The Great British Sewing Bee on Youtube

I’m a little bit slow to this game, as I had been told that seasons 2 and 3 of The Great British Sewing Bee were now available online to all viewers on youtube. Thanks to an email this afternoon from Del, I had my memory jarred and I’ve now watched the first episode of season 2. Who knew that watching other people sew could be so much fun?

Due to a bit of minor hand surgery I’ve got some downtime coming up this week, so instead of posting here, I’ll be catching up on these episodes.  I couldn’t be away that long without giving you an alternative to my posts.  Enjoy!

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A Diary of Travels Abroad, 1958

There’s something sneaky about reading the journal of another, even if the journal in question is fifty-seven years old.  In 1958 Judy B. went on the “Imperial Tour of Europe.”  It lasted all summer and was surely the trip of a lifetime – the 1950s equivalent of the Victorian Grand Tour.

I first read parts of this journal when Donna of The Vintage Vendeuse started posting entries from the diary at the Vintage Fashion Guild.  She then made a website for the entries, which are now being posted as a day by day entry of what happened fifty-seven years ago.  There is a new site, which is great, with Judy’s entry followed by extra information and photos of the places she mentioned.  You can subscribe to get the daily entry, and I suggest you back up through the old ones to read about the ocean voyage and Judy’s adventures thus far.

If Judy is still alive she is eighty-one years old.  That’s hard to imagine when the diary is so full of the young men she met and the fashionable clothes she wore.  Or maybe not.  I’d like to think she is still traveling, and meeting boys and buying out the stores.

 

 

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The Cowichan Indian Sweater

I pulled this great little booklet out of a Goodwill bin, along with some other vintage booklets about Native American textiles.  What really interested me about this one was the section on knitted goods made by Vancouver Island Indians.  I know that knitting is not what generally springs to mind when thinking of Native textiles, but the Cowichan sweater is a special story.

In the early days of ebay chat boards, I loved to read the Vintage Fashion Board.  This was in the late 1990s, or maybe early 2000s, long before any vintage blogs or other sources of information online.  It was the best vintage education I could have gotten because it was an open discussion about anything and everything about old clothes.

One discussion I remembered in particular involved Mary Maxim and Cowichan sweaters.  As ebay was growing (exploding, actually) one of the big concerns was using key words so buyers could find what they wanted through searching.  For some reason, probably due to some “expert” on the board giving bad information, sellers started using the term Cowichan to describe Mary Maxim sweaters.

The only things the two sweaters really have in common is the use of a heavy multi-ply yarn in their making and often, the depiction of wildlife.  Mary Maxim is a company that sold knitting charts and yarns to home knitters.  The patterns are pictorial in nature, with themes like fishing or bowling or airplanes, usually in bright colors on a tan background.  They are best described, I suppose, as novelty sweaters.  Cowichan sweaters are hand knit by Indians on Vancouver Island, often with geometric patterns, but also depicting local wildlife.  They are knit in neutral colors of wool.

In the course of the ebay discussion, some knowledgeable person finally showed up and set us all straight about the Cowichan.  To use the term Cowichan to describe any bulky hand knit was just wrong, and to be honest, ignorant.  It was a good lesson for me, not to rely on the word of people I don’t really know.  Do my own research and be careful with the details.  Of course it is much easier now, fifteen years later.  The amount  of information on the internet is far beyond anything I imagined in 2000.  And it helps that today I know many people online whose knowledge I can trust.

Following is the text from the booklet, Indian Weaving, Knitting, Basketry of the Northwest, by Elizabeth Hawkins.  It was published in 1978.

Knitting is a modern technique that was introduced by early Scottish settlers to Vancouver Island Indians.  Today, Native knitting is predominated by the Salish women knitting the famous Cowichan Indian sweaters, and to a lesser extent, tams, socks, mitts and ponchos.  Many women still spin and dye their own wool both because of the handcrafted touch it gives and to keep the cost down.  Many of the sweaters are knitted in the round using as many as eight needles and therefore produce a seamless garment.

There is such a demand today for these sweaters that I was recently told that on two of the Vancouver Island reserves every woman of age commercially knits.  While the southern Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley tribes are the predominant knitters the demand is encouraging a similar home industry in northern villages as well.

Design

Geometric patterns predominate in primitive Salish design but more modern designs often incorporate wildlife.  Thunderbird, eagle, killer whale and deer are crest figures often portrayed.

Duncan Fall Fair brings forth competition among Cowichan knitters.

I thought the spindles were really interesting.  I’ve never seen a spinning wheel adapted from an old treadle sewing machine.

Note the Scottish influence in the sweaters hanging behind the happy spinners.  I love that argyle.  The snowflake is interesting as well.  It looks like other knitting designs such as Scandinavian were being appropriated into the Cowichan.

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Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

On Books, Fame, and Other Things

 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, mainly because the summer heat makes it hard to be motivated to do much else.  I’ve reread some old favorites, gotten serious about some new books in my long reading queue, thumbed through some magazines, and have even read a bit on the internet.  I love to read.

