the garment with which they are worn, by having trimming, frills and tucks, or folds, put on lengthwise lines, from shoulder or neck to waist. The only deviation from this rule is when a girdle is made of a fold, or ribbon of satin or velvet around the top of the corsage skirt. In such cases one or more ribbons or folds are run around the blouse, hanging loose from the lower edges and giving the appearance of continuation of the lines of the skirt or a little bolero worn with it.” (The Washington Times, June 17, 1906)

Celebrity, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

You Learn Something New Every Day

Hollywood 1111, circa 1933.

I love the Smithsonian. I think everyone should visit it, although it likely would take a month to make it all the way through the museums. I was wandering around the catalog of the Museum of American History, looking for the dress I mentioned in my last post, and lo and behold what should I find but that the Smithsonian has sewing patterns! Specifically, these two patterns, though there may be more that I haven’t found. Amazing. The first is the iconic Ginger Rogers on Hollywood 1111, circa 1933. The second is Betty Grable on Hollywood 870 from the forties. The Betty Grable one is an odd choice, since there are so many cuter ones with her on it, but I’m not a curator, so what do I know?

Hollywood 870, circa 1940s.

I was more than a little surprised to see at first glance that they do not have any of the Lucille Ball patterns there. She was truly a beautiful woman, and there are some pretty phenomenal patterns featuring her (and Desi). I wonder how they choose what they add. If there are any curators out there, I’d love to know more.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

1964 Pattern Sizing

Ever wonder what the heck those “Miss”, “Chubbies”, “Junior Miss” and the like labels mean? Here’s the definitions of the Simplicity designations, as of 1964:

Girl: about 5′ in size 14. Girls patterns are designed for a growing figure which is still immature. It has less need for dart-fitting than the other types. Size 14 would be a 32″ bust, 26″ waist, 35″ hip.

Chubbie (I hate this label): About 5′ in size 14 1/2C. Chubby patterns are designed for a figure about the same height as the Girl, but rounder. Back waist length is 1/2″ longer than girl. Size 14 1/2C is Bust 34 1/2″, Waist 31″, Hip 37 1/2″,

Sub-Teen: About 5′ 1 1/2″ in size 14s. Sub-Teen patterns are for a figure still growing but beginning to mature, with more bust than Girl. Size 14s would be Bust 33″ Waist 26″, Hip 36″.

Teen: About 5’3″ in size 14t. Teen patterns are designed for a figure more developed and taller than the Sub-Teen, but not as tall as the Junior figure. Size 14t would be Bust 34, Waist 26, Hip 36.

Junior Petite: About 5’1″ in size 11jp. Junior Petite patterns are designed for a well developed figure which is diminutive in size. This is a size, not an age group. Size 11jp would be Bust 33″, Waist 24 1/2″, Hip 34 1/2.

Junior Miss: About 5’5″ in size 13. Junior Miss patterns are designed for the developed figure that is not as tall as the Miss. For size 13, measurements would be Bust 33″, Waist 25 1/2″, Hip 35″.

Miss: About 5’6″ in size 14. Miss patterns are designed for a well proportioned, fully developed figure that is taller than any of the other types. Bust in size 14 would be 34, Waist 26, Hips 36.

Half-Size: About 5’3″ in size 14 1/2. For a fully developed figure, shorter than a Miss-Woman with narrower shoulders. Waist and hips are larger in proportion to bust. Size 14 1/2″ would be Bust 35″, Waist 29″, Hips 39.

Women: About 5’6″ in size 44. Women’s patterns are designed for the larger, more fully mature figure that is about the same height as a Miss.

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

The Peter Pan Dress

Standard Pattern 2023, 1906.

I recently came across the term “Peter Pan Dress” in a 1906 magazine, and wondered what it was so of course I did some research. It was a popular style of the time, of course brought on by the publishing of the Peter Pan stories. The first installment was published in 1902, with further installments in 1904, 1906 and 1911.

Peter Pan Dress, 1907.

The Peter Pan dresses debuted in 1906, and were were made from gingham, lawn, linen or henrietta (a fine, twilled light wool). They were considered to be “outing outfits”, to be worn for play outside. The dresses purchased in shops were made for ages 2 to sixteen. The older girls’ styles (known as “misses’) were usually done as suits, while the younger styles were done as dresses. The dresses generally featured a lowered or dropped waist, pleated skirt, and cuffed sleeves. They usually had some type of emblem embroidered on the collar — often a nautically themed one such as anchors. They sold for $2.75 to $7.50.

By 1912, advertisements are seen for Ladies’ Peter Pan dresses, perfect for “the dressy garment for the office girl or shop girls,” and made in women’s sizes up to 40. These dresses were made from serge or silk.

The style seems to have died by 1913, when mentions are made only of the Peter Pan collar, which continues today.

Peter Pan Dress, 1906.
sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Let’s Talk About Sewing Pattern Prices

I hear a lot about sewing pattern princes on the various forums where I’m a member. Many people question why in the world prices are so high, so let me explain.

