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?

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?

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

I Need This in My Life

Vogue 8551, circa 1973.

I listed this pattern in the shop the other day. I’ve had it before, and it always screams out to me that I need it. Badly. That one on the left is gorgeous. That ribbon trim just slays.

It’s an interesting pattern that isn’t difficult to make. The sides have shirring to help create a waistline, and the shoulders don’t have a seam — they are just part of the fabric that is draped to create a sleeve. Very clever. It’s not even described as a caftan. It’s described as a robe. It reminds me in some ways of one of my favorite movie costumes: Katherine’ Hepburn’s robe in Philadelphia Story. It was designed by Adrian, and I love it, primarily because of the sleeves and the draping. Look at the clever way the waist and the back are done.

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::sigh:: Glorious. I, like Balenciaga, have a real thing about interesting sleeves. But can you just imagine gliding into the kitchen in the morning, wearing either of these robes? Yes, of course they would fall into my oatmeal or I’d spill my beverage down the front of me, but I’d look wonderful before all that happened.

1910s, embroidery, sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion, Vintage Kids

Trainer Corsets, 1913

Ferris Corsets, 1913.

I came across this ad for Ferris Corsets in a 1913 newspaper, and it stopped me in my tracks. It reminds me of this scene in Titanic, where Rose realizes how trapped she is in a proper life (the sound is terrible, but it’s the visual that matters).

I’ve never forgotten that scene, in part because the costumes are so beautiful, and also because you don’t generally see children’s costumes in period dramas like you do adults. The biggest reason it stuck with me, however, is because it shows just how young girls were when this staunch, rigid training started. And yes, training corsets were a part of it. Women didn’t just start wearing corsets one day — they wore training ones to get them used to them as children.

I can imagine it would’ve helped me tremendously to wear a corset as a child, because my posture is absolutely abysmal — likely the worst you might ever encounter. I slouch like no other. But I can’t imagine playing as a child while wearing a corset. Granted, these are training corsets, so they aren’t tight laced, but still. And boys had no equivalent. They likely didn’t have the same level of training either, for what is proper, because girls had to learn stitchery and the like from an early age as well. Look at this beautiful sampler in redwork, done by a child at an “orphan house” in 1886. It’s lovely, but the fact that she was an orphan makes me so sad. What did her future become?

Photo: Kate Strasdin, Instagram.

It’s simply lovely. Girls learned such intricate skills at such an early age. I hope that we never lose these artists, but I fear that we are, especially since Home Ec doesn’t really exist much anymore. That’s why I love sewing patterns so much. I love being a part of keeping the needle arts alive.

I’m rambling, I know, but we’re having a huge snowstorm and perhaps it is making me think harder — I love winter so much. The snow makes me feel alive in a way nothing else does. But I’ll say this: I won’t be shovelling snow in a corset!

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

Friday Fun Stuff

Butterick 6655, 1950s.

I came across this pattern in my stash yesterday and thought “wow, what a cute dress.” Except, it’s not. It’s an apron and a coverall. Very stylish, isn’t it? It does a back wrap, then comes around and buttons in the front. I’m not sure that those huge triangular pockets would be helpful, because everything would fall out of them, but isn’t this a chic look?

The coverall is designed to wear over your frock whilst you clean, so your day dress stays fresh. It’s basically designed in the same vein as a Claire McCardell popover dress, which was meant for the same task. The earliest ones came with a matching potholder, and the popover was a staple in Claire McCardell collections.

Photo Credit:

Claire McCardell is one of my favorites, because she basically birthed American sportswear. She created comfortable fashion that was also stylish. Her use of plaids was also really beautiful. Not red carpet glam stuff, most of it, but comfortable day wear. She died at 52 of cancer, which was far, far too young. I would’ve loved to see what she would’ve done had she lived longer.

I came across this interview with Claire’s brother, which I found super interesting. Given the fact that she skiied so much, and that she was on the first board of Sports Illustrated, I always thought she must’ve been a talented athlete. Not so. Who’da thunk?

Enjoy your weekend.

1970s fashion, vintage fashion

The Skinny of It All

Photo: Seventeen Magazine, 1975

I listed this Seventeen Magazine on eBay today. It’s from March, 1975, so I would’ve been thirteen (don’t judge). It’s full of interesting stuff, like an article on a young Ron Howard, and even has a Wella Balsam ad with pre-famous Farrah Fawcett in it. Good stuff.

But the thing I found interesting was the article they had about how to become a model. I’ve read the requirements from the 50s, but expected the seventies to be perhaps a bit more lenient. Alas, I was wrong. The article interviewed a recruiter who said that first, she made sure that the person was eligible, meaning that they met the height and weight requirements. What were they, you ask?

Models of the era had to be at least 5 foot 7, which is probably still fairly accurate. I think they prefer them to be at least 5 foot 9 now, but some smaller models have made it through (I’m looking at you, Kate Moss). It’s the weight that threw me for a loop: they had to be between 100 and 118 pounds.

100 and 118 pounds. On someone who is at least 5 foot 7. That makes her BMI come to between 15 and 18%, which is very underweight these days. Now, I get that people were much smaller then. I get that most models are kind of genetic unicorns who are born with a lithe, tiny body, but really? That’s what they encouraged? Add to this that this article was contained in the same issue that contained an article about anorexia and how it can be fatal.

I was really surprised. I get that sizing now is completely different than it was years back, and that bodies were generally smaller, but that would’ve been TINY even then. My sisters were tiny and they both weighed 95-100 lbs when they got married. They were 5 foot 1. My mom weighed 95 pounds when she married in 1953, and at 5 foot 6, her nickname was bones. I never really pictured models to be that thin until Kate Moss came along with her heroin chic look.

Are you surprised? And are you surprised that we still are only just starting to touch on the possibility of having normal sized people on the runway? Let’s do better, people.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Today’s Flight of Ideas

Here’s a stream of consciousness from me, given the events of the past two weeks.

We have a baby! Complicated delivery and a NICU stay, but mom and baby are home and doing great. If you want to see how it went with the big sisters when he got home, check out this video. Prepare yourself, it is the cutest thing you might ever see. And yes, his face is VERY bruised. He came out upside down.

I’m recovering from my third COVID shot. Since I have lymphoma, I have to get three full shots instead of just a booster, plus I got my flu shot at the same time. Historically, vaccines have knocked me down for several days since lymphoma came to visit, but my first two COVID vaccines did nothing. I also didn’t develop antibodies, because of my cancer treatment. Now that I’m done with treatment, it could be that the reason I’ve had a fever for three days is because it’s working, or it could just be a reaction to the flu shot. Please do not use this as a reason not to be vaccinated. I don’t have a fever today, but still feel like I’ve been run over. It’ll get better.

Here’s my favorite playlist. It’s a wonderful list made by the creator of the My Octopus Teacher score which, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is absolutely phenomenal. It’s my go-to relaxation music.

Vogue S-4866, 1948.

And this pattern. I told it this week, but just realized how much the lady in the front looks like my mom when she was young. Make the hair auburn and it could be her. She is still beautiful at 88. She would’ve been 15 in 1948.

That’s all for now. More later, when I’m feeling better.