When I taught ten- and eleven-year-olds, one of the most common questions I got from parents was, “How do I get him/her to read?”  Then they would go on about how they had read to the child as a baby and toddler and how there was a room full of books at the kid’s disposal, but the kid refused to pick them up.  I’d let them talk, but eventually we’d get around to the subject of role models.  And what would come out ninety percent of the time was that the child never saw an adult in the house reading for pleasure.  The truth is, kids like to copy adult behavior.

Both of my parents were readers, especially my mother.  Even though she had four kids, she kept a very efficient house, and usually had all her work finished by noon.  The afternoons were for reading.  She’d shoo us out of the house and then pick up her book.  On hot summer days I’d take a book of my own, climb my favorite tree, get comfortable on a big limb, and get lost in my reading.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a public service announcement for reading, but there is a lesson in the story.  All my siblings are avid readers.

But getting back to original thought, I have been reading a lot, so expect more book reviews in the coming days.  Reader Maya asked if I got compensated by book publishers because I was making her buy lots of books.  I do occasionally get a free book for review, and I get free previews from a review service, but I buy 95% of the books I review.  And, no, I don’t get any money for reviews, nor would I take it.  As photographer Bill Cunningham famously says, “If you don’t take their money they can’t tell you what to say.”

The sad truth is that when someone gets something “free” they tend to feel obligated to the giver, and so the review is tempered somewhat.  A big shift occurred in fashion blogging after businesses started showering bloggers with gifts.  It’s hard to write bad things about a $300 handbag that was given to you.  So, if I’m given a book that I don’t like, I contact the publisher and offer to send it back.  I will do a less than positive review on an free e-book though.  I guess I don’t see the impersonal electronic transfer of a book as being a gift.

Even if I hate a book, I don’t like writing a bad review.  I know how much work goes into writing and how personal criticism can seem.  It is especially hard when I sort of know the writer through online interactions.  Right now I’ve been grappling with a review of a book I really wanted to love, but the truth is that the author just does not fulfill the promise of the topic.  And I have just about decided that editing is a lost art.  The book’s editor really let this author down.

Since I’m rambling on today, I have also had the idea of fame on my mind, and why it is that humans seem to be so obsessed with celebrities.  I usually don’t concern myself with the comings and goings of celebrities, but a post on the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum in London) Instagram irked me to the point that I unfollowed their account.  The offending photo was a picture of an unsmiling Kayne West standing beneath a quote at the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A.

The caption on the photo merely stated that Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian paid a special visit to see Savage Beauty.  But a quick leap to Kardashian’s account reveals that it was a #SupriseDateNight in an #AfterHoursVisit in a photo of an exhibition of which the public is not allowed to take photos.  I really have no opinion on the Wests, but this sort of flaunting their privilege is just tacky.  And to think the V&A not only participated, but publicized it shows just how powerful we think one image of a celebrity is.  All I can say is I hope Mr. West richly compensated the museum for his after hours tour, and that the V&A got more out of it than two Instagram photos.

So, what’s your beef this week?  Post away, but remember to be kind (sort of).

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – June 28, 2015

Dingman’s Ferry, PA, 1927

Today is setting up to be one of those days that the local Chamber of Commerce likes to pretend is what we have three months of in the summer.  It’s cool and sunny, and that makes for perfect camping.  I hope the auto campers who set the scene in my photo were so lucky.

So get out and enjoy the day, but first, the news:

*   I think I’ve posted about Zady before, but it is worth reading this article about how the company is working hard to “make a T-shirt that does no harm.”

*  And this article about Patagonia shows how difficult that is to do, even when the company is trying very hard.

*   Is a two-year-old, or even a fourteen-year-old,  your style icon?

*   Make sure to talk to the young woman in the Christian Siriano gown.

*   Hilary Davidson carefully examined Jane Austin’s pelisse, and thanks to crowd funding we can all read the article she wrote about her findings.

*   I’ve always thought the women who wear high heels were a bit unbalanced, and science has proven me right.

*   The ultimate irony is when a designer’s representative states concerning one of her designs:  ‘For her part, Ms Isabel Marrant does not claim to be the author of this tunic and these designs’.

*   L.L. Bean’s boots are expected to be hot again this winter, and the factory is cranking them out as fast as it can.  Here’s a very interesting look inside their Maine factory.

*   PBS showed an interesting British show called Tales from the Royal Wardrobe.  It’s now available for watching on the PBS website.

*   We unruly Baby Boomers are taking over museums, and it ain’t pretty!

*   Crinoline mania, as seen through nineteenth century stereoscopes.

*   If Abercrombie & Fitch wants to survive, this article suggests they return to their past.  Haven’t I been saying that for years?

 

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Currently Reading: London Society Fashion, 1905 – 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank

After reading about this new book in three different blogs, having two friends email me about it, and then seeing it mentioned in several articles, I knew I needed to add it to my library.  What I didn’t guess though, was how much I was going to love London Society Fashion, 1905 – 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank.

