Vintage Sewing – Late 1920s Silk Chemise

For a while now I’ve been thinking about the “One Hour Dress, a 1924 pattern developed by sewing expert Mary Brooks Picken. The dress was designed to be very simple to sew, and because it was the 1920s, there were no darts and such with which to contend.

The one piece pattern was like an inverted T, with the fullness of the sides being gathered at the hips. The sleeves were cut in one with the dress, and all the edges could be machine stitched.

If you follow sewers of historic fashion on Instagram, you can’t avoid seeing the One Hour Dress. I’ve seen it made with vastly varying results, from the ridiculous to the sublime. But almost to a person, it is said that there’s just no way the dress can be made in one hour. So, I set out to see if Picken’s pattern promoted wishful thinking in the sewing world.

Instead of making a dress, I thought I’d adapt the pattern into a chemise. That way if it turned out to be a disaster i could always sleep in it. In the pattern I drafted, I left off the top one fourth of the bodice, cutting it straight across the top of the chest.

Because I’m a fabric hoarder who is always picking up old material at the Goodwill dig, I had just the right lightweight silk for a chemise. I also had a roll of woven lingerie strap ribbon.

The most time consuming part of this project was the drafting of the pattern. You use your measurements to draft it to fit your figure, and if done correctly, it does make the style much more flattering. Many of the examples I have seen look dumpy because the pattern drafter did not take into consideration her height. That gathered part has to sit on the hip, not below it.

Also adding to the time was the fabric I used. Silk is slippery, and tends to be difficult to manage. And add to the time the fact that I decided on enclosed seams to help discourage unraveling of my finished chemise.

After pretty much completing the sewing, I decided the chemise was just too plain. A row of chain stitching across the top of the bodice seemed to be what was needed.

I don’t have a copy of the original booklet written by Ms. Picken, but I can guess that in order to make this dress in one hour, the hemming would have to be by machine. Again, I wanted something a bit prettier. I turned to my 1927 Art of Dressmaking from Butterick patterns. For lingerie the book suggests taking the finished garment to any fancy sewing establishment and let them do a professional hem with their picot machine.

Times have changed, and there is no professional sewing establishment in my neighborhood, and I doubt a single picot edger can be found either. I considered all the stitches on my fancy machine, but the silk was so delicate that even with a base layer, it was pulled out of shape by the stitching. So I decided on the hand-stitching route. Add another two hours to this one hour chemise.

The big question is: Can the One Hour Dress be made in one hour? I believe it can be if certain conditions are met. The drafting of the pattern does not count in the time to make the dress. A non-slippery and non-ravelly fabric like cotton broadcloth must be used. All edges must be finished by machine. There can be no embellishments. All seams must be plain.

I didn’t take a photo of me wearing my new chemise as I’m much too shy to put a photo of me in my underwear on the internet, but I’m pleasantly surprised at how good it looks. I’m short, and so is the chemise. Maybe Ms. Picken knew what she was doing after all.



Filed under Sewing

Vintage Miscellany – July 7, 2019

Today’s photo comes from a small group I have that shows a circa 1915 family at a lake-side cottage. I bet they had fish for dinner that evening.

And there’s a bit of news:

    •   I’ve already written about the Nike shoe situation, but I do want to report that it was a major discussion at the July 4th party I attended.
    •    You can own Princess Diana’s sweatshirt, but hurry, the auction is this week.
    •    In less than a week Kim Kardashian announced that her new shape wear line would be called Kimino, there was a huge outcry, and she announced that she’d be choosing another name.
    •    Ravelry, a site for yarn crafters, has banned posts and projects that support the President.
    •    “It’s time for Colonial Williamsburg to get serious again.”
    •   Lottie Barton “clothed Baltimore’s affluent women and dressed two presidents’ wives, Frances Cleveland and Caroline Harrison.” Learn about her.
    •  I think it’s about time for me to do another post about cultural appropriation, putting it into historical context.
    •  One of my favorite podcasts, Ben Franklin’s World, has a new episode called “Shoe Stories from Early America”.
    •   Zack has never wanted to dress normally, and we should all be glad.
    •    Converse is rethinking the Chuck Taylor shoe.
    •    One of the best cotton mill villages is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
    •    Here are some fabulous vintage and antique photos of women fishing. Thanks to Julie Z. for the link.

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Filed under Vintage Miscellany

Wearing the Flag

It’s the Fourth of July, and in certain circles, everyone who is gathered at the family cookout will be wearing some version of the American flag on their clothing. in 2019, many people believe that wearing the flag is the ultimate expression of their patriotism. Actually, they may be breaking the US Flag Code.

The Flag Code was written in 1923, and in 1942 it was passed by the US Congress as Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. There were no pentalities attached to the breaking of the Code. Instead, prosecution was left to each state.

Included in the code is a clause of interest to dress historians:

The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.

There are several ways to interpret this clause. Does it mean that clothing cannot be made from a flag? Does it mean that clothing cannot depict a flag? Does it mean that one cannot wear jewelry that looks like the US flag?

