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Bring It On

Butterick 5781

When my daughter was in grad school, she suggested that for Christmas, we draw names for gift giving because she was poor. She was living in Florida at the time, so we did a Skype Christmas with her. She had drawn her brother’s name, so she sent the gift home for him to open.

Come Christmas Day, he opens a box that contains at least twenty copies of the movie Bring It On, on VHS. Apparently, when Blockbuster was closing, daughter and her husband went in to see what VHS they could pick up. They ended up buying, among other things, a couple of dozen copies of Bring It On, then proceeded to use them for her brother’s presents. Each one was wrapped individually, and while some only contained the video, others had gift cards or small gifts in them. This meant that he had to open every single one of them, lest he miss a real gift. It was hilarious, and interesting to see what she could get to fit into an empty VHS case.

Those videos have shown up for every Christmas since. Sometimes it’s a bunch. Sometimes it’s one — like last year when my oldest once again nailed his brother with it, packing a single tape into a huge box that was nested with about a dozen other boxes, till he got to the video. No gift. Just the video. Sometimes it’s a bunch of them, again with some containing gifts, some not. At this point, everyone in the family has at least one copy of Bring It On in their home, just waiting for the next holiday season to hit. So I guess it’s not surprising that while my daughter was helping me organize for The Next Big Thing (more on that in a month or so), we came across eight copies. My mother even has one in her shelves of movies — and she doesn’t even know the joke. She’s also never seen the movie.

So if you have holiday traditions or not, just know that our Christmas involves a random cheerleading movie on VHS, proving that you can create new holiday traditions out of anything, and at any point in life.

I thought I had a cheerleading pattern to show you today, but it sold, so I’m going for ice skating realness instead. Have a great Monday.

Lisa

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Spadea – Doing Things the Right Way

Spadea Catalog #28, available now in the shop.

If you’ve never seen a vintage Spadea pattern, then you have missed out on a treat. Spadea patterns are fabulous. I came across a 1965 article about them recently and learned more about the company.

I already knew some things from reading this blog post years ago by Lizzie, of The Vintage Traveller. She was fortunate enough to correspond with and interview the Spadea’s daughter, who acted as a fit model for them. It truly was a family owned business. According to the article I read, the Spadeas had over 80 international designers under contract. They travelled the fashion shows, looking for garments they wanted to replicate into their designer pattern lines. Once they had a sketch, they draped a muslin on a size 12 dress form until they got the line-by-line duplicate they needed. If it wasn’t exact, they couldn’t put the designers name on it. Once the draping was done and it all matched the original, the pattern makers went to work making the pattern pieces,grading it to other sizes, writing the instructions and figuring out the cutting chart. This was all done by hand and then checked for accuracy by a second person.

The really mind blowing thing is how the pattern pieces were cut. Unlike other pattern companies, Spadea cut their pieces by hand. They laid the brown paper pieces on top of 100 tissue paper pieces, then cut it all by hand with a knife. The perforations were marked by hand, or sometimes with a hand operated machine, and then they were sent by folding. Folding was also done by hand. Considering the thousands of patterns they sold over the years, this is really fascinating to me. I would love to see the particular knife they used to cut with. Was it more of an X-acto knife like my dad used for crafts, or more of a box cutter shape? (I’m a little caught up in the idea of knives right now, because I bought hubby some Wusthof knives for Christmas, and am sure we will end up in the ER, given his propensity for kitchen accidents, but I digress.) But cutting 100 pieces at a time with a knife is really something of awe. It’s a far cry from this 2016 video – a VERY quick view at how a McCall’s pattern piece is cut and folded by machine.

Mr Spadea stood by his process, however, stating that in the fifteen years his company had been in business, they had had fewer than five times that they had had to admit that they made a mistake, and refunded a sewist for a ruined project. His employees said that mistakes were because “women just don’t read the instructions.” I’d take his advice, even though I’m a beginner and pore over the instructions anyway. Given the fact that Spadea patterns are for designer garments, paying special attention to the instructions is a must, in order to end up with the high quality fashion you are looking for.

I may receive a small stipend from purchases made from my links. I only post links to things I love and think that you will enjoy.

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The Marion Nixon Dress

Pictorial Review 4232, from 1928

If you’ve read previous posts, you know I have a particular love for Pictorial Review patterns, because of their connection with my grandmother, so when I saw this dress, it made me smile. It’s Pictorial Review 4232, from 1928, which was shortly after my grandmother had my dad. She likely had only recently left Pictorial Review, so again, this may be a pattern she had a hand in choosing. Oh, my heart.

In researching this pattern, I found that it was advertised as “The Marion Nixon Dress,” because it was designed specifically for the actress of that name. She worked at Universal Pictures, and was quite beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact.

