Category Archives: Sewing

Grandma Lizzie’s Quilt, Update

I first wrote about this quilt in 2008. At the time it was just a finished pieced top that needed some stabilization work. I talked about how I was going to get it finished. Well, twelve years and one pandemic later, and the quilt is finished. I’ve been working on it for weeks, but I’m strangely sorry to see the work end.

I’ve reposted the original writing from 2008 below, but I have a bit to add to the story. I wondered about all the different pieces in the quilt. At the time she made it, probably the early 1940s judging from the fabrics used, most of her children were grown. And from photos of herI know she didn’t wear colorful dresses.

From recent conversations with niece Amari, I saw the 1940 census entry of my father’s family. I expected that at thirteen, my dad would have been the youngest in the household. But then I saw that two of his sisters who had children of their own, had moved back into the family home. There were five little kids and three young adult daughters, all of whom must have enjoyed having pretty dresses and blouses.

So, here’s the story behind my Grandma Lizzie’s quilt.

I was named for my paternal grandmother, Lizzie Adams, who died about a year before I was born.  She was one of those rare individuals who seemed to be universally loved; I’ve never heard a bad thing associated with her at all.  She had eleven children, all of whom (the nine that had children of their own) named a daughter Elizabeth in her honor.

Growing up I had another grandmother whom I adored, but I always felt somehow that I’d missed out by never knowing Grandma Lizzie.  It was always a treat hearing my dad’s family talk about her.  But my favorite story came from my mother, who only knew her for a few years.  One day, not long before Lizzie died, my parents and older brother were visiting her.  She brought out two quilt tops she had pieced, but had never gotten around to quilting.  She gave them to my mother, saying she made these for Jack’s daughters.  My mother was sort of taken aback, as Jack (her husband, and my father) had no daughters.  But as fate and Lizzie would have it, eventually he did have the two predicted daughters.

My mother gave me my quilt top years ago, and for years it’s been stored away.  A few months ago, I got it out.  There was quite a bit of fraying and raveling where it had been washed, so I decided to secure all the edges, going over the stitches my grandmother made so many years ago.  I’ve felt a closeness to her that really can’t be explained.  I can’t help but wonder about the pieces – if they came from her old aprons, or were scraps from dresses she made for a daughter or granddaughter.

I’ll admit I’ve been envious of those cousins who were older than me and lucky enough to have known her.  But I have the quilt.

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Vintage Sewing – 1970s Butterick 5941 Scarf Top

If you have been a reader of The Vintage Traveler for a long time, you might remember this post from 2012.  At the time I said I was going to make this garment, and it only took me seven and a half years to get around to doing so. Since I seem to have a bit of time on my hands and a large stash of fabric, I thought there’s no time like the present.

The pattern isn’t dated, but it’s the most  mid Seventies look imaginable. These were my college days, and we were all about taking something, like scarves, and turning it into something else, like a dress. It was rather like today, actually.

The pattern calls for either two 32″ scarves, or 35″ or 45″ wide fabric. I have some nice flowy silk from a box of lovely fabrics bought at an antiques show several years ago, so I went with it. It helped that it’s blue and matches ninety percent of the rest of my closet. And since I’m not really into mini dresses any more, I decided to shorten it into a top.

Sorry, no modeling but the hanging shot gives a good idea of how the top turned out.  In my original post about this pattern, it was pointed out that it looked too narrow to slip over the head. That turned out to be a fancy of the pattern envelope illustrator, as the finished product slips over quite easily. In order for the tunic to look that slim, one would need to add a belt.

In studying my fabric, I thought it was a bit plain. It wasn’t until I really looked at it that it noticed the tiny pattern of dots. And that selvage was so fantastic that I knew it had to remain.

Because the fabric was wider than the top I wanted to make, I cut off one strip of selvage and reattached it at the hem.

And because I’m a neat freak, I did a French seam on the only seams in the top. This was the easiest, and fastest, project ever. I am a very slow sewer, and even with reattaching the selvage and hand hemming the sleeves, I took only about two hours from first cut to final stitch.

