Category Archives: Sewing

The Dress that Launched a Thousand Sleeves

Lovers of old movies and followers of fashion history will recognize the image above as Joan Crawford in the famous dress from Letty Lynton, from 1932. The clothes were designed by the designer at M-G-M, Gilbert Adrian. So much has been written about this dress (with one of the best analyses coming from friend Susan at Witness2Fashion) that I really don’t have much new to say about it. But while looking through my 1934 Butterick pattern catalog I could not help but notice how influential were the sleeves on this dress.

Throughout the late 1920s and into the 30s, fashionable hips were impossibly slim. One way to give the illusion of leaner hips is to widen the shoulders. That’s what Adrian did with these spectacular ruffled sleeves. It didn’t take women long to realize the trick that worked for Crawford might do them some good as well.  Clothing manufacturers rushed copies of the dress into production, and it was a huge hit.

Two years later, the ruffled sleeve was a standard in women’s clothing. While most women would not wear the over-the-top version from the movie, ruffled sleeves were available from very full to barely there.  Even sleeves that were cut relatively straight often had a pleat at the top of the sleeve cap that gave a fluttery effect.

Even though there were all sorts of ruffled sleeves, the one thing all the dresses has in common were the very straight, very slim skirt.

The bateau neckline and the extensions over the shoulders tend to further elongate the shoulders.

Here are ruffles in a slightly more tailored look.

As much as people love fashion and looking stylish, it’s doubtful that most women across America could have pulled off a full-blown Lynton look. Most of the actual dresses from this era that I’ve seen have ruffles more like the dress pictured above. In fact, this look is quite commonly found on the vintage market.

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1934 Summer Fashions from Butterick Patterns

Last fall luck was with me and I found a Butterick counter catalog from 1934. I say lucky because these are so hard to find these days, and when they appear online they always come with a hefty price tag. What’s really amazing about a resource like this catalog is that every time I look through it I notice something new. So I hope this post will be somewhat focused, without me running here and there with a hundred different observations.

Of course I’m most interested in the sportswear, and this catalog is full of superb examples. But because the catalog offers a wide range of clothing, comparisons between sportswear, day clothing, evening gowns, and even lingerie, can easily be made. One of the best tips I know of when it comes to dating sportswear is to look at a piece as though it were fashionable day or evening wear. Things like swimsuits and tennis dresses often have the same sort of fashionable details you’d see in other clothing.

You can see that the design above is the same play set at the top of this post. The pattern actually contained all four pieces, so a woman could easily turn a play look into streetwear. It’s a little too early for the one-piece playsuit with matching skirt, but it’s easy to see how sportswear was headed in that direction. The shorts look almost exactly like the lingerie panties so commonly seen in the early 1930s.

It would not be long before the pleated shorts as seen on the right became the most popular type.

Have you noticed the bare backs? It wasn’t just popular in sportswear. Halter tops were fashionable, as were tops that fastened at the shoulder, and were bare in the back like the top on the right…

and like this evening gown.

By looking at these drawings you might think that no woman in 1934 had hips, and that all were very tall. That’s partly due to the elongated scale of the drawing, but also because by 1934 dress waists had become shortened as skirts got longer. Of course, “waistlines” were actually at the hip in 1927 and then they began the journey up toward the waist. This didn’t happen over night.

I read somewhere that before the mid 1930s waists tended to draw the eye down with seams and piecing like the downward pointing yoke of the shorts in the first photo. But by 1934 or so waists started moving and pointing toward the face. Skirts became very slim and quite plain. The details were mostly on the bodice, above the waist.

What makes pattern books especially helpful in seeing trends like this is that unlike catalogs of ready made clothes that feature just what was designed and made for that season, pattern books would carry a popular pattern for several years. Because the patterns are numbered pretty much consecutively, it’s easy to tell the older designs from the newer ones. The dress above with the piecing below the waist is an older design.

I had to show this pattern because it reminds me so much of the nautical pant set I recently added to my collection.

This one is interesting because it’s one of the very few designs in the catalog that calls for a zipper.

It’s hard to understand the logic behind having a dress that buttons up the back, but regardless, I love this look so much. It came with a little jacket, as that V-neck in the back is a bit too bare for the street.

Most of the dresses could be made very sporty, or slightly less so. The two dresses in the center could be made from the same pattern, with a choice of collar, sleeves, and belt.

One of the oldest designs offered in this catalog is this romper. Judging by the number of the pattern and the hair styles of the models, my guess is that this one dates from 1929 or 1930. Maybe Butterick continued to sell it because it was popular with dance students.

 

 

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Sewing Project: Simplicity 2208

It’s been a while since I did a post on what I’ve been sewing. That doesn’t mean I’ve not been sewing, only that I forget to make photos during the process. Lately I’ve been turning a stack of lightweight cottons into lightweight cotton tops for the hot weather. Not too exciting, but quickness of the makes and the wearability of the garments have been rewarding.

This jacket was an earlier spring project. I found the pattern above at the Goodwill Outlet some time ago. I seems like all the sewing patterns go directly into the bins, as I’ve never seen any in the regular retail stores. My guess is that they do require a special customer, like me. When I run across them in the bins, I pretty much buy any that I might possibly want to make.