Marion Nixon

Ms. Nixon had quite the career, mostly playing wholesome roles. She was one of the minority of actresses who was able to successfully transform from silent movies to talkies. She retired from acting at the age of 32. She died in Cedars-Sinai Hospital on February 13, 1983, from complications following open heart surgery. Her age went unreported at the time, as different references gave different ages, and she always referred to herself as being 31-plus.

I find it particularly interesting that she had a dress named for her in 1928, because this means that Pictorial Review was doing what Hollywood Pattern Company would do later: associating patterns with a movie star. And for good reason, because Ms. Nixon was not only a popular actress, but also was president of the Beauty Arts Institute, which did merchandising of beauty products nationwide, and who set the standards for beauty professions of the time. Talented and smart — the greatest combination. Add her beauty and it displays a picture of a woman who I’d love to have a long dinner conversation with.

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?

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Completely Unrelated

This is completely unrelated to vintage fashion or sewing or anything I normally talk about, but as the author of this space, I get to choose, right?

So today, I want to talk to you about My Octopus Teacher, on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it yet, why not? I will admit that I saw it pop up in my suggested viewing and wondered what the heck? A movie about an octopus? Seriously? Well, as you may or may not know, I usually watch something on Prime or Netflix while I’m counting pattern pieces, and I love me a good documentary, so I decided what the heck, I’ll watch it.

WOW.

This movie is SO good. The story is amazing. It’s about healing and our relationship with nature, conservation and yes, an octopus. It’s so moving. Every time you think it’s going to go one way, it surprises you and goes another. It’s simply brilliant, and gorgeously shot. You will probably never look at the ocean the same way, and I’ve always loved the ocean, so that’s really saying something.

And the music. It’s worth it just for the music alone. Kevin Smuts is the composer, and he truly made a gorgeous score. It’s very visual music — you can literally see the water moving when you’re listening, but maybe that’s just me. More on that later, but in the meantime, go watch this movie, then listen to the soundtrack on Spotify. It’s my new go-to work music.

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Silkateen

I was prepping a new crochet pattern for the website (keep an eye out — it’s an Edwardian sleeping cap!), and came across the term Silkateen. When one is prepping vintage patterns, one has to be sure that the materials required are still available, or figure out what the comparable modern item might be. This one’s been tough.

Silkateen first was seen in 1897. It was shown at textile shows, and reportedly buyers were surprised at how similar to silk it appeared. The company manufacturing it (Kerr Thread Company) said that they were using techniques to create it that were over 50 years old, but had been lost over the course of time. Those techniques became a trade secret. The company ran night and day, trying to keep up with orders.

Ads are seen for Silkateen into the late 1900s, where it was advertised as both a fabric as well as a crochet thread. It is compared in one article as being comparable to DMC, thought I think they perhaps mean in weight rather than appearance. Silkateen was used for clothing, umbrellas and there were experiments in using it with lawn linen (with mixed results). It is described as a lustrous cotton for crochet, knit and embroidery.

Silkateen obviously had some lasting power in the industry, and though the name changed several times, it was around in different forms for years. Problem is, I still haven’t found what an actual modern substitute might be!

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RIP Kenzo Takada

Butterick 3027. 1973.

Kenzo Takada died this weekend as a results of COVID-19. He was 81. Though perhaps not as familiar a name as Dior and Balmain, Kenzo held his own place in fashion, and definitely still has lovers of his line today.

Kenzo worked in a Japenese department store until he decided to head to Paris in 1965. He struggled as most designers do for several years before he enlisted a partner and started his “Jungle Jap” label with an investment of $4000. He came up with the name after painting murals of trees and exotic animals on his salon walls in Galerie Vivienne. He wanted a jungle themed name and decided “Jungle Jap” was the right sound and was funny. All went well until he tried to expand into the US and he was sued by the Japanese-Amerian Citizens’ League, who called the name “derogatory”, because of the visions it evoked of Pearl Harbor and World War II. He agreed to change it to Kenzo, as the League would not accept his idea of changing it to J.A.P. He was a bit mystified, as it hadn’t been problematic in Paris. The next year, he was sued again after Lord & Taylor continued to sell clothing with the J.A.P label. He sold the label in 1973 for a cool $20 million. His label after all of the controversy was simply KENZO.

Kenzo’s popularity in Japan didn’t happen until after he became a big name at Paris Fashion Week. He became so popular that by the early 80s, it had become customary to close Fashion Week with his collections. His shows were fresh and upbeat, much like he was. One critic pointed out his smiling face, reminding people that France had once offered cash to locals who would smile at touriests. They never had to paid out, as the French reportedly just did not smile. (Trying to remember if this was the case when I was in Paris, but I can’t remember.)

