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?

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.

designers, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Bringing the Extra to Extra

I’ve had this sheet music for a while and have always said that it would look great framed. It’s from the 1944 movie “Lady in the Dark,” and features Ginger Rogers in all her glory. That costume is fantastic.

I saw this post on the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Instagram the other day and it explained why this dress is simply iconic. This costume was designed by Edith Head. She, of course, went on to win eight Academy Awards for costume design. At the time the beauty was designed, it cost $35,000 to make ($15,000 of that was the mink). That equates to about $571,000 today. For ONE dress. It is said to be the most expensive costume in movie history. Ms. Head was right when she said that it simply couldn’t be made today unless a studio gave the costume designer an open wallet. Funny thing is that Ms. Head wasn’t even supposed to be the costume designer for this movie. Valentina was, but Ginger Rogers didn’t like her designs, so they brought in Ms. Head. Serendipitous.

Photo: V & A Museum, Instagram.

What makes it even more amazing is that this was done in 1944 — smack in the middle of wartime. So much for fabric rationing, though the actual amount of fabric is pretty small, but those sequins. WOW. And mink trim and train? Yep. Couldn’t be done today.

Original movie dress and jacket, embellished with faux stones and mink. Photo: Edith Head, by Jay Jorgensen.

Pretty fantastic, huh? It appears that this dress is the sequined version. Two versions were made, according to the book Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer, by Jay Jorgensen. The original dress and matching mink jacket had faux jewels applied to create the shimmering effect, but when Ms. Rogers tried it on, it was too heavy to wear during the dance scenes. They created a second, sequined dress. That dress was worn during the dance scenes, and Ms Head later took it to the fashion shows she would host. The original dress with the stones was shown in two scenes of the movie, then was donated to the Smithsonian, though I haven’t been able to verify that it is still there.

Sequined version of the dress. Photo: Edith Head, by Jay Jorgensen.
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.
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?

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.

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

It’s All In The Details

McCall 7319, Circa 1933

Look at the mastery of details here, in not only the garment, but the illustration itself. This pattern shows why the 1930s were so spectacular. That little twisted belt effect at the waist. Those cowl sleeves on the middle version. Even the little detail on the puff sleeve is a simple but perfect detail to make this dress special.

You won’t see dresses like this in Target. The cost of putting those details in is prohibitive in today’s disposable, fast-fashion society, and it’s a shame. This dress would take a child from Easter, to springtime tea, to summer weddings, and straight into Christmas (though you might have to size up. Kids grow, after all).

Add the details of the illustration, and I’m really in love. The little shoes. The slouchy socks. This era of McCalls patterns are the ones that, if I were having babies today, I would frame and put on a nursery wall. They are just so delicately beautiful. What do you think?