Prior to the mid 1970s you just don’t see much civilian clothing with actual US flags. My favorite story about this comes from designer Deanna Littel, who in the mid 1960s was one of the young, hip designers at the New York boutique, Paraphernalia.  She designed a shirt made from the little cotton flags that people wave at parades, and found a supplier who could provide the flags by the yard.  The design was ready to go into production when Paraphernalia learned that the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) was looking for flag defilers, and that they were prosecuting offenders.  The design was scraped.

The Supreme Court has since ruled that violations of the Flag Code cannot be prosecuted as it is an infringement of the right of free speech. In 1974 a Massachusetts man challenged the law in his state after he was arrested for wearing an American flag patch on his jeans. He ultimately won, as the Court ruled the law violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

Calhoun Men's USA American Flag T-Shirt (Multi, Small)

The shirt above was found on Amazon, made by a company named Calhoun. There was no information as to whether the shirt was made in the USA or not. I thought the law says country of origin must the displayed in web stores. I guess I was wrong.

In one of fashion’s great ironies, what was once considered to be dishonoring the flag is now completely accepted by the set of people who  once thought it was so wrong.  There are thousands of flag shirts just on Amazon. It’s pretty clear that the law is not going to be enforced, so why do we still have it?

The latest flag kerfuffle does not involve the modern Stars and Stripes. It’s about the so-called Betsy Ross flag, the one with the thirteen stars in a circle. Sneaker maker Nike developed a USA themed Air Max 1 shoe that featured the Betsy Ross flag on the back of the shoe. As the shoe was being released, Colin Kaepernick, who has starred in Nike ads, protested that the flag comes from an era when people were enslaved in the United States, and thus the flag was not appropriate.

I consider myself to be a strong liberal, with an open mind concerning how offensive matter harms groups. I feel that the age of claiming the “Confederate flag” is a matter of heritage is over. I know that symbols are powerful communicators. But I also feel that this latest flag controversy is a step too far.

As Americans, we cannot scrub clean every single idea, symbol, historic place, document, and so on, that occured before slavery was finally abolished in 1865. It just isn’t possible,and frankly, this latest episode has only served to further divide Americans. There are so many problems that need to be worked through here in the US. To me, the Betsy Ross flag isn’t one of them.

I’ve read that in some white supremacists gatherings the Betsy Ross flag has been flown, and that is a reason for banning that flag. Whether or not that is true seems to be beside the point considering that those people also fly the Stars and Stripes at their meetings. Are we going to ban that as well?

So, is there anyone still out there who thinks that clothing is frivolous?






Filed under Viewpoint

Everyday Clothing

It seems as if “everyday clothing” is having a moment. Several weeks ago I posted a link to the New York Times article about the collection of everyday clothes at Smith College. Then last week there was a conference in the UK on the topic of everyday clothes. And the latest episode of the fashion podcast Bande  à Part  is also about everyday clothes.

One of the first questions that Rebecca and Beatrice of Bande  à Part  discuss is, just what is everyday clothing. It might be pretty obvious to some, but think of the population as a whole; one person’s everyday is another’s special occasion. For discussion here, I’d suggest that everyday clothing means the clothes the 99% of us wear everyday. It does not include couture garments and ballgowns. For the most part, it does not include the avant garde.

In  short, everyday clothes are the things that one does not expect to see in a fashion exhibition at the Met, or any museum that is dedicated to the idea that fashion is art. On the other hand, you would expect to see everyday dress in a history museum. And many museums, such as dedicated fashion museums, will often have both couture and more commonly worn garments in their collections.

Personally, I prefer the historical and cultural (as opposed to artistic) approach. Not to say that I don’t appreciate a stunning Dior gown, because I do. It’s enlightening for an everyday clothing collector like me to occasionally see the work of an artist like Dior. The truth is there are plenty of topics about everyday dress that need to be explored, but do we really need another book on Coco Chanel?

I still find the study of what women wore – and why they wore it – to be the most fascinating part of fashion history.  The choice of a couture ballgown is based on what one’s favorite designer has to offer combined with trying to stand out from the other couture-clad ball goers. But in 1922 the decision to wear a pair of knickerbockers to a fall picnic could be full of gender-bending anxiety.

I can vividly remember the first day I dared to wear jeans to school. It had been stressed to us in the sixties and seventies that young ladies wore dresses and skirts, and so it was hard to ignore the disapproving voices in my head. How much stronger must that message have been to girls in the early 1920s!

It doesn’t get much more “everyday” than the school girl’s middy. My matching set is linen and was worn by a college girl. But even families with few resources could buy cheap cotton middies or make them at home.

This knit sports dress was made by a moderately priced knitwear maker, Sacony.  The silk blouse was most likely made at home, and the California Sports Hat was sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog. Even though this ensemble is far from couture, it is still important as it shows a step in the increasingly casual way people were dressing in the 1920s.

Bathing suits were becoming a necessity, and they were available at many price points, from less than a dollar to more than twenty dollars. A woman needed a cover-up. but that could be borrowed from her own boudoir.