Kenzo’s collections had a multitude of looks. His 1970 show included toreador pants, riding breeches and sheer clown-type pants, as well as a whole selection of 1920s inspired looks, including pleated skirts. He was responsible for many of the mid 70s looks such as bat wing tops, narrow straight leg pants, big sweaters and the revival of trapeze coats. His weskit (waistcoat) looks were seen in Paris a year after he featured them in his collections. I wonder how much of the Annie Hall look so popular from the time was actually inspired by him. He rode a wave of popularity for years. He was the only designer who steadfastly refused to use man-made fibers, saying he “can’t stand the feel of them.” His collections were pure cotton, linen, silks and the like. His 1970’s line of sewing patterns by Butterick are still immensely popular.

It took Kenzo quite a while to build his business in the US, citing the high costs of French materials as well as the import fees in the US. He found it difficult to create garments that could be kept at an affordable price point for Americans due to the overhead. He eventually expanded here, and even created a line for The Limited in 1984, with garments priced from $75-100 (still pretty pricey for the time). For all of the success he had however, he lived a fairly low key lifestyle, riding the Metro in Paris and not having a maid. He retired in 1999 to travel and do art projects.

Check out a history of Kenzo Fashion by clicking here. I don’t currently have any Kenzo patterns listed (they sell like crazy), but see the selection of Kenzo patterns on Etsy by clicking here.

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Ceil Chapman and the Queen

Spadea American Designers 1150.

This dress pattern was designed specifically for Queen Elizabeth II by Ceil Chapman, and was called the “Coronation” Dress. It was inspired by a button marketed by B.G.E. Originals that was a reproduction of an original Elizabethan button. The reproduction button was sold in stores. I’ve been looking for it for years. The original was an enamel flower, surrounded by diamonds and rubies. Ms. Chapman designed the dress in “Windsor blue” peau de soie, with the understated bodice that the queen favored. The back of the top is bloused, and the collar is a simple stand up one. The skirt is full. This is reminiscent of the queen’s simple taste that echoes through to today.

The pattern is a part of the American Designer’s series that was printed by Spadea, using all of the top designers of the day. Ironically, in the 60s and 70s, the Dutchess of Windsor would create patterns for this line. One has to wonder what the queen would have thought of being an inspiration for the line that later included an outcast of the family.

Though this pattern doesn’t include the highly desired draped necklines that Ceil Chapman is later known for, it’s beautiful in its own right, and her patterns are difficult to find. I have two in my shop. Click here to see an original, and here to see a reproduction of her Skylark dress, an iconic design of the time.

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Cosmopolitan Patterns

Cosmopolitan patterns are not often found, probably because it appears to have had a short run as a pattern company. Cosmopolitan Fashion Model Company’s patterns first appeared in newspapers in May, 1895. The ad was addressed specifically to “ladies”, but they did offer at least some men’s patterns, as seen here. They were advertised for a “uniform price” of 15 cents each. An ad in September stated that “to make them more well known”, they offered a pattern for 15 cents, postage paid. That ad states that the retail price was normally 20-40 cents, but that they were again selling them for a uniform 15 cents. By far, the majority of newspaper ads of 1895 were seen in California.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1895. Number 548

1896 saw ads spread nationwide, indicating that they had indeed gotten the word out about their patterns. Pricing remained the same.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1986. No number indicated.

1897 saw a significantly fewer amount of ads, indicating perhaps that the company had gone into a bit of a slump, but 1898 saw an explosion of ads, so perhaps this was not the case. Perhaps they did so well in 1897 that they didn’t need to advertise. It’s not clear. One 1898 ad stated they were selling for 10 and 15 cents but were “just as good as 25 cent patterns.” Not the best marketing ploy, I think. Somewhere between 1897 and 1898, the name was shortened to simply Cosmopolitan Patterns in ads, though I believe that the packaging still said Cosmopolitan Fashion Model Co, as one I have from after 1900 has this still printed on the envelope.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1899. No number indicated.

1902 ads from Albuquerque indicate pricing of 10 cents, but no reference is found indicating what the “retail” (printed on the package) price was. By then, their slogan had become “none higher, none better.” By May of that year, some ads show prices of 9 cents, showing that perhaps they wanted to live by their slogan. 1904 found pricing at 10 cents. Continuing to 1907, the ad stated that Cosmopolitan was the only “10 cent seam allowance pattern.”

1908 saw some stores advertising free Cosmopolitan patterns with a purchase, and in 1909, many stores advertised that they were no longer carrying Cosmopolitan patterns, but had taken on contracts with McCall. Some stores were still advertising Cosmopolitan, but at 1 cent. The company was definitely in trouble. By 1910, they were no longer advertised at all.

Perhaps Cosmopolitan was bought by McCall, but I can’t find evidence of that. Indications are they they only published womens’ patterns, but if I am wrong about that, please do let me know. Cosmopolitan did well for a few years, in a very competitive pattern market. It may be that undercutting their prices meant they paid a heavy price, but they don’t seem to have caught on, and their marketing slogans definitely needed improvement. One thing to note though is that they always sold for less than the printed price, so price on the envelope will not help in dating them. You will have to study the style in order to come up with an accurate date, but it should always be between 1895 to 1909.