The fabric is a two-sided cotton that I bought at Mood in New York City about three years ago. My plan for it was always a jacket. When I saw view C of the pattern, I put it in my sewing queue. It was not until I started to cut the fabric that I noticed there were no pockets. That’s not such a big deal, as pockets are easy to add, but who designs a jacket without pockets? Neither of the two coats have pockets either. Puzzling!

The texture and weight of the fabric is really perfect for a spring jacket. My plan was to make use of both sides of the fabric.

I made the binding from a linen that I had that was a good match. All the seams were sewn with wrong sides together, and then the binding applied over the exposed seams.

The pattern called for a separating zipper, but I did not have one that would work. so I decided instead to go with hook and eyes. I had a bunch of these larger brass-finished ones that worked nicely.

I thought a long time about how I wanted to do the pockets. At first I considered doing in-seam side pockets, but settled on interior pockets instead. They are quite deep, as I like to carry too much stuff. One even has snaps to make my stuff more secure.

And here is the finished jacket. Sorry about the floor shot but it really is the best way for you to see how it all came together. I took it with me to the Midwest, and wore it quite a bit as it helped to break up all the black I tend to wear while traveling.

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Sewing Brochures from 1961 and 1962

I recently received a group of early 1960s pattern company brochures from friend Rebecca.  How did she know I’d want these?  Am I that transparent?  I certainly hope so.

They all date from June, 1961 to January of 1962, and are from Simplicity, Vogue, McCall’s, and Advance.  As much as I love a great vintage Vogue or Bazaar magazine, these little newsprint treasures reveal much more about what the “average” American woman was wearing.

When I started sewing for myself in the late 1960s, I could not wait until the latest editions of the pattern brochures arrived at the pattern counter.  I would spend hours carefully planning my next sewing project.  Maybe it’s partly due to that fond memory that I have such a weakness for these.

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Here are the play options from Simplicity for June, 1961.  The bathing suit in the middle is what was considered a bikini in 1961.  The playsuit of the right with the skirt cover up is also described as a bathing suit.

Pointed hem top patterns for all the women in the family.  Actually, I’ve seen this hem on men’s things as well.  And it makes me want to sew some chevroned stripes.  McCall’s, June 1961.

A note about that hat: I have several examples of this bucket-shaped hat in my collection, but none are nearly as exaggerated as these.

From the same McCall’s brochure is a grouping of swimwear, including a bathing/play suit very similar to the Simplicity one, right down to the skirt.  This bathing suit with matching skirt really was a great idea.  It also shows how swimwear can often be dated by imagining a skirt over the trunks.  Fashion does extend to swimwear.

The January 1962 issue of McCall’s Fashion Digest shows several examples of that most marvelous early Sixties wardrobe staple – the dress and jacket ensemble.  The beige example with the fantastic neckline was from designer Hannah Troy.  And note how similar the pink print dress is to the bathing suit and skirt in the previous picture.

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The more high fashion home sewer also had the choice of a designer look from Europe.  These dress and jacket ensembles were designed by Guy Laroche, Ronald Paterson, Jacques Griffe, and Gres.  These were more than just a little more complicated that the designs in McCall’s and Simplicity.

The Vogue Young Fashionables line was quite fashion forward.  January, 1962.

These designs from Advance are labeled “Sew Easy”, but I can see several techniques that might give even an intermediate sewer fits.

And finally, could there be any other looks that sum up 1962 better than these four?  On the left we have three streamlined dresses and suits that have the Jackie Kennedy look bared down to the essentials.  And on the right, the ever popular shirtwaist, though with a slightly less full skirt than just a year or two before.

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Project: Cashmere Hoodie with Patches

I haven’t showed off a project recently, partly because I have been working on this one for almost two months.  Yes, I am slow.

All the materials came from my local Goodwill bins – cashmere hoodie, embroidery thread, background fabric, and even the embroidery hoop.  Everything except the needle.  The hoodie was missing the label, but there is no doubt that it is cashmere, and good quality at that.  So, why was it in the bins?  There were four holes.

Holes in cashmere don’t bother me, especially if it is a product this hefty.  Repairing it is quite easy, and I’ve repaired enough cashmere to be able to do a neat and almost undetectable mend.  That is what I’d planned, but the holes were pretty large, so I started thinking about alternatives.

I came up with embroidered patches, and because I was anxious about recent world events, I pictured a scream.  Actually, I pictured The Scream, by Edvard Munch.  I can tell you that embroidering this detail from the work was therapeutic.

I began by finding details of four paintings that I love.  I had the great product above, which is a fabric with a paper backing to run through a printer.  I isolated the sections I wanted to embroider and printed them onto the fabric.

I used a combination of wool thread and cotton embroidery floss, depending on the type of texture I wanted.  I pretty much stuck to a plain straight stitch throughout.  Sometimes I mixed two different color strands on the needle.

Van Gogh’s Wheatfields with Crows

Monet’s Water Lilies

And this one is a bit harder to recognize because I pulled the detail from the background.  Any art lovers want to attempt a guess?

