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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.

I may receive a small stipend from purchases made from my links. I only post links to things I love and think that you will enjoy.

1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns

Susie Stephens – Midwest Goodness

Butterick 6879.

I listed this cute pattern in the shop this morning. It’s Butterick 6879 and it’s adorable. I love View A, but can’t imagine doing all that bias tape trim. It’d be worth the work, but wow. This pattern is part of the “Susie Stephens” line from Butterick.

Susie Stephens, in case you didn’t know, is a line of sewing patterns designed by students at Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri. (Fun fact: I grew up not far from there, and always thought of it as a rich kids school. But I digress.) At Stephens, they had a yearly fashion show done by the students. It was called “Susie Stephens.” It commonly had a theme, such as in 1952, where the them was “Campus Classics from the Classics,” and featured garments and millinery inspired by books such as Little Women, David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights. These garments were shown in fashion shows around the Midwest.

A 1947 article notes that the designs were fresh and adaptable, with rompers that had skirts to go over them, coats with enough volume to carry books underneath during the rainy season, and much more. On the day of the show, it was surmised that the garment district of St Louis must’ve emptied out and headed to Columbia, along with designer staff from Kansas City and New York. Budding designers were hired straight from these shows. The next day, the show was done again for the people of Columbia, where customers could choose the garment or the patterns, to take to their dressmaker for adaptations.

By 1950, Butterick had taken notice, and started their “Susie Stephens” line. This line was specifically created from the Stephens College students’ designs, and was advertised for teenagers. By 1952, they had printed 30 designs in the Susie Stephens line, but it seems to have waned in popularity after 1953, and disappeared completely after 1954. It’s worth taking a look at this cute line of patterns.

sewing patterns

A Mini-Rant Wrapped Up In An Informative Post

I may have mentioned some time back that I’ve sold online for years. I started out when eBay was text only — no pictures — so I’ve been around the block a time or two. I started out buying homeschool books, then started selling them, and it morphed from there. I started selling sewing patterns around 1999 or so, and have been hard at it ever since. I love what I do. I’ve been on eBay, another online mall (that now appears to be a porn site – WOW), my own website, and have been happily settled on Etsy for several years. I go back and forth about going back to my own website, but haven’t decided, so there I stay.

Once in a while, I get a message from someone on Etsy, asking if I will take (insert number) dollars for the pattern(s) they want to purchase. My standard response, thanks to one of my friends’ brilliance is “I’m sorry, but I post my best price.” Because I do. I’m not running a garage sale. This is my primary income. I take pride in what I do, and it’s WORK. Let me tell you how it works when one is selling patterns.

First, you have to find the patterns. I’ve been blessed. I’ve been featured in the Indianapolis Star, as well as Threads Magazine. I don’t have a shortage of people contacting me to buy patterns from them. I have to set up a time to look at them, and then travel to the location. I have to look through them and decide if they are something I really need, because patterns accumulate rather quickly. I’m choosy. Then I take them home and the work begins.

I have to count each pattern, making sure that not only all of the pieces are there, but that the pieces in the envelope match the pattern number and size on the envelope. A lot of sewists do mash ups, so I’ve found three or four patterns all in one envelope. This sorting takes time. I watch Netflix while I’m doing it sometimes. The other day, it took me two hours to get through about ten patterns because they were complicated and mashed up. It’s a process.

Once I’ve got the patterns counted and have noted any missing pieces, I take photos. I have a little space set up for this, but also have to have the right lighting. Then I have to edit the photos so they look nice. Old patterns aren’t always the easiest to make pretty, and though I don’t go to the Photoshop extremes that some people do, again, it takes time. Then I post photos to Instagram and Facebook, and try to remember to add them to Pinterest. This requires captioning and hashtags, so again, time.

Then I make the listing, again adding description, title, tags, and the like. I research prices to see what I want to list it at. Then, for history’s sake, I add the pattern to the Vintage Pattern Wiki, because that’s where the archive of patterns is located. I add a link to my shop’s listing there, too, so people can find it. When the pattern sells, I have to go back to the wiki and delete that link. Once I’m done with all of this, I file the pattern away numerically, in one of the pattern cabinets I own. It’s tedious. Filing is not my favorite thing, but it’s better than the old days when I would make the kids do it, and my daughter purposefully misfiled things because she didn’t want to do it.

Of course, when the pattern sells, there are shipping procedures, and a daily run to the post office, but you get my drift: this is work. I love love love what I do, and I’m glad that my customers find me and purchase from me. But it’s work. Are some pattern prices really high? YES. Are some patterns available less expensively somewhere else? Sometimes, but those sellers don’t make any money when you compare to the time they’ve spent.

