Category Archives: Novelty Prints

My New Favorite Martex Design

Look familiar?  If you’ve been reading The Vintage Traveler for a month, then you’ll recognize this Martex design from a earlier post where I showed a modern dress that used a modified version of a Mid Century Martex print found on a linen towel.  I was delighted to get the same towel, but in blue in the mail the other day.

It was a gift from Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap, who had found the dress that sparked my original post.  Sometimes I think I ought to put Mod Betty (along with a few others who are always sending great leads my way) on the payroll.  But then I remember that there is no payroll, so MB ends up getting paid the same as I do.

I find the current obsession with mid 20th century design to be interesting, and a bit amusing.  Being born in 1955, I was surrounded with “modern” design.  When a generation that had not been as exposed to this design rediscovered it ten or fifteen years ago, I thought it a bit odd.  What was so commonplace to me looked fresh and exciting to their eyes.  And I can see that they were right.

I can’t see myself living in a house surrounded by the artifacts of my childhood, but I look at the Mid Century houses of so many of my online friends and I can easily see the appeal of the style.  I realize that I was very lucky to grow up surrounded by good design.  Well, except for the lamps, and I’m sorry, but the Fifties and Sixties saw the birth of some mighty ugly lamps.

I bet there is a black version of this one.

 

When  it comes to textile design, I really think that the designers of the 1940s through 60s were at the top of the game.  The simplicity of these Martex towels say “Cocktail Time” without the overly cutesy-ness of similar designs being made today.

Thanks so much, Beth!

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Novelty Prints

1930s Baby Fabric Reproduction

Some of the very best vintage feedsack designs are those that were designed for babies and small children.  To look at this photo, you might think that is what I’m showing.  But take a closer look.

This is actually a cotton flannel, and it is not vintage.  It’s still really cute.

Since we were talking about the blurred lines between old fabrics, and those that are meant to look old I wanted to show this relatively recent fabric and the print in the selvage.

Copyright Judie Rothermel for Marcus Bros. Textiles, Inc. 1930’s

A quick google reveals that Ms. Rothermel is a textile designer who seems to specialize in “fabric reproductions.”  In order for it to be a true reproduction, it has to be a copy or a duplicate of an original.  I suspect that these fabrics are actually adaptations of old fabrics, and not faithful reproductions.  At any rate, they look “vintage-y” enough that without the selvage they could fool people who are not experts on 1930s prints.  And that includes me.

This is just another case of how difficult telling old from new has become.  People who handle this type of thing a lot would not be fooled, but I suspect that after a few washings this fabric is going to look even more vintage.

If you have not been in a large fabrics store in recent years, especially one that deals in quilting cottons, you might be very surprised at the huge variety of prints that are designed to look vintage.  If you are familiar with the graphics of an era, say the early Sixties, then you will see that there are things that often give the new designs away.  Sometimes the colors have been updated, or they tend to deal with themes that we in 2014 have assigned to an era, such as martini glasses for the early Sixties.

I’m not saying that these fabrics are bad, but it really does pay to be aware of the new, even when collecting the old.

In the 1970s laws were passed that require that the sleepwear of small children be made of fire-retardant fabrics.  Personally, I can’t imagine for what one would use a warm,soft fabric printed with little bunnies except sleepwear.  I wonder how many rebellious mommies out there  have ignored the selvage and made junior’s jammies from fabric not impregnated with fire-retardant chemicals.

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Viewpoint

From Towel to Dress

Several years ago I posted this photo of a cocktail towel that is in my possession, which goes to show what a great memory my friend Mod Betty has when it comes to design.  She was doing a bit of online shopping when she happened upon a dress with a design that rung a bell with her.  She sent the link my way to see if I could find my photos of the towel so we could compare the two.

As you can see, the two prints are not identical, but the dress print was apparently based on the print of the vintage towel.  Look carefully and you will see that the martini glass with  olive and the ice cubes have been added to the original design.  The website where this dress is sold describes the print as  a “unique new Atomic Martini print.”