My poor camera just does not capture the richness of the color and texture of this sweater.  It’s soft and warm and reminds me of beautiful things.

Over the past few years I’ve really cut retail shopping, and this year I hope to buy nothing new to wear.  I have so much fabric, and the Goodwill is such a great source of raw material, that I’m hoping I can make anything I need to fill in gaps in my wardrobe.

Every week it seems there is another article warning of the unsustainability of the shopping habits of people in developed countries.  Besides the human cost, the clothing and textiles industries are two of the most polluting on earth.  I think is is time (past it actually) that we all reevaluate the way we shop for clothing and other textile products.  When it gets to the point that people  don’t have access to clean water because of the dyes and other pollutants used in the manufacturing process, it’s time to take action.

Stepping off the soapbox now…

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Vintage Project – Blanket Jacket

I haven’t posted a sewing project lately, not because I haven’t been sewing, but because I’ve been catching up on projects.  You know, all those things that sound like a quick and simple idea but then become quite labor and time intensive.  No pattern required, a few quick seams, and voila – a new garment!  Or so one thinks.

One thing I see so much of at my local Goodwill Dig are vintage wool blankets.  They are often a bit holey, but overall, the structure is sound.  I hate to think about what happens to most of them.  I actually have a whole stack of ones I’ve rescued, with labels ranging from Pendleton to some of the local factories in the upper midwest that I’ve never before encountered.  So I’ve gotten picky about picking up new ones.

But the minute I spied this one I knew it had a whole new life ahead of it.  Id been thinking about making a blanket jacket for several years, but had not run across the correct size and color combination.  But this little blanket ticked both boxes.

To make the jacket, I folded the blanket in half lengthwise.  This blanket is only 60 inches long, so I was able to use the fringed ends as the hem.  After folding I cut through the center front to a little over half the length, and then I shaped the V-neck and curved back edge.  I had a little help with the pattern, as I used the neck and sides from a Bonnie Cashin design featured years ago in Threads magazine.

October/November 1990, Threads

This feature on Cashin included the pattern for the coat, which I adapted for my jacket.  I decided against the leather edges, and decided instead to use a blanket stitch to secure them.

I have to have things a bit fitted, otherwise I get the feeling of swimming in cloth.  To ease in the fullness I went with a drawstring.  Both the brass eyelets and the green leather belt were sourced from the Goodwill bins.

I love finding sewing notions in thrift stores.  I usually buy sewing things whether or not I need them at the time, because one never knows when a brass eyelet is just the right thing for a design.

When I found the package of eyelets years ago, I also found the little tool for setting them properly.  All you need is a hammer and a fairly steady hand.  This one was made by Dritz and worked like a top.

I had never before encountered the Horner label, but it was around for a long time; according to the label since 1836.  Like many businesses, Horner Woolen Mills went through several owners and name changes, but by 1880 the mill belonged to Samuel Horner.  As far as I can tell, blankets and textiles were produced there until the mid 1950s.  The good news about this business is that some of the records were saved, and are now housed at the Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.  The mill building complex still stands, with part of it being remodeled into residences, and the rest looking for a new purpose.

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Miss America’s New Fashion Collection, 1961

For those of you too young to remember Toni, it was a hair care line with the premier product being the Toni Home Permanent.  For years the company had an ad campaign in which identical twins tried to fool you as you guessed, “Which twin had the Toni?”

This 1961 booklet from Toni doesn’t feature twins, but it does have the reining Miss America, Nancy Anne Fleming.  In the early 1960s, the Miss America contest was a very big deal, so it must have been an advertising coup for Toni to have her represent their products.  But it’s not just Toni.  As you can see, McCall’s Patterns and Everglaze Fabrics teamed up for this interesting campaign.

The pattern and sewing machine companies must have been really excited about Fleming being chosen Miss America.  In one of the most original talent presentations ever, Fleming took a rack of clothes she had sewn herself onto the stage, and did a little fashion presentation.   It was like a commercial for home sewing.

And the promotion of sewing by Fleming didn’t stop after she won the coveted crown.  In this booklet, she not only talks about sewing, but also models a collection of eight designs that McCall’s called the Miss America Collection.  Each design was made of Everglaze fabrics, and a new hairdo was designed for each outfit, complete with roller setting instructions.

Some of the outfits and the hair styles are too old for a nineteen-year-old, but others, like the two above show just how youthful early 60s fashion could be.

Do they still refer to Miss America as a “queen” or has that fallen by the wayside?

It’s possible that this booklet was included in specially marked packages of Toni.  In the back there is a coupon for a free pattern from the collection, along with a reminder that “Everglaze fabrics are among America’s favorite cottons.”

After her reign was over and she crowned the 1962 Miss America, Maria Fletcher of Asheville, Fleming used her scholarship to attend Michigan State, where she graduated in 1965.  She was married, had two kids and a career in broadcasting.  She was on an episode of the Love Boat in the 1980s, and married for a second time to Jim Lange, the longtime host of The Dating Game.  Today she lives in California.  I wonder if she still sews.

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