I’m a professional seller who takes pride in her work, and has to pay her bills. So please people, before you go asking an Etsy seller if they will take less money for their hard work, think it through, because we’re not running a garage sale. We’re conducting business, and business doesn’t work like that. If it does, it won’t be doing it for long.

::end mini rant wrapped up in an informational post::

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.

Click here to purchase.

1970s fashion, sewing patterns

Mrs Roper Was a Prophet

I wasn’t allowed to watch Three’s Company when I was a kid. My mother said I was “too young.” Basically, she was appalled by all that jiggling, but then again, she said I was “too young” to watch Gone With the Wind until I was in high school too, so I’m not sure where the bar was for her. I’ve seen a few shows of Three’s Company over the years, and was always amused by the always-clad-in-a-caftan Mrs Roper. Looking back, I think she most likely was an ancestor of the beloved Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek, but it would take a month of blog posts to discuss Moira’s fashion (which is AMAZING!).

Mrs Roper probably wore the most comfortable wardrobe in television history. Can you imagine how comfortable it was to never have a waistline, never have to worry about weight, and to have fabric fluttering around you under the lights? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important it is to be comfortable, especially over the past few months. But you know, I got thinking about it and realized that Mrs Roper was really preparing us for a prophet.

Think about it — caftans are perfect for Netflix and chill evenings (or days). They’re perfect for quarantine when, if you are like me, some extra pounds accumulate from baking banana bread and eating a lot of carbs. They hide all the figure flaws. You can even hide the fact that you’ve not been to the gym. Alternately, many of them can be belted, to change the look up. So when I came across this pattern in my stash, I squealed. It’s not only a long caftan, but you can make it in a pullover caftan top AND elastic waistband palazzo pants! I think this is the perfect 2020 outfit. Click here to purchase in my shop.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Donald Brooks

I found this pattern in my to-be-listed pile and wondered, as is typical of my inquiring nature, who Donald Brooks was. What I found was that I’m not sure I liked him very much.

Donald Mark Blumberg was a lifelong New Yorker. He worked in the early 50s doing window dressing for Lord & Taylor, while he was still a student at Parsons. Lord & Taylor asked him to design a collection for them, and his career took off from there. He began working at Townley in 1958, and took over the helm after Claire McCardell died — those were some BIG shoes to fill. (The more you learn about him, the more you will realize how different he was from her).

He worked at Townley until 1964. He favored bold prints. His 1960s Townley collection featured a python printed chiffon evening gown as its centerpiece. 1964 featured cowl necks (like the one above), bare shoulders, and got away from side closings on dresses. He opened his own house in 1965. Mid 60’s found him noted as one of the “three B’s”: Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Donald Brooks. He was all about details like back belts (martingale belts, as they had been known in the 40s and 50s), detailed metal belts, and the like. He dressed Babe Paley and Jacqueline Kennedy, and did a number of theatrical costuming jobs as well.

In 197s, it was said by the New York Daily News that Pat Nixon must’ve been planning a trip to China, because she bought one of his evening gowns, in a Chinese theme. He denied this, saying he had “no great rapport with the Nixons,” and added that his designs were “to theatrical and young” for the First Lady. Well. Judgmental, much?

In October, 1972, he was interviewed and said that women had been dressing down for a period of time and during that time had gotten away from fur. He thought fur was coming back. He said “American women’s guilt complex about ‘obviously chic’ clothes are erased now because achievement prone women have concluded that fashion is not a deterrent to accomplishment.” Wow. By this point, I was really thinking him to be rather a misogynist and wondered about many of his life choices. That year, he showed a collection of fur caftans in poncho, street and cape lengths, saying basically that any woman could wiggle, but wearing a draped poncho was more sensuous. He defended himself on the fur issue by saying he didn’t use any endangered furs because he did “no crimes against nature.” He did one collection a year from that point on.

Later in the 70s, he was primarily known for his work with fur, which continued to be his focus for the remainder of his career. He was quoted at one point as saying “You can turn an absolute whore into a lady by just putting pearls around her neck.”

See what I mean?

He was a great designer, winning the Coty Award three times, starting in 1962. He had Three Oscar nominations, including “The Cardinal” which required 2000 costumes, including 138 ball gowns. He ultimately designed for Ann Taylor, beginning in 1990, and died on Long Island in 2005 at age 77, as a result of effects from a heart attack he had a couple of weeks before.

That being said, I do love the dress shown above. It’s simple chic, and not difficult to sew, either. Click here to purchase from my shop.

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.

1950s fashion, Celebrity, designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Who was Hannah Troy?

McCall’s 5289, 1959, by Hannah Troy.

I came across this fantastic pattern the other day, and as I was listing it in the shop, noticed that it was designed by Hannah Troy. I’ve never seen a Hannah Troy pattern, and never heard of her, so I did some digging.

