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

The McCall’s Sew For Fun Series

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McCall’s 4376, ©1974

I listed this pattern the other day in the Etsy shop. I’d never seen this series before. It’s called the Sew for Fun series, and the patterns came out in 1974 and early 1975. The styles are the cute boho/cottagecore patterns so popular in the time. This one features a maxi dress with Gunne Sax vibes. It can be made in the shorter mini length as well.

Note: I had a pair of clogs exactly like the ones in the photo.

The patterns featured mainly dresses and tops, are were made in both Miss and Misses’ sizes, with different pattern numbers for each. There are at least two that are unisex: one is a top and the other is for a swimsuit/swim trunks. But the funny thing is those little extra patterns.

This particular one features a stuffed mouse, because every cottagecore girl of the seventies wanted a stuffed mouse, right? I thought at first that it was a pincushion, which obviously any sewist could use. And a young beginning sewist might be pleased to create her own personalized mouse pincushion, right? Only it’s not. It’s a stuffed animal, which seems a little odd paired with the cute dress. But it gets weirder.

McCalls 4416, ©1975. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki

Some of these patterns are paired with hats or purses, which makes sense to me. Hats were big in this era, and everyone can use a sun hat. Purses are also a no-brainer. But there are also odd items like garment bags, a wind breaker (for sitting on at the beach, not the jacket), and even a tent. Each of them has a little sewing lesson with it, which is great, but the projects they include are so weird. Like the wind breaker one. If you want to teach someone to make a casing, have them make a pair of elastic waist shorts. But I don’t make those decisions.

McCalls 4429, ©1975. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki

I wonder who came up with these little extras, cause they just seem so odd. I get that they were trying to make sewing fun, especially for the Miss crowd, but somehow I am not sure that they thought it all the way thru. It’s one of the more random ideas put out by the sewing pattern companies.

McCalls 4428, ©1975. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki
1900s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Weekly Patterns from Vogue

I’m still reading my 1940s book about the fashion industry. It’s been very interesting in reading how mass manufacturing happened, the differences between US and French fashion industries, and how different styles came into fruition. For some reason, this little gem of knowledge was tucked into it. Read the fine print and then say WOW.

Vogue Magazine (US) started in 1892. When it first began, it was a weekly magazine, which I did not realize. These snippets from 1901 advertise weekly patterns that were put out in each issue, so that in the end, you had 52 different outfits, all curated to work together. That’s some fascinating stuff, and boy, do I wish I could see all 52 together. Can you even imagine?

Vogue 100, 1901. Photo: Vogue Magazine.

I wonder if this was the only year that they did this, or if it was a one-off. Sadly, I ordered a 1903 Vogue Magazine — the earliest I’ve ever seen — from Facebook Marketplace, and it never arrived. That might have given me some idea, but alas, it was not to be. I’m still mourning that loss, but it may still arrive, since I only just got a birthday card mailed to me from the next town over in early July. If it arrives, you know I will post pictures here.

Vogue 132, 1901. Photo: Vogue Magazine.

It’s interesting that the pattern numbers are three digit, not four. It’s also amazing to me that they cost $1, which was really pricey at a time that most patterns were five to ten cents. I’d love to see the entire grouping, but Anna Wintour and I aren’t on speaking terms right now (she needs to retire and refuses), so I guess there’s no hope.

It’s these little details about sewing pattern history that intrigue me, as well as the fashion itself. I hope that you enjoy it too.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Good Housekeeping Clothing

I like to read vintage magazines with my husband. He loves to cook, so we have lots of interesting discussions about the recipes and presentation ideas women’s magazines have. I was thumbing through an issue of Good Housekeeping from 1946, and wow, was it interesting. It is a thick issue — 334 pages! It includes everything from short stories to recipes to the macabre articles about how to avoid suffocation (!) and what you should do if your house is on fire.

Important side note, from someone who has had a house fire in the middle of the night: the fire department said that sleeping with your bedroom door closed gives you and extra ten minutes if a fire breaks out, because it decreases your exposure to smoke. But I digress.

