Vintage Sewing – New Look 6838 and Vintage DVF Fabric

For most of my sewing projects I use vintage patterns, but I found this modern pattern, New Look 6838 when I was looking for one with which to make pajama pants.  I also loved the style of the top, which is designed for knits only, and I put cotton jersey on my fabric shopping list.

I knew that I did not need stripes, as I already have quite a few in this style.  Besides, though the drawing of the matching at the sleeves looks nice and tidy in the illustration, I know that would be easier drawn than sewn. So I started thinking about dots.  But then I got distracted cleaning and sorting my existing fabrics.  And in the middle of my “reds” bin, I pulled out this vintage fabric from designer Diane von Furstenberg.

I found the fabric in an antique store in one of the many little towns in the piedmont of North Carolina that for years survived off the making of cotton textiles.  These towns were a source of the best fabrics for a home sewer as well, as the factories often sent remnants and “seconds” to their factory outlet for sale to the public.  I suspect that is what happened with this fabric, as there was a small wrinkle in it that caused a bare spot in the print.

In 1976 Vogue Patterns magazine did a feature on Diane and her printed dresses.  As you can see, the patterns were by Vogue, and the fabrics were made by Cohama.

I never did finish my sorting job because I laid out the fabric piece and realized I had just enough of it to make the boat-necked top. I spent the rest of the afternoon sewing, and before long my new top was finished.  As the pattern envelope promises, it was easy.  There were only three pieces, the front, the back and the sleeves.  The back has a center seam, which I like because it makes for a smoother fit.

The neck was to be finished simply by turning under the seam allowance and topstitching, but I made a little facing using the selvage of the fabric.  I just could not see “wasting” that Diane von Furstenberg signature.

And here is the finished product.  It is perfect for the early fall weather we are having.

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Filed under North Carolina, Southern Textiles, Vintage Sewing

Columbia College, Spotlight on Your Future! 1955

This recruitment bulletin from Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, was sent to prospective students for the 1955-56 school year.  Columbia College is a college for young women, and was established in the 1850s, making it one of the oldest women’s colleges in the US.  In 1915 Georgia O’Keeffe taught at the school.

The study of photographs and literature from women’s colleges is interesting from a fashion history perspective because of the unique environment.  Even in the 1950s women in co-educational colleges were often prohibited from wearing pants or shorts in co-ed situations.  At women’s colleges the dress code was usually much looser.

Click to enlarge

The curriculum at Columbia is what one might expect to find at a women’s college in the 1950s.  Home economics, education, music and art were standard courses for women.  There was also a business course, with a short two year certificate.

Physical education courses mandated the gym suit.  This style actually looks quite nice, with the well-fitting shorts.

Dressed for tennis, the girl on the right is wearing a Columbia College jacket.

Dramatic productions seemed to be a popular extra- curricular activity.

I assume that The Postscript was the college newspaper.  Note that many of the students are in jeans and sweatshirts.

There was no explanation for the historical dress, but since home economics was a big part of the program, it may have to do with clothing history.

The bulletin attempts to paint Columbia as an active place where the students were kept safe and busy.  In the early Fifties it was not always taken for granted that girls would even be allowed to attend college.  One of the big stories from my mother’s family concerned her younger sister, Jean.  Jean was an exceptional student, and as a high school senior she was offered a scholarship to Women College in Greensboro, NC.  The problem was that my mother had just dropped out of nursing school to get married, and my grandfather vowed not to let Jean leave home.

A big argument ensued over dinner one night, and my seventeen-year-old aunt got so angry that she picked up the bowl of beans and flung it in my grandfather’s face.  It was a grand gesture, but the best that she was able to negotiate was a two-year business school.  She then worked as an administrative assistant in a bank until she got married and started a family.

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Filed under Proper Clothing

Vintage Miscellany – September 28, 2014

To our modern eyes, these three women look a bit overdressed to be going for a bicycle ride, but look a bit closer and you can see that they are making some adjustments in their dress for the occasion.  Compare the length of their skirts to the woman’s in the background, and you see that theirs are several inches shorter.  Except for the woman in the middle, they have chosen hats that are less fussy and that have a sporty look.

Today we tend to think of the bicycle as a toy or a tool for recreation, but to these women, the bicycle was serious transportation.  It would be interesting to know where they were headed.

And on to the news…

*   The Fashion History Museum has found a permanent home and will be opening next year.  Congratulations to Kenn and Jonathan.

*   If you are in the UK, the Fashion and Textile Museum has a great-sound new exhibition, Knitwear – Chanel to Westwood. thanks to Brooke for the link

*   John Paul Gaultier just did his last women’s ready-to-wear show, and it brings up the question of whether designers are stretched too thin.