Here are the instructions for the entire dress. Don’t let the “FRONT AND BACK 3” bit confuse you. 3 is the number of the pattern piece. The same piece is used for both front and back.  Basically, all you have are the two joins at the shoulders, and the two side seams if you were using scarves. Using yardage involves a bit more finishing.

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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.

 

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Dress and Home Workbook, 1935

This recent flea market find is a workbook to accompany a high school textbook, The Mode in Dress and Home. The author, Dulcie G. Donovan was a home ec teacher at Hollywood High School.

I don’t remember having a textbook in my 1970s home ec classes, much less a workbook. As a teacher, I know that workbooks are an expensive addition to the school budget, and are usually reserved for classes in which they are most useful. That is, things like primary arithmetic. I’m really curious about a school that could afford  to buy, or more likely, to require the students to purchase an unnecessary workbook during the Great Depression when there was little money for such things.

As it turns out, the school was Concord High School in Concord, Virginia. Nothing I’ve read about this central Virginia village suggests a higher than average standard of living. So, the why of this book remains a mystery. But the contents are what we are really interested in.

I’m sure that much of the content directly mirrors what the students read in the textbook. But there are also many opportunities for each student to reflect on her own preferences and experiences.

If you have read Linda Przybyszwski’s book, The Lost Art of Dress, then you might recall how home ec teachers and writers  taught that the principles of art could and should be applied to one’s manner of dressing.  In this workbook there is a lot of discussion of  principles like proportion and color. Donovan also has the students look at fashions of the past, in their quest for good taste in fashion.

Of course, there is a lot of leading the horse to the water, so to speak. Any fool could see that the lines of 1935 were much better than those of  the prior years.

This page was not completed, but I love the exercise created here. Students were to prove the effects of color by the use of these templates.

In other places fabrics were collected and saved in the workbook. I’ve seen this concept in other student work of this era, mainly in the form of student-made notebooks in which samples of work and fabrics are collected as a resource for the student.

Appropriateness was a big topic. Our student, whose name was Margaret Nash, correctly identified each of the fads, but she wisely neglected to type-cast her classmates as to personality. And to make the results public would have been a big mistake, in my opinion!

And what’s with the little elf character? He’s (she’s?) found throughout the book and is the sort of thing high school girls love to make silly jokes about. Or was that just my high school classmates?

The next part of the workbook was devoted to sewing.  Can you label the parts of the sewing machine?

The class examined the commercial sewing pattern. In 1935 most pattern companies were beginning to add to the instructions included. Up until the mid 1920s, many patterns had only brief instructions on the envelope. By the 1930s there was often an instruction sheet enclosed, but even those instructions required a working knowledge of sewing techniques.

Remember, buttons are sewed on for service and not just decoration.

As in many ambitious curriculums, the school year ran out before the workbook was completed. The second half of the book in which the home is addressed, is not used at all. Maybe it was to be used in a second year of the course. Or, more likely, home ec really meant sewing and cooking, with home decoration being an after-thought, or not studied at all. I vaguely remember cutting colorful pictures out to magazines to create rooms.

 

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Appalachian Button Jamboree

I’m not completely clueless when it comes to button collecting, and I even knew there was a Western North Carolina Button Club. But I recently attended my first button show and I was completely blown away!

You can’t collect old clothes without seeing a lot of buttons. I even have quite a few of them just in case I need some replacements or a random one to match a set. And I have a lot of interesting old ones to use in my own sewing. But to see thousands of buttons mounted, sorted, and ready to buy was a new experience.

Buttons are a big business to a lot of people. Even in a small local show the buying and selling seemed to be brisk. As a button neophyte, I decided to just look and learn. And I learned a lot.

One category I liked was painted wooden buttons. I actually have a few, mainly florals like the black one at bottom right. But what about that ice skater?

I also saw lots of interesting ceramic buttons. I can see how in this medium the possibilities would be limitless.

Celluloid buttons  were plentiful, but most were pricier than these examples. But look at that little clothespin!

More celluloid.

My favorites were the metal buttons. This little owl with stars and moon was great.

There were also lots of sports themed buttons, like this skier.

But “Wow”is right. These metal with enamel bits and “jewels” were so stunning!

