sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Centennial Promos

1970 was the 100th anniversary of McCall’s Patterns. To celebrate that milestone event, McCall’s put out a promo ad in its patterns, advertising color prints of Godey’s Lady/s Book illustrations from 1870.

For the unenlightened, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the Vogue of it’s day. It was not actually a book, but instead a monthly magazine published specifically for women. It was published from 1830 to 1878, after which it was sold, continuing to be published as Godey’s Magazine until 1896. It was significant for the scope of its contents, which included poetry, art, and articles, including those about political causes. Its significance cannot be denied, due to its huge readership.

Each issue contained a beautiful fashion illustration in the front, and these are what McCall’s reissued in 1970 for its anniversary. In addition, each issue also included a pattern and instructions for a dress, much like other women’s magazines did later, such as Beldon’s in the UK, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s in the US. Looking at these magazines gives a huge insight into the evolution of fashion.

As far as I can tell, there is no true connection between James McCall and Godey’s, but the flyer for the prints notes that Mr. McCall came over to the US from Scotland in 1870, when he started his pattern company. Perhaps they chose Godey’s prints because they were in the public domain, so the cost of doing the prints would be less than if they paid an artist to do a rendition. Perhaps they chose not to put out historical patterns of 1870 for the centennial because there wasn’t a big revivalist/reenactor movement at the time. They were probably anticipating the 1976 bicentennial revival, so perhaps they didn’t want to jump the gun. Regardless of the reason, they chose some of the most beautiful fashion illustrations of fashion history to print, so it was a nice choice, for those who love fashion and art.

The prints that McCall’s sold for their anniversary were “printed in Italy,” which I suppose made them fancy to women of the day. The printer was in Milan, and was Amicare Pizzi S.P.A. They were done in eight color prints, as opposed to the normal 4 color prints of the day. They were embossed as well and were said to be ready for framing without a mat. They were sold for $2, including postage, which converts to about $13.50 today — a bargain! As far as I know, McCall’s did not do a 150th anniversary promo in 2020. Perhaps they think that putting out their retro reprinted patterns is enough. What do you think?

Take a look at the Godey’s Book illustration examples on Amazon, eBay and Etsy.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Home Patterns

I was trying to date this particularly beautiful Ladies’ Home Journal pattern, and came across some interesting information. Note that the envelope says that Ladies’ Home Journal patterns are manufactured exclusively by The Home Pattern Company. This company was apparently dreamt up in 1904 by the people at Ladies’ Home Journal — probably trying to jump on the burgeoning sewing pattern business.

In 1907, the company held a dinner for “men in the pattern trade” — can you imagine? Only men were allowed? Sheesh. But I digress. Over 200 people attended. The toastmaster was the head of Home Patterns, Theron McCampbell. Mr. McCampbell said in his speech that his company was the “first to issue fine draft patterns,” and also the first to invite customers to meet with the officials face to face. He said that after three years in business, the Home Pattern Company now had 400 employees, sold in 2000 merchants across the country, and that in the last quarter, their printing bill had been nearly $150,000. Not a shy host, he. Apparently the biggest complaint amongst the speakers of the group was that “women were not made to fit their clothes, as designers of patterns insisted that they ought to be.”

Think about this. I’m not 100% sure what they mean, but I take it that they didn’t think women fit their patterns, or knew how to fit them, but they didn’t invite any women to the dinner where they complained about it. How does this make any sense? As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “women belong in every place where decisions are being made.”

In 1910, Home Patterns had an ad out, stating that they thought that American women could dress as stylishly as the French, and offering the chance for any woman who submitted a design to them to have her pattern printed for distribution. All they had to do was send in a rough sketch. Indeed, Home Patterns put themselves out there as being progressive, and really played down “old fashioned patterns.” It appears that the experts that they sent out to meet with women about their patterns were women themselves, but the officers of the company were always men.

It all appears to be rather short-lived, however. The Home Pattern Company disappeared from packaging certainly by 1920, and likely before 1915, when mentions of them disappeared from the newspaper. Ladies’ Home Journal continued to issue patterns into the 1970s though. It’s likely that the Home Pattern Company was absorbed somehow into the larger company. They continued to issue patterns for years, just under the Ladies’ Home Journal name.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Smartfit Patterns

I came across an ad insert in a 1932 Pictorial Review pattern, and my interest was piqued. It is for the Smartfit Foundation Pattern, designed for your figure, and available where Pictorial Printed Patterns were sold. It states that once the pattern has been adjusted to your personal figure, all fitting problems are gone. It says that it can be used with any tissue paper pattern and that you will always get a perfect fit. It appears that this was advertised as a new item in 1931 and by the end of 1932, it was gone. I haven’t been able to locate any, so I’m really interested.

