sewing patterns, Uncategorized

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.

sewing, sewing patterns

Copyright Law & Sewing Patterns: a case study

I found this Cosmopolitan pattern for Ladies Sleeves, and was researching it to come up with a date. I found that Cosmopolitan patterns were made around the turn of the century (1900). Then I found a really interesting article.

The London newspaper, The Morning Post, published an article in March, 1893, mentioning a copyright infringement lawsuit. Two dressmakers went to court, with Mrs. Ann Hollinrake suing Mrs. Jane Eliza Truswell, accusing her of copying her sleeve pattern. Both ladies were dressmakers and indeed were professors of “scientific dresscutting.” Mrs. Hollinrake had created a chart, called a “Cosmopolitan” for creating ladies’ sleeves, but said that Mrs. Truswell had stolen it and was publishing it under the name “Ideal.”

Mrs. Truswell’s attorney argued that the chart was something without literary merit, thus was not eligible for copyright protection. He furthermore argued that if it was a patent protection question, that Mrs. Hollinrake was not the first publisher, and therefore did not qualify for patent protection.

When judgment was given, it was stated that “it appeared that the sleeves of ladies dresses were cut out in two parts, which were sewn together. There was an upper side which was wider and an inner side which was narrower, and there had long been in use a piece of paper or cardboard which had been used as a pattern for the outer side, and several prior specifications had been brought before him showing these patterns for cutting out of the outer side marked with scales and measurements for adaptation to the various lengths of the arm.” The judge further stated that in 1885, a man named Cook had created an incomplete way to create set of measurements for the inner part of the sleeve. The Cosmopolitan pattern Mrs. Hollinrake now owned was created by a Mr. Kendall, and was bought by her for the enormous sum of 10,000 pounds. The Cosmopolitan did away with the formulas previously required and relied only on the measurement of the arm. It was, by 1893, in wide use, and could be used without any in depth training. The judge thought that the defendant had inflated the difference between the Cosmopolitan and the Ideal, stating that it was “in substance and principle, exactly the same as the plaintiff’s.” Thought he acknowledged that the defendants had likely tweaked the original to some extent, it was not enough of a change to say that she was not infringing on the rights of Mrs. Hollinrake, who owned the original Cosmopolitan.

Then he got into the weeds of the law, where historically patterns and copyrights get complicated. He found problems in exactly where a pattern fit into copyright law, eventually settling on calling it a “chart” or “plan,” which would make it eligible for copyright protection. He decided against the plaintiff and gave judgment against her, including court costs. The article ends stating an injunction was given to give the defendant time to decide if she would appeal.

Interesting that although this may have nothing to do with my Cosmopolitan pattern — ironically, for sleeves — it does show the complexities of copyright law as it pertains to sewing patterns. Patterns generally come with a copyright on them, and although I’m not an attorney, it’s my understanding that the patterns themselves are considered in the US to be “useful” items, and can’t be copyrighted for this reason. However, the artwork, diagrams and instructions can be, so although the pattern pieces may not be copyrighted, everything else contained, including the envelope illustrations, charts and descriptions, as well as any interior instructions, can be. That being said, copyrights expire, so a turn of the century pattern would no longer be in copyright. After 1924, it may be, depending upon if the copyright was renewed. And after 1963, everything will remain in copyright, as it would renew automatically forever. For this reason, if you are selling or buying reproduction patterns, it’s very important to completely research the copyright, to make sure you aren’t in violation (and you are definitely in violation for a pattern after 1963).

I sell some reproduction patterns, but they are deeply researched, because I certainly wouldn’t want the big companies coming after me. All it would take is one test case, and all the repro companies would be out of business. So do your due diligence. Shop with trustworthy sellers who have done their research, and don’t support illegal copies. If you do, one day they may copy your favorite seller’s originals (think: Gertie or Angela) and put them out of business.

Food for thought.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, Vintage Kids

Helen Lee

McCalls 6024

Helen Lee created some of the cutest children’s patterns published during the 1950s and 1960s. She was a designer of international fame who partnered with Sears & Roebuck in 1965 on their popular Winnie the Pooh line, seen in their store for years. She was an icon of children’s fashion for decades.

Ms. Lee was from Knoxville, Tennessee, where she studied psychology. Her little girls were her muses. First note of her collections was in 1948, though she may have started just before that. By the 1950s, she was a top children’s designer. She held the belief that little girls associate themselves with their clothes from a very young age and that by age 7, could not separate themselves from their dress. She said that little girls should not be dressed in blue jeans, even if it meant that mothers had to iron ruffles every day. Her feeling was that if a girl was complimented on her dress, she would think positively of herself and feel pretty, but if she was criticized, it would be hurtful, creating bad feelings about herself. The thought of the day was that blue jeans were better for children, because mothers didn’t want them to get their good clothing dirty, but Ms. Lee held that children would get dirty regardless.

Her 1964 McCall’s pattern line was inspired by her toddler granddaughter Hillary Ball, daughter of journalist Ian Ball, who walked the runway in one of her shows. She stated that the entire line was inspired by Hillary. Her collection of that line, called “Little Craft”, and designed for preschoolers from ages two to six, had no frippery like loops or dangles, to keep them from getting caught on playground equipment. By this time, she included rompers and bell bottom trousers in her collections. For older girls that year, she said jumpers and pinafores were “cliche” and created A line Easter dresses with matching capes, and pleated skirts. She was no longer showing what she called “grandmother’s dresses” full of frills and ruffles — called this because “only a grandmother could keep up” with the care required for all the bows and ruffles. Oh, how times had changed.

The late sixties saw Ms. Lee shift, saying that the department stores were full of Carnaby-Street inspired clothing that didn’t go together. She produced a sportwear line of dresses, jumpers, skirts and sweaters that were more adult-like but stopped, per usual, at size 14. She veered away from cottons and used man-made fibers that looked upscale but were machine washable. All of the separates went together for a great mix and match look.

Ms. Lee shunned pastel colors, calling them “propaganda started by adults.” She felt that children have such wonderful coloring that they can wear any color, so she preferred oranges (as seen above), yellows, browns, reds and black. She preferred cottons, but used a lot of velvet for special occasion dresses. When asked about the daily ironing that cottons necessitated, she said “a mother who cares wouldn’t mind.” Ouch.

Ms. Lee won the Coty Award in 1953, and later the Ribbon Award for design, as well as the Neimann Marcus award. She had international shows as well as shows in the US, even selling in Russia in the 1960s. Caroline Kennedy wore her clothing. She designed for not only Sears & Roebuck but also for Danskin, and two other companies who she never disclosed. She not only designed patterns for McCall’s, but also for Spadea and Prominent Designer. She travelled internationally looking for inspiration, and planned her fabrics a year in advance. In later years, her daughter Jenny, who had studied art, helped her with the Winnie the Pooh line at Sears. The last mention of a fashion line from her was in 1977, where it was mentioned that she planned to put out a line of clothing for boys. It’s not clear if she ever did. She died in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1991 after a series of strokes. She was 82.

Click here and here to see Helen Lee patterns listed in my shop. You can see patterns available from other sellers here, here and here.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Treasured

McCall’s 4365

People email or call me from time to time, asking if I buy patterns. I do, sometimes. I’m always interested in what people have, and what the story behind them is. It’s very easy to hoard patterns, so I have to be cautious. At one point, I had 40,000+ patterns, but that was when I had a huge workspace. These days, not so much. That being said, I still have patterns in every corner of my office, mostly because I love them so much.

Last week, a lady emailed me saying that her mother had recently passed away, leaving several hundred patterns. The daughter plans to send some to the Vintage Sewing Center and Museum, but postage is very expensive, so she wanted to pass some along locally. We set a time and I went to look. What a sweet lady she is. She had all of the patterns laid out in boxes for me to look at in her garage. She even had a water bottle for me, in case I was thirsty.

The best part of getting patterns from people is hearing the stories associated with them. She said that her mother was a prolific sewist who made all of her clothes. She said that looking through the patterns was a blast from the past, because so many of them were associated with memories from her childhood. She had even found the pattern for her wedding dress in the mix, but she had thankfully pulled it out to keep it for herself. The patterns are a beautiful mix of kids’, women’s, mens and a few other assorted things like toys or home decor. She suggested that I take them home to look at them.

While I was browsing, she asked “is this you?”. I looked, and she was holding up a newspaper article about my shop, printed in the Indianapolis Star probably fifteen years ago. I told her yes, it was me — my name is different now — and we got talking. Turned out that we had lived in the same neighborhood in Indianapolis, gone to the same church, and she worked at the library we frequented for years. She left about ten years before we got there, but the parallels were crazy. Turned out that her mom had tucked the newspaper article into the boxes of patterns. “I think she wanted you to have them,” she said. I believe her.

So that’s how I ended up coming home with several hundred new-to-me patterns that I will treasure. And this is why I do what I do. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve connected to patterns from their past: their wedding dress pattern, kids patterns that their mom used for them and now they want to make it for their own kids, even one lady’s 1956 prom dress pattern, so she could make it for her granddaughter. I love what I do. I love the stories of where patterns came from, and where they are going, and I love the human connection. They are small pieces of fashion history that are so personal. I treasure them all.

