Category Archives: Curiosities

1964 McCall’s Needlework and Crafts Solves a Mystery

When I wrote about this great tote a month ago, I had no idea that a kind reader knew the source of the design. Annie Gullion had just been browsing her copy of a 1964 McCall’s Needlework & Crafts magazine, so she knew right away where the maker got the idea.

There it is, on the cover of the 1964 Spring-Summer issue.

The magazine has the directions for three different designs of this tote. Even though McCall’s sold a similar pattern, they gave complete instructions and a pattern to grade up. It even gives us the name of the tote designer, Irma Bolley. (No mention of Bonnie Cashin!)

I love how the maker of my bag changed the colors slightly.

To an experienced sewer, the instructions seem to be pretty straightforward. I had several people in my posts here and on Instagram say this bag was an early home ec class project, and some mentioned struggling with it. I can see why.

Looking through the magazine has been so much fun! I’m not a big fan of crocheted “granny squares”, having lived through that 1960s fad, but I found this top very appealing.

This project really brings back memories! For several years this was a craft project used by local churches in their vacation Bible schools. I never made these (the project had run its course by the time I was old enough to make it) but for years these plates were seen in homes all around my community.

I really want to thank Annie, not just for the information, but also for sending the magazine to me. This is exactly the type of documentation I love to have on the items in my collection.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Fashion Magazines, Rest of the Story

Mid Twentieth Century Beach Towel by Galindo

This post asks more questions than it has answers. I recently bought this beach towel from the incomparable Neatokeen shop on etsy. I had seen this one years ago, and somehow neglected to buy it, but now it’s part of my collection.

I have been working hard, trying to discover the secret of galindo, the artist. Because the towel has never been used, it came complete with the original paper tag. That’s always a good thing, and it usually leads to more information being uncovered.

From the tag I had plenty to go on. The company was Barth & Dreyfuss, located in Los Angeles. The brand name was Royal Terry of California. The artist, galindo, was a “famous California artist”.

I started my research at the most logical place – Google. I found quite a bit on Barth & Dreyfuss. They were/are a maker or seller of home goods, mainly towels. The company has come and gone over the years, and it appears that there was recently a company by that name, operating mainly as importers.

Searching “galindo” was a bit trickier. I was able to locate some other designs by this artist, mainly on linens and paper goods. Finally, I searched “Royal Terry” and came up empty except for a wonderful youtube video that shows a knowledgeable collector showing off his 1957 Royal Terry beach towel catalog. I have a message in to him and hopefully I will hear back.

After Google I turned to the two newspaper databases I have access to – Newspapers,com and Newspaperarchive.com. I had a bit more luck. The company was owned by Marshall Barth and Stanley Dreyfuss. They were in business in Los Angeles at least as early as 1953, and probably earlier. Searching for galindo was impossible as there are numerous Galindo Streets throughout Southern California. And it seems to be a somewhat common name in some communities.

If anyone knows who galindo was, I’d be most grateful for that information. Any clues at all would be appreciated. In the meantime, enjoy these hat close-ups.

This one is a version of the famous sunglasses hat. I’ve seen these advertised from the late 1950s through the mid 1960s.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Made in the USA, Novelty Prints, Summer Sports, Textiles

Mammoth Cave Costume

Unidentified Mammoth Cave Costume, Library Special Collections, Western Kentucky University

Another presentation that focused on the history of southwestern Kentucky was given by Donna Parker, recently retired from the Western Kentucky University Library. Like most Americans, I knew of the great Mammoth Cave system, but it was a real surprise to learn that for close to a century, women visitors to the cave wore a special costume provided by the owners of the cave.

The cave was well-known by the 1840s. It was just one of many natural wonder destinations that well-off tourists traveled to experience, along with Niagara Falls, the Natural Bridge of Virginia, the Hudson River Valley, and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Early on it must have been obvious that fashionable dress was dangerous in the cave. The owners developed a woman’s costume, consisting of a shortened dress with bloomers or trousers worn beneath.

The wearing of these costumes is well-documented in photographs, diaries, letters, and personal travel accounts. Many women expressed embarrassment at being forced to wear trousers, others saw it as just part of the experience.

Jennie Ray Younglove at Mammoth Cave

The Kentucky Museum has an exhibition on Mammoth Cave, and in it they included this photograph of a woman visitor. You can barely see the trousers beneath her skirt. One of the best sources of information were the photos taken of visitors to the cave. The WKU Library Special Collections has a nice selection of these, dating from the 1850s to the 1930s when the practice of providing costumes ended.

Kentucky Museum and Library Digital Collection

This photo is from the digital collection of the Kentucky Museum. Though undated, this photo is from around 1905, and maybe as late as 1912 or so. It’s interesting in how the costume has changed. The skirt was abandoned, the bloomers shortened. It could be that these women were accustomed to wearing bathing suits, were at that time were very similar to the cave costume.

Unfortunately, the museum has not been able to locate any extant cave costumes. It’s possible that as things changed and women became more accustomed to wearing bloomers, the oldest costumes were remade into the more abbreviated versions seen above. At any rate, there was a fire in 1916 at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, and it is possible the remaining costumes were destroyed then.

I like to think that somewhere, in an obscure collection, a Mammoth Cave costume still exists. The problem is one of identification. How would one distinguish the cave costume seen in the first photograph from a bloomer outfit worn by a dress reformer? How could the bloomers in the third photograph be distinguished from a 1905 gymnasium suit? I’m not sure it could be done.

I can only hope that somewhere one rests in a box with a note attached, confirming the garment as the elusive cave costume.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Curiosities, Museums, Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs, Women in Pants

College-Maid, from the Girls at Maryville College

A recent acquisition is this cute little 1920s blouse with an interesting back-story. It wasn’t so much the blouse that sold me on this piece, but rather, the label.

This one ticked several boxes: women’s college related, somewhat local to me, and after digging a bit, sportswear related. And the Deco-ish embroidery didn’t hurt a bit. So what’s the story?

Maryville College is one of the fifty oldest colleges in the country, being founded in 1819 as a Presbyterian seminary. From the beginning the school was racially integrated, until it was forced to segregate in 1901. It began admitting women in the 1860s, and in 1875 granted the first degree to a women in Tennessee. By the 1920s there were more women than men in the college, probably because it offered degrees in education.

In 1921 (or 1920, according to one source) home economics teacher Kathryn McMurray devised a plan to help girls who were not able to afford their college fees to stay in school. She set up a sewing enterprise where students made simple garments that were then sold under the label “College-Maid”. The program started with ten girls, but three years later more than 400 girls were earning money to help pay for their education.

Several types of garments were made by the students. One was the apron, which is the champion of beginning sewing projects. I also found references to house dresses and work dresses, but best of all, by 1926 they were making two-piece pajamas. I am quite sure that my blouse is actually a pajama top.

Ms. McMurray traveled around the country, encouraging women’s organizations and department stores to sell College-Maid products. Women’s groups would have what we today would call pop-up shops to sell the garments for the college. Some department stores advertised the goods as late as 1934. A dress cost $1.95 at that time.

Several years ago I found some pages from a photo album belonging to a Maryville College student.

Ruth, Gert, Mae and Eva had lots of adventures. I can’t help but wonder if any of them worked making College-Maid garments.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Made in the USA, manufacturing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing, Vintage Photographs

Of Course You Can Sew!, 1971

I plucked this book out of a Goodwill bin as it was being carted off to the place of no return. I don’t really collect sewing books, but I do have a nice grouping of them that typify the era in which they were written. A quick look through of this book by Barbara Corrigan fit the bill as one to add to the group.

My guess is that the book was written for the preteen and young teen set. The book came from an elementary school library and the check-out card was still in the book. Most of the girls (and all the readers were girls) who checked out the book were in the fifth and sixth grades, but a few were younger. The book was popular, with the card being full.

And no wonder. This was just the sort of book my twelve year old self would have loved. The projects within were just the sort of thing I was always making. There is a section on using simple commercial patterns, but most of the projects were made from squares of fabric or textiles such as towels and other household linens. The dress and bag above are typical. What was interesting was how the bag was made from the part of the towel that was cut off to make the dress. Even in 1971 textiles were not for wasting.

Many of the projects were sportswear. I remember people making similar garments from towels, especially beach cover-ups and bags.
The projects got progressively harder as one moved through the book, but lots of drawings and diagrams made the directions easy to understand. Here you see how to cut a caftan from towels.
Once the novice sewer moved past sewing plain straight seams, a gathered skirt was introduced. The skills were the same, but the addition of the gathers must have seemed like a big leap in ability.

There were also cute designs for making things from bed linens. A girl could have night clothes to match her sheets.

This was the Seventies, so of course there were ponchos.

This sewing corner would have driven me wild with envy. My sewing spot was the dining room table.

I was completely charmed by this little book, perhaps because I would have loved to have had it in my early sewing years. The text was so straightforward, without a bit of talking down to the youngsters that it seemed totally relatable, even though the author, Barbara Corrigan, was in her late forties when she wrote and illustrated the book. The illustrations were cute and modern, and while not the height of 1971 fashion, they were what girls were actually wearing at that time.

I had to learn more about Barbara, and I found she lived in Attleboro, Massachusetts. She studied at the Massachusetts School of Arts, and had plans to be a fashion designer, having been an avid sewer since childhood. But she ended up in commercial art while painting and sewing wedding dresses on the side. In the 1960s she landed a contract to design and write sewing books for Doubleday, of which this book is one. She also illustrated cookbooks and pages for Highlights for Children magazine.

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Filed under Curiosities, Currently Reading, Sewing

The Portia Super Sports Shade

One of the problems in collecting clothes that are somewhat utilitarian is that there is often not a lot of change between say, an eye shade or visor, made in 1925 and one made in 1975 and one made in 2005. There are differences in materials, of course (no velcro in 1925) and in construction techniques, but these things are not immediately obvious when one is shopping primarily online.

I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to buy certain items like bucket hats (which were made for sports as early as the 1880s) in connection with a matching item. I located a 1910s bucket along with a pair of knickers that were made of the identical fabric. That removed all doubt concerning the age of the hat.

I had been wanting a 1920s eye shade of the sort worn by tennis star Helen Wills, but an online search proved impossible. That is, until I ran across the Portia Super Sports Shade. The packaging left no doubt that this was made in the mid 1920s. Better yet, there was a UK registered design number.

I’m fairly experienced in looking up US patent numbers, but the UK system stymied me. All I could figure out was that the design was registered in 1926. If some smart person who knows their way around the UK patent site can help, the number is 722887. I’d love to have a copy of the paperwork concerning this design.

The shade is in very good condition. It was altered by someone with a very small head. I’ll be leaving in the alteration because it does not change the look nor the function of the shade.

I’ve got to say that I’m amazed that this item has survived. Things made of plastics and rubber and elastic and such tend to degrade. And to have the original envelope is a real bonus. From a time when plastics could be highly flammable, it is comforting to see that my sports shade is non-flam.

The seller had another eye shade made by Portia, but it was sold as a reading shade. It was from the 1930s. It appears that Portia is still in business, making sunglasses and eye patches.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

The Body Beautiful by Annette Kellermann

 

I’ve written about swimmer Annette Kellermann before, and you might know her as the subject of the 1952 film, Million Dollar Mermaid, staring Esther Williams. She was the woman who introduced the one-piece swimsuit for woman. but what she might have been best at was self-promotion.

In 1925 she promoted a health plan which was outlined in this booklet. She capitalized on a study conducted by Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University which found her body to be the most perfectly formed female physique. She promised that in just five to fifteen minutes a day, any woman could “enjoy the priceless possessions of glorious health, radiant beauty, and a figure fashioned in Nature’s own wonderful mould.”

There are numerous photos of Kellermann’s perfect body in the booklet, most of which appear to have been altered to make her look thinner than she appears in other photos I’ve seen of her.

It just goes to show that  the pressure on women to strive for unrealistic body ideals have been with us a very long time.

I love that on this page Kellermann assures the reader that attaining world-wide fame for her figure has not in the least made her vain. That’s reassuring.

The 1920s was a time when youth and slimness were fashionable. It’s easy to see how this program might appeal to women who had been told their bodies were old-fashioned. Another part of the appeal might have been that in 1925 Kellermann was thirty-eight years old. Though she didn’t advertise that fact in the booklet, she had been in the public eye for about twenty years by this point. People knew she was approaching middle age.

I’d like to say that we’ve finally gotten to the point where we no longer put this type of “perfect body” pressure on women and on ourselves, but then that would be untruthful. Years of exposure to weight loss ads and magazines articles on losing weight, the “helpful” comments of others and subtle peer pressure are powerful influences.

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Filed under Advertisements, Curiosities, Summer Sports