*   I love factory visits, and this one to the Johnstons of Elgin mill is really fun.

*   I am really disgusted with the “Look at me!” tactics of Urban Outfitters.  Please don’t shop there.

*   What does your wardrobe say about you?  thanks to scrapiana for the link

*  The Southeastern Region of the Costume Society of America will be holding their annual symposium in Nashville, Tennessee November 21 -23.  I hope to be there as these symposiums are always very worthwhile.  I’ll have more details later.

*   Museum visits are good for you.

*  And finally, how J.Crew bought the name of a defunct workwear company and turned its history into theirs.

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1920s, 1930s Parkside Hat

This hat serves as a lesson that not every piece of historical clothing fits the rules of what defines an era. These photos were sent to me by Mary Jane of Poppy’s Vintage Clothing because she thought I’d love the label.

And she was so right!  Even though this was not a hat for golf, Parkside was using the image of a golfing woman in what was a popular way to promote products in the 1920s.  Susan at Witness2Fashion wrote a post several months ago about how the image of a golfing woman was commonly used in the 1920s as a symbol of the modern woman.

Which leads us to the problem of dating this hat.  The style of the hat seems to be very early 1930s, but the label and the way the hat is constructed on the inside seem to say 1920s.

Until the 1930s, hats were generally fully lined.  The label was usually a large woven piece that matched the rest of the lining.  Such is the case in this hat.  As the cloche began to shrink in the early 1930s, hats were generally not lined, and had a small woven ribbon label sew in.

The image of the woman golfer also looks to be 1920s.  She is wearing a cloche and knickers.

This hat is sort of a cloche, but the back looks to be a bit short.  It is possible that it was meant to be worn more on the back of the head, as the last 1920s brought about a slow trend toward showing a bit of the forehead.

I looked in all my sources to see if there were any hats like this one shown for the mid 1920s or later, but I pretty much did not find any examples.  As the 1920s came to a close, hats were almost helmet-like, with tiny or no brims at all.  This helmet cloche did not disappear on the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1930.  Even in 1931 it was still occasionally seen in fashion magazines.

So when exactly was this hat made?  I’m not enough of a hat expert to say, but my best guess is late 1920s or early 30s.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

Currently Reading: Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town.

Factory Man by Beth Macy has nothing to do with fashion, and very little to do with textiles, but it is one of the most interesting and compelling stories I’ve read in a very long time.  It’s the story of John Bassett, who despite all odds has managed to keep his furniture business, Vaughn-Bassett, producing in the United States.

John Bassett was born into the the Southern furniture business.  His grandfather, J.D. Bassett founded Bassett in 1902, and from there the various branches of the Bassett family formed furniture factories all over south-western Virginia.  For years the companies were highly successful, even weathering the Great Depression without worker lay-offs.  After John Bassett’s grandfather and father died, he was presumed to be the next head of the family business, but instead his brother-in-law was put in charge.  In 1982, John Bassett was essentially edged out of his family’s company.  He decided to leave and work as the head at Vaughn-Bassett, which was a company owned by his wife’s family.

At this point I have to say that keeping all the Bassett’s straight was a difficult thing.  Thankfully there is a family tree in the back of the book to help keep who owned what in order.

Things continued to be fine in the furniture business until the 1990s.  At that point, workers began noticing groups of oriental people coming through on tours of the factories.  As amazing as it might sound, the factory owners welcomed people from Taiwan and China to come in and observe.  In many cases they took notes and even video taped the operations.

The furniture makers should not have been surprised when Chinese-made furniture began showing up in the American market.  At Vaughn-Bassett, which makes bedroom suites, they noticed a chest that looked very much like what they were making, but that had a price tag of only $100.  John Bassett bought one as a sample, had his engineers disassemble it and work up a cost projection.  They realized that the cost of the materials far exceeded $100.

So Bassett sent his son and an interpreter to China to try and locate the maker of the chest.  After days of searching, the factory was located.  John himself went to the place to talk with the head of the Chinese factory, and was told point-blank that it was in his best interest to close the US factory and to buy from China, that they could and would continue to undercut American furniture makers until they were forced out.

Today this story does not seem to be very surprising, but in the early 1990s, the first ripples of the Chinese way of doing business were just beginning to reach the US.  John Bassett went home and studied the trade laws and realized that the Chinese were guilty of a practice called “dumping.”  You flood the market with a cheaply priced product until the competition either joins you or folds, then you can raise prices and make a profit.

