Category Archives: Viewpoint

Currently Reading – A Variety of Crafting Books

When I was teaching, one of the questions most asked by parents was, “How do I get my child to read?”  By this they were really saying, “My kid won’t sit down with a book and enjoy it.”  As the conversation progressed it was usually revealed that the parent never read either.  Of course, there were the dozens of excuses with, “I don’t have time,” being the big winner.

I was lucky.  My mother managed to do a full day’s worth of housework by one in the afternoon, and the time between lunch (and Jeopardy, which came on at 12:30) and dinner was her reading time.  She always had at least one book with her place marked, as well as a magazine of two.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that her four children turned out to be big readers as well.

Whenever anyone asks how I’ve learned about fashion history, I tell them the truth – that I read a lot.  When I get a new book, I read it immediately, or put it in my reading queue.   If the reading queue runs dry, I pull out an older book to reread.  So I always have fashion or textile history of some kind on my mind.

Lately, I’ve discovered a new source of excellent clothing and textile information.  On rainy days I often drive over to the Goodwill Clearance Center, where there are usually eight or ten bins of used books.  In such a place you can experience first hand the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  I’ve learned to open and flip through any book that seems remotely promising.  That’s how I learned that craft books, especially older ones, often have excellent historical information about the craft.

Tartans, Their Art and History, was an easy one, as the authors come right out and let the reader know this is not just about weaving.  And it is not just history, but also the process of making tartan.  Above you can see a vintage photo of women and girls gathering lichen which was used for dye.

And if the reader happens to be a weaver, there are beautiful photos of many tartans with the weaving diagram for each.

Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans is for knitters, but it too has lots of information about the history of fishermen’s sweaters and the symbolism they contain.  The author, Gladys Thompson actually went to the traditional fishing villages and followed any man who was wearing an interesting sweater.  Today she’d be accused of stalking.

This book is a Dover reprint of a 1969 work, and is still available on their website.

My latest find, and the one I’m currently reading, is Smocks and Smocking by Beverley Marshall.  It was published in 1980 at the end of the big crafts revival and back to nature movement of the 1970s.  From the cover you might think it was just another lets-get-funky-and-wear-funny clothes tome, but a glimpse inside tells another story.

There is a large and fascinating look at the historical garment which traces the evolution of the smock from agricultural clothing to fashion statement.

It also has good instructions on how to make a smock, and some 1980s dudes awkwardly modeling the modern examples.

I have a pretty good fashion library (and you can too) but the information in these books is so specialized that it would be hard to find elsewhere.   I’d love to hear of other unexpected sources of fashion information that you might know of.


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Vera Neumann for Brighton

Saturday I was in a strange environment – a modern shopping mall.  It’s not that I never go to the mall, I do, but it’s usually when I need something specific that I know can be found there.  In this instance, I was in need of a skinny latte from Starbucks, and the only one to be found for miles was in this mall.

So I was making my way to Starbucks when I stopped dead in my tracks. There, on a shop window, was a ladybug and the Vera signature.  I was intrigued to see that the store was Brighton.  I had to go in and check it out.

Brighton is primarily a maker of leather goods, and they also make other accessories like jewelry and sunglasses.  The business dates back to the late 1960s when Jerry and Terri Kohl bought a business that made men’s belts.  In 1985 they formed Brighton as part of the company, and in 1990 started making items for women.

As I was looking at the Vera items, the sales associate came over and asked if I knew about Vera Neumann.  I resisted the urge to be Ms. Know-it-all-smarty-pants and said that I remembered her from the 1970s.  That gave her the chance to practice what she’d learned about Vera.  I was impressed.  Tonya knew all about Vera, and how important she was as an artist and as a producer of scarves and household textiles.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell victim to the sales pitch.  Actually, I was already in love with the nautical themed line before the pitch even started.  I was a goner at “red, white, and blue fish print.”

Like the original, vintage Vera products, all the Brighton accessories are based on a Vera scarf.  I was given their spring brochure that showed the original scarf along with the products that are based on it.  And all through the brochure are photos and information about Vera herself.

I didn’t get a photo, but there is a tote bag based on this scarf, which is in my own collection.   You can see it on the Brighton website, which is well worth a look because they have a great little video about Vera, that includes some terrific archival footage of her.

Not all the Vera items are nautical, as you can tell from the photo of the Brighton window.  There are, of course, butterflies and ladybugs as well.  One of the best adaptations was the black and white butterfly pouch bag that you can see in the window.  The motif was actually embroidered onto the canvas.