Heather Firbank was born in 1888, and made her society debut in 1908.  As a figure in London society she found it necessary to have an extensive and varied wardrobe.  Thank goodness Heather loved clothes.  She spent large amounts on money on them, even after the family fortune disappeared.  After her mother’s death in 1924, Heather was forced to leave the home they had shared to live in various apartments, hotels and lady’s clubs.  She packed away all her wonderful clothes, along with receipts and her collection of fashion articles and clippings, and put them into storage in 1926.  After her death in 1954 the trunks were found, and the contents were distributed among several institutions.

The first Curator of Dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was Madeleine Ginsburg, who in 1957 accepted two hundred pieces of the collection as the foundation of the V & A’s clothing collection.  Other museums then selected pieces, and the remainder was sold at auction in 1974.  In all, Heather had saved over four hundred pieces.  Remarkably, this was not the total of all the garments she owned during the time period of 1905 through 1925, as there are receipts for many items that were not found in the trunks.

I’ve mentioned before how interesting it is to see exhibitions that are based on the wardrobe of one woman, as in the case of Ann Bonfoey Taylor.  You get a complete picture of the wearer of the clothes.  The Heather Firbank collection has an added layer of meaning because so many of the original receipts are present, along with, in many cases, sketches, photographs, or clippings of a particular dress.

The dress above was made in 1912 by Lucile, the famous Lady Duff-Gordon.  The V & A not only has the dress, they have a photograph of Heather wearing it, and they have a sketch showing the original design by Lucile.

Heather not only got her dresses at Lucile, she also patronized lesser-known establishments like Machinka.  The material in the Heather Firbank archive has provided valuable information about such obscure makers.

This stunning velvet dinner dress dates from 1909, and was made at the London House of Redfern.  I love how the photo of Heather shows the back of the gown and that beautiful diamante clip.

As a member of society, Heather needed the proper country clothes, as seen in this golf suit and hat.  It was made by “Frederick Bosworth, Ladies Tailor and Court Dressmaker.”

Here’s an example of a costume that is not in the V & A collection.  We see Heather dressed for tennis, circa 1905.  The hat was for motoring, circa 1910.

Another thing that makes the collection so interesting is that it is not just evening wear.  Day dresses and suits, and even corsets are represented.  The blue linen dress is circa 1915.  Can you see the fantastic pockets?

And then some of the photographs are pure eye candy.  This tailored suit is by Frederick Bosworth, circa 1908.

And here is a lovely afternoon dress, circa 1909, by Mrs. Pickett of Savile Row.

Yes, I do love this book.  It reminds us that fashion history is about more than just frocks.  Real people wore the clothes we love – clothes that contain stories of how people lived in the past.  What a treasure the Heather Firbank collection is.

Authors of London Society Fashion, 1905 – 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank are Cassie Davies-Strodder, Jenny Lister, and Lou Taylor.

 

 

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Miller’s Cowgirl Shirt and Karman Riding Pants

I bought this pair some time ago, and I’ve put off and put off writing about them because I’m so clueless about riding attire.  I found them at the Goodwill Clearance, and they were so cheap that I couldn’t resist.  I was pretty confident I could find extra information on the internet.  And as I’ve pointed out before, even clothing designed purely for sport will usually have a bit of “fashion” in them, whether in the colors used, or in the design details.

Actually, I’ve found very little about riding apparel on the net.  I do know that these were for Western riding, maybe of the sort one would wear at a show of Western skills.

The shirt has pearlized snap closures, and a ruffled bib and ruffles on the sleeve cuffs.  The small spread collar is meant to be worn open.

The shirt reminds me so much of a 1970s man’s tuxedo shirt with all those ruffles.  But the collar does not follow the trend toward large and pointed collars.  The fabric is cotton, and just look at that label.

As for the pants, they have that marvelous Western styling with the fancy yoke and big tab belt loops.  There is a metal side zipper.

There is no interior label, but they still have the paper tag attached to the outside.  These were made by Karman.

What was really throwing me off was the shape of the legs.  These look like typical 1970s bell bottom pants.  But then again, maybe they are just wide because they are boot cut, which allows one to wear the pants over the boots.

You can also see a bit of the construction in this photo.  The seams are pinked, and the top of the waist is finished with a strip of bias binding.  The leg hems are not finished, as the wearer would have them hemmed to fit.

The pants also have a paper tag that tells the fiber content and that gives us a WPL number.  WPL stands for Wool Products Labeling.  Unfortunately, the number is not of much use in this case.  All WPL numbers were distributed before 1959, but the date is not when the garment was made.  It merely means that the garment was made after Karman got their number, which was sometime in the 1950s.  There is a database where you can look up the numbers, but it is not useful in dating.  It will help with the manufacturer’s identification in cases where you have the number but not a maker’s label.

So, my verdict?  I’m leaning toward early to mid 1960s, due to construction details, like the metal zipper and the pinked seams.  I also think the label looks old fashioned to be used in the 1970s.  But I’m open to opinions, especially from anyone who has experience with this type of thing.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing