1900s fashion, sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

A Fact About Nurses That I Never Knew

I’m a nurse. Have been for a while. I graduated in 1983, so I’m what my boss used to call an old nurse. I’ve seen uniforms come and go, and even got into a discussion on Facebook the other day about how I miss nurses wearing white. Yes, it was a pain in the butt to do the laundry, but at least people knew the nurses from the housekeepers, but I digress.

So I came across this little nugget the other day, when I was scanning a new book about drawn thread embroidery and listing it in the shop. First, let’s look at nurse’s uniforms in the UK in the early 1900s.

British Nurses, early 1900s. Photo: Pinterest

Apparently,their caps had bonnet strings. The book I scanned said that nurses liked to decorate their bonnet strings with drawn thread work. The designs were simple. The strings were made from lawn linen, as were a lot of garments then. One piece of lawn could make several strings, so you could make them in multiples all at the same time. The lawn had to be 56 inches in length, and 5-6 inches in width.

The pictures above and below show the end of a bonnet string when embellished with drawn thread embroidery. I’d never hear of this before, but I think they are beautiful. It reminds me of how kids in school uniforms still try to stand out by accessorizing differently, but with nursing, we’ve always been held in an even tighter box with our uniforms. When I started working in the nursery, we couldn’t even wear mascara, because it might drop on a baby and contaminate them. Mascara. Life threatening. Who knew? I’ve never had manicures done on any regular basis, or even worn nail polish. Jewelry is even a no-no in many nursing jobs, except a pair of stud earrings and a wedding band, so this really fascinated me. It shows me that even in the days of washing out bedpans by hand and taking care of patients without antibiotics, there were still living human beings who just wanted to look pretty. Isn’t that wonderful?

And while you are at it, check out this list of nursing rules from the early 1900s. “Don’t forget your coal.” Good stuff.

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, vintage fashion


I listed a swatch book from the 1920s in the Etsy shop. It has swatches of Spungola. The only thing it says as far as detail is “36 inches wide”, which must refer to the width of the fabric. Since I found it with some other 1920’s swatch books, I’m presuming that this one is also 20s.

I’d never heard of Spungola, so I went looking. I found that it was British-made “washing silk” and was advertised as being new in 1910. Here’s an ad:

The Daily Telegraph (London), Feb 28, 1910.

Ads mentioned using it for blouses, lingerie and coat linings. It was manufactured in prints and solids. It seems it was quite versatile, but you don’t see many US ads for it and when you do, it is generally advertised for making slips. It was more commonly advertised in the United Kingdom, and there, the ads gave the more varied uses . By 1930, ads disappeared and Spungola seems to have disappeared from the scene altogether.

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?


Ooooh! Shiny!

I’m still working on my organization project, which I estimate should be done about thirty years after I’m dead. I keep plugging away though, and this is why. I came across some swatch books I bought some time back. They’re mostly from the 1910s to 1920s, and several are just one page of swatches. This particular book though, was a catalog of yarns from a 1954 loom catalog. I turned the page and lo and behold, what should I see but shiny LUREX!

People throw around the word Lurex a lot when it comes to any kind of shiny metallic fabric, but this is the real deal. It’s so pretty, and it came in lots of colors and widths. These particular ones are likely only meant for weaving (since they’re in a loom catalog). I think they’d look gorgeous framed on a wall, but I’d likely get nothing done for looking at them. Aren’t they pretty?

sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

I Feel Pretty

Pictorial Review 7837, circa 1935

It’s 45 degrees (Fahrenheit) here today, and we’re supposed to get three inches of snow tomorrow, but such is life in Indiana. That being said, spring is definitely coming, and there’s no more beautiful sight to see than beautiful spring fashions.

This gown is Pictorial Review 7837. It’s from 1935, I believe, and so pretty. It’s made for those gorgeous spring chiffons, taffetas and organdies, and I see it in a pastel. The cover is damaged a bit, so this is a photo of the back. I feel like it could easily pass for a prom or bridesmaid’s dress today. Even the illustration looks a bit modern – see her haircut? Make it with the peplum and it looks distinctly different than without.

My prom dress was a Gunne Sax knock-off but if I had it to do over, if I couldn’t afford the real Gunne, I’d go for something like this. The fun thing is that it not only is an early printed pattern, but it also includes a sheet that explains how to alter the pattern before cutting the fabric. Very modern, yes?

Now available in the Etsy shop.