I was looking, of course, at the sewing patterns they advertised which, surprisingly, were Simplicity, not Good Housekeeping. Since McCalls and Ladies’ Home Journal had their own lines of patterns, I’m surprised that they weren’t doing the same. They did at some point, because I have a few from the sixties, including this Geoffrey Beene delight:

Good Housekeeping pattern 2, 1960s.

But what I found most interesting was that Good Housekeeping put out their own clothing line. I thought at first that the article was just hawking different designer labels, like most do, but when I read it in detail, I realized that they had their own Good Housekeeping Facts First label. In looking around, they applied this label in some of their ads for patterns, and I can’t find any clothing for sale with this label. Interestingly, the article does not tell you where you can buy them locally, or even by mail order. You had to write to the magazine to ask where they were available locally. This seems very cumbersome, especially in today’s click and buy world, and I wonder how long this sales model was sustainable. In looking around, they applied this label in some of their ads for patterns, and I can’t find any clothing for sale with this label, so perhaps it was not for long.

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

Fira Benenson

Spadea 1158, ©1958.

I’m reading a 1940s book about the fashion industry, and am learning all kinds of things about lesser known (now) designers. Case in point: Fira Benenson. I’ve seen Fira Benenson patterns before. They are generally 1950s Spadeas, sometimes very early 1960s, but I’ve never heard of her name outside of this. Turns out she’s an interesting person.

I always thought, given her first name, that she had to be Italian, but she was actually Russian. She was a driving force for Bonwit Teller and got her start as the director of imports there before World War II. During the war years, she was the one who designed Bonwit Teller’s collections. She was one of the first retail buyers to return to Paris after the war.

She was very much a team player, saying that no designer designs in a vacuum. “A designer works with the assistance of many people — the fitters, operators, fabric people and her other workers. I would be helpless without my staff.” This is so true, as you’d be surprised how many designers can’t draw, sew or make patterns. Many of them, of course, would never admit it publicly.

Fira Benenson evening dress with jacket in silk shantung, 1942. Photo: New York Daily News.

Ms. Benenson was noted for elegance. She used rich fabrics and embellished with embroidery, shirring, tucking and intricate seams. In 1941, she used a rounded shoulder technique she terms the “hug shoulder” to accentuate women’s curves. That same season, she showed a “soupcatcher” waist, with horizontal looped draping below the waist that created a shelf -hence the soupcatcher name. It was basically a front pannier and based on a Victorian fashion, and created a beautiful, draped effect that accentuated a tiny waist.

Fira Benenson evening dress, 1957. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

“Miss B”, as her staff called her, was soft spoke and gracious, always wearing black, and generally a shirred dress of her own creation. She always wore a huge black pearl left to her by her mother, surrounded by ribbons of diamonds. She was born in Russia in 1898, the child of the Czar Nicolas’ banker, and came to the United States in 1921, after the death of her mother. She opened her own dress shop and was recruited by Bonwit Teller in 1934 to head up their Salon de Couture. This required frequent trips to Paris to view the collections, as she did not design at this point. She only began designing again in 1940 when the war made it necessary. She opened her own shop again in 1948, going into the wholesale business. She maintained both couture and ready to wear collections, as she felt that women wanted clothes that looked “made to measure” to be widely available.

In private life, Ms. Benenson was the Countess Fira Ilinska, married to a Polish nobleman. She spoke seven languages, collected Belgian blown glass, and was known for her dinner parties, where she did much of the prep and cooking herself. The count and countess celebrated 30 years of marriage in March 1961 with a posh dinner party at their apartment that included many of the same guests who originally attended their wedding, including diplomats, artists, writers and businessman. Four months later, the count died in Paris from heart disease. He was 64. Ms. Beneson died in 1977 in the New York apartment she had called home for many years.

sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Gown of the Year

As the fashion industry began to hit its stride after World War II, new fashions began to be seen. Dior’s New Look, of course, was one. Dresses began to be made with voluminous amounts of fabric that weren’t allowed during wartime rationing. In New York, a contest for “Gown of the Year” was held.