Thank you, Melva. I will be custodian of your treasures until they find the next person who loves them.

Celebrity, Hollywood, vintage clothing

Valentina

Who knew that Milwaukee holds a treasure trove of a couturier for some of the icons of fashion history? At Mount Mary College, in their Historic Costume Collection, there are almost 400 original Valentina toiles and garments, as well as personal documents and more. In Milwaukee. I’ve always said that the hidden gems are held in places you’d least expect, and now Milwaukee is on my bucket list.

Valentina was born in 1898, and was orphaned during the Russian revolution, and reportedly was rescued at a train station by George Schlee, who she subsequently married after escaping the country. They were married in Russia in 1920, and emigrated to New York via Paris in 1922. She is shown in the 1925 New York census as a housewife to George and notes herself as a naturalized US citizen. In 1930, she is found living in Manhattan with George, again as a housewife, though reports state she started her business in 1928, with dresses she pulled out of her own closet. Of note, the 1930 census states she is still an alien, and not a US citizen, and she subsequently applied for citizenship in 1932, noting herself again to be a housewife. In 1937, papers laud her for her costumes in the play “Idiot’s Delight.” She costumed a few movies in the early 1950’s, but was most known for the celebrities she dressed, such as Greta Garbo and Lynne Fontanne. (The photo above are of garments from Ms Fontanne’s collection and was worn in Idiot’s Delight.)

Valentina was known for her monochromatic designs, often having a stark monastic look. She costumed many stage shows, including dressing Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. The drape of the garments is beautiful and so simple in design as to not distract from the wearer. She loved to use opulent fabrics to create a lush effect that had customers flocking to her. She was held at the same level as Claire McCardell would be later, and there are some similarities in their garments, as both created simple garments that were comfortable to wear. Much of the work was hand done and there was not a lot of ornamentation. She truly was the torch bearer for the minimalism that we see today, but would not be popularized until the 1990’s.

Valentina wore her designs and was able to build her business in that way, given her status as a fashion icon of the time. Barry Paris noted in his book Garbo that Garbo and Valentina had a falling out over George in the years before he died, and though they lived in the same apartment building, they created a schedule where they would never run into each other in the lobby. She died in 1989 from Parkinson’s Disease in New York.

Valentina’s name is not as widely known today, being overshadowed by Valentino, who is not only male, but Italian. Her work still deserves to be seen and studied, because she set the bar in many ways for many designers to come.

Photos: Threads Magazine

sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Interesting

I blogged about this pattern illustration some time back. Look at how weird it’s drawn. It looks rather juvenile, especially when compared to other similar patterns of the era. This is Butterick 4699, from the 1940s. I love the style and, like it says, it’s Quick and Easy to make. But that illustration is disturbing. The faces are so crudely drawn, and when you add the claw-like hands to it, it’s really kind of creepy.

Then I came across this:

Same pattern, without the wonky faces. Doesn’t it look so much better? Now, I’m not sure I’ve seen other Butterick patterns from the era that were drawn only in outline, but in this case, it’s a vast improvement. I have no idea what happened here, but I’m thinking that the fashion editors rethought it and reissued the pattern without the weird illustrations. What do you think?

Both are available in my shop. Click here for to purchase Ms. Outline (waist 24).

vintage clothing

Scarf Tricks

Scarves have come into the public eye more lately, since pandemic public figures such as Dr Birx and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi often show up wearing them. I’ve never been one to wear scarves, figuring they require a skill set that I don’t have. Also, Nora Ephron indtimated in her book “I Feel Bad About My Neck” that scarves are for middle aged ladies, and I’m not admitting to that quite yet.

But I do remember the 70s, and how my sisters would make little halter tops from bandannas and scarves. Nothing as stylish as this — we were preacher’s kids after all — but upcycle boho looks. These ones are pretty amazing, and while the 1973 article this is derived from doesn’t tell you how to twist the scarves into the look, it’s a great chance for you to DIY.

Uncategorized

I fold, again.

I love pleats, especially tiny detailed ones. I thought I’d share this lovely illustration of different types of pleats, derived from Book 4 of A Modern Course in Home Sewing and Dressmaking, published in 1926, and availabl for download here.

So looking at all of this fancy folded fabric reminds me of a story. My youngest son talks in his sleep. As in, you can hold an entire conversation with him while he’s sound asleep. It may not make any sense whatsoever, but he will definitely tell you things. It’s legendary among those who know hi Some years back when he was about ten, we took a cruise through the Panama Canal. The kids had a fine time and spent a lot of time in the library playing poker amongst themselves (my oldest was really into Texas Hold ’em at the time. The cruise was just after Christmas, and he’d gotten cards and chips as a gift, so he took them along.) On the plane ride home from San Diego, the youngest sat next to me. He had been running like mad for two weeks, and fell soundly asleep as soon as we were airborne. An hour or two later, he suddenly sat up with a disgusted look on his face, looked me straight in the eye and said with a sigh “I fold…….again.” Then he laid his head down and slept the rest of the flight without incident. It still cracks me up fifteen years later.

embroidery

Kaumagraph Transfers

I’ve come across a lot of McCall Kaumagraph Transfers in my time. They can be anything from actual embroidery transfers, to wall decor that you cut out and past to a wall. They’re interesting in the vast difference of what they involved: delicate florals, to quilting transfers to Peter Rabbit to Chinese art. They covered the gamut of pop culture of the time.

When I went looking into Kauamagraphs, I found a single ad listing in a newspaper in 1912. It only mentioned they were quick to use — no history or technique, just a quick ad. Searching another archive found that McCall sent out representatives to teach how to use the new transfers. There was nothing in 1913, though they must’ve continued to make them, because ads showed up again in 1914 for an embroidery supply store in Corvallis, Oregon, stating that there were over 500 different Kaumagraph transfgers in stock. Apparently they were popular, which isn’t surprising given the delicate embroidery done on clothing of the time period.

McCall put out an Embroidery Book catalog that listed the transfers available. This was separate from their pattern catalog, although pattern catalogs of the time referenced the associated embroidery patterns, as did pattern envelopes. McCall had figured out that there was money to be made by selling transfers separately. Ads did not begin to be seen frequently until the 1920s, and it was at this time that the transfers began to be seen for home furnishings. Again, this is from advertising — the home decor transfers may have been seen in the Embroidery Books, but I haven’t researched that genre.

A December, 1921 ad mentions that “the newest thing is applique work which can be done quickly and requires an experienced hand,” suggesting Kaumagraph transfers can help with that process. Art medallions such as this and this were seen in 1927, to be cut out and applied to furniture, then varnished over for a decorative look — probably similar to the decoupage commonly seen in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1928, ads for Kaumagraphs had disappeared from newspapers, suggesting that they either fell out of favor or, more likely, were renamed to simply embroidery transfer, as McCalls continued to market transfers in one shape or form for years. It could be that the renaming is because other companies used the term Kaumagraph for their transfers, as it is a generic term for a hot iron transfer, and is not exclusively used by McCall at the time. It is technically still used today, though most people wouldn’t recognize the term kaumographer as someone who does heat transfers.

In either event, McCall seemed to be a forerunner in embroidery transfers, especially with their foray into the decorative medallions. Have you seen any Kaumagraphs? I know there are some collectors out there. Share your favorites. I’d love to see them.

sewing, Uncategorized

I Made a Thing

My granddaughter’s name is Isla. She’s named after a server in a haggis restaurant in Scotland, where my daughter and her husband visited before she was born. They went to Ireland as well, so I’ve always gifted Isla with Irish and Scottish gifts. Last fall, I got her a kilt at the Scottish festival here. I got her an Irish knit blanket for Christmas. There’s definitely a theme.

So last winter, I saw this vintage 70s Campbell’s Soup kid doll kit on Etsy, and decided to make it for her. I actually got her the boy doll too, but decided to make the girl first to see how she liked it. She loves dolls, but trust me when I say just how creepy this thing was along the way. I wish I still had the pictures of the face before I stuffed it, because it was reminiscent of something Buffalo Bill would’ve come up with. The dogs were terrified and wouldn’t stop barking at her.

I started on it in December, but if you recal, I’m a beginning sewist and the shirt came together REALLY wonky, so I put it away in frustration. Then last week, I realized that Isla’s birthday was the next day, and I hadn’t gotten a gift. Quarantine has frozen my brain, and we haven’t gotten to see much of the grandgirls because we are in full quarantine because of my cancer and my husband’s heart disease, not to mention my 87 yo mom. So I pulled the whole thing out again and started sewing. Amazingly, the shirt came together really easily — it was a huge struggle the first time — and the rest was simple. (I had already completed the doll in December.) I decided that the hair being done in curls like it shows was just too much for my short timeframe. If I’d had red yarn, I would’ve done some crazy Merida hair, but I didn’t, so she became a blonde, which is ok, because Isla is blonde too.

You see the final results. Kinda creepy but kinda cute. Isla saw her and gave her a big hug, so I guess it was a win. I may make the boy for her for Christmas, which means she’ll get it next summer.

If you like her, you can buy the kit on Etsy here (shows the boy and the girl). It really isn’t that hard, even for a beginner like me.