My towel was made by Martex, which was originally a maker of printed kitchen linens.  Today, Martex is still in business and is owned by WestPoint Home, which also owns many of the other great American home textile makers including Stevens, Pepperell, and Utica.

Does the addition of the martini glass, the olive and the ice cube make this print new?  Is there a copyright violation?  It would take a copyright expert to answer those questions, something that I am not.

I love interesting printed fabrics, and I like the dress.  However, it bothers me that the line between what is vintage and what is reproduced is so terribly smudged.  I’m glad I’m a collector now, and not twenty years down the road, because between all the retro fabrics and reproductions, it is going to be hard to tell what is what.  Add to that all the people (including me) who are sewing with vintage patterns and vintage fabrics, and there are going to be a lot of very confusing clothes at the Goodwill of the future.

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New Twist on an Old Print

If you’ve been a Vintage Traveler reader for a while, you will recognize the little photo album above.  It’s from the 1960s, made by a German company called KEK.  The last time I looked, they were still in business, making a variety of things.

I also have that print in a larger album in a different colorway.  Europe was just so cool in the early to mid Sixties!

 

I was doing my morning scroll through Instagram and came upon this photo.  As you can see, it is pretty much the same print, but with less detail.  As it turns out this print is on a dress that was sold by a UK clothing company called Joules.  Since that company is only twenty-five years old, we know that the fabric is a reproduction of the original KEK print.

The dress is adorable, and is for sale on the Instagram account, @trexesandtiaras, which gave me permission to use the photos.  If I were 20 and in the UK, I’d buy it.

It does bring up the question, yet again, of vintage prints being reproduced.  As I’ve said before, I’m making no judgment on how this fabric got reproduced.  As far as I know, the maker could have had KEK’s permission.  Or it is equally possible that some fabric “designer” found one of the 1960’s albums, or worse yet, photos online, and merely copied the print.  Well, it’s not an exact copy.  Note that on the license plate a 7 was changed to 3.

Joules clothing was tagged in our discussion, so maybe they will shed some light on this fabric.

There have been many times when I’ve been confused over a fabric, not being able to decide if it is vintage or just a new product made to look vintage.  The more I look at modern fabrics, the more I can see the difference.  The modern reproduction is cute, but put side by side there is a great difference in the detailing.  Still, I’d sure love to have a skirt of that fabric.

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Novelty Print Skirt – An Alpine Holiday

About ten years ago I really began to love 1950s novelty prints, and especially the many border prints that were made mainly for full gathered skirts.  I was really drawn to the designs that were labeled in the selvage as “A Regulated Cotton – Never Misbehaves”.  As it turned out, these prints were designed by artist Saul Steinberg, who is probably best remembered today for his covers for The New Yorker.

The prints in this series were also named.  A favorite seemed to be “Tin Horn Holiday” which has a sort of Old West meets Vegas theme.  There is also “Oasis” which is an Arabian Nights type of scene and “Paddington Station” with trains in the station.  There are others for which I do not know the name such as a scene of the interior of an opera house, an English foz hunt,  and a roller coaster ride.  Unfortunately the selvages were often cut off in the making of the skirt of dress.

But the good news is that the prints are so distinctive that they are fairly easy to recognize.  There seems to be a standard formula that that Steinberg, or maybe the company designers who adapted his work, used.  First, Steinberg drew in a certain style, using a variety of line thicknesses, from very thick to very thin.  The hem edge always has a coordinating border, as you see in the hearts and birds border of this print.  There is a background that usually goes to the top edge of the fabric.  In this case the background is the Alpine landscape.

Steinberg did not sign these prints because he had an exclusive contract with another fabric company to design home furnishing fabrics.  I’m not sure how many prints Steinberg did for A Regulated Cotton, but they all seem to be loosely based around the theme of travel and leisure activities.  Recently I’ve seen several that I’d never seen before, including this new one.