14 designers were asked to submit their designs, and they were worn by socialites at the ball. The jury was all men (!), and included Basil Rathbone, Richard Aldrick (a producer), and singer Morton Downey. The winner? Jean Desses, who had not only never been to the US before, but had never exhibited a dress here.

The ball gowns were worth a total of $7650 and were designed by Sophie, Jo Copeland, Christian Dior (New York), Henri Bendel, Ceil Chapman, Mme. Garnett, Desses, Carrie Munn, Lilly Dache (who I didn’t realize designed dresses, as she was known for hats), Oleg Cassini, Charles James, Omar Kiam, Nettie Rosenstein, and Adrian. Shown here (designers as listed above, from left to right).

The winning gown, with Msr. Desses on the right.:

Photo: Life Magazine.

The Christian Dior, New York dress, constructed 80 yards of lace and tulle just in the skirt:

Photo: Life Magazine

The Carrie Munn design. Is that skirt quilted?

Photo: Life Magazine.

The (fantastic) Adrian dress:

Photo: Life Magazine.

No word on the criteria for design or judging, other than it needed to be considered as Gown of the Year. I don’t know if they continued this contest yearly, or if it was just to jumpstart the fashion industry, but I’d love to see something like this today. I doubt we’d see it, as designing for a contest is probably too cost prohibitive for today’s fashion houses, but it sure would be interesting to see. With some female judges this time, please?

Celebrity, designers, Hollywood, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Again With the Valentina

I’ve posted about Valentina before, but I was listening to an episode of the Dressed podcast today that was about all things Valentina, and it led me to a rabbit hole of sorts. I’m impressionable that way.

They mentioned in passing two things: that Valentina never had commercial paper patterns made of her designs, but also that she was featured in a Doublemint gum ad that featured a paper pattern of the design. A bit of confusion ensued, but I took them at their word and went searching for the pattern. I found out some interesting stuff.

First, the Valentina pattern, as shown in the 1938 ad.

This dress is being modeled by Gloria Swanson, was designed by Valentina, and was produced by Simplicity as #2784. I haven’t found a copy of it, but I don’t think that it is attributed to Valentina on the pattern envelope, if the other information I’ve found is accurate. The ad itself attributes the design to her, and if you really dig deep, you can find that 1938-1939 is full of similar Doublemint ads with other designers as well.

Case in point: Schiaparelli.

Simplicity 2740, ©1938

This beautiful dress is modelled by Anita Louise, and was designed by none other than Elsa Schiaparelli herself. It’s beautiful, yes? There are other designers and actresses in this ad campaign, like Joan Fontain, Sonya Henie and a few more. I find it fascinating, because they were taking patterns in the same vein as Hollywood Patterns, by featuring the actress and movie title, but the Simplicity ones actually added the designer names in the ad, if not on the pattern envelope. It’s also advertising in triplicate, which is so smart: the gum, the pattern and the movie the actress is in. Add in the designer – many of whom did not need advertising — and it’s four ads in one! Now that’s smart marketing!

I know that Hollywood has some famous patterns from movies, like the ones based on Gone With the Wind, but I’ve never considered that perhaps those patterns were designed by Adrian or Schiaparelli. I’m not even sure that there is a way to prove if they were, which is what makes this Simplicity series so unique. It’d be a great way for thirties pattern collectors to ad to their collections if they can match designers up with the patterns in their stash. It’s just the kind of sleuthery (is that a word?) that I love, because it’s much harder to match pattern with designer than if you look at a 70s Vogue with the designer’s name emblazoned across the front.

I will not go down this rabbit hole, I will not go down this rabbit hole, I will not……….gotta go!

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Why Do I Still Have This?

New York 872.

I’ve had this pattern for a long time. As in, a long time. I’m not sure why. I think it’s adorable. Romper / playsuit patterns are always popular, and I think this one is wonderful, but what do I know?

I got this pattern as a part of a salesman’s old stock, so it’s brand new and in wonderful condition, so that’s not a problem. It’s a bust 29, which is tiny, of course. My mom was a bust 29 when she got married, but it’s much more uncommon these days. That being said, I sell tiny sized patterns all the time, and people are pretty adept these days at resizing patterns to fit them, so I don’t know that that’s it.