John Bassett then began legal proceedings against the Chinese.  It was not easy because he had to get the other bedroom furniture makers to join him, and many were reluctant because they were already involved with importing the cheaper goods.  Eventually, the case was won, and Vaughn-Bassett and the other companies who signed on with the complaint were granted millions of dollars in duties that the Chinese were forced to pay in order to continue to do business in the US.

Vaughn-Bassett took its share and reinvested it in the company, buying the latest equipment with the aim of becoming more efficient and more competitive.  But other companies were not able to survive even with the influx of cash.  The original Bassett eventually closed all seven of its US factories.  They put their duty money into developing retail stores.  Today, Bassett is mainly an importer and retailer.  The company survived at the cost of the communities that made Bassett rich.

All in all, there have been around 300,000 furniture manufacturing jobs lost in the US since 1990. Today Vaughn-Bassett employs around 700 people, and other companies, mainly makers of upholstered furniture, have also managed to keep domestic production.  With the closing of Bassett, the town of Bassett lost much of its infrastructure. Other towns in the area have unemployment rates as high as one third.

I’ve heard some know-it-all experts say that America does not need manufacturing jobs as long as we have the design and engineering that goes into manufacturing.  Try telling that to a 45 year old man or woman who worked for Bassett for twenty-five years and suddenly found themselves jobless.  All the fast food and retail jobs in the world can’t absorb 300,000 workers.

The book is very well researched, with what must have been hundreds of hours of interviews conducted by Beth Macy.  I was just thinking what a great movie this would make when I read on Macy’s website that a HBO mini-series based on the book is in development. What could have been a pretty dry story instead comes across like a spy novel.  The only negative thing I have to note is that Macy can’t resist trying to mimic the Southern Appalachian accent when recalling conversations with John Bassett. It comes across as patronizing.

I was given a digital review copy of Factory Man by the publisher, through Net Galley.  Just be aware if you read books on Kindle or other e-reader, that there are lots of end notes.  In my review copy they were not linked to the text, so accessing them was very inconvenient.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Made in the USA

Ad Campaign – Baker Shoes for Women, 1918

STYLES THAT MAKE STYLE

FOR MANY SEASONS, Baker Styles have played a dominant part in establishing footwear fashion.  Invariably becoming and in perfect taste, they are notable also for an initiative in style that wins the approval of women who dress smartly.

This ad may be for shoes, but all I can see is that fantastic cape.  I’ve never really been a lover of capes, but then I’ve never seen one with such a luxurious looking lining before.  In my imagination, that fabric is an incredibly soft printed cashmere.  Yes, I know it reads as silk, but I want cashmere.

One thing I learned from making that Chanel-ish jacket is that a top quality lining is so important in the way it makes the wearer feel.  One way that clothing manufacturers scrimp is on cheap fabrics for linings.  After having an exceptional silk lining, I’m sure I never want something called acetate next to my skin ever again.

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We Love Vera (Neumann)

Last week I showed a newer fabric that was copied from a 1960s print that can be found on vinyl accessories from the German company, KEK.  It’s hard to know if these newer fabrics are complying with the original owner’s copyright, especially since the rules vary from country to country and often involve China, in which there are rules but few seem to follow them.

While some companies have long gone out of business and their former owners have little or no idea that their designs are being recycled, excellent planning prevented this from happening at at least one American company, Vera.  According to Vera’s nephew, Fred Salaff, all of Vera’s designs were registered in the Library of Congress, which made her copyright easier to defend.

Another thing that has protected Vera’s work is that someone has always clearly owned it.  Vera sold her business to Manhattan Industries in 1967, but she continued to work as the designer of the scarves that carried her name.  When Manhattan sold the Vera company in 1988, all her original work, samples and archives were put into storage.  In 2005, the Vera name and archives were bought by Susan Seid who worked with other companies to get products with Vera designs produced.

One company was Anthropologie which sold a line called “We Love Vera” starting in 2010.  I don’t shop at Anthropologie, as it is owned by the same man who owns Urban Outfitters, a company that is constantly releasing objectionable products just for the publicity, much like a three-year-old pitches a tantrum just to get mommy to notice.  But I did keep up with the Vera products, mainly because I think the whole issue of print copyright is so interesting.

Susan Seid sold the copyrights and licensing agreements last year, and it does not look like Anthropologie is still selling We Love Vera.  Other companies continue to produce products that feature Vera artwork, including Brighton handbags.

I was happy to pull this We Love Vera blouse from the Goodwill bins last week.  It’s interesting to see how her designs have been adapted to a young, modern consumer.

I’m not exactly sure what this design portrays, but it is definitely from Vera Neumann’s hand.  Any ideas on what these little designs are?

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Filed under Designers, Viewpoint