I rarely buy novelty print skirts any more because they have become extremely popular, and so the prices have risen beyond what I want to pay for them.  But this one was so great, and the price so reasonable that I decided to add it to the collection.  It came from Amy at Viva Vintage Clothing, one of my favorite online shops.

I need help naming this one.  I name all my novelty skirts for a movie or book that the print seems to suggest.  I thought about Heidi, and it also reminds me of the “Lonely Goatherd” puppet show in The Sound of Music.  Any other suggestions?

 

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints

The Colors of Summer: Red, White, and Blue

I love red, white, and blue, not because the colors are somehow “patriotic” but because they simply say “summer” to me.  When we think of clothing classics, we think of the little black dress and the white cotton shirt and the cardigan sweater.  Maybe we ought to also consider this on-going color combination favorite.

To make my point, today I’m sharing some summer clothes from my collection, all of which have some combination of the color trio.  If you are a newcomer to The Vintage Traveler, you can click the links to read the original blog post about each item.

The early 1970s tennis dress above reminded me of tennis star Chris Evert.

Along the same lines is this 1970s  tennis dress from White Stag.  Note the logo on the pocket.

Red, white, and blue always says “nautical” to me as well.  This gathered novelty print skirt from the 1950s shows why.

Continuing with the nautical theme is this  late 1950s or early 60s short sleeve jacket.  Just add navy slacks.

Add these red 1950s Summerettes to make the ensemble complete.

A 1930s beach-goer would have covered up with a red,white, and blue beach pyjama.

For sports spectating, the 1930s woman might have chosen a nautical themed sundress.

Nautical themes were also good for shopping, as seen in this 1930s cotton frock.

Bathing suits have always looked good in red, white, and blue, as in this Jantzen suit from 1936...

And this swimsuit from the early 1970s.

Got something red, white, and blue to sell or to share?  Feel free to post a link in the comments.

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Filed under Holidays, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Simplicity 4945 in Liberty Tana Lawn

I’ve been doing quite a bit of sewing lately, and have a new project to show off.   Back in the early spring when Waechter’s Fine Fabrics announced they were closing, I scurried over to take advantage of their sale and to stock up on some fine fabrics.  Among my purchases was this Tana lawn novelty print of London and the surrounding countryside.  I’d been looking at it lovingly ever since it arrived at the shop, and I knew this was my chance to buy it, and at 25% off.

My plan was to make a skirt, and I already had the pattern pieces out when it occurred to me that what I really needed was a light, cool, cotton blouse.  I went through my collection of patterns and came up with Simplicity 4954 which is from the early 1960s.  I’d made the top before out of seersucker, and it is a favorite – easy to wear, cool and comfortable.

The colors are much truer in this photo, as the top one was taken in low light with my cell phone camera.  The colors are nice and clear, with shades of blue on a white background.

Although the pattern calls for a button at the neckline, I haven’t used one.  It just seems less fussy without it.

I really love designs where the sleeve is cut with the bodice or, as in this case, with the yoke.  It’s a design element seen often in the early to mid 1960s.

From the time I decided to make this top to the minute I finished the hem was about three hours.  That is a very fast project for me, especially since I used French seams (and faux French seams) throughout.  I did save a lot of time by doing all the finishing on the machine.  And because I’d made the pattern before I did not need to do a muslin trial.

And here is the finished project, in a too dark photo.

This is my third garment that I’ve made using Liberty’s Tana lawn, and it is simply a dream to sew.  It’s tightly woven so even though I used French seams, this fabric also does well when simply finishing using pinking shears.

I’ve been trying to add a few prints into my wardrobe of solid blue, black, white and red.  My idea of a print is a nice mariner’s stripe, or for winter, a wool plaid.  Even though I love vintage novelty prints and actually collect them, I only have one example in my own closet.   Maybe it’s time to change that.

I wore it for the first time this weekend, and it performed beautifully.  It stayed crisp and cool and was perfect for a hot summer day.  My silly self-portrait makes me look as if I have a halo, but my friends and family can assure you that is a bit misleading!

Edited to show a better photo of me and the blouse.

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