It’s an unprinted pattern, which many sewists aren’t familiar with, so is that it? Perhaps. The rules of unprinted patterns are pretty easy though, so if people get over there fear and decide to expand their skill sets, they will find that it’s not so difficult as they may think.

Personally, I think the problem here is the illustration. Not that it’s not cute, but I think that pattern illustrations or photos definitely sell the pattern, and this one just looks perhaps too old fashioned for some people to visualize. That’s why illustrations look so different. Illustrators are taught to draw in a different scale than we actually are, in order to show the garment off as well as possible. They put the models in elegant poses. I actually prefer illustrated patterns from the 40s and 50s, rather than the modern ones that show the garment on people. Sure, photos show the garment on a real body, but I appreciate the art that went into creating the illustrations, and I look at many of them with a humorous eye, especially when they are seemingly talking with each other, have a tiny person at the bottom, or when they are leaning on imaginary objects. It’s just cute.

But this garment is obviously really cute. The illustration is sweet. The pattern is brand new. So why do I still have it? Please tell me.

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

Where I’ve Been, and Other Stuff

It’s been a while, and I apologize. Life took a huge shift as our world tilted on its axis a bit. We went to Michigan for the weekend on June 2nd, and it turned into a twelve day (mis)adventure.

We originally went to inter my parents at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan. It’s a beautiful place, and though I’d never seen it before that day, I understand now why my parents chose to be interred there, rather than closer to one of their kids’ homes. It is simply gorgeous. The place where they are is next to a farm field, and you can hear trains going by regularly — two things my parents loved. My daughter found a great house for us to rent in Holly, where our whole immediate family could stay, as well as my brother’s kids. To say that the house is gorgeous is an understatement. Though I ended up not spending as much time there as I had hoped (more in a minute), it was beautiful, and they took great care to make sure that we had literally everything we needed. There was lots of room to commiserate, and plenty of room to let the little ones roam, without fear of them destroying anything. Plus, it was near the railroad tracks, which the kids loved, and right on the other side was Holly.

If you’ve never been to Holly, Michigan, it is a cute little village that is very walkable, and has antique shops, restaurants and a couple of breweries. We enjoyed one brewery the night we got there, and the girls had plans to go antiquing over the weekend. Alas, it didn’t happen, but I did get there later. The kids walked over to a restaurant for breakfast, and walked to the floral shop to pick up flowers for the grave. I’d love to go back. It’s a nice place to relax, kick back and just slow down for a while.

We had the service, which turned into a bit of a fiasco, as we had little to no idea what we were doing, and didn’t realize how little time (5-6 minutes) the minister was given to say his words before we were shuffled away for the next funeral to begin. You don’t argue with the military. We decided afterward to go out to eat, but looked up several places, all of which were closed. We even drove to one before finding out that they were closed for renovations. What the heck, Michigan? So we ended up at a nice place called Little Joe’s Tavern. I can tell you nothing from then on, because as we were sitting there talking, my husband had a stroke.

My son was sitting next to him and long story short, noticed he suddenly couldn’t talk, and wasn’t moving one side of his body. I went over to him and he became VERY agitated. I still don’t know if he was trying to get off his chair, lie down, or what he was doing, but it took three of us to keep him seated and not fall, all whilst ducking a couple of punches he threw at me. That’s not his normal, let me tell you, so it was WILD. Paramedics came, we drove to the ER and the clock was ticking.

As many of you may know, you have about an hour from start to finish to treat a stroke, before the statistics become much more dire. He had three CT scans in rapid order, diagnosing what it was (a stroke, not a bleed), where it was (a mid cerebral artery) and how big the clot was (huge – it blocked blood flow completely from the left side of his brain). In all the bad news was good news — because of where the clot was, and the size of it, it could be treated with surgery, but he had to be transferred to Saginaw for that. They started TPA (a clot buster drug) and his (very hot) nurse, Amanda M (who my son diligently looked for on social media afterward because yeah, she was hot), got him out the door and into the ambulance. The doctor called while husband was en route, explained the surgery and got consent, and he went directly to surgery when he hit the doors of the hospital. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, just get your butt to surgery right now. By the time I arrived, surgery was done and he was in ICU.

