sewing, sewing patterns

The Past 12 Months, in the Form of a Sewing Pattern

Simplicity 8890

Am I wrong? Buy it here.

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

Start the New Year With Something Pretty

Vogue 1434, Nina Ricci, 1959.

I was listing this gorgeous pattern on the website today and went searching for Nina Ricci online. I came across this equally beautiful photo of a dress from her 1961 collection and had to share it, because we all need to go into the new year thinking pretty thoughts. Print available here.

Nina Ricci, 1961.

Happy New Year to you all. May your year be full of light and joy and beautiful things.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Blast From The Past

I listed this Hollywood pattern in the shop last week. I love old Hollywood movie star patterns. It’s so fun to see who they feature. I listed this catalog last week — it features both Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis. I’ve also had one in the past that featured a dress from Gone with the Wind and Ann Rutherford. Fun stuff, they are.

So this pattern, besides being super cute and versatile, features Ruth Warrick. Ruth Warrick went on to play Phoebe Tyler on All My Children. She was one of the original scheming divas of daytime television, and I should know, given the fact that I was basically raised on soaps. My mom will tell you that she was watching As the World Turns when they broke in to say that Kennedy had been shot. Years later, they showed that exact moment at the beginning of the Kennedy movie, with Kevin Costner. I actually said out loud “that’s what my mom was watching when this happened” right there in the theatre. Yes, people stared. I didn’t care. I was having a moment.

I think at some point Mom watched almost all of the soaps except perhaps General Hospital. She was a big CBS person, so most of her soaps were there, but she watched All My Children and some of the other ABC soaps too. Little secret, I have a male friend who is 60, and he watches Young & The Restless every day. His whole family does, so it’s a bonding experience for the Texas and Arkansas sisters and parents to have with him, here in Indiana.What about you? Did you watch soaps growing up? Do you still watch them now? Tell me in the comments.

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

Something is Afoot

Some of you have followed my foibles in sewing. I suppose it’s a bit funny to watch someone who’s sold sewing patterns for twenty plus years actually learn how to use them. Even I think it’s rather funny that I love seeing patterns so much, yet have such limited sewing skills. So here we go again.

Simplicity 3388

I decided to make my mom a flannel nightgown for Christmas. She’s always cold and loves curling up in flannel, especially since her electric blanket isn’t working. I chose Simplicity 3388, because it’s marked easy (a lie) and it’s pretty (truth). I got the flannel from FABRIC.com, because I absolutely hate Joann’s website, and still can’t go into stores because yeah, pandemic. It’s a super soft flannel called Comfy Flannel Micro Dot, and it’s really pretty. They also have a similar one with stars, and that one’s on sale right now. I’d definitely use this fabric again.

First disaster: I didn’t order enough fabric. I’m not sure how that happened. Maybe I read the requirement for the shorter style, I’m not sure. I realized when I laid it all out that I’d need more, so I went ahead and cut what I had while I was waiting for more to come. No worries, I have plans for the extra, so it won’t go to waste.

The bodice went together ok. I even felt rather smug that it was going well. The big detour I had to take was when the instructions talked about collar facings, and I had none. I spoke with my favorite handy dandy Facebook group and found that in 1950, the my didn’t make separate facings—you just cut two of whatever you needed. One piece was the actual piece, while the other was the facing. Then I was informed that I’d cut the collar wrong. Apparently when they wanted you to cut something on the fold but it wouldn’t fit along the fold, they made dotted lines on the cutting chart, and you were supposed to flip the piece and cut it as one. See below:

The ones with dotted lines mean “flip that piece over and cut it again, so you have two pieces.”

So I realized that I had cut the collar wrong. No biggie. I decided to make the Peter Pan collar as two pieces instead of one long continuous piece. I think it may have made it a bit easier. At this point, I realized that in this time period they had you make your own bias tape, which is a thing of the devil, so I pulled out some white bias tape and went to work. Because of my shortage of fabric and the cutting faux pas, I did without the facings and used interfacing as the under collar. It all came together ok.

I’m not sure why this pattern has a button and a ribbon tie at the neckline. It seems a bit much, and since I’ve never done a buttonhole yet (rookie), I just left the bodice open, and will add a ribbon if Mom wants it. Also, note that the ribbons shown on the sleeves are run through a casing, and there’s no elastic. They also are located further up the arm, to create a kind of flounced cuff. I thought the ribbon might be annoying, given the propensity for things to slip through a casing (yes, I could’ve anchored it, I suppose) so I just added elastic instead. The bodice ruffle is a bit wonky, but I’m going to add a ribbon there, I think, to help cover it.