Hannah purportedly entered into the fashion industry in 1940 through a design she made herself, then sold for $3. She became a fashion model, and in a rather ballsy move for a model, suggested a different drape of fabric to the designer she was modelling for. I guess she didn’t believe in the (very wrong) belief that models are just clothes hangers and shouldn’t think. That suggestion led to her immediately becoming assistant to the designer, then head designer for another company, then to her branching off on her own to create Hannah Troy, Inc. Not bad for someone who started as a home sewist, yes?

Hannah revolutionized the clothing industry when she began designing for women with short waists. She was working as a model at May Company, and after spending days watching salespeople show short waisted women how to alter clothing to fit, decided there should be a petite line, made particularly for short waisted women. She enlisted help from the military, of all places, deciding that they would have the best database of women’s measurements. She got measurements of the WACs from the quartermaster, and found that the majority of women she studied were short waisted. She called the measurements she used in designing “Troyfigure,” and went to work.

One of Hannah’s most influential designs was one that Grace Kelly wore when she went to Europe early in her career. That also happened to be the trip where she met Prince Rainier. Hannah was also considered to be one of the most influential people in bringing attention to Italian fashion. In 1951, exports of Italian goods was $1 million, and by 1955, was $1 billion dollars, all in large part of the fact that she lauded the Italian goods. She was celebrated all over Italy for the help she gave their fashion industry, even being given the Star of Solidarity — the first American woman to be so honored.

Hannah designed with “complete wearability” as her foundation, and felt that the best designs were those that “lent themselves to the individual tastes of the greatest numbers of women.” She wanted to design for the masses, and bring the European styles to American women. Not unlike Coco Chanel, she felt that the best designs compliment, not overwhelm. Interestingly, she didn’t think women’s knees were pretty on anyone, even those with good legs. As the sixties marched on, she pronounced the pantsuit trend as “silly”, and thought the trend of women wearing teen styles was “ridiculous.” She did very well for herself, designing for a number of socialites and celebrities. Newspaper articles describe her apartment as elegant, and having decor that included rare antiquities from ancient Chinese dynasties.

She retired to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970s, after thirty years in the fashion industry, and died of a heart attack June 22, 1993, in a Miami hospital. She was 93.

sewing patterns

Fashion Wars

Spring, 1876 Butterick Pattern catalog

I added this 1876 Butterick catalog as a downloadable PDF in the shop. I found something interesting inside.

Butterick started selling sewing patterns in 1863. May Manton had already been selling patterns for three years, and other pattern companies developed soon afterward, but Butterick was generally at the top of the pile in the 1870s. There is a foreward written by Ebenezer Butterick in this catalog, stating unequivocally that they are not going out of business. From what he writes, the rumor mill had started spreading word that Butterick was “winding up our business and making arrangements to retire from trade.” He states emphatically that this is not the case by saying “these, with similar reports too numerous to mention, too contemptible to notice, have been spread with a persevering industry and an intense malignity that could only find their source in the hatred of interested parties or the envy of unsuccessful competitors.” Mr. Butterick is pissed.

He goes on to say “we have always endeavored to treat parties engaged in the same business as ours with all proper consideration and respect; we have encouraged, not thwarted, competition, and we have generally met with similar treatment at the hdns of others, but where the public prints have been made the medium of libelous slanders, and where agents have been specially instructed to spread them among business men, we feel it a duty both to the public and ourselves to expose their falsity and absurdity.”

I just love how people spoke back in the day. Our speech has gotten so lazy, and our vocabulary has shrunk so much from earlier years. But I digress, as usual.

Mr. Butterick gives a “most distinct, emphatic, unqualified denial” of the rumor, stating they never have considered retiring from business, are in a great position business-wise, and never expressed an intent to leave. He states they never spoke detrimentally about the competition and welcome them openly.

This must have been a whisper campaign, as I can find nothing in the archives to indicate that Butterick planned to retire, but it also must have been whispered loudly enough that he felt he needed to address it for posterity, and in writing. Corporate business was ugly, even before the turn of the century.

If you want to learn more about the history of sewing patterns, check out Blueprints of Fashion, by costume designer Wade Laboisseniere. He wrote two volumes, one about the 40s, and one about the 50s, and they are full of photos and text of the history of patterns of the eras. (This is an affiliate link, meaning I may make a tiny bit of money from your purchase.) They are two of the best books written on the subject of sewing patterns, and even include information in the back about what pattern numbers correlate with which years of printing. Just don’t reprint and sell that information. It’s copyrighted, and I’ve spoken with Mr Laboisseniere about people who profit from his research. He is not amused, and rightfully so.

If you want to purchase the downloadable 1876 catalog from the shop, click here.

Until next time.