The ad I have is for a 16 page instruction book that cost $1.50, which was pretty pricey for the 1930s. It appears that it was perhaps like a sloper pattern, as the ads say it was used to make a perfect muslin master pattern. The address is “Smartfit Foundation Pattern” in New York, so although it seems to be associated with Pictorial Review, they were sold under the Smartfit name. I haven’t located any yet. If you have one, please share it with me, as I’m really keen to see what they look like. I am not even sure if it’s an actual pattern, as much as it’s a booklet, because ads call it a “sewing course” as well. I’m really intrigued to think that it may be the precursor to the Golden Rule / Lutterloh pattern system.

I also found the sizing interesting. They call a 5’7″ woman average. That’s not even average now. And the “little woman” size is cute, but still wouldn’t fit my 4’11” grandmother, who was of the age at the time to use their patterns (and who worked for Pictorial Review). Interesting, yes?

Let me know what you think. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting things about patterns, aren’t you?

Have a grand day,

Lisa

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Fabulous Friday: the slip

Simplicity 1466, 1934.

For your viewing pleasure: Simplicity 1466, from 1934, for floor length women’s slips. Slips are a thing of the past for most ladies, and it’s a shame. I could identify a vintage slip by feel, because the nylon of those days is so much nicer than the icky stuff of today. Make it in silk and it’s the thing that dreams are made of. And look at that wide lace hem! ::sigh::

This pattern would work well as a slip of course, but it’s not too far of a reach for it to become a nightgown or even an evening gown slip dress, especially when paired with the right lace shawl. It’d be gorgeous in the peach color of the day, over a candlelit steak dinner. Am I right?

Now for sale in the shop, in bust size 34.

Have a lovely weekend,

Lisa

1950s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

Fashionable Friday: McCall’s 9706

McCall’s 9706, 1954

When you reach into your stash, looking for something to list, and randomly pull out this. Wow. That top is amazing. I sell a repro pattern similar to this in the shop, but this one includes the shorts and skirt too? It’s almost too much to handle that early in the morning. That lime green is pretty eye catching too, and although as a fair redhead, I couldn’t handle that color, it’s perfect for almost everyone else.

They really overdid themselves with this pattern illustration, yes? Now available in the shop.

Uncategorized

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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sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Poor Boy Tops

I listed this pattern the other day. It calls these (very cute) tops “poor boy tops.” I’ve never heard that term before. Apparently it was something that was seen in the 60s and 70s, and was a real thing at the time. Poor boy styles started to be seen at the end of 1961, but didn’t really start taking hold for a few years later. 1961 saw them being sold in combination with “hot dog pants”, which cracked me up. In 1964, they were described as “ribbed, gently shaped pullovers.” The name reported had nothing to do with poverty, but I can’t find a reference to where the term actually originated. The original poor boy tops looked more like a sweatshirt style: looser and very casual, with ribbed cuffs and collar. Keep in mind that the early 60s were a time where it became more acceptable to be seen in public wearing pants, so the style morphed over time to something more fitted and stylish, designed to be tucked in. When they were worn with hip huggers (or low-rise, for the younger set who may not know the hip hugger term), it showed off the detail of the pants, gave a longer look and accented the waist.

Poor boy tops were often knit, but were also seen in cotton, with embellishments like lace. I even found one that was made of wool. Collars could be plain or rolled. They were occasionally cropped length. I found at least one reference to poor boy dresses with dropped waistlines, but have never seen a pattern for one.

. They continued to be seen in fashion over the next few years, and dominated the Fall, 1966 season, and continued to be seen well into the 70s, though not on the top of the fashion heap. By 1976, the style had disappeared — or at least the term had.

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

Aurora Battilocchi

Advance Import 113, by Aurora Battilocchi

Aurora Battilocchi designed ladies’ fashion in the 1950s, and was thought by some to be the most creative Italian designer of the time. Her designs had a Parisian feel that combined with contemporary designs. Her designs worked for most women, because she did everything — empire looks as well as long torso looks with incredible details. She favored rich fabrics in brocades and satin, and her colors were equally so, in gold, flame red, sea blue and basic black.