Miraculously, he now could move everything, but his speech was impaired. He would open his eyes, look around curiously, and as the lights came on in his brain, he would smile. He has no memory of the early days, though he does remember being in the restaurant, right up to the time of the stroke. He was in ICU for three days, step down for two, and then he went to rehab, where everyone proclaimed him to be a miracle (he is). He went home after six days in rehab, with orders for speech therapy.

The transition home was rough. He’s a TV kind of guy, and he can’t figure out the remotes. His speech frustrates him sometimes but he keeps trying. The appointments. Oh my word, the appointments. We’ve had an appointment every day, and sometimes two. He’s going to be evaluated for physical therapy and occupational therapy, to see if he needs it now that he’s in a home environment. We’ve had to shift some things around on how we do things and I’ve had to stay on alert at all times.

All this whilst we have an extra dog, for a total of four, because we are watching his grandson’s dog until he gets into a new apartment. AND still dealing with my mom’s estate stuff. Thankfully, the dogs have finally decided to get along, and we had a yard sale yesterday, unloading most of her stuff and donating the rest. Things look like they’re calming down a bit.

While we were in Michigan, I shopped almost every day, at least whilst he was in rehab. Visiting hours didn’t start till 3, so what’s a girl to do except shop? I found some really cool stuff. I went to lunch with a cousin in Holly, and we did finally get to hit one of the antique malls there, where I got a lot of cool stuff, including a fifties swimsuit pattern in a bust 38. Of course, I had the car completely packed, and thankfully hubby couldn’t see it. My youngest went out and brought it in thru the front door so it’s hidden away upstairs so he doesn’t have another stroke when he realizes all the shopping I did. But I mean, how can you NOT buy things like a 1940s matador outfit, and flamenco dresses to match? A fifties party dress in a beautiful yellow-green? A designer satin mother of the bride suit? An amazing Gunne Sax inspired dress that is new with tags? Seriously? I’m not stupid.

So I will get back to posting again soon, as time allows.

Until then,
Lisa

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

Where It All Began (Kind Of)

Simplicity 6926. Photo: FlorasNeedle.

I’ve been out of commission for a few days from an ear and sinus infection. Immunosuppression is not fun, folks. Thanks, lymphoma.

Whilst I was lying in bed feeling miserable, of course I was browsing sewing patterns when I came across this one. This is the first pattern I ever sewed. I was a sophomore in high school and decided that I wanted to learn how to sew. I took home ec in junior high, but only took the first semester, which was cooking. Second semester, instead of taking the sewing section, I switched to wood shop. Ironic, given my obsession with sewing patterns now.

I was the youngest of five kids, and though my mom could sew, she didn’t enjoy it, and by the time she got to me, she had pretty much stopped. She taught me all the needlework: knitting, crocheting (I’m VERY crochet impaired), embroidery and needlepoint, but she never taught me how to sew, and I wasn’t really interested. In my sophomore year of high school, something triggered my interest, so Mom got her old Necchi sewing machine out (a gift from my grandmother) and I set off to make this dress under Mom’s direction. I’m not sure that either of us really appreciated the process.

I made it in light blue chambray. It was, I’m quite sure, very wonky looking, but I wore it to school and was quite proud of myself. I then never sewed again until I was in my mid-30s, when I made my ex a couple of scrub tops (again, quite wonky, but bless him, he wore them all the time) and tried to make my daughter a Pikachu costume, which I dropped mid-project. It was still a couple of years before I started selling patterns, and now I’m in neck deep and loving every minute of it.

Sometimes things take time. Nursing was my passion from my earliest memories and was right up till a couple of years ago when I left to take care of my family. Sewing patterns started much later, and now I am obsessed, and learning to sew once again, albeit much easier projects. So yeah, if you are twenty, or forty, or sixty, just remember, finding your passion can take some time. The big thing is to not stop looking.

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?