Some of the sellers told me they got into button collected as a result of trying to find unique buttons for their weaving, knitting, and sewing projects. I can relate to that. Imagine this button as the closure of a wrap or coat.

Most of this tray of buttons had thread or textiles as part of the button. I do love the wrapped and embroidered ones.

A few sellers also had some additional haberdashery and dry goods in their booths.

There were also a few vintage sewing machines. It does stand to reason that most people who are interested in buttons would also want to see machines and ribbons and sewing patterns.

There was also a display area where members’ collections were shown off.

But my favorite thing of all was a small display of antique clothing that was laid out on a table.  Attendees were allowed to examine the garments. It’s not often that I get the chance to look at so old a garment, both inside and out. This 18th century gentleman’s coat showed many signs of having been worn and repaired quite a bit.

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Vintage Sewing – 1966 Givenchy Coat

I can’t believe it has been so long since I shared a sewing project. That may be because I haven’t been sewing, except to make repairs and alterations. But a recent cold kept me at home and I needed a project to take my mind off the sniffles. I have had both the embroidered linen and the vintage 1940s rayon plaid for years, and my plan was vaguely for a coat, and I had looked at dozens of patterns trying to decide what design to make.

Having an urgent need for a project got me to settle on a pattern I already had – one that I’ve always wanted to make. I have written quite a bit about a series of four patterns that Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn to wear in the 1966 film, How to Steal a Million, so I’ll not go into detail about it here.

I had made McCall’s patterns from this era, and I have always been pleased with the quality of the instructions. This was the case with this pattern. The instructions were straight forward, and the coat went together very easily. I am short, so I shortened the length and the arms a bit. Other than that I made the pattern as drafted. The only thing I’d change is that I would made the pockets deeper. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be making them a bit deeper by adding to the bottom of the pockets.

The coat has some details that might frighten off less experienced sewers, but the instructions were so good that the pocket…

and the buttonholes were a cinch. I was concerned about the bound buttonholes because several of them were set into where there was embroidery, but that did not present a problem.

I put the lining in by hand, as I have had mixed result when trying to bag a lining by machine. It all fit together beautifully.

Once I got started on the machine, I could not stop. I just could not let the scraps of these lovely fabric languish in my scrap bag. So I did what anyone would do – I made a hat.

I had made this mid 1970s pattern before, and liked it. It was a quick and simple make. I do doubt that I’ll wear the hat with the coat. It seems to be a bit too matched.

I bought this fabric at a place that sells factory end runs. Even at a discount place, it was not cheap. Yes, it does wrinkle a bit, but I am loving wearing it, as it is just the right heaviness for early spring, and it is terrifically comfortable.

In fact, I wore it today, a touch of spring on a rather chilly mountain day.

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The Art of Reweaving

This swatch is on the reverse side of a very lovely vintage skirt. You are looking at one of the best examples of reweaving I’ve ever seen.

Here is the front of the same section of the skirt. Don’t bother looking for the mends as they are completely invisible. Reweaving is one of those skills that sounds simple to acquire, but is, in fact, quite difficult to do properly. I know because I’ve tried, with varying success. I would never attempt to reweave such a complicated and finely woven plaid.

In this enlargement you can better see how the reweaver used a needle to replicate the pattern. And in the center is the hole. Reweaving is still practiced today, but be prepared to pay for the service. This is highly skilled  work.

And here’s the suit, part of the collection at Style and Salvage, a local vintage business. I love visiting and watching them work because there is always something new to see and to learn.

I can see why the original owner had this suit repaired. It is a great set, and she bought it at Miller’s, THE department store in Knoxville, Tennessee. And this was during the time that people did not see their clothing as being disposable. Repairs were considered part of the upkeep of nice things.

The curve of the collar is repeated in the pockets.

I’m not familiar with the maker, Elynor, but a trip to the trademark site told me the company first used the name in 1927. It was one of the many quality suit makers in the New York Garment District.

Stroock was, as the label clearly proclaims, a fine woolen cloth manufacturer. The history of the company dates back to 1866 as a maker of blankets of fine fibers including cashmere and vicuna.

Thanks to Mel and Jeff at Style and Salvage for allowing me to share this great suit.

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