Category Archives: Sewing

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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Currently Reading – Quilt Books

I’m fascinated with quilts. No, I don’t collect them, nor do I make them. It’s the historical meaning hidden within these little pieces of textiles that keep me interested in them.

Recently I drove to the Pickens flea market in Pickens, SC. I’d been before, and knew that it’s a very mixed bag of good and bad, new and old, and down right bizarre. The highlight of the visit was a bluegrass band in which a little mutty dog was the fifth member. He had been taught to let out a howl at just the right time. I was too amazed to even take a video.

I had been all over the field – and it’s a big one – with no luck when I stumbled upon a used book seller. He had a few books on quilting so I stopped to have a browse. I asked the price, which was a dollar each, so I was feeling extravagant and had about five or six picked out when the seller said he had more in the back of the truck.

What he had was the entire library of a long-time quilter. There were easily several hundred books on quilts, most of them how-to books. I wasn’t interested in those, but there were also quite a few books on quilt and textile history. I ended up with eighteen of them, which he let me have for $10.

The prize of the lot is the book above, Barbara Brackman’s quilting classic, Clues in the Calico. I had been looking for this book for a long time, but I didn’t want to pay the high price it commands. It is a guide to dating quilts, but more than that, it’s a guide to identifying antique textiles. I’m still reading this one, but I found myself using the information a few days ago when someone on Instagram posted a recently found hoard of old fabrics. Immediately I knew that some of the prints had been printed with “fugitive” green dyes, as the stems and leaves of plants were now a tannish brown.

Some of the books are general quilt histories, but most focus on a particular type or region. I thought this title was very interesting, as I do not associate quilting with Native Americans. I’ll probably put this one at the top of the reading queue.

There were also a couple of books on textiles, and in particular the types of textiles commonly used for quilts.

I’ve read probably four or five of the books, and I’m beginning to see quite a bit of the same information. That’s not a bad thing. I certainly don’t want to read conflicting “facts” as then, how would I figure out who to trust?

Several of the authors have pointed out one of the big fallacies of early quilt-making in America: that colonists made patchwork quilts out of their old textiles out of necessity. I already knew this, but it seems to be a generally held belief when so many writers take the time to make sure that the earliest quilts were not scrap projects in a make do and reuse sense.  The earliest American quilts were generally whole cloth quilts, or were quilts made from appliques cut from fabrics that were printed specifically for that purpose.

Two of the books are detailed accounts of the quilts of one family of makers. I’m in the process of reading one of these, Mary Black’s Family Quilts, by Laurel Horton. I’m enjoying this one partially because Mary Black lived in Spartanburg, SC, which is only an hour and a half down the road from me. And besides that, many quilt books tend to focus on quilts from Pennsylvania or New England, so it’s nice reading about quilts from a Southern family.

I need to point out that it’s almost impossible to separate the production of quilts, textiles and clothing in the days before the Industrial Revolution. All the quilt books I’ve read so far also discuss cloth and clothing production. I’ve had to stop and remind myself that the authors of these books are quilt – not clothing – experts.

In referring to the South Carolina backcountry in the late 18th century, Horton writes, “Fabrics were available in abundant variety in local stores for home sewing as was ready-made clothing.” While ready-made fabrics were readily available, ready-made clothing was not. Most of the ready-made clothing at this time was very cheaply made, and was marketed in the South as being appropriate for enslaved people. The best explanation I know of for this is found in Suiting Everyone: The Democratization of Clothing in America by Claudia Kidwell and Margaret Christman.

Okay, no more quibbling over the details; let’s look at some quilts. The one above is pictured in Kentucky Quilts 1800 – 1900 by John Finley and Jonathan Holstein. It was made by Ann Johnson Armstrong, circa 1890.

Emma Van Fleet made this quilt in 1866 to commemorate the Civil War battles in which her husband had fought. There are forty-seven battles. Seen in Threads of Time by Nancy J. Martin.

The maker of this one, also seen in Threads of Time, is unknown. It was made around 1865.

And finally, this marvelous creation is seen in New Discoveries in American Quilts by Robert Bishop. The quilt was made by Celestine Bacheller, and the blocks are thought to depict real places around her home in Massachusetts.

It’s a sort of scenic/crazy quilt hybrid. It is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

 

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Péro, by Aneeth Arora

I can pretty much count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I go shopping at retail. It’s usually when I’m in a bigger city that has the type of high-end stores that you are not going to find in Western North Carolina. In all fairness, I’m usually not shopping for real clothing, but rather, for ideas. It was when I was in Charleston, SC recently that I became aware of  Péro. I’d never heard of the brand, but I was so impressed by the beauty of the textiles that I wanted to see more.

Péro was started in 2009 by Aneeth Arora, and from the beginning, craft has been the driving force of the line.  All the fabrics are hand-loomed of natural fibers, and the garments are embroidered and finished by hand. It’s very labor intensive, the very opposite of what you might think garments made in India would be. This type of craft, quality, and skill is not cheap.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the beauty of one indigo coat with embroidery made me almost ignore the price tag and cave into my desire to own that object.

But cooler heads prevailed, and I left the shop without the coat. But I could not forget about Péro, so when I returned home I began to read all I could find out about the line. Best of all is  Péro’s Instagram account, where employees and their stories are regularly featured. They tell where and how materials are sourced, and how they work with artisans across India.

photo copyright Barneys New York Warehouse

In all the reading and looking, I finally found a garment that is really in tune with the types of things I like to wear. Yes, I adore embroidery, but I’m really more of a stripes and solids lover, and the embroidered pieces are more than I wanted to pay. So the top above seemed like a good idea, especially since it was deeply discounted. I knew before I bought it that I’d be altering the sleeves, as that much fabric in the crook of my elbow would drive me crazy.

However, when the shirt arrived, I was shocked at just how over-sized it was. If you can’t read my yardstick, it reads 30″ across, for a bodice measurement of 60″! The altering job just got bigger, but I was confident I could made this work.

And I did. I apologize for the silly shirt on the floor photo, but I’m recovering from a week-long respiratory infection, and trust me, no photos of me are allowed at present. But I do promise a picture of me wearing this before the summer is over. It’s just too cute not to share.  I cut enough from the sides that I actually have enough fabric to make pockets. I’m going to wear it a few times before I decide if I need them.

So, now let’s look at what makes Péro so special.

The bottom edge is faced with a cotton fabric, and then the facing is hand hemmed. The stripe is linen. The care instructions call for dry clean only, probably due to the mix of fabrics, but I carefully washed this before beginning the alterations and there was no shrinkage in either fabric.

Even the labels are hand embroidered, as is the red hanging loop.

The seams are machine stitched, and all seams are flat fell or French seams.

Even the buttons are special. They are made by a local ceramic artist, and are hand-molded and hand-painted. Each one is different. And see if you can tell that even the buttonholes are hand-stitched.

We can’t all afford these incredible embroidered confections, but we can appreciate the beauty of them. We can see hope for the garment industry in that there are some brands that are working toward fair treatment of employees, and who promote skillful work.

Update: The little heart and flowers in the top photo were attached to the label of the shirt. The pouch holds extra buttons.

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