Here’s the set that I bought.  I’d been looking for some good zippered bags to organize my larger travel handbag, and these were perfect.

They are even lined in a Vera design.

I liked everything about this collaboration except for one thing – the items are made in China.  I decided to overlook this because Brighton continues to manufacture their leather goods in the USA.  Hopefully they will bring back more of their production to the States in the future.

I know that there are many vintage fans who do not like modern use of vintage designs.  I’m of the opinion that good design is good design, period.  There is some concern that these modern uses tend to muddy the waters and that in years down the road the newer designs will be confused with the originals.  It may be true, but that is a small price to pay for having access to great design.


Filed under Designers, Viewpoint

March in Review

March came in like a lion and hung around and roared all month.  Yesterday, the very last day of the month, that little lamb finally showed up.   I hate to complain about the snow because it has been very pretty, and even though it was of the clinging variety, we never did lose electric power.

In order to rush spring along, I tried doing some summer type sewing.  It didn’t work, but I did get a cute beach cover-up out of it.  (To be shown off later).  It was my very first project using the thrift find of the month:

I found and bought an entire bolt of vintage cotton pique for $2.   It was a bit yellowed, but a good hot wash with oxyclean did the trick (and made sure it was shrunk as well.)

I’ve had these antique buttons a while, but that didn’t keep me from bragging about them on Instagram.

Another thrift find was a huge, tangled pile of embroidery floss.  It was actually the very thing I was seeking, but without the tangles.  I have now started an embroidery project that I predict I will finish when I’m 79 years old.  Yes, twenty years should do it.

My book purchase of the month is this gigantic thing, The Encyclopedia of Textiles, published by the always superb American Fabrics magazine.  It is full of information, 600 pages of it in fact.

The happy accident of the month was went I pulled this Liberty of London Tana lawn blouse out from the bottom of my mend pile.  The cuffs were frayed, so I’d stuck it there years ago.  Cuffs are now bound with grosgrain; shirt is now back in closet.

This is our sweet Spooky Dog, celebrating his birthday.  He just turned 17!

My daily walk, on a particularly misty, smoky day.

The bunny Rockettes.

How was your March?


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Bill Cunningham and Fashion History

Since the release of Bill Cunningham, New York in 2010, the photographer has become something of a celebrity himself.  Bill started documenting what the people in the streets of New York were wearing way back in the 1960s, and by 1978 his photos became a regular feature in the New York Times.  Today he still does his weekly photo journalism piece, “On the Streets”, for the paper, and for the online Times he tapes a slideshow version.

To me, what really makes Bill important is that he has been a witness to a lot of fashion history.  On top of that, he is very well-read in fashion.  He can see a trend on the runways of 2014 and tell what from the past has been referenced by the designer.

I know that many people who love vintage clothing and who study fashion history are not particularly interested in today’s fashion.  But I find it fascinating to try and imitate Bill, and guess where the designer might have gotten the idea for the latest thing on the runway.

If you are not doing so already, I suggest that you watch Bill’s weekly online piece.  His delight in fashion is infectious, and sometime you might just learn something.  I love how in this week’s work he was able to trace a work from Dior’s show last fall to a feature on a dress from 1949.

Bill wrote a little about himself for the Times in 2002, and if you want to learn even more, the movie is a so much fun.   You can stream it from Netflix.


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The Beatles in America, 1964

Photo from United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, copyright free.

Today’s post transcends fashion.  It’s about the Beatles, the cultural touchstone of my childhood.  I’m exactly a month late with this post, as the Beatles first landed in America on February 7, 1964.  I was asked by to write a little about my early memories of the Fab Four, and I was happy to participate.

Warning:  Salty language ahead.

I was eight years old when the Beatles first came to the US in 1964.  I was in the third grade and was more concerned with playground politics than rock and roll.  But in January of that year, all the talk among the older kids on the school bus concerned the Beatles.  They were working themselves, and me along with them into a frenzy of anticipation for their big performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

My older brother, Steve, and I knew that we had to arrange to be at our grandparents’ house the night of the show because their TV reception was much better than ours.  My grandmother, who was always agreeable said we were welcome to watch it there, but she didn’t say anything about it to my grandfather.  You might remember that he was the grandfather that chased me out of the house dressed only in his underwear.

As 8:00 approached, Steve and I got settled in with our Coke and popcorn.  The magical hour was here!  By this time  all the songs were playing on the radio, and Steve and I knew them and were singing along and dancing and generally having a great time.