These two garments were probably beyond the budget of many 1920s women, but this would have been everyday wear for a woman who had a bit more to spend on her clothes.

And here is an example of a more aspirational garment. This is from French fashion house Babani, and would have been priced at a level that most American women could only dreamof.

I think it is great that historians are giving everyday clothing a closer look. What people wore is important in understanding the times in which they lived. It’s interesting to think of clothes as artifacts, and not just what one wore each day.




Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Museums, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Dressed to Protest: What Women Wore to the Revolution

Several years ago I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. In case you don’t know the book, it’s about developing creativity. From many conversations I’ve had with adults over the years, it seems that most people either think they are creative, or they are not creative. But according to Cameron (and many others) creativity can be developed.

One thing Cameron prescribes is what she calls “morning pages”. This is where first thing every morning you write three pages of just anything, in an effort to clear your head of whatever is happening in your life so you can be more receptive to your creative side. I’m sure this practice helps many people, but I tried it and it just seemed like a chore to me.

But another practice suggested in the book has proven to be more helpful, that of setting aside time every week for an art date. The art date is a special activity that breaks the routine and exposes you to beauty, learning, and new ideas. It can be anything from a tour through local antiques shops to a museum visit to a lecture on birdwatching.

I really do try to schedule an art date each week. Last week I met with Liza to do some vintage shopping, and then to attend a presentation by Cornelia Powell on the dress reform movement. It was the kind of day that everyone needs, with vintage finds and a thoughtful history lesson. Never mind the guy at the shop who had a big box full of 1930s and 40s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines that he would not sell. That’s another story.

So, here we are after a rough day of the vintage hunt.  We don’t look too frazzled, in light of the fact that just thirty minutes prior we were considering knocking a bookseller over the head and running off with his box of magazines.

I’ll not go into the details of Cornelia’s presentation, because I can’t do justice to it, but I will share some of the images she used.  It’s easy to see why I enjoyed this so much.

If you have read this journal for any time at all, then you  are already aware that sports, and especially bicycling, played a big role in the move toward reform in dress for women. Bicycling also led to many women becoming less dependant on men for transportation. Could this, perhaps, lead to other things? Some men warned that the bicycle was just a gateway to more independence for women.

And the automobile only confirmed those fears.

The wearing of white was a powerful symbol for women protesting and marching for the right to vote. But also note the “revolutionary” tricorn hats!

I really loved this photo of women from the Western states who had already gained the right to vote. Sometimes we in the East forget that many women in the Western states had been voting for many years.

Cornelia reminded us that fashion was a valuable tool in the fight for suffrage. Many of the leaders of the movement learned early on with the failure of the bloomer that looking respectable was key to gaining respect for their cause.

And so my art date was a big success. Thanks to Liza for letting me use her photos, and to Cornelia for all the food for thought.

Remember to always look up. This was the skylight in the library where the event was held.


Filed under Shopping, Viewpoint, Vintage Photographs

Vintage Miscellany – June 23, 2019

The woman in the photo above presents a bit of a clothing mystery. She’s wearing a mid 1930s bathing suit under a pair of slacks, with a neat rope tied at the waist. It would be several years in the future before a woman appearing on the street wearing pants would be accepted, not to mention that bare top. Yet there she is, lounging on the steps of a substantial building, as if it were the most natural thing ever.

And now for some news…


Filed under Vintage Miscellany

Award Sweaters from Octonek, 1946

I just received this catalog from a company of which I’d never heard, the Octonek Knitting Company of Seattle. It was a gift, and a very welcome one! My thanks to Mary of @pdxsquared. A friend of hers was cleaning out her mother’s things when this was found, and they just wanted it to go to a good home. And it did.

I have been able to find a little information about Octonek. It was founded in 1913 by J.H. and Theresa Breece. In a 1915 business register their products listed were wool knit items, including  sweaters, cardigans, golf vests, and hosiery.  A 1935 advertisement in a hiking club publication  listed “Knitted suits and dresses, sweaters, wool socks, mittens, caps for skiers, caps, and gloves”. The last print reference I located was in a 1950 Seattle University Spectator newsletter, in which bathing suits were also advertised.

There was a little about the company inside the catalog. Most surprising was that Octonek would make a sweater to order, made to the customer’s measurements. This would be very useful for very short or very tall or very large persons who could not find knits to fit.

We also get a glimpse into the factory, which I love seeing.

Again, we can see Octonek’s willingness to tailor their product to the buyer’s specifications.

As with other garments, the sweaters openings for girls lapped right over left, and those for boys lapped left over right. That, along perhaps with size, is often the only clue as to the gender of the former owner.

I love the term yell leader. Was that a regional thing? Here in the South I’ve only ever seen and heard them referred to as cheerleaders. And yell kings, dukes, and queens are new to me terms as well.

Octonek also made wool chenille emblems, and because they used the same yarns as the sweaters, they were guaranteed to match.




Filed under Advertisements, manufacturing, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports