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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.

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

Thank Your Lucky Stars for Claire

I saw this meme over the holidays and had to laugh. It’s said that it’s a white-girl thing that every time someone admires a dress, the girl responds in kind “thanks, it’s got pockets.” Now I don’t know that it’s purely a white-girl thing, but women do love themselves a good garment with pockets. And do you know who you can thank for that?

Claire McCardell.

Ms. McCardell was known as the one who invented American sportswear, and for good reason. She was tall and athletic herself, the only sister in a family with three boys, and she wanted comfortable clothes she could move in. She ended up as a founding board member of Sports Illustrated. I doubt that a fashion designer has ever had that privilege since. She really did push sportswear to a whole new level (and I’m not talking about polyester gym suits and tennis dresses here).

Claire McCardell liked simple clothes that you could move in, in fabrics like jersey that draped well and moved with you. She loved cottons too, especially in plaids. Indeed, she made plaid ok to wear for evening wear. She pushed the notion of wearing tights and flats on the streets, instead of spike heels. She made jumpsuits and their shorter version, the playsuit, ok to wear outside of the Rosie the Riveter factory jobs. She put details on clothing that hadn’t been seen before or were seen only on jeans, like topstitching and yes, pockets. Those pockets that we love so much now.

Claire McCardell made it ok to wear separates, like shorts and blouses, capris, and the like. I’ve had two Claire McCardell patterns over the years: a Spadea (that sold for over $200 at auction) and a rarely found McCall’s pattern that probably sold for much less than it should have (I can’t remember). The Spadea was for one of her iconic dresses. The McCall’s was for sportswear separates. They aren’t easy to find, but the two patterns showed the full spectrum of what McCardell did.

I’m pretty sure that this Spadea 1130 is the one I had (it’s been a while). Simple lines and pockets.

Spadea American Designer’s #1130, 1953.

Here’s the McCall’s one I had. It’s a great representation of her love for sportswear separates and sadly, is from 1958, the year Claire McCardell died a very untimely death from cancer.

McCall’s 4494, 1958. Photo compliments of the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

If you are interested in Claire McCardell’s philosophy of dress, take a look at What Shall I Wear? , a book she authored that includes all kinds of advice on how to dress. I have a copy, and I love it. If you want to see more of her designs, grab Claire McCardell Redefining Modernism. It’s a coffee table book that has all the history of her designs, along with beautiful full color photos. Set aside some time for this one. You’ll want to give it its due, because it really is a wonderful book.

Until next time,
Lisa

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