This is my process, which of course may vary from seller to seller. The order I do things may change from day to day, but the process is the same as far as what I have to do.

First, I choose what I’m going to list for the day. This is usually me, bleary eyed, grabbing a handful of something that looks cute, shortly after I’ve had my caffeine for the day. I may do this the night before, and take pictures at that time. Sometimes I take pics before I do the listing, sometimes after.

I take photos. I don’t have a real station set up, so it involves me finding somewhere where the light is right, which can be tricky in Indiana. I prefer natural light, but sometimes use a light to help out. I know that some people have a fancy station set up with a ring light, background and all that, but I have never found a space that I like every single time I’m doing pictures, so I tend to move around.

I edit the pictures. This involves multiple pictures. It takes some time to get them right. Why edit, you may ask? Well, Etsy is a little wonky on how the display thumbnails, so I crop the first picture to be displayed. I tend to crop the instructions as well, but I also include pictures of what the envelope really looks like, because I don’t want to misrepresent my stock.

I count the pattern pieces. This involves counting them, but also making sure that the pieces actually match the envelope (if it’s present), whether the instructions are present and complete, and noting any defects or alterations. This takes a lot of time. I sometimes count a bunch of patterns at one time and watch Netflix, but I always avoid ceiling fans, which can result in a huge mess.

Then I write the listing. This also takes time, though I have a template to work from. Again, I have to write what the defects are. I upload the pictures and make sure the first one shows a good thumbnail. Sometimes I have to do quite a bit of research, not just on pricing, but dating the pattern or finding out about the designer, or the style of the pattern. Some patterns have no description on the envelope, so I may have to come up with that on my own. Then I have to figure out a title. Don’t even get me going on that, but let’s just say it can take a LOT of trial and error to get it right so that you can find my stuff on search.

I upload the link to my listing to the Vintage Pattern Wiki. If there isn’t a page for it there, I create one, because it’s not about sales for me there. It’s about creating a resource of historical patterns because they don’t last forever. Paper is fragile and doesn’t last unless it’s taken care of, and a lot of people throw patterns away (again, don’t get me going), so they can be hard to find and quite rare.

I used to list every pattern on Instagram and Facebook, but I’ve streamlined my process and list more occasionally now.

Then I repair anything that I can on the envelope (depending, I may have done this before pictures) by using archival tape to repair it. Then the pattern gets filed. I have about ten pattern cabinets where my patterns are filed (and many, many banker’s boxes of patterns as well). This is the tedious part that I usually do all at one time, after I have a bunch of patterns ready to file.

This is why patterns are expensive. Patterns don’t find or list themselves. I am usually lucky to get five listings done in the Etsy shop every day, which is my goal, but I also have three other shops where I list several times a week or even daily. Sometimes if I get in the zone, I will get ten done. I also have to update the wiki weekly by taking the sold patterns’ links out. I have to do my bookkeeping and keep my inventory updated. This doesn’t allow for messages I get, reading I do to research, the posts I actually do on social media, or the blog. It’s long, tedious work that I absolutely LOVE, but it all takes time. Shipping takes a lot of time, plus daily runs to the post office.

So when people ask why patterns are expensive, this is a small nugget of why. I usually work for at least six hours a day, updating things, doing books, researching, scanning, photographing and more. I have four selling platforms (my webstore, Etsy shop, eBay store, and Facebook Marketplace. I dabble a bit in Amazon too). Pattern sellers are a different breed, and we take pride in not only our work, but in preserving this important piece of fashion history. Many of the items we have are probably one of a kind now. We price not only according to the rarity of our item, but also because it’s our income. This is how I pay the bills.

I get such a reward out of what I do. I hope people understand the work it takes though, because it’s not for the faint of heart. If you don’t love it, you won’t last long because it’s long hours, can be very tedious, and the reward is usually $10-$20 at a time. I’ve fortunate that since I do this full time, I make more than that, but still, Mama has to pay the bills, so I work hard, and it’s a huge payoff mentally to know that I’m helping to keep fashion history alive.

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

Advance Imports

Advance Import 105, circa 1954. Photo: Merete Hvalshagen 

I cam across this pattern on Pinterest today and was fascinated. Advance Import patterns are hard to find. It’s difficult to use the word “rare” for anything that is mass produced, so let’s say they were limited editions, so not many still exist today. I’ve had a number of them over the years, but never two copies of the same pattern. They aren’t easy to find, and there are collectors who covet them fiecely. They are always fashion-forward and couture styles, like this one.

It’s always been presumed that the Advance Import line was created to do line-by-line copies of designer garments, likely out of Paris, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with the actual designer’s name on it. I’ve often said that one day in my spare time (that I don’t have), I will sit down and try to match pattern to designer, but of course I haven’t done that yet. I’m not even sure how many Advance Import designs were created. If there are more like this with the designer’s name on it, it’ll make the job easier.

I also can’t find much about Emanuel of Spain, though he made some awfully fetching suits like this one. Isn’t it pretty?