One of her typical looks in 1955 was designed in tiers: a jacket where the hem created the first tier, and worn over a sheath dress that was cut again above the knee, creating the second tier above the final hem. Another model had a twilight themed skirt, with layers of pink, violet and blue organza. She was one of the only designers of the season to show a silk print. Ballgowns from this collection included a aquamarine silk dress with a pintucked bodice as well as a “tightly wound red and gold sheath with a huge bustle.” How I wish I could find a video of one of her shows!

She didn’t have much of a lifespan in American fashion though, as she disappeared from the scene here after 1961, and I can’t find anything about her from that point on. Perhaps she passed away, but she left a beautiful legacy. As was said about her in 1952, she was “renowned for her refined taste and understatement of the dramatic that is in itself dramatic.” Coco Chanel would approve.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Alexander McQueen Genius

Photo: Vogue
Jacket: Alexander McQueen
Model: Anok Yai
Photographer: Ronan McKenzie

I came across this photo of an Alexander McQueen jacket (designed by Sarah Burton) in the November issue of Vogue, and it stopped me in my tracks. My husband thought I’d lost my mind as I showed him the seams and tried to figure out what was going on. The seam coming from under the arm was driving me crazy. Was it a dart? Was it a side seam? I couldn’t figure it out.

The bodice and waist are obviously two different pieces. If it was a seam, then I’d like to see how it was cut, because it makes no sense to me. It couldn’t be joining front to back because it ends at the top of the pocket. But I’ve also never seen a dart starting under the arm like that either. It does look like there is a side seam behind it, but that one doesn’t appear to be coming from under the arm.

I pretty much obsessed over figuring this out, then put it out on my Facebook page, to have my sewing friends weigh in. They agreed that it’s a dart, even though the placement isn’t like anything I’ve seen before — but I haven’t seen a lot of true couture garments up close, either. But then my friend and guru of all things sewing patterns (and sewing) weighed in. She said it’s a princess seam, or perhaps just a curved tailoring seam. It’s a seam, not a dart. She also said it’s a true pocket (some thought it was just a flap). And then she drew me out what the front would look like in the pattern. It’s in three pieces:

Drawing by Julie Kempf

It makes a lot more sense to me now. The tailoring on this jacket is amazing, and the results are beautiful. I’m going to have to study more designs and marvel at the patternmaking. It seems to be an Alexander McQueen year for me, because I’ve basically watched all of his shows on YouTube during lockdown, and I really want to get his book, Savage Beauty (buy it here). Also, if you get a chance to watch the documentary about him, McQueen, on Amazon Prime, do it. His death was such a loss to the fashion community. I’d have loved to see what he would have done today.

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1950s fashion, sewing patterns, sexual abuse

Birdcage Waist

Butterick 8227, ©1957

I listed this pattern in the shop the other day, and found the waistline interesting. They call it a “birdcage” waistline. It’s a cummerbund waistline that included large tabs — like belt loops for a cummerbund.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I love cummerbund waistlines. I think they give a wonderful silhouette, whether they are on a party dress or a sheath, but belt loop looking things? Hmm. That being said, View A is pretty fabulous, so I could be convinced. I want to see this in person.

In looking around, it appears that Mollie Parnis did a “birdcage jacket” in 1956 that was a short jacket that stopped above the waistline. Her collection of that season had a lot of high waisted dresses, so I’m sure that looked nice, and have seen patterns with that effect. Here’s a photo:

© Photo: Courier-Post, Camden, NJ

Pauline Trigere did a “bird cage” jacket in that same year, but it sounds confusing to me: “…for girls so reed-thin that there is no risk of a pregnant look. The bird cage’s big pouf is caught in just below the knees. She uses it in everything — coats, dresses, even headdresses made of veiling tied at the top and around the shoulders with velvet ribbon.” The jacket was hipbone length. I can’t envision what the look was.

Dallas Dickey designed a birdcage jacket in 1957 that was just one inch bands of linen, spaced an inche apart, and sewn only at the shoulder and hip, over a fitted sheath dress. The effect was to look like you were wearing a blouson jacket, but then up close “the sheath shape under the spaced bands is as visible as a parakeet.” These were done in different color versions, with the designer’s favorite being a gold jacket over a red, white or black sheath. This sounds interesting, and I’d love to see a real life version.

I did find a version of this particular dress, described in a New Jersey newspaper, and done by Mr. Sidney. These were full skirted dresses though, worn with more than one petticoat and striped around the waist in contrast to the vertically striped skirts.

I’m not sure what the inspiration was in the mid-50s for all these birdcage looks. If you have any ideas, drop it in the comments.