family stories, Non-Hogkin's Lymphoma, self help, self love, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

All the Love

Butterick 3120 , 1944.

There’s a commercial on TV right now that I believe is for a cancer facility. It says that a person never forgets the moment they were told that they had cancer. Let me tell you about that moment for me.

I had had surgery for a large mass in my back that had been causing an incredible amount of pain. Doctors varied on what they thought it was – infectious disease thought an infection, orthopedics thought perhaps it was a hemorrhage (I’d been the chiropractor in search of pain relief), and oncology thought it was a tumor. So I spent the night in the hospital the night before to manage the pain, and they rolled me off to surgery not knowing what was in store.

It was cancer. I woke up from anesthesia surround by my boys and my husband (I can’t remember why my daughter wasn’t there but I think the baby was sick). My husband took my hand and looked very serious, which in itself is a big deal, because he’s a sarcastic nutjob like me. Everyone stared at me very intently as he told me what they’d found. A huge tumor, wrapped around the spinal cord, that they couldn’t remove without a tremendously complicated surgery. They didn’t know what kind of tumor, but they biopsies and closed me up. If they had to, they’d go back in, but we needed more information.

I will tell you that I have never felt more love in my entire life. The looks of concern in those three men’s eyes was something I will never forget. And you know what? I didn’t get upset. I didn’t get worried. I knew we had this, because with love like that, how can anything go wrong?

They didn’t know till later that day exactly what kind of cancer. It turned out to be lymphoma, and there were other tumors. We came up with a plan, starting with radiation to, as my orthopedist said, “melt” the spinal tumor. Three radiation sessions and it was completely gone. Immunotherapy, to kill the rest. A year later, there is no sign of the other tumors, though I have another year and a half of maintenance treatment to keep it gone. I have gone from Stage IIIB to “no evidence of disease.” Yes, it may come back, because with my type of cancer there is no cure, just remissions of varying length. But till then, I live my life and have a lot of fun.

So yes, you really do remember the moment you were told you have cancer. But that’s just the beginning, not an end. And in the middle, have a lot of fun.

Hospital gown pattern from World War II era, likely made for new moms who were in the hospital. Why can’t bed jackets make a comeback? They’re so pretty.

Have a great weekend.

sewing

Sewing Birds

1911 Daniel Low & Co catalog

I came across this ad in a catalog called “One Hundred Birthday Gifts,” published in 1911 by Daniel Low & Company. I was fascinated by this “sewing bird.” They were used as a third hand, to help hold one’s sewing project taut. The bird clamps to the table, then you insert the end of the fabric into the bird’s mouth, so you have your hands free to do the sewing. Some, like this one, have one or two pincushions on them, and though some are quite plain, others are very ornate. This one sold for 85 cents, which in today’s currency would be roughly $25.

Sewing birds were invented by one Thaddeus Fowler, who had other inventions like a machine to stick pins into paper, one to sort pins, and ones to make needles and horseshoes. Ads for sewing birds were first seen around 1852. There were birds also that could be used to wind skeins of thread or yarn, and were quite popular. The price then was from 20 to 88 cents, and they seemed to be most commonly sold by jewelers. Mr. Fowler, unfortunately, died destitute in 1887,

I’m fascinated by things like this. I’ve never seen one in use. Have you? Click here to see the sewing bird listings on ebay. I believe that this one is a twin to this ad.

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.

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.

genealogy, Non-Hogkin's Lymphoma, sewing patterns

Me, Myself and I

Here I am again, starting over with my blogging life. Many moons ago, I was active with The Vintage Fashion Librarian, but I went through a rought patch in life, got divorced, got remarried, and life moved on. I ended up deleting the blog, which regret to this day, so I decided to start again, because my love of vintage fashion and sewing patterns knows no bounds, and I have a knack for finding nuggets of information that I think should be shared. So here I am. I am, as they say baaaaaack! I

My journey in vintage started in 1999, though if I think about it, it goes back to childhood. I have always loved old stuff: movie, jewelry, clothes, magazines, books, you name it. I grew up mostly in rural Missouri and Indiana, had had no idea that wearing vintage was a thing. I just knew I loved old stuff. So when I got grown, as they say, and had kids, my daughter and I began to scour shops for fun stuff. She did pet rescue as a kid, funding all of the vaccines and surgeries for her animals through garage sales and sales from a booth she had at a local antique mall. We found lots of interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, I was selling on ebay. I got started when listings were just text — no pictures — and actually traded something with my middle school aged son’s best friend to take his digital camera off his hands. Old ebay was so much fun. I sold a lot of homeschool books (we were homeschoolers), then started buying to resell homeschool books. Then I started selling for other people. When the store concept started on ebay, I wanted to open a store but couldn’t figure out what I wanted to have be my niche. Somehow — and to this day, I have no idea how — I ended up settling on sewing patterns. I still remember the first pattern I listed, with a crappy picture, taken with the 70s pattern for a dress with flounced hem and thick straps tossed on the carpet of our living room floor. And that’s where it started.

At given times, I was either the second or third highest pattern seller on ebay (when you could see that information — remember, ebay was fun then). I moved off ebay when the fees got too high, then moved yet again and opened my own site. LOVED it, but life was getting busy. I had three teenagers, my marriage was a mess, and I just didn’t devote the time to selling. (Through all of this, I was also working full time as a nurse. Good times.) I ended up taking the website down and moving to Etsy on a much smaller scale.

Fast forward through a divorce, sending 81 printer paper boxes of patterns to Texas, and severely downsizing, getting remarried, getting the kids graduated from high school and two out of college and grad school, and here I am. I have a new husband, and overseer of care for my mom (my dad died in April), and am in treatment for lymphoma. So, when COVID came around, I decided that with the health challenges I’m facing, it just wasn’t worth the risk to me, my elderly mom and husband, or my family for me to risk bringing that nasty virus home, and I took a medical leave. I didn’t look back. Mind you, I’m not sure I’m retired — I have to sell enough patterns to make this work — but I’m selling patterns and researching fashion full time, with a side of grandkids and genealogy to boot.

I’m also trying to learn to sew because, let’s be completely transparent here , I barely sew. I can knit (some), needlepoint (passably) and embroidery (fairly well). I can sew a straight seam and honestly can tell you a LOT about patterns, except detailed information about sewing. So I figured it’s time to learn. I also am researching more of my husband’s and my family histories, doing a little painting, and learning Hebrew (I’m not Jewish. I’m doing it for fun. I’m really nuts). So here I am.

I’m listing patterns every day. Researching details about fashion every day. Loving life during lockdown, since I’m a natural introvert. Just humming along. So that’s me. Stay tuned for fun and games with The Vintage Librarian.