All of a sudden, my grandfather yelled out from his big easy chair, “Glyde, what in Hell is this shit?”

Steve, who was ten, and a lot braver than me yelled back, “Papaw, that’s not shit, that’s the Beatles!”

My shocked grandfather then yelled, “Glyde, did you hear what that boy just said?”  to which Mamaw replied, “Well, you said it first so just sit there and listen to the music and call it even.”

This was just the beginning of Beatlemania in my house.  For my ninth birthday I got a Beatles tee shirt and their second US album, Meet the Beatles.  I collected all the bubblegum cards and Steve and the neighboring kids and I spent hours debating which Beatle was best.  I was team Paul.

It’s hard to believe this was 50 years ago.  I still feeling that first rush of excitement whenever I hear those early songs, and I still argue that “I Saw Her Standing There” is the best rock song ever. (Stones fans, feel free to disagree!)

Okay, now I want to hear your Beatles stories.


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This Is Not a Schiaparelli But…

In 1928 the great Elsa Schiaparelli designed knit bathing suits which were based on her famous trompe l’oeil sweaters.  These were imported into the USA by Saks Fifth Avenue.  This suit, while not made by Schiaparelli, was certainly inspired by her designs.  It was probably made in the US, and was sold by Saks Fifth Avenue’s lower-cost cousin, Saks and Co.

The above photos and text are from my long-neglected website,   I have a page that shows off some of the swimsuits in my collection, including this one.  I bought this suit because it was so clearly influenced by the Schiaparelli bow sweaters.  Had it been a real Schiaparelli, I’d have never been able to afford it.

While browsing Pinterest today, I found my photo with the caption Elsa Schiaparelli Swimsuit.  I knew the pinner – she’s a good vintage friend – and knew she’d never have misconstrued my writing in such a way.  Sure enough, she had found my photo on another blog, with the caption, Elsa Schiaparelli Swimsuit.  And to make matters worse, lots of other people have pinned it from that site.

So now the misinformation is out there, and there is no way to get it back.  I did ask the blogger to make the correction on her blog, but the damage has been done.

I know that people love Pinterest.  I’ll admit to wasting a bit of time on the site now and then.  But there are some huge problems as far as photos getting separated from their context.   Not only is my photo all over Pinterest with no mention of my site, but now people are seeing the photo and are giving it an attribution it does not deserve.

Was my original paragraph so long and involved that people can’t read past the first sentence?  Perhaps I should change the beginning to read, “This is not a Schiaparelli but…”

I want to make it clear that I do not have a problem with the blogger taking the photos from my site.  Under the rules of Fair Use, I feel she has the right to use them.  It would have been nice had she asked first.  And it would have been really nice had she read what I actually wrote about the swimsuit.

On a lighter note, is it not just the best swimsuit ever?


Filed under Designers, Viewpoint

February in Review

February was a long snowy month, with there being quite a few days when we did not leave our home.  Still, I must have been pretty busy, or at least my Instagram feed makes it look like I was.

This is the view from my office window.  I was standing at this window about five years ago when the tree on the left was hit by lightning.  The top one fourth of it blew off and landed in front of it.  Every year a bit more of it dies, but it is still hanging in there.

I took this handsome guy to bloodhound rescue in Villa Rica, Georgia.  He looks worried, but it was not my driving.  He just was not used to being enclosed.  He had been running loose in a mountain neighborhood, where he managed to elude capture for weeks.  Such a good boy he is.  I used to do a lot of dog transports to rescues until my sister got sick and I needed to spend my time with her.  I’m glad to be getting back into this work.

This photo was taken in the Nantahala Gorge while on my rescue run.   It’s a fairly wild area.

I spent many of the snow days curled up with a good magazine.  This one is from 1925.

A dear cousin came to visit and my brother and I spent  a day playing tour guide in Asheville.  We loved this Downton Abbey themed window in a local yarn shop.

I’m really not a “cat person” but even I could not resist this lovely girl we spotted in an art gallery window.

I managed to fit in a bit of vintage shopping.  I’m afraid the sign is a bit late to save some of these clothes.

Is there no end to the cute Scottie stuff?  Apparently not.

Here I am in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, tacky capitol of the South, moments before being run down by the Titanic.  Seriously, there is a Titanic attraction, and it is surprisingly educational.  Really.

I got flowers for absolutely no reason, and that is the best reason of all.


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