It didn’t come out perfect, though I do feel kind of proud that I got the sleeves set in on the first try. I’ve never done anything with sleeves yet, so I expected trouble, and got none. All I have left to do is the hem, and although it’s not perfect, Mom won’t care, because it’s warm and it’s pretty. Here’s a quick picture of the finished gown:

The only other thing I will say about this pattern is that the skirt is very full. Like, when I held it up to show hubby, he thought it was way to big for my tiny mom. It actually looks like the skirt is way too big, but the bodice fits my bust 34 dress form perfectly. I think it’s just designed to be really full. And if you are making this for someone elderly, that can be a worry, because the elderly have problems sometimes with getting caught up in their bed linens and falling — it happened to my dad a couple of times. I’m a bit worried about that with Mom, but she’s still pretty spry, so we’ll see. I hope my sewing doesn’t kill her. Seriously.

But it turned out pretty and I’m happy, and I think Mom will like it. I still have to hem it before Christmas. If you love the pattern and want to try it, you can get it from my shop by clicking here for bust 34 and here for bust 42.

sewing, sewing patterns, Uncategorized, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Lookie, Lookie!

Butterick 3205, from 1890.

I was looking through this amazing Butterick monthly catalog from 1890, and came across this gorgeous wrap on the right. I have no idea how it works, but I’m in love with the idea of it. Is it a coat? A cape? A cape-coat? Where do your arms go? What does the front look like?

I. Have. No. Idea. But it was love at first sight, and I’d make it in blood red velvet or even green, and I’d probably never take it off. What do you think?

genealogy, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Connections

Pictorial Review 2712, 1927

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.

Click here to purchase this pattern in my shop.

sewing

My Fascination With Edwardian Smocking

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

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

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

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.

Cross stitch

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.

sewing, sewing patterns

Cool Christmas Gifts for the Sewist / Fashion Lover

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):

  • Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams. I have this book and it’s just lovely. Quality binding, gorgeous photos and the text is top notch too. Great for any vinage fashion lover.
  • 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.
  • I want one of these so much.
  • 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.
sewing

The Ad Guys Were Working Overtime on This

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:

  1. “Miracle adjustable zipper closure.”
  2. 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.)
  3. “Freed’m Frees ‘Em.”
  4. The “Jaws of Freed’m”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Now listed in the shop.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Donald Brooks

I found this pattern in my to-be-listed pile and wondered, as is typical of my inquiring nature, who Donald Brooks was. What I found was that I’m not sure I liked him very much.

Donald Mark Blumberg was a lifelong New Yorker. He worked in the early 50s doing window dressing for Lord & Taylor, while he was still a student at Parsons. Lord & Taylor asked him to design a collection for them, and his career took off from there. He began working at Townley in 1958, and took over the helm after Claire McCardell died — those were some BIG shoes to fill. (The more you learn about him, the more you will realize how different he was from her).

He worked at Townley until 1964. He favored bold prints. His 1960s Townley collection featured a python printed chiffon evening gown as its centerpiece. 1964 featured cowl necks (like the one above), bare shoulders, and got away from side closings on dresses. He opened his own house in 1965. Mid 60’s found him noted as one of the “three B’s”: Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Donald Brooks. He was all about details like back belts (martingale belts, as they had been known in the 40s and 50s), detailed metal belts, and the like. He dressed Babe Paley and Jacqueline Kennedy, and did a number of theatrical costuming jobs as well.

In 197s, it was said by the New York Daily News that Pat Nixon must’ve been planning a trip to China, because she bought one of his evening gowns, in a Chinese theme. He denied this, saying he had “no great rapport with the Nixons,” and added that his designs were “to theatrical and young” for the First Lady. Well. Judgmental, much?

In October, 1972, he was interviewed and said that women had been dressing down for a period of time and during that time had gotten away from fur. He thought fur was coming back. He said “American women’s guilt complex about ‘obviously chic’ clothes are erased now because achievement prone women have concluded that fashion is not a deterrent to accomplishment.” Wow. By this point, I was really thinking him to be rather a misogynist and wondered about many of his life choices. That year, he showed a collection of fur caftans in poncho, street and cape lengths, saying basically that any woman could wiggle, but wearing a draped poncho was more sensuous. He defended himself on the fur issue by saying he didn’t use any endangered furs because he did “no crimes against nature.” He did one collection a year from that point on.

Later in the 70s, he was primarily known for his work with fur, which continued to be his focus for the remainder of his career. He was quoted at one point as saying “You can turn an absolute whore into a lady by just putting pearls around her neck.”

See what I mean?

He was a great designer, winning the Coty Award three times, starting in 1962. He had Three Oscar nominations, including “The Cardinal” which required 2000 costumes, including 138 ball gowns. He ultimately designed for Ann Taylor, beginning in 1990, and died on Long Island in 2005 at age 77, as a result of effects from a heart attack he had a couple of weeks before.

That being said, I do love the dress shown above. It’s simple chic, and not difficult to sew, either. Click here to purchase from my shop.