Category Archives: Sewing

1920s Dress with Some Issues

I didn’t need this dress. I bought it anyway. First of all, it is a really great dress. Secondly, it has some problems and I felt sorry for it. And finally, it was cheap. I just couldn’t leave it to become someone’s Halloween costume, and then be throughly trashed.

So, I brought it home. The truth is, I was in search of some wintertime projects. This one should occupy me through a few cold and snowy days.

I need to add that this is a really great dress. The asymmetrical chiffon layers are just stunning with the applied trim ovals. It’s a great balance of what the 1920s were all about – a straight (or boyish) silhouette with a touch of romance. I was hoping the dress would have a label, but sorry to say, there isn’t one.

Most of the problems are with the upper bodice. As you can see, the shoulders are pretty much gone. This dress is very light, but even a mostly chiffon 1920s dress with suffer in the shoulders if left to hang. That’s what’s going on here.

You might can tell that there are two layers of chiffon, one black and the other beige. Both will need to be replaced.

There are a few other little issues, like this small hole in the drape, and a rent on the bottom flounce. But ninety percent of the work will be to the upper bodice.

Note that there is an appendage on the right (your left) hip. I’m thinking of using it to replace the upper bodice. Will I be ruining the balance of the dress?

Another problem with the bodice is this lace. It seems to be there for a bit of modesty, as the sheer part of the bodice is quite low. At first I thought the lace was a later addition.

You can see that the stitching holding the lace in place is definitely not original to the dress. I was feeling all smug about thinking the lace was an afterthought until I spotted something else.

This is a bit of the lace where it was originally stitched to the bodice, and then cut away.

The lace is actually very nice, with that metallic thread over-embroidery. So after replacing the chiffon, I’ll reattach the lace in the original place.

After all this work, I’ll not be keeping this dress. This is a dress that needs to be seen, and it is definitely strong enough to wear. It doesn’t fit into my collection, and as pretty as this one is, most museums already have plenty of unlabeled black dinner dresses. The lack of provenance would make it difficult to fit into a history museum collection. So it will be sold, hopefully to someone who will cherish it and who will look marvelous in it.

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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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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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